Iran arrests 13 terrorist group members

Iran said on Sunday it had arrested 13 members of a terrorist group that authorities in the Islamic state say carried out attacks on minority Sunnis, state television reported. The armed group was linked to the Islamic state’s “foreign enemies,” state television said, using a phrase that usually refers to the United States and Israel.
“The group was directly involved in last year’s assassination of a Sunni Friday prayer leader … a Sunni member of an influential clerical body … and a Sunni religious leader,” an Intelligence Ministry statement said, television reported.

The ministry did not identify the group nor say whether those detained were Sunni rebels in southern Iran or Kurdish separatists based in mountainous areas close to the borders with Iraq and Turkey.

According to state television, Intelligence Ministry agents who detained the 13 suspects at locations around the country, also seized 10 bombs and 500 kg of explosives from the group, which had planned more attacks.

Iran reports arrest of members of a “terrorist group”

Iran said on Tuesday 20 April it had arrested members of an extremist group in the west of the country who had planned to carry out “terrorist attacks” in the Islamic state, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said the group, identified and arrested by the Intelligence Ministry, was armed and guided by American forces, IRNA reported.

Mohammad-Najjar did not identify the group or say whether those detained belonged to Kurdish separatist groups, based in mountainous areas close to the borders with Iraq and Turkey.

Iranian security forces often clash with guerrillas from the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which took up arms in 1984 for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey.

Like Iraq and Turkey, Iran has a large Kurdish minority, mainly living in the country’s northwest and west.

Tehran sees PJAK, which seeks autonomy for Kurdish areas in Iran and shelters in Iraq’s northeastern border provinces, as a terrorist group.

Sectarian violence is relatively rare in Iran, whose leaders reject allegations by Western rights groups that it discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.

Iranian officials often accuse the United States and Israel of supporting “terrorists.” The United States dismisses such allegations.

Ahmadinejad asks UN to investigate 9/11

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said last month that the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, were “a big fabrication,” wrote to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on Tuesday 13 April to ask him to open an investigation into the events of that day.

In a letter to the secretary general, Mr. Ahmadinejad asked him to “form an independent fact-finding committee trusted by regional countries on major elements behind [the] September 11 attack which was carried out as the main pretext to attack the Middle East,” according to the Iranian Students News Agency.

The letter also accused “NATO intelligence and security forces in Afghanistan” and “some American and European media” of supporting terrorist attacks by Baluchi militants in Iran’s southeast. In February, when Iran announced the arrest of Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of the Baluchi militant group Jundallah, it broadcast video of the captured rebel on state television in which he claimed that he had acted with support from the Obama administration.

Barbara Plett, the BBC’s U.N. correspondent, reports from New York that the secretary general’s office “said that it was studying the letter from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but had no comment.”

New report in Nokia Iran surveillance technology case

A journalist from Finnish daily Fifi got his hands on the “Nokia Lawful Interception Gateway” (LIG) manual, which confirms that the technology enables surveillance of mobile internet usage. It seems now that Nokia exported at least three separate systems to Iran. Nokia built a GSM network; the GSM network was provided with the LIG system; and the LIG has been upgraded with an “add-on”, called  Monitoring
Centre.

The commotion caused by the NSN trading with Iran has been mostly about the Monitoring Centre. The actual problem now seems to be the more extensive LIG, which gives users extensive power to monitor citizen mobile phone as well as mobile internet usage.

Fifi comments:

And this is where it gets interesting, even for the ordinary Western mobile phone user normally untouched by Iran’s political storms. LIG, with its extensive monitoring capabilities, or a comparable system by a different manufacturer, is monitoring all mobile voice and data networks around the world, including here in Finland.

In fact, it is precisely because of us Europeans that these extensive monitoring systems first became legal and then mandatory worldwide. Europe has spearheaded the transition from more restricted surveillance methods to extensive systems like the LIG: systems that store all of the target’s communications data during surveillance for future investigation.

Importantly:

NSN doesn’t seem to have broken any laws or export regulations while delivering the LIG to Iran. On the contrary, it has complied with the demands of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute that the potential for surveillance by law enforcement agencies should be expanded. The minimum standards of surveillance capacity that the EU demands from telecommunication carriers are almost as broad as the ones that the Gateway provides.

Read the leaked  documents. A good place to start is the product description (PDF).

The European Parliament passed a resolution strongly condemning the NSN Iran deal.

Iran: Trial in Torture Deaths Begins

Twelve suspects accused of torturing to death three anti-government protesters during the widespread turmoil after the June presidential election went on trial last Tuesday, the official news agency IRNA reported. Iran’s judiciary last year charged 12 officials at the Kahrizak detention center in Tehran for involvement in the deaths of three protesters held there. The IRNA report did not identify any of the suspects, saying the judge had banned reporting details of the trial. In January, a parliamentary inquiry found a former Tehran prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, responsible for the deaths of the three at the detention center. There has been no word of any effort to punish him.

