The LWOT: Anwar al-Awlaki reported killed in Yemen

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Anwar al-Awlaki reported killed in Yemen

Yemeni defense officials said today -- and officials in the Obama administration confirmed -- that radical U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed this morning in the Yemeni province of Jawf, reportedly by a U.S. jet and drone attack (NYTAPWSJGuardianPostBBCABCCNNBloombergAFP). Al-Awlaki was believed to play an important role in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and has been linked to a number of terrorist plots in the West in recent years; Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said in July that eliminating Awlaki was one of his top two goals (NYT). Samir Khan, another American-born AQAP member and the suspected producer of the group's English-language magazine Inspire, is reported to have been killed alongside Awlaki (ABCAPWSJNYT).

As an Imam at a San Diego mosque in 2000 Al-Awlaki met two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, and was interviewed by the FBI on several occasions during the investigation into the devastating attacks, but was not charged with any criminal acts (PostAPCNNCBS/AP). In 2010, Al-Awlaki became the first U.S. citizen to be placed on a list for targeted killing approved by the Obama administration, and news of his and Khan's deaths has prompted civil liberties groups to question the legality of killing Americans without affording them due process (ABC, LAT).

Mass. man arrested for alleged terrorist plot

A U.S. citizen of South Asian origin, Rezwaun Ferdaus, was charged in federal court in Massachusetts on September 28 with plotting to use a remote-controlled aircraft filled with explosives to blow up the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol building (NYTPostCNN,ReutersCBS/APABCLATWSJ). Ferdaus' arrest came after a months-long undercover FBI operation involving a cooperating witness and several undercover agents posing as members of al-Qaeda, and has sparked speculation about possible FBI entrapment (Guardian).

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds ruled on September 27 that the jury in the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane by detonating a bomb in his underwear, will be allowed to see a model of the bomb and a video demonstration of an explosion generated by a the same chemicals Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to use (APReuters). And a federal judge in Oregon on September 28 postponed the trial of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who is accused of attempting to detonate what he believed was a bomb at a November 2010 Christmas Tree-lighting ceremony (AP).

A federal judge on September 27 ruled that Iraqi refugee Waad Ramadan Alwan may be tried on terrorism-related charges in a U.S. civilian court, despite the fact that some of the charges concern crimes Alwan allegedly committed in Iraq (AP). Alwan's lawyers argued that the Geneva Convention precludes these particular charges from being brought against him in the United States. And another federal judge on September 27 sentenced Pete Seda, the former head of the U.S. branch of a now disbanded Islamic charity, the al-Haramain Foundation, to 33 months in jail for helping smuggle funds to militant Islamic groups in Chechnya fighting Russian security forces (AP).

Charlie Savage reported on September 27 that files released by the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the Bureau can choose to keep people on the U.S. government's terrorist watch list even after they have been acquitted of terrorism-related charges if officials have "reasonable suspicion" to believe the suspect still has a connection to terrorism (NYT). The files show for the first time the legal framework for the FBI and other security agencies to add names to the watch list, which is now said to include about 8,000 Americans and 420,000 total names. 

Finally, the Obama administration is reportedly considering trying alleged Hezbollah commander Ali Mussa Daqduq, who was detained in Iraq in 2007, in a military court on U.S. soil (AP). Lawfare Blog takes a closer look at this option (Lawfare). 

Alleged Cole bomber to have military tribunal

The U.S. Department of Defense announced on September 28 that the accused mastermind of the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing, Guantánamo Bay detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, will face a military tribunal and potential death sentence if convicted of the charges (AFPCNNAPMiami HeraldBBCLATPost). The case marks the first capital military prosecution at Guantánamo under U.S. President Barack Obama.

Incoming Guantánamo crimes prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, who will begin his new job on October 3, is reportedly planning to make the Guantánamo war court more transparent by transmitting proceedings almost in real time back to reporters and others in the United States (Weekly StandardMiami Herald).

