Obama says nuclear terrorism threat remains despite progress


President Barack Obama warned on Friday of a persistent threat of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear materials despite progress in reducing such risks, and called on world leaders to do more to safeguard nuclear facilities.

“There is no doubt that if these madmen ever got their hands on a nuclear bomb or nuclear material, they would certainly use it to kill as many people as possible,” he told a global nuclear security summit in Washington. 

Obama cited concerns about groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State trying to obtain nuclear materials, saying this was no time for the international community to be complacent.

Obama was hosting more than 50 world leaders for his fourth and final summit focused on efforts to lock down vulnerable atomic materials to prevent nuclear terrorism. North Korea’s nuclear defiance was also high on the agenda.

He has less than 10 months left in office to follow through on one of his signature foreign policy initiatives. While progress has been made, many arms-control advocates say the diplomatic process – which Obama conceived and championed – has lost momentum and could slow even further once he leaves the White House in January.

A boycott by Russian President Vladimir Putin, unwilling to join in a U.S.-dominated gathering at a time of increased tensions between Washington and Moscow over Ukraine and Syria, adds to doubts that the meeting will yield any major decisions.

Deadly militant bomb attacks in Brussels last month have fueled concern that Islamic State could eventually target nuclear plants, steal material and develop radioactive “dirty bombs”.

As official summit meetings began, Obama insisted that “we’ve made significant progress” and said the required 102 countries had ratified an amendment to a nuclear security treaty that would tighten protections against nuclear theft and smuggling.

“Our nations have made it harder for terrorists to get their hands on nuclear materials. We have measurably reduced the risks,” Obama said. But he added that the threat persists and “continues to evolve.”

The United States and Japan also announced they had completed the long-promised task of removing all highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium fuels from a Japanese research project. Japan is an avowedly anti-nuclear-weapons state as the only country ever to have suffered a nuclear attack.

Despite significant strides by Obama in persuading dozens of countries to rid themselves of bomb-making materials or reduce and safeguard stockpiles, much of the world's plutonium and enriched uranium remains vulnerable to theft.

Earlier on Friday, Obama convened a separate meeting of the world powers that negotiated a landmark nuclear pact with Iran last July, a critical component of his nuclear disarmament agenda and a major piece of his foreign policy legacy.

He said efforts to implement the deal, which required Tehran to curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, had shown “real progress” but it would take time for Iran to reintegrate into the global economy.

Obama inaugurated the first Nuclear Security Summit nearly six years ago, after a landmark speech in Prague in 2009 laying out the lofty goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

When Obama leaves office in January, there is no guarantee that his successor, who will be elected in November, will keep the issue a high priority.

New bin Laden documents show a suspicious, pressured al Qaeda


Al Qaeda's leaders were increasingly worried about spies in their midst, drones in the air and secret tracking devices reporting their movements as the U.S.-led war against them ground on, documents seized in the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden's Pakistani hideout and reviewed by Reuters reveal.

The cache of 113 documents, translated and declassified by U.S. intelligence agencies, are mostly dated between 2009 and 2011, intelligence officials said.

The documents – the second tranche from the raid to have been declassified since May 2015 – depict an al Qaeda that was unwavering in its commitment to global jihad, but with its core leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan under pressure on multiple fronts.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said drone strikes and other counter-terrorism operations depleted al Qaeda's original leadership, culminating in bin Laden's killing by U.S. Navy SEALs on May 2, 2011. In the years since, the organization has proved resilient from Afghanistan to North Africa, and its ideological rival, Islamic State, has grown and spread.

In one document, bin Laden issues instructions to al Qaeda members holding an Afghan hostage to be wary of possible tracking technology attached to the ransom payment.

“It is important to get rid of the suitcase in which the funds are delivered, due to the possibility of it having a tracking chip in it,” bin Laden states in a letter to an aide identified only as “Shaykh Mahmud.”

In an apparent reference to armed U.S. drones patrolling the skies, bin Laden says his negotiators should not leave their rented house in the Pakistani city of Peshawar “except on a cloudy overcast day.”

While the document is undated, the hostage, Afghan diplomat Abdul Khaliq Farahi, was held from September 2008 to late 2010.

Another, fragmentary document acknowledges that al Qaeda executed four would-be volunteers on suspicion of spying, only to discover they were probably innocent, according to senior U.S. intelligence officials authorized to discuss the materials in advance of their public release.

“I did not mention this to justify what has happened,” wrote the undated letter's unidentified author, adding, “we are in an intelligence battle and humans are humans and no one is infallible.”

In a May 11, 2010 letter to his then second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al Rahman, bin Laden urged caution in arranging an interview with al Jazeera journalist Ahmad Zaidan, asserting that the United States could be tracking his movements through devices implanted in his equipment, or by satellite. 

“You must keep in mind the possibility, however, slight, that journalists can be under surveillance that neither we nor they can perceive, either on the ground or via satellite,” he wrote.

GROWING PRESSURE

Even as al Qaeda came under growing pressure, bin Laden and his aides planned a media campaign to mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the documents show. They plotted diplomatic strategy and opined on climate change and the U.S. financial collapse.

In a undated letter “To the American people,” the al Qaeda chief chides Obama for failing to end the war in Afghanistan; and accurately predicts that the U.S. president's plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will fail.

On April 28, 2011, just four days before his death, bin Laden was editing a document he had written on the Arab Spring revolutions.

Al Qaeda's leaders also urged further attacks on the United States. “We need to extend and develop our operations in America and not keep it limited to blowing up airplanes,” says a letter, apparently written by bin Laden, to Nasir al-Wuhayshi, head of al Qaeda's Yemen branch.

Bin Laden “was still sort of thinking in very kind of grand schemes, and still … trying to reclaim that 9/11 'victory',” said one of the senior intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But he was “somewhat out of touch with the (actual) capabilities of his organization,” the official said.

The documents show the strains of managing al Qaeda's external networks, including identifying capable leaders and finding resources to fund operations abroad. 

One associate, who signed his 2009 note simply as “Your beloved “Atiyah,” acknowledged troubles replacing an ineffective leader for external operations, saying some of the best candidates were dead.

“There are new brothers, perhaps some would be suitable in the future, but not now,” he wrote.

Suspicion of tracking devices pops up again and again in the group's writings. The concern may have been merited – the United States conducts extensive electronic surveillance on al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups.

Abu Abdallah al-Halabi – who the U.S. Treasury has identified as a name used by bin Laden's son-in law Muhammad Abdallah Hasan Abu-Al-Khayr – writes in a letter to “my esteemed brother Khalid” about intercepting messages of “spies” in Pakistan, who he said would facilitate air strikes on al Qaeda operatives by marking cars with infrared streaks that can be seen with night vision equipment.

In another, bin Laden, writing under the pseudonym Abu Abdallah, expresses alarm over his wife's visit to a dentist while in Iran, worrying that a tracking chip could have been implanted with her dental filling.

“The size of the chip is about the length of a grain of wheat and the width of a fine piece of vermicelli,” he wrote.

The letter ended with this instruction: “Please destroy this letter after reading it.”

Martians attack ISIS: A Chanukah story


At first, ISIS commanders in Syria assumed the weird-looking jets came from America, the Great Satan. They’d never seen jets like that before — spherical and very agile. They could stop on a dime, explode at crazy speeds and release laser-like bombs that vaporize several targets at once. The ISIS weapons and the ferocity of its fighters were useless against this new strike force.

“Allahu Akbar!” became a desperate cry for help.

Via Twitter, ISIS commanders learned that this new force was focusing on the Middle East and attacking other countries in the region — Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and, yes, even the Little Satan, Israel. Word spread that Israel might have figured out a way to respond to this otherworldly threat with weapons of its own. The prime minister of Israel called a press conference for later that day, Sept. 12, 2025.

“We are aware of this new threat,” the prime minister said. “It comes from Mars. Our Interstellar Intelligence Division has been tracking them for years. We kept it under wraps so as not to alarm the planet.”

Thanks to its intelligence gathering, Israel had already developed innovative weaponry that could combat the Martian threat. The problem was, it didn’t have enough of these weapons. So, a program had to start immediately to replenish them on a scale grand enough to thwart the new enemy. America agreed to build them. Israel estimated that if the new weapons were ready within 60 days, they could keep the Martian forces at bay until then.

Secret meetings were held among Israeli commanders and leaders of major terrorist groups, including ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas. Within a few days, it was decided to convene a major summit of Middle Eastern leaders in Jerusalem to hear more about Israel’s strategy for warding off this violent and mysterious new enemy.

Meanwhile, the Martians were pummeling Arab villages, cities and terrorist bases throughout the region. The Pyramids were laser-bombed into rubble. At the summit, the king of Saudi Arabia expressed alarm at the possibility that the Grand Mosque in Mecca would be destroyed.

“This is a holy site we must protect at all costs,” the king said. “If Mecca goes down, it would be as if our prophet were murdered, God forbid.”

“We must protect people first,” the Israeli commander responded. “But Israel will do what it can to protect your holiest sites. No promises. We are in crisis mode.”

As Israel’s defense systems were mobilized throughout the region, the tide began to turn. Terror groups were enlisted in the effort, primarily to keep peace in the streets and help feed the people. Israeli weapons destroyed three Martian jets over Iran. It was decided early on that nuclear devices would be useless because the collateral damage would kill millions of humans. Israel’s new weaponry was specifically designed to target Martian forces.

On the streets of the Middle East, word got out about Israel’s role. Arab media reported that Israeli forces were leading the fight against this “Green Satan,” as people were calling the Martian army.

Inside the surviving mosques, the imams’ sermons began to change. Fearful the Green Satan would demolish more holy sites, Muslim preachers prayed for the success of the Israeli forces. Millions of devout Muslims throughout the world joined in the prayers.

Then one Friday, the holiest day of the Muslim week, Martian forces launched an all-out assault on Mecca. Israel was prepared. Its intelligence had already alerted the IDF, giving Israeli commandos enough time to set up a 360-degree perimeter defense to thwart the attack. News spread around the world that the Jews of Israel had saved Mecca. A billion Muslims poured into the streets in cries of joy and gratitude. 

By now, America had mobilized the additional weapons and joined Israel in the fight. This helped secure the victory. The Great Satan and the Little Satan had joined forces to destroy the Green Satan. The last Martian jet could be seen fleeing planet Earth on the first night of Chanukah, prompting the whole world to embrace the Jewish holiday of light.

In the general euphoria, U.S. President LeBron James, after lighting a giant Chanukah menorah at the White House, announced that Middle East peace talks would finally resume. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority released a statement insisting that Israel return to the 1967 lines and stop building in the settlements.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

No unity in labeling the Muslim Brotherhood ‘terrorist’


This post originally appeared on themedialine.org.

In the halls of power of both the United States and the United Kingdom, renewed discussions have been taking place over the status of the organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood. In Washington, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, has offered legislation that would ban the group; while in London, following a visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh Al-Sissi, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a government review into the group would be published.

Despite these efforts and a considerable amount of popular agreement, neither of the governments lists the Muslim Brotherhood on its respective roll of foreign terrorist organizations and many analysts who are adamant in their assessment that the Brotherhood fails to meets the criteria for a terrorist organization argue political expediency is the cause for the governments’ positions.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a Sunni Islamic organization formed in 1928 in Egypt. The group combines politics, religious observance and charitable welfare work and seeks to bring about a Muslim “caliphate,” a state ruled by its strict interpretation of sharia [Islamic law]. In the group’s origins, traces of terrorist ideology can be found, Shehab Wagih, spokesperson for the Free Egyptians Party, told The Media Line. “Sayyid Qutb was one of their main ideologues. His aim was to achieve an Islamic state and an Islamic change would require violence,” Wagih said.

Qutb was an Egyptian intellectual executed by the government in 1966 for alleged links to a plot to assassinate then President Gamal Abdel Nasser. His writings focused on the political and social role of Islam in the modern world and were also highly critical of American culture which he viewed as hedonistic and corrosive.

