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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Al Qaeda Threatens German Post Election Attack

A senior al Qaeda leader has threatened to attack Germany just days before the nation will go to the polls to choose a new Chancellor.

Bekkay Harrach, alias Al Hafidh Abu Talha al Almani, resurfaced Friday in a chilling new video produced by al Qaeda's al Fajr Media Center and distributed across the major jihadi Web forums.

Dressed in an ill-fitting black blazer, blue tie, and shoulder-length greased hair - looking more like a teenager dressed for his first job interview - he slammed Germany for its military presence in Afghanistan and warned that if Chancellor Angela Merkel is reelected on Sept. 27, Germany will be directly attacked.

His previous warning to Germany, on Jan. 17, 2009, coincided with a massive car bomb attack on the heavily guarded German embassy in Kabul that was orchestrated by the notorious Haqqani Network. Four Afghan civilians and an American soldier died in the attack.

"The vote on September 27 is more than a choice between a man and a woman," he warned in the new video, which was acquired by the Long War Journal.
"As an old aphorism says, 'Security is foremost.'

In the democratic system, only the people can return the soldiers to their homeland. If the people insist on continuing the war (in Afghanistan), they sentence themselves to retaliation and clearly show the world that civilians in the democratic system are not innocent people."

He addressed Germany's Muslim community and said

"(S)tay clear of all that is not necessary in the two weeks of the elections if the German people did not decide to withdraw its soldiers from Afghanistan.

Keep your children near you at this time. Ask God to bless you and your children."

"The city of Kiel," he continued inexplicably, "will remain a safe city no matter how long the conflict in Germany. This is a promise from me."

He reminded viewers of the attacks in Madrid and London and, addressing the German chancellor, asked "Lady Merkel, what is the logical outcome earned by British Conservatives and the Spaniards for their support for the Iraq war?

Why is Germany involved in the war on Afghanistan? The Afghan people did nothing to the German people and the Mujahideen have not done anything to the German people."

At one point in his speech he also mentioned the Mumbai attacks, but it is unclear if his reference relates to the 2008 siege or to the bombings in 2006, which like those in Madrid and London targeted the city's busy railway.

"God commands us in the Qur'an - Al-Anfal, verse sixty - that we must do what we can to force our enemy to surrender," he stated. "But if the enemy can find a peaceful solution... the Holy Qur'an commands us to forgive."

According to his statement, Germany's only option to avoid an attack is to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan.

If Germany does so, he said, al Qaeda will withdraw from Germany. "This is a promise from al Qaeda. This is the tolerant Islam that the West knows well and praises so much. The German people can now take advantage of this tolerance and use the appropriate time. Al-Qaeda is ready according to its constitution, the Qur'an, to turn a blind eye on Germany. It is now in your hands and your hands alone."

Germany cannot count on the United States for protection, he said. Germany does not have the benefit of the Atlantic Ocean as a buffer against al Qaeda fighters as the US does. As evidence, he pointed to the disruption of the Sauderland Group, which plotted attacks on Ramstein Air Base and Frankfurt International Airport but was discovered in September 2007.

Four members of the cell, who trained with the Islamic Jihad Union in Pakistan, are now on trial in Germany. "The Sauerland cell was not detected until after German security was alerted by the Americans. The Americans cannot always save the Germans. German security does not have the power to protect the Germans at all."

This is Harrach’s third propaganda address since January. His previous statements were produced by As Sahab, the main studio for al Qaeda senior leadership, a sign that suggests he has taken on an increasingly senior role in the terror organization.

German authorities unmasked him in the press after he appeared hidden behind a black turban in his first video, "Rescue Plan for Germany."

Bekkay Harrach, alias Al Hafidh Abu Talha al Almani, from a video released at the beginning of the year.

Bekkay Harrach, al Qaeda’s new external operations chief?

Harrach is a 32-year-old Moroccan whose family emigrated to Germany when he was two years old; he became a naturalized German citizen in 1997.

According to reports, the Sept. 11 attacks on the US energized him on Islamist causes. In 2003, he traveled to the West Bank and was injured during a skirmish with Israeli troops. Authorities believe that he traveled twice to Iraq in an attempt to join al Qaeda.

An effort was made to recruit him to spy for Germany but failed. He took university courses in laser technology and business mathematics but dropped out in 2004. He then worked part-time at the Muhadshirin Mosque in Bonn, where he ultimately met al Qaeda scout Aleem Nasir and received a letter of recommendation that opened doors to the terror network's training camps.

In 2007, using Nasir's letter, Harrach followed smuggling routes to Waziristan through Turkey and Iran and was finally assigned to train under the network's then-operations chief for global strikes, Abu Ubaidah al Masri. He narrowly escaped an airstrike in February 2008 that targeted Ubaidah. Ubaidah survived the strike but later died from complications due to hepatitis.

Since that attack, Harrach has become a rising star in al Qaeda's new generation and is reportedly on its shura council for global strikes. Reports suggest that his travels are tracked by intelligence agencies, however, according to Spiegel Online, he is directly protected by Siraj Haqqani and his deadly network.

Harrach is rumored to excel at planning major attacks. "If we want to do something," a source in the Haqqani Network told Spiegel, "we always ask the German for his opinion."

The Haqqani Network is blamed for the attack on the German embassy in Kabul that coincided with Harrach's initial video.

  • Its ties with the Islamic Jihad Union, which is implicated in the foiled 2007 attack on Ramstein and is suspected of maintaining a presence in Germany, are strong.
  • Although unconfirmed, his high-profile appearances in al Qaeda propaganda suggest that he may have succeeded Abu Sulayman Jazairi as al Qaeda's operations chief for global strikes. Jazairi was killed in a May 2008 airstrike in Pakistan.
  • Fluent German, without the usual militant or religious props featured in past al Qaeda messages, he stares directly into the camera.

