Tuesday, December 29, 2015

London is tipped off to threat of ‘Paris-style attack’

The warning was issued to numerous European capitals, including London. (AFP/File)

London, is among other major European cities that have been forewarned about the possibility of a shooting or bomb attack on or before New Year's Eve, a new report says.

The terror alert originally handed to Austrian police on Saturday from a "friendly" intelligence service says sleeper cells are planning to hit Western targets, according to the British daily, the Express.

The report said this prompted police across the continent to increase security to prevent a Paris-style November attack on an unknown location in Europe.

The warning made specific mention of the threat to people in “crowded spaces” and warned that the strike could take place between Christmas and New Year.

The report pointed to the Austrian police statement that said, "In the days before Christmas a warning was sent out by a friendly (intelligence) service to numerous European capitals, saying that it could come to an attack involving explosives or a shooting between Christmas and the New Year in crowded spaces."

"Several possible names of potential attackers were mentioned, which were checked, and the investigation based on (these checks) has so far yielded no concrete results.”

Scores of people were killed and hundreds of others injured in the French capital Paris on November 13 in the deadliest attacks to hit the country since the Second World War.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Weapon used in Paris attacks was purchased in the United States

Image result for pic of M92

One of the guns used by Islamist militants to attack locations in downtown Paris on November 13 was purchased legally through a dealer in the United States, according to a report by the Associated Press. Investigators have confirmed that several of the weapons used in the attack, which killed 130 and injured hundreds more, were manufactured in Serbia. Most are slightly modified versions of the Soviet-era AK-47, known in the West as “shortened Kalashnikov”. All were produced in a weapons factory called Zastava, which is located in the city of Kragujevac, in central Serbia. They were made in the 1980s and sold within the former Yugoslavia.

Last Thursday, however, the director of the Zastava factory, Milojko Brzakovic, told the Associated Press that he had contacted authorities in France to inform them that one of the weapons used in the Paris attacks was made in his factory and sold to a US dealer. It was an M92 semi-automatic pistol, which had been legally sold to an American online arms seller called Century Arms in May 2013. The seller, based in the state of Florida, is believed to import tens of thousands of weapons from the Zastava factory each year. Brzakovic said the M92 could only fire single shots, and was thus in accordance with American law. It sells for less than $500 a piece in the US, he said.

When asked how the weapon got into the hands of militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Brzakovic said he had no idea. He told the Associated Press that all guns exports by Zastava to Century Arms and other American weapons dealers are in strict compliance with US government regulations. Someone, he said, must have illegally modified the weapon into an automatic at a later stage. Brzakovic also said he had no idea how the weapon left America and ended up in France. All weapons exports from the US must be approved by the US Department of State, he said, so the M92 pistol must have made its way to Europe illegally.

Suspect arrested over Paris attacks as raids continue across France

A 29-year-old man was arrested in the Paris region on Tuesday as part of the vast investigation into last month's attacks on the city that left 130 dead, a judicial source said.

The probe has seen 2,700 police raids and 360 people placed under house arrest since the attacks by the Islamic State group, which triggered a nationwide state of emergency.
The man detained Tuesday is to be questioned about possible links with another man who is believed to have left for Syria and who is of particular interest to police investigating the November 13 attacks, a source close to the case said.
The suspect lives in a housing estate in the eastern Paris suburb of Villiers-sur-Marne.
The town's mayor, Jacques-Alain Benisti, said the man lived with his mother and "had a job". A source close to the mayor also said he frequented a prayer room run by the ethnic Tamil community.
Two men are already in custody, accused of providing accommodation to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader who was killed in a major police raid in northern Paris five days after the attacks.
Six counter-terrorism judges are overseeing the investigation -- an unprecedented number for France.
But three of the nine attackers have yet to be identified, including two of the three suicide bombers who blew themselves up outside the Stade de France stadium, who appear to have used fake passports to sneak into Europe posing as refugees.
The other unidentified man is thought to have taken part in the gun attacks on the terraces of restaurants and bistros and died alongside Abaaoud in the shootout with police on November 18.

Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old French citizen is thought to have played a key logistical role, is still on the run and subject to an international arrest warrant.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a total of 334 people had been arrested since the attacks, of whom 287 were held for questioning, and that over 400 weapons had been seized.

Some 1,800 French citizens have been linked to jihadist networks, the minister said, including more than 600 who are currently in Syria and Iraq and 144 had died in fighting there.
He said 250 had returned to France, while around 500 were "preparing to leave" and the rest already in transit.
Separately, two men were also being questioned on Tuesday in relation to the attacks in January on the French capital that targeted Charlie Hebdo magazine, police and a Jewish supermarket.
One of the men, 52-year-old Claude Hermant, was said by prosecutors to have links to far-right groups.
Investigators believe an assault rifle and four Tokarev pistols found in the arsenal of Amedy Coulibaly, the jihadist who killed four people at the Hyper Cacher supermarket, may have been sourced from Hermant.
He was charged with arms trafficking earlier this year.
A total of seven people have been charged with providing weapons or vehicles to Coulibaly. All deny any knowledge he was planning an attack.
Seventeen people died in three days of attacks around Paris carried out by Coulibaly and brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi. The three attackers were killed in police assaults on January 9.


