U.S. MILITARY BATTLES SYRIAN REBELS ONCE SUPPORTED BY CIA, NOW BACKED BY TURKEY

Soldiers from the U.S.-led coalition tasked with battling the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) engaged in a firefight in northern Syria Tuesday with Syrian rebels whose movement was once supported by the CIA.

Ryan Dillon, a spokesperson for the Kuwait-based Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, said the insurgents opened fire first near the city of Manbij, prompting coalition forces to shoot back before taking cover elsewhere. The belligerent Syrian fighters were not identified, but they were believed to have been part of a Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army group opposed to ISIS, the Syrian military and the mostly Kurdish forces supported by the Pentagon, all of which are vying for control in northern Syria.

“Our forces did receive fire and return fire and then moved to a secure location,” Dillon told Reuters, adding that the coalition has admonished Turkey and told it to tell its allies that such an incident “is not acceptable.”

Dillon went on to say that coalition forces trying to defuse tensions between Syrian Arab rebels and the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces “received fire multiple times over the course of the last two weeks,” even though the U.S. and Turkey are NATO allies. Turkey has criticized U.S. support for Kurdish militias such as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), because it considers them connected to an insurgent Kurdish nationalist movement at home.

While it’s uncertain if there is any link between the two events, the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army’s Ninth Brigade special forces released images of its fighters conducting training drills in northern Syria around the time reports emerged of the clash. The Free Syrian Army, a loosely knit band of armed opposition groups, was once one of the most powerful revolutionary groups in Syria, but it has suffered years of defections and defeats to jihadist groups also trying to overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2011.

The Free Syrian Army was also the primary recipient of CIA funding to overthrow Assad, but this support diminished as ISIS and Al-Qaeda became increasingly influential among rebels. Turkey attempted to unify the remains of the Free Syrian Army in northern Syria in May, and reports emerged in July that the Trump administration had cut all CIA funding to rebel groups that refused to stop fighting Assad and at times clashed with the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which is now the U.S.’s primary partner in Syria.

The Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces have taken more than half of ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa since storming the city in June. Syria’s armed forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have also managed to return to Assad large swaths of the country lost to rebels and jihadists. Both sides have their eyes set on the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor, which has been under ISIS siege since at least 2014.

Despite tensions and even violence between the U.S.-led coalition and pro-government forces in past months, the Trump administration has expressed its willingness to work with Russia in order to find a political solution to the six-year war that’s already killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions more. The two powers have established a cooperation center in neighboring Jordan and have committed to a ceasefire between the Syrian military and a separate Free Syrian Army faction in the southwestern city of Daraa.

Manbij was also the site of early, informal cooperation between the U.S. and Russia when both sent personnel to support their respective partners on the ground from a Free Syrian Army advance in March. Both the U.S. and the Russian military have conducted patrols in the city, which is administrated by a council backed by the Syrian Democratic Forces.

A U.N.-led effort to end the Syrian conflict in Geneva has repeatedly stalled as opposition groups grow frustrated with Assad’s refusal to step down, especially as the military regains control over much of the country. Russia, Iran and Turkey are involved in separate ongoing talks between the Syrian government and the opposition in the Kazakh capital of Astana. This dialogue has produced four “de-escalation zones” not formally recognized by the U.S.

BY TOM O’CONNOR ON 8/29/17 AT 3:40 PM

Find this story at 29 August 2017

© 2017 NEWSWEEK LLC

U.S. coalition exchanged fire with rebels in Syria

BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S.-led coalition forces returned fire after being repeatedly shot at near Manbij in northern Syria, where they are patrolling near areas held by Turkish-backed rebels, coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said on Tuesday.

“Our forces did receive fire and return fire and then moved to a secure location,” he said by phone.

The incident reflects the complexity of the battlefield in northern Syria, where the Russia-backed Syrian army, Kurdish forces aided by the U.S.-led coalition and Syrian rebels supported by Washington’s ally Turkey are all operating.

The coalition has told Turkey to tell the rebels it backs there that firing on U.S.-led coalition forces “is not acceptable”, Dillon said.

U.S. ground forces are in northern Syria as part of the U.S.-led coalition supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a local alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias battling Islamic State.

Last year, Turkey backed Syrian rebel groups in an offensive next to SDF-held areas aimed at both pushing Islamic State from the border and quelling the expansion of Kurdish influence.

The Turkish-backed rebels and the SDF have often exchanged small arms and artillery fire in other parts of northern Syria where U.S.-led coalition forces are not patrolling.

“Our overt patrols that have been conducting patrols in that area to keep tensions down received fire multiple times over the course of the last two weeks,” Dillon said.

“We let our counterparts in Turkey know this and we continue to conduct these patrols but are always prepared and ready to defend ourselves in that area.”

U.S. forces have been filmed since last year patrolling near Turkey-backed rebel areas while clearly displaying the U.S. flag.

Russian military police have also carried out patrols in northern areas held by the Syrian army and by the Kurdish YPG militia, the main component of the SDF.

Coalition and U.S. jets have carried out operations to prevent potential attacks on local forces they support.

A year ago, they scrambled to protect U.S. special operations forces in northern Syria from attack by government jets during rare clashes between the Syrian army and the YPG.

In May, the U.S. military carried out an air strike against militia supported by the Syrian government that posed a threat to U.S. and U.S.-backed fighters in southern Syria.

Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Andrew Roche
AUGUST 29, 2017 / 6:05 PM / 24 DAYS AGO

Find this story at 29 August 2017

Copyright https://www.reuters.com/

Syria pivot? Why anti-Assad rebels, dropped by CIA, could land with jihadists.

A SHIFT IN THOUGHT Suspension of a CIA program that armed and trained the rebels leaves them with few options. Some may join the US-backed anti-ISIS campaign, but others may join jihadists to pursue their campaign against Assad. Some already have.

President Trump’s reported suspension of a covert CIA program to fund, arm, and train Syrian rebels is seen as signaling the end of US efforts to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the battlefield.

But the cutting of US ties – and likely those of US allies who also provided the rebels material support – also calls into question the fate of thousands of armed fighters who have grown reliant on US support and direction.

The move, which some commentators have characterized as appeasing Russia, Mr. Assad’s most powerful backer, has left thousands of mainstream rebels struggling to navigate a battlefield suddenly tipped against them, without a patron, without guidance – and for some – without a cause.

Among the options for the rebels, looking to evolve to survive: join the US-led battle against the so-called Islamic State, or, for the fervently anti-Assad fighters, even join the ranks of jihadist and Islamist groups, which have retained their shadowy funding and supply lines.

Abu Mohammed al Darrawi, the nom de guerre of a Free Syrian Army (FSA) intelligence official who has spent the past four years shuttling between southern Syria and Jordan to negotiate for arms and support, says many “emotional” fighters and commanders will begin considering outreach by Al Qaeda and other well-funded Islamist militias.

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“We lost our brothers, our sisters, our children; we went through hell just to end this regime and see an end to Assad,” Darrawi said.

“If Al Qaeda, if Ahrar al Sham, if the devil himself is fighting Assad and will help us in this fight, we will side with them.”

Timber Sycamore

When the CIA launched the covert training and arming program, known as Timber Sycamore, in early 2013, it was designed to pressure Assad on the battlefield while regulating the flow of arms and cash that had already been pouring in from Gulf countries and from Turkey.

The CIA, along with the US allies, vetted and trained thousands of rebels from the FSA and affiliated militias at bases within Turkey to the north and Jordan to the south.

Every operation, every battlefield movement, was micromanaged from Military Operations Centers (MOCs), in Jordan and Turkey that featured US, French, British, Saudi, and Emirati intelligence and military officials.

The US and its allies provided the rebels with light arms, including heavy machine guns, mortars, sniper rifles, and vehicles. But, due to Washington’s concerns, they did not provide them with the anti-aircraft weapons they needed to counter regime airstrikes and turn the tide on the battlefield.

The Trump administration’s suspension of Timber Sycamore followed months of scaling down the program and was seen by many as an inevitable divorce. Mr. Trump referred this week on Twitter to his “ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments” to the rebels.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, staunch supporters of the rebels, will be unable or unwilling to go against their ally Washington and continue arming or financing the fighters, say Arab security sources close to the MOC in Amman.

Jordan will no longer offer a land corridor to provide weapons to the south, Turkey is pressuring moderate rebels in the north to fight a proxy war with Kurdish groups, while Qatar, a major backer of Islamist rebels, will also be unwilling to throw its support behind the FSA.

The mood in the northern Jordanian town of Irbid, 12 miles from the Syrian border, where commanders of the FSA’s Southern Front have lived and operated, is one of weariness as they consider their options.

“We have 54 factions in the south alone without support, without arms, and without salaries,” says Abdul Hadi Sari, a former Syrian air force general who has been an adviser to FSA’s Southern Front and a military analyst based in Jordan.

“When the US says stop, they all stop.”

Fighting against, with jihadists

According to rebel commanders close to the MOC in Amman, rebels have been negotiating with Saudi Arabia and the UAE to continue salaries to fighters in order to prevent them from breaking ranks and joining jihadist groups. There have been 50 reported defections already this month.

The end of the CIA program meanwhile may also boost efforts to build a fighting force to oust ISIS from Syria, analysts and rebels say, the only way mainstream rebels can secure US support or that of its allies.

According to Syrian rebel commanders close to operations, the US has been redirecting vetted rebels to bases established near Tanf in the triangle between south-eastern Syria, western Iraq, and northern Jordan to train and take up the fight against ISIS in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour.

“The CIA program was aimed at Assad, while the Department of Defense’s program was aimed at ISIS,” Faysal Itani, a Syria expert and senior fellow at the Rafiq Hairiri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, says via email.

“Ending the former will, if anything, pressure fighters to join the latter in order to get paid and receive US protection.”

As the CIA program was winding down over the past three months, 200 vetted Syrian rebels traveled to Tanf to join the US-formed Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra (Revolutionary Commandos Army) for training, according to Syrian rebel commanders. Hundreds more are said to be considering the offer, but travel from southwest and northwest Syria to the southeast is a dangerous proposition given that swathes of territory are held by pro-regime Shiite militias or ISIS.

“Entering at-Tanf for many would be a suicide mission,” says Mr. Sari, the former air force general. “But if you are starving and worn down by four years of war, many may take that risk.”

Police force?

One proposal allegedly backed by both Russia and the US, which came as part of Russia-US-Jordan tripartite talks in Amman that reached a cease-fire in south Syria, is the transformation of the Free Syrian Army and moderate rebels from a militia to a “police force.”

Under the proposal, which according to those close to the ongoing tripartite talks has gained the support of Jordan, the rebels would change their mission from overthrowing Assad to keeping the peace in recently-announced truce zones in southern Syria and east of Damascus.

As part of the switch, as envisioned by the West, rebels would receive police training within southern Syria and salaries to both police and prevent extremist groups from filling the vacuum. Should it prove successful, the model would be replicated in central and northern Syria, with the presence of a non-regime police force facilitating the return of Syrian refugees from Jordan and Turkey, according to those close to the talks.

Syrian rebel commanders are divided on the initiative; some say they would rather fight to the “last bullet” than abandon their cause.

“Many would rather die as martyrs than live as policemen,” says Abu Kamal, the nom de guerre of a FSA rebel commander in the Damascus countryside, whose fighters came to a standstill due to funding cuts last month, ahead of the Trump decision.

But, while the mission would be a far cry from overthrowing a regime that has committed atrocities, rebels say many fighters, worn down from broken promises and an increasingly sectarian fight, may be ready to accept the offer.

“When we went out and protested for freedom, we did not know that we would be facing jihadists, the world’s Shiite militias, Russia, a civil war, and a sectarian war,” Sari says.

“Right now, if you offer us security and peace on our homeland, many will take it.”

Alaa Al-Faqir/Reuters
Taylor Luck
JULY 26, 2017 IRBID, JORDAN—

Find this story at 26 July 2017

© The Christian Science Monitor

Dozens of US Civilians Are in Syria Fighting ISIS With Local Forces

RAQQA, Syria — The heavily armed fighters peered out of a broken second-story window at their outpost in a crumbling house on the western edge of this shell-shocked city, where the Islamic State is fighting a furious battle to hold on to the capital of its self-declared caliphate.

They ducked to avoid snipers camped in nearby high-rise apartments. Armed drones hovered nearby. Just before 2 p.m. came the crack of sniper fire.

“That’s our guy,” Kevin Howard, 28, said as he rose and prepared to return fire.

Howard is not one of the hundreds of U.S. troops deployed in Syria. The U.S. Marine Corps veteran from San Francisco came here as a volunteer, part of a small group of freelance recruits who have traveled to Syria from the U.S., Europe and other regions to help local forces fight the Islamic State.

Americans have a history of volunteering to fight overseas. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade fought fascists in the Spanish Civil War; U.S. pilots flew for Britain and China before World War II; and U.S. citizens have served in the Israel Defense Forces.

The war in Syria and Iraq has been more problematic. Americans who try to travel there to fight alongside the Islamic State face immediate arrest, and many have been detained at U.S. airports as they prepared to respond to the militant group’s global call to arms. Those who volunteer to fight the jihadis with U.S.-allied Kurdish and Syrian militias, though the State Department advises against it, face no such legal consequences.

Several hundred such volunteers have arrived since the Syrian civil war began six years ago, according to local estimates, and several dozen remain.

Some, such as Howard, are military veterans who served in the Middle East and believed they had left a job unfinished. Others are young people drawn to the plight of the Kurdish rebels, or by the powerful lure of combat in a faraway land.

In recent days, as the battle for Raqqa has turned into a violent death spiral for the Islamic State, three of the volunteers have died.

Nicholas Warden, 29, of Buffalo, N.Y.; Robert Grodt, 28, originally of Simi Valley; and Luke Rutter, 22, of Birkenhead, England, were killed as Kurdish forces, aided by coalition air support, advanced on Raqqa.

“Everyone is really torn up over losing those three guys, especially all at once. And they were only a few months out of the [Kurdish training] academy,” said Lucas Chapman, who returned to Washington this year after fighting alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, the largest force fighting in eastern Syria.

Warden had served with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and with the French Foreign Legion, Chapman said, and came to fight the Islamic State in February because of the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando, Fla.

Grodt, who graduated from Monte Vista School Independent Learning Academy in Simi Valley and studied philosophy at Moorpark College, was an idealist, friends and family said.

