U.S. intelligence community’s threat assessment

U.S. intelligence community’s threat assessment The al Qaedaterror network is weakening and the embattled Afghan government is making modest strides, but cyber security threats are on the rise and Iranian nuclear aspirations remain a major peril.

English: Osama bin Laden interviewed for Daily...
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From CNN’s Joe Sterling and Pam Benson

These are among the main themes in the annual U.S. intelligence community‘s threat assessment, a sweeping 31-page document released Tuesday that touches on a range of issues across the globe.

“The United States no longer faces – as in the Cold War – one dominant threat,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in prepared testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which will meet on Tuesday to discuss the report.

He said “counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, cyber security and counter-intelligence are at the immediate forefront of our security concerns” and that the “multiplicity and interconnectedness of potential threats – and the actors behind them … constitute our biggest challenge.”

Al Qaeda – the terror network that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001 – “will continue to be a dangerous transnational force,” but there have been strides, the report concludes.

The deaths of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and top lieutenants under its new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has made a dent in the Pakistan-based core of the group, the report said.

“These losses, combined with the long list of earlier losses since CT (counter-terror) operations intensified in 2008, lead us to assess that core al Qaeda ability to perform a variety of functions – including preserving leadership and conducting external operations – has weakened significantly,” the report said.

“We judge that al Qaeda’s losses are so substantial and its operating environment so restricted that a new group of leaders, even if they could be found, would have difficulty integrating into the organization and compensating for mounting losses.”

They expect the leadership to have “sustained degradation, diminished cohesion and decreasing influence in the coming year.” Al Qaeda will try to “execute smaller, simpler plots to demonstrate relevance.”

The death of bin Laden and other leaders has affected their influence in the Arab uprisings, the report says.

“They probably will struggle to keep pace with events,” the report said. “Rhetoric from Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s successor, has not resonated with the populations of countries experiencing protests.”

“Prolonged instability” in the Arab world could work in al Qaeda’s favor.

But, “if over the longer term, governments take real steps to address public demands for political participation and democratic institutions – and remain committed to CT (counter-terror) efforts, we judge that core al Qaeda and the global jihadist movement will experience a strategic setback,” the report said.

The report cites al Qaeda affiliates al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb in northern Africa, and Al-Shabaab in Somalia as dangers. They “will remain committed to the group’s ideology, and in terms of threats to U.S. interests will surpass the remnants of core al Qaeda in Pakistan.”

It says that despite the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, the AQAP “transnational operations chief” last year, AQAP “remains the node most likely to attempt transnational attacks.” However, the death “probably reduces” its “ability to plan attacks.”

The report also says al Qaeda’s impact on the insurgency in war-torn Afghanistan is “limited.”

“Al Qaeda is committed to the Afghan jihad, and the propaganda gains from participating in insurgent attacks outweigh their limited battlefield impact,” the document says.

As for the government, it “will continue to make incremental, fragile progress in governance, security and development.”

The Taliban-led insurgents have “lost ground in some areas,” but mainly where NATO-led “surge forces are concentrated.” Insurgents remain “resilient” and senior Taliban leaders “enjoy safe haven in Pakistan.”

There have been improvements in “extending rule of law” and most provinces have established basic governance structure.” President Hamid Karzai’s government “did achieve some successes” last year, citing security transition to Afghan leadership.

Only brief references were made to Pakistan, despite its importance in the war against terror and the deep U.S. rift with the government, accentuated after Navy Seals assassinated bin Laden in Abbottabad. It cites al Qaeda’s increasing reliance on “ideological and operational alliances with Pakistani militant facts to accomplish its goals within Pakistan and to conduct transnational attacks.” It said the country’s leaders have had “limited success against the group’s operatives.” It also said the country’s “economic recovery” is at risk for various factors.

As for Iran, the report said it will attempt to “undermine any strategic partnership between the United States and Afghanistan” and it continues to play a destabilizing role across the globe. The report cites the plot last year to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States and concern about “Iranian plotting against U.S. or allied interests.”

It isn’t known if Iran will build a nuclear weapon, but “we assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

It would most likely use missiles to deliver nuclear weapons, saying that the country has “the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East.”

“It is expanding the scale, reach, and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces, many of which are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload,” it said.

“Iran’s technical advancement, particularly in uranium enrichment, strengthens our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons, making the central issue its political will to do so. These advancements contribute to our judgment that Iran is technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon, if it so chooses.”

The report cities Iran’s economic problems and notes the international sanctions against the regime because of its nuclear aspirations.

“Despite this, Iran’s economic difficulties probably will not jeopardize the regime, absent a sudden and sustained fall in oil prices or a sudden domestic crisis that disrupts oil exports,” the report said.

