Posts Tagged ‘Islamic state’

US official reminds Pakistan it’s still on notice

June 22, 2018
US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice G. Wells acknowledges during a congressional hearing that Pakistan “has an important role to play and has legitimate interests” in Afghanistan.
US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice G. Wells acknowledges during a congressional hearing that Pakistan “has an important role to play and has legitimate interests” in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON: The United States has reminded Pakistan that it’s still on notice to eliminate all terrorist sanctuaries from its territory, although relations between the two countries show some signs of improvement.

The reminder — conveyed by US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice G. Wells at a congressional hearing on Wednesday — re-emphasises the point that Washington never fails to mention the need for Pakistan to eliminate terrorism.

Take a look: In tit-for-tat move, Pakistan imposes travel restrictions on US diplomats

“Pakistan is on notice that we expect its unequivocal cooperation ending sanctuaries that the Taliban have enjoyed since the remnants of their toppled regime fled into Pakistan in 2001,” said Ms Wells while reviewing one year of the Trump administration’s South Asia Strategy.

Islamabad has rejected such American allegations and urged Washington not to blame it for failures

In a New Year Day message this year, President Donald Trump too had put Pakistan on notice, accusing it of “taking billions and billions of dollars” from the United States while “housing the same terrorists” that it was supposed to fight. And a few days after the speech, Washington suspended more than two billion dollars of security aid to Pakistan.

Pakistan has rejected these allegations as unfounded and has urged Washington not to blame Islamabad for its failures in Afghanistan.

In her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on “US policy toward Afghanistan”, Ms Wells acknowledged that the policy of coercing Pakistan into accepting US demands had not been very successful.

“Despite some positive indicators, we have not yet seen Pakistan take the sustained or decisive steps that we would have expected to see ten months after the announcement of the (Trump administration’s) South Asia strategy,” she said.

The senior US official acknowledged that Pakistan “has an important role to play and has legitimate interests” in Afghanistan, which “it wants to ensure are met during any peace process”.

The United States, she said, was not only aware of Pakistan’s interests but was also willing to work with Islamabad to ally its concerns.

“The dialogue that we have with Pakistan seeks to address those concerns while also encouraging additional concrete support for Afghan peace efforts,” she said.

Her statement indicates that the Trump administration has reached the same conclusion that their predecessors had after years of engagement in Afghanistan — it’s an unwinnable war.

“Of course, the Taliban remain a resilient foe. Afghan forces are still labouring to regain control of large areas of rural Afghanistan,” Ms Wells said.

“Equally – if not more troubling – IS Khorasan has increased the pace and scope of its attacks against urban targets, often with a devastating civilian toll”.

The US official noted that the attacks had increasingly focused on ethnic and religious minorities, and were clearly aimed at stoking sectarian and political tensions to undermine popular support for a peace process.

Ms Wells identified four key areas where the US was working to help bolster prospects for an eventual settlement: Supporting Afghan efforts to reduce violence and protect a peace process from spoilers, encouraging all political actors — including the Taliban — to participate in the peace process, supporting Kabul’s efforts to eliminate the conditions that cause militancy and encouraging Afghanistan’s close and distant neighbours to back the peace process.

For Pakistan, she had a clearer message: work with the US to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table and arrest or expel those Taliban elements that do not join the peace process.

“More broadly, all of Afghanistan’s neighbours — from Iran and Russia, to India, China, and the Central Asian states — have repeatedly stated their support for an Afghan peace process,” said Ms Well, counting this among the indicators of success of the Trump administration’s Afghan policy.

Unfortunately, in the past such indicators did not lead to real peace in Afghanistan, which has been in a state of war for more than three decades now.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2018

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Turkey has ’11 temporary military bases’ in northern Iraq, PM Yıldırım says

June 21, 2018

Turkey has 11 temporary military bases in northern Iraq, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said Thursday.

Speaking in a live interview to A Haber broadcaster, Yıldırım also said 400 square-kilometers of the region has been cleared of terrorists.

“We are shelling Mount Qandil through air operations at times. This time PKK terrorists are crossing into Iran when they are on the back foot,” the prime minister said.

