Analysis of the Islamic State’s ‘wedding attack’ in Gaziantep, Turkey

Gaziantep, TurkeySaturday’s suicide bombing, which killed over 50 and injured dozens at a wedding in Gaziantep, Turkey, was without doubt the work of the Islamic State. It was yet another attempt by the militant Sunni group to discourage the Kurds from confronting it in battle, by pointing to the deadly consequences. It was also fueled by the desire for vengeance against a population that has consistently resisted the Islamic State’s ideology. Additionally, if confirmed, the use of a child as a suicide bomber by the Islamic State may form a pattern of operational activity that can lead to broader conclusions about the current state of the organization.

It has become increasingly clear in the past two years that the armed Kurdish groups in northern Syria and Iraq, as well as Kurdish peshmerga units based in Turkey, are some of the most formidable opponents of militant Jihadists on the ground. By bombing soft targets inside Turkey, the Islamic State is sending a message to the Kurds that armed opposition on the ground will carry a heavy cost at home. Contrary to initial impressions, there was nothing special about the particular wedding ceremony that was targeted on Saturday. Any wedding would have been suitable for the Islamic State’s purpose. In fact, the randomness of the attack increases its shock value by demonstrating to the local population that any activity can be attacked, even if it does not involve notables. Additionally, the specific choice of a wedding magnifies the brutality of the attack, by targeting a young couple on what is typically the happiest day of their lives. The high concentration of children among the casualties may indicate that the bomber was given specific operational instructions to attack younger participants. The clear warning here is that the disruption will leave nothing untouched –including something as ‘off-limits’ as a couple on their wedding day, or groups of children– if the Kurds continue to fight the Islamic State.

Moreover, the Islamic State is trying to widen the already deep division between the Turkish state and the Kurds, by exposing the inability of the government in Ankara to protect its Kurdish population from attacks. The Kurds already resent Turkey’s ‘soft policy’ on the Islamic State. They and the rest of the world can see that Ankara has typically viewed the government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus as far more threatening than the continuing rise of Islamist fundamentalism. Since the failed July 15 coup, the Turkish state has begun to revise its soft stance on the Islamic State, but this comes too late to pacify the country’s infuriated Kurdish population. This latest attack will only intensify the deep anger felt by the Kurds against the Turkish state.

Initial reports indicate the possible use of a child or a teenager to carry out the Gaziantep bombing. These may or may not be accurate. They could easily be an attempt by the Kurds to further-incense international public opinion against the Islamic State. If the reports are accurate, they do not necessarily represent some sort of break from the traditional tactics of the Islamic State. According to the group’s war-fighting doctrine, there is no differentiation between men and children when it comes to what it sees as the defense of Sunni religious doctrine. Every Muslim, regardless of race, gender, or age, is required to engage in holy war. Indeed, the Islamic State has deployed children before, in warfare, executions and suicide bombings against both hard and soft targets. However, even though the use of a child to carry out the Gaziantep bombing is not in itself unique, or particularly important, it matters if it forms part of a broader pattern. If it is verified that ISIS is increasingly using children in suicide bombings, or in warfare, it may signify two things: first, that the organization is finding it difficult to recruit able-bodied men for missions. Second, that adult ISIS recruits are becoming scarcer, so the organization is trying to preserve them for decisive battles.

It may be, of course, that a child or younger teenager was selected in order to avoid security profiling by the Kurds. Still, the use of children in warfare or suicide missions can result in a large degree of unpredictability. Children may be relatively easy targets for recruiters, for the obvious reason that they are young and impressionable. Their reality can therefore be effectively altered by fantastical tales of the supernatural, which the Islamic State is very skilled at. However, children are not necessarily very dependable in war, or terrorism. They can be easily frightened, can change their mind at the last minute, and they do not stay calm under pressure. There are several recent examples of children or teenagers who were recruited for suicide operations but surrendered after changing their mind.

Ultimately, shocking massacres such as Saturday’s attack in Gaziantep cannot be prevented. They can only be limited through careful police and intelligence work. In the case of Turkey, however, this will be difficult. The country’s police, intelligence and military structures have been significantly weakened following the failed July 15 coup. Thousands of government officials, police officers, intelligence and military personnel have been fired, demoted or imprisoned. The state, which is becoming increasingly synonymous with the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP party, is too preoccupied with preserving its own stability to concentrate on combating the terrorist spillover from Syria.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 August 2016 | Permalink

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Were Pakistani spies behind 2009 attack that killed seven CIA employees?

