At least 42 people, including senior Revolutionary Guard Corps officers, were killed, and dozens injured, in a suicide bombing in the south-east of Iran on Sunday. State media reported that Sunni insurgency group, Jundallah, had claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place in the Sustan-Baluchistan province, an area long plagued by attacks by Sunni insurgents against the Iranian military. The suicide bombers targeted the group of Revolutionary Guard leaders as they prepared to meet tribal leaders in the Pishin district, close to the Pakistani border. The deputy commander of the Guards' ground force, General Noor Ali Shooshtari, and the Guards' chief provincial commander, Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh, were among at least six officers killed in the attack.Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking here
The ToD verdict: In the hours after the bombings occurred, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials kicked off the blame game, alleging that the United States' Central Intelligence Agency bears responsibility for establishing Jundallah, an organization some experts believe has ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani echoed Ahmedinejad's claims, contending that ‘US action' contributed to the attack. Reuters reported that Iranian officials also accused Britain of involvement. The US responded by condemning the attack and labelling Iran's accusations as "completely false".
Next to be targetted was Pakistan, which backed Sunni Muslim insurgent groups in Afghanistan in the 1980s, as well as an insurgency against Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir region. Following Sunday's bombing, Ahmadinejad alleged intelligence revealed ‘that some security agents in Pakistan are cooperating with the main elements of this terrorist incident' and demanded Pakistan apprehend and turn over to Iran ‘the main elements in this terrorist attack'. Iranian authorities summoned a senior Pakistani diplomat in Tehran to discuss the issue.
Pakistan's prime minister, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, publicly condemned the attack, which he called a ‘ghastly act of terrorism'. Pakistan dismissed Iranian claims that they were harbouring Jundallah's leader, with foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit denying it was ‘involved in terrorist activities'. Pakistan also reportedly ensured Iran it will take all measures to secure its border.
As Iran continues to apportion foreign responsibility for the attacks, there are fears that Sunday's bombings risk overshadowing talks between Iranian and Western officials, scheduled to take place in Vienna on Monday, which are aimed at resolving a standoff arising Iran's nuclear ambitions. There are hopes that a deal might be finalized at the meeting whereby Iran will send uranium abroad for enrichment above a certain percentage, a deal to which Iran agreed in principle during a previous round of talks in Geneva earlier this month. However, the recent accusations by Iran of foreign involvement in the Sunni insurgency have the potential to derail the talks and put at risk a possible amicable settlement of the nuclear issue.
Civilians flee as Pakistan launches South Waziristan offensive
Approximately 100,000 civilians fled targeted areas of South Waziristan over the weekend as Pakistani forces pounded the area with heavy artillery in an attempt to wrest control of Taliban strongholds. The army reported that sixty militants and five soldiers had been killed in the first 24 hours of the long-anticipated offensive, although there is no independent verification of the casualty toll. There is an estimated 10,000 Taliban in the area, including 1,000 Uzbek fighters and al-Qaeda members, the principal targets of the offensive. Pakistan forces battling the militants number about 28,000.
Reuters reported that about 100,000 civilians had fled the area in anticipation of the attack, which represents about one fifth of the population of South Waziristan. There are concerns that aid - including fresh water and medicine - is struggling to reach those who need it, raising the risk that disease will easily spread. However, there are not yet any indications that the refugee flow will escalate to crisis level, last seen following offensives in the Swat Valley earlier this year provoked the flight of over two million civilians.
South Sudan village raided, seven die
Armed men raided a village in South Sudan on Sunday, killing seven people and burning 120 houses, in a further example of heightened inter-tribal violence. The attack has been labelled as yet another act of retaliation in a pattern of violence that has killed more than 1,200 people this year. While politicians have sought to apportion blame to rival political parties, accused of trying to cement support in the lead up to elections next year and a southern referendum on secession in 2011, the UN has indicated that the violence seems largely local, caused by a security vacuum in the remote southern area.
