Archive for February 5, 2018

Exclusive: North Korea earned $200 million from banned exports, sends arms to Syria, Myanmar – U.N. report

February 5, 2018

by Michelle Nichols Reuters Sunday Feb 4, 2018 6:47am

Source: Exclusive: North Korea earned $200 million from banned exports, sends arms to Syria, Myanmar – U.N. report

{More strongly worded letters, more sanctions, and the Axis of Evil will still find a way – LS}

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – North Korea violated United Nations sanctions to earn nearly $200 million in 2017 from banned commodity exports, according to a confidential report by independent U.N. monitors, which also accused Pyongyang of supplying weapons to Syria and Myanmar.

The report to a U.N. Security Council sanctions committee, seen by Reuters on Friday, said North Korea had shipped coal to ports, including in Russia, China, South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam, mainly using false paperwork that showed countries such as Russia and China as the coal origin, instead of North Korea.

The 15-member council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

“The DPRK (North Korea) is already flouting the most recent resolutions by exploiting global oil supply chains, complicit foreign nationals, offshore company registries and the international banking system,” the U.N. monitors wrote in the 213-page report.

The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the U.N. report. Russia and China have repeatedly said they are implementing U.N. sanctions on North Korea.


The monitors said they had investigated ongoing ballistic missile cooperation between Syria and Myanmar, including more than 40 previously unreported North Korea shipments between 2012 and 2017 to Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre, which oversees the country’s chemical weapons program.

The investigation has shown “further evidence of arms embargo and other violations, including through the transfer of items with utility in ballistic missile and chemical weapons programs,” the U.N. monitors wrote.

They also inspected cargo from two North Korea shipments intercepted by unidentified countries en route to Syria. Both contained acid-resistant tiles that could cover an area equal to a large scale industrial project, the monitors reported.

One country, which was not identified, told the monitors the seized shipments can “be used to build bricks for the interior wall of a chemical factory.”

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013. However, diplomats and weapons inspectors suspect Syria may have secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability.

The Syrian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the U.N. report.

The U.N. monitors also said one country, which they did not identify, reported it had evidence that Myanmar received ballistic missile systems from North Korea, along with conventional weapons, including multiple rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles.

Myanmar U.N. Ambassador Hau Do Suan said the Myanmar government “has no ongoing arms relationship, whatsoever, with North Korea” and is abiding by the U.N. Security Council resolutions.


Under a 2016 resolution, the U.N. Security Council capped coal exports and required countries to report any imports of North Korean coal to the council sanctions committee. It then banned all exports of coal by North Korea on Aug. 5.

The U.N. monitors investigated 16 coal shipments between January and Aug. 5 to ports in Russia, China, Malaysia and Vietnam. They said Malaysia reported one shipment to the council committee and the remaining 15 shipments violated sanctions.

After the coal ban was imposed on Aug. 5, the U.N. monitors investigated 23 coal shipments to ports in Russia, China, South Korea and Vietnam. The U.N. monitors said all those shipments “would constitute a violation of the resolution, if confirmed.”

“The DPRK combined deceptive navigation patterns, signals manipulation, transshipments as well as fraudulent documentation to obscure the origin of the coal,” the monitors said.

The U.N. monitors “also investigated cases of ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products in violation (of U.N. sanctions) … and found that the network behind these vessels is primarily based in Taiwan province of China.”

The monitors said one country, which they did not name, told them North Korea had carried out such transfers off its ports of Wonsan and Nampo and in international waters between the Yellow Sea and East China Sea between October and January.

The report said several multinational oil companies, which were not named, were also being investigated for roles in the supply chain of petroleum products transferred to North Korea.

Israel And Egypt Form Secret Alliance To Wipe Out Egyptian Jihadists

February 5, 2018

by Tyler Durden Mon, 02/05/2018 – 01:00 Zero Hedge

Source: Israel And Egypt Form Secret Alliance To Wipe Out Egyptian Jihadists

{The enemy of my enemy is my friend…or something like that. – LS}

Israel has been conducting bombing raids on jihadists within Egypt’s borders since at least late 2015 as part of a secret two-year alliance. For more than two years, unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters and jets have carried out a covert air campaign, conducting more than 100 airstrikes inside Egypt, frequently more than once a week — and all with the approval of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the NYT reported on Sunday.

Once enemies in three wars, and having struggled to reach peace agreements for decades, Egypt and Israel are now (not so) secret allies against a common foe.

In late 2015, jihadists in Egypt’s Northern Sinai moved in, killing hundreds of soldiers and police officers and briefly seizing a major town – setting up armed checkpoints as they established control over the area. On October 31, 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s Sinai branch, formerly known as Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, brought down a Russian passenger flight with an explosive device – killing all 224 people aboard.

