Political tension grows in Zimbabwe as army chief threatens coup

General Constantine ChiwengaPolitical affairs in Zimbabwe took an unprecedented turn on Monday, as the chief of the armed forces warned the country’s President, Robert Mugabe, that the military would “not hesitate to step in” to stop infighting within the ruling party. General Constantino Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, took the extremely rare step of summoning reporters for a press conference at the military’s headquarters in Harare on Monday. A direct intervention of this kind is unprecedented in the politics of Zimbabwe, a country that is tightly ruled by its authoritarian President, Robert Mugabe. Mugabe is also President and First Secretary of the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the party that has dominated Zimbabwean politics since it assumed power in 1980.

General Chiwenga reportedly spoke in the presence of nearly 100 senior military officers, who were seated in the conference room and appeared to support his intervention. The press conference was called less than a week after President Mugabe fired his second-in-command in ZANU-PF, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The 75-year-old longtime confidante of Mugabe was dismissed from his post after speaking out against Mugabe and his wife, Grace, 52. It is thought that Mugabe, the world’s oldest president at 93, is preparing to appoint his wife in his place, something that has angered some in his party, including Mnangagwa. Addressing Mugabe directly, Mnangagwa said that ZANU-PF is “not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please”. He was removed soon afterwards, on November 6, and is currently believed to have fled in exile in China, but has vowed to return to Zimbabwe.

Political observers in southern Africa warned that Mnangagwa’s firing was a risky move for Mugabe. The 75-year-old former ZANU-PF guerrilla previously served as Zimbabwe’s Minister for Security and Defence, and has powerful connections in the country’s armed forces. General Chiwenga’s intervention on Monday appeared aimed at sending a message to Mnangagwa that the troops will not accept his dismissal. The general warned that “the current purging” within ZANU-PF was “clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background” —referring to the so-called Bush War between the leftist ZANU-PF and the Rhodesian military in the 1970s. The purge, said Chiwenga, “must stop forthwith”, because “when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in”. The general went further, commenting on Zimbabwe’s political instability and economic woes: “There is distress, trepidation and despondence within the nation”, he said, which is caused by “squabbling” within the ruling party. Because of that, “there has been no meaningful development in the country for the past five years”, resulting in “cash shortages and rising commodity prices”, added the general.

The next party congress of ZANU-PF is scheduled for December in Harare. Until last week, it was expected that Grace Mugabe would be appointed vice president at that time, replacing Mnangagwa. But with General Chiwenga’s unprecedented intervention on Monday, it remains to be seen whether President Mugabe’s strategy will unfold as planned.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 November 2017 | Permalink

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Analysis: Dozens of royals arrested in weekend raids throughout Saudi Arabia

King Salman with Crown Prince MohammedDozens of Saudi senior figures, some of them among the world’s wealthiest people, have been fired or arrested, as the king and his son appeared to be removing their last remaining critics from the ranks of the security services. The unprecedented arrests took place without warning less than two hours after state-run media announced the creation of a new “supreme committee to combat corruption”. A royal decree issued on the same day named the head of the committee as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s 32-year-old son, who is first in line to the throne.

By Saturday night, nearly 50 senior officials, including at least 11 princes, had reportedly been fired or arrested. The substantial list features four current and at least 20 former ministers, most of them members of the Saudi royal family. Reports from Riyadh said that among those arrested were Saleh Abdullah Kamel, chairman of the General Council for Islamic Banks, Arab media baron Waleed bin Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a senior member of the Saudi royal family and one of the world’s wealthiest people. Prince Alwaleed is a major investor in technology companies such as Twitter and Apple, and is seen as a high-profile social reformer in the kingdom.

More importantly, Saturday saw the firing of Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah from the post of Minister of the Saudi Arabian National Guard Forces. He was replaced by Prince Khalid bin Ayyaf al-Muqrin, who until last week served as one of Prince Mutaib’s subordinates. The royal palace offered no precise explanation for the removal of Prince Mutaib and the three other government ministers. A statement released to the media said that the new effort against corruption was prompted by “the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest, and stealing public funds”. But there was no direct mention of Prince Mutaib in the statement, and no charges of corruption against him were made public. It is possible that the prince’s firing may not be directly related to the anticorruption drive.

However, few Saudi observers will believe that a genuine anticorruption crusade was behind last weekend’s arrests of senior officials. In a country were nepotism and corruption are not simply endemic, but serve as the driving engine of the economy, virtually nobody believes that the system can be reformed from within. Moreover, it cannot possibly be reformed by the royal family, which is the most prolific source of corruption in the oil-rich kingdom. So what exactly is going on?

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Analysis: Despite tragic deaths, New York attack reveals a weakened ISIS

Lower Manhattan attackNews reports hastened to describe Tuesday’s atrocity in Lower Manhattan as “the worst terror attack in New York since September 11, 2001”. The comparison may be numerically accurate. Moreover, the deaths caused by the attack are nothing short of tragic. But if the Islamic State’s deadliest response to its retreat in the Middle East is a clumsy truck driver armed with a pellet gun, then Americans have little to fear from the terrorist group.