A few years ago, he had hitchhiked cross-country to New York to join Occupy Wall Street protests and proposed to a young woman he met there in Zuccotti Park, the Occupy movement’s base. The couple settled in New York and had a 4-year-old daughter.

In April, he traveled to Syria to join the YPG, after researching the group’s cause and meeting other volunteers who had returned to the U.S. He didn’t consider joining the U.S. military because he wasn’t sure it was getting the job done, according to his mother, Tammy Grodt of Simi Valley.

“My reasons for joining the YPG was to help the Kurdish people in their struggle for autonomy in Syria and elsewhere and also to do my best to help fight Daesh and help create a more secure world,” Robert Grodt said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in one of a series of videos he made from Syria, this one as he sat in uniform in a field, clutching his rifle.

He was killed by a mine explosion July 6, his body taken to a “martyrs’ center” at a YPG cemetery in Qamishli, his mother was told.

Tammy Grodt, a nurse and mother of six, learned of her son’s death July 8. “The State Department is working to bring him home to us,” she said.

She said her son had seen other volunteers return home unscathed and “truly counted on coming back.” He last called home from Syria on May 11, chattering excitedly about his battle buddies and promising to return in August.

“Many may question why he chose a task that seemed so far from being one that could be successfully accomplished,” she said. “He had a lot of passion and dedication and believed with his effort and enthusiasm, working with others just as dedicated, he could accomplish anything he set his mind to.”

Others have had similar aims.

Arriving in Raqqa recently from northeastern Syria, Swedish volunteer Olivia Mefras said she had left to join the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units without telling her parents.

“They’re not that happy about it,” said Mefras, 22. The high school graduate said she had rudimentary firearms training and was eager to head to the front line.

“We all want to do something meaningful. We know it doesn’t make a difference to the people here — they would fight anyway. But it makes a difference to us in our lives,” she said.

Daman Frat, a YPG commander stationed east of Raqqa, said several foreign volunteers were fighting alongside his units in remote areas outside the city, most of whom had served previously in U.S. or European military units and wanted to be in the thick of the fight.

“They know what Daesh means, and that if they control the area, they will go to Europe more” to mount new attacks, he said.

Syrian Democratic Forces fighters, including Western volunteers, are paid about $100 to $250 a month, depending on which forces they serve with and for how long.

U.S. coalition support for the SDF does not include those salaries, said Maj. Josh T. Jacques, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, who described the fighters as “the coalition’s local ground force partner in the fight against ISIS in northern Syria.”

“Coalition forces continue to support the SDF as part of their advise-and-assist mission, providing equipment, training, intelligence and logistics support, precision fires and battlefield advice,” he said.

Kino Gabriel, a spokesman for the Syriac Military Council, or MFS, whose Assyrian militia joined the alliance against the Islamic State, said volunteers receive basic military training and are given standard-issue Kalashnikov rifles, with limited access to other weapons, including the Russian sniper rifle Howard used. Their mine-clearing equipment: homemade bombs and string.

“So many foreign volunteers have been martyred fighting for our cause, and for that they shall always be remembered among us,” Gabriel said.

In his west Raqqa outpost, surrounded by snipers and the occasional armed drone, Howard said Western volunteers in Syria seem to fit into one of three groups: There are the anarchists and socialists, “the starry-eyed dreamers.” Then there are the “people that are running away from their past.” Finally, he said, there are the “people that are legitimately crazy.”

Across the room, Taylor Hudson, a volunteer from Pasadena, noted that Howard hadn’t said to which group he belonged.

Howard laughed.

“I just want to help people,” he said, pausing. “I’m probably crazy,” he said. “To do this — to leave home, put your life on the line — you have to be kind of crazy.”

Howard was raised in a San Francisco orphanage and went straight into the Marines at age 17. Stationed in Southern California at Twentynine Palms, he served for about five years, including tours in Afghanistan and Iraq at the height of American deployments there.

Howard and his friends returned home with post-traumatic stress, in his case due in part to traumatic brain injury, he said. He had been looking forward to civilian life, he said: “Go to college, white picket fence.” But he grew restless.

“I missed this,” he said, gesturing at the abandoned house that had become his home.

When the Islamic State captured the Iraqi city of Mosul three years ago, Howard said, he was stricken by reports about atrocities the militants had committed against Yazidi religious minority communities in the area of northern Iraq where he had served as a Marine.

He joined the French Foreign Legion but didn’t get sent to Syria, even after the terrorist attacks in Paris in January and November 2015 — instead he was scrubbing toilets.

So he quit and came on his own this year and quickly found his niche with a 30-member unit of the MFS. Some fellow veterans have had trouble adjusting, he said.

“This is total anarchy, guerrilla war,” Howard said. “A lot of military guys can’t handle it because there isn’t structure. It just sort of flows.”

Hudson, 33, an ironworker, also joined the French Foreign Legion for a few months before coming to Syria last year. He had studied medicine at Eastern Washington University and though he never earned his degree, he has served as a medic since he arrived in Syria, where local fighters call him Doc.

He arrived planning to volunteer with Kurdish forces, then discovered the plight of the Assyrian minority, the group’s history of persecution in the region and lack of resources compared with Kurdish forces. Now he is working with the same militia as Howard.

The war in Syria, he said, is about more than defeating the Islamic State. For Hudson, it’s about establishing a democracy that will protect minorities such as the Assyrians.

Howard had planned to leave once Raqqa was freed. So did Hudson. Now they are reconsidering.

“This is the most important fight in the world right now,” Howard said.

___

(Staff writer W.J. Hennigan in Washington and special correspondent Kamiran Sadoun in Raqqa contributed to this report.)

___

This article is written by Molly Hennessy-Fiske from The Los Angeles Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

The Los Angeles Times | 17 Jul 2017 | by Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Find this story at 17 July 2017

© 2017 Military Advantage

Leading Hezbollah commander and key Israel target killed in Syria (2016)

Hezbollah has confirmed its military commander, Mustafa Badreddine, was killed in Syria this week in what it described as a “major explosion” at Damascus airport.

Media reports in Lebanon and Israel quickly suggested the blast had been caused by an Israeli airstrike, a suggestion to which Hezbollah gave weight, announcing it was investigating whether a “missile or artillery strike” had been responsible.

Badreddine was the most senior member of the organisation to have been killed since the death of his predecessor and brother-in-law, Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated by a joint Mossad/CIA operation in the Syrian capital in February 2008.

There was no immediate reaction from the Israeli government, which has authorised at least eight air strikes against targets inside Syria since the start of the civil war five years ago. Most had targeted anti-aircraft systems that Israeli officials claimed were being moved to Lebanon, where they could pose a threat against its air force.

Mustafa Amine Badreddine, in an undated handout picture released at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon website.
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Mustafa Amine Badreddine, in an undated handout picture released at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon website.
Announcing Badreddine’s death, Hezbollah said: “He said months ago that he would not return from Syria except as a martyr or carrying the flag of victory. He is the great jihadi leader Mustafa Badreddine, and he has returned today a martyr.”

The statement added: “The information gleaned from the initial investigation is that a major explosion targeted one of our centres near Damascus International airport, which led to the martyrdom of Sayyid Zul Fikar [his nom de guerre] and the injuries of others.

“The investigation will work to determine the nature of the explosion and its causes, whether it was due to an air or missile or artillery strike, and we will announce the results of the investigation soon.”

Nicknamed Zul Fikar, after the sword of Imam Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and one of the most revered figures in Shia Islam, Badreddine was born in 1961 in the southern Beirut suburb of Ghobeiry, and rose to greater prominence after Mughniyeh’s assassination.

He was sentenced to death in Kuwait in the 1980s over a plot to blow up the American and French embassies there during the Iran-Iraq war, but later escaped after Saddam Hussein’s army invaded the oil-rich emirate and threw open its prisons.

Hezbollah said he had been involved in nearly all the group’s operations since its inception in the early 1980s. Most had targeted Israel, which occupied southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000. However, Badreddine had also been accused of leading a cell that was allegedly responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri on the Beirut waterfront in February 2005.

He was indicted in 2011 by the special tribunal for Lebanon, an international court established in the Hague, in connection with the massive 2005 bombing, which led Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to withdraw his forces from Lebanon in the face of a civic uprising.

Badreddine and four other alleged members of Hezbollah remain on trial in absentia at the Hague. Prosecutors have offered one of the few publicly available glimpses of the shadowy Hezbollah operative, describing him as the “apex” of the cell that allegedly killed Hariri, and a figure akin to an “untraceable ghost” who assumed multiple identities.

‘Nobody wants to stay in Lebanon. It’s a miserable life’
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He was known to have studied at a Lebanese university and to have maintained an apartment in the Lebanese seaside area of Jounieh. He was also active in the south Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, where he was last seen early last year at a wake for Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, who was also killed by an Israeli airstrike.

While holding senior positions throughout his career, Badreddine was most known for his role in leading Hezbollah’s large contingent in Syria, which it sent to defend the interest of the Assad regime as his grip on power weakened in 2012. Hezbollah has since lost an estimated 900 members in fighting across Syria, where along with Iran, it has taken the lead in directing numerous battles.

Israel has refused to comment on airstrikes it has previously launched inside Syria. However, unnamed officials have said the strikes had targeted anti-aircraft systems that were allegedly being transferred to Hezbollah. It had also targeted a Hezbollah leader, Samir Kuntar, who had been jailed inside Israel for more than 30 years until his release in 2008.

Despite Israeli protests, Russia has recently proceeded with a long-delayed sale to Iran of the advanced S-300 weapons system, which can shoot down most modern fighter jets. Israeli officials have said they would prioritise tracking the whereabouts of the systems, the position of which in southern Lebanon would pose a potent threat to their air force.

The US treasury department sanctioned Badreddine in 2012 for his activities in support of the government of Assad in Syria, along with the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and its head of external operations, Talal Hamiyah.

Hezbollah said it would hold funeral services on Friday in honour of Badreddine. In south Beirut, posters of Badreddine, whose image had rarely been published, were being hung from overpasses and lamp-posts.

Tens of thousands of mourners are expected to pay their respects at a shrine site for Hezbollah dead, which includes the graves of Imad and Jihad Mughniyah. Nasrallah is also expected to make a public statement – his second within a week.

Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen in Beirut
Friday 13 May 2016 04.00 BST First published on Friday 13 May 2016 03.32 BST

Find this story at 13 May 2016

© 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Mustafa Badreddine: the Hezbollah leader who left no footprints (2016)

Elias Saab. Sami Issa. Safi Badr. Zul Fikar. All were aliases of Hezbollah’s secretive military commander, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, described in court records as an “untraceable ghost”.

Few details are known about Badreddine, who was killed this week in a mysterious explosion at a Hezbollah base near Damascus airport. This despite him being one of the most prominent figures in the party and the brother-in-law of the notorious Imad Mughniyeh, who he succeeded as military commander after the latter was killed in a 2008 joint CIA-Mossad operation in the Syrian capital.

Born in the southern Beirut suburb of Ghobeiry on 6 April 1961, Badreddine had a pronounced limp, believed to have been sustained while he fought alongside pro-Palestinian and pan-Arabist militias during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

His nom de guerre was Sayyed Zul Fikar: Sayyed indicating a claimed descent from the prophet Muhammad; Zul Fikar being the name of the legendary forked sword of Imam Ali, the prophet’s cousin and one of the most revered figures in Shia Islam.

Badreddine was arrested and sentenced to death in Kuwait in 1983 over his suspected involvement in a string of coordinated bombings in the tiny Gulf emirate that also targeted the US and French embassies. They were believed to be retribution for Kuwait and the west’s support for Iraq in its war with Iran.

The sentence, which had to be formally approved by the emir, was never carried out, perhaps as a consequence of a series of attacks and plane hijackings demanding the release of the Kuwait attackers, and which allegedly involved Mughniyeh. It was also never carried out because when the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, he threw open the doors of the country’s prisons, allowing Badreddine to escape.

This is where the trail disappears. It only emerges again in 2011, when UN prosecutors investigating a 2005 Beirut bombing that killed Lebanon’s prime minister, Rafik Hariri, indicted Badreddine. They alleged he was the coordinator of a sophisticated network that tracked and ultimately assassinated the popular billionaire.

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Court records from the special tribunal for Lebanon have offered a rare glimpse into the life of Badreddine, who was charged with conspiring to commit a terrorist act, carrying out a terrorist act by means of an explosive device, and intentional homicide.

Badreddine studied political science at the Lebanese American University from 2002-04. He drove a Mercedes Benz, owned the Samino jewellery shop in Beirut, and an apartment in Jounieh, a coastal town north of the capital known for its active nightlife, where he supposedly entertained friends.

His phone’s contact list, prosecutors alleged, included the numbers of college friends and business associates, Hezbollah officials and bodyguards, family members as well as supposed girlfriends.

Badreddine became military commander in 2008 after his brother-in-law was killed by a bomb placed in the headrest of his car. Mughniyeh had been the architect of Hezbollah’s guerrilla defence in Lebanon during the 2006 war with Israel and was implicated in the 1990s bombing of a synagogue in Argentina.

There are almost no images available of Badreddine. Two that were made available by the tribunal were dated, one showing him as a teenager and the other apparently from his days in Kuwait, showing a handsome young man with curly hair and a moustache, dressed in a tie-less suit. On Friday’s Hezbollah’s media department circulated an photo of the commander smiling in military fatigues and sporting a short grey beard and spectacles.

Badreddine left few personal records. Investigators for the UN trial say they found no driving licences or passports, no property formally owned by him, no record of him ever having left Lebanon, no bank accounts, and no photos from around the time of Hariri’s assassination. In the opening sessions of his trial in absentia in The Hague, prosecutors said he “passes as an unrecognisable and untraceable ghost throughout Lebanon, leaving no footprint as he passes”.

Hezbollah vehemently denies the allegations and does not recognise the tribunal.

In recent years, Badreddine was mostly known for his role in leading Hezbollah’s contingent in Syria, where the paramilitary group has been instrumental in ensuring the continued survival of the Assad government, alongside its patron, Iran, where an estimated 900 of the party’s fighters have died, including Jihad Mughniyeh, Imad’s son.

Badreddine was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department over his role in Syria in 2012.

An Israeli investigative journalist who is writing a history of the Mossad said the strike that killed Jihad Mughniyeh near the Golan Heights last year was actually aimed at Badreddine.