Three charged in Norway terror plot

A Norwegian public prosecutor on September 26 filed charges against Mikael Davud, Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak and David Jakobsen for allegedly plotting to attack offices of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published controversial cartoon images of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005 (APBBCReuters). The three men were arrested last July, and are believed to have links to al-Qaeda cells in multiple countries.

Six men arrested in the United Kingdom last week were remanded into custody on September 26 on terrorism-related charges, which included training in militant camps in Pakistan, making "martyrdom videos" in preparation for a suspected suicide attack, and building explosive devices (NYTCNNTelAPGuardianBBC). Four of the men were charged with preparing to commit an act of terrorism in the U.K., two were charged with failing to provide information related to terrorist plots, and a seventh man is still being questioned by police.

The lead suspect in the deadly April bombing of a popular Marrakech café, Adel Othmani, on September 29 recanted his earlier confession in a Moroccan court, and told a judge that he has "never set foot in Marrakech" (AP). All nine suspects in the case have denied their involvement, and some alleged that they had been forced to confess under threat of torture. 

Trials and Tribulations

  • Governor Kashim Shettima of the Nigerian state of Borno told the AP that police had arrested a top commander of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, along with five other suspected members of the group (AP).
  • The Telegraph reports that the United States and the United Kingdom are once again sharing intelligence at "full-scale" following the relaxation of limitations put in place by the U.S. after sensitive intelligence was revealed in U.K. court proceedings last year (Tel).
  • Five Iraqis and one U.S. soldier were killed on September 29 by a suicide truck bomber outside of a bank in Kirkuk, an attack for which no group has taken responsibility (APReutersAFP).

Ethan Miller/Getty Images


The LWOT: NYPD Watched Moroccan Immigrants - Report

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Report: NYPD watched Moroccan immigrants  

The AP on September 22 released another report on NYPD surveillance of Muslim communities, citing secret police documents that indicate the department's "Demographics Squad" investigated Moroccan communities in New York City without any suspicion of wrongdoing (AP). The operation, known within the NYPD's intelligence branch as the "Moroccan Initiative," allegedly involved monitoring and documenting details of Moroccan barbershops, gyms, and even homes, including some owned by U.S. citizens.

In a speech at Harvard Law School on September 16, top U.S. counterterrorism advisor to President Barack Obama, John Brennan, defended the legality of the administration's detention policy for suspected terrorists and use of drone strikes to target militants both inside and outside of so-called "hot" battlefields like Afghanistan (NYTCNNBloomberg,AFP). And on September 20, the Washington Post reported that the United States is building "a constellation" of secret bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula from which they can launch drone attacks on al-Qaeda-linked militants in Yemen and Somalia (Post).

Obama administration: Gitmo closed by Election Day

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the European Parliament on September 20 that the Obama administration intends make the utmost effort to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility before the 2012 presidential elections, but acknowledged the political difficulty of doing so (APAFP). Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) said on Wednesday that this goal will be "very difficult" for the administration to achieve in the face of "congressional blocks" such as withholding funding to transfer detainees to the United States (Politico).

Detainees at Guantánamo have reportedly ended a protest that involved the captives smearing their own feces in the ventilation ducts in an attempt to force guards to change some of their procedures, though Guantánamo officials declined to comment on the particular demands (Miami Herald). One official attributed the protest's end in part to peer pressure from fellow detainees affected by the campaign. And Carol Rosenberg on September 19 reported on her conversations with new Gitmo commander Rear Adm. David Woods, as he becomes accustomed to his new post and looks ahead to the as-yet unscheduled capital trials of six detainees (Miami Herald).

Convicted terrorist to receive harsher sentence

A U.S. federal appeals court ruled on September 19 that a 17-year prison sentence handed down to convicted terrorist Jose Padilla in 2008 is too lenient considering Padilla's history of violence and training in an al-Qaeda militant camp (APNYTBBC,WSJCNNReutersBloomberg). Padilla was arrested in 2002 on suspicion of plotting to attack an American city with a radioactive "dirty bomb," but was convicted in 2007 on unrelated charges linked to supporting terrorism abroad.

