One dead after masked gunmen with AK-47s raid Austrian Airlines plane in Tirana

Tirana Airport

At least two members of an armed gang remain at large after raiding an Austrian Airlines plane on the runway of the Tirana International Airport in Albania, and managing to get away with an estimated $11 million in cash. To defend against bank robberies —a regular occurrence in crime-ridden Albania— the Bank of Albania does not accept large cash deposits. Consequently, branches of foreign-owned banks that operate in Albania export their hard-currency deposits abroad via regular flights to Vienna, Austria.

On Tuesday, as the Austrian Airlines airplane was preparing to take off from the Tirana International Airport, a white van bearing the logo of the General Directorate of Taxation —the revenue collection agency of the Albanian Government— smashed through the gate used by the airport’s emergency services and drove up to the airplane. Three masked men dressed in military fatigues exited the van and reportedly threatened the luggage handlers with AK-47 rifles. They then forced open the cargo doors of the plane and removed several bags full of hard currency. In less than four minutes, they started to drive back toward the emergency gate, when they were confronted by a police patrol that opened fire on them. One of the robbers was reportedly shot in the head and died instantly.

On Wednesday, police identified the dead robber as Admir Murataj and said that he had been the mastermind of the operation. By the end of Wednesday, police had arrested four men and questioned at least 40 other people in connection with the robbery. Initial reports said that the robbers had left the scene of the crime with about $2.8 million in cash, but subsequent reports said that as much as $11 million had been stolen. Investigators said that the robbers must have had inside knowledge about the Austrian Airlines plane and its cargo. A spokesperson for Austrian Airlines said that there would be no further transfers of cash from Albania to Austria following the robbery.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 11 April 2019 | Permalink

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Heavily armed gang attacks nuclear fuel convoy in Brazil

Angra Nuclear Power PlantA convoy of trucks carrying nuclear fuel to one of Brazil’s nuclear plants was attacked by a heavily armed gang on Tuesday, according to police reports. The convoy was carrying uranium fuel from Resende, an industrial city in the municipality of Rio de Janeiro in southeastern Brazil. Its destination was the Angra Nuclear Power Plant in the coastal city of Angra dos Reis, which is located 100 miles south of Resende. Angra is Brazil’s sole nuclear power plant. It consists of two pressurized water reactors, Angra I and Angra II. It is owned by Eletrobras, Brazil’s state-owned power utility firm, which is also the world’s tenth largest electric utilities company.

According to Brazil’s O Globo newspaper, the nuclear fuel convoy came under heavy attack by gunmen as it reached the outskirts of Angra dos Reis, just a few miles north of the power plant. The Brazilian Federal Highway Police said in a statement that its vehicles that were escorting the nuclear fuel convoy were shot at and returned fire. It added that the attackers fled the scene without anyone getting hurt, and that no arrests were made. The convoy then reached the power plant without further incident 20 minutes following the shootout. The police statement was followed by a public announcement by Eletronuclear, Eletrobras’ nuclear utility arm. The announcement argued that national security was not compromised by the attack, as the fuel carried by the trucks consisted of “uranium in its natural state”. It would therefore have to be weaponized with the use of advanced mechanical instruments before it could be truly harmful.

Brazilian Federal Highway Police officials told reporters that they did not believe that the gunmen had planned to attack the nuclear fuel convoy. They claimed that the convoy happened to be passing from the scene of the attack as a shootout was taking place between members of rival drug gangs, which are known to control the outskirts of Angra dos Reis. Some of the gang members began shooting at the police vehicles escorting the convoy, apparently without realizing that the trucks they were shooting at were carrying nuclear fuel.

The incident underscores the steady rise and increasing aggressiveness of organized criminal gangs in Brazil, which, according to some observers, are beginning to resemble Mexico’s drug cartels. Angra dos Reis’ Mayor Fernando Jordão told O Globo that the residents of his city felt unprotected by the federal government. “Regional security must be improved”, he added, especially since “there are nuclear plants here. This region is very sensitive”, he said.

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

Swiss police saw Russian oligarch Abramovich as threat to security, files reveal

Roman AbramovichPolice in Switzerland cautioned that allowing the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich to live there would threaten public security and damage the country’s reputation, according to files released this week. The Soviet-born Abramovich took advantage of Russia’s privatization laws in the early 1990s to gain considerable financial and political influence there. His friendship with Russia’s first post-Soviet President, Boris Yeltsin, was instrumental in his business career, and eventually placed him in close proximity to Russia’s current President, Vladimir Putin. Unlike many other oligarchs, Abramovich is believed to have remained close to Putin, despite living mostly in the United Kingdom in the past decade. The Russian oligarch has been staying in a mansion valued at close to $120 million in London’s exclusive suburb of Kensington. His lawyers have been renewing his British residence visa every six months.

