Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The UK scrambled 2 fighters on 'quick reaction alert' to intercept Russian bombers near British airspace

Typhoon Jet
AP/Donato Fasano

LONDON (AP) — Britain's Royal Air Force scrambled two fighter jets to intercept Russian strategic bombers near UK airspace on Monday, in another illustration of ongoing tensions.
The RAF confirmed that it sent Typhoon aircraft from the Lossiemouth base in Scotland on a "quick reaction alert" as two Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack bombers approached Britain.
"The Russian aircraft were initially monitored by a variety of friendly nation fighters and subsequently intercepted by the RAF in the North Sea," the air force said. "At no point did the Russian aircraft enter sovereign UK airspace."
Russia's Defense Ministry said the pair of bombers flew over the Barents, Norwegian, and North seas during a 13-hour training mission that covered neutral waters, in line with international norms.
Encounters between Russian and NATO warplanes have become increasingly frequent as Moscow has demonstrated its resurgent military might.
Russia also has increased its navy's presence in the Mediterranean and other areas.
Last week, the HMS Westminster, a Portsmouth-based Type 23 frigate, was ordered to intercept two Russian corvettes and two supporting vessels that neared UK waters en route to their Baltic base.


The State of Liberty is pictured during a rainy day in New York on October 16, 2014.

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) planned to attack the Statue of Liberty in New York City with pressure cooker bombs, it has been revealed.
Munther Omar Saleh, 21, and Fareed Mumuni, 22, both from New York, have pleaded guilty to conspiring to support ISIS and plotting a bomb blast in the city in February 2017, but new details of their plot have come to light.
Court filings released ahead of the sentencing of Saleh and Mumuni next month show that they had received instructions on how to build a pressure cooker bomb from an English ISIS operative, and that the pair’s targets included the Statue of Liberty and Times Square.
“i [sic] was considering that The statue of liberty has a very weak point in its lower back and its tilting forward, if i can get a few pressure cooker bombs to hit the weak point, i think it will fall face down,” Saleh wrote in his notes, according to the documents.
“Or we can hit times square which would be easier, but if i can get more akhs [brothers], we can perform simultaneous attacks all around NYC.”
Both men were arrested in 2015 and their plot was ultimately foiled. Upon arrest, the pair ran at an unmarked FBI vehicle with knives. Saleh faces up to 56 years in prison at the sentencing that begins on February 8.
A key figure in the plot was Australian jihadi Neil Prakash, one of the country’s most dangerous militants, who remains in Turkish custody. Prakash was involved in the verification of an undercover FBI agent as a member of the extremist group.
The FBI asset contacted Saleh in May 2015 before his arrest, mentioning Prakash, known by his nom de guerre Abu Khalid al Kambodi or spelt by his fellow jihadis as abukambozz.
“An akh [brother] i never met before messaged me telling me abu kambozz sent him to me,” Saleh wrote to now-dead British ISIS recruiter Junaid Hussain. “...I have to confirm with abukambozz before we can work any further.”
“Our akh Abu Khalid al kambodi told me he didn’t send anyone to me,” Saleh told Hussain.
Saleh then told the undercover agent: “Ok, akhi, problem is abukambozz denied sending u.”
He continued: “Akhi I’m very sorry but i was ordered by dawlah (ISIS) officials not to talk to anyone until they produce an akh of authority to vouch for them.”
ISIS, like its jihadi counterpart Al-Qaeda, has made New York a primary target for its fighters or inspired supporters. In November, an Uzbek citizen who moved to the U.S. in 2010 drove a rented pickup truck into civilians in Manhattan, killing eight people.
ISIS's propaganda campaign has focused on threatening further attacks in New York and other major Western cities as it continues to lose territory in the Middle East. Local ground forces backed by the air forces of the U.S.-led coalition have ousted the jihadi group from the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa and northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
The militant group threatened to launch an attack on Times Square over the Christmas period, showing a Santa Claus standing next to a box of explosives. But no such attack surfaced.
The FBI foiled an attack on New York City in May 2016, breaking up a cell that was planning the “next 9/11” during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The targets included concert venues, the New York subway and Times Square.

Belgian Fighters Escort Russian Bombers Across the North Sea

Bulgaria: Belgian Fighters Escort Russian Bombers Across the North Sea

Two Belgian fighters F-16 were lifted in the air to escort two Russian strategic bombers Tu-160 over the North Sea. A Belgian newspaper citing a source from the army said.

