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Islamic World News ( 5 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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AIMPLB Member Appeals to Imams to Spread Awareness against Dowry after Death of Ayesha Arif Khan

New Age Islam News Bureau

05 March 2021


Ayesha Arif Khan


• Still Making the Case for Islam and Democracy in a Tunisia Battered By Crises – Ennahda Chief

• Khashoggi's Fiancée Denounces Lack of Action against Saudi Crown Prince over Journalist’s Murder

• US Condemns Infiltration across LoC, Supports Dialogue between India, Pakistan

• Teenagers Are Being Recruited To Islamist Terror Groups in 'Worrying' Numbers during

• Seven People of Hazara Ethnic Group Brutally Killed in Afghanistan’s Restive East

• Formation of Special Body Proposed To Resolve Shariah-Civil Law Overlap, Says Muslim Lawyers Association President

• Iran Welcomes Europe's Move to Scrap US-Backed Draft Resolution at IAEA



• Death of Ayesha Arif Khan - AIMPLB Member Appeals to Imams to Spread Awareness against Dowry

• How Scramble for Muslim Votes In Bengal May Help BJP In Assembly Polls

• 10 nominations filed for 8 posts of Sunni board

• Muslim Ministers Should Resign over Maharashtra CM’s Remarks: Abu Asim Azmi

• 461 bullets, 4,000 tear gas shells used by cops to quell Delhi riots



• Still Making the Case for Islam and Democracy in a Tunisia Battered By Crises – Ennahda Chief

• Six Dead in Jihadist Attacks in Northeast Nigeria: Aid Groups

• Suspected Islamists kill 8 in attack on northeast Congo village market

• Morocco sees Sahel jihadists as magnet for local cells


Arab World

• Khashoggi's Fiancée Denounces Lack of Action against Saudi Crown Prince over Journalist’s Murder

• Rebuilding Efforts Continue in Syria’s Former IS Stronghold

• Bahrain’s Plan to Form Anti-Iran Alliance with Israel Is Betrayal: Wefaq

• Iraqi resistance groups announce confrontation with US occupiers until liberation

• Lebanon’s central bank governor may be sanctioned by US: Report

• Grocery shoppers fight over basic commodities as Lebanon stares into the abyss

• Arab Coalition destroys Houthi ballistic missile launched toward Saudi Arabia’s Jazan


North America

• US Condemns Infiltration across LoC, Supports Dialogue between India, Pakistan

• US, UK spy agencies snooping on Middle East via Red Sea cables: Report

• US, at UN, accuses Russia of blocking 'accountability' on Syria chem weapons

• US VP Harris assures Israel’s Netanyahu of ‘unwavering commitment’ amid Iran standoff

• US ‘firmly opposes’ ICC probe of Israeli crimes against Palestinians

• Zion man sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for conspiring to assist ISIS



• Teenagers Are Being Recruited To Islamist Terror Groups in 'Worrying' Numbers during Lockdown, Warns UK Foreign Secretary

• Germany Places Far-Right AfD Party under Surveillance for Extremism

• UK Prisons Must Not Become ‘Terrorist Training Grounds’ As Sentences Increased, Government Warned

• Pope Francis departs Rome for risky, historic Iraq tour

• France bans far-right group Generation Identity


South Asia

• Seven People of Hazara Ethnic Group Brutally Killed in Afghanistan’s Restive East

• Tripura Christians Angry Over Church Demolition in Bangladesh

• Sweden attacker identified as ‘Afghan asylum seeker’

• Violence in Afghanistan ‘must end’, EU condemns targeted killings

• Inclusivity is key to salvaging the US–Taliban Doha deal


Southeast Asia

• Formation of Special Body Proposed To Resolve Shariah-Civil Law Overlap, Says Muslim Lawyers Association President

• Selangor Islamic Religious Department Detains Four In Hulu Langat Over Alleged Violations Of Islamic Law

• PAS ‘no’ to any attempt to split ummah, forge alliance with opposition

• Take threats against Nur Sajat, transgender community seriously, say activists



• Iran Welcomes Europe's Move to Scrap US-Backed Draft Resolution at IAEA

• Israel will defend itself if world fails to stall Iran’s nuclear plans: Benny Gantz

• Russia, Turkey want to save Iran nuclear deal, urge US to lift sanctions on Tehran

• Rouhani estimates ‘damage’ to Iran by US sanctions since 2018 at $200 billion

• IAEA plans ‘technical’ meeting with Iran in early April on open issues

• Iranian Interior Minister Stresses Amicable Ties with Iraq

• VP: Iran Ready to Share Scientific Experiences with Syria

• Israel extends so-called administrative detention of two Palestinian officials

• Yemeni drones attack air base, airport in Saudi Arabia: Military

• Tehran sues European firms for aiding Saddam’s chemical attacks against Iranians: Judiciary


New Zealand

• Christchurch homes raided after online threats to carry out terrorist attacks on mosques



• Kohistan Clerics to Help Protect Foreign Workers of Dasu Project

• Pakistan court orders removal of ex-ISI chief from no-fly list

• Yousuf Raza Gilani's election as senator challenged with ECP

• Biden nominates Pakistani-American as deputy head of US agency on small businesses

• COAS, ISI chief call on Prime Minister Imran

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



AIMPLB Member Appeals to Imams to Spread Awareness against Dowry after Death of Ayesha Arif Khan


Ayesha Arif Khan


04th March 2021

LUCKNOW: A senior member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has appealed to imams to conduct an awareness campaign against dowry, days after a Muslim woman committed suicide by jumping into the Sabarmati River in Gujarat.

Khalid Rashid Farangi Mahali said the death of Ayesha Arif Khan due to dowry has concerned the entire Muslim community.

There is an appeal to imams of all mosques to clearly state Islamic decrees, rights and duties of wives and husbands before Friday prayers.

These should be explained in simple language so that "tragic incidents like Ayesha's suicide can be averted," he added.

Demand of dowry is "Haraam" and against Islamic law, but some people still follow such an "un-Islamic and non-human practice", he said.

On February 25, Ayesha (23) committed suicide by jumping into the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad in Gujarat soon after recording a video on her mobile phone.

According to a complaint lodged by her father with police a day later, Ayesha's husband Arif Babukhan inflicted mental torture on her for dowry since their marriage in 2018.

In the video, which went viral on social media, Ayesha can be heard saying she is not taking the step under any pressure.

Ayesha's husband, a resident of Rajasthan, has subsequently been arrested.


Still Making the Case for Islam and Democracy in a Tunisia Battered By Crises – Ennahda Chief


Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of Tunisia's main Islamist party and speaker of parliament,


By Claire Parker

March 4, 2021

TUNIS — Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of Tunisia's main Islamist party and speaker of parliament, wanted to make something clear — that a social democratic party based on Islam can still play ball in Tunisia and in the Arab world.

Thousands of his partisans had flooded downtown Tunis on Saturday in what some observers called one of the largest demonstrations in the past decade. Men, women and children backing his party, Ennahda, had been bused in from throughout the country. Draped in Tunisian flags, they chanted “National unity!” and slogans in support of Ghannouchi.

“We wanted to send a message that the revolution is still here and powerful and working, so that everyone knows their size,” Ghannouchi said in an interview a day later in his Tunis home.

Ennahda had officially called the march in support of national unity and independent prime minister Hichem Mechichi’s embattled government. Asked whether it also aimed to project his party’s power, Ghannouchi replied: “Of course.”

In a region where authoritarian governments have crushed or co-opted Islamist movements, Ennahda has sought to fashion itself an example of compatibility between Islam and democracy. It has remained Tunisia’s most resilient and influential political force in the decade since the Arab Spring. But now, as political and economic crises batter the country and Ennahda slips in the polls, the party is fighting to assert its relevance.

Ghannouchi, 79, has helmed the movement for four decades. He co-founded Ennahda’s precursor in 1981 as a nonviolent Islamist group that advocated participation in democracy. He spent several years in prison in the 1980s under Tunisian leader Habib Bourguiba before fleeing to London, where he lived in exile for more than 20 years.

After the revolution, Ghannouchi returned to Tunisia to a hero’s welcome. But he opted not to run for national office, instead serving as a power broker and guiding his party’s rise to prominence, its efforts to draft Tunisia’s new constitution and its alliances with secular parties in pursuit of a “consensual democracy” in which Islamists are major players.

“We have been convinced that we have to work with secularists to compete against any sort of fundamentalism, whether based on Islam or based on secularism,” he said Sunday, sitting in a home office lined with copies of the Koran and books such as “Religion and State in the Modern Islamic Context.”

Ghannouchi insisted that his party offers a paradigm for others in the region. The compromises it made for Tunisian democracy — and, crucially, for its own political survival — enabled it to escape the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which came to power after the Arab Spring only to be crushed by a military coup in 2013.

Fearful of such a turn, Ennahda distanced itself from other Islamist groups — and from the “Islamist” label itself. In 2016, the party rebranded itself as “Muslim democratic” and banned preachers from running for office. Ghannouchi now sees the term “Islamist” as an imprecise label of little utility.

“It puts under one umbrella people who reject violence with people connected to terrorism,” he said. “This term doesn’t mean anything — it only serves to muddy the waters.”

The party’s popularity has waned over time. In 2019, it won 52 seats in the 217-seat parliament, compared with a high of 89 seats in 2011.

Ghannouchi won a seat in 2019 and was quickly elected speaker. His tenure has been marked by controversy, with the highly fragmented parliament roiled by political spats over forming a government.

Mechichi, backed by Ennahda and two allied parties, was the third head of government nominated since the 2019 election, and he is currently locked in an unprecedented constitutional dispute with Tunisian President Kais Saied that threatens to bring down the government.

Ennahda, meanwhile, faces mounting criticism from all sides. A wave of protests swept the country in January as Tunisians expressed their anger at police repression, economic difficulties and parliament. Anti-Ennahda and anti-Ghannouchi slogans abounded, as well as calls for parliament’s dissolution and “the fall of the regime.” The heavy-handed police response drew condemnation from rights groups but little concern from Ennahda.

“There are some real grievances, but I believe these grievances are being used by some radical political parties,” Ghannouchi said of the protests.

“If you put our experience in context with other Arab Spring countries ... it’s a model experience of democratic transition,” he added.

Still, Ghannouchi acknowledged that his party bears some blame for a failure to address worsening economic conditions.

“We take responsibility proportionally to our size in government,” he said. “There’s no doubt that our experience in governing was minimal. There’s no doubt that we have learned a lot from our experience.”

Ever the polarizing figure, Ghannouchi has seen his popularity plummet as his four-decade career in politics winds to a close. His public approval rating now stands at 8 percent. Divisions within Ennahda over his leadership exploded into public view in the fall, when 100 leaders signed an open letter urging him not to seek another term.

Ghannouchi’s position in parliament is also in jeopardy — a motion of no confidence against him had garnered 103 signatures as of last week, a lawmaker told Tunisian media. Ghannouchi said he does not expect the motion to pass, “but if it happens, it’s not the end of the world.”

The political turmoil has worsened Tunisia’s deepening economic crisis and spooked investors. The fallout from the coronavirus devastated Tunisia’s already struggling economy, which contracted by an estimated 8.2 percent in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Hopeful that the Biden administration might come to the rescue, Ghannouchi has made overtures to the United States in recent weeks, including meeting with U.S. Ambassador Donald Blome and penning an op-ed in USA Today.

“The success of Tunisia’s democracy is in the interest not just of Tunisia but of the world,” he said Sunday, “because it’s an example of where Islam and democracy are compatible and it’s the best way to fight extremist interpretations and violent interpretations.”


Khashoggi's Fiancée Denounces Lack of Action against Saudi Crown Prince over Journalist’s Murder


Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee


04 March 2021

The fiancée of brutally-murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has lambasted the lack of action against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying the world leaders should not maintain relations with a “murderer” after a declassified US intelligence implicated the Arab kingdom’s de facto ruler in the killing.

Khashoggi, 59, a former advocate of the Saudi royal court who later became a critic of bin Salman, was killed after being lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, 2018, and his body was dismembered by a Saudi hit squad.

The Saudi government initially claimed Khashoggi left the consulate on that day, but Riyadh later said after an alleged investigation that he had been killed by a “rogue” group and not by direct order from the crown prince, who is also known by his initials as MBS.

Despite official denials by Riyadh, some Western governments as well as the CIA, said they believed MBS ordered the assassination, which caused an international uproar.

On Friday, declassified US intelligence by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence revealed that MBS had approved the brutal assassination.

While Washington imposed sanctions on some of those involved, it spared bin Salman himself, a move that angered and disappointed rights groups.

“That it was said there would be no sanctions against the person who gave the order for the crime to be committed created a strange dilemma in everyone’s minds. But this could change in the coming days,” said Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, in an interview with Reuters on Thursday.

Cengiz, who was waiting outside the consulate when he entered to retrieve documents for their upcoming marriage, said the report had been “a very huge and important step” in the path to justice, but must be acted on.

“The process of seeking justice is a long process, sometimes it is not easy,” she further said.

Khashoggi’s fiancée was speaking after the conclusion of a court session in Istanbul of the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi officials over the journalist’s assassination.

Khashoggi’s lawyer Ali Ceylan and Cengiz asked the judge to add the US intelligence report to the case file.

However, the presiding judge rejected the request on the grounds that it would “bring nothing” to the trial, despite the fact that the US report clearly concluded that MBS “approved” the operations since it fit a pattern of him “using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad.”

After the court hearing on Thursday, Cengiz told reporters that the US report “directly attributes responsibility to the crown prince. Therefore, we want this to be taken into account by the court.”

The next hearing has been scheduled for July 8.

Five suspects who received death penalty sentences in an opaque trial in Riyadh last year later had their sentences commuted to 20 years in prison.

“Those in power need to take action. Otherwise they will build their policies in the short to medium term based on a relation with someone who is proved to be a murderer,” Cengiz further said.


US condemns infiltration across LoC, supports dialogue between India, Pakistan

Mar 5, 2021

WASHINGTON: Condemning the terrorists who seek to infiltrate across the Line of Control, the US on Thursday called on all parties to reduce tensions along the LoC by returning to the 2003 ceasefire commitments.