Gun battles and bombings in southern Russia
Regions of southern Russia were host to two separate bombings and two gunfights on Monday, raising concerns about the ability of the Kremlin to manage security in its Muslim-majority provinces. The gun battles in the North Caucasus region left four militants dead in Dagestan and Chechnya. Also in Dagestan, a man lost both arms when the bomb he was attempting to plant under a gas pipeline exploded, while in Magas, the capital of Ingush, no one was harmed when a bomb exploded close to a police checkpoint. The attacks have served to confirm the fear, held by many, that the area is greatly at risk of descending into civil war.
UN passes resolution in support of Gaza reportThe United Nations Human Rights Council has passed a resolution backing Richard Goldstone's report into the Israeli offensive in Gaza in January, which calls for credible investigations by Israel and Hamas and raises the spectre of international war crimes prosecutions. The United States and Israel opposed official endorsement of the report, saying that it would be counterproductive to Middle East peace efforts. Despite UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay's support for the report, the Israeli government lobbied members intensively to oppose the resolution. In the final vote, six opposed the resolution, eleven countries abstained and five others - including the UK and France- chose not to vote, but the support of 26 members ensured its ratification.
Speaking on Thursday, Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, endorsed the recent UN report into the Gaza war and called for ‘impartial, independent, prompt and effective investigations' into war crimes that the report alleges were committed by both sides. Addressing the UN Human Rights Council's special debate session on the Goldstone report, Pillay criticised what she referred to as a ‘culture of impunity' which persists in both Israel and the Occupied Territories. Pillay also criticised the ongoing blockade of Gaza and the recent restrictions placed on Palestinians wishing to enter the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking here
The ToD verdict: The Goldstone report is not going to go away. Regardless of Benyamin Netanyahu's intransigence, which, for the time being, enjoys full US backing, and regardless of the recently successful move to postpone a declaration based on its conclusions, this is a report that seemingly refuses to die. There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, the eponymous jurist who led the UN team in investigating the Gaza War is too highly regarded. Richard J. Goldstone, as chair of the South African Standing Commission of Inquiry Regarding Public Violence and Intimidation, played a key role in uncovering gross human rights abuses carried out by South African security forces. This was a key step in undermining the legitimacy of the apartheid regime among white South Africans. Later he was the chief prosecutor in both the UN International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He has received many awards, including the International Human Rights Award from America's own Bar Association.
Secondly, the report's findings, contrary to Israeli protestations, are relatively mild and even handed; Hamas has also disavowed the report as being ‘political' and ‘biased'. The report's critical flaw, from the Israeli perspective, is that it negates Israeli appeals to the right to self-defence, claiming a key target of the IDF's offensive was the Palestinian civilian population itself. More broadly, it criticized the blockade of Gaza as a policy of disproportionate force aimed at collective punishment.
It was this theme of collective punishment that Navi Pillay, another former South African jurist and the first non-white member of the South African High Court, turned to in her own address. That both sides in the 2008 conflict committed human rights abuses is almost incidental; the controversy generated by the report is due to its highlighting and attempt to publicise this injustice, a conclusion that Pillay endorsed today. Netanyahu has decried the report as representing a threat to peace. Today the UN High Commissioner made clear that this view is a chimera: as long as injustice persists, so will conflict. And so will the Goldstone report.
Honduras negotiations ‘closer' to resolution
On Thursday Victor Meza, chief negotiator for ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, said that they hoped to have a resolution to the current political crisis by midday on Friday. Robert Wood, a spokesman for the US State Department, echoed his optimism, saying that ‘we're close', as he called on both sides in the dispute to continue talking. Roberto Micheletti, who assumed the office of de facto President of the Honduran interim government after Zelaya's exile, is thought to be opposing Zelaya's restitution as president before elections scheduled for 29 November.
Zelaya was forced into exile after the Honduran Supreme Court ordered the military to arrest him for violating the country's constitution on the 28 June. His clandestine return to the country on the 21 September led to riots in Tegucigalpa, focused around the Brazilian embassy, which remains his sanctuary. In the face of universal condemnation of the coup, with the OAS suspending Honduras on the 4 July, the provisional government's agenda is not clear. Many analysts predict that Micheletti is simply seeking to ‘wait out the clock'.
