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Terrorism & Security

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Kidnapping of aid workers in Syria adds another layer to conflict

By Correspondent / 10.14.13

The kidnapping of six international Red Cross employees and one employee of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in Syria has added more fuel to worries about the growing hazards of providing aid to hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced by the country's ongoing civil war.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman Robert Mardini wrote this morning that the Syrian and three of the other kidnapped aid workers have been released, but also drew attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country.

RECOMMENDED: Syria's refugee crisis

The BBC reports details of the kidnapping:

A convoy carrying six ICRC staff members and one Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteer was intercepted by unidentified armed gunmen near the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province, ICRC spokeswoman Rima Kamal told the BBC.

"We call for the immediate release of the seven colleagues abducted this morning... who work tirelessly to provide assistance to those most in need in Syria. Incidents such as this one unfortunately will undermine our capacity to assist those who need our help," she said.

The ICRC has declined to reveal the identity, gender or nationality of the abducted workers but they are believed to include both local and international staff, who are mainly medical specialists.

The ICRC is active in conflict spots around the globe, but also operates in less overtly dangerous realms - the Red Cross has been in the news recently for delivering food aid in Britain and advocating the punishment of war crimes in video games.

The dangerous atmosphere in Syria seems unlikely to fade anytime soon, despite international diplomatic pressure. Proposed talks in Geneva hit a major speed bump when a large rebel group refused to participate in them.

Syrian National Council leader George Sabra said the group would pull out of the umbrella coalition if it took part in the talks.

He said his faction would not negotiate with the Syrian government, adding that conditions for talks were not right while Syrians continued to suffer.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has also been pushing an end to the violence, albeit on a temporary basis. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning group, working with Syria and the international community to identify and destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, has been challenged by the violent conditions of the civil war and told the BBC that it is calling for local, short-term cease-fires to allow its experts to work.

In his first interview since the OPCW won the prize, Mr Uzumcu told the BBC's Today programme that Syrian officials had been co-operating and facilitating the experts' work.

He said they had been taken wherever they wanted to go, and that they had already reached five out of at least 20 facilities capable of producing chemical weapons.

However, Mr Uzumcu said, routes to some of the sites went through opposition-held territory and this prevented access.
"They change hands from one day to another, which is why we appeal to all sides in Syria to support this mission, to be co-operative and not render this mission more difficult. It's already challenging," he said.

The chaos of the civil war has made untangling the origins and motivations of specific violent acts difficult if not impossible. A car bomb Monday killed at least 12 people in the rebel-held town of Darkoush in Idlib Province, reports The Associated Press.

And an evacuation has given some relief to a rebel-held suburb of Damascus where hunger has become a serious scourge, according to The New York Times:

Hundreds of people were allowed to leave a besieged, rebel-held suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital, on Sunday in a rare cease-fire, according to the government and its opponents.

But aid workers said they were still unable to enter the town, Moadhamiyeh, which international organizations have been trying to reach for months and where six people have reportedly died of malnutrition.

The challenge of moving food, medical aid, and international observers around in a civil war is a serious one, reports the Times in a story about the country's highways.

Road tripping in Syria reveals the sometimes surreal experience of Syrians’ trying to move themselves and their goods around a country that has become a patchwork of rebellion and control, where government and rebel fighters share the roads with families and traders trying to go about their business.

Part of the problem lies with the nature of the rebellion, a much contested and increasingly complicated part of the story of Syria's civil war. The Washington Post looked at the rival Al Qaeda-linked groups within the rebellion:

The two rebel groups [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Jabhat al-Nusra], with their distinct lineages to the terrorist network founded by Osama bin Laden, have become the focus of Western fears that jihadist influences within Syria’s rebel movement are rising. Two and a half years after the conflict in the country started, Islamists are carving out fiefdoms and showing signs of digging in.

As factionalism mounts among rebels, so have rebel-linked atrocities. The Economist looked at attacks on Alawites, the minority group to which the ruling Assad family belongs.

But is President Bashar al-Assad actually lucky to have so many jihadis squaring off against him? Perhaps, says a Monitor story, which suggests that Mr. Assad may have aided the radicalization of the rebels in hope of winning international support for his besieged regime:

Even the Assad regime is believed to have played a role in establishing a hard-line salafist presence within the armed opposition. In May 2011, when the rebellion was in its infancy, the Assad regime granted amnesty to political prisoners, releasing hundreds of them from jail, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The newly released Islamists went on to play leading roles in the armed opposition, including helping found Ahrar ash-Sham.

But whether hard-line Islamists make up a large percentage of anti-regime fighters is an open question that is difficult to resolve. The Monitor does its best to break it down and finds that there is much wiggle room between confirmed facts and sometimes dubious analysis:

Consider a headline yesterday from The Telegraph of the UK. "Syria: nearly half rebel fighters are jihadists or hardline Islamists, says IHS Jane's report."

Pretty scary sounding, no? But in fact, based on the work of the Jane's analyst Charles Lister, at least as it's cited in the report, the headline could have easily been: "Only 10 percent of Syria rebels aligned with Al Qaeda" or "A majority of Syria rebels not fighting for Islamist causes."

