TIME India

At Least 11 Killed in Assam Attacks

Opinion is divided on whether the violence is linked to India's ongoing legislative elections

At least 11 people have been killed in two attacks in the northeastern state of Assam, a few weeks after the state wrapped up its three-phase vote. Local police told the BBC they suspect a separatist rebel group of targeting and killing members of the area’s Muslim community in the May 1 violence. They have also said, however, that the bloodshed was not connected to the national elections under way.

Tensions between the ethnic Bodo group and minorities in Assam have been churning for years. In 2012, large riots broke out between the two groups, in which dozens of people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. The Bodo community and minority communities, including Muslims, have been competing for increasingly scarce resources and land. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland, a separatist group fighting for an independent homeland, has already staged several violent and nonviolent actions this year, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

Despite police statements to the contrary, some residents told the media that they believe yesterday’s attacks were due to the fact that rebels believed the victims had voted for non-Bodo candidates. Assam went to the polls in three separate phases on April 7, 12 and 24. Residents living in the area of the attack voted in the last phase. One policeman was killed, and two were injured on that polling day.

The May 1 attacks came the same day that two bomb blasts terrified passengers on an early morning train in the southern city of Chennai, killing one young woman and injuring several others. Though the incident was quick to be politicized, authorities gave no immediate evidence that the incident was connected to the elections. Chennai also voted on April 24.

Even with efforts in recent years to stamp out election-day turbulence in India, sporadic outbreaks of violence have punctuated a largely peaceful vote. On April 30, police killed a protester as voting was under way in Kashmir. On April 24, at least three election officials and five police were killed in a suspected Maoist attack on voting day in Jharkhand.

TIME

Osama bin Laden Situation Room Photo: Where Are They Now?

Three years after a White House photographer captured the tense scene as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others watched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden unfold, here's an update on those in the iconic picture

Osama bin Laden was shot and killed by a team of U.S. Navy Seals in Abbottabad, Pakistan exactly three years ago. Two dozen special forces operatives entered bin Laden’s hidden compound during the night, executed the most infamous terrorist in modern times and left with his body, destined for the North Arabian Sea. It was a dramatic end to the painstaking search that had begun long before the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Back in the United States, the nation’s top military and civilian leaders were gathered in the White House Situation Room to watch the operation unfold live. President Barack Obama’s decision to order the strike was based on what then-National Security Advisor Tom Donilon famously called “a 50-50 chance” that bin Laden was even there at all.

A White House photographer captured what has since become an iconic image when Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Brig. Gen. Marshall B. Brad Webb, Hillary Clinton and other heavy-hitters watched stone-faced as the operation unfolded. The mood in the Situation Room was tense, with all eyes glued on a live video feed provided by drones hovering high above bin Laden’s compound.

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 1, 2011. Pete Souza—The White House

Where are the players in this iconic image today? President Obama, the central figure in the drama and the man responsible for giving the final order to strike, is still commander in chief, of course. And while many of the people in the room have since retired from government life, a few continue to aspire to prominent political positions—most notably, Hillary Clinton, who may well be paving her way to a second presidential bid.

Here are the 13 men and women pictured that day, from left to right:

Joe Biden, vice president of the United States, has continued to play an active foreign policy role, most recently visiting allies in eastern Europe as part of the escalating Ukraine crisis. He originally opposed the raid on bin Laden’s compound, according to Mark Bowden’s book on the bin Laden strike, Finish.

Barack Obama, forty-forth president of the United States, called the operation against Osama bin Laden “the most important single day of my presidency.”

Marshall B. Webb (seated at the head of the table, with a laptop) is a United States Air Force major general who served as Assistant Commanding General of the Joint Special Operations Command during the raid.

Mike Mullen (standing, wearing a tie), a career naval officer, was serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the principal military advisor to the president when the photo was taken. He has since retired.

Tom Donilon (standing, arms folded) was President Obama’s National Security Advisor from October 2010 until June 2013 and is now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Donilon didn’t want President Obama to watch the raid, fearing it would appear he was micromanaging the strike. Obama reportedly insisted, striding into the room, saying “I need to watch this.”

