Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Is There a Way To Get Tough on Iran Without Leaving The Nuclear Deal?

October 19, 2017
BY EMILY B. LANDAU
 OCTOBER 19, 2017 15:30
There are important elements in the administration’s new policy that may reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA, and set the stage for pushing back on Iran’s regional provocations.

Getting tough on Iran without leaving the nuclear deal

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump speaks about Iran and the nuclear accord at the White House on Friday. (photo credit:REUTERS)

On October 13, US President Donald Trump announced his decision not to certify the JCPOA, in contrast to his previous two decisions to certify the deal. Instead, he declared, the administration would work with Congress and US global and Middle East allies to address the flaws surrounding the deal, as well as other aspects of Iran’s behavior, widely perceived to be threatening and destabilizing. This position was reached following the administration’s policy review on Iran, underway over the past nine months, and outlines a new approach that began to emerge already with the statement in April 2017 by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – delivered the day after Trump certified the JCPOA for the first time – which sketched in broad strokes the direction of US policy on Iran.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the new policy is that it covers the entirety of Iran’s behavior that is viewed negatively by the US, beyond the nuclear program: Iran’s missile program, support for terror, and regional aspirations that threaten the national security interests of the US and its allies in the Middle East. In so doing, the administration has ended the approach of the Obama administration that sought to create a divide between the nuclear and regional manifestations of Iran’s conduct, claiming that the nuclear deal “was working,” and that it was never meant to address other issues. In contrast, the Trump administration has emphasized that the JCPOA did not achieve its objective of a non-nuclear Iran, and that the deal is only one component of overall US policy toward Iran. The message is that there is a connection between the different manifestations of Tehran’s nuclear and foreign policies, and that all must be dealt with in tandem in order to confront effectively the threats and regional challenges posed by Iran.

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Also of significance is that Trump signaled that the US administration will no longer refrain from pushing back against Iran’s aggressions and provocations for fear of Iran exiting the nuclear deal. In fact – in a somewhat surprising move – Trump included his own threat of leaving the deal. He stated that if in cooperation with Congress and US allies the administration cannot reach a satisfactory solution to the problems he delineated, he would cancel US participation in the deal. The specific context seems to direct the threat primarily to Congress and US allies in an effort to urge them to work with the administration to amend the deal. However, it is also clearly a message to Iran that the administration is no longer deterred by Iran’s threats of leaving the deal.

What are the main problems that Trump raised, and how will the administration attempt to fix them? The leading problems raised by the president have to do with the regime’s sponsorship of terrorism, continued regional aggression, and use of proxies, and the radical nature of the regime and its Supreme Leader. He mentioned Iran’s ballistic missile program, hostility to the US and Israel, and its threat to navigation in the Gulf. While the opening of Trump’s speech reviewed Iran’s deadly actions since 1979 and was unnecessarily detailed, this might have been aimed to underscore that Iran has targeted the US repeatedly, rendering dealing with Iran a clear US national security interest.

As for the nuclear deal, Trump warned that in a few years Iran will be able to “sprint” to nuclear weapons. What, he asked, is the purpose of a deal that at best only delays Iran’s nuclear plans? He noted multiple violations of the deal, although most points on his list were not violations per se, but rather problems with the deal. In addition to twice exceeding the limit on the stockpile of heavy water, he pointed out that Iran failed to meet US expectations with regard to research and development of advanced centrifuges. To be sure, the precise nature of Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges is an issue that independent analysts can only study from such official statements due to the problematic lack of transparency in IAEA reports since implementation of the deal, and the confidentiality that was granted to deliberations of the Joint Commission (that oversees the JCPOA). Trump also accused Iran of intimidating IAEA inspectors, and highlighted Iran’s repeated statements that it would refuse entry of IAEA inspectors into its military sites. Of particular note was Trump’s mention of suspicions regarding cooperation between Iran and North Korea; he said that he will instruct intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough analysis of these connections.

In dealing with these problems, Trump’s major constraint is lack of leverage to compel Iran to agree to a strengthened nuclear deal. The administration’s hands are tied given that it has partners to the JCPOA that are not on the same page, and that the biting sanctions that had pressured Iran to negotiate in the first place were lifted when implementation of the deal began. Clearly it will be difficult for the US to change matters directly related to the deal without the help of Congress and European allies, and Trump stated repeatedly that he will seek their cooperation.