Iran was cited in the report’s section about the “evolving and strategic concern” of cyber threats. The country’s increasing intelligence operations against the United States include “cyber capabilities.” It said Russia, and China, as well as Iran, will be top espionage threats in “coming years.”

Entities in China and Russia “are responsible for extensive illicit intrusions into U.S. computer networks and theft of U.S. intellectual property.”

Foreign intelligence services have launched operations targeting U.S. entities and “we assess many intrusions into U.S. networks are not being detected.” It also cites “insider threats” to classified information, saying “trusted” people are using access to computer networks for “malicious intent.”

The report says strides in information technology are “increasing exponentially” and “emerging technologies are developed and implemented faster than governments can keep pace.”

It cites the “failed efforts” to censor social media during the Arab Spring and denial of service attacks and website defacements by hackers against governments and corporations.

“The well-publicized intrusions into NASDAQ and International Monetary Fund networks underscore the vulnerability of key sectors of the U.S. and global economy,” the report says.

It says the U.S. government and the private sector must work together to counter the threat.

The report touched on other places: India, Pakistan, North Korea, China, Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, Venezuela, Central Asia, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Central Africa’s Great Lakes region, Russia, the Caucasus, the Balkans, Ukraine, Belarus, and Turkey and the Kurds.

It also dealt with the subjects of space, energy, world financial markets, water security, health threats, and mass atrocities.

Ahmadinejad lauds launch of Iran’s Spanish-language satellite TV as blow to US dominance

TEHRAN, IranIran’s president on Tuesday lauded his country’s newly launched Spanish-language satellite TV channel, saying it would deal a blow to “dominance seekers” — remarks that were an apparent jab at the U.S. and the West.

English: President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva a...

By Associated Press, Updated: Tuesday, January 31, 5:35 AM

The launch is Tehran’s latest effort to reach out to friendly governments in Latin America and follows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s four-nation tour of the region earlier in January, which included stops in Cuba and visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

It also comes as Washington and Europe have imposed tougher sanctions on Tehran over its controversial nuclear program. The EU last week imposed an oil embargo against Iran and froze the assets of its central bank. In December, the United States said it would bar financial institutions from the U.S. market if they do business with Iran’s central bank.

Iran’s broadcasting company said Hispan TV — the first Spanish-language channel airing from the Middle East — will broadcast news, documentaries, movies and Iranian films 24 hours a day.

Iran’s state TV said the channel, which had been on air on a trial basis since October with a 16-hour daily program, will target millions of Spanish-speaking people throughout the world.

“The new channel will limit the ground for supremacy of dominance seekers,” Ahmadinejad said during a Tehran ceremony marking the inauguration. “It will be a means for better ties between people and governments of Iran and Spanish-speaking nations.”

Ahmadinejad ended his speech in Spanish: “Viva la Paz! Viva el Pueblo! Viva America Latina!”

Iran broadcasts daily in five other foreign languages, including in English through state-run Press TV and in Arabic via Al-Alam TV.

The West suspects Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, a charge that Tehran denies, insisting its atomic program is only for peaceful purposes such as power generation.

Jihad: When Elections Fail

The Obama administration supports “democracy” and “self determination” in the Middle East—two euphemisms that, in the real world, refer to “mob-rule” and “Islamic radicalization,” respectively. Yet, as Jimmy Carter recently put it: “I don’t have any problem with that [an “Islamist victory” in Egypt], and the U.S. government doesn’t have any problem with that either. We want the will of the Egyptian people to be expressed.”

The "black flag of jihad" as used by...

Sounds fair enough. The problem, however, is that Muslim clerics openly and unequivocally characterize democracy and elections as tools to be discarded once they empower Sharia law. Thus Dr. Talat Zahran holds that it is “obligatory to cheat at elections—a beautiful thing”; and Sheikh Abdel Shahat insists that democracy is not merely forbidden in Islam, but kufr—a great and terrible sin—this even as he competed in Egypt’s elections.

The Obama administration can overlook such election-exploitation because the majority of Muslims are either indifferent or willing to go along with the gag—with only a minority (secularists, Copts, etc.) in Egypt actually objecting to how elections are being used to empower Sharia-enforcing Muslims.

But what if Muslims do not win elections? What if there are equal amounts of non-Muslims voting—and an “infidel” wins? What then? Then we get situations like Nigeria.

While many are aware that Boko Haram and other Islamic elements are waging jihad against the government of Nigeria, specificallytargeting Christians, often overlooked is that the jihad was provoked into full-blown activity because a Christian won fair elections (Nigeria is about evenly split between Christians and Muslims).

