ISIL paid Paris attacker’s family $5,000, flock of sheep

Ammar Ramadan Mansour Mohamad al-Sabaawi used fake Syrian passport to enter Europe, like reported by politico.eu

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French authorities had confirmed the identity of one of the men who targeted the Stade de France in Paris in a terror attack in November 2015, according to a declassified intelligence report seen by Le Parisien.

According to the report, from early 2016, intelligence services believe the man was Ammar Ramadan Mansour Mohamad al-Sabaawi, an Iraqi national from Mosul.

Authorities believe Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attack, paid al-Sabaawi’s family the equivalent of $5,000 (about €4,670) in Iraqi dinar and a flock sheep after his death.

Investigators could not confirm al-Sabaawi’s age, but believe he was in his twenties. He had used a fake Syrian passport, which was found near the French stadium in the aftermath of the attacks, to enter Europe among refugees via the Greek island of Lesbos in October 2015.

Authorities said al-Sabaawi had attempted to get into the stadium during a football match between Germany and France, but was denied entry, subsequently detonating a bomb near the entrance and killing himself and another person.

French fighters make up largest group of Europeans in Daesh ranks

With some 700 French nationals fighting alongside Daesh forces in Syria and Iraq, France tops the list of jihadists’ EU countries of origin, a French police anti-terror chief told Le Figaro newspaper, according to sputniknews.com

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French police estimated 30,000 foreigners were fighting with Daesh in the Middle East in 2015. Their number has since dropped to 12,000 fighters, including 3,000 European citizens. Garnier said 232 French fighters had died, while 700 others were still in areas under Daesh control.

“Even if Belgium is the most represented one with regard to [the proportion of] its population, France remains the largest contributor of the EU [fighters],” Loic Garnier, the director of the police anti-terror coordination unit UCLAT, said in an interview on Tuesday.

With Libya in chaos, migrant deal with Italy collapses

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Italy’s Coast Guard was able to rescue only four people after a rubber dinghy with 110 migrants sank in rough waters in the Mediterranean Sea about 30 miles off the coast of Libya, like reported by breitbart.com .

These situations are brought about by people smugglers. They charge desperate migrants thousands of dollars each. Typically, the people smugglers put hundreds of migrants into a single large rubber dinghy, and give the migrants enough fuel to leave Libyan waters and a cell phone to use to call the Italian coast guard.

The four who were rescued were among 550 who were rescued on one day, Friday.

It is expected (or feared) that, like last year, hundreds of thousands of migrants will attempt to cross from Libya to Italy this year. According to Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat:

Come next spring, the number of people crossing over the Mediterranean will reach record levels. The choice is trying to do something now, or meeting urgently in April, May … and try to do a deal then.

It is also expected that there will be thousands of migrants departing from Egypt, with the same objective. Libya Herald and Reuters and Telegraph (London) and AP

With Libya in chaos, migrant deal with Italy collapses

Italy reopened its embassy in Libya’s capital city Tripoli last week, the first Western country to do so since 2015. Italy had hoped that doing so would lead to an agreement with the government of Libya to slow the flow of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy.

Unfortunately, the agreement was never signed by the government of Libya because the phrase “the government of Libya” is meaningless. There are several governments in Libya:

  • Libya Dawn or the General National Congress (GNC), seated in Tripoli and western Libya, composed of militias that seized Tripoli in 2014.
  • The Libya National Army (LNA), headed by Maj-Gen Khalifah Haftar, seated in Beida in eastern Libya. a secular government that fled from Tripoli in 2014.
  • The Government of National Accord (GNA), also in Tripoli, which was created by the United Nations a year ago in the hope of unifying the country behind it.

None of these three governments recognizes either of the others, and so there is no hope of getting any agreement.

In fact, the Beida government last week accused Italy’s Coast Guard of violating Libyan sovereignty with its rescue program. Italy had received the approval of the Government of National Accord, but in a note last week, the Beida government said,

An Italian military vessel loaded with soldiers and ammunition has entered Libyan territorial waters. It is a clear violation of the UN charter and a form of repeated aggression.

Spanish police seize 12,000 illegal weapons

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Police have smashed Europe’s biggest terror-linked arms trading ring and seized up to 12,000 military weapons including some guns that could ‘bring down an aircraft’, like reported by mirror.co.uk.

There are fears the huge £9m weapons cache would have ended up in the hands of terrorists planning an attack in Spain, France or Belgium this summer.

Detectives showed off their haul including high calibre rifles, pistols and anti-aircraft machine guns.

They claim the secret method used to obtain the guns echoed the Paris “Charlie Hebdo” attack and a 2014 atrocity in Belgium.

