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US agents faked trail to infiltrate as LeT recruits

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Fake Terror Camp
Fake Terror Camp, Image Credit: IANS

New York, March 12 US intelligence agents laid a cyber trail all the way to a fake terror camp in Pakistan, mastered idioms and style of Islamic terrorists giving a convincing portrayal of jihadis in a bid to infiltrate a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) recruitment ring.

In what seemed to read like a spy-thriller their strategy led to the arrest of an American teenager, who was at the centre of an alleged conspiracy to recruit fighters for the Pakistan-based LeT, and a suspected co-conspirator, who was stopped on his way to join the terrorist group.

The transcripts of their cyber interactions in court documents give chilling insights into the raging hate of the world of jihadis.

The cases against the two, who were arrested, point to a disturbing trend that with the collapse of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, Pakistan-based terror organisations operating against India may become an attractive alternative for aspiring jihadis.

Michael Kyle Sewell, the teenaged recruiter, told Jesus Wilfredo Encarnacion, 29, whom he was guiding that “he should not join the IS because IS had no territory”, instead he suggested the “LeT and the Taliban” as “worth joining”.

The “LeT was a well-funded group in Pakistan operating in Kashmir, Afghanistan and India”, is what he said according to court filings.

Both men were arrested in February and now face trial on terrorism-related charges.

Documents filed in federal courts in two separate cases, one against Sewell in Dallas, and another against Encarnacion in New York, include expletive-filled accounts of interactions between the alleged terrorists and the undercover operatives that give a peek into terrorism networks.

The two cases deal separately with each of the accused and the documents mention the person in the other case only as a “co-conspirator”, but when IANS put the two affidavits by FBI agents in the two cases side-by-side, the parallels make the link between Sewell and Encarnacion obvious.

To infiltrate the group, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operatives, an agent and an employee, took on the persona of jihadists, adopting their terminology and way of communicating, and one of them created a fake trail into Pakistan as if he had joined the LeT there, according to transcripts in an affidavit by counter-terrorism Special Agent Seth Yockel in the New York case.

The document says that the ring they infilitrated was made up of nine people who operated through “a group chat for American Jihadis” on social media.

The FBI agent and the “undercover employee” vouched for each other convincingly in their communications and Sewell told Encarnacion that the employee would help him travel to Pakistan to get terrorist training, according to the affidavit.

At one point, according to the transcripts of interactions, the FBI employee takes a swipe at President Donald Trump to build their terrorist credentials writing, “US all infidels. With the king Trump.”

He also boasts, “We strike heart of India. … You hear Mumbai attack”? – a reference to the 2008 attack that killed 163 people.

The transcripts don’t reveal much about the lives of Sewell and Encarnacion, other than that Encarnacion lived in New York’s Washington Heights neighbourhood and said he was from a family from the Dominican Republic, and Sewell was a native-born American.

Sewell’s lawyer, a court-appointed public defender, did not return a call from IANS.

Forensic scientist Malini Subramanyam wrote in the Forensic Research and Criminology International Journal in 2018 that some, who become terrorists were “in search of an identity … seeking a sense of purpose and self-worth.”

The two seem to fit this profile. Encarnacion, who used the screen name “Jihadistsoldgier”, introduced himself to the jihadi group saying, “I want to fight till death alongside the Islamic State. … I’m a lone wolf looking for a family I can strike the crusaders. … I want to be part of a family willing to kill not afraid of death”, according to Yockel’s affidavit.

Sewell also described himself to the undercover employee as “lone wolf and lone lion of Tawhid”.

An indication of one of Encarnacion’s other possible motives appears at one point in the transcript where Encarnacion says, “Kuffar treat me bad”, but does not further identify the “Kuffar” or what they did.

Encarnacion appears to have been inspired by the British IS terrorist Mohammed Emwazi who became notorious with the nickname “Jihadi John” as the group’s executioner on propaganda videos. “Please. I want to kill on video. Terrify our enemies”, he pleaded.

The transcripts of interactions portray Sewell and Encarnacion as blood-thirsty persons motivated by blind hatred, not only against Hindus, but also moderate Muslims.

In November last year, Encarnacion wrote to the undercover employee, “You guys are against India. I read up on ya. You are beefing with India over Muslim land.

“I (expletive) hate Hindus. They can go to hell and I’m going to help you,” according to the document. He added, “Will I live in Pakistan? I want to fight. I want to execute. I want to behead”.

