Shia militia blames US and Israel for mystery explosions throughout Iraq

Popular Mobilization ForcesIraq’s largest Shia militia, which controls parts of Iraq’s territory that were aptured from the Islamic State, has accused the United States and Israel for a series of mystery explosions at its arms depots around the country. Much of the territory captured from the Islamic State (known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) in northern Iraq is currently controlled by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a collection of around 40 Shia militias consisting of over 150,000 armed fighters. The Iranian-supported PMF proved instrumental in the territorial defeat of ISIS. However, the group’s leadership is ideologically aligned with Iran, and many of its members will not cooperate with the Iraqi Armed Forces because they view them as American-supported.

In the past month, however, there have been at least three mystery explosions at arms depots controlled by the PMF throughout Iraq. On July 19, Arab media reported that a blast killed two Iranian military engineers at a PMF facility. Then on August 12 a massive explosion destroyed part of the al-Saqr military base in Baghdad, killing at least one person and injuring 30. The base reportedly housed an arms depot that was shared by the Shia-dominated Iraqi federal police and the PMF (the two are often indistinguishable in post-ISIS Iraq). On August 20 two more explosions were reported at a PMF arms depot located about 55 miles north of Baghdad. It is not known if anyone was killed or injured in the latest attack. Prior to the August 20 explosions, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi had banned all unauthorized flights over Iraq in an attempt to prevent further attacks on arms depots. But the move did not prevent yet another mystery attack.

In recent days, Iraq has been rife with rumors and conspiracy theories about who could be behind the attacks. Many are accusing the United States and Israel, while some are blaming ISIS or Iraqi militias who are competing against the PMF for control. A leaked Iraqi government report into the incidents claimed that they were caused by drone strikes. On Wednesday, a spokesman for the PMF said that the attacks had been carried out by Israeli drones with American intelligence support in order to weaken Shia influence in Iraq. When asked about the mystery explosions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “Iran has no immunity anywhere […]. We will act and are currently acting against Iran wherever necessary”. Meanwhile, the PMF pledged to use “all means at its disposal to deter and prevent [future] attacks” on its facilities.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 August 2019 | Permalink

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Palestinian intelligence report warns of possible uprising in occupied territories

PNA police West BankA leaked report authored by the Palestinian National Authority’s intelligence service warns that economic depression and lack of opportunity may soon spark a popular uprising in the occupied territories. The report was submitted to the PNA’s leadership in early August. It was accessed by Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s highest-selling newspaper, which is based in Tel Aviv. It report concludes that if the economic stagnation in the West Bank continues in its present state, and if the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians remain unproductive, there could be “another breakout of violent uprising” in the West bank, which will likely destabilize the PNA.

The report draws on data collected from interviews conducted with young Palestinians in the West Bank, surveillance of militant groups, interrogations with young militant detainees, as well as opinion trends on social media. Much of the data represents the views of Palestinians who are between the ages of 20 and 30. It suggests that they are angry about the lack of opportunity in their homeland and see no future for themselves and their families. They are therefore susceptible to calls for violent action against Israel and against the leadership of the PNA, the report warns. The PNA is accused by young Palestinians of having failed to receive any concessions from Israel in return for its policies of collaborating with Israeli authorities for nearly a decade. It follows that young Palestinian see “no political benefit” in cooperating with Israeli authorities. At the same time, says the report, young Palestinians in the West Bank view Hamas’ call for violent resistance against Israel in an increasingly favorable light. They believe that exercising pressure on Israel through violence is more likely to draw a positive response from the Jewish state in the form of political recognition and financial aid.

