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Connected: Aerocom, Jet Line and Air Mero (Ruud Leeuw)
On May26, 2005 I received information that Iraqi CAA had issued a memo that day, requiring all operators to resubmit their aircraft papers, certificates, AOC, etc. This could be a clean up to oust all blacklisted operators. The distribution list was much smaller than before, but.... Air Bas was still on it! Chapman, Jetlines, Aerocom and East West were removed from the distribution list. Earlier I was informed Air Mero (in Kuwait) had suspended operations.
Douglas Farah: An Important Story From Africa
June 10, 2005
The New York Times today has a nice piece on the growing number of sub-Saharan Africans now turning up as jihadis in Iraq. What is truely alarming is that about one quarter of the 400 foreign fighters captured are from that region. While the pipeline has been known to be open for the past couple of years, drawing militants from Nigeria, Niger, Mali and Mauritania, the intelligence community often dismissed or downplayed the information in my discussions with them. The belief was that EUCOM, the military command responsible for Africa, was hyping its reporting in order to have a terrorist threat in its theater of operations, thereby justifying increased military spending.
That sort of small minded thinking kept more attention from being focused on what is now being recognized as not only a problem but a potentially-grave threat in Iraq as well as West Africa.It is also the same small-minded thinking that led the FBI to dismiss out of hand public statements by Gen. Charles Wald, EUCOM's deputy commander, supporting my findings and more on al Qaeda's presence in West Africa and its use of diamonds. Now, perhaps, EUCOM has won at least a partial victory and seem to be willing to become more publicly engaged in the very necessary debate over how to deal with the appeal of radical Islam in failed states. These collapsing states offer very little to their own citizens, and are often criminal enterprises, on large or small scales. Obviously, Charles Taylor represented the upper limit of the scale, and Mali and Senegal are rare exceptions of at least efforts in good governance. But if Muslim communities can receive charity help from Salafists, and a chance to wage holy jihad against the infidel, why wouldn't they? As Maj. Gen. Richard P. Zahner, EUCOM's intelligence chief, told the Times, "Al Qaeda is assessing local groups for franchising opportunities. I am quite concerned about that."
The Yorkshire Ranter: Mystery Jet Update
June 17, 2005
It's been brought to my attention that the ever-informative Sharjah Airport online departures board shows that an Irbis Air Co. flight departed for nowhere else than Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan this morning.
Further digging down the lists shows that, in fact, Irbis is running a regular service to the base, which has acquired an infamous reputation after two prisoners died in captivity there.
Nobody in their right minds thinks Irbis is anything other than one of the core Viktor Bout companies, including the United Nations, the British government, and the US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. OFAC have put Irbis on their list of companies whose assets are to be seized. I doubt, somehow, that the Irbis plane was impounded in Bagram.
Douglas Farah: Al Qaeda in Nigeria, Nigeria Could Lose Aid Because of Taylor, and Liberian Diamond Ban Extended
June 22, 2005
Last week, while I was traveling out of country and unable to get to it, the U.S. Consulate in Nigeria was closed because of possible terrorist threats. This led, in turn, to the closings of the missions of Germany, Italy, Finland, Russia, Sweden, India and Lebanon. U.S. officials were quoted as saying that the reason was that "some kind of terrorist threat" was called into the U.S. facility. The U.S. Embassy in Abuja stayed open, but with a minimal staff.
While it was the first publicly-stated terrorist threat in Nigeria, Al Qaeda's presence there, as well as the growing Saudi-wahhabi influence in the north, is well-known but long downplayed by the diplomatic community. Many see Nigeria's oil--and hence a good relationship with Nigeria--as vital to U.S. security interests. Even after Osama bin Laden named Nigeria as one of the countries that he would target, along with Spain and a few others, the policy community declined to make the al Qaeda presence a factor in bilateral relations for fear of upsetting the fragile Obasanjo government. Obasanjo's government is riddled with corruption, faces staggering problems of holding a disperate nation together and the constant threat of revolt from both the north and the south. These are legitimate concerns, and certainly Nigerian oil, and it functionality as a country, are national security issues that are not to be taken lightly.