German Bundeswehr takes part in first Syrian missions

Deutschland Syrien-Einsatz Tornado Aufklärungsflugzeuge mit Tankflugzeug A310 MRTT

A German Bundeswehr Airbus A310 twice provided in-flight refueling for fighter jets conducing airstrikes against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) in Syria late Tuesday and early Wednesday, according to a statement made by a Bundeswehr spokesperson to the German news agency dpa. It is the first time German has directly been a part of the aerial offensive against IS.

The fighter jets were part of an international coalition conducting airstrikes against IS. No information was given about what country the jets were from, but French, American, British and Saudi jets have conducted such missions.

Earlier this month, Germany agreed to take an active role in the military engagement against IS in Syria in response to the Paris terror attacks in November. The 1,200 troops Germany has pledged to the mission is the country's largest military commitment.

In addition to the refueling planes, Germany has pledged to send a frigate to join French patrols of the Mediterranean and Tornado reconnaissance jets that will begin missions in January.

By participating in the airstrikes on Wednesday, Germany has undertaken its third military offensive in the 60-year history of its armed forces after World War II. Germany also took an active role in military missions during the Kosovo conflict on 1999 and ended its military mission in Afghanistan last year.


Russia Investigating 1,600 With Ties To Islamic State

Russia's top security agency says it is investigating 1,600 individuals and organizations suspected of aiding the Islamic State militant group.

Alexander Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service, the main successor to the KGB, also said on December 15 that his agency has identified 2,900 Russian citizens suspected of involvement in extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

He said that 198 of them have been killed in fighting and another 214 have returned to Russia. Bortnikov added that 80 of those who have come back have been convicted and another 41 have been arrested.

President Vladimir Putin has said previously that between 5,000 and 7,000 citizens of Russia and other ex-Soviet nations have joined IS. He said the Russian air campaign in Syria has been aimed at protecting Russia's security.

Bortnikov said the threat from IS has actually picked up, as expected, since Russia started its bombing campaign in Syria.

"Militants from the 'hot spots' are trying to penetrate," prompting the agency to increase its efforts to prevent attacks, he said.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Russian Destroyer Fires Warning Shots at Turkish Vessel in Aegean

The Russian defense ministry said that one of its destroyers in the Aegean Sea had to fire small arms warning shots Sunday at a Turkish fishing vessel to prevent a collision.

The ministry said its guided missile destroyer Smetlivy was unable to make radio contact with the approaching Turkish seiner, a fishing boat equipped with nets, and it failed to respond to visual signals and flares. Moscow said the destroyer fired the warning shots when the fishing boat was 600 meters away. It quickly changed course and passed within 540 meters.

Moscow said it summoned the Turkish military attache over the incident.

Tensions are running high between Turkey and Russia after a Turkish jet downed a Russian bomber along the Syrian border last month, leaving two of Moscow's airmen dead in the attack and subsequent rescue effort.


Seventy Paris airport workers have security passes revoked over extremism fears

Seventy workers at Paris airports suspected of being radical Islamists have had their security passes revoked since the deadly attacks in the city a month ago.

Security agents have also examined the contents of around 4,000 workers’ lockers at Charles de Gaulle and Orly as the airports authority attempts to weed out any potential terrorists working at the busy transport hubs.

French security sources have said that Islamist militants killed in a police raid in a Paris suburb five days after the November 13 attacks were planning to attack CDG France’s biggest international airport.

The radicalisation of airport personnel sparked concern after the crash in October of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt which Western intelligence officials believe was brought down by a bomb smuggled on board by an airport worker
Augustin de Romanet, chief executive officer of ADP, the company that runs the two Paris airports, said the state authority which issues security passes had carried out a screening after the attacks on Paris, in which 130 people were killed and 350 injured.

“Nearly 70 red badges were withdrawn after the attacks, mainly for cases of radicalisation,” he said in an interview with French media.

He said around 85,000 people had secure-zone clearance in the two airports, most of them working for airlines or for several hundred subcontractors.

So-called red badges are issued to people employed in the secure zone of Roissy-Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, working for instance as baggage handlers, aircraft cleaners and suppliers.

“To be issued with a red badge, you have to be cleared by police, and if you work for a company that carries out security checks of in-flight luggage, you need three police checks,” De Romanet said.

Some airport workers suspected of links to radical Islam were placed under house arrest under state of emergency powers implemented after the attacks a month ago.

It emerged after the November 13 massacre that dozens of airport staff had their security passes revoked after the terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in January, but others continued to work despite being on an intelligence watchlist as potential Islamist extremists.


ISIS now has the ability to issue official-looking Syrian passports


The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is now able to produce authentic-looking Syrian passports using machines that are typically available only to governments, according to an American intelligence report. The report was accessed by the New York-based station ABC News, which said it was issued by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative wing of the United States Department of Homeland Security. According to ABC News, the 17-page report was issued in early December to law enforcement departments across the US. It warns that ISIS is most likely able to print government-quality travel documents using Syrian passport templates.

