SEPTEMBER 16, 2013 By JOEL GEHRKE
President Obama waived a provision of federal law designed to prevent the supply of arms to terrorist groups to clear the way for the U.S. to provide military assistance to “vetted” opposition groups fighting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
Some elements of the Syrian opposition are associated with radical Islamic terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, which was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., in 2001. Assad’s regime is backed by Iran and Hezbollah.
The president, citing his authority under the Arms Export Control Act, announced today that he would “waive the prohibitions in sections 40 and 40A of the AECA related to such a transaction.”
Those two sections prohibit sending weaponry to countries described in section 40(d): “The prohibitions contained in this section apply with respect to a country if the Secretary of State determines that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” Congress stated in the Arms Control Export Act.
“For purposes of this subsection, such acts shall include all activities that the Secretary determines willfully aid or abet the international proliferation of nuclear explosive devices to individuals or groups or willfully aid or abet an individual or groups in acquiring unsafeguarded special nuclear material,” the law continues.
The law allows the president to waive those prohibitions if he “determines that the transaction is essential to the national security interests of the United States.”
Under section 40(g) of the AECA, the Obama team must also provide Congress — at least 15 days before turning over the weapons — “the name of any country involved in the proposed transaction, the identity of any recipient of the items to be provided pursuant to the proposed transaction, and the anticipated use of those items,” along with a list of the weaponry to be provided, when they will be delivered, and why the transfer is key to American security interests.
“Our intelligence agencies, I think, have a very good handle on who to support and who not to support,” Corker said. “And there’s going to be mistakes. We understand some people are going to get arms that should not be getting arms. But we still should be doing everything we can to support the free Syrian opposition.”
A report says the foreign-backed militants operating inside Syria have been making chemical weapons in the suburbs of the Syrian capital, Damascus.
The weapons, which are made by an individual named Hani Nour Eldin Aqeel in a workshop in the city of Yabroud, are smuggled to the city of Douma in domestic gas capsules by women who have come to be referred to as Harayer al-Soura, the Arabic-language news website Asianewslb reported on Sunday.
Meanwhile, local reports also said that the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front has been running bomb-making workshops in Yabroud and transfer the explosives to the different areas of Syria, including the capital, as well as neighboring Lebanon.
The al-Nusra Front has been behind many of the deadly bombings targeting both civilians and government institutions across Syria.
The development comes as the United States is struggling to secure support for military action against Syria over the accusation that the Syrian government has used chemical weapon against its people.
The US Congress will officially start debating a US administration plan for war when lawmakers end their recess on September 9.
The recent war rhetoric against Syria first gained momentum on August 21, when the militants operating inside the Middle Eastern country and its foreign-backed opposition claimed that over a thousand people had been killed in a government chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus.
The Syrian government categorically rejected the accusation.
The UN, Iran, Russia, and China have warned against war.
- Weakened al-Qaida could be revived by Syrian rebel group the al-Nusra Front (jpost.com)
- Syrian Al-Qaeda offshoot al-Nusra Front produces Chemical Weapons (syrianews.cc)
- Videos show joint Al Nusra, Free Syrian Army attacks in ancient village (longwarjournal.org)
- Syrian Army Kills 40 al-Nusra Front Members in Damascus Ambush (uprootedpalestinians.wordpress.com)
- Are more radicals joining the rebels? (cnn.com)
Ansar al-Sharia running training camps in Benghazi and DarnahAugust 28, 2013 BY: Bill Gertz
U.S. intelligence agencies earlier this month uncovered new evidence that al Qaeda-linked terrorists in Benghazi are training foreign jihadists to fight with Syria’s Islamist rebels, according to U.S. officials.
Ansar al-Sharia, the al Qaeda-affiliated militia that U.S. officials say orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound and a CIA facility in Benghazi, is running several training camps for jihadists in Benghazi and nearby Darnah, another port city further east, said officials who discussed some details of the camps on condition of anonymity.
The officials said the terror training camps have been in operation since at least May and are part of a network that funnels foreign fighters to Syrian rebel groups, including the Al-Nusra Front, the most organized of the Islamist rebel groups fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus.
The officials said the jihadist training is a clear indication that Ansar al-Sharia continues to conduct terrorist activities and is linked to jihadists in both Syria and North Africa.
Disclosure of the terror training camps also bolsters earlier intelligence assessments that Libya, following the death of Muammar Qaddafi, is now a focal point for al Qaeda terrorist activity in North Africa.
Information about the terrorist training camps in northeastern Libya was uncovered after the arrest of several jihadists near the port city of Darnah in early August.
