Europe’s Mega Terror Cell and Does not Use CT Tools

PARIS (AP) — The number of people linked to the Islamic State network that attacked Paris and Brussels reaches easily into the dozens, with a series of new arrests over the weekend that confirmed the cell’s toxic reach and ability to move around unnoticed in Europe’s criminal underworld.

From Belgium’s Molenbeek to Sweden’s Malmo, new names are added nearly daily to the list of hardened attackers, hangers-on, and tacit supporters of the cell that killed 130 people in Paris and 32 in Brussels. A computer abandoned by one of the Brussels suicide bombers in a trash can contained not only his will, but is beginning to give up other information as well, including an audio file indicating the cell was getting its orders directly from a French-speaking extremist in Syria, according to a police official with knowledge of the investigation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

Ten men are known to be directly involved in the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris; others with key logistical roles then — including the bomber, a logistics handler, and a hideout scout — went on to plot the attack March 22 in Brussels. But unlike Paris, at least two people who survived the attack have been taken into custody alive, including Mohamed Abrini, the Molenbeek native who walked away from the Brussels international airport after his explosives failed to detonate.

But investigators fear it may not be enough to stave off another attack. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, another Molenbeek native whose charisma made him a natural draw to many in the Brussels neighborhood after he joined IS extremists in Syria, said before his death that he returned to Europe among a group of 90 fighters from Europe and the Mideast, according to testimony from a woman who tipped police to his location.


In part from NYT’s: But only in the months since then has the full scale of Mr. Zerkani’s diligent work on the streets of Molenbeek and beyond become clear, as the network he helped nurture has emerged as a central element in attacks in both Paris and Brussels— as well as one in France that the authorities said last month they had foiled.

“Mr. Zerkani has perverted an entire generation of youngsters, particularly in the Molenbeek neighborhood,” the Belgian federal prosecutor, Bernard Michel, said in February.

But court documents and interviews with Molenbeek residents and activists, as well as with Belgian security officials, suggest that he had direct or indirect connections with several crucial figures who are now dead or under arrest in connection with the November massacre in Paris that killed 130 people and the bombings last month in Brussels that killed 32. Full article here.

Top U.S. intel official: Europe not taking advantage of terror tracking tools

(CNN) A top U.S. counterterrorism official in charge of ensuring terrorists do not make it into the United States said European countries can do more to screen terrorists because they don’t take full advantage of tools the U.S. has offered in the fight against terrorism.

“It’s concerning that our partners don’t use all of our data,” said Terrorist Screening Center Director Christopher Piehota in an exclusive interview with CNN. “We provide them with tools. We provide them with support, and I would find it concerning that they don’t use these tools to help screen for their own aviation security, maritime security, border screening, visas, things like that for travel.”
Piehota said the U.S. shares its watch lists with EU countries, but that EU countries don’t systematically utilize it to identify suspected terrorists or screen migrants coming.
The European Union does not utilize a central terror database; instead, each country maintains its own terrorist watch list that comes with its own unique set of standards for tracking terrorists. Further complicating matters the 26 European countries that operate inside the “Schengen zone” do not perform routine border checks.
Piehota said all European countries cooperate with the United States to varying degrees and information sharing has greatly improved in the wake of the ISIS threat.
The daunting task of guarding the United States from foreign terrorists, he says, has become more challenging with the evolving ISIS threat in Europe.
One chief concern is foreign nationals from visa-waiver countries who do not appear on any watch list could possibly slip into the U.S. to launch an attack. For example, would-be terrorists can surreptitiously travel to and from Syria from Europe and then travel to the U.S. without ever arousing the suspicion of government officials on either continent.
“There are many that we do know about. And unfortunately there are some that we do not know about,” Piehota said.
Counterterrorism officials like Piehota also worry about the ISIS terrorists believed to still be in Europe and possibly plotting future attacks. One such person is the man in the hat seen in the Brussels airport surveillance video who remains on the run.
“It’s highly concerning,” he said. “We make sure that we know as much as we can. And we take that information and we use it the best we can to minimize threats to our communities. But we can’t know everything all the time.”
European officials have acknowledged the gaps in coverage and communication in the weeks following the Brussels attacks.
“The fragmented intelligence picture around this dispersed community of suspected terrorists is very challenging for European authorities,” said Rob Wainwright, director of the European Police Agency known as Europol.
The EU’s Counter-Terrorism Chief Gilles de Kerchove told CNN that he was aware of problems in getting member states to act.
“I do my best to put pressure, to confront them with blunt figures, and we are making progress, but not quickly enough,” he said.
The European Union has been examining the sharing of passenger information for at least six years, and the European Parliament is expected to consider a measure related to that issue this month. Some members oppose the idea on privacy grounds.
“That will require difficult discussions with European Parliament, because we’re sensitive about balance between security and freedom,” de Kerchove said last month.
Piehota also echoed the sentiment from FBI Director James Comey that there’s risk with the U.S. plan of allowing 100,000 refugees into the U.S. a year by 2017 partially because of the lack of intelligence on people in Syria.
“Nothing we can guarantee is at a 100% level,” Piehota said, adding he believes the vetting process is rigorous with a layered approach of screening, evaluation and assessment for the refugees who will be cross-referenced with all the U.S. watch lists.
Piehota also addressed what he called “incorrect perceptions” about the U.S. watch lists, many that have been repeated by presidential candidates on the campaign trail claiming a majority of people on the lists are innocent Americans.
Although declined to say how many people are on the watch list, he did say Americans “comprise less than 0.5% of the total populations. Very small, controlled population,” adding that those on the list are consistently re-evaulated with 1,500 changes to the list on average per day. More here.

