Thursday, January 23, 2020

French counter-terrorism officer charged with selling forged documents online

DGSI France

An officer in France’s elite counterterrorism agency is to be tried along with four accomplices for selling forged identity documents and private data on the darknet. The case first emerged in 2018, after officers with France’s Central Office for the Prevention of Illegal Immigration (OCRIEST) detected a seller of high quality forged copies of official documents on the darknet.
The seller, who went by the nickname Haurus, offered French identification cards, drivers’ licenses, birth certificates and even bank documents, in exchange for between €100 and €300 ($110 and $330). The quality of the documents on sale was substantially higher than most forgeries sold on the darknet. According to French government investigators, the fake documents qualified as what anti-forgery experts call “the gold standard”. Haurus also sold private phone records and other information to track the whereabouts of individuals.
Government investigators eventually received an anonymous tip that helped identify Haurus. According to prosecutors, Haurus was an officer in the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), which serves as France’s main counterterrorism agency. In accordance with France’s strict privacy laws, he has been identified only as “Cédric D.”, 33. According to Le Parisien newspaper, Cédric D. worked as a counterterrorism investigator specializing on jihadist terrorist networks.
Upon his arrest, Cédric D. led prosecutors to four more people, including a private investigator, all of whom were eventually apprehended. Cédric D. was kept in pre-trial detention for several months. He was released five months ago and remains under judicial supervision. The investigation into his activities has now concluded, and a trial is expected to commence soon in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Author: Ian Allen

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Western intelligence agencies see non-Arab as new head of ISIS

Abdullah Qardash

Western intelligence agencies have reportedly confirmed that a non-Arab is now leading the Islamic State for the first time in the organization’s history. Rumors of a new leader of the group began to circulate just hours after American forces killed its self-styled Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. On October 27, 2019, Newsweek magazine reported that the militant group, which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), had appointed a man known as Abdullah Qardash (pictured) at its helm. According to the magazine, Qardash’s name was sometimes spelled in English as Karshesh. Additionally, he was sometimes referred to by his ISIS moniker, Hajji Abdullah al-Afari.
However, the names reported by Newsweek were not immediately recognizable to Western intelligence officials and other experts who monitor the Islamic State. But now British newspaper The Guardian reports that Western intelligence services have concluded that the man referred to as “Abdullah Qardash” in October is indeed the new leader of ISIS. The paper said on Monday that the new ISIS leader’s birth name is Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi. He is allegedly not an Arab, but rather an Iraqi Turkman whose family comes from Tal Afar, a northwestern Iraqi city that is close to the borders of Syria and Turkey. In fact, al-Salbi is reported to have a brother in Turkey, who is a prominent member of an ethic political grouping called the Turkmen Iraqi Front.
Al-Salbi, who was allegedly appointed as leader of ISIS just hours after al-Baghdadi’s demise, is believed to be the first non-Arab to ever lead the militant group. Like most of ISIS’ original founders, al-Salbi is believed to have met Baghdadi in 2004 in Camp Bucca, an American-administered prison in Umm Qasr. Similarly to al-Baghadi, al-Salbi’s background is in Islamic education —something that enabled him to quickly rise in the ranks of ISIS ideologues and command significant influence. By 2018, al-Salbi had become a central decision-maker within the group and was able to shape its activities and policies within its territory in the Middle East and beyond. The Guardian article concludes that al-Salbi is “a hardened veteran in the same vein as al-Baghdadi”, which implies that no major changes in the Islamic State’s strategy are expected to take place under his leadership.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis 

Britain warns its citizens following detention of alleged Russian spies in Switzerland

Davos Switzerland

A Swiss newspaper has revealed previously unreported detention of two Russian diplomats in the luxury Swiss Alpine resort of Davos, which is currently hosting the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The development prompted British authorities to warn some British citizens participating in the WEF meeting that they may be in physical danger.
The brief detention of the two Russians allegedly occurred in August of last year in Davos, a mountain resort in the canton of Graubünden, which is located in Switzerland’s eastern Alps region. According to the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, local police detained two Russians during the period between August 8 and 28 of last year. Citing anonymous sources from the police and security services, the paper said that the authorities were alerted about the two Russians by employees at a local resort. The employees reportedly found it strange that the Russians had booked hotel rooms for over three weeks, which is unusually long for Davos’ ultra-luxury resort setting.
When police officers approached the two men and inquired about their background, one of them said he worked as a plumber. However, when asked to provide identification papers, both men reportedly produced Russian diplomatic passports. However, none had received accreditation by the Swiss government, which means they had not been formally registered as diplomats in the Alpine nation. When Swiss police officials contacted the Russian embassy in Bern to inquire about the two men, Russian officials “threatened diplomatic consequences if the men were arrested” said Tages-Anzeiger.
The two Russians were eventually released, as Swiss police “could not ascertain any reason to detain them”, said the paper. However, Swiss officials said that the two Russians “obviously […] had their sights on the WEF” and were probably planning to install surveillance equipment around the Swiss resort town. Soon after the Tages-Anzeiger report was published, British counterterrorism police reportedly warned a number of British citizens attending the WEF meeting that they might be in physical danger.
But the Russian embassy in Switzerland dismissed the Tages-Anzeiger report as “one more attempt to undermine Swiss-Russian relations”. Russian officials at the embassy accused Western countries of trying to “whip out a scandal out of nothing”, adding that Russian authorities had not been officially notified of the incident and that there was “no evidence of espionage” by the two men.

