THE NEW TARGETS FBI Stings Zero In on ISIS Sympathizers. Few Have Terrorist Links.
April 25, 2017
Trial and TerrorTrial and Terror
The U.S. government has prosecuted almost 800 people for terrorism since the 9/11 attacks. Most of them never committed an act of violence.
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BOSTON POLICE CAPT. Robert Ciccolo was one of the first responders to the Boston Marathon bombings. When his 23-year-old son, Alexander, who had converted to Islam and given himself the name Ali Al Amriki, began telling his father he was “not afraid to die for the cause,” Ciccolo became alarmed. Alexander had a history of mental illness, and his interest in Islam had become an obsession. In October 2014, Ciccolo contacted the FBI about his son.
The federal agents could have monitored Alexander, or perhaps confronted him. Instead, as the bureau does in most such cases, agents launched an investigation. They found Alexander’s Facebook page, listed under his nom de guerre. There was a photograph of a young man in a wooded area wearing a head covering and holding a machete. “Another day in the forest strengthening myself,” the caption read. Another photo on his Facebook page appeared to show a dead American soldier. “Thank you Islamic State!” read the caption.
As part of a sting, an FBI informant contacted Alexander and offered to provide him with guns for an attack. After Alexander collected the weapons on July 4, 2015, FBI agents arrested him and charged him with terrorism-related offenses. As he was being processed at a detention center, he stabbed a nurse with a pen, causing a minor injury. His case made national news, and FBI Director James Comey told reporters that Alexander Ciccolo’s was among several plots related to the Fourth of July holiday that were foiled by counterterrorism agents. “I do believe that our work disrupted efforts to kill people, likely in connection with July 4,” Comey told reporters during a July 7, 2015, briefing.
Alexander Ciccolo is among 63 men and women who have been arrested in FBI stings targeting ISIS sympathizers, according to an analysis of federal terrorism prosecutions by The Intercept.
Demonstrating the evolving threat of terrorism in the United States, alleged ISIS sympathizers are now the primary targets of FBI stings, upstaging Al Qaeda, the Shabab, and all other terrorist groups. The first ISIS case in the United States culminated in an arrest in March 2014, and the number quickly grew. Fifty-eight people were charged in 2015 for alleged ISIS affiliations. In 2016, 32 FBI cases involved ISIS sympathizers, compared to just one each that year involving Al Qaeda and Shabab sympathizers.
But as with earlier FBI stings that primarily targeted Al Qaeda sympathizers, most of the targets of the bureau’s ISIS stings are aspirational, not operational.
In the majority of ISIS stings, targets were not in direct contact with ISIS representatives and did not have weapons of their own, government evidence showed. Instead, these targets were inspired by online propaganda to join ISIS and either made arrangements on their own to travel to Syria or were aided by FBI informants or undercover agents in their attempts join ISIS or plot attacks inside the United States.
BOSTON, MA – JUNE 24: Boston cab drivers rallied this morning before attending a hearing, chaired by Capt. Robert Ciccolo, seen here, with Boston Police Hackney Division at Roxbury Community College regarding a proposed fare increase. (Photo by George Rizer/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) Capt. Robert Ciccolo chairing a hearing at Roxbury Community College. Photo: George Rizer/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
After Alexander was arrested, FBI agents read him his Miranda rights. He then sat for an interview with FBI agents Paul Ambrogio and Julia Cowley.
Dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, he refused to talk about the guns, but he defended ISIS as a just organization, even as he demonstrated his ignorance about the group. The FBI recorded the interview.
“ISIS claimed responsibility, right, for a lot of beheadings?” Ambrogio asked. “There’s someone who names himself Jihadi John and he beheads people, right? He does it in an online way so that people can see it. So what’s your feeling about that? They represent themselves as ISIS; they’re ISIS. What’s your feeling?”
“The people that you see being executed are criminals,” Alexander answered. “They’re criminals. They’re the lowest of the low.”
According to his family, Alexander, a high school dropout, had battled off and on with alcohol addiction. He was also admitted to a psychiatric institution when he was a teenager.
As a child, he went back and forth between the homes of his father, a stern cop who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, and his mother, something of a free spirit. Alexander followed in his mother’s footsteps.
“I raised him Catholic; he was baptized Catholic,” said Shelley MacInnes, his mother. “He stayed with his Catholic beliefs for quite a long time. I would say he is a very religious person and very spiritual, but as he got older, I think he started searching.”
Alexander Ciccolo first gravitated toward Buddhism and spent time at the Grafton Peace Pagoda in Petersburgh, New York. In 2012, he and other members of the Peace Pagoda walked around Lake Ontario to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear power. A photograph from the time shows him wearing a green V-neck T-shirt and holding a handwritten sign that reads: “Peace walk for no more Fukushima.”
Shortly after, he returned to Massachusetts and announced that he would become a Muslim. “One day we were out having dinner, and he went to the bathroom,” MacInnes recalled. “He ran into an imam. … He was so excited. ‘Mom, you’re aren’t going to believe what just happened.’”
Alexander became fixated on Islam and ISIS, and he would talk often with his parents about his newfound beliefs. “He’s always been an investigator, never takes anything at face value,” MacInnes said. “As far as ISIS goes, my personal opinion is that he was investigating the validity of that organization, rather than taking the media’s answer for it.”
Following its sting playbook, the FBI introduced to Alexander an informant posing as an ISIS sympathizer. The informant and Alexander met for the first time in person on June 24, 2015. The young man told the informant that he wanted to travel to another state and use pressure cooker bombs to attack two bars and a police station. Over the course of a week, his plan changed from bombing bars and a police station to attacking a university. He boasted that he knew how to use sniper rifles and had grown up with guns. “I know what I’m doing,” he said.
But Alexander didn’t have any weapons, aside from a couple of machetes. His only would-be bomb components were a pressure cooker purchased from Wal-Mart and some half-made Molotov cocktails.
That’s where the FBI stepped in again. The undercover informant provided Alexander with two assault rifles and two handguns. As soon as Alexander took possession of the guns, FBI agents arrested him, charging him with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization and attempting to use weapons of mass destruction. He was also charged with being a felon in possession of firearms, owing to an earlier state conviction of driving under the influence.
BRIGHTON — Buddhist nun Jun Yasuda, left, Lauren Carlbon and Alex Ciccolo on their recent peace walk through Brighton. Ms. Yasuda and her fellow walkers are traveling 600 km around Lake Ontario to spread awareness about the dangers of nuclear energy and weapons. July 26, 2012. Alexander Ciccolo, right, along with Buddhist nun Jun Yasuda and Lauren Carlbon, on a peace walk through Brighton, Mass., July 26, 2012. Photo: Dave Fraser/Metroland Media/The Independent
WHETHER OUT OF mental illness, immaturity, or naiveté, Alexander Ciccolo professed support for ISIS, but it’s unclear whether he would have posed a threat had the FBI informant not encouraged him and provided him with weapons. In this way, Ciccolo’s case is prototypical of ISIS stings.
In these cases, the FBI provides encouragement and capacity to otherwise hapless individuals.
For example, in a similar case in April 2016, the FBI arrested a South Florida man who allegedly plotted to bomb a Jewish community center. An FBI informant gave James Medina, a homeless man with a history of making baseless threats of violence, the opportunity. It was in fact the FBI informant who first came up with the idea of crediting their attack to ISIS. Farther north, in upstate New York, Emanuel L. Lutchman, another homeless man, told an FBI informant that he had received directions from an overseas ISIS member and was planning an attack, using a machete and knives, on a New Year’s Eve celebration in Rochester. The FBI’s informant provided the $40 Lutchman needed to purchase the machete and knives.
In other ISIS stings, the FBI has encouraged and helped to facilitate the international travel of would-be ISIS recruits. An example is the case of Jason Michael Ludke, a Milwaukee man who made contact with an FBI undercover employee through social media. The FBI undercover employee, pretending to be affiliated with ISIS, encouraged Ludke and his friend Yosvany Padilla-Conde to join the terrorist group. The pair drove from Wisconsin to Texas, where they were arrested. According to Padilla-Conde’s statements after the arrest, they were under the impression that the FBI undercover employee was going to assist them in crossing the border into Mexico and then traveling to Iraq or Yemen. Ludke and Padilla-Conde are facing charges of material support for terrorists.
The analysis of terrorism prosecutions by The Intercept shows that federal judges have wrestled with appropriate punishments for those convicted of ISIS-related terrorism offenses.
Some defendants who were arrested before they had an opportunity to travel to Syria have received relatively lenient sentences. Mohammed Hamzah Khan, of Bolingbrook, Illinois, was arrested as he attempted to board a flight to Turkey at O’Hare International Airport. He received about three years in prison. Shannon Maureen Conley, who lived in Colorado, received about four years after she was arrested at the airport in Denver, on her way to Turkey.
At the same time, defendants whose support for ISIS consisted of online activity, such as distributing propaganda on social media, have received comparable sentences to, and in some cases more prison time than, defendants who tried to join ISIS on the battlefield. Heather Elizabeth Coffman, of Glen Allen, Virginia, used several social media accounts to communicate with FBI informants posing as ISIS agents. She was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison. Ali Shukri Amin, who also lived in Virginia, admitted that he operated a pro-ISIS Twitter account and blog and provided instructions to ISIS supporters on how to use Bitcoin to avoid currency transfer restrictions. He was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison.
But the most significant prison sentences await those who, like Alexander Ciccolo, moved forward with terrorist plots in the United States, even if it was the FBI making them possible. Christopher Cornell, of Cincinnati, Ohio, plotted with an FBI informant to travel to Washington, D.C., and attack the U.S. Capitol. He was arrested as he was leaving a gun store. After pleading guilty to terrorism-related charges, Cornell was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Lutchman, who was involved in the purported plans to attack a New Year’s Eve celebration in upstate New York, pleaded guilty to material support and received a 20-year prison sentence.
It’s still too early to establish conclusive trends about the sentencing of ISIS defendants in U.S. District Courts. Of the 110 ISIS defendants charged, only 45 have been sentenced.
Yet the arrests of ISIS sympathizers continue at a steady clip, even when the targets of stings have proven themselves to be incompetent ISIS recruits.
An example is Mohamed Rafik Naji, of New York, who attempted five times to travel to ISIS territory but never made it. That’s when an FBI informant, posing as an ISIS affiliate, contacted him through Facebook.
The informant told him that ISIS needed someone to attack Times Square with a garbage truck. “I was saying if there is a truck, I mean a garbage truck, and one drives it there to Times Square and crushes them,” Naji told the informant, repeating the idea. Naji was indicted in November 2016 on a charge of material support for terrorists, the 93rd person to be charged in federal court in an ISIS-related case.
Alexander Ciccolo is now undergoing psychological evaluation; his trial is pending. MacInnes, Ciccolo’s mother, believes he was an impressionable young man manipulated by the FBI and set up with weapons that he never could have obtained on his own. “I don’t think he even knew what his plan was,” MacInnes said.
April 20 2017, 7:15 p.m.
Find this story at 20 April 2017
Mossad Reportedly Turned French Spies Into Double Agents After Joint Syria Op
April 25, 2017
Le Monde reveals how Israeli espionage agency allegedly exploited a successful chemical weapons operation to get French counterparts to become sources; former head of French counterintelligence agency being questioned as suspect in case.
PARIS – An internal report written by French intelligence, parts of which were published in the daily newspaper Le Monde on Sunday, reveal efforts by the Mossad to develop relationships with French spies, “to the point of crossing the line of turning them into double agents.”
The audit report recommends investigating Bernard Squarcini, the head of the General Directorate for Internal Security until 2012, on suspicion of maintaining unauthorized and unreported ties with the Mossad’s Paris bureau chief at the time (identified in the report only by his initials, D.K.).
The background to all this was a joint operation launched by the Mossad and French counterintelligence agency in 2010 to collect intelligence about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chemical warfare plans. The operation, code-named Ratafia, aimed to recruit a senior Syrian engineer, who was meant to come to France to do additional training in chemistry and also to help recruit other engineers.
