Terrorism

I’ve been working on a blog on Hezbollah.   It’s a very hot button issue.  Israel  consider Hezbollah as one of the worst terrorist groups.  The US also condemns Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.  Other countries do not and in particular Lebanon has been trying to co-exist with the presence of Hezbollah.   The US accuses Iran of supporting Hezbollah.  Hezbollah militia fought against ISIS in Syria in the destruction of Raqqa.   But,  I’m really jumping ahead in this blog.

It is tempting to lump all groups with an extensive cache of arms as terrorist organizations.  I would more likely term such organizations as collectives of angry people who are contemplating acts of violence.   Even in the US, there are organizations which purchase and store arms as they believe they are part of a larger resistance movement their rights as citizens.  It is in fact, their constitutional right to store arms in defense of their home.

On the Wikipedia site,  it is stated no single accepted definition of terrorism.  I’ve provided two links on this subject.  However, Wikipedia provides one “broad” definition as follows:

Terrorism is, in the broadest sense, the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror, or fear, to achieve a political, religious or ideological aim.  It is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence against peacetime targets or in war against non-combatants.  The terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” originated during the French Revolution of the late 18th century but gained mainstream popularity during the U.S. Presidency of Ronald Reagan (1981–89) after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings and again after the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. in September 2001 and on Bali in October 2002.

The September 2001 is obviously the “9/11” attack on the US by Al-Qaeda, and it was indiscriminate as the action targeted anyone who was in the buildings at the time.  I would include in the definition that terrorist organizations plan violent acts  intended to cause large scale loss of human life.  The broad definition would include both non-state and state organized terrorists.

Further, Wikipedia states their definition is hardly rigorous or universally accepted as follows:

There is no commonly accepted definition of “terrorism”.[7][8] Being a charged term, with the connotation of something “morally wrong”, it is often used, both by governments and non-state groups, to abuse or denounce opposing groups.[9][10][4][11][8] Broad categories of political organisations have been claimed to have been involved in terrorism to further their objectives, including right-wing and left-wing political organisations, nationalist groups, religious groups, revolutionaries and ruling governments.[12] Terrorism-related legislation has been adopted in various states, regarding “terrorism” as a crime.[13][14] There is no universal agreement as to whether or not “terrorism”, in some definition, should be regarded as a war crime.[14][15]

Regardless of how one wishes to define terrorism, the horrific actions of ISIS, Boko Haram and  Al-Shabaab, clearly make them the worst terrorist groups.   All countries repudiate the actions of these organizations.   Similarly, the actions of Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups are repudiated by all countries.  For these groups, the “I know it when I see it” (Potter, 1964, US Supreme Court)  test works well for these groups, but it doesn’t help in many other cases.  This is exactly the point made in the Wikipedia’s summary.

Political groups and individuals within many Arab countries and Iran, may be extremely anti-American, but this can be simply rhetoric and  does not mean they support terrorism.  Further complications come into play when there are groups of extremist groups within a country, and governments for political reasons, are not making a priority to arrest or otherwise destroy extremist groups.  Wealthy individuals may support ISIS or al-Qaeda groups within many countries.  Should the governments be held responsible?  They may allow individuals accused of terrorist activities to live within their country.  Is that mean the country is complicit in terrorism?

Fethullah Gulen has been accused of acts of  terrorism by the Turkish government.   He lives in Pennsylvania and the Turkish government wants him deported to stand trial.  The US has demanded the evidence against Gulen before extraditing him.   He is 76 years old and in fact has denounced terrorism as a violation of his faith as follows:

Gülen has condemned terrorism.[135] He warns against the phenomenon of arbitrary violence and aggression against civilians and said that it “has no place in Islam”. He wrote a condemnation article in the Washington Post on September 12, 2001, one day after the September 11 attacks, and stated that “A Muslim can not be a terrorist, nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim.”[136][137] Gülen lamented the “hijacking of Islam” by terrorists.[78]

The extradition of Fethullah  Gulen for terrorism is weak, and the US so far has taken no action, except to request more evidence.

