Colombia says Venezuelans caught with submachine guns planned to kill president

Duque HolmesAuthorities in Colombia said that three Venezuelans, who were arrested in Colombia’s Caribbean coast with submachine guns and explosives, were planning to assassinate President Iván Duque. The claim was aired in a video posted on Twitter by Colombia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Holmes, on December 29. In the brief video, Holmes said that Colombian intelligence services had uncovered evidence of a “credible threat to the life” or President Duque. He went on to suggest that the investigation into the alleged assassination operation had gone on for “several months” with the cooperation of “foreign intelligence agencies”, which he did not name. He also urged Colombians to come forward with any information in their possession that could assist the ongoing investigation.

On December 30, several Colombian newspapers reported that Holmes’ Twitter warning had been triggered by the arrest on December 21 of two Venezuelans in Colombia’s northern city of Valledupar. The two men, identified in media reports as Pedro José Acosta and José Vicente Gómez, both 22, were found to be in possession of rifles. Guillermo Botero, Colombia’s Minister of Defense, said later that the rifles were “high-precision” and were “camouflaged”, though he did not explain what that meant. On December 26, a third Venezuelan, identified in media reports as Geiger Vásquez, 35, was arrested in the city of Barranquilla. He was reportedly carrying a bag containing an Uzi submachine gun, along with ammunition and several grenades.

Government officials said that the attempt to kill President Duque could have been sponsored by leftist rebel groups, such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), that are active in the Colombian-Venezuelan border. There were also accusations in some Colombian media that the government of Venezuela may have helped plan the alleged attempt on Duque’s life. Since assuming the Colombian presidency in August, Duque has spearheaded international efforts to impose sanctions on the leftwing Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro, who is about to begin his second term in office. Relations between the two neighboring countries have thus sunk to new lows in recent months. On Monday, the Venezuelan government said it had requested more information about the alleged assassination plot from Colombian authorities and that it would provide Bogotá with “the necessary police and intelligence cooperation” to help investigate the allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 January 2019 | Permalink

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CIA report says Saudi crown prince sent text messages to Khashoggi killer

Saud al-QahtaniSaudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent at least eleven text messages to the man in charge of the 15-member hit team that killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi last month, according to a classified report produced by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA report was leaked to The Wall Street Journal, which said in a leading article on Saturday that the Saudi royal had sent the messages in the hours before and after Khashoggi’s brutal murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, 2018. Khashoggi, 59, was a Saudi government adviser who moved to the US and became a vocal critic of the kingdom’s style of governance. He was killed and later dismembered by a hit team inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone for a scheduled visit in order to be issued written proof of his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia.

Late last month, the CIA and its British equivalent, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), were reported to have concluded that Khashoggi’s murder was directly ordered by Prince Salman. But US President Donald Trump and leading members of his cabinet, including Secretaries of State Mike Pompeo and Defense James Mattis, have disputed these claims, saying there is “no smoking gun” that proves Prince Salman’s involvement. The US president said that Saudi Arabia was “a great ally” of Washington and that Prince Salman’s role in Khashoggi’s murder was unclear. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t”, he told reporters in Washington on November 20, referring to the prince, whom he considers a personal friend. Instead, the White House has placed blame for the journalist’s murder on Saud al-Qahtani (pictured), a former advisor to Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah, who is believed to have coordinated Khashoggi’s killing.

But new a new CIA assessment of Khashoggi’s murder that was leaked to The Wall Street Journal claims that the US spy agency has concluded with “medium-to-high” confidence that Prince Salman “personally targeted” the journalist and “probably ordered his death”. The leaked report, said The Journal, rests on several findings, including the fact that the prince sent at least 11 messages to al-Qahtani in the hours right before and right after the latter’s hit-team killed Khashoggi in Istanbul. The CIA report states that the Agency does not have access to the contents of the texts. But it states that this pattern of communication, along with other pieces of evidence “seems to foreshadow the Saudi operation launched against Khashoggi”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 December 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

Denmark recalls its envoy from Tehran, accuses Iran of assassination plot

Finn Borch AndersenThe Danish government has recalled its ambassador from Iran and has accused the intelligence services of the Islamic Republic of plotting an assassination operation on Danish soil. Danish government officials also said that Copenhagen would seek to impose further economic and diplomatic sanctions on Tehran, in coordination with the European Union. The accusations against Iran were leveled during an emergency news conference in the Danish capital on Tuesday, led by Anders Samuelsen, Denmark’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Finn Borch Andersen (pictured), Director of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, known as PET.

