American Mom Held by Afghan Militants Pleads for U.S. Help

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Caitlan Coleman, who has given birth to two boys in captivity, said her captors are threatening to kill her family if Afghan prisoners are put to death by the government.

An American woman held by Afghan militants along with her husband and two young sons is seen pleading for U.S. intervention in a new video obtained by The Daily Beast.

The video is intended to convey a message to the governments of Afghanistan, Canada, and the United States that there will be consequences for the execution of Taliban prisoners in Afghan jails, said a member of the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate that is holding the family captive and made the video.

Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle were kidnapped while hiking in Afghanistan in 2012. Their families have previously said that Caitlan gave birth to two boys while in captivity.

In the new video posted online by jihadists, Coleman and Boyle each speak in turn, slowly and apparently from a script prepared by their captors.

“We have been told that the Afghan government has executed some of their prisoners…and that our captors are frightened of the idea of further executions,” Coleman says. “Because of their fear, they are willing to kill us, willing to kill women, and to kill children, to kill whoever in order to get these policies reversed or to take revenge.”

“I ask if my government can do anything to change the policies of the Afghan government to stop their policy of executing men before these men start executing their prisoners,” Coleman said.

She also addressed her family, asking them to try to persuade the U.S. to get involved.

“If you are able to do anything to help, if you could please try to help stop this depravity,” she said, referring to the Afghan government’s policies.

A second video showing Coleman and Boyle as well as their two children has also been made, in an effort by their captors to prove that the family is alive and in good health, but it has not been released publicly, according to an individual familiar with the video and who asked not to be identified.

In May, the Afghan government executed six Taliban members. The Haqqani source said that the video was made two to three months ago, but that it’s being released now in response to Monday’s ruling by an Afghan court that Anas Haqqani, the brother of the network’s leader, will be executed for his role in helping to raise funds for the network. The Haqqani have conducted devastating terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, including some against U.S. forces.

The Haqqani member said Anas Haqqani was “a student, he was not involved in any kind of military activities,” and called his death penalty “unfair.”

One of Boyle’s relatives said the family hadn’t seen the new video until Tuesday morning.

“It made me cry,” Kelli O’Brien, Boyle’s aunt, told The Daily Beast in a brief phone interview. “Joshua is still my little nephew in mind.”

Over the years, the family has received videos and notes from their loved ones demonstrating that they are still alive. An Afghan Taliban member told The Daily Beast that all four hostages are in good health and are being held in a place where they can move about and exercise.

While the new video contains an implied threat, it doesn’t indicate that the hostages are in imminent danger of being killed, said a former U.S. official and expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan policy issues. That’s because the Haqqani have always viewed kidnapping and ransom as a business and know that Coleman and her family are valuable only if they’re alive.

“It seems like a fairly passive attempt to influence Afghanistan with respect to to the execution of Anas Haqqani,” the former official, who requested anonymity, said of the video.

But the Haqqani network has also grown closer to the Taliban, which has its own political goals and may see executing a prisoner as powerful leverage against the Afghanistan government and the United States.

“If the hostages are still in the umbrella of Haqqani’s criminal enterprises, then this really is a fairly insignificant shot across the bow, because it’s very important to the Haqqani that they protect their prisoners and safeguard their ability to receive ransoms, even if it takes years,” the former official said.

“On the other hand, if the closer alliance between the Haqqani and the Quetta Shura [the collective body of Taliban leaders] has thoroughly blurred the lines of their criminal enterprises, then this represents a subtle threat against the safety of the family.”

U.S. officials said they are aware of reports of the video and are working to free Coleman and her family. While Boyle is a Canadian citizen, U.S. officials are working to release all the family members and view the two children as American citizens.

“Certainly when Americans are taken captive, this becomes an immediate priority for us,”  Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who leads U.S. Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, referring to Coleman and her family.

“We are paying extraordinarily close attention to that. We always do. I won’t get into too many details with that. But I am satisfied that we are doing everything we can at this juncture to understand who took them and try to bring them back.”

Privately, U.S. officials have said in recent months that they believe they are opening new diplomatic channels, particularly with the government of Pakistan, to help free the hostages. But it has been slow going.

A Republican lawmaker said Coleman and her family’s plight shows that a new FBI team set up to improve hostage rescue efforts across hasn’t made sufficient progress.

“The fact that the Coleman family is still in captivity despite multiple attempts by Haqqani to work her release and the release of her family underscores the tremendous shortcomings of the FBI and the hostage fusion cell,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, a frequent critic of the Obama administration’s hostage policies, told The Daily Beast in a statement. The fusion cell was set up after family members of hostages who were killed by ISIS said that the U.S. government failed to communicate with them and didn’t work as a whole to bring their loved ones home.

Anas Haqqani, whose execution sentence prompted the release of the new video, was captured by U.S. authorities in 2014 while traveling through Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Americans turned over him and a traveling companion, Hafiz Rashid, to the Afghan government.

Rashid is the brother of Mohammad Nabi Omari, one of the five Taliban prisoners that President Obama decided to trade for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who also had been a Haqqani prisoner.

Ever since the Bergdahl trade, the families of U.S. hostages have pressured the Obama administration to make similar deals to free their loved ones. But the White House, which has refused to pay ransoms for American captives, has also refused to conduct trades for civilian hostages. Officials characterized the Bergdahl trade not as a hostage swap, but rather a military-style prisoner of war exchange.

But Coleman and her family’s captors don’t seem to acknowledge that distinction.

“The Taliban demands are obviously a prisoner swap, like what what they did in Bergdhal’s case, but now the Americans are too lazy to take care of the couple and two children,” a senior source in the Afghanistan Taliban’s representative office in Qatar told The Daily Beast.

Coleman and Boyle have been two of the most visible prisoners in Afghanistan. Their families have openly pleaded with the U.S. and Canadian governments to intervene on their behalf and ensure their safe return.

Recently, the Haqqani were close to a deal with the Canadian government to free Boyle, but he refused to return home without his wife and children, an Afghan Taliban source said.

One other American is known to be held by the Haqqani network, but The Daily Beast has not released the hostage’s name at the request of family members and U.S. officials.

—Shane Harris reported from Washington and Sami Yousafzai reported from Pakistan. With additional reporting from Nancy A. Youssef in Washington.

Source : Daily Beast

Who Really Killed a Playboy Terrorist?

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One of the world’s most wanted terrorists met a fiery death last month. The mystery over who killed him is now an international guessing game—with the prime suspects in Washington.

Plenty of people wanted Mustafa Badreddine dead. 

There were the Saudis, who blamed him for terror attacks in the kingdom and against its allies abroad. 

The Israelis had already once tried to assassinate Badreddine, the military commander of Hezbollah and one of the most important and powerful figures in the organization. 

Even Badreddine’s own Hezbollah brethren were said to have their knives out, feuding with the storied militant over where the group should devote its resources: Towards attacks against its longstanding enemy, Israel, or on the battlefields of Syria, where Badreddine had been commanding around 6,000 men in an all-out effort to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Some Hezbollah figures had also chastised Badreddine as an easily distracted womanizer who had developed a taste for the high-life, dining in fine restaurants and tooling around Lebanon in a Mercedes. 

