(Telegraph.co.uk) If international terrorism has a global headquarters, it is probably to be found in the barren mountains of Waziristan lining the ungovernable north-west frontier of Pakistan.
Here, British officials believe al-Qa’eda’s core leadership, headed by Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has regrouped and found refuge.
For several years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, they were engaged in little else than avoiding capture and fleeing the American-led offensive in Afghanistan.
Today, by contrast, they are probably secure enough to give strategic direction to al-Qa’eda cells across the world. Once, al-Qa’eda was best thought of as a “franchise” operation: a brand name adopted by numerous terrorist groups operating independently of the key leaders around bin Laden, who British counter-terrorism officials call “core al-Qa’eda”.
But this assessment is probably outdated. “Core al-Qa’eda” is believed to have reasserted itself and decided on several key objectives. First, bin Laden and his allies are actively seeking to establish networks in the Maghreb countries of North Africa.
Last September, an Algerian terrorist organisation styling itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, known by its French acronym GSPC, decided to merge with al-Qa’eda. Its fighters have waged a brutal Islamist insurgency in Algeria for the last 15 years.
Significantly, this move was revealed not by the GSPC but in a taped message from Zawahiri. “Osama bin Laden has told me to announce to Muslims that the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat has joined al-Qa’eda,” said Zawahiri.
He added that France, Algeria’s former colonial power, would be a key target. “This should be a source of chagrin, frustration and sadness for the apostates [in Algeria’s regime] and the treacherous sons of France,” said Zawahiri, promising a blow against the “French crusaders”.
The GSPC then said: “We pledge allegiance to Sheikh Osama bin Laden. Our soldiers are at his call so that he may strike who and where he likes.”
British officials say that “core al-Qa’eda” regarded this move as a coup. They believe the leadership’s second key objective is to expand into Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.
The sudden emergence of Fatah al-Islam, the extremist group now fighting Lebanon’s army in a Palestinian refugee camp outside the city of Tripoli, could be the result. Fatah al-Islam’s leader, Shaker al-Abssi, has proclaimed his support for bin Laden.
But his group has also been linked to Syria’s regime which al-Qa’eda despises as an “apostate” dictatorship. It is too early to say whether “core al-Qa’eda’s” strategy of expansion into the Levant is bearing fruit – but British officials believe that an effort is being made. Another Sunni extremist group, styling itself Asbat al-Ansar, is active in south Lebanon and has more definite links with “core al-Qa’eda”.
The GSPC’s merger with al-Qa’eda is viewed as especially significant. The Algerian diaspora is spread across Western Europe, concentrated mainly in France but with a significant presence in Britain. Officials fear that GSPC cells in these communities could be used by al-Qa’eda to strike targets in Europe.
While “core al-Qa’eda” gives strategic direction to its followers, it does not exert day to day operational control over them. Bin Laden does not sit in a cave in Waziristan and issue orders for specific attacks on given targets. There is no centralised command structure with bin Laden at its apex.
Al-Qa’eda does not possess an equivalent of the IRA’s Army Council where the formal leadership assembles. Instead, “core al-Qa’eda” is a moving circle of people, possibly numbering in the dozens, who give general direction to cells across the globe. In particular, they decide which regions of the world to target for expansion or for attack. So bin Laden and Zawahiri were sporadically in touch with Abu s al-Zarqawi, the terrorist leader who created “al-Qa’eda in Iraq”. Until his death last year, Zarqawi seized the chance offered by the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq to open a new front against the western allies.
(Daily News) WASHINGTON – The FBI has increased its use of secret search warrants over the past two years because of a “high tempo of terrorist activity,” a top official said yesterday.
FBI Assistant Director John Miller said the 2,176 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act search warrants approved last year, compared with only 1,754 granted in 2005, mostly targeted plotters inside America.
“We’re seeing a very high tempo of terrorist activity, not just based on the cases you’re seeing being brought in the United States,” Miller said in an interview yesterday for C-SPAN’s “Newsmaker” program.
Miller said the warrants, issued by a secret federal court in Washington, are usually not a “way to a prosecution,” but are “an intelligence tool.”