For much of its history, during the years of secularist dictators in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned in its home country. This changed briefly following the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011, after the overthrow of long-time President Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s own leader, Mohammed Morsi. The first and only democratically elected head of state, Morsi’s selection was a watershed moment for the organization which had for years lurked in the shadows of Egyptian politics, but never rose to power. Within a year of Morsi taking office widespread protests against his policies – which were seen as overtly Islamist and abusive to human rights — brought the country to a standstill. Subsequently, the army stepped in and placed its head, Gen. Al-Sissi, in power. He subsequently became the next elected president.

With Sissi at the helm, a harsh crackdown against the Brotherhood ensued, in which hundreds of Egyptians were killed, thousands arrested and many sentenced to death in mass-trials. Yet, the Brotherhood did not resort to calls for violence, Haytham Mouzahem, head of the Beirut Center for Middle East Studies, told The Media Line. The Muslim Brotherhood has always maintained its practice of abiding by the “democratic process and the civil peaceful means as the means for changing the regime or the laws or the policies of the state,” Mouzahem said.

Although a number of violent individuals — Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, for instance — have emerged through the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, acts of terrorism attributed to them were always committed after their time with the group ended, Mouzahem argued.

This is no absolution for Shehab Wagih, who argues that it is the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology which brings about the violent actions. “Many incidents were performed by Muslim Brotherhood members but the official organization does not admit this,” Wagih insisted.

Analysts have pointed to the Brotherhood affiliate in Tunisia, Ennahda, which lost an election in 2014 and relinquished power peacefully, as evidence of the movement’s commitment to peaceful politics. “In the last decade, the Muslim Brotherhood has developed its discourse and accepted the democratic process and results and said it aims to establish a civil state, not an Islamic state,” Mouzahem said in defense of the group.

But connections to foreign Islamist groups are often presented as evidence of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ties to terrorism. The Palestinian organization Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, was founded as a branch of the Brotherhood and is branded by both Israel and the US as a terrorist organization. Yet, the Brotherhood also has connections to democratic parties in Tunisia, Jordan and Turkey.

“Any definition of terrorism requires the use of violence or the threat of the use of violence in pursuit of political aims,” Andrea Teti, of the department of Politics & International Relations at the University of Aberdeen, told The Media Line. “There is no evidence that the Brotherhood has called for or used violence for political ends,” Teti explained, adding that for this reason he believed the group should not be designated a terrorist organization.

Notwithstanding such arguments, the debate over how the Muslim Brotherhood should be viewed continues in both the US and UK. British Prime Minister Cameron signaled that although his government would not ban the Brotherhood, it would increase scrutiny of its actions, a policy viewed by many as a gesture of cooperation to those Middle East nations – including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Syria and Egypt — that have banned the Brotherhood or list it as a terrorist organization.

Such designations are fluid and can change to suit a country’s interests, Jasmine Gani, of the School of International Relations at St. Andrews University, told The Media Line. “The term ‘terrorist’ has become a political tool, conferred on groups that are deemed to go against a country’s interests; and at the same time it can be lifted at any time if the interests or political conditions change,” Gani explained.

“It somewhat undermines the utility of the term ‘terrorist,’” she concluded.

Hillary, Jeb and 9/11


Of all the places to be when Donald Trump said George W. Bush bore some responsibility for 9/11, I happened to be at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in Manhattan.

It’s pretty hard to stand beside a wall marked by 2,983 tiles — each painted a different shade of blue to symbolize the number of victims lost both in the 2001 attacks and in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing — and understand what Jeb Bush meant when he said his brother “kept us safe.”

The concrete wall serves as a repository for some 8,000 victims’ remains. Spelled out across its face, in letters made from metal recovered from the site, is a line from Virgil’s “Aenaid”: “No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time.”

Jeb wasn’t trying to erase the victims’ names, God forbid, from memory. But he was trying to erase our memory of time itself. His brother had been president for nine months before Sept. 11, 2001. He did not keep us safe.

How much responsibility does George W. Bush bear for what happened that day? We still can’t be sure. But the answer is more than what his brother and defenders think — which is none — and less than what his critics would like to believe — 100 percent. The same is true for Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations passed up opportunities to take more forceful action against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

Their lapses, failures, screw-ups and neglect have been well documented by intelligence officials, journalists and historians. The 9/11 Commission Report itself includes an implicit criticism of the former presidents. 

“Given the character and pace of their policy efforts,” wrote the authors, “we do not believe they fully understood just how many people al-Qaeda might kill, and how soon it might do it.”

This is what the commission was referring to when it gently termed 9/11 a result of inadequate imagination, policy and planning.

The 9/11 museum organizers had to thread a similar political needle, but they stuck it into the wall. As you go through the exhibition hall, the first displays are of the massive loss and damage: severed columns, a length of I-beam twisted back on itself as if it were a willow twig. If that’s what happens to steel, your mind is forced to ponder the fate of human flesh. 

Just as the carnage pushes you to ask how and why, the exhibition focuses on the perpetrators, al-Qaeda, and the American government. Against one wall, at about shin level, is a reproduction of the Aug. 6, 2001, memo Bush received, titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States.”

The description of the redacted memo takes pains to indicate that it is just one of dozens of such warnings and memos a president receives, and it contained no specifics as to a time and place. To some people, that earns Bush a pass. To others, it begs the question: Isn’t leadership about setting priorities and knowing where to focus? The No. 1 job of the federal government is the security of the United States. Bush didn’t make the al-Qaeda threat a priority.

We’ll never know what the results would have been if Bush had told the State Department official who carried the Aug. 6 memo to his Texas ranch, “I’m gonna get on this.” Instead, he took the memo, infamously said, “All right, you’ve covered your ass, now,” and carried on with business as usual.

But let’s do a thought experiment: If 9/11 happened nine months into an Obama administration, does anyone really think Jeb Bush would be saying, in that case, “Obama kept us safe?” And does anyone think Obama wouldn’t acknowledge, as George W. Bush never has, his share of responsibility? Our nation’s toxic political discourse poisons the chance for an honest, dispassionate assessment of our failures. 

Why this all matters becomes achingly apparent as you walk through the 9/11 memorial. The individual names inscribed in the reverse fountains that mark the footprint where the Twin Towers stood are haunting. But what stopped me in my tracks was a firefighter’s hatchet on display. Recovered under the rubble, it was scarred by fire, twisted, the metal deeply pitted by debris. It told the whole story of the unfathomable courage of the 411 first responders who died in the collapse. We owe the dead a full accounting.

And this, too, is the lesson of the memorial: If it happened once, it could happen again.

Suicide terrorism is a part of modern life. It happened again in Israel this week, last week in Iraq, before that in Turkey. Whether it is a woman with a knife, a boy with a vest or 19 men on four jumbo jets, the threat is not going away anytime soon. We now live in a world where we can’t afford, not for a second, for our imagination to fail us. 

If Hillary and Jeb can’t discuss how Bill and George could have done a better job keeping us safe, then how can we trust them to do better? And how can Jeb imagine the next attack if he can’t even imagine his brother saying, “I’m sorry”?


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Victims’ relatives gather 14 years after Sept. 11 attacks


Relatives assembled under overcast skies on Friday to commemorate nearly 3,000 people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and outside Washington 14 years ago, when airliners hijacked by al Qaeda militants brought death, mayhem and destruction.

In New York, families of the victims read their names in a solemn and poignantly familiar pattern, watched over by service members in their dress uniforms.

Emblematic of the generations affected, children who were not old enough to remember their late relatives or had yet to meet them participated in the roll call.

“We are so blessed to have you as an angel and we are empty without you, we love you very much,” said Daniel Pagan, who lost his cousin Melissa Candida Doi in the attack.

Families hugged each other close, some carrying photographs or wearing t-shirts depicting lost loved ones, or bearing placards with the words 'we will never forget.'

First responders were thanked numerous times by the family members for their work on what became known as 'the pile.'

Many of those who were first on the scene and those who worked for weeks afterwards searching through the rubble are still suffering from various illnesses brought on by the toxic air.

Mourners stood at the empty footprint of the World Trade Center Twin Towers, toppled by two hijacked airliners on that clear, sunny morning in 2001.

“It doesn't get any easier,” said Malcolm Dean, a first responder and paramedic with the New York Fire Department on 9/11. He lost his younger brother William and colleagues.

“Fourteen years later it's not any easier standing here than it was the first year and the second year.”

Music and the soothing sounds of the waterfalls emptying into reflecting pools at the at 9/11 Memorial and Museum formed a backdrop as families placed flowers against their loved ones' names engraved in the bronze panels.

A veteran's trumpet salute closed the ceremony after nearly four hours, with the emptying plaza hushed and subdued.

“We come here every year. We live in New Jersey. The crowds keep getting less, but my wife and I, as long as we're breathing, we'll be here,” said Tom Acquaviva, who with his wife Josephine, lost their son Paul when the towers fell.

“No remains were ever found, so basically this is his cemetery,” he said, adding: “Couldn't ask for a better son.”

Hijackers crashed two other commercial jets into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The New York ceremony, where politicians past and present mixed with families but gave no speeches, was punctuated by moments of silence and bell ringing to mark the moments when each of the four planes crashed and when the towers fell.

In Washington, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, joined by staff, bowed their heads for a brief moment of silence on the south lawn of the White House to mark the anniversary.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter led a remembrance ceremony for relatives of those killed at the Pentagon.

Relatives of the 40 passengers and crew members who died aboard United Airlines Flight 93 gathered at the newly dedicated Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville.

The passengers fought back against the hijackers, who crashed the plane upside down at nearly 600 mph (965 kph).

In New York, the buzz of increased commerce from new residential and business towers has returned a large degree of normalcy to the area, known after the attacks as Ground Zero.

The day also honors those who were killed in 1993, when a car bomb tore through one of the parking garage of one of the towers.

Next to the 16-acre (6.5-hectare) site where the Twin Towers stood is the newly opened 1 World Trade Center, the tallest skyscraper in the Western hemisphere.

The first plane slammed into the North tower at 8:46 a.m., followed by a second plane hitting the South tower at 9:03 a.m. Within two hours, both towers had collapsed, engulfing lower Manhattan in acrid dust and smoke and debris that burned for days.

Man sentenced to 20 years in suicide bomb plot at Kansas airport


A man who plotted a suicide car bomb attack at a Wichita, Kansas, airport in 2013 was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on Monday.

Terry Loewen, 60, had access to secure airport areas because of his work as an avionic technician, according to federal officials, who dubbed the bomb plot an attempted terrorist attack.

He was arrested trying to enter the ramp area of the airport known then as the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport with what he believed was a vehicle loaded with explosives. He had planned to detonate the explosives next to a terminal and die in the blast, according to federal officials. The airport was recently renamed the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport.

Loewen pleaded guilty to one count of attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction, and entered into a plea agreement reached with prosecutors calling for the 20-year prison sentence, followed by lifetime supervision.

The sentence required the approval of U.S. District Judge Monti Belot, which he granted at a court hearing on Monday.

Charges of attempted use of an explosive and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization were dropped under the agreement.

Prosecutors said at the time of his arrest that Loewen had proclaimed himself a Muslim and had talked of committing violent jihad on behalf of al Qaeda. Loewen said he was inspired by the teachings of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki and had downloaded thousands of pages of information on jihad, according to federal officials.

A joint terrorism task force had Loewen under investigation for months before his arrest. Loewen believed he was working with a member of a Yemen-based militant group and another individual in plotting the bombing, but both were undercover FBI agents, a criminal complaint said.

The agents helped Loewen with construction of the device, which was not active, the complaint said.

In September 2013, Loewen sent photos of airplanes on the ramp at the Wichita airport and commented that he could have “walked over there, shot both pilots … slapped some C4 on both fuel trucks and set them off before anyone even called TSA,” according to federal officials.

In a statement following his sentencing, Loewen apologized to his family.

