Zakir Naik's Channel Could See UK Licence Revoked Over Hate Speech against Homosexuals and Magicians, Calling For Them to Be Beheaded
'No Point Talking To India,' PM Imran Says In Interview With NYT
Ayatollah Khamenei, Supreme Leader Voices Deep Concern about Muslims' Situation in Kashmir
Islamist Militants Are Targeting Christians in Burkina Faso: ‘They Are Planting Seeds Of A Religious Conflict’
Latest Trumpism on India-Pakistan: Will Do Best I Can To Mediate
China Unveils New Counter-Terror Unit in Muslim-Majority Xinjiang Province
As Taliban Talk Peace, ISIS Is Ready to Play the Spoiler in Afghanistan
The Afghan Taliban's War against ISIS is Just Beginning
New Paramilitary Training Video Emerges of Neo-Nazi Terror Group
Jammu and Kashmir: Five Districts, 26 Schools, Most Closed — Zero Attendance
Kashmir a bilateral issue, resolve through dialogue: Johnson to Modi
Police officer, LeT militant killed in Baramulla encounter
India's ties with Bangladesh today better than ever: Indian envoy to UN Syed Akbaruddin
India stops sharing hydrological data with Pakistan
US to hold intersessional meeting of 2+2 Dialogue with India
Gen Bajwa Says Mainstreaming Madrassas Will Open New Avenues For Students
Pakistan’s religious minorities ask government for protection and rights
Pakistan submits compliance report to FATF
NAB to be stripped of powers to probe private citizens: minister
Government to expedite release of development funds
PM directs party workers to protest during Modi’s US visit
Pak-Afghan ties: Political will missing at state level, says Andleeb Abbas
Trump reiterates offer to mediate ‘explosive’ Kashmir situation
FM Qureshi asks Danish, Swedish counterparts to play role in Kashmir issue
US, Turkey must end illegal military presence on Syria soil: Damascus envoy to UN
UK Releases Oil Tanker Accused Of Assisting Iranian Terrorist Group
Zarif: Iran not withdrawing from nuclear agreement
Israeli warplanes launch fresh airstrikes on Gaza Strip
Turkish police welcome pro-Kurdish protesters with water cannon
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Sudanese military leaders, civilian opposition form new ruling council
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Pompeo says ISIS is 'more powerful' in some places but downplays overall threat
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US Envoy for Afghanistan Heads to Doha for More Talks with Taliban
Repatriation of hundreds of Rohingya Muslims unlikely; refugees say they won't return unless citizenship, safety assured
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Afghan military shares findings regarding the alleged crash of fighter jet in Samangan
EU urges member states to protect religious freedom
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Macron says will meet Iranian officials before G7 summit
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Egypt says its forces kill 11 militants in Sinai Peninsula
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Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Aug 22, 2019
LONDON: Firebrand Indian preacher Zakir Naik’s evangelical Islamic channel Peace TV could have its licence revoked in Britain for broadcasting an Islamic scholar calling homosexuals “worse than pigs”. Another presenter on the channel advocated that magicians should be beheaded.
UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom in July investigated five of Peace TV’s programmes and found four of them breached its codes by containing hate speech and highly offensive content, which in one instance could incite crime. In two instances the breaches were so serious that sanctions will be imposed.
The sanctions for these programmes — yet to be decided — could be a suspension or revocation of Peace TV’s licence, asking the broadcaster not to repeat the programme, making it read out Ofcom’s findings on air, or imposing a financial penalty.
In a 24-minute programme, titled “Strengthening Your Family — The Valley of the Homosexuals”, that was broadcast on Peace TV on March 11, 2018, presenter Imam Qasim Khan made comparisons between homosexual people and pigs. Khan said: “ ... You never see two male pigs trying to have sex together. That’s insanity. Worse than animals. Human beings can be worse than animals. At least an animal does have the dignity of confining their passion, their sexual passion, to the opposite gender.”
Ofcom said the statements were highly offensive and amounted to “a sustained attack on homosexual people”. Lord Production Inc Ltd, the licensee, claimed that Khan did not “call for violence or punishment of homosexuals” and his aim was to “outlaw the practice of homosexuality itself ”.
During another programme broadcast on November 22, 2017, on Peace TV Urdu, speaker and author Shaikh Ashfaque Salafi gave a religious lecture based on the 19thcentury religious text Kitaabut-Taweed, written by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism, to explain why the Islamic punishment for magicians is the death penalty. “The correct, reliable and majority opinion is that the punishment for a sahir (magician) is that the person should be killed,” Salafi says during the 55-minute show.
The licence holder for Peace TV Urdu, Club TV, defended the content, saying “sihr (magic)” referred to black magic and witchcraft and not “(professional magicians) Paul Daniels and Harry Houdini” magic. But Ofcom said “these statements amounted to an indirect call to action for the audience to kill those who practice magic”.
Peace TV is broadcast from Dubai and was founded by Naik, who lives in Malaysia. The channel is banned in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
August 22, 2019
Amid rising tension over occupied Kashmir, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday said that there was "no point" talking to Indian officials, adding that his overtures for peace and dialogue with New Delhi had proven futile.
In an interview with The New York Times journalists Salman Masood and Maria Abi-Habib, Prime Minister Imran said: "There is no point in talking to them. I mean, I have done all the talking. Unfortunately, now when I look back, all the overtures that I was making for peace and dialogue, I think they took it for appeasement."
During the interview at the Prime Minister's Office in Islamabad, which the news outlet said was Imran's first interview with an international news organisation aimed at publicising anger over the situation in occupied Kashmir, the premier said: "There is nothing more that we can do."
The interview comes after India stripped Kashmiris of the special autonomy they had for seven decades through a rushed presidential order on August 5. Indian authorities have imposed a communications blackout and heavy restrictions on movement from the eve of the intervention. At least 4,000 people have been detained in Indian-occupied Kashmir since then.
The prime minister said that the "most important thing" was that the lives of eight million people were at risk.
"We are all worried that there is ethnic cleansing and genocide about to happen."
The premier described Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as "a fascist and Hindu supremacist who intends to eradicate Kashmir's mostly Muslim population and populate the region with Hindus".
Prime Minister Imran, in one of his many messages on Twitter since India's move to annex occupied Kashmir, had said that the Indian government's policy in the Himalayan region was in line with the "ideology" of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) party — said to be a parent organisation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — that believed in "Hindu supremacy".
He had also asked the world to worry about Indian nuclear weapons under a "fascist and racist" government in Delhi.
While speaking to NYT, Prime Minister Imran expressed concern that India might undertake a deceptive "false-flag operation" in Kashmir to try to justify military action against Pakistan, adding that Pakistan would be forced to respond.
“And then you are looking at two nuclear-armed countries eyeball to eyeball, and anything can happen.
“My worry is that this can escalate and for two nuclear-armed countries, it should be alarming for the world what we are facing now.”
On August 14, while addressing a special session of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly, Prime Minister Imran had warned Modi that any action by India in Pakistan would be countered with a stronger response.
India rejects criticism
According to NYT, the Indian government did not immediately respond to Prime Minister Imran's comments. The Indian ambassador to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla, however, rejected the criticism.
"Our experience has been that every time we have taken an initiative towards peace, it has turned out badly for us," he said, adding: "We expect Pakistan to take credible, irreversible and verifiable action against terrorism."
Read: US urges India to free detainees, restore rights in occupied Kashmir
The ambassador also claimed that things were going "back to normal" in occupied Kashmir.
"Restrictions are being eased based on the ground situation. Public utility services, banks and hospitals are functioning normally," he said.
"There are adequate food stocks. Some restrictions on communication are in the interests of safety and security of the citizenry."
Ordinary people in the region, however, continue to feel the impact of the restrictions.
Nazir Ahmad, a retired engineer who lives in Srinagar, told The Associated Press on Saturday that residents were still facing difficulties in buying items such as vegetables, milk and medicine. He said his father is sick and needs a constant supply of medicine, which the family is finding difficult to procure.
“There is no internet, no telephone, no communication, no transportation,” said Ahmad, describing the situation as living through a “siege.”
“We are living like animals,” he said. “So I request everybody, please come and solve this situation. Nobody is coming out” of their homes.
Aug 21, 2019
Ayatollah Khamenei made the remarks in a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet members in Tehran on Wednesday on the occasion of the Government Week.
He expressed deep concern over the ongoing conflicts in Kashmir, and said, "We have good relations with the government of India. However, the government of India is expected to adopt a just policy with regard to the noble people of Kashmir, and prevent the oppression and bullying the people of this region."
Ayatollah Khamenei slammed Britain’s colonialist policies in the Indian subcontinent, and asserted, "The present situation in Kashmir and the disputes between Pakistan and India regarding it is the result of the vicious British government’s measures while retreating from the Indian subcontinent."
"To give rise to an enduring conflict in Kashmir, the British deliberately left this wound open in the region," he added.
Elsewhere, Ayatollah Khamenei said that over the past years, the enemies have consistently conducted any hostile measure against Iran but have failed, stressing that they will never achieve their goal to block the nation's path towards development.
“The US, Europe and even the former Soviet Union have tried every means in the past 40 years (to hit a blow at Iran) but they have failed,” he said.
The Leader pointed to the country's developments in the past years in political, defensive and economic spheres, saying, “The enemy cannot do a damn thing, and the next 40 years will be better for us, and worse for the enemies.”
Earlier this month, the Iranian foreign ministry had called on New Delhi and Islamabad to practice self-restraint and try to resolve their dispute over Jammu and Kashmir.
“Iran expects India and Pakistan, as two of its regional partners, to use a peaceful approach and dialogue to settle the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Moussavi said in a statement and in reaction to the current developments concerning the disputed Jammu and Kashmir regions.
He said that the Islamic Republic of Iran is closely following the recent decision by the Indian government regarding Jammu and Kashmir, and will take into careful consideration the explanations presented by both Indian and Pakistani officials about the recent developments.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran expects India and Pakistan, as its friends and regional partners, to take effective steps in line with the interests of the people of the region by using dialogue and adopting peaceful means,” he added.
On August 5, India, through a presidential decree, revoked the special autonomy status of disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir to fully integrate its only Muslim-majority state with the rest of the country. The move has erupted protests all over Pakistan, while the Indian-controlled Kashmir region is under lockdown. Pakistan and India both have a claim over Kashmir in its entirety and had three wars over the disputed territory.
By Danielle Paquette
August 21, 2019
DAKAR, Senegal — One evening in late June, gunmen stormed a village in northern Burkina Faso and ordered people who had been chatting outside to lie down.
Then the armed strangers checked everyone’s necks, searching for jewelry. They found four men wearing crucifixes — Christians. They executed them.
The killings in Beni, reported by Catholic leadership in the region, followed attacks on churches in the West African nation that have left at least two dozen people dead since February, according to local news reports. It was the second time in as many months that militants singled out worshipers wearing Christian imagery.
A spreading Islamist insurgency has transformed Burkina Faso from a peaceful country known for farming, a celebrated film festival and religious tolerance into a hotbed of extremism.
The trouble began three years ago with a grim domino effect: Militants trickled in from neighboring Mali, which was wrestling with its own insurgency — and many carried weapons from the 2011 collapse of Libya.
Attacks by fighters linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have quadrupled since 2017 in Burkina Faso, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington. The violence has pushed at least 70,000 people to flee their homes since January, estimates the United Nations.
The death toll from the conflict is hard to pin down, analysts say, but the majority of victims have been Muslim. Islamist groups killed approximately 1,110 people in the region last year, according to the Africa Center — a surge from 218 in 2016.
The attacks aimed at Christians signal a shift in the militants’ strategy from indiscriminate gunfire to attempts at dividing communities as they seek to quash any trace of Western influence, said Chrysogone Zougmore, president of the Burkinabe Movement for Human and Peoples’ Rights, a victim advocacy group in the country’s capital, Ouagadougou.
“They are planting seeds of a religious conflict,” Zougmore said. “They want to create hate. They want to create differences between us.”
Most people in Burkina Faso are Muslim, but a Christian minority — now about a quarter of the population — has worshiped in the country of roughly 19 million for more than a century.
People generally get along, regardless of how they pray. Neighbors dance, drink and watch soccer together. Children grow up in homes with a mix of traditions.
“You can’t tell the Christians from the Muslims in the street,” said Zougmore, a Christian married to a Muslim.
Terrorists seem to want to destroy that harmony, said Illia Djadi, senior analyst for sub-Saharan Africa at Open Doors International, a group focused on helping persecuted Christians.
They initially targeted military troops, fancy hotels and schools. Now, he said, they appear to be trying to drive non-Muslims out of the north.
“They appear to be using a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy,” Djadi said.
Attacks explicitly against Christians in Burkina Faso hadn’t happened before this spring, he said.
In February, militants sought out and killed a Catholic priest in the eastern town of Bittou, according to local news reports.
In April, they interrupted a Protestant church service in northern Silgadji, demanding that everyone convert to Islam. Then they led five men who were wearing crosses outside and shot them, said Nebie Badiou, head of a Baptist church association in Ouagadougou.
“It’s one thing to be Christian, and it’s another to publicly show Christ with a cross,” Badiou said. “They were sending a signal: Do not display your faith.”
In May, gunmen torched a church in another northern village, claiming the lives of a priest and five parishioners. They struck a procession the next day, killing four. They ambushed a Sunday mass in the same region two weeks later, killing four, local media reported.
Then came the June attack, which led to the deaths of the four men wearing crucifixes, bishops confirmed.
And earlier this month, they killed three worshipers in attacks on Protestant and Catholic churches in the eastern city of Tialboanga.
“We’re very afraid,” said Yacouba Lido, 30, a Christian who works as a translator for nonprofit groups in the country.
Lido, who lives in the center of Burkina Faso, visited northern villages twice this summer to talk to people who witnessed attacks.
“They’re all running away,” he said. “I saw people coming back on donkeys and bikes — all moving toward the capital.”
Islamist fighters are gaining territory in places the military cannot reach, said Emily Estelle, senior analyst for the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, which tracks the spread of terrorism.
Extremists — homegrown and some suspected to have trained in Afghanistan — are aiming to “destabilize the country and take control of Muslim communities,” she co-wrote in report this month on the issue.
Religious leaders in Burkina Faso are pleading for help.
“If the world continues to do nothing,” Bishop Laurent Dabire, president of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger, said in an Aug. 1 statement, “the result will be the elimination of the Christian presence.”
by Shubhajit Roy
Two days after he spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan PM Imran Khan, US President Donald Trump suggested — for the third time in a month — that he will do the best he can to “mediate” on the Kashmir issue.
Speaking at the White House Wednesday, Trump called the situation in Kashmir “very explosive” and a “very tough situation”. “I will do the best I can to mediate or do something,” he said.
The US President’s latest remarks have set the stage for a possible meeting between him and Modi at the G-7 summit meeting in Biarritz, France, between August 25 and 26.
There was no response from the Indian government to the remarks, but sources said the two sides are in touch on the issue. The US side had already clarified its position earlier, sources said, and the two leaders are expected to interact over the issue during the G-7 summit.
At least twice in the recent past, after the J&K Reorganisation Bill 2019 was passed, India has made it clear that it brooks no interference or mediation on the issue, most recently when External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar conveyed this position to US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo this month.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that while his country enjoyed “good relations” with India, he expected the Indian government to “adopt a just policy”.
“We’re concerned about Muslims’ situation in #Kashmir. We have good relations with India, but we expect the Indian government to adopt a just policy towards the noble people of Kashmir and prevent the oppression & bullying of Muslims in this region,” Khamenei posted on Twitter.
Blaming the British for the situation, he posted: “The current situation in #Kashmir & the disputes between India & Pakistan regarding it are a result of the vicious British government’s measures while leaving the Indian subcontinent. The British intentionally left this wound in that region in order to sustain conflicts in Kashmir.”
Also Wednesday, Bangladesh echoed the Indian line and said that revoking special status to J&K is India’s “internal matter”.
“Bangladesh maintains that the abrogation of Article 370 by the Indian Government is an internal issue of India. Bangladesh has always advocated, as a matter of principle, that maintaining regional peace and stability, as well as development should be a priority for all countries,” the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Earlier, claiming that “they have been having these talks for hundreds of years, even under different names”, Trump said: “But this is Kashmir, and Kashmir is a very complicated place. You have the Hindus and the Muslims, and I wouldn’t say they get along so great and that’s what you have right now.”
The US President said: “You have millions of people that want to be ruled by others and maybe on both sides, and you have two counties that haven’t gotten along well for a long time and frankly it’s a very explosive situation. I spoke to PM Khan, I spoke with yesterday also PM Modi. They are both friends of mine, they are great people. They are great people and they love their countries and they are in a tough situation, Kashmir is a very tough situation.”
Trump also claimed: “This has been going on for decades, decades. Shooting, I don’t mean shooting a rifle, I mean like major shooting of howitzers, of heavy arms and it’s being going on for a long period of time but I get along really well with both of them.”
Referring to his interactions with Modi and Khan, Trump said: “As you know, PM Khan was here just recently and I am going to be with PM Modi over the weekend in France. So I think we are helping the situation but there is tremendous problems between those two countries, as you know, and I will do the best I can to mediate or do something.”
He further said: “Great relationship with both of them but they are not exactly friends at this moment, complicated situation. A lot has to do with religion, religion is a complicated subject.”
On August 2, hours after Trump said he would “certainly intervene” on the Kashmir issue if New Delhi and Islamabad wanted him to, India rejected any mediation. Significantly, Trump did not reiterate a previous claim that Modi had asked him to intervene, in what was perceived as back-pedalling from his claim last month.
India’s firm but polite rejection of the offer had come when Jaishankar, after meeting Pompeo in Bangkok, said that “any discussion on Kashmir, if at all warranted, will only be with Pakistan and only bilaterally”. The two had met on the sidelines of the 9th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers meeting.
On July 22, in remarks that were promptly denied, Trump had said that Modi had asked him to play the role of mediator on Kashmir, and “if I can help, I would love to be the mediator” between India and Pakistan. Delhi had denied the claim.
