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Hackers Bring Down Government Sites in Ukraine

Often, untangling the digital threads of such cyberoperations can takes days or weeks, which is one of the appeals of their use in modern conflicts. Sophisticated cybertools have turned up in standoffs between Israel and Iran, and the United States blamed Russia for using hacking to influence the 2016 election in the United States to benefit Donald J. Trump.

Ukraine has long been viewed as a testing ground for Russian online operations, a sort of free-fire zone for cyberweaponry in a country already entangled in a real world shooting war with Russian-backed separatists in two eastern provinces. The U.S. government has traced some of the most drastic cyberattacks of the past decade to Russian actions in Ukraine.

Tactics seen first in Ukraine have later popped up elsewhere. A Russian military spyware strain called X-Agent or Sofacy that Ukrainian cyber experts say was used to hack Ukraine’s Central Election Commission during a 2014 presidential election, for example, was later found in the server of the Democratic National Committee in the United States after the electoral hacking attacks in 2016.

Other types of malware like BlackEnergy, Industroyer and KillDisk, intended to sabotage computers used to control industrial processes, shut down electrical substations in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016, causing blackouts, including in the capital, Kyiv.

The next year, a cyberattack targeting Ukrainian businesses and government agencies that spread, perhaps inadvertently, around the world in what Wired magazine later called “the most devastating cyberattack in history.” The malware, known as NotPetya, had targeted a type of Ukrainian tax preparation software but apparently spun out of control, according to experts.

The attack initially seemed narrowly focused on the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It coincided with the assassination of a Ukrainian military intelligence officer in a car bombing in Kyiv and the start of an E.U. policy granting Ukrainians visa-free travel, an example of the type of integration with the West that Russia has opposed.

But NotPetya spread around the world, with devastating results, illustrating the risks of collateral damage from military cyberattacks for people and businesses whose lives are increasingly conducted online, even if they live far from conflict zones. Russian companies, too, suffered when the malware started to circulate in Russia.

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Israeli Leader Meets Emirati Crown Prince in Abu Dhabi

JERUSALEM — The Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, met the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, on Monday during a historic official visit by an Israeli leader to the Gulf state.

The meeting showcased the consolidation of ties between parts of the Arab world and Israel, which was long ostracized by most Arab governments until last fall, when Israeli officials began to establish formal diplomatic relationships with four Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

The four-hour meeting, which lasted two hours longer than planned, also highlighted the shifting geopolitical priorities for some Middle Eastern leaders, for whom the possible threat of a nuclear Iran is now of greater concern than an immediate resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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With Lawmaker’s Killing, U.K. Confronts a New Episode of Terrorism

Mr. Amess was also a vocal supporter of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen Khalq, or M.E.K., which campaigns for the overthrow of Iran’s government. The group has attracted a bipartisan list of American backers, including John R. Bolton, who served as a national security adviser to President Donald J. Trump, and Howard Dean, a onetime chairman of the Democratic Party.

There was no evidence linking the attack to Mr. Amess’s support for the M.E.K. Though the group was once designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Britain and the European Union, all three removed that designation several years ago.

David Jones, a Conservative member of Parliament and a leader of the British Committee for Iran Freedom, which backs the M.E.K., hailed Mr. Amess as “a champion of human rights and democracy in Iran for more than three decades.”

For residents of Leigh-on-Sea, the senselessness of the attack was difficult to comprehend, let alone accept.

“I just want to know, why?” said Audrey Martin, 66, who was buying groceries as Mr. Johnson and the other leaders arrived to lay flowers. “Why has he done it and why has he chosen to come to Leigh-on-Sea?”

Fidelia McGhee, 48, who lives near the site of the attack, said that Mr. Amess had always championed local causes. While she described herself as a longtime Labour voter, she praised him as a kind, committed politician. She called the attack “the stuff of nightmares” that would leave an indelible mark on the town.

