Secret Papers Describe Size of Terror Lists Kept by U.S.

August 6, 2014

WASHINGTON — About 20,800 United States citizens and permanent residents are included in a federal government database of people suspected of having links to terrorism, of whom about 5,000 have been placed on one or more watch lists, newly disclosed documents show.

The documents are briefing materials about accomplishments in 2013 by the Directorate of Terrorist Identities, a component of the National Counterterrorism Center, an interagency clearinghouse of information about people known to be or suspected of being terrorists.

The documents were classified Secret and were published Tuesday by The Intercept, an online magazine. The disclosure provided new details about the numbers of people within the broad database and on terrorist watch lists derived from it — a system that has grown rapidly over the last four years, according to government officials.

Over all, the number of people listed in the center’s database of terrorism suspects surpassed one million in June 2013, the documents said. Of those, approximately 680,000 were on the watch lists, which can keep people off planes or from entering the country and subject them to extra scrutiny at airports, traffic stops or border crossings.

Among other things, the documents showed that the main terrorism suspects database contains records on 8,211 people who are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based affiliate of Al Qaeda that intelligence officials have said is the most dangerous component of the group at present.

A map associated with the files ranked the top five cities where Americans who have been deemed “known or suspected terrorists” are concentrated. Four are large cities: New York, Houston, San Diego and Chicago. But the second-highest was Dearborn, Mich., a city of fewer than 100,000 people that has a large Arab and Muslim population.

Much of the document relates to efforts to fill in missing data. After the April 2013 attack at the Boston Marathon, the National Counterterrorism Center set out to fill gaps involving biometric markers like fingerprints of the Americans on various watch lists, adding facial images for 370 people and fingerprints for 163. It obtained the information from driver’s license images and from the Department of Homeland Security, it said.

The center also used “clandestinely collected travel data” provided by the C.I.A. to fill in gaps about international travel of people in the database, it said.

US: Terrorism Prosecutions Often An Illusion [PDF DOWNLOAD]

July 21, 2014

DOWNLOAD FULL PDF REPORT: Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions

Investigations, Trials of American Muslims Rife with Abuse

(Washington, DC) –The US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive counterterrorism “sting operations” based on religious and ethnic identity, Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute said in a report released today. Many of the more than 500 terrorism-related cases prosecuted in US federal courts since September 11, 2001, have alienated the very communities that can help prevent terrorist crimes.

The 214-page report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,”examines 27 federal terrorism cases from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement. It documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as overly aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement.

“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report. “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”

The report is based on more than 215 interviews with people charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, members of their families and their communities, criminal defense attorneys, judges, current and former federal prosecutors, government officials, academics, and other experts.

In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act. Multiple studies have found that nearly 50 percent of the federal counterterrorism convictions since September 11, 2001, resulted from informant-based cases. Almost 30 percent were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot.

“The US government should stop treating American Muslims as terrorists-in-waiting,” Prasow said. “The bar on entrapment in US law is so high that it’s almost impossible for a terrorism suspect to prove. Add that to law enforcement preying on the particularly vulnerable, such as those with mental or intellectual disabilities, and the very poor, and you have a recipe for rampant human rights abuses.”

These abuses have had an adverse impact on American Muslim communities. The government’s tactics to seek out terrorism suspects, at times before the target has demonstrated any intention to use violence, has undercut parallel efforts to build relationships with American Muslim community leaders and groups that may be critical sources of information to prevent terrorist attacks.

In some communities, these practices have deterred interaction with law enforcement. Some Muslim community members said that fears of government surveillance and informant infiltration have meant they must watch what they say, to whom, and how often they attend services.

“Far from protecting Americans, including American Muslims, from the threat of terrorism, the policies documented in this report have diverted law enforcement from pursuing real threats,” Prasow said. “It is possible to protect people’s rights and also prosecute terrorists, which increases the chances of catching genuine criminals.”

Catalonia is the priority of the CNI (Intelligence Service) research on jihadist cells

July 17, 2014 

While ISIS militias continue their progress in Iraq and Syria, in Spain the fight against jihadist cells is intensified especially in Catalonia which is considered  by the intelligence Service, the hottest spot for jihadism.

CNI is  searching the area for cells that may be ready to send mujahideen to Iraq and Syria.

Right now, Spain is on level 2 for Islamist attack risk – “probable risk of attack” – coinciding with the campaign of Iraq and Syria and the ‘Crossing the Straits’ (Paso del Estrecho) operation.