China has set up a new counter-terror special operations unit in its restive Muslim-majority Xinjiang province where a large number of security forces are conducting operations against the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
State-run Global Times reported on Wednesday that the Chinese People’s Armed Police have for the first time unveiled to public a new counter-terror special operations unit called ‘Mountain Eagle Commando’ in the province.
China has two other counter-terrorism commando units – the Guangzhou-based Snow Leopard Unit, which was established in 2002, and the Beijing-based Falcon Unit, established in 1982.
The Armed Police aims to build commando forces capable of conducting missions at any time, in any place, under all weather conditions, the report said.
China blames the ETIM, believed to be an affiliate of the al-Qaeda, for numerous violent attacks in Xinjiang and other parts of the country.
Resource-rich Xinjiang province is home to about 10 million Uighurs – making up roughly half of China’s 22 million Muslims. The province is restive for several years over settlements of Han Chinese.
China is facing severe criticism from western countries over reports that it is holding one million people, mostly ethnic Uighurs, in internment camps in Xinjiang.
In a white paper on Xinjiang last month, China defended the camps, describing them as re-education centres aimed at de-radicalising sections of the Uighur Muslim population from extremism and separatism.
In another white paper issued last week, China said the training centres have eliminated religious extremism in the province and as a result no terrorist incidents were reported there in the past three years.
By Mujib Mashal
Aug. 20, 2019
KABUL, Afghanistan — Even as the United States and the Taliban seem close to a deal on an American troop withdrawal, the Islamic State in Afghanistan is making clear that it stands to inherit the role of violent spoiler if any peace agreement is reached.
That message was punctuated on Saturday by a suicide bomber who killed 63 wedding celebrants in Kabul, mostly from the country’s Shiite minority, in an attack that the Islamic State attributed to one of its loyalists from Pakistan. It was among the most devastating attacks in Afghanistan claimed by the Islamic State in the five years since it first established a beachhead in the eastern part of the country.
The bombing was a painful reminder of the immediate threat posed by the militants: that they can slip through tight security in the capital and cause the kind of carnage that devastates a vulnerable community, while cranking up pressure on a government already on the edge.
But the Islamic State also poses a longer-term danger that the United States military and Afghan officials worry about: It has positioned itself to gain in the event of a peace deal with the Taliban. The Islamic State is set to grow if an extreme layer of insurgents breaks away from the Taliban to keep fighting, and it is likely to thrive if a hastily managed American military withdrawal leaves chaos behind.
“This is a replacement for the Taliban,” said Abdul Rahim Muslimdost, an Islamist cleric who has been jailed in Pakistan and in the American detention camp at Guantánamo Bay.
In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Muslimdost explained how he helped create the Islamic State chapter in Afghanistan — mostly, he said, from former Pakistani and Afghan Taliban members. He said he had since dissociated himself from it, contending that it had been infiltrated by Pakistan’s military and intelligence services.
That view is shared by some Afghanistan security officials. They have consistently portrayed the Islamic State as the continuation of what they describe as Pakistan’s policy of “strategic depth,” in which it exerts influence in Afghanistan through militant proxies.
The Taliban, whose leadership operates out of Pakistan, had long been seen as that country’s main source of leverage in Afghanistan. But even though international pressure has led Pakistan to support the peace process with the Taliban, Afghan officials accuse the country’s military establishment of investing in the Islamic State’s local chapter to maintain its influence.
They say there is overlap between the support networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan that enable the Islamic State’s suicide bombings and the ones that helped the Taliban’s most lethal arm, the Haqqani network, carry out urban attacks for years.
“The responsibility of all these attacks — which are carried out with same tactics as the Taliban — goes to the Taliban,” said Massoud Andarabi, Afghanistan’s interior minister, even after the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the wedding bombing on Saturday.
“It is the Taliban who have created the networks that make possible such terrorist attacks in our cities, and now they claim responsibility when they want for an attack and not when they don’t,” Mr. Andarabi said.
American officials who have monitored the Islamic State’s development say there is no evidence that its chapter in Afghanistan gets support from Pakistan’s military establishment. Pakistani officials have also rejected the accusation, saying the military has backed away from its policy of nurturing militant groups. Islamic State affiliates have tried to carry out attacks in Pakistan, but with less frequency, as better security measures are in place there.
One American official acknowledged that there might be some modest overlap between the Islamic State and the Taliban, but described it as mostly being among low-ranking profiteers, not decision makers or trainers.
Sher Mohammad Karimi, a retired former chief of the Afghan Army, said it was worrying that Afghan officials and their American allies seemed to disagree about the extent of the Islamic State threat, and its source, at such a desperate time.
“It is a fact that Pakistan wants a weak government in Afghanistan so it can fulfill its strategic goals,” Mr. Karimi said. “But defending this country is our responsibility, and we should well prepare our forces.”
Different parts of the American government disagree over whether the local Islamic State chapter has either the capability or the ambition to strike the United States directly. But they agree that the group poses a threat that the United States needs to watch by maintaining counterterrorism units in Afghanistan, so that attacks like Al Qaeda’s strikes in 2001 cannot be repeated.
Two critics of the United States in the region, Russia and Iran, claim that the Islamic State here is being nurtured by the Americans in order to destabilize everything around it.
Since it was formed around 2014, the Islamic State’s Afghan chapter has been steeped in a long history of militancy in the region, a legacy of the C.I.A.’s use of Islamic jihadists, the mujahedeen, in its effort to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Mr. Muslimdost, the cleric who helped to found the Islamic State cell, was part of the mujahedeen effort. And his complex personal history epitomizes the legacy of perpetual insurgency and violence surrounding Afghanistan.
During the 1980s, he ran a library and published an Arabic magazine in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, a transit stop for the Arab fighters, including Osama bin Laden, who were coming to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
After the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy Mr. bin Laden’s new group, Al Qaeda, Mr. Muslimdost was among the hundreds of militants sent to Guantánamo, where he spent three years. He says that he had no formal role with the Taliban, and that Pakistan had wrongfully handed him over to the Americans.
After he was released from Guantánamo, Mr. Muslimdost wrote a book that was critical of Pakistan, in which he also described a dream about the formation of a global caliphate. The book landed him in a Pakistani prison.
When he came out, he allied with, and sought protection from, Pakistani militants who were fighting the state.
In the Islamic State’s 2014 declaration of a caliphate from Iraq, Mr. Muslimdost said he saw the opportunity for the fulfillment of a lifelong dream: that the Muslim world would unite under one government.
But right away, disagreements plagued the group he helped to form. He wanted to fight in Pakistan, but other members had already established the base in eastern Afghanistan that they still hold.
Mr. Muslimdost said he realized that the group was out of his hands — infiltrated, he said, by elements of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, in order to push what was left of the militancy in Pakistan across the border. That infiltration intensified as the United States kept killing the group’s original leaders with drone strikes, he said.
Today, the Islamic State is active or present in nearly two dozen districts along the border with Pakistan, despite strong pressure from the American and Afghan militaries. The Afghan intelligence agency says it has also broken up Islamic State cells inside the capital, operating in universities and recruiting among the city’s educated elite.
It is possible that concerns about the Islamic State could become a catalyst in the search for a deal with the Taliban. The two militant groups have fought many turf battles, and American officials say that in talks, the Taliban have said they do not want Afghanistan to become another Syria or Iraq.
But there is also widespread anxiety that the Islamic State has positioned itself for the fracturing of the Taliban in the event of a peace deal. Mr. Muslimdost agrees with that assessment, seeing Pakistan at work behind the scenes.
“Remember my words,” Mr. Muslimdost said. “If there is a settlement with the Taliban, and they become part of the government, Pakistan has the replacement for them ready already. They will continue this war in Afghanistan in the name of the Islamic State.”
Fahim Abed contributed reporting.
by Ali M. Latifi
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — This week was supposed to have been one of celebration in Afghanistan, as this nation of 32 million people marks the centennial of its independence from British rule. But tragedy struck just two days before anniversary observances.
A suicide bomber, allegedly a member of the Islamic State group, detonated a vest loaded with explosives in the middle of a wedding attended by more than 800 people on Saturday.
Even in this city plagued by years of violence, the attack in western Kabul was a horrific event, claiming the lives of at least 63 people and injuring hundreds more. As often is the case with terror attacks, the bombing struck fear in citizens across Afghanistan’s capital city.
“Ever since suicide bombings started here, I always feared that a wedding would be targeted,” said Parwin Popal, a Kabul resident. “Whenever I would go to weddings, I would think ‘now they’re coming’.”
Grief and disbelief were redoubled on Monday, when several bombs went off at restaurants and in public squares throughout the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. That series of Independence Day attacks injured dozens of people, including young children. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings.
Since the Trump administration first began face-to-face talks with the Taliban in Doha, there have been questions about what to do with fighters claiming allegiance to the so-called Islamic State group.
Nabeelah Baz, a parliamentarian from the eastern province of Nangarhar, says dealing with the Islamic State — also known as Daesh — may prove much more difficult than the Taliban.
“The attack on the wedding hall falls exactly in line with the Daesh motive, which is much more concerned with sectarianism than politics,” he said.
The difference between the groups is that: “The Taliban have a political claim, they say that they were a government that was overthrown from power.”
In the weeks leading up to Independence Day, extra security precautions had been taken. Festivities would have seen the reopening of a 20th century palace destroyed by years of war. But the wedding hall bombing took the violence to an unimaginable new level, prompting officials to cancel those events.
“They were told, ‘If you have your celebration, we will bring the shoes of every person killed or wounded in the attack to your palace,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Afghanistan has been expecting news in recent days about an impending peace deal with the United States. The Taliban and Washington are said to be finalizing an agreement to end the United States’ 18-year incursion in the country.
U.S. President Donald Trump alluded to a possible impending agreement in a tweet sent the same day as the horrific attack.
“Just completed a very good meeting on Afghanistan. Many on the opposite side of this 19 year war, and us, are looking to make a deal — if possible!”
Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s chief negotiator with the Taliban, tweeted that the attack should prompt officials to “accelerate” their talks.
“We must accelerate the #AfghanPeaceProcess including intra-Afghan negotiations. Success here will put Afghans in a much stronger position to defeat ISIS.”
Nasrat Rahimi, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said Saturday’s bombing served a brutal purpose. “The enemies of the Afghanistan want to incite fear in the Afghan people by showing their barbarism,” he said.
With that in mind, Rahimi said the Interior Ministry has instructed its forces to take even more precautions during upcoming holy days.
President Ashraf Ghani, meanwhile, pinned some of the responsibility for the attack, at least indirectly, on the Taliban. “[The] Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists,” he said.
For its part, the Taliban was quick to denounce the massacre, saying: “There is no justification for such deliberate and brutal killings and targeting of women and children,” however the group continues to stage their own attacks that are taking a mounting toll on civilian life.
Baz said this has made discussions with the Taliban possible, since they were able to designate elders and ex-officials that they claim speaks for the entire movement.
He also pointed to a demographic difference between ISIS and the Taliban groups. “When you see people who claim to be part of Daesh they are young boys from the universities and the high schools.”
The Taliban also are more likely to be students of religious schools, many of which are located in territories disputed between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This, he said, makes the Daesh members much more ideological than the Taliban, and even more extremist.
By Mack Lamoureux and Ben Makuch
Aug 21 2019
Disturbing images showing eight masked men shooting what appears to be a combination of shotguns and assault rifles is the latest propaganda posted by neo-Nazi extremist network The Base, as the group garners the attention of law enforcement in both the US and Canada.
Tipped by the Counter-Extremism Project, the footage was posted on a known extremist Telegram channel and shows at least seven masked men holding weapons, then firing them in the same direction. A counterterrorism source told VICE the GIF, which is dated August 18, 2019, has never been seen online until this weekend, around the time it was believed The Base was training near Spokane, Washington State and undertaking a “hate camp” —a paramilitary-style training camp for militant neo-Nazis.
News of the footage comes just one day after an alleged member of the group was outed as a soldier with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and was under investigation by federal authorities. Master Corporal Patrik Mathews, a member of the CAF Reserves, is accused of participating in the armed neo-Nazi collective and is now being investigated by two police forces, the RCMP and military police.
The RCMP's investigation into Mathews led police to search the man’s home, where they seized several firearms. A neighbour captured a video of a tactical RCMP unit pulling up to a home in Beausejour, where Mathews is known to live, and calling for “Patrik” to surrender.
Speaking to VICE, RCMP confirmed the firearm sweep, but would not say Mathews was the suspect. They told VICE officers executed a public safety warrant at 10 PM on Monday and that while a “number of firearms were seized,” no one is in custody “at this time.”
The RCMP would not confirm what sparked the search or what firearms were seized. The Winnipeg Free Press confirmed the home was that of Mathews.
The group Mathews is alleged to be a part of is one of the most extreme in the far-right ecosystem. VICE conducted an investigation into the group in November and found it was an extremist cell founded in 2018 by a man who goes by the aliases "Norman Spear" and "Roman Wolf." Spear aimed to bring together different groups who make up the typically fractious extreme-right ecosystem to create domestic-terror cells worldwide.
The group’s online library provides members with a variety of extremist literature, which includes guides for making bombs and chemical weapons. Its members are encouraged to go beyond online actions and carry out real-world violence. Joshua Fisher-Birch, a research analyst at the Counter Extremism Project, a U.S.-based terrorism watchdog, said the mixing of online recruiting and push for real-world actions make The Base a “significant threat.”
"The Base is particularly dangerous because of [its] focus on developing and sharing skills useful for terrorism and guerilla warfare, such as ambushes, weapons training, and making explosives," Fisher-Birch said. "This is a radical group that not only wants violence but is preparing for it."
Recently The Base has been pushing to recruit new members in international locations, including a postering campaign in the Canadian province of Manitoba. In some locations the group has conducted training events and posted images of those meetups online. Ryan Thorpe, a reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press, was able to pass neo-Nazis’ vetting process and observe the inner workings of the group. Thorpe wrote a series of explosive stories in which he outlined The Base’s current online activities and then met up with a member in Winnipeg. The member told Thorpe about his hateful views, his thirst for violence, and how he attempted to attend a “hate camp” but was blocked by border officials—something that VICE saw evidence of and was referenced independently in Base propaganda.
This person identified himself as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces and Thorpe was able to ID him as one, Cpl Master Patrik Mathews.
Since then the Canadian military and RCMP have both launched investigations into Mathews.
“The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was aware of possible racist extremist activities by a CAF member in Manitoba prior to the recent media coverage and have been investigating the matter,” reads a statement provided to VICE. “As the investigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further. If any instances of wrong-doing are founded, action will be taken.”
In a press conference, Col. Gwen Bourque said that Mathews was a “class A” soldier who last worked in May when he partook in two parades—he was next expected to work in September. He joined in 2010 and had full-time employment outside of his work in the reserves. She said Mathews had a “basic understanding of demolitions” but was not an expert nor permitted to access explosives or weapons outside of training exercises.
“I wanted to also ensure everyone that Master Corporal Patrik Mathews cannot obtain explosives from the military as he does not have the authorization,” said Bourque. “He doesn't hold any of the requisite qualifications to draw any type of explosive and has no access to weapons. He's had some very rudimentary training on explosives as any combat engineer would, so he has a basic understanding of demolition.”
Attacks committed by far-right extremists are on the rise. Recently a man named Connor Climo, a member of Feuerkrieg Division, a similar group to The Base, was arrested in Las Vegas was and charged with possession of an unregistered firearm after being found with the materials to make an improvised explosive device. Before his arrest, Climo spoke to an undercover FBI agent about his plan to attack a nearby mosque with explosives and firearms. Climo's rhetoric and ideology were consistent with the rhetoric VICE viewed inside the chat room used by members of The Base.
When inside the newest iteration of The Base, the Winnipeg Free Press reporter found many group activities VICE reported are still ongoing. This includes the organizational structure, the veneration of mass killers, a vetted chatroom (now on Wire instead of the Riot server), pushes for the formation of cells internationally, a thirst for real-world action, and bigoted and extremist rhetoric. The leader has dropped his pseudonym of Norman Spear and has adopted Roman Wolf full time.
A Canadian Armed Forces report “White Supremacy, Hate Groups, and Racism in The Canadian Armed Forces" published in November 2018 found 53 members of the CAF have participated in hate groups. This includes a member of Atomwaffen, a similar extremist group The Base which has been involved in five murders since 2017. When asked about what actions the military is taking to prevent extremists from becoming soldiers, Bourque said CAF does “background checks” and “investigates” their members prior to joining.
“I can also tell you right now that the Minister of National Defence just last week, has asked the Ombudsman to look into allegations of hate groups and conduct an investigation,” Bourque added. “So the Government of Canada is taking this very seriously as well.”
Jammu and Kashmir: Five districts, 26 schools, most closed — zero attendance
by Adil Akhzer
Two days after primary schools reopened to empty classrooms in the Valley after days of being closed amid a communication lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir, the administration reopened middle schools on Wednesday, and the result was largely similar. While most institutions The Indian Express checked across five Kashmir districts remained closed, most teachers and nearly all students stayed away in the few that opened their gates.
The administration said attendance of students and teachers has improved in over the last two days.
The Indian Express went to 26 primary and middle schools — both government and private institutions —in Srinagar, Budgam, Baramulla, Bandipore and Ganderbal districts and found that no student attended classes. While some teachers reported for duty at a few schools, most of them stayed away.
In the evening media briefing, Director (Information) Syed Sehrish Asgar, accompanied by Director (Education) Mohammad Younis Malik and DIG (Central Kashmir) V K Birdi, said, “Student attendance was 2 to 3 per cent in south Kashmir and 50 per cent in some areas of north Kashmir.”
A few among the handful of teachers who reported for duty maintained that the administration is putting their life in danger by opening schools amid tension in the region.
At New Era Public School in Srinagar’s Rajbagh, for instance, while the school gate was open, no student turned up. School officials said eight staff members reported for duty. At Delhi Public School, Budgam, the gate was bolted from inside, and the security guard said no teacher or student turned up.
