ISIL threat at Mecca: Saudis complete exercise for upcoming pilgrimage

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ABU DHABI — Saudi Arabia has completed a major security exercise for upcoming pilgrimages to Mecca.

Officials said the Interior Ministry oversaw an exercise meant to enhance the security forces for the Haj pilgrimage in early October.

Muslim pilgrims gather atop Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the peak of the annual haj pilgrimage in 2013.  /Reuters

Muslim pilgrims gather atop Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the peak of the annual Haj pilgrimage in 2013. /Reuters

They said the exercise took place in Mecca and included live fire and rescue operations.

“They are ready to face any challenge,” Interior Ministry public security director Maj. Gen. Othman Al Mihrij said.

Officials said the Interior Ministry oversaw the deployment of 70,000 officers for the Haj. They said the ministry was preparing the force for Mecca as well as nearby Islamic sites.

The recent exercise included scenarios of hostage rescue, hand-to-hand combat and patrols. Officials said the ground operations were supported by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft amid threats by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.

“We know that the IS is supported by certain countries and organizations but we are well prepared to confront them with all our force and determination,” Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef said. “Our security forces have foiled hundreds of terrorist operations in the past.”

Officials said Saudi security forces were placed on alert for the Haj. They said the Interior Ministry was cooperating with the Defense Ministry and National Guard Ministry.

“They are the shields of the nation,” Al Mihrij said.

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Iran in talks on new energy exploration with 18 foreign companies

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NICOSIA — Iran has been negotiating with foreign companies for new energy exploration.

0423-cyberattack-iran-oil_full_600_550x300Officials said the Teheran regime has been talking to 18 foreign companies regarding crude oil and natural gas exploration.

The officials said several of the companies have already agreed to return to Iran, under sanctions for much of the last decade.

“There could be 15 blocks offered for a tender for foreign companies,” National Iranian Oil Co. exploration director Hormoz Qalavand said.

Qalavand did not identify the companies. He said 40 hydrocarbon blocks have been designated in Iran for future exploration.

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Both Koreas, China and Russia have meeting of minds on ‘world-class’ travel destination

Special to WorldTribune.com from EastAsiaIntel.com

South Korea, China, Mongolia and Russia have agreed to develop a “world-class” travel destination near a North Korean river that flows along the borders with China and Russia, Beijing’s state media reported.

The Tumen River.

The Tumen River.

The agreement was reached at a meeting of tourism officials from the four nations in northeast China’s Hunchun city in Jilin province as part of the Greater Tumen Initiative (GTI) supported by the United Nations Development Program, according to the China Daily.

“The Northeast Asia region has become one of the fastest-growing tourism destination regions in the world and we hope to build up the region to be a world-class tourism destination,” Zhao Xiaojun, director of the Jilin Provincial Tourism Administration, was quoted as saying.

Zhao suggested that the GTI could learn from “the cross-border tourism experiences” of the EU and North America, and build the region to be a cooperative area of the Tumen River Delta, the daily reported on Sept. 22.

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Egypt focuses attacks on ISIL-backed Ansar militants in Sinai

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CAIRO — Egypt has maintained its counter-insurgency offensive in northeastern Sinai.

The military said the crackdown included the capture of 84 suspected insurgents in both Sinai as well as along the adjacent Suez Canal.

Egyptian forces destroy a smuggling tunnel.

Egyptian forces destroy a smuggling tunnel.

The insurgents were said to have facilitated the flow of weapons to Ansar Beit Maqdis from neighboring Libya.

Officials said Ansar joined Palestinians and other Islamists to smuggle weapons and fighters from the Gaza Strip. They said Ansar was being supported by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, believed to have facilitated the flow of fighters from Lebanon and Syria.

“Security forces have destroyed 18 tunnels in recent operations,” the military said.

The military said the Egyptian Army and Central Security Forces were continuing intensive operations near the Sinai border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The military said the offensive focused on the corridor between Rafah and Sheik Zweid, regarded as the stronghold of Ansar.

“Twenty-six militants were killed in battles with security forces between Sept. 20 and Sept. 27,” the military said.

In a statement on Sept. 28, the military said the insurgents were killed in Sinai as well as on the Egyptian mainland. A key operation was said to have taken place in villages south of Sheik Zweid.

So far, at least 18 Ansar fighters were reported killed in the operation near Sheik Zweid. Officials said this included a senior commander of the group, identified as Suleiman Ayed Suleiman and linked to Al Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood.

