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History > 2016 > USA > International > Global terrorism (I)




Rob Rogers


March 25, 2016















Turning Words

Into a Nuclear-Free Reality


MAY 27, 2016

The Opinion Pages | Editorial



“We come to ponder a terrible force,” President Obama said of his purpose in going to the Hiroshima memorial on Friday, the only sitting American president to do so in the 71 years since the United States dropped the first atomic bomb, killing 140,000 people. He mourned the victims and called for a global “moral awakening” on nuclear weapons. His message would have been all the more powerful had he also announced concrete plans for bringing the world a step closer to his nuclear-free vision.

Visits to war memorials are often fraught, and this one more than most. There were debates about whether Mr. Obama should go at all, whether he should meet survivors of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and whether he should apologize for America’s decision to drop the bombs, which ended World War II in the Pacific.

Mr. Obama made no apology and affirmed that Japan was responsible for the war, which “grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes.” That was important, given that Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has often sought to rewrite the history, portraying Japan as a victim of the war as well.

As for the future, Mr. Obama said it could be one in which “Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of our own moral awakening.” Reprising the soaring words of his 2009 speech in Prague, he declared, “We must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without” nuclear weapons, while acknowledging that it is unlikely to happen soon.

Mr. Obama made headway by concluding the 2010 New Start Treaty, which mandates cuts in the strategic nuclear warheads deployed by America and Russia, and by achieving the 2015 nuclear deal to keep Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. Beyond that, his vision has run aground. Much fault lies with Russia, which opposes more arms reduction; the Senate, which refuses to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; and Pakistan, which has blocked talks on a treaty to halt production of fissile material.

Yet Mr. Obama has undercut his own record with a $1 trillion program to rebuild the American nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years. A new Pentagon report shows that he has eliminated fewer nuclear weapons than any president since the end of the Cold War.

Neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Abe addressed Japan’s 47 tons of separated plutonium from its energy program. It could be used to make thousands of nuclear weapons, is a tempting terrorist target and raises the risk of a wider race to stockpile plutonium. South Korea and China, for instance, have expressed interest in acquiring reprocessing plants. A plan to end Japan’s reprocessing would have been a fitting achievement for the historic visit.

Other initiatives, like canceling America’s new air-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile, are still possible. Soaring words alone will not rid the world of nuclear weapons.


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A version of this editorial appears in print on May 28, 2016, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Turning Words Into a Nuclear-Free Reality.

Turning Words Into a Nuclear-Free Reality,
May 27, 2016,






The World Reaps What the Saudis Sow


MAY 27, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages | Editorial



Saudi Arabia has frustrated American policy makers for years. Ostensibly a critical ally, sheltered from its enemies by American arms and aid, the kingdom has spent untold millions promoting Wahhabism, the radical form of Sunni Islam that inspired the 9/11 hijackers and that now inflames the Islamic State.

The latest chapter in this long, sorrowful history involves tiny Kosovo. With a population of only 1.8 million people, Kosovo has sent more of its young people per capita than any other country to fight and die in Iraq and Syria. Since 2012, some 314 Kosovars have joined the Islamic State, including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children. Even Belgium, widely seen as a hotbed of extremism after the attacks on Paris and Brussels, lags behind it in the recruitment rankings.

As detailed by Carlotta Gall in a recent article in The Times, Kosovo is in this position largely because Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states have spent years developing and funding a network of imams, mosques and secretive associations there. And while there is no evidence that any group gave money directly and explicitly to persuade Kosovars to go to Syria, senior officials in Kosovo told Ms. Gall that extremist clerics and groups have spent heavily to promote radical Islamic thinking among young and vulnerable people. “The issue is they supported thinkers who promote violence and jihad in the name of protecting Islam,” Fatos Makolli, head of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police, told her.

The United States and NATO invested heavily in helping Kosovo gain independence from Serbia in 2008 and establish democracy. That Saudi Arabia should be using Kosovo as a breeding ground for extremists, or allowing it to be used as a breeding ground by any Saudi entity or citizen, is a cruel reminder of the contradictory and even duplicitous behavior of America’s partners in the Persian Gulf and helps to explain why its relationships with those countries have become increasingly troubled.

Kosovo, rescued from Serbian oppression after months of NATO bombing in 1999, has been known as a tolerant society. For centuries, the Muslim majority has followed the liberal Hanafi version of Islam, which is accepting of others. Since the war, that tradition has been threatened by Saudi-trained imams, their costs paid by Saudi-sponsored charities, preaching the primacy of Shariah law and fostering violent jihad and takfirism, which authorizes the killing of Muslims viewed as heretics.

Most Kosovars have resisted such proselytizing, and officials in Kosovo say that support for the United States and the West remains strong. Yet experts point to a number of reasons the country has been fertile ground for recruitment to radical ideology: a large population of young people living in rural poverty with little hope of jobs; corruption and an attendant lack of faith in government; and, according to a 2015 report by the Kosovar Center for Security Studies, an education system that does not encourage critical thinking.

It remains unclear why Kosovo’s government, as well as the United States and the United Nations officials who administered postwar Kosovo, did not act sooner. The Americans may have erred in assuming that Kosovo’s moderate religious community would prevent extremism from flourishing.

The 9/11 attacks quickly clarified the dangers. Several Saudi organizations in Kosovo were closed, and the Saudi government, which appears to have reduced its aid to Kosovo, now insists that it has imposed strict controls on charities, mosques and clerical teachings. Even so, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have increased funding for Islamic hard-liners in Kosovo.

The Sunni Arab states still do not seem to understand the extent to which extreme versions of Islam imperil them as well. Although the Saudi royal family relies on the Wahhabi clerics for their political legitimacy, the Islamic State accuses the monarchy of corrupting the faith to preserve its power. Since 2014, there have been 20 terrorist attacks in the kingdom, many staged by ISIS.

The Kosovo government, working with the United States, has acted to combat extremism by adopting new antiterror laws, cracking down on the money laundering that underwrites radical groups and stepping up police investigations. The flow of Kosovo’s citizens heading to fight with the Islamic State apparently has fallen to zero in the last seven months, while the number of Kosovars on the battlefield is down to 140.

Yet at least two radical imams continue to preach in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, and draw crowds of young men. Much work is still to be done to protect the independence and spirit of tolerance that Kosovo worked so hard to achieve.


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A version of this editorial appears in print on May 28, 2016, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: The World Reaps What the Saudis Sow.

The World Reaps What the Saudis Sow,
NYT, May 27, 2016,






What Happens After the Drone Strike?


MAY 25, 2016

The Opinion Pages



The United States has for years held off targeting senior Taliban leaders while they were inside Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, where Pakistan’s powerful army has long protected them. But President Obama crossed that line by authorizing the drone strike that killed the Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour on Saturday. Calling the killing “an important milestone,” Mr. Obama said he had acted because Mullah Mansour was preparing attacks on American targets in Afghanistan and had resisted peace talks.

The attack was a sign of American exasperation with Pakistan’s duplicitous game of working with Washington to combat terrorism while sheltering the Taliban and its even more hard-line partners in the Haqqani network. The Pakistanis have relied on the Taliban and the Haqqanis to protect their interests in Afghanistan and prevent India from increasing its influence there.

After Mullah Mansour replaced Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader who died in 2013, the Americans and Afghans expected that Pakistan’s security services would persuade him to help negotiate a political agreement with Afghanistan, which remains the only viable solution to the war. Mullah Mansour instead rejected peace talks and stepped up attacks on Afghan and American targets, enlarging the Taliban’s territorial control and further destabilizing Kabul’s dysfunctional government.

The fact that Mr. Obama has now ordered an attack in Baluchistan, rather than the border region where Pakistan has tolerated previous American operations, raises a big question: Does he intend to expand the American mission in Afghanistan, now focused on training and advising Afghan forces and ensuring that Al Qaeda cannot rebuild?

There are 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan, a number that is scheduled to drop to 5,500 by the end of the year. Military commanders appear likely to recommend against such a reduction. In Vietnam on Monday, Mr. Obama insisted that “we are not re-entering the day-to-day combat operations” that he declared an end to in 2014. But he is under pressure in Congress and elsewhere to significantly step up the fight. That would be a questionable choice for which he has not yet made a case.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

Mullah Mansour’s taxi was obliterated from the sky as he returned to Pakistan from Iran. News reports said he went there for medical treatment, but one expert told The Times that Iran has been quietly helping the Taliban for several years, as a hedge in case the militants regain power in Kabul.

Pakistan complained Monday that the strike had violated its sovereignty. But much like the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 in a Pakistani garrison town, the attack might not have been necessary had Pakistan cooperated in the first place and worked with the Americans to defeat the Taliban.

The killing is certain to worsen relations between Pakistan and America, which are already frayed. Other effects are less predictable. One hopeful possibility is that Taliban leaders will feel more threatened, making Mullah Mansour’s successor amenable to peacemaking. Conversely, the Taliban, which now suffers from internal divisions, could coalesce under a more ruthless leader. A third possibility is that it could lose fighters to the Islamic State. In any case, studies suggest that killing terrorist leaders usually does not mean an end to the violence.

The question to Mr. Obama is whether this killing is merely an end in itself or part of a strategy to drive Pakistan, America’s supposed ally, and Taliban leaders to the peace table.


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A version of this editorial appears in print on May 25, 2016, on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: What Happens After the Drone Strike?.

What Happens After the Drone Strike?,
NYT, May 25, 2016,






Scores Are Killed

as a Wave of Bombings

Bloodies Baghdad


MAY 11, 2016

The New York Times




BAGHDAD — In a burst of attacks recalling Iraq’s sectarian civil war, three bombings in three different neighborhoods of Baghdad killed more than 90 people on Wednesday and wounded scores more, the Iraqi authorities said.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the biggest attack, in a crowded food market in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in northern Baghdad. Explosives hidden in a parked pickup truck loaded with fruit and vegetables detonated around 10 a.m., killing at least 66 people and wounding 87 others.

The other two bombings were reported at a police checkpoint in the Kadhmiya neighborhood in northwest Baghdad, where 17 were killed, and at another police checkpoint in the Jamiya neighborhood in central Baghdad, where nine died.

Blood covered the ground at the market in Sadr City, with clothing and slippers, apparently from the victims, scattered throughout the market. At least 30 shops were damaged and as many as 20 cars were burned or destroyed.

The death toll from the attack rose steadily through the day. In the late afternoon, Hakim al-Zamili, the head of the Security and Defense Committee of the Iraqi Parliament, said the number of dead in the Sadr City attack could be as high as 95.

The market is especially busy in the morning. Witnesses said the man driving the truck that exploded had waited in a line of vehicles to enter the market. After parking, he left, and the vehicle exploded about five minutes later, according to Murtadha Ali, 55, who was in the area at the time.

Another witness, Ahmed Ali, 26, criticized the response by emergency workers. “The reaction of the ambulances was slow and weak,” he said.

Among the scores of victims were at least 14 women and 10 children, according to Iraqi officials.

The Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement circulated on social media accounts. The Sunni terrorist group, also known as ISIS, , ISIL or Daesh, has often aimed at Shiite communities — Sadr City is one of Iraq’s largest.

The office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denounced the attack, saying in a statement that “the latest explosions will not stop us from fighting Daesh.”

Iraqi forces, backed by airstrikes from the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State and by Shiite-dominated paramilitary forces, have regained some territory seized by the Islamic State in 2014. Those forces have been unable to stop the terrorist group from mounting attacks in the heart of Baghdad, however.

In February, Iraqi security forces announced plans to build a wall around Baghdad in an effort to prevent further attacks.

Iraq has been in a political crisis in recent months. On April 30, demonstrators stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone and occupied Parliament, demanding an end to sectarian quotas in politics, a fight against corruption and improved governance.

The protesters were mostly supporters of the powerful Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. Sadr City is named after his father, Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr.

After the explosion in Sadr City on Wednesday, protesters gathered there, chanting that they would not back down from their demands for change.

Mr. Zamili, the member of Parliament, lamented the government’s failure to protect citizens from terrorist attacks, saying it showed far more concern for protecting the Green Zone than for protecting innocent civilians in neighborhoods like Sadr City. The Green Zone is the government stronghold that is off limits to ordinary Iraqis.