The Indian Express found the school gate open — or bolted from inside in a few instances — but no student or teacher present at New Convent School, Gogji Bagh, Srinagar; J-K Public School Humhama, Srinagar; Government High School, Government Boys High School and Girls High School (all housed on same premises); Government Primary School, Reshipora, Budgam; Government Middle School, Sebdan, Budgam; Pioneer School, Pattan, Baramulla; International Islamic School, Rawalpora, Srinagar.
Other schools The Indian Express visited and found locked from outside are Prime Public School, Barzulla, Srinagar; Government Primary School, Sheikhpora, Budgam; Government Primary School, Karpora, Budgam; Kashmir Public Vidyalaya, Mirgund, Baramulla; Government Girls Middle School, Hanjiveera, Baramulla; Government Primary School Singhpora, Baramulla; Primary Middle School, Ahan, Ganderbal; Government Middle School Barsoo, Ganderbal; Girls Middle School Repora, Ganderbal; Government Middle School Lar, Ganderbal; Royal Public School, Badampora, Ganderbal; Qureshia Model High School Zaznar, Ganderbal; Boys Middle School Shadipora Payeen, Bandipore; Primary School Wagnipora, Sumbal, Bandipore, and Kindergarten School, Wagnipora, Sumbal, Bandipore.
August 21, 2019
During a telephone call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, British Premier Boris Johnson called Kashmir a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and stressed on the importance of ‘resolving issues through dialogue’, reported news agency PTI.
A Downing Street spokesperson said that the phone call, made on Tuesday, was a part of a series of calls undertaken by Johnson to other world leaders since he took charge of the office last month.
The spokesperson said, “The Prime Minister and Prime Minister Modi discussed the current situation in Kashmir… The Prime Minister (Johnson) made clear that the UK views the issue of Kashmir as one for India and Pakistan to resolve bilaterally. He underlined the importance of resolving issues through dialogue.”
On August 5, India revoked the special status to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories escalating tension between the two neighbours
Further, the official said both the prime ministers agreed on the importance of building stronger ties with each other through trade and economic relations and through the “living bridge that links our countries”.
“Prime Minister Modi said there are immense possibilities for the UK and India which would increase prosperity in both countries,” the spokesperson said.
The conversation comes ahead of the G-7 Summit to be held in France over the coming weekend, where the two leaders are scheduled to meet for the first time since Johnson assumed office.
“Ahead of the G7, the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Modi agreed on the importance of working together to tackle climate change and other threats to biodiversity. They looked forward to meeting at the summit this weekend to discuss this and other issues,” the spokesperson added.
While the Downing Street readout of the telephonic conversation made no reference to any other issues discussed between the two leaders, the Prime Minister’s Office in India said that the topics covered also included a fight against terrorism and violence.
According to a statement released by the PMO, PM Modi claimed that terrorism plagues ‘all parts of the world’ and that ‘effective steps need to be taken to ward off threats’.
“Prime Minister Modi pointed out that terrorism had plagued all parts of the world, including India and Europe. He stressed the importance of effective steps to ward off the threats posed by radicalisation, violence and intolerance, particularly in the context of the expanding footprint of terrorist organisations such as ISIS [Islamic State],” the statement read.
Modi also drew Johnson’s attention to the reported vandalism at the High Commission of India in London by a large mob on the day India celebrated its Independence Day.
Full report at:
A special police officer was killed in an encounter with militants Wednesday in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, a police spokesman told news agency PTI. A militant was also shot dead in the encounter which broke out on Tuesday night.
The SPO was identified as Billal Ahmad. A sub-inspector, Amardeep Parihar, was also wounded in the encounter and was admitted to the Army’s 92 base hospital at Badami Bagh cantonment.
The militant, meanwhile, was identified as Momin Gojri from the Lashkar-e-Taiba. A resident of Baramulla, the police said he was involved in several terror cases. This was the first anti-militancy operation between security forces and militants in Kashmir since July 27, PTI quoted an officer as saying.
UNITED NATIONS: India's ties with Bangladesh today are better than ever and this is a tribute to the legacy and belief of Bangladesh's Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that ties between neighbours should be exemplary, New Delhi's envoy to the UN said here.
"Our ties with Bangladesh today are perhaps better than ever and this is a tribute to Bangabandhu's legacy," India's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin said last week at a commemorative event organised by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to mark the 44th death anniversary of Bangladesh's founding father Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975.
Mujibur Rahman's daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is a true inheritor of his belief that "ties between neighbours should be exemplary and we are happy that our ties have just grown from strength to strength,” Akbaruddin said at the event ‘Remembering Bangabandhu – A Voice for the Oppressed.'
Mujibur Rahman is popularly known in Bangladesh as Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal).
He noted that Bangabandhu's journey was an unwavering belief in democracy; a passion for social justice; an emphasis on cultural inclusivity and identity that led to the liberation of Bangladesh. "Now, these are all values that we at the UN cherish and nourish,” Akbaruddin said.
Underscoring that ties between India and Bangladesh are special in many ways, Akbaruddin said New Delhi and Dhaka are bound by a common cultural and linguistic heritage of a language.
The national anthems of India and Bangladesh were written by the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. "Bangladesh's ‘Amar Sonar Bangla' and India's ‘Jan Gana Mana' are visible bonds that indicate how two countries have owed their heritage to one common culture. Our ties are also forged in common aspirations and sacrifices," he said.
Akbaruddin told the commemorative event that Mujibur Rahman's lasting legacy is his vision of development in Bangladesh. "Frankly, very soon after Bangabandhu's death, Bangladesh ran into difficult situations as was just mentioned and there were people who said Bangladesh is an international basket case. Today, it is a transformation that I don't know, who said it, but if he was around, he should be eating his words.”
Akbaruddin said today Bangladesh is an example of how a country should be approaching its development and growth, whether it is in terms of economic development, education, social indicators, technology, banking, rural development and women's empowerment. "It is for all of us in the developing world an example to emulate. And perhaps that is the greatest tribute that the present leadership of Bangladesh is implementing Bangabandhu's vision of what he wanted for Bangladesh and that is the lasting tribute that all of us look at with admiration,” he said.
Akbaruddin expressed hope that India will extend help as Bangladesh celebrates the 100th anniversary of Bangabandhu's birth. "We hope we can help in any manner because it is important to recall struggles and achievements of the rich legacy of heroes of our past and the UN is the right place to do it.”
During a visit to Dhaka, external affairs minister S Jaishankar had also paid respects to Bangladesh's founding father and said India is proud to partner with the country to fulfil his vision. Placing a wreath at the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum, Jaishankar said he was "deeply moved" by the visit to the place. "India is proud to partner with Bangladesh to fulfil the vision of Bangabandhu," Jaishankar wrote on the visitor's book.
NEW DELHI: Taking the offensive, India has refused to renew its 1989 agreement of sharing hydrological data during flood season with Pakistan and told the neighbour that it would only provide information on “extraordinary discharges and flood flows”.
The agreement, a result of an earlier India’s goodwill gesture, was renewed every year. But the Indian position has changed, coinciding with heightened tensions over the abrogation of Jammu & Kashmir’s special status and the bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories. “This agreement was not renewed in the current year by us,” P K Saxena, Indian Commissioner for Indus Waters, told TOI on Wednesday. The decision, however, has nothing to do with the Indus Water Treaty signed between India and Pakistan in 1960 for sharing waters of the Indus system. “India as a responsible nation is committed to the provisions of the IWT,” said Saxena.
Referring to the 1989 agreement to share hydrological data during flood season between July 1 to October 10, he said, “This was the arrangement beyond the IWT provisions as a gesture of goodwill from India. This arrangement was being renewed every year since 1989 with modifications as and when required.”
Asked about IWT, he said, “Under the Treaty provisions, India is required to provide advance information in regard to ‘extraordinary discharges and flood flows’. This is being done whenever the extraordinary flows are reached.”
Though Saxena didn’t elaborate, the move clearly appeared a fall out of the Pulwama terror attack in February and current tensions. India communicated its move to Pakistan on Tuesday — the day Union Jal Shakti (water resources) minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat expressed the country’s intent to fully utilise its share of water from Indus river system within the IWT rather than allowing it to flow into Pakistan. India was working on how its share of water that flows to Pakistan could be diverted for use by its own farmers, industries and people.
Amid increased India-Pak tension, the United States will host an intersessional meeting of the US-India 2+2 Dialogue in California on Thursday to discuss ways to advance cooperation on critical diplomatic and security priorities.The intersessional meeting is aimed at strengthening the strategic partnership, the State Department said Wednesday.
“During the Intersessional, the two sides will discuss ways to advance cooperation on critical diplomatic and security priorities, including our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and review preparations for the next 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue,” the State Department said.
The American delegation is being led jointly by the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Affairs Randall Schriver.
Meanwhile, on Friday, during the fourth US-India Maritime Security Dialogue, the two sides will exchange views on maritime developments in the Indo-Pacific region and consider steps to further strengthen bilateral maritime security cooperation, the official US statement said.
Gen Bajwa says mainstreaming madrassas will open new avenues for students
RAWALPINDI: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Wednesday said that ongoing efforts to bring madarssas (Islamic seminaries) in mainstream national education system will open new avenues for students to excel in contemporary careers.
He said this while meeting with students belonging to Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-e-Madaris Pakistan (ITMP) from across the country, who secured good grades in the intermediate exams, at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
Thirteen students, including four girls, belonging to the ITMP achieved top positions in various boards this year, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
The army chief congratulated the students for securing top positions in various disciplines. He emphasised that they must continue to work hard and contribute towards prosperous and progressive Pakistan and become a useful part of the society.
Gen Bajwa also lauded efforts and commitment of parents and teachers for providing right environment to the students, helping achieve them such distinctions.
The COAS later distributed prizes to high achievers and souvenirs to parents and teachers in recognition of their efforts. Students, on the occasion, thanked the army chief for the recognition of their achievements.
Separately, Gen Bajwa visited the Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) Wah and Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) on Wednesday.
According to an ISPR press release, Gen Bajwa COAS inaugurated Urea Formaldehyde Moulding Compound (UFMC) Plant at Wah Nobel Chemicals Factory during his visit to the Pakistan Ordnance Factories.
The UFMC project was completed within 8 months. “This new plant is equipped with latest and most economical silver catalyst technology, which will reduce the production cost,” the ISPR said.
The Army chief also visited the POF display centre where new defence products were showcased. “COAS appreciated the achievements of Research and Development Department of POF,” the ISPR said in the press release.
The Army chief stressed upon the Pakistan Ordnance Factories management to “adopt proactive approach for entering into joint ventures with foreign countries as well as private sector and bringing diversification to its product range”.
At the Heavy Industries Taxila, Gen Bajwa was shown defence manufacturing facilities including upgradations of various tanks.
“The COAS appreciated efforts and contributions of POF and HIT in manufacturing defence and security equipment at par with international standards making defence capability robust and self-reliant saving national exchequer,” the ISPR said.
By Robin Gomes
Pakistan, where the state religion is Islam, has a population of around 197 million, of which at least 95 percent is Muslim. Hindus make up the largest minority group, followed by Christianity and others.
Among those who signed the memorandum at a press conference in Karachi on Aug. 8 were representatives of the country's Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Baha'i communities. The initiative was organized by the Italian chapter of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a Catholic charity and foundation that helps persecuted Christians worldwide, and by Catholic advocate Tabassum Yousaf, linked to the Community of Sant’Egidio peace group.
Rights and protection
The joint-resolution asks that the minimum age for marriage of girls be raised from 16 to 18. It calls for the establishment of a federal ministry for religious minorities, a reservation of a 5% quota for national and international educational scholarships for minorities, the protection of minorities' houses of worship from government seizure and to provide spaces for worship for minority communities in areas such as jails, hospitals and state institutions.
The minorities also call for legislation to prevent discrimination against minorities in employment, education and society, the elimination of material that encourage hatred in books, and government subsidies for security at minorities' schools.
“We intend to focus on issues related to our freedom, our fundamental human rights, prejudices and discrimination that exist in particular towards people of religious minorities and forced conversions of women of religious minorities," Tabbasum Yousaf told the Vatican’s Fides news agency.
The religious leaders are also asking for government subsidies for security at minorities' schools.
A specific request touches on the problem of abductions, sexual violence and forced conversions of women belonging to religious minorities, asking for legislation to counteract the phenomenon.
At an event organized in Islamabad on July 29, in view of the August 11 National Minority Day, Imran Khan said that forced conversion is un-Islamic. He explained that the Prophet Muhammad himself had given minorities religious freedom and protected their places of worship, “because the Quran orders that there be no compulsion in religion”.
“How can we then take it into our own hands to forcefully convert someone to Islam — either by marrying [non-Muslim] women […] or on gunpoint or to [by threatening to] kill someone because of their religion?” he asked.
The joint resolution also asks that minorities “be given particular protection” against the abuse of the country's controversial blasphemy laws.
Insulting the Prophet Muhammad in Pakistan is a crime punishable by death, while offending the Koran, Islam’s holy book, incurs life imprisonment. Rights organizations say the law is often misused to settle personal scores.
Former Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, and the Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, were both assassinated in 2011 after they defended Catholic woman Asia Bibi and spoke out against her death sentence and the misuse of the blasphemy laws.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted Bibi on October 31, 2018, ordering her release.
According to figures by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (PCBC), 16 people were arrested or booked for blasphemy in 2018: nine Christians, four Ahmadis (deemed heretics by radical Islam), two Muslims and one Hindu.
Discrimination against Christians also occurs in the workplace. Sanitation work is reserved for Christians.
“We are 100% sons and daughters of this land; we should not be treated as second-class citizens,” said Fr. Saleh Diego, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Karachi, who was present at the August 8 press conference.
At an August 11 National Minorities Day event in Lahore, several Christian leaders highlighted the rise of intolerance in the country and the abuse of the blasphemy laws.
According to Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, "Minority is not a good word.” “It should be called the Day of Unity or Msaawat (equality),” he told AsiaNews. He lamented, “ We [Christians] played an equal role in the creation, defence, welfare and development of Pakistan but our contributions are not part of the syllabus.”
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has submitted compliance report on its 27-point action plan to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), as three separate evaluations currently in progress will determine the country's possible exit from the grey list of the anti-money laundering watchdog by October, according to a media report.
The Asia-Pacific Group — the regional affiliate of the FATF — is currently conducting in Canberra (Australia) five-year mutual evaluation of Pakistan's progress on upgrading its systems in all areas of financial and insurance services and sectors, a senior government official told Dawn.
This round is not directly linked to Pakistan's performance on its commitments with the FATF on money laundering and terror-financing, but its assessment report can indirectly impact the country's position to move out of the grey list.
The assessments, represented from Pakistan by State Bank of Pakistan governor Baqir Reza, will conclude on August 23, the daily said.
Pakistan has submitted its compliance report on 27-point action plan committed with the FATF to the APG, which is reviewing its compliance on about seven areas mostly relating to financial and insurance services and facilities as part of an ongoing five-year review cycle.
These areas cover safeguards against money laundering and terror financing by banned outfits and non-government entities through banking and non-banking jurisdictions, capital markets, corporate and non-corporate sectors like chartered accountancy, financial advisory services, cost and management accountancy firm, jewellers and similar related services.
The official aid that the five-year review by the APG, which had been under way for nearly two years, would conclude on August 23. As part of this process, he added, the countries were given future targets in view of changing technologies, practices and latest techniques and scopes.
This will be followed by another round of mutual evaluations by the APG starting September 5 in Bangkok (Thailand) that would become a key basis of Pakistan's final review by the FATF at its plenary and working group meetings scheduled for October 13-18 in Paris.
The Paris plenary will also take up a separate assessment by the US Treasury Department regarding Pakistan's compliance with global commitments against money laundering and terror financing.
The FATF last year placed Pakistan on the grey list of countries whose domestic laws are considered weak to tackle the challenges of money laundering and terrorism financing.
In June, the Paris-based anti-money laundering watchdog said that Pakistan failed to complete its action plan on terror financing.
ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to strip the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) of powers to investigate the affairs of persons other than holders of public offices by amending the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), commonly known as the NAB law.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, the federal Minister for Law and Justice, Dr Farogh Nasim, explained the amendments being proposed to “rationalise” the NAB law and said one of them was aimed to “exclude the private person from the jurisdiction of NAB”.
“Someone who has never held a public office and is also not related to a holder of public office, being a private person he/she should not be under the jurisdiction of NAB,” said Barrister Nasim.
The businesspersons should be subject to relevant laws of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in case they get involved in tax evasion and other financial irregularities, the minister said.
The watchdog might also be barred from interfering in matters relating to financial disputes between private parties because the organisation was created mainly to investigate mega-corruption cases, he said.
According to Dr Nasim, a proposed amendment would empower the accountability court to grant bail to a NAB accused.
Under the NAO of 1999, there is no provision for grant of bail to a NAB suspect; as a result, a suspect has to file a petition under Article 199 with the high court to seek a bail. A citizen can invoke Article 199 and file a petition with the high court to enforce fundamental rights when there is no remedy available under the law.
The law minister also said his ministry is working on redefining the provisions related to voluntary return of the embezzled amount and release of a person under a plea bargain.
Barrister Nasim said the proposed amendments had been drafted while keeping in view the recent judgements of Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed.
NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal is on board on matters relating to rationalisation of the NAB law, he said. The government is also considering taking steps to enhance the capacity of NAB staff.
Turning to the work carried out by his ministry since August last year, Dr Nasim said that although it tabled several bills in parliament to streamline the otherwise complicated legal procedures, due to the opposition’s non-cooperation these bills could not become law.
He said that because the opposition enjoys an overwhelming majority in the Senate even the laws that are directly related to the welfare of citizens could not be passed in that house.
He gave a brief introduction of the laws which the ministry had tabled in parliament in the last one year and which were approved by the relevant committees. He said that 22 laws had been formulated in the past 12 months, of which six had been approved by the lower house of parliament.