In Europe there is fierce opposition to Trump’s decision not to certify the deal, and it is questionable whether and to what degree Europe will be willing to cooperate with the US. It is noteworthy, however, that before the speech was delivered, some European leaders – including France’s Macron – signaled a new willingness to address issues outside the JCPOA, in particular Iran’s missile program and regional aggression. Trump hopes they will go along with new sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There is currently no basis for expecting cooperation from Russia and China.

The administration is also pinning hopes on Congress. With decertification, decision making on the JCPOA moves to Congress, and this is where the Trump administration hopes to introduce changes. Tillerson has explained that the administration will not be asking Congress to move to sanctions at this stage, a step that could lead to the collapse of the deal. Rather, the hope is to pass new legislation that will amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). The White House would like to establish a series of benchmarks that would automatically restore sanctions if Iran crosses one of the red lines – or “trigger points”; these would likely relate to Iran’s missile program and the sunset clauses in the JCPOA.

The area where the administration can most easily move forward on its own relates to its approach to the Iranian regime, particularly the regime’s support for terror and other destabilizing regional activities. This explains the strong emphasis in Trump’s speech – and in the document released in parallel entitled “President Donald J. Trump’s New Strategy on Iran” – on the IRGC, and on the need to confront it squarely for its support of terror, fanning of sectarianism, and perpetuation of regional conflict. Trump announced that he was authorizing the Treasury Department to sanction the IRGC as an entity, and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates.

Overall, there are important elements in the administration’s new policy that have the potential to reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA, and set the stage for pushing back on Iran’s regional provocations and aggression. Much will depend on the ability to cooperate with allies and with Congress in advancing these goals. Tillerson’s clarifications were important in explaining that contrary to much media analysis, Trump is not seeking to do away with the deal, at least in the short term, or to go to war. The stated aim is to strengthen the deal, and restore US deterrence vis-à-vis the Iranian regime and the IRGC. The outcome, however, is far from guaranteed. This is due to inherent constraints, and the fact that while the policy makes sense, it is nevertheless a huge undertaking for a very controversial administration, and this in turn can further weaken Trump’s hand.

The author is a senior research fellow at INSS and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program. This article first appeared in INSS Insight.

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ISIS fanatics ‘plotting new 9/11’: Homeland Security chief says jihadists are working on a ‘big explosion’

October 19, 2017

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  • Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security, issued a warning
  • She said recent attacks are keeping jihadis engaged ahead of ‘big explosion’
  • Terrorists plotting to take down planes to inflict mass civilian casualties, she says
  • Yesterday, MI5 boss Andrew Parker warned UK was facing biggest terror threat

A fiery blasts rocks the south tower of the World Trade Center as the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the building September 11, 2001 in New York

Islamic State fanatics and other terror groups are planning another massive attack on the scale of 9/11, a top US security chief warned today.

Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security, said jihadists were using crude knife and van attacks to keep their members engaged and their finances flowing as they plot another ‘big explosion’ similar to the September 2001 atrocities.

Speaking at the US embassy in London, she said intelligence is pointing to extremists plotting to take down planes to inflict mass civilian casualties.

Mrs Duke said ISIS is currently in an ‘interim’ period focusing on a much bigger endgame.

The security chief, who has served three US presidents, said: ‘The terrorist organisations, be it ISIS or others, want to have the big explosion like they did on 9/11. They want to take down aircraft, the intelligence is clear on that.

‘However, in the interim they need to keep their finances flowing and they need to keep their visibility high and they need to keep their members engaged, so they are using small plots and they are happy to have small plots.’

Islamic State fanatics and other terror groups are planning another massive attack on the scale of 9/11, a top US security chief warned

She added: ‘Creating terror is their goal and so a van attack, a bladed weapon attack, causes terror and continues to disrupt the world – but does not mean they’ve given up on a major aviation plot.’

Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security

Yesterday Mrs Duke said the prospect of a terrorist blowing up an airline using a laptop was just one of the threats facing airlines worldwide.

She said the free movement of goods and people means security has to be tightened in individual countries around the world.

She said: ‘The laptop is one of the many aviation threats, we will never be comfortable and we will always be evolving.

