Saturday, February 09, 2013

France plays down report of ransom paid for Niger hostages - Reuters

France plays down report of ransom paid for Niger hostages | Reuters

(Reuters) - France brushed off an allegation by a former U.S. diplomat that it paid a $17 million ransom, in vain, for the release of four hostages abducted in 2010 from Niger, a charge that contradicts the government's stated no-negotiation policy.

The U.S. ambassador to Mali from 2002 to 2005, Vicki Huddleston, told iTele in an interview broadcast on Friday that the ransom paid by France took a circuitous route before landing in the hands of al Qaeda's north African unit AQIM.

"Of course, France didn't walk over to the Salafists and say, 'Here's your 17 million,'" Huddleston said in the interview conducted on Thursday in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

"The ransoms, like all other ransoms paid, were paid indirectly and ended up in the hands of the Malian government and then they were turned over, at least part of it, to the Salafists."

The four French men were captured by AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) from a mining town in the north of Niger on September 16, 2010, and are now believed to be in northern Mali....

Deadly Camp Bastion attack review finds troops let guard down

Deadly Camp Bastion attack review finds troops let guard down - Khaama Press (KP) | Afghan Online Newspaper

Some guard towers on an allied military base in southern Helmand province of Afghanistan were unattended during a Taliban militants raid last September, National Public Radio (NPR) reported.

Capitol Hill sources told NPR the insurgents “got lucky” by cutting through the fence at a remote area of the base in Helmand Province.

According to Marine Corps review allied troops “let their guard down” at Camp Bastion and have now “vastly” beefed up security with sensors and more British and American guards, but there is no indication anyone will be held accountable.

A House staffer said, (Allied military officers) considered this kind of an attack a low probability.”

In the meantime Pentagon and Capitol Hill sources quoted by NPR said said, the troops who were providing some of the perimeter security at the time were from the country of Tonga, an archipelago in the South Pacific.

The Marine Corps said its top leadership, including Marine Commandant, General James Amos, were being briefed on the results and had no immediate comment.

A group of 15 Taliban militants dressed in American Army uniforms sliced a hole in the fence at a corner of the Camp Bastion, a British base that adjoins Camp Leatherneck on the night of September 14th.

At least three coalition forces service members including Marine Lt. Col. Chris Raible, a Harrier squadron commander from Pennsylvania and Marine Sgt. Bradley Atwell of Indiana during the Taliban spree.

Clashes reportedly continued for almost four hours and at least eight harrier jets at a cost of between $200 million and $300 million were damaged following the attack.

Britain’s Prince Harry, an attack helicopter pilot, happened to be at the base and was moved to a secure location.

Coalition officials confirmed that it was local Taliban, and the investigation into their activities continues despite Haqqani network based in Pakistan was believed to be behind the attack.

-bth: so just to be clear we lost $300 million in aircraft to save on contracting guard duty to Tonga.

Can Social Media Disarm Syria’s Chemical Arsenal?

Can Social Media Disarm Syria’s Chemical Arsenal? - The Daily Beast

If you are a Syrian military officer in charge of some nasty chemical weapons, you’ve probably been friended or Skyped by the U.S. government. The message is simple: think twice before using or selling that mustard gas you are guarding.

On July 18, when a suicide bomber struck a meeting of Syria’s security cabinet, killing the defense minister and President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, it was a major victory for Syria’s opposition. But it was also a cause for serious alarm at the Pentagon.

In public, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned what was left of the regime’s leadership to protect the state’s large stockpile of chemical weapons. Privately, the U.S. intelligence community began to worry that the Syrian officials known to have the ability to authorize the use of that arsenal were now dead or gravely injured.

A scramble then ensued: who were the midlevel officers in charge of the Syrian Air Force and Army units that controlled the stocks of sarin and mustard gas the Assad regime had been compiling for decades? And who was now running the Scud missiles and bombers that would be deployed to use these chemical weapons? According to current and retired U.S. and Western intelligence and defense officials, U.S. analysts began to hunt for email addresses, Twitter handles, Facebook accounts, phone numbers, and Skype contacts for those midlevel Syrian officers. The information was then used to deliver a pointed message: the U.S. government knows who you are, and there will be consequences if you use or transfer chemical weapons.

“The people who were killed and injured in that [July 18] suicide bombing were the people who we could try to persuade not to use this stuff,” says one congressional staffer who has been briefed extensively on the program. “When that happened, we needed to find another way to get to these guys.”...