During the period, the ministry also set up a website (www.pakistancode.gov.pk) which was accessed by over 55 million users.
According to Barrister Nasim, the law ministry has tabled among others a bill related to amendments in the civil procedure code, the Whistle Blower Act, Legal Aid Authority Bill, Mutual Legal Assistance Bill, Women Ombudsman Bill, Succession Act, and Christian Marriage Bill.
ISLAMABAD: Concerned over a slower beginning of development programme and overall economic activities in the country, the government on Wednesday decided to relax procedures for release of development funds and improve utilisation of external financing to fast-track the execution of development projects particularly those relating to social sector.
The decision to this effect was taken at a meeting of the Prime Minister's economic team led by his Adviser on Finance and Revenue Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. The meeting was attended by ministers and advisers of the planning, economic affairs, commerce and industry ministries in addition to the heads of board of investment, the Federal Board of Revenue, Planning Commission and finance, food security and planning secretaries.
Informed sources told Dawn that the meeting had been called in the wake of slow disbursements of funds for development schemes, particularly on Special Economic Zones (SEZs) under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and criticism from independent economists that government’s pre-occupation with political accountability was affecting the economic situation and the people were suffering due to high inflation and slowing economic activities.
The sources said the government had been advised by lending partners and well wishers to focus more on improving investment climate and expedite implementation of development projects so as to create job opportunities and ease difficulties being faced by the common men and protect their living standards. They said that some quarters were creating an impression that SEZs under the CPEC had come to a standstill in recent months following PM Imran Khan’s US visit which required to be dispelled.
An official statement said the minister for planning and development briefed the economic team about the progress on mega Public Sector Development
Programme (PSDP) projects during the current fiscal year. He also presented the complete road map to execute major projects on a fast-track basis.
He told the meeting that proper monitoring will be conducted during the current fiscal year so that all development initiatives may be completed as per planned physical and financial phasing and latest technologies will be utilised to monitor and complete these projects.
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday directed his party workers and leaders to protest in New York during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting.
The directives were issued during PM Imran’s meeting with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Overseas Secretary General Dr Abdullah Riaz. The premier told him to ensure that a historic demonstration is staged against Indian aggression and state terrorism in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). For this purpose, he said, people from human rights organisations should be gathered so that a strong message can be sent to the world.
He said that the Indian government was constantly violating human rights in the occupied valley. He also said that the Indian government had no justification for annexing Kashmir forcefully as it was in violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.
ISLAMABAD: Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Member of National Assembly (MNA) Andleeb Abbas has said that people to people linkages across the border are significantly good but political will has been missing at the state level for long.
Speaking at a high-level Pakistan-Afghanistan Track 1.5/II dialogue titled Beyond Boundaries convened by the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) here on Wednesday, she urged both sides to focus on the positives to mitigate negativity.
She stated that the power of the people is always more than the people in power; hence, at the people’s level, there must be continued efforts towards peace and development.
Separately, a 13-member high-level Afghan delegation, headed by former Member of Afghan Parliament (MAP) Khalid Pashtoon, landed in Islamabad on Tuesday to discuss bilateral relations with the Pakistani delegation of 13 members in a bid to devise recommendations to present to their governments.
Khalid Pashtoon urged all the delegates to stop digging into the blame game of the past and invited both sides to think of solutions of peaceful coexistence for the current and future generations.
At the end of the day-long dialogue, which was the 17th meeting of the Track II initiative, both groups formulated policy recommendations which will be shared with the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in their meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday.
Afghan Senator and Member of Afghanistan Cricket Board, Gulalai Noor Safi, stated that to further improve bilateral relations, security issues should not be allowed to impact the flow of trade, as seen in border closures, as it makes both the Pakistani and Afghan traders suffer and, consequently, makes the people in general bear the brunt.
MNA Mehnaz Akbar suggested creating a bilateral parliamentary group to continue debating issues that affect people on both sides.
Member of High Peace Council Laila Jaffari, from the Afghan delegation, affirmed the need to push both governments to implement the decisions taken under the APAPPS framework. She stated that the government of Pakistan should pressurise the Taliban to hold direct talks with the Afghan government who are the true representatives of Afghan people.
Lt General (r) Asif Yasin, former Defense Secretary, responded to the request in a positive manner and apprised the Afghan delegates that Pakistan is already using its full leverage in the Afghan peace talks. The positive outcomes are visible; regional and international powers are also appreciating Pakistan’s role in lubricating the peace process, he explained. However, he maintained that Pakistan can only use its influence but does not have a decisive position.
Khalid Pashtoon shared that some comments from the opposition leader in the National Assembly of Pakistan have hurt the feelings of the Afghan people. He requested Pakistani politicians to try avoiding linking the Kashmir situation to Afghanistan.
Member of Afghan Parliament Kamal Safi was of the view that keeping the Torkham border open 24/7 will not help Afghans until Pakistan’s visa policy is humanized. Visa regulations and procedures will need to change to maximize the positive impacts of the Torkham crossing point to be open round the clock.
Pakistani delegate and senior journalist and analyst, Tahir Khan, inquired that while Pakistan has taken measures for keeping the Torkham border open 24/7, have the Afghan authorities taken any corresponding measures to facilitate the better movement of people and the greater flow of all goods?
Former Ambassador Asif Durrani commented that strategic depth was a nonsensical idea. For now, there is no such thing; if it ever was, it is long dead, he said.
Former DG ISPR and Pakistan’s Ambassador to Ukraine, Major General (r) Athar Abbas, seconded the argument and asked the Afghan delegates for one valid reason how an unstable Afghanistan would benefit Pakistan.
A stable Afghanistan has a positive spill-over effect for Pakistan and Pakistan wants nothing but an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process for the people of Afghanistan.
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday once again offered to mediate the “explosive” situation in Kashmir amid mounting international concern over a flare-up in violence between Pakistan and India in the disputed region.
Speaking with reporters at the Oval Office a day after telephonic conversations with the premiers of both countries, Trump said that he was happy to try and help calm the situation in Kashmir where tensions have spiked since India revoked autonomous rule in the part of the region under its occupation on August 5.
His comments came as Pakistan said that three of its civilians died in Indian gunfire from across the de facto border in Kashmir known as the Line of Control (LoC).
Trump — who has previously spoken of his willingness to mediate — said that he would raise the situation over the weekend with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both men are expected in France for a summit of the Group of Seven industralised nations.
“Kashmir is a very complicated place. You have Hindus and you have the Muslims and I would not say they get along so great,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
“You have millions of people that want to be ruled by others and maybe on both sides. And you have two countries that have not gotten along well for a long time. And, frankly, it is a very explosive situation,” he said.
“I spoke to Prime Minister Imran Khan. I spoke with, yesterday, also, Prime Minister Modi. They are both friends of mine. They are great people. They are great people. And they love their countries. And they are in a very tough situation,” Trump continued.
He noted that Kashmir was a very tough situation. “And, you know, we are talking about — this has been going on for decades and decades. Shooting. I do not mean shooting like shooting a rifle, I mean like major shooting of howitzers, of — you know, of heavy arms. And it has been going on for a long period of time,” he said.
“But I get along really well with both of them. As you know, Prime Minister Khan was here just recently. And I was with — I am going to be with Prime Minister Modi. I will be with him over the weekend in France,” he added.
He once again reiterated his help and said, “I think we are helping the situation. But there are tremendous problems between those two countries, as you know. And I will do the best I can to meditate or do something. Great relationship with both of them, but they are not exactly friends at this moment. Complicated situation.”
At least 4,000 people have been detained in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) since early August when authorities imposed a communications blackout and restricted freedom of movement in the region.
A senior US official, who has just returned from a visit to the region, called on India on Tuesday to quickly release detainees and restore basic liberties.
“We continue to be very concerned by reports of detentions, and continued restrictions on the residents of the region,” the State Department official told reporters.
“We urge respect for individual rights, compliance with legal procedures and an inclusive dialogue,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Speaking about Pakistan’s decision to take the Kashmir issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the official said it was Pakistan sovereign decision whether it wants to approach the ICJ.
“Our view is a resolution in Kashmir is not aided by multilateralising it, that the answer is direct conversation between India and Pakistan,” the official added.
Both Pakistan and India have controlled portions of the former princely state of Kashmir since independence in 1947. The dispute over the Muslim-majority region has been the spark for two major wars and countless clashes between them. Earlier this year, both countries once again came close to all-out conflict following a militant attack in IOK’s Pulawama district.
On Tuesday, Trump spoke separately with the prime ministers of Pakistan and India in a bid to calm tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors over the disputed valley. He said on Twitter that he spoke to his “good friends” Modi and Khan about getting the two countries “to work towards reducing tensions in Kashmir. A tough situation, but good conversations!”
Prime Minister Imran Khan recently compared Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Hindu supremacist” government to the Nazis and said India was suppressing its sizable Muslim minority and endangering regional security. “The world must also seriously consider the safety & security of India’s nuclear arsenal in the control of the fascist, racist Hindu Supremacist Modi Govt,” the Pakistani premier wrote on August 18 in a series of tweets.
In their latest conversation, he told Trump that Pakistan “foresees a humanitarian crisis” arising from India’s “unilateral action” in Kashmir, foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters late on Monday.
In a statement on Modi’s conversation with Trump, the Indian prime minister’s office did not refer explicitly to a discussion on Kashmir, saying only that “in the context of the regional situation, the Prime Minister stated that extreme rhetoric and incitement to anti-India violence by certain leaders in the region was not conducive to peace.”
On July 23, during his meeting with PM Imran at the Oval Office, Trump had offered to mediate the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, saying he had talked to Indian PM Modi about it as well. However, India bristled at any suggestion of foreign mediation and strenuously denied Trump’s claim that Modi had invited him to act a peacebroker.
India was also left seething when the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held its first formal meeting on Kashmir in nearly half a century last week, saying it would not accept “international busybodies … tell(ing) us how to run our lives.”
On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Modi in a phone call that the Kashmir dispute must be resolved between India and Pakistan alone.
Johnson “made clear that the UK views the issue of Kashmir as one for India and Pakistan to resolve bilaterally. He underlined the importance of resolving issues through dialogue,” a spokeswoman for his Downing Street office said.
ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday called Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and briefed them about the current situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK).
Speaking to the Danish FM, Qureshi said that Indian forces are committing brutalities in the valley and also have restrained movement of the residents. The unilateral actions by India are in total violation of international laws and United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, he added.
Qureshi further told Danish FM that the valley is under blanket curfew and residents are facing severe problems like shortage of food and no communication with the outer world.
UN Secretary-General has also expressed reservations on the situation and has urged to find a solution to the problem at the earliest, he added.
The situation is so bad there that people have no access to the necessary medicines due to the curfew, Qureshi said.
Qureshi requested his Danish counterpart to play his role to get the curfew lifted in occupied Kashmir so that suffering of Kashmiri people can be brought to an end. He also assured that Pakistan is ready for talks with India and finding a peaceful and sustainable solution to the ongoing conflict.
Danish foreign minister told Qureshi that he is closely following the events and on behalf of his country he would request both countries to mend ties. He said we will ask both the sides to pursue the course of dialogue to save the region from any conflict.
While speaking to his Swedish counterpart, Qureshi emphasised that these steps by India were a violation of the UNSC resolutions on the Kashmir dispute.
Qureshi highlighted the severe hardships faced by the people of Kashmir due to complete lockdown and communications blackout for the past seventeen days. He added that due to the brutal steps taken by the Indian Government people of IOK were facing shortages of basic human necessities such as food and medicines. He further said that India was committing serious human rights violations in IOK, which needed to be stopped immediately.
Qureshi expressed hope that Sweden would play its role in impressing upon India to stop committing atrocities in the disputed region.
Foreign Minister Wallstrom stated that Sweden was closely following developments in Kashmir and underlined the importance of bilateral dialogue and negotiations to resolve the issue. The Swedish foreign minister stressed that the population of Kashmir must be included in the decisions about the future of their region. She added that reports of human rights violations in Kashmir were worrisome and must be investigated.
Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari has called on the United States and Turkey to end their “illegal military presence” in the Arab country and crimes against civilians.
Speaking at a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) session on Middle East peace and security challenges in New York on Tuesday, Ja’afari urged Washington and Ankara to respect the UN Charter’s principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and refrain from using force against them.
“The United States and its allies, including the Turkish occupation forces, must be obliged to end their illegal military presence on Syrian territory and to stop their aggressive practices in support of terrorism and their crimes against Syrians, civilian installations and infrastructure,” he said.
He also criticized Turkey for sending a military convoy carrying ammunition into Syria’s Idlib Province in support of the militants holed up in the embattled region.
The Syrian envoy further highlighted the need for the world body to stay focused on the real root causes of the Middle East conflict, including occupation, acts of aggression and destructive interventions in countries’ domestic affairs — such as those aimed at overthrowing governments by force, investing in terrorism and fabricating crises.
“Success in dealing with the challenges facing the region requires upholding the principles of international law and the provisions of the UN Charter and stopping attempts to distort and manipulate its provisions,” he said.
Ja’afari also described Israel’s occupation of Arab territories as the main reason for the crisis in the region.
“The main cause of the conflicts in the Middle East and the inability to achieve peace and stability has been and continues to be the Israeli occupation of Arab territories, including the occupied Syrian Golan,” he said.
Ja’afari further expressed concerns about Israel’s accumulation of weapons of mass destruction, saying the regime should join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) without delay and subject its facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s safeguards regime.
By ADIN BLUMOFE
August 20, 2019
Two months ago, Britain detained an oil tanker in Gibraltar that was suspected of violating European Union sanctions. The U.S. says the Panamanian-flagged ship, a super oil tanker with around $100 million worth of crude on board, was in fact owned by Iran and aiding the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp, which was officially designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. in April. The ship has now been released and is bound for Greece, or at least that's what Iran claims.
The ship was detained after America notified British authorities that the ship was flying under a proxy flag and was in reality owned by Iran and, according to the U.S., involved in "illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)," as reported by CNN. The US government says that the oil, which was designated for delivery at the Syrian port of Baniyas, would be used to aid dictator Bashar al-Assad in his civil war. Such an action would be a direct violation of E.U. sanction.
At the behest of the American government, the local Royal Gibraltar Police detained the ship on July 4. Iran claimed this action was an act of modern-day piracy. In retaliation, they attempted a reprisal attack on a British ship in the Gulf, but the Royal Navy was able to intervene and force the Iranians to disengage. The Iranians would attempt a similar action against another British tanker, which would prove successful.
For the next two months, Iran pressured Gibraltar’s court system to release their oil tanker. Britain eventually relented, releasing it on August 15 after the Iranian government promised the oil would never make it to Syria.
Prior to the ship setting sail, the U.S. State Department issued a warrant for the detainment of the vessel based on the ship’s connection to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp.
The British court ignored the warrant because neither the United Kingdom nor the European Union classify the group as a terrorist organization.
The tanker left port on Aug. 18. Before setting sail, the ship changed its name and ran up an Iranian flag.
The ship claims to be heading to Greece. However, Reuters recently reported that Greece has yet to receive any notice that the oil tanker plans on arriving there. This suggests that the ship still intends to carry out its original assignment.
If they do intend to dispose of their cargo in Syria, Greece would be the most logical place to claim to be unloading the oil, allowing them to avoid attracting suspicion until they are within a few miles of Syrian waters and before any navy could possibly respond. Once they are within Syria’s territorial waters, any intervention becomes highly unlikely.
Their intent will become apparent as their course develops. If the ship passes by the Ionian Sea, then Greece would likely be their destination, but if the oil tanker’s course circumvents Crete, then it is likely headed toward Syria.
21 August 2019
Iran is not withdrawing from the nuclear agreement because “'it’s a good agreement,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says, adding that if Tehran opens it up, it will open a Pandora’s box.
Zarif said on Wednesday that Iran would continue its commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).
“NPT is a cornerstone of international legality and we will continue to be committed to non-proliferation,” he said in response to a journalist’s question at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
The Israeli army’s warplanes have conducted fresh airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip, targeting a naval site during the attack.
The Israeli forces have also fired flares over eastern Khan Yunis in southern Gaza enclave.
Media reports say the attacks have not resulted in any casualties yet.
Israeli media claim the fresh attacks came after the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, fired rockets on Israeli positions.
Earlier on Saturday, helicopters and jets operated by the Israeli regime launched fresh attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip, less than a day after warplanes targeted facilities allegedly belonging to the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas.
Israeli sources said airstrikes late on Saturday targeted Hamas positions in Gaza while tanks were stationed on the border separating the enclave from the occupied Palestinian territories.
On Sunday the Palestinian health ministry said three Palestinians were killed by the Israelis’ overnight attacks.
The attacks reportedly came after Hamas fired rockets on Israeli positions in Sderot and in Sha’ar Hanegev region to retaliate Israeli attacks that had taken place in the early hours of Saturday.
Media reports said the rocket attacks had caused panic among Israeli settlers and military forces.
Later reports in the Israeli media showed that regime forces had shot and killed five Palestinians who were allegedly attempting to cross the border from Gaza into the occupied territories.
The reports said the five were members of the military wing of Palestinian movement the Islamic Jihad who were crossing the border from Gaza’s Beit Hanoun region.
The increase in Israeli attacks comes as the Israeli regime is preparing for elections. Most Israeli candidates are former high-ranking military officials who have been issuing campaign promises to Israeli voters to wage wars on the Gaza Strip and destroy Palestinian resistance groups.
Hamas officials said early on Saturday that Israel’s attacks on Gaza were meant to divert attentions from regime’s embarrassment in the West Bank.
Turkish police have dispersed scores of people who tried to stage a protest against the sacking of three Kurdish mayors after they won large majorities in March local elections.
The Turkish Interior Ministry on Monday removed the mayors in Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van - all members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) - from office on charges of links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, which is designated by Turkey as a terrorist group. The mayors were replaced with their Ankara-appointed provincial governors.
