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Lawmakers questioned State and Defense department officials over the US' policy in Iraq; they were told there is no military solution to Iraq's conflict but asked why Iraqi requests for US strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham camps since August 2013 were dismissed. A top State official said the US is now flying 50 sorties daily over Iraq, up from one per month in the past. Former members of the independent 9/11 commission issued a 600-page report warning that "[t]he struggle against terrorism is far from over--rather, it has entered a new and dangerous phase," and stressing the need to enhance defenses against cyberattacks.
Azamat Tazhayakov, a friend of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was found guilty of obstruction of justice in the case; another friend, Stephen Silva, was arrested and accused of providing a gun used to kill a policeman during the manhunt after the bombing. The State Department warned citizens against travel to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and US and European airlines suspended flights to and from Tel Aviv. Two leaders of a Philadelphia mosque were arrested last week for trying to amputate the hand of a man they accused of theft. Congressional staffers reportedly rejected a plan to invest $500 million in training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels.
The US agreed with other world powers and Iran to a four-month extension of the deadline for reaching a deal on Iran's nuclear program, but said it will continue to enforce remaining sanctions. The agreement gives Iran access to $2.8 billion in frozen assets. Adam Dandach a.k.a. Fadi Fadi Dandach of Orange County, Calif., was indicted for lying on a passport application; he was arrested on July 2 at John Wayne Airport as he tried to board a flight to Istanbul on his way to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham in Syria.
Ahmed Abassi, 27, a Tunisian who had expressed a desire to carry out terrorist attacks on the US that included poisoning 100,000 people, was sentenced to time served and will be extradited to Tunisia, after pleading guilty to lesser charges. Abassi had admitted to radicalizing Chiheb Esseghaier, who has been charged along with Raed Jaser for trying to blow up a train that travels between Toronto and New York. Syed Talha Ahsan, a British man charged with Babar Ahmad for supporting the Taliban, was sentenced to time served and is expected to be deported.
A district court judge sentenced Babar Ahmad, a British cyberjihadist who ran websites supporting the Taliban and other terrorist groups, to 12 and a half years in prison with credit for time served; Ahmad could be released in less than a year. Prosecutors had sought a 25-year sentence due to concerns Ahmad will return to his former activities; a codefendant, Syed Talha Ahsan, is to be sentenced tomorrow. The Pentagon lobbied lawmakers to support a $6 billion supplement to the military's 2015 contingency operations budget. Defense Secretary Hagel signaled plans to transfer six Guantanamo detainees to Uruguay next month.
Defense Secretary Hagel said the Islamic State poses a threat to the US as well as to Europe and other US allies in the Middle East. The Treasury Department today sanctioned a Lebanon-based Hezbollah technology procurement network with subsidiaries in China and the United Arab Emirates, and yesterday sanctioned a U.A.E.-based petroleum products company and two Syrian front companies for supplying materials to the Assad regime and its weapons program. Matthew Olsen, head of the National Counter-Terrorism Center, is resigning. Newly-released testimony by Gen. Carter Ham, former head of US Africa Command, indicated his view that the second wave of the 2012 attack on the US Mission in Benghazi was carried out by a "well-trained" crew from outside Benghazi.
The Transportation Security Agency began requiring that electronic devices brought on board US-bound flights will power up, due to fears they may have been turned into bombs. Khairullozhon Matanov, a friend of Boston Marathan bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was accused of lying to the FBI and deleting files on his computer relating to the Tsarnaevs. Recently unsealed documents indicate that Shannon Maureen Conley, 19, of Denver, Colo., was arrested in April as she tried to travel to Syria to join a Tunisian suitor who claimed to be a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham; she said she wanted to use her military training for jihad.
US officials called for tighter security at foreign airports that have direct flights to the US, following intelligence reports that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Al Nusrah Front in Syria are cooperating on attack plans, and possibly developing currently undetectable bombs capable of downing an airliner. Pentagon chief Gen. Martin Dempsey denied there was "mission creep" in Iraq but did not foreclose the possibility of greater US involvement. He also said the US will be facing violent extremist groups such as the Islamic State for "the foreseeable future." Ansar al Sharia operative and Benghazi Mission attack suspect Ahmed Abu Khattalah has pled not guilty but will remain in pretrial detention as he continues to show deadly intent to attack US interests.
President Obama said an extra 200 US troops are being deployed to Iraq to protect the US Embassy in Baghdad as well as its support facilities and the international airport. A federal court in California sentenced US national Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen a.k.a. Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum to 13 years in prison plus 10 years' supervision after release. He was arrested in August after returning from fighting with Syrian rebels, when he disclosed his plan to travel to Pakistan to train al Qaeda fighters to attack Coalition forces. The Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling requiring the Jordan-based Arab Bank to turn over documents in lawsuits accusing it of providing services to front groups for Hamas and other terrorist organizations.
US military advisers opened a joint operations center in Baghdad to assist the Iraqi military repel the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. The State Department said Syrian military action in Iraq would not be helpful, but that Iran "could play a constructive role" in Iraq. The White House called for the allocation of $500 million to train and equip vetted, "moderate" Syrian rebels; the Pentagon program would supplement or replace the current small covert CIA effort. The White House proposal included budget cuts for US operations in Afghanistan. The Pentagon said the elite counterterrorist Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines is being phased out, with staff reduced from its current 320 members to a dozen or so advisers.
