Report: ISIL forming air force with captured fighter jets, choppers

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NICOSIA — The Syrian opposition has asserted that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant formed an air combat fleet.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIL captured fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft from Iraq and Syria in mid-2014. The London-based monitoring group said ISIL acquired at least three Russian-origin fighter-jets as well as an unspecified number of combat helicopters.

 Report: ISIL forming air force with captured fighter jets, choppers

Iraq MiG-21s.

“The combat aircraft are believed to be the MiG-21,” Syrian Observatory said.

In a statement on Oct. 17, Syrian Observatory said defectors from the Iraq Air Force was training ISIL to fly the aircraft. The opposition group, regarded as authoritative, said training was taking place in an air base in the northern province of Aleppo.

“Officers from the dissolved Iraqi military, who are also members in the Islamic State, have overseen the training of some militants to fly these aircraft,” Syrian Observatory said.

So far, all of ISIL’s air fleet stemmed from platforms seized in its offensive in the Aleppo and Raqa provinces in the summer of 2014. At least two Syrian Air Force bases were captured and said to have housed fighter-jets, attack helicopters and air defense batteries.

Syrian Observatory cited testimony from Syrians who live near the Jarah air base in Aleppo. The witnesses were said to have seen at least one MiG take off from Jarah and fly at low altitude.

“This is not the first time that an aircraft was reported flying at a low altitude after taking off from Al Jarah air base,” Syrian Observatory said. “There has not been confirmation whether ISIL has missiles for these aircraft.”

Syrian Observatory director Rami Abdul Rahman said the Iraqi trainers had been air force pilots under the regime of the late President Saddam Hussein. Abdul Rahman said ISIL was overseeing numerous flights from Jarah, located east of Aleppo city and 70 kilometers south of Turkey.

“They flew many times from that airport,” Abdul Rahman said.

The United States did not confirm the report by Syrian Observatory, and officials said they doubted whether ISIL had the spare parts to maintain its new air fleet. Over the last month, the U.S. Air Force has led a coalition in strikes on ISIL facilities in Iraq and Syria.

“We don’t have any operational reporting of ISIL flying jets in support of ISIL’s activity on the ground,” the U.S. military’s Central Command chief, Gen. Lloyd Austin, said. “And to the degree that pilots may have defected and joined the ranks of ISIL, I don’t have any information on that either.”

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Amnesty charges Baghdad allowing war crimes with Iran-backed revenge attacks on Sunnis

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LONDON — Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have been attacking the Sunni community in Iraq, a report said.

Amnesty International said Shi’ite militias supported by Iran and the Baghdad government were abducting and killing Sunni civilians in 2014.

MahdiArmy 300x102 Amnesty charges Baghdad allowing war crimes with Iran backed revenge attacks on Sunnis

Iran-back Mahdi Army on parade.

Amnesty said scores of Sunnis were killed “in recent months” in revenge attacks by the militias.

“By granting its blessing to militias who routinely commit such abhorrent abuses, the Iraqi government is sanctioning war crimes and fuelling a dangerous cycle of sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart,” Amnesty adviser Donatella Rovera said.

In a report released on Oct. 14, the London-based human rights group said Shi’ite militias have targeted Sunnis in such cities as Baghdad, Kirkuk and Samara. The report said scores of unidentified bodies were found handcuffed and shot in the head amid the offensive by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.

“These militias have further risen in power and prominence since June, after the Iraqi army retreated, ceding nearly a third of the country to IS fighters,” the report, titled “Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq,” said. “Militia members, numbering tens of thousands, wear military uniforms, but they operate outside any legal framework and without any official oversight.”

Amnesty identified the militias believed responsible for the killing of Sunnis as the Mahdi Army, Hizbullah Brigades and Asaib Ahl Al Haq. All of the militias were said to be financed and equipped by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The report said many of those abducted by the Shi’ite militias remain missing. Some of the families of the captives were said to have paid ransoms of more than $80,000 to secure their release only to find their loved ones executed.

Many of the Sunnis were said to have been abducted at Shi’ite militia checkpoints. Amnesty quoted a fighter for Asai Ahl Al Haq north of Baghdad as saying that the militia executes Sunnis who come from the ISIL-controlled city of Tikrit.

“They come to Baghdad to commit terrorist crimes, so we have to stop them,” the unidentified Shi’ite militia fighter said.
Amnesty called on the new U.S.-backed government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi to stop the Shi’ite militias. The militias have been directed by IRGC to defend Baghdad and attack ISIL positions in the north.

“Successive Iraqi governments have displayed a callous disregard for fundamental human rights principles,” Ms. Rovera said. “The new government must now change course and put in place effective mechanisms to investigate abuses by Shia militias and Iraqi forces and hold accountable those responsible.”

