Moroccan imam at centre of Spain terror cell had links with Madrid bombers and Belgium

The imam believed to be the ringleader of the Spain attackers had links with the 2004 Madrid bombers and recently travelled to Belgium, it has emerged.

Investigators are piecing together the background of Isis supporters who launched two deadly attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils as the driver of the van used to kill 13 people remains at large.

Police say they cannot rule out the possibility that Younes Abouyaaquoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan who could be the only surviving member of the terror cell, has escaped into France and travelled onwards through Europe.

The investigation into the attacks has spread to several countries recently visited by attackers, including Morocco, France and Switzerland.

Belgian media reported that the suspected ringleader of the attack, Moroccan imam Abdelbaki Es Satty, spent at least three months in the country.

The mayor of Vilvoorde, once a notorious jihadi hub, confirmed Es Satty lived in the city from January to March 2016 – the month that saw Isis’ attacks launched in nearby Brussels – but the Belgian immigration minister said he was not registered with authorities.

Hans Bonte said Es Satty attempted to work at mosques in the city but was refused by community members who reported his arrival to the police.

Belgian authorities said they contacted their Catalan counterparts for information but were told he was not known to be radicalised, De Redactie reported.

The imam is not believed to have been under surveillance by Spanish security services, despite his apparent extremist connections following a period in prison in 2012.

Acquaintances of Es Satty said he was not religious until being jailed for smuggling hashish and meeting Rachid Aglif, who was serving time for his part in the al-Qaeda inspired Madrid bombings.

In 2015 he started teaching at a mosque in Ripoll, the quiet Spanish town home to most of the Spain attackers.

Friends and relatives said the plotters, including a waiter and extreme sports instructor, appeared to lead normal lives until they started attending Es Satty’s sermons.

A woman who knew members of the cell said the imam repeatedly preached about jihad and killing “infidels”, adding: “I feel like I could have done something. I feel a little bit guilty now.

“Everybody knew it. It was an open secret. But I can’t say it because these people are dangerous and they could come after me. I don’t trust anybody now.”

Leaders of Es Satty’s former mosque denounced the terror attacks, but denied the preacher was anything other than “a normal imam”.

At least three sets of brothers and cousins were among the cell’s alleged members – a pattern previously seen among large groups of European foreign fighters joining Isis in Syria and in terror attacks including Paris, Brussels and Boston.

Only one, suspected van driver Abouyaaqoub, is known to remain alive after fleeing from the scene of the rampage that left 13 people dead and more than 100 injured on La Rambla.

Family members told Reuters that Abouyaaqoub started showing more religiously conservative behaviour within the past year, refusing to shake hands with women during a visit to his birthplace in Morocco in March.

They expressed shock and anger after discovering his alleged involvement in the Barcelona attack, with his mother, Hannou Ghanimi, telling reporters in she wanted her son to give himself up to police and would rather see him in prison than dead.

His brother, El Houssaine, and first cousins Mohamed and Omar Hichami were killed alongside Moussa Oukabir and Said Aalla by police in the second ramming attack in the resort town of Cambrils.

Es Satty was one of at least two plotters killed in an accidental explosion that destroyed a house they were using as a bomb factory in Alcanar on Wednesday night.

There are reports that possible bomb maker Youssef Aalla may have died in the explosion that wounded fellow plotter Mohamed Chemlal.

He has been detained alongside Driss Oukabir, Mohammed Aalla and Salh el Karib.

Police said traces of the volatile explosive TATP, used in Isis’ Manchester, Paris and Brussels attacks, was found alongside around 120 bottles of gas in the ruins in Alcanar.

Josep Lluis Trapero, the head of Catalonia’s police force, said the original plan to create huge vehicle bombs was foiled by the accidental blast, which rushed plotters into “rudimentary” assaults the following day.

“Our thesis is that the group had planned one or more attacks with explosives in the city of Barcelona,” Mr Trapero said.

He would not confirm that Abouyaaquoub was behind the wheel in Barcelona but confirmed that officials did not know where he or the driver are.

Asked whether Abouyaaquoub could have crossed into France, he replied: ”We don’t have any specific information on this but it cannot be ruled out.”