The classified report warns that if the economic stagnation in the West Bank persists, and if young Palestinians continue to perceive the PNA’s cooperation with Israel as unproductive, there will be an increase in “shooting incidents and the use of explosive devices” against Israeli targets. Such actions will be easily facilitated by the widespread black market in weapons and explosives in the region, states the report. It also notes that calls for radical action are not only coming from members of Hamas, but also from younger activists within Fatah, the main political faction that makes up the PNA.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 August 2019 | Permalink

Far-right spy row continues to rock Germany’s ruling coalition

Hans-Georg MaassenThe successor to Angela Merkel in the leadership of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) urged the removal from the party of the country’s former spy chief for expressing far-right views. But she later appeared to retract her comments. Hans-Georg Maassen led Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) from August 2012 until his removal last September. His BfV career was abruptly terminated following the so-called Chemnitz protests, a series of anti-immigrant rallies, pogroms and riots that shook the eastern German city of Chemnitz in August of last year. Maassen gave an interview at the time in which he seemed to question the authenticity of videos that surfaced on social media, which showed protesters throwing Nazi salutes and singing Nazi-era songs. The BfV director said that the videos may have been faked as part of a disinformation campaign aimed at stirring racial tensions in Germany. He was promptly dismissed from his post.

Following his dismissal from the BfV, Maassen joined the Werteunion (Values Union), an ultra-conservative group within the CDU, which campaigns for strict anti-immigration laws. Its leader, CDU politician Alexander Mitsch, argues that the CDU should not rule out a governing alliance with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). The AfD is a coalition of Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant and neo-Nazi groups that has gained prominence since its establishment in 2013 and currently polls at around 12 percent nationwide. Mitsch’s view goes against the CDU’s recent decision at its annual conference to rule out any collaboration with the AfD and Die Linke, Germany’s main far-left party. Maassen has also given media interviews in which he has criticized the CDU for “moving far to the left” under the leadership of Angela Merkel.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who succeeded Angela Merkel to the leadership of the CDU, and is tipped to become Germany’s next chancellor, gave an interview on Saturday, in which she dismissed Maassen’s views as nonsense. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is currently serving as minister of defense, told the Funke Medien media agency she was pleased that Maassen had been dismissed from the directorship of the BfV. She added that she could not see anything in Maassen’s political views that connected him to the CDU. Kramp-Karrenbauer went on to say that she would not allow the CDU to be “radicalized from the inside” like the United States Republican Party had been radicalized by the Tea Party. This was widely interpreted as a call for Maassen and other Werteunion supporters to either resign or be expelled from the party.

On Sunday, however, Kramp-Karrenbauer spoke to the media again, this time to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) news agency, saying that “neither during the [Funke Medien] interview nor elsewhere did I call for a party expulsion procedure” of Maassen and other Werteunion members. She continued by saying that “the CDU is a party with more than 400,000 members. The fact that each one has different opinions is what makes us interesting”. Meanwhile, Maassen told DPA, “it is a mystery to me who advised her to conjure up such thoughts”, referring to Kramp-Karrenbauer’s Saturday interview.

In September and October the CDU will be facing the AfD and several other parties in regional elections that will be taking place in three eastern German states, where the AfD is particularly strong. Many fear that Kramp-Karrenbauer’s party will see its electoral power shrink with many of its voters flocking to the anti-immigration AfD.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 August 2019 | Permalink

Security official confirms ‘unprecedented’ anti-corruption campaign in Iran’s judiciary

Ebrahim RaeesiA senior Iranian intelligence official has confirmed widespread rumors that an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign is taking place at the top echelons of Iran’s all-powerful judiciary, with some senior figures already in prison. The Iranian judiciary is one of the most powerful and secretive institutions in the Islamic Republic. It is nominally supervised by the Iranian Justice Ministry, but its senior officials, including the chief justice (the head of the judiciary), are appointed directly by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. It follows that the judiciary has been a deeply conservative institution throughout the country’s existence, and especially after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Until earlier this year, the judiciary was headed by Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, a protégé of Khamenei, who named him chief justice in August of 2009. Throughout Larijani’s decade-long tenure, there were rumors of rampant corruption in the judiciary, but Khamenei never seemed to intervene. However, in March of this year Larijani was suddenly removed from his position and replaced with Ebrahim Raeesi (pictured), a conservative former attorney general with middle-to-low-rank clerical credentials. Almost as soon as he took charge of the judiciary, Raeesi announced a sweeping anti-corruption campaign. In July, rumors began to circulate in the media that Iran’s Deputy Chief Justice, Akbar Tabari, had been arrested.