‘What we believe is that because of the movement of goods and people, we have to raise the baseline worldwide, we can’t only consider our borders.’ Mrs Duke went on: ‘We think the level of terrorist threat against the United States too is extremely high.

‘I think that it is challenging for you because you have the proximities to other countries, the ease of movement from some of the terrorist safe havens is a little easier for you, but we feel the terrorist threat is very high in the United States.’

Asked how the US is tackling the threat of another 9/11-style atrocity, she said: ‘We have worked on some strong measures that we can’t talk about. We are trying to play the away game and that is working against them in their terrorist safe havens and homes.

‘We do have some terrorist groups on the move, you just saw the take-over of Raqqa and so if we can keep them declining and moving they have less time to sit and prepare.’

They want to take down aircraft
Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security

Mrs Duke warned that the number of home-grown violent extremists, mostly inspired by terrorist organisations, is increasing in the US. She said the ability of IS militants to put terrorist propaganda on the internet will appeal more and more to extremists as they are pushed out of Syria and Iraq.

Mrs Duke said web giants need to do more to detect extremist content online, and one way of doing this could be using the same technology used to identify people in passenger lists.

‘Terrorists are strong, they are adaptable and the terrorist threat is the highest it has been since pre-9/11. We have got to have every tool that’s possible,’ she added.

A total of 2,996 people were killed during the September 11 attacks, when al-Qaeda suicide attackers hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

Earlier in the day she met the British interior minister Amber Rudd to discuss how to force internet giants to do more to tackle terrorism ahead of the G7 summit.

Following the recent wave of attacks in Manchester and London, police chiefs have said the threat facing the UK is a ‘new norm’ that will not change.

Her chilling remarks came 24 hours after MI5 director general Andrew Parker warned Britain is facing its worst-ever terrorist threat in his first major speech since the UK was hit by a wave of attacks.

The British spy chief said it was taking terrorists just days to hatch plots as violent extremists exploit ‘safe spaces online’ to evade detection.

It is harder for the UK to protect itself because of its proximity to other countries and the ease of movement from terrorist safe havens, she suggested.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4994906/ISIS-fanatics-plotting-new-9-11-warns-security-boss.html#ixzz4vwra39LU
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Iran warned on blatant interference in the internal security of the kingdom of Bahrain — Iran holds 160 terrorist Bahraini fugitives wanted by Bahrain

October 19, 2017

Trump’s tough stance on Iran will end its political privileges that it has exploited for years, says minister

Published: 15:38 October 18, 2017Gulf News

Manama: Iran is harbouring 160 fugitives wanted by Bahrain for carrying out acts of terror targeting security and stability, the kingdom’s interior minister has said.

At least 25 police officers have been killed in the terrorist acts while up to 3,000 have been wounded, Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdullah Al Khalifa told Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat.

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“There is a direct link between the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and terrorist acts in Bahrain,” he said.

“Intelligence revealed that the IRGC had trained terrorist elements in its camps to make explosive devices, use automatic weapons and hand grenades, and contribute to smuggling them into Bahrain. They also provided support and funds and trained, formed and recruited terrorist groups targeting the security of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, including the so-called terrorist organisation Saraya Al Ashtar. “

Some of the arrested suspects confessed they had received weapons training from the IRGC.

More than 24 kilogrammes of explosive material has been seized by authorities, Shaikh Rashid said.

Iran has released 254 “hostile” statements against Bahrain since 2011, he added.

Bahrain has repeatedly warned of the seriousness of Iran’s blatant interference in the internal security of the kingdom and the region through supporting extremist and sectarian cells and organisations.

“Iran’s dangerous interference focuses on the export of intellectual and sectarian extremism, which calls for intensifying regional and international efforts to address all areas of terrorism, particularly combating Iran’s funding of extremist militias and supplying them with weapons.”

Shaikh Rashid told the daily that strategy announced by US President Donald Trump against Iran has put an end to the political privileges that have been exploited by Tehran to interfere in the internal affairs of countries and to continue exporting its terrorist activities through its various branches, including the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah.

“This strategy undoubtedly leads to the establishment of international peace and security in general and the protection of the security of the Gulf region in particular.

Bahrain supports regional and international efforts, particularly the US position, which contributes to reinforcing the fight against terrorism, its extremist ideological and sectarian motives and its funding.