Lawsuit Contends Surveillance Database Is Too Lax on Reporting Criteria

July 11, 2014

WASHINGTON — Intent on not overlooking clues about any terrorist plots after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government spread a now-familiar slogan: “If you see something, say something.” Less visibly, it built a national database to better harness reports of suspicious activity in the hunt for terrorists.

On Thursday, five California men opened a legal front over the recurring tensions between collective security measures and individual rights by filing a lawsuit that challenges the Suspicious Activity Reporting database. They contend that it is too easy for people engaged in innocuous activities to be put into the database and scrutinized as if they were a threat.

The plaintiffs include two white photographers who were confronted by security guards at a natural gas tank and by the police at a refinery; an Egyptian-American who tried to buy a large number of computers at a Best Buy store; a Pakistani-American who was looking around in a train station with his mother, who wore a Muslim head scarf; and a white Muslim convert who was looking at a flight simulator game on the Internet.

Each contends that he was added to the database for his behavior, although only two, according to previously disclosed government documents, have been able to prove it. The lawsuit argues that federal standards are too lax in allowing a security guard’s or a police officer’s report to be uploaded into the national database.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to the lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco. The suit was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, working with lawyers for the law firm Bingham McCutchen.

The lawsuit also contends that the system can lend itself to racial profiling. It points to reports involving plaintiffs like Khaled Ibrahim, an American citizen of Egyptian descent who lives in San Jose, Calif. The suit said that he worked as a purchasing agent for a computer consulting and service company and that “on several occasions” in 2011 tried to buy a large number of computers for the firm at a Best Buy store, which told him it did not sell computers in bulk.

Update: Coverage of Dutch Citizens’ Traveling to Fight in Syria

July 7, 2014

The head of the Hague-based International Centre for Counter-Terrorism has recommended that the Dutch security service provide more information to local authorities and civil servants, increasing transparency to build trust within families and with authorities. He discourages the use of “tough talk” from politicians and families for its potential to intensify matters. The recommendations come as mayors of eight Dutch cities and three Belgian cities meet with the Dutch counter-terrorism service to discuss how to deal with citizens returning from Syria.

Also in the news, the Mayor of the Hague, Jozias van Aartsen, announced that seven people from the city have been killed in Syria. 33 people have travelled to Syria from the city so far: of them six have returned, four have been arrested, three minors have been prevented from travel and three passports have been confiscated.

And the Volkskrant has updated coverage on the 15 year old girl from the Netherlands who was stopped in Germany last month on her way to Syria, reporting she was one of four or five minors from the country planning to make the trip together. She is currently being questioned – police spokesman Thomas Aling notes, “She is not in a cell and she is not a suspect. She is a witness and has been given a lawyer via the child protection council.”

Spy watchdog: UK under threat from jihadi bomb makers with ‘devilish technical skill’

July 5, 2014

Britain faces a new attack from jihadi bomb makers with the skill to make explosive devices concealed in mobile phones and tablet computers, parliament’s intelligence watchdog says today.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, warns that the British public has grown complacent about the threat of a terrorist attack on UK soil and that the lack of vigilance is “seriously disturbing”. The former Foreign Secretary, who received a secret intelligence briefing on the latest transatlantic airline bomb plot, says he has “no doubt” that extra security searches at airports are necessary.

Having occupied large swathes of Iraq, the Islamic State (Isis) is also now in a position to fund the research and development of more technologically advanced bomb-making equipment.

This week, the Department of Homeland Security in Washington will issue guidance to airports across Europe asking that new security checks on flights heading to the US are implemented. It is likely to lead to more stringent checks on passengers at British airports and longer queues, coinciding with the summer holiday getaway.

Writing in today’s Sunday Telegraph, Sir Malcolm says that in his position as chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the parliamentary committee which oversees the secret operations of MI5 and MI6, he has been shown the evidence gathered by intelligence agencies which underpin a series of new security measures being introduced at British airports and across Europe.

His comments coincide with a stark warning made by Lord Carlile, the government’s former reviewer of terror legislation, who told The Sunday Telegraph that the Islamic State (Isis) now had funding on a par with a “large multinational corporation”. Lord Carlile said: “There is evidence Isis and its followers are capable of making much more sophisticated bombs. The step-change now is that Isis is very well-funded. The public needs to be aware this is a major terrorist organisation with funding comparable to a large multinational corporation and that they have the capacity to do research and make sophisticated bombs.” Lt Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, the former head of Britain’s Special Forces, writing for the Telegraph website, said it was imperative that the Home Office begin funding “novel science and security technologies” to combat ever more sophisticated bomb-making capabilities.