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Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım

He added Turkey has no problem with Iran over its Qandil operation. “We cleared the area in northwestern Syria’s Afrin during Operation Olive Branch. We will do the same thing in Mt. Qandil area,” the prime minister said.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to remove YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin region. On March 18 – Day 58 of the operation – Turkish troops, and Free Syrian Army members liberated the town of Afrin.

Turkey has been conducting counter-terrorism operations in the area to clear it of PKK terrorists.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU.

The group’s three-decade-long terror campaign against Turkey has left more than 40,000 people dead, including numerous women and children.

Threat ‘acute’ as jihadist attacks double in 2017: Europol

June 20, 2018

Jihadist attacks on European targets more than doubled last year, Europe’s police agency said Wednesday, warning the risk of more unsophisticated attacks by the so-called Islamic State group “remains acute.”

Last year, a total 33 terror attacks were reported on the continent and Britain — 10 of which were successful, killing 62 people, while the rest were foiled or failed, Europol said in a annual report issued in The Hague.

That figure compared with 13 reported attacks in 2016, of which 10 were successful leading to 135 deaths.

© AFP | Tributes to French policeman Arnaud Beltrame, who was killed in a jihadist attack on a supermarket in March 2018

However, the “increase in the number of jihadist terrorist attacks in 2017 ran parallel to a decrease in sophistication in their preparation and execution,” Europol’s 2018 Terrorism Situation and Trend report said.

This included the attack on London’s Westminster Bridge on March 22 last year and a similar attack on London Bridge two months later when attackers simply drove vehicles into pedestrians and stabbed bystanders with knives, killing 13 people in total and wounding some 98 others.

Islamic jihadists who carried out such attacks in the EU in 2017 were mainly home-grown, “meaning that they were radicalised in their country of residence without having travelled to join a terrorist group abroad.”

In many cases “it becomes a form of personal retaliation against the country that they failed to integrate with,” Europol’s counter-terrorism chief Manuel Navarette told journalists ahead of the report’s launch.

However, the May 22 2017 attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, in which 22 people were killed, and an August van attack on tourists at Barcelona’s La Rambla promenade in Spain in which 15 died, were linked to organised terror cells.

The IS group in all these cases claimed responsibility for the attacks.

IS fighters swept across large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, declaring a so-called “caliphate” in areas they controlled.

But the jihadists have since lost much of that territory to various offensives — in Syria to Russia-backed regime forces and to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

“As IS gets weaker, it has been urging its followers to carry out lone actor type attacks in their home countries, rather than guiding them to travel to the so-called caliphate,” Europol said.

But it warned: “The threat of jihadist attacks in the EU remains acute, as demonstrated by the attacks which took place in 2017.”

“It should be underlined that IS, Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups continue to pose a major threat. They have the ongoing intent and capability to conduct terrorist attacks in the West,” Europol said.

“It therefore goes without saying that supporting member states to combat terrorism will remain a top priority,” Europol’s new director Catherine De Bolle told journalists.

“To fight terrorism, it is essential to have optimal information exchange and data,” she added.

Europol’s report comes as German police Wednesday announced the arrest of a Tunisian man caught in possession of deadly ricin poison and bomb-making material to be used in a suspected terror attack.


Pentagon Puts Cyberwarriors on the Offensive, Increasing the Risk of Conflict

June 18, 2018

The Pentagon has quietly empowered the United States Cyber Command to take a far more aggressive approach to defending the nation against cyberattacks, a shift in strategy that could increase the risk of conflict with the foreign states that sponsor malicious hacking groups.

Until now, the Cyber Command has assumed a largely defensive posture, trying to counter attackers as they enter American networks. In the relatively few instances when it has gone on the offensive, particularly in trying to disrupt the online activities of the Islamic State and its recruiters in the past several years, the results have been mixed at best.

The national security adviser, John R. Bolton, eliminated the position of White House cybersecurity coordinator after taking over in April. Credit Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By David E. Sanger
The New York Times

But in the spring, as the Pentagon elevated the command’s status, it opened the door to nearly daily raids on foreign networks, seeking to disable cyberweapons before they can be unleashed, according to strategy documents and military and intelligence officials.

The change in approach was not formally debated inside the White House before it was issued, according to current and former administration officials. But it reflects the greater authority given to military commanders by President Trump, as well as a widespread view that the United States has mounted an inadequate defense against the rising number of attacks aimed at America.

