Syrian spy chief placed under house arrest by Assad, say sources

Bashar al-Assad (center) and Ali Mamlouk to his leftBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Citing sources inside Syria’s presidential palace, a leading British newspaper has alleged that the director of Syria’s national intelligence agency has fallen out with the regime and is now under house arrest. Lieutenant General Ali Mamlouk, who heads Syria’s National Security Bureau, is known as a hardline supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He personally leads every major domestic-security operation in the country and is believed to be among the Syrian president’s most trusted advisers. In recent weeks, however, Mamlouk, who is one of the regime’s most publicity-prone figures, has not surfaced in the news or in any public venues. His absence has prompted intense speculation that he might be sick, under arrest, or even dead. Several news outlets in the Middle East hypothesized that the general, who is 69, is undergoing chemotherapy to combat a rapidly progressing cancer. Then, amidst growing rumors about Mamlouk’s health, the general was shown on state television (see photo) sitting by Assad’s side during a meeting with a visiting Iranian delegation. But the footage only served to inflame speculation that the Syrian official was actually under house arrest, and that he was only brought out of his detention for the meeting with the Iranians, so as to help quieten rumors about an alleged growing rift within the regime’s inner circle.

On Monday, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph cited “sources inside the presidential palace” in Damascus, in claiming that Mamlouk was removed from his post in the National Security Bureau and is currently under house arrest in the Syrian capital. The paper said that the General had fallen out with the country’s president and had been organizing a military coup against him, prompted by his fierce opposition to Iran’s growing influence in Damascus. It is widely believed that Tehran’s increasing involvement in the Syrian Civil War on the side of Assad is largely responsible for the regime’s military and economic survival. According to The Telegraph, most of the president’s economic and military advisers at the presidential palace are now Iranian.

But Syria’s alignment with Iran is creating a backlash among Assad’s inner circle, which consists of secular nationalists, liberal Alawites or Christians. As a result, says the paper, Assad is “struggling to keep together [his] inner circle”, as senior administration officials are “increasingly turning on each other”. Mamlouk was one such insider, who was disturbed by Iran’s rising influence in Syria. Prior to his arrest, says The Telegraph, the general was secretly communicating with Turkish intelligence through an intermediary.

Captured files reveal new information about structure, history of ISIS

ISIS parade in SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A folder of secret documents, drafted by a senior commander of the Islamic State, reveals previously unknown information about the origins, meticulous planning and intelligence structure of the organization. Among other things, the documents show that the organization, which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), had plans to capture territory in both countries as early as 2010 —several years before its existence was even known. The folder belonged to Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, a military general and political ally of Iraq’s late leader, Saddam Hussein. Better known as Haji Bakr, the former Baathist general became a founding member of ISIS and helped shape the organization until his death in a firefight in 2014. Following his demise, an unnamed informant stole the documents and secretly smuggled them into Turkey. It was there that German investigative newsmagazine Der Spiegel accessed them. On Saturday, following months of research, the newsmagazine published its findings based on the stolen documents. They reveal important information about the history and structure of the mysterious organization known as ISIS.

Der Spiegel notes in its analysis that Bakr himself is characteristic of the complexity of ISIS, which today controls territory equal to approximately that of Great Britain in both Iraq and Syria. Before the United States invasion, the former Iraqi general was a typical Baathist, who, like the regime he served, expressed strong secular views. But he became violently bitter in 2003, when he found himself unemployed and stripped of his status after the invading US forces dissolved the Iraqi military. He eventually joined a number of other unemployed former Baathist military and intelligence officers and decided to launch a counteroffensive against the predominantly Shiite Iraqi government. In 2010, this group of conspirators decided to inculcate their group with a Sunni religious identity, for reasons of political expediency. It was then that they appointed a highly educated and charismatic Sunni cleric, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the ideological face of the organization. In late 2012, the group began to actively exploit the chaos caused by the Syrian Civil War as an opportunity to capture territory in Syria, and then use it as a base to invade Iraq. The plan worked.

