Thursday, February 8, 2018

Swiss trying to change image as Europe’s spy hub, say officials

Federal Intelligence Service Switzerland

Officials in Switzerland say new laws enacted in recent months will help them change their country’s image as one of Europe’s most active spy venues. For decades, the small alpine country has been a destination of choice for intelligence officers from all over the world, who use it as a place to meet assets from third countries. For example, a case officer from Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) will travel to Switzerland to meet her Algerian agent. She will exchange money and documents with him before she returns to Britain and he to Algeria, presumably after depositing his earnings into a Swiss bank account.
There are multiple reasons that explain Switzerland’s preferred status as a meeting place for spies and their handlers. The country is suitably located in the center of Europe and is a member of the European Union’s Schengen Treaty, which means that a passport is not required to enter it when arriving there from European Union member-states. Additionally, the country features an efficient transportation and telecommunication infrastructure, and its stable political system offers predictability and security, despite the limited size and strength of its law enforcement and security agencies. Perhaps most important of all, the Swiss have learned not to ask questions of visitors, many of whom flock to the country to entrust their cash to its privacy-conscious banking sector.
But, according to the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS), foreign spies and their handlers should find another venue to meet in secret. Speaking to the Sunday edition of Switzerland’s NZZnewspaper, FIS spokeswoman Isabelle Graber said she and her colleagues were aware that their country is a venue for meetings between intelligence operatives from third countries. Such meetings have “continued to rise in the last few years” and include “everyone from security agency employees to freelancers”, as “the market in trading secrets has exploded”, she said. That trend, added Graber, has led to a corresponding rise in meetings aimed at exchanging information for money. Many such meetings take place throughout Switzerland, she noted, and are “in violation of Swiss sovereignty and can lead to operations against the interests of the nation”.
In the past, said Graber, FIS was unable to prevent such activities on Swiss soil, due to pro-privacy legislation, which meant that the agency’s ability to combat foreign espionage in Switzerland was “far more limited than in other countries”. However, said the intelligence agency spokeswoman, the law recently changed to permit FIS to break into homes and hotels, hack into computers, wiretap phones, and implement surveillance on individuals believed to be spies or intelligence officers of foreign countries. Armed with the new legislation, the FIS is now “working hard to clear up third-country meetings [and] to prevent these from happening or at least disrupt them”, said Graber. Several times this year alone, FIS had forward information about “third-country meetings” to judicial authorities in Switzerland, she said.

Americans In ISIS: Some 300 Tried To Join, 12 Have Returned To U.S.

Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud is shown in a Columbus, Ohio, courtroom in 2015. He was arrested after traveling to Syria, then returning to Ohio, where he planned to carry out an attack. According to a new report, he's one of 12 Americans who went to join extremist groups in Syria or Iraq, and then returned back to the U.S. Mohamud was sentenced last month to 22 years in prison.

