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).