Kareem Shaheen in Beirut
Friday 13 May 2016 10.02 BST Last modified on Friday 27 May 2016 07.25 BST

Find this story at 13 May 2016

© 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten (2015)

The relatives of one of the victims of the twin suicide attacks in Beirut mourned during a funeral procession in the city’s Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood. Credit Wael Hamzeh/European Pressphoto Agency
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Ali Awad, 14, was chopping vegetables when the first bomb struck. Adel Tormous, who would die tackling the second bomber, was sitting at a nearby coffee stand. Khodr Alaa Deen, a registered nurse, was on his way to work his night shift at the teaching hospital of the American University at Beirut, in Lebanon.

All three lost their lives in a double suicide attack in Beirut on Thursday, along with 40 others, and much like the scores who died a day later in Paris, they were killed at random, in a bustling urban area, while going about their normal evening business.

Around the crime scenes in south Beirut and central Paris alike, a sense of shock and sadness lingered into the weekend, with cafes and markets quieter than usual. The consecutive rampages, both claimed by the Islamic State, inspired feelings of shared, even global vulnerability — especially in Lebanon, where many expressed shock that such chaos had reached France, a country they regarded as far safer than their own.

But for some in Beirut, that solidarity was mixed with anguish over the fact that just one of the stricken cities — Paris — received a global outpouring of sympathy akin to the one lavished on the United States after the 9/11 attacks.

Monuments around the world lit up in the colors of the French flag; presidential speeches touted the need to defend “shared values;” Facebook offered users a one-click option to overlay their profile pictures with the French tricolor, a service not offered for the Lebanese flag. On Friday the social media giant even activated Safety Check, a feature usually reserved for natural disasters that lets people alert loved ones that they are unhurt; they had not activated it the day before for Beirut.

Photo

The site of Thursday’s twin suicide bombings in the Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood of Beirut, Lebanon. Credit Bilal Hussein/Associated Press
“When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag,” Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, wrote on his blog. “When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”

The implication, numerous Lebanese commentators complained, was that Arab lives mattered less. Either that, or that their country — relatively calm despite the war next door — was perceived as a place where carnage is the norm, an undifferentiated corner of a basket-case region.

In fact, while Beirut was once synonymous with violence, when it went through a grinding civil war a generation ago, this was the deadliest suicide bombing to hit the city since that conflict ended in 1990. Lebanon has weathered waves of political assassinations, street skirmishes and wars; Israeli airstrikes leveled whole apartment blocks in 2006. But it had been a year of relative calm.

(A reminder of the muddled perceptions came last week, when Jeb Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, declared that “if you’re a Christian, increasingly in Lebanon, or Iraq or Syria, you’re gonna be beheaded.” That was news to Lebanon’s Christians, who hold significant political power.)

The disparity in reactions highlighted a sense in the region of being left alone to bear the brunt of Syria’s deadly four-year war, which has sent more than four million refugees fleeing, mostly to neighboring countries like Lebanon. For the Lebanese, the government has been little help, plagued as it is with gridlock and corruption that have engendered electricity and water shortages and, most recently, a collapse of garbage collection. Many in the region — both supporters and opponents of the Syrian government — say they have long warned the international powers that, if left unaddressed, the conflict would eventually spill into the West.

How ISIS Expanded Its Threat
The Islamic State emerged from a group of militants in Iraq to take over large portions of Iraq and Syria, and now threatens other countries in Europe and elsewhere.

To be sure, the attacks meant different things in Paris and Beirut. Paris saw it as a bolt from the blue, the worst attack in the city in decades, while to Beirut the bombing was the fulfillment of a never entirely absent fear that another outbreak of violence may come.

Lebanon seemed to have recovered over the past year and a half from a series of bombings claimed by Sunni militant groups as revenge for the intervention by Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militia, in the Syrian civil war to provide critical support for the Syrian government.

Some blamed news coverage for the perception that Beirut is still an active war zone. They cited headlines — including, briefly, a Times one that was soon changed to be more precise — that refer to the predominantly Shiite neighborhood where the bombing took place as a “stronghold” of the militia and political party Hezbollah.

That is hard to dispute in the political sense — Hezbollah controls security in the neighborhood and is highly popular there, along with the allied Amal party. But the phrase also risks portraying a busy civilian, residential and commercial district as a justifiable military target.

Meanwhile, Syrians fretted that the brunt of reaction to both attacks would fall on them. There are a million Syrians in Lebanon, a country of four million; some have become desperate enough to contemplate joining the accelerating flow of those taking smugglers’ boats to Europe.

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SEE SAMPLE PRIVACY POLICY
But now, the attacks could rally political pressure in Europe to stop admitting them. When evidence emerged that at least one of the Paris attackers may have posed as an asylum seeker to reach Europe, some opponents of the migration quickly used that to argue for closing the doors.

That drew sharp reactions from Syrians, who said refugees were fleeing to Europe precisely to escape indiscriminate violence.

“This is the sort of terrorism that Syrian refugees have been fleeing by the millions,” declared Faisal Alazem, a spokesman for the Syrian Canadian Council.

The compassion gap is even more evident when it comes to the situation in Syria itself, where death tolls comparable to the 129 so far in the Paris attacks are far from rare and, during the worst periods, were virtually daily occurrences.

“Imagine if what happened in Paris last night would happen there on a daily basis for five years,” said Nour Kabbach, who fled the heavy bombardment of her home city of Aleppo, Syria, several years ago and now works in humanitarian aid in Beirut.

GRAPHIC
Where ISIS Has Directed and Inspired Attacks Around the World
More than a dozen countries have had attacks since the Islamic State, or ISIS, began to pursue a global strategy in the summer of 2014.

OPEN GRAPHIC
“Now imagine all that happening without global sympathy for innocent lost lives, with no special media updates by the minute, and without the support of every world leader condemning the violence,” she wrote on Facebook. Finally, she said, ask yourself what it would be like to have to explain to your child why an attack in “another pretty city like yours” got worldwide attention and your own did not.

Back in southern Beirut over the weekend, as the government announced the arrest of seven Syrians and two Lebanese in connection with the attack, the street where the bombings took place was strewn with lettuce and parsley from pushcarts overturned in the blast. Men washed blood from sidewalks. A shop’s inventory of shoes — from small children’s slippers to women’s clogs — was scattered across the pavement. Several funeral processions were massing, ready to march to cemeteries.

Residents mourned Ali Awad, 14, passing around his picture in a scouting uniform. He had run out to see what had happened after the first blast, and was caught in the second, relatives said.

Nearby, Abdullah Jawad stood staring glumly into a shop. His friend, the owner, had died there, just after Mr. Jawad had painted the place.

“The government can’t protect us,” he said. “They can’t even pick up the trash from the streets.”

As for Facebook, it declared that the high level of social media activity around the Paris attacks had inspired the company to activate Safety Check for the first time for an emergency other than a natural disaster, and that a policy of when to do so was still developing.

“There has to be a first time for trying something new, even in complex and sensitive times, and for us that was Paris,” wrote Alex Schultz, the company’s vice president for growth, adding that Safety Check is less useful in continuing wars and epidemics because, without a clear end point, “it’s impossible to know when someone is truly ‘safe.’”

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.
By ANNE BARNARDNOV. 15, 2015

Find this story at 15 November 2015

© 2017 The New York Times Company

Islamist group ISIS claims deadly Lebanon blast, promises more violence (2014)

A Sunni Islamist group claims responsibility for a suicide bombing in Beirut
The group, ISIS, says it’s the “first small payment” in a bigger push against Hezbollah
Thursday’s car bomb detonated in a Beirut suburb known as a Hezbollah stronghold
Lebanon has seen a surge in violence as tensions are exacerbated by Syria’s civil war
A Sunni Islamist militant group claimed responsibility Saturday for a car bomb attack in Lebanon’s capital two days earlier which killed four people and injured dozens.
The group, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, known as ISIS, said Thursday’s suicide blast in southern Beirut was the “first small payment” in a bigger push against the Lebanon-based Shiite militia Hezbollah.
The al Qaeda-affiliated group has been pushing for a fundamentalist Islamic state carved out of northern Syria, while Hezbollah fighters have been supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal push to crush a rebellion there.
The ISIS statement said it targeted “the Shiite Satan party” — meaning Hezbollah — in order “to crush its strongholds in the heart of its home in what is called the security zone in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday in a first small payment from the heavy account that is awaiting those wicked criminals.”
The residential Harek Hreik district, where the car bomb exploded Thursday, is known as a Hezbollah stronghold.
Car bombings in the same area of Beirut in July and August killed dozens and injured hundreds.
And in November, a suicide bomb attack outside the Iranian Embassy, close to the neighborhood where Thursday’s attack occurred, killed two dozen people and injured about 150.
Long-standing tensions in Lebanon have been exacerbated by the civil war raging on its doorstep in Syria, where sectarian divisions reflect those in Lebanon.
Regional turmoil
The Lebanese army said Saturday that the alleged chief of another Sunni jihadist group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, had died in custody after his health deteriorated.
Majed Al-Majed, a Saudi national, was detained in the past few days by the Lebanese army. His group has claimed responsibility for bombings in Lebanon and elsewhere.
Beirut-based Middle East analyst Rami Khouri told CNN that the recent surge in violence in Lebanon was part of larger, regional turmoil.
“We are seeing the greatest proxy war of modern times playing itself out in Lebanon and Syria and Iraq, that have now become really one battlefield in which two great ideological camps are fighting to the death like gladiators,” he said.
Political divisions and ideological tensions in Lebanon go back several decades, Khouri said, but they have been reinforced by the emergence of radical Islamist terrorist groups, linked to al Qaeda, following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, was designated as a terrorist group by the United States in 1995.

By Mohammed Tawfeeq and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT) January 4, 2014
Find this story at 4 January 2014

© 2017 Cable News Network

How French intelligence agencies failed before the Paris attacks

Authorities knew of at least three of the Paris attackers but did not act – and ignored a warning about a potential attack

Do the arithmetic and it is hard not to feel sympathy for the French intelligence agencies. Every day they face a dilemma created by the gap between available staff and the huge number of suspects.

French intelligence and police have only an estimated 500-600 staff whose task is to physically follow people. But the agencies have about 11,000 people on their books classified as potential threats to national security.

To mount an operation to monitor one person 24-hours-a-day requires about 30 to 40 people. So they have to make hard choices about which people to prioritise.

They often get it right, foiling many plots. But when they get it wrong, as they have twice this year, first in the Charlie Hebdo attack and in last Friday’s massacre, they have come under huge pressure.

French MPs vote to extend state of emergency after Paris attacks
Read more
There will inevitably be an inquiry into the failings. But the French government has already proposed new legislation introducing tougher security measures.

Senior members of the US intelligence community, still smarting from the loss of the bulk data collection of phone records in the Freedom Act this summer, are taking advantage of events in Paris to renew arguments over surveillance.

In New York on Wednesday, the director of the FBI, James Comey, complained that too much of the internet had gone dark. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies both needed faster and better access to communications data, he said.

The stripped down argument is that if you have access to everything, it is easier to keep everyone secure. When there are attacks such as those in Paris, the agencies say they quickly need to search back through data to see who suspects had been talking to, helping to identify the networks and prevent potential other attacks.

French intelligence under scrutiny in wake of Paris attacks
Read more
The problem with this, as with almost every terrorist incident since 9/11, is that the French intelligence agencies already knew at least three of the attackers.

Abelhamid Abaaoud was known as an accomplice of two jihadis killed in Belgium in January. The police had a file on Omar Ismaïl Mostefai even before he travelled to Syria in 2013, while Sami Amimour had been detained in 2012 on suspected terrorist links.

In other words, the failure of the French intelligence agencies is not that they did not have enough data – but that they did not act on what they had.

The three could have been the subject of traditional targeted surveillance. While physical surveillance is difficult in terms of staffing, keeping tabs on their communications is less labour-intensive.

Tracking such suspects does not require the collection of the communications data – phone records, emails, Facebook postings, chat lines – of every French citizen, only the suspects.

One of the key arguments put forward by Comey and earlier in the week by the director of the CIA, John Brennan, is that terrorists have become better at covert communications. But the discarded mobile phone that led police to the St-Denis hideout contained unencrypted text.

CIA chief criticises recent surveillance rollbacks in wake of Paris attacks
Read more
One of the biggest failings was not the French intelligence agencies’ lack of sufficient surveillance powers but the long-running lack of cooperation between European intelligence agencies – and reluctance to share information – due to fears about leaks. When they do cooperate, the process is slow – even over things as simple as translation.

The Iraq government sent warnings to French intelligence about a potential attack that were ignored. Such warnings are regularly received by the agencies struggling to work out which ones reflect a genuine threat.

A more serious omission is the French failure to respond to the Turkish government when it flagged up concern about Mostefai. Added to that is the lack of cooperation between France and Belgium, where some of the attackers were based.

Such failures are where the French and US intelligence agencies should be looking, rather than exploiting the tragedy to make the case for bulk data surveillance.

Ewen MacAskill Defence and intelligence correspondent
Thursday 19 November 2015 18.51 GMT Last modified on Friday 20 November 2015 01.05 GMT

Find this story at 19 November 2015

© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Authorities missed many ‘red flags’ before Paris shootings

In January, Turkish authorities detained one of the suicide bombers at Turkey’s border and deported him to Belgium. Brahim Abdeslam, Turkish authorities told Belgian police at the time, had been “radicalized” and was suspected of wanting to join Islamic State in Syria, a Turkish security source told Reuters.

Yet during questioning in Belgium, Abdeslam denied any involvement with militants and was set free. So was his brother Salah – a decision that Belgian authorities say was based on scant evidence that either man had terrorist intentions.

On Nov. 13, Abdeslam blew himself up at Le Comptoir Voltaire bar in Paris, killing himself and wounding one other. Salah is also a suspect in the attacks, claimed by the Islamic State, and is now on the run.

In France, an “S” (State Security) file for people suspected of being a threat to national security had been issued on Ismail Omar Mostefai, who would detonate his explosive vest inside Paris’ Bataclan concert hall. Mostefai, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, was placed on the list in 2010, French police sources say.

Turkish police also considered him a terror suspect with links to Islamic State. Ankara wrote to Paris about him in December 2014 and in June this year, a senior Turkish government official said. The warning went unheeded. Paris answered last week, after the attacks.

A fourth attacker missed at least four weekly check-ins with French police in 2013, before authorities issued an arrest warrant for him. By that time he had left the country.

On any one of these occasions, police, intelligence and security services had an opportunity to detain at least some of the men who launched the attacks.

That they did not, helps explain how a group of Islamist militants was able to organize even as they moved freely among countries within the open borders of Europe’s passport-free Schengen area and beyond.

