Israel’s chief of staff says Hezbollah killed its own commander in Syria

Mustafa Amine BadreddineAn Israeli military official has repeated claims in the Arab media that the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah killed its own military commander in Syria, following a dispute with Iran. Mustafa Amine Badreddine, 55, an expert in explosives and former bomb-maker, was a senior military commander in the military wing of Hezbollah. He rose through the ranks of the organization to become a trusted adviser to Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah. In 2011, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up by the United Nations, charged Badreddine with organizing the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri was killed with over 20 other people in a massive bomb blast in Beirut, in February of 2005.

Soon after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, the leadership of Hezbollah dispatched Badreddine to the Syrian capital Damascus. His stated mission was to command thousands of Hezbollah troops, who fought under Iranian guidance in support of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But on May 13, 2016, Badreddine was reportedly killed in Damascus, causing observers to describe his death as the biggest setback for the Shiite militant group since the 2008 assassination of its leading commander, Imad Mughniyeh. Initial reports in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese media suggested that Badreddine might have been killed in an Israeli air attack. But a press statement issued later by Hezbollah said the commander had been killed as a result of an armed attack by Sunni rebels. However, on March 8 of this year, the Saudi-owned pan-Arab television network al-Arabiya said it had conducted its own investigation into Badreddine’s death, and had concluded that he was killed by Hezbollah itself. The network claimed that Hezbollah’s Secretary General Nasrallah had ordered Badreddine’s killing, after the Iranians demanded it. Apparently the Iranians wanted him killed because he disputed the authority of Major General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, who is often credited with having saved the Syrian government from demise during the Civil War.

The claim that Badreddine was killed by Hezbollah was echoed on Tuesday by Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot, Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. Speaking to the Associated Press, Lt Gen Eisenkot said that reports from Arab media that Badreddine was killed by his own forces agreed “with intelligence we have”, referring to the Israeli military. It is worth noting that Israeli officials rarely comment on intelligence operations, including assassination operations, choosing instead to adhere to a “refuse to confirm or deny” policy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 March 2017 | Permalink

Advertisements

Two women arrested for assassinating North Korean leader’s half-brother

Kim Jong-namTwo women have been arrested in the past 48 hours in connection with the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korea’s supreme leader, who died in Malaysia on Monday. Kim, the grandson of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, died after two women approached him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and splashed his face with liquid poison. Some reports suggest that he was injected with a poisoned needle. According to Malaysian media, Kim was about to board a flight to Macau, where he had been living in self-exile since 2007. His relations with his brother, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, and the regime in Pyongyang, were adversarial, and some suggest that he had survived at least one assassination attempt in the past.

On Wednesday, Malaysian authorities announced the arrest of a woman carrying a Vietnamese travel document, which identified her as Doan Thi Huong (also reported as Doan Thin Hoang). No elaboration was offered on whether the travel document is genuine or forged. The 28-year-old woman is believed to have been arrested at the same airport where Kim’s assassination took place. Apparently she returned there by herself on Wednesday to catch an outbound flight to Vietnam, but was recognized by security personnel through the airport’s closed-circuit television monitoring system. Another woman, carrying an Indonesian passport, was arrested on Thursday in connection with the assassination, but no information was released about her. Some reports in the Malaysian media suggested that the second woman had been observed wandering around the Kuala Lumpur International Airport immediately following Kim’s assassination. It is believed that her co-conspirators inadvertently left her behind as they escaped the scene of the crime. Malaysian police said they also arrested a taxi driver who transported the women to the airport on the morning of the assassination. Four males, who are also believed to have helped organize the attack, remain at large.

Meanwhile South Korean and American government sources told news agencies that the assassins are thought to be agents of the North Korean government. Malaysian media said that senior North Korean diplomats were dispatched to Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday and held lengthy meetings with Malaysian government officials. Reports suggest that Pyongyang exercised pressure on Malaysian officials to cancel a planned post mortem examination of Kim’s body. But the request was allegedly denied. Malaysian officials did not respond to queries about whether Kim’s body will be handed to North Korea or flown to China for burial.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 February 2017 | Permalink

North Korean leader’s half-brother killed by female assassins in Malaysia

DPRK assassinThe half-brother of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has been killed in an audacious attack in Malaysia, reportedly by two female assassins who used a poisonous substance to murder him. Kim Jong-nam, was the eldest son of Kim Jong-il, and grandson of Kim Il-Sung, who founded the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948. However, he left the country in 2007, reportedly after it became clear that his younger half-brother, Kim Jong-un, was the regime’s preferred successor to his father, Kim Jong-il.

Since that time, it is believed that the self-exiled Kim split his time between Singapore and China, and that he had a residence in the former Portuguese colony of Macau. It is also believed that he employed a variety of passports, including South Korean, Portuguese and Swiss, some of which were reputed to be forgeries. Even though Kim kept a relatively low profile in the past decade, relations between him and the North Korean regime were adversarial. He made occasional comments to the press that were critical of the government in Pyongyang, and at times criticized his half-brother’s character and actions. Intelligence sources in South Korea claimed that the DPRK tried to kill him at least once in the past.

