ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ‘seriously wounded in air strike’

The Guardian reports: The leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been seriously wounded in an air strike in western Iraq, sources have told the Guardian.

A source in Iraq with connections to the terror group revealed that Baghdadi suffered serious injuries during an attack by the US-led coalition in March. The source said Baghdadi’s wounds were at first life-threatening, but he has since made a slow recovery. He has not, however, resumed day-to-day control of the organisation.

Baghdadi’s wounding led to urgent meetings of Isis leaders, who initially believed he would die and made plans to name a new leader.

Two separate officials – a western diplomat and an Iraqi adviser – confirmed the strike took place on 18 March in the al-Baaj a district of Nineveh, close to the Syrian border. There had been two previous reports in November and December of Baghdadi being wounded, though neither was accurate. [Continue reading…]

The Daily Beast: While Pentagon officials said that a strike in that area indeed happened March 18, there was no evidence then or since that Baghdadi was killed. The strike was not aimed at a high-value target, defense officials said. “We have no reason to believe it was Baghdadi,” Army Col. Steven Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told The Daily Beast.

facebooktwittermail

African migrants deported from Israel among Christians killed in latest ISIS video

The Jerusalem Post: Three Eritrean asylum seekers who left Israel for a third country in the past year were among a group of Ethiopian Christians beheaded by ISIS in a video distributed by the terror group this week, an Israeli NGO said Tuesday.

According to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, one of the three men was identified by an Eritrean woman who works as a translator for the NGO and is a relative of the man, as well as by people who were jailed with him at the Holot detention facility in the south. Two other captives in the video were identified by people in Holot and the NGO, but not by family, the NGO added.

A detainee at Holot told the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the man was in Holot over the summer, where he was jailed after spending 7 years in Israel without asylum seeker status. He said that the man was then moved to Saharonim prison after he visited Tel Aviv one day from Holot and did not return by that night’s head count. It was from there that the man agreed to leave Israel for a third country, which the detainee at Holot said was Uganda.

facebooktwittermail

TV5 Monde take-down reveals key weakness of broadcasters in digital age

By Laurence Murphy, University of Salford

In what was one of the most severe outages of its kind, French national television broadcaster TV5 Monde was recently the target of a well-planned and staged cyberattack that took down its 11 television channels, website, and social media streams.

The hacker group responsible claimed to support the Islamic State, and proceeded to broadcast pro-IS material on the hijacked channels, while also exposing sensitive internal company information, and active military soldiers details.

It took TV5 three hours to regain control of its channels. The scale and completeness of the attack, and that it involved hijacking live television broadcast channels, has shocked the industry and prompted heated discussion on what steps might prevent or at least limit the likelihood of this reoccurring.

[Read more…]

facebooktwittermail

Egypt’s Morsi: jail sentence seals dramatic reversal of fortune

Reuters: Ousted president Mohamed Mursi once dreamed of creating an “Egyptian renaissance with an Islamic foundation”. That seemed more unreachable than ever on Tuesday after a judge sentenced him to 20 years in jail for violence, kidnapping and torture.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who ousted Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule, has repeatedly portrayed his Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group which poses an existential threat to Egypt.

That message was well received by many Egyptians whose desire for stability made them turn a blind eye to Sisi’s subsequent crackdown on Mursi, his supporters and other Brotherhood leaders. It was the toughest in Egypt’s history and about 800 protestors died.

facebooktwittermail

Mystery of the Iranian ‘armada’

Brian Whitaker writes: An Iranian “armada” is heading towards Yemen, according to a report last Friday. A couple of days later, the American aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt set sail from the Gulf, also heading in the direction of Yemen. Fox News is in no doubt about what this means; a headline on its website says “US aircraft carrier sent to block Iranian shipments to Yemen”. But let’s look a little closer.

What we know about the Iranian “armada” comes mainly from the American political website, The Hill. Citing two US defence officials, it says Iran is sending seven to nine ships, “some with weapons”, “toward Yemen” in a “potential attempt” to “re-supply” the Houthis.

Conceivably some of the vessels are warships, though the report doesn’t actually say so. It’s also unclear whether “some with weapons” means the ships are armed or carrying weapons as cargo. Considering the risks of piracy in the area, the former would not be surprising.

The ships’ destination “toward” Yemen rather than “to” Yemen also seems rather vague and talk of them possibly “re-supplying” the Houthis implies that Iran has been supplying them before – which is not established fact.

One curious feature of the “armada” affair, according to The Hill’s report, is that the Iranians seem to have made sure the US knew it was happening:

“What’s unusual about the new deployment … is that the Iranians are not trying to conceal it, officials said. Instead, they appear to be trying to ‘communicate it’ to the US and its allies in the Gulf.”

