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What is the Future of Malhama Tactical?

Uran Botobekov

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The leader of Malhama Tactical Abu Rofiq

Perhaps no single Salafi-Jihadi groups from Central Asia deserved such close attention of Western media like an Islamist private military contractor (PMC) Malhama Tactical (MT), that founded by a jihadist from southern Kyrgyzstan and training militants in Syria.This was possible thanks to the creativity and active self-promotion of the head of this small consulting firm on the Internet, which has managed to attract the attention of many Western journalists and researchers on Islamic radicalism.

The authoritative Foreign Policy called MTthe world’s first jihadi consortium of elite, well-paid fighters from across the former Soviet Union and compared its activities with the infamous Blackwater USA (now named Academi).BBC Monitoring published a series of analytical articles entitled How Malhama Tactical became the ‘Blackwater of the Syrian jihad’ in December 2018.The Independent, CSAF,the American Partisan, The Daily Caller, MEMRI and others also described MTas a successful jihadist training organization that supposedly changed the course of the Syrian war.My colleagues in the study of Salafi Jihadism Pieter Van Ostaeyen and Neil Hauer even interviewed the MT’s commander in November 2018.

The main disadvantage of all these articles is the lack of critical thinking regarding MT.Western analysts relied on videos, interviews and statements of MT’s leaders published on the Internet as advertising.As a result, the MT’s tactical role in the Syrian war is undeservedly overestimated since the boast of its leaders is taken at face value.

About MT more detailed facts cited the Russian Telegram channel Directorate 4, which is associated with the Russian special services.But the main problem of Russian researchers is that it is difficult to determine the edges of analysis and propaganda, which in some places is accompanied by rude insults to the MT’s leader.

The mysterious name of Al-Malhamah Al-Kubra

One should recognize the creative thinking of the Uzbek young man Abu Rofiq, who gave his organization the mysterious name “Malhama Tactical”, which was immediately noticed by the sponsors of the Salafi movement in the Islamic world. According to the Hadith, the al-Malhamah Al-Kubra means the great battle, bloody fights, massacres and the conquest of Constantinople by Muslims from the Romans.

Abu Rofiq likes to create a halo of mystery around his person and his organization. Western media have created his image like the fearless Rambo and a former officer of the elite of the Russian Airborne Forces, who from the inside knows the secrets of the Russian military-training science. On Facebook Abu Rofiq at one time positioned himself as a former sniper of the Russian elite Special Forces GRU whose staff was involved in the poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Skripal in British Salisbury and in the interference of the 2016 US elections.

The leader of Malhama Tactical Abu Rofiq

But our analysis showed that some of the statements of Abu Rofiq were not true.All his biographical data, family ties and information about the military career are known to the authorities of Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The real name of Abu Rofiq is Sukhrob Baltabaev who was born in the Osh region of Kyrgyzstan on August 10, 1993.By the way, the leader of al Qaeda-linked Katibat al-Tawhid wal Jihad Abu Saloh is also from this region.

After completing school in 2010, he left as a labor migrant to Russia. The Russian authorities have documented that Sukhrob Baltabaev was called up for military service on May 14, 2012, by the Military Commissariat of Russia’s Tatarstan.He began serving in the 45th Guards Separate Special Purpose Intelligence Regiment of the Airborne Forces in the Moscow Region.However, due to the disease of an intervertebral hernia, he was discharged from the Russian army.

Hijrah to Sham not for the purpose of Jihad but for making money

According to Russian sources, after an unsuccessful military career, Sukhrob Baltabaev returned from Moscow to Kazan and worked as a computer programmer at the firm Potok.In those years that ISIS and al Qaeda began actively recruiting Central Asian migrants working in Russia to Syria and Iraq.Having fallen under the influence of the ideologists of Wahhabism, in February 2014, he left for Syria and joined the Jamaat of Chechen militants Shishani.A young wife from Osh and a son Muhammadrofiq remained at home.

At the end of 2015, he created MT with several friends from Central Asia, who began to train on a commercial basis both local and foreign militants in Syria fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.The exact number of the group’s members is unknown but it is thought to consist of 10-15 fighters, all originating from former USSR states.Knowledge of computer technology, creative advertising campaign and ability to find a common language with the leaders of jihadist jamaats helped him in developing this business.MT has become popular due to the wide use of social networks such as YouTube, Facebook, VK, Twitter and Telegram, where he began to publish examples of military training under the pseudonym Abu Rofiq and offer his services for money.

