UN concerned about lives of civilians trapped in fighting on Yemen coast

Jamie McGoldrick. (AP file photo)
Updated 31 January 2017
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UN concerned about lives of civilians trapped in fighting on Yemen coast

ADEN: The top UN humanitarian official in Yemen said on Tuesday he feared for the lives of civilians in two Red Sea coast cities where Yemeni government forces and their Gulf Arab backers are on an offensive to oust Iran-allied Houthi militia.
Coalition-supported Yemeni Army forces advanced northward into Al-Mokha and Dhubab last week in a bid to deprive the Houthis of strategic Red Sea ports.
“I am extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of civilians in the Dhubab and Al-Mokha districts of Taiz Governorate,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen Jamie McGoldrick said in a statement.
“Repeated airstrikes, shelling and sniper attacks in and around the town of Al-Mokha have killed and injured scores of civilians and have ground most services to a halt, including the main market and the water supply system.”
Some 20,000 to 30,000 people were trapped in Al-Mokha and in need of assistance, he added, but intense fighting was impeding safe access for relief agencies.
Houthi forces attacked a Saudi warship stationed off the coast on Monday night, causing an explosion that killed two crew members and injured three others, according to SPA.
The Houthis said they had launched a ballistic missile at a coalition military base on the Red Sea island of Zuqar between Yemen and Eritrea on Tuesday morning, posting video of the attack on their news channel, Al-Masira.
Meanwhile, Yemeni security forces killed an Al-Qaeda leader in the province of Lahj during a raid on Tuesday, police said.
Ammar Qaid, known as Al-Qaeda’s “emir” in Lahj, was killed in an exchange of fire with “counter-terrorism” forces after refusing to surrender, said provincial police chief Saleh Sayed.
The raid in the provincial capital Huta was carried out as part of a vast operation backed by an Arab military coalition against the terrorists in Aden, Abyan and Lahj, in southwestern Yemen.
They are three of five provinces under the control of government forces at war with Iran-backed Shiite rebels.
In southern Hadramawt, meanwhile, suspected Al-Qaeda militants shot dead policeman Ali Al-Bekri on Monday night in the town of Qotn before fleeing, a security source told AFP.
In the north of the country, heavy clashes on Monday killed 21 loyalist soldiers and seven rebels in Midi and Haradh, military sources said.
The pro-government forces had come under fire in a minefield as they advanced, said one source.
Separately, Yemen believes that US President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on certain Muslims traveling to the US supports extremists, a news agency run by the government has reported.
“We resent the US ban ... such decisions support the stance of extremists and sow divisions,” the SABA news agency quoted a source at the Foreign Ministry as saying.
The country on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula is one of seven Muslim-majority countries whose citizens face a 90-day ban on entering the US.
Yemen’s northern regions, including the capital Sanaa and the country’s largest international airport, are controlled by the Houthis group while its internationally recognized government is based in the south and east.
Yemen’s long-running conflict escalated in March 2015 when the coalition began bombing raids against the Houthis who had stormed the capital.


Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

Alister Shepherd, the director of a subsidiary of FireEye, during a presentation about the APT33 in Dubai Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

  • The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.
  • Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

DUBAI: An Iranian government-aligned group of hackers launched a major campaign targeting Mideast energy firms and others ahead of US sanctions on Iran, a cybersecurity firm said Tuesday, warning further attacks remain possible as America reimposes others on Tehran.

While the firm FireEye says the so-called “spear-phishing” email campaign only involves hackers stealing information from infected computers, it involves a similar type of malware previously used to inject a program that destroyed tens of thousands of terminals in Saudi Arabia.

The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.

“Whenever we see Iranian threat groups active in this region, particularly in line with geopolitical events, we have to be concerned they might either be engaged in or pre-positioning for a disruptive attack,” Alister Shepherd, a director for a FireEye subsidiary, told The Associated Press.

Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

“Iran’s cyber capabilities are purely defensive, and these claims made by private firms are a form of false advertising designed to attract clients,” the mission said in a statement. “They should not be taken at face value.”

FireEye, which often works with governments and large corporations, refers to the group of Iranian hackers as APT33, an acronym for “advanced persistent threat.” APT33 used phishing email attacks with fake job opportunities to gain access to the companies affected, faking domain names to make the messages look legitimate. Analysts described the emails as “spear-phishing” as they appear targeted in nature.

FireEye first discussed the group last year around the same time. This year, the company briefed journalists after offering presentations to potential government clients in Dubai at a luxury hotel and yacht club on the man-made, sea-horse-shaped Daria Island.

While acknowledging their sales pitch, FireEye warned of the danger such Iranian government-aligned hacking groups pose. Iran is believed to be behind the spread of Shamoon in 2012, which hit Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas. The virus deleted hard drives and then displayed a picture of a burning American flag on computer screens. Saudi Aramco ultimately shut down its network and destroyed over 30,000 computers.

A second version of Shamoon raced through Saudi government computers in late 2016, this time making the destroyed computers display a photograph of the body of 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned fleeing his country’s civil war.

But Iran first found itself as a victim of a cyberattack. Iran developed its cyber capabilities in 2011 after the Stuxnet computer virus destroyed thousands of centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation.

APT33’s emails haven’t been destructive. However, from July 2 through July 29, FireEye saw “a by-factors-of-10 increase” in the number of emails the group sent targeting their clients, Shepherd said.