The New York City metropolitan area has long been on high alert for potential terrorist threats. These concerns have further increased over the past several days after terrorist attacks in Manhattan and New Jersey. The situation began on September 17 when an explosion occurred around 9:30am in Seaside Park, New Jersey. The bomb was planted near the route for the Seaside Semper Five run event, an event intended to help U.S. military veterans. The explosion did not cause any injury due to the race start being postponed after a suspicious package was noticed. An extensive search by police discovered two other pipe bomb-like explosives near the race route. Both devices failed to explode, however the race was cancelled due to security concerns. At around 8pm on September 18, 2 homeless men found a suspicious package in a garbage container near Elizabeth train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The men contacted local police, who called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and New Jersey State Police. Police robots opened the package and discovered 2 pipe bombs, 1 of which exploded destroying the closest robot. The second pipe bomb did not explode and the police disabled it later that evening.
The New York City bombing occurred on the evening of September 17 in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood at around 8:30pm. In that attack, 29 people were injured, with 24 of those requiring hospitalization. Several hours later and only 4 blocks away, a second device was discovered by New York State Police. A New York Police Department robot later moved the device to an NYPD facility where it was detonated in a controlled explosion. No one was injured by the second device in Manhattan.
On the evening of September 17, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the Manhattan explosion was intentional. Later reports made it clear that the explosion was being classified as a terrorist attack. Law enforcement investigators later found CCTV footage that showed a bearded man planting both improvised explosive devices in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood. On September 19, the FBI announced that the man in the footage had been identified as a 28 year-old naturalized U.S. citizen (originally born in Afghanistan) named Ahmad Khan Rahami. The FBI revealed that Rahami was linked with all the devices found in New York City and New Jersey. He had reportedly worked and lived in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Shortly after the announcement, New York City’s Mayor issued a mass emergency alert to cellphone users in New York City and surrounding areas. Rahami was captured in Linden, New Jersey have a multi-agency police operation. During the exchange of gunfire, Rahami was shot in the shoulder and one police offer received a hand injury. Rahami’s exact motivations have not been publically released, but he is now considered the only suspect in the bombings. Rahami was hospitalized and has since been charged with attempted murder and possession of an illegal firearm.
Reflecting the heightened worries about terrorism, New York City has increased its security precautions. 1000 National Guardsmen and New York State Police troopers would be deployed in public areas throughout the city to encourage public confidence. The mass text message alert issued by NYC’s mayor also stands as one of the largest public safety alerts issued through the United States emergency wireless broadcasting system. A great deal of information remains to be publicly released, including whether other people had knowledge of the plot. This includes conflicting reports regarding 5 people arrested by the NYPD on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn on September 18. None of those individuals have yet be formally charged.
According to CIA Director John Brennan, the efforts of the US-led coalition that is fighting the so-called Islamic State (IS) group have failed to reduce its ability to carry out militant attacks.
Speaking to the Senate intelligence committee, in an update on the threat from extremists, Mr Brennan told the hearing that the group remains “formidable” despite territorial losses. He stated, “unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL (Islamic State) on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach.” He indicated that he estimates that IS now has more fighters than al-Qaeda when that militant group was at its strongest, adding that there are as many as 22,000 IS fighters operating in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. He also indicated that the CIA is particularly concerned about the growth of Libya as an IS base.
While Mr Brennan indicated that the US-led coalition had made progress against IS, the group has “a large cadre of Western fighter who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West,” warning that “to compensate for territorial losses, ISIL will probably rely more on guerrilla tactics, including high-profile attacks outside territory it holds.”
Mr Brennan’s appearance comes just days after the attack on a gay nightclub in Florida. The gunman, Omar Mateen, had pledged allegiance to IS, however Mr Brennan told the hearing that the CIA had not uncovered any direct link between Mateen and foreign militant groups.
