Panel to present findings on mysterious death of UN secretary general

Dag HammarskjöldA panel of experts commissioned by the United Nations is about to unveil fresh evidence on the mysterious death in 1961 of UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld, who some claim was murdered for supporting African decolonization. The evidence could spark a new official probe into the incident, which has been called “one of the enduring mysteries of the 20th century”.

On September 17, 1961, a Douglas DC-6 transport aircraft carrying United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld crashed in the British-administered territory of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). The crash killed everyone onboard. Three successive investigations into the crash, conducted by the Rhodesian Board of Investigation, the Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry, and the United Nations Commission of Investigation, viewed “pilot error” as the most likely cause of the tragedy. However, the latter probe, which was closed in 1962, opined that deliberate sabotage could not be ruled out as a likely cause of the tragedy.

Since that time, numerous scholars and independent investigators, such as Swedish development expert Göran Björkdahl and British academic Susan Williams, have raised the possibility that the plane carrying Secretary General Hammarskjöld may have been “shot down by an unidentified second plane”. Several commentators have also pointed to what seemed like eagerness by British colonial administrators in Northern Rhodesia to obscure the details of the incident. One argument is that Hammarskjöld, described as the most independent-minded secretary general in the history of the UN, had angered many world powers due to this fierce support for anti-colonial movements that were sweeping the African continent. Indeed, at the time of his death, Hammarskjöld was flying to the Congo’s mineral-rich Katanga region to meet European-supported chieftains who in 1960 had seceded from the Marxist government of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Ironically, Lumumba had been assassinated in a Western-backed coup exactly eight months before Hammarskjöld’s own death.

In 2012, the independently funded Hammarskjöld Inquiry Trust appointed an international team of jurists to study all available evidence on the plane crash. The team, called the Hammarskjöld Commission, was composed of a diplomat and three judges from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Sweden. The Commission reported in 2013 that “significant new evidence” had emerged, which suggested that American intelligence agencies, notably the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, held “crucial evidence” that could help clarify the causes of the crash.

The report by the Hammarskjöld Commission prompted the UN’s current Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to appoint a UN-sponsored panel of experts to examine the new evidence and present it before the UN General Assembly. The three-member panel traveled to several countries, including Zambia, the US, Britain and Belgium, to access government, as well as private archives. Its report is expected to be delivered to the UN General Assembly this week. It is said to include written testimony by a Belgian pilot who says he shot down the plane carrying Hammarskjöld by error, while trying to divert it on orders by a government entity. Another witness, a former intelligence officer with the US National Security Agency, is believed to have told the UN experts that he listened to a recording of a pilot who said he shot down the UN Secretary General’s plane.

Once this new evidence is presented, the UN General Assembly will have to vote on whether the UN should hold an official probe into the plane crash. It would mark the first such inquiry since 1962.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 June 2015 | Permalink:

Burundi president’s whereabouts unknown as coup unfolds

Update, May 14, 1924 UTC: The BBC reports that President Nkurunziza has returned to Bujumbura. He claims that troops loyal to him “are in control of key locations” in the capital.

There was chaos last night in Burundi, as armed cells of coup plotters led by the country’s former intelligence chief claimed to have taken over power in the small but important Central African nation. General Godefroid Niyombare, who was ousted from his post as intelligence chief in February of this year, claimed in a public radio address to have led a successful “military uprising against the country’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza. As of last night, 20 people had been reported dead in capital Bujumbura, while over 200 had been injured and many more hundreds had been arrested by the coup plotters —most of them officials in President Nkurunziza’s administration. The headquarters of the country’s state-owned television and radio stations have been taken over by the coup plotters, while all private radio stations in the country appear to have been shut down. Online social media also seem to have been placed behind a firewall by the coup plotters. The Bujumbura international airport is closed, as are all border crossings into the country.

