Archive for the ‘HSToday’ Category

A new piece for HSToday, covering some of the ground I already touched upon with my earlier piece on Rajib Karim,but now going into greater detail about Awlaki’s clear obsession with flights to America. One detail I should clarify, the way the piece reads, it looks like I said that it was the voice message Awlaki sent Rajib and his brother that got security forces switched onto them. I do not know this for certain, though this certainly seems one of the earlier pieces of communication between Awlaki and the Karim to have been released. In fact, it seems likely that he was on radars for a while before this.

Britain Convicts Awlaki Acolyte Targeting US Bound Planes

By: Raffaello Pantucci

03/08/2011 (12:00am)

Last week a court in London convicted Rajib Karim, a 31-year-old Bangladeshi national in the UK working for British Airways of plotting with the Yemeni-American Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader, Anwar Al Awlaki, to attack flights bound for the United States.

According to information released during Karim’s trial, Karim exchanged emails with Awlaki in Yemen thinking through ways attacks could be carried out. The target for Awlaki remains America. In an email exchange with Karim, he is alleged to have stated “our highest priority is to attack the US.”

The prosecution asserted that Karim is “committed to an extreme jihadist and religious cause” and was “determined to seek martyrdom.”

Karim denied he got a job with the airline so that he could plan a terror attack, and maintained that “Islam teaches that you can’t target civilians.”

Karim’s conviction is clear evidence of a third attempt by Awlaki to attack aircraft bound for America. In the first known case, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a young London-educated Nigerian, hid an explosive in his underwear and boarded a flight from Ghana through Amsterdam to Detroit. He was overwhelmed before the explosive he carried could fully detonate and currently is in American custody awaiting trial.

A year later, a second attempt came in the form of a set of parcel bombs that originated in Yemen bound for targets in the US. Acting on information from a Saudi informant, one of the bombs was intercepted in Dubai and the other at East Midlands Airport in the UK. In a subsequent “special” edition of Inspire, the publication produced by AQAP, the group claimed credit for the attempted bombings, which it dubbed “Operation Hemorrhage.”

In the case of Karim, it is less clear exactly what Awlaki was planning, but emails between the two men disclosed a series of possibilities. An IT worker at British Airways at time of arrest, Karim moved to the UK in 2006 when he immigrated with his wife and child seeking medical aid for the child. The child got better, and while the move seems genuine enough, Karim by this point was a radicalized individual providing funding and logistical support for the Bangladeshi jihadist group, Jamaat al Mujahedeen.

Meanwhile, Karim’s younger brother, Tehzeeb, spent his time attempting to connect with jihadists in other parts of the world and ended up traveling to Yemen where he connected with Awlaki.

Having made contact with Awlaki using a path that went through the same language school in Sanaa as the one used by Abdulmutallab, Tehzeeb boasted to Awlaki about his brother who worked at British Airways in the UK. This immediately piqued Awlaki’s interest and the Al Qaeda spiritual leader contacted Karim to hear more about his position and how he could help him with his plotting to attack America.

Karim told Awlaki of knowing “two brothers, one who works in baggage handling at Heathrow, and another who works in airport security. Both are good practicing brothers and sympathize towards the cause of the mujahedeen.”

Several other men also were arrested in the initial sweep after Karim’s arrest, but nothing came of the possible charges against them. One was fired from his position at British Airways.

At another point during the plotting when it was announced that British Airways staff were going to go on strike, Karim suggested (and was encouraged) by Awlaki to sign up to act as replacement staff. But he was rejected on the basis that he had worked for the firm for less than five years.

Clearly seeing the potential of the Bangladeshi brothers, Awlaki paid special attention to them, and at one point even sent them a special voice message confirming that rumors of his death were untrue. It is likely that this communication tipped off intelligence agencies to Karim.

When initially arrested, Karim was calm, according to police sources, who suspect that his coolness stemmed from his belief that the security programs he had installed on his computer would keep his secrets hidden from investigators. Coupled with his cover as an IT worker for British Airways and a public persona co-workers described as “mild mannered, well-educated and respectful.”

Karim believed himself a perfect sleeper jihadist.

Police nevertheless were able to crack his encryption codes and methods of hiding information and uncovered a treasure trove of documents and information regarding his communications with Awlaki and his jihadist brother. They were able to piece together his plotting and his growing desire to leave the United Kingdom to conduct jihad.

Karim wrote on January 29, 2010″ “Without anything happening and also not being able to have any concrete plans to do anything here, my iman [faith] was getting affected. I started feeling like a real munafiq [hypocrite]. It has been three years that I have been living here away from the company of good brothers and spending a good part of my working day with the kuffar [infidels] … that’s why I desperately wanted to make hijrah [journey to fight jihad].”

