Patriot Act provisions renewed just before deadline
President Obama signed a four-year extension of three controversial Patriot Act provisions into law just before the midnight deadline last night, after Senate leaders made a deal with Republican Sen. Rand Paul to allow several proposed amendments to be put up for a vote, including one to make it more difficult for authorities to obtain firearms purchase records (LAT, Washington Post, AFP, Bloomberg, WSJ, CBS/AP). The provisions, which passed the Senate 72-23 and then the House 250-153, allow for "roving" wiretaps of multiple phone lines, the investigation of non-American "lone wolf" suspects not linked to any extremist organization, and the collection of all "tangible" items linked to a terrorist investigation, including business and other records (AP). The extension drew criticism from some Democrats, though amendments tightening restrictions on the provision that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee were blocked from coming up for a vote (Politico).
Two Senate Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, said yesterday that the Obama administration has a "secret" and far-reaching interpretation of the Patriot Act that goes well beyond standard readings of its limits, especially the ability to seize business and other records (NYT).
Also yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a $690 defense spending bill despite a veto threat from the White House due to several bill provisions, including one that would limit President Obama's ability to try Guantánamo Bay detainees in the U.S. or transfer them abroad, and another that updates the post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), and would allow the president to target "associated groups" of al-Qaeda and the Taliban not involved in the 9/11 attacks (AFP, AP, Politico, LAT, National Journal). A statement from the White House called the limits on detainee transfers, "a dangerous and unprecedented challenge to critical Executive branch authority" (Lawfare Blog).
Rana trial continues in Chicago
David Coleman Headley testified for a third day yesterday in the trial of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, accused of supporting Headley's reconnaissance of targets for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and faced tough cross-examination from Rana's lawyer about what details Headley actually told Rana about the plot (WSJ). Headley also acknowledged that he had no proof that "Major Iqbal," the man Headley calls his handler from the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), actually was a member of the agency .
Headley told the court, however, that he was trained by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) in safe houses in the Pakistani city of Lahore (Express Tribune). He also provided new detail about a follow-on plot to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Denmark, which published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in 2005, and told the jury that he was no longer proud of his role in the Mumbai attacks (Globe and Mail, AP, AFP). In testimony the previous two days Headley discussed the role the ISI played in choosing targets for the Mumbai attacks, especially the Chabad House, described scouting trips to Copenhagen as part of the plot against the Jyllands-Posten, and said Rana praised the Mumbai attacks (WSJ, PBS, AFP, Reuters, Chicago Tribune, ProPublica, NYT, AP). For more on the Rana trial and the Mumbai attacks, sign up for the AfPak Daily Brief (FP).
CIA to get access to bin Laden compound
Under an agreement reached earlier this week between CIA deputy director Michael Morell and Pakistani intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, a team of forensic specialists from the CIA will be allowed starting today to examing Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (Washington Post, CNN, WSJ, Guardian, Telegraph, AP). The team will reportedly be looking for hidden documents with special equipment that can peer into walls and under floors.
Kirsten Grieshaber and Kimberly Dozier report that documents captured during the May 2 raid that killed bin Laden reveal that he knew of plans to attack Europe last year, and was in contact with al-Qaeda operative Younis al-Mauretani, who has reportedly been linked to a Moroccan arrested in Germany last month for allegedly planning a terrorist attack in that country (AP). And the New York Times reports that other documents recovered in the raid show that bin Laden and al-Qaeda operations chief Atiya Abdul Rahman discussed making a truce with Pakistan in exchange for protection for bin Laden, though officials say there is no evidence the deal was ever actually proposed (NYT).
NATO this week announced the capture in southern Afghanistan of a German-Moroccan man they say is an al-Qaeda facilitator, as part of a raid in early May in which 10 militants were killed, including a Frenchman, a Saudi and a Pakistani (NYT). The man has reportedly told his interrogators that foreign fighters are "converging" on Pakistan in order to fight in Afghanistan (ABC).
The leader of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Abdelmalek Droukdel, released a tape in commemoration of bin Laden's death on May 26, saying the killing will fuel anger in the Muslim world and adding, "We are all Osama" (AP). And the FBI has reportedly been able to pull a fingerprint and forensic evidence off of the bomb used by Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his failed attempt in December 2009 to blow up Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit, evidence they say links the bomb to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's principal bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri (AP, NPR).
JFK attack plotter convicted
A New York court on May 26 convicted Kareem Ibrahim for his involvement in a plot to blow up fuel arteries at JFK International Airport, the last of four plotters to be found guilty (FBI, BBC, Telegraph, Bloomberg, AP). The jury found Ibrahim, a former leader of Trinidad's Shi'a Muslim community, guilty on five charges, including providing religious and operational support to the plot, which was infiltrated at an early stage by an informant working for the government, eventually leading to a sting operation (CNN).
Five New Jersey men convicted in 2008 of plotting to attack the Fort Dix army base appealed their convictions this week, alleging that the government used illegal wiretaps to gather evidence, and that prosecutors showed prejudicial images -- including jihadist videos of beheadings -- to sway the jury unfairly against them (Courthouse News). And James Cromitie, the purported ringleader of a plot to attack synagogues in the Bronx and a New York Air National Guard base (later revealed to be a sting operation), asked a judge to grant him the minimum sentence possible in his case, 25 years in prison (Bloomberg). Cromitie and his three co-defendants were refused a new trial earlier this month.
Prosecutor removed in Polish torture investigation
Poland removed one of two prosecutors investigating the alleged torture of detainees at a secret CIA prison in the country from the case May 24, citing an "administrative shuffle" (AP). The investigation focuses on two detainees currently held at Guantánamo, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, who say they were abused at the prison.
The U.S. military tribunal at Guantánamo denied the clemency appeal of Canadian detainee Omar Khadr, who pled guilty last year to killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in 2002 and received eight years in prison in a deal with prosecutors (National Post, AP). Six years after being released from Guantánamo, the Australian government has finally returned Mamdouh Habib's passport, after he was given a "non-adverse security assessment" (AP). And a former U.S. government employee charged in Italy with taking part in the 2003 kidnapping and extraordinary rendition of Muslim cleric Abu Omar, Sabrina de Sousa, has filed a lawsuit to force the U.S. government to grant her diplomatic immunity, shielding her from prosecution if she travels to Europe (LAT).
Trials and Tribulations
- The U.S. State Department on May 26 added the Caucasus Emirate -- a militant group based in the North Caucasus region -- to its list of banned terrorist groups, and the U.S. government put a $5 million bounty on the head of its leader, Doku Umarov (State, CNN, AFP, AP, WSJ).
- Radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakir Bashir on May 25 denied charges that he helped raise funds for the group Al Qaeda in Aceh, accusing the United States and Australia of being behind his arrest and trial (Sydney Morning Herald).
- An Irishman currently on trial in Lithuania for buying weapons for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) denied the charges this week, accusing British intelligence agencies of setting him up (AFP).
- Australia's government is reportedly considering trying suspected Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek, captured in Abbottabad in January, for his alleged involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, 88 of them Australian (The Age).