March 1st, 2013
11:52 AM ET

Prominent al Qaeda figure in Mali killed

One of al Qaeda's most influential figures in North Africa has been killed by French and Chadian forces, a U.S. official saidFriday.

French military sources had earlier said that Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a deputy leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was killed in an airstrike in Mali late last month.

Abou Zeid was one of the group's most ruthless commanders, having seized at least a dozen foreigners for ransom. At least two have been killed; several French citizens remain captive.

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • France • Mali
May 8th, 2012
03:16 PM ET

Bomb chief al-Asiri considered one of al Qaeda’s biggest threats

The recent seizure by U.S. and other intelligence agents of an explosive device designed to be secretly carried aboard an airliner by a suicide bomber has put one of al Qaeda's master bomb-makers back into an international spotlight.

U.S. officials haven’t said whether they believe Ibrahim al-Asiri – the chief bomb-maker for Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - built the device, which they say was recovered two weeks ago after a tip from Saudi Arabia.

But U.S. officials say the group is responsible, and that the device is an evolution of the bomb that was used in a failed attack on a Christmas Day 2009 flight to Detroit – a bomb that U.S. officials believe al-Asiri built.

It’s not clear how the most recent bomb differed from the so-called underwear bomber's apparatus in that 2009 incident. A U.S. official said that like the earlier device, it was “non-metallic” and therefore harder for airport security scanners to detect. But it’s “clear that AQAP is revamping its bomb techniques to try to avoid the cases of the failure of the 2009 device,” the official said.

Regardless of whether al-Asiri made the latest bomb, U.S. intelligence officials believe he’s one of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's most dangerous operatives.  They believe the device comes from the group, and that al-Asiri has been involved in at least three of the group's international bomb plots:  a failed 2009 attempt to kill Saudi prince Mohammed bin Nayef; the failed 2009 Christmas airplane bombing; and a foiled 2010 attempt to send printer bombs to the United States aboard cargo planes.

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January 11th, 2012
02:49 AM ET

Ten years of 'Gitmo' - and more to come

Exactly 10 years ago Wednesday, the first batch of terrorist suspects seized in Pakistan and Afghanistan arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on board a C-141 transport plane. From freezing nights in the depths of the Afghan winter, the 20 detainees stepped into a tropical breeze looking dazed and bedraggled.

As more arrived over the next weeks, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described them as the "the worst of the worst." And a few weeks after GTMO (as it quickly became known) opened its doors, President George W. Bush said the detainees were not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Conventions - because they were not part of a regular army.

Guantanamo's population grew rapidly to a maximum of 680 the following year, and expanded beyond "Camp X-Ray" to other blocks. In those early days, Human Rights Watch says, detainees were subject to "painful stress positions, extended solitary confinement, threatening military dogs, threats of torture and death" and other abuses. The Bush administration, while insisting enhanced interrogation techniques did not amount to torture, contended that exceptional methods were legitimate in the face of an ongoing threat from terrorism.

Over the past decade, the very word Guantanamo has become a touchstone in the debate over how democracy can protect itself from terror while not denying access to justice. It has also become a byword for political point-scoring and the subject of bitter argument in federal court over the principle of habeas corpus. It has found its way into popular culture, featured in Michael Moore's film "Sicko" and a Patti Smith song.

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Filed under: U.S. • World
January 2nd, 2012
08:47 AM ET

Islamist militants in Nigeria warn Christians to leave north within 3 days

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram has issued an ultimatum giving Christians living in northern Nigeria three days to leave the area amid a rising tide of violence there.

A Boko Haram spokesman, Abul Qaqa, also said late Sunday that Boko Haram fighters are ready to confront soldiers sent to the area under a state of emergency declared in parts of four states by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Saturday.

"We will confront them squarely to protect our brothers," Abul Qaqa said during a telephone call with local media. He also called on Muslims living in southern Nigeria to "come back to the north because we have evidence they will be attacked."

