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MSA Intel Alert: Norway Bolsters Security Due to Syria

July 24th blog photo

Security in Norway has been bolstered due to an imminent threat linked to a small group of Islamist militants with fighting experience in the Syrian conflict. The announcement was made by security officials during a news conference this morning. Benedicte Bjoernland, head of the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST), said there was “reliable information” about plans for an attack in Norway “within days.” She also described the threat as “unspecified,” but “credible.” It is unclear how many people are involved in the plans or whether any are Norwegian citizens.

MSA Intel Alert: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 Shot Down

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Today, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border. All 283 passengers and 15 crew members were killed in the crash. Several sources are reporting the Boeing 777 was likely shot down by an SA-17 missile system, also referred to as a Buk ground-to-air missile, which is a self-propelled, medium-range system. The weapons were first developed by the former Soviet Union and are designed to fight cruise missiles, smart bombs, fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft (helicopters) and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones). U.S. intelligence officials independently confirmed the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. More information is expected to be obtained as both flight recorders were recovered in the wreckage. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the accident an “act of terrorism” and denied any Ukrainian involvement. In response, pro-Russian separatist leader Alexander Borodai accused the Ukrainian government of shooting down the plane. He denied any rebel involvement, claiming they do not have weapons capable of shooting down an aircraft flying at that attitude. However, earlier this week, rebel forces claimed responsibility for shooting down two Ukrainian military planes.

MSA's Research and Intelligence Analysis (RIA) Group has been monitoring this situation closely and has identified the following implications:
At this time, there are conflicting reports as to whether the plane’s “black box” was sent to Moscow for analysis. If this is confirmed, it could lead to questions over the results of the analysis as Russia is accused of interfering in the region. Additionally, there are unconfirmed reports that Ukrainian security services intercepted a phone call between pro-Russian rebels shortly after the crash, indicating that they shot down a civilian aircraft, but this remains unconfirmed. Earlier this week, rebels shot down a Ukrainian military fighter jet and cargo plane in the same area, further adding to speculation that they may have mistakenly targeted a civilian aircraft.

Social media is also playing a major role in the investigation as several posts by pro-Russian separatists suggest the rebels thought they shot down a Ukrainian military plane instead of a Malaysian passenger airliner. The posts have since been deleted or removed. If Russian backed pro-separatist rebels are found responsible, the incident is likely to further strain Russia’s relationships with the U.S. and EU, which are already suffering due to the Ukrainian conflict.

MSA Security's Research and Intelligence Analysis Group provides real-time intelligence on events and worldwide threats as they evolve.


MSA Intel Alert: Canadian Featured in Syrian Recruitment Video

July 14th blog photo

With similarities to that of Moner Mohammad Abdusalha, the 22-year-old Floridian who recently conducted a suicide bombing in Syria, a video depicting Andre Poulin, a Canadian national who died fighting in Syria last August, has been released. In the video, Poulin is wearing camouflage fatigues and armed with a rifle. There is speculation that almost every western terrorist recruit has made a similar propaganda-type video for the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Poulin is reported to be an Islam convert who changed his name to Abu Muslim. In the video a man believed to be Poulin urges Muslims to go to Syria and asks potential followers to contribute resources to the Islamic State. There is additional speculation that recruits are making videos as part of their initiation and recruitment process to serve as either a last will or testament or to attract additional followers.Officials are continuing to investigate and determine when Poulin’s video was taken.

MSA Intel Alert: The Islamic State Releases Dabiq Magazine

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The Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), launched an English language periodical through the Al Hayat Media Center, following the release of the group’s newsletter. The magazine is named Dabiq after the area of northern Syria where they believe Malahim (Armageddon) will begin. The publication is primarily aimed at recruitment rather than technical training or directives and further outlines the Islamic State’s ultimate goals.

The first volume of Dabiq contains seven sections, which are described below.

Dabiq Magazine
The first section of the magazine is an in depth introduction to the publication and its title. Islamic teachings and Koranic quotes are used to describe the last battle and Malahim, which they claim will start in Dabiq. In addition to the geographical significance, the passage serves as a message to readers that those who “flee” or abandon Jihad will never be forgiven. Alternatively, those that are killed in battle and those that conquer are depicted as the “best martyrs.” The meaning of the magazine’s introduction is simple and reminds readers that they must be on the side of the Islamic State.