Sewell goaded the FBI undercover employee “to ‘[expelitive] up’ and ‘slaughter’ the ‘Hindu Kafir’, destroy their shrines and idols”, and send him photos of the destruction, according to an affidavit by Special Agent Michael Phillipp in the Dallas case.

He is quoted as saying that he could “kill anyone and not feel anything” and wanted to kill “liberal Muslims”, liberal “Hijabis” and Saudis, “execute” a female political activist, who was not identified, and threatened to “disembowel” a social media user.

Sewell, according to the New York affidavit, put Encarnacion in touch with the undercover employee, who, he said, would lead him to the LeT, and simultaneously messaged him that he found a “new brother who wants to go do jihad Fisimbillah … So he will be a Lashker-e-Taiba fighter”.

Encarnacion contacted the undercover employee, who verified the contact with Sewell, and sent him hundreds of messages.

In October, the undercover agent messaged Sewell through an encrypted application that he was “flying out tonight inshaAllah”. And when Sewell asked him the next day, where he was, he replied, “Alhamdulillah Pakistan … InshaAllah I will be training with the mujahideen of Lashkar-e-Taiba soon”.

Now appearing to be ensconced in Pakistan, the undercover agent told Encarnacion in November to fly to a city in Europe for which he would not need a visa and “brothers” would meet him there and give him visa and onward ticket to Pakistan.

Encarnacion sent him copies of his passport and flight confirmation for Europe on a flight on February 7.

When he came to New York’s JFK airport to catch the flight, the FBI was waiting to capture him.

The next day, officials announced the arrest of Sewell in Dallas.

(IANS)

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Pompeo confident democracies will unite to face China’s challenge

He mentioned India’s ban on 56 Chinese apps from operating on cell phones within the country because of the threat to the country’s security.

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mike pompeo

New York, July 15 : US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that he is confident that the world’s free nations will join together to face the challenges from China to India and other countries in Asia.

“I think that the whole world is coalescing around the challenge that we face (from China)… I am confident that democracies, the free nations of the world, will push back on these,” he said while replying to a question about the Chinese confrontation with India in the Ladakh region.

He said that India was “an important partner” of the US and “I have a great relationship with my Foreign Minister counterpart (S Jaishankar). We talk frequently about a broad range of issues. We talked about the conflict that they had along the border with China, we talked about the threat that emanates from the Chinese telecommunication infrastructure”.

He mentioned India’s ban on 56 Chinese apps from operating on cell phones within the country because of the threat to the country’s security.

On China’s claims to the maritime territories of Asian countries and aggressive actions there, he said that the US “will use the tools we have, we will support all countries across the world that recognise that China has violated their territorial claims, their maritime claims as well. We will provide them with assistance”.

China has maritime conflicts with Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan and Taiwan and has increased its aggressive conduct in the region even as its troops clashed with the Indian Army in Ladakh.

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)

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US undermining South China Sea stability: Foreign Ministry

Zhao stressed that China will continue to determinedly safeguard its national sovereignty and security, friendly and cooperative relations with regional countries, and the South China Sea’s peace and stability.

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Zhao Lijian

BEIJING, July 14 : The United States was undermining peace and stability in the South China Sea and intended to drive a wedge between regional countries, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said here on Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Monday that many Chinese maritime claims over the South China Sea were illegitimate, and the United States urged relevant countries to oppose China’s maritime claims. Pompeo added that the so-called award of the South China Sea arbitration was legally binding to both China and the Philippines.

In response, spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a news briefing that the U.S. statement disregarded the history and facts on the South China Sea issue, and violated its commitment of holding a neutral position on relevant territorial sovereignty disputes. It also violated and distorted international law, deliberately provoked territorial maritime disputes, and undermined regional stability and peace, he added.

The U.S. statement said the dotted line in the South China Sea was announced by China in 2009, which is completely untrue, Zhao said, adding that China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea were established throughout a long course of history.

He said China has exercised effective jurisdiction over relevant islands, reefs, and waters in the South China Sea for thousands of years, and as early as 1948, the Chinese government announced the dotted line in the South China Sea. This was under no doubt from any country for a long time, he said, adding that China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea have sufficient historical and legal basis, which is consistent with relevant international laws and practices.

China doesn’t strive to build an “empire” in the South China Sea, always treats countries surrounding the South China Sea as equals, and always maintains the utmost restraint in safeguarding the sovereignty, rights, and interests of the South China Sea, Zhao said.