But of all Badreddine’s many enemies, one had a special place for him on its most-wanted list–the United States. And that has officials in several countries speculating that Washington finally took him out in a massive explosion in Damascus last month. 

Badreddine had put himself in America’s crosshairs at a young age. In 1983, the 22-year old budding terrorist helped to plan the suicide bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Even then, Badreddine was a genius with explosives and devised a means for increasing the force of the bomb by the insertion of compressed gas. Loaded onto a flatbed truck, his device ripped the hulking barracks building off its foundations and collapsed it inward, killing 241 men inside, most of them probably in their sleep. It was the deadliest day for the Marines since they stormed the beaches at Iwo Jima. 

Badreddine would go on to help plan and execute a string of bombings that year, including on the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait. But there, he was captured, tried, and imprisoned. The cunning killer seemed to have been put away.

Badreddine’s cousin, however, had other plans. He made it his mission to free his brother-in-arms, and he directed a slew of kidnappings and attacks all aimed at achieving that end. In one notorious airline hijacking in June 1985, in which the assailants demanded Badreddine’s release in exchange for the passengers, the cousin and his henchmen beat to death Navy diver Robert Stethem and dumped his body on the tarmac of the Beirut airport in front of rolling TV cameras. 

There were other violent efforts to free Badreddine and 16 of his fellow prisoners, including at least two hijackings, which claimed the lives of four passengers, and a kidnapping spree of Americans in Beirut in the 1980s. That led President Ronald Reagan to sell arms to Iran–Hezbollah’s main patron–in exchange for the Americans’ release.

But then, a stroke of luck for Hezbollah: Badreddine escaped prison in 1990 amid the chaos of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. For the next quarter century, he was practically a ghost, using aliases and multiple cell phones to avoid detection. 

Until one day last month. 

On May 10, in a building near the Damascus airport, Badreddine met the same fiery end as so many of his victims. News accounts are sketchy but all described a huge explosion that killed Badreddine and possibly others present for a meeting of Hezbollah’s forces in Syria. What was left of him was placed in a box and buried in Beirut. Thousands turned out for the funeral, and Iran’s government sent messages of condolence praising the vanquished commander. 

 

Who Really Killed a Playboy Terrorist

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Badreddine’s death was a body blow to Hezbollah, which has been losing more men in its efforts to prop up the Assad regime than it has in armed conflict with its longtime enemy Israel, according to U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials. But it was also a moment of celebration for American spies, soldiers, and diplomats. Badreddine was one of the founding fathers of the modern era of terrorism, kicked off by the barracks bombing in 1983 and an attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut that killed 63 people and wiped out most of the CIA station in the country. It was the deadliest strike on the agency until an al Qaeda suicide bomber detonated himself at a remote outpost in Khost, Afghanistan, in 2009. 

Almost immediately after the explosion that killed Badreddine in Damascus, Hezbollah pinned the blame on Israel. That was no surprise. Accusing Israeli intelligence for all manner of attacks is practically a reflex for Hezbollah. And sometimes with good reason. In fact, the U.S. and Israel had been credited with killing Badreddine’s cousin, Imad Mughniyah, in 2008. Until his death, Mughniyah, who was also married to Badreddine’s sister, had been Hezbollah’s military chief. He was killed after a months-long operation–also in Damascus–with a bespoke bomb hidden inside a car. It detonated as Mughniyah passed, ripping him limb-from-limb and sending his torso flying through a window 50 feet away, Newsweek reported.

Who Really Killed a Playboy Terrorist

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But almost as soon as the word went out  that Israel had killed Badreddine, Hezbollah made a new claim–that he was assassinated by “takfiri” terrorists, a pejorative for Syrian rebel forces and Sunni militants, including ISIS and al Qaeda, whom Shiite Hezbollah considers apostates.

That may have been the official line. But in the U.S. and Israel, no one seemed to buy it. What’s more, in the corridors of power in Tehran, senior government officials were pointing the finger somewhere else: Washington. 

***

The U.S.  certainly had the motive, and the opportunity, considering that the  military’s Central Command is conducting a daily barrage of airstrikes in Syria. If American spies did finally track Badreddine to that building near the airport in Damascus, it must have been the result of painstaking work by U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies. 

Badreddine was famous not just for his lethal genius, but for being practically untraceable. “Since the year 2000, there has been no mention of his name in any registry or record in Lebanon, there are no bank accounts, social security or internal revenue documentation and no property in his name,” Ronen Bergman, the journalist who is perhaps most well-sourced in Israel’s intelligence community, wrote shortly after Badreddine died. 

But Badreddine didn’t exactly live a quiet life. Under another identity, Sami Issa–or alternatively Sami Samino–he struck the pose of an international man of mystery. He dined in expensive restaurants. Personal bodyguards attended his moves. He even owned a jewelry shop, boldly named “Samino,” Bergman reports.

On his various cell phones Badreddine kept in touch with his various mistresses. He risked detection by some of his oldest enemies. But not even the threat of imminent death could slake his mortal appetites, it seems.  

Being hunted also didn’t blunt Badreddine terrorist ambitions, and in 2005, he proved that while he might be off the radar, he was not out of the picture. Working with top Hezbollah commanders, Badreddine orchestrated the assassination of Rafic Hariri, the ex-prime minister of Lebanon and one of the country’s most well known politicians and business leaders. Hariri’s convoy was hit by a massive bomb hidden inside a parked car near the St. George Hotel in Beirut. It was a classic Badreddine operation. 

“Hariri was one of the best-guarded people in the world, with his security protocol formulated by experts from Germany and the United States,” Bergman writes. “Badreddine’s success in killing Hariri (together with 21 other people) had once again proven that apart from Mughniyah [his cousin and brother-in-law], he was the best operative in the organization.”     

But within three years, Mughniyah was dead, killed in that joint U.S.-Israeli operation. Badreddine stepped into his relative’s role, and now, the hunt was on for him. 

In January 2015, Israel thought they’d found their man, traveling in a convoy in Syria. An Israeli helicopter reportedly fired two missiles at the vehicles, but Badreddine wasn’t there. Mughniyah’s son, however, was among the dead. 

Badreddine would have gotten the message that his trail was no longer cold. Israeli officials were onto him, which meant the Americans almost certainly were, too. The fact that Israel had tried so recently to kill Badreddine is another reason why U.S. and Israeli officials I spoke to are deeply skeptical of the theory that ISIS or al Qaeda fighters finally took him to his grave. 

***

There has been no public claim from Hezbollah that the U.S. killed Badreddine. But at the highest levels of the Iranian regime, leaders have concluded that he was taken out in a precision U.S. airstrike, an Iranian official with knowledge of information sent to top leaders told The Daily Beast. 

Radar that Iran had installed in Lebanon and Syria picked up signals showing a missile that was fired by what Tehran’s intelligence analysts have concluded was either a U.S. drone or a manned aircraft, said the Iranian official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified by name. 