However, the attempted assassination of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal earlier this year prompted the British government to intensify its scrutiny of Britain’s sizeable Russian expatriate community. London introduced tighter regulations that require Russian citizens applying to live in the UK to declare the source of their income in a far greater detail than previously. Soon after the new regulations were put in place, Abramovich’s lawyers withdrew his application to renew his British residency visa. Then, in May of this year, the Russian oligarch acquired Israeli citizenship. He has made it clear, however, that he does not intend to live in Israel. Instead, his legal team focused on an application for Swiss residency, which Abramovich first filed in the summer of 2016. In the application papers, Abramovich wrote that he intended to reside full time in Verbier, an Alpine village in the canton of Valais that is a popular holiday destination for celebrities and royalty.

A year later, following resistance and increasingly persistent questioning from the Swiss government, Abramovich’s legal team withdrew his residency application. Last February, when the Swiss press attempted to investigate the reasons behind the Swiss government’s reluctance, Abramovich’s lawyers secured an injunction forbidding the publication of information regarding his application to live in Switzerland. But the injunction was overturned late last week, and on Tuesday the Swiss media conglomerate Tamedia published some of the relevant documents. They include a letter from the Swiss Federal Police that strongly cautions against allowing the Russian-Israeli oligarch to resettle in Switzerland. The letter remarks that Abramovich has been repeatedly implicated in “suspicion of money laundering” and that the billionaire is “presumed [to have] contacts with criminal organizations”. Additionally, the letter states that Abramovich’s “assets are at least in part of illegal origin”. The letter concludes by strongly cautioning against allowing the oligarch to move to Switzerland, and argues that doing so would pose a “threat to public security” and be detrimental to the country’s international reputation.

The letter has raised eyebrows since its publication, because Switzerland is known for being highly welcoming of foreign billionaires while displaying minimal curiosity about the sources of their fortunes. Moreover, there are no known court rulings against Abramovich for money laundering or connections to organized crime. It is therefore presumed that the Swiss police report is based mostly on confidential informants and other informal sources. On Wednesday, Abramovich’s Swiss lawyer, Daniel Glasl, issued a statement saying that the Russian-Israeli magnate has never been charged with involvement in money laundering. He also reminded readers that his client has a blank criminal record.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 September 2018 | Permalink

Italian mafia may be supplying weapons to ISIS, say investigators

AK-47Organized criminal groups in southern Italy may be supplying assault weapons to groups and individuals that are associated with the Islamic State, according to European investigators. British newspaper The Guardian said last week that security officials in Italy, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe have traced weapons used by Islamists to at least one arms cache that entered the European black market through a Sicilian crime family with links to the mafia.

According to The Guardian, the initial link to the supply of weapons seems to originate with an organized criminal family in Catania, on Sicily’s eastern coast. The family, known locally as the “Ceusi”, is part of the “Santopaula” clan, which is the dominant criminal network in that part of Italy. Investigators have confirmed that two years ago the Ceusi family purchased a cache of 160 deactivated AK-47s from AFG Security Corporation, a Slovakia-based European weapons dealer. The purchase of the weapons, for $40,000, was legal. But the Sicilian mafia then illegally reactivated the weapons by removing the deactivating metal pins that had been inserted into the weapons’ barrels. The reactivated weapons were then supplied to the ’Ndrangheta, the Italian organized crime network that operates in the region of Calabria, in the Italian mainland. In turn, the ’Ndrangheta, which specializes in the trafficking of contraband to and from Europe, sold many of these reactivated weapons to a smuggling ring headquartered in the Egyptian port of Alexandria.

It was the Egyptian network, say investigators, that sold the AK-47s to Islamist militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, who have close connections with the Islamic State in Syria and other Islamist groups. A few of the weapons even ended up in the hands of European Islamists in France and elsewhere. Much of the intelligence regarding the AK-47s comes from telephone intercepts, said The Guaridan. But the newspaper cautioned that concrete links between the Mafia and the Islamic State have not yet been established. Nevertheless, the paper said that, according to European investigators, “organized criminals are increasingly open to trading with extremists”, and there are mounting “signs of an even closer relationship between organized criminals and Islamists” operating in North Africa and the Middle East.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 July 2016 | Permalink

Malaysia immigration probe reveals growing insider threat to passport security

Datuk Seri Sakib KusmiAs many as 100 Malaysian immigration officers are implicated in a widening investigation involving the deliberate sabotage of the country’s electronic passport control system. The investigation, which began over three months ago, focuses on a criminal ring of immigration personnel at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), one of Southeast Asia’s major travel hubs. Reports suggest that 15 members of the alleged ring are in prison awaiting trial. Another 14 immigration officers have been suspended without pay, while 20 more staff members are under investigation by the intelligence subdivision of the Immigration Department of Malysia (IDM). On Wednesday, IDM Director-General Datuk Seri Sakib Kusmi said that the scope of the investigation had widened, and that 63 immigration officers would be transferred from the IDM’s headquarters in Putrajaya to KLIA, to replace members or suspected members of the criminal ring.

