Modern Crime: Italian Mafia May Have Been Supplying Weapons to ISIS

A handout photo from the Australian Defence Force shows what they say are weapons seized from a fishing vessel which was boarded off the coast of Oman, March 2, 2016. An Australian Navy ship seized a huge cache of weapons near Oman's coast from the fishing vessel bound for Somalia, the navy said on March 8, 2016, exposing a possible violation of a U.N. Security Council arms embargo. Picture taken March 2, 2016. REUTERS/ABIS Sarah Ebsworth/Australian Defence Force/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. IT IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

Organized criminal groups in southern Italy may be supplying assault weapons to groups and individuals that are associated with the Islamic State, according to European investigators. British newspaper The Guardian said last week that security officials in Italy, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe have traced weapons used by Islamists to at least one arms cache that entered the European black market through a Sicilian crime family with links to the mafia.

According to The Guardian, the initial link to the supply of weapons seems to originate with an organized criminal family in Catania, on Sicily’s eastern coast. The family, known locally as the “Ceusi”, is part of the “Santopaula” clan, which is the dominant criminal network in that part of Italy. Investigators have confirmed that two years ago the Ceusi family purchased a cache of 160 deactivated AK-47s from AFG Security Corporation, a Slovakia-based European weapons dealer. The purchase of the weapons, for $40,000, was legal. But the Sicilian mafia then illegally reactivated the weapons by removing the deactivating metal pins that had been inserted into the weapons’ barrels. The reactivated weapons were then supplied to the ’Ndrangheta, the Italian organized crime network that operates in the region of Calabria, in the Italian mainland. In turn, the ’Ndrangheta, which specializes in the trafficking of contraband to and from Europe, sold many of these reactivated weapons to a smuggling ring headquartered in the Egyptian port of Alexandria.

It was the Egyptian network, say investigators, that sold the AK-47s to Islamist militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, who have close connections with the Islamic State in Syria and other Islamist groups. A few of the weapons even ended up in the hands of European Islamists in France and elsewhere. Much of the intelligence regarding the AK-47s comes from telephone intercepts, said The Guaridan. But the newspaper cautioned that concrete links between the Mafia and the Islamic State have not yet been established. Nevertheless, the paper said that, according to European investigators, “organized criminals are increasingly open to trading with extremists”, and there are mounting “signs of an even closer relationship between organized criminals and Islamists” operating in North Africa and the Middle East.

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Espionage Files: Senior Russian Defector To The U.S. Allegedly Found Dead

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A Russian former senior intelligence officer, who reportedly defected to the United States after helping the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrest 10 Russian spies in 2010, is believed to have died. The arrests, which revealed the so-called “Russian illegals program” in the US, were part of a counterintelligence operation codenamed GHOST STORIES by the FBI. The operation culminated in June 2010 with the dramatic arrests of 10 Russian ‘illegals’ in several US states. The Russian illegals, deep-cover intelligence operatives with no official connection to the country that employs them, had been operating in the US for over a decade prior to their arrest, using passports from third countries, including Britain, Canada and Uruguay. They were eventuallyexchanged with spies for the West that had been imprisoned in Russia.

Moscow blamed the arrests of the illegals on Colonel Aleksandr Poteyev, a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, who rose through the ranks of the KGB and its successor agency, the SVR, to become second-in-command in the so-called Department S. The senior leaders of Department S are believed to be appointed directly by the president of Russia, and are tasked with directing the activities of all Russian illegals operating abroad. According to the Russian government, which tried Poteyev in absentia in 2011, he began working for the US Central Intelligence Agency in 1999, shortly before entering the senior echelons of Department S.

A panel of judges was told during Poteyev’s Moscow trial that he left Russia without permission on June 24, 2010, just days before the FBI arrested the 10 Russian illegals in the US. He initially went to Belarus, from where he notified his unsuspecting wife via a text sent from a mobile phone that he was leaving Russia for good. He then traveled to Ukraine and from there to Germany, where he was allegedly picked up by his American CIA handler. It is believed that was provided with a new identity and passport, which he used to enter the US. By the time the Russians sentenced him to 25 years in prison for treason, Poteyev was adjusting to his new life in America.

But on July 7, the Moscow-based Interfax news agency reported that Poteyev, had died in the US, aged 64. The brief report did not specify the cause of Poteyev’s alleged death, nor did it state how Interfax acquired the information. Since the report was issued, no confirmation of Poteyev’s purported death has appeared from any other news source, or from government agencies. Russia’s Sputnik News contacted the SVR last week, but the agency declined to comment. It is believed that Poteyev’s two children were working in the US at the time of his defection, and that they are still living in the country.

Read the Original at Intel News

Espionage Files: The Russian “Gray War” of Diplomatic Harrassment

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A notable increase in incidents of harassment of American diplomats stationed in Europe by Russian intelligence personnel appears to be part of what some officials describe as an escalating “gray war” between the US and Russia. For over a year now, American State Department personnel stationed in Europe have been complaining of a systematic campaign of “harassment and intimidation” against them and their families by Russian intelligence operatives. The campaign is allegedly being waged in Moscow and other European capitals, and has prompted one US diplomat to say that he and his colleagues were “feeling embattled out there in the embassy”. The Washington Post, which published the story on Monday, said that the diplomats’ concerns about the Russian campaign of intimidation were raised again at a recent meeting in Washington of US ambassadors serving in Europe and Russia.