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It is unclear how carefully the administration has weighed the various risks involved if the plan is acted on in classified operations. Adversaries like Russia, China and North Korea, all nuclear-armed states, have been behind major cyberattacks, and the United States has struggled with the question of how to avoid an unforeseen escalation as it wields its growing cyberarsenal.

Another complicating factor is that taking action against an adversary often requires surreptitiously operating in the networks of an ally, like Germany — a problem that often gave the Obama administration pause.

The new strategy envisions constant, disruptive “short of war” activities in foreign computer networks.

It is born, officials said, of more than a decade of counterterrorism operations, where the United States learned the best way to take on al-Qaida or the Islamic State was by destroying the militants inside their bases or their living rooms.

The objective, according to the new “vision statement” quietly issued by the command, is to “contest dangerous adversary activity before it impairs our national power.”

Pushing U.S. defenses “as close as possible to the origin of adversary activity extends our reach to expose adversaries’ weaknesses, learn their intentions and capabilities, and counter attacks close to their origins,” the document says. “Continuous engagement imposes tactical friction and strategic costs on our adversaries, compelling them to shift resources to defense and reduce attacks.”

Another Pentagon document, dated May 2017, provides a legal basis for attacking nuclear missiles on the launchpad using “nonkinetic options” — meaning a cyberattack or some other means that does not involve bombing a missile on the pad or otherwise blowing it up.

As the Defense Department elevated the Cyber Command to a status equal to the European Command and the Joint Special Operations Command, among others, it declared that most of its 133 “cyber mission teams” were combat-ready after years of development.

But most of those teams protect Defense Department networks. Offensive cyberaction by the United States has been relatively rare, a reflection of the time it takes to mount operations and the fact that only the president can approve any use of a cyberweapon that is likely to have significant effects.

Those operations have included disabling another nation’s nuclear facilities or its missiles, as the United States has attempted in Iran and North Korea, or disrupting the communications of groups like the Islamic State.

The president’s sole authority to authorize the use of those weapons is similar to his authority to launch nuclear weapons, a recognition that cyberweapons, even if less powerful than nuclear arms, can have broad, unintended effects.

Under the Trump administration, the traditional structure of White House oversight of U.S. offensive and defensive cyberactivities is being dismantled.

U.S. intelligence agencies have identified cyberthreats as the No. 1 risk facing the United States — it has ranked ahead of terrorism for years now in the annual assessment provided to Congress, even before the Russian intrusion into the election.

Philippine troops clash with remnants of defeated Islamist group

June 18, 2018

Philippine troops have clashed with remnants of a pro-Islamic State militant group that held a southern city for five months last year, the army said on Monday.

Colonel Romeo Brawner, the deputy commander of Joint Task Force Marawi, said security forces conducted air and ground assaults in the province of Lanao del Sur on Sunday in a bid to flush out Maute rebels and the group’s new leader.

Brawner said he could not confirm if there had been any casualties in military operations in two towns near Marawi City, which is now undergoing rehabilitation with some residents returning to their homes.

The Philippines: Islamic State's next stronghold?
© Getty Images

The military was targeting Abu Dar, who the government believes is the new “emir” of Islamic State in Southeast Asia, Brawner said. It could not be independently verified if the Islamic State has chosen Dar as its new leader in the region.

Islamic State-inspired militants seized parts of the southern city of Marawi in May 2017, raising concerns about the influence of the extremist group in Southeast Asia.

The army ended combat operations after wresting control in southern Marawi in October, and has shifted its focus to the island’s marshes where other pro-Islamic State militants operate.

The siege of Marawi, the country’s biggest battle since World War Two, displaced some 350,000 residents and more than 1,100 people were killed, mostly militants.

Military and security experts have said militants who escaped from Marawi are recruiting fighters using looted cash, gold and jewelry worth tens of millions of dollars.

Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; editing by Richard Pullin


Afghan Taliban tells fighters to stay at posts after attack on ceasefire revellers

June 17, 2018

The Taliban on Sunday ordered its fighters in Afghanistan to avoid gatherings of security forces and civilians, a day after a suicide bomber killed 25 people including members of the militant group celebrating an unprecedented ceasefire.