On 18 May, the office of the US National Intelligence Director James Clapper disclosed that US Presidential campaigns and related organizations have been targeted by hackers. His office however did not provide details on specific intrusions.
In a statement, Mr Clapper’s spokesman, Brain Hale, disclosed that “we’re aware that campaigns and related organizations and individuals are targeted by actors with a variety of motivations – from philosophical differences to espionage – and capabilities – from defacements to intrusions.” He deferred to the FBI for details on specific incidents. Earlier, Clapper had disclosed that the US intelligence community had “already had some indications” of hacking attempts against presidential candidates. At a morning event at the Bipartisan Policy Centre in Washington, Clapper stated that “as the campaign intensifies we’ll probably have more” attacks.
The last two US presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 witnesses a barrage of cyber attacks from a range of adversaries targeting President Barack Obama’s campaign and the campaigns of his Republican rivals. US intelligence officials have disclosed that many of the previous assaults were linked to Chinese hackers.
On Monday, United States Secretary of State John Kerry defended the capture of an alleged al-Qaeda leader who was apprehended on Saturday during two raids that were carried out by US commandos in Libya and Somalia. The US Secretary of State has indicated that the operations in Libya and Somalia showed that the US would never stop “in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror.”
On Saturday, the Pentagon confirmed that US commandos captured an alleged al-Qaeda leader, Anas al-Libi, who has been suspected of masterminding the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa. His capture was confirmed by his son, Abdullah al-Raghie, who stated that his father was seized by masked gunmen in Tripoli early on Saturday as he was parking outside his house after returning from morning prayers. He has claimed that the Libyan government was implicated in his father’s disappearance, however officials in Tripoli have denied any involvement.
Amidst calls by officials in Libya on Sunday to receive an explanation pertaining to the special forces raid on its territory, US Secretary of State John Kerry defended the capture, stating on Monday that Anas al-Libi was a “legal and appropriate target.” Speaking to the media on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Indonesia, the Secretary of State further noted that “with respect to Anas al-Libi, he is a key al-Qaeda figure, and he is a legal and an appropriate target for the US military.” When questioned whether the United States had informed Libya prior to the raid, Kerry refused to confirm or deny, stating only that “we don’t get into the specifics of our communications with a foreign government on any kind of operation of this kind.” The operation to capture Libi has drawn fury from the Libyan government, which has since stated that the operation was unauthorized and that Libi had been kidnapped. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s office has also stated that the Prime Minister has requested full clarification on the raid, stressing that Libya was “keen on prosecuting any Libyan citizen inside Libya.”
According to sources, Anas al-Libi, 49 and whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, was married with a daughter and three sons, one of whom was killed in a battle with pro-Kadhafi forces when the rebels entered Tripoli in October 2011. Libi, a computer specialist, left Libya during the early 1990’s when Kadhafi was cracking down on Islamist groups. During that time, Libi joined Bin Laden’s terror organization in Sudan and would later follow the group to Afghanistan before securing political asylum in Britain in 2000. He is believed to have been one of the masterminds behind the 1998 US embassy attacks, which killed more than 200 people in Kenya and Tanzania. On 7 August 1998, a car bomb explosion outside the American embassy in Nairobi killed 213 people, and wounded 5,000. Almost simultaneously, a truck laden with explosives detonated outside the US mission in Tanzania, killed 11 people and leaving another 70 wounded. Al-Qaeda later claimed responsibility for both attacks. When a US court indicted him in connection with the bombings, he fled to Pakistan. Sources have indicated that he returned to Libya shortly after the outbreak of the revolt against Kadhafi, and probably would have fought against the rebels who ousted the longtime dictator.
