Are Chechens In Syria A Hindrance Or Help To Terrorist Insurgency?

[SEE:  Syria: the foreign fighters joining the war against Bashar al-Assad]

Militants from Russia’s North Caucasus join ‘jihad’ in Syria

the daily star

Abu Omar al Chechen and fighters from the Muhajireen Brigade.

By Thomas Grove, Mariam Karouny

MOSCOW/BEIRUT: Flanked by almost 20 men with rifles, Omar Abu al-Chechen kneels on a carpet and delivers a rousing speech urging fellow Muslims to support the ‘jihad’ against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Dressed almost entirely in black, the militant from Russia’s Chechnya region declares an Islamist state is within reach. Fellow fighters from the brigade of foreign militants he leads translate his Russian words into Arabic.

His recently distributed video highlights the role militants from the volatile North Caucasus region now play in Syria’s civil war, fighting a government that has been backed by Russia and staunchly protected by President Vladimir Putin.

It also puts in focus the security risks they may pose for Russia if they return to the Russian region, which borders the area where Moscow plans to host the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Jihad needs very many things. Firstly it needs money. Much is dependent on money today for jihad,” said al-Chechen, his nom de guerre, the leader of what rebels and websites call the Brigade of Migrants, an opposition group of foreign fighters.

“(We) have missed many chances, but truly today there is a chance to establish (an Islamic state) on Earth,” he said.

Syrian rebels confirmed separately that he is in Syria and the leader of the brigade. His real name was not clear.

While Moscow has been one of Assad’s main protectors, members of an Islamist insurgency involved in daily clashes in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus and their compatriots have trickled into Syria to fight for the rebels.

“This is the first time that a mass number of Chechens have taken part in military actions abroad,” said analyst Mairbek Vatchagayev, based in Paris, adding that claims were made that Chechens had fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan or in Iraq, but no definitive proof had been given.

Syrian soldiers and analysts say there are dozens, and possibly 100, fighters in Syria from the North Caucasus, a region where militants wage daily violence to establish an Islamic state.

The bloodshed there is rooted in two wars that Moscow fought with Chechen separatists after the Soviet Union’s fall and these fighters could pose a security risk for Russia if they return to the North Caucasus.

The region is close to Sochi, the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountain resort city where Moscow will host the 2014 Winter Olympics, a sworn target of Russia’s Islamist insurgents, led by Russia’s most wanted man, Doku Umarov.

Although analysts say many of the militants who are battling Assad’s troops are students who studied in religious schools outside Russia, others have gained skill and experience, something the Syrian rebels praise them for, in fighting the separatist wars in Chechnya in 1994-96 and 1999-2000.

“They are very significant, in some areas they are leading the fighting and some of them are leaders of Brigades. They are experienced fighters and also they are fighting based on ideological belief, so they do not want anything in return,” said a Syrian opposition source in touch with rebels in Syria.

One Syrian opposition source said the Chechens are the second biggest force of foreigners after Libyans who joined the Syrian uprising after overthrowing and killing Muammar Gaddafi.

A rebel source said 17 fighters from the North Caucasus were killed in fighting outside Aleppo last month.

Foreign fighters were also present in Chechnya’s first war in the mid-1990s.

BACK TO RUSSIA

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said there are no Chechens fighting in Syria, a statement analysts attribute to his loyalty to Moscow.

Russia has used its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Assad from three resolutions meant to pressure him to end violence that has killed 70,000 in the nearly two year-long conflict. Having fighters from Russia fighting against him is sure to be an embarrassment for Putin.

Facing its own home-grown insurgency, and with the Winter Olympics planned for next year, Russia is likely to ensure that anyone from the North Caucasus fighting with the rebels is prevented from entering Russia when the violence in Syria ends.

“Russia will look carefully at where they go to make sure they don’t come back into Russia … they won’t be successful trying to get back into the North Caucasus,” said Vatchigayev.

Putin has told security forces to be on high alert to protect against attacks before and during the Games, for which Russia has estimated a price tag of some $50 billion.