On 7 January 2015 a terrorist shooting at French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo left 12 people dead.

And on 24 May 2014 a gunman opened fire at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels killing four people.

Four men and one woman were arrested in in the towns of Olot (Girona), Liendo (Cantabria), Galdácano and Guecho (Biscay) following a lengthy investigation.

The criminal organisation was part of a network which bought unused weapons of war under the pretext of running a sports firm.

They then sourced spare parts, reactivated the guns and put them up for sale on the black market.

Once the decommissioned weapons were legally sourced, they were taken to a “sophisticated workshop” in Guecho and reactivated.

Spanish police said: “These are the 12,000 weapons, some capable of bringing down aircraft, intervened to organized crime. Your price: €10 mill in black market.”

So far, more than 8,000 military weapons ready for sale have been seized, including 29 long arms, various short arms, several canons and a range of ammunition of differing calibres.

A spokesman for the Spanish Government said: “This modus operandi used to purchase weapons is the same as the one used for the attacks carried out in Paris on January 7th, 2015, against employees of the satirical weekly ‘Charlie Hebdo’, in which 12 people were killed and another 11 injured, all with recommissioned weapons acquired at the time from a Slovak gunsmith.”

He also confirmed the police operation stemmed from the surveillance carried out on the weapons used by a terrorist in the attack against a Jewish museum in Brussels on May 24th 2014, in which four people were killed by shots fired by a citizen of French nationality and Algerian origin.

Under-cover agents from Bilbao, Girona, Barcelona, Santander and Valencia were involved in the investigation.

The Spanish Government says police are continuing to crackdown on the illegal sale of weapons to organised crime gangs and terrorists.

The police operation is being supported by EUROPOL, which has provided specialists to the team working in this area.

Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace sees security increase as terror threat rises

One of Buckingham Palace’s most time-honoured traditions – Changing the Guard – is switching to fixed days from Monday after security was stepped up in the wake of the Berlin terror attack

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The military spectacle, which usually takes place on alternate days from August to March, will now happen on set days – Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays – during this period, according to express.co.uk.

The time of the event is also being brought forward by half an hour, with the ceremony at the Palace taking place at 11am, rather than 11.30am.

Thousands of tourists flock to the official residence to see the soldiers in their red tunics and bearskins processing to and from the historic building to the sound of a military band, and it remains one of London’s most popular attractions.

The Metropolitan Police announced it was boosting protective security measures at the ceremony in December in a bid to prevent a Berlin-style lorry attack after a truck packed with steel ploughed into a Christmas market in the German capital, killing 12 people.

For the next three months, roads around the Palace are closing to traffic at certain times of day when the ceremony is taking place, and additional barriers now maintain security for the guard movements.

The current threat level for international  in the UK is “severe”, meaning an attack is highly likely.

A spokesman for The Royal Parks said: “This new programme allows the public, visitors, motorists and businesses to forward plan following new road closures on Guard Change days which were introduced in December as part of ongoing security measures aimed at keeping the public safe.”

From April to July, Changing the Guard takes place each day.

The Army said it had not been decided whether to switch the daily event to set days in the summer as well.

During the traditional ceremony, which is also known as Guard Mounting, the Old Guard – the soldiers currently on duty – line up in front of the Palace and are replaced by the New Guard which arrives from Wellington Barracks.

The New Guard is accompanied by a Band or Corps of Drums and the ceremony represents a formal handover of responsibilities.

The duty is usually carried out by one of the five Foot Guards Regiments of the Household Division.

Serbian president warns of possible Kosovo clashes as train row escalates

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Serbia and Kosovo are on the brink of clashes, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic claimed on January 15. His warning followed a row between the two countries over a Serbian attempt to send a train painted with the sentence “Kosovo is Serbian” in over 20 languages into Kosovo, like reported by intellinews.com.

Although the train turned back before it entered Kosovo, the incident added to already heightened tensions following the arrest of former Kosovan Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj in France on a Serbian warrant.

The Russian-made train was supposed to run from the Serbian capital to the northern part of Kosovoska Mitrovica, a town divided between Serbs and Albanians, in northern Kosovo, but was sent back on the orders of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic following threats from the Kosovan authorities to arrest the driver and passengers.

The line was reopened for the first time since the end of Nato bombing in 1999 on January 14, Orthodox New Year. The train’s interior is decorated with the imagery of Serb cultural and spiritual heritage located in Kosovo protected by UNESCO.

Kosovan border police had been ordered to stop the train on the administrative line between Kosovo and Serbia-Jarinje, news agency Srna reported. Additional forces, including those from the ROSU special unit, were sent to Jarinje.

