Indian officials admit for first time Islamic State militants are present in Kashmir

Islamic State India KashmirIndian counterterrorism officials have alleged in court that four members of the Islamic State in Indian-administered Kashmir were guided by a handler from Pakistan. The court case involves four young men from Jammu and Kashmir who were arrested last November on terrorism charges. Court documents filed recently identify the four as members of the Islamic State. This development is significant because Indian officials have until recently dismissed as overstated claims that the Islamic State is present in Kashmir. The unfurling of Islamic State banners by anti-government rioters is a regular phenomenon in Indian Kashmir. But government officials dismiss those who wave such banners as impressionable youth who have no access to weaponry or logistical support from the Islamic State. Last November’s arrests, however, highlighted the fact that the Islamic State does in fact have an armed presence on the ground in India.

The four young men have been named as Haris Mushtaq Khan, Tahir Ahmad Khan, Asif Suhail Nadaf and Asif Majid. They were apprehended in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir’s largest city, following the arrest in September of 2018 of two other men who were allegedly affiliated with a group calling itself the Islamic State in Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK). The group has since renamed itself to Islamic State – Khorasan Province, while recently it proclaimed an overseas province in the region, which it calls “wilayah al-Hind” (province of Hind). Three of the four men have been charged with attacking a tourist visitor center in the area with hand grenades. In their official indictment against the four men, officers of India’s National Investigation Agency accuse them of being “confirmed terrorists of the Islamic State”, which amounts to the first confirmation in Indian government documents of the presence of Islamic State militants in India. The 28-page indictment states that the four men were among several locals who “acted as ground workers and […] provided logistics to the ISJK cadres”.

Additionally, two of the men, Haris and Tahir, are accused of having been in contact online with a man identified as Abu Huzefa, an Islamic State recruiter based in Afghanistan. According to the court documents Huzefa is a Pakistani national and “an active cadre of the Islamic State based in Afghanistan”. He was allegedly in regular contact with the two Indian men and provided them with Islamic State literature and other propaganda material. In their indictment the NIA officers also admit that the arrests of the four men point to “a larger conspiracy of these terrorist elements propagating pan-Islamic ideology of IS by recruiting and radicalizing Kashmiri youth towards jihad and targeting security forces”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 20 June 2019 | Permalink

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Pakistan dismisses head of powerful spy agency after only eight months on the job

Lieutenant General Asim MunirIn a surprising move the Pakistani military has dismissed the head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency just eight months after appointing him to that position. The decision was announced on Sunday in a brief statement by the Inter-Services Public Relations, the public-relations wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces. The statement said that Lieutenant General Asim Munir had stepped down from his post as director of ISI and would take over as commander of the Gujranwala Corps in Punjab, Pakistan’s second-largest province. The statement did not explain the reasons for the reshuffle; the latter came as a surprise, as ISI directors typically serve for at least three years in that post. General Munir’s tenure began in October of this year.

General Munir has been replaced by Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, who until this latest appointment was head of the ISI’s counterintelligence directorate. Last October, when General Munir was promoted to ISI director, Hameed was promoted to the rank of three-star general. In April he was promoted again, this time from major general to lieutenant general, and was appointed Adjutant General at the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Armed Forces. His meteoric rise in the ISI has won him several devotees and he is seen as an influential intelligence planner in the ranks of the powerful spy agency. He rose to prominence outside of the ISI in late 2017, when he personally mediated to broker a deal between the government of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and leaders of the so-called Ahmadiyya community. Followers of the Ahmadiyya movement, a messianic Muslim sect with a substantial following in the Punjab, had taken to the streets to complain of discrimination and harassment by the authorities. According to media reports at the time, Hameed threatened to use the Pakistani Army against the Ahmadiyya protesters if they did not scale down their public protests. Such reports cause some in Pakistan to view Hameed as a military hardliner and a firm believer in the view of the military as the guarantor of political normalcy in Pakistan.

Meanwhile in an unrelated development Indian officials said on Sunday that Islamabad had alerted Delhi of a possible attack by al-Qaeda in a region of Indian-administered Kashmir. Media reports said that Indian officials had been warned by the ISI that al-Qaeda forces planned to carry out “a major terror strike” in the Pulwama region of southern Kashmir. Security observers noted the move as a rare instance of intelligence cooperation between the two rival nuclear-armed nations. As a result, India said it had deployed nearly 500 additional companies of police officers in the southern Kashmir region.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 June 2019 | Permalink

In a surprise move, Iran releases Washington resident accused of espionage

Nizar ZakkaIran has announced that it will release a Lebanese national and United States permanent resident, who has served nearly half of his 10-year prison sentence for allegedly spying for Washington. Nizar Zakka, 52, was born in Lebanon but was schooled in the US, where he lived permanently until 2015. In September of that year, Zakka traveled to the Iranian capital Tehran at the invitation of the government of Iran, where he spoke at a conference on Internet-based entrepreneurship. He attended the event as an information technology expert who worked for companies like Cisco and Microsoft before setting up his own company called IJMA3. Based in Washington, DC, IJMA3 lobbies investors to help build online networks in the Middle East in order to develop the region economically, socially and politically.