Saturday’s attack on the outskirts of Jalalabad in the eastern province of Nangarhar marred an otherwise extraordinary Eid holiday as Taliban members hugged, posed for selfies and prayed with Afghan police and troops, politicians and civilians around the country — scenes that would have been unthinkable only a few days ago.

It was the first formal nationwide ceasefire since the 2001 US invasion and the display of jubilation and unity has fuelled hopes among war-weary Afghans that peace is possible.

The attack on a crowd celebrating the truce in Rodat district also wounded 54 people and was blamed by officials on the Islamic State group. After the bombing the Taliban ordered fighters to stay at their posts or in areas under its control.

Image result for Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban, photos
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid

“To avoid harm to civilians, which God forbid we may cause (by our presence), all commanders should stop mujahedeen from attending such gatherings,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter.

“The enemy has misused the ceasefire issue and there is a chance of more such bad incidents happening.”

Some Taliban commanders also told AFP they disapproved of their fighters visiting government-controlled areas and celebrating with security forces.

Mujahid made no mention of President Ashraf Ghani’s announcement on Saturday extending the government’s eight-day ceasefire with the Taliban that was due to end on Tuesday, and his call for the Taliban to do the same.

Ghani also said 46 Taliban prisoners had been released, a trend that “is going to continue”.

Other militants, including IS, are not part of the government’s ceasefire.

The Taliban had agreed to a truce but only for the first three days of Eid, which started Friday, promising not to attack Afghan soldiers or police. They would, however, continue attacking US-led NATO troops.

Ghani’s extension of the ceasefire drew immediate international support and calls for the Taliban to reciprocate.

The European Union called the truce “historic”. NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan and US Forces vowed to respect Ghani’s announcement.

The head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, charged with negotiating with the Taliban, called Sunday on the Taliban to “consider the wishes of the people” and extend its own ceasefire.

“If the ceasefire is extended, the next step will be the exchange of prisoners and then we will have a good base for the start of direct negotiations between the two sides,” Mohammad Karim Khalili told reporters.


Turkey to fight terror with allies or alone: Erdogan — But is this just last minute re-election talk?

June 16, 2018

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Ankara is determined to pursue its cross-border military operations from its southern borders to northern Iraq, stating that the operation in the Kandil region is ongoing.

“We are bombing Kandil right now. We are telling those who call themselves a friend that if you are a friend, you deal with it. If you will not, we will,” Erdoğan said in a speech he delivered following Friday prayers in Istanbul’s Sultangazi Mosque on June 15.

“We will have further good news for you in following days,” he added.

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The Turkish president’s comments came after the Turkish military announced on June 15 that 26 outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants were killed or surrendered in operations since June 12.

Erdoğan on June 11 said an operation against the PKK has begun in Kandil on the Iraq-Iran border as well as the Iraqi-controlled Sinjar region, which is a Yezidi Kurdish region.

“We have destroyed 14 important targets using 20 of our [warplanes]. They have hit [their targets] and they have returned. We are not done. This will continue,” the president said during an election rally in the central province of Niğde.

“Kandil will not be a threat or a source of terror for our people anymore. We will drain the terror swamp in Kandil as we have done in Afrin, Jarablus, Azaz, al-Bab,” he said, referring to the northern Syrian regions where the Turkish military had pursued military operations with Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces.

Turkey was concerned about the presence of Syrian Kurdish forces in its northern border region, especially the United States-backed Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara deems an offshoot of the outlawed PKK and an imminent threat to its territorial integrity.

Erdoğan has also vowed to extend military operations in Syria if need be, a stance that has caused friction with the NATO-ally United States, which has backed the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“We have demolished the terror corridor in northern Syria. Now, we are bombing Kandil,” Erdoğan said on June 15.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said last week Baghdad was ready to cooperate with Ankara to prevent attacks from Iraq into Turkey. He also called on Turkey to “respect Iraqi sovereignty” and accused Turkish politicians of raising tensions for domestic purposes ahead of the June 24 elections.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also announced on June 13 that Turkey is in contact with Iran about conducting an operation against the PKK in Kandil.

“We are in contact with Iran,” Çavuşoğlu told private broadcaster Habertürk.

“The PKK is a threat to them as well. Kandil is very close to the Iranian border. We will improve cooperation with Iran,” he said.


