Local officials say vehicle carrying suspected militants near Aden was struck in an attack by an unmanned aircraft
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Review by Organisation of American States on illicit drugs 'could mark beginning of the end' of prohibition
BAGHDAD A string of attacks killed at least 16 people in Iraq on Saturday, while gunmen abducted eight policemen guarding a post on the country's main highway to Jordan and Syria, the latest in a wave of violence to grip the country.
The shootings and bombings follow three days of attacks that killed 130 people in both Shiite and Sunni areas in scenes reminiscent of retaliatory attacks between the two groups that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in 2006-2007. The spike in bloodshed in recent weeks has raised fears the country may be heading toward a new round of sectarian conflict.
Tensions have been worsening since Iraq's minority Sunnis began protesting what they say is mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government, including random detentions and neglect. The mass demonstrations, which began in December, have largely been peaceful, but the number of attacks rose sharply after a deadly security crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq on April 23.
Majority Shiites control the levers of power in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Wishing to rebuild the nation rather than revert to open warfare, they have largely restrained their militias in the past five years or so as Sunni extremist groups such as al-Qaida have frequently targeted them with large-scale attacks. But the sharp jump in attacks on Sunni areas, including bombings on Friday that killed at least 76 people, has fueled concerns of renewed retaliatory killings.
In Saturday's deadliest attack, gunmen broke into the house of an anti-terrorism police captain in the southern suburbs of Baghdad, killing the officer and his family in their sleep. Police officials identified the dead as Cap. Adnan Ibrahim, his wife and two children, aged eight and 10.
The attackers fled the scene, and killed another policeman who tried to stop them at a nearby checkpoint.
Meanwhile in the western Sunni province of Anbar, gunmen kidnapped eight policemen who were guarding a post on the main highway linking Iraq to both Jordan and Syria, according to two police officials.
Earlier in the day, security forces and gunmen clashed in the area after police tried to arrest a Sunni tribal sheik suspected of being behind the killing of three army intelligence soldiers stopped by gunmen near a protest site in the city of Ramadi last month. Iraqi authorities had offered a bounty for the arrest or information leading to the arrest of the sheik, Khamis Abu Risha, and two other people they say were linked to the killings.
The fighting near Abu Risha's house north of Ramadi left three people wounded. No arrests were made. Later, gunmen deployed near the main entrance of Anbar Operations Command headquarters in Ramadi, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad.
Hours later, Ramadi police said a bomb placed under stalls in a small stadium exploded, killing four people who were watching a local soccer match.
Shortly before sunset, a car bomb went off near a small market in in the town of Latifiyah south of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 12.
Elsewhere, in the predominantly Shiite city of Basra in southern Iraq, gunmen shot and killed a Sunni cleric, Assad Nassir, as he was leaving his house, police said.
Two Iraqi soldiers were also killed and two others wounded when a roadside bomb struck a group of soldiers arriving to inspect the scene of a blast that took place earlier in the northern city of Mosul.
A security official said a roadside bomb hit a police patrol in the northern suburbs of Baghdad, killing one policeman and wounding two others.
Health officials confirmed the death tolls. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.
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It’s the question of the moment inside the murky realm of cybersecurity: Just who — or what — is the Syrian Electronic Army?
The hacking group that calls itself the S.E.A. struck again on Friday, this time breaking into the Twitter accounts and blog headlines of The Financial Times. The attack was part of a crusade that has targeted dozens of media outlets as varied as The Associated Press and The Onion, the parody news site.
But just who is behind the S.E.A.’s cybervandalism remains a mystery. Paralleling the group’s boisterous, pro-Syrian government activity has been a much quieter Internet surveillance campaign aimed at revealing the identities, activities and whereabouts of the Syrian rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Now sleuths are trying to figure out how much overlap there is between the rowdy pranks playing out on Twitter and the silent spying that also increasingly includes the monitoring of foreign aid workers. It’s a high-stakes search. If researchers prove the Assad regime is closely tied to the group, foreign governments may choose to respond because the attacks have real-world consequences. The S.E.A. nearly crashed the stock market, for example, by planting false tales of White House explosions in a recent hijacking of The A.P.’s Twitter feed.
The mystery is made more curious by the belief among researchers that the hackers currently parading as the S.E.A. are not the same people who started the pro-Assad campaign two years ago.
Experts say the Assad regime benefits from the ambiguity. “They have created extra space between themselves and international law and international opinion,” said James A. Lewis, a security expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The S.E.A. emerged during the Syrian uprisings in May 2011, they said, to offer a pro-Assad counternarrative to news coming out of Syria. In speeches, Mr. Assad likened the S.E.A. to the government’s own online security corps, referring to the group as “a real army in a virtual reality.”
