United States/Iran – A US Navy destroyer fired three warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels after they closed in at a high rate of speed near the Strait of Hormuz, two US defence officials said on the 9 Jan 17. The incident, which occurred on the 8 Jan 16 and was first reported by Reuters, comes as US President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office on Jan. 20. In September, Trump vowed that any Iranian vessels that harass the US Navy in the Gulf would be "shot out of the water." The officials said the USS Mahan established radio communication with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats but they did not respond to requests to slow down and continued asking the Mahan questions. The Navy destroyer fired warning flares and a US Navy helicopter also dropped a smoke float before the warning shots were fired. The Iranian vessels came within 900 yards (800 meters) of the Mahan, which was escorting two other US military ships, they said. The IRGC and Trump transition team were not immediately available for comment. Years of mutual animosity eased when Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran last year after a deal to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. But serious differences still remain over Iran's ballistic missile program as well as conflicts in Syria and Iraq. One official said similar incidents occur occasionally. Most recently in Aug 16 another US Navy ship fired warning shots towards an Iranian fast-attack craft that approached two US ships.
United States/al-Qaeda – A son of late al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden and a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were added to the U.S. counter-terrorism blacklist on the 5 Jan 17 a move to keep them from using the U.S. financial system, the State Department said. The State and Treasury departments said they had designated Hamza bin Laden and Ibrahim al-Banna as global terrorists. Bin Laden, a son of the deceased al Qaeda leader, has been declared a member of the group by senior leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to the State Department. Bruce Reidel, an analyst with the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, has called Hamza bin Laden the "new face for al Qaeda" and "an articulate and dangerous enemy." Al-Banna is a senior member of AQAP who has served as the group's security chief and has provided military and security advice to AQAP leaders, the State Department said. The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control added Bin Laden and al-Banna to its list of specially designated nationals, a counterterrorism blacklist. The State Department said the two had been identified as specially designated global terrorists. Any property owned by the two men and subject to U.S. jurisdiction may be frozen and U.S. citizens are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them, the State Department said. The designation is viewed as a powerful tool to deny them access to the U.S. financial system. Bin Laden, who was born in Saudi Arabia, has called for acts of terrorism in western capitals and threatened to take revenge against the United States for his father's killing, the State Department said. He has threatened to target Americans abroad and urged Saudi tribes to unite with AQAP in Yemen to fight against Saudi Arabia, it said. Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Special Forces who raided his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. Hamza bin Laden was thought to be under house arrest in Iran at the time, and documents recovered from the compound indicated that aides had been trying to reunite him with his father. Al-Banna, who was born in Egypt, has described al-Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington as "virtuous" and threatened to target Americans in the United States and abroad, the State Department said. Before joining AQAP, he was a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad in Yemen, it said.
United States/Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)/Muslim Brotherhood – A group of prominent US Senators have proposed two bills that will require the US State Department to hold to account both the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Muslim Brotherhood, and list them as terrorist radicals for their part in spreading violence it was reported on the 14 Jan 17. The bill has been proposed by Republicans Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Michael McCaul and Senator Mario Balart. Senator Cruz argued in his proposed bill that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Muslim Brotherhood, adopted violent Islamist ideology with the intention of destroying the West. As such - he stated – the two foreign entities should be designated as terrorist organizations. He said he was proud to reintroduce the bills, that would arrange reforms needed for America’s war against radical Islamic terrorism, especially, he said, with the IRGC being a main pillar for the Iranian regime. He added that the threat had intensified under the Obama administration due to the ‘willful blindness’ of new direction of US policies that hampered the country’s safety and security. Senator McCaul said it was time for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to be held accountable; adding that for years the IRGC had been allowed to operate clandestinely using front companies and illicit networks to evade being listed as a terrorist group. He said he believed the Obama administration had chosen to turn a blind eye to these activities for the sake of the ‘flawed nuclear agreement’ with Iran. Senator Ballart said the US had already listed members, branches and commissions affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, namely Hamas, al-Qaeda and the Palestinian Jihad group on the terrorism list. He added that he is also proud to have worked with Senator Cruz on this project because the MB was still supporting and fostering terrorism.
United States/Iran – US "hostility" to Iran is growing day by day despite Tehran's nuclear deal, a senior Iranian official said on the 15 Jan 17 ahead of the first anniversary of the historic accord. "The United States has done whatever it can to slow down Iran's progress" after the deal, said Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, the chief Iranian negotiator in the agreement that took effect on the 16 Jan 16 last year. "In the last 12 months, we have witnessed delays and the disrespecting of promises by the US and some countries. Their hostility increases by the day," Araghchi told reporters. The agreement between Tehran and six world powers saw a range of international sanctions lifted in exchange for limits on Iran's nuclear programme. Iran has seen a rise in oil exports and increased investment in manufacturing since it came into force. But Iranian officials have accused Washington of failing to abide by the deal, including with a raft of other sanctions related to non-nuclear issues that have helped deter major Western banks from returning to Iran. US President-elect Donald Trump vowed during last year's campaign to tear up the agreement, considered a key victory for President Barack Obama. Araghchi said it made little difference who was in the White House as international law required Washington to implement the deal. "Whether its Obama or Trump, the US president is committed to cancelling laws that are against it," Araghchi said, adding that there would be no further discussions with US officials. "Our nuclear negotiations with the Americans are finalised and we have no other political talks with them," he said. "In our view, everything is over."
