Fearing Soviet invasion, FBI trained Alaskan spies, files show

Russia, Alaska, CanadaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States government set up a secret network of citizen-spies in Alaska in response to concerns that the Soviet Union was planning to invade the territory, newly declassified documents show. The documents, dating from 1950, were given to the Associated Press by The Government Attic, a website specializing in publishing US government files obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The news agency said on Sunday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation decided to set up the secret network of agents in the 1950s, after it was warned by the US Air Force that a Soviet invasion of Alaska was “a real possibility”. One FBI memo from the time stressed the likelihood that Moscow would stage an airborne invasion of what was then the US territory of Alaska, using “bombing and the dropping of paratroopers”. Responding to such concerns, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover authorized Operation WASHTUB, which involved the establishment of a “stay-behind” force of nearly 100 citizen-agents recruited from the local population. The operation, which was also known by several other codenames, including CORPUSCLE, STIGMATIC and CATBOAT, was headed by Hoover protégé Joseph F. Carroll, of the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations. From 1951 to 1959, the OSI, in association with the FBI, recruited Alaskan woodmen, fishermen, pilots, and others, paying them up to $3,000 a year (nearly $30,000 in today’s currency), a sum which was to be doubled following a Soviet invasion. The “stay-behind” agents were to retreat to predetermined hideouts throughout Alaska, unearth hidden caches of food, survival supplies, and communications facilities, and transmit information about Soviet movements. The Associated Press report suggests that the concept of stay-behind agents in Alaska was novel in those early stages of the Cold War. But the report fails to mention Operation GLADIO, the stay-behind program instituted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Europe, which appears to have preceded Operation WASHTUB by at least two years. Read more of this post

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John Walker, head of Cold-War-era Soviet spy ring, dies in prison

John Anthony WalkerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A retired United States Navy sailor, who led one of the most prolific Soviet spy rings in America during the Cold War, and made over $2 million in the process, has died in prison, where he had been serving a life sentence. John Anthony Walker, Jr., retired from the US Navy in 1976 as a Warrant Officer, having previously served as a radio operator and technical communications expert. He held a top-secret clearance for most of his Navy career. In 1967, Walker had walked into the Soviet embassy in Washington, DC, and had given Soviet officials a few US military codes as samples. The exchange sparked a cooperation that lasted 17 years, as the Soviets initially placed Walker on a $1,000-a-week salary, promising to upgrade his income if he delivered more classified material. Eventually, Walker recruited his older brother, Arthur Walker, a US Navy lieutenant commander, who had left the Navy and was working for a US military contractor. He also recruited his oldest son, Michael, who was a US Navy seaman aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and was able to clandestinely photograph classified documents he found on the ship. Walker also recruited one of his best friends, Jerry Whitworth, whom he had befriended when Whitworth was a student. He convinced the impressionable young man to enlist in the US Navy for the purpose of providing the spy ring with classified information. Whitworth eventually became a chief radioman for the Navy. The spy ring Walker set up conducted espionage on an industrial scale, providing the USSR with classified information for nearly two decades. The stolen information, which included the daily code configurations for several encryption devices used by the US Navy, allowed Moscow to decode over a million US navy messages. The breach perpetrated by the Walker spy ring is considered among the largest in American military history. Vitaly Yurchenko, a high-ranking officer in the Soviet KGB, once described the Walker spy ring as “the greatest case in Soviet intelligence history”. But the ring was busted in May of 1985 following an extensive counterintelligence operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #883