"We have continued to follow very closely developments in Jammu and Kashmir. Our policy towards the region has not changed. We call on all parties to reduce tensions along the Line of Control by returning to the 2003 ceasefire commitments," State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told a reporter at his daily news conference.

"We condemn terrorists who seek to infiltrate across the Line of Control. When it comes to how we will support that, we continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other areas of concern," Price said in response to a question.

Price was responding to a question as to what Secretary of State Antony Blinken is going to do to ensure or try to ensure that the ceasefire announced between India and Pakistan is maintained.


Teenagers Are Being Recruited To Islamist Terror Groups in 'Worrying' Numbers during

4 March 2021

Teenagers are being recruited to Islamist terror groups in 'worrying' numbers during the pandemic, Dominic Raab warned today.

The Foreign Secretary highlighted the problem as he made a statement updating the House of Commons on the threat from Daesh.

He said although the extremist organisation had been 'weakened' its propaganda still needed to be tackled 'head on'.

In December the volume of terrorist content online went up by 7 per cent as lockdown provided a 'perfect storm' for young people vulnerable to indoctrination, according to Mr Raab.

'This is a critical moment. Yes, Daesh's brand has weakened – it remains, nonetheless, globally recognised,' he said.

Mr Raab continued: 'In December 2020, the UK Counter-Terrorism Referral Unit saw a 7 per cent rise in the volume of terrorist content online and we can see a worrying rise in the proportion of children and teenagers that are now being arrested for terrorism offences.

'And it was Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu (of the Metropolitan Police) who described lockdown and the accessibility of terrorist content online as a perfect storm because terrorists have digital access to those who are probably the most susceptible to extremist narratives.

'So we are tackling Daesh's propaganda head on and I am proud the FCDO leads on this work on behalf of the global coalition.'

He added that the UK Government has 'carried out a range of targeted and effective cyber operations'.

Mr Raab warned MPs that Islamic State are 'still able to carry out lethal attacks'.

'The safety and the security of our citizens is obviously the Government's highest priority, it is at the core of our work in tackling Daesh which remains our most significant terrorist threat – both at home and abroad,' he said.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy asked what steps the Government is taking to protect children from Daesh propaganda.

'I was deeply troubled to hear the Foreign Secretary outline the way that children are being targeted by Daesh propaganda,' she said.

'Does he agree that it is appalling that British children in the UK are being groomed to join Daesh? And can he therefore tell me what steps the Government is taking to protect children from this threat?'

Mr Raab responded: 'I think this is particularly important because of the moral duty that we recognise and the first thing to say is obviously we advise anyone against travel to Syria, there's no consular support there, certainly not the kind of regular consular service that we'd be able to provide, that's obvious, the conditions on the ground make that impossible.

'And as I have said to the House previously, we continue to work with all of those concerned to facilitate the return of unaccompanied or orphaned children where that's feasible, where that can be done where there's no risk to security and where practically it can be done.

'I won't comment on the numbers, it's obviously very sensitive but I take that very seriously. We regard those children as the innocents of the scourge of war and wherever it's safe and possible, we will put our protective arms around them.'


Seven people of Hazara ethnic group brutally killed in Afghanistan’s restive east

04 March 2021

At least seven members of the persecuted Hazara ethnic group have been brutally killed in Afghanistan’s restive province of Nangarhar, in the latest attack against the largely Shia minority.

Ajmal Omar, a member of Nangarhar provincial council member, said on Thursday that the migrant Hazara laborers had their hands bound behind their backs and been shot to death late Wednesday.

Juma Gul Hemat, the provincial police chief, confirmed the murders, saying four people had been detained as part of an ongoing investigation into the gruesome incident.

No group has claimed responsibility for the murders. However, the Daesh terrorist group controls parts of the Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan to the east.

The deadly incident took place almost 20 kilometers from the eastern city of Jalalabad near the Pakistan border, an area where a large number of militants are believed to have influence, including the Taliban militant group and a local affiliate of the Daesh group.

The flashpoint city witnessed the gunning down of three female media workers on Tuesday in separate attacks that occurred just minutes apart. Earlier that day, a female doctor was killed in the city by a magnetic bomb that had been attached to her vehicle.

The Hazara community on both sides of the border has suffered decades of persecution and attacks by violent militant groups operating across the troubled region.

For the past several years, the minority, which makes up roughly 10 to 20 percent of the Afghan population, has been growingly taken the brunt of soaring violence across the war-torn country with Daesh terrorists attacking the group’s mosques, schools, rallies, and hospitals.

Taliban militants have also targeted Hazara people over the years, abducting and killing commuters of the minority group traveling on Afghanistan’s perilous roads with impunity.

The Hazara people have also been targeted outside of Afghanistan. Members of the ethnic group in Baluchistan, Pakistan’s poorest province, have long been persecuted for their faith, facing targeted attacks and large-scale bombings that have killed hundreds in the past two decades.


Formation of special body proposed to resolve shariah-civil law overlap, says Muslim lawyers association president

04 Mar 2021

KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 — A special body or council needs to be formed involving the shariah and civil courts to resolve the issue of shariah -civil law overlap in this country, says Muslim Lawyers Association of Malaysia president (PPMM), Datuk Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar.

He said the body, for example, could be called the Constitutional Court with the objective of its establishment to resolve the dual legal system practiced in Malaysia.

“When there is a dual legal system, we cannot avoid some overlapping between the shariah and civil laws. When there is overlapping, we need to have another body to resolve the issue.”

Zainul Rijal said this in the “Bicara Pembela” slot titled “Shariah Law in Malaysia”, which was broadcast online via the Facebook of Pertubuhan-Pertubuhan Pembela Islam (Pembela) last night.

He referred to the case of a woman born out of wedlock to a Muslim father and Buddhist mother who recently succeeded in her appeal in the Federal Court to be declared a non-Muslim as a result of the dual legal system.

He also cited the case of a man who was charged (on August 21, 2019) in the Selangor Syariah High Court for attempting to have sexual intercourse with another man. The accused also succeeded in his appeal in the Federal Court for a declaration that Section 28 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995 is invalid.

Last February 28, the Federal Court ruled that Section 28 which criminalises unnatural sex is inconsistent with the Federal Constitution and is therefore void.

Zainul Rijal said before the special body could be established, the status of the shariah courts should be uplifted to be at par with the civil courts, with a hierarchy of five levels and having the same power.

“Some differences between the shariah and civil courts have made the former appear like a tribunal only to some quarters, which is not right. The shariah courts have their own jurisdiction which the civil courts cannot interfere with,” he added. — Bernama


Iran Welcomes Europe's Move to Scrap US-Backed Draft Resolution at IAEA


"Vote on the resolution was called off with intensive diplomatic efforts in Tehran, Vienna and the capitals of all members of the (International Atomic Energy Agency) Board of Governors, specially the three European countries, as well as the support of China and Russia," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Thursday.

"Today's development can maintain the path of diplomacy opened by Iran and the IAEA and pave the way for the full implementation of undertakings by all parties to the nuclear deal," he added.

"Iran hopes that the parties to the nuclear deal will manage to take this opportunity and guarantee the full implementation of nuclear deal by everyone through serious cooperation," Khatibzadeh said.

Reuters reported earlier today that Britain, France and Germany have scrapped a US-backed plan for the IAEA's board to criticize Iran for scaling back cooperation with the agency.

The decision was made after Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi warned the other parties to the nuclear deal to avoid moves which increase tensions.

Araqchi made the remarks in a meeting with Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic Themistoklis Demiris on Wednesday.

Both sides conferred on the expansion of bilateral relations as well as the latest Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) developments.

He went on to say that Iran will fully comply with its JCPOA obligations if Washington lifts illegal sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

“Iran’s move to reduce its JCPOA commitments are in line with the provisions of the Nuclear Deal and in response to the non-fulfillment of the US and European commitments,” he added.

The Iranian diplomat further highlighted that Tehran has adopted necessary measures to safeguard the JCPOA in the past four years.

Referring to the efforts made by E3 to submit a draft resolution, he maintained that Iran will not accept similar behaviors after the failure of the US maximum pressure campaign.

Araqchi said that lifting illegal US sanctions is the only way to advance the JCPOA, adding that Iran expects the remaining signatories of the Nuclear Deal to resolve the issues through political settlement and avoid any action the would further escalate tensions.

Demiris, for his part, stressed Greece's support for using diplomatic means to resolve disputes, noting that the country along with its European partners has always opposed the US withdrawal from the Nuclear Deal and the imposition of unilateral sanctions against Iran.

Iranian President's Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi warned on Wednesday that the West-sponsored resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors can leave negative impact on cooperation between Tehran and the IAEA.

“Certainly the resolution, even after they say they have removed and softened many of its clauses, is considered as non-constructive and affects the type of negotiations we have about the nuclear deal and Iran’s interaction with the Agency, and it should be corrected before it is too late,” Vaezi told reporters after a cabinet meeting in Tehran.

He stressed that the European countries and the US should take a clear step (to remove sanctions against Iran), and added, “After verification, we will fulfill our undertakings too."

Iran had also warned on Tuesday that if a harsh resolution is approved at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors against the country, Tehran will review the recent joint statement with the IAEA.

“In response to the whisper from European countries, our representative (to the IAEA) has stated in a statement that if any resolution against Iran is approved, an appropriate response and decision will be made, including a review of the recent joint statement between the IAEA and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI),” Government Spokesman Ali Rabiyee told reporters in a press conference in Tehran.

“We are still committed to the nuclear deal and in case other parties resume their undertakings, we will resume implementation of all our obligations quickly and without delay, including the full implementation of the Additional Protocol. The recent agreement reached between Iran and the IAEA demonstrates Iran's goodwill and steadfastness in reassuring the international community of our undisputable commitment to the peaceful conduct of nuclear activities,” he added.

Rabiyee said that Iran expects its goodwill to be responded with goodwill from the IAEA Board of Governors members, and added, “In our view, with the agreement reached (between Iran and the IAEA), there is no reason to worry about the halt of the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol.”

“However, if the US really has a reason to worry, it should return to its commitments in the nuclear deal to pave the way for Iran to reciprocate and obviate such an artificial concern,” he added.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had also warned on Monday that Tehran will take serious action in response to any possible West-sponsored resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors.

“The foreign minister presented a report on the latest developments at the IAEA Board of Governors during the meeting (with us, the legislators) and said if any destructive resolution is issued against Iran at the IAEA board of governors, Iran will show a serious reaction,” Rapporteur of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Abolfazl Amouyee told FNA.

He was elaborating on the Monday morning meeting between Zarif and the Iranian lawmakers.

Amouyee also referred to the proposal for the US presence at the meetings between Iran and the G4+1 under the nuclear deal, and quoted Zarif as saying, “The US is not entitled to return to the nuclear deal until it fulfills its undertakings.”

Zarif had also earlier today warned that any hostile move by the western states at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s Board of Governors against Tehran would further complicate the present circumstances surrounding the nuclear deal and Iran's nuclear issue.

“The Europeans have started a wrong move in support of the US at the (IAEA) Board of Governors,” Zarif told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with Iranian lawmakers on Monday.

He cautioned that the Western countries’ measure could further complicate the conditions.

Tehran has already informed the IAEA Board of Governors about the complicated conditions which can be created by the westerners’ move, Zarif said, expressing the hope that rationality would win.

He also warned of Iran's scenarios for any hostile measure adopted at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting.

In relevant remarks on Sunday, Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi had also cautioned the IAEA Board of Governors to avoid adopting a resolution against Iran under the US pressure and influence, warning that any such hostile move would trigger Tehran’s reciprocal response.

“In case the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency adopts an anti-Iran resolution due to the suspension of the [NPT] Additional Protocol, we will give a proper response,” Salehi said, a day before the IAEA Board’s meeting.

Referring to a recent joint statement between AEOI and the IAEA on Iran’s voluntary stopping of the Additional Protocol to the NPT Safeguards Treaty, he said, "The appendix to this statement is confidential.”

“No specific conditions have been made in this regard, and according to the detailed information about the list of facilities and monitoring cameras mentioned in this appendix and also due to security considerations and the need to hide the location of key facilities in Iran, this appendix will remain confidential,” the official noted.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi reached a temporary bilateral understanding with Iran over a week ago, allowing the Agency to continue verification work in the country for up to 90 days.

Grossi said the understanding was meant to provide a window of opportunity for political talks to get underway amid attempts to revive the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the JCPOA. The possibility of a Board resolution however, is further complicating the situation.

Grossi appealed for constructive discussions that would preserve the work of the Agency.'s-Mve-Scrap-US-Backed-Draf-Reslin-a-IAEA





How scramble for Muslim votes in Bengal may help BJP in assembly polls

Prabhash K Dutta

New Delhi

March 5, 2021

Two communities are often talked as major vote banks in an election in Bengal — Muslims and Matuas. Muslims are estimated comprise about 30 per cent of voters in Bengal while Matuas around 15 per cent.

Matuas are Hindu refugees, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been soliciting support of in Bengal against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC). The TMC is equally keen at reaching out to them. As it stands today, vote bank of Matua community is a direct fight between the BJP and the TMC.

It is the Muslim vote bank that is likely to be a bigger key factor in deciding the Bengal Assembly polls. For decades, the Muslims were considered a vote bank of the Left Front, which with strong cadre base among the Hindus ruled Bengal for 34 consecutive years. The Congress could not break the Left-loyalty of the Muslim vote bank despite a fostering different a pro-Muslim image in rest of the country.

The break came when the TMC mobilised farmers, workers and poor Muslims during Singur and Nandigram agitations. The Sachar Commission report that came in 2010 helped Mamata Banerjee guide the switch of loyalties from the Left to the TMC as panel found Muslims of Bengal were in “worse” condition on economic and social parameters.

A fresh scramble for Muslim votes is being seen in Bengal. Two prominent leaders espousing for Muslim identity are in the fray — Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, a young preacher from influential Furfura Barbar Sharif of Hooghly district, and Asaduddin Owaisi, the AIMIM chief and Hyderabad Lok Sabha MP.