An officer at the Kadhmiya police checkpoint, Ali Ahmed, said his shift had just ended and he and his fellow officers were heading to their barracks when he heard a loud explosion and saw a big fire at the checkpoint.

He said some of his colleagues had been killed and he saw the dead bodies of several civilians who were trapped in their cars at the checkpoint when the explosion occurred.

“Me and my colleagues began to carry the killed and injured, and the ambulances arrived to carry the killed and injured,” Mr. Ahmed said. “It was a terrible, shocking view, and I’m shocked and psychologically broken because of what happened.”

There have been two huge and deadly explosions in Sadr City since last summer. On Aug. 13, a truck bomb devastated a food market in the district. On Feb. 28, a pair of bombers attacked another market there. In both cases, dozens of people died and the Islamic State claimed responsibility.


A version of this article appears in print on May 12, 2016, on page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: Scores Killed as Bombings Bloody 3 Parts of Baghdad.

Scores Are Killed as a Wave of Bombings Bloodies Baghdad,
NYT, May 11, 2016,






15 Ambulances and Hundreds of Victims:

Kabul Attack Gives Service Grim Test


APRIL 20, 2016

The New York Times




KABUL, Afghanistan — Seven minutes after a truck bomb went off in the Afghan capital on Tuesday, the first teams from Kabul Ambulance Service reached the scene of devastation.

Right away, they knew the attack was bad, but not that it would turn out to be the deadliest in the Afghan capital in 15 years of war.

The teams radioed in the extent of the carnage, activating the small department’s contingency plan: All of its 15 vehicles and staff from across the city were dispatched to the bomb scene, behind the compound of an elite security force along the Kabul River.

Mechanics got behind the wheel and clerks took on nursing duties, ferrying the wounded to the city’s hospitals for hours.

“The doors of two ambulances came off the hinges because they were packed with too many wounded,” said Dr. Alem Asem, the ambulance service’s director.

On Wednesday, the Afghan government confirmed that the death toll was double what was initially reported. Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that 64 people had been killed and 347 were wounded.

The Afghan intelligence agency blamed the Haqqani network, a lethal arm of the Taliban behind some of the most complex urban attacks, for the bombing.

But questions have been raised about how the insurgents managed to take large amounts of explosives into the city, detonating a bomb behind the walls of an elite force that is supposed to protect the government’s top officials.

On Wednesday, the police had cordoned off the site of the bombing, which destroyed a large parking lot and the windows of Kabul’s largest mosque, as well as homes and shops. Not even military personnel were allowed through.

The assault has put more pressure on the dysfunctional coalition government, brokered by the United States after the 2014 election ended in a stalemate. The infighting between two former rivals, President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive, has created stagnation on almost every front. Even as insurgents have increased their attacks, the government still doesn’t have a confirmed intelligence chief and minister of defense, because Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah cannot agree.

“This attack isn’t the first, and it won’t be the last one either,” said Mohammad Omar Azizi, the Kabul provincial head for the Afghan spy agency, the National Directorate of Security.

To the 108 people who work for Kabul Ambulance Service, that is a warning to be prepared for the worst.

The department, created by the Norwegian Red Cross in 2003, was transferred to the Afghan government a few years ago. It runs a 24-hour call center, coordinating with five small substations across the crowded capital. On Tuesday, the entire Kabul Ambulance Service staff that was present rushed to the scene of the explosion, which occurred before 9 a.m., except for Dr. Asem, the director, as well as two guards and two workers who staffed the call center.

Even as the firefight between the security forces and militants holed up in the compound continued after the explosion, the service rushed victims — as many as 12 in a vehicle meant for one or two — to city hospitals.

“I swear bullets were landing, and we had to duck and rush a body to the ambulance,” said Muhammed Farooq, who has been a mechanic with the service for eight years. “The cars were full of blood.”

Altogether, Kabul Ambulance Service made 83 trips. (Police ambulances also arrived at the scene, underscoring the gravity of the situation.) The last of the wounded was taken to a hospital at 2 p.m., but several ambulances remained at the site until 4 p.m. in case more victims were pulled from the rubble.

For most of the day, “routine callers” from across the city were told no ambulances were available, Dr. Asem said.

By 4 p.m., all 15 ambulances were back at headquarters, and staff members were able to eat lunch, a humble bowl of rice topped with potato and chickpea curry. The ambulances were scrubbed down, the first-aid kits restocked, the fuel tanks refilled.

By 7:30 p.m., the vehicles returned to their substations across the city, ready for another day.


Follow Mujib Mashal on Twitter @MujMash

Ahmad Shakib contributed reporting.

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A version of this article appears in print on April 21, 2016,
on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline:
Deadly Blast in Kabul Sternly Tests Responders.

15 Ambulances and Hundreds of Victims:
Kabul Attack Gives Service Grim Test,
NYT, April 20, 2016,






Taliban Send Message

With Deadly Kabul Attack

as Fighting Season Begins


APRIL 19, 2016

The New York Times




KABUL, Afghanistan — Even in a year when violence across Afghanistan did not relent over the winter months, the Taliban marked the official start of the spring fighting season with a huge truck bomb in the heart of Kabul on Tuesday.

Beyond the all-too-familiar carnage — at least 30 dead and more than 300 wounded — it also sent a message: The Taliban can attack the capital at will, and they have no intention of engaging in peace talks despite reports of internal rifts.

The location of the bombing, near the compound of an elite force that provides protection to senior Afghan officials, also demonstrated how vulnerable the government remains.

The Taliban have stretched Afghan security forces thin throughout the country, with fighting raging across multiple provinces. But complex urban attacks remain crucial to the insurgency because they bring what even major battlefield gains in remote areas of the country cannot: headlines, and a disruption of daily life that increases pressure on a coalition government already struggling with infighting and stagnation.

Security forces in Kabul have been on high alert since the Taliban announced their annual spring offensive last week, amid reports that suicide bombers had entered the city and were planning attacks.
Site of Tuesday’s Blast

A car bomb exploded outside the offices of an elite security force that provides protection to senior government officials.

Directorate of Security for Dignitaries

As is often the case, most of the casualties in Tuesday’s assault were civilians, Afghan officials said. The United Nations, which recently said civilians had continued to suffer at record levels in the first quarter of this year, issued a strong denunciation of the attack.

“The use of high explosives in civilian populated areas, in circumstances almost certain to cause immense suffering to civilians, may amount to war crimes,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the secretary general’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s urban attacks follow a similar pattern: After a vehicle-borne explosion creates chaos, militants with weapons and suicide vests storm their target and engage the police or special forces.

Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said that on Tuesday a truck full of “probably hundreds of kilograms of explosives” had been detonated in a parking lot behind the compound of the Directorate of Security for Dignitaries. Mr. Sediqqi described the area destroyed as “vast.” (The explosion was so strong that it rattled windows across the city, including those at the presidential palace.)

Police officials said that a number of militants then entered the compound, engaging the guards and the police special forces who arrived to clear the area. But Gen. Abdul Rahman Rahimi, Kabul’s police chief, said that just one militant had entered the compound, and that he had been gunned down in less than half an hour.

Mr. Sediqqi said that 30 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the explosion, while health officials reported that 327 wounded had arrived at city hospitals. The number of casualties was expected to rise, Mr. Sediqqi said.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.

President Ashraf Ghani, who visited the wounded in hospitals on Tuesday, accused the Taliban of working for the enemies of his country. “Afghanistan remembers the day you had whips in your hands, killing people,” he said. “We will avenge every drop of the Afghan blood that is shed.”

Eyewitnesses described the mayhem after the attack, which took place during the early morning rush. One of the wounded, Sadiqullah, 25, said more than a dozen vehicles near him had been badly damaged, and their drivers and passengers injured or killed.

“I saw people lying on the road hopelessly — some screaming, others silently giving out their last breath and some already dead,” he said.

Mr. Sadiqullah, who runs a tea shop and who like many Afghans goes by one name, said the blast was “so strong that I felt it struck me or my shop personally.”

On a visit to the site of the attack, Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive of the Afghan government, said it showed “the depth of barbarity and terror of Afghanistan’s enemies.” He said the country’s defense and security forces had remained on alert because the Taliban had clearly rejected “our calls for peace.”

For much of the winter, the struggling coalition government tried to get the Taliban to participate in peace talks, in the hopes of avoiding another bloody year. At the heart of the effort was reaching out to the government and powerful military of Pakistan, elements of which are believed to be aiding the Taliban and providing its leadership with sanctuaries on Pakistani soil.

The outreach, which also involved the United States and China, created early optimism. A date for face-to-face talks was set for early March, with Pakistan promising to deliver Taliban leaders to the table.

But the Taliban rejected the talks, instead starting the spring offensive and intensifying attacks across the country. It became clear that the new leader of the insurgent movement, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, had no interest in discussions. He had used the winter months to consolidate his ranks, through a mix of brutal crackdowns on dissent and doling out new posts to discontented members of the group.

To protest Tuesday’s attack, Mr. Abdullah’s office said he would postpone a trip to Pakistan, believing that the attack was planned on its soil.



Follow Mujib Mashal on Twitter @MujMash.

Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting.

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A version of this article appears in print on April 20, 2016,
on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline:
Taliban Begin Fighting Season With an Attack in Kabul.

Taliban Send Message With Deadly Kabul Attack as Fighting Season Begins,
NYT, April 19, 2016,






The Day Horror Invaded the Park


MARCH 30, 2016

The New York Times



Lahore, Pakistan — A POLICE officer standing guard in front of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park on Tuesday morning glared when I asked him to recount Sunday’s events. Ushering me into the park, he said to see for myself.

On Sunday, hundreds of people — mostly families with children — had gathered at Gulshan-e-Iqbal, one of the city’s largest parks, to enjoy the Easter day and the temperate weather. Griffin Iqbal, his wife, Samia, and their sons, 6-year-old Max and 4-year-old Adan, headed over after their church service. The boys spent their pocket money on popcorn and ice cream from a stall near the blue fountain and a ride called Hilly Gilly.

Around 6:15 p.m., Mr. Iqbal told the children it was time to leave. Adan dropped to the ground and kicked his legs in protest. His father scooped him up, took Max’s hand and walked to the gate. They had barely stepped out of the park when their ears rang with a deafening explosion and the ground shook.

Fearing a stampede, Mr. Iqbal told people running toward the park that the machinery of one of the rides must have malfunctioned. “But my words were drowned by screams that issued from the park,” he said.

A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban called Jamaat-e-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 72 people, including dozens of children, and injured hundreds. The group said the target of its suicide bomber was the Christian minority, celebrating Easter. But when the city’s hospitals counted the dead, they found that more Muslims than Christians had been killed.

That terrible night, thousands thronged the corridors of four city hospitals seeking to donate blood to the victims. Some taxi services announced free rides for those who wanted to give blood, and a blood bank in Karachi offered to ship its supplies without charge. Anthony Permal, a Pakistani Christian blogger and marketing professional based in Dubai, tweeted: “Every drop of blood donated will mix with the blood of the injured. Muslims and Christians will share their bodies tonight.”

As grieving families walked to the Christian cemetery, Gora Kabristan, on Monday, bystanders stood in reverential silence. The general sentiment was that this was not an attack on Christians alone, but on all the residents of Lahore.

In a show of solidarity, Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, issued a ritual denunciation of terrorism in a nationally televised address. The army also began an offensive against the Taliban in the province of Punjab, of which Lahore is the capital.

Yet the psychological imprint of this attack will be etched deeply into the consciousness of the Christian minority, which makes up about 1.6 percent of the population. Over the years, Christians have been cowed into silence by their extremist persecutors — abetted by a government that has failed to protect them.

There is grief, yes, but where is the outrage? Aside from an official period of mourning, there will be no public display of grief, no collective act of commemoration by the city’s main churches. The Christian leadership’s statements of condemnation and consolation have come through government-approved channels like Pakistan’s Muslim Ulema Council. The Christians in Lahore are advised by the government to lie low and let the unwanted attention pass.

Rana Tanveer, a Lahore-based journalist who covers human rights, recalled his conversations with church leaders, most of whom generally refuse comment or won’t answer his calls. When they take you into their confidence, he told me, it is obvious that the community does not think it belongs here.