Bill Daley (standing, with jacket) was the White House Chief of Staff for President Obama from January 2011 to 2012. He was preparing for the 2014 Illinois gubernatorial race before dropping out of the contest early for personal reasons. He recently became head of U.S. operations for a hedge fund that was launched last year in Switzerland to avoid following the the U.S. Volcker Rule.

Denis McDonough (seated) was the Deputy National Security Advisor when bin Laden was killed. He now serves as the White House Chief of Staff.

Tony Blinken (standing, peering over Daley’s shoulder) was a national security adviser to Joe Biden during Obama’s first term and had a seat at the table during daily security briefings. He’s now the President’s Deputy National Security Adviser.

Hillary Clinton, one of the most visible members of the team other then President Obama, has said she is considering running for president in 2016.

Audrey Tomason (standing, furthest in back),who the White House has said is a director for counterterrorism, is something of a mystery. When pressed, an official told the Daily Beast the White House does not generally discuss intelligence personnel.

John Brennan (standing, wearing gray), now director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was Homeland Security Advisor at the time of the raid.

James Clapper (standing, wearing tie) has remained the Director of National Intelligence in the intervening three years since the photo was taken. Clapper sparked controversy in March 2013 when he claimed the NSA does not “wittingly” collect data on millions or hundred of millions of Americans. Edward Snowden’s leaks calling Clapper’s testimony into question were published three months later.

Robert Gates (seated) was Secretary of Defense at the time bin Laden was killed. He retired just two months later and is now the Chancellor of the College of William & Mary. He originally opposed a raid before changing his mind on the day of the strike.

TIME Asia

In China, Deadly Bomb and Knife Attack Rocks Xinjiang Capital

Security personnel inspect the explosion site outside Urumqi South Railway Station in Urumqi in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, April 30, 2014 after an explosion that killed some people and injured some.
Security personnel inspect the explosion site outside Urumqi South Railway Station in Urumqi, northwest China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, on April 30, 2014 An He—EPA

At least three people were killed and 79 others injured after an explosion and knifing spree near a train station in northwestern China, seemingly the latest attack orchestrated by the autonomy-seeking Uighur minority

Just hours after China’s President Xi Jinping was wrapping up a rare visit to the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, an explosion and knifing spree near a train station in the regional capital Urumqi left at least three dead and 79 injured. The detonation at Xinjiang’s largest train station, which occurred at around 7:10 p.m. on April 30, emanated from a clutch of luggage left between the station’s exit and a nearby bus stop, according to China’s official news agency Xinhua, which quoted one man saying the blast was so powerful he mistook it for an earthquake. Xinhua also reported that “an initial police investigation showed knife-wielding mobs slashed people at the [station’s] exit.” On Thursday afternoon, the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, reported that two of the three fatalities were “mobsters [who] set off bombs on their bodies and died,” while the third casualty was a bystander.

Witness photos of the aftermath, including those of bloodied bags strewn on the ground, were quickly deleted on Chinese social media by government censors. Hours after the attack, Xinhua quoted Xi taking a strong stance: “The battle to combat violence and terrorism will not allow even a moment of slackness, and decisive actions must be taken to resolutely suppress the terrorists’ rampant momentum.” But Xinhua’s own social-media alerts on the rail attack were later censored by one Chinese portal as well.

The homeland of the Turkic-speaking Uighur people, Xinjiang has simmered with unrest in recent years. At least 100 people have died in battles and raids that have centered on symbols of the state, like police stations. But violence has also spread to other parts of China. Last year, an SUV plowed into crowds at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing two tourists. Police said the car’s occupants, who also died after flames engulfed the vehicle, were Uighur separatists — a man, his wife and his mother. In March, in the most shocking incident to date, 29 passersby were slashed to death at another train station, this time in Kunming, the capital of southwestern Yunnan province. Chinese authorities have released few details about that incident but blamed a gang of knife-wielding separatists from Xinjiang for the deadly strike.

