Archive for category Terrorism
Drone Kills Top Al Qaeda Figure
By HAKIM ALMASMARI in San’a, Yemen, MARGARET COKER in Abu Dhabi and SIOBHAN GORMAN in Washington
The U.S. ushered in a new CIA-led counterterrorism program in Yemen on Friday, sending unmanned aircraft to kill an American-born cleric who occupied a top place on the U.S.’s anti-terrorist list.
The death of Anwar al-Awlaki eliminates a leading figure in Yemen’s branch of al Qaeda and one of its most charismatic recruiters. A Web-savvy Islamic preacher with sparkling English, Mr. Awlaki was known for his ability to couch extremist views in ways that appealed to Western youth. He had been linked to suspects in the 2009 Fort Hood, Texas, shooting spree and the botched bombing of a Detroit-bound jet that Christmas.
The strike marked another significant blow to the global terrorist group after the killing of Osama bin Laden earlier this year. It also highlights a conundrum about continued joint antiterror operations with the Yemenis: U.S. officials have publicly called for embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to accede to the demands of an eight-month-old pro-democracy protest movement and step down from power, but counterterrorism operations are led by close Saleh relatives.
Mr. Awlaki, who had been on the run for months in Yemen’s remote tribal regions, was killed at approximately 9:55 a.m. local time outside a village in the northeastern province of Jawf, a Yemeni official said.
At least four people were killed in the operation, Yemeni officials said. These included a second American, Samir Kahn, who was an editor and illustrator for “Inspire,” the online magazine of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
On Saturday, the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert saying that the killing of Mr. al-Awlaki has raised the risk of anti-American violence worldwide.
The strike represented the first test of a new covert CIA drone program in Yemen, an effort that works closely with military Special Operations forces, officials said, blurring the lines between military and intelligence operations. CIA-controlled drones carried out the strike, a U.S. official said, but other military attack “platforms,” presumably aircraft, also were nearby and were prepared to take action if needed.
The Hunt for Al Qaeda
The death of Anwar al-Awlaki, one of the U.S.’s most-wanted terrorists, is the latest blow to al Qaeda’s leadership. See who’s still at large, and take a look back.
Both U.S. and Yemeni officials characterized the operation as a joint U.S.-Yemeni effort. The key tip that led to the strike on Mr. Awlaki came from Yemeni intelligence, according to U.S. officials.
The operation raises questions about the continued tenure of Mr. Saleh. The U.S., in large part, has funded and trained Yemen’s counterterrorism forces. As Mr. Saleh has battled to stay in power this year, his son and nephews, who command these counterterrorism forces, have lobbied their U.S. counterparts to remain in position as the best guarantor of robust action against Al Qaeda threats.
U.S. officials attribute the increase in Yemeni cooperation in part to Mr. Saleh’s desire to curry U.S. favor as he seeks to stay in power. It also reflects Mr. Saleh’s realization that AQAP was starting to seize territory and therefore posed a more serious threat to his regime.
The White House said Friday that the operation in no way changed the U.S. call from Mr. Saleh to step down immediately.
“Our cooperation with Yemen and with civilian-military intelligence counterparts in Yemen is … not limited to one person and it has never been about one person,” said Press Secretary Jay Carney. “It’s been about a partnership around the goal of dealing with a threat.”
Mr. Awlaki isn’t the first American killed in a drone strike in Yemen. In November 2002, a Predator drone fired a Hellfire missile at a SUV carrying an al Qaeda lieutenant, Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, accused of helping plot the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.
Among the six people killed in that strike was an American named Kamal Derwish. Mr. Derwish, however, wasn’t the primary target in the strike and wasn’t considered a leading militant figure.
Within the Yemeni al Qaeda branch, Mr. Awlaki played a leadership role in foreign operations but had a limited role in the group’s local activities, according to AQAP members and Yemeni officials. The military leader of AQAP who directs local and regional operations against Saudi Arabia and Western targets in Yemen remains at large.
Mr. Awlaki was instrumental in recruiting foreign volunteers who have helped transform the group’s local and regional reach into a threat for Western countries. The loss of an al Qaeda operative fluent not just in English but also in American culture stands to hamper the group’s efforts to inspire so-called homegrown terrorists to mount solo attacks in the U.S.
“His death deals a real blow to al Qaeda’s lone-wolf strategy,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University in Washington.
Mr. Awlaki, who ran mosques in the U.S. before leaving in 2002, has long been among the top U.S. targets in Yemen. He has been on the run in Yemen since 2009, when U.S. officials publicly linked him to multiple terrorist incidents in the U.S., including the Fort Hood shootings in which 13 people were killed, the Christmas 2009 plot to blow up a U.S.-bound passenger plane and a separate plan to blow up a U.S.-bound cargo plane.