According HSI, the militant group was first able to access passport-issuing technology when it conquered Raqqa, the Syrian city that today serves as the capital of the so-called Islamic State. The city has a passport office with at least one passport-issuing machine, said the report. A few months later, ISIS came in possession of a second passport-issuing machine when it captured the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. The HSI report states that the city’s passport office, which contained “boxes of blank passports” and at least one passport-printing machine, came into the hands of ISIS militants undamaged. Currently, the whereabouts of the Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor passport machines “remain fluid”, says the report, pointing out that both machines are believed to be portable.

The intelligence report goes on to state “with moderate confidence” that ISIS has issued authentic-looking Syrian passports to individuals, and that some of them may have traveled to Europe and the US. Further on, the report says that Syria is virtually awash with fake documents; it cites an unnamed source who says that high-quality fake Syrian passports can be purchased in the black market in Syria for less than $400, and that some government employees will backdate passport stamps in exchange for a fee. IntelNews readers will recall that two of the suicide bombers who attacked Paris in November were carrying fake Syrian passports.

Soldiers from 7th Special Forces Group Airborne are suspended by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during a training event Eglin Air Force Base, February 5, 2013

With Defense Secretary Ash Carter's announcement in early December that a special operations “expeditionary force” will be deployed to Iraq, a new phase of the effort to defeat the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) has begun. The special operators will be authorized to conduct raids in Iraq and Syria, and their activities will remedy one of the most critical gaps in the campaign to date—intelligence. By conducting raids, as special operators did in May when they killed Abu Sayyaf, an ISIS leader who had helped manage its oil and gas sales, they can gain troves of intelligence through interrogation of captured ISIS fighters and off of their phones, computers, and other possessions. This type of “sensitive site exploitation,” as it is called, involves rapid processing by intelligence analysts, which, during the heyday of the surge in Iraq, enabled operators to conduct up to 17 raids a night.
The raids and follow-on exploitation will significantly increase pressure on the ISIS network by leading to the targeting of top and mid-level leaders, couriers, and the facilitators that procure and distribute the fuel, ammunition, fighters, and other inputs that fuel the war effort. However critical to the fight against ISIS, though, using special operations forces for raids represents only half of the needed military adjustment.
The other half is the effort to build indigenous forces capable of taking and holding territory in Iraq and Syria. Over the past year, out of a desire to limit the U.S. involvement, too little equipment has been supplied to willing fighters, and advisors have been restricted to top headquarters commands and a few geographic areas. Although the Iraqi army has a long way to go, other security forces, such as Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), have been part of the fight since the beginning but have been starved for resources and sufficient advisory support.
In Syria, very tight vetting criteria, constraints on advisory support, and a hodgepodge approach to indigenous forces severely limited the effectiveness of allied local forces. For example, to receive training and equipment, Syrian volunteers had to pledge to fight only ISIS and not Assad, and the question of providing air cover was not resolved until the recruits came under fire. The United States and its partners also supported different anti-ISIS forces without requiring them to unify. Although the Syrian Kurd People's Defense Units have been an important part of the fight in Syria, the focus must shift to backing Arabs, Druze, and other Syrians as well. That will help peel support away from extremist factions such as the al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al Nusra.
Ramping up these two military efforts would in turn enhance the political leg of the U.S. strategy in Iraq and Syria. By providing more robust advisory and material support to the Haider al-Abadi government in Iraq, the United States could increase its leverage to better compete with Iran for influence in Baghdad. Shia and Kurds will not be able to pacify Iraq's Sunni areas without Sunni help. A combination of forces recently retook Baiji oil refinery in central Iraq, after more than a year of seesaw fighting. It seems that no single force in Iraq can make gains against ISIS, but together, a number of them can.
For example, visiting Iraq earlier this year, I saw how the CTS, led by a Shia general, Taleb al-Kenani, had successfully put together an effective force of Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish Iraqis. As Kenani told me, “We are all Iraqis here. This is our primary criteria for selection.” The Iraqi military must focus on the same principle if Iraq is to remain a united state, and the CTS suggests one possible model as to how this might be accomplished.
In Syria, ramping up support to U.S. allies on the ground would have a similarly salutary effect on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's diplomatic initiatives. Such support would set the table for more favorable negotiations over the fate of the Assad regime and the prospects for eradicating ISIS in Syria. Sustained military aid to indigenous Syrian forces would signal to Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers that the United States is not prepared to stand by while they wipe out Syrian opposition fighters in the populated western corridor from Damascus to Aleppo. The United States and its partners have supported those fighters in the past; to abandon them now would signal weakness to Putin.
Further, the United States should set a clear requirement for the negotiations: a timetable for transition and elections. A timetable would allow Iran and Russia a route to pursue their interests—a cheaper one than indefinitely propping up the gravely weak Assad regime. Assad's ground force has crumbled, and he is heavily reliant on Iranian-led militias, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Iraqi militias. Neither Russia nor Iran want to commit large numbers of ground forces to prop up Assad—and this is leverage the United States must use at the bargaining table.
Finally, the United States must be willing to walk away from a bad deal. It frankly does not need Russia to defeat ISIS: it has allies willing to use their precision bombs to strike at the group in targets in Syria—as of December 3, the British have joined this effort. In other words, Russia's relatively imprecise bombs, which are increasing civilian casualties, are more a liability than a help.
Washington has adopted the right strategy: developing and supporting competent Iraqi and Syrian ground forces is the only way to defeat ISIS. The problem is that this strategy has not received the resources and attention it deserves. Obama has recently pledged to accelerate and intensify the campaign, but those efforts will fail if they are applied incrementally. It is time to ramp up on multiple fronts. The West has suffered the effects of slow progress, and now it is time to get in gear.


