3 Iranian citizens charged in broad hacking campaign in US

Iranian cyber actors Khatibi, Mansour Ahmadi, and Amir Hossein Nickaein Ravari wanted for their alleged involvement. (AFP/State Department)
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Iranian cyber actors Khatibi, Mansour Ahmadi, and Amir Hossein Nickaein Ravari wanted for their alleged involvement. (AFP/State Department)
The flags of Iran flutter during a sandstorm in the south of the capital Tehran on July 4, 2022. (AFP)
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The flags of Iran flutter during a sandstorm in the south of the capital Tehran on July 4, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 15 September 2022

3 Iranian citizens charged in broad hacking campaign in US

The flags of Iran flutter during a sandstorm in the south of the capital Tehran on July 4, 2022. (AFP)
  • Mansour Ahmadi, Ahmad Khatibi and Amir Hossein Nikaein are citizens of Iran who own or are employed by private technology companies in the country
  • Treasury Department also sanctioned 10 individuals and two entities affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard

WASHINGTON: The Justice Department said Wednesday that three Iranian citizens have been charged in the United States with ransomware attacks that targeted power companies, local governments and small businesses and nonprofits, including a domestic violence shelter.
The charges accuse the hacking suspects of targeting hundreds of entities in the US and around the world, including inside Britain, Australia, Iran, Russia and the US, encrypting and stealing data from victim networks, and threatening to release it publicly or leave it encrypted unless exorbitant ransom payments were made. In some cases, the victims made those payments, the department said.
But a separate US Treasury announcement of sanctions said the three were part of a larger hacking group tied to Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and the US State Department has offered a $10 million reward for information on them.
The indictment identified the three as Mansour Ahmadi, Ahmad Khatibi Aghda, and Amir Hossein Nikaeen Ravari.
It said that between October 2020 and August 2022, the men used known vulnerabilities in computer systems to attack multiple targets in the United States, stealing their data and demanding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to have it returned.
Those included local governments, a shelter for victims of domestic violence, a children’s hospital in Boston, accounting firms and electricity generating companies.
The victims were not methodically chosen but were “targets of opportunity” whose computer systems were vulnerable to hacking, officials said.
“The indictment does not allege that these actors undertook these actions on behalf of the Government of Iran,” a senior Justice Department official told reporters.
The three “engaged in a pattern of hacking, cyber-theft, and extortion largely for personal gain,” FBI Director Chris Wray said in a separate statement.
But a concurrent announcement by the US Treasury said the three were part of a group of 10 Iranian hackers targeted with sanctions that was backed by the Revolutionary Guards.
“This IRGC-affiliated group is known to exploit software vulnerabilities in order to carry out their ransomware activities, as well as engage in unauthorized computer access, data exfiltration, and other malicious cyber activities,” the Treasury said.
Their actions align with those of known Iranian cyberattack operations which private cybersecurity groups have dubbed “APT35,” “Charming Kitten” and “Phosphorous,” Treasury added.
The Biden administration has tried to go after hackers who have held US targets essentially hostage, often sanctioned or sheltered by adversaries. The threat gained particular prominence in May 2021 when a Russia-based hacker group was accused of conducting a ransomware attack on Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline, which disrupted gas supplies along the East Coast.
Iran-based hackers have also been a focus over the last year, with the FBI last year thwarting a planned cyberattack on a children’s hospital in Boston that was to have been carried out by hackers sponsored by the Iranian government.
“The cyber threat facing our nation is growing more dangerous and complex every day,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement accompanying the indictment unsealed Wednesday. “Today’s announcement makes clear the threat is both local and global. It’s one we can’t ignore and it’s one we can’t fight on our own, either.”
the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned 10 individuals and two entities affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who it says have been involved in malicious cyber activities, including ransomware. The Treasury Department identified the three defendants in the Justice Department case as employees of a technology firm it says is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard.
John Hultquist, vice president for threat intelligence at the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, said his team has been tracking the Iranian actors for some time and assessed they are contractors for the Revolutionary Guard who have been moonlighting as criminal hackers.
The actions come amid an apparent stalemate in talks between the US and Iran over the possible revival of a 2015 nuclear deal. Israel and some US lawmakers of both parties are pushing the Biden administration to get tougher on Iran, calling the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program a failure.
The three accused hackers are thought to be in Iran and have not been arrested, but the Justice Department official said the pending charges make it “functionally impossible” for them to leave the country.
(With AFP and AP)


Gaza militants fire rocket into Israel amid West Bank unrest

Gaza militants fire rocket into Israel amid West Bank unrest
Updated 04 December 2022

