Author Archive: TGO

How big a threat are the world’s jihadi groups?


A smart people will always overestimate the enemy, never underestimate it. TGO

Refer to story below. Source: The Christian Science Monitor

Sophisticated and lethal, growing in number, Islamic State and other extremist groups won’t become a global force. Here’s why.

Christian Science Monitor

Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim looked like any ubiquitous insurgent commander in southern Afghanistan. He had a sunbaked complexion, serried black beard, charcoal eyes, and the usual accessory – an AK-47 slung over his shoulder.

But there was something distinctive about him, which alarmed American officials. He had recently defected from the Taliban and joined Islamic State (known as both IS and ISIS), creating concern that the militant extremist group was expanding its footprint in South Asia.

So on Feb. 9, a US aircraft locked onto the vehicle he was traveling in near the village of Sadat in Helmand Province. It fired a missile, killing Mr. Khadim and five of his companions.

“The Islamic State is increasingly active in the region,” says a senior American military official in Kabul, Afghanistan, though cautioning not to inflate their size or significance – at least not yet. “Some locals appear to be attracted to their battlefield success in Iraq. And everyone loves a winner.”

A year ago, the prospect that IS might emerge in South Asia, the birthplace of Al Qaeda, seemed preposterous. True, IS operatives and their Sunni allies had pushed into western Iraq, seizing the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and moved rapidly across other parts of the country.

But they had yet to establish much of a presence elsewhere in the restive Islamic belt, including Pakistan and Afghanistan. These, after all, were strongholds of Al Qaeda, traditionally a fierce IS competitor, and the Taliban. But since last fall, IS has been slowly and methodically forging ties with militant groups in these two countries as well as other places around the globe.

“The initial ISIS reports began as rumors,” notes an Afghan defense official. “But not anymore.”

IS efforts to gain a foothold in South Asia and other regions highlight a disturbing trend. Islamic extremism is rising in key areas of the world.

Driven by a lack of stable governments and the movement of trained and ideologically committed recruits from battlefields in Iraq and Syria, extremist groups – such as IS and Al Qaeda – are spreading their reach into new areas of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. They are becoming more sophisticated in their communications, more lethal in their tactics, and more adept at fundraising.

But while some groups may be working together, creating the specter of a worldwide movement, deep fissures persist among the groups that will likely prevent them from becoming a global network.

Many Islamic fighters disagree about how much, if at all, to target Western countries and their citizens. Others disagree about the size and global nature of their desired emirate, the legitimacy of attacking Shiite Muslims, and the morality of killing civilians. In some countries, such as Syria, extremists have even engaged in intense battles with each other, widening already significant splits.

For all the strengths of today’s Islamic extremists, most are not committed to – or even capable of – conducting sophisticated attacks in the West. What’s more, polls show there is little popular support for most groups. Over the long run, their lack of local support and legitimacy may well undermine any fleeting gains – and the threat they pose to the West.

 •     •     •

Competing networks

The narrow valleys and swelling rivers of the Hindu Kush mountains, along the Afghan-Pakistani border, make the terrain inhospitable. But it was here, nearly three decades ago, that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri started Al Qaeda in the waning years of the war against the Soviets.

Bearded tribesmen clog the streets of many of the border towns, clad in their dusty sandals and shalwar kameez, the loose-fitting trousers and long, baggy shirts worn by locals. Most of Al Qaeda’s surviving leaders still remain in the area, despite the attempts by IS to recruit here.

Today, the terrorist landscape centers around these two broad movements: Al Qaeda and IS.

Al Qaeda is led by Mr. Zawahiri, the fiery Egyptian who took over when Mr. bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEALs in 2011. Al Qaeda’s goal remains establishing a loose Islamic caliphate that extends from Africa through the Middle East, South Asia, and parts of the Pacific.

Al Qaeda’s primary strategy from its base here is to work with its affiliates – such as Al Shabab in Somalia, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa, and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria – to overthrow local regimes. Zawahiri and his colleagues seek to replace these governments with ones that implement an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia.

“Al Qaeda leaders continue to encourage their affiliates to create states,” says a US State Department official in Kabul. “In a sense, it’s extremist nation-building.”

That’s what Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is hoping to do. Mr. Wuhayshi is a thin, olive-skinned Yemeni with dark hair and crooked teeth. He explains in a letter to fellow extremists that the “places under your control are a model for an Islamic state.” And he encourages them to provide basic services to locals, much like a government might do.

