Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Joint British-American operation has decimated Islamic State’s cyber force

Computer hacking

Coordinated efforts by Anglo-American military and intelligence agencies have resulted in the killing or capturing of nearly every senior commander of the Islamic State’s online force. The close-knit group of Islamic State hackers and online propagandists, which are informally known as “the Legion”, is responsible for hacking and online recruitment incidents that led to several lone-wolf attacks in the West. In one incident in March of 2015, the Legion claimed responsibility for the unauthorized release of personal details of over 1,300 American government employees, with orders to Islamic State volunteers to kill them. In other instances, Legion operatives reached out to impressionable young men and women in Western Europe and the United States and convinced them to move to Syria or conduct attacks at home.

According to The New York Times, which published an article last week about the current state of the Legion, in the early days of its emergence the group was viewed as a law enforcement problem. However, there were several successful and unsuccessful attacks by lone-wolf actors in the United States during the summer of 2015. According to The Times, the Federal Bureau of Investigation became overwhelmed and “was struggling to keep pace with the threat” posed by the Islamic State on the domestic front. It therefore pressed the US Department of Defense to help tackle the problem at its source. The DoD then teamed up with the British government, which was monitoring the Legion due to many of its members being British-born subjects. The two governments embarked on a “secretive campaign”, which has led to the capture of nearly 100 individuals associated with the Legion in less than two years. Another 12 members of the group, who had senior positions, have been killed in targeted drone strikes since the summer of 2015, says The Times.

The joint Anglo-American operation is allegedly responsible for the recent drop in terrorist activity instigated by the Islamic State in the West. It appears, says the paper, that the Islamic State is failing to replace the captured or killed members of the Legion with equally skilled operatives, which may point to the desperate state of the organization. But the Islamic State continues to operate a relatively sophisticated media arm, according to US government officials, and its media reach should not be underestimated, even as it is losing ground in Syria and Iraq.

Islamic State terror plots revealed in seized 10,000 documents

A file picture of an Islamic State fighter in Raqqa.

A large trove of documents seized in Syria from the Islamic State reveals thousands of plots to attack Europe and other parts of the world, Britain's top commander in the region has said.
More than 10,000 documents and a huge amount of digital data were seized after the group was driven out of Manbij in northern Syria in August, according to Major General Rupert Jones.
"If we want to keep Britain safe, we need to deal with Daesh," he said, using another name for the extremist group.
The news comes as anti-terror police have started deploying on London's streets.
General Jones said: "External operations have been getting orchestrated to a very significant degree from within the caliphate, critically from within Raqqa and from within Manbij.
"They were key external operations hubs. There is a huge amount of intelligence, documentation, electronic material that has been exploited there that points very directly against all sorts of nations around the world."

Tourists visit the traditional Christkindelsmaerik (Christ Child market) near Strasbourg's Cathedral
The US has warned its citizens to be alert during the festive season

He declined to discuss details of the suspected plots as he spoke to reporters at the Al-Assad air base in Iraq.
British security services are analysing the material.
General Jones said they will be expecting fresh intelligence if the coalition retakes the Iraqi city of Mosul, where US-backed Iraqi and Peshmerga forces have launched an offensive.
"It will be a labyrinth of intelligence and we need to get that into the hands of the intelligence agencies," he said.
Attacks either perpetrated or inspired by Islamic State have struck cities across Europe, including Paris, where 130 people were killed in November last year, and Brussels, where 32 people died in March.
Last week, French anti-terror police foiled a terror ring plotting attacks in France.
Seven people were arrested of French, Moroccan and Afghan origin in Marseille and Strasbourg.
French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve did not reveal the intended target of the plot, but did say "the foiled attack was a co-ordinated attack aiming to target several sites simultaneously".


Spain Arrests Four Suspects Allegedly Involved in Migrant Network Linked to ISIS

Spanish police have arrested four suspects in connection with a migrant network linked to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

Authorities believe that ISIS has used this migrant network to bring militants onto European soil via Turkey, which borders war-torn Syria, according to the Spanish Interior Ministry. Some of those militants are believed to have been involved in the Paris attacks in November 2015 that left 130 people dead.

Two of the suspects arrested live in the northwest Spanish region of Galicia and the other two suspects lived in the southern region of Andalusia, the ministry said, without providing more information about the suspects and their identities.

The ministry said in a statement that the suspects detained had been in contact with at least one ISIS suspect, a French national arrested in the Austrian city of Salzburg a month after the Paris attacks for suspected links to the attackers in the French capital.

The suspect in Salzburg, arrested alongside another man for suspected ISIS links, had allegedly been posing as a migrant with a fake Syrian passport and police subsequently arrested him at a migrant center, according to Austrian media reports.

ISIS supporter arrested in Spain  
Spanish police arrest a Moroccan man suspected of recruiting members via the internet for ISIS, Valencia, June 7. Authorities have arrested four suspects of involvement in a migrant network linked to ISIS. Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images 
Over the last year, Spain has disrupted a number of cells with links to ISIS, many of them led by North Africans—mostly Moroccan nationals. Unlike France and Germany, Spain has not faced a radical Islamist attack since  ISIS declared its self-styled caliphate in June 2014.

In February, authorities dismantled a suspected ISIS cell in raids across the country, arresting seven people in the southern port cities of Valencia and Alicante as well as the Spanish enclave of Cueta, which borders Morocco.

The following month, Spanish police seized 20,000 military uniforms and accessories—destined for militant groups in Syria and Iraq—in Algeciras and Valencia, in March. In October, Spanish police arrested two Moroccan imams on the resort island of Ibiza for alleged support of ISIS and the incitement of jihad. Since raising its terror threat level to four out of five in June 2015—following an ISIS attack on tourists on a beach in Tunisia— Spain has arrested approximately 168 people on suspicion of radical Islamist activity.