An estimated 300 Americans attempted to join the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria, including a small number who rose to senior positions, according to the most detailed report to date on this issue.
So far, 12 of those Americans have returned home, yet none has carried out an attack on U.S. soil, according the report released Monday by George Washington University's Program on Extremism.
"I think what we were struck with was the few numbers of returnees that we saw," said Seamus Hughes, one of the report's authors. "There was always concern that this wave of what the FBI would call 'the terrorist diaspora' would come back. In many ways it's just a trickle right now."
The exact number of Americans who ran off to join the Islamic State — and their fates — has always been fuzzy. The FBI has occasionally offered general numbers, but provided few details.
The report covers the period since 2011, when the Syria war erupted. The Islamic State peaked, in terms of power and territory, in the summer of 2014, when it held large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The U.S. then began working with local partners to battle ISIS. The extremist group has now lost virtually all territory it once held, though it is still capable of carrying out deadly attacks in those countries, and has established footholds in several other states.
One percent of foreign fighters
The 300 or so Americans account for about 1 percent of the estimated 30,000 foreign fighters who joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The majority came from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
The George Washington University team scoured online material, reviewed court records, spoke with government officials and interviewed some of those who returned to the U.S. after joining ISIS.
Still, the report could account for just over a third of those who tried or succeeded in joining radical Islamist groups.
"I know the numbers in the intelligence community are much better than mine, as one would expect," said Hughes. "But we tried to do our best to have the largest public accounting of the phenomenon."
Around 50 Americans were arrested as they tried to leave the country, and never made it out of the U.S. The report was able to document 64 individuals who did reach Syria or Iraq.
They include Zulfi Hoxha, a New Jersey resident of Albanian descent.
"He was a bit of loner. High school friends describe him as kind of a geek," Hughes said.
He traveled to Syria in 2015, and U.S. authorities have described as a "senior ISIS commander." He appears in two ISIS propaganda videos, including one where he beheads a prisoner, according to Hughes.
A dozen return to the U.S.
Of the 12 Americans who returned, nine were arrested and remain in custody, the report said. Two others are known to law enforcement, but have not been detained, it added. The 12th man went back to Syria a second time and carried out a suicide bombing, the report said.
While no American has returned and carried out an attack, one man, Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud of Ohio, planned to do so.
He was among a small number of Americans to join al-Nusra in Syria, an extremist group linked to al-Qaida. One of his commanders sent him back to Ohio with orders to attack a U.S. military facility.
Mohamud returned to Ohio in 2014, and was arrested the following year. He pleaded guilty to plotting the attacks and last month was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
The report did not deal with those who may have been inspired by ISIS and acted inside the U.S. For example, authorities say Sayfullo Saipov, the man charged with ramming a truck into pedestrians, killing eight in New York City last October, was inspired by ISIS. But his case is not included in the report.
It's still not clear what's happened to thousands of other ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria as the group lost its self-declared caliphate.
Hard-core fighters are expected to remain and keep fighting. Others may be slipping across the border into Turkey. And some have been detained, though the U.S. has given no indication it is holding ISIS fighters.
In Iraq, the government is putting ISIS members on trial.
In Syria, where the war grinds on, it's more complicated. The Syrian Democratic Forces, militia fighters aligned with the U.S., are holding hundreds of ISIS fighters, according to U.S. military officials.

Ex-spy chief claims Palestinian officials worked with CIA to wiretap opponents

Telephones Palestine

The former head of the Palestinian Authority’s spy agency claims that the Palestinian government in the West Bank worked with the United States Central Intelligence Agency to wiretap thousands without court authorization. Tawfiq Tirawi, who headed the Palestinian General Intelligence from its founding in 1994 to 2008, has filed an official complaint against the Palestinian Authority and is calling for a criminal investigation into the alleged wiretaps. The complaint has also been signed by Jawad Obeidat, who is the president of the West Bank’s Bar Association. It is based on a leaked 37-page document that surfaced last month on the social networking application WhatsApp. The document was leaked by an anonymous individual who claims to have worked for a surveillance unit in the Palestinian Preventive Security Service, the Palestinian Authority’s domestic security service.
The leaked document appears to show that the Palestinian Preventive Security Service reached out to the CIA in 2013 asking for assistance with installing a communications surveillance system in the West Bank. The CIA agreed to provide the system in exchange for access to the intercepted data. The two agencies installed the interception system in the summer of 2014 and initiated what appears to have been a large-scale operation that included thousands of telephone subscribers. Initial targets of the operation included members of Hamas —the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip— as well as members of the Iran-supported Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine. But, according to the Associated Press, over time the targets of the program expanded to include “thousands of Palestinians, from senior figures in militant groups to judges, lawyers, civic leaders and political allies of Abbas”. The list of targets included Tirawi and Obeidat, who filed the official complaint on Tuesday.
The anonymous leaker of the document said he decided to quit his job and reveal the information about the intercepts after US President Donald Trump shifted Washington’s policy on Israel’s capital, by officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. Earlier in February, the Palestinian Authority dismissed the leaked document as “nonsense” and said it was part of a large conspiracy that sought to harm Palestinian interests. The CIA refused to comment on the allegations.

