11/14/2019

Behrouz Boochani, voice of Manus Island refugees, is free in New Zealand

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/14/behrouz-boochani-free-voice-manus-island-refugees-new-zealand-australia?fbclid=IwAR1CrihFkX0ETnQ5jtE1U_XF_H-WRY2UyQnJ2ZDZLUrx10KVHb4xtiX_kh8


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Kurdish Iranian refugee and journalist – a multiple award-winner for documenting life in Australia’s offshore detention system – has left Papua New Guinea

Behrouz Boochani, the Kurdish Iranian refugee and journalist who became the voice of those incarcerated on Manus Island, has landed in New Zealand and says he will never return to Papua New Guinea or Australia’s immigration regime.
“I will never go back to that place,” he told the Guardian, shortly after leaving PNG. “I just want to be free of the system, of the process. I just want to be somewhere where I am a person, not just a number, not just a label ‘refugee’.”
Over the course of six years forcibly held by Australia’s offshore processing regime in PNG, Boochani emerged as the voice of the Manus Island detention centre anda tireless campaigner for the rights of those detained by Australia. He has written extensively for the Guardian on life in detention and won Australia’s richest literary prize for his book, No Friend But the Mountains.
His arrival in New Zealand will be of acute political sensitivity in Australia. The Australian government has consistently refused overtures from New Zealand to resettle refugees held in offshore detention, arguing it would undermine Australia’s hardline policies towards boat arrivals.
Boochani told the Guardian he was elated to be free and was trying to adjust to a still-indeterminate liberty.
“After more than six years, I am very, very tired,” he said. “But I am glad to be away from that place.
“Everyone in Manus carries so many painful memories, we can never leave them on that island … but I am happy in my heart: I feel free.”
About three-quarters of the refugees and asylum seekers sent to PNG by Australia from 2012 onwards have left, either to Australia, to the US, or to other countries, Boochani said. Seven have died. But Boochani said he was distraught that some remained trapped there, in particular 46 men who are being held, essentially incommunicado, in Bomana prison in Port Moresby.
Over the six years he was held on Manus Island and in Port Moresby, Boochani witnessed friends shot, stabbed and murdered by guards on Manus Island, saw others die through medical neglect, and watched others descend into mental anguish and suicide.
He was twice tortured for several days in the notorious Chauka solitary confinement block, in the now-demolished Manus detention centre. He was jailed for eight days for reporting on a hunger strike in the centre, which was put down by force by PNG police.
But throughout he maintained a role as a working journalist on the island, the most prominent – and, initially, the sole – voice from within the secretive regime.
“I am a journalist,” he told Guardian Australia in 2015. “I am still a journalist in this place. This is my work, my duty.”
He became a regular correspondent for the Guardian and other news outlets, leading detailed investigations based on eyewitness accounts, interviews inside detention and leaked documents.
And, famously, he wrote a book documenting detention via WhatsApp message, painstakingly transmitted sentence by sentence, and translated in Australia.
No Friend But the Mountains – the title is drawn from an old Kurdish proverb –won the Victorian premier’s prize for literature. From detention, he filmed – again using a mobile phone kept hidden from authorities – a documentary of life inside the Manus centre. Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time was screened at festivals across Australia, and in London and Berlin.
A Kurdish investigative journalist in his homeland, Iran, Boochani was persecuted for his reporting and his support for Kurdish independence, and fled for Australia in 2013. He arrived by boat on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, in July 2013. He was transferred to Manus Island on 27 August 2013.
He spent 2,269 days held by Australia’s offshore processing regime.
Boochani left PNG on Wednesday, travelling a circuitous route to reach New Zealand, where he will appear at a literary festival in Christchurch.
He has a one-month visa to stay in New Zealand. He is still hopeful he can resettle in the US – which has accepted him as part of Australia’s “refugee swap” deal struck between Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama.
But if that was denied because he is now in New Zealand, Boochani said: “I will look at possibilities”.
“The process for America,” he told the Guardian, “it was too long, I didn’t know. I needed to get out, to be free. I will never go back to PNG or Australian immigration detention.”
Since 2013 New Zealand has offered to accept 150 refugees each year from Australia’s offshore processing centres on Manus and Nauru. Australia has rebuffed this, arguing that refugees could, if they eventually became New Zealand citizens, ultimately travel to Australia (even though Australia regularly restricts some New Zealand citizens from travelling to Australia).
But New Zealand and Australia relations have strained more broadly over immigration. In addition to Australia’s refusal to entertain New Zealand’s offer to help in ending offshore detention, Canberra’s hardline attitude in deporting New Zealand citizens who receive criminal convictions, even if they have no family or connection to New Zealand beyond being born there, has deeply offended Wellington.