Libi has been on the FBI’s most wanted list for more than a decade with a US $5 million (£3.1 m) bounty on his head. The raid to capture him came as Western Intelligence agencies increasingly feared that he had been tasked with forming an al-Qaeda network in Libya. According to a US official, shortly after the raid, Libi was taken to a US Navy warship in the region, where he was being questioned. This was confirmed by the Pentagon, which stated that he was being “lawfully detained under the law of war in a secure location” outside Libya. The operation in Tripoli ended a thirteen-year manhunt for Libi who was one of the last remaining high-level operatives from the core terror network that was established by bin Laden in the 1990‘s. His arrest paves the way for his extradition to New York to face trial.
With authorities and officials in Libya insisting that they were unaware of the US operation, the capture of the senior al-Qaeda militant is definitely an embarrassment for the fledgling government and could result in outrage amongst the country’s Islamist extremists. While authorities in Libya have been struggling to assert control over the countless numbers of militias that emerged during the 2011 uprising against Moamer Kadhafi, many militias have refused to disarm and effectively now control large portions of the country. Some of the militias in question include hardline Islamists who have accused the post-Kadhafi government of being too close to the West. In turn, reactions to his capture in Libya have been mixed, effectively demonstrating the divide in the country amongst Islamists and their secular opponents.
While the operation in Libya achieved its objective, it remains unclear whether the raid on a beachfront villa in southern Somalia was a success.
On Saturday, US commandos carried out an operation to capture one of the leaders of al-Shabaab however unconfirmed reports have indicated that SEAL commandos were forced to withdraw before confirming the kill. Reports have indicated that the mission was aborted after the commandos encountered fierce resistance from al-Shabaab fighters. The operation, which was carried out by members of SEAL Team Six, the same unit that killed Osama Bin Laden, occured Barawe, which is located 180 kilometers (110 miles) south of the capital city of Mogadishu. A US official has identified the militant as Ikrima, a Kenyan of Somali origin, however Washington has yet to formally name the intended target. When asked on Sunday as to whether officials in Somalia had been aware of the raid, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid stated that “our co-operation with international partners on fighting against terrorism is not a secret.”
In response to the raid, an al-Shabaab military operations spokesman, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a fighter was killed during the raid. Al-Shabaab’s commander in the southern Somali port of Barawe, Mohamed Abu Suleiman, also noted that “the enemy of Allah tried to surprise the mujahedeen commanders with a night attack using a military helicopter, but they were taught a lesson and they have failed.” Residents of Barawe reported they were woken by heavy gunfire before dawn prayers and some of them saw commandos, presumed to be from a Western nation, rappelling from a helicopter and attempting to storm a house belonging to a senior al-Shabaab commander. Local media has also reported that two helicopters were involved in the raid. By Saturday morning, residents reported that al-Shabaab militants were heavily deployed on the streets of the town.
The raid comes shortly after al-Shabaab confirmed that it had carried out last month’s attack on the Westgate shopping centre in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, leaving at least sixty-seven people dead. Sources have indicated that while Ikrimah was not linked to that attack, the raid has prompted fears that the target could be planning a similar assault on other Western targets in the region.
Multiple nations currently operation Special Forces in the wider Horn of Africa region, and many have carried out similar missions in the past. In recent years, both US and French Special Forces have carried out raids on coastal targets in Somalia. Last year, US Navy Seals flying at least six military helicopters carried out an operation to rescue two aid workers held by pirates in northern Somalia. Washington has also used drones in Somalia to support the local government and African Union (AU) forces in their battle against al-Shabaab militants. And earlier this year, France carried out an unsuccessful raid to free a French intelligence agent. On 12 January, elite French forces carried out an overnight operation, involving some fifty troops and at least five helicopters, in southern Somalia. Two French commandos were killed and al-Shabaab later reported that it had killed the agent. With minimal information being released pertaining to Saturday’s raid, it currently remains unclear whether either of these countries was involved. Furthermore, Western navies are present in the region, patrolling the seas off Somalia, which has been beset by conflict for more than two decades. While they have been tasked with fighting piracy, in 2009, US Navy commandos attacked and killed an al-Qaeda leader, Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Nabhan, during a daylight raid on Barawe.