“I do not ask for forgiveness because I deserve none,” he said.

Gaza militants fire rocket into Israel


Militants in the Gaza Strip launched a rocket at Israel on Tuesday which landed in open ground near a community close to the Palestinian enclave and Israel hit back at the launching site, the Israeli army said.

There were no injuries or damage after the rocket fell near the community of Yad Mordechai, Israeli police and the military said. Residents in the northern Gaza Strip said nobody was hurt by Israel's retaliatory strike near Beit Hanoun.

An army statement said the rocket launcher was hit.

Rocket launchings have become an almost weekly occurrence from the Hamas-controlled coastal strip recently but no militant group took immediate responsibility for Tuesday's attack.

A group that sympathizes with al Qaeda, who have defied Hamas, have been blamed for other recent strikes, none of which caused injuries or damage.

The Israel-Gaza border area had largely been quiet since last year's July-August war, when Palestinian militants launched thousands of rockets and mortar bombs into Israel and Israeli shelling and air strikes battered the enclave.

More than 2,100 Palestinians died, mainly civilians, while 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed on the Israeli side.

Al-Qaeda deputy leader killed in U.S. bombing in Yemen


The deputy leader of al-Qaeda, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, has been killed in a U.S. bombing in Yemen, the group and the White House said on Tuesday, removing the director of a string of attacks against the West and a man once seen as a successor to leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

A close associate of Osama bin Laden in the years leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, Wuhayshi, a Yemeni in his late 30s, was named by Zawahri as al-Qaeda's effective number two in 2013.

With a $10 million price on his head offered by U.S. authorities, Wuhayshi was also leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and his death potentially weakens the group, widely seen as the militant network's strongest branch.

He led the group as it plotted foiled bomb attacks against international airliners and claimed responsibility for the deadly shooting at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, calling it punishment for insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

Senior AQAP member Khaled Batarfi said in a video statement posted online that Wuhayshi “passed away in an American strike which targeted him along with two of his mujahideen brothers, may God rest their souls.”

The group had met and appointed its former military chief, Qassim al-Raymi, also a Yemeni, as his replacement, he said.

In Washington, the White House said U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Wuhayshi was killed in Yemen.

“Wuhayshi’s death strikes a major blow to AQAP, al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate, and to al-Qaeda more broadly,” said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price.

“It's a significant blow. He could have moved up to the top spot (in al-Qaeda),” said Martin Reardon, senior vice president at the Soufan Group security consultancy.

“AQAP is widely considered the most capable terrorist group in the world,” said Reardon, a veteran of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, referring to the group's focus on attacks on the West.

It has also orchestrated spectacular attacks inside Yemen in recent years, targeting government ministries, military camps and soldiers, in which hundreds of people were killed.

Al-Qaeda did not specify how or when Wuhayshi was killed. Some residents of the southeastern Yemeni city of Mukalla reported a suspected drone strike on Friday.

But eyewitnesses said that last Tuesday, townspeople were gathering on the city's seaside corniche after evening prayers when an explosion killed three men, spreading their limbs across a street as panicked residents fled.

QAEDA VETERAN

In an unusual move, al-Qaeda gunmen cordoned off the area and gathered the bodies, residents said, leading them to believe a militant leader was among the dead.

Wuhayshi was the sixth major AQAP leader killed in suspected U.S. bombings this year, despite political turmoil in Yemen that led to the closing of the U.S. embassy and the evacuation of its military and intelligence personnel.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. military was not involved in any strike, raising the likelihood that it was conducted by the CIA.

The Pentagon issued a warning to Wuhayshi's successor.

“While I'm sure he had to be looking over his shoulder already, he will now have to live in even more fear. Because we will find him and we will kill him. Or capture him,” said spokesman Colonel Steve Warren.

Wuhayshi, according to Gregory Johnson, author of a book on Yemen, was born in southern Yemen and traveled to Afghanistan for the first time in 1998 to join al-Qaeda. He met bin Laden there and acted as his aide-de-camp until 2001, when the group was scattered after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. He became head of AQAP in 2009.

In 2013, U.S. sources said an intercepted communication between Wuhayshi and Zawahiri – believed based in Pakistan – was part of a broader pool of intelligence that led to an alert closing several U.S. embassies in the Middle East and Africa.

After an Arab military campaign against Iran-allied rebels that control much of the country's east, AQAP has made common cause with tribal and religious groups, and residents in Mukalla say its members carry weapons and recruit there openly.

Wiesenthal Center 2015 report card: Social network’s must to more to degrade terrorists online


The Simon Wiesenthal today released its 2015 Digital Terrorism and Hate Report Card and Study at a press conference at its New York Tolerance Museum.

“Over the last year, our worst fears have become a reality. ISIS, Al Shabbab and other Al-Qaeda linked terrorist groups have tapped into the unlimited marketing potential of social networking to successfully recruit mostly young people and women in Western countries, provide online instruction to terrorist ‘lone wolves’, and spread fear around the world by ‘broadcasting’ horrific beheadings, shootings and burning hostages alive,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the leading Jewish Human Rights group, which has monitored online extremist trends for two decades.

Among its key findings, which have been put together by the Rick Eaton, the Center’s Senior Researcher and Mark Weitzman, the Center’s Director of Government Affairs, the Center found:

  • Despite recent moves to remove terror postings, Twitter remains the online marketing weapon of choice of extremists of all types. There have been hundreds of thousands of Tweets that often serve as the key link in online communications and marketing of ISIS, etc.
  • Online terrorist magazines continue to proliferate in multiple languages, urging lone wolf terrorist acts and legitimizing horrific beheadings, shootings and burning hostages alive.
  • Facebook lead social networking companies in interdicting and removing online terror and hate material. Google/YouTube has begun to deal seriously with the abuse of their service by terrorists and bigots.VK.com, Surespot, Reddit, and Diaspora have yet to take steps to deal with the use of their services by terrorists and bigots.
  • The rise in anti-Semitic violence and incidents across Europe and other countries is stoked by online haters, especially via social media. After the murders in Paris and Copenhagen, there were online celebrations.
  • In just 24 hours, last July 17-18, 287,309 Turkish Twitter users sent 30,926 Turkish-language tweets in support of Hitler’s genocide against the Jews.

 

To access the 2015 Digital Terrorism and Hate Report, click on Http://digitalhate.net, register with your email and enter the password: digitalhate.

As L.A.’s Muslims condemn French attacks, a gap on what’s to blame


Following the recent terror attacks in Paris by Islamic extremists that left 17 dead and 22 wounded at a satirical magazine and kosher market, the debate within the local Muslim community over what to blame and even how to label the ideology behind the attacks has only intensified.

Are the attacks in France, along with the surge of violence and persecution in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria, expressions of something called Islamism or Islamic extremism? Or are groups like Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), Al Qaeda and Boko Haram political extremist movements that are exploiting Islam to advance their un-Islamic goals?

Much as they are being discussed in Christian, Jewish and secular worlds, these questions are subjects of debate within the Los Angeles Muslim community, where progressive Muslims and more traditional Muslims coexist, even as they differ when it comes to pinpointing the root problem of terrorism done in the name of Islam.

For Ani Zonneveld, the founder and president of

Pressure from powerful Houthis proves too much for Yemen’s Hadi, president resigns


Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, held virtual prisoner at his home by political adversaries this week, resigned on Thursday, his two-year-old attempt to steer the fragile country to stability exhausted by opposition from Houthi rebels.

His term as head of state of the poor Arabian peninsula state may also have fallen foul of less visible opposition from his predecessor, veteran former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Although parliament promptly rejected his offer to step down, Hadi said he had reached “a dead end” after repeated confrontations with the Houthi movement, which seized the city in September, becoming the country's de facto top power.

The former army general's departure deals a blow to a crumbling Yemeni state, which at times has acted as a bulwark against total warfare among a kaleidoscope of feuding politicians and sectarian militants – all heavily armed.

The Houthis have not been Hadi's only headache.

Diplomats say the movement's entry into Sanaa was made possible by a tactical alliance with his predecessor, Saleh, who retains wide influence, especially in the army, despite having stepped down in 2012 after months of Arab Spring protests.

Saleh's critics widely accuse him of making common cause with the rebels to settle old scores and undermine Hadi, despite himself having fought several wars against the rebels in the mountainous North.

The regular army appeared to make little attempt to assist Hadi's presidential guards this week when they fought battles with Houthi forces in a flare-up of tension, an indication, some Yemenis believe, of Saleh's continued favor to the Shi'ites.

The only name on the ballot for February 2012 elections, Hadi was the meant to guide predominantly Sunni Yemen through a transition to democracy shepherded by Western and regional powers after Arab Spring protests ousted his autocrat predecessor the year before.

Inheriting a nation in chaos, Hadi faced long odds: the economy was collapsing, al-Qaeda repeatedly struck at the army and state while secessionism festered in the North and South.

Despite years of service as Saleh's deputy, Hadi has suggested his former boss made no attempt to help him settle into the top job. In a speech earlier this month, state media reported Hadi as saying that when he took office “all I received was the republican flag.”

A former army general from Yemen's once independent and socialist South, Hadi moved to the North amid political turmoil at home in 1986, rising through the ranks to become Saleh's vice-president for two decades.

Soft-spoken and unassuming, 69-year old Hadi was hardly considered a rival by the former strongman, but he appears not to have won a firm power base during his decades in uniform and a series of political and military setbacks battered his administration.

“CONSPIRACY”

Hailing from a sect of Shi'ite Islam, the Houthi rebel movement steadily pushed southward toward Sanaa last year, trading its traditional demand for regional autonomy for a chance at becoming national power brokers.

When the capital finally fell with weak resistance from the army on September 21, Hadi sensed Saleh had helped lay him low.

“I realize you're surprised at the handing over of state and military institutions this way – this conspiracy defies the imagination,” he told a group of top political and security chiefs at his headquarters.

“There's a planned conspiracy, and alliances among the former stakeholders itching for revenge.”

After the United Nations Security Council slapped Saleh with sanctions for his alleged role in the upheaval, the ex-leader's party cut Hadi from the former ruling party and increased his isolation.

His policy appeared to drift as the Houthis fanned out across the country's South and West, engaging in pitched battles with Sunni tribes and Yemen's al-Qaeda affiliate – which claimed the deadly attack on a magazine in Paris this month and which is widely considered the deadliest offshoot of the militant group.

“The man's time in office have been marked by his inability to take timely decisions, letting problems pile up and causing his failure to interact with developments,” author and political analyst Abdul-Bari Taher told Reuters.

Al-Qaeda claimed credit for a series of spectacularly gory attacks in the capital against Houthi militiamen and security forces, while the enfeebled president wrangled with the capital's Houthi masters over a new draft constitution.

The political arm-wrestle deteriorated into an open fight when Houthi gunmen abducted Hadi's chief of staff Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak on Saturday, and heavy shelling and gunfire between army factions and the fighters began to convulse Sanaa on Monday.

Houthi fighters entered the presidential palace and positioned themselves outside his private home, where he actually lives, replacing his regular guards.

Hadi issued a statement on Wednesday signaling he was willing to accede to Houthi demands for more power, but also saying the guards outside his house would be removed. By Thursday afternoon, they remained in place, another humiliation.

Hours later he issued his resignation letter to the speaker of parliament.

“We apologize to you personally and to the honorable chamber and to the Yemeni people after we reached a dead end,” a government spokesman quoted Hadi's resignation letter as saying.

Solidarity: Je Suis Charlie, Je Suis Juif


A dozen victims at a French newspaper, plus four hostages killed in a kosher grocery store: In France, it feels like the world is coming to an end. This was not just an attack on a small magazine and on Jewish people shopping before Shabbat, but an attack on a way of life that a billion people believe in from the bottom of their hearts: democracy. The attack came as France was suffering from an economic crisis, from the inefficiency of its institutions, from the conservatism of its population and from the presence among its population of a few thousand people who are closer to Al Qaeda than to the values of the republic.