11/12/2019

Did Russia drive hero British aid boss to his death? Wife says former army officer who fell from Istanbul balcony was under 'intense stress' following year-long Moscow smear campaign branding him a spy

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7672621/British-founder-White-Helmets-Syria-dead-days-Russia-accused-spy.html

DAILY MAIL
By LUKE ANDREWS and JACK NEWMAN FOR MAILONLINE


  • James Le Mesurier OBE was a former army officer who founded Mayday Rescue
  • Good Samaritan was found dead outside his flat in Beyoglu district, Istanbul 
  • He had been taking medicine to treat 'intense stress' at the time, his wife said
  • But, suspicions have also been raised that he was murdered 'by a state actor' 





The British co-founder of Syria's White Helmets who fell to his death from his Istanbul balcony was under 'intense stress' and had suffered a years-long Russian smear campaign against him. 
James Le Mesurier, who set up the volunteer-led group that enters bombed areas in opposition-held parts of the country to help civilians, died outside his home at dawn after suffering fractures to his head and legs in the Beyoglu district of Turkey's largest city.   
His death is being treated as suspected suicide, Turkish security sources have said, but there are claims it was a state-sponsored hit. 
Just three days ago the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had accused Mr Le Mesurier of being a 'former agent of Britain's MI6' and working for the agency in the Balkans, Middle East and Kosovo.
His wife has told police that he had been taking medication because he was under 'intense stress' and that the pair moved to the area to be near a medical centre, Anadolu reported.
The White Helmets have been a favourite target of pro-Syrian and pro-Russian groups who have accused the group of supporting terrorists in Syria and doctoring footage of atrocities committed by regime forces - claims strongly denied by its supporters.
Mr Le Mesurier had also been a key target of propaganda released by pro-Assad activists and Russian diplomats for years, which had branded him as an MI6 spy working for al-Qaeda, reports The Times. 
Karen Pierce, the UK's representative to the United Nations, called Mr Le Mesurier a 'true hero' and 'real humanitarian', adding that claims he was a spy were 'categorically untrue'. 
She said: 'The causes of death at the moment are unclear. We will be looking very closely to see how the investigation goes. I hope the Turkish authorities will be able to investigate thoroughly, and I'm sure we'll want to give them any assistance they might require.
'I do just want to take the opportunity though to say on the record that the Russian charges against him, that came out of the Foreign Ministry that he was a spy, are categorically untrue.'  
BBC journalist Mark Urban reported that there was a 'good level' of suspicion that his death may be 'murder by a state actor' - but he added that others had suggested he may have taken his own life. 
Mr Le Mesurier, who was also a British Army officer and established Mayday Rescue that helped train the White Helmets in 2013, was honoured by the Queen with an OBE in 2016. 
His body was found at 4.30am local time (1.30am GMT) on the street in front of an office building used by Mayday Rescue that also doubles-up as his home.
The humanitarian's wife has told police that he had been taking medicine to treat 'intense stress' and that they moved to the area to be near the health centre, Anadolu reported.
It has also been alleged that these were anti-depressant pills, according to Turkey's DHA news agency.
Mr Le Mesurier took the pills before going to bed, reports German publication Bild.
His wife, who has not been named, said they had been up until 4am (1am GMT). 
After going to bed, she said she was woken by a doorbell and saw her husband's body from the open window of their third floor apartment. 
Their home is only accessible by fingerprint identification, reports Middle East Eye, and only Mr Le Mesurier and his wife were in at the time according to Turkish police.
They have also established that no one had entered or left his home at the time of his death, Anadolu reported. 
The Istanbul governor's office has launched a 'comprehensive administrative and judicial investigation' into Mr Le Mesurier's death, as his body waits for an autopsy.  
Amnesty International UK's Syrian Campaign Manager has called for a 'proper investigation' into the tragic circumstances of the campaigner's death.
'In helping to found the White Helmets, Le Mesurier was instrumental in saving the lives of thousands of Syrian civilians.
