Barcelona Attack

Barcelona Attack

Marc Simms is an occasional blogger for Proelium Law LLP. Marc holds a MLitt in Terrorism Studies and a Masters in International Relations, both from St Andrews. His particular interests are in emerging international security issues, unconventional warfare and terrorism.

The vehicle-borne attack in Barcelona on Thursday the 17th  August served to highlight the ongoing vulnerability of urban centres to this terrorist tactic.  The Las Ramblas attack, which killed 13 and injured over 100, is only the latest in a string of vehicle-based attacks in Europe, and came only shortly after a far-right extremist carried out a similar attack in Charlottesville on Saturday August 12th, killing one.

As there is no easy way to effectively counter these kind of attacks, the likelihood is that they will become increasingly attractive to both terrorist groups looking to carry out low-risk, high-return attacks and to lone wolf terrorists, without easy access to other methods of attack.

Worrying elements of the Barcelona cell

The Barcelona cell was clearly preparing for more attacks.  On the day after the Barcelona attack, a woman was killed in a second vehicle attack in the coastal town of Cambrils, just over an hour’s drive away from Barcelona.  A safe house linked to the cell was also the site of an explosion on the day before the Las Ramblas attack.

In the aftermath of the blast, Spanish police have recovered over 120 gas bottles.  It is believed that some of these gas containers leaked, which led to the explosion.  The Spanish believe that the cell intended to use these gas containers, in conjunction with three vans, to create vehicle-borne improved explosive devices (VBIEDs) to carry out a much larger, far more devastating attack.  However, the explosion on Wednesday night had caused the cell to alter their plans, leading to next day’s attack.  The cell had likely surmised it would only be a matter of time before the explosion was linked to terrorism, and decided to act as soon as possible as a result.

Another notable factor is that the cell mostly comprised of much younger terrorists than we have previously seen ISIS using.  Many of the cell were either teenagers or in their early 20s, and of mostly Moroccan background.  They were considered “well-integrated” and had no history of violent extremism, though it is not clear whether they have been involved in other criminal activities, as has been the case with many ISIS recruits in Europe.

Radicalisation in Spain

The Barcelona attack is the first successful terrorist attack by jihadist terrorist groups in Spain since the 2004 Madrid train bombings.  Spain has a reputation for effective counter-terrorism operations, partially a legacy of its conflict with ETA, allowing it to routinely identify and disrupt planned attacks in the country.

Despite this, the Catalonia region of Spain has been long considered a potential hub for Islamist extremism.  A US State Department memo from 2007 noted that Al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam had both recruited in Barcelona, and that immigrants from Pakistan and North Africa there “live on the edges of Spanish society”, suffer from high unemployment, do not speak the local language and have few opportunities to practice their religion easily.  As such, this combination of factors “provide fertile ground for terrorist recruitment”.

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Whatever civilian life was like for you before joining the Armed Forces, your military career is bound to have been life-altering. Like me, you might not have been the most organised or disciplined, or in the best physical shape, and joined with an attitude problem; we all quickly found out that a military existence is a whole new world compared to civilian life.

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Proelium Law LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority No. 629608 (www.sra.org.uk)

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Sayf al-Islam Gaddafi

Sayf al-Islam Gaddafi

Marc Simms is an occasional blogger for Proelium Law LLP. Marc holds a MLitt in Terrorism Studies and a Masters in International Relations, both from St Andrews. His particular interests are in emerging international security issues, unconventional warfare and terrorism.

Release of Sayf al-Islam Gaddafi

In a surprising turn of events, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, was released from prison on the 9th of June. Often seen as the heir-apparent to his father’s rule, as well as the public face of the regime in the west, Saif al-Islam was held by the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Battalion, one of the many groups who make up the Zintan Brigades, since 2011.

Beyond the given reason of a “general amnesty”, it’s not clear precisely why Saif al-Islam was released.  However, there are good reasons to suspect that it may have to do with Libya’s ongoing civil war.

The amnesty which freed Saif al-Islam was part of a wider amnesty for all Gaddafi-era figures issued by the Tobruk based House of Representatives, one of the major factions in the Libyan conflict.  This was in response to the rival General National Congress based in Tripoli, who sentenced him to death in absentia in 2015, in what international observers have generally referred to as a show trial.  And while his whereabouts are unknown, there have been unconfirmed sightings of Saif al-Islam in Tobruk since his release.