Other information about the camps appeared online at jihadist social media outlets around the same time.
Two men identified as Tunisians disclosed the existence of the training camps in Benghazi after they were interrogated by a local militia group in northern Libya.
At the time of their arrest, the Tunisians stated that they were trained in small arms use and were on their way to join Syria rebels by traveling first to Benghazi, then Istanbul, and over land across Turkey and into northern Syria.
According to the officials, the Tunisians were arrested Aug. 3. Inside their car, the militia found six passports, an AK-47 assault rifle, and foreign currency. A total of four people traveling in the car, including two Libyans, clashed with guards at a security checkpoint at the time of the arrest.
One of the men said he was an associate of Ansar al-Sharia’s leader Sufian Ben Qumu, an al Qaeda terrorist released from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2007.
Details of the number of jihadist training camps and jihadists was not disclosed, but the officials said there are several training camps.
The Ansar al-Sharia Brigade in Benghazi was formed in early 2012 from several Islamist militias that fought during the 2011 revolution that ousted Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. The group was forced to relocate its operating bases based on local opposition to the group’s role in attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound.
Ansar al-Sharia is engaged in overt charitable activities and armed patrols in Benghazi, in addition to the covert terrorist training. The group has sought to play down its role in jihadist activities to avoid both the Libyan government and international scrutiny.
Ansar al-Sharia in Darnah was founded by former members of the terrorist Salim Martyrs Brigade and operates a base west of Darnah.
Libyan officials told Britain’s Arabic language newspaper Al Sharq al Awsat earlier this month that some type of covert U.S. military action was taken against al Qaeda bases in Darnah. However, Pentagon spokesmen said they had no information about such attack that reportedly took place Aug. 11.
U.S. intelligence agencies believe Libya has produced more jihadist rebels for the Syrian conflict than any other outside nation. Some 20 percent of foreign jihadists in Syria came from Libya and that several hundred are currently in the country.
Over 100 Libyans were reported killed in Syrian fighting for such rebel groups as Al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Umma Brigade, Muhajirin Brigade, and Ahrar al-Sham, an Al-Nusra offshoot.
The jihadist training highlights the danger that Libya is becoming a breeding ground for al Qaeda terrorists. Officials said the weak central government in Tripoli has allowed Islamist militias to flourish, including in Benghazi and Darnah where the two factions Ansar al-Sharia groups operate.
The Ansar al-Sharia Brigade was blamed by U.S. officials for carrying out the deadly Benghazi terrorist attack Sept. 11.
The Obama administration sought to cover up the terrorist attack in the weeks before the presidential election by initially claiming the action was the result of a spontaneous demonstration triggered by an anti-Islamic Internet video.
Four Americans were killed in the attack, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
A Pentagon report from August 2012 published by the Library of Congress stated that al Qaeda senior leaders and the group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) “have sought to take advantage of the Libyan Revolution to recruit militants and to reinforce their operational capabilities in an attempt to create a safe haven and possibly to extend their area of operations to Libya.”
The report said al Qaeda is developing a “clandestine network” in Libya that could be used in the future to destabilize the government and offer logistical support for al Qaeda activities in the region.
The report said that AQIM has formed sleeper cells that “are probably connected to an al Qaeda underground network in Libya, likely as a way, primarily, to secure the supply of arms for its ongoing jihadist operations in Algeria and the Sahel.”
“The al Qaeda clandestine network is currently in an expansion phase, running training camps and media campaigns on social-media platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube,” the report said. “However it will likely continue to mask its presence under the umbrella of the Libyan Salafist movement, with which it shares a radical ideology and a general intent to implement sharia in Libya and elsewhere.”
To avoid attacks, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya “could be the new face of al Qaeda in Libya despite its leader’s denial.”
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON | Tue Oct 23, 2012 9:11pm EDT
(Reuters) – Officials at the White House and State Department were advised two hours after attackers assaulted the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 that an Islamic militant group had claimed credit for the attack, official emails show.
The emails, obtained by Reuters from government sources not connected with U.S. spy agencies or the State Department and who requested anonymity, specifically mention that the Libyan group called Ansar al-Sharia had asserted responsibility for the attacks.
The brief emails also show how U.S. diplomats described the attack, even as it was still under way, to Washington.
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Benghazi assault, which President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials ultimately acknowledged was a “terrorist” attack carried out by militants with suspected links to al Qaeda affiliates or sympathizers.
Administration spokesmen, including White House spokesman Jay Carney, citing an unclassified assessment prepared by the CIA, maintained for days that the attacks likely were a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim film.