The two men said that “an Iranian intelligence agency” had planned “an attack on Danish soil”, which  Defense Minister Samuelsen condemned as “completely unacceptable”. PET Director Andersen said that a Norwegian national of Iranian background had been arrested in Sweden on October 21, and was now in custody awaiting extradition to Denmark. The arrestee is an employee of Iranian intelligence, said Andersen, and had been observed conducting surveillance against a Danish-based leading member of an Iranian separatist group. The alleged target is a member of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), a hardline separatist group campaigning for a separate homeland for Iran’s Arab minority. Approximately 2 percent of Iranians (around 1.5 million people) belong to the country’s ethnic Arab population. Most of them are concentrated in Khuzestan, a region in Iran’s oil-rich southwest, which borders neighboring Iraq. Some of these ethnic Arabs seek autonomy from Tehran, which they see as an alien regime. ASMLA represents the militant wing of Iran’s separatist Arab community and has a history of staging terrorist attacks inside Iran. Last September, the group claimed it was behind an armed attack on a military parade in the city of Ahvaz —a major urban center in Iran’s Arab-speaking region— which killed 24 people, including some women and children. Later, however, a representative of the group retracted the claim.

On Tuesday, several Iranian officials issued strong denials of the Danish government’s allegations. Speaking in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi dismissed Denmark’s claims as “spiteful”. He added that the timing of reports linking Iran to assassination operations on European soil were suspect and described them as “a plot by [Iran’s] enemies to damage Tehran’s growing relations with European countries”. Earlier this month, France seized the financial assets of individuals whom it described as Iranian spies, after blaming Tehran for a foiled bomb attack in Paris. The move followed the arrest of six people in France, Germany and Belgium, who allegedly planned to bomb the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) last June. The NCRI is led by Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a militant group with roots in radical Islam and Marxism, which Iran sees as a terrorist organization.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 October 2018 | Permalink

Major suspect in Maduro assassination plot dies in captivity in Caracas

Nicolás MaduroA leading suspect in a failed attempt to kill Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro using drones, has died in mysterious circumstances while being held by the country’s intelligence agency. The attack took place on August 4, 2018, in front of the Palacio de Justicia government complex in the Venezuelan capital Caracas. That afternoon, President Maduro was giving a nationally televised speech on the occasion of the 81st anniversary of the Bolivarian National Guard. An hour after the commencement of the outdoor ceremony, Maduro’s speech was interrupted by a loud noise that appeared to come directly from above, approximately 100 yards away from the podium. The noise turned out to have been a bomb affixed on a modified, commercially available drone. Moments later, another drone exploded after crashing into a building just two blocks northeast of where the Venezuelan president was standing. Seven members of the National Guard were injured in the attack.

President Maduro, who escaped unharmed, has blamed Colombia-based far-right extremists for the attack, and has named former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as their leader. But the Colombian government has rejected these allegations and has demanded to see proof. Throughout August, several people were arrested by Venezuelan authorities and charged with treason in connection with the assassination plot. Approximately 30 people have been named as participants in the plan. Among them was Fernando Albán, a 56-year-old critic of Maduro, who was serving as an opposition city councilor in Caracas. Althouth his arrest was announced on Friday, there were no reports about his fate over the weekend. On Monday, however, the government said that Albán had died after committing suicide. A subsequent report said that the 56-year-old had died after throwing himself out of a window located on the tenth floor of the headquarters of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, where he was being held. Later on Monday, Nestor Luis Reverol, Venezuela’s Minister of Interior, said that Albán voluntarily jumped out of the window as he was being transported to court in order to be formally charged.

On Monday night, Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab said during a television interview that Albán had been given permission to go to the bathroom and used it as an opportunity to kill himself. But critics of the government see the August 4 assassination attempt as a false-flag operation orchestrated by the Maduro administration to justify a new crackdown on the opposition. They claim that Albán was murdered and that it would have been impossible for him to throw himself out of a window given the security precautions that are in place at the Bolivarian Intelligence Service building. Meanwhile, Albán’s attorney, Joel Garcia, dismissed the Venezuelan government’s explanation of his client’s death as “totally false” and doubted that he would have been allowed to go to the bathroom unaccompanied.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 October 2018 | Permalink

Pro-Soviet radicals planned to kill Gorbachev in East Germany, book claims

Mikhail GorbachevA group of German radicals planned to assassinate Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in East Germany in 1989, thus triggering a Soviet military invasion of the country, according to a new book written by a former British spy. The book is entitled Pilgrim Spy: My Secret War Against Putin, the KGB and the Stasi (Hodder & Stoughton publishers) and is written by “Tom Shore”, the nom de guerre of a former officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). The book chronicles the work of its author, who claims that in 1989 he was sent by MI6 to operate inside communist East Germany without an official cover. That means that he was not a member of the British diplomatic community in East Germany and thus had no diplomatic immunity while engaging in espionage. His mission was to uncover details of what MI6 thought was a Soviet military operation against the West that would be launched from East Germany.

