Russian journalist who wrote about mercenaries’ deaths in Syria is found dead

Maxim BorodinA Russian investigative journalist, who wrote a series of articles about Russian soldiers-for-hire in Syria, has died after falling from the balcony of his apartment in western Siberia. Some of his colleagues say they suspect foul play. Maxim Borodin wrote for Novy Den (New Day) an investigative online magazine. In the past few weeks, Novy Den published a series of probing articles by Borodin about the activities of Russian mercenaries working for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Borodin was one of just a handful of Russian journalists who reported on claims that more than 200 Russian mercenaries were killed in Syria on February 7.

According to the United States government, the Russians were part of a 500-strong Syrian government force that crossed the Euphrates River and entered Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria’s northeastern Deir al-Zour region. American-supported Kurdish forces in the area, which include embedded US troops, responded with artillery fire, while US military aircraft also launched strikes against the Syrian government forces. The latter withdrew across the Euphrates after suffering heavy losses, including at least 200 Russian troops. The incident was subsequently confirmed by the Kremlin, which said that the Russians were contractors and were not members of the Russian armed forces. Borodin wrote that the Russian mercenaries were employed by the Wagner Group, an arms-for-hire company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a billionaire with close ties to the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin’s name is included in the most recent list of Russian oligarchs that are subject to economic sanctions imposed by the US government.

Last Thursday, just weeks after writing his exposé about the Wagner Group, Borodin was found by neighbors at the foot of the building that houses his apartment in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city. The journalist was taken to a local hospital, where he later died from his injuries. The American news network CNN said it spoke to Valery Gorelykh, a local Russian Interior Ministry official, who said that no foul play was suspected in Borodin’s death. The door of his apartment had been locked from the inside and there were no signs of struggle, said Gorelykh. He went on to say that the most likely explanation for Borodin’s death was that he slipped and fell off the balcony while smoking a cigarette.

But some of Borodin’s colleagues and friends question the verdict of accidental death. Vyacheslav Bashkov, a close friend of the deceased, said Borodin had called him in a frantic state in the early morning hours of April 11. He said his apartment had been surrounded by armed security personnel wearing ski masks, one of whom had climbed on his balcony and appeared to be waiting for a court order so that he could search Borodin’s apartment. But an hour later, Borodin called Bashkov again, this time to let him know that the armed men had been conducting a training exercise and that they never entered his apartment after all. Another colleague of Borodin, Novy Den editor-in-chief Polina Rumyantseva, said she did not believe Borodin had committed suicide.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 April 2018 | Permalink

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Russian ex-spy sees link between Skripal and GCHQ officer found dead in 2010

Boris KarpichkovA former officer in the Soviet KGB, who now lives in the United Kingdom, is to be questioned by British police after alleging that there is a link between the recent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and the mysterious death of a British intelligence officer in 2010. There has been extensive media coverage in the past month of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a Russian former military intelligence officer who spied for Britain in the early 2000s and has been living in England since 2010. Nearly every European country, as well as Canada, Australia and the United States, expelled Russian diplomats in response to the attack on the Russian former spy, which has been widely blamed on the Kremlin.

But eight years ago, another mysterious attack on a spy in Britain drew the attention of the world’s media. Gareth Williams, a mathematician in the employment of Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, had been seconded to the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Britain’s external intelligence agency, to help automate intelligence collection. He had also worked with United States agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. But his career came to an abrupt end in August 2010, when he was found dead inside a padlocked sports bag at his home in Pimlico, London. It remains unknown whether his death resulted from an attack by assailants.

Last weekend, however, Boris Karpichkov, a former intelligence officer in the Soviet KGB and its post-Soviet successor, the FSB, said that Williams was killed by the Russian state. Karpichkov, 59, joined the KGB in 1984, but became a defector-in-place for Latvian intelligence in 1991, when the Soviet Union disintegrated. He claims to have also spied on Russia for French and American intelligence. In 1998, carrying two suitcases filled with top-secret Russian government documents, and using forged passports, he arrived with his family in Britain, where he has lived ever since. In an interview with the British tabloid newspaper The Sunday People, Karpichkov said that Williams was killed by Russian intelligence operatives with an untraceable poison substance, because he had discovered the identity of a Russian agent within his agency, the GCHQ. According to Karpichkov, Williams had befriended the mole, codenamed ORION by the Russians, and had realized that he was working for the Russians. The mole then allegedly told his Russian handler, a non-official-cover officer with an Eastern European passport, codenamed LUKAS, that Williams had grown suspicious. Read more of this post

Senior Chinese Army general accused of corruption found dead

Zhang YangA senior Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military official, who was seen as a close ally of President Xi Jinping, has allegedly committed suicide, according to Chinese state media. Zhang Yang was one of the most high-profile generals in the Chinese PLA. His rise to power after Xi became president of China was meteoric. He was appointed member of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Communist Party of China, which exercises political supervision of the Chinese armed forces. In addition to his role in the CMC, Zhang directed the General Political Department of the PLA’s Ground Force, which made him the top political commissar in the army.