Facebook’s Selective Censorship? Closed Groups….

Primer: Facebook owns WhatsApp.

Even more curious the New York Times did the study and provided the results to Facebook…Zuckerberg, what say you?

Facebook Groups Act as Weapons Bazaars for Militias

NYT: A terrorist hoping to buy an antiaircraft weapon in recent years needed to look no further than Facebook, which has been hosting sprawling online arms bazaars, offering weapons ranging from handguns and grenades to heavy machine guns and guided missiles.

The Facebook posts suggest evidence of large-scale efforts to sell military weapons coveted by terrorists and militants. The weapons include many distributed by the United States to security forces and their proxies in the Middle East. These online bazaars, which violate Facebook’s recent ban on the private sales of weapons, have been appearing in regions where the Islamic State has its strongest presence.

This week, after The New York Times provided Facebook with seven examples of suspicious groups, the company shut down six of them.

The findings were based on a study by the private consultancy Armament Research Services about arms trafficking on social media in Libya, along with reporting by The Times on similar trafficking in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

A seller based in Tripoli, Libya, offered components of a man-portable antiaircraft defense system, or Manpads, in a closed Facebook group. Credit Armament Research Services

1. The Weapons Have Included Heavy Machine Guns and Heat-Seeking Missiles

Many sales are arranged after Facebook users post photographs in closed and secret groups; the posts act roughly like digital classified ads on weapons-specific boards. Among the weapons displayed have been heavy machine guns on mounts that are designed for antiaircraft roles and that can be bolted to pickup trucks, and more sophisticated and menacing systems, including guided anti-tank missiles and an early generation of shoulder-fired heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles.

Last year ARES said it had documented an offer on Facebook to sell an SA-7 gripstock (pictured above), the reusable centerpiece of a man-portable antiaircraft defense system, or Manpads, a weapon of the Stinger class. Many of these left Libyan state custody in 2011, as depots were raided by rebels and looters. ARES said it documented Libyan sellers claiming to have two complete SA-7s for sale, two additional missiles and three gripstocks. An old system, SA-7s are a greater threat to helicopters and commercial aircraft than to modern military jets.

Machine guns, rifles and a shotgun advertised on Facebook groups in Libya.

2. Others Are the Standard Arms of Militant and Terrorist Groups

Machine guns and missiles form a small fraction of the apparent arms trafficking on Facebook and other social media apps, according to Nic R. Jenzen-Jones, the director of ARES and an author of the report. Examinations by The Times of Facebook groups in Libya dedicated to arms sales showed that sellers sought customers for a much larger assortment of handguns and infantry weapons. The rifles have predominantly been Kalashnikov assault rifles, which are used by many militants in the region, and many FN FAL rifles, which are common in Libya.