With Egypt seemingly unable to stop the jihadists, Israel – alarmed by the threat just over the border, began taking action – sending a barrage of airstrikes into the neighboring Arab country whose officials and media continued to vilify the Jewish state in public.

In order to conceal their involvement, Israel’s drones, jets and helicopters have covered up their markings. “Some fly circuitous routes to create the impression that they are based in the Egyptian mainland,” according to American officials briefed on the operations.

It is unclear whether any Israeli troops have actually set foot inside Egyptian borders.

Despite efforts by both Israel and Egypt to hide the origin of the strikes and censor public reports, Egypt and Israel’s two-year alliance has become somewhat of an open secret in intelligence circles:

Inside the American government, the strikes are widely known enough that diplomats and intelligence officials have discussed them in closed briefings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers in open committee hearings have alluded approvingly to the surprisingly close Egyptian and Israeli cooperation in the North Sinai.

In a telephone interview, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declined to discuss specifics of Israel’s military actions in Egypt, but said Israel was not acting “out of goodness to a neighbor.”

“Israel does not want the bad stuff that is happening in the Egyptian Sinai to get into Israel,” he said, adding that the Egyptian effort to hide Israel’s role from its citizens “is not a new phenomenon.” –NYT

Moreover, despite Israeli military censors preventing reports of the strikes from becoming public, certain news outlets circumvented the censorship by citing a 2016 Bloomberg report in which a former Israeli official admitted to drone strikes inside of Egypt.

The two-year alliance between the two countries is thought to have begun after Egypt’s relatively new president Mohamed Morsi – a leader within the Muslim Brotherhood who came to power after the Arab Spring revolt, was outed in a military takeover by el-Sisi – then defense minister.

Israel welcomed the change in government, urging Washington to accept it.

And Egypt needed the help; following Mr. Sisi’s takeover, Islamist militants who had established a refuge in the North Sinai region between the Suez Canal and the Israeli border began a wave of deadly assaults against Egyptian security forces.

A few weeks after Mr. Sisi took power, in August 2013, two mysterious explosions killed five suspected militants in a district of the North Sinai not far from the Israeli border. The Associated Press reported that unnamed Egyptian officials had said Israeli drones fired missiles that killed the militants, possibly because of Egyptian warnings of a planned cross-border attack on an Israeli airport. (Israel had closed the airport the previous day.)

At the time, both Israel and Egypt vehemently denied the reports – however after the Russian charter jet was brought down in October of 2015, Israel began its wave of airstrikes, killing a long list of militant leaders according to an American official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss classified operations.

After Israel wiped out much of the jihadist leadership in the region, less ambitious successors stepped in. No longer employing armed checkpoints, closing roads or claiming territory – the group began targeting “softer” targets like Christians in Sinai and Muslims they considered heretics. As an example, the militant group killed over 300 worshippers at a Sufi Mosque in North Sinai.

Since Israel has effectively been keeping jihadists at bay in a mutually beneficial arrangement, some American supporters of Israel have been complaining that given Egypt’s reliance on the Israeli military, “Egyptian officials, diplomats and state-controlled news media should stop publicly denouncing the Jewish state.” 

“You speak with Sisi and he talks about security cooperation with Israel, and you speak with Israelis and they talk about security cooperation with Egypt, but then this duplicitous game continues,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee. “It is confusing to me.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also pointedly reminded American diplomats of the Israeli military role in Sinai. In February 2016, for example, Secretary of State John Kerry convened a secret summit in Aqaba, Jordan, with Mr. Sisi, King Abdullah of Jordan and Mr. Netanyahu, according to three American officials involved in the talks or briefed about them.

Mr. Kerry proposed a regional agreement in which Egypt and Jordan would guarantee Israel’s security as part of a deal for a Palestinian state. –NYT

Netanyahu scoffed at the idea – arguing that if Egypt was unable to control the ground within its own borders, it was hardly in a position to guarantee Israel’s safety.

Assad in rare message to Israel: We won’t start war or let foreign forces control our borders 

February 5, 2018

Source: Assad in rare message to Israel: We won’t start war or let foreign forces control our borders – DEBKAfile

DEBKAfile Exclusive: Bashar Assad used a European go-between to send this secret message to PM Binyamin Netanyahu. A similar note came from Beirut.

DEBKAfile’s exclusive intelligence sources report that late last week, a personal Note from Syrian ruler Bashar Assad was secretly handed to Prime Minister Netanyahu by a European intermediary. “War is not what I am after. All I want now is to focus on reunifying Syria and rebuilding the ruins of war.” A key phrase followed: “We are a sovereign nation. We shall not hand our borders over to the control of any forces other than Syrian.”

