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Saudi security suspects give themselves up

DUBAI (Reuters) – Three Saudi men on a list of 23 people wanted by the authorities over security offences have turned themselves in, the interior ministry said on Monday.

The report, carried by state news agency SPA, came as Saudi security forces pushed ahead with an operation in the eastern part of the kingdom to try to flush out armed men, including those on the list announced in January 2012 . The area is home to many of the country’s minority Shi’ite Muslims.

The interior ministry identified the three as Mohammed Isa al-Lubbad, Ramzi Mohammed Jamal and Ali Hassan al-Zayed, and said their “initiative (to surrender voluntarily) will be taken into consideration”.

Many of those on the list have been either killed or captured in recent years . The Saudi Gazette newspaper said that only three of those on the original list remained at large, while eight have surrendered .

The rest were killed during clashes with the security forces, it said.

Saudi security forces have been trying for more than two months to defeat gunmen behind attacks on police in Awamiya, a Shi’ite town of around 30,000 in the eastern region that has been the centre of protests against the Sunni government.

Fighting has intensified over the past two weeks, when elite forces entered the town . In May the authorities began a campaign to tear down the old quarter to prevent gunmen using the narrow streets to evade capture.

Residents estimate that up to 20,000 people have fled to towns and villages nearby . Up to 12 people have been killed in the past week: three policemen and nine civilians, residents say.

The area, in oil-producing Qatif province, has seen unrest and occasional armed attacks on security forces since 2011 “Arab Spring”-style protests .

Residents complain of unfair treatment by the government, something Riyadh denies.

Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Bolton

Germany’s cyber security chief on hacking, Russia and problems hiring experts

German Government Commissioner for Information Technology Klaus Vitt | German Federal Ministry of the Interior

Klaus Vitt discusses his role protecting Germany from cyber attacks.

By 1

3/20/17, 7:54 PM CET

Updated 3/20/17, 8:10 PM CET

This article is also available in: German2

Read more: Hacked information bomb under Germany s election3

BERLIN Meet the man in charge of protecting Europe s largest country against the ever-changing threat of hacking: the German government s IT commissioner, Klaus Vitt. During an interview with POLITICO at the German Interior Ministry, Vitt described the country s current cyber threat level as increasingly critical, announced plans to cooperate with private companies and explained why his analysts believe most professional hacking attacks on Germany come from Russia or China.

In September, Germany elects a new parliament . Could the vote be manipulated by cyber attacks?

We have analyzed all processes during election day . Wherever we found weak spots, we have introduced measures and taken precautions. In Germany, there are no electronic voting machines or automation .

The vote, therefore, is not that big of a target . However, there s never a security of 100 percent.

You re talking about potential attacks on the IT network on election night . Another issue is cyber attacks that could happen in the run-up to the election . People are concerned that stolen material from hacks could be used to compromise candidates . Do they have a reason to be afraid?

The danger is real . This is why our Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) advises parliamentarians and their groups in the parliament how to protect themselves . It starts with using virus protection software on your private computer but certainly doesn t end there.

Have cyber attacks increased during the last couple of years?

Yes, the threat situation is becoming increasingly critical . We still observe many security breaches in software and hardware, as analyzed in the BSI s annual report on the state of IT security . This in itself is critical . At the same time, however, our society, economy and state are increasingly becoming more digitalized, which also makes them more vulnerable . On top of that, attackers are becoming more professional, and they are using more intelligent malware.

In 2015, a broad-scale cyber attack on the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, made headlines . What consequences did the government draw from the incident?

The Bundestag is in charge of its own IT security . However, there have been numerous consultations on how the parliament should make its network more secure, and the government took part in them . These recommendations were put into action very consistently . The network and its security components were completely rebuilt from scratch.

Could foreign intelligence services be involved in attacks like the one in 2015?

We are dealing with very professional attackers, that s why only in rare cases can you identify them indisputably . We analyze serious attacks very thoroughly to find out from where they originate . In order to do that, we take patterns from comparable attacks in the past as a reference . Based on such analogies, one can say with a certain probability where those attacks originate from and those analogies suggest that a majority of attacks comes from Russia or China, at least geographically.

How can Germany protect itself?

Attackers want to produce the largest effect possible . That s why they target their attacks primarily against critical infrastructure.

With Germany s IT security law introduced in 2015, we have created legislation that focuses on such infrastructures . On the one hand, it introduces minimum standards for IT security: how operators need to protect themselves against cyber attacks . There are regular checks to make sure they still follow those standards . On the other hand, they are obliged to inform authorities about any critical IT security incidents . If operators are affected, they need to alert the BSI about it, which in turn can analyze it, assess the threat and inform other operators as fast as possible so that they can protect themselves in time. I would like to apply a similar model to other companies which are not operating critical infrastructure and the public administration.

In November 2016, Germany introduced a cyber security strategy: a plan for the country on how to protect itself and how to best react to cyber attacks. What about attacks that have already happened and data that may have been taken?