Gaza militants fire rocket into Israel amid West Bank unrest

Gaza militants fire rocket into Israel amid West Bank unrest
  • United Nations Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “horrified” by the killing “during a scuffle with an Israeli soldier”

JERUSALEM: Palestinian militants fired a rocket from Gaza into Israel Saturday without causing any casualties, the army said, as a surge in violence grips the occupied West Bank.
There was no immediate claim for the attack, the first in a month according to the army.
However, one of Gaza’s larger armed factions, Islamic Jihad, had threatened to retaliate after Israeli troops killed two of its leaders in the West Bank town of Jenin on Thursday.
Witnesses said the Israeli army swiftly riposted by firing on two observation posts east of Gaza City, operated by the territory’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
The rocket attack came as a surge in bloodshed in the occupied West Bank sparked international criticism of the Israeli army for its use of lethal force against Palestinian civilians.
Criticism has focused on the killing of Ammar Hadi Mufleh, 22, in disputed circumstances in the town of Huwara, just south of Nablus, on Friday.
United Nations Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “horrified” by the killing “during a scuffle with an Israeli soldier.”
The European Union said it was “greatly concerned about the increasing level of violence” which had seen 10 Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces in recent days.
“Such unacceptable facts must be investigated and there must be full accountability,” EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borell said.
“Under international law, lethal force is only justified in situations in which there exists a serious and imminent threat to life.”
According to the Israeli version of events, Mufleh tried to force open the door of an Israeli couple’s car before stabbing a border policeman.
A senior border police officer then shot Mufleh dead, saying that the Palestinian had made a grab for his weapon.
Palestinian municipal official Wajeh Odeh told AFP the shooting followed “a quarrel.”
“An Israeli soldier pushed the Palestinian to the floor and shot him from zero distance,” Odeh said.
The Israeli foreign ministry responded angrily to the criticism.
“This reaction is a total distortion of reality,” it tweeted in English. “This is NOT a ‘scuffle’ -this is a terror attack!“
Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said he fully supported the border police officer’s decision to open fire “to save lives.”
“Our security forces will continue to act resolutely against terrorism,” he said.
At least 145 Palestinians and 26 Israelis have been killed in violence in Israel and the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, this year, the heaviest toll since 2015.

 


Football World Cup matches in Qatar finds Arab diaspora in Latin American torn by split loyalties

Football World Cup matches in Qatar finds Arab diaspora in Latin American torn by split loyalties
Updated 04 December 2022

Football World Cup matches in Qatar finds Arab diaspora in Latin American torn by split loyalties

Football World Cup matches in Qatar finds Arab diaspora in Latin American torn by split loyalties
  • Descendants of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants look with pride at the national squads of the Arab world
  • Although many support their home side, fans have keenly followed matches of Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco and Qatar

SAO PAULO: The World Cup is a big deal in Latin America, with cities across Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and elsewhere brought to a standstill whenever their respective national teams are on the pitch. But for one segment of society in particular, the 2022 tournament hosted by Qatar is particularly significant.

Arab Latin Americans are thought to number about 23 million people. There are large communities in Brazil and Argentina, and significant populations in Mexico, Chile, Venezuela and Colombia, made up of descendants of Arab emigrants who came over from the Middle East and North Africa, voluntarily or as refugees. And, like everybody else in these countries, Arabs love football.

The fact the 2022 World Cup is taking place in an Arab country for the first time provides an even greater incentive for the Arab diaspora in Latin America to tune in from distant time zones. The only question is whether to support the Arab side that reflects their ethnic origins, or the teams of their adopted countries.

Qatar’s hosting of the competition “certainly generates sympathy among Arab communities; people have been waiting for that World Cup for a long time,” Agustin Dib, director of the Arab Culture Club in Buenos Aires, told Arab News.

According to him, however, most Arab Latin Americans tend to root for the team that represents their adopted home.

“In Argentina, the first Lebanese and Syrian immigrants began to arrive at the end of the 19th century,” said Dib. “The same happened in Brazil. So, we are fully Argentinian, Brazilian, and so on — and love our national teams.”

At the same time, though, Arab Latin Americans watch with pride national squads from the Arab world and eagerly follow the fortunes of the likes of Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Qatar. The Saudi team’s historic 2-1 victory against Argentina in their opening match in Qatar no doubt captured the imagination of many.

There are large Arab communities in the border zones between Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. In these areas, a World Cup campaign can temporarily divide Arab groups.

Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates with Saudi Arabia's forward #09 Firas Al-Buraikan after scoring his team's first goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C football match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium. (AFP)

This is certainly the case in the bisected Brazilian city of Chui and its Uruguayan counterpart, Chuy, where several thousand Palestinians have settled. Most of the time, this community pays little heed to the geographical boundary separating them. But a World Cup can change this.

