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Islamic World News ( 18 Jul 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A Hindu Student of Dubrajpur In Birbhum District of West Bengal, Jagannath Das Ranks Sixth in High Madrasa Exams

New Age Islam News Bureau

18 Jul 2020

• Masjid-e-Quba Used by Taliban As Their Preaching Centre Reopened After 10 YearsInKhyber Pankhatuva Of Pakistan

• Mullah Omar’s Son Yaqoob Heads Taliban Military Ahead Of Expected Talks With Kabul

• Malaysian Minister Wants to “Arrest and Reeducate” Transgender People

• Qatar’s Ex-Emir, PM, Gaddafi Discuss Houthi Claim On Parts Of Saudi Arabia: Recording

• Western Reaction to Hagia Sophia Exposes Hypocrisy On ‘Religious Tolerance’

• Mixed Results in Evaluation of Multinational Effort Against Boko Haram

• CIA Conducted Cyber Attacks Against Iran After Secret Trump Order In 2018: Report



• A Hindu Student of Dubrajpur In Birbhum District of West Bengal, Jagannath Das Ranks Sixth in High Madrasah Exams

• Police Failed To Act Swiftly, Protect Lives And Properties Of Muslims During Delhi Violence, Minorities Panel Finds

• Delhi Rioters Invoked Partition Drama Gadar As They Attacked Muslim Women, Panel Says

• 20-Yr-Old Attempts To Meet Girlfriend In Pakistan, Gets Caught By BSF Near Border

• Inputs suggest terrorists planning to target Amarnath Yatra: Army officer

• 3 terrorists killed in encounter in J&K's Amshipora

• Pakistan offers India ‘unhindered’ access to Kulbhushan Jadhav

• Most-wanted Pakistan bomber among 3 terrorists killed in J&K

• NIA arrests key accused in J&K drug smuggling case

• At UN session on multilateralism, Pakistan rakes up issue of J&K



• Masjid-e-Quba Used by Taliban As Their Preaching Centre Reopened After 10 YearsInKhyber Pankhatuva Of Pakistan

• Pakistan Lauds UNSC Decision to Add TTP Chief on Sanctions List

• UN designates Pakistan Taliban leader Noor Mehsud as global terrorist

• World’s Biggest Islamic Lender to invest $2.3bn to tackle pandemic economic fallout

• Muslim League ‘reincarnation’ efforts pick up

• Pakistan Shia Ulema, Government agreed SOPs to curb spread of COVID-19 for Muharram Processions


South Asia

• Mullah Omar’s Son Yaqoob Heads Taliban Military Ahead Of Expected Talks With Kabul

• Taliban Strengthen Negotiating Team but SidelineMuttaqi

• Taliban Says It Freed 845 Afghan Forces, 'Fully Committed' to Pact With US

• Bangladesh Blogger Faces Jail for Supporting Monk

• Humanity and harmony in the time of Covid-19

• U.S. forces launched multiple drone strikes in 3 provinces: Taliban

• Nearly 20 civilians killed, wounded in clashes between Afghan and Pakistani forces


Southeast Asia

• Malaysian Minister Wants to “Arrest and Reeducate” Transgender People

• Malaysian University to Address ‘Clean and Ethical’ Muslim Social Media Influencing in New Modules

• Prominent Muslim Leader Says Global Effort Needed To Promote ‘Compassionate Islam’

• The elusive pragmatist who transformed political Islam in Indonesia

• 'Forced demolition of mosques' in Xinjiang is total nonsense

• Muslim couples learn about foster parenting, clarify religious aspects in webinar


Arab World

• Qatar’s Ex-Emir, PM, Gaddafi Discuss Houthi Claim On Parts Of Saudi Arabia: Recording

• Saudi Arabia Launches HRC International To Foster Dialogue On Human Rights

• Lebanon's American University of Beirut Medical Centre lays off hundreds of employees

• Egypt will not stand idle in face of threats to national security: Al-Sisi

• Saudi, US relations: Policy of milking the dairy cow has not stopped yet!

• Egypt Fatwa Committee: Take all measures to solve Ethiopia dam crisis



• Western Reaction to Hagia Sophia Exposes Hypocrisy On ‘Religious Tolerance’

• Yemeni tribes reject Saudi compensation, seek revenge for Jawf bloodshed

• Hundreds of protesters swarm Netanyahu’s home again

• Iran Calls for UN's Concrete, Immediate Measures to Save Yemeni Civilians

• Coronavirus: Israel to shut down on weekends due to COVID-19 surge

• Iran suggests it will crack down on expected protests

• Iran partially cuts off internet in southwestern Khuzestan province

• Hamas criticized for ‘flagrant violation of media pluralism’

• Turkey moves toward social media restrictions



• Mixed Results in Evaluation of Multinational Effort Against Boko Haram

• Mali’s prime minister apologizes for security forces ‘excesses’ during anti-government protests

• Sheikh Zakzaky’s lawyers demand dismissal of case, immediate release

• Friday prayers held in Scotland mosques after months

• Anger at Mali’s President Rises After Security Forces Kill Protesters


North America

• CIA Conducted Cyber Attacks Against Iran After Secret Trump Order In 2018: Report

• Man held in Vegas terror plot also facing child sex charges

• Washington says Turkey sent almost 4,000 fighters to Libya

• US says Europe not doing enough to stop Libya fighting



• Turkish Court Sentences Germany-Based Journalist To Jail On Terrorism Charges

• Police in Germany under the pall of right-wing extremists

• Germany calls for upholding Libya arms embargo

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



A Hindu Student of Dubrajpur In Birbhum District of West Bengal, Jagannath Das Ranks Sixth in High Madrasah Exams

New Age Islam News Bureau

Jul 18, 2020

 Jagannath Das/ Photo courtesy Rashtrya Sahara Urdu Kolkata


Jagannath Das of Dubrajpur, in Birbhum district of West Bengal has ranked sixth in the High Madrasah exams held under the West Bengal Madrasah Board this year. He attributed his success to a better educational environment in madrasas. He is among the thousands of Hindu students of Bengal who choose Madrasas over Hindi or Bengali schools because of better environment and higher standards of learning. Elated after the results, Jagannath Das wondered why a section of people critise madrasas and brand them a centre of communalism and terrorism. He said that misconceptions about madrasas should be removed. He further said that he was studying in a madrasa as all the teachers and students here are very good and co-operative. He loves the Arabic language. He had chosen the Khandgram DS High Madrasa even though a high school is also running in the area. Jagannath's father Dinbandhu Das also studied in this Madrasa and the family does not consider the madrasas belonging to a particular religion.

A total of 5637 non-Muslims appeared for the High Madrasa exams this year. The number is higher than the previous year. This speaks of the popolarity of madrasas of Bengal among non-Muslim students.


Masjid-e-Quba Used by Taliban As Their Preaching Centre Reopened After 10 Years In Khyber Pankhatuva Of Pakistan

Ashrafuddin Pirzada

July 17, 2020

LANDIKOTAL: Masjid-e-Quba, which was used by the Taliban as their preaching centre a decade ago, was reopened after 10 years of its closure on Thursday.

District Khyber SiyasiItehad Chairman and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl deputy head for the erstwhile Fata Mufti Muhammad Ejaz formally reopened the mosque in Landikotal. The mosque was closed down 10 years ago after militancy reached its peak in the tribal the then tribal agency. It was in control of a local cleric Maulana Hazrat Nabi, alias Tamanchy Mulla. He was an Arabic teacher in a state-run school and was from Panjpeer school of thought who was famous for his speeches and preaching.

Hazrat Nabi had also installed an FM Radio at Quba mosque situated near Landikotal Bazaar. He used to motivate residents for Jihad. The mosque was closed 10 years ago after the Taliban and other militants were pulled out of Landikotal and security forces launched military operations. Talking to reporters, Mufti Muhammad Ejaz said that they had been in contact with the government for the last several months to reopen the mosque. He said they had decided to open the mosque for general public on Thursday.

He said a large number of residents gathered outside the mosque to enter into it and offer prayers after a long time. Mufti Muhammad Ejaz said they would appoint a neutral prayer leader (imam) for Quba mosque who would be acceptable to all. He said it was a happy day for him and for his fellow political workers who struggled with him to open it for people. He said Friday congregation at the mosque would be offered after a gap of 10 years. The Peshawar High Court also ordered to reopen the mosque in verdict earlier in the day.


Mullah Omar’s son Yaqoob heads Taliban military ahead of expected talks with Kabul

17 July 2020

 Taliban make big changes ahead of expected talks with Kabul (Photo: AP)


The Taliban have put the son of the movement’s feared founder in charge of their military wing and added several powerful figures to their negotiating team, Taliban officials said. The shake-up, one of the most significant in years, comes ahead of expected talks with Kabul aimed at ending decades of war in Afghanist

As head of a newly united military wing, 30-year-old Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob brings his father’s fiercely uncompromising reputation to the battlefield.

Equally significant is the addition of four members of the insurgent group’s leadership council to the 20-member negotiating team, Taliban officials told The Associated Press.

The shuffle, overseen by Taliban leader Mullah HibatullahAkhunzada, is meant to tighten his control over the movement’s military and political arms, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the inner workings of the Taliban.

Analysts say the shake-up could be good news for negotiations with the Afghan political leadership, and a sign of how seriously the Taliban are taking this second — and perhaps most critical — step in a deal Washington signed with the insurgents in February.

“I’d say it appears to be a positive development because the Taliban are creating a delegation that seems more senior and more broad-based than they’ve used to date, or than might be strictly necessary for the opening stages of talks,” said Andrew Wilder, vice president of the Asia Program at the Washington-based US Institute of Peace.

If you want to see the glass as half full, this strengthened Taliban delegation could be interpreted as a sign that the group is planning to engage in serious discussions,” he said.

When the US signed the deal with the Taliban on February 29, after more than a year and a half of negotiations, it was touted as Afghanistan’s best chance at peace in four decades of war. It was also seen as a road map for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war.

On Monday, four-and-a-half months since the signing, chief US negotiator and peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted that “a key milestone in the implementation of the US-Taliban agreement” had been reached as American troop numbers dropped to 8,600 from about 12,000 and five bases were closed in Afghanistan.

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Even as Khalilzad chastised increased insurgent attacks on Afghan security forces, he said the Taliban had been true to their word not to attack US and NATO troops.

“No American has lost his/her life in Afghanistan to Taliban violence. Regional relations have improved,” he tweeted.

The Taliban have stepped up their military activity against Afghan government forces since Yaqoob’s appointment in May, a sign the militants under his leadership may see battlefield wins as upping their leverage at the negotiating table.

“I can see a lot of reasons for the Taliban to be pushing the envelope — perhaps as a negotiation tactic, but equally likely as a means to test U.S limits,” said Daniel Markey, a senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “So far, the Trump administration looks like it is heading for the exit, no matter what. Why not ratchet up the violence to see what greater victories can be won?”

Surprisingly, the shuffle also sidelined senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi, removing him from the negotiating committee. Seen as close to neighboring Pakistan, his removal could limit Pakistan’s influence and buttress their position with Kabul, which is deeply suspicious of Islamabad.

Already a deputy head of the movement, the sudden appointment of the son of Mullah Mohammed Omar as the Taliban military chief reportedly ruffled feathers among members of the leadership council, who had not been consulted. Yaqoob, however, met with the council and won over the dissenters, said the Taliban officials.

“Yaqoob’s appointment appears to be, at least in part, an effort by Mullah Akhundzada to shore up oversight of battlefield operations at a key moment ... as the insurgents ramp up violence to strengthen their negotiating position in preparation for potential peace talks with the Afghan government,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center.

In recent weeks, hopes have been raised of a July start to negotiations even as the Taliban and the Kabul government seem bogged down in the final release of prisoners, a prerequisite to the start of negotiations. The United Nations had expressed hope the negotiations could begin this month.

Countries have been lining up to host the talks, with Germany being the latest to put in an offer and Turkey, Iran, Indonesia, Japan and Norway reportedly among the nations volunteering. However, the Taliban and Afghan government officials say the first round is likely to be held in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

The newly strengthened negotiating team includes Abdul Hakeem, a former Taliban chief justice and confidant of Akhunzada, as well as Maulvi Saqib, chief justice during the Taliban rule.

Under the US-Taliban deal, the Taliban — who during their rule of Afghanistan hosted al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden as he planned the 9/11 attacks — have pledged to no longer host any terror groups. They also guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a launching arena for future attacks against America.

In a tweet this week, Khalilzad said “more progress is needed on counter-terrorism,” without elaborating.

This week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke about the controversy surrounding the White House over reports of Russian money being paid to Afghan militias — reportedly with links to the Taliban — to kill US troops.

“There’s a lot of Russian footprint; there are Russian weapon systems there. We have made clear to our Russian counterparts that we ought to work together to get a more sovereign, more independent, peaceful Afghanistan,” he said.


Malaysian Minister Wants to “Arrest and Reeducate” Transgender People

July 18, 2020

 Malaysia’s Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohama


Malaysian Religion minister Zulkifli Mohamad has stirred anger and unrest after saying Malaysia should to arrest and reeducate” transgender people. Domestic activists say it will deal a further blow to the new government’s already shaky human rights record.

Muslim leader Zulkifli Mohamad of the ruling Perikatan Nasional coalition – which came to power in March following a political coup – recently announced he had given “full license” to Islamic authorities to ensure transgender people came “back to the right path”.

“Islam is a religion that wants to educate. We will work towards coordinated efforts from all agencies under the religious affairs wing in the prime minister’s department,” he said in a Facebook post.

The announcement prompted an outcry from activists. Who pointed out that in just four months since coming to power the coalition had already clamped down on; union members and journalists; and banned a book on the 2018 general election; in which the previous administration, the Pakatan Harapan, toppled the Barisan Nasional after 61 years.

“This will encourage vigilante violence. We saw this happen during the Barisan Nasional government and no action was taken then,” said Mitch Yusmar Yusof, executive director of the trans-led community organization Seed Foundation.

“We know what this is all about – it’s about power. Identify the easiest scapegoat or target, make a statement, gaining public trust and votes. We have become their punching bags too many times, we know when the threat is serious.”

Concerns over safety of Transgender people

This was echoed by NGO Justice for Sisters, which described the minister’s words as “irresponsible”.

“His statement will increase discrimination, violence and mistreatment of transgender people with impunity by enforcement officers of the Islamic Departments as well as members of the public.

“We are already observing questions and concerns over personal security, safety and well-being by transgender persons across the country since the release of the statement.”

Perikatan Nasional is made up of Pakatan Harapan splinter factions as well as leaders from the former Barisan Nasional coalition, which was notorious for clamping down on dissent using laws such as the colonial-era Sedition Act.

Since the Perikatan Nasional came to power, police investigations have been launched against several opposition politicians, an anti-corruption activist and several trade union members protesting against alleged labour abuses.

The news portal Malaysiakini is facing contempt of court proceedings, while journalists from the international news outlet Al Jazeera are under investigation for a documentary on immigration raids during the coronavirus lockdown.

Activists said the LGBT community was a popular target for politicians attempting to shore up support from the conservative vote bank. Malaysia’s Islamic laws prohibit homosexuality while its secular laws criminalise “unnatural” sex.

Corporal punishment for Transgenders

State-level laws allow corporal punishment for same-sex sexual relations, while conversion therapy – including religious counseling for transgenders – is commonplace.

Human rights lawyer and International Commission of Jurists commissioner AmbigaSreenevasan said the minister’s statement was “unacceptable” and highlighted the lack of legal protection and discrimination faced by marginalized communities in Malaysia.

“Instead of ensuring that the human rights and dignity of all persons are respected and protected, the minister, through his statement, is going in the complete opposite direction by advocating state action against persons belonging to sexual orientation and gender identity minorities,” she said in an ICJ statement.

Even during the rule of Pakatan Harapan, which was widely considered more progressive, Malaysia’s treatment of LGBT communities raised eyebrows among human rights watchdogs.

In 2019, the then Religious Affairs Minister Mujahid Rawa sparked uproar among activists when he said the presence of members of the gay community at a women’s march was “shocking”, an “abuse” of democracy and an attempt to “defend practices that are against Islamic teachings”.

Six strokes of the cane

The same minister threatened to ban popular cosmetics entrepreneur and fashion icon Nur Sajat from social media after she posted a photo of herself in prayer robes in Mecca, with the minister saying it was an offence for her to dress like a woman. Nur Sajat’s gender has been a matter of debate in Malaysia for years.

In 2018, two women in the conservative northeastern state of Terengganu were sentenced to six strokes of the cane and a fine of 3,300 ringgit (S$1,100)  for engaging in sexual relations, while in 2017 the transgender woman Sameera Krishnan was stabbed and shot to death.

Violence against the transgender community is a long-standing issue in Malaysia, according to activists, although statistics are scarce.

In 2018, eight men assaulted a trans woman so severely that her spleen had to be removed, while in the same year a trans sex worker was beaten to death.

The most high-profile use of Malaysia’s law against sodomy was when politician and opposition stalwart Anwar Ibrahim was charged with the offence in 1998, a matter he contends was trumped up by rivals to end his political career.

Malaysia is home to 32 million people, with Malay Muslims making up over 60 per cent of the population and the remaining minorities, including ethnic Indians and Chinese, practising religions such as Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.