The FBI’s chief spokesman – who as a TV newsman conducted a 1998 interview with Osama Bin Laden – echoed other counterterror officials who say the U.S. may have underestimated top Al Qaeda leaders’ ability to oversee operations in recent years.
One measure is the record-high output of video and audio messages from Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Typically there has been “a two-year arc between major attacks to develop the plan and execute it,” Miller said.
Al Qaeda is “on a bell curve and they’re getting more effective” at planning new strikes while pushing propaganda to inspire others to “take that ball and run with it.”
“They’re counting on both happening at once,” Miller said. “They’re better at this than they were before and they’re thinking about it differently.”
(AP) Fake IDs and other important papers can be made in a half hour and purchased in the Phoenix area for $100, according to law enforcement.
Armed with that information, state and local authorities launched a series of raids Wednesday that netted 20 arrests in the metro Phoenix area.
“We potentially have thousands of people out there in our community right now who have fraudulent documents,” Assistant Phoenix Police Chief Bill Lewis said.
His agency was among nearly two dozen that participated in the raids.
The arrests were carried out after a three-month inquiry, with authorities seizing $17,000 in cash, 17 computers and 15 vehicles.
Seven of the vehicles were reported stolen, and include one taken during an armed carjacking in Phoenix last month.
Out to show that that nearly anyone can obtain forged ID under any name, undercover officers purchased fake documents under the names of a most-wanted criminal and a suspected terrorist arrested in a suspected plot against Fort Dix, New Jersey.
A member of the “Fort Dix Six,” Serdar Tatar is being held at a federal detention center in Philadelphia for his role in an alleged plan to attack the military.
Officers said they were curious whether they would be able to obtain a document using Tatar’s name. “Unfortunately, they were successful,” said Leesa Berens Morrison, director of the Arizona Department of Homeland Security. In both cases, falsified permanent resident IDs and Social Security cards were created in 30 minutes and purchased for $100.
Document forgers back the illegal immigration trade by providing fake documents for migrants seeking an identity to work and travel in the United States. That was the pretense for each document purchase made by undercover officers who helped spur the raids Wednesday morning, officials said.
(AP) The U.S. government has withdrawn a dinner invitation to Soliman al-Buthi, the former director of an Islamic charity in Oregon that authorities say helped fund al-Qaida.
A U.S. embassy political officer in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, invited al-Buthi to a dinner Saturday honoring the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, The Oregonian newspaper reported.
Tom Nelson, al-Buthi’s Portland attorney, said his client probably got the invite because of his actions during the controversy over the Danish publication of a cartoon that offended Muslims. Al-Buthi, speaking for a new Islamic organization, appealed for calm as Western embassies were besieged by protesters.
In 2004, al-Buthi, 45, was designated a terrorist for his role in operating the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in the southern Oregon city of Ashland. The Ashland chapter of the charity was closed after al-Buthi and chapter founder Pete Seda were indicted on federal tax charges in 2005. Al-Buthi has denied any connection to terrorism.
Nelson said al-Buthi planned to attend the dinner but the lawyer advised him not to enter embassy grounds, which would make him subject to arrest. Otherwise, he was safe because the U.S. has no extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia.
In an e-mail to The Oregonian, al-Buthi said: “I was surprised, particularly because I am supposed to be a fugitive from the U.S. government!”
The embassy withdrew the invitation after The Oregonian questioned federal authorities in Washington about the matter.
“Al-Buthi was sent an invitation by mistake. The invitation has been withdrawn,” Dave Foley, spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
He also extolled what he described as Iran’s self-sufficiency in producing army equipment.
“We have passed our point of vulnerability,” Mr Ahmadinejad told state television during a visit to an Iranian defensive equipment exhibition. “This means nobody would dare stage a military assault against our nation.”
The hard-line president’s remarks came as the UN Security Council was preparing to debate a third round of punitive measures against Tehran.The Security Coucil has demanded Iran suspend uranium enrichment, which can produce both reactor fuel and – at higher levels – weapons-grade material.
The council first imposed sanctions on Iran on December 23 for rejecting its demands, then modestly increased them in March after Tehran refused to suspend the controversial enrichment.
After decades of relying on foreign weapons purchases, Iran now claims it is increasingly self-sufficient, with annual exports of more than pounds 50 million of military equipment to more than 50 countries.