Taken one by one, each misstep has its own explanation, security services say. They attribute the lapses in communication, inability to keep track of suspected militants and failure to act on intelligence, to a lack of resources in some countries and a surge in the number of would-be jihadis.

But a close examination by Reuters of a series of missed red flags and miscommunications culminating in France’s biggest atrocity since World War Two puts on stark display the mounting difficulties faced by anti-terrorism units across Europe and their future ability to keep the continent safe.

“We’re in a situation where the services are overrun. They expect something to happen, but don’t know where,” said Nathalie Goulet, who heads up the French Senate’s investigation committee into jihadi networks.

Many point to Belgium as a weak link in European security.

“They simply don’t have the same means as Britain’s MI5 or the DGSI (French intelligence agency),” said Louis Caprioli, a former head of the DST, France’s former anti-terrorism unit.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel defended his country’s security services and praised them for doing “a difficult and tough job.” French President Francois Hollande also praised his country’s security services, who hunted down and shot dead the man they identified as the ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, five days after the attacks.

Europol, the European Union’s police agency, says it has been feeding information to the Belgian and French authorities but acknowledges that some member states are better at sharing information than others.

FOCUS ON FIGHTERS RETURNING FROM SYRIA

The focus of investigators over the past few years has been men and women who have grown up in Europe, have European passports and who travel to Syria to train and fight.

As the number of those fighters has increased, authorities have struggled to keep up. The French Interior Ministry estimated about 500 French nationals had traveled to Syria and almost 300 had returned. French authorities reckon up to 1,400 people need 24-hour surveillance. Yet France has only about the same number of officers to carry out the task, a tenth of those needed.

Some 350 people from Belgium have gone to Syria to fight – the highest per capita number in Europe. A Belgian government source said Belgium has a list of 400 people who are in Syria, have returned or are believed to be about to go there. There are another 400-500 people who authorities believe have radicalized. The number of people in the Belgian security services carrying out surveillance is believed to be considerably fewer than this.

The numbers partially explain why many of the attackers in Paris were well-known faces still at large.

The attacks killed 130 people at various locations, including the Bataclan concert hall where 89 concert-goers were gunned down or blown up. Others were killed outside the Stade de France sports stadium and in bars and restaurants around central Paris.

Seven assailants died during the attacks. Abaaoud was killed in a police raid north of Paris on Wednesday along with one other suicide attacker and a woman believed to be his cousin.

Dozens of people have also been detained, some with weapons and explosives, in raids since then.

Abaaoud himself had been well-known to authorities for several years. After a raid in January in the Belgian town of Verviers, police suspected the 28-year-old of plotting to kidnap a police officer and kill him.

In February, Abaaoud said in an interview with an Islamic State magazine that he had returned to Syria after the raid in Verviers. By this time, he knew he was being sought.

If it is true that he returned to Syria from Verviers, Abaaoud made his way back into Europe at some point after January. French authorities did not know this until they were tipped off by Morocco after the attacks.

“If Abaaoud was able to go from Syria to Europe, that means there are failings in the entire European system,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

WARNINGS

Mostefai, the Bataclan suicide bomber, also traveled back and forth. Although he had eight convictions as a petty criminal, he had never been in prison, a place French authorities can watch for signs of radicalization.

Police say they suspected him of being in Syria between late 2013 and early 2014, before returning to France unnoticed.

In December of last year, Turkey contacted France about Mostefai. They raised an alarm again in June 2015 by letter.

There was no response from French authorities, according to a senior Turkish government official and a security source.

“It seemed there was a connection between this person and Daesh (Islamic State) and we reported it,” the Turkish security source said. “We followed all international procedures. But they (the French) didn’t display the same level of sensitivity.”

French officials declined to comment on this, but say that coordination with Turkey over potential French jihadis has improved markedly in the past year.

Determining how dangerous a person is, and whether they might carry out an attack, is a key challenge for security services, experts say.

“The other difficulty is that if you have nothing concrete for several years, you can’t keep either a sophisticated technical alert system or human resources on a person who makes himself forgotten for three or four years,” said Arnaud Danjean, a former intelligence officer and now a member of the European Parliament.

Bilal Hadfi, who blew himself up outside the Stade de France, was another of the suicide attackers under surveillance.

After visiting Syria in February, the 20-year-old French national, who was living in Belgium, returned to Europe by an unknown route and evaded police even though the Belgian Justice Ministry said microphones had been placed at the house where he was thought to be staying.

Then there’s the case of Sami Amimour. French authorities had launched an official investigation into Amimour’s possible terrorism-related activity in October 2012. Prosecutors suspected him of planning to join militants in Yemen.

Amimour was a bus driver who had been radicalized in a mosque near his hometown of Drancy, north of Paris. Because of the investigation, police had ordered Amimour to check in with them every week. As reported by Reuters on Nov 20, he missed four weekly checks in 2013. But it was only after nearly a month that the authorities put out an international arrest warrant.

By then Amimour was already in Syria. His tracks were picked up a year later, in December 2014, when his father gave an interview to French daily Le Monde describing how he had traveled to Syria but failed to convince his son to return.

THE MEN FROM THE BAR

Police are still looking for Salah Abdeslam, who is known to have survived the attacks.

Until six weeks before the attacks, Salah and his brother Brahim – one of the suicide bombers – were running a bar called Les Beguines on a quiet street in Molenbeek, a low-rent area of Brussels which has been linked with several attacks.

After the attacks, Salah Abdeslam went to ground. Authorities say he was stopped on his way back to Belgium after the Paris attacks, but police waved him on. It is not clear what role he played on the night of the attacks and why he managed to survive.

Two men who were arrested later, Mohamed Amri, 27, and 21-year-old Hamza Attou, said they brought Abdeslam back to Brussels after receiving a call from him saying his car had broken down. Police checks meant they were pulled over three times, including a last check around 9 a.m. near Cambrai just short of the Belgian border.

Missteps did not just happen in France and Belgium.

The Syrian passport found near one of the suicide bombers at the Stade de France had been used by a man registering himself as a refugee on the Greek island of Leros on Oct. 3. That man traveled through Macedonia and claimed asylum in Serbia, counter-intelligence and security sources said.

The French prosecutor has confirmed that fingerprints taken on arrival in Greece showed that man traveled with a second man, who also blew himself up near the Stade de France.

The pair may have reached Paris relatively easily because, at the height of the migration crisis in Europe this year, asylum seekers were rushed across some national borders without checks.

It is unclear whether the passport issued under the name of Ahmad al-Mohammad, a 25-year-old from the Syrian city of Idlib, was genuine or was stolen from a refugee. Whatever the truth, it has helped fuel right-wing criticism in Europe of the number of migrants allowed in this year.

By the time the two men were making their way up through the Balkans to western Europe, France had received more evidence an attack was imminent.

French former anti-terrorism judge Marc Trevidic says a French Islamist he questioned on his return from Syria in August said Islamic State had asked him to carry out an attack on a concert venue.

“The guy admitted that he was asked to hit a rock concert. We didn’t know if it would be Bataclan or another, he didn’t know the exact location that would be designated. But yes, that’s what they asked him to do,” Trevidic told Reuters.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has also said that his country’s intelligence services shared information indicating that France, as well as the United States and Iran, was being targeted for attack. He has not given details.

Germany’s top prosecutor is also investigating allegations that an Algerian man detained at a refugee center in the western town of Arnsberg told Syrian refugees an attack was imminent in the French capital.

Europe is scrambling to respond to the attacks.

France declared a nationwide state of emergency which will now last three months. Police now have the power to conduct searches without obtaining judicial warrants and can hold anyone suspected of posing a threat to security under house arrest for 12 hours a day. Internet sites deemed to incite or advocate “acts of terrorism” can be blocked and public demonstrations banned.

Belgium has also announced a security crackdown, saying it will spend an extra 400 million euros ($430 million) on security and take measures such as stopping the sale of mobile phone cards to anonymous buyers. Police will be allowed to conduct night searches of homes and it is now easier to ban, convict or expel hate preachers.

Whether such measures will be enough is uncertain. Brussels is on high alert this weekend because of what authorities there called the “serious and imminent” threat of attack. In a video last week, Islamic State warned it would strike again.

“When a large operation is prepared, they are told to keep a low profile in the months before. As‎ they are no longer on police radars, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Roland Jacquard, president of the Paris-based International Terrorism Observatory.

(Robert-Jan Bartunek reported from Brussels and Orhan Coskun reported from Turkey; additional reporting by Nick Tattersall in Turkey, Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Silvia Aloisi in Athens; writing by Timothy Heritage; editing by Alessandra Galloni, Simon Robinson, Janet McBride)

World | Sun Nov 22, 2015 5:37am EST Related: WORLD, FRANCE
PARIS | BY JOHN IRISH, ROBERT-JAN BARTUNEK AND ORHAN COSKUN

Find this story at 22 November 2015

Copyright http://www.reuters.com/

Massacre du 13 novembre: les “failles dans le renseignement” commencent à apparaître

Paris (AFP) – Comme après chaque attentat islamiste réussi, le massacre du 13 novembre va relancer la polémique sur “la faille” dans les systèmes antiterroristes français et européens. Et cette fois, comme les précédentes, il semble que les dysfonctionnements se soient accumulés.

En l’état actuel de l’enquête, le plus grave semble être le cas de Samy Amimour: ce Français de 28 ans, soupçonné de vouloir partir pour le Yémen, est mis en examen en octobre 2012 pour “association de malfaiteurs terroristes”, placé sous contrôle judiciaire. Ce qui ne l’empêche pas de rejoindre, un an plus tard, la “terre de jihad” syrienne.

Cela provoque l’émission d’un mandat d’arrêt international. Malgré cela, il parvient à rentrer en France incognito pour participer, vendredi soir à Paris, au pire attentat jamais commis en France.

“On a un souci de contrôle aux frontières Schengen, et un gros”, assure à l’AFP Alain Chouet, ancien chef du service de renseignement de sécurité à la DGSE. “Son arrivée aurait dû provoquer la levée d’un drapeau rouge. Mais ces gars maîtrisent bien les techniques d’entrée et de sortie de Schengen, pour l’avoir beaucoup pratiqué”.

“S’il a pris soin de ne pas rentrer par une frontière française, personne ne l’a vu. S’il rentre par la Belgique, par exemple par un vol low-cost à Charleroi… Allez-y à Charleroi, vous verrez les contrôles”, ajoute-t-il.

Autre problème, un autre tireur du Bataclan, Omar Ismaïl Mostefaï, avait d’une part attiré dès 2010 l’attention des services français, qui avaient émis à son encontre une fiche S (“sûreté de l’État”), et d’autre part avait été, selon Ankara, signalé deux fois à Paris pour son appartenance à la mouvance jihadiste.

La police turque “a informé la police française en décembre 2014 et janvier 2015” à son propos (il était entré sur le territoire turc en 2013, pour ensuite certainement rallier la Syrie), et “nous n’avons jamais eu de retour de la France”, a affirmé lundi à l’AFP un responsable turc.

Par ailleurs d’autres membres du commando, installés en Belgique, étaient connus de la police belge. “Vous comprendrez bien que si les Belges ne nous préviennent pas, ici on ne peut rien faire”, confiait lundi à l’AFP une source policière.

– ‘Ça m’empêche de dormir’ –

Ces faisceaux d’indices, ces signalements, ce mandat d’arrêt international auraient dû constituer les points d’un schéma qui, en les reliant, auraient pû conduire les enquêteurs, en France ou en Belgique, à passer à l’action contre cette cellule avant qu’elle n’ensanglante Paris.

“Il y a trois hypothèses”, explique à l’AFP un ancien spécialiste du contre-terrorisme à la DGSE, sous couvert d’anonymat. “Soit personne n’a rien vu, et c’est un gros souci; soit on a vu des trucs et on ne les a pas compris, ce qui est aussi un problème; soit on a vu des trucs et malgré tout l’équipe a pu passer à l’action.”

“On a peut-être raté la phase de préparation terminale, celle où les types disparaissent dans la nature. Dans les trois cas, c’est très embêtant. Ça veut dire qu’on a soit un problème de renseignement, soit d’analyse du renseignement soit de chaîne de commandement dans les services. C’est accru par le fait que ça se passe en partie en Belgique”, ajoute-t-il.

“Pour le renseignement anti-jihadiste, la Belgique est sous bouclier français. Et il faut bien le dire, alors qu’ils ont la plus grosse proportion de départs en Syrie des pays occidentaux, les Belges ne sont pas au niveau (…). Dans cette équipe beaucoup de mecs sont connus à Bruxelles, quelqu’un s’est manifestement planté.”

Submergés par le nombre de jihadistes rentrant de Syrie et d’Irak, auxquels ils doivent ajouter les anciens des filières afghanes ou irakiennes, qui parfois reprennent du service, les services spécialisés sont contraints d’établir des listes de noms, par ordre décroissant de dangerosité présumée.

“Ça m’empêche de dormir la nuit”, confiait récemment un des responsables de l’antiterrorisme en France. “Avoir les bons noms à la bonne place. Nous sommes très loin d’une science exacte.”

“Par définition s’il y a eu un attentat, c’est qu’il y a eu un problème, conclut Alain Chouet. “Mais bon, on ne reproche pas les feux de forêts aux pompiers… Si vous mettez un pompier tous les cinq mètres dans les forêts de France, vous n’aurez plus de feux de forêts…”

Publié le 16-11-2015 à 20h05
Mis à jour à 21h36

Find this story at 16 November 2015

© Le Nouvel Observateur

France Reportedly Received Warnings About at Least One of the Paris Attackers

French officials received multiple warnings about Paris attacker Omar Ismail Mostefai before Friday’s terror attack but Turkey didn’t get a response from French authorities until after the attack, a Turkish official said on Monday.

“On Oct. 10, 2014, Turkey received an information request regarding four terror suspects from the French authorities,” a Turkish official told the New York Times. “During the official investigation, the Turkish authorities identified a fifth individual, Omar Ismail Mostefai, and notified their French counterparts twice—in December 2014 and June 2015.”

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Mashable also quoted a senior Turkish official as saying that Mostefai, the first gunman identified in the attack, was known to security officials and that France never followed up on shared information until after the attack took place.

“This is not a time to play the blame game, but we are compelled to share the information to shed light on Omar Ismail Mostefai’s travel history,” the senior official told Mashable. “The case of Omar Ismail Mostefai clearly establishes that intelligence sharing and effective communication are crucial to counter-terrorism efforts. The Turkish government expects closer cooperation from its allies in the future.”