Pakistani-born Tahawwur Rana, who was convicted of providing material support to the group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks and is suspected of having planned an attack in Denmark, asked on September 19 for a new trial, with his attorneys claiming that he shouldn't have had to defend both plots in the same trial (AP). And the lawyer for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of attempting to blow up an airliner destined for Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009, filed a motion on September 20 to block the prosecution from showing videos of explosions created from the same chemicals used to make the bomb Abdulmutallab allegedly smuggled in his underwear (ReutersAP).  

Prosecutors in the trial of three North Carolina men -- Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, Ziyad Yaghi and Hysen Sherifi -- accused of helping plot a terrorist attack on the U.S. Marine Corps base in Virginia began their case by playing a tape of the admitted ringleader Daniel Boyd boasting about the ease with which he could kill servicemen and their families (AP). One of the defendents, Hysen Sharifi, was allegedly present when Boyd made those remarks.

And one of the defense attorneys for Ahmed Ferhani, who is accused of plotting to blow up a Manhattan synagogue, said on September 20 that there is no conflict of interest in the fact that she briefly defended the undercover detective who helped build the case against her current client (NYT). She said she had no confidential conversations with the detective, and his case was dismissed at his first court appearance.

British police arrest 7 for alleged terrorist plot

British police on September 18 arrested six men in Birmingham on suspicion of plotting al-Qaeda-inspired attacks in the United Kingdom, and one woman on suspicion of failing to provide information related to the terrorist plots (BBCAPAFPGuardianWSJNYT,Reuters). Police have declined to identify the suspects, but the Telegraph reports that one of the 14 houses searched after the arrests is registered to convicted terrorist plotter Mohammad Irfan, who was released early from a four-year prison sentence in 2010 (Tel). Police said on September 22 that a seventh man had also been arrested that day on suspicion of involvement in the same plot (AFPAPReutersBBC). And Habib Ahmed, who was convicted of involvement in a British al-Qaeda-linked terror cell and sentenced in 2008 to ten years in prison, was recently released after serving less than three years (Tel).

A Norwegian judge ruled on September 19 that the admitted perpetrator of the July 22 Oslo bombing and shooting rampage that killed 77 people, Anders Behring Breivik, will remain in solitary confinement for another four weeks, a condition Breivik told the court is a "form of torture" (ReutersAFPCNNTelGuardianBBC). Meanwhile, Finnish authorities said on September 17 that a man and a woman of foreign origin were arrested in the capital city of Helsinki on suspicion of financing and recruiting for terrorism, but that any plans they had were not aimed at Finland (APReuters).

The Spanish Interior Ministry said on September 20 that police had arrested a Cuban man in Mallorca the previous day on suspicion of recruiting for and praising al-Qaeda in over a thousand radical videos he allegedly posted on YouTube (APCNN). And the Saudi Arabian state news service said on September 19 that it will soon be trying 41 suspects on charges that they formed an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group with plans to attack U.S. troops in Kuwait and Qatar (Reuters).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Mexican authorities on September 21 dropped terrorism charges they had levied against a man and a woman who had created panic in the state of Veracruz by posting fake warnings of impending attacks by drug cartels on Twitter (AP).
  • Outgoing U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen on September 22 said that the militant Haqqani Network suspected of carrying out an hours-long siege on the U.S. embassy in Kabul last week is a "veritable arm" of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) (LATNYTCNNWSJ). For more on this story, see the AfPak Daily Brief (FP).
  • Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) on September 21 claimed responsibility in a statement posted to a jihadist forum for a series of attacks in more than 18 Iraqi cities on August 15 that killed 74 people and wounded more than 300 others (AFP).
  • A militant separatist group, the Kurdish Freedom Hawks (TAK), claimed responsibility on September 22 for a bomb attack in the Turkish capital of Ankara on September 20 that killed three people and wounded over 30 (AJENYT,GuardianDeutsche WelleAFPAP). Turkish authorities say the TAK is a front group for the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), though the PKK itself has denied any involvement in the Ankara bombing (AP).

Mario Tama/Getty Images