This bold allegation hasn’t been officially leveled. But, the official said, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, was so incensed by the American attack on a Hezbollah icon that he ordered Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, to begin retaliatory strikes at U.S-backed rebels in Syria. It’s not clear if those orders were carried out. But a U.S. counterterrorism source told The Daily Beast that there had been “chatter” since Badreddine’s death that Iran had put out orders to exact some revenge. 

The fog of suspicion only thickens. Speaking privately, two U.S. defense officials said they’re aware of allegations in Iran that the U.S. was behind the attack. But they offered no claim about who was really responsible, other than to speculate that the explosion may have been caused by an errant artillery strike by the Syrian regime, a kind of friendly fire incident that was also a “lucky” event for the U.S., as one official put it.

A U.S. intelligence official said he was also aware that Hezbollah has publicly blamed “takfiri” terrorists. But no one in the U.S. national security community, nor in Israel, was persuaded that ISIS or al Qaeda’s branch in Syria had the sophistication or the firepower to pull off the attack that killed Badreddine.

Hezbollah said in an official statement that an “artillery bombardment” caused the explosion that killed their commander. But that would seem to rule out an attack by Sunni terrorists since they’re not known to possess those kinds of weapons. Syrian opposition forces, for their part, have also rejected claims that they may have been responsible. 

At the same time, some Lebanese journalists with sources in Hezbollah have claimed that Badreddine “was killed by a missile possessed only by advanced countries,” according to the Times of Israel. That would support Tehran’s contention that Washington is to blame. Lebanese papers have also quoted Hezbollah parliamentarians alleging that Israel provided the technology to kill Badreddine, the Times of Israel reported, which leaves open the possibility that Israel tracked Badreddine to his location and then tipped off forces on the ground. 

But Tehran has dismissed the notion that Sunni fighters, Israel, or anyone besides the U.S. military or the CIA were to blame, the Iranian official said. He also downplayed speculation, which has surfaced in various press accounts, that Hezbollah may have killed Badreddine as part of an internal power struggle. Hezbollah’s true believers “do not kill their own people–period,” the official said.

If the U.S. did kill Badreddine, it might want to keep that quiet so as not to divulge the intelligence sources used to find him. Iran may also have calculated that it’s not worth antagonizing the U.S. to publicly assign the blame for Badreddine’s killing, particularly now that Iran is enjoying sanctions relief following a landmark agreement with Western powers to suspend production of nuclear materials.

The lack of precise details on the nature of the explosion–was it really a missile, or could it have been a powerful bomb, maybe even of the kind that Badreddine knew how to build?–also has helped fan the flames of speculation about who’s to blame. But in recent conversations, Israeli journalists and intelligence officers repeatedly said that Israel wasn’t behind the assassination. 

One Israeli intelligence official, speaking privately, likewise concluded that Israel was not the culprit. What’s more, the official added, it was notable that Hezbollah quickly walked back initial claims that Israel was responsible. The reason? The last thing that Hezbollah’s leaders want now is another fight with Israel; their forces are too stretched, having evolved from a militant group focused primarily on its home base of Lebanon to an expeditionary force that is spilling blood and treasure in Syria, this official said.

So who did it? The Israeli official smiled. “I think maybe it was you,” he said, meaning the United States. 

In the end, it may not matter who gets credit for killing Badreddine. The fact that he was taken down after a lifetime spent in the shadows has sent a message to Hezbollah and its patrons in Tehran, the Iranian official said: Your forces aren’t as strong as you think they are.

The U.S. will count that as a win.

–with additional reporting by Nancy A. Youssef 

Source : Daily Beast

Drag Queen: Anti-Gay Terrorist Omar Mateen Was My Friend

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Omar Mateen committed the most horrific act of anti-gay violence on U.S. soil. But there was a time when he had gay friends, a high school classmate says.

FORT PIERCE, Florida — Years before he shot up an Orlando gay club in what became the largest mass shooting in American history, Omar Mateen regularly picked up lunch from a drag queen at Ruby Tuesday. He may have even gone to see a drag show or two, a former high school classmate told The Daily Beast.

About 10 years ago, Mateen, a few years out of high school, was working at the supplement store GNC. Samuel King, a year ahead of him in high school, was working next door at the restaurant chain. Mateen was a few years out of playing football in high school while King, who is openly gay, had long, flowing extensions, and prettier hair than most of his female co-workers.

“He always had a smile on his face,” King told The Daily Beast on Sunday. “Maybe it’s because he was working in customer service.”

After seeing the trending news story about the Orlando shooting, King posted his disbelief on Facebook. “I can’t believe i knew this dude…. He worked at GNC at the treasure coast mall when i was at Ruby Tuesday’s and he Graduated from the same high school in 2004,” he wrote. “He was a jokester and at the time didn’t have an issue with the LGBT community.”

Mateen’s father told NBC News that Mateen “got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago” and that he “thought that might be related to the shooting.”

But King saw none of that homophobia. Quite the opposite: He said Mateen knew that he and many of his co-workers at Ruby Tuesday were gay, and didn’t seem to have a problem with it.

“That’s the thing that’s pinning me to the wall the most, that it was a gay nightclub,” King said. “Because he would come into the [the restaurant] and laugh with us.

“He might’ve even sat down at the bar and had a drink and laughed with the bartenders, knowing that they were lesbians,” King added.

These interactions shed new light on a man believed to be motivated by blind hatred for gay people. By the end of his rampage, Mateen had killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in the most deadly terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. During his attack on a sea of dancing young men, Mateen called 911 and pledged allegiance to the leader of ISIS, announcing himself as a terrorist and mentioning the Boston marathon attackers.

Yet if Mateen was a religious extremist, King didn’t know it, and the topic of religion never came up in conversations. Instead, the two men would greet each other on the street. King likely showed him, like the rest of the employees and regulars, photos in full costume from his performances.

“I can’t pinpoint a date that he went with us, but he probably gone there with us once,” he said.

Syed Shafeeq Rahman, Imam at the Islamic Center in Fort Pierce where Mateen worshipped, said he had been a sunny child who enjoyed skipping but something had changed in recent years.

“He would not talk to anybody, but would just smile,” he said.

Recent co-workers described Mateen’s demeanor as aggressive and anti-gay. Daniel Gilroy, who worked with Mateen at the security company G4S, told Florida Today that he was “unhinged and unstable.”

“I quit because everything he said was toxic, and the company wouldn’t do anything,” Gilroy told the news outlet. “This guy was unhinged and unstable. He talked of killing people.”

He said Mateen stalked him with dozens of text messages a day, but the company didn’t take action because Mateen was Muslim.

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“When I saw his picture on the news, I thought, of course, he did that,” fellow security guard Eric Baumer told Newsday. “He had bad things to say about everybody—blacks, Jews, gays, a lot of politicians, our soldiers. He had a lot of hate in him. He told me America destroyed Afghanistan.”

Indeed, it was a co-worker’s tip that set off an FBI investigation into the man in 2013.

“The FBI first became aware of him in 2013 when he made inflammatory comments to co-workers alleging possible terrorist ties,” Ronald Hopper, an assistant agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa division, said at a press conference. The ties were unconfirmed.

