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AQIM Releases South African Hostage Stephen McGown After Almost 6 Years; $4.2 Million Ransom Paid

In Al-Qaeda, AQIM, Archive, Mali, South Africa, Terrorism on August 3, 2017 at 10:56 AM

08/03/2017

NYTimes:

A South African tourist who was abducted nearly six years ago from an inn in Timbuktu, Mali, by the North African branch of Al Qaeda has been freed, officials said on Thursday.

The tourist, Stephen Malcolm McGown, 42, was the last of the “Timbuktu Three,” who were abducted on Nov. 25, 2011, to be released: A Dutch citizen was rescued in a French commando raid in 2015, and a Swedish man was released in June.

 

Militants released a video showing six captives, including Mr. McGown, last month, before a visit to Mali by President Emmanuel Macron of France. Mr. McGown also holds a British passport.

Mr. McGown’s lengthy captivity had become a cause célèbre in South Africa, but his freedom came at a price: A retired European intelligence official said on Thursday that 3.5 million euros (about $4.2 million) had been paid.

The retired official, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive information, said that the payment was negotiated through an intermediary, Gift of the Givers Foundation, a South African charity that had campaigned for Mr. McGown’s release, and that it was paid by an undercover agent working for French security services in the Adrar des Iforas mountains, a massif in the deserts of northern Mali where Qaeda militants have held hostages.

“It was an operation managed by France and South African intelligence through an intermediary,” the former official said.

 

South Africa’s foreign minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who announced Mr. McGown’s release at a news conference in Pretoria on Thursday, responded vaguely when a reporter asked her whether a ransom had been paid.

“The South African government does not subscribe to payment of ransoms,” she said. “That’s why I focused on the work we have been doing in the past six years: campaigning, engaging with governments, and with the captors the way we know how. That’s what we have been doing. And that’s what we can confirm.”

Ms. Nkoana-Mashabane, the foreign minister, declined on Thursday to discuss the condition of Mr. McGown, now back in South Africa. “Is he receiving the necessary support — the requisite for any South African citizen who had gone through this very, very painful experience? The answer is yes,” she said.

A New York Times tally of ransoms collected by Al Qaeda’s affiliates conducted in 2014 found that the group had taken in at least $125 million, with $66 million paid just in 2013.

Unlike the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, Al Qaeda has tended to see hostages as a product that it can monetize. Only a minority of its hostages have died while in custody, unlike those of the Islamic State, which both ransoms and regularly kills captives.

Al-Qaeda Mali Branch Releases Proof of Life Video Showing 6 Foreign Hostages (ZA, AU, RO, CH, CO, FR)

In Al-Qaeda, Archive, Mali, Terrorism on July 3, 2017 at 3:45 PM

07/01/2017

AP:

An al-Qaida-linked group in Mali has released a proof-of-life video showing six foreign hostages, shortly before the French president arrived in the West African country for an anti-terror summit.

The recently formed Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen issued the video Saturday on Telegram. The video shows Stephen McGowan of South Africa, Elliot Kenneth Arthur of Australia, Iulian Ghergut of Romania, Beatrice Stockly of Switzerland, Gloria Cecilia Narvaez of Colombia and Sophie Petronin of France.

“No genuine negotiations have begun to rescue your children,” a narrator says.

The narrator also mentions the recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron, saying that Petronin “is hoping that the new French president will come to her rescue.”

Macron said he welcomed the first sign of life for several months from Petronin.

“These people are nothing,” he said of the extremists. “They are terrorists, thugs and assassins. And we will put all of our energies into eradicating them.”

Macron met Sunday in Mali with heads of state from five nations across Africa’s Sahel region to build support for a new 5,000-strong multinational force meant to counter extremists there. Deadly attacks in recent years in countries once considered relatively safe have alarmed the international community.

In March, a video announced the creation of Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen from a merger of three extremist groups: the al-Qaida-linked al-Mourabitoun, Ansar Dine and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen claimed responsibility for last month’s attack on a resort area popular with foreigners outside Mali’s capital that killed at least five people.

A number of the hostages in Mali have been held for years. Of the six shown in the video, McGowan was the earliest seized, abducted in 2011 from a hostel in Timbuktu. Narvaez, a nun, was the most recently seized, abducted in February near the border with Burkina Faso.

On Sunday, Colombia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that “knowing she is alive motivates us to keep working for her timely release.”

The video comes after Sweden’s government announced the release of Johan Gustafsson last Monday, who was held by Islamic extremists in Mali for six years.

