CCR sues ‘Guantanamo North’ detention facilities in Aref et al v. Holder

NPR has a story about the “Communications Management Units” in Terre Haute, Ind., and Marion, Ill. The special detention unit in Terre Haute contains 50 cells housing some of the people the U.S. describes as the “country’s biggest security threats”, including John Walker Lindh. The units’ population has included men convicted in well-known post-Sept. 11 cases, as well as defendants from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1999 “millennium” plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport, and hijacking cases in 1976, 1985 and 1996. The Bureau of Prisons says a total of 71 men now live in the units.

Guards and cameras watch the CMU inmates’ every move. Every word they speak is picked up by a counterterrorism team that eavesdrops from West Virginia. Restrictions on visiting time and phone calls in the special units are tougher than in most maximum security prisons. Prisoners in the CMU, alone out of all general population prisoners within the federal system, are categorically banned from any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants, and minor children. To further their social isolation, the BOP has placed severe restrictions on their access to phone calls and work and educational opportunities.

According to CCR:

“Adding to the suspect nature of these units, upwards of two-thirds of the prisoners confined there are Muslim – a figure that over-represents the proportion of Muslim prisoners in BOP facilities by at least 1000 percent. Many of the remaining prisoners have unpopular political views, including environmental activists designated as “ecoterrorists.”

When the Terre Haute unit opened in December 2006, 15 of the first 17 inmates were Muslim. AAlexis Agathocleous, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights:

“We were concerned about what appears to be racial profiling and also a pattern of designations to the CMUs of people who have spoken out at other prison units and advocated for their rights and have taken leadership positions in religious communities in those other prisons,” he says. They are segregated from other prisoners because officials worry that they could recruit other inmates for terrorism or direct people in the outside world to commit crimes.

Civil rights groups have filed lawsuits however that accuse the two U.S. facilities of some of the same due process complaints raised by people at Gitmo.Prison officials opened the first CMU with no public notice four years ago, something inmates say they had no right to do under the federal law known as the Administrative Procedures Act. Unlike prisoners who are convicted of serious crimes and sent to a federal supermax facility, CMU inmates have no way to review the evidence that sent them there or to challenge that evidence to get out. Also, as word got out that the special units were disproportionately Muslim,
civil rights lawyers say, the Bureau of Prisons started moving in
non-Muslims. According to CCR:

“Five CMU prisoners and two of their spouses (who, along with their children, have been subjected to draconian rules governing visitation and phone calls) have joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs. All five men confined in the CMU have been classified as low or medium security, but were designated to the CMU despite their relatively, and in two cases perfectly, clean disciplinary history. Not a single one has received discipline for any communications-related infraction within the last decade, nor any significant disciplinary offense.

Like all CMU prisoners, the men received no procedural protections related to their designation, and were not allowed to examine or refute the allegations that led to their transfer. They are also being held indefinitely at the CMU without any meaningful review process. They expect to serve their entire sentences in these isolated and punitive units.

Predictably, the lack of procedural protections has allowed for an unchecked pattern of discriminatory and retaliatory designations to the CMU. Rather than being related to a legitimate penological purpose or based on substantiated information, our clients’ designations were instead based on their religious and/or perceived political beliefs, or in retaliation for other protected First Amendment activity.

American University law professor Stephen Vladeck reviewed NPR’s findings. He says he has some questions about the secrecy surrounding the units and whether the prison is sending the right people there.

“I think the real question is, what are the constraints and how are we sure that the right people are being placed in these units and not the wrong ones?” Vladeck says.

“Mixing prisoners from different backgrounds who actually don’t necessarily live up to those criteria I think is troubling,” Vladeck adds, because it means some inmates might not belong there, and others who do belong may not be getting the attention they deserve.

Documents:

Classification systems of terrorist threat levels in the EU Member States

This Council document of 20 December 2010  compiles an overview of the systems and classifications used by the EU Member States including an explanation on how the threat levels are defined and which structure is responsible for changes in the level of threat.

