Egypt Independent: World-Main news en Hostage locations difficult to track - and may be getting harder <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>The US drone strike that accidentally killed two hostages in Pakistan exposes intelligence shortfalls that former and current US officials say appear to be growing more frequent as militants expand their safe havens and as Washington gathers less on-the-ground human intelligence.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Obtaining timely intelligence on hostages has always been difficult, especially in volatile regions where the United States has limited access and where militants have well-established operations.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But as unrest spreads, militants are acquiring more safe havens, from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq, complicating and often hampering US intelligence-gathering. This is especially so in the wake of the Arab Spring as militants exploit the vacuum left by shattered institutions.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>That has forced American intelligence operatives to become more dependent on electronic eavesdropping and spy satellites rather than using informants and on-the-ground human intelligence, say former and current US officials.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Central Intelligence Agency&#39;s inspector general will conduct what could be the first of several investigations of two January drone strikes that killed American doctor Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto, along with two US-born Al-Qaeda militants, US officials said on Friday.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The strike that killed the two hostages follows two failed US attempts in the past nine months to rescue Western hostages. Those efforts apparently relied on dated or incomplete information.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Last July, US Delta Force commandos swooped into eastern Syria to try to rescue US journalist James Foley and other hostages, only to find they had been moved. Foley was later executed by his Islamic State captors.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A December attempt to free American photojournalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie in Yemen failed when their Al-Qaeda captors were alerted to US commandos&#39; approach and executed them.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Of all those regions, few have remained off limits for as long as Pakistan&#39;s rugged northwest North Waziristan, where Weinstein and Lo Porto were held and where a generation of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants have built a stronghold for launching attacks on US-led forces in Afghanistan.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Some former US officials say the problem is too few US informants on the ground in danger zones such as Pakistan or Yemen. &quot;You can&#39;t do intelligence operations without HUMINT,&quot; said one former senior US intelligence official, using the acronym for &quot;human intelligence.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Rescue missions in enemy territory are inherently risky and, officials say, based on imperfect information.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The rule is, you almost never know where these guys are,&quot; said a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>&quot;No one silver bullet&quot;</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The latest killings re-ignited criticism from hostages&#39; family members about White House efforts to protect their loved ones, and stoked controversy over the lethal drone program.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In the drone strike that killed Weinstein and Lo Porto, sources said the CIA had no idea the two were being held there despite hundreds of hours of surveillance of the Al-Qaeda compound.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Weinstein&#39;s family also had little idea where he was or who was holding him.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In 2012, the family paid a &quot;small amount&quot; to people who claimed to be guarding the American aid worker, after receiving proof he was their captive, according to a person who worked closely with the family.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>For the next two years, calls to the family&#39;s representative in Pakistan, which took place three to four times a month and sometimes daily, followed a bizarre pattern.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The self-described guards called and made small talk. They would confirm that they had received the family&rsquo;s payment and promised to release Weinstein soon. But they never agreed on an a release date. When the family asked for a proof of life video, the callers said Weinstein was in good health and again insisted he would be freed soon.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The person who worked with the family said the self-described guards made their final call two weeks ago.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It is very difficult for US spy agencies to acquire timely information about where and how hostages are being held, current and former US officials said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;It&#39;s a very complex proposition,&quot; requiring the stitching together of multiple streams of intelligence from various data collection methods, said Dane Egli, a former senior White House advisor for hostage policy under President George W. Bush. &quot;There&#39;s no one silver bullet.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>To militant groups, hostages are an extremely valuable commodity and kidnappers make their captives&#39; security a top priority, the officials said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Egli said that opportunities to learn information from local inhabitants or interrogating detainees have been reduced as the United States has withdrawn troops and intelligence assets from Iraq and Afghanistan. Another obstacle is the expansion of safe havens and ungoverned spaces, from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to Yemen.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Any time they have secured real estate ... it&#39;s harder for us to penetrate the (US military) Special Forces for us to do a surprise mission&quot; and attempt rescue, Egli said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Sometimes there is virtually no information at all. American journalist Austin Tice disappeared in Damascus in August 2012, and has not been heard from other than a brief video that surfaced five weeks later.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>US officials have given Tice&#39;s family no indication they know where he is, a person familiar with the situation said on Thursday.</div><div>&nbsp;</div> Sat, 25 Apr 2015 10:13:00 +0000 Reuters 2448655 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/04/25/501010/hostage1_04-25-15.jpg Several US probes likely of drone strikes that killed hostages <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>The Central Intelligence Agency&#39;s Inspector General will conduct what could be the first of several investigations into the CIA drone strikes that killed American and Italian hostages and two US-born Al-Qaeda militants, US government sources said on Friday.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Senate Intelligence Committee also is reviewing the attacks, a Congressional source said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Depending upon the results of the CIA watchdog&#39;s investigation, US President Barack Obama could establish an outside investigative panel to examine the drone attacks, and broader US drone policy, said a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Obama created a similar panel in August 2013 to examine US electronic surveillance following revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We&#39;re going to review what happened. We&#39;re going to identify the lessons that can be learned and any improvements and changes that can be made,&quot; Obama said in a speech on Friday marking the 10th anniversary of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The White House has revealed few details about the reviews, declining even to identify the CIA Inspector General as the office doing the initial probe. The CIA&#39;s role in drone strikes remains officially classified.