The LWOT: White House releases counter-extremism strategy

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White House releases counter-extremism strategy

On August 3, the Obama administration released its eight-page national strategy for countering domestic violent extremism, casting the federal government not as a primary player in these efforts, but "as a facilitator, convener, and source of information" (Politico, AP, CNN, NYT, Reuters). Entitled "Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States," the plan focuses on the need to protect American communities that are being targeted for radicalization and recruitment by extremists, and provide local law enforcement agencies, schools, and community leaders with the tools to fight radicalism. Bonus read: Brian Fishman and Andrew Lebovich, "Countering Domestic Radicalization: Lessons for Intelligence Collection and Community Outreach" (NAF).

On August 1 Attorney General Eric Holder invoked the state secrets privilege in a U.S. District Court in a bid to dismiss a lawsuit brought against the FBI's allegedly unconstitutional surveillance of southern California mosques (Politico). The case was brought after it was revealed that an FBI informant, Craig Monteilh, had planted recording devices in an area mosque and attempted to engage local Muslims in conversations about jihad.

Suspected Ft. Hood plotter indicted

A day after being arrested for a suspected plot to attack Ft. Hood, Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo was charged in a District Court in Waco, TX with illegal possession of a firearm, and authorities have said they expect more charges to follow (Reuters, AP, BBC, Post, LAT). As he was led out of the courtroom, Abdo reportedly shouted "Nidal Hasan, Fort Hood, 2009," referring to the U.S. Army officer accused of killing 13 people in 2009 in a shooting spree at the base.

The bomb-making recipe allegedly found in Abdo's possession corresponds to an article published last year in the English-language magazine produced by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Inspire (Post). And according to court documents, after his arrest Abdo told the FBI about his plans to make bombs out of gun powder and shrapnel packed into pressure cookers, then explode them at two restaurants frequented by U.S. servicemen (LAT, Reuters). In a probable cause hearing on August 4, a federal judge ruled that prosecutors have enough evidence against Abdo to present their case to a grand jury (Reuters, AFP, CNN, AP).

On August 2, Emerson Begolly, an American arrested last month on charges of attempting to incite jihadists to kill Americans and posting bomb-making instructions on the internet, informed a federal court of his intentions to plead guilty (CNN, AP). The charges carry sentences of 10 and 20 years in prison, respectively.

A U.S. District Judge ruled on August 3 rejected a motion brought by lawyers for terrorism suspect Tarek Mehanna to have some of the charges against him dismissed, on the grounds that his actions were protected under the First Amendment (AP). Mehanna was indicted in 2010 for conspiring to kill American troops in Iraq.

And a Saudi Arabian student in Texas charged in February for attempting to build and detonate a weapon of mass destruction, Khalid Ali-M. Aldawsari, has reportedly hired two new, high-profile defense attorneys (Politico).

Alleged Norway attacker makes demands

Anders Behring Breivik, the man allegedly responsible for bombing and shooting attacks in Norway on July 22 that killed 77 people, asserted during police interrogations on July 29 that he had formulated plans to attack targets had he not been arrested, and that he had called the police during his shooting spree on the island of Utoya (BBC, AJE, AFP). His defense attorney said this week that Breivik has also presented an "unrealistic" list of demands in return for identifying his claimed accomplice cells, including the resignation of the government, a request that a Japanese psychiatrist conduct his mental evaluation, and his appointment as chief of Norway's military (Independent, Guardian).

Reuters reports on the difficulties facing Breivik's defense attorneys if they go through with their plan to plead insanity for their client (Reuters). And a poll has shown that following the attacks, a majority of Norwegians favor longer sentences for serious crimes, while Norway's justice minister warned against shaping policy "in a state of panic" (Guardian, BBC).

The attacks have also sparked debate in Norway about issues concerning immigration and tolerance, prompting the country's prime minister Jens Stoltenberg on August 1 to urge the nation not to start a "witch hunt" against freedom of expression (Reuters, BBC, AP). Der Spiegel has a nine-part series on Breivik's motivations and plans, and the views of Western pundits on which he based much of his 1,500-page manifesto (Der Spiegel).

British authorities request access to Gitmo detainees

British police have reportedly requested to interview Guantánamo Bay detainees as part of their investigation into allegations of official British complicity with American mistreatment of detainees (AFP). Lawyers for the detainees said in a letter on August 4 that they would not cooperate with the investigation unless they are able to question officials and intelligence agents (AP). The government's inquiry is currently set to question in secret the British intelligence agents and officials involved in the handling of Guantánamo detainees.