According to Peter Run, writing back in April 2011

The current wave of riots was triggered by the Independent National Election Commission’s (INEC) announcement on Monday [April 18, 2011] that the incumbent President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, won in the initial round of ballot counts. That there were riots in the largely Muslim inhabited northern states where the defeat of the Muslim candidate Muhammadu Buhari was intolerable, [but] was unsurprising. Northerners [Muslims] felt they were entitled to the presidency for the declared winner, President Jonathan, [who] assumed leadership after the Muslim president, Umaru Yar’Adua died in office last year and radical groups in the north [Boko Haram] had seen his ascent [Christian president] as a temporary matter to be corrected at this year’s election. Now they are angry despite experts and observers concurring that this is the fairest and most independent election in recent Nigerian history.

Note some key words: Muslims felt “entitled” to the presidency and seek to “correct” the fact that a Christian won elections—which they assumed “a temporary matter.”

Of course, had elections empowered a like-minded Muslim, the same jihadis would still be there, would still have the same savage intent for Christians and Westerners—Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden.” But there would not be a fullblown jihad, and Obama would be singing praises to Nigerian democracy and elections, and the MSM would be boasting images of Nigerians with ink-stained fingers.

Yet the same jihadi intent would be there, only dormant. Like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood—whose ultimate goal is “mastership of the world”—they would not need to expose themselves via jihad, would be biding their time and consolidating their strength.

Now, back to the Egyptian clerics, specifically Sheikh Yassir al-Burhami—yet another leader in Egypt’s Salafi movement, who teaches that Muslims must preach peace when weak but wage war when strong. Discussing the chances of a fellow Salafi, Burhami asserts:

We say—regardless of the outcome of the elections—whether he [his colleague, the aforementioned al-Shahat] wins or loses, we will not permit an infidel [kafir] to be appointed to a post where he assumes authority over Muslims. This is forbidden. Allah said: “Never will Allah grant to infidels a way [to triumph] over the believers [Koran 4:141].” We are not worried about losing elections or al-Shahat losing votes. We will not flatter or fawn to the people.

What will you and your associates do, Sheikh Burhami—wage jihad? Of course, that will not be necessary: unlike Nigeria, most of Egypt is Muslim; one way or another, “elections” will realize the Islamist agenda.

Thus, whether by word (al-Burhami) or deed (Boko Haram) those who seek to make Islam supreme prove that democracy and elections are acceptable only insofar as they enable Sharia. Conversely, if they lead to something that contradicts Sharia—for instance, by bringing a Christian infidel to power—then the perennial jihad resumes.

Posted By Raymond Ibrahim On January 31, 2012

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Article printed from FrontPage Magazine: http://frontpagemag.com

URL to article: http://frontpagemag.com/2012/01/31/jihad-when-elections-fail/

Ethiopian Christians arrested at private prayer in Saudi Arabia

Thirty five Ethiopian Christians are awaiting deportation from Saudi Arabia for “illicit mingling,” after police arrested them when they raided a private prayer gathering in Jeddah in mid-December, 2011. Of those arrested, 29 were women. They were subjected to arbitrary body cavity searches in custody, three of the Ethiopians told Human Rights Watch.h/t yalibnanProof after Iran…. NEXT!

King Abdullah ibn Abdul Aziz in 2002
Obama Bows to this one....

(Beirut) – Thirty five Ethiopian Christians are awaiting deportation from Saudi Arabia for “illicit mingling,” after police arrested them when they raided a private prayer gathering in Jeddah in mid-December, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Of those arrested, 29 were women. They were subjected to arbitrary body cavity searches in custody, three of the Ethiopians told Human Rights Watch.

The Ethiopians gathered to pray together on December 15, during the advent of Christmas, in the private home of one of the Ethiopians, when police burst in and arrested them, three jailed members of the group, two women and one man, told Human Rights Watch.

“While King Abdullah sets up an international interfaith dialogue center, his police are trampling on the rights of believers of others faiths,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch. “The Saudi government needs to change its own intolerant ways before it can promote religious dialogue abroad.”

In October, Saudi Arabia, together with Austria and Spain, founded the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, located in Vienna, and funded by Saudi Arabia.

The Ethiopian men spent two days at al-Nuzha police station in Jeddah, after which the police transferred them to Buraiman prison. The women had already been transferred to Buraiman prison. Two of the women said that officials there forced the women to strip, and then an officer inserted her finger into each of the women’s genitals, under the pretext of searching for illegal substances hidden inside their bodies. She wore a plastic glove that she did not change, the women told Human Rights Watch. Officers also kicked and beat the men in Buraiman prison, and insulted them as “unbelievers,” the jailed Ethiopian man said.

Both men and women complained of inadequate medical care and unsanitary conditions at Buraiman prison. There were too few toilets, they said. In the men’s wing, six of twelve toilets were reserved for Saudi inmates, while hundreds of foreign inmates were forced to share the remaining six toilets. One female detainee said she suffers from diabetes and was given an injection in the prison clinic that caused swelling, and has received no further medical attention.