In Turkey, the opposition finally unites in bid to end Erdogan’s dominance

Muharrem Ince, a former high school physics teacher who is a Turkish presidential candidate, hurled taunts at his main opponent, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the reckless abandon of a competitor who smelled blood.

He paced with a microphone on top of his campaign bus on a recent afternoon, surrounded by enchanted supporters as he mocked Erdogan’s economic policies, accused the president of ginning up security threats for votes and chided him for spending lavish sums on palaces, calling it a “sin.”

“The state is collapsing. The state!” Ince said.

“President Ince!” the crowd roared, mimicking his cadence. “President Ince!”

These are heady days for Turkey’s opposition parties, which are charging toward elections for president and parliament in just over a week with a rare sense of unity and a hunch that Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for a decade and a half, may be more vulnerable than he has been in years.

Their sense of optimism has been fueled by what they say are gaffes by the president, including comments he made that sent the Turkish currency tumbling and revived questions about his stewardship of the economy — a pillar of the president’s appeal.

Muharrem Ince, Presidential candidate of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), delivers a speech from the roof of a bus during a campaign meeting in Istanbul on June 10, 2018, ahead of the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections which will be held on June 24, 2018. (Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images)

Opposition leaders have also cited encouraging poll numbers that they say reflect voter fatigue with the president after a tumultuous few years in Turkey marked by growing tensions with some of the country’s NATO allies and intensifying social polarization at home. The results suggest a possible opposition victory — if not in the presidential race, then in the parliament, where they hope to roll back the majority held by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Then there is Ince — pronounced Een-jay — the candidate from the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, who has gained popularity as a surprisingly nimble candidate, snatching some of Erdogan’s populist thunder by presenting himself as a Turkish everyman with working-class roots able to bridge the country’s deep divides.

“His family is religious. He’s more secular,” said Kaan Ercan, a 23-year-old recent university architecture graduate who was one of many young people attending an Ince rally last week. “It’s different, the way he talks. His approach is aimed at all of society.”

The president’s loyalists say that the optimism of his opponents is misplaced and that voters continue to have faith in Erdogan’s ability to deliver economic growth, and trust the president’s assertions that the currency was being manipulated by foreigners. “We are on the streets,” said Harun Armagan, the 33-year-old vice chair of human rights for the AKP. “We are very hopeful about the results.”

The presidential candidate of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Muharrem Ince (L) and his wife Ulku Ince, wave to supporters during a campaign meeting in Diyarbakir on June 11, 2018, ahead of the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections which will be held on June 24, 2018. (Ilyas Akengin/AFP/Getty Images)

For both sides, the stakes in the election are high. Erdogan, who has served both as prime minister and as president, will assume even greater authority should he win reelection because of constitutional amendments that were narrowly approved by voters during a bitterly contested referendum last year.

Erdogan’s supporters say the changes, which created an “executive presidency” diluting the power of the judiciary and the parliament, will give the president more latitude to impose his will on an unruly system and leave him better equipped to govern.

The opposition views the new system as a nightmare scenario that has weakened checks on the president’s power as he has become more authoritarian after a coup attempt in July 2016, arresting thousands of enemies and opponents and silencing critics of his government’s rule.

The odds in the coming election are not in the opposition’s favor. Erdogan remains a savvy campaigner and an instinctive populist whose appeals to nationalists and religious conservatives have won him a large and loyal base of supporters.

He also brazenly deploys the levers of state to his advantage, his critics say — shuttering independent media outlets that would provide balanced coverage of the election campaign and jailing opposition political figures. These include Selahattin Demirtas, a candidate from a pro-Kurdish party who is running for president from prison.

“There is no level playing field in the pre-election period,” Human Rights Watch wrote in a recent briefing on the election.

Despite those obstacles, the opposition saw a glimmer of hope in the president’s thin margin of victory in the referendum, which suggested that some disaffected Erdogan supporters had stayed home. The opposition’s attempts to energize its base started in the months after the referendum, when the CHP led a “justice” march over hundreds of miles intended to highlight the government’s arrests of opposition figures, journalists and dissidents.

As thousands of people joined the march,government officials, unnerved by the spectacle, likened the participants to terrorists.