Also on January 14, Kosovan media reported that explosives had been set on the railway near to Jarinje, on the Kosovan side. Police later checked the whole railway and confirmed that no mines had been set and that the railway was safe.

The following day, Nikolic said that by sending the ROSU special police unit to northern Kosovo, Pristina had breached the 2014 Brussels Agreement. ROSU units are prohibited from crossing the Ibar River without authorisation from Nato and the local community.

“We were on the edge of clashes, Albanians want war,” Nikolic said after a session of the National Security Council on January 15.

He warned that further actions by the authorities in Pristina intended “to cause a conflict” would “end badly”.

“We will act in line with the Serbian Constitution, which is clear. We are obliged to secure every inch of our territory and every citizen. In that we are united and they should not provoke us,” Nikolic said.

However, Kosovan officials have accused the Serbian side of a deliberate provocation.

“Kosovo respects freedom of movement of people and goods. But, the entrance of the train painted with nationalistic slogans from Serbia, which are contrary to the constitution and law of Kosovo, is completely unacceptable,” Kosovo’s President Hashim Taci wrote on his Facebook page on January 14. “Moreover, in this train were passengers and senior officials from Serbia who do not have permission to enter Kosovo.”

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Isa Mustafa held an extraordinary press conference on January 14, during which he said local state institutions were dealing with the “completely unnecessary situation” created by Serbia’s “dishonest games”. He also claimed that Belgrade’s intentions had been to destabilise the situation in Kosovo, according to a Kosovan government statement.

Both sides have asked the international community for mediation and help in resolving the situation.

“We took all measures to inform international actors about the situation and engaged all state institutions and took all measures which are in accordance with the law. We had meetings with relevant institutions and international actors,” Mustafa said.

The Serbian government said on January 14 that Vucic had informed EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini that he was “disappointed” with the reaction of the EU to the developments.

Meanwhile, European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told Pristina-based broadcaster Klan Kosova that resolving the train issue was not the EU’s job.

“Not only this issue but all problems Kosovo and Serbia have must be handled through joint dialogue,” Kocijancic told the broadcaster.

Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina have been escalating since January 4 when Haradinaj, Kosovo’s former prime minister and the leader of the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), was taken into police custody in France, on a Serbian arrest warrant for war crimes against Serb civilians committed in Kosovo during 1998 and 1999.

Following the news of Haradinaj’s arrest and Serbia’s announcement that it will request his extradition, Albanians throughout the region and elsewhere have launched protests.

On January 12, a court in the French town of Colmar released Haradinaj on bail on the condition that he stays in France. Haradinaj must appear before the French authorities twice a week, pending a ruling on whether to extradite him to Serbia.

 

Crisis warnings sound as EU gears up for new economic migrant wave

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Some European leaders are warning of a fresh migration crisis when sea waters warm again and more people choose to put their lives in the hands of smugglers, according to ap.org.

“Come next spring, the number of people crossing over the Mediterranean will reach record levels,” Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose country holds the European Union’s presidency, predicted. “The choice is trying to do something now, or meeting urgently in April, May … and try to do a deal then,”

The 28-nation EU already has a controversial deal to stem the flow of migrants from Turkey, which has agreed to try to stop the number of migrants leaving the country and to take back thousands more in exchange for billions of euros to help Syrian refugees in Turkey, visa-free travel for its citizens and fast-track EU membership talks.

Now, the EU wants to adapt this outsourcing pact to the African nations migrants are leaving or jumping off from to reach Europe, despite criticism that the agreement sends asylum seekers back to countries that could be unsafe for them.

The bottom line is that the Turkey deal works. The number of people arriving in the Greek islands, for instance, plunged over the last year despite political wrangling over whether Turkey’s government was respecting the conditions to secure visa-free travel in Europe’s Schengen area, where passport checks are not required.

And EU nations have even fewer scruples about turning away migrants who take the central Mediterranean route to Italy since they mostly are job seekers who would be ineligible for asylum.

Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Mali and Chad are all on the EU’s radar, and dealing with them is proving expensive. But the bloc’s arrangement with Turkey has shown that the best way of stemming migrant flows is to stop people taking to the sea. Libya and Egypt are the main migrant departure points, and pacts with them would probably have the biggest immediate impact.

Muscat wants to build on a deal Italy is trying to reach with Libya by adding EU funds and other support. He also thinks the EU’s anti-smuggler naval mission, Operation Sophia, should be extended into Libyan territorial waters to stop people in unsafe boats from reaching open waters.

Easier said than done. The EU has been unable to secure United Nations backing for such a move, and Libya has no central authority with the reach or stability to negotiate a long-term agreement with the Europeans.

