Thursday, October 27, 2016

UK to send tanks, 800 troops and drones to Estonia as tensions with Russia grow

Challenger 2 tank

Britain is to send tanks, drones, and 800 troops to Estonia to bolster Nato forces amid increasing tensions with Russia.

The UK troops will be deployed in the spring and will be joined by forces from France and Denmark, said Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

The force, he told the Financial Times, would likely include tactical drones, Challenger 2 main battle tanks and Warrior armoured infantry fighting vehicles.

"This is about two things: reassurance, and that needs to be done with some formidable presence, and deterrence," Fallon said. "This is not simply a trip-wire….This is a serious military presence."

In a statement on Wednesday Fallon said that RAF Typhoon jets would also be deployed to an airbase in Romania to assist with the Nato Southern Air Policing mission.

Fallon said: "this deployment of air, land and sea forces shows that we will continue to play a leading role in Nata, supporting the defence and security of our allies from the north to the south of the alliance."

It follows Russia's deployment of nuclear capable missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave neighbouring Poland and Lithuania, and Russia's bolstering of its Mediterranean fleet.

Russia recently held four days of drills in response to a hypothetical nuclear attack, with Soviet-era defence plans and bomb shelters in major cities upgraded.

In July, Nato agreed to deploy troops from four nations in Poland, as well as the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.

Air strikes kill school children in Syria's Idlib

Activists say the strikes are believed to be carried out by Russian planes [Al Jazeera]

At least 26 civilians, including children, were killed when air raids hit a school and the surrounding area in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Wednesday that the bombing was believed to be carried out by Russian planes and targeted the village of Hass, including the school complex.

"The dead children are students and the planes are believed to be Russian," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based SOHR, which relies on a network of informants in Syria to track the war.

Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said: "It's horrible, I hope we were not involved. It's the easiest thing for me to say no, but I'm a responsible person, so I need to see what my Ministry of Defence is going to say."

A report on Syrian state TV quoted a military source as saying several rebel fighters had been killed when their positions were targeted in Hass, but made no mention of a school.

The raids hit the village around 11:30am (08:30 GMT), an opposition activist with the Idlib Media Centre, told the AFP news agency.

"One rocket hit the entrance of the school as students were leaving to go home, after the school administration decided to end classes for the day because of the raids," the activist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The SOHR initially reported two schools had been hit but later clarified that it was a school complex made up of multiple buildings.

'Death toll likely to rise'

There were fears the death toll could rise as some of the wounded were reported to be in critical condition, opposition activists said.

Idlib province is controlled by the Army of Conquest, an alliance of rebel groups including Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which changed its name from al-Nusra Front earlier this year after cutting ties with al-Qaeda.

The province has come under increasing bombardment in recent weeks, according to SOHR.

Syrian government forces and their Russian allies have been criticised by rights groups for what they say are indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure.

The Syrians and Russians say they are targetting rebels.

On Monday, more than 80 human rights and aid organisations, including Human Rights Watch, CARE International and Refugees International, urged UN member states to drop Russia from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council over its military campaign in Syria.

More than 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed since the war started in March 2011, and millions have been forced to flee the country.

Kremlin nuclear hysteria: To wage or not to wage nuclear war

Dmitry Kiselyov, Russian TV host discussing nuclear war with the US

Kremlin nuclear hysteria is pervasive in Russia, touching nearly all aspects of Russian life. Nuclear war propaganda is everyday fare on Russian TV, with a multitude of programs on the topic of missile defense and nuclear technology. But the intensity of the most recent militaristic rhetoric has reached such a fever pitch that it’s invaded the educational sphere, and not just into colleges or high schools, but into elementary schools. 

Alexander Sotnik
Alexander Sotnik

Well-known Russian journalist Alexander Sotnik published on his social media page a post from a woman confirming that teachers in at least one elementary school in Moscow were terrifying children with talk of nuclear war with the United States and impending death if Hillary Clinton wins the US presidential election.
“I want to tell you a story that happened to my grandson. He is 9 years old, he’s in the 4th grade at school No. 1232 in the the city of Moscow. The other day this boy came home very sad. When I asked him about what happened, he burst into tears! Then he told us about how their teacher told the children in the classroom that if Hillary Clinton comes to power in the US, she will begin a nuclear war, and they are all going to die! This was followed by a story that Americans have invented a mosquito that can infect children with cancer! Mind you, this was told to small children, who are very vulnerable psychologically. They could easily develop a serious neurosis!” said the outraged Muscovite.
We interviewed a number of experts about what might be behind such outlandish propaganda warfare. There is consensus among most of the analysts we spoke to that we are dealing with a spectacular bluff, strategically designed to force the West to make concessions to Russia. The same idea is shared by Russian opposition politician and leader of the party Democratic Choice, who is also President of the Institute of Energy PolicyVladimir Milov.
The entire campaign is designed for specific powerful individuals in the United States, those who are particularly sensitive about the issue of cooperation with Russia on nuclear nonproliferation. – Vladimir Milov
“The entire campaign is designed for specific powerful individuals in the United States, those who are particularly sensitive about the issue of cooperation with Russia on nuclear nonproliferation. In America, this theme holds a special place in national security policymaking. Note that the Americans even removed sanctions against Iran in exchange for giving up nuclear weapons,” Milov explained.

Vladimir Milov
Vladimir Milov

According to Vladimir Milov, there is a large stratum within the American establishment who are willing to forgive any of Moscow’s excesses so long as there is continuing cooperation in the nuclear arena.
“Putin wants to scare these people, and thus create additional pressure in the highest echelons of US power such that “Making peace with Russia is necessary, otherwise we will lose out on nuclear cooperation,” said the Russian opposition leader.
Vladimir Milov, maintaining close ties with his American counterparts, explains that US security issues are always solved collectively, and there is a fairly large group of policy-makers in this area. These include various intelligence agencies from the Pentagon, government officials and even specialized think tanks.
“It is in this community that nuclear issues have always been prioritized above all others. It is precisely these specialists that Putin wants to frighten. But, apparently, he no longer scares them,”- he concludes.
At the same time, despite the warlike character of the Kremlin’s statements, the Russian politician does not believe that beneath the facade of nuclear threats, Putin is actually preparing a full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
It seems that Putin’s only tenable recourse is in air strikes and air defense, as in the security operation in Crimea. – Vladimir Milov
“It seems that Putin’s only tenable recourse is in air strikes and air defense, as in the security operation in Crimea. An invasion of Ukraine would entail battles for large cities, street fighting, which will mean having to fight for every house.  Putin wouldn’t dare anything of the kind. You can see in the example of Aleppo that he does not dare to take such a battle on and he’s had the opportunity for over a year,” says Vladimir Milov.
The president of the Institute of the Eastern Partnership (Israel), Rabbi Avraham Shmulevich adheres to a diametrically opposite point of view. According to Shmulevich, in the eyes of senior Russian government officials, nuclear war appears to be something quite acceptable, and enhanced preparation for such a conflict fits right into this terrible logic.
Putin is clearly preparing for a total confrontation with the West and NATO, including a nuclear confrontation. – Avraham Shmulevich
“Putin is clearly preparing for a total confrontation with the West and NATO, including a nuclear confrontation. Throughout Central Russia, people are intensively building bunkers and stockpiling food and supplies, as the Kremlin propaganda apparatus has convinced the public that a nuclear war is nothing to worry about. We’ve never seen this even in Soviet times.

