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Guatemala on Brink of Crisis Amid Corruption Scandal

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Guatemala’s government is thinning with a string of high-profile resignations and arrests of top officials following the revelation of a corruption scandal inside President Otto Perez Molina’s administration. Massive protests gathering thousands of Guatemalans have been organized via social media in order to demand the President’s resignation. This is the first time in Guatemala’s recent history that a broad cross section of society including students, politicians, the country’s powerful business lobby, indigenous peoples, and members of a historically passive middle class, joined together in a unified call for the removal of corrupt officials.

The initial scandal that sparked public anger involves a criminal network that has been called La Linea (The Line), in reference to a certain mobile phone number importers called to negotiate the amount they paid in customs taxes. Thanks to this network, businesses could receive an illegal discount on the required fees when their property cleared customs. About 50% of the balance was then paid to the state. The rest went to a network of defrauders that included corrupt officials and their collaborators.

On April 16, Guatemalan authorities arrested 22 people including the current and former heads of Guatemala’s tax collection agency. This 8-months investigation was the result of a joint effort between the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, a UN-backed institution charged with investigating and helping disband clandestine and parallel power structures linked to the state, and Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office. Prosecutors estimate that Guatemala lost at least $120 million in tax revenue just in the 8-months period to the scam. As the investigation continues to unfold, it has also revealed an inter-connected web of judicial corruption that’s been nicknamed the “Law Firm of Impunity”, resulting in investigations into judges and justices on Guatemala´s Supreme Court. Iduvina Hernandez, a political analyst and the executive director of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy said: “the parallel power structure that has been revealed through the CICIG’s investigations is derived precisely from the existence of a larger pact of impunity.» In the case of La Linea, top officials and individuals allegedly raked in millions in dollars per year while state institutions lacked important resources for education, medicine, and basic security.

Additionally, just a week later a second investigation by CICIG and the Public Prosecutor’s Office revealed another corruption scandal within Guatemala’s Social Security Institute. The institute had awarded a kidney dialysis contract to the company Drogueria Pisa in exchange for kickbacks to government officials, including IGSS employees as well as the head of the Guatemalan Central Bank. Pisa had no expertise providing the treatment, and 13 have died since. A total of 17 public officials have been arrested, but most notable has been the arrest of the president of the board of the IGSS, Juan de Dios Rodriguez who was a powerful former military man and who once served as President Perez Molina’s private secretary.

Such corruption scandals within the government and at different levels triggered massive movements of demonstrations and rocked President Perez Molina’s administration. Vice President Roxana Baldetti was the first to step down, handing in her resignation on May 8. Although she wasn’t implicated in the initial corruption investigation, she was plunged into controversy when her private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, was identified as the leader of the fraud ring. Shortly after her resignation, Baldetti was also placed under investigation. As investigations continue, high-level officials in a number of major executive branch offices have resigned or been fired.

Moreover, President Otto Pérez Molina has dismissed or asked for resignations from his chief of intelligence, the ministers of the environment and of energy and mines, and his interior minister, among others. Many of the ousted officials are members of Pérez Molina’s inner circle and are under investigation for various acts of alleged corruption.

However, these ministry shake-ups have not been enough to quell calls for the president’s resignation and demonstrations continue to fill Guatemala’s streets. The crisis is playing out ahead of presidential elections in September, with polls giving a large lead to Manuel Baldizón, a populist right-wing tycoon. This is the deepest political crisis of the post-war era in Guatemala. But it remains unclear whether it will eventually strengthen or dangerously undermine the country’s still-feeble democracy. On June 10, Guatemala’s Supreme Court accepted a petition to allow Congress to decide whether to revoke President Perez Molina’s immunity from prosecution for possible involvement in acts of corruption. President Perez Molina has stated that he will not resign in spite of the public movement against him. The situation in Guatemala is currently highly flexible and many scenarios could play out in the coming weeks.



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Suspected Boko Haram Militants Attack Chadian Capital

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On Monday, officials in neighboring Chad reported that at least 23 people have been killed and more than 100 injured in suicide attacks carried out in the capital N’Djamena.

Eyewitnesses reported that attackers on motorcycles blew themselves up outside two police buildings. According to witnesses, one of the bombers on a motorcycle blew himself up after security officers fired at him outside a building where the national police chief is based while the second explosion went off at the headquarters of the national police academy.