The folder acquired by Der Spiegel contains handwritten fragments from 31 different pages bearing organizational charts, lists of ISIS officials, as well as programmatic schedules. It reveals a hierarchical organizational structure with direct and indirect chains of command, which reach all the way down to local cells. According to the documents, these cells were initially set up in disguised form, so as to resemble Islamic schools or missionary facilities. Today these have expanded to include detention facilities, weapons depots, as well as a complex structure of Sharia-compliant educators, judges and enforcers. The organization also has an elaborate intelligence structure, which appears to undertake daily surveillance and security tasks. The latter depend on an army of officers, agents and informants, many of whom are as young as 16.

The documents detail several ISIS espionage operations in Syria and Iraq, which include meticulous studies of power structures of the local tribes. These were done in an effort to detect what Der Spiegel describes as “age-old faults within the deep layers of [tribal] society]”, and were then used by ISIS to divide and eventually subjugate dissident elements within the territory under their control. In other cases, informants were instructed to detect the personal weaknesses and faults of local leaders, which were subsequently used to blackmail them. Priority was given to recruiting members of powerful families, so as to “ensure penetration of these families without their knowledge”, Spiegel notes.

Turkish media disclose identity of alleged spy for Canada

Mohammed al-RashedBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Turkish media have released the name, as well as video footage, of an alleged agent for Canadian intelligence, who says he helped three British schoolgirls travel to territory controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The three girls, aged between 15 and 16 years old, crossed into ISIS-controlled territory on February 17, after traveling by plane from London to Istanbul. The incident prompted international criticism of the Turkish government’s hands-off attitude toward a growing influx of Western Islamists who cross into Syria from Turkey, intent on joining ISIS. However, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week that the girls had been assisted by an intelligence agent working for a member-state of the military coalition fighting ISIS.

The minister declined to offer further details. But Turkish media eventually disclosed the identity of the alleged agent, who has been detained by authorities in Turkey as Mohammed al-Rashed. Also known as “Mohammed Mehmet Rashid” or “Dr. Mehmet Rashid”, the man is a Syrian national who claims to be working for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. According to Turkey’s pro-government daily Sabah, al-Rashed is a 28-year-old Syrian dentist who fled from Syria to Jordan in 2013 to escape the civil war there. While in Jordan, he sought asylum at the Canadian embassy in Amman. He was subsequently offered Canadian citizenship, said Sabah, in return for working as an agent of CSIS. According to the Turkish daily, al-Rashed then traveled to Canada, where he stayed for several months before returning to Jordan.

Sources in Turkey say al-Rashed explained upon his detention that he had been tasked by CSIS to uncover the methods by which European and American ISIS recruits travel to Syria through Turkey. For that reason, he said, he had helped at least 15 individuals, including the three British schoolgirls, cross form Turkey to Syria. He would then provide information on the transfers —including passport data and baggage tags— to the Canadian embassy in Jordan, he said. Sabah added that the Canadians would pay for al-Rashed’s frequent trips to Jordan, where he would meet a Canadian embassy employee called “Matt”, who would then pass on the information to his superior at the embassy, called “Claude”. The Syrian alleged agent added that CSIS would compensate him for his work through frequent deposits of between $800 and $1,500 made to bank accounts opened in his name in British banks. Turkish sources added that al-Rashed had recorded details of his activities on a personal laptop, which had been seized and was being examined.

The Canadian government has yet to comment publicly on the allegations about al-Rashed. Unnamed Canadian sources said last week that he was neither a Canadian citizen nor a CSIS employee. But officials so far refused to speculate on what they describe as “operational matters of national security”.

Turkey says Canadian spy helped British schoolgirls travel to Syria

CCTV footage of UK girls heading to SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
In a development described by observers as “highly unusual”, a Turkish government minister has claimed that a Canadian spy helped three British schoolgirls travel to territory controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The three girls, Kadiza Sultana, 16, Shamima Begum, 15, and Amira Abase, also 15, crossed into ISIS-controlled territory on February 17, after having traveled by plane from London to Istanbul. The incident prompted renewed international criticism of the Turkish government’s hands-off attitude toward the growing influx of Western Islamists who cross into Syria from Turkey, intent on joining ISIS.

But Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that the girls had been assisted during their trip by an intelligence agent working for a foreign country. In responding to criticism against Turkey, the minister claimed during a television interview that Turkish security forces had arrested a foreign intelligence operative who had enabled the three British citizens to cross into Syria. The man, said Cavusoglu, was a spy from a member-state of the military coalition fighting ISIS. “It is not a member-state of the European Union”, he added, “nor is he from the United States. But he is working for the intelligence [agency] of a country within the [anti-ISIS] coalition”. Later on Thursday, an unnamed Turkish government source told local media that the agent was not a Turkish citizen and that he had been arrested earlier in March.

Several press agencies, including Reuters and Agence France Presse reported on Thursday that the individual in question was “connected” with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, but stopped short of saying that he was working for the government of Canada. A statement from the office of Steven Blaney, Canada’s Minister for Public Safety, who is responsible for overseeing the work of CSIS, said simply that the Ministry was “aware of these reports” but would “not comment on operational matters of national security”. An anonymous government source in Ottawa denied that the individual arrested in Turkey was a Canadian citizen or that he ever worked for CSIS.

Israelis dispute CIA was behind Hezbollah strongman’s killing

Imad MughniyahBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Sources in Israel are disputing reports from January that the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency was behind the assassination of one of Hezbollah’s most senior officials. On January 31 of this year, two US-based publications, The Washington Post and Newsweek, claimed that it was the CIA, not Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency as previously thought, who led the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyah. Mughniyah, who was among the founders of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that today controls large parts of Lebanon, was killed when a car laden with explosives blew up at a central parking lot in Syrian capital Damascus, where he had been living in secret.

According to the reports, the Mossad alerted the CIA after uncovering Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007, and suggested a joint operation to kill the Hezbollah strongman. The American covert-action agency proceeded to have a bomb designed by technicians from its Science & Technology Directorate, who carried out dozens of tests at a CIA facility in North Carolina. It was, according to the Post and Newsweek reports, the very bomb that killed Mughniyah on the evening of February 12 near his home in the Syrian capital.

But Dan Raviv, the Washington-based national correspondent for CBS News, said on Sunday that Israeli intelligence insiders are disputing claims that the CIA was the leading force in the operation. In a report published on Sunday, Raviv cited “Israelis close to their country’s services” as saying that the operation against Mughniyah was “almost all blue-and-white, and just a little bit red-white-and-blue” —a direct reference to the colors in the Israeli and American flags. The CBS correspondent said Israelis had been “miffed that the Americans were taking too much credit” for the strike against Mughniyah, and were actively “speaking with Western officials and diplomats to offer corrections”.

According to Raviv, it was the Mossad and Aman (Israel’s primary military-intelligence agency) that discovered Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007, and proceeded to design a bomb after the US declined Israel’s invitation to help organize a joint strike. Eventually, claims Raviv, Israel’s then-Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, convinced then-US President George W. Bush to approve a strike against Mughniyah, by showing him videos of the custom-made car bomb being tested in Israel. An impressed President Bush then authorized the CIA to participate in the operation. But by that time, says Raviv, the Israelis were firmly in command of the project and remained so until its final execution. Neither the CIA nor the Mossad have commented on the allegations regarding Mughniyah’s assassination.

CIA had central role in Hezbollah official’s killing, say sources

Imad MughniyahBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States, not Israel, as previously thought, led an assassination operation that targeted a senior member of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in 2008, according to two separate reports that came out last week. Imad Mughniyah was among the founders of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that today controls large parts of Lebanon. At the time of his assassination, Mughniyah headed the Hezbollah’s security apparatus and some claim he was the organization’s second-in-command. He was killed on the evening of February 12, 2008, when a car laden with explosives blew up at a central parking lot in Syrian capital Damascus, where he had been living in secret. The Shiite group blamed Israel for his killing. But two reports that aired this week, one in The Washington Post and the other in Newsweek, cited unnamed former government officials in the US in claiming that the operation was in fact led by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Washington Post’s Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima said the CIA was assisted in the operation by its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, while Newsweek’s Jeff Stein wrote that the effort was personally approved by then-US President George Bush and was closely supervised by then-CIA Director Michael Hayden.