Recent weeks have seen an escalation in clashes between Boko Haram and security forces in the north-eastern states of Borno and Yobe, as well as attacks on churches and assassinations. Nearly 30 people were killed on Christmas Day at a Catholic church near the federal capital, Abuja - a sign that Boko Haram is prepared to strike beyond its heartland.

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NATO’s perilous Kunar mission
November 28th, 2011
10:35 AM ET

NATO’s perilous Kunar mission

The mistaken NATO air attack on Pakistani military outposts at the weekend, in which 24 soldiers were killed, was an accident waiting to happen.

The border between Pakistan and the Afghan province of Kunar is probably the most volatile of the entire 1,500-mile frontier that divides the two countries.

It is rugged, remote and home to a variety of insurgent groups – including the Taliban (both Afghan and Pakistani), al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and the Hezbi Islami Group run by veteran warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

In the words of one Afghan analyst, Kunar represents "the perfect storm."

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Tension and dark humor among protesters in Bahrain
A protester holds a sign at Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain's capital on Monday.
February 21st, 2011
08:26 PM ET

Tension and dark humor among protesters in Bahrain

Editor's note: CNN's Tim Lister reports the following from Bahrain, where thousands of protesters have been in the capital's Pearl Roundabout, preparing for a massive demonstration on Tuesday. Protesters took to the streets of the capital last week to demand reform and the introduction of a constitutional monarchy, but some are now calling for the removal of the royal family, which has led the Persian Gulf state since the 18th century.

I was down at the Pearl Roundabout on Monday - the epicenter of Bahrain's protest movement, where the demonstrators' encampment has taken on an air of permanence, with tents, makeshift kitchens, even a rudimentary field hospital.

And some dark humor. We bumped into one young man who wore a placard saying "Wake Me Up Before You Kill Me," a reference to the security forces' assault on the roundabout in the early hours of last Thursday. Nearby, a cartoonist had set up a "Democracy Wall" - Gulf style - with all sorts of sketches lampooning the royal family. Relatives of those injured or killed last week carry photographs of their loved ones. Above it all, a giant Bahraini flag hoisted by a crane.

Not to be outdone, thousands of government supporters rallied in another part of the city on Monday night - thankfully, a long way from Pearl Roundabout. While there has been no violence reported since Friday night, and the crown prince has committed himself to dialogue with opposition groups, there is still plenty of tension here.

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WikiLeaks lists locations key to U.S. security
December 6th, 2010
11:11 AM ET

WikiLeaks lists locations key to U.S. security

WikiLeaks has published a secret U.S. diplomatic cable listing locations abroad that the U.S. considers vital to its national security, prompting criticism that the website is inviting terrorist attacks on American interests.

The list is part of a lengthy cable the State Department sent in February 2009 to its posts around the world. The cable asked American diplomats to identify key resources, facilities and installations outside the United States "whose loss could critically impact the public health, economic security, and/or national and homeland security of the United States."

The diplomats identified dozens of places on every continent, including mines, manufacturing complexes, ports and research establishments. CNN is not publishing specific details from the list, which refers to pipelines and undersea telecommunications cables as well as the location of minerals or chemicals critical to U.S. industry.

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Filed under: Terrorism • U.S. • WikiLeaks • World
July 22nd, 2010
12:22 PM ET

The curious disappearance of blogetry

It was a free blogging service - until it disappeared, taken down for "violating its terms of service." Hardly unheard of, except that the reasons for Blogetery.com's disappearance were a little more complicated.

Blogetery is hardly a giant of the virtual world. It was run by one man, Alexander Yusupov, out of Toronto, Canada. Yusupov says it hosted tens of thousands of blogs and online forums through the internet service provider BurstNet Technologies of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

On the evening of July 9, employees at BurstNet "received a notice of a critical nature from law enforcement officials," according to a company statement released last weekend.

"It was revealed that a link to terrorist material, including bomb-making instructions and an al-Qaeda 'hit list,' had been posted to the site," the statement said.