Trial in torture deaths begins in Iran

Twelve suspects accused of torturing to death three anti-government protesters during the widespread turmoil after the June presidential election went on trial on Tuesday 9 March. Iran’s judiciary last year charged 12 officials at the Kahrizak detention center in Tehran for involvement in the deaths of three protesters held there. The official news agency IRNA did not identify any of the suspects, saying the judge had banned reporting details of the trial. In January, a parliamentary inquiry found a former Tehran prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, responsible for the deaths of the three at the detention center. There has been no word of any effort to punish him.

Yemen update

1. US involvement strategy

U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people, among them six of 15 top leaders of a regional al-Qaeda affiliate, according to senior administration officials.

The operations, approved by President Obama and begun six weeks ago, involve several dozen troops from the U.S. military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose main mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. The American advisers do not take part in raids in Yemen, but help plan missions, develop tactics and provide weapons and munitions. Highly sensitive intelligence is being shared with the Yemeni forces, including electronic and video surveillance, as well as three-dimensional terrain maps and detailed analysis of the al-Qaeda network.

As part of the operations, Obama approved a Dec. 24 strike against a compound where a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, was thought to be meeting with other regional al-Qaeda leaders. Although he was not the focus of the strike and was not killed, he has since been added to a shortlist of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing or capture by the JSOC, military officials said.

The far-reaching U.S. role could prove politically challenging for Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who must balance his desire for American support against the possibility of a backlash by tribal, political and religious groups whose members resent what they see as U.S. interference in Yemen.The collaboration with Yemen provides the starkest illustration to date of the Obama administration’s efforts to ramp up counterterrorism operations, including in areas outside the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones.

The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, General David Petraeus, says there are indications the domestic conflict in Yemen could become a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

General Petraeus was asked whether he sees the civil war between Yemen’s government and rebel Houthi forces in the north as a proxy war, with Iran supporting the rebels and Saudi Arabia helping the government. The general said it is not a proxy war now, but has the potential to become one, and there may already have been some movement in that direction.

2. London conference

Foreign ministers from the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia and 20 other countries met in London at Gordon Brown’s invitation to back President Ali Abdullah Salih and pledge not to interfere in Yemen’s internal affairs. But they also issued a stark public warning of the dangers of inaction.

“The challenges in Yemen are growing and, if not addressed, risk threatening the stability of the country and broader region,” said a statement issued after two hours of talks at the Foreign Office. It called for “urgent and concrete action” by Yemen to address “conditions conducive to radicalisation and instability”.

Civil organizations in Yemen sent a letter to U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown expressing their fear that the Yemen government would exploit the conference and the international attention in order to settle accounts with its political rivals, in the guise of the fight against terrorism.

The London meeting promised to support Yemeni counter-terrorist capabilities, enhance aviation and border security, and strengthen coastguard operations. Yemen pledged in return to pursue reforms and initiate discussions with the IMF. An existing 10-point plan includes scrapping fuel subsidies and public sector jobs.

Only a broad approach that incorporates improving the economy, battling poverty, promoting stability and fighting terrorism will solve the underlying causes of Yemen’s many problems, the top United Nations political official told an international conference on the country. B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the High-Level Meeting on Yemen, held in London, that the UN is ready to assist the impoverished Arab nation make progress on the humanitarian, developmental and economic fronts.

3. Threats

In his Friday sermon on January 15, the well-known Yemeni Islamist and U.S. designated terrorism supporter Shaykh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani called for jihad to defend Yemen in the event of a foreign military intervention. Al-Zindani noted that some American media reports said the “Yemeni regime is about to collapse and U.S. forces and Marines should intervene to protect oil sources in Yemen.” Al-Zindani considered such media reports (which he did not cite specifically) a declaration of war by the United States.

Al-Zindani’s remarks came a day before the shaykh and 149 other Yemeni clerics issued a fatwa in the name of the “Association of Scholars of the Yemen” declaring that jihad is “fard ayn” (a compulsory duty) in the event of military intervention in the country, and thus rejecting any military cooperation with Washington, the use of Yemeni territory for foreign military bases, and Yemen’s commitment to any security or military agreements that are contrary to Islamic Shari’a (Al-Bawaba, January 14; Asharq al-Awsat, January 14).

The entry of the clerics in Yemen to the growing crisis, regardless of whether they are linked to al-Qaeda or not, indicates the development of an environment that is sympathetic to the growing presence of al-Qaeda.

Yemen announced on Thursday 21 January that it would stop granting entry visas to travellers at the country’s international airports in order to halt terrorist infiltration.