The minister also praised the US stance in tackling the flow of explosives into Bahrain.

http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/bahrain/iran-harbouring-160-bahraini-fugitives-1.2108457

G7 to focus on foreign fighter fallout from rout of IS

October 19, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Ella IDE | A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walks through a heavily damaged a street in Raqa, Syria on October 18, 2017

ISCHIA (ITALY) (AFP) – The threat of fresh attacks on the West by foreign fighters fleeing the fallen Islamic State stronghold of Raqa is set to dominate a G7 meeting of interior ministers in Italy.The two-day gathering, which kicks off Thursday on the Italian island of Ischia, comes just days after US-backed forces took full control of the jihadists’ de facto Syrian capital.

Most foreign fighters are believed to have fled over the past few months. Experts say those who stayed are now likely to head for Turkey in the hope of travelling on to Europe to seek revenge for the destruction of the “caliphate”.

Tens of thousands of citizens from Western countries travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for the group between 2014 and 2016, including extremists who then returned home and staged attacks that claimed dozens of lives.

France, whose some 1,000 nationals were among the biggest contingent of overseas recruits to join IS, stated frankly this weekend that it would be “for the best” if jihadists die fighting.

While border crossings have since tightened making it more difficult for fighters to return, security experts have warned of renewed possibilities of strikes as the pressure on IS intensifies.

“With an Islamic military defeat in Iraq and Syria we could find ourselves facing a return diaspora of foreign fighters,” Italy’s Interior Minister Marco Minniti told a parliamentary committee last week.

“There are an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries. Some of them have been killed of course, but… it’s possible some of the others will try to return home, to northern Africa and Europe,” he said.

– Catching boats to Europe –

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said a group of 130-150 foreign fighters, including Europeans, had turned themselves in before the end of the battle in Raqa.

Other reports suggested a convoy of foreign fighters had been able to escape the city towards IS-held territory, a claim denied categorically by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) officials.

The SDF is expected to contact the home countries of any foreign fighters it holds, to discuss the possibility of turning them over to face prosecution.

But captured fighters could prove a legal headache, with questions raised over what evidence, collected by whom, would be used in a domestic court. Jihadists also become security risks in jails for their potential to radicalise.

French European lawmaker Arnaud Danjean said Wednesday there would be “negotiations with the countries concerned” over what to do with returners.

Minniti warned fighters could take advantage of the confusion and “use the human trafficking routes” to return home — raising the spectre of extremists embarking on the migrant boats which regularly head to Italy.

It meant controversial efforts currently spearheaded by Italy to close the land and sea trafficking routes which cross Africa into Libya and on across the central Mediterranean sea to Europe were “essential”, he added.

– Intelligence war –

The Seven, from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, will also tackle the hot issue of terrorism online, with analysts warning IS’s loss of territory will turn street-to-street fighting into an intelligence war.

The ministers are due to arrive Thursday afternoon at a medieval castle on the volcanic island off Naples, before retiring for an informal dinner and knuckling down to working sessions on Friday.

They are set to be joined by the EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos, European safety commissioner Julian King, and Juergen Stock, secretary general of the international police body Interpol.

In a G7 first, representatives from Internet giants Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter will also be taking part.

by Ella IDE
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MI5 boss Andrew Parker warns of ‘intense’ terror threat

October 19, 2017

BBC News

MI5 chief Andrew Parker: ‘Over 3,000 extremists in the UK’
Video:
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41655488

The UK’s intelligence services are facing an “intense” challenge from terrorism, the head of MI5 has warned.

Andrew Parker said there was currently “more terrorist activity coming at us, more quickly” and that it can also be “harder to detect”.

The UK has suffered five terror attacks this year, and he said MI5 staff had been “deeply affected” by them.

He added that more than 130 Britons who travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight with so-called Islamic State had died.

MI5 was running 500 live operations involving 3,000 individuals involved in extremist activity in some way, he said.

Speaking in London, Mr Parker said the tempo of counter-terrorism operations was the highest he had seen in his 34-year career at MI5.

Twenty attacks had been foiled in the last four years, including seven in the last seven months, he said – all related to what he called Islamist extremism.

The five attacks that got through this year included a suicide bomb attack after an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in May, killing 22.