It would not be the first time a terrorist has managed to flee across borders in the immediate aftermath of an attack.

Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam was driven through a police checkpoint into Belgium on the night of Isis’ November 2015 massacres, while Berlin attacker Anis Amri managed to reach Italy before being shot dead by police.

Carles Puigdemont, the head of the Catalan government, denied reports that the CIA warned local police that Barcelona could be Isis’ next target.

Catalonia has become increasingly known as a centre of extremism, with almost one third of Isis-linked arrests in Spain made there, according to an analysis by a Spanish think tank.

A 2007 cable from the US State Department warned of the risk of radicalisation in Catalonia and called for a regional counter-terror hub to be set up in Barcelona.

The missive, which was later published by Wikileaks, said Spanish and American authorities had identified the region as a “major Mediterranean centre of radical Islamist activity” that had become a “magnet for terrorist recruiters”.

Officials said Catalonia housed al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam recruiters, as well as a terror cell including an unnamed imam arrested earlier that year.

The State Department cited men with a North African background at particular risk for radicalisation in “circumstances would provide fertile ground for terrorist recruitment”, adding: “The threat is clear.”

The cable described Catalonia as “a prime base of operations for terrorist activity” but claimed Spanish authorities had little intelligence on or ability to penetrate the groups.

Questions remain over how the cell of more than a dozen plotters were able to plan multiple and sophisticated terror attacks without detection, and on the extent of Isis’ involvement in the massacres.

Source: Independent


Selfless heroism! Policeman runs with 9kg live bomb on his back to save 400 school children


Constable Patel pictured taking the heroic action.
A policeman in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has won praise after running with a 9kg live bomb on his back to save over 400 school children. Constable Abhishek Patel took the selfless and heroic action after the bomb was found at a school in the village of Chitora recently. He ran as far away as he could with the explosive device, which had the capacity to cause damage around a 457-meter radius.

He then threw it in a drain away from both the school and neighboring residential areas.
The device posed a risk to over 400 school children
In an interview, he said: “I wanted to take the bomb away from the school and the residential area in order to reduce the danger of collateral damage if the bomb exploded.”
Investigations are ongoing to establish who planted the device at the school. Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan awarded Patel Ksh81,000 for his bravery. The dad-of-two admitted that it was a risky move but said he had to take it because anything could have happened. His main focus was on saving the children.
Source: Tuko News

Islamic State’s latest video features what it says is a child of a U.S. soldier

la-1503590952-rq09z3x9mw-snap-image.jpgAn image from an Islamic State video purporting to show the child of an American speaking from Raqqah, Syria. (Islamic State)

Islamic State’s slick propaganda videos have long included children, but its latest offering purports to show something different: an American child and supposed son of a U.S. soldier threatening President Trump.

The seven-minute video, titled “The Fertile Nation,” centers on a 10-year-old boy, identified only as Yousef, who says he moved with his mother to areas controlled by Islamic State two years ago.

“My father is an American soldier who fought the mujahideen [holy warriors] in Iraq,” Yousef, speaking with an American accent, says to the camera.

“I didn’t know much about Islam except the name. But when me and Mom came to the Islamic State, we started to learn the correct Islamic creed.”

The boy speaks rapidly and somewhat mechanically, as if reciting a memorized speech. He says he is in Raqqah, the Syrian city that is Islamic State’s de facto capital. Clips of him are interspersed between footage of airstrikes on what is identified as Raqqah, which has been the target of a wide-scale U.S.-backed campaign to dislodge the jihadis.

While the child speaks primarily in English, he also uses some Arabic words, which he pronounces with what sounds like a native Levantine accent.

Yousef is also seen among Islamic State fighters preparing antiaircraft cannons and donning what appear to be suicide belts.

Later on, Yousef, who is shown playing with another child, said to be an Iraqi from the Sinjar region, complains about the strikes as numbers of casualties flash on the screen and he speaks directly to President Trump.

“This is my message to Trump, the puppet of the Jews,” says Yousef. “This battle is not going to end in Raqqah or Mosul. It’s going to end in your hands.” Mosul is the Iraqi city that was recently retaken from Islamic State.

