In the wake of an alleged terrorist attack on one of its soldiers, Britain is forming a task force that will examine the forces behind extremist groups in the country, Prime Minister David Cameron’s office announced Sunday.
The group, led by Cameron, will “have a general focus on extremist groups, but accept that in practice the greatest threat is from Islamist extremists,” a statement from Downing Street said.
The Muslim Council of Britain said the task force needs to look at “extremism from all quarters” while forming an effective strategy.
“In doing so, we hope wisdom prevails as we reflect on the response of these past few days and the missed opportunities of previous years,” said a statement from the council’s secretary-general, Farooq Murad. “We must be vigilant and ensure we do not inadvertently give into the demands of all extremists: making our society less free, divided and suspicious of each other. Lessons from the past indicate that policies and measures taken in haste can exacerbate extremism.”
THE DAILY BEAST
British security officials are drawing comparisons between the Woolwich killers and the Boston bombers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, arguing they represent a new generation of jihadists either born in the West or raised there. This new generation, security officials say, are difficult to identify in advance because their attacks are often opportunistic and, if directed by other jihadists, done so subtly.
“All four appeared to be on the periphery of jihad, possible wannabes, but escaped closer scrutiny because they didn’t appear to be dangerous,” a UK intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “They are not directly managed but they are inspired—[and] monitoring inspiration is no easy feat. How can you predict the ones who are going to act, who are going to go off and do something like this? We are going to have to rethink our criteria for monitoring, to pick out these natural born killers.”
A further challenge for security services on both sides of the Atlantic to identify these “natural born killers” is the low-tech nature of the attacks, leaving less of a footprint to follow before an attack: in the case of Boston, rudimentary pressure-cooker bombs; and in the case of the gruesome attack in Woolwich, southeast London, meat cleaver, knives, and machetes.
The Woolwich attack comes straight out of Al Qaeda’s terror playbook. The group’s former chief propagandist, the American-born Anwar al-Awlaki who was killed in a drone strike two years ago, had long urged supporters to launch lone-wolf attacks like this or the Boston bombings.
The two suspects—British-born Michael Adebolajo and 22-year-old Nigerian-born Michael Adebowale, also a Muslim convert—appear to have been radicalized by the Islamist group Al Muhajiroun, which was banned by the UK government in 2010 for alleged links with terrorism, officials said.
Al Muhajiroun—the Emigrants—was founded in Saudi Arabia by Omar Bakri Muhammad, a jihadist preacher originally born in Syria. Al Muhajiroun, which campaigned for the imposition of sharia law in the UK, initially attracted notoriety for a 2002 conference celebrating the 9/11 attacks. The group’s recruitment and propaganda activities on Britain’s university campuses, distributing anti-Jewish hate literature and offering to train militants, also raised alarms as did incendiary speech by the group’s founder who once vowed that Muslims would give the West “a 9/11, day after day after day.”
Known as the “Tottenham Ayatollah,” the radical preacher oversaw the International Islamic Front, an organization that allegedly trained and sent British Muslims to fight in Chechnya and the Balkans. For several years, Muhammad was also the conduit for statements from Osama bin Laden.
AFP, Beirut -
More than 94,000 people have been killed in more than two years of conflict in Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a newly-revised toll on Tuesday.
The watchdog group said it revised the toll — just two days after it announced a tally of 82,257 dead — after receiving new information from regime-controlled Alawite areas of the Sunni-majority country.
“Based on this information, the number of martyrs and dead killed since the beginning of the Syrian revolution is more than 94,000,” it said in a statement.
The group said it had received new figures from areas including Tartus and Latakia — strongholds on the Mediterranean coast of the Alawite minority to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.
The information showed “that the number of casualties among the ranks of the Alawite community was much higher than the Observatory’s statistics which were published two days ago.”
On Sunday, the Britain-based watchdog which relies on a vast network of activists and medics on the ground put the death toll since the March 2011 start of the anti-regime uprising at 82,257, including 34,473 civilians.
