Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • Chemical plants safety must be tightened to prevent a Bhopal-like disaster in the U.S.

    Late last week, hundreds of individuals and organizations sent a letter to President Barack Obama to say that time was running out for taking action to protect the U.S. population from the dangers of accidents or deliberate attacks at U.S. chemical plants. As a senator, Obama described chemical facilities in which dangerous chemicals were processed or stored as “stationary weapons of mass destruction spread all across the country.” On 2-3 December 1984, more than 500,000 people in the Indian city of Bhopal were exposed to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other chemicals from the near-by Union Carbide plant. About 16,000 died and 558,000 injured — 3,900 of them permanently disabled. Security experts say that a Bhopal-like disaster could happen in the United States

  • U.S. scrambling to identify, locate recruits to radical Islamist ideology

    Nearly 3,000 Europeans have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State (ISIS), but social media and court records suggest just about two dozen Americans have made it to the Middle East to fight with the group. Another two dozen or so have been stopped by the FBI and charged before they could fly to Turkey and cross over into the Syrian territories controlled by ISIS.

    U.S. law enforcement, with no clear understanding of how Americans are being recruited, are scrambling to identify U.S. residents attracted to radical Islamic ideology before those individuals try to travel or worse- launch an attack on U.S. soil.

  • Would-be U.K. terrorist planned to behead a British soldier on a London street

    Nineteen-year-old Brusthom Ziamani has been sentenced to twenty-seven years in prison after being found guilty of planning to behead a British soldier on the streets of London, an act similar to Michael Adebolajo’s killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby. Ziamani was arrested on an east London street last August when a counterterrorism officer stopped him. On him, Ziamani had an Islamic State (ISIS) flag, a knife, and a hammer, having earlier researched the location of nearby Army cadet bases.

  • U.S.: Iran using war against ISIS to gain dominance in Iraq

    Director of the CIA John Brennan said Sunday that Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, has been “very aggressive and active” in advising Shia militias against Islamic State. The active role Suleimani has assumed in directing Iraqi forces against the Islamic State is complicating the U.S. mission against terrorism and contributing to destabilization in Iraq, he said. Brennan’s comments are among the strongest so far voiced by American officials about the involvement of the influential Suleimani in the war against the Islamist group. Last week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, general Martin Dempsey said the United States was increasingly worried that Shia militiamen, under Iranian guidance, would eventually turn against Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis, further destabilizing the country.

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  • Morocco says it experienced no acts of terrorism in 2014

    The Moroccan government says that although the Maghreb region as a whole, including Mali, experienced more than 280 terrorist operations in 2014, Morocco is the only country where no single terrorist operation took place. The government says this was the result of Morocco’s anti-terrorism strategy.

  • The virtual significance of Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS

    The Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram’s recent pledge of allegiance to ISIS has generated a wave of speculation about its significance. There are, however, good reasons not to read too much into the Boko Haram pledge. It is probable that it will have little or no real practical significance, beyond the initial public relations bump. Boko Haram’s pledge obviously has an important symbolic meaning, but there is a noncommittal flavor to it. It says what it says, but that’s not necessarily binding for either party. In a world with constant flows of messaging, including the posting of online fatwas (legal rulings) and jihadi propaganda videos, let’s not forget the ephemeral nature of such messages. Yesterday’s postings are forgotten and substituted by today’s postings. Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS can therefore for practical reasons remain what it is: virtual.

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  • Anti-Semitic French entertainer found guilty of condoning terrorism

    Two separate French courts, on Wednesday and Thursday, found anti-Semitic entertainer Dieudonné M’bala M’bala guilty in two separate cases. In one case he was convicted of supporting terrorism by posting a sympathetic message on his Facebook page about Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who killed four people in January at a kosher supermarket. In the second case he was found guilty of inciting racial hatred by saying that it was too bad that a French Jewish journalist, who wrote critically about him, was not killed in the Nazi gas chambers. M’bala M’bala has been convicted and fined dozens of times in the past for anti-Semitic statements or slander, but Wednesday’s court decision was the first one to threaten him with jail time. In the first case, the entertainer was convicted under a new law, passed in November, which aims to rein in speech and expressions supporting terrorism. French law enforcement and prosecutors have enforced the law aggressively, and since the January attacks more than 100 were brought up of charges of expressing support for terrorism.

