TIME National Security

Judge Says a Radical Cleric’s 9/11 Comments Can Be Used as Evidence

Muslim cleric Mustafa Kamel Mustafa prays in a street outside his Mosque in north London, on March 28, 2003.
Muslim cleric Mustafa Kamel Mustafa prays in a street outside his Mosque in north London, on March 28, 2003. Alastair Grant—AP

A judge has ruled that jurors at the trial of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, a fundamentalist and former imam who's known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, will be allowed to hear comments he made to praise the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks

Jurors at the trial of radical Islamic cleric Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, who is also known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, will be privy to comments the suspect made praising the 9/11 terrorists attacks, a judge ruled this week.

Mustafa is accused of trying to establish al Qaeda training camps in Oregon in the late 1990s and of aiding extremists who kidnapped a group of foreigners, including two American tourists, in Yemen in 1998.

According to an undated interview with a British television station, Mustafa stated: “Everybody was happy when the planes hit the World Trade Center.” And according to U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest, who is presiding over the case, these comments can be presented as evidence in court.

“Expressing clear and unequivocal support for terrorism is no doubt prejudicial. However, the defendant is charged with just those sorts of crimes,” Judge Katherine B. Forrest said in a written decision earlier this week.

Jury selection for the case concludes on Monday, while opening statements for the trial are set to commence on Thursday morning.

[AP]

TIME Nigeria

Report: 100 Schoolgirls Abducted In Nigeria

Nigerian soldiers patrol in the north of Borno state close to a Islamist extremist group Boko Haram former camp on June 5, 2013 near Maiduguri.
Nigerian soldiers patrol in the north of Borno state close to a Islamist extremist group Boko Haram former camp on June 5, 2013 near Maiduguri. Quentin Leboucher—AFP/Getty Images

The Islamist extremist group Boko Haram is suspected of kidnapping about 100 girls from a school in Chibok, a town in the country's northeastern Borno state, on Monday night just hours after a large blast in the capital, Abuja, killed at least 71 people

Updated Tuesday 1:42 p.m. ET

Terrorists reportedly attacked a school in Chibok, Nigeria, and abducted about 100 schoolgirls Monday night.

A government official from Borno state told the BBC that around 100 girls had been taken from a local school school to the east of the country. The BBC had previously reported that 200 girls were abducted based on reports from parents, but they have since revised their count. The AP also reported that 100 girls were taken, although some were able to escape from the back of the open truck after grabbing onto low hanging branches to swing out of the slow moving vehicle.

The attackers are thought to be from the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram.

The girls were reportedly ordered into trucks and driven away. Local media is reporting that two members of the school’s security were killed and there were many other properties that were burned down during the attack, the BBC reports. It’s at least the second major attack on a school in Nigeria this year.

On Monday, bombings in Abuja, Nigeria that killed 70 people were also blamed on Boko Haram. The extremist group is opposed to Western education, and wants to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state. Over 1,500 deaths this year are blamed on the group.

[BBC]

This post was updated to reflect the revised number of girls who were abducted as well as new information from government officials.

MORE: Another Deadly Blast in Nigeria As Country’s Stability Erodes

TIME Terrorism

Boston Marks Anniversary of Marathon Bombings

Crosses bearing the names of victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing are displayed in a memorial at the Boston Public Library on April 14, 2014 in Boston.
Crosses bearing the names of victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing are displayed in a memorial at the Boston Public Library on April 14, 2014 in Boston. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Survivors, first responders and dignitaries congregated Tuesday to remember the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings last year

Updated at 3:31 p.m.

One year after four people were killed and hundreds more injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, the city marked the grim anniversary Tuesday with a day of tributes amid preparations for a record number of entrants to this year’s race.

The day began with a group of dignitaries, including the family of the youngest victim, walking with an honor guard to the site of the April 15, 2013, bombings. Bagpipes played as wreaths were placed at the site of the tragedy and no public comments were made.

Around 3,000 survivors, first responders and dignitaries were in attendance at a ceremony at the Hynes convention center Tuesday marking the one year anniversary of the bombings.

“I know that no memorial, no words, no acts can fully provide the solace that your hearts and soul still yearn to acquire,” Vice President Joe Biden said in remarks during the event. “I hope it eases your grief a little bit.” Biden praised the courage of survivors and the families of the dead. “America will never, ever, ever stand down,” he said. “We are Boston. We are America. We respond, we endure, we overcome, and we own the finish line.”

