BERLIN – A security official says an Islamic extremist who has allegedly called for terrorist attacks on Europe has been arrested in Turkey and Germany will seek his extradition.
The German official said Friday Mohamed Mahmoud was picked up Tuesday in the southeastern province of Hatay near the Syrian border. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.
Mahmoud, who was jailed in his native Austria in 2007 for ties to al-Qaida, moved to Germany upon his release in 2011 and became an imam with the ultraconservative Salafi movement.
He was expelled from Germany in 2012 and resurfaced in Egypt where he is alleged to have produced online German-language videos for the Global Islamic Media Front calling for terrorist attacks in Europe.
“Israeli gas, together with possible additional discoveries in Cyprus, ‘might be a relatively inexpensive means for Russia to help it meet its export commitments to European consumers in lieu of very expensive planned natural gas production in Russia itself.’”
Energy experts and politicians alike agree that a pipeline running from Cypriot gas fields onto Turkey and then linking to the proposed Nabucco conveyor would make the most sense, both from a technical and financial standpoint.
But pipelines need stability; deals can go sour even among the best of friends. By contrast, giving Russia gas concessions might be the easy answer for Cyprus; but is it the best?
The Nabucco conveyor is a proposed natural gas pipeline from Turkey to Austria diversifying natural gas suppliers and delivery routes for Europe. An intergovernmental agreement between Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria was signed on 13 July 2009.
Motivated by a desire to lessen European dependence on Russian energy, the Nabucco project is backed by several European Union states and the United States and is seen as rival to the Gazprom–Eni South Stream pipeline project. At the same time, there are doubts concerning viability of supplies.
A gas pipeline from Cypriot prospects to Turkey is probably the fastest and cheapest option, says Peter Wallace, an energy consultant who has worked with most oil majors around the world.
Given estimates that Block 12, the area where exploratory drilling is currently underway, may hold up to 10 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas, it’s clear that Cyprus would need to export the bulk of these quantities.
“We’re talking about an island with a total population of one million, with estimated reserves of at least 10 tcf, enough to satisfy the country’s energy needs for 150 years. To put that into perspective, that’s one-quarter of the total reserves of the United States (some 40 million tcf),” says Wallace.
“So the next question is, do we pipe the gas or store it here for export? If we go for the latter, a liquefaction plant would set you back $8 billion, all in.”
He adds that if the finds pan out the liquefaction plant would process five million tonnes per annum (mpta) at least. “If you’re going to build a plant like that, your export market is the whole world, not just Europe.”
But the sheer scale of the project could mean it takes a decade before the gas comes on-stream. Wallace cites a comparable project, the Browse LNG export facility off Western Australia’s north-west coast.
With a capacity for 10mtpa, the facility was first conceived in 2004, but is not expected to be online before 2015, says Wallance, who was chief engineer on the Browse project. And he calculates that building an LNG plant here from scratch might take seven to eight years, at a minimum. That’s assuming there are no delays or complications.
The alternative is a pipeline conveying the gas in its naturally-occurring form to markets abroad. Here, there are two main options. One is a pipeline with the accompanying infrastructure running from Block 12 to Athens. But the distances involved, the sea depth and the geology of the seabed would render this task prohibitive, both financially and time-wise.
The second option is a pipeline from the Levant Basin, to Cyprus and then onto Turkey. Although these are rough estimates, a project like would have a completion timeframe of three to four years, and a price tag of some $750 million.
“Israel has so much gas on its hands from the Leviathan and Tamar fields, but it’s got nowhere to send it,” says Wallace. “It’s highly unlikely they’ll work with their Arab neighbours. Moreover, building a liquefaction facility in Israel does not sound like a very attractive idea, given the tense situation in the Mideast. The most logical step for the Israelis would therefore be to export it via Cyprus.”
It may not be much to go on, but the example of Algeria and Morocco furnishes one precedent of energy collaboration made possible in spite of political friction between nations.