The Ethiopians, speaking via telephone from prison, said that about 10 days after being arrested, some in the group were taken to court, where they were forced to affix their fingerprints to a document without being allowed to read it. Officials told the group that they were being charged with “illicit mingling” of unmarried persons of the opposite sex. Some of the Ethiopians have been living in the kingdom for 16 years, while others are newer arrivals. Some of the women and men did not have valid residency papers, but all faced deportation, including those with valid papers, the jailed Ethiopian man said.

In July 2006, the Saudi government promised that it would stop interfering with private worship by non-Muslims. In a “Confirmation of Policies,” a written document the Saudi government sent to the US government, Saudi Arabia said it would “guarantee and protect the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious practice,” and “ensure that members of the [religious police] do not detain or conduct investigations of suspects, implement punishment, [or] violate the sanctity of private homes.” In this document, the government also said it would investigate any infringements of these policies. Public worship of any religion other than Islam remains prohibited in the kingdom.

“Saudi authorities have broken their promises to respect other faiths,” Wilcke said. “Men and women of other faiths have nowhere to worship in Saudi Arabia if even their private homes are no longer safe.”

The Arab Charter of Human Rights, to which Saudi Arabia is a state party, guarantees “[t]he freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs or to perform religious observances, either alone or in community with others,” and prohibits “arbitrary arrest.”

Saudi Arabia has no codified criminal law or other law that defines “illicit mingling.” In 2006, Shaikh Ibrahim al-Ghaith, the president of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the religious police, told Human Rights Watch in an interview in Riyadh, “Mingling of the sexes is prohibited in public, and permitted in private unless it is for the purpose of corruption.”


Human Rights Watch called on the Saudi authorities to release the 35 Ethiopian men and women immediately if there is no evidence to charge them with offenses that are recognizably criminal under international norms. Saudi authorities should also investigate their allegations of physical and sexual abuse and, if warranted, compensate them for arbitrary arrest and any mistreatment they endured, and to hold accountable any officials found to be responsible for these acts.

Human Rights Watch also called on the authorities to allow members of the group who fear persecution in Ethiopia to lodge asylum claims with the UN Refugee Agency.


Al Qaeda in Iran

Virtually unnoticed, since late 2001, Iran has held some of al Qaeda‘s most senior leaders. Several of these operatives, such as Yasin al-Suri, an al Qaeda facilitator, have moved recruits and money from the Middle East to central al Qaeda in Pakistan. Others, such as Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian that served as head of al Qaeda’s security committee, and Abu Muhammad al-Masri, one of the masterminds of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, have provided strategic and operational assistance to central al Qaeda. The Iranian governmenthas held most of them under house arrest, limited their freedom of movement, and closely monitored their activities. Yet the organization’s presence in Iran means that, contrary to optimistic assessments that have become the norm in Washington, al Qaeda’s demise is not imminent.

U.S. propaganda leaflet used in Afghanistan, w...

Perhaps more disturbing, Iran appears willing to expand its limited relationship with al Qaeda. Just as with its other surrogate, Hezbollah, the country could turn to al Qaeda to mount a retaliation to any U.S. or Israeli attack. To be sure, the organization is no Iranian puppet. And the two have sometimes been antagonistic, as illustrated by al Qaeda in Iraq’s recent attacks against Shias. But both share a hatred of the United States. U.S. policymakers should think twice about provoking a closer relationship between them and should draw greater public attention to Iran’s limited, but still unacceptable, cooperation with al Qaeda.

Evidence of the Iranian-al Qaeda partnership abounds — and much of it is public. This past year, I culled through hundreds of documents from the Harmony database at West Point; perused hundreds more open-source and declassified documents, such as the U.S. Department of Treasury‘s sanctions against al Qaeda leaders in Iran; and interviewed government officials from the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia.

Through that research, the history of al Qaeda in Iran emerges as follows: over the past several years, al Qaeda has taken a beating in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa. In particular, an ongoing campaign of drone strikes has weakened — although not eliminated — al Qaeda’s leadership cadre in Pakistan. But the group’s outpost in Iran has remained almost untouched for the past decade. In late 2001, as the Taliban regime collapsed, most al Qaeda operatives fled Afghanistan. Many of the leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s deputy and future successor, headed for Pakistan. But some did not, choosing instead to go west. And Iran was apparently more than willing to accept them. Around October 2001, the government dispatched a delegation to Afghanistan to guarantee the safe travel of operatives and their families to Iran.

Initially, Iran’s Quds Force — the division of the Revolutionary Guard Corps whose mission is to organize, train, equip, and finance foreign Islamic revolutionary movements — took the lead. Between 2001 and 2002, it helped transport several hundred al Qaeda-linked individuals. By 2002, al Qaeda had established in Iran its “management council,” a body that bin Laden reportedly tasked with providing strategic support to the organization’s leaders in Pakistan. Key members of the council included Adel, Sulayman Abu Ghayth, Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, Abu Muhammad al-Masri, and Abu Hafs al-Mauritani. All five remained influential over the next several years and retained close ties to bin Laden. Among the most active of the council, Adel even helped organize groups of fighters to overthrow Hamid Karzai’s regime in Afghanistan and provided support for the May 2003 terrorist attacks in Riyadh.