After speeches by Biden, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and others, survivors walked to the finish line to observe a moment of silence, USA Today reports. Church bells throughout Boston sounded at 2:49 p.m., a year to the minute from the moment the bombs exploded.

President Obama released a statement asking for remembrance of those injured and the four innocents killed, each of whom he called by name. “We also know that the most vivid images from that day were not of smoke and chaos, but of compassion, kindness and strength,” the president said. “A man in a cowboy hat helping a wounded stranger out of harm’s way; runners embracing loved ones, and each other; an EMT carrying a spectator to safety. Today, we recognize the incredible courage and leadership of so many Bostonians in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.” Obama and a small gathering of aides will join Bostonians for a moment of silence at 2:49 p.m. in the Oval Office.

Officials expect a crowd of roughly a million people to cheer on 36,000 runners in this year’s race on Monday, April 21, a 33 percent increase from the cap on entrants in previous years. The field in this year’s Boston Marathon will be larger than any in the race’s 118-year history but one: the 1996 centennial Boston Marathon, at which more than 38,000 started the race. Security will be tight this year, with 3,500 police on duty for the race, double the size of last year’s deployment.

TIME Terrorism

Up in the Sky—It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s the FBI

Members of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team practice their parachuting skills. FBI

About an hour outside its headquarters in Quantico, Va., the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team offers “advanced skydiving techniques and training" so that agents can drop in undetected. (Or just maybe so they can reenact scenes from Point Break)

You never know how and where the bad guys are going to strike next. That explains the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team’s need for “advanced skydiving techniques and training”—so the good guys can also strike in unexpected ways, like from above.

While the HRT doesn’t disclose much about its business, it made clear Tuesday that its special needs require it to train with a Virginia parachuting outfit because no other firm can meet its unusual requirements.

FBI Special Agent Ann Todd declined to discuss the contract. “Due to to the sensitive nature of HRT’s work, we don’t release information involving specific tactical training or capabilities,” she said.

But it’s a nifty option to have when it comes to trying to rescue hostages. Under cover of darkness, for example, highly-trained HRT members could silently swoop in and surround an isolated location without betraying their arrival with the noise that accompanies helicopters.

Skydive Orange is the only available tactical drop zone within a one-hour driving distance from where the HRT is stationed,” the FBI says, referring to the team’s home base at Quantico, Va., about 35 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. “The facility has aircraft and crew on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

Plus, training locally saves money. “The amount of equipment to support the training is in excess of 2000 lbs. and is driven to the site via agency vans,” the FBI says. “The use of other drop zones would require substantial and additional costs including airfare, shipping, lodging, meals, rental vehicles, and related.” The FBI blacked out the value of the contract.

The 31-year old HRT, created to help protect the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, is “federal law enforcement’s only full-time counterterrorism unit,” according to the FBI. The government decided it needed such a unit following the kidnapping and killing of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972. It’s ready to deploy anywhere in the nation on four hours’ notice.

“The operational tempo for HRT has been high in the years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01,” says the FBI, which says it has deployed elements of the team 800 times since 1983, both at home and overseas. “For the first time, the FBI is seeking candidates with special tactical qualifications, to become Special Agents, and to serve as HRT Operators.”

The HRT consists of individual “tactical units,” made up of team members specializing as assaulters or sniper/observers, and backed up by transportation, logistics, intelligence, communications, and command personnel.

Since its founding, only about 300 FBI agents have made it through the eight months of training required before joining the HRT. “They are trained to be superior marksmen, proficient in a variety of breaching techniques—including explosives—and experts in close-quarter tactics,” the bureau says. “Each operator’s skill and training ensures that the HRT can launch assaults with speed, precision, and, if necessary, deadly force.”

 

 

TIME europe

Ukraine Arrests 70 in ‘Anti-Terrorist’ Raid

Pro-Russian protesters are seen through barbed wires at a barricade outside a regional government building in Donetsk
Pro-Russian protesters are seen outside the regional government building they seized in the Donetsk region on April 7, 2014. © Stringer—Reuters

The Ukrainian government launches "anti-terrorist" operation against citizens who seized government buildings and called for Russian troops to invade, further raising tensions in the restive Eastern European state

About 70 people have been arrested in eastern Ukraine for taking over a regional administrative building in the Donetsk region city of Kharkiv.

