Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism’

Fascinating reads in Global Post and the Washington Post about the history and location of one of the CIA’s infamous black sites in Poland during the early years of GWOT.

Check out other reporting about black sites from the New Yorker, the Daily Beast, and the New York Review of Books.

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The Malaysia Airlines 370 story keeps getting stranger… The latest in the New York Times:

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has shifted to include anyone on board with a navigation or aircraft background in response to evidence that the plane was deliberately diverted from its route and, after communication was lost, navigated by someone with deep experience at the controls.

“In view of this latest development, the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board,” Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia said at a news conference on Saturday.

This new phase of the investigation has brought new scrutiny to the lives of two people who certainly had those skills: the pilot and first officer, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, both Malaysian citizens — although neither has been declared a suspect in the plane’s disappearance. Investigators are also apparently searching the passenger list for anyone else with similar skills who might have rerouted the plane, willfully or under coercion.

During 9/11 and the immediate aftermath, U.S. intelligence was able to piece together fairly quickly who the hijackers were and establish their ties to al Qaeda, based on passenger manifests and phone calls from the hijacked planes. In this case, there have been no communications from the hijacked plane, so intelligence officials and presumably the media only have the passenger manifests to work with. If there is any conclusive proof that a passenger or crew member had means and motive to do something like this, it should turn up fairly quickly due to the considerable investigative resources being put into this by multiple governments and news organizations.

There is a long and infamous history of airplane hijackings around the world, with many of the most famous cases happening during the 1960s and 1970s. The tactical appeal of airplane hijackings can be summed up in two reasons: 1) mobility to go wherever the hijackers want, and 2) inaccessability and inescapability. Nobody will be able to storm a plane or try to get off it while it’s in the air – with exceptions to Steven Seagal and D.B. Cooper. The conventional wisdom of airplane hijackings – that the hijackers are taking hostages to achieve a rational political objective with an outcome that would ensure their own survival – was turned on its head by the events of 9/11.

If it was a hijacking, the deviation from the norm from hijackings of the past as of this writing is the lack of anybody claiming responsibility or making some type of political demand or other in exchange for the safety of the hostages. Assuming the Central Asia flight path theory is correct, that might help narrow the nationality or political agenda of possible suspects.

One scenario that I had considered a possibility – but has seemingly been ruled out at this point – is something akin to the Payne Stewart crash: that the aircraft lost cabin pressurization and kept flying off course until it ran out of fuel and crashed in the water somewhere.

homer
According to J.M. Berger, Al Qaeda has taken to Twitter to solicit feedback for media ops using the hashtag اقتراحك_لتطوير_اﻹعلام_الجهادي (which, when run through Google translator, comes out as “Suggestion _ development _ Media _ jihadist”), which is now being spammed with parody tweets by Berger and others. Click on the hashtag in Berger’s tweet to watch the fun.

The Daily Beast reporting today:

The crucial intercept that prompted the U.S. government to close embassies in 22 countries was a conference call between al Qaeda’s senior leaders and representatives of several of the group’s affiliates throughout the region.

The intercept provided the U.S. intelligence community with a rare glimpse into how al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, manages a global organization that includes affiliates in Africa, the Middle East, and southwest and southeast Asia.

Several news outlets reported Monday on an intercepted communication last week between Zawahiri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda’s affiliate based in Yemen. But The Daily Beast has learned that the discussion between the two al Qaeda leaders happened in a conference call that included the leaders or representatives of the top leadership of al Qaeda and its affiliates calling in from different locations, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence. All told, said one U.S. intelligence official, more than 20 al Qaeda operatives were on the call.

To be sure, the CIA had been tracking the threat posed by Wuhayshi for months. An earlier communication between Zawahiri and Wuhayshi delivered through a courier was picked up last month, according to three U.S. intelligence officials. But the conference call provided a new sense of urgency for the U.S. government, the sources said.

Al Qaeda members included representatives or leaders from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and more obscure al Qaeda affiliates such as the Uzbekistan branch. Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official. The presence of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates operating in the Sinai was one reason the State Department closed the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, according to one U.S. intelligence official. “These guys already proved they could hit Eilat. It’s not out of the range of possibilities that they could hit us in Tel Aviv,” the official said.

Al Qaeda leaders had assumed the conference calls, which give Zawahiri the ability to manage his organization from a remote location, were secure. But leaks about the original intercepts have likely exposed the operation that allowed the U.S. intelligence community to listen in on the al Qaeda board meetings.

Fascinating read, but I’m surprised al Qaeda would get one – let alone multiple – leader on a conference call, given the NSA’s well-documented technical capabilities in hacking or intercepting electronic communications even before the Edward Snowden leaks. Given the relentless pressure being placed on them by U.S. and allied military and intelligence services, I would assume they’d resort to paper and smoke signals for their communications from here on out.

