July 29th, 2011
10:36 AM ET

Security brief – July 29, 2011

compiled by Tim Lister

Who killed Libyan rebel commander and why?

Syria pipeline blown up ahead of Friday protests

18 civilians die in Afghan IED attack

Fort Hood suspect had jihadist bomb recipe

US accuses Iran of helping al Qaeda network

Iraq end-game: US "losing to Iran"

Senior al Qaeda figure in Algeria killed

Mystery over murder of Libyan rebel commander

Mystery surrounds the circumstances of the killing of Libya's rebel military commander, Gen Abdel Fattah Younes, a day after he and two aides were shot. Rebel leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil said they had been killed by gunmen after Gen Younes was recalled from the front for questioning by judges.

He said the ringleader of the attack had been held but he gave no details about his identity or the motive. It is not disclosed where the attack happened; nor where the bodies are.

The general – a former interior minister who had served at the heart of Col Muammar Gadhafi's regime since the 1969 coup – joined the rebels at the beginning of the Libyan uprising in February.

The BBC's Ian Pannell in the rebel-held city of Misrata says his defection was seen as a coup for the opposition, but there had been rumours that he had kept contacts with the Gadhafi leadership.

*Reading haltingly from a brief communique, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, president of the Transitional National Council, said pro-Gadhafi gunmen had infiltrated rebel-held areas, but he did not specifically blame them for the killings. Abdul Jalil refused to take questions from reporters.

Abdul Jalil did not address reports that Younis had been summoned to Benghazi for questioning by the rebel leadership on suspicion of continuing loyalties to Gadhafi, saying only that he was called for military discussions. One rebel loyalist in Benghazi with close ties to the council said Younis was to have been "interrogated" Thursday by the council about alleged contacts with government forces.


Possible tribal split among rebels

Adding to the confusion, the rebels had said hours earlier they had already detained the commander, Abdel-Fattah Younis, on suspicion his family might still have ties to the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, raising questions about whether he might have been assassinated by his own side.

Such a scenario would signal a troubling split within the rebel movement at a time when their forces have failed to make battlefield gains despite nearly four months of NATO airstrikes against Gadhafi's forces. It could also shake the confidence of the United States, Britain and several dozen other nations that have recognized the rebel council as Libya's legitimate leaders.


When the rebellion began in February, former interior minister Younes had taken his Force 17 military unit over the rebel side en masse, and they had played a major role in defending the city from Gadhafi. But he later found himself in a fierce contest for leadership of the military effort with Khalifa Hifter, a former Gadhafi general who returned from exile in suburban Virginia to join the rebellion.


"The Libyan military part [of the TNC] is in disarray," said Dirk Vandewalle, a professor at Dartmouth University who specializes in Libya. "It has never been able to really define a clear command strategy and my hunch is that it probably never will, despite all of the aid it is getting."

From the New York Times: The specter of a violent tribal conflict within the rebel ranks touches on a central fear of the Western nations backing the Libyan insurrection: that the rebels’ democratic goals could give way to a tribal civil war over Libya’s oil resources. Colonel Qaddafi has often warned of such a possibility as he has fought to keep power, while the rebel leaders have argued that their cause transcends Libya’s age-old tribal divisions.

A pickup truck full of angry armed Obeidi tribesmen arrived at the front of the hotel [in Benghazi that acts as rebel hq.]. Some fired their Kalashnikovs at hotel windows, shattering them, and others shot into the air. One man raced with his rifle through the front door of the hotel, and two witnesses said they heard gunshots inside.

Rebels in west seize four towns 

In the western Nafusa mountain range southwest of the capital, Tripoli, hundreds of rebels launched a broad offensive against government forces Thursday, seizing three small towns and advancing on others to secure a major supply route near the Tunisian border, rebel spokesmen said.

Four rebel fighters were killed and several wounded while taking the small towns of Jawsh, Ghezaya and Takut, Abdel-Salam Othman said. The claimed successes come after one of the biggest rebel offensives in recent weeks and, if true, puts the fighters closer to capturing a significant supply route used by Gadhafi forces.

Ibrahim said that on the eastern side of the mountains, Gadhafi forces had been shelling rebel-held positions near Beir al-Ghanam and also near Qawalish.