The Associated Press reported a more general warning had been given to coalition countries by senior Iraqi intelligence officials the day before the attack. The warnings were vague, though four Iraqi intelligence officials told the AP that they warned France specifically of an attack and two said they warned France beforehand about details French authorities hadn’t yet made public, including that the planning for the attack occurred in ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria. The officials also said a sleeper cell in France helped the attackers execute the plan after they arrived and the operation included 24 people—19 attackers and five working on planning and logistics.

The AP also reported that a senior French security official responded to the claims by the Iraqi officials by saying French intelligence receives such warnings “all the time” and “every day.”

Belgian’s Justice Minister Koen Geens also reportedly told CNN’s Ivan Watson that authorities knew some of the Paris attackers were foreign fighters in Syria but were unaware they had returned.

“Belgium has a foreign fighters problem,” Geens said.

Writing in Slate on Monday, Brian Michael Jenkins explained why even advanced knowledge about suspected ISIS sympathizers and fighters might not be enough to prevent such attacks:

[O]ne should not underestimate the difficulties of intelligence collection in Europe today. France’s intelligence services are being overwhelmed by the many individuals who have gone to join jihadi fronts in Syria (some of whom have returned), those suspected of preparing to go, and still others suspected of being involved in plotting or supporting terrorist plots. The total number easily runs into the thousands. Keeping every one of them under close surveillance is not possible. Choices have to be made. Some plots will be thwarted. Others will inevitably evade detection.

By Jeremy Stahl
NOV. 16 2015 12:14 PM

Find this story at 16 November 2015

© 2015 The Slate Group LLC

How the Paris Attackers Honed Their Assault Through Trial and Error

PARIS — The gunfire had still not subsided, and those who could were running for their lives. But one man was crossing Paris to get close to the scenes of death.

Just after 10 p.m. on Nov. 13, the man, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, parked his rented getaway car in the eastern suburb of Montreuil, leaving behind the Kalashnikov he is believed to have used to shoot diners in central Paris a half-hour before. Apparently unconcerned as security cameras recorded his movements, he boarded the No. 9 subway line and returned to the part of the city that was still under siege. Before the night was over, investigators say, he had walked past the shattered cafes and bloodied concert hall that had been among his targets.

After a year of plotting terror in Europe but only producing four fizzled attempts, Mr. Abaaoud made sure this time was different. This time, he was on the scene, not directing from afar. This time, he monitored his team of assassins — old friends and new zealots — and surveyed the suffering. This time, investigators say, he had prepared for a second wave of assaults days later, and planned to die himself as a suicide bomber in the heart of the Paris region’s business district.

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How the Organizer of the Paris Attacks Slipped Through Authorities’ Hands
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who organized the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, crisscrossed Europe and the Middle East, even though he was on a Belgian watch list.

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A foot soldier turned lieutenant in the Islamic State’s hierarchy, Mr. Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian, had been under increasing pressure to deliver something big, Western intelligence officials say. “All these operations in 2015 had been failures, embarrassing failures,” said Louis Caprioli, a former deputy head of France’s domestic counterterrorism unit. “He needed to make sure this operation succeeds.”

Two weeks after the attacks, as France buries its dead and a lengthening list of Mr. Abaaoud’s suspected confederates are rounded up, more evidence has emerged about how the group of at least nine militants pulled off the assaults, and the intelligence and security lapses that allowed them to do so.

There had been repeated hints of their intentions and efforts to hone their skills, according to dozens of interviews, court documents and government disclosures. Despite growing alarm in French counterterrorism circles about the threat they posed, the overburdened security apparatus proved ill equipped against an enemy practicing what one official calls “dartboard terrorism,” hurling multiple lethal darts at a distant target until one hits the mark.

In January, the police raided a safehouse in the Belgian town of Verviers, thwarting a plot that proved to be a chilling precursor to the synchronized murder that played out across the French capital 10 months later. The raid uncovered an arsenal that included the ingredients to make the same volatile explosives used in Paris, according to an American intelligence document.

The militants have become “more professional,” learning from their mistakes, said one intelligence official. Earlier this year, a plotter linked to Mr. Abaaoud planned to mow down the congregation at a French church but instead shot himself in the leg. But the gunmen in Paris — a majority of them battle-hardened in Syria — were well trained. After phone taps uncovered the Verviers plan, Mr. Abaaoud began using encryption technology and may have concealed his communications in that way with his Paris team, intelligence officials said.

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State of Terror
Articles in this series examine the rise of the Islamic State and life inside the territory it has conquered.

Exploiting Europe’s passport-free zone and patchy intelligence sharing, Mr. Abaaoud and his team moved not just across the Continent, but also to Syria and back. They did so despite being questioned at airports, flagged by security services or pulled over during routine traffic stops.

“Abaaoud was in the database of every single European country, but he returned to Europe like he was going on a vacation to Club Med,” said the mother of an 18-year-old Belgian jihadist who died earlier this year after joining the same Islamic State brigade to which several of the Paris plotters belonged.

The attack in Paris was the deadliest terrorist assault on the Continent in a decade, killing 130 people. It reverberated across the region, forcing Brussels to lock down for four days, spurring Germany to cancel a soccer match and prompting Britain to increase its military budget after years of cutbacks.

Trying to reassure a grieving nation, President François Hollande of France has pledged to defeat the Islamic State’s “cult of death.” Yet intelligence officials warned of the West’s vulnerabilities. Paris, they fear, heralds a new era of terror, one that could play out on the streets of European capitals for years to come.

“They try, they fail, they learn, they try again,” said one French official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They have patience and they have an army of willing martyrs that feed on an ideology that is immune to bullets.”

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The Expanding Web of Connections Among the Paris Attackers
Warning Signs

Earlier this year, an official at Europol, the Continent’s law enforcement agency, paid an urgent visit to Athens to ask for help tracking down a Belgian named Abdelhamid Abaaoud, according to news media reports.

For months, investigators had been intercepting suspicious calls originating near Pangrati, a neighborhood of Athens, said a retired European official who was briefed on the details.

Mr. Abaaoud, then 27, appeared to be planning an attack in his native land — a possibility considered improbable at first. He seemed like other young Europeans who had joined the Islamic State: a fanatic who made grandiose threats online, but did not have the know-how or the network to pull off mass murder on European soil.

But after the calls were tracked to Verviers, a SWAT team raided a residence there on Jan. 15, turning up evidence of surprising sophistication. The police found automatic weapons, a large quantity of cash, a body camera, multiple cellphones, hand-held radios and fraudulent identification documents, according to a United States Department of Homeland Security intelligence assessment.

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Paris Victims, Remembered
They also found the precursor chemicals for the explosive triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, according to the document, which was the same chemical compound used in the suicide belts in Paris. The compound is highly volatile, according to Claude Moniquet, who spent two decades at the French spy agency D.G.S.E. “If you don’t get it just right, you’ll either blow off your hand, or it won’t go off at all,” Mr. Moniquet said. “It suggests the presence of a bombmaker.”

The discovery set off a manhunt in Greece, but Mr. Abaaoud’s SIM card stopped transmitting immediately after the raid. The police found his DNA in an Athens apartment, according to news media reports. But officials lost his trail.

A few weeks later, Mr. Abaaoud resurfaced in the Islamic State’s online magazine, bragging about having plotted terrorism under the noses of the European authorities. “My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely,” he said.

Until then, said David Thomson, the author of a book on French jihadists, Mr. Abaaoud had been seen inside the Islamic State as nothing special. “They spoke of him as they would of anyone else — and not as an important guy,” Mr. Thomson said.

If anything, he was known mostly for his appearance in a grotesque Islamic State video, whooping and laughing while dragging corpses behind a 4-by-4 truck.

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How ISIS Expanded Its Threat
Yet Europe’s most notorious jihadist was once a hapless delinquent.

In 2010, he planned to break into a garage in the Belgian countryside with a childhood friend. But he slipped off the roof, and the pair were later found soaking wet and nearing hypothermia on a river edge, recalled his former lawyer, Alexandre Château.

The bungled burglary was unremarkable, but the partnership was not: His accomplice was one of two brothers who would later be at Mr. Abaaoud’s side during the Paris attacks.

Mr. Abaaoud’s father said his son began showing signs of extremism after a stint in prison.

On March 23, 2013, the authorities intercepted a call Mr. Abaaoud made on a Turkish cellphone to a friend in Belgium. He said he was leaving for “The Camp,” according to court records. His brother told Belgian security officials that Mr. Abaaoud had said he was going to Syria “to do jihad,” according to a court transcript.

By DEBORAH ACOSTA 3:17
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When the police went to search his home in the Molenbeek district of Brussels months later, the items found inside his abandoned residence included pepper spray, gloves and two crowbars, along with the keys to a stolen Audi and three license plates.

Inscriptions praising the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, were on his door. On the wall, the court filing noted, was “a crude drawing of the ISIS flag, drawn with a marker.”

Sometime between late 2013 and early 2014, he joined a brigade called the Mujahedeen Shura Council based in Aleppo, Syria, which would soon pledge allegiance to the Islamic State.

One of his first jobs was searching the bodies of freshly killed troops. “He was in charge of emptying the pockets of cadavers after battle,” Mr. Thomson said.

Even when Mr. Abaaoud — by then called Abou Omar — joined the Katibat al-Battar, or Battar Brigade, an elite squad made up of French-speaking fighters that rose to prominence in 2014 within the Islamic State, his name surfaced only in passing, said Mr. Thomson, who spent months exchanging private messages with the French members of the unit as research for his book.

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In January, the police raided a terrorist safe house in Verviers, Belgium, and uncovered an arsenal of weapons. Credit Olivier Hoslet/European Pressphoto Agency
That changed abruptly after the Verviers plot. Though the operation had failed, Mr. Abaaoud’s ability to travel in and out of Europe impressed his fellow fighters in Syria, turning him from an ordinary soldier into an inspiration. “They would say, ‘Look at Abou Omar,’ ” Mr. Thomson recalled. “By which they meant: ‘If Abou Omar succeeded, then anyone can.’ ”

Battlefield Bonds

Investigators say they believe that it was in Syria that Mr. Abaaoud and most of the Paris attackers found one other.

As early as 2013, a well-established pipeline was funneling young men from Belgium to the Islamic State. Some took out loans with few questions asked from institutions like ING Belgium, where one future jihadist received 15,000 euros, or about $15,800, according to a recent court filing. Others bought cheap “burner” phones that are often discarded in an effort to avoid detection. One man stole flashlights and GoPro cameras, a favored tool for recording atrocities, according to court documents.

They knew to leave via trains or buses to other European countries before boarding flights to Turkey, evading relatively greater scrutiny at airports in their home countries.

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A photograph of Abdelhamid Abaaoud that was published in the Islamic State’s online magazine Dabiq. Credit via Associated Pres
Mr. Abaaoud, for example, accompanied his 13-year-old brother, Younes, to Syria, apparently by first making their way by land to Germany.

On Jan. 20, 2014, they checked in for a flight to Istanbul from Cologne. At passport control, an alert flashed: Mr. Abaaoud was on a Belgian watch list. When he claimed to be visiting family in Turkey, he was allowed to proceed.

Even when suspects are properly classified, they can fall through the cracks because of the lack of a centralized European database. There are currently 1,595 jihadists in the Europol terror database, said Jean-Charles Brisard, who has testified as an expert witness in terrorism trials. The actual number, if European countries shared their information more efficiently, should be well over 6,000, he said.

Many of the future Paris attackers ended up in the Battar brigade in Syria. Only Mr. Abaaoud and the two brothers from Molenbeek, Salah and Ibrahim Abdeslam, appear to have known one other before they were radicalized.

Several came from intact, middle-class families, including Mr. Abaaoud, a shop owner’s son who had been sent to an exclusive Catholic school. Second- and third-generation immigrants of Moroccan and Algerian descent, the attackers included a bus driver, a bar owner and a mechanic for the Brussels Métro. The oldest was 29, the youngest just 20 — he wept, his mother recalls, the day he left for Syria.

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The plotters Clockwise from top left; Samy Amimour, one of the suicide bombers who attacked the Bataclan concert hall; an unidentified man, one of the suicide bombers at the Stade de France stadium; Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected architect of the Paris attacks; Ibrahim Abdeslam, a Bataclan attacker; Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, a Bataclan attacker; an unidentified man suspected of being involved in the attacks; Bilal Hadfi, one of the suicide bombers at the stadium; and Salah Abdeslam, who remains at large. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Some had criminal records, and their families were reassured at first when they began to show signs of piety.

Mohammed Abdeslam said he had believed his two brothers were cleaning up their act. “When your brother tells you that he will stop drinking, it’s not radicalization,” he told a Belgian broadcaster.

Bilal Hadfi, the youngest of the group, had been smoking and doing drugs until one month before his departure to Syria in January, his mother told the Belgian news media, and started fasting on Mondays and Thursdays.

“He was by no means the cliché you’d expect,” recalled one of his mentors at the Instituut Anneessens-Funck in Brussels, where Mr. Hadfi, 20, was studying to become an electrician. “He didn’t have a beard.” He had “excellent grades” and was “extremely intelligent,” said the professor, who asked to remain anonymous in talking about a student. Then Mr. Hadfi stopped coming to class.

Mr. Hadfi is believed to have arrived in Syria last, on Jan. 15, eventually joining a team that included two hardened French jihadists: Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, a 29-year-old from the Courcouronnes suburb of Paris, and Samy Amimour, a 28-year-old bus driver from Drancy, northeast of the French capital.

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A mosque outside Chartres, France, that was attended by Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, whose contact with hard-line Islamists prompted officials to a database of those considered a potential security risk. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times
Mr. Mostefaï was arrested eight times for petty crimes, and in 2010 his contact with hard-line Islamists at the local mosque prompted officials to add his name to the “S list,” a French database of those considered a potential security risk.

Mr. Amimour’s route to jihad began with an aborted trip to Yemen in 2012. After he stopped reporting to the police station in September 2013 as required, it took a month for an arrest warrant to be issued. By then, he had crossed into Syria — the same day as Mr. Mostefaï, officials say they believe.

As Frenchmen, the two would most likely have come across an older French jihadist who had already made a name for himself in the Islamic State: Fabien Clain, who had been to prison for recruiting fighters from France and Belgium to Iraq a decade ago. Mr. Clain, investigators said, was the speaker in an Islamic State audio recording claiming responsibility for the Paris massacre.