Khilafah Declared
This section of the magazine officially announces the formation of the khilafah (caliphate), under the leadership of Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and describes the world’s division into “two camps.” One camp is composed of Islam and faith, while the other is composed of non-believers and hypocrites. The camp of the kufr, or non-believers, is defined as “the camp of the Jews, the crusaders, their allies, and with them the rest of the nations and religions of kufr, all being led by America and Russia, and being mobilized by the Jews.” Those in the camp of the ummah (believers) are called to help support the new Islamic state. The magazine specifically attempts to recruit scholars, experts in Islamic jurisprudence, legal professionals, people with military experience, medical doctors and engineers of all different specializations and fields.

Islamic State Reports
The reports are composed of images and stories regarding regional issues. The section serves as a “call to arms,” which primarily focuses on building relationships with tribes in the Islamic State. According to the publication, the Islamic State held meetings with tribal representatives to encourage their support and respond to “doubts being circulated about the Islamic State.” The “benefits and services” provided by the Islamic State are also listed in the reports chapter and include returning rights and property to their rightful owners, pumping millions of dollars into services important to Muslims, state security/stability and ensuring the availability of food and commodities. In return, the group asked tribal leaders to encourage youth to join the ranks of the Islamic State, collect zakah (donations) and turn in weapons acquired from the regime and Free Syrian Army (FSA). At the end of the section, the Islamic State features pictures of the tribal gatherings and claims that several tribes pledged their allegiance to the group. The report indicates that the Islamic State is disseminating its message at a community level, to gain additional fighters, weapons and money to grow its support base.

Immah is from the Millah of Ibrahim
This part of the publication describes Islamic leadership and the future of the newly restored Caliphate. It extensively covers the history and meaning of imamah (leadership) and methodically applies it to justify the function of the Islamic State. After describing the concept of imamah, the article interprets it to cover both political and religious leadership and claims that modern society has “failed to understand that imamah in religious affairs cannot be properly established unless the people of truth first achieve comprehensive political imamah over the lands and the people.” This point serves as the group’s thesis for declaring the Islamic State the true imamah by claiming the state emulates the millah (path) of Ibrahim with regard to imamah. The section demonstrates the philosophical approach the group is taking to indoctrinate potential followers, and equates the Islamic State to an “unquestionable” imamah.

The Islamic State in the words of the enemy
Similar to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Inspire magazine, Dabiq features a section with quotes from “the enemy” about the Islamic State. The excerpts were taken from an article entitled “The Reality of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” by former Director for Iraq at the U.S. National Security Council Douglas A. Ollivant and former Director of Research for Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point Brian Fishman. The article describes both Ollivant and Fishman as “American crusaders,” and uses their comments to illustrate the group’s progress. The section also further serves to identify the U.S. as an enemy.

From Hijrah to Khilafah
The feature section of the publication offers a historical look at the khilafah and describes a five prong process to developing a khilafah. According to the Islamic State, the path begins with hijra and jama’ah, in which believers migrate to the state to organize and fight a “common enemy.” The article states that the ideal lands for hijrah should be a “place where they can operate without the threat of a police state,” and “support jihad.” Specifically, the article cites Yemen, Mali, Somalia, the Sinai Peninsula, Waziristan, Libya, Chechnya and Nigeria as well as parts of Tunisia, Algeria, Indonesia and the Philippines. These are places with weak governments and security posture, such as Iraq, where the group can carry out attacks to create chaos and slowly take over. This is referred to as destabilizing the taghut regime, which must take place before the final stages of tamkin (submission) and ultimately the establishment of the khilafah. The group claims they progressed through these phases before making the khilafah a reality. They also criticize “famous jihad groups,” stating that they are frozen in the destabilization phase, carrying out attacks for “corrupt desires, fame, wealth and power,” rather than to expand their territory. This is likely an indirect reference to al Qaeda, who disavowed the Islamic State earlier this year.

Islamic State News
The final section of the magazine contains brief news focusing on regional issues impacting Syria and Iraq. The majority of the content highlights Islamic State victories and announces tribes that have pledged allegiance to the group. They also cover attacks on the Islamic state by the Syrian regime and feature graphic images of deceased and injured children, which serve as propaganda to recruit potential sympathizers.