The “anti-terrorist” operation was launched by the Ukrainian government in response to hundreds of pro-Kremlin protesters seizing government buildings in Donetsk on Monday, calling for Russia to send in troops. They even declared the region independent from Kiev, Reuters reports.

“An anti-terrorist operation has been launched. The city center is blocked along with metro stations. Do not worry. Once we finish, we will open them again,” the Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Tuesday on his Facebook profile.

The Ukrainian government established an “anti-crisis headquarters” on Monday and said that it would establish “anti-terrorist measures” to use against citizens who take up arms.

Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk lashed out at compatriots in the east of the country planning to “destabilize the situation” and “ensure that foreign troops could cross the border and capture the territory of the country,” United Press International reports.

[Reuters]

TIME Asia

Musharraf Survives Assassination Attempt in Pakistan

PAKISTAN-UNREST-MUSHARRAF
A Pakistani policeman rolls barricade tape at the site of a bomb explosion in Islamabad on April 3, 2014. Aamir Qureshi - AFP/Getty Images

Former President Pervez Musharraf was targeted in a botched assassination attempt on Thursday when a bomb exploded minutes before his convoy was due to pass the site in Islamabad. He faces a litany of legal troubles since his return to the country last year

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf narrowly dodged an assassination attempt on Thursday when a bomb exploded minutes before his convoy was due to pass by in Islamabad.

No one was injured in the explosion’s wake, according to officials.

“Four kilograms of explosive device planted in a pipeline under a bridge exploded around 20 minutes before the former president was supposed to cross the spot,” senior police official Liaqat Niazi told AFP.

The former military ruler, who headed the country with an iron fist from 1999 to 2008, has been facing myriad legal troubles, including charges of high treason, since he returned to Pakistan last year. Thursday’s botched assassination scheme was the fourth such attempt to kill Musharraf, AFP reports. The first three attempts occurred during his decade as Pakistan’s leader.

[AFP]

TIME Terrorism

Bin Laden Son-In-Law Convicted In Terror Trial

Still image taken from an undated video of Suleiman Abu Ghaith
A man identified as Sulaiman Abu Ghaith appears in this still image taken from an undated video address. Reuters

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, an al-Qaeda spokesman and the son-in-law of the 9/11 mastermind, was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans by helping to recruit terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks. The charges against him could carry up to life in prison

Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law was convicted by a New York jury for conspiring to kill Americans in his role as al-Qaeda’s spokesman, where he used inflammatory propaganda to create recruitment videos.

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith is the highest-ranking al-Qaeda official to face trial on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Associated Press reports. Abu Ghaith, a Kuwaiti imam, admitted during his three-week trial in New York he followed bin Laden’s orders shortly after the attacks in helping recruit new followers to al-Qaeda.

“Going to that man was the very first thing Osama bin Laden did on Sept. 11 after the terror attacks,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan during closing arguments. “The defendant committed himself to al-Qaida’s conspiracy to kill Americans, and he worked to drive other people to that conspiracy.”

Abu Ghaith insisted throughout the trial that he had intended to encourage Muslims to rise up against their oppressors, and denied he was an al-Qaeda recruiter.

The charges against the al-Qaeda lieutenant could carry up to life in prison.

[AP]

TIME Crime

Man Who Pled Guilty to New York Pipe Bomb Plot Gets 16 Years

The suspected terrorist is known as the "lone wolf"

A Manhattan man was sentenced to 16 years in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to charges that he plotted to set off pipe bombs in New York City, New York 1 reports.

Jose Pimental was hoping to avenge the death of an American-born Muslim cleric killed by a U.S. drone, prosecutors said. Pimental, the so-called “lone wolf,” was arrested in November 2011 under suspicion of terrorism before he was able to actually make any bombs.

Pimental’s sentence was part of a plea bargain that includes five years of supervision after his eventual release. Pimental could have received 15 years to life if the case had gone to trial.

[NY1]

TIME Global Security

We’re Not Prepared for a Nuclear Heist

How did an 82-year-old nun come so close to getting her hands on highly enriched uranium?

