Algeria president heads to Switzerland for new medical check-up

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen in Algiers, Algeria, on April 9, 2018. (REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina/File Photo)
Updated 28 August 2018
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Algeria president heads to Switzerland for new medical check-up

  • Bouteflika has been frail since suffering a stroke in 2013
  • With a presidential election due to take place in April 2019, politicians have already been preparing for a fifth term under Bouteflika
ALGIERS: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika flew Monday to Switzerland for a medical check-up, his office said, months ahead of an election with no clear successor in sight for the ailing 81-year-old.
The statement, carried by the APS news agency, gave no further details about the “routine medical check-up” in Geneva, nor did it say how long Bouteflika was expected to be out of the country.
Bouteflika has been frail since suffering a stroke in 2013, which weakened his mobility and forced him to work from his residence in Zeralda, west of Algiers.
Bouteflika has since traveled abroad several times to undergo medical examinations in Paris, the southeastern French city of Grenoble and in Geneva.
Rumors often swirl in Algeria about the state of the president’s health, with opposition leaders quick to express concerns about a possible “power vacuum” if he were to die.
But with a presidential election due to take place in April 2019, politicians have already been preparing for a fifth term under Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999.
In April, the secretary general of his National Liberation Front, Djamel Ould Abbes, asked him to run for re-election.
And in June, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said his Rally for National Democracy (RND) party would support the president “continuing his mission and his sacrifice in the service of Algeria.”
In 2014, the year after his stroke, Bouteflika’s decision to seek a fourth term sparked criticism from those who questioned his ability to rule.
Bouteflika only makes rare public appearances, during which he is usually seen sitting in a wheelchair.


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.