While officials did mention the possible involvement of “extremists,” they did not lay blame on any specific militant groups or possible links to al Qaeda or its affiliates until intelligence officials publicly alleged that on September 28.
There were indications that extremists with possible al Qaeda connections were involved, but also evidence that the attacks could have erupted spontaneously, they said, adding that government experts wanted to be cautious about pointing fingers prematurely.
U.S. intelligence officials have emphasized since shortly after the attack that early intelligence reporting about the attack was mixed.
Spokesmen for the White House and State Department had no immediate response to requests for comments on the emails.
MISSIVES FROM LIBYA
The records obtained by Reuters consist of three emails dispatched by the State Department’s Operations Center to multiple government offices, including addresses at the White House, Pentagon, intelligence community and FBI, on the afternoon of September 11.
The first email, timed at 4:05 p.m. Washington time – or 10:05 p.m. Benghazi time, 20-30 minutes after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission allegedly began – carried the subject line “U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack” and the notation “SBU”, meaning “Sensitive But Unclassified.”
The text said the State Department’s regional security office had reported that the diplomatic mission in Benghazi was “under attack. Embassy in Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well.”
The message continued: “Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four … personnel are in the compound safe haven. The 17th of February militia is providing security support.”
A second email, headed “Update 1: U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi” and timed 4:54 p.m. Washington time, said that the Embassy in Tripoli had reported that “the firing at the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi had stopped and the compound had been cleared.” It said a “response team” was at the site attempting to locate missing personnel.
A third email, also marked SBU and sent at 6:07 p.m. Washington time, carried the subject line: “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack.”
The message reported: “Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”
While some information identifying recipients of this message was redacted from copies of the messages obtained by Reuters, a government source said that one of the addresses to which the message was sent was the White House Situation Room, the president’s secure command post.
Other addressees included intelligence and military units as well as one used by the FBI command center, the source said.
It was not known what other messages were received by agencies in Washington from Libya that day about who might have been behind the attacks.
Intelligence experts caution that initial reports from the scene of any attack or disaster are often inaccurate.
By the morning of September 12, the day after the Benghazi attack, Reuters reported that there were indications that members of both Ansar al-Sharia, a militia based in the Benghazi area, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African affiliate of al Qaeda’s faltering central command, may have been involved in organizing the attacks.
One U.S. intelligence official said that during the first classified briefing about Benghazi given to members of Congress, officials “carefully laid out the full range of sparsely available information, relying on the best analysis available at the time.”
The official added, however, that the initial analysis of the attack that was presented to legislators was mixed.
“Briefers said extremists were involved in attacks that appeared spontaneous, there may have been a variety of motivating factors, and possible links to groups such as (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al-Sharia) were being looked at closely,” the official said.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jim Loney)
- White House told of militant claim two hours after Libya attack: emails | Reuters (reuters.com)
- Emails: White House told of militant claim two hours after Libya attack (dailystar.com.lb)
- Reuters: White House, State Dep’t received e-mails within two hours of Benghazi attack about jihadi group taking credit (hotair.com)
- White House Was Told Benghazi was a Terrorist Attack Two Hours Into the Battle (pjmedia.com)
- White House told of militant claim two hours after Libya attack: emails (punditfromanotherplanet.com)
October 17, 2012
By DREW HINSHAW
BAMAKO, Mali—A prospective military campaign against al Qaeda and its allies in the vast desert of this West African country has hit an obstacle: Neither Mali nor its neighbors appear ready to send soldiers into a land war, against war-hardened militants, in the world’s largest desert.
Late last week, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution giving West African states 45 days to plan to retake Mali’s north, now held by Islamic fundamentalist rebels allied to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The resolution has taken on urgency after AQIM, as the Saharan offshoot is known, was linked to last month’s attack on U.S. consulate sites in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador there and three other Americans.
AQIM militants roam the Sahara from Mauritania to Libya, a swath larger than India. After Mali’s democratically elected government collapsed earlier this year, they have taken over Mali’s France-sized north and begun to enforce Islamic law with public amputations and executions.
Now, foreign governments want to borrow a page from Somalia, where African Union peacekeepers recently routed al Qaeda-allied militants, a crucial step in stabilizing the strife-torn East African country. On Friday, dignitaries from the U.N., France, the U.S. and across Africa are set to assemble in Bamako, the country’s unassuming capital, for the largest meeting to date on the crisis.
But confusion in Bamako—along with the challenges such a military action could pose—have delayed the campaign, ceding Mali’s north to an al Qaeda affiliate eager to strike Western targets.
