Leaked document confirms Israel was behind Syrian official’s killing

Tartus, SyriaA leaked document from an American intelligence agency appears to confirm that Israeli commandos were behind the assassination of a top Syrian government official, who was shot dead outside his luxury villa on the Syrian coast in 2008. Muhammad Suleiman had been a close aide of current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad even before the latter rose to power in 2000. Once al-Assad became ruler of Syria, Suleiman was appointed special presidential advisor in the areas of arms procurement and strategic weapons. He handled intelligence affairs for the Assad regime and he was involved in weapons transfers from Iran to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, while also helping train Hezbollah operatives. He was also rumored to have a senior administrative role in the Syrian nuclear weapons program.

On August 1, 2008, Suleiman was shot dead with bullet wounds to the head and neck fired from a silenced rifle. He was shot as he was hosting a party on the beach behind his luxury villa at the Rimal al Zahabiya (Golden Sands) resort area, located to the north of the Mediterranean port city of Taurus. The assassins are believed to have fired the shots from a yacht, which was seen rapidly sailing away from Rimal al Zahabiya moments after the shooting. Most observers put the blame squarely on Israel. In 2009, an investigative report by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said Israel had killed Suleiman due to his leading role in Syria’s nuclear program. However, a cable released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks in 2011 revealed that French intelligence analysts believed Suleiman had been killed as a result of a bloody power struggle within the Assad regime. These have been the two leading theories behind Suleiman’s mysterious killing.

On Wednesday, however, a document authored by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) was leaked, which shows that American intelligence analysts are certain that Israeli commandos were behind Suleiman’s assassination. The document was leaded by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who defected to Russia in 2013. It comes from Intellipedia, the US Intelligence community’s classified version of Wikipedia, which was formally launched in 2006. It describes Suleiman’s killing as an operation carried out by “Israeli naval commandos” and calls it “the first known instance of Israel targeting a legitimate [foreign] government official”. According to The Intercept, which published the leak, the Intellipedia document is labeled “SI”, which means that the information contained in it was not voluntarily shared with the US by Israel, but was rather acquired through the interception of electronic signals.

If the leaked document is accurate, it would mark the first confirmation by a government agency that Israel was indeed behind Suleiman’s assassination. The Intercept contacted the NSA and the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel. However, neither party responded to several requests for comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/16/01-1736/

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”.

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