Syrian pipeline blown up

The authorities in Syria have said saboteurs blew up an oil pipeline near Homs, a hub of protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The attack was the second of its kind this month. It left a crater 15m (50ft) wide and oil gushing from the broken pipe, the state news agency Sana said.

Overnight, at least five people were killed during raids by security forces, activists say. The deaths occurred in the north-eastern city of Deir al-Zour and a suburb of the capital Damascus, in the south-west of the country.

Activists and opposition groups are calling on the "silent majority" to stand up and be counted in the last Friday mass rallies across Syria before Ramadan.

Opposition groups have given Friday rallies the label "Your silence is killing us" in attempts to mobilize prominent community leaders, intellectuals, the business elite, religious leaders and other Arab countries to join the opposition cause.

While mass protests have been marked in regional centers around the country, Syria’s two largest capital cities, Damascus and Aleppo, have so far failed to attract the large numbers of protesters like the regional centers of Hama, Homs and elsewhere. Many believe the protest movement must take hold of the business and political capitals to progress from the deadly ritual stalemate that has claimed the lives of up to 1,500 civilians.

Will Ramadan provide new platform for Syrian protests? 

The relentless cycle of protest and crackdown in Syria over the last four months appears poised to enter a new phase in the coming Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with activists planning to capitalize on religious rhythms to hold nightly demonstrations despite fears of an even harsher government reaction.

The protesters say it should be easier to gather people since they would ordinarily end their days of fasting and nights of feasting with a visit to mosques for prayers. Their hope is that mobilizing people every day, rather than waiting for large Friday protests, will wear down a government that has so far been able to hang on to support among substantial sectors of the population despite protests that have grown larger and more widespread.

Activists, who have posted video on YouTube instructing protesters on the plan, said they expect demonstrations to begin around 10:30 p.m., just after people gather for the tarawih, the prayer performed only in Ramadan.

More civilians killed in southern Afghanistan

Two roadside bombs killed 19 people and wounded four Friday in Afghanistan as civilians are increasingly being caught in crossfire of the fighting between the Taliban and the U.S.-led coalition.

A minibus ran over a bomb in Nahri Sarraj district of Helmand province, with the blast killing all 18 passengers, said Kamaluddin Sherzai, the province’s deputy police chief.

"The mine was very powerful and destroyed the vehicle," he said. "They were all civilians. Some were children."

In its midyear report, the United Nations said the number of Afghan civilians killed in war-related violence rose by 15 percent in the first half of 2011.

The report said 1,462 Afghan civilians lost their lives, including 444 killed by roadside bombs. During the first half of last year, 1,271 Afghan civilians were killed in the war.

Talks on long-term Afghan – US partnership stumble

Negotiations to set the terms of the U.S. partnership with Afghanistan in the decade after 2014 are faltering as the two countries struggle to bridge the gap between their demands, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.

After months of talks, some of the officials involved are growing increasingly pessimistic about the prospect of a substantive "strategic partnership" declaration anytime soon that would allow for a long-term U.S. troop presence in exchange for protection guarantees for Afghanistan and support for the nation’s security forces. U.S. -led NATO forces are set to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

"I see a situation building that will turn negative," said Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Afghanistan’s deputy national security adviser. "If the U.S. is really interested in staying in Afghanistan, it must show it practically to the Afghan government and the people. And respond to what we need."

UN stiffens sanctions against Pakistan Taliban

The U.N. Security Council on Friday will impose sanctions on the Pakistani Taliban, an extremist Islamic organization which American officials blame for masterminding the botched September 2010 Times Square bombing plot.

The group, which is formally named Tehrik-E-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), will be added Friday to a U.N. blacklist of terrorist organizations linked to Al Qaeda. It was already placed on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list last September, some four months after the U.S. accused the group of attempting to set off a car bomb in the packed New York City tourism center.

The United States proposed in recent weeks that the organization be added to the U.N. list, citing the widening reach of the organization's terror targets. Australia, Canada, Britain, France and Pakistan cosponsored the U.S. measure.