Avraham Shmulevich
Avraham Shmulevich

The army is being modernized into a war footing, and infrastructure and the economy is following in the same direction. In short, to paraphrase a famous saying about the quacking duck: if Putin says he is preparing for a nuclear war, and if the army is preparing for war, perhaps it is actually the case. It is important to understand that propaganda works not only on Russia’s population, but also on Russia’s leadership. They are beginning to believe their own lies,” Shmulevich said convincingly.
According to the Israeli expert, one of his friends, a major Russian businessman who in the course of his regular business dealings about a year ago, met with representatives of the Russian ruling elite at the level of Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov and deputy heads of the Presidential Administration.
“They calmly discussed in front of him the possibility of dropping a nuke on Raqqah when the battle with ISIL [ISIS] flares up the next time. He was shocked that for them this possibility was very real,” said the rabbi.
Putin sees himself as the successor to the continuing history of the Cold War, and his main goal is to take revenge for the collapse of the Soviet Union. – Avraham Shmulevich
Shmulevich believes Putin sees himself as the successor to the continuing history of the Cold War, and his main goal is to take revenge for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“Hitler was not a stupid man either. He knew what war meant, and yet he could assume that starting World War II would greatly affect his own country. Nevertheless, he wanted war, and so took up war, in spite of all the precautions against it. The same thing could happen here. This is the logic of dictators. They unfortunately never know when to stop. Now we see that Putin really ups the ante from one local war to another,” he warned.

French citizens killed in Malta plane crash were intelligence officers


Despite initial denials, it appears that at least three of the five French citizens who were killed in an airplane crash in Malta earlier this week were employees of the country’s external intelligence agency. The crash happened in the early hours of Monday near the village of Luqa in southern Malta. Early reports identified that the plane as a light aircraft and was carrying five French citizens when it crashed, shortly after taking off from the nearby Malta International Airport. Initial statements from Maltese and French government officials said the plane was on a local flight route and had not been scheduled to land outside of the Mediterranean island. The five passengers were identified in press statements as “customs officers” who were conducting a joint project with their Maltese counterparts.

Subsequent reports in the French media, however, said that at least three of the five French passengers who perished in the crash were officers of the General Directorate for External Security, France’s external intelligence agency, which goes by the initials DGSE. It is also believed that the airplane was registered in the United States and was operated by a Luxembourg-based company. 
Reports from Libya state that the plane’s mission is “shrouded in mystery”. Some articles suggest that it was heading to the city of Misrata in northern Libya, or that it may have been conducting a reconnaissance operation over the Mediterranean, aimed at gathering intelligence on smuggling activities originating from Libya.

The French intelligence services are known to be active on the ground in Libya, where several Sunni Islamist groups, including the Islamic State, control territory. In July of this year, Paris acknowledged for the first time that it had Special Forces and intelligence operatives in Libya, after three DGSE officers were killed in a helicopter crash in the North African country. The latest air crash was not preceded by an explosion, according to French media. The French government has launched an investigation into the incident.

Putin Has Hot Words For Clinton’s Attempts At ‘Confrontation’

Just In: Putin Turns The Tables On Hillary With Bone Chilling Threat That'll Have Her Worried Sick preview image

Stung at the hostile tone of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s efforts to cast Russia as America’s greatest enemy, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he won’t let Clinton become a global bully.

“Jeopardizing Russian-American relations in order to gain brownie points internally – I consider this to be harmful and counterproductive,” Putin recently told reporters in Russia in a video.

“It’s not funny anymore. If somebody out there wants confrontation. This is not our choice but this means that there will be problems,” Putin warned.

” … we consider it wrong, that we always have to be in conflict with one another, creating existential threats for each other and for the whole world,” he said.

Putin questioned whether Clinton’s talk was genuine or for show.

“Would Mrs. Clinton delivers on her threats and harsh rhetoric against Russia if she became President? Or will she correct her position against us?” he said.

Putin accused Clinton of trying “to distract voters from the country’s problems” by blaming Russia and Iran for the nation’s ills.

Putin made it clear who he would prefer to see win the election.

“Mrs. Clinton has chosen to take up a very aggressive stance against our country, against Russia. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, calls for cooperation – at least when it comes to the international fight against terrorism,” Putin said.

“Naturally we welcome those who would like to cooperate with us,” Putin noted.

Clinton’s tough line against Russia in the campaign is far different than her tone in speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs in 2013, according to transcripts shared by WikiLeaks. In those speeches, she said Russia posed no threat to the U.S.

Consultant Mandy Grunwald noted that Clinton’s campaign could be damaged by “a ton of foreign policy stuff” in the speeches, “including some naive sounding comments about Putin — that could cause a whole separate set of issues — but Jake should review all that.”

“Certainly he’s asserted himself in a way now that is going to take some management on our side, but obviously we would very much like to have a positive relationship with Russia and we would like to see Putin be less defensive toward a relationship with the United States so that we could work together on some issues,” Clinton is quoted in the transcripts as saying, later adding, “That’s what diplomacy is all about.”

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Royal Navy is closely watching as Russia's navy prepares to pass through the English Channel

Royal Navy Russia kuznetsov hms richmond
A Royal Navy lookout onboard HMS Richmond, observing Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, rear second right, and Russian Battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy on the right, which are part of a Russian task group during its transit through the North Sea.
The British Royal Navy has sent warships to "man-mark," or closely watch, Russia's northern fleet, including the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia's only aircraft carrier, as it prepares to pass though the English Channel.
"When these ships near our waters we will man-mark them every step of the way. We will be watching as part of our steadfast commitment to keep Britain safe," a Ministry of Defence spokesman told the Telegraph
The Admiral Kuznetsov task group, which includes the carrier, battlecruisers, and smaller destroyers, set out for Syria's coast in the Mediterranean to continue the brutal siege of Aleppo, a strategically important city in northeastern Syria that government forces have tried to retake control of for years. 
Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, called Russia's actions in support of Syria's Assad "sickening atrocities."
The Royal Navy is no stranger to run-ins with Russia's fleet, as tensions between Russia and the West mount and as Russian submarine activity spikes to its highest level since the Cold War.
Norwegian navy ships photographed the aircraft aboard the Kuznetsov taking off, in apparent practice for their upcoming carrier-based strikes against Aleppo. 

kuznetsov russia navy aircraft carrier 

Planes practice taking off from Russia's only aircraft carrier on it's way to support Assad in Aleppo. Norwegian Navy
The pictures do not indicate conclusively whether or not the customary tugboat sails alongside the Kuznetsov, which has been plagued by mechanical troubles in the past. 
The Royal Navy's The Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan will monitor the group, the Associated Press reports.

