TIME Uganda

U.S. Embassy Warns of Attack at Uganda’s International Airport

Airport Departure Lounge
Yongyuan Dai—Getty Images

"According to intelligence sources there is a specific threat to attack Entebbe International Airport by an unknown terrorist group today."

The U.S. Embassy in Uganda warned of a “specific threat to attack” the country’s only international airport Thursday evening.

The warning, posted to the Embassy website, says the Ugandan Police Force provided the embassy with information about a possible attack by an “unknown terrorist group” planned for between 9 and 11 p.m. local time at Entebbe International Airport, about 20 miles from the capital of Kampala.

“Individuals planning travel through the airport this evening may want to review their plans in light of this information,” the statement says.

Uganda is one of several countries, including neighboring Kenya, that have sent troops to bolster the government in Somalia. That’s put it in the sights of the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab, which opposes the military presence in Somalia. In 2010, an attack orchestrated by al-Shabab in Kampala killed at least 74 people. Last year, Shaaab militants stormed a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, killing 67 people.

The statement from the Embassy also warned of the overarching terrorist threat in Uganda.

“U.S. Embassy Kampala wishes to remind U.S. citizens of the continued threat of potential terrorist attacks in the country,” the statement said. “The targets for these attacks could include hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, diplomatic missions, transportation hubs, religious institutions, government offices, or public transportation.”

TIME China

China Bans Ramadan Fasting for Officials, Students in Restive Northwest

Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar
Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, on Aug. 3, 2011. Carlos Barria—Reuters

Xinjiang's ethnic Uighur Muslims have been subject to an "anti-terrorism" crackdown after a spate of deadly attacks

Several government departments in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region have banned students and civil servants from fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Statements posted on school and government websites said the sure-to-be-unpopular policy was aimed at protecting students and stopping government offices from being used to promote religion, reports the Associated Press.

This is not the first instance of Chinese officials trying to curtail religious freedom among Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighur Muslims, but it comes at a particularly delicate time. A series of brutal attacks by what China says are religious extremists has spurred a year-long anti-terrorism crackdown in Xinjiang, including mass arrests and trials, cash awards for information and random searches.

Critics counter that the chief concern is not links to global terrorism, but widespread dissatisfaction with Chinese rule. A Muslim people that take their cultural and linguistic cues from Central Asia, Xinjiang’s Uighurs say they have been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants from the Han heartland to the east. They also complain of discrimination in the job market, limits on free expression and restriction on their right to pray, dress — and now, fast — as they so choose.

[AP]

TIME National Security

Woman Arrested in Denver for Alleged Support of Jihadist Group

Her arrest comes weeks after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launched an offensive in Iraq

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Updated 7:13 a.m. E.T. on July 3

A woman in Denver was arrested for allegedly providing material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the designated-terrorist organization that has been seizing regions in northern Iraq over the last month.

A criminal complaint filed with the U.S. District Court of Colorado says Shannon Maureen Conley conspired to commit an offense against the U.S., Reuters reports, and that she knew ISIS was engaged in militant activity.

The complaint said Conley met with a co-conspirator—a man, labeled in the documents as Y.M., who said he was an active member of the group—online last year and that she planned to meet him in Syria through Turkey. Conley had apparently attended training sessions for military tactics and using firearms in Texas earlier this year, the complaint added, with an aim to support fighters once she was on the ground.

[Reuters]

TIME National Security

TSA Beefing Up Security at Airports Abroad Ahead of July 4 Weekend

TSA Security
A TSA agent waits for passengers to use the TSA PreCheck lane being implemented by the Transportation Security Administration at Miami International Airport on October 4, 2011 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

TSA will amp up security ahead of travel-heavy July 4 weekend

The United States Transportation Security Administration will “implement enhanced security measures” at certain airports overseas with direct flights to the U.S., Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday.