“On the contrary, the United States refused to join the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), frequently pulls out of international treaties and organizations, abides by international rules that suit its purpose, and discards those that it finds obstructive. It frequently promotes militarization of the South China Sea by dispatching large-scale, advanced warships and aircraft. The United States is the destructor and troublemaker of peace and stability in the region. The international community sees this very clearly,” Zhao said.

As for the arbitration case and the award, Zhao said China’s position is consistent, clear, and firm. The arbitral tribunal expanded its power to exercise jurisdiction, and made obvious mistakes in the determination of facts and the application of laws, which was questioned by many countries.

The U.S. hyped up the South China Sea arbitration for their own political agenda, which was abusing the international law of the sea, and China would never accept it, he said.

According to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) reached by China and ASEAN in 2002, China is always committed to resolving disputes on territory and jurisdiction through negotiations and consultations with the related sovereign states, maintaining the peace and stability in the South China Sea with the ASEAN countries, Zhao told the briefing.

“With joint efforts of the relevant countries, the situation in the South China Sea remains sound and stable at the moment,” Zhao said, adding that China and the ASEAN countries not only abide by the DOC, but are also speeding up negotiations on a more binding code of conduct (COC) to safeguard the peace, stability, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Now the consultations have made positive progress, and the relationships between China and the ASEAN countries have further consolidated and developed during their cooperations against COVID-19, Zhao said.

However, the United States, as a non-regional country, has repeatedly stirred up trouble regarding the South China Sea for its own selfish agenda, played off the relationships of regional countries against China, and ruined the joint efforts made by these countries, he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. statement deliberately misinterpreted the Chinese representative’s statement at the ASEAN Regional Forum Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in 2010. Zhao said the fact was that China’s representative said China has always advocated that all countries are equal, and relevant disputes should be settled peacefully by the direct parties concerned through negotiations and consultations.

“China expressed its strong indignation and firm opposition to the U.S. wrongdoing,” he said, urging the United States to immediately stop making trouble in this regard, and not to go further down the wrong path.

Zhao stressed that China will continue to determinedly safeguard its national sovereignty and security, friendly and cooperative relations with regional countries, and the South China Sea’s peace and stability.

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Trump administration drops visa ban for online only students

Foreigners make up over 75 per cent of graduate students in electrical, computer, petroleum and industrial engineering fields, according to Inside Higher Ed.

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Donald Trump

New York, July 15 : In a victory for universities and foreign students, President Donald Trump’s administration has dropped its order to deny visa status to those taking only online cases because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal Judge Allison Burroughs said on Tuesday that the government agreed to rescind the rule that would have required foreign students on F-1 or M-1 visas to leave the US or transfer to another university if they cannot take at least some in-person courses. Those staying on could have faced deportation.

The judge made the announcement about the government backtracking during an emergency hearing asked by the two institutions that was held by teleconference and lasted only a few minutes.

The case was brought in the federal court in Boston by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University on July 8 and it had snowballed with scores of colleges and tech companies backing them in court briefs and 18 state attorneys general filing another case against the order.

The Trump administration’s order issued last week reversed another issued in March that permitted students to take all their courses online because of the national COVID-19 emergency — which still continues.

Many universities, including Harvard, have announced plans to conduct only online classes in the Fall semester starting in August or September, while some like Columbia and Yale plan to offer a hybrid programme that combines online and in-person teaching if local authorities permit classroom attendance.

The administration’s order against online only teaching seemed to be a tactic to force educational institutions to comply with Trump’s agenda to open the nation fully before the November election.

When the case was filed, Harvard President Larry Summers said, “It appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others.”

At least two other cases against the government’s order are pending before other federal courts: One is by Johns Hopkins University in Washington and the other is by the University of California in San Francisco.

Harvard and Yale said in court documents that although it may be argued that the students can continue their studies online from their home countries, “they may have their research and learning inhibited by time zone variations, unavailable, unreliable or state-managed Internet connections, and other barriers to online learning”.

They said that students can suffer irreparable harm from the order if they are forced out of the country.

Tech companies, including Google, Microsoft and Facebook said in their brief that “America’s future competitiveness depends on attracting and retaining talented international students”.

According to the International Institute of Education, there are over one million foreign students in the US and of them about 200,00 are from India.

several US institutions are dependent on tuition from foreign students, many of whom pay full fees.

But another factor of importance to both the universities and the economy is the pre-ponderance of graduate students in engineering and science.

Foreigners make up over 75 per cent of graduate students in electrical, computer, petroleum and industrial engineering fields, according to Inside Higher Ed.

They not only back up the faculty as teaching assistants and researchers, but go on to work for or found tech companies.

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)

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