Abbas Siddiqui, known popularly as Bhaijaan among his followers and supporters, and Owaisi were ‘supposed’ to contest the Bengal Assembly election on the same side of the fence. So much so that Abbas Siddiqui had declared himself “a fan of Owaisi” and Owaisi had placed the leadership of his AIMIM in Abbasi Siddiqui for Bengal election.

Now, Abbas Siddiqui has partnered with the Left-Congress for Bengal election asking “those who love me” to vote for the alliance. The decision irked Owaisi. He has been critical of the Congress, holding it responsible for the “worse” socio-economic status of Muslims and clubs the grand-old-party with the BJP for excluding the community from the mainstream of development.

Following Abbas Siddiqui’s decision to tie-up with the Left-Congress alliance, Owaisi said he would fight separately in the Bengal election. Incidentally, the expansion of the AIMIM in Bengal happened in recent months due to Owaisi’s ‘failed’ partnership with Abbas Siddiqui. Owaisi is likely to secure a chunk of votes particularly of Urdu-speaking Muslims.

Abbas Siddiqui is going into the Bengal election with his newly floated outfit, the Indian Secular Front (ISF), which is headed by his brother Naushad Siddiqui. Abbas Siddiqui has said his front espouses for the rights of Muslims, Adivasis and Dalits. But his appeal has been to Muslims mostly.

A campaign for Muslim votes is bound to be polarising in Bengal, where the BJP has led a sustained campaign against the TMC over issues cropping up from Durga Puja procession, Saraswati Puja celebration and slogan of Jai Shri Ram. The BJP’s campaign paid dividend in 2019 Lok Sabha polls when a strong polarisation was seen.

How Polarisation Works For BJP

The TMC secured more votes of Muslims pushing its vote share by five per cent compared to the previous 2014 election despite winning 12 fewer seats. But a polarisation among the Muslim votes also saw a counter-polarisation of Hindu votes helping the BJP win 18 seats with the party polling 27 per cent more votes than the previous Lok Sabha election.

A more vigorous presence and campaigning by Abbas Siddiqui and Owaisi is likely to bring greater polarising focus on Muslim vote bank. Abbas Siddiqui, in particular, is likely to be a key player here. His Furfura Darbar Sharif follows the principles of the Ahle Sunnatul Jamaat, an immensely popular Islamic sect in Bengal, especially in the border areas.

This is also the region which has seen influx of illegal migrants from Bangaldesh. Illegal migration has been a poll cry for the BJP for years. West Bengal goes to the polls against this background of jostling for the Muslim votes. The BJP may feel happy if Abbas Siddiqui and Owaisi have a greater role to play in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee would, of course, be worried.


10 nominations filed for 8 posts of Sunni board

Mar 5, 2021

Ayodhya: Former chairman of Sunni Waqf Board and president of Indo Islamic Cultural Foundation, Zufar Farooqi, was among ten people who have filed their nominations for the eight posts of the board.

Both Farooqi and another member of the Ayodhya Mosque Trust, Adnaan Farrukh, from Gorakhpur, have filed their papers for the two seats of Mutawalli quota.

For the two seats of the Member of Parliament quota, Samajwadi Party MP ST Hasan from Moradabad and Bahujan Samaj Party MP Kunwar Danish Ali from Amroha have filed their nominations.

For the two seats of MLA/MLC quota, three Smajwadi Party MLAs, Abrar Ahmad from Sultanpur, Nafees Ahmad from Azamgarh and Iqbal Mahmood from Sambhal are in the fray.

SP MLC from Amroha, Parvez Ali, has also filed the nomination. However according to top sources in SP, Parvez Ali and MLA Iqbal Mahmood may withdraw their nominations on Friday.

For the two seats of Bar Council, Imran Mabood Khan and Abdul Razzaq Khan have filed their papers.

Elections for the members of the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Waqf Board are to be held on Sunday for the eight-member board to look after those Waqfs having the at least income of 1 Lakh per year. Three members would be nominated by the Uttar Pradesh government that would include a special secretary-level officer, one religious scholar and one social worker. All the 11 members of the Waqf Board are Sunni Muslims. The elected members of the board would elect the chairman.

Election officer Shivakant Dwivedi told TOI that nominations could be withdrawn on Friday from 11 am to 5 pm and on Saturday the final list of contestants would be displayed. The election, if needed, would be held on Sunday and result declared the same day.


Muslim Ministers Should Resign over Maharashtra CM’s Remarks: Abu Asim Azmi

By Faisal Malik, Mumbai

MAR 05, 2021

A day after chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said his party was proud to have been associated with the demolition of the Babri masjid, trouble was witnessed within Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi. Samajwadi Party leader Abu Asim Azmi demanded that Muslim ministers belonging to Congress should resign immediately, while Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam asked if the chief minister’s remarks were part of the common minimum program, the basis of the formation of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.

Thackeray in his reply to the governor’s address on Wednesday had said that while everyone else ran away after the demolition of Babri Masjid, his father and Shiv Sena founder late Balasaheb Thackeray owned up to it. “He had said that if the Shiv Saniks have demolished the structure, he was proud of them,” Thackeray said.

Azmi, who had supported the MVA government when it was formed in November 2019, raised strong objection to the speech. “Thackeray’s statement and political speech in the Assembly are highly objectionable. He should not forget that the government was duty-bound to follow the CMP on which the government was formed,” he said in the Assembly on Thursday.

Nirupam slammed the leaders from ruling parties for keeping mum over the statement. “While Thackeray made the remarks, the Congress, NCP ministers and MLAs sitting next to him kept enjoying it. Which common minimum program is this,” he tweeted in Hindi.

Congress and NCP ministers chose to not react to it. Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole said that he would not comment on it.


461 bullets, 4,000 tear gas shells used by cops to quell Delhi riots

By Prawesh Lama

MAR 05, 2021

Policemen fired at least 461 bullets in the air and used nearly 4,000 tear gas shells to quell the Hindu-Muslim clashes that erupted in parts of northeast Delhi a year ago, according to Delhi police’s report on the riots.

The numbers of bullets fired and tear gas shells used were the highest in recent years, several mid-level police officers said. To be sure, while tear gas is commonly used to quell protests, instances of police resorting to aerial firing are not common. “Before the riots, while police may have used hundreds of tear gas shells during violent demonstrations such as the violence outside Jamia Millia Islamia during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, police in Delhi hardly have to resort to aerial firing. It happens only once in a while and in a few cases,” said an officer who did not wish to be identified.

At least 53 persons died while 581 others were injured when riots broke out in northeast Delhi between February 23 and 27 last year. The analysis on the use of force by police also mentions that “police did not use excessive force despite extreme provocation, with the first casualty in the riots being a policeman”.

Police have said that while rioters carried pistols and other types of weapons, all their officers fired only aerially and not at any rioter on the road. “...However, if police had resorted to direct fire, to disperse the protestors, the casualties would have been enormous and could have further fuelled the riots. The police used tear gas, lathi charge and aerial firing to control the crowd. The force used was neither excessive nor less but was commensurate to the demands of the situation,” the report reads.

Tear gas and lathi charge are the first steps used by police in handling riots.

Of the 53 people who died, postmortem reports later revealed that at least 13 of them had died of gunshot wounds. One of the defining images of the riots was that of a northeast Delhi resident, later identified as Shah Rukh Pathan, holding a pistol, also pointing it at a police officer, in the middle of the violence. Police investigations revealed that many rioters bought weapons from parts of western Uttar Pradesh before the riots began. In Shah Rukh’s case, the pistol he used (later recovered) was bought from Munger, Bihar. He bought it from an employee of an illegal gun factory in Munger.

According to the police report, the highest number of bullets fired and tear gas shells used were in the first 36 hours of the violence. It mentioned that before 2020, the 1992 riots in northeast Delhi were concentrated in areas under three police stations, while in 2020 the violence was spread across 12 police stations and two police districts: northeast and Shahdara.

Police mentioned that most of the casualties last year were reported in the interior areas north of Wazirabad Road, which had no previous history of communal riots. The mobs, according to the report, gathered in large numbers at many places simultaneously and when they were controlled or dispersed from one place, they continued rioting at the other places.

“The intensity and scale of violence can be gauged from the fact that 4,458 PCR calls were received on February 24, 2020 and 9,308 calls the following day,” the report said.

As an attempt to restore calm during and after the riots, police records show that between February 22 and March 21, 2020, a total of 471 peace committee meetings were held in the area, many of which were chaired by lieutenant governor Anil Baijal and police commissioner SN Shrivastava.

As part of their investigation, police have till date arrested 1,753 persons, which includes 820 Hindus and 933 Muslims. Of the 1,753 persons, at least 544 alleged rioters who were involved in specific incidents of rioting and arson are currently out on bail.

Local politicians Tahir Hussain and Ishrat Jahan, student activists Umar Khalid, Gulfisha Fatima and Sharjeel Imam who are among 21 alleged main conspirators are still behind bars. Police have booked the 21 persons on charges of sedition and under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.





Six Dead in Jihadist Attacks in Northeast Nigeria: Aid Groups

MARCH 3, 2021

Aid groups in Nigeria said Wednesday six civilians died in a suspected jihadist attack on a northeastern town that, according to the UN, “directly targeted” aid facilities.

“At least six civilians lost their lives in crossfire, several others were injured and are still missing,” the Nigeria INGO Forum, gathering 54 international charities, said in a statement.

A military source told AFP that fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), which split from mainstream Boko Haram in 2016, were behind an assault on the town of Dikwa that began late on Monday.

“ISWAP terrorists launched simultaneous attacks on the super camp (military base) and the UN humanitarian hub,” the source said.

The hub is one of nine in northeast Nigeria where aid workers live and work.

A spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Nigeria told AFP it had received six injured people for treatment.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said on Tuesday the insurgents had “directly targeted” aid facilities, affecting efforts to help nearly 100,000 people in need.

The Nigeria INGO Forum said, “the full scale of the attack’s impact on civilians… is still being assessed.”

The Nigerian army said it had “repelled” the attackers.

“The terrorist groups who stormed the town in an unconfirmed number of gun trucks and motorcycles were visited with heavy bombardment and overwhelming firepower,” army spokesman Mohammed Yerima said in a statement on Tuesday.

But three sources who requested anonymity told AFP that the insurgents were able to take the town for several hours between Monday evening and mid-day Tuesday.

The army or the government have not released an official death toll.

Dikwa is home to nearly 114,000 people including 75,470 internally displaced persons (IDPs) — people living in Nigeria who have fled their homes because of conflict.

President Muhammadu Buhari reshuffled the military command this year, raising hopes of a shift in strategy to end a 12-year-old conflict that has killed 36,000 people and forced around two million to flee their homes.

Since 2019, three humanitarian hubs – Banki, Ngala, and Monguno — have been targeted in attacks by insurgents.

Due to worsening security, humanitarian workers in Nigeria are struggling to provide aid.

The UN estimates that 8.7 million people will require urgent assistance this year.


Suspected Islamists kill 8 in attack on northeast Congo village market

3 March 2021

BENI, Democratic Republic of Congo, March 3 (Reuters) - A rmed insurgents killed at least eight people during a raid on a weekly market in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a witness and a rights group said on Wednesday, blaming fighters from a Ugandan Islamist armed group.

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan insurgent faction active in eastern Congo since the 1990s, has committed a spate of brutal reprisal attacks on civilians since the army began operations against it in late 2019.

The ADF has been blamed for the killing of over 140 people since the start of the year, in almost weekly attacks in Congo's restive east. The group killed around 850 people last year, according to U.N. figures.

ADF fighters entered the village of Mambelenga in the territory of Irumu on Tuesday afternoon and started shooting, said Gili Gotabo from a local civil rights group. Two attackers died in the raid, he said.

A Congo army spokesman confirmed the attack in Mambelenga, halfway between the eastern cities of Bunia and Beni.

"In broad daylight, suddenly we saw armed men, badly dressed, with weapons and machetes. They started shooting directly at us," said Mumbere Kokoma, a resident of the village.

"I took my daughter and fled into the bush."

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for several suspected ADF attacks in the past, although U.N. experts have not found any direct link between the two groups. (Reporting by Erikas Mwisi Kambale; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Mark Heinrich)


Morocco sees Sahel jihadists as magnet for local cells

By Ahmed Eljechtimi

MARCH 3, 2021

RABAT (Reuters) - Jihadist groups in the nearby Sahel region, which recruit and train their followers online, represent Morocco’s biggest militant threat, the head of its counterterrorism agency said.

Although Morocco has had only one major attack over the past decade - the 2018 killing of two Scandinavian tourists - its location “makes it a target for the Sahel groups” said Haboub Cherkaoui.

“The terrorist threat persists as long as there are groups that recruit and train their followers online including Islamic State in the greater Sahara,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Since it was set up in 2015, Cherkaoui’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation has dismantled dozens of militant cells and arrested more than a thousand suspected jihadists, he said.

The numbers point to the continued militant risk in Morocco after the rise of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq last decade caused a surge in jihadist activity that persists even after the group was defeated in its Middle East heartland.

Islamic State refocused on the Sahel region, he said, and along with other jihadist groups there has taken advantage of porous borders and trafficking networks.

Both Niger and Mali have battled militant insurgencies while Libya’s civil war has created space for jihadist groups to operate.

In late February, Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Dine El Otmani took part in a Sahel security summit in Ndjamena and offered support for military action against jihadist groups, including through training troops.

Morocco is also concerned that some of its nationals who joined Islamic State in the Middle East might have relocated to the Sahel, Cherkaoui said.

In total, 1,645 Moroccans joined jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, including 745 who died in suicide attacks or in battle. Most of the 1,645 fought for Islamic State.

Of the survivors, 270 have returned to Morocco and 137 were prosecuted, said Cherkaoui, adding that 288 women and 391 minors also went to the conflict zones, following their main income provider.

Moroccan law punishes by up to 10 years those who join jihadist groups abroad.

