Archive for the ‘HSToday’ Category

A short piece for HSToday looking at the decision in the UK to list TTP – still unclear to me why they did it now, except that US also announced it was going to add Qari Hussain to their list of targeted individuals. Any ideas or thoughts on why always welcome.

Britain Goes After Tehrik E Taliban Pakistan

By: Raff Pantucci

01/25/11
On January 19, 2011, Britain joined Pakistan and the US in putting the Pakistani-based Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on the list of terrorist organizations.
UK Immigration Minister Damien Green said the decision means “the proscribed organization is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. Proscription means that it is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, or invite support for, a proscribed organization. It is also a criminal offence to arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organization or to wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of the proscribed organization.”

In essence, proscription means it is now easier for British prosecutorial services to go after individuals and groups providing support for TTP from the UK.

It was not immediately clear why the government moved now to officially proscribe TTP as a terrorist organization, and questions were repeatedly raised in the House about the timing of the decision. Green refused to answer these questions, highlighting the sensitive nature of the intelligence connected to the government’s decision-making process.

In discussing the proscription, ministers’ repeatedly emphasized that the terrorist group’s murderous record in Pakistan, along with the fact that it was connected to Faisal Shahzad’s aborted attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, the organization clearly has shown a capacity to go global. Furthermore, it has directly threatened British aid workers in Pakistan, which poses a direct threat to British interests.

But proscription powers can also present problems. Last year, the government made the controversial move of banning the group Al Muhajiroun and a network of connected organizations.  Unlike TTP, Al Muhajiroun was loudly active in the UK in organizing protests, websites and other activities protesting government policy at home and abroad. Its leader in the UK, Anjem Choudhry, was quite open in talking about the ease with which one can sidestep the proscription orders.

“Unless the government can prove that you are ostensibly exactly the same organisation, doing the same things at the same time, it’s very difficult to clamp down,” Choudhry stated.

Security officials said at the time that there were mechanisms to prevent this sort of activity from taking place, but others stressed that it is a waste of security officials’ time in chasing such low level loudmouths.

As the minister put it: “proscribing the TTP will enable the police to carry out disruptive action more effectively against any supporters in the UK.”

However, it remains unclear how large these sorts of support networks are in Britain. It seems clear that there are support networks in the UK that are providing funding and support for Lashkar-e-Toiba and other networks primarily seen as fomenting jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, but it is unclear the degree to which a group like TTP, which seems to operate with brutal ruthlessness within Pakistan, is equally effective in the UK.

But with the decision to proscribe, it seems clear the UK is operating on the assumption that some level of activity is taking place, or at least that the potential exists for such networks to operate. It remains to be seen, though, just how soon the Crown Prosecution Service lines up a case to pursue the organization for such activity.

 

A new article in this month’s HSToday magazine, which you can buy on the newstands if you are in the US, or can see here free online. If I get the whole text later, I will post it here, but it is easily accessible through the link, so do try. It provides an overview of what happened last year in terrorism in Europe and looks forwards to what the next year holds. Thanks to Guido, Peter, Brynjar, John, Lorenzo and others for informing my research for it.

UPDATE, I see they have now placed the text all directly onto the website as well. It is thus cut and pasted below:

Europe’s Hard Choices

It’s a question of money versus safety as European authorities try to cope with new conditions

By: Raffaello Pantucci

01/24/2011 (12:00am)

 

The threat is fragmenting and budgets are shrinking.

These are the key messages to emerge from discussions with counterterrorism experts across Europe as they review the year’s threat and look forward to assess what the future holds in Islamist terrorism terms. It’s a combination that highlights the significance of MI5 Director General Jonathan Evans’ warning in 2007: “Every decision to investigate someone entails a decision not to investigate someone else.”

Up until the parcel bomb plot emanating from Yemen was discovered at Britain’s East Midlands Airport in late October, it seemed as though the choices made were all the correct ones. And even there, the discovery of the plot was in part due to the attentive efforts of British spooks monitoring the airwaves and overhearing messages passing between Al Qaeda in Pakistan and their Yemeni affiliate Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The plot itself surfaced at a moment when Europe was in a heightened state of alert following a spike in media attention about a wave of Mumbai-style attacks on European cities. The alleged plot seemed to be focused around a group of cells with links to Pakistan’s badlands that were all apparently being tasked with operations that emulated the successful Mumbai attack in November 2008 undertaken by Al Qaeda synonym Lashkar E Taiba.

The possibility of Al Qaeda networks undertaking a Mumbaistyle attack was something that had worried terrorism analysts for some time. In an interview with Homeland Security Today, Brynjar Lia of the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, a Norwegian military-linked think tank, highlighted an article published on an extremist website, “Pulpit of Monotheism and Jihad,” in Arabic by influential Al Qaeda theorist Abu Saad al Ameli titled “The Gains of The Battle Of Mumbai” (http://www.tawhed.ws). Written in the months after the Mumbai attacks, the article pointed out the success of the operation and suggested that they should be emulated in the future. For Lia, this alleged plot and the parcel bomb plot were all “quite rational when we consider the growth of these groups. This is an incremental shift in their modus operandi. They are trying to find ways around the security measures.”

Lia was also quick to point out that, while this threat clearly alarmed security officials across the continent, it remained unclear how advanced it really was. While he did not deny that the threat was likely real, it is not certain that a Mumbai-style plot was what was actually being planned in this case.

One former British Security source interviewed by Homeland Security Today who requested anonymity, pointed out that it was likely the information was put into the public domain since security services may have been concerned they did not have complete coverage of the plot. As is the case with plots that are disrupted before they can reach conclusion, it is never certain what exactly the plotters were up to, a situation emphasized here, where an unknown number of the supposed plotters were killed during unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes in Pakistan.

The German angle

Much of the information available about the possible Mumbai-style plot appears to have come from confessions supplied by Ahmed Sidiqui, an Afghan-German national who was captured by American forces in Kabul in July 2010. Sidiqui is alleged to have supplied a wealth of information about his fellow plotters in Pakistan, including the fact that he had met Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri, Younis Al Mauretani and Mohammed Al Quso, senior Al Qaeda figures who apparently mentioned to him that they had units already deployed in Europe preparing for a Mumbai-style attack. Further information was also received from an anonymous German extremist who was reportedly providing authorities with information in an attempt to barter his safe return home.

This information, alongside intercepts collected by British monitoring services and doubtless other sources, was behind a spike in UAV strikes in September 2010 apparently in an effort to disrupt the plot. However, aside from the confessions supplied by Sidiqui and intercepts, the only tangible proof that cells were armed and ready to strike European cities came when French police busted a set of cells in Avignon and Marseille with links to networks sending fighters to Afghanistan. Those arrested had an AK-47 and a pump action shotgun in their possession. All sources for this article suggested that others may still be out there, and security forces in France, Germany and the United Kingdom made numerous public displays of strength through the deployment of heavily armed police in public places.

While the weapons were found in France, the biggest component of the plot, according to Guido Steinberg of the German think-tank Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, was actually in Germany. Steinberg, a former counterterrorism official in the German chancellor’s office, has been watching the threat in Germany with growing alarm. From being a small feature of the jihadist scene linking Europe to the badlands in Pakistan, Germany has now become one of the major loci of European terrorism. According to Steinberg, “There is now a Turkish and Germanspeaking infrastructure in place,” something that was absent “before 2006,” making it easier for young Germans to go and fight.

But as the dates suggest, this is not an entirely new phenomenon, and German fighters have been a feature of the jihadist threat spectrum for a few years. However, what surprised Steinberg was the dedication of the young fighters.