The Chadian government has blamed the attacks on Nigerian-based Boko Haram, however the militant group has not commented. Hours after the attack, Communications Minister Hassan Sylla Bakara stated that Boko Haram had “made a mistake targeting Chad,” and that the group would be “neutralized.” The Communications Minister condemned the “appalling and barbaric attack,” stating that it “would not diminish Chad’s determination and commitment to fighting terrorism.” The minister added that all four of the attackers had been killed. On the ground sources have reported that in the wake of the attack, large numbers of troops have been deployed on the streets of the capital and a ban has been imposed on cards with tinted windows.

Chadian forces have played a key role in not only helping Nigeria battle Boko Haram, but also in the fight against other jihadist groups in the region. The Central African nation has been a long-standing adversary of jihadists, with the country’s president Idriss Deby Itno committing troops to combating militants in the region. They first joined French forces in 2013 to counter the advance of jihadists who had occupied the northern regions of Mali the previous year. In August 2014, France reorganized its military presence in the region by launching Operation Barkhane, which aims to fighting terrorism in Africa’s Sahel region. The force is headquartered in the Chadian capital, where France already has a large military base. In February this year, Chad launched a ground offensive in neighboring Nigeria, effectively leading the fight against the militant group. According to military sources, Chad has committed around 5,000 soldiers to this operation. N’Djamena will also host the headquarters of the joint military force that was created on 11 June by Chad, Cameroon, Benin, Niger and Nigeria against Boko Haram.

While the group has never targeted N’Djamena before, this attack should not come as a huge surprise, given the country’s role in fighting the insurgency. Boko Haram has previously criticized and taunted Chadian President Idriss Deby in its videos. In a statement United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the bombings and praised Chad’s “courageous role” in fighting Boko Haram.

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Islamic extremism in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Terrorist attack on a police station in Zvornik

Tensions are high in Bosnia and Herzegovina this week following an attack on a police station in Zvornik, the Serbian-dominated Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska, last week. The attack, which is being referred to as a terrorist attack, carried out on April 27, left one policeman dead and two injured. The attacker, who has been identified as Nerdin Ibric, a Bosniak man (Muslim Bosnian), was killed in the shootout with police officers at the station. The effects from the attack have had a ripple effect across Bosnia, reopening wounds and creating unease far from the town where the actual shooting took place.

According to Republika Srpska officials, the local man from Sapna, near Zvornik, parked his car in front of the police station, armed with a rifle and other weapons, got out of his vehicle and immediately started shooting at policemen, while shouting “Allahu Akbar”, Arabic for “God is Great”. Police have subsequently arrested two suspects in connection with the terrorist attack, whilst several locations in the Zvornik area were raided by teams from the State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA, as well as local and entity police. However, the ramifications of this attack spread far wider than the small northeastern border town of Zvornik.

Before the war broke out in Bosnia in 1992, an estimated 60 percent of Zvornik’s population was Bosniak. However, following years of ethnic cleansing and expulsion in the region, as well as a massacre of the town’s non-Serbian citizens by Serb paramilitary groups at the beginning of the Bosnian war in 1992, the ethnic demographic of the town is very different today. After the war, in 1995, Bosnia was divided into two politically autonomous regions: Republika Srpska (the Serbian dominated entity) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (primarily inhabited by Bosniaks, Bosnian Croatians, and Serbians). With both entity governments linked by a central government in the capital, Sarajevo.

Tensions between the two political entities have already been strained of late, as after six months of political wrangling, Bosnia and Herzegovina only just secured its State-level and Federation entity governments. In April, the leaders of Bosnia’s ruling parties finally approved new State and Federation entity governments, after months of political infighting, administrative problems, and procedural shortcomings had blocked the formation of new governments on multiple levels. Whilst the entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been politically strained, so have the populations, and a terrorist attack like the one in Zvornik has only served to cause greater concern over the threat of Islamic extremism emanating from the region. As such, the attack has reopened unhealed wounds of ethnic violence across the country and raised security concerns among Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs alike.

Roughly 40 percent of Bosnia’s population is Muslim and although Bosnia’s Muslim population is known to practice a moderate form of Islam, an influx in Bosnians traveling to Syria and Iraq to join “Islamic State” in recent years has raised concerns about Islamist extremists carrying out terrorist attacks on home soil. Unfortunately, the attack in Zvornik is not Bosnia’s first taste of Islamic extremism this year. Among other smaller incidents, Bosnia’s northern village of Gornja Maoca, in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is home to followers of the “radical Wahabbi” branch of Islam, recently made headlines and heightened fears of Islamic radicalization of Bosnia’s citizens. Earlier this year, images of the village displaying Islamic State (IS) flags and symbols caused national and regional unrest. Therefore, last week’s terrorist attack in Zvornik coupled with alarming possibilities of Islamic extremism in the country has strained relations between Bosnia’s entities. Moreover, it has not only heightened tensions in the country, but Bosnia and Herzegovina’s regional neighbors are well aware that it has dangerous potential to threaten ethnic relations in the region and indeed, the stability of the Western Balkans.