'The brave men and women of the White Helmets have repeatedly risked their own lives to dig people out of the rubble after devastating Syrian Government and Russian airstrikes on homes, market-places and hospitals.' 
Mr Le Mesurier had set up volunteer led organisations the White Helmets and Mayday Rescue, which had more than 3,000 members and worked to rescue and administer medical assistance to civilians in areas that had been bombed by the Assad regime and its Russian backers.
The humanitarian shared tweets online of bombed out hospitals and overturned ambulances which were alleged to have been hit by Russian and Syrian Regime forces.
He has also received funding from the British Foreign Office along with other western governments including Norway and the Netherlands for his work.
And he has campaigned for the UN to investigate the Human Rights situation in Syria, which the UN General Assembly voted to allow last week.  
The White Helmets expressed their 'deepest condolences and 'sorrow' to his family, as well as their 'solidarity' in a post on Twitter this morning. 
'We have learned with shock and sadness the news of the death of James Le Mesurier, founder and director of the humanitarian organisation Mayday Rescue, early on Monday at his home in Tophane in Istanbul, Turkey', they said on Twitter.
'The Syrian Civil Defense family extends its deepest condolences to the James family, and we express our deepest sorrow and solidarity with his family.
'As we also must commend his humanitarian efforts which Syrians will always remember.'
The Mayday Rescue team, which was headed by Le Mesurier as its CEO, said it was 'heartbroken' to confirm that its founder had died and called for 'restraint' in speculation as to the cause of his death.
'Please give James's family, friends, colleagues time and space to grieve the terrible loss to his family, Mayday and the world,' they said. 
'Remember James as the great leader, visionary, friend, father, husband and son that he was.'
The head of the White Helmets, Raed al-Salah told The Independent that the group is 'devastated' by his death and heralded Le Mesurier as a 'close friend to us and to the Syrian people'.
'We were informed by his family that he had died', said al-Salah.
'As of now, the police are investigating the case and have drawn no conclusions yet. We are waiting for the police report.'  
The Director of Doctors Under Fire campaign group and personal friend, Hamish de Bretton-Fordon, told the BBC that his death is 'absolutely tragic' as he is 'one of the few people who have made a humanitarian footprint in Syria'.
On Friday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted: 'The White Helmets' co-founder, James Le Mesurier, is a former agent of Britain's MI6, who has been spotted all around the world, including in the Balkans and the MiddleEast. 
'His connections to terrorist groups were reported back during his mission in Kosovo.'
The humanitarian was reportedly 48 years old and had moved to Turkey with his wife four years ago. 
He was honoured by the Queen with an OBE in 2016 for 'services to the Syria Civil Defence group and the protection of civilians in Syria'.
He formed the voluntary search-and-rescue group called the White Helmets, which says it has rescued more than 100,000 civilians during Syria's brutal civil war.
Known officially as the Syria Civil Defence, the group numbering more than 3,000 sends volunteers into bombed areas to help rescue trapped civilians and administer medical treatment.
It has lost 252 volunteers to date and more than 500 have been wounded. 
The group was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 and received the Right Livelihood Award in recognition of 'outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement in rescuing civilians'.
Le Mesurier told Al Jazeera in 2015 that he had begun training and supporting the organisation in early 2013 alongside Turkish rescue experts, starting with 'a single team of 20 people'.
'I was working in Istanbul... and got together with a group of Turkish earthquake rescue volunteers,' he said. 
The White Helmets quickly expanded, and are credited with saving tens of thousands of lives during Syria's conflict.
A documentary about the group won an Academy Award in 2017.
The White Helmets have become a favourite target of pro-Syrian and pro-Russian groups. 
They have accused the group of supporting terrorists in Syria and doctoring footage of atrocities committed by regime forces - claims strongly denied by its supporters. 
On Friday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted: 'The White Helmets' co-founder, James Le Mesurier, is a former agent of Britain's MI6, who has been spotted all around the world, including in the Balkans and the MiddleEast. 
'His connections to terrorist groups were reported back during his mission in Kosovo.'



