Saturday, June 4, 2011
Monday, November 22, 2010
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday he takes seriously al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's latest threat to carry out more inexpensive, small-scale attacks against American targets.
In the latest edition of its English-language, online magazine, Inspire, released early Sunday, the group said its attempt to bomb two U.S.-bound cargo planes last month cost only $4,200 to mount.
The al-Qaida branch wrote that the operation was intended to disrupt global air cargo systems and reflected a new strategy of low-cost attacks designed to inflict broad economic damage. The group said its main objective is not to maximize civilian casualties, but to threaten the aviation industry, which it described as "vital" for trade and transport between the U.S. and Europe.
In the new issue of Inspire, al-Qaida unveiled what it described as its "strategy of a thousand cuts" that will "bleed the enemy to death."
The magazine gave a detailed account of what it called "Operation Hemorrhage", in which toner cartridges packed with explosives were sent from Yemen's capital, Sana'a, to out-of-date addresses for two synagogues in the midwestern U.S. city of Chicago. The printers containing the cartridges were intercepted in Dubai and Britain.
Inspire listed the cost of the printers at $300 each, with additional expenses coming from two Nokia cell phones at $150 a piece, plus shipping and transportation costs.
The attack failed as a result of a tip from Saudi intelligence, which provided the tracking numbers for the parcels, sent via United Parcel Service and FedEx. But the al-Qaida magazine said the fear, disruption and added security costs caused by the packages made the operation a success.
The group mocked the notion that the plot was a failure, writing that it will "without a doubt it cost America and other Western countries" billions of dollars in new security measures.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
A week after authorities intercepted packages in Dubai and Britain that were bound for the U.S., al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula issued a statement taking credit for the plot and saying it would continue to strike American and Western interests. The group specifically said it would target civilian and cargo aircraft.
"We have struck three blows at your airplanes in a single year. And God willing, we will continue to strike our blows against American interests and the interests of America's allies," the group said in a message posted on a militant website.
The authenticity of Friday's claim could not be immediately verified. A U.S. intelligence official said authorities are not surprised to see this claim now.
U.S. officials have said all week that there were strong indications the plot originated with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a terror group that has become al-Qaida's most active franchise and has increasingly carried out attacks on Western targets.
Authorities in the U.S. and the UAE have said the Sept. 3 crash of the UPS plane in Dubai shortly after takeoff was caused by an onboard fire, but investigators are taking another look at the incident following the parcel bomb plot.
A security official in the UAE familiar with the investigations into the UPS cargo plane crash in Dubai and the mail bombs plot told The Associated Press Friday that there is no change in earlier findings and that the UPS crash in September was likely caused by an onboard fire and not by an explosive device.
"There was no explosion," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under standing UAE rules on disclosing security-related information.
A UPS spokesman, Norman Black, said his company had "no independent knowledge of this claim by al-Qaida," and noted that both UAE officials and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board officials have so far ruled out the possibility of a bomb as cause in the crash.
In its statement, al-Qaida's Yemeni offshoot said that it "downed the UPS airplane but because the enemy's media did not attribute the act to us, we kept silent about the operation until we could return the ball once more.
"We have done that, this time with two explosives, one of them sent via UPS, the other via FedEx."
It said that its "advanced explosives" give it "the opportunity to detonate (planes) in the air or after they have reached their final target, and they are designed to bypass all detection devices."
Both mail bombs were hidden inside computer printers and wired to detonators that used cell-phone technology and packed powdered PETN, a potent industrial explosive.
The message also directed a warning to Saudi Arabia, which was instrumental in passing along the key tip that led to the discovery of the bombs: "These explosives were directed at Jewish Zionist temples, and you intervened to protect them with your treason. God's curse on the oppressors."
Al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen grew strength after several key leaders escaped from a Yemeni jail in 2006. In 2009, it was further bolstered by a merger with Saudi al-Qaida militants to form al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
The group first made a stunning show of its international reach in December, when it allegedly plotted a failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up a passenger jet over the U.S. The Obama administration branded the terror group a global threat, and has dramatically stepped up its alliance with Yemen's government to uproot it.
"AQAP continues to probe for weaknesses in our ability to disrupt, detect or stop their operations," said Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican who serves on the House intelligence terrorism subcommittee.
He expressed little surprise at the claim, saying:
"They are agile and determined. So must we be."