For months now, Western counter-terrorism experts have been bracing for a change of tactics by the Sunni group, which in 2014 controlled territory in Iraq and Syria equal to the size of England. The prevailing theory in security circles is that, as the Islamic State is forced to retreat in the Middle East, it will unleash waves of sleeper cells against Western targets abroad. This concern is logical, given the militant group’s obsession with its public image. At every turn since its dramatic rise in 2013, the Islamic State has consciously tried to project an appearance of strength that is far greater than its actual capabilities. In its public statements, the group has consistently extolled its ability to strike at distant targets regardless of its territorial strength in the Middle East. This applies especially to attacks by the Islamic State in Europe, which have tended to come in response to intense media speculation that the group’s territorial hold may be weakening.

One presumes that a terrorist attack in New York, a symbolic site in the ‘war on terrorism’, would aim to do just that: namely project an image of continuing strength and convince global audiences that the group remains potent. Yet, despite the tragic loss of eight lives, Tuesday’s attack in Manhattan did nothing of the sort.

To begin with, an attack on cyclists with a rented utility vehicle is hardly ground-breaking at this point. In the past 18 months, we have seen similar types of attacks in London (on two separate occasions), in Barcelona’s Las Ramblas mall, in downtown Berlin, and in Nice, where a 19-ton cargo truck was used to kill 86 people. Terrorist groups are by nature conservative in their operations, preferring to use low-tech, time-tested methods to dispense violence, rather than risk failure by breaking new ground. But at a time like this, when the very existence of the Islamic State hangs in the balance, one would think that the group would consciously try to intimidate its opponents by showing off some kind of revolutionary new weapon. That did not happen on Tuesday.

Additionally, the perpetrator of the attack, Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov, is hardly an inspiring figure for Islamic State supporters. After running over a group of unsuspecting cyclists, the 29-year-old Florida resident clumsily smashed his rented truck head-on into a vehicle that was far larger and heavier than his own, thus completely destroying his vehicle’s engine and effectively disabling his only weapon. He then jumped out of the truck, apparently wielding a pellet gun and a paintball gun. Mobile phone footage captured from a nearby building shows Saipov walking in a disoriented manner through Manhattan traffic before being shot by police officers. If —as it seems— the Islamic State was behind that attack, it would mean that modern history’s most formidable terrorist group failed to get a pistol in a country where firearms are in some cases easier to secure than nasal decongestant.

Choice of weapon aside, one does not need to be a counter-terrorism expert to conclude that Saipov lacked basic operational and planning skills. His attack behavior shows that he had failed to carry out even rudimentary prior reconnaissance of the area where he launched his attack. He even appears to have failed to read Tuesday’s New York Post. Had he done so, he would have known that the heavily attended annual Village Halloween Parade was scheduled to take place on the very same street, just two hours after he launched his deranged attack.

Once again, the question is: if the Islamic State does not utilize its deadliest and most capable operatives now, when its very existence in its Middle Eastern stronghold is being directly challenged, then when will it do so? By all accounts, the militant group’s leaders are well-read on recent history. They are therefore fully aware that, in the post-9/11 age, clumsy, low-tech, limited terrorist strikes by lone-wolf operatives lack the capacity to intimidate civilian populations, especially in New York.

Western counter-terrorism agencies and citizens alike should remain vigilant; but early evidence shows that the Islamic State is simply too weak to launch sophisticated, large-scale strikes against Western targets abroad. As I have argued before, the threat level would change if the militant group acquires chemical weapons or other tools of mass terrorism. For now, however, it is safe to state that the Islamic State’s capabilities do not pose anything close to an existential threat to the West.

► About the author: Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis is Associate Professor in the Intelligence and National Security Studies program at Coastal Carolina University. Before joining Coastal, Dr. Fitsanakis built the Security and Intelligence Studies program at King University, where he also directed the King Institute for Security and Intelligence Studies. He is also deputy director of the European Intelligence Academy and senior editor at intelNews.org.

Officials puzzled by attacks that killed 16 in relatively stable Mozambique

Filipe NyusiIn a surprise move, the president of Mozambique has fired the head of the military and the director of the country’s intelligence service, two weeks after attacks by an unidentified group left 16 people dead in a northern town. The attacks occurred on October 5 and 6 in Mocimboa da Praia, a small town of about 30,000 people located along Mozambique’s extreme northern coastline. The town lies only a few miles south of Mozambique’s border with Tanzania and within sight of several offshore gas fields in the Indian Ocean. According to local reports, several dozen assailants targeted police stations in Mocimboa da Praia with firearms and explosives, killing two police officers. An estimated 14 assailants also died in the coordinated attacks, while at least 12 more were wounded. Police forces were able to reclaim control of the town only after the eventual arrival of reinforcements from the tourist resort of Pemba, located 350 miles to the south of Mocimboa da Praia.