11/03/2019

Rights groups slam Bahrain over detention of female activists

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/rights-groups-slam-bahrain-detention-female-activists-191029184038597.html

Recent report finds nine women were arrested without search warrants and were subjected to physical and sexual assaults.

by 


Washington, DC - Rights groups on Tuesday slammed the Bahraini government for what they say is the systematic targeting of female political activists and their mistreatment in prisons.
A recent report titled, Breaking the Silence: Bahraini Women Political Prisoners Expose Systemic Abuses, outlines the cases of nine former and current female prisoners in Bahrain throughout the process of their arrests and trials, as well as the conditions of their detentions. The report was formally launched last month, and was the subject of a Washington, DC, event on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. 

More:

The report, conducted by the London based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) found that the women were arrested without search warrants and were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual assaults during interrogation. Coerced confessions were used as evidence to convict them.
The 138-page report found that six of the women were convicted under terrorism-related charges. Bridget Quitter, Legal Officer at ADHRB said the women were targeted as part of a concerted state effort to crack down on free speech.
"These women were targeted for their opinions or those of their relatives," Bridget Quitter said during the panel event in Washington, DC.
"And they were subjected to rights violations from the moment of their arrest, through their interrogation and torture, unfair trials and detention in conditions which fail to meet international standards," Quitter said.
Of the nine women, three - Hajer Mansoor, Medina Alia and Zakeya AlBarboori - are still detained in Isa Town women's prison, where, according to the report, they continue to be subjected to punitive measures, including lack of access to medical care. The other six women have been released after serving prison sentences.
In 2011, a Shia-led opposition staged an uprising across the country demanding reforms in the Sunni-led kingdom. But the ruling Al Khalifa family has responded by cracking down dissent and sought the help of neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which sent troops to help crush the unrest. 
The country of 1.5 million, headquarters of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, continued to see sporadic clashes between protesters and security forces. Hundreds have been imprisoned, including politicians and rights activists. Many have fled abroad.
In July, Bahrain executed two activists on terrorism charges - despite pleas by International rights groups and a UN human rights expert who had urged the state not to execute the men, on the grounds that their confessions were obtained through torture, including the use of electric shock and beatings.
Authorities have denied targeting the opposition and say they are protecting national security. Bahrain has also accused Iran of stoking the unrest in the country, an accusation Iran denies.
Quitter said all nine women were threatened with rape and death if they did not provide confessions to the charges against them.
Zainab Marhoom and Ameera Al Qashami said that they were forced to listen to the torture of a relative, and two women, Ebtisam al-Sayegh and Najah Yusuf reported being sexually assaulted by officers, according to the report. 
The rights groups called on the government of Bahrain to release the three remaining female prisoners and urged the US to halt arms sales and security cooperation with units involved in the arrest or abuse of activists and human rights defenders, until the country holds an independent and thorough investigation into the allegations of human rights violations.
"The responses we obtained demonstrated that Bahrain has created a system which whitewashes and conceals human rights abuses," Quitter said.
"The ill-treatment and torture, coercive interrogation tactics, unfair trial, substandard conditions of detention are not merely coincidental, but part of a systematic repression of the Bahraini population." 

10/22/2019

Bahrain maritime security meeting amid mysterious Gulf attacks

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/bahrain-maritime-security-meet-held-mysterious-gulf-attacks-191022072509736.html


The US formed a naval coalition to protect navigation in a region critical to global oil supplies after tanker attacks.

Representatives from more than 60 countries - including Israel but not Iran - continued meeting inBahrain on Tuesday to discuss maritime security following attacks on tankers in the Gulf and Saudi oil installations.
The United States, other Western states, and Saudi Arabia blame the attacks on Tehran, which denies any involvement.
"We all must take a collective stand ... to take the necessary steps to protect our nations from rogue states," Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa told the two-day meeting on Monday.