Riot police used water cannon against at least 200 people in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir who tried to stage a protest march on the historic Sur district on Wednesday. Several protesters were arrested.
Police officers also surrounded a sit-in of 200 people in the province.
Meanwhile, special police forces carried out raids on homes of twelve municipality workers at dawn and detained them for suspected links to PKK militants.
Over 500 people have been arrested in the past three days, including HDP members and supporters protesting against the mayors' ousting, a party source told AFP.
Ankara says the HDP is a political front for the PKK, which has been on the insurgency side for autonomy in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast since 1984, and is deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The HDP denies any affiliation to the outlawed Kurdish militant group, but has tried to broker peace talks between the militants and Ankara. It says the sackings amount to a political coup and indicate a hostile stance against the political will of the Kurdish people.
Speaking at a press conference in Istanbul on Wednesday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the sackings were necessary to "prevent the abuse of democracy" by people who, he said, have used municipal resources to back "terrorists."
"The main problem is the attitude of the HDP which is defying the state by nominating as mayors these people who already face prosecution... They are treating democracy as a Trojan Horse."
The interior ministry said on Monday that the mayors had active cases against them in which they were accused of crimes such as establishing or spreading propaganda for the militant group, or just being a member.
DUBAI: The Arab coalition destroyed two Houthi drones targeting Khamis Mushayt city in south west Saudi Arabia, the state news agency SPA reported on Thursday.
It was the latest in a spate of drone attacks claimed by the Houthi militia in recent weeks, including 10 drones that hit the Saudi Shaybah natural gas liquefaction plant near the UAE border.
Arab Coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki said the coalition were taking all possible measures and employing best practices to intercept the drones and stop attacks,
And said the the repeated attacks showed the militants were becoming increasingly desperate as they continued to lose on a daily basis.
Abdalla Hamdok sworn in as PM of Sudan’s new transitional government
Abdalla Hamdok has been sworn in as prime minister of Sudan’s new transitional government.
He called on Wednesday for the establishment of a pluralistic democracy, as he touched down in Khartoum to take office after three decades of authoritarian rule.
Hamdok was picked last week as the premier of the 39-month transitional government leading to civilian rule, which was sealed with the signing of an interim constitution on August 17.
He worked for years as a senior economist with the United Nations in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and landed moments before he was due to be sworn in.
The transitional phase required “concerted efforts by the people of the country to unite and build a strong state,” Hamdok was quoted by state news agency SUNA as saying.
By Flavia Said and Samy Adghirni
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he intends to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group, a move that would follow on the footsteps of other South American nations.
In comments to reporters in Brasilia, Bolsonaro compared Hezbollah to Brazil’s landless workers movement that he has repeatedly called a terrorist group. Despite his rhetoric, the move would require changes to Brazil’s narrow anti-terror legislation, and possibly congressional support.
Brazil’s new classification of Hezbollah would be part of Bolsonaro’s efforts to align his government with that of U.S. President Donald Trump. The risk is that doing so could strain relations with Iran, a Hezbollah ally which imports $2.5 billion of Brazilian products per year. A weak domestic economy increases pressure to refrain from any decision that undermines exports.
Brazilian officials are already reviewing options to move forward with the designation, which is being discussed at the highest levels of government but doesn’t have across-the-board support, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter.
To read more: Brazil Mulls Labeling Hezbollah Terrorists in Pivot to U.S.
Hezbollah, or the party of God in Arabic, is at the same time an armed group, a political party and a social organization. It sits in the Lebanese cabinet and has considerable geopolitical power. It is considered a terrorist group by many countries, including the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
By Sarah Maslin NirPhotographs by Finbarr O’Reilly
PENDJARI NATIONAL PARK, Benin — As a safari guide in a sprawling wilderness preserve in West Africa, Fiacre Gbédji often seemed no different from the tourists in his care: He gushed at each lion sighting and thrilled at each bushbuck he spotted through the trees.
But when Mr. Gbédji and two French tourists he was guiding deep within Pendjari National Park were kidnapped by terrorists, the international response to the men involved was far different.
The tourists were rescued 10 days later by the French military. Two French commandos killed during the mission were given solemn services in the heart of Paris.
Amid the international attention on the kidnapping, Mr. Gbédji disappeared; if he was mentioned at all, it was mostly just “their guide.” He was shot and killed by the kidnappers, officials said, his remains eaten by animals.
But Mr. Gbédji’s name has become a fearful omen in Benin, a small West African country wedged between Togo and Nigeria. It was emerging as a safari destination, and Pendjari, under new leadership, as a jewel of the country.
The kidnapping has upended that progress and drawn attention to how the terrorism wracking Burkina Faso and other neighbors could also threaten Benin.
Al Qaeda and ISIS-linked groups have pushed toward Benin as they flee military assaults on their former strongholds in Mali and Niger, according to security experts. They have found recruits and refuge under cover of dense parkland.
In Natitingou, Mr. Gbédji’s hometown outside Pendjari, the residents have lost not just a neighbor, a father of six with another on the way, but their sense of security.
Now legions of guides haunt empty hotels, stood up by tourists who canceled their trips.
Today, Benin’s military patrols among the crocodiles and hippos in Pendjari, eyeing the Burkina Faso border. Here, Mr. Gbédji’s death seems evidence that without immediate measures, Benin, a robust, mostly peaceful democracy, may not be immune to terrorism’s contagion.
The morning began like any other for Mr. Gbédji, who was 33, his family said. At dawn, he pulled back the blue mosquito netting over the bed he shared with his partner, Veronique Fara, 29 — pregnant with their second child — and headed across the courtyard to his mother’s home to say goodbye.
He had turned his bachelor pad — a round “tata somba” house made of earth with a thatched, pointed roof — into a family compound with flush toilets and flat-screen TVs. A new infusion of interest in the park had lifted his family’s fortunes.
Benin’s president, Patrice Talon, who took office in 2016, has made bolstering tourism a priority. Home to 1,700 elephants, Pendjari is part of a three-park complex that sprawls across Burkina Faso, Niger and Benin.
Likening the underutilized parkland to untapped oil, Mr. Talon has committed at least $6 million to the 1,800-square-mile park. In 2017, he allowed African Parks, a South African organization, to take over operations.
The influx of tourists helped Mr. Gbédji support his six children — and their six mothers. “It was a gift of God that the ladies loved him,” his mother, Justine Kolikpa, 63, said with a laugh.
She spoke in the compound three weeks after her son’s death, wearing a black-knit mourning cap, his 2-year-old, Bera Eslie, sitting fitfully in her arms. Ms. Kolikpa has struggled with suicidal thoughts since the death, she said, with one thought stopping her: Who will support her grandchildren?
“He just told me, ‘Mum, I will be back soon,’” she said.
Mr. Gbédji set out to meet his clients for the day — two French music teachers, Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, and Patrick Picque, 51.
He didn’t ask his mother to make his favorite packed lunch, spinach with corn dough for dipping. “He brought no food with him,” Ms. Kolikpa said, her face crumpling. “My son died with an empty stomach. He passed away hungry.”
The Red Zone
Becoming a certified Pendjari guide requires formal schooling. Mr. Gbédji added personal passion: He knew every watering hole and lion’s den.
And he knew where not to go: To the north is the Pendjari River, dividing Benin from Burkina Faso. On official maps put out by the French and American governments before his death, the river marked a red line. On its northern side, Islamist militants are active and tourism is “formally discouraged,” according to the French Foreign Ministry.
On that shore, insurgents fleeing south from French military operations in Mali and Niger have started to embed. They recruit by exploiting tensions between herders and farmers, competition over resources made scarce by climate change and frustration at abuse by government forces.
Last year, Burkina Faso was hit with 137 attacks by Islamist groups, compared to just 12 in 2016, according to data from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
“The challenge for governments is that the jihadists have in many places been able to address people’s short-term needs for stability and rule of law,” said Corinne Dufka, the West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. Often, militants provide needed order before escalating violence as their ideology takes hold, she said.
Similar challenges abound in Benin, where many lack basic services. And instability is growing. A model democracy since 1991, when it transitioned from socialist to democratic rule, President Talon has grown increasingly autocratic.
“Benin needs to take a hard look at the issues which have made jihadist groups resonate in other countries,” Ms. Dufka said. If not, “as abusive jihadist groups move deeper into West Africa, Benin appears to be the latest potential domino.”
Jihadists have pushed south into the three-park complex, where they’ve found food and refuge from air surveillance, said Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni, the director of the West Africa office of the Institute for Security Studies, a think tank.
Extremists in Burkina Faso and Niger have attacked forestry agents, forcing many to flee that side of the park.
On the Benin side, African Parks’ management has revitalized Pendjari. But in doing so, it has sometimes inflamed resentments, for example by enforcing a ban on hunting bush meat, a local practice, even as it issues paid game permits to trophy hunters.
Terrorists “understand localized specific vulnerabilities and exploit them,” said Ms. Théroux-Bénoni.
Mr. Gbédji stayed well away from the Pendjari River, feeling safe on the Benin side, other guides said. But since the kidnapping, on French and American maps the red zone has ballooned: All of Pendjari is now red.
“We are the victims,” said Noël Nabougou, 30, a guide waiting at Hotel Totora in Natitingou, where tourists have canceled en masse. He echoed Benin’s government, which says Pendjari’s inclusion in the danger zone is unwarranted.
“If we cut off the park today because of insecurity, it will never open again and jihadists will settle in,” Mr. Nabougou said. “They will consider the park as a no man’s land and use it as a base.”
The French commandos ambushed the kidnappers in Burkina Faso under cover of darkness in early May, said Florence Parly, the French defense minister, at a news conference in Paris the next day. In a firefight, the commandos killed four militants; two others escaped. Petty officers Cédric de Pierrepont, 32, and Alain Bertoncello, 27, were killed.
The French tourists and two other hostages were rescued. The kidnappers were taking the hostages to terrorist cells in Mali, according to the French military.
Mr. Gbédji was killed days before the rescue mission, his body found in Burkina Faso around May 5, according to Marcel Ayité Baglo, the general director of Benin’s homeland security agency. Only Mr. Gbédji’s skull and scraps of bone and clothes remained. He was identified by the trousers he wore, Mr. Baglo said.
Mr. Gbédji was buried under a pile of stones in the shape of a cross inside the park.
The kidnapping is still shrouded in mystery. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility. The French tourists declined interview requests. The French government has not let Benin’s officials interview them, Mr. Baglo said.
Experts cautioned that the attack does not necessarily mean that Pendjari has been infiltrated by militants — only that they are trying.
Aug 21, 2019
Sudan’s military leaders and opposition have formed an 11-member sovereign council to rule the country over a three-year transition period.
The council, made up of five generals and six civilians, was formed on Tuesday, according to a spokesman for Sudan’s Transitional Military Council.
The joint body will be initially led by General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, who took over as Sudan’s leader following the ouster of long-time president Omar al-Bashir in April.
A civilian leader appointed by the protest movement is to succeed him and rule for the remaining 18 months, after which elections will be held.
Members of the council and a prime minister will be sworn in on Wednesday.
Last week, Sudan’s main opposition alliance nominated economist Abdalla Hamdok to serve as prime minister in the transitional government.
The names of the members of the council were also announced at a televised address late on Tuesday.
The two sides signed the power-sharing agreement that paved the way for the formation of the new ruling council last Saturday.
Under the agreement, a 300-member legislative assembly will also have to be formed to serve during the transitional period.
Political turmoil first began in Sudan in December 2018, when angry protests were sparked by the dire economic conditions in the country. The protests quickly broadened into demands for the removal of Bashir, who had been in power for 30 years.
The military then toppled the president and formed the military council to run the country.
20 Aug 2019
The US military says it conducted an air raid targeting an al-Shabab fighter in the vicinity of Qunyo Barrow, Somalia.
In a statement, US Africa Command says the air attack was carried out on Tuesday in coordination with the federal government of Somalia.
The command said it appears that no civilians were wounded or killed in the raid.
The director of operations for the command, Major General William Gayler, said the raid is an example of the pressure US Africa Command places on armed networks, including the al-Qaeda aligned al-Shabab.
Car bomb attack in Somalia's Mogadishu kills at least 11 people (1:51)
Gayler said persistent pressure limits the armed fighters' freedom of movement, creates confusion within the network, and supports Somali partners "as they continue to take the fight to al-Shabab".
Last week, the armed group carried out an attack on a military base in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region.
Al-Shabab claimed that it had killed 50 soldiers and that two of its fighters had died in the attack.
Al-Shabab has been fighting to topple Somalia's fragile government since 2007. The government is backed by a 20,000-strong African Union force - AMISOM - and the United Nations.
The southernmost state of Somalia will vote in regional elections today after a short delay stemming from accusations that incumbent President Ahmed Mohamed Madobe barred other candidates from running.
Victory for the incumbent in today’s election is likely to strengthen the hand of local Islamist insurgents. On December 2010, Hizbul Islam, a militant group associated with President Madobe, merged with al-Shabaab. This has allowed al-Shabaab increased influence in local government.
Neighbours Kenya and Ethiopia, which both border Somalia, have both expressed concern over the outcome of these elections and their implications for al-Shabaab’s presence in region. Kenya has worked closely with President Madobe in counterterrorism and regional security efforts. However, Ethiopia has allied with the federal government out of a concern that Madobe has allied with al-Shabaab.
After an airport in southern Somalia refused to allow an Ethiopian plane to land, Somalia’s federal government has refused to recognise the results of the upcoming election. Regardless of the outcome, it is expected that Kenya, Ethiopia, and the government of Somalia take strong action to bolster security and prepare for instability.
By KAJ LARSEN
On Thursday, August 15, the international terrorist group Boko Haram attacked a military base and community in Nigeria, killing three soldiers. This comes on the heels of an even deadlier attack three weeks ago, when armed members of the group rode motorcycles into a funeral in northern Nigeria and opened fire on the procession, killing 65 mourners.
For many, these are just forgettable attacks by Boko Haram. But for me, this story hit close to home. A few years ago, I was an investigative journalist reporting from where the carnage occurred. And years before that, I served as a Navy SEAL in Africa trying to prevent such carnage from taking place at all.
In today’s era of trade war with China and potential hot wars with Iran and North Korea, it’s easy to overlook the threat posed by Boko Haram, and conflicts in Africa more broadly. But I believe we ignore the continent and terrorist groups such as Boko Haram at our peril — and we’d better pay attention now before events force us to pay attention later.
Boko Haram is most famous, of course, for its 2014 kidnapping of roughly 300 young girls, an event that shocked the world and even led First Lady Michelle Obama to post a photo with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. I deployed to Africa two years after these kidnappings, and I encountered a Boko Haram emboldened by the success of the kidnapping and the attention it garnered. It was a powerful insurgency, driven by an ideology hostile to all things Western and modern.
Today, Boko Haram remains as potent a threat as ever. Though the original group has splintered, the offshoots continue to wreak havoc in Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, and the broader region. Kidnappings are on the rise, and in Chad, Boko Haram is attempting to build its own alternative Islamic state. In spite of a multinational effort to fight the group, it continues to kidnap officials, organize suicide bombings, and terrorize locals.
The U.S.’s approach to this conflict — and to the region in general — has been, to paraphrase the famous quip about democracy, the worst policy except for all the others available to us. We are deployed on the ground in almost 50 African countries, taking action against Boko Haram and other terrorist affiliates. In outposts such as Geroua in northern Cameroon, for example, U.S. troops operate drones and train local soldiers. Our strategy is broadly known as “foreign internal defense,” or “FID,” and our soldiers work “through, by, and with” our African partners.
Americans would prefer, of course, that no U.S. soldiers be deployed to hostile, faraway places. And as someone who has buried too many of my friends who served, that would be my preference as well. But our limited troop presence in Africa is a check against the need to deploy in much larger numbers — our current African posture is, I would argue, preferable to the expensive, exhausting slogs we’ve endured in Afghanistan and Iraq. If we are able to train, equip, and marshal local governments and resources to the fight, fewer young American men and women will be forced into harm’s way.
This isn’t a universal view, and it has its critics. Some argue that we need to pull up the drawbridge, bring our troops home, and stop any kind of engagement with certain African countries. Policymakers have also drawn attention to human-rights abuses by the governments fighting Boko Haram, and rightly criticized African leaders who have been in power far longer than seems appropriate. These are fair concerns, but I believe they are outweighed by our broader strategic interests in Africa. There are three reasons for the U.S. to continue to keep robust ties with leaders in Cameroon, Nigeria, and Chad. and to keep our military presence there strong.
First, our military-to-military ties are some of the strongest diplomatic channels we have in places such as Cameroon and Nigeria — and they can help shape what happens on the ground in ways that advance our humanitarian impulses. I saw this firsthand: In addition to tactics and warfighting, some might be surprised to learn that part of my mission as a Navy SEAL was training Liberian, Chadian, Nigerian, and Cameroonian soldiers in what’s known as the LOAC, or “law of armed conflict.” I taught modules about the use of force and about what was and wasn’t justified in warfare.
This was the first exposure many of the soldiers I taught had to laws such as the Geneva Conventions and doctrines such as “proportional response.” While we couldn’t always control what took place once these soldiers were in the field, I look back on this work with pride, and I knew that everyone was better off because Americans led the instruction. More military-to-military engagement of this kind is one of the best tools we have for dealing with humanitarian crises around the world.
The second reason to keep ties in Africa strong is simple: China. Today, China is the elephant in the room in every conversation about Africa’s future. China’s public and private sectors have poured billions into the continent, the Chinese government has an incredible intelligence apparatus in the region, and the country now maintains a vise-like grip on mining interests, roads, and countless infrastructure projects continent-wide. If the U.S. takes itself out of Africa, the Chinese will fill the vacuum — and they will do so in ways that are harmful to both U.S. strategic interests and Africa’s long-term interests.