According to U.S. government officials involved in discussions with Iran, over time, the growing cadre of al Qaeda leaders on Iranian soil apparently triggered a debate among senior officials in Tehran. Some worried that the United States would eventually use the terrorist group’s presence as a casus belli. Indeed, in late 2002 and early 2003, U.S. government officials held face-to-face discussions with Iranian officials demanding the regime deport al Qaeda leaders to their countries of origin. Iran refused, but around the same time, the country’s Ministry of Intelligence took control of relations with the group. It set to work rounding up al Qaeda members and their families.

By early 2003, Tehran had detained all the members of the management council and their subordinates who remained in the country. It is not entirely clear what conditions were like for al Qaeda detainees. Some apparently suffered through harsh prison confinement, while others enjoyed informal house arrest with freedom to communicate, travel, and fundraise. Over the next several years, bin Laden, Zawahiri, and other leaders apparently sent messages to Tehran threatening to retaliate if al Qaeda personnel and members of bin Laden’s family were not released. Iran did not comply. Bin Laden did not follow through.

After that, the details of al Qaeda’s relationship with the Iranian government are hazy. It seems that many of the operatives under house arrest petitioned for release. In 2009 and 2010, Iran did begin to free some detainees and their family members, including members of bin Laden’s family. And the management council remained in Iran, still under limited house arrest. Tehran appears to have drawn several red lines for the council: Refrain from plotting terrorist attacks from Iranian soil, abstain from targeting the Iranian government, and keep a low profile. As long as it did so, the Iranian government would permit al Qaeda operatives some freedom to fundraise, communicate with al Qaeda central in Pakistan and other affiliates, and funnel foreign fighters through Iran.

Today, Iran is still an important al Qaeda hub. Suri, who was born in 1982 in al-Qamishli, Syria, is a key operative. According to U.S. Treasury Department accounts, Tehran has permitted Suri to operate discretely within Iran since at least 2005. He has collected money from donors and transferred it to al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan and other locations; facilitated the travel of extremist recruits from the Gulf to Pakistan and Afghanistan; and according to U.S. State Department accounts, “arranges the release of al-Qaeda personnel from Iranian prisons.”

On the surface, the relationship between Shia Iran and Sunni al Qaeda is puzzling. Their religious views do differ, but they share a more important common interest: countering the United States and its allies, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom. Iran’s rationale might be compared to that of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who declared, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”

Iran is likely holding al Qaeda leaders on its territory first as an act of defense. So long as Tehran has several leaders under its control, the group will likely refrain from attacking Iran. But the strategy also has an offensive component. If the United States or Israel undertook a bombing campaign against Iran, Tehran could employ al Qaeda in a response. Tehran has long used proxies to pursue its foreign policy interests, especially Hezbollah in Lebanon, and it has a history of reaching out to Sunni groups. In Afghanistan, for example, Iran has provided limited support to the Taliban to keep the United States tied down. Al Qaeda’s proven willingness and ability to strike the United States make it an attractive partner.

Al Qaeda is probably making similar calculations. To be sure, some revile the Ayatollahs. Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, the now-deceased head of al Qaeda in Iraq, actively targeted Shias there. In a 2004 letter, Zarqawi explained that they are “the insurmountable obstacle, the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion.” Yet, in a sign of Churchill-esque pragmatism, Zawahiri chastised Zarqawi in 2005, writing that the Shias were not the primary enemy — at least not for the moment. It was crucial, Zawahiri explained, to understand that success hinged on support from the Muslim masses. One of Zarqawi’s most significant mistakes, Zawahiri chided him, was targeting Shia communities, because such a strategy would cripple al Qaeda’s support among the broader Muslim community. And most al Qaeda operatives since the debacle in Iraq have cautiously followed Zawahiri’s lead.

Moreover, Iran is in many ways a safer territory from which al Qaeda can operate. The United States has targeted al Qaeda in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries, but it has limited operational reach in Iran. In addition, Iran borders the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, making it centrally located for most al Qaeda affiliates. No wonder that Suri has been able to move money and recruits through Iran to various theaters, including al Qaeda central in Pakistan. Although most governments in the region have clamped down on al Qaeda, Iran’s willingness to allow some activity sets it apart.