The video was released Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times could not verify any of the claims made in it, including the background of the child.

Heather Nauert, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said at a news briefing Wednesday that she could not confirm that the child was an American..

“First and foremost, any child used in that capacity in an ISIS video, regardless of what is being done, is sick,” said Nauert, referring to Islamic State by one of its acronyms.

“We’ve seen ISIS use children the ages of some of our own children here as suicide bombers, as homicide bombers. It’s sick, it’s depraved, and it is another example of just how wrong and how evil ISIS is.”

Source: Los Angeles News


Daring young woman shows how to subvert the extremist rule of ISIS


Rafel, who worked as an informant for the Iraqi army, had a harrowing encounter with ISIS militants.

It was her father who whipped her 30 lashes. She could hear him cry and sniff his tears throughout the process. She knew he was in pain for whipping his daughter. It was not his choice. It was his act to save her life. Rafel’s crime was sending a text message to her cousin saying, “I want liberation. I do not want Daesh.” Daesh is the slang reference to ISIS and between her usage of that term and her wish to be liberated, that was enough of a crime to get her executed during ISIS control of Mosul.

Rafel was 17 when ISIS stormed into Mosul. At first, neither she nor many people paid attention to them. She thought it is just one more militia taking control of the city as part of a pattern that pervaded Iraqi since the U.S. invasion in 2003. First Mosul was controlled by the U.S. Army, then the Iraqi army, then al-Qaeda started spreading its informal grip and power, and eventually ISIS, until this summer, when the city was reclaimed by the Iraqi army and placed back under government control.

But when ISIS started destroying historical sites, including mosques and churches, people started paying attention. For Rafel, ISIS’ destruction of the Yunus Mosque was the moment that turned her indifference toward the extremist group to anger. The historical mosque was known to have a particularly relaxed and spiritual feel to it. Rafel turned her anger to resistance.

At first she resisted obeying ISIS rules that every woman must cover her entire body, including her face when walking in the street. That meant she stayed holed up at home for a-year-and-a-half, without leaving the house. It was her own self-imposed house arrest that many women in Mosul did during ISIS control of the city — a way to avoid any encounter with ISIS members. Then she tried to find ways of leaving Mosul. She quickly learned that her family could not afford the $2,500 cost for each individual to be smuggled out of Mosul.

Then she started responding to appeals on social media by Iraqi military personnel for people of Mosul to give them hints and tips on ISIS militants’ whereabouts and their movements. That’s when Rafel began wearing the ISIS-imposed uniform for women, which is called a “khemar,” a black robe that covers the body head to toe, including the face. After a-year-and-a-half of staying at home, she wanted to get out in the street to understand ISIS locations and movements, so she could relay tips on private messaging to people she did not know but trusted were members of the Iraqi army to help them in the fight against ISIS.

Things took a turn when her cousin, Mahmoud, fell under a random mobile phone check that ISIS militants conducted by surprise as he was walking in the street. On his phone, they discovered a text message from Rafel saying, “I want liberation. I do not want Daesh. Inshallah the air raids intensify until we are liberated.” That was a crime that led to Mahmoud’s arrest and torture for a week. Militants tied his arms and his legs apart into a bed and whipped him day and night until he agreed to give information on Rafel and her whereabouts. A week later he broke down and gave them her address.

They sent a car full of ISIS fighters to Rafel’s home. They arrived and pointed machine guns at her and her family and ordered her to leave her room so they could search it. For a moment, she pleaded with them to allow her to put her head cover on, and in that minute she erased her Instagram account on her phone. She had been using the popular photo sharing platform to message information about ISIS militants to Iraqi army personnel. They confiscated her phone and ordered her to come to the prison the next morning at 9 a.m. “My family and I were shaking,” Rafel explains. “I couldn’t escape and I knew if I go to them I may not see my family again. If I ignore them, the whole family will suffer.”

The next day Rafel showed up at the prison, which used to be a church before ISIS’ occupation. Her father was with her, and they entered the office of the person who was to pass judgment on Rafel. The first thing he told her was: “So you want to be liberated from us? Ya? You will now see what it means to be buried in Khasfa.” Khasfa is a sinkhole in Mosul that ISIS turned into a mass gravesite where militants dumped all the executed bodies of victims. Many in Mosul believe that between 2,500 and 3,000 civilians are buried in that mass grave — from doctors to teachers to women, men and children.