The Mossad and French agents would hold work meetings using assumed names, as is customary. The French agents, who belonged to three different counterintelligence units, were responsible for the operation in Paris, while the Mossad agents were responsible for the plot that would enable the Syrian target to leave the country for studies and to recruit others in the French capital.
Police officers guard the General Directorate for Internal Security headquarters in Levallois Perret, outside Paris, 2015.
Police officers guard the General Directorate for Internal Security headquarters in Levallois Perret, outside Paris, 2015.Christophe Ena / AP
But according to the report, the Israelis exploited the operation to persuade an unknown number of French agents to also serve as intelligence sources for Israel.
One of the French agents under surveillance was seen going up to the apartment of the Mossad’s Paris chief for dinner one Friday night. Later, he reported to his superiors that he was going to Dubai on vacation, when in fact he flew with his family to Israel, where he spent time with Mossad agents without permission and without reporting the meetings afterward.
In addition, according to the report, suspicious sums of money were deposited in the bank accounts of those French agents who were involved in the Ratafia operation.
The internal report calls for further investigation to understand what damage was done to the French intelligence service.
Le Monde also published details about the Ratafia operation. The paper claimed that the Mossad succeeded in recruiting the Syrian engineer and extracted information from him about Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal.
The French daily said the operation enabled Israel to prove that the scientific cooperation between the European Union and Syria was being used to boost Assad’s chemical weapons program, which led to the cancellation of the agreement with the Syrians in 2011.
According to Le Monde, the Mossad’s interest in building relations with French spies was exposed because a different French espionage agency, responsible for information security, was keeping the agents under surveillance and photographed them with Mossad agents.
The paper said that all the Mossad agents involved were identified by their real names. The French filed a formal complaint, and two Israeli diplomats in the Israeli Embassy in Paris left their posts and returned to Israel. The Mossad chief, D.K., also returned to Israel following the French complaint.
According to the report, the two Mossad agents suspected of contacts with the French have left the service and are now private businessmen in Tel Aviv. But during 2016, the report noted, they made contact with Squarcini (the counterintelligence head they’d worked with) in Paris.
Squarcini, who is now being questioned as a suspect in the case, told investigators he met the two “totally by chance.”
A short time before the suspicions came to light, Squarcini himself launched an internal inquiry into whether the Mossad was trying to recruit French agents as sources. However, the agents he put under surveillance did not include those involved in the Ratafia operation, even though Squarcini was fully aware of the close ties that had developed between his people and the Mossad operatives, the report said.
An investigating judge appointed by the French filed an official request with Israel to question the two ex-Mossad agents who made contact with Squarcini in 2016. It isn’t clear if he received a response.
The judge is seeking to build on the internal investigative report and broaden the investigation into whether the Mossad infiltrated French intelligence under Squarcini.
Dov Alfon Mar 27, 2017 5:40 PM
Find this story at 27 March 2017
Associés dans l’opération « Ratafia », les espions français et israéliens se sont-ils espionnés entre eux ?
April 25, 2017
Le Mossad aurait tenté d’infiltrer le service de contre-espionnage
français dans le cadre de l’opération visant à lutter contre le
programme d’armes chimiques syrien, à partir de 2010.
Dans le monde de l’espionnage, si des services décident d’unir leurs
efforts, cela n’en fait pas pour autant des amis. Rien ne les empêchera
de s’espionner. Jamais. La preuve lors d’une opération qui a réuni, à
partir de 2010, la sécurité intérieure française et le service secret
israélien du Mossad pour lutter contre le programme d’armes chimiques
développé par le régime syrien de Bachar Al-Assad.
L’enquête de sécurité interne diligentée par la Direction centrale du
renseignement intérieur (DCRI, devenue Direction générale de la sécurité
intérieure en 2014) sur la tentative du Mossad d’infiltrer, à cette
occasion, le service de contre-espionnage français illustre ces
pratiques. Lorsque l’opération ayant pour nom de code « Ratafia »
débute, en 2010, c’est encore l’union sacrée pour prendre au piège un
Syrien qui doit effectuer des séjours en France. Il s’agit de l’amener à
livrer des secrets sur le programme d’armes chimiques syrien auquel il
Lorsque le Mossad obtient le soutien de plusieurs groupes de la DCRI et
d’agents de la DGSE, tous ses membres agissent sous de faux noms et une
dizaine d’entre eux sont des clandestins à l’exception de D.K., chef de
poste du Mossad à Paris. Selon les accusations de la DCRI, auxquelles Le
Monde a eu accès, le Mossad aurait profité du contact quotidien avec ces
agents français lors des séjours de la cible syrienne pour nouer des
liens jugés suspects.
L’un des agents français a ainsi été vu fêtant le shabbat avec le chef
de poste du Mossad à Paris, il est également parti faire du tir à Dubaï
puis a rejoint, en famille, ses camarades du Mossad à Jérusalem. Une
proximité revenant, selon la DCRI, à franchir la ligne jaune. Des
soupçons portent également sur le versement de sommes d’argent en
espèces et l’existence de cadeaux contraire aux règles internes.
Résultat, plusieurs agents français intégrés dans l’équipe conjointe
avec le Mossad se verront retirer leur habilitation secret défense et
seront mutés dans des services subalternes.
L’enquête interne de la DGSI se garde cependant de rappeler qu’un autre
groupe de la DCRI, chargé de contre-espionnage, s’est arrangé pour
prendre en photo, à leur insu, les agents du Mossad qui travaillaient
avec les Français. Un audit sera, enfin, déclenché sur l’utilisation des
fonds de l’opération « Ratafia » après la découverte de demandes de
remboursement de frais douteux.
Cette enquête interne a été évoquée dans le cadre d’une information
judiciaire visant Bernard Squarcini, chef de la sécurité intérieure de
2007 à 2012. Soupçonné d’avoir pu utiliser les moyens d’écoutes de son
service à des fins personnelles, il s’est défendu en indiquant que le
bref placement sur écoute d’un fonctionnaire qui lui est reproché était
destiné à vérifier s’il n’avait pas été, à son tour, « touché » par ce
service étranger. Ce qui se révéla infondé. « Le service de sécurité de
la DCRI m’a informé qu’une entreprise de matériel côtoyait de très près
des personnels ex-RG affectés aux missions de surveillance
opérationnelle et qu’il s’agissait d’une tentative du Mossad ou de gens
considérés comme très proches d’infiltrer le service », a ajouté M.
Squarcini. S’il a évoqué la compromission de policiers de son service,
il n’a, en revanche, pas dit un mot sur l’opération « Ratafia » menée
avec le Mossad.
La DCRI fit part de ses griefs à la hiérarchie du Mossad à Tel-Aviv.
Deux membres de l’ambassade d’Israël à Paris furent priés de quitter la
France, dont D. K. Ils ont quitté le Mossad et se sont reconvertis dans
le privé. M. Squarcini a affirmé qu’il avait, par hasard, rencontré, en
2016, ces deux hommes venus en France pour affaires.
Fin décembre, les juges d’instruction ont émis, à l’attention de
l’Inspection générale de la police nationale (IGPN), deux commissions
rogatoires pour en savoir plus sur cette affaire. La première sur
l’enquête de contre-espionnage visant le Mossad et les relations
existant entre ce service et la DGSI, la seconde demande aux policiers
d’entendre les deux anciens du Mossad qu’aurait rencontrés M. Squarcini.
LE MONDE | 25.03.2017 à 11h26
Par Jacques Follorou
Find this story at 25 March 2017
Mostefaï, kamikaze du Bataclan, sept ans en pointillés sur les radars policiers
April 25, 2017
A la lumière de notes déclassifiées de la DGSI, «Libération» retrace le
parcours d’Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, l’un des assaillants du 13 Novembre,
sous-estimé par les services français.
Rétrospectivement, c’est peut-être sur le parcours d’Ismaël Omar
Mostefaï, l’un des trois kamikazes du Bataclan, que la faillite du
renseignement intérieur s’avère la plus crue dans le dossier des
attentats du 13 novembre 2015. Connu du contre-terrorisme français
depuis 2008, le jeune homme – qui s’est fait exploser à 29 ans dans la
salle de spectacle avec Samy Amimour et Foued Mohamed-Aggad – n’a jamais
fait l’objet d’une surveillance assidue. Et ce, malgré près de six
années passées au contact des sphères fondamentalistes. Une proximité
dont la Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur (DCRI, devenue
DGSI en 2014) avait parfaitement connaissance. Libération retrace
l’itinéraire d’Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, à la lumière des notes
déclassifiées sur demande des juges antiterroristes parisiens.
Fils d’un chauffeur routier algérien aux pratiques rigoristes, Ismaël
Omar Mostefaï grandit à Courcouronnes (Essonne). Entre 2004 et 2010, le
jeune homme cumule décrochage scolaire et huit condamnations pénales
pour détention de stupéfiants, violences, outrage et conduite sans
permis. En 2005, la famille Mostefaï déménage à Chartres, où Ismaël Omar
intègre peu à peu un groupe salafiste.
Dès 2009, huit membres de cette cellule se réunissant dans des
appartements font l’objet d’une attention particulière de la DCRI. Et
pour cause : comme l’a révélé Mediapart une dizaine de jours après les
attentats du 13 Novembre, le petit noyau de fondamentalistes est fédéré
autour d’Abdelilah Ziyad, un prédicateur marocain au CV bien rempli. Et
qui, surtout, n’a rien à faire dans la préfecture d’Eure-et-Loir.
En effet, Ziyad, la soixantaine, n’est autre que le «co-instigateur des
attentats de Fès et Marrakech», selon les notes de la DGSI que nous
avons pu consulter. Le 24 août 1994, trois Français recrutés par Ziyad
abattent deux touristes et en blessent un autre dans le hall de l’hôtel
Atlas Asni de Marrakech. Arrêté en août 1995, il est jugé un an plus
tard. A l’audience, il confesse son implication et écope de huit ans de
prison. La peine est assortie de dix ans d’interdiction du territoire
français. Libéré en 2001, Ziyad disparaît. Du moins momentanément.
En 2008, l’émir est donc débusqué à Chartres. Mais la réalité est bien
pire : en violation de son interdiction du territoire, Ziyad vit depuis
des années sous de fausses identités à Migennes (Yonne). Il effectue
alors secrètement des allers-retours à Chartres. C’est à son contact que
Mostefaï épouse l’idéologie jihadiste. En août 2012, sa famille
redéménage. Cette fois-ci, à Romilly-sur-Seine (Aube). Pile dans la
sphère d’influence de Ziyad, qui réside à Migennes mais qui dispose
d’attaches dans l’Aube. Cet emménagement est-il fortuit ? A l’époque, en
tout cas, les services spécialisés ne semblent guère s’en inquiéter.
Pourtant, à l’été 2012, Ismaël Omar Mostefaï coupe les ponts avec sa
Quelques semaines plus tard, le 29 septembre, il est localisé à Charmoy,
une commune limitrophe de… Migennes. Les gendarmes arrêtent un véhicule
avec deux personnes à bord, dont Mostefaï. Aux pandores, les deux
acolytes expliquent chercher une rue. Pour la DGSI, cette virée a une
tout autre motivation. Dans une note du 24 octobre 2012, le service
intérieur écrit : «Certains membres de ce groupe [les huit salafistes de
Chartres, ndlr] ont repris leurs déplacements dans l’agglomération de
Migennes afin d’y rencontrer leur maître.» Un maître qui n’est autre
qu’Abdelilah Ziyad, empruntant désormais l’identité d’Abdelmalek Bachir.
Malgré ces éléments, qui caractérisent la volonté récurrente de Mostefaï
de côtoyer son mentor, la DGSI n’adopte aucune surveillance poussée.
Plusieurs mois passent. Et Mostefaï est des plus discrets. Le 6
septembre 2013, il pénètre en Turquie avec deux hommes, dont Samy
Amimour. Leur destination est la Syrie, ce que la France n’apprendra que
des mois plus tard, presque par hasard. Rien dans les notes de la DGSI
ne documente ce premier voyage au Levant. Pire, les agents se disent
probablement que Mostefaï ne s’est jamais rendu en Syrie lorsqu’ils le
relocalisent le 9 avril 2014 à… Chartres.