In its early incarnation, researchers said, the S.E.A. had a clearly defined hierarchy, with leaders, technical experts, a media arm and hundreds of volunteers. Several early members belonged to the Syrian Computer Society, a technical organization run by Mr. Assad before he became president. Until last month, digital records suggest, the Syrian Computer Society still ran much of the S.E.A.’s infrastructure. In April, a raid of S.E.A. Web domains revealed that the majority were still registered to the society.
S.E.A. members initially created pro-Assad Facebook pages and spammed popular pages like President Obama’s and Oprah Winfrey’s with pro-Syrian comments. But by the fall of 2011, S.E.A. activities had become more premeditated. They defaced prominent Web sites like Harvard University’s with pro-Assad messages, in an attack a spokesman characterized as sophisticated.
At some point, the S.E.A.’s crucial players disappeared and a second crop of hackers took over. The current group consists of roughly a dozen new actors led by hackers who call themselves “Th3 Pr0” and “The Shadow” and function more like Anonymous, the loose hacking collective, than a state-sponsored brigade. In interviews, people who now identify as the S.E.A. insist they operate independently from the Assad regime. But researchers who have been following the group’s digital trail aren’t convinced.
“The opportunity for collaboration between the S.E.A. and regime is clear, but what is missing is proof,” said Jacob West, a chief technology officer at Hewlett-Packard. As governments consider stronger responses to malicious cyberactivity, Mr. West said, “the motivation for Syria to maintain plausible deniability is very, very real.”
Long before the S.E.A’s apparent changing of the guard, security researchers unearthed a stealthier surveillance campaign targeting Syrian dissidents that has since grown to include foreign aid workers. Morgan Marquis-Boire, a researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, uncovered spyware with names like “Dark Comet” and “BlackShades” sending information back to a Syrian state-owned telecommunications company. The software — which tracked a target’s location, read e-mails and logged keystrokes — disguised itself as an encryption service for Skype, a program used by many Syrian activists.
Mr. Marquis-Boire has uncovered more than 200 Internet Protocol addresses running the spyware. Some were among the few kept online last week during an Internet disruption in Syria that the government blamed on a “technical malfunction,” but experts described as a systematic government shutdown.
S.E.A. members deny spying on Syrian civilians. “We didn’t do that and we will not,” the hacker who identifies himself as Th3 Pr0 wrote in an e-mail. “Our targets are known,” he wrote, referring to the group’s public Twitter attacks. Researchers have tracked several of those attacks — including that on The Onion and another against Human Rights Watch in March — to a server in Russia, which they believe is redirecting attacks from Syria. Last weekend, researchers traced one attack back to a Syrian I.P. address registered to Syriatel, a telecommunications company owned by Rami Makhlouf, Mr. Assad’s first cousin.
Dissidents say that connection is proof the S.E.A. is backed by the Assad regime and claim that the Twitter attacks are just the outward-facing component of a deeper surveillance campaign.
“There is no doubt they are the same,” said Dlshad Othman, a Syrian in Washington who helps dissidents get rid of the spyware.
The smoking gun, Mr. Othman and others say, was an S.E.A. attack last year on Burhan Ghalioun, a Syrian opposition leader. Shortly after Mr. Ghalioun’s Facebook page was hacked, it began serving spyware to fans. Mr. Ghalioun’s e-mails also showed up on a S.E.A. leak site.
The other potential link, they say, is a list of opposition leaders that surfaced in July, after S.E.A. members boasted they could help the regime quickly search for the names of opponents. Mr. Othman said the boasts were proof the S.E.A. worked with the regime and kept tabs on dissidents.
Ironically, that opposition search most likely led to the S.E.A.’s internal shake-up. Activists say encryption on the document was cracked, and in July it popped up on Pastebin, a Web site for anonymous postings.
“There was a view that the government blamed the S.E.A. for the leak,” said John Scott-Railton, a Citizen Lab research fellow.
In the days that followed, Facebook accounts for known S.E.A. members went dark. S.E.A. aliases that researchers had been tracking suddenly vanished. New members with different monikers assumed the group’s name. Researchers say the hackers behind the recent spate of Twitter hacks are far less organized.
Outside Syria, the Twitter attacks made people take note of the S.E.A. But inside Syria, they barely registered. Dissidents there are more concerned with the mounting spyware infections and imprisonments. And researchers have seen the spyware tracking a new target: aid workers.
“The Syrian opposition are quite paranoid and aware of the stakes,” Mr. Marquis-Boire said. “But then you get foreign aid workers who show up to do good work, but are not as paranoid about their operational security.”
“It’s a smart move if you think about it,” he added.