Charlie Hebdoin whose offices the first killings occurred, is a small satirical weekly in perpetual financial crisis that has as its mission to publish cartoons violently critical of everything and anybody. Muslims are not the only targets of its cartoonists’ derision; far from it. Jews, Christians, Jesus, French presidents — everybody has taken their share of ridicule. Charlie is not anti-Islam, but rather pro-freedom. In France, its humor falls fairly flat, yet nobody in their right mind would complain. The only people who take the cartoons seriously are, precisely, the Islamists. In 2011, Charlie’s staff produced an issue titled “Charia Hebdo” (after the name of the Islamic law), about the Islamists winning the Tunisian elections. This was, according to Charlie, a failure. Opposed to any kind of religious belief, Charlie asserted that the only good future must be secular. For expressing this opinion, its offices were burned down by Islamists, and, since then, its journalists have lived under constant threat.

Jeannette Bougrab, a French lawyer and politician and the longtime companion of Charlie’s editor, Stephane Charbonnier — who was among those killed on Jan. 7 — declared on the French television channel BFMTV: “He foresaw that his fate would be the same as Theo Van Gogh’s.” Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker, was assassinated in 2004 in the most horrible way by a Muslim network because his movie “Submission” dealt with the violence against women in some Islamist societies.

“Without its Jews, France would not be France.”
– French Prime Minister Manuel Valls

In response to the killings and those at the kosher market, massive demonstrations were held on Jan. 11 throughout Europe and in Canada (for a story on a Los Angeles rally, see P. 29). Some 3.7 million people in France turned out for peaceful shows of solidarity, of which an estimated 1.2 million to 1.5 million were in Paris. They held up flags and banners stating, “I am Charlie.” The families of the victims walked first, followed by French President Francois Hollande and then heads of state and institutions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was there, as was Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization — both men in the front row, but separated by four people. King Abdullah II of Jordan was present with his wife, Rania, as was Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who supports the Palestinians. No U.S. officials were present.

Many former presidents and personalities of the French administration were there, regardless of their party affiliation. Nicolas Sarkozy came with his wife, Carla Bruni. Just one person of note did not get an official invitation: Marine Le Pen, president of the extreme right party the National Front (NF). She held a separate meeting.

Also on Sunday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared that “without its Jews, France would not be France.” Valls has been particularly outspoken on the anti-racist front. The son of an immigrant Spanish couple, he is married to a Jewish violinist, Anne Gravoin. Following the demonstration, a memorial service took place at La Victoire, the main synagogue of Paris, attended by Jewish personalities; as well as Hollande, Netanyahu and Sarkozy; and by Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris; and Muslim leaders.

 

The attack on Charlie Hebdo occurred on a Wednesday morning during the journal’s weekly staff meeting. Two men wearing hoods burst in, asking by name for Charbonnier, using his nickname “Charb,” then killed him and all the others. The gunmen shouted, “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and announced: “You will pay, because you insulted the prophet.” Among French citizens, there are believed to be many more such young Muslims ready to kill.

Is it reasonable to publish cartoons that cause so much trouble? The problem got its start in late 2005, when a dozen cartoons criticizing the prophet Muhammad were published by the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Conceived by the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, they provoked an uproar in the Islamic world. One of the cartoons showed the prophet wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb. In 2010, Muhudiin Mohamed Geeles, a 29-year-old Danish-Somali man, armed with an ax, tried to murder Westergaard. He was sentenced to nine years in jail in 2011. Those same cartoons were republished in France by Charlie Hebdo.

The fact is, though, that most Europeans follow the sentiments of the famous quote often questionably attributed to Voltaire: “I hate what you are saying, but I shall fight so that you are able to say it.” The ability of the readers to choose what they should view should be trusted, they believe. In the case of Charlie, their verdict was clear, yet, it is a fact that Charlie’s readers were so few that without this crime, the paper might well have died amid general indifference.

 

How many Muslims live in France? It is unclear. According to statistics, maybe 4.2 million or maybe 6 million — in terrified Jewish circles, people speak of the unrealistic figure of 10 million — amid a total French population of 66 million. Most of these Muslims wish only to live in peace and integrate into the general population. But in spite of billions of francs and euros poured into helping them, it is a well-known fact that their integration has not been very successful. Ought it have been doable? You do not write history twice. The French Republic was generous to them, allowing them over time to bring, as well, their wives and children, who could live off Social Security if they didn’t have a job. What must be understood is that some of these immigrants were brought to France initially in the 1960s, during “The Glorious Thirty” years, the prosperous three decades following World War II, to do low-paying jobs that the French did not want; the Arab immigrants never felt at home, never belonged, lived isolated in ghettos, and accumulated handicaps and hate.

France has assimilated many populations over the last century: the Jews from Eastern Europe, Italians, Russians, Spaniards running away from political persecution and/or poverty. But the Arabs were different. They came later, and most came from countries that had been under French colonial rule for 150 years. Some of them were parked in the outskirts of Paris, in Nanterre, living on the streets in miserable conditions, in tiny tents made of bits of metal and canvas. But above those indecent shelters, they were, nevertheless, connected to the rest of the world via a forest of television and telephone antennas. The French did not comprehend, in those early days, how much these immigrants resented the French domination, including attending schools where the French flag was raised each morning, and they were taught all about “our ancestors the Gallics” — who were, of course, ancestors of the French, not their own. True, much of this population had no schools at all before these. But honor, it is well known, is more important than bread, and probably also more than schooling.

This immigrant population was finally moved to more decent housing. But some never learned proper French; they failed in school, belonged nowhere. When the economic crisis came, and there was not the slightest hope of employment, many turned to crime. Or not, but they became religious. Islam was their banner. They traveled to Mecca in droves. Even when the parents were able to get by, the children weren’t always. Twenty years ago, there was a peaceful Muslim man in the neighborhood of Montparnasse who sold newspapers. Everybody loved him. Suddenly, he disappeared. His son, age 20, the eldest of seven children, had convinced the housekeeper of France’s minister of justice, who lived around the corner, to conspire with him in an assassination plot.

France is also home to the largest Jewish population in Europe. “As happy as God in France,” a Yiddish saying goes. But God, at least the Jewish God, might not be so happy anymore. There were 600,000 Jews 30 years ago; today there may be as few as 500,000. Some of the Jewish community has dissolved by conversion and assimilation, but many people have also left, going to Israel or to other countries, Canada and the United States being the favorites. The problem is not the French government, which is impeccably anti-anti-Semitic. The problem is the growing Muslim presence, and their hatred, largely focused on Israel. The Muslims of this generation don’t speak Arabic anymore, hardly know their countries of origin, don’t have a real Islamic culture, don’t understand what is hitting them; all they know is that Israel is their arch enemy. 

France has experienced the largest number of hate crimes in Europe. Everybody recalls the story of Ilan Halimi, the 23-year-old Jewish man tortured to death in 2006, and of the killings in 2012 at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Racism occurs in France all the time, and the police do not always make the incidents public so as not to encourage more.

Of course, Islamic terrorism exists throughout Europe, and, every single day, experts on Muslim questions publish papers about the extremists, young people who often have European citizenship and yet join Islamic groups to wage the jihad (holy war). Thousands have left to enlist with the Islamic State and various rebel groups in Syria. 

According to experts, those who join the jihad generally fall into one of two categories: the romantics, who see war and sacrifice as something that might put panache into their gloomy lives; and those who simply want to kill, and find in jihad a rationale and opportunity to do so. 

Yet, some of these aspiring warriors quickly discover that war is uncomfortable, or that the terrorist groups don’t treat them well enough, or don’t give them responsibilities — and they return to France to lie low. Others have come back to wage jihad in their countries of origin. “Never have the European democracies been faced with such a diffuse and massive phenomenon,” an article in the French newspaper Le Monde reported in its coverage following the recent terror. The police fear these returners and seem to be able to keep track of them. It took very little time to identify the murderers of Charlie Hebdo: Said Kouachi, 34, who was also known by the American police, and his brother Cherif, 32. 

Each time a crime is committed by a Muslim in France, it reinforces the conviction among many French that Islam is the origin of most evil. And it reinforces the standing of FN leader Le PenOn the day of the killings, she, like everyone else, appeared on France’s TV news: “We have to feel free to talk about the Islamist terrorists,” she said. “We must know to differentiate between them and the law-abiding French Muslim citizens who want to belong, but that should not lead us to inertia.” She was the only politician to directly address the problem, as the issue of racism is considered absolutely politically incorrect among French politicians. Following Le Pen’s remarks, Francoise Atlan, a longtime member of the Jewish religious organization the Consistoire, called her “presidential.”

Most members of the Jewish community, however, fear the possibility of Le Pen winning in France’s next presidential elections. When she succeeded her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as the head of their party, she made efforts to clean up its act in order to gain respect and credibility. Anti-Semitism was banned. When this reporter asked a number of French-Jewish intellectuals whether they believe the FN has sincerely changed, the answer was, superficially, yes, but most of the party remains attached to the spirit of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who once called the Nazi gas chambers “a mere detail” of history.

The chances of Marine Le Pen winning the 2017 presidential elections are still fairly slim. On one hand, her economic proposal to leave the euro zone would ruin the country, and most of her potential constituency is aware of that. On the other hand, she is not yet quite so prim and proper that she has attracted enough people to form a cabinet. But she is on track, and she is the only new entry into the political landscape: The Socialist Party has been mired in such economic disaster that their successes, such as legalizing gay marriage, go unnoticed or are highly disapproved of by a large part of the population. For their part, the chiefs of the right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) are permanently at war. Sarkozy, the former president of France and now head of the UMP, is dealing with 10 different lawsuits, including for corruption.

In the wake of 9/11, the United States knows better than any other country about Islamist jihad waged on the Western word. This world, our world, believes collectively in democracy, in freedom of expression, in the rule of law. Everything that is not unlawful is permitted, including things such as gay rights, free sex and disrespectful words. It is even more true in the U.S., where everything is permitted except the burning of the American flag, whereas in France, any expression of racism and/or anti-Semitism is illegal and can be prosecuted. 

We tend to forget that this freedom is a fairly recent phenomenon. Not such a long time ago, not everybody was equal in front of the law. Jews were non-citizens, with no legal rights, until the end of the 18th century, and much later in other parts of Europe. The consequences for not belonging to the official religion were serious, even deadly. Homosexuality was severely repressed, at least for the have-nots. Jean Valjean, the hero of “Les Misérables,” is based on a real person who, in 1801, was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. 

But our civilization has made great progress, and the Western world now preaches peace, human rights, tolerance and all sorts of nice things. This reversal can appear ironic, maybe not among the general public, but certainly in the minds of people who view us with some objective distance. Among those is Regis Debray, a philosopher who once supported Che Guevara and Salvador Allende, and who writes in a melancholy essay called “What Is Left of the Western World: “Even if the late conversion of the colonizers — long in favor of napalm, of torture and of forced workmanship — to the religion of law brings a smile on the face of many of the colonized, there is a unanimous acceptance of the attitude.”

From within the U.S., it is difficult to appreciate how much the Western way of life is seen with disapproval by large sections of the world — by the Islamists, of course, but also much of Russia, of whose population of 142 million only 12 percent are Westernized peoples. The Western world dominated large parts of the world for 500 years. For a brief moment, after the fall of the Soviets, it was most of the world. This gave the West the opportunity to make many enemies, and of those, the most bitter and relentless currently are the Islamists, who trace the origin of their enmity all the way back to the Crusades. 

In human memory, some things last forever.


Francoise Skurman is a French-Jewish journalist who lived and worked in Paris until 15 years ago, when she moved to San Francisco.

Al Qaeda claims French attack, derides Paris rally


Al-Qaeda in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, saying it was ordered by the Islamist militant group's leadership for insulting the Prophet Mohammad, according to a video posted on YouTube.