«Combat de rue».
Ce jour-là, le futur kamikaze participe encore à une réunion sous
l’égide de Ziyad. Une entrevue jugée suffisamment sérieuse par la DGSI
pour que soient engagées des mesures de surveillance de certains
participants. D’aucuns feront l’objet d’écoutes et de filatures jusqu’en
septembre 2015. Dans une note de ce même 9 avril, que révèle Libération,
la DGSI écrit : «Les membres du groupe se sont entraînés physiquement en
présence de Bachir Abdelmalek, qu’ils considèrent comme leur maître. Ils
se sont également livrés à l’apprentissage de techniques de combat de
rue, sous l’égide de Bachir Abdelmalek, qu’ils jugent expert en la
matière.» Malgré ces renseignements clairs, Mostefaï est jugé
«périphérique» et ne bénéficie, une nouvelle fois, d’aucune attention
La suite est encore plus invraisemblable. Mostefaï part une deuxième
fois en Syrie. Quand ? Nul ne le sait aujourd’hui. En octobre 2014, la
France envoie une requête à la Turquie concernant le passage sur son sol
de jihadistes présumés. Ankara retourne une liste sur laquelle figure
Mostefaï pour… son premier séjour, celui effectué en septembre 2013.
Quatorze mois plus tard, les autorités françaises sont enfin au parfum.
Mais ni la DGSI ni son homologue extérieur, la DGSE, ne parviendront à
relocaliser précisément Mostefaï et à prévenir son deuxième retour et sa
participation à l’attentat du 13 Novembre au Bataclan, dans lequel 90
personnes ont trouvé la mort.
Par Willy Le Devin — 29 mars 2017 à 19:46
Find this story at 29 March 2017
How French intelligence agencies failed before the Paris attacks
December 23, 2015
Authorities knew of at least three of the Paris attackers but did not act – and ignored a warning about a potential attack
Do the arithmetic and it is hard not to feel sympathy for the French intelligence agencies. Every day they face a dilemma created by the gap between available staff and the huge number of suspects.
French intelligence and police have only an estimated 500-600 staff whose task is to physically follow people. But the agencies have about 11,000 people on their books classified as potential threats to national security.
To mount an operation to monitor one person 24-hours-a-day requires about 30 to 40 people. So they have to make hard choices about which people to prioritise.
They often get it right, foiling many plots. But when they get it wrong, as they have twice this year, first in the Charlie Hebdo attack and in last Friday’s massacre, they have come under huge pressure.
French MPs vote to extend state of emergency after Paris attacks
There will inevitably be an inquiry into the failings. But the French government has already proposed new legislation introducing tougher security measures.
Senior members of the US intelligence community, still smarting from the loss of the bulk data collection of phone records in the Freedom Act this summer, are taking advantage of events in Paris to renew arguments over surveillance.
In New York on Wednesday, the director of the FBI, James Comey, complained that too much of the internet had gone dark. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies both needed faster and better access to communications data, he said.
The stripped down argument is that if you have access to everything, it is easier to keep everyone secure. When there are attacks such as those in Paris, the agencies say they quickly need to search back through data to see who suspects had been talking to, helping to identify the networks and prevent potential other attacks.
French intelligence under scrutiny in wake of Paris attacks
The problem with this, as with almost every terrorist incident since 9/11, is that the French intelligence agencies already knew at least three of the attackers.
Abelhamid Abaaoud was known as an accomplice of two jihadis killed in Belgium in January. The police had a file on Omar Ismaïl Mostefai even before he travelled to Syria in 2013, while Sami Amimour had been detained in 2012 on suspected terrorist links.
In other words, the failure of the French intelligence agencies is not that they did not have enough data – but that they did not act on what they had.
The three could have been the subject of traditional targeted surveillance. While physical surveillance is difficult in terms of staffing, keeping tabs on their communications is less labour-intensive.
Tracking such suspects does not require the collection of the communications data – phone records, emails, Facebook postings, chat lines – of every French citizen, only the suspects.
One of the key arguments put forward by Comey and earlier in the week by the director of the CIA, John Brennan, is that terrorists have become better at covert communications. But the discarded mobile phone that led police to the St-Denis hideout contained unencrypted text.
CIA chief criticises recent surveillance rollbacks in wake of Paris attacks
One of the biggest failings was not the French intelligence agencies’ lack of sufficient surveillance powers but the long-running lack of cooperation between European intelligence agencies – and reluctance to share information – due to fears about leaks. When they do cooperate, the process is slow – even over things as simple as translation.
The Iraq government sent warnings to French intelligence about a potential attack that were ignored. Such warnings are regularly received by the agencies struggling to work out which ones reflect a genuine threat.
A more serious omission is the French failure to respond to the Turkish government when it flagged up concern about Mostefai. Added to that is the lack of cooperation between France and Belgium, where some of the attackers were based.
Such failures are where the French and US intelligence agencies should be looking, rather than exploiting the tragedy to make the case for bulk data surveillance.
Ewen MacAskill Defence and intelligence correspondent
Thursday 19 November 2015 18.51 GMT Last modified on Friday 20 November 2015 01.05 GMT
Find this story at 19 November 2015
© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Authorities missed many ‘red flags’ before Paris shootings
December 23, 2015
In January, Turkish authorities detained one of the suicide bombers at Turkey’s border and deported him to Belgium. Brahim Abdeslam, Turkish authorities told Belgian police at the time, had been “radicalized” and was suspected of wanting to join Islamic State in Syria, a Turkish security source told Reuters.
Yet during questioning in Belgium, Abdeslam denied any involvement with militants and was set free. So was his brother Salah – a decision that Belgian authorities say was based on scant evidence that either man had terrorist intentions.
On Nov. 13, Abdeslam blew himself up at Le Comptoir Voltaire bar in Paris, killing himself and wounding one other. Salah is also a suspect in the attacks, claimed by the Islamic State, and is now on the run.
In France, an “S” (State Security) file for people suspected of being a threat to national security had been issued on Ismail Omar Mostefai, who would detonate his explosive vest inside Paris’ Bataclan concert hall. Mostefai, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, was placed on the list in 2010, French police sources say.
Turkish police also considered him a terror suspect with links to Islamic State. Ankara wrote to Paris about him in December 2014 and in June this year, a senior Turkish government official said. The warning went unheeded. Paris answered last week, after the attacks.
A fourth attacker missed at least four weekly check-ins with French police in 2013, before authorities issued an arrest warrant for him. By that time he had left the country.
On any one of these occasions, police, intelligence and security services had an opportunity to detain at least some of the men who launched the attacks.
That they did not, helps explain how a group of Islamist militants was able to organize even as they moved freely among countries within the open borders of Europe’s passport-free Schengen area and beyond.
Taken one by one, each misstep has its own explanation, security services say. They attribute the lapses in communication, inability to keep track of suspected militants and failure to act on intelligence, to a lack of resources in some countries and a surge in the number of would-be jihadis.
But a close examination by Reuters of a series of missed red flags and miscommunications culminating in France’s biggest atrocity since World War Two puts on stark display the mounting difficulties faced by anti-terrorism units across Europe and their future ability to keep the continent safe.
“We’re in a situation where the services are overrun. They expect something to happen, but don’t know where,” said Nathalie Goulet, who heads up the French Senate’s investigation committee into jihadi networks.
Many point to Belgium as a weak link in European security.
“They simply don’t have the same means as Britain’s MI5 or the DGSI (French intelligence agency),” said Louis Caprioli, a former head of the DST, France’s former anti-terrorism unit.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel defended his country’s security services and praised them for doing “a difficult and tough job.” French President Francois Hollande also praised his country’s security services, who hunted down and shot dead the man they identified as the ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, five days after the attacks.
Europol, the European Union’s police agency, says it has been feeding information to the Belgian and French authorities but acknowledges that some member states are better at sharing information than others.
FOCUS ON FIGHTERS RETURNING FROM SYRIA
The focus of investigators over the past few years has been men and women who have grown up in Europe, have European passports and who travel to Syria to train and fight.
As the number of those fighters has increased, authorities have struggled to keep up. The French Interior Ministry estimated about 500 French nationals had traveled to Syria and almost 300 had returned. French authorities reckon up to 1,400 people need 24-hour surveillance. Yet France has only about the same number of officers to carry out the task, a tenth of those needed.
Some 350 people from Belgium have gone to Syria to fight – the highest per capita number in Europe. A Belgian government source said Belgium has a list of 400 people who are in Syria, have returned or are believed to be about to go there. There are another 400-500 people who authorities believe have radicalized. The number of people in the Belgian security services carrying out surveillance is believed to be considerably fewer than this.
The numbers partially explain why many of the attackers in Paris were well-known faces still at large.
The attacks killed 130 people at various locations, including the Bataclan concert hall where 89 concert-goers were gunned down or blown up. Others were killed outside the Stade de France sports stadium and in bars and restaurants around central Paris.
Seven assailants died during the attacks. Abaaoud was killed in a police raid north of Paris on Wednesday along with one other suicide attacker and a woman believed to be his cousin.
Dozens of people have also been detained, some with weapons and explosives, in raids since then.
Abaaoud himself had been well-known to authorities for several years. After a raid in January in the Belgian town of Verviers, police suspected the 28-year-old of plotting to kidnap a police officer and kill him.
In February, Abaaoud said in an interview with an Islamic State magazine that he had returned to Syria after the raid in Verviers. By this time, he knew he was being sought.
If it is true that he returned to Syria from Verviers, Abaaoud made his way back into Europe at some point after January. French authorities did not know this until they were tipped off by Morocco after the attacks.
“If Abaaoud was able to go from Syria to Europe, that means there are failings in the entire European system,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
Mostefai, the Bataclan suicide bomber, also traveled back and forth. Although he had eight convictions as a petty criminal, he had never been in prison, a place French authorities can watch for signs of radicalization.
Police say they suspected him of being in Syria between late 2013 and early 2014, before returning to France unnoticed.
In December of last year, Turkey contacted France about Mostefai. They raised an alarm again in June 2015 by letter.
There was no response from French authorities, according to a senior Turkish government official and a security source.
“It seemed there was a connection between this person and Daesh (Islamic State) and we reported it,” the Turkish security source said. “We followed all international procedures. But they (the French) didn’t display the same level of sensitivity.”
French officials declined to comment on this, but say that coordination with Turkey over potential French jihadis has improved markedly in the past year.
Determining how dangerous a person is, and whether they might carry out an attack, is a key challenge for security services, experts say.
“The other difficulty is that if you have nothing concrete for several years, you can’t keep either a sophisticated technical alert system or human resources on a person who makes himself forgotten for three or four years,” said Arnaud Danjean, a former intelligence officer and now a member of the European Parliament.
Bilal Hadfi, who blew himself up outside the Stade de France, was another of the suicide attackers under surveillance.
After visiting Syria in February, the 20-year-old French national, who was living in Belgium, returned to Europe by an unknown route and evaded police even though the Belgian Justice Ministry said microphones had been placed at the house where he was thought to be staying.
Then there’s the case of Sami Amimour. French authorities had launched an official investigation into Amimour’s possible terrorism-related activity in October 2012. Prosecutors suspected him of planning to join militants in Yemen.
Amimour was a bus driver who had been radicalized in a mosque near his hometown of Drancy, north of Paris. Because of the investigation, police had ordered Amimour to check in with them every week. As reported by Reuters on Nov 20, he missed four weekly checks in 2013. But it was only after nearly a month that the authorities put out an international arrest warrant.
By then Amimour was already in Syria. His tracks were picked up a year later, in December 2014, when his father gave an interview to French daily Le Monde describing how he had traveled to Syria but failed to convince his son to return.
THE MEN FROM THE BAR
Police are still looking for Salah Abdeslam, who is known to have survived the attacks.
Until six weeks before the attacks, Salah and his brother Brahim – one of the suicide bombers – were running a bar called Les Beguines on a quiet street in Molenbeek, a low-rent area of Brussels which has been linked with several attacks.
