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Nov. 19, 2015
Notes from the Pentagon

French nationals identified in terrorist ring
U.S. intelligence agencies have been increasing human and electronic spying activities in support of NATO allies seeking to unravel the plot behind the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last week.

U.S. and European spy agencies are hunting for numerous people linked to the shootings and bombings and have made scores of arrests. This week, they identified the Syrian-based speaker who appeared in the Islamic State video that claimed credit for the attack as a French jihadi.

His name is Fabien Clain, and he is from Toulouse in southern France. Authorities have linked him to a failed terrorist attack on a church in Villejuif, south of Paris, in April. Clain has had connections to the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks, which killed 129 and wounded more than 350 others, and was linked by authorities to the Villejuif plot.

The suspected terrorist mastermind has been identified as Belgian Islamic State fighter Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Police in Paris on Wednesday raided an apartment where a woman thought to be a relative of Abaaoud blew herself up using a suicide bomb vest as police moved in. Another man in the apartment was also killed in the hourlong raid, in which at least seven others were arrested, but it was unclear late Wednesday whether the second person killed was Abaaoud.

The attackers worked in three teams Friday night.

The first team was made up of three men who blew themselves up near the French national soccer stadium: Bilal Hadfi, of unknown nationality raised in Belgium; Ahmad Almohammad, who carried a fraudulent Syrian passport registered to a refugee in Greece; and a third unidentified suicide bomber.

The second team conducted a string of shootings at restaurants. It was made up of Brahim Abdeslam and Salah Abdeslama, both French nationals living in Belgium, and a third person who has not been identified.

The last team attacked the Bataclan concert hall, killing 89 people and wounding dozens more. They were Samy Amimour, who traveled to Syria in 2013, and Ismael Omar Mostefai, both Algerian-born Frenchmen, and a third unidentified attacker.

According to U.S. counterterrorism officials, Clain — who claimed Islamic State responsibility for the attack — is also known as Omar Clain and is a Muslim convert and follower of self-proclaimed Salafist Sheikh Oliver Corel, a French-Syrian jihadi who headed a group of Muslims known as the Artigat group, after the village about 40 miles south of Toulouse.

Corel has been known to French authorities for many years and has been active since 2012 in recruiting Islamist fighters for Iraq since 2012. Investigators believe the Artigat group aligned itself with the Islamic State sometime last year and was actively involved in the Paris attacks.

The Artigat group also has been linked to two anti-Semitic and anti-American jihadis identified as Abdelkader Merah and Sabri Essid, who are the brother and stepbrother, respectively, of Mohamed Merah, an Algerian who carried out the terrorist shooting in 2012 against French soldiers and Jewish civilians. Merah was killed after a shootout with police.

Clain, who was imprisoned for a time in France for jihadi-related activities in 2009, and his brother traveled to Syria in 2014. Authorities believe Clain is in Raqqa, Syria, the Islamic State’s capital, where he has been involved in producing Islamic State propaganda for the Internet.

Clain in the past has used encrypted messages to communicate with fellow jihadis and recruits. The five-minute Islamic State video claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks was released Saturday by a Twitter account administered in Islamic State-held territory that in the past specialized in French-language Islamic State propaganda.

French airstrikes on Raqqa over the weekend were thought to be aimed at targeting the French Islamic State fighters, including Clain.

Russian military forces carried out a double flight test Saturday of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), days after the Navy conducted two test launches of Trident II nuclear missiles.

On Tuesday, Moscow conducted a third missile flight test, this time an SS-25 road-mobile long-range missile.

Moscow provided advance notification for the test of the Bulava missiles, called the SS-N-32. The New START arms treaty requires advance notification of all SLBM and intercontinental ballistic missile tests in order to reduce the danger that the tests would be misread as a nuclear missile attack. “Russia exchanged notifications, as required by the New START Treaty, on two SLBM flight tests,” said Lauren Gillis, a State Department spokeswoman.

The Bulava salvo came a week after the Navy flight test of a Trident II SLBM off the coast of Southern California, followed two days later by a second Trident II test. The tests were part of secret U.S. Strategic Command war games.

Russian state-run news outlets, quoting a Defense Ministry statement, reported that the Borey-class submarine Vladimir Monomakh launched the two missiles from the White Sea to the Kura missile impact range in the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Far East.

“The parameters of the two Bulava ICBMs’ trajectory were worked through normally,” the statement said. “As confirmed by objective monitoring data, the missiles’ warheads successfully reached the Kura test site in Kamchatka.”

The Trident II missile launches were part of the annual U.S. Strategic Command military exercise known as Global Thunder.

The command refused to make public any details of the exercise and the missile launches off the California coast, which triggered widespread speculation of UFO sightings.

A dissident Chinese website revealed this week that a new purge within China’s military will net some 400 officers in a crackdown on corruption.

Additionally, the website reported, elements within the People’s Liberation Army, the Communist Party-ruled military, are opposing planned reforms announced recently by President Xi Jinping.

Mr. Xi announced in September that China will cut PLA forces by 300,000 troops. The cuts are part of China’s military modernization program aimed at reducing its large ground troop-oriented military and shifting to more high-tech forces.

According to the Chinese news outlet Bowen Press, an affiliate of the website, formal PLA military reforms will begin in December and in January the four general military departments will be reshuffled, followed by the reform of China’s seven military regions in February.

Facing opposition from middle- and high-ranking PLA officers, the reform plans were scaled back by keeping second-level military region departments, the Monday report stated.

PLA opposition to the plan prompted the Central Military Commission Leading Group on Deepening Reforms to postpone the implementation of the force cuts and restructuring until December. However, the plan to reduce the seven military regions to four military theaters will be kept, although the composition of the forces in the theaters will be altered from original plans, the report said.

The PLA’s four main departments — the General Staff Headquarters, the General Political Department, the General Logistics Department and the General Armaments Department — will be reshuffled.

The Army, Air Force and Navy headquarters will be combined into a tri-service headquarters, and the General Logistics Department and the General Armament Department will be merged to create a logistics support department.

Following the Pentagon’s model of a Joint Chiefs of Staff, the PLA will set up a similar body with the head of the three services and relevant leaders to advise the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, the ultimate power organ in China.

According to the report, “decision-making will be conducted by the chairman and the general staff.” The role of the deputy chairman of the CMC will be greatly weakened, according to Bowen.

The report said the planned purge will happen at the end of November and the beginning of December.

Communist authorities will announce that a group of more than 400 “small tigers” — lower-ranking senior officials — will be demoted. The officers include field and company-grade officers who were implicated in corruption.

The demotions are the logical result of the ongoing scandal involving senior PLA officers. In July, China ousted Gen. Guo Boxiong, former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, who was accused of taking payoffs in exchange for promoting PLA officers.

  • Staff reporter Rowan Scarborough contributed to this column. Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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