The alleged coup comes after nearly a month of daily protests in the capital and other major cities, against an attempt by President Nkurunziza to seek a third term in power. Such a move would violate the country’s constitution and has been criticized as unlawful by the African Union, the European Union and the United States. General Niyombare, the self-proclaimed leader of the coup, is thought to have been dismissed from his intelligence post in February for publicly opposing President Nkurunziza’s effort to extend his 10-year rule of the country.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of the president, who was traveling by air to neighboring Tanzania for a regional summit when the coup broke out, remain unknown. Gunfire and explosions have been reported in Bujumbura, which is interpreted by observers as a sign that troops still loyal to Nkurunziza are defending the presidential palace, the ministry of defense and other strategic buildings in the capital. But the extent to which the plotters and the president have support within the armed forces remains unclear, and it is not known who is currently governing the country.

Burundi is the third largest target by Somali-based Islamist group al-Shabaab, and contributes the second-largest troop force to AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Should the government be deposed, the African Union will likely order all Burundian troops to return to their country.

Kenyan state accused of role in killings of prominent Muslims

Site of Butt's assassinationBy IAN ALLEN |
Human rights groups have accused the Kenyan government of being behind a spate of assassinations of prominent Muslims in the country, after a controversial Muslim businessman was shot dead in his car last week. Kenyan authorities had accused Mohamed Shahid Butt, a vocal Muslim entrepreneur, who owned several business ventures in the city of Mombasa, of inciting terrorism. He was due to appear in court in August to face charges of funding radical Muslim youth groups in Mombasa and instructing them to drive out moderate Muslim clerics from area mosques. According to court documents, the Kenyan government has been investigating several back accounts belonging to Mr. Butt, as part of a wider probe into alleged terrorism funding. However, on Friday evening the prominent businessman was gunned down in his car in Mombasa’s Chaani district by two men who then escaped, firing automatic rifles in the air. Mr. Butt was reportedly returning to downtown Mombasa from the Moi International Airport, after picking up his son who had arrived there on a flight from London. At approximately 8:15 p.m., Mr. Butt’s car was blocked and brought to a halt by another vehicle. As soon as his car was immobilized, two men emerged from the other vehicle and shot the businessman at close range before driving off. Mr. Butt died at the scene, while his son was slightly injured. Friday’s incident was the latest in a string of assassinations of prominent Muslims in the Mombasa region during the past two years. This past June, Sheikh Mohammed Idris, a moderate Sunni imam who chaired the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, became the fourth prominent Muslim cleric to have been shot dead in Mombasa since 2012. Prior to his assassination, Idris had been ousted from Mombasa’s Sakina mosque, where Mr. Butt had been an elder. The mosque has since become an enclave of radical Muslims and has been renamed to Mujahedeen (holy warrior) mosque. Muslim and human rights groups accuse the Kenyan government of conducting the assassinations, in an attempt to neutralize what it sees as domestic enemies of the state. Read more of this post

White man allegedly led Kenya Islamist attack that killed 60

Mpeketoni, KenyaBy IAN ALLEN |
Survivors of a militant Islamist attack on a Kenyan coastal town said they witnessed a white man speaking in English and Arabic coordinating the operation that left 60 people dead. The bloody attack took place on Sunday in Mpeketoni, a small town located near the Kenya’s Lamu archipelago on the Indian Ocean. Witnesses said a group of 40 heavily armed men stormed the town in small teams and took it over last Sunday morning. Once they had established control, they visited almost every house asking residents if they were Muslim. If they failed to pass a simple test, they were executed on the spot. The attack is believed to have been carried out by al-Shabaab, a Somali-based Islamist group that has links to al-Qaeda. But survivors of the horrific raid have told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph that the leader of the attackers was “pale-skinned” and “spoke English and Arabic”. The paper quoted Mpeketoni schoolteacher Mary Gachoki, who said she saw “a white man who was speaking in fluent British English commanding the rest of the attackers”. The Telegraph report cited the accounts of several more witnesses, including a woman who saw “a white man” among the attackers, who “was commanding them and was shooting now and then”. She added that “at one point he spoke in Arabic but most of the time in English”, with a British accent. One witness said the pale skinned man “was either white or an Arab”. These accounts are believed to strengthen the view that the attack was indeed carried over by al-Shabaab. The group has strong links with foreign Arab or European-born Islamists who routinely travel to Somalia to join the group’s ranks. But the claims also bring to mind similar allegations made following last September’s attack at the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Kenyan capital Nairobi, which killed nearly 70 people. Read more of this post