After the attacks, Salah Abdeslam went to ground. Authorities say he was stopped on his way back to Belgium after the Paris attacks, but police waved him on. It is not clear what role he played on the night of the attacks and why he managed to survive.
Two men who were arrested later, Mohamed Amri, 27, and 21-year-old Hamza Attou, said they brought Abdeslam back to Brussels after receiving a call from him saying his car had broken down. Police checks meant they were pulled over three times, including a last check around 9 a.m. near Cambrai just short of the Belgian border.
Missteps did not just happen in France and Belgium.
The Syrian passport found near one of the suicide bombers at the Stade de France had been used by a man registering himself as a refugee on the Greek island of Leros on Oct. 3. That man traveled through Macedonia and claimed asylum in Serbia, counter-intelligence and security sources said.
The French prosecutor has confirmed that fingerprints taken on arrival in Greece showed that man traveled with a second man, who also blew himself up near the Stade de France.
The pair may have reached Paris relatively easily because, at the height of the migration crisis in Europe this year, asylum seekers were rushed across some national borders without checks.
It is unclear whether the passport issued under the name of Ahmad al-Mohammad, a 25-year-old from the Syrian city of Idlib, was genuine or was stolen from a refugee. Whatever the truth, it has helped fuel right-wing criticism in Europe of the number of migrants allowed in this year.
By the time the two men were making their way up through the Balkans to western Europe, France had received more evidence an attack was imminent.
French former anti-terrorism judge Marc Trevidic says a French Islamist he questioned on his return from Syria in August said Islamic State had asked him to carry out an attack on a concert venue.
“The guy admitted that he was asked to hit a rock concert. We didn’t know if it would be Bataclan or another, he didn’t know the exact location that would be designated. But yes, that’s what they asked him to do,” Trevidic told Reuters.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has also said that his country’s intelligence services shared information indicating that France, as well as the United States and Iran, was being targeted for attack. He has not given details.
Germany’s top prosecutor is also investigating allegations that an Algerian man detained at a refugee center in the western town of Arnsberg told Syrian refugees an attack was imminent in the French capital.
Europe is scrambling to respond to the attacks.
France declared a nationwide state of emergency which will now last three months. Police now have the power to conduct searches without obtaining judicial warrants and can hold anyone suspected of posing a threat to security under house arrest for 12 hours a day. Internet sites deemed to incite or advocate “acts of terrorism” can be blocked and public demonstrations banned.
Belgium has also announced a security crackdown, saying it will spend an extra 400 million euros ($430 million) on security and take measures such as stopping the sale of mobile phone cards to anonymous buyers. Police will be allowed to conduct night searches of homes and it is now easier to ban, convict or expel hate preachers.
Whether such measures will be enough is uncertain. Brussels is on high alert this weekend because of what authorities there called the “serious and imminent” threat of attack. In a video last week, Islamic State warned it would strike again.
“When a large operation is prepared, they are told to keep a low profile in the months before. As they are no longer on police radars, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Roland Jacquard, president of the Paris-based International Terrorism Observatory.
(Robert-Jan Bartunek reported from Brussels and Orhan Coskun reported from Turkey; additional reporting by Nick Tattersall in Turkey, Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Silvia Aloisi in Athens; writing by Timothy Heritage; editing by Alessandra Galloni, Simon Robinson, Janet McBride)
World | Sun Nov 22, 2015 5:37am EST Related: WORLD, FRANCE
PARIS | BY JOHN IRISH, ROBERT-JAN BARTUNEK AND ORHAN COSKUN
Find this story at 22 November 2015
Massacre du 13 novembre: les “failles dans le renseignement” commencent à apparaître
December 23, 2015
Paris (AFP) – Comme après chaque attentat islamiste réussi, le massacre du 13 novembre va relancer la polémique sur “la faille” dans les systèmes antiterroristes français et européens. Et cette fois, comme les précédentes, il semble que les dysfonctionnements se soient accumulés.
En l’état actuel de l’enquête, le plus grave semble être le cas de Samy Amimour: ce Français de 28 ans, soupçonné de vouloir partir pour le Yémen, est mis en examen en octobre 2012 pour “association de malfaiteurs terroristes”, placé sous contrôle judiciaire. Ce qui ne l’empêche pas de rejoindre, un an plus tard, la “terre de jihad” syrienne.
Cela provoque l’émission d’un mandat d’arrêt international. Malgré cela, il parvient à rentrer en France incognito pour participer, vendredi soir à Paris, au pire attentat jamais commis en France.
“On a un souci de contrôle aux frontières Schengen, et un gros”, assure à l’AFP Alain Chouet, ancien chef du service de renseignement de sécurité à la DGSE. “Son arrivée aurait dû provoquer la levée d’un drapeau rouge. Mais ces gars maîtrisent bien les techniques d’entrée et de sortie de Schengen, pour l’avoir beaucoup pratiqué”.
“S’il a pris soin de ne pas rentrer par une frontière française, personne ne l’a vu. S’il rentre par la Belgique, par exemple par un vol low-cost à Charleroi… Allez-y à Charleroi, vous verrez les contrôles”, ajoute-t-il.
Autre problème, un autre tireur du Bataclan, Omar Ismaïl Mostefaï, avait d’une part attiré dès 2010 l’attention des services français, qui avaient émis à son encontre une fiche S (“sûreté de l’État”), et d’autre part avait été, selon Ankara, signalé deux fois à Paris pour son appartenance à la mouvance jihadiste.
La police turque “a informé la police française en décembre 2014 et janvier 2015” à son propos (il était entré sur le territoire turc en 2013, pour ensuite certainement rallier la Syrie), et “nous n’avons jamais eu de retour de la France”, a affirmé lundi à l’AFP un responsable turc.
Par ailleurs d’autres membres du commando, installés en Belgique, étaient connus de la police belge. “Vous comprendrez bien que si les Belges ne nous préviennent pas, ici on ne peut rien faire”, confiait lundi à l’AFP une source policière.
– ‘Ça m’empêche de dormir’ –
Ces faisceaux d’indices, ces signalements, ce mandat d’arrêt international auraient dû constituer les points d’un schéma qui, en les reliant, auraient pû conduire les enquêteurs, en France ou en Belgique, à passer à l’action contre cette cellule avant qu’elle n’ensanglante Paris.
“Il y a trois hypothèses”, explique à l’AFP un ancien spécialiste du contre-terrorisme à la DGSE, sous couvert d’anonymat. “Soit personne n’a rien vu, et c’est un gros souci; soit on a vu des trucs et on ne les a pas compris, ce qui est aussi un problème; soit on a vu des trucs et malgré tout l’équipe a pu passer à l’action.”
“On a peut-être raté la phase de préparation terminale, celle où les types disparaissent dans la nature. Dans les trois cas, c’est très embêtant. Ça veut dire qu’on a soit un problème de renseignement, soit d’analyse du renseignement soit de chaîne de commandement dans les services. C’est accru par le fait que ça se passe en partie en Belgique”, ajoute-t-il.
“Pour le renseignement anti-jihadiste, la Belgique est sous bouclier français. Et il faut bien le dire, alors qu’ils ont la plus grosse proportion de départs en Syrie des pays occidentaux, les Belges ne sont pas au niveau (…). Dans cette équipe beaucoup de mecs sont connus à Bruxelles, quelqu’un s’est manifestement planté.”
Submergés par le nombre de jihadistes rentrant de Syrie et d’Irak, auxquels ils doivent ajouter les anciens des filières afghanes ou irakiennes, qui parfois reprennent du service, les services spécialisés sont contraints d’établir des listes de noms, par ordre décroissant de dangerosité présumée.
“Ça m’empêche de dormir la nuit”, confiait récemment un des responsables de l’antiterrorisme en France. “Avoir les bons noms à la bonne place. Nous sommes très loin d’une science exacte.”
“Par définition s’il y a eu un attentat, c’est qu’il y a eu un problème, conclut Alain Chouet. “Mais bon, on ne reproche pas les feux de forêts aux pompiers… Si vous mettez un pompier tous les cinq mètres dans les forêts de France, vous n’aurez plus de feux de forêts…”
Publié le 16-11-2015 à 20h05
Mis à jour à 21h36
Find this story at 16 November 2015
© Le Nouvel Observateur
France Reportedly Received Warnings About at Least One of the Paris Attackers
December 23, 2015
French officials received multiple warnings about Paris attacker Omar Ismail Mostefai before Friday’s terror attack but Turkey didn’t get a response from French authorities until after the attack, a Turkish official said on Monday.
“On Oct. 10, 2014, Turkey received an information request regarding four terror suspects from the French authorities,” a Turkish official told the New York Times. “During the official investigation, the Turkish authorities identified a fifth individual, Omar Ismail Mostefai, and notified their French counterparts twice—in December 2014 and June 2015.”
Mashable also quoted a senior Turkish official as saying that Mostefai, the first gunman identified in the attack, was known to security officials and that France never followed up on shared information until after the attack took place.
“This is not a time to play the blame game, but we are compelled to share the information to shed light on Omar Ismail Mostefai’s travel history,” the senior official told Mashable. “The case of Omar Ismail Mostefai clearly establishes that intelligence sharing and effective communication are crucial to counter-terrorism efforts. The Turkish government expects closer cooperation from its allies in the future.”
The Associated Press reported a more general warning had been given to coalition countries by senior Iraqi intelligence officials the day before the attack. The warnings were vague, though four Iraqi intelligence officials told the AP that they warned France specifically of an attack and two said they warned France beforehand about details French authorities hadn’t yet made public, including that the planning for the attack occurred in ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria. The officials also said a sleeper cell in France helped the attackers execute the plan after they arrived and the operation included 24 people—19 attackers and five working on planning and logistics.
The AP also reported that a senior French security official responded to the claims by the Iraqi officials by saying French intelligence receives such warnings “all the time” and “every day.”
Belgian’s Justice Minister Koen Geens also reportedly told CNN’s Ivan Watson that authorities knew some of the Paris attackers were foreign fighters in Syria but were unaware they had returned.
“Belgium has a foreign fighters problem,” Geens said.
Writing in Slate on Monday, Brian Michael Jenkins explained why even advanced knowledge about suspected ISIS sympathizers and fighters might not be enough to prevent such attacks:
[O]ne should not underestimate the difficulties of intelligence collection in Europe today. France’s intelligence services are being overwhelmed by the many individuals who have gone to join jihadi fronts in Syria (some of whom have returned), those suspected of preparing to go, and still others suspected of being involved in plotting or supporting terrorist plots. The total number easily runs into the thousands. Keeping every one of them under close surveillance is not possible. Choices have to be made. Some plots will be thwarted. Others will inevitably evade detection.
By Jeremy Stahl
NOV. 16 2015 12:14 PM
Find this story at 16 November 2015
© 2015 The Slate Group LLC
How the Paris Attackers Honed Their Assault Through Trial and Error
December 23, 2015
PARIS — The gunfire had still not subsided, and those who could were running for their lives. But one man was crossing Paris to get close to the scenes of death.
Just after 10 p.m. on Nov. 13, the man, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, parked his rented getaway car in the eastern suburb of Montreuil, leaving behind the Kalashnikov he is believed to have used to shoot diners in central Paris a half-hour before. Apparently unconcerned as security cameras recorded his movements, he boarded the No. 9 subway line and returned to the part of the city that was still under siege. Before the night was over, investigators say, he had walked past the shattered cafes and bloodied concert hall that had been among his targets.
After a year of plotting terror in Europe but only producing four fizzled attempts, Mr. Abaaoud made sure this time was different. This time, he was on the scene, not directing from afar. This time, he monitored his team of assassins — old friends and new zealots — and surveyed the suffering. This time, investigators say, he had prepared for a second wave of assaults days later, and planned to die himself as a suicide bomber in the heart of the Paris region’s business district.
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How the Organizer of the Paris Attacks Slipped Through Authorities’ Hands
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who organized the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, crisscrossed Europe and the Middle East, even though he was on a Belgian watch list.
A foot soldier turned lieutenant in the Islamic State’s hierarchy, Mr. Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian, had been under increasing pressure to deliver something big, Western intelligence officials say. “All these operations in 2015 had been failures, embarrassing failures,” said Louis Caprioli, a former deputy head of France’s domestic counterterrorism unit. “He needed to make sure this operation succeeds.”