RECOMMENDED: Syria's refugee crisis

A car arrives at the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, Netherlands, Sept. 27, 2013. The OPCW were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. (Peter Dejong/AP)

Nobel Peace Prize win highlights work of chemical arms group OPCW (+video)

By Correspondent / 10.11.13

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), already in the news for its fast-moving effort to rid Syria of chemical arms, received a boost today in the form of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Washington Post writes that the OPCW win was a surprise, but not without precedent:

The removal of chemical weapons from Syria has been viewed as an important step in bringing an end to a two-and-a-half year war that has killed an estimated 100,000 people.

“Disarmament figures prominently in Alfred Nobel’s will,” the committee said, recalling the extensive use of chemical weapons in World War I and their use by states and terrorists alike.

The OPCW was up against an long list of 259 contenders; a Washington Post list assessing the race this week mentioned Pope Francis, dissident and human rights activist Hu Jia of China, and Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, but not OPCW or any of the other 49 organizations nominated. The OPCW's work in Syria has been notable not just for the speed and international support that has moved it forward, but for its urgency, brought on by the civil war and a brutal chemical weapons attack this August near Damascus.

The Nobel for the OPCW is part of a tradition of awarding peace prizes to organizations that seek to limit the spread of unconventional weapons. In 2005 the then head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad ElBaradei, was awarded the prize along with his organization. The Nobel in 1985 went to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and the 1995 award went to Joseph Rotblat, a physicist and early nuclear bomb developer, and the Pugwash Conferences for "their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms."

A Telegraph profile of the OPCW describes the group's work in detail and highlights the role of the Swedish scientist who is at the head of the group's Syria team:

The Hague-based body employs technical experts and highly-skilled specialists to inspect and destroy the arsenals of its 189 members. It is the embodiment of a groundbreaking international law adopted in 1925 to prohibit the use of deadly weapons of mass destruction.

The decision to award the Nobel prize to the body is as much as anything a tribute to the role of Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom.

Mr Sellstrom was the chief inspector of Unscom, the special commission set up after the Gulf War in the early 1990s and this year took a team to Syria to carry out inspections of suspected chemical weapons use in that country's civil war.

The Nobel award comes in mid-stream of the group's efforts to remove weapons from Syria. This week, the OPCW's 27-person team visited three sites in Syria (out of 20 planned visits), amid scattered fighting between the regime and rebel groups in that country's civil war.

The OPCW's presence in Syria has been a topic of rare international unity, bringing together Syrians, Europeans, Americans, and Russians, the last of whom have long been champions of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Guardian quoted US Secretary of State John Kerry this week at a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

[Kerry] said the Assad regime deserved credit for its speedy compliance thus far with the UN security council resolution calling for the elimination of the weapons. But Kerry stressed Assad was not yet off the hook.

"Let me be crystal clear," Kerry said, "we're very pleased with the pace of what has happened with respect to chemical weapons."

He noted that experts had started the process of destroying the stockpiles on Sunday, just over a week after the United Nations security council and the international chemical weapons watchdog acted.

The Monitor this month laid out parallels between the international pressure on Syria and the effort to destroy Iraq's chemical weapons stockpile in the 1990s:

Most of Iraq's chemical weapons were transferred to two vast bunkers, where they remain under lock and key while experts ponder how to destroy them. "Where it was feasible, we transported the old agents to that facility. If it was too dangerous or they were leaking, we tended to blow them up in place [in fire pits dug into the sand].... We would put cans of heating oil around them and detonate it," [former acting UN Special Commission on Iraq chairman Charles] Duelfer says.

The OPCW identifies the use of phosphene and chlorine gas in World War I as the beginning of the use of chemical weapons in the modern era:

These chemicals were manufactured in large quantities by the turn of the century and were deployed as weapons during the protracted period of trench warfare. The first large-scale attack with chlorine gas occurred 22 April 1915 at leper in Belgium. The use of several different types of chemical weapons, including mustard gas (yperite), resulted in 90,000 deaths and over one million casualties during the war. Those injured in chemical warfare suffered from the effects for the rest of their lives; thus the events at Ieper during World War I scarred a generation.

But as long as humans have fought one another, poisons and chemical weapons have been part of the equation, from envenomed weapons to the incapacitating (and therefore deadly) rhododendron honey that laid low the warriors of Pompey the Great. (These and other stories are vividly told in the book Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological & Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World.)

In this Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 file photo, Libyan's Prime Minister Ali Zidan speaks to the media during a press conference in Rabat, Morocco. Zidan was snatched by gunmen before dawn Thursday from a Tripoli hotel where he resides, the government said. (Abdeljalil Bounhar/AP/File)

Did US operation in Libya lead to PM's kidnapping? (+video)

By Staff writer / 10.10.13

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

In a bizarre episode that highlights the tenuous security of post-Qaddafi Libya, the country's prime minister was kidnapped early this morning and shortly thereafter released by a militia nominally in the employ of his own government.

Agence France-Presse reports that Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has been set free just a few hours after his pre-dawn kidnapping from the hotel where he lives, though details remain sketchy. "He has been freed but we have no details so far on the circumstances of his release," the Libyan foreign minister told AFP.

According to a government statement, Mr. Zeidan was grabbed early this morning and taken "to an unknown destination for unknown reasons by a group" of men believed to be former rebels. An employee at the Tripoli hotel where Zeidan lives confirmed that he had been abducted in a pre-dawn raid by "a large number of armed men."

The Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, a militia that fought against Muammar Qaddafi in the Libyan civil war two years ago, claimed responsibility for the abduction, saying that it had detained Zeidan on orders of Libya's prosecutor general – a charge the justice ministry denied, reports BBC News. The BBC's Mohamed Madi writes that the LROR is "one of many 'semi-official' armed groups which control much of Libya in the absence of a regular police and army."