Qatar’s ex-emir, PM, Gaddafi discuss Houthi claim on parts of Saudi Arabia: Recording

17 July 2020

The former Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and former Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim expressed support for the Iran-backed Houthi militia’s claim to a region in Saudi Arabia in a conversation with the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, in the latest audio recording leaked by Qatari opposition activist Khalid al-Hail.

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“There is no one from their [Saudi Arabia’s] neighbors that they did not take land from,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim is heard saying about the Kingdom.

The former Libyan dictator then replies, saying: “It’s a big country, it should expand. The Hejaz [region] should be a country. The Najd [region] should be a country. Al Ahsa should be a country. Al-Qassim should be a country, only then a [power] balance will be established.”

“The Houthis believe that the Hejaz is their country,” Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa is then heard saying.

Gaddafi was known to promote the fall of Saudi Arabia and argued that it should be divided into several countries, among other plots for redrawing the map of the Middle East.

The recording, which Al Arabiya English could not independently verify, is one of dozens of recordings that have been leaked over the past few weeks, reportedly secretly made by Gaddafi.

The Qatari opposition activist who released the series of recordings capturing political conversations of senior Qatari officials told Al Arabiya that he has more leaks to publish in his goal to “expose all those who conspired with the Qatari regime.”


Western reaction to Hagia Sophia exposes hypocrisy on ‘religious tolerance’

17 Jul 2020

Abdus Sattar Ghazali

There has been a sharp reaction to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to convert the Hagia Sophia into mosque.

The Spectator of UK said: Will the Hagia Sophia be a wake-up call to a West that has so far tolerated far too many transgressions?

The Telegraph said making the Hagia Sophia a mosque is a political slap in the face for the West and it is a blow to the foundations of Turkey’s alignment with the West.

The Globe and Mail argued: What we do know is that the world is a slightly darker and less gentle place than it was a week ago.

Cameron Hilditch of the National Review says Hagia Sophia should either be returned to its status as a museum or remanded into the care of the Greek Orthodox Church, for whose liturgy and worship it was purpose-built so many centuries ago. Otherwise all economic, military, or diplomatic favors from the Western world should be stopped to Turkey.

Greece condemns Turkey's decision

Greece condemned a decision by Turkey to convert Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque, saying it would have repercussions not only on relations between the two countries, but on Turkey’s ties with the European Union.

“Greece condemns in the most intense manner the decision of Turkey to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque. This is a choice which offends all those who also recognize the monument as a World Heritage Site. And of course it does not only affect relations between Turkey and Greece, but its relations with the European Union,” Mitsotakis’s office said in a written statement.

Former Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis and Mitsotakis’s sister tweeted that Erdogan had “crossed the Rubicon” with its decision, effectively moving itself way from the Western world.

Mosques in Greece converted to churches

Tellingly, even though Greece has criticized Turkey for reopening Istanbul’s historic Hagia Sophia as a mosque, the situation of Ottoman-era monuments in Greece tells a different story, with most of them neglected, ruined, or used for purposes, which completely disregard their history, Busra Nur BilgicCakmak of the Turkish newspaper Yenisafak wrote Wednesday.

Some mosques were converted into churches with renovations, while others were used as bars or movie theaters for “adult” films. It is estimated that there are over 10,000 artifacts and monuments from Turkish-Islamic architecture in Greece.

While intense criticisms were made from Greece in opening Hagia Sophia for worship, the situation of Turkish-Islamic works in the country draw attention, Cakmak said adding:

Built in 1468 in Thessaloniki, Hamza Bey Mosque was used as a place of worship for a while after Greece gained its independence. In the following years, the minaret of the mosque, made of cut stone, was destroyed, the pencil works in the dome and the writing plates were deleted, while the interlocking wooden pulpit inside was also destroyed. The mosque, owned by the National Bank of Greece in 1927, was later on sold to a private person, divided into a shop and a cinema and used for displaying adult movies until the 80s.

The Faik Pasha Mosque in the city of Narda (Arta) in the Ioannina region was turned into a church after the population exchange between Turkey and Greece in 1923. It is known that the mosque, which was later abandoned, was used as a bar-pavilion in the 1970s.

On the other hand, mosques and historical buildings in many important cities, including the capital Athens, Ioannina, Giannitsa, Crete, Larisa, and Kavala continue to share the same fate.

In Athens, where there is no official mosque open for worship, the oldest mosque -- Fethiye Mosque -- was used for many different purposes such as military prison and warehouse after the end of Ottoman administration in the city.

The mosque -- located in the Roman Agora on the outskirts of the city's Acropolis within the archaeological area -- is believed to be built during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II and it was used as a storehouse for historical artifacts until 2010. Fethiye Mosque is now used as an exhibition hall since the restoration works ended in 2017.

The Cizderiye Mosque, located a few hundred meters from the Fethiye Mosque, is in the Monastiraki Square -- one of the touristic places of the city. The mosque is kept closed for most of the year, serving as a ceramics museum for visitors from time to time.

There are no traces of buildings such as Yeni Mosque, Domed Mosque, Ic Kale Mosque, Huseyin Efendi Dervish Lodge, and Haci Ali Bath, which are among the Turkish-Islamic works in Athens and registered in the Ottoman archives as well as yearbooks.

Five Mosques that Converted into Church in Spain

Wikipedia enumerates at least 16 mosques in Spain which were converted into churches. All mosques were built during the Muslim the rule and turned into the church after the defeat of Muslims. Tellingly, several minarets were converted into bell towers for church.

The Grand Masjid of Córdoba is considered a great masterpiece from both side Muslims and Christians. It was built between 784 and 987 on a site of a Visigothic church in the rule of Al-Andalus in Córdoba. After the defeat of Córdoba by Ferdinand III of Castile in 1236, it was turned into Catholic Church.

Mosque of Cristo de la Luz was the former Masjid in Toledo, Spain. Built in 999, it was the only worship place for Muslim in this city. It was converted into the church in 1186.

The Almohad caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf ordered the construction of a new grand mosque for Seville city in 1172 on the south end of the city that was not completed until 1198. Shortly after Seville's conquest by Ferdinand III in 1248, Yaqub Yusuf's mosque was converted into the city's cathedral. Its orientation was changed and its spaces partitioned and adorned to suit Christian worship practices. Its minaret was converted into the bell tower.

The Mosque of Almonaster la Real was built in the 9th and 10th centuries during the reign of Abd al-Rahman III on the site of a fifth-century Visigoth basilica. The Mosque became Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion church in the 13th Century. In the 18th century, the Christian was turned by a fresco dome, called the ‘Hermita de la Concepcion.’

It is one of the surviving Spanish rural Masjid. It was built on the site from a Visigothic basilica from the 5th century. In the 13th century, it became an early Christian church, Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion. In the 18th century, the Christian was turned by a fresco dome, called the ‘Hermita de la Concepcion.’

Alcazar Of Jerez De La Frontera mosque is a part of the former Moorish fortress in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalusia, Spain and only one surviving mosque of total 18, which were built in the Andalusia city during the Moorish region. After the Christian re-conquest of Alcazar of Jerez de la Frontera in the middle of the 13th century, this mosque was turned into the church and its minaret into a bell tower.

—Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( email: asghazali2011 (@)


Mixed Results in Evaluation of Multinational Effort Against Boko Haram

July 16, 2020

International Crisis Group, a well-regarded NGO, has issued a thoughtful evaluation of the effort by Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, and Niger to coordinate their military efforts against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin. The coordinating instrument is the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), authorized by the African Union in 2015 and with a civilian oversight board. Participating states collectively pledged 8,000 troops to the MNJTF. (The Republic of Benin is a member of the MNJTF but contributes no troops.)

Crisis Group notes successes by the MNJTF: instances of troops engaging with Boko Haram across national borders and improved morale among soldiers. However, Crisis Group also notes that Boko Haram factions often quickly regroup after MNJTF operations because such operations are rarely sustained. In fact, Boko Haram appears to be strengthening, especially in northeast Nigeria. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker, the last two years have been deadlier than any other period for Nigerian soldiers since the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2011. 

Further, the report finds that participating countries are reluctant to cede command over their own troops to the MNJTF, planning is poorly coordinated, and there is a shortage of funding. Participating countries often have different political goals. For example, Crisis Group suggests that the Nigerian government sees the MNJTF as a fig leaf to cover the Chadian military's operations within Nigerian territory. Further, civilian oversight is weak and poorly funded. To that end, Crisis Group recommends enhanced intelligence coordination, establishing clearer lines of authority, and improving the human rights posture. Those participating in the MNJTF should approach the AU and the EU for increased funding.

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the fall in oil prices has weakened the already struggling economies of the MNJTF, and so the prospect of asking the force to do more must be seen in the context of the cash-strapped current climate. But some of the report’s recommendations may not require much in the way of funding, such as trust building among MNJTF participants and better coordination and communication.

Beyond its clear-eyed evaluation of the MNJTF, Crisis Group notes the need of participating governments to win the trust of the local populations in the Lake Chad Basin. This implies a political process that is largely absent, though the report makes the important observation that a well-functioning MNJTF could promote trust. That dimension could prove to be more significant than its military operations against Boko Haram.


CIA conducted cyber attacks against Iran after secret Trump order in 2018: Report

17 July 2020

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) conducted a series of covert cyber operations against Iran and other targets after US President Donald Trump issued a secret order in 2018 giving the agency power to undertake such activities, according to a report.

Trump’s secret authorization gave the CIA freedom in both the kinds of operations it conducts and who it targets, undoing many restrictions that had been in place under prior administrations, Yahoo News reported, citing former US officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

The US president gave the CIA freedom to both conduct cyber operations and its own covert cyber operations against Iran without getting approval from the White House, the report said.

The order removed many of the restrictions that had previously been placed on the spy agency by previous administrations, the report added.

The “very aggressive” finding “gave the agency very specific authorities to really take the fight offensively to a handful of adversarial countries,” a former US government official told Yahoo News.

According to another former official, Trump’s secret authorization allowed the CIA to engage in offensive cyber operations against “adversarial countries,” including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

“The White House wanted a vehicle to strike back,” said the official. “And this was the way to do it.”

Under the CIA’s new powers, the spy agency could launch offensive cyber operations with the aim of producing disruption, like cutting off electricity or compromising an intelligence operation by dumping documents online, as well as destruction, similar to the US-Israeli 2009 Stuxnet attack, which damaged centrifuges that Iran used to enrich uranium gas for its nuclear program.

The Washington Post reported in June 2012 that the US National Security Agency (NSA), its spy service CIA, and Israel’s military had worked together to launch Stuxnet against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In late 2015, Iran's then Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hossein Jaberi-Ansari, called the attacks that came in 2011 “illegal,” saying Tehran had never responded with “reciprocal cyber attacks.”

In November 2016, Iran’s top nuclear official said the cyber attack had worked against the US and Israel’s intended objectives and instead helped improve the Islamic Republic’s readiness against such acts of sabotage.

The CIA has reportedly carried out at least a dozen operations that were on its “wish list,” after the order was signed by Trump.

This reportedly involved “hack-and-dump”, where stolen documents or data are deliberately leaked online.  One operation reportedly publicly dumped the details of 15 million payment cards from three Iranian banks.

“This has been a combination of destructive things — stuff is on fire and exploding — and also public dissemination of data: leaking or things that look like leaking,” according to this former official.

Senior Treasury Department officials of previous admonitions had argued against leaking banking data, like the Iran bank card operations, “because it could destabilize the global financial system,” the report added.

“Our government is basically turning into f****ing WikiLeaks, [using] secure communications on the dark web with dissidents, hacking and dumping,” an unnamed former official told Yahoo News.




Police failed to act swiftly, protect lives and properties of Muslims during Delhi violence, minorities panel finds

July 18, 2020

New Delhi: A government-appointed commission promoting the rights of India’s religious minorities said police failed to protect Muslims campaigning against a new citizenship law during violent riots in Delhi this year.

At least 53 people, mostly Muslims, were killed and more than 200 were injured in the worst communal violence in the Indian capital for decades.

The clashes erupted amid an outcry over a new federal law laying out the path to citizenship for six religious groups from neighbouring countries except Muslims. Critics said the law was discriminatory and flouted India’s secular constitution.

The Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC) said Muslim homes, shops and vehicles were selectively targeted during the rioting that erupted in northeast Delhi in February when protests against the new Cititzenship Amendment Act (CAA) broke out across the country.

In all, 11 mosques, five madrasas or religious schools, a Muslim shrine and a graveyard were attacked and damaged, a team from the commission said the report released on Thursday.

Recommendations made in the commission’s report to safeguard minority rights are not binding. “Seemingly, to crush the protests, with support of the administration and police, a retaliatory plan of pro-CAA protesters was worked out to trigger violence at a large scale,” it said.

The commission said police had charged Muslims for the violence even though they were the worst victims.

Delhi police spokesman Anil Mittal rejected the allegation of bias and said police had acted fairly.

“We have filed 752 first information reports, over 200 chargesheets, arrested over 1400 people in connection with the riots. We have also formed three special investigation teams and are still open to receiving complaints,” Mittal said.

Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government say it has been promoting a Hindu-first India and that the citizenship law aimed to further marginalise the country’s 170 million Muslims.

The BJP denies any bias but says it is opposed to the appeasement of any community.

The report also alleged some senior BJP leaders like former member of Delhi legislative assembly Kapil Mishra of fuelling the 23 February violence, but the party spokesperson said there was no basis of such allegations.

“When Delhi Police has already stated in court that there is no role proved of Kapil Mishra, then on what grounds DMC is saying this,” BJP spokesperson Harish Khurana said.

The minorities commission said witness spoke of police failure to intervene in the rioting.

“Multiple testimonies collected by this Fact-Finding Committee recount reports of police inaction even as violence unfolded before them, or of police not arriving despite being called repeatedly,” it said.


Delhi rioters invoked Partition drama Gadar as they attacked Muslim women, panel says


17 July, 2020

New Delhi: The report of the fact-finding committee set up by the Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC) to look into the Northeast Delhi riots is replete with chilling accounts of communal frenzy.

The report, submitted to the panel on 27 June and released to the media Thursday, quotes one witness as saying that a mob invoked the 2001 Partition drama Gadar as it went on the rampage. “Several Sakeenas will be caught today,” the mob is alleged to have chanted, while also shouting “Jai Shri Ram” and “Kill the Muslims”.

Based on the India-Pakistan Partition, which unleashed a wave of communal bloodshed on both sides of the border, Gadar is a love story. It tells the story of a Muslim woman, Sakeena, who is accidentally left behind when her family migrates to Pakistan after the Partition, and a Hindu man named Tara.

The start of their romance in the movie can be traced to Tara saving Sakeena from a mob baying for her blood.

“A woman narrated how a movie based on Partition (Gadar) was referenced by the mob to attack her. She said the rioters had all kinds of weapons with them; they had lathis, swords and they kept chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Mullon ko Maaro (Kill the Muslims)’,” the 130-page report submitted by the fact-finding committee, which was set up on 9 March, states.

“The rioters were yelling at the women and, saying, “Bahut see Sakeenaayeinaajpakdijaayengi (A lot of Sakeenas [Muslim women] would be caught today),” it adds.

The report has a separate section on “women and children”, which seeks to detail multiple allegations of sexual violence against women, including by Delhi Police.

“Despite several calls made by these women to the police, in most cases they did not receive any help at all. One of the protesters at the Chand Bagh (anti-CAA) sit-in stated that Delhi Police brutally attacked and even sexually assaulted women,” the report states.

“In her harrowing account, she stated that she was being attacked by rioters at Chand Bagh and that the two men who were trying to help her were being beaten up by police. She was even witness to the police dragging a 12-13-year-old girl. She tried to protect her but failed as she was hit on the head by a stone and she subsequently fainted.

“When she regained consciousness, she saw that there were many injured women around… She recounts that it was then that the police pulled their pants down and pointed their genitals towards the women stating that they wanted ‘freedom’ and they were there to give them ‘freedom’ and that this was their ‘freedom’,” the report states.

The word “freedom”, the report adds, is used as a metaphor for sexual assault. Apart from the accounts of alleged sexual violence, the report has raised many questions about the role played by Delhi Police in the riots, with the panel concluding that they “abetted” and were “complicit” in the violence.

ThePrint reached Deputy Commissioner of Police M.S. Randhawa, the public relations officer for the Delhi Police, through texts and mail for comments on the report. This report will be updated when he responds.

‘Accounts of brutal violence’

According to the report, even pregnant women and young children were not spared during the violence.

In Chand Bagh, the report states, a three-month pregnant woman named Rubina “was brutally beaten up by not only the communal mob but also by the police”.

“She recalls the communal slurs and slogans of Jai Shree Ram and Ye Le Azadi when a man in police uniform tried to kill her with a stone rendering her unconscious. She was taken to Al-Hind Hospital and later to the AIIMS Trauma Centre,” the report states.

A 26-year-old woman in the final stages of pregnancy has been quoted as saying, “The mob beat me with lathis… Some kicked me in the stomach. They stopped after a while, destroyed the house, and left.” Shabana, the report adds, delivered her child the next day.

“The testimonies suggest that Muslim women were attacked on the basis of their religious identity; their hijabs and burqas were pulled off. Through the (anti-CAA) protests in Delhi, Muslim women had taken a lead role in organising and occupying public space,” the report states.

“Several narratives of women suggest that the police forces and violent mobs attacked the Chand Bagh protest site; women were beaten up by male police officers and attacked by mobs. Women have also recounted instances of acid attack by the mobs.”

The report also notes that while several places of religious significance to Muslims were attacked and suffered damage during the riots, the temples in the affected areas were “completely intact”.

