French Special Forces were on plane that crashed in Ivory Coast, killing 4

Ivory CoastA plane crash that killed four off Côte d’Ivoire last week had been chartered by the French military as part of its counterinsurgency mission in West Africa, it has been admitted. Ivorian authorities identified the aircraft as a Ukrainian-made Antonov transport airplane. It reportedly took off from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, on last Saturday morning. Shortly afterwards, the aircraft crash-landed in the Atlantic Ocean past Abidjan, one of West Africa’s largest cities, on the southern coast of Côte d’Ivoire. Local officials said the airplane broke in half and immediately caught fire. Of the ten people that were on board, four are reportedly dead; six others are seriously hurt. Reports said that the four dead passengers were all Moldovan nationals. Two other Moldovans and four French nationals were injured.

Late on Saturday, France’s Armed Forces Ministry said that it had chartered the Antonov aircraft, as part of Operation BARKHANE. The military operation began in August of 2014, as part of a broader effort by France to combat what it describes as an Islamist insurgency in the African Sahel region. Currently, French Special Forces are believed to be operational in at least five countries there, namely Niger, Mali, Chad, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. French government sources report that BARKHANE involves 4,000 French troops, commanded from an operational headquarters in N’Djamena, capital of Chad. Close to 1,000 of these troops are believed to be stationed in Burkina, mostly in the capital Ouagadougou. It is also believed that many of the transportation needs of Operation BARKHANE are facilitated by Ukrainian-built Antonovs, flown mostly to and from Abidjan by former Soviet pilots, who sub-contract their services to the French military. That would explain why there were Moldovans implicated in Saturday’s plane crash.

It is reminded that another airplane that had been chartered by the French military crashed in Malta in October of 2016, killing five French citizens. Paris later revealed that they were all employees of the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), France’s external intelligence agency. The plane was found to have been registered in the United States and operated by a company based in Luxembourg. The French government said on Sunday that it launched an investigation into the cause of Saturday’s crash. There were reports of a storm that hit Abidjan early on the day of the crash, but it is not known whether the storm is in any way connected with the crash.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 October 2017 | Permalink

Moldova arrests paramilitaries who ‘planned pro-Russian uprising’

MoldovaPolice in Moldova says it arrested members of a paramilitary group who allegedly planned to attack several cities and establish a separatist pro-Russian enclave. According to Moldovan authorities, the group, whose members include Ukrainian and Russian nationals, aimed to create a pro-Russian republic along the lines of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Ukraine. Representatives from Moldova’s General Police Inspectorate told journalists on Thursday that they began monitoring a group calling itself “Budjak Republic” in October, after pro-Russian supporters in Moldova’s Russian-dominated south began calling for independence.

Located in southwester Ukraine, the Budjak region is sandwiched between Moldova and the Black Sea. Its population is multiethnic, comprising of Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Russian, and Moldovan speakers. But following the war in Donbass, some nationalists in Budjak’s Russian-speaking community called for a united front of ethnic Russians in Moldova and Ukraine. The expressed goal of these nationalists is to establish a pro-Russian “Budjak Republic” that would incorporate regions in southwestern Ukraine and southern Moldova. According to Moldovan authorities, pro-separatist cells have been most vocal in cities such as Taraclia, Comrat and Balti, which have substantial ethnic-Russian populations.

The arrests of the alleged paramilitaries were announced last Thursday by Moldova’s acting chief of police, Gheorghe Cavaliuc. He told reporters that the separatist group intended to launch attacks against state buildings, which included government ministries in the capital Chisinau, as well as a prison in Balti. It then hoped to recruit more members, including prisoners, and attack the homes of government officials. Cavaliuc said that at least one member of the paramilitary group is a Russian-speaking Ukrainian national from the Donbass region, and that another member is a Russian customs officer. Both were charged with being members of a criminal gang, said Cavaliuc.

Moldova, which has deep historical links with neighboring Romania, has a history of pro-Russian separatism. In 1990, the Moldovan region of Transnistria, which is largely populated by Russian and Ukrainian speakers, broke off from Moldova and declared itself independent under the name “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic”. Another of Moldova’s heavily pro-Russian regions, Gagauzia, which borders Ukraine’s Budjak region, declared itself autonomous —but stopped short of announcing full independence— in 1994.

Nuclear black market thriving in Eastern Europe despite efforts to stop it

MoldovaThe United States Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting authorities in some of Europe’s poorest states in their efforts to stop criminals with Russian connections from selling radioactive material to foreign terrorist organizations. The Associated Press said earlier this month that joint efforts by the FBI and Eastern European governments have frustrated at least four attempts to sell stolen radioactive material in the black market since 2010.

In one case, which involved a criminal gang in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, the smugglers were trying to sell radioactive material to representatives of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Associated Press said it spoke to law enforcement and judicial authorities in Moldova, who have set up a small team of detectives to investigate the nuclear black market. The Moldovans told the Associated Press that they were working with the FBI, and even shared some of their investigative case files with the news agency.

In another recent case, which was cracked by authorities in February of this year, a smuggler in Moldova tried to sell a significant quantity of cesium, a radioactive metal typically extracted from the waste produced by nuclear reactors. According to the Moldovans, the quantity of the fission product was “enough to contaminate several city blocks”. Additionally, the Moldovan investigators told the Associated Press that the smuggler was specifically seeking a buyer from the Islamic State.

In yet another case, a joint US-Moldovan investigation targeted Alexandr Agheenco, a mysterious Russian-born smuggler, who in the spring of 2011 said he had access to bomb-grade uranium. According to Moldovan investigators, a middleman working for Agheenco told a prospective buyer from Sudan that he would be willing to sell an unspecified quantity of uranium, as well as “blueprints for a dirty bomb”. Although the sale was prevented by the US-Moldovan investigators, Agheenco managed to escape.

According to the Moldovans, the worsening relations between Washington and Moscow are making it more difficult for investigators from the two countries to share intelligence on nuclear smuggling rings. As a result, smugglers are finding it easier to operate across Eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union. Many leading black-market operatives manage to avoid capture and prosecution, while even those arrested are usually able to evade lengthy convictions, which means that they quickly return to nuclear smuggling, reports the Associated Press.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 October 2015 | Permalink | News tip: J.B.

Moldovan politicians to undergo intelligence clearing before elections

A new bill requiring all Moldovan politicians to be cleared by the country’s intelligence services before running for office, has been approved in a first round of voting by the country’s communist-dominated parliament. The bill was proposed earlier this year by the governing Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova, led by Vladimir Voronin. Read more of this post