Al Arabiya with Agencies -
Four people were killed and six injured during clashes between Christians and Muslims in a town near Cairo, Egyptian state news agency MENA said on Saturday.
The violence broke out late on Friday and lasted until the morning, it said.
According to an AFP report citing security sources, the clashes, which saw the use of firearms, flared on Friday night in Al-Khusus, a poor area in Qalyubia governorate, after a Muslim in his 50s objected to children drawing a swastika on a religious institute.
The man allegedly insulted Christians and the cross, and an argument broke out with a young Christian man who was passing by, which escalated into a gun battle with live rounds and automatic weapons between the Muslims and the Christians.
As many as seven people may have been killed, said Tony Sabri, an activist from the Coptic Maspero Youth Movement, told AFP by phone from the al-Mataraya Hospital, near to where the clashes took place.
A number of angry Muslim residents tried to surround the town’s Mary Jirjis church, but the security presence in the area stopped them from doing so.
Both sides then lit tires in the narrow streets where residents live in crowded slum housing.
The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating more than 100 catholic priests… following the release of their personnel files that reveal high-ranking church officials protected priests accused of molesting children from law enforcement. It is the latest – in what has been called a sad and shameful chapter for the LA Archdiocese – that also saw a cardinal stripped of his duties. NBC’s Diana Alvear reports.
(Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused the Taliban on Monday of beheading 17 villagers, including two women, in volatile Helmand province, in a gruesome attack recalling the dark days of the hardline group’s rule before their 2001 ouster.
He ordered a full investigation into the “mass killing”, which a local official said was punishment to revelers attending a party with music and mixed-sex dancing.
“This attack shows that there are irresponsible members among the Taliban,” Karzai said in a statement.
The Taliban denied they had taken part in the attack, which Karzai’s office said took place in Kajaki district in the southern province.
“The victims were killed for throwing a late night dancing and music party when the Taliban attacked,” Nimatullah, governor for neighboring Musa Qala district, told Reuters.
Men and women do not usually mingle in ultra-religious Afghanistan unless they are related, and parties involving both genders are rare and kept secret.
Kafanchan, Nigeria (CNN) — Dead bodies littered a road in northern Nigeria on Sunday after a massive explosion that an official said killed 25 people and a witness said shattered windows of a nearby church where worshipers were celebrating Easter.
Abubakar Zakari, a spokesman for Nigeria’s State Emergency Management Agency, said that — in addition to the dead — 13 wounded people were rushed to a hospital for treatment.
The blast occurred in Kaduna, a city located about 230 kilometers (140 miles) southwest of Kano, around 8:40 a.m.
At that time, Sam Amoka said he was inside All Nations Christian Assembly when he heard a loud blast and saw the church’s windows break. The bomb itself went off nearby, close to Kaduna’s stadium, a bus stop and a spot for street salesmen, Amoka said.
At the bomb site, Amoka said he saw dozens of bodies lying in the road.
The target of the explosion was not immediately clear.
There was another explosion Sunday in the central Nigerian city of Jos about 250 kilometers from Kaduna, said emergency management spokesman Yohanna Audu. Audu said there are no known casualties in that blast.
The bomb went off around 9 p.m. in the busy commercial center of Jos, near a popular drinking spot and school, resident Mike Dishing said. Security officials subsequently cordoned off the area, he added.
There have been numerous instances of violence in recent months in Nigeria, including many targeting Christians.
That includes a car bomb attack last month outside a Catholic church in Jos that left six dead, according to hospital and government officials.
And on Christmas Day, a string of bombings struck churches in several cities.
In his Easter Mass message on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI referenced Nigeria among other African nations.
“To Nigeria, which in recent times has experienced savage terrorist attacks, may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of all its citizens,” the pontiff said.
Baghdad (CNN) — A recent rash of killings of people perceived to be gay or emo in Iraq has stoked fear within those communities, which worry the government might be unwilling or unable to protect them.