BurstNet gave no further details about the material, but a source familiar with the case says it was a link to the new online al Qaeda magazine "Inspire," which includes death threats against several American citizens as well as an illustrated guide to bomb-making and other jihadist articles.

BurstNet says it immediately terminated service "due to this violation and the fact that the site had a history of previous abuse."

Joe Marr, BurstNet's chief technology officer, says the decision was very much the company's own. It was not ordered to do so, but the request for information from the FBI triggered a federal law that allows internet service providers to voluntarily disclose information in some circumstances and take action against sites they host.

That law specifically allows a provider to pass information to authorities if it "in good faith, believes that an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requires disclosure without delay of information relating to the emergency."

The FBI wouldn't comment on the case.

Yusupov told CNN in a telephone interview that he had received no notice or explanation from BurstNet for its action. He said he returned from a camping trip July 12 to discover that his server had been terminated. When he complained on the site webhostingtalk.com, BurstNet responded on the same forum, saying: "We cannot give him his data nor can we provide any other details. By stating this, most would recognize that something serious is afoot."

Marr told CNN in a phone interview Wednesday that Yusupov had received five warnings about content in the past few months, mainly concerning copyright violations. But he had not responded to three of those notices within the stipulated 24 hours, and Blogetery had previously been suspended for several days.

Yusupov denied that, saying he had almost always handled such notices within 24 hours of receiving them. "I always handle such abuse reports within 24 hours and remove such material. No hosting illegal material, no spamming, noting [sic] illegal," he wrote on webhostingtalk.com.

Yusupov says he had backed up some of the blogging site's data, but not all. He said he was trying to negotiate with BurstNet to get the data so he could restart the blogging site, but until he retrieved the data, he was in limbo. He said several Blogetery users had contacted him to complain that their content was no longer accessible. One urged him to "ask very specifically for an incident number and jurisdiction of the incident as documentary proof that they were justified in shutting down the server."

The case has caused much discussion among website hosts, with one - Mika Epstein of Chicago, Illinois - writing that part of the job was checking for terrorist propaganda and other questionable material. She has this advice: "If you can't keep tabs on your site and your visitors, you can't stay here."

If there is another infringement, "I close their account, refund them what's left on their time, and offer to give them a copy of their site and database, intact" she writes.

In the case of Blogetery, thousands of bloggers were caught in the middle of a dispute between their host and BurstNet, and - as of now - have no access to their content.

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July 22nd, 2010
11:42 AM ET

U.S. Treasury adds Taliban leaders to sanctions list

The U.S. Treasury Department has added three prominent members of the Taliban and its affiliate the Haqqani Network to a list that prohibits any financial transactions with them by US citizens.

Those targeted “for supporting acts of terrorism” are Gul Agha Ishakzai, the head of the Taliban's financial commission; Amir Abdullah, former treasurer to senior Taliban leader Mullah Baradar; and Nasiruddin Haqqani.

The Haqqani Network is based in Waziristan, one of Pakistan’s remote tribal areas, and has recently been identified by US officials as one of the most effective and dangerous insurgent groups. It is led by Nasiruddin Haqqani’s brother and has been blamed for several bomb attacks in Kabul in the last year. The Treasury Department says Nasiruddin has made several trips to the United Arab Emirates to raise money for the Taliban.

US officials say Gul Agha Ishakzai is the head of the Taliban's financial commission and belongs to a council in Baluchistan, Pakistan that coordinates the collection of money. He is thought to be a close adviser to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

According to a United Nations list, Amir Abdullah has traveled to the Gulf and Libya raising funds for the Taliban.

has served as treasurer to senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Berader and was the former deputy to the Taliban governor of Kandahar Province.

A Treasury statement said the designation of the three men was designed to “deprive these extremists of the resources they need to execute their violent activities."

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July 19th, 2010
09:51 AM ET

Security brief: Afghanistan- "Not worth it"

One of the most respected voices among US foreign policy experts says the Obama Administration’s Afghan policy is not working.

Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and a veteran of several US administrations, writes in the latest edition of Newsweek: “Continued or increased U.S. involvement in Afghanistan isn’t likely to yield lasting improvements that would be commensurate in any way with the investment of American blood and treasure. It is time to scale down our ambitions there and both reduce and redirect what we do.”

Speaking on CNN’s American Morning Monday, Haass said Afghanistan was now “a sponge for American resources and it is a distraction. We out to be thinking militarily about what we might have to do in North Korea or Iran where we really do have vital national interests.” FULL POST

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July 15th, 2010
11:53 AM ET

Security Brief: Pakistan bans bin Laden comedy

Pakistan has banned the theatrical release of a comedy about Osama bin Laden due to hit cinema screens in South Asia on Friday. Local movie distributors say they are appealing the ban, issued by the Pakistan Film Censor Board.

The film, "Tere bin Laden," [Your bin Laden] stars Pakistani pop singer Ali Zafar as an ambitious young journalist trying to land the scoop of a lifetime as a way to win a visa to live in the United States.

Made in the India's Bollywood "movie factory", it's a departure from the melodramas and musicals which dominate Indian cinematic fare. It’s also unusual in that it has a Pakistani in the starring role.

The trailer for "Tere bin Laden" suggests a movie of fast-paced slapstick comedy, and shows Zafar trying to coax an anxious and utterly inept bin Laden look-alike to impersonate the al Qaeda leader.

Watch the trailer at www.terebinladen.com

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July 15th, 2010
11:46 AM ET

Security Brief: U.S. drone strike kills 7

Seven suspected militants were killed Thursday night in a US drone strike in Pakistan's Tribal region, two Pakistani intelligence officials told CNN.

The officials said a US drone fired three missiles at a suspected militant hideout in Misermada Khel, a village in North Waziristan. North Waziristan is one of seven districts in Pakistan's tribal region along the Afghan border and has been the focus of drone attacks this year.

Based on a count by CNN's Islamabad bureau, Thursday's attack was the 41st US drone strike in Pakistan's tribal regions this year.

The officials asked to not be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media on the record.

Journalist Nasir Habib contributed to this report

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July 14th, 2010
02:26 PM ET

Security Brief: EU Tightens Security at Training Base in Uganda

The European Union says it has reinforced security at the training base it runs in Uganda for Somali soldiers, in the wake of the Kampala terrorist attacks Sunday.

An EU military training team is putting a total of 911 Somali recruits through their paces at a camp in Bihanga, in the hills of south-west Uganda. A Portuguese squad is training the recruits to fight in built-up areas, while French and Spanish trainers are developing an officer corps.

A European official told CNN that while security at the base was being tightened, the attacks in Kampala would not affect the program. She said the attacks – in which 74 people were killed – underlined the need for the training, so that a new Somali army could confront Islamic extremists. The al Qaeda affiliate Shabaab, which is fighting to overthrow the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks. FULL POST

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July 13th, 2010
01:05 PM ET

Security Brief: al Qaeda's new glossy

It's not your typical magazine. The layout is conventional enough, the typeface bold; there is more than a smattering of high quality photographs; and the graphic designers at al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have been given free rein. But then in the "table of contents" you're invited to read "How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom" [note the American spelling.]

This is the first edition of Inspire – supposedly the online house magazine of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And it's certainly topical. It contains a long piece condemning western governments for moving to ban the full-face veil in public – just as the French National assembly passes such legislation. FULL POST

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July 12th, 2010
09:43 AM ET

A.M. Security Brief

The bomb attacks in Uganda on Sunday night point to yet another front opening up in the battle with terrorism. No group has claimed responsibility but all the signs point to a Somali connection, and specifically to al Shabaab, the al Qaeda affiliate now battling the weak Somali government.

Uganda provides the bulk of the African Union peace-keeping force in Mogadishu, a force known as AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) whose main role is to keep the Somali government from being swept away by Shabaab and its allies.