The latest video by Harrach is most striking because its themes and packaging are targeted almost exclusively for a Western audience.

Speaking softly in and only occasionally looks down to turn over the pages of his speech. He never wags his finger or raises his voice. The video carries no subtitling in Arabic.

The only visual hint to the nature of the tape - other than the obligatory title screen and occasional nasheeds that espouse militancy - are the dark circles under his eyes.

Mirroring his previous messages, German economic problems are offered as an argument for heeding his call for a troop withdrawal.

He does not dwell on religious justifications for the attack.

Harrach acknowledged assistance he has received from German authorities over the years and explained that his warning was in return for their acts of good faith.

  • "I thank Germany for its assistance quickly to get me out of prison in Syria," he said.
  • "I thank Germany for its help me when my injury in the city of Hebron in Palestine.
  • "I thank Germany for it did not hurt my family after my trip to Afghanistan, nor prevent them from traveling (to rejoin me), despite long-term surveillance."
  • "Since the reward for good in Islam is charity, today I will show my gratitude."

The increasing tempo of propaganda messaging specifically directed at Germany has alarmed authorities.

The militant Web forums have been buzzing for months with talk about a "German 9/11," and statements from other jihadis have been published or released in German.

The timing of his previous threat with an actual attack against German interests is not comfortin Rg. The Interior Ministry acknowledged the "increased threat situation" immediately following the release of the tape and announced that "adjusted security measures in particular at airports and stations" are now in effect.

The Rest @ the Longwar Journal



Thursday, September 17, 2009

Top Leaders in Jemaah Islamiyah Asia Killed in Raid

Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist killed in Java raid

By Bill RoggioSeptember 17, 2009 8:03 AM


Southeast Asia’s most wanted al Qaeda-linked terrorist has been killed during an overnight raid by counterterrorism police in Solo in Central Java, Indonesia. Police have confirmed that the elusive Noordin Mohammed Top has been killed along with four other terrorists during the assault on a safe house in Java.

Photo provided to Longwar Journal Nick Grace.

Police had stepped up efforts to kill or capture Top after the July 2009 bombings at two posh hotels in Java. He was previously thought to have been killed during an assault on a safe house in Central Java in early August.

Wanted posters for Syaifudin Zuhri, Mohamad Syahrir, Bagus Budi Pranoto and Ario Sudarso. Photo provided by Nick Grace.

Within the past 24 hours, Indonesia's elite counterterrorism police unit Detachment 88 (Densus 88) shot and killed Top along with three other associates.

  • During the raid, police acquired two laptops and documents, which they said confirm that all four terrorists who were killed during the raid comprised the leadership of al Qaeda in Southeast Asia.
  • Police chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri suggested in a press conference today that the documents picked up in Solo show that they wiped out most of al Qaeda in Southeast Asia's senior leadership in this raid.

Wanted terrorists Bagus Budi Pranoto, Ario Sudarso, and Hadi Susilo were killed with Top, Metro TV reported.

Pranoto and Sudarso are believed to have been Top's right-hand men. Saifuddin Zuhri and Muhammad Sahrir, two other top terrorists, are being hunted by police.

The Indonesian press is showing photos of Top's body and the commentary is focusing on the fact that his eyes were closed and his mouth was open at the moment of death - unlike Ibrohim, the florist-terrorist involve int he July bombings in Jakarta who was killed in the police raid in Temanggung in August.

The insinuation is that Noordin was such a coward that not only did he not blow himself up, despite having active bombs available at the safe house - but that he winced and closed his eyes when he was killed by Detachment 88 oficers.

Top, a Malaysian national, was a senior leader in Jemaah Islamiyah.

  • He was known as a highly effective recruiter, strategist, and fundraiser, and was behind the most deadly terror attacks in Indonesia.
  • He masterminded the October 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people and injured 209;
  • the August 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta;
  • the September 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta; and the October 2005 Bali bombings.
  • Most recently, Top planned and supervised the near-simultaneous suicide attacks at the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta.

In late 2005, Top formed a splinter group from Jemaah Islamiyah after several disagreements over the use of violence arose with other leaders.

He became the emir of Tandzim al-Qaedat Indonesia. While ties between Top's group and al Qaeda have not yet been confirmed, his group has run Web forums that have collaborated with Jihadi forums known to be associated with al Qaeda.

One such forum released an Indonesian-language propaganda video with the well-known al-Ekhlaas Forum in early 2008.

Nick Grace contributed to this report.Read more:



The Rest @ The Longwar Journal

Shabaab conduct Yemen - Style Suicide Attack on Peace Keepr Compound

It appears that the new tactics of the last few months continue; it suggests that international Islamist insurgents have significant influence in a four shabaab groups. Since their offensive of a a couple of months ago, and then defensive action, non Somalis appear to be taking more and more leadership, as demonstrated by recent suicide attacks against Peace Keepers.

The report is still early, but it appeArs two vehicles with UN lgogls got inside a Ugandan Compound,

-Shimron Issachar


MOGADISHU, Sept. 17 (Xinhua) -- Islamist Al-Shabaab group in Somalia on Thursday claimed responsibility for two suicide car bomb attacks that simultaneously targeted bases of African Union (AU) peacekeepers around Mogadishu's international airport, a local radio reported.

An unnamed official from the Islamist Al-Shabaab movement quoted by the independent Shabelle radio station in Mogadishu as saying the two suicide car bombs bearing UN logo managed to enter inside the camp where Ugandan contingent of the peacekeepers were based next to the airport in the capital.

The rebel official claimed one of the suicide car bomb attacks targeted the venue where officials from the United States, the UN and NATO were holding a meeting inside the base of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), while the other hit a meeting place for officials from Somali government security officials. He said the "attack achieved its objectives."

