Khorasan group tagged as 'threat to aviation'

Updated 28 September 2014
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Khorasan group tagged as 'threat to aviation'

WASHINGTON: An Al-Qaeda cell in Syria known as the Khorasan Group, which was targeted by US airstrikes this week, represents “a clear and present danger” to commercial flights to Europe and the United States, the Obama administration’s top aviation security official said Friday.
The purpose of the airstrikes was to disrupt an “imminent attack or attack entering the last phases of execution,” said John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration. The Khorasan Group has been researching and testing improvised explosive devices designed to elude airport security, he said.
Pistole’s remarks, which came at a luncheon of the Washington Aero Club, were among the most detailed to date about potential terror threats posed by the group. The Obama administration on Sept. 18 publicly acknowledged for the first time the existence of the shadowy group of veteran Al-Qaeda members.
“The stakes are real and the threats are high,” Pistole said to members of the Aero Club, an organization that promotes aviation. “I see the Khorasan Group as being a very capable, determined enemy who was very much focused on getting somebody or something on a plane bound for Europe or the United States.”
Though the Khorasan Group was has been known to US intelligence officials, the name only recently became public after a series of articles about the threats it poses to the US. Officials said military strikes Monday night were intended to disrupt an imminent plot, but “imminent,” when used by the government in terms of intelligence, does not necessarily mean it was about to happen. There was no information about a specific target, for instance.
Intelligence officials have known for months that Khorasan Group extremists were scheming with bomb-makers from Al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate to find new ways to get explosives onto planes. Their plans were far enough along that the TSA in July asked for additional passenger screening at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the US, including that passengers be required to turn on laptops, tablets and other electronic devices, Pistole said.
The group has been recruiting Westerners to carry explosives onto a plane or put one on a cargo plane. There are some 8,850 people associated with “foreign terrorist fighter activity” on the terror watch list of people banned from flying to, from or within the US, according to the FBI. But Pistole said many of these western Khorasan recruits may not be on that list.
The TSA is looking at more steps that can be taken in the US and overseas to “increase aviation security without shutting down commerce, trade and the tourism business,” Pistole said. Some additional security measures have already been taken in the US, he said, but declined to describe them.
There are about 275 airports around the world with direct flights to the US Enhanced security measures are being used at “a couple dozen” airports in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa based on intelligence that those airports might be used by a terrorist to fly to the US, Pistole said. But he indicated those measures aren’t foolproof.
“We have medium-to-high confidence depending upon which airport and what day it is,” Pistole said.
Pistole pointed to the underwear bomb that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate on a passenger jet over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009, noting that Abdulmutallab traveled through three airports before getting on the flight to the US. Those airports used metal detectors, but Abdulmutallab’s underwear bomb didn’t contain metal.
“We audit and inspect all airports that have nonstop passenger or cargo service to the US and give them a passing grade for the day we were there so you can see what was is going on,” he said. “The concern is that, for any number of issues, they may not be on their A-game” on the day that a terrorist goes through the airport in route to the US
The TSA is looking at their list of overseas airports that might be used by a terrorist to see if there are other steps that can be taken “to buy down risk,” Pistole said. He declined to identify those airports or the steps under consideration.
Khorasan refers to a province under the Islamic caliphate, or religious empire, of old that included parts of Afghanistan. The group is a cadre of veteran Al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who traveled to Syria to link up with the Al-Qaeda affiliate there, the Nusra Front.
The Khorasan Group’s plotting with Al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, shows that, despite the damage that years of drone missile strikes has done to the leadership of core Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, the movement still can threaten the West. The Yemen affiliate has been able to place three bombs on US-bound airliners, though none has succeeded in downing the aircraft.


Egypt court upholds corruption conviction of Mubarak, sons

Updated 22 September 2018
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Egypt court upholds corruption conviction of Mubarak, sons

  • Saturday’s ruling by the Court of Cessation dashed any hope that Gamal Mubarak could run for public office.
  • Mubarak’s two sons are currently on trial for insider trading.

CAIRO: Egypt's highest appeals court on Saturday rejected a motion by former president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons to overturn their conviction on corruption charges.
The ruling by the Court of Cessation, Egypt's final recourse for appeals in criminal cases, dashed any hope that Gamal, Mubarak's younger son and one-time heir apparent, could run for public office. A senior newspaper editor and confidant of Egypt's current president had recently suggested that banker-turned-politician Gamal may have been contemplating the move.
The Mubarak trio was sentenced to three years each for embezzling funds meant for maintenance of presidential palaces but which they spent on upgrading or building private residences. The sons were released in 2015 for time served, while their father was freed last year. They repaid the funds, a total of 125 million pounds (about $7 million).
Mubarak's sons are currently on trial for insider trading. They are free on bail after a judge on Thursday overturned a surprise Sept. 15 ruling to detain them. The case's next hearing is on Oct. 20.
The rejection of their appeal Saturday and Gamal Mubarak's subsequent ineligibility to run for office came in the wake of recent comments by the chief editor of state-run Al-Akhbar publications, Yasser Rizq, who suggested that frequent public appearances by the younger Mubarak could be a prelude to a future presidential run.
Rizq first warned Gamal Mubarak against harboring presidential ambitions in an article published in May. He repeated the warning in a television interview aired earlier this week.
"His real crime is insulting the dignity of the Egyptian people," Rizq said, alluding to Gamal's one-time intention to succeed his father. It violated the constitution and amounted to the toppling of republican rule, he explained. He said it was not improbable that he would strike a political deal with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to secure the group's return to politics in exchange for its support in a presidential bid in 2022, when President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi's second term ends.
Preventing Gamal from succeeding his father was among the main drivers of a 2011 uprising that ended Mubarak's 29-year rule, as well as the military's support for it. The years that followed saw Mubarak regime heavyweights tried on corruption or abuse of power charges. Most have since walked free, while second-string regime loyalists found their way back to public life under El-Sissi.