For Awlaki, clearly, the preference would have been for Karim to attempt an attack in the West. And given Karim’s connections and position, it is easy to see how close he came.

 

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My latest for HSToday, though a bit belatedly posted. A quick overview of the debate about a shift in counter-terrorism policy in the UK.

By Raffaello Pantucci

02/25/2011 (12:00am)
Nine months on the job, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government finally announced its long awaited review of its counterterrorism policy. He used a keynote speech at the annual Munich Security Conference to advance the ideas that underpin the government’s renewed direction for combating international terrorism.

 

Cameron said the problem Britain faces “cannot be ignored or contained,” but rather must be confronted “with confidence” by way of addressing “the issues of identity that sustain it by standing for a much broader and generous vision of citizenship in our countries.”

The Prime Minister’s bold language masked a long-standing internal debate in the UK about how to confront the threat of international terrorism within the kingdom.

Cameron’s address was the culmination of a series of policy announcements on counterterrorism that started with a discussion in Parliament on January 20 that focused on the prickly issue of detention without charge.

Under the old system, police could detain a person for up to 28 days without charging him of anything while authorities attempted to assemble a case against the person.

Every seven days the individual would be brought before a judge who would adjudicate on their continued detention, but the principle was that in increasingly complex cases, police would need more time to dig through the reams of documents and data that police were turning up in the process of their terrorism investigations.

Not only was this process controversial, but both ruling parties had complained loudly about it.

Announcing its cessation of the policy and a return to previous legislation that gave police only 14 days, Minister for Immigration, Damien Green, said “since July 2007, no one has been held for longer than 14 days, despite many terrorists arrested since then … I can announce that the Government will not be seeking to extend the order allowing the maximum 28-day limit.”

A week later, Home Secretary Theresa May, delivered a more comprehensive announcement to the House on the government’s counterterrorism policy.

May highlighted that, in addition to the change in pre-charge detention, the government also was changing the policies on control orders to focus on surveillance rather than house arrest. It also was going to give the new policy a two-year shelf life; restricting use of stop and search powers to instances when there is an immediate threat; and to stop councils from using surveillance techniques without first clearing them with a magistrate.

Contentious issues like the further proscription of groups like Hizb ut Tahrir, the use of phone intercepts in court and further defining what can be constituted as terrorism or promotion of terrorism, were, in the end, not concluded. Further analysis of these issues apparently is required.

While he was in Munich, Cameron announced that “under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives … we’ve failed to provide a vision of a society.”

The policy that had allowed non-violent extremists to flourish and to receive public funds had failed and, “instead of ignoring this extremist ideology,” the government now must “confront it, in all its forms,” Cameron stated.

Calling for the rebirth of a British identity, the Prime Minister said, “instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone.”

Cameron’s speech awakened a heated debate in the British commentariat, where, on one hand, individuals like Douglas Murray, a prominent rightwing commentator and director of the Center for Social Cohesion, spoke of “Europe’s mainstream party leaders” finally “realizing what others have long noticed: Multiculturalism has been the more pernicious and divisive policy pursued by Western governments since World War II.”

On the other hand, Dr. Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, a professor at the University of Sussex and a skeptic of the government’s counterterrorism policy, decried the speech.

“By blaming ‘state multiculturalism’, Cameron is … missing the point,” Ahmed said. The real issue, he continued, is deepening inequalities, something that will “deepen under coalition cuts” and “an interventionist foreign policy that has been heavily disfigured under the influence of short-sighted (and self-interested) US geostrategy.”

In a radio interview following the speech, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain said, “again, it just seems the Muslim community is very much in the spotlight, being treated as part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution.”

The opposing views provide a snapshot of the tense debate that’s taking place in the UK regarding its shift in counterterrorism policy. In the midst of the Prime Minister’s announcement, Lord Carlile of Berriew Q.C., the outgoing head of Parliament’s Independent Review of certain Terrorism Legislation, issued his final report on control orders. The report concluded that the cumulative effect of Britain’s counterterrorism legislative architecture is “to make the UK a safe haven for some individuals whose determination is to damage the UK and its citizens.”

While the government dismissed this as emotive language, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats who had vigorously campaigned against a wide range of counter-terrorism policies, was obliged to defend himself against accusations of having completely reversed his position on a number of counterterrorism issues.

The cumulative effect of the counterterrorism review is going to be hard to measure in any practical way. Already some entities that were previously receiving funding for counterterrorism under the banner of preventing violent extremism, have announced that their funding will be cut.

