Western intelligence points to new Syrian nuclear plant: report

Al-Qusayr, SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Western intelligence indicates that the government of Syria is in the process of constructing a new secret nuclear plant aimed at producing nuclear weapons. In the early hours of September 7, 2007, an air attack believed to have been carried out by Israel destroyed a mysterious facility deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert. The site, named al-Kibar, located 20 miles from Deir el-Zor in eastern Syria, is widely thought to have been a nuclear reactor under construction by Damascus. The Syrian government has never commented or protested about the incident. But in late 2008, the Israeli government told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Syria was once again “actively involved in plutonium production” and that Damascus had renewed its nuclear collaboration with North Korea, which was actively supplying Syria “with nuclear materials and research”. Now a report in leading German newsmagazine Der Spiegel claims that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had transported 8,000 fuel rods that had been destined for al-Kibar to a new location in the southwest of the country. The report, published on Saturday, cited information from “Western intelligence sources”, which it did not identify. The newsmagazine said it had seen intelligence reports containing satellite photographs and transcriptions of intercepted radio traffic, which left little doubt that the Syrian government was in the process of constructing a new nuclear reactor. The German-language publication said the plant is being constructed deep underground in a remote mountainous region near the small town of Al-Qusayr, located less than two miles from the northern Lebanese border. According to the report, construction on the al-Qusayr plant, which the Syrians appear to have codenamed “Zamzam”, began in 2009 under the watchful eye of Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah, which currently guards the plant with “elite units”. The site appears ideal, said Der Spiegel, as it is adjacent to significant supplies of water, and is connected to the energy grid through special access nodes. The newsmagazine said radio traffic intercepts include conversations between senior Syrian military officials and Ibrahim Othman, head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission. The discussions seem to indicate that the construction project is being assisted by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The article points out that Western monitors are certain the technical aspects of the project are being led by North Korean experts, and that some of them are currently in Damascus. According to the IAEA, the Syrian government is in possession of approximately 50 tons of natural uranium, which, if enriched, could provide material for up to three nuclear bombs.

Iran says it foiled Mossad assassination of nuclear scientist

Yaqoub BaqeriBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A senior Iranian military official has claimed that Tehran foiled an attempt by Israeli spies to assassinate a scientist working for Iran’s nuclear program. In a report filed on Saturday, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Colonel Yaqoub Baqeri saying that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had managed to prevent Israel from killing the scientist “during the last two years”. Baqeri is deputy chief liaison officer in the air force division of the IRGC, a branch of Iran’s armed forces dedicated to protecting and furthering the goals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Baqueri told Fars, which is known to have strong links with the IRGC, that Israel’s covert-action agency, the Mossad, had been “trying hard to assassinate an Iranian nuclear scientist”, but that the well-timed involvement of the IRGC had “thwarted the terrorist operation”. At least five Iranian nuclear scientists have been targeted by unknown assailants since 2007, when Ardeshire Hassanpour, who worked at Iran’s Isfahan nuclear facility, was found dead in his Tehran apartment, allegedly having suffocated in his sleep from fumes from a faulty gas pipe. Another Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, disappeared in 2009, while Masoud Ali Mohammadi, described by the Iranian government as a “dedicated revolutionary professor”, was killed in 2010 by a remotely controlled explosive device that had been planted at the entrance of his residence. Later that year, two near-simultaneous bomb attacks killed Majid Shahriari and injured Fereydoon Abbasi Davan, nuclear researchers and professors at the Shahid Beheshti University. The two were attacked in separate incidents by motorcyclists who targeted them during the morning rush hour in Tehran as they were driving to work. The assailants attached small bombs to the car surfaces of their targets and detonated them from a relatively safe distance before speeding away through heavy traffic. The Fars News Agency report also claimed that Iran’s intelligence agencies had uncovered secret training bases run by the Mossad and located “within the territories of one of Iran’s western neighbors”, in which teams of assassins were allegedly being “trained and assisted” by the Israelis. In 2012, Israel’s two leading intelligence correspondents, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, claimed in their book Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, that the “decapitation program” against the Iranian nuclear effort was led by Israel with the expressed but passive endorsement of the United States.

Killing of Iranian cyberwarfare expert sparks rumors of assassination

Iran and its regionBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Iranian and Israeli governments have remained silent about the recent killing of a member of an Iranian cyberwarfare unit, who was found shot dead near his home in Iran. The dead body of Mojtaba Ahmadi, who is said to have worked for the cyberwarfare command of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was found on October 2. Witnesses said the victim was discovered in a wooded area near his home in Karaj, a town situated 12 miles west of Iranian capital Tehran. One eyewitness is said to have claimed that Ahmadi’s body bore two bullet wounds in his chest, and that he appeared to have been shot at close range, execution-style. The news has sparked widespread speculation that the IRGC member fell victim to an assassination operation orchestrated by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Others seem to believe that Ahmadi was killed as a consequence of a power struggle inside IRGC, sparked by Tehran’s apparent diplomatic rapprochement toward Washington. The IRGC, whose formal name is Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, is a branch of the Iranian military, whose mission is to protect the Islamic system by which the country is governed. It includes the Quds Force, which is the IRGC unit tasked with exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. But the IRGC has so far dismissed rumors that Ahmadi died as a result of an assassination. Last week, Sepah News, a website that carries IRGC-approved information, termed Ahmadi’s murder “a horrific incident”, but said that “the motive of the attacker [had] not been specified” and was “being investigated”. Read more of this post

Israel arrests Belgian citizen for ‘spying for Iran’