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ISIL’s stealth plotting against top Shi’ite militia ‘planned for months’

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Geostrategy-Direct.com

BAGHDAD — Islamic State of Iraq and Levant has targeted Iraq’s leading Shi’ite militia.

Mahdi 300x183 ISIL’s stealth plotting against top Shi’ite militia ‘planned for months’

Mahdi fighters in military parade on the streets of Baghdad. / Reuters

Officials said ISIL has begun a campaign against the Mahdi Army, deemed the largest Shi’ite militia in Iraq. They said ISIL squads were monitoring and attacking Mahdi strongholds in an effort to sow panic among the ruling Shi’ite community.

On Oct. 7, ISIL attack Mahdi Army units were attacked south of Tikrit. Police reported that 12 Mahdi fighters were injured in Mukaishfieh.

Mahdi, which contains more than 10,000 fighters and commanded by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada Sadr, has been deemed the leading Shi’ite militia in Iraq. The militia, trained and equipped by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has been deployed against ISIL around Baghdad and in northern Iraq.

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Israel to reduce arms production in U.S. after Obama’s weapons suspension during Gaza War

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TEL AVIV — The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to reduce military coproduction with the United States.

A leading Israeli analyst asserted that the Defense Ministry and the military agreed to reduce production of Israeli weapons and platforms in the United States. The analyst, Amir Rapaport, said the decision was based on the U.S. suspension of arms deliveries during the 50-day war with Hamas in July and August 2014.

Hellfire 300x199 Israel to reduce arms production in U.S. after Obama’s weapons suspension during Gaza War

U.S. Navy aviation ordnancemen with a Hellfire missile. / U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott A. Raegen

“The Israeli defense establishment will reduce the production of weapon systems in the USA in the context of joint Israeli-American projects, and will rely more heavily on Israeli-made products,” Rapaport, editor of the authoritative Israel Defense magazine said. “Under a veil of secrecy, a decision has already been made at the Israeli Defense Ministry not to enable the production of at least one highly sensitive weapon system on U.S. soil, despite the fact that the manufacture of the said system in the USA may be funded through U.S. defense aid instead of being paid for in shekels with Israeli taxpayer money.”

Rapaport’s assertion was published on Oct. 16 on the eve of a visit by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to Washington. Ya’alon’s visit, hosted by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, was expected to focus on the U.S. weapons suspension, ordered by President Barack Obama.

“We mustn’t allow any disagreements to cast a pall over those interests and values,” Ya’alon said.

Israel, which receives $3.2 billion in annual American military aid, played down the U.S. suspension, saying it did not hamper the war against Hamas and its Palestinian militia allies in the Gaza Strip. But Rapaport, deemed close to the Defense Ministry and military, reported that the suspension marked a “major trauma in U.S.-Israel defense relations.”

“Things that had been taken for granted until Operation Protective Edge [the Gaza war], like the fact that Israel could always count on a U.S. airlift of ammunition in a time of trouble, are no longer certain at all,” Rapaport said.

As a result, the Defense Ministry and military plan to increase weapons production inside Israel. The plan envisioned the replacement of the U.S.-origin AGM-114 Hellfire missile with a model produced by Israel Aerospace Industries. During the war, Obama rejected an urgent Israeli request for Hellfires.

“Since Operation Protective Edge, Israeli defense industries have already received urgent procurement orders for arms and munitions worth billions of shekel,” Rapaport said. “This recent affair has led to a reassessment of the almost automatic reliance on an airlift of ammunition from the USA as a part of practically every wartime scenario.”

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Egypt crackdown delivers ‘devastating blow’ to Ansar, Brotherhood networks

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CAIRO — Egypt has reported a crackdown on the Islamic insurgency network.

The Interior Ministry said security forces raided suspected insurgency strongholds throughout northern Egypt. The ministry said 52 alleged operatives from eight cells were rounded up in six provinces.

EgyptCrackdown Egypt crackdown delivers ‘devastating blow’ to Ansar, Brotherhood networks

Egypt security forces struck in six provinces in the biggest operation this year.

“These cells planned to attack railroads, electrical stations and other infrastructure,” the Interior Ministry said.

Egypt has also acknowledged the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. Officials cited a three-man cell captured in mid-October in Cairo that sought to recruit Egyptians for ISIL’s wars in Iraq and Syria.

The statement on Oct. 18 marked one of the biggest crackdowns on the Islamic network in 2014. The Interior Ministry said arrests took place in the provinces of Alexandria, Daqahliya, Fayoum, Giza, Minya and Sharqiya, located near the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea.

Officials did not identify the suspects or their affiliation. But they said many of them were believed linked to either Ansar Beit Maqdis or the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. They said the Egyptian Army captured Walid Atallah, identified as the leader of Ansar’s military wing in the North Sinai province.

“He is a Palestinian who received Egyptian citizenship during the tenure of [ousted] President Mohammed Morsi,” an official said.