UPDATE 08/03/2017: AQIM Releases South African Hostage Stephen McGown After Almost 6 Years; $4.2 Million Ransom Paid

AQIM Video Shows South African/Swedish Hostages in Mali, Unveils Al-Qaeda’s Own “Jihadi John” with British Accent

In Al-Qaeda, Archive, Mali, South Africa, Sweden, Terrorism on June 23, 2015 at 10:32 PM

06/23/2015

Caleb Weiss/LongWarJournal/Elias Groll/ForeignPolicy:

There’s the British-accented jihadi defiantly addressing the camera, the attempts at slick cuts between desert scenes, and the Western hostages in chains. But this isn’t an Islamic State video; it’s a dispatch from the Sahara branch of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group’s Mali affiliate. It’s the latest example of how radical Islamist groups are appropriating the visual language of the Islamic State and attempting to imitate its strikingly successful propaganda efforts.

AQIM’s new video shows the last two Western hostages held in Mali, Swede Johan Gustofsson and South African Stephen McGowan, pleading to their respective governments in the video produced by the Saharan branch of AQIM’s media wing, Al Andalus.

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The video opens with a man addressing the camera and speaking in tones made famous by “Jihadi John,” the fighter who gained infamy for beheading Western hostages on tape. “Welcome to the world’s largest prison, a prison that has no boundaries, a prison that has no walls, no cells, no bars. A prison with a fear, where prison break is nonexistent,” the masked AQIM fighter says. “This is the mujahideen’s prison — the Sahara.” The jihadist then points out that the area is part of the “new territory controlled by the mujahideen.” It is unclear what area the captor is referring to, although it may be in central Mali.

The video was likely recorded in late 2014, as the jihadist in the video explains that the two were captured “three years ago.”

The two hostages are then seen having their handcuffs removed (above) before being taken to a wooded area where questioning commences between them and the jihadists. A narrator explains to the viewer that the two have been held for over 1000 days after being captured in Timbuktu in 2011 by a “special unit” of AQIM.

The two hostages are then seen asking a series of questions about the status of negotiations for their release. Their captor tells them that “The French government is impeding the negotiations.” The figure says that the French and Malian governments are trying to buy time so that they “do not have to submit to the demands of the mujahideen.”

“They are making it very difficult for your governments and the mujahideen to come to an agreement,” he continues. The jihadist then shows the two a video of former French hostage Serge Lazarevic being released. Lazarevic was seized in 2011 in Mali by AQIM forces there. He was kidnapped along with another French national, Philippe Verdon, who was killed in 2013 by AQIM in Mali. Lazarevic was released late last year in exchange for four AQIM militants. However, the jihadist in the video says that seven AQIM fighters were released, including two that were involved in the kidnapping of Lazarevic.

After expressing shock that they were not included in those negotiations, McGowan speaks directly to the camera. In a statement directed at the South African government, he says that he hopes it “continues to assist” in his release. “I hope something can be done,” he continues, “I hope a negotiation can be brokered.”

McGowan then speaks to his family saying that he loves them and that he is thankful for their support. To his wife, he says he hopes they can still pursue the plans they had before his capture. Gustofsson then makes a statement expressing his sadness for putting his family through the difficulties of his captivity.

Gustofsson then pleads to the Swedish government to “help in giving information and support to my family.” To his family, he also expresses his love and tells them to continue to live their lives. “I don’t know how this is going to end,” he says, “but our time together till now has been wonderful.” He then speaks to the French government saying that “France has a big responsibility” to help in their release.

McGowan and Gustofsson were kidnapped in Timbuktu in 2011, along with Dutch citizen Sjaak Rijke. A German national was also with them, but he died in the assault. Rijke appeared in an AQIM video released in November alongside Serge Lazarevic, in which both spoke to their respective governments for their release. Rijke was freed in April after a French raid on AQIM militants in northern Mali. According to the BBC, his presence caught the French special operators by surprise; it was only after the fighting was over when they realized the militants were holding the Dutch hostage. (For more information, see LWJ reports, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb video features French, Dutch hostages and French forces free Dutch hostage in Mali.)

AQIM has a history of taking Western hostages. In 2010, Michel Germaneau, a French hostage held by AQIM, died while in captivity. And in 2013, four French hostages were released by AQIM after being held for three years; it is speculated that a ransom of 20 million Euros was paid to free them.

Before that, AQIM was responsible for the kidnapping of Spanish nationals in Mauritania and an Italian and French national in Mali in 2009, as well as many more abductions throughout North Africa. The al Qaeda branch’s prolific kidnappings have even led senior al Qaeda leaders to tighten their control over the hostage-taking operations.

In November 2010, AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel made a surprising claim in a video that was aired on Al Jazeera. Droukdel said that France would have to negotiate with Osama bin Laden himself to secure the release of several French hostages. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Al Qaeda central tightened control over hostage operations.]