It appears that Pyongyang may have finally managed to kill Kim on Monday morning, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia’s main international flight hub and one of Southeast Asia’s largest. The attack is believed to have taken place at 9:00 a.m. at the airport’s economy class terminal, where Kim was waiting to board a 10:00 a.m. flight to Macau. According to Malaysian news media, Kim was approached by two women, one of whom attacked him from behind. The female suspect reportedly covered Kim’s face with a “cloth laced with a poisonous liquid” that burned his eyes. A frantic Kim managed to run away and alert an airport employee, who called an ambulance. According to police, the victim told paramedics that someone had grabbed him from behind and “splashed a burning liquid on his face”. Some reports claimed that Kim was attacked with a poisonous needle or acid spray. According to Malaysian police spokesman Fadzil Ahmat, the grandson of North Korea’s founder expired on the way to a nearby hospital.

It was later confirmed that, at the time of his death, Kim was using a North Korean passport issued under the name “Kim Chol” and giving his date of birth as June 10, 1970. However, the travel document is believed to have been forged. Malaysian authorities said on Tuesday they had been unable to identify the suspects, but that an investigation was ongoing. Early on Wednesday, Malaysian authorities released CCTV footage of one of the suspects (pictured). Meanwhile, Kim’s body has been subjected to an autopsy, but the results remain unavailable. South Korean authorities told the Reuters news agency that Kim had been killed by assassins working for the North Korean government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 February 2017 | Permalink

Prominent Putin critic poisoned with unknown substance, say doctors

Vladimir Kara-MurzaA prominent member of the Russian opposition and vocal critic of the Kremlin, is fighting for his life in a Moscow hospital as a result of “acute poisoning from an undefined substance”, according to his doctors. Vladimir Kara-Murza, 35, is a senior figure in the Open Russia Foundation, a political pressure group founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky, an ultra-wealthy Russian businessman who was once estimated to be worth over $15 billion, has been living in Switzerland since 2013. Immediately prior to that, he served a 10-year prison sentence in Russia for tax evasion. In 2013, Kara-Murza was a member of a network of Putin critics who helped organize opposition protests in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. He also co-authored a number of reports accusing the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin of corruption.

For several years now, Kara-Murza, his wife and three young children have been living in the United States. But he frequently travels back to Russia to meet with opposition activists and other organizers. For the past few weeks, Kara-Murza had been traveling in his homeland to help launch a new documentary film about the life and death of scientist and opposition figure Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov served as Russia’s deputy prime minister for a few months in 1998, under Russian President Boris Yeltsin. After 2000, he became a vocal critic of the Putin administration. In late February 2015, Nemtsov was shot four times in the back and killed while walking with his girlfriend near Moscow’s Red Square. Opposition groups, including members of the Open Russia Foundation, claim that his murder was organized by the Kremlin.

Kara-Murza’s wife, Yevgeniya, said yesterday that her husband woke up suddenly in the early hours of last Thursday, finding it difficult to breathe. He was rushed to a Moscow hospital where he has been under a medically induced coma since Tuesday. His family said that, while visiting Russia in 2015, Kara-Murza was hospitalized with similar symptoms, and was diagnosed with “kidney failure in connection with poisoning”. He later claimed that he survived an attempt on his life by people in power who wanted to silence him. This time, said Kara-Murza’s wife, the family has sent blood samples to specialists in Israel and France, hoping that the poison that is allegedly inside his body can be identified.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 February 2017 | Permalink

Brazil launches probe into plane crash that killed senior corruption investigator

Teori ZavasckiBrazilian authorities have launched an investigation into last week’s plane crash that killed the leading judge in the largest corruption probe in the nation’s history, involving government officials and two giant companies. Supreme Court judge Teori Zavascki died last Thursday with two other people, when the small airplane they were on crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. The Beechcraft King Air C90 that was carrying Zavascki went down near the Brazilian town of Paraty, located 300 miles east of Sao Paulo. Zavascki, was appointed to Brazil’s Supreme Court in 2012, at the age of 64. He soon earned a nationwide reputation for being a relentless prosecutor of Brazil’s notoriously corrupt governmental and corporate elite. In 2015, his reputation soared even further, after he ordered the arrest of Delcídio do Amaral, a leading member of the ruling Workers’ Party, who was serving as Senate speaker and head of the Senate’s Committee on Economic Affairs. Amaral was found guilty of having received bribes from Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, and removed from the Senate.