Secretary of State Kerry said there is "no military solution" to the crisis in Iraq, and urged all countries in the region to expel the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. Kerry also called on the Kurds to support Iraqi unity. US military officials said about half of the US "assessment" troops promised for Iraq have arrived, and that American forces have been conducting 30 to 35 intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance flights per day in Iraq with manned aircraft and drones. The Pentagon denied rumors that US drones struck in Iraq. A federal appeals court yesterday released a 2010 Justice Department memo authorizing the killing of US citizen and al Qaeda ideologue Anwar al Awlaki in Yemen. Officials have indicated that the US' hands-off policy toward Libya is not likely to change.
President Obama said the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham poses a "medium and longterm threat" to the US, but that other terrorist groups may present more immediate threats, and said "ISIS is just one of a number of organizations that we have to stay focused on," mentioning al Qaeda in Yemen and Boko Haram. He said the US cannot just "play whack-a-mole and send US troops occupying various countries wherever these organizations pop up." Mike Rogers, head of the House Intelligence Committee, countered that the fight against ISIS is in the US national security interest. Secretary of State Kerry said ISIS poses a "threat not only to Iraq, but to the entire region," and urged Arab countries to stop funding Sunni fighters in Syria and Iraq.
President Obama said the US will send up to 300 military advisers to assist the Iraqi Army, and that the US will step up its intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance efforts in Iraq to help it battle Islamist insurgents. US officials in Baghdad are consulting with Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites about possible alternatives to a government led by Iraqi president Nouri al Maliki. A recent report claimed that as many as 15 Somali-Americans have left Minnesota to fight in Iraq or Syria alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham.
The Obama administration ruled out the prospect of immediate US airstrikes in Iraq, preferring a more comprehensive plan. Some 275 US troops are deploying to Iraq to protect US assets, and 100 more are on standby; US officials are considering sending a special forces contingent as well. A US defense official denied claims that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham seized Blackhawk helicopters in Iraq. Treasury Secretary Lew urged closer cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the US on combating terror group financing. The US said that Ahmed Abu Khattalah was captured by US commandos in Libya because he was planning attacks against US persons.
President Obama said his administration is looking at ways to help Iraq respond to the ISIS advance, but stated that any US military action is contingent on a workable political plan by the Iraqis. The White House said no US ground troops would be involved in Iraq. Three planeloads of Americans, mostly civilian contractors, were evacuated from Iraq's Balad Air Base yesterday. A senior Iranian official reportedly said Iran is willing to work with the US to help end the insurgency in Iraq.
President Obama said Iraq is going to need help due to the jihadist advance, and that his team is working to determine the most effective aid to offer. The White House has refused previous Iraqi requests for American airstrikes against Iraqi insurgents. The US has been flying reconnaissance drones over Iraq since last year. US officials are now considering options including US airstrikes, intelligence sharing, stepped up provision of military equipment, and enhanced training of Iraqi and Kurdish forces. Officials said US ground troops would not be deployed in Iraq. Senator McCain called for Obama to replace his national security team with officials who were involved in the Iraq war. A makeshift bomb damaged a power plant in Nogales, Ariz. yesterday; it detonated near a large diesel fuel tank, puncturing it, but the fuel did not ignite.
The FBI in Minnesota is investigating reports that a local Somali youth and 11 others recently left for Syria, by way of Turkey, allegedly to fight alongside Syrian rebels. Several former top military and civilian officials criticized President Obama's timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan. On May 31, New York resident Mufid A. Elfgeeh, a naturalized US citizen from Yemen, was arrested and charged with firearms violations; he had planned to kill returning US troops as well as local Shiites. He had expressed support for al Qaeda and sought donations for Sunni jihadists in Syria. A recent report found that the number of jihadist groups worldwide more than doubled between 2010 and 2013, and that the estimated number of jihadist fighters also doubled in that period, growing to as many as 100,000.
The Obama administration released the five top Taliban commanders from Guantanamo in exchange for Sgt. Bowie Bergdahl, the only remaining US hostage held by the Taliban. The five commanders, Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa, and Abdul Haq Wasiq, were flown to Qatar, which helped broker the deal.
Authorities charged Kyrgyzstan national Khairullozhon Matanov, an acquaintance of Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, with lying to investigators and destroying evidence relating to the attack. An American who carried out a suicide attack for the Al Nusrah Front in Syria was identified as Moner Mohammad Abusalha, who had grown up in Florida.
In a speech at West Point, President Obama set forth his foreign policy direction, which foresees fewer major US military deployments, more multilateral operations and diplomatic efforts, increased support for "vetted" Syrian rebels, and the creation of a $5 billion fund to help countries like Turkey and Jordan combat terrorism, which he said remains the most direct threat to the US. Obama claimed that "al Qaeda's leadership on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated" and said the main threat now comes from al Qaeda affiliates and extremists. US officials confirmed that a US citizen carried out a recent Al Nusrah Front suicide bombing in Syria.