The final argument in favor of strengthening bonds with African leaders and nations is the obvious one: We simply have no other choice. Take, for example, Nigeria and Cameroon. There are vast, ungovernable stretches of land in those two countries where terrorist cells and violent insurgencies fester. Without active engagement from the U.S., problems that seem small and distant today can create urgent, bold-faced headlines tomorrow. Let’s not forget: Many of the deadliest attacks against U.S. interests worldwide, including the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, were either planned from or staged in Africa.
YAOUNDE, Aug. 21 (Xinhua) -- A bus driver was killed and seven passengers kidnapped when terror group Boko Haram hijacked a commercial bus in Cameroon's Far North region on Tuesday, Cameroon army said on Wednesday.
"There were 19 passengers altogether when the terrorists attacked. The driver was killed on the spot, and seven passengers were kidnapped. The other 11 passengers were rescued by security forces," the army said stating that the tragedy took place in Dabanga, a locality in the Logone and Chari division of the Far North region.
The U.S. State Department announced Wednesday it is offering rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of three Daesh terrorist leaders.
Washington is looking to locate Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, also known as Hajji Abdullah, Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi, known as Hajji Hamid, and Mu‘taz Numan ‘Abd Nayif Najm al-Jaburi, also called Hajji Taysir.
"This announcement comes at an important time as the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and our partners on the ground continue to target ISIS remnants," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said during a news conference, using another name for the Daesh terrorist group.
Muhammad and Najm al-Jaburi are senior members of Daesh, as well as being "legacy members" of al-Qaeda. Al-Mawla is also a senior member of Daesh, and served as a religious scholar for al-Qaeda, according to the agency.
"This reward is an important moment in our fight against ISIS. As ISIS is defeated on the battlefield, we are determined to identify and find the group’s leaders so that the global coalition of nations fighting to defeat ISIS can continue to destroy ISIS remnants and thwart its global ambitions," the State Department said on its Rewards for Justice website.
Muhammad al-Jaburi is also on the Treasury Department's Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) list.
US lawmakers urge India to end occupation of Kashmir
WASHINGTON: The voice of the Kashmiri people, who have been living under siege since Aug 5 when India forcibly merged their land with the union, is now resonating in the US Congress where key lawmakers are urging New Delhi to end the occupation and allow its residents to speak.
Congressman Adam Smith, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called India’s US ambassador on Tuesday and told him that he was “continuing to monitor the situation regarding the government of India’s decision to revoke the special status” of occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
“There are legitimate concerns about the ongoing communications blackouts, increased militarisation of the region, and enforcement of curfews,” he told the Indian envoy. Mr Smith, a Democrat from Washington State, said some of his constituents were from occupied Jammu and Kashmir and had also visited the area after Aug 5.
“They saw a region under siege with its residents isolated, without an ability to communicate at all outside of the region,” he said.
Mr Smith reminded India that “recognition for the potential disparate impact of this decision on the region’s Muslim population and other minority groups — now and in the future – is imperative”.
Senator Bob Menendez, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a joint statement “in response to the steps India has taken to revise the status of Jammu and Kashmir”.
The two lawmakers reminded New Delhi that “as the world’s largest democracy, India has an opportunity to demonstrate for all its citizens the importance of protecting and promoting equal rights, including freedom of assembly, access to information and equal protections under the law”.
The US legislators reminded the Indian government that “transparency and political participation” were “the cornerstones of representative democracies. And “we hope the Indian government will abide by these principles in Jammu and Kashmir,” they added.
They also urged Pakistan to “refrain from any retaliatory aggression — including support for infiltrations across the Line of Control — and take demonstrable action against the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistan’s soil”.
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke of New York, said she was “extremely concerned” and was raising her voice about what’s happening in Kashmir now.
“Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi has no right to do what he is doing to the people of Kashmir. And it is up to us to raise our voices for justice, to raise our voices for self-governance and for no discrimination based on religion,” she said. “Prime Minister Modi should know better. We all must raise our voices.”
She said when she returns to Washington in September, “this will be an issue front and centre for the US Congress to deal with and we are going to deal with it forthright”.
Congressman Smith said that those of his constituents who visited Kashmir after Aug 5 told him that during their stay there they were “afraid for their own lives, and terrified for the safety of their family members” who remain in the region.
“The Indian government must take steps to reduce these fears and offer greater transparency for the world to see what is happening there,” he said.
Congressman Smith urged India to demonstrate “a commitment to the protection of basic human rights and equal rights”, reminding the policy makers in New Delhi that their “policy decision exacerbates an already tense environment” in the region.
“I encourage both India and Pakistan to keep lines of communication open to prevent the further deterioration of the situation, and exercise restraint instead of engaging in rhetoric and actions that inspire extremist ideology,” he said.
The Forbes magazine, while commenting on these statements, observed that instead of showing leniency, India had done the opposite.
“Treating Kashmiris worse than anyone else in India — including freedom of assembly, access to information and equal protections under the law,” it wrote.
Washington (CNN)Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday acknowledged that there are "places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago," but sought to downplay the risk posed by the terrorist organization in the wake of a report warning of its resurgence in Syria.
"What we've always said is the caliphate's been gone and there's always risks that there'll be a resurgence, not just from ISIS," Pompeo said on "CBS This Morning."
"It's complicated," Pompeo said when asked if ISIS is gaining strength.
"There's certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago. But the caliphate is gone and their capacity to conduct external attacks has been made much more difficult," he added. "We've taken down significant risk -- not all of it, but a significant amount."
Pompeo's continued de-emphasis of the threat capacity posed by ISIS comes despite the findings of a recent Pentagon inspector general report -- that "despite losing its territorial 'caliphate,' the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was re-surging in Syria."
The Pentagon made its assessment mere months after President Donald Trump declared the total defeat of the ISIS caliphate. Moreover, the US assessed that the developments have occurred since Trump ordered the withdrawal of about half of the US troops in Syria.
"The reduction of US forces has decreased the support available for Syrian partner forces at a time when their forces need more training and equipping to respond to the ISIS resurgence," Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, wrote in a message accompanying the IG report, which was released earlier this month.
The IG report said that the reduction in US personnel has made it more difficult to monitor the al Hol internally displaced persons camp, where "according to the United Nations, humanitarian relief needs are particularly acute at al Hol, a camp with approximately 70,000 IDPs including nearly 50,000 under age 18."
A lack of close monitoring has permitted "ISIS ideology to spread 'uncontested' in the camp," potentially allowing ISIS to replenish its ranks among the tens of thousands of inhabitants, the report said.
At the height of the campaign in Syria, the US had just shy of 3,000 troops helping to advise the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as they drove ISIS from towns all across northeast Syria.
The US military has stopped providing estimates of the number of remaining ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria. However, at a State Department briefing earlier this month, Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Ambassador Jim Jeffrey said that "In terms of the ISIS numbers, between Iraq and Syria -- and this is only a guesstimate -- it would be, say, 15,000 with a standard deviation of significant thousands in either direction."
Jeffrey said that the defeat of the physical caliphate "removed one important element of ISIS's threat to the international community, but not the only one. It is still a threat in this core area of Iraq and Syria."
At that same briefing, which was conducted prior to the release of the IG report, State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Ambassador Nathan Sales noted that said the US sees continued threats from ISIS affiliates worldwide.
"In Africa, ISIS-linked groups are on the rise. ISIS branches and networks now span the African continent from east to west and north to south. They've increased the lethality of their attacks, they've expanded into new areas, and they've repeatedly targeted US interests," he said. "In South Asia, ISIS networks and ISIS-inspired terrorists are increasingly active."
"Meanwhile in Afghanistan, ISIS-Khorasan has become one of the deadliest ISIS affiliates in the world. In the past year, they've carried out dozens of attacks, killing close to 800 people and injuring over 1,400 more," Sales continued.
US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that other countries must assume the battle against Islamic extremist militant groups as the US negotiates a withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He singled out India and Pakistan as frontline countries that are doing little to nothing to fight militant groups.
“Look, India's right there, they are not fighting it, we're fighting it. Pakistan is next door. They're fighting it, very little [...] it's not fair. The United States is seven thousand miles away,” he told reporters.
He also warned Europeans to take back nationals captured fighting for the Islamic State, or he will release them back to their countries.
Asked by journalists if he is concerned about the reemergence of the militant Islamic State group in Iraq, Trump said forces under his lead had wiped out the extremist group.
“At a certain point Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, they are going to have to fight their battles too.”
“We wiped out the caliphate 100 percent. I did it in record time. But at a certain point, all of these other countries, where ISIS is around ... are going to have to fight them. Because do we want to stay there another 19 years? I don't think so.”
The Trump administration has reduced the US military presence in Syria and Iraq and is negotiating a US withdrawal from Afghanistan with the Taliban insurgents.
But defence experts warn that a vacuum left by the United States could allow an extremist resurgence.
A recent Pentagon report said that the IS is reforming and launching attacks after losing their hold on physical territory in Iraq and Syria.
Trump, meanwhile, assailed France and Germany for not repatriating citizens who had fought with Islamic state and are now being held in camps in Syria.
“We're holding thousands of ISIS fighters right now. And Europe has to take them,” he said.
“If Europe doesn't take them, I'll have no choice but to release them into the countries from which they came. Which is Germany and France and other places.”
“We captured them, we've got thousands of them, and now as usual our allies don't want 'em,” he said.
22 August 2019
Canada does not intend to repatriate the man dubbed “Jihadi Jack,” who is being held in northern Syria after joining ISIS, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed Tuesday.
Jack Letts, 24, who was a dual UK-Canadian national, was captured by Kurdish forces in Syria in 2017 and is languishing in jail there. Goodale’s statement comes a day after Britain stripped Letts of his citizenship, placing his fate in Canada’s hands.
“We have no obligation to facilitate his travel from his present circumstances, and we have no intention of facilitating that travel,” Goodale said in an interview with the CBC.
Goodale had tweeted the same sentiment Monday before officially confirming it in the televised interview.
“This individual and others have made the calculated decision to leave the comfortable confines of Canadian democracy, to travel halfway around the world to associate themselves with the most evil and violent terrorism in several generations,” Goodale said.
“They need to assume the consequences for their responsibility.”
In a recent interview with ITV News, Letts said he had thought that Canada would help him.
“I never grew up being accepted as a British person,” he said, adding that losing his British citizenship was “not something I recognize.”
“But, in the same way Britain hasn’t helped me for two and a half years, Canada has done nothing. I always thought Canada was a better country, I had this illusion.”
Letts fled his home in Oxfordshire, central England, at the age of 18 to join ISIS.
He was captured in May 2017 by Kurdish forces while trying to flee for Turkey and has been detained since in northern Syria.
US President Donald Trump has said that Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib “wants to cut off aid to Israel,” a day after he called Jewish people who vote for Democrats “disloyal.”
“Rep Tlaib wants to cut off aid to Israel. This is the new face the of Democrat Party?," he tweeted on Wednesday. "Read the AOC PLUS 3 statements on their hatred of Jews and Israel,” Trump tweeted, in reference to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), another frequent target of his tweets.
Donald J. Trump
Rep Tlaib wants to cut off aid to Israel. This is the new face the of Democrat Party? Read the AOC PLUS 3 statements on their hatred of Jews and Israel. Check out Rep. Omar (the great people of Minnesota won’t stand for this).
5:22 PM - Aug 21, 2019
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The Tel Aviv regime last week banned Muslim Congresswomen Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from travelling to Jerusalem al-Quds and the occupied West Bank, after Trump urged Israel to not allow them to travel to the occupied Palestinian territories, saying it would show great "weakness."
Tlaib and Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, are outspoken critics of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and vocal supporters of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement (BDS).
Tlaib, with Palestinian roots and Omar, with a Somali origin, were scheduled to arrive in the Palestinian occupied territories last week on a trip that was initially approved by Israel. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure from Trump, announced that Israel had reversed its position.
Israel then granted Tlaib permission to visit her Palestinian grandmother in the occupied West Bank, but the lawmaker rejected Israel’s offer, accusing the regime of using her family as leverage against her.
Tlaib’s grandmother – Muftiyah Tlaib – lives in the village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa in the West Bank, located about 24 kilometers from the occupied Jerusalem al-Quds.
On Monday, Omar said that billions of dollars of US aid to Israel should be tied to its treatment of Palestinians, urging Washington to reconsider the funds to the Tel Aviv regime which is engaged in oppression of the Palestinian people.
"We give Israel more than $3 [billion] in aid every year. This is predicated on them being an important ally in the region and the only democracy in the Middle East. But denying a visit to duly elected members of Congress is not consistent with being an ally, and denying millions of people freedom of movement or expression or self-determination is not consistent with being a democracy," Omar said at the press conference in St. Paul, Minn.
Omar, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also stated that US aid should be contingent upon Israel's activity in Palestine.
"We must be asking, as Israel's ally, that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s government stop the expansion of settlements on Palestinian lands and ensure full rights for Palestinians if we are to give them aid," Omar said.
US military aid to Israel has skyrocketed over the past several years while the regime’s forces are engaged in blatant human rights violations against Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere.
The United States and Israel signed an agreement in September 2016 to give Israel $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade, the largest such aid package in US history.
Israel announced on August 15 that it would prevent a visit by Tlaib and Omar, both Democratic members of the US House of Representatives, over their criticism of Israel.
US Muslim Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have triggered a widespread debate in the US about Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians and American aid to the regime, says an African American journalist in Detroit.
US President Donald Trump “demonizes both Rashida Tlaib as well as Ilhan Omar," said Abayomi Azikiwe, editor at the Pan-African News Wire.
“This has sparked a debate inside the United States over US aid to Israel, which is tens of billions of dollars just over a period of a decade,” Azikiwe said in a phone interview with Press TV on Tuesday.
Omar on Monday said that Congress should reconsider the annual US aid allocated to Israel, after the regime banned her and Tlaib from traveling to Jerusalem al-Quds and the occupied West Bank.
Tlaib, with Palestinian roots and Omar, with a Somali origin, were scheduled to arrive in the occupied territories last week on a trip that was initially approved by Israel. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure from Trump, announced that Israel had reversed its position.
Israel then granted Tlaib permission to visit her Palestinian grandmother in the West Bank, but the lawmaker rejected Israel’s offer, accusing the regime of using her family as leverage against her.
BY THASHA JAYAMANOGARAN
KUALA LUMPUR, August 22 — The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) today reiterated that international conventions protect a child’s right to preserve his or her own identity amid debate over a potential Selangor state law to allow unilateral religious conversion.
The commission said Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) must be respected and taken into consideration in the assessment of the child’s best interests.
“Suhakam supports the unanimous decision of the Federal Court in the case of M. Indira Gandhi on 29 January 2018, who have interpreted the word ‘parent’ in Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution to include both parents, giving due recognition to the importance of both parents, which is a common-sense interpretation of the law.
“We believe that amending Article 12(4) to clarify the original intent of the Constitution, or by enacting a law that will comprehensively articulate the responsibilities, rights and privileges related to the identity, including religion, of minors will safeguard the core values of tolerance, understanding and mutual respect in matters relating to freedom of religion and belief in our society,” it said in a statement.
Suhakam’s statement comes after news reports of pressure on the Selangor government to table a Bill allowing unilateral religious conversions of a child under 18, despite a federal court ruling disallowing such an act.
The 2018 ruling made in the case of Hindu mother Indira whose three children were unilaterally converted to Islam by their father and her ex-husband was a landmark judgment.
Indira is now planning a nationwide roadshow starting in Kuala Lumpur this weekend in search of her youngest daughter Prasana Diksa who was taken away at age 11 months a decade ago by the father.
Yesterday it was reported that Indira is set to start a roadshow nationwide to seek help from the public to locate her missing daughter Prasana Diksa, who was abducted by her Muslim convert former husband now going by the name Muhammad Ridhuan Abdullah.
AUGUST 21, 2019
Karzai says Islamabad is trying to hold the Afghan peace process hostage to its Kashmir objectives
India should be wary about a possible U.S.-Pakistan “deal” on Afghanistan, warned former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was set to begin another round of talks in Doha to try and reach a deal with the Taliban. Mr. Karzai, who was in Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, said he had conveyed the “fears for Afghanistan” if there was a deal that involved Pakistan.
“We Afghans have suffered massively the consequences of American-Pakistani deals,” Mr. Karzai told The Hindu in an interview. “Now too, this is very likely, and this is our fear and concern. We have been clear with Ambassador Khalilzad that we will fully back negotiations for peace in Afghanistan, but we draw a clear distinction between peace in Afghanistan and U.S.-Pakistani deals in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that India, which had suffered similar consequences “should be extremely worried”.
Responding to Mr. Trump’s recent comments, where he framed the India-Pakistan problem over Kashmir as a religious issue, Mr. Karzai said the U.S. President was being “too simplistic”.
“Hindus and Muslims have lived together for centuries in this part of the world and produced great achievements together. Any division on a Hindu-Muslim basis is very simplistic,” Mr. Karzai said.
India has made no comment on Mr. Trump’s remarks, which included another offer of mediation between New Delhi and Islamabad, despite the government repeatedly rejecting any third party role. The Afghan peace process, the scenario in Kashmir and tensions between India and Pakistan are expected to be discussed when Mr. Trump interacts with Mr. Modi on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France this week, the first time the two leaders will meet since June.
Mr. Karzai, who returned to Kabul on Wednesday, also rejected Pakistan’s threat that India’s move on Article 370 would have consequences for the Afghan peace process.
“Pakistan’s desire to link the two indicates that it still sees Afghanistan as a place for “strategic depth”, to the detriment of Afghanistan. We don’t see any link between events in Kashmir to the peace process in Afghanistan, and we would like that Pakistan doesn’t try to hold the peace process hostage to its objectives in Kashmir,” Mr. Karzai said.
21 August 2019
BY SULOK TAWIE
KUCHING, Aug 21 — Parti Bumi Kenyalang (PBK) president Voon Lee Shan today rejected claims that the party is anti-Malay, anti-Muslims, and pro-Chinese.
Proving that the party is multi-racial, Voon said its top leaders are made up of a Dayak, Melanau, Malay and a Chinese.