At least 14 such victims were killed in Baghdad in the past three weeks, according to a senior Interior Ministry official, who was not authorized to talk to the media.
Rights activists claim the number is actually much higher, with some suggesting dozens or more than 100 have been killed since February.
The killings appear to target people perceived to be gay, or emo — shorthand in Iraq for an in-your-face style of Western dress that favors tight clothes, long hair and the color black.
Most of the killings have taken place in Shiite neighborhoods like Sadr City, Shulaa, Ameen and Tariq, activists said.
“Ten days ago, I received a letter from militiamen threatening me that if they found me then they will not kill me like other ‘perverts,’ but they will cut my body into pieces,” a gay activist told CNN on Sunday.
The activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, showed CNN a copy of a letter he said was distributed in Sadr City, identifying 33 potential “gay and emo” targets.
“We strongly warn every male and female debauchee, if you do not stop this dirty act within four days, then the punishment of God will fall on you at the hands of Mujahideen,” it read.
CNN could not confirm the authenticity of the letter.
The anonymous threats and murders come less than a month after the Interior Ministry released a statement on the so-called emo phenomenon, blasting it as Satanic.
It said the movement, which it described as young people wearing “strange and tight clothes with graphics such as skulls,” is being monitored by authorities with the goal of eliminating it.
To that end, community or “moral police” will be allowed to enter schools in the capital, the statement read.
The campaign and violence have had an immediate chilling effect among youth communities in Baghdad.
Teenager Kamel Saad told CNN he cut his hair so as not to become a potential target.
“I’m not the only one. All my friends in the school decided to change their hair style and change their clothes, too, even though we’re not emo or gay,” he said.
Saad said a group of men, who identified themselves as community police, entered his classroom two weeks ago and asked students to tell them about other students’ suspicious behavior.
“I thought it was about terrorism, but later, when the police explained more, we realized that they were talking about emo,” he said.
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — President Barack Obama apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the burning of Qurans by NATO troops, calling the act an inadvertent error, Karzai’s office and National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Thursday.
“We will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, including holding accountable those responsible,” Obama said in the letter.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker delivered it on the same day two NATO troops were killed by “an individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform,” according to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.
It is not clear if the troops were killed in revenge for the burning of Qurans by NATO troops earlier this week, but the attack occurred at a base outside of which a demonstration was taking place, a local official said.
The protest and shootings came as the Taliban called on Muslims to attack NATO military bases and convoys and kill its soldiers following the admission that NATO troops had incinerated Islamic religious material at Bagram Airfield.
At least two demonstrators were killed when gunfire was exchanged near the base in Nangarhar province, said Haji Mohammad Hassan, chief of Khugyani district in the east of the province.
By The Associated Press
The New York Police Department monitored Muslim college students far more broadly than previously known, at schools far beyond the city limits, including the elite Ivy League colleges of Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, The Associated Press has learned.
Police talked with local authorities about professors 300 miles (480 kilometers) away in Buffalo and even sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded students’ names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed.
Detectives trawled Muslim student websites every day and, although professors and students had not been accused of any wrongdoing, their names were recorded in reports prepared for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
Asked about the monitoring, police spokesman Paul Browne provided a list of 12 people arrested or convicted on terrorism charges in the United States and abroad who had once been members of Muslim student associations, which the NYPD referred to as MSAs. Jesse Morton, who this month pleaded guilty to posting online threats against the creators of the animated TV show “South Park,” had once tried to recruit followers at Stony Brook University on Long Island, Browne said.
“As a result, the NYPD deemed it prudent to get a better handle on what was occurring at MSAs,” Browne said in an email. He said police monitored student websites and collected publicly available information, but did so only between 2006 and 2007.
“I see a violation of civil rights here,” said Tanweer Haq, chaplain of the Muslim Student Association at Syracuse. “Nobody wants to be on the list of the FBI or the NYPD or whatever. Muslim students want to have their own lives, their own privacy and enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities that everybody else has.”