A cyber attack can have different goals . One aim can be to extract information . If you have no possibility to prevent this, you need to cut off access to the internet . This was one of the measures taken during the cyber attack on the Bundestag . From this moment on, no more information can be extracted. However, in the aftermath, it s difficult to detect where malware could possibly have had access to and which data has been extracted.

What measures are you taking?

To guarantee an appropriate IT security level, we will consolidate the data centers and the networks of the national government and its institutions. Today, we have around 1,000 rooms with servers: large ones, medium-sized ones, small ones . We will centralize them at three or four highly-protected, locations . The same thing will be done with the networks . This is how we will protect the administration with a high standard of IT security.

Another measure is expanding our Cyber Defense Center opened in 2011 . The goal is to always have a clear description of what s happening in cyber space . To do that, we will analyze and assess cyber incidents, with all national security agencies exchanging technical information about the incidents with each other . Needless to say, cyber space is not limited to just Germany. And there s another plan we are pursuing: In Germany, we have large international companies with their own cyber security units, who observe cyber attacks, similarly to what our Cyber Defense Center does .

Four DAX companies have joined forces in the so-called German Cybersecurity Organization (DCSO) cooperation . Our idea is to work with them through exchanging technical information . However, we need a contractual basis for that . This is about highly sensitive data.

When in 2015, a Bundestag subcommittee met to discuss the hacking attack, a BSI official told the MPs that only around 15 employees inside his office had the expertise to analyze and deal with such an attack . This doesn t sound like a lot of people?

The BSI is only one unit in our Cyber Defense Center . We have more experts in the Federal Criminal Police, in the Armed Forces, and in both our domestic and the foreign intelligence agencies.

Talking about personnel: Part of the cyber security strategy is hiring more cyber security experts . How easy or difficult is it to find candidates with the necessary expertise?

There is a great demand for IT security experts . The BSI has hired several people recently . It wasn t easy to fill those positions placing an ad in some newspaper wouldn t be enough .

All those positions could be filled; in the meantime, however, we have new open positions.

How attractive a job is, however, is not only defined by its salary but also by how exciting or dynamic its environment is and by its compatibility with having a family.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Related stories on these topics:

References

  1. ^ (www.politico.eu)
  2. ^ German (www.politico.eu)
  3. ^ Hacked information bomb under Germany s election (www.politico.eu)

News Tunisia: Abuses in the name of security threatening reforms

Tunisian security forces reliance on the brutal tactics of the past, including torture, arbitrary arrests, detentions and restrictions on travel of suspects as well as harassment of their family members, is threatening Tunisia s road to reform, said Amnesty International in a new report published today. In response to a series of armed attacks since March 2015 which shook the country, the authorities have stepped up security measures, increasingly relying on emergency laws, many of which are inconsistent with human rights obligations.

We want an end to the fear : Abuses under Tunisia s state of emergency 1details how the security forces have imposed these measures in an arbitrary, repressive and discriminatory manner . These abuses risk jeopardizing gains made over the past six years which have seen Tunisians enjoy greater freedoms of expression, assembly and association, rights that are enshrined in the 2014 Constitution.

There is no doubt that the authorities have a duty to counter security threats and protect the population from deadly attacks, but they can do so while respecting the human rights protections set out in the Tunisian constitution and international law, as well as by ensuring accountability for any human rights violations committed by security officers, said Heba Morayef, North Africa research director at Amnesty International.

Giving security agencies a free hand to act above the law will not deliver security. Giving security agencies a free hand to act above the law will not deliver security

Heba Morayef, North Africa research director at Amnesty International

The report details the impact of emergency measures on the everyday lives of those subjected to them, and includes cases of torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, house searches without warrants, arbitrary assigned residence orders and travel restrictions known as S17 orders . It shows how in some cases these measures are imposed in a discriminatory manner based on appearance, religious beliefs or previous criminal convictions and with disregard to the due process of law.

Amnesty International communicated these concerns to the Tunisian authorities and received a written response from the Ministry of Interior in December 2016 . The response, which is included in the report, set out the legal framework that allows for these measures but did not address concerns about the manner in which they are being implemented by security forces and the impact they are having on people s rights and lives. The start of the Truth and Dignity Commission public hearings in November 2016 has opened public debate over accountability for abuses of the past and security sector reform . However, the Commission faces an uphill battle as accountability for abuses of the past has been extremely limited thus far and its mandate does not extend beyond 2013.

The fact that abuses are being committed in the name of security has meant that the scale of human rights violations in Tunisia today has thus far gone unaddressed by the Tunisian authorities, said Heba Morayef.

Tunisian officials who have publicly and privately stated their commitment to upholding human rights and breaking with the past must order an end to these practices and ensure that they are effectively investigated.