[The LROR's] modus operandi, judging from its Facebook page, is to raid and arrest those accused of financial impropriety or who have links with Col Gaddafi's government. But the kidnapping of the prime minister is by far its most high-profile operation.

The group was among two named by the prime minister's website as being responsible for seizing Zeidan. The other was the Anti-Crime Unit, which is affiliated with the ministry of the interior. It is not clear yet which group led the operation. But LROR has been the most active in getting its message across, through its Facebook page.

The BBC notes that the LROR is one of several militias that expressed anger over last week's US commando raid in Benghazi that abducted Nazih al-Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Liby, who has been charged in New York in connection with Al Qaeda's 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Although the LROR said that Zeidan's kidnapping was solely a domestic matter, the Benghazi raid has caused widespread consternation in Libya over its implication that the US is acting with impunity in Libyan sovereign territory, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Most Libyans will understand why US authorities seized a chance to apprehend Mr. Liby, says Anas El Gomati, director of the Sadeq Institute, a Libyan affairs think tank in Tripoli. “But not everyone will be happy with the loss of sovereignty.” ...

The US says that Liby’s capture was lawful, but it’s unclear whether Libyan leaders knew that it would take place. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has called the raid a “kidnapping” and demanded an explanation, reports Reuters.

The New York Times notes today that anonymous US officials said Zeidan had been informed about the Benghazi raid ahead of time – suggesting that his subsequent kidnapping may "serve as a warning to other Libyan officials who contemplate collaborating with the United States in its pursuit of alleged terrorists."

Similarly, the Monitor reported yesterday that the Benghazi raid could be a game-changer for domestic politics, according to Bill Lawrence, an adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a North Africa specialist.

"This could be a turning point for Zeidan, with the public assuming he either signed off [on the US capture] or was too weak or too disrespected to stop it," Mr. Lawrence says.

Iran's heavy water nuclear facility near the central city of Arak is backdropped by mountains Jan. 15, 2011. At next week's nuclear talks in Geneva Iran may arrive with an offer to stop controversial fuel enrichment, in exchange for an easing of painful sanctions. (Hamid Foroutan/ISNA/AP/File)

Is Iran ready for a nuclear deal?

By Staff writer / 10.09.13

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Iran will arrive at next week's nuclear talks in Geneva with an offer to halt production of borderline weapons-grade nuclear fuel in exchange for an easing of painful sanctions that have brought the Iranian economy to its knees by freezing it out of the international banking system and oil industry.

Citing anonymous Western diplomatic officials, The Wall Street Journal reports that Iran is expected to offer to stop enriching its uranium to 20 percent purity, a level the international community considers too close to weapons-grade purity, and to grant more access to nuclear inspectors. It may also offer to close an underground enrichment facility named Fordow, which the US and Israel believe is part of a weapons program.

The world powers negotiating with Iran, known as the P5+1, offered at the last meeting in April to end sanctions on Iran's petrochemical exports and precious metals in exchange for ceasing 20-percent enrichment and work at the Fordow site. According to the Journal, Iran never responded to the offer.

Since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's election victory in June, Iran has stunned the international community with the speed with which it has tried to launch a negotiation process, leaving world leaders scrambling to understand the overtures and develop a cohesive response.

The rapid progression has fostered skepticism about Mr. Rouhani's true intentions, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning at the United Nations General Assembly that the new Iranian president is a "wolf in sheep's clothing" who is tricking the international community.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a columnist for Bloomberg View and prominent commentator on Middle East issues, is one of those warning the US to treat his overtures with skepticism. He writes that Rouhani recently boasted about advancing Iran's nuclear program during his time as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator.

Rouhani didn't talk about this during his recent visit to the United Nations. He came bearing a different message: Iran seeks a peaceful resolution to its decade-old nuclear standoff with the international community.

Yet in May, shortly before he was elected, Rouhani appeared on state-run IRIB TV to defend his nuclear work, appearing defensive as a hard-line interviewer essentially accused him of bowing before the West. … Rouhani at one point became flustered by the insinuation that, as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator 10 years ago, he kowtowed to the West by bringing his country's nuclear activities to a stop.

"We halted the nuclear program?" he asked, rhetorically. "We were the ones to complete it! We completed the technology."

[The interviewer] pushed Rouhani harder, claiming that uranium enrichment at a facility in Isfahan had been suspended while Rouhani was in charge. Rouhani denied the accusation, and then claimed credit for the development of a heavy-water reactor in Arak in 2004.

"Do you know when we developed yellowcake? Winter 2004. Do you know when the number of centrifuges reached 3,000? Winter 2004."

Mr. Goldberg warns against looking at Rouhani's comments as solely for domestic consumption and simply an effort to calm anxious hardliners who have implied Rouhani is moving toward rapprochement too quickly. He urges world leaders to "pay close attention" to everything Rouhani says as they move into negotiations, not just what he says in Geneva.

That mistrust is certainly thereScott Peterson writes in The Christian Science Monitor:

“We are pessimistic about the Americans. We do not at all trust them,” Ayatollah Khamenei told graduating Army cadets, according to a translation on his official website. The US “is an arrogant, unreasonable and untrustworthy government which is completely under the influence of the international Zionist network.”

