TIME France

French Terror Suspect ‘Plotted Bombing the Eiffel Tower and Louvre’

The words "With the Syrians" are displayed on the Eiffel Tower in support of Syrians on the third anniversary of the conflict, in Paris
The words "With the Syrians" are displayed on the Eiffel Tower in Paris on March 15, 2014, in support of Syrians on the third anniversary of the conflict that has claimed more than 140,000 lives. On July 9, 2014, French police revealed transcripts of encrypted messages from a French jihadist who planned to target the Eiffel Tower and other French landmarks. Benoit Tessier—Reuters

Revelations come as France's Interior Minister attempts to build support for a controversial antiterrorism bill

A French jihadist was plotting to bomb renowned Paris tourist attractions such as the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, according to intercepted messages he sent al-Qaeda operatives revealed on Wednesday.

A 29-year-old butcher of Algerian descent, only known as Ali M, was sending encrypted emails to a senior member of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) for over a year, reports the French daily Le Parisien.

When Ali M was asked how he would “conduct jihad in the place you are currently,” he suggested targeting nuclear power plants, several landmarks including the Eiffel Tower and “cultural events that take place in the south of France in which thousands of Christians gather for a month,” the Telegraph reports.

“The main walkways become black with people and a simple grenade can injure dozens of people, not to mention a booby-trapped device,” he said.

AQIM suggested that the butcher receive training in military techniques in the desert of southern Algeria prior to undertaking the attacks, but French officers detained him in June 2013, one week before his planned departure. Authorities then set about decoding the encrypted messages.

Ali M’s lawyer, Daphne Pugliesi, told Le Parisien that the butcher had been recruited and brainwashed by AQIM and that his “arrest has been a relief for him.” Ali M is still detained and awaiting trial for “criminal association,” according to France 24.

The transcripts were revealed as France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve attempts to build support for controversial new antiterrorism legislation that would prevent French nationals from traveling abroad if they are suspected of joining the wars in Syria or Iraq. The bill would also crack down on jihad-recruitment efforts online.

Authorities say that 800 French nationals have already gone to Syria since the start of the conflict in March 2011; many have either returned to France or are planning to do so in the future, Radio France Internationale reports.

TIME Terrorism

#BringBackOurGirls Still Hasn’t Brought Them Back

Nigerian mothers, with some girls who escaped Boko Haram, are covered in sheets to hide their identity Aderogba Obisesan—AFP/Getty Images

Some women escaped, but Boko Haram continues to kidnap and kill

Despite the encouraging news that 63 girls and women have reportedly escaped the grip of Boko Haram, the militant Islamic group still holds the more than 200 schoolgirls it kidnapped in April captive.

The hostages who escaped were taken from the Kummabza village on June 18 after four days of fighting, in which more than 30 of the village men were killed and all homes were burned. Vigilantes from the region now say 63 women and girls slipped away when the fighters guarding them were called out to help in an attack on military barracks and police headquarters in another town, Damboa, that was tougher than the terrorists had expected.

“The women seized that rare opportunity to escape when they realized they were alone in the camp,” Bukar Kyari, a local vigilante fighting Boko Haram in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, told CNN. “But we still have five women, including a nursing mother, missing.”

Meanwhile, in Chibok, the home of the schoolgirls whose April 14 kidnapping by the group sparked off the #bringbackourgirls campaign, things have not improved. According to a Nigerian newspaper, 50 people were killed and five churches razed there on June 29, when the town came under attack again. After the initial kidnappings, says the paper, about 20 soldiers were dispatched there. Villagers have opined they are not getting much support from their local government because Chibok is a mostly Christian town in a mostly Muslim region.

If we were to be Kanuri, the state government would have since come to our aid. – See more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/07/chibok-prone-boko-haram-attacks/#sthash.3HD51a1Z.dpuf
Speaking to our correspondent, a 66-year old resident, Mr. Ezekiel Inuwa, a retired civil servant but now living in Kautikari, and lost one of his sons in last Sunday deadly attacks on three communities in Chibok LGA, during church service that claimed over 50 lives, said, “If we were to be Kanuri, the state government would have since come to our aid. – See more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/07/chibok-prone-boko-haram-attacks/#sthash.3HD51a1Z.dpuf

The future looks increasingly difficult for the Chibok abductees the longer they are away. (At publication, they have been gone for 84 days.) If recent history is any guide, even if they return, they face a tough time resuming their former lives. If they come back with children, as other abductees have, those children will be considered tainted by their Boko Haram lineage. Even if they aren’t pregnant or mothers, the girls are quite likely to have difficulty finding husbands, as the suspicion of impurity tends to scare off suitors. (Notice how the returned abductees in the photo are covered in sheets to protect their identity.) In northern Nigeria, unmarried women do not have many options.

It’s purely speculation, but if the experience of the girls who were taken by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda is any guide, the girls’ captors could very well use the threat of shame and alienation from the community as a method of dissuading their captives from running away. Some of the kidnapped Ugandan girls were gone for as long as a decade.