Since 1992, Iran has produced its own tanks, armoured personnel carriers and missiles, the government said.
In early 2005 it announced it had also begun producing torpedoes.
He urged the US earlier in May to withdraw troops from the region, after US Vice President Dick Cheney warned Iran sharply – from the hangar of an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf – that the US will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons or dominate the Middle East.
The talks in the offices of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki were the first formal and scheduled meeting between Iranian and American officials since the US broke diplomatic relations with Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the seizure of the US Embassy.
Yesterday, Iran’s nuclear negotiator rejected the possibility of the country suspending its controversial nuclear enrichment programme.
“Suspension is not the right solution for solving Iran’s nuclear issue,” Ali Larijani said on the eve of talks with the European Union foreign policy chief in Spain.”
Mr Larijani, who arrived in Madrid yesterday afternoon, is expected to hold talks with EU’s Javier Solana today.
(AP) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held the hard U.S. line against concessions to Iran over its nuclear program Thursday and renewed a conditional offer to talk to the clerical regime on any subject.
Iran also refused to budge ahead of talks Thursday between Iran’s chief international negotiator and the European Union’s senior foreign policy official.
Asked if it is time to change tactics in the world’s nuclear standoff with Iran, Rice ruled out the idea of dropping a key precondition.
“I think it’s time for Iran to change its tactics,” Rice said.
There is increasing sentiment in Europe that world powers trying to engage Iran should drop the demand that Iran halt, or suspend in diplomatic parlance, disputed nuclear activities before bargaining on a package of incentives could begin.
“The international community is united on what Iran should do, which is to suspend; to demonstrate that it is in fact not seeking a nuclear weapon under cover of civilian nuclear power,” Rice said.
She spoke during a press conference with Austria’s foreign minister, a year to the day after she made a dramatic outreach to longtime adversary Iran. The offer to talk “anytime, any place,” was intended to inject new life into an ebbing European diplomatic effort to turn back Iran’s advancing nuclear program.
“I think the question isn’t why won’t we talk to Tehran. The question is why doesn’t Tehran want to talk to us.”
Iran did not accept Rice’s offer for the first Cabinet-level direct talks in nearly three decades because of the condition to stop enriching uranium. Enriched uranium is an ingredient for both the peaceful nuclear power Iran claims it wants or for the illicit weapons program that Washington suspects.
“I repeat again that if Iran is prepared to take that course then we are prepared to change 27 years of American policy and sit with Iran to talk about whatever Iran would like to talk about,” Rice said.
“But that can’t be done when Iran continues to … try to perfect technologies that are going to lead to a nuclear weapon.”
Since Rice’s offer, the Bush administration has embarked on a more cautious outreach to Iran. U.S. and Iranian diplomats have met twice to discuss the spiral of violence in Iraq. The United States accuses Iran of arming insurgents in next-door Iran, but Iran denies it.
The disputed nuclear issue hangs over those limited talks.
Tehran recently suggested a readiness to discuss a partial suspension of uranium enrichment, but the U.S. and key allies rejected the overture and Iran pulled back from the idea for starting talks on its nuclear program, diplomats said Wednesday
With both sides back at their hard-line stances, an exploratory meeting Thursday between Iran’s chief international negotiator and the European Union’s senior foreign policy official was unlikely to make substantial headway, the diplomats told The Associated Press.
In another sign of defiance, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boasted that his country’s military has become so strong that no adversary would risk an attack. “We have passed our point of vulnerability,” he told Iranian state television.
Later Thursday, Rice skipped on opportunity to continue a public argument with Russia over U.S. plans to base a missile interceptor system in Europe. Speaking at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Rice did not mention Russia or the controversy that has dominated increasingly troubled U.S.-Russian relations in recent months. Rice referred to the Cold War roots of the organization, begun as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, and said its expansion to include all manner of nations proves her theory that some historical events that seem impossible one day become inevitable.
“That is for me, a great benefit and a great inspiration in a world that is in a great deal of turmoil now,” Rice said
(Asia Pulse) Australia will help the Philippines bolster its fight against terrorism, sending troops to train its soldiers and donating up to 30 high-speed gunboats.