Gunmen killed a total of 17 people in three days of violence that began when they opened fire at Charlie Hebdo last week in revenge for publication of satirical images of the Prophet.

This was the first time that a group officially claimed responsibility for the attack, led by two brothers who had visited the poor Arabian peninsula country in 2011.

“As for the blessed Battle of Paris, we … claim responsibility for this operation as vengeance for the Messenger of God,” said Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, a leader of the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda (AQAP) in the recording.

Ansi, an AQAP ideologue, said the “one who chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation is the leadership of the organisation”, without naming an individual.

He added without elaborating that the strike was carried out in “implementation” of the order of overall al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, who has called for strikes by Muslims in the West using any means they can find.

Ansi also gave credit for the operation to slain AQAP propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, a preacher cited by one of the gunmen in remarks to French media as a financer of the attack.

It was not clear how Awlaki, killed by a U.S. drone in 2011, had a direct link to the Paris assault, but he inspired several militants in the United States and Britain to acts of violence.

SPOTLIGHT

The group mocked a big solidarity rally in Paris on Sunday for the victims, saying the shock on display showed feebleness.

“Look at how they gathered, rallied and supported each other; strengthening their weakness and dressing their wounds,” it said of Western leaders who attended the event.

It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the recording, which carried the logo of al-Qaeda's media group al-Malahem.

The purported claim of responsibility puts a fresh spotlight on a group often cited by Western officials as al-Qaeda's most dangerous branch. AQAP has recently focused on fighting enemies at home such as government forces and Shi'ite rebels, but says that it still aims to carry out attacks abroad.

Two senior Yemeni sources that both Cherif and Said Kouachi, who carried out the Charlie Hebdo attack, had traveled to Yemen via Oman in 2011, met Awlaki and underwent weapons training in the eastern province of Marib.

A Marib tribal leader denied that the brothers had trained there in 2011 or that Awlaki used to be present in the province.

AQAP's Yemeni leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, was once a close associate of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, whose father was born in Yemen, a neighbor of top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi complained on Wednesday that Yemen was subject to a politicized media campaign over the attackers' 2011 visit, state news agency Saba said.

“The person reported to have traveled to Yemen to learn in three days how to fire a pistol had been detained and under investigation for two years in France,” Saba quoted Hadi as saying. Hadi wondered why such suspicious elements came to Yemen and returned home without being questioned, it said.

Hostage taken north of Paris during manhunt for Charlie Hebdo killings


At least one hostage was seized in a town northeast of Paris on Friday during a huge manhunt for two brothers suspected of killing 12 people at a satirical weekly, according to a police source.

Five helicopters were seen flying over an industrial zone outside the town of Dammartin-en-Goele and the French Interior Minister confirmed an operation was taking place there. A police source said the two suspects had been sighted in the town, where at least one person was taken hostage.

Before night fell on Thursday, officers had been focusing on their search some 25 miles away on the woodland village of Corcy, not far from a service station where police sources said the brothers had been sighted in ski masks a day after the shootings at the newspaper.

The fugitive suspects are French-born sons of Algerian-born parents, both in their early 30s, and already under police surveillance. One was jailed for 18 months for trying to travel to Iraq a decade ago to fight as part of an Islamist cell. Police said they were “armed and dangerous”.

U.S. and European sources close to the investigation said on Thursday that one of the brothers, Said Kouachi, was in Yemen in 2011 for several months training with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the group's most active affiliates.

A Yemeni official familiar with the matter said the Yemen government was aware of the possibility of a connection between Said Kouachi and AQAP, and was looking into any possible links.

U.S. government sources said Said Kouachi and his brother Cherif Kouachi were listed in two U.S. security databases, a highly classified database containing information on 1.2 million possible counter-terrorism suspects, called TIDE, and the much smaller “no fly” list maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center, an interagency unit.

U.S. television network ABC reported that the brothers had been listed in the databases for “years.”

Dave Joly, a spokesman for the Terrorist Screening Center, said he could neither confirm nor deny if the Kouachis were listed in counter-terrorism databases.

While world leaders described Wednesday's attack on the weekly newspaper Cahrlie Hebdo as an assault on democracy, al Qaeda's North Africa branch praised the gunmen as “knight(s) of truth”.

Charlie Hebdo, where journalists were gunned down during an editorial meeting, had been firebombed in the past for printing cartoons that poked fun at militant Islam and some that mocked the Prophet Muhammad.

Two of those killed were police posted to protect the paper.

On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama made an unannounced visit to the French Embassy in Washington to pay his respects.

He wrote in a condolence book: “As allies across the centuries, we stand united with our French brothers to ensure that justice is done and our way of life is defended. We go forward together knowing that terror is no match for freedom and ideals we stand for – ideals that light the world.”

Amid local media reports of isolated incidents of violence directed at Muslims in France, President Francois Hollande and his Socialist government have called on the French not to blame the Islam faith for the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Hollande has held talks with opposition leaders and, in a rare move, was due to invite Marine Le Pen, leader of the resurgent anti-immigrant National Front, to his Elysee Palace for discussions on Friday.

MOURNING

Bewildered and tearful French people held a national day of mourning on Thursday. The bells of Notre Dame pealed for those killed in the attack on the left-leaning slayer of sacred cows whose cartoonists have been national figures since the Parisian counter-cultural heyday of the 1960s and 1970s.

Many European newspapers either re-published Charlie Hebdo cartoons or lampooned the killers with images of their own.

Searches were taking place in Corcy and the nearby village of Longpont, set in thick forest and boggy marshland about 70 km north of Paris, but it was not clear whether the fugitives who had been spotted in the area were holed up or had moved on.

Corcy residents looked bewildered as heavily armed policeman in ski masks and helmets combed the village meticulously from houses to garages and barns.

“We're hearing that the men could be in the forest, but there's no information so we're watching television to see,” said Corcy villager Jacques.

In neighboring Longpont, a resident said police had told villagers to stay indoors because the gunmen may have abandoned their car there. Anti-terrorism officers pulled back as darkness fell. The silence ‎was broken by the sound of a forest owl.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, asked on RTL radio on Thursday whether he feared a further attack, said: “That's obviously our main concern and that is why thousands of police and investigators have been mobilized to catch these individuals.”

SUSPECT JAILED

Police released photographs of the two suspects, Cherif and Said Kouachi, 32 and 34. The brothers were born in eastern Paris and grew up in an orphanage in the western city of Rennes after their parents died.

The younger brother's jail sentence for trying to fight in Iraq a decade ago, and more recent tangles with the authorities over suspected involvement in militant plots, raised questions over whether police could have done more to watch them.

Cherif Kouachi was arrested on Jan. 25, 2005 preparing to fly to Syria en route to Iraq. He served 18 months of a three-year sentence.

“He was part of a group of young people who were a little lost, confused, not really fanatics in the proper sense of the word,” lawyer Vincent Ollivier, who represented Cherif in the case, told Liberation daily.

In 2010 he was suspected of being part of a group that tried to break from prison Smain Ali Belkacem, a militant jailed for the 1995 bombings of Paris train and metro stations that killed eight people and wounded 120. The case against Cherif Kouachi was dismissed for lack of evidence.

In the wake of the killings, authorities tightened security at transport hubs, religious sites, media offices and stores. Police also increased their presence at entry points to Paris.

The defense ministry said it sent 200 extra soldiers from parachute regiments across the country to help guard Paris.

Le Figaro newspaper reported that the interior ministry had been inundated with dozens of requests for police protection from “personalities feeling in danger”, citing a high-ranking police official.

Charlie Hebdo: High-impact, low-tech tactics add chilling dimension to attacks


In the aftermath of 9/11, the biggest fear that haunted U.S. counter-terrorism officials was that al-Qaeda or its allies would somehow get hold of a weapon of mass destruction: a biological agent or a nuclear bomb.

As a series of more recent attacks have shown, notably in Mumbai, India, in 2008, and Wednesday in Paris, a handful of committed volunteers can send shockwaves around the world with tools no more sophisticated than an assault rifle.

[RELATED: Horrorism in the Middle East]

In this age of the lightly-resourced, self-starting urban guerrilla, the jihadists have discovered a formula that lends a chilling new dimension to their trade. Not only can anyone be a victim, but with such a low bar to entry, anyone might be a perpetrator too. The brothers who shot dead 12 people at the satirical weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, planned their killing spree in plain sight.

Add to this the high drama that Mumbai- and Paris-style attacks generate — televised scenes of manhunts, special forces and sieges — and they begin to look like an even more attractive force-multiplier. For the aim is never simply to kill for the sake of killing. Such attacks are always planned with broader political goals in mind. The key to defeating the extremists lies in seeing past the horror and understanding their logic.

The stakes have seldom been higher than they were in Mumbai in 2008, when a group of 10 volunteers trained in Pakistan held the city hostage for four days by staging a series of bomb and gun attacks on targets including hotels, a cafe and transport terminal in which 166 people were killed. Images of smoke and flames billowing from the ornate Taj Mahal Palace Hotel transfixed a global audience. But the greater danger lay in a spike in tensions with Pakistan, which India blamed for harboring Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group that orchestrated the attack. With the two countries locked in a nuclear stand-off after three wars, a small team of gunmen armed with AK-47s might have sparked a clash between armies.

In Paris, the goals of the militants were different, but parallels remain. As in Mumbai, where the perpetrators were carefully groomed by a large umbrella organization, it seems that at least one of the Paris attackers had received training abroad. According to Western intelligence, Said Kouachi, one of the brothers, had spent months at a camp in Yemen run by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s most active affiliate.

Militants enmeshed in trans-national networks are often easier to identify than unmoored individuals imbibing propaganda on Islamist websites. The problem in Paris was not in spotting Said and his brother Cherif — both were under police surveillance — but in pre-empting their plan. The failure to stop them has stoked a growing sense in Europe that more such killing sprees are inevitable. Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, admitted as much this week when he warned that although security agencies were doing their utmost, they could not hope to stop every incident.

How then to respond? In the wake of Mumbai, a more devastating episode even than the appalling massacre in a Paris newsroom, the Indian government showed admirable restraint that curbed any risk of a hot war with Pakistan. In France, the jihadists nurse more insidious goals: stoking a cycle of suspicion and prejudice that will leave Muslim communities feeling increasingly isolated, and therefore more liable to yield them fresh recruits. Amid the outrage and grief, an already difficult atmosphere for Muslims in France could become even more poisonous. Strong emotions are not supportive of nuanced debate. An ‘us-versus-them’ mentality is precisely what the gunmen hope to impose.

French President Francois Hollande has already sought to defuse such a prospect by making a statesmanlike appeal for unity. Muslim leaders have used Friday prayers to urge their followers to join countrywide protests against the attack. Yet it is too soon to say whether France’s political class will have the wisdom to hold an honest debate about the widening divisions and growing xenophobia in their country, and why such a large number of French citizens have joined aspiring European jihads flocking to Syria and Iraq.

Nor is the question of how to neutralize the urban terror threat that spurred the attacks in Paris and Mumbai purely a conundrum for Western governments or Pakistan’s neighbors. As David Kilcullen, the counter-insurgency expert, has argued in his 2013 book “Out of the Mountains,” we will see more violence erupting in increasingly contested and over-crowded cities in central America, Africa and the Middle East, fuelled by a growing nexus of conflict and organized crime. There is always a choice as to how to respond. As the West has learned from the price it paid during a 13-year war in Afghanistan, launched within weeks of the collapse of the Twin Towers, it rarely pays to react in haste. 

Al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch praises gunmen for Paris attack


Al-Qaeda's North African branch praised the gunmen behind this week's killings at the Paris headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo weekly newspaper as “knight(s) of truth,” a monitoring group said on Thursday.

The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors radical Islamist organizations in the media, reported that Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) lauded the attackers with Arabic poetry on its Twitter account.

In France, a manhunt was under way for two brothers suspected of carrying out Wednesday's attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper which had published cartoons of Islam's Prophet Mohammad as well as other religious and political figures.