This type of state sounds eerily similar to what IS leaders are trying to create. IS has emerged as Al Qaeda’s premier Pan-Islamic competitor. Formerly Al Qaeda in Iraq, IS broke away from Al Qaeda in early 2014 because of a series of personality, ideological, and tactical disputes.

Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, could not bear coming under the control of Al Qaeda any longer. And IS’s anti-Shiite attacks and brutal executions, including beheadings and burnings, were too extreme even for Al Qaeda. But IS and Al Qaeda have a similar goal: to establish a radical Islamic emirate.

“Rush O Muslims to your state. Yes, it is your state,” says Mr. Baghdadi in a recent announcement, asking for volunteers to immigrate to Iraq and Syria to fill key positions.

IS leaders such as Baghdadi have focused most of their operations on Iraq and Syria. But they have also attempted to expand their network into Africa, other countries in the Middle East, and South Asia.

In Nigeria, for instance, the terrorist organization Boko Haram recently pledged its allegiance to IS. While the move might end up aiding the group with fundraising and recruitment, it was largely seen as a public relations stunt to help counter recent military setbacks Boko Haram has suffered at the hands of Nigerian and neighboring government forces.

In Libya, IS sent emissaries in late 2014 to meet with extremist groups across the country in an effort to establish a formal relationship. IS fighters now control key sections of Libyan cities like Surt, along the Mediterranean coast. In Egypt, leaders from the group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, based in the Sinai Peninsula, pledged their loyalty to IS after a series of meetings and electronic communications.

In addition, other jihadist groups, such as the various Ansar al-Sharia organizations in Libya, exist that aren’t members of either IS or Al Qaeda. The rise of these groups has forced the umbrella networks to compete more for fighters, money, and influence.

While IS and Al Qaeda both want to establish Islamic emirates, they differ in important ways. IS has a separate command-and-control structure with committees that cover the media, administrative activities, military operations, Islamic law, and other matters.

IS is also less reliant on funding from Persian Gulf donors and raises money from such activities as smuggling oil, selling stolen goods, kidnapping and extortion, and seizing bank accounts.

While both movements view Shiite Muslims as infidels, IS has conducted more attacks against Shiites than any other jihadist group. As its beheadings and burnings highlight, IS operatives have also been more inclined to conduct grisly attacks. A decade ago, Al Qaeda leader Zawahiri wrote a letter to extremists in Iraq – the predecessors of IS – warning that their gruesome practices were counterproductive.

“Among the things which the feelings of the Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable – also – are the scenes of slaughtering the hostages,” Zawahiri scolded.

The warnings went unheeded. And the differences between IS and Al Qaeda have turned key parts of the Islamic world into a fierce competition between the two movements. Among the most intense battlegrounds is the Horn of Africa.

 •     •     •

Where they flourish

The heat in Djibouti is oppressive. Sun-baked, mud-brick buildings dot the country’s landscape, caked in a layer of dirt and dust. Its capital, Djibouti city, is built on coral reefs that jut into the southern entrance of the gulf. The country is strategically located on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which separates the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden.

For US counterterrorism officials, Djibouti sits on a critical seam. It borders Somalia, home to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Al Shabab. And it lies less than 20 miles from Yemen, home to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

“The trend is unmistakable,” says a US military official in Djibouti. “There are more violent extremists in this region than we’ve ever seen before. No comparisons.”

Take Yemen. In January, the government collapsed as Houthi rebels, a Zaidi Shiite movement from northern Yemen, took control of key ministries, and President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, an American ally, resigned. Over the past several weeks, Al Qaeda fighters have expanded their attacks across multiple provinces.

Meanwhile, Al Shabab distributed a video on Twitter recently threatening attacks against malls in the West. “What if such an attack were to occur in the Mall of America in Minnesota?” asks a masked fighter, cloaked in a checkered head scarf and wearing military fatigues. “Or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London’s Oxford Street?”

Based on these developments, Djibouti has become a major base of operations. In 2001, the Djiboutian government reached an agreement with the United States to use Camp Lemonnier as a hub of counterterrorism activity. Since then, the US presence has grown. Camp Lemonnier now serves as the US headquarters to train, advise, and assist governments in the region in fighting extremist groups, under the command of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. It’s also a critical node for strikes against groups in Yemen, Somalia, and other countries.

But the surge in terrorist activities isn’t just confined to the Horn of Africa. In addition to Yemen, Libya has become a breeding ground for new groups because of the collapse of its government only four years after the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi. While Mr. Qaddafi’s demise and the July 2012 democratic elections represented a remarkable achievement for political freedom, Libya faces massive challenges.

