Weapon used in Paris attacks was purchased in the United States

M92 Zastava PistolOne of the guns used by Islamist militants to attack locations in downtown Paris on November 13 was purchased legally through a dealer in the United States, according to a report by the Associated Press. Investigators have confirmed that several of the weapons used in the attack, which killed 130 and injured hundreds more, were manufactured in Serbia. Most are slightly modified versions of the Soviet-era AK-47, known in the West as “shortened Kalashnikov”. All were produced in a weapons factory called Zastava, which is located in the city of Kragujevac, in central Serbia. They were made in the 1980s and sold within the former Yugoslavia.

Last Thursday, however, the director of the Zastava factory, Milojko Brzakovic, told the Associated Press that he had contacted authorities in France to inform them that one of the weapons used in the Paris attacks was made in his factory and sold to a US dealer. It was an M92 semi-automatic pistol, which had been legally sold to an American online arms seller called Century Arms in May 2013. The seller, based in the state of Florida, is believed to import tens of thousands of weapons from the Zastava factory each year. Brzakovic said the M92 could only fire single shots, and was thus in accordance with American law. It sells for less than $500 a piece in the US, he said.

When asked how the weapon got into the hands of militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Brzakovic said he had no idea. He told the Associated Press that all guns exports by Zastava to Century Arms and other American weapons dealers are in strict compliance with US government regulations. Someone, he said, must have illegally modified the weapon into an automatic at a later stage. Brzakovic also said he had no idea how the weapon left America and ended up in France. All weapons exports from the US must be approved by the US Department of State, he said, so the M92 pistol must have made its way to Europe illegally.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 December 2015 | Permalink | News tip: R.W.

Paris attack mastermind evaded Athens police raid in January

Abdelhamid AbaaoudThe man who masterminded November’s Islamist attacks in Paris was based in Athens, and last January managed to escape arrest during a joint Greek-Belgian police operation aimed at capturing him. Moroccan-born Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who had lived in Brussels for years, died in a gun battle with French police on November 18, just days after the multiple attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and injured hundreds. It is believed that the perpetrators of the attacks, who were based in Belgium, were guided and directed by Abaaoud. He, however, was not based in Belgium, but in Athens, Greece. It was from there that he directed the Islamist cells, mostly by phone, according to the BBC.

Citing “a Belgian anti-terrorism source” the BBC said on Tuesday that Belgian and Greek authorities were aware of Abaaoud’s general whereabouts and were able to trace some of his phone calls to Islamist militants in Belgium. Eventually, a senior Belgian law enforcement official traveled to Athens to help coordinate a Greek police operation aimed at capturing Abaaoud. By that time, the Moroccan-born militant had been sentenced by a Paris court to 20 years imprisonment in absentia for his role in at least four planned attacks in France —all of which had been foiled by police. Upon capture, Greek authorities planned to extradite Abaaoud to France, where he would serve his sentence. However, the militant was able to get away, though the BBC said that the circumstances of his escape remain unclear. According to the report, an Algerian associate off Abaaoud was arrested during the operation in Athens and was extradited to Belgium.

Abaaoud was not the only Islamic State-linked militant known to have operated in Greece. The two suicide bombers who tried to enter the Stade de France in Paris on November 13 had entered the European Union through the Greek island of Leros, after crossing the Aegean by boat from Turkey. Meanwhile, another of Abaaoud’s associates, Belgian-born Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, whose current whereabouts are unknown, is believed to have traveled by ferry from Italy to Greece in August.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 December 2015 | Permalink

In change of policy, Russia and US begin sharing intelligence with France

Hollande and PutinThe United States and Russia, which have traditionally been cautious about sharing Middle East-related intelligence with France, have both announced that they will begin giving classified information to Paris. On Wednesday, France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a press conference that intelligence shared by the US had been instrumental in enabling the French Air Force to intensify its air campaign against the Islamic State. Asked to respond to Drian’s comments, US Department of Defense spokesman Peter Cook said that the US Armed Forces had indeed “increased intelligence-sharing with France”.