Five people were also killed in April during an attack near the Houses of Parliament, while eight people were killed when three attackers drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and launched a knife attack in Borough Market.

A man then drove a van into a crowd of worshippers near a mosque in north London in June, while a homemade bomb partially exploded in tube train at Parsons Green station last month, injuring 30 people.

In some cases, individuals like Khuram Butt – who was behind the London Bridge attack – were well known to MI5 and had been under investigation by the security services.

People leaving flowers in Manchester city centre one week after the Manchester Arena attack
People left flowers in Manchester city centre after the Manchester Arena attack. PA photo

Mr Parker was asked what was the point of MI5 surveillance when someone who had made “no secret of his affiliations with jihadist extremism” had then been allowed to go on to launch a deadly attack.

He said the risk from each individual was assessed on a “daily and weekly basis” and then prioritised “accordingly”.

“One of the main challenges we’ve got is that we only ever have fragments of information, and we have to try to assemble a picture of what might happen, based on those fragments.”

He said the likelihood was that when an attacked happened, it would be carried out by someone “that we know or have known” – otherwise it would mean they had been looking “in completely the wrong place”.

And he said staff at MI5 were deeply affected on a “personal and professional” level when they did happen.

“They are constantly making tough professional judgements based on fragments of intelligence; pinpricks of light against a dark and shifting canvas.”

‘Not the enemy’

Mr Parker said they were trying to “squeeze every drop of learning” from recent incidents.

In the wake of attacks in the UK, there had been some, including some in the Home Office, who questioned whether the counter-terrorist machine – featuring all three intelligence agencies and the police, and with MI5 at its heart – was functioning as effectively as previously thought.

However, there was no indication of a fundamental change in direction in his remarks, with a focus on the scale of the threat making stopping all plots impossible.

“We have to be careful that we do not find ourselves held to some kind of perfect standard of 100%, because that is not achievable,” he said.

“Attacks can sometimes accelerate from inception through planning to action in just a handful of days.

“This pace, together with the way extremists can exploit safe spaces online, can make threats harder to detect and give us a smaller window to intervene.”

Troops from the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) marching past a ruined building in Raqqa, Syria
Many Britons still fighting in Syria and Iraq may not now return, Andrew Parker said. Reuters photo

He renewed the call for more co-operation from technology companies.

Technology was “not the enemy,” he added, but said companies had a responsibility to deal with the side effects and “dark edges” created by the products they produced.

In particular, he pointed to online purchasing of goods – such as chemicals – as well as the presence of extremist content on social media and encrypted communications.

Assassination risk

He said more than 800 individuals had left the UK for Syria and Iraq.

Some had then returned, often many years ago, and had been subject to risk assessment. Mr Parker revealed at least 130 had been killed in conflict.

Fewer than expected had returned recently, he said, adding that those who were still in Syria and Iraq may not now attempt to come back because they knew they might be arrested.

Mr Parker stressed that international co-operation remained vital and revealed there was a joint operational centre for counter-terrorism based in the Netherlands, where security service officers from a range of countries worked together and shared data.

This had led to 12 arrests in Europe, he added.

In terms of state threats, Mr Parker said the range of clandestine activity conducted by foreign states – including Russia – went from aggressive cyber-attack, through to traditional espionage and the risk of assassination of individuals.

However, he said the UK had strong defences against such activity.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41655488

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Thousands in Somali capital march in defiance after attack

October 18, 2017

AFP

© Mohamed Abdiwahad, AFP | Demonstrators in Mogadishu on 15 October.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-18

Thousands of people took to the streets of Somalia’s capital Wednesday in a show of defiance after the country’s deadliest attack.

Officials shared a detailed account of how Saturday’s truck bombing that killed more than 300 was carried out. They said that two people have been arrested.

Wearing red headbands, the crowd of mostly young men and women marched through Mogadishu amid tight security. They answered a call to unity by Mayor Thabit Abdi, who said “we must liberate this city which is awash with graves.”

Some in Somalia have called the bombing their 9/11, while asking why one of the world’s deadliest attacks in years hasn’t drawn the kind of global attention given to extremist assaults elsewhere.

Another nearly 400 were wounded. Scores remain missing.