All of these solicitations violate Facebook’s policies, which since January has forbidden the facilitation of private sales of firearms and other weapons, according to Monika Bickert, a former federal prosecutor who is responsible for developing and enforcing the company’s content standards.

Images from Facebook groups selling weapons in Iraq.

3. Weapons Sales Greased by Social Media Sites Have Become a Feature of Many Conflicts

The use of social media for arms sales is relatively new to Libya. Until a Western-backed uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, which ended in his death at the hands of an armed mob, the country had a tightly restricted arms market and limited Internet access. But social media-based weapons markets in Libya are not unique. Similar markets exist in other countries plagued in recent years by conflict, militant groups and terrorism, including arms-sales Facebook groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

On Monday, The Times shared links for seven such groups with Facebook to check whether they violated the rules. By Tuesday, Facebook had taken down six of the groups. Ms. Bickert said that one Facebook group — which displayed photographs of weapons but only discussed them and expressly forbade sales — had survived the company’s scrutiny.


Online weapons markets in Iraq and Libya.

4. Facebook’s Rules on Arms Sales Are Related to Changes in How Facebook Is Used.

Ms. Bickert described the company’s policies as evolutionary, reflecting shifts in its social media ecosystem.

“When Facebook began, there was no way to really engage in commerce on Facebook,” she said. But in the past year, she noted, the company has allowed users to process payments through its Messenger service, and has added other features to aid sales. “Since we were offering features like that, we thought we wanted to make clear that this is not a site that wants to facilitate the private sales of firearms.”


A Facebook user in Syria shared an image of Islamic State fighters.

5. Facebook Relies on Users to Report the Arms Trafficking It Bans

Ms. Bickert said the most important part of Facebook’s effort “to keep people safe” was to make it easy for users to notify the company of suspected violations, which can be done with a click on the “Report” feature on every Facebook post.

In this way so-called Community Operations teams — Facebook employees who review the reports in dozens of languages — can examine and remove offending content. How effective the policy is, in practice, is unclear. Several groups from which the photographs for this article were downloaded operated on Facebook for two years or more, accumulating thousands of members before Facebook announced its ban on arms sales.

This trafficking occurred in countries where the Islamic State is at its most active and where armed militias or other designated terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, have a persistent presence. In all four countries, government forces do not control large areas of territory and civil society is under intense pressure. Christine Chen, a Facebook spokeswoman, said the company relied on the nearly 1.6 billion people who visit the site every month to flag offenders. “We urge everyone who sees violations to report them to us,” she said.

Pistols have been widely sold and sought on Facebook in Libya.

6. In Libya, Widespread Pistol Sales on Facebook

ARES has documented many types of buyers and sellers. These include private citizens seeking handguns as well as representatives of armed groups buying weapons that require crews to be operated effectively, or appearing to offload weapons that the militias no longer wanted. Different markets have different characteristics. In Libya, fear of crime seemed to drive many people to buy pistols, Mr. Jenzen-Jones said. “Handguns are disproportionately represented,” he said. “They are widely sought after — primarily for self-defense and particularly to protect against carjackings — with many prospective buyers placing ‘wanted’ posts.” They were also expensive, ranging from about $2,200 to more than $7,000 — a sign that demand outstrips supply.

Military weapons originating in the United States have been sold through Facebook groups in Iraq.

7. Weapons Provided to Allies in Iraq Have Filled Facebook Sales Pages

In Iraq, the Facebook arms bazaars can resemble inside looks at the failures of American train-and-equip programs, with sellers displaying a seemingly bottomless assortment of weapons provided to Iraq’s government forces by the Pentagon during the long American occupation. Those include M4 carbines, M16 rifles, M249 squad automatic weapons, MP5 submachine guns and Glock semiautomatic pistols. Many of the weapons shown still bear inventory stickers and aftermarket add-ons favored by American forces and troops.

Such weapons have long been available on black markets in Iraq, with or without advertising on social media. But Facebook and other social media companies seem to provide new opportunities for sellers and buyers to find one other easily; for sellers to display items to more customers; and for customers to peruse and haggle over a larger assortment of weapons than what is available in smaller, physical markets.