Egypt: Sinai crash probe finds 'no proof of terrorism'

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail (right) views the wreckage after the crash (file photo)

Egyptian investigators say they have so far found no proof that terrorism caused a Russian jet to crash in the Sinai in October, killing 224 people.

The plane came down en route to Russia from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

A group linked to so-called Islamic State (IS) said it bombed the plane. Nearly all the victims were Russians.

Russia has said a bomb brought down the Metrojet Airbus, after finding what it said were "traces of foreign explosives" on the debris.

It has vowed to "find and punish" the perpetrators. In response to Monday's findings, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov re-iterated that "our experts concluded this was a terrorist attack".

Russian plane crash: What we know

Russia suspended all flights to Egypt in the wake of the attack, with the UK also suspending flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.

However, the head of the Egyptian committee investigating the crash, Ayman al-Muqaddim, was quoted by state TV on Monday as saying there was "no evidence that there is an act of terror or illegal intervention".

IS-affiliate Sinai Province said it had destroyed the plane because of Russian air strikes on Syria.

Last month IS's magazine published a photo of what it claimed was the improvised bomb that brought down the airliner.

The picture in Dabiq showed a Schweppes Gold soda can and what appears to be a detonator and a switch.

The crash has dealt another blow to Egypt's vital tourism industry, already struggling after years of unrest.

Egypt's tourism minister told Reuters earlier this month that tourism revenues for 2015 will be at least 10% below last year's.

Debris field

Graphic of plane and crash site


'Unit 732', the French anti-IS volunteers in Iraq

Daquq (Iraq) (AFP) - The translator rushed towards the rudimentary trailer housing the French volunteers who came to Iraq to fight against the Islamic State jihadist group alongside Kurdish forces.

"Come quick, the general wants to see you! And bring your helicopter," he told them, as an armoured convoy assembled and prepared to leave the base.

General Araz Abdelkader, who commands the Kurdish peshmerga forces stationed in Daquq, a town around 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Baghdad, had just received information on possible jihadist movements near the front line.

- Paris attacks -

What the translator calls a helicopter is in fact a small commercial drone which can be carried in a backpack and has turned out to be the French volunteers' most valuable "weapon".

Fred, Kim and Pascal are among six former servicemen from France forming the French contingent in Daquq, not counting Bella the dog, the group's mascot.

They have called themselves "Unit 732", a reference to the date of a battle that saw Frankish-led forces defeat the troops of the Umayyad caliphate in central France.

All six have significant military experience, but the peshmerga keep them mostly in the rear and they have not yet fired a shot in anger.

"We're working on a training programme and, mostly, what we do is recon and intelligence gathering," said Pascal, a Corsican sporting a salt-and-pepper moustache.

With 25 years' experience in private security in France, Africa and the Middle East, he's the group's veteran.

The tiny contingent was welcomed by Iraqi Kurds, who are some of the main recipients of Western military aid to fight the Islamic State (IS) group.

France has good relations with Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Daquq front line, where the autonomous region's forces are deployed, is one of the areas where the French jets that are part of the US-led coalition have been the most active.

"These six men are worth many more, they master some technologies we don't," the peshmerga general said. 

"They brought this drone from France, it is very useful to us."

- 'Not crusaders' -

That day, the small device -- which has a range of four to five kilometres (three miles) -- flew across a wide open plain to monitor and record enemy movements without exposing a peshmerga reconnaissance unit on the ground.

The volunteers in Unit 732 got together on social media following the January attacks which IS claimed against satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris.

"It started with Charlie Hebdo... something happened inside of me," said Pascal, who wears the Kurdish flag on one arm patch and the French tricolour on the other.

Other foreigners have volunteered to fight alongside the Kurds in Iraq and Syria since 2014, but no Western country has been harder hit by IS than France and the deadly November 13 attacks in Paris spawned new volunteers.

"The attacks at the Bataclan (concert hall) sparked a wave... Many people want to join us now," said Pascal, warning nonetheless against a mass influx.

Despite its name, the six Frenchmen insist on the apolitical and non-religious nature of the group.

"We're not Crusaders, we didn't come here because we're unemployed or bored," said Fred, another member of the group who served 10 years in the army.

"We are all fathers and have families... We came here to defend our values," he said.

Sipping tea at the little blue plastic table outside their trailer, the volunteers also speak of their love for adventure, and some of them feel confined to a token role.

"I don't necessarily want to kill, and even less be killed, but we'd like to get more involved," said one of Daquq's Frenchmen, who gave his name as Kim.

He and his comrades are aware their presence is essentially a PR windfall for the peshmerga, who have cast themselves as the world's first rampart against IS, and do not plan to stay longer than three months.