“You can kill us, but not our spirit and desire for peace,” said high school teacher Zainab Muse. “May Allah punish those who massacred our people,” said university student Mohamed Salad.

Not at all peaceful

It was not all peaceful. At least three people, including a pregnant woman, were injured after security forces opened fire while trying to disperse protesters marching toward the attack site, said police Capt. Mohammed Hussein. Both Somali police and African Union soldiers were at the scene and opened fire, he said.

Somalia’s government has blamed Saturday’s attack on the al-Shabab extremist group, which often targets Mogadishu but has not commented. Analysts have suggested that al-Shabab, an al-Qaida ally, may have avoided taking responsibility because it did not want to be blamed for the deaths of so many civilians.

A detailed description of the attack emerged. According to a Somali intelligence official investigating the blast, an overloaded truck covered with a tarpaulin approached a security checkpoint outside Mogadishu early Saturday.

The truck, covered in dust, aroused the suspicions of soldiers who ordered the driver to park and get out. The driver, a man who soldiers said behaved in a friendly manner, made a phone call to someone in the capital.

The driver passed the phone to the soldiers to speak to a well-known man who vouched for the truck and persuaded soldiers to allow it into the city, the Somali intelligence official told The Associated Press.

Once through the checkpoint, the truck began to speed along the sandy, potholed road and raced through another checkpoint where soldiers opened fire and flattened one of its tires.

Leveled buildings

The driver continued before stopping on a busy street and detonating. The blast leveled nearly all nearby buildings in one of Mogadishu’s most crowded areas.

The man who vouched for the truck has been arrested and is being held in jail, the Somali intelligence official said.

The massive bomb, weighing between 600 kilograms and 800 kilograms (1,300 pounds and 1,700 pounds), was meant for Mogadishu’s heavily fortified international airport, according to security officials. Several countries’ embassies are located there.

The driver probably decided to detonate on the street instead because several checkpoints still lay ahead, the Somali intelligence official said.

“Another reason that he would not proceed further is the fact that security forces were coming after it,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The truck bomber had an accomplice driving a smaller car, a Toyota Noah minivan packed with explosives that took another route, said another Somali intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. Security forces stopped the vehicle at a checkpoint near the airport, forcing the driver to park and get out.

As soldiers questioned the driver, the minivan detonated, the official said.

The minivan’s driver is currently in a prison in Mogadishu, said a senior Somali police officer, Capt. Mohamed Hussein.

Somalia last year saw its highest-ever number of attacks from improvised explosives, at least 395, up from about 265 the year before, according to a threat assessment by the Nairobi-based Sahan research group. Since 2013, when there were 33 such attacks, the threat has grown quickly.

Al-Shabab’s capacity to produce and transport ever-larger explosives is improving, the assessment said. Vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices have increased from between 100 and 200 kilograms in 2015 to between 800 and 1,000 kilograms in 2016.

(AP)

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Qatar accuses Saudi Arabia of promoting ‘regime change’

October 18, 2017

Al Jazeera

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani says the blockading nations' plan is to 'disrespect and bully' [Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters]
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani says the blockading nations’ plan is to ‘disrespect and bully’ [Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters]

Qatar has accused Saudi Arabia of trying to engineer “regime change” during its four-month blockade of its Gulf neighbour.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told CNBC on Tuesday that Riyadh is attempting to destabilise Qatar’s leadership.

“We see [Saudi] government officials talking about regime change… We see a country that is bringing back the dark ages of tribes and putting them together in order to create a pressure on connected tribes in Qatar,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt severed diplomatic and trade links with Qatar on June 5, accusing Doha of supporting “extremism and terrorism” and cozying up to Iran – a regional nemesis.

Qatar has vehemently denied all allegations.

Sheikh Mohammed said the plan of the blockading countries was not to thwart terrorism but to “disrespect and bully”.

“It is nothing to do with stopping financing terrorism or hate speech while they are doing the same by promoting incitement against my country, promoting a regime change in my country,” he told the US broadcaster.

Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, and also houses the region’s biggest US military base with more than 11,000 American troops.

READ MORE: Qatar-Gulf crisis: All the latest updates

Sheikh Mohammed said the blockade has impeded the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the region.

The airspace blockade meant that Qatari aircraft providing logistical support for the American military base have been diverted, and Qatari officers participating in operations against ISIL were expelled from the Bahrain-based US military headquarters.