A week on from the terrorist attack in Zvornik, the ethnic and political tensions that were exasperated by the attack are beginning to give way to major security concerns. As the local, entity, and state police, institutions, and international experts consider ways to improve Bosnia and Herzegovina’s current security situation.

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Six UN Workers Killed in Somalia

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At least six United Nations workers killed in Somalia in an attack launched by al-Shabaab, just one day after the militant group killed three African Union (AU) troops.

Police officials have confirmed that at least six UN workers were killed in Somalia on Monday when a huge bomb placed by al-Shabaab militants destroyed a bus in the northeastern town of Garowe, the capital of the semi-autonomous Puntland region.

Somali police official Abdullahi Mohamed disclosed Monday “we have confirmed the death of six UN staff, including a foreign national,” adding “the bomb is believed to have been attached to the minibus and was detonated near the UN office.” While officials are currently carrying out an investigation into the attack, witnesses and security officials have suggested that the explosion may have come from a roadside bomb that was detonated as the minibus, which is used to transport staff from a guesthouse to the UN compound, was passing. Mr Mohamed has indicated, “investigations are still ongoing to establish how it happened but I can confirm you that the UN compound was not affected.”

The head of the UN in Somalia, Nick Kay, has condemned the attack, stating that he was “shocked and appalled by (the) loss of life.” Shortly after the attack, al-Shabaab insurgents claimed responsibility, stating that the UN is a “colonization force in Somalia.” The militant group has in the past targeted the UN. In December 2014, four people were killed when a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a UN convoy in the capital Mogadishu.

Monday’s attack comes a day after al-Shabaab militants killed three AU soldiers in southern Somalia.

African Union officials confirmed Monday that al-Shabaab militants killed three AU soldiers in Somalia on Sunday. AU envoy to Somalia Maman Sidikou condemned “the cowardly ambush” on a convoy of troops. The incident occurred Sunday as the convoy was travelling in the southern Lower Shabelle district, between the settlements of Lego and Balidogle.

Al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab confirmed that the militant group was responsible for the attack, adding that five AU soldiers had been killed and that several vehicles were destroyed. While he indicated that the soldiers were from Burundi, AU force officials have not released any details pertaining to the nationalities of the victims.

The latest attacks come as al-Shabaab militants on Saturday shot dead a lawmaker in the capital Mogadishu in what is the latest in a string of assassinations of politicians in the Horn of Africa nation. According to an al-Shabaab spokesman, Adan Haji Hussein, an MP in the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland, was killed in Mogadishu during a visit to the capital city. Abdulaziz Abu Musab confirmed “our commandos shot and killed Adan for being a member of the apostate administration,” warning “all MPs, whether they are regional or so-called national MPs, we will kill them.” Omar Dalha, a fellow MP, confirmed the death and has called on the government to investigate the murder.

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2014: The Year Cyber Danger Doubled

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As reported by ASIS 30 December, 2014

Former Michigan CISO Dan Lohrmann says 2014 saw cyber danger double, with ever more and larger cyberattacks, greater investments in cybersecurity, and growing public awareness of cyberthreats. Although 2013 was already a huge year for cyber issues, including the Edward Snowden leaks and the Target data breach, the big cybersecurity stories simply kept coming in 2014. Lorhmann points to numerous doublings in this realm, from reports at the costs of data breaches have doubled, military spending on cyber defense doubling, the number of cyber insurance policies doubling, and so forth. The government has been hit repeatedly, with the hack of the U.S. Postal Service only the most prominent such event occurring this year. Surveys show growing awareness of cybersecurity among the public, with a recent Gallup poll finding that having a phone or computer is now the second most-feared crime in America. All of the cyber news in 2014 came to a head with the Sony hack at the end of November, arguably the biggest cybersecurity story ever, which has grown from a leak of embarrassing emails and business secrets into an issue of national security and national pride. Lohrmann says the attention paid to cybersecurity will only increase in 2015, even as the Internet of Things and continuing trends such as cloud computing and mobile security continue to generate new threats and areas of concern……

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