The announcement comes just ahead of the travel-heavy Fourth of July weekend. It was also made amid American concerns reported by ABC earlier this week that al-Qaeda offshoots in Yemen and Syria were developing bombs that could be used to attack commercial airliners. President Barack Obama also acknowledged Sunday that militants fighting in Syria, and more recently in Iraq, pose a threat to the U.S. because many carry Western passports.

In his statement Wednesday, Secretary Johnson did not name the airports where security will be enhanced, nor did he identify a specific terror threat. But he said the directive was in response to an “ongoing process” of assessing terrorism risks.

Johnson added that the TSA will “work to ensure these necessary steps pose as few disruptions to travelers as possible.”

“As always, we will continue to adjust security measures to promote aviation security without unnecessary disruptions to the traveling public,” Johnson said.

–Zeke J. Miller contributed reporting

TIME Middle East

Survey Shows a Growing Fear of Islamic Extremism in the Middle East

Mideast Iraq
Militants from the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria celebrate the group's declaration of an Islamic state in Fallujah, Iraq, on June 30, 2014 Associated Press

An opinion poll conducted across 14 countries with a large Muslim population shows an increased fear of Islamic extremism and a drop in support for al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hizballah and Boko Haram

The threat of Islamic extremism is a growing worry among people in the Middle East, according to a new survey.

Frequent suicide bombings and the rise of the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) were concerns cited by many of the 14,244 people across 14 countries with large Muslim populations surveyed by the Pew Research Center.

Notably, the study was conducted from April 10 to May 25 — before ISIS had even seized the Iraqi city of Mosul — and the subsequent declaration of an Islamic state straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border may have further increased these tensions.

In Lebanon, anxiety about extremism among Christians, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims rose 11 percentage points since 2013 to 92% of the population currently. Respondents in Jordan and Turkey, which both border war-torn Syria, shared similar concerns. In Jordan, these fears grew 13 percentage points to 62% in just two years.

The study also showed a drastic decline in support for Islamist groups Hamas, Hizballah, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram. A sweeping majority had unfavorable opinions of al-Qaeda, particularly among Christians, Muslims and Jews in both Israel and Lebanon. The Taliban — which has a base on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan — is opposed by 59% of the population in Pakistan. Hizballah is also generally disliked throughout the Middle East, peaking in Egypt, Turkey and Jordan where at least 8 in 10 people were opposed.

Hamas — a militant group that controls the Gaza Strip — drew widespread aversion throughout the Middle East and even in Palestine, where 53% of the population expressed negative views. When Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, the group was favored by 67% of the population in Palestine, but outright support has now waned to just 35%.

Suicide bombings remain a divisive subject. Although the act has lost popularity throughout the Middle East in recent years, “significant minorities of Muslims in a few countries do hold the view that it can be justified,” according to the report.

While suicide bombings have dropped throughout the Middle East, the study revealed that support in Nigeria grew by 11 percentage points since last year — although 61% of Nigerian Muslims still agree that it is not a justifiable method of defending Islam. A majority of the Nigerians surveyed also opposed Boko Haram, a terrorist group that has recently been spotlighted for kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls.

TIME Terrorism

Support for Suicide Bombings Plummets In Countries Where They Happen Most

LEBANON-UNREST-BLAST-HEZBOLLAH
Mourners attend the funeral of Abdel Karim Hodroj, a 20-year-old Lebanese General Security agency inspector who was killed the previous day in an overnight suicide blast, on June 25, 2014, in Beirut.. ANWAR AMRO—AFP/Getty Images

A Pew opinion poll finds that with a few exceptions, the more people see suicide bombings, the less they like them

Support for suicide bombers in the name of Islam has dropped in countries that have endured the most suicide bombings, a recent Pew survey reports.

When asked if suicide bombings can ever be justified against civilian targets “to defend Islam from its enemies,” a growing majority responded with “rarely” or “not at all.” Even in what has historically been the strongest bastion of support for these terror tactics, the Palestinian Territories, the percentage that replied “often/sometimes” tumbled to 46% in 2014, down from a high of 70% seven years ago. Pew noted that favorable views of Hamas had also significantly declined.