“The reality of Libya right now is that there is no unified government controlling all parts of the country, and no end of groups willing to upend things if there is an advantage in it for them,” Carlo Binda, a Libya expert with Malta-based political and development advisers, Binda Consulting International.

Libya’s neighbor Egypt appears a more viable option. Many people have set out from the country bound for Europe in recent months, mainly migrants from the Horn of Africa trying to avoid dangerous Libya and increasingly Egyptians themselves, according to the EU’s border agency Frontex.

Despite some instability, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a former general who led the 2013 military removal of an elected Islamist president, is a man with whom the Europeans feel they can do business. Sissi also wields plenty of influence in Libya.

Egypt’s economy has been battered by unrest since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. If there is one thing the world’s biggest trading bloc does well, it is raise funds to pay for its problems.

“Egypt is the country with which one could come to some sort of agreement,” Maltese Foreign Minister George Vella said. “There is stability to a certain extent, and they are interested because even they themselves have got their own problem with migration.”

Time is of the essence. The EU has for several years tried to cobble together migration polices while people were dying at sea.

The refugee emergency – Europe’s worst since World War II – also has raised tensions among EU member countries. Some countries have erected anti-migrant fences or reintroduced border controls amid deep disagreement over how to manage the challenge.

“Things are getting complicated. I would rather face the music now,” Muscat said.

 

Finally Denmark announces plan to stop paying ISIS unemployment benefits

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More than 30 foreign terrorists from the country are known to have continued to receive thousands of pounds worth of state unemployment benefit known as “kontanthjælp” in Syria and Iraq, with the revelations provoking outrage last month, like reported by abna24.com.

Employment minister Troels Lund Poulsen immediately vowed action and efforts to recover the payments, although it was unclear how the money could be reclaimed.

The government has now included a planned crackdown in a new bill to prevent extremism.

A statement from the justice ministry said: “The payment of state benefits to terrorists must be stopped, so they cannot finance their stay in a conflict zone with kontanthjælp, for example.”

Anyone named as a national security risk or believed to have traveled to join terrorist groups abroad will have their benefits immediately stopped, the government’s plan said.

Søren Pape Poulsen, the justice minister, said he would not allow terrorists “to finance their travel using public money”.

“We must prevent more vulnerable young people become radicalized and end up supporting terrorist organisations’ vile ideology,” he added.

ISIS terrorists from several countries are believed to have used welfare payments after joining the terror group, either after being directly paid or supplied with the money by friends and family at home.

Denmark’s four-point policy also includes criminalizing “the dissemination of terrorist propaganda”, blocking websites distributing extremist material and requiring radicalized convicts to go through an “exit program” after being freed as a condition of their parole.

Denmark’s PET intelligence agency PET estimates that at least 135 people have left the country to fight in Syria and Iraq.

5 ISIS-linked with several weapons detained in Spain, Hungary

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Five people with links to ISIS terrorists were arrested in separate incidents in Spain and Hungary, with several weapons also being seized, authorities said to abna24.com .

Spain’s interior ministry said that police detained a Moroccan man with Dutch identity documents in the northwestern city of Figueras suspected of belonging to ISIS who recently returned to Spain from Turkey.

The authorities are investigating whether his return “was motivated by a desire to carry out some sort of action in Europe,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said that Spanish police were able to locate the man thanks to the help of Dutch authorities and of the intelligence services of several unnamed countries.

“Investigators are currently trying to determine the degree of radicalization of the detainee, his possible links in Europe, the activities he has been carrying out for ISIS and what his purpose was since his arrival in Spain,” the statement said.

In a separate operation, police detained two Spanish men who were a part of a group “that had reached a very high level of determination to carry out terrorist activities.”

The group was “fully aligned with the strategy of the terrorist organisation ISIS,” the ministry said in a separate statement.

Police seized a long gun and three knives during searches of six houses carried out as part of the operation in Ceuta, the tiny Spanish territory bordered by Morocco on one side and the Mediterranean Sea.

Meanwhile, Hungarian authorities said that they arrested two young women from France and Belgium allegedly seeking to join ISIS in Syria.

The Belgian, 18, and the French national, 19, were trying to cross into Serbia on Friday, a police spokesperson told Hungarian news agency MTI.

The women, who were not named, were travelling on a bus from Vienna to Sofia from where they planned to reach Syria and join ISIS.

They were subject to warrants issued for previous “acts in connection with terrorism,” Gyorgy Bakondi, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief security advisor, told public television. No further details were released.

Spanish police have arrested 181 people accused of connections to terrorist groups since 2015 when Spain raised its terror alert level to four on a scale of five following deadly attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait.

It is the highest alert level since Al-Qaeda-inspired bombers blew up four packed commuter trains and killed 191 people in Madrid on March 11, 2004.