Oleg KaluginBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Indonesia, Australia renew intelligence ties. Australia and Indonesia have signed a pledge not to use intelligence to harm each other, signaling a resumption in cooperation, which had been suspended after last year’s spy scandal. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, signed the “joint understanding of a code of conduct” in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Thursday.
►►Ex-KGB general says Russia has already won in Ukraine. Russia has already won “the real victory”​ in Ukraine, according to former KGB general Oleg Kalugin, who is now living in the United States. The “southeast of Ukraine, that’s part of the general battle between the Russians and Ukrainians, but it’s not as crucial as the real victory and pride of Russia —the Crimea, I mean”, he said on Thursday. Kalugin reiterated that he does not believe Russian president Vladimir Putin wants annex another region of the country. “It’s not in the interest of Putin”, Kalugin said. “His position as of today is fairly strong in the country, in his own country, so why put it at risk by moving further?”
►►China says Canadian couple were spies disguised as ordinary citizens. Kevin and Julia Garratt have been accused of stealing Chinese military and national defense research secrets. They were detained on August 4, 2014, but not formally arrested, and China has offered little information on what they are accused of doing. The couple ran a coffee shop near the border with North Korea, worked with Christian groups to bring humanitarian aid into North Korea, and worked to train North Korean Christians inside China. Their detention by China’s State Security Bureau has been seen by Canadian authorities as reprisal for the arrest of Su Bin, a Chinese immigrant to Canada suspected of masterminding the electronic theft of US fighter jet secrets.

Ex-MI6 counterterror chief urges caution in tackling ISIS threat

Richard BarrettBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Britain should not hurriedly change its laws to counter the perceived danger posed by homegrown militants that have joined the Islamic State, according to the former head of counterterrorism for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). Richard Barrett, a former diplomat, served as Director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations for MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and is considered an international authority on counterterrorism. He told The Guardian newspaper that it would be wrong for the British government to introduce legislation effectively criminalizing travel to Iraq or Syria by British subjects. Barrett was responding to a newspaper article by London mayor Boris Johnson, who criticized Britain’s conservative government for not taking active steps to prevent British citizens form traveling to Syria and Iraq in order to join the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Johnson said he supported calls for British members of the Islamic State to be stripped of their British citizenship, even if that meant they would be left stateless —a violation of United Nations law. The London mayor further suggested that all British citizens travelling to Syria and Iraq without first notifying the government, should be legally considered as having traveled there “for a terrorist purpose”. He added that the burden should be on them to prove that they were “acting innocently” while abroad. But Barrett dismissed Johnson’s proposals, saying that they would cancel age-old principles of British common law and could potentially criminalize British citizens who traveled to the Middle East for legitimate purposes. Read more of this post

US sharing intelligence with Syrian government, say sources

ISIS parade in SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States is secretly sharing intelligence about the Islamic State with the government of Syria, according to sources. On Monday, American officials told the Associated Press that US President Barack Obama had authorized reconnaissance flights over Syrian airspace with the aim of gathering intelligence on the Islamic State —known previously as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Pentagon officials said the reconnaissance flights are intended to collect “additional intelligence” on the Islamic State’s troop movements in Syria. Their ultimate goal is reportedly to assist the president and his advisors as they contemplate whether the US should launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets on Syrian soil. One American official told the news agency that the reconnaissance flights constituted “an important avenue for obtaining data” and said they would satisfy the “need for reliable intelligence from Syria”. But another source told French news agency Agence France Presse on Tuesday that the intelligence gathered from US reconnaissance flights was being shared with the Syrian government “through Iraqi and Russian channels”. Quoting “a regional source”, the Paris-based news agency said Damascus has been receiving lists of Islamic State targets on Syrian territory “from a Western country” since before mid-August. If these reports turn out to be accurate, it would mean that Washington is essentially collaborating for the first time with one of its arch-enemies in the Middle East, a regime which, in the past, it has come close to bombing. It would also bring American policy in the region closer to that of Russia, which has supported the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the start of the civil war, arguing that it is preferable to the instability represented by opposition forces. Read more of this post