This phrase was taken as an assurance by the Syrian ruler that the Hizballah forces fighting in Syria would not be allowed to deploy on its borders with Israel, and came in response to Israel’s concerns  It was sent out directly after Prime Minister Netanyahu visited President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Jan 29 and warned him that Israel would not stand by for the establishment of a Hizballah or Iranian troop presence on its northern border with Syria. It is presumed in Jerusalem that Assad acted on his own initiative in sending this note to Jerusalem.

The day after it landed on Netanyahu’s desk, a second secret note arrived from the Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a reputed ally of Hizballah. This one was devoted to assuring Israel that there were no Iranian missile factories in Lebanon – nor would the Lebanese government allow them to be constructed in the country. Another European diplomat carried this note to Jerusalem. Aoun did not write it himself; he instructed the Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil, his son-in-law, to sign it and pass it on. Bassil went on to emphasize that should the Lebanese president believe that operations by Hizballah did not serve the country’s national and security interests, he would not hesitate to say so loud and clear.

It was impossible to confirm whether or not Assad and Aoun had acted in concert to cool the war fever hanging over the region in the wake of Israel’s widely broadcast concerns over the potential threats looming over its northern border. Netanyahu apparently gave his answer to the two presidents on Sunday, Feb. 4, when he opened the weekly cabinet meeting by saying: “We are not looking for war, but will do everything we have to, to defend ourselves.”

Report: Hezbollah to store weapons at sites Israel likely won’t strike

February 5, 2018

Source: Report: Hezbollah to store weapons at sites Israel likely won’t strike – Israel Hayom

Iran says Trump’s hostility to 2015 nuclear deal scares off investors 

February 5, 2018

Source: Iran says Trump’s hostility to 2015 nuclear deal scares off investors – Israel Hayom

US envoy: Hamas squandering Iran’s ‘blood money’ on terrorism

February 5, 2018

Source: US envoy: Hamas squandering Iran’s ‘blood money’ on terrorism – Israel Hayom

Trinidad: How a Tiny Nation Became ISIS Recruiting Ground

February 5, 2018

By – on

Trinidad, a South African nation usually considered part of the Caribbean, may be home to a population of just 1.3 million.

But it’s one of the biggest recruiting grounds for ISIS — and so is neighboring, and equally small, Tobago.

So how does that happen?

The Guardian reports:

Five years ago, Tariq Abdul Haqq was one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most promising young boxers, a Commonwealth Games medallist with Olympic dreams.

Now he lies dead somewhere in Iraq or Syria, buried in the ruins of the self-declared caliphate, along with dozens of his countrymen. Together they formed one of the most unlikely, and most underreported groups of fighters drawn to Isis.

The tiny Caribbean nation, with a population of just 1.3 million, lies about 10,000km from the former Isis capital in Raqqa. Yet at the bloody peak of the group’s power, Trinidad and Tobago had one of the highest recruitment rates in the world.

More than 100 of its citizens left to join Islamic State, including about 70 men who planned to fight and die. They were joined by dozens of children and women, the latter including both willing and unwilling companions, security officials say.

By way of comparison: Canada and the US, with populations many times larger, are each thought to have produced fewer than 300 recruits who made the journey east.

The power of this story – the flight from a balmy Caribbean island state rich in oil and gas to the frontlines of a desert war – was not lost on the propagandists of Isis.

Their Dabiq magazine, aimed at potential recruits and sympathisers, featured a long interview with fighter Abu Sa’d al-Trinidadi – formerly Shane Crawford – in the summer of 2016. He detailed his conversion, his trip to Syria and ended threatening death to Christians and bloodshed in the streets of his former home.

An unnerved Trinidad government raced to introduce new controls on travel and finance that would make the journey to any new jihadi project harder, and would track anyone attempting to return.

There has never been a terror attack on the islands, a plot uncovered, or even any formal Isis threat against Trinidad and Tobago.

But the country now faces the possibility that citizens trained by Isis could return to radicalise a younger generation – or that would-be recruits no longer able to make that dark pilgrimage will seek other targets for extremism.

The island has a thriving international oil and gas industry, and for the US there are potential worries about a more direct threat. Trinidad’s citizens can travel through the Caribbean without visas, and a Trinidadian has already been jailed for his role in a 2007 plot to attack New York’s JFK airport.

Within a month of taking office, Donald Trump called Trinidad’s prime minister, Keith Rowley, to discuss terrorism. The UK government has also recently warned of possible terrorist attacks in the country – although it issued similar travel warnings for countries including Spain and France.