Meanwhile, other issues are being sidestepped. For example, the ongoing inability of Britain to deport individuals wanted on terrorism charges to the US is not addressed in the review.

In the weeks prior to the recent varied announcements about changes to UK counterterrorism policies, a British judge announced it would be permissible for Abid Naseer – a Pakistani accused of having been involved with the network that allegedly supported Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American who pled guilty to trying to carry out a suicide bombing on New York’s subway – to be deported to the US to face charges.

But there is no evidence that this has actually happened, or is going to happen anytime soon.

So, while Cameron has finally laid out his markers on how he plans to counter terrorism in the UK going forward, and while there is a clear rhetorical shift, it still is unclear that there’s been much practical change.

A slightly belated article on the recent events in Moscow for HSToday (belated in that there are now hints it has been figured out who the culprits are). There should be a longer interview I have done with Ces that should appear soon (and of course, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about it!).

Culprits Behind Latest Moscow Bombings Still A Mystery

By: Raff Pantucci

02/04/2011 (12:00am)

The New Year started with a deadly explosion in Moscow. Terrorists detonated a powerful bomb inside Moscow’s Domodevo international airport, killing 35 persons and injuring more than one hundred. Moscow had barely dodged an earlier attack on revelers in Red Square on the night of December 31.

News of the earlier failed attack emerged in the wake of the investigation into the bombing at the Domodevo airport. According to Russian media that quoted intelligence sources, the attackers were gathered in a rented house in Kuzminki Park where they were assembling an explosive device that they reportedly intended to explode at Red Square.

But the bomb detonated prematurely, when the cell phone that was to be used as the trigger was left turned on and received a text message from the phone company, setting off the bomb. The explosion killed the bomber and destroyed the safe house they were using. Two or three other suspected bombers were seen fleeing the scene who are believed to have been responsible for the later bombing at Domodevo airport.

Russian authorities have been tight lipped about sharing information on the plotters involved in the airport attack. In a particularly blunt statement, a spokesman for the National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) said “the investigation is ongoing, and only the [investigators] can say what’s what. Everyone else needs to shut up.”

That pronouncement though had not stopped speculation that the bombers had ties to the North Caucasus and Islamist fighters from Chechnya or neighboring Dagestan.

In an attempt to allay speculation, Prime Minister Vladmir Putin said “this terrorist act, according to preliminary data, has no relation to the Chechen Republic.” Putin’s statement, however, increasingly has been contradicted by reports that individuals from the region were behind the bombing. According to Russian terrorism expert, Cerwyn Moore of the University of Birmingham, the most likely culprits were Islamists in the North Caucasus led by Dokku Umarov, who “has vowed to launch attacks in Russian cities.”

According to Moore, it was not necessarily the case that this was a plot that was centrally directed. “It may well be that this attack is only loosely linked to the core of the insurgency – many attacks in the past were launched almost as independent operations – under the framework of a loose network of affiliates.”

The affiliate that’s under suspicion is a group called Nogaisky Jamaat near Dagestan, a neighboring province of Chechnya. A number of suspects were leaked that support this speculation. An ethnic Russian convert named, Vitaly Razdobudko, from Stavropol near where Nogaisky Jamaat is from, are being sought in connection with the plots, and reports suggested that the woman who was blown up prematurely was the widow of Temerlan Gadzhiyev, a dead leader of the group.

Whoever proves to be culpable, it is unlikely that this is going to be the last such attack in Russia. In 2004, two female suicide bombers who’d bribed their way onto planes from Domodevo brought both aircraft down, killing 88. It was a particularly grim year that started with a suicide bombing in the Moscow underground in February which killed 39, and ended in September with the Beslan school massacre, which killed 331. The carnage has continued regularly since then, with two more female suicide bombers blowing themselves up in Moscow’s underground last March, killing 40.

Among the speculation about outside terrorist connections, one report from Pakistani stated that Russian agents had been in contact with sister services in Pakistan in connection with the incident. The suspicion is that some of the individuals might have trained in Waziristan – a development that is supported by media interviews of European radicals regarding Chechens who were at training camps in Pakistan.

The decision to target the international arrivals area at Domodevo airport would suggest that the group responsible for the bombing there intended to send a message beyond Russia. However, the lack of a claim for responsibility would seem to contradict this theory and denote that the bombers’ key constituency is on the home front. As Moore put it, “the fact that the violence has continued, in varying degrees of intensity for nearly twenty years, indicates that the movements in the region have a social base – and is largely indigenous.”

The underlying problem that has kept violence brewing for almost two decades has not dissipated, and it is uncertain that the response to the latest attack is going to do anything to bring these issues to a close.

 

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.