As I was completing this blog,  President Erdogan invoked the terrorist label, on condemning Israel, in response to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as its capital, as follows:

“Israel is a state of occupation and a terror state,” Erdoğan said in a speech in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas on Dec. 10, vowing that Turkey “will not leave Jerusalem to the consciousness of a child-killer state.”

The west bank and Gaza strip are areas that Israel took by force during the Six Day war in 1967.

During the Syrian civil war,  President Bashir Assad would claim that the US and other European countries were assisting terrorist, as we were training and providing arms to groups against the Assad regime.  However, the US was also fighting against ISIS in Syria,  with the support of Syrian government.    So what were we to Assad – enemy or friend?

When there is a rebellion within a country,  immediately the leader of the country will denounce the rebel groups as traitors, or agents of foreign governments.  This is exactly what the President Gaddafi did in 2011 during the Libyan civil war.  The US  and NATO supported the rebel group with air support.

The Yemen civil war is a clash between the Houthi rebels and the Yemen government.   By their rhetoric and slogans, the Houthi would seem just as radical as Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Written in Arabic on their flag:

“The God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam”

However, the Houthi appear to simply want to take over Yemen, not wreck havoc in the western world.    The Houthi’s gained control in 2014 to 2015, through a coup d’etat.  What sparked the uprising in 2014, was an end to government subsidies on fuel.

The Houthi have committed acts of indiscriminate violence, hence it would be easy to call them terrorists by the broad definition.  Yet the coalition of countries fighting against the Houthi, with air strikes conducted by Saudi Arabia, has acted equally brutal bombing a Doctors without Frontiers hospital (October 13, 2016) and other civilian targets.

Since the Saudi-led coalition began military operations against Ansar Allah on 26 March 2015, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes unlawfully struck hospitals and other facilities run by aid organizations, according to Human Rights Watch.[352] Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical facilities in Yemen were attacked four times in three months.[353] On 26 October 2015, HRW documented six Saudi-led airstrikes which bombed a MSF hospital in Haydan district (Sa’dah Governorate), wounding two patients.[352][353][354] An Saudi-led coalition airstrike then hit a MSF mobile clinic on 2 December 2015, in Al Houban district (Taizz). Eight people were wounded, including two MSF staff members, and one other civilian nearby was killed. On 10 January 2016, six people were killed and seven wounded when a hospital in Sa’ada was hit by a projectile.[352][353] MSF said it could not confirm whether the hospital was hit in an air strike by warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition, or by a rocket fired from the ground, and at least one other landed nearby.[352][355] On 21 January 2016, an MSF ambulance was hit by an airstrike. Seven people were killed and dozens were wounded.[352][353]
MSF’s director of operations Raquel Ayora said: “The way war is being waged in Yemen is causing enormous suffering and shows that the warring parties do not recognise or respect the protected status of hospitals and medical facilities. We witness the devastating consequences of this on people trapped in conflict zones on a daily basis. Nothing has been spared – not even hospitals, even though medical facilities are explicitly protected by international humanitarian law.”[353]

Iran is accused of supporting the Houthi,  which  Iran denies.   Iran was instrumental in the formation of Hezbollah, which they consider is a group defending the borders of Lebanon and Syria from Israeli aggression.   Yet Iran joined with others in the  war against ISIS.    Both Hezbollah and the Houthi’s are Shi’a organization, so they would never align themselves with ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

Just yesterday,  UN Ambassador Nikki Haley stood in front of parts of a recovered missile from Yemen,  claiming this was hard evidence that Iran had supported Houthi rebels in direct violation of an UN resolutions.  While it was great for the media,  the problem was that it could have been supplied to the Houthi’s before the UN Resolution.   Further, it was apparent to experts, that the missile could not carry a nuclear warhead (a violation of another UN resolution).   There are various links on the internet, and I just posted the one from the NYT.