They could not afford to stay much longer, given that they all arrived in Iraq with barely enough cash for a hotel room and are only housed and fed by the peshmerga but not paid.

That is one of the conditions for a smooth return to France, where diplomatic sources say they are unlikely to run into any legal trouble, having not fought as mercenaries nor in the ranks of a terror-listed organisation.

France, a leading member in the coalition against IS, is busy trying to track the hundreds of nationals it has among the very jihadists that Unit 732 wants to battle.

Kim, himself a Muslim, explained that IS' recruiting prowess in France was a motivating factor in his decision to come to Iraq.

"These people are not Muslims, they're pigs," he said. "I wanted to show that there were French people fighting on the other side too."

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Paris attack mastermind evaded Athens police raid in January

Abdelhamid Abaaoud

The man who masterminded November’s Islamist attacks in Paris was based in Athens, and last January managed to escape arrest during a joint Greek-Belgian police operation aimed at capturing him. Moroccan-born Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who had lived in Brussels for years, died in a gun battle with French police on November 18, just days after the multiple attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and injured hundreds. It is believed that the perpetrators of the attacks, who were based in Belgium, were guided and directed by Abaaoud. He, however, was not based in Belgium, but in Athens, Greece. It was from there that he directed the Islamist cells, mostly by phone, according to the BBC.

Citing “a Belgian anti-terrorism source” the BBC said on Tuesday that Belgian and Greek authorities were aware of Abaaoud’s general whereabouts and were able to trace some of his phone calls to Islamist militants in Belgium. Eventually, a senior Belgian law enforcement official traveled to Athens to help coordinate a Greek police operation aimed at capturing Abaaoud. By that time, the Moroccan-born militant had been sentenced by a Paris court to 20 years imprisonment in absentia for his role in at least four planned attacks in France —all of which had been foiled by police. Upon capture, Greek authorities planned to extradite Abaaoud to France, where he would serve his sentence. However, the militant was able to get away, though the BBC said that the circumstances of his escape remain unclear. According to the report, an Algerian associate off Abaaoud was arrested during the operation in Athens and was extradited to Belgium.

Abaaoud was not the only Islamic State-linked militant known to have operated in Greece. The two suicide bombers who tried to enter the Stade de France in Paris on November 13 had entered the European Union through the Greek island of Leros, after crossing the Aegean by boat from Turkey. Meanwhile, another of Abaaoud’s associates, Belgian-born Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, whose current whereabouts are unknown, is believed to have traveled by ferry from Italy to Greece in August.

UK terror arrests at record level after increase in female suspects

A man in handcuffs

A record 315 terror suspects have been arrested in the past year, with dramatic increases in arrests of women and teenagers.

The number of women arrested for terrorism-related offences more than doubled in the 12 months to September from 21 to 50, while the number of under-18s detained reached 15 – its highest ever level.
The 31% rise in the number of suspects arrested for international-related terrorism reflects an unprecedented effort by the police and security services to counter the threat from Islamic State and the flow of British citizens to and from Syria.

According to the Home Office quarterly bulletin, the rise in the number of women arrested as terror suspects means they now account for 16% of all such arrests. The bulletin adds that normally women or girls only make up 8% of those arrested, and one in five of all arrests of female terror suspects in Britain since the 9/11 attacks 14 years ago have happened in the last year.

“The majority of the increase in the number of women getting arrested has been linked to international-related terrorism,” the report said.

The figures show the rise included a 41% increase in those who considered themselves Asian and a 25% increase in those who considered themselves white. The proportion of terror suspects who are British has risen sharply to 79% of those arrested this year, compared with 56% in 2001 when the statistics were first collected.

The detailed Home Office figures for the 12 months to September 2015 show that nearly 40% (124) of those arrested have been charged, a further 22% (68) were released on bail, and 37% (115) were released without charge.

The 37% arrested then released without charge is a slight increase over the previous year’s 31% but far below the 53% who were detained and released in 2013.

The Home Office said the 31% rise in terror suspects arrested was driven by a particularly large number of arrests in two quarters: October to December 2014 and April to June 2015. “The most recent quarter saw a fall in the number of arrests to around half that of the quarter before (94 down to 48),” the report said.
The bulletin says the wide-ranging nature of terrorism investigations that the police undertake can lead to fluctuations in the number of arrests from one quarter to the next: “Furthermore, individual investigations involving multiple suspects are likely to cause an increase in the figures more than investigations involving small numbers of suspects,” it adds.

The security minister, John Hayes, said: “We are determined to detect, disrupt and where possible prosecute all terrorist threats to the UK. The figures released today once again highlight the hard work carried out by the police, security service and crown prosecution service to keep the public safe – and emphasise the scale of that challenge.

“At a time of very significant threat, it is vital they have the powers they need to protect the British public. The counter terrorism and security act has enhanced our powers to disrupt the ability of people to travel abroad to fight, reduce the risks they pose on their return and combat the underlying ideology that feeds, supports and sanctions terrorism.”

The Royal United Services Institute said 289 people were detained on suspicion of terrorism offences in 2014, nearly 20 fewer than the previous 12 months, and 102 went on to be charged.

The defence and security thinktank said the proportion of arrests leading to charges was “substantially lower” for terrorism offences than for criminal offences generally, at 35% compared with 58%.