The only demonstration the churches have organized in recent years was to join the protests by Muslims against the American pastor Terry Jones, of Burn the Quran Day infamy. They did so in an effort to safeguard their community, Mr. Tanveer explained.

“Can we blame them? The entire system works to exclude them from every aspect of nationhood,” he said.

On Sunday, just hours before the bombing in Lahore, the streets of Islamabad, the capital, provided another frightening illustration of his point. An estimated 25,000 protesters gathered for the end of the period of mourning for Mumtaz Qadri, who was executed in February for the 2011 murder of Salman Taseer. Mr. Taseer was the governor of Punjab who had criticized Pakistan’s blasphemy law and spoke out against the conviction of a Christian woman named Asia Bibi for violating it. For this, Mr. Taseer was shot to death by his own bodyguard, Mr. Qadri.

Demanding, among other things, the execution of Ms. Bibi, the Qadri supporters left a trail of destruction as they stormed the “red zone,” a secure area supposed to protect government and embassy buildings. They burned a bus, ransacked a bus station, destroyed vehicles and surrounded the Parliament building before the army was called in. Such unimpeded violent expression of hatred shows how ineffective the government’s resolve to stamp out extremism has been.

Over the last decade, the government has promised many times to crack down on the extremists. But Sunday’s attack proves that safety, especially for minorities, is a luxury the state is failing to provide. The security at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park was nearly nonexistent.

On Tuesday, the site of the attack was cordoned off, but the blackened metal barrier of the Hilly Gilly ride and the scorched tiles of the fountain explained it all. The policeman guarding the park told me it was the ball bearings in the attacker’s vest that did the most damage, ripping though victims’ bodies.

“I cried later at home,” he said, now glaring at the ground. “This is the death of humanity.”


Sarah Eleazar is a writer and editor for The Express Tribune.

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A version of this op-ed appears in print on March 30, 2016,
on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline:
The Day Horror Invaded the Park.

The Day Horror Invaded the Park,
NYT, March 30, 2016,






How ISIS Built

the Machinery of Terror

Under Europe’s Gaze


MARCH 29, 2016

The New York Times



The day he left Syria with instructions to carry out a terrorist attack in France, Reda Hame, a 29-year-old computer technician from Paris, had been a member of the Islamic State for just over a week.

His French passport and his background in information technology made him an ideal recruit for a rapidly expanding group within ISIS that was dedicated to terrorizing Europe. Over just a few days, he was rushed to a park, shown how to fire an assault rifle, handed a grenade and told to hurl it at a human silhouette. His accelerated course included how to use an encryption program called TrueCrypt, the first step in a process intended to mask communications with his ISIS handler back in Syria.

The handler, code-named Dad, drove Mr. Hame to the Turkish border and sent him off with advice to pick an easy target, shoot as many civilians as possible and hold hostages until the security forces made a martyr of him.

“Be brave,” Dad said, embracing him.

Mr. Hame was sent out by a body inside the Islamic State that was obsessed with striking Europe for at least two years before the deadly assaults in Paris last November and in Brussels this month. In that time, the group dispatched a string of operatives trained in Syria, aiming to carry out small attacks meant to test and stretch Europe’s security apparatus even as the most deadly assaults were in the works, according to court proceedings, interrogation transcripts and records of European wiretaps obtained by The New York Times.

Officials now say the signs of this focused terrorist machine were readable in Europe as far back as early 2014. Yet local authorities repeatedly discounted each successive plot, describing them as isolated or random acts, the connection to the Islamic State either overlooked or played down.

“This didn’t all of a sudden pop up in the last six months,” said Michael T. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014. “They have been contemplating external attacks ever since the group moved into Syria in 2012.”

Mr. Hame was arrested in Paris last August, before he could strike, one of at least 21 trained operatives who succeeded in slipping back into Europe. Their interrogation records offer a window into the origins and evolution of an Islamic State branch responsible for killing hundreds of people in Paris, Brussels and beyond.

European officials now know that Dad, Mr. Hame’s handler, was none other than Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian operative who selected and trained fighters for plots in Europe and who returned himself to oversee the Paris attack, the deadliest terrorist strike on European soil in over a decade.

The people in Mr. Abaaoud’s external operations branch were also behind the Brussels attacks, as well as a foiled attack in a suburb of Paris last week, and others are urgently being sought, Belgian and French officials say.

“It’s a factory over there,” Mr. Hame warned his interlocutors from France’s intelligence service after his arrest. “They are doing everything possible to strike France, or else Europe.”


Missing the Connections

For much of 2012 and 2013, the jihadist group that eventually became the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, was putting down roots in Syria. Even as the group began aggressively recruiting foreigners, especially Europeans, policy makers in the United States and Europe continued to see it as a lower-profile branch of Al Qaeda that was mostly interested in gaining and governing territory.

One of the first clues that the Islamic State was getting into the business of international terrorism came at 12:10 p.m. on Jan. 3, 2014, when the Greek police pulled over a taxi in the town of Orestiada, less than four miles from the Turkish border. Inside was a 23-year-old French citizen named Ibrahim Boudina, who was returning from Syria. In his luggage, the officers found 1,500 euros, or almost $1,700, and a French document titled “How to Make Artisanal Bombs in the Name of Allah.”

But there was no warrant for his arrest in Europe, so the Greeks let him go, according to court records detailing the French investigation.

Mr. Boudina was already on France’s watch list, part of a cell of 22 men radicalized at a mosque in the resort city of Cannes. When French officials were notified about the Greek traffic stop, they were already wiretapping his friends and relatives. Several weeks later, Mr. Boudina’s mother received a call from a number in Syria. Before hanging up, the unknown caller informed her that her son had been “sent on a mission,” according to a partial transcript of the call.

The police set up a perimeter around the family’s apartment near Cannes, arresting Mr. Boudina on Feb. 11, 2014.

In a utility closet in the same building, they found three Red Bull soda cans filled with 600 grams of TATP, the temperamental peroxide-based explosive that would later be used to deadly effect in Paris and Brussels.

It was not until nearly two years later, on Page 278 of a 359-page sealed court filing, that investigators revealed an important detail: Mr. Boudina’s Facebook chats placed him in Syria in late 2013, at the scene of a major battle fought by a group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

According to a brief by France’s domestic intelligence agency, he was the first European citizen known to have traveled to Syria, joined the Islamic State and returned with the aim of committing terrorism. Yet his ties to the group were buried in French paperwork and went unconnected to later cases.

Including Mr. Boudina, at least 21 fighters trained by the Islamic State in Syria have been dispatched back to Europe with the intention of causing mass murder, according to a Times count based on records from France’s domestic intelligence agency. The fighters arrived in a steady trickle, returning alone or in pairs at the rate of one every two to three months throughout 2014 and the first part of 2015.

Like the killers in Paris and Brussels, all of these earlier operatives were French speakers — mostly French and Belgian citizens, alongside a handful of immigrants from former French colonies, including Morocco.

They were arrested in Italy, Spain, Belgium, France, Greece, Turkey and Lebanon with plans to attack Jewish businesses, police stations and a carnival parade. They tried to open fire on packed train cars and on church congregations. In their possession were box cutters and automatic weapons, walkie-talkies and disposable cellphones, as well as the chemicals to make TATP.

Most of them failed. And in each instance, officials failed to catch — or at least to flag to colleagues — the men’s ties to the nascent Islamic State.

In one of the highest-profile instances, Mehdi Nemmouche returned from Syria via Frankfurt and made his way by car to Brussels, where on May 24, 2014, he opened fire inside the Jewish Museum of Belgium, killing four people. Even when the police found a video in his possession, in which he claimed responsibility for the attack next to a flag bearing the words “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” Belgium’s deputy prosecutor, Ine Van Wymersch, dismissed any connection.

“He probably acted alone,” she told reporters at the time.

Though the degree to which the operatives were being directed by the Islamic State might have been unclear at first, a name began to appear in each successive investigation: Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian citizen who counterterrorism officials say rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant of the Islamic State’s external operations efforts.

In the months before the Jewish museum attack, Mr. Nemmouche’s phone records reveal that he made a 24-minute call to Mr. Abaaoud, according to a 55-page report by the French National Police’s antiterror unit in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

“All of the signals were there,” said Michael S. Smith II, a counterterrorism analyst whose firm, Kronos Advisory, began briefing the United States government in 2013 on ISIS’ aspirations to strike Europe. “For anyone paying attention, these signals became deafening by mid-2014.”

It was in the summer of 2014 that the link to the terrorist organization’s hierarchy became explicit.

On June 22 of that year, a 24-year-old French citizen named Faiz Bouchrane, who had trained in Syria, was smuggled into neighboring Lebanon. He was planning to blow himself up at a Shiite target, and during interrogation, he let slip the name of the man who had ordered him to carry out the operation: Abu Muhammad al-Adnani.

Mr. Adnani is the spokesman for ISIS and is considered one of its most senior members. Just a few days after Mr. Bouchrane checked into a budget hotel in Beirut, Mr. Adnani released an audio recording announcing the establishment of the caliphate.

“Adnani reportedly leads the external operations planning of the Islamic State,” said Matthew G. Olsen, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Intelligence officials in the United States and Europe have confirmed the broad outlines of the external operations unit: It is a distinct body inside ISIS, with its command-and-control structure answering to Mr. Adnani, who reports to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State.

The unit identifies recruits, provides training, hands out cash and arranges for the delivery of weapons once fighters are in position. Although the unit’s main focus has been Europe, external attacks directed by ISIS or those acting in its name have been even more deadly beyond Europe’s shores. At least 650 people have been killed in the group’s attacks on sites popular with Westerners, including in Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia, according to a Times analysis.

Within the hierarchy, Mr. Abaaoud was specifically tasked with mounting attacks in Europe, according to the French police report and intelligence brief.

“Abaaoud, known as Abou Omar, was the principal commander of future attacks in Europe,” Nicolas Moreau, a French jihadist who was arrested last year, told his French interrogators, according to the report by France’s antiterror police. “He was in charge of vetting the applications of future candidates.”


Pacing Attacks

In a 2014 audio recording, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, a spokesman for the Islamic State, called on Muslims everywhere to kill Europeans, “especially the spiteful and filthy French.”

In an audio recording released on Sept. 22, 2014, Mr. Adnani, the ISIS spokesman and chief of the external operations wing, addressed the West.

“We will strike you in your homeland,” he promised, calling on Muslims everywhere to kill Europeans, “especially the spiteful and filthy French.” And he urged them to do it in any manner they could: “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car,” he said, according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist propaganda.

In the months that followed, a man decapitated his employer near the French city of Lyon, sending a snapshot of the severed head to the Islamic State. Another man stormed a police station in Paris, carrying a butcher’s knife and a photocopy of the Islamic State’s flag.

These are among around two dozen plots linked to the Islamic State that were documented in the year after Mr. Adnani’s speech. In most, there were no direct operational ties back to Syria, but there were clear signs that the attacker had consumed the terrorist group’s propaganda online.

The low potency of these attacks, with single-digit death tolls, combined with the fact that many of the perpetrators had a history of mental illness, prompted analysts and officials to conclude that the Islamic State remained a distant second to Al Qaeda in its ability to carry out attacks on Western soil.

Experts now believe that the Islamic State was actually adopting a strategy first put forward by an earlier operations leader for Al Qaeda, who argued that the group would become obsolete if it worked only on 9/11-size plots that took months or years to mount. He instead called for Al Qaeda to also carry out a patter of small- and medium-size plots, and to use propaganda to inspire self-directed attacks by supporters overseas.

In a recent issue of its online magazine in French, Dar al-Islam, the Islamic State explained the approach, citing a study first published on the French security blog, kurultay.fr. “The Islamic State has deployed its resources to generate three types of terrorist attacks,” the study states, specifying that they include large-scale plots coordinated by the group’s leaders, down to “isolated actions of self-radicalized people, who have absolutely no direct contact with ISIS, and yet who will consciously act in its name.”

The same study says the group’s method for carrying out jihad in Europe involves an adaptation of Auftragstaktik, a combat doctrine within the German Army in the 19th century. Those tactical guidelines call for commanders to give subordinates a goal and a time frame in which to accomplish it, but otherwise to give them the freedom to execute it.