Intelligence officials call him a “bridge” between the French and Belgian jihadists who may have facilitated links between Mr. Abaaoud and his fellow plotters. Described as one of the most senior operatives in the Islamic State hierarchy, he works under Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the group’s chief of external operations. Mr. Abaaoud was lowlier, “a platoon leader, not the head of the armed forces,” said François Heisbourg, a former defense official and counterterrorism expert.

By August, Mr. Abaaoud’s blueprint and team for attacking Europe may have been nearly ready.

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Marc Trévidic, who served as France’s chief antiterrorism judge until three months ago, said he had heard Mr. Abaaoud’s name numerous times over the past year. Credit Remy De La Mauviniere/Associated Press
That month, Montasser AlDe’emeh, the author of two books on jihad and a former neighbor of Mr. Abaaoud’s in Molenbeek, heard his phone vibrate with a WhatsApp message. It was an audio recording from a Belgian jihadist in the same unit as Mr. Abaaoud.

“This is a message for the Belgian government from the mujahedeen of ISIS,” the audio begins. “It’s not a threat or a stupid thing, or just talk. This is a declaration of war. We have the plans.”

Raising the Alarm

The man who served as France’s chief antiterrorism judge until three months ago had heard Mr. Abaaoud’s name numerous times over the past year. Dozens of young French Muslims returning from Syria were brought to his office for questioning.

“Abaaoud came up all the time,” the judge, Marc Trévidic, recalled in an interview last week. “Especially after the January raids in Verviers.”

Photo

Fans left the Stade de France after the soccer game between France and Germany amid confusion caused by the attacks in the area. Credit Christophe Ena/Associated Press
It was always the same story: Mr. Abaaoud had told his young disciples to “do whatever they can” to inflict death and damage at home. They described him as obsessed. “He was mentioned as someone who wanted, at all cost, to recruit volunteers to carry out attacks in Belgium and France,” said Mr. Trévidic, now vice president of the high court in Lille, northern France.

But there was never a specific target, nor a date for an attack. The mission was always vague.

That changed on Aug. 15. In one of the last interviews the judge conducted, he found himself opposite a young Frenchman who had been handed money, encryption software and the most concrete target to date: “a rock concert hall” in Paris.

The young man, Reda Hame, had been arrested coming back from Syria, accompanied by a Muslim from Belgium. His companion had told the police that Mr. Hame was planning an attack in France.

Mr. Abaaoud had asked Mr. Hame to hit a soft target where he could achieve “maximum casualties.” He had given Mr. Hame an email address to reach him on and a USB stick with an encryption key he was to download on his computer. Mr. Abaaoud had promised further instructions by email on where to obtain weapons for the attack and which specific concert hall to strike.

Photo

Emergency workers removed the bodies of victims at a cafe in Paris. Credit Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
It was two weeks before Paris’s annual Rock en Seine musical festival. Was the target one of dozens of concerts playing over the three-day event in a Paris suburb? Was it one of the city’s many other music venues, like the Bataclan, which had been mentioned as a possible target at least twice before?

Mr. Trévidic placed an urgent call with the domestic intelligence services, the D.G.S.I., and asked them to trace Mr. Abaaoud’s email address.

“From late summer we knew something big was being planned,” said one French intelligence official. “We knew Abaaoud was involved in it but we didn’t know what, or where, or when. Everyone was on high alert.”

The sense of alarm only spread when, six days after Mr. Hame’s interview, a 26-year-old Moroccan, Ayoub El Khazzani, also linked to Mr. Abaaoud, stepped out of the bathroom of a high-speed train barreling toward Paris with a Kalashnikov before being subdued by three Americans.

With hindsight, some suggest the lone-wolf style attacks — single gunmen sent on missions to kill — that were thwarted in recent months were never the main focus. Whatever his intention, Mr. Trévidic said, Mr. Abaaoud “kept security services busy and distracted with these mini-plots while preparing the real attack.”

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GRAPHIC
Three Hours of Terror in Paris, Moment by Moment
Many of the attacks were just minutes apart.

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The United States had also picked up intelligence in recent months that showed the Islamic State was plotting an attack in France, senior American officials said. But they had nothing specific about targets or timing.

By late September, Mr. Hollande’s government launched airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria.

On Oct. 8 and 9, French fighter jets targeted training camps near Raqqa, the stronghold of the self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria. Mr. Hollande has publicly denied that the strikes were targeting an individual. But according to two Western intelligence officials, the hope was also to take out operatives including Mr. Abaaoud.

“When you don’t know where to hit the enemy here, you have to try to hit him over there,” Bernard Squarcini, the former head of France’s domestic intelligence agency, said in an interview.

A Calculated Attack

While the security services had their eyes on Syria, most if not all of Mr. Abaaoud’s team was already back in Europe, quietly putting in place the modern logistics of mass murder.

At least two are believed to have entered through the refugee flow on the Greek island of Leros, where the authorities fingerprinted them in October.

In the period leading up to the attack, the support network expanded — though just how far is not yet clear — to include radicalized family members and loyal friends, landlords and online arms dealers. Mr. Abaaoud’s cousin helped hide him after the attacks before dying alongside him in a police raid. Five friends of Salah Abdeslam, who dumped his suicide vest in a trash can and remains at large as the only surviving member of the attackers, have been arrested in Belgium for allegedly helping him escape. In Germany, one man who may have sold the group assault rifles over the Internet was placed in custody last week.

The plan involved three teams, whose members set off in at least three rental cars from Belgium and booked rooms in at least two locations in and around Paris, including two hotel rooms in the suburb of Alfortville and a house with bunk beds in Bobigny. Like tourists, they used online services including Booking.com and Homelidays.com, with the Abdeslam brothers handling the logistics.

In September, Salah Abdeslam made a foray to the edges of Paris to buy half a dozen electronic components used to make fireworks explode. He spent 390 euros in Les Magiciens du Feu, or “Fire Magicians” shop, said the shop’s in-house lawyer, Frédéric Zajac. “Unlike other clients, he did not ask any questions about how it all worked,” he said.

Mr. Abaaoud had learned from past mistakes: Unlike the plot in January, when his accomplices were still searching for an ice machine to store the TATP explosive, he made sure they had refrigerators. At the Appart’City hotel where four of the attackers stayed, rooms come with a kitchenette.

And rather than sending a single gunman or picking a single target, Mr. Abaaoud sent teams to a variety of locations — hedging the risk of failure and forcing the police to spread themselves thin. “They found out that if you use this ‘swarm theory’ you will exhaust the resources of law enforcement,” explained Ron Sandee, the former chief Al Qaeda analyst for Dutch military intelligence.

The roster for each team suggests more forethought: The two jihadists with more than four years of battlefield experience in Syria between them, Mr. Amimour and Mr. Mostefaï, were assigned the most important target, the Bataclan, with a third, still-unidentified man. Witnesses say they saw the Bataclan gunmen flanking each other, with one fighter reloading his magazine while another kept firing.

By contrast, the attackers at the Stade de France, the national soccer stadium, included the youngest and least experienced jihadist — the 20-year-old Mr. Hadfi. He was dropped off strapped with an explosive belt that needed only detonating. (Neither of the other two suicide bombers at the stadium has been identified.) “They said to themselves, ‘The kids will get as far as they can,’ ” and after that only need to “hit a button,” said Mr. Moniquet, a veteran of France’s intelligence agency who now directs the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center.

Mr. Abaaoud himself was believed to have gone to a busy stretch of restaurants on the Rue de Charonne, equipped with the Kalashnikov that was later recovered bearing his DNA. Phone records released by the French prosecutor indicate that he left the house at Bobigny in a rented Seat car at 8:38 p.m. accompanied by another still-unidentified attacker and Ibrahim Abdeslam, his accomplice in the bungled garage theft five years ago.

It remains unclear if Mr. Abaaoud joined his troops to fire on the bars and cafes, though it seems likely: Witnesses saw gunmen leaning out of the black Seat rental car, and in front of each shattered establishment, investigators recovered “hundreds” of 7.62-millimeter cartridges, according to the French prosecutor.

Between 8:40 p.m. and 9:21 p.m. the phone “most probably” used by Mr. Abaaoud was in “sustained contact” with the one used by Mr. Hadfi, according to the Paris prosecutor. That was when Mr. Hadfi tried to enter the soccer stadium near Gate D, only to be turned away.

Moments later, at 9:20, he detonated the explosive.

The last attempted call between the two phones came a minute later — the platoon leader checking up on the recruit.

Correction: December 3, 2015
Because of a transcription error, an article on Tuesday about the intelligence and security lapses that allowed the Paris attackers to practice their assault misstated the size of the cartridges recovered by investigators in front of the bars and cafes targeted. They are 7.62 millimeters, not 0.762.

Reporting was contributed by Nabih Bulos, Aurelien Breeden and Lilia Blaise from Paris; Eric Schmitt from Washington; Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura and Andrew Higgins from Brussels; and Alison Smale from Berlin.

Get news and analysis from Europe and around the world delivered to your inbox every day with the Today’s Headlines: European Morning newsletter. Sign up here.

A version of this article appears in print on December 1, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Plot Honed by Trial and Error . Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, KATRIN BENNHOLD and LAURE FOURQUETNOV. 30, 2015 122
Find this story at 30 November 2015

© 2015 The New York Times Company

Paris attacks ‘ringleader’ Abdelhamid Abaaoud evaded Athens police

Greek police tried to capture the suspected ringleader of the Paris terror attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, in January but the operation failed.
A Belgian anti-terrorism source told the BBC the Athens operation planned to target Abaaoud before anti-terror raids in Belgium, but that did not happen.
Abaaoud had been directing the Belgian cell by phone from Athens.
Abaaoud died in a battle with French police five days after the 13 November Paris attacks that killed 130 people.
The Greek operation was supposed to have taken place before the one carried out by security forces in Verviers, eastern Belgium, on 15 January. That raid saw an exchange of fire that left two suspected jihadists dead.

DNA samples

Greek authorities were on Abaaoud’s trail, believing him to be running the Belgian cell by mobile phone from Athens.
Anti-terror sources told the BBC that a senior Belgian police officer was in Athens co-ordinating the hunt for Abaaoud with his Greek counterparts before the raid on the Verviers cell.
It remains unclear why or how Abaaoud slipped through the Greek net. There may have been an attempt to track him down to a city centre square by tracing the signal of his mobile phone. But that did not work.
The Greek authorities are not confirming any details – all that is known is that he got away.
Greek police only carried out raids in Athens two days after Verviers, on 17 January.
Earlier that day Belgian media had reported that authorities there were seeking Abaaoud, a Brussels resident of Moroccan origin, who was believed to be in hiding in Greece.
Police in Verviers. 15 Jan 2015Image copyrightEPA
Image caption
The Verviers raid left two suspected jihadists dead
Greek police raided two flats in Athens.
One Algerian man was eventually extradited to Belgium but Abaaoud was not to be found.
It is now known that traces of DNA recovered in both flats match samples recovered from Abaaoud’s body in Paris.
A neighbour at one of the flats, Vasilis Katsanos, said he had seen Abdelhamid Abaaoud in the street outside on at least two occasions.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud had been implicated in four out of six foiled attacks since this spring in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison in absentia, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has said.
Abaaoud is not the only link between Greece and the Paris attacks.
Salah Abdeslam – who is still on the run – travelled to Greece by ferry from Italy on 1 August, leaving three days later.
And two of the suicide bombers who attacked the Stade de France crossed by boat from Turkey to the island of Leros in October, posing as refugees.
Much of the detail that has emerged in Athens raises questions about how to create a better exchange of information and closer cooperation between anti-terrorism authorities in different European countries.
But the link with Abaaoud is also a what-might-have-been.
If he had been captured in Athens in January, the attacks in Paris might never have taken place.

By Chris Morris
BBC News, Athens
8 December 2015

Find this story at 8 December 2015

© 2015 BBC

Correction: Serbia-Paris-Guns story

The head of a Serbian arms factory Milojko Brzakovic speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. Brzakovic of the Zastava arms factory told the Associated Press Thursday that the M92 semi-automatic pistol was traced after its serial number matched the one delivered to an American arms dealer in May 2013.

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — In a Dec. 10 story, The Associated Press incorrectly reported that a gun exported by a Serbian manufacturer to a Florida-based company was involved in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks. In fact, the gun in question was not involved in the attacks and has been in Mexican government custody since March of this year, according to U.S. authorities.

The AP report was based on information from the Serbian gun manufacturer Zastava, which cited to AP an advisory from the Serbian Interior Ministry. The advisory quoted Interpol authorities as saying a gun manufactured by Zastava with a particular serial number was used in Paris. The AP story should have made clear that the connection between a Zastava gun with that serial number and the Paris attacks was based only on this advisory.

Zastava said it exported a gun with that serial number to Delray Beach, Florida-based Century Arms in 2013. According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the gun was received by Century and eventually sent to a federal firearms licensee in the United States and purchased by an individual in February 2014. In March of this year it was recovered at a crime scene in Mexico and is still in the custody of Mexican officials, ATF said.

Serbian authorities declined to provide any additional details this week on the advisory cited by Zastava or what it was based on. Interpol said it could not provide additional material because it only acts as a clearinghouse for information among police agencies. Interpol said it would defer to the information from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on the case.

By JOVANA GEC and DUSAN STOJANOVIC
Dec. 18, 2015 2:15 PM EST

find this story at 18 December 2015

© 2015 Associated Press

Opération Sentinelle: la ligne Maginot de la sécurité intérieure

Les terroristes ont contourné les militaires, qui souhaitaient faire évoluer leur dispositif pour le rendre moins statique. Mais le gouvernement ne voulait pas alors donner l’impression de baisser la garde dans la protection des écoles, juives notamment.

