Daily Archives: June 6, 2017

British Police Name Third London Attacker

British authorities have named the third attacker in last week’s terror attack in London as Youssef Zaghba, believed to be an Italian national of Moroccan descent.

Police said Zaghba, 22, was from east London and had not been a “subject of interest” to police or the domestic security agency MI5.

British authorities have named the third attacker in last week’s terror attack in London as Youssef Zaghba, believed to be an Italian national of Moroccan descent.

Police said Zaghba, 22, was from east London and had not been a “subject of interest” to police or the domestic security agency MI5.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Ghani to Allow Taliban Office if Afghan Peace Progresses

ISLAMABAD � Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has again invited the Taliban to peace talks at a mutually agreeable venue, promising the insurgents they eventually will be allowed to open a representative office if significant progress is made.

Ghani made the offer while addressing a peace conference he convened Tuesday in Kabul of regional and international partners to discuss ways to end the deadly conflict in Afghanistan and boost cooperation to counter the Islamic State-led emerging regional threat of terrorism.

We would accept that the location for peace talks can be anywhere that is mutually agreeable, whether it be in Kabul where we would provide guarantees or elsewhere. If there is agreement to develop a peace roadmap acceptable to both sides, we would allow Taliban groups to open a representative office so that both sides can meet in safety, said Ghani.

The conference – named the “Kabul Process on Peace and Security Cooperation” � was attended by representatives from 26 countries and international organizations. It took place as the turmoil-hit nation witnesses some of the worst terrorist attacks in years and unprecedented Taliban battlefield advances since 2001.

A powerful bomb went off at a main mosque in the western city of Herat on Tuesday, killing at least 10 people and wounding many more, Afghan officials said. There were no immediate claims of responsibility and a Taliban spokesman denied its involvement.

On May 31, a massive truck bombing of the Afghan capital’s diplomatic section killed more than 150 people and injured hundreds of others, including foreigners.

The Taliban said it had nothing to do with the blast, the deadliest attack in the 16-year-old conflict.

‘Offering a chance for peace’

While offering peace talks to the Islamist insurgency, Ghani reiterated his preconditions, including recognition of the Afghan constitution, continuity of the reforms of educating and advancing the rights of women, and renunciation of violence and linkages with terrorist groups.

We are offering a chance for peace but we must also be clear that this is not an open-ended opportunity, Ghani said.

The Taliban unofficially maintains its “political office” in Qatar, but Kabul does not recognize it and has been pushing Qatari authorities to close it down.

A Taliban spokesman rejected Ghani’s latest offer of a peace dialogue and denounced Tuesday’s Kabul gathering as another attempt to “endorse and prolong foreign occupation of Afghanistan.

The Kabul administration wants peace talks only for the Taliban to surrender but this fake process will never succeed, said Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement sent to media, including VOA.

He asserted that the Taliban, and Afghans in general, would welcome any peace conference that is organized for ending the occupation” of their country because all other gatherings would be futile and unproductive.

Ghani, in his speech, also underscored the urgency of resolving the conflict, saying Taliban-sponsored terrorism is attracting terrorists linked to Syria-based Islamic State to find refuge in Afghanistan.

Pakistan criticized

Global terror has targeted Afghanistan Best estimates show an increase from 200 to 11,000 [IS-linked] foreign fighters over the past four years, Ghani noted.

The U.S. military, however, estimated the number of IS loyalists in Afghanistan stood at about 3,000 at the group’s peak two years ago, but sustained counterterrorism operations have since reduced the number to fewer than 800, according to American military officials.

Ghani again criticized neighboring Pakistan for a lack of cooperation in promoting Afghan peace. Afghan officials allege that Taliban insurgents are using sanctuaries on Pakistani soil to wage the insurgency.

The Afghan spy agency blamed the Haqqani network, a Taliban ally, for conducting the May 31 attack in Kabul with the direct support of the Pakistani intelligence agency.

Authorities in Pakistan have strongly rejected what they say are baseless allegations and part of a malicious agenda to damage renewed efforts Islamabad has been making to improve bilateral ties and enhance cooperation to fight terrorism.

After a special meeting of top commanders Tuesday, the Pakistani military pledged to continue its cooperation with Afghanistan in fighting terrorism and militancy.

The forum took exception to the unwarranted accusations and threats against Pakistan in the aftermath of the Kabul blast. The forum also concluded that instead of blaming Pakistan, Afghanistan needs to look inward and identify the real issues, said a statement issued after the meeting.

Source: Voice of America

London Attackers Were Failed Clerk, Pastry Chef and Italian Man

LONDON � Details emerged Tuesday of the three London Bridge attackers: a Pakistan-born failed customer service clerk with links to one of Europe’s most prolific hate preachers, a Moroccan pastry chef whose partner said he once went swimming rather than see his daughter and an Italian national who told authorities he “wanted to be a terrorist.”