In Jordan, support fell from a high of 57% in 2005, the same year a series of bomb blasts ripped through three hotels in the nation’s capital Amman, to just 15% in 2014. In Pakistan–which has been ranked the third-most “bomb-scarred” country in the world by the UK-based NGO Action on Armed Violence — support fell this year to 3%, down from a high of 41% in 2004.

There were notable exceptions to the trend. Egypt, Turkey and Nigeria saw an uptick in people who said they believed that sometimes suicide bombings could be justified against civilian targets. Overall, though, the poll suggests that in the long-run, the more people experience the devastation of suicide bombs, the less they like them.

Levels of Support for Suicide Bombing over Time

TIME

Pakistan Vows to Eliminate Terrorist Sanctuaries

ISLAMABAD— A Pakistani military operation launched in the country’s northwest will clear the area of terrorists and keep it from being used as a safe haven by militant groups, officials said Tuesday.

Pakistani officials briefed foreign media about the operation started two weeks ago against militants in the North Waziristan tribal area, which is considered the stronghold of groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban. The long-awaited operation is being closely watched to see how aggressively Pakistan moves against the militants and whether the operation sparks a backlash of violence in the rest of the country.

“Once we are done with the operation in North Waziristan, there won’t be a single terrorist,” said military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa.

The U.S. has long urged Pakistan to send troops into North Waziristan because the region had become a safe haven for groups who attacked American and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. It’s also become a hub for militants intent on overthrowing the Pakistani government who have used it as a base from which they’ve launched attacks on civilian and military targets across the country.

The U.S. has been especially concerned about the Haqqani network, which has been accused of carrying out some of the most deadly attacks in Afghanistan. U.S. officials have accused Pakistan in the past of supporting the militant group and others as a way to maintain influence in Afghanistan.

Since the operation was launched in North Waziristan, one of the questions has been whether the Pakistani military would go after all militant groups equally. Officials Tuesday said they would not discriminate.

“We will not permit anybody to use the soil of Pakistan against another country — Haqqani or no Haqqani,” said the Minister of States and Frontier Regions, Abdul Qaudir Baloch.

Officials also called on neighboring Afghanistan to act against militants who attack Pakistan from Afghan soil, including the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Both countries have accused the other of harboring militants, but in recent months cross-border tensions have flared over accusations that Pakistani Taliban militants, including the leader of the group, are in northeastern Afghanistan.

“This has been raised at every level, that the leader of the TTP, Mullah Fazlullah is sitting across the border,” said Bajwa, referring to the Pakistani Taliban’s formal name — Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. “Afghanistan needs to do something about it.”

The officials declined to give a timetable for how long the operation would last, but analysts have said it could be months.

Nearly half a million refugees fled North Waziristan in a mass exodus that has sparked accusations that the government was not prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis. The United Nations reported Monday that almost 100,000 people have also fled from North Waziristan to neighboring Afghanistan.

Officials Tuesday at the briefing disputed those figures and said the numbers were lower but declined to give any specific figures.

TIME

Car Bomb Explodes at Market in Northeast Nigeria

BAUCHI, Nigeria — A car bomb exploded Tuesday in a market in Maiduguri, the northeast Nigerian city that is the birthplace of Boko Haram Islamic extremists, reducing stalls, goods and vehicles to piles of trash. Dozens of people are feared dead, witnesses said.

Witnesses blamed Boko Haram extremists who are accused of a series of recent bomb attacks in the West African nation.

Tuesday’s explosives were hidden under a load of charcoal in a pickup van, according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Trader Daba Musa Yobe, who works near the popular market, said the bomb went off just after the market opened at 8 a.m., before most traders or customers had arrived.

Stalls and goods were reduced to debris as were the burned-out hulks of five cars and some tricycle taxis set ablaze by the explosion.

Yobe said security forces cordoned off the area but had a hard time keeping people out, though they warned there could be secondary explosions timed to target rescue efforts.