The Hill’s report also notes: “Iran sent a destroyer and another vessel to waters near Yemen last week but said it was part of a routine counter-piracy mission.”

Although the dispatch of USS Theodore Roosevelt looks like a response to the Iranian move, its purpose is also unclear – as is the ship’s precise destination. Reports say, rather vaguely, that it’s heading for the Arabian Sea. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

In the chaos of Libya the business of human trafficking has boomed

Ben Wedeman writes: We are at the beginning of a massive and mounting crisis with no solution in sight. Perhaps that’s incorrect. The migrant crisis that has suddenly drawn hundreds of journalists to Sicily has been brewing for years, but in the past 10 days, with as many as 1,600 deaths in the Mediterranean, suddenly minds are focused — for now.

Almost exactly four years ago, in Libya, I caught, perhaps, a glimpse of what was to come.

It was late at night in the besieged city of Misrata. Hundreds of African migrants were caught between the Libyan civil war (back then some optimistically called it a “revolution”) and the deep blue sea. They had come to Misrata from Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere, hoping to board rickety boats to cross the sea to Europe.

They had been pinned down under sporadic shelling from government forces, but weren’t welcome by the rebels who controlled the city. They appealed to us to help them escape.

We could do nothing, but they may have eventually found their way out when the fighting subsided.

The fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, which we reporters covered so avidly, was followed by chaos, which we in the news media largely neglected, focused as we journalists were on the next catastrophe, the Syrian civil war. In that chaos, the business of human trafficking has boomed.

And now that boom in human misery is coming in waves to the shores of Italy. The focus today is on those lost at sea. Aware of the tragedy underway, however, Italians are alarmed at the prospect that this year alone as many as a million migrants could arrive in Europe, according to one European Union official.

That is certainly the case in the Sicilian port of Catania, where many migrants arrive. The city’s mayor, Enzo Bianco, insists city residents bear no ill will toward the migrants, but says Catania, and Sicily cannot absorb the ever-growing numbers. The rest of Europe must help carry the burden. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

The children risking their lives to reach Europe

Gemma Parkin at Save the Children writes: In 2014, half of the children who arrived in Italy were unaccompanied, but this year the proportion has increased to over two-thirds (68%).

These children are fleeing conflict, extreme poverty and persecution in some of the world’s most bloody conflicts, failed states and repressive regimes including Syria, Somalia and Eritrea. They are not criminals, but victims of some of the modern world’s most major crises.

Many of those children I’ve spoken to were tricked by traffickers and promised jobs as hairdressers, shop assistants and babysitters. Their families were persuaded to pay thousands of pounds to allow them to head to Europe. But once in the hands of traffickers and far from home, they had no rights and no protection.

Libya has for many years been the point of departure for thousands of people fleeing Africa and the Middle East, but the deteriorating situation in the country has allowed human trafficking to flourish. The lack of police, governance or state control in anarchic Libya means traffickers operate with impunity. Combined with recent good weather, the number of people launching off the country’s northern coast has rocketed in recent months.

On the journey across Libya, children face dehydration and malnutrition, kidnapping, detention and extortion, torture, child slavery, trafficking and sexual abuse. Here in Sicily, the Save the Children team met 17-year-old Brahane from Eritrea. He described being forced to board a pick-up truck of 30 people to cross the Sahara desert into Libya. He reported seeing ruthless traffickers spraying migrants with petrol and setting them on fire for “stepping out of line”. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Mediterranean capsized migrants’ boat’s captain charged

BBC News reports: The Tunisian captain of a boat that capsized off Libya on Sunday, killing hundreds of migrants, has been charged with reckless multiple homicide, Italian officials say.

He has also been charged along with a Syrian member of the crew with favouring illegal immigration.

The two were among 27 survivors who arrived in Sicily late on Monday.

A UNHCR spokeswoman has told the BBC the migrants’ boat capsized after merchant vessels came too close to it.

Carlotta Sami of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy was at the Sicilian port of Catania to meet the survivors. Some 800 people are thought to have died in the disaster, she said.

There were nationals of Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Senegal on board, kept in three different layers in the boat. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Italy cracks down on human trafficking

The Daily Beast reports: Mered Medhanie and Ermias Ghermay are businessmen who apparently take pride in their work. Too bad their jobs are heading up two of the most lucrative and deadly human trafficking rings to ever operate in the waters between Libya and Sicily.

They are now Italy’s most wanted men and prosecutors in Palermo are vowing to find them.