MSA's Research and Intelligence Analysis (RIA) Group has been monitoring this situation closely and has identified the following implications:
The main focus of Dabiq appears to be recruitment and propaganda as the magazine emphasizes themes of duty, jihad and final judgment. It also uses philosophical reasoning and Koranic quotes to support their call to arms in an attempt to unite “believers” against “crusaders.” They express a desire to bypass modern states and internationally recognized borders to establish a transnational Islamic caliphate ruled by Sharia law. This is consistent with their pursuit of foreign fighters and reported plans for expansion. Additionally, they attempt to justify their violent tactics by focusing on the end result.
The tone and content of the magazine differs from AQAP’s Inspire magazine and indicates a different intent for readers. While Inspire is primarily focused on the radicalization of Muslims throughout the western world and providing technical and tactical guidance, Dabiq’s first edition aims to educate Muslim’s on prophecies and teachings associated with the reformation of a Caliphate. However, like Inspire magazine, Dabiq is written in fluent English, suggesting that it may have been authored or edited by a native speaker. Both publications also use Koranic references to reinforce their point. While this issue of Dabiq does not focus on carrying out attacks in the west, their use of the English language shows a desire to attract American and European recruits. Additionally, they specifically refer to the U.S. as crusaders and enemies of the Islamic State. Although there is no direct threat exhibited in this issue of the magazine, there continues to be concern over the group’s advancements and strategies, particularly its online recruitment techniques and incorporation of foreign fighters in their ranks.

MSA Security's Research and Intelligence Analysis Group provides real-time intelligence on events and worldwide threats as they evolve.


MSA Intel Alert: Security Regulations at Power Grids

blog photo July 7th  power grids

Experts are urging the federal government to assess the security regulations at electric grids across the country, following two separate attacks at power grids over the past year. Specifically, the experts are suggesting that Congress examine whether a national-level analysis of power grid’s vulnerabilities is necessary, or if individual power companies’ internal security assessments are sufficient. Adding to the complexity of securing the locations is the fact that proposed efforts to strengthen the security apparatuses fall short because they do not account for how one region might depend on others, indicating attacks could occur across more than one electric system. There is widespread agreement that high voltage transformers are “vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and that such an attack potentially could have catastrophic consequences.” Though the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) outlined a proposal to give utilities flexibility to respond to its own differing situations, others believe that it would be much better to determine which U.S. facilities are critical by looking across many utilities’ systems. This proposal highlights the benefits of using a regional approach for emergency preparedness.

The first attack took place at the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Metcalf facility in San Jose, California on April 16, 2013. During the attack, at least one individual broke into a separate, underground vault and slashed AT&T telephone cables around 1:00am. Then snipers opened fire at the PG&E substation, knocking out 17 of the 23 transformers that work power to the Silicon Valley. Though the company was able to avoid blackout by rerouting power and asking consumers to conserve energy, it took 27 days for the facility to resume operations. On June 11 in a separate incident, a makeshift bomb was discovered at the UniSource Energy Service’s Valencia Plant in Nogales, Arizona. The bomb was described as a hand held crude incendiary device, and was located under the valve of a 50,000 gallon diesel fuel storage tank. Although initial reports stated that the device exploded, it caused the fuel tank to ignite and burn. The makeshift bomb failed to cause a major explosion or power outage.

MSA's Research and Intelligence Analysis (RIA) Group has been monitoring this situation closely and has identified the following implications:
The attacks highlight that power grids are not only vulnerable to cyber threats, but also to physical threats, as important components are often exposed and guarded by unsophisticated security measures. Both incidents involve assailants breaching the grid’s existing security apparatus with apparent ease. Protecting such facilities from the entire spectrum of threats, including natural disasters, cyber-attacks and physical assaults, is a major concern. In the past, other physical incidents, such as downed trees and storms, have caused prolonged blackouts, and a coordinated attack could be devastating. It has become evident that the existing security measures at power units in the U.S. have legitimate gaps in security.

MSA Security's Research and Intelligence Analysis Group provides real-time intelligence on events and worldwide threats as they evolve.