Mossad officer who saved Hamas leader’s life appeals for moderation

Mishka Ben DavidBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An Israeli intelligence operative, who in 1997 saved the life of the leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas, has published a letter calling on Hamas to show moderation in the dispute with Israel. In 1997, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, like today, was Israel’s prime minister, authorized an ambitious operation to assassinate the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal. The operation was carried out by the Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, which sent several of its members to Jordanian capital Amman, where Mashal was living at the time. On September 25, two Mossad assassins were waiting for Mashal to arrive at his office, ready to dispense a fast-acting poison in the form of an injection. But as the Hamas leader entered the premises, his young daughter called his name, causing him to turn his head in the opposite direction. As a result, the needle with the deadly poison landed on his ear, as opposed to his neck, and much of it was spilled. Mashal started yelling and before too long the two Mossad assassins had been captured alive by Hamas security guards. Mashal was then rushed to hospital and was about to die, when a furious King Hussein of Jordan contacted Tel Aviv with an ultimatum: either an antidote would be provided to save Mashal’s life, or the captured Mossad agents would be speedily tried and most likely sentenced to death by execution. The director of the Mossad operation then contacted a support officer, Mishka Ben-David, who was awaiting orders in an Amman hotel, and asked him to deliver a vial of antidote to a Jordanian security officer who would be waiting at the lobby of the hotel later that evening. Ben-David did as he was told and handed to the Jordanians the vial of antidote, which the Mossad had prepared in case one of their operatives was inadvertently injected with the poison. The antidote saved Mashal’s life and enabled him to continue to lead Hamas, the organization that is now in command of the Gaza Strip. Last week, Ben-David published an open letter addressed to Mashal, the man whose life he once saved, in which he calls on the Hamas strongman to stop taking his cues from “the most extreme side” of his organization. In a subsequent interview with British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph, Ben-David said his intention in authoring the letter was to “appeal to the rational side of Khaled Mashal”, and urge him to “accept a compromise” in order to “end the war with Israel”. Read more of this post

Failed Nazi spy mission in UK ‘was sabotaged by German dissidents’

Abwehr clerks in 1939By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A new book authored by a German historian argues that a botched Nazi spy mission in World War II-era Britain was deliberately sabotaged by anti-Nazi intelligence officials within the ranks of the Third Reich. In 1940, Adolf Hitler was actively laying the groundwork for Operation SEA LION, Nazi Germany’s plan to invade the United Kingdom. In preparation for the invasion, the German leadership authorized the Hamburg bureau of the Abwehr, Nazi Germany’s military intelligence agency, to send into Britain a group of Nazi spies tasked with helping pave the way for the invasion. In September of 1940, a dozen Nazi intelligence operatives entered Britain during nighttime infiltration missions, some by parachute, and some by small inflatable boats. They had ostensibly been selected for the mission based on their ability to assimilate into British society. But Operation LENA, as the Abwehr codenamed the project, ended in abject failure. The near-comical behavior of the Nazi spies led to all of them getting arrested by British authorities within weeks. Some were detained after locals reported that they spoke English with heavy foreign accents. Nearly all of them lacked basic understanding of even the simplest British customs: indicatively, two of the spies were arrested in Scotland when they were found cycling on the wrong side of the road. Others were caught carrying German sausages and other continental consumer items among their personal belongings. The mainstream historical explanation of Operation LENA’s utter failure coincides with a British wartime report, which attributes it on the Nazi spies’ “own stupidity”. But a new book published this summer by German historian Monika Siedentopf, argues that LENA had been compromised from the very beginning by anti-Nazi officials inside Germany’s military intelligence community. The book, published in German by DTV Premium, is titled Unternehmen Seelöwe: Widerstand im deutschen Geheimdienst —in English, Operation Sea Lion: Resistance Inside German Intelligence. It is based on Siedentopf’s six-year study of material in the German National Archives, as well as in the personal wartime archives of senior German intelligence officers. She argues that Operation LENA stands out in its amateurism compared to other wartime infiltration operations by Germany’s Abwehr. And she concludes that LENA’s failure was not due to operational incompetence, but rather resulted from deliberate sabotage by a group of anti-Nazi intelligence officers. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #882 (cybersecurity edition)

Andrew LewmanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►GCHQ launches ‘Cyber Security Challenge’. Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, has created a new online game to find new recruits and test the public’s ability to deal with hacking attacks. The new game, named Assignment: Astute Explorer, will give registered players the chance to analyze code from a fictitious aerospace company, identify vulnerabilities and then suggest fixes.
►►Chinese hackers spied on investigators of Flight MH370. Malaysian officials investigating the disappearance of flight MH370 have been targeted in a hacking attack that resulted in the theft of classified material. The attack hit around 30 PCs assigned to officials in Malaysia Airlines, the country’s Civil Aviation Department and the National Security Council. The malware was hidden in a PDF attachment posing as a news article that was distributed on 9 March, just one day after the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
►►Developer alleges NSA and GCHQ employees are helping Tor Project. Tor is a free software used for enabling online anonymity and resisting censorship. It directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer network consisting of more than five thousand relays to conceal a user’s location or usage. Interestingly, its executive director, Andrew Lewman, has told the BBC that employees of the NSA and GCHQ offer his team of programmers tips “on probably [a] monthly” basis about bugs and design issues that potentially could compromise the [Tor] service”. He added that he had been told by William Binney, a former NSA official turned whistleblower, that one reason NSA workers might have leaked such information was because many were “upset that they are spying on Americans”.

