German security agencies had watched Berlin market attacker for a year

Berlin Christmas market attackThe central suspect in the Berlin Christmas market attack had been on the radar of German security agencies since January of this year, because he had links with radical Islamists and sought to buy guns for a terrorist attack. Anis Amiri, 23, left his native Tunisia in 2011, soon after the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring there. He lived in Italy for three years before arriving in Germany in July 2015. In April of this year, he applied for an asylum in Germany. According to German authorities, Amiri was arrested multiple times in Tunisia for drug-related offenses. He is also believed to have used at least six different aliases since moving to Europe, and to have claimed to be a citizen of Lebanon and Egypt at different times.

On Wednesday, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung revealed that Amiri’s cell phone and email accounts had been monitored by German security agencies at least since January of this year. The decision to monitor his telecommunications was reportedly taken by officials at Germany’s Center for Terrorism Defense (GTAZ). The agency functions as a fusion center for intelligence cooperation between German police and spy services. The newspaper said that Amiri was deemed suspicious because of his connections with several radical Islamists, who were arrested in Germany in recent months. They include Abu Walaa, a vocal supporter of the Islamic State who was captured in Northern Germany in November. According to anonymous German officials, Amiri had also told friends that he was seeking people to help him purchase weapons and use them to carry out attacks on civilians in Europe.

Last summer, Amiri was involved in a scuffle between rival drug gangs in Berlin, in which at least one knife was used. But he disappeared for several weeks when police tried to question him about it. He was eventually arrested and questioned by police in Berlin. It was discovered that, according to one German official, Amiri “was highly mobile”, moving between Berlin and northern Germany every few weeks. But, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, German authorities did not have enough evidence against him to keep him in detention. Shortly after Amiri’s arrest and subsequent release, German authorities decided to turn down his application for asylum due to security concerns. He was due to be deported from Germany before December 31. The German police is now offering up to €100,000 for Amiri’s capture.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 December 2016 | Permalink

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Mossad identified Hamas drone expert as principal target ‘years ago’: expert

Mohamed ZaouariDespite persistent silence from Tel Aviv, commentators there seem increasingly convinced that Israeli spies were behind last week’s killing of an aviation engineer who worked for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The man, Mohamed Zaouari, 49, was a Tunisian national who had spent over a decade creating an innovative aerial drone program for the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip. He was reportedly shot dead outside his home in east-central Tunisia by an unidentified group of assailants carrying guns equipped with silencers. A statement issued on Saturday by the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, blamed Zaouari’s killing on the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency.

Writing for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the veteran security correspondent Ronen Bergman said on Monday that Israeli spies had identified Zaouari “years ago” as a potential target. Bergman claims that Israeli intelligence agencies monitored Zaouari “as soon as he left Tunisia for [the Syrian capital] Damascus” over a decade ago. Eventually, the Israelis began to see Zaouari as a major contributor to efforts by Hamas and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah to develop unmanned aerial vehicle programs. Through constant surveillance, Israeli intelligence was able to confirm that Zaouari was in regular contact with other Palestinian and Lebanese technical experts. The latter allegedly included Hassan Lakkis, a leading Hezbollah commander, who was one of the Shiite militant group’s primary weapons procurer and developer. Lakkis was killed on the evening of December 3, 2013, outside his home in Beirut, in circumstances that appear to be similar to last week’s killing of Zaouari in Tunisia.

Bergman argues that, if Israeli intelligence was indeed behind Zaouari’s killing, he was targeted because he was seen “as an increasingly dangerous element” and the Israelis believed that his death would cause Hamas “considerable damage”. The decision to target him in a distant location like Tunisia bore considerable risk, says Bergman, given that Zaouari was almost certainly aware that he was under threat from rival intelligence agencies and was taking precautions. Additionally, as the Mossad found out in the aftermath of the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010, the world is now “filled with cameras and biometric systems” that make covert operations dangerous. Consequently, these types of high-risk operations are reserved for principal targets whose removal will subtract strategic abilities from Israel’s adversaries. Bergman notes that, if Zaouari was killed by Israeli operatives, his death will mark one of the first major operations by the Mossad under the new leadership of Yossi Cohen, who was appointed as head of the secretive agency a year ago.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 December 2016 | Permalink