On Wednesday, Ali Abdollahi, head of the judiciary’s intelligence and security wing, said during a speech that Tabari had indeed been imprisoned for “exerting influence on some legal cases” and “having unlawful and unethical relationships”. He added that a number of other members of the judiciary had been placed under arrest in connection with the investigation on Tabari. On Thursday, Abdollahi said that the arrests had taken place under the direction of Supreme Leader Khamenei and that they would continue both inside and outside the judiciary. There would be “no delay in cleansing the inside and outside of the judiciary”, said Abdollahi. Raeesi and Khamenei have not made any public comments. But observers now believe that the unprecedented wave of arrests would never have reached the upper levels of the judiciary unless the supreme leader had personally given the anti-corruption campaign the green light.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 August 2019 | Permalink

Spies are known to use journalistic cover, claims Australian intelligence agency

ASIO AustraliaForeign spies are known to pose as journalists, which is why journalists should not be exempted from national security investigations, according to testimony by a senior Australian counterintelligence official. The testimony was given on Wednesday at a public hearing held in the Australian parliament to address a series of raids of journalists’ homes and offices by Australian Federal Police in June. The raids were carried out to assist in the investigation of a leak of classified documents in April of last year. According to the leaked documents, Australian government officials have been considering the possibility of authorizing the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to collect information on Australians for the first time in the country’s history. The ASD is Australia’s signals intelligence agency, and is equivalent to the Government Communications Headquarters in Britain and the National Security Agency in the United States. It is currently not allowed to collect information on Australian citizens.

At the parliamentary inquiry that started on Monday, members of the media have argued that journalists should have the right to scrutinize the government’s actions and that journalism in the public interest is not harmful to the national security of Australia. But this argument was refuted yesterday by Heather Cook, deputy director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Australia’s primary counterintelligence agency. Cook warned that if Australia exempted journalists from national security investigations, hostile foreign powers would exploit journalism to spy on the country. She added that the journalistic profession was being “used nefariously” by foreign intelligence agencies to spy on Australia. “In Australia today, journalism is being used as a cover by foreign intelligence actors”, said Cook, and went on to note that “there is a long history of this worldwide”. She said that journalism offers a convenient cover for spies because it provides “access to senior people and sensitive information” held by those in power.

Journalistic covers are therefore used by “foreign intelligence actors” who seek to “exploit vulnerabilities” and harm the security of Australia, said Cook. She went on to claim that members of foreign intelligence agencies regularly attempt to recruit Australian journalists for purposes of espionage. “In light of this”, said Cook, “ASIO has concern about the concept of exemptions for particular classes of people in the community, such as journalists. Broad exemptions for the media and journalists would invite exploitation by foreign intelligence actors and may increase the intelligence threat faced by Australian journalists”, she concluded. Also on Wednesday, the Australian Federal Police said that it would not rule out further raids on journalists’ offices and homes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 August 2019 | Permalink

New report details growing presence of Russian private security firms in Africa

Central African Republic RussiaA new report by the American news network CNN has shed new light into the little-researched subject of Russian-owned private military and security operations in Africa. CNN said the report took a month to complete. It claims that a Russian tycoon by the name of Yevgeny Prigozhin has been instrumental in the growth of Russian private security operations in the continent. Prigozhin is one of the closest confidantes of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The United States accuses him of helping fund the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company based in Saint Petersburg, which allegedly participated in the Kremlin’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election. CNN claims that Prigozhin is also connected with PMC Wagner, a Russian security contractor with presence on the ground in Syria and eastern Ukraine. Western officials allege that firms like Wagner could not operate without permission from the Kremlin.

According to the CNN report Prigozhin turned to African countries like Sudan, Libya and the Central African Republic in order to make up for his financial losses in Syria and Ukraine. He allegedly has a role in many of Russia’s 20 military agreements with African states where he provides security and weapons training on behalf of Moscow. In return, his group of companies, headed by a firm called Concord, receives exploration permits and the rights to exploit precious metals found throughout Africa, according to CNN. The network sent correspondents to the Central African Republic where they found that a radio station and a major military training base are run by a group of 250 Russian contractors. None of them will say who pays them, according to CNN, and at least one of them claims to be a “security adviser” for Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. Most of the Russians operate out of Palais de Berengo, a dilapidated presidential palace located 30 miles south of the capital Bangui, which used to belong to the country’s late dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa. At a nearby mining site there are now hundreds of locals who work for the Russians, said CNN.