Neither AMISOM commanders nor Somali government forces have spoken about the attack, which came only three days after a senior Al-Shabaab commander, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, was killed in a U. S. raid in the south of Mogadishu.

But witnesses in the area say that the expositions were "massive and deafening" with black smoke pillowing from the bases in the south of the restive Somali capital.

Heavy shelling ensued targeting Mogadishu's main Bakara market following the suicide attack.

Traders and shoppers at the market busy in business fled in panic as the end of Ramadan Eid Al Fidr festival due in three days's time.

The Rest @ Xinhuanet




Update: 10 49:PM GMT

Somali rebels in Mogadishu hit an AU base on Thursday with two suicide blasts.

  • The explosions killed 9 people but hospital officials stated at least 7 more people have been killed.
  • Among the dead is Deputy Commander of the AU mission AMISOM.
  • A spokesperson for the terrorist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks.
  • The bombing, according to Voice of America, was in retaliation for the murder of a wanted senior al-Qaeda official, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan who was killed by the United States-led military operation. “We got our revenge! We have got our revenge for our brother Nabhan.
  • Two suicide car bombs targeting the AU base, praise Allah,” exclaimed the al-Shabaab spokesperson, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage.
  • According to one witness, Farah Hassan, two United Nations vehicles entered the base, which was followed by two more vehicles carrying government military personnel.

“We thought they were real U.N. cars carrying white people, but moments later deafening thunder shook the ground. The area was covered with flames and clouds of smoke,” Hassan told Reuters.

Somali Information Minister Dahir Mohamud Gelle said that the drivers were foreigners who spoke English and identified themselves as working for the United Nations, reports Reuters.


On the same day of the attacks, al-Shabaab issued several demands for the release of a French hostage, who is a security consultant, and an immediate end to French support of Somalia’s government.

This bombing is the worst attack since February when two suicide bombers infiltrated another base.


Source Digital Journal


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Al Qaeda Bomber Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan Killed in Somalia

By VOA News 15 September 2009

U.S. military officials say American special forces staged an attack in southern Somalia Monday and killed a Kenyan-born terrorist suspect.

Witnesses in the area said soldiers in at least two helicopters fired on a vehicle near the southern town of Barawe, killing at least two passengers and wounding two others.

Kenyan terror suspect Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan talks to a relative on a mobile phone in the Nairobi High Court (2004 File)U.S. officials say the attack killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, whom authorities have linked to al-Qaida.

Nabhan was wanted by U.S. intelligence for questioning about attacks against a hotel and a plane in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002.

  • Authorities say special forces troops have taken his body into U.S. custody.
  • Earlier reports said those involved in Monday's raid appeared to be French, but the French military has denied staging a raid in Somali territory.
  • The Barawe area is controlled by the insurgent group al-Shabab, which is fighting to topple the Somali government.
The Rest @ VOA

-From Yahoo News

MOGADISHU (Reuters) – U.S. special forces in helicopters attacked a car in southern Somalia on Monday and killed one of east Africa's most wanted al Qaeda militants, Somali and U.S. sources said.

Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, 28, was suspected of building the truck bomb that killed 15 people at a Kenyan hotel in 2002, as well as involvement in a simultaneous, but botched, missile launch at an Israeli airliner leaving Mombasa airport.

A senior Somali government source said the fugitive was in a car with other foreign insurgents from the al Shabaab rebel group when they were hit near Roobow village in Barawe District, some 250 km (150 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu.

Washington says al Shabaab is al Qaeda's proxy in Somalia.

A U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. special operations forces aboard two helicopters that flew from a U.S. Navy ship opened fired on the vehicle that they believed contained Nabhan.

The troops took the body into custody, the official said and said they were confident the body was that of Nabhan.

The official said a total of four Somalis were killed while the Somali government source said that Nabhan and four others died.

"These young fighters do not have the same skills as their colleagues in Afghanistan or elsewhere when it comes to foreign air strikes," the government source told Reuters. "They are in confusion now. I hope the world takes action."

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to comment "on any alleged operation in Somalia."

Western security agencies say the failed Horn of Africa state has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who use it to plot attacks in the region and beyond.

Nabhan, who has long been on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Most Wanted list, is believed to have fled to Somalia after the 2002 bombing of a Israeli-owned Kenyan beach hotel.

AL QAEDA SUSPECTS

The United States says another leading al Qaeda suspect who may be in Somalia, Sudanese explosives expert Abu Talha al-Sudani, is believed to have orchestrated those two attacks.

The U.S. military has launched air strikes inside Somalia in the past against individuals Washington blames for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1988.

In May last year, U.S. warplanes killed the then-leader of al Shabaab and al Qaeda's top man in the country, Afghan-trained Aden Hashi Ayro, in an attack on the central town of Dusamareb.

Under Ayro, al Shabaab had adopted Iraq-style tactics, including assassinations, roadside bombs and suicide bombings.

Several residents said they believed some French commandos had been involved in Monday's operation in Barawe, but a defense ministry spokesman in Paris denied any involvement.

French forces have also launched raids inside Somalia in the past to rescue French nationals held by rebels and pirates. Paris has a large military base in neighboring Djibouti.

Last month, one of two French security advisers kidnapped by Somali insurgents in July managed to escape from his captors and fled to the presidential palace in Mogadishu.

His colleague is still being held by al Shabaab, and some Somalis feared he would be killed in revenge for Monday's raid.

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's administration controls only small parts of the nation's drought-ridden region and a few districts of the bullet-scarred coastal capital.

Violence has killed more than 18,000 Somalis since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes.

That has triggered one of the world's worst aid emergencies, with the number of people needing help leaping 17.5 percent in a year to 3.76 million, or half the population.