Hamas drone expert shot dead in Tunisia by assailants using gun silencers

Mohamed ZouariA senior aviation engineer who headed the unmanned aerial vehicle program of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, has been shot dead outside his home in Tunisia by a group of assailants using gun silencers. Mohamed Zaouari, 49, was a Tunisian national who had spent over a decade creating an innovative aerial drone program for Hamas, the Palestinian group that today controls the Gaza Strip. He had lived outside of Tunisia for much of his life, most recently in Syria, where he is believed to have worked as an engineer in a private firm, while also consulting with the Palestinian group. He had returned to Tunisia in 2011, following the upheaval in the country that sparked the so-called Arab Spring.

Zaouari was reportedly shot on Thursday in his hometown of Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city, located 170 miles southeast of the capital Tunis. Local media said he was shot dead at the wheel of his car, which was parked outside his home. His body was riddled with over 20 bullets, according to a police statement. On Friday, Tunisia’s Deputy Prosecutor General, Mourad Turki, said during a radio interview that several people are believed to have participated in Zaouari’s killing. Eight people had been arrested in connection with the crime, while at least two others were still at large, said Turki. All ten are believed to be Tunisian citizens. Among them is a woman, claiming to be a journalist, who has reportedly interviewed Zaouari in the past. She was allegedly arrested as she was boarding a flight from the Tunis-Carthage International Airport to the Hungarian capital Budapest. Additionally, officials from Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said that four rental vehicles had been seized in connection with Zaouari’s killing, and that two weapons equipped with silencers had been found in one of the vehicles.

A statement issued on Saturday by the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said Zaouari had been a part of Hamas for a decade, and blamed his killing on the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency. Hamas leaders said that Zaouari’s contribution to the organization would be celebrated during a specially designated “day of mourning”, and that his killing would be avenged. “The enemy must know the blood of the leader Zaouari will not go in vain”, said a statement issued by Hamas on Saturday. Israel has not responded to Hamas’ accusations. Tzachi Hanegbi, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of National Security and Foreign Affairs, said late on Saturday that Israel was “not connected” with Zaouari’s killing and added that “none of those people arrested are our allies”.

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

CIA warned Tunisian officials about murder of opposition politician

Brahmi supporters in TunisBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Tunisian government has admitted that it received advance warning by “an external intelligence source” of an assassination operation against a popular opposition figure. The politician, Mohammed Brahmi, a widely respected member of the country’s National Constituent Assembly, was gunned down 11 days after the alleged warning was received. His death, in July of this year, plunged the country into political chaos, which continues to dominate Tunisian politics today. Speaking to lawmakers on Thursday, Tunisia’s Minister of the Interior, Lotfi Ben Jeddou, said the warning had been received on July 15, 2013. He refused to identify the source of the warning, but Tunisian media speculated that it was most likely the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The warning was included in a memorandum, which stated that Brahmi was likely to be targeted by “Salafist elements” because of his secular and liberal political beliefs. The minister said that the warning contained no “further clarification”, but added that the absence of details in the memorandum did not justify the failure of the Tunisian security establishment to adequately respond to it. Brahmi, died on July 25 after being shot over a dozen times at close range outside his house in the al-Gazala neighborhood of Tunisian capital Tunis. On Saturday, two days after Minister Ben Jeddou’s revelation, Tunisian newspaper Al Maghreb published a leaked memorandum that contains a summary of the warning about Brahmi’s killing. The leaked summary, which is signed by Tunisia’s Director General of National Security, Mustafa Ben Amor, appears to be dated July 15, 2013, exactly 11 days before Brahmi’s assassination. It describes a warning issued by a CIA official, concerning credible threats to Brahmi’s life. Read more of this post