“It is quite tragic,” she said. “I think we’ve lost something we will never get back.”

Mark Landler and Stephen Castle reported from London, and Megan Specia from Leigh-on-Sea, England.

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Deadly Clashes in Beirut Escalate Fears Over Lebanon’s Dysfunction

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Armed clashes between sectarian militias transformed Beirut neighborhoods into a deadly war zone on Thursday, raising fears that violence could fill the void left by the near-collapse of the Lebanese state.

Rival gunmen, chanting in support of their leaders, hid behind cars and dumpsters to fire automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at their rivals. At least six people were killed and 30 wounded. Residents cowered in their homes, and teachers herded children into the hallways and basements of schools to protect them from the shooting.

It was some of the worst violence in years to convulse Beirut, aggravating the sense of instability in a small country already buffeted by devastating political and economic crises and inviting recollections of its civil war that ended more than three decades ago.

Since the fall of 2019, Lebanon’s currency has plummeted more than 90 percent in value, battering the economy and reducing Lebanese who were comfortably middle class to poverty. The World Bank has said Lebanon’s economic collapse could rank among the three worst in the world since the mid-1800s.

Grave fuel shortages in recent months have left all but the wealthiest Lebanese struggling with prolonged power blackouts and long lines at gas stations. The country’s once vaunted banking, medical and education sectors have all suffered profound losses, as professionals have fled to seek livelihoods abroad.

A huge explosion in the port of Beirut last year killed more than 200 people and exposed the results of what many Lebanese see as decades of poor governance and corruption. The Covid-19 pandemic has only aggravated the economic distress and sense of despair.

The fighting on Thursday was part of the continuing fallout from the port explosion.

Two Shiite Muslim parties — Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group, and the Amal Movement — had organized a protest calling for the removal of the judge charged with investigating the blast and determining who was responsible.

As the protesters gathered, gunshots rang out, apparently fired by snipers in nearby high buildings, according to witnesses and Lebanese officials, and protesters scattered to side streets, where they retrieved weapons and rejoined the fray.

posts on Twitter, saying that the clashes had been caused by “uncontrolled and widespread weapons that threaten citizens in every time and place,” a reference to Hezbollah’s vast arsenal.

His group accused Hezbollah of exploiting sectarian tensions to derail the port investigation over fears it could be implicated.

Hassan Diab, who, along with his cabinet, resigned after the port explosion.

There had been hope that Mr. Mikati would bring some stability as his new government took shape. But at the same time, tensions over the port investigation grew deeper.

The blast at the port was caused by the sudden combustion of some 2,750 tons of volatile chemicals that had been unloaded into the port years before, but more than a year later no one has been held accountable.

The judge investigating the explosion, Tarek Bitar, has moved to summon a range of powerful politicians and security officials for questioning, which could result in criminal charges against them.

Hezbollah has grown increasingly vocal in its criticism of Judge Bitar, and his inquiry was suspended this week after two former ministers facing charges lodged a legal complaint against him.

Families of the victims condemned the move, with critics saying that the country’s political leadership was trying to shield itself from accountability for the largest explosion in the turbulent country’s history.

On Monday, the judge had issued an arrest warrant for Ali Hussein Khalil, a prominent Shiite member of Parliament and a close adviser to the leader of the Amal party. The warrant leveled serious accusations against Mr. Khalil.

“The nature of the offense,” the document read, is “killing, harming, arson and vandalism linked to probable intent.”

On Tuesday, the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah issued some of his most scathing criticism of Judge Bitar, accusing him of “politically targeting” officials in his investigation and calling for a protest on Thursday.

When Hezbollah followers joined the protests to call for the judge’s removal, witnesses said, the sniper shots rang out.

Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Marc Santora from London. Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar from Beirut, and Vivian Yee and Mona el-Naggar from Cairo.

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U.S. Reaches Agreement to Release Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou

For its part, the Chinese government has underwritten the cost of installing Huawei gear, in an effort to dominate networks from Latin America to the Middle East.