At least two of the men were known to British intelligence and law enforcement officials, raising questions about whether anything could have been done to stop the attack, which began Saturday when the men drove a rented van into a crowd and then leaped out to stab people who crossed their paths. Seven were killed and nearly 50 wounded. All three of the attackers were shot dead by police.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was fair to ask how the attackers “slipped through our net.”

Security has become a key issue in the run-up to Thursday’s general election. British security officials said none of the men was considered violent, but they acknowledged the difficulty of predicting whether extremists will turn dangerous. The assault was the third attack in three months in which most of the assailants had been on authorities’ radar at some point.

As the investigation expanded to look at how the men knew one another and whether they were part of a larger conspiracy, Pakistani intelligence authorities swooped Tuesday into the town of Jhelum, where Khurum Butt lived until the time he was 7, when he moved to Britain. His cousin, 18-year-old Bilal Dar, told The Associated Press that Butt’s uncle was taken in for questioning. It was unclear if he was detained.

“Our family is hurt by what he did,” Dar said in the town about two hours east of Pakistan’s capital. “This has destroyed our family’s pride.”

Butt, 27, embraced radical Islam during his time in London and was once filmed in a documentary called “The Jihadis Next Door.” In the film, he was seen with a group unfurling a black-and-white flag associated with the Islamic State group. The men were followers of Anjem Choudary, a preacher who was jailed for his support of the Islamic State and who once praised the Sept. 11 attackers.

It is thought that Choudary played a key role in Butt’s radicalization, according to a British government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the ongoing investigation. Choudary’s now-banned al-Muhajiroun group was linked to one of Butt’s alleged connections, Sajeel Shahid, according to the British government official who again spoke on condition of anonymity.

Shadid allegedly provided al-Qaida terror training to Mohammed Siddique Khan, one of the four suicide bombers who killed 52 people during London’s morning rush hour in 2005. He was also accused of training other terror suspects in Britain.

During his time in Britain, Butt once worked for Transport of London as a customer service clerk but failed his probation after a few months on the job. He also worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken and used a gym in east London. In his spare time, he tried to recruit followers to the Islamic State group � a practice that prompted a neighbor to report him to the police in 2015.

He was one of about 3,000 suspects who were known to British authorities but not part of 500 active investigations.

“The problem occurs when we know someone is moving in extremist circles but we don’t have evidence to indicate that they are plotting an attack,” said the British government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “That’s where the question of resources comes into play.”

Police identified the second attacker as 30-year-old Rachid Redouane, also known as Rachid Elkhdar, who claimed to have both Moroccan and Libyan roots and worked as a pastry chef in Ireland, where he had lived in the past five years as well the east London suburb of Dagenham.

He married a British woman named Charisse O’Leary, who posted on Facebook last month that Redouane was negligent in seeing their young daughter and on one planned visit, she said he told her: “I’m going swimming.” The couple is thought to have split. O’Leary was one of 13 people arrested after Saturday’s attacks. Twelve were later released. One man is still being held.

Redouane was never under surveillance by Irish authorities, and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald urged caution in speculating about his movements.

The third attacker was identified as Youssef Zaghba, a 22-year-old Italian national of Moroccan descent who was reportedly working in a London restaurant.

An Italian prosecutor says Zaghba told authorities after being stopped last year at Bologna’s airport that he “wanted to be a terrorist,” but then quickly corrected himself.

There was not enough evidence to arrest or charge Zaghba when authorities questioned him at the Marconi airport on March 15, 2016, Bologna prosecutor Giuseppe Amato said Tuesday. Amato told Italy’s Radio 24 that Zaghba was flagged to British authorities as a “possible suspect.”

Zaghba was stopped while trying to take a flight to Turkey on his way to Syria, Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported Tuesday.

After that, Amato said, any time Zaghba was in Italy, he was always tracked by Italian intelligence officers.

“We did everything we could have done,” he said. “But there weren’t elements of proof that he was a terrorist. He was someone who was suspicious because of his way of behaving.”

Italy has expelled nearly 50 people in the past two years who were suspected of extremist activities but for whom there was insufficient evidence to bring formal charges. Zaghba’s Italian citizenship prevented such an expulsion, Italian daily Republica reported.

His mother said her son used to show her videos of Syria and wanted to go “because it was a place where you could live according to a pure Islam.”

Valeria Collina was quoted by Italian weekly news magazine L’Espresso as saying she last spoke to her son Thursday and now realizes it was a goodbye call. She said she tried to keep him away from radical friends, but “he had the internet and from there he got everything.”