In Central Asia, there is a saying that “Uzbeks know how to make money out of thin air.” There is even a joke about when the American astronaut Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon, he met there Uzbek who trading in the Lunar Bazaar. In the genes of the peoples of Central Asia, where the Great Silk Road lay, historically there is the ability to trade. The natural flair did not fail Abu Rofiq: he found a unique opportunity to make money from the Syrian war.

The company has been working with the al Qaeda-affiliated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Ajnad al Kavkaz, Jaysh Muhajirin wal-Ansar,and other groups, even Ahrar as-Sham .I am not a military specialist and cannot assess the quality of MT’s tactical trainees on the use of various types of weapons and fighting in urban combat. But MT’s instructors use popular Russian-made 7.62 mm machine gun, US-made modern sniper rifles, helmets with night vision goggles and the expensive military equipment that the armies of Central Asia cannot afford. The other equipment shown in the videos, like the first-aid kit, is also of high quality, used often in US army and its allies.

Malhama produces equipment for other jihadi groups, manufactures accessories for the PKM, vests and grips, widely used in Syria. This means that MT’s business is doing well and its leader has enough connections somewhere to guarantee himself a supply line of such type. The MT leader actively used the online crowdfunding urging sympathizers to donate money to continue Jihad and training the Mujahedeen. At the same time, currencies of all countries were accepted, even bitcoin, QIWI and Yandex. Money electronic transfers.

Russian hunt for the leader Malhama

With the acquisition of fame and the growth in the number of clients, the real hunt started for the MT leader from the Russian special services, the Assad regime and ISIS.The MT leader considers Moscow and Damascus enemies of Islam who destroy peaceful Muslims in Syria. Moscow has special claims to the MT leader. As shown the attempt to kill former KGB agent Skripal in the UK, Putin will pursue his military, who have betrayed the oath. Despite Moscow’s refusal, Sukhrob Baltabaev is a former military of the Russian Army.

In addition, he inflicts sensitive blows to Russia. In a recent interview, the MT’s head stated that the Mujahideen Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, who had been trained by Malhama, had made an attack in Tarabiya, Northern Hama, and killed four high-ranking Syrian officers and seven Russians on November 10, 2018.ANNA-News Agency confirmed this information.

Trainers of Malhama Tactical

MT has also been vocal about its opposition to ISIS. On 20 June, Abu Salman posted on his Twitter account an anti-IS message saying: “We must kill them all, ISIS is evil and we have to do something to wipe them out”.

For security reasons, the MT leader appears in the media in masks, or with a scarf tied on his face. According to BBC, the first MT leader Abu Rofiq was killed in February 2017 in a Russian air strike in Idlib. After that Abu Salman Al-Belarusi on Twitter called himself a new MT commander who is Uzbek from Belarus and served as senior sergeant of the 103 Airborne Brigade of the Belarusian Army in Vitebsk. But the Belarusian side did not confirm this information.

But according to the Russian media Abu Rofiq did not die.In order to mislead the Russian special services he spread false information about his death, and now he took the pseudonym Abu Salman Al-Belarusi. That is, Abu Rofiq and Abu Salman Al-Belarusiare one and the same person, that is, Sukhrob Baltabaev from Kyrgyzstan. After comparing the audio and video performances of Abu Rofiq and Abu Salman Al-Belarusi, we concluded that the voice belongs to the same person. The authorities of Russia and Central Asia have identified Sukhrob Baltabaev and continue to closely monitor his relatives.

Ideological views of Malhama Tactical

The ideological views of the MT leader contain the outfit’s mixture of Salafi ideology with the privatization of war because money plays an important role for him in his project. But he cannot be counted among the radical Wahhabis, who are ready to die as Shahid in the name of Allah. His various speeches showed that his level of knowledge of the Quran, Hadith, and Surah, the basics of Tawhid and Fiqh, is not very deep. Perhaps because of this, he avoids the Central Asian Salaf-Jihadi groups Katibat al-Tawhid wal Jihad, Katibat Imam al-Bukhari and Turkestan Islamic Party, who fight in Idlib. In ideological terms, he does not represent a big threat to Central Asia’s countries, because he is not able to conduct propaganda and recruiting campaigns. But he can be described as a jihadist who has close views with al Qaeda and performs his tactical tasks on technical training for jihadists.

