(CBS News) It has not been widely noted, but the Yemeni military has made some important progress this week in its battle against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Yemeni forces have killed at least 17 al Qaeda militants this week and Yemen's government claims to have regained control of two key AQAP strongholds. Militants were reportedly routed from their positions in Jaar and Zinjibar in the more remote Southeastern section of the country.
U.S. officials familiar with the situation in Yemen say in the past year AQAP had managed to create small safe havens, including training camps, in that region. And it's believed all of the attempted attacks by AQAP aimed at the US have originated in that part of Yemen.
In December 2009 AQAP launched the first "underwear bomb" plot and in the fall of 2010 AQAP militants built two improvised bombs which they hid in printers aboard cargo planes. More recently, a second underwear bomb plot was infiltrated and thwarted by U.S., British, and Saudi intelligence services. None of the attacks succeeded but officials warn AQAP is committed to new attempts.
U.S. officials say they are encouraged by the recent offensive against AQAP, but note new Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi needs more resources and better military coordination to maintain the pressure. The worry is that any pullback or let up could give AQAP time to "dig in".
One other potential bright spot involves opposition to AQAP from Yemeni tribal leaders. Officials say there are some "nascent signs" that certain local strongmen have started to challenge AQAP's presence in the region. But, so far there's little evidence that those efforts are widespread, sustained, or particularly effective.
Most analysts now believe that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula represents the greatest immediate terror threat to the US and the West, surpassing core al Qaeda in Pakistan in terms of numbers of fighters and capabilities.
(CBS News) U.S. officials confirm that a drone strike early today in Pakistan targeted al Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al Libi. But officials still can't say whether al Libi was hit in the strike.
If confirmed, al Libi's death would be a big blow to the remaining Pakistan-based core of al Qaeda. He is among a handful of senior advisors left from the inner circle of al Qaeda founder Osama bin laden. al Libi has served as a leading propagandist for the group, an operational leader, and most recently as second-in command to new al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri.Continue »
Last updated: 3:15 pm ET
The United States is in a tough spot when it comes to producing evidence of Osama bin Laden's death. The government claims that it has positively identified bin Laden through DNA analysis and facial recognition. But, there will be a clamor in some corners for pictures of the body. Pictures of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former head of al Qaeda in Iraq, were released after he was killed, as were the pictures of the two sons of Saddam Hussein after their deaths at the hands of U.S. troops.
But, bin Laden's case is touchier. The U.S. government doesn't want to do anything to enhance the now former al Qaeda leader's mythological standing in the radical Islamic world. His death picture would become instant fodder for radical Jihadist websites and undoubtedly a recruiting tool.
However, sources say searches of Uka's computer, phone records, and home have turned up no evidence so far connecting him to any terror group or any broader terror plot.
Uka has confessed, telling German investigators he acted alone. Authorities have found nothing to refute that. Prior to the shooting, Uka was totally under the radar. Sources say he had no police record and his name was not on any US terror watch list.
Investigators believe that Uka, a 21-year-old Kosovo national, became radicalized in recent months. He was a prolific poster on Facebook, visited multiple Jihadist chat rooms and apparently interacted with other Islamic radicals. However, investigators say they have not found any indications that Uka spoke with or took directions from any terrorists.Continue »
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and a multinational task force of U.S. military troops, Afghan police, and Russian officials on Thursday seized nearly $56 million dollars in heroin in a raid targeting drug labs in Nangarhar Province near Jalabad.
Four clandestine laboratories were discovered, including three used for processing heroin and one used for "converting morphine."
Officials acting on intelligence tips found the labs which had been hidden by vegetation.
Senior DEA officials said that all of the processing facilities "were abandoned at the time of the operation," but they added that "evidence collected confirmed that all of the labs were actively producing heroin and morphine."
Thursday's raid netted 932 kilograms of heroin, 156 kilograms of opium, processing chemicals, cooking vats, and 500 feet of water hoses.
These raids are part of an ongoing drug-busting initiative in Afghanistan called "Operation Tar Pit" aimed at cutting off heroin production and boosting the credibility of Afghan counternarcotics forces.Afghanistan produced an estimated 6,900 metric tons of opium in 2009--about 85 percent of the global heroin and morphine supply--according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime "World Drug Report 2010".
On Monday, ten people who have lived for years in various neighborhoods around New York, Washington, and Boston, were rounded up and charged as Russian spies. Another alleged agent was detained on Tuesday in Cyprus.
Criminal charges unsealed Monday say the ten are part of a network of Russian agents trained and sent to the United States with instructions "...to search and develop ties in policymaking circles...and send intels (intelligence reports)..." back to Moscow.
However, it's not clear exactly what the alleged Russian agents stole, or if any of the information was sensitive or important.
All of the suspects face charges of acting as unlawful and unregistered agents of a foreign government, a crime punishable by five years in prison. Eight of them also face more serious money laundering changes which carry potential 20 year prison terms. But, they are not charged with more serious espionage violations, a sign their efforts did not compromise classified or national security information.
The alleged agents, who were operating covertly for several years, were instructed to become "Americanized," to establish roots in U.S. communities, take jobs, and mingle with the powerful and the policy makers. The court documents are vague, but say one of the suspects met with a former high-ranking U.S. national security official and another made contact with an official who worked on nuclear weapon development. And a third alleged operative was told to collect information of university students who may be applying for jobs with the Central Intelligence Agency.
The alleged spies used both high-tech and low-tech tradecraft in their caper. The charges say the suspects used encrypted messages hidden inside pictures on publicly available websites, coded radio transmissions, and sometimes memos written with invisible ink to pass information.
Messages and money were often exchanged in face-to-face meetings in public places like train stations and parks, but occasionally cash was left at drop sites. Prosecutors say a suspect buried a wad of cash in upstate New York that was dug up and retrieved two years later by other alleged agents.
Russian officials, calling the allegations "baseless", are upset that the arrests played out just days after President Obama hosted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in a hamburger summit aimed at "resetting relations." Justice Department officials and the FBI have not explained the timing of the arrests, but it's clear from the court papers the investigation stretches back more than a decade.
Nikolai Kovalyov, the former chief of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, described some of the allegations as resembling a "bad spy novel."Continue »
But officials say "...some have disappeared and are suspected of having gone to al Qaeda training camps."
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Napolitano will be traveling to Mexico City April 1-3 to meet with her security counterparts and attend a conference on arms trafficking. Attorney General Eric Holder will also be there.
Napolitano says the Obama administration is very focused on Mexico and is in the process of increasing security efforts along the border. Additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol officers are being deployed, and the administration is still working on a broader plan to deal with potential "spillover violence," though details are not yet available.
2541531 Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed and his four accused co-conspirators want to be perfectly clear. They planned 9/11. They are proud of the results. And America had it coming.
In an extraordinary six page filing with the Military Commissions in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Mohammed and the others take full responsibility for the September 11th attacks and refute the nine accusations against them, point-by-point.
At left: Al-Kini and Swedan (right) are seen in artificially age-enhanced images from an FBI Most Wanted poster.
Both men were involved in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, and more recently they had been tied to a string of suicide attacks in Pakistan, including last September's car-bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. Kini also was behind a failed 2007 assassination attempt on former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
U.S. officials will not comment on the specifics of the missile strike which was carried out by a predator drone Jan. 1.