Other Key Findings:
Boko Haram: Declared Islamic State affiliation; killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands in Lake Chad Basin region. Al Qaida: Central leadership weakened, but group remained threat; Inspired network of affiliate groups in Arabian Peninsula, Maghreb and Indian subcontinent. Al Shabaab: Waged deadly attacks in Somalia; Sought to reverse progress made by Somali government and weaken "political will" of AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia).
Bad State Actors:
Iran: Considered "foremost" state sponsor of terrorism; Cited for support of Hezbollah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, extremists in Iraq and throughout Middle East. Sudan: Retained State Sponsor of Terrorism designation due to U.S. concerns about support of groups including Fatah, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah. Syria: Assad regime provided political support to terror groups affecting regional stability; provided weapons, political support to Hezbollah.
-The State Department said 45 countries passed or updated laws dealing with foreign fighters.
-Thirty-five countries arrested foreign fighters.
-Twelve countries "successfully prosecuted" at least one foreign fighter, last year.
United States/Terrorism – On the 2 Jun 16 the Department of State released the 2015 Country Reports on Terrorism. The report is provided to Congress each year and covers developments in countries in which acts of terrorism occurred, countries which are state sponsors of terrorism, and countries determined by the Secretary to be of particular national security interest.
START says that its Global Terrorism Database provides the foundation for the statistical annex section of the CRT, which marks the first time that trends in 2015 terrorism data from the GTD have been publicly released. Major findings from the report include:
The total number of terrorist attacks in 2015 decreased by 13 percent and total deaths due to terrorist attacks decreased by 14 percent, compared to 2014. This was largely due to fewer attacks and deaths in Iraq, Pakistan, and Nigeria. This represents the first decline in total terrorist attacks and deaths worldwide since 2012.
There were 11,774 attacks in 2015, resulting in 28,328 deaths, compared with 13,463 attacks in 2014 which killed 32,727 people.
In several countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, the Philippines, Syria, and Turkey, terrorist attacks and total deaths increased in 2015.
Although terrorist attacks took place in 92 countries in 2015, they were heavily concentrated geographically. More than 55 percent of all attacks took place in five countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria), and 74 percent of all deaths due to terrorist attacks took place in five countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, and Pakistan).
While the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was responsible for 31 percent fewer terrorist attacks in Iraq, the number of attacks carried out by ISIL in Syria increased by 39 percent. The geographic reach of attacks by ISIL and its affiliates expanded as several existing terrorist groups pledged allegiance to ISIL. In addition to Boko Haram in West Africa, the most active of these ISIL branches were located in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.
The number of attacks in which victims were kidnapped or taken hostage declined in 2015; however, the number of kidnapping victims and hostages increased. This was primarily due to an increase in the number of attacks involving exceptionally large numbers of victims.
The full dataset of 2015 terror attacks will be available for download on the Global Terrorism Database Web site later this month.