Ten journalists and two police officers were killed in the attack, which has raised questions of security in the Western world and beyond.

Many Muslims consider any depiction of the Prophet Mohammad to be against Islamic law.

AQIM has in the past killed French hostages in North Africa, and also clashed with French forces in northern Mali after Paris launched a military offensive in 2013 to dislodge Islamist fighters from the area.

Artists defiant after Paris killings but fear censorship on Islam


Cartoonists and writers defended freedom of expression after Wednesday's attack on a satirical magazine in Paris but the reality for some artists accused of insulting Islam has been years in hiding, police protection and, for some, censorship.

Among the 12 dead at Charlie Hebdo, a weekly that lampoons Islam and other religions, were some of France's top cartoonists. Others before them, such as Swedish artist Lars Vilks, have also drawn threats or actual violence.

“When you take out one of the few bastions of freedom of expression we have, and it has been taken out, who dares to publish anything now?” said Vilks.

Vilks was put under police protection after his 2007 drawing portraying the Prophet Mohammad as a dog led to death threats and a $100,000 bounty put on his head by an Iraqi group linked to al-Qaeda.

“If you do a cartoon picture of Jesus or the Pope it can be published but the Prophet Mohammad is banned from every proper media. It is regulated by fear mixed with political correctness,” Vilks told Reuters.

In early 2014, an American woman who called herself Jihad Jane was sentenced to 10 years in prison for plotting to kill Vilks.

Vilks says his career has suffered due to security concerns about exhibiting even his work that is unrelated to Islam.

Artists across Europe spoke of fears that the Charlie Hebdo attack could lead to self-censorship over religious satire, especially with Islam. For Muslims, any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous and caricatures or other characterizations have provoked protests across the Islamic world.

One major Danish newspaper, Politiken, has apologized in the past for running a cartoon that upset Muslims. “Politiken recognizes and deplores that our reprinting of the cartoon drawing offended Muslims in Denmark and in other countries around the world,” it said in a 2010 statement.

Ane Imam from a Paris suburb underlined the offense Charlie Hebdo had caused but rejected violence as a response for Muslims. “We don't agree with Charlie Hebdo. (Fight a) drawing with a drawing, but not with blood, not with hate,” said Hassen Chalghoumi, the Imam of Drancy.

The Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Denmark, societies with reputations for tolerance, were at the center of worldwide controversies in the last decade over depictions of Mohammad.

Charlie Hebdo was also well known for courting controversy with satirical attacks on political and religious leaders and has published numerous cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed.

“'Respect for religion' has become a code phrase meaning 'fear of religion',” said novelist Salman Rushdie in a statement. “Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect,” said Rushdie, whose book “The Satanic Verses” prompted late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa on him in 1989.

“Self-censorship is a plague,” warned William Nygaard, a publisher who survived an assassination attempt in 1993 when he was shot by an unknown gunman outside his home in Oslo after he published the “The Satanic Verses” in Norway.

Nygaard urged all media to safeguard freedom of expression.

In Denmark, Jyllands-Posten newspaper published 12 cartoons by various artists in 2005, most of which depicted the Prophet Mohammad. It provoked a wave of protests across the Muslim world in which at least 50 died.

The newspaper decided to publish the cartoons after hearing that a Danish writer of children's stories could not find an illustrator for his book on Mohammad for fear of reprisals. But the publication also led to debate within Denmark over whether the newspaper had incited religious hatred.

While some newspapers published the cartoons in solidarity with the principle of freedom of expression, most mainstream media steered clear.

“I'm hoping this event will not have any big negative impact on media – that they don't become scared,” retired Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard told Danish TV2 after the Paris attack. He drew a cartoon at Jyllands-Posten showing the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, a work that nearly got him killed by an axe-wielding assassin in 2010.

Westergaard talked in 2012 of living in constant fear of his life, of being unable even to go to a cafe, and of bodyguards ferrying him around in the back seat of an armored car.

Fellow cartoonists offered sympathy for Wednesday's victims. “Can't sleep tonight, thoughts with my French cartooning colleagues, their families and loved ones,” David Pope, political cartoonist for Australia's The Canberra Times, said on Twitter.

Gary Varvel, of the Indianapolis Star in the United States, responded with a cartoon of blood splattered on an artist’s desk and obscuring part of the word “Freedom.”

Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for Sanaa suicide bombings


Al-Qaeda's wing in Yemen on Friday claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on Yemen's powerful Shi'ite Houthi group that killed at least 47 people.

On Thursday, a suicide bomber detonated a belt packed with explosives at a Houthi checkpoint in the center of the capital Sanaa where Houthi supporters were preparing to hold a rally.

Body parts were scattered across Tahrir Square and pools of blood formed on the asphalt after the blast, which also wounded at least 75 people.

The bomb attack was carried out by a man called Abu Mouwaia al-Sanaani, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni branch of the movement, said in a statement on its Twitter account.

Thursday's bombing occurred just hours after a showdown between the Houthis and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour forced Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, whose appointment on Tuesday under a power-sharing deal signed last month had angered Houthi leaders, to turn down the post.

The Houthis have emerged as Yemen's main power brokers since their paramilitary forces seized the capital on Sept. 21, following weeks of anti-government demonstrations.

AQAP, which has targeted state institutions, including the armed forces, sees the Houthis, who are members of the minority Zaydi sect of Shi'ite Islam, as heretics.

A southern secessionist movement and the AQAP onslaught on security forces has already stretched the resources of Yemen, an impoverished country of 25 million, and alarmed neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, and other Gulf Arab states.

Western and Gulf Arab countries are worried that instability in Yemen could strengthen al-Qaeda and have supported a U.N.-backed political transition since 2012 led by Hadi meant to shepherd the country to stability after decades of autocracy.

Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; writing by Rania El Gamal

U.S. and Arab allies launch first strikes on fighters in Syria


The United States and its Arab allies bombed Syria for the first time on Tuesday, killing scores of ISIS fighters and members of a separate al Qaeda-linked group, opening a new front against militants by joining Syria's three-year-old civil war.

In a remarkable sign of shifting Middle East alliances, the attacks encountered no objection – and even signs of tacit approval – from President Bashar Assad's Syrian government, which said Washington had notified it in advance.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates participated in or supported the strikes against ISIS targets. All are countries hostile to Assad but now fearful of the fighters that have emerged out of the anti-Assad rebellion they backed.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a televised statement that the breadth of the coalition, including the five Arab states, showed the United States was not alone.

The White House said some of the strikes had been conducted to disrupt an al Qaeda affiliate known as the Khorasan Group which it said had been plotting an imminent attack either in the United States or in Europe.

“Once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people,” Obama said before leaving the White House for the United Nations in New York, where he planned more talks to enlarge his alliance.

Warplanes and ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles struck dozens of targets including fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage sites, a finance center, trucks and armed vehicles, CENTCOM said.

“I can tell you that last night's strikes were only the beginning,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman, told reporters. The overnight attacks had been “very successful”, he said, but gave few details and would not discuss casualties.

Washington also said U.S. forces had acted alone to launch eight strikes in another area of Syria on the Khorasan Group, which U.S. officials have described in recent days as posing a threat similar to that from ISIS.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said at least 70 ISIS fighters were killed in strikes that hit at least 50 targets in the provinces of Raqqa, Deir al-Zor and Hasakah.

It said at least 50 fighters and eight civilians were killed in strikes targeting al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, in northern Aleppo and Idlib provinces. The Observatory said most of the Nusra Front fighters killed were not Syrians.

The air attacks fulfill Obama's pledge to strike in Syria against ISIS, a Sunni Muslim group that has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq, slaughtering prisoners and ordering Shi'ites and non-Muslims to convert or die.

It remains to be seen how effective air strikes can be against ISIS in Syria, where Washington lacks a strong ally to fight the group on the ground. The militants vowed reprisals, and an allied group is threatening to kill a French hostage captured in Algeria.

“COMMON ENEMY”

In a sign of how ISIS' rise has blurred conflict lines, the Syrian government said Washington had informed it hours before the strikes in a letter from Secretary of State John Kerry sent through his Iraqi counterpart.

The Pentagon said the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, had informed Syria's envoy in advance but there had been no coordination and no communication between the two countries' armed forces.

The Syrian foreign ministry refrained from criticizing the U.S.-led action. State media reported that a senior Iraqi envoy briefed Assad on the next steps and the Syrian leader said he supported any international effort to fight terrorism.

Only a year ago Washington was on the verge of bombing the Syrian government over the use of chemical weapons, before Obama canceled the strikes at the last minute.

Tightly-controlled Syrian state TV interviewed an analyst who said the air strikes did not amount to an act of aggression because the government had been notified. “This does not mean we are part of the joint operations room, and we are not part of the alliance. But there is a common enemy,” said the analyst, Ali al-Ahmad.

Syria's closest ally, Iran, responded cautiously. President Hassan Rouhani said in New York that without a U.N. mandate or a request from the government of the affected state, military strikes “don't have any legal standing.” However, he neither condemned nor endorsed the action.

Residents of the city of Raqqa, ISIS' de facto capital in eastern Syria, said by telephone that people were fleeing for the countryside after the bombs fell overnight.

ISIS vowed revenge against the United States. “These attacks will be answered,” a fighter told Reuters by Skype from Syria, blaming Saudi Arabia's ruling family for allowing the strikes to take place.

The Sunni fighters, who have proclaimed a caliphate ruling over all Muslims, shook the Middle East by sweeping through northern Iraq in June. They alarmed the West in recent weeks by killing two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker, raising fears that they could attack Western countries.

PITCHED INTO CIVIL WAR

The action pitched Washington for the first time into the Syrian civil war, which began with “Arab Spring” democracy protests in 2011 but has descended into a sectarian conflict that has killed 200,000 people, displaced millions and drawn in proxy forces backed by countries across the region.

The Syrian military pressed its campaign against the rebels unabated on Tuesday, shelling and carrying out air strikes in the southern province of Deraa and the outskirts of Damascus, as well as Raqqa and Idlib provinces, the Observatory said. Rebel and loyalist forces fought in the northern city of Aleppo.

U.S. forces have previously hit ISIS targets in Iraq, where Washington supports the government, but had held back from a military engagement in Syria where Obama still calls for the downfall of Assad. Washington has said it would not coordinate action against ISIS with Assad's government.

ISIS fighters, equipped with U.S. weapons seized in Iraq, are among the most powerful opponents of Assad, a member of a Shi'ite-derived sect. They are also battling rival Sunni groups in Syria, the Shi'ite-led government of Iraq and Kurdish forces on both sides of the border.

In recent days they have captured villages from Kurds near Syria's Turkish border, sending nearly 140,000 refugees across the frontier since last week. The United Nations said it was preparing for up to 400,000 people to flee.

The Western-backed Syrian opposition and Syrian Kurdish groups, which are fighting both Assad and ISIS, welcomed the air strikes and said they need more support.

“There is an exodus out of Raqqa as we speak,” a resident said by phone. “It started in the early hours of the day after the strikes. People are fleeing towards the countryside.”

The city's two-storey main administrative building had been hit by four rockets, which were so precise that nearby buildings were not damaged, said the resident, named Abo Mohammed. He said hundreds of fighters, who had been visible in the streets controlling traffic and security, had now vanished.

The main Syrian Kurdish armed group said ISIS fighters were redeploying from areas hit by the U.S. strikes towards territory controlled by the Kurds.

ARAB PRESENCE KEY, TRADITIONAL ALLIES ABSENT

The presence of Arab allies in the attacks was crucial for the credibility of the American-led campaign. With the backing of Jordan and the Gulf monarchies, Washington has the support of Sunni states hostile to Assad.

None of Washington's traditional Western allies has so far joined the campaign in Syria. Britain, which joined the United States in war in Iraq and Afghanistan last decade, said it was still considering its options. France has struck ISIS in Iraq but not in Syria, citing legal constraints.