Morocco has offered intelligence that helped arrest Jihadists or foil attacks in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Germany, Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka and recently the United States, Cherkaoui said.

“Our success hinges on continued intelligence sharing with our partners,” Cherkaoui said.



Arab World


Rebuilding Efforts Continue in Syria’s Former IS Stronghold

By Reber Kalo, Sirwan Kajjo

March 03, 2021

TABQA, SYRIA - Nearly four years after it was liberated from the Islamic State (IS) terror group, the Syrian town of Tabqa has become a leading example of the reconstruction efforts currently underway in parts of the war-ravaged country.

Tabqa, which is part of Raqqa province in northern Syria, was freed from IS militants in May 2017 following a major military campaign spearheaded by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

While the town is still controlled by SDF-affiliated groups, its military airbase fell under control of Syrian government troops and allied Russian forces in October 2019, after those nations reached a deal with the SDF. The deal was part of a broader understanding intended to stop a major Turkish-led offensive in northeast Syria. Turkey views the SDF as a terrorist organization.

Under IS rule and during the war against the militant group, much of the Tabqa’s infrastructure was destroyed.

Local officials say their efforts since Tabqa’s liberation have focused primarily on restoring basic services for the local population.

“In 2020, we entered a new phase of rebuilding Tabqa,” said Abdulhamid Khamiri, co-chair of Tabqa civilian council. “We cleaned up the city and tried to end all scenes of destruction.

“In 2021, we have a much bigger plan for the city,” he told VOA.

Khamiri said plans for the coming months include ways to rebuild the local economy through long-term investment projects.

The latest project in Tabqa’s reconstruction process is a major shopping mall, which reportedly will be the largest in northeastern Syria.

“This mall, with a floor area of 4,000 square meters, has 84 stores, 24 halls and six restaurants,” said Adib Hussein, head of the North Construction company, which is responsible for building the mall and other construction projects in the city.

The mall “will be open for customers very soon,” Hussein said.

While some experts say Tabqa’s rich natural resources could help it recover faster than other cities formerly occupied by IS, efforts by former President Donald Trump to secure and develop Syrian oilfields have largely been stalled by legal challenges over who holds the right to sell it and to whom.

But U.S.-based Syrian affairs analyst Ahed al-Hendi says there is more to it than that.

“What helps this notion of an accelerated recovery process in Tabqa is the fact that it has a very vibrant cosmopolitan community that is willing to use international funding much more effectively than other cities and towns liberated from IS,” said al-Hendi, a former VOA contributor who has worked closely with the Syrian Kurdish-led administration in the region.

Al-Hendi, who recently visited Tabqa during a trip to northeastern Syria, said the town was known as a place that managed local affairs efficiently even prior to IS rule.

The United States has funded several significant projects as part of its post-IS stabilization efforts in the region, rehabilitating Tabqa's main hospital in 2018 along with coalition partners such as the Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The U.S. government says that since the beginning of Syria’s conflict in 2011, the United States has provided over $12 billion in humanitarian and stabilization assistance to the civilian population in the country.


Bahrain’s plan to form anti-Iran alliance with Israel is betrayal: Wefaq

05 March 2021

Bahrain's main opposition group has denounced the Bahraini regime’s plan to join Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in forming an alliance with the Israeli regime against Iran, calling the move an act of betrayal.

The al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, in a statement released on Thursday, condemned the al-Khalifah regime’s intention to join the anti-Iran coalition as the ultimate betrayal of national values in Bahrain.

"The Zionists tend to quickly drown anyone who clings to them," the statement said.

“All strata of the Bahraini society are opposed to any friendship with the Zionists. Attempts to dance to their tune show the weakness and humiliation [of the Bahraini regime],” it adde.

8- عبرت الوفاق عن سخطها ورفضها للحديث عن إقامة تحالف أمني يضم البحرين والكيان الصهيوني واعتبرته في سياق خيانة المباديء والقيم وأكدت أن الصهاينة سيغرقون من يتشبث بهم سريعاً،

Alwefaq Society (@ALWEFAQ) March 4, 2021

The Jerusalem Post newspaper, citing an unnamed Israeli official familiar with the matter, reported on March 1 that Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have discussed expanding cooperation and forming an alliance against Iran.

Speaking in an interview with Russia’s Arabic-language RT Arabic television news network on Wednesday, former Iranian defense minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi warned the Persian Gulf states against joining an alliance against Iran together with Israel, saying the move will bring “catastrophic consequences” upon them.

Vahidi, who is a member of Iran’s Expediency Council, said Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain lacked the capability to face Iran.

Therefore, Vahidi said, “it is unlikely that they would be so stupid as to join an alliance against us with the Zionist entity.” If they were to join such an alliance, “they will endure very powerful blows.”

We hope they do not sink any further into the Israeli quagmire because joining such an alliance would bring catastrophic consequences upon them,” he said.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed agreements with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani during an official ceremony hosted by former US president Donald Trump at the White House on September 15 last year.

Palestinians, who seek an independent state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital, view the deals as a betrayal of their cause.

The Israeli regime has significantly stepped up its much-criticized land grab projects since its normalization deals with the UAE and Bahrain — followed by Sudan and Morocco.

The UAE and Bahrain have also dramatically slashed their financial assistance to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) after the two Persian Gulf states agreed to normalize ties with Israel last August.

A member of Netanyahu’s cabinet and Likud party on November 23 last year confirmed reports that Netanyahu had flown to Saudi Arabia for a clandestine meeting with the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

Israel’s Kan public radio and Army Radio said Mossad chief Yossi Cohen also attended the meeting.

The Palestinian resistance movement Hamas denounced the meeting as an “insult” to the Palestinian cause.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri described the Israeli premier's meeting, which was reportedly held in Neom on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, as “dangerous”.


Iraqi resistance groups announce confrontation with US occupiers until liberation

05 March 2021

Iraqi resistance groups have announced a new phase of resistance against US forces in the country, vowing “confrontation with occupiers until the liberation of Iraq.”

“The resistance sees confrontation as the only option that guarantees the freedom, dignity of this country after exhausting all the means that others have bet on with the occupation,” the coordinating body for the Iraqi resistance factions said in a statement on Thursday, according to the Iraqi media.

“We are facing a new page from the pages of the resistance, in which the weapons of the resistance will reach all the occupation forces and its bases in any part of the homeland,” they said.

Hailing the recent attacks against the “occupation forces”, the statement added that “the resistance has the legal and national right and popular support for all of that, but will not target diplomatic missions.”

“The Iraqi resistance is an Iraqi decision, and its choice is the choice of the Iraqi people, and it will continue circumstances and sacrifices until Iraq is liberated from the filth of the occupation,” it said.

The statement came a day after 10 Grad rockets struck the Ain al-Assad air base hosting American forces in the western Iraqi province of Anbar. The incident led to the death of two American contractors and injured as many as six people. It also resulted in material damage to both parts of the outpost.

An informed security source told Press TV that eight of the projectiles struck the “American part” of the base, while two hit the section that is assigned to the US-led coalition.

The raid was conducted days after the US military targeted the positions of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), known as Hashd al-Sha’abi, on the Iraqi-Syrian border, where they were engaged in fighting the remnants of the Daesh terrorist group.

Elsewhere in the Thursday statement, the Iraqi resistance termed as “traitorous” any party that stands as an obstacle against the path of resistance and its constant choice in confronting and expelling the occupier.

“It is the right of the resistance, rather its duty, not to pay attention to such bodies, but rather to prevent it by all means from hindering its strikes against the occupation,” they said.

Forbes magazine reported on Wednesday that the United States will likely deploy the Avenger air defense system in Syria, Iraq, to support US forces in the face of the growing drone threat.

US military bases and diplomatic missions in Iraq have been repeatedly targeted in recent months as anti-US sentiments run high in the Arab country since the US assassination of Iran’s legendary anti-terror commander General Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi trenchmate Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy head of the PMU, last year.

The two anti-terror commanders were targeted along with their companions in a drone strike authorized by former US president Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020.

The Wednesday attack against the US-led occupation forces targeted the same air base that Iran openly attacked on January 8, 2020 as part of its retaliation for the Soleimani assassination, which also prompted the Iraqi lawmakers to push for the expulsion of the US-led foreign forces from their country.


Lebanon’s central bank governor may be sanctioned by US: Report

04 March, 2021

The US is considering sanctions against Lebanon’s long-serving central bank chief as a broader investigation into the alleged embezzlement of public funds in the country gathers pace, according to four people familiar with the matter.

Officials within the Biden administration have discussed the possibility of coordinated measures with their European counterparts targeting Riad Salameh, who’s led the Middle Eastern nation’s monetary authority for 28 years, said the people, who requested anonymity because the talks are private.

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The discussion has so far focused on the possibility of freezing Salameh’s overseas assets and enacting measures that would curtail his ability to do business abroad, the people said. Deliberations are ongoing and a final decision over whether to take action may not be imminent, they said. Salameh denies any wrongdoing.

US authorities have considered penalizing Salameh before. The possibility emerged as recently as last year, but then-President Donald Trump wasn’t interested in taking action, two of the people said. His administration focused much of its Middle East policy on countering the influence of Iran and its proxies like Lebanon-based Hezbollah, whereas President Joe Biden has initially emphasized accountability on corruption and human rights abuses.

Should any measures be imposed, it would be a rare instance in which a foreign government has taken action against the sitting head of a central bank over alleged corruption. It would also amount to a remarkable reversal of fortune for one of the world’s longest-tenured monetary policy chiefs and further complicate Lebanon’s efforts to win international financial support.

Salameh, 70, was once celebrated as the financier who stabilized Lebanon’s currency against all odds and was even considered at one time to be a presidential contender. As recently as 2019, he earned an A-grade from the New York-based magazine Global Finance in its annual rankings. Euromoney named him central bank governor of the year a decade earlier.

A household name on Wall Street and in foreign capitals, Salameh has been one of the few constants over the past three decades as Beirut wrestled with war, debilitating political standoffs and an economic meltdown.

That backdrop sparked mass protests in October 2019 against a political class accused of bleeding state coffers through decades of corruption and mismanagement. Demonstrators also blamed Salameh for ever-riskier policies to sustain a financial model that ultimately failed, wiping out the life savings of a generation of Lebanese. More than half the population now lives in poverty, according to the United Nations.

Swiss Probe

In January, the Swiss attorney general’s office asked the Lebanese government for help with an investigation into money laundering linked to possible embezzlement from the coffers of Banque du Liban, as the central bank is known. Swiss authorities didn’t identify the target of their probe and the Lebanese judiciary said it had been approached about transfers abroad made via the central bank.

The investigation also involves other jurisdictions, including the U.K. and France, where authorities are reviewing Salameh’s links to properties, shell companies and overseas bank transfers, the four people said. While the Swiss probe lends momentum, potential American sanctions don’t necessarily depend on its outcome as much as on shifting political calculations, they said.

Salameh dismissed the allegations made against himself and the central bank.

“It is utterly untrue that I have benefited in any way or form, directly or indirectly, from any funds or assets belonging to BDL or any other public funds, he wrote in an emailed response on Thursday to questions from Bloomberg News.

Salameh said his net worth was $23 million when he took on the role of governor in 1993, a fortune amassed during his previous career as a private banker. His salary at Merrill Lynch was $165,000 a month, he said.

“The source of my wealth is clearly identified, he wrote in the email.

A spokeswoman at the White House’s National Security Council referred questions to the Treasury Department. A representative there didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman at the Swiss attorney general’s office said the investigation is ongoing but declined to comment on coordination with US authorities. The U.K. Treasury referred queries to the Foreign Office, which declined to comment. Lebanon’s justice minister didn’t respond to questions. Neither did an official at the French presidency.

Brother’s Commissions

Swiss authorities are looking into allegations that Salameh indirectly benefited from the sale of Lebanese Eurobonds held in the central bank’s portfolio between 2002 and 2016, according to a Lebanese judicial official and a person familiar with the Swiss investigation, both of whom requested anonymity as the information is sensitive.

The monetary authority holds Eurobonds from market-to-market transactions as well as swap agreements with the government.

BDL would cancel Treasury bills and receive the bonds in return.

Also of interest to authorities is the relationship between Salameh’s brother, Raja, and the brokerage firm Forry Associates Ltd, which charged commissions on the sale of Eurobonds to investors, four of the people said. The commissions under scrutiny total more than $300 million, according to a person familiar with the Swiss investigation.

The Beirut-based investigative news website Daraj previously reported on the link between Salameh’s brother and Forry. The firm was registered in 2001 in the British Virgin Islands, an offshore tax haven, and administered by Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian agent exposed in the 2016 Panama Papers leak. Forry was struck off in 2011, according to data from the leak.

As early as 2007, the then US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman raised concerns in Washington over the financial relationship between the Salameh brothers and the central bank. In a diplomatic cable later made public by WikiLeaks, he wrote that Raja earned commissions off a central bank contract dating back to the 1990s, which paid him any time new banknotes were printed.

Raja Salameh could not immediately be reached for comment when contacted via Solidere, a real estate company where he’s a board member. There is no publicly available contact information for him and efforts to reach him via individuals known to him were unsuccessful. In the past he’s said that he owns businesses and investments in real estate and hospitality, locally and internationally, using his own private funds.

Anti-Hezbollah Ally

Under Trump, the US sanctioned several Lebanese officials for supporting Iran-backed Hezbollah, an armed group with a powerful political wing. In November, it also imposed penalties on the leader of the largest Christian bloc -- a Hezbollah ally -- under the Global Magnitsky Act, which seeks to curb serious human rights abuses and corruption overseas.

It isn’t clear if any action against Salameh would fall under the Magnitsky provisions or other regulations allowing Treasury officials to penalize foreign officials accused of using the US dollar for illicit transactions, the people said.

France, which has been working with Lebanese officials to form a new government in Beirut, warned last year that coordinated sanctions could be imposed against political leaders if they failed to enact reforms to salvage an economy whose collapse might further destabilize the region.

Any action against Salameh would be more sensitive, however, given the push by the Biden administration and European allies to reach a diplomatic accord with Iran as well as efforts to end a political crisis that’s left Lebanon without a government for almost seven months.