Mali’s own army lacks training, equipment and arms. In an indication of the general confusion there, officials in Guinea recently intercepted a shipment of weapons destined for Bamako because they weren’t sure who would end up with the arms. On Wednesday, Guinean officials agreed on plans to return it, the Associated Press reported.
The Economic Community of West African States, or Ecowas, has proposed sending 3,300 personnel from Mali and its neighbors to battle in the north. But even some Ecowas member countries are hesitant to dispatch combat troops, and there is no indication that international forces would join in.
At the U.N., Security Council diplomats have said the Ecowas mission isn’t properly organized and that it won’t authorize any force until it is. The Pentagon is willing to send advisers to help with Ecowas force-deployment—once Ecowas has a plan for Mali—but won’t send forces, U.S. defense officials say. A U.S. appropriations act blocks Washington from providing direct military aid to a non-democratic state such as Mali. The U.S. is considering unilateral strikes in the region, officials have said, and the White House’s National Security Council has asked civilian experts to put together a list of potential air strike targets there, according to one of the analysts asked.
French President François Hollande, too, has said France would provide logistical and training assistance to an Ecowas-led military intervention but wouldn’t send soldiers. The EU was expected earlier this week to announce a training program for Malian and African troops, but instead said Monday it would propose the program by mid-November.
Mali defense officials say such shortages won’t stop their campaign.
“We’re going to start the mission without Ecowas and they can come find us along the road,” said Mali defense ministry spokesman Nouhoum Togo.
On a recent afternoon outside the capital, in Mali’s south, a group of Malian soldiers rehearsed for war by practicing driving flatbed trucks over scrubland, the closest thing at hand to a desert. For years, the U.S. held annual exercises with Malian soldiers on a nearby plot of land. But when al Qaeda rebels ambushed Mali’s military outposts in the north, many of those same soldiers fled.
“Before, we weren’t ready to die,” said Mr. Togo, the defense ministry spokesman. “Now, for our dignity and our country, we’re ready to die.”
The same month Mali’s army abandoned the north, frustrated army officers staged a coup, toppling the democratically elected government in Bamako. Heavily armed Islamic fundamentalists now rule the north.
Of the 3,300 personnel West Africa nations have tentatively offered to send, the bulk would come from Nigeria. Many of the rest include non-combat personnel: police officers, engineers, doctors. Tiny Togo is likely to send about 100 troops, its prime minister said. Guinea-Bissau is sending personnel, but its army is preoccupied governing a country. Cape Verde has committed five doctors.
Aside from Nigeria, the Ivory Coast is a big backer of military intervention in its northern neighbor. Yet both the Ivory Coast and Liberia are hosting U.N. peacekeeping missions after their own recent civil conflicts.
West Africa’s hawks are making slow progress persuading leaders from nearby North African countries. In particular, Algeria has expressed concerns that Mali’s rebels could retreat across their shared 855-mile desert border. Even 3,300 battle-equipped soldiers from West Africa would be too few, say many analysts, to secure a sweep of dune, boulders and mountains that the French themselves failed to thoroughly colonize. Nigeria is pushing Ecowas to raise its troop commitments to 5,000 troops, according to one of the country’s senior security officials. Nigeria is lobbying Senegal to provide much of that margin.
Mali’s Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, one of the top leaders of the transitional government, is a former scientist who worked at NASA during the 1990s and 2000s. Today, he has the formidable task of convincing other African countries to help clear the country’s north of militants. The prime minister has been to Niger, Algeria, Morocco, Chad and South Africa seeking support.
South Africa and Chad have voiced willingness to participate. But it isn’t yet clear what such troops would be doing in Mali. Ecowas plans to invade the cities of the north, according to its Special Representative to Mali Aboudou Touré Cheaka. These would include the historic and vulnerable trading town of Timbuktu, where 14th-century clay monuments have been smashed by Islamists who view them as sacrilegious.
Mali’s army has asked that Ecowas soldiers stay behind and guard Mali’s middle belt. Many observers expect foreign troops will end up in the south, patrolling the capital, providing a sense of security to civilian leaders like the president. President Dioncounda Traoré spent May and June convalescing after pro-coup protestors broke into his office and beat him with the helmet of a palace guard.
—Julian E. Barnes, Joe Lauria and David Gauthier-Villars contributed to this article.
- ECOWAS, UN Officials Set to Meet Over Mali (voanews.com)
- Foreign jihadists pour into northern Mali (dawn.com)
- Inside al-Qaeda’s new home (smh.com.au)
- Zuma says military intervention possible to end Mali crisis – Xinhua (news.xinhuanet.com)
- UN Passes Mali Resolution (blogs.voanews.com)
- France Says International Intervention in Mali Weeks Away (blogs.voanews.com)