Ms. Meng came to personify that effort. Her determination to wire up Tehran, at a time in which the West was seeking to contain Iran’s nuclear program, attracted protests among American officials. For that reason, some China hard-liners objected on Friday to news that the charges were being dropped.

“It sends the wrong message to Chinese business executives around the world that it’s permissible to engage in fraudulent transactions with Iran and North Korea,” said Michael Pillsbury, a scholar at the Hudson Institute who was a top China adviser to former President Donald J. Trump. “I fear that another part of the message has been that the Biden team approved selling Huawei some types of chips and technology, which will also undercut the message that Huawei should not be involved in 5G telecommunications systems of our friends and allies.”

Huawei mustered a furious effort in Washington and in Canada to get Ms. Meng released. But she refused to plead guilty to bank and wire fraud charges stemming from Huawei’s deal in Iran. Months later, she agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement, which will ultimately lead to dropping all the charges against her.

The case began when Canadian authorities arrested Ms. Meng, 49, in December 2018, at the request of the United States. She owns two imposing homes in Vancouver, and was allowed to stay in them with an ankle bracelet to track her whereabouts. She eventually settled at her gated, seven-bedroom mansion in the city’s exclusive Shaughnessy neighborhood, where she received painting lessons and private massages.

She instantly became one of the world’s most famous detainees — especially because she is the daughter of Huawei’s famous founder and chief executive, Ren Zhengfei, a former People’s Liberation Army officer who turned his small telecommunications firm into a national champion.

In January 2019, the Justice Department indicted Huawei and Ms. Meng. While the charges focused on bank and wire fraud, in announcing the indictment, the Justice Department alleged that Huawei employees, including Ms. Meng, lied to bank officials when asked about whether Huawei was unlawfully engaged in business with Iran, knowing that U.S. sanctions on Tehran would prevent the banks from financing the sale.

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Afghan Uyghurs Fear Taliban Will Deport Them to China

Ibrahim’s parents fled political turmoil in China for Afghanistan more than 50 years ago. At that time, Mao Zedong had unleashed the Cultural Revolution, and life was upended for many Uyghurs, the mostly Muslim ethnic group in Xinjiang that included Ibrahim’s parents.

Ibrahim was born in Afghanistan. But now he, too, is trying to escape the clutches of Chinese authoritarianism.

He and his family have been afraid to leave their home in Afghanistan since the Taliban, the country’s new rulers, took control last month, venturing outside only to buy essentials. “We are extremely worried and nervous,” said Ibrahim, whose full name is being withheld for his safety. “Our children are worried for our safety, so they have asked us to stay home.”

For years, Chinese officials have issued calls for leaders in Afghanistan to crack down on and deport Uyghur militants they claimed were sheltering in Afghanistan. The officials said the fighters belonged to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist organization that Beijing has held responsible for a series of terrorist attacks in China since the late 1990s.

locked up close to a million Uyghurs in camps and subjected those outside to constant surveillance. China says the camps are necessary to weed out extremism and to “re-educate” the Uyghurs.

Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, standing side by side with leaders of the Taliban in July. Earlier this month, Mr. Wang pledged $30 million in food and other aid to the new government, as well as three million coronavirus vaccine doses; on Thursday, he said Afghanistan’s overseas assets “should not be unreasonably frozen or used as a bargaining chip to exert pressure,” obliquely referencing American control of billions of dollars belonging to the Afghan central bank.

Since the late 1990s, Beijing has succeeded in pressuring several countries to deport Uyghurs. The Uyghur Human Rights Project, an advocacy group based in Washington, has counted 395 cases of Uyghurs being sent to China since 1997. The group said in an August report that journalists and human rights organizations have documented 40 cases of detentions or renditions from Afghanistan to China, though it has verified only one of them.

cash shortages. People have been unable to withdraw money from banks. Grocery prices have shot up. The Taliban have also looked to China for help avoiding a possible economic collapse.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

“The lines are blurred on China’s part between who constitutes a terrorist and who constitutes someone who has simply been politically active,” Mr. Small said. “Individuals who are politically and economically connected with any activities they find problematic” are likely to be targeted, he said.

