Australian police offer reward for information about murder of ex-KGB colonel

Gennadi BernovskiPolice in the Australian state of Queensland have offered a $250,000 (US $182,000) reward for information that can help solve the murder of a former Soviet KGB colonel 18 years ago. The victim, Gennadi Bernovski, worked in the domestic wing of the Soviet KGB, until his retirement, which coincided with the dissolution of the USSR. In 1996, he moved to Australia with his family and bought a house in Benowa Waters, a luxury suburb of Gold Coast, a city located south of Brisbane on the country’s east coast. But on the evening of July 24, 2000, Bernovski was shot to death outside his home by what witnesses said were two men in combat diver suits. They reportedly opened fire on Bernovski with a semi-automatic weapon, wounding him fatally in the stomach. He was dead within a few minutes. It is believed that the assailants sailed to Bernovski’s waterfront property on an inflatable boat, or swam there, having first sailed to the nearby seaside.

Since Bernovski’s murder, Australian authorities have refused to answer questions about how the former KGB colonel came to settle in the country, and whether he was given political asylum by the Australian government. They have also refused to answer questions relating to Bernovski’s citizenship at the time of his murder. Some reports have pointed out that he was an Australian citizen when he was murdered. Furthermore, little is known about his financial status or sources of income, though it is believed that he had access to “multiple bank accounts in Russia and Australia”. On Thursday, spokespersons for the Australian Federal Police and the Queensland Police Department refused to provide information on the investigators’ current working hypothesis about who might have been responsible for Bernovski’s murder. They were also asked whether some family members of the late former KGB officer continue to reside in Australia under assumed names, but declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Department of the Australian Attorney-General said that the new reward offer was aimed at “cracking a cold case”, which is a routine police practice for unsolved crimes. She did not comment, however, on media speculation that police sought to interview another Russian national, Oleg Kouzmine, who was living in Gold Coast during the time of Bernovski’s murder. According to reports, Kouzmine is now living in another country, which means that Australian authorities would need to seek the cooperation of a foreign law enforcement agency in order to gain access to him. However, the Attorney-General Department spokeswoman told reporters on Thursday that, “as a matter of longstanding practice, the Australian government does not confirm whether it has made a request for assistance to a foreign country in a criminal matter”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 November 2018 | Permalink

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ISIS fighters might declare new caliphate in Philippines, experts warn

Battle of MarawiThe number of foreign Islamic State fighters entering the Philippines is growing, and the momentum they generate among local Islamist groups may prompt them to declare a new caliphate, according to experts. British newspaper The Guardian cited “a high-ranking intelligence officer” who said that between 40 and 100 foreign fighters have joined the Islamic State in the southern Philippines in the past 12 months. Most of them come from neighboring countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. But there are also fighters from Pakistan, Bangladesh and several Middle Eastern countries, said the intelligence officer. One of them, a Moroccan militant, carried out a suicide bombing in Lamitan City, located on Basilan Island south of Mindanao, in July of this year, killing 11 other people. There are fears among experts that the Islamic State might declare a new caliphate there soon, as local support for militant Islamism is growing.

Such a declaration has been made before. Following the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, later renamed Islamic State) in 2014 in the Middle East, several Islamist groups in the Philippines declared allegiance to the Islamic State’s emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They included fighters from Abu Sayyaf, Ansar al-Khilafah, the Maute Group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and other smaller factions active in the southern Philippines’ island of Mindanao. In May 2017, these fighters launched a joint attack on Marawi, the capital city of Mindanao’s Lanao del Sur province. Within 48 hours, they had occupied the entire city of 200,000 people and declared it the capital of the “East Asia Wilayah”, an overseas province of the Islamic State. Among them were an estimated 80 foreign fighters from dozens of countries. Upon the declaration of the caliphate, the insurgents issued several calls on social media for foreign Islamists to join them. Many dozens from the Muslim world and from Western Europe attempted to do so, according to Philippines police.

The violent takeover of Marawi prompted a counter-attack by the Philippine Armed Forces, which launched a large-scale urban-warfare operation on May 23, 2017. Hostilities ended on October 17, 2017, when the Philippine government declared victory against the Islamic State. The military operation became known as “the battle of Marawi” and is believed to have been the longest urban battle in the post-World War II history of the Philippines. More than 1,200 people died in the five-month battle, most of them civilians. Hundreds of thousands remain displaced to this day as a result of the fighting.