Thus, MT was a new phenomenon in the Islamic world which has laid the foundation for the professionalization of Jihad. But without ideological doctrine, it is difficult to predict the continued “successful functioning” of the world’s first jihadi contractor. Therefore, it can be expected that the turbulent development of Jihadism and the fierce competition of terrorist groups will force MT to adopt the radical Salafi ideology and join a certain terrorist group. The history of radical Islamism has shown that the Wahhabi world will not accept those who do not have a deep ideological doctrine of Jihad.In the future, we can expect that the radical principles of Jihadism will force MT to go beyond earning money. MT is already gradually abandoning the concept of money…

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Hacking of the Newswires connected with Trading: A refresher for the business community

Bob Budahl

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This case I am touching on is regarding Leonid Momotok in which he and other traders used insider trading information from not yet released press releases to amass windfalls in illegal trading. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in his role to hack into three business newswires and obtain through theft the information related to finance that enabled illegal trading advantages. Their trades resulted in at least $30million in illegal profits. He pleaded guilty and faced up to 20 years in prison, restitution, a fine and criminal forfeiture.

The crux of the enabling operation to obtain an illegal advantage was gained through computer hackers in Ukraine who gained intrusion into Marketwired L.P, PR Newswire Association LLC (PRN) and Business Wire (Newswire Companies).Marketwired is owned by NASDAQ Inc., Business Wire is part of the billionaire Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway and PR Newswire is a Cision unit. The hackers used cyber-attack methods to obtain entry into the Newswire Companies’ networks. Once in, they stole upcoming press announcements about earnings, gross margins, confidential and material financial information and revenue information. They even sent messages regarding their activities. They went on to state they had gained access to the log-on to 15 wire business employees. While the traders made lists of what information they wanted, the hackers provided instructions on how to access and use the overseas server networks. And by having insider information before the public release the traders capitalized by placing trades prior to release date of the press releases. Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, Panera Bread, Home Depot and others were some of those affected regarding nonpublic information. The hackers received a percentage of the profits and received it through shell corporations.       

The Dubovoy Group defendants tried to avoid detection by spreading their trading to more than 10 brokers firms in various names, etc. They helped each other with the activities as much as able. They stole over 100,000 unpublished press releases. Leonid Momotok owned 1% interest in two of Arkadiy Dubovoy’s companies.“He advised Arkadiy Dubovoy how to trade using the stolen information, and he had formal trading authority for brokerage accounts used in the scheme but held in the name of other members of the Dubovoy Group, …p 12.’

Involvement in the apprehension and prosecution of the perpetrators included many government agencies. The President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force had a leading hand in the pursuit and prosecution.

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9-11 Terrorist Attack: Defensive countermeasures of deter and detect

Bob Budahl

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On September 11, 2001 at 8:46 a.m. an airliner slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. At 9:03 a.m. a 2nd airliner slammed into the South Tower. The planes carried thousands of gallons of jet-fuel aboard in effect making them lethal weapons. Tens of thousands of people worked in these buildings daily and both buildings fell to the ground within 90 minutes. More than 2,600 people died in the World Trade Center tower attacks. Then at 9:37 a.m. a 3rd airliner rammed into the western side of the Pentagon. 125 people died in the Pentagon attack. And a 4thairliner was intended for attack in either the U.S. Capitol or White House but the heroics of passengers crashed the plane, hence thwarting the attack. A total of 256 people died in the four planes. The death toll even surpassed the Pearl Harbor attacks of 1941.

Those responsible for the horrific attack were 19 Arabs carrying out Islamist extremists plans. Their headquarters were located in Afghanistan. They were resourceful and some had lived in the United States for some time and four of them had trained to be pilots. They were not well educated. They carried out the terrible attacks with knives, cutters, mace, etc. And they had tried to bring down the World Trade Center in 1993 but failed however in the result killed six people and wounded a thousand. It was an effort led by Ramzi Yousef. Others including Omar Abdel Rahman who had plans to blow up the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and other New York City landmarks, but they were arrested. Ramzi Yousef and others had various other terror plans of which some succeeded and some fortunately did not.

Bin Ladin was known and thought to be a financier but not thought of as a terrorist leader until later. In 1998 Bin Ladin and four others issued a fatwa in which it was publicly declaring it was God’s order that Muslims should try to kill any American they could. Bin Ladin was a wealthy Saudi and had conducted jihadist activities against the Soviet Union. But he also held grievances against the United States such as a U.S. troop presence in Saudi Arabia. He recruited and trained followers in Afghanistan and continued carrying out acts of terror, including on the United States. His people attacked embassies, hotels, and even attempted to sink the USS Cole Navy Ship by a terrorist attack. His rhetoric is derived from Islam, history and the economic and political disorder in the area. He formed an alliance between the al Qaeda group he led and the Taliban. The Clinton administration had tried cruise missile strikes against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and tried to get the Taliban to force Bin Ladin to leave Afghanistan. The U.S. unsuccessfully utilized CIA paid foreign agents to try to capture or kill Bin Ladin and his group.