You see how complicated the label “terrorist organization” has become when it is extended beyond ISIS and Al-Qaeda.   I will explore more the Hezbollah group in a future blog.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links

Terrorism

Definition of Terrorism

NYT: U.S. Accuses Iran of U.N. Violation, but Evidence Falls Short

Six Day War

Hezbollah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trial of Ahmed Khattala

The trial of Ahmed Abu Khattala is proceeding in Washington, DC.  He is accused of being the mastermind of the attack in Benghazi in September 2012.    Why did it take so long to arrest Khattala and bring him to stand trial in the US?  It is because the FBI  and the Department of Justice wanted to build a  rock solid case against  Khattala and any of his associates involved in the attack on the US diplomatic mission and CIA compound in Benghazi.   They are going after the top dog who planned the attack, and not the many followers.   Excellent!

It really looks like the time was well spent.  The New York Times  reports the prosecution is presenting a strong case against Khattala in federal court.  They must show that Khattala was more than just a leader of a group who hated Americans and Western influence in the country.   They have to show he was part of the attack.

The case relies on the testimony of two  Libyan who provided damaging details about Mr. Khattala before and after the attack.  The really critical details comes from a third Libyan, who befriended Khatttala in 2012, with the objective of collecting damning evidence to be used against Khattala.   It was a very slow process to gain Khattala’s trust.  Any slip up by this informant would have meant certain death for him and likely his family.  He testified on Tuesday, November 7 under the pseudonym of Ali Majrisi.

Khattala slowly opened up to Majrisi on the attack.   Khattala revealed one critical element – he had planned to attack and  kill the American rescue team.  His words, recalled by Majrisi  were, “I intended then to kill everyone there – even those who were at the airport.”    There was no saving the two Americans who died at the diplomatic mission; they died of smoke inhalation approximately 15 minutes after the attack.   The rescue mission would have been directed at saving lives at the CIA mission, in which two Americans died.  The Republicans have been making a case that not enough was done to save lives at Benghazi.  The reality is that the delay at the Benghazi airport was likely a fortuitous event, as many more would have been in harm’s way had a rescue attempt been made.

Majrisi was able to provide the vital evidence to link Khattala to the attack, and also a second leader, Mustafa al-Iman.   Iman appeared on surveillance videotape on the night of the attack.  The attack was well planned.  It was not a spontaneous angry  reaction to a video about the Prophet Mohammed, as originally speculated by National Security Adviser Susan Rice.   The Obama administration quickly backed off from this assertion, but it was later reported that the leaders were able to recruit others for the attack, because of the anger generated by the release of the video.   Hopefully the trial may clarify this issue.

Over the years,  Majrisi was well paid for his services, up to 7 million dollars.   This fact is being used now to discredit Majrisi’s testimony as being financially motivated.  In my opinion, it was  money well worth it, as nothing could be worse than being unable to make a case against Khattala for lack of evidence.  Hopefully both Khattala and Iman will be convicted.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations deserve credit for what appears to be a highly successful investigation.   It is extremely difficult for the FBI or the CIA to conduct an investigation without total cooperation of the Libyan government, or at least the part of the government now controlling Benghazi.  The credit goes to the Department of Justice and the FBI.  During most of this investigation,  Director James Comey was in charge of the FBI, and there was never a single leak to the media.  It would have been devastating to the investigation if Khattala knew he was being spied on.

The Libya witnesses who came forward, provided the real hard evidence and are my heroes.    I am hoping for life sentences for Khattal and Iman.   Up until President Trump took office, the people of Benghazi were extremely grateful for the support of the US, as we helped them in 2011, when Qaddafi was certainly going to bomb their city.   Obama was able to push through UN Resolution 1973, essentially grounding Qaddafi’s air force.  Now,  I think this support is being lost as Trump includes Libya as one of the countries in his travel ban.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Link:

New York Times story

I really hate this headline, as the print version has the headline “Libyan Informant Describes His Role in the Benghazi Suspect’s Capture.”   I believe the trials of Khattala and Iman will provide new details on what was transpiring outside the compounds, for a long time prior to the attacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Awful Libyan Mess – Part 1

  • East and west government centers (Tobruk and Tripoli)

In preparation for the posting on the isolation of  Qatar,  I found one news item particularly bizarre- the “eastern government”  of Libya  based in Tobruk,  had gone along with Saudi Arabia, and cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar.    There is no eastern Libya, but the eastern part of Libya is being administered by a government in Tobruk.   Normally, there is  only one internationally recognized head of state and legislative body.    Why would a small break away capital, like Tobruk even want to get involved in the isolation of Qatar led by the Saudis?   I think I have the answer.