A spokesman said: “The number of arrests is often quoted as an illustration of the scale of the threat. However, it more accurately demonstrates the scale of police activity in countering it. Charge or conviction data would be a better measure of the level of confirmed terrorist activity.”

But the Home Office bulletin says it is difficult to compare charge rates on a like-for-like basis until all the cases within a given time period have been completed.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Third Bataclan attacker identified

The third attacker who terrorized concertgoers at the Bataclan hall in Paris before being killed there has been identified as a Frenchman who left for Syria in 2013, two French officials said Wednesday, heightening fears of what increasingly appears to be an entirely homegrown European plot.

Foued Mohamed-Aggad left Strasbourg for Syria in late 2013, a French judicial official said, at a time when a group of about a dozen young men from the eastern city left for the war zone. Some returned of their own will — including his brother — telling investigators they were disgusted by what they had seen. The Frenchman believed to have recruited them, Mourad Fares, is also under arrest. All are charged with terror-related offenses and face trial.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of the ongoing investigation.

"What is important is that the investigation is progressing, that the accomplices are found out, that arrests happen," said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Wednesday.

"This will all take time and in the face of the terrorist threat that is unfortunately here, we need to carry on with this work of tracking down terrorists because we are at war with radical Islam, with Daesh," he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iran and the Levant (ISIL), which claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The latest information means that all the attackers identified so far were French or Belgian, all native French speakers.

In all, 130 people died in the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris. Th worst of the carnage was at the Bataclan which was packed with fans of Eagles of Death Metal, a California-based rock group touring Europe.  About 80 of the dead were found at the venue.

All three Bataclan attackers were killed, two by detonating suicide vests and one who was shot by police. All the band members survived what was just one of a coordinated string of suicide bombings and shootings across Paris.

The violence, which occurred 11 months after gunmen linked to Al-Qaeda carried out a deadly attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, was one of the worst atrocities to strike the French capital in recent memory.

The recent Paris attacks continue to reverberate, increasing Islamophobia and prompting many European governments to discuss their approach to resettling refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq and Libya. And the Paris attacks, along with last week’s terror-linked mass shooting in California, may have altered the U.S. presidential campaign, most recently with Republican 2016 hopeful Donald Trump calling for a “complete shutdown” on Muslims entering the United States, a sentiment that was widely repudiated.

The other two attackers at the Bataclan, among seven in all who died in the assaults around Paris, have been named as Samy Amimour, 28, from Drancy, north east ofParis, and Ismail Omar Mostefai, 29, who lived in Chartres, south west of Paris.

Amimour also spent time in Syria, as did the presumed ringleader of the Nov. 13 attackers, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 28, a Belgian of Moroccan origin who was killed the following week in a police raid near Paris.

Another attacker, Salah Abdeslam, 26, French and born in Brussels, is still on the run.

The men who stormed the Bataclan fired assault rifles inside the venue, which was packed to capacity with about 1,500 people. 
As that attack unfolded inside the concert hall, gunmen shot at least a dozen diners at a Cambodian restaurant nearby, and two deadly explosions hit at the Stade de France, where the French and German soccer teams were facing off. 

ISIL has claimed responsibility for the assaults, issuing a statement the day after the attacks that said its fighters, armed with suicide-bomb vests and machine guns, carried out the attacks at locations that had been carefully studied. The attacks were designed to show France that it would remain a top target for the group as long as it continues its current polices, the statement continued. 

There is still identification work for the police to do. One of the attackers, who was killed Nov. 18 in a police raid on a hideout, remains entirely unidentified. Two of the suicide bombers at the French national stadium carried Syrian passports that are believed to be fake.


Deadly Taliban assault at Kandahar airport overshadows Afghan peace talks

At least 37 people have been killed and 35 wounded in a Taliban assault on the Kandahar airport compound, Afghan defense officials have said — as a major conference on security in the region got underway in neighboring Pakistan.

The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attacks, targeted residential compound and military bases at the airport, which is used by Afghan, U.S. and NATO military forces. The siege was declared to be over Wednesday afternoon local time but the attack could overshadow the high-level talks in Pakistan aimed at reviving peace talks, while underlying the continued threat from armed groups.

Officials told Al Jazeera the attackers used AK-47 assault rifles and wore military uniforms during the assault. They said all the fighters were killed and Afghan forces had retaken control of the area.

Afghan special forces deployed to the scene had to move slowly to retake the airport as any fast movement could have caused civilian casualties due to a hostage situation, military officials said.

A man who was trapped in a building near the airport told Al Jazeera that residents were told to remain inside and take cover in case Afghan or US-NATO forces mistook them for fighters.

The incident was the second major Taliban attack in Kandahar within the past 24 hours.

It is likely to lead to questions as to how the attackers were able to gain access to one of the most heavily fortified military compounds in the country.

On Monday night, Taliban forces stormed a Kandahar police station and engaged in a lengthy firefight in which three police officers and two of the attackers were killed, he said.

The latest siege in Kandahar ended just hours after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani landed in Islamabad for the Heart of Asia regional conference that aims to revive peace talks with the Taliban.