“We are pro-Sarawakian party. We don’t talk about race here, we are a multi-racial party,” he told a press conference he called to reject smearing campaign being spread by political opponents that PBK is anti-Malay and anti-Muslims, but pro-Chinese.
He said the smearing campaign is being spread through social media and Internet over the past few weeks.
He said he needs to explain to the people because it pains him to hear the smearing campaign being waged against the party and its leaders.
“Is it because we are growing too fast that some people want to pull the brake on us?” he asked, adding since he took over as PBK president in a recent party election, more people, including professionals, have become its members.
He added PBK, which has been dormant since its registration in 2013, is now very active after he became its president.
“Some people are now jealous of us because we have been growing very fast,” he claimed.
Voon said PBK is also accused of being sponsored by some political heavyweights from Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).
“I am here to inform the general public that we are not sponsored by any individual or party aligned to PH, GPS or Barisan Nasional as speculated. I am also here to clarity that no crony of PH, GPS or BN is sponsoring our cause,” he said.
Voon said PBK’s only mission at the moment is to seek independence for Sarawak by constitutional means under domestic and international laws.
“In our quest of independence, there is no way PBK will work with PH or any political party from Malaya,” he said, urging its supporters to stay behind the leaders and should not be distracted by any accusation against the party.
Voon also urged Sarawakians to put their trust in PBK in fighting for the state’s rights.
On the state election speculated to be held in the first half of 2021, Voon said PBK will not cooperate with GPS or PH, but will consider if it will form an alliance with local opposition parties at a later date.
He said PBK at the moment is also not able to work with Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB), led by former state Minister of International Trade and e-Commerce Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh.
“PSB is a local party, but we are unsure which direction this party will be heading to at the moment. It has been speculated that PSB is more interested to help PH to get rid of GPS.
BY JERRY CHOONG
KUALA LUMPUR, August 22 — The United Chinese School Committees' Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) remains undecided if it will participate in tomorrow’s rally protesting the implementation of jawi and khat in vernacular schools.
The organisation's chairman Tan Tai Kim said their participation will first be discussed with other Dong Zong members before proceeding.
“We are not sure yet, and we will only know once we get all members’ opinions,” he told the press outside the Bukit Aman police headquarters, where he has been called in to provide his statement for an investigation being conducted under Section 504 of the Penal Code, which deals with intentional insult with an intent to provoke a breach of the peace.
Yesterday, it was announced that 33 NGOs, primarily from Indian education groups, would hold the rally against the lessons for Standard Four students.
The rally is set to take place in Brickfields from 7pm to 10pm.
The Education Ministry has made the khat lessons optional and reduced the pages from six to three on August 8, after considerable backlash from the minority communities.
Dong Zong has been one of the policy’s most vocal critics, claiming the teaching of khat in vernacular schools as a medium to spread Islam, as well as being unconstitutional by forcing it onto non-Muslim students.
The Chinese educationist group launched a petition on August 10 in which it urged the Education Ministry to retain khat introduction, together with Chinese and Tamil writings, for the Standard Five BM syllabus.
Several days later, Parti Pribumi Bersatu’s youth wing launched a counter-petition urging for Dong Zong’s ban, on grounds that the education group is extremist and intent on undermining national racial unity.
21 Aug 2019
The security forces conducted a series of airstrikes and special operations in various provinces in the past 24 hours killing at least 22 militants.
The military officials said Wednesday the Special Forces killed a Taliban militant during a patrol in Almar district of Faryab.
The officials further added that the Special Forces killed 5 Taliban militants and destroyed a weapons cache in Nowzad district of Helmand.
The security forces also conducted an airstrike in Kajaki district of Helmand which killed 5 Taliban militants and destroyed a weapons cache.
Furthermore, the Special Forces arrested 4 Taliban militants during an operation in sepra district of Khost province.
The security officials also added that an airstrike killed a Haqqani network militant in Maidan Shahr district of Wardak and a separate airstrike in Achin district of Nangarhar destroyed a weapons cache.
22 Aug 2019
The security forces killed at least 20 Taliban during an operation in southern Uruzgan province of Afghanistan.
The 205th Atal Corps said in a statement that the security forces led by the Special Forces conducted the operation in Charchinoo district.
The statement further added that the security forces killed at least 20 militants and destroyed two caches of weapons and munitions.
The Taliban group has not commented regarding the raid so far.
The security forces killed or wounded 14 Taliban militants during a clash in northern Kunduz province of Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Interior (MoI) said in a statement that the security forces clashed with Taliban militants in the 3rd district of Kunduz, apparently pointing to 3rd district of Kunduz city.
The statement further added that the security forces killed 7 Taliban militants during the clash and wounded 7 others.
The NATO-led Resolute Support Mission confirmed late on Wednesday that two U.S. soldiers live their lives in Afghanistan earlier today.
The alliance said in a statement “Two U.S. service members were killed August 21, 2019 in Afghanistan.”
The statement did not disclose further information regarding the exact location where the two U.S. soldiers lost their lives.
Meanwhile, the Resolute Support Mission said “In accordance with U.S. Department of Defense policy, the names of the service members killed in action are being withheld until 24 hours after notification of next of kin is complete.”
An airstrike killed six militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group in Nangarhar province including two Pakistani nationals.
The informed military sources said Wednesday that an airstrike in Pacher wa Agam district killed six ISIS militants.
Meanwhile, the Nangarhar governor’s Office said in a statement that the airstrike was conducted at around 10:40 am local time on Tuesday.
The statement further added that the airstrike also killed two Pakistani nationals who were fighting in ISIS ranks.
The death toll from a suicide bomb attack on a wedding reception in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, has risen to 80, two senior officials said on Wednesday.
The initial death toll after the Saturday night blast was 63, but some of the wounded had died in hospital, said Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman at the interior ministry.
“Seventeen others have succumbed to their injuries in hospital and over 160 are still being treated either in hospitals or at home,” Rahimi said.
By VOA News
August 20, 2019
The State Department says the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan is traveling to Doha Tuesday to resume talks with the Taliban on a peace agreement aimed at ending the 18-year conflict in the country.
A statement says Zalmay Khalizad will also travel to Kabul to "consult with the leadership of the Afghan government on the peace process and encourage full preparation for intra-Afghan negotiations."
The Taliban has been in talks with the U.S. on a timetable for the withdrawal of American and NATO forces from Afghanistan. Unless that happens, the insurgent group maintains it will not engage in much-sought intra-Afghan negotiations to discuss a permanent cease-fire and issues related to future political governance.
In exchange for a foreign troop withdrawal, the Taliban will be tasked with preventing transnational terrorists from using insurgent-controlled Afghan territory for international terrorism.
Taliban and U.S. negotiators in recent days have repeatedly asserted they are ready to sign a deal. The two sides are said to working out the details.
Last week, Trump suggested the plan for a U.S. withdrawal is still in the works.
"We're having very good discussions (with the Taliban). We will see what happens. We've really got it down to probably 13,000 people (troops) and we'll be bringing it down a little bit more and then we will decide whether or not we will be staying longer or not," he said.
Bangladesh: The repatriation of hundreds of Rohingya Muslims appeared unlikely to proceed as planned Thursday after those who were eligible told the UN refugee agency and the Bangladesh government they didn't want to return to Myanmar unless their citizenship and safety were ensured.
"We have not found anybody yet who has agreed to go back, but all our preparations are in place," said Khaled Hossain, a senior official with the Refugee, Relief and Rehabilitation commissioner's office.
Members of at least 221 Rohingya Muslim families were interviewed Wednesday and Tuesday ahead of the repatriation that was scheduled to start Thursday. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said her government will not force the refugees to return and the repatriation will only happen if they are willing.
Myanmar has certified 3,450 refugees from 1,056 families as eligible for repatriation from Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district, where about one million Rohingya refugees are sheltered.
Myanmar's military began a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against Rohingya Muslims in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled what has been called an ethnic cleansing campaign involving mass rapes, killings and burning of thousands of their homes. Buddhist-majority
The UN refugee agency "is working with concerned governments to help create conditions conducive to return, to assess whether or not these people are going back voluntarily," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York.
"The voluntary nature of repatriation is really a bedrock of our position," he said.
Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres, a former UN refugee chief, has stressed that it's important for refugees to have the information they need to decide whether or not to return.
An earlier repatriation attempt last November was suspended because no one was willing to go back. Thousands of refugees protested and chanted "We won't go back" and "We want justice," forcing authorities to halt the process.
This time, the camps have been quiet with no reports of major protests ahead of Thursday's plan.
Bangladesh refugee commissioner Abul Kalam was happy with that.
"This is a good sign and I think this is a good progress. Last year they fled their camp homes as the day neared, but this time they are coming forward and facing interviews and talking freely," Kalam said Wednesday. "They have confidence in us."
Kalim Ullah, a refugee on the repatriation list, said his family wants to go back but Myanmar must ensure that they would be given citizenship and safety.
Many said they want to go back under direct UN supervision, not under the Myanmar government.
"We want to go back home. Bangladesh is not our country. But we still do not have any guarantee that we will not be tortured or killed," Ullah said as he left the interview room.
Myanmar has long not recognized Rohingya as citizens, rendering them stateless, and they face other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination.
The Afghan forces stormed a Taliban compound during a night raid in south-eastern Ghazni province killing at least 9 Taliban militants.
The 203rd Thunder Crops said in a statement that the security forces conducted the raid in the outskirts of Ghazni city.
The statement further added that the security forces killed 9 Taliban and confiscated a PKM machine gun, 2 Ak-47 rifles, a pistol, a radio set, 2 binoculars and some other military kits.
The Afghan Military in the North shared its findings regarding the rumors about the crash of a military plane in northern Samangan province.
The 209th Shaheen Corps said in a statement the Afghan National Army launched an investigation after receiving reports regarding the rumors about the crash of a plane in Roi Du Aab district in Samangan.
The statement further added that the comprehensive investigations by the military indicate that no military fighter jet or helicopter has crashed in the area.
Busra Nur Bilgic Cakmak
Protecting freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is a duty for the EU and its member states, the EU foreign policy chief said on Wednesday.
“Persecution as a response to religious belief or affiliation, or lack thereof, is a violation of international law and requires joint work to combat it,” said Federica Mogherini in a statement marking International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence based on Religion or Belief.
Mogherini also said the EU has always been at the frontline in promoting and protecting religious freedom.
“EU legislation obliges Member States to penalize the intentional public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to, among others, religion or belief,” said Mogherini.
“Marginalization and scapegoating of persons belonging to religious minorities can be an early warning sign of more severe persecution, as well as a wider crackdown on the whole society,” she added.
EU member states such as Greece have long been accused of violating the rights of minority Turkish Muslims within their borders, in some cases violating European Court of Human Rights rulings in doing so.
French authorities arrested five people for encouraging attacks on a hotel slated to accommodate police during this weekend's G7 summit, sources said Tuesday, as more than 13,000 members of the security forces prepared to deploy for the event.
The arrests occurred early Monday, just days ahead of the summit chaired by French President Emmanuel Macron who will from Saturday host the likes of US President Donald Trump, German leader Angela Merkel and Britain's Boris Johnson in the glitzy southwestern resort town of Biarritz.
Speaking to reporters in Biarritz where he inspected security preparations, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said 13,200 police and gendarmes would secure the event.
They would be backed by members of the armed forces as well as police deployed on the Spanish side of the border, he added.
"The aim is to have maximum security with a minimum of disruption. We will not tolerate any unrest. If it happens, we will respond," he said.
Several of the suspects are young members of radical anti-capitalist groups known as "black blocs" which played a major role in the violent street protests that rocked Paris and other French cities over the last months.
The investigation was triggered after a woman living in the area posted a message online pinpointing a hotel where gendarmes policing the summit will stay.
Four people suspected of issuing calls to "burn down" the hotel were arrested in locations including Hendaye, south of Biarritz, and Loire Valley town of Tours.
One of them has a police record for violence during a demonstration, the source said.
The woman who published the initial message, from the Landes region north of Biarritz, was also detained.
"We are particularly attentive to spreading threats to the security of the G7 on social networks," said Castaner, adding there was no specific threat to the event.
- 'Non-violent freedom of expression' -
A raft of unprecedented security measures has been put in place ahead of the summit, with the resort on lockdown and its picturesque Grand Plage beach off-limits to everyone except delegates and those accredited for the summit.
Activists will be holding a "counter-summit" some 20 kilometres (12 miles) away, so security forces will be on hand to ensure there are no disruptions in a country that has been hit by months of anti-government protests.
Those protests were spearheaded by so-called "yellow vests" demonstrators angered by social inequalities although hardline black bloc activists also got involved.
Police will be under huge pressure in Biarritz to keep order without resorting to heavy-handed tactics that sometimes marked their response to the street protests.
Since Monday morning, anti-capitalist activists, environmentalists and other anti-globalisation groups have begun rallying in Urrugne near the Spanish border where they have planned a week of protests they insist will be peaceful.
A large anti-G7 rally will take place in the nearby town of Hendaye on Saturday to coincide with the formal opening of the summit.
Castaner said the counter-summit "should be allowed to take place peacefully. There is no question of preventing the non-violent freedom of expression."
AUGUST 20, 2019
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany has for the first time allowed children whose parents were suspected members of Islamic State to return to Germany from northern Syria and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said it will push for more such children to come to the country.
Like other western countries, Germany faces a tricky decision on how to deal with citizens who went to the Middle East to join groups like Islamic State, which was driven out of its last territorial enclave in March by U.S.-backed forces.
Three of the four repatriated German children are orphans, according to German media, but no further details were available.
“We will push for more children to leave Syria,” Maas said on Monday. “These are mostly young children ... they cannot be made responsible for the actions of their parents and we want to do something to help,” he added.
Thousands of Islamic State members, including foreigners, women and children, are being held by Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria.
German intelligence officials say more than 1,000 Germans went to fight in Syria and Iraq where Islamic State once controlled swathes of territory in a self-declared caliphate.
Around a third have returned to Germany, another third are believed to have died and the rest are believed to be still in Iraq and Syria.
Court In Siberia Jails Young Man For 'Justifying Terrorism Online'
A 23-year-old man from the Siberian city of Tomsk has been sentenced to five years in prison for "justifying terrorism" on the Internet.
The Investigative Committee said on August 19 that the resident of Tomsk, whose name it did not give, was a supporter of radical Islam and posted under a nickname on the VKontakte Russian social network, voicing support for terrorist acts across Russia.
According to the statement, the court also banned the man from using the Internet for two years. Russian news agencies identified the man as Kazakh citizen Ilya Kalinichenko, a hockey player at the local club in Tomsk that is a member of the Siberian Students Ice Hockey League.
Kalinichenko's mother told reporters that she will appeal the ruling, saying that her son's posts on the Internet neither supported nor called for terrorism.
France’s president said on Wednesday he would meet Iranian officials ahead of this weekend’s G7 summit and make proposals to help de-escalate tensions between Washington and Tehran.
“In the coming hours before the G7 I will have meetings with the Iranians to propose things,” Emmanuel Macron told reporters.
Iran’s foreign minister said earlier this week he would meet Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Paris on Friday. Two French diplomats said a joint meeting was likely on Friday, but that it had not been made public due to the sensitivity of the Iran dossier.
France has sought over the summer to play a mediating role as relations between the United States and Iran deteriorate, although there has been little sign of any breakthrough.
If Iran’s oil exports are cut to zero, international waterways will not have the same security as before, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday at a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to Khamenei’s official website. “World powers know that in the case that oil is completely sanctioned and Iran’s oil exports are brought down to zero, international waterways can’t have the same security as before,” Rouhani said. “So unilateral pressure against Iran can’t be to their advantage and won’t guarantee their security in the region and the world.”
The Iranian foreign minister has said the country's third step on scaling down commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal will be "stronger" than the previous ones.
"The third step will be definitely stronger than the previous ones. We have conveyed our options to Europe," Javad Zarif said, speaking in Sweden's Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on Wednesday.
He said the third step will be taken if the gains of Iran from the agreement are not protected.
Zarif said abolishing the nuclear deal will open a Pandora's box.
"While [US] President [Donald] Trump is unpredictable himself, he cannot expect others to follow predictable policies," he added.
Iran is curtailing its commitments under the nuclear deal in a retaliatory move following the U.S.' unilateral withdrawal from the agreement between Tehran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and the EU.
The U.S. has since embarked upon a diplomatic and economic campaign to ramp up pressure on Iran to force it to renegotiate the agreement.
Exiled Muslim Brotherhood member exposes discord within terrorist group
Aug. 21, 2019
CAIRO – 21 August 2019: Magdy Shalash, a senior Muslim Brotherhood member living in Turkey, has exposed discord within the internal ring of the international terrorist organization of the Muslim Brotherhood have committed.
Shalash posted on his social media account that the internal communication system within the brotherhood is broken and does not reflect the will or demands of the organization’s rows.
He also added that the Muslim Brotherhood completely rejects the Egyptian revolution, therefore, all the steps that the brotherhood has taken so far was to fight and reroll this revolution.
Shalash further rejected how senior leaders of the brotherhood must be obeyed and that no one has the right to say otherwise.
According to Shalash, the Muslim Brotherhood ousts and defames whoever disagrees with its ideology or devious schemes, because all that matters are the personal interests of these leaders.
Observers of the political scene see that such remarks reflects how badly the Muslim Brotherhood is cracked as its own members began losing faith in the organization and its leaders.
Some recent reports have affirmed the involvement of senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders of embezzling the brotherhood’s money for their personal luxury and interests.
Islamic State could re-emerge in Syria, Chinese envoy warns
GENEVA (Reuters) - A senior Chinese official said on Tuesday that there was a danger of Islamic State militants re-emerging in Syria and called for progress in the political process between the Damascus government and the opposition to end the war.
“There is now a danger of terrorist organizations like ISIS being revived, we see some signs in some of the places,” Chinese Special Envoy Xie Xiaoyan told reporters after talks with U.N. Special Envoy Geir Pedersen in Geneva.
“So the fight against terrorism needs to be continued. They need to be finished,” he added. “The international community should pay attention to the early warning.”