In recent months, the AP has revealed secret programs the NYPD built with help from the CIA to monitor Muslims at the places where they eat, shop and worship. The AP also published details about how police placed undercover officers at Muslim student associations in colleges within the city limits; this revelation has outraged faculty and student groups.
Though the NYPD says it follows the same rules as the FBI, some of the NYPD’s activities go beyond what the FBI is allowed to do.
Kelly and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg repeatedly have said that the police only follow legitimate leads about suspected criminal activity.
But the latest documents mention no wrongdoing by any students.
In one report, an undercover officer describes accompanying 18 Muslim students from the City College of New York on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York on April 21, 2008. The officer noted the names of attendees who were officers of the Muslim Student Association.
“In addition to the regularly scheduled events (Rafting), the group prayed at least four times a day, and much of the conversation was spent discussing Islam and was religious in nature,” the report says.
Praying five times a day is one of the core traditions of Islam.
Jawad Rasul, one of the students on the trip, said he was stunned that his name was included in the police report.
“It forces me to look around wherever I am now,” Rasul said.
But another student, Ali Ahmed, whom the NYPD said appeared to be in charge of the trip, said he understood the police department’s concern.
“I can’t blame them for doing their job,” Ahmed said. “There’s lots of Muslims doing some bad things and it gives a bad name to all of us, so they have to take their due diligence.”
City College criticized the surveillance and said it was unaware the NYPD was watching students.
“The City College of New York does not accept or condone any investigation of any student organization based on the political or religious content of its ideas,” the college said in a written statement. “Absent specific evidence linking a member of the City College community to criminal activity, we do not condone this kind of investigation.”
Browne said undercover officers go wherever people they’re investigating go. There is no indication that, in the nearly four years since the report, the NYPD brought charges connecting City College students to terrorism.
Student groups were of particular interest to the NYPD because they attract young Muslim men, a demographic that terrorist groups frequently draw from. Police worried about which Muslim scholars were influencing these students and feared that extracurricular activities such as paintball outings could be used as terrorist training.
The AP first reported in October that the NYPD had placed informants or undercover officers in the Muslim Student Associations at City College, Brooklyn College, Baruch College, Hunter College, City College of New York, Queens College, La Guardia Community College and St. John’s University. All of those colleges are within the New York City limits.
A person familiar with the program, who like others insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it, said the NYPD also had a student informant at Syracuse.
Police also were interested in the Muslim student group at Rutgers, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 2009, undercover NYPD officers had a safe house in an apartment not far from campus. The operation was blown when the building superintendent stumbled upon the safe house and, thinking it was some sort of a terrorist cell, called the police emergency dispatcher.
The FBI responded and determined that monitoring Rutgers students was one of the operation’s objectives, current and former federal officials said.
The Rutgers police chief at the time, Rhonda Harris, would not discuss the fallout. In a written statement, university spokesman E.J. Miranda said: “The university was not aware of this at the time and we have nothing to add on this matter.”
Another NYPD intelligence report from Jan. 2, 2009, described a trip by three NYPD officers to Buffalo, where they met with a high-ranking member of the Erie County Sheriff’s Department and agreed “to develop assets jointly in the Buffalo area, to act as listening posts within the ethnic Somalian community.”
The sheriff’s department official noted “that there are some Somali Professors and students at SUNY-Buffalo and it would be worthwhile to further analyze that population,” the report says.
Browne said the NYPD did not follow that recommendation. A spokesman for the university, John DellaContrada, said the NYPD never contacted the administration. Sheriff’s Departments spokeswoman Mary Murray could not immediately confirm the meeting or say whether the proposal went any further.
Another report, entitled “Weekly MSA Report” and dated Nov. 22, 2006, explained that officers from the NYPD’s Cyber Intelligence unit visited the websites, blogs and forums of Muslim student associations as a “daily routine.”