 

A general view of the Dar al Salam, a five-star hotel being used by members of the House of Representatives, in Tobruk September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Nothing is normal in Libya.  At least, in the last 3 years, what happens doesn’t seem normal or  logical to outsiders.  The civil war was fought, presumably, to allow for the Libyans to form a democratically elected government.     Since June 2014, two Libyan capitals exist – the east side  (Tobruk)  and west side (Tripoli) governments.  Many consider there are now three governmental authorities, two in Tripoli, (GNC and GNA) and one in Tobruk.   This is not counting many militant groups, including ISIS which control parts of Libya.

The UN through its special envoy to unite the country.  Some countries recognize Tobruk as the legitimate government of Libya, while others recognize Tripoli.  A link is provided below from Wikipedia providing a very good summary of the breakup of Libya and the recognition of various countries.    There has been no formal division of the country.  As one can see from the map below, Tobruk borders Egypt.  On the  western side, Tunisia is on the border, with Algeria further to the south.

 

 

  • Unrest and infighting leading to civil war (Nov/2011 to 2014)

There was a tremendous celebration of the new freedoms which came at the end of the Libyan Civil War.  The first Civil War lasted 9 months, and ended in October 2011 with the death of Gaddafi.  However, it was far easier to make war against the Gaddafi regime, than to create a new government among the various rivals.   This is a period of failed opportunity to create a unified government, and a return to open civil war in Libya.  It is a pattern often seen when an all controlling tyrannical regime is forced out of office.

Pro-Gaddafi support contributed to the unrest in parts of Libya.  In reaction, Libya government enacted harsh measures against pro-Gaddafi loyalists.  Per Wikipedia:

Gaddafi loyalism after the Libyan Civil War refers to sympathetic sentiment towards the overthrown government of Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed in October 2011. It has been responsible for some of the ongoing postwar violence in Libya, though the degree of its involvement has been disputed in a number of instances. Sympathy for Gaddafi and his fallen government is viewed highly negatively by current Libyan authorities—both the legal government and extralegal militias—and parts of general society in postwar Libya, and even accusations of it can provoke harsh responses. In May 2012, the democratically elected postwar government passed legislation imposing severe penalties for anyone giving favourable publicity to Gaddafi, his family, their regime or ideas, as well as anything denigrating the new government and its institutions or otherwise judged to be damaging to public morale. Derisively called tahloob (“algae”) by anti-Gaddafi Libyans,  suspected loyalists have faced strong persecution following the war. Perhaps 7,000 loyalist soldiers, as well as civilians accused of support for Gaddafi are being held in government prisons. Amnesty International has reported large scale torture and other mistreatment and executions, of those perceived as enemies of the new government.

Reports and rumours of organised pro-Gaddafi activity have persisted since the war’s end. The Libyan Popular National Movement was organised in exile on 15 February 2012 (the first anniversary of the protests that led to the civil war) by former officials in the Gaddafi government. The party, banned from participating in Libyan elections, may have also cultivated links with armed pro-Gaddafi groups in Libya. Statements from the party sometimes appear on websites affiliated with the so-called “Green Resistance” (after the sole colour of Gaddafi’s flag), a term sometimes used by sympathisers to refer to supposed pro-Gaddafi militant groups.