So now, it might be time to move the al Qaeda presence up on the bilateral agenda. Bin Laden has a history of naming signaling countries that will be attacked, as he did in Spain and Yemen. His naming of Nigeria is no coincidence. It is high time we started paying attention.
On Taylor and Liberia, there are also some interesting developments. The U.N. Security Council Monday decided to extend the ban on Liberian diamonds for another six months because of the interim government has made little effort to stop the illegal sale of the stones. The Council also expressed "deep concern" that Taylor and his associates continue to "engage in activities that undermine peace and stability in Liberia and the region." However, it stopped short of calling for Taylor's extradition to stand trial. British U.N. ambassador Emyr Jones Parry told reporters that "Taylor cannot avoid coming to justice and at some stage his impunity will have to end. The only question is how do we do it." He said the Security Council resolution was not an appropriate vehicle to move the issue forward, and said there were "sensitive" talks in Africa on turning Taylor over.
At the same time, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, has made it clear that he wants to hold up aid and debt relief and other aid to Nigeria until Taylor is extradicted. [---] since Taylor has violated the terms of his asylum, Leahy and others now want the provision applied to Nigeria, which would make harboring Taylor signficantly more expensive for Obasanjo. While the president can waive the provision in the interest of national security, Leahy pointed out that "it is not in the best interests of the people of West Africa, including Nigeria, or the United States, to continue to shelter Charles Taylor from justice."
Finally: an interview ! (Ruud Leeuw)
Arms traffickers used to be subcontractors of the superpowers, feeding the conflicts Washington and Moscow wanted fought. After the fall of the Berlin Wall the working climate changed. But most brokers are now freelancers, who sell weapons without regard for ideology, allegiance or consequence. They have only one goal in mind: to make a lot of money !
In late September 2001, two weeks after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, a Hungarian trading company in Budapest filed a request to ship Ukrainian cargo to an American firm based in Macon, GA. The name of the Ukrainian company -- ERI Trading and Investment Company - was unknown. A random inspection of the cargo determined that the shipment included 300 Ukrainian surface-to-air (SAM) missiles and 100 launchers. SAM's are light, mobile and easily hidden.... American agents later feared that they were going to be distributed to terrorists near America's major airports.
The cargo was stopped there and then and the American buyer was arrested in June.
''Illegal weapons?'' VB continued. ''What does that mean? If rebels control an airport and they give you clearance to land, what's illegal about that?'' Bout argued: ''killing isn't about weapons, it's about the people who use them.''
Now he was just a businessman, selling his goods...
Peter Landesman spoke to many officials or former officials; he also talked to persons who insisted to remain anonymous, interviewed them under a cloud of secrecy. He learned that Bout could be merely the public face of something much larger and that he was just getting a glimpse on the surface, further digging could prove very dangerous. Two assassinations that had taken place days before his interviews, both victims were executives of a huge air-defense contractor involved in export of anti-aircraft weapons and other systems.
The enclave is so lawless that the United States Embassy in Chisinau, Moldova's capital, discourages its personnel from going there, and staying there overnight requires the ambassador's permission.
VB denied ever having been to Trans-Dniester. But British agents, who have tracked weapons from Trans-Dniester to the Balkans and beyond, have documented Bout's involvement there for years. Sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems to the Middle East. Vehicle-mounted artillery systems. Bout's fingerprints are all over them.
Bout Flies on for the U.S., and Tim Spicer Gets a New Contract
July 05, 2005
Thanks to the Yorkshire Ranter, we now know that Viktor Bout's planes, including the banned IRBIS Air Co., placed on the Treasury Department's OFAC list of banned companies, continues to fly regularly to the U.S.-operated Bagram air base in Afghanistan.