On Monday, police in Palermo said overnight Sunday they issued arrest warrants for 24 men, including Medhanie and Ghermay, and were able to pick up 14 of them in Rome, Milan, Bari, and in refugee camps in Sicily.

In a separate investigation based in Catania, Sicily, authorities there have asked for three Egyptian men to be extradited to Italy to face trafficking charges. Among the arrested and wanted were recruitment specialists who infiltrated large refugee camps looking for new clients who either wished to travel further into Europe or who might have family back in Africa who want to come over, too.

Police had pinpointed the 24 men more than a year ago and have been intercepting their telephone conversations, following their moves and studying the trafficking business ever since. Italy has arrested 976 men involved with trafficking in the last year. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has promised to bring them to justice. This week, he called on European countries to make fighting trafficking a priority, likening it to a “modern slave trade in which people are bought and sold like merchandise.” [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Italy ran an operation that saved thousands of migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean. Why did it stop?

The Washington Post reports: Back in October 2013, more than 300 migrants died near the Italian island of Lampedusa. These men and women had been trying to make the journey across the Mediterranean from Libya to what they saw as a land of opportunity, Europe. Instead, their boat sank and they drowned. The Italian coast guard was only able to save 150 or so passengers on a boat that was carrying around 500.

The Italian public was shocked. Migrants had died in the Mediterranean before, but this was exceptional. Shortly afterwards, the Italian government swung into action and set up Mare Nostrum, a vast search-and-rescue operation aimed at preventing the deaths of the thousands of migrants who make the journey from Africa to Europe every year.

Mare Nostrum – which means “Our Sea” in Latin, the name for the Mediterranean in the Roman era – was a success. With a considerable budget of $12 million a month, it was estimated to have saved more than 130,000 people. It was not only a rescue operation. Italy, a country once known for hard attitudes to migrants, offered medical treatment, shelter and food. Migrants were even offered legal aid that could have helped them gain asylum.

It didn’t last. By October 2014, Mare Nostrum was being wound down. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Nick Turse: AFRICOM behaving badly

There were those secret service agents sent to Colombia to protect the president on a summit trip and the prostitutes they brought back to their hotel rooms. There was the Air Force general on a major bender in Moscow (with more women involved). There were those Drug Enforcement Administration agents and their “sex parties” abroad (possibly in Colombia again) financed by — no kidding! — local drug cartels. And there were, of course, the two senior secret service agents who, after a night of drinking, ran their car into a White House security barrier.

That’s what we do know from the headlines and news reports, when it comes to sex, drugs, and acting truly badly abroad (as well as at home). And yet there’s so much more, as TomDispatch’s intrepid Nick Turse reports today. As you’ll see, Turse has unearthed a continent’s worth of bad behavior, even as U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) went out of its way to obstruct his reporting and the documents he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act were so heavily redacted that ink companies must be making a fortune.  No one should, of course, be surprised that as AFRICOM has quietly and with almost no attention pivoted to Africa, making inroads in 49 of the 54 countries on that continent, a certain kind of all-American behavior has “pivoted” with it. In a revelatory piece today, Turse — whose groundbreaking new book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, has just been published — pulls the curtain back on one bit of scandalous and disturbing behavior after another on a continent that Washington is in the process of making its own; in other words (given the pattern of the last 13 years), that it’s helping to destabilize in a major way.

If you want a little bit of light comedy to leaven the news, only a few weeks ago, AFRICOM hosted military lawyers from 17 African nations at its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. The subject of the gathering: “the rule of law.” As Lieutenant General Steven Hummer, AFRICOM deputy to the commander of military operations, said in his opening remarks, “The rule of law is our most important export.” Turse has a slightly different interpretation of what the U.S. is “exporting” to Africa along with destabilization and blowback. Tom Engelhardt

Sex, drugs, and dead soldiers
What U.S. Africa command doesn’t want you to know
By Nick Turse

Six people lay lifeless in the filthy brown water.

It was 5:09 a.m. when their Toyota Land Cruiser plunged off a bridge in the West African country of Mali.  For about two seconds, the SUV sailed through the air, pirouetting 180 degrees as it plunged 70 feet, crashing into the Niger River.

[Read more…]

facebooktwittermail

Mohammad Javad Zarif: A message from Iran

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, writes: We made important progress in Switzerland earlier this month. With the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, we agreed on parameters to remove any doubt about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program and to lift international sanctions against Iran.

But to seal the anticipated nuclear deal, more political will is required. The Iranian people have shown their resolve by choosing to engage with dignity. It is time for the United States and its Western allies to make the choice between cooperation and confrontation, between negotiations and grandstanding, and between agreement and coercion.