There is no formal confirmation of the information so far, according to TASS.

According to the Belgian press, from mid-last week, Belgium is responsible for the security of the airspace of the Benelux countries. Earlier in the morning, the British Defense Ministry reported to TASS that Typhoon fighters were picked up to escort Russian aircraft.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Senior Pentagon soldier warns ISIS: Quit or be shot in the face, beaten with entrenching tools

U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, the senior enlisted adviser to Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks on the flightline of Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on Dec. 22. (Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr./Air Force)

The Pentagon’s senior enlisted service member has issued a blunt warning to Islamic State fighters, saying in new social-media posts that they could either surrender or face death in a number of forms, including being beaten to death with steel entrenching tools.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, the senior enlisted adviser in the Pentagon, issued the warnings on Facebook and Twitter. Senior U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have warned Islamic State fighters for months that they must lay down their weapons or face annihilation, but Troxell’s message was unusually forceful.
“ISIS needs to understand that the Joint Force is on orders to annihilate them,” Troxell wrote on Facebook. “So, they have two options should they decide to come up against the United States, our allies and partners: surrender or die!”
Troxell added that the U.S.-led military coalition will provide militants who surrender with safety in a detainee cell, food, a cot and legal due process.
HOWEVER, if they choose not to surrender, then we will kill them with extreme prejudice, whether that be through security force assistance, by dropping bombs on them, shooting them in the face, or beating them to death with our entrenching tools,” Troxell wrote. “Regardless, they cannot win, so they need to choose how it’s going to be.”
The posts were published Tuesday night along with a photograph of an entrenching tool — a collapsible shovel used by U.S. troops.
It isn’t the first time that Troxell has issued a warning along those lines. He used the same talking points during a United Services Organization (USO) holiday tour last month in which he and his boss, Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited deployed U.S. troops in numerous locations.
Video recorded by a Stars and Stripes reporter on Dec. 24 in Afghanistan shows Troxell delivering a speech to cheering troops as Dunford and Florent Groberg, a Medal of Honor recipient looked on. Troxell, speaking from a stage, said that ISIS will be “annihilated, period!” before he launched into specifics.
“That may be through advising, assisting and enabling the host-nation partners,” he said. “It may be by dropping bombs on them. It may be by shooting them in the face. And it even might be beating them to death with your entrenching tool, but we are going to beat this enemy!”
The crowd of service members assembled roared in response.
Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for Dunford and the Joint Staff, said that Troxell’s comments emphasized the sincerity of the U.S.-led coalition’s resolve to defeat the Islamic State over the last four years. Ryder noted the count atrocities that the militants have committed against men, women and children.
“His intent was to communicate the tenacity of the warrior ethos that, even when faced with the brutal and unforgiving nature of combat, will use every resource available to fight and win,” Ryder said of Troxell.
The posts include the new hashtag #ISIS_SurrenderOrDie.
As Dunford’s senior enlisted adviser, Troxell is assigned to serve as a voice for enlisted service members at the Pentagon. He frequently gives U.S. troops fiery pep talks and thanks them for their work, as many sergeants major do.
Troxell, who has deployed in combat five times, traveled to Syria twice last year. In October, he visited Raqqa, the Islamic State’s former de facto capital that U.S.-backed forces seized. In comments published by the Pentagon afterward, he said commanders of the U.S.-backed forces were warning the militants to surrender.
“There is no negotiating with these guys,” Troxell said. “They are either going to surrender or they are going to get killed.”

Washington renames Russian embassy street after slain opposition MP

A Google Maps 3D view of the Russian embassy in Washington DC, showing a small stretch of Wisconsin Avenue

The city council voted to rename the street outside Russia's embassy complex after Boris Nemtsov, who was shot outside the Kremlin in 2015.
A statement from the council said the decision to honour the "slain democracy activist" passed unanimously.
Russian politicians criticised the move, with one MP labelling it a "dirty trick".
The decision was specifically targeted at "the portion of Wisconsin Avenue in front of the Russian Embassy", according to the Washington council's statement.
Russia's Interfax news agency quoted the leader of the nationalist LDPR party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, as saying US authorities "specifically want to play dirty tricks in front of the Russian Embassy".
Another politician from the Communist Party, Dmitry Novikov, told the agency: "The US authorities have long been absorbed in their own game of interfering in Russian internal affairs."
Mr Nemtsov, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot in February 2015 while walking home from a restaurant in Moscow.
A small memorial near where he was killed has frequently been vandalised, or cleared away by street cleaners late at night.