“Although there aren’t many temples in the area, the fact-finding committee members found that the few that existed were completely intact. They were neither looted nor damaged,” the report states. “The residents informed the members that the Muslim majority population had kept a strict vigil to ensure the safety of these temples.”


20-Yr-Old Attempts To Meet Girlfriend In Pakistan, Gets Caught By BSF Near Border

Jul 17, 2020

BSF personnel caught a 20-year-old youth from Gujarat’s Rann of Kutch area on Thursday, while he was attempting to cross over to neighbouring Pakistan to allegedly meet his girlfriend. Hailing from Osmanabad in Maharashtra, the young man revealed that he had travelled nearly 1200-odd kilometres to meet a girl from Shah Faisal town in Karachi, Pakistan.

Siddiqui Mohammad Zishan had befriended the girl on Facebook and both of them had been in constant touch on social media via Facebook and Whatsapp. He wanted to go to Pakistan and had tried to use Google Maps for navigation, the young man said.

He was found by BSF personnel in a dehydrated condition and revealed that he had fainted while trying to cross the Rann of Kutch. An ATM card, and other documents like Aadhaar and PAN card helped the security personnel to identify him.

During the search operation, the BSF found a bike which the youth had abandoned when he reached close to the border. He had used the bike to travel from his hometown in Maharashtra. The young man was apprehended about 1.5 kilometres away from the Indo-Pakistan international border based on information shared by the Crime Branch of Maharashtra Police.

The Maharashtra Police had informed the Gujarat Police about a missing complaint that had been lodged by the parents of the youth. The Gujarat Police in turn sought help from the Border Security Force personnel and after tracking his mobile phone, the young man was traced in an area near Dholavira.

The BSF personnel have handed over the young man to the police for further investigation and so that his story can be verified.


Inputs suggest terrorists planning to target Amarnath Yatra: Army officer

Jul 18, 2020

SRINAGAR: Security forces in Jammu and Kashmir have inputs about terrorists planning to carry out an attack on Amarnath Yatra, an Army officer said on Friday, but asserted that "systems and resources" were in place to ensure that the annual pilgrimage goes on unhindered.

The officer said it was only befitting that Friday's encounter, in which three terrorists, including a self-styled commander of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, were gunned down, took place just four days before the yatra is set to commence on July 21.

"There are inputs that terrorists would try their best to target the yatra, but we have got our systems and resources in place to ensure that it goes on unhindered and peacefully," Brigadier Vivek Singh Thakur, Commander, Two Sector, said in a press conference in south Kashmir.

"We remain committed to ensure Amarnath Yatra will be conducted peacefully without any hindrance and the security situation will continue to remain under control," he said.

Brigadier Thakur said the stretch of national highway 44 which will be used by the yatris continue to remain sensitive.

"This axis is a bit sensitive. The yatris will take up this axis to go up to Sonamarg (Ganderbal) and this (Baltal) is the only route which will be active to go up to the Amarnath cave," he said.


3 terrorists killed in encounter in J&K's Amshipora

Jul 18, 2020

SHOPIAN: Three terrorists have been killed in an ongoing encounter at Amshipora area of Shopian, said Defence Public Relations Officer (PRO) Srinagar.

The operation is still in progress.

An encounter began between security forces and terrorists at Amshipora area in Jammu and Kashmir's Shopian in early hours of Saturday.

Police and security forces are on the job.

While in another incident three civilians were killed when Pakistan resorted to ceasefire violation in the early hours of Saturday in Gulpur Sector of Poonch district in Jammu and Kashmir.

"Three civilians dead and one injured in ceasefire violation by Pakistan in Gulpur Sector of Poonch district," said Rahul Yadav, deputy commissioner of Poonch.


Pakistan offers India ‘unhindered’ access to Kulbhushan Jadhav

Jul 18, 2020

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI: After the second consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav for India on Thursday turned out to be a non-starter, Pakistan offered another round of access to India claiming the meeting will happen this time without the presence of any Pakistan official. This third consular access offer was announced by Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in a television interview. A note verbale was also sent to India saying Pakistan was willing to give “unhindered and uninterrupted” access to Jadhav.

While India was still weighing its options until late in the evening, sources sounded sceptical as they mentioned that Pakistan had earlier this week too offered unconditional access and despite that had not allowed Indian officials to engage Jadhav in private on his legal rights.

Indian officials on Thursday refused to meet Jadhav in the presence of Pakistani spies with surveillance apparatus installed at the meeting place in the foreign office.

Confirming the offer, foreign office (FO) spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said this time, Pakistan has offered to give consular access without the presence of security personnel. “The Indian authorities have been formally informed about the decision and that their response is awaited,” the spokesperson said, adding that the offer was made as a goodwill gesture.

A day earlier, Farooqui had claimed that two consular officers of the Indian high commission were provided “unimpeded and uninterrupted” consular access to Jadhav at 3 pm. She did not provide details about what exactly transpired in the meeting between Indian officials and Jadhav.

In a separate statement and during an interaction with a local TV station, Qureshi gave a detailed description, saying Indian consular officers were provided access to Jadhav on New Delhi’s request. “Unlike the previous meeting, this time even glass partition was removed as well as no audio or video recording was done of the interaction between Indian officials and Jadhav,” he said.

Despite the “unimpeded and uninterrupted” access, Qureshi claimed, the Indian officials refused to hear him out. “Commander Jadhav kept calling Indian diplomats but they turned a deaf ear towards his calls,” the minister said.

According to Qureshi, it was surprising that Indian diplomats opted for escape instead of access to Jadhav. “The Indian officials’ reluctance to meet Jadhav exposed India’s ‘malice’ as New Delhi in reality never wanted access in the first place,” the FM said. Qureshi claimed Pakistan had fulfilled all demands of Indian officials but even then, they preferred not to talk to him.

Talking to a news channel later, the FM said Pakistan was willing to give yet another consular access to India. “They had objected over the presence of security officials during the meeting, we are willing even to remove them. If India wants another access, then our offer is open,” he said.

Most-wanted Pakistan bomber among 3 terrorists killed in J&K

Jul 17, 2020

SRINAGAR: A Pakistani bomb-maker counted among Kashmir's 12 most-wanted terrorists was shot dead along with two other Jaish-e-Mohammad operatives in an encounter early Friday with security forces in Kulgam district. The killing of Waleed Adnan Bhai, alias Lambu, coincided with an Army alert about a terror plot to target Amarnath pilgrims “any time” after the scheduled commencement of the yatra on July 21.

Jaish-e-Mohammad commander Waleed is the second A++ terrorist in the police's 'dirty dozen' list to be killed after fellow Pakistani Usman Bhai, who was gunned down by security forces in Anantnag on July 11. Nicknamed Lambu for his lanky 6ft-plus frame, Waleed's other claim to infamy besides making IEDs and plotting terror attacks was as a Casanova preying on local women, intelligence sources said.

J&K DGP Dilbag Singh told reporters here that Waleed had escaped unscathed from at least three previous encounters with security forces, leaving behind a US-made rifle in one instance. "Based on a specific input, a joint team of J&K Police, the Army's 9 Rashtriya Rifles and the CRPF finally cornered him on Friday at Nagnad in the Chimmer area of Kulgam," he said.

Besides Waleed, two local Jaish recruits identified as Rouf Dar and Rayias Ahmad were killed while three Army personnel were injured in the gun battle. The injured soldiers are being treated at the base hospital.

Brig V S Thakur, sector commander of the 9 Rashtriya Rifles, said the terrorists were holed up in a house with civilians and the raid party ensured there was no collateral damage. "After our team cordoned off the hideout, one of the terrorists had tried to slip out along with the civilians. He hid his weapon under a pheran (traditional Kashmiri gown) but was found out and accosted by a soldier. There was a scuffle before he was shot dead. The slain terrorist turned out to be Waleed," he said.

A cache of arms and ammunition, include a US-made M4 carbine, an AK-47, five magazines, a few grenades and a launcher, was found in the hideout.

Brig Thakur said the slain militants were possibly involved in the killing of five migrant Bengali labourers on October 29 last year in Kulgam, around the time a delegation of the European Union was visiting the Valley. "They were also involved in the killing of four civilians on April 4 this year at Nandimarg, Kulgam."

Citing "credible intelligence inputs", Brig Thakur said security forces were bracing for bigger challenges ahead as terrorists were planning to mount attacks on Amarnath pilgrims along NH-44. "Over 100 terrorists, including 25-30 infiltrators, are still active in south Kashmir. Moreover, this stretch of the NH-44 is a bit sensitive. But we are all prepared to foil the designs of terrorists and ensure smooth conduct of the pilgrimage commencing July 21."

On July 3, TOI had reported on security forces going all out to track down 12 mos-wanted commanders of the banned Jaish-e-Muhammad, Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba, including a former Pakistani soldier identified as Ghazi Rashid. Yousuf Kantroo alias IssehKantur, whom the police files describe as Lashkar's "operational head, mastermind, planner and main recruiter from Budgam", is currently the only Kashmir-born terrorist in the A++ category.


NIA arrests key accused in J&K drug smuggling case

Jul 17, 2020

SRINAGAR: National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested the key accused in a J&K drug smuggling racket from Srinagar’s Bemina locality on Thursday for allegedly smuggling and selling heroin. The accused Afaq Ahmad Wani from Handwara’s Maratgam area, who was working as a branch manager at Baramulla Central Co-operative Bank in Handwara, had been evading arrest since June 11.

On Thursday, he was traced to his Bemina hideout and arrested, an NIA spokesperson said, adding that earlier, cash worth Rs 30,30,000 and 3.2kg of heroin was seized from his Handwara residence. He was produced before an NIA special court in Jammu which remanded him to 12-day NIA custody for interrogation.

The agency has already seized 21kg of heroin and cash worth Rs 1,35,89,850 from the members of the drug syndicate. The accused had been smuggling drugs and psychotropic substances in huge quantities across the Line of Control. Proceeds of the sales were allegedly used to finance the terror activities of the proscribed Lashkar-e-Taiba outfit in Kashmir Valley, the spokesperson said.


At UN session on multilateralism, Pakistan rakes up issue of J&K

July 18, 2020

As global leaders underscored the importance of reformed multilateralism to ensure an “effective collective response” to global crises such as COVID-19 at a high-level session here, Pakistan used it to rake up the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and oppose the expansion of the Security Council’s permanent membership.

Pakistan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who just recovered from COVID-19, raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir in his address Friday to the High-Level Segment of UN ECOSOC titled ‘Multilateralism after COVID 19: what kind of UN do we need at the 75th anniversary?’

He said the United Nations and the entire concept of multilateralism has been eroded by resorting to hegemonism, coercion and arbitrary use of force.

Qureshi said Pakistan was “particularly concerned” by the “oppression and atrocities” being perpetrated against the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

India has firmly told Pakistan that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has been, is, and shall continue to be an integral part of India. New Delhi has maintained that issues related to Jammu and Kashmir are internal matters to India.

Qureshi also said that the Security Council will not be revitalised by accommodating the “narrow ambitions of those who seek power and privilege” and additional permanent members in the Security Council will “compound, not resolve, its paralysis.”

“Indeed, it is the small and medium sized states with the highest stake in the UN-led world order, which can help to promote an equitable and effective structure of international peace and security,” he said.

India has been at the forefront of efforts at the UN to push for an urgent long-pending reform of the Security Council, emphasising that it rightly deserves a place at the UN high table as a permanent member.

In his keynote address to the session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the fury of the COVID-19 pandemic provides the context for the “rebirth and reform” of the United Nations and called on nations to pledge to reform the global multilateral system to enhance its relevance and make it the basis of a new type of “human-centric globalisation.”

He said the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the UN is an opportunity to assess its role and relevance.

The prime minister underscored that only “reformed multilateralism” with a reformed United Nations at its center can meet the aspirations of humanity.

Pakistan uses various UN fora to consistently rake up India’s domestic issues, including Jammu and Kashmir and other domestic policies and internal affairs.

Islamabad has been unsuccessfully trying to drum up international support against India for withdrawing Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5 last year and bifurcating it into two union territories.

India has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution was its internal matter. It also advised Pakistan to accept reality and stop all anti-India propaganda.

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) had hosted the high-level conversation among leaders on ‘global solidarity and renewed multilateralism’ during times of crisis and in the continuing pursuit of long-term sustainable development. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg were among the world leaders who addressed the High-Level Segment.

The session was aimed at reflecting on the kind of ?multilateralism needed today to deliver a forward looking and effective collective response to global crises such as COVID-19 and long-term challenges such as climate change, while accelerating progress towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

The UN organ had said that central to the discussion will be the role of the UN and its institutions in charting the way forward towards more trusted and impactful international cooperation.

?Against the backdrop of a changing international environment, the session will focus on critical forces shaping the trajectory of multilateralism and explore ways to reinvigorate the multilateral agenda through strong multilateral leadership, effective international institutions and an enhanced focus on global public goods and justice for all,? the UN said.




Pakistan lauds UNSC decision to add TTP chief on sanctions list

18 Jul, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office (FO) on Friday lauded the decision by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to add Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Mufti Noor WaliMehsud to its sanctions list.

“Pakistan welcomes the designation of Noor Wali […] by the United Nations Security Council 1267 Sanctions Committee on its ISIL and Al Qaeda sanctions list,” FO Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said in a statement.

“The sanctions are being implemented by Pakistan in compliance with the relevant UNSC resolutions and we hope that other countries will also follow suit.”

The spokesperson said that the TTP was already a UN-designated terrorist organisation and was responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

“Pakistan has defeated the TTP through comprehensive security operations in the country. However, the TTP continues to operate from outside Pakistan’s borders with support from its third-country facilitators.

“Pakistan will continue to pursue its policy of fighting against those involved in participating, financing, planning, facilitating and perpetrating terrorism,” the statement concluded.

The decision was also welcomed by the US.

In a tweet, the US State Department said the TTP was “responsible for many deadly terrorist attacks in Pakistan”.

“The United States domestically designated Noor Wali as a terrorist in September 2019,” it added.

In 2019, US President Donald Trump had issued an executive order to expand the administration’s ability to go after suspected terrorists and their financiers and supporters.

The list of 11 men the administration termed as “global terrorists” included Noor Wali — who was named the leader of the TTP in June 2018 following the death of former leader Mullah Fazlullah.


UN designates Pakistan Taliban leader Noor Mehsud as global terrorist

Jul 17, 2020

The United Nations on Thursday (local time) designated Pakistan based terror organisation Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan’s leader, Mufti Noor WaliMehsud, as a global terrorist.

The United States Security Council 1267 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee added Mehsud to its ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions List.

Mufti Noor WaliMehsud was listed pursuant to paragraphs 2 and 4 of resolution 2368 (2017) for “participating in the financing, planning, facilitating or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf of, or in support of” entities associated with Al-Qaida.

The United States has welcomed the development.

“Welcome news that the @UN has added Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Noor WaliMehsud to its ISIL & AQ sanctions list. TTP is responsible for many deadly terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The United States domestically designated Noor Wali as a terrorist in September 2019,” State SCA tweeted.

TTP, also known as Pakistan Taliban, is responsible for carrying out multiple suicide bombings, and have killed hundreds of civilians. TTP was earlier designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the Department of State.

Noor Wali, also known as Mufti Noor WaliMehsud, was named the leader of TTP in June 2018 following the death of former TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah. Under Noor Wali’s leadership, TTP has claimed responsibility for numerous deadly terrorist attacks across Pakistan, according to the US State Department.

Last year in September, The United States had domestically designated Mehsud as a terrorist.

This comes as another blow to Pakistan which has been repeatedly called out by the world community for supporting the terrorist groups. Pakistan has been under the FATF radar for its complicity towards terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) among others.

Last year, the United Nations designated Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist”.


World’s Biggest Islamic Lender to invest $2.3bn to tackle pandemic economic fallout

July 17, 2020

The Islamic Development Bank Group (IsDB) has set aside $2.3 billion for its Strategic Preparedness and Response Programme to tackle the economic fallout of the corona pandemic The funds are primarily destined for erecting a robust trade and investment platform that allows OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) member countries to access opportunities and attain the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

A webinar organised by the IsDB in close cooperation with the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Economy and the Annual Investment Forum (AIM) in Dubai recently, attracted hundreds of participants, representing a wide array of industries, multilateral organisations, and other stakeholders.

In his opening remarks, IsDB President Dr Bandar Hajjar emphasised that the group has been working tirelessly to mobilise every available dollar towards the relief effort. The bank’s private sector entities (Islamic Corporation for the Insurance of Investment and Export Credit – ICIEC; Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector – ICD; and, International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation – ITFC) have some $700 million at their disposal for initiatives to stimulate foreign direct investment and trade.

ICIEC CEO Oussama Kaissi expressed concern over the effects of the pandemic on trade volumes and small- and medium-sized enterprises: “Harsh conditions for global trade are exacerbated by the tightening of the export credit insurance market, leaving many businesses highly exposed. Now more than ever, international partners must come together in solidarity to support countries as they face this once-in-a-generation crisis. It is essential for ICIEC to provide support in stabilising the trade ecosystem whilst also planning for recovery across our 47 member countries.”

Ayman Sejiny, ICD CEO, added that his corporation has set up a dedicated $250 million facility for SMEs in member states severely affected by the viral outbreak: “This emergency funding would be mainly in the form of medium- to long-term financing instruments to alleviate the economic burden faced by existing and new clients.”