The Islamic State quotes the blog, explaining that the terror group adopted the system to give recruits “complete tactical autonomy,” with few fingerprints that could be tracked back to the group, and “no micromanaging.”


The Recruit Pipeline

By early 2015, the Islamic State’s external operations branch had personnel dedicated to spending their days in Internet cafes in Syria pumping out propaganda, aimed both at inciting lone-wolf attacks and at luring new recruits.

Among the people who took the bait was Reda Hame, the young technology professional from Paris, who later told investigators that he had joined in hope of fighting to bring down President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Instead, upon arriving in Syria in June 2015, he walked directly into the Islamic State’s pipeline for foreign attacks.

During his intake interview in Raqqa, Syria, in June 2015, the Islamic State administrator taking notes on a computer across from him expressed satisfaction when he learned that Mr. Hame was from Paris and had a background in technology, according to his lengthy account to France’s domestic intelligence agency, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure, or D.G.S.I. The details were recorded in more than 16 hours of questioning, according to a transcript obtained by The Times and first reported on by the French newspaper Le Monde.

Days later, a man wearing a mask called Mr. Hame outside, told him to lie down in the bed of a pickup truck and covered him with a tarp. He was warned to keep his eyes lowered and not to look out.

They drove at high speed, and when the truck stopped, a fighter speaking Arabic directed him to a sport utility vehicle idling nearby, its tinted windows obscuring its occupants. When Mr. Hame opened the door to the back seat, the driver said, “Monte devant,” French for “Get in the front.”

The driver, Mr. Hame said, was Mr. Abaaoud, by then considered the most wanted terrorist in Europe. As they drove through the Syrian countryside, the future architect of the Paris attacks explained to Mr. Hame that if he faced the enemies of Islam alone, he would receive double the reward in heaven.

“He asked me if I was interested in going abroad,” Mr. Hame told investigators. “He said to imagine a rock concert in a European country — if you were given a weapon, would you be ready to open fire on the crowd?”

When Mr. Hame reiterated that he wanted to fight the Assad government instead, Mr. Abaaoud became terse. “He said he would show me those wounded in the war and buildings that had been destroyed, so that I would realize how lucky I was to be sent back to France rather than stay to fight here,” Mr. Hame recounted.

Videos released by the Islamic State after the Paris attacks in November included footage of eight of the 10 attackers while they were still in territory the terrorist group controlled in Iraq and Syria. They announced that they were acting on the orders of Mr. Baghdadi, the caliph of the Islamic State, and then proceeded to shoot or behead a captive, most of them in grotesquely choreographed scenes shot against a desert backdrop, according to the footage archived by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Officials have deduced that the footage was filmed between February and September 2015, suggesting the Paris attacks were being planned months before they took place. It is now known that at the same time Mr. Abaaoud was laying the groundwork for the devastating plot, he was recruiting, cajoling and training Mr. Hame and others for smaller, quick-hit attacks.

The night they met, Mr. Abaaoud dropped off Mr. Hame at a house in Raqqa with a white gate, according to the transcript. He said he would come for Mr. Hame the next morning, and warned him that if he did not agree to the mission, his passport, which was about to expire, would be given to another recruit who would go to Europe in his place.

When Mr. Abaaoud returned the next day, his face was covered with a brown scarf with slits for his eyes. He wore a holstered handgun. “He told me that he was now going to explain the mission to me,” Mr. Hame said after his arrest, describing how the discussion occurred in the senior operative’s speeding vehicle. “He told me I didn’t have a lot of time; he said he was just waiting for the confirmation of his emir. I told him that I would go.”


Accelerated Training

Mr. Hame said his training began about a 30-minute drive from Raqqa, in a villa that acted as Mr. Abaaoud’s classroom. There, the senior operative demonstrated how to load a Kalashnikov rifle. When Mr. Hame tried, he jammed his thumb in the metal, hurting himself. Mr. Abaaoud made him repeat the exercise again and again.

The next day, Mr. Abaaoud drove Mr. Hame to a park covered in dry grass for target practice. Throughout the lesson, Mr. Abaaoud repeatedly lost his temper, annoyed by his recruit’s lack of skill.

“He yelled at me because when I was shooting in volleys, it went into the air,” Mr. Hame recounted. “He made me practice a lot, to the point that the grass caught fire.”

The instructor appeared even more on edge during the third and final day of Mr. Hame’s military training, when he drew a silhouette on the wall of an abandoned building and demonstrated how to throw a grenade. Inexperienced and struggling in the suffocating heat, Mr. Hame did not throw it far enough and was cut by shrapnel. Only when Mr. Abaaoud saw him bleeding did he relent, driving his student to a nearby clinic to be bandaged.

At night, Mr. Hame was dropped off at an apartment in Raqqa that appeared to be a dormitory for members of the external operations branch. One room served as an arsenal, with stacks of suicide belts, jugs of explosives, body armor and combat boots. The other recruits were also French speakers, including a man who said he had been training for eight months. He and Mr. Hame were told to team up by Mr. Abaaoud, who decided to send them back to Europe the same day.

They were among the many pawns that Mr. Abaaoud was positioning across the Continent.

If Mr. Hame was not handy with weapons, he had other qualities that were attractive to the Islamic State: He had a French passport and had worked as a computer technician for Astrium, a subsidiary of the French aeronautics giant Airbus. It was at least the second time that Mr. Abaaoud had chosen a fighter with information technology credentials: Sid Ahmed Ghlam, who was dispatched last April to attack churches in France, was in the second year of a five-year computer science program, according to news reports.

The final phase of Mr. Hame’s training took place at an Internet cafe in Raqqa, where an Islamic State computer specialist handed him a USB key. It contained CCleaner, a program used to erase a user’s online history on a given computer, as well as TrueCrypt, an encryption program that was widely available at the time and that experts say has not yet been cracked.

The external operations unit was on a drive to improve its operational security after months of embarrassing failures.


Working on Security

More than a year and a half earlier, the would-be Cannes bomber, Ibrahim Boudina, had tried to erase the previous three days of his search history, according to details in his court record, but the police were still able to recover it. They found that Mr. Boudina had been researching how to connect to the Internet via a secure tunnel and how to change his I.P. address.

Though he may have been aware of the risk of discovery, perhaps he was not worried enough.

Mr. Boudina had been sloppy enough to keep using his Facebook account, and his voluminous chat history allowed French officials to determine his allegiance to the Islamic State. Wiretaps of his friends and relatives, later detailed in French court records obtained by The Times and confirmed by security officials, further outlined his plot, which officials believe was going to target the annual carnival on the French Riviera.

Mr. Hame, in contrast, was given strict instructions on how to communicate. After he used TrueCrypt, he was to upload the encrypted message folder onto a Turkish commercial data storage site, from where it would be downloaded by his handler in Syria. He was told not to send it by email, most likely to avoid generating the metadata that records details like the point of origin and destination, even if the content of the missive is illegible. Mr. Hame described the website as “basically a dead inbox.”

The ISIS technician told Mr. Hame one more thing: As soon as he made it back to Europe, he needed to buy a second USB key, and transfer the encryption program to it. USB keys are encoded with serial numbers, so the process was not unlike a robber switching getaway cars.

“He told me to copy what was on the key and then throw it away,” Mr. Hame explained. “That’s what I did when I reached Prague.”

Mr. Abaaoud was also fixated on cellphone security. He jotted down the number of a Turkish phone that he said would be left in a building in Syria, but close enough to the border to catch the Turkish cell network, according to Mr. Hame’s account. Mr. Abaaoud apparently figured investigators would be more likely to track calls from Europe to Syrian phone numbers, and might overlook calls to a Turkish one.

Next to the number, Mr. Abaaoud scribbled “Dad.”

Mr. Hame was instructed to make his way back to Paris, employing an itinerary that mimicked the journey of a backpacker on a summer holiday: He was to travel to Istanbul and spend a few days wandering the streets of the tourist district around Taksim Square.

Then he was to fly to Prague and buy a Czech SIM card. He would again check into a hotel, pretend to be a tourist and leave quick missed calls on Mr. Abaaoud’s Turkish phone number. The record of the call would be Mr. Abaaoud’s notification of his trainee’s progress. Mr. Hame was expected to repeat the procedure for each leg of his journey, including in Amsterdam and then Brussels, before returning by train to Paris.

Once Islamic State leaders knew that Mr. Hame had made it home, they would use the encryption and the Turkish drop box to coordinate further instructions, he said.

The mission began on the morning of June 12, when Mr. Abaaoud drove Mr. Hame and a second recruit to the Turkish border. Both had USB keys with TrueCrypt, and each was handed €2,000, in €500 bills, Mr. Hame said. Both had the same general agenda — to hit a soft target in Europe — but they were instructed to take separate paths, with Mr. Hame returning to France while the second recruit was headed to Spain.

But Mr. Hame’s comrade was picked up after he flew to Spain, and under interrogation, he divulged Mr. Hame’s plan as well. After being notified, the French police tracked Mr. Hame to his mother’s apartment in Paris. Behind a couch, they found his USB stick from the Islamic State, and in his bag a piece of paper showing his login credentials for TrueCrypt. They arrested and began interrogating him last August, almost three months to the day before the worst terrorist attack in French history.

In many ways, it was another clear failure for the Islamic State’s operational security. Mr. Hame agreed to cooperate with investigators, and confirmed that the group was bent on attacking in Europe and was already interested in picking out a concert hall to strike.

Yet many aspects of the group’s security protocol were working. In the end, Mr. Hame had few specifics he could share with the authorities. He did not know the names or even the nationalities of the other operatives he had met; they had been introduced to him only by their aliases.

Two of Mr. Abaaoud’s other small plots around the same time did not go any better. Sid Ahmed Ghlam was ordered by Mr. Abaaoud to open fire on a church in Villejuif, south of Paris, according to the report by France’s antiterrorism police. Instead, he shot himself in the leg. Ayoub El Khazzani, the other attacker sent by Mr. Abaaoud, was tackled by passengers after his weapon jammed while he tried to open fire inside a high-speed Thalys train last August, officials said.

Though they failed, the thwarted plots kept counterterrorism officials stretched thin in the months before the November attacks in Paris.

“It served to put all of our agencies on edge,” said France’s chief antiterrorism judge, Marc Trévidic, who debriefed Mr. Hame, Mr. Ghlam and Mr. Khazzani before retiring last summer. “Just like a smoke screen, it allowed them to calmly prepare.”


A Signature Explosive

Among the clearest signs of the Islamic State’s growing capacity for terrorist attacks is its progress in making and deploying bombs containing triacetone triperoxide, or TATP.

The white explosive powder was found in the suicide belts of the Paris attackers and in the suitcases of the Brussels bombers, as well as in two other ISIS-led plots in 2014 and 2015.

Before ISIS, Al Qaeda repeatedly tried, but mostly failed, to deploy TATP bombs, starting in 2001 when Richard Reid tried to destroy an American Airlines flight by sneaking TATP onboard in the sole of his shoe. He was thwarted when the fuse failed to ignite.

TATP has become terrorists’ go-to explosive in Europe because the main ingredients, acetone and hydrogen peroxide, can be found in common household goods like nail polish remover and hair bleach, experts say.

But while the building blocks are easy to come by, TATP is difficult to make, because the ingredients are unstable once combined and can easily detonate if they are mishandled. Over at least two years, Islamic State operatives were working to get it right.

The three bombs found in Mr. Boudina’s building near Cannes in 2014 were beverage cans filled with the explosive powder and wrapped in black tape, according to the French court filing in the case.

Though he had successfully cooked the explosive, Mr. Boudina was still struggling to set it off. He had jammed a filament into a cavity in the body of each can, most likely to use as a crude fuse, investigators concluded. However, the online searches he had conducted on his laptop just before his arrest indicated that he did not know how to make the final component. He searched “how to make a remote detonator,” “detonation by cellphone,” and finally “where to buy firecrackers?”

By comparison, the team sent from Syria to carry out the Paris assaults in November had ironed out the final details.