During Xi’s four-day “inspection tour” of Xinjiang — his first since assuming power in 2012 — he decried the spasms of violence that have convulsed the region. Once a vital way station on the Silk Road, part of Xinjiang briefly claimed independence from China early last century as the Republic of East Turkestan. Xi vowed a “strike-first” strategy in the restive region and saluted local police, who hail mostly from China’s Han ethnic majority, as the “fists and daggers” in the battle against terrorism and separatism. “Sweat more in peacetime to bleed less in wartime,” Xi was quoted as saying in Chinese state media. But the Chinese President also showed a softer side, with state TV broadcasting images of Xi smiling as he chatted with Uighur men wearing traditional prayer caps.

A Muslim ethnicity that takes cultural cues from Turkic Central Asia rather than Han China, the Uighurs complain of religious and social repression by the Chinese government. (It is a grievance shared by Tibetans, some 130 of whom have burned themselves to death in horrifying self-immolations.) Some Uighurs also say they have been overwhelmed by a mass migration of Han to Xinjiang, which has turned Uighurs into a minority in their own homeland and left them with fewer job options.

But the escalation of bloodshed, in which innocent civilians have perished, has made the Uighur campaign for sympathy — much less meaningful autonomy — a tougher sell. And each bout of violence brings another security crackdown that may only serve to alienate more Uighurs. After 2009 ethnic riots in Xinjiang, in which some 200 people died, Internet access was shut down for months. Since then, hundreds of Uighurs have been arrested, and exile groups complain of a lack of judicial due process. In the case of the Kunming attack, only the name of the alleged ringleader of the attackers has been released; the case was declared “solved” just two days after the killing spree.

Shortly after Wednesday’s Urumqi explosion, Dilxat Raxit, the spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress, a leading exile organization, told Reuters he deplored the heavy security clampdown in Xinjiang and fretted that “such incidents could happen again at any time.” A May 1 Xinhua editorial, with imperfect English translation, responded furiously: “Could he be more licentious by being not even bothered to gloss over his bloodlust? Anyone who preaches killing one’s own kind is a murder.”

TIME Terrorism

Al-Qaeda Still a ‘Serious Threat,’ State Department Says

Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen
Al-Qaeda militants Sami Dayan, right, and Farhan al-Saadi, third from right, are escorted by soldiers during the sentence hearing at the state security court in Sana’a, Yemen on April 22, 2014. Yahya Arhab—EPA

In the Middle East and North Africa, groups that are financially independent from core al-Qaeda leadership have become more aggressive despite losses among its core leadership in Pakistan, the State Department said in its annual report on global terrorism

Al-Qaeda and its affiliates still present a “serious threat” to the U.S. despite losses among its core leadership in Pakistan, the State Department said in its annual report on global terrorism.

The report said the al-Qaeda terrorist threat “has evolved” and is now dispersed across the Middle East and North Africa, where some operationally autonomous affiliates are growing increasingly aggressive and taking advantage of instability in the region. The groups are also increasingly financially autonomous from the core al-Qaeda leadership, raising their own funds through illegal operations like kidnapping for ransom and credit card fraud.

According to the State Department, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is primarily active in Yemen, “continues to pose the most significant threat to the United States and U.S. citizens” among al-Qaeda affiliates. The leader of the group, which carried out roughly 100 attacks in Yemen last year and has attempted multiple attacks on the U.S., was designated the deputy to al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri in 2013.

Terrorism in 2013 — particularly amid the civil war in Syria — was increasingly fueled by sectarian motives, which the report called “a worrisome trend.”

The report also found a “resurgence” of activity by the Iranian intelligence and security forces connected primarily to Iran’s support for the Assad regime in Syria and for its ally in Lebanon, Hizballah, which is a designated terrorist group that has sent fighters to Syria to back Assad.

In Israel, the number of rocket and mortar attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza dropped significantly since 2013, according to the report. There were 74 launchings last year from Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, down from 2,557 a year earlier, which is the the lowest number in more than a decade.