More:

Although it does not have relations with Bahrain, Israel is attending the gathering.
In June, the Jewish state was represented at a workshop in Manama on the economic component of Washington's as yet unrevealed Middle East peace plan.
"This meeting comes at a critical moment in history," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote in a letter to the meeting's participants.
"The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction [WMD] and their means of delivery, whether by air or sea, poses a serious threat to international peace and security," he wrote.
"Together, we must all be committed to taking the necessary actions to stop countries that continue to pursue WMD at great risk to all of us," Pompeo said, in an apparent reference to Iran.
Tension between Tehran and Washington has grown since the United States abandoned a multinational deal on curbing Iran's nuclear programme last year and reimposed heavy sanctions on the Islamic republic.

'Iranian menace'

The meeting's participants belong to the Maritime and Aviation Security Working Group, created in February during a Middle East conference in Warsaw, Poland.
"The meeting is an occasion to exchange views on how to deal with the Iranian menace and to guarantee freedom of navigation," Bahrain's foreign ministry said on Twitter.
Following recent attacks against tankers in the Gulf, the United States formed a naval coalition to protect navigation in a region critical to global oil supplies.
Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, joined the coalition in August. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined in September.
The United Kingdom and Australia are the principal Western partners of the US to have agreed to send warships to escort commercial shipping in the Gulf.
Most European states have declined to participate, fearful of undermining their efforts to save the nuclear accord with Iran, which was weakened by the US withdrawal.
Iran, which considers itself the guardian of the Gulf, has presented its own regional plan to assure "energy security" and "freedom of navigation".

10/20/2019

LA CENSURA DI ERDOGAN SI ALLARGA AI SOCIAL: OSCURATE PAGINE DI SOSTEGNO AI CURDI


https://caffedeigiornalisti.it/la-censura-di-erdogan-si-allarga-ai-social-network-oscurate-pagine-di-sostegno-ai-curdi/

«La nostra associazione è nata nel 1994 e siamo andati anche a Kobane, in Siria, nel 2015. Dopo è stato troppo pericoloso, ma abbiamo sempre sostenuto energicamente la causa curda. Cosa è accaduto? Nel giro di poche ore, dieci post con relative foto sono stati oscurati da Facebook». A parlare è Cristian Peverieri, responsabile della sezione di Venezia dell’Associazione YaBasta! ÊdîBese! «Questa è una grave violazione del diritto di opinione e di informazione su una piattaforma privata come Facebook che, molto probabilmente, fa affari con Erdogan».
Tante sono state le pagine in solidarietà con il Kurdistan bloccate su Facebook: l’ultima – o forse no – a cadere è stata quella di MilanoInMovimento, portale di informazione che lavora con Radio Onda D’Urto e Globalproject, che collabora con MiM e Contropiano. I contenuti, secondo Facebook, violerebbero gli “standard di comunità” e l’operazione, piuttosto articolata anche su Twitter, sta avvenendo anche su Instagram. «L’intelligence del presidente Erdogan sta evidentemente scandagliando i social e l’informazione, con team impegnati a segnalare scientificamente migliaia di profili e contenuti che denunciano l’operazione militare della Turchia in Siria».
La storia dell’Associazione YaBasta! ÊdîBese è ancora più interessante: sono vittime di una sentenza turca in buona compagnia con altri social media internazionali. Pochi mesi fa, la polizia internazionale turca ha addirittura emesso una condanna contro il sito web di Ya Basta Êdî Bese, con l’accusa di terrorismo. La sentenza porta la data del 9 aprile 2019, quando la corte penale di Ankara, presieduta dal giudice Fatih Yilmaz, decide, su indagine del Comando generale della gendarmeria turca, divisione per i crimini terroristici, di procedere contro l’associazione. Le motivazioni della sentenza parlano di “terrorismo e istigazione all’odio organizzato”. «Conformemente a un’inchiesta condotta dal Ministero della Repubblica, gli utilizzatori di alcuni social media che figurano all’interno del documento di notifica redatto dal Comando Generale della Gendarmeria, legati agli account social media che si trovano negli indirizzi elettronici ivi riportati, hanno condotto propaganda a favore di organizzazioni terroristiche PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG, con condivisioni esplicitamente spregiative rivolte agli organi e alle istituzioni della Nazione Turca e dello Stato Repubblicano di Turchia». Queste le parole tradotte dalla sentenza, a cui viene aggiunto un elenco di profili social network di altre reti solidali internazionali (Twitter, Facebook) che tuttora sono operative e rappresentano un’importante piattaforma informativa. I profili segnalati in sentenza hanno subito oscuramenti e cancellazioni per periodi più o meno lunghi: si tratta di Kurdish.org, YaBasta! ÊdîBese!, DSabahi1,Joan #RiseUp4Rojava @joanenciam.
Tra i tanti, anche il sito di Binxet: «A causa dell’oscuramento della pagina del film Binxset – Sotto il confine, il documentario del regista Luigi D’Alife, da parte di Facebook, abbiamo deciso di aprire questa sezione per continuare il puntuale e prezioso lavoro di informazione su quanto sta avvenendo nella Siria del Nord a causa dell’attacco della Turchia». Dopo pochi minuti, l’annuncio dell’uccisione di Heval Dilovan di YPJ Media. Uccisa durante la battaglia a Tal Abyad – Gire Spi. E i funerali di un’altro giovane giornalista, Mohammed Resho, uno dei due cronisti uccisi durante il bombardamento di un convoglio civile a Serekaniye il 13 ottobre.

