Al-Qaeda announces formation of new branch in India

Ayman al-ZawahiriBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Authorities in India have issued a security alert following an official announcement by al-Qaeda that it had formed a new branch in India. The militant organization made its announcement in a video message by its current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Zawahiri, 63, is an Egyptian former eye surgeon who succeeded Osama bin Laden in the leadership of al-Qaeda in May of 2011, after the Saudi militant was killed by American forces in Pakistan. He is said to be hiding in the mountainous borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the hour-long video, al-Zawahiri says the new branch of the militant organization is named “Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent” and will be led by a local operational commander who goes by the pseudonym “Asim Umar”, but he does not provide his real name. The formation of the group signals the sixth regional branch of al-Qaeda; the group already maintains close operational links with Al-Shabaab in East Africa, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Peninsula, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the Caucasus Emirate in Central Asia. Al-Zawahiri said in his video message that Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent would “raise the flag of holy war” across the entirety of South Asia, including western India, Bangladesh, as well as Myanmar, also known as Burma. He added that al-Qaeda’s goal would be to Islamize a region that was once “part of the land of the Muslims, until the infidel adversary colonized it and fragmented it and split it” in more recent times. There are no known links between al-Qaeda and Muslim militant groups operating in India, in states such as Assam, Gujarat, or Jammu and Kashmir. Such groups are primarily connected to separatist organizations funded and controlled by the government of Pakistan. In addition to announcing the formation of al-Qaeda’s Indian branch, al-Zawahiri used his message to express his support for Mullah Omar, the mysterious leader of the Afghan Taliban, who sheltered Osama bin Laden for several years in the 1990s and 2000s. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #868

Jonathan PollardBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Honduras suspends eight consuls in US. Honduras has suspended eight of its 10 consuls in the US, days after local media alleged that the consuls had issued illegal papers in exchange of payments of up to $50. The consulates affected are in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans and New York. The case came to light after a group representing Hondurans living in the US said a number of consulates were issuing “consular IDs” —documents that bear the crest and flag of Honduras, but which are not officially recognized forms of identification.
►►Al-Qaeda’s expulsion of Syrian group prompts US debate. The Obama administration is engaged in a debate on whether a law giving the president authority to attack al-Qaeda affiliates still applies to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), after al-Qaeda’s recent decision to sever ties with the group. Current and former US intelligence officials said last week’s expulsion marked the first time al-Qaeda had ejected a group that had formally joined its fold, a potentially risky move at a time when the terrorist network’s affiliates have largely eclipsed the core group in strength and relevance.
►►Ex CIA head says anti-Semitism likely in Pollard case. Former CIA Director James Woolsey says anti-Semitism could be a factor in the US refusal to release Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish American jailed for spying for Israel. Wolsey has long advocated for releasing Pollard who was sentenced to life in prison in 1985 for spying on the United States. “I certainly don’t think that it is universally true, but in the case of some American individuals, I think there is anti-Semitism at work here”, Woolsey said.

News you may have missed #867 (Syrian uprising edition)

Regional map of SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Al-Qaeda breaks link with Syrian militant group. Al-Qaeda’s general command said on Monday it had no links with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in an apparent attempt to reassert its authority over fragmented Islamist fighters in Syria’s civil war. The move is likely to bolster a rival Islamist group, the al-Nusra Front, as al Qaeda’s official proxy in Syria. The switch is seen as an attempt to redirect the Islamist effort towards unseating President Bashar al-Assad rather than waste resources in fighting other rebels.
►►Is Israel secretly working to target al-Qaeda in Syria? Reports already indicate that Israel is providing humanitarian aid for Syrians, but do these contacts also include intelligence and military cooperation against radical groups linked with al-Qaeda? And, if so, does this mean that Israel is assisting troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?
►►Australians ‘flocking to Syrian front line’. Some experts say there are more Australians journeying to Syria to participate in the ongoing conflict than any other Western nation. The number of Australians killed in Syria’s civil war is at least 15 —double the number previously reported. The claim comes from a prominent member of the country’s Syrian community. He says there is no shortage of Australian support for the Syrian rebels —and that that support is being grossly under-reported.

