The LWOT: Terror arrests roil Europe; Obama considers indefinite detention review process

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

Danish and Swedish police disrupt "imminent" plot

The heads of Denmark's security and intelligence agency PET and the Swedish security police agency SAPO announced Dec. 29 that authorities had disrupted an "imminent" terrorist attack against the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, whose 2005 publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad sparked deadly protests around the world (BBC, NYT, AJE, LAT). Five men were arrested in the two countries in connection with the alleged plot, including three Swedish citizens, a Tunisian and an Iraqi, and three of the men arrested in Denmark were reportedly found with a submachine gun, a silenced pistol, ammunition, and plastic ties that could be used to bind wrists (Reuters, VOA). Both countries reportedly cooperated in a several-month investigation to track the alleged plotters, three of whom were followed by security agents as they drove into Denmark from Sweden Dec. 28 (AP).

Authorities allege that the men were planning a "Mumbai-style" attack before Jan. 1, and intended to storm the paper's offices and "kill as many possible" (AJE, Reuters).Danish police released the Iraqi due to insufficient evidence, but charged three men with planning a terrorist attack and possessing illegal weapons; a fourth man remains in detention in Sweden in connection with the plot (VOA, AP). The suspects in Denmark pled not guilty, and will be held for a month pending further investigation (LAT, WSJ).

The plotters were allegedly connected with international terrorist networks, and authorities are investigating possible links with a previous plot against the paper involving senior terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri and American David Coleman Headley (Der Spiegel, NYT). Several of the alleged plotters were reportedly on the radar of Swedish police, and one, Munir Awad, had been arrested twice before in Somalia and Pakistan. Awad reportedly took a 2009 trip to Pakistan with several others, including former Guantánamo Bay detainee Mehdi Muhammad Gazali, and CNN reports that Pakistani authorities suspected the men were traveling to North Waziristan to meet with "terrorist operatives" (CNN, AFP).

UK charges nine in terrorism plan

A UK court on Dec. 27 remanded to custody nine men arrested Dec. 20 in an anti-terrorism sweep, after prosecutors charged the men with preparing a terrorist attack and conspiracy to cause explosions (NYT, VOA, Guardian). Authorities allege that the men scouted targets including the U.S. Embassy in London and the London Stock Exchange, in addition to several other prominent sites (Telegraph, LAT, Reuters, AFP). Three of the men detained in the Dec. 20 sweep have been released without charge, and the nine men will appear in court again on Jan. 14.

According to British prosecutors, the men possessed copies of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's English-language "Inspire" magazine, and had tested "incendiary materials" (Washington Post). Britain's Telegraph reported before the charges that some of the men traveled to Pakistan to receive militant training, and that three of the suspects were radicalized while in prison, according to a neighbor (Telegraph, Telegraph).

In an end-of-the-year message, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the threat from terrorism was "as serious as it has ever been" (Telegraph). And British police have asked for a replacement of the controversial "stop and search" powers deemed illegal by a British court, while a coalition of human rights organizations are protesting Britain's continued use of control orders to curtail the movements and activities of terrorism suspects without charging them with a crime (Guardian, Guardian, Independent).

Catch and release in the Netherlands

Dutch police Dec. 25 arrested 12 Somali men in the port city of Rotterdam after receiving intelligence that, "a number of Somalis wanted to commit a terrorist attack in the Netherlands in the near future" (AFP, AP, AJE). Police searched several locations linked to the men, aged 19 to 48, but turned up no weapons or explosives (CNN). However, subsequent interrogations and investigations revealed no conclusive evidence of a plot, and by Dec. 30 all 12 had been released, though three are still considered "suspects" (CNN, Reuters, AFP, Deutsche Welle).

U.S. readies indefinite detention review process, Senate bans Gitmo closure

The Washington Post reported Dec. 21 that Obama administration officials have been preparing an Executive Order for the President's consideration that would establish formal means for Guantánamo detainees held indefinitely to periodically challenge their incarceration (Washington Post). While administration officials argue that such a review process would be more adversarial than those set up under the Bush administration (and suspended under Obama), some see the new process as another sign of the entrenchment of indefinite detention in the U.S. judicial system (NYT, AP, Bloomberg, Guardian, LAT).