During the webinar, the IsDB unveiled three online initiatives set up with help from the UAE Ministry of Economy that will help countries and private sector businesses showcase opportunities to investors.


Muslim League ‘reincarnation’ efforts pick up

18 Jul, 2020

LAHORE: The Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) is getting active to initiate dialogue among the other leagues especially ‘N’, making it clear that only pro-establishment ‘Muslim League’ will come to power after next general elections.

“Only pro-Pakistan, pro-people and pro-establishment Muslim League has a chance to form the government after next election and this thing all factions of the league need to understand,” PML-F secretary general Muhammad Ali Durrani told Dawn on Friday.

He was responding to queries regarding new efforts to bring all Muslim Leagues including N-League under one platform. “There has been growing demand among the Muslim League workers and parliamentarians to initiate efforts to make it a party of the whole country and those leaders who have taken up a stance against the establishment should shun it,” he said.

When asked about PML-F’s contacts with PML-N in this regard, Mr Durrani said he had telephoned PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif when he contracted Covid-19 and inquired after his health.

“If the Muslim League has to come to power it will have to stop fighting against the establishment. It needs to fight against poverty and work for welfare of the country,” he said, adding even a large number of parliamentarians and workers of N-league were not in favour of fighting against the establishment.

PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz have been in direct conflict with the establishment while Shahbaz Sharif is in favour of shaking hands with the establishment.

The former federal information minister said the Muslim League should represent the whole country and not be reduced to only one province (Punjab).


Pakistan Shia Ulema, Government agreed SOPs to curb spread of COVID-19 for Muharram Processions

July 18, 2020

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): The Government of Pakistan on Thursday agreed to allow majalis and religious processions for the month of Muharram subject to the implementation and enforcement of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It was attended by Religious Affairs Minister Pir Nurul HaqQadri, Interior Minister Brigadier (Retd) Aijaz Shah and Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar, besides the Shia Ulema (scholars) including AllamaArifWahidi, Raja Nasir Abbas, Dr Ghazanfar Mehdi, Allama Qamar Haider Zaidi, Raja Basharat Imami, and Allama Sajjad Naqvi.

The other provincial governors, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) President Sardar Masood Khan, Allama Afzal Haidri and Allama Hussain Akbar from Punjab, AllamaShahanshah Naqvi, Allama Syed Ali Iqrar Naqvi and Allama Furqan Haider from Sindh, Allama Abid Shakiri and Allama Irshad Khalili from KP, Allama Syed Hashim Mosvi and Allama Sheikh JumaAsadi from Balochistan, and Mufti Kifayat Hussain Naqvi from the AJK participated through video link.

They decided that all religious gatherings for Muharram would bar anyone from attending without a face mask. In addition, no majlis site would have carpets or rugs, any prayer mats would be disinfected with a chlorine bath daily, and social distancing would be ensured at all public gatherings.

Similarly, there would be bans on the participation of elderly and children; mourners would be directed against shaking hands or hugging; no prayer mats or prayer beads would be allowed; and food would be provided in takeaway containers rather than served on site.

According to the guidelines agreed between the government and Shia ulema, mourners would also be barred from touching the Alam (flag), Taazia (miniature mausoleums) and Shabih. Only licensed processions would be allowed and organizer would be required to provide hand sanitizers, face masks, and single use glasses for drinking water, as well as ensuring a limited number of participants.

Addressing the meeting, President Alvi lauded the religious scholars for cooperating with the government during Ramzan and EidulFitr to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He said the government hoped for similar cooperation during EidulAzha and Muharram.

The visiting ulema similarly lauded the president’s role in bringing about national unity and harmony among different schools of thought.

Following SOPs were unanimously agreed by the scholars for Azadari and Majalis:- SOPs for AzadariMajalis:

1. Social distancing would be observed.

2. Sitting places should be clearly marked in the Imambargahs.

3. Wearing of masks is mandatory and no one will be allowed to enter without a mask. The Imambargahs' administration can provide masks outside the entrances.

4. The use of carpets should be avoided.

Disinfected mats can be laid outside the Imambargahs.

5. If there are carpets, they may be sprayed with chlorine daily.

6. Same SOPs should be followed in case of Majalis at homes.

7. Avoid holding long meetings because of Corona. Meetings should be started and ended on time.

8. Elderly people should refrain from attending general meetings and should be restricted to Majalis at home only.

9. The participants of the Majalis should not bring Tasbeeh, Prayer-mat, etc. with them.

10. Hand-shakes and embracing people etc. should be avoided.

11. Parcel should be arranged instead of Tabarak and Niaz at Majalis.

12. Touching of Alam, Taziya, and Shabeeh should be avoided. Ziyarat should be done from a distance.

13. Azadari organizers should stay in liaison with the local administration and cooperate with each other.

SOPs for Mourning, Ashura and Muharram processions 1. Licensed and traditional processions will be allowed during Muharram by adopting precautionary measures (SOPs).

2. The use of face-masks and hand-sanitisers is mandatory in the processions.

3. Adequate distance should be maintained between the persons in the processions.

4. Avoid using shared utensils while drinking water.

5. SOPs implementation should be ensured through volunteer scouts.

6. The number of participants should be kept reasonable, and time should be limited.

7. Elderly and people suffering from various diseases should not be allowed to participate in the processions.


South Asia


Taliban strengthen negotiating team but sidelineMuttaqi

18 Jul, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban have put the son of the movement’s founder in charge of their military wing and added several powerful figures to their negotiating team, Taliban officials said.

The shake-up, one of the most significant in years, comes ahead of expected talks with Kabul aimed at ending decades of war in Afghanistan.

As head of a newly united military wing, 30-year-old Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob brings his father Mullah Mohammad Omar’s fiercely uncompromising reputation to the battlefield.

Equally significant is the addition of four members of the insurgent group’s leadership council to the 20-member negotiating team, Taliban officials said.

The shuffle, overseen by Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, is meant to tighten his control over the movement’s military and political arms, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the inner workings of the Taliban.

Appoint Mullah Omar’s son as chief of military wing

Analysts say the shake-up could be good news for negotiations with the Afghan political leadership, and a sign of how seriously the Taliban are taking this second and perhaps most critical step in a deal Washington signed with the insurgents in February.

It appears to be a positive development because the Taliban are creating a delegation that seems more senior and more broad-based than they’ve used to date, or than might be strictly necessary for the opening stages of talks, said Andrew Wilder, vice president of the Asia Programme at the Washington-based US Institute of Peace.

“If you want to see the glass as half full, this strengthened Taliban delegation could be interpreted as a sign that the group is planning to engage in serious discussions,” he said.

When the US signed the deal with the Taliban on Feb 29, after more than a year and a half of negotiations, it was touted as Afghanistan’s best chance at peace in four decades of war. It was also seen as a roadmap for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war.

On Monday, four-and-a-half months since the signing, chief US negotiator and peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted that a key milestone in the implementation of the US-Taliban agreement had been reached as American troop numbers dropped to 8,600 from about 12,000 and five bases were closed in Afghanistan.

Even as Khalilzad chastised increased insurgent attacks on Afghan security forces, he said the Taliban had been true to their word not to attack US and Nato troops.

“No American has lost his/her life in Afghanistan to Taliban violence. Regional relations have improved,” he tweeted.

The Taliban have stepped up their military activity against Afghan government forces since Yaqoob’s appointment in May, a sign the militants under his leadership may see battlefield wins as upping their leverage at the negotiating table.

“I can see a lot of reasons for the Taliban to be pushing the envelope perhaps as a negotiation tactic, but equally likely as a means to test US limits,” said Daniel Markey, a senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

“So far, the Trump administration looks like it is heading for the exit, no matter what. Why not ratchet up the violence to see what greater victories can be won?” Surprisingly, the shuffle also sidelined senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi, removing him from the negotiating committee. Seen as close to Pakistan, his removal could limit Islamabad’s influence and buttress their position with Kabul.

Already a deputy head of the movement, the sudden appointment of the son of Mullah Omar as the Taliban military chief reportedly ruffled feathers among members of the leadership council, who had not been consulted. Yaqoob, however, met the council and won over the dissenters, said the Taliban officials.

Yaqoob’s appointment appears to be, at least in part, an effort by Mullah Akhundzada to shore up oversight of battlefield operations at a key moment... as the insurgents ramp up violence to strengthen their negotiating position in preparation for potential peace talks with the Afghan government, said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the Washington-based Wilson Centre.

In recent weeks, hopes have been raised of a July start to negotiations even as the Taliban and the Kabul government seem bogged down in the final release of prisoners, a prerequisite to the start of negotiations. The United Nations had expressed hope the negotiations could begin this month.

Countries have been lining up to host the talks, with Germany being the latest to put in an offer and Turkey, Iran, Indonesia, Japan and Norway reportedly among the nations volunteering. However, the Taliban and Afghan government officials say the first round is likely to be held in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

The newly strengthened negotiating team includes Abdul Hakeem, the Taliban’s chief justice and confidant of Akhunzada, as well as Maulvi Saqib, who was chief justice during the Taliban rule.

Under the US-Taliban deal, the Taliban have pledged to no longer host any terrorist groups. They also guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a launching arena for future attacks against America.

In a tweet this week, Khalilzad said more progress is needed on counterterrorism, without elaborating.

This week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke about the controversy surrounding the White House over reports of Russian money being paid to Afghan militias reportedly with links to the Taliban to kill US troops.

“There’s a lot of Russian footprint; there are Russian weapon systems there. We have made clear to our Russian counterparts that we ought to work together to get a more sovereign, more independent, peaceful Afghanistan,” he said.


Taliban Says It Freed 845 Afghan Forces, 'Fully Committed' to Pact With US

By Ayaz Gul

July 16, 2020

ISLAMABAD - The Taliban said Thursday it has already released 845 Afghan security forces under an ongoing prisoner swap with the Kabul government and is working to free the remaining 155 in line with the insurgent group’s agreement with the United States.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen shared the details with VOA, insisting that his group was “fully committed” to the pact it signed with Washington to help set the stage as quickly as possible for launching peace talks with Afghan rivals to agree on a permanent cease-fire in Afghanistan.

Shaheen said that the Afghan government has so far released 4,050 Taliban prisoners out of the promised 5,000, as stipulated in the U.S.-Taliban deal. He again ruled out intra-Afghan peace talks until all Taliban prisoners are set free, according to a list the group shared with U.S. officials before inking the February 29 accord in Doha, Qatar.

But the prisoner swap details Shaheen shared with VOA contradict those Kabul has so far made public.

Afghan officials say they have freed more than 4,200 Taliban inmates and allege that nearly half of the government prisoners released by the insurgents are civilians, and not security forces.

Shaheen rejected the allegations, saying all the detainees the Taliban has freed were serving in Afghan army and police forces prior to being captured during battlefield attacks by insurgents.

“This is one of the lame excuses the Kabul administration has been using to slow down the (peace) process,” he said.

“We have video interviews with all of them in which they confessed and shared details of their respective units and areas or provinces they were captured from,” Shaheen said.

He spoke to VOA a day after Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said that the Taliban has not kept up its commitments agreed to in the peace deal.

“While the Taliban have been scrupulous about not attacking U.S. or coalition forces, in fact the violence against the Afghans is higher than it's been in quite a while,” McKenzie told VOA.

The U.S.-Taliban deal binds insurgents not to attack American and allied troops while they are drawing down from Afghanistan. It also requires the Taliban reduce violence in the run-up to intra-Afghan negotiations, including ceasing suicide and other bombings in urban centers.

The agreement requires all American and allied troops to withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2021 in return for Taliban counterterrorism assurances and pledges to seek political reconciliation with other Afghan groups.

On Tuesday, chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said Washington was keeping its end of the deal.

“The United States agreed to reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 and withdraw from five bases. We have met this obligation,” said Hoffman in a statement.

Increased Taliban attacks on Afghan security forces, particularly this week’s deadly suicide car bombing of the local office for the national spy agency in northern Samangan province, have drawn strong local and international condemnation.

The bomb-and-gun attack in the Samangan’s provincial capital, Aybak, which killed 11 people and injured more than 60 others, was the first such action since the Taliban sealed the deal with the U.S, and prompted Washington to also denounce it as a breach of insurgent commitments.

Shaheen, however, defended the attack saying it was a reaction to intensified night air raids by Afghan forces against civilians and Taliban fighters in insurgent-controlled districts.

“These attacks have martyred tens of our members and civilians in areas under our control in six Afghan provinces. That’s what prompted us to conduct the Samangan bombing. Other than this one incident, we have not launched any major attacks anywhere in Afghanistan,” the Taliban spokesman said.


Bangladesh blogger faces jail for supporting monk

July 17, 2020

A prominent blogger faces a possible jail term for allegedly defaming Islam after he opposed political and Islamist propaganda against a Buddhist monk and temple in Chittagong, a south-eastern district of Bangladesh.

Asad Noor, a Muslim who turned self-declared atheist, was charged under the Digital Security Act (DSA), a controversial cyber law, for allegedly spreading rumors against Muslims amid an ongoing dispute between Buddhists and Muslims in the Rangunia area of Chittagong.

A leader of a local branch of the Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, filed the complaint against Noor on July 14, said Mahbub Milkey, the head of Rangunia police station.

“Asad Noor is accused of spreading rumors and defaming Islam via Facebook and other digital platforms,” he said on July 17.

Several hardline Islamist groups have been staging protests over the past few days, demanding a Buddhist monk called Shankaranondo be punished for allegedly defaming Islam on Facebook.

“The monk has fled the area, and we don’t know where he is now. We have deployed additional police in the area and will seek to avert any possible breakdown in law and order,” the police station chief said.

Noor, however, defended the monk in a video blog, saying that a fake Facebook ID for the monk was created recently as a part of a conspiracy to target him and the temple.

The aim was to grab the temple and the property. Noor also alleged that Ershad Mahmud, younger brother of information minister, Hasan Mahmud, was also involved in the plot.

“I have been accused of defaming Islam by hurting religious sentiments of Muslims because I have protested against a conspiracy against the Buddhist community here,” Noor said in a Facebook post on July 16.

“The fabricated charge against me shows there is no freedom of expression in this country, and the legal system is being exploited to cover up crimes and misdeeds of the ruling class and their cohorts,” he added.

JyotirmoyBarua, a human rights lawyer, also alleged that there was a plot to target Buddhists in Rangunia similar to one in 2012 that sparked anti-Buddhist violence in the Ramu area of Cox’s Bazar.

“Rangunia is now the ‘Wild, Wild West’ of Bangladesh. An unusual calm prevails in the area, and tensions are running high among local Buddhists and Muslims over the Buddhist monk and the temple,” he said.

“The monk is a man of meditation and prayer, and never uses Facebook. Those who protest against the conspiracy are being forced to leave the area, including local Muslims,” Barua said on July 16.

Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of Catholic Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, criticized the alleged attempts to target Buddhists as well as the blogger Noor.

“We have always feared the DSA was repressive and slated for abuse, and it continues to threaten free speech. What Noor said in his video could be countered in a similar manner without filing a lawsuit.

Also, the motives of Muslims protesting against the monk and the temple should be properly investigated,” Father Gomes said.

Bangladesh has experienced several bouts of communal violence against minority Buddhists and Hindus under the pretext of hurting religious sentiments of Muslims in recent years. In all cases, doctored

Facebook pages were used to stoke tensions and violence.

In 2012, Muslim mobs destroyed 19 Buddhist temples and 100 Buddhist houses in the Ramu area of Cox’s Bazar and in Patiya, in Chittagong, after a Buddhist man was accused of defaming Islam on Facebook.

In 2013, local Muslims vandalized 26 Hindu houses in the Santhiya area of Pabna district, for Facebook posts defaming Islam, allegedly circulated by a 10th grader Hindu boy.

More recently, in 2017, Hindus in Thakur Para area of Rangpur district came under attack over Facebook posts allegedly made by a local Hindu man that allegedly defamed Islam.


Humanity and harmony in the time of Covid-19

July 17, 2020

On April 19, Kailash Banik, a 60-year-old Hindu man, died with coronavirus-like symptoms in Narayanganj district, near the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

Due to infection fears and the social stigma related to Covid-19, no one came forward to perform the last rites for the victim, leaving the family in a helpless condition.

Nioti Rani Banik, his daughter, made a phone call to MaqsoodulAlamKhondaker alias Khorshed, a Muslim and a councilor of the Narayanganj City Corporation (NCC) for help.

Popularly known as Khorshed Bhai (brother), he arrived with his 15-member Team Khorshed and performed every funeral rite for the Hindu man including the cremation.

To date, Team Khorshed has buried 105 Covid-19 victims, mostly Muslims and 15 Hindus.

“I was sad to see people dying of Covid-19 but there was nobody to perform the final rites for them. As a human being, I thought I must help the distressed families. My family and relatives discouraged me, but I ignored them. My team uses proper protection to arrange everything,” Khorshed, 49, elected councilor four-times, told UCA News.

Bangladesh recorded first three Covid-19 cases on March 8 and since then Narayanganj and Gazipur, both industrial districts, as well as Dhaka and port city Chittagong became the virus hot spots with high numbers of infection and deaths.

Team Khorshed has been providing free masks, sanitizers, food, oxygen cylinders and ambulances to anyone in distress during the pandemic. To extend their services, another 70-member volunteer team has also been formed.

At the beginning, Khorshed funded all his efforts from his own pocket, and by now he has been receiving donations from wealthy individuals and organizations.

Khorshed’s humanity has been recognized and he has been hailed as a national hero, featuring in national media.