Thousands of Green Cards Have 'Simply Gone Missing,' IG Says

Thousands of green cards have been mishandled over the past three years, according to a new Department of Homeland Security inspector general report.
Electronic system errors have caused at least 19,000 cards to be issued as duplicates or with incorrect information — such as name, date of birth, photo and gender — the report says.
But the head of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), which manages immigration benefits, said that several of the report’s conclusions were overstated.
The USCIS director said that the agency did not issue green cards to any individuals who were not eligible to receive them and that the number of cards containing errors were only a “tiny percentage” of the total issued each year.
He added that for the cards to be misused, they would have to fall into the hands of someone with “malicious intent” and a physical resemblance to the card’s intended recipient. 
In some cases, green card applicants who should have received a card good for two years were issued one valid for 10 years.
During the past year, USCIS inadvertently sent more than 6,000 duplicate green cards to applicants.
“It appears that thousands of green cards have simply gone missing. In the wrong hands, green cards may enable terrorists, criminals and undocumented aliens to remain in the United States,” said DHS Inspector General John Roth.
The report follows up on the watchdog’s March finding that USCIS possibly sent hundreds of green cards to the wrong addresses.
The problem was “far worse than originally thought,” according to Roth.
In September, Roth found that because of issues with USCIS digital fingerprint records, the U.S. government mistakenly granted citizenship to at least 858 immigrants who had pending deportation orders.
New information on the scope and volume of issues prompted the publication of today’s report.
The majority of the card issuance errors were due to “flawed design and functionality problems” with the agency’s electronic immigration system, which was implemented in 2013, according to the report.
It also found that the percentage of green cards issued in error has steadily increased each year since the system was put into use.
The watchdog said that USCIS “lacked consistency and a sense of urgency” in its efforts to recover the inappropriately issued cards, despite previous findings.
“We must take concrete steps to remove any security gaps that can be exploited by terrorists and criminals. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can assist such efforts by strengthening quality controls and its procedures to target lost, stolen or erroneously issued green cards,” said Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., in response to the report.
Over the last three years, USCIS received more than 200,000 reports from approved applicants about missing cards, said the report.
The mistakes were costly. The agency spent just under $1.5 million to address card-related issues in fiscal year 2015, said the report.
The immigration agency agreed with all the report’s recommendations — including fixing the electronic system and implementing internal controls to identify issues early in the process — and said the measures will be implemented by June 2017.

Life Under Islamic State Rule: Khalifa’s Story

Khalifa, now 22, says she wants nothing more than the rest of her enslaved countrywomen to be freed. She is shown in a village where displaced Yazidi families have settled near Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq, Nov. 25, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)

In the summer of 2014, Khalifa, then a 20-year-old Yazidi mother of one 3-year-old son, was kidnapped by Islamic State militants and sold as a sex slave. In the year that followed she was bought and sold several times, and the following is only one part of the many horrors she endured. She tells her story to VOA in Kurdish, edited for clarity.

When Islamic State (IS) militants entered my town, I fled to my sister-in-law’s house with 14 other people. She and I were both pregnant, but we walked for 45 minutes away from her home, trying to avoid capture. But we were too late. Some friends called us and told us if we don’t come back, IS will kill us. When we got back to her house, we were surrounded and captured.

The next day militants separated the men and the women, and then transferred the young women to a prison. We stayed a week before we were moved because airstrikes were raining down on the prison. They kept moving us to avoid the airstrikes and finally brought us to an abandoned village. I told them I was pregnant, but they didn’t believe me.
“You are lying,” they said. “You are not even married.”

A few days later I gave birth, and they believed me. But it didn’t matter, I was transferred to Raqqa in Syria with my son and my new baby girl.

Islamic State militants did not believe Khalifa was pregnant until she gave birth to her daughter a few weeks after she was kidnapped. But it didn't matter that she was married; she was sold as a sex slave anyway. Khalifa's daughter is pictured near Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq, Nov. 25, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)
Islamic State militants did not believe Khalifa was pregnant until she gave birth to her daughter a few weeks after she was kidnapped. But it didn't matter that she was married; she was sold as a sex slave anyway. Khalifa's daughter is pictured near Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq, Nov. 25, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)

In Raqqa, a Saudi IS soldier told me: “I have an eye for you. Someone else more important than me wants you, but I will take you anyway. I will bring you home to Kurdistan.”

I had been in prison, so I didn’t know what the militants were like. I believed him. He also told me if I did not go with him, he would take my son.

But we didn’t go to Kurdistan. He brought me to Aleppo, where he sold me to another man, an IS Emir I’ll call Mahmoud. I was put in a room upstairs in a house occupied by IS, next to two IS bases, and they decided my name was now going to be Lameya.

“Lameya, look how brave we are,” Mahmoud said, showing me videos of gruesome deaths. “We behead people like they are animals.”

I asked: “What have these people done to deserve being beheaded?”

He continued to show me videos, and when I got upset, he said, “I want to make you brave.”

Deadly holiday

After I had been with him for five months, it was the first day of Newroz, a traditional Kurdish new year's celebration, and I was in bed. Mahmoud said, “It’s Newroz, Lameya. What do you do on Newroz?”

“Are you Kurdish, and you don’t know what we do?” I replied, confused.

“I’ll show you what we do,” he answered. “Lameya, get up and get your children. I have a surprise for you.”

For a moment, I was happy, looking forward to any small kindness. When I looked out the window and saw 25 people dressed in orange, I thought they were a cleaning crew come to clean the house.

But then I saw the head IS Emir taking things from their hands. They were identification cards and peshmerga uniforms. Then he opened a book and signed a page. I learned later he was signing that he approved killing the soldiers, and it was right with God.

“In what way do you think we will behead these people, Lameya?” Mahmoud asked me. I was so scared I was shaking. The men were each pushed to their knees by a different IS militant and their heads were covered with black sacks. One by one, they were beheaded by individual militants.

But the last man alive was scared and cried out: “No, please let me live!” I begged the Emir to let this man, just one man, survive. The Emir briefly had mercy.

“I am Haval Mohammad from Kirkuk in Iraq,” the doomed man shouted. He was a Kurdish peshmerga soldier like the rest. “I know I only have a few minutes left of my life. Please tell people what happened here.”

Not long after, they chopped off his head and the bodies were thrown in the dirt, separate from their heads.

“Let the dogs eat them,” the Emir said.

This is nothing

But all this is just something that happened. I have told you almost nothing because my whole story is too long to tell.

Khalifa, after telling VOA about her year in Islamic State captivity, hurries off to visit with friends and family on Nov. 25, 2016, near Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq. (H. Murdock/VOA)
Khalifa, after telling VOA about her year in Islamic State captivity, hurries off to visit with friends and family on Nov. 25, 2016, near Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq. (H. Murdock/VOA)

The worst part was the force. If any of them wanted me, they would tie my hands and rape me. I was already a prisoner but they always used force. When things weren’t going well for them in battle, they took it out on me.

When IS lost Kobani, I was handcuffed and raped by four men.

When I first got home, after being ransomed by my family with money from the Kurdish government, I was like a dead person. Now I am starting to live, and I am once again Khalifa, and I must speak out. I cannot forget there are still thousands of girls with IS, and this is happening to them every day.

As Yazidi people we want nothing, need nothing and aspire to no dreams other than the release of our girls.


ISIS’s second-in-command hid in Syria for months. The day he stepped out, the U.S. was waiting.

For a man given to fiery rhetoric and long-winded sermons, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani became oddly quiet during his last summer as the chief spokesman for the Islamic State.

The Syrian who exhorted thousands of young Muslims to don suicide belts appeared increasingly obsessed with his own safety, U.S. officials say. He banished cellphones, shunned large meetings and avoided going outdoors in the daytime. He began sleeping in crowded tenements in a northern Syrian town called al-Bab, betting on the presence of young children to shield him from the drones prowling the skies overhead.

