Daily Archives: April 19, 2015

In South Africa, bomber of apartheid era nuclear power plant is a ...

Nuclear risksIn South Africa, bomber of apartheid era nuclear power plant is a hero, not a terrorist

Published 20 April 2015

In December 1982, Rodney Wilkinson planted four bombs that caused $519 million in damages at the Koeberg nuclear power plant north of Cape Town, South Africa. The attack, which many believe to be the most ambitious and successful terror attack against a nuclear facility, remains a symbol of African National Congress (ANC) war against South Africa’s then-apartheid government. The 1982 Koeberg assault, however, and a 2007 raidby two yet-to-be-identified armed groups on South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear research site, are at the root of U.S. concerns about the safety of South Africa’s roughly 485 pounds stockpile of highly enriched uranium.

In December 1982, Rodney Wilkinson planted four bombs that caused $519 million in damages at the Koeberg nuclear power plant north of Cape Town, South Africa. The attack, which many believe to be the most ambitious and successful terror attack against a nuclear facility, remains a symbol of African National Concress (ANC) triumph against South Africa’s then-apartheid government.

The 1982 Koeberg assault, however, and a 2007 raid by two yet-to-be-identified armed groups on South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear research site, are at the root of U.S. concerns about the safety of South Africa’s roughly 485 pounds stockpile of highly-enriched uranium. The Obama administration says that security at South Africa’s nuclear facilities, where the cou8ntry’s nuclear material is held, is lax, leaving the bomb-grade materials vulnerable to thieves and terrorists. South Africa president Jacob Zuma has insisted that the threat of nuclear terror are overplayed (see “South Africa refuses to give up cache of weapon-grade uranium,” HSNW, 19 March 2015).

Wilkinson, a white South African, was a collegiate fencing champion whose hopes of competing in the Olympic games in the 1970s were dashed by international sanctions against the South African government. After dropping out of college and serving briefly with the South African military in Angola, Wilkinson joined a commune near the construction site of the Koeberg nuclear power station. When he ran out of cash, he landed a job as a laborer, helping build the twin-reactor plant.

Supporters of the anti-apartheid movement and the ANC saw Koeberg as a symbol of a racist regime’s nuclear ambitions, and therefore a legitimate target for ANC saboteurs. Wilkinson became an active supporter of the ANC after he was inspired by the 1979 arrest of Renfrew Christie, an ANC figure with a doctorate from Oxford who spent seven years in prison for spying on South Africa’s nuclear program.

After working at Koeberg for a few months, Wilkinson managed to get his hands on a copy of the facility’s blueprints. He traveled to neighboring Zimbabwe and handed the copy to Sathyandranath “Mac” Maharaj, who was convicted in 1964 of more than fifty acts of sabotage against the apartheid government. After serving twelve years in prison, Maharaj became a senior ANC official in exile.

Upon verifying that the blueprints were authentic, Maharaj, who is now the official spokesman for South African president Jacob Zuma, suggested Wilkinson plant bombs at the facility before it was loaded with radioactive fuel. “The purpose was to make a political statement and to cause as much damage as possible,” Wilkinson said in an interview with the Center for Public Integrity. “We didn’t want to hurt anybody, and I completely didn’t want to get killed.”

Wilkinson took on the challenge, and through a series of maneuvers, which included getting a job that allowed him access to the facility’s most sensitive areas, he planted the last of four Soviet-made limpet mines on 17 December 1982 and set the timers to go off a day later. Wilkinson had announced months earlier that he would quit his job on that day, so when the explosion occurred, he was not considered a suspect. The ANC claimed credit for the attack, which caused no injuries, and Wilkinson was never caught or identified as a suspect.

It was because I was white,” he said. Years later, Wilkinson told his story to the South African Mail and Guardian newspaper, and was granted amnesty by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1999.

The Washington Post quotes Gabrielle Hecht, a University of Michigan historian who published Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade in 2012, as saying that the aphorism that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter is relevant to the longstanding disagreement between Washington and Pretoria. The difference in perspective, she said, makes nuclear security a lower priority for South Africa than the prospect of establishing energy and economic security from nuclear power. “It’s utterly unsurprising that the two nations would not be seeing eye to eye” on the threat of nuclear-related terror, Hecht said.