Thousands of Somali boys and teenagers fleeing war and chaos at home are sailing to Yemen, where officials who have long welcomed Somali refugees now worry that the new arrivals could become the next generation of al-Qaeda fighters.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, meanwhile, announced in London the suspension of direct flights from Yemen until further security measures are agreed.

4. Impact on civilians
Amnesty International warned that the government’s heavy-handed response to the threat posed by al-Qaida puts Yemen at risk of being locked in a downward spiral on human rights.

In its latest briefing paper on Yemen, Amnesty International highlights an increase in human rights violations against those who criticize or oppose the government.

“The government has resorted to increasingly repressive methods to counter this opposition, including waves of arrests, incommunicado detention and unlawful killings,” said Malcolm Smart.

“Counter-terrorism is no excuse to sideline human rights. Whilst the government has a duty to protect people and hold to account those engaged in terrorism it must abide by its obligations under international law.”

In Sa’da, in the north of the country, the long running conflict between government forces and the Huthis, armed fighters belonging to the Zaidi Shi’a minority, resumed with new intensity last August and has been marked by serious abuses on both sides.

Both sides are alleged to have killed civilians and according to the UN’s refugee agency, so far more than the 200,000 people have been forcibly displaced.Civilians have also been put at risk, and some possibly killed, by Saudi Arabian security forces that have carried out attacks against rebels in Yemen’s northern border region. These attacks lacked any safeguards for the protection of civilians.

Mr Stillhar, the ICRC’s deputy director of operations, spent two days in Sana’a meeting with government authorities, the heads of UN agencies and the leadership of the Yemeni Red Crescent and a further two days in the northern governorate of Amran, where he met a good number of the tribal leaders of the region.

“What I’ve seen is a serious humanitarian crisis in the making,” declared Mr Stillhart. Since August 2009, when the conflict resumed, which, Mr Stillhart pointed out, was actually the sixth round of conflict between the government and the rebels, at least 150,000 civilians have been directly affected, or about one person in five living in the area.

He emphasized that the majority of displaced people had found shelter with host families, primarily relatives, and that this is putting a growing strain on host communities that were already living on the edge before fighting broke out. From his assessment after his short visit, Mr Stillhart said that the needs of the people clearly exceed the capacity of the humanitarian response.

Mr Stillhart explained that, as most communities are suffering, at least indirectly from the conflict, they naturally all feel entitled to some sort of assistance and this makes the whole aid effort extremely complicated to organize.

5. Truce

Yemen’s government said Sunday it will accept a truce offer only if the rebels operating in the country’s north comply with six previously laid-out conditions. Government conditions include removal of rebel checkpoints, withdrawal of forces and clarification of the fate of kidnapped foreigners. The rebels must return captured military and civilian equipment and not enter local politics.

The Shiite Muslim rebels, known as the Houthis, had indicated Saturday that they were open to a cease-fire and to accepting the government conditions. But they demanded an end to military operations first.

6. Yemen CT measures

Although the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country’s president, released 130 of its fighters as a goodwill gesture, al-Qaeda’s leadership in Yemen rejected the deal, according to Tariq al-Fahdli, who has since joined an outlawed group fighting for the secession of the south.

Yemeni security forces killed a man suspected of leading a cell of Al Qaeda and captured four other militants on Wednesday 13 January morning, hours after two soldiers were killed by Qaeda members in a neighboring district, Yemeni officials said. The clashes were the latest episode in the Yemeni government’s heightened campaign against Al Qaeda’s Arabian branch.

A Yemeni court sentenced seven suspected Al-Qaeda members to between five and 10 years in jail after convicting them of plotting to attack foreign interests and tourists.

The seven went on trial in October after having been arrested while preparing explosives and monitoring tourist buses to attack them, according to police.

They were convicted of “plotting to form an armed gang to execute criminal acts targeting foreign tourists and interests and government installments,” according to the verdict.

7. Halt of Guantanamo transfers
US President Barack Obama, who last year set January 22, 2010, as the date to close the detention camp in southeast Cuba, declared on Tuesday he had suspended transfers of freed Guantanamo Bay inmates to Yemen following the botched Christmas Day airliner attack.

Thirty Yemeni detainees the US government had deemed ready for release, some of whom are entering their ninth year there without charge, are now being told to wait even longer to return home.

Earlier this month, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the detention of Yemeni Guantanamo detainee Ghaleb Nassar Al-Bihani, ruling that he can remain in US custody, but, last month, the US government transferred six detainees back to Yemen. Also last month, a federal judge granted Yemeni detainee Saeed Hatim’s petition for habeas corpus, ordering his release.

There are 91 Yemeni detainees left in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Yemen will begin building an $11 million rehabilitation center for returning Guantanamo detainees in three months when it expects to receive funding from the United States.