Two months before those attacks, the man suspected of handling logistics for the assailants, Salah Abdeslam, stopped by a fireworks shop northeast of Paris to buy a mechanism used to detonate fireworks from a distance, according to the French prosecutor. The Firework Magician shop’s in-house lawyer, Frédéric Zajac, remembered little about the young man with a Belgian accent, except that “unlike other clients, he didn’t ask questions about how it all worked.”

Mr. Abdeslam is believed to be the only direct participant in the assaults to have survived, and he was arrested last week in Belgium after a continentwide manhunt.

The attackers he had been helping successfully detonated their suicide belts in seven locations in Paris, indicating that the group had mastered both how to mix the compound and how to set it off.

“To be able to assemble it safely, and to detonate it repeatedly, suggests a more organized effort,” said Michael Marks, a retired Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent who was the post-blast investigator on the Navy destroyer Cole. “It suggests a network.”

That network stretched like a web across Europe to at least a dozen other accomplices, including a cell holed up in an apartment in the Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek, where two other teams of Islamic State fighters prepared the bombs detonated last week in Brussels Airport and a metro station.

The overpowering odor that comes with refining and storing TATP was noticed by the building’s owner weeks before the bombings, Belgian officials said, but he did not report it until after the attacks.

While each of the explosive vests used in Paris in November had about a pound of finished TATP, the bombs used at the departure terminal of the airport and inside a subway car in Brussels are estimated to have weighed 30 to 60 pounds each, according to Claude Moniquet, a veteran of France’s intelligence service who now heads the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center.

That marked another level of achievement in making the explosive: The higher the volume of TATP, the more volatile it becomes.

The attacks last week could have been worse: Inside the attackers’ apartment were more of the precursor ingredients used to make the explosive — nearly 40 gallons of acetone and eight gallons of hydrogen peroxide — as well as a suitcase containing over 30 pounds of ready-to-go TATP, according to the Belgian police.

The one thing the attackers had not thought of was that the taxi they called to take them to the airport had room for only three suitcases, so they abandoned the fourth upstairs, Mr. Moniquet said.

Their taxi driver told the Belgian newspaper DH that the customers had refused to let him help them load the heavy bags, and that during the drive to the airport, they sat in tense silence.

The driver could not help but notice a strong odor wafting into the taxi from the sealed trunk.


Correction: April 5, 2016

An article last Tuesday about the ways in which the Islamic State built its terrorist machine to attack Europe referred incorrectly to information about its planning that the group posted on Dar al-Islam, its online French magazine. As the Islamic State noted in its post, the information came from a study first published on the French security blog kurultay.fr; it was not the Islamic State’s original explanation about its tactics in planning terrorist attacks.

Reporting was contributed by David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt from Washington, Laure Fourquet and Aurelien Breeden from Paris, Katrin Bennhold from London, Andrew Higgins from Brussels, and Runa Sandvik from New York. Alain Delaquérière and Karen Yourish contributed research.

A version of this article appears in print on March 29, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Long Before Brussels, ISIS Sent Terror Operatives to Europe.

How ISIS Built the Machinery of Terror Under Europe’s Gaze,
NYT, March 29, 2016,






Blast at a Crowded Park

in Lahore, Pakistan, Kills Dozens


MARCH 27, 2016

The New York Times



ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A suicide bomber set off a powerful blast close to a children’s swing set in a public park on Sunday evening in the eastern city of Lahore, killing at least 69 people and wounding around 300, rescue workers and officials said.

The blast occurred in a parking lot at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, one of the largest parks in Lahore, said Haider Ashraf, a senior police official in the city. The bomb was detonated within several feet of the swings in a park crowded with families on Easter.

Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the blast. Its spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said in a statement that Christians were the target.

It was the third bombing in Pakistan in this month alone, a reminder that even as the military has cracked down on extremists over the past two years, Islamist groups remain a potent threat.

The bombing came as large protests were held in other parts of the country to protest the execution in February of the man who murdered a secular politician five years ago. While public opinion has largely been galvanized by attacks on civilians by jihadists, particularly the killing of 150 people at a school in Peshawar in 2014, the protests are a sign that widespread sympathy remains for extremist groups in Pakistan.

The Jamaat-e-Ahrar spokesman, Mr. Ehsan, said the bombing “was also to give a message to government that it cannot deter us even in their stronghold, Lahore.” Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province, is the hometown of Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif; his younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, is the chief minister of the province.

Even though Pakistani officials rebutted the claim that Christians were the target, a large number of Christian families were in the park because of the Easter holiday, the local news media reported. The 67-acre park has walking paths, as well as rides for children.

As the country reeled from this latest spasm of violence, the civilian and military leadership huddled separately to deal with the precipitating sense of crisis. Prime Minister Sharif held a four-hour meeting with his top ministers while Gen. Raheel Sharif, the army chief, who is not related to the prime minister or his brother, directed intelligence agencies to investigate the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Victims described a scene of chaos and devastation soon after the blast.

“I was standing near the roller coaster when the blast occurred,” said a 10-year-old boy who gave his name as Usman Ghani, and who was being treated for minor injuries at Shaikh Zayed Hospital. “I saw fire afterward. There were a lot of people in the park. It was so crowded that people had to break the boundary wall near the gate to cross over and run away.”

“I wish I hadn’t brought my daughter to the park today,” said Kamran Bhatti, 34, a frequent visitor to the park. “This is the only recreation we can afford for her. What is her fault?”

He continued: “While we were running out of the park, my daughter slipped and rolled over. She’s injured, but I thank my God that we are not crying for a lost child.”

His daughter, 7, was being treated for an injury to her leg at Jinnah Hospital on Sunday night.

Yousaf Masih, 50, who said he is Christian, said: “We came to the park after the Easter church services. We brought our food basket along with us, and like the usual outing on our festivals, we were spending our day.”

“There was a lot of rush due to Easter,” Mr. Masih said, adding that “a majority” of the people in that area of the park were Christian. “My children were playing cricket when we heard a huge blast on the main gate of the park. It was mayhem. Everyone was running for their lives. On our way out, we saw the body of the suicide bomber in the parking area.”

Others said security at the park was lax.

“There was no security, as such, at the gates,” said Azhar Shah, 23, a student. “The guard sitting at the main gate was not checking anyone.”

Mr. Ashraf, the police official, said of the park: “It was a soft target. Innocent women and children and visitors from other cities have been targeted.”

The State Department condemned the attack. “Attacks like these only deepen our shared resolve to defeat terrorism around the world, and we will continue to work with our partners in Pakistan and across the region to combat the threat of terrorism,” it said in a statement.

The explosion coincided with violence in other parts of the country as hundreds of protesters took to the streets to condemn the Feb. 29 execution of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri for the 2011 killing of a governor, Salmaan Taseer. Mr. Taseer had campaigned for changes in the country’s blasphemy laws, saying they were used to persecute religious minorities, but to many in Pakistan, the idea of altering the country’s blasphemy laws is itself criminal, and Mr. Qadri has become a revered figure to his supporters.

Protesters clashed throughout the day with police officers in Islamabad, the country’s capital, marching on the main avenues of the city and trying to force their way into the city’s “red zone,” a high-security area that includes the Parliament, the Supreme Court and many diplomatic missions. They set several vehicles, including a fire truck, on fire and damaged public property. The police used tear gas to disperse the protesters, but appeared to be overwhelmed by their numbers. Army troops were called in to secure government buildings.

Pakistan has been shaken by a series of attacks this year. A suicide attack on a court in Peshawar was carried out early this month in retribution for Mr. Qadri’s execution, killing 16. The attack was also claimed by Jamaat-e-Ahrar. Also this month, a bomb left on a bus carrying government employees in Peshawar killed 14.

A state of emergency was imposed on hospitals in Lahore after Sunday’s blast. Private television networks broadcast images of rescue workers and ambulances rushing to the park and ferrying victims to hospitals. Distraught relatives milled about in hospital corridors as the wounded were treated.

“There was no prior intelligence report about the attack,” Muhammad Usman, the district coordination officer in Lahore, told reporters.

Mr. Usman also rebutted early reports that Christians had been targeted in the blast. “The park belongs to all,” he was quoted as saying.

Mr. Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, announced a three-day period of mourning in the province.


Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributed reporting from Islamabad, and Daniyal Hassan and Naila Inayat from Lahore, Pakistan.

A version of this article appears in print on March 28, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
Blast Kills Scores at Crowded Park in Pakistan.

Blast at a Crowded Park in Lahore, Pakistan, Kills Dozens,
NYT, March 27, 2016,






Strikes Claimed by ISIS Shut Brussels

and Shake European Security


MARCH 22, 2016





BRUSSELS — Bombs packed with nails terrorized Brussels on Tuesday in the deadliest assault on the European heartland since the Islamic State’s attacks on Paris four months ago, hitting the airport and subway system in coordinated strikes that were also claimed by the militant extremist group.

The bombings paralyzed Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, prompted international travel warnings to avoid Belgium and reverberated across the Atlantic to the United States, where New York and other major cities raised terrorism threat levels. Anxieties intensified about the inability to prevent mass killings at relatively unprotected places.

At least 30 people were killed by two blasts at the Brussels airport departure area around 8 a.m. and one in a subway station shortly after 9. The police found at least one other unexploded bomb in a search of a Brussels house hours later.

And Europe’s most wanted person suddenly became an unidentified man in a white coat and dark hat seen pushing a luggage cart in an airport surveillance photo taken just before the bombings. Two other men in the photo, each wearing a black glove on his left hand, were identified by Belgian prosecutors as suspected suicide bombers who appeared to have died in the explosions.

“To those who have chosen to be the barbaric enemies of liberty, of democracy, of fundamental values, I want to say with the greatest strength that we will remain assembled and united,” the Belgium prime minister, Charles Michel, said at a news conference Tuesday evening, declaring a three-day mourning period.

Francis Vermeiren , the mayor of Zaventem, the Brussels suburb where the airport is located, was quoted by Agence France-Presse late Tuesday as saying all three men had arrived in a taxi, putting suitcases that contained the bombs on luggage carts.

CNN reported on Tuesday night that the police removed bags of evidence from an apartment in the northeast Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek, after a taxi driver who saw the photograph of the men told the authorities that he had taken them from the building to the airport that morning, with many large bags.

Passengers who had been in line at airport departure counters described sudden panic and mayhem as the explosions turned the area into a death trap with flames, smoke, flying glass, nails and shrapnel, leaving at least 10 people dead.

“We heard a big noise and saw a big flash,” said one passenger, Ilaria Ruggiano, who had been traveling with six others, including her mother. “My mother went to the floor — she was hit. I just dropped my luggage and went to the floor. A kid came out, bleeding a lot. I tried to help him with a tissue, but it was not enough. There were two bombs.”

The airport was closed, disrupting and diverting dozens of flights and leaving hundreds of passengers stranded, and the Belgian authorities placed the entire metropolitan area on emergency lockdown. It was not clear when the airport would reopen; the Belgian authorities said it was certain to remain closed Wednesday because of the investigation.

Then at 9:11 a.m. — the timing may just have been an eerie coincidence — a bomb tore through a car in the rear part of a subway train pulling out of the busy Maelbeek station at the height of the morning rush, killing at least 20 people.

“We felt a boom; we felt the building tremble,” said Henk Stuten, 50, who works for the European Commission in an office above the station. “We saw through the windows that people were rushing out of the metro exit.”

More than 230 people, including people from around the world, were wounded in the three blasts.

In the afternoon, Amaq, a news agency affiliated with the Islamic State, issued a bulletin claiming responsibility for the attacks, calling them the work of suicide bombers.

Frédéric Van Leeuw, the Belgian federal prosecutor, said at a news conference on Tuesday night that “at this stage, it is not possible to draw a formal link with the Paris attacks.” A cell of 10 operatives, a number of them from the Brussels district of Molenbeek, were implicated in the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, which left 130 people dead. The Brussels strikes came only a few days after the Belgian police captured Salah Abdeslam, the only suspect in the Paris assaults believed to have survived, who is considered a potential trove of information.

The State Department on Tuesday warned Americans traveling in Europe to “exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation.” Terrorist groups, the department travel alert said, “continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants and transportation.”