Canada bans Chinese reporters over spy concerns

Stephen HarperBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The office of the prime minister of Canada has banned reporters working for China’s state-owned media from covering the Canadian leader’s official trip to the Arctic, due to concerns that they may be spies. For the past several summers, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has undertaken official tours of the Canadian Arctic, in an effort to promote the country’s northern economy and attend military exercises. However, in a move that has raised eyebrows in Ottawa and Beijing, the organizers of the trip have issued a ban on a number of Chinese reporters from joining the Canadian prime minister’s entourage. The Winnipeg Sun reported on Wednesday that the unprecedented step was taken over concerns that the Chinese journalists in question may in fact be intelligence operatives in the service of China. The paper cited a quote by a spokesman from the office of the prime minister, who reportedly told the Québecor Média International news agency that “certain news outlets are no longer welcome” to travel with the prime minister. It appears that the reporters in question include primarily those working for The People’s Daily newspaper and the Xinhua news agency, both of which are owned by the government of China. Two Chinese journalists working for these outlets, Li Xue Jiang, and Zhang Dacheng, caused controversy during Harper’s trip to the Arctic in 2013. The two appeared to show more interest in photographing their fellow journalists and the interior of Canada’s prime ministerial airplane than covering Harper’s trip. Li even wrote an article for the Chinese-language edition of The People’s Daily at the time, in which he mentioned that he had come under suspicion of spying for China, saying that a secretary from the office of the Canadian prime minister had tasked an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to keep an eye on him. IntelNews readers will recall that in 2012 Canadian reporter Mark Bourrie resigned his post as parliamentary correspondent for Xinhua, accusing the Chinese news agency of running spy operations in Canada. Read more of this post

Australia, Indonesia to end rift by signing joint spy agreement

 Abbott and YudhoyonoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Australia and Indonesia are to end months of diplomatic friction by signing a joint agreement aimed at curbing their intelligence activities against each other. IntelNews readers will recall that Indonesia withdrew its ambassador from Canberra and terminated all military and intelligence cooperation with Australia late last year, after it emerged that Australian spies had targeted the communications of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other senior Indonesian officials, while they were attending the 2009 G20 conference in London. Relations between the two countries worsened considerably in February of this year, when documents leaked by American defector Edward Snowden revealed that Australian intelligence spied on American law firm representing the government of Indonesia in a trade dispute with Washington. The documents, from February 2003, showed that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) purposely targeted the law firm because it represented the commercial interests of the Indonesian state. To make things worse, the leaked information showed that the ASD, which is responsible for signals intelligence and information security, offered to share the intelligence collected from the operation with its American counterpart, the National Security Agency. Following the revelation, the Australian and Indonesian governments were reportedly not on talking terms. But it has now emerged that Australia and Indonesia are to sign a mutually binding agreement titled “Joint Understanding of a Code of Conduct”, which, among other things, will prohibit Australia from using its intelligence agencies to harm Indonesian national interests. Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop told Australia’s ABC network that the agreement would “make it quite clear” that “Australia would not use its [...] intelligence resources to the detriment of [...] Indonesia”. Read more of this post