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Zachary A. Chesser, who was arrested this summer and allegedly told FBI agents he had twice tried to travel to Somalia to join a terror group, was charged Monday in federal court in Virginia with one count of communicating threats and another count of soliciting crimes of violence, both related to his previous case. The new charges carry a total of 15 years in prison.
Chesser, 20, was charged in July with material support to terrorists, which carries a potential 15-year sentence. Chesser acknowledged to FBI agents that he wanted to travel to Somalia to join the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group al-Shabab, according to an FBI affidavit filed this summer.
Before Chesser's arrest this summer, he was best known for posting harshly worded online warnings to the creators of the animated TV show "South Park" that they risked death for mocking the prophet Muhammad.Chesser's wife, Proscovia Kampire Nzabanita, was also charged Monday with one count of making a false statement, which carries a possible prison sentence of up to eight years. Her charge is related to her husband's case, but it was not clear how.
Chesser and Nzabanita, who is from Uganda, have an infant son whom Chesser tried to take with him on a flight from New York to Uganda this summer in order to appear less suspicious, the affidavit said. Chesser was denied entry to the flight and told he was on the no-fly list. He and his wife had previously tried to go to Somalia by way of Kenya, but that attempt also failed.
After his latest attempt to leave the country, Chesser apparently tried convincing FBI agents he had renounced his extremist views and said he would work for the FBI if the government helped him travel to Africa, according to the affidavit. Instead of accepting Chesser's offer, FBI agents arrested him.
Chesser has not yet been indicted in the case and the timeline for doing so has been extended twice. Lawyers often seek an extension of the indictment deadline to work out details of a plea bargain
An attorney for Chesser, Michael Nachmanoff, said in an e-mail that he could not comment further on the case. An attorney for Nzabanita, David Smith, did not immediately respond to e-mailed requests for comment.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Explosives experts scoured the tower and Champs de Mars park overnight but found nothing suspicious. No additional security measures are in place today, several news outlets reported.
The threat came in a phone call just after dark Tuesday night to a private company that runs security at the tower. Hours later, the Saint-Michel train station -- the site of a deadly attack in 1995 -- was also briefly evacuated after a similar threat. Nothing was found there either.
No one has claimed responsibility for the threats, but the French government had issued an increased alert about possible threats from al-Qaida in August and the first half of September. Tuesday's false alarm also came on the same day France's Senate voted overwhelmingly to ban full Islamic veils in public.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Gary Faulkner said Tuesday it could be weeks or months before he makes another trip and still has to raise money for it.
The 51-year-old unemployed construction worker says he wants to bring the al-Qaida leader to the United States.
Faulkner was detained June 13 in Pakistan after he was found with weapons and night-vision equipment. Pakistan released him without charges and he returned to the U.S.
Faulkner says he believes he'll be allowed back into Pakistan. The Pakistani Embassy in Washington said no one was available to comment Tuesday.
Faulkner has kidney disease and needs regular dialysis.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
That trial is rightly being closely watched now as a bellwether of how the Obama administration plans to deal with the thicket of political, legal and ethical issues raised by the Guantanamo facility's role in the war on terror.
The case involves a 23-year-old Canadian citizen, Omar Khadr, who was captured by U.S. special forces in Afghanistan eight years ago, when he was only 15. Prosecutors allege that during a four-hour firefight around an al-Qaida compound, Mr. Khadr threw a grenade that killed an American soldier, an act to which he later confessed to military interrogators at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul.
Mr. Khadr's lawyers argued the confession should be thrown out because, they allege, their client was tortured and made the statements only after he had been threatened with death and rape. But that claim was rejected by the Army colonel overseeing the trial.
More troubling are the charges of United Nations officials and human rights activists, who say that because Mr. Khadr was only 15 when he was captured, he was essentially a "child soldier" who was forced to participate in armed conflict, not a willing enemy combatant. Instead of facing trial, they argue, he should be offered help in rebuilding his life.
Mr. Khadr's case has highlighted the divisions in the Obama administration over how to deal with terrorist suspects at Guantanamo. Ever since the president signed an executive order two days after taking office directing the closure of the facility within a year, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder has insisted the detainees could be securely held and tried in the U.S. But state and local officials have consistently thrown up roadblocks to that plan, arguing terrorists on U.S. soil would endanger American citizens.