As a statement, the video is more an homage to the style of the Islamic State than a replication of their efforts. The captives aren’t seen wearing orange jumpsuits, and no threats are issued against the hostages’ lives. The AQIM video isn’t nearly as slick as those produced by the Islamic State. The audio quality is lower. The lighting is worse. It includes several cartoonish, melodramatic moments, in which fighters try to impress the viewer and come across looking somewhat buffoonish. But in comparison to their previous video showcasing Western hostages, the latest AQIM video marks a step-up in production quality.

The attempt to imitate the Islamic State comes amid a reported split within AQIM as to whether it should pledge allegiance to the group that has established what it calls a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq. In December, AQIM’s judicial authority said that the Islamic State had not met the requirements in Islamic law to establish a caliphate. Then in March, two AQIM divisions reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Monday’s hostage video contains no reference to the Islamic State and AQIM’s relationship to it. But within the context of the sophisticated public relations campaigns waged by AQIM and similar groups, it’s difficult not to interpret this visual homage to its brutal Syrian cousin as a slight tacking toward that group.

MI5 and MI6 are believed to be investigating the video and the apparent Briton, according to the Telegraph. A senior Whitehall source agreed that al-Qaeda was trying to mimic the Jihadi John persona and style of video.

Vodafone – Secret Six

In Activism, Anonymous, ANT, Archive, ASIO, Australia, Bahrain, Big Brother, Big Data, CENTCOM, CIA, CYBERCOM, DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE, DEA, DOJ, EFF, Encryption, FBI, Five Eyes, FOI, FOIA, FRA, GCHQ, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Huawei, India, Indonesia, INSCOM, Internet, INTERPOL, Israel, Japan, Kenya, LAPD, leaksource, Mali, Mandela, NDAA, New Zealand, News, Norway, OPEC, Politics, PSYOP, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Snowden, Somalia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Surveillance, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, TAO, Technology, TrapWire, TSA, Turkey, Uganda, UK, Ukraine, USA, Venezuela, Verizon on June 7, 2014 at 11:52 AM

Vodafone in all their magnificence and gorgeosity have shocked the monkey and released a “Law Enforcement Disclosure Report” (here). At the request of little old Gardai.

Unfortunately they have upset the Department of Justice who are claiming that the information Vodafone released could ‘compromise national security and hinder investigation of  serious criminal activity’.

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The wonderful folk at Vodafone reveal in the report the surveillance practices of governments in 29 countries which it operates in, but stops short of disclosing details of data surveillance in Ireland.

One can only assume this is to thwart any recriminations, from spooks. Vodafone also point out in the release that reports from other operators can have inherent flaws…

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We have compared the statistical information we hold for our own operations in the two countries in question with the information recently published by other local operators in those countries. For some categories of agency and authority demand, the volumes involved seem closely comparable between Vodafone and other local operators, although as explained above, there is a significant risk of under or over-counting overlapping demands issued to multiple operators. Furthermore, it is also clear that certain categories of agency and authority demand have been omitted from local operators’ publications, either to comply with legal restrictions (in the case of Australia) or (in Germany) for reasons not disclosed to us.”

The Report chants the mantra “it is unlawful to disclose any information related to wiretapping or interception of the content of phone calls and messages including whether such capabilities exist.” but points that in 6 countries “authorities” have unfettered access and that the law either ‘obliges’ telecom operators to install direct access pipes, or allow governments to do so.

Vodafone further explain that these 6 un-named countries have “regimens” that could retaliate by imprisoning staff…who could that be? (read the .pdf)

However after reading through the lines and thinking about it for a few minutes…it’s not hard to narrow down the “6” countries. The graphic below from The Guardian’s Juliette Garside makes this a no brainer.

With all respect to the fantastic and marvellous work Law Enforcement do, it is important Telecommunication Companies are finally finding their own voice amongst the schrills and squawks that have become a hysterical mist of white noise…well done Vodafone.

 

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Al-Qaeda Expenses

In Al-Qaeda, Archive, Mali on December 28, 2013 at 8:30 AM

12/24/2013

AP:

Al-Qaeda is obsessed with documenting the most minute expenses.

In more than 100 receipts left in a building occupied by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Timbuktu earlier this year, the militants assiduously tracked their cash flow, recording purchases as small as a single light bulb. The often tiny amounts are carefully written out in pencil and colored pen on scraps of paper and Post-it notes: The equivalent of $1.80 for a bar of soap; $8 for a packet of macaroni; $14 for a tube of super glue.

