04/28/13: BBC News reports Spanish police have arrested a Dutch man suspected of being behind one of the biggest cyberattacks in history. The 35-year-old man was detained in Barcelona following a request from the Dutch public prosecutor. The attack bombarded the websites of anti-junk mail outfit Spamhaus with huge amounts of data in an attempt to knock them offline. It also slowed data flows over closely linked networks and led to a massive police investigation. The suspect is believed to be Sven Kamphuis, the owner and manager of Dutch hosting firm Cyberbunker that has been implicated in the attack. Spamhaus servers were hit with a huge amount of data in a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. It overwhelms a web server by sending it many more requests for data than it can handle.
04/01/13: Reuters reports a top NATO official says the Alliance hopes a US change to global missile defenses will dispel Russian concern and foster cooperation on an issue that has long strained relations. “The change in the US plans ... just simply makes the situation much less ambiguous,” Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said. “There is now no reason for concern that the system going into Europe will have any effect whatever on Russia’s strategic deterrent.” Russia has said US missile shield plans could erode its nuclear deterrent, but has softened criticism since Washington announced on March 16 that it would station fourteen missile interceptors in Alaska in response to North Korean nuclear threats and at the same time forgo a new type of interceptor that would have been deployed in Europe.
04/01/13: BBC News reports the UK’s top commander in Afghanistan said Monday that cutting British forces too quickly could endanger progress at a critical time. Lieutenant General Nick Carter, deputy chief of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said passing control of security to Afghan forces was going well, but he warned any move to thin out UK forces too soon would be “unforgivable.” NATO combat operations against the Taliban will finish by the end of 2014; as part of a gradual withdrawal, the number of British troops in Afghanistan will be almost halved from 9,000 to 5,200 by the end of 2013. Carter’s warning comes as forces for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who have been carrying out their first engagement without Western help, called for support from ISAF during a battle against drug smugglers.
04/01/13: Reuters reports Serbia and Kosovo may be on the verge of an agreement that will end the ethnic partition between the two countries. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 secession, but is under pressure from the European Union to improve ties and help overcome a split between Kosovo's Albanians and a Serb enclave in the north over which Belgrade retained de facto control. The status of the enclave is at the heart of EU-mediated talks aimed at normalizing ties between the two countries. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton wants an accord struck during a Tuesday meeting between Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovan counterpart, Hashim Thaci. That would open the door to EU membership talks with Serbia, a process that would drive reform and signal stability to foreign investors.
03/28/13: The New York Times reports Turkey reversed its plans on Thursday to deport about 130 Syrian refugees involved in a violent protest at a refugee camp, saying that the refugees had agreed to leave voluntarily after being told that they would face prosecution if they stayed. The turnaround came as the United Nations refugee agency expressed “serious concern” about reports of mass deportations and said it was seeking clarification from the Turkish government. Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the United Nations high commissioner for refugees in Geneva, said in an interview that a forced return of refugees would violate international law and breach legal protections for refugees that prohibit host countries from forcing them out. A local government official in Turkey confirmed that Thursday afternoon, saying, “A deportation is out of question, and we cannot deport them when we do not have the right to do so according to the terms of temporary protection status.” But just a few hours earlier, another local government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with diplomatic protocols, said that nearly 100 Syrians had been identified as provocateurs based on security camera footage taken during the protest.
03/25/13: The New York Times reports Russian authorities on Monday raided the local headquarters of the human rights group Amnesty International, the latest in a continuing series of office searches aimed at putting pressure on nongovernmental groups. The head of Amnesty International, Sergei Nikitkin, said officials from the general prosecutor’s offices and from the tax police arrived Monday morning unannounced to conduct what they described as an “audit” and demanded a list of documents, most of which Nikitkin said were already on file with the government. “They don’t have any concrete complaints. They say it’s a regular check and other cliché phrases,” he said. Last week, the authorities conducted a similar raid at the offices of Memorial, an international historical society and human rights group that has operated in Russia for more than two decades.
03/25/13: The Miami Herald reports that after two major breakthroughs in less than a week – an accord to end a three-year squabble with Israel and a landmark step by a jailed Kurdish leader to settle a 30-year insurgency – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s star appears to be rising, and with it, the country’s role as a major regional power. Erdogan seemed matter-of-fact and serious on Saturday as he voiced hope that the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation that President Barack Obama brokered on Friday might even help resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute. Israel, for the first time in memory, formally apologized for a military operation and promised compensation to families of eight Turks and one Turkish-American killed in the attack on a ship bringing supplies to civilians in Gaza in July 2010 that ran Israel’s blockade.
03/24/13: Al Jazeera reports Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib has announced his resignation from the National Coalition. His spokesman said the resignation followed Saturday’s meeting with the European Union, “which resulted in achieving nothing.” In a statement released Sunday, al-Khatib confirmed his resignation from the dissident group recognized by dozens of nations – including the US – as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. “I announce my resignation from the National Coalition, so that I can work with a freedom that cannot possibly be had in an official institution,” Khatib. “For the past two years, we have been slaughtered by an unprecedentedly vicious regime, while the world has looked on.” His statement comes hours after the Arab League extended an invitation to the opposition coalition to attend its summit in Qatar next week.