The anticipated  steps to transition to a democratic government are discussed in Wikipedia:

  On July 7, 2012, the National Transitional Council, in power since the Libyan Civil War, supervised democratic elections for a 200-member General National Congress to replace the Council.[1] The assembly was to choose a prime minister and organize parliamentary elections in 2013.  A process to write a constitution was also to be determined. Unrest driven by armed militias, ethnic minority and radical groups undermined the process and the government for the years following the overthrowing of Muammar Gaddafi. While internal apathy towards democratic reforms slowed the process, external bodies such as the European Union were still pressing for the establishment of a national dialogue to build consensus for the drafting of a new constitution to take place before the end of 2014. Parliamentary elections were scheduled to be held on June 25, 2014 in a move aimed at stabilizing the country and quelling the unrest.

The transition to a unified government based in Tripoli, certainly looked like it was succeeding in 2012-2013.   However,  outside players were quickly gaining a foothold in the new Tripoli government:

The current crisis [as of Oct 2014] was triggered when Islamists lost the elections in June, and militias from Misrata and other towns moved in to besiege the capital. The old parliament says it refuses to recognise the new one because there’s been no formal hand-over ceremony. But with Tripoli and Benghazi controlled by the militias, a hand-over’s hardly possible.Some militias fight largely for the interests of their own town or region. But some are allied to Islamist political groups including the Muslim Brotherhood. “Everybody sang the values of the revolution, but no-one ever sat down and discussed what these values were, and I think this is where we lost a trick,” the new MP Salah Sohbi says. “Some countries backed the Muslim Brotherhood because they thought these guys are OK, they’re Islamists but they are moderate Islamists who have shown a clear distance from the Jihadists. And that is where the mistake happened.”

Per Wikipedia:

The second Libyan Civil War is an ongoing conflict among rival groups seeking control of the territory of Libya. The conflict has been mostly between the government of the House of Representatives (HoR) that was elected democratically in 2014, also known as the “Tobruk government” and internationally recognized as the “Libyan government”; and the rival General National Congress (GNC) endorsed government, also called the “National Salvation Government”, based in the capital Tripoli established after Operation Libya Dawn.

This short blog will not attempt to identify all the rival groups  seeking to control Libya.   It is a case of every group financial backing, and control of the oil shipment ports.    The Petroleum Facility Guard has become a private army, according to the National Oil Company, based in Tripoli:

The PFG has become a “private army” for its head, Ibrahim Jadran, according to Mustafa Sanalla, chairman of NOC, which is based in Tripoli. “They have tried to sell oil themselves and then they failed to protect the places they were meant to,” he told The Independent. “We estimate that the activities of the PFG has adversely affected 70 per cent of oil production,” he said. “We are an autonomous body serving Libya rather than either of the governments. The PFG are also meant to be like that, but their only loyalty is to making money.”

The PFG has been blamed for the establishment of ISIL, or at least the damage done to oil storage facilities in Misrata.    Now ISIL has occupied parts of Libya, and is a threat to both Tobrok and Tripoli governments.

A listing of the various rival groups now occupying Libya is provided in the Links section below.

Links:

Wikipedia:  Libyan Civil War

Wikipedia: Libya

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

The Awful Libya Mess, Recent Events – Part 3

Control of Libya requires securing its export ports, as shown below:

 

Production prior to 2011 was 1,650,000  barrels of oil per day.   In 2016, it was 500,000 barrels per day. There is an enormous wealth created by the export of oil.     With 46 billion barrels of oil, these assets will create income for decades to come.

In late 2016, it looked like the beginnings of a re-unified Libya could become a reality, under the UN Peace Accords.  In concept the accords were to create a new government, the GNA government, based on the Tobruk and Tripoli based governments.    However, this could only become a reality if the Tobruk government,  principally Khalfa Haftar, believed he could not conquer the rest of Libya, and was content with sharing power with the GNA  government in Tripoli.   So, peace depends on Haftar diminished capacity to extend his reach to the west, making peace the best option.