The Rest @ Yahoo News

-from AP
MOGADISHU, Somalia – U.S. special forces aboard helicopters penetrated into Somalia and, guns blazing, attacked a convoy said to contain a top al-Qaida fugitive. A local official, citing intelligence reports, confirmed on Tuesday the target was killed and Islamist insurgents vowed to seek revenge.

Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan citizen, was wanted for questioning in connection with the car bombing of a beach resort in Kenya and the near simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in 2002. Ten Kenyans and three Israelis were killed in the blast at the hotel. The missiles missed the airliner.

Monday's commando-style action took place amid growing concerns that al-Qaida is gaining a foothold in this lawless nation.

Many experts fear Somalia is becoming a haven for al-Qaida, a place for terrorists to train and gather strength much like Afghanistan in the 1990s. Last year, U.S. missiles killed reputed al-Qaida commander Aden Hashi Ayro — marking the first major success after a string of U.S. military attacks in 2008.

Two U.S. military officials said that forces from the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command were involved in Monday's raid in southern Somalia. The officials gave no details about the target, and they spoke on condition of anonymity because the operation was secret.

But the deputy mayor for security affairs in Somalia's capital, citing intelligence reports, confirmed that 30-year-old Nabhan was killed.

Abdi Fitah Shawey did not elaborate.

Somali witnesses to Monday's raid say six helicopters buzzed an insurgent-held village near Barawe, some 155 miles (250 kilometers) south of Mogadishu, before two of the aircraft opened fire on a vehicle, killing two and wounding two.

Two senior members of al-Shabab, who asked that their names not be used because they are not authorized to speak publicly, said their fighters will retaliate for the raid.

"They will taste the bitterness of our response," one of the commanders told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Ernst Jan Hogendoorn, Horn of Africa Project Director of the International Crisis Group, said the "surgical" precision of Monday's raid shows that U.S. has specific intelligence in Somalia.

"I think it will certainly make al-Shabab leaders much more cautious when they are operating because obviously the United States has very precise intelligence about their movements," he said.

Like much of Somalia, Barawe and its surrounding villages are controlled by the militant group al-Shabab, which the U.S. accuses of having ties to al-Qaida. Al-Shabab, which has foreign fighters in its ranks, seeks to overthrow the government and impose a strict form of Islam in Somalia.

The U.N.-backed government, with support from African Union peacekeepers, holds only a few blocks of Mogadishu, the war-ravaged capital.

The Rest @ The AP


Monday, September 14, 2009

8/05/2009
Abderrazak El Para announces his "repentance" and called terrorists to disarm 08/05/2009 Amari Saifi, alias Abderrazak El Para, in a document entitled "Repentance and denunciation, posting have forsworn military action, saying that jihad was not legitimate" in Algeria.

TSA-algerie.com which obtained a copy of this document, dated February. [ in the document,] El Para-called elements of the GSPC, now Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), still in the bush, to give up the fighting army and to make weapons for the provisions of the law on civil concord.

Former senior GSPC in the Sahara region, Amari Saifi said he now believes that military action is no longer justified in Algeria.

He also acknowledged that AQIM had chosen a path that had left the religion in committing bombings and deadly criminals who do not differentiate between "small and great."

He compared the current methods of the GSPC to those of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in the 1990s who had committed many massacres of civilians.

Abderrazak El Para was also sent to officials of the GSPC in the Sahara.

In particular, they advised to stop kidnapping foreigners.

"I advise you to stop kidnapping foreigners, as these actions do a disservice to our religion.

I was the first to have conducted such actions and I regret having done so because they are not lawful, "he said.

Calling Abderrazak El Para to repentance is the second former senior GSPC since the beginning of the year.

Beginning in January, Hassan Hattab called terrorists to lay down their weapons for the provisions of the law on civil concord.

The Rest @ TSA- Algeria




Badr Airlines...Viktor Bout 's Sudan Connection?

Badr Airlines seems to be putting up a new website. TBDA suggests that there is Romanian interest in whether Viktor Bout is still connected to Badr...

UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan use aircraft operated by (Sudan's) Badr Airlines even after the UN Security Council recommended an aviation ban be imposed on the carrier in response to arms embargo violations

Khartoum Airport
Tel: +249120920101
VHF frequency 131.5
Ticket and reservation (24hrs):
Khartoum AirportMobile: +249912307444

International Office:
SAIFE ZONE
Sharjah International Airport
United Arab Emirates
Tel +971 6 557 36 88
Fax +971 6 557 36 89
Station Manager +971 50 633 54751
shj@badrairlines.com

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hawala By Mobil Phone?

Earlier this week I had an opportunity to speak with Zahir Khoja, Executive Director - Mobile Money (M-PAISA) at Roshan. As the world’s focus turns once again to Afghanistan during the country’s elections process, I wanted to get Zahir’s perspective on launching mobile money in this complex environment.

The challenges in the country are well known, but Zahir was quick to highlight the opportunities that come with advancing financial inclusion and developing important communication and payments infrastructure as the country rebuilds.

Paul Leishman: Zahir, can you start by providing us with a 10,000 ft view of M-PAISA in Afghanistan?

Zahir Khoja: We re-launched our service in October, 2008. When we piloted M-PAISA in Afghanistan, the idea was to bring a service to customers to repay their microfinance loans and serve those who didn’t have access to a bank because of distance. We created a trial partnership with First Microfinance Bank Afghanistan (FMFB) and today have about 5,000 customers using the service for microfinance loan repayments. From there, we moved the product into something similar to what you’d see in Kenya today - customers have the ability to send money, pay bills, receive salaries and buy Roshan airtime.

Over the last few months we’ve analysed our business and number of factors emerged. The first is that our tariff schedule was tiered and not easily understood. As a result, in August we launched a new tariff schedule which simplifies everything for the customer: sending money is now one flat fee regardless of how much a customer sends and the same goes for withdrawals. This simplifies the service for the average customer, who typically doesn’t have much education and 75% of whom are illiterate.

