The Memo: 28 Apr—5 May 2024

The Memo from Apr 28—May 5, 2024: Summary of incidents, ranging from terrorism, covert actions, organised crimes to cybersecurity incident.

The Memo: 28 Apr—5 May 2024

In brief:

  • Philippine forces neutralised key militants in southern clashes.
  • Australian teenager fatally shot after stabbing in suspected terrorism act.
  • South Korea raises terror alert at five missions abroad.
  • Persistent violence in Balochistan demands ongoing counterterrorism efforts.
  • Russia intensifies sabotage across Europe; intelligence agencies on alert.
  • Canadian arrests link India to Sikh separatist's assassination.
  • Police rescue trafficked women, arrest two in Malaysia.
  • Turkish authorities detain 11 in organ trafficking crackdown.
  • Canadian pharmacy chain closed due to cybersecurity incident.

1. Terrorism

i. The Philippines

Philippine security forces, in coordination with military intelligence, successfully neutralised Abu Sayyaf militant Nawapi Abdulsaid following weeks of surveillance. The operation unfolded during a brief gunbattle in the remote coastal town of Hadji Mohammad Ajul on Basilan Island. Known by his nom de guerre Khatan, Abdulsaid had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and was notorious for his involvement in numerous violent acts, including the 2007 beheadings of 10 Filipino marines and the 2016 execution of two kidnapped Vietnamese sailors. In related security actions, Philippine troops recently eliminated the leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and 11 of his followers in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town. Additionally, in a separate clash in Lanao del Norte, Philippine Army troops engaged militants led by Nasser Daud, the newly appointed leader of Dawlah Islamiyah, resulting in at least five militants' deaths. .

Why it matters: Abu Sayyaf, known for its ransom kidnappings, bombings, and violent attacks, has been officially designated a terrorist organisation by both the United States and the Philippines. Despite experiencing military setbacks, surrenders, and internal conflicts that have weakened the group, Abu Sayyaf remains a significant security threat in the southern Philippines. Similarly, Dawlah Islamiyah, also known as the Maute Group, is another militant organisation active in the Mindanao region. This group, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), conducts terrorist activities including bombings and attacks. One notable attack was on a Mindanao State University gym during a Catholic Mass last December. Military operations are ongoing in the region, with efforts focused on capturing a key figure named Daud, highlighting the continuous threat these groups pose to regional security.

ii. Australia

In Perth, Western Australia, police fatally shot a 16-year-old teenager after he stabbed a man with a kitchen knife in what authorities suggest may be a terrorist act. The incident occurred late Saturday night in the suburb of Willetton. State authorities believed the teenager had been radicalised online. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed that police and intelligence agencies have briefed him, advising that there is no ongoing threat from the incident.

Why it matters: Although the attack displayed characteristics typical of terrorism, authorities have not officially designated it as such. The attacker appears to have acted independently. Australia's terrorism threat level has been lowered to "possible," indicating that ASIO and local authorities lack concrete intelligence on a specific plot. The fact that members of the local Muslim community had alerted authorities prior to the attack demonstrates their vigilance concerning signs of troubled youth. Nevertheless, the suggestion that the attacker was radicalised online highlights the ongoing vulnerability of young people to the influence of violent ideologies.

iii. South Korea

South Korea has heightened its terror alert to the second-highest level for five of its diplomatic missions abroad, following intelligence reports of potential attacks by North Korea against South Korean diplomats. The heightened alert affects South Korean embassies in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and consulates in Vladivostok, Russia, and Shenyang, China. This decision was made during a meeting of South Korea’s Counter Terrorism Center, indicating a high possibility of a terrorist attack.

Why it matters: Historically, North Korea has been involved in terror attacks and political assassinations targeting South Koreans, including the 1983 bombing in Rangoon and the 1988 destruction of a South Korean airliner. In response to these actions, the United States has periodically listed North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, most recently reinstating it in 2017 following the death of American student Otto Warmbier and the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Despite these allegations, North Korea denies any involvement in terrorist activities.

iv. Pakistan

Recent events in Pakistan's Balochistan province have underscored a troubling surge in violence, marked by a deadly bomb attack that claimed the life of senior journalist Muhammad Siddiq Mengal and injured seven others on May 3. The attack involved a remote-controlled bomb that detonated as Mengal's vehicle passed along the Sultan Ibrahim highway near Khuzdar town. This incident followed closely on the heels of twin landmine blasts in the Duki district, which killed one person and injured twenty others. The first explosion was triggered when a truck drove over a landmine, followed by a second blast targeting those who gathered at the scene. In response to this escalating violence, security forces conducted coordinated operations in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, neutralising at least 10 alleged terrorists. In North Waziristan, an intelligence-led operation resulted in the elimination of six terrorists and the destruction of their hideouts, linked to previous attacks on civilians and security personnel. Concurrently, in Balochistan, the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) engaged and killed four terrorists who had earlier attacked a police vehicle on the Quetta-Sibi Road, including three who were cornered in a nearby building after an initial shootout.