A la suite des attentats du début de l’année, l’opération Sentinelle a été déclenchée le 12 janvier. Mobilisant d’abord 10000 hommes, elle devait s’inscrire dans la durée avec 7000 hommes chargés de la protection d’environ 800 sites sensibles, dont près de la moitié en région parisienne. Suite aux attaques de vendredi, l’Elysée a annoncé l’arrivée de 3000 hommes en renfort.
Comme la Ligne Maginot en 1940, le dispositif militaire de sécurité intérieure a été contourné par l’ennemi. Les terroristes n’ont pas attaqué les sites protégés par l’opération Sentinelle, en particulier ceux de la communauté juive, mais ils ont porté le feu ailleurs. Là où il n’y avait pas de militaires. A cet égard, le Bataclan est un nouveau Sedan.
Les attaques du vendredi 13 soulignent l’impossibilité d’assurer la protection des Français, désormais tous menacés, grâce au déploiement de l’armée dans les rues. L’Elysée peut bien annoncer l’arrivée de 3000 hommes en renfort, qui s’ajouteront aux 7000 déjà engagés, le problème reste entier : quel rôle l’armée peut-elle jouer dans la sécurité intérieure ?
Depuis des mois, ce sujet fait l’objet de discussions entre les responsables gouvernementaux et militaires. Les attentats de Paris vont les relancer, voire les amplifier, parce que la question de l’efficacité du dispositif se pose désormais de manière criante.
Dès les lendemains des attentats contre Charlie et l’Hyper Cacher, les militaires avaient été déployés, dans le cadre de l’opération Sentinelle, pour protéger certains sites sensibles. 7000 militaires (l’équivalent de deux brigades sur les 12 que compte l’armée de terre) l’étaient depuis lors de manière permanente. Au passage, le ministère de la Défense a bénéficié d’une rallonge budgétaire de 4,8 milliards, qui a permis de préserver 18 500 postes. Une mesure très bien accueillie dans la troupe, le chef d’état-major de l’armée de terre, le général Bosser, assurant même les députés de sa « pleine satisfaction ».
Mission de protection ponctuelle. Mais il y a un hic : les soldats professionnels ne sont pas des vigiles ou des supplétifs des forces de police. Si, dans une situation d’urgence, ils peuvent être engagés dans des missions de protection ponctuelle, ils n’ont pas vocation à l’être de manière permanente et massive. Malgré les primes et la médaille qui vient d’être créée, Sentinelle n’est guère populaire dans les casernes. Monter la garde dans les rues de Paris, ce n’est pas ce que les jeunes venaient chercher en s’engageant.
Depuis l’été, les états-majors cherchaient donc à faire évoluer leur dispositif, en le rendant plus mobile, plus réactif, moins « scotché », selon le mot d’un officier. Or, scotchés, les militaires le sont pour l’essentiel devant les sites de la communauté juive. D’où la gêne de tous les responsables sur cette question. Personne ne veut fournir des chiffres précis : environ 800 sites sont concernés par l’opération Sentinelle et parmi eux « une grande majorité de lieux de culte et d’écoles », reconnaît-on au ministère de la Défense. En dehors de la communauté juive, un officier assure que « des dizaines d’églises sont concernées et que les mosquées sont plutôt protégées par des patrouilles » que par une garde permanente. La liste des sites sensibles est fixée par le ministère de l’Intérieur, sur la base du travail des préfets, l’armée agissant ensuite dans le cadre d’une « réquisition ».
Selon les services de renseignement intérieur, la communauté juive, notamment ses écoles, fait toujours l’objet d’une menace très sérieuse. Après l’affaire Ilan Halimi, les attaques de Mohammed Merah contre l’école Ozar Hatorah (4 morts, dont 3 enfants) et d’Amedy Coulibaly contre l’Hyper Cacher (4 morts) ont profondément traumatisé les Français d’origine juive. Ils attendent que la République les protège et les rassure. Mais depuis vendredi, tous les Français sont désormais dans leur cas.
Jusqu’à présent, personne au sommet de l’Etat n’a voulu prendre le risque de retirer un militaire de la protection d’une école juive. L’armée est bel et bien « scotchée », une situation inconfortable du point de vue tactique. Mais, explique un responsable gouvernemental, « si l’Elysée a décidé de préserver des effectifs et d’augmenter le budget de la Défense, c’est pour faire Sentinelle et pas des missions de sécurité intérieure que l’armée s’inventerait », comme la protection des frontières avec les migrants ou le « contrôle de zones » dans les quartiers sensibles.
Rapport au Premier ministre. Une réflexion gouvernementale sur l’engagement de l’armée en France, pilotée par le Secrétariat général de la défense et de la sécurité nationale (SGDSN), est en cours. Elle devait aboutir en janvier à la remise d’un rapport au Premier ministre, fixant le nouveau cadre d’emploi de l’armée sur le territoire national. La nouvelle donne terroriste risque de compliquer encore les choses.
Dix mois après le déclenchement de l’opération Sentinelle, on ne connaît toujours pas les grands principes qui doivent guider l’action militaire sur le sol national, c’est-à-dire face à des Français dans le cadre d’un Etat de droit. « Pour un militaire, un citoyen ne peut pas devenir un adversaire », explique-t-on à l’état-major des armées. « Nous pouvons être engagés pour faire face à la menace terroriste, mais pas dans des missions d’ordre public ». Des généraux ont, un temps, réclamé que les militaires reçoivent certains pouvoirs de police… ce qui revenait à les transformer en gendarmes. L’état d’urgence décrété et la « guerre » dont parle le chef de l’Etat vont-ils faire évoluer les choses dans ce sens ? On se retrouverait alors dans une situation proche de celle des débuts de la guerre d’Algérie, quand les socialistes étaient déjà au pouvoir.
Pour le général Pierre de Villiers, chef d’état-major des armées, « plutôt que de suppléer les forces de sécurité, les armées doivent apporter des savoir-faire complémentaires ». Reste à savoir lesquels ? Personne n’a encore fourni de réponses définitives et convaincantes. « La capacité de travailler jour et nuit, une grande mobilité, un savoir-faire en matière de renseignement – tant humain que via des drones », expliquait récemment le patron de l’armée de terre. Tout ou presque, sauf des gardes statiques permanentes…
L’armée de terre n’est pourtant pas prête à renoncer à cette mission Sentinelle. Par conviction, comme l’exprime le général de Villiers : « La mission des armées, en temps de crise comme en temps de paix, est de protéger tous les Français où qu’ils se trouvent. » Mais aussi par intérêt bien compris. Car Sentinelle lui a permis de sauver ce qui fait le cœur de son identité : ses effectifs.

Jean-Dominique Merchet 15 novembre 2015 à 16h28
Find this story at 15 November 2015

© l’Opinion 2015

Metadata Surveillance Didn’t Stop the Paris Attacks

And yet intelligence officials and politicians are now saying it could have. They’re wrong.

Since terrorists struck Paris last Friday night, the debate over whether encryption prevents intelligence services from stopping attacks has reignited. The New York Times and Yahoo reported on vague claims that the terrorists’ use of encryption stymied investigators who might have thwarted their plans. CIA Director John Brennan made equally vague comments Monday morning, warning that thanks to the privacy protections of the post-Snowden era, it is now “much more challenging” for intelligence agencies to find terrorists. Jeb Bush piled on, saying that the United States needs to restore its program collecting metadata on U.S. phone calls, even though that program won’t be shut down until the end of this month.

Following a terrorism incident as shocking as the Paris attacks, it is no surprise that politicians and the intelligence establishment would want to widen American spying capabilities. But their arguments are conflating the forest—bulk metadata collection—and the trees: access to individual communications about the attack. To understand why that’s the case, start with this tweet from former NSA and DHS official Stewart Baker: “NSA’s 215 program”—and by association the far larger metadata dragnet of which the domestically focused phone-metadata program is just a small part—“was designed to detect a Mumbai/Paris-style attack.”

Only it didn’t.

The metadata surveillance system appears to have failed before it even got to the encryption stage.
The United States and United Kingdom’s metadata collection that focuses on the Middle East and Europe is far more extensive than the phone dragnet being shut down later this month, and its use has far more permissive rules. This dragnet is mostly limited by technology, not law. And France—which rewrote its surveillance laws after the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this year—has its own surveillance system. Both are in place, yet neither detected the Nov. 13 plot. This means they failed to alert authorities to the people they should more closely target via both electronic and physical surveillance. In significant part, this system appears to have failed before it even got to the stage at which investigators would need to worry about terrorists’ use of encryption.

To understand why that’s true, it helps to understand how the metadata dragnet relates to surveillance of content as well as human spying.

In most public comments going back to the initial leaks from Edward Snowden (and in Baker’s tweet from the weekend), authorities have made a shaky claim: that the surveillance dragnet is “designed to detect” an attack like Paris. Based on that claimed purpose, their dragnets are failing.

But that claim was always an oversimplification. It oversold the importance of the dragnet, by itself, such that citizens might more willingly tolerate the collection of highly revealing personal details. Because it doesn’t include the actual content of our conversations, call metadata doesn’t seem especially intimate; if it’s the only thing authorities say they need to prevent a big terrorist attack, citizens might easily conclude that they’re fine with the government collecting it. But the claim also served to hide how quickly metadata analysis can lead to the reading of content.

The intelligence community has given us a more nuanced understanding of the purpose of the metadata dragnet, however, in a National Academy of Sciences paper on “Bulk Collection of Signals Intelligence” released earlier this year. President Obama asked for the paper in early 2014 to assess whether the intelligence apparatus could accomplish what it currently does with metadata dragnets (both those conducted in the U.S. and overseas) via more targeted data collection.

The NAS report measured the dragnet in terms of three functions:

Contact chaining, which maps out networks of people based on whom they communicate or even spend time with.

Identifying and keeping current all known identifiers (phone numbers, email addresses, device identifiers, IP addresses, Internet IDs) a person of interest uses. This is done, in part, by using algorithms to match up the communication patterns of different accounts.

“Triaging” the identifiers collected to categorize the urgency of the threat to national security from the party associated with each one.
If the dragnet accomplishes its purpose, it will provide a fairly comprehensive picture of who is communicating or hanging out with whom, connect all the known communications identities of any given person (which is critical to developing a comprehensive picture of someone’s network and the communications tools he uses), and then use those pictures to identify who poses threats that should be followed more closely.

If the metadata dragnet works, that can happen even with encrypted communication.

It’s only through that process that authorities get around to actually reading content. Authorities will use the metadata dragnet, for example, to choose what content to keep from bulk content collection. It’s likely they’ll collect, but maybe not immediately read, communications that are one or two degrees of separation from identifiers of interest just in case it becomes interesting later. Importantly, the NSA will even keep encrypted communications that, because of their metadata, are of interest.

The metadata dragnet also helps the intelligence community decide whom to target in its bulky Section 702 PRISM collection, which last year affected more than 92,000 targets and everyone they communicated with. Here, rather than doing the bulk collection itself, the NSA capitalizes on the fact that much of the world uses American tech companies like Google and Facebook to conduct (and often, store) its online communications. So when the triaging process identifies new foreign identifiers that seem important, NSA can ask the tech companies to preserve and share on an ongoing basis everything that’s associated with that identifier, including more metadata. In most cases, NSA will get the content of communications those identifiers have, which they’ll read and store and pull up again in the future if a related identifier is involved.

There are a few exceptions where officials cannot get the contents of communications via PRISM because they’re encrypted at the user level, rather than server level. The most important of these exceptions are WhatsApp and iMessage (and the latter only if users have opted not to use Apple’s cloud to store their communications), as well as any communications users have encrypted on their own. The NSA can’t get this content from Facebook, Apple, or other providers, but it can get metadata, so for users of interest, surveilers should at least know who is communicating with whom as well as some other useful details about them, though not what they’re saying.

For WhatsApp and iMessage users of interest, as well as those using their own encryption, the intelligence agencies will seek ways to bypass the encryption, often by hacking a user’s device or identifying his IP address and then accessing other devices or Internet accounts using that IP.

Importantly, however, it takes the triaging process or a particular event (like Friday’s attack) to identify users of such importance that the NSA will make the effort to conduct more targeted spying.

Finally, there’s old-fashioned physical surveillance and human intelligence, asking people to spy on others. As reflected by the CIA’s recent decision to add a digital innovation unit, even old-fashioned spying is increasingly guided and assisted by communications technology, both in identifying targets but also finding ways and information to compromise those targets. Numerous declassified reports make it clear the FBI uses the American phone dragnet to identify people who might make useful informants. (It also sometimes uses communications content to find intelligence they can use to coerce that cooperation.) Presumably, other intelligence services do the same.

For targets in a known location that are using very good communications security (by using encryption and ensuring their multiple identities cannot be correlated, not even with geolocation), physical surveillance of known targets (as several of the Paris perpetrators were by authorities) is always an option. The problem with that is it is very time- and labor-intensive—and because France and Belgium have so many potentially dangerous extremists, selecting whom would get that level of attention requires a very good combing process.

It all comes back to this triage, which is in significant part about how well the intelligence community uses that forest of metadata to pick whom it should target.

“Knowing who someone communicates with is metadata, not content, and most encrypted protocols (e.g. WhatsApp, Telegram, etc.) don’t change this,” Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at UC–Berkeley explains. “In attempting to identify actual threat actors, ‘this person is communicating with ISIS’ is probably all you need to justify more intensive targeted actions, such as system compromise, that bypass any effects of encryption.”

There are a number of reasons why the dragnet might not work as planned. Some important metadata may be missing, perhaps even from the PlayStation 4 consoles some terrorists have used to communicate, which Belgium’s Interior Minister said has posed particular problems in the days before the attack. (Though there’s no evidence PS4s played a role in this attack.) Some metadata, especially that scraped from content, may be increasingly unavailable if the content itself is encrypted. When individuals keep their online identities rigorously separate, that too makes the dragnet less useful, as it makes it hard to identify a terrorist network. Finally, it may be that the triage process doesn’t always measure the importance of communications effectively.

In any case, news reports on the investigation into Friday’s attacks have suggested that some of the terrorists involved in the attack—even a figure identified as the possible planner—have had some of their communications analyzed already. If so, enough metadata was available to partially map out this network. If investigators know about these communications now, they could have known about them on Thursday, before the attack. And if they did, investigators might have been able to bypass whatever encryption the terrorists did use.

The terrorists who conducted Friday’s attack may well have been using encryption. But if so, it appears that the metadata dragnet failed well before agencies got to any encrypted communications.

By Marcy Wheeler
NOV. 16 2015 10:44 PM

Find this story at 16 November 2015

© 2015 The Slate Group LLC

Inquiry Weighs Whether ISIS Analysis Was Distorted

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.

The investigation began after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command — the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State — were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama, the government officials said.

Fuller details of the claims were not available, including when the assessments were said to have been altered and who at Central Command, or Centcom, the analyst said was responsible. The officials, speaking only on the condition of anonymity about classified matters, said that the recently opened investigation focused on whether military officials had changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on.

Photo

Iraqi Army recruits in Taji in April with U.S. Army trainers. About 3,400 American troops are advising Iraqi forces. Credit John Moore/Getty Images
The prospect of skewed intelligence raises new questions about the direction of the government’s war with the Islamic State, and could help explain why pronouncements about the progress of the campaign have varied widely.