According to the reports, the Mossad uncovered Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007 and alerted the CIA, suggesting a joint operation to kill the Hezbollah strongman. Soon after President Bush approved the strike, officers in the CIA’s Near East Division planned the logistics of the operation, which involved building a complex bomb, smuggling it into Syria and placing it inside the spare tire of a locally-purchased vehicle. The bomb was allegedly designed by technicians from the CIA’s Directorate of Science & Technology, who carried out dozens of tests at a CIA facility in Harvey Point, North Carolina.

The operation was allegedly coordinated from a CIA safe house located near Mughniyah’s apartment in the Syrian capital. On the evening February 12, a team of Mossad and CIA operatives employed facial-recognition technology to identify their target as he was walking out of a local restaurant. When Mughniyah approached the explosives-laden SUV, the bomb was remotely detonated, decapitating him and blasting his torso through a nearby window (note: Goldman and Nakashima claim that the bomb was remotely detonated by Mossad officers located in Tel Aviv; Stein suggests the blast was triggered by a CIA officer who had been placed in charge of the remote-control mechanism).

The reports describe the operation as “one of the most high-risk covert actions” undertaken by the CIA in recent years, because it targeted a high-profile individual in a country with which the US was not officially at war. Additionally, the method used —a car bomb— is particularly controversial, as it is typically a method of operation preferred by organized criminals and terrorist organizations.

The US has not acknowledged participation in Mughniyah’s assassination, and the CIA declined to comment when contacted by The Washington Post on Friday. Mark Regev, spokesman for the office of the Israeli prime minister, said simply that Tel Aviv had “nothing to add at this time”.

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.

Analysis: Well-trained spy agency adds to strength of Islamic State

ISIS parade in SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The militants of the Islamic State, who now control large parts of Syria and Iraq, boast a well-trained and agile intelligence apparatus that is partly responsible for the group’s continuing expansion and strength. Sources on the ground in Iraq report that many of the intelligence officers that staff the Islamic State’s spy agency are former employees of the Syrian and Iraqi governments. They were trained by either Russian or American spies during their government service, and are now lending their advanced intelligence skills to the Islamic State. Al-Monitor’s Ali Mamouri, who is based in Iraq, writes that the Islamic State’s intelligence agency is similar to other government intelligence apparatuses around the world in both structure and operational tactics. Principal among its tasks is political protection of the militant regime’s senior commanders, several of whom have already been killed in Mosul and other cities of northwestern Iraq. Islamic State intelligence officers have tightened security precautions in recent weeks, advising Islamic State leaders to limit their public appearances and arresting individuals suspected of acting as informants for Kurdish or other opposition groups linked to the Iraqi or Syrian governments. Another task of the Islamic State’s intelligence apparatus, Mamouri reports, is counterintelligence —i.e. detecting and preventing attempts by Iraqi and Syrian government spies to infiltrate Islamic State governing structures or military outfits. The intelligence agency also works closely with armed groups reminiscent of the German Nazi Party’s Sturmtruppen (Stormtroopers), namely uniformed street thugs whose task is to identify, monitor and physically eliminate opponents of the regime. The list of undesirables includes Shiites, moderate Sunnis, as well as leaders of tribes who cooperated with the Syrian or Iraqi governments in the recent past.