  • Tunisia’s security nightmare long predates the Arab Spring

    Until now, Tunisia seemed to have escaped the worst of the violence that has beset the countries of the Arab Spring. Instead, this small nation, whose revolution for democracy and dignity sparked a wave of protest across the Arab world four years ago, looked like the only success story left. But the shocking attack at the Bardo museum in Tunis which left at least twenty dead, including seventeen foreign tourists, marks a profound setback to this rare democratic transition — and it may herald a new wave of violence and political crisis. Tunisia’s new government, which won elections in October 2014 by promising security, will now be under pressure to launch a tough crackdown. The challenge of Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi will be to provide the Tunisians with the security they deserve without resorting to the authoritarianism that is so rapidly re-emerging across the countries of the Arab Spring.

  • More lone-wolf attacks committed by extremists/supremacists than Jihadists

    Internal documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) reveal that more Lone Wolf attacks are committed by white supremacists and individuals with extreme right-wing ideologies than by Islamic extremists. Citing academic research, the agency attributes 17 percent of lone-wolf attacks worldwide to white supremacists causes. Islamic extremists account for 15 percent of such attacks, while left-wing radicalism and “black power” groups followed with 13 percent. Anti-abortion activism accounts for 8 percent and nationalism/separatism causes make up 7 percent, while 40 percent of lone wolf attacks showed no clear ideological motivation.

  • South Africa refuses to give up cache of weapon-grade uranium

    In the 1980s, White minority-ruled South Africa built six nuclear bombs. In 1990s the F. W. de Klerk government began planning the transformation of the country into a democracy. As part of the transition, the country’s nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons-making infrastructure, were dismantled under IAEA supervision. TheWhite-minority regime and, since 1994, the democratically elected South African government, have both held to, and refused to give up, the 485 pounds of weapon-grade nuclear fuel – some of it extracted from the dismantled weapons and some of it already produced but not yet put in warheads. Despite pressure by successive U.S. administrations, South Africa says it is determined to keep its weapon-grade nuclear fuel.

  • Privacy concerns potentially an obstacle to 1 June Patriot Act reauthorization

    With the USA Patriot Act set to expire on 1 June, lawmakers are debating whether the bill, which allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect bulk metadata of U.S. phone records, should be extended. The act was last renewed in 2011, before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed details of the U.S. intelligence agency’s surveillance activities. The debate around the reauthorization of the Patriot Act focuses on Section 215 of the law, used by the NSA to mass collect phone records in an effort to locate terrorists who might be calling supporters in the United States.

  • UN to investigate 1961 plane crash that killed UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjold

    On the night of 17 September 1961, a Transair Sweden DC-6B named Albertina was making its way to a copper mining region in southern Congo (the region is now part of northern Zambia). The plane was carrying UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjold, who was on his way to a meeting with Moise Tshombe, the leader of the break-away Katanga province. Hammarskjold never made it. His plane crashed in a densely forested area eight miles from the airport at Ndola, in what was then the British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). The cause of the crash has never been determined. The United Nations has now reopened the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Hammarskjold, and appointed a panel of three independent experts to conduct the investigation.

  • French experts rule out foul play in 2004 death of Yasser Arafat

    A French prosecutor yesterday announced that French medical and forensic experts have ruled out poisoning as the cause of the 2004 death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The prosecutor of the western Paris suburb of Nanterre said the experts, following a thorough examination, found there was no foul play in Arafat’s death. The findings by the French experts are identical to findings by a different French team and to the findings of Russian experts. A Swiss team, however, initially said that their test results of personal affects left behind by Arafat led them to conclude that radioactive poisoning was “more consistent” as an explanation of Arafat’s death.

  • ISIS employed crude chemical weapons against Kurdish peshmerga

    Kurdish sources in Iraq have said they have evidence that Islamic State (ISIS) used chlorine gas as a chemical weapon against Kurdish peshmerga fighters. The Kurdistan Region Security Council said the chlorine gas was spread by a suicide truck bomb attack on 23 January in northern Iraq. Iraqi officials and Kurds fighting in Syria have made several similar allegations since last fall about ISIS using chlorine chemical weapons against them. In the previous Islamist insurgency in Iraq – in Anbar province, in 2006-2007 – there was evidence of chemical use by the insurgents. The insurgents in 2006-2007 were members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later transformed itself into ISIS.

  • With thousands of Westerners joining ISIS, visa waiver program puts U.S. at risk: Lawmakers

    Security concerns are threatening the 1986 visa waiver program (VWP), which allows millions of people with (mostly) Western passports to travel to the United States for ninety days without a visa. Lawmakers argue that the program, which applies to citizens of thirty-eight countries, has created a security weakness that terrorist groups, specifically the Islamic State (ISIS), could exploit. Thousands of European citizens have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. Security officials fear that many of them could return back to Europe, then board a U.S.-bound flight with the intent of launching an attack on American soil.