Is al-Qaeda holding French intelligence officers captive?

Serge LazarevićBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Two French citizens kidnapped last November by an al-Qaeda-linked militant group, while on an alleged business trip in Mali, may have connections with French intelligence. One of the two hostages, Philippe Verdon, made headlines on Wednesday, after it was alleged that he may have been executed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The website of the Agence Nouakchott d’Information, a Mauritanian news service that frequently carries AQIM press statements, said that Verdon was killed on March 10 in retaliation for France’s military operations in Mali. Verdon was kidnapped from a hotel in the northeastern Malian city of Hombori along with another French citizen, Serge Lazarević. Their families insist that the two Frenchmen were abducted while “doing a feasibility study for a future cement factory” in Mali. But is this true? Or could Serge Lazarević be the same Slobodan “Serge” Lazarević, who was implicated in a 1999 French intelligence operation aimed at assassinating Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević? As intelNews reported in January of 2009, three alleged French-handled intelligence operatives were put on trial in Serb capital Belgrade, allegedly for collaborating with a French commando team tasked with assassinating the Serb leader. The three, Jugoslav Petrušić, Slobodan Orašanin and Milorad Pelemiš, were arrested by Yugoslav authorities in November 1999, reportedly while trying to organize “10 trained commandos to storm the presidential residence”. Although sensational, the charges against the three men are hardly unique in the context of the murky intelligence history of NATO’s 1999-2000 war in Yugoslavia, which has yet to be fully written. What is interesting in this case, however, is that the three accused admitted infiltrating the Yugoslav military and routinely supplying NATO with intelligence data on bombing targets during Operation Allied Force. Read more of this post

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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

French, US intelligence intensify 23-year hunt for Algerian militant

Mokhtar BelmokhtarBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Although many Westerners are aware of the ongoing upsurge in al-Qaeda-linked activity in northwest Africa, few are able to point to the individual leaders behind it. To an important extent, Islamist-inspired groups in the region, notably Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) mirror the decentralized insurgency model developed by Islamist groups in Iraq and elsewhere during the past decade. However, the decentralized nature of the insurgency in northwest Africa does not necessarily entail the complete absence of principal figures in the movement. One case in point is that of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who leads an AQIM-linked brigade known as al-Muaqioon Biddam (Those Who Sign With Blood). Born in 1972, Belmokhtar is an Algerian nomad who has reportedly been tracked by the United States Central Intelligence Agency for over 20 years. In the late 1980s, Belmokhtar traveled to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan, where he was taught the art of insurgency at al-Qaeda-funded training camps. Following the Soviet withdrawal, he left Afghanistan and returned to his homeland, where he joined the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria (GIA) and fought in the brutal 10-year civil war that ripped the country apart. In 2003, two years after the end of the war, Belmokhtar and his militia were pushed into northern Mali by the Algerian military. He soon set up camps in the area and used them to stage abduction raids into southern Algeria, targeting foreign oil workers and tourists. The Wall Street Journal reports that, according to the US department of State, in less than a decade, Belmokhtar’s militia managed to raise approximately $50 million through kidnapping foreigners and extorting cocaine smugglers traveling through Mali on their way to Europe. His big break came in 2011, when the collapse of the Libyan regime resulted in the unprecedented availability of illicit weapons previously in the hands of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s army. Belmokhtar’s militia became one of the principal buyers of Libyan weapons available in huge quantities in the black market. Read more of this post

US providing intelligence support to French forces in Mali

Mali and the Independent State of AzawadBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The United States is providing intelligence support to hundreds of French troops that entered the West African nation of Mali last week, according to American and French officials. On January 11, at least 400 French soldiers entered Mali from French military bases in neighboring Burkina Faso and Chad, in what the French Ministry of National Defense has codenamed Opération SERVAL. The French intervention was sparked by the conflict in northern Mali, which erupted in 2012. In January of that year, Tuareg tribesmen formerly employed by the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi teamed up with a host of local Islamist groups, including the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith). Guided by members of the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), these groups rapidly seized Mali’s massive northern region (which they call ‘the Independent State of Azawad’), where they are said to have imposed a strict version of Islamic sharia law. Last week’s intervention by the French military came to many as a surprise, though not to intelNews leaders, who have known for a while that Paris had been lobbying Western officials to help it launch a military intervention in the West African country. It now appears that Western countries are indeed helping France’s military operations in Mali. Outgoing US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters on Monday that the Pentagon is gathering intelligence for the benefit of French forces. The US, said Panetta, has “a responsibility to go after al-Qaida wherever they are” and ensure that its members do not “establish a base of operations” in West Africa. He added that Washington is considering widening its support to Paris by providing “logistics, surveillance and airlift capability”. Read more of this post

France pressing for Western military intervention in Mali, claim sources

Mali and the Independent State of AzawadBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of France is holding secret talks with American and other Western officials to explore options for a concerted military intervention in Mali, according to diplomatic sources. A Tuareg rebellion in the northern part of Mali, which began earlier this year, culminated in the unilateral declaration of the Independent State of Azawad. The new state, which borders Algeria, Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso, is controlled by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA). The NMLA is partially staffed by former members of the Libyan Army during the rule of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. But it is also said to incorporate armed members of Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), all of which claim to have links with al-Qaeda. Many French observers view the Independent State of Azawad as the African version of mid-1990s Afghanistan, which eventually served as the base for Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. But even though the French government has come out in favor of armed intervention in northern Mali, it has denied persistent rumors that it is contemplating sending French troops in the West African country. Instead, Paris officially favors intervention by the Malian Army backed by African Union troops and using logistical support provided by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). However, in an article published yesterday, The Associated Press claimed that, behind the scenes, the French government is trying to convince the US and other Western countries to participate in a military intervention in Mali. Read more of this post

Al-Qaeda unconventional weapons experiment goes awry

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An anonymous senior US intelligence official has confirmed rumors in the British press that a biological or chemical weapons experiment by an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Algeria has gone wrong, forcing the group to abandon one of its camps in the country. The official said that an urgent message from the Algerian group to the al-Qaeda leadership in the Pakistan-Afghan border, which referred to the base closure, was intercepted by Western intelligence agencies in early January. However, he dismissed as unfounded earlier reports in the British press that 40 militants had died after being infected when the experiment went awry. Read more of this post

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