The bureaucracy is weak, well-armed militias control much of the countryside, and extremist groups have attacked Sufi shrines across the country by digging up graves and destroying mosques and libraries. Ansar al-Sharia Libya, a loose collection of extremist groups, has emerged in this vacuum. Based in such cities as Benghazi, Darnah, and Misurata, which hug the Mediterranean coast, Ansar al-Sharia Libya seeks to establish sharia in the country.

Overall, the total number of extremist groups across the region jumped 58 percent between 2010 and 2013, according to a study by the RAND Corp. The number of extremist fighters increased dramatically, too – more than doubling between 2010 and 2013, to a high of more than 100,000 fighters.

The war in Syria is the most important attraction for fighters. Extremist groups represent a significant portion of the Syrian rebel manpower against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, including IS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Suqour al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Islam, and Liwa al-Tawhid.

The levels of extremist violence have also grown. Among Al Qaeda affiliates alone, the number of attacks more than doubled between 2010 and 2013. But most are not directed at the US – or the West more broadly. Roughly 98 percent of these attacks targeted local regimes and civilian populations across such countries as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.

This rise in extremism has been caused, in part, by a growing weakness of governments across Africa and the Middle East, where the Arab uprisings created an opportunity for radicals to secure a foothold.

Since 2010, governance indicators in these areas have dropped markedly in such categories as political stability, rule of law, and control of corruption, according to World Bank data.

The surge has also been caused by the transnational movement of fighters trained on battlefields in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. These wars have provided a unique environment for extremists to pray, share meals, train, socialize, and fight together. A growing number of these operatives have moved from these battlefields to new locations in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

Not surprisingly, these trends have caused alarm in Western capitals, including London.

 •     •     •

Risk of the returning recruit

The headquarters of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is nestled along the Thames River in central London. The building, called Thames House, was designed by Sir Frank Baines in the imperial neoclassical tradition. Statues of St. George and Britannia dot the building’s Portland stone facade. The Westminster coat of arms, mounted on the building, aptly reads “Custodi civitatem domine” in Latin – or “Lord protect the citizens.”

MI5 has a long history of trying to protect its population from terrorism and working closely with its American partners. Of particular concern to the agency today are Islamic extremists trained in Syria and Iraq, who also pose a threat to the US. Approximately 600 British extremists have traveled to Syria and Iraq, MI5 estimates. Many have joined IS. British agencies have watched with unease the growing number of attacks and plots across the West tied either formally or informally to Syria and Iraq.

These include attacks in Brussels in May 2014; Ottawa in October 2014; Sydney, Australia, in December 2014; Paris in January 2015; and Copenhagen, Denmark, in February 2015. More broadly, more than 20 terrorist plots in the West were either directed or provoked by extremist groups in Syria between October 2013 and January 2015, according to MI5.

“Our surveillance resources are overwhelmed,” says one British government official.

Despite the challenges, MI5 and local counterterrorism units remain aggressive. In England and Wales, terrorist-related arrests have jumped 35 percent since 2011. And more than 140 individuals have been convicted of terrorism-related offenses since 2010, according to MI5 statistics.

The British are not alone. Counterterrorism agencies across Europe and North America are under tremendous pressure to prevent attacks. A growing contingent of foreign fighters – more than 20,000 – is traveling to Syria to fight in the war, according to data collected by the US National Counterterrorism Center. Approximately 3,400 fighters, or 17 percent, appear to be coming from the West, especially from Europe.

It is difficult to predict whether most of these fighters will remain in Syria, move to future war zones in other regions, or return to the West. And even if some return, it is uncertain whether they will help hatch terrorist plots, focus on recruiting and fundraising, or become disillusioned with terrorism.

Still, foreign fighters have historically been agents of instability. Volunteering for war is often the principal steppingstone for individual involvement in more extreme forms of militancy.

And this struggle is as much about ideas as it is about military combat. It is a clash increasingly occurring online and on social media forums. Indeed, IS’s sophisticated use of social media has created opportunities for the group to reach potential recruits or influence those inspired by its message.

One of the most important forums is IS’s online magazine, Dabiq.

 •     •     •

How dangerous, really?

The seventh issue of Dabiq, published in February, boasts a sleek cover photograph. It shows two imams, clad in creamy white robes and wearing snuggly fitting prayer caps, holding signs emblazoned with the words “JE SUIS CHARLIE” (“I AM CHARLIE”).

It is the slogan adopted by those who denounced the January attack against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Like all issues of Dabiq, which is printed in several languages including English, the seventh installment includes an assortment of articles intended to establish the religious legitimacy of the group and encourage extremists to come to Syria and Iraq – or else conduct attacks in their home countries.