03/24/13: The blog Space War reports the United States and the Netherlands say they’ve expanded their cooperation to reduce global nuclear and radiological threats. Under an agreement signed with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s Office of Global Threat Reduction, (GTRI) the Netherlands will contribute $650,000 to GTRI’s efforts to secure and remove vulnerable radiological material. This is Amsterdam’s second major cooperative activity with GTRI, and the third time it has partnered with NNSA’s nuclear nonproliferation programs. Under the new agreement, the Netherlands financial contribution will support GTRI’s current work in Kazakhstan on projects related to the search, removal, and physical protection of radiological material. The NNSA is a semiautonomous agency within the US Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the application of nuclear science.
03/21/13: The New York Times reports in a decision that could have significant repercussions for Hezbollah’s operations in Europe, a court in Cyprus on Thursday found a man guilty of participating in a plot to attack Israeli tourists on vacation in Cyprus, part of a conspiracy similar to a deadly bombing last July in Bulgaria. The court found the man, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a dual Swedish-Lebanese citizen, guilty on five of the eight charges against him, including participation in a criminal organization. The three others were conspiracy charges, which the ruling said were already covered under the other counts. Mr. Yaacoub will be sentenced at a separate hearing. Mr. Yaacoub admitted in court last month that he was a member of Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group, and that he was trained in the use of weapons and dispatched around Europe on missions as a courier and scout for the organization. The court rejected his assertion that he had no idea why his handlers had asked him to monitor the arrival times of flights from Israel and to track locations of Israeli tourists in Cyprus. The conviction is likely to give further impetus to efforts to have the group designated a terrorist organization by the European Union. Experts say that in the legalistic, bureaucratic world of Brussels, a court conviction holds significantly more weight than a declaration by a government or an intelligence report.
03/18/13: The Miami Herald reports Iran’s judiciary has indicted eighteen suspects on charges of involvement in the killing of nuclear scientists. Since 2010, at least five Iranian nuclear scientists, including a manager at the Natanz enrichment facility, have been killed. Tehran has accused Israel’s Mossad, the CIA, and Britain’s MI6 of being behind the assassinations; Washington and London have denied the allegations, while Tel Aviv has not commented. Iranian state media said Sunday that authorities have issued indictments against the eighteen suspects, who will be tried in the coming months. In 2012, Iran hanged a man for the 2010 killing of a nuclear physicist.
03/17/13: Haaretz reports Bulgaria's new interim Prime Minister said Saturday he would not initiate any move to impose EU sanctions on the Islamist group Hezbollah, even though the country had implicated Hezbollah in a bombing at a Black Sea resort. Marin Raikov did not give a reason for his decision, but it will likely be seen as a concession to Bulgarian opposition groups, who have argued the country could open itself up to more attacks if it takes the lead in blacklisting Hezbollah. "Bulgaria will not initiate a procedure [for listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization]," Raikov told state media. "We will only present the objective facts and circumstances and let our European partners decide." Last month, then-Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said an investigation had linked Hezbollah to the Black Sea attack.
March 17, 2013 at 10:04 AM in Law Enforcement / Criminal Law, Terrorism / Counterterrorism, Politics, Diplomacy / Foreign Assistance, International Law / Law of War / Human Rights, Terrorist Finance / Material Support, Europe / Eurasia, Middle East / Northern Africa, Financial / Diplomatic Sanctions | Permalink
03/17/13: The Miami Herald reports an Iranian opposition group Saturday turned down Albania's offer of asylum to 210 of its members who are living at a former US military base near Baghdad. Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha made the offer after meeting with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf, UN envoy in Iraq Martin Kobler, and other officials. Berisha said the offer of asylum for the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq members was made for humanitarian reasons. Shahin Gobadi of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which oversees the Mujahedeen, said that while they "really appreciate the [Albanian] government's helping hand," they couldn't accept an offer of asylum for such a small portion of the group. The UN says more than 3,000 members (nearly fifteen times Albania's offer) live at the former US base.
03/16/13: The New York Times reports as the Syrian crisis entered its third year on Friday, the top rebel military leader declared that the opposition would “never give up” and asked for more support, even as a push by France and Britain to arm the outgunned rebels drew heavy resistance from other European countries. Germany, Austria and other countries pushed back hard against a French-British effort to lift a weapons embargo on Syria to allow the arming of the rebels — who say they desperately need antiaircraft and other sophisticated weapons to turn the tide of a war that has killed more than 70,000 people. After a two-day European Union summit meeting in Brussels, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told reporters she worried such a step would “just fan the flames of conflict.” Gen. Salim Idriss, the leader of the Free Syrian Army, sought Friday to rebut some key arguments marshaled against arming the rebels — fears of sectarian conflict and extremist Islamist influence — by declaring that the rebels welcomed all Syrians into their fold, including members of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect.