Documents offer rare day-to-day insight into al-Qaeda’s finances

Al-Qaeda propaganda videoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
A remarkable set of documents found in western Africa offers a fascinating insight into the day-to-day running of al-Qaeda. The papers, obtained by the Associated Press (AP) earlier this year, reveal a highly bureaucratic organization that meticulously documents even the minutest expenses incurred by its members. The documents were produced and left behind by fighters belonging to the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) when they took over the city of Timbuktu, situated on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in the West African nation of Mali. The AP had the documents, which include over 100 receipts written in Arabic, authenticated by experts, before posting them online, here. Analysts who spoke to the news agency said the papers show that al-Qaeda is the furthest thing from “a fly-by-night, fragmented terror organization” that conducts its financial affairs “on the back of envelopes”. Rather, they reveal a group that operates “like a multinational corporation”, with a “rigid bureaucracy” consisting of chief executives, directors’ boards, as well as clearly demarcated departments that include human resources and public relations. According to the AP, the AQIM documents found in Timbuktu include “corporate workshop schedules, salary spreadsheets, philanthropy budgets, job applications, public relations advice and letters from the equivalent of a human resources division”. Perhaps most impressively, while occupying Timbuktu, the AQIM militants appear to have gone out of their way to purchase, rather than expropriate, goods from local shopkeepers and merchants. Additionally, they went to great pains to record their cash flow, meticulously noting down purchases as small as a light bulb, a cake, or a bar of soap. The AP analysis suggests that the documents found in Timbuktu confirm what counterterrorism researchers have found in al-Qaeda’s other operational domains, in places such as Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #859

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy IAN ALLEN |
►►Some fear terrorists are exploiting online computer games. American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to documents disclosed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. The documents show that intelligence operatives fear that terrorist or criminal networks could use the games to communicate secretly, move money or plot attacks.
►►Niger’s president says Libya risks becoming like Somalia. Libya risks becoming a failed state like Somalia, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said last week, a day after gunmen shot dead an American teacher in the eastern city of Benghazi. “Our fear is that Libya falls into the hands of Salafist terrorists and that the state becomes like Somalia”, Issoufou told reporters ahead of a Franco-African summit in Paris. His country adjoins Libya to the south and has fought Islamists at home.
►►Secret memos show British spies’ efforts to keep Cyprus base. Heavily redacted documents show how determined British security and intelligence agencies –including GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency– were to maintain an effective presence in Cyprus after the strategically important island became independent in 1960. The files also reveal that Archbishop Makarios, the Greek Cypriot leader who became the first president of Cyprus when the island gained independence in August 1960, agreed not only to the UK bases but to British help in setting up his country’s own security and intelligence agencies.

Intelligence historian calls on MI6 to declassify Lumumba files

Patrice LumumbaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
An historian whose book on British intelligence prompted the claim of Britain’s complicity in the 1961 assassination Patrice Lumumba has called for MI6 to declassify its secret files on the late Congolese Prime Minister. Calder Walton is a Cambridge University-educated intelligence historian whose first book, Empire of Secrets, examines the activities of British intelligence in the last days of the British Empire. A review of the book, published by Bernard Porter in The London Review of Books in March, prompted a claim that London had organized the assassination of the iconic pan-Africanist activist, who in 1960 had become Congo’s first democratically elected Prime Minister. Many believe that the United States had a hand in Lumumba’s assassination, which was aimed at preventing him from establishing close relations between uranium-rich Congo and the Soviet Union. But British Labour politician and Life peer Lord Lea of Crondall said in a letter published in response to the review of Walton’s book that Lumumba had been killed with the help of MI6, Britain’s primary external intelligence service. He claimed he had been told so by the late Baroness Park of Monmouth, who at the time of Lumumba’s death headed the Leopoldville station of MI6. In his book, Walton, who until 2009 served as research assistant for Professor Christopher Andrew’s authorized official history of MI5, Defence of the Realm, says it is unclear who organized Lumumba’s assassination. He argues that “at present, we do not know […] whether British plots to assassinate Lumumba […] ever amounted to anything”. But speaking to The London Times on Wednesday, the historian and author urged MI6 to declassify its internal archives on the Congolese leader. Read more of this post


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