Even New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, known for his unflappable approach to problems, balked at the prospect of trying Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in his city after realizing the security arrangements required by such a proceeding would likely be prohibitively expensive.
Meanwhile, there are still about 50 detainees at Guantanamo who remain in a virtual legal limbo. The government admits it lacks enough evidence to convict them, but they are nevertheless considered too dangerous to release. So the administration seems resigned to holding them indefinitely without charges and without bringing them to trial — in effect, continuing the policy of indefinite detention that Mr. Obama so sharply criticized as a candidate.
In the long run, that's not a sustainable policy. All the reasons Mr. Holder has advanced for closing Guantanamo — that it's a propaganda tool for al-Qaida, that it alienates us from our allies in the fight against terrorism, that it undermines the basic principle of the rule of law in a democratic society — remain as cogent as ever. Political reality has forced Mr. Obama to backpedal on his promise to shut Guantanamo down quickly, but he shouldn't abandon it as a goal by the end of his first term in office. It's never going to be an easy decision to make, but it
will only get harder the longer he waits.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
She had already extended her trip once, opting out of her original flight that departed five days earlier. She was ready for more.
Minutes later, a suicide bomber struck outside the restaurant, one of two attacks in the Ugandan capital of Kampala that killed at least 74 people and wounded 85 others, including Emily, her grandmother and three other members of her group. Ugandan police believe an al-Qaida-linked group, al-Shabab, is behind the bombings at the restaurant and a rugby club. At both locations, crowds had gathered to watch the World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands outdoors on a large-screen TV.
Emily sustained a serious leg injury, but was in stable condition on Monday, said Liskovec, who was in contact with U.S. government sources. Joanne Kerstetter, her paternal grandmother and traveling companion, had an elbow injury but was in good enough condition to accompany her granddaughter to Johannesburg, South Africa, for surgery. Her parents, Matthew and Jennifer Kerstetter, took a Monday afternoon flight to meet them.
The other four members of the party, a mission group organized by Joanne Kerstetter's Selinsgrove, Pa., church, sustained injuries that were not life-threatening, according to the Rev. Kathleen Kind, pastor at Christ Community Church.
Joanne Kerstetter asked her granddaughter earlier this year to accompany her on the trip, said Liskovec. But the elder Kerstetter warned her granddaughter it wouldn't be easy. Emily would have to raise $4,000 to finance the mission.
The then-sophomore at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville contacted family, friends, relatives and anyone she could think of to support her cause, said Liskovec. In a newsletter for Mount de Sales Academy, Emily asked her community at the private school for help. "I am feeling that God is calling me to reach out to those who are less fortunate," she wrote in April. "I have been presented with this opportunity to grow in charity toward others." At that point she had raised only $1,000.
Chantel Hunter, a classmate, said via e-mail yesterday that Emily is known as a caring person who "is always thinking of others before herself."
Such a deadly attack came as a shock to the missionaries. Kind said her church has sent members on mission trips to Uganda for years. Eight other members of the church's party had returned on the flight last week.
Kind said Joanne Kerstetter has been a part of several trips, and considers her to be a pillar of the church. "Before she left, she asked every child in the church to pray for her," Kind said. "That comes from a place of sincerity and deep faith."
In Washington, President Barack Obama spoke with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday to express his condolences for the loss of life in the bombings. Obama offered to provide any support or assistance needed in Uganda, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Gibbs said that, while the FBI is assisting in the ongoing investigation, the U.S. believes that there is "no clearer signal of the hateful motives of terrorists than was sent yesterday."
A California-based aid group said one of its workers, Nate Henn, 25, of Brandywine Hundred, Del., was among the dead, the only confirmed American casualty.
One of the leaders on Emily's team, Lori Ssebulime, told the Associated Press the members had arrived early at the restaurant for dinner to get good seats to view the soccer match. After the blast, Ssebulime said, she scrambled around the bodies, found Emily and got her inside a minivan.
"Emily was rolling around in a pool of blood screaming," she said. Ssebulime added, "The blast happened. It was total chaos. I fell over backward. Everything was gray. Five minutes before it went off, Emily said she was going to cry so hard because she didn't want to leave. She wanted to stay the rest of the summer here."
"A couple of people have said, 'Man if she'd only come home,' " said Nikki Liskovec, a family friend and former next-door neighbor of Emily and her parents. "But if you'd seen Emily's face, she loved doing this work. You'd understand why she was there."