The accounting system on display in the documents found by The Associated Press is a mirror image of what researchers have discovered in other parts of the world where Al-Qaeda operates, including Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. The terror group’s documents around the world also include corporate workshop schedules, salary spreadsheets, philanthropy budgets, job applications, public relations advice and letters from the equivalent of a human resources division.

The picture that emerges from what is one of the largest stashes of Al-Qaeda documents to be made public shows a rigid bureaucracy, replete with a chief executive, a board of directors and departments such as human resources and public relations. Experts say each branch of Al-Qaeda replicates the same corporate structure.

Among the most revealing documents are the receipts, which offer a granular view of how Al-Qaeda’s fighters lived every day as well as its larger priorities.

An inordinate number of receipts are for groceries, suggesting a diet of macaroni with meat and tomato sauce, as well as large quantities of powdered milk. There are 27 invoices for meat, 13 for tomatoes, 11 for milk, 11 for pasta, seven for onions, and many others for tea, sugar, and honey.

They record the $0.60 cake one of their fighters ate, and the $1.80 bar of soap another used to wash his hands. They list a broom for $3 and bleach for $3.30. These relatively petty amounts are logged with the same care as the $5,400 advance they gave to one commander, or the $330 they spent to buy 3,300 rounds of ammunition.

In Afghanistan, detailed accounting records found in an abandoned Al-Qaeda camp in 2001 included salary lists, stringent documentation on each fighter, job application forms asking for level of education and language skills, as well as notebook after notebook of expenses. In Iraq, US forces recovered entire Excel spreadsheets, detailing salaries for Al-Qaeda fighters.

This detailed accounting system allows Al-Qaeda to keep track of the significant sums of money involved in feeding, training and recruiting thousands of fighters. It’s also an attempt to keep track of the fighters themselves, who often operate remotely.

The majority of the invoices found on a cement floor in a building in Timbuktu are scribbled by hand, on post-it notes, on lined math paper or on the backs of envelopes, as if operatives in the field were using whatever writing surface they could find. Others are typed, sometimes repeating the same items, in what may serve as formal expense reports for their higher-ups. Al-Qaeda clearly required such expense reports — in a letter from the stash, middle managers chide a terrorist for not handing his in on time.

The corporate nature of the organization is also on display in the types of activities they funded.

For example, two receipts, for $4,000 and $6,800, are listed as funds for “workshops,” another concept borrowed from business. A flier found in another building occupied by their fighters confirm that Al-Qaeda held the equivalent of corporate training retreats. It lists detailed schedules: Early morning exercise from 5 to 6:30 a.m.; lessons on how to use a GPS from 10 to 10:30 a.m.; arms training from 10:30 a.m. to noon; and various afternoon classes on preaching to other Muslims, nationalism and democracy.

A relatively small ratio of the receipts are expense reports for fighters and weapons. One unit presented a politely worded request for funds, entitled: “The list of names of militants who are asking for clothes and boots to protect themselves from the cold.”

Far more deal with the mundane aspects of running a state, such as keeping the lights on. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb invaded Timbuktu in April 2012, and took over its state-run utilities, paying to have fuel trucked in from neighboring Algeria. One invoice shows they paid $3,720 for 20 barrels of diesel for the city’s power station.

There’s also an advance for the prison and a detailed budget for the Islamic Tribunal, where judges were paid $2 per day to hear cases.

Along with the nuts and bolts of governing, it’s clear that the fighters were actively trying to woo the population. They set aside money for charity: $4 for medicine “for a Shiite with a sick child,” and $100 in financial aid for a man’s wedding. And they reimbursed residents for damages, such as $50 for structural repairs, with a note that the house in question “was hit by fighter’s cars.”

And it’s obvious that the fighters spent a good part of their time proselytizing, with expense reports for trips to distant villages to impart their ultra-strict vision of Islam. One receipt bluntly lists $200 for a “trip for spreading propaganda.”

While not overtly explained, the sizable receipts for car repairs suggest regular missions into the desert. The many receipts for oil changes, car batteries, filters and parts indicate the tough terrain battered the fighters’ Toyota Land Cruisers.

Finally, the names on the receipts reveal the majority of fighters on the group’s payroll were foreign-born. There’s a $1,000 advance to a man identified as “Talhat the Libyan.” Another is issued to “Tarek the Algerian.”

The names furthermore confirm that the top leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb were based in Timbuktu. Among them is Abou Zeid, probably the most feared of Al-Qaeda’s local commanders who orchestrated the kidnappings of dozens of Westerners until his death this spring.

“In the name of Allah, the most merciful,” begins a request for funds dated Dec. 29, 2012, and addressed to Abou Zeid. “We are writing to inform you that we need rockets for our camp — a total of 4 is needed. May God protect you.”

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