Newspaper retracts report of Turkish jets attacking Syrian rebels

Turkish-Syrian borderBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A Turkish newspaper has retracted a report stating that Turkish military jets entered Syrian territory and destroyed an outpost belonging to an al-Qaeda-linked rebel group, after its members attacked a Turkish military garrison along the Syrian-Turkish border. In a published correction, the paper said instead that the Turkish army opened fire from inside Turkey. Today’s Zaman, the English-language edition of Turkish daily Zaman, reported on January 29 that Turkish F-16s had entered Syrian territory and had bombed a stationary convoy of vehicles belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, an al-Qaeda-linked group that made its appearance in Syria in April of last year. The origins of ISIS are in Iraq, where it was founded in 2003 as a Sunni armed paramilitary force, in response to the invasion by the United States. In 2004, the group pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and changed its name to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Many observers argue that, in recent months, ISIS has turned into “one of the most powerful forces on the ground” in Syria, with 7,000 well-armed fighters, many of whom are battle-hardened foreign Islamists. It is widely believed that ISIS now dominates Syria’s northwest, having established outposts in a series of “strategic towns” in the region, which are referred to by its leaders as “mini emirates”. Through these outposts, ISIS fighters are able to monitor border traffic between Syria and Turkey, and effectively control most border passages. After retracting its earlier report, Today’s Zaman said the Turkish military used “tanks and artillery fire” to attack the ISIL outpost. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #865

Emad ShahinBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Renowned Egyptian scholar charged with espionage. Emad Shahin, a scholar of political Islam who has taught at Harvard, Notre Dame and the American University in Cairo and edited the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics, has been charged along with several senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood with conspiring with foreign organizations to undermine Egypt’s national security. He is listed as ‘Defendant 33’ in a lengthy criminal complaint that also names former President Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in last summer’s military takeover.
►►Al-Qaeda training Western Islamists in Syria to set up cells abroad. British newspaper The Telegraph reports that, according to security sources, Westerners fighting for the Islamist opposition in Syria are being trained and then encouraged to return to the UK to launch attacks on home soil. The paper quotes an “al-Qaeda defector” from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), who says that “recruits from Britain, Europe and the US were being indoctrinated in extremist anti-Western ideology, trained in how to make and detonate car bombs and suicide vests and sent home to start new terror cells”.
►►Snowden has “no plans” to return to the United States. Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden has said he has “no chance” of a fair trial in the US and has no plans to return there. “There’s no no way I can come home and make my case to a jury”, he told the Free Snowden website. “Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which, through a failure in law, did not cover national security contractors like myself”, he said.

News you may have missed #863

Carmi GillonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Al-Qaeda controls more Arab territory than ever before. Al-Qaeda currently controls territory that stretches more than 400 miles across the heart of the Middle East. Indeed, the group appears to control more territory in the Arab world than it has done at any time in its history. Its affiliates now control much of northern and northwestern Syria as well as some parts of eastern Syria, as well as much of Anbar province, which is around a third of Iraqi territory.
►►German diplomats survive shooting in Saudi Arabia. Two German diplomats survived a shooting attack on their car while on a visit to eastern Saudi Arabia on Monday, the state news agency SPA reported, but their vehicle was burned. In Berlin, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said: “I can confirm that there was an incident during a drive out in the country. The car was shot at and it caught fire. There were no injuries. The embassy in Riyadh has launched an investigation”.
►►Israel’s ex-security chief flees Denmark to avoid arrest. Carmi Gillon, former director of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency, who is also Israel’s former ambassador to Denmark, has left the Scandinavian country following a formal complaint accusing him of committing crimes of torture and brutality against Palestinian detainees. Gillon is reported to have left the country hastily to avoid being detained.

Analysis: How al-Qaeda changed the Syrian Civil War

Regional map of SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Until relatively recently, few observers believed that the government of Bashar al-Assad had a future in war-torn Syria. But the situation in the world’s most active battle zone has changed drastically in recent months, and now many suggest that the Assad forces are dominating the conflict. In a recent article in The New York Review of Books, Sarah Birke, a Middle East correspondent for The Economist, argues that it was the presence of al-Qaeda that changed the balance of power between the warring sides. She points the finger at the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, an al-Qaeda-linked group that made its appearance in Syria in April of last year. Since that time, ISIS has turned into “one of the most powerful forces on the ground”, with 7,000 well-armed fighters, many of whom are battle-hardened foreign Islamists. The origins of ISIS are in Iraq, where it was founded in 2003 as a Sunni armed paramilitary force, in response to the invasion by the United States. In 2004, the group pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and changed its name to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The United States government has pledged $10 million in return for information leading to the capture of the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but with no success so far. In the spring of 2003, the Iraqi-born al-Baghdadi announced the merger of AQI with the Al-Nusra Front, AQI’s branch in Syria. Since that time, the two unified groups have been commonly referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham —al-Sham being a reference to ‘greater Syria’, known also as ‘the Levant’. Birke reports that ISIS now dominates Syria’s northwest, having established outposts in a series of “strategic towns” in the region, which are referred to by its leaders as “mini emirates”. Through these outposts, ISIS fighters are able to monitor border traffic between Syria and Turkey, and effectively control most border passages. This has crippled the Free Syrian Army, which used to dominate the Syrian opposition with the help of generous donations of money and war material coming in from Turkey. Read more of this post

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

Al-Qaeda propaganda videoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
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