MSA Intel Alert: Electronics Under Scrutiny on Direct Flights to U.S

June 7th cellphone blog photo

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will not be allowing any uncharged cell phones or other electronic devices on aircraft bound for the U.S. at some airports overseas due to an evolving terrorist threat. Intelligence emerged last week suggesting that Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Syrian al Qaeda affiliate, the al Nusra Front, are seeking to blow up an airplane with a device that could pass undetected through airport screening measures. As a result, travelers may be asked to turn on their electronic devices at security checkpoints. If a device does not have power, it will not be allowed on a plane and its owner may have to receive extra screening before boarding a flight. The measure will be used for phones, tablets, laptops and other devices on U.S.-bound flights emanating from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

MSA Intel Alert: Colorado Woman Accused of Trying to Support ISIS

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 A 19-year-old woman from Denver was arrested in April for allegedly trying to provide support to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). According to newly unsealed court documents, Shannon Maureen Conley, a Muslim convert, was taken into custody as she attempted to board a flight to Turkey. She planned to travel to Syria to marry a 32-year-old Tunisian man who she met online and who claimed to be an active member of ISIS. She planned to become a housewife and a nurse at the man’s camp, providing medical services and training. In her luggage, she reportedly had materials about Jihad and al Qaeda as well as CDs and DVDs labeled “Anwar Al-Awlaki.”
Officials began investigating Conley last November after the pastor at a church in a Denver suburb saw her acting suspiciously and alerted local police. Conley was taking notes of the layout of the church’s campus and talking to employees about terrorism. She spoke with FBI agents several times and openly expressed a desire for Jihad. The agents attempted to dissuade her, urging her to support Muslims through humanitarian efforts and encouraging her parents to get her to meet elders at the church to discuss more moderate options. However, Conley told authorities that there was nothing they could do to change her mind. Conley attended a military tactics and firearms training course with the U.S. Army Explorers earlier this year. She told FBI agents that she planned to use the training to wage jihad in the Middle East and intended to train Islamic Jihadi fighters in U.S. military tactics. She is charged with conspiring to help a foreign terrorist organization.

MSA's Research and Intelligence Analysis (RIA) Group has been monitoring this situation closely and has identified the following implications:

This case comes amid growing concern of westerners traveling to fight in the Middle East and potentially returning home to carry out terrorist acts. Conley’s parents stated that she did all of her research into Islam online and the Tunisian man, who claimed to love her and offered an opportunity for her to join the jihad, likely contributed greatly to her escalating extremist views. These were publicized through her social media pages, emphasizing the role it currently plays as a forum for radical content. Separately, social media is also being utilized as an effective method for terrorist recruitment. This is especially relevant for ISIS, which is well-funded and strives to grow its social media footprint through campaigns and videos.
Recruiters often target at-risk youth and Conley was particularly vulnerable because, according to her parents, she believed she needed to be “confrontational in her support of Islam,” and had some mental health issues. Conley also likely felt isolated, as court documents stated that she had wanted to serve in the U.S. military, but felt that the military would not accept her due to her religious beliefs and her wearing of a hijab and niqab. Conley’s case also highlights the potential path of those radicalized to completely leave their current life to join the war. She reportedly knew of the consequences of her actions and had no intention to return to the U.S.

MSA Security's Research and Intelligence Analysis Group provides real-time intelligence on events and worldwide threats as they evolve.

MSA Intel Alert: ISIS Declare a New Caliphate

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The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the Sunni militant organization responsible for
leading the insurgency in Iraq. Today, the organization declared a new caliphate and the organization's extremist leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, will serve as the new caliph. The caliphate will stretch from Iraq’s Diyala province to Syria’s Aleppo. Caliphate is a term used to define an Islamic system of rule that ended with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. In the historical context, a caliphate was an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph. According to Sunni Islam traditions, a caliph should be elected by Muslims or their representatives. Currently, it is unclear whether ISIS held elections regarding the appointment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

About the Leader:

Domestic Implications of the Conflicts in Iraq and Syria


A note from our President, Michael O'Neil...

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MSA Intel Alert: American Citizen Conducts Suicide Bombing in Syria

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Moner Mohammad Abdusalha, the 22-year-old Floridian who recently conducted a suicide bombing in Syria on behalf of the al Qaeda-linked terrorist organization al-Nusra Front, is reportedly featured in a recruitment video targeting westerners. Abusalha, also known by his Arabic name Abu Hurayra al-Amriki, is believed to be the first American to conduct such an act in the Syrian conflict. Abusalha allegedly created the Islamist recruitment video before carrying out one of four suicide bombings targeting Syrian government sites in Jabal al-Arbaa’in, located in the Idlib Province. Though his face is blurred, there is strong speculation that Abusalah is a featured speaker in the video. 

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