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Terrorism News

A collection of open-source terrorism news from around the world.
Date: Dec 12, 2018

The cyberattack on the Marriott hotel chain that collected personal details of roughly 500 million guests was part of a Chinese intelligence-gathering effort that also hacked health insurers and the security clearance files of millions more Americans, according to two people briefed on the investigation.

The hackers, they said, are suspected of working on behalf of the Ministry of State Security, the country’s Communist-controlled civilian spy agency. The discovery comes as the Trump administration is planning actions targeting China’s trade, cyber and economic policies, perhaps within days.

Those moves include indictments against Chinese hackers working for the intelligence services and the military, according to four government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Trump administration also plans to declassify intelligence reports to reveal Chinese efforts dating to at least 2014 to build a database containing names of executives and American government officials with security clearances.

From the first revelation that the Marriott chain’s computer systems had been breached, there was widespread suspicion in both Washington and among cybersecurity firms that the hacking was not a matter of commercial espionage, but part of a much broader spy campaign to amass Americans’ personal data.

While American intelligence agencies have not reached a final assessment of who performed the hacking, a range of firms brought in to assess the damage quickly saw computer code and patterns familiar to operations by Chinese actors.

The Marriott database contains not only credit card information but passport data. Lisa Monaco, a former homeland security adviser under Mr. Obama, noted last week at a conference that passport information would be particularly valuable in tracking who is crossing borders and what they look like, among other key data.

But officials on Tuesday said it was only part of an aggressive operation whose centerpiece was the 2014 hacking into the Office of Personnel Management. At the time, the government bureau loosely guarded the detailed forms that Americans fill out to get security clearances — forms that contain financial data; information about spouses, children and past romantic relationships; and any meetings with foreigners.

Such information is exactly what the Chinese use to root out spies, recruit intelligence agents and build a rich repository of Americans’ personal data for future targeting. With those details and more that were stolen from insurers like Anthem, the Marriott data adds another critical element to the intelligence profile: travel habits.

Since 2012, analysts at the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, the GCHQ, have watched with growing alarm as sophisticated Chinese hackers, based in Tianjin, began switching targets from companies and government agencies in the defense, energy and aerospace sectors to organizations that housed troves of Americans’ personal information.

At the time, one classified National Security Agency report noted that the hackers’ “exact affiliation with Chinese government entities is not known, but their activities indicate a probable intelligence requirement feed” from China’s Ministry of State Security.

Read more: New York Times

The subject of a massive, cross-border manhunt, the 29-year-old suspect in the deadly Strasbourg Christmas market shooting – identified as Chérif C. – is France's most wanted man today.

Long before he made the headlines for allegedly gunning down two people and wounding 14 others at the historic Christmas market, Chérif C. was a known quantity to police and the judicial system, France's anti-terrorism prosecutor Rémy Heitz said Wednesday.

The suspect has a long history of delinquency: his first encounter with the law was back in 1999 when he was only 10 years old. He has been convicted 27 times for crimes committed mostly in France but also in Germany and Switzerland. The convictions were "mainly for acts of theft and violence," Heitz said.

According to the German press, Chérif C. was sentenced in Germany in 2016 to two years and three months in prison for aggravated theft. Expelled in 2017 to Switzerland, he then served a year-and-a-half in a Basel prison for burglary.

Before serving time abroad, the French prison administration had detected in 2015 that he had been radicalised in prison. He was then placed on France's "fichier S," -- a watchlist designating him as potentially dangerous or potentially involved in terrorism -- and began being monitored by French authorities.

French Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez said Wednesday that this "active monitoring" by the intelligence services was similar to that of many other individuals who were radicalised in prison. He clarified that Chérif C. did not try to go to Syria to fight with the Islamic State (IS) group.

"The range of 'fichier S' profiles has been greatly expanded in recent years," said Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadist networks. "Today, there are around 20,000 people on the 'fichier S' list in France. Among them, there are some who are very dangerous, but also many who will never act.” 

Given Chérif C's recidivism and the absence, at this stage, of a claim of responsibility by Islamist groups, authorities were initially wary of calling the Strasbourg shooting a terrorist attack. But the Paris prosecutor was explicit on Wednesday: "Terrorism has once again hit our territory," Heitz told a news conference. "Considering the target, his way of operating, his profile and the testimonies of those who heard him yell 'Allahu Akbar', the anti-terrorist police has been called into action."
Chérif C. is under investigation for "assassinations in connection with a terrorist enterprise, attempted assassination in connection with a terrorist enterprise and terrorist criminal conspiracy to prepare crimes of attack against persons," Heitz said.

Source: France24

The federal cases against two of three members of a rural Illinois militia accused of bombing a Bloomington mosque last year will be tried in Minnesota.

Michael Hari, Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris have been in federal custody since March on charges out of both Illinois and Minnesota. Charges against Morris and McWinnehorter were consolidated Tuesday and will be overseen by Senior U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank in St. Paul.

Morris, 23, made his first appearance on the indictment — which includes federal hate crime charges added by a Minnesota grand jury in June — and pleaded not guilty before a federal magistrate judge Tuesday.

Read more: Minneapolis Star Tribune

In an unusual public relations campaign, the Mexican drug cartel run by Chicago's so-called public enemy number one is denying involvement in a grenade attack on America's consulate in Guadalajara.

"El Mencho," the street nickname for Chicago's most-wanted drug kingpin Nemesio Oseguera-Cervantes, is suspected by authorities of orchestrating a double-grenade assault on the U.S. consulate two weeks ago today.

Across Guadalajara banners have been unfurled and hung from a dozen overpasses proclaiming that Mencho's cartel had no role in the bomb attack and that suggestions they were responsible are aimed at "sullying" the cartel's image. It is an oddly brazen denial for a criminal organization that authorities say routinely murders competitors, wayward customers, reporters and government officials; in some cases using beheadings and dismemberment to encourage compliance.

Read more: ABC 7

The Department of Justice announced yesterday that an Ohio man, Damon M. Joseph (21), has been arrested for allegedly planning to open fire at a synagogue in Toledo. Joseph had picked two synagogues as potential targets and wrote out his plan of attack earlier this month under the pseudonym, “Abdullah Ali Yusuf.”

The FBI first became aware of Joseph in May, when he expressed support for jihadist causes on social media. Several months later, in September, the FBI’s undercover employees began communicating with Joseph about his beliefs and desired plans. 

During one such conversation, Joseph allegedly endorsed the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in late October. “I admire what the guy did with the shooting actually,” Joseph told an undercover FBI employee, according to an affidavit filed by Special Agent J. Troy Amundson. Like the Pittsburgh shooter, Joseph expressed his hatred of Jews. He also said he hated the “gays,” “Christians” and “Catholics.” 

Joseph added: “I can see myself carrying out this type of operation inshallah.” Joseph clarified that this was something he could potentially do in the future, after his “virtual jihad” mission was complete. The 21-year-old was making videos in support of the Islamic State, and hoped that others would be wooed to its cause by his handiwork.

Read more: Long War Journal