The following year, the agency investigated his potential links to an American suicide bomber in Syria, Moner Abu-Salha, but found the connections negligible. Mateen was still able to purchase both weapons he brought to the attack legally last week, according to Trevor Velinor, an assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Tampa.

Mateen had worked at G4S since 2007, and cleared their security checks when he was hired and again in 2013. The company said they were made aware that Mateen had been questioned by the FBI in 2013 and knew that the investigations had closed.

“We were not made aware of any alleged connections between Mateen and terrorist activities, and were unaware of any further FBI investigations,” G4S communications director Monica Lewman-Garcia told The Daily Beast in a statement.

Mateen had a gun because of his work as a security officer.

G4S provides guards to more than two dozen juvenile detention centers in Florida, and Mateen’s ex-wife told The Washington Post that he’d worked at one such facility near their Fort Pierce home. A spokesperson at the St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center directed queries about Mateen to the State of Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. The agency directed inquiries to G4S, which did not return requests for comment.

But the company’s employees have been accused of abusing children in the centers where they work. A male Palmetto Youth Academy guard was arrested in 2014 on charges that he sexually assaulted two teenage boys, ages 15 and 17. A judge set his bond at $250,000, but the disposition of the case remains unclear. A female employee in Tampa was accused of engaging in sex acts with a boy that same year.

“I’m amazed at the amount of violence that goes on over there, both against staff and other inmates,” Assistant State Attorney Vicki Nichols, Martin County Florida’s juvenile prosecutor, told the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers of one facility that employs G4S guards.

Residents of Mateen’s quiet neighborhood, made up largely of retirees, construction workers, and families with toddlers, were shocked by news of his rampage on Sunday. The Woodland Condominium complex where he lived was roped off with yellow police tape as the FBI and local authorities investigated the gunman’s residence.

The area has many Hispanic immigrants, residents gathered outside the complex said, but doesn’t have a large Middle Eastern or Muslim community.

Esmeralda Gonzalez, whose parents live adjacent to the gunman’s parents said that she hadn’t seen Omar but his father “seems really nice.”

“You see it in the news and all the sudden it happens right next to you. My mom is scared and wondering if they should sell the house,” she told The Daily Beast.

Orlando shooter

Lynn Waddell

Mateen’s father Seddique Mir Mateen did appear to have extreme views, however. In videos on his YouTube channel he has previously paid tribute to the Afghan Taliban.

Early Monday, he posted a new video in which he described his “sadness” over the death of his son. “I did not know and did not understand that he has anger in his heart,” he said. “Only God can punish homosexuality… This is not an issue for humans to punish.”

The 29-year-old Mateen, who has a 3-year-old child, married Sitora Yusufiy, an immigrant from Uzbekistan in 2007. The couple officially divorced in 2009, but Yusufiy told reporters on Sunday that they only lived together for a few months, during which time he beat and emotionally abused her. From her home in Colorado, Yusufiy told reporters on Sunday that Mateem was bipolar and abused steroids.

“A few months after we were married I saw his instability, I saw his bipolar, and he would get mad out of nowhere, and that’s when I started worrying about my safety,” she said. “Then after a few months he started abusing me physically, very often, and not allowing me to speak to my family, and keeping me hostage from them.”

At Mateen’s regular house of worship, the Fort Pierce Islamic Center, Imam Rahman assured visitors that the community had no idea about the storm brewing in the gunman’s heart—or the FBI’s investigations into him.

Meanwhile protesters outside called for authorities to shut down the Islamic center, with some driving by urging people to “burn it down.”

Rahman, also a medical doctor, said that Omar Mateen attended the mosque service Friday night with his young son curled up next to him. “He was the last to arrive and the first to leave,” he said, but recalled nothing else about Mateen wasn’t regular in his attendance.

“One hundred and thirty people came Friday so I don’t notice,” Rahman said.

Fellow members of the mosque said they knew little about Mateen. “He wasn’t rude, but he wasn’t very friendly either,” said Mohammad Jamil. Sometimes he would come for prayers in his security uniform and Jamil noted he was very muscular. “He would say, hello, but that was about it.”

As tradition, the women and small children gathered in a separate room for their feast. The mood was somber and Lucy Haq, a member, said the crowd was lighter than normal. She said that Mateen and other radical Islamic terrorists like him hurt all Muslims. “What they are doing is not Islam,” she said.

Rahman, who has been Imam at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce since 2005, said Mateen was sporadic in his attendance to prayers. He might come for prayers two or three times in a week and might not show the following week.

Mateen’s father, by accounts was more outgoing. Rahman said the elder Mateen was in the insurance business and offered his services to fellow worshippers and he offered to help with any problems. “He said he knew police chief and authorities and he could help us if we ever had problems.”

“Always told if anything bad was happening we could contact the father and he would take care of it,” Rahman said.

Rahman said the center did not promote violence and that Mateen did not get his radical ideas from the center. “We do not want these things to happen. We condemn radical Islam.”

The FBI has not talked to Rahman. “What could I share with them? I have nothing because we did not know. Of course we would have called them. In our religion it says he who kills one person kills all mankind.”

Source : The Daily Beast

The Possibly-True Story of the Super-Burglar Trained to Rip Off al Qaeda

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He was the best bank robber in the ‘bank robbery capital of the world.’ Then he got a new target: the world’s most notorious terror group. It’s a crazy story. It might even be real.

I first heard of a plot to rob al Qaeda from Kevin Reeve. Reeve is proprietor of OnPoint Tactical, a survivalist services firm based in southern Utah. He has trained Navy SEALs, international business executives, and Hollywood film crews alike in the art and science of off-grid medicine, wilderness tracking, and what Reeve calls “urban escape and evasion.”

Indeed, Urban Escape and Evasion is the official name of a three-day course run by Reeve, its aim to give participants the skills they need to break free from potential abductors. As a participant in one such workshop, I spent a long weekend with Reeve and other attendees in the conference room of a La Quinta budget hotel near Nellis Air Force Base north of Las Vegas. As our training wound down, late in the afternoon of the first day, Reeve relayed an extraordinary tale. It might even be true.

In early 2006, Reeve explained, OnPoint Tactical was approached by a rather unusual client. In fact, when we spoke about the subject again several months later by telephone, Reeve emphasized how strange—even surreal—the man’s story was. Nonetheless, he said, this much was certain: One day a man showed up at an OnPoint Tactical training exercise, accompanied by two federal security guards.

This gentleman, whose name Reeve would not reveal in order to maintain client anonymity, had been arrested a few years earlier for a spree of sophisticated bank robberies in Los Angeles. As a condition of his sentence being reduced, even potentially commuted altogether, the man had been asked to assist with an incredible task.

He had been asked to plan bank heists against al Qaeda.

In the wake of 9/11, aggressive new financial regulations led to a gradual freezing of al Qaeda’s international monetary transfers. As investigative journalist Loretta Napoleoni has shown, a sustained wave of illicit reinvestment in cash and portable commodities—including gold and diamonds, which were easy to transport and nearly impossible to track—filled the breach. Al Qaeda was forced to go analog.