The feature article, which accompanies the cover image, is titled “The Extinction of the Grayzone.” It starkly divides the world into two camps: Islam, represented by IS and its supporters, and the West and its followers. The article denounces Muslims that show sympathy for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack as apostates – guilty of abandoning Islam.

Since its expansion in Iraq and Syria, IS has become a growing threat to the US. Rather than the complex attacks on 9/11, which involved years of training and meticulous planning, the most likely IS threat today comes from smaller, less-sophisticated attacks from individuals who have taken up the cause.

“The uptick in moderate-to-small scale attacks in the West since last summer by individual extremists reinforces our assessment that the most likely and immediate threat to the Homeland will come from Homegrown Violent Extremists, or individuals with loose affiliation to terrorist groups overseas,” said Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, at a US Senate hearing in February.

IS is not the only extremist group that could mount an attack on US soil. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula provided training to two operatives involved in the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Said and Chérif Kouachi. Several Yemen-based operatives continue to plot attacks against the US as well.

Core members of Al Qaeda, based in Pakistan, also present a threat to the US homeland. But their leaders have had difficulty recruiting – or even inspiring – competent operatives in the West. That’s why Zawahiri sent a small group of operatives, referred to as the Khorasan Group, to Syria to plot attacks in Europe and America.

In addition, a small number of individuals who have embraced Al Qaeda’s ideals, like the Tsarnaev brothers, who perpetrated the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, concern security officials. Still, terrorists have had difficulty striking the US because of robust counterterrorism steps by the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other federal and local agencies. Authorities have thwarted all but four of more than 40 home-grown terrorist plots since 9/11.

Several groups pose what experts consider a medium-level threat because of their capability to target US citizens overseas, not the US homeland. Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia, for instance, has planned attacks against American diplomats and infrastructure in Tunis, including the US embassy. In Somalia, Al Shabab’s objectives are largely parochial: to establish an extreme Islamic emirate in Somalia and the broader region. But it does possess an ability to strike targets in East Africa.

Other extremist groups represent, at best, a low-level threat to the US. These groups do not possess the capability or intent to target America domestically or overseas. They include organizations such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which is mainly interested in Chinese targets. Even in Afghanistan, many local groups have little interest in attacking the US homeland.

 •     •     •

A threat overrated

While IS and other extremist groups have made some gains, in the long term they face a challenge because their firebrand version of Islam is unpopular. After the IS execution of Jordanian Air Force pilot Muath Kassasbeh by immolation in early February, a groundswell of opposition surfaced across the Muslim world.

Numerous activists on Twitter accounts and English-language jihadist forums condemned the actions as un-Islamic. They argued that burning Muslims is strictly forbidden in Islam.

“I have become very troubled upon hearing this news, because I thought that burning anyone (even animals) was not allowed under any condition in Islam,” posted one participant on the Ansar al-Mujahideen English Forum, using the name “pathoftrials.”

Islamic scholars have also been widely critical of IS. “What happened to the Jordanian pilot is by all means a crime. This barbaric action is far away from humanity, much less religion. Islam is innocent of this act,” said Sheikh Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, the grand mufti of Egypt.

What’s more, support for extremist groups across the Muslim world is low, according to survey data from the Pew Research Center. Al Qaeda received negative marks in all 14 countries surveyed. In addition, the vast majority of respondents, both Muslims and Christians, have an unfavorable view of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Concern about Islamic extremism is growing among countries with substantial Muslim populations as well. It jumped from 81 percent in 2013 to 92 percent in 2014 in Lebanon, 71 percent to 80 percent in Tunisia, and 69 percent to 75 percent in Egypt, according to the Pew Research Center.

Viewed in this context, the rise of extremist groups may well be fleeting. With little local support, they lack the foundation necessary for a sustainable movement. Even IS has had trouble holding ground on its home turf, as Iraqi government forces and local militias have retaken control of key portions of cities like Tikrit, Iraq.

Deep divisions also exist among these groups about ideology, tactics, and objectives. For all the strengths of today’s Islamic extremists, most are not committed to or capable of conducting sophisticated attacks in the West, like on 9/11.

“Most of the plots uncovered in the United States were amateurish schemes that were detected long before they got close to being operational,” says Brian Jenkins, a terrorism expert at the RAND Corp. “Two-thirds of the US plots involved single individuals. Most of the remaining plots were tiny conspiracies. This is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.”

Seth G. Jones is director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp., and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies. His most recent book is “Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of Al Qa’ida Since 9/11.”