Future plans

It would not be irresponsible to speculate that perhaps Saif al-Islam is considering a return to a political role.  Gaddafi loyalists in the Libyan conflict have over the past year increasingly thrown their lot in with Khalifa Haftar and the Tobruk government.

Furthermore, while Saif al-Islam is tainted by his association with his father’s regime, he nevertheless had a reputation as being reformist and more lenient with regards to political opposition.  And beyond that, after six years of civil conflict since the Gaddafi regime was overthrown, it is possible that the Tobruk government is hoping to appeal to residual support for Gaddafi and the stability of the old regime by rehabilitating and supporting his son.

An international factor?

It is also worth considering the international situation with regards to the Libyan conflict at this moment.  While it does not directly connect to Saif al-Islam’s release, it should be noted that the Egyptian and UAE governments back the Tobruk-based government, while the Tripoli government is backed by Qatar, Turkey and Sudan.  Egypt and UAE have followed Saudi Arabia’s lead in breaking off relations with Qatar on Monday the 5th of June, and the Tobruk government has explicitly shown its support for their actions by producing their own list of Libyan institutions and individuals it says are associated with terrorism and Qatar.  It would make considerable sense to attempt to capitalise on any break in material support caused by Qatar’s current difficulties.

International arrest warrants

While Saif al-Islam has been pardoned by the Tobruk government, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest in June 2011 for crimes against humanity and ordering the killing of civilian protesters.  This warrant is still outstanding and the ICC has demanded that whichever states may be sheltering him to surrender him into their custody.

 

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CIVILIAN: NOW THAT’S A NAME I HAVE NOT HEARD IN A LONG TIME – PART 1

Whatever civilian life was like for you before joining the Armed Forces, your military career is bound to have been life-altering. Like me, you might not have been the most organised or disciplined, or in the best physical shape, and joined with an attitude problem; we all quickly found out that a military existence is a whole new world compared to civilian life.

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Proelium Law LLP

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Proelium Law LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority No. 629608 (www.sra.org.uk)

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South Sudan Army

South Sudan Army

Marc Simms is an occasional blogger for Proelium Law LLP. Marc holds an MLitt in Terrorism Studies and a Masters in International Relations, both from St Andrews. His particular interests are in emerging international security issues, unconventional warfare, and terrorism.

Mass atrocities blamed on SPLA in South Sudan

A UN investigation has accused the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of committing mass atrocities, killing at least 114 civilians in the area of the town of Yei between June 2016 year and January 2017.  The UN also accuses the SPLA of an unspecified number of rapes, torture and looting in addition to these killings.

Background to the conflict

South Sudan has been embroiled in a civil war since 2013, when President Salva Kiir dismissed Reik Machar, the vice-president, along with the rest of cabinet.  A few months after this dismissal, fighting broke out in the capital of Juba between Nuer (a Nilotic ethnic group) and SPLA forces, and President Kiir clamed that Mr. Machar was pursuing a coup against the government.  Mr. Machar denied the claim, however he did lead a breakaway faction of the SPLA in 1991 which aligned itself with the Nuer White Army, and was only reconciled with the SPLA in 2005.

Fighting in 2014 and 2015 was intermittent and interspersed with a number of ceasefires, but this nevertheless resulted in significant civilian displacement and outbreaks of ethnic violence.  In the early stages of the fighting the UN presence, mostly provided by Uganda, appears to have deterred what may have been far worse civilian casualties, but as fighting spread through the country these have proven difficult to prevent, such as the attack on the UN base in Bor, or with the Bentiu massacre carried out by the Nuer White Army.  Some of these may not be directly related to the South Sudan Civil War itself, as there was significant background violence between ethnic groups in the country even before the current conflict, but their existence alongside the civil war is further complicating the role of humanitarian and aid agencies in country.

In 2016 a peace agreement was signed which bought Mr. Machar back into the government as a vice-president, however President Kiir took advantage of the peace to push through political reforms which were widely seen as supporting ethnic Dinka agendas, mostly at the expense of the Shilluk and Fertit who made up a significant portion of the rebel forces under Machar.  Due to this, violence erupted again in July 2016 and Mr. Machar fled the capital.