In October 2016, Zavascki ordered the arrest of Eduardo Cunha, President of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, and the man who had a few months earlier led the impeachment of Brazil’s disgraced former President, Dilma Rousseff. Cuhna’s arrest was part of so-called Operation Carwash, an enormous corruption investigation involving dozens of leading Brazilian politicians, who are accused of having taken bribes from Petrobras and Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company. This coming February, Zavascki was scheduled to publicize a series of plea-bargain settlements, involving nearly 80 Odebrecht senior executives. It is believed that the plea bargains will implicate a large number of well-known Brazilian politicians, including Brazil’s President, Michel Temer, and his two immediate predecessors, Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Shortly after Thursday’s plane crash, there was widespread speculation on social media that Zavascki’s death was not an accident. Several notable public figures in Brazil expressed concern about the timing of the judge’s death. They included detective Márcio Anselmo, the senior federal police investigator in Operation Carwash. On Friday, authorities launched an official investigation into the plane crash, which will inevitably remain in the news headlines for weeks, as the Supreme Court struggles to keep Operation Carwash alive. Several public figures have expressed strong concern about possible delays in the investigation, which could enable those being probed to evade justice. In a bizarre twist of fate, President Temer will now be expected to nominate a judge to take Justice Zavascki’s place on the Supreme Court, while knowing that his own name may be implicated in the ongoing corruption investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 January 2017 | Permalink

Lebanese president says Israel is behind businessman’s murder in Angola

Michel AounThe president of Lebanon said on Wednesday that Israeli intelligence was behind the killing of a Lebanese businessman who was shot dead by a team of assailants last weekend in southwestern Africa. Amine Bakri, 54, who was from southern Lebanon, had lived and worked in Angola since his mid-20s. He was a well-known businessman in the Angola capital Luanda, where he owned a number of factories that make furniture and various medical equipment. On Sunday, Bakri was driving on an unpaved road in the Angolan capital, when his vehicle was ambushed by a group of three armed assailants. According to media reports, one of the men shot the windshield of Bakri’s car and then proceeded to shoot him in the head at close range. The men fled the scene and Bakri was transported to a local hospital, where he soon died from his wounds.

Initial reports stated that Bakri’s killing resulted from a botched robbery by a local gang of youths. But the murdered man’s nephew and business partner, Mohammad Maatuk, told Lebanese media that the men who ambushed his uncle were not interested in money. Maatuk told the Lebanese news website an-Nahar that the men did not give Bakri an opportunity to offer them money or other valuables. Instead they opened fire almost immediately and fled the scene in a calm, pre-arranged, professional manner, said Maatuk.

On Wednesday, the newly elected President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, opened the weekly meeting of the Lebanese government by announcing that there was “information that the [Israeli intelligence agency] Mossad was behind this operation” to kill Bakri in Lebanon. He added that the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration was “collecting information” in light of new evidence about Israel’s alleged involvement. According to media reports, Aoun did not provide details about the evidence that the Mossad was behind Bakri’s murder. Nor is there any information about the reasons why Israel might want Bakri dead.

Angola is home to a sizeable Lebanese community, whose members concentrate mostly in Luanda. As of this morning there has been no information about whether Amine Bakri was in any way related to Imad Bakri. Bakri, a Shiite Lebanese merchant in Luanda, has been identified in several intelligence reports as a link between the Shiite Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and UNITA, the Western-supported right-wing rebel group that lost in the Angolan Civil War and today is the country’s second-largest political party. Bakri’s body is expected to arrive in Lebanon today. It will be transported to the Iraqi Shiite city of Najaf, where he will be buried.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 January 2017 | Permalink

Poland exhumes late leader’s body in probe of 2010 plane crash in Russia

Lech KaczyńskiAuthorities in Poland have exhumed the body of the country’s late prime minister and his wife as part of an investigation into the 2010 airplane disaster that killed them and nearly 100 others in Russia. The move has reignited persistent rumors that the crash that killed everyone onboard the plane, including Polish President Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, was not an accident. At the time of their death, the couple were leading a delegation of Polish officials and journalists traveling to Russia to participate in commemorations marking 70 years from the so-called ‘Katyn massacre’. The term refers to the extermination of approximately 22,000 Polish soldiers and civilians that was carried out by the Soviet military and secret services in 1940, following the Soviet invasion of Poland.

Investigations of the air disaster have been carried out by Russia and by the previous Polish administration, headed by the centrist Civic Platform party, which governed the country from 2010 until 2015. Both concluded that the crash was an accident. But the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS), headed by Jarosław Kaczyński, twin brother of the late president, insists that previous investigations were incomplete and has initiated its own probe into the matter. Almost as soon as it formed a national government last year, the rightwing PiS reopened the investigation into the 2010 air crash. The exhumation of the victims’ bodies, which began on Monday, is the first step of the new probe.

Many supporters of the new investigation claim that bombs hidden onboard the plane caused it to crash. Others suggest that the Polish government at the time is to blame for the crash, because it neglected to properly service the plane. Some have even suggested that Donald Tusk, Poland’s prime minister at the time of the crash, who now heads the European Council, should be put on trial for the murder of President Kaczyński. Critics note that no credible evidence has been put forward to support the assassination theory or the deliberate neglect theory, barring some circumstantial discrepancies in the Russian-language documents. The current probe is expected to last several months.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 November 2016 | Permalink