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Algerian warplanes 'repel large-scale barracks attack'

Algerian warplanes 'repel large-scale barracks attack' - ALGERIA - FRANCE 24

Some 50 men armed with rocket-propelled grenades launched a co-ordinated assault on an Algerian barracks Wednesday, which was successfully repelled by warplanes and attack helicopters, according to a local report.

Algeria deployed military aircraft Wednesday to repel an attack by around 50 men armed with rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) on a military installation in the north-east of the country, local media said.
According to a report in daily newspaper El-Khabar, at least two of the assailants were killed and six soldiers injured in the attack.
The weapons included RPGs that had come out of Libya, the newspaper said, adding that many of the attackers were Tunisian and Libyan.
The assault began when a lorry delivering food to the barracks was hi-jacked, filled with weapons and used to force a way into the installation, while a second group opened fire in a diversionary attack.
-bth: the Libyan weapons stockpiles that disappeared are beginning to show up in earnest now.

Turkey ‘blocked’ Israeli NATO steps

POLITICS - Turkey ‘blocked’ Israeli NATO steps

Turkey blocked North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) initiatives taken toward the inclusion of Israel in the organization, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Feb. 5 to the reporters during his flight to Budapest.

Erdoğan was speaking on the possibility of cultural differences as the cause of the European Union’s five-decade delay, when he said it was possible that the union was “hesitant because the members will not be able to do everything they want when Turkey gets in,” likening the situation to that of NATO.

“Are we not in NATO with these countries?” Erdoğan asked, recalling that Turkey is the only country in the pact with a Muslim population.

“We, as Turkey, would stop wrong steps [in NATO]. Thus, we saw such steps toward Israel’s inclusion in NATO. We prevented that,” Erdoğan said. “We have our own red lines. For us, to be involved in NATO with Israel is never considerable. To be with such a cruel understanding would conflict with our structure, history and culture.”

Suicide Attack: German Prosecutors Were Probing Ankara Bomber - Der Spiegel

Ankara Bomber Was Under Investigation by German Prosecutors - SPIEGEL ONLINE

The suicide bomber who blew himself up in front of the US Embassy in the Turkish capital Ankara on Friday had been known to German criminal investigators for years.

The Federal Prosecutor's Office had been investigating Ecevit S. since early 2011 because it suspected him of being a member of a foreign terrorist group. A spokesman for the office said S. was suspected of having been a member of the left-wing extremist group "Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front" (DHKP/C), which is banned in Germany. 

S. is accused of having helped to obtain funding for the organization. But the prosecutor's office said it had had no information about his whereabouts or activities since mid-October 2012.

S. is believed to have lived in Germany for years. The Berlin state prosecutor's office had investigated him in 2009 after he was found to be in possession of leaflets and other publications by DHKP/C. But proceedings against him were dropped....

-bth: I don't think I've ever heard of a communist suicide bomber

Iranian Sentinel drone video recovered and published

Iran Drone Capture Claim: State TV Airs Images Allegedly Extracted From U.S. Aircraft

Iran Drone Capture Claim: State TV Airs Images Allegedly Extracted From U.S. Aircraft

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's state TV has broadcast footage allegedly extracted from the advanced CIA spy drone captured in 2011, the latest in a flurry of moves from Iranian authorities meant to underline the nation's purported military and technological advances.

Iran has long claimed it managed to reverse-engineer the RQ-170 Sentinel, seized in December 2011 after it entered Iranian airspace from the country's eastern border with Afghanistan, and that it's capable of launching its own production line for the unmanned aircraft.

After initially saying only that a drone had been lost near the Afghan-Iran border, American officials eventually confirmed the Sentinel had been monitoring Iran's military and nuclear facilities. Washington asked for it back but Iran refused, and instead released photos of Iranian officials studying the aircraft.

The video aired late Wednesday on Iranian TV shows an aerial view of an airport and a city, said to be a U.S. drone base and Kandahar, Afghanistan. The TV also showed images purported to be the Sentinel landing at a base in eastern Iran but it was unclear if that footage meant to depict the moment of the drone's seizure.

In addition, the TV also showed images of an Iranian helicopter transporting the drone, as well as its disassembled parts being carried on a trailer.

In another part of the video, the chief of the Revolutionary Guard's airspace division, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said that only after capturing the drone, Iran realized it "belongs to the CIA."

"We were able to definitively access the data of the drone, once we brought it down," said Hajizadeh.

He described the Sentinel's capture as a huge scoop for Iran, saying that at the time, Tehran did not rule out a possible punitive U.S. airstrike over the drone.....

-bth: the only real news in the AP story is that the Iranians released video of the landing of the Sentinel which I assume was in 2011.