His daughter, Zhanna, travelled to Washington DC in early December to advocate for the name change.
Boris Nemtsov in a file photo from 2009
Memorials to Boris Nemtsov in Moscow have been repeatedly cleared away or vandalised

"The current Russian political regime wants to eradicate the memory of my father, since it believes - correctly - that symbols are important and that they can potentially facilitate and inspire change," she told the council.
She said her father was "an open-minded patriot of Russia" who deserved to be commemorated.
"For now, we cannot do it in Russia because of unprecedented resistance on the part of the Russian authorities. But we have a chance to do it here - and here, it will be very difficult to dismantle," she said.
Five Chechen men were convicted over Boris Nemtsov's killing in mid-2017, but family and supporters of the slain politician believe the person who ordered the murder remains at large.
The Washington DC decision comes a day after Turkey similarly renamed the street the UAE embassy sits upon in Ankara, naming it after a military commander at the centre of a diplomatic spat.

Egyptian branch of ISIS declares war on Hamas as tensions rise in Sinai

Egypt Gaza border

The Islamic State in Egypt’s Sinai Province has declared war on the Palestinian militant group Hamas, in a move that experts say will furhter-complicate an already volatile security situation in eastern Egypt. Many observers see the group, Wilayat Sinai, as the strongest international arm of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Known officially as ISIS – Sinai Province, Wilayat Sinai was behind the 2015 downing of Metrojet Flight 9268, which killed all 224 passengers and crew onboard, most of them Russians. The same group killed 311 people at a Sufi mosque in November of last year, in what has become known as the worst terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history.
Israeli sources claim that, in the past, Wilayat Sinai has had limited cooperation with Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, a coastal section of the Palestinian territories that borders with Egypt’s Sinai Province. The two organizations are believed to have engaged in limited cross-border arms-smuggling, while some injured Wilayat Sinai fighters have been treated in Gaza Strip hospitals. But the two groups have major ideological differences that contribute to their increasingly tense relationship. The Islamic State objects to participation in democratic elections, which it sees as efforts to place human will above divine law. It has thus condemned Hamas’ decision to participate in the 2006 elections in the Palestinian territories. Additionally, even though it promotes Sunni Islam, Hamas is far less strict in its religious approach than the Islamic State, and does not impose Sharia (Islamic law based on the Quran) in the territory it controls. Furthermore, Hamas suppresses Saudi-inspired Wahhabism and its security forces often arrest ISIS and al-Qaeda sympathizers in the Gaza Strip. In the past month, ISIS accused Hamas of having failed to prevent America’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Additionally, ISIS is opposed to the support that Hamas receives from Iran, a Shiite nation that ISIS regards as heretical.
There are reports that Hamas has been quietly collaborating with Egypt and even Israel in recent months, in order to combat the rise of ISIS in the region. For several months now, the Palestinian group has exercised stricter control over its seven-mile-long border with Egypt. It has rebuilt border barriers that had previously been destroyed and has installed security fences and a digital surveillance system. It has also launched a public-relations effort to shame the families of young men from Gaza who have joined ISIS forces in Sinai. In response to these moves, Wilayat Sinai has publicly urged its supporters to kill members of Hamas and attack the group’s security installations and public buildings. The ISIS-affiliated group has also urged its members to eliminate members of the small Shiite Muslim community in the Gaza strip. According to experts, the decision by Wilayat Sinai to declare war on Hamas means that the group has now virtually surrounded itself with adversaries. The move may also increase informal collaboration between Hamas and the Israeli government, say observers.