With courageous leadership and the audacity to make the right decisions, we can and should put this manufactured crisis to rest and move on to much more important work. The wider Persian Gulf region is in turmoil. It is not a question of governments rising and falling: the social, cultural and religious fabrics of entire countries are being torn to shreds. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Iran and Australia pledge cooperation on fighting ISIS

Reuters: Australia and Iran have reached a tentative intelligence sharing agreement to combat Islamic State militants fighting in the Middle East, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Monday.

Australia has sent hundreds of soldiers to Iraq to help train forces fighting the Islamic State group, heightening concerns about reprisal attacks at home.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop this week became the first top diplomat from Australia to visit Iran in a decade. She said the two countries had a common purpose in defeating Islamic State extremists.

facebooktwittermail

Stranded Americans in Yemen get little help from their government

CNN reports: “My son served in the army for four years. In Iraq. He served because we love our country. As we should. Now look at us?”

Muna Mansour is gesturing around her at the slatted cargo hold she and her family — all nine of them — are trying to get comfortable in. They’re squeezed in with two other families. On the ground by my feet, Muna’s middle grandchild is sleeping, curled up beside an oil drum.

“There’s nowhere to sleep, there’s no food — you can see how people are just thrown around all over the place,” she says.

Muna is from Buffalo in upstate New York. Her family is among the dozens of Americans caught in the crossfire of warring parties in Yemen. And although many other countries evacuated their citizens, India most notably ferrying out around 5,000, the United States has said it is too dangerous for them to directly evacuate American nationals.

“I was there when the Indians picked up 200 of their people from the port. It was embarrassing. We were just sitting there waiting for someone to come and say ‘OK where are the Americans, let’s pick them up,'” she says. [Continue reading…]

McClatchy reports: The Obama administration so far has declined to organize a rescue mission for the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 U.S. citizens in Yemen. U.S. officials have said they believe it is too dangerous for U.S. military assets to enter Yemeni waters and air space. They’ve also suggested that organizing Americans to meet at a single departure point would put them at risk of attack from al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula or other terrorist groups seeking American hostages.

That, however, has left Americans largely on their own to find a way out of the country. The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa has been closed for months, and the last American troops in the country were evacuated last month, a few days before the Saudi bombing campaign began.

In a message posted on its website, the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa advises that an Indian naval vessel will be leaving Hodeidah for Djibouti and that it had been informed that Americans would be welcomed. But the embassy also noted that “unfortunately, we don’t have information on who to contact to board this ship.” [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

The story of the first and only CIA contractor convicted of torture

The New York Times reports: Agonizing over torture as an antiterrorism tactic — how to define it and how to punish abusers, if at all — has been central to national security debates since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The issue has received renewed attention in recent months with the release of a Senate committee report describing techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency against terrorism suspects, practices found by senators to have been high in brutality and low in effectiveness.

A few pivotal questions about war’s excesses come together in the decade-old case of one man, who now has the attention of Retro Report, a series of video documentaries that examine major news stories of the past and their impact today. This man, David A. Passaro, is a former Army Ranger who in 2003 went to work for the C.I.A. in Afghanistan as an independent contractor. His brief tour in that country turned out wretchedly. He ended up being sentenced to more than six years in federal prison for beating an Afghan prisoner who then died at an American military base near the border with Pakistan.

Despite evidence that abuses like those chronicled in the Senate report were far from isolated, Mr. Passaro’s situation was singular. A few dozen members of the military were court-martialed for misconduct like the well-documented humiliations inflicted at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But Mr. Passaro is believed to be the only C.I.A.-connected civilian ever prosecuted for going too far. So rare was his case that, to bring him to trial in this country for actions committed overseas, the Justice Department took the highly unusual step of invoking the Patriot Act, the post-9/11 statute intended principally to thwart would-be terrorists. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Activists skeptical about Clinton’s willingness to tackle climate change

The Guardian reports: After years of watching climate change fail to emerge as a central issue in US presidential elections, environmental activists are warily eyeing a coded message from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair that this might finally become the cycle when the future of the planet gets top billing.

The advocates are not just wondering about voters and their priorities, which a new wave of billionaire backers insist are at a “crossroads”. They are worried about the candidate herself.

Interviews with environmentalists, pollsters, donors and Democratic strategists reveal a deep vein of doubt over Clinton’s political will in committing to the environment, mixed with an eagerness to hear much, much more about specific policies. At the very least, they are waiting to hear her say the words “climate change” on the campaign trail, which alone might be an advantage over Republicans who would reject science in the White House.