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Hamas, Fatah fight over hundreds of millions in donations to rebuild Gaza Strip

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WASHINGTON — Two ruling Palestinian factions have been battling for control over what was expected to be billions of dollars in donations to reconstruct the Gaza Strip, a report said.

The Gatestone Institute asserted that Fatah and Hamas intensified their rivalry in an effort to become the address for Arab and Western donors.

Gaza City

Gaza City

In a report, the institute cited accusations between the two movements of corruption and embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid to the Palestinians.

“Without a proper mechanism of accountability and transparency, hundreds of millions of dollars are likely to find their way into the bank accounts of both Hamas and Fatah leaders,” the report, titled “Hamas and Fatah Already Fighting Over Gaza Funds,” said.

Author Khaled Abu Toameh, a leading Israeli analyst of the Palestinians, said the Fatah-Hamas rivalry has focused on garnering support at a proposed international conference to reconstruct the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the war with Israel in July and August 2014. The parley, expected to be held in Cairo, highlighted the failure of the reconciliation accord between the two movements, which included a unity Palestinian Authority government.

The PA has acknowledged widespread corruption and embezzlement regarding donor funds. The PA Anti-Corruption Commission reported the retrieval of $70 million in funds embezzled by PA officials.

At the same time, Fatah has accused Hamas of stealing $700 million in international aid meant for Gazans. Fatah did not cite the source of the foreign money since the ceasefire in August.

“Hamas and Fatah know that hundreds of millions of dollars will sooner or later be allocated by Arab and Western donors for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip,” the report, dated Sept. 20, said. “The two parties are determined to lay their hands on the funds, knowing that he who controls the money controls the people.”

Still, Fatah and Hamas were said to be desperate for cash. In mid-September, Hamas security officers were said to have raided the Bank of Palestine in Gaza City and made off with $750,000 in cash. The money was said to come from an account of the Palestinian Jawal Cellular Co.

At the same time, Fatah has accused its own members of stealing public funds. Dozens of Fatah members in the Gaza Strip urged PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to investigate the embezzlement of funds meant for Palestinian families.

“A Palestinian Authority official bought chocolate for 300 Shekels [$90] while our men are being ignored and cannot afford to use public transportation or feed their children,” an unidentified Fatah official was quoting as saying.

Abu Toameh urged Arab and Western states to institute a mechanism to prevent stealing of donor funds. He did not elaborate.

“Without a proper mechanism of accountability and transparency, hundreds of millions of dollars are likely to find their way into the bank accounts of both Hamas and Fatah leaders,” the report said.

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Supervalu says malware affects four stores in Minnesota

(Reuters) – Supermarket chain Supervalu Inc reported on Monday a second attack against its payment systems barely two months after it said it was investigating a potential data breach.

The company said it found malicious software on a part of its network that might have affected payment cards used at four of its Cub Foods franchise stores in Hastings, Shakopee, Roseville and White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

The company said an intruder installed different malware on some parts of its computer network in late August or early September at some of its retail, food and associated stand-alone liquor stores.

The retailer, which operates 3,320 outlets in the United States, said this security breach was separate from the one it reported on Aug. 14.

Supervalu said the malware could have recorded account numbers, payment card expiration dates and cardholder names from cards used at the four Cub Foods stores between Aug. 27 and Sep. 21. These stores had yet to implement its protective technology.

The supermarket operator believed the malware had not succeeded in capturing data from payment cards used at any of its other stores, where it had implemented protective technology.

The attacks are not expected to have an adverse impact on its financial results or position, the company said.

Supervalu also said it notified federal law enforcement authorities and is cooperating in the investigation of the intrusion. It also notified the major payment card brands.

Cyber attacks at retailers and corporations have been growing as cyber criminals use increasingly sophisticated attacks to hack into networks and steal valuable data.

Home improvement chain Home Depot Inc said earlier this month that about 56 million payment cards were likely compromised in a cyber attack at its stores.

Home Depot said criminals used unique, custom-built software that had not been seen in previous attacks and was designed to evade detection.

Restaurant chain Jimmy John’s also said last week there was a potential security breach involving customer credit and debit card data at 216 of its stores and franchised locations.

Supervalu shares were down about 1.8 percent in extended trading on Monday.

(Reporting by Ramkumar Iyer in Bangalore. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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EU telecoms nominee stands up for net neutrality

By Julia Fioretti

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Telecoms operators should not be allowed to strike lucrative deals with bandwidth-hungry content providers such as Netflix and Google to provide them with quicker Internet access, the incoming EU telecoms commissioner said on Monday.