Syrian battle lines - Jan 14 2013 Relief Map

Syria: Government and Anti-government Held Areas as at January 14th 2013 | ReliefWeb

Monday, February 04, 2013

Israel reportedly struck additional targets in Syria, regime releases video

Israel reportedly struck additional targets in Syria, regime releases video - Threat Matrix

Western intelligence officials have told TIME that "at least one to two additional targets" were struck by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) in Syria earlier this week in addition to that which has already been publicly reported. The officials did not specify the additional targets.

On Jan. 30, The Long War Journal reported that the IAF had carried out an airstrike on a Syrian weapons convoy which reportedly included Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, and noted the Syrian regime's claim that "a scientific research center responsible for raising the levels of resistance and self-defense in Jamraya area in Damascus Countryside" had also been hit.

According to TIME, the "scientific research center" was the Scientific Studies and Research Center (Centre D'Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques), and "warehouses [at the SSRC] stocked with equipment necessary for the deployment of chemical and biological weapons" were destroyed in the strike.

While the TIME report provides new information regarding this week's incidents, it does not indicate whether the antiaircraft missiles struck were in the vicinity of the facility in question. However, on Feb. 1, a US official told Agence France Presse that Israel had struck "surface-to-air missiles on vehicles" as well as an "adjacent" military complex "on the outskirts of Damascus" believed to be "housing" chemical agents. Similarly, McClatchy reported, based on comments from unnamed Israeli intelligence officials, that the antiaircraft missiles "were on a military base" in Jamraya when they were struck. Both reports appear to confirm a Jan. 30 report in the Wall Street Journal that suggested the antiaircraft missiles "may have been close to a military facility" when hit.

According to the US Department of the Treasury, the SSRC is the Syrian government's body "responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them." In addition, the activities of the SSRC are said to "focus substantively on the development of biological and chemical weapons."...

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Dozens killed in attack on Kirkuk police

Iran rial hits all-time dollar low

Iran rial hits all-time dollar low | The Australian

IRAN'S currency has plummeted to an all-time low, registering a more than 21 per cent drop in a span of two weeks against the US dollar, currency tracking websites and money changers say.

The rial was traded at between 39,000 and 40,000 per US dollar on the open market on Saturday, down from about 33,000 two weeks ago, according to money changers contacted by AFP.

It had briefly dropped in late January to 37,000 per US dollar amid rumours that central bank head Mahmoud Bahmani could be sacked because of his failure to shore up the rial.

The devaluation comes with Iran facing a growing shortage of foreign cash because of international sanctions against its central bank and vital oil sector over its disputed nuclear program.

Uncertainty over stalled negotiations with the UN's atomic watchdog agency and world powers over the nuclear standoff has added to controversy over the rial, according to local media.

Digital Pass $1 for first 28 Days

The currency was traded at 12,000 in late 2011, prior to the introduction of tough Western sanctions on Iran's oil and banking sectors....

Report: German check bust man is ex-Iran bank head

Report: German check bust man is ex-Iran bank head

BERLIN (AP) — The German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reports that a man caught last month trying to enter Germany with a check worth about $70 million was Iran's former central bank chief.

The weekly reports that customs officials at Duesseldorf airport found the check in Tahmasb Mazaheri's luggage Jan. 21 upon his arrival from Turkey.

German customs had issued a statement Friday saying a check for 300 million Venezuelan Bolivars issued by the Bank of Venezuela was found on an unnamed 59-year-old man.

Neither customs officials nor Iran's embassy could be reached for comment late Saturday.

Mazaheri was the governor of the Central Bank of Iran until 2008.

Bild am Sonntag reported in its Sunday edition that German police and customs are investigating possible money laundering.

bth: there as an Iranian money laundering project discovered in January in S. Korea.

Iran ‘faked British chemical weapons plot’ - The Sunday TImes

Iran ‘faked British chemical weapons plot’ | The Sunday Times

INVESTIGATORS suspect that Iran may be involved in an attempt to smear the West by hacking a British security company and faking a plot in which the firm was asked to deploy chemical weapons in Syria.

False emails created as part of the sophisticated cyberattack claimed the plot had been sanctioned by Washington and indicated a desire to frame Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.

If Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, it would potentially trigger military retaliation by America and Britain.

The hacking of Britam Defence, a company run by former SAS chiefs with many Middle Eastern clients, is being investigated by cybercrime and counterterrorism specialists at Scotland Yard. The security services are also believed to be studying the breach.

Those familiar with the hack say it bears similarities to a cyberattack last year on Saudi Arabia’s biggest oil company, which US intelligence officials have blamed on Iran.