These pressures had significant long-term effects on the group’s financial operations. They compelled, for example, a near-complete “restructuring” of the group’s finances, including “the movement of large quantities of gold out of Afghanistan,” Napoleoni writes in her book Terror Incorporated: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks. Al Qaeda’s gold was a source of fungible, universally recognized wealth—as well as an obvious vulnerability.

The group’s previously invisible monetary network was thus forced to materialize, taking on new physical form in the shape of unmarked bags of cash, gold bars, and truckloads of precious metal traveling backcountry roads through some of the most politically unstable parts of the world, many of them soon to become active war zones. Writing for The New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg has shown that Osama bin Laden himself was something of a “gold bug,” urging al Qaeda operatives to invest ransom money in bullion, rather than U.S. dollars or real estate. And all of that gold had to be stored somewhere.

Al Qaeda, in other words, was setting itself up for the ultimate bank heist.

As recently as last week, The Wall Street Journal reported on the inadvertent consequences of anti-terror regulation, where well-intended legislation has had the unfortunate effect of driving dark money yet further underground and out of reach. Journalists Rob Barry and Rachel Louise Ensign describe massive cash bundles being flown into and out of the United States, piling up at exchange sites in cities such as Dubai and in the public markets of the breakaway capital of Hargeisa, Somaliland. Fishing nets repurposed as monetary containers bulge with bricks of cash in the accompanying photographs.

Disrupting al Qaeda had thus become something of a hands-on concern, an analog job in a world of cash shipments and black-market gold, Reeve explained. This is what spurred the U.S. government to the realization that it would need to harness the—shall we say—rare talents of successful bank robbers if it wanted to interrupt and seize the group’s distributed assets. Al Qaeda operatives would be so busy looking for drones or uniformed soldiers, the government’s reasoning went, that they would miss these black-clad cat burglars slinking into their vaults and delivery trucks.

For a hardened bank robber, it would seem to be the perfect assignment: design and implement a series of heists that will deprive the world’s worst terrorists of their riches, and avoid prison in the process. And who better to do this, of course, than the best bank robber in Los Angeles—a city once considered by the FBI to be the “bank robbery capital of the world”? The person would go from a fugitive on the wrong side of the law to a free agent of the state, knocking off vaults, safes, and caravans on the other side of the world. It’s a criminal dream come true.

Reeve’s anonymous client had been given an opportunity to put his skill set to patriotic use, assisted by U.S. intelligence in choosing and scoping out his targets. He would have been required to hand over his haul, of course, offloading black tactical bags stuffed with gold and diamonds to clandestine U.S. trucks and helicopters registered under shell corporations. But, at the same time, Reeve’s trainee would slowly but surely be working off a near-life sentence back home.

As a legally ambiguous geopolitical asset—an Omega Man alone amidst terrorist bank vaults, speaking with his invisible handlers over encrypted satellite phones—he was encouraged to practice his trade, moving through anonymous hotel rooms in foreign capitals and across disputed borders in remote mountain valleys, cultivating sources, accumulating floor plans and maps, and assembling black-market safe-cracking tools.

If the man succeeded, then a small team of assistants—perhaps other bank robbers renditioned to the front lines from L.A. and Phoenix, Miami and Seattle—would have joined him, thus expanding this motley operation. The best bank robbery crew ever assembled, operating under U.S. state supervision, would bring al Qaeda to its knees one robbery at a time.

As an urban legend, the tale is certainly compelling. Disabling an international terror network through selective high-stakes burglaries, pulled off with the precision of acupuncture: The story of Reeve’s nameless client suggests an impossible, even absurd, scenario.

But is it really an urban legend?

Reeve would not—or, most likely, could not—reveal anything more about his mystery man. Yet, even today, a decade later, he still talks about this unusual client, fixating on the man’s two federal handlers and speculating with relish as to what was really going on.

Upon my return from Las Vegas, I began reading media reports of bank robberies in Los Angeles from the late 1990s to early 2000s, wondering if I might catch a narrative detail or two that would somehow indicate that this was the guy: this folkloric L.A. super-burglar sent overseas to destroy al Qaeda, one sack of cash after another.

Instead, I found a series of real-life characters who would have made Elmore Leonard proud. There was the woman who stole an armored car before disappearing to Europe for several years, where she apparently worked as a maid, nearly penniless despite her lucrative crimes. She later returned to Los Angeles, where she gave herself up to federal authorities. There was the pair of active-duty Marines who went on a bank and supermarket robbery spree on the edges of Los Angeles County in the late 1990s, all while on a weekend break from the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base.

In another case, a man given the nickname of the “Kangaroo Bandit,” due to a large backpack he wore across his chest, hit an estimated 21 banks in one year alone and appeared to have had weapons training, according to the FBI agent who tracked him. Most fantastic of all, perhaps, was the athletic Mormon bank robber—active in Phoenix, not Los Angeles—who looked so much like actor Sean Penn that Penn’s body double was actually arrested by the FBI on two occasions.

Imagining any of these figures infiltrating terrorist cash rooms overseas was a stretch—yet stranger things have happened. The CIA has backed schemes involving exploding cigars to assassinate Fidel Castro and the FBI has set up elaborate sting operations against the Mob, deploying fake bushes that pop open like umbrellas to hide federal agents in the event of impending discovery. If post-9/11 anti-terror legislation had inadvertently become a kind of state-sanctioned burglar-rehabilitation scheme—well, in many ways, it wouldn’t actually be that hard to believe.

Retired FBI special agent William J. Rehder was head of bank crime investigation in Los Angeles throughout the 1990s, a decade that, at its worst point, saw a new bank heist every forty-five minutes of every workday. Those were something of the war years for law enforcement personnel. Rehder has since been described as “America’s foremost authority on bank robberies,” so I got in touch with him to discuss the prospect of someone hiring a convicted Angeleno bank bandit for these sorts of adventures overseas. He was unconvinced, to put it mildly.

Grudgingly, however, Rehder soon laughed at the sense of irony. He pointed out that some of today’s most ruthless terrorist groups—including ISIS—effectively started out as bank robbery networks, funding their operations through the seizure of funds from under-protected vaults throughout Iraq and Syria. Huge stockpiles of reconstruction money sent courtesy of the American taxpayer were successfully targeted and added to the ISIS war chest—so, Rehder admitted, sending someone over there to rob the robbers would at least have a delicious symmetry. The hand that giveth becomes the hand that taketh away.

We may never know the truth of the alleged Los Angeles super-burglar retrained to fight terrorist financiers. It could have been a hoax, a ruse, even a story deliberately invented by Kevin Reeve to dupe a gullible East Coast journalist—or, of course, the man could still be out there, teaching master classes in the geopolitics of burglary to a growing corps of apprentice thieves. The intriguing epistemological uncertainty here is that, even if he was real, even if he had stolen tens—hundreds—of millions of dollars from terrorist financiers, until someone talks there is no way of finding out.

Geoff Manaugh is the author of A Burglar’s Guide to the City, published this week by FSG Originals.

Source : Daily Beast

Nigeria: A Year On, No Word on 300 Abducted Children

Government Response to Damasak Attacks Woefully Inadequate

(Abuja) – The Nigerian government should take urgent steps to secure the release of about 400 women and children, including at least 300 elementary school students, abducted by Boko Haram from the town of Damasak in Borno State a year ago. It is unclear whether the Nigerian government has made any serious effort to secure their release.