Watch the RAF throw its might into the battle for Mosul

The ground operation to liberate the city of Mosul from ISIS control kicked off on Sunday, with Iraqi army forces, Peshmerga fighters, and Shiite militias converging on the city and its surroundings.
In support of that operation, a US-led coalition of more than 60 countries has been carrying out airstrikes on ISIS personnel, fighters, infrastructure, and weapons for months.
In an October 17 strike by a British air force Typhoon fighter, a Paveway guided bomb destroys an ISIS vehicle-borne improvised explosive device about 12 miles south of the city.

ISIS has relied heavily on improvised explosive devices, both static and vehicle borne, during fighting in Iraq. Accordingly, the terrorist group's IEDs and IED factories have been a focus for strikes by the US-led coalition.
Prior to the RAF strike on the vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) south of the city, a coalition strike eliminated an IED factory near Mosul, which is Iraq's second-largest city and the largest Iraqi city still under ISIS control.
Fighting on the ground around Mosul has continued since the operation was launched on October 16, with Iraqi forces and their allies at times encountering heavy resistance. Iraqi and Peshmerga troops faced numerous VBIEDs, IEDs, and mortars near Bartella, a town east of Mosul.
An Iraqi soldier told American journalist Danny Gold there were 10 VBIED attacks in that area.
In September, the US deployed 615 more personnel to assist Iraqi efforts to retake the city, bringing the total number of US troops to more than 5,000.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

ISIS-affiliated Egyptian Terror Cell Targeted U.S. Soldiers

Police cordon off the Imam Sadiq mosque in the Al Sawaber area of Kuwait City after a bomb exploded there following Friday prayers June 26, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Jassim Mohammed
Police cordon off the Imam Sadiq mosque in the Al Sawaber area of Kuwait City after a bomb exploded there following Friday prayers

Kuwait- Authorities in Kuwait are tracking down details extracted from an arrested group of residents suspected of plotting and leading terror attacks against U.S. soldiers assigned to the country.

A collision between a truck driven by an Egyptian and a vehicle carrying three U.S. soldiers in Kuwait was a “terrorist attack,” not an accident as first thought, the U.S. embassy said.

“U.S. Embassy in Kuwait confirms that what at first appeared to be a routine traffic accident involving three deployed U.S. military personnel… was in fact an attempted terrorist attack,” the mission said in a statement posted on its website.

The statement said the attack took place on Thursday and that the U.S. soldiers escaped unhurt.
The soldiers also rescued the Egyptian driver when his truck caught fire, it said.

The Kuwaiti interior ministry said on Saturday that authorities arrested the Egyptian driver and found with him a hand-written note in which he had pledged allegiance to ISIS.

It also said that the driver, identified as Ibrahim Sulaiman, 28, also carried a belt and material suspected of being explosives.

Sulaiman told investigators that he supported the group and believed that its leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi should be the head of all Muslims.

He said that he had been using the Internet to follow the killing operations and the explosions carried out by the group, Kuwaiti daily Al Rai reported on Monday.

Sulaiman said that his attempts to learn how to make an explosive belt from the internet had failed as he did not have the required items.

Kuwaiti authorities announced in July they had dismantled three ISIS cells plotting attacks, including a suicide bombing against a Shi’ite mosque and against an interior ministry target.

An ISIS-linked suicide bomber had killed 26 worshippers in June last year when he blew himself up in a mosque.

The U.S. embassy said it was not aware of specific, credible threats against private U.S. citizens in Kuwait at this time.

But it warned that the attack serves as a reminder to maintain a high level of attentiveness, advising U.S. citizens to review their personal security plans and remain alert.

Terror suspect Jaber Albakr arrested in Leipzig, Germany

<p>Police handout photo of Syrian 22-year-old Jaber Albakr from Damascus. (Police Sachsen via AP) </p>

Syrian refugee arrested in Germany on Monday after being tied up by three compatriots was plotting to bomb a Berlin airport in the name of the Islamic State group, the head of domestic intelligence said.
“We have received information from the secret services that he initially wanted to target trains in Germany before finally deciding on one of Berlin’s airports,” Hans-Georg Maassen told German public TV channel ARD.
While some German media outlets over the weekend suggested the suspect, Jaber Albakr, 22, had such a target in mind, this was the first official confirmation.
The decision to arrest the suspect was taken Friday after he bought hot-melt glue.
“We thought this was the last chemical product he needed to make a bomb,” said Maassen.
Albakr had narrowly slipped through the police net Saturday when commandos raided his apartment and found 1.5 kilos (over 3 pounds) of TATP, the homemade explosive used by jihadists in the Paris and Brussels attacks.
The explosives were “almost ready, or even ready for use”, said Joerg Michaelis, chief investigator in the eastern state of Saxony, adding that the suspect was apparently preparing a “bomb, possibly in the form of a suicide vest”.
– ‘He tried to bribe us’ –
After a two-day manhunt, police finally got their man with the help of three of Albakr’s fellow Syrians in the eastern city of Leipzig. (AFP)

Germany Warns Tensions 'More Dangerous Than Cold War' As Russia Deploys Missiles to NATO Borders

Russia's deployment of nuclear-capable missiles its enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea is a "wake-up call" for the West of the current dangers, according to analysts. Germany warns the tensions between Moscow and the West are more dangerous than during the Cold War.

Russia's Iskander missiles have a range of around 500 kilometers, and their deployment in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, has rattled the West.

“The dramatic reaction of the West about Iskander [missiles] now is that it is just a wake-up call, it is just a very clear message. It is that ice-cold bucket of water that says, 'Wake up, you are not living in a safe world,” said Igor Sutyagin is a Russian military analyst at London's Royal United Services Institute.

Moscow says the deployment is part of a regular military exercise.

During the Cold War larger missiles were deployed in what was then East Germany and Czechoslovakia. This time round, the strategy is psychological, says Sutyagin.

“The idea is to intimidate the West. Because Russia does not have any other tools to fight for its competitiveness in the international arena but psychology. Even the Russian military are comparatively weaker than NATO's forces,” he said.

Russia caused further alarm with its deployment of an S-300 missile defense system to its naval base in Syria. Moscow's Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov denied Russia is saber rattling.

FILE – Russian cadets pass an S-300 surface-to-air missile system during a military exhibition in St. Petersburg, Feb. 20, 2015.

He told reporters last week the missile battery is intended to ensure the safety of Russia's Tartus naval base and its naval task force. He said it was unclear why the deployment of the S-300 caused such alarm among Moscow's Western partners.

