Today there is a big conference [ar] starting, organised by Mauritania’s Tewassoul party, with high-level delegates in attendance from many Arab states, including Tunisia, Kuwait, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Algeria. I’d expect increased security in and around Nouakchott, but have not seen the usual reports of any. Last night, the political opposition coalition held a licensed event which tens of thousands attended, but they were denied permission for a similar event a couple of weeks ago, with the authorities claiming the need to avoid large gatherings because of the security risks. Yet a few days ago, the American Embassy in Mauritania issued an oddly paranoid statement to nationals, warning them to be cautious in case of unrest or protests on or near December 14 and 19. These events are likely, they claim, because of the anticipated release of another film which is deliberately insulting to Muslims, as well as a new video about Osama bin Laden.
The Embassy in Mauritania has a quiet little Facebook page that mainly posts friendly invitations to attend the regular sessions they host for throngs of hopeful student visa applicants at the “American Corner” of Nouakchott University. The statement is not posted on Facebook, and I would never have known about it, except for a tweet from the US State Dept’s travel advisory account:
To be honest, I had ignored an earlier “exclusive” report on a local website with little to commend it in the way of credibility, which claimed the embassy had sent all residents a warning note.
People in Mauritania were baffled by the embassy’s official warning. “When did we ever see a protest in Mauritania about bin Laden?” one asked. Another said “bin Laden is no prophet, people can make any film they want about him, and no one will care.” One replied to @TravelGov:
Bearing in mind that less than 5% of the population has internet access, and even then most of the time it’s like dial-up that has been heavily sedated, there’s precious little chance either film will reach a sizeable audience even in Nouakchott. To be super helpful in case any random terrorists really do fancy their chances, Ould Abdel Aziz listed a few potential targets during his recent speech at a UNESCO event in Paris, his default location since the 13 October incident. Taking all this into account, and in light of recent events in Egypt and the Maghreb region, it makes sense to stay tuned.
The sequel to the highly successful (in terms of provoking riots, and making a few people in the State Department look foolish) but very stupid “Innocence of Muslims” movie is called “The Innocent Prophet” and was delayed by the Spanish authorities threatening to revoke the Pakistani film maker Imran Firasat’s refugee status if he released it on 14 December as planned. But it’s out now, and the news cycle has calmed down enough to make space for a bigger splash than it would have gotten on December 14, given the terrible tragedy that occurred in Connecticut that day. Like it’s fore-runner, The Innocent Prophet has a staggeringly small number of views so far. I suppose intelligence agency cyber trolls will have to post the link liberally on “jihadist” forums if they want to see more riots, arson attacks and deaths in time for Christmas.
(Updated 21 Dec) While I am thinking about false flags, do be on the lookout for more news about the two Alabama men arrested separately in Georgia, allegedly planning to make their way to Mauritania to “wage violent jihad”. It’s possible* Mohammad Abdul Rahman Abukhdair** and Randy (Rasheed) Wilson***, like so many others before them, got the idea after speaking to an undercover FBI agent. Including the agent, that is three people I would not want to have near any weapons or explosives. In any case, you could probably staff an entire katiba of terrorists and the necessary weapons for the price of their air fare from Alabama, by recruiting within the region. It just does not make sense for people to travel half way across the world to do it, unless they were incredibly dumb, or were just playing along, intending to renege on their end of the deal and get a free desert safari in the process. Now that international aid and development agencies are more interested in hiring locally, would it be too much to expect the FBI to follow suit?
Still on jihad, something that is jarring my instincts: these pastebin posts allegedly from a new(ish) cyber army of angry “Qassam Cyber Fighters” who hate American banks so much they decided to give advance notice of their intention to take down their websites, and even apologised for the delay in staging their onslaught, codenamed “Operation Ababil”. Nice and polite, if not exactly stealthy, but thanks for giving all your targets time to tighten security, change passwords, etc. Anyone would think they were not a real cyber army at all. If you are a linguaphile, have fun analysing and comparing their use of Arabic and English. If not, have fun wondering why an Iranian regime cyber operation (as claimed) would use Arabic, when they apparently have a proud, Farsi-speaking, cyber army.
Here’s their Facebook page, where the old news reports were reposted yesterday, which I assume explains the tweet.
Back in February, they posted this video claiming to show evidence of an intrusion that netted “all” Bank of Israel customer accounts:
Ignoring the fact that it looks decidedly fake, note the speed with which typing errors of English words are corrected, and use of words like “bingo” and the phrase “don’t try this at home”. Add to that the use of classroom French, typed more slowly with far higher accuracy in their next video. It gives the impression whoever created at least the first and probably the second would feel more at home in Oxshott than Nouakchott. No offence to Oxshottonians, it could be any cosy corner of over-privileged middle-class and perhaps even middle-aged (bingo? really?) England.
Additional information added 21 December 2012:
* In the criminal complaint that led to his arrest, Randy Wilson was said to be a former room mate of another Mobile, Alabama man, Omar Shafik Hammami (aka Abu Mansour al-Amriki), who was just reportedly kicked out of Somalian al-Qaeda franchise Al-Shabaab for spreading the wrong message in videos he posted online. Although they did know one another about 10 years ago, the information about Wilson and Hammami’s living arrangements turned out to be false (see below). There was a rather long delay between news about his first video - in which he said he feared his life was in danger – appearing in March 2012, and the 17 December reports of the announcement of Hammami’s expulsion. March was also when the coup in Mali was claimed to have accelerated the spread of rebel groups in the north, as the vast region was abandoned by both civil and military authorities along with most NGOs and aid agencies. This heightened activity was accompanied by reports that fighters from other al Qaeda groups were moving into Mali. Wherever Hammami – who incidentally is married to a Somali woman, and they have at least one child, a daughter – shows up next, it is unlikely to be America.
** According to this post, a Syracuse, NY native by the name of Mohammad Abdul Rahman Abukhdair was arrested in Egypt in 2010 on charges of suspected terrorist activity. In 2011, he was deported back to the U.S., taking residency in both Ohio and Alabama.
*** Randy Wilson appeared in court and was refused bail after the judge heard testimony from FBI Special Agent Tim Green, who had established an online relationship with the defendant and his co-accused over a period of two years, by pretending to have a shared interest in Islam. Green also confessed in court that the story about Wilson being a former room mate of Omar Hammami was a lie and claimed he” didn’t know where it came from”. Wilson’s case will be heard on December 27, local press reported. There are no similar reports for Mohammad Abdul Rahman Abukhdair as yet. Given the fact that the two New Jersey men arrested in the almost identical “Operation Arabian Knight” case in 2010 have still not been sentenced, despite accepting a plea bargain, we should not expect any swift justice.