China has long worried about ethnic Uighurs from China’s far western region of Xinjiang who have traveled clandestinely to Syria and Iraq to fight with Islamist groups there. Islamic State has killed at least one Chinese hostage and militant groups have issued statements threatening to attack China.
China has also long urged a diplomatic resolution to Syria’s civil war. Its top diplomat and State Councillor Wang Yi said in June that China will continue to support Syria to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and fight against terrorism, and will help with Syria’s economic reconstruction efforts.
By Sirwan Kajjo
The largest militant group in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib has withdrawn from a key town as Syrian regime troops advanced in the southern part of Idlib, local sources said.
The pullout came after days of intense bombardment by Syrian and Russian warplanes targeting rebel positions inside the town of Khan Sheikhoun and nearby villages, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported.
"The Syrian regime and its allies now are poised to take complete control of the town," Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory, told VOA.
He added that Syrian warplanes targeted about a dozen villages in the vicinity to push back opposition fighters from the town in southern Idlib.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), al-Qaida's Syria affiliate, said in a statement on Tuesday that its fighters have "redeployed" in parts of Khan Sheikhoun "after extreme bombardment" by Syrian regime forces.
The militant group, labelled as a terrorist organization by the United States, added that despite its withdrawal, it would continue fighting Syrian troops in the area.
Khan Sheikhoun, which has been under militant control since 2014, is located on a major highway that links the Syrian capital, Damascus, to the country's largest city, Aleppo.
While Syrian regime troops haven't fully entered the town yet, experts said the recent move by HTS and its allies was expected.
"It was inevitable for opposition forces to withdraw from parts of Idlib," said Ahmed Rahal, a former Syrian army colonel who is now a military analyst in Istanbul.
"Syrian regime troops are backed by airpower from Russia and there was an evenness in the fight on the ground. It was hard for rebel forces to continuously remain in one area," he told VOA.
To avoid a Syrian regime assault, Khan Sheikhoun residents have begun fleeing their homes in Idlb for nearby towns.
"At least 100 families, including mine, left their homes," a 32-year-old Khan Sheikhoun resident who left his home on Monday, told VOA. He declined to be identified for security reasons.
He added that volunteer groups have been helping civilians to evacuate the town before the regime takes full control.
The ongoing violence has forced nearly half a million people to seek safety elsewhere in northern Syria.
The Syrian Observatory said that at least 3,000 people, including 900 civilians, have been killed across Idlib since the fighting has escalated in recent months.
Battle for Idlib
For months, Syrian government forces, backed by Russian warplanes, have been targeting towns and villages across the northwestern province. Idlib has been a major rebel stronghold since 2015.
In September 2018, Russia and Turkey, which back rival sides of Syria's conflict, reached a deal to create a buffer zone, but the agreement has not been fully implemented.
On Monday, Syrian fighter jets targeted a Turkish military convoy that had crossed into Idlib, killing several people.
The Syrian government said the convoy was carrying military equipment for rebel groups in Idlib.
But Turkey strongly condemned the action, saying the attack killed at least three civilians and wounded 12 others.
Hezbollah's vile influence spans the globe
Aug 20, 2019
There are many positive things that tie together South American countries and Lebanon but one damaging link is Hezbollah. The two might be continents apart and separated by oceans, culture, religion and language but, as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reminded the world during his South American tour last month, the Iranian proxy’s influence extends far beyond Lebanese borders – 12,000 kilometres further, in fact. Mr Pompeo urged Latin American countries to take action against the group and they have rightly heeded his call. Argentina became the first Latin American country to label Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and now Paraguay has followed suit, with Brazil considering doing so as well.
It might surprise some but Hezbollah’s roots run deep in South America, where it finances its illegal activity through drug-smuggling and money laundering networks. Waves of Lebanese migrants, displaced by conflict or seeking economic opportunity, have been settling on the continent since the 1800s, primarily in Brazil, Paraguay and Colombia. In Brazil alone, the Lebanese diaspora outnumbers the total population of Lebanon.
That meant ripe pickings for Hezbollah when it began recruiting in the 1980s, followed by Iranian operatives after the 1979 revolution. Preying on its own compatriots, Hezbollah has exploited a weak legal framework in Paraguay, a lack of terrorism laws in Brazil and widespread corruption to make Latin America a major source of funds and fertile soil for its poisonous ideology to take hold. In the porous Tri-Border Area (TBA) between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, the militia saw an opportunity to manipulate legal loopholes and establish a headquarters generating tens of millions of dollars through criminal activity and organised cartels – so much so that Paraguay was described by security experts as ”a fiscal paradise for terrorists”.
Exasperated South American authorities have been trying to crack down on the group’s flagrant abuse of their laws. Last year Brazilian police arrested Assad Barakat, accused of financing Hezbollah through money laundering in Argentinian casinos. Nader Farhat, another Hezbollah financier, was arrested in Paraguay this year and extradited to Miami after allegedly laundering money from drug trafficking, funnelling cash to Hezbollah through one of the biggest currency exchange businesses in the TBA. Meanwhile Lebanese businessman Ali Kassir was jailed in April for selling counterfeit phones to fund Hezbollah. Cigarette smuggling in Paraguay is also rife.
Drug trafficking, smuggling, gambling and violent crime: this is the true face of Hezbollah, whose spider’s web of crime criss-crosses the globe in every direction. Its members hide their devious activities from their supporters at home but in truth, they will stop at nothing to raise money, especially at a time when Iran’s economy is starting to feel the full force of increased sanctions from the US. Tehran is Hezbollah’s main source of financing and experts believe sanctions have pushed the Iranian regime to cut the $700 million it pays to the group each year.
CAIRO — Egypt says its security forces have killed 11 suspected militants in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, where it has been fighting an insurgency for years.
The Interior Ministry issued a statement Tuesday saying it had received information about insurgents hiding at a farm in the city of el-Arish.
The statement says that while police forces were hunting the militants, a shootout ensued and the militants were killed. It said they had in their possession seven rifles, two explosive devices and an explosive belt.
The statement didn’t say when the raid took place or whether police had casualties.
It was not impossible to independently confirm the claims as access to northern Sinai is heavily restricted.
JEDDAH: Makkah Gate, a magnificent structure that spans the width of the Jeddah-Makkah highway, has been welcoming visitors of the holy city for 34 years.
Many asked the question of who built it, and it was announced recently by the governor of Makkah, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, that the names of all those who contributed to building the structure will be recognized, fulfilling the wish of the structure’s designer, Dia Aziz Dia.
Saudi Arabia’s minister of culture, Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Farhan, announced on Twitter the approved proposal by Dia recognizing the names of the contributors.
Dia spoke to Arab News about the significance of the gate and why it was important to him that every individual who contributed to the project received the recognition they deserve.
“Consider this as the gateway to the heart of all Muslims,” said the artist. “It’s the gateway to the heart of Islam. Makkah has the Kaaba, the house of God and the city is the most important city to the world, no other work in my career compares.”
The large arched sculpture located 5 kilometers outside the city limits was initially proposed in 1979 by the Makkah municipality and a private contracting office.
“The company planning the structure didn’t have an idea as to how they wanted the gate to look, all I was told was that they wanted the gate to be on top of the highway leading to the city,” said Dia.
“After a lot of thinking of what makes the city of Makkah so important, a few ideas came to mind such as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the Kaaba, but what sprang up to me most was the Qur’an. It all started with the descent of the Qur’an to Earth and my thoughts were searching for the appropriate way where people would recognize the idea of the descent through the design.”
The idea of the Holy Qur’an on top of a rehal, an X-shaped stand to place holy books on while reciting, was what came to mind after a few days of thinking. The designer’s idea was accepted by the company, and he worked with architects, civil engineers and calligraphers hand in hand to realize the final sketch and create a small model of the gate.
“I went to the office of Abdulqader Koshak, Makkah’s mayor at the time, and presented him with the final design of the gate and approximately two months later, it was announced that King Fahd agreed to build this gate and the surrounding gardens,” said Dia.
After handing in the design for the gate, Dia parted ways and a few months later, construction began on the gate, completed in 1985.
Dia considered the gate to be a beacon — as part of his primary design, a search light centered atop the gate was proposed, but wasn’t added upon completion.
“The reason behind my proposal for adding this search light is because I wanted it to show how the Holy Qur’an is a beacon of hope and peace, how the city of Makkah is that as well, not only to the Muslim faith, but to the world as well. To show its importance, its significance,” said Dia.
The artist hopes that his proposal to add the search light on top of the structure will be fulfilled one day, to complete the design.
“The reason behind my insistence to include all contributors to the gate is due to the fact many didn’t know that Saudis were mainly those who worked on the project. Some believed that foreigners were brought in to build it when the fact is Saudis were mainly the ones. This gate is a representation of the Saudi architects, calligraphers and engineers’ contributions,” said Dia.
As one of Saudi Arabia’s oldest and most successful artists, it’s no surprise that a man of Dia’s renowned yet humbled stature would be a contributing factor in building one of Saudi Arabia’s most recognizable structures. With over 40 years of contributions to the Saudi art scene, Dia considers his work designing the Makkah Gate the most important work in his career, his legacy.
The Arabic-language al-Ma'aloumeh quoted the source as saying that the Tuesday fire at Salahuddin airbase occurred after the US attack on one of Hashd al-Shaabi bases.
He added that the US aircraft fired 4 missiles at Hashd al-Shaabi's base in Salahuddin province, causing a big fire in the base.
Meantime, Vice-Speaker of the Iraqi parliament in Salahuddin province Mohammed al-Baldawi said on Tuesday that eyewitnesses in al-Balad airbase, one of the biggest Iraqi airbases, have seen the fight of a plane before the attack.
Hashd al-Shaabi positions in Iraq have been twice targeted by airstrikes in the past few weeks.
Last week, one person was killed and 29 others were wounded in an explosion in an arms depot of a military base of Hashd al-Shaabi forces in Southern Baghdad as a result of shrapnel thrown on the nearby residential areas.
After the attack, a senior member of the Iraqi parliament's Security and Defense Committee said that preliminary results of investigations showed that an Israeli drone backed by the US had bombed Hashd al-Shaabi positions near Baghdad.
Karim al-Mahmadawi told the Arabic-language al-Ma'aloumeh news website on Sunday that investigations have proved that the blast in Hashd al-Shaabi's arms depot in al-Saqar region in Southern Baghdad was caused by an Israeli drone with the US support.
He added that the American planes provided Israel with full intelligence about the target, and warned of more airstrikes by Israel against Hashd al-Shaabi bases in Iraq.
“The next target of the Syrian Arm’s military operations is Ma’aret al-Numan after imposing full control over Khan Sheikhoun,” Syrian lawmaker for Idlib Province Safvan Qorbi said.
He noted that the residents of Idlib and its countryside are expecting the Syrian Army to arrive in areas occupied by the terrorists, and said that large groups of residents of Ma’aret al-Numan and the city of Saraqib in Southern Idlib have visited the joint Syrian-Russian Command Headquarters for the implementation of peace plan.
Qorbi noted the massive presence of the terrorist groups in Ma’aret al-Numan and the Turkish Army’s occupying role in the region, and said that the Syrian Army is prepared to enter Ma’aret al-Numan.
He also pointed to the heavy defeat of the terrorist groups in Khan Sheikhoun city despite massive military backup by the Turkish Army and their retreat from the region, and said that negotiations are currently underway for exit of the Turkish Army troops from areas under its control in Hama.
On Monday, the Syrian Army managed to enter Khan Sheikhoun after five years.
The Damascus Army troops kept on their clashes with the terrorists in Northwestern Khan Sheikhoun in Southern Idlib, and took control of al-Faqir military post and deployed only 900 meters from Aleppo-Damascus Highway around Khan Sheikhoun.
The Arabic-language al-Watan newspaper quoted battlefield sources as saying that the Syrian Army troops entered Khan Sheikhoun from the North-West after making further advances.
It pointed to the destruction of several bomb-laden vehicles in the region, and said that tens of terrorists started fleeing the scene of the battle as the Syrian Army made its advances.
The Arabic-language website of the Russian Sputnik news agency reported that the Syrian Army engaged in fierce clashes with the terrorists East of Khan Sheikhoun city in Southern Idlib, and took control of the strategic Taraei town and hilltop.
A military source, meantime, noted that the Syrian Army has taken control of several routes of Tahrir al-Sham al-Hay’at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) in Northern Hama and Khan Sheikhoun city towards Northern regions and the government troops are now less than three kilometers away from the city of al-Tamaneh in Southern Idlib.
The source pointed to the Syrian Army’s efforts to lay siege to the terrorist groups in Northern Hama to pave the way for its further advances and connecting those regions to Khan Sheikhoun, and said that the terrorist groups of Northern Hama are escaping the region before the last routes are closed.
The Arabic-language al-Mayadeen TV network reported that the Syrian Army took control of the towns of Kafar Zita, al-Tamaneh, Ma’arkabeh, Lahaya, Latmin, Mourek and al-Sayyad in Northern Hama.
The terrorist groups stationed in Northern Hama have maintained their military positions near Mourek observation point in Northern Hama.
In a relevant development on Tuesday, local sources in Khan Sheikhoun reported that the terrorists have fully withdrawn from the town for the fear of being surrounded by the Syrian army.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) quoted the sources as saying on Tuesday that the terrorists, most of them members of Tahrir al-Sham al-Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front), have fled the town after the army's rapid advances in the region.
It added that the militants have withdrawn from regions in Southern Khan Sheikhoun and the towns in Northern Hama, including Kafar Zita, al-Latamineh and Murak, noting that the fate of a Turkish watchtower in Murak is unknown.
At present, the Syrian army forces and their allies are advancing in different districts of Khan Sheikhoun.
The Arabic-language Al-Mayadeen TV news channel released a video quoting media activists as saying that after the collapse of Tahrir al-Sham in Khan Sheikhoun and withdrawal of the terrorists from this region, the photos of Jolani were set abaze.
Meantime, the remaining Tahrir al-Sham terrorists who are in Southern Idlib have asked for help from their comrades after the Syrian Army laid siege on Khan Sheikhoun.
Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi said Wednesday it held the US responsible for a string of blasts in recent weeks in camps and weapons depots used by the mainly Shiite paramilitary force.
“We announce that the first and last entity responsible for what happened are American forces, and we will hold them responsible for whatever happens from today onwards,” the paramilitary group said in an online statement.
Four bases used by the Hashed have been hit by mysterious explosions over the past month, but there has been no media access to the facilities and no one has claimed responsibility for the blasts.
An Iraqi legislator says evidence points to involvement of the Israeli regime in a recent attack on pro-government Popular Mobilization Units, better known by the Arabic word Hashd al-Sha’abi, stating that the Tel Aviv regime is trying to weaken the volunteer forces.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Lebanon-based Arabic-language al-Mayadeen television news network on Wednesday, Karim Alaiwi, a member of the Security and Defense Committee in the Iraqi Parliament, said it is known that many attacks on targets in Iraq were carried out by Israeli planes, including the attacks on Camp Amerli and Camp Saqr, stressing that the evidence points to Israel being behind the airstrikes.
“Israel is trying to weaken the force through airstrikes and even targeted killing of its officials,” the lawmaker said.
Alaiwi added that the Iraqi airspace is controlled by the US Air Force, suggesting that Israel could not have struck the bases without Washington’s knowledge.
US responsible for attacks on Hashd al-Sha’abi bases
Second-in-command of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, has held the United States fully responsible for recent attacks on the volunteer forces.
He said in a statement that the US, which has contributed to the emergence of terrorist groups in the Middle East, is now considering various ways to violate Iraq’s sovereignty and targeting the PMU.
“We have accurate and credible information that Americans brought in four Israeli drones this year via Azerbaijan to operate within the US fleet to carry out sorties aimed at Iraqi military headquarters. We also have other information, maps and recordings of all types of American aircraft, when they took off, when they landed and the number of hours they flew,” al-Mohandes pointed out.
“Instead of chasing Daesh terrorists, US military aircraft are collecting information and data concerning the brigades of Popular Mobilization Units, and their warehouses and arms depots,” the statement read.
Sayf al-Badr, spokesman of the Iraqi Health Ministry, said in a statement that at least one person was killed and 29 others were wounded in a powerful explosion, which rocked a military base in southern Baghdad on August 12.
An unnamed source from Iraq’s Interior Ministry said an ammunition warehouse exploded inside a federal police military base, named Falcon, in Owerij area near the southern district of Doura.
The source added that the blast was followed by a series of explosions at the warehouse that sent a large amount of shrapnel to nearby houses.
Arabic-language al-Ahad TV television network reported on July 19 that a drone had dropped explosives onto a base belonging to Popular Mobilization Units near the town of Amerli, located about 170 kilometers north of the capital Baghdad, in the early hours of the day, killing at least one PMU fighter and injuring four others.
Video footage broadcast by Iraqi channels showed a blaze burning at the site and plumes of thick smoke billowing. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Moreover, the Iraqi al-Etejah television network reported that an American B350 reconnaissance plane had flown over the area a few days earlier.
In January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted during a visit to Iraq that the Israeli regime could launch attacks against Hashd al-Sha’abi forces, who played a key role in the Iraqi army’s counter-terrorism battles against the Daesh terror group and helped the government to rid the country of the Takfiri outfit in late 2017.
Pompeo was reported to have made it clear to Iraqi officials at a meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi that Washington would not react to possible Israeli attacks against Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters.
Abdul-Mahdi expressed concern about the statement and warned Pompeo that such actions by Israel would have grave consequences, Russia’s RT Arabic television news network reported back then.
Reacting to the reports, Moein al-Kazemi, a Hashd al-Sha’abi commander, said the force was ready to deliver a “strong” response to any aggression, advising the regime in Tel Aviv not to “play with fire.”
The Israeli regime has a record of attacking the forces fighting the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in Syria.
In June 2018, Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters came under attack in Syria’s border town of al-Hari, in the eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr, as they were chasing Daesh terrorists out of the area.
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