It is now past belif that a man who sold and maintained aircraft for the Taliban, flew for Muslim extremists in Bosnia, few hundreds of tons of weapons to the most brutal and illegal armies of Africa, can still pull this off. Did the OFAC action mean nothing? (Apparently not)! What are people thinking? And shouldn't it be illegal to hire banned air craft companies, which then entails paying money to a person whose assets are supposedly frozen and is unable to receive money from ANY U.S. source? It is, as Alice said in Wonderland, getting curiouser and couriouser. The more Bout companies are identified and outed, the less enforcement action is taken. Can he be that valuable an asset to the intelligence community that he simply cannot be closed down, under any circumstances?
Finally, to round out the holiday weekend, the Sunday Times of London brings the cheery news that Tim Spicer, a mercenary with a checkered past, at best and a history of illegal armed actions, got his Pentagon contract extended for at least another year.
Douglas Farah: Perhaps an End to the Great Diamond Debate
July 17, 2005
Dateline NBC finally aired its program on the ties of al Qaeda to Charles Taylor. While taking more credit than they deserved for "breaking" the story I broke more than three years ago, mentioning my role in passing and the role of Global Witness not at all, the program advanced the ball considerably. I hope it finally ends the debate over what really happened, and how badly the CIA and FBI have fouled up their investigations. A full transcript of the program can be found here.
The biggest breakthrough was getting a former CIA station chief in Liberia to go over there and confirm the findings of al Qaeda's ties to Charles Taylor.
The FBI sent out a worldwide notification to law enforcement agencies saying certain al Qaeda operatives were wanted by the United States and requesting information. The Liberian intelligence operative recognized one of the men as a person doing diamond deals with Taylor, and he began an investigation. By his own admission, what he wanted was to shake the guy down for some money, not arrest him. His report on the activities of the al Qaeda operative was forwarded to Taylor, who sent it back saying they were to leave the operative alone, as he was protected by Taylor. The report, of course, was then canned, but I will be posting a copy of it soon. It shows that Taylor not only knew the al Qaeda operatives involved, but went out of his way to protect them.
For that protection, along with the collaboration of Ibrahim Bah, Taylor should be forced out of Nigeria and all U.S. efforts to protect him should be halted. The myriad services he performed for the U.S. intelligence services pale in comparison to his collaboration with al Qaeda in the diamond business and his helping funnel weapons to radical Islamic groups in Bosnia and elsewhere (more on this soon, when I sort through new documents I now have). It is beyond criminal that Taylor be allowed a live a life of luxury and ease in the wake of the havoc he wrought on West Africa.
LORD OF WAR Review by Stefan Halley
LORD OF WAR loosely based on Victor Bout’s life. A former KGB major and arms merchant, Bout has supplied the weapons to some of the worst genocide campaigns in all of Africa over the past decade. Taking advantage of the end of the Cold War, Bout was able to secure large amounts of guns, ammunition and vehicles. Speaking six different languages and holding at least five passports, Bout is a genius of the arms game. To learn more about Victor go to this link: Lord of War.
From factory to the firing line: the story of one bullet (Sunday Herald)
09 October 2005
How do legally manufactured AK-47 bullets get into the hands of mercenaries and child soldiers?
“African conflicts are wasteful of ammunition and are always in need of more. The guys who carry this stuff in are just flying truck drivers,” says Alex Vines. He has a point.
In August 2003, at the height of Liberia’s rainy season, I flew into the capital, Monrovia, on the second humanitarian aid flight ever to have reached the country since the upsurge of the civil war a few weeks before. The aircraft was flown by a group of volunteer pilots who told me that days earlier, coming in to land on the first aid flight, they had almost collided with an unscheduled incoming cargo plane. “Later we found out it was flying in ammunition and guns for President Charles Taylor, which some people said was coming from Libya,” the 58-year-old Swedish pilot told me. “It’s always the same across Africa, you never know who is flying what.” One member of the pilot’s own crew even admitted to having “ferried a few bullets” in his time.
For arms dealers, it’s well worth the risk. According to Johan Peleman, while it’s difficult to put an accurate figure on the profits men like Victor Bout make, back in 2002 the Russian was sitting on a fortune. “The Rwandan government alone owed Bout $21 million. That gives you some idea of the sums involved in his business. But that doesn’t include barter operations – arms for coffee or arms for diamonds,” says Peleman.