Human rights groups sent a letter on the same day refusing to submit any evidence to or meet with the inquiry team, saying that arrangements for the investigation are "secretive, unfair and deeply flawed" (Guardian, Tel). And the accounts of British security and intelligence agencies made public this week show that MI5 and MI6 have paid former British Guantánamo detainees a total of £12 million (around $20 million) in legal settlements (Tel).

On August 3 Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr fired his two long-time Canadian defense attorneys and hired two new defenders, writing in a letter to his previous lawyers that although he is "deeply indebted" to their dedication, changing his defense team was in his "best interests" (Miami Herald). Khadr also imposed a gag order on his U.S. military attorneys on the same day, and provided no further information on his decision.

A U.S. Federal Judge on August 1 ruled that the CIA should not be held in contempt of court for destroying videotapes allegedly showing the torture of detainees during interrogations (CNN). However, the judge ordered the agency to pay certain legal fees for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which had sought the release of information about the CIA's secret detention program and treatment of detainees. 

Hariri assassination suspects' photographs released

On July 29 the U.N.-backed tribunal tasked with investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri made public the photographs and biographical information of the four indicted suspects in the killing, who are believed to be members of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah (AFP, AJE, AP, LAT, CNN, Reuters, BBC). Although the suspects' names had previously been released, prosecutor Daniel Bellemare reportedly argued that the release of more detailed information would increase the likelihood of their arrest.

A special criminal court in Saudi Arabia on August 1 began the trial of "Al-Qaeda Lady," the first woman in the kingdom to be charged with terrorism-related crimes (AFP). The unidentified woman is accused of joining al-Qaeda, sheltering and recruiting terrorists, and "financing terror." On August 4, Saudi authorities said that al-Qaeda member Abdel-Salam Rashed al-Farraj,  one of the kingdom's most-wanted terrorist suspects, has returned to Saudi Arabia from abroad and turned himself in to authorities (AP). And a local Saudi news agency reported on July 31 that only ten of an original 129 Saudi detainees are still being held at Gitmo (AFP).

Trials and Tribulations

  • A Northern Irish man was charged on August 4, two days after his arrest in Belfast, with terrorist offences including possession of firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life, and offences under the explosive substances act (BBC, Bloomberg). Three men and a teenager were arrested on August 3 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland on suspicion of links to republican terrorism, and a rifle was found in the vehicle of one of the suspects (Guardian, BBC).  
  • The Chinese government has alleged that the militants responsible for two attacks on July 30 and 31 in the western province of Xinjiang that left at least 14 people dead, were Islamic extremists trained in Pakistan (AJE, Reuters, BBC, LAT, WSJ, AJE, Reuters). Chinese police reportedly pursued and then shot dead two suspected attackers in the city of Kashgar on August 1 (NYT, AP, Reuters, Guardian).  
  • The Obama administration is reportedly considering easing anti-terrorism rules that threaten prosecution for U.S.-funded organizations operating in Somalia that pay taxes or tolls to the Somali militant group al-Shabaab, in order to accelerate the movement of aid in the drought-wracked country (Post).
  • The U.S. Treasury Department on July 29 blacklisted two members of al-Shabaab, American Omar Hammami and Hassan Mahat Omar, freezing any U.S. assets they hold and preventing Americans from doing business with them (AP).
  • Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) confirmed on August 2 that one of its militants, the son of onetime key Algerian Islamist figure Ali Belhadj, was shot by Algerian security forces during an attempted suicide bombing (AP).
  • A top Indonesian counterterrorism official said today that suspected Bali bomb plotter Umar Patek has admitted to building bombs for the attack and given investigators in Pakistan information on other attacks in Indonesia (AP, AAP).



The LWOT: Dozens killed in Norway attacks

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.

Bomb attack, shooting rampage kill dozens in Norway

At least 76 people were killed July 22 when Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik allegedly set off a car bomb in front of the Norwegian prime minister's office in the capital city of Oslo before engaging in a shooting spree on the island of Utoya, targeting a youth camp organized by the country's leading Labor Party (NYT, WSJ, AJE, CNN, AP). Thirty-two year old Breivik, who reportedly wore an official Norwegian police sweater and identified himself as a police officer before the attack on the camp, had for years been posting on right-wing blogs and forums on what he believed were dangers to European society posed by Islam, immigration, and "multiculturalism" (NYT, LAT).