Yemen: tribal clashes kill 40 

Associated Press: Clashes between Yemeni soldiers and armed tribesmen in a mountainous region north of the capital killed at least 40 people yesterday, a military official said.

The fighting in the Arhab region is one example of the wider security collapse across Yemen since the outbreak of a massive uprising seeking to topple President Ali Abdullah Saleh six months ago.

Armed tribesmen are battling security forces in Arhab, the southern city of Taiz, and elsewhere, while militants believed to be linked to Al Qaeda have overrun towns in the country’s restive south.

Yesterday’s clashes northeast of Sana’s international airport began when tribesmen attacked a base belonging to the Republican Guard, said Sheik Hamid Assem of the Arhab tribe.

Shabab send more fighters to Mogadishu

Heavy fighting broke out Thursday in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, as African Union peacekeepers launched an offensive to protect famine relief efforts from attacks by the Shabab rebels, officials said. At least six people died. The Shabab, which initially said they would allow the aid to be delivered, changed their mind last week. The rebels have sent 300 reinforcement fighters to Mogadishu in recent days, said Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for the African Union peacekeeping force. He said the Shabab were trying to prevent aid from reaching the tens of thousands of famine refugees who have poured into Mogadishu this month.

CNN's Nima Elbagir reports from Mogadishu: "Tens of thousands of people fled the Somali capital of Mogadishu because of the violence and insecurity here. They're now having to come back seeking refuge from the famine that hit them in those areas they fled to, and it seems that that violence is following them," Elbagir says.

Senior al Qaeda figure in Algeria killed

Algerian security forces killed a top member of an Al-Qaeda regional offshoot and two accomplices who were trying to reach Algiers aboard a car laden with explosives, a government official said Thursday.

The official said Abdelkahar Belhadj, son of former Islamic leader Ali Belhadj, was killed Monday as he was heading for the capital Algiers with a small group of Islamic extremists and that they were plotting a bomb attack.

Belhadj, born in 1988, joined Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2006 and took the battle name of "Mouawia," in tribute to one of the companions of the Prophet Mohammad.

Belhadj’s father had been deputy leader of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), whose armed wing tried to overthrow the government in a bloody civil war from 1992 to the early 2000s.

Iraq – as US leaves, Iran steps in

American influence within Iraq is on the wane. U.S. officials believe the Iranian government is trying to fill the void, stepping up both its commercial dealings with Iraq’s government—the two countries, along with Syria, signed a $10 billion natural-gas pipeline deal earlier this week—and its covert support to the armed militias inflicting casualties on the departing U.S. troops.

"Their intent is to bleed U.S. forces on the way out of Iraq for some sort of moral victory, as well as to reestablish coercive control over Iraqi governors in the south by showing off their capacity to carry out these kinds of sophisticated attacks," said Mike Oates, a recently-retired, three-star Army general and former commander of all U.S. forces in southern Iraq. "They’re trying to prick us as we leave."

U.S. military officials acknowledge that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to prevent Iranian-made weaponry from being smuggled into Iraq.

US says Iran supporting al Qaeda

The United States has accused Iran of providing sanctuary to an al Qaeda network that provides help to jihadists moving between the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury Thursday announced the designation of six members of the network, including its alleged leader Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, and described Iran as a "critical transit point for funding to support al-Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

"This network serves as the core pipeline through which al-Qaeda moves money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia," the U.S. Treasury said in a statement.

al Qaeda RIP? Not so fast

The recently departed director of the nation’s main counterterrorism center said Thursday that Al Qaeda in Pakistan still posed a serious threat to the United States, and he warned that assessments that Al Qaeda was on the verge of collapse lacked "accuracy and precision."

The comments by the official, Michael E. Leiter, who stepped down three weeks ago as head of the National Counterterrorism Center, are the most significant pushback to a growing chorus of statements by American officials that the death of Osama bin Laden and years of Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes in Pakistan have brought the United States "within reach of strategically defeating Al Qaeda," as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta put it recently.

Mr. Leiter said that Al Qaeda’s leadership and structure in Pakistan were "on the ropes," but he contended that "the core organization is still there and could launch some attacks" and that "Pakistan remains a huge problem." He noted that the failed plot to blow up an explosives-packed vehicle in Times Square in May 2010 was carried out by a Pakistani-American trained by the Pakistani Taliban. The Qaeda affiliate in Yemen also remains especially dangerous, he added.

