Will 'black widows,' other terrorists stalk the Sochi Games?
February 5th, 2014
09:44 AM ET

Will 'black widows,' other terrorists stalk the Sochi Games?

By Tim Lister

The Russian security operation surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympics is massive and multilayered. But it only takes one flaw for terrorists to strike, and the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus sees an attack at or around the Games as a glittering prize in its struggle against the Russian state.

The Emirate, born out of the bloody Chechen insurgency of the past 20 years, has made no secret of its aims. Last year, its leader Doku Umarov said the Olympics were to be held "over the bones of thousands of Muslims who were killed and buried on the territory along the Black Sea," and fighters must not allow that "by any means."

With an estimated 100,000 Russian security personnel involved in protecting the Games, and everything from drones to submarines and extensive cyber security mobilized in a massive counterterrorism operation, the prospect of an attack on an Olympic venue seems slight.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said terrorists "are looking for small but impactful murderous events so they can impact the dialogue of the Games." While venue security is tight, "outside the venues, (there are) lots of questions," he said.
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Filed under: Russia • Terrorism
Islamic Front in Syria deals another blow to rebel alliance
December 12th, 2013
04:48 PM ET

Islamic Front in Syria deals another blow to rebel alliance

CNN's Tim Lister

Influencing events in Syria just got a lot harder for the Obama administration and its allies. Despite receiving months of training, diplomatic support and aid from the West, the Free Syrian Army's command has lost control of its headquarters and supply depots in northern Syria to the recently formed Islamic Front - another sign that the balance among rebel forces is tipping toward militant groups away from more secular brigades.

 
The warehouses - belonging to the FSA's Supreme Military Command (SMC) - are at Bab al Hawa, a border crossing into Turkey. There are conflicting reports about just how they were taken over and what they held. The head of the SMC, Gen. Salim Idris, told CNN that only food and other humanitarian supplies were taken; other FSA officials say guns and two tons of ammunition were removed.

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November 4th, 2013
01:18 PM ET

Former spy: Kenya mall attack 'could have been prevented'

By Paul Cruickshank, Tim Lister, and Nic Robertson

Editor's note: Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister are writing a book about Morten Storm and his life as a former informant on terrorist groups.

Western intelligence missed a chance to capture or kill the suspected terrorist thought to be behind the Nairobi mall massacre, according to a former informant for both the CIA and the Danish intelligence service.

Morten Storm, who worked as an informant for five years, had forged a close relationship with the man - a Kenyan called Ikrima - who has been responsible for planning attacks inside Kenya for Al-Shabaab.

Storm, a Danish national, told CNN that in March 2012 the Danish intelligence agency PET had offered him one million Danish krone ($200,000) on behalf of the CIA if he could lead them to Ikrima, the target of an unsuccessful operation by US Navy SEALs last month. The SEALs raided an Al-Shabaab compound at Barawe on the Somali coast, but Ikrima escaped.

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U.S. target in Somalia: An inside story on an Al-Shabaab commander
A soldier belonging to the African Union Mission in Somalia stands guard on a street during an operation aimed at improving security in Mogadishu, Somalia.
October 7th, 2013
12:10 PM ET

U.S. target in Somalia: An inside story on an Al-Shabaab commander

By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister

Editor's note: Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister are writing a book about Morten Storm and his life as a former informant on terrorist groups.

Kenyan intelligence knows him simply as Ikrima. But his full name is Mohamed Abdikadir Mohamed, and he is regarded as one of the most dangerous commanders in the Somali terror group Al-Shabaab.

U.S. officials say Ikrima was the target of a raid Saturday by U.S. Navy SEALs on an Al-Shabaab compound near the town of Baraawe in Somalia. It's believed that he escaped after the U.S. troops came under heavy fire.

Ikrima is wanted by both the Kenyan government and its Western allies and was a close associate of one of al Qaeda's most important operatives in East Africa. A recent Kenyan intelligence report that was leaked just after the Westgate mall attack in Nairobi outlined several plots in which he was allegedly involved. All of them involved targets in Kenya, and all the attacks would have involved Kenyan citizens trained by Al-Shabaab.
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Al-Shabaab breaks new ground with complex Nairobi attack
An image grab taken from AFP TV shows a member of the Kenyan security forces taking position inside a shopping mall following an attack by masked gunmen in Nairobi
September 23rd, 2013
07:12 AM ET

Al-Shabaab breaks new ground with complex Nairobi attack

By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister

The Al-Shabaab assault on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, is alarming for its audacity, its scale and the sophisticated planning that went into it. Both the choice of target and method of attack exactly fit the new al Qaeda playbook.