TIME Kenya

Four Killed in Kenya Car Bomb

A general view shows the scene of an explosion outside the Pangani police station in the capital Nairobi
A car exploded outside the Pangani police station in Kenya's capital Nairobi on April 23, 2014, killing four people. © Thomas Mukoya—Reuters

Chief of Kenya's police vows war on terrorism after car bomb explodes in a northeastern suburb of the capital Nairobi

Four people, including two police officers, were killed when a car bomb exploded in Kenya’s capital Nairobi Wednesday night, the Interior Ministry said on its Twitter account.

The two officers stopped a car for a traffic violation and escorted the vehicle to a police station in the Pangani district of Nairobi where it exploded, killing the two occupants and the police officers.

“I mourn the loss of the the two gallant officers who’ve died in their line of duty as they were defending and protecting our beloved country,” David Kimayo, the Inspector General of Kenya’s national police, wrote on his Twitter account.

He stressed that the vehicle could have caused “huge damage” had it exploded somewhere else.

Kimayo suggested that terrorists were responsible and said “I fully declare war” on terrorism.

In recent years Kenya has been the target of terrorist attacks conducted by the Somalian terrorist group al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya’s involvement in Somalia. Last September, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for an attack on a Nairobi shopping mall that resulted in 67 deaths, with dozens wounded.

TIME Terrorism

Air Strikes Kill Dozens of al-Qaeda Members in Yemen

People inspect the wreckage of a car hit by an air strike in the central Yemeni province of al-Bayda on April 19, 2014. Reuters

A "massive and unprecedented" series of joint U.S.-Yemeni airstrikes was launched against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula over the weekend, reportedly killing some 55 militants but also at least three civilians in the country’s southern and central regions

Updated 1:12 p.m. ET

Air strikes killed about 55 suspected al-Qaeda operatives in southern Yemen on Sunday, officials said, in what was called an “unprecedented” series of strikes.

According to the nation’s High Security Committee, the operation focused on “terrorist elements [who] were planning to target vital civilian and military installations.” An unnamed high-level Yemeni official told CNN that the “massive and unprecedented” strike involved commandos who are now “going after high-level AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] targets.” He said the operation was launched in collaboration with the U.S., though wouldn’t confirm the use of drones in the attack. The U.S. is known to have conducted drone strikes in Yemen.

Predawn strikes targeted a mountain ridge in the southern province of Abyan, according to the official, while Yemen’s state news agency SABA said three strikes hit an al-Qaeda training camp around 450 km south of the capital Sana‘a.

AQAP is one of the terrorist group’s most lethal wings.

TIME Terrorism

Bangkok Terrorism Arrests Could Mark Latest Setback for Hizballah and Iran

A senior U.S. official once called Hizballah "The A-Team of terrorists" but the Lebanese militia and its Iranian sponsors are struggling

The arrest of two Lebanese men in Thailand, allegedly for plotting to target Jewish tourists on a busy Bangkok street on behalf of the Lebanese Shiite group Hizballah, could mark the latest failed effort by the militia to resume terror attacks overseas. The latest plot, revealed in the Thai press on Friday, ended almost before it began. The two men reportedly arrived in Bangkok April 13 and were detained by Thai police on information supplied by Israeli intelligence. Both men allegedly carried passports of third countries (Philippines and France); Hizballah has previously shown it prefers its operatives to carry second passports. Media reports say one of the men admitted a plot to detonate explosives on Bangkok’s Khao San Road, a nexus for international backpackers, including young Israelis. The suspect also agreed to lead investigators to “bomb-making equipment” in the province of Rayong, southeast of the capital, the Bangkok Post reported.

Police were seeking third man, and The Post quoted an unnamed investigator as saying nine Hizballah agents are thought to be somewhere in the country.

The incident serves to underscore the apparent gap in operational abilities of the Iranian-backed Hizballah’s covert forces – which lately have shown little of the disciplined success that built the organization’s reputation as the “terrorist A-team” – and its uniformed militia. The troops are fighting on the side of President Bashar Assad in the civil war in Syria, and making a significant impact. Meanwhile, except for the 2012 bombing of a tourist bus carrying Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria – a “soft target” – Hizballah has suffered a number of setbacks that reveal what one analyst called “an atrophying of the group’s operational capabilities.”