The efforts, however, took toll on Khorshed and his family. He and his wife tested positive for Covid-19 and both recovered after treatment.

“My religion teaches that my death has been fixed on the day I was born, so there is no reason to live in fear of death. I have tried to do some good to people, and I believe Allah has rewarded me by helping me recover from Covid-19,” said Khorshed, a father of three.

“Coronavirus is so deadly, and fear runs high in people as the number of cases continues to rise in Bangladesh. I believe our efforts will help diminish this fear,” he added.

Like Khorshed, several charitable organizations in Dhaka, adjacent areas and Chittagong have been carrying out similar charities.

Al-Manahil Foundation, an Islamic charity in Chittagong, buried 250 victims of Covid-19 including Hindus and Christians.

At the end of June, volunteers from the group collected from a hospital the body of Mary Stella Roy, a Catholic woman from Our Lady of Holy Rosary Cathedral who died from Covid-19. They bathed the body with water and disinfectant and brought it to the church. She was buried in the church graveyard after brief Christian burial rites.

The charity is currently in the process of starting a 70-bed Covid-19 hospital in Chittagong.

“When Covid-19 struck Chittagong, Al-Manahil decided to stand by the affected people. We are glad and grateful that people from various walks of life including the government has supported and appreciated our efforts,” Maolana Farid Uddin, chief executive of the group, told UCA News.

“We believe that not just organizations but also individuals can stand beside people when humanity is in distress by defying religious, ethnic and class divides. With cooperation and love, we can establish a beautiful society, country and world,” the cleric added.

A charity for everything

In 2013, Kishor Kumar Das, a Hindu computer scientist, businessman and philanthropist started Bidyanondo (Learn for Fun), a charity to provide free education and food to underprivileged children. The charity gained fame by introducing daily rich and nutritious meals for children called EkTakarAhar (Food for One Taka). One taka is 0.01 US cents.

As Covid-19 struck Bangladesh, the volunteers started donating free masks and sanitizers to needy people, personnel protective equipment to doctors and health workers and sprayed bus terminals and railways stations.

They also started collecting donations from wealthy people to offer a range of aid including food (cooked meals), cash handouts, livelihood means and medical assistance to needy people including transgenders.

By now, Bidyanondo has become the largest charity in Bangladesh that reach millions of poor and needy people including those living in remote hilly areas, forested and flood-ravaged territories.

“Our founder is a Hindu and most volunteers are Muslims. Our charity is for all, because we love people no matter which religion they belong to,” Salman Khan, a director of Bidaynondo in Dhaka, told UCA News.  

Their efforts have garnered overwhelming positive response at home and from abroad, creating a steady line of donations to continue their works. The charity has been forced to form 90 volunteer groups to oversee charitable works and collaborated with Bangladesh military, navy and border guards to distribute aid to poor people.

During the Islamic month of Ramadan, the group distributed sehri (pre-fasting meal) and iftar (fast-breaking meal) to thousands of people. For upcoming Eid-ul-Adha, the group is collecting donations to provide jakat (Islamic donations) to buy sacrificial animals to supply meat to poor people.

Recently, it has set-up 100-bed Covid-19 hospital jointly with Bangladesh police in Chittagong city.

Church joins and hails charity

Oblate Bishop Bejoy D’Cruze of Sylhet diocese said Covid-19 has brought out the best of humanity and harmony people in Bangladesh for many, if not all.

“The Church has collaborated with Catholic charity Caritas to reach out to poor people with food, cash, and other support without considering their religion, ethnicity and class. I highly appreciate those people and groups who defied all the odds to support people when there was none to help,” Bishop D’Cruze, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Christian Unity and Inter-religious Dialogue, told UCA News.

All of about 10 Christians who succumbed to Covid-19 were offered proper Christian burials, he said.

The prelate, however, lamented that Covid-19 also has made drastic, negative impacts on people.

“When people die, no one comes in fear of infection. It seems the fear of death has triumphed over humanity. This is really disappointing,” Bishop D’Cruze added.

Bangladesh has recorded 193,590 confirmed cases and 2,457 deaths from Covid-19, and 105,023 people have recovered as of July 16, the government data shows.


U.S. forces launched multiple drone strikes in 3 provinces: Taliban

17 Jul 2020

The Taliban group has claimed that the U.S. forces based in Afghanistan carried out multiple drone strikes in three provinces of Afghanistan.

“The American forces, today, committed a violation of the Agreement by launching several drone strikes in non-combat zones in Helmand, Ghazni and Zabul provinces. It is unacceptable to the Islamic Emirate and condemns it,” Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson for the political office of Taliban said late on Thursday.

The drone strikes, if confirmed, follow an unprecedented violence led by the Taliban group during the recent months.

The United States and Taliban signed a peace deal late in the month of February of this year in a bid to pave the way for intra-Afghan talks aimed at ending the ongoing violence.

However, the Afghan officials say the Taliban not only reduced their violence by increased their attacks against the Afghan forces and civilians following the signing of peace deal.


Nearly 20 civilians killed, wounded in clashes between Afghan and Pakistani forces

17 Jul 2020

At least 20 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded during a clash between the Afghan and Pakistani forces in eastern Kunar province of Afghanistan.

A source in the provincial government confirmed that that 8 civilians lost their lives and at least 11 others sustained injurires during the clash between Afghan and Pakistani forces in Sarkanoo district.

The source further added that the Pakistani forces fired several mortar rounds on Sarkano district after attempting to establish security posts inside the Afghan soil which the Afghan forces prevented.

Fareed Dehqan, a spokesperson for the provincial police headquarters confirmed the incident and said the Pakistani forces fired multiple rounds of mortars on bordering regions in Nawapas area.

The clahsbetweentthe two sides reportedly continued for several hours.

The Afghan and Pakistani authorities have not formally commented regarding the incident so far.


Southeast Asia


Malaysian university to address ‘clean and ethical’ Muslim social media influencing in new modules

17 JUL 2020

KUALA LUMPUR - As halal companies increasingly rely on YouTube celebrities and social media stars with huge fanbases, they may find they are less able to keep them "in check" and on brand. A Malaysian university is designing new classes to “educate a new generation of bloggers, influencers and entrepreneurs”.

Under the banner of Asian Blogger Academy, UiTM, a public university on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, has joined with Indonesia-based fashion consultancy Markamarie, signing an agreement in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday (July 15).

“Many of the students are bloggers, while those in my age group are not aware of what they are doing, so I saw it as an opportunity to bridge the gap,” Dr. Ruslan Abdul Rahim, dean of the faculty of art and design at UiTM, told Salaam Gateway. His university only accepts Bumiputera, or ethnic Malay, students, who are almost always Muslims.

“We are finalising the modules now; among them, we are going to introduce elements of digital citizenship, incorporating ethics and how to behave while blogging and influencing,” Dr. Ruslan added. Classes are expected to start next year and faculty members and alumni bloggers will teach the modules.

Himself an expert in branding, Dr. Ruslan said there is much more pressure on Muslim influencers to appear clean and ethical in everything they do, both in their online personas and away from social media.

“That’s one of the reasons why this collaboration has come up. Among the companies that work with influencers, I know there are a lot of concerns raised about whether the influencer will stay appropriate and not damage their brand. It’s very different from working with an advertising or PR agency.

“That’s why we are incorporating ethics. Behaving online is very difficult from behaving in the physical society,” he added.

Both Dr. Ruslan and Markamarie co-founder FrankaSoeria are in lockstep in their advice to brands to protect themselves when they decide to bring in social influencers to be part of their branding mission.

“Someone may have a massive follower-base and can promise lots of attention, but numbers aren’t everything. You really have to know who you are dealing with and if they are going to respect your brand. You have to be careful,” said Franka.

According to Dr. Ruslan, the key is first to research an influencer thoroughly to “identifying the trends or patterns that they portray” across their body of work. It is also important for brands and influencers to grow together with a lot of mutual handholding.

“It’s very easy to go by numbers: say if an influencer has however many millions of followers, that’s just scratching the tip of the iceberg. A successful relationship goes much further beyond the number of followers or likes.

“I used to work in advertising agencies, and that was a totally different ballgame. Then as a brand, when you move to using a blogger or influencer, it’s a learning curve for all involved. It’s not so much that the blogger needs to be controlled, but it’s more in the context of guiding them or chaperoning them to keep your brand safe,” Dr. Ruslan added.


In Malaysia, there is a voracious appetite for social media. According to a YouGov survey from 2019, one in six spend more than nine hours per day looking at sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, while just seven per cent spend less than an hour online.

This, in turn, puts pressure on influencers to feed a population that is hungry for more content.

“There’s evidence of people doing controversial things to gain exposure for followers so they can continue to be in the public conversation,” said Anwar Hadi, a Malaysian vlogger and influencer who opened his first YouTube channel a decade ago. He now has over 62,000 subscribers.

“Who can blame them, really? If you’re looking for maximum engagement for viewers and followers, and ultimately for profit; but is that a good way of doing it?”

Hana Ismail, a Malaysian former TV presenter with 54,000 followers on Twitter who recently opened a lifestyle channel on YouTube and creates content for brands, said influencers need to practise good ethics.

“As a Muslim Influencer, of course it comes with additional pressure because it is embedded within our beliefs to spread good values and positive messages into our society. We cannot simply ignore the repercussions from our activities, behaviour and messages that we promote,” Hana told Salaam Gateway.

Life on social media needs to be approached with purpose because it affects the larger community and requires constant re-evaluation as social media and technology change, she said.

“As to relationships with brands, sharing really strong and grounded values is important in any relationship between brand and influencer. The trick is to find the right fit.”


According to FrankaSoeria, influencer endorsements can provide a good source of free advertising at first, but there may come a time when the cost becomes too high—both economically and potentially in terms of damage to a brand’s reputation.

“There are lots of bloggers and social influencers who are just starting out and they might be willing to work with us just to raise their exposure,” said Franka.

“Often, they do some really good work and help get your message out there. But after they have managed to build up a big following themselves, some might only become interested in numbers,” she told Salaam Gateway.

By numbers, this could mean either boosting their Twitter following by another 10k or introducing sky-high rates for their services.

Some in the modest fashion sphere have been known to charge $20,000 or more for a campaign, according to Franka. While this approach may be cheaper than the advertising rate card of a major newspaper or magazine—and a far cry from the likes of American fashion model and celebrity Kendall Jenner, who is reportedly paid more than $1.3 million per post to her 185 million followers—influencing can be hit or miss and the people who do it often dance to their own beat.

“Influencers may be very committed to the brands they partner with but it is not yet a professional industry. One who supports a modest fashion brand might decide to take off her hijab, for example, or they may put too much attention on their private lives, and that could impact a brand,” said Franka.

As the sector develops and social influencing becomes a standard like PR and advertising before it, the ground rules of the brand-influencer association will become comfortable, believes Malaysian social influencer Hana Ismail.

“A properly regulated and transparent market would improve this relationship much better as brands and influencers become clear about their roles and the lines that they should or should not cross. There cannot be a mismatch in values, which would usually lead to conflict. So there's pressure there, but rightly so,” she added.


Prominent Muslim leader says global effort needed to promote ‘compassionate Islam’

CNA Staff, Jul 17, 2020 / 04:42 pm MT (CNA).- The leader of the largest independent Muslim organization in the world says that a resurgence of fundamentalist Islam threatens not only non-Muslim minorities, but feeds a cycle of retaliatory violence against Muslims.

Sheikh Yahya CholilStaquf warned of a “political weaponization of fundamentalist Islam,” in an essay published in The Public Discourse on July 11. He said that religious minorities around the world “from sub-Saharan Africa to South and Southeast Asia” are discriminated against and attacked for their beliefs.

At issue, he said, is “a supremacist, ultraconservative interpretation of Islam” pushed even by U.S. allies including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

This resurgence of theocracies and sectarian violence around the world, he said, most notably manifested by the rise of the terror group ISIS in 2014, is actually the historical norm.

ISIS’ efforts to establish a caliphate based on an ultraconservative seventh-century interpretation of Islam “is not a historical aberration in the Middle East,” he wrote. “Rather, it is the historical norm,” as the Middle East up until the end of the Ottoman Empire “has been dominated by caliphs and/or those who ruled in their name, and governed according to the provisions of classical Islamic law.”

At the heart of the matter, he wrote, is the question of whether Muslims will choose to “remain silent and ignore the suffering of others,” or rather “pursue the truth and obey the dictates of conscience, whatever the consequences may be?”

Staquf is the general secretary of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization with more than 90 million followers. He has also co-founded a global movement promoting a “humanitarian Islam” that shuns the ideas of a caliphate, Sharia law, and “kafir,” or infidels.

These efforts need to become a global pursuit to truly bear fruit, Staquf wrote on July 11.

Widespread discrimination and violence against non-Muslim minorities simply feed a “cycle of retaliatory bloodshed,” he warned, citing attacks on Muslims at Christchurch, New Zealand, and attempts to displace or subdue whole groups of Muslims such as Xinjiang, China, or the Rohingya Muslims in Burma.

In 2019, the NU published fiqh rulings - or interpretations of Islamic law - from nearly 20,000 Muslim scholars, and Staquf presented the recommendations to Pope Francis when he met with him at the Vatican.

Among the recommendations were abolishing the legal category of “infidel” in Islamic law, pushing for equal treatment under the law for Christians and other religious minorities, and asking Muslims to be law-abiding citizens who work for peace. The document also affirmed the nation-state over a Muslim caliphate.

Earlier in 2019, Pope Francis had signed a document on religious pluralism together with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, the declaration on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”

Staquf told CNA that he was “thrilled and excited” at the signing, which he said promoted the “compassionate Islam” that he has been advocating for.

“We cannot just pretend that there are no problems in Islamic views. There are problems there. You need to acknowledge that so that we can work for the solution. If you do not acknowledge the problem, you cannot resolve it,” Staquf told CNA.

“My hope is that these documents will be examined seriously by the Vatican so that the Vatican can make decisions to engage with us and work together with this,” Staquf said.


The elusive pragmatist who transformed political Islam in Indonesia

16 Jul 2020

HilmiAminuddin, who brought the Muslim Brotherhood to Indonesia, died on 30 June 2020. Hilmi was a Muslim scholar who founded the opposition Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) after the fall of the Suharto regime. Before that, in 1983, he established the Indonesian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – the world’s largest Islamist movement. Elusive in death as in life, he was buried at night near his estate in West Java under strict Covid-19 protocols, having contracted the virus along with his wife and son. Hilmi was 72.

To the public, Hilmi was an unremarkable party man. If he was seen at all, typically it was in the black felt cap associated not with Islamism but Indonesian nationalism. From behind the scenes, however, he helped to transform political Islam in the world’s largest Muslim nation. While the massive mainstream organisations of Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah hold the banners for traditionalism and modernism, respectively, he introduced a disciplined socio-political project to Islamise Indonesia through the universities, through the democratic process and ultimately through the state.

In the Muslim Brotherhood’s internal dialectic between pragmatists and idealists, Hilmi was the pragmatist par excellence. He held the Brotherhood title Muraqib ‘Amm, or General Guide, and was connected to his counterparts in branches in the wider Middle East and to the leadership in Egypt. But he and his party came to aspire more to Turkey than to Egypt, seeking a modern Islamism or even “post-Islamism”. (Turkey has since gone a step further into post-democracy.)

Both pragmatism and elusiveness were hard-coded into his project. Its social dimension, a movement known as Jemaah Tarbiyah, was the outcome of a negotiated compromise with President Suharto in the early 1980s to channel Islamic activism into personal piety and away from radicalism. In return, Hilmi was given the space to build the movement on university campuses and in the cell-like structures modelled on the Egyptian Brotherhood.   

Prior to this, he had seen oblivion in a Suharto military prison. He was the son of Danu Muhammad Hasan, a commander in Darul Islam, Indonesia’s seminal jihadist movement that fought Sukarno in the early years of the Indonesian republic. In the 1970s, Hilmi worked with his father, who had been co-opted by military intelligence (BAKIN) on a scheme to revive the Darul Islam network as a tool for the New Order state. But the militants had minds of their own, and the project backfired, leading to a wave of violence, of which the 2002 Bali bombings represent the long tail.

For his role in the botched operation, Danu was detained and, after many years, tried in 1983 for subversion. On his release in 1986 he died in mysterious circumstances. Hilmi appears to have avoided his father’s fate by having earlier, in 1973, taken up a scholarship from Suharto’s intelligence tsar, Ali Moertopo, to study at the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia. He graduated in 1979. It was in Madinah that he and his Indonesian peers first made contact with Muslim Brotherhood thinkers. But back in Indonesia, in the early 1980s he too spent time in detention without trial, alongside other Darul Islam militants—a period about which little is known.

Hilmi’s post-prison pact with Suharto came at a moment of peak regime power and is testament to the New Order state’s capacity to “vertically integrate” anti-system elements according to its organicist philosophy. If the state was a “family”, militant Islamists were the estranged uncles who were invited back to the party (yet again), but under strict house rules.

Fast forward to the fall of Suharto in 1998, Hilmi and his friends from his Madinah days saw the chance to launch what was initially called the Justice Party. In 2011 one of those co-founders, Yusuf Supendi, fell out with the party and alleged that the majority of financing in those start-up years was provided by Muslim Brotherhood sources in the Middle East and the Gulf.