The threat of further bombings was underscored by the official warnings for people in Brussels to remain indoors, as an intensive search was underway by the police in the Brussels area into Tuesday evening. The federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement that one of the searches, in Brussels’s Schaerbeek district, led to the discovery of “an explosive device containing nails, among other things.” The statement said “chemical products and a flag of the Islamic State” also had been found there.

Late Tuesday, the Belgian Federal Police released new photographs of the suspected suicide bombers and asked people to contact the agency if they recognized them. The public call suggested that whatever information investigators had gathered at the scene, such as DNA, had not yet yielded information allowing them to identify the men or they were unknown to the Belgian authorities.

The heightened security in Belgium extended to two nuclear plants, Doel and Tihange, where nonessential workers were sent home, although the plants remained operational. Ine Wenmaekers, a spokesman for the Belgian nuclear regulatory agency, said that the step was precautionary and that “there was no direct threat to the power plants.”

World leaders reacted with horror and calls for solidarity, though the attacks also spotlighted the fractious debate over terrorism and Islam in Europe and in the American political campaign. The Eiffel Tower and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai were among the world landmarks lit up in the black, red and yellow of Belgium’s flag as night fell.

Light Display on Trade Center, Intended as Brussels Tribute,
World leaders reacted with horror and calls for solidarity, though the attacks also spotlighted the fractious debate over terrorism and Islam in Europe and in the American political campaign. The Eiffel Tower and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai were among the world landmarks lit up in the black, red and yellow of Belgium’s flag as night fell.

“Through the Brussels attacks, it is the whole of Europe that is hit,” President François Hollande of France declared. He vowed “to relentlessly fight terrorism, both internationally and internally.”

The French government ordered 1,600 extra police officers to patrol the nation’s borders, including at train stations, airports and ports. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain called an emergency meeting of ministers. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany said the attacks “aim at the heart of Europe.” Pope Francis expressed condolences.

President Obama, speaking in Havana, called the Brussels attacks “yet another reminder that the world must unite, we must be together, regardless of nationality or race or faith, in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.”

But a Russian official tempered sympathy with a scolding of his European colleagues over their policies on migration and terrorism. “It is time for Europe to understand where the real threat is coming from, and to unite its efforts with Russia,” Aleksei K. Pushkov, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Parliament, wrote on Twitter.

Since the Paris attacks, security experts have warned that Europe was likely to face additional assaults by the Islamic State and by other militant groups.

The Paris attacks showed that the scale and sophistication of the Islamic State’s efforts to carry out operations in Europe were greater than first believed, and analysts have pointed to Europe’s particular vulnerabilities. They include the huge flow of undocumented migrants from the Middle East last year; the unimpeded movement of European citizens between their home countries, neighboring countries and Syria to fight with the Islamic State; and persistent problems with intelligence-sharing among European countries and even between competing security agencies in some nations.

Few countries have been more vulnerable than Belgium. Among European countries, Belgium has the highest proportion of citizens and residents who have traveled to Syria or Iraq, insular Muslim communities that have helped shield jihadists, and security services that have had persistent problems conducting effective counterterrorism operations, not least in their four-month effort to capture Mr. Abdeslam.

Photographs and amateur video posted online showed the Brussels airport passengers covered in blood and soot, looking stunned but conscious. Some passengers were seen being taken away on luggage carts.

Jérôme Delanois said he was at an Internet cafe near the Delta Air Lines counter when he heard a thunderous noise. “There were two explosions — one big one and one little one,” he said. “The first one blew all the walls and everything. There were burning flames. The first one was bigger. It blew out all the windows.”

Most of the wounded in the subway blast were evacuated to the Rue de la Loi, outside the station, which serves the area that hosts most of the European Union’s core institutions.

Brian Carroll, 31, a communications consultant from Washington, said he was on a subway car near Maelbeek en route to a conference in downtown Brussels when he heard a loud blast.

“As we were pulling into the station, there was suddenly a loud explosion,” he said in a phone interview. “There was smoke everywhere. Everyone dropped to the ground. People were screaming and crying.”

Mr. Carroll said he had remained on the ground for one or two minutes, then got up, pried open a door of the subway car with his hands and fled.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to get out of here,’ ” he said. “I headed toward an exit. There was smoke and soot everywhere. There was glass everywhere. It was like running through a cloud of dust. I saw the exit of the station was destroyed. I ran out of the station; I ran as far as I could.”


Reporting was contributed by Dan Bilefsky and James Kanter from Brussels; Prashant Rao from London; Lilia Blaise, Nicola Clark, Benoît Morenne and Milan Schreuer from Paris; Rukmini Callimachi and Rick Gladstone from New York; and Julie Hirschfeld Davis from Havana.

A version of this article appears in print on March 23, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Brussels Attacks Shake European Security.

Strikes Claimed by ISIS Shut Brussels and Shake European Security,
NYT, MARCH 22, 2016,






16 Killed in Terrorist Attack

on Resort Hotels

in Ivory Coast


MARCH 13, 2016

The New York Times




ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Gunmen opened fire on picnickers and swimmers enjoying a perfect day at three beach resort hotels near the Ivory Coast’s capital on Sunday, killing 16 people and leaving bodies strewn across the bloodstained sand. It was the third major attack in West Africa since November, and verified fears that the spread of terrorism across the region was far from over.

The attack, on the first sunny Sunday in weeks, took place in Grand-Bassam, a popular palm tree-lined getaway for Ivorians and foreigners. Fourteen civilians and two members of the country’s special forces were killed, as well as six gunmen, according to a spokeswoman for the president.

The authorities in Ivory Coast appealed for calm.

“The situation is under control,” President Alassane Ouattara told reporters on a visit to the scene of the shootings.

The North African affiliate of Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement released on Sunday evening that praised three “knights” who had carried it out. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in the number of attackers.

The French authorities warned weeks ago that Ivory Coast, as well as Senegal, could be targeted.

Groups with ties to Al Qaeda have led an increasing number of deadly attacks on destinations popular with expatriates in West Africa, launching assaults far from what is thought to be its regional base, in the deserts of northern Mali.

In January, militants attacked the Hotel Splendid and Cappuccino Cafe in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Gunmen also attacked the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, in November. In all, dozens have been killed and many more wounded.

The region is nervous. In many countries, officials have set up new checkpoints along highways. Metal detectors are in place outside hotels and even small coffee shops. Drivers visiting restaurants are often subjected to thorough searches of their vehicles.

But thwarting this type of relatively simple attack, carried out by a handful of gunmen, is proving difficult.

The identities of the victims in Grand-Bassam had yet to be released, but both locals and foreigners were among the dead. The French government said one of its citizens had been killed. An official at the Grand-Bassam morgue said a German woman had been among the victims. Ivory Coast’s interior minister listed the victims’ nationalities as Ivorian, Burkinabe, Malian, Cameroonian, French and German, without offering more details.

An American trade delegation of university representatives was in Grand-Bassam at the time of the attacks, but not at any of the targeted hotels, according to a United States Embassy official. The official said there was no evidence that American citizens had been harmed in the assault.

Part of the town of Grand-Bassam, with its 19th- and 20th-century colonial architecture, is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The onetime French trading post “bears witness to the complex social relations between Europeans and Africans, and to the subsequent independence movement,” according to the Unesco website.

Swimmers and sunbathers had gathered Sunday along the seaside beaches and pools at the cluster of three hotels — L’Etoile du Sud, the Wharf Hotel and Koral Beach — at the start of a hot afternoon. Grand-Bassam, a former French colonial capital, is about 30 miles east of Abidjan, the capital.

It was unclear how the gunmen had arrived, but some witnesses said the assailants had concentrated their attacks on the beachside areas.

Thierry Cusset, a French commercial agent who has lived in Abidjan for 15 years, said he and his wife had been among a mostly local crowd relaxing in lounge chairs at the Wharf.

The couple ordered food, then parted ways for swimming — Mr. Cusset in the ocean and his wife in the pool.

“That’s when they started shooting in every direction,” he said.

Bullets rained down, and the sound was deafening, he said. Wounded people crawled toward the kitchen to take shelter. One had been shot in the leg.

“It was total panic,” he said. “Everyone was screaming.”

He found his wife, unharmed, in the pool, and the couple raced for their car. As they drove off, they encountered police cars speeding toward the scene.

At L’Etoile du Sud, five gunmen descended on beachgoers around 1 p.m., witnesses said. A gunmen shot a child, then started spraying bullets at people in the ocean.

“Everyone panicked and started to run away,” said one witness, Firmin Atte.

The attack was a setback for a nation that had been trying to move beyond the civil unrest of the early 2000s to reclaim a spot among the economic leaders of the region. Mr. Ouattara, its newly re-elected president, has built up major infrastructure around the capital, and had been trying to lure more multinational companies to set up regional headquarters in Ivory Coast.

Loucoumane Coulibaly reported from Abidjan, and Dionne Searcey from Dakar, Senegal. Saskia de Rothschild contributed reporting from Paris.

A version of this article appears in print on March 14, 2016, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: 16 Killed in Attack at Ivory Coast Beach Resort.

16 Killed in Terrorist Attack on Resort Hotels in Ivory Coast,
NYT, MARCH 13, 2016,






In Reversal,

Egypt Says Terrorists

Downed Russian Jet Over Sinai


FEB. 24, 2016

The New York Times



After months of cautious silence, Egypt acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that terrorists had downed the Russian jetliner that broke up over the Sinai Peninsula in the fall.

The authorities made the unexpected admission after strongly urging Egyptians and the world for months to await the results of an international investigation Egypt is leading. The crash dealt a serious blow to Egypt’s vital tourism industry: an important source of hard currency for the country, which relies heavily on imports.

“Those who downed the flight, what were they hoping for? Just to hit tourism?” President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi asked, almost casually, while on the subject of terrorism near the end of a long speech about the country’s development plans for 2030, which was broadcast live. “No, but also to hit relations. To hit relations with Russia.”

Hours after the October downing of the Airbus A321-200, which killed 224 people, Egypt’s local Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility. The group said it had brought down the plane with a bomb concealed in a soda can.

In the following weeks, Russian and Western officials quickly concluded that a bomb had indeed exploded on board and that terrorism was the cause of the crash. But Egypt, apparently unwilling to publicly concede that terrorists could have penetrated its powerful security apparatus, continued to rule out a bombing. In the most recent update on the Egyptian investigation, on Dec. 14, the government’s chief investigator, Ayman al-Muqaddam, said he had not received “any evidence of unlawful interference or terrorist activity” in connection with the crash.

The Russian aircraft disintegrated in the air over the Sinai Desert 23 minutes after taking off from the popular Red Sea resort city of Sharm el Sheikh on Oct. 31. The flight was a charter operation by Metrojet, a Russian airline taking its passengers, nearly all of them Russian tourists, to St. Petersburg.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has been fighting an Islamic insurgency that mostly targets security posts in the volatile northern parts of the Sinai Peninsula. The militants gained momentum after the 2013 military overthrow of the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, and have struck mainland Egypt several times over the past year.

Mr. Sisi seemed unusually ill-tempered during much of his speech — a sharp contrast to the calm, sweet-talking paternal persona he had carved for himself during and after Mr. Morsi’s ouster, which he led with popular and media support. Mr. Sisi, a former field marshal, warned enemies against exploiting his “patience and good manners to bring down the state” and vowed to remove those who did “off the face of the Earth.”

“Please, don’t listen to anyone but me,” he told the public, wagging a finger. “I am dead serious. I am not a man who lies or beats around the bush.”

Visibly angry, the president went on to painstakingly list the country’s economic woes to his audience, before suggesting that Egyptians donate a pound, about 10 cents, to the government each day to help ease the crisis.

At one point, he said he would put himself up for sale to help the economy. “If it were possible for me to be sold, I would sell myself,” he said.

The president’s offer brought mass ridicule on social media and prompted Ahmed Ghanim, an Egyptian political activist living in the United States, to list Mr. Sisi for sale on the online auction website eBay.

The offer for a “slightly used” former field marshal garnered over $100,000 in bids within a few hours before eBay took down the posting Wednesday afternoon.


Correction: February 24, 2016

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article omitted part of a quotation from President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The complete quotation is as follows: “Those who downed the flight, what were they hoping for? Just to hit tourism? No, but also to hit relations. To hit relations with Russia, to hit relations with Italy. And if they could with the whole world, they would. So we would be alone and isolated.”