Potential measures against officials who’ve helped in the fight against Hezbollah have gotten a chillier reception from some of America’s allies, four of the people said. Salameh, in particular, forged close relationships with US and European officials as they sought to limit Hezbollah’s footprint in the Lebanese financial sector.


Grocery shoppers fight over basic commodities as Lebanon stares into the abyss

04 March, 2021

Grocery shoppers in Lebanon fought over basic commodities in videos shared Thursday as the economic crisis deepened and the local currency tumbled.

In one video, a mother was seen screaming at employees of a grocery store after trying to purchase a certain amount of what appeared to be powdered milk.

A man accompanying the woman went on to snatch the product from an employee’s hands and a brawl ensued between employees and shoppers.

In a separate video, two men were seen snatching cooking oil and other products out of shopper’s carts, waiting to pay.

Crisis-hit Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government since last August. Political leaders continue to bicker over spoils in the next government as Hezbollah and its Christian allies in the Free Patriotic Movement demand representation.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese pound dipped to a record low this week. Pegged to the US dollar at 1,507.5LL since 1997, the pound was trading at 10,000LL to the dollar on the black market.

Demonstrators took to the streets in frustration and have blocked roads in protest since Tuesday.

The coronavirus pandemic has further added to the dire situation in Lebanon. Additionally, the shortage of available US dollars has forced many businesses to shut down or lay off employees.


Arab Coalition destroys Houthi ballistic missile launched toward Saudi Arabia’s Jazan

Tuqa Khalid

04 March ,2021

The Arab Coalition destroyed a ballistic missile launched by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis towards Saudi Arabia’s southern Jazan region, state TV reported on Thursday.

Saudi authorities said on Tuesday a military projectile launched by the Houthis fell in Jazan, injuring at least five civilians.

Coalition Spokesperson Colonel Turki al-Maliki said: “The Houthi militia deliberately escalates hostile and terrorist targeting of civilians and civilian objects systematically using ballistic missiles… Those actions constitute war crimes.”

The Arab Coalition has reported in recent weeks increased aerial attacks launched by Houthis in Yemen towards civilian areas in the Kingdom.

The attacks on Jazan come days after the Arab Coalition said it had thwarted a ballistic missile attack by the Houthis on the Saudi capital Riyadh, and destroyed six armed drones launched towards cities in the kingdom’s south.

Riyadh said a Houthi drone attack caused a fire in a civilian aircraft at an airport in Abha mid-February.



North America


US, UK spy agencies snooping on Middle East via Red Sea cables: Report

05 March 2021

The mushrooming of fiber optic cable networks in the Middle East has provided a tool to Western intelligence agencies to make inroads into the region’s sensitive data and communications traffic.

The Five Eyes, a signals intelligence (SIGINT) alliance of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, has been prying on the region since decades, according to new findings.

The key players in this "unholy network" include the US’s National Security Agency (NSA), and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

The Middle East region, owing to its strategic importance and sinister agendas of Western regimes including the US and UK, remains a breeding ground of surveillance for the West.

Apart from conventional forms of surveillance like tapping phone lines, the region is also a hotbed of mass surveillance due to complex matrix of fibre optic cables.

According to a report in Middle East Eye, spy agencies have tapped into fibre optic cables to intercept vast volumes of data, from phone calls to the content of emails, to web browsing history and metadata. Financial, military and government data also passes through cables.

Such intercepted data is sifted by analysts, while filters extract material based on the NSA and GCHQ’s 40,000 search terms – subjects, phone numbers and email addresses - for closer inspection.

In the area spanning the Red Sea and Iran, there are no terrestrial fibre optic cables crossing the Arabian peninsula, the report notes. All internet traffic going from Europe to Asia either passes through the Caucuses and Iran, using the Europe Persia Express Gateway (EPEG), or via Egyptian and Red Sea routes.

Egypt is a main chokepoint, handling traffic from Europe to the Middle East, Asia and Africa, and vice versa. The 15 cables that cross Egypt between the Mediterranean and Red Sea handle between 17 percent to 30 percent of the world population’s internet traffic, or the data of 1.3 billion to 2.3 billion people, the report notes.

The Five Eyes alliance has information-sharing arrangements in place with some European countries and Japan and South Korea to intercept data from Russia and China. The NSA also has a relationship with Sweden, since it is a landing point for all cable traffic from Russia’s Baltic region.

In contrast, the US has less formal information-sharing relationships with the Middle East region including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE.

“The Egyptians have an intelligence-sharing agreement [with the US], but they are probably quite supine in the relationship, being after the money [from the cable operators] and some intelligence sharing, which is largely [from the US side], ‘here’s what you get’,” Hugh Miles, founder of Arab Digest, is quoted saying in the report.

The Five Eyes could be tapping cables in Egypt or its territorial waters, however. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013 refer to a secret NSA base in the Middle East called DancingOasis.

“It is extremely secret. Significantly it was built without [the host] government knowing, which is an immense risk to the Americans,” Duncan Campbell, an investigative journalist specialising in surveillance since 1975, is quoted in the report.

“Where it is located is pure guesswork. Candidate one is Jordan, then Saudi Arabia, and three, Egypt. Geographically the only other place would be Oman, from where Britain covers the Persian Gulf.”

Israel is another side with the technical capability to tap subsea cables in the region, according to Campbell, though it currently has no connections to Middle Eastern network.

There are no cables that go beyond the two coastal landing points of Tel Aviv and Haifa, which are connected to continental Europe and Cyprus.

This could change if Google’s reported plans for its new “Blue-Raman” cable running from Europe to India through Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Oman come to fruition, the report adds.


US, at UN, accuses Russia of blocking 'accountability' on Syria chem weapons

04 March ,2021

The new US envoy to the United Nations on Thursday accused Russia of seeking to stymie efforts to hold the government of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad accountable for its use of chemical weapons during its long civil war.

"We all know the Assad regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons. So why hasn't the Syrian government been held accountable?" the ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told a Security Council meeting via videoconference.

"The answer is sadly simple: the Assad regime has tried to avoid accountability by obstructing independent investigations and undermining the role and work" of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), she said.

"And the regime's allies, in particular Russia, have also sought to block all efforts to pursue accountability," added the US diplomat, who was participating in her first Security Council meeting since taking over as President Joe Biden's envoy.

"Russia has defended the Assad regime despite its chemical weapons attacks, it has attacked the professional work of the OPCW, and it has undermined efforts to hold the Assad regime accountable for its use of chemical weapons and numerous other atrocities."

Moscow's UN envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, defended Damascus, saying: "On Russia's advice, Syria has abided by the OPCW in good faith, and has gotten rid of its chemical weapons arsenal" -- a claim greeted with skepticism in the West.

He also mocked Thomas-Greenfield, who holds the council's rotating presidency for March, for being a bit wordy in what was meant to be a "brief" intervention to start the proceedings.

"We all always try to be brief, but it's not always possible," he said before launching into what he called "a brief and useful historical recap on Council deliberations" -- seemingly chiding Thomas-Greenfield for being a newbie.

According to the United Nations, which has accused Assad's regime of carrying out chemical attacks against its own citizens in the past, Damascus has for years not replied to a series of 19 questions about its weapons installations, which could have been used to stock or produce chemical weapons.

OPCW investigators have accused Assad's regime of sarin gas and chlorine attacks in Syria in 2017.


US VP Harris assures Israel’s Netanyahu of ‘unwavering commitment’ amid Iran standoff

05 March ,2021

Tuqa Khalid

US Vice President Kamala Harris emphasized the United States’ “unwavering commitment to Israel’s security,” in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, the White House said.

She “underscored the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to the US-Israel partnership,” the statement read.

“The Vice President and Prime Minister agreed on the importance of continuing close cooperation and partnership on regional security issues, including Iran’s nuclear program and the regime’s dangerous regional behavior,” the White House said.

President Joe Biden’s administration took steps to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal which former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 and subsequently announced additional sanctions on Tehran.

The Iranian regime demanded that all Trump-era sanctions on Iran be lifted before taking any real action to return to the deal.

Israel was not a party to the 2015 deal and has longed opposed any “soft” US approaches towards its long-time foe Iran.

Tel Aviv has powerful advocates within the US Congress and Netanyahu has threatened to take unilateral military action on Iran if he deems diplomacy a dead end, which leaves Washington with a difficult balancing act to figure out.

Earlier on Thursday, Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Tel Aviv would not hesitate to act independently if the international community failed to stop Iran’s “nuclear escalation.”


US ‘firmly opposes’ ICC probe of Israeli crimes against Palestinians

04 March 2021

The administration of US President Joe Biden has “firmly opposed” the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s decision to open an investigation into the war crimes perpetrated by Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian territories.

US opposition on Wednesday came shortly after the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced in a statement that her office would formally investigate the atrocities committed by the Israeli military against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, the besieged Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem al-Quds since 1967.

“We firmly oppose and are disappointed by the ICC prosecutor’s announcement of an investigation into the Palestinian situation,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at his daily press briefing.

“We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel,” he added, claiming that the ICC “has no jurisdiction over this matter.”

The American official said the US had “serious concerns about” The Hague-based tribunal’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction on Israeli military forces.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken repeated almost exactly the same words in a tweet on Thursday.

The United States firmly opposes an @IntlCrimCourt investigation into the Palestinian Situation. We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.

— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) March 4, 2021

The ICC's chief prosecutor said in her statement that the investigations “will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favor.”

In December last year, Bensouda announced that a five-year preliminary examination of the “situation in the state of Palestine” had provided her with “reasonable basis” to launch a war-crimes investigation into Israeli military actions in the besieged Gaza Strip as well as Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank. But she had asked the court to determine whether she had territorial jurisdiction before proceeding.

Last month, the ICC confirmed that the territories occupied by Israel in a 1967 war were subject to its jurisdiction.

The ICC verdict was condemned by Israel but praised by Palestinians and international rights organizations.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip — territories the Palestinians want for a future state — during the Six-Day War in 1967. It later had to withdraw from Gaza.

About 700,000 Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds since then. The settlements are illegal under international law, but the international community has done little to pressure the Israeli regime into reversing its policies.

Palestine is a party to the ICC’s founding Rome Statute and has long carried out diplomatic efforts for the investigation of the war crimes by Israel in the occupied territories.

Both Israel and the United States have refused to sign up to the ICC, which was set up in 2002 to be the only global tribunal trying the world’s worst crimes.


Zion man sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for conspiring to assist ISIS


MAR 03, 2021

A north suburban man was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in federal prison for attempting to aid the Islamic State terrorist group by providing cellphones to an undercover FBI agent to be used as detonators for bombs.

Joseph Jones and his friend Edward Schimentiwere convicted by a federal jury in 2019 of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

In rejecting prosecutors’ request for a 17-year term, U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood said that while any terrorism case is serious, the scheme that Jones was convicted of “was not of comparable severity” as many others where specific violence was planned.

“This is not a case where anyone claims Mr. Jones was actually planning on carrying out a terrorism attack,” Wood said. “And it’s not disputed ... that Mr. Jones never actually made contact with anyone directly involved with ISIS.”

But Wood also said she could not give Jones time served as suggested by his attorneys, adding that Jones had tried to “minimize his conduct” in statements to law enforcement after his arrest and in his testimony at trial.

The lengthy sentencing hearing played out over two days beginning last month and included a tearful statement from Jones, who apologized for his “grave mistake.” But he also denied being a terrorist and accused federal investigators of ensnaring him in an undercover operation by “preying on my sympathies.”

“Sometimes I feel like I have every reason to hate the government, but I don’t hate them,” Jones said. “I forgive them for what they’ve done.”

Jones also insisted he was never out to hurt anybody but simply “trying to be a good Muslim and a good American.”

“I consider myself a patriot,” he said in a voice choked with emotion. “I have my own view and my own beliefs, and it’s not about hatred.”

In asking for a 17-year sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas wrote in a court filing that although the friends were not planning to travel overseas themselves to fight, they celebrated the violence that ISIS perpetrated and believed they were assisting in it.

“The defendants deliberately attempted to assist an extremely violent terrorist group they knew was engaged in a wide range of atrocities,” Jonas wrote. “Not only were defendants aware of these atrocities, they celebrated them, gleefully watching horrific execution videos and sharing such ISIS propaganda online.”

Jones’ attorney, Patrick Boyle, had asked for a term of time served, which as of February was just under four years behind bars. In a lengthy court filing this week, Boyle described how Jones’ family life had deteriorated with his father’s drug addiction, leading him into his own problems with substance abuse and petty crime.

Jones found Islam as a teen and credits the religion with helping get him sober, Boyle said. But his continuing research on the formation of an Islamic state “took him to dark places on the internet,” including “slick” videos produced by ISIS that glorified attacks on civilians, which Jones does not condone.

“He believes that Islam never justifies violence against people who are just trying to live their lives,” Boyle wrote.

Renewing an argument from trial that Jones was entrapped by undercover FBI agents, Boyle said that Jones feels betrayed by the government and that “they pressured him into something he didn’t want to do.”

The case against Jones and Schimenti marked the only time so far Islamic State-related charges have gone to trial in Chicago, instead of ending with a guilty plea. The trial featured days of testimony about the group’s brutal tactics — including torture and beheadings — as well as its notorious propaganda campaigns aimed at impressionable Americans.

Jurors were shown one propaganda video found on Schimenti’s computer showing terrorists clad in all black standing behind six captured Kurdish fighters whispering prayers while on their knees. Prosecutors stopped the video as the terrorist narrating it in English held a large knife up to the throat of one of the captives.

The investigation began in September 2015 when an undercover agent posing as a motorist arrested in a traffic-related incident approached Jones at the Zion Police Department, where Jones was being interviewed about the recent slaying of a friend.

That agent introduced Jones and Schimenti to others posing as devotees of ISIS, including an informant they knew as Mohammed, who told them he was going to the Middle East to join the Islamic State ranks, according to prosecutors.

In February 2017, Schimenti took the informant to a gym in Zion to train for the battlefield. Remarking on his own weight problem, Schimenti said on an undercover recording that what mattered most in jihad was “hand-to-hand” combat skills, not physical fitness.