Prime Minister Theresa May, who called the snap election in hopes of strengthening her mandate for discussions over Britain’s exit from the European Union, has come under fire for the cuts to police numbers in recent years. A string of opinion polls over the past couple of weeks have pointed to a narrowing in the gap between her Conservative Party and the main opposition Labour Party.

The number of police officers in England and Wales fell by almost 20,000 between 2010 and 2016 � years when May, as home secretary, was in charge of policing.

The country’s official terror threat level remains at “severe,” one notch below the highest.

Associated Press writers Danica Kirka, Jill Lawless and Gregory Katz in London contributed to this report. Paolo Santalucia and Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome and Kathy Gannon from Pakistan.

This story has been corrected to show that one attacker used an east London gym but did not work there.

Source: Voice of America

Iran, Pakistan Crucial to al-Qaida’s Long-term Success

WASHINGTON � For many, the whereabouts and machinations of al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks until his death remain shrouded in mystery.

The terror mastermind had been on the run, trying to evade U.S. forces, while al-Qaida itself was in a period of disarray.

Yet even as U.S. Navy SEALs burst into bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011 and killed him, things already had begun to change with the help of officials in Iran and Pakistan.

“It’s a very, very crucial period that always has been overlooked and misunderstood,” said Catherine Scott-Clark, co-author of the new book The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida in Flight.

There have been some prior insights into bin Laden and al-Qaida during his years on the run, including the release by U.S. intelligence of three tranches of documentsrecovered from the Abbottabad complex. But many more remain classified.

Those documents, according to U.S. officials, give insights into a paranoid jihadist, hoping to prevent al-Qaida from falling apart.

“The movement is nothing like unified. It disagrees with itself all the time,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said of the second set of declassified documents, most of which date from 2009 to 2011. “You got to see the mess it was behind the scenes.”

But Scott-Clark and co-author Adrian Levy tell a more nuanced story of bin Laden’s exploits, relying on testimony from his family, his deputies, his spiritual adviser, and others with links to the al-Qaida network.

“He was active and ambitious and happy that al-Qaida was on the up and coming back, and money was flowing through and the affiliates were kind of getting under control and doing what he wanted them to do,” Scott-Clark told VOA following a discussion Monday at the Brookings Institution. “Things were continuing. It was business as usual.”

Scott-Clark attributes much of that success to alliances bin Laden had forged with some current and former officials in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, although she emphasized that key officials were kept in the dark.

Pakistani authorities have denied that any officials had any knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts. Scott-Clark said that the information was closely held.

“Not everyone has the same level of knowledge and people did not share information,” she said. “If you look at the fallout after the killing [of bin Laden] and the way that the army and the ISI reacted by just shutting everything down, they were as shocked as everybody else.”

Perhaps more important, bin Laden and al-Qaida got a boost from Iran � an unlikely ally that kept several family members, including some of his wives and his son, Hamza, as well as key members of al-Qaida’s Shura, or ruling council, held at a Quds force training compound in Tehran.

After an offer was reportedly rebuffed to hand over the family and al-Qaida leaders to the U.S. or other Western nations in exchange for an easing of sanctions, Tehran took a more proactive approach and “negotiated with al-Qaida to mutual benefit.”

“It was a fraught relationship, from the people who were in Iran from al-Qaida that I interviewed,” Scott-Clark said. “It went up and down all the time, and there was complete mutual distrust on both sides for the whole time that they were there.”

But both sides, she said, were able to get some of what they wanted. Iran was able to use al-Qaida and al-Qaida in Iraq � the forerunner of Islamic State � to create problems for U.S. forces in Iraq. And bin Laden and al-Qaida were able to reinvigorate the group’s networks, setting up a comeback that has yet to abate.

“They were able to re-establish a funding pipeline through Iran which still exists today,” Scott-Clark said. “These days, the money comes from Kuwait and Qatar and goes to Syria and Iraq. A lot of it used to go to Pakistan.”

Yet divisions with al-Qaida remained.

Bin Laden, enamored by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, wanted “to fight a physical war. He wanted the bigger bangs,” according to Scott-Clark.

That vision seems to have died with bin Laden, Scott-Clark says, and was replaced by that of his former deputy and current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who sees al-Qaida as a means for inspiration.

“I don’t think al-Qaida Central is going to carry out a sort of coordinated home-based mass attack. I think those days are gone,” she said. “It’s all about PR [public relations].”

Source: Voice of America

CPEC, stable macroeconomic environment to spur private investment in Pakistan: WB

The World Bank says successful completion of an IMF-supported program has helped achieve macroeconomic stability in the country.

According to the World Bank’s June 2017 Global Economic Prospects, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and a stable macroeconomic environment will give a spur to private investment in Pakistan.