Since then, in the polarising arguments over the role of Islam in the state, the PKS has been seen by its critics as a Trojan Horse smuggling intolerant Middle Eastern culture into Indonesia. A counter to this argument is that the party represents a successful reconciliation between Indonesian Islamism, with its origins in the Darul Islam movement, and Indonesia’s modern democratic republic. A reconciliation, no doubt, bootstrapped by the Brotherhood model, which is thus its greatest strength and greatest weakness.

Of course, the question of an Islamic state looms in the background. But when PKS became a junior partner in the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono government, it was practically a science poster for the inclusion-moderation thesis. The party was allotted the ministries of agriculture and communications. It pushed through parliament a regressive anti-pornography law. But also it become much more like all the other parties, vitiated by patronage politics and cross-party compromises. Sex and corruption scandals ensued.

One of the few times Hilmi made the TV news was in 2013, when he became embroiled in an Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) investigation into the manipulation of beef import quotas. After giving evidence as a witness, he and his security guards got into a melee with an insistent media scrum. Party president Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq was convicted in the case and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

To my knowledge, the only foreign scholar to interview HilmiAminuddin was the Dutch anthropologist Martin van Bruinessen. In an interview in 2008, Hilmi told van Bruinessen that he had attended international Muslim Brotherhood meetings alongside the former Turkish prime minister Necmettin Erbakan and current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

On news of Hilmi’s death, NecipFazil Aksoy, a senior Turkish Islamist from the Saadet Party, posted his condolences on Twitter. Hilmi was a leader of Indonesia’s Islamic movement, Aksoy said, and a “close friend” to late prime minister Erbakan.

Condolences also came from the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq, which praised Hilmi for his 2003 statement against the US invasion. He had been a champion of Middle Eastern causes in Indonesia. But he also helped to import the Middle East’s sharper divide between Islamists and nationalists – a divide that has come to characterise politics during the Joko Widodo presidency.

Fairly or not, Hilmi’s legacy will be scored on whether political Islam in Indonesia can avoid the missteps of the Middle East. Alive to these missteps, in 2013 he addressed a protest in Bandung against the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood–led government of Egypt’s Mohamad Morsi, telling the crowd, “It turns out they cannot accept us winning in the theatre of democracy”.

“This is what we should take note of,” he said. “So, don’t assume because we are a democracy, we are safe. We must be vigilant. Conspiracies will unfold before us.”


'Forced demolition of mosques' in Xinjiang is total nonsense

July 18, 2020

The so-called "forced demolition of mosques" in Xinjiang is totally nonsense, an official of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region said on Friday.

Mehmut Usman, director of the regional ethnic affairs commission, made the comment in response to the 2019 report on international religious freedom issued by the U.S. State Department, which claims that Xinjiang is dismantling mosques.

He told a press conference that as long as venues for religious activities are registered with the government under the law, they have legal status, and all their rights and interests are protected by law.

He said the Jami Mosque and Idkah Mosque, which the U.S. State Department report said had been demolished, are well protected.

"Xinjiang has always attached great importance to the protection and repair of mosques, and the governments at all levels in Xinjiang have not only helped and supported the improvement of mosques, but also guaranteed the normal religious needs of religious believers," the official said.

According to the official, some mosques in Xinjiang were built in the 1980s and 1990s and even longer ago, with shabby facilities and potential safety hazards.

"Through new construction, building on the original site of demolition, and expansion measures according to urban-rural construction planning, we have improved the conditions of the mosques and met the needs of the religious believers, which is widely welcomed by religious personages and believers," he said.

AbdukerimMamut, who works for the Jami Mosque in Xinjiang's Yecheng County, said that the Jami Mosque was originally founded in 1540 and expanded in 1860. It underwent repair in 1937, 2014, and 2019 respectively.

"Considering the long history of the mosque, the government consolidated it in 2019 to provide better and safer services for religious believers," he said.

ElijanAnayit, the spokesperson of the information office of the regional people's government, said at the press conference that the government has no restrictions on ethnic customs of wedding and funeral ceremonies and giving Islamic names.

According to the spokesperson, among ethnic minorities who have the habit of burial, the government does not promote cremation. Instead, it takes specific measures to protect their custom, such as allocating special land for cemeteries.

As for the U.S. report claim that "the Sulitan cemetery in Hotan and the cemetery of Tazhong road in Aksu have been destroyed," the spokesperson said the report calls white black. "The cemeteries have not been destroyed, but rather well protected."


Muslim couples learn about foster parenting, clarify religious aspects in webinar


SINGAPORE - More than 50 couples attended a seminar on foster parenting on Saturday (July 18), to learn about fostering in Islam and clarify concerns they might have.

Participants heard from religious experts, veteran foster parents and social workers during the three-hour virtual seminar, titled Islam And Fostering: Webinar 2020.

They also posed questions they had about foster parenting. For instance, some women wanted to know if under Islamic law, they would have to wear their headscarf at home while caring for their foster children.

Ustaz IrwanHadi, the deputy director from the Office of Mufti at the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), said that under Islamic law they will not have to, as they are acting as foster parents for these children.

"Fostering is in line with the Islamic spirit of ensuring that children are protected, and brought up in a home filled with love and compassion," he added.

The seminar, held for the first time, was jointly organised by PPIS Oasis, a fostering agency by the Singapore Muslim Women's Association (PPIS), in partnership with the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas).

PPIS Oasis, which was set up three years ago, has been supporting more than 80 foster parents by helping to make arrangements for them, clarifying issues and conducting events like the webinar on Saturday.

Madam Rahayu Mohamed, the president of PPIS, said: "PPIS hopes that the event will motivate foster parents in their efforts, as well as inspire others from the community to step forward and start their own experiences with us.

Last month, The Straits Times reported that number of children in foster care has increased in the past five years, after the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) efforts to place more children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected under the care of foster parents instead of in a children's home.

There were 545 children in foster care last year, up from 535 in 2018 and 362 in 2015, and these children range from babies to those under 18 years old.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim attended the webinar on Saturday and said that he was heartened by the interest by community members in foster parenting.

"During these difficult times, it is all the more important that as a society, we band together to help those in need. There are children out there who could benefit from being cared for in a loving foster family," he said.

"I would like to encourage everyone to spread the word on fostering so that we can give each child a good start in life."


Arab World


Saudi Arabia launches HRC International to foster dialogue on human rights

17 July 2020

The Saudi Human Rights Commission (SHRC) launched HRC International, a new platform dedicated to fostering engagement between the Kingdom and the international community on human rights, according to SHRC head Dr.Awwad bin Saleh Al-Awwad.

In a video launch published on the SHRC official Twitter page, the SHRC board chairman Dr. Al-Awwad linked the launch of the new platform to recent and ongoing reforms in the Kingdom.

“As the government forges ahead with its reform agenda, it is essential that we continue to broaden our engagement with the international community, to further promote the importance of human rights, and build an environment conducive to better cooperation. This is why I am proud to announce the establishment of HRC International, a platform under the Human Rights Commission dedicated to doing just that,” said Dr. Al-Awwad.

Reform in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has enacted major reforms under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including abolishing the religious police, granting women the right to drive, and a range of structural legal and economic reforms.

Dr. Al-Awwad described these reforms as “tremendous.”

“When you think about the amount of change that has taken place in a historically short span of time, it is tremendous across the board: economically, social-culturally, and structurally. In such a short amount of time, many items that have been pending for nearly years [have been] passed in an assertive way,” he said.

Dr. Al-Awwad was appointed by royal decree to head SHRC with the rank of minister in late August, 2019. He previously served as ambassador to Germany and as an adviser to the Crown Prince, as well as deputy governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA).

This week, a court in Saudi Arabia ruled in favor of a woman who was on trial for living and traveling on her own to Riyadh without her father’s permission, in a case seen as a landmark trial for women’s rights in the Kingdom.

“A historic ruling was issued today, affirming that independence of a sane, adult woman in a separate house is not a crime worthy of punishment,” tweeted Abdulrahman al-Lahim, one of the lawyers involved in the case.


Lebanon's American University of Beirut Medical Centre lays off hundreds of employees

17 July 2020

The American University of Beirut’s medical center laid off hundreds of employees Friday as a result of the devastating socioeconomic crisis in Lebanon, including arrears close to the amount of $150 million from the country’s government.

Local media had different figures for the number of employees let go with some outlets reporting that it was 500 and others saying it was 850.

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Mohammad Ali Qassem, one of the laid-off employees, who is battling cancer, said he had worked at the medical center for 27 years. “In 27 years, I never took a day of sick leave,” he said, fighting back tears.

“Do they want us to steal or emigrate? Let us ask those in charge of this state and this government,” another man asked, placing the blame on Lebanon's political elite.

Friday’s moves come as AUB President FadloKhuri recently lamented the government for not paying $150 million in arrears to the university’s hospital. Khuri said Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government was the “worst” in Lebanon’s history for its disregard for higher education, which AUBMC is part of.

Diab, in the meantime, has filed a lawsuit against AUB, seeking $1 million to be paid in US dollars to a foreign bank account.

Read more: Lebanon PM’s lawyers admit to suing AUB, threaten Al Arabiya English

In previous interviews, Khuri has cited the university as the second largest employer in Lebanon behind the state, with 6,500 employees, but admitted that it would be forced to lay off around 25 percent of its employees. Other staff and administration have reportedly taken a pay cut.

Some AUB alumni on social media criticized the heavy security presence near the campus and medical center during the layoffs on Friday. A Reuters witness saw 10 army vehicles nearby.

“I spent days and nights at this university, it’s my home,” said Khaled al-Homsi, 59, a father of five who worked at AUBMC for 35 years. “And in the end, you get tossed out.”


Egypt will not stand idle in face of threats to national security: Al-Sisi

16 July 2020

Egypt will not stand idle in the face of any moves that pose a direct threat to Egyptian and Libyan national security, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Thursday, according to a presidency statement.

The statement also said tribal leaders meeting al-Sisi in Cairo had authorized the president and Egypt’s army to intervene in their country “to protect Libyan sovereignty.”

The tribesmen are allied to the eastern Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Haftar. Egypt borders Libya to the west.

“As soon as Egypt interferes in Libya, the military scene will change quickly and decisively,” al-Sisi added, according to the presidency.

Tensions have been escalating in Libya and between the countries which back the two warring parties in it, the Libyan National Army (LNA), commanded by Khalifa Haftar and the Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Serraj.

Al-Sisi had said that his country has a legitimate right to intervene in Libya and ordered the army to be prepared to carry out missions if necessary.

He said: “Any direct intervention from the Egyptian state has now acquired international legitimacy,” adding that Egypt had received “direct threats” from “terrorist militias and mercenaries” supported by foreign countries.

Earlier in June, Egypt had called for a ceasefire in Libya, Sisi added that Egypt has always been reluctant to intervene in Libya but “the situation now is different.”


Saudi, US relations: Policy of milking the dairy cow has not stopped yet!

July 18, 2020

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): A U.S. Florida Republican Representative called in tweet the necessity of knowing location of Prince Mohammad bin Nayef immediately and whether he was safe.

U.S. Florida Republican Representative Francis Rooney said in his Tweet that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef has worked constructively with the United States for many years and was instrumental in providing counter terrorism intel in the aftermath of 9/11. We need to know right now where he is and if he is safe.

Observers of regional affairs believe that US Republican politicians are taking pretext or silence towards crimes of bin Salman and his father to steal money from princes of Riyadh.

The US administration opened the doors of ruling for bin Salman, resulted to suppress opinion holders, academic, politicians, religious figures and peaceful opponents of the internal and external policies of Al Saud. The most prominent of these crimes is the six-year aggression against Yemeni people and the assassination of the journalist in the Washington Post newspaper, Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia also continuous interventions in the affairs of regional states, such as supporting terrorism in Iraq, Syria and Libya, supporting Washington’s plan to escalate against Iran, imposing a blockade on Qatar. But the worsen crime is the Arab normalization with the Zionist occupation.

Sources reported that Riyadh arrested last March bin Nayef, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz with his son and a number of military and security leaders, because Riyadh accused them planning to overthrow Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Ultimately, bin Salman wants a fast and stable throne, but his goal remains dependent on several issues, most prominent is the American elections and the fate of his supporter, President Donald Trump, who faces according to the data, an expected loss crisis.


Egypt Fatwa Committee: Take all measures to solve Ethiopia dam crisis

July 17, 2020

The Fatwa Committee of the Al-Azhar Islamic Research Centre in Egypt yesterday said that countries whose share of Nile waters will be negatively affected by the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam can do whatever it takes to preserve their rights “as long as they deem these actions appropriate”.

“Water is a public utility and no country should be deprived from benefiting from it,” the committee said in its legal ruling, adding that the Nile Basin countries should avoid causing harm to countries downstream.

“If the Nile Basin countries do not avoid harming the river’s downstream countries, then the affected countries have the right to take every action to remove this harm,” the committee said in its fatwa.

Ethiopia started building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in 2011 on the Blue Nile, a tributary of the Nile River, near the border with Sudan.

The construction of the 147-meter (482 feet) high, 1.8-kilometre (1.1-mile) long project is expected to be completed by 2023.

With a reservoir capacity of 74 billion cubic metres, the hydroelectric dam will produce 6,475 megawatts for Ethiopia’s domestic and industrial use, as well as export to neighbouring countries.

Egypt fears its share of Nile waters will be negatively affected by the filling of the dam’s reservoir.




Yemeni tribes reject Saudi compensation, seek revenge for Jawf bloodshed

17 July 2020

Yemeni tribes in the northern province of al-Jawf have rejected a financial offer from Saudi Arabia to compensate for Wednesday airstrikes that claimed over two dozen civilian lives, saying the only thing that would calm them down is revenge.

In yet another act of aggression on the impoverished country, Saudi airstrikes targeted a residential area in the al-Hazm district of al-Jawf Province, leaving 25 people dead, including women and children, and several others injured.

The casualties took place at a wedding ceremony that belonged to the Yemeni tribe of Bani Nouf in the al-Hazm district.

Saudi warplanes had earlier in the day launched five airstrikes against the al-Aqsha’ area in the same district, with local media reports falling short of providing the exact number of possible casualties.

The Arabic-language al-Khabar al-Yemeni news website reported on Thursday that the elders of the al-Jawf tribes, in their meetings and contacts with the Bani Nuf tribe, had thrown their support behind tribal revenge for the recent casualties, underlining that an attack on Bani Nouf tribe would be an attack on all the tribes in al-Jawf.

The news website said Saudi Arabia had dispatched a number of representatives to the tribes in al-Jawf to pay reparations and appease them but they had refused to accept the financial compensation.

Martin Griffiths, the United Nations special envoy for Yemen, called on Thursday for a transparent investigation into airstrikes by Saudi Arabia and its allies in al-Jawf and described the attacks on Yemeni civilians as reprehensible.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has been conducting a bloody military aggression in Yemen with help from its regional allies, and using arms supplied by its Western backers. The aim of the war has been to bring Yemen's former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, back to power and defeat the Houthi Ansarullah movement.

The ongoing war has killed tens of thousands of Yemenis and pushed the entire country close to the brink of famine. The brutal military intervention has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also raging unchecked in the war-torn country.


Hundreds of protesters swarm Netanyahu’s home again

17 July 2020

Hundreds hold fresh demonstrations in front of Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence again, urging the embattled and scandal-hit Israeli prime minister to resign.

The rallies were staged in front of the building in the occupied holy city of Jerusalem al-Quds on Thursday, with protesters again holding up their symbolic black flags that, they say, signifies “the death of democracy,” The Times of Israel reported.

Organizers had called on participants to spend the night there, but the police warned the demonstrators against prolonging the rallies.

The organizers have called the rallies “Siege of Balfour” in reference to a street located in the whereabouts, saying the regime has ordered renewal of a lockdown targeting public places “only to free Netanyahu from the siege.”

The youths rise up

The Israeli paper cited demonstrators as saying that such demonstrations that have been held repeatedly against the premier for months on end had started to attract the young generation.

“It’s about time. What began as a protest of old folks has now taken a turn to encompass the young generation,” one said.

Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to be indicted for corruption while in office. He has had charges pressed against him of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

He denies the charges and presents himself as a victim of political witch hunt.

If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison on bribery charges and a maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust. According to Israeli law, however, he can remain prime minister until a final conviction is reached.

The Thursday rallies were the second in a week after several thousands turned up in front of the premier’s home earlier, some trying to break in.

“Tuesday was insane, huge, historic. We can’t recreate it, even if we wanted to. It was unreal. It was important to experience it to understand what happened,” said another protester.


Iran Calls for UN's Concrete, Immediate Measures to Save Yemeni Civilians

Jul 17, 2020

"The United Nations should intervene to rescue the Yemeni civilians, and it should take steps to restore security in the country," Mousavi said.

The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman strongly condemned the airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition on a ceremony in Yemen's al-Jawf province where over 25 innocent women and children were killed and wounded.

Mousavi, meantime, sympathized with the survivors of the victims of the airstrike, and said, "Unfortunately, the war crimes of the Saudi-led coalition go on with the complete silence of the international community."

The senior diplomat called on the international and human rights bodies to help prevent the continuation of the crimes by the Saudi regime against Yemen.

Mousavi said the countries that give arms support to the aggressors and help them massacre Yemeni women and children must be put on trial before the international community and the oppressed people of Yemen.

He said such crimes are committed every day while the UN, under the US pressure and via Saudi Arabia's petrodollars, has removed the Saudi-led coalition from a list of violators of children's rights.

At least two children were among the victims of Saudi airstrikes on Wednesday which killed 25 people, the UN humanitarian coordination office in Yemen said.

