The LWOT: French homegrown extremist shot dead

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French homegrown extremist shot dead

A French citizen of Algerian origin, Mohammed Merah, suspected of shooting and killing seven people, beginning on March 11, jumped out of his apartment window after being shot on March 22 during a firefight sparked when police stormed his unit in the southwestern city of Toulouse (NYTLATCNNAPGuardianAFPPost). Merah told police during a 31-hour standoff that he had trained with al-Qaeda in Pakistan's North Waziristan region, and had killed the three French soldiers on March 11, as well as three Jewish children and a rabbi on March 19, to "avenge Palestinian children" and take revenge on French troops for their interventions abroad.

French intelligence officials later came under fire for failing to catch Merah sooner, even though he had been seen twice in Afghanistan, managed to stockpile at least eight powerful guns and the ingredients for a homemade explosive, and was on the United States' no-fly list (ReutersReutersAFPCNNCNNWSJ). Authorities say they believe Merah acted entirely alone, and they have no evidence that -- as he claimed -- he trained with al-Qaeda or was commissioned by the terrorist group to carry out the killings (PostAP). And French President Nicolas Sarkozy said just after Merah was killed that France would make it a crime to visit websites that promote terrorism or hate crimes (Reuters). 

A German-Afghan man, Ahmad Wali Siddiqui, told a court in Koblenz, Germany on March 20 that he had travelled to Afghanistan with several others in order to fight there, and had no plans to come back and carry out attacks in Europe (AP). Prosecutors say Siddiqui agreed to be part of a Germany-based al-Qaeda network that would help obtain funding and await further order from the al-Qaeda leadship, but he was detained by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in July 2010 before joining the alleged cell.

Meanwhile, a trial began on March 20 in Madrid for nine suspected Islamist militants accused of plotting terrorist attacks on two Spanish enclaves on the northern coast of Morocco, Cueta and Melilla (CNN). The men were arrested by Spanish police in December 2006 before the alleged attacks could take place. And Dutch prosecutors said on March 16 that police had arrested a man earlier that week on suspicion of involvement in terrorism, alleging that the man had searched the Internet for information on bomb-making, and was found in possession of aluminum powder, which can be used in constructing explosives (AP).

U.S. extends limit on storage of personal information

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on March 22 signed new guidelines for the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) under which analysts may access data gathered on American citizens for five years -- extended from the previous six months -- after they are cleared of terrorism suspicions (NYTPostAFPReutersLATWSJAP). Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement later the same day that the failed Christmas Day attack in 2009 -- although perpetrated by a Nigerian citizen -- made clear to the intelligence community that NCTC must have greater resources to avoid another slip-up.

A U.S.-born militant known as Abu Mansur al-Amriki, who has been fighting alongside Somalia's al-Shabaab since 2006, said in a video released on March 17 that his "life may be endangered by Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahideen due to some differences that occurred between us regarding matters of shari'a law and matters of the strategy" (AFPNYT). However, al-Shabaab later denied on its Twitter feed that it had threatened al-Amriki, and said it was investigating the authenticity of the video.

A federal grand jury in Brooklyn and a state grand jury in Queens both indicted Ray Lazier Lengend on March 19 on charges of arson as a hate crime for allegedly throwing five Molotov cocktails at different establishments in New York, including a mosque and a Hindu temple, on New Year's day (ReutersAPWSJ). A Philadelphia man, Bakhityor Jumaev, was arrested on March 22 and accused of plotting to provide material support to the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) of Uzbekistan (AP). Authorities suspect that Jumaev sent money to another accused jihadist and Uzbek refugee, Jamshid Muhtorov, who was arrested in Chicago in January.

The Associated Press' Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo reported on March 21 on the clashes between the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the FBI, focusing on a move made by the NYPD in the fall of 2010 on a joint terrorism investigation without coordinating with the FBI (AP).

A former FBI informant, Craig Monteilh, has told the Guardian that the Bureau's operations are "all about entrapment," and that his handlers gave him the go-ahead to have sex with Muslim women "if it would enhance the intelligence" (Guardian). Monteilh was tasked with infiltrating mosques in southern California to unearth radical Islamists, making friends with the members, and recording any and all conversations he had with them.