Saudi Arabia swung open its doors to Donald Trump knowing exactly what would appeal to him- deals for more goods and services.  His ego and naivete were on full display, as he took credit for the blockade of Qatar as an extension of this anti-terrorist policies  in his tweets.  It is now spilling over to the Libyan conflict.  The Chairman of the Libyan National Oil Company, in an OpEd article in the New York Times, wrote:

The latest incident was triggered by the recent, sudden souring of relations between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain on the other. One of the several groups that purport to be Libya’s rightful government is using that dispute as a pretext to seize control of the country’s oil and gas exports: It has accused the National Oil Corporation, the internationally recognized body responsible for managing these resources, of working in the service of Qatar by diverting oil revenues to it via an N.O.C. customer.  I am the N.O.C.’s chairman, and these allegations are false. But they shine a bright light on Libya’s current tragedy. Since the revolution of 2011, the country’s oil and gas resources have been held hostage to both its fractious politics and power struggles in the Middle East.

It is not explicitly stated, but this is a reference to the Tobruk based government.     The Chairman goes on to suggest Libya’s National Oil Company be given more authority to protect it from being involved in the political infighting.

The Tobruk government did not have complete control of Benghazi.  The UAE, in violation of the UN Peace Accords, has supplied Haftar with military equipment to defeat Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB).   One can see why the UAE would want to shut down Al Jazeera, as they seem to be the only ones with correspondents on the ground to observe the fighting in Benghazi.  According to the article (see links below):

The UN’s Libya Sanctions Committee report, released on Friday [23-Jun-17} , reveals the UAE has supplied attack helicopters and other military aircraft to Haftar’s forces. “The United Arab Emirates have been providing both material support and direct support to LNA, which have significantly increased the air support available to LNA,” said the report by a UN panel of experts.  The report provides rare insight into foreign funding of armed groups in Libya, which many say has exacerbated the conflict.

The US and the EU countries have pledged support to eventual re-unification through the UN efforts.  The selection of an impartial and highly experienced UN Special Envoy to Libya, is typically done through discussions among representatives of the Security Council, and then announced by the Secretary General, after everyone is in agreement.   Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, rejected the selection of special envoy based on nationality, as she stated on February 11, 2017:

“For too long the U.N. has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” Haley said.

It was a very strange and antagonistic statement.   But, Trump was scheduled to meet with Israel PM Netanyahu at the White House on the following day.    The Secretary-General quickly responded, stating they were interested in the best negotiator for the conflict, irrespective of their country, and neither the Israels nor the Palestinians had any participation in the talks.  Fortunately, another very qualified  special envoy has been selected.   It seemed like Washington politics had meddled in what should have been a routine appointment.  That’s just my opinion.

If the conflict in Libya is seen, not just as the Tobruk-based east government, verses GNA/GNC west side government, but as a larger conflict of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and others verses Qatar, Iran, Turkey and Russia,  where does this leave the US and our allies?

— Human Suffering

The administrative breakdown in Libya has created enormous human suffering.    During Gaddafi’s era,   immigrants received work visas as applied by their sponsors, with set wages  and approved by the government.  This system has broken down, and employers are now taking advantage of workers, charging them for expenses, equal to their wages.

Also, migrants are being lured across the Libyan sounthern boundary  with the false promise of being able to migrate to Europe, only to be sold as slaves or ransomed.   See  BBC link.

— The Path Forward

The only path forward is re-unification through UN Negotiations.   On the Tobruk side, Chief of the Army, Haftar must not be allowed to purchase arms and escalate the war.    The conflict in Libya will only become worse if the US turns a blind eye towards the arming of the Tobruk government by the Saudi supporters.  Washington and the EU need to work jointly on the  the massive refugee problem.

This is a rapidly developing story.   To follow it, it is best to do a Google search on the news.   The latest story to appear, is the release of Saif al-Islam Gadaffi and   some discussion that he could play a some leadership role.  I have very serious doubts.   The areas under control by the various rival groups seems to change regularly.  The New York Times, The Guardian and Al Jazeera seem to be the best sources of information.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

June 24, 2017: Haftar’s forces make gains in Libya’s Benghazi

New York Times: How to Save Libya From Itself? Protect Its Oil From Its Politics, Mustafa Sanalla, Chairman of the Libyan National Oil Company

BBC- I thought I was going to die

TheHill.com Nikki  Haley Rips UN for Picking a Palestinian as Envoy