Why it matters: The continual violence in Balochistan underscores the persistent security challenges in the province, which has been plagued by bloody insurgencies, severe state repression, and an ongoing Baloch nationalist movement since 1948. These events emphasise the lasting threat from militant groups that destabilise the region and hinder socio-economic progress. Moreover, the situation is compounded by deep-rooted economic and political grievances of the Baloch people, largely stemming from a sense of economic disenfranchisement. The construction of the China-supported Gwadar Port is indicative of the economic injustices experienced by the locals. The Pakistani government has pointed to foreign entities, including India and Iran, alleging them to be contributors to the unrest, aiming to destabilise the nation. Active counterterrorism operations underline ongoing efforts to combat terrorism in these regions.

  1. Covert Actions

i. Europe

European intelligence agencies have heightened their alerts, warning of Russia's intensified sabotage activities across Europe, signaling a permanent conflict stance with the West. According to intelligence assessments from several European countries, there is an increase in covert operations including bombings, arson, and infrastructure attacks, orchestrated directly or through proxies, with a disregard for civilian safety. These efforts are becoming more aggressive, representing a shift to more openly hostile actions on European soil.

Why it matters: This surge in hostile activities is part of a broader strategy by Russia to exert influence and create instability in Europe through a variety of means including disinformation, hacking, and physical sabotage. The expulsion of Russian intelligence officers following the invasion of Ukraine marked a severe blow to Russia's intelligence network, prompting a strategic reconstitution of its operations in Europe, often leveraging the Russian diaspora and organised crime groups. These developments suggest a strategic recalibration by Russia, aiming to reassert its influence and test its capabilities in European territories.

ii. Canada

Canadian police have recently made significant arrests linked to the assassination of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, B.C., last June, raising serious allegations of foreign governmental involvement. The arrested individuals, identified as part of a hit squad, are believed to have been directed by the Indian government. This operation also ties into broader investigations, as police probe potential connections to three more murders in Canada, including that of an 11-year-old boy in Edmonton, suggesting a pattern of targeted violence that transcends international borders.

Why it matters: The charges against these individuals, who have been under tight surveillance since their identification months ago, highlight ongoing tensions between Canada and India. These developments have prompted significant diplomatic conversations, with Canadian officials directly informing their Indian counterparts of intelligence linking them to Nijjar’s killing. The situation is further complicated by the broader context of India’s alleged use of criminal networks to target dissidents abroad for plausible deniability, as detailed in a U.S. indictment. This case not only strains diplomatic relations but also underscores the challenges in balancing international cooperation against national security concerns, particularly as Canada navigates a delicate relationship with a key regional power amid global geopolitical shifts.

2. Organised crime watch

i. Malaysia

On April 26, a police operation in Labuan successfully rescued three women, aged between 31 and 33, who were allegedly coerced into working at local nightspots. Following this, a fourth woman who had escaped to Penampang was rescued the next day. Additionally, the operation resulted in the detention of two Filipino men, aged 22 and 36, believed to be connected to this trafficking ring.

Why it matters: The significance of this operation extends beyond the immediate rescue of the victims; it highlights the persistent issue of human trafficking in the region and underscores the necessity for continued vigilance and enforcement.

ii. Turkey

In Adana, police detained 11 individuals, including five Israelis and two Syrians, on allegations of organ trafficking, marking a significant crackdown on illegal activities. The investigation, spearheaded by the Provincial Directorate of Security's Anti-Smuggling and Border Gates Branch, began after officials scrutinised the passports of seven people who had flown into Adana from Israel approximately a month ago. Among them, two Syrians were found using counterfeit passports. Further inquiries unveiled that the Syrian suspects had arranged with Israeli nationals to undergo kidney transplants in Adana in return for financial compensation.

Why it matters: The police, employing both technical and physical surveillance over time, launched a successful operation to arrest the suspects involved in this illicit trade. Searches at the residences of the detainees led to the seizure of $65,000, TL 10,400, 994 Israeli shekels, and several fake passports. This operation is significant as it disrupts a part of the international organ trafficking network, which poses severe ethical and health risks.

Cybercrime and security

i. Canada

The Canadian pharmacy chain London Drugs has temporarily closed all its stores across Western Canada following a significant cybersecurity incident that was identified on April 28. The incident led to an immediate shutdown of operations in over 80 locations across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. In response, the company has activated urgent measures, including the engagement of leading third-party cybersecurity experts to manage containment, remediation, and to conduct a detailed forensic investigation. Despite the closures, pharmacists remain available to address urgent customer needs, with the company advising customers to contact their local pharmacy directly due to phone line issues. The nature of the cybersecurity incident remains unclear, with no confirmation whether ransomware was involved.

Why it matters: Earlier instances in the U.S. and Canada, such as the ransomware attack on Change Healthcare and multiple Ontario hospitals, illustrate the growing vulnerability of healthcare systems to such disruptions.This event occurs amidst a broader pattern of cyber attacks targeting healthcare entities, reflecting a troubling rise in cyber threats aimed at vital public service sectors. This incident underscores the critical importance of robust cybersecurity measures within the healthcare and retail pharmacy sectors, which are increasingly becoming targets of cybercriminals. The disruption not only affects the company's operations but also poses significant risks to patient care and data security.

ICYMI: Exclusive access to paid subscribers only...

Please feel free to share The Deep Dive with your colleagues. In addition, we would appreciate it if you could consider becoming a paid subscriber with our tiered subscription packages to support our publication. Your support will help us continue providing valuable insights to assist you in making operational decisions.

Subscribe to The Deep Dive

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.