US spy agencies probed job seekers with links to al-Qaeda

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One in five applicants for jobs in American intelligence agencies, who were rejected due to questionable backgrounds, were found to have connections with foreign intelligence or militant groups, including al-Qaeda.  This is revealed in an internal document provided to The Washington Post by American defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), is currently living in Russia, where he has been granted political asylum. Last week, he gave The Post a top-secret document containing the 2012 budget summary for the US National Intelligence Program. Among other things, the document reveals that individuals with links to what the United States Intelligence Community terms “hostile intelligence”, or foreign terrorist organizations, have sought to obtain intelligence-related jobs in the US. According to the paper, roughly one out of every five job seekers at the CIA,  whose applications were rejected by the Agency due to suspicious backgrounds, had “significant terrorist and/or hostile intelligence connections”. Such connections allegedly included links with Lebanese Hezbollah, Islamic Hamas, as well as various al-Qaeda affiliates, all of which are on the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The Post subsequently spoke to a CIA source who argued that the number of applicants found to have ties with militant groups was relatively small. The leaked document also mentions that the NSA has launched a major counterintelligence scheme aimed at uncovering “potentially suspicious or abnormal [...] activity” among its employees. Read more of this post

Analysis: Why were Western diplomats evacuated from Yemen?

YemenBy J. FITSANAKIS and I. ALLEN | intelNews.org |
American and British embassies in Yemeni capital Sana’a were evacuated on Tuesday, soon after the United States closed 19 of its diplomatic representations in the Middle East and North Africa due to fears of a pending terrorist attack. But why exactly did the evacuations of diplomatic personnel take place in Sana’a? The Yemeni government announced on Wednesday that it had foiled a large-scale attack by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which allegedly aimed to cripple the country’s frail economy. According to Yemeni government spokesperson Rajeh Badi, the attack was planned to take place in the country’s central Hadramout governorate, which includes the port cities of al-Mukkala and Ghail Ba Wazir. The Yemeni government said the AQAP forces planned to blow up several oil pipelines before proceeding to occupy the two port cities, from which the majority of Yemen’s oil exports are shipped. Badi added that AQAP planned to take several foreign oil workers hostage as part of the military operations.

However, as Foreign Policy magazine’s Dana Stuster points out, Mohammed Albasha, spokesman of the Yemeni embassy in Washington, DC, seems to dispute his own government’s claims. Early on Wednesday, Albasha tweeted that, in his view, “AQAP doesn’t have the man power nor the capabilities to capture a city the size of Mukkala in Hadramout”, let alone Ghail Ba Wazir. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #832 (foiled Canada terror plot)

Toronto, CanadaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Two arrested in Canada terror plot. Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, who live in Montreal and Toronto, were planning to derail a Via Rail passenger train in Toronto  with support from “al-Qaeda elements located in Iran”, Canadian police said Monday. “This is the first known al-Qaeda planned attack that we’ve experienced in Canada”, Superintendent Doug Best told a news conference. Police said the men did not receive financial support from al-Qaeda, but declined to provide more details. There was no apparent reason to think the planned attacks were state-sponsored.
►►Canada foils ‘al-Qaeda inspired’ terror attack on train. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said the surveillance operation leading to the arrests of the two suspects was “a result of extensive collaborative efforts”. Chief Spt Jennifer Strachan said the two men had sought to target “a specific route, but not necessarily a specific train”. At the same time, the RCMP said they believed the plot was in the planning stage and “there was no imminent threat to the general public”.
►►Tip from Muslim community ‘helped foil’ al-Qaeda plot. Canadian lawyer Hussein Hamdani told CTV News Channel that a tip from the Muslim community helped investigators foil the alleged al-Qaeda plot. “This goes to show the partnership between the Muslim community in Canada and the RCMP and all the police services,” said Hamdani. It might not be well known but collaboration between Muslims and government agencies —like the RCMP, CSIS, Canadian Border Services Agency and the Department of Justice— is quite common, according to Hamdani.

Growing number of US officials believe al-Qaeda is finished

Al-Qaeda propaganda videoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An increasing number of government officials in the United States believe that al-Qaeda is no longer a serious threat to the homeland and are turning their attention to the next chapter of America’s security posture. Citing American defense and intelligence insiders, The Los Angeles Times claims that the militant Islamist group has been virtually decimated following more than a decade of relentless pursuit by Washington. So extensive is al-Qaeda’s operational devastation, they say, that US intelligence agencies can no longer discern any meaningful operational structure at the group’s core. Aside from its reputed leader, Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahiri, and a handful of others, no senior al-Qaeda lieutenant is believed to be alive. For over four years, the group’s commanders have been killed by the Central Intelligence Agency almost as soon as they have been identified, claims the paper. Al-Qaeda’s collapsing structure has led to an inevitable process of decentralization, which has rendered its surviving senior leadership virtually irrelevant to the global Islamist movement. Instead, a host of al-Qaeda-inspired factions have assumed the role of torchbearer, operating in far-flung locations such as Iraq, Syria, Mali, Yemen and Somalia. However, says The Times, these groups are motivated by strictly local issues and have neither the ability nor the will to mount large-scale attacks on American targets. The article quotes former US Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Rosa Brooks as saying: “to the best of our information, there is nobody out there with both the desire and the capabilities to cause any serious damage to the US in any way at this moment”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #824 (India edition)