The attack came three days after a similar aerial assault in the northwesternHajjah province that killed at least seven children and two women.


Coronavirus: Israel to shut down on weekends due to COVID-19 surge

17 July 2020

Israel announced sweeping new restrictions on Friday in response to a new surge in coronavirus cases, including weekend closures of many businesses and limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery.

The government announced the restrictions after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “interim steps” were needed to avoid another general lockdown. Netanyahu has faced widespread criticism and protests in recent days over his government’s handling of the pandemic and the economic fallout from an earlier lockdown.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

Gyms and exercise studios will be closed except for use by competitive athletes. Restaurants will no longer be allowed to have on-site seating and beaches will be closed on weekends beginning later this month.

Stores, malls, barber shops, beauty salons and tourist sites will also be closed on weekends. Public gatherings will be limited to 10 people indoors or 20 outside. The Cabinet approved the new measures pending approval by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, but said they would take effect Friday evening with violations considered a criminal offense.

By late May, Israel had largely contained its outbreak following a two-month lockdown. But cases have soared in the weeks since restrictions were lifted, with Israel reporting around 1,900 new cases on Thursday alone. At least 384 people have died since the outbreak began, out of a total of more than 45,000 cases.

Coronavirus in the Middle East

The virus causes mild to moderate flu-like symptoms in most patients, who recover within a few weeks. But it can cause severe illness or death, particularly in older patients or those with weakened immune systems. It is highly contagious and can be spread by people showing no symptoms.

Cases are also rising again in Iran, which has seen the worst outbreak in the region, with more than 260,000 confirmed cases and at least 13,400 deaths.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported that the United Arab Emirates’ flagship carrier has resumed daily flights to Tehran after suspending them in response to the pandemic. The first Emirates flight in around five months landed in Tehran on Friday.

The carrier had suspended service in February after two Iranian passengers tested positive.


Iran suggests it will crack down on expected protests

17 July 2020

Iran promised on Friday to deal “decisively” with further protests over economic hardship, a day after security forces fired teargas to disperse demonstrators in the southwestern city of Behbahan.

In a statement on Friday, the police urged people to “vigilantly refrain from any gathering that could provide a pretext for the counter-revolutionary movement”, accusing “enemies” of whipping up discontent.

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“The police force has an inherent and legal duty to deal decisively with these desperate moves,” the statement added.

Iran’s clerical rulers have tried to prevent a revival of last November’s anti-government protests, when over 1,000 people are believed to have been killed in the deadliest street violence since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Tehran says 225 people were killed, including members of the security forces.

On Tuesday, the judiciary said the death sentences of three men involved in that unrest had been upheld, sparking a surge of online protests.

Videos posted on social media from inside Iran on Thursday showed protesters chanting, “Fear not, fear not, we are in this together!”. Some chanted slogans against top officials.

Videos posted on Twitter showed a heavy presence of security forces in several cities. Reuters was unable to verify the videos, or reports of arrests.

“People are angry. The economy is so bad that we cannot survive,” an Iranian man said by phone from Tehran on Thursday, asking not to be named due to security concerns.

Last year’s unrest began with protests over economic hardship but turned political, with demonstrators demanding top officials step down.

The economy, already hard hit by US sanctions that have choked off its oil exports, has deteriorated further in recent months as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

There were calls on social media for demonstrations across the country on Friday to protest against the three death sentences.

Iran has consistently blamed the United States and Israel for domestic unrest.


Iran partially cuts off internet in southwestern Khuzestan province

17 July 2020

Iranian authorities imposed total and partial disruptions to the Internet in the protest-stricken southwestern Khuzestan province, cybersecurity NGO Netblocks confirmed in a report.

“Internet restrictions are in place in #Khuzestan Province, southwest #Iran from 10 p.m. local time; real-time network data show total (pictured) and partial disruptions varying by provider amid anti-government protests; incident ongoing #IranProtests,” Netblocks said in a tweet.

Anti-government protests broke out in at least two Iranian cities on Thursday night, according to reports and videos on social media.

The protests initially broke out in Behbahan, a city in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in southwest Iran.


Hamas criticized for ‘flagrant violation of media pluralism’

July 18, 2020

GAZA CITY: Hamas’ decision to ban all journalists in the Gaza Strip from appearing on Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath news networks has been strongly criticized by media watchdogs and journalists.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on Hamas authorities this week to reverse their decision to ban all journalists in the Gaza Strip from working for the Saudi-owned networks – a decision that violates media pluralism, it said.

“Hamas must lift this ban and allow journalists who cooperate with Al-Arabiya to carry out their duties freely,” said Sabreen Al-Noui, Middle East official at Reporters Without Borders.

She added: “The political differences between Hamas and the Saudi authorities do not in any way justify the total ban on journalists working for the channel — or in any other media organization — regardless of their political position.”

Al-Arabiya reported last Sunday that 16 members of the Izz Al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, had been arrested by the Ministry of the Interior in Gaza, on charges of collaborating with Israel.

The news of the arrests was first published on the Amad website based in Cairo, but no action was taken against the outlet.

Hassan Asfour, editor-in-chief of website, said that Hamas had lost control in dealing with the “spy cell,” which was recently disclosed. He said Hamas was searching for an “imaginary enemy” rather than the real enemy.

Tahseen Al-Astal, of the Syndicate of Palestinian Journalists, described the decision to prevent channels from operating in Gaza and the campaign of arrests against journalists as “contradicting national morals and values.”

He said that press freedom was under threat in Gaza, and that all parties should put pressure on Hamas to stop its harassment of journalists and media institutions.

Al-Astal said that Hamas was committing a real “massacre” of freedom in Gaza, in contravention of human rights and the principles of freedom of opinion and expression stipulated in the Palestinian Basic Law and international laws.

Hamas’ Ministry of Interior denied the news of the arrests, and said that the broadcasts by Al-Arabiya TV confirmed “the channel’s practice of misleading and working to promote rumours and lies.”

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said that Al-Arabiya, which broadcasts from the UAE, is leading a campaign of “misinformation and distortion” based on “lies and slanders” from the Israeli security services industry, aiming to “harm the resistance.”

Palestine ranks 137 (out of 180 countries) on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.


Turkey moves toward social media restrictions

July 17, 2020

ANKARA: The Turkish government is set to establish a parliamentary commission to further regulate the usage of social media platforms.

The launching of the “Digital Mediums Commission” coincides with the plans of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to adopt legislation to increase the government’s control over free expression on social media.

The idea has been under discussion for a while, but after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s daughter Esra Albayrak was insulted on Twitter the government pressed ahead with designing a new legal framework to “abolish these platforms completely or to put them under control”, said Erdogan, who thinks social media platforms that enjoy total freedoms do not suit the nation.

These remarks came some days prior to a live appearance of Erdogan on June 26 on YouTube to give a speech to youth, but his feed was overloaded with hundreds of thousands of dislikes and negative comments from young people saying “No Vote For You Again.”

The draft legislation requires the appointment of Turkey representatives for social media providers, especially Twitter and Netflix to respond to legal requests.

The regulation would allow the government to implement access bans and impose legal and fiscal penalties.

The draft regulation with nine articles is expected to be adopted before parliament goes on vacation on July 24.

Suleyman Irvan, a professor of journalism from Uskudar University, said any restriction on social media may trigger anger from members of Generation Z.

“Obliging social media providers to open an office in Turkey aims at implementing the court rulings about social media content, especially those related to the removal of content, and bringing huge amounts of fees that would discourage any anti-government contents in the future,” he told Arab News.

The main opposition CHP thinks that the move primarily aims at curtailing people’s freedoms. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, main opposition leader, criticized the legislation, claiming that it is because Erdogan received negative feedback from the online audience during his live speech.

“He understands what is going to come from Generation Z. Otherwise, why would this subject come to the fore now? We will defend the areas of freedom against this repressive mindset,” he recently said.

Ankara criticized Twitter last month for suspending more than 7,000 government-linked accounts associated with the AKP’s youth wing, saying it was part of a wider plan to smear the government and to intervene in domestic Turkish politics.

Twitter’s official figures show that 74 percent of the legal requests to remove Twitter content originated from Turkey. The latest “Blocked Web” annual report by Freedom of Expression Association said that access to a total of 408,394 websites was blocked from 2014 to the end of 2019.

Last year, access to 130,000 URL addresses, 7,000 Twitter accounts, 10,000 YouTube videos and 6,251 Facebook posts were blocked by the government. It also banned Twitter in 2014, though the ban was lifted within few weeks through a court ruling in the country which is a global leader in Twitter usage.

Erkan Saka, an expert in social media from Istanbul Bilgi University, does not expect fair recommendations from the commission as the majority of parliamentary commissions are controlled by the members of the ruling party.

“The social media faces less control compared to the mainstream media and the government is keen to change this. This is a new step in legalizing restrictive measures that have intensified since the coup attempt in 2016,” he said.




Mali’s prime minister apologizes for security forces ‘excesses’ during anti-government protests

17 July 2020

Mali’s prime minister has apologized for ‘excesses’ by security forces who opened fire last week on anti-government protesters, but rejected opposition demands that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita resign.

Last Friday, the latest in a series of mass protests in the capital Bamako against Keita turned violent, with security forces firing on protesters, some of whom had occupied state buildings.

Clashes continued for several days, with at least 11 people killed in total, the government has said.

“Unfortunately, there were excesses. What happened is very regrettable. We apologize for it,” Prime Minister Boubou Cisse said in an interview with France 24 television aired late on Thursday. He said prosecutors had opened an investigation into the violence.

On Tuesday, Cisse wrote to the security ministry demanding an explanation for the deployment of an anti-terrorist special operations force on the streets of Bamako during the protests.

The coalition of religious, political and civil society leaders behind the protests accuses Keita of failing to address violence by militant groups and ethnic militias, of mismanaging the economy and of enabling corruption.

A delegation from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS is in Bamako this week to try to broker a resolution, but Keita's opponents have so far refused to withdraw their demand that the president resign.

Cisse rejected this idea.

“It's inconceivable because the president ... was democratically elected,” he said. “I think it's important ... that anyone who arrives at this level of responsibility in our country arrives there through the democratic process.”

The ECOWAS delegation, led by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, is scheduled to meet with Keita and opposition leaders on Friday.

The opposition has urged its supporters to mourn those killed in the protests during Friday prayers, but has backed off earlier calls for a mass prayer meeting in the heart of Bamako.

UN sounds alarm over fake news in troubled Mali

The UN's high commissioner for human rights warned on Friday of a worrying surge of fake news in the West African state of Mali, which is battling a political crisis and violence.

“We have reports that social media has been partially blocked – it can be seriously worrying because it is very important that people are able to access information,” the commissioner's spokeswoman, Liz Throssell, said.

“But at the same time there are also concerns that there has been a lot of fake news disseminated on social media, a lot of messages online inciting violence.

“There are all these tensions and it risks inflaming tensions further,” said Throssell.        

Such problems do not justify restricting the internet, she said. "Shutting down the internet can be extremely risky and can have unintended consequences."

She reiterated a UN appeal for all parties in Mali to show restraint.

The UN made the warning ahead of ceremonies in Bamako on Friday by a coalition of protest groups to mourn the deaths of demonstrators killed in clashes last week.

According to the Malian government, 11 people died and 158 were wounded, while the UN says at least 14 demonstrators lost their lives.

The coalition is demanding that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who has been in power since 2013, step down.


Sheikh Zakzaky’s lawyers demand dismissal of case, immediate release

July 18, 2020

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): The lawyers of jailed Muslim cleric Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky have called for the dismissal of the case against him and his wife as well as their immediate release from the Nigerian government's captivity.

Zakzaky’s lawyers demanded, in a motion presented to the High Court of Justice in Nigeria on Thursday, that all charges against him and his wife be quashed, and that they be freed as soon as possible.

A source at Nigeria’s Islamic Movement, which is headed by the prominent cleric, said the top court has set July 30 to hear and decide on the demand.

Zakzaky, who is in his mid-60s and leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), has been in detention since December 2015 after his residence in the city of Zaria was raided by Nigeria’s forces, during which he was beaten and lost vision in his left eye.

During the brutal arrest, three of his sons were also killed, his wife sustained serious wounds, and more than 300 of his followers were killed.

Last July, Sheikh Zakzaky’s son, Mohammad, said he was shocked by his father’s worsening medical condition after visiting him, stressing that he needed to be immediately hospitalized as “large and dangerous quantities of lead and cadmium have been found in his blood.”

A month later, the couple was transferred to India to receive medical care. However, they were forced to leave India after a few days in protest against the Nigerian government’s “obstruction” of his medical treatment and after they had “lost all faith” in the prospect of receiving proper treatment there.

Zakzaky was charged in April 2018 with murder, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, the disruption of public peace, and other accusations. He has pleaded not guilty, vehemently rejecting all the accusations brought up against him.

In 2016, Nigeria’s federal high court ordered Zakzaky’s unconditional release from jail following a trial, but the government has so far refused to set him free.


Friday prayers held in Scotland mosques after months

July 18, 2020

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): Muslims across Scotland returned to their mosque for Friday prayers for the first time since lockdown began due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Restrictions to guard against the spread of the coronavirus are in place, including limiting the number of attendees to 50, taking contact details and wearing masks. At the Baitur Rahman Mosque in Haugh Road, Glasgow, numbers have been further limited to 25 initially and temperatures were taken before entry.

Bathrooms have largely been closed with people asked to instead perform ablutions at home beforehand. Those in attendance were also asked to bring their own prayer mat to avoid the risk of virus contamination.

Ahmed Owusu, a spokesman for one of the Muslim communities in Glasgow, said is it a “blessing” that Muslims have been allowed to return to their spiritual home.

He told the PA news agency: “For a Muslim the mosque is pretty much your first home and your house is your second home. The opportunity given to us that we can go to our real home, our spiritual home, is definitely a blessing. As Muslims we give gratitude to almighty God for giving such an opportunity to us that we can return to the mosque.”

He said all the necessary precautions are in place and the building will be deep-cleaned following the service.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said he has been impressed by how mosques have responded to the pandemic. He tweeted: “First Friday prayers at the Mosque in almost 4 months for many -- Jummah Mubarak to all. “I have been impressed by how seriously Mosques are taking their public health obligations, must be strict that no more than 50 ppl allowed for communal worship, regardless of capacity.”


Anger at Mali’s President Rises After Security Forces Kill Protesters

By Ruth Maclean

July 16, 2020

DAKAR, Senegal — When security forces in Mali shot and killed protesters last weekend, they were met with an unexpected response. Instead of being cowed into submission, the demonstrators have become more determined, announcing plans to continue their efforts for reform despite the violent crackdown.

The leaders of the ballooning protest movement in the West African nation have called for mass civil disobedience until President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta steps down. Thousands are expected to rally at mosques across the country on Friday, to mourn those who were killed and to continue the series of demonstrations that began in early June.

A team of regional mediators arrived in the capital, Bamako, on Wednesday night to try to mitigate the growing unrest, but Mr. Keïta has shown no sign of stepping down.

Malians say those who are in charge have not done enough to address the corruption and bloodshed that have plagued the country for eight years, pulling in regional and French counterterrorism forces as well as American support. Thousands of civilians and soldiers have died. The economic suffering exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic has only brought more frustration and uncertainty.

The last straw for protesters and their leaders came when the constitutional court overturned the provisional results of a long-delayed parliamentary election held in March. As they saw it, Mr. Keïta had stolen the election and installed his preferred candidates.

“He has failed, and he has to go,” said Cheick Oumar Sissoko, a filmmaker and former minister of culture. Mr. Sissoko is part of the coalition of opposition politicians, religious leaders and civil society organizations that now calls itself the June 5 Movement, or the M5, after the date of the first protest six weeks ago.

Mali has had a rough decade. A crisis that began with rebels and jihadists taking control of the north in 2012 has spread and deepened. Armed Islamist groups, ethnic militias, hunting groups and bandits have destabilized the country’s center. The insecurity has seeped over its southern borders.

National security forces commit rampant abuses in the name of fighting terrorism. An expensive United Nations peacekeeping force is often seen as following an agenda set by the government.

When the crisis began, troops from France, the country’s former colonial ruler, were welcomed with open arms. Now many Malians are calling for them to get out, suspicious of their motives. Despite recently praising each other at a high-level summit for their supposed victories, the French president and leaders from the G5 Sahel, a group of five West African countries that have come together to fight terrorism, have achieved little real progress, analysts say.

All of this has given rise to mounting anger, but until last weekend, before the crackdown, the M5 had seemed ready to negotiate.

Then the atmosphere changed.

The killing of at least 11 protesters was “a red line that should not have been crossed,” said Boubacar Sangaré, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in the capital. “There is a convergence of crises and anger,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people had gathered for peaceful protests on June 5 and June 19. But last Friday, the police response was brutal.

Smoke rose from fires that protesters had lit in Mali’s peach-colored national assembly building in Bamako. Malians tuning into state television were greeted with an error message: demonstrators had taken it off the air.

By the end of the weekend, 11 people had been killed, by the government’s count, though the protesters said the toll was higher, and more than 85 people were injured. Ousmane Diallo, a researcher on Francophone West Africa with Amnesty International, said many of those hurt had been shot with live bullets, and he agreed that the official count of the dead could be much too low.

The crackdown was aimed at stopping the demonstrators from being “masters of the streets,” Mr. Diallo said. “They are trying to see if by sheer police repression, they can break down the movement, and show that they are the legitimate authority in Mali.”