It said favorable weather and increased cotton prices are supporting agriculture produce.

The report says Pakistan’s growth is expected to be 5.7 percent s during the current financial year.

Source: Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage

Third London Attacker Named as British PM Faces Mounting Criticism

LONDON � British Prime Minister Theresa May is being forced to defend her past record as the country’s interior minister, and the political architect of Britain’s counter-terror system, as more details emerge of the three attackers and what security agencies knew about them before their van-and-knife rampage Saturday in the heart of London.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote in a snap post-Brexit parliamentary election, which May called with the expectation of securing a landslide victory, the terror attack is undermining the air of dogged competence May carefully crafted as the country’s home secretary, a post she held for six years and relinquished on becoming prime minister last year.

Foreign Minister Boris Johnson conceded Tuesday that there were questions to answer about how the three militants slipped through the intelligence net. He was speaking as police named the third attacker as 22-year-old Italian-Moroccan Youssef Zaghba, who was on an Italian watchlist and suspected of being a foreign fighter.

Born in Fez, Morocco, in 1995 to an Italian mother and a Moroccan father, Zaghba was stopped by Italian police at the Bologna airport on March 15 of last year after arousing suspicions he was going to join the Islamic State terror group to fight in Syria.

Italian officials say he had a one-way ticket to Istanbul and was carrying just a small backpack. His cell phone, which was seized, contained jihadist content, including pictures and videos, and he was placed on a watchlist as a suspected foreign fighter. Italian officials say they shared intelligence on him with both the British and Moroccan security agencies.

Lived in Britain

The last few years Zaghba lived in Britain, where he worked on and off at a restaurant and a hotel near Regents Park, traveling back and forth to visit his mother, who lives in Bologna.

The naming of the third Islamic militant came after it emerged earlier Tuesday that the ringleader of Saturday’s attack, 27-year-old British-Pakistani Khuram Shazad Butt worked for a man accused of helping to train the Islamic extremists responsible for the July 7, 2005 underground train bombings in London, Britain’s first Islamist suicide attack. Fifty-two people were killed across Britain’s capital in the coordinated strike and more than 700 others were injured.

Counterterror analysts say they are surprised that Butt remained a “low priority” for the security services despite his close connections to Sajeel Shahid, a 41-year-old who ran an all-Muslin gym in east London and was named in a New York court case as having helped to set up weapons training in Pakistan for the July 7 suicide bombers.

It was a blunder to have downgraded the terror threat in Britain so quickly after the Manchester bombing, said Olivier Guitta, managing director at GlobalStrat, a security and geopolitical risk firm. He says with election campaigning under way coinciding with Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, the chances of attacks were always high.

Guitta, who has advised government in the past on counterterrorism, said, No one should be surprised by the terrorism wave and which is linked to a policy of laissez-faire policy toward extremists.

The main charge leveled against May by Labour politicians and the leaders of the country’s smaller parties is the large cuts she introduced on funding for Britain’s police. Those cuts resulted in police personnel being drawn down from 2010 to 2016 by more than 20,000 officers.

Uncertain election impact

On Monday, the opposition parties received support for their criticism from an unlikely quarter. Conservative insider Steve Hilton, the policy guru of former Prime Minister David Cameron, demanded May resign over what he termed security failures, which he said led to Saturday’s attack and the bombing of a concert last month in Manchester.

He said May should be resigning, not seeking re-election.

Pollsters are wary of predicting how the terrorist attacks � three in the past 10 weeks � will impact the voting on Thursday, but Labour leaders say they have renewed hope at the very least of reducing the ruling Conservative’s majority as they seek to recast their campaign message in the final hours before voting as investment versus cuts.

On Sunday, May promised to review Britain’s counterterrorism strategy, holding out the prospect of enhanced powers for the security services and longer prison sentences for extremists. May said she wants to take a tougher line with internet providers and social media businesses that allow extremist material on their sites.

She warned there has been far too much tolerance of extremism in Britain and promised to step up the fight against Islamist terrorism after the London Bridge attack, saying enough is enough.

British counterterror chiefs say that while Butt was investigated in 2015, he was deemed a low risk. According to Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Rowley, he had seen nothing to show that a poor decision has been made in 2015 and that police had no evidence Butt was planning anything.

Police, however, confirm they received several warnings from neighbors and associates about Butt.

British police and MI5 set up in 2013 an early warning system, known as Project Danube, to help them spot when low-priority suspects might be re-engaging in violent extremism. That program appears to have failed, say critics, as it did not help them identify Khalid Masood, the militant responsible for the Westminster Bridge attack in March that killed five people. Nor did it alert them to the Manchester Arena bomber, British-Libyan Salman Abedi.

Source: Voice of America