European countries charge suspects with preparing for terrorist acts

NY Times: A week after coordinated raids in three cities, the British police said Monday that they had charged nine of the 12 men they arrested, in a case that seemed to be a sign that Europe’s concerns over potential terrorist attacks were spreading. Three of the 12 men were released without charges, the West Midlands Police said in a statement shortly before the other nine appeared in court in London, accused of “engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism.”

The nine men, including five who British news reports said were of Bangladeshi origin, were accused of offenses that included reconnoitering targets, conspiring to cause explosions and testing incendiary material. On Monday, Judge Howard Riddle ordered the men held in prison until a further hearing on Jan. 14. News reports at the time of the arrests said that the alleged conspiracy in the case was not likely to produce an imminent act of terrorism. But British broadcasters, including the BBC and Channel 4, reported late Monday that the men were accused of plotting attacks to coincide with the Christmas holidays and had reconnoitered targets like the American Embassy, the London Stock Exchange and religious and political leaders.

They were also reported to have planned to use designs from a newsletter by Al Qaeda to make parcel bombs. There was no immediate official confirmation of the reports.

On Dec. 14, the police in Germany moved against two Salafist networks suspected of seeking the imposition of an Islamic state. Those arrests were seen as a reflection of growing concern in Berlin about the radical messages of some Islamic groups.

On Saturday, prosecutors in the Netherlands said they had arrested 12 Somalis suspected of plotting a terrorist attack, but by Monday six had been released.

European concerns about terrorism seemed to mount after a suicide attack this month in Sweden, by a Swede of Iraqi descent who had been living in Britain; terrorism arrests in Spain and France; and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington about reports of a planned attack in a European city.

Stockholm Hit by Blasts After E-Mail Warning

One man was killed and two other people were injured when two explosions hit the heart of Stockholm’s city-center shopping district on Saturday evening, the police in the Swedish capital said. The country’s foreign minister called the blasts a terrorist attack, and an e-mail to news organizations minutes before the blasts seemed to link them to anger over anti-Islamic cartoons and the war in Afghanistan.

EU adopts action plan air cargo security

European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas set out a 3 recommentations on the EU’s response to the 30 October security alert, when viable explosive devices were found in cargo shipments originating from Yemen and transferring to US-bound flights at airports in Germany and the UK. The action plan can be summed up in three recommendations.

1. New harmonised EU cargo and mail security controls: the Commission will bring forward new legislative proposals in relation to cargo originating from outside the EU. These proposals are likely to include actions to be taken by EU air carriers wishing to bring cargo from countries outside the EU.

There will be further investment in research to improve the performance
of current detection technologies and to come up with new possibilities.
This will be carried out under the EU research framework programme and
other initiatives.

2. Better intelligence and threat information sharing

3. A global approach is needed to improve security. ICAO’s latest revision to Annex 17 which enhances cargo security rules should be swiftly implemented by its contracting states and adequate guidance should be developed and provided to help implement its standards and recommended practices.

Belgium rounds up 26 in anti-terror raids

Police busted Tuesday a Chechnya-linked Islamist network plotting to attack Belgium and rounded up another extremist group suspected of recruiting jihad fighters, amid heightened terrorism fears in Europe.

Authorities detained 11 people in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany as part of an investigation into a plot against an unspecified target in Belgium.

Hours later, Belgian officials announced the detention of some 15 people in Brussels in connection with a separate probe into a group suspected of recruiting would-be “jihadists” willing to do battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the first operation, a Chechen and six Belgian-Moroccan men were detained in the northern Belgian port city of Antwerp, three Dutch men in Amsterdam and a Russian national in Aachen, Germany, officials said.

“There were plans aimed at committing an attack in Belgium by an international terrorist group using for this purpose an extremist internet site, Ansar Al Mujahideen,” said the Belgian prosecutor’s office.

Belgian investigators spearheaded an international inquiry from 2009 into the suspect network, largely based in Antwerp.

“The target of the attack was not yet specifically determined,” the prosecutor’s office added, but there were “sufficient facts” to justify the raids.

No extra security measures will be enforced in Belgium, home to the European Union and NATO, a spokesman for the government’s crisis centre said.

