United States/North Korea – President Barack Obama has said the US is considering putting North Korea back on its list of terrorism sponsors after the hacking of Sony Pictures. A decision would be taken after a review, he said, calling the attack an act of cyber-vandalism, not of war. North Korea denies the attack over The Interview, which depicts the fictional killing of its leader Kim Jong-Un. In an interview, President Obama described the hacking as a "very costly, very expensive" example of cyber-vandalism. He said US officials would examine all the evidence to determine whether North Korea should be put back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea had been on the US list for two decades until the White House removed it in 2008, after Pyongyang agreed to full verification of its nuclear sites. On the 20 Dec 14 the US asked China to curb North Korea's cyber-attacks.
The Interview saga:
- 22 November: Sony computer systems hacked, exposing embarrassing emails and personal details about stars
- 7 December: North Korea denies accusations that it is behind the cyber-attack, but praises it as a "righteous deed"
- 16 December: "Guardians of Peace" hacker group threatens 9/11-type attack on cinemas showing film; New York premiere cancelled
- 17 December: Leading US cinema groups say they will not screen film; Sony cancels Christmas-day release
- 19 December: FBI concludes North Korea orchestrated hack; President Obama calls Sony cancellation "a mistake"
- 20 December: North Korea proposes join inquiry with US into hacks, rejected by the US.
The FBI's analysis has concluded North Korea is to blame for the attack on Sony Pictures - but how can it be sure? As well as Pyongyang having a motive for taking serious issue with The Interview, there's a couple of pieces of key evidence the US is now using to pin the blame. First, the FBI says its analysis spotted distinct similarities between the type of malware used in the Sony Pictures hack and code used in an attack on South Korea last year. When any malware is discovered, it is shared around many experts for analysis - any attacker could simply reversion the code for their own use, like a cover version of a song. This has happened in the past - most notably with Stuxnet, a cyber-attack malware believed to have been developed by the US, which was later repurposed by (it is believed) the Russians. IP addresses - known to be part of "North Korean infrastructure" - formed part of the malware too. This suggests the attack may have been controlled by people who have acted for North Korea in the past. Truth be told, it's extremely difficult to know for sure who is behind any cyber attack. Equally, it's hard to prove who isn't. As well as the evidence cited here, the FBI said "undisclosed intelligence" was the clincher in pinning it to North Korea. We may never know what that information was. (http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30554444)
United States/Egypt – The State Department today announced on the 17 Dec 14 that it has added an Egyptian jihadist group and a senior al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) ideologue to the US government's list of specially designated global terrorists. The Egyptian group, Ajnad Misr ("Soldiers of Egypt"), is a "violent extremist group that splintered from Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM)," which is also a "designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) and Specially Designated Global entity." Some of Ajnad Misr's earliest attacks took place in Cairo at the beginning of the year. Initially, ABM claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Cairo that occurred on the 24 Jan 14. ABM subsequently acknowledged that some of the attacks were actually executed by Ajnad Misr, which ABM described as "our brothers." ABM, or at least the part of the organization based in the Sinai, announced its allegiance to the Islamic State's Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in Nov 14. The group was then rebranded as the Islamic State's province in the Sinai. However, other Egyptian-based jihadists, including Ajnad Misr, did not follow suit and join the Islamic State's ranks. Recently, a previously unknown jihadist group claiming to operate in the Sinai said that it rejects ABM's decision and will continue to operate independently from ABM. "Ajnad Misr officially announced its formation in January 2014," the State Department's announcement reads, "and has since claimed numerous attacks on Egyptian security forces at government buildings, public spaces and universities, often injuring or killing innocent bystanders." Some of Ajnad Misr's most significant operations since its inception have focused on attacks on Egyptian universities, with the group often portraying itself as defending students who are being oppressed by security forces. In its propaganda, Ajnad Misr attempts to drum up popular support for its anti-government attacks. [See LWJ report, Jihadist group 'Soldiers of Egypt' claims responsibility for attack on police near university.] (http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/12/state_department_des_3.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+LongWarJournalSiteWide+%28The+Long+War+Journal+%28Site-Wide%29%29)
United States – Al Qaeda is recruiting wannabe terrorists via its online magazine to carry out lone wolf bombings on U.S. commercial airlines. The 13th issue of Al Qaeda's 'Inspire' online English-language magazine. The New York-based Anti-Defamation League sounded the alarm about the terror group’s intentions on the 25 Dec 14 adding that financial figures and prominent economic personalities were also being targeted. The 13th issue of “Inspire” was released by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on Dec. 24, the day before Christmas — one of the busiest travel days in the year. The magazine contains an article with explicit instructions for easily building a portable bomb inside a 17cm plastic water bottle case. Entitled “The Hidden Bomb,” it was posted as a central feature of the English-language magazine. The entire issue, in fact, is focused on Al Qaeda’s strategy for defeating the United States by attacking American military technology, manpower, media and economy. The magazine suggests the easy-to-build homemade bombs be used against U.S. commercial airliners – specifically American Airlines, Delta, United or Continental — ideally over U.S. soil. Included are instructions about the best location on the plane for planting the explosive and the altitude at which to detonate the device. Failing the opportunity to attack a U.S. airline, the magazine suggests aiming at British Airways, Easy Jet, Air France or Air France KL. The advantages of this bomb as described in the article is that it is allegedly undetectable by dogs, odour-detecting machines or metal detectors. It is, however, detectable by millimetre wave scanners – a small issue the terrorist group says may not be such a problem because “in most cases they are not used in local airports.” The magazine also praises individuals who have carried out terror attacks for the cause of radical Islam, such as Man Haron Monis in Sydney, Australia, who last week held 15 people hostage for hours at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe. Two people died in the attack after police commandos finally stormed the site. “The Lions of Allah who are all over the globe – some call them lone wolves – should know that they are the West’s worst nightmare.” (http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/al-qaeda-urges-lone-wolves-to-attack-us-airliners/2014/12/25/)