French officials described that development as a “change in the US position”. IntelNews readers will recall that the United States and France limited their intelligence cooperation last summer, after it emerged that the US had spied on the communications of three French presidents, from 1995 to 2012. Paris scaled back drastically its intelligence cooperation with Washington following subsequent revelations that the National Security Agency had targeted the personal cell phone of Francois Hollande, France’s current head of state.

Also on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the Russian Armed Forces stationed in Syria to treat their French counterparts “as allies”. Putin reportedly told the leadership of the Russian military in Syria that they “must establish direct contact with the French and work with them as with allies”. This is a significant development, given that Russia is one of the few countries that continues to maintain an active intelligence-collection program on the ground in Syria. Unlike the US, France, and most other Western states, Russia has not closed its embassy in Damascus and is thus able to run networks of human sources throughout the country. The news of increased Russian intelligence-sharing with France came as Moscow announced//announced// on Wednesday that it was stepping up intelligence-gathering throughout the Middle East, according to Andrei Kartapolov, a senior official in the Russian Army’s General Staff.

Meanwhile, an unnamed Moroccan security official told Reuters on Wednesday that intelligence shared by the Moroccan intelligence services with their French counterparts led to a raid in an apartment in Paris in connection with the November 13 attacks there. Two people were shot dead or committed suicide and seven others were arrested during Wednesday’s dramatic raid in the Paris suburb of St. Denis.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 November 2015 | Permalink

ISIS bombing of Beirut is more important than Paris attacks

Bourj al-Barajneh The recent attacks by Islamic State militants in Paris continue to dominate the world’s headlines. But the double suicide blasts that struck Beirut three days earlier are far more significant for the future of the Syrian Civil War. The outpouring of grief that followed the attacks of November 15 in the French capital prompted charges of discrimination against the world’s media. The latter practically ignored the bombing of Lebanese capital Beirut on November 12, which killed 43 and injured over 200 people. The Islamic State, known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), claimed responsibility for the deadly blasts, which marked the bloodiest attack in the Lebanese capital since the end of the country’s civil war in 1990.

The contrast between the media’s treatment of the attacks in Paris and Beirut could not have been starker. The news of the double suicide blasts in Beirut hardly penetrated global headlines, with the exception of outlets like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. Even the BBC, which typically pays more attention to non-Western news, relegated the incident to third place, behind a story about corruption in the international football association and the news of the killing of “Jihadi John”. There was no “safety check” app on Facebook, and no Lebanese flags were superimposed on users’ profile photos. Yet the blasts in Beirut are more significant than the attacks in Paris, for two reasons.

First, because attacking “soft targets” in Paris is far easier than attacking Beirut. Paris is a city of 2.2 million people, who are used to a life of relative security and hardly pay attention to their surroundings. The “city of light” features a café in nearly every corner, 13,000 restaurants and over 2,000 hotels; it is easy to enter and exit, and is hardly policed, even by Western standards. Beirut, on the other hand, is a tense Middle Eastern city with heavy police and military presence. The southern Beirut neighborhood of Bourj al-Barajneh, which was targeted by ISIS on November 12, is a Hezbollah stronghold, and probably one of the most tightly policed urban areas in the Eastern Mediterranean. There is little government presence there; but this does not mean that there is no security. On the contrary, Hezbollah militias and volunteers provide protection and conduct careful monitoring of nearly every street. Like its neighboring Dahieh, Bourj al-Barajneh is a world far removed from the fashionable streets of downtown Beirut, where Starbucks cafés and McDonald’s restaurants are frequented by fashionable Lebanese Christians and Western diplomats. Western intelligence has almost no presence Q Quotethere, and even the Mossad, Israel’s feared spy service, rarely ventures in the Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods.