“Despite their differences, there is a pipeline running from Algeria through Morocco and across the straits of Gibraltar to Spain. The greenback is the great neutraliser,” Wallace says.
But he’s quick to acknowledge there’s a long distance to travel from what’s desirable to what’s feasible:“Obviously, a possible collaboration with Turkey is hugely contentious politically. It’s a long shot, yes, but perhaps they should start considering it.”
Another tricky situation, even assuming Cyprus and Turkey somehow were to set aside their dispute and cooperate on a pipeline, is that they would still have to agree on the location of a gas compression station.
A compression station is needed in order to keep the gas inside the pipeline at a constant pressure. But would the station be situated in the government-controlled areas or in the north?
Doing business with Turkey calls for a political paradigm shift, but if that’s what it takes for peace and security, why not, asserts a member of the House Committee on Foreign and European Affairs and a member of the opposition.
“Right now both sides are playing a zero-sum game. There are those on our side who say: now that we’ve found gas we shall kick the Turks’ backside. That is just nonsense. It doesn’t work that way. Nor will the Turks back off. So perhaps we should explore situations where everybody wins.”
Protests that the Republic’s sovereign rights are being violated by Turkish exploration in Cypriot waters are certainly justified, says the source who did not want to be named. But the time-honoured policy of lodging protests to the United Nations achieves little.
“What happens if tomorrow Turkey starts drilling for gas right next to Noble, in the area which we defined as our Exclusive Economic Zone? We lodge a protest, as always. Ok, then what?” he says.
The EU can only go so far, he says, questioning why EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton did not make stronger statements about the Turkish threats. “She stuck to the essentials: urging Turkey to refrain from making threats and encouraging Ankara to normalise relations with EU member states.”
According to the same source, recent gas finds in the Levant have generated a buzz in European circles because Europe is eager to lessen the continent’s energy dependence on Russia.
“For the first time, there is a potential convergence of interests between Cyprus and Turkey,” he says.
“Russia for its own reasons is seeking to undermine the Nabucco venture, cutting its own supply deals with Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Given doubts concerning the viability of supplies for the Nabucco, the pipeline may well need extra gas coming from elsewhere. Why not from the Levant Basin? That’s where we’d come in.”
While concurring that a Cyprus-Turkey pipeline would be the best solution, former Foreign Minister Nicos Rolandis says the discussion is purely academic at this juncture.
“As things stand, the probability of collaboration with Turkey is zero,” comments Rolandis. “Turkey does not recognise us, why would they buy gas from us? After all, they say that Cyprus’ offshore gas reserves belong to them too.
“And as far as we’re concerned, we’d never agree to do business with Turkey because of the ongoing occupation. Anyway, I doubt anyone here, on the Greek Cypriot side, would so much as dare suggest this. All hell would break loose on the domestic scene.”
Rolandis reiterates his proposal for an escrow account to be set up for the Turkish Cypriot community into which would be placed the proceeds from any gas finds. The percentage of the proceeds would be agreed in advance, and it would include a disclaimer that this arrangement does not set a legal or political precedent
The closest anyone has come to this is President Christofias when recently he offered Turkish Cypriots a share of the proceeds prior to a settlement.
But the problem, says Rolandis, is that Christofias’ offer was vague: “It sounded like an act an charity. It’s as if he was saying to the Turkish Cypriots, look, the gas is ours but we’ll throw you a bone.”
On speculation that the recent 6.5 billion euro Russian loan to Cyprus comes with strings attached – awarding Gazprom offshore gas licences and/or control of a liquefaction plant on the island – Rolandis believes it’s too early to speculate.
“We’ve been hearing all sorts of things lately. That a Russian fleet is sailing to the Mediterranean, that Gazprom has got an offshore licence through the back door. First let’s see how much gas we have and then we take it from there.