However, in August of this year Zhang suddenly stopped making public appearances. An article soon appeared in Sing Tao, a pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong, alleging that the general had been questioned by anti-corruption investigators as part of President Xi’s nationwide campaign against sleaze. At around the same time, Hong Kong media said that President Xi would soon announce sweeping changes in the makeup of the CMC. It was also announced that General Zhang would step down from his director’s role in the army’s General Political Department. But media in Beijing reported nothing about Zhang, and there was speculation that he may have been imprisoned or even executed. The rumors intensified after September 1, when a front-page article in Sing Tao claimed that he had been dishonorably discharged from the PLA and imprisoned on charges of “serious violations of [Chinese Communist] Party discipline”.

Media in Beijing remained silent until Tuesday of this week, when a report issued by Xinhua News Agency, China’s government-run news agency, said that the former general had been found dead in his home in Beijing. According to the report, Zhang was found dead by a relative on Thursday, November 23. The brief report also mentioned that Zhang had been questioned by authorities in recent months in connection with “bribery and large-scale property crimes”. The Chinese Communist Party has not commented on Zhang’s death.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 November 2017 | Permalink

“External attack” may have caused crash that killed UN secretary general in 1961

Dag HammarskjöldA deliberate attack by another aircraft may have caused the plane crash that killed the United Nations Secretary General in 1961, according to a report commissioned by the intergovernmental organization. On September 17, 1961, a Douglas DC-6 transport aircraft carrying United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld crashed in the British-administered territory of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). The crash killed everyone onboard. At the time of his death, Hammarskjöld was flying to the Congo’s mineral-rich Katanga region to meet European-supported chieftains who in 1960 had seceded from the nationalist government of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Ironically, Lumumba had been assassinated in a Western-backed coup exactly eight months before Hammarskjöld’s death.

Three successive investigations into the crash, conducted by the Rhodesian Board of Investigation, the Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry, and the United Nations Commission of Investigation, pointed to “pilot error” as the most likely cause of the tragedy. However, research carried out in recent years, including by the Hammarskjöld Commission, which was composed of a diplomat and three judges from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Sweden, has shown that the crash could have been the result of deliberate actions. In February of this year, following a recommendation by a UN-appointed three-member expert panel, the organization tasked Mohamed Chande Othman, a former Tanzanian chief justice, to research the topic in depth. Othman reportedly delivered his final report to the UN Secretary General António Guterres in August. However, it has not yet been made public.

On Tuesday, however, British newspaper The Guardian said it had seen an executive summary of Othman’s report. Read more of this post

Did North Korean leader’s brother meet with a US spy before he was assassinated?

Kim Jong-nam murderThe exiled half-brother of North Korea’s leader, who was assassinated in Malaysia in February, is thought to have met with a man believed to be an American intelligence officer shortly before he was killed, according to reports. Kim Jong-nam 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 on February 13 of this year. Kim was about to board a flight to Macau, where he had been living in self-exile with his family 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.

According to Malaysian investigators, who have been probing Kim’s murder, the estranged half-brother of the North Korean dictator arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Macau on February 6, a week before he was killed there. Two days later, on February 8, he traveled to Langkawi, a resort island in the Andaman Sea, located 20 miles from Malaysia’s mainland coast, near the Thai border. According to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, a day after his arrival at Langkawi, Kim met with a man believed by Malaysian authorities to be in the employment of American intelligence. The man, who has not been named, is reportedly middle-aged, Korean-American with United States citizenship, and lives in Bangkok. The Osaka-based paper said that Malaysian police have accessed footage from the Langkawi hotel’s security cameras, which show Kim and the American man enter a hotel suite and staying there for nearly two hours before departing.

The newspaper further claims that Malaysian counterintelligence has been tracking the American man each time he has entered Malaysia from Thailand for quite some time, believing him to be a case officer. It is also thought that Kim had met the same man in Malaysia “several times in the past”, said Asahi Shimbun. The paper further states that Malaysian investigators believe the meeting between Kim and the American man was the reason behind North Korea’s decision to kill him. The American man reportedly left Malaysia on February 13, the same day Kim was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur.

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

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

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