‘Sensitive files’ stolen as Saudi motorcade is ambushed in Paris

George V hotel, ParisBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A 12-vehicle entourage transporting a Saudi royal to a Paris airport was ambushed on Monday in cinematic fashion by heavily armed men, who stole a suitcase full of cash and diplomatic files described as “sensitive”. French police are trying to determine whether the ambush, which occurred on Monday evening just north of downtown Paris, was aimed at the money or the documents, which French newspaper Le Parisien described as “sensitive”. According to French police, the Saudi motorcade was heading from the renowned Four Seasons George V hotel on the Champs Elysées to Le Bourget airport, 15 miles north of Paris, which handles private jets. But as the convoy drove through Porte de la Chapelle, two BMWs without license tags suddenly made their way to the top of the motorcade and forced it to stop. Within seconds, eight heavily armed men brandishing handguns and AK-47s stormed out of the two cars and hijacked a Mercedes minivan that was part of the motorcade. Several of them boarded the vehicle and drove away, taking with them its three occupants, a driver, a bodyguard and another official. Later on, the three hostages were abandoned by the side of the road. The minivan, as well as one of the two BMWs used by the armed assailants, were later found burnt out in the village of Saint-Mesmes, northeast of the French capital. But the thieves took with them a suitcase containing €250,000 ($330,000) in cash, as well as what the French press said were “important diplomatic documents”. One French police detective told journalists that the operation was “clearly an ambush by a commando group that was well-informed” about the movements of their target and “quite expert [...] and aware of what they would find by attacking this one vehicle [the Mercedes minivan] and not the others”. Another police detective said the nature of the incident would change drastically into “something more complicated” if it were determined that the gunmen were going after the documents, and not the cash in the minivan. Police sources have not revealed the identity of the Saudi royal involved in the incident. But the Four Seasons George V hotel, from which the Saudi convoy departed, is owned by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Read more of this post

German intelligence spied on American, Turkish officials

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
German intelligence agencies have spied on two successive American secretaries of state and are actively engaged in espionage in Turkey, even though both countries are allied members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported last week that German spies intercepted at least one telephone call made by American politician Hillary Clinton, while she was serving as secretary of state. The Munich-based newspaper said the intercepted telephone call was made over an unencrypted line while Clinton was travelling on an airplane belonging to the United States government. On Sunday, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel added that the interception of Clinton’s telephone call occurred in 2012, when the American secretary of state telephoned the former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan to discuss his mediation efforts over the Syrian civil war. Der Spiegel said that Clinton had not been a direct target of a German intelligence operation and that her telephone conversation with Anan had been intercepted “by accident”, after it “quasi-randomly entered the listening network” of the BND, Germany’s federal intelligence agency. Spiegel added that the BND officers who conducted the interception passed the recording on to their superiors. The newsmagazine said that Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, also had a telephone conversation intercepted by the BND in 2013, again by accident. This time, however, the German intelligence officers immediately deleted the intercepted conversation, according to Spiegel. The article goes on to add that German intelligence circles insist the wiretapped conversations of the two US secretaries of state were accidentally recorded within the context of other intelligence-collection operations, and that the American politicians were not in and of themselves targets of the BND. The Spiegel article goes on to state, however, that the BND has been actively conducting espionage operations in NATO member-state Turkey since at least 2009. Read more of this post

Malware targeting ex-Soviet states has Russian hallmarks

Turla trojan operational diagramBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A malicious software that has infiltrated the computer systems of dozens of embassies belonging to former Eastern Bloc nations “has all the hallmarks of a nation-state” cyberespionage operation, according to researchers. Security firm Symantec said last week that the malware appears to be specifically targeting embassies of former communist nations located in China, Jordan, as well as in locations across Western Europe. In a report published on its website, Symantec said “only a nation state” was likely to have the funds and technical resources to create a malware of such complexity. Additionally, the malware seems to be designed “to go after explicit government networks that are not easy to find”, according to Symantec senior security researcher Vikram Thakur. The infiltration appears to occur in two stages. In the first stage, a computer is infected with a reconnaissance program, known as Wipbot. The initial infection usually occurs through a directed phishing attack or via a compromised website. The Wipbot then conducts an initial exploration of the infected system, collecting vital information about its identity, structure and contents. It then proceeds to compromise it only if it matches a specific Internet address that it is looking for. If a match is confirmed, the Wipbot then invites a second program into the compromised system, whose task is to expropriate data and exfiltrate it in batches that are camouflaged as Internet browser requests. Symantec researchers say that the technical similarities between the two programs are sufficient to justify the view that they were designed and developed by programmers working for the same government agency. Thakur said the structure of the malware is particularly creative; it uses Wipbot as an initial reconnaissance tool before delivering the exfiltration program if it judges that the compromised system is of high enough interest. The Symantec report adds that the malware in question is part of a four-year-long series of cyberespionage attacks that have systematically targeted government facilities belonging to former Communist Bloc states. In May of 2012, a similar malware was found to have infiltrated over 60 different computer systems belonging to a former Soviet Republic, including the office of the Prime Minister. A closely linked attack targeted another former communist state’s embassy in Paris, France, as well as its foreign and internal affairs ministries. The Symantec research points out that many of the malicious program’s core components were compiled in the UTC+4 time zone, which includes Russian cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg.