But writing in the German Bild newspaper this week, Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the tension between the West and Russia more dangerous than during the Cold War. Analyst Igor Sutyagin agrees.

“It is calculated unpredictability on the Russian side because that is part of psychology," he said. "You need to be mad, or present yourself as mad, as crazy, so everybody thinks that 'this guy is really crazy so it is better to step away from his path.”

That unpredictability is played out in the skies of Europe. In April, Russian jets buzzed a U.S. warship in the Baltic Sea, one of scores of such incidents in recent months.

Last week, Finland scrambled its fighters to intercept Russian SU-27 jets that is says breached its airspace, a charge Moscow denied.

Picture of Russian SU-27 fighter said to have violated Finland's airspace near Porvoo, Finland, early Oct. 7, 2016.

Non-aligned Finland shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia, and has fostered closer ties with NATO to counter Russian aggression. U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work visited Helsinki last week to sign a deal on closer military training and information sharing.

US files espionage charges against military contractors with Turkish ties


In a development that is expected to contribute to the downward spiral in Turkish-American relations, the United States government has reportedly filed espionage charges against three Department of Defense contractors with Turkish background. The three are believed to have been charged with transferring US military secrets abroad and are currently in prison.

A statement published by the US Pentagon said that the group consists of two men and a woman, all of whom are of Turkish background. Two of them are naturalized American citizens. They are listed as owners of a company that conducts research in military technology and has contracted for many years with the US Pentagon. All contracts were allegedly won following competitive bids and can only be awarded to bidders who are in possession of US citizenship and top security clearances. According to Turkey’s pro-government English-language newspaper, Daily Sabah, the three contractors have helped develop and manufacture parts for missile-launching systems used on American warplanes. They have also worked on several generations of grenade launchers used by the US military.

But on Sunday, the three contractors were arrested in simultaneous raids and charged with “funneling military secrets out of the country”, according to Sabah. The paper said the US government decided to arrest the three once it became known that some hardware parts related to the Pentagon bids handled by their company were being illegally manufactured in Turkey. There is no information in the Pentagon’s press release on whether the top-secret military components were also shared with the Turkish government. Relations between Washington and Ankara, two North Atlantic Treaty Organization member-states, have suffered since the failed July 15 military coup in Turkey. Many in the administration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blame Washington for the coup and for allegedly shielding the man behind it, the Islamic cleric Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the US state of Pennsylvania.

INTERPOL Warns Morocco of 6,000 ISIS-Linked Fake Passports


INTERPOL has informed Morocco to stay on guard to spot 6,000 fake passports currently in use by agents of the Islamic State to travel internationally, according to a new report by Le360.
Morocco will be strengthening security at airports to identify the passports and prevent ISIS fighters from boarding a flight to their intended destination or entering the kingdom.

The international police organization has provided national authorities with the personal information through which the passports have been registered and has asked for the data to be distributed to all Moroccan airports.

Other countries that could come in contact with the passports have also been notified of the fake documents and have been encouraged to share any new information regarding those who held the illegitimate documentation.

In November 2015, INTERPOL’s Foreign Terrorist Fighter’s Working Group claimed roughly 10 percent of the 25,000 jihadists that have joined ISIS are Moroccans.

The group conducted a census of the fighters and found them to be from over 50 countries.

Moroccan security forces have successfully dismantled dozens of ISIS-related terrorist cells over the past few years. The kingdom’s intelligence has assisted in the capture of several perpetrators of the November 2015 attacks in France and the March 2016 attacks in Belgium.

Rebels set up internment camp for IS defectors

Some 300 defectors and captured combatants, including many Europeans, are being held at the camp operated by the rebel group Jaysh al-Tahrir.

Its commander, Mohammad al-Ghabi, told the BBC: "We tried to rehabilitate them and alter their state of minds."

"Those who wished to return home were allowed to call their embassies and co-ordinate with them through us."

Among the group are French, Dutch and Polish nationals, as well as foreign fighters from North Africa and across the Middle East and Central Asia.

The men, women and children are being held in a village in the northern countryside of Idlib province.

Map showing control of northern Syria - 3 October 2016

Mr Ghabi said the numbers were growing as IS collapsed, thanks to a Turkish-supported rebel offensive against the group in northern Syria called "Operation Euphrates Shield".

"IS has been falling apart for the past seven or eight months, according to the defectors we spoke to. However, Operation Euphrates Shield further degraded IS and led to its dismemberment following the rapid advances of our forces," he added.

A BBC team was unable to visit the camp, but obtained material from inside. It has basic facilities and the prisoners there say they are being well cared for, but many want to leave.

Islamic State defectors and captured militants at an internment camp in Idlib province, Syria

One former IS fighter there goes by the name of Abu Sumail.

He travelled from his native Netherlands two years ago, going first to Belgium, then to Gaziantep in Turkey. He said he disguised himself as "party guy" on holiday, to avoid detection by the intelligence services.

But getting into Syria was much easier than leaving.

Speaking of his disappointment with life inside IS-held territory, he said: "They treat us very bad, especially people from another country.

"It's very hard for us to live there - it's not our lifestyle because we are used to a lot of things and then we come there and they directly start to treat you hard.

"You give your life to them so they are going to start to take control of your life. They use you for bad stuff."

Approach to internment camp in Idlib, Syria, where Islamic State defectors and captured militants are being held

The BBC has also learned that an underground railroad is being created in Syria, with other rebel groups and British and European intelligence services, to find, capture and return IS supporters.

Inside the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto IS capital, fighters have begun to send videos and personal statements to rebel groups, in the hope of escaping with their families.

At least half a dozen foreign fighters have made it out already, and are facing imprisonment back in Europe, according to rebel groups.

Mr Ghabi said that not everyone would be allowed to leave.

"Those who didn't want to go back or had committed crimes are being referred to a Sharia court, which rules by [Islamic] law and punishes according to the gravity of crime committed."

Some could be executed, he warned, and added that the window of opportunity for defectors to cross to the rebels was closing fast, as IS continues to lose territory and its proto-state crumbles.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Arrested contractor may have worked for NSA’s elite cyber spy unit


A United States federal contractor, who remains in detention following his arrest last summer for stealing classified documents, may have worked for an elite cyber espionage unit of the National Security Agency. The man was identified by The New York Times last week as Harold Thomas Martin III, a 51-year-old employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the largest federal contractors in the US. The paper said that, prior to joining Booz Allen Hamilton, Martin served as a US Navy officer for over a decade, where he specialized in cyber security and acquired a top secret clearance. But last August, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Martin’s house in Maryland and arrested him on charges of stealing government property and illegally removing classified material.

Media reports suggest that the FBI discovered significant quantities of classified information, some of it dating back to 2006, on a variety of electronic devices that Martin had stored —though apparently not hidden— in his house and car. Another interesting aspect of the case is that there is no proof at this point that Martin actually shared the classified information with a third party. There is some speculation that he may be behind a disclosure of a collection of NSA hacking tools, which were leaked in August of this year by a previously unknown group calling itself “the Shadow Brokers”. But some speculate that Martin may have taken the classified material home so he could write his dissertation for the PhD he is currently undertaking at the University of Maryland’s Information Systems program.