The route which he took led to the town of Yei, where the alleged war-crimes took place, then through to the Democratic Republic of Congo and on to South Africa, where he is currently allegedly under house arrest.

Not an isolated incident

This would not be the first time that the SPLA has been accused of similar kinds of war crimes.  In 2010, the UN accused SPLA soldiers of carrying out systematic rape and torture in the Shilluk Kingdom, as well as burning numerous villages and killing an untold number of civilians.  The violence from this disarmament campaign led to 10,000 people being displaced, and almost certainly led to further deaths due to hunger and cold from the poor weather conditions.

 

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CIVILIAN: NOW THAT’S A NAME I HAVE NOT HEARD IN A LONG TIME – PART 1

Whatever civilian life was like for you before joining the Armed Forces, your military career is bound to have been life-altering. Like me, you might not have been the most organised or disciplined, or in the best physical shape, and joined with an attitude problem; we all quickly found out that a military existence is a whole new world compared to civilian life.

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Proelium Law LLP

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Proelium Law LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority No. 629608 (www.sra.org.uk)

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New report highlights security threat of Russian organised crime in Europe

New report highlights security threat of Russian organised crime in Europe

Marc Simms is an occasional blogger for Proelium Law LLP. Marc holds a MLitt in Terrorism Studies and a Masters in International Relations, both from St Andrews. His particular interests are in emerging international security issues, unconventional warfare, and terrorism.

Criminal AND security threat

The European Council on Foreign Relations has released a new policy brief which details the expansion and increasing sophistication of Russian organised crime in Europe.  While Russian groups have been recognised as a serious criminal threat since their emergence in the 1990s, this report points to an increasing security threat emanating from these groups, due in no small part to their links with the Russian state and specifically the “growing evidence of connections between such criminal networks and the Kremlin’s state security apparatus.”

The report also details important shifts in how Russian organised crime now operates in Europe.  In contrast with the popular perception of mafia-like groups with a strong street presence, Russian groups operate in the background, often in a facilitator capacity for other criminal gangs and networks.  In this role they can control routes for illicit goods, act as wholesale suppliers for smaller criminal gangs, and can provide specialist services or funding for other criminal endeavours.  Naturally, this strategic background role serves to exacerbate existing criminal issues, in addition to giving Russian groups networks and contacts outside of areas where no or few Russians operate.

‘Nationalised Underworld’

However, the bulk of the report is devoted to the ongoing collusion between these groups and the Russian state intelligence services.  The report author, Dr. Mark Galeotti, details how connections between Russian-based organised crime and the security services was not merely the result of institutionalised corruption but instead “the emergence of a conditional understanding that Russia now had a “nationalised underworld”.”  The vertical integration of Russian crime groups has led to their being used as tools for intelligence activities in Europe as well as in domestic Russian politics, and given wide-ranging Russian interference in European politics, are likely to become an even greater security risk going forwards.

Cyber Crime

Dr. Galeotti notes several specific areas where criminal operations and Russian state interests overlap.  Perhaps the most obvious overlap, given recent events, is that of cybercrime and cyber-espionage.  By utilising criminal talent in addition to their own state capabilities, Russia has a significant “surge capacity” for online operations, allowing them to carry out highly disruptive attacks on government and critical infrastructure websites as has occurred in Estonia, Georgia and Ukraine in addition to more focused hacking efforts.

Untraceable Cash

Access to criminal networks also gives Russian intelligence operatives the means to obtain untraceable cash reserves, which can be used to fund operations in Europe with a high degree of deniability.  Depending on the network they are interacting with, the complex legal and financial entities which are used by criminal actors may also be utilised by agents acting under non-official cover, or else allow the Russian intelligence services to exert financial and political influence.  Assassinations can also be contracted out to organised crime figures, as with the case of Nadim Ayupov in Istanbul.

Surge Capacity

Finally, much like with the cyber-operations mentioned above, having access to criminal networks gives Russian agencies a “surge capacity” by utilising these figures in low-level but useful activities on behalf of the Russian state, improving those intelligence services’ overall efficiency and perhaps also giving them some counter-surveillance advantages.