As early as 1998 or 1999 Bin Ladin had been contacted by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with an idea of using the planes as a method of attacking the World Trade Center and other targets. The original plans were for 10 planes to target both east and west coasts of the United States. The CIA did uncover some reports of Bin Ladin’s intent on attacks. The U.S. continued its disruption attempts globally and also utilized diplomacy with countries. The “predator drone” was eventually fitted with a missile should an attack on Bin Ladin provide an opportunity. Some of the reasons and connections to the actions of the perpetrators of the planned 9-11 terrorist attack became apparent after the attack. Unrest had come to the surface in the time before the attack as the Taliban leader opposed attacking the United States, in contrast to Bin Ladin’s wishes.

On 9/11 the terrorists were successful in hijacking the four planes. The planes were being used as terrorist weapons and confusion was present with air control. But eventually the FAA and NORAD who controlled airspace did receive a “shoot down order” but it was after the plane in Pennsylvania had been forced down by passengers in the only way to stop the plane from being used as a weapon.      

The enactment of the United States “Patriot Act” removed barriers that had impeded terrorism investigations in their outlay, scope and means. And in effect sped up the investigation and prosecution of the defendants. The FBI was point on the investigation that followed the attack and the operation was named Operation PENTTBOM. At one time more than half of the FBI’s personnel worked on the case. They followed through on more than one-half million leads. It was the largest crime scene in the FBI’s history.  Also in the time period following the 9/11 attack the Department of Homeland Security was created in March 2003, which brought together 22 separate agencies and offices into a Cabinet level department. The 9/11 Commission had made several recommendations and in this report some details are brought forward. These would be included under the defensive counterintelligence support mode of operation and include the principles of deter and detect within the countermeasures. It included recognizing 72 fusion centers throughout the country which acts as a focal point for receipt, analysis and sharing of threat related information. Also establishing related training and informational programs to deal with threats. One such example is the National Terrorism Advisory System. And the DHS developed and implemented a risk-based transportation security strategy. An action taken such as strengthening airline passenger’s pre-screening and targeting terrorist travel will deter terrorists as they become aware of increased security measures and thwart terrorists from attempting to board airlines for terrorist activities. The airliner’s cabin cockpit doors have been hardened post-911 and Air Marshalls are used appropriately as well as some flight crew being eligible to carry firearms. The TSA behavior detection officers use non-intrusive behavior observation to identify people who may be high risk. The TSA also utilizes detection methods such as canine teams to sniff for explosives on passengers and in luggage. Post 9/11 all cargo on U.S. planes is screened commensurate with their checked luggage. The flights coming into the U.S. from foreign countries are required to provide information prior to departure and checks all passengers against watch lists the government utilizes such as the Secure Flight Program. It also increases efficiency by allowing those cross-checked with biometrics to have expedited travel.

Today a significant defensive countermeasure post-911 is that airlines now screen all checked and carry-on baggage for explosives. The U.S. has increased security of U.S. borders and identification documents. Certain areas are closely watched and critical security improvements along the Northern and maritime are emplaced. The Dept. Of Homeland Security has taken aggressive action to enhance the security of the nation’s infrastructure and also cyber infrastructure and networks. There in a federal government system cyber intrusion detection system which includes EINSTEIN and the National Cybersecurity and communications integration center is the nation’s hub for organizing cyber response efforts. DHS and DOD are working together to protect against threats to military and civilian computer systems and networks. This is another example of defensive countermeasures. DNDO is affiliated with nuclear detection and back in 2003 only 68% of arriving trucks and passenger vehicles were scanned along the northern border with no system on the southwest border. But today the systems scan 100% of all containerized cargo and personal vehicles arriving in the U.S. through land port of entries and up to 99% of sea containers. Counter-proliferation of nuclear and biological threats is a high priority of the DHS. The tragic occurrence of 9-11 has brought about real focus on the danger of leaving vulnerabilities open to exploitation. The DHS also has importantly increased efforts to track and disrupt terrorist financing through programs such as ECTF or Electronic Crimes Task Force.

Another action taken post-9/11 was the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center or NCTC which was to serve 5 functions which were; Threat Analysis, Identity Management, Information sharing, Strategic Operational Planning and National Intelligence Management.