A few days ago, The Daily Beast quoted an unnamed former colleague of Martin who said that the NSA contractor was a member of one of the agency’s elite cyber spy units. The existence of the secretive unit, which is known as the NSA’s Office of Tailored Access Operations, was revealed in June 2013 by veteran NSA watcher Matthew M. Aid. Writing in Foreign Policy, Aid cited “a number of highly confidential sources” in alleging that the NSA maintained a substantial “hacker army” tasked with conducting offensive cyber espionage against foreign targets. More information on NSA’s TAO was provided in January 2014 by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. If The Daily Beast’s allegations about Martin are accurate, they would explain why anonymous government sources told The Washington Post last week that some of the documents Martin took home “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States”. The case also highlights the constant tension between security and the privatization of intelligence, which was also a major parameter in the case of Edward Snowden, another Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who defected to Russia in 2013.

Meanwhile, Martin remains in detention. If he is convicted, he will face up to 11 years behind bars.

Soldiers charged with stealing, selling military equipment to foreign nations

The main gate for Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee border.
The main gate for Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

Six Fort Campbell soldiers were among eight people indicted by a federal grand jury on accusations they engaged in a conspiracy to steal and sell military sniper telescopes, machine gun parts, grenade launcher sights and other sensitive equipment to the highest bidder online – including several buyers in hostile foreign countries.

The soldiers are charged with stealing more than $1 million worth of equipment, such as flight helmets, communications headsets, body armor and medical supplies, according to a Justice Dept. news release issued Thursday. Two of the men are charged with selling some of the equipment to customers in Russia, China, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Mexico, among other nations.
“The actions of the soldiers charged today should in no way stain the honor of the brave men and women who proudly serve in our country’s armed forces and selflessly give everything to protect America’s freedom,” U.S. Attorney David Rivera said. “To the contrary, we never want to allow the illegal and self-serving actions of a few to cast a shadow on the thousands of military heroes who every day place themselves in harm’s way to protect this great nation.”

Those indicted on Wednesday were John Roberts, 26; Cory Wilson, 42; U.S. Army Sargent Michael Barlow, 29; Sargent Jonathan Wolford, 28; Specialist Kyle Heade, 29; Specialist Alexander Hollibaugh, 25; Specialist Dustin Nelson 22; and Specialist Aaron Warner, 24.

Each man is charged with conspiring to steal or receive U.S. Army property and to sell or convey U.S. Army property without authority. Roberts was also charged with 10 counts of wire fraud and one count of violating the Arms Export Control Act. Wilson was charged with seven counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering and one count of violating the Arms Exports Control Act. Barlow was charged with three counts of selling or conveying U.S. Army property without authority.

If convicted, on the conspiracy counts, each man could face up to five years in prison. Roberts and Wilson face up to 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count. Barlow could get up to 10 years if convicted on the conveying charge.

U.S. Navy ship targeted in failed missile attack from Yemen: U.S.

A U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer was targeted on Sunday in a failed missile attack from territory in Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, a U.S. military spokesman told Reuters, saying neither of the two missiles hit the ship.

The attempted strike on the USS Mason, which was first reported by Reuters, came just a week after a United Arab Emirates vessel came under attack from Houthis and suggests growing risks to the U.S. military from Yemen's conflict.

The U.S. government, which has become increasingly vocal about civilian casualties in the war, this weekend announced a review of its support to a Saudi Arabia-led coalition battling the Houthis after a strike on mourners in the capital Sanaa that killed up to 140 people.

The failed missile attack on the USS Mason began around 7 p.m. local time, when the ship detected two inbound missiles over a 60-minute period in the Red Sea off Yemen's coast, the U.S. military said.

"Both missiles impacted the water before reaching the ship," Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said. "There were no injuries to our sailors and no damage to the ship."

Saudi Arabia and the United States blame Shi'ite Iran for supplying weapons to the Houthis. Tehran views the Houthis, who are from a Shi'ite sect, as the legitimate authority in Yemen but denies it supplies them with weapons.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the first missile triggered counter-measures from the USS Mason. It was not immediately clear whether those defenses may have helped prevent a direct hit on the ship.

The USS Mason did not return fire, the official said, adding that the incident took place just north of the Bab al-Mandab strait off Yemen's southern coast.

Last week's attack on the UAE vessel also took place around the Bab al-Mandab strait, in what the UAE branded an "act of terrorism."

In 2013, more than 3.4 million barrels of oil passed through the 20 km (12 mile)-wide Bab al-Mandab each day, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says.

It was unclear what actions the U.S. military might take, but Davis stressed a commitment to defend freedom of navigation and protect U.S. forces.

"We will continue to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of our ships and our servicemembers," he said.

The attack also came the same day that Yemen's powerful former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key Houthi ally, called for an escalation of attacks against Saudi Arabia, demanding "battle readiness at the fronts on the (Saudi) border".

An estimated 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's war. The United Nations blames Saudi-led coalition strikes for 60 percent of some 3,800 civilian deaths since they began in March 2015.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Donald Trump Says The U.S. Army Isn’t Ready For War. That’s Just Not True.

Abrams tanks train in the desert for the possibility of “decisive action.” 

FORT HOOD, Texas ― The United States Army, citing threats from North Korea, Iran, Russia and the Islamic State, has put its most powerful combat units on a war footing, ready to slug it out, if necessary, in high-intensity battle.

Even as GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump claims the military is “in a really bad state” and “totally unprepared,” the Army’s data show it is more ready for major combat than it has been at any time since 2003.

Here at the home of the 1st Cavalry Division, one of the Army’s premier heavy combat units, preparations for the possibility of war are forcing a relentless pace, as busy as at the peak of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago. Troops are constantly in the field training.

But they’re not practicing the counterinsurgency skills that were needed in Iraq and Afghanistan ― foot patrols, small-arms firefights, tribal leader engagement and humanitarian projects.

Instead, battalions of Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles are practicing maneuvers and firing their weapons in the dusty plains of central Texas. Commanders are honing their ability to coordinate those fast-moving tanks with long-range shelling by heavy artillery, strikes by helicopter gunships and Air Force jets, and the movements of infantry. Combat engineers are plowing up walls of earth and digging deep ditches to thwart enemy tank attacks and blowing through enemy defenses of coiled razor wire and (simulated) landmines.

This is what the Army calls “decisive action” ― massive and sustained heavy combat that requires the complex synchronization of multiple military forces on a fluid and unpredictable battlefield.