Secret Russian spy base in Syria seized by Western-backed rebels

Screenshot from FSA videoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Rebel forces aligned to Syria’s Western-backed opposition have announced the seizure of a joint Syrian-Russian spy base, which observers say reveals the extent of Russia’s intelligence cooperation with Syria. The base is located at the base of the Tel Al-Hara Mountain, in southern Syria’s Golan Heights region, just south of the border crossing with Israel in the now largely destroyed Syrian city of Quneitra. The Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it took over the spy base on Sunday, following several weeks of fighting against rival groups, including Syrian government soldiers and members of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. The FSA said the base, referred to as “Center C” by Russian intelligence, had been under Russian command until it was abandoned at a time and for reasons that remain unknown. In a three-minute video released by the Western-backed rebel group on YouTube, an FSA officer appears to be guiding the cameraman around part of the seized base. He points to several diagrams and captions on the walls, which are both in Arabic and in Russian. At some point in the video, the seal of Syrian intelligence is clearly visible, placed next to the seal of the GRU’s 6th Directorate, the branch of Russian military intelligence that is tasked with collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT). At another point in the video, a series of photographs can be seen that depict Syrian and Russian intelligence officers working together in gathering and analyzing intelligence. Interestingly, one of the walls in the base features a map of northern Israel, an area that is adjacent to the Golan Heights, and appears to show the location of Israeli SIGINT stations and military encampments. It is unclear when exactly the spy base was abandoned by the Russian and Syrian intelligence officers that staffed it, 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

Pilot program gives Syrian rebels advanced Western weaponry

Syrian rebelsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A pilot program operated by American and Saudi intelligence services has allegedly supplied Syrian rebel groups with sophisticated Western weaponry for the first time. Last weekend, The Wall Street Journal cited “people briefed on the effort” as stating that “a small number” of advanced American antitank missiles have been offered to Syrian rebel groups. The move is reportedly part of a new clandestine program, which, if successful, could open the door to “larger flows” of sophisticated Western-made weaponry in the hands of Syrian rebels. The paper said that Washington made the decision to give the weapons to the rebels following the collapse of the Western-backed peace talks early this year, coupled by the apparent military victories of Syrian government forces on the ground in the embattled Middle Eastern country. The effort is apparently part of a “small, tailored program”, which The Journal says is coordinated by American and Saudi intelligence services, aimed at “testing the waters” in Syria. Specifically, Washington and Riyadh are trying to discern whether these advanced weapons will fall into the hands of some of Islamist-inspired rebel groups on the ground, some of which have strong links with al-Qaeda. According to the paper, American and Saudi intelligence operatives have funneled “about a dozen” BCM-71 TOW armor piercing antitank systems to at least one rebel group on the ground. The group, Harakat Hazm, emerged earlier this year through the union of several small secular rebel groups in northern Syria. One weapons expert told The Journal that the antitank systems are equipped with a “complex, fingerprint-keyed security device” that should hopefully help limit the number of individuals that can fire the weapons. The article adds that US and Saudi intelligence services have entered a period of closer collaboration aimed at increasing material support for the Syrian rebels. Read more of this post

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.

Confirmed: Secret talks between Assad officials and Western spies

Faisal MekdadBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The BBC says it has confirmed that secret meetings have been held between Western intelligence officials and senior members of the Syrian government, aimed at “combating radical Islamist groups” in Syria. In a report aired on Wednesday, the British news agency cited “informed sources” in confirming that Western intelligence officials had visited Syrian capital Damascus. While there, said the report, the officials held meetings with security agents loyal to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The confirmation came a day after Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, told BBC’s flagship Newsnight program that the Syrian government was cooperating with Western intelligence services against radical Islamist groups that have taken up arms against President Assad. The Syrian official told Newsnight that Western governments were “finally understanding” that there was “no alternative except al-Qaeda” to Assad’s rule in Syria, and that Western security officials were in secret contact with Damascus. Asked whether he was referring to officials from Western intelligence agencies, Mekdad said he would “not specify, but many of them have visited Damascus, yes”. He added that the al-Assad government was receiving regular requests from Western countries to have their diplomats —most of whom were withdrawn following the outbreak of the civil war— return to the Syrian capital. Read more of this post

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