President Obama threatened that the US may not recognise the legitimacy of any elections held without Zelaya being reinstated. However, he has been under focused criticism from Republicans in congress for his apparent support for the former Honduran president. Zelaya's pro-Chavez stance made him the target of suspicion among right wing politicians in Washington, with Dick Lugar, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, calling for the OAS to send observers to the forthcoming elections. Micheletti may be gambling that, when the time comes, domestic politics may prevent Obama from taking robust action.
Pakistan sustains further bomb attack
After Thursday's attacks on Lahore and Kohat, two more explosions, thought to be suicide bombers, struck the northwest city of Peshawar today. Eleven people have been killed with fifteen reported injured. In a repeat of Thursday's attacks, the principal target appears to have been Pakistan's security apparatus, with the suspected bombers striking a police investigation bureau in the Swati Pathak area, close to an army barracks.
Head of Mi5 defends international intelligence links
In a speech on Thursday evening Jonathan Evans, Director General of Mi5, the UK's domestic security agency, defended Britain's collaboration with foreign intelligence agencies. Evans claimed that at the time of 9/11 Britain's knowledge of al-Qaeda was ‘inadequate' and that they might have struck British interests ‘imminently'. Evans warned that not working with foreign intelligence agencies would have amounted to a dereliction of duty.
The UK has come under fire repeatedly for what is depicted by human rights groups as collusion with foreign governments which employ torture to secure information. In addition to Syria and Jordan, whose governments have been repeatedly criticised for the use of torture, such censure includes the UK's intelligence partnership with the US. The United States clandestine system of prisons, including Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Airforce base, where detainees have been held for years without trial, has proven to be one of the most controversial aspects of the Bush administration's ‘War on Terror'. Documented human rights abuses at such prisons, most prominently Abu Ghraib in Iraq, have further inflamed the issue.
Evans said that these issues did pose a dilemma to Mi5 case officers and that, in view of the pattern discernible in American policy, changes were made. However, he insisted that the UK government was not in a position to change how other countries behave and that, from an operational stand point, taking advantage of available intelligence was the lesser of two evils. Regardless of how it was obtained, such intelligence had led to the thwarting of several terrorist plots since 9/11, saving potentially hundreds of British lives.
Al-Qaeda is in its worst financial state for years and its influence is severely threatened, according to the U.S. Treasury.
Speaking in Washington on Monday, David Cohen, the Treasury's assistant secretary for terrorist financing, claimed al-Qaeda leaders made four public appeals for money in the first half of 2009. The financial crisis within al-Qaeda is impacting on its ability to train and recruit new members and ‘as a result, its influence is waning.' Cohen claimed the funding issue faced by a-Qaeda is the outcome of a long-running effort by the U.S. and its allies to cut off the group's sources of funding by targeting donors, fundraisers and facilitators of terrorist groups in the U.S. and abroad, and by interfering with its ability to transfer money.Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking here
But Cohen warned that there still exists a pool of donors ‘who are ready, willing and able' to contribute to al-Qaeda and that a more thorough dismantling of the group's fundraising network will require greater cooperation from the international community.
The ToD verdict: The financial crisis faced by al-Qaeda is indicative of the group's apparent demise. According to U.S. counter-terrorism officials, al-Qaeda's ‘core' is in decline and has been reduced to a rump leadership of six to eight men, including Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Severing a terrorist organisation's financial capacity is an established counter-terrorism measure and efforts by the U.S. and its allies to stifle al-Qaeda's funding are clearly affecting the group's ability to train new members. Interrogation documents suggest that upon their arrival in Pakistan, European Muslims volunteering for al-Qaeda faced a chaotic reception, a low level of training, were made to pay for their own equipment and weapons and lived in poor conditions, leading to an eventual disillusionment in the organisation and cause.
But the decentralised nature of al-Qaeda, moreover its existence as a ‘brand' or ‘model' rather than a group, suggests that, as long as there is support for the cause, the name of ‘al-Qaeda' will persist, withstanding efforts to cut it's funding. The low costs of launching suicide and other terrorist attacks mean the threat of al-Qaeda violence will remain. However, with the exception of parts of North Africa and the Yemen, it seems that the popular support the group could once rely on is waning.