Think epic World War II clashes or “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.” Among the U.S. military’s range of missions, decisive action is the most difficult and the most demanding.
Capt. John Farmer/U.S. Army
An Army Abrams tank hurls a 48-pound armor-piercing projectile in training for high-intensity warfare.
Trump and some other senior Republicans like to argue that the military has been “badly depleted” by President Barack Obama’s policies. They warn that U.S. forces lack modern equipment and require “major rebuilding.”

But 1st Cavalry officers look blank when asked about shortages. “Money is not one of my constraints,” said Col. John K. Woodward, who commands the division’s 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team. “The finite resource is time.”

Capt. Jeff Feser, who leads a tank company of the 3rd Brigade, stood recently on a broiling hot afternoon watching tanks hurl 120 mm rounds at distant targets as they prowled along five miles of Fort Hood’s Jack Mountain range. Combat commanders, he observed, never think they have enough.

“But we get what we need,” he said. “We’re gonna make it work, no matter what. That’s what we’re paid to do.”

A New Sense Of Urgency

Training for heavy combat is a major shift for the Army, which along with the other military services came to an uncertain pause five years ago as U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq and forces were drawn down in Afghanistan. It wasn’t clear if the military’s future lay in more counterinsurgency or peacekeeping operations ― or something different.

It was something different. The Islamic State and its rampaging forces emerged as a major threat to Mideast stability. Iran accelerated its drive to become the regional superpower. Russia’s armed seizure of Crimea and its bullying threats against Ukraine and the Baltic states served as “a real wake-up call,” Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster told a congressional panel in April. For the first time since the Cold War, the top brass saw that the Army needed to be no-kidding ready to deter or even fight a major conventional war against a strong opponent.

Then, U.S. hopes that diplomacy and sanctions could force an end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program were dashed in early September when Pyongyang tested a nuclear device that was thought to be small enough to fit on a ballistic missile. That seemed to move North Korea, too, into the ranks of major threat while narrowing U.S. options for responding.

So there’s a new sense of urgency at Fort Hood and other bustling Army bases.

“For 15 years, the enemy has not been an existential threat,” Woodward said, referring to the potential destruction of the United States. “Now, Russia, China, North Korea and ISIS are a threat to the homeland, so we face a decisive-action fight to defeat one of those threats if necessary.”

Amid the geopolitical unease, commanders are pushing to raise the full combat readiness of their troops.

Combat and support units are being ordered on no-notice “emergency deployment” drills, practicing the skills ― largely neglected since 2003 ― needed to pack up and ship troops and heavy equipment overseas quickly. The Army is also stocking the supply bunkers, pouring money into ammunition and spare parts, with funds in large part that had been earmarked for developing future weapons systems.
Master Sgt. Christopher A. Campbell/U.S. Air Force
An Air Force C-17 unloads an Abrams tank at an undisclosed location.
The demand for Army forces ― from the regional combatant commanders who must assess threats in Asia, the Middle East and Europe ― has jumped by 38 percent in the past two years. With 65,000 fewer soldiers than in 2012, the Army is telling new troops in the armored brigades to anticipate deploying on a regular basis.

“We’re expected to deploy this division on very short notice,” said Col. Robert Whittle, deputy division commander at 1st Cavalry, explaining the brisk training schedule. “The Army is doing everything it can to resource us to do that. We have what we need, but we need every dollar, every training event, every person.”

This fall, the 4,000 soldiers of the division’s 3rd Brigade are training in the California desert ― maneuvering under live fire with long-range artillery, airstrikes, cyber attacks and drones ― before they deploy overseas in December for nine months. The 1st Brigade is currently deployed on a nine-month rotation to South Korea. The 2nd Brigade just returned from Korea and is training to deploy again. The division’s 3rd Cavalry Regiment and the division headquarters staff, meanwhile, are in the fight in Afghanistan.

The Army’s six other active-duty armored brigades are similarly busy, rotating to bases in Kuwait and now in Europe, where the Obama administration decided earlier this year to permanently assign a heavy combat brigade against the Russian threat.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley declared the Army “more capable, better trained ... and more lethal than any other ground force in the world.”
“What we want is to deter ― nobody wants a war with a near-peer competitor, a great power,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army chief of staff, said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 15.

He pushed back hard against those accusations that the Army is unready and issued what sounded like a warning to any foreign leader tempted to test U.S. capabilities.

“Lest there be any doubt about Army readiness today,” Milley declared, “we are more capable, better trained, equipped, better led and more lethal than any other ground force in the world today. … Our enemies know full well we can destroy them. We can destroy any enemy, we can destroy them anywhere, and we can destroy them any time.”

What ‘Combat-Ready’ Looks Like

Out on the campaign trail, the issue of combat readiness seems to be misunderstood or misconstrued.
Trump asserts that “only one-third of combat teams are considered combat-ready.” He and other critics imply that the remaining two-thirds of the Army’s armored, infantry and airborne brigade combat teams are in total disarray, that anything short of having all 482,000 active-duty soldiers certified “combat-ready” for “decisive action” operations is a dangerous abdication of responsibility.

In reality, there are tiers of combat readiness.

The military prepares for multiple missions ― from training and advising allied troops, to more complex counterinsurgency operations, to decisive action ― based on high-level decisions about what warfighting challenges are most likely and which potential adversaries are most dangerous. No soldier, and therefore no army, can be at peak readiness for every conceivable mission at every moment.

Thousands of soldiers are not even assigned to combat units. Many serve as drill sergeants, personnel managers, intelligence analysts or in other jobs. Some have been sent to advanced military courses.
Turnover is an issue. About 75,000 seasoned troops will leave the Army this year, and it will begin training 62,000 new troops. In some 1st Cavalry battalions, one-third of the soldiers are privates.
We have what we need, but we need every dollar, every training event, every person. Col. Robert Whittle, 1st Cavalry Division
Money is a factor. Training is expensive; training for heavy combat is more expensive. Deciding how much to spend on current readiness and how much on future weapons systems requires a judicious weighing of present and future risks.

Training for major combat takes a human toll as well. Unless there’s a good chance those skills will actually be used, it makes little sense to require all troops to maintain the exhausting performance standards for decisive action.

Today, 21 of the Army’s 59 brigade combat teams on active duty and in the National Guard ― nearly 36 percent ― meet the highest standards of readiness: They’re prepared to immediately deploy into and win a high-intensity war against a great power like China or Russia. That means the Army has tested and certified their ability to excel at all levels of decisive-action warfare. It means they are also able to execute lesser missions such as counterinsurgency and the train-and-advise efforts the Army is conducting in Afghanistan.

The other 38 Army brigades are at varying stages of training, some certified for counterterrorism and others for counterinsurgency or limited high-intensity warfare ― missions that are less demanding than decisive action, but more likely to be used in the current environment.

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, almost no Army units were trained to the standards of high-intensity decisive action. They were trained in counterinsurgency because that was the mission.
And no one complained that the troops engaged in combat were not “combat ready.”