“So there are a lot of things which undermine … the global efforts in countering … Daesh,” Sheikh Mohammed said, referring to ISIL by an Arabic acronym.

China urges US to ‘preserve’ Iran nuclear deal

October 13, 2017

AFP

© POOL/AFP/File | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) attends a meeting with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi (R) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 30, 2017

BEIJING (AFP) – China on Friday called on the United States to maintain its commitment to the Iranian nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump is expected to declare no longer in America’s interest.”We believe this deal is important to ensuring the international nuclear nonproliferation regime and regional peace and stability. We hope all parties can continue to preserve and implement this deal,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said during a regular press briefing.

China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, discussed the Iranian nuclear issue with US counterpart Rex Tillerson in a phone call on Thursday to prepare for Trump’s November visit to Beijing, Hua said.

The agreement was signed between Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US — at talks coordinated by the European Union.

While the deal stalled Iran’s nuclear programme and thawed relations between Tehran and its “Great Satan”, opponents say it also prevented efforts to challenge Iranian influence in the Middle East.

US officials say Trump will not kill the international accord outright, instead “decertifying” the agreement and leaving US lawmakers to decide its fate.

UN nuclear inspectors say Iran is meeting the technical requirements of its side of the bargain, dramatically curtailing its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at his US counterpart saying he was opposing “the whole world” by trying to abandon the agreement.

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Saudis plan to redevelop the Shia-majority town of Awamiya

October 11, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Anuj Chopra | A picture taken on October 1, 2017, during a tour guided by Saudi authorities shows a troop vehicle in the Shiite-majority town of Awamiya in the eastern Qatif region of the Sunni-ruled kingdom, after a security campaign against gunmen in the town

AWAMIYA (SAUDI ARABIA) (AFP) – Posters of sumptuous villas and palm-fringed boulevards hang in the battle-scarred old quarter of Awamiya, symbols of a controversial Saudi plan to redevelop the Shia-majority town which triggered months of deadly clashes.

Saudi Arabia prides itself on stability in a wider Middle East torn apart by conflict and strife, but Awamiya — on the kingdom’s oil-rich east coast — has a longstanding reputation of resistance to Sunni rule.

The latest wave of violence erupted in the summer when authorities began tearing down the neighbourhood of Musawara, a walled area dating back to the Ottoman Empire, saying its labyrinthine streets and maze-like structures had become a breeding ground for “terrorists”.

The demolitions prompted militants who chafe under Saudi rule to clash with government forces, bringing death and destruction on a scale that evoked comparisons to a war zone.

The outer walls of buildings and mosques are constellations of bullet holes. Mangled carcasses of burned-out cars lay strewn across its once-vibrant streets. Broken roller shutters expose mouldering jars of jam and cookies in a scorched grocery store.

A government official who gave AFP a rare tour of Musawara drew a triangle in the sand with a twig to describe the fighting.

“Terrorists,” he said, pointing at the apex of the triangle and “government forces” at the base.

“In between, house, house, house,” he said, explaining how pitched battles between the opposing sides wrought destruction on the neighbourhood.

In August, the government announced the end of a three-month campaign to flush out gunmen from Musawara. Protest messages on walls bearing insults to the government were scrubbed.

“This is not a Shia-Sunni problem; this is a terrorist problem,” the official said, revealing a cell phone image of a bullet-ridden government bulldozer targeted by snipers in the neighbourhood.

“We target anyone who is dangerous for the country ?- Shia or Sunni.”

– ‘Tired, tired, tired’ –

Awamiya, a town of around 25,000 people, has seen bouts of unrest since 2011 when protesters emboldened by the Arab Spring uprisings called for an end to perceived discrimination of Shia minorities.

Saudi Arabia’s Shiite community makes up an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the country’s population of 32 million.

Awamiya was also home to Nimr al-Nimr, a fiery Shia cleric and government critic who was executed last year on terrorism charges, sparking widespread outrage and leading to renewed tensions with regional rival Iran.

“We hope Awamiya will be restored to its former glory,” said Mohammed Ali al-Shoyoukh, an elderly resident who recently returned to the area after the fighting subsided.

“Honestly, we are tired, tired, tired,” he told AFP in the presence of the government official.