Paul Leishman: Where does M-PAISA stand by way of adoption today?

Zahir Khoja: Each month since launch we’ve seen an increase in gross registrations. As customers are interested to learn more about the service, the challenge of driving education still exists.

Paul Leishman: So your offering includes money transfer, MFI loan repayment, salary distribution and airtime purchase. What types of market conditions or customer needs were taken into account when designing this offering?

Zahir Khoja: First, we considered is access to finance. When you look at what Afghanistan has to offer today in terms of a banking environment, only about 3% of the population are banked and there are about 300 bank branches which are owned by 17 banks. So most of the country doesn’t have access to financial services unless you’re in a large city, and even those who do have access generally don’t trust banks given the history they’ve had with them over the last 20-25 years. We also considered the transportation infrastructure.

It’s very hard to get around in Afghanistan: roads aren’t developed like they are in Europe or North America, and buses or cars aren’t as common: donkeys or walking are often the preferred mode of transportation here.

The third factor we considered is security. When you’re travelling with large sums of cash, and when I say large I mean $100 or more, you stand the risk of meeting someone on the road who wants to take your money. In the last 6 months of 2008, there were about $30 million in transit robberies.

There are a lot of obstacles in Afghanistan, but these do vary in severity depending on where you are in the country. Take Southern Afghanistan for example, where the rules of engagement are different than what they may be in the North, it’s not safe to walk around there with money or conduct business. For women in particular it’s a lot easier for them to have a business in Central or Northern Afghanistan than it is in the South due to instability.

Opening up the movement of money is the first step to financial inclusion and alleviating poverty: that’s where the money transfer offering comes into play.

P2P payments break down boundaries between different villages or communities so that people can expand their trading partners.

The second thing is that these customers now have access to are microfinance loans without actually having to visit a specific bank branch. They can repay their loan by changing cash at an agent.

Once they take a microfinance loan, they’re probably using it to develop their business. If they’re developing their business they’re employing more people. If they’re employing more people they’re probably generating more revenue.

Through all of this comes savings, which will probably be the next thing we explore: once these people have money they want somewhere to put it other than under their pillow. You can see that over 10-15 years all of this plays into making the community self sufficient and alleviating poverty. At Roshan we don’t just look at products from a commercial perspective. We also consider economic and personal development perspectives and they were obvious in bringing M-PAISA to market in Afghanistan.

Paul Leishman: We read a lot about the challenges facing Afghanistan as the country rebuilds and stabilizes. What’s your on-the-ground assessment of the opportunities and challenges of doing business in the country?

Zahir Khoja: Security is clearly a major issue: it’s hard to ask an agent to walk around in the field and talk to people about mobile money. If you look at some of the activities we’ve had over the last 60 days, they’ve been limited or non-existent due to the election. Also, because of some of the political issues and the war in the country, we face security challenges with a number of our sites which are located in the volatile South. With an interruption of service, someone can’t check their balance. When someone can’t check their balance they freak out. These are the types of challenges we face operating in Afghanistan.

Another major challenge is that of building a team - specifically from an agent perspective. The approach to team building is very different here than most developed countries. Like many emerging markets, Afghanistan is very transactional - ‘if I give you a dollar, you give me a good’ and that’s the end of our relationship. The idea of ‘customers for life’ doesn’t really exist here. This plays out in recruitment of agents.Paul Leishman: What would be your biggest barrier to scale or growth at the moment?

Zahir Khoja: Development of our agent network. The reason I say that is because getting agents to invest in the business so they can keep a float balance isn’t easy. Agents look at this and say, ‘well that’s $500 that I could use to do something else with.’ As I said, the country is very transactional (i.e. give me a dollar and I’ll give you a good). What we’re asking agents to do is put $500 into float and manage that as your business grows with the customer base. They’ll see returns on the money, but it would be over a period of time. That concept is hard for agents to understand. The concept of sending money over a phone also doesn’t yet register with an average customer. When we talk about getting agents to explain this to customers, agents look for the quick hit. They look for opportunities to maximize commissions today, which makes education really challenging.

Paul Leishman: MFIs play an important role in your model. What advice would you offer around selecting and working with MFI partners?

Zahir Khoja: MFIs are looking at this from an expansion perspective as well as a cost reduction perspective. They can now send a loan officer out into a village and sign up customers to MFI loans. Their loan officer then disburses the loan on site. The customer knows where the village agent is, and is able to make their payments. These are people who may never have considered getting an MFI loan because they a) might not have known about it, or b) the distance to an MFI was too hard. So we’re giving the MFI an opportunity to get more customers and customers the opportunity to access financial services. In the future, we’d like to integrate all of the MFIs on the M-PAISA system so the back end functions more efficiently.

Paul Leishman: What are the unique things that a mobile operator can contribute to an MFI?
Zahir Khoja: First, I think it’s the ability to communicate with customers using various communication channels offered by Roshan. Second, MFIs now have an ability to look at a customer’s transaction history - do they make loan payments, do they qualify for incentives, etc. In Afghanistan, we don’t have a credit bureau, so there’s no way of checking if someone is a good or bad applicant. This allows the customer to develop some type of credit history, and allows the bank on the other end to give $1000 instead of just $100 because they know that they’re dealing with a good customer.Paul Leishman: What’s been your experience from a regulatory perspective launching M-PAISA in Afghanistan?

Zahir Khoja: Mobile money products are a brand new concept to Afghanistan. Roshan, along with USAID, World Bank, CGAP and many other entities are working very closely with the Central Bank of Afghanistan (the regulator) in the development of new regulations. Best practices from Kenya, Philippines and other countries where mobile money has been successful are being taken into account.