Israeli Delegation to Attend Anti-Iran Summit in Bahrain

https://ifpnews.com/israeli-delegation-to-attend-anti-iran-summit-in-bahrain?fbclid=IwAR1B6j6vXdaX0_y84N1yUHpwjfvhkmfKQra-nwokeoauL4Hctuav_gZijmE#.XaxzApbyHbY.facebook

By IFP Media
20 October 2019

A source in Bahrain told The Times of Israel online newspaper on Sunday that a senior Israeli foreign ministry official working on regional security and counter-terrorism will take part at the Working Group on Maritime and Aviation Security in Manama on October 21-22.
Israel’s foreign ministry has not denied sending a representative to Manama, Channel 13 reported, confirming that Tel Aviv will participate “in the post-Warsaw process.”
The so-called Warsaw process started with the February 13-14 anti-Iran conference in the Polish capital, co-sponsored by Poland and the US. At the time, Tehran denounced the summit as a “desperate circus” disgracing its participants.
Western officials told the Israeli TV channel that the Bahrain conference is an initiative pushed by the administration of US President Donald Trump.
Starting on Monday, the Manama summit is set to purportedly discuss the protection of vessels in the Persian Gulf from alleged “Iranian attacks,” the prevention of weapons smuggling and the protection of civil aviation.
On July 31, Bahrain where the US Fifth Fleet is based hosted a conference on “maritime security” in the Persian Gulf, after a number of mysterious attacks in the strategic waters, which Washington has blamed on Iran, without offering any credible evidence.
Iran has blasted Bahrain for hosting “suspicious and provocative meetings,” calling on the regime in Manama to stop acting as “a facilitator of enemy plots” in the region.
Israel has full diplomatic ties with only two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, but recent reports suggest Tel Aviv has been working behind the scenes to establish formal contacts with other Arab countries such as Bahrain.
In July, Israeli and Bahraini foreign ministers Israel Katz and Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifah met for a brief chat on Iran in Washington and the two posed for a rare photograph.


10/11/2019

Top Secret Russian Unit Seeks to Destabilize Europe, Security Officials Say

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/08/world/europe/unit-29155-russia-gru.html?fbclid=IwAR2Xwt2l8rKWT3TBXY96EyHJ2GFCSP_GVZpBsUXA3CipvtusEJBQrX0YSZw