Two weeks after the attacks, however, the ideological backgrounds and motives of the assailants remain unclear. Mozambique has seen armed attacks by guerrillas before, but these are usually attributed to Renamo, a rightwing paramilitary group that was financially supported by Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa during the Cold War. The group is still in existence, but has mostly transformed itself into a political party. Its military wing declared a unilateral ceasefire in December of last year, which has been broadly observed. Importantly, the government did not attribute the Mocimboa da Praia attacks to Renamo. But if Renamo was not behind the attacks, then who was it? Local reports have mentioned a so-called “radical Islamist sect”; but Mozambique is a predominantly Christian country and does not have a history of Islamic radicalism. Nor is there known activity in Mozambique of African Islamist groups like Boko Haram or Al-Shabaab, which are strong in western and eastern Africa respectively.

In the days following the attacks in Mocimboa da Praia, police detained 52 people, including Muslim religious leaders, and confiscated half a dozen firearms, as well as hundreds of rounds of ammunition. But by the middle of last week, police officials began to dismiss earlier claims that the attackers were linked to an organized terrorist group. Some southeastern Africa watchers have suggested that the assailants were members of Swalissuna, a locally based militant opposition group that rejects the authority of the central government in capital Maputo, located in Mozambique’s south. The group is virtually unknown and is believed to have been founded in 2011 or 2012. It has no religious affiliation and its members are motivated by domestic grievances related to economic restructuring, corruption and political reform.

On Tuesday, Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi announced the surprise replacement of the country’s two most powerful security officials. Lagos Lidimo, director general of the State Information and Security Service (SISE), which reports directly to the President, was dismissed overnight and replaced by Julio Jane, who until Monday was the commander of the Mozambican National Police. Also replaced was Graça Chongo, head of the country’s armed forces. His replacement has not yet been named.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 October 2017 | Permalink

Analysis: West should prepare for chemical attacks by the Islamic State

Biochemical terrorismA German newspaper reported last week that at least one European intelligence agency has already warned that the Islamic State is exploring the use of chemicals for attacks in Europe. Such an eventuality would be a radical departure from prior attacks by the Islamic State in the West. In the past, the militant group has shown a strong preference for low-tech means of dispensing violence, such as firearms, vehicles and knives. But it has utilized chemical substances in Iraq and Syria, and its technical experts have amassed significant knowledge about weaponized chemicals.

Last week, several European and American counter-terrorism experts participated in a bioterrorism preparedness exercise in Berlin. Codenamed WUNDERBAUM, the exercise was one of several anti-terrorism drills that have taken place in the German capital this year alone. But last week’s drill was the first with an exclusive focus on preparing for a bioterrorist attack. German authorities insisted that the drill was not sparked by concrete intelligence of a pending biological or chemical attack. But the Berlin-based national newspaper Die Welt claimed on Friday that it had information about at least one such warning by a European intelligence agency. The paper did not name the agency, but said that “a foreign intelligence agency” had warned European security authorities of a possible terrorist attack by the Islamic State using chemical weapons. According to Die Welt, the warning was “explicit” and cautioned that the Sunni militant group may be preparing to use improvised bombs utilizing chemicals, including toxic gasses. The warning was communicated to European intelligence agencies, including Germany’s said Die Welt.

How likely is such a scenario? Terrorist groups tend to be conservative in their use of lethal technologies. They typically opt for time-tested methods using explosives or firearms, because these have a higher of success in comparison to more sophisticated, hi-tech weapons. The latter are also more expensive to build and require scientific and technical capabilities that are not typically available to terrorist organizations. Militants are usually strapped for cash, and are not science-savvy, so exceptions to this general trend are rare. But the Islamic State is different. Read more of this post

Security and mass murder after 9/11: Lessons from Las Vegas

Las Vegas shootingThere’s a reason why America has not experienced another 9/11, and it’s not because militants are not trying. Through a series of sweeping reforms prompted by the tragic events of that day, United States intelligence and security agencies have become extremely efficient at preventing large-scale terrorist and criminal violence. Using increasingly sophisticated methods of intelligence collection, analysis and even prediction, counter-terrorism and security experts have neutralized countless attempts to replicate —or even surpass— the horror of 9/11.

But aspiring terrorists and mass murderers are learning fast. Despite their relatively young age, many are now disciplined enough to resist the temptations of the networked culture that surrounds them, and abstain from social media. They isolate themselves physically and emotionally from family and friends, creating a virtual wall that prevents even those close to them from noticing unusual signs of behavior. They effectively replicate the isolation of Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber, but without the hermit beard and the log cabin in the backwoods of Montana. Most important of all, they work alone, which makes it immensely difficult to sense their murderous intentions. Counter-terrorism and security experts are trained to detect possible attacks by penetrating the communications between members of a conspiracy. When the operative is a lone wolf, and does not communicate his or her plans, the points of possible penetration diminish, as does the possibility of detection.

The case of Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old retired accountant who perpetrated the Las Vegas shooting earlier this month, is indicative of the above trends. So secretive and emotionally isolated was he, that there exists no discernible evidence of his motive for killing 58 and injuring 546 people at an outdoor concert on the Las Vegas Strip. Moreover, Paddock had access to an expensive, sophisticated and extremely lethal arsenal. As is common with post-9/11 mass murderers, he avoided resorting to using bomb material, because he knew that these types of purchases are being carefully monitored by authorities after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Read more of this post