While intelligence about a growing terror threat against civilian airliners has been growing for some time, the decision to order increased checks was made in the past week. The latest terror alert was sparked by US intelligence picking up signals that al-Qaeda’s Yemeni and Syrian branches were colluding to try to bring down an aircraft.

Syria civil war: Hundreds of radicalised fighters are already back in the UK, warns former MI6 chief

June 22, 2014

Hundreds of veteran fighters from Syria and Iraq are already back in Britain, among them radicalised jihadists intent on mounting terror attacks. And British intelligence services face an “impossible” task in trying to track them, a leading security expert warned last night. The grim warning from Richard Barrett, the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, who spent more than a decade tracking the Taliban for the United Nations, comes amid escalating fears over the threat posed by returning foreign fighters from the twin conflicts. Mr Barrett estimated that “possibly up to 300 people have come back to the UK” already.

Further evidence of the British links with jihadists in Iraq emerged yesterday with confirmation that gap-year student Nasser Muthana, 20, from Cardiff, was one of a number of Britons who feature in a film posted online to recruit fighters. In the propaganda film, the medical student says: “Oh you who believe, answer the call of Allah and his messenger when he calls you …. What gives you life is jihad.” In the video, released by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), he speaks of the “brothers” he fights alongside. Two other men who claim to be British – along with two Australians – also feature in the film, titled: “There is no life without jihad.”

Mr Barrett is co-author of a new report, released this month, which states that the Syrian war “is likely to be an incubator for a new generation of terrorists” and reveals that more than 12,000 foreign fighters have gone to Syria since the war began. That is more than the 10,000 who went to Afghanistan during the decade-long jihad against Russian occupation. One in four foreign fighters in Syria is from the West – part of a global phenomenon, with fighters from more than 80 countries represented on the battlefield.

The report cites the importance in securing the support of the communities that fighters return to, both for “successful reintegration” and for “identifying them and sorting out which of them may pose the greatest threat”. Around 500 people from Britain have joined the ranks of Isis, and tracking British jihadists fighting in Syria is now the top priority for British intelligence, it emerged.

Bernard Cazeneuve presents his plan for “anti-jihad” law

July 9, 2014

Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve presented his “anti-jihad” bill that contains proposals to stop jihad, notably measures to prevent individuals from leaving France to fight in Syria even if they are over the age of 18. Such measures could affect over 200 individuals. The bill would “reinforce the provisions relating to the fight against terrorism.”

The law’s 18 articles include a sanction for up to six months that prohibits suspects from leaving French territory, which can be renewed by the state at will. The suspects could have their passports confiscated. To deter minors from leaving, parents can request that their child’s name be placed on a list that will be available to authorities throughout Europe. The law also proposes an addition to the penal code to include “the diffusion of provisions needed to construct engines of destruction.”

Other aspects of the law include an increased fight against terrorist sites on the Internet, including blocked access to such sites.

Spanish police conducting 368 investigations into Islamist terrorism

July 9, 2014

Right now there are 837 terrorism investigations underway in Spain, of which 368 involve Islamist groups, according to counter-terrorism sources.

The Interior Ministry considers that the risk of a new Islamist attack in Spain is “high,” and the government has activated a Level 2 alert because of the “probable risk of an attack.”

The main hubs of radical Islam activities are in Catalonia, the Mediterranean and the exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa. The greatest threat comes from local self-radicalized groups and lone wolves, who find inspiration in the idea of global jihad preached by Al Qaeda. But authorities are chiefly concerned about Islamist combatants returning home after fighting in Syria and Mali.

UK imams urge British Muslims to shun Syria and Iraq

July 4, 2014

More than 100 Islamic prayer-leaders from various denominations of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims have signed a letter calling on British Muslims not to travel to Iraq or Syria to fight.

“We urge the British Muslim communities to continue the generous and tireless efforts to support all of those affected by the crisis in Syria and unfolding events in Iraq, but to do so from the UK in a safe and responsible way,” said the open letter, released on Friday.

An estimated 500 British Muslims are believed to have taken up arms in Syria.

Britain has stepped up security at airports after U.S. officials said they were concerned that al Qaeda operatives in Syria and Yemen were developing bombs that could be smuggled onto planes.

Western officials are worried that the recent battlefield successes of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al Qaeda splinter group, have drawn a growing number of militants from America and Europe to the jihadist cause and they would have easy access to flights headed for U.S. cities.

“As we near the end of the first week of Ramadan our message is simple, we have come together to urge British Muslim communities not to fall prey to any form of sectarian divisions or social discord,” said Qari Mohammed Asim, an Islamic prayer leader in the northern English city of Leeds.