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Yemen chaos makes the country a haven for an al-Qaeda affiliate

TerrorismYemen chaos makes the country a haven for an al-Qaeda affiliate

Published 20 April 2015

Over the past year, while ISIS gained control of vast territories in Syria and Iraq, U.S. drone strikes and military raids in Yemen drove al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) into hiding. The current chaos in Yemen’s multi-sided war, however, has allowed AQAP militants to recreate a haven which counterterrorism experts say could help it launch terrorist attacks. U.S. officials acknowledge the changes on the ground, but say U.S. strategy has not changed. “Our efforts have to change their character but remain steady in their intensity,” said Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

Over the past year, while ISIS gained control of vast territories in Syria and Iraq, U.S. drone strikes and military raids in Yemen drove al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) into hiding. The current chaos in Yemen’s multi-sided war, however, has allowed AQAP militants to recreate a haven which counterterrorism experts say could help it launch terrorist attacks.

Last fall, the Houthis, a Shiite minority group supported by Iran, overran Sana, the capital of Yemen, and took over much of the government. The Houthis then moved south, and as they began to close in on Aden, the country’s economic hub, a Saudi-led coalition of moderate Sunnis state has been conducting, since 26 March, a campaign of aerial strikes against the Iran-supported Houthis.

The Yemeni government toppled by the advancing Houthis was a pro-American government and a partner in the war against al-Qaeda and its local affiliates, and AQAP leaders in Yemen were quick to take advantage of the fact that the U.S. now finds itself without this local ally. According to the Los Angeles Times, in the past few weeks fighters aligned with AQAP have sized territories in Yemen, robbed roughly $1 million from a Yemeni central bank branch, broke into a prison, and captured a military base, in the process improving the terror group’s ability to recruit, wage attacks, and finance its operations. AQAP militants have also seized a regional airport, a coastal oil terminal, and a weapons depot containing armored vehicles and rockets.

They “are doing exactly what we expected them to do, which is take advantage of the chaos,” a U.S. counterterrorism official said last Friday.

Still the threat posed by AQAP goes beyond the battle in Yemen. U.S. intelligence officials consider AQAP the most active and most dangerous al-Qaeda franchise, mostly due to its global strategy. The group has repeatedly attempted to smuggle sophisticated bombs onto U.S. passenger and cargo planes. It was AQAP‘s top bomb maker, Ibrahim Hassan Asiri, who assembled the underwear bomb that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate on a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit in December 2009. Asiri also hid bombs in printer cartridges that were meant to detonate in cargo planes over U.S. cities in 2010. The devices were intercepted after a tip from Saudi intelligence.

The 2013 Boston Marathon bombers read instructions on how to build a pressure cooker bomb in Inspire, an English-language magazine published by AQAP. Earlier this year, AQAP claimed responsibility for planning the shooting at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo.

The crisis in Yemen has given AQAP “a lot more elbow room,” said Stephen Seche, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 2007 to 2010. With the Saudi airstrikes focused on Houthi rebels, AQAP militants continue to grab territory, playing out the same strategy ISIS continues to carry out in Syria and Iraq. “If they can seize and hold territory … if they can loot banks, they are seen as more viable and can recruit troops,” he said.

Pentagon officials insist that the U.S. strategy in Yemen is still intact despite having a special operations unit and intelligence officials forced out of the country last month. It was reported last week that Ibrahim al-Rubaish, an AQAP spiritual leader and former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen.

Our efforts have to change their character but remain steady in their intensity,” said Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

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Enemy reconnaissance flights over South and…

NNA – “Two Israeli reconnaissance planes breached the Lebanese airspace at 5:50 a.m. Saturday over the seaside off West Beirut and the town of Alma el-Shaeb in the South, circled over the areas of Riyaq, Zahle, Baalbek, Hermel and various Southern regions, and then left consecutively at 7:30 p.m. over the aforementioned town of Alma Shaeb and Kfarkila, a Lebanese Army communiqué indicated Sunday.

“Furthermore, two other Israeli enemy warplanes violated the national airspace at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday over the town of Kfarkila, circled above all Lebanese regions, and then left at 2:00 p.m. from over Alma el-Shaeb,” the Army communiqué added.

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UN urges &#39robust&#39 rescue operations for refugees ...

19 April 2015 – The head of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has expressed shock at the news of the latest boat capsizing in the Mediterranean Sea in which hundreds of people are feared lost, adding that such a catastrophic event provides yet another indication of the need for a &#8220robust&#8221 rescue-at-sea mechanism aimed at preventing future tragedies.