Those arrested are also suspected of recruiting “jihadist candidates” and financing “a Chechen terrorist organisation, the Caucasus Emirate”.

A judge was to decide by Wednesday whether to keep them behind bars pending charges.

Belgian authorities said several other people had already been arrested in Spain, Morocco and Saudi Arabia as part of the same probe, conducted with other countries and the EU’s judicial cooperation unit Eurojust.

The Belgian prosecutor’s office announced later the arrest of “around 15 people” following searches in homes across Brussels in a pre-dawn operation aimed at “dismantling a group with terrorist characteristics”.

The arrests followed a three-year investigation into the Belgian Assabil Islamic Centre, considered a hotbed for Muslim radicalism since the 1990s.

A French-Syrian imam from the centre, Bassam Ayachi, was sentenced to four years in prison in Italy in May 2009 for smuggling illegal immigrants and is under investigation in Al-Qaeda-linked plots in France and Britain.

Europe has been on high alert for several weeks over heightened concerns of possible terrorist attacks.

Western security officials have warned that Al-Qaeda may be planning attacks in Europe similar to those that struck the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.

On Monday the cupola of Germany’s Reichstag parliament building was closed until further notice to visitors after media reports said the popular tourist site was a potential target for Islamist extremists.

Germany’s interior ministry said Tuesday’s arrests were not linked to recent security threats in the country.

In Denmark, intelligence services warned of new information “that foreign-based terrorist groups will try to send terrorists to Denmark to stage attacks” and urged police to be “extremely vigilant” ahead of Christmas.

The United States issued on October 3 a travel alert for its citizens travelling in Europe, citing the risk of potential terrorist attacks on transportation systems and tourist attractions.

Bomb Plot Said to Contain ‘Hallmarks of Al Qaeda’

The New York Times reports that a day after two packages containing explosives, shipped from Yemen and addressed to synagogues in Chicago, were intercepted in Britain and Dubai, setting off off a broad terrorism scare, Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Homeland Security, said that the plot “has the hallmarks of Al Qaeda.”
Ms. Napolitano and the police in Dubai on Saturday confirmed that the bomb discovered in its country in cargo from Yemen bound for the United States contained the explosive PETN, the same chemical explosive in the bomb sewn into the underwear of the Nigerian man who tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit last Dec. 25.

The white powder explosives discovered in Dubai were in the printer’s ink cartridge and were rigged to an electric circuit.

“The parcel was prepared in a professional way where a closed electrical circuit was connected to a mobile phone SIM card hidden inside the printer,” the Dubai police said, according to Reuters.

The episode is likely to reignite a long-running debate over the screening of freight aboard cargo planes. Only a small percentage of such freight is currently screened, though in 2007 Congress directed the Transportation Security Administration to screen all cargo carried on passenger flights starting this year.

Al-Qaeda-linked ‘terror plot’ targeting Europe foiled

There has been lots of news about this threat, but what do we know exactly?

Targets: Britain, France, Germany, the United States
It is claimed that intelligence agencies have disrupted an Al-Qaeda-linked plot to launch terrorist attacks in Britain, France and Germany “similar to the commando-style 2008 Mumbai attacks“, reports said.Militants based in Pakistan had been planning simultaneous strikes in London and major cities in France and Germany, Britain’s Sky News television reported, citing intelligence sources.The United States was also a possible target and President Barack Obama had been briefed about the threat, said ABC News in the US citing American officials.

German officials denied Tuesday they had intercepted threats, saying there had been no change to their threat level.

The treat is not the reason the Eiffel tower had to evacuate for the second time this week. French sources refer to threats made by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in this context.

Perpetrators
Sky’s foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall said the leaders of the plot “had an Al-Qaeda and possibly some sort of Taliban connection projecting into Europe.” Planning for the attacks was advanced but they were not imminent, said the broadcaster. A British official would not confirm the plot was “al-Qaida inspired” but said there was an “Islamist connection” and that the plots were in an early stage. The main source of the threat information is a ‘German terrorist’, but the ‘organisers’ were in Pakistan.