The Interior Ministry said authorities seized weapons, explosives and a large sum of money from the suspected strongholds. Ministry spokesman Hani Abdul Latif said the operation was meant to foil Brotherhood attacks on Egypt’s infrastructure.

“The terrorist cells planted bombs in places where people gather,” Abdul Latif said. “Some of the detainees provided information that led to the exposure of their hideouts.”

The spokesman cited the Islamic cell in Alexandria, accused of recruiting and organizing attacks. Abdul Latif said the cell sought to sow panic among students meant to delay the start of the new year.

“They received a devastating blow,” Abdul Latif said.

Ansar was also continuing operations in Sinai. On Oct. 19, at least seven soldiers were killed in an explosion near two army armored personnel vehicles near the North Sinai capital of El Arish.

“The explosion destroyed one vehicle and caused huge damage to the second vehicle,” a military statement said.

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U.S. national security prosecutors shift focus from spies to cyber

By Aruna Viswanatha

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department is restructuring its national security prosecution team to deal with cyber attacks and the threat of sensitive technology ending up in the wrong hands, as American business and government agencies face more intrusions.

The revamp, led by Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, also marks a recognition that national security threats have broadened and become more technologically savvy since the 9/11 attacks against the United States.

As part of the shift, the Justice Department has created a new position in the senior ranks of its national security division to focus on cyber security and recruited an experienced prosecutor, Luke Dembosky, to fill the position.

The agency is also renaming its counter-espionage section to reflect its expanding work on cases involving violations of export control laws, Carlin confirmed in an interview.

Such laws prohibit the export without appropriate licenses of products or machinery that could be used in weapons or other defense programs, or goods or services to countries sanctioned by the U.S. government.

“We need to develop the capability and bandwidth to deal with what we can see as an evolving threat,” said Carlin, who was confirmed to his post in April.

As Carlin builds his team, he has also recruited a new deputy, Mary McCord, from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington.

The result, according to experts, could be an uptick in the number of national security-related cases brought in federal court, a shift in focus from the National Security Division’s prior mandate to investigate intelligence violations.

“This is not just a reshuffling of the deck,” said former national security cyber crime prosecutor Nicholas Oldham, who is now in private practice.

CYBER THREATS

The changes come amid reports that hackers in Russia and elsewhere are targeting everyone from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, to JPMorgan Chase & Co and other financial institutions.

The counter espionage section, which deals less with on-the-ground spies than it used to, will now be called the Counter Intelligence and Export Controls Section. A network of terrorism prosecutors around the country called the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, or ATAC, will also be renamed the National Security/ATAC network to make clear its broader responsibilities, Carlin said.

In 2012, Carlin helped create a similar network of national security cyber specialists in each U.S. Attorney’s office around the country. That was the first of his efforts to start building cyber expertise within the group of prosecutors that had access to national security intelligence information.

In the first public case to come out of the effort, the agency charged five Chinese military officers in May, accusing them of hacking into U.S. nuclear, metal and solar companies to steal trade secrets. The move ratcheted up tensions between the two countries.

“This prosecution raises the risk that other countries are going to go after our employees … it’s a risky strategy, but a bold one,” said Amy Jeffress, a former national security prosecutor who is now in private practices at Arnold & Porter.

While the Chinese officers are not expected to be extradited to face charges in the United States, Carlin said his team is busy with similar cases that would likely be litigated in court.

“I think you will more regularly see the use of the criminal justice system … We are now actively investigating a variety of nation-state cases. Not all, but some, will result in prosecutions,” he said.

In addition to Dembosky, who was coordinating litigation within the criminal division’s computer crime section and will serve as one of four deputy assistant attorney generals, Carlin has also brought on board others with cyber expertise. He expects to bring in several more cyber lawyers soon. His chief of staff, Anita Singh, also spent time as a prosecutor in the computer crime section.

(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha. Editing by Karey Van Hall and Andre Grenon)

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Russia ruled out as culprit in Chase cyber security breach, U.S. officials say

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Russian government has been ruled out as sponsor of a cyber attack on JPMorgan Chase & Co disclosed in August, U.S. law enforcement officials said on Monday.Officials from the FBI and Secret Service told a news conference at the Financial Services Roundtable in Washington that authorities believe the attack was the work of cyber criminalsEarly news reports in August said that investigators feared the attack was conducted on behalf of the Russian government as retribution for economic sanctions imposed by the United States.     “There is no indication this was the result of sanctions,” said Joseph Demarest, assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division.

The bank has said the names and contact information of some 83 million customers were accessed, making it one of the largest breaches to date based on the number of records compromised. Yet there is no evidence that account numbers, passwords, user IDs, birth dates or Social Security numbers had been stolen.

(Reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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China-backed hackers may have infiltrated Apple’s iCloud: blog

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Apple Inc’s iCloud storage and backup service in China was attacked by hackers trying to steal user credentials and other information, a cyber security blog charged on Monday, saying it believes the country’s government is behind the campaign.

Unknown “Chinese authorities” interposed their own website between users and Apple’s iCloud, intercepting instructions and messages while the user believes he or she is communicating directly with Apple’s site, Greatfire.org wrote in its blog post.

The attack coincided with the start of iPhone 6 sales in China on Friday, the blog said.

“This is clearly a malicious attack on Apple in an effort to gain access to usernames and passwords and consequently all data stored on iCloud such as iMessages, photos, contacts, etc,” the security blog said.

It was unclear whether the hackers were still active. Apple did not have an immediate comment when contacted.

“All the evidence I’ve seen would support that this is a real attack. The Chinese government is directly attacking Chinese users of Apple’s products,” said Mikko Hypponnen, chief research officer at security software developer F-Secure. “As always, we recommend using the Internet over a trusted virtual private network.”

Greatfire.org said without elaborating that the attacks were similar to others against Google Inc and Yahoo Inc .

The United States and Western companies have accused Chinese-backed hackers of infiltrating government and corporate websites and services. But Beijing has repeatedly denied its involvement in such attacks.

The Chinese embassy was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by San Francisco newsroom. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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Apple’s iPhone sales beat Street but iPad volumes slide

By Christina Farr and Edwin Chan

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Apple Inc forecast a strong holiday quarter after a better-than-expected 16 percent jump in iPhone sales, and the strongest growth in Mac computer shipments in years helped the company surpass Wall Street’s targets.

The company on Monday projected stronger-than-expected revenue of $63.5 billion to $66.5 billion in the December quarter, when new iPads and iPhones vie with rival devices from Microsoft Corp and Amazon.com Inc for consumers’ holiday outlays.

Shares of Apple rose 1.3 percent to about $101.10 in after-hours trade.

But sales of the iPad, which helped launch the mainstream tablet market in 2010, slid for the third straight quarter. A gradual decline in tablet demand worldwide has worried investors already concerned with Apple’s slowing growth, who are awaiting a new device that can energize its expansion.

Sales of Apple’s tablet slid more than 7 percent from the previous quarter to 12.3 million units, and were down 13 percent from the year-ago period.

Some investors hope that Apple’s recently forged alliance with International Business Machines Corp , intended to drive tablet and phone sales to corporate customers, may help reverse a decline in sales of the tablet device.

Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said in an interview that the pair of tech giants had already signed on 50 “foundational” or initial clients, and the two intend to introduce their first jointly designed software apps next month.

“The level of interest from the corporate world has been incredible,” Maestri said.

WAX AND WANE

Apple’s fortunes, however, still largely hinge on the iPhone, which accounts for half its business, and the company’s ability to again re-define markets with new technology gadgets. The Apple Watch, the company’s entry in the nascent wearables category, will not hit store shelves till 2015.

Orders for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus began in September, helping Apple chalk up a 12.2 percent jump in revenue last quarter to $42.12 billion. That exceeded the roughly $39.9 billion that Wall Street analysts had predicted, on average.

The new iPhone, which comes in larger sizes and a heftier price tag, marks Apple’s best product launch on record. That helped push overall smartphone sales to 39.27 million in the September quarter, beating the roughly 38 million some on Wall Street had anticipated.

Maestri said in an interview that the new iPhones, which went on sale just last week in China, had already surpassed the previous-generation model in terms of volume.

The company also posted the strongest percentage growth in Mac sales, of 21 percent to 5.5 million units, since the December quarter of 2011.

(Reporting by Christina Farr and Edwin Chan; Editing by Chris Reese and Richard Chang)

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Oregon man said missing after answering Craigslist ad; police probing

(Reuters) – Oregon authorities are looking into the disappearance of a 19-year-old Portland man, police said on Monday, and an advocacy group said he went missing after he responded to a Craigslist job ad posted by a couple seeking a caregiver.

Ian Biggs was dropped off at a downtown Portland train station by a friend on Oct. 11 as he headed to meet the couple in a large park, said Michelle Bart, a spokeswoman for the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation, which represents the man’s mother.

Biggs was last seen by a clerk at a Portland gas station where he stopped to buy cigarettes on his way, Bart said. He never returned.

A Portland Police Department spokesman confirmed that police were looking into the disappearance but said it was too early to say if it was connected to the advertisement or if the man was thought to be a victim of foul play.

Bart said Biggs, a “chronic Facebook user” who has been inactive on the social media website since his disappearance, had also failed to show up to a baby sitting job the night after he vanished.

The disappearance comes about a month after Pennsylvania newlyweds who admitted using Craigslist to lure a victim for a thrill-killing were sentenced to life in prison without parole in a plea deal that spared them from the death penalty.

Craigslist did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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