“I used to think that they would not want to go somewhere where they were likely to be killed,” he toldHomeland Security Today, something that would have become ever clearer as stories emerged of German citizens dying on the battlefield. Most prominently, in May 2010, a few days after his death on the battlefield, as reported on extremist websites, the diary of Eric Brenninger was published online. A long and rambling tract, the memoirs provided the clearest publicly available insight yet into the minds of the community of young Germans serving alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Starting by describing his life as a dissolute young man in Germany, Brenninger’s memoirs tracked his embrace of Islam in 2007 and his decision four months later to go and join the fighters in Afghanistan.

As he put it, “I knew my duty. I wanted to join the jihad. … We followed the events which were unfolding in the regions of jihad and watched films of mujahedin battling the crusaders. Hate of the kuffar [unbeliever] grew in me.” It is hard to provide a precise figure on the number of angry young men in Germany, but according to official figures, there are some 30 returned fighters who are on a list of some 200 “dangerous persons” at liberty in Germany. There is a second list of some 1,000-plus individuals who are on the radars of the security services, but according to Steinberg, “They don’t know who is really dangerous.” Some of these people, like Brenninger, are clearly little more than cannon fodder, but their motivation and capacity for free movement in the West means they pose a potential threat.

But, according to Lorenzo Vidino, a visiting fellow at the Rand Corporation and a US-based Italian terrorism analyst and most recently author of The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West, while it is the growth in the threat from Germany that has been one of the most interesting features of recent times, 2010 was most clearly marked out by a noticeable up-tick in the threat in France.

The French connection

In September, in providing an explanation for a beefing up of security measures at tourist sites, French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux declared, “This is a real threat, and this threat today is at an undoubtedly high level which calls for reinforced vigilance.”

It was subsequently revealed that his services had received a series of quite specific warnings from their Algerian counterparts about the threat from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Then, in October, he took to the airwaves once again to talk about a “new message, from the Saudi services, indicating to us that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was certainly active, or expecting to be active, in Europe, especially France.” Statements from heads of French intelligence services repeated much the same message as these worrying calls, while AQIM kidnapped groups of French nationals in North Africa.

The threat in France, according to Vidino, is three-pronged. “They are worried about the threat out of Yemen, AQIM and Pakistan. The rhetoric and operational threat from AQIM is something that has been constant, but the others are relatively new.” One reason for this up-tick in particularly French targeting was suggested in a message to emerge on the forums in October in which Osama Bin Laden threatened France, warning, “If you deemed it right to ban women from wearing the hijab, then should it not be our right to expel your invading men by striking their necks?”

But while this seemed to be in direct support of AQIM attempts in North Africa, in late 2010 it seemed as though on the French mainland it was networks of returnees from the Afghan-Pakistan battlefields that were of greatest concern to the French authorities.

Following an unspecified intelligence tip-off, French authorities alerted their Italian counterparts of the arrival in September of Ryad Hannouni, a young man of Franco-Algerian origin who was involved in a network sending fighters to South Asia. His arrest in Naples led a month later to a further series of arrests in France that appeared in part to be linked to the Mumbai-style attack threat menacing Europe.

Then, in early November, a group of four men and one woman was arrested in Paris as part of a “conspiracy to prepare a terror attack.” At least one of them was prepared “to die in their fanatical attack,” and one had recently been to Afghanistan: Two of the men were intercepted at the Paris airport returning on a flight from Egypt.

There are apparently 25 individuals of grave concern to French authorities who have trained in Afghanistan and may be on their way home.

Britain’s reprieve

For the United Kingdom, on the other hand, it would seem as though the threat has entered a relatively calm period—at least on the surface. The new British coalition entered into government with great expectations of shifts in counterterrorism policy, but has instead opted to change very little. Most notably, the controversial “control order” regime remains in place – by which individuals are kept under strict conditions of house arrest when they are of great concern to the security services, but cannot be convicted of any crime – and the government has not yet made any great changes to the much maligned “Prevent” strategy. Late in the year, the government announced an overhaul of Prevent, but as with the control order regime, it was unclear that the government had managed to clarify its position, clearly now seeing the issue in the same light as the previous government, which had been unable to find a solution.

British spooks continue to be concerned by the same array of threats as before, but things have now slightly shifted. In September 2010, MI5 head Evans declared, “The percentage of the priority plots and leads we see in the UK linked to Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Al Qaeda senior leadership is still based, has dropped from around 75 percent two or three years ago to around 50 percent now. This does not mean that the overall threat has reduced, but that it has diversified. The reduction in cases linked to the tribal areas of Pakistan is partly attributable to the pressure exerted on the Al Qaeda leadership there.”

Information published by the Associated Press suggested that Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the US National Security Agency, estimated there were some 20 Britishborn militants in the North Waziristan district, with phone calls being traced between the region and the Midlands, home to many of Britain’s South Asian minorities. According to Pakistani intelligence, the British end of the previously mentioned Mumbai-style attack apparently centered around a pair of British-Pakistani brothers, either from east London or the Midlands.

But as Evans’ speech suggested, the growing threat for the United Kingdom is seen from the other fields of jihad: specifically, Somalia and Yemen. Neither of these threats are new, but, according to Evans, “There are a significant number of UK residents training in Al Shabaab camps to fight in the insurgency there,” and his service has also “seen a surge in Yemen related casework.”

There is a long history of young Britons going to both locations – and in the past, this has resulted in terror plots both at home and abroad. In late 1998, a group of young British Muslims linked to Abu Hamza Al Masri, an Egyptian militant now in British prison, was arrested in Yemen as part of an alleged bomb plot and a series of kidnappings that resulted in the deaths of foreign tourists. In May 2005, shortly before the London bombings, a group of young men who were part of the network of extremists that attempted the July 21, 2005, copycat bombings of London’s public transport system, traveled to Somalia as part of an unlikely pilgrimage to a war zone. Furthermore, two of the subsequent 21/7 bombers were of Somali origin, while the support network was made up of a number of individuals from Britain’s Somali community.

Denmark and Scandinavia

This network aside, the closest a Somali network has gotten to striking in Europe was the attempted murder of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard on Jan. 1, 2010, by Mohammed Gelle, a young Somali-Dane who was previously linked to Shabaab networks in Kenya. Gelle’s frenzied assault on Westergaard’s house with an ax was in revenge for the cartoonist’s contributions to the infamous Danish cartoons that have made Denmark one of the many European targets for Islamists.

Westergaard survived the attempt, and in its wake Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mahmud Raage said, “We appreciate the incident in which a Muslim Somali boy attacked the devil who abused our prophet.” However, in what appeared to be an admission of Gelle’s links, he went on to say, “There could be some people who might say that boy was related to Shabaab.”

According to sources in Denmark, it seems as though security services had attempted to recruit Gelle in the wake of his arrest and release in Kenya as part of an alleged network targeting US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s visit to that country. Having helped him get home, it seems the security services lost control of the young man and were simply too overloaded to maintain full surveillance. In late 2009, Danes were shocked to discover that another Somali-Dane, likely an acquaintance of Gelle, was behind a suicide bombing in Mogadishu.

Nevertheless, according to Norwegian expert Brynjar Lia, the problem is seen “as something far away and complicated” and in a place “where there has always been war.” Most cases linked to Shabaab in Scandinavia are related to fundraising, meaning they remain “far away and irrelevant” in the public mind. Similarly, until the parcel bomb attempt emanating from Yemen, the threat had seemingly stayed away from Britain’s shores. In March, British police arrested Bangladeshi-Briton Rajib Karim for plotting in the United Kingdom, fundraising and providing information to networks abroad – allegedly AQAP. The case is currently rumbling through the courts and in initial statements police claimed he was planning suicide bombings in the United Kingdom.