“In general, we cheer for both Uruguay and Brazil,” Jaber Nassar, a 43-year-old shop owner who lives on the Brazilian side of the city, told Arab News. “But if there is a match between both teams, each side will root for its national squad.”

The rest of the time, though, there has traditionally been a historic bond between both communities when it comes to football. In 1987, they founded the Central Palestino Futbol Club. Active for a little more than a decade before folding as a result of lack of funds, Central Palestino was part of the Uruguayan league and made waves in the 1990s when it reached the finals of a national championship.

“I used to see many matches with my mother when I was a boy. Central Palestino was a local champion and we would travel throughout Uruguay to see them play,” said Nassar, whose brother-in-law was part of the squad for several years.

The Palestinian community routinely turns out in force to watch as many matches as possible during a World Cup, said Nassar. A few of his friends even traveled to Qatar for the tournament.

“Of course, we will focus on the Arab teams,” he added.

Nassar said the Palestinians love of South American football is not only a byproduct of immigration. Even in Palestine, he said, many people cheer for Brazil during international tournaments.

FASTFACTS

* The Arab diaspora in Central and South America is thought to number about 23 million people.

* The biggest Arab communities are in Brazil and Argentina, followed by Mexico, Chile, Venezuela and Colombia.

According to Dib, this is common in many Arab nations and reflects a recognition of, and appreciation for, the prowess of top South American players.

“In countries like Syria and Lebanon, people love Argentinian and Brazilian football,” he said. “I lived for a few months in Tunisia and people would always ask me about Maradona and Messi.”

Zuka Khouri, who left Syria as a refugee and settled in the Brazilian city of Curitiba nine years ago, said her family cheers for the Brazilian national team during every World Cup.

“We also liked to see Italy play,” she told Arab News. “This year Italy is not in the competition so we are rooting for Brazil.”

Anas Obaid, a 34-year-old Syrian refugee, was captured and held hostage by an armed group in Syria until his family paid a ransom. After his release, he fled to Lebanon where he worked in a refugee camp in Zahle. He has lived in Brazil since 2015 and is now a journalist and human rights activist. He loves football and said he used to cheer for Argentina when he was a child.

“I was there during the 2014 World Cup, which took place in Brazil,” Obaid told Arab News. “I rooted for Germany, because the country was welcoming many Syrian refugees. But some in the camp rooted for Brazil.”

Since arriving in Sao Paulo, he said has become an ardent supporter of the Brazilian national team. “Brazilians have a passion for football and it is an honor to root for their squad,” he said.

Although football is unequivocally a national obsession in Brazil, and the World Cup a major event for the people there, the number of Brazilian fans who bought tickets for matches in Qatar, 39,546, is significantly lower than the numbers of Argentines (61,083) and Mexicans (91,173).

Mexico regularly sends a large contingent of fans to World Cups. Most Arab Mexicans are of Lebanese origin, according to Hector Chamlati, a member of the consulting board of Centro Libanes, a community association in Mexico City. The number of Lebanese Mexicans is estimated at about 500,000, most of whom are Christians.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino gives thumbs-up during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match between Brazil and Switzerland at Stadium 974 in Doha. (AFP)

“We have a very strong connection with the Mexican national team,” Chamlati told Arab News. “But it pleases many of us to see Arab teams play. I was glad to see that Tunisia managed to draw with Denmark (on Nov. 22).”

The grandson of Lebanese immigrants, he said the Mexican community feels an intense connection to Lebanon and if the country’s national team was competing in Qatar, many of them would certainly root for them.

“But I think it is special to see the potential success of any Arab squad,” he added.

Jose Alejandro Serio Haddad, a 25-year old Lebanese Mexican, traveled to Qatar with his friends to watch Mexico play. It was his first visit to an Arab country and proved to be something of a culture shock.

“I think Qatari and Lebanese culture are very different,” he told Arab News. “Besides, the number of Arabs here is not very high. Most of the time we meet with South Asians. We feel like foreigners all the time.”

Serio Haddad was not confident about the chances of any Arab teams progressing from the group phase to the final stages of the tournament “but we certainly feel more empathy with them than with Latin American teams, like Argentina, for instance.”

As for the fact that the World Cup is being hosted by a Muslim country for the first time, Obaid said that this was certainly noteworthy but he was unhappy with the amount of criticism that has been leveled against Qatar.

