On 28 October, Europol supported the CGI of the Spanish National Police (Comisaría General de Información de la Policía Nacional) in arresting three suspects linked to a terrorist cell actively recruiting and indoctrinating young people. The individuals, among which feature the alleged leaders of the cell, were arrested as a result of house searches carried out in San Sebastian and Pasaia in northern Spain. They are believed to have created the terrorist structure to carry out jihadist terrorism in support of the so-called Islamic State.
10,000 followers on social media networks
This terrorist cell was very active online, disseminating a large amount of jihadist propaganda with the purpose of recruiting and indoctrinating young people. The content included a variety of violent visuals displaying minors involved in Islamic State jihadist combats and promoting them as role models. The suspects used social media accounts to disseminate propaganda. They created multiple profiles on social media networks, which counted numerous followers. Two of the accounts created accumulated over 10,000 followers.
Physical training and mental conditioning of minors
During planned meetings, the youngest members received physical training and mental conditioning to carry out jihadist terrorism. The terrorist cell enabled the regular practice of contact sports and provided handbooks on the use and handling of weapons such as knives and firearms.
Investigators identified the existence of a hierarchy within the organization structuring the relationship between its members. The suspects used various measures to conceal from the police the criminal activities taking place online and in physical environments.
The arrests of the primary suspects of this terrorist cell was a result of a two–year-long investigation and an exhaustive analysis of information gathered throughout multiple operations conducted in the Spanish province of Guipuzcoa.
Europol’s European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) supported the investigation by providing long-term analytical and operational support. During the action day, ECTC experts enabled real-time information exchange and analysis.
To ensure an effective response to the challenges posed by the terrorist threat, Europol created in 2016 the European Counter Terrorism Centre, an operations centre and hub of expertise that reflects the growing need for the EU to strengthen its response to terror.
Designed as a central hub in the EU in the fight against terrorism, the ECTC focuses on operational support to member states in terrorist investigations. It cross-checks live operational data against the data Europol already has, quickly bringing financial leads to light, and analyses all available investigative details to assist in compiling a structured picture of the terrorist network.
India calls for action as world remembers anniversary of Mumbai terror attacks
The attacks were carried out by 10 gunmen who were believed to be connected to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan based terrorist organization. Armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades, the terrorists targeted civilians at numerous sites in the southern part of Mumbai, including the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, the popular Leopold Café, two hospitals, and a theatre.
Pakistan has long been criticized for cultivating militant proxy groups and the country currently faces renewed pressure to act against terrorists. There is particular concern that despite some convictions, some of those responsible for the terrible attacks are still at liberty and thereby free to plot a similar atrocity.
With the anniversary of the Mumbai attacks falling today (26 November), international pressure is again pushing Pakistan to take more action against militant groups and their leaders.
Some argue there is still a lack of political will on the part of Pakistan to deal with the issue. As evidence, they point to the decision by a global “dirty money” watchdog to keep Pakistan on its “grey list” for failing to meet international anti-terrorism financing norms.
The independent Financial Action Task Force has urged Pakistan to meet these requirements by February 2021.
Pakistan was placed on the FATF’s “grey list” of countries with inadequate controls over terrorism financing in 2018 saying Pakistan “still needs to demonstrate that law enforcement agencies are identifying and investigating the widest range of terrorism financing activity.”
The watchdog also asked Islamabad to demonstrate that terrorism financing probes result in effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions and has called for Pakistan to prosecute those funding “terrorism”, as well as to enact laws to help track and stop “terror financing”.
Xiangmin Liu, president of the FATF, warned: “Pakistan needs to do more and it needs to do it faster.”
Further comment comes from Denis MacShane, a former Europe minister in the UK under Tony Blair, who told this website, “It is hardly a secret that Pakistan's renowned Inter-Services Intelligence agency undertakes black operations rather like Mossad does for Israel as Pakistan have been locked in its cold, occasionally hot war with its much bigger neighbour India. A number of majority Muslim states have helped Islamist terrorist actions, most notably Saudi Arabia, whose Islamist citizens helped carry out the 9/11 attacks on Manhattan. Pakistan's nominally civilian government is helpless against the military and the ISI.”
There is still widespread concern about Islamist militant groups in Pakiston - especially Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its welfare arms, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insanyat - and on their sources of income.
There are also long-standing accusations that Pakistan has nurtured and supported Islamist militant groups for use as proxies to project power in the region, particularly towards its arch-rival India.
