FILE PHOTO: A man purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi making what would have been his first public appearance, at a mosque in the centre of Iraq’s second city, Mosul, according to a video recording posted on the Internet on… REUTERS/Social Media Website via Reuters TV/File Photo
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday it was checking information that a Russian air strike near the Syrian city of Raqqa may have killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in late May.
The air strike was launched after the Russian forces in Syria received intelligence that a meeting of Islamic State leaders was being planned, the ministry said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
“On May 28, after drones were used to confirm the information on the place and time of the meeting of IS leaders, between 00:35 and 00:45, Russian air forces launched a strike on the command point where the leaders were located,” the statement said.
“According to the information which is now being checked via various channels, also present at the meeting was Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was eliminated as a result of the strike,” the ministry said.
The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State said it could not confirm the Russian report that Baghdadi may have been killed.
The strike is believed to have killed several other senior leaders of the group, as well as around 30 field commanders and up to 300 of their personal guards, the Russian defense ministry statement said.
The IS leaders had gathered at the command center, in a southern suburb of Raqqa, to discuss possible routes for the militants’ retreat from the city, the statement said.
The United States was informed in advance about the place and time of the strike, the Russian military said.
Islamic State fighters are close to defeat in the twin capitals of the group’s territory, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.
Russian forces support the Syrian government which is fighting against Islamic State mainly from the west, while a U.S.-led coalition supports Iraqi government forces fighting against Islamic State from the east.
The last public video footage of Baghdadi shows him dressed in black clerical robes declaring his caliphate from the pulpit of Mosul’s medieval Grand al-Nuri mosque back in 2014.
Born Ibrahim al-Samarrai, Baghdadi is a 46-year-old Iraqi who broke away from al Qaeda in 2013, two years after the capture and killing of the group’s leader Osama bin Laden.
Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, cast doubt on the report Baghdadi may have been killed. He said that according to his information, Baghdadi was located in another part of Syria at the end of May.
“The information is that as of the end of last month Baghdadi was in Deir al-Zor, in the area between Deir al-Zor and Iraq, in Syrian territory,” he said by phone.
Questioning what Baghdadi would have been doing in that location, he said: “Is it reasonable that Baghdadi would put himself between a rock and a hard place of the (U.S.-led) coalition and Russia?” — By Dmitry Solovyov | MOSCOW
(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in MOSCOW and Tom Perry in BEIRUT; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov and Christian Lowe; Editing by)
Hackers hit U.S., Russian banks in ATM robbery scam: report
FILE PHOTO: A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin May 21, 2013. CREDIT: REUTERS/PAWEL KOPCZYNSKI
FRANKFURT (Reuters) – A previously undetected group of Russian-language hackers silently stole nearly $10 million from at least 18 mostly U.S. and Russian banks in recent years by targeting interbank transfer systems, a Moscow-based security firm said on Monday.
Group-IB warned that the attacks, which began 18 months ago and allow money to be stolen from banks’ automated teller machines (ATMs), appear to be ongoing and that banks in Latin America could be targeted next.
The first attack occurred in the spring of 2016 against banks in First Data’s (FDC.N) “STAR” network, the largest U.S. bank messaging system connecting ATMs at more than 5,000 organizations, Group-IB researchers said in a 36-page report.
In a statement, First Data said that a number of small financial institutions operating on the STAR network had had their credentials breached for administering debit cards earlier in 2016, leading First Data to implement new mandatory security controls. It said the STAR network was never itself breached.
The firm said it was continuing to investigate a number of incidents where hackers studied how to make money transfers through the SWIFT banking system, while stopping short of saying whether any such attacks had been carried out successfully.
SWIFT said in October that hackers were still targeting its interbank messaging system, but security controls instituted after last year’s $81 million heist at Bangladesh’s central bank had thwarted many of those attempts. (reut.rs/2z1b7Bo)
Group-IB has dubbed the hacker group “MoneyTaker” after the name of software it used to hijack payment orders to then cash out funds through a network of low-level “money mules” who were hired to pick up money from automated teller machines.
The security researchers said they had identified 18 banks who were hit including 15 across 10 states in the United States, two in Russia and one in Britain. Beside banks, financial software firms and one law firm were targeted.
The average amount of money stolen in each of 14 U.S. ATM heists was $500,000 per incident. Losses in Russia averaged $1.2 million per incident, but one bank there managed to catch the attack and return some of the stolen funds, Group-IB said.
Hackers also stole documentation for OceanSystems’ Fed Link transfer system used by 200 banks in Latin America and the United States, it said. In addition, they successfully attacked the Russian interbank messaging system known as AW CRB.
Once hackers penetrated targeted banks and financial organizations, they stole internal bank documentation in order to mount future ATM attacks, Group-IB said. In Russia, the hackers continued to spy on bank networks after break-ins, while at least one U.S. bank had documents robbed twice, it said.
