Lightning Strikes Twice? Malaysia Airline Tragedies

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:10 p.m. DST, 17 July 2014

Malaysia Airline Flight MH17 Fatal Crash - 07.17.14, Painting by Richard Lee

DONETSK, Ukraine -- First, we preface this article with our sympathies for the families and friends of the 295 people who died when a Malaysian Airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine earlier today.

It is a horrific tragedy, in a world which has become increasingly violent, whether by design or happenstance, and for which there is no explanation.

The tragedy of Flight MH17 could also be considered a "smoking gun" for a conspiracy theorist.  By definition a theory is based upon postulation not fact, and to postulate that a conspiracy exists without evidence is the very definition of an infinite loop.

Though not a mathematician, it seems statistically improbable that two Malaysia Airlines' planes would crash, killing 239 and 295 people respectively.  Flight 370 was lost in the Indian Ocean and the reason for its crash has yet to be determined.

According to M.I.T's Sloan School Statistician Arnold Barnett, "if you take one flight a day, you would on average need to fly every day for 55,000 years before being involved in a fatal crash. (Source: ABC)

However, it would seem that the caveat to this postulate is that it only applies if you are not on a flight originating from or flying to Kuala Lumpur.  Both planes disappeared while in a cruising altitude of 10,000 metres (33,000 feet) and otherwise showing no signs of distress.

Flight 370 vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board after it took off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing. Flight MH17 originated from Amsterdam bound for Kuala Lumpur and is reported to have been brought down by a Buk anti-aircraft system.  The possible culprits in this latest Malaysian Airline disaster were quickly identified as a pro-Russian separatists group which admits to previously downing cargo planes, but vociferously denies any involvement in this attack.

Or it could be those pesky Russians, a perfect scapegoat easily maligned given their recent bad behavior and Cold War Era reputation. This is not to state that Russia couldn't have been involved, or that Russia is a country intent upon promoting peaceful coexistence with other countries, a position easily discredited by its current hostilities with Ukraine.

Russia is a perfect scapegoat, but this seems a pedestrian and all together too neat explanation for two catastrophes disparate in every other way except Kuala Lumpur.  Sometimes the most obvious is a distraction, very much like the character Oz in The Wizard of Oz, who upon discovery states "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

Amidst the cacophony of calls by world leaders to investigate the cause of this crash and bring the guilty to swift and harsh justice, there is no one to blame for the deaths of the 239 passengers of Flight 370 who seem to have receded from the public's mind in lieu of more current affairs.

But, what if this was less about the improbability of two airlines from the same carrier crashing just 4-months apart, than a targeted assassination of an individual or individuals who were somehow traveling from or to Kuala Lumpur, and the rest of the family and loved ones were simply 'collateral damage?'

In the light of the pain that many people are experiencing today as a result of this tragedy, this speculation brings no closure, no comfort, and no answers.  But, as initially proffered, there is more to this story than meets the eye, and it is the stuff that conspiracy thrillers are made of.

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias

55 Convicted in Mass Trial in China's Northwest

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 12:36 p.m. DST, 1 June 2014

"Harmony in Urumqi #2" Photo by: David Vilder

XINJIANG UYGHUR  - In China’s Xinjiang stadium packed with 7,000 observers, 55 people were convicted of terrorism, murder, and separatism. At least one convict was given a death sentence. One man was jailed for 15 years after preaching holy war to his son and another man. Another was given five years in prison for ethnically discriminatory comments he made in chat groups. Three defendants were convicted of using “extremely cruel methods” to kill four people, including a 3-year-old girl on April 20, 2013.

China used mass trials in the Cultural Revolution and again in the 1980s and 90s to combat the rise in crime due to social upheavals related to China’s economic overhaul, but the practice has since faded from use. The AP says, “Such sentencing rallies — designed to humiliate the accused and feed a public thirst for retribution — were formerly common across China, but have in recent years been mostly restricted to Xinjiang and the neighboring restive region of Tibet.”

These convicts are reported to be Uighurs, members of the region’s biggest Muslim minority group. They are Turkic Central Asian people related to Khazaks and Uzbeks. With different accents and slightly European features, they are recognized as distinctly different from China’s Jan majority. Uighurs face discrimination, restrictions on culture and religion, and economic disenfranchisement, and they are increasingly fighting for independence for their northwestern homeland of Xinjiang, an area that borders Afghanistan. The Chinese government claims the unrest amongst the Uighurs is due to extremist groups with ties to Islamic terrorist groups abroad, though experts dispute this.