Alex MansBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A Belgian citizen has been arrested in Israel on suspicion of spying on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The man, Alex Mans, was arrested two weeks ago, but the Israeli government kept the incident under wraps until Sunday. Israeli media reports state that Mans was arrested by Israeli Police and officers of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. He was reportedly detained at Ben-Gurion International Airport as he was preparing to leave Israel. According to Israeli security officials, Mans made frequent trips to Israel, during which he presented himself as a Belgian investor interested in export opportunities in Israel. He allegedly used his business venture in selling windows and roofing material for commercial buildings in order to establish contacts with businesses in Tel Aviv. But officials at Shin Bet maintain that Mans’ business operations, which included seemingly legitimate websites and social media profiles, served as a cover for his spy activities. These are alleged to have included “intelligence gathering [and support for] terrorism”, as well as efforts to “bypass the embargo on trade and financial transactions with Iran”. Israeli security officials believe that Mans was born in Iran in 1958 and had the name Ali Mansouri. He is thought to have moved to Turkey in 1980, aged 22, where he lived for nearly 20 years. In 1997 he received an immigration visa to Belgium, where he met and married a Belgian citizen and changed his name to Mans. Soon afterwards, however, he divorced, and in 2007 he moved back to Iran, where he married a local woman. According to Israeli media reports, Mans told Shin Bet interrogators that he was approached in 2012 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and offered up to $1 million to spy on Israel on behalf of the Iranian government. He reportedly agreed and was handled by Haji Mustafa, of the IRGC’s Special Operations Unit. Read more of this post

Iran official in secret visit to Egypt to discuss ‘new spy agency’

Qassem SuleimaniBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A senior Iranian intelligence official paid a secret visit to Egypt earlier this month, allegedly to discuss the establishment of a new intelligence service controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Several Egyptian newspapers, including the quality broadsheet Al-Masry Al-Youm, said that the Iranian official was Qassem Suleimani, commander of Quds Force, a unit inside the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is specifically tasked with exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. The Quds Force has traditionally constituted the primary channel of communication between the government of Iran and a host of international groups allied to it, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. Suleimani is said to have traveled incognito to Cairo at the personal invitation of Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, who is also a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The group, which was legalized in Egypt after the 2011 revolution, is the Egyptian branch of a Pan-Islamic political and social movement that assumed control of the government after the ousting two years ago of Egyptian longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. According to reports from Egypt, Suleimani met with “senior officials” in the Egyptian capital, including President Mursi’s chief adviser on foreign affairs, Issam al-Haddad, as well as prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Masry Al-Youm said the Iranian commander discussed plans to develop a new civilian intelligence service in post-Mubarak Egypt, which will be answerable to the government of the country. The apparent plan of the Muslim Brotherhood is to create a brand new spy service that will operate outside the control of Egypt’s military, which currently commands the bulk of the country’s intelligence community. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #766 (Arab world edition)

David SheddBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Yemen busts alleged Iranian spy ring. Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi called on Tehran to stay out of Yemen’s internal affairs last week, after security officials in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, announced they had uncovered an Iranian spy ring there. Yemen’s government-run SABA news agency said the spy cell, which was allegedly led by a former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard corps, had operated in Yemen as well as in the Horn of Africa,  and that it had kept an operations center in Sana’a. An interior ministry official said all those detained were Yemenis.
►►CIA sued for killing US citizens in Yemen. Survivors of three Americans killed by targeted drone attacks in Yemen last year have sued top-ranking members of the United States government, alleging they illegally killed the three, including a 16 year-old boy, in violation of international human rights law and the US Constitution. The suit (.pdf), the first of its kind, alleges the United States was not engaged in an armed conflict with or within Yemen, prohibiting the use of lethal force unless “at the time it is applied, lethal force is a last resort to protect against a concrete, specific, and imminent threat of death or serious physical injury”. The case directly challenges the government’s decision to kill Americans without judicial scrutiny.
►►US intel official acknowledges missed Arab Spring signs. David Shedd, deputy director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s intelligence arm, said analysts failed to note signs of the unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that exploded into the Arab Spring. Shedd’s comments were posted Thursday by the American Forces Press Service, a Pentagon information wire. They constitute a rare public acknowledgment of the US intelligence failure regarding the turmoil that has redrawn the Middle East’s political landscape, toppling autocratic rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya and now engulfing Syria.

News you may have missed #699

Hilda MurrellBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Diplomatic war over the arrest of Gaddafi’s spy chief. The Libyan authorities have confirmed the arrest in Mauritania of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, who was reportedly detained at Nouakchott airport. Senussi, 63, was Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, and has been described as one of his most trusted aides. But his arrest has kicked off an international row about which of his alleged crimes —ranging from terrorism to war crimes and mass murder— should take precedence in the pursuit of justice. The Mauritanians are now saying that they are willing to extradite al-Senussi, but this remains to be seen in practice.
►►Azerbaijan arrests 22 in alleged Iran spy plot. Azerbaijan has arrested 22 of its own citizens, on suspicion of spying for Iran. Weapons and ammunition were seized, authorities say, accusing the group of links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Their alleged targets included the US and Israeli embassies as well as Western-linked companies. Surveillance by the Azeri security services is reported to have helped foil the alleged Iranian-sponsored plot.
►►Was there MI5 link to murder of UK nuclear activist? One of Britain’s leading human rights lawyers, Michael Mansfield QC, has demanded a fresh police inquiry to establish what the British intelligence services knew about the murder of a prominent anti-nuclear campaigner. The lawyer said new evidence meant that an independent police force should be appointed to examine enduring concerns and inconsistencies relating to the death of Hilda Murrell, in March 1984.

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