In April, when Erdogan called for early elections, he framed them as necessary to make Turkey’s government “stronger and more effective” at a time when the country’s military was fighting against Kurdish groups across its borders in Syria and Iraq. But he was also preoccupied with the economy and anxious to stage the elections before it took a turn for the worse, analysts said.

The economic news did worsen after the president voiced his unorthodox view that high interest rates cause inflation and suggested that he would take greater control of monetary policy after the elections, sending the Turkish lira plummeting to record lows.

The currency has slightly ­recovered, but the economy’s problems run far deeper, said Atilla Yesilada, an analyst with ­Istanbul-based Global Source Partners. “Years of irresponsible policies have overheated the Turkish economy. High inflation rates and current account deficits are going to prove sticky,” he said. “I think we are at the end of our rope.”

Sensing an opening, Turkey’s often divided opposition parties have started to come together. Four parties, including the CHP, the nationalist Good Party and the Islamist Felicity Party, formed a coalition to compete in the parliamentary elections, broadening their ideological appeal. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, did not join the coalition. But Ince, the CHP candidate, visited Demirtas in prison and has recently reached out to Turkey’s Kurds, a critical voting bloc, during his campaign rallies.

The coalition is “a big deal” and a possible counterweight to Erdogan’s own alliance with another nationalist party, said Omer Taspinar, a Turkey expert at the Brookings Institution. “If the opposition can maintain some sense of unity, they will improve their chances.” The opposition also stands to benefit from the “worsening economy, and the emergence of a charismatic, center left-wing leader,” he said, referring to Ince.

 There were also signs of fatigue among AKP voters, to the apparent frustration of Erdogan, “who blamed them for not being active enough,” he said.

But the opposition has not presented a broader plan for Turkey and its future that would rival Erdogan’s grand vision for transforming the country into an economic powerhouse by 2023, a vision punctuated by plans for megaprojects and sprinkled with nationalist rhetoric.

“The opposition’s main message is, enough is enough. You have been in power too long, you represent the past. Maybe that would work if he was 80 years old,” Taspinar said. “Erdogan is still a force to reckon with, despite his vulnerabilities. He has done well for the middle class.”

Armagan, the AKP official, said that as he had campaigned for the party’s candidates in recent weeks, voters he encountered “see a lack of vision,” from the opposition.   “Maybe Muharrem Ince made a lot of noise and took some attention,” he said, but added: “You should tell people how you will take this country further.”

By Kareem Fahim

Germany: Man with “terrorist sympathies” arrested for biological weapon at home

June 14, 2018

Sief Allah H. was arrested after police in Cologne found a deadly toxin in his apartment. A local newspaper reported that the suspect came to Germany in 2016 and had terrorist sympathies.

Police outside of Cologne apartment where ricin was found (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Young)

Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged a 29-year-old Tunisian citizen with producing a biological weapon after police found highly toxic ricin in his apartment in the western city of Cologne.

Sief Allah H. has been in police custody for two days on suspicion of violating the War Weapons Control Act and “preparing a serious act of violence against the state.” Special police and fire units found the ricin during a raid of his home late on Tuesday.

Security services first became suspicious after H. ordered 1,000 castor seeds — the main ingredient for producing ricin — and a coffee grinder from an online store in mid-May, prosecutors said. He successfully produced the toxin in June. 

Possession of the highly toxic substance, which is 6,000 times more powerful than cyanide, is restricted by a 1997 international convention on chemical weapons. Exposure causes organ failure and death can occur within 36 to 48 hours, according to Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, which categorizes ricin as a “potential biological weapon.” There is no known antidote.

Reported IS sympathies

The man first came to Germany in November 2016, local daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger reported. He reportedly had sympathies for the “Islamic State” (IS), the Islamist terror group that has carried out attacks in Europe and fought in the war in Syria.

First responder wearing a protective suit (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Young)Special units wore protective suits during the raid on the suspect’s apartment

But prosecutors said they have not found evidence the man was planning an attack at a particular time or place or that he was a member of any terrorist organization.

The newspaper also reported that authorities had been observing the suspect for some time. Police reportedly decided to raid his home after discovering that he had ordered castor seeds online.

German weekly Der Spiegel reported H. was thought to have followed online IS instructions for building a ricin bomb.