Those supporters who were once motivated by al-Qaeda's ‘spectacular' attacks on western countries may be questioning the group's relevance, since it has failed to successfully carry out any long-range operations since the 2005 London bombings, thought to have been conducted in connection with al-Qaeda. The group is also being challenged on its ideological stance. In August this year, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a prominent jihadist group allied with al-Qaeda, released a document entitled ‘kitab al-dirasat al-tashihiyya' (Book of Correctional Studies) refuting al-Qaeda's jihadist ideology. This text adds to a growing body of work by former militants challenging al-Qaeda on theological grounds.
Added to this is the fact that al-Qaeda's operational tactics have contributed to the hardships faced by ordinary Muslims. Regardless of continued anger over operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and America, Britain and others' military presence across the Muslim world, popular sympathy for the group is dwindling as a result of sectarian killings in Iraq and its failure to address broader concerns such as poverty, unemployment and education. As a result, much of the intelligence used against al-Qaeda suspects in Saudi Arabia has been gained from relatives, friends and neighbours, and al-Qaeda operatives, particularly in Iraq, are facing hostile attitudes from local communities.
But, as David Cohen warned on Monday, despite success in strangling al-Qaeda's sources of funding, the group's demise is far from certain. Al-Qaeda's brand appeal and influence still holds strong with groups such as al-Shebab in Somalia, and is a growing influence in northern Yemen.
Clinton sees Russian support over sanctions on Iran
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with Russian leaders today in an attempt to gain commitments on new sanctions against Iran should multilateral talks on its nuclear programme fail.
Clinton is finishing her European tour with a two day visit to Russia, where she will meet with President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. A number of issues are expected to be discussed during the visit, including Afghanistan, North Korea and US missile defence plans, but Clinton's likely focus will be on securing Russian support for imposing new sanctions against Iran should the six-party talks end without resolution.
Russia has been traditionally reluctant to impose sanctions on Iran but Medvedev appeared to shift his stance after the US shelved its planned missile defence shield in Eastern Europe and the revelation that Tehran had a second uranium enrichment facility in the city of Qom. He has since signalled that sanctions were ‘sometimes inevitable'. Although Iran has agreed to let IAEA officials inspect the Qom facility, Clinton has warned that the world will not ‘wait indefinitely for evidence that Iran is prepared to live up to its international obligations'.
North Korea fires missiles ahead of talks
North Korea test-fired five short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Monday and indicated that it would fire more on Tuesday. South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that the North was preparing to fire missiles from its west coast. According to Japanese coast guards ‘North Korea has issued a warning to ships to stay out of its coastal waters during daylight hours from October 12-16'.
The move has puzzled analysts after North Korea recently declared its willingness to return to international talks on ending its nuclear arms programme. Some believe that show of power is an attempt by the Pyongyang to boost its bargaining position ahead of these talks. China's foreign ministry, which has been leading the diplomatic effort to ease tensions in the Korean peninsula, stated that the missile tests would not damage the recent thaw in North Korea's international relations.
Fatah agrees Palestinian unity deal
Fatah has agreed to an Egyptian proposal to sign a long-delayed unity deal with political rival Hamas, a senior party official said on Tuesday. Under the Egyptian proposal, Fatah and Hamas would separately sign a unity deal by 15 October and the rest of the Palestinian factions would sign by 20 October.
Nevertheless, relations between the two groups remain strained. Hamas has demanded that president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmud Abbas, resign following his support for deferring a vote on a damning Gaza war report at the UN Human Rights Council. Abbas again accused the Islamist group of using the dispute to try to derail the unity talks.Tensions between the rival political parties erupted in January 2006, when Hamas routed the long-dominant and secular Fatah party in Palestinian parliamentary elections. Tensions escalated into deadly street clashes in Gaza, resulting in Hamas members removing pro-Fatah forces from Gaza in June 2007 and assuming effective control of the territory.