&#8220This disaster confirms how urgent it is to restore a robust rescue-at-sea operation and establish credible legal avenues to reach Europe,&#8221 UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres confirmed in a press release issued today. &#8220Otherwise people seeking safety will continue to perish at sea.&#8221

According to initial accounts, the boat overturned shortly before midnight on 18 April in Libyan waters and some 180 kilometres south of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Italian and Maltese naval vessels and merchant ships are reportedly in the area and currently involved in the ongoing rescue operation. Nonetheless, only around 50 of the 700 migrants reported to be aboard the capsized boat have so far been rescued.

The incident &#8211 which occurred overnight &#8211 will be the largest loss of life from any incident involving refugees and migrants on the Mediterranean Sea and comes just days after a similar maritime tragedy took another 400 lives.

The UN refugee agency has long been advocating for a comprehensive and urgent response from the European Union and shared specific proposals including the establishment of a possible scheme to compensate shipping companies involved in rescuing people at sea, increasing credible legal alternatives to dangerous voyages and a pilot relocation programme for Syrians refugees arriving in Italy and Greece.

At the same time, Mr. Guterres said today’s tragedy also pointed to the need for a comprehensive European approach to address the root causes that drive so many people to such a tragic end.

&#8220I hope the EU will rise to the occasion, fully assuming a decisive role to prevent future such tragedies,&#8221 he added.

2015 has already seen some 31,500 people make crossings to Italy and Greece &#8211 the first and second largest countries of arrival respectively. UNHCR has reported that numbers have also been recently picking up as weather conditions in the Mediterranean improve.

If today’s death toll is confirmed, some 1600 people would have died already this year attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.

"Tragedy" of 700 feared dead in Mediterranean

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Migrants are felling instability in North Africa (file photo)
UN Photo

As many as 700 migrants are feared to have died after a boat capsized off the Libyan coast the UN has said.

It’s thought the passengers were heading towards the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Daniel Dickinson reports.

If confirmed, the incident would be one of the worst disasters involving migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

The boat, which it’s thought was operated by people smugglers, is believed to have capsized when migrants moved to one side of the overcrowded vessel.

A recent intensification of lawlessness in Libya has reportedly provided smugglers with more opportunities to traffic people across the Mediterranean.

The international community is currently meeting at the UN Crime Congress in Qatar and has been discussing, amongst other issues, transnational organized crime.

Yury Fedotov the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had this to say about the incident.

“There can be no more relevant example of what this congress stands for, and what we confront around the world, than this awful news today that 700 men, woman and children are feared to have drowned off the coast of Lampedusa. Such tragedies must serve to strengthen our determination to ensure that we implement the Doha Declaration on behalf of the victims of crime, including migrants, and that we track down the smugglers who feed off desperation.”

The Doha Declaration outlines policies, which promote the rule of law globally.

Daniel Dickinson, United Nations

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Clashes between Yemen rebels, President all…

NNA – Clashes between Shiite rebels and pro-president forces in southern Yemen overnight left 21 dead, on the fourth week of a Saudi-led air campaign against insurgents, medics and local sources said Sunday.

Ten Huthi rebels and four members of the “popular committees” militia fighting on the side of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi were killed in pre-dawn clashes in the southwestern city of Taez, the sources said.

The “popular committees” are fighting alongside the military’s 35th armoured brigade which remains loyal to the exiled Hadi.

They received air support from warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition, which bombed Huthi positions, according to witnesses.

The rebels sent in reinforcements from the cities of Hodeida and Ibb to Taez.

The city has become the scene of fierce clashes over the past week, after having been largely spared in fighting that has spread across several Yemeni provinces.

The rebels who seized Sanaa unopposed in September, have since expanded their control over several provinces.

Saudi Arabia mounted an air campaign at Hadi’s request as the Huthis closed in on his refuge in the southern city of Aden in March.

Hadi had escaped Huthi house-arrest in Sanaa late February and resurfaced in the port city, which he declared a temporary capital. He has since taken refuge in Riyadh.

In Aden, southern fighters clashed on Saturday night with rebels and allied troops who have seized parts of the city, residents said, but no casualty toll was available.

Also in the south, Sunni tribesmen killed seven Huthi fighters in an attack on their position in Ataq, the provincial capital of Shabwa, tribal sources said.

And three al-Qaida suspects were killed in a U.S. drone attack in Saeed, elsewhere in Shabwa, a local tribal chief said, adding that the militants were in a vehicle transporting weapons.

Washington classifies Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula as the most dangerous affiliate of the jihadist organisation.–AFP

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