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Why does al Qaeda oppose the repatriation of ISIS prisoners to Central Asia?

Uran Botobekov

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Abdul Aziz, new amir of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad

Al Qaeda’s subsidiary from Central Asia, Uzbek Salafi-Jihadi group Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), accused the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and American troops in Syria of violently repatriating ISIS prisoners against their will to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The former amir of KTJ, one of the well-known propagators of al Qaeda’s ideology in the Fergana Valley, Abu Salah Uzbeki, has issued audio and text statements on the KTJ website on the Telegram channel, where he elaborated on the problem of repatriating Islamic State’s jihadists to Central Asia. He accused SDF’s Kurdish militants of executing the order of their American “owners” and forcibly repatriating the 156 captured Uzbek women and children of ISIS jihadists to the non-believer “Satan” regime of Uzbekistan.

According to him, “some Uzbek prisoners wanted to continue to remain on the ground of Blessed Sham, to move to Idlib and join us, Uzbek and Uyghur Mujahideen.”By “the Uzbek and Uyghur Mujahideen” he means Salafi-Jihadi groups from Central Asia, such as KTJ, Katibat Imam al Bukhari (KIB) and the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), which are closely related to al Qaeda. Uzbek and Uyghur Salafists are leading a jihad against the Bashar al-Assad regime alongside the most powerful radical militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in northeastern Syria. These territories, now primarily controlled by HTS, often referred to as Greater Idlib, also encompass parts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia provinces. As Michael Mulroy, deputy assistant US Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, said, “Idlib is essentially the largest collection of al-Qaeda affiliates in the world.”

It should be noted that after the fall of the last stronghold of ISIS in Baghouz in March 2019, several hundred foreign fighters of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and their family members from Central Asia have been detained by the SDF. Many Central Asian militants were placed in the al-Hol displacement camp in north-eastern Syria, where at least 13,000 foreign ISIS followers were being held, including 12,000 women and children.SDF Kurdish leaders have sounded the alarm that they do not have the capacity to detain so many people and appealed to foreign governments to take back its citizens. However, the ice was broken in February 2019 when President Trump urged the EU and other countries to repatriate and put on trial hundreds of their former ISIS jihadists captured by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.

Abu Salah Uzbeki, a fiery ideologue of al Qaeda in Central Asia

It may be recalled that more than 7,000 Salafi-Jihadist fighters from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and Russia have traveled to Syria and Iraq in the last six years to join ISIS. Since the beginning of this year, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia have begun to retrieve their citizens, mostly children and women from the Middle East on a large scale. In particular, in April 2019, Tajikistan’s authorities have repatriated 84 minors from Iraq, where their parents joined the Islamic State. Uzbekistan during the special operation “Goodness” repatriated 156 of its citizens from Syria and Iraq on May 30, 2019. Also, within the framework of the humanitarian operation “Jusan” (Wormwood), Kazakhstan has repatriated 231 of its citizens from Syria in May 2019. In January 2019, the Kurdish-led SDF has handed over to authorities of Kazakhstan five fighters, 11 women and 30 children. In total, Kazakhstan repatriated more than 500 of its citizens from Iraq and Syria in three stages. Astana’s success was commended by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who “praised Kazakhstan’s global leadership in the repatriation and reintegration of its citizens from Syria, and encouraged Kazakhstan to share its experience with other nations.”So far, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan have not been able to repatriate its jihadists, many of whom are detained in prison camps controlled by the Kurdish SDF and Iraqi armed forces.

In response to the repatriation of ISIS militants to Central Asia, Abu Salah Uzbeki, a former amir of the al Qaeda-backed KTJ and a fiery ideologue of the Sunni Militant Jihadism, has sharply criticized U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters for forcibly repatriating of wives and children of ISIS militants to their homeland. He claims that returnees will face prosecution, torture in prisons and inevitable death in Central Asia. He viciously calls Kurdish troops a “puppet” of Americans, performing their will.

Further, Abu Salah Uzbeki explained that, despite the fact that ISIS was and remains an enemy for al Qaeda and Al Nusra, they consider Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s subordinates and their families to be Muslims.“We should not rejoice when the Western Kafirs (infidels) bomb and destroying Islamic State’s jihadists, on the contrary, we must help them return to the true path of Allah,” he said in his audio statement. He emphasized that the leaders of the Central Asian and Caucasian Islamic Jamaats (groups) in Great Idlib took active steps to free the wives and children of ISIS militants from captivity held by Kurdish troops.

He said HTS leader Abu Muhammad al-Julani contacted the leaders of the Kurdish-led SDF offered them money and tried to make a deal with them to transfer the captive foreign and Syrian wives and children of ISIS militants to Idlib. However, the Kurds rejected the proposal al-Julani, said Abu Salah. At the same time, he mentioned that in 2017, when ISIS jihadists were surrounded by the Syrian government forces in the town of Ukayribatwilayah (province) Hama, al-Julani made a $ 100,000 deal with the Bashar Assad regime and freed more than 700 wives and children of ISIS militants. Among them were about 100 Uzbek women and children who were handed over to KTJ, Abu Salah said.

As is known, the ideological confrontation between al Qaeda and ISIS, which grew into an armed conflict, had a profound impact on the Central Asian militants. The struggle for leadership between the two main Sunni terrorist organizations has divided the Islamists of the post-Soviet countries, who made Hijrah (the migration of Muslims for Jihad) to Iraq and Syria, into two camps.