"I strongly reiterate our commitment to lasting and just peace within which all movements that resort to arms convert themselves to political parties and participate in the political process legitimately," he said.

"Violence is not the way in a democratic society."

Pakistan too has said it is committed to renewing the Afghan peace process.

"The emergence of newer and more threatening terrorist groups like Daesh should also strengthen our resolve against terrorism," Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister, said at the conference on Wednesday, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group. 

"We should envisage collective and coordinated measures on the regional security front to ensure that the gains and struggle against terrorism are durable and irreversible."

The meeting, an annual gathering of Asian and other countries, comes months after the first, inconclusive talks between the Afghan government and the group.

Pakistani authorities hosted peace talks in early July. But the second round of talks were indefinitely postponed following news of the death of Mullah Omar, the group's leader.

In an audio message released last week, purportedly by Omar's successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, Mansoor said the Taliban "won't agree to have peace talks if our demands are not met" — including the implementation of Islamic law in Afghanistan.

The message also dismissed reports of Mansoor sustaining injuries in a gun battle during a gathering of several Taliban figures in Pakistan, as "propaganda" aimed at dividing the group.

Last month, a breakaway faction of the Taliban elected its own leader, Mullah Mohammed Rasool Akhund, sparking speculation over the unity of the group.

Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, the faction's spokesperson, expressed interest in peace talks last month.
Violent clashes between the two rival Taliban factions erupted in southern Afghanistan early last month leaving several dead from both sides and confirming the rift.


Russia discussed declaring war on Turkey after jet was shot down but decided against it

Russia discussed declaring war on Turkey after its Su-24 was shot down last month, it has been revealed.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said the incident on November 24, which resulted in the death of a Russian pilot, gave grounds for war.

However Russia decided against "symmetrical response".

Mr Medvedev told a Russian TV station: "What did 20th-century countries used to do in a similar situation? A war began.

"That was a direct assault on a foreign state. In the present situation a war is the worst what could happen.

"That’s why a decision was taken not to give a symmetrical answer to what the Turks had done.

"Yet we had to make them understand they’re going to hold responsibility for their actions.

"Exactly for that reason and for the safety of our citizens the relevant decisions were taken."

Russia has been flying bombing missions against Syrian rebels and ISIS.

However Turkey said the jet had violated its airspace.

The wreckage landed in Syria, with one pilot, named as Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshov, killed by Syrian rebels while his colleague, Captain Konstantin Murakhtin, was saved in an overnight operation by Russian special forces.

It has been confirmed that David Cameron discussed the incident with Putin over the phone.

A Kremlin statement read: "The two leaders exchanged views on current matters concerning security in the Middle East, particularly with regard to efforts to reach a settlement in Syria.

"Mr Putin and Mr Cameron noted that their two countries share similar views regarding the threat posed by ISIS and other terrorist groups active in the region. In this context, they discussed ways to organise bilateral cooperation through various state agencies.

"Mr Cameron expressed his condolences over the destruction of Russia’s fighter plane in Syria. Mr Putin invited British specialists to take part in decoding the data from the downed Su-24 plane’s flight recorders."


Putin threatens to use nuclear weapons against Isis but hopes they ‘will never be needed’

Vladimir Putin has said he hopes nuclear warheads will not be needed to deal with Isis, after Russia launched cruise missiles from its submarine at the militant group in Syria.

During a meeting in the Kremlin, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told the President that Kalibr cruise missiles had been fired by the Rostov-on-Don submarine from the Mediterranean Sea for the first time.

President Putin said the new cruise missiles could also be equipped with nuclear warheads - but that he hoped they would “never be needed”.

According to Russia Today, he said: “We must [analyse] everything happening on the battlefield, how the weapons operate.

"The Kalibrs (sea-based cruise missiles) and KH-101 (airborne cruise missile) have proved to be modern and highly effective, and now we know it for sure – precision weapons that can be equipped with both conventional and special warheads, which are nuclear.

“Naturally, this is not necessary when fighting terrorists and, I hope, will never be needed.”

Mr Shoigu said TU-22 bombers also took part in the latest raids and that a munitions depot, a factory manufacturing mortar rounds and oil facilities had been destroyed. He added that Israel and the US had been informed before the air strikes were launched.

Russia's air campaign has been taking place since 30 September.


ISIS show off TANKS and devastating hi-tech weapons looted from Iraqi army and bought from West

The militants showed off their military power as part of their slick PR campaign - but rarely use their armoured vehicles because they are an easy target.

ISIS propagandists have released pictures of the sophisticated and devastating weapons it wields as part of its campaign of terror across the Middle East - including heavy TANKS.

The militants showed off their military power as part of their slick PR campaign - but fail to mention they rarely use their armoured vehicles because they are an easy target for the warplanes of Russia, America, Britain and France.

They were featured on Terrormonitor's Twitter feed and were reportedly taken during fighting at Deir Ezzor military airport.

Britain, France, Russia and the United States provided most of the weapons being used by ISIS to carry out appalling war crimes, a new report claims.

As the UK joins its allies in carrying out airstrikes in Syria, the Government has come in for renewed accusations of having sown the seeds of conflict itself.