BY 
New York Times

First came a destabilization campaign in Moldova, followed by the poisoning of an arms dealer in Bulgaria and then a thwarted coup in Montenegro. Last year, there was an attempt to assassinate a former Russian spy in Britain using a nerve agent. Though the operations bore the fingerprints of Russia’s intelligence services, the authorities initially saw them as isolated, unconnected attacks.
Western security officials have now concluded that these operations, and potentially many others, are part of a coordinated and ongoing campaign to destabilize Europe, executed by an elite unit inside the Russian intelligence system skilled in subversion, sabotage and assassination.
The group, known as Unit 29155, has operated for at least a decade, yet Western officials only recently discovered it. Intelligence officials in four Western countries say it is unclear how often the unit is mobilized and warn that it is impossible to know when and where its operatives will strike.
The purpose of Unit 29155, which has not been previously reported, underscores the degree to which the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, is actively fighting the West with his brand of so-called hybrid warfare — a blend of propaganda, hacking attacks and disinformation — as well as open military confrontation.
“I think we had forgotten how organically ruthless the Russians could be,” said Peter Zwack, a retired military intelligence officer and former defense attaché at the United States Embassy in Moscow, who said he was not aware of the unit’s existence.
In a text message, Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, directed questions about the unit to the Russian Defense Ministry. The ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Hidden behind concrete walls at the headquarters of the 161st Special Purpose Specialist Training Center in eastern Moscow, the unit sits within the command hierarchy of the Russian military intelligence agency, widely known as the G.R.U.
Though much about G.R.U. operations remains a mystery, Western intelligence agencies have begun to get a clearer picture of its underlying architecture. In the months before the 2016 presidential election, American officials say two G.R.U. cyber units, known as 26165 and 74455, hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, and then published embarrassing internal communications.
Last year, Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, indicted more than a dozen officers from those units, though all still remain at large. The hacking teams mostly operate from Moscow, thousands of miles from their targets.
By contrast, officers from Unit 29155 travel to and from European countries. Some are decorated veterans of Russia’s bloodiest wars, including in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Ukraine. Its operations are so secret, according to assessments by Western intelligence services, that the unit’s existence is most likely unknown even to other G.R.U. operatives.
The unit appears to be a tight-knit community. A photograph taken in 2017 shows the unit’s commander, Maj. Gen. Andrei V. Averyanov, at his daughter’s wedding in a gray suit and bow tie. He is posing with Col. Anatoly V. Chepiga, one of two officers indicted in Britain over the poisoning of a former spy, Sergei V. Skripal.
“This is a unit of the G.R.U. that has been active over the years across Europe,” said one European security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe classified intelligence matters. “It’s been a surprise that the Russians, the G.R.U., this unit, have felt free to go ahead and carry out this extreme malign activity in friendly countries. That’s been a shock.”
To varying degrees, each of the four operations linked to the unit attracted public attention, even as it took time for the authorities to confirm that they were connected. Western intelligence agencies first identified the unit after the failed 2016 coup in Montenegro, which involved a plot by two unit officers to kill the country’s prime minister and seize the Parliament building.
But officials began to grasp the unit’s specific agenda of disruption only after the March 2018 poisoning of Mr. Skripal, a former G.R.U. officer who had betrayed Russia by spying for the British. Mr. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, fell grievously ill after exposure toa highly toxic nerve agent, but survived.
(Three other people were sickened, including a police officer and a man who found a small bottle that British officials believe was used to carry the nerve agent and gave it to his girlfriend. The girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, died after spraying the nerve agent on her skin, mistaking the bottle for perfume.)
The poisoning led to a geopolitical standoff, with more than 20 nations, including the United States, expelling 150 Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity with Britain.
Ultimately, the British authorities exposed two suspects, who had traveled under aliases but were later identified by the investigative site Bellingcat as Colonel Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin. Six months after the poisoning, British prosecutors charged both menwith transporting the nerve agent to Mr. Skripal’s home in Salisbury, England, and smearing it on his front door.
But the operation was more complex than officials revealed at the time.