Witnesses said they saw about 50 bodies. They said the toll may be worse but fewer than normal traders and customers were around because most people stay up late to eat during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting from sunrise to sunset.

A security official at the scene confirmed the blast, saying many casualties are feared. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press.

Explosions last week targeted the biggest shopping mall in Abuja, Nigeria’s central capital, killing 24 people; a medical college in northern Kano city, killing at least eight; and a hotel brothel in northeast Bauchi city that killed 10. It was the third bomb blast in as many months in Abuja, and the second in two months in Kano. In May, twin car bombs at a marketplace also left more than 130 dead in central Jos city and killed at least 14 people at a World Cup viewing site in Damaturu, another town in the northeast.

Maiduguri, a city of more than 1 million people, has suffered many attacks. In March, twin car bombs killed more than 50 people at a late-night market where people were watching a football match on a big screen.

Boko Haram has attracted international attention and condemnation since its April abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from a northeastern town.

Nigeria’s military announced Monday night that it had busted a terrorist intelligence cell and arrested a businessman who “participated actively” in the mass abduction that caused outrage around the world.

It was unclear if the first arrest of a suspect in the kidnappings could help in rescuing at least 219 girls who remain captive. Boko Haram is threatening to sell the girls into marriage and slavery if Nigeria’s government does not exchange them for detained insurgents.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade said in a statement that businessman Babuji Ya’ari belonged to a vigilante group fighting Boko Haram and used that membership as cover “while remaining an active terrorist.”

He said information yielded by Ya’ari’s detention had led to the arrests of two women — one who worked as a spy and arms procurer and another described as a paymaster.

Boko Haram has adopted a two-pronged strategy this year of bombings in urban areas and scorched-earth attacks in northeastern villages where people are gunned down and their homes burned.

On Sunday, suspected extremists sprayed gunfire on worshippers in four churches in a northeastern village and torched the buildings. At least 30 people were reported killed there.

The extremists have been attacking with more frequency and deadliness in recent months.

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday condemned the recent attacks. A statement said “The president assures all Nigerians once again that the federal government and national security agencies will continue to intensify ongoing efforts to end Boko Haram’s senseless attacks until the terrorists are routed and totally defeated.”

The inability of the military to curb attacks has brought international criticism, with the United Nations noting the government is failing in its duty to protect citizens. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement Monday “reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to support Nigeria as it responds to this challenge in a manner consistent with its international human rights obligations.”

TIME Iraq

The Iraqi Government Seems Helpless to Stop ISIS’s New Caliphate

The Sunni militant group says it has created its own Islamic empire. Their hold is less than secure, but Iraq's government seems helpless

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With the upload of an audio recording, radical Sunni militants on June 29 declared a new Islamic caliphate, a religious superstate, stretching from eastern Iraq to the Syrian city of Aleppo. The group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is now simply the Islamic State, dropping the names of the two countries whose sovereignty it doesn’t recognize.

After weeks of laying claim to Iraqi territory, the group’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said on Sunday that they had everything necessary to proclaim their state. The Caliph — or leader — is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi-born ISIS leader who appears to be giving al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, a run for his money. “Listen to your leader and obey him,” said al-Adnani in the online statement. “Support your state, which grows continuously.”

But despite massive Sunni discontent with the Shi‘ite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a caliphate run by a Caliph whose location is unknown and whose representatives regularly order beheadings may still be too much for many Iraqis. “They put up the new rules at all the mosques,” said one resident of Mosul, an Iraqi city that has fallen to ISIS. “Now it’s no smoking, no argileh pipes, and they sent the women home from government jobs.”

Even more troubling than the strict Shari‘a law ISIS is known to enforce with public lashings and executions is the militant group’s assertion of sovereignty over the territory it controls. There are many Islamists and well-armed Sunnis within ISIS’s self-declared borders who won’t be keen to swear allegiance to al-Baghdadi and his black flag.