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She has beautiful brown eyes… TGO

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Islamic State group beheads 8 Shiites in Syria’s Hama


How f*cked up is an ideology whose members slaughter each other? They worship the same God (Allah) and the same Prophet (Muhammad). They share the same “holy” book, the Koran (Quran) and yet this doesn’t matter! It’s all about the ‘interpretation’ of the “holy” book that matters, which is about as holy as Harry Potter.

The Muslim world really and truly is a sick world. TGO

Refer to story below. Source: Associated Press

Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — A new video released by the Islamic State group on Sunday shows its fighters cutting off the heads of eight men said to be Shiite Muslims. The video posted on social media said the men were beheaded in the central Syrian province of Hama.

The video could not be immediately independently verified, but it appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the events. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said that the video was authentic.

IS has beheaded scores of people since capturing large parts of Iraq and Syria last year in a self-declared caliphate.

In the video, the men, wearing orange uniforms with their hands tied behind their backs, were led forward in a field by teenage boys. They were then handed over to a group of IS fighters. A boy wearing a black uniform hands out knives to the fighters, who then behead the hostages.

An Islamic State fighter speaks in the video, using a derogatory term for Shiites and calling them “impure infidels.” The IS fighter said in the video that the current military campaign against IS will only make the militant group stronger.

“Our swords will soon, God willing, reach the Nuseiries and their allies like Bashar and his party,” the man said referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group that is fighting on his side. The word Nuseiry is a derogatory term to refer to Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

In Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency quoted the family of Younes Hujairi, who was kidnapped from his hometown of Arsal near the Syrian border in January, as saying he had been beheaded. NNA quoted members of Hujairi’s family as saying they have seen pictures of an IS fighter carrying his severed head on social media.

It was not clear if Hujairi was one of one of the men beheaded in the video. Hujairi is a Sunni, while the video states that all the beheaded men were Shiites.

The border town of Arsal, where Hujairi was kidnapped, was also the site of a bold joint raid by the Islamic State group and Syria’s al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front last August that captured two dozen Lebanese soldiers and policemen. Four of those hostages have been killed so far, two of them beheaded by IS. The remaining 20 soldiers and policemen remain hostages.

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A natural hottie. TGO

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Very sexy. TGO

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Run from Cuba, Americans cling to claims for seized property


The Castro regime has destroyed tens of thousands of families throughout their 56-plus years of communism on the Caribbean island. All of the low-lives in this world who believe that communism is good and that communist dictators help the poor are really stupid people. These dictators only help themselves and no one else.

All of the wealth stolen from the Cuban people, as well as Americans who invested in Cuba, is now sitting in Swiss banks, among other places. Of course, Fidel and Raul Castro will be dead fairly soon, although not soon enough. What this means is that all of that money will go to others, but I would bet my right arm that none of the Cubans or Americans who lost their homes, life savings, automobiles, farms, etc. will ever see a penny of it. Although I hope to be proven wrong. TGO

Refer to story below. Source: Associated Press

Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The smell of Cuban coffee drifts from the kitchen as Carolyn Chester digs through photos, faded with age, that fill four boxes spread across the dining table.

Friends linked arm-in-arm on the sands of a Cuban beach.

Men in suits and women in evening gowns at a Havana nightclub.

And in almost every frame, a dapper American man with a salt-and-pepper mustache and a raven-haired woman with the arched eyebrows of a 1950s movie star — Chester’s father and mother — smiling at the good fortune that, they could not know, would soon be snatched away.

“That life is gone,” Chester says.

“I always heard about Cuba … and all this money that we lost and ‘Maybe one day,’ but I didn’t understand it.”

Now, nearly 60 years and 1,500 miles later, that day may finally be nearing for Chester, and for others like her. But to reach it, new and untested diplomacy will have to settle very old scores.

Soon after Fidel Castro won control of Cuba in 1959, his government began confiscating the property of thousands of U.S. citizens and companies. For Edmund and Enna Chester, the losses included an 80-acre farm, hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stock, and a brand new Buick that, who knows, may still be plying Havana’s streets.

The confiscation of American property, valued today at $7 billion or more, was wrapped up in the retaliatory back-and-forth that led to the trade embargo, which remains in place. In 1996, Congress passed a law insisting Cuba repay Americans for what was taken before the embargo can be lifted.

That demand went unmentioned in President Barack Obama’s December announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would resume diplomatic ties. Given Cuba’s frail economy, some experts say companies whose property was taken might gladly settle for rights to do business there today and move on.

But a corporation doesn’t hang on to memories the way a family can. That’s clear in places like Chester’s 832-square-foot bungalow in Omaha, pitched atop a corner lot that’s mostly slope, where a gold-framed oil portrait of her mother from long ago watches over the yellowing property deed and the worthless stock certificates.