Few counterterrorism experts are surprised that the Somali group launched another attack in the Kenyan capital. It has threatened to take revenge ever since Kenyan forces entered Al-Shabaab's heartland in southern Somalia. Small-scale attacks, frequently with hand grenades, have already brought bloodshed to Nairobi's streets. Back in September of last year, Kenyan authorities said they had disrupted a major plot to attack public spaces in Nairobi in its final stages of planning. Authorities also broke up a plot by the group against Western tourists in the city in late 2007.

But the scope of the assault on the Westgate Mall - and especially its eerie similarities to the attack in Mumbai, India, in 2008 - show that Al-Shabaab has taken its ability to strike outside Somalia to a new level.

Only once before has the group caused such carnage in East Africa, when bombers attacked bars and restaurants in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on the night of the World Cup Final in 2010. More than 60 people were killed. Al-Shabaab said the attacks were in retaliation for Uganda's leading role in the African Union force supporting Somalia's weak government in Mogadishu.

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Filed under: Al-Shabaab • Kenya • Somalia
US-Israeli agreement shows co-operation – and some competition – on intel
September 12th, 2013
10:26 AM ET

US-Israeli agreement shows co-operation – and some competition – on intel

By Jim Clancy and Tim Lister

The revelation that the US National Security Agency (NSA) allows Israel to see raw intelligence data it gathers has angered privacy and civil liberties activists, but surprised few security analysts.

The agreement was disclosed by the Guardian newspaper Wednesday, based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has provided the newspaper with reams of classified information.

An undated Memorandum of Understanding between the US and Israel sets out the ground-rules by which the NSA 'routinely' provides raw intelligence data to the Israelis. It defines raw ‘Sigint’ as including “unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content."

The Memorandum includes provisions designed to protect the privacy of Americans whose data might be shared with the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU). It opens with a preamble that the sharing of information must be “consistent with the requirements placed upon NSA by US law and Executive Order to establish safeguards protecting the rights of US persons under the Fourth Amendment” of the US Constitution guaranteeing individual privacy.
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Filed under: Edward Snowden • Intelligence • Israel • NSA
Mission impossible? Securing Syria's chemical weapons wouldn't be easy
September 11th, 2013
05:54 AM ET

Mission impossible? Securing Syria's chemical weapons wouldn't be easy

Throughout much of the 1990s, U.N. weapons inspectors criss-crossed Iraq in search of Saddam Hussein's stocks of chemical weapons. It was a game of cat and mouse, as inspectors tried to reconcile what the Iraqi regime was telling them with conflicting intelligence from western governments.

In total, the inspectors of the U.N. Special Commission supervised the destruction of more than 40,000 chemical munitions, some 500,000 liters of chemical agents, 1.8 million liters of chemical precursors and delivery systems including ballistic missile warheads.
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Syrian civil war in photos
August 27th, 2013
02:02 PM ET

What justifies intervening if Syria uses chemical weapons?

By Tim Lister

Why does the use of chemical weapons justify international retribution with military force, in a way that two years of brutal repression with tanks and planes does not? And where in international law is the legal "cover" for such action?

If the Obama administration is planning for limited military strikes against Syria to hold the regime "accountable" - in the words of senior officials - for using chemical weapons, it is probably drafting some answers to those questions.

The president put it like this in his CNN interview last week: "If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work?"

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Al Qaeda calling?
August 8th, 2013
01:44 PM ET

Al Qaeda calling?

By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister

For al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, keeping a grip on a far-flung brand and staying relevant while avoiding a visit from a Hellfire missile or U.S. Navy Seals brings multiple challenges.

For a start, his authority derives from his long stint as Osama bin Laden's deputy; he certainly lacks the Saudi's aura among jihadists. He has lost many of his management team to a remorseless drone campaign.

Al Qaeda central doesn't have the money it did in the good old days before the U.S. Treasury started going after beneficiaries in the Gulf. And all the action nowadays is among the franchises in places like Yemen, Somalia and Libya.

To put it kindly, Zawahiri is like the CEO of a company where local franchises do what they want.
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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Al-Zawahiri • AQAP • NSA • Terrorism
What al Qaeda wants to do
August 6th, 2013
02:13 PM ET

What al Qaeda wants to do

By Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank

The revelation that al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has been communicating directly with the group's Yemeni franchise about future operations is causing plenty of consternation among western counter-terrorism officials.

It suggests a heightened level of co-ordination between al Qaeda 'central' and its branches, and an initiative by Zawahiri to leverage instability in places far away from his hideout – thought to be somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

There are still few confirmed specifics about the nature of the plot that Zawahiri was supposedly discussing with Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But he has clearly identified that group as an effective affiliate, possibly the one best placed to attack U.S. interests directly.

U.S. officials were concerned that a plot was timed to go into operation to coincide with the end of Ramadan, which has often been a period of increased terrorist activity. The Muslim holy month ends on Wednesday.

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