The full report, Crimintern: How the Kremlin uses Russia’s Criminal Networks, can be downloaded from the European Council on Foreign Relations.

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CIVILIAN: NOW THAT’S A NAME I HAVE NOT HEARD IN A LONG TIME – PART 1

Whatever civilian life was like for you before joining the Armed Forces, your military career is bound to have been life-altering. Like me, you might not have been the most organised or disciplined, or in the best physical shape, and joined with an attitude problem; we all quickly found out that a military existence is a whole new world compared to civilian life.

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Proelium Law LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority No. 629608 (www.sra.org.uk)

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Maute Group highlights weaknesses in Philippine security

Maute Group highlights weaknesses in Philippine security

Marc Simms is an occasional blogger for Proelium Law LLP. Marc holds a MLitt in Terrorism Studies and a Masters in International Relations, both from St Andrews. His particular interests are in emerging international security issues, unconventional warfare and terrorism.

Systemic Failings

The ongoing crisis in Marawi has shown significant shortcomings in the Philippine security forces, raising questions about strategy as well as what intelligence failures led to the Maute Group being able to infiltrate and temporarily seize control of the city.

The crisis erupted on May 23rd, as the Philippine Army, working in conjunction with the National Police, undertook raids in the city to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the experienced Abu Sayyaf commander who has been named as the “Emir” representing Islamic State in the Philippines.  However, when the initial raid on an apartment failed to secure Hapilon, clashes broke out between the security forces and militants in the Basak Malutlut area of the city.  Hapilon also called upon the Maute Group as reinforcements.

The Maute Group

The Maute Group, also known as the Islamic State of Lanao and Dawlah Islamiya, are a group composed of former Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas, led by Omar and Abdullah Maute.  Founded in 2012, the group has pledged its support to ISIS, though there are no indications ISIS have recognised them in return.  Their activity has increased substantially in the last year, clashing with the Philippine Army around Butig in February, abducting sawmill workers in April, being linked to the Davao City bombing and also being the main suspects in a failed bomb plot against the US embassy in Manila.

The group has also developed quite significant links to both Abu Sayyaf and to the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, who appear to have established a presence on Mindanao in the past five years.  They may have also attracted a small amount of foreign fighters, according to the nationalities of militants killed by the Philippine Army in Marawi.

On May 23rd, roughly 500 militants from the Maute Group attacked Camp Ranao, where the 103rd Brigade is based, seized the Marawi City Hall and organised a breakout of the city jails.  They additionally took over part of the Mindanao State University, set up road blockades and started to abduct civilians.

In response, the Philippine Army brought in extra soldiers, allowing them to recapture the University and City Hall the next day, though they were not able to restore order in the city entirely.  Consequently, on the 25th of May, the Philippine Air Force started to carry out air-strikes on surrounding villages where it was suspected Hapilon may be hiding, as well as striking Maute sniper positions within the city.  By the 31st of May, the Philippine Army stated it had retaken 90% of the city, though the same day saw a friendly fire incident where an air strike killed 11 soldiers and wounded 7 others.

“It’s very sad to be hitting our own troops,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told a news conference. “There must be a mistake somewhere, either someone directing from the ground, or the pilot.”

The majority of the militants are now believed to have left the city, or been killed or captured, but it is still believed that up to 100 militants may be hiding in the city, with almost 300 fleeing to the surrounding countryside.

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CIVILIAN: NOW THAT’S A NAME I HAVE NOT HEARD IN A LONG TIME – PART 1

Whatever civilian life was like for you before joining the Armed Forces, your military career is bound to have been life-altering. Like me, you might not have been the most organised or disciplined, or in the best physical shape, and joined with an attitude problem; we all quickly found out that a military existence is a whole new world compared to civilian life.

read more

Proelium Law LLP

Proelium Law LLP is a Limited Liability Partnership registered in England and Wales No.OC411568.

Proelium Law LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority No. 629608 (www.sra.org.uk)

VAT Registration No. 242 4002 59.

© www.proeliumlaw.com

Web Design by Tim Mitchell Design | Web Consultancy by John Griffin, Up Marketing Co

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