NATO ally Turkey, which is alarmed by ISIS but also worried about Kurdish fighters and opposed to any action that might help Assad, has refused a military role in the coalition.

Assad's ally Russia, whose ties with Washington are at their lowest since the end of the Cold War, said any strikes in Syria are illegal without Assad's permission or a U.N. Security Council resolution, which Moscow would have the right to veto.

Additional reporting by Alexander Dziadosz and Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Roberta Rampton, Susan Heavey, Lesley Wroughton, Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Paul Taylor, Janet McBride and David Stamp

U.N. Golan peacekeepers pull back from four positions amid tension


U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights are pulling out from its positions and a camp on the Syrian side of the Syrian-Israeli border due to a severe deterioration of security in the region, the United Nations said on Monday.

The decision to pull some blue-helmeted troops back to the Israeli side of the Golan Heights comes after recent clashes between members of the U.N. mission, known as UNDOF, and al-Qaeda-linked militants. The skirmishes have been due to increasing spillover from the three-year-old Syrian civil war.

“The situation in UNDOF on the Syrian side and the area of separation has deteriorated severely over the last several days,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

“Armed groups have made advances in the area of UNDOF positions, posing a direct threat to the safety and security of the U.N. peacekeepers along the 'Bravo' (Syrian) line and in Camp Faouar,” he said, adding that all U.N. personnel in those positions have been moved to the “Alpha” – or Israeli – side.

According to a diplomatic source, troops pulled back from positions 10, 16, 31 and 37.

“UNDOF continues to use all available assets to carry out its mandated tasks in this exceptionally challenging environment,” Dujarric said.

There was no suggestion that UNDOF was shutting down. Late last month, 45 Fijian peacekeepers were kidnapped by members of the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, Islamist militants fighting the Syrian army. They were released last week. At the time the Fijians were abducted, 72 UNDOF Filipino peacekeepers were trapped by the militants, though they succeeded in escaping.

UNDOF, which was established in 1974, monitors a ceasefire line that has separated Israelis from Syrians in the Golan Heights since a 1973 war.

Syria and Israel technically remain at war. Syrian troops are not allowed in the area of separation, a narrow strip of land running about 45 miles (70 km) from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan.

UNDOF monitors the area of separation, with about 1,220 peacekeepers from six countries.

Before the Syrian civil war, now in its fourth year, the region was generally quiet and the peacekeepers had mostly found their biggest enemy to be boredom.

The force's personnel come from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines. The United Nations said last month that the Philippines has decided to pull out of UNDOF and from a U.N. force in Liberia, which is struggling with an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus hitting several West African countries.

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis

How U.N. troops defied orders, opened fire and escaped Syrian rebels


Early on Aug. 28, al Qaeda-linked militants fighting government forces in Syria crossed a ceasefire line in the Golan Heights on Israel's border and seized 45 Fijians serving in a United Nations peacekeeping force.

The leader of a nearby U.N. contingent from the Philippines telephoned a commanding officer in Manila. They were surrounded, the leader said. Should they surrender and risk being kidnapped by the rebels or hold their ground?

The U.N. force commander, General Iqbal Singh Singha of India, fearing Fijian lives could be in jeopardy if the Filipinos engaged in a firefight, ordered the Filipinos to hold their fire. In Manila, General Gregorio Catapang gave different orders to his subordinate thousands of miles away in the Middle East: Stand your ground. Don't surrender.

For three days, Filipino troops fended off hundreds of rebels from the Islamic militant Nusra Front group, killing at least three on the final day before escaping under cover of darkness to Israel. The Fijians were released on Thursday after two weeks of negotiation.

U.N. officials and diplomats say the incident with the Philippine peacekeepers highlights a fundamental problem with peacekeeping missions, one that may be impossible to resolve. National peacekeeping contingents retain allegiance to their commanders at home and when bullets fly, they have no problem disobeying U.N. force commanders and taking orders from home.

Based on interviews with U.N. officials, diplomats and Philippine military sources, including an official report on the incident from Manila, Reuters has pieced together a narrative of the events of Aug. 28 to Aug. 30 leading up to the dramatic escape of Philippine troops from the militants' siege.

It was not the first time that fighting from Syria’s three-year-old civil war spilled onto Israel’s doorstep. But it was the most violent incident in the Golan Heights since the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011.

The 1,223-strong six-nation U.N. force, known as UNDOF, has been on the Golan Heights since 1974. Its job is to monitor the ceasefire line between Syria and Israel – the so-called disengagement zone that bars both Israeli and Syrian troops. The two countries have officially been at war since the end of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war but their border has been largely quiet.

Before the Syrian war broke out, blue-helmeted U.N. observers stationed in the mountainous region had a relatively easy job. For years their main enemy was boredom.

That changed in March 2013, when Syrian rebels kidnapped 21 Filipino peacekeepers. All were released unharmed, but two months later rebels kidnapped and released a handful of others. The spillover of violence from Syria's civil war prompted Austria, Croatia and Japan to pull out of UNDOF.

The Philippines also considered pulling out but stayed at the U.N.'s request. Fiji, Nepal and Ireland agreed to help fill UNDOF's depleted ranks and the U.N. Security Council toughened the mission's rules of engagement to give its peacekeepers more freedom to fight back when under threat.

After the 2013 kidnappings, countries providing troops complained that carrying a pistol was insufficient for a shifting battleground where rebels have shoulder-launched missiles and heavy machine guns. They wanted armored vehicles and heavier weapons – and the freedom to shoot to kill, if necessary, when under attack.

In June of last year, when the U.N. Security Council approved its six-month renewal of UNDOF's mandate, the council emphasized “the need to enhance the safety and security of UNDOF.” It also endorsed U.N. recommendations for UNDOF to change its “posture and operations,” allowing troops to defend themselves when attacked. The Security Council language on the UNDOF mandate was typically vague about the lengths to which peacekeepers could go in their own defense, but the new flexibility granted to the force did satisfy the demands of the council members and UNDOF troop contributing countries.

The Filipinos put those tougher rules of engagement to work on Aug. 30 when they killed three rebels in a firefight.

ORDER DISOBEYED

After encircling the troops on Aug. 28, Nusra militants communicated to the Filipinos and to the Fijians, who were being held elsewhere at an unknown location, an offer of safe passage if they handed over their weapons. The Filipinos did not trust the militants to keep their word. Philippine military officials in Manila have said openly that General Singha ordered the surrounded troops to raise a white flag, abandon their positions and leave their guns behind for Nusra, a group that the U.N. Security Council last year added to its blacklist of al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

Taking their orders from home, they ignored General Singha. Rather than abandoning their position and weapons, they stayed put and prepared to defend themselves while Philippine military officials and their UNDOF contingent discussed escape plans.

U.N. officials vehemently denied there was an order for the peacekeepers to leave their guns behind, especially as Nusra is subject to a U.N. arms embargo. What U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous has acknowledged is that the Filipinos were ordered to hold their fire to avoid jeopardizing the lives of the Fijians. He voiced total confidence in General Singha's decisions during the standoff.

Two days later, tensions escalated. The Nusra militants were growing impatient at the negotiations with UNDOF. The United Nations had already fulfilled one of Nusra's conditions by issuing a statement that said the world body was told the Fijians were seized “for their own protection.”

But the U.N. statement was not enough for the rebels.

Around 6 a.m. on Aug. 30 the rebels attacked position 68 in the disengagement zone. Militants on three pickup trucks with mounted weapons attempted to ram through the steel gate of the encampment but were unable to break through. The Filipinos fired on the rebels but began to run low on ammunition. Sporadic exchanges of fire lasted for seven hours.

In the meantime, Filipino troops supported by an Irish armored column rushed to nearby position 69 to extract 32 trapped Filipinos. The armored column was fired upon but the U.N. peacekeepers did not fire back. The operation succeeded.

There were still 40 Filipinos trapped at position 68, along with the 45 Fijian hostages elsewhere. The United Nations tried to link the groups in negotiations but Nusra refused, saying they were separate issues.

A ceasefire was reached that would run until negotiations were to resume at 9 a.m. on Aug. 31. Nusra reinforced its siege as more than 20 vehicles with over 200 rebels arrived on the scene to prevent the 40 remaining Filipinos breaking out of position 68 the way their compatriots had done at position 69. But the reinforcement failed to keep the Filipinos penned in. The blue helmets had a new plan.

Under cover of darkness, Filipino soldiers at position 68 quietly cut the barbed wire and one-by-one scaled a perimeter wall three meters (yards) tall, crossed a mine field and walked 2.3 kms (1.4 miles) to the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. The last man reached safety two hours later.

Catapang jubilantly described it to reporters as “the greatest escape”.

U.N. officials acknowledge a sharp disagreement between Singha and the Filipinos, and several accused the Filipinos of thinking only of their own safety and ignoring that of the Fijians held captive.

“The force commander was not only thinking of the security and safety of the Filipinos, but also of the Fijians. Resolving only one issue could affect the resolution of the second problem,” said a senior U.N. official.

Additional reporting by correspondents in Manila, Israel and elsewhere; Editing by Howard Goller

Obama leads U.S. in remembrance of Sept. 11 victims


Led by President Barack Obama, Americans commemorated the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on Thursday by observing moments of silence for the thousands killed that day at New York City's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

In what has become an annual ritual, relatives began slowly reciting the nearly 3,000 names of the victims at a ceremony in lower Manhattan, from Gordon Aamoth Jr. to Igor Zukelman.

Readers would occasionally pause as a silver bell was rung to mark the exact times when each of the four planes hijacked by al Qaeda militants crashed at the three sites and when each of the World Trade Center's twin towers collapsed. With each bell, a moment of silence was observed.

Obama spoke at the Pentagon during a private ceremony for relatives of the 184 people killed in the attack on the U.S. Department of Defense headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, several miles from the White House.

He laid a wreath of white lilies and chrysanthemums, and kept his hand on his heart as “Taps” played.

“Thirteen years after small, hateful minds conspired to break us, America stands tall and America stands proud,” Obama said.

In New York, the voice of Tom Monahan, a 54-year-old man with salt-and-pepper hair and broad shoulders, cracked when he talked about the brother and cousin he lost in the attack.

“Everything is fine until you get here,” he said before waving his hands as if to signal he could not talk anymore. He emerged from the security checkpoints an hour later and showed a reporter a message he had sent on his cell phone to his sister. “9-12 couldn't come soon enough,” it said.


The Tribute in Light is illuminated on the skyline of lower Manhattan on Sept. 10. Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Beyond the checkpoints, an invitation-only crowd stood beneath an overcast sky in the memorial plaza at the heart of the new World Trade Center, which is nearing completion in lower Manhattan. Some of those in attendance were dressed in military uniform, others wore T-shirts and sneakers.

Many people held up posters with smiling photographs of their dead relatives. Red roses and American flags poked up from the bronze plates bearing victims' names that ring the two waterfalls that now trace the footprints of the fallen towers.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and two former mayors, Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani, were among the mourners.

The high fences blocking off public access to most of the World Trade Center site finally came down in May.

While lower Manhattan may look different this year, the threat to the United States represented by the Sept. 11 attacks remains. Washington and its allies see Islamic State, a group that began as an offshoot of al Qaeda, as an increasing danger.

On Wednesday, Obama said he had ordered an aerial bombing campaign targeting the group, which has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria and released videos of beheadings of two American journalists.

“It definitely drives home the fact that there are certain things that haven't changed since September 11th,” Brendan Chellis, who was working on the 30th floor of one of the twin towers at the time of the attack, said outside the New York ceremony.

The only ceremony open to the general public was at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where one of the four hijacked airliners crashed after a struggle between passengers and the hijackers.

George Meyers, a 43-year-old paralegal, was living in Shanksville 13 years ago.

“I felt the ground shake the day it happened,” he said during a visit to the memorial, set amid bucolic rolling fields. “It's hard to come outside and see grieving families but it's nice to see them smile at the memorial that's been built.”

Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, Roberta Rampton in Washington and Elizabeth Daley in Shanksville, Penn.; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Doina Chiacu

Islamic State threat ‘beyond anything we’ve seen,’ Pentagon says


The sophistication, wealth and military might of Islamic State militants pose a major threat to the United States that may surpass that from al-Qaida, U.S. military leaders said on Thursday.

“They are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it's in Iraq or anywhere else,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon about the militant group, which has seized a third of Iraq and released a video this week showing one of its fighters beheading an American hostage.

Asked if Islamic State posed a threat to the United States comparable to that of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hagel said the group was “as sophisticated and well-funded as any group we have seen.

“They are beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of … military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything we've seen.”

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the group could pose a direct threat to Western countries through the return of European or U.S. nationals to their home countries after having fought in Syria or Iraq.

Reporting by Missy Ryan and David Alexander; Editing by Peter Cooney

U.S. says its forces get immunity guarantees from Iraq


Iraq has given assurances to the United States that U.S. special operations forces that President Barack Obama has ordered into the country will be shielded from possible prosecution in Iraqi courts, U.S. officials said on Monday.

With the agreement, Washington has overcome a major hurdle as it rushes to bolster the U.S. presence in Iraq in the face of militant advances by Sunni Islamists from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, an al Qaeda splinter group.

“The commander in chief would not make a decision to put our men and women in harm's way without getting some necessary assurances,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

The Pentagon said on Monday it hoped the U.S. forces could help improve a still-murky U.S. intelligence assessment of the situation in Iraq, including about the type and quantity of U.S.-made weapons ISIL has seized from the Iraqi military.

So far, there is no evidence ISIL militants have secured sophisticated U.S.-made arms, said Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. He added, however, that small arms and possibly U.S.-made Humvee vehicles had been taken.

President Barack Obama announced on Thursday he will deploy up to 300 military advisers to Iraq in non-combat roles and would consider targeted strikes against the insurgents.

Obama's decision to send troops back into Iraq revived an old question that was at the center of his decision to withdraw thousands of American forces in 2011.

At the time, the Obama administration attributed the decision to pull all troops out of Iraq to the difficulty of clinching a Status of Forces Agreement, which also would have kept troops from being tried in local courts.

The new agreement struck with Baghdad via diplomatic note is far less sweeping and appeared far less formal than the SOFA. But the U.S. government said the assurances were enough, given the scope and size of the mission.

“With this agreement, we will be able to start establishing the first few assessment teams,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. The Pentagon said on Friday the first teams would be drawn from forces already in Iraq under the U.S. embassy mission, and that additional teams would arrive from outside the country shortly after.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the agreement would give protections similar to the ones already enjoyed by U.S. diplomatic personnel in Baghdad.

“Our troops will have the legal protections they need to perform their mission,” Harf said.

“They would, were something to arise, face due process for violations under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, who met Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad on Monday, said U.S. support for Iraqi security forces will be “intense and sustained” to help them combat the Islamist insurgency that has swept through the country's north and west.

Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and David Alexander; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

U.S. Treasury to discuss funding for Iraq militant group


Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will discuss counterterrorism financing during his visit to the Middle East, including the funding network of the group fomenting an insurgency in Iraq, Treasury officials said on Friday.

President Barack Obama on Friday said the United States was weighing how to help Iraq counter militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, which has launched a rebellion against Iraq's government.

Lew will meet with officials in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Germany next week, where he will also discuss issues of tax evasion and economic growth.

“The recent events in the Middle East do nothing but underscore the importance (of terrorist financing), and so certainly that will be a prime issue that the secretary will be discussing, our joint efforts to undermine any financial networks that support terrorist groups,” a senior Treasury official told reporters ahead of Lew's trip.

Treasury has already sanctioned leaders of ISIL, which was formerly called Al Qaeda in Iraq, and has said it was closely tracking the funding stream of the group. Treasury officials said Saudi Arabia and the UAE see “eye to eye” with the United States on the importance of stopping ISIL's activities.

In Abu Dhabi, Lew will also emphasize the need to keep pressure on Iran while discussions over its nuclear program continue, said the Treasury officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The United States and other world powers are currently in negotiations with Iran on limiting Tehran's controversial nuclear program in exchange for an end to sanctions. The UAE stands to benefit directly from any easing of sanctions that have dampened regional trade.

Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Leslie Adler

European Jewry battered by soaring anti-Semitism


The arrest on May 30 by French Police of Mehdi Nemmouche in connection with the murder of three people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels did not calm anyone’s fears. Far from it: Nemmouche is a French-born Islamist who fought with al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Syria before allegedly returning to Europe to murder Jews, and his apprehension is sending shockwaves across the continent. 

Intelligence and police officials from Ottawa to Berlin to Paris have been issuing warnings about native-born Muslims who, after going to Syria to try to bring down strongman Bashar Assad, are returning home as trained, motivated Islamist terrorists. Nemmouche has not yet been charged, and it is not clear whether the 29-year-old could have been carrying out orders from al-Qaeda, or if this is the action of a “lone wolf,” like Mohammad Merah, who killed seven people at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012. 

Either way, the killings at the Brussels Jewish Museum represent another devastating blow to Europe’s already beleaguered Jewish communities. They are already reeling from a spike in hate crimes, estimates that 150 million of their neighbors harbor extreme anti-Israel and/or anti-Jewish views, and from European Parliament elections held in late May that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called a “political earthquake.” Last Monday, the prime minister and his colleagues awoke to a France that handed Marine Le Pen’s “fascism with a pretty face”— National Front — a stunning victory. Her party won 25 percent of the vote for members of the European Parliament in France — nearly double the number cast for the country’s ruling Socialist Party.

The results of the pan-European elections should not be dismissed as only a protest vote over high unemployment, high taxes and recessions. For many voters, the ballot box gave them a chance to join Eurosceptics in rejecting what they perceive as the co-opting of their national identities by faceless bureaucrats sitting in Brussels.

But it is whom they chose to sit in the next Parliament that is deeply worrisome. There is a likely bloc of 50 to 60 seats that could include France’s National Front, Greece’s extremist Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik and — for the first time — a parliamentarian representing the German NPD, neo-Nazi party. In other words, political parties — some of whose core constituency is attracted by xenophobia, nativist nationalism, anti-immigrant rhetoric (especially against Muslims) and anti-Semitism — are now positioned to help shape European social, economic and foreign policies. On top of those are extreme leftist parties in Greece, animal rights parties that denigrate core practices of Judaism and Islam including shechitah — Jewish ritual slaughter — and the Five Star Party, Italy’s second largest, which is led by anti-Semitic Beppe Grillo. Will these newly elected parliamentarians join those seeking to douse the flames of intolerance, or will they choose to leverage their newfound political clout to become more effective social arsonists?

Europe’s immigrants and minorities are deeply and understandably shocked by these developments, but none more so than the already embattled Jewish communities. 

Benjamin Albalas, head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, reacting to the election, told The Jerusalem Post that “a great number of European citizens seem to have forgotten what happened during the Holocaust and World War II. Racism and anti-Semitism are again hitting Europe,” he said. “It is time for immediate action.”

My colleague at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, warns that the elections could be “the beginning of a new and very dangerous era in which openly fascist and anti-Semitic parties might attain entree into government coalitions, which would significantly change the current constellation of political power in such a way that could seriously jeopardize the future of European Jewish communities.”

What is happening in Europe is not only a loss of hope, but a loss of memory: about World War II, about the Holocaust, and about the dangers of totalitarian movements of both the left and right that dragged Europe down into a long, 20th-century twilight of the soul. Many of the younger generation have never been taught, and many of the older generation — who should know better — have willfully chosen to forget.

And now, added to this already toxic mix, is the specter of European-born, battle-hardened Islamist extremists returning to the Continent to attack soft Jewish targets.

Europe was home to 10.5 million Jews in 1914; today, there are 1.5 million. A Europe incapable of or unwilling to defeat Islamist terrorism; to address head-on resurgent anti-Semitism; and a Continent bereft of a coherent, inclusive democratic culture will soon have no room for even these few Jews who remain. That’s why, from Scandinavia to Western Europe, from Hungary to Ukraine, dramas are unfolding in Jewish homes, as families contemplate voting with their feet, relocating to Israel, the United States or “anywhere but here.”


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Florida man pleads guilty to attempting to join al Qaeda group


A 20-year-old Florida man pleaded guilty on Wednesday to conspiring to travel to the Middle East to join an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group and receive military training as part of a holy war, or jihad.

Shelton Thomas Bell admitted he recruited an unnamed juvenile and the two flew to the Middle East in 2012 with the intention of joining the Ansar al-Sharia group, according to his plea agreement.

The two traveled to Amman, Jordan, in an effort to reach Yemen but were deported by Jordan to the United States.

“If you ask me if was going for jihad in Yemen, I say yes,” Bell told federal agents when he returned, according to a statement from prosecutors.

Bell faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. In the plea deal, the federal prosecutors offered to recommend a lighter sentence to the judge because Bell took responsibility for his actions.

Justice Department spokesman William Daniel said he did not know details of what the sentence recommendation might be. No date has been set for sentencing.

According to prosecutors, Bell devised a plan to travel to Yemen to join Ansar al-Sharia, a group that swears allegiance to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the United States regards as one of the most dangerous militant groups in the Middle East.

Before traveling overseas, Bell, the juvenile and another unnamed individual participated in their own version of combat training for two months in Jacksonville, prosecutors said.

Bell inspired the group with the call of Al Qaeda spokesperson, Anwar al-Awlaki, for all young people to go to Yemen “take up the fight.” Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

According to prosecutors, Bell and the two individiuals watched Awlaki videos, looked at pictures of dead Muslims and went on a nighttime “jihadi training mission” to destroy religious statues in a non-denominational cemetery in Jacksonville.

Other training missions took place on a gun range and involved the burning of an American flag.

Bell and the juvenile departed in September 2012 for Yemen by way of Poland and Israel, which deported them back to Poland.

From there, they flew to Jordan and bought airline tickets to Oman with the intention of walking across the border to Yemen, but were stopped by Jordanian officials, prosecutors said.

Reporting by Barbara Liston; Editing by Kevin Gray and Andrew Hay

Al-Qaeda cell arrested in plot to attack U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv


An al-Qaeda cell suspected of planning several terror attacks in Israel, including on the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, was arrested.

A gag order on the three arrests made several weeks ago by Israel’s Shin Bet security service was lifted Wednesday by the Jerusalem Magistrate Court.

Two of the alleged terrorists are from the West Bank; the third is from eastern Jerusalem. They reportedly were planning at least two major attacks, including a suicide bombing and a truck bombing. The other target was the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.

According to reports, the cell also considered bombing a Jerusalem-area bus and kidnapping a soldier in Jerusalem. One of the terrorists reportedly received computer files containing virtual training courses on bomb manufacturing.

The cell’s operator was based in Gaza and reportedly received his orders directly from al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri.

The Shin Bet said that the men were recruited and received their orders on Skype and Facebook. None of the suspects had a previous record of terrorist activities.

Israel says it kills three Qaeda-linked militants in West Bank


Israeli security officials said their forces killed three Palestinian militants on Tuesday who were part of an al Qaeda-linked network in the West Bank.

An official from the Shin Bet security agency said it had learned from a number of earlier arrests that the network was planning attacks in the coming days against Israeli targets and against the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

Two men were killed when they opened fire on officers trying to arrest them in the area of the city of Hebron, the official said. A number of explosive devices and two guns were found in their vehicle, the official added.

The Israeli military said a third militant was killed in a gunfight after the initial clash.

Palestinian security officials confirmed that three men had been killed but were unsure of their affiliation.

Al Qaeda-inspired groups have a small presence in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, but are less common in the occupied West Bank, which is policed by Israeli and Palestinian Authority forces.

The Shin Bet official said the militant network had set up a safe house in the territory and was stockpiling weapons.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Dan Williams, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Andrew Heavens