The uncertain future of Uyghurs in Afghanistan has caught the attention of Abdul Aziz Naseri, a Uyghur activist who was born in Afghanistan and now lives in Turkey. Mr. Abdul Aziz said he had compiled a list of roughly 500 Afghan Uyghurs who want to leave the country.

“They say to me: ‘Please save our future, please save our children,’” he said.

He shared the names and photographs of these people with The New York Times, but asked that their information be kept private. At least 73 people on the list appeared to be under the age of 5.

Shabnam, a 32-year-old Uyghur, her mother and two sisters managed to get out of Afghanistan last month. The women rushed to the airport in Kabul during the frenzied United States evacuation. Her sisters boarded one flight, her mother another. Shabnam said she was the last to leave.

In an interview, she described being separated from her husband while getting through the chaotic security lines at the airport. She was holding his passport and begged the security guards to deliver it to him. No one helped, she said.

Shabnam waited for her husband for four days, while the people around her at the airport encouraged her to leave.

She finally did — boarding a U.S. military plane with hundreds of other Afghans late last month. Her trip took her to Qatar, Germany and finally the United States, where she landed on Aug. 26. She is now in New Jersey and still trying to get her husband out of Afghanistan.

“I was happy that I got out of there, thank God,” Shabnam said. “I like it here. It’s safe and secure.”

Nilo Tabrizy contributed reporting.

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The Scientist and the A.I.-Assisted, Remote-Control Killing Machine

If Israel was going to kill a top Iranian official, an act that had the potential to start a war, it needed the assent and protection of the United States. That meant acting before Mr. Biden could take office. In Mr. Netanyahu’s best-case scenario, the assassination would derail any chance of resurrecting the nuclear agreement even if Mr. Biden won.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh grew up in a conservative family in the holy city of Qom, the theological heart of Shia Islam. He was 18 when the Islamic revolution toppled Iran’s monarchy, a historical reckoning that fired his imagination.

He set out to achieve two dreams: to become a nuclear scientist and to take part in the military wing of the new government. As a symbol of his devotion to the revolution, he wore a silver ring with a large, oval red agate, the same type worn by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and by General Suleimani.

He joined the Revolutionary Guards and climbed the ranks to general. He earned a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Isfahan University of Technology with a dissertation on “identifying neutrons,” according to Ali Akbar Salehi, the former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency and a longtime friend and colleague.

He led the missile development program for the Guards and pioneered the country’s nuclear program. As research director for the Defense Ministry, he played a key role in developing homegrown drones and, according to two Iranian officials, traveled to North Korea to join forces on missile development. At the time of his death, he was deputy defense minister.

“In the field of nuclear and nanotechnology and biochemical war, Mr. Fakhrizadeh was a character on par with Qassim Suleimani but in a totally covert way,” Gheish Ghoreishi, who has advised Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Arab affairs, said in an interview.

When Iran needed sensitive equipment or technology that was prohibited under international sanctions, Mr. Fakhrizadeh found ways to obtain them.

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U.S. Launches Strike on ISIS-K as Bombing’s Death Toll Soars

The U.S. military said on Friday night that it had launched its first reprisal strike for the devastating suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport the day before, using a drone to target and apparently kill a planner for the group that claimed responsibility for the deaths of as many as 170 civilians and 13 U.S. service members.

“U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner,” Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in a statement, referring to the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, also known as Islamic State Khorasan.

“The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan,” Captain Urban said. “Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties.”