New York man gets 18 years prison for Islamic State support

A New York City man was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to aid Islamic State and assaulting a federal law enforcement officer.
Munther Omar Saleh, 22, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie in Brooklyn, according to John Marzulli, a spokesman for federal prosecutors.
“Mr. Saleh is sincerely remorseful,” said Saleh’s lawyer, Deborah Colson. “He is relieved to have put this behind him and he is ready to make amends.”
Saleh, a resident of the New York City borough of Queens and a U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty in February 2017. He admitted that in 2015 he helped New Jersey resident Nader Saadeh with his travel and accompanied him to John F. Kennedy International Airport for a flight to Jordan, where Saadeh was subsequently detained.
Saadeh has pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to help Islamic State but has yet to be sentenced.
Saleh and a high school senior, Imran Rabbani, were arrested in June 2015 after running toward a law enforcement surveillance vehicle as they drove to a mosque, according to court records. When he pleaded guilty, Saleh said he “knew” the officers were following him because of his support for Islamic State.
Rabbani was sentenced to 20 months in prison in August 2016 after pleading guilty to a non-terrorism charge.
Prosecutors said Saleh, who was studying at an aeronautics college in Queens, also researched carrying out a domestic attack using a pressure cooker bomb and discussed his plan with another man, Fareed Mumuni, who was also charged.
Mumuni also pleaded guilty but has not yet been sentenced.
As of January, 157 have been charged in the United States in connection with Islamic State, according to the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. The militant group has lost most of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria.

Oklahoma man accused of attending al Qaeda terrorist training camp before 9/11

An Oklahoma man was arrested Tuesday by the FBI, accusing of lying about attending an al Qaeda terrorist training camp, officials said.
A federal grand jury in Oklahoma City handed up the indictment Tuesday against 34-year-old Naif Abdulaziz Alfallaj, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, charging him with visa fraud and lying to FBI agents.
Prosecutors said he came to the United States just more than six years ago and failed to indicate on his application for a visa that he attended al Qaeda's al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan in fall 2000.
Federal law enforcement officials said Alfallaj was caught after the FBI recently discovered that his fingerprints matched those found on documents that were seized when the U.S. military raided the camp 16 years ago.
An Oklahoma man was arrested Tuesday by the FBI, accusing of lying about attending an al Qaeda terrorist training camp, officials said.
A federal grand jury in Oklahoma City handed up the indictment Tuesday against 34-year-old Naif Abdulaziz Alfallaj, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, charging him with visa fraud and lying to FBI agents.
Prosecutors said he came to the United States just more than six years ago and failed to indicate on his application for a visa that he attended al Qaeda's al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan in fall 2000.
Federal law enforcement officials said Alfallaj was caught after the FBI recently discovered that his fingerprints matched those found on documents that were seized when the U.S. military raided the camp 16 years ago.
 August 2017: Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, 16 years after 9/11

He pleaded not guilty during a brief federal court hearing Tuesday and was ordered held without bond pending a detention hearing next week.

Court documents said that when Alfallaj was questioned in December by the FBI, he denied ever traveling to Afghanistan or associating with any foreign terrorist groups.
Authorities said Alfallaj entered the U.S. in late 2011 on a nonimmigrant visa based on his wife's status as a foreign student. The indictment said Alfallaj answered "no" on an immigration application when asked if he supported terrorist organizations or had received firearms or other specialized training.
Investigators said Alfallaj applied for training at a flight school in western Oklahoma in 2016 and provided his fingerprints as required. Five months later, prosecutors said, FBI analysts discovered a match between those prints and 15 latent fingerprints that were found on al Qaeda forms filled out by people attending the al Farooq training camp.
Federal officials said Alfallaj has been living in Oklahoma since 2012 after having traveled to the United States to join his wife.
The al Qaeda documents were among more than 100 similar forms seized by the U.S. military in December 2001. Asked why it took so long to find a match, an FBI official said the military provided "rooms and rooms" of documents and other materials from the camp to analyze.
"The technology has evolved over the years, allowing us to better check for fingerprint matches. And part of the challenge is the sheer volume of the work," the official said, asking that his name not be disclosed.
Image: A video grab of al Farooq Training Camp
A video grab dated June 19, 2001 shows members of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda, or "The Base", organization training with AK-47 sub-machine-guns in a video tape said to have been prepared and released by bin Laden himself.