“The mere fact that oil majors, such as Gazprom, have bought the data on Cyprus’ plots does not necessarily mean they are interested. It means next to nothing. Companies buy data routinely. There’s a lot of sensationalism going around, a lot of misconceptions.”
Brenda Shaffer, senior lecturer at the University of Haifa, School of Political Sciences, likewise thinks that talk of Cypriot/Israeli/Turkish collaboration is premature and speculative.
“There are a lot of what-ifs,” she told the Sunday Mail. “First, you’ve got to ensure there is an export market. Presumably the Mediterranean reserves would be targeted at south-western Europe.
But given developments in the Caspian, it’s far from certain whether that market should be considered a given. Next, the Nabucco project is not even a certainty.”
She adds: “There’s a saying in the energy business: selling oil is a date, selling gas is a marriage. This is because natural gas requires infrastructure and therefore long-term stable political relations. Transit states in gas are problematic – usually it’s better for the gas to be exported by a supplier directly to the market.”
Moreover, Shaffer stresses that Israel, which views energy as a national security issue, has yet to make a decision to sanction the export of the natural gas. A government-appointed commission is currently looking into this.
Shaffer outlines a number of hurdles standing in the way of Israel acquiring export markets: one obstacle, which could well apply to the case of Cyprus, is that Israel’s gas discoveries appeared at a time when there is a glut in European natural gas markets.
“The current state of the European economy will likely preclude many costly new projects to enhance EU-member states’ energy security through lowering their portion of natural gas imports from Russia,” she writes in a recent article.
Shaffer argues also that Russia “possesses tremendously powerful levers of influence to thwart Israel from cutting into natural gas export markets in southern Europe, which is dominated by the Russian state-owned company Gazprom”.
She goes on to say that Israeli gas, together with possible additional discoveries in Cyprus, “might be a relatively inexpensive means for Russia to help it meet its export commitments to
European consumers in lieu of very expensive planned natural gas production in Russia itself.”
[Does Turkey not see, or not care, that renewed hostilities with the PKK began early on the same day as the Mavi Marmara attack, the PKK attack upon the Turkish naval facility (preceding it by a few hours), and now imprisoned Kurdish leader Ocalan agrees to a new ceasefire in the hours preceding the Erdogan/Netanyahu “love fest”(SEE: Turkish-Israeli diplomats to agree compensation for Mavi Marmara victims)? If this is the 10% of Obama’s Mideast iceberg which we can see, then we can only guess at the hidden 90%. The whirlwind of activity around the eastern Mediterranean are greater reflections of the “economic World War III” which can clearly be seen there. Both Israel and Cyprus need Turkey to send their newfound gas to Europe.]
According to high-ranking sources, the diplomacy that resulted in an Israeli apology to Turkey over the Turks killed by Israeli soldiers in 2010 started some two weeks ago.American diplomats told their Turkish counterparts that U.S. President Barack Obama wanted to have an end to the Turkish-Israeli rift and wanted to open the subject up to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his visit to Israel, if Turkey wanted an agreement, too.
In the background of the latest U.S. moves there were many two incident on the same day. On Feb. 28 Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking at an international conference in Vienna said that Zionism was a “crime against humanity” like fascism, which triggered reaction in Israel and among the Israeli lobby in the U.S. and Europe. The same day U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during a joint press conference with his Turkish hostAhmet Davutoğlu that the U.S. and Turkey do not share the same views on Israel.
On March 12, 89 members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to Erdoğan and asked him to retract his words on Zionism, which he did not; he said he stood behind what he said but he had been misunderstood.
It seems that letter triggered the U.S. move, since the White House wanted to see its two main allies in the region work together once again as they did until the “one minute” incident in Davos in 2009.
As Ankara said they could accept the good offices of the U.S. to have an agreement with Israel, based on an apology, the diplomacy started. Before the start of Obama’s visit on March 20, diplomatic drafts about the terms of a possible agreement started to go back and forth between Ankara and Jerusalem under the auspices of U.S. diplomacy.