As recently as last year, a U.S. State Department country report on terrorism said Pakistan “continued to provide safe harbour to other top militant leaders.”
There is concern too at reports that a top Pakistan militant suspected to have planned the 2008 Mumbai attacks is still living freely in Pakistan.
India and the United States have both indicted Sajid Mir, of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group, for the three-day attacks on hotels, a train station and a Jewish centre in which 166 people were killed including six Americans.
The immediate impact of the attacks was felt on the ongoing peace process between the two countries and India’s attempt at pressuring Pakistan to crack down on terrorists within its borders has been strongly supported by the international community.
At various times since the attacks, there have been concerns that tensions might escalate between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. India, however, has refrained from amassing troops at the Pakistan border as it had following the December 13, 2001, attack on India’s parliament. Instead, India has focused on building international public support through various diplomatic channels and the media.
India has long said there is evidence that “official agencies” were involved in plotting the attack – a charge Islamabad denies – and Islamabad is widely believed to use jihadist groups such as LeT as proxies against India. The U.S. is among those to allege that Pakistan is a safe haven for terrorists.
Fraser Cameron, a former senior European commission official and now director of the EU-Asia Centre in Brussels, said, “Indian claims that Pakistan continues to provide refuge to some of those involved in the 2008 attacks makes a Modi-Khan meeting almost impossible to arrange.”
The anniversary this week of the Mumbai attacks will evoke a strong national and international outcry against such violence and has sparked renewed calls to increase efforts to deal with the menace of terrorism.
The sense of outrage at Pakistan’s failure to fully hold to account those responsible for the attacks is summed up by Willy Fautre, the respected director of Brussels-based right NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers.
He told this site: “Ten years ago, from 26 to 29 November, over 160 people lost their lives in ten terrorist attacks perpetrated by ten Pakistanis in Mumbai. Nine of them were killed. Human Rights Without Frontiers deplores the fact that Pakistan waited until 2020 before convicting the mastermind of the Mumbai attack, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. He was sentenced to five years and a half in prison.”
Taiwan is crucial to the global fight against cybercrime
Since emerging in late 2019, COVID-19 has evolved into a global pandemic. According to World Health Organization statistics, as of September 30, 2020, there were more than 33.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 1 million related deaths worldwide. Having experienced and fought the SARS epidemic in 2003, Taiwan made advance preparations in the face of COVID-19, conducting early onboard screening of inbound travelers, taking stock of antipandemic supply inventories, and forming a national mask production team, writes Criminal Investigation Bureau Ministry of the Interior Republic of China (Taiwan) Commissioner Huang Ming-chao.
The government’s swift response and the Taiwanese people’s cooperation helped effectively contain the spread of the disease. The international community has been putting its resources into fighting COVID-19 in the physical world, yet the cyberworld has also been under attack, and faces major challenges.
The Cyber Attack Trends: 2020 MidYear Report published in August 2020 by Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., a well-known IT security company, pointed out that COVID-19 related phishing and malware attacks increased dramatically from below 5,000 per week in February to over 200,000 in late April. At the same time as COVID-19 has seriously affected people’s lives and safety, cybercrime is undermining national security, business operations, and the security of personal information and property, causing significant damage and losses. Taiwan’s success in containing COVID-19 has won worldwide acclaim.
Faced with cyberthreats and related challenges, Taiwan has actively promoted policies built around the concept that information security is national security. It has bolstered efforts to train IT security specialists and develop the IT security industry and innovative technologies. Taiwan’s national teams are ever present when it comes to disease or cybercrime prevention.
Cybercrime knows no borders; Taiwan seeks cross-border cooperation Nations around the globe are fighting the widely condemned dissemination of child pornography, infringements on intellectual property rights, and the theft of trade secrets. Business email fraud and ransomware have also generated heavy financial losses among enterprises, while cryptocurrencies have become an avenue for criminal transactions and money laundering. Since anyone with online access can connect to any internetenabled device in the world, crime syndicates are exploiting the anonymity and freedom this provides to conceal their identities and engage in illegal activities.
The Taiwanese police force has a special unit for investigating technology crimes comprising professional cybercrime investigators. It has also established a digital forensics laboratory meeting ISO 17025 requirements. Cybercrime knows no borders, so Taiwan hopes to work with the rest of the world in jointly fighting the problem. With state-sponsored hacking rampant, intelligence sharing is essential to Taiwan. In August 2020, the US Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Defense released the Malware Analysis Report, identifying a state-sponsored hacking organization that has recently been using a 2008 malware variant known as TAIDOOR to launch attacks.