Gitmo "music torture" claims

A former British Guantánamo Bay detainee, Ruhal Ahmed, described to BBC radio on March 19 the "music torture" he endured, saying it was worse than any physical pain, because he felt he was losing his mind (BBC). Ahmed claims he was shackled to the floor and forced to listen to music such as Eminem's "Kim" at extremely high volume, while strobe lights were flashed in his eyes, and guards surrounded him with barking dogs.

The Kuwaiti government released a statement on March 21 condemning the continued detention of the last two remaining Kuwaiti detainees at Guantánamo as a "violation of international laws" (AJE). Ten other Kuwaiti citizens have already been released from the prison.

Gitmo expert Andy Worthington has written a response criticizing media coverage of a report released earlier this month by the Director of National Intelligence on the purported recidivism of former Gitmo detainees (Public Record). Worthington says many news agencies conflated the 15.9% of detainees "confirmed of reengaging" in militant activity with the 12% "suspected of reengaging," giving the impression that almost a third of former detainees have joined jihadist movements abroad.

Patek denies he built bomb

Indonesian militant suspect Umar Patek, who is accused of building the massive car bomb used in the 2002 Bali nightclub attack that killed over 200 people, told a court in Jakarta on March 22 that another militant actually constructed the explosive, as he "would not know how to assemble such a bomb" (APAFPReuters). Convicted terrorist Ali "Alik" Imron told the court that Patek, thought to be the mastermind of the attack, was actually tasked by someone else with building the bomb (Jakarta Post).

Indonesian authorities said on March 19 that police on the island of Bali had engaged in a gunfight with -- and killed -- five militants suspected of plotting attacks on "typical terrorist targets" in Bali, who supposedly had links to Jemaah Islamiyah, the group responsible for the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings (ReutersTelAPCNNBBC). A police spokesman said the five suspects were about to rob a bank in order to obtain funds for their militant activities when they were shot and killed.

Finally, eight accused terrorists were acquitted and released by an Egyptian court on March 19, including the brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mohammed al-Zawahiri, as well as Mohammed al-Islambouli, the brother of Khaled al-Islambouli, who was part of a plot to assassinate Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981 (APCNNReuters).

Trials and Tribulations?

  • Prosecutors told a Pittsburgh court on March 16 that a convicted drug dealer arrested on weapons charges has said he wanted to join jihadist groups such as the Taliban, but officials say he is not facing any terrorism-related charges (CNN).
  • Turkish prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 15 to 22.5 years for a publisher accused of being a senior member of the banned Kurdish Communities Union, and seven-and-a-half to 15 years for a professor accused of aiding the group (Today's Zaman).
  • Nineteen detainees, most of whom were convicted or accused terrorists, escaped from an Iraqi jail in Kirkuk on Friday morning after drugging their guards and other inmates using narcotics concealed in dates (AFPBBCReutersAP).



The LWOT: Attorney General says U.S. can target Americans

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a 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.

Attorney General says U.S. can target Americans

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on March 5 defended the legal permissibility of targeting "a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war - even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen," in a speech at the Northwestern University School of Law (Reuters, LAT, NYT, AFP, WSJ, Tel). Holder rejected critics' contention that U.S. citizens should always be granted their right to due process by saying that as enemy combatants, the targets are subject to the international laws of war instead of U.S. domestic law.

Two U.S. legislators, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced a bill on March 8 that would neutralize the detainee provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) approved last year (WSJ, CNN, AP). The bill seeks to ensure that terrorist suspects captured on U.S. soil can be tried in civilian courts, and are not automatically transferred to military custody.

The Associated Press investigative team updates its series of reports on the New York City Police Department today with an article revealing that the NYPD maintained secret documents on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans solely because they are Muslim (AP). The NYPD has received criticism from several sides this week, including Muslim community leaders, lawmakers, and even the FBI. The top FBI official in New Jersey, Michael Ward, said on March 7 that his officials' hard work building up a relationship with local Muslim-American communities is being jeopardized by the news that the NYPD was targeting Muslims in the area for surveillance (AP). And Attorney General Holder said Thursday that he finds the reports "disturbing," and that they are "under review at the Justice Department" (Politico).

Muslim community leaders in New Jersey met with the state's Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa on March 3 to discuss reports that the NYPD's targeted surveillance was carried out in New Jersey, too, while NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly defended the department's actions in a speech at Fordham Law School (AP). Many of the state's Muslim civil society organizations have called for an official state investigation of the reports, while others have defended the NYPD's surveillance as "good police work" (WSJ, AP).