FOB ChapmanTwo recently declassified United States government documents suggest that Pakistani intelligence officers may have been behind a suicide attack that killed seven employees of the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan. The attack took place at the Forward Operating Base Chapman, a US military outpost in Khost, Afghanistan. It was carried out by Humam al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor who posed as a disillusioned member of al-Qaeda and had convinced his CIA handlers that he could lead them to the whereabouts of al-Qaeda’s deputy Emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri. During a scheduled visit to FOB Chapman on December 30, 2009, al-Balawi detonated a suicide vest, instantly killing himself and nine other people, including a Jordanian intelligence officer and seven CIA employees. The bloody incident, which marked the most lethal attack against the CIA in nearly three decades, was widely blamed on al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.

However, a set of newly released US State Department cables seem to suggest that Pakistani intelligence may have been behind the attack. The documents were released by George Washington University’s National Security Archive through a Freedom of Information Act request. One document, dated January 11, 2010, discusses the FOB Chapman attack in association with the Haqqani network, a Taliban-aligned Pashtun militant group that operates in Afghanistan but is headquartered in Pakistan. Western security observers have long considered the Haqqani network to be a paramilitary arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate. The January 11 State Department cable suggests that senior Haqqani network operatives met with their ISI handlers at least twice in the weeks prior to the FOB Chapman attack. Another cable, dated February 6, 2010, suggests that the ISI gave the Haqqani operatives $200,000 to step up attacks against Western forces in Afghanistan. A specific order was given at the meeting to carry out “the attack on Chapman [and] to enable a suicide mission by an unnamed Jordanian national”, presumably al-Balawi.

But an unnamed US intelligence official, who read the declassified documents, told the Associated Press news agency that the documents were “information report[s], not finally evaluated intelligence”. The material was thus “raw, unverified and uncorroborated”, said the official, and clashed with the broad consensus in the US Intelligence Community, which was that the attack was planned by al-Qaeda, not by the Haqqani network. The Associated Press contacted the Pakistani embassy in Washington, DC, about the National Security Archive revelations, but received no response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 April 2016 | Permalink

German authorities had monitored Turkish bomber of US embassy

Ecevit ŞanlıBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Some observers were surprised by news last week that the suicide attack at the US embassy in Turkish capital Ankara was perpetrated by secular Marxists, instead of religious extremists. But students of terrorism know that modern suicide bombings have historically been employed by secular separatist groups. These include the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, as well as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey. The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), which assumed responsibility for last Friday’s attack in Ankara, is a Marxist-Leninist splinter group, which has carried out suicide operations against its ideological enemies since at least 2001. Last week’s attack, which killed two and injured over a dozen people, was perpetrated by Ecevit Şanlı, a 40-year-old Turk from the city of Gölköy in northeastern Turkey. A member of DHKP/C for at least 20 years, in 2000 Şanlı became a cause célèbre among far-leftists in Turkey. During that year, he played a leading role in a hunger strike organized by self-described political prisoners in Turkey, in protest over prison conditions. The protest was brutally suppressed by Turkish security forces, and Şanlı barely survived it. He was eventually released on probation after serving a lengthy prison sentence. According to German sources, upon his release from prison, Şanlı moved to Germany, home to the world’s largest Turkish expatriate community. While there, he joined local leftist causes and appears to have been active in DHKP/C’s network of supporters among the Turkish community there. In 2009, German authorities briefly detained Şanlı after he was found in possession of propaganda literature belonging to DHKP/C, which is a designated foreign terrorist organization by the German government. Read more of this post

Afghan government blames Pakistan for attempt on spy chief’s life

Assadullah KhaledBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Afghan President and senior cabinet officials have described the recent assassination attempt against the country’s spy chief as the work of “a professional intelligence service” and said they would be asking Pakistan “for clarification”. Assadullah Khaled, who heads Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security (NDS), survived a suicide attack last Thursday in Kabul. According to Afghan officials, Khaled was attacked by a member of the Taliban posing as a “peace emissary”, who blew himself up as he was meeting Khaled to discuss a possible peace deal with the government. Media reports suggest that the bomber had concealed explosives in his undergarments and that he was not searched out of “respect for [Afghan] traditions and hospitality”. Shortly after the attack, the Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility and said they would try to kill Khaled again. But speaking to reporters last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that “more professional hands” were behind the attack on Khaled. The Afghan leader described the suicide attack as a “very sophisticated and complicated act by a professional intelligence service” and said the Afghan security services “know [for] a fact” that the suicide bomber had entered the country from Pakistan. President Karzai stopped short of directly implicating the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) of directly planning the attack; but he said his government would be “seeking a lot of clarifications from Pakistan” about the bombing. Last Sunday Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Janan Musazai told reporters that Afghan officials were “100 percent sure” the suicide bomber had come to Afghanistan from the Pakistani city of Quetta. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #804