Tony MendezBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►CIA honed ARGO exfiltration skills in India. The Oscar-winning movie Argo has popularized the 1980 exfiltration by the CIA of a group of American diplomats from Tehran. But few know that Tony Mendez, the CIA officer in charge of the Iran operation, cut his teeth exfiltrating CIA targets in India. In his book, titled Argo, Mendez mentions the 1970 exfiltration of a Soviet defector in India codenamed Nestor. He claims that Nestor was a “huge catch” for the CIA, as he provided the Agency with “invaluable intelligence on the KGB’s operations in Central and Southeast Asia”.
►►Ex-CIA officer says al-Qaeda wanted India-Pakistan nuclear war. In his latest book, Avoiding Armageddon: America, India, and Pakistan to the Brink and Back, former CIA officer Bruce Riedel says al-Qaeda helped plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Its goal was to “spark a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in order to polarize the world between Islam and the ‘Crusader-Zionist-Hindu’ conspiracy”. But the group’s plan was hampered by India’s restraint and refusal to strike back using force, he argues.
►►Man passing defense info to Pakistan held in India. Reports suggest that Sumer Khan, 34, from Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district, has been arrested for sending strategic information to Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency via emails and mobile calls for the past three years. A source said that Khan was caught after his calls to Pakistan were intercepted by Indian military intelligence and Intelligence Bureau. The arrest comes just two days after the conclusion of India’s biggest-ever air exercise, ‘Iron Fist’, in Jaisalmer.

Al-Qaeda manual on how to deceive unmanned drones found in Mali

AQIM forces in MaliBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A detailed manual with instructions on how to defeat the surveillance capabilities of unmanned drones has been found in a former al-Qaeda hideout in northern Mali. International news agency The Associated Press said the photocopied document, which is written in Arabic, had been left behind in a building previously occupied by members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The militants abandoned the document while fleeing into the Sahara desert, ahead of a French military advance on the town of Timbuktu. The document is believed to have been authored by Abdallah bin Muhammad, the operational name of a Yemeni militant serving as a senior commander in the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Its earliest known date of publication is June 2, 2011, on an online Islamist forum. Since that time, it has reappeared at least three times, all in Arabic, according to The Associated Press. The version of the manual found in Mali contains nearly two dozen detailed tips on how to deceive unmanned drones. One tip advises covering the tops of vehicles with floor mats made of hay or other natural-looking material, in an effort to confuse aerial surveillance systems. Another tip proposes camouflaging the roofs of buildings with the use of reflective glass, so as to render them invisible to aerial surveillance. A third suggestion is to mix sugar with water and dirt and apply the sticky mixture onto the body of vehicles, in order to confuse the imagery sensors of unmanned drones. Read more of this post

Turkey refused to extradite bin Laden’s son-in-law to US

Ghaith (left) with bin Laden and al-ZawahiriBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Turkish authorities have reportedly rejected a formal extradition request by the United States for a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, who was arrested in Ankara on Friday following a tip-off by the Central Intelligence Agency. Suleiman Abu Ghaith was born in Kuwait but had his citizenship revoked after publicly opposing the rule of the Kuwaiti monarchy and demanding the institution of shari’a law in the oil emirate. In 2000, he traveled to Afghanistan where he met Osama bin Laden and joined al-Qaeda. He eventually married Fatima bin Laden, one of bin Laden’s numerous daughters, who is currently living in Saudi Arabia. He gradually rose within the ranks of the organization, eventually becoming one of its public spokesmen. Soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan, in 2001, Ghaith is believed to have escaped from Afghanistan by entering Iran on foot. He was eventually captured by Iranian government forces and placed in a detention camp along with other suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members. It is not known how he managed to leave Iran and enter Turkey (though some say he was released the by Iranian authorities), or how the CIA knew of his presence there. However, according to Turkey’s leading daily Milliyet, the Agency contacted members of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (known as MİT) and told them that Ghaith had entered the country on a forged passport. He was arrested soon afterwards at a hotel in Ankara’s affluent Çankaya district. The hotel where Ghaith was captured is reportedly located near the official residence of the Turkish President and a stone’s throw from numerous foreign embassies —including the embassy of the US, which was attacked by a suicide bomber on February 1. Read more of this post

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