“Man, you know I’m all big, fat,” Schimenti said on the recording played for jurors. “But (God willing) the brothers will just have me be the one to cut the neck.”

Although the charges do not allege the two participated in any violence, Schimenti talked with the informant about future plans to attack Naval Station Great Lakes in North Chicago, a short distance from his home.

On April 7, 2017, Schimenti and Jones dropped off Mohammed at O’Hare International Airport equipped with cellphones they had purchased at his direction, according to the charges.

“Drench that land with they, they blood,” Schimenti allegedly said as he and Jones saw the man off at the airport.

Boyle told reporters he was “disappointed” that jurors rejected his argument of entrapment.

Both Boyle and attorneys for Schimenti had argued throughout the trial that the FBI targeted the pair because of their admittedly extremist views and then induced them to actively support terrorism through a series of undercover agents and informants.

“The government had my client under surveillance going back to 2015, including aerial surveillance,” Jones said. “Then they concocted a ruse to introduce an undercover (operative) and worked on him for almost two years.”





Germany Places Far-Right AfD Party Under Surveillance for Extremism

By Katrin Bennhold

March 3, 2021

BERLIN — For the first time in its postwar history, Germany has placed its main opposition party under surveillance, one of the most dramatic steps yet by a Western democracy to protect itself from the onslaught of far-right forces that have upset politics from Europe to the United States.

The decision by the domestic intelligence agency will now allow it to tap phones and other communications and monitor the movements of members of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which not only sits in the Federal Parliament but has become entrenched at all levels of politics in nearly every part of the nation.

It is among the most sweeping efforts yet to deal with the rise of far-right and neo-Nazi political movements within Western democracies, which are attempting more vigorously to constrain, ostracize or even legally prosecute those elements to prevent them from chipping away at the foundations of democratic institutions.

News of the move came on the same day that France banned Generation Identity, a militant youth movement considered dangerous for its slick rebranding of neo-Nazi concepts, and as lawmakers in the European Parliament in Brussels forced the party of Hungary’s semi-authoritarian leader Viktor Orban out of the mainstream conservative group.

It also follows the impeachment hearing in Washington of former President Donald J. Trump over accusations that he incited the violent mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, as well as rising concerns among Democrats and even U.S. law enforcement agencies about links between some Republican Party members and extremist or conspiracy groups like QAnon.

For Germany, the question of how to deal with the far right has particular urgency in an election year that will see Angela Merkel step down after 16 years as chancellor, a tenure in which she became a symbol of a Germany that has learned from its Nazi past and opened itself to refugees seeking shelter from conflict and persecution.

Because of Germany’s Nazi history and the fact that Hitler rose by democratic means before swiftly moving to abolish democracy, the country designed its postwar political structures with built-in safeguards to protect against the rise of political forces — primarily another Nazi party — that could once again usurp the democracy from the inside.

The domestic intelligence agency, known as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, is one of them. Its founding mission is to act as an early warning mechanism to protect the Constitution against budding threats.

“We take that mission very seriously,” Thomas Haldenwang, the president of the agency, said last year.

“We know from German history that far-right extremism didn’t just destroy human lives, it destroyed democracy,” he said. “Far-right extremism and far-right terrorism are currently the biggest danger for democracy in Germany.”

The Alternative for Germany, known by its German acronym AfD, the first far-right party to make it into Germany’s federal parliament since World War II, has become the most serious test for Germany’s postwar institutions yet.

The party won 13 percent of the vote in 2017, two years after Ms. Merkel welcomed over a million refugees into the country. During the pandemic, its support has shrunk to around 10 percent, but in Germany’s former Communist East it still scores twice that.

Despite noticeably radicalizing in recent years and closing ranks with neo-Nazis in street rallies, the AfD has pockets of support in state institutions like the police and the military, raising concerns about far-right infiltration at the heart of democracy.

AfD lawmakers routinely travel to Russia, where they are hosted at length by the foreign minister. They celebrated President Trump’s election and took photos with his ambassador during July 4 celebrations at the American embassy in Berlin. Stephen K. Bannon met the AfD leader Jörg Meuthen in 2019.

More recently, several AfD members expressed sympathy for the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. “Trump is fighting the same political fight — you have to call it a culture war — as we in the Alternative for Germany are in Germany in opposition,” Martin Renner, an AfD lawmaker, wrote on Facebook. The post has since been deleted.

At home, AfD leaders accuse Muslim immigrants of being criminals, attack the press, and dismiss the Nazi era as a “speck of bird poo in history.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, AfD officials have taken part in demonstrations that have at times turned violent, including last year when protesters tried to force their way into the Parliament building in an act that now seems a harbinger of the violence that shook the Capitol in Washington in January.

Yet, even as the AfD has become more radicalized, the party has established a presence in state and local legislatures across the country.

Increasingly concerned about the party’s positions, the domestic intelligence agency has spent two years scrutinizing the speeches and social media posts of AfD officials for evidence of extremism.

An assessment amounting to some 1,100 pages concluded that the party’s position violated key principles of liberal democracy, not least Article 1 of the German Constitution, which states that human dignity is unassailable, officials said.

A year ago the intelligence agency announced a first escalation, classifying both the most radical wing of the AfD associated with Björn Höcke, the party’s most notorious far-right firebrand, and its youth organization as extremist and said it would place some of its most influential leaders under surveillance.

Since then, this radical wing — despite being formally disbanded — appears to have only extended its influence in the party, officials say. At a recent party convention in December, the radical wing had the support of nearly half the delegates.

The latest decision by the intelligence agency to widen the spotlight to all party members stops short of classifying the AfD as extremist, but it clears the way for the agency to place it under surveillance to determine if it is.

Members of the AfD responded with outrage on Wednesday, vowing to take legal measures and insinuating that the move was politically motivated. Later this month, there are two hard-fought state elections, and in September a national ballot will determine a new government.

“The intelligence agency is acting purely politically when it comes to the AfD,” wrote Alice Weidel, a prominent party leader, on Twitter. “Given the state and federal elections this year that is particularly remarkable.”

Another AfD lawmaker, Jürgen Braun, sounded a similar theme. “You know you’re living in Germany,” he wrote on Twitter, “when one and a half weeks ahead of two important state elections and a few months before the national election the domestic secret service declares the biggest opposition party to be suspicious,” he said.

But elsewhere in the political spectrum the decision met with widespread support.

“Against the backdrop of our experience in German history I can understand fully that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution has designated the AfD as a suspected case of far-right extremism,” tweeted Konstantin von Notz, a Green lawmaker and deputy president of the intelligence oversight committee in parliament. “Our democracy defends itself!”

It is not the first time that Germany’s intelligence agency has placed a political party under observation. In the 1950s, a successor party of the Nazi party was banned by the constitutional court, followed by the Communist Party of Germany. More recently the neo-Nazi National Party of Germany attracted state scrutiny as did members of the far-left Left Party.

The question of whether a government agency can put a democratically elected political party under surveillance — or even ban it — if the party is feared to be a threat to democracy has become the subject not just of fierce debate but also a legal battle.

The decision to investigate the AfD as a potentially extremist group was reached last Thursday but was not publicly announced, pending an ongoing court case the AfD has brought to stop the measures against it.

The intelligence service told the court that pending the end of the court case, it would not use its observation powers on AfD lawmakers and party members running for office in upcoming elections.

Last month, an administrative court in Cologne ruled that the intelligence office, known here as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or its German initials BfV, was allowed to start investigating the AfD for extremism.

The agency would not comment on the case on Wednesday. But German officials, who requested anonymity given the ongoing court battle, confirmed the decision.

“Due to the ongoing legal proceedings and out of respect for the court the BfV does not give any public statements on this matter,” the intelligence agency said in an emailed statement.

In a measure of the decision’s scope and significance, it almost doubles the number of listed suspects of far-right extremism in the state’s official database.

In last year’s intelligence report, the intelligence agency said there were 32,080 individuals suspected of far-right extremism. That number already included 8,600 AfD members who belong to Mr. Höcke’s radical wing and to the party’s youth wing. Now another 24,000 AfD members will be added.


UK Prisons Must Not Become ‘Terrorist Training Grounds’ As Sentences Increased, Government Warned

Lizzie Dearden

March 4, 2021

British prisons must not be allowed to become “terrorist training grounds” as the number of extremist inmates rise, the government has been warned.

The number of terrorist prisoners hit a record high last year, and a package of new laws currently going through parliament aims to make them serve longer inside jail by increasing sentences and changing release rules.

During a debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday, several peers demanded assurances that security inside prisons will be maintained and extremists can be deradicalised.

It comes more than a year after the first Isis-inspired attack inside a UK jail, where a terrorist inmate and radicalised violent criminal attempted to kill a prison officer at HMP Whitemoor.

Proposing a series of amendments to the new Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Marks said: “We are also concerned to consider the effect on other prisoners of having serious terrorist offenders in their midst.

“It is of great importance to avoid the risk that the most serious offenders are seen as some kind of kingpins within prisons to be looked up to and emulated. If our prisons become terrorist training grounds, the effect of long sentences will have been utterly counterproductive.”

Lord Marks called for a review of separation centres, which are intended to isolate influential extremists from the mainstream process.

Three were opened in the wake of a damning review on Islamist extremism, but only one remains in operation.

Concern about radicalisation and terrorist networking have been mounting following revelations in recent trials for alleged attack plotters.

Four terror attacks were launched by serving or released prisoners in a seven-month period between November 2019 and June, in Fishmongers’ Hall, HMP Whitemoor, Streatham and Reading.

During the House of Lords debate, a minister said a Home Office unit had conducted an “internal review of lone-actor terrorism” in the summer, but that its findings were “sensitive and will not be published”.

Green Party peer Baroness Jones said the changes in the new bill “can either work very well or be disastrous”.

“The government are taking a very worrying approach to counterterrorism with this sort of ‘tough on crime’ mentality, where we just lock people up and throw away the key,” she added.

“There is a huge risk that issues and behaviours like this can spread in prison and in fact the prisons become a recruiting ground. That is pretty much how Isis started, in the prison camps in Iraq, so we have a precedent for some quite damaging events coming out of locking people up.

“We have to be very careful that the government’s attempts to imprison people indefinitely do not just make the problem much worse.”

Labour peer Lord Ponsonby said that bodies representing prison guards and probation officers had raised concerns about the impact of removing the possibility of early release from some terrorists.

“It is much easier to manage a prison, and much safer for their members, if there is hope for the prisoners themselves,” he added. “There has been a huge increase in attacks on prison officers in recent years.”

Baroness Hamwee, a Liberal Democrat peer, said: “No hope can lead to an attitude of not having anything to lose, managing to get involved in terrorism and suceeding with catastrophic effect.”

The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons in July, and was going through its report stage in House of Lords.

Amendments will be made before it goes back to MPs for their final approval.

The law as initially drafted would increase the maximum penalty from 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment for several terror offences.

Judges would also be able to increase the sentence for any crime punishable by more than two years in prison by finding a “terrorist connection”.

The bill would force terrorists given extended determinate sentences to serve the entire term in prison, rather than being released on licence, but only if the maximum penalty for the crime was life.

An impact assessment commissioned by the Ministry of Justice said that while longer sentences could give terrorists more opportunity to engage in deradicalisation programmes, there “is a risk of offenders radicalising others during their stays in custody”.

Legal changes would see those found guilty of selected offences, such as planning attacks, handed a minimum 14-year prison term and monitored for up to 25 years after their release under new “serious terrorism sentence”.

The law would also increase licence periods and introduce lie detector tests for released prisoners, and enabled the extended imposition of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (Tpims).

Responding to Wednesday’s debate on the government’s behalf Lord Stewart, the Scottish lord advocate, said the bill would be subject to post-legislative scrutiny.

He said that Jonathan Hall QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, would look at its effects and was conducting a separate review on terrorism inside prisons.

“Efforts in our prison system to deradicalise and rehabilitate offenders in custody are ongoing, and techniques are developing constantly,” Lord Stewart said.

“We have a set of specialist operational controls for managing counterterrorism risk in custody, as well as a number of population-management controls available for use across the entire prison estate.

“Most extremist prisoners can, and should, be managed in the mainstream prison population with appropriate conditions and controls.

“We take the risk of radicalisation within the prison estate seriously and, where deemed necessary, we have used, and will use, the separation centres available to us to prevent persons spreading malicious ideology to other prisoners.”

Lord Stewart said the main deradicalisation programme, the Healthy Identity Intervention, was currently being evaluated and that a “new counterterrorism assessment and rehabilitation centre” was being established.


Pope Francis departs Rome for risky, historic Iraq tour

by Kunal Gaurav

MAR 05, 2021

Pope Francis left Rome on Friday to start a four-day trip to Iraq, his most risky foreign trip since his election in 2012 and the first visit by a pontiff to the country.

An Alitalia airplane carrying the 84-year-old pope, his entourage, a security detail, and about 75 journalists, left Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport for the 4-1/2-hour flight to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Iraq is deploying thousands of additional security personnel to protect Francis during the visit, which comes after a spate of rocket and suicide bomb attacks raised fears for his safety.

The flags of Iraq and the Vatican City fluttered outside Baghdad airport in anticipation of his arrival.

Francis's whirlwind tour will cover four cities in the north and south of the country, taking him by plane, helicopter and possibly armoured car to areas that most foreign dignitaries are unable to reach, let alone in such a short space of time.

He will say Mass at a Baghdad church, meet Iraq's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric in the southern city of Najaf and travel north to Mosul, where the army had to empty the streets for security reasons last year for a visit by Iraq's prime minister.

Mosul is a former Islamic State stronghold, and churches and other buildings there still bear the strains of conflict.

Since the defeat of the Islamic State militants in 2017, Iraq has seen a greater degree of security, though violence persists, often in the form of rocket attacks by Iran-aligned militias on US targets, and US military action in response.

On Wednesday morning, 10 rockets landed on an airbase that hosts U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces. Hours after that attack, the pope reaffirmed he would be going to Iraq.