With the management council still under limited house arrest, Iran and al Qaeda remain at arm’s length. But that could change if Washington’s relationship with Tehran does. So far, the conflict between Iran and the West has been limited to diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions. It has also occasionally deteriorated into cyber attacks, sabotage, assassinations, kidnappings, and support to proxy organizations. But much like the struggle between the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War, it has not spilled into overt conflict. Should an increase of those activities cause a broad deterioration in relations, however, or should the United States or Israel decide to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, Iran and al Qaeda could come closer together.

For one, Iran would likely respond to an attack by targeting the United States and its allies through proxies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries. The regime might increase its logistical support to al Qaeda by providing money, weapons, housing, travel documents, and transit to operatives — some of which it is already doing. In a worse scenario, Tehran might even allow al Qaeda officials in Iran to go to Pakistan to replenish the group’s depleted leadership there, or else open its borders to additional al Qaeda higher-ups. Several of the operatives already in Iran, including Adel and Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, would be especially valuable in this regard, because of their prestige, experience in paramilitary and external operations, and religious credentials. In an even more extreme scenario, Iran could support an al Qaeda attack against the United States or one of its allies, although the regime would surely attempt to hide its role in any plotting. Based on Iran’s cautious approach over the past decade, Tehran’s most likely strategy would be to gradually increase its support to al Qaeda in response to U.S. actions. That way it could go slowly, and back away at any time, rather than choosing an all-or-nothing approach from the start.

It would be unwise to overestimate the leverage Tehran has over al Qaeda’s leadership. The terrorist organization would almost certainly refuse Iranian direction. But given the group’s current challenges, any support or tentative permission to plot on Iran’s soil would be helpful. It could set about restoring its depleted senior ranks in Pakistan and other countries, or else rebuild within Iran itself. The organization might thus be amenable to working within Iranian constraints, such as seeking permission before planning attacks in the West from Iranian soil, as long as the taps were flowing.

It is true that the United States has limited leverage with Iran, but it still has several options. The first, and perhaps easiest, is to better expose the existence and activities of al Qaeda leaders in Iran. Al Qaeda has killed tens of thousands of Sunnis, Shias, and non-Muslims over the past two decades and has unified virtually all governments in the world against it. Iran, too, has become an international pariah. Its limited aid to al Qaeda is worthy of further public condemnation. But Iran has largely escaped such scrutiny.

The United States could encourage more countries to prohibit citizens and companies from engaging in commercial and financial transactions with al Qaeda leaders and their networks in Iran. The U.S. Treasury and State Departments have taken steps against some al Qaeda operatives and their supporters in Iran, including against Suri and his circle. But those efforts have not been coupled with robust diplomatic efforts to encourage other countries to do the same. Nor have they been successful in eliminating al Qaeda’s sanctuary in Iran.

Finally, the United States should think twice about actions that would push Iran and al Qaeda closer together — especially a preemptive attack on the country’s nuclear program. Thus far, Iran and al Qaeda have mutually limited their relationship. It would be a travesty to push the two closer together at the very moment that central al Qaeda in Pakistan has been severely weakened.

Thankfully, there is still time to deal with the problem. But the stakes are too high for the United States to remain quiet any longer.

Copyright © 2002-2012 by the Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.

SETH G. JONES is Senior Political Scientist at RAND and author of Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda Since 9/11. Between 2009 and 2011, he served at U.S. Special Operations Command, including as a Plans Officer and Senior Adviser to the Commanding General of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan.


Iran’s Gambit in Latin America

H/T Commentary:

In early January, Iran caught the world’s attention by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz and brandish shore-to-sea cruise missiles in what was to be a 10-day naval exercise. That same week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced a five-nation trip through Latin America to advance his country’s influence and operational capabilities on the doorstep of the United States. It would take a very generous view of the Islamic Republic to dismiss these simultaneous events as mere coincidence. Tehran makes no secret of its determination to carry its asymmetrical warfare to the Western Hemisphere. Iranian Defense MinisterAhmad Vahidi was in Bolivia in May 2011 when he promised a “tough and crushing response” to any U.S. offensive against Iran. Such provocations are part of what should be understood as Iran’s five-year push into the Americas.

Português: Brasília - Entrevista do presidente...
Fat P.O.S. luckily dying soon..

The Obama administration and career U.S. diplomats have been slow to recognize the threat posed by this creeping advance. Only after several Republican presidential candidates highlighted the problem in a debate on November 22 sponsored in part by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., did President Obama say, “[W]e take Iranian activities, including in Venezuela, very seriously, and we will continue to monitor them closely.” Unfortunately, merely monitoring Iran’s foray into Latin America is not enough. The United States must find its way toward adopting new forward-leaning policies that will frustrate Tehran’s plans to threaten U.S. security and interests close to home.