Group-IB said it had notified Interpol and Europol in order to assist in law enforcement investigations.
The unidentified hackers used a mix of constantly changing tools and tactics to bypass anti-virus and other traditional security software while being careful to eliminate traces of their operations, helping them to go largely unnoticed. To disguise their moves, hackers used security certificates from brands such as Bank of America, the Fed, Microsoft and Yahoo.
Reporting by Eric Auchard; editing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones
Afghan Taliban warns Trump against sending in more troops
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011.
KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban told U.S. President Donald Trump in an open letter on Tuesday that the military situation in Afghanistan was “far worse than you realize”, and sending in more troops would be self-destructive.
A senior Taliban official told Reuters the rare decision to address Trump directly was timed to coincide with the president’s deliberations on the future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan.
“Previous experiences have shown that sending more troops to Afghanistan will not result in anything other than further destruction of American military and economical might,” the Taliban said in the lengthy English-language letter.
It criticized the Afghan government as “stooges”, “lying, corrupt leaders” and “repulsive sellouts” who were providing Washington with “rosy pictures” of the military position.
The Taliban, seeking to restore Islamic rule, has waged an increasingly violent insurgency against the Western-backed Afghan government since losing power in a U.S.-led invasion after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. Those attacks were planned by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden from a base in Afghanistan.
“The war situation in Afghanistan is far worse than you realize!” the letter said, arguing that the only thing preventing the Taliban from seizing major cities was a fear of causing civilian casualties.
The senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, has requested several thousand additional troops to act as advisers to the struggling Afghan security forces. Influential voices including Republican Senator John McCain have also urged an “enduring” U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
But such plans have faced scepticism in the White House, where Trump and several top aides have criticized years of American military intervention and foreign aid.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Monday that the Trump administration was “very, very close” to a decision on Afghanistan, adding that all options were on the table. However, U.S officials believe it could take weeks for a South Asia strategy to be approved.
“We have noticed that you have understood the errors of your predecessors and have resolved to thoroughly rethink your new strategy in Afghanistan,” the Taliban told Trump.
“A number of warmongering congressmen and generals in Afghanistan are pressing you to protract the war in Afghanistan because they seek to preserve their military privileges.”
Some Taliban leaders disagreed with publishing the letter as they believe the group is close to being able to end the war on its own terms, while the “Americans are no longer in a position to fight this never-ending war,” one Taliban official said.
The first official said the Taliban was open to “discuss all issues with the United States for bringing peace to Afghanistan” if American troops are withdrawn.
“Everyone now understands that the main driver of war in Afghanistan is foreign occupation,” the Taliban letter said.
“The Afghans have no ill-intention toward the Americans or any other nation around the world but if anyone violates their sanctums then they are mighty proficient at beating and defeating the transgressors.”
(This story has been refiled to change second byline)
Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Mark Trevelyan
Senators want Congress to OK military action in Syria
FILE PHOTO – U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017. Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via… REUTERS
U.S. senators called on Congress on Tuesday to take back its authority to determine whether the country goes to war, saying recent U.S. strikes in Syria were not covered by existing authorizations for the use of military force.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has begun considering legislation that would cover military action in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and Yemen against the Islamic State, al Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups.
“I have always believed that it’s important for Congress to exercise its constitutional role to authorize the use of force,” the committee’s chairman, Republican Senator Bob Corker, told a hearing on Tuesday.
As President Donald Trump has ordered stepped-up military activity in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere, members of Congress also want Trump to present a strategy for defeating Islamic State and other militant groups.
“It’s difficult for us to carry out our responsibility unless we know what the commander in chief needs,” Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s top Democrat, said.
The Trump administration, like former President Barack Obama’s, has been using a 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al Qaeda passed after the Sept. 11 attacks as the legal basis for a wide range of military action since.
Although there is bipartisan support for Congress to debate and vote on a new AUMF introduced by Republican Senator Jeff Flake and Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, the measure faces stiff opposition.
Lawmakers have introduced war authorizations repeatedly in the past several years. But they have failed to advance amid sharp divisions in Congress over whether, or how, to limit commanders’ use of military resources.
Many war-weary members of Congress also do not want to vote for anything that might become a foreign military quagmire consuming taxpayer dollars or leading to widespread U.S. casualties.
Trump has ordered stepped-up military operations against Islamic State and delegated more authority to his generals. U.S.-led forces said on Tuesday they had shot down an armed “pro-Syrian regime” drone near the border between Iraq and Syria. A U.S. warplane shot down a Syrian army jet over Syria on Sunday.
Democratic Senator Tom Udall voted for the 2001 authorization while he was a member of the House of Representatives. “I would have never imagined that vote supporting U.S. troops in Syria in 2017 and engagements with the Assad regime,” he said. — By Patricia Zengerle | WASHINGTON
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)