US calls for credible probe into ‘overwhelming’ Beirut blast

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US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, third from right, and US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, second from right, visit the site of the Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. (AP)
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U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, center, and U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, left, visit the site of the Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. (AP)
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U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale speaks to the media after visiting the site of a massive explosion at Beirut's port, Lebanon, August 15, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 August 2020

US calls for credible probe into ‘overwhelming’ Beirut blast

  • The explosion has pitched Lebanon into a new political vacuum since the resignation of the government
  • Lebanon’s most senior Christian cleric said the Lebanese people and the international community had run out of patience with ruling politicians

BEIRUT: The United States called on Saturday for a transparent and credible investigation into the massive port blast in Beirut that killed 172 people and said Lebanon could never go back to the days “in which anything goes” at its ports and borders.
The Aug. 4 blast, which the authorities say was caused by more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been unsafely stored at the port for years, injured 6,000 people, damaged swathes of the city and left 300,000 homeless.
Some 30 people remain missing.
“Seeing it on television is one thing, seeing it up close is another. It’s really overwhelming,” David Hale, US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said after visiting the port.
“We can never go back to an era in which anything goes at the port or the borders of Lebanon that had to contribute to this situation,” Hale said. “Every sovereign state controls its ports and its borders thoroughly and I imagine all Lebanese would like to return to that era.”
He added that FBI agents would be arriving this weekend, at the invitation of Lebanon, to help find out what exactly happened and what led to the explosion.
The blast has fueled anger at ruling politicians who were already facing heavy criticism over a financial meltdown that has sunk the currency, left savers unable to withdraw their money, and fueled poverty and unemployment since October.
President Michel Aoun has said a probe will look into whether the cause of the blast was negligence, an accident or “external interference.”
The heavily armed Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, said on Friday it would wait for results of the official Lebanese investigation into the blast.
But if it turns out to be an act of sabotage by Israel then it would “pay an equal price”, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address. Israel has denied any role in the explosion.
Nasrallah also said his group was against an international investigation because its first purpose would be to “distance Israel from any responsibility for this explosion, if it had responsibility.” He said the participation of the FBI in an investigation would serve the same purpose.
The explosion has pitched Lebanon into a new political vacuum since the resignation of the government, which formed in January with backing of Hezbollah and its allies including Aoun.
Lebanon’s most senior Christian cleric said the Lebanese people and the international community had run out of patience with ruling politicians.
In his strongest intervention yet since the blast, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai also said the church reserved the right to veto any proposals that further jeopardize Lebanon.
His comments in a sermon were reported by Lebanese broadcaster LBC.
The Maronite church exercises political sway in a country where the head of state must be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.
Iran backs Hezbollah and in a visit to Beirut on Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said international efforts should help Lebanon rather than “impose anything on it.”
Western visitors including French President Emmanuel Macron and the US State Department’s Hale have called for Lebanon to implement reforms including anti-corruption measures that the country’s leaders have avoided for years.


New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

Updated 18 September 2020

New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

  • CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed

NEW YORK: The man widely believed to be the new leader of Daesh was once an informant for the US, according to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), a research body at the US military academy of West Point in New York.

“Stepping Out from the Shadows: The Interrogation of the Islamic State’s Future Caliph” is based on Tactical Interrogation Reports (TIRs) — the paper trail the US military creates when enemy fighters are detained and interrogated — from Al-Mawla’s time in captivity in the late 2000s.

Before his release in 2009, Al-Mawla named 88 extremists involved in terrorist activities, and the information he divulged during his interrogations led US forces in the region to successfully capture or kill dozens of Al-Qaeda fighters, the report claims.

The CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed in a US air raid in Syria in October 2019.

Although Daesh announced that a man called Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi was Baghdadi’s successor, US officials have also stated that Al-Qurashi’s true identity is actually Al-Mawla — also known as Hajj Abdullah.

Before joining Daesh, Al-Mawla is believed to have been the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda.

While details about the operation resulting in his capture are scarce, the TRIs reveal that he was captured on January 6, 2008.

The following day, US Central Command announced the capture of a wanted individual who “previously served as a judge of an illegal court system involved in ordering and approving abductions and executions.”

In his interrogations, Al-Mawla offered up details of terrorist plots to his interrogators, while minimizing his own involvement. He identified many jihadists by name and offered descriptions of their roles in the terrorist organization and details of their involvement in attacks on US-led coalition forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Al-Mawla — a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s army and once Baghdadi’s speechwriter — emerges from the TIRs as a mysterious personality with a vague past, whose ethnicity could not be determined with certainty. The statements in the reports are rife with contradictory elements and open to a wide range of interpretations. As the authors point out in their introduction: “It is incredibly difficult to ascertain whether what Al-Mawla divulges regarding himself or ISI (the forerunner of Daesh) as an organization is true.”

Details of the specific demographics of Al Mawla’s birthplace of Al-Muhalabiyyah in Iraq’s Tal Afar district are sketchy, but it is generally accepted to have a predominantly Turkmen population. The authors of the report point out that some sources have suggested “this could pose legitimacy problems for him because (Daesh) mostly has Arabs in its senior leadership echelons,” but add that at least two other senior members of the group were reported to have been Turkmen.

Al-Mawla also claimed to have avoided pledging allegiance to ISI because he was a Sufi. The report’s authors cast doubt on that claim, given his quick rise to prominence in the terrorist group and the fact that ISI and Daesh branded Sufism as heresy.

But the authors do believe the TRIs give some valuable insights into Al-Mawla’s personality.

“The fact that he detailed activities and gave testimony against (fellow jihadists) suggests a willingness to offer up fellow members of the group to suit his own ends,” they wrote. “The amount of detail and seeming willingness to share information about fellow organization members suggests either a degree of nonchalance, strategic calculation, or resignation on the part of Al-Mawla regarding operational security.

“He appears to have named individuals in some capacity across all levels of the organization, while describing some individuals in some detail,” they continued.

The US Department of Justice has offered a $10million reward for information about Al-Mawla’s identification or location.