Brooklyn native sentenced to 27 years in prison

Convicted terrorist supporter Betim Kaziu received a 27-year jail sentence from a U.S. District judge in his native Brooklyn on March 3, after being found guilty by a jury last year of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists by travelling to the Middle East with the intention of waging violent jihad against U.S. soldiers in either Afghanistan, Iraq, or the Balkans (AP, Reuters).

A Pakistani-born teenager, Mohammad Hassan Khalid, who was arrested last year as a 17-year-old high school student for allegedly conspiring with convicted terrorist supporter Colleen LaRose to raise money and recruit others to wage violent jihad in Europe and South Asia, now plans to plead guilty, according to court papers filed on March 5 (AP). Khalid allegedly met LaRose, better known as Jihad Jane, in an online chat room when he was just 15, and had previously pleaded not guilty to agreeing to assist in her plans to attack Western targets in the name of Islam.

A former U.S. soldier, Craig Baxam, was indicted on March 7 on charges of attempting to provide material support for a terrorist organization for trying to join the Somali militant group al-Shabaab (AP). Baxam was arrested in January upon his return to the United States from Africa.

Navy selects new Gitmo commander

The Navy on March 2 selected Rear Adm. John W. Smith Jr., a helicopter pilot who supported the relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina, as the next commander of the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay (McClatchy). Adm. Smith will become the 12th commander of Joint Task Force- Guantánamo, replacing Rear Adm. David Woods, who will move to a post in San Diego sometime this summer.

The office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released a report on March 5 claiming that just 16% of the 599 detainees that have been released from Guantánamo since it was opened are "confirmed of reengaging" in militant activities (AP, Reuters). A further 12%, however, are "suspected of reengaging."

The Associated Press reports that despite human rights groups' concerns over the restrictions placed on prisoners' rights at Guantánamo Bay, legal scholars say the military tribunals held there so far have resulted in lighter-than-expected sentences (AP). The AP has also compiled a list of the convictions and guilty pleas Gitmo has seen in the past decade (AP).

Norway's Breivik indicted on murder, terrorism charges

The self-confessed perpetrator of a bomb attack and shooting spree in Norway last July, Anders Behring Breivik, was indicted on murder and terrorism charges on March 7, though prosecutors say they will request he be committed to a mental facility instead of jail, unless another expert contradicts an initial diagnosis of psychosis (AP, AJE, Reuters, WSJ, CNN, Tel, AFP). The attack was the deadliest in Norway's peacetime history, killing 77 people, whom Breivik had deemed "traitors" for allowing the Islamization of Norwegian society.

Indonesia's West Jakarta District Court on March 5 sentenced seven radical Islamic militants, including group leader Pepi Fernando, who received an 18-year jail term for sending a series of mail bombs that injured several people, and for masterminding a foiled attack on a church (Jakarta Post, AFP, AP). And on March 6, the West Jakarta District Court rejected a motion filed by the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, Umar Patek, to dismiss his charges because Indonesia's 2003 anti-terrorism law cannot be applied retroactively (Jakarta Globe).

Kenyan officials have confirmed that a woman wanted for her role in plotting a bomb attack in Kenya last year is Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of 7/7 suicide bomber Jermaine Lindsay (AP, Tel, Tel). Lewthwaite was last seen crossing the Kenyan border into Tanzania with her three young children, and authorities believe she has fled to restive Somalia, where she has links with the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab.

Indian police on March 7 said they had detained Syed Mohammed Kazmi, an Indian journalist working for an Iranian publication, in connection with the February 13 bomb attack targeting an Israeli diplomat's wife (BBC, WSJ, AP, NYT, Reuters, AJE, TOI, TOI). Indian media outlets report that Kazmi has confessed to being in touch with the Iranian perpetrators and helping them plot the attacks, the next of which was reportedly going to be the Israeli Embassy.

Trials and Tribulations

  • A federal judge on March 5 refused to move the trial of Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, who is accused of conspiring to attack a Seattle military recruiting center with Walli Mujahidh, who pleaded guilty in December (AP).
  • Four men went on trial in New Delhi on March 4 accused of running an illegal money-transferring network used to fund terrorists in Kashmir (TOI).
  • Three suspected members of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah were reportedly detained in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, Malaysia before being deported to their native Singapore late last month (Local).

John Gress/Getty Images