He also was considered the inspiration behind Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad’s 2010 failed attempt to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square.
Military and intelligence operatives followed Mr. Awlaki for weeks before striking their target, whom they referred to internally as “Objective Troy.”
Details about Friday’s attack remain murky, but a senior Yemeni official said that Americans have been “directly” involved with tracking Mr. Awlaki around the country. They learned that he had moved to Jawf earlier this month, the official said. The area is near a historic smuggling route along a mountain range stretching the length of the country and located about 90 miles from the capital, San’a.
The U.S. narrowly missed him in a strike in May, when a U.S. drone fired on a vehicle in the southern Yemen province of Shebwa that the cleric had been driving in earlier that day. Since then, Mr. Awlaki moved hundreds of miles northeast, and earlier this month U.S. officials located him in the mountain range located in Jawf province, according to the Yemeni official.
Around daybreak Friday, Mr. Awlaki, Mr. Khan and a handful of fellow supporters set off in a multi-car convoy, say local residents and Yemeni officials.
The car carrying Mr. Awlaki and Mr. Khan was hit by a missile a few miles outside a mountainous village called Khashef, said Yemeni officials. Another vehicle was hit by a drone missile a few miles away across the border into Mareb province, according to several local residents who saw the strike and the charred hull of bodies and a Toyota pickup truck. A U.S. official said Mr. Awlaki was identified based on facial recognition rather than DNA testing. Though Yemeni government officials say that at least four people were killed, local residents said they saw five corpses. Local residents say there was no sign of soldiers in the vicinity of the missile strikes.
Man arrested in ‘step-by-step’ plot to blow up Capitol, Pentagon
Ferdaus allegedly gave the undercover FBI agents a detailed set of attack plans “with step-by-step instructions as to how he planned to attack the Pentagon and Capitol,” according to the Department of Justice.
The plans focused on the use of three small remote-controlled drone-like aircraft loaded with C-4 plastic explosives, which he planned to fly into the Capitol and the Pentagon using GPS equipment, according to the DOJ.
The DOJ stressed that the public was never in danger from the explosive devices, which it said were controlled at all times by undercover FBI officials who closely monitored Ferdaus as he allegedly developed his plot.
Libyan rebels besiege Qadhafi’s hometown
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | 9/25/11 7:33 AM EDT
SIRTE, Libya — Libya’s revolutionary fighters stepped up a siege of Muammar Qadhafi’s hometown on Sunday, hoping to wear down loyalist forces a day after an offensive failed to dislodge die-hard loyalists of the fugitive leader.
Anti-Qadhafi fighters set up new checkpoints and posted snipers in strategic areas on the outskirts of Sirte. But they said they were not planning another assault immediately after facing fierce resistance on Saturday that left seven of their comrades dead and more than 150 wounded.
“It’s unlikely we’ll attack today unless we are attacked,” said Aiman Majub, who helps coordinate revolutionary forces. “The idea is to catch our breath and regroup so we can be more strategic instead of blasting our way in.”
Saturday’s battle for downtown Sirte was the first significant push in a week and included close-range gunfights with loyalists hiding in apartment buildings and throwing hand grenades from windows. The fighters pushed east along the city’s main thoroughfare into its urban center, overrunning a TV station as NATO warplanes supporting anti-Qadhafi forces roared overhead.
Osama Nuttawa al-Swehli, a revolutionary logistics officer, said the goal on Sunday was to squeeze the city and prevent any former regime figures believed to be holed up inside from escaping. Al-Swehli said he has heard Qadhafi’s son Muatassim communicating by radio with loyalist forces inside Sirte.
“We have to make sure that no supplies get in and that none of their assets escape,” he said.
“The priority today is to hold our positions while pounding their targets,” he said, adding that they needed to take out loyalist rocket launchers before making another push to take the city.
He said that seven men were killed and 152 wounded, 17 seriously, in Saturday’s fighting. Four of those injured lost limbs and four others had serious head wounds, he said.
Sirte, 250 miles southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast, is the Libyan city most associated with Qadhafi and one of three strongholds that have refused to surrender more than a month after revolutionary forces seized Tripoli and much of the rest of the North African nation.
Revolutionary forces have been working to help civilians trying to flee the city amid rapidly deteriorating living conditions. Al-Swehli said he thinks most of the families who intend to flee have already left the city. It remains unclear how many civilians remain inside the city and if they are helping loyalist forces.
Remove anonymity in attacks by cyberbullies
By Peter V. Baugher
September 16, 2011
Anonymous bullying — deliberate, repeated and hostile behavior intended to harm others — is the dark side of Internet freedom. While most of us navigate the Net with little regard for its hazards, cyberbullying in the form of harassing emails, threats, sexual remarks, hate speech, false statements and ridicule routinely destroys reputations and lives.