On the US side, Mr. Obama noted in his UN speech, also on Sept. 25, that US-Iran “mistrust has deep roots,” though a nuclear deal can be a “major step down a long road towards a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.” He assured the Iranians that the US is not seeking regime change. …

When US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman was asked while testifying before the Senate last week if the US trusted Rouhani after those events of a decade ago, she replied, “Senator, I don’t trust the people who sit across the table from me in these negotiations,” 

Referring to that period, Sherman, who is the top US negotiator at the nuclear talks, said, “We know that deception is part of the DNA.” 

But while skepticism does not seem a solid base for such difficult negotiations, mutual trust is not a prerequisite for progress, Mr. Peterson writes. Both US and Iranian officials, most notably the foreign minister and his US counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, have said in the the last week that its unlikely the two countries will become "friendly" or have a relationship "based on trust."

But if both sides want a deal, mutual steps toward that could be enough to keep negotiations moving forward, officials told Peterson.

“The question of trust boils down to 'what are the ultimate objectives of one side or the other?'” says an Iranian academic now in Washington, who asked not to be named.

One model may be Russia and the US, which cooperate and have embassies, but also “really have deep-seated differences,” says the Iranian academic.

Iran will likely insist on the right to continue enriching uranium to between 3 and 5 percent, a level suitable for use in power reactors – essentially civilian energy production.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been adamant that Israel could not accept any enrichment on Iranian soil. Accepting the Iranian proposal could divide the US from some of its Middle Eastern allies, the Journal notes.

By falling short of a complete shutdown of enrichment, the anticipated Iranian offer could divide the U.S. from its closest Middle East alliesparticularly Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who have cautioned the White House against moving too quickly to improve ties with Tehran, according to American and Mideast officials.

Senior Obama administration officials have refused to say whether the U.S. would accept Iran maintaining the ability to enrich uranium on its soil.

"I'm not going to negotiate in public," the Obama administration's chief Iran negotiator, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, told a Senate hearing last week. "All I can do is repeat what the president of the United States has said: We respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy."

Those countries resisting rapprochement with Iran could be left behind by world powers eager not to let this opportunity be scuttled. Britain and Iran announced Tuesday that they would appoint diplomats to each other's countries once again.

The posts were dissolved in 2011, after the British embassy in Tehran was attacked and relations were "dissolved to the lowest level short of a break," The New York Times reports. Each country will appoint a chargé d'affaires, a rank below an ambassador, and reopening the embassies is on the table for discussion.

South Koreans watch a television broadcasting a satellite image of the nuclear facility in North Korea, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

How credible is North Korea's threat of 'horrible disaster'?

By Staff writer / 10.08.13

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

 North Korea put its forces on high alert and warned the US of “horrible disaster” if it followed through with a three-nation military exercise that includes a US nuclear-powered ship. Some observers say, however, that the North’s bellicose language could indicate its desire to attract US attention and possibly restart long-stalled six-nation nuclear talks.

The North said relations on the Korean peninsula were “getting strained again,” and told the US that the closer the military exercises came, “the more unpredictable disasters their actions will cause," according to a military statement.

"The US should bear in mind that the Korean people and army are highly alert to promptly and confidently cope with and foil blatant provocations of any hostile forces in the world with its own powerful military muscle,” the military statement read.

The US and South Korea have repeatedly demanded that Pyongyang show a commitment to stopping its nuclear program before recommencing six-nation talks between China, Russia, Japan, the US, and North and South Korea.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations:

In early 2012, under new leader Kim Jong-un, the isolated nation announced it would suspend nuclear tests and allow international inspectors to monitor the moratorium in exchange for food aid from the United States. But a long-range missile launch in late 2012 and another test in early 2013 that defied UN resolutions prompted Russia to prod Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.

Adding to tensions on the Korean peninsula, last week Pyongyang restarted its nuclear reactor, which has been dormant since 2007, reports Fox News.

"North Korea must realize that provocative remarks would deepen its isolation from the international community," South Korea's unification ministry said in a statement today.

Joint military exercises between the US, Japan, and South Korea happen regularly and were slated to begin today and last for three days. However, the drills have been delayed due to weather. The exercises are “designed to strengthen coordination and improve readiness to respond to situations such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” a US defense official told Agence France-Presse. The US has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, reports Reuters.

According to AFP, the emergency order issued by North Korea did not sound as serious as past warnings from the notoriously isolated and impoverished nation.

“The North is simply trying to draw attention from the outside world to the fact that it is closely watching the drill," Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies told the AFP.

"It also aims to alert its people to security threats from the United States, South Korea and Japan and pave the way for shifting blame for any military tension on the peninsula to the three,” Mr. Yang said.

According to Al Jazeera:

In March, the North declared it was no longer bound by the armistice that ended fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War signed with the United States and China, threatening to use nuclear weapons to attack US and South Korean territories.

It is believed to have enough fissile material to build up to 10 nuclear bombs, but most intelligence analysis says it has yet to master the technology to deploy such weapons.

Reuters reports that North Korea has a “large but ageing conventional military” which is “considered unfit to fight an extended modern battle,” although it did stage a surprise attack on the South in 2010, killing 50 people.

Beyond North Korea’s threats to foreign countries and perceived enemies, its treatment of its own population has long been a concern, though on that some argue has gotten far too little concerted scrutiny. In an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal this week, former CIA chief for Korea analysis Bruce Klinger and human rights lawyer Jared Genser wrote that a UN commission’s “shocking” findings of human rights abuses in North Korea have long been a problem that needs more attention.