In the mainly Muslim area of Xinjiang, last week 43 people were killed and 90 wounded, in a vegetable market in Urumqi after two SUVs rammed through shoppers and set off explosives. The Xinjiang regional government said the early morning attack was “a serious violent terrorist incident of a particularly vile nature”. This is the second attack in Urumqi in 3 weeks, after a bomb killed one and wounded 79 in a train station in April.

On Tuesday police in southwestern Xinjiang arrested five people in relation to a bomb plot. The government has detained more than 200 people this month and 23 extremist groups have been broken up. Additionally, the Yili branch of the Xinjiang High Court, announced that 65 people were arrested and detained for offenses including separatism and covering up crimes and rape. In March 2014, 29 people were stabbed to death at a train station in Yunnana. All of these attacks are blamed on Uighur extremists.

Uighur’s have been increasingly facing harassment by the police after a suicide SUV attack at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Five have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in this “carefully planned terrorism,” police revealed. Knives, iron rods, and a flag with religious slogans were found in the vehicle used in this attack. Dozens were injured, and three of the car’s occupants and two bystanders were killed. If proved to be carried out by Uighurs, this is the first attack outside the Xinjiang region in recent history.

China has declared a year-long campaign against terrorism.

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

The Ways And Means Of Boko Haram

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 19:15 p.m. DST, 9 May 2014

"Combined force clears insurgent camp" Photo by: International Security Assistance ForceBORNO, Nigeria -- Modeled in the image of the Taliban and affiliated with the al Qaeda network, Boko Haram is not a newcomer to the industry of terror. Posing as a legitimate branch of Islam, the dangerous extremist group has orchestrated a campaign of heinous crimes against humanity for the past five years.

Operating in northern Nigeria and parts of Cameroon and Niger, the insurgents have recently stirred international attention after abducting more than 250 young women from an all-girls boarding school in Chibok last month. While the Borno-based kidnappings have rightfully triggered media outrage, Boko Haram's other efforts are equally disturbing.

On Monday, 5 May 2014, the guerrillas waged a 12-hour massacre on civilians in the small town of Gamboru Ngala, located in the northeast corner of Nigeria. Just miles from the Cameroon border, the assailants stormed a local market, firing upon patrons and later burning the bazaar. Boko Haram bombed the police headquarters and destroyed community buildings, burning many victims alive. Nigerian officials estimate the death toll at 300.

The mission of Boko Haram is fragmented at best. Outspoken leader Abubakar Shekau is an equal opportunity hate monger, whose agenda targets Christians, Muslims and state and local governments. Tenets of Boko Haram include the strict compliance of Sharia law, which codifies gender roles and regulations according to the Quran.

Boko Haram formed as a response to perceived issues in the Nigerian government, and they intend to oust President Goodluck Johnathan. In a sense, the continued existence of the extremists and the relative ease at which the group is able to operate is seeming confirmation that problems persist in the standing administration. As a whole, the police force in Nigeria is seen as impotent, and as a result many crimes are never reported to authorities.

The beginnings of Boko Haram indignation and hostility trace back to unresolved cultural clashes and a lack of security presence. Human Rights Watch documents the ongoing battle between Christians and Muslims in Plateau and Kaduna States. Many Nigerians are upset with President Johnathan's response to the murderous feud and expect government action to stop future attacks. The problem, of course, is that Boko Haram's solution to the nonintervention is further bloodletting.

In the past year, Boko Haram has waged three underreported onslaughts on various schools located in Yobe State. Each attack follows a similar plan--insurgents break into boarding schools during early morning hours, throwing explosives into dormitories and bombarding children with heavy gunfire.

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Published: 9 May 2014 (Page 2 of 2)

The July 2013 massacre at Yobe State School left 42 dead. 44 students perished at Gujba College in September 2013. And 59 boys were killed during the bombing and burning of the Federal Government College of Buni Yadi in February 2014. These tragedies eclipse any mass shooting in the United States in terms of scale, but receive significantly less media consideration.

It is no coincidence that Yobe and Borno States border one another. Together, they represent the cradle of Boko Haram activity. The geographic and political makeup of northern Nigeria help to explain the persistence of regional violence and extremism. Throughout rural and remote states, Boko Haram targets young men who live in severe poverty. The promise of resources, weapons and food provisions is enough to gather an increasing number of recruits.