Still aiming for America

Karim was arrested before he could do much, and even the device found in a printer cartridge at East Midlands Airport was most likely aiming for the United States. In a terse announcement released Nov. 10, 2010, Scotland Yard said, “Forensic examination has indicated that if the device had activated it would have been at 10:30 British Standard Time on Friday, 29 October 2010. If the device had not been removed from the aircraft the activation could have occurred over the eastern seaboard of the US.”

The threat, it seems, remains primarily targeted to the United States, confirming a report, the Europol EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2010 (www.europol.europa.eu/publications/EU_Terrorism_ Situation_and_Trend_Report_TE-SAT/TESAT2010.pdf), published by Europol earlier in the year, that said, in surveying the Islamist threat in Europe, “The [European Union] can be used as a platform for launching attacks on the United States.”

Published in April 2010, the same report also highlighted that, while “Islamist terrorism is still perceived as the biggest threat to most member states,” it is in fact other terrorist groups that are more active in conducting operations. In 2009, Europol tracked only one effective Islamist-inspired attack in Europe (a lone bomber attempting an attack on an army barracks in Milan, Italy), while there were 237 “separatist” attacks, 40 by left-wing groups and an additional 124 in Northern Ireland. This last number is the one that is of increasing concern to British security services, which have watched in the past few years as violence in the province has quietly grown into a “low level drumbeat of attacks with beatings, petrol bombs, shootings of Catholic police officers and more.”

According to John Bew of the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College, the groups are “trying something every day” and have a desire to strike in London, “absolutely no question.” The fact they have not is likely a reflection of the deep penetration by the security services, though the increasing violence is something that has taken everyone by surprise. As MI5 Director Jonathan Evans put it, “We have seen a persistent rise in terrorist activity and ambition in Northern Ireland over the last three years.”

Analysis

This is unlikely a harbinger of violence on the scale seen previously, but the increasing attention these networks will command is going to distract already stretched resources to the limit.

In July, John Yates, the head of British counterterrorism police, announced that the levels of cuts the police were facing was going to “raise the terror risk,” though he was quickly condemned by government officials, who told him to avoid shroud-waving and raising public alarm.

In fact, individuals interviewed by Homeland Security Today in both Germany and the United Kingdom have told of stories of counterterror units being oversupplied and officers with nothing to do being reassigned to other tasks. But it is almost impossible to know what this actually means: Is there a lack of intelligence or genuinely no threat? Vidino, the Italian counterterrorism expert at the Rand Corp., recounts the situation in Italy where forces have noticed stagnation in the domestic threat, and parallel budgetary pressures to focus on the threat of organized crime.

The biggest danger, in fact, probably lies in the known unknowns in the shape of lone wolves. For Peter Clarke, the former head of Counter-Terrorism Command in the United Kingdom, the most interesting case in 2010 was the attempted assassination by Roshonara Choudhry of UK Member of Parliament (MP) Stephen Timms. Using the Internet to identify Timms as an MP who had “strongly supported” the invasion of Iraq and radicalized by videos she found on YouTube of Abdullah Azzam and Anwar Al Awlaki, Choudhry stopped attending her university course, bought some knives, cleared her debts and made an appointment to see Timms. Arriving at Timms’ constituency surgery (an allocated period of time when MPs make themselves available to people living in their areas) on the afternoon of May 14, Choudhry patiently waited her turn before stabbing him repeatedly when he came to greet her. Claiming that she hoped to become martyred in the course of her operation, Choudhry did little to resist detention and openly confessed her actions to police.

What worries Clarke about this attack is both its random nature and the fact that it marks the first time a non-military individual has been targeted in such a fashion by Islamists in the United Kingdom. There have been hints of these sorts of attacks in previous investigations, but this is the first time a lone jihadist attempted to carry out an action. Given the tendency for copycats to follow, this may mark a new threshold in the threat in the United Kingdom, a nation that has already repeatedly faced the threat of lone wolf terrorists. None, however, was as coherent as Choudhry, who, while clearly warped, did not seem as mentally deranged as some of the others.

And where the United Kingdom leads, the rest of Europe and North America has tended to follow. The United States has already faced the menace of American citizens stirred on by Anwar Al Awlaki into carrying out action in the homeland, and the past two years have been marred by a series of terrorist plots with links emanating from Al Qaeda groups passing through Europe targeting the United States. With the budget cuts faced in Europe also likely to be reflected in the United States, it remains to be seen when the threat level will finally lower. HST

 

A new piece for HSToday.us, this was originally meant for the magazine, but instead went up on the website. A very quick response to the Stockholm attempt. More on this as information comes to light.

Stockholm Bomber: Sign of a New Syndrome?

by Raff Pantucci

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Suicide bombing attempt raises perplexing questions

News has been coming out of Stockholm of an attempted suicide bombing by Iraqi-born Swede Taimour al-Abdaly. At this early stage in the investigation it is dangerous to draw any absolute conclusions, but it does seem possible to draw some preliminary thoughts on the attack and its repercussions.

First, Taimour appears to have been a lone attacker. It may later emerge that he had contact with other people, but it appears as though the intention was to conduct a solo operation. Whether this was intended to be a suicide attack seems unclear. The relatively clumsy nature of the operation confuses this picture: a car bomb for the most part fizzled out destroying only the car, while the pipe bombs Taimour himself was carrying blew up prematurely killing only himself.

A second conclusion that seems possible to draw is that Taimour’s radicalization took place, at least in part, in the UK and specifically a suburb of London called Luton. According to various sources, Taimour received a BSc in sports sciences from the local University of Bedfordshire. A friend quoted in the British Telegraph newspaper said, “there is no doubt that Taimour changed when he went to Britain…when he came back he had grown a beard and he was very serious. He talked about Afghanistan and religion and did not want to hang out with his friends.”

More famous for the nearby low budget airport which is a major employer for the city, Luton has latterly achieved a sort of notoriety as a center of radicalization in the United Kingdom. The first major plot disrupted of what could be termed the British jihad emanated from the city: key fertilizer plotter Omar Khyam was brought up in nearby Crawley and security surveillance later released into the public domain showed a network of radicals operating in the area.

A man initially identified as “Q” in the press and later officially outed as being called Mohammed Quayum Khan in a Parliamentary report about the failures of intelligence in the July 7, 2005 bombing, still apparently lives in the area, apparently three roads over from where Taimour was staying.

Khan was identified by the Parliamentary report as being “the leader of an Al Qaeda facilitation network in the UK.” This was also not the first time the area made the presses as a center of radicalization: in October 2001 a couple of local men were identified as having been killed by US bombers in Afghanistan having left the city a few weeks before to go and fight alongside the Taliban.

Earlier than that, British jihadi Omar Saeed Sheikh, who currently sits in a Pakistani jail for murdering Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, reported in his diary that in early 1994 he went around the area to “encourage people to go for training. In this time, I collect many items of interest for the camp and also given funds by people (though I don’t ask for them).”