Until now, Sunni tribes and the old guard of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party have been playing along with ISIS against a common enemy: Baghdad and al-Maliki’s Shi‘ite-led government. But “there are a lot of tribes that don’t want to be part of a caliphate,” said Kenneth Pollack, a specialist in Middle East political-military affairs and a former CIA analyst. And it may be their resistance, rather the Iraqi army, that will prove the true obstacle for ISIS. “This is exactly the thing back in 2006 when they were al-Qaeda in Iraq that got them in to trouble and helped push the Sunni tribes back into the arms of the Americans.”

But as ISIS defends its new territory, its assertion of dominance may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as an increasing number of fighters join the group seen as winning on the ground. “The events of the last three weeks have really boosted ISIS’s stock among the global jihadist movement,” said Pollack. “These guys took Mosul. When was the last time al-Qaeda did anything that impressive? So if you’re some young would-be jihadi I think there is a good likelihood you’re going to choose ISIS as opposed to the old al-Qaeda.”

ISIS fighters continue to battle Iraqi government troops, particularly for the strategic northern city of Tikrit. Despite outnumbering the jihadists, the Iraqi national army has retaken little ground, and is desperately reaching out to the international community for military support. Russia was quick to deliver a small fleet of warplanes over the weekend, and U.S. advisers are already in country to support the Iraqi military.

But al-Maliki’s choice of military force rather than political negotiation is failing, and calls for him to step down here are being heard in Tehran, and even in Iraq among his Shi‘ite support base. On July 1 Iraq’s parliament will reconvene and there will be a lot of pressure on al-Maliki to make the concessions suggested by U.S Secretary of State John Kerry and British First Secretary of State William Hague when they visited Iraq recently. Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities say the current government has a sectarian agenda and the Kurds are more interested in autonomy than a new deal with Baghdad.

“We are in a new reality now, and it’s clear Iraq will never be ruled by one man, one sect, or party,” said Hiwa Osman, an analyst and writer based in Erbil. “The new Iraq is to be managed, not ruled. Managing the relationships between the various regions is the only way forward if the country wants to stay together.”

A political solution out of the parliament tomorrow is unlikely. Not only has al-Maliki shown he’s unwilling to compromise, but Osman says those Sunnis who will be sitting in the opening session on Tuesday don’t have the necessary influence in the areas of the newly declared caliphate.

“If they were really the players, they would be on the ground in Mosul, in Tikrit, in Nineveh,” said Osman. “Not in Baghdad.”

TIME

Sentencing Due for Man Who Tried to Aid al-Qaida

LOS ANGELES — A California man who used Facebook to connect with al-Qaida and planned to train its fighters in Pakistan was scheduled to be sentenced Monday in federal court.

Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen, 25, of Garden Grove, pleaded guilty in December to one count of attempting to assist a known terrorist organization.

The crime carries a penalty of up to 15 years in federal prison and a lifetime of supervised release. He was scheduled to appear before U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter, who earlier voiced doubts about how Nguyen could have helped al-Qaida.

Nguyen’s attorney requested a shorter sentence by citing 14 other terrorism-related cases in which most received less than eight years in prison.

Between August and October 2013, Nguyen met several times with a man he thought was an al-Qaida recruiter but who was actually working for the FBI, according to court documents. Nguyen told the recruiter he was born to wage jihad and he agreed to travel to Pakistan via Mexico in order to train 30 al-Qaida fighters.

Nguyen was arrested at a Santa Ana bus terminal in October while waiting for a bus bound for Mexico. At the time of his arrest, Nguyen had a passport with a false name, along with a hard drive containing 180 weapons training videos, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Nguyen’s admission was outlined in a plea agreement filed in federal court.

Nguyen, who also went by the name Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum, said he had traveled to Syria and for five months fought with rebel forces opposing the regime of Bashar al-Assad. While in Syria, Nguyen offered his services to al-Qaida but was turned down, according to federal prosecutors.

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