Paul Leishman: Does the Central Bank see opportunity in gaining better visibility into financial flows in Afghanistan?

Zahir Khoja: Yes. One of the things the Central Bank asked us is ‘how can you be sure that criminals, won’t use this system?’ We have an Anti Money Laundering Officer that monitors transactions on a daily basis. Any transactions that look suspicious is flagged immediately. This enables the Central Bank to deal with these matters instantly rather than waiting for the outcome of what these funds would be used for.

Paul Leishman: What about other elements of regulation. Can non-bank agents perform account opening and cash in/out? Is there proportionate KYC in Afghanistan?

Zahir Khoja: To open an M-PAISA account, you need to have a valid passport, or a national ID card. You also need to have 2 colour photographs, name, fathers name, birth date, mobile phone number. We also ask whether the applicant is involved with any political party or if they’ve ever been involved in terrorist activity. All of our customers are screened through various sources, like the Dow Jones watch list, to make sure that applicants are legitimate.


Paul Leishman: What types of tactics do you use to convert registered customers into active users?

Zahir Khoja: There are a number of tactics, but the primary one is educating and training M-Paisa agents so that they are well equipped to talk to customers about the service.

That’s our main focal point. There are also a number of marketing initiatives utilizing the Roshan mobile network that we use to communicate with customers. The marketing services we deploy take into account the fact that 75% of the Afghan population is illiterate. These types of initiatives have been recently launched so we are still in the process of evaluating their effectiveness.

Paul Leishman: So your offering includes

  • money transfer,
  • MFI loan repayment
  • salary distribution
  • airtime purchase.

What types of market conditions or customer needs were taken into account when designing this offering?

Zahir Khoja: First, we considered is access to finance. When you look at what Afghanistan has to offer today in terms of a banking environment, only about 3% of the population are banked and there are about 300 bank branches which are owned by 17 banks. So most of the country doesn’t have access to financial services unless you’re in a large city, and even those who do have access generally don’t trust banks given the history they’ve had with them over the last 20-25 years. We also considered the transportation infrastructure.

It’s very hard to get around in Afghanistan: roads aren’t developed like they are in Europe or North America, and buses or cars aren’t as common: donkeys or walking are often the preferred mode of transportation here.

The third factor we considered is security. When you’re travelling with large sums of cash, and when I say large I mean $100 or more, you stand the risk of meeting someone on the road who wants to take your money. In the last 6 months of 2008, there were about $30 million in transit robberies.

There are a lot of obstacles in Afghanistan, but these do vary in severity depending on where you are in the country. Take Southern Afghanistan for example, where the rules of engagement are different than what they may be in the North, it’s not safe to walk around there with money or conduct business. For women in particular it’s a lot easier for them to have a business in Central or Northern Afghanistan than it is in the South due to instability.

Opening up the movement of money is the first step to financial inclusion and alleviating poverty: that’s where the money transfer offering comes into play.

P2P payments break down boundaries between different villages or communities so that people can expand their trading partners. The second thing is that these customers now have access to getting a microfinance loan without actually having to visit a specific bank branch. They can repay their loan by changing cash at an agent.

Once they take a microfinance loan, they’re probably using it to develop their business. If they’re developing their business they’re employing more people. If they’re employing more people they’re probably generating more revenue. Through all of this comes savings, which will probably be the next thing we explore: once these people have money they want somewhere to put it other than under their pillow. You can see that over 10-15 years all of this plays into making the community self sufficient and alleviating poverty.

At Roshan we don’t just look at products from a commercial perspective. We also consider economic and personal development perspectives and they were obvious in bringing M-PAISA to market in Afghanistan.

Paul Leishman: What other payment options exist in Afghanistan, given that just 3% of the country is banked?

Zahir Khoja:

If you want to send money today from one district to another, you’ll personally deliver that money by walking, taking a taxi, or taking a donkey.

Alternatively you would give the money to a friend, what’s referred to as a trusted agent, and say ‘please deliver this for me and you can keep 5-10% for yourself.’

Or finally you would go to a Hawala market and pay a set fee for the money to be sent to the recipient in a corresponding district, village or province.

These are the money transfer options that exist today, and we’re trying to educate people on how to send money on their mobile phone. 25% of the population in Afghanistan have a mobile phone and this is the group we’re targeting. The challenge we have is that people don’t trust banks, let alone the idea that their money is now just on an SMS. But recall that 75% of Afghans can’t read: that’s where our IVR comes in.

Paul Leishman: What have you done to driving understanding of the benefits and functionality of an IVR?

Zahir Khoja: That’s the challenge we’re having now: getting the IVR message into the marketplace. What we’re trying to do now is address the market based on their needs. Afghanistan just went through an election period which was an unsafe time for the country. In response, the campaign we’ve launched is ‘buy Roshan airtime using your M-PAISA wallet from the convenience of your home.’ This gets a customer to say ‘Yes, I’d like to continue to have airtime, so I’ll figure out how this M-PAISA thing works because I don’t want to leave my home and risk my safety.’

It’s important to use tactics like this that will make a customer say ‘Yes, I really need this’. Right now if you talk to the average Afghan person, there’s no desire to put money into a bank. In some sense, we need to create the need for them - illustrate how these services can make a difference in their lives. Right now we charge 50 Afghani, which is the equivalent of US$1, to send money.

The average person today sends between US$30 and US$50. The pitch to these people to justify our fee is that they no longer need to leave their home, take a taxi or donkey, or spend time going to a Hawala market. Yes, there is a fee but it’s cheaper than all other methods used today.

Paul Leishman: You’ve chosen to use the word ‘Hawala’ in your tagline: ‘The Hawala on your Mobile’. What is the significance or thought behind this?

Zahir Khoja: Hawalas have been around for hundreds of years and everyone knows that this is where you go to send money. Rather than recreate the wheel, we decided to go with what people understand. Our pitch is that we’re bringing the Hawala to you through your mobile.