The exact number of fatalities from the clashes is unclear.

Human Rights Watch reported in August that more than a dozen people were killed, including Saudis and foreigners, in addition to five armed militants.

The interior ministry told AFP that 28 members of the security forces were killed in the wider Qatif region, which includes Awamiya, since the outbreak of unrest in 2011.

– ‘Unique heritage’ –

The government, meanwhile, is pressing ahead with the multi-million-dollar plan to redevelop the area.

The town’s acting mayor Essam al-Mulla gave AFP a video presentation of his blueprint to transform the wasteland with glass-fronted villas, fountains and shopping malls, shaded by verdant palm fronds and bordered by manicured lawns.

The construction was supposed to start three months ago, but was delayed because of fighting.

“It will now take two years to complete,” he said.

The cost of the project is unclear but Mulla said the compensation package alone for 488 Musawara homes slated for demolition would cost around 800 million riyals ($213 million).

He brushed aside criticism from the United Nations that the destruction would erase the neighbourhood’s “unique regional heritage”, saying that efforts were in place to maintain ancient structures including traditional wells.

Despite the recent unrest, he said, a majority of residents supported the redevelopment as most homes were unsuitable for habitation.

– Uncertain future –

“Awamiya’s (residents) want government investment in their communities, but more than that they’re demanding an end to discrimination,” said Adam Coogle, a HRW researcher.

“Saudi Arabia’s violent approach to destroying the Musawara neighbourhood and the many allegations of harm to residents during the process are unlikely to reassure Saudi Shia that the state has their best interests in mind.”

But the government official dismissed that view, saying the latest unrest ended in part with the support of local residents, many of whom spied on militant hideouts, leading to a number of targeted killings and arrests.

“There are still some terrorists at large, but their number is small,” he said, pointing at a school inside Musawara that he claimed the militants occupied as a launchpad for sniper raids.

But government forces themselves face allegations of occupying a public school, firing into populated areas and shutting down clinics and pharmacies to deny militants a chance to seek medical treatment, according to activists cited by HRW.

An activist in Awamiya said a tenuous calm had settled over the area, with random episodes of “arrests and harassment” still rattling residents.

“The town has a heavy security presence and is still surrounded by concrete walls and checkpoints,” he said, adding that the blockade was having an impact on farming and fishing communities as well as local merchants.

“The situation has calmed down but the future looks uncertain.”

by Anuj Chopra

Swiss police arrest two Tunisians over Marseille attack: report

October 10, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A French police officer stands outside Saint-Charles train station in Marseille on October 1, 2017, after a man armed with a knife killed two people

GENEVA (AFP) – Swiss police have arrested two Tunisians suspected of links to the fatal stabbing of two young women in the French city of Marseille this month, Swiss media reported.The Tunisians, both asylum seekers, were arrested Sunday in Chiasso, near the Italian border, after an international warrant was issued for their arrests over suspected links to Ahmed Hanachi, who killed two women in Marseille on October 1, Swiss news agency ATS and several other media reported.

Federal police spokeswoman Cathy Maret confirmed to AFP that two asylum seekers had been arrested in Chiasso, in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino region, after receiving information that “they could represent a threat to Switzerland’s domestic security.”

Maret said they were arrested at the migrant registration centre in Chiasso.

But she did not confirm their nationalities nor that they were suspected of being linked to the Marseille attack. In addition she would not confirm whether an international arrest warrant had been issued.

“We are in the process of verifying their identities,” she said.

Swiss news agency ATS also scaled back its initial reporting, which had sourced the nationalities of those arrested and their suspected Marseille link to federal police, saying only that two people had been arrested on suspicions of “links to terrorists activities abroad.”

ATS meanwhile cited Italian media reports indicating that Swiss regional police had made the arrests based on information from Italian authorities.

And according to Swiss regional daily Ticinonews, the two men were Tunisians in their 30s who had arrived in Ticino a few days before they were detained.

The news comes as one of Hanachi’s brothers, Anis, was arrested Saturday night in Italy, after French authorities issued an international arrest warrant.

Another one of his brothers and a sister were detained in Tunisia late last week and have been questioned by anti-terror investigators there.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for Hanachi’s attack, but French investigators have not yet found evidence linking him to the jihadist organisation.

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