The closer security ties are part of a landmark status of forces agreement (SOFA) signed by Australia and the Philippines today during a visit by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Under the agreement, Australian forces will hold joint military exercises with their Philippine counterparts and extend their work training soldiers.
The government would not say whether Special Air Service (SAS) personnel would be involved but did indicate previous assistance had included counter-hijack training, work which would be carried out by the elite SAS force.
Up to 30 high-speed gunboats will also be provided for use by Filipino forces to patrol marshland areas on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.
The predominantly Muslim island is home to terrorist groups such as the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf, who take advantage of the region’s porous borders to evade authorities.
Philippine officials say the gunboats, which can each carry six soldiers and three crewmen and navigate with a global positioning system, are to be delivered in batches starting this year.
Arroyo welcomed the help of allies like Australia in battling terrorism, which has resulted in hundreds of deaths in the Philippines.
“Our allies help us root out and destroy these vicious killers who ply their dislocated and evil ideology on the innocent,” she told reporters after meeting Prime Minister John Howard.
While her country was making great strides to wipe out the “scourge” of terrorism, Arroyo said the Australian assistance would help modernise and professionalise the Philippines’ armed forces.
“The security situation in the Philippines has improved substantially, both in our fight against domestic terrorists and in our coordinated hunt for regional terrorists seeking refuge in some of our most remote islands in the south,” she said.
She believes tackling the insurgent problem in violence-prone Mindanao could have economic benefits for the whole country.
“A permanent peace will bring a new era of economic development to Mindanao and also to the entire Philippines,” she said.
Adam Gadahn, a convert to Islam who has been indicted for treason by a US jury, issued a list of demands which he said were not up for negotiation.
“Your failure to heed our demands means that you and your people… will experience things that will make you forget all about the horrors of September 11, Afghanistan and Iraq, and Virginia Tech,” he said in the video posted on Tuesday.
“You’re losing on all fronts and losing big time,” said Gadahn, who is the English-language spokesman for Osama bin Laden’s terror network.
Gadahn — sporting a headress, glasses and long beard — said Bush had “embroiled his nation in a series of unwinnable and bloody conflicts in the Islamic world.”
He also called on the United States to cease support for the “bastard state of Israel” and the “56-plus apostate regimes of the Muslim world” and to free all Muslims from its prisons.
“We don’t negotiate with war criminals and baby killers like you. No, these are legitimate demands which must be met,” he said.
Gadahn — also known Azzam al-Amriki and Azzam the American — has appeared in several videotapes for Al-Qaeda since 2004, praising the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and threatening new terror onslaughts.
In October 2006, he became the first person to be charged in the United States with treason since the World War II era. The charge carries a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum penalty of death.
Gadahn, who is believed to be in Pakistan, has a one million dollar reward for his capture and appears along with bin Laden on a US “Wanted” poster featuring 26 “faces of global terrorism”.
His last appearance in a video was in September last year.
Gadahn was born in 1978 in southern California, the son of a 1960s Jewish rock musician who later converted to Christianity and became a rural goat farmer.
His conversion to Islam came after he began attending the Islamic Centre of Orange County, where he is believed to have come under the influence of two foreign-born Islamic radicals.
Gadahn is believed to have left California for Karachi in 1998 and gradually fell out of contact with relatives in the United States.
His reference to Virginia Tech was to the shooting of 32 people at the university by a Korean-born gunman who then turned the gun on himself.
(AFP) Iraqi and British officials scrambled Wednesday to get to the bottom of the brazen daylight kidnapping of five British contractors snatched from a finance ministry building in Baghdad.
The Britons — a consultant and his four armed bodyguards — were taken on Tuesday by a large group on gunmen in Iraqi police uniforms.
“We are pursuing this case very vigorously, I would say, because the nature of this kidnapping is very strange,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told AFP.
“The location of this finance ministry computer centre and the nature of the operation and the number of people involved, I think all indicate more a militia than a terrorist group, let’s say,” he added.
In an earlier interview with BBC radio, Zebari noted the raid took place near Sadr City, a stronghold for radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, but he told AFP it was too soon to blame a specific group.
Nevertheless, the nature of the kidnapping clearly points towards the involvement of one of the Shiite militant groups that has infiltrated Iraqi forces, rather than a Sunni insurgent outfit such as Al-Qaeda, he said.