US immigration and customs agency seeks to join Intelligence Community

Immigration and Customs Enforcement ICE

The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is reportedly seeking to join the Intelligence Community, which includes the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other intelligence-focused arms of the federal government. Currently, ICE is a federal law enforcement that operates under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security. It consists of two components: Homeland Security Investigations, which probes cross-border criminal activity, including drugs and weapons trafficking, money laundering and cybercrime; and Enforcement and Removal Operations, whose mission is to find and capture undocumented aliens.
But some senior ICE officials have been exploring the possibility of joining the US Intelligence Community. According to The Daily Beast, which reported the alleged plans, the officials believe that by joining the Intelligence Community, ICE will become privy to intelligence that will assist in its mission. They also claim that membership in the Intelligence Community would afford ICE “greater prestige, credibility and authority” within the federal government. The Daily Beastreports that ICE’s effort to join the Intelligence Community began during the administration of US President Barack Obama. However, it has picked up steam following the election of President Donald Trump. Some believe that President Trump would be willing to sign an executive order that would incorporate ICE in the Intelligence Community.
Some civil liberties watchdogs, however, are weary of such plans. They claim that ICE is a domestic law enforcement agency and should not have access to practices and techniques used by spy agencies like the CIA or the National Security Agency. The latter frequently break the laws of foreign countries in pursuit of their mission, which is to steal foreign intelligence. These agencies are characterized by a different culture, say critics, which is not respectful of legal constraints. But supporters of ICE’s proposed inclusion into the Intelligence Community argue that there are several law enforcement agencies that are already members of the Intelligence Community. Notably, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration —both law enforcement agencies— belong to the Intelligence Community.
The Daily Beast said it contacted ICE but a spokesperson refused to comment on the story. The Department of Homeland Security did not return emails and phone calls about the proposal to include ICE in the Intelligence Community.

US conducts airstrikes against Syrian pro-regime forces after 'unprovoked attack'

tacp jtac

US forces reportedly responded to an "unprovoked attack" by Syrian pro-regime forces at the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) headquarters on Wednesday, according to a statement from US Central Command (CENTCOM).
US-led coalition forces, who typically advise and assist SDF troops, conducted airstrikes against the Syrian forces who attacked their "well established" headquarters. No US forces were injured during the attack according to reports from multiple news outlets.
"In defense of Coalition and partner forces, the Coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression against partners engaged in the Global Coalition's defeat-Daesh mission," a CENTCOM statement said, referring to the alternative label for Islamic State militants.
The initial attack happened eight kilometers, or roughly five miles, east of the de-confliction line on the Euphrates River.
Meanwhile, reports from rebel-held areas near the capital of Damascus claim that airstrikes from the Syrian government and Russia killed scores of civilians. Activists and first responders said that at least 55 people were killed after the airstrikes on Tuesday.
Around 2,000 US troops were reportedly deployed to Syria, according to the Defense Department. US military presence dwindled down after a major offensive to rid Islamic State militants from Raqqa, once a major hub for the terrorists.
Following the siege on Raqqa, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that US forces would focus on diplomacy and that they "won't just walk away" from efforts to stabilize the region.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Heavy Fighting Reported in Southern Cameroons