At this early stage it is almost impossible to definitively say Taimour can be characterized as a “Lone Wolf” in the sense that he had no connections whatsoever. A claim of responsibility suspected to have come from Taimour went to official agencies in the minutes prior to the attack, saying “our actions will speak for themselves. Now your children, daughters and sisters will die like our brothers and sisters and children are dying.” It then went on to specifically threaten Sweden for having soldiers in Sweden and for hosting “Lars Vilks the pig,” in reference to the controversial cartoonist who was responsible for one of the infamous Muhammad cartoons. A further subsequent claim was published on extremist websites from the Islamic State of Iraq, heralding Taimour as a “mujahedeen.”

All of this serves to highlight two things: terrorists are increasingly looking for ever lower hanging fruit. From large-scale plots like the August 2006 plot to bring down eight flights on transatlantic routes from London, they are now attempting to carry out low-tech, random attacks on third tier supporters of NATO operations in Afghanistan. That the cartoons continue to also resonate as a radicalizing influence is interesting, but this is likely the product of opportunity more than anything else.

Secondly, the shift towards lone attackers is something which is increasingly worrying planners. These individuals are popping up with an ever-growing regularity, confusing traditional security dragnets due to their lack of distinct connections to other radicals. In 2010 alone we have seen Mohammed Gelle, a Somali-Dane attempt to attack Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard with an axe, American-Pakistani Faisal Shahzad attempt to blow up Times Square, British-Bangladeshi Roshonara Choudhry stab a British Member for Parliament, and Lors Dukayev, a Chechen living in Belgium, attempt to carry out an unspecified bombing campaign in Denmark.

In all of these cases it is unclear to what degree we are dealing with loners, crazy people, or lone attackers dispatched by known networks – but it seems clear that there is a shift towards individual such attacks. This is not an entirely new phenomenon, but its increasing preponderance suggests that operations to disrupt large networks are working, but also that there is an increasing level of radicalization occurring at an ever more diffuse rate. As former Metropolitan Police Counter-Terrorism Head Peter Clarke put it in interview to HSToday.us, “the counter-narrative is not getting through,” something which should concern security planners as they look forwards to countering terrorism in the near future.


A new piece for HS Today, this one looking in some greater detail at the alleged Mumbai-style attack that had agencies in a great worry. Unsure this one is all over yet, and the information might ultimately have come out for just this reason. Am also going to try to do some more digging on the British end of it, which I think might be more precarious than this might suggest.

Europe in the Crosshairs

by Raff Pantucci

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Plots aimed at Mumbai styled assaults in Europe.

And the beat goes on…

Weeks have passed since Europe’s threat tempo was ratcheted up as security forces across the continent went into full alert in expectation of a possible terrorist attack. While nothing has actually happened from that particular threat with attention focused on the parcels out of Yemen, information has slowly started to leak out about the specific threat on the minds of security planners. Hatched in Pakistan’s badlands, the alleged plot (or plots) aimed to conduct a Mumbai-style assault on a European city (or cities) in which a team of terrorists would wage open war on the streets killing in the name of God.

It is not entirely clear where the thread that unravelled this series of plots came from – an obfuscation in part no doubt due to security concerns about terrorists figuring out how their networks have been penetrated – but it seems as though France, Germany and the UK were all being targeted. The actual potential plots appear to have been on a variety of trajectories, but most had an address which could be tracked back to Pakistan’s badlands. This came as the head of Britain’s Security Service MI5 recently highlighted that half of the plots his service was watching were “linked to Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Al Qaeda senior leadership is still based.” While down on previous statements that stated that three quarters of the plots targeting the UK had links to Pakistan, Evans emphasized that “this does not mean that the overall threat has reduced, but that it has diversified.”

For the UK, the specifics of the latest threat appear to focus around a British-Pakistani militant from the Jhelum province of Punjab named Abdul Jabbar. Allegedly killed during a drone strike in Waziristan which also killed top Al Qaeda leader Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, Jabbar had apparently been put forwards in July as the leader of a group dubbed “Islamic Army of Great Britain” that was tasked with planning a Mumbai-style attack in the United Kingdom. While British officials were keen to downplay the state of readiness of the plot (and some Pakistani officials rubbished Jabbar’s existence), the BBC’s flagship Newsnight program claimed that “senior security sources” in Pakistan had revealed to them that Jabbar was a long-time jihadist who had featured in previous investigations.

Jabbar, according to the BBC, was named in a document provided to security sources by Mohammed Junaid Babar, the American-Pakistani “supergrass” who was arrested in April 2004 and who provided detailed testimony about a broad network of British plotters. Babar’s testimony revealed that Jabbar was from East London and that around the time of September 11, 2001, he and his brother had gone to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. Following the fall of Kabul, the two men moved to Pakistan where they connected with infamous British jihadist Omar Saeed Sheikh who helped them get to training camps in Kashmir. Sheikh is currently on Pakistani death row having been found guilty of the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Jabbar was also believed to be close to Omar Khyam, the leader of a cell of British Muslims who were convicted for plotting to carry out a large explosion using a fertilizer based bomb. This is the second time in recent months that this cell has been in the news: in July, following the discovery of an Al Qaeda connected cell in Oslo, recent passport photographs were discovered of Adam Ibrahim, the brother of another of the men convicted for the fertilizer bomb plot. Another associate of this cell, Kazi Rahman, is currently incarcerated having attempted to buy Uzi submachine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers off undercover agents in the UK.

It is not entirely clear, however, that this is the same Jabbar. While Babar’s testimony indicates that Jabbar is from East London, reports in the Times newspaper suggested that he was in fact from northwest England. Another report from a Pakistani official cited in the Guardian newspaper suggested that Jabbar had only arrived in Waziristan in 2009 with his brother and was being monitored by British sigint intelligence agency GCHQ. Details remain unclear, but nevertheless, there has been a noticeable increase in training and preparation in the UK for the eventuality of an armed assault on a British city. British police have taken to training alongside the Special Air Service (SAS), the UK’s elite commando unit, and are being given heavier weaponry. The threat, as former Security Minister Lord West put it to the BBC, is that “these people like the Mumbai terrorists are a bit like soldiers, they do fire and support, move forward, all they want to do is kill as many people as possible.”

Britons are not the only European’s of concern who are running around Waziristan. German security services continue to monitor regular flows of individuals back and forth from Pakistan, with a recent senior security source stating that in the past 10 months some 40-50 individuals have gone to train, and overall at least 70 fighters had done this for sure. Approximately a third of this (25 or so) were currently back in Germany part of a larger pool of some 1,000 individuals of concern. The current threat appears to have emanated from a cell linked to a group of some 11 young men and women from Hamburg who used to frequent the now-closed Taiba Mosque – previously the spiritual home to some of the September 11 plotters. In early 2009, something appears to have driven the community from talk into action and in various groups they started to make their way to Waziristan.

Not all of them made it, and some were amongst the 26 “potentially violent Islamists” that German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) head Jörg Ziercke stated his forces had prevented from leaving the country to fight since early 2009. Others instead ended up being killed by Predator strikes, likely in part as a result of information obtained from captured members Rami Makanesi and Ahmed Sidiqui. A German-Syrian in his late 30s, Makanesi was captured by Pakistani forces while attempting to reach a hospital dressed in a burka. He is apparently now back in Germany providing information in exchange for a lightened sentence. Ahmed Sidiqui, a German-Afghan, was instead caught in July by American forces in Kabul who have been quizzing him in detention.

It is from these men that it is believed much of the information about the current Mumbai-style attack has come. According to reports in the press, Ahmed Sidiqui claimed that during a “fireside chat” with top Al Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri, the Al Qaeda leader boasted of already having advance cells in place in Britain and Germany. Other reports suggested it was in fact al-Quso who was talking about this plot. Supplementing its own information with details garnered from the captured Germans and sigint from Britain’s GCHQ, the U.S. launched a sustained series of Predator strikes in September and early October this year which appear to have staved on any imminent attack.