United States – The World Economic Forum (WEF) said on the 13 Jan 17 that large-scale terrorist attacks – not only lone-wolf attacks — are among the likely threats for which states must prepare in 2017. Business Insider notes that this is the first time large-scale terrorist attacks have made it to the WEF’s annual “Global Risks” reportsince the report was first launched a dozen years ago:
WEF defines large-scale terrorist attacks as “individuals or non-state groups with political or religious goals that successfully inflict large-scale human or material damage.”
The WEF reports notes that technology is likely to play an increasing role — both positive and negative — in society:
Technological advances have expanded civic space by providing citizens and organizations with new opportunities to make their voices heard, express their grievances and demand their rights, and innovative ways to hold decision-makers to account. They offer virtual platforms for citizens to engage and mobilize on issues they care about.
At the same time, ICT and other technological tools benefit individuals or groups seeking to leverage technology for the spreading of hate, misinformation and extremism, and present challenges for law enforcement and other governmental authorities attempting to monitor terrorist activity. Technological tools are also being used to increase surveillance and control over citizens, whether for legitimate security concerns or in an attempt to eradicate criticism and opposition.
Restricting new opportunities for democratic expression and mobilization, and by consequence the digitally enabled array of civil, political and economic rights (such as the right to work and education; freedom of expression) – just as citizens have become more connected and engaged – creates a potentially explosive situation.”
The last two years have seen several large-scale terrorist attacks, among them:
Christmas market attack in Berlin, Germany — ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack in which s terrorist drove a truck into a Christmas market in the German city, killing twelve people and injuring dozens of others in December 2016.
Bastille Day attack in Nice, France— A terrorist killed eighty-six people and injured more than 400 after a truck ploughed into a crowd on the Promenade des Anglais in July 2016.
Bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium— ISIS claimed responsibility for bombers that killed thirty-five people in the Belgian capital’s airport and metro station, in March last year.
Paris, France attacks— Several coordinated attacks in Paris killed 130 people in November 2015.
Venezuela/Iran/Syria/Hezbollah – The newly appointed vice president of Venezuela is suspected by American intelligence of drug smuggling as well as close ties to Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, Business Insider reported on the 5 Jan 16. The appointment of Tareck El Aissami, formerly the governor of Aragua state, means that he could become the country’s president if the increasingly embattled Nicholas Maduro is recalled or steps down. While serving as interior minister under Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, El Aissami reportedly participated in a program to provide Syrian terrorists with Venezuelan passports. Joseph Humire, the founder of the Centre for a Secure Free Society think tank, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2015 that El Aissami “developed a sophisticated, multi-layered financial network that functions as a criminal-terrorist pipeline bringing militant Islamists into Venezuela and surrounding countries, and sending illicit funds and drugs from Latin America to the Middle East.”
His financial network consists of close to 40 front companies that own over 20 properties with cash, vehicles, real estate and other assets sitting in 36 bank accounts spread throughout Venezuela, Panama, Curacao, St. Lucia, Southern Florida and Lebanon. This network became integrated with the larger Ayman Joumaa moneylaundering network that used the Lebanese Canadian Bank to launder hundreds of millions of dollars and move multi-ton shipments of cocaine on behalf of Colombian and Mexican drug cartels as well as Hezbollah.
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2014 that while El Aissami was its governor, Aragua was home to the explosives company Parchin Chemical Industries and the drone-makers Qods Aviation, two companies owned by Iran’s military and sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council for their involvement in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. After Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Venezuela last August, Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, speculated that one of the reasons for the trip was to shore up Iran’s ballistic missile program. Ottolenghi cited a recently-discovered contract between the two countries to jointly produce solid rocket fuel. Tower senior editor Ben Cohen observed at the time that alliances with Iran are often costly for the people of the nations that have them:
Iran will continue to back Latin American governments out of favour with their own citizens. Zarif’s presence in Venezuela, at a time when the majority of the country’s voters are demanding a referendum on the future of its current leader, Nicolas Maduro, is a clear signal that Iran is intent on maintaining a mini-empire of its own, despite Tehran’s protestations about American meddling. Maduro’s policies, based on those of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, have brought Venezuela to its knees. Hunger is rampant, crime has reached record levels and hospitals have run out of basic medicines.
Indeed, one look at the sorry state of Venezuela – once the richest Latin American country, with huge oil reserves – should be enough to persuade the most sceptical observer that an alliance with Iran is part of a package that also includes economic ruin and political repression. But until we take the necessary steps in Latin America, and in other regions vulnerable to Iranian influence, the mullahs have no incentive to pull back.
This article is published courtesy of The Tower