A version of this article appears in print on February 25, 2016, on page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: In Reversal, Egypt Says Terrorists Downed Jet.

In Reversal, Egypt Says Terrorists Downed Russian Jet Over Sinai,
NYT, FEB. 24, 2015,






Car Bomb Strikes Military Convoy

in Ankara, Killing 28, Officials Say


FEB. 17, 2016

The New York Times



ISTANBUL — Turkey reeled on Wednesday from a deadly bombing of a military convoy in the capital, plunging its leaders deeper into crisis mode and underscoring the country’s vulnerability to the Syrian war and revitalized Kurdish insurgency.

The bombing in the capital, Ankara, made President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even more combative; he vowed to strike at enemies in Syria or anywhere else.

The blast hit a convoy of buses filled with soldiers as it was stopped for a traffic light near the Parliament building. Officials said the explosion killed at least 28 people and wounded more than 60. No group took responsibility immediately, but some officials said Kurdish militants might have been responsible.

“Our determination to respond in kind to attacks taking place inside and outside our borders is getting stronger with such acts,” Mr. Erdogan said in a statement. “It must be known that Turkey will not shy away from using its right to self-defense at any time, any place or any occasion.”

Hours later and more than 2,000 miles away in what may have been a sympathy attack, an explosion severely damaged a Turkish cultural association building in a Stockholm suburb. Swedish police officials said there were no suspects.

Mr. Erdogan is growing increasingly exasperated over changes wrought by the war in Syria, where Kurdish rebels, whom he considers terrorists, have gained territory along the Turkish border in the chaos created by advancing Syrian forces backed by Russian airstrikes.

The Turkish armed forces have been shelling Kurdish positions in Syria since last weekend, and Mr. Erdogan’s aides have said a ground invasion of Syria is the only way to stop the war, but the message is not resonating with Turkey’s NATO allies — especially the United States, which has angered Mr. Erdogan.

He and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu canceled foreign trips after the bombing. Televised images showed smoke and a large fire near the site. As many as 30 ambulances were dispatched, the Health Ministry said.

Four months ago, the capital was rocked by the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s modern history, when two suicide bombers believed to be linked to the Islamic State struck a peace rally, killing more than 100 people.

Get news and analysis from Europe and around the world delivered to your inbox every day in the European morning.

In recent months, Turkey has stepped up cooperation with the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Syria, and has been attacked. Last month, a suicide bomber killed at least 10 tourists in Istanbul.

The Kurdish insurgency is a separate conflict, but it has become increasingly intertwined with the Syrian war.

The Turkish military has been waging a counterinsurgency against Kurdish militants in the southeast, after the breakdown of a fragile peace process in July. Since December, many towns have been under round-the-clock curfews as Turkish forces have clashed with militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the P.K.K., who have been fighting for autonomy and more rights for three decades.

“The chosen target for this attack, which is our military, suggests the P.K.K is behind this attack,” a Turkish government official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with government protocol.

Analysts also said the assault echoed past P.K.K. attacks on off-duty officers.

“This attack demonstrates the growing linkage between Turkey’s own Kurdish problem and the Syrian war, and vice versa,” said Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. As Turkey shells Kurdish fighters in Syria, he said, they may be responding in part by effectively opening a second front against Ankara.


Christina Anderson contributed reporting from Halmstad, Sweden, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

A version of this article appears in print on February 18, 2016, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Turkey Vows to Respond After Attack on Soldiers.

Car Bomb Strikes Military Convoy in Ankara, Killing 28, Officials Say,
NYT, FEB. 17, 2016,






Pakistan’s Hand

in the Rise of International Jihad


FEB. 6, 2016

The New York Times



TUNIS — PRESIDENT ASHRAF GHANI of Afghanistan has warned in several recent interviews that unless peace talks with Pakistan and the Taliban produce results in the next few months, his country may not survive 2016. Afghanistan is barely standing, he says, after the Taliban onslaught last year, which led to the highest casualties among civilians and security forces since 2001.

“How much worse will it get?” Mr. Ghani asked in a recent television interview. “It depends on how much regional cooperation we can secure, and how much international mediation and pressure can be exerted to create rules of the game between states.”

What he means is it depends on how much international pressure can be brought to bear on Pakistan to cease its aggression.

Critics of the Afghan leadership say it’s not Pakistan’s fault that its neighbor is falling apart. They point to the many internal failings of the Afghan government: political divisions, weak institutions, warlords and corruption.

But experts have found a lot of evidence that Pakistan facilitated the Taliban offensive. The United States and China have been asking Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to make peace, but Afghanistan argues that Islamabad has done nothing to rein in the Taliban, and if anything has encouraged it to raise the stakes in hopes of gaining influence in any power-sharing agreement.

This behavior is not just an issue for Afghanistan. Pakistan is intervening in a number of foreign conflicts. Its intelligence service has long acted as the manager of international mujahedeen forces, many of them Sunni extremists, and there is even speculation that it may have been involved in the rise of the Islamic State.

The latest Taliban offensive began in 2014. United States and NATO forces were winding down their operations in Afghanistan and preparing to withdraw when Pakistan decided, after years of prevarication, to clear Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters from their sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal area of North Waziristan.

The operation was certainly a serious endeavor — Taliban bases, torture chambers and ammunition dumps were busted, town bazaars were razed and over one million civilians were displaced.

But the militants were tipped off early, and hundreds escaped, tribesmen and Taliban fighters said. Many fled over the border to Afghanistan, just at the vulnerable moment when Afghanistan was assuming responsibility for its own security. Ninety foreign fighters with their families arrived in Paktika Province that summer, to the alarm of Afghan officials.

Further along the border in Paktika Province, Taliban fighters occupied abandoned C.I.A. bases and outposts. A legislator from the region warned me that they would use the positions to project attacks deeper into Afghanistan and even up to Kabul. Some of the most devastating suicide bomb attacks occurred in that province in the months that followed.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the Haqqani network, the most potent branch of the Taliban, moved from North Waziristan into the adjacent district of Kurram. From there it continues to enjoy safe haven and conduct its insurgency against American, international and Afghan targets.

Pakistan regards Afghanistan as its backyard. Determined not to let its archrival, India, gain influence there, and to ensure that Afghanistan remains in the Sunni Islamist camp, Pakistan has used the Taliban selectively, promoting those who further its agenda and cracking down on those who don’t. The same goes for Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters.

Even knowing this, it might come as a surprise that the region’s triumvirate of violent jihad is living openly in Pakistan.

First, there’s Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, and second in command of the Taliban. He moves freely around Pakistan, and has even visited the Pakistani intelligence headquarters of the Afghan campaign in Rawalpindi.

Then there is the new leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, who has openly assembled meetings of his military and leadership council near the Pakistani town of Quetta. Since he came to power last year, the Taliban has mounted some of its most ambitious offensives into Afghanistan, overrunning the northern town of Kunduz, and pushing to seize control of the opium-rich province of Helmand.

Finally, Al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, enjoys sanctuary in Pakistan — one recent report placed him in the southwestern corner of Baluchistan. He has been working to establish training camps in southern Afghanistan. In October, it took United States Special Operations forces several days of fighting and airstrikes to clear those camps. American commanders say the group they were fighting was Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, a new franchise announced by Mr. Zawahri that has claimed responsibility for the killings of bloggers and activists in Karachi and Bangladesh, among other attacks.

Pakistan denies harboring the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and points out that it, too, is a victim of terrorism. But many analysts have detailed how the military has nurtured Islamist militant groups as an instrument to suppress nationalist movements, in particular among the Pashtun minority, at home and abroad.

Perhaps most troubling, there are reports that Pakistan had a role in the rise of the Islamic State.

Ahead of Pakistan’s 2014 operation in North Waziristan, scores, even hundreds, of foreign fighters left the tribal areas to fight against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Tribesmen and Taliban members from the area say fighters traveled to Quetta, and then flew to Qatar. There they received new passports and passage to Turkey, from where they could cross into Syria. Others traveled overland along well-worn smuggling routes from Pakistan through Iran and Iraq.

The fighters arrived just in time to boost the sweeping offensive by ISIS into Iraq and the creation of the Islamic State in the summer of 2014.

If these accounts are correct, Pakistan was cooperating with Qatar, and perhaps others, to move international Sunni jihadists (including 300 Pakistanis) from Pakistan’s tribal areas, where they were no longer needed, to new battlefields in Syria. It is just another reminder of Pakistan’s central involvement in creating and managing violent jihadist groups, one Pakistani politician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity when talking about intelligence affairs, told me.

This has been going on for more than 30 years. In 1990, I shared a bus ride with young Chinese Uighurs, Muslims from China’s restive northwest, who had spent months training in Pakistani madrasas, including a brief foray into Afghanistan to get a taste of battle. They were returning home, furnished with brand-new Pakistani passports, a gift of citizenship often offered to those who join the jihad.

Years later, just after Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan, I interviewed a guerrilla commander from the disputed region of Kashmir who had spent 15 years on the Pakistani military payroll, traveling to train and assist insurgents in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir and Afghanistan.

In 2012 I came across several cases where young clerics, fresh graduates from the Haqqania madrasa in Pakistan, returned to their home villages in Afghanistan, flush with cash, and set about running mosques and recruiting and organizing a band of Taliban followers.

I visited that madrasa in 2013. It is the alma mater of the Afghan Taliban, where many of the leaders of the movement were trained. The clerics there remained adamant in their support for the Taliban. “It is a political fact that one day the Taliban will take power,” Syed Yousuf Shah, the madrasa spokesman, told me. “We are experts on the Taliban,” he said, and a majority of the Afghan people “still support them.”

The madrasa, a longtime instrument of Pakistani intelligence, has been training people from the ethnic minorities of northern Afghanistan alongside its standard clientele of Pashtuns. The aim is still to win control of northern Afghanistan through these young graduates. From there they have their eyes on Central Asia and western China. Pakistani clerics are educating and radicalizing Chinese Uighurs as well, along with Central Asians from the former Soviet republics.

No one has held Pakistan to account for this behavior. Why would Pakistan give it up now?


Carlotta Gall is the author of “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014” and currently the North Africa correspondent for The New York Times.

A version of this news analysis appears in print on February 7, 2016, on Page SR6 of the National edition with the headline: Pakistan’s Hand in the Rise of International Jihad.

Pakistan’s Hand in the Rise of International Jihad,
NYT, FEB. 6, 2016,






Taliban Attack

at Bacha Khan University in Pakistan

Renews Fears


JAN. 20, 2016





CAIRO — Attacks on education have long been a signature atrocity of the Pakistani Taliban, whose militants have set schools on fire, banished girls from classrooms and gunned down students at their desks in a quest to impose an extremist ideology on Pakistani society.

The height of the attacks seemed to come in December 2014 when gunmen swarmed through a school in Peshawar, massacring dozens of schoolchildren in an assault that prompted widespread revulsion and a fierce military crackdown on militants.

But on Wednesday, Pakistanis were drawn back into their national nightmare. At least four Taliban attackers stormed a university campus in another northwestern town, gunning down at least 20 people, most of them students and teachers.

After a year in which the Pakistani Taliban had finally seemed to be pushed to the margin, with attacks at their lowest pace in a decade, the new school assault renewed worries that the insurgency, even if diminished, has survived and retained its capacity for brutality.

The attack, at the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, 20 miles from Peshawar, began just before 9 a.m. when the militants, using winter fog as cover, slipped through nearby fields and scaled a rear wall. Gunfire and explosions rang out across the campus as the attackers, some apparently teenagers themselves, rushed through classrooms and dormitories shouting “Allahu akbar!” as they fired.

Witnesses described scenes of carnage as gunmen sprayed bullets at students, one of whom leapt through a window while others cowered in bathrooms. Many staff members locked themselves in their offices. But one junior chemistry lecturer, armed with a pistol, was reported to have returned fire; witnesses said his actions helped several students escape before he, too, was killed.

The assault ended after hours of pitched combat when the security forces cornered the attackers into two university buildings. The attackers were killed before they could explode their suicide vests, officials said.