According to The Post, some of the harassment can be characterized as routine, and involves Russian intelligence personnel conducting surveillance of American diplomats, taunting them at social events, or bribing local journalists to report negatively on their activities. But these pranks have allegedly become uglier and even criminal after 2014. The Post said that it had read “a series of secret memos” sent to the State Department by US embassies and consulates in Russia and Europe, which suggest that the increasing harassment of American diplomats is connected to the sanctions imposed by the US on Russia after its military intervention in Ukraine. In some instances, Russian intelligence operatives broke into the homes of American diplomats at night and rearranged the furniture, or turned on all the lights and electronic equipment before leaving. In another case, a US diplomat’s children were followed to school, while another’s car tires were slashed repeatedly, said the paper.

The State Department’s press secretary John Kirby told The Post that incidents of overt harassment of US diplomatic personnel by Russian government employees had indeed increased. Norm Eisen, America’s former ambassador to the Czech Republic, told the paper that the intimidation was part of “the gray war” between Washington and Moscow, which has escalated following Russia’s intervention in the Ukraine.

A statement from the Russian embassy in Washington denied that the Russian government was behind the alleged incidents. But it went on to state: “In diplomatic practice there is always the principle of reciprocity and, indeed, for the last couple of years our diplomatic staff in the United States has been facing certain problems”. This statement can be seen to imply that Russia is responding to instances of intimidation of its diplomats by US authorities. The statement added: “The deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations […] was not caused by us, but rather by the current [US] administration’s policy of sanctions and attempts to isolate Russia”. The Post said that US Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issued directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow in March, but that the harassment has continued. US President Barack Obama is apparently aware of the situation, but has ordered US intelligence agencies “not to respond with similar measures against Russian diplomats”, said the paper.

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Espionage Files: Elite Hamas Commander Reportedly Defects to Israel

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A senior member of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, is believed to have defected to Israel. News of the rumored defection first appeared on the website of Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank. On Tuesday, Al-Hayat said that the man, a member of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, had not been seen for several days.

The alleged defector was later named as Bassam Mahmoud Baraka, and reportedly comes from a well-known family in Kahn Younis, on the southern sector of the Gaza Strip. Baraka’s father is believed to be a religious judge that serves in Gaza under Hamas’ jurisdiction. According to Al-Hayat, the missing man is an elite member of the al-Qassam Brigades and specializes in operating inside the numerous underground tunnels that are said to span the entirety of the Palestinian enclave. The tunnels are of strategic importance to Hamas, as they secretly connect it with the outside world, despite Israeli efforts to prevent the trafficking of goods and people to and from the Gaza Strip. Some Israeli military officials believe that Hamas operatives are able to travel from one end of the Strip to the other without having to emerge from the ground. Since the 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza, Tel Aviv has said that it views the elimination of Hamas’ vast underground tunnel network as a national security priority.

According to Palestinian websites, Baraka told members of his family that he was stepping out for a brief hike but never returned. He is believed to have voluntarily approached the border fence that separates Gaza from Israel and surrendered himself to a group of Israeli soldiers. Al-Hayat reports that Baraka’s family has already been informed from representatives of the Red Cross that he is in Israeli hands. Palestinian sources suggest that the Israeli soldiers that took in Baraka were aware of his pending defection and were waiting for him at the border. He was also reportedly carrying a laptop computer with him.

Israel is known to aggressively recruit informants in the Gaza Strip, many of them affiliated with Hamas. In 2010 it was revealed that Mosab Hassan Yousef, whose father is a senior Hamas official, was a secret informant for Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency. Yousef defected to Israel and is now believed to be living in the United States.

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Espionage Files: Low Profile Terror Attack in Jordan Kills 3 Jordanian GID Officers

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A rare armed attack on a Jordanian intelligence agency facility has left five people dead, including three intelligence officers. The attack took place on Monday at the General Intelligence Department (GID) building in the Baqa’a refugee camp, located just north of the capital Amman. Built in 1968, Baqa’a is the largest of Jordan’s 10 government-sanctioned refugee camps, and houses 100,000 Palestinians —approximately 10 percent of the country’s 1 million-strong Palestinian population. Witnesses said the attack was carried out by a single individual, who appeared to be operating alone. He is said to have slowly made his way up to the building before pulling a gun and shooting the guard dead. He then entered the building and began firing, killing four more people, three of them GID intelligence officers. He then fled the scene before police arrived.

Monday’s attack was an extremely rare terrorist incident in Jordan, whose population is largely shielded from the carnage in neighboring Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The last time a major terrorist attack took place in Jordan was in 2005, when suicide attacks against three luxury hotels in Amman killed 60 people and injured near 100. The attacks was carried out by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the group that later rebranded itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In November of this year, a Jordanian police officer opened fire at a training center near the capital, killing five people, two of them Americans. He was later shot dead by security guards.

It is believed that Monday’s attack was carried out by someone who was inspired by ISIS. Jordan has been an ISIS target for a long time, because of its strategic alliance with the United States in the war against the militant Sunni group. Last year, the government of Jordan made the country’s Prince Hassan airbase available to the US-led coalition that is fighting ISIS. Additionally, Jordan is the only Arab country that is actively taking part in the bombing campaign against ISIS. Late on Monday, government sources in Amman said a suspect had been apprehended following a shootout with police in the Jordanian capital. He is said to have been acting alone. There is no word yet on whether he is a Jordanian citizen and/or a resident of Baqa’a.