But in late August, when a string of military defeats suffered by the Islamic State compelled Adnani to briefly leave his hiding place, the Americans were waiting for him. A joint surveillance operation by the CIA and the Pentagon tracked the 39-year-old as he left his al-Bab sanctuary and climbed into a car with a companion. They were headed north on a rural highway a few miles from town when a Hellfire missile struck the vehicle, killing both of them.

The Aug. 30 missile strike was the culmination of a months-long mission targeting one of the Islamic State’s most prominent — and, U.S. officials say, most dangerous — senior leaders. The Obama administration has said little publicly about the strike, other than to rebut Russia’s claims that one of its own warplanes dropped the bomb that ended Adnani’s life.

But while key operational details of the Adnani strike remain secret, U.S. officials are speaking more openly about what they describe as an increasingly successful campaign to track and kill the Islamic State’s senior commanders, including Adnani, the No. 2 leader and the biggest prize so far. At least six high-level Islamic State officials have died in U.S. airstrikes in the past four months, along with dozens of deputies and brigadiers, all but erasing entire branches of the group’s leadership chart.

Their deaths have left the group’s chieftain, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, increasingly isolated, deprived of his most capable lieutenants and limited in his ability to communicate with his embattled followers, U.S. officials say. Baghdadi has not made a public appearance in more than two years and released only a single audiotape — suggesting that the Islamic State’s figurehead is now in “deep, deep hiding,” said Brett McGurk, the Obama administration’s special envoy to the global coalition seeking to destroy Baghdadi’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

“He is in deep hiding because we have eliminated nearly all of his deputies,” McGurk said at a meeting of coalition partners in Berlin this month. “We had their network mapped. If you look at all of his deputies and who he was relying on, they’re all gone.”

The loss of senior leaders does not mean that the Islamic State is about to collapse. U.S. officials and terrorism experts caution that the group’s decentralized structure and sprawling network of regional affiliates ensure that it would survive even the loss of Baghdadi himself. But they say the deaths point to the growing sophistication of a targeted killing campaign built by the CIA and the Defense Department over the past two years for the purpose of flushing out individual leaders who are working hard to stay hidden.
The effort is being aided, U.S. officials say, by new technology as well as new allies, including deserters and defectors who are shedding light on how the terrorists travel and communicate. At the same time, territorial losses and military defeats are forcing the group’s remaining leaders to take greater risks, traveling by car and communicating by cellphones and computers instead of couriers, the officials and analysts said.

“The bad guys have to communicate electronically because they have lost control of the roads,” said a veteran U.S. counterterrorism official who works closely with U.S. and Middle Eastern forces and who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations. “Meanwhile our penetration is better because ISIS’s situation is getting more desperate and they are no longer vetting recruits,” the official said, using a common acronym for the terrorist group.

“We have a better picture inside ISIS now,” he said, “than we ever did against al-Qaeda in Iraq.”
The caliphate’s cheerleader
The first to go was “Abu Omar the Chechen.” The red-bearded Georgian Islamic militant, commonly known as Omar al-Shishani, fought in the Russia-Georgia war in 2008 and had been trained by U.S. Special Forces when he was in the Georgian military. He rose to become the Islamic State’s “minister of war” and was reported to have been killed on at least a half-dozen occasions since 2014, only to surface, apparently unharmed, to lead military campaigns in Iraq and Syria.

Shishani’s luck ran out on July 10 when a U.S. missile struck a gathering of militant leaders near the Iraqi city of Mosul. It was the beginning of a string of successful operations targeting key leaders of the Islamic State’s military, propaganda and “external operations” divisions, U.S. officials said in interviews.

On Sept. 6, a coalition airstrike killed Wa’il Adil Hasan Salman al-Fayad, the Islamic State’s “minister of information,” near Raqqa, Syria. On Sept. 30, a U.S. attack killed deputy military commander Abu Jannat, the top officer in charge of Mosul’s defenses and one of 13 senior Islamic State officials in Mosul who were killed in advance of the U.S.-assisted offensive to retake the city. On Nov. 12, a U.S. missile targeted Abd al-Basit al-Iraqi, an Iraqi national described as the leader of the Islamic State’s Middle Eastern external-operations network, responsible for carrying out attacks against Western targets.
But it was Adnani’s death that delivered the single biggest blow, U.S. analysts say. The Syrian-born Islamist militant was regarded by experts as more than a mere spokesman. A longtime member of the Islamic State’s inner circle, he was a gifted propagandist and strategic thinker who played a role in many of the organization’s greatest successes, from its commandeering of social media to its most spectacular terrorist attacks overseas, including in Paris and Brussels.

His importance within the organization was also steadily rising. Last year, after the U.S.-led coalition began retaking cities across Iraq and Syria, it was Adnani who stepped into the role of cheerleader in chief, posting messages and sermons to boost morale while calling on sympathetic Muslims around the world to carry out terrorist attacks using any means available.

“He was the voice of the caliphate when its caliph was largely silent,” said Will McCants, an expert on militant extremism at the Brookings Institution and author of “The ISIS Apocalypse,” a 2015 book on the Islamic State. “He was the one who called for a war on the West.”

The CIA and the Pentagon declined to comment on their specific roles in the Adnani operation. But other officials familiar with the effort said the task of finding the Islamic State’s No. 2 leader became a priority nearly on par with the search for Baghdadi. But like his boss, Adnani, a survivor of earlier wars between U.S. forces and Sunni insurgents in Iraq, proved to be remarkably skilled at keeping himself out of the path of U.S. missiles.

"His personal security was particularly good,” said the U.S. counterterrorism official involved in coordinating U.S. and Middle Eastern military efforts. “And as time went on, it got even better.”
But the quality of the intelligence coming from the region was improving as well. A U.S. official familiar with the campaign described a two-stage learning process: In the early months, the bombing campaign focused on the most visible targets, such as weapons depots and oil refineries. But by the middle of last year, analysts were sorting through torrents of data on the movements of individual leaders.
The information came from a growing network of human informants as well as from technological innovations, including improved surveillance drones and special manned aircraft equipped with the Pentagon’s Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System, or EMARSS, designed to identify and track individual targets on the ground.

“In the first year, the strikes were mostly against structures,” said a U.S. official familiar with the air campaign. “In the last year, they became much more targeted, leading to more successes.”

Watching and waiting
And yet, insights into the whereabouts of the top two leaders — Baghdadi and Adnani — remained sparse. After the Obama administration put a $5 million bounty on him, Adnani became increasingly cautious, U.S. officials say, avoiding not only cellphones but also buildings with satellite dishes. He used couriers to pass messages and stayed away from large gatherings.