Breivik admitted in a closed hearing on July 25 to committing the acts in question, but pleaded not guilty, claiming that he acted in order to save Europe from an ongoing Muslim invasion (AP, NYT, BBC, AJE, Guardian, Bloomberg, Tel, LAT, CNN). He also told the court that he worked with two accomplice cells, sparking a hunt for other possible suspects. Judge Kim Heger remanded Breivik to eight weeks in prison -- four of those in solitary confinement, to prevent him from contacting any alleged accomplices -- after which he will go on trial for terrorism charges (Tel, WSJ, AP). If convicted, he will face Norway's maximum sentence of 21 years in prison, though prosecutors have suggested that he may receive 30 years if he is not tried under Norwegian terrorism laws. Following the collection of new information, police will interrogate Breivik for a second time today (CNN, BBC).

Just over an hour before the attack, Breivik published online and emailed a 1,500-page manifesto detailing his views and preparations for the attacks to 1,003 contacts, reportedly including 250 members of the right-wing English Defense League (BBC, Guardian, Post, WSJ, CNN). Breivik's manifesto extensively referenced right-wing blogs in the United States and Europe, drawing attention to the spread of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West and prompting governments across Europe to scrutinize the threat of right-wing radicalism in their countries (WSJ, NYT, CNN, Guardian, WSJ, BBC, BBC, Der Spiegel, Der Spiegel). German police on July 27 conducted raids against 21 houses believed to be connected to right-wing extremists, seizing weapons, ammunition, drugs, and computers (Reuters). According to several media outlets Norwegian security forces were alerted about rising right-wing extremism before Friday's attack, but dismissed the threat as insignificant (LAT, WSJ, Tel).

The attacks have also sparked renewed debate over immigration and multiculturalism in Europe (NYT, Der Spiegel, Guardian, Deutsche Welle, CSM). Although Norwegian officials have deemed the attacks a "lone-wolf" operation, European Union counterterrorism officials meeting Thursday in an emergency session expressed concerns that Breivik may inspire copycat attacks (NYT).

U.S. soldier arrested for Ft. Hood attack plot

U.S. Army Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo was arrested on July 28 in possession of bombmaking materials near Ft. Hood, and has reportedly confessed to plotting to attack soldiers outside the base (Fox, AFP, CNN, LAT, Politico, Guardian, Reuters, Post, NYT, AJE). Abdo, who went missing from his post in Kentucky over the July 4th weekend, is said to have purchased six pounds of smokeless gunpowder and ammunition from a local gun store, prompting the clerk to alert the authorities (Post, Politico). A Muslim who was granted conscientious objector status in May for his refusal to fight in Afghanistan, Abdo's release from the army was put on hold after he was charged with possession of child pornography.

On July 25 Carlos Bledsoe pleaded guilty in Arkansas state court to the shooting death of one U.S. serviceman and the wounding of one other in June 2009 at an Arkansas recruiting station, receiving life in prison without parole but avoiding the death penalty (CNN, BBC, Reuters, AP, LAT). Bledsoe, a Muslim convert known as Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, had admitted his responsibility for the crimes but had previously pleaded not guilty.

A Brooklyn court on July 23 convicted Mohammad Wali Zazi, father of admitted terrorist Najibullah Zazi, of obstructing justice in relation to the destruction of evidence of his son's plot to bomb the New York City Subway system (Reuters, AP, NYT, WSJ, Bloomberg, AFP, Tel). And in an unusual move, nine NYPD detectives with security clearances have been subpoenaed in a grand jury investigation into leaks during the Najibullah Zazi investigation (WSJ).

Treasury Department accuses Iran of cooperation with al-Qaeda

The U.S. Department of Treasury announced on July 28 its designation of six alleged al-Qaeda members alleged to be operating under an agreement with the Iranian government, allowing the movement of money, facilitators and operatives to Afghanistan and Pakistan (Treasury, WSJ, Politico, Telegraph, NYT, Reuters, Post). The designations included senior Pakistan-based al-Qaeda leader Atiyah Abdul Rahman as well as several Iran- and Persian Gulf-based operatives, and makes it illegal for U.S. citizens to do business with the designees.

The Post reported on July 26 that U.S. counterterrorism officials believe al-Qaeda is on the verge of defeat following the killing of Osama bin Laden and years of CIA drone attacks (Post). However, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command Adm. Eric T. Olson warned on July 28 of the continuing danger posed by affiliates like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which he termed "al-Qaeda 2.0" (AP). Meanwhile, former chief of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Michael Leiter told attendees of the Aspen Security Forum that claims of al-Qaeda's defeat lack "accuracy and precision," and that officials should be wary of becoming complacent about the organization (NYT).