Representatives of Sadr’s movement, which controls Sadr City and fields thousands of militia fighters, many of whom have infiltrated police units, categorically denied any involvement in the operation.
“Kidnapping operations conflict with the peaceful steps that Sadr advocates and are in direct contradiction with the course his office is adopting now,” spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi told AFP from the movement’s base in Najaf.
The Iraqi presidency, prime minister’s office and interior ministry refused to comment, while the US military said the kidnap was a matter for the British embassy.
Witnesses outside the downtown ministry building where the kidnapping took place, said the operation appeared well organised and was carried out by gunmen in official vehicles and uniforms.
“They went inside and escorted out the foreigners, but one managed to hide in the basement,” said one of ministry’s security guards who declined to reveal his name because of the extreme sensitivity of the situation.
US forces arrived on the scene an hour later, cordoned off the area and conducted a number of searches, witnesses said. The American troops took the foreigner away, along with several more finance ministry guards.
“We have been doing some investigations, asking some questions in pursuit of our regular missions,” US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Garver said.
Separately, the military announced that it had raided a Sadr City kidnapping cell, but it was not clear whether this was linked to the missing Britons.
“Two suspected terrorists were detained and one was wounded during raids targeting individuals believed to be responsible for, and active participants in, a known kidnapping cell as well as attacks on coalition forces,” it said.
All told, US-led forces detained “23 suspected terrorists” in raids around Iraq on Wednesday, the military statement said.
Britain’s top-secret “Cobra” crisis unit was expected to meet for a second straight day Wednesday to find a way to secure the release of the Britons.
“We’re working hard on the ground, we’re liaising with the Iraqi authorities,” said a British Foreign Office spokesman in London. “We have to establish the facts and there will be all sorts of decisions taken.”
Four of the five Britons were members of a security detail working for Garda World, a Canadian firm, while the fifth was their client, a consultant under contract to the US government to train Iraqi civil servants.
Witnesses to the abduction said it unfolded without much violence after four blue and white pickup trucks with crude armour welded on them, like those used by the National Police, pulled up to the building.
“They were led by a major and a very official looking man wearing a suit,” said a shopkeeper who asked not to be named.
“They went in, stayed for only 15 minutes and then left — I heard one shot but thought someone had made a mistake.”
A building guard said the gunmen were polite and explained they were with the Commission on Public Integrity, an anti-graft agency. “They started taking photos of the building and said ‘We have official orders’,” he added.
Saad Mohammed, who works as a parking attendant near the building, said that at first everything seemed normal, even as the foreigners were brought out of the building and driven off.
“Then all the civil servants and people at the building came rushing out. They were terrified and hysterical and yelling there had been a kidnapping,” he added.
Mass kidnappings by uniformed men were common last year and were believed to be the work of Shiite militias with close ties to the police.
A newly released inspector general report backs eyewitness accounts of suspicious behavior by 13 Middle Eastern men on a Northwest Airlines flight in 2004 and reveals several missteps by government officials, including failure to file an incident report until a month after the matter became public.
According to the Homeland Security report, the “suspicious passengers,” 12 Syrians and their Lebanese-born promoter, were traveling on Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles on expired visas. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services extended the visas one week after the June 29, 2004, incident.
The report also says that a background check in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, which was performed June 18 as part of a visa-extension application, produced “positive hits” for past criminal records or suspicious behavior for eight of the 12 Syrians, who were traveling in the U.S. as a musical group.
In addition, the band’s promoter was listed in a separate FBI database on case investigations for acting suspiciously aboard a flight months earlier. He was detained a third time in September on a return trip to the U.S. from Istanbul, the details of which were redacted.
The inspector general criticized the Homeland Security officials for not reporting the incident to the Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC), which serves as the nation’s nerve center for information sharing and domestic incident management.
The report comes three years after the incident, which was not officially acknowledged until a month later, after The Washington Times reported passenger and marshal complaints that the incident resembled a dry run for a terrorist attack. After reviewing the report, air marshals say it confirms their earlier suspicions.
An air marshal who told The Times that he has been involved personally in terror probes that were ignored by federal security managers, called such behavior typical.
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