For the Taliban movements in Pakistan and Afghanistan, attacks on education were an early marker of their extremist ideology and ruthless methods. Schools, as all-in-one symbols of government authority and a modernist view of the future that jihadists loathe, provided easy targets and maximal shock value.

But those tactics have become something of a liability over the years, winnowing the extremists’ support even among conservatives who might otherwise support their goal of harsh Islamic rule.

One turning point was the Taliban attempt on the life of the schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai in 2012, transforming her into a global icon of courage and energizing other education campaigners in Pakistan.

The 2014 assault in Peshawar, in particular, seemed to galvanize fragmented public opinion about how to deal with jihadist militancy. And it set the conditions for a harsh army crackdown on the group in which more than 300 prisoners have been hanged in the past year, some under a new network of military courts. Since then, Taliban attacks in Pakistan have become relatively rare.

Some militants, however, remain undeterred. In a phone interview, Khalifa Omar Mansoor, the commander of the Taliban faction that orchestrated the Peshawar attack, said he had also ordered the bloodshed in Charsadda on Wednesday.

Mr. Mansoor, who commands a faction based in a nearby tribal district, described the violence as retribution for the army’s harsh crackdown over the past year, calling it a “lesson to the military leadership of Pakistan.”

He released a photo that showed him sitting with four armed men, mostly teenagers, whom he described as the attackers — a surreal image that juxtaposed the five militants against a beautiful vista of verdant meadows and mountain peaks.

But Pakistan’s main Taliban group quickly distanced itself from the attack. In a statement, a spokesman for the group, the Tehrik-e-Taliban — which despite years of internal conflict and splintering still claims to represent the country’s main Taliban factions, including Mr. Mansoor’s — threatened to bring its organizers before a Shariah court.

“Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan condemns this un-Islamic act in strongest terms and disassociates itself from this entirely,” the spokesman said.

The attack also had an unmistakable political dimension for its targeting of peaceful political elements inside ethnic Pashtun society.

The Charsadda university is named after Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a celebrated pre-independence leader known as “the frontier Gandhi” for advocating nonviolent resistance to British colonial rule. The political party that carries Khan’s legacy, the Awami National Party, sustained huge political losses in the last general election in 2013 after a concerted Taliban campaign of violence against its supporters and candidates.

The assault Wednesday occurred on the anniversary of Mr. Ghaffar Khan’s death, and hours before the university was to host a poetry recital in his honor to which hundreds had been invited.

Sajjad Ahmed, a professor of sociology and gender studies, said he was in his office when he heard the first shots, then saw a young attacker shouting “Allahu akbar” and running toward the student dormitories. He said he saw several people shot dead.

“I will not forget this terrible scene for the rest of my life,” he said in a phone interview. “Students fell as if they were newly blossomed flowers.”

As the shooting erupted, staff members at the university administration complex locked themselves in their offices, switched off the lights and lay on the floor, said Salma Khan, a university official. “We have some security staff, but they were not enough to face the Taliban,” she said.

Others praised the actions of Syed Hamid Hussain, the chemistry teacher who tried to hold off the rampaging gunmen with his pistol before he was killed. Teachers and lecturers in northwestern Pakistan have been allowed to carry weapons since the Peshawar school attack.

“They fired directly at the professor,” Muhammad Daud, a sociology student, told Agence France-Presse, describing Mr. Hussain as “a real gentleman and a respectable teacher.”

After the attack, the army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, visited the stricken campus and some of the wounded at a nearby hospital. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in Switzerland at the World Economic Forum, vowed to step up the fight against the Taliban.

“We are determined and resolved in our commitment to wipe out the menace of terrorism from our homeland,” Mr. Sharif said in a statement.

The Taliban’s logic in attacking a school, other than that it presented a relatively soft target, was not entirely clear. While attacks on army bases, five-star hotels and political leaders once appeared to cow Pakistanis, particularly in the early years after the insurgency erupted in 2007, the Peshawar massacre in 2014 outraged much of the country’s leadership and public.

Arguments about the merits of negotiating with the Taliban instead of fighting them were brushed aside as much of the country’s political class threw its weight behind a harsh military and judicial campaign.

Taliban violence diminished as the authorities closed radical madrasas and carried out assaults on militant hide-outs in tribal areas. Many militants were hanged under a new military judicial system that drew criticism from human rights groups.

Still, the military continues to turn a blind eye to certain militant groups, particularly those that target India. And while the wider Taliban movement appears weak and divided, some factions have in recent weeks renewed their violent campaign against targets in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. On Tuesday, a Taliban suicide bombing at a police checkpoint in the city killed 11 people.


Declan Walsh reported from Cairo, Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan. Hari Kumar contributed reporting from New Delhi, Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong, and Salman Masood from Islamabad.

A version of this article appears in print on January 21, 2016, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
Taliban Attack Pakistan School, Renewing Fears.

Taliban Attack at Bacha Khan University in Pakistan Renews Fears,
NYT, JAN. 20, 2016,







Said to Be Suicide Bombing,

Kills 8 in Northwest Pakistan


JAN. 19, 2016

The New York Times



PESHAWAR, Pakistan — An explosion, said to be a suicide bombing, at a militia checkpoint just outside this Pakistani city killed eight people and wounded at least 11 on Tuesday morning, a senior official of the Khyber tribal region said.

“Based on eyewitness accounts, this was a suicide bombing,” Shahab Ali Shah, the administrator of the region, said by telephone. He said the bomber had moved toward the checkpoint of the Khyber Khasadar Force and detonated his vest.

The checkpoint is on the border with Peshawar, the capital of the northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. It is also near the crowded Karkhano market, known for selling smuggled foreign goods. Among the dead were a Khasadar Force officer and a senior member of the Tribal Union of Journalists, Mehboob Shah, who had been sitting with the militia force, Mr. Shah said.

“The target appeared to be the check post and not the journalist,” he added.

Police officers and a bomb disposal squad were sent to the scene to help the tribal authorities in collecting forensic evidence.


A version of this article appears in print on January 20, 2016, on Page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: World Briefing | Asia; Pakistan: Explosion Kills 8 People at Checkpoint in Khyber Region.

Explosion, Said to Be Suicide Bombing, Kills 8 in Northwest Pakistan,
NYT, JAN. 19, 2016,






At Least 20 Killed

in Siege by Militants

in Burkina Faso


JAN. 15, 2016

The New York Times





OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Gunmen from Al Qaeda stormed a luxury hotel frequented by foreigners in Burkina Faso’s capital on Friday night, seizing hostages and killing others while fighting with dozens of security forces who began a counterattack hours later. It was Al Qaeda’s first major attack in this landlocked sub-Saharan country, a former French colony.

Burkina Faso’s interior minister, Simon Compaoré, said Saturday morning that after an overnight battle, security forces had regained control of the Splendid Hotel in the capital, Ouagadougou (pronounced waga-DOO-goo), having killed at least three assailants and freed 126 people. A spokesman for the interior ministry, Abi Ouattara, said 22 people had been killed, not counting the militants killed by security forces.

The attack, claimed by the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb affiliate along with an allied militant group, was at least the fifth time in recent days that armed militants had ambushed unprotected civilians in cities around the world, hitting sites in Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia and Iraq with deadly assaults that underscored the vulnerabilities of soft targets that are difficult to defend.

Witnesses said the attack began when gunmen set off at least one explosion outside the hotel, leaving cars ablaze, and then moved inside and began taking hostages. Hours later in a statement released online, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said its fighters inside the hotel had killed 30 people, calling their operation “revenge against France and the disbelieving West,” according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist media.

France, which maintains a military garrison in Burkina Faso, scrambled to respond to the siege, sending 30 of its soldiers to assist at least 40 from Burkina Faso’s military who massed outside the hotel. Witnesses reported that the forces began a counterassault to retake the hotel early Saturday. One witness, Olympia de Maismont, said that “several hostages had been freed” and that intermittent gunfire could be heard. Later, Rémis Dandjinou, Burkina Faso’s minister of communication, said that 63 people had been freed, 33 of whom had been wounded.

A Defense Department official in Washington said the French had requested surveillance and reconnaissance help from the American military, which has 75 personnel in Burkina Faso, mostly involved in training and advising as well as maintaining a drone base. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said one American military member was “providing advice and assistance” to French forces outside the hotel. No other American military personnel were believed to be directly involved.

Salif Ouedraogo, 28, an agent at the country’s international airport, who lives in an apartment above a nearby restaurant, said he saw the attack begin around 8 p.m. “I heard the first gunshots and so I went to the balcony,” he said. “I saw people who were shooting, and so I quickly got down and put myself on my stomach on the floor.”

“They set off an explosion and they opened fire on the people,” he added. “Then they began taking hostages.”

This is the second major attack on a hotel by Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, known by the acronym AQIM, and another group led by the international terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar in less than two months. In November, the same jihadist organizations claimed responsibility for the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali’s capital.

Witnesses said members of the security forces arrived en masse later, prompting a gun battle. Witnesses said that three bodies could be seen in the Cafe Cappuccino, connected to the hotel. Some of the wounded were evacuated to Yalgado Ouédraogo hospita.

Tahirou Barry, the culture minister, said in a telephone interview that the security forces had surrounded the hotel, and that witnesses said that four to six attackers were inside with hostages.

“There is a perimeter of at least 500 meters around it; no one can approach,” he said. “They are trying to help the hostages.”

“Once in a while we can hear shooting,” Mr. Barry added. “For the moment, we have no more details on the identity of the shooters, except for the fact that one witness affirmed that one of the assailants proclaimed the name of God — the name of Allah.”

An African airline safety group was holding a meeting at the hotel, and members of the organization, the Agency for Aerial Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar, were in the hotel when the attack began, said Moumouni Barro, a delegate to the meeting.

The nation’s security ministry declared an extended curfew for the night, and a nearby theater was evacuated in the middle of a performance, officials said.

The culture minister said that he could not confirm whether American or French forces were helping with the operation at the hotel, but he added, “It’s clear that we could not do this without our friends from abroad.”

The attack marked an expansion for Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, which is mostly focused in Mali and Algeria and had staged only minor attacks along Burkina Faso’s border until now.

In a speech in December, an AQIM official addressed Muslims in the nation of Burkina Faso, calling upon them to participate in jihad. And on Friday, the group announced that it conducted the strike in cooperation with the group led by Mr. Belmokhtar, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist communications.

Andrew Lebovich, a specialist on political and security issues in the region, said the attack in Burkina Faso showed an evolution in the group’s tactical ability. In the hotel attack in Mali, he said, the attack was carried out only with automatic weapons and grenades. But initial reports said the attackers in Ouagadougou were more sophisticated.

“Their approach is somewhat evolving. If initial reports prove to be true, the Burkina attack involved at least two car bombs,” he said. “It shows a more sophisticated operational plan involving more serious weaponry.”

For years, Burkina Faso had seemed largely immune to the jihadist violence that plagued two of its neighbors, Mali and Niger. That changed in April last year, when a group that later pledged allegiance to the Islamic State burst into a manganese mine in the remote countryside and abducted a Romanian employee. A month later, an Islamic State affiliate based in the Sahara issued a statement saying it was holding the hostage and warning the Romanian government that it would be accountable if it failed to meet demands for his release.

In November, security forces in Burkina Faso arrested 13 people and seized bomb-making materials in the safe house the group was using in the western part of the country, near the border with Mali. Officials said the suspects were planning a “large-scale attack.”

Earlier on Friday, armed men attacked a police command post in the northern village of Tin Abao, killing an officer and a civilian and wounding two policemen, officials said. It was unclear whether the attacks were linked.

The violence struck after months of political turmoil in Burkina Faso.

The presidential vote in November was the country’s first competitive election in decades. About three million people cast ballots, many of them celebrating as they crowded into polling stations to choose Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, a former prime minister, as their leader.


Thibault Bluy reported from Ouagadougou, Dionne Searcey from Dakar, Senegal, and Rukmini Callimachi from New York. Hervé Taoko contributed reporting from Ouagadougou, Helene Cooper from Washington, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

A version of this article appears in print on January 16, 2016, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Jihadists Strike Another Tourist Site, This Time in West Africa.

At Least 20 Killed in Siege by Militants in Burkina Faso,
NYT, JAN. 15, 2016,





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