But the “judge” changed his mind at the last minute and her looked at her father and told him, “You whip your daughter 30 lashes. If you don’t do it right, we will kill her and send her to Khasfa.” Both Rafel and her father agreed to obey. “I sat on the floor putting my forehead to the floor as if I was praying. My father begged for them to forgive me and not to have him whip me. They refused and threaten[ed] to kill me if he doesn’t give me really hard whips. He eventually obeyed and I could hear him crying throughout the process. He would sniff his tears and sobs as he send out his lashes. But I couldn’t cry and I have not cried ever since that moment.”

Rafel was released that day. ISIS militants confiscated her cellphone and made her sign a document stating that she would not watch any TV, would be denied internet service and never obtain a cell phone again. If she were to violate any of these rules, she would surely be killed. When Rafel and her father walked out of the prison, he looked at her, kissed her on her forehead and said, “Please forgive me for what I have done my daughter.” Rafel says she forgave her father immediately, for she knew he was trying to save her life. But something broke in her that day. “My father’s position broke me,” she said. “To hear my father’s cry simply broke me.”

Eight days later, Rafel’s father was arrested for eight days, whipped 300 lashes. ISIS militants confiscated his only car, the source of his income. He worked transporting vegetables and fruits between markets. Her father is still in a state of shock and depression as he has not been able to work since then.

As for Rafel, who is 20 years old now and ever stronger and determined to speak her mind, she was able to get herself another cellphone after her release, increased her messaging to Iraqi army personnel to help them in the fight against ISIS. And she was recently one of 180 people from Mosul who traveled to Baghdad, Babel and Najaf as part of efforts to hold exchange visits aimed at strengthening and uniting the Sunni and Shia’a populations. She wore a green thread tied around her wrist, symbols often taken by Shia’a Muslims after making visitations to holy shrines. Rafel is Sunni, though, and her act of tying the green thread is a symbolic act of solidarity with the Shia’a population of Iraq. “I am grateful for their sacrificing the lives of their beloved kids for me and the people of Mosul to be liberated from ISIS,” she says. She continues and describes how touched she was by the welcome she and her fellow people from Mosul were given during the visits to Baghdad and couple of southern provinces. “People were welcoming us in the streets and crying when they hear we just came from Mosul and showed us all welcome and love.”

Rafel, like many women in Mosul, no longer believes in wearing the hijab or any other forced covering of a women’s hair or face. She is testing the ground by letting some hair show from her headscarf. It has been only months since one part of Mosul been liberated, and weeks since the second part has. For many women who have taking off the black Khemar and are walking in the streets with colorful headscarves and a hint of hair showing, it is seen as a courageous act in the face of their fears after years of being punished for not complying with ISIS rules. As for Rafel, she is waiting for the moment where she can take off her hijab. “If the society allows me, I would take off my hijab immediately.” Though wearing a hijab is not a hard and fast rule in Mosul, the society there is in trauma from having had a severe form of Islam enforced, and people are slowly testing the ground for change in the streets.

“Peace can only happen when I as a member of society accept other views and opinions of others even when I don’t agree with it,” Rafel comments when asked about the meaning of her green thread around her waist. She continues and says, “This is my statement and my wish for the end of all wars in Iraq.” Rafel is getting ready to go back to school and resumes her studies after three years of not doing anything. She dreams of becoming a war correspondent.

Source: NewyorkTimes

Uganda court jails Muslim leader for life over Al Shabaab links

A Ugandan court has sentenced a Muslim group leader and three associates to life in prison after their conviction on terrorism charges related to threats to harm rivals, a judicial official said.

Over the last few years more than a dozen senior Muslim figures in Uganda have been killed, in most cases gunned down by unknown assailants riding on motorcycle taxis.

Sheikh Mohammad Yunus Kamoga, who heads Tabliqs, a radical Muslim faction, and 13 others were arrested and charged with terrorism and the murder of some other Islamic group leaders.