In the last five years, Iran has begun to take full advantage of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez’s unprecedented hospitality in the Americas. Chávez’s petro-diplomacy has enabled Ahmadinejad to cultivate partnerships with anti-U.S. regimes in Cuba, Ecuador, and Bolivia as well. Today, a shadowy network of commercial and industrial enterprises in several countries affords Iran a physical presence in proximity to the borders of its greatest foe. It is increasingly clear that Iran intends to use safe havens in these countries to deploy conventional and unconventional weaponry that pose a direct threat to U.S. territory, strategic waterways, and American allies.

Bracing for a potential showdown over its illicit nuclear program and emboldened by Washington’s inattention to its activities in Latin America, Iran is looking, logically, for some strategic advantage by concocting a military threat near U.S. shores. And, as a notorious promoter of international terrorism, it is working that angle. Iran is exploiting its intimate ties with Venezuelan operatives as well as its Quds Force agents’ connections to a decades-old network in the region to proselytize, recruit, and train radicalized youth from Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and beyond.

We now know that we underestimate Tehran’s audacity at our own peril. Last October, American officials discovered an outrageous scheme by Quds Force operatives to use Mexican narco-gangsters to bomb the heart of the U.S. capital. The plot came to light only because U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents set aside conventional wisdom about the limits on Tehran’s deadly designs. The plotters had hoped to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in a bombing that would have killed numerous other innocents. Even for a country that has made terrorism and the violation of international norms vital aspects of its statecraft, this was a brazen escalation in aggressive tactics, if not a planned act of war. That it originated as an operation to be launched with Latin American assistance should have alerted authorities that there is an increased menace in our own hemisphere.

Nevertheless, policymakers in the Obama administration have remained remarkably complacent. And the danger of Latin American involvement is multidimensional, reaching beyond the assistance of Mexican foot soldiers. Even as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) affirmed in a recent report that foreign support is crucial to Iran’s capability of developing a nuclear weapon,U.S. diplomatic, intelligence, and security agencies are uncertain whether Iran is extracting ore from vast uranium basins in Venezuela or Ecuador or whether Argentina has resumed sharing nuclear technology with Tehran.

It is clear that some U.S. policymakers and putative experts on Iran and international terrorism have been slow to adjust their thinking on Tehran’s plotting in the Americas. Such figures, for example, often cite a 2010 report prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) when they are looking to refute claims of Iran’s capabilities and intentions in Latin America. For example, when Mitt Romney referred during a Republican presidential debate to the Hezbollah network in Latin America, politifact.com argued that the CRS report only mentioned terrorist fundraising as a problem there. Remarkably, the only mention of Venezuela in that 56-page primer is a footnote referring to Venezuela’s high-level military complicity with Colombian narco-terrorists. Policymakers, moreover, remain oblivious to the growing threat because the State Department has failed to demand that the intelligence community scrutinize the activities of Iran and Hezbollah in the Western hemisphere.

An important exception to such neglect is the work of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Department of the Treasury, which have sanctioned numerous Venezuelan officials and entities for their complicity with and support for Iran and international terrorism. Again, according to sources in these agencies, State Department officers systematically resist the application of sanctions against Venezuelan officials and entities, even though those persons are playing an increasingly large role in Iran’s operational capabilities near U.S. territory.

In order to facilitate its push into the Western Hemisphere, Iran increased the number of its embassies in the region from 6 in 2005 to 10 in 2010. The real game-changer, however, has been the alliance developed between Ahmadinejad and Chávez.

Hugo Chávez’s track record of anti-Americanism and support for terrorist groups, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, is well established. In recent years, moreover, Venezuela’s Margarita Island has become the principal safe haven and center of Hezbollah operations in the Americas. As a terrorist extension of the regime in Tehran, Hezbollah exists primarily to do Iran’s dirty work abroad.

Research from open sources, subject-matter experts, and sensitive sources within various governments have identified at least two parallel, collaborative terrorist networks growing at an alarming rate in Latin America. One is operated by Venezuelan collaborators, and the other is managed by the Quds Force. These networks encompass more than 80 operatives in at least 12 countries throughout the region, with the greatest areas of focus being Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile.

Ghazi Nassereddine, a native of Lebanon who became a Venezuelan citizen about 11 years ago and is now Venezuela’s second-ranking diplomat in Syria, is the most prominent Hezbollah supporter in Venezuela, because of his close relationship to Chávez’s Justice and Interior Minister, Tarek el-Aissami. Along with at least two of his brothers, Nassereddine manages a network to expand Hezbollah’s influence in Venezuela and beyond.

Nassereddine’s brother Abdallah, a former member of the Venezuelan congress, uses his position as the former vice president of the Federation of Arab and American Entities in Latin America and the president of its local chapter in Venezuela to maintain ties with Islamic communities throughout the region. He currently resides on Margarita Island, where he runs various money-laundering operations and manages much of the business dealings of Hezbollah in Latin America, according to documentary evidence obtained from Venezuelan sources.