Paul Leishman: Thanks Zahir.

The Rest @ Mobil Money for the Unbanked

AQIM's Ramadan Kidnapping Plans

This is an excerpt from a new US government travel advisory. Several advisories like this were issued suggestingAQIM has an explicit plan to kidnap Americans for ransom. Nothwithstanding the statement below, I believe the American Citizen shot and killed on June 23rd was killed because he was a Christian, not because they were attempting to kidnap him.

-Shimron Issachar

On August 8, 2009, a suicide bombing near the French Embassy in Nouakchott injured two French guards and one Mauritanian citizen. The bomber is believed to have acted on orders from AQIM. On June 23, 2009, a private U.S. citizen was shot and killed in Nouakchott in an apparent kidnapping attempt by individuals associated with AQIM. Terrorists also killed 11 Mauritanian soldiers out on patrol approximately 40 miles from the northern town of Zouerate in September 2008. The Israeli Embassy and an adjoining nightclub frequented by Westerners were attacked in Nouakchott in February 2008. In December 2007, terrorists shot and killed four French tourists and wounded a fifth near the town of Aleg in southeastern Mauritania. Two days later, terrorists killed four soldiers near the town of El Ghallaouiya in northern Mauritania. The perpetrators of these attacks are all believed to be linked to AQIM.

As a result of these safety and security concerns, Peace Corps has temporarily suspended its volunteer program in Mauritania. The State Department, Peace Corps, and Embassy Nouakchott are continually evaluating the security situation in preparation for a return of the Peace Corps’ volunteer program at the first possible opportunity.

Travelers should avoid all non-essential travel to the Hodh El Charghi region of southeastern Mauritania, the eastern half of the Tagant region of central Mauritania (east of Tidjika) and the Zemmour region of northern Mauritania due to increased AQIM activities in these areas. Travel in the unpopulated areas of eastern Mauritania (areas east of Zouerate and Chinguetti and north of Nema) is strongly discouraged unless traveling with Mauritanian government escorts, due to the threats of terrorism and banditry.

U.S. citizens should not venture outside of urban areas unless in a convoy and accompanied by an experienced guide, and even then only if equipped with sturdy vehicles and ample provisions. There have been reports of banditry and smuggling in the more remote parts of Mauritania. Landmines also remain a danger along the border with the Western Sahara. Travelers should cross borders only at designated border posts.

Given AQIM's threats to attack western targets in Mauritania and the region, and due to indications of a desire to kidnap Westerners for ransom, U.S. citizens should remain aware of their surroundings at all times and maintain good personal security practices, including always locking their homes and cars, varying routes and time of travel, and avoiding drawing attention to themselves. When going out, they should avoid being part of large, highly visible groups of Westerners, and avoid sitting in areas that are easily visible from the street when in restaurants or cafes. U.S. citizens should be particularly alert when frequenting locales associated with Westerners, including cultural centers, social and recreation clubs, beach areas, and restaurants.

The Rest @ Overseas Security Advisory Council

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Russian S-300 Missils Captured in Route to Iran

A CARGO ship that vanished in the Channel was carrying arms to Iran and was being tracked by Mossad, the Israeli security service, according to sources in both Russia and Israel.

The Arctic Sea, officially carrying a cargo of timber worth £1.3m, disappeared en route from Finland to Algeria on July 24. It was recovered off west Africa on August 17 when eight alleged hijackers were arrested. The Kremlin has consistently denied that the vessel was carrying a secret cargo. It claims the ship was hijacked by criminals who demanded a £1m ransom.

The official version was challenged by sources in Tel Aviv and Moscow who claimed the ship had been loaded with S-300 missiles, Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft weapon, while undergoing repairs in the Russian port of Kaliningrad.

Mossad, which closely monitors arms supplies to Iran, is said to have tipped off the Russian government that the shipment had been sold by former military officers linked to the underworld.

Russian Navy joins hunt for missing 'piracy' ship
Piracy fears as cargo ship disappears off UK coast

Multimedia

The Kremlin then ordered a naval rescue mission which involved destroyers and submarines. Any evidence that the Kremlin had let advanced weaponry fall into the hands of criminals or be sold to Iran would be highly embarrassing, so military officials believe a “cover story” was concocted.

  • “The official version is ridiculous and was given to allow the Kremlin to save face,” said a Russian military source.
  • “I’ve spoken to people close to the investigation and they’ve pretty much confirmed Mossad’s involvement.
  • It’s laughable to believe all this fuss was over a load of timber. I’m not alone in believing that it was carrying weapons to Iran.”

The alleged hijackers, four Estonians, two Russians and two Latvians, will go on trial in Moscow. According to the Kremlin’s account, they boarded the Arctic Sea in the Baltic by claiming their inflatable craft was in trouble and then took over the ship at gunpoint.

Sources in Moscow suggested Mossad may have played a part in the alleged hijacking by setting up a criminal gang, who were unlikely to have known anything about a secret cargo. “The best way for the Israelis to block the cargo from reaching Iran would have been to create a lot of noise around the ship,” said a former army officer.

“Once the news of the hijack broke, the game was up for the arms dealers. The Russians had to act. That’s why I don’t rule out Mossad being behind the hijacking. It stopped the shipment and gave the Kremlin a way out so that it can now claim it mounted a brilliant rescue mission.”

According to Israeli military sources, Israel received intelligence that weapons bound for Iran were being loaded in Kaliningrad, a port notorious for gun runners. “A decision was then taken to inform the Kremlin,” said the source.

Had the S-300 missiles been delivered, Iran would have significantly strengthened its air defences. An Israeli air force source said that in the event of an attack on Iranian nuclear installations, such missiles could increase Israeli casualties by 50%.