According to The Guardian, intelligence gathered from local and foreign Islamist fighters in the country suggests that support for the Islamic State among local Muslims is growing, as a result of three factors: first, the arrival of dozens of battle-hardened foreign fighters who urge the locals to fight. Second, the disaffection of the local Muslim population as a result of the harsh economic conditions in the Philippines’ depressed southern regions. Third, widespread dissatisfaction with the increasing levels of corruption among government officials in the southern provinces. One expert, Zachary Abuza, south-east Asia analyst at the United States National War College, told The Guardian that southern Philippines is an important sanctuary for the Islamic State, because “there is enough ungoverned or very poorly governed space” there. In the next few months, another declaration of a caliphate may be issued, he added.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 November 2018 | Permalink

Austria arrests second spy for Russia in a week: media reports

BVT AustriaAuthorities in Austria have arrested a second alleged spy for Russia in a week, according to media reports. Several Austrian news outlets reported on Monday that police had arrested an Austrian counterintelligence officer on suspicion of passing classified information to Russian intelligence. The news follows reports late last week of the arrest of an unnamed retired colonel in the Austrian Army, who is believed to have spied for Russia since 1988. As intelNews reported on Monday, the unnamed man worked at the Austrian Armed Forces’ headquarters in Salzburg. He is believed to have been in regular contact with his Russian handler, known to him only as “Yuri”, who trained him in the use of “sophisticated equipment” for passing secret information to Moscow. He is thought to have given Russia information on a range of weapons systems used by the Austrian Army and Air Force, as well as the personal details of high-ranking officers in the Austrian Armed Forces.

On Monday, the Vienna-based newspaper Kronen Zeitung, said that a second Austrian man had been arrested on suspicion of carrying out espionage for Moscow. The man was identified in Austrian news reports only as “O.”, due to strict restrictions imposed on media in the country. But the Kronen Zeitung said that the Vienna Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had confirmed the reports of the arrest of the second alleged spy. According to the Vienna Public Prosecutor’s Office, the second individual was an employee of the Austrian Office for Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism, known as BVT. He had been investigated on suspicion of espionage for more than a year prior to his arrest this week. The man’s arrest took place alongside simultaneous raids at two residential addresses associated with him, according to reports. No further details about this latest case have been made available.

No information is available about the kind of information that the suspect is believed to have shared with Moscow. Furthermore, statements from Austrian officials do not mention any connection between the arrest of “O.” and the arrest of the retired Army colonel that took place last week. The Kronen Zeitung notes that, if found guilty of espionage, “O.” will face a sentence of up to 10 years behind bars. The embassy of Russia in Vienna refused to respond to questions about the arrest of “O.” on Monday night.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 November 2018 | Permalink

Austria summons Russian ambassador over arrest of alleged army spy

Sebastian Kurz Mario KunasekThe Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Russian ambassador to Vienna on Friday, following the arrest of a retired Austrian Army colonel who allegedly spied for Moscow for more than two decades. The news was announced on Friday by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz at an emergency news conference in Vienna. He did not reveal the alleged spy’s identity, but said that he had been taken into custody as Austrian counterintelligence were investigating the extent of the security breach he caused.

However, according to the Kronen Zeitung, Austria’s highest-circulation newspaper, the suspect is a 70-year-old Army colonel who recently retired after a long military career. He reportedly worked at one of the Austrian Armed Forces’ two headquarters, located in the western city of Salzburg. The unnamed man is believed to have spied for Russia from the early 1990s until his arrest last week. The Kronen Zeitung said that the retired Army colonel was in regular contact with his Russian handler, known to him only as “Yuri”. The Russian handler reportedly trained him in the use of “sophisticated equipment”, which he used to communicate information to Moscow. He is thought to have given Russia information on a range of weapons systems used by the Austrian Army and Air Force, as well as the personal details of high-ranking officers in the Austrian Armed Forces. Austrian media reported that the alleged spy was paid nearly $350,000 for his services to Moscow. According to Austria’s Minister of Defense Mario Kunasek, the arrest came after a tip given to the Austrian government “a few weeks ago” by an unnamed European intelligence agency. He also said that Austrian security services were looking into the possibility that the suspect may have been part of a larger spy ring working for Moscow.

The incident has strained relations between Austria and Russia. In the past decade, Austria —which is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization— has been seen by observers as a rare ally of Moscow inside the European Union. Unlike the vast majority of European Union countries, Austria chose not to expel Russian diplomats following the poisoning of former Russian double spy Sergei Skripal in March of this year. In August, Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the wedding of his personal friend, Austria’s Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl. But Mrs. Kneissl has now canceled a planned visit to Moscow in December in response to last week’s spy scandal. Speaking in Moscow on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed Austria’s accusations as “unfounded” and “unacceptable”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 November 2018 | Permalink

Moscow names intersection after Kim Philby, British spy for the USSR

Kim PhilbyIn a sign of worsening relations between the United Kingdom and Russia, a busy intersection in Moscow has been named after Kim Philby, the British senior intelligence officer who secretly spied for the Soviet Union. While working as a senior member of British intelligence, Harold Adrian Russell Philby, known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, spied on behalf of the Soviet NKVD and KGB. His espionage activities lasted from about 1933 until 1963, when he secretly defected to the USSR from his home in Beirut, Lebanon. Philby’s defection sent ripples of shock across Western intelligence and is often seen as one of the most dramatic incidents of the Cold War. He was part of a wider ring of upper-class British spies, known collectively as ‘the Cambridge spies’ because they were recruited by Soviet intelligence during their student days at the University of Cambridge in England.