A TOW launcher, a wire-guided anti-tank missile system, was advertised on a Facebook group in Syria with this message: “There is a TOW launcher, brand new, whoever wants it should contact us via private messages or WhatsApp.”

8. In Syria, Weapons Identical to Those Distributed to Rebels by the United States Are Offered for Sale

Similarly, weapons identical to those provided by the United States to Syrian rebels have also been traded on Facebook and other social media or messaging apps. In one recent example, a seller in northern Syria — who identified himself as a student, photographer and sniper — offered a pristine-looking Kalashnikov assault rifle that he said came from the Hazm Movement, which received weapons from the United States before the movement was defeated by the Nusra Front, a Qaeda affiliate. He noted on Facebook that the rifle was new and had “never fired a shot,” and hinted of either a bonus gift or a discount.


Visa Waiver Program to be Suspended or Terminated?

EU may require visas from Americans and Canadians: EU source

Reuters: The European Union executive is considering whether to make U.S. and Canadian citizens apply for visas before traveling to the bloc in a move that could raise tensions as Brussels negotiates a free trade pact with Washington.

The European Commission will debate the issue, prompted by U.S. and Canadian refusals to waive their visa requirements for holders of some EU member states’ passports, at a meeting next Tuesday. That is just over a week before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Europe on a visit that will include discussions on trade.

“A political debate and decision is obviously needed on such an important issue. But there is a real risk that the EU would move towards visas for the two,” an EU source said.

Washington and Ottawa both demand visas before traveling for Romanians and Bulgarians, whose states joined the EU in 2007. The United States also excludes Croatians, Cypriots and Poles from a visa waiver scheme offered to other EU citizens.

Europe’s Schengen area, comprising 26 states, most of which are in the 28-member EU, has a common visa system. Poland is a member of Schengen, and the other four states are due to join.

Trade negotiations between Brussels and Washington are at a crucial point since both sides believe their transatlantic agreement, known as TTIP, stands a better chance of passing before President Barack Obama leaves the White House in January.

Obama is due to visit Britain before meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a trade fair in Hanover on April 24.

Blah blah blah —>>>

U.S. Visa Waiver Program

DHS: The Visa Waiver Program (VWP), administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in consultation with the State Department, permits citizens of 38 countries[1] to travel to the United States for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa.  In return, those 38 countries must permit U.S. citizens and nationals to travel to their countries for a similar length of time without a visa for business or tourism purposes.  Since its inception in 1986, the VWP has evolved into a comprehensive security partnership with many of America’s closest allies.  The VWP utilizes a risk-based, multi-layered approach to detect and prevent terrorists, serious criminals, and other mala fide actors from traveling to the United States. This approach incorporates regular, national-level risk assessments concerning the impact of each program country’s participation in the VWP on U.S. national security and law enforcement interests.  It also includes comprehensive vetting of individual VWP travelers prior to their departure for the United States, upon arrival at U.S. ports of entry, and during any subsequent air travel within the United States.

Economic Benefits

A strong and vibrant economy is essential to our national security. The United States welcomed approximately 20 million VWP travelers in FY 2014 who, according to the Department of Commerce, spent approximately $84 billion on goods and services.  VWP travelers injected nearly $231 million a day into local economies across the country.

Initial and Continuing Designation Requirements

The eligibility requirements for a country’s designation in the VWP are defined in Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act as amended by the Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act of 2007.  Pursuant to existing statute, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, may designate into the VWP a country that:

  1. Has an annual nonimmigrant visitor visa (i.e., B visa) refusal rate of less than three percent, or a lower average percentage over the previous two fiscal years;
  2. Accepts the repatriation of its citizens, former citizens, and nationals ordered removed from the United States within three weeks of the final order of removal;
  3. Enters into an agreement to report lost and stolen passport information to the United States via INTERPOL or other means designated by the Secretary;
  4. Enters into an agreement with the United States to share terrorism and serious criminal information;
  5. Issues electronic, machine-readable passports with biometric identifiers;
  6. Undergoes a DHS-led evaluation of the effects of the country’s VWP designation on the security, law enforcement, and immigration enforcement interests of the United States; and
  7. Undergoes, in conjunction with the DHS-led evaluation, an independent intelligence assessment produced by the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (on behalf of the Director of National Intelligence).