Damasak is the largest documented school abduction by Boko Haram militants. Yet it has drawn far less public attention than the group’s widely condemned abduction of 276 school girls from a government secondary school in Chibok in April 2014. While 57 of those girls managed to escape, 219 remain captive almost two years later.

“Three hundred children have been missing for a year, and yet there has been not a word from the Nigerian government,” said Mausi Segun, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to wake up and find out where the Damasak children and other captives are and take urgent steps to free them.”

On November 24, 2014, Boko Haram attacked Damasak, a trading town about 200 kilometers northwest of Maiduguri, near the border with Niger, blocking all four roads leading into the town and trapping residents and traders. The insurgents quickly occupied Zanna Mobarti Primary School, shutting the gates and locking more than 300 students, ages 7 to 17, inside, according to a teacher at the school and other witnesses Human Rights Watch interviewed. The Boko Haram militants then used the school as a military base, bringing scores of other women and children abducted across the town there as captives.

In February 2016, a woman who was at home in Damasak that morning told Human Rights Watch what happened:

It was early morning when I heard gunshots and chaos. My husband had already left home for the market so I grabbed my two children, a boy age four years and a girl age two years, and ran. But we ran into Boko Haram and they detained us in the middle of the town. They brought more and more women and children to where we were kept. Then they took all of us to Zanna Mobarti Primary School…I have not seen my children since then.

The insurgents separated the women from the children and the boys from the girls. Some of the women held captive later told Human Rights Watch they could hear the screams and cries of the children, but they were not permitted to go to them. Over the following weeks and months, the militants forced their captives to learn the Quran. A number of women and children died in captivity after they were fed putrid food, which caused severe vomiting and diarrhea.

The men who were captured by Boko Haram were kept at different locations, including an estimated 80 men in the house of the district head, a witness said. In the days and weeks following the attack, some of the men were forced to dispose of bodies left on the streets and in the market area. Scores of bodies were dumped into a nearby river and makeshift graves, among other locations. A witness forced to participate in the operation said he saw hundreds of bodies.

A wall painted by Boko Haram is pictured in Damasak, Nigeria on March 24, 2015.

One teacher who had escaped from the primary school but was recaptured soon after told Human Rights Watch, “I was held captive by [Boko Haram] for at least six days…Corpses were on the street. They forced us to carry [the corpses] and go and dispose of them in the river and there is nothing one could do about it.” The insurgents shot several people who tried to escape by jumping into the river. One man who escaped by swimming across the river said, “Those that were able to swim escaped and those that couldn’t held on to the grass, and they were shot.”

Video footage and satellite imagery taken in late December 2014, obtained and analyzed by Human Rights Watch, confirms the presence of corpses in the riverbed.

Nigerian soldiers turned back a number of those who tried to flee to Maiduguri and other locations. The soldiers apparently were suspicious that Boko Haram insurgents might be hidden among those fleeing. A farmer who attempted to reach Maiduguri in a vehicle said that soldiers at a military checkpoint forced him and others back: “The soldiers turned people back to Damasak. They would not allow you to leave and if you tried, [the soldiers] would smash your car and burst your tires. So you had to look for another way out around the town or [try to cross] the river, if you can swim. It was terrible.”

Between March 13 and 15, 2015, soldiers from neighboring Chad and Niger advanced on Damasak as part of a cross-border military operation against the insurgents. As the troops approached, Boko Haram fled from Damasak, taking with them the 300 children and an estimated 100 more women and children they had been holding captive there.

The soldiers from Chad and Niger discovered scores of decomposing bodies near a bridge. Days later they brought journalists to the town to film and photograph the bodies. At least 70 bodies were counted in that one location. A local government assessment team discovered another 400 bodies in shallow graves and on the streets of the town a month later. When Nigerien and Chadian forces left the town, Boko Haram returned. The Nigerian government claimed in December that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated.” But former residents said the insurgents were still occupying Damasak.

Six witnesses now in Maiduguri whose children or other relatives were among those abducted told Human Rights Watch than none had been returned. Some parents have received information from Nigerian refugees in Chad that their children were seen with Boko Haram in Mari and Dogon Chikum, near the Nigerian border with Chad, though Human Rights Watch could not independently confirm this information. “There is no one you can go and cry to since the military have not gone to attack those places,” said one man who had lost relatives.

The Nigerian government has an obligation under domestic law as well as under international human rights law to take measures to protect its citizens from Boko Haram’s serious human rights abuses. The government has a corresponding responsibility to take effective steps to secure the release of the people Boko Haram has abducted from Damasak.

Boko Haram has committed widespread abuses during its six-year conflict with the Nigerian government. Its forces have indiscriminately killed civilians, abducted hundreds of women and girls, and destroyed villages and towns, as well as more than 900 schools.

“Whatever its grievances against the Nigerian government, Boko Haram cannot justify the abduction of young children,” Segun said. “Boko Haram leaders should immediately release everyone the group has abducted, cease all attacks on civilians, and stop using schools in support of its military efforts.”

Source : Human Rights Watch

Brussels Taxi Hero Shows How We Stop Terror Attacks

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Written by

Christopher Dickey and  Nadette De Visser

A driver said to be of Moroccan heritage risked his life by leading police to the ISIS bomb factory in Brussels. He must become an inspiration for communities to unite against terror.

BRUSSELS — He saw something and he said something.

The cab driver who took three mass murderers to the Brussels airport on Tuesday thought the way they handled their baggage was weird. There were too many suitcases—very heavy suitcases. They said they’d ordered a van, but all he had was a sedan. According to some accounts, one suitcase had to be left behind. And they didn’t seem to want him to touch those bags.

Drivers get used to strange passengers, but when this one heard news that bombs had gone off at the airport, he went straight to the Belgian police and led them to the apartment where he’d picked up those three men with their heavy bags in the Schaarbeek neighborhood of Brussels.

The police search turned up a trove of bomb-making materials: 15 kilos of powerful TATP explosives made from raw materials common in beauty supply stores—acetone (nail polish remover) and hydrogen peroxide (hair bleach)—but in much greater quantities than the average vanity unit. There were 150 liters of acetone and 30 liters of peroxide: truly a bomb-making factory.

They also found a laptop thrown into a trashcan, and on it, according to prosecutors, was “the last will” of Ibrahim el Bakraoui, well known to police as a criminal and a thug, but not a jihadist. He said he was acting “in haste,” that he “no longer knew what to do,” that he was “hunted everywhere” and could “no longer be safe.”

Those snippets of his testament, released by the Belgian Federal Prosecutor on Wednesday afternoon, seemed to confirm the theory that a terrorist plot that had been taking shape for some time was suddenly rushed when Belgian and French police started closing in on Salah Abdeslam, a member of the terrorist cell that attacked Paris in November, killing 130 people.

“If they take too long, they risk winding up next to him in a cell,” wrote el Bakraoui. The prosecutors offered no more context than that.