Delusional Assad denies Moscow running the show in Syria

June 10, 2018

Assad admitted his government has disagreed with Russia and Iran throughout the country’s seven-year conflict — Moscow intervened militarily in Syria’s conflict in 2015, when Assad’s forces were struggling to hold territory against rebel fighters

DAMASCUS: Syria’s President Bashar Assad denied Moscow is running the show in his war-torn country, saying in an interview released Sunday his government operates independently of its Russian and Iranian allies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in Sochi on May 17, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in Sochi on May 17, 2018

In a wide-ranging interview in Damascus with the Mail on Sunday, Assad slammed the United States and British military actions in Syria as “colonial” while praising supporter Russia.

Defiant: Bashar al-Assad talks to journalist Hala Jaber in his palace in Damascus last week

Defiant: Bashar al-Assad talks to journalist Hala Jaber in his palace in Damascus last week

“We’ve had good relations with Russia for more than six decades now, nearly seven decades. They never, during our relation, try to dictate, even if there are differences,” he told the British newspaper.

Assad admitted his government has disagreed with Russia and Iran throughout the country’s seven-year conflict.

“That’s very natural, but at the end the only decision about what’s going on in Syria and what’s going to happen, it’s a Syrian decision,” he said.

Moscow intervened militarily in Syria’s conflict in 2015, when Assad’s forces were struggling to hold territory against rebel fighters.

Russian air strikes and military advisers have since helped regime troops seize back more than half the country.

Tehran, too, has sent military advisers to Syria, but Assad has denied that Iranian troops are on the ground.

Iran’s regional foe, Israel, has repeatedly warned it will not accept an entrenched Iranian presence in Syria.

It is suspected of carrying out numerous raids on Syrian government positions over the years, and last month announced unprecedented strikes on what it said were Tehran-operated bases in Syria.

In his interview, Assad denied Moscow had ever had prior knowledge of such strikes, despite close cooperation between Israel and Russia.

“No, no, that’s not true,” he said.

“Russia never coordinated with anyone against Syria, either politically or militarily, and that’s (a) contradiction,” he said.

“How could they help the Syrian army advancing and at the same time work with our enemies in order to destroy our army?“

Syria’s war has also drawn in many Western powers, who first backed rebel groups against Assad then shifted their focus to defeating the Islamic State jihadist group as part of a US-led coalition.

Assad lambasted the American and British interventions, saying they were “breaching the sovereignty of Syria.”

“This is colonial policy, that’s how we see it, and this is not new,” he said.

He also told the Mail on Sunday that his country had stopped intelligence sharing with European nations.

“They want to exchange information despite their governments being politically against ours, so we said… When you change your political position, we’re ready,” he said.

“Now, there’s no cooperation with any European intelligence agencies including the British.”

The interview, according to the Mail on Sunday, was Assad’s first with a British journalist since 2015. Its full transcript was published on Syrian state news agency SANA.

See also:

I use chemicals? Prove it! Syrian President Assad brands gas attacks ‘fake news’ and calls Theresa May a ‘colonialist and a liar’ in astonishing face to face interview

Quitting Syria too soon would be a ‘blunder’: Mattis

June 9, 2018

US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis warned Friday it would be a “strategic blunder” to pull out of Syria before UN-led peace efforts had made progress.

A US-led coalition is conducting military operations against the Islamic State group in Syria and Mattis said they must not leave a “vacuum” that President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies could take advantage of.

© POOL/AFP | US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis warned that coalition forces leaving Syria could create a “vacuum”

Talks in Geneva led by UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura have made little headway, but Mattis said they must be given the chance to succeed.

“In Syria, leaving the field before the special envoy Staffan de Mistura achieves success in advancing the Geneva political process we all signed for under the UN security council resolution would be a strategic blunder, undercutting our diplomats and giving the terrorists the opportunity to recover,” Mattis said at a meeting of coalition defence ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

IS seized parts of a town on the Syria-Iraq border on Friday in the latest in a string of attacks that comes as the continued presence of coalition forces in Syria is coming into question.

US President Donald Trump has vowed he would pull out his troops from Syria but Mattis has pleaded for a more patient approach.

“As the operations ultimately draw to a close, we must avoid leaving a vacuum in Syria that can be exploited by the Assad regime or its supporters,” Mattis said.