North Korea's human-rights record is overshadowed by its nuclear and missile programs, defiance of U.N. resolutions, vitriolic threats and periodic military attacks on South Korea. These are serious security threats to Asia and the United States.

But it's past time for the world to remain silent about Pyongyang's treatment of its own citizens. There should be widespread international outrage against the horrors systemically perpetuated on the North Korean people by their leaders. North Korea's killing fields must disappear.

The U.N. created its Commission of Inquiry because it realized how ineffectual it is simply to express "very serious concern" about human rights in North Korea. In February, U.N. Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman identified nine categories in which North Korea might be committing crimes against humanity.

Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai gives a speech after receiving the RAW (Reach All Women) in War Anna Politkovskaya Award at the Southbank Centre in London October 4, 2013. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

Up for Nobel Prize, Malala still targeted by Taliban (+video)

By Staff writer / 10.07.13

One year after a Taliban gunman stunned the world by shooting Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai as she rode the bus to school, the difference between the Taliban and Malala’s ideology remain stark. While Malala called this week for dialogue with the Taliban, their spokesman said the group would target Malala again if given the chance.

"The best way to solve problems and to fight against war is through dialogue," Malala told the BBC Monday in her first in-depth interview since the Oct. 9, 2012 attack.

Malala, now attending school in England, said the Taliban “must do what they want through dialogue.”

"Killing people, torturing people and flogging people… it's totally against Islam,” she said. “They are misusing the name of Islam."

But Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban, told CNN Monday that the group would go after Malala again if given the opportunity, as it would with anyone who opposes the group.

Mr. Shahid said the Pakistani Taliban singled-out Malala because she was “used in propaganda” against the Taliban and denied that the group homed in on Malala because she was an outspoken advocate for girls education.

At the time of the shooting, Malala was a 15-year-old schoolgirl already well known within Pakistan for her articulate defense of the right to education for girls. She wrote the anonymous blog “Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl” for the BBC, and spoke openly on Pakistani television and in a New York Times documentary about her determination to stay in school.

Malala's autobiography, "I am Malala," to be published Tuesday, describes her memories from the attack for the first time. In an excerpt from the book, Malala writes:

The man was wearing a peaked cap and had a handkerchief over his nose and mouth. Then he swung himself onto the tailboard and leaned in over us. “Who is Malala?” he demanded.

No one said anything, but several of the girls looked at me. I was the only girl with my face uncovered.

That’s when he lifted up a black pistol.

The gunman shot Malala three times, nearly killing her and injuring two of her classmates. Malala recovered in a British hospital and has not returned to Pakistan since the shooting.

Despite the threats, Malala said she plans on eventually returning to her native country and entering politics. 

"I will be a politician in my future. I want to change the future of my country and I want to make education compulsory," she told the BBC.

In July, Malala continued to advocate for girls' education when she addressed the United Nations and she’s in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize, due to be announced Friday.

The Malala Fund, supported by UNESCO, the Pakistan government, and a Washington-based non-governmental organization, is paying to send 40 girls to school in the Swat Valley, Malala’s home region.

Yet, as The Christian Science Monitor's correspondent Annabel Symington reported last month, while the Swat Valley was cleared of the Taliban by a Pakistani military operation in 2009, “it’s taken a while for girls to fill the schools again.”

Girls struggle to simply get to school in the remote mountainous region and the persistent issue of poverty remains key. The Taliban is considered a greater threat in areas that border the valley, but activists here say there's a need to make sure girls as well as boys are educated in order to avoid a repeat of the past.

“There is a feeling [in Swat] that if we are not educated these things will happen again," says Hazer Gul, a local activist. "The Mullahs misinformed us. They [the community] have understood that education is the key to avoiding militants.”

Today the number of girls' schools in Swat is substantially less than the number of schools available to boys: 717 primary schools for boys compared with 425 for girls, according to official figures.

While Monday's statement by the Pakistani Taliban underscores the continued threats to Malala, a different Pakistani Taliban commander wrote to Malala in July and urged her to return to Pakistan.

"When you were attacked it was shocking for me. I wished it would never happened and I had advised you before."

"At the end I advise you to come back home," Rasheed wrote, adding that she should join a female Islamic school and "use your pen for Islam".

"Taliban believe that you were intentionally writing against them and running a smearing campaign to malign their efforts to establish Islamic system in Swat and your writings were provocative,” he wrote.

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers his keynote address at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Bali, Indonesia, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013. Kerry, speaking at the economic summit, told reporters that the Libya raid to capture senior Al Qaeda member Nazih al-Ruqai was conducted legally. (Wong Maye-E/AP)

Kerry says Libya raid not a 'kidnapping' (+video)

By Staff writer / 10.07.13

US Secretary of State John Kerry defended Saturday's special forces raid in Libya, calling the abduction of senior Al Qaeda member Nazih al-Ruqai "legal and appropriate," despite Libyan protestations that Mr. Ruqai was "kidnapped" in violation of domestic law.

Mr. Kerry, speaking at an economic summit in Indonesia, told reporters that the Libya raid to capture Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Liby, was conducted legally, as was a simultaneous but unsuccessful effort to capture another terrorist leader in Somalia, reports BBC News. Kerry added that Ruqai would be tried in a court of law.