Critics of the government were especially outraged by the use of a counterterrorism police unit to quell the protests.

In a joint statement released on Monday, the United Nations, the West African regional bloc, Ecowas, the African Union and the European Union condemned the use of lethal force by the police, and called for restraint.

International mediators, led by the former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, met with Mr. Keïta on Wednesday night, according to local journalists, and then met with M5 movement leaders and supporters, including Mahmoud Dicko, a powerful imam who is a driving force behind the protests.

The prime minister’s office sent a letter on Tuesday to the former security minister, which was leaked and widely circulated on social media, asking why the counterterrorism unit was deployed and who ordered it onto the street. But many Malians say the buck stops with Mr. Keïta, the president since 2013.

There are currently few other places it could land.

Mali has had no functioning government for over a month. The prime minister, Boubou Cissé, resigned in early June to try to form a new government coalition. And though Mr. Cissé was swiftly reappointed by Mr. Keïta, he has not yet been able to form a new administration.

Without an operating government, it will be difficult to determine who could be held accountable for the deaths of protesters. Calls seeking comment from the director-general of the police, Moussa Ag Infahi, went unanswered on Wednesday.

Some M5 leaders have gone into hiding since the crackdown; others were detained and later released. “I was not arrested. I was kidnapped,” the opposition leader Issa KaouDjim told Malian journalists on Monday, describing how he had been taken from his house late at night.

Rumors that Mr. Dicko, the imam who met with international mediators on Wednesday, would also be arrested led protesters to build barricades around Badalabougou, the neighborhood where he preaches.

Facing the cloth-wrapped bodies of people killed by security forces, Mr. Dicko led funeral prayers in a packed mosque.

Mr. Dicko, who is originally from the northern region of Timbuktu, gained influence over a decade ago as chairman of the country’s High Islamic Council. He resigned last year to become more involved in politics.

“I am not a politician. I never ran for a single term and I won’t start now,” he told the magazine Jeune Afrique. “But if caring about your country and the well-being of its people is political, then yes, I’m political.”

At midnight on Saturday night, the president addressed the nation, dissolved the constitutional court and announced that there would be a government of national unity that included the opposition.

M5’s original list of demands included dissolving both the constitutional court and the national assembly, and downgrading Mr. Keïta’s position to “honorary president,” with a prime minister chosen by M5.

But “you cannot impose a prime minister with full power on a democratically elected president, so that the president becomes like the Queen of England,” said FatoumataSako, a campaign official who has worked for Mr. Keïta.

For Mr. Sissoko, the former minister of culture, there were few alternatives beyond the list of demands from M5.

“Demonstrators were killed with live bullets by the counterterrorism forces that should be on the front lines fighting terrorists. Instead, they’re deployed to kill people who demand justice,” he said.


North America


Man held in Vegas terror plot also facing child sex charges

July 16, 2020

LAS VEGAS (AP) — One of three men accused of plotting terrorism attacks during Las Vegas protests in May of the death of a man in Minneapolis police custody is also facing child sexual assault and lewdness charges.

Stephen Parshall’s attorney, Robert Draskovich, acknowledged Thursday that a 26-count criminal complaint was filed Tuesday in Las Vegas, but said his client has not yet appeared before a judge. Court records showed a warrant was being issued for Parshall's arrest.

Draskovich said Parshall, 36, will plead not guilty.

Parshall is currently in federal custody with two co-defendants, Andrew Lynam Jr. and William Loomis, in a separate case. Each faces state terrorism and explosives charges and federal conspiracy and firearms allegations.

Police and the FBI allege in court documents that the men have ties to an extremist right-wing group dubbed the “boogaloo” movement that supports overthrowing the U.S. government.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported police began investigating the sex case involving Parshall following the June 24 arrest of one of Parshall’s longtime friends on child sex charges.

The friend, Phillip Merrill, 35, pleaded guilty Thursday to sexual assault with a minor and lewdness with a child. He could face 30 years to life in state prison, the newspaper said.


Washington says Turkey sent almost 4,000 fighters to Libya

17 July 2020

Turkey sent between 3,500 and 3,800 paid Syrian fighters to Libya over the first three months of the year, the US Defense Department’s inspector general concluded in a new report, its first to detail Turkish deployments that helped change the course of Libya’s war.

The report comes as the conflict in oil-rich Libya has escalated into a regional proxy war fueled by foreign powers pouring weapons and mercenaries into the country. The US military has grown increasingly concerned about Russia’s growing influence in Libya, where hundreds of Russian mercenaries backed a campaign to capture the capital, Tripoli, in the country’s west.

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The quarterly report on counterterrorism operations in Africa by the Pentagon’s internal watchdog, published Thursday, says Turkey paid and offered citizenship to thousands of mercenaries fighting alongside Tripoli-based militias against troops of east Libya-based commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar.

The report covers only the first quarter of the year, until the end of March — two months before a string of Turkish-backed victories by the Tripoli forces drove Haftar’s self-styled army from the capital’s suburbs, its stronghold at Tarhuna and a key western airbase.

The reversal for Haftar and his foreign backers, including Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, trained the spotlight on Turkey’s deepening role in the proxy war.

The latest report says the Turkish deployments likely increased ahead of the Tripoli forces’ triumphs in late May. It cites the US Africa Command as saying that 300 Turkish-supported Syrian rebels landed in Libya in early April. Turkey also deployed an “unknown number” of Turkish soldiers during the first months of the year, the inspector general adds.

To the consternation of regional rivals and NATO allies like France, Turkey is staking its hopes for greater leverage in the eastern Mediterranean on the UN-recognized government in Tripoli. Ankara’s open military intervention stands in contrast to covert support from foreign backers on the other side of the conflict.

The inspector general had reported in its last quarterly review that Russia brought in hundreds of mercenaries to back Haftar’s months-long siege of Tripoli. A private Kremlin-linked military company known as the Wagner Group first introduced skilled snipers and armed drones last fall, inflicting “significant casualties” on Tripoli forces struggling to fend off Haftar’s assault, the report said.

This year, in response to Turkey’s new shipments of battle-hardened Syrians, Wagner increased its deployment of foreign fighters, also including Syrians, with estimates ranging from 800 to 2,500 mercenaries. Russia and the Syrian government agreed to send 300 to 400 former opposition rebels from the southwest village of Quneitra to Libya in exchange for a $1,000 per month salary and clemency from President Bashar Assad, the report added.

The warring sides are mobilizing now around the edges of Sirte, a strategic gateway to Libya’s central and eastern oil crescent, where most of the country’s production of 1.2 million barrels a day flowed before Haftar-allied tribes choked off pipelines in January to protest unequal distribution of oil revenues to the long-neglected east.

Following Haftar’s retreat from Tripoli, his backers pushed for a cease-fire and proposed a political settlement. But Turkey refused to back down. The Tripoli government, eager to regain access to Haftar’s blockaded oil fields, has pledged to retake the coastal city, where longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi was born and then killed after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.

Egypt, a bitter rival of Turkey that shares a porous desert border with Libya, has vowed to intervene militarily if Turkish-backed forces try to seize Sirte.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hit back, criticizing Egyptian and Emirati support for Haftar.

Military tensions increased further this week after the collapse of a deal to end the blockade of Libyan oil fields, which has deprived the country of its most important economic resource and the National Oil Corporation of over $7 billion in revenue.


US says Europe not doing enough to stop Libya fighting

Michael Gabriel Hernandez 


European nations are not doing enough to check Russian and allied activities in Libya, the US's senior diplomat for the Middle East said Thursday. 

Addressing the German Marshall Fund during a virtual discussion, David Schenker said while European capitals are "proud" of their efforts to enforce a UN arms blockade on the North African country they have been limited to stopping shipments from Turkey.

“The only interdictions that they are doing is of Turkish military material that they’re sending to Libya. Nobody is interdicting Russian aircraft, nobody is interdicting Emirati aircraft, nobody is interdicting the Egyptians,” Schenker said of European nations, according to Reuters.

“They could at least, if they were serious, I think, call them out - call out all parties of the conflict when they violate the arms embargo,” he added.

Libya has been mired in strife since NATO-led operations led to the overthrow of former strongman Muammar Gadaffi in 2011.

The country's new government was founded four years later in 2015 under a UN-led agreement, but efforts for a long-term political settlement have so far failed due to a military offensive by renegade general Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

Since April 2019, Haftar's forces have launched attacks on the Libyan capital of Tripoli and other parts of northwestern Libya, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths, including civilians. Haftar has the support of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia while the UN-recognized government is backed by Turkey.

The Libyan government has recently achieved significant victories against Haftar, pushing his forces out of Tripoli and the strategic city of Tarhuna.

US Africa Command said this week it believes the Wagner Group, a Russian private military firm, has deployed some 2,000 personnel to Libya to bolster Haftar.

Schenker reportedly said that among the myriad things Europe could be doing to end the conflict in Libya is sanctioning the Wagner Group, warning "If they aren’t going to take out a more robust role, then this thing is going to drag on."




Turkish court sentences Germany-based journalist to jail on terrorism charges

JULY 16, 2020

Ali Kucukgocmen

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court sentenced German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel in absentia on Thursday to jail for 2 years and 9 months for terrorism propaganda, his lawyer said, in a case that has strained ties between Ankara and Berlin.

Yucel, who denied the charges against him, returned to Berlin in February 2018 when he was released from custody after being kept in jail for a year without indictment.

The court convicted Yucel on Thursday for spreading propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, lawyer Veysel Ok said.

The court ruled that he was not guilty of sedition or of spreading propaganda for the network of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric accused by Ankara of plotting a 2016 failed coup.

The court also filed additional criminal complaints against him for insulting President Tayyip Erdogan and for insulting the Turkish Republic and its agencies, Ok said.

“This is a political verdict,” Yucel wrote in Die Welt newspaper after the verdict.

“In the end I don’t care about it... I was arrested for doing my job as a journalist. And I don’t regret doing that at all,” he wrote.

Yucel’s arrest led to a protracted dispute between Turkey and Germany, two NATO allies. Shortly after his arrest, Berlin banned Turkish ministers from speaking to rallies of expatriate Turks, while Erdogan called Yucel a terrorist agent and Ankara accused Germany of supporting Gulen’s network.

Erdogan’s international critics have questioned the independence of Turkey’s judiciary, especially since a crackdown after the attempted coup in 2016.

They say the government used the coup as a pretext to quash dissent, with Turkey one of the biggest jailers of journalists globally. Erdogan and his AK Party say the measures are necessary given the security risks Turkey faces, and courts make independent decisions.

Ok said Turkey’s highest court had already ruled that articles written by Yucel on which the charges were based were within the remit of his freedom of speech, and the lower court had violated the law by not abiding by that ruling.

“(Judges) convict anyone who writes news on topics the ruling party does not want - on Kurds, on Armenians. This is confirmation that there is no press freedom in Turkey,” he said.


Police in Germany under the pall of right-wing extremists


The perpetrator called himself "SS Obersturmbannführer" (lieutenant colonel) — a reference to the most gruesome chapter in German history. Persons of that rank in Nazi Germany were responsible for organizing the abuse and murder of millions of Jews from across Europe.

This year — 2020 — German cabaret artist IdilBaydar received a death threat from someone using that moniker. Baydar is a successful entertainer who takes a scalpel to the daily racism immigrants face in Germany. Not only do her acts make millions of Germans laugh, they also make them reflect.

The death threats case against Baydar is not only unsettling, it is politically explosive as well. That is because the perpetrator's trail can be traced directly back to the German police. The death threat IdilBaydar received contained personal information retrieved from a police computer in the state of Hesse.

Death threats directly tied to police computer

Baydar first found out she was being surveilled in the newspaper: "I find it really strange that the police haven't contacted me. That no one says, 'Don't worry, we have this under control. We will keep you safe.' I feel so alone. The threat posed to me doesn't seem to interest the police," she said in an interview with the German daily newspaper Tageszeitung.

But the case is not the first of this kind: Many politicians from Germany's Left Party have received similar threats since 2018. And in those cases, too, information about personal history was retrieved from a police computer in Hesse. Meanwhile, state prosecutors have opened an investigation. On Tuesday, Hesse Police President Udo Münch resigned. Now, Interior Minister Peter Beuth has come under pressure.

Beuth says it is possible there is a network of right-wing extremists in the force. "I expect the Hesse Police to leave no stone unturned in refuting that suspicion," said Beuth at a press conference. He also announced he would be appointing a special investigator.

Such cases have stirred debate across Germany, with people asking: Is there structural racism among police? Have right-wing networks hostile to the government been established among the ranks?

For the Police Trade Union (GdP), the answer is clear: "There is no structural racism within the police," Deputy Chairman Jörg Radek tells DW. He says cases of racist or right-wing extremist behavior among police are isolated, "and they must be investigated with the full force of all constitutional means." Radek and his union have so far enjoyed broad support among politicians for their stance. But German security authorities have also come under pressure — not least now, with the wave of protests against race-based police violence that originated in the US and have found their way to Germany.

Right-wing extremist cop with weapons cache and 50,000 bullets

The list of unsettling cases among police is long. In Northern Germany, a police detective started a right-wing extremist chat group that compiled an "enemies list" containing the names of thousands of politicians, journalists and activists. When authorities searched the man's apartment, they found guns, flash grenades and 50,000 rounds of ammunition. The man claims many more police and soldiers are in the group.

Furthermore, swastika graffiti and anti-Islam slogans are a regular feature at the Berlin and Brandenburg police academies. Police investigations over the last decade have consistently shown that authorities approach these cases from a one-sided point of view. Often, they operate on the assumption that the immigrant victim is somehow suspect rather than looking in every possible direction.

The most well-known example of such behavior was the killing spree carried out by the self-named National Socialist Underground(NSU). Between the years 2000 and 2007, the right-wing extremist terror cell murdered nine business owners with immigrant backgrounds, as well as a female police officer. Here, too, police focussed suspicion on victims' families themselves. Ultimately, the yearslong murder spree was not ended by the police, but rather when two members of the cell committed suicide in 2011.

Police and security services blunders led to a number of federal parliamentary inquiries. In the end, even conservative politicians called the entire story a governmental failure. Politicians and police promised to make things better, but little has in fact changed since then.

Civil rights groups in Germany have complained for years that the problem of everyday discrimination against people of color in the country is not being taken seriously. "There is a very narrow understanding of racism, especially if we are talking about state institutions," says Tahir Della of the Black People in Germany Initiative. Della continues his critique, adding: "It's only racist if you admit to it. Institutions can't see that there is deep-seated racism."

Lack of studies in Germany

Germany wholly lacks reliable facts and figures on the structure and scope of racist activity within the country's police ranks. Recently, Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer rejected requests to conduct a study on racial profiling in Germany, despite recommendations from the European Council to do just that.

Tahir Della of the Black People in Germany Initiative told DW the decision was a failure: "Racist police violence can lead to deaths. That goes for the USA and Germany, too — despite all the differences between them. Ignoring systemic problems doesn't improve institutions."

In a recent guest editorial for the German weekly magazine Spiegel, police researcher Rafael Behr lamented the poor way in which German security authorities have dealt with the problem, calling the rejectionist attitude of police in the matter dangerous: "From what I can observe, the loud ones are getting quieter and the shady ones are growing louder. They are the ones who now feel comfortable saying in public things they previously would probably only have said secretively. We see that in our studies. The comments are a bit bolder, dominant and more rigid."

Biggest threat to security

That is consistent with findings from Germany's domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV). On July 9, Interior Minister Seehofer presented the BfV's 2019 annual report. He spoke of sharp rises in anti-Semitic, right-wing extremist and racist crimes in Germany, and called right-wing extremism the country's greatest security threat.


Germany calls for upholding Libya arms embargo

Oliver Towfigh Nia  



Germany on Friday stressed the need to uphold the Libyan arms embargo in the wake of the latest threats by Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to arm some of the Libyan tribes against the internationally recognized government.

Speaking at a regular news briefing in Berlin, Christofer Burger, a deputy spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, made clear that the Libyan arms embargo "applied to all sides."

The German diplomat called for an "immediate end" to foreign military support for the conflict parties in civil-war stricken Libya.

Al-Sisi met on Thursday with the heads of Libyan tribes in the Egyptian capital Cairo, where he threatened that Egypt "will not stand aside" in the face of increased military mobilization near the city of Sirte in northern Libya.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Al-Qablawi criticized a recent statement by al-Sisi as "blatant interference in Libyan internal affairs."

"Al-Sisi's talk is a repeat of his previous statements, which is a blatant interference in Libyan affairs," he said, adding that the Egyptian president’s speech was "not aimed at peace as he said, but it is he who is fueling the [Libyan] conflict."

Meanwhile, the Libyan High Council of State condemned al-Sisi's call to arm the Libyan tribes, saying it would trigger more fighting and division in the country.

In June, al-Sisi suggested Cairo could launch "external military missions" into Libya, saying "any direct intervention in Libya has already become legitimate internationally."

Al-Sisi said the city of Sirte and the al-Jufra airbase were their "red line," calling on his army to "be prepared to carry out any domestic or cross-border missions."

Since April 2019, Haftar's illegitimate forces have launched attacks on the Libyan capital of Tripoli and other parts of northwestern Libya, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths, including civilian women and children.

That notwithstanding, the Libyan government has lately achieved significant military victories, pushing Haftar's forces out of Tripoli and the strategic city of Tarhuna.




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