There was heavy military activity in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon on the night of February 3.
Fifty armoured vehicles and assault weapons were deployed by the government in the English-speaking regions - specifically Bole in the Southwest, Africa Info learned from a trustworthy source. 
The witness said Belo is on the verge of genocide as Beti soldiers from Yaoundé are "killing people like chickens". The witness also said heavy artillery fire is being reported in Bamenda (the capital of the North West region).
According to humanitarian sources, in Batibo in the Northwest region, soldiers are ransacking the property of unarmed civilians, forcing them to seek refuge in the forests.
The unrest started in November 2016 when the English speaking region of the country began protesting against what they term marginalization by
Francophone dominated regime. The regime in place have ignored national and international calls for a comprehensive dialogue to address the root cause of the crisis. Rather it has opted for a military response that has seen hundred of deaths and casualties on both side with thousands crossing into neighboring Nigeria as refugees.

Trial Opens Against Top Paris Attacks Suspect

In this courtroom sketch, Salah Abdeslam, right, and Soufiane Ayari, left, appear at the Brussels Justice Palace in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018.
In this courtroom sketch, Salah Abdeslam, right, and Soufiane Ayari, left, appear at the Brussels Justice Palace in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018.

The first trial against top surviving Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam opened in Brussels Monday amid tight security and a packed courtroom.
A bearded Abdeslam, 28, appeared clad in a white sweater and unshackled -- surrounded by hooded security guards dressed entirely in black, according to reports of journalists present in the courtroom. He refused to rise when the judge asked him to, or to identify himself. Fellow accused, Tunisian-born Sofien Ayari, 24, was also present.
He also declined to answer questions.
"I defend myself by keeping silent," he said.
The four-day trial will not deal directly with the November 2015 attacks that killed 130 people around Paris, in which Abdeslam is believed to be the sole surviving participant, but rather with a March shootout with police when he was on the run. But it is being closely watched, in hopes it may shed insight into the tangle of alliances and events that link the Paris attacks with the March 2016 attacks on the Brussels airport and metro.
A general view of the courtroom prior to the trial of Salah Abdeslam at the Brussels Justice Palace in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. Salah Abdeslam and Soufiane Ayari face trial for taking part in a shooting incident in Vorst, Belgium on March 15, 201
A general view of the courtroom prior to the trial of Salah Abdeslam at the Brussels Justice Palace in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. Salah Abdeslam and Soufiane Ayari face trial for taking part in a shooting incident in Vorst, Belgium on March 15, 201
"Will he say anything more than he has said?" asks Rik Coolsaet, a longtime terrorism expert and senior fellow at the Egmont Institute, a Brussels-based research group. "If he doesn't, I'm afraid the trial will not make things much clearer about his involvement either in the Brussels or in the November attacks in Paris."
Both Abdeslam and Ayari face attempted murder charges in connection with the March 16 shootout that occurred days before Abdeslam was captured after months on the run — and days before the terrorist attacks in Brussels.
Much still unknown
Abdeslam’s trial comes amid a changing terror landscape in Europe. With the Islamist State group beaten back in Syria and Iraq, the focus is now on returning radicals and those leaving European prisons in the not-too-distant future. The Brussels trial is one of many expected during the coming months and years dealing with recent terrorist attacks across the region.
But while the trials may shed light on the past, "they won't inform us much about the future threats and challenges," analyst Coolsaet says. "We are living in a kind of post-ISIS era, in which the threat has been transformed from organized networks of plots and attacks to lone actors."