But poor and powerless individuals are not the only ones buying into the warped ideology. Given the size and strength of the Boko Haram militia, numerous local governments and politicians pay the insurgents for protection. Extortion money remains the fiscal backbone of the organization. In some cases, local officials give Boko Haram leadership outright control. According to some estimates, these terrorists are the acting rulers in almost a third of all local governments in Borno.

While parts of northern Nigeria are dangerous, and the need for protection is an unfortunate reality in the region, certainly Boko Haram is the chief reason a village would need defense in the first place. Financing from local councils only serve to keep communities and leaders out of the firefight.

Nevertheless, this financial support keeps the dangerous rebel organization viable and keeps neighboring townships in a treacherous position. It seems that no person and no group is safe from the extremism embraced by Abubakar Shekau and his operation. As evident by the August 2011 assassination of Muslim leader Liman Bana, the Islamic establishment is as much a threat to Boko Haram as the Christian equivalent.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and also its largest economy. But the massive gap in wealth between the oil-endowed southern states of Nigeria and the agrarian north also plays into the tensions between the haves and the have-nots. Rooted in this inequity and growing stronger in the manure of hatred, Boko Haram continues to threaten peace and sensibility throughout the Continent.

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Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

Egypt's Victors

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Ty Butler, Senior CorrespondentInternational Development and Conflict Last Modified: 23:59 p.m. DST, 22 August 2013

Egypt Special Troops ,Photo by Mahmoud  Gamal El-DinRAFAH, Egypt - At least 25 Egyptian police officers were killed on Monday near the Rafah crossing with Gaza in Egypt’s increasingly lawless Sinai Peninsula region. The attack occurred as rocket propelled grenades stuck the security force’s transport while it was en route to a police barracks. Those officers not killed in the initial assault were forced onto the ground by gunmen and summarily executed.

The deaths mark one of the single largest attacks on Egyptian security officials in the Sinai since former president Mohamed Morsi was ousted in a military coup in early July. This attack however, was not one likely engaged in by pro-Morsi supporters.

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the slaughter, it is not characteristic of current violence by Muslim Brotherhood supporters or by angry anti-coup protestors. Instead, it mirrors the tactics taken from the playbook of a third major factional arm of Egypt’s current political sphere which is fighting against both the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military.

This third major factional grouping, characterized by a mix of international and regional violent jihadi cells and organizations have thus far been the primary victors surrounding the crisis in Egypt. Islamist political organizations in Muslim majority countries tend to act as something of a barrier against violent radicalism. Some analysts of course may disagree and even suggest the exact opposite; that Islamist political parties aid in rooting conservative discourse into political and social spheres and thus nurture an atmosphere that is more conducive to jihadi recruitment.

Evidence from Iraq however, supports the idea that political Islamists who work within Brotherhood style groups do not tend to transfer into jihadi organizations. That being tentatively established, the military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt becomes rather troublesome, not only for the sake of preserving democracy within Egypt, but in the fight against international and regional terrorism as well.

As political chaos grows, the position of international jihadis within Egypt strengthens. These militant organizations traditionally view the Muslim Brotherhood in very negative terms. Al Qaeda and related groups disagree vehemently with The Muslim Brotherhood’s dedication to gaining power through largely peaceful means, and often outright curse their willingness to participate within formal political processes. This tension can be seen throughout the jihadi community in numerous writings and statements.

Current leader of Al-Qaeda Central Ayman al-Zawahiri was by no means timid in his fairly harsh critique of the Muslim Brotherhood within his “book” Bitter Harvest. Zawahiri accused the Brotherhood of aligning with the West in the greater jihadi struggle, siding with apostate domestic regimes by participating in elections, and even of protecting Israel from Al-Qaeda.

This condemnation is often mirrored by the leadership of other Al-Qaeda affiliates and international jihadi groups; chief among which perhaps is the Islamic State in Iraq (formerly Al-Qaeda in Iraq) which openly blames the Muslim Brotherhood as the primary reason for its failures within Iraq.

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Published: 22 August 2013 (Page 2 of 2)

In Egypt, the current coup has the potential to leave Islamist youths wondering what exactly the Brotherhood’s pragmatism and dedication to formal political processes has gotten it. Military repression of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood opens a door to violent jihadis who are readily exploiting the situation to their advantage. The discord affords jihadis time to establish stronger roots in the region as primary attention is shifted elsewhere, while simultaneously allowing Al Qaeda and affiliated groups to say “we told you so.”

Jihadi propaganda machines have been running overtime rejoicing at the opportunity to discredit what they view as a flawed path at best, and as traitorous collaboration with Western Crusaders and their allies at worst. The days immediately following the coup saw the creation of at least two new public jihadi organizations within Egypt; Ansar al-Sharia Egypt (it is unclear if it has any connections with the existing Egyptian group that already carries the name), and the Brigades of Abdullah Azzam in Egypt.