Following his sensational defection, Philby lived in the Soviet capital until his death in 1988 at the age of 76. On Tuesday, a statement published on the website of the Moscow City Council announced that a busy intersection in the city’s southeast would be renamed to ‘Kim Philby Square’ in honor of the British defector. The statement said that the name change had been agreed upon by the city council and decreed by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sbyanin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Interestingly, Philby lived nowhere near the intersection named after him. His apartment —provided to him by the Soviet state in exchange for services rendered during his 30 years of spying— was located in a residential area of central Moscow. However, the intersection in question is situated near the headquarters of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, which is the primary successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB. In September of last year, SVR Director Sergei Naryshkin attended an exhibition in Moscow entitled “Kim Philby: His Intelligence Work and Personal Life”, organized by the Russian Historical Society. While there, Naryshkin was told by veterans of the KGB that Philby liked to take long walks through the streets of Moscow and that a street should be named after him in his honor.

French news agency Agence France Presse reported that it contacted the Moscow City Council but a spokeswoman said she was not in a position to comment on the Kim Philby Square renaming. The move comes a few months after a small pedestrian thoroughfare located across from the front entrance of the Russian embassy in Washington DC was symbolically named ‘Boris Nemtsov’, after a Russian opposition leader who was gunned down in downtown Moscow in February of 2015.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 November 2018 | Permalink

ISIS using Turkey as strategic base to reorganize, Dutch intelligence report says

Turkey ISISIslamic State cells are using Turkey as a strategic base in which to recuperate, rebuild, and plan an underground war in Europe, according to a new report by Dutch intelligence. This assessment is featured in a report published on Monday by Holland’s General Intelligence and Security Service, known as AIVD. The document, which is available in the Dutch language on the website of the AIVD, is entitled The Legacy of Syria: Global Jihadism Remains a Threat to Europe.

The 22-page report argues that the government of Turkey does not see Sunni Islamist groups, such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS), as a pressing national security threat. Instead, Turkish security services are far more concerned with the ethnic Kurdish insurgents of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. Therefore, although Turkish authorities do sometimes take action to combat al-Qaeda and ISIS, “Turkish interests do not always correspond with European priorities on the field of counter-terrorism”, says the report. For that reason, Turkey served as a large transit center of tens of thousands of foreign fighters who poured into Syria to fight for Sunni Islamist groups during the height of the Syrian Civil War. At least 4,000 of those fighters are believed to be Turkish citizens, according to the AIVD report.

Today Turkey is home to tens of thousands of sympathizers of both al-Qaeda and ISIS —two organizations that maintain an active presence throughout the country— claims the report. The hands-off approach of the Turkish government is giving these groups “enough breathing space and freedom of movement” to operate relatively freely on Turkish soil. Additionally, al-Qaeda and ISIS members exploit the relative peace and stability of Turkey to forge plans to attack Western target, claims the AIVD report. It is from Turkey, it argues, that the Islamic State plans to shape and direct its pending underground war on the European continent.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 November 2018 | Permalink

France arrests six far-right militants who plotted to kill President Macron

Emmanuel MacronAuthorities in France have announced the arrest of six individuals who were allegedly involved in a plot to kill French President Emmanuel Macron. Government prosecutors said on Tuesday that the six were arrested for planning “a violent action against the president of the Republic”. A former economy and industry minister, Macron resigned from the cabinet of left-of-center Prime Minister Manuel Valls in 2016 in order to lead a new right-of-center movement called En marche (Forward). In 2017 he won the presidential election with 66.1 percent, becoming the youngest president in the history of France.

French security services have responded to several instances of potential plots against Macron. In one recent case, a man was charged in July of last year with plotting to kill the president during France’s annual Bastille Day celebrations. This latest case, however, appears to be larger in size and sophistication. According to prosecutors, Tuesday’s arrests were part of a wider probe in to “a criminal terrorist association”. All six suspects had reportedly been monitored for quite some time by France’s domestic security agency, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI).

The names and backgrounds of those arrested have not been released. But France’s BFM-TV station said on Tuesday that their ages ranged from 20 to 60, that they were men and women, and that they belonged to an unspecified “far-right organization”. It is also notable that their arrests took place as a result of raids in three different parts of the country —namely in the city of Moselle, located on the border of France, Germany and Luxembourg, and in Ille-et-Vilaine near Rennes in France’s northwestern Brittany region. More raids reportedly took place in the region of Isere in the French Alps. Reports early on Wednesday morning said that authorities were examining the details of the alleged assassination scheme, which was “imprecise and loosely formed”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 October 2018 | Permalink