British and German authorities have remained calm in reaction to this elevated threat level – something that stands in contrast to their French counterparts who have repeatedly spoken of their concerns on public airwaves. In early September both the Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux, and domestic intelligence head, Bernard Squarcini, separately spoke of the “all the red lights” flashing. The threat was believed to be coming from North Africa with intelligence passed along from Algerian sources that a female suicide bomber was apparently on her way to Paris. She never materialized, but at the same time, French forces asked their Italian counterparts to pick up Ryad Hannouni, a 28 year-old French-Algerian veteran of the Afghan conflict believed to be involved in a network sending fighters to South Asia and whom they had heard was returning to Europe via Italy.

Assessing he was not an immediate threat, Italian security followed Hannouni for a few days before arresting him in Naples on September 3rd. Once arrested, they discovered a kit to make explosives, as well as an address book and mobile phone. This wealth of information led, a month later, to a series of twelve arrests in Marseille and Avignon in France which turned up ammunition, an AK-47 machine gun and a pump action shotgun. Hannouni is currently awaiting extradition to France.

Even with these arrests, however, the immediate threat to France does not seem to have gone away. On October 18th, Interior Minister Hortefeux went on the airwaves to announce that “a few hours, a few days ago, [we received] a new message, from the Saudi [intelligence] services, indicating to us that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was certainly active.” The threat was apparently directed at “the European continent and France in particular.” It seems likely that this information came from the same source that provided the Saudi’s with detailed knowledge of the parcel bombs en route to Chicago from Yemen.

Ten days after Hortefeux launched this alert, a new recording emerged on the forums and Al Jazeera in which Osama bin Laden threatened France in particular, highlighting France’s involvement in Afghanistan and criticizing the decision to ban the veil in public places. As he put it, “If you deemed it right to ban women from wearing the hijab, then should it not be our right to expel your invading men by striking their necks?” He also seemed to provide a direct link between France’s actions and the move by North African affiliate Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to kidnap a group of French citizens in Niger. All of which highlighted the very real threat from France’s former colonial backyard that continues to be high on the list of threat for French policymakers.

The drumbeat of terror in Europe goes on: while in the United States, Ashburn, VA citizen Farooque Ahmed was casing metrorail stations in the Washington area for individuals he believed to be Al Qaeda, the actual network continues to keep Europe firmly in its crosshairs.

 

A new reaction piece to the recent parcel/ink bomb plot out of Yemen for HSToday. Lots more interesting information on this one still to come.

Parcel Plot Exposes Softness in UK Security

by Raff Pantucci

Tuesday, 02 November 2010

UK rushes to tighten up cargo security processes.

Weekend revelations by British Prime Minister David Cameron that the bombs being delivered from Yemen to the United States using the international postal service were meant to blow up in the air have added a further dimension to the already confusing flow of information emerging from the Yemen cargo parcel bomb incident.

The details of how the plot was uncovered are still filtering into the public domain. One report in the British press which was independently corroborated, suggested that one of the first streams for the plot came from a message picked up by GCHQ (Britain’s answer to the National Security Agency), which seemed to suggest that something was afoot. In parallel to this, information reached American and British forces from Saudi Arabia which pointed more specifically to a threat from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). According to the BBC, the Saudi’s intelligence came from information obtained from Jabr al-Faifi, a Saudi Guantanamo returnee who had been through the Saudi de-radicalisation program, returned to the battlefield alongside AQAP, before once again changing his mind and surrendering to Saudi authorities. Information from al-Faifi appears to have also been behind an earlier statement by the French Interior Minister in mid-October that his nation had received a threat warning from the Saudi’s about AQAP targeting “the European continent and France in particular.”

The combination of information from al-Faifi and GCHQ (and doubtless other sources) appears to have provided a rich picture to security forces to go and check a specific package which was tracked down to Dubai airport. It also sent a warning to British police in Leicestershire to go and check the cargo in an airplane at East Midlands Airport outside Nottingham. British police rushed to the scene with sniffer dogs and explosives experts, but were initially unable to find anything until they received specific information about what had been discovered in the Emirates. At this point, they went looking in a more targeted manner and were able to uncover a package which had originated in Yemen and passed through Germany prior to the UK. Similar to its Emirati partner, the parcel was headed for a Jewish institution in Chicago.

The devices, fabricated from PETN and carefully concealed inside printer cartridges, were undetectable by current technology. But it is uncertain when they were primed to go off: initial suspicions were that the target was the Chicago synagogues they were addressed to. The Prime Minister and John Brennan’s comments over the weekend were backed on Monday in Parliament when the Home Secretary Theresa May announced, “the devices were probably intended to detonate mid-air and to destroy the cargo aircraft on which they were being transported.” Disturbingly for security services, it now seems as though the packages may have spent some time on planes filled with passengers as well as freight – meaning a disaster was barely avoided.

While on the one hand British services deserve congratulation, it seems equally clear that there were some flaws in the system which allowed the package onto a plane in the United Kingdom and secondly that police were unable in the first instance to discover the device. As the former police head of counter-terrorism Andy Hayman characterized it to the BBC, “there was some indecision, first the cordons were on, then they were off, then they were on.”

This has led to a tightening of measures announced by the Home Secretary:

• A review of all aspects of air freight security;

• Updating of information given to airport personnel which includes the new relevant information;

• From midnight Monday the suspension of all “unaccompanied” air freight from Yemen and Somalia, and the suspension of printer toner cartridges larger than 500g in hand luggage;

• Finally, the prohibition of “air cargo into, via or from the UK unless they originate from a known consignor – a regular shipper with security arrangements approved by the Department for Transport.”

For Britain this plot exposed some weaknesses in the security blanket, while at the same time highlighting the impressive and effective work that counter-terrorist’s undertake. Nevertheless, the reality remains that the plot was effectively underway when the security services latched onto it. As the Home Secretary put it to the house, “at this stage we have no information to suggest that another attack of a similar type by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is imminent. But this organisation is very active.” It remains to be seen when they are next able to be effective.

 

A new post for HSToday, a bit delayed as I have been traveling somewhere even more remote than usual. My computer has also come crashing down which has set me up with some serious problems. More on this plot to come.

Europe on High Alert

by Raffaello Pantucci

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Recent string of incidents have elevated level of concern across the European continent

Across Europe there has been a noticeable up-tick in threat tempo. From a series of intelligence-led operations across the continent, to high level statements by the French Interior Minister and US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – those paid to protect us are very concerned about something.

It is unclear at which point this specific set of alarm bells went off, but they have been ringing for some time. In the United Kingdom, in the wake of a series of arrests back in July in Oslo it was revealed that a British jihadist who had disappeared off radars for a few years had re-emerged in the form of a series of passport photographs found in the possession of the alleged leader of a cell of plotters that was planning an unspecified campaign at the orders of possibly dead Al Qaeda leader Saleh al Somali. The pictures showed the British-Algerian Ibrahim Adam in a variety of different haircuts and had apparently been obtained by the cell leader, Uighur-Norwegian Mikael Davud, from a contact in Turkey in September 2009. The discovery caused a spike in concern for British counter-terrorists, leading them to suspect that Adam, whose brother Anthony Garcia (the family all changed their names to integrate better) was incarcerated as part of the Al Qaeda directed plot to explode a large fertilizer bomb at a British mall, may be on his way back to Europe to conduct operations.