Exactly a year before the poisoning, three Unit 29155 operatives traveled to Britain, possibly for a practice run, two European officials said. One was Mr. Mishkin. A second man used the alias Sergei Pavlov. Intelligence officials believe the third operative, who used the alias Sergei Fedotov, oversaw the mission.
Soon, officials established that two of these officers — the men using the names Fedotov and Pavlov — had been part of a team that attempted to poison the Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev in 2015. (The other operatives, also known only by their aliases, according to European intelligence officials, were Ivan Lebedev, Nikolai Kononikhin, Alexey Nikitin and Danil Stepanov.)
The team would twice try to kill Mr. Gebrev, once in Sofia, the capital, and again a month later at his home on the Black Sea.
Speaking to reporters in February at the Munich Security Conference, Alex Younger, the chief of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service, spoke out against the growing Russian threat and hinted at coordination, without mentioning a specific unit.
“You can see there is a concerted program of activity — and, yes, it does often involve the same people,” Mr. Younger said, pointing specifically to the Skripal poisoning and the Montenegro coup attempt. He added: “We assess there is a standing threat from the G.R.U. and the other Russian intelligence services and that very little is off limits.”
The Kremlin sees Russia as being at war with a Western liberal order that it views as an existential threat.At a ceremony in November for the G.R.U.’s centenary, Mr. Putin stood beneath a glowing backdrop of the agency’s logo — a red carnation and an exploding grenade — and described it as “legendary.” A former intelligence officer himself, Mr. Putin drew a direct line between the Red Army spies who helped defeat the Nazis in World War II and officers of the G.R.U., whose “unique capabilities” are now deployed against a different kind of enemy.
“Unfortunately, the potential for conflict is on the rise in the world,” Mr. Putin said during the ceremony. “Provocations and outright lies are being used and attempts are being made to disrupt strategic parity.”
In 2006, Mr. Putin signed a law legalizing targeted killings abroad, the same year a team of Russian assassins used a radioactive isotope to murder Aleksander V. Litvinenko, another former Russian spy, in London.
Unit 29155 is not the only group authorized to carry out such operations, officials said. The British authorities have attributed Mr. Litvinenko’s killing to the Federal Security Service, the intelligence agency once headed by Mr. Putin that often competes with the G.R.U.
Although little is known about Unit 29155 itself, there are clues in public Russian records that suggest links to the Kremlin’s broader hybrid strategy.
A 2012 directive from the Russian Defense Ministry assigned bonuses to three units for “special achievements in military service.” One was Unit 29155. Another was Unit 74455, which was involved in the 2016 election interference. The third was Unit 99450, whose officers are believed to have been involved in the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
A retired G.R.U. officer with knowledge of Unit 29155 said that it specialized in preparing for “diversionary” missions, “in groups or individually — bombings, murders, anything.”
“They were serious guys who served there,” the retired officer said. “They were officers who worked undercover and as international agents.”
Photographs of the unit’s dilapidated former headquarters, which has since been abandoned, show myriad gun racks with labels for an assortment of weapons, including Belgian FN-30 sniper rifles, German G3A3s, Austrian Steyr AUGs and American M16s. There was also a form outlining a training regimen, including exercises for hand-to-hand combat. The retired G.R.U. officer confirmed the authenticity of the photographs, which were published by a Russian blogger.
The current commander, General Averyanov, graduated in 1988 from the Tashkent Military Academy in what was then the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan. It is likely that he would have fought in both the first and second Chechen wars, and he was awarded a Hero of Russia medal, the country’s highest honor, in January 2015. The two officers charged with the Skripal poisoning also received the same award.
Though an elite force, the unit appears to operate on a shoestring budget. According to Russian records, General Averyanov lives in a run-down Soviet-era building a few blocks from the unit’s headquarters and drives a 1996 VAZ 21053, a rattletrap Russia-made sedan. Operatives often share cheap accommodation to economize while on the road. British investigators say the suspects in the Skripal poisoning stayed in a low-cost hotel in Bow, a downtrodden neighborhood in East London.
But European security officials are also perplexed by the apparent sloppiness in the unit’s operations. Mr. Skripal survived the assassination attempt, as did Mr. Gebrev, the Bulgarian arms dealer. The attempted coup in Montenegro drew an enormous amount of attention, but ultimately failed. A year later, Montenegro joined NATO. It is possible, security officials say, that they have yet to discover other, more successful operations.
t is difficult to know if the messiness has bothered the Kremlin. Perhaps, intelligence experts say, it is part of the point.
“That kind of intelligence operation has become part of the psychological warfare,” said Eerik-Niiles Kross, a former intelligence chief in Estonia. “It’s not that they have become that much more aggressive. They want to be felt. It’s part of the game.”