Calling itself the Caucasus Emirate, Umarov’s Islamist militant group has promised to attack the Games. It claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in January 2011 that killed 37 people and also said it was behind near-simultaneous suicide bombings in the Moscow subway that killed 40 people in 2010.

It is unclear whether any of the North Caucasus fighters in Syria have the blessing of Umarov to fight in Syria. Last year Umarov appeared in a video telling Syrian militants that they were in the prayers of the Caucasus Emirate.

The presence of foreign fighters in Syria, many of them espousing a more firebrand form of Islam, has troubled many Syrians who see the fight as a secular war to oust Assad.

“We call all brothers from all the countries, please, my brothers we do not need men. Stay in your own countries and do something good inside your own countries. If you want to help us just send us weapons or funding or even pray for us but you do not have to come to Syria,” said Brigadier Selim Idris, head of a rebel military command.

“(Those) who are entering the country have a negative impact on the revolution, because we need the help from (Western and regional) countries. Please understand this issue,” he said.

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Pakistani Anti-Terrorism Judge Sentences Bomber of Sufi Shrine To Death

Sakhi Sarwar in DG Khan

Pak court sentences Sufi shrine bombing mastermind to death

FIRSTPOST

Lahore: A Pakistani anti-terrorism judge has sentenced the mastermind of a 2010 suicide attack on a Sufi shrine in Punjab province to death, despite facing death threats from the Taliban during the trial.

Judge Asif Majeed of the anti-terrorism court in Dera Ghazi Khan, 400 km from Lahore, yesterday awarded 52 death sentences – one for each of the 52 victims of the attack – to Behram Khan alias Sufi Baba.

Khan was convicted of masterminding the attack on Hazrat Sakhi Sarwar shrine in April 2010.

The judge also awarded 52 counts of life imprisonment to Omar Fidai, a teenage would-be suicide bomber who was captured during the attack.

Fidai, who was aged about 14 at the time of the attack, was seriously injured by an explosion while his colleague carried out the attack by detonating his suicide vest.

Four other men accused of involvement in the attack were acquitted for lack of evidence.

A large number of people were present in the shrine when a blast ripped through it on April 3, 2010. Fifty-two people were killed and over 150 were injured in the attack.

Judge Majeed faced constant death threats from the Taliban during the 22-month trial, media reports said.

The first three hearings were held at the anti-terrorism court in Dera Ghazi Khan.

After the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan threatened the judge, the hearings were moved to the Central Jail. The verdict was announced at the prison amidst high security.

During his interrogation, Fidai told investigators that 350 children were being trained by the Taliban to be suicide bombers.

Behram Khan was arrested after a shootout with security forces in the restive Bajaur tribal region in April 2011.

Fidai and Khan are currently being held at the Central Jail in Dera Ghazi Khan, and media reports said prison officials and prosecutors involved in the case had received multiple death threats and letters from the Taliban.

Security at the prison has been increased since the judge announced the verdict.

PTI

Taliban prisoners” release put on hold due to distrust: report


Taliban prisoners” release put on hold due to distrust: report

MSN_news_logo

From Rezaul H Laskar
Islamabad, Mar 7 (PTI) Pakistan had put on hold the release of Afghan Taliban prisoners to boost the troubled peace process in Afghanistan due to “renewed distrust” between Islamabad and Kabul, according to a media report today.

Differences over the efficacy of the release of the Taliban prisoners was the “major factor in the momentary suspension of the process”, unnamed officials familiar with the developments were quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.

The release of the Afghan Taliban prisoners by Pakistan was once seen as a “critical move to bolster peace process”, the report said.

Pakistan has so far released 26 middle ranking Afghan Taliban leaders but Afghan authorities have said that many of them have returned to the Taliban ranks.

“They (Afghans) contend that the release was causing more damage than benefit because of the absence of a monitoring mechanism,” an unnamed Pakistani diplomat told Dawn.

An Afghan official in Kabul was sceptical about the effectiveness of the release of Taliban detainees, a process that was started last year at the request of the Afghan High Peace Council.

“The biggest indicator before us is that there has been no major progress towards reconciliation and violence continues unabated,” the Afghan official said.

Pakistani officials, however, dismissed this as “Afghan propaganda”.