But on September 18, 2015, as Zakka was traveling to the Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran for his return flight, he was detained by Iranian security officers and never made it out of the country. A year later, he was convicted of spying for the US and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The court also handed him a $4.2 million fine, allegedly for “collaborating with a government that was hostile to Iran”. Iran’s state-run media said Zakka was a “treasure trove” of intelligence on the American military. But the Lebanese IT expert denied all charges leveled against him. He said he was tortured during his interrogation and he went on frequent hunger strikes to protest his innocence and the conditions of his detention. Throughout his imprisonment, the Lebanese government pressured Iran for his release. The US also raised the issue through Congress and the Department of State. But Washington’s ability to influence Iran was limited, as it does not have diplomatic relations with Tehran.

On Tuesday, however, Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had received word from Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon that Zakka would be released soon. The Iranians reportedly said they decided to release Zakka following personal interventions by Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the country’s President Michel Aoun. Additionally, said the Iranian ambassador, Zakka would be released as “a goodwill gesture” during Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. The statement added that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was “ready to receive a Lebanese delegation at any time for the extradition of the Lebanese prisoner Nizar Zakka”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 June 2019 | Permalink

Analysis: Yemen conflict shows small-drone warfare ‘is here to stay’, say experts

DroneThe current wars in the Middle East, especially the ongoing conflict in Yemen, are proof that the use of small drones in insurgencies is now a permanent phenomenon of irregular warfare, according to experts. Drones have been used in warfare in the Middle East for almost 20 years —including by outside powers like the United States. But National Public Radio’s Geoff Brumfiel reports that the wars in Iraq and Syria, and especially the war between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, clearly demonstrate that we have entered “a new era of drone warfare”.

The use of off-the-shelf small drones has been increasing since 2010, with the Syrian Civil War having served as a testing ground for military uses of drones by all sides involved in the conflict. Belligerents quickly realized that the use of drones —whether remotely operated from the ground, or guided by GPS coordinates— could provide useful air power “for a fraction of the cost of fighter jets” employed by national militaries, according to Brumfiel. He quotes numerous drone warfare expects who agree that the ongoing Yemeni Civil War provides the clearest sign yet of the proliferation of drones for military and paramilitary purposes. The Houthi rebels have employed drones to attack government targets and targets such as air fields, oil installations and military bases in neighboring Saudi Arabia. Most of these drones, and the knowledge of how to modify them for military use, are given to the Houthis by Iran, according to RAND Corporation expert Ariane Tabatabai, who is quoted in Brumfiel’s article.

Iran has been developing military drone technology since the 1980s, but did not begin to employ drones outside of its airspace until 2015. The change was prompted by the emergence of the Islamic State emerged as a major Sunni threat to Shiite populations in the region. Iranian drones are now everywhere, from Iraq and Syria to Yemen. These drones, including drones used by the Houthis, are major sources of concern for conventional armies, because they are difficult to detect and destroy, according to Center for a New American Security researcher Nicholas Heras. He told Brumfiel that small drones are difficult to locate by radar, and their flight paths are far more flexible than those of airplanes. Additionally, those drones controllers can use GPS systems to “navigate through holes” in air defenses, said Heras.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 May 2019 | Permalink

Islamic State announces new overseas province in India for the first time

ISIS IndiaThe group calling itself the Islamic State has announced the establishment of a new overseas province in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state. The announcement was made over the weekend by Amaq, which serves as the news agency of the Islamic State. According to the news release, the Islamic State (known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has named the new province “wilayah al-Hind” (province of Hind), and said it is based in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, which is located in one of the three administrative divisions of the Indian administered state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Amaq report surfaced following an armed clash between a group of Islamist militants and Indian security forces in Amshipora, a village in the district of Shopian, which is in the foothills of the northern Himalayan Mountains. At least one Islamist militant was killed in the armed confrontation, which reportedly lasted two hours. Indian authorities identified the dead militant as Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi, and said he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The Amaq statement alleged that the militants in Amshipora had “inflicted casualties” on the security forces, but the claim was denied by the Indian government. The Reuters news agency spoke with Rita Katz, an Israeli analyst who directs the SITE Intelligence Group in the United States. She said that the announcement of a new Islamic State province “should not be written off”, but added that “the establishment of a province in a region where [the Islamic State] has nothing resembling actual governance is absurd”.

