Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Al Qaeda threatens Arab Spring nations-UK spy chief

By Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON | Tue Jun 26, 2012
 (Reuters) - Al Qaeda militants are using the countries which toppled their leaders in the Arab Spring as bases to train radical Western youths for potential attacks on Britain, the chief of the MI5 Security Service said on Monday.
In his first public speech for nearly two years, Security Service Director General Jonathan Evans said the Arab Spring revolts in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt offered long-term hope of a more democratic Middle East.
But Britain's domestic spy chief said al Qaeda, which moved to Afghanistan from Arab countries in the 1990s and thence to Pakistan after the fall of the Taliban, was once again trying to gain a foothold in the Arab world.
"Today parts of the Arab world have once more become a permissive environment for al Qaeda," Evans said, according to an advance text of a rare speech in London outlining the key threats to British interests.
"A small number of British would-be jihadis are also making their way to Arab countries to seek training and opportunities for militant activity, as they do in Somalia and Yemen. Some will return to the UK and pose a threat here."
"This is a new and worrying development and could get worse," said Evans, a career officer who has served as head of the Security Service since April 2007.
The Arab Spring was lauded by Western leaders who hoped the revolts would usher in prosperity and freedom to the Middle East and North Africa, though Islamists have come to power in elections in Tunisia and Egypt.
Libya has been racked by turmoil while al Qaeda militants are expanding their foothold in the south of Yemen. A plot by al Qaeda in Yemen to blow up an airliner over the Atlantic was foiled in May by a British spy.
British officials say one of the biggest threats to the realm is likely to come from a domestic cell of militants who have received training or support from al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen.
Evans, who joined MI5 in 1980 after graduating from Bristol University with a degree in Classical Studies, said preparations for the Olympic Games in London were going well though the event was an attractive target for Britain's enemies.
Britain's national threat level is assessed at "substantial" - meaning an attack is a strong possibility - but that is still one notch lower than for most of the past decade.
"The Games present an attractive target for our enemies and they will be at the centre of the world's attention in a month or so," Evans said. "No doubt some terrorist networks have thought about whether they could pull off an attack."
But Evans warned against complacency, quipping that when intelligence folk smell roses they look for the funeral.
Though al Qaeda has made no successful attack on Britain since 2005, the threat has not evaporated, he said, adding that Britain has been the target of credible terrorist plot every year since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
"In back rooms and in cars and on the streets of this country there is no shortage of individuals talking about wanting to mount terrorist attacks here," Evans said. "It is essential that we maintain pressure on al Qaeda."
Some 100-200 British residents are thought to be involved in militant activities in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, mostly young men from cities such as London and Birmingham between the ages of 18 and 30.
Evans said MI5, which now employs about 3,800 people up from 1,800 on the eve of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, had shifted some its focus to reflect the changed appreciation of the wider threat to British interests.
He said about half of MI5's priority casework now focused on Afghanistan or Pakistan dimensions, down from 75 percent a few years ago. As the threat from al Qaeda in Pakistan declines, it has risen in Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel, he said.
Evans said companies should seek to defend themselves against organised crime groups or states seeking to steal secrets or sow turmoil in their computer systems.
He cited the case of an unnamed London-listed company which lost 800 million pounds as the result of a state cyber attack.
Russia or China are thought to be behind the attack.
"The extent of what is going on is astonishing - with industrial-scale processes involving many thousands of people lying behind both state-sponsored cyber espionage and organised cyber crime," he said.

Oman to investigate reports of Al Qaida infiltration

Security forces prepared to deter any incursion threat, official says
June 27, 2012
    Gulf News
Muscat: Oman’s security agencies are investigating reports of a possible infiltration by elements of Al Qaida fleeing Yemeni forces in ongoing battles in the Shabwa region of the country, the Arabic daily Oman quoted a top foreign ministry official as saying.
Sayyid Badr Bin Hamad Al Bu Saidi, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the newspaper that Omani security forces were fully prepared to deter any incursion threat along its borders with neighbouring Yemen. The official added that reports of an infiltration by Al Qaida elements were not fully confirmed as yet, but were nevertheless being investigated by military authorities.
The newspaper cited media reports purporting that Al Qaida fighters were attempting to sneak across the common border between the two countries in the face of an ongoing onslaught by Yemeni forces. It follows the crushing of the so-called ‘Emirate of Azzan’ established by the terrorist organisation in the Shabwa governorate of Yemen. Yemeni forces had recently overrun Azzan, a known Al Qaida bastion in Shabwa, forcing insurgent elements to flee, the paper said.
Sayyid Badr described the issue as a “top security matter and a highly sensitive issue” that was being handled in the context of the “various developments and threats being witnessed by the region and the world at large”.