Since the Arctic Sea was retaken, Russia has imposed a security blackout. The hijackers, the crew and two investigative teams were flown back to Moscow in three Il-76 air freight planes. For more than a week after being freed the crew were not allowed to talk to their families. The captain and three crew are still on board the ship, which has resumed its voyage to Algeria, but they have not been able to call home.

Last week Mikhail Voitenko, an outspoken piracy expert who disputed the Kremlin’s original version of events, fled Russia, claiming he had received threats from an official angered by his statements.

Admiral Tarmo Kouts, former commander of Estonia’s armed forces and the European Union’s rapporteur on piracy, has infuriated Moscow by saying the only plausible explanation of the mystery is that the ship was transporting weapons. A spokesman for the Finnish owners denied that missiles could have been secretly loaded onto the ship.

Sources who suspect Mossad’s involvement point to a visit to Moscow by Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, the day after the Arctic Sea was rescued. Peres held four hours of private talks with Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president.

Although the Israeli foreign ministry would not be drawn on the Arctic Sea, it confirmed that the two leaders had discussed the sale of Russian weapons to countries hostile to Israel. According to Israeli officials, Peres received verbal guarantees from the Russians that they would not sell advanced weapons systems to Iran or Syria.

“Clearly the Israelis played a role in the whole Arctic Sea saga,” said a Russian military source. “Peres used the incident as a bargaining chip over the issue of arms sales to Arab states, while Israel allowed the Kremlin a way out with its claims to have successfully foiled a piracy incident.”

The Rest @ The Times Online




International Criminal -Terrorist World Business Network

The DEA and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York have unveiled a new indictment for drug trafficking that shows just how truly transnational and intertwined with terrorists, aircraft merchants, and little-scrutinized company registries these groups have become.


The case centers on Jesus Eduardo Valencia-Arbelaez, aka "Padre," aka "Pat," who was extradited from Romania to stand trial for drug trafficking and money laundering. I think these two paragraphs sums up the huge challenges faced with these organizations that have now grown tentacles around the world. Plotting this on a map would help give the true dimensions of the enterprise.


Valencia-Arbelaez was a leader of a sophisticated international cocainetrafficking organization (the Organization) based in Colombia and Venezuela that operated worldwide, including in Bolivia, Spain, Holland, Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry, Mauritania, Mali, Cyprus, and the United States.



  • Beginning in September 2007, members of the Organization sought to purchase a cargo airplane for the purpose of transporting metric tons of cocaine from Venezuela to West Africa.

  • Between September 2007 and March 2009, Manuel Silva-Jaramillo, a member of the Organization arrested earlier this year, conducted meetings in connection with the Organization's efforts to acquire the airplane in, among other places, Madrid, New York and Virginia.

  • Silva-Jaramillo arranged to finance the purchase of the airplane through a corporation based in Cyprus and to register it in Sierra Leone.

It would be incorrect to assume the Organization has an organic structure in each of the countries named. Rather, it has carved out important links to existing criminal organizations there, and have key operatives in the country or region to keep an eye on the operations and collect or pay money, as necessary.


But it does show a remarkable integration across four continents and the ability to manage multiple moving pieces. It also shows how mobile the Organization's key personnel are.




  • Valencia-Arbelaez was arrested in Romania, where he had gone to further discuss the purchase of aircraft for his organization.

  • Unfortunately, Viktor Bout, denied bail yesterday by a Thai judge, was unavailable for business.


This case follows closely on another one where the DEA, using the tried and true uncover tactic of pretending to be buying weapons for the FARC in Colombia, captured a former Syrian military officer in Honduras, purporting to have weapons obtained from Hezbollah to sell on the international market.



  • Jamal Yousef, aka "Talal Hassan Ghantou," an international arms trafficker, was charged with participating in a narco-terrorism conspiracy.

What is interesting about the case is that it was to be a transcontinental weapons for cocaine trade. While such trades are reported anecdotally, there has been little first-hand evidence of this type of activity among designated terrorist organizations.


So, we have a Syrian in Honduras offering to sell Hezbollah weapons stashed in Mexico, reportedly stolen from Iraq.


Again, the geographic space in the operation is significant and, until fairly recently, an insurmountable obstacle.



The silver lining in this is that the arrests were made. It is a part of the shifting tactics of the DEA and others to target the "shadow facilitators" like Yousef who have access to different criminal and terrorist networks and broker the deals that are profitable to all.



But the scary part is just how far-flung and inter-active these groups have become. Globalization and market forces at their best.



Douglas Farah is the president of IBI Consultants and a Senior Fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. He is a national security consultant and analyst.


In 2004 he worked for nine months with the Consortium for the Study of Intelligence, studying armed groups and intelligence reform. For the two decades before that, he was a foreign correspondent and investigative reporter for the Washington Post and other publications, covering Latin America and West Africa.


The Rest @ Douglas Farah by way of Rightside News


Good work, Doug



AQIM May Be Planning Ramadan Campaign

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risk of travel to Mali and that Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) may use the Islamic month of Ramadan as an opportunity to conduct further attacks against Americans and other foreign nationals. Faith-based organizations, regardless of location, may be particularly targeted. The Department of State also continues to recommend against all travel to the north of the co untry due to the kidnapping threats against Westerners. This replaces the Travel Warning for Mali dated June 2, 2009, to update security and threat information.

The Rest@ Expat Exchange

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Romania interested in Impounded Ukrainian Aircraft in Nigeria

According to TBVD, Romanian Special Communication Service Seems to be looking for what happened to an aircraft from the Ukraine, which was impounded at Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in Lagos on June 16th in Nigeria while carrying 18 crates of weapons and ammunition. Specfically, tail number " mem 4 060 " . It was thought at the time that the aircraft was on its way to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

I am wondering if there is a DR Congo connection here....

-Shimron Issachar