Friday, January 3, 2020

The second most powerful person in Iran: A profile of Qassem Soleimani

Major General Qassem Soleimani speaking at a press conference, Hamadan, Iran in 2018. Pic: AY Collection/SIPA/Shutterstock

Major General Qassem Soleimani, the architect of Iran's intelligence and military operations abroad, was hailed as a hero at home and considered one of the most powerful figures in the country.
The commander of the elite Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards was killed in a US air strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport.
Maj Gen Soleimani, 62, is understood to have directly reported to Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader.

Outside of domestic affairs, controlled by President Hassan Rouhani, the major general was seen as the second most powerful person in the country. Commentators have compared his status to that of the US vice president.
He had been spearheading Iran's growing military influence in the Middle East. His movements were closely watched by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The force he led could be compared to a combination of America's CIA and special forces.
The US believes he was behind attacks on American forces in the region for the past two decades. Last year, it designated the Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organisation.
In 2018, Soleimani was seen in a video clip warning the US president: "I'm telling you Mr Trump the gambler, I'm telling you, know that we are close to you in that place you don't think we are. You will start the war but we will end it."
Baghdad airport
In recent years Soleimani deployed his forces in Syria's war to support President Bashar al Assad. He was also seen on battlefields, guiding Iraqi Shia groups in the war against Islamic State.
Here are some of the main details of his life and career:
  • Soleimani was born into an agricultural family in the town of Rabor in southeast Iran on 11 March 1957, going on to work in construction aged 13 and then for a city water department
  • When the revolution to oust the Shah of Iran began in 1978, Soleimani organised demonstrations against the monarch
  • He joined the Revolutionary Guards shortly after it was formed in 1979
  • Gaining a reputation for bravery, Soleimani rose through the ranks during the war with Iraq which broke out in 1980. Known as the Sacred Defence, the war lasted until 1988 and left as many as a million people dead.
  • He became head of the Quds Force in 1998
  • In 2007, at the height of the civil war between Sunni and Shia militants in Iraq, the US military accused Soleimani's Quds Force of supplying improvised explosive devices to Shia fighters, leading to the deaths of scores of American soldiers
  • He and the overall head of US forces in Iraq at the time, General David Petraeus, were in communcation. Gen Petraeus in 2010 recalled one message from the major general: "You should know that I, Qassem Soleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan."
  • Soleimani was frequently described as quiet and inconspicuous; a 2013 New Yorker profile quoted a former CIA officer in Iraq, John Maguire, as saying: "Soleimani is the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today... and no one's ever heard of him."
  • In summer 2015 he visited Moscow in what was said to be the first step in planning for Russia's military intervention to support President al Assad, a move that reshaped the Syrian civil war
  • Soleimani frequently travelled into Syria, reportedly compiling his own international team of officers to work out of a bland but heavily fortified building in Damascus. This led to a notable increase in Iranian supplies into the country
  • The US Treasury sanctioned him for the Quds Force's support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and other armed groups, and for his role in Syria's crackdown against protesters
  • Soleimani is alleged to have been involved in a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
  • Before Friday's attack, he was rumoured to have been killed a number of times - and was believed to have survived assassination attempts
  • He was pictured not wearing flak jackets in war zones and out of uniform, taken as a sign of his lack of fear of death
  • Ayatollah Khamenei awarded him the Order of Zolfiqar medal, Iran's highest military honour, last year