They are reminders that the Cuba that existed before Castro is history. But the bitterness over what came after lingers on.

___

Inside the offices of a little-known federal agency, more than 5,900 claims files tally the furniture and factories, clothing and cars that once belonged to Americans in Cuba.

But really, the claims are stories — of lives that were left behind.

Edmund Chester’s story began soon after he came home to Louisville, Kentucky, from the Army and got a job as a newspaper reporter. In his off hours, Chester taught himself Spanish, which lead him away again. In 1929, he was hired by The Associated Press, which dispatched him to Havana.

Chester spent the next decade reporting across the Caribbean and Latin America. His work kindled a love of Cuba, whose music and art filled his home until his death, and seeded two crucial relationships.

The first came when he covered a 1933 revolt that put a former sergeant, Fulgencio Batista, in charge of Cuba’s military. Two decades later, when Batista was Cuba’s dictator, he trusted Chester — by then a fishing companion and confidant, no longer a journalist — to write his authorized biography, with a photo of the men smiling alongside one another, inside the front cover.

The second relationship began in 1939 when Chester went to Chile to cover an earthquake and spotted Enna, nearly 20 years his junior, at a hotel swimming pool. Years later, their daughter recalls, the couple would dance around the parlor of their Mount Dora, Florida, home to the ballad “Besame Mucho” — Spanish for “kiss me a lot.”

“He was still smitten with her,” Carolyn Chester says.

In 1940, CBS hired Chester as its chief of radio broadcasting for Latin America. Eventually, he became the network’s director of news and special events, working in New York alongside Edward R. Murrow.

Chester returned to Cuba in 1952, buying a chain of radio stations on an island where U.S. companies dominated the economy. Havana was a magnet for Americans, including celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, searching for a hedonistic getaway.

“Cuba was a cabaret, a casino, a place to soak up the sun,” says Louis Perez, a historian at the University of North Carolina. “Boy, did that change.”

Chester sold the radio stations after a few years. But his growing family continued to split their time between an apartment overlooking Havana Bay and central Florida.

He opened a Havana public relations agency and when a Hollywood crew came to make a 1956 feature, “The Sharkfighters,” Chester shepherded them around what was then called the Isle of Pines, off Cuba’s south coast. Soon after, the Chesters bought an 80-acre farm on the island, once home to an American population large enough to support its own school. In 1957, the Chesters acquired $250,000 worth of shares in the Cuban Telephone Co.

But Edmund Chester, an adviser and speechwriter for Batista, grew uneasy as Castro’s rebels gained ground.

“Preciosa, I have just hung up the telephone after talking to you and I could tell that you were worried,” he wrote his wife from Havana in July 1958, weeks after Carolyn was born. “I agree that we ought to make (a) complete break with Cuba at the earliest possible moment.”

When he rejoined the family in Florida three days before Christmas, his work in Cuba was still unfinished. But days later, Batista fled the country, and on Jan. 1, 1959, Castro’s forces seized control.

In the first months of Castro’s rule, many American officials thought he was someone they could work with.

But when the Soviet Union began shipping oil to Cuba, the U.S. ordered island refineries — owned by American firms and other multinationals — not to process the crude from its Cold War archrival.

The Cuban government seized the refineries. The Eisenhower administration struck back by eliminating price protection for Cuban sugar, which netted the island 90 percent of its hard currency earnings. Cuba had already nationalized the island’s largest farms and moved to take control of still others. By the time President John F. Kennedy imposed the embargo in 1962, Cuba had confiscated scores of properties.

Marooned, Edmund Chester, looked for a way to support the family. He hadn’t foreseen this forced retirement, he wrote a friend in 1965. And now most of his nest egg had been “whipped into a batch of Cuban scrambled eggs by the tyranny of Fidel Castro.”

__

The Chesters were hardly alone.

Throughout the 1960s, the U.S. government’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission fielded thousands of American claims for confiscated Cuban property. The largest came from corporations, led by U.S.-owned Cuban Electric Company, whose seized power plants were valued at $268 million. After years of mergers, that claim is today held by retailer Office Depot Inc.

But the majority of the 5,900 approved claims came from individuals and families.

Luther Coleman was a Detroit entrepreneur who moved his family to the Isle of Pines in 1952, where he bought more than 3,000 acres.

Coleman’s daughter, Nancy Luetzow, who moved to Cuba when she was 8 and today lives in Hillsdale, Michigan, said her father convinced her “timid” mother. “He said this is our chance to have a life in paradise.”