Trinidad’s Muslims make up around one in 10 of the country’s population, and the overwhelming majority follow moderate forms of Islam.

But a tiny minority have been drawn to a more extreme creed. In 1990 a group called Jamaat al Muslimeen launched the western hemisphere’s first and only Islamist coup attempt, taking the prime minister and legislators hostage for several days.

Eventually the army regained control, but the imam behind the coup, Yasin Abu Bakr, was released from jail within a couple of years under an amnesty deal and has resumed preaching.

At a sermon recently attended by the Guardian, Abu Bakr argued that European nations had no moral grounds to criticise Isis beheadings, because of the use of the guillotine during the French revolution.

The attorney general, Faris Al Rawi, denied that Trinidad had a particular problem with Isis recruitment or religious extremism.

“The number may look larger than somewhere else, but I don’t accept for one moment that we have a problem that is much larger than anywhere else,” he said in an interview. “I don’t think that we are any more vulnerable than any other country is.”

For many Trinidadian Isis recruits, religion was more excuse than driving motivation, said anthropologist Dylan Kerrigan, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies.

Young men, many of them recent converts, were drawn to the caliphate mostly by promises of money and a sense of community – an appeal similar to that of gangs in an increasingly violent country, he said.

“[A gang] provides a family, male role models, social order and it promises access to what many young men might think they want: money, power, women, respect,” said Kerrigan who has researched extremism for UN counter-terrorism units.

“[One] imam told me that instead of joining a local gang, some see traveling to the Middle East as like joining another gang.”

Al Rawi said a string of new measures, including intelligence sharing with the US, UK and Israel, mean it will be very hard for those who have left to slip back into Trinidad undetected.

People who knew some of the Isis volunteers say most of them – and some of their dependents – are dead. The only Trinidadians known to have returned to the island were a family group picked up from a Turkish refugee camp, after apparently trying and failing to reach Isis-held territory. They are now under close surveillance, Faris said.

He dismissed concerns about further radicalisation, arguing that many of those who travelled to Syria were simply criminals looking to return with an extra edge over rivals.

“There are many people who are willing to make a trip to a war-torn area just to say you have been there – for the ‘cred’,” he said. “You have to disaggregate the genuine jihadi – who may potentially die as a martyr for a cause – from a pure criminal borrowing the look and persona of terrorism.”

Joining Isis may also have offered a practical escape to those facing the law. Before he was lionized in Dabiq, Shane Crawford, was a petty criminal who had been detained several times including on suspicion of planning to assassinate the then prime minister. He travelled to Syria with two friends who had been released from jail pending an investigation.

But some members of prominent families were drawn in too – perhaps none more high-profile than boxer Tariq Abdul Haqq. His aunt, Pamela Elder, is one of the country’s most respected lawyers and his father Yacoob Abdul Haqq had been a senior boxing official until his 2012 death.

Abdul Haqq was also an acquaintance of Fuad Abu Bakr, the son and heir apparent of the 1990 coup leader Abu Bakr.

The schools, clinics, soup kitchens and factories that filled Jamaat al Muslimeen’s compound were mostly destroyed after Abu Bakr senior’s arrest, but the government spared his large, airy mosque, where both father and son now teach. There is space for hundreds of men to pray from the main floor, and dozens of women to gather on a balcony to hear Friday sermons.

A preacher and politician, Fuad appears to have inherited his father’s extreme religious views along with his imposing height and charisma.

In an interview with the Guardian he described the men who went to fight for Isis in glowing terms, and slammed a new law banning child marriage as a violation of religious rights.

He dismissed reports of Isis brutality, denied that the jihadi group’s widely documented revival of sexual slavery was real, and compared the organisation’s self-declared caliphate to Israel and the Vatican.

“They want independence and an Islamic State, and they have the right to self-determination … so how can you say to these people that you cannot have an Islamic State because that is not an acceptable political status? There is a Jewish State, there is a Catholic state.”

Bakr said he knew several of those who travelled to Syria. Saying that he had to choose his words carefully when discussing their journeys, to avoid violating Trinidadian laws against supporting terrorism, he was still open in his admiration.

“They are not bad people, they are some of the most excellent people I knew, some of them,” he said. “People from all walks of life, businessmen, who just decided this is the right thing to do.”

Then, in an extraordinary invocation of one of the greatest champions of non-violent resistance, he paraphrased lines from a 1963 speech by Martin Luther King Jr in tribute to the Trinidadians who signed up for Isis’s project of extreme violence.

“Martin Luther King said a man who is not willing to die for something is not really fit to live, and I respect someone who is willing to sacrifice themselves for the betterment of their fellow man, and that is what those individuals think they are doing.”