How was it discovered?
The plot in Europe was uncovered after intelligence-sharing between London, France, Germany and the US, and their cooperation had led to the plot being severely. According to ABC:

Intelligence and law enforcement authorities in the US and Europe said the threat information is based on the interrogation of a suspected German terrorist allegedly captured on his way to Europe in late summer and now being held at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

The captured German reportedly said several teams of attackers, all with European passports, had been trained and dispatched from training camps in Waziristan and Pakistan. Officials say the German claimed the attack plan had been approved by Osama Bin Laden.

This is quite important news, because as far as I know this German person is the only European which is currently being held in Bagram.

(More about the German Taliban Mujahidin here and here.)

Drones led to disruption of the plot?
When investigators discovered the plot, the US military began helping its European allies track down the organisers in Pakistan, which explains the recent increase in drone attacks in the country. A number of the attacks were designed to target the leaders of the plot and several of them were killed, according to the broadcaster.

Round-up of academic articles

Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman have recently published a report entitled “Assessing the Terrorist Threat: A Report of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group”. Here is the executive summary of the report:

    Al-Qaeda and allied groups continue to pose a threat to the United States. Although it is less severe than the catastrophic proportions of a 9/11-like attack, the threat today is more complex and more diverse than at any time over the past nine years. Al-Qaeda or its allies continue to have the capacity to kill dozens, or even hundreds, of Americans in a single attack. A key shift in the past couple of years is the increasingly prominent role in planning and operations that U.S. citizens and residents have played in the leadership of al-Qaeda and aligned groups, and the higher numbers of Americans attaching themselves to these groups. Another development is the increasing diversification of the types of U.S.-based jihadist militants, and the groups with which those militants have affiliated. Indeed, these jihadists do not fit any particular ethnic, economic, educational, or social profile.
    Al-Qaeda’s ideological influence on other jihadist groups is on the rise in South Asia and has continued to extend into countries like Yemen and Somalia; al-Qaeda’s top leaders are still at large, and American overreactions to even unsuccessful terrorist attacks arguably have played, however inadvertently, into the hands of the jihadists. Working against al-Qaeda and allied groups are the ramped-up campaign of drone attacks in Pakistan, increasingly negative Pakistani attitudes and actions against the militants based on their territory, which are mirrored by increasingly hostile attitudes toward al- Qaeda and allied groups in the Muslim world in general, and the fact that erstwhile militant allies have now also turned against al-Qaeda.
    This report is based on interviews with a wide range of senior U.S. counterterrorism officials at both the federal and local levels, and embracing the policy, intelligence, and law enforcement communities, supplemented by the authors’ own research.

The Journal of Homeland Security has recently published an article by Dean C. Alexander (Director, Homeland Security Research Program, Western Illinois University) entitled “Offline and Online Radicalization and Recruitment of Extremists and Terrorists”. Here’s the abstract:

This article addresses the complex and evolving nature of offline and online extremist and terrorist radicalization and recruitment. Crafting solutions that will reduce the prevalence of extremists’ and terrorists’ activities globally requires better appreciation of how such individuals are brought into the folds of radical individuals and groups. With that understanding, methods to lessen the occurrence and potency of extremists’ and terrorists’ radicalization and recruitment can be crafted and adopted.

al-Qaeda fighters take limited role in Afghan insurgency

Although U.S. officials have often said that al-Qaeda is a marginal player on the Afghan battlefield, an analysis of 76,000 classified U.S. military reports by the Washington Post underscores the extent to which Osama bin Laden and his network have become an afterthought in the war.

The reports, which cover the escalation of the insurgency between 2004 and the end of 2009, mention al-Qaeda only a few dozen times and even then just in passing. Most are vague references to people with unspecified al-Qaeda contacts or sympathies, or as shorthand for an amorphous ideological enemy.

In June, CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that, “at most,” only 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives were present in Afghanistan. His assessment echoed those given by other senior U.S. officials. In October, national security adviser James L. Jones said the U.S. government’s “maximum estimate” was that al-Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan, with no bases and “no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”