The family’s claim for lost property was valued by the FCSC at about $173,000.

Roy Schechter was born in Cuba, a dual American citizen whose family had immigrated years earlier and founded Havana’s synagogue. Schechter married and brought his American wife, Lois, to the island.

In 1960, the couple drove to the family’s 14,000-acre farm to prepare the week’s payroll and were met by soldiers who told them they were no longer the owners. When the couple departed soon after on a ferry to Key West, Lois Schechter hid her wedding ring and other jewelry inside a diaper stained with vanilla extract, hoping to dissuade Cuban officials from a thorough search.

Before they left, they paid all their employees, expecting that one day they’d return. Instead, Roy Schechter spent the rest of his working life in the shoe store in Nyack, New York, owned by his father-in-law. The Schechters’ losses, along with the farm, included a 17-room Spanish colonial in Havana that had been his mother’s and now is used as a residence for the Chinese embassy.

Their daughter, Amy Rosoff, who shares a home in Saratoga Springs, New York, with her mother, recalls her father’s regular reminders about their claim.

“I’d love to get my grandmother’s house back,” Rosoff says, “because it’s a sort of a whole history that’s been taken away.”

Experts on the long-lost property differ on what to make of the American claims, which are protected by international law.

“You’re now dealing in the realm of memory more than anything else,” says Robert Muse, a Washington attorney representing companies with claims. “For many, the sense of dispossession is to form an idealized world that may not have altogether been exactly like that.”

But Mauricio Tamargo, chairman of the settlement commission until 2010 and now an attorney representing claimants, said the confiscations inflicted lasting damage on American families.

“Many of them never recovered financially,” Tamargo says. “You know, nobody ever expected for their claims to go unpaid for 50 years.”

__

Edmund Chester, in his early 60s with three young children, couldn’t afford to retire.

But a hard freeze destroyed the citrus trees he’d planned to harvest. He replaced them with peach trees, but they died, too. He put his remaining savings into a poultry venture.

“The chicken farms were a financial disaster,” son Edmund Jr. says. “I didn’t realize how bad it was until I searched court records for me and his court papers all came up. The feed supplier, the mortgage holder, they were all after him.”

The stress weighed on the elder Chester, whose mental faculties were fading. He told his children he feared Castro’s men were coming to kill him and taught them all how to handle guns. He awoke in the middle of the night screaming.

Those fears were grounded in experience. One night in 1958, the Chesters’ eldest, Patricia, was swimming in the pool behind the house with friends when a sharp noise pierced the darkness.

“At first we thought it was backfire” from a passing car, recalls a girlfriend, Jean Stoothoff. But the staccato of gunshots continued down the length of the property, she says. The last came just as Edmund Chester and two guards ran outside with their own guns drawn.

“He had a little .38. I don’t know where he kept it, but whenever somebody new drove in and he didn’t know who they were, he’d put it in his back pocket and go out and greet them,” his son recalls.

Before he died in 1975 after a series of strokes, the elder Chester invested his hopes in winning compensation for property seizures that were “so sudden, so violent, and so complete.” For years afterward, Enna Chester clipped and saved newspaper stories about American claims in Cuba, even as she sold off the land around the house to cover bills.

Carolyn Chester, whose father died when she was 15, said her parents’ talk of their losses made little impression until she was about 20 and joined her mother for lunch with a banker. As they were leaving, he called her aside to remind her that someday the frozen relationship between the U.S. and Cuba would thaw — and money might come her way.

But her mother’s death in 2001 left Carolyn Chester with reels of old home movies, dense paperwork and unpaid debts.

When she moved to Omaha with her family in 2006, she got a job in the admissions office at Creighton University’s medical school, where she showed co-workers her family’s Cuba photos.

One day, a colleague mentioned in passing that she’d heard students and professors at the law school were delving into claims for confiscated Cuban property. Hadn’t Castro taken the Chester family’s land, too?

___

About a decade ago, the notion of a Cuba without Fidel Castro began to seem increasingly possible.

“Fidel’s looking infirm, and the Bush administration decides, well, if something happens in Cuba we need to have a plan in place,” says Michael Kelly, a professor of law at Creighton.

The government commissioned several studies, including one taking measure of the property seizures and possible strategies for settling the claims. A group at Creighton won the job, despite being far-removed from the South Florida-centered vortex of emotions that often swirl around the issue of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Professors recruited students, and they spent a week poring over old claims at the settlement commission’s offices in Washington, D.C. Two professors flew to Cuba, searching for homes and businesses listed in claims paperwork, only to find the names of streets had changed. Some buildings were moldering, others apparently gone.

