ISIS bombing of Beirut is more important than Paris attacks

Bourj al-Barajneh The recent attacks by Islamic State militants in Paris continue to dominate the world’s headlines. But the double suicide blasts that struck Beirut three days earlier are far more significant for the future of the Syrian Civil War. The outpouring of grief that followed the attacks of November 15 in the French capital prompted charges of discrimination against the world’s media. The latter practically ignored the bombing of Lebanese capital Beirut on November 12, which killed 43 and injured over 200 people. The Islamic State, known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), claimed responsibility for the deadly blasts, which marked the bloodiest attack in the Lebanese capital since the end of the country’s civil war in 1990.

The contrast between the media’s treatment of the attacks in Paris and Beirut could not have been starker. The news of the double suicide blasts in Beirut hardly penetrated global headlines, with the exception of outlets like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. Even the BBC, which typically pays more attention to non-Western news, relegated the incident to third place, behind a story about corruption in the international football association and the news of the killing of “Jihadi John”. There was no “safety check” app on Facebook, and no Lebanese flags were superimposed on users’ profile photos. Yet the blasts in Beirut are more significant than the attacks in Paris, for two reasons.

First, because attacking “soft targets” in Paris is far easier than attacking Beirut. Paris is a city of 2.2 million people, who are used to a life of relative security and hardly pay attention to their surroundings. The “city of light” features a café in nearly every corner, 13,000 restaurants and over 2,000 hotels; it is easy to enter and exit, and is hardly policed, even by Western standards. Beirut, on the other hand, is a tense Middle Eastern city with heavy police and military presence. The southern Beirut neighborhood of Bourj al-Barajneh, which was targeted by ISIS on November 12, is a Hezbollah stronghold, and probably one of the most tightly policed urban areas in the Eastern Mediterranean. There is little government presence there; but this does not mean that there is no security. On the contrary, Hezbollah militias and volunteers provide protection and conduct careful monitoring of nearly every street. Like its neighboring Dahieh, Bourj al-Barajneh is a world far removed from the fashionable streets of downtown Beirut, where Starbucks cafés and McDonald’s restaurants are frequented by fashionable Lebanese Christians and Western diplomats. Western intelligence has almost no presence Q Quotethere, and even the Mossad, Israel’s feared spy service, rarely ventures in the Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods.

The fact that ISIS was able to penetrate and bomb Bourj al-Barajneh is a monumental development in the ever-widening Syrian Civil War. It demonstrates the advanced planning and operational sophistication of ISIS and places the ball squarely in Hezbollah’s court. What is more, it was the second time in less than two years that ISIS bombed southern Beirut. The Shiite group has been humiliated, having been shown to lack the resources to protect its heartland from Sunni attacks. Moreover, the Lebanese group, which is almost exclusively funded by Iran, will have to respond to that provocation. For several months, the Middle East has been buzzing with rumors that Iran and Hezbollah are preparing a two-front, large-scale ground assault against ISIS forces. Do last week’s twin suicide attacks bring that possibility closer? The answer to that question may change the entire course of the Syrian Civil War. Read more of this post

Al Jazeera reporters not linked to mystery drones seen over Paris

Eiffel TowerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Three Al Jazeera journalists, who were arrested yesterday for flying a drone over a Paris park, are not linked to the earlier mysterious sightings of drones flying over famous landmarks and security installations in the French capital, according to media reports. The bizarre sightings began last October, when security officials from France’s state-owned power company EDF filed a police complaint after noticing several mini-drones flying over at least seven nuclear power plants. Another 20 sightings of drones were documented in November, all of them seen flying over nuclear installations in various parts of France.

On January 20, another drone was seen hovering over the Elysee Palace in Paris, which is the official residence French President Francois Hollande. Less than a week later, several drones were observed flying over a maximum-security French naval base in Brittany, which houses nuclear submarines. At least ten more sightings were reported on Monday and Tuesday night this week, this time flying over important buildings and landmarks in Paris. Among the apparent surveillance targets of the mysterious drones were the embassy of the United States, the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides national military museum, the Place de la Concorde at the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées, and the Bastille monument. Security forces also reported drone sightings near major public thoroughfares leading in and out of the French capital. French authorities said on Tuesday that they were investigating the incidents under the assumption that they were linked.