Islamic State also remains a threat. In January, a suicide attack claimed by the Sunni militant group killed 32 people in Baghdad's deadliest such attack for years.


Francis will meet clergy at a Baghdad church where Islamist gunmen killed more than 50 worshippers in 2010. Violence against minority groups in Iraq, especially when a third of the country was being run by Islamic State, has reduced its ancient Christian community to a fifth of its once 1.5 million people.

The pontiff will also visit Ur, birthplace of the prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, and meet Iraq's revered top Shi'ite Muslim cleric, 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The meeting with Sistani, who wields great influence over Iraqi politics and its Shi'ite majority, will be the first by a pope.

Some Shi'ite militant groups have opposed the pope's visit, framing it as Western interference in Iraq's affairs. But many Iraqis hope that it can help foster a fresh view of Iraq.

"It might not change much on the ground, but at least if the pope visits, people will see our country in a different light, not just bombs and war," said Ali Hassan, a 30-year-old Baghdad resident picking up relatives at the airport.

The trip is the pope's 33rd outside Italy. He is due to return to Rome on Monday morning.


France bans far-right group Generation Identity


The French government on Wednesday agreed to ban the far-right group Generation Identity, saying the organization incited "discrimination, hatred and violence."

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin posted the decree to ban GI on Twitter, saying it took into account the group's "structure and military organization," adding that GI can be regarded "as having the character of a private militia."

Darmanin noted in the decree the group had links to "ultraright groups from which (GI) receives logistical support," noting that it received donations from Brenton Tarrant, the terrorist behind the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Racist ideology

In the decree, Darmanin pronounced the Lyon-based association illegal, and said its publications and actions spread "an ideology inciting hatred, violence and discrimination of individuals, based on their origin, their race or their religion."

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said: "With that decision we are putting an end to sometimes violent actions from the group."

GI has gained notoriety in recent years after staging a number of operations to block migrants from entering the country. The most recent of which occurred in January, with around 30 GI members congregating at the Col du Portillon mountain pass on the French-Spanish border, in what the group called a surveillance operation to "defend Europe."

Fences and helicopter missions at borders

It was the latest in a string of demonstrations by GI members, often involving the deployment of fences at border crossings.

In August 2019, the group's leader and two other members were handed six-month prison sentences after they set up a blockade in the French Alps and rented two helicopters to search for migrants.

Members of the far-right group scaled the mountain pass at an altitude of 1,762 meters (5,781 feet), and unveiled a giant banner which said "Closed border: No way" before erecting a symbolic blockade in the snow using plastic fencing.

In response, a separate group of activists escorted some 30 migrants into France, sparking skirmishes with police and GI members.



South Asia


Tripura Christians angry over church demolition in Bangladesh

March 05, 2021

Christian leaders in Bangladesh have condemned the demolition of a partly built Protestant church by the Forest Department in a remote hilly area of the country.

Adhirang Tripura, a member of the largely Christian indigenous Tripura community, said Christians are angry and demanding compensation after Forest Department officials destroyed their new church in Sathiram Tripura village after accusing them of illegally occupying a forest reserve.

Forest officials along with 8-10 Muslim civilians tore down the Seventh-day Adventist Church building at Kurukpata Union in the Alikadam area of Bandarban district, one of three hilly, forested districts collectively called the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), on Feb. 25, according to Adhirang, a Baptist Christian and member of the local union council.

“Officials said they demolished the church building because it was being constructed in a forest reserve. But my question is, then why are illegal activities like cutting down trees and lifting stones from rivers not stopped? Can't we, as a minority, practice our religion properly?" Adhirang told UCA News.

“The destroyed building was not a new church, but an old structure made of bamboo and straw was being replaced with a concrete building with funding from church members.”

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If the structure was illegal, it should not have existed for years, he added.

Some 160 Tripura Christians belonging to the Baptist Church or Seventh-day Adventist Church have been living in Bidhymoni Tripura village and Sathiram Tripura village for generations, he explained.

An official from Chittagong Catholic Archdiocese that covers the area also expressed dismay over the church demolition. 

“We are worried and terrified over the incident. We also have our churches here and the incident is a bad example. We want justice for this incident and hope the government will compensate the Seventh-day Adventists for it,” the priest told UCA News on condition of anonymity.

Catholic priests working in the CHT are often harassed and questioned by law enforcement agencies when they visit villages to offer pastoral care to the faithful.

“This is unacceptable. All must be free to practice their faith freely,” the priest added.

S.M. Kaiser, a forest official in Bandarban, denied allegations of any wrongdoing.

“We evicted a building in the reserve area. The law requires that permission from the Forest Department is mandatory if anyone wants to build any structure in a forest area. In this case no permission was given,” he told UCA News.

Philip Tripura, general secretary of the Alikadam Tripura Welfare Association, said the incident is of grave concern to the local Christian community.

“The Forest Department has hurt the religious sentiments of Christians by demolishing the church. We demand a fair investigation and justice for this heinous act. If not, it will be difficult for Christians in the region to practice their religion in the coming days,” Philip told UCA News.

According to its website, the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Bangladesh has been active in the country since 1906. It operates schools, colleges and orphanages across Bangladesh. It has 33,681 members in 127 churches in the country. Christians, mostly Catholics, account for less than half of one percent of the 160 million people in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

The CHT is Bangladesh’s only mountainous region — bordered by India and Myanmar to the southeast — and famous for its natural beauty including lush green forests, hills, rivers, springs and lakes. For years, the area has been home to more than 25 indigenous groups, mostly Buddhists and some Christians.

Since the 1980s, the region has received a massive influx of Bengali Muslim settlers under state-sponsored migration schemes that triggered tensions and violent disputes over land, livelihoods and forestry.

Indigenous groups formed a militia group that started attacking Muslim settlers accused of land grabbing and abusing their people. In response, the government deployed the military and a bloody bush war raged for more than two decades until the signing of the CHT Peace Accord in 1997.

Despite the peace treaty, the CHT remains a heavily militarized zone and a volatile region where deadly sectarian conflicts and violence between armed political parties are common.


Sweden attacker identified as ‘Afghan asylum seeker’

05 Mar 2021

A 22-year-old Afghan is confirmed to be the culprit of stabbing and injuring eight people in Sweden, the man had arrived in a Nordic country in 2018 media reported on Thursday.

The incident happened in the city of Vetlanda on Wednesday, Police told AFP that detail had emerged which led them to probe whether there was a terror motive behind the stabbings.

Swedish police are currently working with the country’s intelligence service Sapo to determine the cause and motive of the attack.

The security officials are investigation a possible “terror incident” following the stabbing of eight people by an Afghan man, and did not provide details on the victims.

Earlier police called the incident “attempted murder but later changed it to a “suspected terrorist” attack.

Police chief Malena Grann told reporters that “There are details in the investigation that have led us to investigate whether there was a terror motive,”.

The city inhabited by approximately 13,000 people was shocked to get the news of stabbings.

According to police, the man used a sharp knife but some sources say he had a brandished knife when the stabbings happened.

The man whose identification was undisclosed was shot in the legs and is admitted to a hospital, media reported.

Three of the eight injured victims have reportedly suffered life-threatening injuries, while two others are in serious condition, local health authorities reported.

Police indicated that the perpetrator is in a condition able to answer investigative questions, the suspect was a resident of the area and was previously accused of petty crimes and use of small-scale cannabis.Stefan Lofven, Swedish Prime Minister condemned the “horrific violence” and added that Sweden faces “these despicable actions with the combined force of the community,”.

He also wrote on his Facebook page that “We are reminded of how frail our safe existence is,”.

Local media outlets reported that Swedish intelligence services indicated that the “terrorist threat” was high.

Sweden was also been targeted twice by such attacks, in April 2017, a radicalized Uzbek asylum seeker mowed down pedestrians with a stolen truck in which five people were killed and in December of 2010 a man carried a suicide attack, he himself was killed but passers-by were mildly injured in the incident.


Violence in Afghanistan ‘must end’, EU condemns targeted killings

04 Mar 2021

European Union Condemned the targeted attacks on media workers, journalists, and women in Afghanistan.

EU also called on all of the warring parties to end the violence and that “the violence in Afghanistan must stop”.

According to European Union, the atrocious, planned assassination of three young female media workers deprived them of their future, their families, friends, love ones, and colleagues.

“The Taliban remain responsible for the majority of civilian casualties and targeted assassinations, either directly or by opposing a ceasefire. Targeting journalists must stop. Targeting women must stop. The violence in Afghanistan must stop,” the statement indicated.

The European Union expects transparent and thorough investigations of all these attacks and assassinations, the statement said, reiterating the European Union’s resolve to support media and the freedom of speech in Afghanistan.

EU hoped for a transparent and thorough investigation of all such attacks, targeted killings and reiterated the EU’s support to media and freedom of speech in Afghanistan.

These attacks illustrate the vulnerable and dangerous situation that female media workers face.

“It also continues a worrying trend of systematic, targeted attacks and killings of journalists, human rights defenders, civil society representatives and civil servants, which cost the lives of 1,200 civilians in 2020, a 45% increase compared to 2019” the statement read.


Inclusivity is key to salvaging the US–Taliban Doha deal

5 March 2021

Imtiaz Gul

The deal struck by the United States with the Afghan Taliban in Doha on 29 February 2020 was de facto recognition of the weight of the fundamentalist militant group. Nearly 10 days later all 15 members of the UN Security Council endorsed the agreement. But challenges plague the deal a year on.

Taliban delegates speak during talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar, 12 September 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Ibraheem al Omari).

Former US acting deputy representative to the United Nations Cherith Norman Chalet had pointed out that the resolution was the culmination of more than a year of unprecedented, painstaking US diplomatic engagement with the Taliban, the Kabul government and almost all key regional actors. Accompanied by verbal demands for a reduction in violence as a pre-condition to intra-Afghan dialogue, the agreement called for the fundamentalists to sever ties with international terrorist groups and to prevent them from using Afghanistan to carry out attacks against the United States.

A year on, the violence is not diminishing nor is the intra-Afghan dialogue making any real progress. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s team is still seeking explanation on the rationale for continuing ‘Taliban jihad’. The United Nations is also yet to take around 100 key Taliban leaders off the list of terrorists.

The deal underlined a realisation among the Taliban for the need to engage in talks for a way out of nearly two decades of conflict. US support for a Taliban Doha office was also a political compulsion for the United States — it had until then treated the Taliban as an Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group and was legally constrained from talking to them. Doha provided a political face to the Taliban and enabled them to engage with the United States and other stakeholders.

But Kabul reneged on the deal in pinning hopes for a review of US Afghan policy under the Biden administration. The move disregarded the critical role and consent of other actors as well as the opinions of key regional power centres such as Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Islamabad.

For the Taliban, the deal with the United States and endorsement by the United Nations had vindicated its position as a legitimate stakeholder, and an expectation that it would be consulted on a possible extension to the pull-out of all US-led troops from Afghanistan. Under the agreement, the United States was to reduce its troops down to 2500 and eventually extract all combat forces from Afghanistan by early May 2021.

The entire process is now facing multiple complications. Many voices inside and outside of Washington are calling for an extension in the deadline for US withdrawal to allow more time for intra-Afghan talks. But the Taliban seem to view this as the United States backtracking on its promise, undermining trust in future arrangements.

Ghani is intent on maintaining his leadership even if the intra-Afghan talks result in an agreement on an interim government. But the Taliban have ruled out a continuation of the current administration and governance system in Kabul as an ‘illegitimate entity and product of US occupation’.

Most officials and analysts still consider Pakistan — which shares a 2560-kilometre border with Afghanistan — as the key to success in the Afghan process. But if the past were any indicator, it would be a mistake to believe the Taliban might give in to any Pakistani demands for a longer term ceasefire or an extension to the May deadline. The onus for success of the process rests more on the ability of Afghan stakeholders to mutually navigate the minefield of political disagreements than on Pakistan.

The Taliban still draws some support from Moscow, Beijing, Ankara and Tehran. They are all urging the Taliban to moderate its position on foreign troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. ‘Responsible withdrawal’ has been the desire of almost all regional players because all neighbours will face blowback if the Afghan security forces fail to fill the vacuum.

Any yearning for peace in Afghanistan must be viewed in the geopolitical context. The current stalemate between New Delhi and Islamabad hardly inspires any prospects for positivity as far as Afghanistan is concerned. Both want to retain their respective influence as much as possible. The last Indo–US 2+2 Dialogue in October 2020 identified China as the ‘common challenge’. Pakistan is the closest partner of China in the region and cannot expect much from either India or the United States.

The best way to salvage the Doha deal lies in an inclusive consultative process embraced both by national stakeholders and external players. Any decision excluding the Taliban, Kabul or regional actors is likely to spell greater trouble for Afghanistan.

Favouring an inclusive approach is the fact that the Biden administration alone may not be able or willing to shoulder the entire process. The COVID-19 pandemic-induced economic crisis has drawn the focus of the United States and other major NATO allies away.

Any major deviation from the basic contours of the existing agreement will only help spoilers of peace and not the millions of Afghans who are desperate for return to normalcy. This could also erode trust in the inviolability of future peace agreements that consume enormous effort and time to mature.

Imtiaz Gul is Executive Director at the Center for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.



Southeast Asia


Selangor Islamic Religious Department Detains Four In Hulu Langat Over Alleged Violations Of Islamic Law

04 Mar 2021

SHAH ALAM, March 4 — The Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) has seized several items as evidence following the arrest of two men and two women in Hulu Langat last night over alleged violations of the Islamic law or fatwa.

Its director Datuk Mohd Shahzihan Ahmad in a statement today said the four detainees were taken to Jais headquarters for further investigations under Sections 7, 9 and 10 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Selangor Enactment) 1995.

He said the case against the four individuals was brought up in the Shah Alam Syariah Subordinate Court today.

A male accused was allowed bail of RM1,000 with a Grade 41 civil servant as surety and he was ordered to hand over his international passport and to report to the Gombak District Islamic Religious Office every two weeks.