Resumption in use of repressive tactics

The chilling accounts detailed in this report signal a disturbing rise in the use of repressive tactics against suspects in terrorism-related cases over the past two years, providing a grim reminder of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali s rule. The report details 23 cases of torture and other ill-treatment by the police, National Guard and counter-terrorism brigades since January 2015 and the harassment and intimidation that the victims have endured following their release . Victims described to Amnesty International how they were brutally beaten with sticks and rubber hoses, placed in stress positions such as the roast chicken position or forced to stand for prolonged periods, subjected to electric shocks, deprived of sleep or had cold water poured on them. The report also highlights two incidents of sexual violence including rape that took place in the Ben Guerdane police station in March 2016 and in Mornaguia prison in January 2015.

Ahmed (whose name has been changed to protect his identity), who was arrested in March 2016 in Ben Guerdane, told Amnesty International how security forces violently stormed his family home and beat his wife leading her to miscarry, as well as arresting two of his brothers .

When he was detained five days later he was tortured, including by being raped with a wooden stick, at the police station.

They beat me until I fell unconscious They beat me on my legs and feet and my arms which became bruised and inflamed . I still get nightmares from the torture I endured . They beat me until some of my toenails came off, he said, explaining that his harassment continues as he is stopped for questioning by security forces on a regular basis. I still get nightmares from the torture I endured . They beat me until some of my toenails came off

“Ahmed”, a torture survivor

Thousands of people have been arrested since the state of emergency was reinstated in November 2015 after the deadly bombing that targeted the Presidential Guard in Tunis . Amnesty International has documented at least 19 cases in which the arrest was arbitrary . At least 35 witnesses described raids and house sweeps in which residential homes were stormed without a judicial warrant, terrifying residents .

Some family members also faced intimidation or arbitrary arrest and torture and other ill-treatment in detention in order to coerce them to give up details about loved ones suspected of involvement in armed attacks. The report also highlights the emotional trauma and psychological impact of such repeated raids . More than a dozen people said they were forced to seek medical treatment for shock; in some cases people said the constant harassment had driven them to the brink of suicide.

We want an end to the fear . We no longer go out I feel like I m living in a cage and always afraid, and I haven t even done anything, said Meriem , who was repeatedly harassed by security officers. We want an end to the fear I feel like I m living in a cage and always afraid

“Meriem”, who was harassed by security forces

Fighting terrorism isn t an excuse to violate people .

This is injustice, Sofien , a former detainee, told Amnesty International . His wife, who was two months pregnant, had to be hospitalized as the shock had affected the foetus . On at least two occasions, men told Amnesty International that their wives had miscarried due to the stress and anxiety caused by forceful or repeated home raids. As well as being harassed through home raids, arbitrary arrest and detention, the Tunisian authorities have imposed local and international travel bans on at least 5,000 individuals and placed at least 138 people under assigned residence orders restricting their movements to specific areas. They have claimed the purpose is to prevent thousands of Tunisians from joining armed groups operating in the Middle East and North Africa and to monitor the movements of those who have returned from conflict zones .

However, Amnesty International s research shows that restrictions on movement have at times been applied in an arbitrary and disproportionate manner . People affected have been unable to work, study or lead a normal family life and have not been able to challenge the restrictions in court.

This report exposes how entrenched impunity has fostered a culture in which violations by security forces have been able to thrive, said Heba Morayef. This report exposes how entrenched impunity has fostered a culture in which violations by security forces have been able to thrive

Heba Morayef, North Africa research director at Amnesty International

Only a handful of security officers have been held to account in Tunisia despite the authorities repeatedly voicing their commitment to investigating all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment . In its written response to Amnesty International, the Ministry of Interior said that the National Security General Inspectorate had investigated one allegation of torture in 2015 and 2016 and found it to be false . Victims and eyewitnesses have faced harassment and intimidation by security officers to dissuade them from filing torture complaints.

The Tunisian authorities have made some positive changes, such as amendments to Tunisian laws in 2016 that strengthen safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment . These include reducing the time a suspect can be detained without charge and guaranteeing them access to families, lawyers and medical care . However, these changes do not legally apply to those detained in terrorism-related cases. The authorities also introduced a flawed new counter-terrorism law in 2015 which increases surveillance powers of security forces, proscribes the death penalty for certain offences and includes an overly broad definition of terrorism, leaving it open to abuse . In January 2017, the Ministry of Justice announced there were 1,647 people detained on charges of terrorism and money-laundering.

The Tunisian government must ensure that the methods used to combat security threats neither violate the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment nor restrict people s rights to liberty, movement, privacy, family life and employment in an unlawful, arbitrary, discriminatory or disproportionate manner, said Heba Morayef.

Under a state of emergency the Tunisian authorities can temporarily suspend certain rights, but the prolonged state of emergency in recent years and rampant abuse of security measures raises serious questions about whether these measures are proportionate or comply with Tunisia s international obligations .

Certain rights such as the prohibition of torture cannot be suspended in any circumstances, even during a state of emergency.

References

  1. ^ We want an end to the fear : Abuses under Tunisia s state of emergency (www.amnesty.org)