The U.S. Department of Justice charged ZACARIAS MOUSSAOUI with numerous terrorism charges and indicates others involved in the terrorist acts. The United States Department of Defense obtained a video tape of Bin Ladin basically accepting responsibility of the 9-11 attacks and the DOD has a transcript of the video and a portion I will quote is as follows. UBL refers to Osama Bin Ladin: “UBL: The brothers, who conducted the operation, all they knew was that they have a martyrdom operation and we asked each of them to go to America but they didn’t know anything about the operation, not even one letter.  But they were trained and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before they boarded the planes.UBL: (…inaudible…) then he said: Those who were trained to fly didn’t know the others.”

Bin Ladin, America’s most wanted terrorist was killed by United States Special Forces in a compound in Pakistan on May 2, 2011. The CIA had been involved in investigating Bin Ladin for years.      

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Counterintelligence Threat Brief for Turkey

Bob Budahl

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I will provide a Counterintelligence threat brief on traditional and non-traditional Counterintelligence threats to non-security cleared individuals who are traveling to Turkey as business travelers or for personal reasons. MIT, the official Turkey intelligence agency is active. And non-traditional threats also exist as Turkey includes diverse elements of persons from different Muslim nations. Some of which include terrorist groups with their main base of operation located in a different country but also operating within Turkey. As seen in EurAsia Review, conflicts that were usually based on national interests today are based typically on non-national interests such as ethnicity, religion and culture. Asymmetric warfare rather than having a clear issue now has several. And a weaker enemy will use it strengths against a superior adversaries weaknesses.

Using OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) to conduct my research I uncovered motive for Turkey seeking intelligence from the United States. Turkey is a NATO ally and an American ally. However, that is the crux of their relationship. It has never encompassed social and economic theology. They are predominately a Muslim country and have disagreements about many aspects of wars and conflicts that the US had interests in such as Iraq and Syria. Turkey targets Kurd fighters in Syria while we support them. And they opposed the action President Trump put in place of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capitol. There is a great amount of suspicion and mistrust regarding the failed coup of President Erdoğan. And Fethullah Gülen, the suspected leader of the attempted coup resides in the United States and refuses to extradite him. They believe Gulen is responsible for the assassination of Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov. They have typically bought US military products and technology but have made a deal with Russia to purchase an advanced missile defense system. Andrew Brunson who is an American Pastor is being held and faces spying charges and thus far efforts to release him are unsuccessful. They are suspicious of everyone. They will not hesitate to leverage information acquired through their intelligence services from the United States or any source. Turkey has long been thought of as torn between the East and West. In Turkey if you access the internet via a local ISP they can install spyware on your computer that can control it. Charter Schools are being targeted by Turkey since Gulen was instrumental in them and that tie is enough for Erdogan to lash out. MIT-Turkey’s intelligence agency places agents in journalist positions as cover which often leads to someone divulging information that is considered private.

If Turkey has decided to spy on you it probably originates from passport screening. Some things that a US visitor should be aware of are to self-assess if you could be thought of as a terrorist, narcotics trafficker or criminal. Black market activity. Do not be caught with suspicious or incriminating luggage. Do not identify known associations that Turkey may find incriminating. They may utilize any of these ways to recruit you as an asset of theirs. Usually direct and indirect activities used in conducting their intelligence operations are non-threatening and unobtrusive. Beware of local laws and customs as one example is in Turkey derogatory comments regarding government and its leaders are prohibited. It may be illegal to use insulting language.

Information Turkey may covet and target from a target such as a defense contractor non-intelligence employee may include customer data, employee data, vendor information, pricing strategies, propriety information, technical plans, corporate strategies, financials, computer access protocols, acquisition strategies, investment date, business directories of phone and emails. They may be subtle and use elicitation to gain information slowly and by gaining your trust. Be alert for tips. Throw them off their own game by asking why they ask. Refer them to public sources if specifically targeted questions are posed. Or say you cannot discuss it or just do not know. Examples of things I would consider for combating their intelligence collection efforts are to use rental electronic devices. Disable the Wi-Fi. And on the flight travel with the device as carry-on luggage. Do not use foreign storage devices in your devices. Do not leave documents and information in your hotel room. Do not use the hotel safe. Select your own cab.

But sometimes harassment incidents are utilized and obviously are meant to intimidate or test a US citizen’s reactions. If harassment is selected to be used on a prospective recruit it can be used in a variety of means.

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