The attack at the airport on Thursday was one of the deadliest bombings in the nearly two decades since the U.S.-led invasion. American officials believe “another terror attack in Kabul is likely,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday afternoon. “The threat is ongoing and it is active. Our troops are still in danger.”

attack also killed 13 U.S. service members, and one of the first to be identified was Rylee McCollum, 20, a Marine who had been on his first overseas deployment, according to his father. He was one of 10 Marines, two soldiers, and one Navy medic killed in the attack, according to defense officials.

ISIS-K, instead saying it was just one. The explosion hit right near the airport’s Abbey Gate, at a security chokepoint that squeezed together an enormous crowd that U.S. troops were checking for entry.

It was not only fear that trimmed the crowd at the airport Friday, what had been a constant mass since the Taliban assumed power nearly two weeks ago. Taliban fighters with Kalashnikov rifles kept people farther away from the airport’s entrance gates, guarding checkpoints with trucks and at least one Humvee.

Flights to evacuate people already within the airport resumed soon after the bombing. But the airport itself was largely locked down on Friday.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

Both exercises — the walk and the nudging — are proving to be challenges. In the normally bustling and noisy Shahr-e Naw neighborhood, once alive with street vendors and jostling pedestrians, there is now an unsettling silence. And so far his encounters with the Taliban have not yielded the results he had hoped for.

on pace to fall well short of providing an exit for everyone who wants to leave.

That left Afghans scrambling to find a way out of the country.

In the southwest, thousands of people have been trying to flee into Pakistan, gathering daily near the Spin Boldak-Chaman border crossing, the only one designated for refugees. In the west, several thousand people a day are also crossing into Iran, U.N. officials said.

Daniel Victor, Zia ur-Rehman, Jim Huylebroek, Megan Specia, Fahim Abed, Jack Healy and Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

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Afghanistan Collapse Accelerates as 2 Vital Cities Near Fall to Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two more major cities in western and southern Afghanistan were on the verge of collapse to the Taliban on Thursday night, as the insurgency’s race to seize control of the country accelerated.

With the Taliban’s sudden gains in Kandahar, in the country’s southern Pashtun heartland, and Herat, a vital cultural and economic hub, the insurgents appear to be nearing a complete military takeover. Only four major cities — including the capital, Kabul — remain under government control, and two of them are under siege by the Taliban.

Over the past week, the Taliban have toppled city after city in a stunning advance that has well positioned the insurgents to attack Kabul. It has also laid bare the Afghan security forces’ near complete collapse less than three weeks before the United States is set to completely withdraw. Some American officials fear the Afghan government will implode within 30 days, and are preparing for an evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

The insurgents now control well over half of the country’s 400-odd districts. And with the fall of Kandahar and Herat, along with another provincial capital south of Kabul, Ghazni, and one in the northwest, Qala-e-Naw — all on Thursday — the insurgents will control 13 provincial capitals.

eeking assurances from the Taliban that they will not attack the embassy if the insurgents overrun the capital, two American officials said.

Afghan security forces, exhausted and overstretched by the Taliban’s advance, are giving up across the country. On Wednesday, an entire Afghan army corps in the northern city Kunduz surrendered to Taliban fighters, who had seized control of the city a few days before. They handed over their weapons and vehicles to the insurgents and ceded control of the city’s airport, officials said.

As the Taliban have pressed on their brutal offensive, thousands of displaced people have flocked to Kabul, one of the last islands of government control not yet under siege. Hundreds of thousands of others have been trapped between fighting in city streets and airstrikes from the sky.

“Every second here I am concerned, I am crying,” said Humaira Jahion, 47, who fled to Kabul from the northern city Kunduz hours before it fell to the Taliban on Sunday.

For two nights she sheltered in her home with her seven children, afraid to leave after a mortar landed half a block from her house. Now, thinking about her family’s future as she crowded in with hundreds of others in a makeshift shelter, a look of anguish washed over her face.

“There is no future here,” she said. “There is no future for me and there is no future for my children.”

Asadullah Timory, Najim Rahim, Jim Huylebroek and Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.

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