The two sides have agreed to chalk out a new mechanism for the release of prisoners that gives the Afghans a say in who will be released.

Under the new mechanism, Pakistan will send lists of Taliban prisoners that it intends to release to the Afghan High Peace Council, which will approve or disapprove the names.

Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Umer Daudzai said the new mechanism had not been activated as yet. He attributed this to “problems in scheduling of meetings” of officials.

A source told the daily the delay in operationalising the procedure for future releases was due to mistrust between the two sides.

 

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Another “Zombie” Terrorist Leader Comes Back from the Dead–This One In Pakistan

[Strange that they could capture this militant leader, since Qari Basit was allegedly killed “in the Tarkhel area” of the same town on September 24, 2011.  Nearly every “al-Qaeda” or Taliban leader reported killed by the controlled “legitimate press” has been killed at fortunate junctures in the past (SEE: Chad Claims It Has Killed “Al-CIA-da” Mastermind of Cigarette Smuggling ).]

TTP leader, foreigner captured in Nowshera

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Taliban. — Reuters/File Photo

NOWSHERA: The ‘operational commander’ of the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Qari Basit, and an unknown foreigner were arrested by personnel of intelligence agencies in Kheshgi town of Nowshera district on Wednesday.

Sources said the two were arrested in a joint raid conducted by security forces and police at a house in Kheshgi. They were taken to an unknown place.

The sources claimed that the two men had arrived in Nowshera on a special mission to attack Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain.

District Police Officer Muhammad Hussain said a suspected man had been arrested but rejected the report that Qari Basit and his foreign accomplice had been captured.

The sources said that Qari Basit was wanted by police in several cases of suicide bombing and attacks on government installations in different areas of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

White House Continually Hampered By Pentagon Sabotage of Administration Foreign Policy

[The following article details how Gen. James Jones derailed Ambassador Holbrooke’s intended $50 billion investment in Pakistani development, with an insincere bluff of a secret civilian nuclear deal.  The photo used below is of Jones and the head of Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK), the Iranian terrorist outfit, before testifying before Congress for taking Washington and Saddam Hussain’s favorite terrorists off the State Dept. terror list.  The MEK are the hands of the CIA and Mossad within Iran.  They are responsible for bombings, assassinations of nuclear scientists and obtaining photos which are to be used to create convincing, false propaganda about Iranian programs.  Apparently, Gen. Jones was tasked with sabotaging all roads which did not lead to war with Iran, or war on Pakistan.]

Holbrooke wanted $50bn for Pakistan

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Gen. James Jones and Maryam Rajavi (President elect, wife of Massoud Rajavi, founder of terrorist MEK).

WASHINGTON: A former US National Security Adviser offered Pakistan an ‘off script’ civilian nuclear deal in exchange for its counter-terrorism cooperation, a former member of Richard Holbrooke’s team wrote on Wednesday.

In an article he wrote for the Foreign Policy magazine, Vali Nasr said his time in the Obama administration “turned out to be a deeply disillusioning experience”.

He recalled how former National Security Adviser James Jones travelled to Pakistan for high-level meetings without informing the State Department or Mr Holbrooke, who was the special US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said that during one trip to Pakistan, Gen Jones “went completely off script and promised Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani… a civilian nuclear deal in exchange for Pakistan’s cooperation”.

“Panic struck the White House. It took a good deal of diplomatic tap-dancing to take that offer off the table.”

Mr Nasr said that Mr Holbrooke wanted Washington and the international community to commit $50 billion to stimulate Pakistan’s economic development and convinced former secretary of state Hillary Clinton of forging a strategic partnership with the country.

“The true key to ending the war, Mr Holbrooke often told us, was to change Pakistan… but to convince Pakistan that we meant business, we first had to prove that America was going to stay,” he wrote.

Mr Holbrooke understood that the White House, the Pentagon, and the CIA wanted Pakistan to cut ties with the Taliban and do more to fight terrorism. “That would never happen, however, without at least some semblance of a normal relationship between Pakistan and the United States,” Mr Nasr wrote.

He said that in 2009, half the US diplomatic mission in Pakistan worked on intelligence and counter-terrorism rather than diplomacy or development.