News you may have missed #881 (Cold War history edition)

Vehicle tracking deviceBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►McCarthy-era prisoner tries to overturn espionage conviction. In 1950, Miriam Moskowitz was secretary to Abraham Brothman, an American chemical engineer who was convicted for providing secret industrial information to communist spy Elizabeth Bentley. Moskowitz, who was having an affair with Brothman at the time of his arrest, was convicted of obstructing justice and served two years in prison. Now at age 98, she claims she has discovered evidence that key witness testimony about her role in Soviet espionage was falsified, and wants her conviction thrown out. In 2010, Moskowitz authored the book Phantom Spies, Phantom Justice, about her case.
►►Files show USSR spied on Czechoslovak communist leaders after 1968. The Soviet KGB spied aggressively on senior members of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSČ) for two decades following the Prague Spring of 1968, because it mistrusted them. The information on Soviet intelligence activities against the KSČ comes from files in to the so-called Mitrokhin Archive. Vasili Mitrokhin was a KGB archivist, who painstakingly copied tens of thousands of pages of the spy agency’s files prior to defecting to Britain following the dissolution of the USSR.
►►Canada’s spy agency reveals Cold War-era spying equipment. As part of its celebrations for its 30-year anniversary, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service has released photographs of what it calls “tools of the trade” –gadgets designed to hide or transport secret communication, acquire surreptitious photographs, listen in on private conversations, etc., without detection. The gadgets include Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko‘s gun, a toy truck with a concealment compartment for hiding a microdot reader, a hollowed-out battery used to contain clandestine messages or microfilm, and many others.

ISIS views spread in Balkans as Kosovo police nab 40 militants

Kosovo and its surrounding regionBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Over 40 people have been arrested in Kosovo on strong suspicion of maintaining close links with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Authorities in the small Balkan nation said the Monday arrests were part of “a major police operation” aimed at preventing Kosovar citizens from joining the violent Islamist group. Kosovo gained independence from Serbia in 2008, following several revolts and uprisings in the 1990s. The vast majority of its citizens are ethnic Albanians, most of whom practice Islam. However the lifestyle of its largely pro-American population remains markedly secular. Observers have thus been startled by reports that an estimated 100 to 200 Kosovars have so far traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State, known previously as the State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Last week, an 18-year-old Islamic State volunteer from Kosovo was reported killed in Syria; he was the 16th Kosovar member of the Islamist group to have been killed in the field of battle. There is allegedly footage on YouTube showing Lavdrim Muhaxheri, the commander of the Kosovar Islamic State members decapitating an Iraqi teenager. Aside from the detention of 40 suspects, the Monday crackdown is believed to have netted significant numbers of weapons and ammunition discovered in more than 60 locations around the country. Police said that the dates of birth of the arrestees range from 1962 to 1994. Authorities are looking for more suspects who were “not found at their homes” during the countrywide crackdown, while many Muslim clerics are also being investigated for links to radical Islamist groups. The 40 that are in custody are now being questioned under procedures recently established by the Kosovo Penal Code, designed to protect “constitutional order and security in the Republic” of Kosovo. Reports from the tiny Balkan nation suggest that its parliament is preparing to pass national legislation forbidding citizens form joining foreign armed movements. A prison sentence of up to 15 years is being considered for those who do so. It is worth noting that Albanian is among the primary languages into which the Islamic State’s Arabic-language proclamations are usually translated by the militants —the others being Russian, Turkish, English and French.

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