Jeffrey Paul DelisleBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►CIA officer reportedly among dead in Afghanistan bombing. The attack, which was carried out in a remote area of Kandahar Province, occurred when a guard working for the Afghan intelligence service detonated a suicide vest as a delegation of American coalition members and Afghan intelligence officials arrived at the intelligence office in the Maruf District. The blast killed Ghulam Rasool, the deputy intelligence director for Kandahar Province, two of his bodyguards, another Afghan intelligence official, and some Americans, including the CIA officer. A spokeswoman for the CIA declined to comment.
►►Canadian intel officer was ‘on Russian payroll for years’. Former navy intelligence officer Jeffrey Paul Delisle, who pleaded guilty this month to spying, was leaking secrets to Russia, sending classified data about Canada as well as the United States, according to David Jacobson, the US ambassador in Ottawa. So far, the Canadian government has refrained from revealing the identity of “the foreign entity” to whom Delisle passed the classified information. Ambassador Jacobson refused to specify the nature of the information, saying only that “there was a lot of highly classified material”.
►►Panama wants to adopt euro as legal tender. Panama, one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America, wants to adopt the euro as legal tender to run alongside the country’s US dollar economy. Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli made the request to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to Europe. The president indicated he had every faith that the crisis in the eurozone would soon be at an end, adding that Panama “would be possibly the only country in the world to have two currencies, the euro and the dollar”.

Ex-CIA officer urges Bulgaria to probe alleged Hezbollah attack alone

Robert BaerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A 22-year veteran of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who spent over a decade in the Middle East, has urged Bulgaria to probe a recent suicide attack against Israeli tourists on its soil without relying on American or Israeli assistance. Robert Baer, who is considered a foremost intelligence expert on Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group accused of orchestrating the attack, said that Bulgarian authorities should keep the investigation free of the “intelligence games” currently taking place between the US, Israel and Iran. He was speaking Sunday on Bulgaria’s bTV, in reference to the July 18 blast that hit a bus stationed outside the main airport building in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas. The suicide bomber, whose identity remains unknown, killed himself, the Bulgarian bus driver and five Israeli tourists. Soon after the attack, Israel announced that it had gathered “unquestionable intelligence” showing that Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was behind the suicide bombing. But according to Baer, who spent several years in Lebanon in the 1980s, Israeli and American intelligence investigators are too politicized to be able to provide objective evidence as to the culprits of the attack. The former CIA case officer told bTV that both Tel Aviv and Washington “want to lead a war in Iran” and that they will be tempted to point at Tehran as the main instigator of the suicide blast in Burgas. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #768

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►‘CIA could get bin Laden but can’t get a gym’. As CIA Director, General David Petraeus is credited by some as having helped turn the tide in the Iraq War, flush the Taliban from southern strongholds in Afghanistan, and infiltrated al-Qaeda in Yemen. But his campaign to improve the Agency’s fitness gyms has been a marathon effort –one that defeated other CIA directors over a course of some 16 years. Petraeus arrived at the CIA in 2011 to find two basement gyms at the Langley, Va., headquarters, one with original flooring dating to 1964. One gym is so small it can’t contain the punching bags and medicine balls that spill into the hall, where people stretch out and do mat exercises.
►►Israel convinced Hezbollah behind Bulgaria bombing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that his government has gathered “unquestionable intelligence” showing that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was behind a suicide bombing in Bulgaria last week that killed five Israeli nationals. The Israeli leader said the Mossad had drawn close parallels between the attack in Bulgaria and a foiled operation in Cyprus earlier this month, involving an alleged Hezbollah operative.
►►Hezbollah silent on reports of Israel spy arrests. Hezbollah would not comment on a local newspaper report on Wednesday, which said the Lebanese Shiite party had detained three men, including two of its own members, for spying for Israel. Lebanese daily newspaper An-Nahar said Hezbollah’s security apparatus had detained two Hezbollah members and a member of a Bekaa village municipal council on the suspicion that they have been collaborating with Israel.