Writing in the Hong-Kong-based Asia Times, Prakash Katoch, a retired lieutenant general in the Indian Army’s Special Forces, said that the announcement of a wilayah in India was a first for the Islamic State. He warned that after announcing a province in Indian Kashmir, the Islamic State “may also attempt to increase its presence in other Indian states” with a significant Muslim presence, such as Kerala or West Bengal. Katoch noted that “a number of young men and women from Kerala” had been identified as having joined the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017. Several of them even traveled to Syria to fight for the Sunni Islamist group, he added.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 May 2019 | Permalink

‘Unusual’ high-level meeting held at CIA headquarters to discuss Iran, say sources

CIA headquartersAn untypical high-level meeting was convened at the headquarters of the United States Central Intelligence Agency last week to discuss Iran, according to NBC News. The meeting, which NBC described as “highly unusual” was convened by President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton. Participants allegedly included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford. Citing “six current US officials”, NBC said the meeting was held at 7 a.m. on Monday, April 29, in Langley, Virginia.

The list of participants refers to a high-level national security meeting. These are almost always held at the White House —typically in the Situation Room— says NBC. In general, it is extremely rare for senior White House officials, like Bolton, or members of the Cabinet, like Pompeo, to participate in meetings at CIA headquarters. It is also worth noting that, according to NBC’s sources, the meeting was not related to Washington’s recent decision send the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to the Middle East. This leaves two options, according to the NBC report: first, that the meeting concerned a “highly sensitive covert action” involving Iran or an Iranian proxy, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah. It could have been an update on an existing CIA operation, or a description of options for an impending operation. Alternatively the meeting could have been called due to a disagreement between the CIA and the White House about the results of an intelligence assessment or estimate about Iran.

NBC said it contacted the National Security Council to inquire about the April 29 meeting, but a spokesperson refused to comment. Meanwhile, Pompeo abruptly canceled the final leg of a four-nation tour of Europe on Thursday and returned to Washington, reportedly in light of heightening tensions between Washington and Tehran. Also on Thursday, the Iranian government described the Trump administration’s decision to deploy the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to the Middle East as “an action of psychological warfare” against the Iranian people. Late on Thursday, President Trump urged Iran to reach out to him: “What I would like to see with Iran, I’d like to see them call me”, said the US leader during a press conference at the White House. Iranian officials did not immediately respond to his comments.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 May 2019 | Permalink

German spies dismiss US warnings about Huawei threat to 5G network

Huawei 2German intelligence officials appear to be dismissing Washington’s warning that it will limit security cooperation with Berlin if China’s Huawei Telecommunications is allowed to build Germany’s 5G network. The company, Huawei Technologies, is a private Chinese venture and one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers. In recent years, however, it has come under scrutiny by some Western intelligence agencies, who view it as being too close to the Communist Party of China. More recently, Washington has intensified an international campaign to limit Huawei’s ability to build the infrastructure for 5G, the world’s next-generation wireless network. Along with Britain, Australia and Canada, the US is concerned that the Chinese telecommunications giant may facilitate global wiretapping on behalf of Beijing’s spy agencies.

In the past several months the United States has repeatedly warned Germany that intelligence sharing between the two countries will be threatened if the Chinese telecommunications giant is awarded a 5G contract by the German government. In March, Washington informed German officials that intelligence cooperation between the two allies would be severely impacted if Chinese telecommunications manufacturers were given the green light to build Germany’s 5G infrastructure. The warning was allegedly included in a letter to Peter Altmaier, Germany’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, written by Ambassador Richard Grenell, America’s top diplomat in Germany. The letter urged the German government to consider rival bids by companies belonging to American allies, such as the Swedish telecommunications equipment manufacturer Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia Corporation, or the South Korean Samsung Corporation.

But a report by Bloomberg on Wednesday said that German authorities were not convinced by Grenell’s argument. Citing “four people with knowledge on the matter”, the news agency said that Germany’s intelligence community see Washington’s warnings as “political grandstanding”. The US and Germany “need each other’s resources to tackle global conflicts” and “rely on each other too much to risk jeopardizing crucial data sharing”, said the report. The anonymous officials told Bloomberg that Germany does benefit from America’s “vast array” of intelligence. However, German spy agencies also provide their American counterparts with crucial intelligence from several regions of the world, they said. The US Department of State did not comment on the Bloomberg report. The Chinese government has repeatedly dismissed allegations that Huawei poses an espionage threat to Western nations.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 April 2019 | Permalink