The news raised further doubts about the administration's willingness or ability to follow through on its often-repeated promise to close the prison at Guantánamo, doubts bolstered when the Senate Dec. 22 passed a defense authorization bill with language banning funds for the transfer or detainees to civilian trial or detention in the United States (AFP, BBC, NPR). In a pre-holiday press conference, President Barack Obama reiterated that closing Gitmo was still a priority for his administration (Lawfare Blog). But in a press conference held Dec. 26, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged that it would "be a while" until Gitmo was closed, and that some detainees, "regrettably, will have to be indefinitely detained" (AFP, Washington Post, Telegraph).

President Obama used a recess appointment Dec. 29 to appoint James Cole, an outspoken defender of civilian trials for terrorism suspects, to the position of deputy attorney general and head of the Justice Department's national security department, a move that has drawn strenuous objections from leading Congressional Republicans (Reuters, AP, The Hill).

Carol Rosenberg last week detailed the U.S. effort, first discussed in documents released by the website WikiLeaks, to stop an investigation by powerful Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón to investigate torture complaints against senior Bush administration officials, including then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez (Miami Herald). Polish prosecutors last week revealed that the U.S. government refused last year a request for cooperation in a probe of the alleged torture of detainees at a U.S. secret prison that once operated in Poland (AFP, Harper's). And late last month the Red Cross helped facilitate video conference calls for the families of Yemeni Gitmo detainees to communicate with their relatives held at the prison (CNN, ABC).

Trials and Tribulations

  •  A powerful car bomb struck a Coptic Christian church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria on New Year's Day, killing 25 worshippers at mass and provoking clashes between Copts and Muslims, as well as calls for unity and protests from both Copts and Muslims against the government's handling of security for its minorities (NYT, AFP, LAT, Guardian, AJE, McClatchy, TIME). Copts have also been reportedly threatened by radical Islamists in Germany and Canada, with unidentified users of a major jihadist forum posting pictures and addresses of 100 Copts and other Arab Christians (Toronto Sun, AFP).
  • Al Qaeda has allegedly produced and begun circulating on the Internet an English-language manual, "The Explosives Course," on the assembly and deployment of explosives made from everyday materials (Telegraph).The manual's unidentified authors claim that they were students of Abu Khabab al-Misri, who ran al Qaeda's Derunta camp before 9/11, and conducted experiments with various poisons and chemicals. Al-Misri was reportedly killed in a drone strike in 2008. 
  • The Washington Post reports that the U.S. government has made it easier to place an individual on a terrorism watch list, sometimes with evidence from a single "credible" source (Washington Post).
  • A federal grand jury Dec. 24 filed an indictment against American Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, charging that he made false statements to the FBI regarding alleged efforts to join insurgent forces in Pakistan and Iraq (CNN). The Wall Street Journal reports this morning on a draft report by New York State Intelligence, which tracks basic terrorist "pedigree" trends, and found that over half of those arrested in a selection terrorism plots and cases in the US had prior criminal records (WSJ).
  • A Paris court began the trial January 3 of eight men charged with staging a series of armed robberies in order to raise money for Muslim extremist movements abroad (France 24, AFP).
  • In Indonesia, prosecutors asked for the death penalty on the first day of trial for Abdullah Sunata, a top terrorism suspect accused of buying weapons for the group Al Qaeda in Aceh, as well as involvement in a series of plots and attacks against security forces in the country (VOA).
  • Moroccan authorities announced December 27 that they had arrested six men with "expertise in explosives" who were allegedly plotting to attack foreign and domestic targets (AP, Reuters).
  • The Australian government late last month issued a formal apology and paid a "substantial" settlement to a doctor, Mohammed Haneef, wrongfully detained by the police in the wake of the 2007 attack on Glasgow's airport (Guardian).
  • Letter bombs exploded at the Swiss and Chilean Embassies in Rome Dec. 23, and another at the Greek Embassy was defused, in what police suspect was a show of solidarity with jailed Greek anarchists (AP).

Mads Nissen/AFP/Getty Images


The LWOT: British arrest 12 in terror sweep; Ghailani to file appeal

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

Editor's note: This is the last Legal War on Terror Brief until after the New Year.

Must read: Dana Priest and William M. Arkin investigate the immense counterterrorism surveillance apparatus that authorities have set up at the federal, state and local level, one that reportedly collects data on thousands who have not been accused of a crime (Washington Post).

UK police arrest 12 in three-city terror sweep

In a series of carefully-organized early-morning raids Dec. 20, British authorities arrested 12 men on suspicion of plotting an "al Qaeda-inspired" bomb attack in the UK (NYT, AFP, WSJ, LAT).The men were from Cardiff, Stoke-on-Trent and London, and reportedly included several men of Bangladeshi origin. The alleged plot was in its early stages, but top British counterterrorism official John Yates said that the arrests were necessary to "ensure public safety" (NPR, Telegraph, CNN). Officers who carried out the raid were reportedly unarmed, indicating that the threat of attack was not imminent.