Eventually, his role shifted to coordinating the defense of a string of towns and villages near the Turkish border. One of these was Manbij, a Syrian hub and transit point for Islamic State fighters traveling to and from Turkey. Another was Dabiq, a small burg mentioned in Islam’s prophetic texts as the future site of the end-times battle between the forces of good and evil.

Adnani picked for his headquarters the small town of al-Bab, about 30 miles northeast of Aleppo. There he hid in plain sight amid ordinary Syrians, conducting meetings in the same crowded apartment buildings where he slept. As was his custom, he used couriers to deliver messages — until suddenly it became nearly impossible to do so.

On Aug. 12, a U.S.-backed army of Syrian rebels captured Manbij in the first of a series of crushing defeats for the Islamic State along the Turkish frontier. Thousands of troops began massing for assaults on the key border town of Jarabulus, as well as Dabiq, just over 20 miles from Adnani’s base.
With many roads blocked by hostile forces, communication with front-line fighters became difficult. Adnani was compelled to venture from his sanctuary for meetings, and when he did so on Aug. 30, the CIA’s trackers finally had the clear shot they had been waiting for weeks to take.

Records generated by commercially available aircraft-tracking radar show a small plane flying multiple loops that day over a country road just northwest of al-Bab. The plane gave no call sign, generally an indication that it is a military aircraft on a clandestine mission. The profile and flight pattern were similar to ones generated in the past for the Pentagon’s EMARSS-equipped MC-12 prop planes, used for surveillance of targets on the ground.

The country road is the same one on which Adnani was traveling when a Hellfire missile hit his car, killing him and his companion.

The death was announced the same day by the Islamic State, in a bulletin mourning the loss of a leader who was “martyred while surveying the operations to repel the military campaigns against Aleppo.” But in Washington, the impact of his death was muted by a two-week delay as U.S. officials sought proof that it was indeed Adnani’s body that was pulled from the wreckage of the car.

The confirmation finally came Sept. 12 in a Pentagon statement asserting that a “U.S. precision airstrike” targeting Adnani had eliminated the terrorist group’s “chief propagandist, recruiter and architect of external terrorist operations.”

The Russian claims have persisted, exasperating the American analysts who know how long and difficult the search had been. Meanwhile, the ultimate impact of Adnani’s death is still being assessed.
Longtime terrorism experts argue that a diffuse, highly decentralized terrorist network such as the Islamic State tends to bounce back quickly from the loss of a leader, even one as prominent as Adnani. “Decapitation is one arm of a greater strategy, but it cannot defeat a terrorist group by itself,” said Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies and an author of multiple books on terrorism. Noting that the Islamic State’s military prowess derives from the “more anonymous Saddamist military officers” who make up the group’s professional core, Hoffman said the loss of a chief propagandist was likely to be “only a temporary derailment.”

Yet, as still more missiles find their targets, the Islamic State is inevitably losing its ability to command and inspire its embattled forces, other terrorism experts said. “The steady destruction of the leadership of the Islamic State, plus the loss of territory, is eroding the group’s appeal and potency,” said Bruce Riedel, a 30-year CIA veteran and a terrorism expert at the Brookings Institution. “The Islamic State is facing a serious crisis.”


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Man arrested for allegedly supporting ISIS, helping plan an attack on Times Square

Times Square

A Yemeni man living in New York City was arrested on Monday and charged by U.S. prosecutors with attempting to provide support to Islamic State, including by expressing support for an attack in Times Square.
Mohammed Rafik Naji, who authorities say last year traveled to Turkey and Yemen in an effort to join the militant group, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in Brooklyn, where he lives.
He was arrested earlier Monday, according to a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He is expected to appear in court later in the afternoon.
A lawyer could not be immediately identified.
Naji, 37, is one of more than 100 people to face U.S. charges since 2014 in cases related to the Islamic State militant group, which has seized control of parts of Iraq and Syria.
According to the complaint, in March 2015, Naji flew to Turkey to join Islamic State in Yemen, where it operated in certain parts. He returned to New York in September 2015, flying from Djibouti,the complaint said.

ISIS world map 
ISIS has spread to many countries, including Yemen.
While abroad, he frequently emailed with his girlfriend, who he later called his wife, asking her for money and sending her a "selfie" of himself in black clothing in which a tactical vest and large knife could be seen, the complaint said.
Beginning in August 2015, a paid law enforcement informant made contact via Facebook with Naji, who the complaint said described Islamic State as "spreading like a virus" that non-believers "can't stop it no matter what they do."
Naji remained in contact with the informant once back in the United States, meeting on numerous occasions in which their conversations were recorded, the complaint said.
Those conversations included one on July 19, 2016, five days after an attack in Nice, France, that Islamic State had claimed responsibility for that killed 84 and hurt hundreds, the complaint said.
In that conversation, Naji expressed his support for staging a similar attack in New York's Times Square, according to court papers.
"They want an operation in Times Square, reconnaissance group already put out a scene, the Islamic State already put up scenes of Times Square, you understand," Naji said, according to court papers. "I said that was an indication for whoever is smart to know."


South Korean cabinet approves closer intelligence cooperation with Japan

South Korea

In a move that highlights the thaw in relations between South Korea and Japan, the two nations appear to be closer than ever to entering an intelligence agreement with each other. In 2014, Washington, Seoul and Tokyo signed a trilateral intelligence-sharing agreement on regional security issues, with the United States acting as an intermediary. But a proposed new agreement between South Korea and Japan would remove the US from the equation and would facilitate direct intelligence-sharing between the two East Asian nations for the first time in history.

The proposed treaty is known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). Its centerpiece is a proposal to streamline the rapid exchange of intelligence between South Korean and Japanese spy agencies, especially in times of regional crisis involving North Korea. Last week, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense publicly gave GSOMIA its blessing by stating that Seoul’s security would benefit from access to intelligence from Japanese satellite reconnaissance as well as from submarine activity in the South Sea. On Monday, South Korea’s Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, Yoo Il-ho, announced after a cabinet meeting that GSOMIA had been officially approved by the government.

The agreement is surprising, given the extremely tense history of Korean-Japanese relations. Japan conquered the Korean Peninsula for most of the first half of the 20th century, facing stiff resistance from local guerrilla groups. After the end of World War II and Japan’s capitulation, South Korea has sought reparations from Tokyo. In 2014, after many decades of pressure, Japan struck a formal agreement with South Korea over the plight of the so-called “comfort women”, thousands of South Korean women and girls who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese imperial forces during World War II. Relations between the two regional rivals have improved steadily since that time.

The GSOMIA agreement will now be forwarded to officials in the South Korean Ministry of National Defense. The country’s defense minister is expected to sign it during a meeting with the Japanese ambassador to South Korea in Seoul on Wednesday, local news media reported.
Author: Ian Allen


State Dept. Issues Travel Warning for Europe Ahead of Holidays

The State Department on Monday warned Americans traveling to Europe of an increased risk of terrorist attacks, particularly over the holiday season.