As a child of the 80s, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out my favorite quote from the story:

“This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom,” one U.S. intelligence officer told The Daily Beast, referring to the coalition of villains featured in the Saturday morning cartoon Super Friends.

This is not an Onion headline:

Al-Qaeda tries to soften image with ice cream
By Loveday Morris, Published: July 25

BEIRUT — The jovial tug o’ war and children’s ice-cream-eating contest wouldn’t look out of place at any town fair. But the family festivities in the battle-scarred Syrian city of Aleppo had a surprising organizer: al-Qaeda.

The media arm of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda affiliate, has been churning out videos featuring community gatherings in Syria during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as the group battles to win hearts and minds. It is a far cry from the organization’s usual fare of video offerings, which includes public executions.

The attempt to soften Islamic State’s image comes as it struggles to win support in the areas of Syria that are outside government control. Many residents view the group as a foreign force more concerned with imposing Islamic law than with fighting against President Bashar al-Assad and his allies.

“They are well aware that people out there on principle don’t like lots of foreign fighters coming in to fight jihad in their country. They are aware they need to reassure people their presence isn’t negative,” said Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center. “Ramadan parties and ice-cream-eating competitions are one localized example of that. Whether they will be successful remains to be seen, will depend on other armed groups and how they portray them.”

Islamic State has rapidly risen to prominence in Syria since emerging in April. Analysts say the group, which includes established jihadist factions that now fight under a common banner, comprises 2,500 to 3,000 men nationwide. It is most influential in Aleppo and its countryside to the north, in Idlib and in Latakia.

The group, however, is facing increasing isolation as others try to distance themselves from Islamic State’s hard-line tactics.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has put out a statement regarding Anwar al-Awlaki’s recent demise. (via Jihadology)

Intelwire’s J.M. Berger makes the following observation on Twitter: “The fact Awlaki’s death was announced in Arabic but not English may tell us something about the prospects for Inspire going forward.”

Two key al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen bit the dust today

U.S.-Born Qaeda Leader Killed in Yemen

SANA, Yemen — Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who was a leading figure in Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate and was considered its most dangerous English-speaking propagandist and plotter, was killed in an American drone strike on his vehicle on Friday, officials in Washington and Yemen said. They said the strike also killed a radical American colleague who was an editor of Al Qaeda’s online jihadist magazine.

Many details of the strike were unclear, but one American official said that Mr. Awlaki, whom the United States had been hunting in Yemen for more than two years, had been identified as the target in advance and was killed with a Hellfire missile fired from a drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. The official said it was the first C.I.A. strike in Yemen since 2002. Yemen’s Defense Ministry confirmed Mr. Awlaki’s death.

The strike appeared to be the first time in the American-led war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that an American citizen had been deliberately killed by American forces, a step that has raised contentious constitutional issues in the United States. It was also the second high-profile killing of an Al Qaeda leader in the past five months under the Obama administration, which ordered the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

Mr. Awlaki was an important member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, regarded by some antiterrorism experts as the most dangerous branch of the Al Qaeda network. He was considered the inspirational or operational force behind a number of major plots aimed at killing Americans in the United States in recent years, most notably the deadly assault at an American army base in Fort Hood, Tex., and attempts to bomb Times Square and a Detroit-bound jetliner.

Yemen’s official news agency, Saba, reported that the attack also killed Samir Khan, an American citizen of Pakistani origin who was an editor of Inspire, Al Qaeda’s English-language Internet magazine. An American official said the United States government believed Mr. Khan had been killed as well. It was not clear whether Mr. Khan, who proclaimed in the magazine last year that he was “proud to be a traitor to America,” was also a deliberate target of the strike.

A Yemeni Defense Ministry statement said that a number of Mr. Awlaki’s bodyguards were also killed.

Neither the Americans nor the Yemenis explained precisely how they knew that Mr. Awlaki had been confirmed dead.

This operation raises interesting constitutional questions about whether or not the federal government has the right to order the assassination of American citizens. Given Yemen’s teetering status as a quasi-failed state and the lack of effective government institutions in the country, expecting local authorities to arrest Awlaki or Khan or extradite them to the United States for trial was simply not a viable option.

ABC’s Jake Tapper recaps the high-level terrorist leaders who have been captured or killed during Obama’s presidency… He’s racked up quite the body count.

For laughs, the Drunk Predator Drone has weighed in on the assassination via Twitter.

Full disclosure: I once e-mailed Anwar al-Awlaki through his now-defunct website/blog for comment on a story about Fort Hood shooting suspect Nidal al Hassan I was working on for CNN back in 2009. I never got a response.