The fact that ISIS was able to penetrate and bomb Bourj al-Barajneh is a monumental development in the ever-widening Syrian Civil War. It demonstrates the advanced planning and operational sophistication of ISIS and places the ball squarely in Hezbollah’s court. What is more, it was the second time in less than two years that ISIS bombed southern Beirut. The Shiite group has been humiliated, having been shown to lack the resources to protect its heartland from Sunni attacks. Moreover, the Lebanese group, which is almost exclusively funded by Iran, will have to respond to that provocation. For several months, the Middle East has been buzzing with rumors that Iran and Hezbollah are preparing a two-front, large-scale ground assault against ISIS forces. Do last week’s twin suicide attacks bring that possibility closer? The answer to that question may change the entire course of the Syrian Civil War. Read more of this post

Analysis: The West should weigh carefully its response to the Paris carnage

Paris FranceParis is still reeling from Friday’s unprecedented carnage, which left at least 130 people dead and over 350 wounded. The six separate incidents included the first known suicide bombings in the country’s history and marked the deadliest coordinated attacks on French soil since World War II. The magnitude of the attacks prompted the French government to close the country’s borders and declare a nationwide state of emergency —the first since 1961. The shock from the mass killings is today reverberating throughout Europe, a continent that had not seen such a deadly incident since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, when a group of al-Qaeda-inspired militants killed 191 people in the Spanish capital. A response from France and its Western allies is to be expected. However, the West should pause and think very carefully before deepening its engagement in a chaotic and unpredictable war that is like nothing it has ever experienced. Specifically, Western leaders should consider the following:

I. The adversaries know and understand the West, its culture and way of life, far better than the West understands them. Ever since 9/11 and the London bombings of 2005, a number of Western observers have cautioned against the so-called “Islamization of Europe”. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the events of 9/11 caused a widening gulf between an increasingly Islamophobic West and Muslims; the latter are viewed by European critics of Islam as foreign bodies. What is far more prevalent and important is the Europeanization of Islam, which means that adherents of radical Islam are studying and interacting with European culture, norms and values, more intensely than ever before. Consequently, armed attacks carried out by Islamist militants against Western targets reflect a deep understanding of Western culture that far exceeds the West’s understanding of them. The November 13 attacks in Paris typify this: they were not “indiscriminate”, as some have suggested. They were carefully selected to achieve core political objectives, while at the same time sending a symbolic message against the Western way of recreation, which Islamists view as decadent. That was highlighted in a statement about the Paris attacks issued by the Islamic State, in which the group singled out the Bataclan Theater as Q Quotea venue where “a party of perversity” was taking place. Europe’s response to this phenomenon is dismissal and indifference. Most Westerners are still at a loss trying to understand the basic differences between Sunni and Shia Islam, let alone the ideological and spiritual underpinnings of groups like the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, and others. The idea that radical Islam can be defeated before it is understood is naïve and dangerous.

II. The West does not have the intelligence and security infrastructure that is necessary to take on the Islamic State. It should not be forgotten that last Friday’s attacks took place despite the state of heightened alert that France has been under after the Charlie Hebdo shootings of January 2015. Since that time, French authorities have reportedly managed to stop at least six advanced plots against civilian targets, while alert passengers were able to prevent a mass shooting aboard a French train in August of this year. However, if France deepens its involvement in the Syrian Civil War, these attacks will continue with a scale and complexity that is bound to stretch —and possibly overwhelm— the country’s security infrastructure. Nine months after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the presence of thousands of police officers and even troops in the streets of Paris has become common. But that did nothing to stop Friday’s attacks in a city of 2.2 million people, which features 35,000 cafés, 13,000 restaurants and over 2,000 hotels. The sheer number of these “soft targets” makes Paris a city that is virtually impossible to defend against determined suicide assailants. The French are also used to traveling with ease within their country and across Europe, as the borders between France and its neighbors, such as Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, have become practically meaningless. Moreover, French authorities estimate that at least 13,000 radicalized Muslims live in France —a fraction of the country’s nearly 6 million Muslim citizens, but large enough to overwhelm the French security services. Read more of this post

French prosecutors urge end to Yasser Arafat poisoning inquiry

Arafat funeralA government prosecutor in France has urged that a probe looking into whether the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned with a radioactive substance should be dropped, because evidence shows he died of natural causes. Arafat was the founder of Palestinian nationalist group Fatah and led the Palestine Liberation Organization for over three decades before becoming the first president of the Palestinian Authority. He died in November 2004 at the Percy military hospital in Paris, France, weeks after being transferred there from his headquarters in Ramallah, West Bank. His official records indicate that he died from a stroke, which he suffered as a result of a blood disorder known as disseminated intravascular coagulation.