“What I had been hearing from numerous sources is they just did not have the bandwidth to keep up the pace of the attacks because of Syria,” says Matthew Levitt, a former Treasury Department and FBI terrorism specialist, author of Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God. “They are all in Syria. And once that started in Syria in earnest, then [covert operations] became something that was less critical, it wasn’t their priority.”

One reversal came in Bangkok in January 2012, when a Hizballah agent (with a Swedish passport) led authorities to a 8,800 pounds of chemicals being assembled into explosives, apparently for shipment abroad in bags labeled as kitty litter. And Bangkok was the scene of the group’s biggest fiasco, a debacle in February 2012 that involved an Iranian agent blowing off his own legs while trying to escape a safe house where the roof had just blown off by a bomb-making accident. Three agents of the Quds Force, the branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps that operates overseas, were detained in the safe house incident. Inside the building, investigators found magnetic “sticky bombs” like the kind Israeli agents had attached to the cars of Iranian nuclear scientists. The Quds Force agents apparently intended to do the same to Israeli diplomats.

Phone records and other evidence gathered by four governments in a joint report detailed by the Washington Post link the Bangkok plan to Iranian plots against Israeli targets in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and India, all of which ended in failure and arrests. Other plots were thwarted in Kenya, South Africa, Cyprus and Bulgaria – and Texas, where an Iranian-American used car salesman tried to plot the assassination by bomb of Saudia Arabia’s ambassador in Washington D.C.

From Iran’s perspective, the flurry of attacks was intended both to avenge the death of the Iranian scientists and to demonstrate what in the way of “asymmetrical warfare” the West might face if there were a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Levitt wrote in a paper for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. But neither Quds nor Hizballah proved as formidable in the field as they had had been before 9/11, when they drew back from terrorist strikes. When they resumed, the world had become more security-conscious, and both Hizballah and the Quds Force were both rusty and hasty, mounting 20 plots in the 15 months from May 2011 to July 2012.

Since then, Iran appears to have reduced terror operations once again – scaling back as Iran and Western powers began talking seriously about launching diplomatic negotiations addressing Iran’s nuclear program. (Israel has restrained its covert operations, as well.) Hizballah, however, appears to be constrained only by the need to concentrate on Syria. Levitt says the group remains committed to striking Israeli targets to avenge the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, its talented terrorist leader, whose death was what prompted Hizballah to re-activate its covert operations. In addition, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to strike Israel in retaliation for its most recent airstrike on a convoy carrying advanced weapons; the Feb. 24 attack was the first such airstrike inside Lebanon.

Nasrallah later took responsibility for a March 14 roadside bomb attack on an Israeli patrol that wounded three soldiers. But he called the ambush on the Israel-Lebanon border only “part of the reply” to the airstrike. It’s possible another “part” was what the two Lebanese men were allegedly planning in Thailand, Levitt says.

“The Israelis in particular are very sensitive to any civilian loss,” he notes. “It’s possible the message is let them know there is pressure on every front.”

TIME Terrorism

Al-Qaeda’s Second-in-Command Seen in New Video

A video that surfaced recently on Islamist websites purports to show al-Qaeda fighters meeting in an open-air gathering

A video published recently on Islamist websites purports to show a large group of al-Qaeda fighters, including the terrorist group’s second in command, gathering in an open air location.

Counterterrorism authorities are scrutinizing the video for clues to potential plots, the Washington Post reports, citing unnamed U.S. officials. Officials told the Post the video appears to be recent and authentic. They declined to explain why there had been no U.S. strike on the gathering in an undisclosed, open location.

Nasir al-Wuhayshi, al-Qaeda’s leader in Yemen, is said to appear in the video without a mask, along with other group leaders. Some faces in the footage are blurred out, raising fears the organization may be seeking to protect the identities of recruits being trained for attacks.

The video evokes footage shot in the late 1990s of al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The terrorist network’s Yemen affiliate has generally avoided open-air meetings.

The United States has carried out eight strikes in Yemen so far this year. A U.S. strike there in December killed a dozen people in a wedding caravan.

[Washington Post]

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

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