03/11/13: Reuters reports French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday that French and Chadian forces expect to secure the northeast region of Mali that is the stronghold of Islamist militants by the end of March. Le Drian said that while the results of DNA tests were still being awaited, it seemed likely that top al-Qaeda leaders in the region had been killed in recent fighting. His view on the timetable was in line with France’s goal to start winding down its eight-week-old military intervention in Mali in April and handing over to African forces. Le Drian said Friday at the end of a brief visit that French forces were now deep in the Islamists’ stronghold in the remote valleys of northern Mali and had uncovered weapons caches stockpiled by the al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
03/11/13: The Miami Herald reports a British judge ruled Saturday that radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada must remain in custody following his arrest for allegedly breaching his bail conditions. The cleric, who has been described as a key al-Qaeda operative in Europe, was arrested in London Friday following a series of raids by counterterrorism police. The arrest came three days before the government’s latest court bid to extradite him to Jordan. Judge Stephen Irwin refused on Saturday to grant the preacher bail and ordered him to return to prison, finding there was strong evidence that Abu Qatada had breached bail conditions. In November, a court sustained Qatada’s appeal from his deportation to Jordan and allowed him to stay in the UK; the British government will challenge that decision at the Court of Appeal on Monday.
03/11/13: The Miami Herald reports the European Union is tightening sanctions against Iran, concerned about alleged violations of human rights in the country. EU foreign ministers, meeting Monday in Brussels, added nine people they said were “responsible for serious human rights violations” to the list of those subject to a travel ban and an asset freeze, bringing the number of people sanctioned in this way to eighty-seven. The foreign ministers also decided to freeze the assets of one “entity,” meaning a company or organization. The measures will be valid until April 13, 2014; the names of the targets will be published Tuesday. Iran carried out at least fifty-five public executions in 2012, UN spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly has said. Some 400 people were reportedly put to death in the country last year.
03/11/13: BBC News reports the people of the Falkland Islands have begun voting in a two-day referendum on whether to remain a British overseas territory. Argentina has constantly reiterated its claims to the islands, thirty years after it was repelled by a British task force in a 74-day conflict. The islanders decided to hold the vote in response to Argentine pressure for negotiations over sovereignty. Some 1,672 British citizens, out of a population of about 2,900, can vote. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has said the inhabitants’ wishes are not relevant in what is an issue of territory and sovereignty. Most Argentines regard the islands, which they call Las Malvinas, as Argentine and their recovery is enshrined in the country’s constitution.
03/10/13: The Space War blog reports French President Francois Hollande and his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres said on Friday sanctions on Iran over its contested nuclear program are biting but need to be strengthened further. “I have said how much we want the sanctions to be beefed up, which are already efficient,” Hollande said after meeting Peres. Iran last month held talks with the five UN Security Council permanent members, plus Germany, in Kazakhstan. “I was very glad to hear from [President Hollande] that he plans to take more measures because if we can end this danger without military use, it will be better,” Peres said. Although Hollande and Peres both hold the title “President,” the latter is a figurehead; the real power in Israel lies with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Peres’ former political rival.
03/08/13: The New York Times reports two Frenchmen suspected of plotting terrorist attacks, making explosives and being involved in extremist activity online were detained Thursday amid heightened concern about threats to France over its military campaign against fighters in Mali linked to Al Qaeda. Officials at the Interior Ministry and the Paris prosecutor’s office say intelligence and police officers detained the young men on Thursday in a house in Marignane, near Marseille. The authorities searched the house for explosives or other evidence of terrorist connections. The suspects are French citizens, aged 18 and 20, the officials said. The men had been under surveillance since November, the Interior Ministry official said. They had been identified as a threat based on “jihadist messages and consultations” online, and the authorities said they moved in because they believed the men were ready to carry out terrorist acts.
03/04/13: BBC News reports a Libyan man suing the British government for its alleged role in his 2004 rendition to Libya has offered to settle the case. Abdul Hakim Belhaj is also suing former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and a retired MI6 officer. Belhaj says he wants an apology, an admission of guilt, and nominal damages of one pound ($1.50) from each. The British government has said it is cooperating with investigations into UK involvement in ex-Libyan detainees’ mistreatment. Belhaj, who began legal action last year, says he and his wife were detained by US intelligence officers at Bangkok Airport in March 2004. He was allegedly tortured for several days while his wife Fatima Bouchar, who was five months pregnant, was chained to a wall at a secret prison at the airport.
03/03/13: Reuters reports the UN Security Council will vote Wednesday on a draft resolution lifting an arms embargo on Somalia’s government for one year so it can beef up its army to combat Islamist fighters. Mogadishu has asked for the arms embargo to be lifted and the United States wants the Council to agree, but Britain and France have been wary of removing the ban in a country already awash with weapons. The draft resolution, drawn up by the UK, appears to propose a compromise: lifting the arms embargo for one year but keeping restrictions in place on heavy weapons such as surface-to-air missiles, howitzers, and cannons. Under the resolution, the embargo would not apply to other “weapons or military equipment or the provision of advice, assistance or training” to the Somali government.