On Wednesday, French police announced that three journalists working for Qatar-based television station Al Jazeera had been detained for piloting a drone that was seen flying over a park in Bois de Boulogne, an area located at the edge of the French capital. But initial reports in the media that the three Al Jazeera reporters were somehow linked to the mysterious drone sightings of earlier weeks appear to be dismissed by the authorities. The latter said on Wednesday that there was “no suggestion” of any connection between the journalists and the string of drone incidents over the French capital. As for explaining the drone sightings, French authorities say they have no idea whether it is the work of tourists, practical jokers, criminals or prospective terrorists. Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told reporters on Wednesday that “people should not be worried, but vigilant”, as the incidents were “taken very seriously”.

Turkey peace talks halted as Kurdish activists are assassinated in Paris

Sakine Cansiz with Abdullah Öcalan in 1995By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The future of peace talks between the Turkish government and the country’s Kurdish minority appeared uncertain yesterday, after three female Kurdish activists were found murdered execution-style in downtown Paris, France. The murders marked the first-ever killings in Europe of senior members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which operates as the primary political and paramilitary agent of Turkey’s Kurdish population. According to reports from France, a gun fitted with a silencer was used to kill two of the women in the back of the neck and the third one in the stomach.

One of the dead, Leyla Sönmez, was a Kurdish activist responsible for Kurdish diplomatic relations in France. Another, Fidan Doğan, who was also a French citizen, was the Paris representative of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), which operates as Kurdistan’s government-in-exile based in Brussels, Belgium. But the most prominent victim of the triple murder is Sakine Cansiz, co-founder of the PKK, who is described as a “legend” among party activists. Cansiz who was present at PKK’s founding in 1978, was imprisoned by the Turkish government in the 1980s and given political asylum in France in 1998. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #458

  • More arrests of alleged Russian agents in Georgia. The government of Georgia arrested six people suspected of being agents for Russia and accused them of staging a series of explosions, including one outside the US embassy in capital Tbilisi. At least 13 more people were arrested last month in Georgia, and are facing charges of spying for Moscow.
  • Iran defector says Tehran hosted N. Korean techs. Mohammad Reza Heydari, who resigned in January from his post as Iranian consul in Norway, and defected to the West, has told a conference in Paris that he saw North Korean technicians “repeatedly” travel to Iran.
  • Spy scandal MP helped second Russian woman stay in UK. British Liberal Democrat parliamentarian Mike Hancock, whose assistant, Katia Zatuliveter, is accused by MI5 of spying for Russia, helped 25-year-old Russian citizen Ekaterina Paderina stay in Britain after she ran into visa problems, in the late 1990s.

News you may have missed #360

  • New book hints at covert US-French spy war. A forthcoming book, Diplomats: Behind the Façade of France’s Embassies, by Franck Renaud, claims that in 2008 French security agents discovered hidden bugs placed by the CIA in the Paris apartment of Pierre Brochand, head of the  DGSE, France’s primary intelligence agency. A CIA spokesperson refused to speculate on the accuracy of the allegations.
  • Obama rethinking his lead pick for DNI. Following skepticism expressed by intelligence insiders, President Obama is reportedly reevaluating his initial choice of James R. Clapper as the leading contender for the post of the Director of National Intelligence.

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French spies saw Hitler danger in 1924, document shows

Hitler in 1924

Hitler in 1924

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
At the same time when British intelligence was employing Benito Mussolini, and US diplomats were describing segments of the German Nazi party as “moderate [with] appeal to all civilized and reasonable people”, French intelligence reports were identifying Adolf Hitler as a “fascist […] demagogue” and “the German Mussolini”. This emerges from a 1924 report by an anonymous French intelligence operative, which is due to be declassified along with thousands of similar documents currently stored in the French National Archives, according to French newspaper Le Monde. Read more of this post