— Read more in Country Reports on Terrorism 2015 (U.S. Department of State, 2016)
Latin America/Hezbollah/United States – Hezbollah’s terrorism finance operations are thriving across Latin America months after the Drug Enforcement Administration linked the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group to drug cartels in the region, U.S. lawmakers were told on the 8 Jun 16. Former DEA operations Chief Michael Braun said Hezbollah is “moving [multiple] tons of cocaine” from South America to Europe and has developed “the most sophisticated money laundering scheme or schemes that we have ever witnessed.” The agency announced in Feb 16 that it had arrested several Hezbollah operatives accused of working with a major Colombian drug cartel to traffic drugs to Europe and launder money through Lebanon. Those arrests come against a backdrop of rising fears in Washington about smuggling connections between Middle East terrorist groups and the Western Hemisphere. Hezbollah has “metastasized into a hydra with international connections that the likes of [the Islamic State] and groups like al Qaeda could only hope to have,” Mr. Braun told the House Financial Services Committee. Adding to concerns about security threats from Central and South America, intelligence reports have also tracked how smugglers managed to sneak illegal immigrants from the Middle Eastern and South Asia straight to the doorstep of the U.S. — including helping one Afghan who U.S. authorities say was part of an attack plot in North America. Immigration officials identified at least a dozen Middle Eastern men smuggled into the Western Hemisphere by a Brazilian-based network that connected them with Mexicans who guided them to the U.S. border, according to internal government documents reviewed this month by The Washington Times. Those smuggled included Palestinians, Pakistanis and the Afghan man who Homeland Security officials said had family ties to the Taliban and was “involved in a plot to conduct an attack in the U.S. and/or Canada.” Concerns about Hezbollah’s activities in Latin America have surged the DEA’s announcement in Feb 16 that top operatives from the group’s so-called Business Affairs Component, or BAC, “have established business relationships” with South American drug cartels such as the Colombia-based Oficina de Envigado, a crime syndicate “responsible for supplying large quantities of cocaine to the European and United States drug markets.” The DEA said several of the BAC’s Europe-based operatives had been arrested on charges of trafficking drugs and laundering money from South America to purchase weapons and finance the group’s military activities in Syria. The agency described an intricate network of money couriers who collect and transport millions of Euros in drug proceeds from Europe to the Middle East. “The currency is then paid in Colombia to drug traffickers,” it said, adding that “a large portion of the drug proceeds was found to transit through Lebanon, and a significant percentage of these proceeds are benefiting terrorist organizations, namely Hezbollah.” The DEA said seven countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Belgium, were involved in an ongoing investigation. But few details were provided about how many suspects had been apprehended or where they are being held. Officials said the most significant arrest was of Mohamad Noureddine, whom the DEA accused of being a Lebanese money launderer for Hezbollah. A week prior to the announcement, the Treasury Department had imposed sanctions freezing any U.S. accounts tied to Mr. Noureddine as well as to Hamdi Zaher El Dine, another suspected money launderer.
Decades of activity
U.S. officials have long been wary of Hezbollah, a Shiite Islamic group. While it has a mainstream political arm in Lebanon, officials have linked the group to terrorist attacks in various corners of the world over the past 25 years — the vast majority targeting Israel. The State Department listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in the late 1990s and has characterized Iran as a leading state sponsor of terrorism largely on grounds that it supplies the group with weapons. But the full scope of Hezbollah’s operations has long been a subject of debate in Washington. The DEA’s recent claims followed years of speculation about Iranian activities in Latin America. Responding to pressure from Republican lawmakers, the State Department conducted a formal probe into the matter in 2013 and issued a report claiming that Iran was not supporting any active terrorist cells in the region. While the report said the number of Iranian officials operating in Latin America had increased, the report concluded Tehran had far less influence in Latin America than critics claimed. But former officials like Mr. Braun, who retired as DEA chief of operations in 2008, say Hezbollah is extremely active in the region. President Obama signed the “Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act” last year, authorizing a range of actions, including sanctions, to block Hezbollah’s ability to fund itself. Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow on Iran and illicit finance with the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, told lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing that Congress and the administration should use the law to “aggressively focus” on Hezbollah’s presence in Latin America.
Mr. Ottolenghi pointed to the group’s “vast network of support,” particularly in Brazil, which is home to some 7 million people of Lebanese descent, including an estimated 1 million Shiite Muslims. “Hezbollah generates loyalty among the local Shia communities by managing their religious and educational structures,” Mr. Ottolenghi told the hearing. “It then leverages loyalty to solicit funds and use business connections to its own advantage, including, critically, to facilitate its interactions with organized crime.” He cited a 2014 report by the Brazilian newspaper O Globo that outlined a connection between Hezbollah and the Primeiro Comando da Capital, a Sao Paulo-based prison gang, which is widely regarded to be among the country’s biggest exporters of cocaine. “Drug cartels need middlemen, as well as commodity and service providers, for the supply line and delivery to cartels in Colombia, Venezuela and Central America,” Mr. Ottolenghi said. “They need assistance facilitating transit to West Africa before drugs cross the Sahara on their way to Western Europe and enabling the producers, refiners and cartels to launder their revenues and acquire the accessories for the trade in the process.”