How a Terrorist Thinks

مركز المسبارal Mesbar Studies and Research Center


   The Grey Zone:  Giulio Meotti writes on the April 4, 2016 Gatestone Institute website about the disturbingly high support among young European Muslims for suicide bombings and the Islamic State’s pursuit of establishing a new Caliphate.  Mr. Meotti writes that “among young European Muslims, support for suicide bombings range from 22 percent in Germany, to 29 percent in Spain, 35 percent in Britain, and 42 percent in France,” according to a recent PEW Research poll.  “In Britain, one in five Muslims have sympathy for the Caliphate; and, today, more British Muslims join ISIS than the British Army.  In the Netherlands,” the PEW Research poll showed that “80 percent of the Dutch Turks see “nothing wrong,” in ISIS.”  And, according to a ComRes report, commissioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 27 percent of British Muslims have sympathy for the terrorists who attacked the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris.  An ICM poll, released by Newsweek, revealed that 16 percent of French Muslims support ISIS; and, the number rises to 27 percent among those aged 18-24.  In dozens of French schools, the “minute of silence,” was interrupted by Muslim pupils who protested it,” Mr. Meotti wrote.

How deep is ISIS’s popularity in Belgium?,” Mr. Meotti asks.  “Very deep,” he warns.  “The most accurate study is a report from The Voices From the Blogs, which highlights the high degree of pro-ISIS sympathy in Belgium.  The report monitored and analyzed more than two million Arabic messages around the world via Twitter, FaceBook, and blogs regarding ISIS’s actions in the Middle East.”

“The most enthusiastic comments about ISIS come from Qatar at 47 percent, then Pakistan at 35 percent, third overall was Belgium — where 31 percent of the tweets in Arabic on the Islamic State are positive — more than Libya (24%), Oman (25%), Jordan (19%), Saudi Arabia (20%), and Iraq (20%).”

    Overall, some 42 million people in the Arab world sympathize with the Islamic State, according to polling data examined by The Gatestone Institute.

     As Mr. Meotti notes, “even if these polls and surveys must be taken with some caution, they all indicate a deep, and vibrant “gray zone,” which is feeding the Islamic Jihad in Europe and the Middle East.  We are talking about millions of Muslims who show sympathy, understanding, and affinity with the ideology and goals of the Islamic State.”

     The shockingly high support for the Islamic State among the youth of Europe is a foreboding sign.  As eminent British historian Max Hastings recently wrote, the influx of millions of Muslim migrants into Britain and the rest of Europe, may fundamentally alter the character and culture of Europe — and, not necessarily for the better.  While Mr. Hastings appreciates and understands that Britain and the rest of Europe and the West need to accept a large number of these displaced refugees as new citizens — he has this recent warning in London’s The Daily Mail Online:  “If any significant fraction of the hundreds of millions suffering hardship, persecution and famine in Africa and the Middle East succeed in transferring themselves to Europe, I fear that our civilization will be transformed in ways most of us cannot endorse, nor even find tolerable.”

     “How many [more] Muslims will this ISIS virus be able to infect in the vast European “gray zone?” Mr. Meotti asks.  “The answer will determine our future,” he adds.

There is more from IPTNews:

For weeks, Farid Bouamran, a Dutch-Moroccan immigrant who has lived 30 years in Amsterdam, watched as his son Achraf became increasingly radicalized, tuning in to videos and Twitter accounts online. Within two months, Achraf had traded in his jeans for a dishdasha, or robe, grown a beard, and begun spending time online with Belgian youth his father once called “men with long Arabic names: Abou this and Abou that.”

Panicked, Bouamran took every measure he could think of to intervene: he brought Achraf to his own mosque to hear the imam speak of a peaceful Islam. He canceled his son’s Internet account, forbid him to see his radical Muslim friends, and even followed him when he went out at night.