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;At this point, I wouldn&#39;t even be in a position to promise that we would have an extended public discussion of those reviews, given the sensitive nature of ... what they&#39;re reviewing,&quot; White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>On Thursday, Obama acknowledged that a US &quot;counter-terrorism operation&quot; in January inadvertently killed US hostage Warren Weinstein and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>US born militant Ahmed Farouq was killed in a drone strike which also resulted in the deaths of the hostages while American militant Adam Gadahn was killed in a separate drone attack.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But the CIA did not know any of those four individuals were present at the compounds at which drone-borne missiles were aimed, the officials said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Instead, the CIA had concluded, after protracted surveillance of the compounds, that they housed individuals believed to be senior Al-Qaeda operatives and facilitators.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Under secret government procedures, the president is supposed to approve any drone strikes which knowingly target Americans. Other senior officials are empowered to authorize drone attacks on foreigners if there is strong intelligence linking them to terrorism.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>When the CIA first started launching lethal drone attacks against suspected militants, it was required to have extremely high confidence that a specific individual was at a specific place at a specific time.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>However, President George W. Bush in 2008 authorized &quot;signature strikes,&quot; lethal attacks against individuals who fit the profile of militants but whose precise identity is not known.</div> Sat, 25 Apr 2015 07:26:00 +0000 Reuters 2448645 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/04/25/501010/hostage_04-25-15.jpg Witnesses: Buildings collapse in Nepal capital after 7.7 quake <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>A massive earthquake measuring 7.7 magnitude struck 80 km (50 miles) east of Pokhara in Nepal on Saturday, causing some buildings in the capital Kathmandu to collapse, witnesses said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>There was no immediate word on casualties.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A Reuters reporter in Kathmandu said he had seen some buildings collapse and walls of several houses reduced to rubble.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Everyone is out in the streets, people are rushing to the hospital,&rdquo; the reporter said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Tremors were felt as far away as New Delhi and other northern cities in India.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Massive tremors have been felt here in Delhi and several other parts of India,&quot; said a newsreader on NDTV in Delhi.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;You can see pictures of our Delhi studios, where the windows rattled and everything shook for a very long time, for a minute perhaps or longer,&quot; she said as footage showed studio ceiling camera lights shaking.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A police officer in the control room of neighboring Indian state of Bihar said the phone lines were jammed with callers from across the heavily populated state. &quot;We don&#39;t know about the casualties, we are flooded with calls.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The US Geological Survey said the quake was 7.7 magnitude and struck only 31 km (19 miles) deep.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div> Sat, 25 Apr 2015 07:26:00 +0000 Reuters 2448644 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/04/25/501010/nepal_04-25-15.jpg Suspected Al-Qaeda militants arrested in Italy for Vatican plot <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>Italian police were arresting 18 people on Friday suspected of belonging to an armed group linked to al Qaeda who were plotting attacks on the Vatican as well as in Pakistan and Afghanistan.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Some of the suspects, who are all Pakistanis and Afghans, were arrested in early morning raids across Italy. Police burst into the home of the group&#39;s suspected spiritual leader, in the northern city of Bergamo, a video released by them showed.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Though the suspects were plotting attacks mainly in their native countries, phone taps suggest the Vatican was also a target, said Mauro Mura, chief prosecutor of the Sardinian city of Cagliari, where the group based its headquarters.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In the tapped conversations, the suspects discuss &quot;a big jihad in Italy,&quot; added Mario Carta, head of the police unit on the case. They reference the word &quot;baba&quot;, which could mean the pope, Carta said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We don&#39;t have proof, we have strong suspicion,&quot; that the Holy See was a possible target, he added.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the hypothetical attacks were in the past, and that the new disclosures were not a matter for concern.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Italy, like other European countries, has been on heightened alert for possible terrorist schemes in the wake of the January attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>European capitals are particularly worried about possible &quot;sleeper&quot; militants, apparently living normal lives in their countries, who may at some point in the future be activated to stage attacks at home or abroad.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Italian officials are also concerned that members of terrorist groups might be hiding among the thousands of migrants who arrive in desperate state on Europe&#39;s shores every week.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Outlining the investigation at the news conference, Mura said the group had a large number of weapons and numerous followers willing to carry out acts of terrorism.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Police wire taps had determined that two people among the 18 targeted by arrest warrants were suspected of being part of a group that had protected al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US special forces at his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011, police said in a statement.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The group supported the &quot;armed struggle against the West&quot;, and wanted to incite a popular uprising against the Pakistani government so it would stop its backing of US forces in Afghanistan.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The United States has withdrawn most of its forces from Afghanistan. However, a relatively small number remains for training and special operations, while Washington is also carrying out drone strikes on Taliban militants.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The money was sent to Pakistan by members of the group who managed to avoid Italy&#39;s currency control regulations. In one case, 55,268 euros ($60,160) were carried to Pakistan on a flight from Rome to Islamabad.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But police said much of the money was moved through the trust-based transfer system known as hawala, the banking system of choice in Afghanistan&#39;s cash-based economy.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The imam arrested in Bergamo is suspected of having been a point person for the fund raising, who collected funds purportedly for religious purposes from Pakistanis and Afghans in Italy, police said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Some of those under investigation were believed to be involved in attacks that have already taken place in Pakistan, including one that killed more than 100 people in a market in the northwestern frontier city of Peshawar in 2009, the police added.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The group arranged for Pakistanis and Afghans to get into Italy under work contracts or as refugees seeking asylum and later sent some to cities in northern Europe, police said.</div> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 14:44:00 +0000 Reuters 2448638 at sites/default/files/photo/2015/04/24/484151/vatican_plot.jpg