Two weeks after the attacks, as France buries its dead and a lengthening list of Mr. Abaaoud’s suspected confederates are rounded up, more evidence has emerged about how the group of at least nine militants pulled off the assaults, and the intelligence and security lapses that allowed them to do so.
There had been repeated hints of their intentions and efforts to hone their skills, according to dozens of interviews, court documents and government disclosures. Despite growing alarm in French counterterrorism circles about the threat they posed, the overburdened security apparatus proved ill equipped against an enemy practicing what one official calls “dartboard terrorism,” hurling multiple lethal darts at a distant target until one hits the mark.
In January, the police raided a safehouse in the Belgian town of Verviers, thwarting a plot that proved to be a chilling precursor to the synchronized murder that played out across the French capital 10 months later. The raid uncovered an arsenal that included the ingredients to make the same volatile explosives used in Paris, according to an American intelligence document.
The militants have become “more professional,” learning from their mistakes, said one intelligence official. Earlier this year, a plotter linked to Mr. Abaaoud planned to mow down the congregation at a French church but instead shot himself in the leg. But the gunmen in Paris — a majority of them battle-hardened in Syria — were well trained. After phone taps uncovered the Verviers plan, Mr. Abaaoud began using encryption technology and may have concealed his communications in that way with his Paris team, intelligence officials said.
Continue reading the main story
State of Terror
Articles in this series examine the rise of the Islamic State and life inside the territory it has conquered.
Exploiting Europe’s passport-free zone and patchy intelligence sharing, Mr. Abaaoud and his team moved not just across the Continent, but also to Syria and back. They did so despite being questioned at airports, flagged by security services or pulled over during routine traffic stops.
“Abaaoud was in the database of every single European country, but he returned to Europe like he was going on a vacation to Club Med,” said the mother of an 18-year-old Belgian jihadist who died earlier this year after joining the same Islamic State brigade to which several of the Paris plotters belonged.
The attack in Paris was the deadliest terrorist assault on the Continent in a decade, killing 130 people. It reverberated across the region, forcing Brussels to lock down for four days, spurring Germany to cancel a soccer match and prompting Britain to increase its military budget after years of cutbacks.
Trying to reassure a grieving nation, President François Hollande of France has pledged to defeat the Islamic State’s “cult of death.” Yet intelligence officials warned of the West’s vulnerabilities. Paris, they fear, heralds a new era of terror, one that could play out on the streets of European capitals for years to come.
“They try, they fail, they learn, they try again,” said one French official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They have patience and they have an army of willing martyrs that feed on an ideology that is immune to bullets.”
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The Expanding Web of Connections Among the Paris Attackers
Earlier this year, an official at Europol, the Continent’s law enforcement agency, paid an urgent visit to Athens to ask for help tracking down a Belgian named Abdelhamid Abaaoud, according to news media reports.
For months, investigators had been intercepting suspicious calls originating near Pangrati, a neighborhood of Athens, said a retired European official who was briefed on the details.
Mr. Abaaoud, then 27, appeared to be planning an attack in his native land — a possibility considered improbable at first. He seemed like other young Europeans who had joined the Islamic State: a fanatic who made grandiose threats online, but did not have the know-how or the network to pull off mass murder on European soil.
But after the calls were tracked to Verviers, a SWAT team raided a residence there on Jan. 15, turning up evidence of surprising sophistication. The police found automatic weapons, a large quantity of cash, a body camera, multiple cellphones, hand-held radios and fraudulent identification documents, according to a United States Department of Homeland Security intelligence assessment.
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Paris Victims, Remembered
They also found the precursor chemicals for the explosive triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, according to the document, which was the same chemical compound used in the suicide belts in Paris. The compound is highly volatile, according to Claude Moniquet, who spent two decades at the French spy agency D.G.S.E. “If you don’t get it just right, you’ll either blow off your hand, or it won’t go off at all,” Mr. Moniquet said. “It suggests the presence of a bombmaker.”
The discovery set off a manhunt in Greece, but Mr. Abaaoud’s SIM card stopped transmitting immediately after the raid. The police found his DNA in an Athens apartment, according to news media reports. But officials lost his trail.
A few weeks later, Mr. Abaaoud resurfaced in the Islamic State’s online magazine, bragging about having plotted terrorism under the noses of the European authorities. “My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely,” he said.
Until then, said David Thomson, the author of a book on French jihadists, Mr. Abaaoud had been seen inside the Islamic State as nothing special. “They spoke of him as they would of anyone else — and not as an important guy,” Mr. Thomson said.
If anything, he was known mostly for his appearance in a grotesque Islamic State video, whooping and laughing while dragging corpses behind a 4-by-4 truck.
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How ISIS Expanded Its Threat
Yet Europe’s most notorious jihadist was once a hapless delinquent.
In 2010, he planned to break into a garage in the Belgian countryside with a childhood friend. But he slipped off the roof, and the pair were later found soaking wet and nearing hypothermia on a river edge, recalled his former lawyer, Alexandre Château.
The bungled burglary was unremarkable, but the partnership was not: His accomplice was one of two brothers who would later be at Mr. Abaaoud’s side during the Paris attacks.
Mr. Abaaoud’s father said his son began showing signs of extremism after a stint in prison.
On March 23, 2013, the authorities intercepted a call Mr. Abaaoud made on a Turkish cellphone to a friend in Belgium. He said he was leaving for “The Camp,” according to court records. His brother told Belgian security officials that Mr. Abaaoud had said he was going to Syria “to do jihad,” according to a court transcript.
By DEBORAH ACOSTA 3:17
An Improbable Survival
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An Improbable Survival
Sébastien rescued a woman hanging from the window of the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. Then he survived a two-hour hostage standoff. By DEBORAH ACOSTA on Publish Date November 18, 2015. Photo by Daniel Psenny/Le Monde. Watch in Times Video »
When the police went to search his home in the Molenbeek district of Brussels months later, the items found inside his abandoned residence included pepper spray, gloves and two crowbars, along with the keys to a stolen Audi and three license plates.
Inscriptions praising the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, were on his door. On the wall, the court filing noted, was “a crude drawing of the ISIS flag, drawn with a marker.”
Sometime between late 2013 and early 2014, he joined a brigade called the Mujahedeen Shura Council based in Aleppo, Syria, which would soon pledge allegiance to the Islamic State.
One of his first jobs was searching the bodies of freshly killed troops. “He was in charge of emptying the pockets of cadavers after battle,” Mr. Thomson said.
Even when Mr. Abaaoud — by then called Abou Omar — joined the Katibat al-Battar, or Battar Brigade, an elite squad made up of French-speaking fighters that rose to prominence in 2014 within the Islamic State, his name surfaced only in passing, said Mr. Thomson, who spent months exchanging private messages with the French members of the unit as research for his book.
In January, the police raided a terrorist safe house in Verviers, Belgium, and uncovered an arsenal of weapons. Credit Olivier Hoslet/European Pressphoto Agency
That changed abruptly after the Verviers plot. Though the operation had failed, Mr. Abaaoud’s ability to travel in and out of Europe impressed his fellow fighters in Syria, turning him from an ordinary soldier into an inspiration. “They would say, ‘Look at Abou Omar,’ ” Mr. Thomson recalled. “By which they meant: ‘If Abou Omar succeeded, then anyone can.’ ”
Investigators say they believe that it was in Syria that Mr. Abaaoud and most of the Paris attackers found one other.
As early as 2013, a well-established pipeline was funneling young men from Belgium to the Islamic State. Some took out loans with few questions asked from institutions like ING Belgium, where one future jihadist received 15,000 euros, or about $15,800, according to a recent court filing. Others bought cheap “burner” phones that are often discarded in an effort to avoid detection. One man stole flashlights and GoPro cameras, a favored tool for recording atrocities, according to court documents.
They knew to leave via trains or buses to other European countries before boarding flights to Turkey, evading relatively greater scrutiny at airports in their home countries.
A photograph of Abdelhamid Abaaoud that was published in the Islamic State’s online magazine Dabiq. Credit via Associated Pres
Mr. Abaaoud, for example, accompanied his 13-year-old brother, Younes, to Syria, apparently by first making their way by land to Germany.
On Jan. 20, 2014, they checked in for a flight to Istanbul from Cologne. At passport control, an alert flashed: Mr. Abaaoud was on a Belgian watch list. When he claimed to be visiting family in Turkey, he was allowed to proceed.
Even when suspects are properly classified, they can fall through the cracks because of the lack of a centralized European database. There are currently 1,595 jihadists in the Europol terror database, said Jean-Charles Brisard, who has testified as an expert witness in terrorism trials. The actual number, if European countries shared their information more efficiently, should be well over 6,000, he said.
Many of the future Paris attackers ended up in the Battar brigade in Syria. Only Mr. Abaaoud and the two brothers from Molenbeek, Salah and Ibrahim Abdeslam, appear to have known one other before they were radicalized.
Several came from intact, middle-class families, including Mr. Abaaoud, a shop owner’s son who had been sent to an exclusive Catholic school. Second- and third-generation immigrants of Moroccan and Algerian descent, the attackers included a bus driver, a bar owner and a mechanic for the Brussels Métro. The oldest was 29, the youngest just 20 — he wept, his mother recalls, the day he left for Syria.
The plotters Clockwise from top left; Samy Amimour, one of the suicide bombers who attacked the Bataclan concert hall; an unidentified man, one of the suicide bombers at the Stade de France stadium; Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected architect of the Paris attacks; Ibrahim Abdeslam, a Bataclan attacker; Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, a Bataclan attacker; an unidentified man suspected of being involved in the attacks; Bilal Hadfi, one of the suicide bombers at the stadium; and Salah Abdeslam, who remains at large. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Some had criminal records, and their families were reassured at first when they began to show signs of piety.
Mohammed Abdeslam said he had believed his two brothers were cleaning up their act. “When your brother tells you that he will stop drinking, it’s not radicalization,” he told a Belgian broadcaster.
Bilal Hadfi, the youngest of the group, had been smoking and doing drugs until one month before his departure to Syria in January, his mother told the Belgian news media, and started fasting on Mondays and Thursdays.
“He was by no means the cliché you’d expect,” recalled one of his mentors at the Instituut Anneessens-Funck in Brussels, where Mr. Hadfi, 20, was studying to become an electrician. “He didn’t have a beard.” He had “excellent grades” and was “extremely intelligent,” said the professor, who asked to remain anonymous in talking about a student. Then Mr. Hadfi stopped coming to class.
Mr. Hadfi is believed to have arrived in Syria last, on Jan. 15, eventually joining a team that included two hardened French jihadists: Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, a 29-year-old from the Courcouronnes suburb of Paris, and Samy Amimour, a 28-year-old bus driver from Drancy, northeast of the French capital.
A mosque outside Chartres, France, that was attended by Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, whose contact with hard-line Islamists prompted officials to a database of those considered a potential security risk. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times
Mr. Mostefaï was arrested eight times for petty crimes, and in 2010 his contact with hard-line Islamists at the local mosque prompted officials to add his name to the “S list,” a French database of those considered a potential security risk.
Mr. Amimour’s route to jihad began with an aborted trip to Yemen in 2012. After he stopped reporting to the police station in September 2013 as required, it took a month for an arrest warrant to be issued. By then, he had crossed into Syria — the same day as Mr. Mostefaï, officials say they believe.
As Frenchmen, the two would most likely have come across an older French jihadist who had already made a name for himself in the Islamic State: Fabien Clain, who had been to prison for recruiting fighters from France and Belgium to Iraq a decade ago. Mr. Clain, investigators said, was the speaker in an Islamic State audio recording claiming responsibility for the Paris massacre.
Intelligence officials call him a “bridge” between the French and Belgian jihadists who may have facilitated links between Mr. Abaaoud and his fellow plotters. Described as one of the most senior operatives in the Islamic State hierarchy, he works under Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the group’s chief of external operations. Mr. Abaaoud was lowlier, “a platoon leader, not the head of the armed forces,” said François Heisbourg, a former defense official and counterterrorism expert.