"Credible information indicates the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL the U.S. gov't acronym for ISIS or Da'esh), al-Qaeda, and their affiliates continue to plan terrorist attacks in Europe, with a focus on the upcoming holiday season and associated events," the travel advisory read.

The State Department urged travelers to avoid large crowds and exercise caution at tourist sites, festivals, large holiday events and outdoor markets. The agency also warned that these attacks can come with little or no warning

Terrorists have already carried out attacks in Belgium, France, Germany, and Turkey this year but the advisory warns of the potential for attacks throughout the continent.

The State Department issued a similar alert in May warning that the larger number of tourists visiting Europe in summer months presented greater targets for potential terrorist attacks in public locations including, "major events, tourist sites, restaurants, commercial centers and transportation."

The end of the alert notes that "European authorities continue to conduct raids and disrupt terror," and the U.S. is working closely with European allies on the threat from international terrorism.

The advisory is set to expire at the end of February.


ISIS Used Chemical Arms at Least 52 Times in Syria and Iraq

A cemetery on the outskirts of Gaziantep, Turkey. Grave No. 38487 holds the body of a 4-year-old girl who died of wounds she received when a shell containing sulfur mustard agent hit her home in Marea, Syria.

The Islamic State has used chemical weapons, including chlorine and sulfur mustard agents, at least 52 times on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq since it swept to power in 2014, according to a new independent analysis.
More than one-third of those chemical attacks have come in and around Mosul, the Islamic State stronghold in northern Iraq, according to the assessment by the IHS Conflict Monitor, a London-based intelligence collection and analysis service.
The IHS conclusions, which are based on local news reports, social media and Islamic State propaganda, mark the broadest compilation of chemical attacks in the conflict. American and Iraqi military officials have expressed growing alarm over the prospect of additional chemical attacks as the allies press to regain both Mosul and Raqqa, the Islamic State capital in Syria.
“The coalition is concerned about ISIL’s use of chemical weapons,” Col. John Dorrian, a military spokesman in Iraq, said in an email on Monday, using another name for the Islamic State. “ISIL has used them in Iraq and Syria in the past, and we expect them to continue employing these types of weapons.”
Colonel Dorrian said that the Islamic State’s ability to use chemical weapons is “rudimentary,” and that American, Iraqi and other allied troops are equipped to deal with the impact of these chemical attacks — typically rockets, mortar shells or artillery shells filled with chemical agents. The effects of these chemical munitions thus far have been limited to the immediate area where they land.
The IHS assessment is to be made public on Tuesday. The New York Times obtained an advance copy of the assessment and the location of the 52 reported chemical attacks. The analysis did not break down the cases by type of chemical attack.
In an effort to blunt the Islamic State’s ability to make the weapons, the American-led air campaign has bombed militants associated with overseeing their production and the facilities where chemical ordnance is manufactured. In September, for instance, allied warplanes attacked a converted pharmaceutical factory in northern Iraq thought to have been a chemical weapons production facility.
As Iraqi forces now advance into Mosul, analysts warned that the Islamic State could unleash more chemical attacks as they cede control. Iraqi forces have reclaimed about one-third of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
“As the Islamic State loses ground around Mosul, there is a high risk of the group using chemical weapons to slow down and demoralize advancing enemy forces.” said Columb Strack, a senior analyst and the head of the IHS Conflict Monitor. “And to potentially make an example of — and take revenge on — civilian dissidents within the city.”
At least 19 of the 52 chemical attacks have taken place in and around Mosul, according to the IHS data, but the assessment noted a decline in attacks before the Iraqi-led offensive against the city.
“Mosul was at the center of the Islamic State’s chemical weapons production,” Mr. Strack said. “But most of the equipment and experts were probably evacuated to Syria in the weeks and months leading up to the Mosul offensive, along with convoys of other senior members and their families.”
The Islamic State is not the only actor in Syria to carry out chemical weapons’ strikes: The Syrian government has conducted many more such attacks.
Syrian military helicopters dropped bombs containing chlorine on civilians in at least two attacks over the past two years, a special joint investigation of the United Nations and an international chemical weapons monitor said in August.
Beginning last year, American officials confirmed the first instances of the Islamic State using sulfur mustard, a chemical warfare agent, and the presence of the mustard gas on fragments of ordnance used in attacks by the group in Syria and Iraq. Laboratory tests, which were also performed on scraps of clothing from victims, showed the presence of a partly degraded form of distilled sulfur mustard, an internationally banned substance that burns a victim’s skin, breathing passages and eyes.
Chemical warfare agents, broadly condemned and banned by most nations under international convention, are indiscriminate. They are also difficult to defend against without specialized equipment, which many of the Islamic State’s foes in Iraq and Syria lack. The chemical agents are worrisome as potential terrorist weapons, even though chlorine and blister agents are typically less lethal than bullets, shrapnel or explosives.
It was unclear how the Islamic State had obtained sulfur mustard, a banned substance with a narrow chemical warfare application. Both the former Hussein government in Iraq and the current government in Syria at one point possessed chemical warfare programs.
Chlorine is commercially available as an industrial chemical and has been used occasionally by bomb makers from Sunni militant groups in Iraq for about a decade. But it is not known how the Islamic State would have obtained sulfur mustard, the officials said.
Abandoned and aging chemical munitions produced by Iraq during its war against Iran in the 1980s were used in roadside bombs against American forces during the occupation that followed the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. But American officials have said the types of ordnance that have been publicly disclosed so far have not matched known chemical ordnance in the former Iraqi inventory.
The attacks have been geographically scattered and have varied in their delivery systems, suggesting that the Islamic State had access to, and was experimenting with, different types of rockets and shells configured to carry chemical warfare agents or toxic industrial chemicals.
One theory is that the militants were manufacturing a crude mustard agent themselves, American officials say. Another theory is that the Islamic State acquired sulfur mustard from undeclared stocks in Syria, either through capture or by purchasing it from corrupt officials, although this theory is not widely held by American analysts.