“I am concerned by the international community’s reaction,” he said. “It can be a way of fighting prejudices over Muslims and Arabs. But at the same time people are paying much more attention to Qatar’s social contradictions than they did when the (competition) happened in non-Muslim countries.”

Dib said he has been organizing talks to discuss the common distortions in the way Western countries perceive the World Cup in Qatar.

“Since the first World Cup, in Uruguay in 1930, there have been corruption scandals, for instance,” he said. “But the media now focuses almost exclusively on Qatar’s problems. It is a matter of prejudice.”

In any other context, Dib said, the global press would have talked about the construction marvels achieved by the hosting country “but given that it is an Arab nation, it only talks about the deaths that occurred during construction.”

He added: “I am not saying those problems are not important but the exclusive focus on them is a problem. It has to do with Orientalism as defined by Edward Said.”

In his 1978 book, “Orientalism,” Said established the term as a critical concept to describe the often contemptuous Western depiction of the East.

Dib said that many Arab Latin Americans are not comfortable with what many perceive as biased coverage of Qatar — which has been echoed in the Latin American media as well — because they feel that “there is an ongoing attack on Arab culture as a whole.”


Macron urged to oppose Israeli deportation of French Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri 

Macron urged to oppose Israeli deportation of French Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri 
Updated 03 December 2022

Macron urged to oppose Israeli deportation of French Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri 

Macron urged to oppose Israeli deportation of French Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri 
  • French citizen Hamouri, who has been held since March in administrative detention, faces deportation as early as Sunday

LONDON: Several charitable organizations and activist groups have called on French President Emmanuel Macron to act immediately against the expulsion of French Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri by Israeli authorities.

Israel on Thursday announced it had stripped Hamouri of his Jerusalem residency and planned to deport him to France, saying he was an “activist in a banned militant group.”

French citizen Hamouri, who has been held since March in administrative detention — a tool that allows Israeli authorities to hold suspects without charge for months on end — faces deportation as early as Sunday despite being a life-long resident of Jerusalem.

His charge, as announced by the Israeli Ministry of Interior, is a “failure of allegiance” toward the state of Israel, first confirmed on June 29 last year. He has not been convicted in the proceedings.

Israel claims that Hamouri is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group that is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the US.

He is a lawyer for Adameer, a rights group that assists Palestinian prisoners that Israel has banned for alleged ties to the PFLP, and previously spent seven years in prison after being convicted in an alleged plot to kill a prominent rabbi, but was released in a 2011 prisoner swap with Hamas.

Human Rights Watch, ACAT-France, Amnesty International France, the Platform of French NGOs for Palestine and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders are appealing to Macron to immediately call on the Israeli authorities to release Hamouri.

They said the decision set a dangerous precedent for Palestinian human rights defenders and advocates in Jerusalem, who could be systematically targeted on this basis.

Attorney for human rights activist group HaMoked, Dani Shenhar, called the stripping of his residency a “drastic measure that violates a person's basic right to live in their homeland.”

She continued: “As a member of the indigenous population of Jerusalem, Hamouri owes no allegiance to the state of Israel, the fact that this decision was made largely on the basis of secret evidence only exacerbates the injustice.”

Israel’s Supreme Court this week cleared the way for the deportation after rejecting an appeal from HaMoked.


Mikati faces row over Lebanese Cabinet meeting on Monday

Mikati faces row over Lebanese Cabinet meeting on Monday
Updated 03 December 2022

Mikati faces row over Lebanese Cabinet meeting on Monday

Mikati faces row over Lebanese Cabinet meeting on Monday
  • Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi criticizes inability of parliament to elect president after 8 sessions

BEIRUT: Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati has called for a Cabinet meeting on Monday to deal with urgent matters in the country.

He announced the move during a speech at the inauguration of the International Arab Book Fair in Beirut.

The move has outraged Christian blocs in the Lebanese ruling class which consider it an unconstitutional step and an attempt to bypass the priority of electing a new president.

Some eight electoral sessions have failed to procure a new president and the leadership vacuum has entered a second month.

Mikati confirmed that he had called the Cabinet to convene to try and tackle problems which, he said, were deemed important by ministers.

An agenda comprising 65 items has been issued, although Mikati pledged in a parliamentary session held about a month ago not to call a Cabinet session amid the presidential vacuum, unless everyone agreed to the move.

The decision raised concerns among members of the Free Patriotic Movement. The party denounced the invitation, fearing that the resigned government will carry out prerogatives reserved for the president.

In an attempt to reassure those who are skeptical, Mikati said more than 40 items could be excluded from the agenda.

He said: “We will only approve the matters that are deemed important and urgent by ministers.

“It disappoints me when some people consider the meeting a sectarian move or an attempt that targets a specific group.