Friday, December 6, 2019

Russia, Lithuania and Norway exchange prisoners in rare three-way spy-swap

Frode Berg

A rare three-way spy-swap has reportedly taken place between Russia and two North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members, Lithuania and Norway. Rumors of a possible exchange of imprisoned spies between the three countries first emerged in mid-October. However, all three governments had either denied the rumors or refused to comment at the time. It now turns out that the spy-swap, which international news agencies described as “carefully coordinated” was the result of painstaking negotiations between the three countries, which lasted several months.
A major part of the process that led to last week’s spy swap was the decision of the Lithuanian parliament to approve altering the country’s criminal code. The new code allows the president of Lithuania to pardon foreign nationals who have been convicted of espionage, if doing so promotes Lithuania’s national interest. The new amendment also outlines the process by which the government can swap pardoned foreign spies with its own spies —or alleged spies— who may have been convicted of espionage abroad. On Friday, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda announced he had pardoned two Russian nationals who had been convicted of espionage against Lithuania, in accordance with the new criminal code. The president’s move was approved by the country’s multi-agency State Defense Council during a secret meeting.
Shortly after President Nausėda’s announcement, Sergei Naryshkin, Director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) said that Moscow would immediately proceed with “reciprocal steps”. The Kremlin soon released from prison two Lithuanian nationals, Yevgeny Mataitis and Aristidas Tamosaitis. Tamosaitis was serving a 12-year prison sentence, allegedly for carrying out espionage for the Lithuanian Defense Ministry in 2015. Mataitis, a dual Lithuanian-Russian citizen, was serving 13 years in prison, allegedly for supplying Lithuanian intelligence with classified documents belonging to the Russian government.
The two Lithuanians were exchanged for two Russians, Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergei Moisejenko. Filipchenko is believed to be an officer in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), who was arrested by Lithuanian counterintelligence agents in 2015. He had been given a 10-year prison sentence for trying to recruit double agents inside Lithuania, allegedly in order to install listening bugs inside the office of the then-Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. Moisejenko was serving a 10½ year sentence for conducting espionage and for illegally possessing firearms. Lithuania alleges that Moisejenko had been tasked by Moscow with spying on the armed forces of Lithuania and NATO. Along with the two Lithuanians, Russia freed Frode Berg (pictured), a Norwegian citizen who was serving a prison sentence in Russia, allegedly for acting as a courier for the Norwegian Intelligence Service.
On Saturday, Darius Jauniškis, Director of Lithuania’s State Security Department, told reporters in Vilnius that the spy swap had taken place in a remote part of the Russian-Lithuanian border. He gave no further information about the details exchange, or about who was present at the site during the spy-swap.

Elite Russian spy unit used French Alps region as logistical base

Chamonix France

An elite group Russian military intelligence officers, who have participated in assassinations across Europe, have been using resorts in the French Alps as logistical and supply bases, according to a new report. The report concerns Unit 29155 of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commonly known as GRU. According to The New York Times, which revealed its existence of 29155 in October, the unit has been operating for at least 10 years. However, Western intelligence agencies only began to focus on it in 2016, after it was alleged that an elite group of Russian spies tried to stage a coup in the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro.
Unit 29155 is believed to consist of a tightly knit group of intelligence officers led by Major General Andrei V. Averyanov, a hardened veteran of Russia’s Chechen wars. The existence of the unit is reportedly so secret that even other GRU operatives are unlikely to have heard of it. Members of the unit frequently travel to Europe to carry out sabotage and disinformation campaigns, kill targets, or conduct other forms of what some experts describe as the Kremlin’s hybrid war. They are believed to be responsible for the attempt on the life of Sergei Skripal, a former GRU intelligence officer who defected to Britain. He almost died in March 2018, when two Russian members of Unit 29155 poisoned him in the English town of Salisbury.
On Wednesday, a new report in the French newspaper Le Monde claimed that Unit 29155 used the French Alps as a “rear base” to carry out operations throughout Europe. According to the paper, the information about the unit’s activities in France emerged following forensic investigations of the activities of its members by British, Swiss, French and American intelligence agencies. In the same article, Le Monde published the names of 15 members of Unit 29155, which allegedly stayed in various French alpine towns and cities between 2014 and 2018. The paper said that they traveled to France from various countries in Europe, such as Spain, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, or directly for Russia.
The alleged Russian spies stayed in France’s Haute-Savoie, which borders Switzerland, and is among Europe’s most popular wintertime tourist destinations. The area includes the world-famous Mont Blanc mountain range and the picturesque alpine towns of Annemasse, Evian and Chamonix. Several members of the unit visited the region repeatedly, said Le Monde, while others entered France once or twice, in connection with specific spy missions. It is believed that the reasoning behind their trips to the French Alps was to blend in with the large numbers of international tourists that travel to the region throughout the year. However, the unit also utilized several other areas in Eastern Europe as rear bases, including cities and towns in Moldova, Montenegro and Bulgaria, said Le Monde.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

ISIS is expanding around globe despite Baghdadi death – carrying out ‘on average 10 terror attacks EVERY DAY’

ISIS is expanding around the globe despite elusive leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death - carrying out an average 10 terror attacks EVERY DAY, an expert warns.
While US President Donald Trump says that the shadowy group is "100 per cent" defeated, politicians and experts urge people to remain vigilant as ISIS "still has fighters".

 'We must remain extremely vigilant to mitigate the risk ISIS poses' say politicians and experts
General Sir Richard Barrons, former commander Joint Forces command – who led the UK Armed Forces until his retirement three years ago – told LBC that his death was a “significant moment in the campaign against ISIS".
He added that Baghdadi, “was their most iconic leader, and his death is a major blow to that organisation."
But, the expert added, we “should absolutely in no way think that this is the end of ISIS.
“It’s already a very distributed organisation, that claims something like 10 attacks around the world every day.
"So the death of Baghdadi in Syria is not going to affect what may now happen in the Philippines, or Nigeria, or elsewhere in Syria and Iraq.
“It still remains a powerful and very violent organisation that wishes us all here in the UK serious harm.”
And Republican Mike Rogers, who is on the House Homeland Security Committee, warned: "About 10,000 ISIS fighters remain in the region and will continue to carry out guerrilla attacks and seek new territory."