By August, Mr. Abaaoud’s blueprint and team for attacking Europe may have been nearly ready.
Marc Trévidic, who served as France’s chief antiterrorism judge until three months ago, said he had heard Mr. Abaaoud’s name numerous times over the past year. Credit Remy De La Mauviniere/Associated Press
That month, Montasser AlDe’emeh, the author of two books on jihad and a former neighbor of Mr. Abaaoud’s in Molenbeek, heard his phone vibrate with a WhatsApp message. It was an audio recording from a Belgian jihadist in the same unit as Mr. Abaaoud.
“This is a message for the Belgian government from the mujahedeen of ISIS,” the audio begins. “It’s not a threat or a stupid thing, or just talk. This is a declaration of war. We have the plans.”
Raising the Alarm
The man who served as France’s chief antiterrorism judge until three months ago had heard Mr. Abaaoud’s name numerous times over the past year. Dozens of young French Muslims returning from Syria were brought to his office for questioning.
“Abaaoud came up all the time,” the judge, Marc Trévidic, recalled in an interview last week. “Especially after the January raids in Verviers.”
Fans left the Stade de France after the soccer game between France and Germany amid confusion caused by the attacks in the area. Credit Christophe Ena/Associated Press
It was always the same story: Mr. Abaaoud had told his young disciples to “do whatever they can” to inflict death and damage at home. They described him as obsessed. “He was mentioned as someone who wanted, at all cost, to recruit volunteers to carry out attacks in Belgium and France,” said Mr. Trévidic, now vice president of the high court in Lille, northern France.
But there was never a specific target, nor a date for an attack. The mission was always vague.
That changed on Aug. 15. In one of the last interviews the judge conducted, he found himself opposite a young Frenchman who had been handed money, encryption software and the most concrete target to date: “a rock concert hall” in Paris.
The young man, Reda Hame, had been arrested coming back from Syria, accompanied by a Muslim from Belgium. His companion had told the police that Mr. Hame was planning an attack in France.
Mr. Abaaoud had asked Mr. Hame to hit a soft target where he could achieve “maximum casualties.” He had given Mr. Hame an email address to reach him on and a USB stick with an encryption key he was to download on his computer. Mr. Abaaoud had promised further instructions by email on where to obtain weapons for the attack and which specific concert hall to strike.
Emergency workers removed the bodies of victims at a cafe in Paris. Credit Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
It was two weeks before Paris’s annual Rock en Seine musical festival. Was the target one of dozens of concerts playing over the three-day event in a Paris suburb? Was it one of the city’s many other music venues, like the Bataclan, which had been mentioned as a possible target at least twice before?
Mr. Trévidic placed an urgent call with the domestic intelligence services, the D.G.S.I., and asked them to trace Mr. Abaaoud’s email address.
“From late summer we knew something big was being planned,” said one French intelligence official. “We knew Abaaoud was involved in it but we didn’t know what, or where, or when. Everyone was on high alert.”
The sense of alarm only spread when, six days after Mr. Hame’s interview, a 26-year-old Moroccan, Ayoub El Khazzani, also linked to Mr. Abaaoud, stepped out of the bathroom of a high-speed train barreling toward Paris with a Kalashnikov before being subdued by three Americans.
With hindsight, some suggest the lone-wolf style attacks — single gunmen sent on missions to kill — that were thwarted in recent months were never the main focus. Whatever his intention, Mr. Trévidic said, Mr. Abaaoud “kept security services busy and distracted with these mini-plots while preparing the real attack.”
Continue reading the main story
Three Hours of Terror in Paris, Moment by Moment
Many of the attacks were just minutes apart.
The United States had also picked up intelligence in recent months that showed the Islamic State was plotting an attack in France, senior American officials said. But they had nothing specific about targets or timing.
By late September, Mr. Hollande’s government launched airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria.
On Oct. 8 and 9, French fighter jets targeted training camps near Raqqa, the stronghold of the self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria. Mr. Hollande has publicly denied that the strikes were targeting an individual. But according to two Western intelligence officials, the hope was also to take out operatives including Mr. Abaaoud.
“When you don’t know where to hit the enemy here, you have to try to hit him over there,” Bernard Squarcini, the former head of France’s domestic intelligence agency, said in an interview.
A Calculated Attack
While the security services had their eyes on Syria, most if not all of Mr. Abaaoud’s team was already back in Europe, quietly putting in place the modern logistics of mass murder.
At least two are believed to have entered through the refugee flow on the Greek island of Leros, where the authorities fingerprinted them in October.
In the period leading up to the attack, the support network expanded — though just how far is not yet clear — to include radicalized family members and loyal friends, landlords and online arms dealers. Mr. Abaaoud’s cousin helped hide him after the attacks before dying alongside him in a police raid. Five friends of Salah Abdeslam, who dumped his suicide vest in a trash can and remains at large as the only surviving member of the attackers, have been arrested in Belgium for allegedly helping him escape. In Germany, one man who may have sold the group assault rifles over the Internet was placed in custody last week.
The plan involved three teams, whose members set off in at least three rental cars from Belgium and booked rooms in at least two locations in and around Paris, including two hotel rooms in the suburb of Alfortville and a house with bunk beds in Bobigny. Like tourists, they used online services including Booking.com and Homelidays.com, with the Abdeslam brothers handling the logistics.
In September, Salah Abdeslam made a foray to the edges of Paris to buy half a dozen electronic components used to make fireworks explode. He spent 390 euros in Les Magiciens du Feu, or “Fire Magicians” shop, said the shop’s in-house lawyer, Frédéric Zajac. “Unlike other clients, he did not ask any questions about how it all worked,” he said.
Mr. Abaaoud had learned from past mistakes: Unlike the plot in January, when his accomplices were still searching for an ice machine to store the TATP explosive, he made sure they had refrigerators. At the Appart’City hotel where four of the attackers stayed, rooms come with a kitchenette.
And rather than sending a single gunman or picking a single target, Mr. Abaaoud sent teams to a variety of locations — hedging the risk of failure and forcing the police to spread themselves thin. “They found out that if you use this ‘swarm theory’ you will exhaust the resources of law enforcement,” explained Ron Sandee, the former chief Al Qaeda analyst for Dutch military intelligence.
The roster for each team suggests more forethought: The two jihadists with more than four years of battlefield experience in Syria between them, Mr. Amimour and Mr. Mostefaï, were assigned the most important target, the Bataclan, with a third, still-unidentified man. Witnesses say they saw the Bataclan gunmen flanking each other, with one fighter reloading his magazine while another kept firing.
By contrast, the attackers at the Stade de France, the national soccer stadium, included the youngest and least experienced jihadist — the 20-year-old Mr. Hadfi. He was dropped off strapped with an explosive belt that needed only detonating. (Neither of the other two suicide bombers at the stadium has been identified.) “They said to themselves, ‘The kids will get as far as they can,’ ” and after that only need to “hit a button,” said Mr. Moniquet, a veteran of France’s intelligence agency who now directs the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center.
Mr. Abaaoud himself was believed to have gone to a busy stretch of restaurants on the Rue de Charonne, equipped with the Kalashnikov that was later recovered bearing his DNA. Phone records released by the French prosecutor indicate that he left the house at Bobigny in a rented Seat car at 8:38 p.m. accompanied by another still-unidentified attacker and Ibrahim Abdeslam, his accomplice in the bungled garage theft five years ago.
It remains unclear if Mr. Abaaoud joined his troops to fire on the bars and cafes, though it seems likely: Witnesses saw gunmen leaning out of the black Seat rental car, and in front of each shattered establishment, investigators recovered “hundreds” of 7.62-millimeter cartridges, according to the French prosecutor.
Between 8:40 p.m. and 9:21 p.m. the phone “most probably” used by Mr. Abaaoud was in “sustained contact” with the one used by Mr. Hadfi, according to the Paris prosecutor. That was when Mr. Hadfi tried to enter the soccer stadium near Gate D, only to be turned away.
Moments later, at 9:20, he detonated the explosive.
The last attempted call between the two phones came a minute later — the platoon leader checking up on the recruit.
Correction: December 3, 2015
Because of a transcription error, an article on Tuesday about the intelligence and security lapses that allowed the Paris attackers to practice their assault misstated the size of the cartridges recovered by investigators in front of the bars and cafes targeted. They are 7.62 millimeters, not 0.762.
Reporting was contributed by Nabih Bulos, Aurelien Breeden and Lilia Blaise from Paris; Eric Schmitt from Washington; Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura and Andrew Higgins from Brussels; and Alison Smale from Berlin.
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A version of this article appears in print on December 1, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Plot Honed by Trial and Error . Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, KATRIN BENNHOLD and LAURE FOURQUETNOV. 30, 2015 122
Find this story at 30 November 2015
© 2015 The New York Times Company
Paris attacks ‘ringleader’ Abdelhamid Abaaoud evaded Athens police
December 23, 2015
Greek police tried to capture the suspected ringleader of the Paris terror attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, in January but the operation failed.
A Belgian anti-terrorism source told the BBC the Athens operation planned to target Abaaoud before anti-terror raids in Belgium, but that did not happen.
Abaaoud had been directing the Belgian cell by phone from Athens.
Abaaoud died in a battle with French police five days after the 13 November Paris attacks that killed 130 people.
The Greek operation was supposed to have taken place before the one carried out by security forces in Verviers, eastern Belgium, on 15 January. That raid saw an exchange of fire that left two suspected jihadists dead.
Greek authorities were on Abaaoud’s trail, believing him to be running the Belgian cell by mobile phone from Athens.
Anti-terror sources told the BBC that a senior Belgian police officer was in Athens co-ordinating the hunt for Abaaoud with his Greek counterparts before the raid on the Verviers cell.
It remains unclear why or how Abaaoud slipped through the Greek net. There may have been an attempt to track him down to a city centre square by tracing the signal of his mobile phone. But that did not work.
The Greek authorities are not confirming any details – all that is known is that he got away.
Greek police only carried out raids in Athens two days after Verviers, on 17 January.
Earlier that day Belgian media had reported that authorities there were seeking Abaaoud, a Brussels resident of Moroccan origin, who was believed to be in hiding in Greece.
Police in Verviers. 15 Jan 2015Image copyrightEPA
The Verviers raid left two suspected jihadists dead
Greek police raided two flats in Athens.
One Algerian man was eventually extradited to Belgium but Abaaoud was not to be found.
It is now known that traces of DNA recovered in both flats match samples recovered from Abaaoud’s body in Paris.
A neighbour at one of the flats, Vasilis Katsanos, said he had seen Abdelhamid Abaaoud in the street outside on at least two occasions.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud had been implicated in four out of six foiled attacks since this spring in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison in absentia, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has said.
Abaaoud is not the only link between Greece and the Paris attacks.
Salah Abdeslam – who is still on the run – travelled to Greece by ferry from Italy on 1 August, leaving three days later.
And two of the suicide bombers who attacked the Stade de France crossed by boat from Turkey to the island of Leros in October, posing as refugees.
Much of the detail that has emerged in Athens raises questions about how to create a better exchange of information and closer cooperation between anti-terrorism authorities in different European countries.
But the link with Abaaoud is also a what-might-have-been.
If he had been captured in Athens in January, the attacks in Paris might never have taken place.
By Chris Morris
BBC News, Athens
8 December 2015
Find this story at 8 December 2015
© 2015 BBC
Correction: Serbia-Paris-Guns story
December 23, 2015
The head of a Serbian arms factory Milojko Brzakovic speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. Brzakovic of the Zastava arms factory told the Associated Press Thursday that the M92 semi-automatic pistol was traced after its serial number matched the one delivered to an American arms dealer in May 2013.
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — In a Dec. 10 story, The Associated Press incorrectly reported that a gun exported by a Serbian manufacturer to a Florida-based company was involved in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks. In fact, the gun in question was not involved in the attacks and has been in Mexican government custody since March of this year, according to U.S. authorities.