Often armed clashes took place between the Central Asian supporters of ISIS and al Qaeda’s Uzbek Muhajirs in Syria. Taliban-backed and al Qaeda-affiliated KIB leader Sheikh Salahuddin was killed in an Uzbek ISIS militant hit in April 2017, during the evening prayer in the mosque of a Syrian city of Idlib. The wife and four-year-old son of Abu Salah Uzbeki were killed by a member of the Islamic State in July 2018, also in Idlib; he himself escaped an ISIS attempt on his life. The so-called Caliphate’s Central Asian fighters constantly attacked their Uzbek compatriots of al Qaeda in accordance with the Takfir of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.It is known that the Islamic State has accused al Qaeda of twisting the nature of Jihad and according to its interpretations of Islam’s Takfir doctrine, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared entire sects, including al Qaeda, as apostates.

Uzbek supporters of Ayman al-Zawahiri have referred to Islamic State fighters as liars and Kharijites (the early Islamic sect that was involved in the disruption of the unity of the Muslims and rebelled against the Khalifah) who have mischaracterized al Qaeda’s guiding doctrine.KIB, KTJ and TIP refuted al-Baghdadi’s assumed title of caliph, the leader of all Muslims, and jointly HTS often performed operations against ISIS enemy elements in Idlib, and carried out public executions of captured Kharijites.

And now, when the Caliphate was defeated and its many jihadists, who survived the bombings of the Western coalitions, were captured by the Kurds, Abu Salah Uzbeki opposed the deportation of the wives and children of ISIS jihadists to their homeland in Central Asia.He openly stated that HTS and KTJ were trying to bargain with the Kurds so that they would “liberate” the captured jihadists of the Islamic State, including their wives and children, for money.

It is doubtful that such a defiant “concern” of the al Qaeda’s Uzbek stump orator about the captive Caliphate fighters, the main rivals in the Salafi-Jihadi world, was sincere. Abu Salah Uzbeki’s audio and text statements on Telegram show that the ideological battle between the two main Sunni Takfiri terrorist organizations continues. Today, ISIS and al Qaeda are continuing the virtual struggle for the hearts and minds of Central Asian radical Islamists, who are potentially ready to join its ranks and expand its social base.

Despite the loss of territory, the Islamic State has demonstrated its ideological vitality in the post-Soviet space. Recently, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s enterprise has claimed responsibility for three terrorist attacks in Tajikistan. According to the militant group’s online Al-Nabaa, “caliphate soldiers” killed 32 people in Vakhdat Prison in May 2019. Tajik authorities accused ISIS of another prison riot in Khujand in November 2018, when 25 inmates and two security officers were killed. The Caliphate’s Amaq News Agency has claimed responsibility for the killing of four foreign cyclists in Danghara district in July 2018.Over the past year, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for more than ten terrorist attacks in various regions of Russia, including Chechnya and Dagestan.

After the fall of the ISIS’ last stronghold in Syria’s Baghouz, al Qaeda, al-Baghdadi’s main rival in the world of jihadism, increased its propaganda via the Internet in the Muslim regions of Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.In this process, the key role is played by Abu Salah Uzbeki who has become an influential al Qaeda’s ideologue in the Fergana Valley. His latest statement fits into the al Qaeda’s ideological struggle for the soul of ISIS prisoners, betrayed by their Caliph and languishing in the hot sunny al-Hol camp in the desert of northeast Syria.

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Where does allegiance lie?

Bob Budahl

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Dongfan “Greg” Chung who is a native of China and a naturalized U.S. Citizen had “secret” security clearance while working with Rockwell and Boeing Corporations on the Space Shuttle project. He had retired in 2002 but returned a year later as a contractor until fall 2006. The government proved Chung committed espionage by taking and concealing Boeing secrets regarding the Delta IV rocket and also the Space Shuttle. He did this for the People’s Republic of China. He was convicted on charges of acting as an agent of the PRC as well as economic espionage.

The investigation of a different engineer working within the U.S is what led to Chung’s investigation and resulting conviction. He was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison.

The Chinese had sent letters requesting information as far back as 1979. In correspondence with the PRC Chung expressed his wishes to help the PRC modernize. He also sent 24 manuals related to the important B-1 Bomberfrom Rockwell Corporation which was very damaging.

Travel trips to the People’s Republic of China occurred on multiple occasions to lecture but he also met with government officials. In letters from his handlers they use his wife Rebecca and Chi Mak to transmit information. In the fall of 2006 FBI and NASA agents searched his home and discovered more than 250,000 documents from Boeing, Rockwell and others which were secret.

The Shuttle Drawing System or “SDS” that Rockwell and Boeing engineers created held information regarding performing processes regarding the Space Shuttle. The engineers need a password and authorization to be able to access this system and files. This is a clear case that defensive counterintelligence measures could have prevented printing, concealment and removal of documents from the workplace. One great example of offensive counterespionage was the search of Chung’s trash which led to much revealing evidence.Also his extensive travel to the PRC was an indicator that his scope of activities while in the PRC were above speaking engagements, seminars, teaching, personal. The authorities did conduct offensive counterintelligence to the best of their abilities once it learned via the other agent implicated in similar dealings with the PRC.

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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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