Legitimate differences of opinion are common and encouraged among national security officials, so the inspector general’s investigation is an unusual move and suggests that the allegations go beyond typical intelligence disputes. Government rules state that intelligence assessments “must not be distorted” by agency agendas or policy views. Analysts are required to cite the sources that back up their conclusions and to acknowledge differing viewpoints.

Under federal law, intelligence officials can bring claims of wrongdoing to the intelligence community’s inspector general, a position created in 2011. If officials find the claims credible, they are required to advise the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. That occurred in the past several weeks, the officials said, and the Pentagon’s inspector general decided to open an investigation into the matter.

Spokeswomen for both inspectors general declined to comment for this article. The Defense Intelligence Agency and the White House also declined to comment.

Col. Patrick Ryder, a Centcom spokesman, said he could not comment on a continuing inspector general investigation but said “the I.G. has a responsibility to investigate all allegations made, and we welcome and support their independent oversight.”

Numerous agencies produce intelligence assessments related to the Iraq war, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and others. Colonel Ryder said it was customary for them to make suggestions on one another’s drafts. But he said each agency had the final say on whether to incorporate those suggestions. “Further, the multisource nature of our assessment process purposely guards against any single report or opinion unduly influencing leaders and decision makers,” he said.

It is not clear how that review process changes when Defense Intelligence Agency analysts are assigned to work at Centcom — which has headquarters both in Tampa, Fla., and Qatar — as was the case of at least one of the analysts who have spoken to the inspector general. In the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Pentagon has relocated more Defense Intelligence Agency analysts from the agency’s Washington headquarters to military commands around the globe, so they can work more closely with the generals and admirals in charge of the military campaigns.

Mr. Obama last summer authorized a bombing campaign against the Islamic State, and approximately 3,400 American troops are currently in Iraq advising and training Iraqi forces. The White House has been reluctant, though, to recommit large numbers of ground troops to Iraq after announcing an “end” to the Iraq war in 2009.

The bombing campaign over the past year has had some success in allowing Iraqi forces to reclaim parts of the country formerly under the group’s control, but important cities like Mosul and Ramadi remain under Islamic State’s control. There has been very little progress in wresting the group’s hold over large parts of Syria, where the United States has done limited bombing.

Some senior American officials in recent weeks have provided largely positive public assessments about the progress of the military campaign against the Islamic State, a Sunni terrorist organization that began as an offshoot of Al Qaeda but has since severed ties and claimed governance of a huge stretch of land across Iraq and Syria. The group is also called ISIS or ISIL.

Continue reading the main story
Obama’s Evolution on ISIS
Some of President Obama’s statements about the American strategy to confront ISIS and its effectiveness.

In late July, retired Gen. John Allen — who is Mr. Obama’s top envoy working with other nations to fight the Islamic State — told the Aspen Security Forum that the terror group’s momentum had been “checked strategically, operationally, and by and large, tactically.”

“ISIS is losing,” he said, even as he acknowledged that the campaign faced numerous challenges — from blunting the Islamic State’s message to improving the quality of Iraqi forces.

During a news briefing last week, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter was more measured. He called the war “difficult” and said “it’s going to take some time.” But, he added, “I’m confident that we will succeed in defeating ISIL and that we have the right strategy.”

But recent intelligence assessments, including some by Defense Intelligence Agency, paint a sober picture about how little the Islamic State has been weakened over the past year, according to officials with access to the classified assessments. They said the documents conclude that the yearlong campaign has done little to diminish the ranks of the Islamic State’s committed fighters, and that the group over the last year has expanded its reach into North Africa and Central Asia.

Critics of the Obama administration’s strategy have argued that a bombing campaign alone — without a significant infusion of American ground troops — is unlikely to ever significantly weaken the terror group. But it is not clear whether Defense Intelligence Agency analysts concluded that more American troops would make an appreciable difference.

In testimony on Capitol Hill this year, Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, the agency’s director, said sending ground troops back into Iraq risked transforming the conflict into one between the West and ISIS, which would be “the best propaganda victory that we could give.”

“It’s both expected and helpful if there are dissenting viewpoints about conflicts in foreign countries,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a forthcoming book, “Red Team,” that includes an examination of alternative analysis within American intelligence agencies. What is problematic, he said, “is when a dissenting opinion is not given to policy makers.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency was created in 1961, in part to avoid what Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense at the time, called “service bias.” During the 1950s, the United States grossly overestimated the size of the Soviet missile arsenal, a miscalculation that was fueled in part by the Air Force, which wanted more money for its own missile systems.

During the Vietnam War, the Defense Intelligence Agency repeatedly warned that even a sustained military campaign was unlikely to defeat the North Vietnamese forces. But according to an internal history of the agency, its conclusions were repeatedly overruled by commanders who were certain that the United States was winning, and that victory was just a matter of applying more force.

“There’s a built-in tension for the people who work at D.I.A., between dispassionate analysis and what command wants,” said Paul R. Pillar, a retired senior Central Intelligence Agency analyst who years ago accused the Bush administration of distorting intelligence assessments about Iraq’s weapons programs before the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003.

“You’re part of a large structure that does have a vested interest in portraying the overall mission as going well,” he said.

By MARK MAZZETTI and MATT APUZZOAUG. 25, 2015
A version of this article appears in print on August 26, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Inquiry Weighs If ISIS Analysis Was Distorted . Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

Find this story at 25 August 2015

© 2015 The New York Times Company

Pentagon: U.S.-trained fighters have not joined forces with al-Qaeda

The Pentagon on Wednesday denied reports that the latest batch of U.S.­trained rebels in Syria had defected
and joined al­Qaeda, as officials sought to dispel suggestions of further setbacks for the troubled effort to build
an effective local force against the Islamic State.
Earlier this week, shortly after a group of 71 U.S.­trained rebels returned to Syria after completing an American
training course in Turkey, one of the commanders said to be with the group issued a statement dissociating the
fighters from the Pentagon program and saying that it would operate as an “independent faction.”
The statement triggered rumors that the group had defected to the al­Qaeda­linked Jabhat al­Nusra, fueled by
photographs posted on social media by Jabhat al­Nusra purportedly showing U.S. weapons that had been
handed over by the Pentagon graduates.
The new reports came as U.S. officials search for ways to retool the Pentagon’s $500 million training program,
which was supposed to prepare a reliable, moderate force to combat the Islamic State, but which has come to
symbolize the shortcomings of the Obama administration’s handling of Syria’s protected civil conflict.
At the Pentagon, Capt. Jeff Davis, a military spokesman, said that U.S. officials were in touch with members of
the U.S.­trained group, referred to as the New Syrian Force (NSF), and said reports that the fighters had joined
Jabhat al­Nusra were false.
“We have no information at all to suggest that that’s true,” Davis told reporters. He said photos posted by Jabhat
al­Nusra­affiliated Twitter accounts, which purported to show American weaponry provided by those fighters,
had been “repurposed.”
U.S. Central Command, which oversees the training program, took the unusual step of issuing a statement to
rebut the reports. “All coalition­issued weapons and equipment are under the positive control of NSF fighters,”
the statement said.
The whereabouts and affiliation of the fighters was thrown into doubt following the statement by Anas Obaid,
who was one of the leaders of the new group of Pentagon graduates. He said the group would continue to fight
the Islamic State, but not in coordination with the United States. He also said the group had disowned its parent
organization, Division 30, the larger rebel unit from which the Pentagon trainees have been drawn, and would
call themselves Atareb Rebels, after the town where they are based.
Division 30 issued a statement saying that the unit had been unable to contact Obaid and warned he would be
put on trial for “high treason” if the reports of his defection were true.
Charles Lister of the Doha­based Brookings Institution said it was possible the U.S.­trained fighters had been
intimidated by Jabhat al­Nusra or other groups into denying their U.S. affiliation. “In that area of northern
Aleppo, it’s Islamists who have dominance, so to come in as a U.S.­backed force, you are at a disadvantage to
start with,” he said.
Later, Division 30, on its Twitter feed, denied that any of its weapons had been handed over: “The handover of
weapons has not occurred — not a single piece of weaponry.”
Still, U.S. officials acknowledge that they have limited ability to track the movements of the U.S.­trained
fighters, who are not under American command and control, and their arms.
The program, which has produced fewer than 200 fighters so far, has been plagued by setbacks. After the first
round of training, some fighters were kidnapped by Jabhat al­Nusra; others were attacked, and the unit
dissolved.
Last week, Gen. Lloyd Austin III, the Centcom commander, said fewer than five U.S.­backed fighters were then
in Syria.
“If this second group has failed as dismally as the first, this could well be the nail in the coffin of the program,”
Lister said.

By Missy Ryan and Liz Sly September 23
Sly reported from Beirut. Thomas Gibbons­Neff contributed to this report.
Missy Ryan writes about the Pentagon, military issues, and national security for The Washington Post.

Find this story at 23 September 2015

Copyright https://www.washingtonpost.com/

Exclusive: Congress probing U.S. spy agencies’ possible lapses on Russia

Senior U.S. lawmakers have begun probing possible intelligence lapses over Moscow’s intervention in Syria, concerned that American spy agencies were slow to grasp the scope and intention of Russia’s dramatic military offensive there, U.S. congressional sources and other officials told Reuters.

A week after Russia plunged directly into Syria’s civil war by launching a campaign of air strikes, the intelligence committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives want to examine the extent to which the spy community overlooked or misjudged critical warning signs, the sources said.

Findings of major blind spots would mark the latest of several U.S. intelligence misses in recent years, including Moscow’s surprise takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region last year and China’s rapid expansion of island-building activities in the South China Sea.

Though spy agencies have sought to ramp up intelligence gathering on Russia since the crisis over Ukraine, they continue to struggle with inadequate resources because of the emphasis on counter-terrorism in the Middle East and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, according to current and former U.S. officials.

A senior administration official, who also asked not to be identified, insisted that there were “no surprises” and that policymakers were “comfortable” with the intelligence they received in the lead-up to the Russian offensive.

Spy agencies had carefully tracked Russian President Vladimir Putin’s build-up of military assets and personnel in Syria in recent weeks, prompting White House criticism and demands for Moscow to explain itself.

But intelligence officers – and the U.S. administration they serve – were caught mostly off-guard by the speed and aggressiveness of Putin’s use of air power as well as a Russian target list that included U.S.-backed rebels, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“They saw some of this going on but didn’t appreciate the magnitude,” one of the sources told Reuters.

Russia’s sudden move to ramp up its military involvement in the Syria crisis has thrown Obama’s Middle East strategy into doubt and laid bare an erosion of U.S. influence in the region.

A shortage of reliable information and analysis could further hamper President Barack Obama’s efforts to craft a response on Syria to regain the initiative from Washington’s former Cold War foe.

BEHIND THE CURVE?

It is unclear how his administration could have reacted differently with better intelligence, though advance word of Putin’s attack plans might have allowed U.S. officials to warn the moderate Syrian opposition that they could end up in Russia’s line of fire.

Obama, who is reluctant to see America drawn deeper into another Middle East conflict, has shown no desire to directly confront Russia over its Syria offensive – something Moscow may have taken as a green light to escalate its operations.

Syrian troops and militia backed by Russian warplanes mounted what appeared to be their first major coordinated assault on Syrian insurgents on Wednesday and Moscow said its warships fired a barrage of missiles at them from the Caspian Sea, a sign of its new military reach.

Russia’s military build-up now includes a growing naval presence, long-range rockets and a battalion of troops backed by Moscow’s most modern tanks, the U.S. ambassador to NATO said.

The U.S. administration believes it now has a better understanding at least of Putin’s main motive – to do whatever it takes to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But Washington remains uncertain exactly how much further Putin is willing to go in terms of deployment of advanced military assets, the U.S. officials said.

The lack of clarity stems in part from the limited ability of U.S. intelligence agencies to discern what Putin and a tightly knit circle of advisers are thinking and planning.

In a tense meeting with Putin at the United Nations early last week, Obama was not given any advance notice of Russia’s attack plans, aides said. Russian air strikes began two days later, including the targeting of CIA-trained “moderate” anti-Assad rebels, though Moscow insisted it only hit Islamic State insurgents.

“They did not expect the speed with which Putin ramped things up,” said Michael McFaul, Obama’s former ambassador to Moscow. “He likes the element of surprise.”

U.S. intelligence agencies did closely follow and report to policymakers Russian moves to sharply expand infrastructure at its key air base in Latakia as well as the deployment of heavy equipment, including combat aircraft, to Syria, officials said.

“We’re not mind readers,” the senior administration official said. “We didn’t know when Russia would fly the first sortie, but our analysis of the capabilities that were there was that they were there for a reason.”

However, several other officials said U.S. agencies were behind the curve in assessing how far the Russians intended to go and how quickly they intended to launch operations.

In fact, right up until a White House briefing given shortly after the bombing began, Obama press secretary Josh Earnest declined to draw “firm conclusions” on Russia’s strategy.

CONFUSION OVER RUSSIAN INTENT

One source suggested that U.S. experts initially thought the Russian build-up might have been more for a military “snap exercise” or a temporary show of force than preparations for sustained, large-scale attacks on Assad’s enemies.

Another official said that after initial review, congressional oversight investigators believe that “information on this was not moving quickly enough through channels” to policymakers.

And another source said there had been a “lag of a week” before agencies began voicing full-throated alarm about imminent Russian military operations.

The senior administration official said, however, that “I don’t think anybody here perceived a gap” in intelligence.

In their reviews of how U.S. intelligence handled the Syria build-up, officials said congressional intelligence committees would examine reports issued by the agencies and question officers involved in the process, according to congressional and national security sources. At the moment, no public hearings are planned, the officials said.

Though the senior administration official denied the intelligence community was paying any less attention to Syria, John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said that not enough intelligence assets had been devoted to analyzing Putin’s “aggressive policies”.

McFaul, who took the view that the Obama administration had been largely on top of the situation as Putin prepared his offensive, said that a faster or more precise intelligence assessment would probably have done little to change the outcome.

“What difference would it make if we had known 48 hours ahead of time?” asked McFaul, who now teaches at Stanford University in California. “There still wouldn’t have been any better options for deterring Putin in Syria.”

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Roberta Rampton, Writing by Matt Spetalnick; editing by Stuart Grudgings)

Politics | Thu Oct 8, 2015 8:03am EDT Related:
BY MARK HOSENBALL, PHIL STEWART AND MATT SPETALNICK

Find this story at 8 October 2015

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