A former pot-smoking petty criminal who once ran a bar in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels with his brother Brahim, who blew himself up in the Paris attacks, Abdeslam seems an unlikely jihadist. His Belgian lawyer, Sven Mary, once characterized him as a ‘little jerk from Molenbeek’ with the "intelligence of an empty ashtray."
Yet Abdeslam is believed to have played a key logistical role in preparing the attacks. He allegedly organized safe houses, drove across Europe to pick up other suspects, and dropped off three suicide bombers at the Stade de France soccer stadium outside Paris, where they blew themselves up during a France-Germany game.
In this courtroom sketch, Salah Abdeslam appears at the Brussels Justice Palace in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. Salah Abdeslam and Soufiane Ayari face trial for taking part in a shooting incident in Vorst, Belgium on March 15, 2016.
In this courtroom sketch, Salah Abdeslam appears at the Brussels Justice Palace in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. Salah Abdeslam and Soufiane Ayari face trial for taking part in a shooting incident in Vorst, Belgium on March 15, 2016.
The stadium attack was the first in a string of shootings and bombings that took place across Paris on a warm November evening. The terrorists targeted bars, restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall before blowing themselves up or being shot dead by police.
But Abdeslam escaped, sneaking across the French border into Belgium the following day with the help of friends. Recent evidence shows his suicide vest was defective, although it remains unclear whether he intended to trigger it.
After a four-month manhunt, he was finally caught in the Molenbeek neighborhood where he grew up, shortly after the shootout with police, who were investigating a suspected safe house they originally thought was unoccupied.
Days later, three bomb attacks on Brussels airport and the Maalbeek metro station killed 32 people. The suspected killers were closely tied to the Paris attackers. Abdeslam, who initially talked during interrogations, and gave misleading information, has kept silent since.
His silence ultimately led both Belgian lawyer Mary and Abdeslam’s French lawyer Franck Berton to give up his defense a few months later. Berton blamed the round-the-clock surveillance for eroding Abdeslam’s mental stability, and warned his former client was "radicalizing in an extreme fashion." In December, Abdeslam finally tapped Mary to resume his defense for the Brussels trial.
Many questions remain about the Brussels and Paris attacks, among them the whereabouts of onetime Syrian jihadist and suspected coordinator Oussama Atar. An international arrest warrant is still out for Atar who, like Abdeslam, is a Belgian national of Moroccan extraction (although Atar is bi-national). He is also the cousin of two of the Brussels suicide bombers.
A woman lights candles to pay respect in front of the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, Nov. 13, 2016.
A woman lights candles to pay respect in front of the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, Nov. 13, 2016.
The French and Belgian attacks were only the beginning of several killings across Europe that targeted Germany, Britain, Spain and the French Riviera city of Nice. Last month, the first trial relating to the 2015 Paris attacks opened in the French capital. Three suspects are charged with assisting or being aware of the assailants’ whereabouts.
Changing threat
But the geopolitical landscape has changed dramatically in the interim. With IS weakened, terrorists in Europe cannot count on the same kind of extensive backing as the Paris and Brussels assailants once had, analysts say.
European jihadists are also coming home, although in fewer numbers than earlier feared. "Returnees are not coming back here en masse, and that’s for the whole of Europe," says terrorist expert Coolsaet. "Either they're fighting to death, or they're being imprisoned."
Yet other threats remain. That includes in overcrowded prisons which critics claim have long been breeding grounds for terrorists.
For survivors and victims’ families, the Paris attacks remain painfully present. Jean-Francois Mondeguer lost his daughter Lamia, killed in a hail of gunfire as she was dining with her boyfriend at an outdoor cafe. Mondeguer is part of a survivors’ group called "November 13, Brotherhood and Truth."
Before leaving for Brussels to attend Abdeslam’s trial, Mondeguer said, "I'm not angry with him, I don’t hate him, but I will never forgive him. What we want to find out is what exactly happened on November 13."