AP Exclusive: Al-Qaida trains Norwegian to attack

June 25, 2012|Karl Ritter, Associated Press
A Norwegian man has received terrorist training from al-Qaida’s offshoot in Yemen and is awaiting orders to carry out an attack on the West, officials from three European security agencies told The Associated Press on Monday.
Western intelligence officials have long feared such a scenario — a convert to Islam who is trained in terrorist methods and can blend in easily in Europe and the United States, traveling without visa restrictions.
Officials from three European security agencies confirmed Monday the man is “operational,’’ meaning he has completed his training and is about to receive a target. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly. They declined to name the man, who has not been accused of a crime.
 “We believe he is operational and he is probably about to get his target,’’ one security official said. “And that target is probably in the West.’’
A security official in a second European country confirmed the information, adding: “From what I understand, a specific target has not been established.’’
European security services, including in Norway, have warned in recent years of homegrown, radicalized Muslims traveling to terror training camps in conflict zones. Many of the known cases involve young men with family roots in Muslim countries.
But the latest case involves a man in his 30s with no immigrant background, the officials said. After converting to Islam in 2008, he quickly became radicalized and traveled to Yemen to receive terror training, one of the officials said. The man spent “some months’’ in Yemen and is still believed to be there, he said.
The official said the man has no criminal record, which would also make him an ideal recruit for al-Qaida.
 “Not even a parking ticket,’’ he said. “He’s completely clean and he can travel anywhere.’’
The official would not specify what preventive measures were being taken but said “there is a well-established relationship between Western security services, and they share the information needed to prevent terrorism.’’
The officials declined to specify what makes them think the man is operational.
Signs that a would-be jihadist is ready for an attack could include the creation of so-called martyrdom videos for release online in conjunction with an attack, or an abrupt cutoff of communication and contacts with peers to avoid detection.
The man has not been accused of a crime in Norway, where traveling abroad to attend terror training camps is not a crime per se. In many European countries, suspects are not named unless they have been formally charged with a crime.
Yemeni military officials said they had information on Europeans training with al-Qaida in the southern part of the country but that they weren’t aware of a Norwegian being among them. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
CIA and FBI officials in the U.S. declined to comment on the AP report.
Trond Hugubakken, a spokesman for Norway’s PST security service, also declined to comment on the case. He referred to a PST security assessment in February, which highlighted that “several’’ Islamic extremists have traveled from Norway to conflict zones to attend training camps.
Hugubakken acknowledged that converts who turn to violent extremism pose a particular challenge.
 “Converts will have a different level of cover, especially if they have no criminal record,’’ he said, adding that most Muslim converts do not turn to extremism.
There are several examples in Europe and the U.S. of converts linked to terror plots, from failed shoe-bomber Richard Reid, a British convert, to a Pennsylvania woman dubbed “Jihad Jane,’’ who pleaded guilty last year to charges that she plotted to kill a Swedish cartoonist who caricatured Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Norway saw the first convictions under its anti-terror laws this year when two men were given prison terms in January for plotting to attack a Danish newspaper that also had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad.
In March, Mullah Krekar, a radical Iraqi-born cleric who came to Norway as a refugee, was sentenced to five years in prison for making death threats against Norwegian officials and three Kurdish men he claimed had insulted Islam.
But Norway’s most serious attacks happened last year at the hands of a right-wing, anti-Muslim extremist, Anders Behring Breivik, who admitted to killing 77 people in a bombing-and-shooting massacre on July 22. The self-styled militant’s trial ended last week with conflicting claims about whether he is criminally insane. A verdict has been set for Aug. 24.