Even absent jihadi propaganda, the violent reaction that some anti-coup protestors have demonstrated is highly concerning. Scores of Christian churches have been attacked since the coup in some of the worse displays of sectarian violence that Egypt has recently known. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood may officially stand against sectarian conflict, but that has not stopped disenfranchised individuals (whether or not they claim to support the Brotherhood) from expressing their anger in such ways; a sign perhaps of increasing polarization in the face of current political happenings. Tuesday’s arrest of the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide Mohamed Badie is unlikely to do much to help the situation, nor are talks of forcibly dissolving the Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not the ideal political partner in Egypt for the United States and other western countries. There is little denying that the organization is a conservative Islamist party, and one that is often quite vocal in its opposition to US foreign policy. Uncomfortable international dealings aside though, there is little to justify the coup in Egypt.

Simply put, the military ousted a democratically elected leader, dissolved a democratically elected parliament, and suspended a democratically approved constitution. President Morsi’s attempted power grab through the self-granting of extraordinary powers was deeply concerning. It is also true that there was popular disapproval of the political and economic climate under Brotherhood rule; however, such realities does little to diminish the imagery of yet more military strong arming within Egypt in direct violation of democratic mechanisms for the conveyance of disagreement (IE: voting).

The continued weakening of the Egyptian state apparatus through outright authoritarian crackdowns and the targeted marginalization of historically ideologically non-violent political Islamists can only play into the hands of those who advocate increased violence, both domestically and internationally. International jihadism has found itself an unwitting ally in the Egyptian military, and the repercussions will impact the security of all.

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Follow Ty Butler on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Staff Writer: @TywButler

Mohammed al-Zawahiri arrested in Egypt

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Ty Butler, Senior CorrespondentInternational Development and Conflict Last Modified: 02:30 a.m. DST, 19 August 2013

Mohammed al-Zawahiri (Crop)

GIZA, Egypt - The brother of Al Qaeda Central’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has been arrested in Egypt. Mohammed al-Zawahiri was detained at a checkpoint in Giza during a military crackdown on Islamists supposedly supporting ousted President Mohamed Morsi which has seen over 1000 arrested so far.

This is not the first time that Mohammed al-Zawahiri has been arrested. He was sentenced to death in Egypt in absentia in the 90’s for his alleged role in the assassination of Anwar Sadat and was detained in Dubai before being transferred to the Egypt.

Instead of having his death sentence carried out, he instead spent the next 13 – 14 years in Cairo’s Tora prison. Following the fall of Hosni Mubarak from power, the military’s interim government (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) released Zawahiri as part of a general amnesty program. Shortly after he was rearrested and tried under a military tribunal where he was acquitted of charges related to terrorism and the attempted overthrow of the Egyptian state and re-released in March 2012.

Zawahiri’s name stands out among those arrested due to the international jihadi activities of his brother.  Initial speculation over justifications of his arrest surround accusations of an “alliance” with Morsi and suggestions that he has been leading militants in the Sinai Peninsula. The truth behind Mohammed al-Zawahiri’s actual story though is less clear.

Formerly a deputy and military commander of his older brother’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement, Zawahiri was linked to some of the organization’s militant jihadi cells in Albania, Bosnia, and Croatia before apparently breaking ranks with the group due to its increasingly closer ties to Al Qaeda (the Egyptian Islamic Jihad would go on to merge with Al Qaeda and from part of the core of Al Qaeda Central’s leadership).

Mohammed al-Zawahiri’s role in international jihadism has, since then, been murky at best. Part of the agreement that saw his execution stayed was allegedly the informing on Egyptian Islamic Jihad activities (in cooperation with the CIA and Egyptian intelligence), coupled with a renouncing of violence.

Upon his release he co-founded the group Ansar al-Sharia Egypt with other former members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. The ideological underpinnings of the group remain unclear. The founding statements of the organization dedicates the group to thesupport of mujaheddin style jihadi groups all over the world. This is a similar stance to Al Qaeda Central and the more public leader of Ansar Al Sharia Egypt, Ahmed Ashush, has made many public statements praising Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and militant groups both overseas and those located within the Sinai Peninsula. Such groups include Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, Al Salafiyya al Jihadiyya, and the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, who are largely known for their rocket attacks against the state of Israel.