"With respect to Abu Anas al-Liby, he is a key al-Qaeda figure, and he is a legal and an appropriate target for the US military," Mr Kerry told reporters on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit in Indonesia. ...

Mr Kerry said the operations in Libya and Somalia showed that the US would never stop "in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror".

The New York Times reports that Ruqai is being held in military custody on board a US Navy ship in the Mediterranean, where he will be interrogated before eventually being flown to New York to face federal charges related to various Al Qaeda plots, including the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 224 people.

The Times writes that Ruqai "has been described as a Qaeda computer expert and helped to conduct surveillance of the embassy in Nairobi, according to evidence in trials stemming from the bombings."

But the Associated Press reports that it was "unclear" whether Ruqai's role in Al Qaeda was significant – it describes him as a "scout" in the 1998 attacks – and whether he was involved in any militant activities in Libya. His family and peers say that he was never a member of the terrorist group and had not been involved in any militant activities since 2011, when he returned to Libya after several years in Afghanistan and Iran.

AP adds that in a statement issued Sunday, the Libyan government complained about the raid.

...The Libyan government said it asked the U.S. for “clarifications” about what it called the “kidnapping,” underlining that its citizens should be tried in Libyan courts if accused of a crime. It said it hoped its “strategic partnership” with Washington would not be damaged by the incident.

Still, the relatively soft-toned statement underlined the predicament of the Libyan government. It is criticized by opponents at home over its ties with Washington, but it is also reliant on security co-operation with the Americans.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that Libyans are divided over the raid – some agree with the US operation, while others criticize it as a violation of Libyan sovereignty. But even the critics agree that the raid highlights the relative impotence of the government in Tripoli when it comes to dealing with Islamists in the country, where militias operate with impunity.

Fahed Bakoush, a young activist in Benghazi, ... wants more done to resist extremism. Last year he was among the first people to discover [Christopher] Stevens, the former ambassador [killed in a militant attack in Benghazi], unconscious in the US consulate and helped organize rallies to condemn violence. Still, he says yesterday’s raid went too far.

“It’s like someone breaking into your house,” he says. “We had a revolution to build a strong, free Libya.”

He wants Libyan authorities to fight criminality “with an iron hand,” he says. But he concedes that for now, they can do little. The state’s weakness was underscored yesterday when gunmen opened fire on a military checkpoint outside Tripoli, killing 15 soldiers.

“What the raid also did was to show that the Libyan state cannot maintain security,” he says.

Abdullah al Ragye (L), son of Nazih al-Ragye, better known as Abu Anas al-Liby, speaks to reporters at the family home in Tripoli, Libya, October 6, 2013. (REUTERS)

Navy SEALs Somalia raid: Will such strikes set a new pattern? (+video)

By Correspondent / 10.07.13

A daily summary of global reports on security issues

A successful US commando raid in Libya and a failed raid in Somalia, both this weekend, have roused a debate about what unilateral US action in sovereign countries accomplishes and what it indicates about US strategy.

The operation in Somalia was aborted when members of the US Navy SEAL Team Six came under heavier-than-expected fire from the beachside villa that was their target. But the raid in Tripoli succeeded in capturing Al Qaeda operative Abu Anas al-Liby, who is now reportedly being held and questioned on a US Navy ship. It's a major development in a storyline that began 14 years ago, when Mr. Liby went on the run after an arrest and release in Britain.

A Telegraph story on Al Libi traces his long career:

Identifiable by a scar on the left side of his face, al-Libi had earned respect within the terrorist network for his sophisticated computer skills and outstanding performance at training camps.

He had begun conducting "photographic surveillance of the US Embassy in Nairobi" in late 1993, as part of a plot to attack it, according to Jamal al-Fadl, an al-Qaeda member turned US government witness.

...

Later, "bin Laden looked at the picture of the American embassy and pointed to where a truck could go as a suicide bomber," al-Fadl told a judge.

Four years later, the twin bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killed 224 people and injured more than 4,000 – and gave a clear statement of al-Qaeda's future intent.

The New York Times argues that the raids show the limits of US military strikes, but puts these particular strikes into a positive overall context:

Military veterans said that the contrasting results reflected the challenges of counterterrorism. “It’s hard to think of a more complex mission than an amphibious raid into strongly held enemy territory,” said Gen. Carter F. Ham, the retired head of the military’s Africa Command, who noted that he had not been briefed on the details of the operation.

While only one of the two targets was captured, no Americans were hurt. “The reality is that there’s no such thing as 100 percent success except in the movies,” said a defense official who asked not to be named. “This was a better-than-average day.”

A BBC analysis casts the raids as a conscious shift away from full-scale conflicts like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The twin US commando raids to seize senior Al Qaeda operatives in two different African countries on [Oct. 5] show Washington's preference for highly targeted special operations, where it believes its mission has a high probability of success.

While the Obama administration has sought to avoid or extract itself from big, costly theatres of conflict like Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, it has invested heavily in the joint counter-terrorism and special operations sphere, to go after what the US calls "high-value targets".

But commando raids are not, of course, risk free – even when successful. The Monitor reports that even Libyans who recognized its necessity were not happy about the raid.

Most Libyans will understand why US authorities seized a chance to apprehend Mr. Liby, says Anas El Gomati, director of the Sadeq Institute, a Libyan affairs think tank in Tripoli. “But not everyone will be happy with the loss of sovereignty.”