It was no use. Just after Christmas 2013, Farid Bouamran sat in his living room with officers from Dutch intelligence agency AIVD and told them he believed Achraf was about to leave for Syria to join in the jihad. Please, he begged them. Take his passport. Stop him.

Not to worry, the officers assured him, he won’t get past our borders.

But he did get past, flying out of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport the next night to Turkey, and from there, making his way to the Islamic State.

A year later, disillusioned by the realities of the life he found there, Achraf determined to return home. But en route to the Netherlands in January 2015, a U.S. missile attack on Raqqa took his life. He was 17 years old. More on the post is here.


NATO members Pay Billions

There is no doubt the NATO member countries have offered aid and support in the war on terror. Could countries do more? Yes, yet member countries are hardly free riders. NATO does coordinate more than what is realized in current conditions of hostilities in the Middle East.

NATO: The first group of officers from Iraq’s national security forces started their NATO training course at the King Abdullah Special Operations Training Centre in Amman, Jordan, on 2 April 2016. Their training is part of NATO’s effort to help Iraq build up its defence capacities, reform its security sector and increase its ability to contribute to regional stability. In the next six months, 350 Iraqi officers will be trained in the NATO course. Training will begin with a focus on military medicine, civil military planning and on countering improvised explosive devices.

NATO Intelligence Fusion Cell Operations since 2006

Trump Willing to Break Up NATO

AtlanticCouncil: Donald J. Trump on Saturday went further than ever before in his criticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, telling a crowd here that he would be fine if NATO broke up.

Mr. Trump had previously questioned the need for the organization, and on Saturday he reiterated his criticism that other NATO countries were “not paying their fair share” in comparison with the United States.

“That means we are protecting them, giving them military protection and other things, and they’re ripping off the United States. And you know what we do? Nothing,” Mr. Trump said at a subdued rally here on the outskirts of Milwaukee. “Either they have to pay up for past deficiencies or they have to get out.”

“And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO,” he concluded.

The role of the United States in NATO has become a point of contention here between Mr. Trump and his chief rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, as the candidates battle to win the state’s 42 delegates in Tuesday’s primary. Mr. Cruz has criticized Mr. Trump’s comments on NATO, saying that the United States needed to support the organization’s fight against terrorism and to counterbalance Russia’s influence….

Later, at an event in Wausau, Wis., Mr. Trump seemed to acknowledge the controversy his initial remarks about NATO had prompted.

“I said here’s the problem with NATO: it’s obsolete,” Mr. Trump said, recounting his comments. “Big statement to make when you don’t know that much about it, but I learn quickly.”

**** WSJ:

Paying up? Well yes, no free-riders

In part from Bloomberg: Even before being pinched by the global financial crisis, most NATO nations repeatedly cut their defense budgets, failing to meet the 2 percent benchmark. On the other hand, this viewpoint — part of what my colleague Eli Lake calls the Obama-Trump Doctrine — ignores some facts.Japan, Korea and European countries to some extent subsidize the U.S. troop presence inside their borders; Germany pays over $1 billion and Japan upped its 2016 contribution by 1.4 percent, to $1.6 billion. Recall, too, that the allies have been there for American-initiated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Consider NATO. According to the latest annual report from Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, 16 members spent more on defense last year than in 2014. While the Baltic states and other smallish countries living in Russia’s shadow generally had the largest percentage increases, Germany has approved boosts of $2.1 billion per year through 2019, and the U.K. has pledged an additional $18 billion over a decade.

More important, perhaps, NATO nations are spending a lot more on actual fighting equipment rather than staffs and pensions — eight allocated more than 20 percent of their military budgets to hardware. Readiness is also being stressed: Last year’s Exercise Trident Juncture in Southern Europe was the largest joint drill in over a decade, involving 36,000 troops, 140 aircraft and 60 ships.

Just as Russia has shaken Europe out of its defense stupor, so have China and North Korea energized the rest of East Asia. Japan has allocated a record $42 billion in fiscal 2016 (although a sluggish yen means its global spending power has increased at a lower rate). The budget includes purchases of six next-generation Lockheed-Martin F-35s and three Global Hawk drones, and funding for building a new guided missile destroyer. For more information and charts on funding NATO.