The leader of AQAP, Nasser al-Wahishi, pledged allegiance to the new leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a video message posted to jihadist forums on July 26 (AP, ABC).

And a United Nations report released on July 28 accuses the Eritrean government of plotting to detonate several car bombs at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this January, and of funding Somali militant group al-Shabaab (Tel, BBC, Reuters, Reuters, Guardian).

Alleged Taliban militant to remain at Guantánamo Bay

The D.C. Circuit Court on July 22 unanimously voted to uphold a lower court ruling to keep alleged Taliban fighter Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi at Guantánamo Bay (Post). A separate three-judge panel at the D.C. Circuit Court ruled on the same day that former Guantánamo detainees may not sue the U.S. government over their "enemy combatant" designations, saying that the individuals are now beyond the court's jurisdiction (AP). Lawfare Blog takes a closer look at the reasoning behind both decisions (Lawfare).

Facing Senate questioning July 26 during his confirmation hearing, Matthew Olsen, U.S. president Barack Obama's nominee to head the NCTC, denied that he sanctioned moving Chinese Uighur detainees from Guantánamo to Northern Virginia (Post). Olsen, who previously directed the Obama administration's review of prisoners at Gitmo, also said that the "significant milestone" of killing bin Laden had weakened al-Qaeda, but that a threat still exists from its regional affiliates, particularly in Yemen and Somalia (Reuters).

Rep. King holds third domestic radicalization hearing

House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Peter King (R-NY) held his third hearing on domestic radicalization on July 27, focusing on the threat posed by the recruitment of Somali-Americans to support or fight for the Somali militant group al-Shabaab (WSJ, AP, Reuters, Politico). The committee also released a report asserting that at least 40 Somali-Americans have traveled to Somalia to fight alongside al-Shabaab.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder filed documents in a Boston federal court on July 25 requesting that evidence against Tarek Mehanna, who is accused of plotting to fight against American troops in Iraq, not be released publicly (AP, Boston Herald).

And federal prosecutors in New York on July 26 unsealed the indictments of three men accused of conspiring to sell heroin to buy weapons for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, as well as an indictment against one man accused of selling heroin and weapons under the impression that the profits would go to the Taliban (Bloomberg, WSJ, CNN).  

The Obama administration argued in a letter on July 26 to more than 40 Republican senators that it was in the best interest of American national security to bring Somali terror suspect Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame to the United States to face a civilian trial (AP). In another letter on July 27, the administration denied requests from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) for a clearer explanation of its interpretation of domestic surveillance laws (Post).

The Times reported on July 28 that an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security has located 27 licensed pilots and aircraft mechanics whose links to terrorism should have prevented them from receiving work authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) (NYT). And the New York Police Department is reportedly testing radiation detection technology that will allow officers to more quickly and easily detect the presence of a radioactive "dirty bomb" (AP).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Northern Irish authorities on July 26 arrested five men in connection with a bomb blast last April that killed a police officer, bringing the total number of people detained in the case to nine (CNN, Guardian, Reuters, BBC, Tel).
  • On July 27 Nepalese police reportedly arrested a suspect in the July 13 triple bombing in Mumbai, which killed 24 people (AFP). And the only surviving perpetrator of the deadly 2008 attacks on Mumbai has appealed his death sentence in India's Supreme Court (BBC).
  • A Jordanian military court on July 28 convicted well-known jihadist ideologue and mentor of one-time al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Shiekh Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, of "plotting terrorism" and recruiting Jordanians to join the Afghan Taliban (AP, BBC).
  • The Telegraph reported on July 24 that Doku Umarov, the leader of a North Caucasus militant group, claimed responsibility in an online statement for the murder of a former Russian officer convicted of the kidnapping and murder of an 18-year old Chechen girl in 2000 (Tel). Umarov also reportedly promised Russia a year of "blood and tears" in a video posted to a jihadist forum, though it was unclear whether the two statements were made together (Reuters). Also this week, Russian security forces killed three suspected militants on July 24 in the North Caucasus province of Dagestan, including one woman who had reportedly been trained as a suicide bomber (Reuters, AP).
  • Pakistan and Indonesia are still reportedly working out the details of alleged Bali bombing planner Umar Patek's extradition to Indonesia, which Indonesia's counterterrorism chief said "will take a long time" (Jakarta Post, AFP).