Green activists say they are watching whether Clinton moves beyond talking vaguely about the climate – politically safe terrain for any Democratic candidate – to backing strategies that could make a difference but incur a political price, such as imposing new caps on carbon emissions or opposing the Keystone oil pipeline to run from the Canada tar sands to the Gulf Coast.

Bill McKibben, the environmentalist, author and founder of 350.org, said that in her decades in public life, Clinton had not established a strong record on climate issues. He cited her failure to lead the US to a deal at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change conference, and other episodes that have left the former secretary of state not at the forefront of the debate so much as playing catch-up. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

The structure of ISIS: How Haji Bakr created an Islamic intelligence state

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi aka Haji Bakr

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi aka Haji Bakr

Christoph Reuter reports on the documents revealing Haji Bakr’s blueprint for ISIS: What Bakr put on paper, page by page, with carefully outlined boxes for individual responsibilities, was nothing less than a blueprint for a takeover. It was not a manifesto of faith, but a technically precise plan for an “Islamic Intelligence State” — a caliphate run by an organization that resembled East Germany’s notorious Stasi domestic intelligence agency.

This blueprint was implemented with astonishing accuracy in the ensuing months. The plan would always begin with the same detail: The group recruited followers under the pretense of opening a Dawah office, an Islamic missionary center. Of those who came to listen to lectures and attend courses on Islamic life, one or two men were selected and instructed to spy on their village and obtain a wide range of information. To that end, Haji Bakr compiled lists such as the following:

  • List the powerful families.
  • Name the powerful individuals in these families.
  • Find out their sources of income.
  • Name names and the sizes of (rebel) brigades in the village.
  • Find out the names of their leaders, who controls the brigades and their political orientation.
  • Find out their illegal activities (according to Sharia law), which could be used to blackmail them if necessary

The spies were told to note such details as whether someone was a criminal or a homosexual, or was involved in a secret affair, so as to have ammunition for blackmailing later. “We will appoint the smartest ones as Sharia sheiks,” Bakr had noted. “We will train them for a while and then dispatch them.” As a postscript, he had added that several “brothers” would be selected in each town to marry the daughters of the most influential families, in order to “ensure penetration of these families without their knowledge.”

The spies were to find out as much as possible about the target towns: Who lived there, who was in charge, which families were religious, which Islamic school of religious jurisprudence they belonged to, how many mosques there were, who the imam was, how many wives and children he had and how old they were. Other details included what the imam’s sermons were like, whether he was more open to the Sufi, or mystical variant of Islam, whether he sided with the opposition or the regime, and what his position was on jihad. Bakr also wanted answers to questions like: Does the imam earn a salary? If so, who pays it? Who appoints him? Finally: How many people in the village are champions of democracy?

The agents were supposed to function as seismic signal waves, sent out to track down the tiniest cracks, as well as age-old faults within the deep layers of society — in short, any information that could be used to divide and subjugate the local population. The informants included former intelligence spies, but also regime opponents who had quarreled with one of the rebel groups. Some were also young men and adolescents who needed money or found the work exciting. Most of the men on Bakr’s list of informants, such as those from Tal Rifaat, were in their early twenties, but some were as young as 16 or 17.

The plans also include areas like finance, schools, daycare, the media and transportation. But there is a constantly recurring, core theme, which is meticulously addressed in organizational charts and lists of responsibilities and reporting requirements: surveillance, espionage, murder and kidnapping. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Thousands of Iraqis flee as ISIS makes gains in Sunni heartland

The Washington Post reports: Thousands of families fleeing Iraq’s western city of Ramadi choked checkpoints leading to Baghdad on Friday, after an Islamic State advance spread panic and left security forces clinging to control.

A column of traffic several vehicles wide snaked for miles at a checkpoint in Sadr al-Yusufiyah, on the edge of Baghdad province, as minibuses, cars and trucks picked up families who crossed by foot carrying their possessions in bags and wheelbarrows. Suhaib al-Rawi, the governor of Anbar province, of which Ramadi is the capital, described it as a human disaster on a scale the city has never witnessed.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned that the city is at risk of falling to the Islamic State despite seven months of airstrikes by U.S. planes in Anbar. Such a loss would be a serious blow to Iraq’s government, which recently announced a military campaign for the province after retaking the militant stronghold of Tikrit, and to the international effort to push back the militant group, whose gains in Ramadi have demonstrated an ability to create chaos even while under pressure. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: More than 90,000 people have fled their homes in Iraq’s western province of Anbar where Islamic State militants have been gaining ground over the past week, the United Nations said on Sunday.

facebooktwittermail