‘We Are Lying To Ourselves’

In the years following the end of the Cold War, when no existential threat loomed, the Army kept about half its brigades ready for heavy combat. Now, the plan is to bring two-thirds of Army forces up to decisive-action standards within four years ― if Congress can come up with the money.

Between the future budget reductions mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act and the automatic cuts known as sequestration launched by that law, billions of dollars could actually be sliced from the Pentagon budget in the coming years. That would jeopardize the ability of the Army and other military services to meet the strategic goals set by this president ― or the next.

When Congress will pass a new defense budget or fix the chaos caused by sequestration is anybody’s guess. Lawmakers recently passed a continuing resolution that will allow the military (and the rest of the federal government) to limp along under current spending levels until after the election.

“We are lying to ourselves and the American people about the true cost of defending the nation,” thundered Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, at the Sept. 15 hearing. “Who is to blame for the increased risk to the lives of the men and women who volunteer to serve? The answer is clear: We are!”
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Sen. John McCain warns that Americans are not facing “the true cost of defending the nation.”
Beyond the budgetary logjam ― and despite Gen. Milley’s assurances ― there are questions about whether the Army, at its current size, can meet the demands of potential crises in Europe, North Korea and the Mideast.

The Army has nine heavy armored brigades in its active-duty force. Each one is already committed, either deployed abroad, just returning from a nine-month deployment or training to go. Five more armored brigades reside in the National Guard as a reserve force. “That’s it ― that’s all we got,” said Woodward, the 3rd Brigade commander.

Without mobilizing thousands of National Guard soldiers, the Army can keep only one heavy armored brigade in each of the three trouble spots at any one time. Is that enough? Couldn’t the Russians overrun that kind of force in Eastern Europe?

“Good question,” said Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, who has served as deputy commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division and deputy director for operations at the Pentagon’s operations nerve center. He is currently chief spokesman for the Army.

Given the growing global threats, Frost said, the Army staff is studying whether it has the right mix of heavy armored brigades, infantry brigades and lighter units of Stryker combat vehicles. That analysis is ongoing.

At Fort Hood recently, Lt. Col. Andrew Kiser was running his tank battalion at an exacting pace. Only 10 percent of the troops he’s training have ever seen combat before.

There are few days off. With a spare hour, Kiser said, “you walk out into the parking lot and do battle drills.”

All his officers and sergeants participate in a mandatory reading program ― the current book is Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin ― and then write essays summarizing the main points. “We do PT [physical training], go to breakfast, then discuss,” said Kiser. Afterward, there’s a full day of tank gunnery.

And they keep an eye on the news. “You don’t know what [mission] you’re going to get ― Korea, Kuwait or Europe ― and counterinsurgency or decisive action or humanitarian operations. So you’ve got to train for all three,” he said.

“That’s why time is the resource that constrains us the most. Everybody feels the crunch.” 

Turkish troops clash with Islamic State in Syria

Turkey's army said it clashed with Islamic State over the border in Syria, leaving one soldier and 23 militants dead, as Ankara stepped up an operation to clear insurgents from the frontier region.

Three other Turkish soldiers were wounded in the battle near the Syrian village of Ziyara over the past 24 hours, part of Ankara's "Euphrates Shield" offensive, the military added on Wednesday.

A Syrian rebel commander taking part in the "Euphrates Shield" operation told Reuters that Islamic State had fought furiously during a battle for the village of Turkman Bareh, which was captured by rebels this week.

The commander said Islamic State had drafted in reinforcements to the area, not far from Dabiq, a village with symbolic importance to the militants since it is cited in the Koran as the scene of an apocalyptic battle.

"We expect resistance in the remaining villages," the commander said.

Turkey's entry into Syria has raised concerns of a further escalation in an increasingly fraught regional conflict.

Ankara says its efforts to cleanse its border region of Islamic State militants are legitimate under international law as self-defense after months of rocket attacks and bombings in cities along the boundary.

President Tayyip Erdogan has also made it clear that Turkish forces are in Syria to prevent the Syrian Kurdish militia, which is backed by the United States to fight Islamic State, from expanding areas under its control.

Two Syrian rebel fighters backed by Turkey died in other clashes with Islamic State along the boundary, the Turkish military statement said. The Ankara-backed rebels had seized control of around 980 square km (378 square miles) of territory since Euphrates Shield began on Aug. 24, it added.

Separately, U.S.-led coalition warplanes carried out nine air strikes on Islamic State targets in northern Syria, killing five further militants, the military said in its daily summary of the Syrian operation. 

Russia Dispatches One More Warship To Mediterranean

A Russian warship leaves the Black Sea port of Sevastopol (file photo)

The Russian Navy says one of its corvettes is heading to the Mediterranean Sea to join the country’s group of warships in the region.

A spokesman for the Black Sea Fleet said the Mirazh, armed with Malakhit cruise missiles, left its Crimean base at Sevastopol on October 6.

The Mirazh follows another two Black Sea Fleet corvettes, equipped with Kalibr long-range cruise missiles, which had been due to reach the Mediterranean late on October 5.

The navy said the deployments are part of a "planned rotation" of Moscow's naval forces in the region.

The moves come after Moscow confirmed it had sent an S-300 antiaircraft missile system to its naval base in Syria's port of Tartus.

They also follow Washington’s announcement that it is suspending talks with Russia on trying to end the violence in Syria.

Sydney woman jailed for eight months for silence over suspected terrorism plot

Alo-Bridget Namoa

A Sydney woman has been sentenced to eight months’ prison for refusing to answer questions about a suspected terror plot.

Alo-Bridget Namoa, 19, appeared before the New South Wales Crime Commission in February after police allegedly found extremist material on her and her husband’s phones, including instructions for carrying out a terror attack.

Namoa pleaded guilty in February to 31 charges of failing to answer a question at a crime commission hearing, and was sentenced at Sydney’s central local court on Thursday.

Brussels police stabbing was 'terrorist attack': prosecutors

Belgian prosecutors charged a suspect with attempted murder Thursday over the stabbing of two police officers in a "terrorist attack" in Brussels, the latest such incident in a city still reeling from deadly bombings in March.

The suspect in Wednesday's attack, named as 43-year-old Hicham D. has been "charged with attempted murder in a terrorist context and participation at the activities of a terrorist group," a statement from the prosecutor's office said.

His brother, Aboubaker D, had also been taken into custody "in the framework of the terrorist attack against two police officers" in Brussels, it said. The brother was born in 1970 and both men have Belgian nationality.

"The investigating judge, specialising in terrorism, will decide tomorrow on the possible extension of his detention," the statement added.

Police shot the attacker in the leg after he used a knife to attack the two officers, one female and one male, in the Schaerbeek area of the Belgian capital before breaking the nose of a third officer.

Reports said the attacker was a former soldier with ties to jihadists who had gone to fight in Syria.

Wednesday's incident came shortly after one of the main train stations in Brussels and the city's prosecutor's office were shut by a bomb scare which later turned out to be a false alarm.