Shabaab videos describe the peacekeepers as infidels and record ambushes and attacks on their vehicles. There was a devastating attack on the AMISOM headquarters last year – carried out by a Somali-American – that claimed 21 lives. And recently, the militants’ rhetoric against both Uganda and Burundi (which also provides troops for AMISOM) has become even more heated. FULL POST

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July 9th, 2010
04:23 PM ET

Security Brief: Pakistan terrorist group growing powerful

The United States and its allies have plenty to worry about in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with al Qaeda, two Talibans, the Haqqani Network and a plethora of other militant groups active. But the United States and intelligence analysts believe another group, one of Pakistan's most powerful and well-established, is also broadening its horizons.

It is Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, which means "Army of the Pure." It was blamed for the attack on Mumbai, India, hotels in November 2008 in which nearly 200 people were killed over three days. That attack "shows the organization's global ambitions," said Dan Benjamin, the U.S. State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism. FULL POST

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July 8th, 2010
10:03 AM ET

A.M. Security Brief

The charges announced Wednesday against five alleged members of an al Qaeda plot to attack the United States and the United Kingdom underline the evolving links between would-be jihadists in western countries and the vital importance of intelligence sharing.

The charges link Najibullah Zazi, who has admitted trying to bomb the New York subway, and people arrested last year on terrorism charges in Manchester, England, specifically a student there, Abid Naseer. There may also be a link to an alleged plot in Norway; three men have been arrested there in the past 24 hours.

The volatile tribal territories of Pakistan have become the nexus for would-be terrorists bent on attacking NATO forces in Afghanistan or, more frequently, receiving the training that would allow them to commit acts of terror at home. Two of the London 7/7 bombers, Bryant Neal Vinas, Faisal Shahzad, Najibullah Zazi, Abid Naseer and a substantial Belgian cell have all beaten a path to Pakistan and either al Qaeda or the Pakistani Taliban.

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July 6th, 2010
05:29 PM ET

Security Brief: Somali fights deportation

A Somali man from Minneapolis who is wanted on a slew of terrorism charges in the United States is fighting deportation from the Netherlands, and legal sources say the process could continue well into next year.

Mohamud Said Omar is accused of providing material support to the terrorist group al Shabaab, which is affiliated with al Qaeda and fighting a western-backed transitional government for control of Somalia.

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July 6th, 2010
09:20 AM ET

A.M. Security Brief

As the long hot summer wears on in southern Afghanistan, attention turns to Kandahar, the second-largest city and spiritual home of the Taliban. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, is fond of saying: "As goes Kandahar, so goes Afghanistan." He told a congressional hearing last month: "It is my belief that should they [the Taliban] go unchallenged there and in the surrounding areas, they will feel equally unchallenged elsewhere."

The senior Republican on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee agrees. Sen. John McCain of Arizona was in Kandahar on Monday. He told a news conference in Kabul: "The Taliban know that Kandahar is the key to success or failure. ... And if we succeed there, we will succeed in the rest of this struggle."

A long-heralded operation to deprive the Taliban of substantial influence in and around Kandahar is beginning to take shape. Hundreds of members of an elite police unit  the Afghan National Civil Order Police or ANCOP have begun staffing checkpoints around the city in partnership with international troops. They are replacing ordinary police units, who are being retrained. FULL POST

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July 5th, 2010
04:23 PM ET

P.M. Security Brief: A night in Lahore

Four years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful and historic Data Darbar shrine, close to the ancient walled city in Lahore, Pakistan. It was a sweltering night in August, but there were thousands of people, men and women and children, within its walls. It was so crowded that you could only shuffle slowly in the prevailing direction of the foot traffic. At the same time, it was remarkably serene, bathed in the light of thousands of candles. The Quran was recited constantly. It was a mystical experience.

That night, security precautions around the mosque were, at best, modest. It is not an easy place to protect, with several entrances and a constant throng of visitors. But in 2006,  Lahore  had seen little of the scourge of terrorism that was beginning to plague other parts of the country. FULL POST

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