However, a year-long investigation by a team of forensic pathologists at the Vaudois University Hospital Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland, suggested in 2013 that the late Palestinian leader was likely poisoned with radioactive polonium. According to the results of the study, which included tests on Arafat’s bones and on soil samples from around his corpse, there was “unexpected high activity” of polonium-210. Traces of the same substance were discovered on the personal artifacts that Arafat used during his final days in Paris. The Swiss lab followed its probe with a second set of tests, which confirmed the initial results and were eventually published in the British peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet.

The Swiss investigation prompted Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat, to file a civil suit at a court in Nanterre, which launched a murder inquiry in August 2012. Further tests were carried out on Arafat’s belongings and his body was exhumed from its burial place in Ramallah. Tests were also carried out by the Russian Federal Medical and Biological Agency, which concluded that the late Palestinian statesman had died “not from the effects of radiation, but of natural causes”. The French inquiry was concluded in April of this year, and the results communicated to the French government prosecutor in Nanterre, Catherine Denis.

On Tuesday, Denis said she had studied the results of the medical investigation and had concluded that the polonium-210 isotopes found in Arafat’s remains and at his gravesite, were without question “of an environmental nature”. Consequently, the case should be dismissed, she said, adding that her view represented the opinion of the prosecution in the case of Arafat’s alleged poisoning. The court must now determine whether to accept the prosecutor’s advice or continue with the case, as is the wish of Arafat’s family.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/22/01-1740/

French-US spy cooperation continues despite WikiLeaks revelations

 Ashton B. Carter and  Jean-Yves Le DrianA fortnight ago, I gave an interview to Spanish newspaper La Razón, in which I argued that last month’s WikiLeaks revelations about American espionage against France would not cause any drastic disruption in the intelligence cooperation between the two countries. I added that “the two countries depend on each other to address a number of international issues that affect both, such the worrying situation in Syria and Iraq, the continuing crises in Ukraine and in Libya, as well as the financial meltdown in Greece. So there is a recognition that their intelligence agencies must continue to work together on several pressing issues”.

This was confirmed on Monday morning, as the American and French defense secretaries met in the US. French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian paid his first visit to the Pentagon since Ashton B. Carter was appointed Secretary of Defense, in February of this year. After an extensive meeting behind closed doors, the two men told reporters gathered at the Pentagon that America’s security cooperation with France “has never been stronger”. Secretary Carter pointed to France’s leading military involvement in several African nations, including Mali, Chad, and Niger, and said that French forces deployed there could expect “more intelligence-sharing with the United States”. He added that actions had been taken during that morning’s meeting to “increase that [intelligence-sharing] yet further”.

The French Defense Minister agreed with his American counterpart and added that the “multiplication of international crises” were bringing the defense and intelligence establishments of France and the US closer. Both men pointed to examples of ongoing French-American security collaboration in Mali and Chad, where the Pentagon is providing French military forces with aerial cargo delivery and refueling facilities. They also mentioned the FS Charles de Gaulle, France’s flagship aircraft carrier, which has been deployed to the Arabian Gulf since March of this year. Secretary Carter told reporters that the Charles de Gaulle had “integrated seamlessly” with American forces in the region, and was helping the Pentagon launch airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq.

The two men declined comment on last month’s claims by WikiLeaks that the US National Security Agency wiretapped three successive French presidents, including the country’s current head of state, Francois Hollande.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 08 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/08/01-1731/

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