Nothing materialized, until, concurrent with the first day of the Pope’s visit to the United Kingdom on September 16th; police raided a series of properties in London arresting a group of six men working for a city garbage disposal company. One of the men was described as being “of North African appearance” and the BBC has since revealed that at least five of them were “thought to be Algerian.” The men were questioned by police but ultimately released as it was revealed that the intelligence that had led to the arrest had been only picked up recently and was not part of a long-term operation. Unconfirmed reports suggested that the intelligence had been garnered by the police from someone who had overheard the men talking in a staff canteen.

However, the police reaction to the threat showed the elevated concern around the current threat level. The day before the arrests, the head of the Security Service (MI5) had warned that “the main effort for the Security Service remains international terrorism, particularly from Al Qaeda, its affiliates and those inspired by its ideology.” He highlighted the particular growth in the threat from Somalia, stating “there are a significant number of UK residents training in Al Shabaab camps” and highlighting that the threat from the tribal areas of Pakistan now only accounted for about 50% of the “priority plots and leads” coming into the Service.

The evening before the men supposedly behind the threat to the Pope were released, British intelligence passed on information to their Dutch counterparts about an individual on a flight from Liverpool transiting through Amsterdam on his way to Entebbe, Uganda. The man, described by a Dutch spokesman as “a British man of Somali origin,” was pulled off a KLM plane which was about to depart on suspicion of “possible involvement in a terrorist organization.” He was also released a few days later cleared of any charges and it is unclear where he has since gone. This was the second time in less than a month that individuals going through Schipol airport had been picked up as a result of terrorist concerns. At the end of August two Yemeni men were pulled off a flight landing in the airport from Chicago after a tip-off from U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This also did not result in any charges being made.

In France in the meantime, the Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux joined the head of the domestic intelligence agency, Bernard Squarcini, in highlighting the level of threat the country faced. On September 16th, visiting the Eiffel Tower after the latest in a number of bomb scares on the site had further stepped up the security presence, Mr. Hortefeux said, “these last days and hours, a number of events have reminded us that we find ourselves in a period which calls for an elevated level of attention in the particular face of terrorist threats.” This echoed earlier statements the week before by Mr. Squarcini who said that the “all the red lights were flashing” and a story that surfaced in the French press which revealed that, “a female suicide bomber was plotting to commit a terrorist act in a busy part of Paris.” The information was allegedly passed on from Algerian intelligence and resulted in mobile anti-terror units being mobilized across the city searching for the woman. This comes in the wake of a series of kidnappings in Niger of French citizens by the group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the North African Al Qaeda affiliate.

French authorities have apparently attempted to reach out to the group in North Africa to get their citizens back, but little more is known about the alleged female bomber. The threat echoes an alert from earlier in the year published by British newspaper the Daily Telegraph which suggested that security services were concerned that a team of female suicide bombers were being dispatched by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) targeting the United States. In that case too, nothing ultimately emerged but it set the tone for a year which has been plagued with repeated alerts.

But amidst this sea of unrealized threats, on the eve of the anniversary of September 11, Danish police leapt into action when a bomb went off in a hotel toilet in central Copenhagen. The responsible individual was rapidly caught in a nearby park, but refused to provide his identity leaving Danish police with a puzzle to establish who the one-legged multi-lingual individual was. He was eventually identified as a Chechen former boxer who for unspecified reasons was apparently trying to send a bomb to the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (infamous for publishing the Muhammad cartoons in 2006). Picked up with a gun, a very rudimentary explosive and a number of false identities, the initial fear was that Lors Dukayev, who maintained his anonymity for some time while under arrest and was only identified after someone saw his picture in the press, was possibly more than he initially seemed. Currently, however, he appears to have been a “Lone Wolf” with no connections.

And then on the morning of September 21st, Italian police intercepted a container-load of explosives at the port of Goia Tauro. Hidden amongst powdered milk were 7 tons of military grade RDX explosive, a massive amount which resulted in the Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini calling his American counterpart Hilary Clinton to discuss the matter directly. Believed to be en route from Iran to Syria, the cargo had in transit when Italian forces acted on intelligence believed to have been passed on by Israel.

The year has already seen a number of plots dispatched by Al Qaeda affiliates or fellow travelers reach fairly advanced stages (Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Faisal Shahzad to name but two), showing the capacity exists for such attack planning. Whether this new wave of concern from Europe’s services is going to translate into a similar attack remains to be seen, but it seems as though intelligence services across the continent are operating at full tilt.

Raffaello Pantucci is Homeland Security Today’s London correspondent.

 

A new piece for HSToday.us, exploring an issue I believe I have mentioned before, but not in any great detail. Since this was written, it now emerges that a chap who had been listed in the SIAC judgment as being under risk of torture if he was returned to Pakistan, has now in fact returned. All a real mess with no resolution on the horizon.

UK-US Face Problems in Terror Suspect Extradition

by Raffaello Pantucci

Monday, 19 July 2010

European court refuses to withhold suspects from going into US custody.

It is a strange quirk of fate that while on the one hand American and British security operators work hand in hand against a common threat, their governments seem unable to deport terrorist suspects between each other. As the UK marked the fifth anniversary since July 7, 2005 when an Al Qaeda trained suicide team attacked London, this reality came into focus as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) blocked one extradition request and the United States launched another.

The first case is one which has been winding its way through the British courts system since May 2004 when British police first arrested Abu Hamza in furtherance of an extradition request by the United States. His extradition was sought for his role in assisting a terror plot in Yemen in December 1998 which ended with the deaths of four hostages and the conviction of a group of British Muslims (two of whom were directly related to him), his role in facilitating introductions to the Taliban, and finally his role in attempting to organize a terror training camp in Bly, Oregon. Co-conspirator Haroon Rashid Aswat (who was brought into British custody on August 2005) is also wanted in connection to the charges surrounding the Bly, Oregon training camp case, while the other two, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan (respectively arrested in August 2004 and July 2006), are instead wanted in connection to a series of websites supporting terrorism that they are alleged to have run.

Aside from Abu Hamza, none of the men have been charged with crimes in the United Kingdom – and at this point, Hamza has all but served the seven-year charge he was handed down for inciting hatred in the United Kingdom. They all remain in custody while their lawyers argue that the men cannot expect a fair trial if they are deported to the United States, that they might be subject to extraordinary rendition and that the terms under which they are likely to be detained in the United States (most likely in the Federal Supermax penitentiary ADX Florence in Colorado) would impinge on their human rights. Last week, the ECHR in Strasbourg dismissed many of the men’s complaints, but admitted “the applicants’ complaints concerning the length of their possible sentences,” and Aswat, Babar, and Ahsan’s concerns about being detained at ADX Florence, “cannot…be considered manifestly ill-founded.” Given Hamza’s infirmities and a letter from the prison warden, the court was prepared to believe that it was unlikely that he would be spending much time in the jail and would instead be moved to a medical facility.

The point of concern rests around the fact that it seems as though the court is unsure whether the men’s human rights are being breached if they are going to be detained at ADX Florence under stringent circumstances in which it can appear there is no possibility of parole or release. In essence the ECHR is determining whether the U.S. penal system is compatible with European human rights standards, something highlighted by one of the suspect’s lawyers in the Guardian newspaper. “It’s a very important test of whether the way the US treats its prisoners meets international standards.”