“The US Consulate in Peshawar was basically bricks shielding antennas. And it paid big dividends,” Mr Nasr wrote.

Based on the information it received from intelligence sources, “the Obama administration began carrying out drone strikes in Pakistan on an industrial scale”.

US, China take part in Pakistan naval drills

US, China take part in Pakistan naval drills

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The American destroyer USS William P. Lawrence was among the ships taking part, along with vessels from Australia, Britain, Italy, Japan, Malaysia and Turkey. Russia and Germany are among the observers. — Reuters/File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The United States and China began naval drills in the Arabian Sea with Pakistan and other countries on Thursday, the Pakistani navy said, in a show of strength against terrorism and piracy.

The AMAN-13 exercise involves ships from 13 countries and observers from 20 others and comes two weeks after China took control of Gwadar, a strategic Pakistani Arabian Sea port, from Singapore’s PSA International.

The five-day exercise, which began earlier this week with meetings and manoeuvres in port, will end on Friday and is aimed at “information sharing, mutual understanding and identifying areas of common interest”, the navy said in a statement.

The manoeuvres – the fourth since 2007 – will also help develop and practise response tactics, techniques and procedures as well as improving cooperation between navies, the statement said.

One of the main objectives is to “display united resolve against terrorism and crimes in maritime domain,” it said.

The shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean have been plagued in recent years by attacks from Somali pirates, who have seized dozens of ships and earned millions of dollars in ransom for their release.

“All the nations participating in the AMAN have a common objective of ensuring peace and stability in the maritime arena to provide freedom of navigation and uninterrupted flow of trade,” the Pakistan navy statement said.

The American destroyer USS William P. Lawrence was among the ships taking part, along with vessels from Australia, Britain, Italy, Japan, Malaysia and Turkey. Russia and Germany are among the observers.

Ties between Washington and Islamabad are on the mend after a series of crises in 2011 including the discovery of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

US Senate Gun Bill Focuses On “Mental Incompetency”

File photo: A San Francisco police officer documents a gun that is being surrendered during a gun buy-back programme in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP)

US Senate gun bill addresses mental health

News Asia

WASHINGTON: Republicans teamed up with Democrats on Wednesday to introduce gun control legislation in the US Senate that aims to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.

It is one of a handful of new bills, including a beefed-up ban on assault weapons, being considered in the wake of the December tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut that saw a gunman kill 20 children and six adults.

Republican sponsor Senator Lindsey Graham said the newest bill sought to “ensure that those who have been declared an imminent danger to themselves or others aren’t legally able to obtain a firearm.”

“I would expect overwhelming bipartisan support for our legislation,” he said.

The bill would require courts to report to the national gun background check system, known as NICS, when a person is determined to be mentally incompetent.

Existing law has failed to adequately ensure that such cases are reported to NICS so that they are barred from purchasing a firearm.

The NICS list includes felons, spousal abusers, undocumented immigrants and the mentally ill, but Graham and others have warned repeatedly that cracks have emerged in the system.

“An individual who pleads ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ should not be able to pass a federal background check and legally purchase a gun. As astonishing as it sounds, that actually happened,” he said.

Graham cited the case of Alice Boland, who faced charges of threatening to kill former president George W Bush in 2005. She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and the charges were dropped in 2009.

Despite her documented mental health issues, she legally purchased a handgun in February before allegedly attempting to kill a school official.

“Ensuring that more of these records are integrated into NICS will significantly improve the background check process,” Republican Senator Jeff Flake said.

The bill got a major boost when the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby that has opposed most gun control efforts, announced its support for the legislation.

Senator Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat, said he was impressed that “unlikely allies” were able to come together on a “common-sense” bill.

“I have worked side by side with both the NRA and the mental health community to ensure that this bill will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people without stigmatizing the mentally ill or taking away individual rights,” he said.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy unveiled another bipartisan bill on Monday that would target gun trafficking by cracking down on “straw purchasers” who buy firearms for criminals and others.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet on Thursday to consider Leahy’s bill as well as a renewed assault weapons ban sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein.

– AFP/xq