On Sunday, June 29, no fewer than 50 people, mostly Christian worshippers, were killed in Chibok, while five churches, including Cocin, EYN and Deeper Life Bible Church, in Kwada village, about 10 kilometres from Chibok LGA, were razed when some gunmen laid ambush to the village during church service. – See more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/07/chibok-prone-boko-haram-attacks/#sthash.3HD51a1Z.dpu
On Sunday, June 29, no fewer than 50 people, mostly Christian worshippers, were killed in Chibok, while five churches, including Cocin, EYN and Deeper Life Bible Church, in Kwada village, about 10 kilometres from Chibok LGA, were razed when some gunmen laid ambush to the village during church service. – See more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/07/chibok-prone-boko-haram-attacks/#sthash.3HD51a1Z.dpu
TIME Aviation

France Beefs Up Security on Flights to U.S.

France Airport Security
A French soldier stands in front of the desk of American airline company 'Delta Air Lines' in Nice airport, south eastern France, July 4, 2014. Lionel Cironneau—AP

Amid terrorism concerns

France is ramping up security measures on all outgoing flights to the U.S. following terrorism warnings.

“At the request of American authorities, security measures at airports for flights bound to the United States have been increased for the summer period,” the French Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement Friday.

American authorities said Wednesday that they’re concerned al-Qaeda might be developing a new kind of bomb that could be smuggled onto planes. The Obama Administration told foreign airports with direct flights to the U.S. to increase their security measures.

The French agency warned that delays are possible and recommended all passengers flying to the U.S. arrive early. The move follows British airports agreeing to increase airport security Thursday.

France has not elaborated on the measures it intends to implement.

 

TIME Congress

Edward Snowden and the NSA Can Both Be Right

Edward Snowden NSA
US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks to European officials via videoconference during a parliamentary hearing on improving the protection of whistleblowers, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, eastern France, on June 24, 2014. Frederick Florin—AFP/Getty Images

Two reports raise the possibility that on balance, both the NSA collection programs and Snowden’s revelations have done more to advance the public good than to harm it

The yearlong debate over the leak of National Security Agency documents by former contractor Edward Snowden has divided the world into two camps. One sees Snowden as a patriotic public servant and believes the NSA programs he revealed are unjustified threats to civil liberties. The other sees Snowden as a traitor and views the NSA programs as necessary for national security.

Two reports this week raise a third possibility: that on balance, both the NSA collection programs and Snowden’s revelations have done more to advance the public good than to harm it.

On July 1, the independent agency charged with overseeing U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism programs to ensure they don’t infringe on privacy and civil liberties found the core of the NSA’s Internet collection programs did neither. In a 196-page report, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found both the NSA’s collection of Internet traffic from service providers, and the agency’s tapping of undersea cables, complied with the Constitution and Congress’s privacy protections for U.S. persons, and were therefore legal. It further found that the programs were valuable (two board members called them “extremely valuable”) for foreign intelligence and counterterrorism:

Presently, over a quarter of the NSA’s reports concerning international terrorism include information based in whole or in part on Section 702 collection.

On the other side of the equation, the PCLOB report comes less than a week after Adm. Michael Rogers, the head of the NSA, told the New York Times that while the damage done by Snowden was real, he did not believe “the sky is falling” as a result. Earlier in June, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Washington Post that “we think that a lot of what [Snowden] looked at, he couldn’t pull down,” and that “it doesn’t look like [Snowden] took as much” as first thought.

Taken together, the reports raise the possibility that the NSA programs continue to contribute to U.S. national security and that the damage done by Snowden’s leaks is offset by the public awareness of and debate about surveillance.

There are, of course, qualifiers to such a best-of-both-worlds view. For starters, the PCLOB report raised concerns about how the NSA, CIA and FBI search the data once it is collected from the Internet and recommended in some cases curtailing those searches. In January, the PCLOB found that the NSA’s telephone metadata records program was effectively illegal and should be ended. And no one can seriously look at the Snowden revelations without considering the possibility that they damaged national security. A large majority of security experts recently polled by National Journal believe the damage caused by the leaks is greater than the public value of Snowden’s revelations.

But the PCLOB said it had not seen any evidence of “bad faith or misconduct” in either the NSA’s Internet collection program or the telephone metadata program: for all the speculative fear of a dystopian future, no one has been maliciously targeted, and the programs haven’t been hijacked by a malevolent Nixonian seeking political advantage. At the same time, Snowden’s revelations have initiated a broad, bipartisan public debate over government surveillance, and he has advanced the idea that in the digital age, privacy is always in play (including the commercial collection and sale of data on virtually every household in the country, as the Federal Trade Commission recently reported).

This may all sound Panglossian, but it fits with the conclusions of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, scourge of secrecy, who believed there were many things that “should be made secret, but then released as soon as the immediate need has passed.” Standing at the threshold of the digital age in 1997, Moynihan declared:

In one direction we can reach out and touch the time when the leaders of the Soviet Union thought that the explosion at the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl could be kept secret from the rest of the world. In the other direction we can see a time — already upon us — when fourteen-year-old hackers in Australia or Newfoundland can make their way into the most sensitive areas of national security or international finance. The central concern of government in the future will not be information, but analysis. We need government agencies staffed with argumentative people who can live with ambiguity and look upon secrecy as a sign of insecurity.

At the least, the new reports raise the possibility that neither side in the continuing debate over Snowden’s revelations has the absolute high ground when it comes to the defense of the public good.

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

+ READ ARTICLE

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

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