Net neutrality, the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally, has emerged as the main sticking point in discussions on a legislative package to overhaul Europe’s ailing telecoms sector, which Germany’s Guenther Oettinger will inherit from his predecessor Neelie Kroes.

“Net neutrality is a common interest for all users and for all citizens, and additionally in the public interest – emergency cases and so on – there may be an exemption, but not for businesses, not for business cases, therefore we need neutrality for all users,” Oettinger said.

The European Parliament voted in April for strict rules preventing internet service providers from blocking or throttling content to manage the traffic on their networks.

But telecoms operators say that charging for different speeds and services would help them invest in upgrading their networks, an area where Europe lags the United States and Asia.

The German center-right politician also told members of the European Parliament he would work to ensure roaming fees for using mobile phones across the 28-country bloc come to an end and promised to modernize the EU’s copyright rules to reflect the rise of digital technologies.

He struck a combative note when asked by EU lawmakers on the European Commission’s investigation into Internet giant Google over its competitive practices, saying it ought to be seen as a model case.

“The question is, do we see that as an isolated case or do we see that as nexus of a ‘Google package'” Oettinger said.

His hearing was among the first of a series over the next nine days that could make or break a plan to reshape the 28-nation EU under new management in an effort to revive the economy and regain trust among its half-billion people.

The new team of 28 Commissioners, one from each EU country, includes five former prime ministers. The executive headed by former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker is due to take over from the current team, led by Portugal’s Jose Manuel Barroso, for a five-year term starting Nov. 1.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; editing by Andrew Hay)

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New documents show legal basis for NSA surveillance programs

By Nate Raymond and Aruna Viswanatha

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Documents released by the U.S. government show it views an executive order issued in 1981 as the basis of most of the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities, the American Civil Liberties Union said on Monday.

The NSA relied on Executive Order 12333 more than it did on two other laws that have been the focus of public debate following the leaks exposing U.S. surveillance programs by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, according to the papers released by the ACLU.

The ACLU obtained the documents after filing a lawsuit last year seeking information in connection with the order, which it said the NSA was using to collect vast amounts of data worldwide, “inevitably” including communications of U.S. citizens.

The order, signed in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, was intended to give the government broad authority over surveillance of international targets.

One of the documents obtained was a 2007 NSA manual citing the executive order as “the primary source of NSA’s foreign intelligence-gathering authority.”

A legal fact sheet on the memo produced in June 2013, two weeks after Snowden’s disclosures, said the NSA relied on the executive order for the “majority” of its activities involving intelligence gathered through signals interception.

Alex Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney, said in a blog post published on Monday that the documents “confirm that the order, although not the focus of the public debate, actually governs most of the NSA’s spying.”

“Congress’s reform efforts have not addressed the executive order, and the bulk of the government’s disclosures in response to the Snowden revelations have conspicuously ignored the NSA’s extensive mandate under EO 12333,” Abdo wrote.

Neither the NSA nor U.S. Department of Justice, which is defending the lawsuit, responded to requests for comment Monday.

The ACLU’s lawsuit, filed in December 2013 in New York, cited news reports indicating that, under the order, the NSA is collecting data on cell phone locations and email contact lists, as well as information from Google Inc and Yahoo! Inc user accounts.

In his blog post, Abdo said the documents made clear the government is collecting information that goes beyond just terrorist threats.

The documents, he wrote, could also add credence to concerns the government could use its “broad surveillance power to conduct economic espionage or to spy on Americans it hoped to convert into confidential informants.”

An internal U.S. Defense Department presentation released in response to the lawsuit said it could, under the order, collect information on U.S. citizens or organizations in a number of scenarios.

Those include if a commercial organization is believed to have ties to foreign organizations or people and “potential sources of assistance to intelligence activities,” the document said.

The case is American Civil Liberties Union et al v. National Security Agency et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-9198.

(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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Europe’s police need data law changes to fight cybercrime: Europol

By Eric Auchard

LONDON (Reuters) – Law enforcers in Europe need greater powers to retain data for longer in order to catch cybercriminals selling discrete services that police cannot trace under existing regulations, according to a Europol report published on Monday.

Cybercrime is increasingly conducted by a highly specialized chain of software break-in experts, underground market-makers and buy-side fraudsters who convert stolen passwords and identities into financial gains. Criminals can keep data for months or even years before using it to defraud victims.