The destruction is not limited to those who “deserve it.” Many of these assaults are from strangers who seem to target their victims randomly and without reason.
After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, a person with the username KenZZ03 advertised “Naughty Oklahoma T-shirts” on an AOL bulletin board with slogans such as “Visit Oklahoma . . . It’s a BLAST!” and “McVeigh for President.” The post said customers should call “Ken” at Kenneth Zeran’s home phone number.
Zeran knew nothing about the ad — until he was deluged with angry calls and death threats. AOL delayed in removing the offending posts, and refused to retract those messages or screen for similar future postings. A radio station picked up the story, and Zeran’s woes multiplied.
Finally, he sued AOL. But the identity of the poster was never disclosed, and his case was ultimately dismissed when the court ruled that as an Internet service provider, AOL was immune from liability under federal law.
About to begin law school several years ago, Brittan Heller learned that she had become the subject of a message thread “Stupid Bitch to Attend Yale Law” on a website hosting discussions among law students, professors and lawyers. Heller had never heard of the site, which allowed people to write under fictitious names and promised not to keep poster addresses so they could not be traced.
The thread caught on, with new posts falsely claiming Heller had bribed her way into law school and was having a lesbian affair with one of the school’s administrators. These posts went to the top of Heller’s Google index, she was shut out of summer jobs and she later was hospitalized.
When neither Google nor the website would delete the diatribes against her, she filed suit. Much of the legal challenge was finding out who had been defaming her. Yet even after she had successfully settled the litigation, crude new excoriating posts pursued her to her post-graduation job in a legal education project in Afghanistan.
Think it can’t happen to you? Think again. Neither Zeran nor Heller had done anything to cause the Internet calamities inflicted on them. Their attackers did not know them or have any reason to target them specifically. They were singled out as a predator targets its prey.
While abusive behavior is not new, the old problem of schoolyard bullies is magnified exponentially by the speed, pervasiveness and longevity of Internet communications. And effective recourse is nearly nonexistent. Host organizations routinely deny any responsibility for postings, and they have been granted immunity from legal liability for what is written on their sites. They rarely invoke their “terms of service” agreements to impose standards on that traffic. Controversy increases readership.
Physical bullies can be confronted directly; electronic bullies are frequently anonymous, lobbing brickbats from websites with unnamed hosts, using pseudonyms, blogging comments that are unsigned or falsely attributed to others.
The ability to attack anonymously encourages anti-social behavior. Neither our laws nor our social norms have kept up.
Most states have criminal statutes covering both offline and online stalking and harassment, but these are of little practical use to the average victim of cyberbullying. In Illinois, a person is guilty of cyberharassment when he uses electronic media to threaten the victim or family members of the victim with bodily harm, sexual assault or confinement, or places the victim or the family members in reasonable fear of such threats.
In fact, scarce government resources are rarely available to safeguard social communications.
A defamation lawsuit could provide a remedy. But expressions of opinion, no matter how insulting, are protected by the First Amendment. And statements that are substantially true are not defamatory, even if they are dramatically derogatory.
Defamation defendants may have few assets with little to lose financially, making even successful suits uneconomic.
Defamation and other tort remedies all entail slow and costly lawsuits in an already cumbersome system. Sending more work to courts is not the answer. The legal burden for the victim is heavy and increased when the harasser’s identity is hidden. Faced with unknown attackers, victims are forced to undertake multistage lawsuits that often spawn their own satellite First Amendment litigation. Few people have the legal knowledge, financial capacity and persistence for a private suit to be effective.
Decoupling responsibility from the constraint of identity makes any solution more difficult and expensive. Worse, the harmful effect of these cloaked attacks is compounded by the viral, anonymous “mob” nature of online invective.
We need a new legislative approach. The absolute immunity enjoyed by online service providers needs to be qualified. At the request of a user, service providers should be required to give anonymous posters a firm choice: agree to reveal who they are (to accept responsibility for their posts in their own names) or their posts will be taken down.
Through this simple mechanism, an alleged victim can either have the abusive information removed or discover the identity of the harasser. This will minimize for service providers, courts and disputants both the need for making judgments about the legal propriety of posted information and the uncertainty and costs those judgments entail. It will also develop new expectations for online personal exchanges, which should occur openly in our own names with accompanying self-restraint. Challenged posts would be short-lived or the author’s identity would be exposed, subjecting cyberbullies to social sanctions and legal remedies.
By rebalancing consequences for anonymous online speech, the law will dissuade abuses without sacrificing the vitality of robust speech.
Peter V. Baugher is a partner at Schopf & Weiss, a Chicago business litigation firm.