This something of a shift from previously, when the concerns were in part focused on the official upturning of international norms that the previous administration announced when President Bush declared that the “world had changed” after the September 11 attacks. The decision to carry out extraordinary renditions, abrogate the Geneva conventions for certain prisoners and the establishment of Guantanamo Bay all created a legal environment which might cast doubt on U.S. government reassurances. As the applicant’s case before the court put it, “It was not sufficient to rely on the history of extradition arrangements with the United States, as the [British] Government had done: the attitude of the United States Government had changed fundamentally as a result of the events of 11 September 2001.”

In a move which no doubt provided some reassurance to governments on both sides of the Atlantic, the court dismissed such concerns, stating, “Whatever the breadth of the executive discretion enjoyed by the President in the prosecution of the United States Government’s counter-terrorism efforts, the Court is unable to accept that he, or any of his successors, would commit such a serious breach of his Government’s assurances to an extradition partner such as the United Kingdom; the United States’ long-term interest in honouring its extradition commitments alone would provide sufficient dissuasion from doing so.”

This is in contrast to the case of Abid Naseer, who the British government has already tried to deport to more contentious ally in the fight against terrorism, Pakistan. Arrested on April 8, 2009 as part of a group of eleven individuals picked up as part of a counter-terrorism operation codenamed Pathway, Naseer has been repeatedly identified in the press and subsequent official reports into the plot as being connected to Al Qaeda. In a previous judgment which highlighted why he could not be deported to Pakistan, the judges concluded, “we are satisfied that Naseer was an Al Qaeda operative who posed and still poses a serious threat to the national security of the United Kingdom.” The same judgment concluded that due the high likelihood of mistreatment if Naseer was returned to Pakistan having been exposed as an Al Qaeda agent, the court “would not be willing to accept confidential assurances as a sufficient safeguard against prohibited ill-treatment in a state in which otherwise there was a real risk that it would occur.”

At the time of the decision, the government did not appear to react, failing to even put Naseer on a control order (something which would have been particularly awkward for the new government which had expressed a great concern with the tactic). It now appears that this might have been part of a knowing strategy to wait until the United States completed its superseding set of charges linked to the so-called Subway Plot allegedly led by Afghan-American Najibullah Zazi. It was already public knowledge that the initial lead to Zazi had come from the United Kingdom, but it now appears as though the United States has repaid the favor for the tip by using the connection as grounds to include Naseer in the indictment linked to Zazi’s plot. In a press release put out on July 7th, the Department of Justice alleged, “Naseer sent messages back and forth to the same email account that ‘Ahmad’ was using to communicate with the American-based al-Qaeda cell.”

Currently, all five men remain in British custody. While this may alleviate security services concerns, in the longer term it is not sustainable that individuals remain in jail without facing a jury. Officials in the UK believe that the men will be eventually deported, but as Babar Ahmad pointed out in an interview published the day after the decision by the ECHR, “whilst in prison I have outlived the the Blair/Brown Labour Government,” something which highlights how long he has been sitting in prison without having been convicted of any crime.

Raff Pantucci is an HSToday.us correspondent based in the UK

My latest for HSToday, looking at the British election fall-out from a counter-terrorism perspective (following my earlier post about the manifestos). This subject hopefully will get more interesting, rather than continue to fester as it is at the moment with no new ideas. Though I suppose I need to start to developing some good new ones too. Any thoughts or reactions appreciated as ever.

UK Challenge: Depoliticizing Security

by Raffaello Pantucci

Monday, 17 May 2010

New coalition government must work to forge consensus on terror.

While much of the UK has been focused on what the implications will be of the first coalition government since the Second World War, the question of what this means for counter-terrorism policy has largely slipped under the radar. Last time there was a political handover like this in Britain; terrorists attempted an attack, immediately setting the headlines for the new government.

Fortunately, so far, Britain has been spared a repeat of the attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow in late June 2007. However, the new coalition Conservative-Liberal government wasted no time in taking the pulse of the current threat level during the maiden meeting of the newly formed National Security Council. According to the official Downing Street report, during the session the Prime Minister “received briefings on the political and military situation in Afghanistan, including from his new National Security Adviser, Sir Peter Ricketts and from the Chief of the Defence Staff. The Prime Minister was then updated on the wider UK security situation.”

Unlike the United States, the UK has only now created a special cabinet group which will become the decision-making focus of British security strategy and interests. The appointment of a senior civil servant, Sir Peter Ricketts, to the post of National Security Adviser was seen as a slight surprise, given the belief that this remit might be handed to Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, who served as security adviser in the shadow Conservative cabinet. Ricketts, a long-time apolitical civil servant, has previously served as UK Ambassador to NATO, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and most recently as Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office. Dame Neville-Jones, another former Chairman of the JIC, instead assumed the role of Minister for Security.

The split appointment likely reflects the desire to impose some semblance of de-politicization to the area of security, which has otherwise largely been taken over by the Conservative side of the coalition. Cameron stalwarts William Hague at the Foreign Office and Liam Fox at Defence retain the roles they had shadowed. Other key security appointments include Theresa May to become Home Secretary; Conservative heavy-weight Ken Clarke to the role of Justice Minister and Eric Pickles to the role of running the Department for Communities and Local Government. A few Liberals received lower ranking appointments in relevant ministries, though no Liberals have been sent to the Home Office at all. Conservative Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the daughter of Pakistani migrants, was appointed to be Minister without Portfolio and Chairman of the Conservative Party, making her the first female Muslim to serve in Britain’s cabinet.

At the same time this almost complete Conservative domination of security policy (and counter-terrorism policy in particular) does not particularly cast a light on what changes might be on the way under the new administration. In an election that was largely dominated by domestic economic issues and the novelty of televised leadership debates, there was almost no mention of counter-terrorism policy. In their href=”http://icsr.info/blog/The-Big-Three-Counter-Terrorism-Strategies “>manifestoes none of the three main parties identified any great changes in strategy though the Conservatives did say that they would ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir – following through on a threat first made by Prime Minister Blair in the wake of the July 2005 London bombings.

This does not necessarily presage some sort of grand agreement. As James Brandon of the Quilliam Foundation counter-radicalization think tank put it, “Over the past few years it has been clear that there are significant policy differences between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats when it comes to the detail of counter-extremism strategy. Under a coalition government compromises will no doubt have to be made on both sides – although at the moment it is anyone’s guess as to what exactly these will be.”

Some of these guesses were answered in the grand agreement document that the coalition government published which highlighted a list of “civil liberties” which they felt had been suppressed under Labour. Key amongst these was the announcement of a “Freedom or Great Repeal Bill” which would scrap the ID cards scheme, re-establish the “protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury,” ensure anti-terrorism legislation was not misused, and improve regulation of internet, email and CCTV storage. While both parties raised the question of what to do about controversial control orders in their manifesto’s, there is no mention of it here suggesting the possibility of future clashes over the topic. Overall there is an interesting confluence in opinion between the two parties appears to have been found around the issue of infringements in civil liberties that many perceive were allowed under the previous government in the pursuit of security in the UK.

Looking back further, the Conservative party had in the past proposed to  “conduct a review of the Government’s Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) Strategy, which is supposed to stop vulnerable people from becoming terrorists but which has been accused of spying on innocent Muslims.” The PVE strategy is intended to be the cornerstone of the long-term British answer to countering terrorism, but it has of late lagged.. It remains unclear how the new coalition government will take this forwards, though discussions with officials in the UK in the year before the election highlighted a general sense that a change of government was imminent and that some accounting of how counter-terrorism money was being spent was highly likely.