North Korea used Berlin embassy to acquire nuclear tech, says German spy chief

North Korean embassy in Berlin

North Korea used its embassy in Berlin to acquire technologies that were almost certainly used to advance its missile and nuclear weapons programs, according to the head of Germany’s counterintelligence agency. For many decades, Pyongyang has used a sophisticated international system of procurement to acquire technologies and material for its conventional and nuclear weapons programs. These secret methods have enabled the country to evade sanctions placed on it by the international community, which wants to foil North Korea’s nuclear aspirations.
But according to Hans-Georg Maassen, director of Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), at least some of the technologies used by North Korea to advance its nuclear program were acquired through its embassy in Berlin. Maassen admitted this during an interview on ARD television, part of Germany’s national broadcasting service. The interview will be aired on Monday evening, but selected excerpts were published on Saturday on the website of NDR, Germany’s national radio broadcaster. Maassen was vague about the nature of the technology that the North Koreans acquired through their embassy in Berlin. But he said that North Korean diplomats and intelligence officers with diplomatic credentials engaged in acquiring so-called “dual use” technologies, which have both civilian and military uses. These, said Maassen, were acquired “with a view to [North Korea’s] missile program and sometimes also for the nuclear program”.
Maassen noted that the BfV had evidence of North Korean diplomats in Berlin attempting to procure dual use technologies as late as 2016 and 2017. “When we notice such actions, we prevent them”, said the BfV director, adding that in 2014 his agency prevented a North Korean diplomat from acquiring equipment that could have been used to develop chemical weapons. However, “we simply cannot guarantee that we are able to detect and block each and every attempt”, said Maassen.

Russian jet shot down in Syria's Idlib province

Images said to show the wreckage of the Sukhoi-25

A Russian Sukhoi-25 ground-attack aircraft has been shot down in a rebel-held area in Syria's north-western province of Idlib.
The Russian defence ministry said the pilot had ejected into an area believed to be controlled by the jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance.
Although he survived the crash he was killed in a ground fight, Moscow said.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham - formerly linked to al-Qaeda - said it had shot down the plane.
The Syrian government, backed by Russian air power, launched a major offensive in December against rebel groups in Idlib.

What more do we know of the incident?

The Sukhoi-25, a close-support ground-attack aircraft, was operating over the town of Maasran in Idlib.
There had been dozens of Russian air strikes in the area over the previous 24 hours, monitoring groups said.
Images said to show the wreckage of the Sukhoi-25
Video posted on social media showed the jet being hit and quickly catching fire, before spiralling to the ground.
Video from the ground showed the wreckage with red stars on the wings.
Russia's defence ministry said: "The pilot had enough time to report that he had ejected in an area controlled by the militants".
"During a battle with terrorists, the pilot was killed."
Other video on social media showed a bloodied body in a uniform.

Who shot the plane down?

In a statement released on social media, the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group claimed it had shot down the plane using a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile.
The group said the plane had been carrying out an air raid over the nearby city of Saraqeb.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has operated in the region for years under a series of different names.

How are the Russians responding?

The defence ministry said it was making all possible efforts to retrieve the body.
However, social media posts also reported a salvo of cruise missiles had been fired into Idlib province from Russian navy vessels in the Mediterranean.
The Russian defence ministry confirmed only that "a series of high-precision weapons strikes has been delivered on the area".

Is this a rare event?

Very. It could be the first time rebels have shot down a Russian fighter jet since Moscow began its Syria campaign in September 2015, although rebels did bring down a helicopter in 2016.
About 45 Russian military personnel have been confirmed dead in Syria, along with an unknown number of contractors.
Here are the air force losses:

What's going on in Idlib?

It is supposed to be a "de-escalation zone", as agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran. But fighting escalated in November and the Syrian government launched a major offensive there in December.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is the main adversary.
There are 2.65 million people in north-western Syria as a whole, the UN says, and 1.16 million of them are internally displaced people (IDPs).
Map showing control of Syria and Iraq (8 January 2017)

Is this the only fighting in north-west Syria?

No. Turkey launched an operation on 20 January called "Olive Branch" aimed at removing Kurdish militiamen from Afrin, to the north-west of the city of Aleppo.
The Turkish army said seven Turkish soldiers were killed in action on Saturday, including five who died in an attack on a tank by the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units) militia.
It was heaviest Turkish death toll in one day since the operation began.