A new study by Amnesty International claims much of the weaponry used by Islamic State (IS) fighters was supplied by the same Western powers now trying to bomb it out of existence.

Huge supplies of guns, rifles, mortars and missiles have been flowing into Iraq for years as the state struggled to retain control after British and American forces withdrew.
Oliver Sprague, Amnesty UK’s Arms Programme Director, said: "Decades of free-flowing arms into Iraq meant that when IS took control of these areas, they were like children in a sweetshop.
"The fact that countries including the UK have ended up inadvertently arming IS, should give us pause over current weapons deals.

"The UK was one of the key supporters of a global Arms Trade Treaty, intended to prevent the proliferation of arms and their use in horrific abuses like IS are committing."

"Risks need to be far more carefully calculated, and we shouldn’t wait for this worst-case-scenario to happen before acting to prevent sales of arms which could fuel atrocities."

Although Soviet Kalshnikovs are the most commonly used, the oldest piece of kit in the IS arsenal is believed to be a British World War One rifle.

Amnesty says IS fighters acquired a windfall of internationally manufactured arms after taking control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June, 2014.

They included US-manufactured weapons and military vehicles which they then used to take control of other parts of the country.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber killed at least six people outside a Shi'ite mosque in the Iraqi capital on Wednesday, according to police and medical sources, in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

Seven others were wounded in the attack, which took place in the mainly Shi'ite Ubaidi neighbourhood of eastern Baghdad and targeted worshippers leaving the mosque, police said.

"The suicide attacker was trying to enter the mosque before a guard stopped him, but he blew himself up," said one policeman near the scene of the attack.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Most ISIL weapons were seized from Iraqi army

Decades of reckless arms trading and the poorly regulated flow of weapons into Iraq have contributed to the accumulation by the Islamic State in Iran and the Levant (ISIL) of a "vast and varied" arsenal which is being used to commit war crimes on a massive scale in Iraq and Syria, an international rights group said Tuesday.

Amnesty International's report, based on expert analysis of verified videos and images, says most of the group's weapons, ammunition and equipment were looted from the Iraqi army. It says the weapons were manufactured and designed in more than two dozen countries, including Russia, China, the United States and European Union member nations.

ISIL swept across Iraq in the summer of 2014, capturing the second largest city, Mosul, and taking weapons left behind by fleeing Iraqi security forces, including U.S.-supplied arms and military vehicles. The group has also snatched arms from Syrian forces after capturing military bases there.

"The vast and varied weaponry being used by the armed group calling itself Islamic State is a textbook case of how reckless arms trading fuels atrocities on a massive scale," said Amnesty researcher Patrick Wilcken.

"Poor regulation and lack of oversight of the immense arms flows into Iraq going back decades have given IS and other armed groups a bonanza of unprecedented access to firepower," he said, using another acronym for ISIL.

Amnesty International said the range and scope of the group's arsenal reflects decades of "irresponsible" arms transfers to Iraq. It also faulted a lack of oversight following the 2003 invasion, when the United State spent billions of dollars arming and training Iraqi security forces. "Lax controls over military stockpiles and endemic corruption by successive Iraqi governments have added to the problem," it said.

The report documents ISIL’s use of arms and ammunition from at least 25 countries. Among the advanced weaponry in the ISIL arsenal are man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS, guided anti-tank missiles and armored fighting vehicles.

Amnesty International called on all states to adopt "a complete embargo" on Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups "implicated in committing war crimes." It said any state transferring arms to Iraq should invest heavily in controls, training and monitoring in order to meet international standards.


Russian submarine equipped with cruise missiles off Syria coast

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian submarine equipped with cruise missiles has entered the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea and is near the coast of Syria, Interfax news agency quoted a source as saying on Tuesday.

The submarine is equipped with missiles similar to those used by the warships of Russia's Caspian flotilla to strike Islamic State targets, the source was quoted as saying.


Trump defends proposed ban on Muslims into U.S., says 'no choice'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States, calling it a temporary measure in a time of war.

Trump likened his proposal to those implemented by former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt against people of Japanese, Germans and Italian descent during World War Two.

"What I'm doing is no different than FDR," Trump said on ABC's "Good Morning America" program in one of a round of heated television interviews where he defended his plan in the wake of last week's California shooting spree by two Muslims who authorities said were radicalized.

"We have no choice but to do this," the candidate seeking the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential race told ABC. "We have people that want to blow up our buildings, our cities. We have figure out what's going on."

Critics have said his plan rejects American values by singling out people solely based on their religion.

Fellow Republican candidates as well as Muslims in Pakistan and Indonesia have denounced the plan.

Two international organizations, the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration refugee agency, also rejected Trump's comments.

Trump's was the most dramatic response by a presidential candidate, even as other Republicans have called for a suspension to U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to allow 10,000 refugees from Syria.

On Tuesday, he reiterated that the plan would be temporary, telling ABC that the ban would last until Congress acts on the issue. He also said that an American citizen who is Muslim would be allowed back into the country after an overseas trip.

Still, he said he did not support internment camps, which Roosevelt had set up during World War Two.

"I don't want to bring to bring them back at all," Trump said. He added that his plan had met with "tremendous support" from thousands of people who "just want to see something happen."