Numerous Taiwanese government agencies and businesses have previously been subject to such attacks. In a 2012 report on this malware, Trend Micro Inc. observed that all of the victims were from Taiwan, and that the majority were government organizations. Every month, Taiwan’s public sector experiences an extremely high number of cyberattacks from beyond Taiwan’s borders—between 20 and 40 million instances. Being the priority target of state-sponsored attacks, Taiwan has been able to track their sources and methods and the malware used. By sharing intelligence, Taiwan could help other countries avert potential threats and facilitate the establishment of a joint security mechanism to counter state cyberthreat actors. Additionally, given that hackers often use command-and-control servers to set breakpoints and thus evade investigation, international cooperation is essential for piecing together a comprehensive picture of chains of attack. In the fight against cybercrime, Taiwan can help.
In July 2016, an unprecedented hacking infringement occurred in Taiwan when NT$83.27 million was illegally withdrawn from First Commercial Bank ATMs. Within a week, the police had recovered NT$77.48 million of the stolen funds and arrested three members of a hacking syndicate— Andrejs Peregudovs, a Latvian; Mihail Colibaba, a Romanian; and Niklae Penkov, a Moldovan—that had until then remained untouched by the law. The incident drew international attention. In September that same year, a similar ATM heist occurred in Romania. A suspect Babii was believed to be involved in both cases, leading investigators to conclude that the thefts had been committed by the same syndicate. At the invitation of the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) visited its office three times to exchange intelligence and evidence. Subsequently, the two entities established Operation TAIEX.
Under this plan, the CIB provided key evidence retrieved from suspects’ mobile phones to Europol, which sieved through the evidence and identified the suspected mastermind, known as Dennys, who was then based in Spain. This led to his arrest by Europol and the Spanish police, putting an end to the hacking syndicate.
To crack down on hacking syndicates, Europol invited Taiwan’s CIB to jointly form Operation TAIEX. The fight against cybercrime requires international cooperation, and Taiwan must work together with other countries. Taiwan can help these other countries, and is willing to share its experiences so as to make cyberspace safer and realize a truly borderless internet. I ask that you support Taiwan’s participation in the annual INTERPOL General Assembly as an Observer, as well as INTERPOL meetings, mechanisms, and training activities. By voicing your backing for Taiwan in international forums, you can play a critical role in advancing Taiwan’s objective of taking part in international organizations in a pragmatic and meaningful manner. In the fight against cybercrime, Taiwan can help!
US-NATO co-operation and partnership focus of strategic talks news
Senior military leaders from US European Command (USEUCOM) and NATO's Allied Joint Force Command (JFC) Brunssum met virtually today (10 November) as part of ongoing staff talks between the two organizations dedicated to enhanced understanding and collaboration. Hosted virtually by USEUCOM's deputy commander, US Army Lt. Gen. Michael Howard and JFC Brunssum's Commanding General German Army Gen. Jörg Vollmer, the event covered a range of topics from operational readiness to exercises and logistics and deterrence.
A consistent theme throughout the discussions was improved synchronization between the two staffs for greater situational awareness of activities and operations. “Our efforts are all about improving our shared understanding between one another," said Vollmer. An important theme during the talks was that, while the organizations have differences, what they do together is practical and complementary.
“We recognize NATO's important role and our collaboration allows for greater progress in the complex environment in which we operate every day,” said US Navy Capt. Jeff Rathbun, chief of planning and exercises for USEUCOM's directorate for logistics. “We are committed to increasing the interaction between nations to help us think more broadly.”
Vollmer echoed Rathbun's comments: “Without logistics we cannot do our mission. We must build a recognized logistical picture to improve readiness,” he said.
Headquartered in the Netherlands, JFC Brunssum has a large portfolio of responsibilities, amongst other things, including acting as the out-of-theatre Operational-level HQs for the Alliance’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan and responsibility for the enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Both Howard and Vollmer concluded the event by emphasizing the necessity of making the staff talks a habit, rather than a scheduling effort. “This (habit-approach) will help quite a lot,” Vollmer said.
US European Command (USEUCOM) is responsible for US military operations across Europe, portions of Asia and the Middle East, the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean. USEUCOM is comprised of approximately 72,000 military and civilian personnel and works closely with NATO Allies and partners. The command is one of two US forward-deployed geographic combatant commands headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. For more information about USEUCOM, click here.