The first positive step of goodwill, as a confidence-building measure, was taken as Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, the head of the Turkish Union of Chambers of Commerce (TOBB) was appointed as the head of the Arbitration Commission in disputes between Palestinian and Israeli businessmen on March 17.
The fact that there is still not a name for the new Israeli Foreign Ministry and Netanyahu assumes the office because of the corruption trial of Avigdor Lieberman, who opposes any apology to Turkey, made it easier for the Americans to get the deal closed.
At around 4 p.m. on March 22, Obama in Jerusalem in his last hours there called up Erdoğan. Following niceties, he passed the phone to Netanyahu. The two prime ministers agreed to issue the same statement in their capitals that would clarify an Israeli apology and compensation for the families of the Turks who were killed. Turkey softened its attitude on the third condition for an agreement, which was an end to the Israeli blockade on Gaza. Netanyahu, who takes the issue as its right of sovereignty, said Israel had already softened the embargo on Gaza since the revolution in Egypt and would take further steps depending on the situation in Gaza. The final text says anyway that Israel would take Turkish assistance in dealings with the Palestinians.
Following the conversation of around half an hour, Obama took the phone back, told Erdoğan that he was glad to see this happening and said “See you soon,” which was actually a sign that Erdoğan would get a White House appointment soon.
There is another interesting dimension of U.S. diplomacy between Turkey and Israel. Hours before the final move for an Israeli apology, the U.S. State Department issued a statement praising Erdoğan’s initiative to start a dialogue for a political solution to the Kurdish problem that resulted in a call by the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to stop its armed campaign.
There is one thing to be noted: Determination when you are right brings success. This is a success of the determination of the Erdoğan government regarding its policy on Israel. It also proved that Israel, despite the full backing of the U.S. government suffered more than Turkey because of the lack of relations between them. For the first time since its establishment in 1948, Israel regrets a military action.
This agreement will change the political balances of the whole region and will have implications on cases like Syria, Iran, Iraq and possibly Cyprus.
Lebanon has become an integral part of the plans of al-Nusra Front. Al-Qaeda’s fastest-growing offshoot is seeking to merge Lebanon’s extreme Islamist factions into a united front.
In mid-February, at a location in the barren hills surrounding the Lebanese town of Ersal, H. A. Dergham posed for pictures with dozens of his armed followers. Under the banner of Syria’s al-Nusra Front and behind a table draped with the Syrian “revolutionary” flag, he brandished a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in one hand and made a victory sign with the other.
Dergham is a principal suspect in the February 2013 attack on an army patrol near Ersal in which a captain and lieutenant were killed and several soldiers injured. The assault followed the attempted arrest of Khaled Hamid, who was described as the top al-Nusra Front “facilitator” in Lebanon.
Dergham’s group also works closely with al-Nusra Front in Syria, and has been playing a leading role in plans to establish a “branch” of the organization in Lebanon.
Al-Nusra Front was formed in Syria in 2011. It rapidly grew into the most prominent of all the country’s armed opposition groups once it was joined by like-minded former members of the Lebanese-based groups Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam.
In March 2012, a group led by Majed Bin-Mohammed al-Majed, Saudi emir or “commander” of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, moved from the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in South Lebanon to Syria.
The rise of Islamist forces with an ideological affinity to al-Qaeda was aided by the declining influence of Fatah and the other Palestinian nationalist factions in Ain al-Hilweh.Their intended aim was to take over the leadership of al-Nusra Front, and replace its commander, known as Abu-Mohammed al-Joulani, with Majed. But once in Syria, many of his followers turned against him and sided with Joulani. He returned to Ain al-Hilweh.
Meanwhile, the ex-members of Fatah al-Islam and Jund al-Sham got on with the task of training and organizing Joulani’s men. Within a few months they managed to improve al-Nusra Front’s performance and organization, turning it into the most formidable armed faction in Syria and an important front for al-Qaeda’s global jihad.