Younger brother Oday is responsible for establishing paramilitary training centers on Margarita Island. He is allegedly recruiting Venezuelans through local círculos bolivarianos (neighborhood watch committees composed of the most radical Chávez followers) and sending them to Iran for further training.

Hojjat al-Eslam Mohsen Rabbani, who was the cultural attaché at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Buenos Aires, oversees a parallel Hezbollah recruitment network from inside Iran. Rabbani is currently the international-affairs adviser to the Al-Mostafa Al-Alam Cultural Institute in Qom, which is tasked with the propagation of Shia Islam. Rabbani, referred to by the influential Brazilian magazine Veja as “the Terrorist Professor,” is a die-hard defender of the Iranian revolution and the mastermind behind the two notorious terrorist attacks against Jewish targets in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994 which killed 144 people. At the request of Argentina, Interpol issued international extradition warrants for Rabbani and others in March 2007.

At the time, Rabbani was credentialed as a cultural attaché at the Iranian embassy in the Argentine capital, which he used as a staging ground for extremist propaganda, recruitment, and training that culminated in those two attacks. In fact, he continues to exploit that network of Argentine converts to expand the reach of Iran and Hezbollah by leveraging them in identifying and recruiting operatives throughout the region for radicalization and terrorist training in Venezuela and Iran (specifically, the city of Qom).

At least two mosques in Buenos Aires—Al Imam and At-Tauhid—are run by Rabbani disciples. Sheik Abdallah Madani runs the Al Imam mosque, which also serves as the headquarters of the Islamic-Argentine Association, one of the most prominent Islamic cultural centers in Latin America.

Some of Rabbani’s disciples have taken what they have learned from their mentor in Argentina and replicated it elsewhere in the region. Sheik Karim Abdul Paz, an Argentine convert to Shiite Islam, studied under Rabbani in Qom for five years and succeeded him at the At-Tauhid mosque in Buenos Aires in 1993. Abdul Paz is now the imam of a cultural center in Santiago, Chile.

Another Argentine convert to radical Islam and Rabbani disciple now in Chile is Sheik Suhail Assad, currently a professor at the University of Santiago. He lectures at universities throughout the region and appears frequently on television. Most recently, he was in El Salvador establishing relationships within the Muslim community.

But the real prize for the Rabbani network—and Hezbollah in general—is Brazil, the economic powerhouse of the Americas and home to some one million Muslims. One of Rabbani’s brothers lives there: Mohammad Baquer Rabbani Razavi, the founding father of the Iranian Association in Brazil, whom he visits and coordinates with systematically. Another principal collaborator is Sheik Khaled Taki Eldyn, a Sunni radical from the Sao Paulo Guarulhos mosque. Taki Eldyn, who is active in ecumenical activities with the Shia mosques, also serves as the secretary general of the Council of the Leaders of the Societies and Islamic Affairs of Brazil. A sensitive source linked that mosque to a network designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as providing major financial and logistical support to Hezbollah. As far back as 1995, Taki Eldyn hosted al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. According to sources in Brazilian intelligence cited by Veja, at least 20 operatives from Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic Jihad are using Brazil as a hub for terrorist activity.

American and other government authorities have identified and sanctioned some of the leaders of these networks, and U.S. law-enforcement agencies—led by the Drug Enforcement Administration—have made great efforts to assess and confront this threat by building cases against foreign officials and sanctioning commercial entities that support this criminal terror organization. This dangerous network, however, requires a whole-government strategy, beginning with an interagency review to assess the transnational, multifaceted nature of the problem, educate friendly governments, and implement measures unilaterally and with willing partners to disrupt and dismantle their operations.

English: THE KREMLIN, MOSCOW. With President o...
The Harbinger of Death Himself

Ahmadinejad’s visit in January to Venezuela and elsewhere in the region was clearly intended to shore up Iran’s interests in Latin America as Chávez succumbs to cancer. Iran can be expected to make common cause with Cuba, Russia, and China to protect its safe haven—if necessary, by encouraging Chávez’s leftist movement to scuttle the October 2012 elections in Venezuela. If the United States were more vigilant at this critical post-Chávez transition phase, it might be possible to spoil Iran’s plans by supporting a peaceful, electoral solution.

Having fallen dangerously behind in its effort to stop Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, Washington can scarcely afford to cede ground to the Islamic Republic in what is, in global terms, the United States’ own backyard. Iran, emboldened by its success in eluding significant Western sanctions and keeping American military force at bay, is becoming more provocative. If Washington does not transition from monitoring to acting against Iranian advances in Latin America, it may find itself confronting a grave and growing threat that it can neither diminish nor evade.

About the Author

Roger F. Noriega was ambassador to the Organization of American States from 2001–03 and assistant secretary of state from 2003–05. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the managing director of Vision Americas LLC, and a contributor to interamericansecuritywatch.com.

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