The officers implicated in the investigation are accused of deliberately sabotaging the automated passport control system used at KLIA. Known as myIMMs, the system allows passport control officers to validate the authenticity of international travelers’ passports, and to confirm that the latter have not been reported lost or stolen. It is believed that the myIMMs system was deliberately made to crash at least once a day, in order to allow human traffickers and other organized criminals to smuggle individuals in and out of Malaysia. With the system going offline, KLIA passport control officers were forced to screen passengers manually, which is now believed to have permitted countless individuals using forged and stolen passports to go through security undetected. The deliberate sabotage of myIMMs is believed to have been going on since 2010, and investigators are at a loss in trying to estimate the numbers of people who have been able to bypass computerized passport checks.

One investigator said Australia’s ABC news network that the criminal ring’s handlers were located overseas and would send immigration officers instructions via coded messages. The primary ring members had recruited IDM administrative staff, technology staff, and even software vendors, who were involved in sabotaging the system. The practice of organized criminal and terrorist groups using forged passports is both long and documented. But news of a criminal group that is able to set up an extensive ring of immigration officers, who then sabotage an electronic passport verification system at a major international transport hub, is rare and extremely alarming. It reveals a new form of insider threat, namely compromised immigration and passport control officers, who are bribed to facilitate the work of criminal groups and terrorist organizations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 June 2016 | Permalink

Continuity IRA claims killing by armed assailants disguised as police

CIRAA leading dissident republican group in Ireland has claimed responsibility for a bloody attack in Dublin, which was carried out last week by a group of masked assailants disguised as police and carrying AK-47 assault rifles. Police said that the carefully planned attack involved at least six people wearing SWAT-style police uniforms, at least one of whom was disguised as a woman. The assailants stormed a boxing match weigh-in and opened fire, killing Dubliner David Byrne, 33, and injuring at least two others. The boxing match for the European lightweight category, which was scheduled to take between the Portuguese champion Antonio Joao Bento and Dubliner Jamie Kavanagh, was cancelled by the World Boxing Organization.

Initially, the attack was said to have been carried out by an organized illicit smuggling gang. However, police were skeptical about such a claim, given that the use of disguises and AK-47 assault rifles is reminiscent of the tactics used by the Provisional Irish Republican Army prior to the group’s decommissioning in 2005. On Monday, a man who gave the BBC a prearranged code-word associated with the Continuity IRA (CIRA), a republican splinter group, said the attack had been carried out by the militant organization. He said the senior leadership of the CIRA had ordered Byrne’s killing in retaliation for his involvement in the murder of a well-known republican militant in Dublin, nearly five years ago. Alan Ryan, who was believed to be a member of the Real IRA (RIRA), another republican splinter group, was gunned down in Dublin in September 2012, in what the police described as a “planned, targeted killing”. It was believed at the time that Ryan had been killed by a criminal gang with which the RIRA had quarreled.

The alleged CIRA representative told the BBC that Byrne’s killing “will not be an isolated incident”, adding that the group had plans to carry out more attacks aimed against “drug dealers and criminals” in Ireland. Early on Tuesday, meanwhile, another man, Eddie Hutch, was shot dead in northcentral Dublin, in what police said was a reprisal for last week’s CIRA attack in the Irish capital.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 February 2016 | Permalink

Many arrested in Bosnia for having links with Islamic State

BosniaAuthorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina have announced the arrest of several people on suspicion of having direct links with the Islamic State and other militant groups fighting in Iraq and Syria. At least 11 people were arrested by police in simultaneous raids at a number of locations on Tuesday, including businesses and private homes, across the Bosnian capital Sarajevo. A police spokeswoman said the eleven men had been charged with having links to terrorist groups, financing terrorist groups, or inciting and helping organize criminal acts. A number of them were also charged with recruiting young men and women to join militant groups in Syria and Iraq, she said.

A statement issued by the office of the Bosnian prosecutor on Wednesday morning said the arrests were part of a “major operation […] to track down some 15 people” suspected of having close operational ties with Islamist organizations in the Middle East. The arrests were carried out less than a day after another five people were arrested in Sarajevo for illegally transporting weapons and ammunition from Bosnia to Germany. Large caches of weapons and ammunition were seized during the raids.

Depending on the source, there are estimates that the largely Muslim Balkan country of 3.8 million has supplied between 150 and 330 fighters to the Islamic State, the militant Sunni group that today controls much of Syria and Iraq. Hundreds more have joined from cities and towns in Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania. Of those, several dozen have already been killed while fighting for the Islamic State. Security services in Bosnia are reportedly monitoring a number of unregistered mosques in the country, which are believed to be preaching a version of Salafi Jihadism that promotes the worldview of the Islamic State. Many of these mosques are led or supported by individuals from Africa and the Middle East. These men first went to Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s to fight in the war against Serbia and Croatia, two predominantly Christian regions of the former Yugoslavia. They ended up settling in Bosnia after marrying local women.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 December 2015 | Permalink