For the US the major concern is no doubt the perceived anti-Americanism of the Liberal Democrat party. This has in fact been overplayed, and in counter-terrorism terms, the biggest concern was likely to be the threatened Liberal Democrat “full judicial inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture and state kidnapping.” The complete lack of any mention of it thus far is not necessarily indicative of the fact that it is going to go away, but it is clear that the Liberal Democrats are simply not going to have the upper hand when it comes to governing counter-terrorism policy and its pursuit.

Beyond counter-terrorism, Europe remains one of the major sticking points in the coalition, with a deeply Euro-skeptic wing of the Conservative party unlikely to sit well with the pro-European Liberal Democrat party. For an America that is eager to see Europe stand strong together, this may prove an irritant, but the strategic centrality of the Anglo-American “special relationship” (especially to the Conservative Party) means that there is unlikely to be any major shift in transatlantic relations between the US and UK.

Raff Pantucci is a UK corrspondent for HSToday.us and frequent contributor to Homeland Security Today magazine.

My latest more journalistic contribution for HSToday, providing them with an update on the situation in the UK. The timings are a little mangled, but provides some summary of recent HMG documents on terrorism. Thanks to Tim Stevens at Ubiwar for providing some very helpful insights in interview.

BRITAIN’S TERRORIST THREATS AND COMPLACENCY
by Raffaello Pantucci
Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The risk … is that a heavy-handed reaction will focus on the symptom, rather than the cause Britain is under a “severe” threat of a terrorist attack, according to its security services.

Assessments provided by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Center (JTAC) stated that “an attack is highly likely.”

But maintaining public engagement and support continues to be a problem for the British government, especially as it attempts to tackle the new menace of online radicalization.

While the threat was raised to its current level in January for unspecified reasons, Lord Carlisle, the government’s independent auditor of terrorism legislation, told the BBC “the message from the current change of assessment is not that we should be more afraid, but that we should be a little bit more vigilant than we have been.”

But critics speculated that the decision to raise the threat level had a lot more to do with the upcoming election cycle to stoke public fears for political advantage.

Whatever the reason, terrorism remains the “preeminent security threat to the UK,” according to the first annual report of the Home Office’s Office for Security and Counterterrorism’s broadened counterterrorism strategy, known as CONTEST.

According to the report, CBRN threats are increasing due to a “significant increase in the illicit trafficking of radiological materials, the availability of CBRN related technologies on the internet and the increasing use of CBRN material for legitimate purposes.”

And the upcoming 2012 Olympic and Para-Olympic games present “one of the most significant challenges we will face over the next two years,” the report stressed, noting that the principal terrorist threat to the UK continues to be Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Al Qaeda and instability in Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel also present a threat, the report stated.

But while government sees a growing Al Qaeda threat, the public remains increasingly skeptical – apathy seems to be is the most noticeable feature of the public debate. There also is a high level of distrust.

In a report in the Guardian about a Parliamentary oversight committee reporton the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) program that Whitehall sees as fundamental to Britain’s long-term counterterrorism strategy, Committee Chair, MP Phyllis Starkey, said “the close association between [PVE] and the government’s wider counterterrorism strategy has bred profound distrust on a community level.”

This is a deeply problematic disconnect when considering that the government’s strategy is meant to strengthen these communities so that they are better able to tackle negative ideologies themselves.

As the report highlights, Muslims increasingly see the government engaging them only through the prism of countering terrorism, and see the specter of intelligence gathering behind any program that’s aimed at strengthening or engaging communities. Meanwhile, there’s a growing backlash among some communities angry at the money and attention that is being lavished on Muslims.

Cognizant of these trends, there has been an effort to publish more information on Britain’s terrorist threats in an attempt to garner greater public support and understanding.

Leading the way is the Home Office’s Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), which in addition to issuing a weekly report to its counterterrorism consumers that highlights the official line on relevant stories each week, also issues reports for internal use only.

This strategy is fraught with problems for a variety of reasons. One recently issued report, “Estimating Network Size and Tracking Dissemination Information Amongst Islamic Blogs” (which was written in April 2008), by David Stevens of the University of Nottingham, “[studied] the link patterns and discussions of Islamic bloggers with particular reference to the UK.” The report listed the top twenty most popular “Islamic” blogs, how they are interlinked, and highlighted the fact that there are more “anti-Islamic” blogs than “pro-Isamic blogs.”

The report didn’t receive a very warm reception. Guardian newspaper columnist Brian Whitaker asked: “Why did they bother” to publish a report that threw up “some blindingly obvious insights.” That sentiment was echoed by Jillian York at Al Jazeera, who attacked the report’s “flawed” methodology while quoting a number of the bloggers “outed” as pro-Islamic.

Similar perspectives were repeated in an HSToday.us interview with Tim Stevens, a researcher of online radicalization at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College.

“Personally, I think the report’s assumptions, methodology, execution and analysis are weaker than they might be, mainly as they don’t seem to achieve the stated aims of the research,” Stevens said. “It adds very little to our understanding of the topic and does not provide an insightful picture of the specific media it set out to study.”

According to Stevens, “the publication of the report may be counterproductive, in that it makes them and their Home Office sponsors look out of touch and potentially antagonistic to Muslims.”

In much the same way that Muslim communities perceives that the government sees them solely through the prism of terrorism, their online counterparts appear to be angry that moderate voices are being scrutinzed by researchers who are paid out of a counter-terrorism budget.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Edip Yuksel of the American Islamic reform movement said of the first blog on the list, Ali Eteraz, “listing Ali’s name in research to track terrorists is a travesty of truth.”

Nevertheless, understanding the Internet and its role in radicalization is a key focus of the British government. A recent high-profile BBC series, “Generation Jihad,” focused on the growing importance of the Internet in terrorist plots in the United Kingdom and its apparent influence in radicalizing ever younger individuals.

The risk, however, is that a heavy-handed reaction will focus on the symptom, rather than the cause.

As Stevens put it: “The internet is important, but there are other important factors in radicalization, too. Even if it were possible or desirable to shut down the internet, it wouldn’t stop the existence or influence of violent or radical ideas.”

These ideas, though, will continue to be the principal long-term battleground for the British, and global, counterterrorism struggle.

A short piece for HSToday highlighting the apparent role of Kashmiri terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed as a connector for Westerners seeking jihad. I realize now that I didn’t highlight some of the other plots in which they have appeared – for example, the network around Aabid Khan and some previous American plots. None of this is very seasonal I know, but I hope of interest to those still reading out there – any further pointers for other linkages would of course be highly appreciated.

http://www.hstoday.us/content/view/11614/152/

Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Western Appeal
by Raffaello Pantucci
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
South Asian group emerges as apparent pipeline for jihadists. The news that five American’s were picked up in Sargodha, Pakistan at a safe house operated by Jaish-e-Mohammed (the Army of Mohammed, JeM) highlights once again the apparent importance of the group as a pipeline for Western jihad enthusiasts seeking to fight in South Asia or seeking to connect with elements close to Al Qaeda in the region. The group was established in February 2000 in the wake of the hijacking of Indian Airlines 814 from Nepal to New Delhi, which resulted in the release from prison of the leader of the group, Maulana Masoud Azhar, in exchange for a planeload of passengers.

The hijacking was blamed upon Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen (Movement of Holy Warriors, HuM), who had launched a series of kidnappings in the mid-1990s in the wake of the arrest of a number of their senior leadership in 1993-1994. At the time a leader in the HuM, Azhar chose to break away and establish a separate group in the wake of his release in 1999 – the reasons for which are not entirely clear, though it caused a certain stir amongst the South Asian jihadi community which resulted in the Pakistani government announcing that it was inhibiting Azhar’s movements.

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