The study, entitled “The Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment” by the EU’s criminal intelligence agency, says because laws limit how much data can be held and for how long, police cannot effectively trace and prosecute criminals.

Tougher laws for investigating and prosecuting cybercrime also need to be harmonized across the bloc, the report said.

“The majority of intelligence and evidence for cyber investigations comes from private industry. With no data retention, there can be no attribution and therefore no prosecutions,” says Europol of criminals who often operate beyond EU borders in Eastern Europe and beyond.

Europol also says the pool of cyberfraudsters is growing.

“Entry barriers into cybercrime are being lowered, allowing those lacking technical expertise — including traditional organized crime groups — to venture into cybercrime by purchasing the skills and tools they lack,” it said.

While providing no specific numbers, the agency says that the scale of financial losses due to online fraud has surpassed damages to payment from physical credit and other payment cards. Losses are huge, not just for card issuers but also for airlines, hotels and online retailers, the report states.

In other recommendations, it also warns about the abuse of anonymous virtual currency schemes such as bitcoin, pointing to a “considerable challenge in tracking such transactions or even identifying activities such as money laundering”.

The agency highlights the role of anonymous, private networks, known as Darknets, in enabling a vast underground trade in drugs, weapons, stolen goods, stolen personal and payment card data, forged documents and child pornography.

Europol’s report capitalizes on a growing body of literature from academic and private sector cyber threat researchers that have traced the rise of such online criminal marketplaces trading in billions of personal financial details.

“THE FUTURE IS ALREADY HERE”

Cybercriminals are cashing in on the latest Internet trends such as Big Data, Cloud Computing and The Internet of Things, allowing them to rent massive computing power to analyze vast troves of data gathered from the ever-expanding range of connected devices in homes, cars and on consumers themselves.

For example, the report finds that “Big Data” predictive software is now used by criminals to identify the most lucrative targets for credit card fraud and to improve methods of tricking consumers into divulging more personal data for later attacks.

“The future is already here,” the Europol study states.

The agency describes the rise of what it labels “Crime-as-a-Service”, running illicit activities via a network of independent suppliers, mimicking parts of the “Software as a Service” playbook that drives top Web companies, including Salesforce, Amazon.com and Google.

Crime-as-a-Service offerings include:

* Data as a service collects huge volumes of compromised financial data such as credit cards and bank account details and bundles it with standard personal ID info. Such specialization allows the massive automation of both online and offline fraud.

* Pay-per-install, another service, is a means of distributing malware to comprised computers, by country or demographic, expediting both online and offline fraud because it frees fraudsters from having to steal personal data themselves.

* Translation services, in which native speakers are hired to convert phishing or spam attacks written in one language into convincing, grammatically correct scripts in other tongues.

* Money laundering services act as bridges to cash out from digital or physical world financial systems, often using money mules as go-betweens.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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Uber to use regular taxi drivers in Germany

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Online transportation company Uber said on Monday it would offer services using regular, licensed taxi drivers in Germany, where taxi associations have been trying to stop it operating.

Uber said it would start its UberTaxi service — which uses regular taxi drivers to pick up rides in their down time — in Berlin and Hamburg before rolling it out in other cities.

While UberTaxi’s prices often undercut those of the regular taxi organizations trying to block the company, the service can benefit individual drivers by finding them passengers at times they would otherwise have been waiting on a stand.

The UberTaxi service is already running in London and New York and Uber is starting it in Germany after attempts to launch other services were blocked.

Courts in Berlin and Hamburg have banned Uber’s classic low-cost, limousine pick-up service UberBlack as well as UberPop, a newer ride-sharing service that links private drivers with passengers.

The courts said Uber’s drivers did not comply with German law for the commercial transportation of passengers.

Uber also said it would modify its UberBlack service to comply with the Berlin court ruling — while also appealing against it — and was considering contesting the Hamburg ruling.

Uber, which was recently valued at $18 billion, has been shadowed by skirmishes with taxi operators and local authorities in many cities where it operates, starting in its home base of San Francisco.

It is active in 43 countries and has pulled out of only one city: Vancouver, Canada.

The Berlin court said last week there was no way of telling whether private drivers using the UberPop mobile phone app were fit for the special responsibility of carrying passengers.

It said the UberBlack service did not meet the legal requirement for taxis to return to their service center and so fell between regulations for taxi and rental car services.

(Reporting by Harro ten Wolde; editing by David Clarke)

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