The AP report was based on information from the Serbian gun manufacturer Zastava, which cited to AP an advisory from the Serbian Interior Ministry. The advisory quoted Interpol authorities as saying a gun manufactured by Zastava with a particular serial number was used in Paris. The AP story should have made clear that the connection between a Zastava gun with that serial number and the Paris attacks was based only on this advisory.
Zastava said it exported a gun with that serial number to Delray Beach, Florida-based Century Arms in 2013. According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the gun was received by Century and eventually sent to a federal firearms licensee in the United States and purchased by an individual in February 2014. In March of this year it was recovered at a crime scene in Mexico and is still in the custody of Mexican officials, ATF said.
Serbian authorities declined to provide any additional details this week on the advisory cited by Zastava or what it was based on. Interpol said it could not provide additional material because it only acts as a clearinghouse for information among police agencies. Interpol said it would defer to the information from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on the case.
By JOVANA GEC and DUSAN STOJANOVIC
Dec. 18, 2015 2:15 PM EST
find this story at 18 December 2015
© 2015 Associated Press
One Major Paris Mystery: What Happened to the Shooters in the Black Car?
December 23, 2015
Many accounts of the investigation into Friday’s Paris terror attacks have described seven attackers who are known to be dead and one suspect, Salah Abdeslam, who’s known to be alive. Those eight individuals constitute the three suicide bombers who attacked the Stade de France area, three who attacked the Bataclan theater, one who blew himself up in a café near the center of the city, and the still-missing Abdeslam, whose role is unclear. But the individuals responsible for the machine-gun attacks on bars and restaurants in Paris’ city center in which more than 30 people were killed have not been identified, while a breaking report from the AP says authorities are now seeking a “second fugitive” who was directly involved in the attacks. From the wire service:
Three French officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday that an analysis of the attacks showed that one person directly involved in them was unaccounted for. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to provide details about the ongoing investigation, said the second fugitive has not been identified.
The shooting attacks in the city center were reportedly carried out by gunmen traveling in a black SEAT León car at four restaurants/bars in three different locations: First at the Petit Cambodge restaurant and nearby Carillon bar, then at a pizzeria called Casa Nostra, then at a bar called Belle Équipe. A black SEAT León with three Kalashnikov rifles inside was then found abandoned early Sunday morning in the Paris suburb of Montreuil.
Who were the gunmen traveling in that car and where are they now? One of the men could have been Ibrahim Abdeslam, Salah’s brother, who blew himself up at a café called Comptoir Voltaire near the other shooting sites after the shootings had already taken place. Salah Abdeslam, meanwhile, was apparently stopped on Saturday near the Belgian border in a car with two other men but wasn’t detained because the officers who stopped him didn’t realize or hadn’t been told that he was a suspect. (Abdeslam’s two companions have since been found and arrested, but he’s still missing.) It seems possible that the pair of brothers and the AP’s “second fugitive” had something to do with the restaurant shootings and that Salah Abdeslam could have ditched the SEAT León before fleeing for Belgium. But four days after dozens were killed at Petit Cambodge, Carillon, Casa Nostra, and Belle Équipe, we still don’t know for sure who was responsible for killing them and whether those attackers are still at large.
By Ben Mathis-Lilley
NOV. 17 2015 1:23 PM
Find this story at 17 November 2015
© 2015 The Slate Group LLC.
Metadata Surveillance Didn’t Stop the Paris Attacks
December 23, 2015
And yet intelligence officials and politicians are now saying it could have. They’re wrong.
Since terrorists struck Paris last Friday night, the debate over whether encryption prevents intelligence services from stopping attacks has reignited. The New York Times and Yahoo reported on vague claims that the terrorists’ use of encryption stymied investigators who might have thwarted their plans. CIA Director John Brennan made equally vague comments Monday morning, warning that thanks to the privacy protections of the post-Snowden era, it is now “much more challenging” for intelligence agencies to find terrorists. Jeb Bush piled on, saying that the United States needs to restore its program collecting metadata on U.S. phone calls, even though that program won’t be shut down until the end of this month.
Following a terrorism incident as shocking as the Paris attacks, it is no surprise that politicians and the intelligence establishment would want to widen American spying capabilities. But their arguments are conflating the forest—bulk metadata collection—and the trees: access to individual communications about the attack. To understand why that’s the case, start with this tweet from former NSA and DHS official Stewart Baker: “NSA’s 215 program”—and by association the far larger metadata dragnet of which the domestically focused phone-metadata program is just a small part—“was designed to detect a Mumbai/Paris-style attack.”
Only it didn’t.
The metadata surveillance system appears to have failed before it even got to the encryption stage.
The United States and United Kingdom’s metadata collection that focuses on the Middle East and Europe is far more extensive than the phone dragnet being shut down later this month, and its use has far more permissive rules. This dragnet is mostly limited by technology, not law. And France—which rewrote its surveillance laws after the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this year—has its own surveillance system. Both are in place, yet neither detected the Nov. 13 plot. This means they failed to alert authorities to the people they should more closely target via both electronic and physical surveillance. In significant part, this system appears to have failed before it even got to the stage at which investigators would need to worry about terrorists’ use of encryption.
To understand why that’s true, it helps to understand how the metadata dragnet relates to surveillance of content as well as human spying.
In most public comments going back to the initial leaks from Edward Snowden (and in Baker’s tweet from the weekend), authorities have made a shaky claim: that the surveillance dragnet is “designed to detect” an attack like Paris. Based on that claimed purpose, their dragnets are failing.
But that claim was always an oversimplification. It oversold the importance of the dragnet, by itself, such that citizens might more willingly tolerate the collection of highly revealing personal details. Because it doesn’t include the actual content of our conversations, call metadata doesn’t seem especially intimate; if it’s the only thing authorities say they need to prevent a big terrorist attack, citizens might easily conclude that they’re fine with the government collecting it. But the claim also served to hide how quickly metadata analysis can lead to the reading of content.
The intelligence community has given us a more nuanced understanding of the purpose of the metadata dragnet, however, in a National Academy of Sciences paper on “Bulk Collection of Signals Intelligence” released earlier this year. President Obama asked for the paper in early 2014 to assess whether the intelligence apparatus could accomplish what it currently does with metadata dragnets (both those conducted in the U.S. and overseas) via more targeted data collection.
The NAS report measured the dragnet in terms of three functions:
Contact chaining, which maps out networks of people based on whom they communicate or even spend time with.
Identifying and keeping current all known identifiers (phone numbers, email addresses, device identifiers, IP addresses, Internet IDs) a person of interest uses. This is done, in part, by using algorithms to match up the communication patterns of different accounts.
“Triaging” the identifiers collected to categorize the urgency of the threat to national security from the party associated with each one.
If the dragnet accomplishes its purpose, it will provide a fairly comprehensive picture of who is communicating or hanging out with whom, connect all the known communications identities of any given person (which is critical to developing a comprehensive picture of someone’s network and the communications tools he uses), and then use those pictures to identify who poses threats that should be followed more closely.
If the metadata dragnet works, that can happen even with encrypted communication.
It’s only through that process that authorities get around to actually reading content. Authorities will use the metadata dragnet, for example, to choose what content to keep from bulk content collection. It’s likely they’ll collect, but maybe not immediately read, communications that are one or two degrees of separation from identifiers of interest just in case it becomes interesting later. Importantly, the NSA will even keep encrypted communications that, because of their metadata, are of interest.
The metadata dragnet also helps the intelligence community decide whom to target in its bulky Section 702 PRISM collection, which last year affected more than 92,000 targets and everyone they communicated with. Here, rather than doing the bulk collection itself, the NSA capitalizes on the fact that much of the world uses American tech companies like Google and Facebook to conduct (and often, store) its online communications. So when the triaging process identifies new foreign identifiers that seem important, NSA can ask the tech companies to preserve and share on an ongoing basis everything that’s associated with that identifier, including more metadata. In most cases, NSA will get the content of communications those identifiers have, which they’ll read and store and pull up again in the future if a related identifier is involved.
There are a few exceptions where officials cannot get the contents of communications via PRISM because they’re encrypted at the user level, rather than server level. The most important of these exceptions are WhatsApp and iMessage (and the latter only if users have opted not to use Apple’s cloud to store their communications), as well as any communications users have encrypted on their own. The NSA can’t get this content from Facebook, Apple, or other providers, but it can get metadata, so for users of interest, surveilers should at least know who is communicating with whom as well as some other useful details about them, though not what they’re saying.
For WhatsApp and iMessage users of interest, as well as those using their own encryption, the intelligence agencies will seek ways to bypass the encryption, often by hacking a user’s device or identifying his IP address and then accessing other devices or Internet accounts using that IP.
Importantly, however, it takes the triaging process or a particular event (like Friday’s attack) to identify users of such importance that the NSA will make the effort to conduct more targeted spying.
Finally, there’s old-fashioned physical surveillance and human intelligence, asking people to spy on others. As reflected by the CIA’s recent decision to add a digital innovation unit, even old-fashioned spying is increasingly guided and assisted by communications technology, both in identifying targets but also finding ways and information to compromise those targets. Numerous declassified reports make it clear the FBI uses the American phone dragnet to identify people who might make useful informants. (It also sometimes uses communications content to find intelligence they can use to coerce that cooperation.) Presumably, other intelligence services do the same.
For targets in a known location that are using very good communications security (by using encryption and ensuring their multiple identities cannot be correlated, not even with geolocation), physical surveillance of known targets (as several of the Paris perpetrators were by authorities) is always an option. The problem with that is it is very time- and labor-intensive—and because France and Belgium have so many potentially dangerous extremists, selecting whom would get that level of attention requires a very good combing process.
It all comes back to this triage, which is in significant part about how well the intelligence community uses that forest of metadata to pick whom it should target.
“Knowing who someone communicates with is metadata, not content, and most encrypted protocols (e.g. WhatsApp, Telegram, etc.) don’t change this,” Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at UC–Berkeley explains. “In attempting to identify actual threat actors, ‘this person is communicating with ISIS’ is probably all you need to justify more intensive targeted actions, such as system compromise, that bypass any effects of encryption.”
There are a number of reasons why the dragnet might not work as planned. Some important metadata may be missing, perhaps even from the PlayStation 4 consoles some terrorists have used to communicate, which Belgium’s Interior Minister said has posed particular problems in the days before the attack. (Though there’s no evidence PS4s played a role in this attack.) Some metadata, especially that scraped from content, may be increasingly unavailable if the content itself is encrypted. When individuals keep their online identities rigorously separate, that too makes the dragnet less useful, as it makes it hard to identify a terrorist network. Finally, it may be that the triage process doesn’t always measure the importance of communications effectively.
In any case, news reports on the investigation into Friday’s attacks have suggested that some of the terrorists involved in the attack—even a figure identified as the possible planner—have had some of their communications analyzed already. If so, enough metadata was available to partially map out this network. If investigators know about these communications now, they could have known about them on Thursday, before the attack. And if they did, investigators might have been able to bypass whatever encryption the terrorists did use.
The terrorists who conducted Friday’s attack may well have been using encryption. But if so, it appears that the metadata dragnet failed well before agencies got to any encrypted communications.
By Marcy Wheeler
NOV. 16 2015 10:44 PM
Find this story at 16 November 2015
© 2015 The Slate Group LLC
Attentats de Paris : les messages du commanditaire au tueur de l’Hyper Cacher
December 23, 2015
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Une vidéo d’Amedy Coulibaly dans laquelle il revendique les attentats de Paris en janvier.
L’enquête colossale sur les attentats de Paris en janvier s’oriente aujourd’hui, notamment, sur la piste d’un donneur d’ordre. Une personne susceptible d’avoir coordonné à distance les attaques des frères Kouachi contre Charlie Hebdo, le 7 janvier, et d’Amedy Coulibaly à l’Hyper Cacher de la porte de Vincennes, le 9 janvier. C’est la découverte de quelques-uns des échanges de ce commanditaire avec ce dernier qui ont trahi son existence. En l’état, impossible d’identifier son nom ou sa localisation exacte. Les éléments qui attestent de sa présence ne sont que des morceaux de mails et des adresses IP disparates repérés dans l’immensité du Web.