With clues from the scenes of carnage and the mother lode of material at the bomb factory, authorities were able to identify Ibrahim el Bakraoui as the man in the middle in the now famous CCTV image of three men pushing trolleys through the Brussels airport, where he blew himself up. The other two, one of whom also died, and one of whom ran away, have not been identified.

Amid the gory scene at the Maelbeek metro station near the office buildings of the European Union, police were able to identify by a fingerprint the mangled corpse of Khalid el Bakraoui, Ibrahim’s brother.

One of the el Bakraouis reportedly rented the house where police officers were involved in a shootout that left one jihadi dead last week. DNA evidence from the property in the Forest neighborhood of Brussels showed that Abdeslam had been there. He was captured two days later.

The forensic dots between the atrocities in Brussels and in Paris began to connect.

But that is little consolation amid fears that more ISIS terror cells are operating in Western Europe, and just biding their time before they hit again.

How to stop them?

That cab driver, and people like him, may hold the key. For obvious reasons, his name has not been leaked to the press, but according to sources in a position to know, he is, as many of the terrorists were, of Moroccan descent. But he volunteered information that has been critical to the ongoing investigation, and has helped it move along much more quickly than it might otherwise have done.

The challenge for European politicians and police, and indeed for Americans as well, is to encourage more people from Muslim and Arab communities to come forward when they see the first signs of suspicious activities.

When all Arabs and Muslims are vilified, isolated, pressured, intimidated and humiliated—the formula being preached in not-so-coded language by fear-mongering populists in Europe and the United States—they’re not going to be inclined to help investigators solve the crimes we have seen, or stop those that are to come.

“What we need to do is to understand what just happened and look ahead,” says Pieter Stockmans, who coauthored The Jihad Caravan, a book about Belgium and jihadism.

Looking ahead is what ISIS has been doing all along. The Brussels attacks are just a small step in the collective ISIS effort to force the hand of the overwhelming majority of moderate Muslims, eliminate the so-called “gray zone” and force them to take the side of violent jihad.

The “caliph” of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, spelled out the strategy on May 15 last year, “If the Crusaders today have begun to bother the Muslims who continue to live in the lands of the cross by monitoring them, arresting them, and questioning them, then soon they will begin to displace them and take them away either dead, imprisoned, or homeless.”

In short, tearing up Western society by causing different groups to turn on each other is exactly what ISIS is aiming for. “Further estrangement from one another [Muslims from non-Muslims] is the perfect base for recruitment of terrorists,” says Stockmans.

Stockmans agrees with the analysis that the attacks were precipitated by Abdeslam’s arrest, and “executed prematurely.” But whatever deadline the terrorists set for the Brussels atrocity, the thing to do now is to determine the best response. “We may not be able to prevent some of the planned attacks,” says Stockmans, “but what we can control is our response to it.”

“We should do the opposite of what the terrorists want us to do,” Stockmans says. “They want to undermine the cohesion of our society. We have to remember that terrorism can not undermine a centuries-old process of democratization, only we can do that.”

—Nadette De Visser reported from Amsterdam.

Source : The Daily Beast

FBI using elite surveillance teams to track at least 48 high-risk ISIS suspects

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With as many as 1,000 active cases, Fox News has learned at least 48 ISIS suspects are considered so high risk that the FBI is using its elite tracking squads known as the mobile surveillance teams or MST to track them domestically.

“There is a very significant number of people that are on suspicious watch lists, under surveillance,” Republican Sen. Dan Coats said.

Coats, who sits on the Select Committee on Intelligence, would not comment on specifics, but said the around-the-clock surveillance is a major commitment for the bureau. “The FBI together with law enforcement agencies across the country are engaged in this. It takes enormous amount of manpower to do this on a 24-7 basis. It takes enormous amount of money to do this,” Coats explained.

These elite FBI teams are reserved for espionage, mob violence and high-priority terrorism cases, like a joint terrorism task force case last June, where a 26 year old suspect Usaama Rahim, was killed outside a Massachusetts CVS. When a police officer and FBI agent tried to question him, the Boston Police Commissioner said Rahim threatened them with a knife, and was shot dead.

With at least a dozen agents assigned to each case, providing 24/7 coverage, this high level of surveillance reflects the severe risk associated with suspects most likely to attempt copycat attacks after Paris.

“It is a big resource drain. Yes it is. Almost overwhelming,” Coats said when asked about the demand placed on the FBI. “There will be a lot of people over the Thanksgiving weekend that will not be enjoying turkey with their family. They’ll be out there providing security for the American people and the threat is particularly high during this holiday period.”

One of the lessons of Paris is that the radicalization process can be swift. According to published reports, friends of the female suspect who was killed in the siege of Saint Denis, Hasna Ait Boulahcen, abandoned her party life only a month before joining her cousin, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the plot’s on the ground commander. He was also killed in the siege.

FBI Director James Comey has consistently drawn attention to this phenomenon, calling it the “flash to bang,” that the time between radicalization and crossing the threshold to violent action can be very short. Last week, in a rare public appearance with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Comey would only say that “dozens” of suspected radicals have been under “tight surveillance.”

“Together we are watching people of concern using all of our lawful tools. We will keep watching them and if we see something we will work to disrupt it,” Comey said.

Contacted by Fox News, an FBI spokesman had no comment on the high risk cases, nor the use of elite surveillance teams.

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

Source : Fox News

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France: New Emergency Powers Threaten Rights

Parliament Should Ensure New Powers Not Misused

 

2015-paris-france-search(Paris) – France should apply broad new powers granted under an expanded state of emergency law in as narrow and limited manner as possible to avoid trampling on human rights, Human Rights Watch said today. The law expands the government’s emergency powers under a 1955 law. It also extends the state of emergency by three months as of November 26, 2015, when the 12 days the government can carry out a state of emergency without a parliamentary extension ends.

The expanded emergency powers allow the government to impose house arrest without authorization from a judge, conduct searches without a judicial warrant and seize any computer files it finds, and block websites deemed to glorify terrorism without prior judicial authorization. These powers interfere with the rights to liberty, security, freedom of movement, privacy, and freedoms of association and expression, Human Rights Watch said.

“The French government should keep people safe and bring those responsible for the horrific attacks to justice, but it also has a duty to protect people’s freedom and rights, and not to discriminate against any segment of the population,” said Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Parliament should ensure that the sweeping powers it has granted the government are used in the narrowest possible way and for the shortest possible time.”

Parliament passed the new law, which amends and expands the 1955 state of emergency law, with an overwhelming majority in an accelerated procedure on November 20. President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency following the November 13 attacks in Paris and the suburb of Saint-Denis, which killed 130 people and injured hundreds. Hollande is scheduled to meet United States President Barack Obama today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on November 25, and Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 26.

Since the state of emergency was declared, Le Monde reported on November 23, French authorities had conducted 1,072 searches without judicial warrants and 139 stops leading to 117 pre-charge detentions; placed 253 people under house arrest; and discovered 201 weapons. Human Rights Watch is not immediately able to assess the necessity or proportionality of the large number of searches and house arrests. But the use of such powers in a context of intense political and public pressure enhances the risk of abuse, Human Rights Watch said.