Under current British counter-terrorism laws, the men can be held for up to 28 days without charge (AP). The arrests marked the largest anti-terror operation in Britain since last April, when 12 men were arrested after a British intelligence official was photographed with a dossier containing information on the group; they were later released due to insufficient evidence.

Ghailani's lawyers appeal conviction against him

Lawyers for former CIA and Guantánamo Bay detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, convicted last month for his role in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, are appealing the verdict in his case (NYT). The lawyers argue that the ruling against their client, the first Guantánamo detainee tried in federal court, is inconsistent given the jury's other findings. Ghailani was convicted of conspiracy to damage U.S. government buildings or property, but was acquitted of all other charges related to the bombings (Reuters, NY1). The verdict sparked an intense debate over the feasibility of closing the prison at Guantánamo and civilian trials for accused terrorists captured abroad.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters this weekend that the Senate would likely back a one-year ban on money for civilian trials for Gitmo detainees or their transfer to custody in the United States, passed again by the House on Dec. 17 (Politico, Politico). Adam Serwer reports that Senate Democrats reportedly agreed to the ban in order to win Republican support for an end to the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, which prohibited openly gay individuals from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces (TAP). And a nonpartisan legal think tank, the Constitution Project, announced the formation of a task force composed  of former congressional, military and government leaders to study U.S. detainee policy (AP).

Rep. King elaborates

In a Dec. 19 op-ed in Newsday, incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Peter King (R-NY) elaborated on his intentions, announced last week, to hold hearings into the "radicalization" of Muslim American communities, writing (Newsday):

The great majority of Muslims in our country are hardworking, dedicated Americans. Yet a Pew Poll showed that 15 percent of Muslim Americans between 18 and 29 say suicide bombing is justified. I also know of imams instructing members of their mosques not to cooperate with law enforcement officials investigating the recruiting of young men in their mosques as suicide bombers. We need to find the reasons for this alienation.

King's call has been condemned by several Muslim advocacy groups, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the proposed hearings were inappropriate  and that he did not agree with King's statements (AP, NYDN). At Salon, meanwhile, Justin Elliot digs into the vocal support King once gave to the terrorist group the Irish Republican Army, a group King reportedly did not break with until 2005 (Salon).

Trials and Tribulations

  • A bomb ripped through a bus security checkpoint Dec. 21 in Nairobi, Kenya, killing 3 (including the bomber) and wounding 26 - mostly Ugandans returning home for Christmas (BBC, WSJ, AJE). Authorities suspect the involvement of the Somali militant group al-Shabaab.
  • In an important change, the Obama administration put into effect Dec. 7 a regulatory shift allowing lawyers to represent individuals present on a Treasury Department terrorism list pro-bono, without having to obtain a special license from Treasury (AP).
  • Danish authorities have filed a "preliminary terror charge" against Chechen Lors Doukaev, who accidentally detonated a bomb in a Copenhagen hotel bathroom Sept. 10 (AP).
  • Oregon authorities have announced that 19-year old Mohamed Osman Mohamud, arrested late last month in a sting operation after allegedly trying to set off a bomb at Portland's Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony, is being held in isolation from other prisoners (AP). And a lawyer for Tarek Mehenna, accused of providing material support to a terrorist group and attempting to fight abroad (amongst other charges), filed a motion Dec. 20 seeking bail for her client and the sealing of over 2,000 pages of internet communications between her client and others (Boston Herald).
  •  A U.S. State Department cable released this week by the website WikiLeaks reveals that in December 2009, a Yemeni official warned the U.S. Embassy in the country that the lone guard outside Yemen's holding facility for radioactive material had been removed from his post, and that the one security camera on-site had been broken for six months (CBS, Guardian).
  • The Telegraph reports that a spin-off group of the banned al-Muhajiroun still operates openly in Luton, nearfrom where Taimour Abdelwahab al-Abdaly, who set off a suicide bomb in Stockholm Dec. 11, lived in the U.K. (Telegraph).
  • A Canadian court has lengthened the sentence of Momin Khawaja, convicted in 2008 of supporting a plot by British terrorists to bomb targets in that country in 2004, from 10 years to life in prison (BBC). Another court raised the sentences of two men convicted for their participation in the so-called "Toronto 18" plot, broken up in 2006 (AP).