…As Facebook action hints at western retaliation over WannaCry attack***
More than 90 Somali men and women were held shackled on an airplane for nearly 48 hours – and some were forced to urinate where they sat – during a failed attempt to deport them from the US, according to a lawsuit filed late on Monday.
Seven passengers representing the 92 people onboard alleged they suffered “inhumane conditions and egregious abuse” on the 7 December flight, which was due to land in Mogadishu, Somalia, but only reached Dakar, Senegal, where it was held for 23 hours before returning to the US.
“When the plane’s toilets overfilled with human waste, some of the detainees were left to urinate into bottles or on themselves,” the lawsuit says. “Ice [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents wrapped some who protested, or just stood up to ask a question, in full-body restraints. Ice agents kicked, struck, or dragged detainees down the aisle of the plane, and subjected some to verbal abuse and threats.”
Ice does not comment on pending litigation but denied allegations of mistreatment in earlier statements about the flight. The agency said the flight was turned around after a layover in Dakar because the relief crew was unable to get sufficient rest.
“Various logistical options were explored, and ultimately Ice decided to reschedule the mission to Somalia and return to the United States with all 92 detainees,” the agency said in a statement.
The plaintiffs, who include people who have lived in the US for decades, say they fear death and persecution at the hands of the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab, which has spread terror throughout Somalia and killed more than 500 people with a massive truck bomb in October.
This fear has been heightened by widespread media attention their flight received when it returned to the US.
“When this plane goes back, everyone will know they are coming back, including al-Shabaab,” said Rebecca Sharpless, an immigration attorney who helped file the lawsuit.
In the meantime, the US and UK may be engaged in cyber-offensives against North Korea in retaliation for attacks such as WannaCry, which caused widespread disruption to public services, companies and homes around the world in May.
Neither the UK nor the US government will confirm whether they have already mounted revenge cyber-attacks against North Korea. However, a hint that action was already being taken was offered on Tuesday when Facebook said it had recently deleted accounts linked to the Lazarus Group, a hacking entity associated with North Korea that both the US and UK blame for the WannaCry attacks.
A spokesperson for the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the public face of the surveillance agency GCHQ, said on Tuesday: “Our assessment has been that North Korean actors known as the Lazarus Group were very likely responsible for the WannaCry attack back in May this year.”
Although the White House announced only on Tuesday that it believed North Korea was behind the attack, the same finding was made by the NCSC in June and announced in the UK in October by the Home Office minister Ben Wallace.
The US and UK governments went further on Tuesday by suggesting it was highly likely the Lazarus Group was backed by the North Korean government.
The Foreign Office minister for cyber, Tariq Ahmad, said: “We condemn these actions and commit ourselves to working with all responsible states to combat destructive criminal use of cyberspace. The indiscriminate use of the WannaCry ransomware demonstrates North Korean actors using their cyber programme to circumvent sanctions.”
He added: “International law applies online as it does offline. The United Kingdom is determined to identify, pursue and respond to malicious cyber-activity regardless of where it originates, imposing costs on those who wish to attack us in cyberspace. We are committed to strengthening coordinated international efforts to uphold a free, open, peaceful and secure cyberspace.”
The UK Ministry of Defence and GCHQ have a range of options for mounting offensive cyber-attacks that could create disruption in North Korea.
The defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, told the Evening Standard that Britain would “never hesitate to deal with aggression and threats”.
Two Royal Navy warships are heading to join the US in the region. Williamson said: “North Korea is a massive threat. They are a real danger to this country.”
Tom Bossert, a White House homeland security adviser, said on Tuesday: “Facebook took down accounts and stopped the operational execution of ongoing cyber-attacks and Microsoft acted to patch existing attacks, not just the WannaCry attack initially.”
A Facebook spokesman said on Tuesday the company had deleted accounts associated with Lazarus last week “to make it harder for them to conduct their activities”. It had also notified individuals in contact with these accounts to suggest they consider enhancing their account security.
Lazarus is widely believed by security researchers and US officials to have been responsible for the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment. The hack destroyed files, leaked corporate communications online and led to the departure of several executives.