Israel wiretapped PLO head office in Tunisia: report

Yasser Arafat in Tunis in 1993By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israeli intelligence was able to intercept the conversations of senior Palestinian leaders in Tunisia in the months leading to the 1993 Oslo Accords, according to an article published Monday by a leading Israeli newspaper. Veteran security correspondent Ronen Bergman wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth  that sophisticated listening devices were planted in the office of Mahmoud Abbas. Today, Abbas, known also as Abu Mazen, is the President of the Palestinian National Authority, based in the occupied West Bank. But in 1993 he was Deputy Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), serving under its founder and Chairman, Yasser Arafat. At that time, the PLO was headquartered in Tunisian capital Tunis, where it had relocated in 1982 after it was driven out of Lebanon during Israel’s invasion. Bergman said that the operation, codenamed GOLDEN FLEECE, was authorized by Shabtai Shavit, who was at the time Director of the Mossad, Israel’s primary covert-action agency. The operation, considered one of the Mossad’s most important and secret at the time, was carried out by a Palestinian agent who had been recruited by Israeli intelligence. The agent, described by Bergman as a “man within the PLO leadership”, was allegedly affiliated with Fatah, a Palestinian political party that has traditionally formed the largest faction within the PLO. The agent allegedly managed to plant at least two eavesdropping devices at the personal office of the PLO’s Vice Chairman, one in his office chair and one inside one of the desk lamps in the room. Bergman says that, on the day the devices became operational, Shavit held an emergency meeting to inform the Mossad’s senior commanders about their existence. Read more of this post

Israel admits assassinating Palestinian commander in Tunisia

Abu JihadBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Authorities in Israel have authorized the publication of an interview acknowledging Israel’s role in the assassination of a senior Palestinian military commander in Tunisia in 1988. The target of the assassination was Khalil al-Wazir, better known as Abu Jihad, one of the co-founders of Fatah, the secular wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization chaired by Yasser Arafat. In the 1960s and 1970s, Abu Jihad rose within the ranks of Fatah and eventually became commander of its armed wing, known as al-Assifa. However, he was killed on April 16, 1988, when a group of unidentified gunmen stormed his villa in Tunisian capital Tunis, before managing to slip away. In the past 23 years, the Israeli intelligence services have been repeatedly singled out as prime suspects in Abu Jihad’s assassination. Nearly 15 years ago, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot announced that it had secured an interview with an Israeli commando who had a leading role in the operation and had been the one who fired the shots that killed the Fatah commander. But the interview was blocked from publication by the Israeli military censors, who, under Israeli law, have the power to prevent the airing of information that might harm national security. In 2000, however, the commando, Nahum Lev, died in a motorcycle accident, which prompted the Israeli newspaper to renew its application for the ban on the interview to be lifted. This week, Israeli authorities officially lifted the ban, which allowed Yedioth Ahronot to run the interview with Lev. The airing of the interview was coupled by a more substantial account of the operation, which appeared in the specialist Israel Defense magazine. According to the article, the operation was planned over several months by the Israeli covert action agency Mossad and the Sayaret Matkal, a special forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces. It involved 26 commandos who allegedly reached the Tunisian shore on rubber boats. Several of them walked the streets of Tunis disguised as women tourists. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #681

Vladimir NesteretsBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Mossad ‘bolsters activity in Tunisia’. The Mossad has bolstered its activity in several Tunisian cities since the start of the revolt that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last January, Tunisian magazine Al-Musawar has reported. According to the magazine, the Israeli intelligence agency has been working with its US-based counterpart, the CIA, to revive its spy network in post-revolution Tunisia.
►►US ‘used quake’ to send Special Forces into Pakistan. The US Pentagon used the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 to send operatives from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) into Pakistan, reveals a new book by D.B Grady and Marc Ambinder, entitled The Command: Deep Inside the President’s Secret Army. The authors claim that dozens of CIA operatives and contractors entered Pakistan using valid US passports and posing as construction and aid workers, thus avoiding the requisite background checks from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.
►►Russian officer convicted of spying for CIA. A Russian military court last week convicted Lt. Col. Vladimir Nesterets of providing the CIA with secret information on Russia’s new intercontinental ballistic missiles and sentenced him to 13 years in prison. The officer pleaded guilty to passing on that classified information in exchange for money, said the Federal Security Service, the main agency that replaced the Soviet-era KGB. Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted the officer’s wife, Irina, as saying she could not understand the guilty plea because her husband had told her he did nothing wrong and had not betrayed his country.