“Each of these tells a little bit of a story,” political science professor Rick Witmer says, pointing to entries in a computer database he built from bits of detail about each of the claims. One entry lists a family’s lost art and household furnishings. Another, a cigarette factory.

“These are people’s lives, the things that they lost. And you’re not going to be able to put that back together.”

U.S. law, though, demands that the government try. The embargo began with a presidential directive. But in 1996, with tensions inflamed by Cuba’s downing of two planes flown by exiles dropping leaflets on the island, lawmakers passed the Helms-Burton act, which, in part, made the embargo a part of U.S. law that could only be lifted by Congress.

“It is the sense of the Congress,” the law says, “that the satisfactory resolution of property claims … remains an essential condition,” for the full resumption of relations between the countries.

Looking at the certified claims provides a window back to when Cuba was home to a concentration of American wealth. Today, the biggest claims, by corporations like Exxon-Mobil Corp. and Coca-Cola, might well be settled by giving them the right to do business in Cuba, Kelly says. But claims holders will have to face the reality that the country doesn’t have the money to make them whole, he says.

“When the Cuban economy opens we will be facing the largest bankruptcy of the 21st century, 90 miles off our shore,” Kelly says. “So we need to be creative about how those claims go away.”

___

In 2007, Creighton professors held a news conference to announce their findings about Cuban claims they cautioned might net just 3 or 4 cents on the dollar.

Claims holders had long been told their losses would be adjusted for inflation, making what was valued at nearly $1.9 billion in the 1960s worth much more today, at least on paper. The possibility that the Chesters’ losses, once worth $489,000, might instead be devalued, rankled Carolyn Chester. And when an investor called seeking to buy her claim for a fraction of its original value, she grew angry.

Divorced, with a teenage son, Chester began devoting long hours to studying family records. She dug for information, trying to understand how it was that, with so many non-U.S. companies investing in Cuba, its government could possibly have so little to repay claims.

Poring over articles about Cuba, she disputed comments from readers who labeled the Americans who had lived on the island as mobsters who got what they deserved.

“She’s taken this thing,” her brother says, “and grabbed onto it like a pit bull.”

On a Wednesday morning in December, Chester heard that Obama was going to deliver a statement about Cuba, and asked for the rest of the day off. Back home, she leaned toward the television below her mother’s portrait, listening closely as the president spoke of rewriting a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”

To Chester, the speech confirmed that politicians and the corporations that lobby them want to move on, and would be glad if the claims vanished.

But they can’t see what she does from her living room, where a two-foot tall stack of Cuba-related documents crowns the coffee table.

Fidel Castro didn’t merely take property, Chester says. He stole her parents’ financial security, her father’s health — and any chance of an inheritance to repair her cracked and listing front steps.

Fifty-six years later, she says, “I’m not going to let him take from me again.”

___

Adam Geller can be reached at features@ap.org. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AdGeller

23 ‘beheaded’ in NE Nigeria on eve of election: lawmaker, nurse


More of the same from Muslim barbarians, this time in Africa. Whenever one reads the news and sees the word beheading, you can be assured that Muslims are to blame. TGO

Refer to story below. Source: Associated Press

AFP

A Boko Haram flag flutters from an abandoned command post in Gamboru, Nigeria, on February 4, 2015
 

Kano (Nigeria) (AFP) – Suspected Boko Haram gunmen beheaded 23 people and set fire to homes in Buratai, northeast Nigeria, on the eve of Saturday’s general elections, a federal lawmaker representing the area told AFP.

“There was an attack on Buratai late Friday by gunmen suspected to be insurgents….They beheaded 23 people and set homes on fire,” said Mohammed Adamu, who represents the town some 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Borno’s capital Maiduguri.

“At least half the village has been burnt,” he added.

A nurse at the nearest major hospital, in Biu, said the 32 injured who were receiving care also reported that many were decapitated during the attack.

Further details of the violence were not immediately available, but the attack is consistent with Boko Haram’s past strikes in the area in the south of the state, where defenceless civilians have been repeatedly targeted.

It was not clear if the raid late Friday was linked to Saturday’s polls, but Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau had vowed to disrupt the vote.

Elsewhere in Nigeria’s restive northeast, suspected Islamist militants killed at least seven people in separate attacks in the Gombe state.

Witnesses reported that the assailants in Gombe made clear their intention was to disrupt the polls.

Sexy…


Beautiful curves. TGO

Sexy 740

Sexy…


Impressive! TGO

Sexy 739

Sexy…


A real beauty. TGO

Sexy 738

 

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