Lire aussi (abonnés) : Attentats de Paris : la justice sur les traces des commanditaires
Mais dix mois jour pour jour après les attentats, l’étau se resserre progressivement, d’après les éléments que Le Monde a pu consulter, autour d’un individu se trouvant à l’étranger. Un homme qui, à l’évidence, avait une vision d’ensemble des tueries qui ont coûté la vie à 17 personnes et qui a piloté en partie les opérations.
Rédigés dans le langage lapidaire des SMS, mais toujours précis dans leurs instructions, les messages de ce mystérieux commanditaire s’apparentent chaque fois à de véritables ordres guerriers. « Ok, fé ske ta a fair aujourdhui ms simple com ça tu rentr dormir ensuit tu plank et verifi adress 1 ts les jrs : indications bientot pr recup amis aider toi. debarasse toi puce, maintenant passe sur adress 1, fini adress 2 », écrit-il ainsi à Amedy Coulibaly le 7 janvier, à 14 heures. Soit seulement deux heures après la tuerie de Charlie Hebdo…
Le renfort de plusieurs compagnons d’armes
Un peu plus tôt, à 12 h 48 exactement, le coordinateur inconnu a consulté un message du futur tueur de l’Hyper Cacher contenant plusieurs fichiers intitulés « inventaires ». Un seul d’entre eux n’était pas chiffré et donne une idée du contenu des autres. « J’ai un AK74 avec 275 cartouches. Six tokarev avec 69 cartouche. Trois gillet par balle militaire trois gillet tactique deux bombe a gel et a gaz deux gros couteaux un choqueur ». Un mail à l’orthographe hasardeuse sans doute rédigé par Amedy Coulibaly lui-même.
Lire aussi : L’explosion de Villejuif et les tirs de Fontenay-aux-Roses attribués à Coulibaly
En plus d’établir qu’il y avait donc bien une personne, en coulisse, tirant les ficelles du drame, ces échanges laissent entrevoir le fait que, au-delà des frères Kouachi, Amedy Coulibaly devait, semble-t-il, recevoir le renfort de plusieurs compagnons d’armes pour son épopée macabre. Un scénario dont atteste, en filigrane, un dernier mail du commanditaire présumé, dévoilé par BFM TV, le 13 octobre. Le message date cette fois du 8 janvier à 17h21. « 1) pas possible amis, travailler tt seul », écrit notamment l’insaisissable correspondant, avant d’ajouter « 2) si possible trouver et travailler avec zigotos bien. 3) si possible expliker ds video ke toi donner zigoto les outils au nom de d, préciser leskels. » Les « zigotos » désigneraient les frères Kouachi, alors en pleine cavale. « D » signifierait « Daech ».
Officiellement, seuls les frères Kouachi ont revendiqué l’attaque du journal satirique au nom d’Al-Qaida dans la péninsule Arabique (AQPA). Revendication appuyée, dès le 9 janvier, par un message vidéo sur YouTube du porte-parole d’AQPA au Yémen, Nasser Ben Ali Al-Anassi. Dans une autre vidéo posthume, Amedy Coulibaly, lui, s’est réclamé de l’Etat islamique (EI). Mais en exhumant ces échanges, le travail minutieux des enquêteurs spécialisés en cybercriminalité montre que les frontières peuvent être poreuses entre les deux organisations.
Les prescriptions testamentaires de Coulibaly
Quel individu, francophone, a pu avoir l’expérience, le parcours et le réseau, pour se retrouver informé à la fois du projet des frères Kouachi contre Charlie Hebdo au nom d’AQPA et de celui d’Amedy Coulibaly au nom de l’EI ? Quel itinéraire derrière ce soin inattendu à ne pas laisser AQPA « bénéficier » seule des retombées médiatiques de l’attentat du journal satirique ?
Sans qu’aucun lien soit fait directement avec les attentats, deux noms de djihadistes français apparaissent avec insistance dans l’instruction colossale de la juge Nathalie Poux : ceux de Peter Cherif et de Salim Benghalem. Tous les deux ont la particularité d’avoir été plus ou moins proches des frères Kouachi et d’Amedy Coulibaly, tout en étant passés par le Yémen, où se trouve AQPA.
Lire aussi : Le djihadiste français Salim Benghalem aurait été le geôlier des ex-otages en Syrie
A son mystérieux tuteur opérationnel, Amedy Coulibaly avait en tout cas confié jusqu’à ses prescriptions testamentaires. Dans un ultime message non daté intitulé « salam », il demande à ce que l’on prenne soin de son épouse religieuse, Hayat Boumedienne : « Je voudrais que le frère s’occupe de ma femme dans les règles de l’Islam, réclame-t-il notamment. Je voudrais pour elle qu’elle ne se retrouve pas seule qu’elle est une bonne situation financiere qu’elle ne soit pas dellaiser. Surtout qu’elle apprenne l’arabe, le Coran et la science religieuse. Veillez a se quel aye bien religieusement. Le plus important c’est le dine [la religion en arabe] et la foi et pour sa elle a besoin d’etre accompagné. Qu’Allah vous assiste. »
Le Monde.fr | 07.11.2015 à 10h46 • Mis à jour le 08.11.2015 à 11h05 | Par Elise Vincent
Find this story at 7 November 2015
© Le Monde.fr
Renseignement : partie de ping-pong entre DGSE et DRM<< oudere artikelen
December 23, 2015
Dans l’ombre, les deux services s’affrontent sur leur rôle respectif dans les opérations militaires
Les services de renseignement sont « une petite oasis d’abondance ». L’un de leurs principaux responsables se réjouit du traitement de faveur dont la « politique publique de renseignement » jouit au sein des activités de l’Etat. La tendance, soulignée depuis plusieurs années, a été nettement confirmée à la suite des attentats de janvier. Une loi, élargissant leurs capacités d’interception, a été votée en juin et leurs moyens financiers et humains sont renforcés, en particulier dans le cadre de l’actualisation à la hausse de la loi de programmation militaire.
Cette situation n’empêche pas les « services » de se quereller autour des opérations militaires en cours, que ce soit au Sahel ou au Levant (Irak et Syrie). Ce n’est pas la guerre ouverte, mais plutôt une « partie de ping-pong » pour savoir qui fait quoi, comme le note un acteur du dossier. En jeu : le rôle de la DGSE (Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure) et de la DRM (Direction du renseignement militaire) sur les théâtres d’opération. Une querelle de famille, car les deux services dépendent tous les deux du ministère de la Défense, même si la DGSE jouit d’un rôle spécifique au sein de l’Etat, avec notamment un accès direct au président de la République.
L’un le dit en anglais : « Find. Fix. Finish. » L’autre en français : « Trouver. Traquer. Terminer. » Ce sont deux hauts responsables des services qui évoquent leur rôle au Sahel dans la guerre contre les groupes terroristes. Ils parlent de l’élimination de leurs chefs, les High Value Target (HVT), les cibles de haute valeur, en anglais pour tout le monde. « Finish » ou « Terminer » veut dire tuer, et c’est le rôle des forces spéciales de l’opération Sabre. Là-dessus, tout le monde est à peu près d’accord.
En revanche, qui trouve et traque les HVT ? Les militaires de la DRM ou les agents de la DGSE ? Dans le meilleur des mondes, le mieux placé pour le faire et ce, en collaboration avec les autres. Sur le terrain, c’est globalement ce qui se passe et cela fonctionne : les groupes terroristes qui ont perdu plusieurs de leurs hauts responsables depuis janvier 2013 ne démentiront pas. Dans les bureaux parisiens, l’affaire est plus compliquée, car chaque service à bien compris que la guerre contre le terrorisme allait redessiner pour longtemps le paysage du renseignement français et qu’il faut, dans ce cadre, s’y garantir une bonne place. Dans l’attente d’arbitrages politiques, chacun tire la couverture à soi.
« Trouver » les chefs terroristes ? La DGSE explique jouer « un rôle tout à fait essentiel » en « fournissant l’essentiel du renseignement » sur les HVT. C’est, y dit-on, « son métier stratégique ». Mais, ensuite, le boulevard Mortier est prêt à « transférer la traque à la DRM », puisqu’il s’agit d’une « mission tactique » que l’on peut confier aux militaires. Évidemment, ceux-ci ne l’entendent pas de cette oreille et mettent en avant leurs propres moyens de renseignement leur permettant de « trouver » les chefs terroristes.
Lors d’un récent colloque à la Société de Géographie, la DRM présentait ainsi ses moyens techniques d’analyse spatiale permettant de localiser un centre de commandement de Daech à Mossoul (Irak). L’exemple, assurait la DRM, était purement fictif. Par rapport aux militaires, la DGSE dispose d’un atout majeur : elle est le seul service autorisé à conduire des actions clandestines à l’étranger, qu’il s’agisse de renseignement ou d’action. « Nous seuls pouvons mener des actions de l’Etat non revendicables par l’Etat », indique un acteur de ce dossier. Sur ce plan, la DGSE a d’ailleurs décidé récemment de « relancer la recherche humaine » en son sein, avec une nouvelle organisation qui redonne du poids à l’espionnage traditionnel par rapport au renseignement technique (les écoutes).
L’un des autres points de crispation entre les services est la notion de « théâtres ouverts » et de « théâtres fermés ». Les premiers sont les pays où la France mène des opérations militaires comme le Mali, le Niger ou l’Irak. Là, la DRM peut être « leader », assure une source proche du dossier, « mais tous les autres services sont mobilisés ». Ainsi, l’ensemble des services de renseignement, y compris ceux relevant des ministères de l’Intérieur et des Finances, sont désormais représentés au sein du Centre de préparation et de conduite des opérations (CPCO), à l’état-major des armées.
Les « théâtres fermés » posent un problème plus aigu : officiellement, la France n’y mène pas d’actions… si ce n’est clandestines. Elles relèvent dans ce cas uniquement de la DGSE. Mais, explique un acteur, « les forces armées peuvent anticiper l’ouverture d’un théâtre », comme ce fut le cas au Sahel, en Centrafrique ou en Libye. Aujourd’hui, les regards de la communauté du renseignement se tournent vers la Syrie, un « théâtre » en cours d’ouverture depuis la décision du président de la République d’y effectuer des « vols de reconnaissance » ouvrant la voie à des frappes que François Hollande a jugées lundi « nécessaires ». « On ne peut pas désactiver des cellules terroristes en France si on ne va pas un peu plus en profondeur », c’est-à-dire en Syrie, explique un spécialiste de l’antiterrorisme.
La Syrie le montre : les militaires peuvent recueillir du renseignement grâce aux vols de reconnaissance mais pas sur le terrain où les opérations sont nécessairement clandestines. Qui, au final, réalise la synthèse – la « fusion » disent les hommes du métier ? Qui, par conséquent, informe et conseille les responsables politiques ? Il existe depuis 2008 un coordonnateur national du renseignement (CNR) à l’Elysée – l’actuel est l’ambassadeur Didier Le Bret – mais son rôle n’est pas directement opérationnel. La fusion exige en effet des moyens sophistiqués comme les systèmes de Geoint (geospatial intelligence) de la DRM.
La DGSE, service « intégré », est organisée en son sein même pour produire des synthèses à partir du renseignement qu’elle recueille par les écoutes (Direction technique) ou l’espionnage traditionnel, ainsi que les capteurs mis en œuvre par les armées (satellites ou avions). En cela, la DGSE se distingue de ses homologues étrangères, comme la CIA qui doit cohabiter avec la NSA, l’agence spécialisée dans les interceptions électroniques. Pour les responsables de la DGSE, cette particularité française est un atout considérable auquel ils sont très attachés.
Dans les milieux parlementaires, certains imaginent de créer une agence, comme la NSA ou la GCHQ britannique, qui fournirait du renseignement électronique à toute la communauté du renseignement. Pour la DGSE, c’est un chiffon rouge. Comme le maintien en son sein d’une composante purement militaire – le Service Action –, certains considérant à tort qu’il ferait double emploi avec les forces spéciales.
20 septembre 2015 à 15h03
Par Jean-Dominique Merchet
Find this story at 20 September 2015
© l’Opinion 2015