On Monday six of them were convicted on the terrorism charges but all were cleared of murder.

In a high court session on Tuesday, Kamoga and three others were sentenced to life while two associates were given 30 years each, according to judiciary spokesman Solomon Muyita.

The court acquitted the group of murder because prosecutors failed to place any of them at the scenes of crime, he said.

Local media quoted defence lawyers as saying they would appeal against the convictions.

About 13 percent of Uganda’s 35 million population is Muslim. The east African state’s Muslim community has various factions that often feud over issues ranging from differing interpretations of Islam to rows over property and leadership.

Uganda has only suffered one major Islamist militant attack – in 2010 when back-to-back bombings in the capital Kampala killed at least 76 people.

Al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-affiliated militant group based in Somalia, claimed responsibility. Uganda’s military is deployed in Somalia as part of an African Union-mandated AMISOM peacekeeping force.

Source: Shabelle

Military court sentences Militants to death for Elder’s killing


A Somali military court has on Tuesday sentenced two alleged Al-Shabaab militants to death for killing a prominent traditional elder in Mogadishu, Garowe Online reports.

Judge Hassan Abdirahman Aden (Wabiyow), has announced the court ruling on the two men-  Hassan Ali Hassan (Kerow), 23, and Abdirahman Isse Ali (Fidow), 20, saying both men were found guilty of murder during the investigation by the Somali Police.

Hassan and Ali have been convicted of killing late Helowle Hefow Hussein, an electoral delegate, who elected Somali Federal lawmakers from Southwest administration in Mogadishu in November 2, 2016.

The two Al shabaab assassins were detained by Somali security forces shortly after shooting dead late Hussein in the capital’s Wadajir district, with two pistols and a grenade bomb, according to the court.

The judge, while handing down the death penalty for defendants, said full hearing procedures were carried out by the court of Somali armed Forces on Monday, August 21, before issuing the final verdict.

“Any defendant who is unhappy with the verdict made by the first degree court, has the right to appeal his case to the appellate court within 30 days, otherwise the sentence will be carried out,” he added.

Despite growing condemnations from the International human rights organizations, Somali military court continues to hand down death sentences against Al shabaab members and government soldiers accused of killings.

Source: Garowe Online

Jermaine Grant says wife barely knew him before Mombasa marriage

A British terror suspect has told the court that his wife knew very little about him before they were married.

Jermaine Grant said he married Warda Brek Islam two days after she was introduced to him by a friend. “When I got married to Warda on December 18, 2011 at her parents home, where the wedding took place, she knew very little about me,” Grant told Senior Principal Magistrate Joyce Gandani at a Shanzu court in Mombasa yesterday. Grant is charged alongside Warda, fugitive Fuad Abubakar Manswab, and Frank Ngala with possession of bomb-making materials in Kisauni and that they were plotting to bomb tourist hotels frequented by British and US citizens Grant yesterday also recounted how he was arrested on December 19, 2011. Grant said he was arrested while riding on a motor bike by officers in three cars with tinted windows. “I was arrested by armed police officers who did not introduce themselves to us,” he said. Grant said they were bundled into a matatu and driven to a police station which he did not know. “They searched me and took my cell phone and put a black hood on my head as they shouted at me,” said Grant.

He told the court that while still in the vehicle with his head covered with the hood, he was pushed and hit his face on a blunt object before somebody else who he believes to be Fuad was also pushed into the vehicle. Cell phone He said after about 10 minutes, the hoods were removed and that was when he realised that they were in a police station. Frank Ngala was at pains to explain how a cell phone belonging Grant was found in his possession. Ngala, a matatu driver, told the court that he found the phone in the matatu and that he was arrested while listening to an FM radio station. The accused insisted he never used the phone to call Grant but police asked why he hid it when officers stormed his house on Christmas Day. “You first refused to give up the phone when the police came but after the arrest of your father, it is your mother who gave it out from where you had hidden it,” said State lawyer Jacob Ondari

Ngala at one point said he never used the phone as he did not have its password but later admitted using it to call his father, whom he said had gone out to buy some palm wine. Grant denied knowing Ngala before they were charged together.

Source: The Standard