The universities included Yale; Columbia; the University of Pennsylvania; Syracuse; New York University; Clarkson University; the Newark and New Brunswick campuses of Rutgers; and the State University of New York campuses in Buffalo, Albany, Stony Brook and Potsdam; Queens College, Baruch College, Brooklyn College and La Guardia Community College.
“Students who advertised events or sent emails about regular events should not be worried about a ‘terrorism file’ being kept on them. NYPD only investigated persons who we had reasonable suspicion to believe might be involved in unlawful activities,” Browne said.
But such assurances seem to offer little comfort to some former students.
One University at Buffalo student, Adeela Khan, did end up in a police report after receiving an email on Nov. 9, 2006, announcing an upcoming Islamic conference in Toronto. The email said “highly respected scholars” would be attending, but did not say who or give any details of the program. Khan says she clicked “forward,” sent it to a Yahoo chat group of fellow Muslims and promptly forgot about it.
“A couple people had gone the year prior and they said they had a really nice time, so I was just passing the information on forward. That’s really all it was,” said Khan, who has since graduated.
Khan was a board member of the Muslim Student Association at the University at Buffalo at the time. She says she never went to the conference, was not affiliated with it and had no idea who was speaking at it.
But officer Mahmood Ahmad of the NYPD’s Cyber Intelligence Unit took notice and listed Khan in his weekly report for Kelly. The officer began researching the Toronto conference and found that one of the speakers, Tariq Ramadan, had his U.S. visa revoked in 2004. The U.S. government said it was because Ramadan had given money to a Palestinian group. It reinstated his visa in 2010.
The officer’s report notes three other speakers. One, Siraj Wahaj, is a prominent but controversial New York imam who has attracted the attention of authorities for years. Prosecutors included his name on a three-and-a-half page list of people they said “may be alleged as co-conspirators” in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, though he was never charged.
The other two are Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir, two of the nation’s most prominent Muslim scholars. Both have lectured at top universities in the U.S. Yusuf met with President George W. Bush at the White House following the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The post about the academic event was enough to get Khan’s name mentioned in the weekly MSA report, which was stamped “SECRET” in red letters and sent to Kelly’s office.
There is no indication that the investigation went any further, or that Khan was ever implicated in anything. But she worries about being associated with the police report.
“It’s just a waste of resources, if you ask me,” she said. “I understand why they’re doing it, but it’s just kind of like a Catch-22. I’m not the one doing anything wrong.”
The university said it was unaware its students were being monitored.
“UB does not conduct this kind of surveillance and if asked, UB would not voluntarily cooperate with such a request,” the university said in a written statement. “As a public university, UB strongly supports the values of freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of religion, and a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
The same Nov. 22, 2006, report also noted seminars announced on the websites of the Muslim student associations at New York University and Rutgers University’s campus in Newark, New Jersey.
Browne, the police department spokesman, said intelligence analysts were interested in recruiting by the Islamic Thinkers Society, a New York-based group that wants to see the United States governed under Islamic law. Morton was a leader of the group and went to Stony Brook University’s MSA to recruit students that same month.
“One thing that our open source searches were interested in determining at the time was, where do Islamic Thinkers Society go ─ in terms of MSAs for recruiting,” Browne said.
Yale declined comment. The University of Pennsylvania did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Other colleges on the list said they worried the monitoring infringed on students’ freedom of speech.
“Like New York City itself, American universities are admired across the globe as places that welcome a diversity of people and viewpoints. So we would obviously be concerned about anything that could chill our essential values of academic freedom or intrude on student privacy,” Columbia University spokesman Robert Hornsby said in a written statement.
Danish Munir, an alumnus adviser for the University of Pennsylvania’s Muslim Student Association, said he believes police are wasting their time by watching college students.
“What do they expect to find here?” Munir said. “These are all kids coming from rich families or good families, and they’re just trying to make a living, have a good career, have a good college experience. It’s a futile allocation of resources.”