Over the next three months, the French Parliament should carefully scrutinize how these powers are being applied, in particular in light of the government’s duty to respect the principle of proportionality and not to discriminate, and the lack of judicial oversight on the use of the powers. It should also ensure that these measures remain temporary.

The new law grants the French government broad grounds to restrict liberty of movement, and could lead to restrictions on movement that amount to deprivation of liberty. Freedom of movement and the right to liberty are guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both of which France has ratified. Under the new law, the interior minister can place under house arrest anyone “against whom there are serious reasons to believe his or her behavior constitutes a threat to public order and security.” The broad discretion for the minister, with no requirement for judicial authorization or review, could quickly lead to abuse.

Under this provision, a person could be confined to their home for up to 12 hours a day, and be required to check in regularly at a police station, and to turn over their passport or other identity document to the police for a certain period. They can also be forbidden to have contact with certain people if “there are serious reasons to believe” that their behavior “constitutes a threat to public order and security.” This provision also threatens the right to private and family life as well as the right of association under the ICCPR and the ECHR.

The law further provides that if the person placed under house arrest had been convicted of a serious terrorism-related offense in the past and finished serving their sentence less than eight years earlier, the interior minister can have that person fitted with a device to monitor their movements, though it requires the person’s consent.

The law also enables the interior minister and the prefect – the government representative – in a département to order searches without a judicial warrant at any time of any place, including a private home, “when there are serious reasons to believe that the place is frequented by a person whose behavior constitutes a threat to public order and security.” However, the law bars such searches without warrants on the premises of lawyers, judges, journalists, or members of parliament. The law is silent on the question of the admissibility of materials found under these searches as evidence in any subsequent criminal trial.

The new law also threatens the rights to freedom of expression and to privacy under the ECHR and the ICCPR by allowing the authorities conducting the search to access and copy digital data saved on electronic devices on the premises or accessible from those devices. The law does not specify any safeguards to limit the use, retention, or dissemination of data collected under these expansive search powers, including in situations in which searches did not reveal any connection to wrongdoing.

The law threatens the right to freedom of association, guaranteed under the ICCPR and the ECHR, by allowing the government to dissolve organizations and groups broadly described as “participating in carrying out acts that seriously breach public order or whose activities facilitate carrying out or incite such an activity.” The law specifies that such measures will not end when the state of emergency ends.

It also gives French intelligence agencies the power to carry out surveillance with the broadly worded purpose of “preventing actions aiming to maintain or reconstitute” the organizations or groups dissolved under the law. Should groups not respect the order to disband, their members can be prosecuted.

The interior minister can also take “any measure to ensure the interruption of any online public communication service that incites the commission of terrorist acts or glorifies them.” This provision also lacks meaningful limits and could be read to enable blocking of entire Internet services to restrict access to some speech that “glorifies” terrorist acts, a term that is broadly defined under French law.

Under article 15 of the ECHR and article 4 of the ICCPR, the government has the right to impose restrictions on certain rights, including freedom of movement, expression, and association, during states of emergency, but only “to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation” and must ensure that any measure taken under the law is strictly proportionate to the aim pursued, and non-discriminatory. The government should also ensure that these powers are not applied in a discriminatory manner and do not stigmatize people of a particular ethnicity, religion, or social group.

Any proposal to extend the powers the emergency laws grants to the government beyond three months should be considered by parliament in a procedure that allows for a full debate and the involvement of civil society, Human Rights Watch said.

As required by their obligations under the ICCPR and ECHR, the French government should immediately publicly notify other states parties of any derogation to its obligations to the rights guaranteed under both treaties. It is unclear whether the French government regards the emergency powers as requiring such a derogation.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors governments’ compliance with the ICCPR, has stressed that such a notification should include “full information about the measures taken and a clear explanation of the reasons for them, with full documentation attached regarding their law.”

“Now more than ever, France should be irreproachable in its respect for human rights,” Leghtas said. “Excessive restrictions would be a gift to those who seek to instil fear, undermine democratic values, and hollow out the rule of law in France and in Europe.”
Source : Human Rights Watch

Netanyahu: Israelis joining ISIS will lose citizenship

 

Anyone joining Islamic State will forfeit their Israeli citizenship, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced at Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu, who told ministers that indictments were filed last week against citizens planning to join the terrorist group, added that he has asked Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to advance steps to revoke their citizenship as well.

“Whoever joins ISIS will not be an Israeli citizen. And if he leaves the borders of the state, he will not return. I think this lesson is becoming increasingly clear throughout the international arena, and it is fitting that we lead this effort as well,” Netanyahu said.

Discussions about revoking citizenships of nationals joining Islamic State have been taking place for months around the globe, from Australia, to Norway, Britain and the US.

One government official said that Netanyahu’s request to Weinstein was the start of what will be a protracted process.

The Justice Ministry, asked about the legal basis of such a move, simply referred to the terms of the Citizenship Law and to the Prime Minister’s Office for further explanation.

Over the past few years, many Israeli Arabs have been convicted of joining Islamic State, but prison sentences have carefully distinguished between those whose intentions were directed at Israel, as opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad, or were nonviolent.

Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.

Source : Jerusalem Post

Amid global terror alert, U.S. beefs up holiday travel security

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By Jeff Pegues

As 47 million Americans are getting ready to head out of town for the holidays, the State Department put out a worldwide travel alert. Holiday gatherings could among the targets of terrorism.

The alert warns U.S. citizens to “exercise particular caution during the holiday season.” It said terror groups, such as ISIS and al Qaeda, continue to plan attacks, “using conventional and non-conventional weapons.”

While officials said there’s no credible threat to the U.S., there will be more security at the nation’s 500 airports this Thanksgiving travel week.

Transportation Security Administration workers, who typically process 2 million people a day, will see a 40-percent increase in passengers over the holidays.

Scott Brenner, a former FAA spokesman, said the screening process begins before a passenger gets to the airport.

“Our airport security is not designed to catch somebody right as they’re getting on the aircraft,” he said. “It is designed to start checking people as soon as they start to look for that ticket.”

Passengers are scrutinized for how they pay for a ticket, what route they are taking and whether it’s round trip or one-way.

Once you make it to a security checkpoint, expect a more thorough screening. Even TSA pre-check passengers may have to take their shoes off.

And police are asking passengers themselves to be more aware. Selina Scwingle was flying out of Washington on Monday.

“I think it is excellent that people are a little more aware,” she said. “Sometimes we can get a little too comfortable in our own settings and we don’t pay too much attention to what is going on.”

And it’s not just the airports. In New York, nearly 50 additional police officers will patrol major rail hubs. In a show of force, in New York City, on Sunday, police ran through active shooter drills in the subway system.

In airports across the country, workers are expected to face closer scrutiny. To minimize the so-called “insider threat” random employee screening has been increase and employee access to secured areas has been reduced.

CBS News has learned that a Joint Intelligence Bulletin from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security has gone out to law enforcement across the country.

Heading into Thanksgiving the bulletin warns of ISIS’ new tactics 10 days after the Paris attacks. ‎The information contained in the document does not reveal new details about the attacks, but seeks to give police across the country tools to counter the new threat.

Source : CBS News