In his book, Shore says that he did not collect any actionable intelligence on the suspected Soviet military operation. He did, however, manage to develop sources from within the growing reform movement in East Germany. The leaders of that movement later spearheaded the widespread popular uprising that led to the collapse of the German Democratic Republic and its eventual unification with West Germany. While finding his way around the pro-democracy movement, Shore says that he discovered a number of self-described activists who had been planted there by the East German government or the Soviet secret services. Among them, he says, were members of the so-called Red Army Faction (RAF). Known also as the Baader Meinhoff Gang or the Baader-Meinhof Group, the RAF was a pro-Soviet guerrilla group that operated in several Western European countries, including Germany, Belgium and Holland. Its members participated in dozens of violent actions from 1971 to 1993, in which over 30 people were killed. Among other attacks, the group tried to kill the supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and launched a sniper attack on the US embassy in Bonn. The group is known to have received material, logistical and operational support from a host of Eastern Bloc countries, including East Germany, Poland and Yugoslavia.

According to Shore, the RAF members who had infiltrated the East German reform movement were planning to assassinate Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev during his official visit to East Germany on October 7, 1989. The visit was planned to coincide with the 40th anniversary celebrations of the formation of the German Democratic Republic in 1949, following the collapse of the Third Reich. Shore says he discovered that the assassination plot had been sponsored by hardline members of the Soviet Politburo, the communist country’s highest policy-making body, and by senior officials of the KGB. The plan involved an all-out military takeover of East Germany by Warsaw Pact troops, similar to that of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But Shore claims that he was able to prevent the RAF’s plan with the assistance of members of the East German reform movement. He says, however, that at least two of the RAF members who planned to kill Gorbachev remain on the run to this day. The RAF was officially dissolved in 1998, when its leaders sent an official communiqué to the Reuters news agency announcing the immediate cessation of all RAF activities. However, three former RAF members remain at large. They are Ernst-Volker Staub, Burkhard Garweg and Daniela Klette, all of them German citizens, who are believed to be behind a series of bank robberies in Italy, Spain and France in recent years.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 September 2018 | Permalink

Montenegro seeks arrest of ex-CIA officer accused of role in pro-Russian coup

Montenegro coupGovernment prosecutors in Montenegro, the youngest member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, claim that a former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency helped pro-Russian plotters organize a coup in 2016. In October of that year, authorities in Montenegro accused “nationalists from Russia and Serbia” of staging a failed plot. Their goal was allegedly to kill the country’s then-Prime Minister Milo Dukanović, spark a pro-Russian coup in the country, and prevent its entry into NATO. The allegations surfaced after 20 Serbians and Montenegrins were arrested in Montenegro for allegedly planning an armed coup. The arrests took place on election day, October 16, 2016, as Montenegrins were voting across the Balkan country of 650,000 people. The plotters had even hired a “long-distance sharpshooter” who was “a professional killer” for the task of killing Đukanović, according to Montenegrin police. After killing the prime minister, the plotters allegedly planned to storm the parliament and prompt a pro-Russian coup.

Russia has vehemently denied the allegations. But in March of last year, the then British foreign secretary Boris Johnson appeared to validate the Montenegrin government’s allegations. Since then, a sensational trial has been taking place in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica of the 20 men who were arrested in October 2016, in addition to two Russians who are being tried in absentia. During the trial, prosecutors fingered Joseph Assad, a former CIA officer, as a co-conspirator in the coup plot. The Egyptian-born Assad served as a counter-terrorism expert in the CIA after arriving in the US in 1990, but eventually left the agency to launch his own security firm. It is believed that at the time of the alleged coup plot, Assad’s firm was employed by Aron Shaviv, a political strategist connected with the Democratic Front, a vocal pro-Russian opposition party in Montenegro. Shaviv, who has joint British and Israeli citizenship, said he hired Assad’s firm to provide counter-surveillance against Montenegro’s security services. According to Shaviv, the Montenegrin authorities spied on him and harassed him because of his connections to a domestic political party that is seen as pro-Russian.

But prosecutors in the trial of the alleged coup plotters claim that Assad’s role was to organize and provide escape routes and methods for the coup plotters. In light of these allegations, a warrant has been issued for Assad, accusing him of “operating a criminal enterprise”, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Assad has rejected the charges as a “deception campaign”. In a statement issued on Saturday, he said he was “a loyal American who had no role in any crimes or coup in Montenegro”. Meanwhile, the Democratic Front and a number of other opposition parties in Montenegro denounced the government’s claims of a failed coup as “publicity stunts” aimed at distracting the country’s citizens from the state of the economy and other domestic concerns.

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