The missing papers at the National Archives may not be a grand conspiracy after all

Thousands of government papers have apparently gone missing from the UK National Archives. Declassified documents covering some of the most controversial episodes from Britain’s past, including the Falklands War, Northern Ireland’s Troubles and the now infamous Zinoviev Letter Affair were among the missing files, having been officially “misplaced while on loan” to government departments. Some have claimed this is evidence of a government cover-up, but the truth is probably more mundane.
Others papers returned to government from the archives based at Kew, Surrey, include papers on Britain’s control over the Mandate of Palestine, sensitive records on defence agreements between the UK and Malaya and documents on the 1978 killing of dissident Georgi Markov by Bulgarian spies in central London. The number of missing files ran to “almost 1,000”, according to The Guardian.
The story prompted criticism over government handling of documents released into the public domain and led to questions of a possible cover-up by departments trying to manipulate the past. Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett called for an investigation and said the British public deserved to know “what the government has done in their name”. The Scottish National Party also demanded an inquiry.

Amnesty International and Reprieve also expressed concerns about the possible loss of papers dealing with human rights violations, especially by the British state in Northern Ireland. Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland programme director demanded “a government-wide search”.

History theft

Journalist Siobhan Fenton linked the controversy to attempts to rewrite Britain’s colonial legacy, adding: “Britain has long failed to acknowledge the horrors that its colonialism and imperialism have wrought on the world.”
And The National’s Martin Hannan even claimed that the Zinoviev Letter (a forgery at the heart of a plot to destabilise Britain’s first Labour government in 1924) was “among the missing documents” – even though copies of the letter can be easily found at Kew.
In fairness, this isn’t the first time that government has been accused of withholding sensitive papers. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) was found to be hoarding colonial era records in the so-called “migrated archives” following legal action by Mau Mau veterans tortured by the British authorities in the 1950s. The FCO subsequently releasedthis material to the National Archives.
But are the new claims of “almost 1,000” missing files actually accurate? In short, no. Figures from the National Archives suggest the number is far smaller than that put forward by The Guardian’s Ian Cobain. Government departments can request the return of documents sent to Kew for several reasons, including writing official history and exploring departmental precedents.
Both the Public Records Act 1958 and Section 46 “Code of Practice –- records management” under Freedom of Information, asks departments to ensure the “safe-keeping and security of records in their custody”. Departments are encouraged to return files as soon as they have been used. Figures obtained under Freedom of Information show that government departments asked for just over 23,000 files between 2011 and 2014. As of early 2014, 2,925 were yet to be returned.

So how many have been lost?

The National Archives catalogue shows just 626 records – far fewer than the thousands initially suggested. These contain documents from across government, including the FCO, Home Office, Ministry of Defence, Board of Trade, Treasury, Office of Works and many more (some 63 public bodies).
Another Freedom of Information request reveals that 48 records were lost while on loan from July 2011 to July 2016. The Ministry of Defence (19) and Metropolitan Police (ten) were the worst offenders. The FCO accounted for just three. It is unclear when the other almost 600 files went missing, but these could have been lost over a longer period of time, the figures suggest.
To place this into some context, a total of 372 records went missing for unspecified reasons in the vaults of the National Archives between the summer of 2011 and 2016. Figures obtained by the BBC show this number could be as high as 402, including files on nuclear collaboration with Israel and correspondence with Winston Churchill. That’s out of nearly 11m records – 0.01% of the collection.
Searches of the online catalogue show that one Home Office file on the Zinoviev Letter, three on Britain’s relationship with Malaya and several highlighted by The Guardian have been lost. Claims that “many” of the missing papers refer to the Falklands are inaccurate. Just one Treasury file on the development of the Falklands is missing. None refer to Britain’s controversial response to the Mau Mau uprising or the colonial campaigns in Malaya, Cyprus or Aden.
On watch for Mau Mau fighters.
Given Amnesty’s concern over the loss of papers on Northern Ireland, only one file – a Ministry of Defence assessment in the early 1970s – has been lost. Many of the missing reports on Communist Party infiltration in the 1950s can be found in MI5’s declassified papers or those of the Cabinet Office, already available to researchers elsewhere.
For all the talk of government lies, many of the files relate to more mundane matters. Among the lost papers are records on the Channel Tunnel, Norwich Airport, a map of Princes Risborough, kneepads in coalmines (of interest no doubt to researchers in these areas, but far from the government cover-up suggested by some).
For a historian, the loss of government records is troubling but the claim that government is manipulating history by losing documents is an exaggeration. Historians already have the ability to write on controversial aspects from Britain’s past – Zinoviev, Mau Mau, Cold War surveillance and others – using papers at the National Archives, as seen by the growth of historical research on these subjects and many more. If government is supposedly trying to alter history by “losing” historical papers, it’s not doing a very good job.