The CNN report also notes that last year three Russian journalists, Kirill Radchenko, Alexander Rastorguyev and Orkhan Dzhemal, were ambushed and executed near Sibut in the central region of the country, allegedly “by men wearing turbans and speaking Arabic after refusing to surrender their vehicle and equipment”. They were in the Central African Republic to research the presence of Russian private security firms. Their trip was funded by the Center for Investigation, a London-based foundation owned by the Russian exiled billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky. No one has been arrested or charged for the killings of the three Russian journalists. Central African Republic authorities told CNN that “investigations were continuing” into the matter.

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

French intelligence made secret deal with Palestinian militants, ex-spy chief claims

Goldenberg RestaurantFrance allowed Palestinian militants to operate freely on its soil in exchange for not carrying out terrorist attacks there, according to the former director of France’s domestic security service. The alleged deal was struck between the French government and a die-hard Palestinian militant group known as the Abu Nidal Organization, or ANO. The group’s official name was Fatah – The Revolutionary Council, but it was usually referred to by the name of its founder and leader, Abu Nidal. The group was formed in 1974 after a split in Fatah, the Palestinian armed group led by Yasser Arafat. Abu Nidal (real name Sabri Khalil al-Banna) accused Arafat and other senior officials of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) of being conciliatory toward Israel. Eventually Abu Nidal moved to Iraq and declared war on Fatah and the PLO, accusing them of betraying the Palestinian cause.

Over the next 20 years, ANO carried out dozens of violent attacks that killed over 1500 people around the world, in countries such as Britain, Austria, Italy, Tunisia, Sudan, Turkey, Pakistan and India. The main targets of the ANO were Israel, the United States, and other Palestinian groups, which the group saw as deserters from the struggle for an independent Palestine. On August 9, 1982, ANO guerillas used grenades and machine guns to attack the Goldenberg Restaurant in Paris, France, killing six and wounding 22 people (pictured above). The attackers fled the scene of the crime and were never captured. It was only in 2015 that some former ANO members provided evidence about the terrorist attack to French magistrates, after having been granted immunity from prosecution. Based on these testimonies, the French government issued arrest warrants for three of the attackers who today live in Europe and Palestine. None, however, have been extradited to France to face justice.

The plot thickened last Thursday, however, when France’s Le Parisien newspaper reported excerpts of testimonies given to the magistrates who are investigating the Goldenberg Restaurant attack. One of the testimonies was allegedly provided by former spy Yves Bonnet, who directed the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST) in the 1980s. Until 2008 the DST operated as the counterintelligence and counterterrorism wing of the French National Police. According to Le Parisien, Bonnet, now 83, said in his testimony that the DST struck a deal with Abu Nidal after 1982, which allowed them to continue to operate in France on the understanding that they would not carry out further terrorist attacks on French soil. “We made something of an oral agreement”, Bonnet is quoted as having told the magistrates. “I want no further attacks on French soil, and in return I will allow you to enter France and promise that you will face no harm”. The former spy added that the DST informed the chief of staff of France’s president at the time, François Mitterrand, about the secret deal. However, nothing about the agreement was ever recorded in official meeting minutes, he said. The agreement between the DST and Abu Nidal “was successful”, said Bonnet, as the group carried no more attacks on French soil after the attack on the Goldenberg Restaurant.

As can be expected, the allegations by Le Parisien angered France’s Jewish community. A committee representing the victims and affected families of the Goldenberg Restaurant attack said through its lawyer that, if true, Bonnet’s admission was “disgraceful”. The committee called on the French government to declassify all documents relating to exchanges between the French state and the Abu Nidal Organization.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 August 2019 | Permalink