The Russian Media Outlet Lenta.ru Tells The Story Of Russia's Lone Aircraft Carrier, The Admiral Kuznetsov

"On 21 July 1970, in the Chernomorskiy Shipyard, the largest Soviet shipyard, situated in Nikolayev, the lead ship of Project 1143 was laid down — an antisubmarine cruiser with aircraft armament, which was named Kiev. It was intended to become the first Soviet aircraft carrier – i. e. a ship designed for aircraft landings and take-offs directly from the deck. The specific characteristics of this project were the result of a difficult intra-Soviet compromise, which found expression in everything including classification. Post factum, the definition 'antisubmarine cruiser with aircraft armament,' later exchanged for 'heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser,' can be explained inter alia by a desire, to avoid problems with passage through the Black Sea straits, but these explanations are false: firstly, the Montreux Convention  does not incorporate a direct ban on passage through the straits of aircraft carriers of litoral Black Sea states; secondly, in the Western classification (used among others by Turkey, which controlled the straits), including the classification used in addendums to the Montreux Convention, Kiev and its descendants were always clearly defined as aircraft carriers.
"The reason for these classification tricks was purely internal: it was impossible, in the context of Soviet ideological reality, to announce directly the construction of ships that were at the same time branded by the [Soviet] press as 'tools of aggressive war.'
"To a large extent, the same reasons defined the ship's characteristics: it was a hybrid that overcame the hurdles put in its way by numerous opponents of aircraft carriers as a vessel class. The hybrid was designed for the deployment of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft and helicopters, but with a cruiser's missile munitions and the size of an 'aircraft carrier'. With a 37 thousand ton standard displacement, a 273 meter length, and a 180 thousand horsepower steam turbine propulsion system, Kiev could be placed somewhere between the French Foch and Clemenceau-class aircraft carriers with a standard displacement of approximately 30 thousand tons and a length of 265 meters, and the 45 thousand ton American Midways.
"In contrast to those ships, Kiev lacked a full deck – its bow contained cruiser fighting equipment, which restricted its aircraft carrying capabilities to operating VTOL aircraft, just like the much smaller British Invincible-class ships, which were designed at that time.
"The biggest problems of Project 1143 were related to the air group: the Yak-38, a subsonic VTOL plane with weak weapons and a relatively small action radius, looked odd on a ship equipped with anti-ship missiles with a range of up to 500 km. In fact, the Yak-38, officially classified as a strike fighter, could not perform any of the truly critical tasks: as a strike aircraft it was useless in anti-fleet operations since it did not have missiles that would allow it to attack ships, and as part of air defense forces its chances would be slim in a confrontation with the enemy's strike machines operating under supersonic fighter cover.
"Kiev's shortcomings were obvious, so new alternatives were considered.
'Any Detailed Development Of Project 1160 Was Never Started. Instead Of A New Aircraft Carrier, It Was Decided To Continue Series 1143'
"The chief alternative was the project assigned the number 1160. It contained some compromise solutions, such as anti-ship missile launchers, but it was a full-fledged aircraft carrier project. Nuclear propulsion system, 72 thousand ton standard and 80 – full displacement, full deck,  an aircraft system that included an angled deck, four steam catapults, and arresting gear – all this made it a fully functional analogue of American super aircraft carriers.
"As for the air group, there were plans to use MiG-23A Molniya (Lightning) aircraft (the deck-based variant of the newest contemporary Soviet frontline fighter), Su-24K missile bombers (the deck-based variant of a strike aircraft that was being developed at the time), P-42 anti-submarine defense aircraft specially designed for aircraft carriers by the Beriev design bureau, as well as 'flying radars' based on the latter, and helicopters. As planes developed, plans changed: in 1973, there were suggestions to use deck-based variants of Su-27 and MiG-29 that were being developed then.

Project 1160 aircraft carrier, a variant (Source: Lenta.ru)
"The creation of this ship required solving a number of process tasks, the chief of which was the development of arresting gear and steam catapults – devices that Soviet industry had not previously produced. There is no doubt that these systems could be produced in 1970s – the USSR already disposed of all the necessary technologies by that time.
"Nevertheless, any detailed development of Project 1160 was never started. Instead of a new aircraft carrier, it was decided to continue Series 1143. In 1972, another Project 1143 ship was laid down — the heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Minsk, and in 1975 – Novorossiysk.
'The Navy Did Not Abandon The Attempts To Obtain A Ship Capable Of Taking Conventional Take-Off And Landing Aircraft'
"Supporters of the aircraft carrier idea, with the backing of ministers of defense and shipbuilding industry and the interest of the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian navy, continued to propose new variants. In 1973, on the basis of the groundwork done on Project 1160, the Nevskoye design bureau started developing Project 1153 – an atomic CATOBAR (Catapult Take-off But Arrested Recovery) aircraft carrier similar to 1160— with catapults and arresting gear but smaller in size and cheaper, with two catapults instead of four. This project, however, was also supposed to carry anti-ship missiles, and the air group was supposed to consist of 50 aircraft (at 60 thousand ton standard displacement).
"The building of the ship was supposed to start in 1978, but in 1976, the aircraft carrier lobby lost two of its major figures: the minister of defense Andrey Grechko died on April 26, and the minister of shipbuilding industry Boris Butoma – on July 11. At the insistence of the new head of the military department, Dmitri Ustinov, Series 1143 was extended with the fourth ship – heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Baku.

Project 1153 aircraft carrier, possible general view (Source: Lenta.ru)
"Nevertheless, the navy did not abandon the attempts to obtain a ship tailored for conventional take-off and landing aircraft. The Nevskoye design bureau began developing a new aircraft carrier project, as near as possible to Project 1143 in general ship systems – to remove at least the cost obstacle to the development of a new ship.
"On September 1, 1982, in the Chernomorskiy Shipyard, the fifth ship of Project 1143 was laid down — heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Riga. It was the result of a compromise between the desire to finally have a normal aircraft carrier and the pressure of the 'anti-aircraft carrier' lobby that consented only to modifications of Project 1143. From the technical perspective, Project 1143.5 was a hybrid of preliminary work done in Project 1153 and the "Order" research and development project, planted onto the source base of Project 1143.
"In size, 1143.5 with its 55 thousand ton standard displacement was not much smaller than 1153 and considerably larger than its predecessors. The large deck and elevator area facilitated the use of heavy and large Su-27-based machines, but catapults were removed from the project – instead, a ski-jump ramp was supposed to be used to allow shorter take-off run.
"Gone too was the nuclear propulsion system and instead, Riga (which soon afterwards was renamed the Leonid Brezhnev, following the Secretary General's death) got a steam turbine system consisting of four TB-12 geared-turbine units and eight KVG-4 boilers with a total capacity of 200 thousand horsepower. This variant of propulsion system determined the future of the ship, which was renamed Tbilisi after its launching in 1985, and then, in 1990, with the collapse of the USSR already on the horizon, — Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov
'In Order To Make The Creation Of Aircraft Carriers Of The New Generation Possible, The Navy Must Keep And Repair Admiral Kuznetsov'
"Admiral Kuznetsov could not help being a problematic ship – its introduction into service coincided with the disintegration of the country and was accompanied by serious organizational problems, one of which was the uncertainty of its future: in autumn 1991, Russian navy command seriously contemplated as a threat the scenario of the ship being hijacked in Sevastopol by Ukrainian separatists who were rather popular even in the Black Sea Fleet.
"The result was Kuznetsov's secret and hasty departure from the Black Sea to the Northern Fleet, even though some of the works had not yet been completed, including works on the propulsion system.
"The ship's deployment in the Kola Bay removed the worries over its nationality, but did not contribute to its normal introduction to service: most of the technical experts, whose absence rendered the aircraft carrier's maintenance highly problematic remained at the Black Sea. Partially, these problems were solved by the fact that heavy aircraft-carrying cruisers Kiev and Admiral Gorshkov (until 1990 named Baku) were part of the Northern Fleet as well. They had propulsion systems almost identical to that of Kuznetsov, but severe reductions in military expenditures and the transfer of these ships from the first line to the reserve with the accompanying crew size reduction did not improve the situation.
"In 1993, the first three ships of Project 1143 — Kiev and the Pacific Ocean-based Minsk and Novorossiysk were withdrawn from the navy for good. In 1994, the navy lost Admiral Gorshkov as well; by that time, it had been laid up for repairs after a fire in the aft engine-boiler room. In Nikolayev, works on Kuznetsov's sister ship – the heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Varyag (laid down in 1985 under the name Riga and renamed in 1990) – were stopped. The last ship of the 1143–1143.7 family, named Ulyanovsk, was scrapped in the Nikolayev shipyard in 1993, when it was 20% ready. Further fate of these ships was different in each case. The most interesting was the story of Gorshkov and Varyag: the former, after a long reconstruction in Severodvinsk was given to India in 2013 as the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya; the latter was sold by Ukraine to China in 1998 at the price of scrap metal, and about 15 years later became the aircraft carrier Liaoning.