“Do we discriminate when we provide assistance? What is being said is unacceptable.”

Mikati added: “There’s a file related to cancer and dialysis patients that should be approved.

“What our Cabinet does is perform governmental duties to serve the citizens. Whoever has an alternative can propose it.”

Mikati said he hoped no one would boycott the meeting as ministers had a sense of patriotism. He added he was hopeful of a broad participation on Monday.

He also called on those responsible to accelerate the process of electing a president.

He said: “What is required first and foremost is the political will of the various political forces and blocs to complete the convening of constitutional institutions by electing a new president as soon as possible.”

He added that the adoption of reform laws must take place before the final agreement with the International Monetary Fund, in order to secure the opportunity for the promised economic recovery.

The urgent item that prompted Mikati to call the Cabinet session is related to the settlement of amounts due to hospitals.

It includes the approval of a request to cover the purchase of medicines for incurable and cancerous diseases using $35 million from the Central Bank over three months.

Ministers from the FPM announced that they will boycott Monday’s session.

However, it has been reported that Mikati’s move received the support of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, despite the strong alliance between Hezbollah and the FPM.

The Syndicate of Hospitals in Lebanon said that using people’s health for political sparring was unacceptable.

It said patients were not responsible for the presidential vacuum, nor for the governmental status and the prerogatives of the caretaker Cabinet.

It has been reported that Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, Tourism Minister Walid Nassar, Justice Minister Henri Khoury, Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar, Energy Minister Walid Fayad and Defense Minister Maurice Slim will not attend Monday’s meeting.

However, despite the boycott, the quorum will still be met, as two-thirds of the members and Christian ministers from other blocs will attend it.

Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi has criticized the inability of parliament to elect a president after eight electoral sessions.

He described the unsuccessful parliamentary sessions as “comical.”

Addressing the deputies of Hezbollah and the FPM, who keep casting blank votes, he added: “Why don’t you announce your candidate’s name?

“Why would you secure the quorum in the first round, then leave in the second round? Isn’t this disrespectful to the Lebanese people and the presidency?

“Why do you act like this when it comes to the Maronite Christian president, while you elect the parliamentary speaker in one session and the prime minister is designated immediately following parliamentary consultations?

“It is as if you are saying that you can do without a president. If you were keen on respecting the national pact, how is the Christian element represented when you keep missing the chance to elect a president?”

 


Push to nominate Egyptian sheikh for Nobel Peace Prize

Sheikh Ahmed Karima. (Wikipedia)
Sheikh Ahmed Karima. (Wikipedia)
Updated 03 December 2022

Push to nominate Egyptian sheikh for Nobel Peace Prize

Sheikh Ahmed Karima. (Wikipedia)
  • Karima said he is one of the pioneers in supporting the rapprochement between religious sects, and highlighted his efforts in confronting terrorism since 1996, saying he had published books citicial of the Muslim Brotherhood and Daesh

CAIRO: Sheikh Ahmed Karima, a professor of comparative jurisprudence and Islamic law at Al-Azhar University, has confirmed that there are efforts and moves by some personalities outside Egypt to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

A number of those close to him are making efforts to support his nomination .

The professor told Arab News that the moves “come as a result of my efforts to bring together the Sunni, Shiite and Ibadi Islamic sects, as well as the societal initiatives that I have participated in launching over the past years.”

Karima said he is one of the pioneers in supporting the rapprochement between religious sects, and highlighted his efforts in confronting terrorism since 1996, saying he had published books citicial of the Muslim Brotherhood and Daesh.

“I also have a charitable foundation in the Haram area, and I call for stopping behavioral violence and consolidating and supporting world peace. These are activities that I have been working on for a very long time,” Karima added.

He told Arab News that the proposal that he adopted would also be based on the establishment of the Egyptian Center for World Peace, a specialized non-profit research center concerned with correcting misconceptions attributed to religious issues for the public benefit.

The center challenges false inferences, false citations, and remedies for the principles and agendas of intellectual and behavioral violence, Karima told Arab News.

He suggested that the center be affiliated with the presidency of Egypt, the presidency of the Egyptian Cabinet, and the Foundation for Harmony among people.

Karima said he was working “to spread the culture of environmental protection, in international conferences and scientific publications, including legal measures to protect the environment, in addition to sermons and seminars in mosques and cultural palaces and youth centers.”

He concluded his remarks by saying: “I wish I would win the Nobel Peace Prize, and if I win it, I will dedicate it to Al-Azhar Al-Sharif.

“I was also surprised by negative propaganda campaigns by European institutions and personalities against my candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize.”