Despite verbal support for such groups, Ahmed Ashush claims that his organization “are not preachers of violence” and that they are not armed. Whether or not one is inclined to believe Ashush or the goals of his organization, Mohammed al-Zawahiri himself has shown considerable public restraint with regards to calls for violence. Six months after being released from prison, Zawahiri publicly called for a peace deal between the West and Islamists. After the military ousting of Mohamed Morsi, Zawahiri likewise issued statements on Facebook that, while aimed at stirring up jihadis, did not explicitly call for violence.

Murky ideological structures aside, it does seem evident that Mohammed al-Zawahiri has strong connections to Ansar al-Sharia Egypt and thus possible connections to more violent militant groups in the Sinai Peninsula, and even to Al Qaeda Central (though no official connections are known to exist). This connection is reinforced through his appearance in both Al Qaeda style propaganda videos and in videos released by the Al Bayan Media Foundation, the propaganda wing of Ansar al-Sharia Egypt.

As the case for Zawahiri’s involvement with jihadi groups in the Sinai strengthens though, the case for him being an ally of former president Morsi simultaneously diminishes. Al Qaeda and international jihadi groups have long been in contention with the Muslim Brotherhood over their participation in democratic processes and failure to implement sharia law. Head of Ansar al-Sharia, Ahmed Ashush has made similar statements and condemnations of Morsi’s government prior to his fall from power. These condemnations have long been echoed by Al Qaeda Central and other affiliated groups.

When Moris was deposed, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Al Shabaab both wasted little time in utilizing the incident to denounce participation in democratic institutions and to push jihad as the only legitimate way to build a “just” society.  Whatever his role within Egypt’s larger Islamist community, Mohammed al-Zawahiri’s capture is unlikely to either significantly weaken support for Morsi (given his affiliated organization's traditionally negative views of them), or significantly impact the operational capabilities of armed militant groups that have been mobilizing in the Sinai.

Follow Ty Butler on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Staff Writer: @TywButler

Boston Terrorist Bombing Silences Martin Richard

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Patrice Ellerbe, Staff WriterLast Modified: 12:49 p.m. DST, 17 April 2013

Martin Richard, 8-year-old victim of Boston Terrorist Bombing, Photo by Peter BostonBOSTON, Massachusetts - The FBI has determined that two bombs made from pressure cookers with nails, ball bearings, metal, exploded near the finish line during the Boston Marathon on Monday, 15 April 2013. The explosion left three people dead, one of which included an 8-year-old boy, and over 140 people injured. Authorities do not know who is responsible for the blast at this time, however, speculations suggest terrorist are responsible.

The two blasts sent the city of Boston into chaos. A third explosion was reported at JFK Library, however, the incidents were not tied together. According to the Huffington Post, the explosion occurred in Copley Square just before 3:00 PM. Commissioner Ed Davis reported there have been no arrests made or person of interest at this time.

The Associated Press reported the bombs went off at two separate time, and only seconds apart.  The streets were blood stained and people were frantic.  Although speculations suggest a terrorist attack, President Obama was careful to refrain from using the actual word “terror” or “terrorist.” According to the AP, the Pakistani Taliban denied having any parts in the bombing. The FBI are attempting to obtain all spectators videos, photos, and any audio from the event.

Two additional bombs were found near the end of the course and were disarmed once located.

The 8-year-old boy killed in the blast was identified as Martin Richard, the Boston Globe reported. The boy was attending the race in support of his father. Richard’s mother and younger sister were also in attendance, and were injured by the blast. CNN reported Richard’s mother had emergency surgery due to brain injuries, and his 6-year-old sister lost a leg.

Supporters of the victims from the Newtown shooting which occurred in December 2012 were in attendance and all were counted as safe. Authorities asked for people in the city to remain indoors and out of the streets. There was no prior knowledge of the attack, according to police officials.

Follow Patrice Ellerbe on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Staff Writer: @PatriceEllerbe
 

Boko Haram Massacres Nigerian Worshippers

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KOGI, Nigeria - On Sunday, 5 August 2012, in Oak Creek, a town in America in the Midwest State of Wisconsin, Wade Michael Page attacked a Sikh temple killing 6 people before being shot and killed.

On Monday, 6 August 2012, in an eerily similar attack half-way across the world, another house of worship was attacked and 19 people were killed, including the pastor of the church by radical Islamist extremist.

Killing people based upon religion, or rather one's interpretation of religion is detestable. As is killing people based upon race, sex, political views or sexual orientation. This post provides insight into this deadly phenomena which seems to be proliferating.