Al-Nusra Front’s Reach in Lebanon
Currently, about a year and half since its launch, the Front has a network of associated groups based in Lebanon. Its members come from a variety of different countries, which provide it with logistical, material, and combat support, especially in its battles in the vicinities of Homs and Damascus.
These Lebanese groups have plans to merge militarily and organizationally into a unified Lebanese chapter of al-Nusra Front. Dergham’s group is the most closely associated with the plan. Based around Ersal, it provides extensive logistical support to al-Nusra Front.
The rise of Islamist forces with an ideological affinity to al-Qaeda was aided by the declining influence of Fatah and the other Palestinian nationalist factions in Ain al-Hilweh. Their involvement in the Syrian jihad has bolstered support for their extremist views. This is at the expense of Hamas’ Usbat al-Ansar, to whom they previously used to defer in exchange for protection.
The other main component of the planned Lebanese al-Nusra Front is the so-called Tripoli bloc, consisting mainly of Hussam al-Sabbagh’s group of 300-400 fighters in the city. A number of smaller groups based in North Lebanon and the Bekaa are also expected to join the merged organization.
One proposal, espoused by Sabbagh, is to establish a single Islamic emirate spanning from North Lebanon to the Homs countryside. Another suggestion is to mount a series of surprise actions in different parts of Lebanon, with the aim of suddenly raising security tensions throughout the country, and announcing: We’re here, our time has come.
Reports indicate that the organizational steps needed to form the merged Lebanese al-Nusra Front are complete, but the Front is awaiting the right political circumstances for its launch.
The Central Intelligence Agency is expanding its role in the campaign against the Syrian regime by feeding intelligence to select rebel fighters to use against government forces, current and former U.S. officials said.
The move is part of a U.S. effort to stem the rise of Islamist extremists in Syria by aiding secular forces, U.S. officials said, amid fears that the fall of President Bashar al-Assad would enable al Qaeda to flourish in Syria.
The expanded CIA role bolsters an effort by Western intelligence agencies to support the Syrian opposition with training in areas including weapons use, urban combat and countering spying by the regime.
The move comes as the al Nusra Front, the main al Qaeda-linked group operating in Syria, is deepening its ties to the terrorist organization’s central leadership in Pakistan, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials.
The provision of actionable intelligence to small rebel units which have been vetted by the CIA represents an increase in U.S. involvement in the two-year-old conflict, the officials said. The CIA would neither confirm nor deny any role in providing training or intelligence to the Syrian rebels.
The new aid to rebels doesn’t change the U.S. decision to not take direct military action. President Barack Obama last year rejected a CIA-backed proposal to provide arms to secular units fighting Mr. Assad, and on Friday he reiterated his argument that doing so could worsen the bloodshed.
He also warned that Mr. Assad’s fall could empower extremists. “I am very concerned about Syria becoming an enclave for extremism because extremists thrive in chaos, they thrive in failed states, they thrive in power vacuums,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference in Amman, Jordan.
The new CIA effort reflects a change in the administration’s approach that aims to strengthen secular rebel fighters in hope of influencing which groups dominate in post-Assad Syria, U.S., European and Arab officials said.
The CIA has sent officers to Turkey to help vet rebels that receive arms shipments from Gulf allies, but administration officials say the results have been mixed, citing concerns about weapons going to Islamists. In Iraq, the CIA has been directed by the White House to work with elite counterterrorism units to help the Iraqis counter the flow of al Qaeda-linked fighters across the border with Syria.
The West favors fighters aligned with the Free Syrian Army, which supports the Syrian Opposition Coalition political group.
Syrian opposition commanders said the CIA has been working with British, French and Jordanian intelligence services to train rebels on the use of various kinds of weapons. A senior Western official said the intelligence agencies are providing the rebels with urban combat training as well as teaching them how to properly use antitank weapons against Syrian bunkers.