The US says that Liby’s capture was lawful, but it’s unclear whether Libyan leaders knew that it would take place. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has called the raid a “kidnapping” and demanded an explanation, reports Reuters.

This calculation – the importance of national sovereignty versus the argument that a war against global terrorism must quickly and regularly cross borders – echoes some of the analysis of the dramatic 2011 US commando raid in Pakistan that killed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. In both Libya and Pakistan, the US had an opportunity to reach out through official channels or backchannels to at least nominally friendly governments, but opted instead for unilateral military option, in part because of concerns about the intentions and capabilities of the governments in question.

Whether the two attacks represent a shift in strategy depends on the scope of your context. The Monitor argues that they are a significant departure from Obama's low-risk and relatively low-visibility campaign of drone strikes, but USA Today rejects that take:

Security analysts say it is unlikely the two raids signal a dramatic shift in policy, as there were specific conditions that provided rare opportunities. Both Libya and Somalia have weak central governments that lack the ability to quickly detect a raiding party.

The failed Somalia raid might ultimately prove counterproductive to the fight against Al Shabab, according to the Monitor. 

The operation could have opposite its intended result of discouraging further attacks. Analysts warn that even earlier successful targeted strikes against Al Shabab, a Somalia-based Islamist militant group, failed to curb the group's capacity to carry out international terror attacks, and that failed missions could in fact bolster its support and recruitment.

US involvement in Somalia has been particularly fraught since the highly controversial 1993 "Battle of Mogadishu" raid dramatized in Mark Bowden's book "Black Hawk Down" and the Ridley Scott movie of the same name. Since that incident, most US efforts against the Shabab have avoided "boots on the ground" infantry conflict; the last known such event before this weekend's operation was a 2009 strike that killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, an Al Qaeda ringleader who was working closely with Al Shabab fighters.

Armed police leave after entering the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 after gunmen threw grenades and opened fire in a terrorist attack. (Jonathan Kalan/AP)

Kenyan police actions since Westgate attack raise red flags

By Correspondent / 10.04.13

A daily summary of global reports on security issues

The September terrorist attack that killed at least 67 people at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, has illuminated how unprepared that country was for a siege of its magnitude.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is new to such high-level political positions, little chatter was intercepted before the attack, and security guards at the mall were revealed to be low paid and under-trained.

Even more serious problems are reported by The New York Times:

Police officers and soldiers could not communicate with each other — their radios were on different frequencies, Kenyan officials said. Rescuers did not have blueprints for several hours, relying instead on printouts of rough floor plans from the Westgate Web site — that is, when it had not crashed as people around the world overloaded the site.

Some of Kenya’s best soldiers needed to be flown in from Somalia, and few, if any, of the forces at the mall had night-vision goggles, limiting night operations and giving militants time to regroup and possibly kill more people trapped inside, said several officials briefed on the response.

The Los Angeles Times reports that closed circuit video has revealed a shocking timeline for the looting that Kenyan soldiers are alleged to have committed at the mall, as well:

Kenyan media have reported that soldiers began stealing almost as soon as they arrived on the scene shortly after the attack began, with assailants and some victims still inside.

The looting has outraged many Kenyans and embarrassed the military chiefs, who met Thursday to discuss the scandal.

As the retrospective analysis continues, DNA testing is underway to determine the identities of as many as 39 more victims, and the shaken expat community is attempting to put the attack in context, reports the Monitor:

“How can any of us sit in any of these shopping centers any more and not think that it can happen again,” asks Bridget Allison, a British media producer who has lived in Nairobi for close to a decade.

“My friends in the UK used to look on my life in Kenya with envy, but now they’re looking at me like I’m mad to want to live here, and that if you do, you’re being very selfish to put your family in these kinds of risks,” she says.

Troubling allegations about an extra-judicial response by the government are now surfacing. In Kenya last August, the highway-side killing of alleged Al Shabab representative Aboud Rogo Mohammed touched off riots in the city of Mombasa. In the wake of the mall attack, that incident has found a grim echo – gunmen have shot dead Ibrahim "Rogo" Omar and three other people, reports the BBC.

Mr. Rogo was alleged to have links with Al Shabab and some Muslims accused the Kenyan security forces of killing him – an allegation they strongly denied.
Mr. Omar is seen as the successor to Mr. Rogo, as he preached at the same mosque – and after his death Mr. Omar was given the nickname Rogo.

Both killings are worrisome for those invested in the stability of Kenya: The perception that police are linked to these murders has the potential to provoke an ever-escalating Algerian Civil War-style cycle of terrorism and extra-judicial police response.

A list of those invested in the stability of Kenya looks like a list of most European nations and the United States. A European national (a German formerly named Andreas Martin Mueller, now Ahmed Khaled Mueller, who has been on the run for more than a year) and a British woman nicknamed "The White Widow" have been linked to the attack. Attackers recruited from the United States have also been connected to the incident, as the Monitor reported:

On Monday, Al Shabab claimed via Twitter that three of the attackers were America-based, with two of them coming from Minnesota, whose Twin City area has one of the largest Somali communities in the United States, with more than 80,000 people.

The Minnesotans are said to be Ahmed Mohammed Isse of St. Paul and Abdifatah Osman Keenadiid of Minneapolis. Another attacker is Mustafe Noorudiin of Kansas. The militants also supposedly include members from Canada, Finland, and Britain. Early eyewitness accounts of the militants by Kenyans suggest they are mostly of ethnic Somali descent. 