Mr. Leiter also raised concerns that a decade of intensive paramilitary operations by the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen had begun to change the nature of the spy service, and not necessarily all for the better.

"The question has to be asked: Has that in some ways diminished some of its strategic, long-term intelligence collection and analysis mission?" he said, citing the potential impact on traditional espionage and analysis of longer-range issues like China and counterproliferation.

Breivik's "other plans"

The infamous Norwegian gunner planned to carry out more attacks on the same day, his lawyer has said Friday. "Breivik planned to carry out a few more attacks on July 22, on a slightly different scale. However, something happened, about which I can’t yet speak, and his plans didn’t come to anything," Geir Lippestad told Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper. Anders Breivik is accused of killing over 70 people in Norway in two terror attacks last Friday. Breivik has confessed to both crimes. He is due to be interrogated for the second time by police today.

Far-right threat in Europe 

Ahead of yesterday’s emergency counterterrorism meeting, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom spoke of a "huge lack of political leadership’’ in allowing right-wing sentiment to bleed into the mainstream.

"Blaming Islam or immigration for all sorts of problems has become normal,’’ Malmstrom told the European Voice newspaper. She cited a "permissive climate’’ in which such views "are no longer seen as extreme.’’

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said Germany’s intelligence agencies had far-right groups under "intensive’’ surveillance, but there was a greater risk in extremists like Breivik who operate alone and under the radar. "Among the right extremists, we know of some who could be dangerous, but they’re not the problem – those who we have an eye on – but rather those who radicalize in secret,’’ he told the Rheinische Post.

Fort Hood case: Abdo had jihadist bomb recipe

An AWOL Muslim American Army private arrested near Fort Hood has told investigators that he wanted to attack fellow soldiers at the military post, the police chief in Killeen, Texas, said Thursday.

"Military personnel were a target of this suspect," Chief Dennis Baldwin told reporters about Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo, who is expected to face federal charges. Baldwin said Abdo, who was arrested Wednesday, had no accomplices, "as far as I know."

He added, "We are not aware of any additional threats to the safety of our community."

New York Times adds: A U.S. soldier who was accused Thursday of planning to attack troops near Fort Hood, Tex., has told investigators that he was acting in support of Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who has been charged in the killing of 13 people at the base in 2009, according to congressional and federal officials.

Pfc. Naser Abdo, 21, was arrested in Killeen, Tex., after authorities said they discovered bombmaking materials in his motel room, as well as a copy of an article from the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire, which is produced by the terrorist group’s Yemen affiliate.

The officials said Abdo was planning to set off bombs at locations outside the base where soldiers gather and to follow the explosions with gunfire.

"I would classify this as a terror plot," Police Chief Dennis Baldwin told reporters in Killeen. Law enforcement officials said Abdo would be charged in federal court with possession of bombmaking materials, among other offenses.

*CNN's Randi Kaye interviewed Greg Ebert, a former police officer working at the Killeen, Texas gun store where Pfc Naser Jason Abdo went to buy supplies. Here is some of what Ebert told CNN's Newsroom:

"He came to the store to purchase a quantity of smokeless gunpowder and did not seem to know what it was. It was just really odd,his behavior."

"He selected six canisters of smokeless gunpowder, placed them on the counter and then asked the manager "well, what is smokeless powder?" If you don't know what it is, why in the world would you buy that much?"

Budget cuts and the US Navy 

From Politico: A large budget cut will force a change in U.S. naval strategy, Adm. Chief of Naval Ops Jonathan Greenert told SASC at his confirmation hearing Thursday, echoing his comments earlier this week to a HASC subcommittee.

"Our options are limited. We can't hollow the force. ... We can't go to our personnel. Our Navy hasn't changed much since 2008 in force - in our manning level, in our manning plan. If we reduce force structure, that would exacerbate the problem we already have. And if we reduce modernization, that is, go to the ship building and aircraft accounts, I'm concerned about the industrial base. So we have sort of a conundrum here. And I believe that this needs to be a strategic approach to such a large reduction," he said.


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