The stabbing comes two months after two policewomen were wounded in the southern Belgian city of Charleroi by a machete-wielding man who shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest).

Belgium remains on its second highest terror alert level following the March 22 Islamic State suicide bombings targeting the Brussels metro and airport in which 32 people were killed.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Emergencies Ministry to organize all-Russian civil defence drill

Emergencies Ministry to organize all-Russian civil defence drill

The Emergencies Ministry of Russia is going to organize all-Russian civil defence drill since 4 October until 7 October 2016. More than 40 million people, more than 200.000 specialists of rescue and recovery units, as well as more than 50.000 units of equipment are going to be involved into the drill.
Also, federal executive authorities, heads of regions, local governing bodies and organizations are going to participate in the drill. Personnel and equipment of the Emergencies Ministry are going to be fully engaged, as well as rescue and recovery units, paramilitary mine rescue divisions, units of the State Small Vessel Inspectorate, as well as State Fire Service of the Emergencies Ministry and aircraft.
Non-staff rescue and recovery units will also participate in the civil defence drill. The drill is purposed to check relevance of current plans for different periods and preparedness of all personnel and equipment for action.
Information and gathering of the senior personnel of ministries and agencies, executive authorities of the regions of the Russian Federation and local governments will be carried out.
Evacuation, issuing of personal protection equipment, deployment of sanitation station will be trained. Additionally, all protective equipment will be brought to readiness. Systems for emergency information of the population are going to be checked upon agreement with regional and municipal authorities.
Quality of medical services will be checked in medical institutions under jurisdiction of the Emergencies Ministry. Rescuers in cooperation with other service will train action to mitigate different emergency situations, as natural, as man-caused in order to improve efficiency of approaches used to protect the population and territories. Fulfillment of these tasks allows increasing level of preparedness of the population, senior management and civil defence forces for action during large scale emergency situations occurring in peace time.

The Jihadist Too Violent for ISIS

The Jihadist Too Violent for ISIS

ABUJA, Nigeria — The disputed leader of Boko Haram knows how to cheat death — and do it in style.
After the Nigerian army declared him “fatally wounded” on Aug. 19, Abubakar Shekau appeared in a new video last week to mock the government that has claimed to have killed him at least four times already.
“To the despot Nigerian government: Die with envy. I’m not dead,” a man purporting to be Shekau says in the video.
But if Shekau looks untouchable in the fight against the Nigerian army, he has proved much more vulnerable to threats from within his organization. Less than 18 months after he led Boko Haram into a high-profile partnership with the Islamic State, the Iraq- and Syria-based caliphate shunted him aside in favor of a new representative in Nigeria. In an interview published in the Islamic State’s propaganda magazine in August, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the son of the late Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf, was named the new leader of Boko Haram.
Shekau rejected Barnawi’s appointment and insisted he was still in charge, setting off a propaganda war between supporters of the two jihadi leaders that raged until Shekau was supposedly killed in an air raid last month. That propaganda war — and the broader struggle for control of the world’s most deadly terrorist outfit — has been revitalized with the release of Shekau’s latest video, in which he appears in front of an Islamic State flag.
At the heart of Boko Haram’s most serious leadership rift in years are fundamental disagreements over ideology, tactics, and the group’s relationship with the Islamic State. Boko Haram has never been a one-man show. It has always had competing factions led by powerful local commanders who disagree on how to achieve the group’s goal of an Islamic caliphate. But these disagreements have hardened since Shekau assumed leadership of Boko Haram in 2009. His ruthlessness and zeal for violence alienated many of his followers, and may even have proved too much for the Islamic State to stomach, prompting the group to replace him with a more conservative leader.
Under Shekau, Boko Haram embarked upon an indiscriminate scorched-earth campaign against anyone — Muslim or non-Muslim — who didn’t subscribe to the group’s harsh doctrine. Often, the group’s handiwork was featured in grisly propaganda videos in which Shekau gleefully took responsibility for kidnapping schoolgirls or slaughtering women and children. The approach invited condemnation from mainstream Muslims, including the Sultan of Sokoto, the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s Muslims, who has repeatedly stressed that “more Muslims have died from Boko Haram activity than Christians.
Shekau’s tactics also provoked dissent from within Boko Haram’s ranks, including from Barnawi, who opposes targeting fellow Muslims. Since being tapped by the Islamic State to lead Boko Haram, he has said, “Attacks on mosques, markets, and other venues belonging to Muslims do not represent IS, they only represent themselves. … We don’t authorize or approve such attacks.”
In an audio recording released the same week as Barnawi’s appointment, Mamman Nur, another senior Boko Haram commander, rejected Shekau’s leadership, claiming he was “ignorant and needs to be taught the rudiments of Islam.” Nur said he and other fighters defected from Boko Haram because they did not want to be “part of a caliphate of injustices and shedding of blood.”
So aggrieved were commanders like Barnawi and Nur that they reportedly complained directly to the Islamic State’s leadership about Shekau’s brutality, erratic behavior, and impulsive use of executions to silence internal dissent. It seems likely that these complaints, which raised the possibility of a major split within the Nigerian terror group that would dilute the Islamic State’s influence, persuaded the Iraq- and Syria-based group to appoint a new leader.
Fear that Shekau’s brutality might threaten the unity of Boko Haram was well founded.
Four years ago, a splinter group calling itself Ansaru defected from Boko Haram and openly complained about the group’s targeting of Muslims. Although Ansaru eventually mended fences with Shekau, Boko Haram continued its indiscriminate campaign of terror.
It’s no accident that the Islamic State selected Barnawi, whose disciplined and understated demeanor contrasts sharply with that of Shekau, as its new leader in Nigeria. As the son of Yusuf, he has a hereditary claim to leadership. He has also appeared in Boko Haram videos, but none that rival Shekau’s trademark brutality — and always with his face obscured.
Given that Shekau hasn’t gone quietly into the night, however, the Islamic State may have set the stage for a protracted intra-jihadi fight. The Boko Haram faction led by Nur has made oblique threats against Shekau. In September, there were unconfirmed reports of clashes between rival Boko Haram factions.
Although its internal rifts suggest weakness, the power struggle within Boko Haram is not necessarily good news for Nigeria. Even the most moderate factions remain committed to overthrowing the government. And more factions mean less chance of a negotiated deal to end the bloody insurgency, which has left over 20,000 dead during the last seven years. No Boko Haram commander wields sufficient control over the entire group to make all of its factions adhere to a cease-fire or armistice deal. And even if one leader could achieve sufficient consensus, any discussions between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government would require at least tacit approval from the Islamic State.
It seems that there are now different brands of Boko Haram. Some are answerable to the Islamic State’s leadership, and others are not. Shekau’s uncanny ability to survive means he will likely continue to enjoy the backing of at least some of the group’s fighters — regardless of what the Islamic State says.