The agencies are also teaching counterintelligence tactics to help prevent pro-Assad agents from infiltrating the opposition, the official said.
Among other U.S. activities on the margins of the conflict, the Pentagon is helping train Jordanian forces to counter the threat posed by Syria’s chemical weapons, but isn’t working directly with rebels, defense officials say.
The extent of the CIA effort to provide intelligence to Syrian rebels remains cloaked in secrecy. The U.S. has an array of intelligence capabilities in the region, mainly on the periphery of the conflict.
The U.S. uses satellites and other surveillance systems to collect intelligence on Syrian troop and aircraft movements as well as weapons depots. Officials say powerful radar arrays in Turkey are likewise used to track Syrian ballistic missiles and can pinpoint launch sites.
The U.S. also relies on Israeli and Jordanian spy agencies, which have extensive spy networks inside Syria, U.S. and European officials said.
The current level of intelligence sharing is limited in scope because the CIA doesn’t know whether it can fully trust fighters with the most sensitive types of information, several U.S. and European officials said. The CIA, for example, isn’t sharing information on where U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies believe the Syrian government keeps its chemical weapons, officials said.
Rebel leaders and some U.S. lawmakers say more robust U.S. support is needed to turn the tide in the civil war. These officials say the CIA’s current role comes as too little, too late to make a decisive difference in the war.
In a letter to Mr. Obama this week, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, joined Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona in calling for the president to take “more active steps to stop the killing in Syria and force Bashar al-Assad to give up power.”
Sens. Levin and McCain urged the White House to consider using precision airstrikes to take out Mr. Assad’s air force and Scud missile batteries, among other military options.
The CIA got a green light from the White House last year to look for ways to provide limited support to the rebels, current and former officials said. But officials say the ramp-up has been slow, in part because of the difficulty of identifying reliable partners among the Syrian opposition to work with the U.S.
A senior U.S. official said the decision to provide actionable intelligence to vetted rebel units “shows that we’re working on the humanitarian level and the diplomatic level and on the intelligence level.”
“This would be a more direct level of engagement on the intelligence front,” the official added.
Officials said one of the advantages of providing actionable intelligence to rebel units is that such information is generally of operational use for a limited period because would-be targets move around the battlefield.
Arms, in contrast, can be used for years and passed between groups, reducing U.S. control over where they end up.
The shift in part reflects growing Israeli concerns about the limited ability of the U.S. to shape the outcome in Syria. In recent months, Israeli officials have privately pressed their European and American counterparts to strengthen secular forces in Syria because of concerns that the al Nusra Front will become more entrenched the longer the civil war drags on, according to Israeli and European officials.
Israeli officials are concerned that the U.S. reluctance to more directly intervene will limit Washington’s leverage in a post-Assad Syria. “Israel would welcome America’s influence in shaping the post-Assad Syria” said a senior Israeli official involved in deliberations on the neighboring Arab country.
U.S. and European officials said they fear that the al Nusra Front, which has seized control of swaths of northern Syria, could dominate the country once Mr. Assad falls.
U.S. counterterrorism officials said they have seen a growth in communications among operatives from al Nusra Front, al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda’s central leadership in Pakistan. Officials also report growing numbers of al Qaeda fighters traveling from Pakistan to Syria to join the fight with al Nusra.
The ties to al Qaeda’s central operations have become so significant that U.S. counterterrorism officials are debating whether al Nusra should now be considered its own al Qaeda affiliate instead of an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq, as it has generally been viewed within the U.S. government, according to a person familiar with the debate.
Al Nusra is “an organization that resembles an army more than a quaint little terrorist group,” said Seth Jones, an al Qaeda specialist at the Rand Corp. think tank in Washington. “As this war drags on against Assad and as long as they are able to build up their capabilities, it’s going to make it all the more harder to target them once the regime falls.”