And one of the most prominent victims of the attack wasn't Kenyan – he was Kofi Awoonor, a renowned poet from Ghana.

The link to Somalia is strong and key to understanding the attack. The BBC referred to the two nations as "blood brothers." Kenyan forces fighting Al Shabab in Somalia are an integral part of the East African conflict between Islamic militants and secular governments, and as long as that tension remains, more attacks and counterattacks could follow.

Extreme-right Golden Dawn party senior lawmaker Christos Pappas is escorted by anti-terrorism police officers to a courthouse in Athens October 3, 2013. The leader of the party was sent to jail pending trial on criminal charges on Thursday in a boost to a government campaign to wipe out what it calls "a neo-Nazi criminal gang." (Yorgos Karahalis/REUTERS)

Greek crackdown on the Golden Dawn: What are the risks?

By Staff writer / 10.03.13

A daily summary of global reports on security issues

Three right-wing lawmakers in Athens were released from custody this week pending trial, in a move that raised concerns that Greece’s crackdown on the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party could backfire.

Some 35 people associated with the political party Golden Dawn, which gained 18 MPs in parliament last spring, were arrested on Saturday in a crackdown sparked by the stabbing murder of an anti-racism rapper last month.

"This government is determined not to allow the heirs of the Nazis to poison our social life, to commit crimes, to terrorize and to undermine the foundations of the country that gave birth to democracy," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a brief televised address after the death of rapper Pavlos Fyssas.

A man arrested at the scene of the murder identified himself as a supporter of Golden Dawn, though the party has denied any involvement.

After more than 17 hours of testimony, three Golden Dawn politicians were released yesterday, while a fourth was kept in custody due to evidence linking him to murder, attempted murder, blackmail, and other criminal activity, reports The New York Times. Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who is known for attacking a woman during a live TV debate after she disagreed with him and denouncing former Prime Minister George Papandreou as being "only 25 percent Greek," was one of the three politicians released. He hit and shoved journalists on his way out of court, multiple media outlets report.

The government arrested party leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos this morning after six hours of testimony lasted late into the night. When he was first brought into court, an estimated 200 party supporters waved Greek flags and yelled, “blood, honor, Golden Dawn,” reports Reuters.

It is illegal to ban political groups in Greece, so the government is instead trying to prove the party’s criminal ties. 

Agence France-Presse describes the history of the party, which is some three decades old but only gained a presence in parliament in elections last year. Golden Dawn capitalized on Greek unhappiness with government leadership amid the sovereign debt crisis, austerity, and anti-immigration sentiments.

The party follows a strict military-style regimen. Its members conduct parades dressed in black shirts and camouflage trousers, and are required to stand to attention before higher-ranking members.

Magistrates have linked the group to two homicides, three attempted homicides, robberies and an arson attack on a bank.

The evidence was drawn from prior police investigations, police wiretaps and the testimony of former members who have described how the group orchestrated attacks on migrants and Greek rivals.

According to the magistrates' report, which was leaked to the media, Golden Dawn also held clandestine training in the use of assault weaponry for elite members….

At the time of its inception and for years thereafter, Golden Dawn glorified Adolf Hitler and the warrior ethos of Nazi Germany in its party publications.

One of the party's older texts, read in parliament by a leftist MP in May, called Hitler a "visionary of new Europe".

"Faith in the words of the Fuehrer, and faith in victory, grows in our hearts. The fight goes on, the future is ours," the Golden Dawn text read.

This is the first crackdown on elected officials in Greece in almost five decades, reports the Associated Press.

The release of some party members has worried observers who question how well planned the government crackdown on Golden Dawn has been. Party supporters say the cases against Golden Dawn sympathizers and members are based mainly on illegal wiretaps. The New York Times reports:

…[A]lready, serious questions have been raised about the planning and effectiveness of the crackdown, and whether it may actually boomerang against the government and end up generating sympathy for Golden Dawn, one of Europe’s most violent far-right groups.

“If it is not handled properly, you could get a kind of a bounce back of Golden Dawn,” said George Katrougalos, a constitutional law professor at the Democritus University of Thrace. “If they appear to be victims of the establishment, that may broaden their appeal.”

Questions are already being raised about the legality, even constitutionality, of the government’s methods.

“It is clear that the judiciary has refused to follow the orders of a government enslaved to foreigners,” Golden Dawn said in an online statement after the decision to free three of the lawmakers. “The unconstitutional, blatantly illegal government conspiracy is collapsing under the huge weight of truth and common sense.”

The latest polls in Greece show that Golden Dawn has lost support since the murder of Mr. Fyssas, reports the Associated Press. This past week, between 6 and 7 percent of voters said they would vote for the party today, down from 8 to 12 percent before, reports The Wall Street Journal.

“Is this the end of Golden Dawn, or is it really just the beginning?” Eleni Batziopoulou, a philosophy student in Keratsini, Greece asked The New York Times. “I want to believe it’s the end, because I want to have hope in the future. But if it’s not, then it’s the start of a wave of trouble.”

Charges against Golden Dawn party members and supporters include some cases that have been in limbo for years, and include murder, money laundering, and extortion charges, reports the Times. Some question how these cases went without judicial attention for so long. Raids have been conducted this week on homes and offices of police officers with suspected ties to the party, reports the Associated Press.

“It is obvious that there was an inertia toward Golden Dawn by the state and other authorities until now,” Mr. Katrougalos told the Times.

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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
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