In September 2009, a group of masked men armed with automatic weapons and explosives arrived on the roof of a cash depot in Vastberg, Sweden in a helicopter. The men blasted their way through a skylight and hoisted millions of dollars up to the hovering aircraft — the operation took less than 20 minutes. When police rushed to respond they discovered a bag with the word “bomb” at their heliport — a diversion planted by the thieves — and caltrops (road spikes) near the depot to slow down their response on the ground. While many of the thieves were caught after an investigation, most of the money was never recovered.

The Vastberg heist was not a nuclear event, but a new report from my colleagues at Harvard University makes the case that the incident should have deeply troubling implications for the leaders from over 50 countries convening in the Netherlands on March 24-25 for a summit on nuclear security. The stark truth is that many locations around the world that store highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium — the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons — would not be able to repel an attack from adversaries using tactics and weapons as sophisticated as those used by the Vastberg thieves. An amount of plutonium that would fit in a soda can would be enough for terrorists to construct a crude nuclear bomb capable of reducing the heart of a major city to rubble (it wouldn’t require much HEU, either). Today, there are approximately 1440 tons of HEU and 500 tons of separated plutonium in hundreds of buildings in dozens of countries around the world; the theft of only .001 percent of this stockpile could lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Categorizing nuclear terrorism as the gravest global security threat, President Obama convened the first biennial Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 as part of a four-year goal to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide. By elevating the issue of nuclear security to the level of presidents and prime ministers, the summit process resulted in indisputable successes. Four years later, the report by Harvard points out, many countries have strengthened their rules and procedures for securing nuclear materials, and 13 countries eliminated all the HEU or separate plutonium on their soil entirely, including, thank god, Ukraine (you really don’t want HEU hanging around in a country on the verge of war). For these and other reasons, the summits have made the world a safer place.

Nonetheless, every country that still has nuclear weapons, plutonium or HEU has more to do to ensure these items are effectively and lastingly secured — including the United States. Some facilities still require physical enhancements, such as more armed guards, physical barriers, and so on. Others have only minimal protections against insiders stealing nuclear material or sabotaging facilities. In most cases, the biggest obstacle remains security culture. All the bells, whistles and hair-trigger seismic detectors in the world won’t make a difference if security personnel are not vigilant. The Harvard report quotes Eugene Habiger, former security czar at the U.S. Department of Energy: “good security is 20% hardware and 80% culture.”

In the U.S. in 2012, an 82-year old nun and two other peace protestors broke into Y-12, a facility in Tennessee that contains the world’s largest repository of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in metal form and until the incident was colloquially known as “the Fort Knox of HEU” for its state-of-the-art security equipment. The nun bypassed multiple intrusion-detection systems because faulty cameras had not been replaced and guards at the central alarm station had grown weary of manually validating sensors that produced frequent false alarms. When the protestors started hammering on the side of a building that contains enough HEU for hundreds of weapons, the guards inside assumed the noise was coming from construction workers that they had not been told were coming. She and her fellow protestors were eventually challenged by a single guard.

An assembly of world leaders is an ideal venue for building a vigilant nuclear security regime — when it comes to culture, leadership matters. Russia and the United States — the countries with the largest stockpiles of weapons and material — bear a special responsibility for providing effective leadership at the summit. Current disagreements between the two countries in Ukraine should not prevent them from cooperating on programs that serve each country’s national interest — and nuclear security clearly fills that criterion. It is worth remembering that even at the height of the Cold War, tensions did not stop the USSR and the U.S. from cooperating to adopt the 1968 nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which remains a crucial if strained lynchpin of global security today.

Clear signals of cooperation from Russia and the United States in The Hague (or at the least, a tacit agreement not to use the summit for grandstanding or other political gain), can galvanize this crucial biennial gathering and help sustain its momentum. Leaders should take concrete steps at the summit including building and sharing a database of adversary tactics from thefts and other incidents, expanded intelligence cooperation, sharing best practices for reducing the risk of “insider” thefts, and establishing mechanisms for states to assure one another that they are providing effective security. But nothing will do more to improve global nuclear security culture than the recognition that no geopolitical dispute — not even Crimea — is more important than the goal of ensuring that the world’s most dangerous materials remain secure from even the most sophisticated attacks.

Eben Harrell (@ebenharrell) is an associate at the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. For more information, visit http://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org.

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