United States/Orlando – A gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State opened fire inside a crowded gay bar and dance club here early on the 12 Jun 16 leaving 50 people dead and 53 injured in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, authorities said. President Obama labelled the rampage “an act of terror and an act of hate.” The gunman fired bullets seemingly at random inside the popular Pulse nightclub, forcing panicked patrons to dive onto the dance floor, crawl across the ground and scramble out a back entrance. He then held others hostage in a three-hour siege that ended when police stormed the building and killed him. Witnesses described scenes of horrific carnage. Victims flooded local hospitals with gunshot wounds to their chests, legs and arms. Some had their calves and forearms blown off, doctors said. Police said the toll could have been even greater had a SWAT team not rescued 30 people and shepherded them to safety. Many of the victims were Latino; the club was celebrating “Latin Night.” “We’re dealing with something we never imagined and is unimaginable,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (D), who declared a state of emergency in the city. The gunman was identified as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard who was born in New York to Afghan parents. After his initial assault on the dance club, Mateen called 911 and pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, according to federal law enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the FBI investigation is unfolding. During the call, Mateen made reference to the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon, officials said. The shooting raised fresh alarm about the ability of overseas terrorists to wreak havoc on U.S. soil. But it also ignited fears of a broader campaign against the American gay, lesbian and transgender community as the first anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage approaches. Hours after the Orlando attack, police in Southern California reported arresting a heavily armed man who said he was headed to a gay pride parade in the Los Angeles area — though authorities later said they were mistaken about the man’s target. Meanwhile, in Washington, police stepped up patrols ahead of the Capital Pride Festival, one of dozens of gay pride events scheduled this month across the nation and around the world. “As Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people,” Obama said during a brief speech at the White House, where he said the FBI is investigating the Orlando massacre as an act of terrorism. Until Sunday, the 2007 rampage at Virginia Tech — in which 32 people died — was the country’s worst mass shooting.
Omar Mateen, 29, was born in New York to Afghan parents. Since September 2007 he had worked as a security guard for G4 Security in Florida. The large security contractor provides security personnel to guard building, among them federal buildings. He underwent background checks in both 2007 and 2013. In March, British born Islamic preacher Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar gave a speech outside Orlando in which he called for the death of all homosexuals. “Death is the sentence. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence,” he said.
What we know about the man behind America’s worst-ever mass shooting:
- Omar Mateen, 29, was born in New York to Afghan parents.
- Since September 2007 he had worked as a security guard for G4 Security in Florida. The large security contractor provides security personnel to guard building, among them federal buildings. He underwent background checks in both 2007 and 2013.
- He had a licence for concealed carry — in Florida, you do not require a permit to carry a weapon, but you do to conceal it.
- He lived in the Port St. Lucie area.
- He was married to Sitora Yusifiy in New Jersey. The pair had met online around eight years ago, and she moved to Florida to marry him. They were married for only four months.
- She told the Washington Post that “He was not a stable person.” She described him as a violent man who beat her regularly. “He beat me. He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that.”
- Yusifiy said Mateen was bipolar and also had a history with steroids.
- She said that he cut her off from her family, and that members of her family, who came to their home to rescue her from the situation, had to use considerable force literally to pull her out of his arms, because he would not let go of her. She added that she has had no contact with him for seven or eight years.
- The Daily Beast reports that he was known to the police, having become “a person of interest” in 2013 and again in 2014. A senior law enforcement source told the Beast that the FBI at one point opened an investigation into Mateen, but that the case was subsequently closed when the investigation produced nothing that appeared to warrant further investigation.
- In March 16, British born Islamic preacher Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar gave a speech outside Orlando in which he called for the death of all homosexuals. “Death is the sentence. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence,” he said.