The launching of Riga, renamed Varyag (Source: Lenta.ru)
"As for Ulyanovsk, which was laid down in 1988, when ideological dogmas were no longer a fixed part of the Soviet military construction, it was the closest to a full-fledged aircraft carrier – a hybrid with simultaneous use of a ski-jump ramp in the bows and catapults on the angled deck; its large size and nuclear propulsion system made it similar in its capabilities to the unimplemented projects 1160 and 1153, as well as to American atomic aircraft carriers. However, it too had to carry anti-ship missiles.
"In 1995, it was decided to send Admiral Kuznetsov to the Mediterranean: the long-distance voyage was timed to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the Russian navy to be celebrated the year after. The first voyage could have been the last one – the breakdown of the propulsion unit nearly resulted in the loss of the ship during a storm. The aircraft carrier finished its voyage successfully and returned to the Kola Bay, but the condition of the technical systems of the engine-room department remains a source of major concern even now.
"Lack of funds for full repairs in 1990s — early 2000s, coupled with the shortage of skilled experts, made the ship's problems chronic. They could be partially solved by cannibalization – removing necessary parts from Project 956 destroyers, which used similar turbine-geared propulsion units and boilers; but this was not a comprehensive solution. Power problems significantly reduce the ship's performance, which affects the capabilities of its aircraft — for a take-off with maximum takeoff weight (i.e. maximum fuel supply and payload), the ship needs to put on full speed. The existing operating limitations result in a reduction of fuel supply and payload, which affects the aircraft's combat performance. Externally, the problems with the ship's propulsion system are expressed, among other things, by excessive smoking in some modes – according to some experts, the direct reason for smoke may be a defect of the automatic controls of the main propulsion machinery, which makes using optimal fuel combustion modes impossible.
"Problems with the propulsion system are only one part of Kuznetsov's shortcomings. The infrastructure degradation that went on for a long time, the air group that was always undermanned, and the general condition of the fleet that did not have enough funds for full combat training until 2000s, – all this resulted in the loss of a significant part of the aircraft carrier service experience acquired with previous ships.  Now, this experience has to be acquired anew, but the only Russian aircraft carrier has not grown any younger in the interim.
"The modernization and repairs of Admiral Kuznetsov, scheduled for the next few years, should fundamentally solve the ship's problems. But it's not enough to maintain carrier-based aviation as a system. The Russian navy still needs planes capable of providing cover for its deployment off the coast – primarily in order to defend its own sea borders in the Arctic and in the Pacific Ocean. But in order to make the creation of aircraft carriers of the new generation possible, the navy must keep and repair Admiral Kuznetsov. In this realm, no other source of human resources and technologies exists in Russia."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What is Taranis? Everything you need to know about Britain’s undetectable drone

Photo credit: BAE Systems

Unmanned aerial vehicles, known as drones, are changing the face of combat.
Whether they’re being used for surveillance or undertaking military offensives, the  increased use of military drones means we’re heading towards a future where pilots keep their feet on the ground in mission control.
Britain is at the centre of the race to create the ultimate unmanned, undetectable aircraft. Here’s what you need to know about Taranis.

What is Taranis?

Named after the Celtic god of thunder, Taranis is an unmanned aerial combat vehicle drone with stealth capabilities, built by BAE Systems for the MoD. The delta-winged, finless craft was unveiled in 2010 and made a number secretive test flights between 2013 and 2015. The cost of the programme is now thought to be in excess of £200 million.

What is its purpose?

The Taranis stealth drone was designed to demonstrate multiple surveillance and combat tasks that help shape the future of drone design. Tests conducted in the Australian desert have included complete stealth flight and simulated weapons release tests.

A post on the BAE website explains: “The aircraft was designed to demonstrate the UK’s ability to create an unmanned air system which, under the control of a human operator, is capable of undertaking sustained surveillance, marking targets, gathering intelligence, deterring adversaries and carrying out strikes in hostile territory.”

Will Taranis see combat?

No. The Taranis drone was built for demonstration purposes only, but it will inspire a fleet of aircraft that will someday see battle. However, as a result of the test, BAE says “the UK has developed a significant lead in understanding unmanned aircraft which could strike with precision over a long range whilst remaining undetected”.

How fast can Taranis fly?

The Taranis stealth drone, which has a wingspan of 10 metres, can hit speeds of 700mph - exceptionally close to breaking the sound barrier. If a supersonic, pilotless plane, undetectable by radar and carrying payload of weapons sounds scary, that’s because it is.

How is Taranis flown?

Taranis is flown by a specially trained ‘pilot’ who can manually control the craft from a remote location. However, it does have an autonomous flight mode in which it is trusted to ‘think’ and carry out missions of its own accord.
“It can self-navigate within a boundary of set constraints,” Jon Wiggall, the lead flight engineer said of Taranis earlier this year.
“It does have limitations on what we give it in the mission plan – it can only fly in certain areas – but it does think for itself, it will navigate, and it will search for targets.”
There’s also an automatic mode where it is programmed to follow a flight path.

How does it fly under the radar?

There are a number of factors involved in the meeting of the stealth challenge, including the design and materials used in constructions.
The drone uses a secretive communication system that enables it to communicate with home base without giving away its position to would-be enemies.
BAE engineers were forced to redesign the engine inlet and exhaust in order to stop the engine’s thermal image betraying its presence to enemy radar. Conrad Banks, Rolls-Royce's chief engineer said in 2014 it was about “minimising any sign there is an engine there”.

But can Taranis achieve true stealth capability?

In May this year, Paddy Bourne, chief engineer for UCAVs at BAE refused to confirm whether Taranis had been able to completely avoid radar detection during tests. Referring to the Ministry of Defence, he said “the customer is very happy.”

What’s next for Taranis?

Right now it appears as though Taranis’s flying career is over. The data acquired from the trio of test flights is currently being analysed, and that knowledge will be fed into the development of new drones under the Anglo-French Future Combat Air System (AFFCAS). It’ll also inform how the RAF will use manned and unmanned jets in future combat situations.

So, what is the AFFCAS?

Britain and the EU may be breaking up, but we’re still playing nice with France when it comes to security. In March, following the completion of a feasibility study, the two countries announced a £1.5 billion bilateral agreement to build prototype combat drones. Full-scale development will begin in 2017.

Russian fighter jet crashes in Mediterranean sea near aircraft carrier that passed UK waters on way to Syria


A Russian fighter jet crashed in the Mediterranean Sea near the coast of Syria after taking off from the flagship Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier.

Three MiG-29 jets took off from the Soviet-era aircraft carrier and flew in the direction of Syria, two US officials told Fox News, before one appeared to have mechanical issues and turned back towards the carrier.

It then crashed in the water while attempting to land. A Russian rescue helicopter picked up the pilot.

Russia's defence ministry said the pilot is safe after he ejected from the plane, state media reports.

The defence ministry said the jet crashed due to a technical problem while on its way to land on the carrier, but didn't elaborate further on what went wrong.

Flights in the Mediterranean will continue despite the accident, the ministry added.

The Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier was part of Russia's largest military deployment since the end of the Cold War and sailed through the English Channel on its way to Syria.

The carrier and escorting ships arrived in the eastern Mediterranean Sea last week and pilots from the carrier have reportedly been conducting survey flights over Syria.

It is feared the Russian fleet will be used in a final devastating attack on the rebel held city of Aleppo.


Poland exhumes late leader’s body in probe of 2010 plane crash in Russia

Lech Kaczyński

Authorities in Poland have exhumed the body of the country’s late prime minister and his wife as part of an investigation into the 2010 airplane disaster that killed them and nearly 100 others in Russia. The move has reignited persistent rumors that the crash that killed everyone onboard the plane, including Polish President Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, was not an accident. At the time of their death, the couple were leading a delegation of Polish officials and journalists traveling to Russia to participate in commemorations marking 70 years from the so-called ‘Katyn massacre’. The term refers to the extermination of approximately 22,000 Polish soldiers and civilians that was carried out by the Soviet military and secret services in 1940, following the Soviet invasion of Poland.

Investigations of the air disaster have been carried out by Russia and by the previous Polish administration, headed by the centrist Civic Platform party, which governed the country from 2010 until 2015. Both concluded that the crash was an accident. But the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS), headed by Jarosław Kaczyński, twin brother of the late president, insists that previous investigations were incomplete and has initiated its own probe into the matter. Almost as soon as it formed a national government last year, the rightwing PiS reopened the investigation into the 2010 air crash. The exhumation of the victims’ bodies, which began on Monday, is the first step of the new probe.

Many supporters of the new investigation claim that bombs hidden onboard the plane caused it to crash. Others suggest that the Polish government at the time is to blame for the crash, because it neglected to properly service the plane. Some have even suggested that Donald Tusk, Poland’s prime minister at the time of the crash, who now heads the European Council, should be put on trial for the murder of President Kaczyński. Critics note that no credible evidence has been put forward to support the assassination theory or the deliberate neglect theory, barring some circumstantial discrepancies in the Russian-language documents. The current probe is expected to last several months.
Author: Joseph Fitsanakis


Turkey's Erdogan says Belgium a center for PKK militants and coup plotters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday accused Belgium of being an important centre for supporters of both the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the cleric Ankara says orchestrated a failed July coup.

Erdogan, speaking to reporters in Ankara before leaving on an official visit to Pakistan, also said he has showed German officials documentary proof that an organization in Germany was collecting money for the PKK militants.

The PKK, which has carried out a three-decade armed insurgency in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, is considered a terrorist group by Europe, the United States and Turkey. Ankara says its Western allies are not doing enough to fight the group.


Germany launches raids across 60 cities, bans group on suspicion of Islamic State recruiting

German police in 60 cities staged sweeping raids early Tuesday targeting an Islamist missionary group on accusations that it recruits for the Islamic State, as authorities intensified a crackdown on religious extremists.

Authorities have launched hundreds of raids in recent months as they grapple with a heightened threat of terrorism after a spate of attacks in Germany and neighboring countries as well as elevated fears of homegrown radicalization.

Police searched 190 mosques, apartments and offices connected to True Religion, an ultraconservative Muslim organization that is ubiquitous in Germany, with members setting up highly visible welcome tables on busy streets. The Salafist group — also known as Read! — distributes free translated copies of the Koran and attempts to spread the faith.

But what on the surface seemed like a legitimate religious organization was also a recruiting operation for the Islamic State, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said Tuesday. He added that 140 people affiliated with the group had gone on to fight in Syria.

De Maizière announced that the group would be banned in Germany for inciting hate and spreading extremism. “Today’s measure is a clear signal we are taking decisive and comprehensive action against all efforts directed against our freedom and our fundamental values,” he said.

Germany has been expanding its counterterrorism operations. Last week, authorities arrested five men who allegedly raised money and aided in the recruitment of fighters for the Islamic State.

On Tuesday, de Maizière sought to make clear that Germany is not targeting freedom of religion. “Today’s ban does not target the promotion, practice or propagation of the Islamic faith in general.

Muslim life has a permanent and secure place in Germany and in our society,” he said.

In the raids, police carted away documents and computers. Officials said the operation was aimed at seizing evidence to back up the ban and that no arrests were made.

Palestinian-born Ibrahim Abou-Nagie leads True Religion, founded in 2005. German media outlets reported that the organization has distributed about 3.5 million copies of the Koran in German city centers.

But German security officials accuse the group of using the Koran campaign as a cover for a several-hundred-strong network promoting radical Islamist ideology. Abou-Nagie has previously been charged with incitement. But, thus far, his only conviction is for fraud relating to illegally received social benefits worth more than 50,000 euros ($53,600). He served a 13-month suspended sentence.

The Facebook page and the website of True Religion were down Tuesday. But via Twitter, it condemned the raids, saying: “Dear brothers and sisters, the Quran has been banned in Germany. We brought Allah’s message to everyone. Allah u Akbar.”

Later, the group tweeted a link to what appeared to be the Facebook page of its branch in Britain.

Peter Beuth, the interior minister in the state of Hesse, said in a statement, “We do not tolerate any fanatics in our city centers who are trying to radicalize young people and send them on jihad.”