“The court set bail of RM3,000 with a Grade 48 civil servant as surety for each of the female accused. They were also ordered to hand over their international passports and report to the Religious Office every two weeks.

“The other male suspect was released on bond,” he said adding that the court has set July 28 for re-mention.

“With the arrest of the four, JAIS is expected to resolve a case involving alleged violations of the Islamic law or fatwa including belittling the honour of the Al-Quran and Al-Hadith and insulting or bringing into contempt the religion of Islam,” he said. — Bernama


PAS ‘no’ to any attempt to split ummah, forge alliance with opposition

March 5, 2021

PETALING JAYA: PAS today said it would reject any attempt to split the Muslim community and any effort to forge a new alliance with the opposition, following Umno’s decision against cooperating with PPBM in the next general election.

The party’s secretary-general, Takiyuddin Hassan, also said it would focus on strengthening the ties among the three parties.

“We are confident that any differences and misunderstanding that has arisen can be resolved by the party leaders,” he said in a statement.

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Takiyuddin said PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang had met with Umno and PPBM leaders several times, and had sat down with PPBM president Muhyiddin Yassin yesterday.

He said cooperation among Malay parties was vital in the context of the country’s political future.

“So, we reject any attempt to split the unity of the ummah, which is the basis of this cooperation.

“We also reject any attempt to forge any new alliance with Pakatan Harapan or its allies.”

Following an Umno Supreme Council meeting last month, the party declared it would not cooperate with PPBM in GE15 and it would only work with the PN-led government until Parliament was dissolved.

Takiyuddin also said PAS would continue with its agenda of strengthening the unity among the Muslim community and empowering Muafakat Nasional (MN).

MN is an alliance between Umno and PAS, the two largest Malay-Muslim parties, which was formally set up in September 2019. In August, Umno and PAS officially accepted PPBM into the alliance.


Take threats against Nur Sajat, transgender community seriously, say activists

Hakimie Amrie Hisamudin

March 5, 2021

PETALING JAYA: Former minister for Islamic affairs Mujahid Yusof Rawa has cautioned members of the public not to overreact over the announcement by cosmetics entrepreneur Nur Sajat that she intended to renounce Islam.

Recently, Nur Sajat hinted during a live broadcast on her now-deactivated Instagram account at converting to another religion.

Her announcement prompted a backlash from netizens, with some threatening to kill her.

“Do not overreact, who are we to judge her? Instead of punishing her, we should continue to persuade her nicely not to convert to another religion. That is the proper reaction,” Mujahid told FMT.

However, he said, Nur Sajat should not have used the weaknesses of religious institutions in handling her case as an excuse to convert.

“The weaknesses and imperfections are coming from the institutions, not from Islam. So, Nur Sajat should not have used them as an excuse to convert. That is not fair,” he said.

Justice for Sisters (JFS), an NGO that advocates the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT), said there were legitimate fears that those from the transgender community could fall victim to violence and hate crimes.

Describing the public reaction as extreme, FS founder Thilaga Sulathireh told FMT: “Their extreme actions are legitimised by patriarchal interpretations of religion and laws that criminalise persons based on their gender identity, religious beliefs or lack thereof, freedom of expression and such.

“The fact that people can call for violence and issue death threats openly demonstrates a high level of impunity in this country, especially against trans and gender diverse women. These forms of extremism based on religion and patriarchal ideas are worrying.”

Thilaga said the current situation in relation to Nur Sajat must not be taken lightly. She said the authorities must “step back and ensure safety for Nur Sajat and the transgender persons and LGBTIQ persons in general”.

Meanwhile, Sisters In Islam (SIS) said hate crimes and death threats against the marginalised community should be taken seriously by the authorities, community and religious leaders.

Death threats are a crime under Section 506 of the Penal Code which provides for imprisonment for up to seven years or a fine or both, the women’s group said, while threats on social media are a crime under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 which provides for a fine not exceeding RM50,000 or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.

“It is heartbreaking when religious leaders and authorities choose to remain silent on the issue involving death threats.

“SIS urges the public to be calm, not to spread hatred, threaten and encourage violent acts against Nur Sajat or the transgender community in general.”





Israel will defend itself if world fails to stall Iran’s nuclear plans: Benny Gantz

Joseph Haboush

04 March ,2021

Israel will not wait for the international community to stop Iran’s “nuclear escalation,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Thursday, adding that Tel Aviv was ready to act independently if needed.

“Iranians are breaking everything that was agreed with them; they are bluffing in any aspect that one can think,” Gantz said in an interview with Fox News.

US President Joe Biden has been pushing for direct talks with Iran over the JCPOA, an acronym for the Iran nuclear deal, signed in 2015. Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement and imposed heavy economic sanctions on Iran.

Iran’s president says the sanctions have cost Tehran around $200 billion.

But Israel and other countries in the region have been skeptical of a new deal that doesn’t include consultation with Tel Aviv and the Gulf. Barack Obama did not negotiate or include regional countries in the discussions that led to the 2015 deal.

Now, Iran is spreading its nuclear capabilities all across the country in order to use it “God forbid, or to use it as a deterrence canopy” in the midst of potential negotiations with the US, Gantz said.

“The Iranian nuclear aspiration must be stalled. If the world stops them before, it’s very much good. But, if not, we must stand independently, and we must defend ourselves by ourselves,” he warned, in an apparent reference that Israel could act without coordinating with Washington.

Gantz said Israel was constantly improvising its capabilities to strike and defend itself.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah

Asked about the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, Gantz said the group had “hundreds of thousands” of missiles.

The Israeli official shared what appeared to be a classified map. “This is a map of Lebanon. What you see there are ground forces, headquarters, launching sites, et cetera. Everything is aimed to civilian targets, and it is being conducted from civilian infrastructure,” Gantz alleged.

Asked if the map was a target list for Israel, he said: “This is a target map. Each one of them has been checked legally, operationally, intelligence wise, and we are ready to fight.”

Hezbollah and Israel fought to a stalemate in 2006. Since then, both sides have greatly expanded their arsenal and fighting capabilities.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah’s deputy leader Naim Qassem said his group was not looking for a war with Israel.

Analysts fear an all-out war between the two is inevitable. And they warn that if the Biden administration proceeds to negotiate with Iran without coordinating with Tel Aviv, there could be uncoordinated action against Iran and its proxies from Israel.

“Israel will go all out and do crazy ****,” if the US strikes a similar deal to the 2015 one with Iran, a former Trump official told Al Arabiya English. “We stopped them from doing a lot of crazy **** during our time, but I’m not sure this administration will be able to because there won’t be coordination if they push ahead with a deal and don’t include Israel.”


Russia, Turkey want to save Iran nuclear deal, urge US to lift sanctions on Tehran

Tuqa Khalid

04 March ,2021

Russia and Turkey said they wanted the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to be “saved”, urging the United States to lift sanctions on Tehran.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that lifting US sanctions on Iran over its nuclear work and returning to the 2015 nuclear deal will contribute to regional stability and economic prosperity.

“President Erdogan, who stated that he wished the new US administration would abandon unilateral sanctions on Iran and lift restrictions on the prosperity of Iranian people, said the statements on the issue in recent days had led to a new window of opportunity,” the Turkish presidency said in a statement last month after phone call between Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday the US must take steps that demonstrate the seriousness of its intentions to return to the Iranian nuclear deal, and there are still opportunities to save the accord known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“The window of opportunity for rescuing the nuclear deal has not yet been closed. A prerequisite is the full and consistent implementation of the 2015 comprehensive agreements by all countries that developed and concluded them. We are working closely with all JCPOA participants to achieve this goal,” Russian state news agency Interfax cited Lavrov as saying.

“However, not everything here depends on us or the European participants in the Action Plan. The principal point is the position of the Joe Biden administration on the nuclear deal. In our opinion, Washington’s steps would contribute to unblocking the situation around Iran and its nuclear program, which would send a signal to Tehran demonstrating the seriousness of the US intentions to return to the JCPOA,” he added.

Washington and Tehran are locked in a standoff over reviving nuclear talks.

President Joe Biden’s administration has signaled to Iran its willingness to return to talks to revive the nuclear deal, which Trump abandoned in 2018 and subsequently announced additional sanctions on Iran.

Biden reversed Trump’s determination that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored. And the State Department eased stringent restrictions on the domestic travel of Iranian diplomats in New York.

Yet, Tehran demanded that all Trump-era sanctions on Iran be lifted before taking any real action to return to the deal.

Russia, Turkey and Iran all have tenuous relationships with the US and face an uphill climb with the Biden administration which announced prioritizing human rights as part of its foreign policy.

Ties between Washington and Ankara have been strained over a host of issues including the latter’s purchase of Russian S-400 defense systems and detainment of journalists and activists under seemingly arbitrary terrorism charges.

Recently, the US sanctioned senior Russian government officials and Russian entities in response to Moscow’s attempt to kill opposition leader Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent.

The latest action by Biden’s administration marks a sharp departure from former President Donald Trump’s reluctance to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Rouhani estimates ‘damage’ to Iran by US sanctions since 2018 at $200 billion

Tuqa Khalid

04 March ,2021

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani estimated the “damages” to his country by re-instating US sanctions under the Donald Trump administration at $200 billion.

“If the new US administration wants to make up for the mistakes of the previous administration, we have left the path clear for them,” Rouhani said in a speech on Thursday.

“Some friends said that the US should first compensate the damages it has done to the Iranian nation - which is of course more than $200 billion - , but we have said that we will leave the claim for damages to the next stage for now, but first, they have to show their good will by lifting the sanctions and fulfilling their obligations ,” he added.

Washington and Tehran are locked in a standoff over reviving nuclear talks.

President Joe Biden’s administration has signaled to Iran its willingness to return to talks to revive the nuclear deal, which Trump abandoned in 2018 and subsequently announced additional sanctions on Iran.

Biden reversed Trump’s determination that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored. And the State Department eased stringent restrictions on the domestic travel of Iranian diplomats in New York.

Yet, Tehran demanded that all Trump-era sanctions on Iran be lifted before taking any real action to return to the deal.

The Iranian regime is trying to get more concessions from Washington before taking any real action, especially in light of growing pressure at home due to economic hardship worsened by the US sanctions.

“Tehran urgently needs sanctions relief... Iran also holds its presidential elections in June 2021 and, for the outgoing Rouhani administration, securing a quick return to the deal would build back lost economic and political confidence, and perhaps also impact the election outcome,” according to Sanam Vakil, Senior Research Fellow at Middle East and North Africa Program, Chatham House.


IAEA plans ‘technical’ meeting with Iran in early April on open issues

04 March ,2021

The UN nuclear watchdog plans to start a “technical” dialogue with Iran aimed at advancing the process of obtaining explanations on outstanding issues such uranium particles found at old, undeclared sites, its chief said on Thursday.

“I’m ... aiming at having a far more clear understanding of this issue by the summer or before,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi told a news conference, adding that the first meeting would be in Iran in early April and he hoped to report back to the IAEA board on progress by June.

Iran welcomed a decision by European nations on Thursday to scrap a planned resolution criticizing the country at a meeting next week of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Today’s developments can keep open the path of diplomacy initiated by Iran and the IAEA,” foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.

Britain, France and Germany had planned to introduce a resolution at the IAEA board of governors meeting criticizing Iran’s suspension of some nuclear inspections.


Iranian Interior Minister Stresses Amicable Ties with Iraq


Amicable relations between Iran and Iraq is beyond signing agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs), Rahmani Fazli said in a meeting with visiting Iraqi Interior Ministry delegation in Tehran on Wednesday.

He reiterated that relations between the two countries of Iran and Iraq do not confine within the framework of agreements and MoUs, rather, relations between the two states are based on beliefs, cultural, religious commonalities.

"We love the Iraqi people like our own people," he added.

Iran’s Ministry of Interior has made its utmost effort to expand and develop relations between the two countries, so that the interior ministries of the two countries can play a very important role in strengthening and broadening relations between the two countries. 

Elsewhere in his remarks, Rahmani Fazli pointed to the issue of fighting against terrorism, and said, “In this field, the two countries have taken giant strides in the fight against terrorism. At the request of Iraqi government, Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to provide Iraqi government and people with advisory and logistics services whenever it is needed.”

One of the most significant cooperation between the two ministries is the issue of Arbaeen rites and rituals, he said, adding, “Arbaeen is a matter of faith and culture for people of Iran and Iraq which can further expand relations between the two countries.”

Senior Advisor to the Iraqi Interior Ministry Abdul Halim Faham Al-Farhoud, for his part, expressed special thanks to the Iranian Ministry of Interior for its hospitality and stated that negotiating for reaching Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and enhancing security cooperation between the two countries is the main aim behind visit of Iraqi delegation to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Security of Iraq is the security of Iran and there are common relations and interests between the two countries, he underlined.

In relevant remarks on Wednesday, Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Zolfaqari stressed that Tehran and Baghdad have good cooperation in fighting terrorism even after defeating terrorist groups in the region.

Zolfaqari made the remarks in a joint press conference with High Counselor of Iraqi Interior Ministry Abdulhalim Fahim al-Farhoud.

He said that Iran hosted an Iraqi delegation this week with high level meetings on promoting cooperation and information exchange on issues concerning security, border cooperation, fighting terrorism, organized crimes, fighting drug trafficking and facilitating civil travels between countries.

Zolfaqari also said that an agreement was drafted to be signed in a future meeting between interior ministers of Iran and Iraq.

He highlighted very good cooperation between officials from the two countries on different areas, including Arbaeen ritual which is widely commemorated by millions of Iranians traveling to Iraq during the occasion.

Although terrorism has been defeated, Iran and Iraq have still close cooperation to fight terrorism in various fields, including intelligence, education, border control, and experience exchange, Zolfaqari said.

Fahim al-Farhoud, for his part, said that he and his companions had several meetings with Iranian counterparts and good conversation on security and issues related to citizens went on in the meetings.

He also said that the Iraqi delegation visited some defense companies in Iran to get familiar with Iranian defense products and Iraq would use the products to meet its needs.


VP: Iran Ready to Share Scientific Experiences with Syria


Sattari made the remarks in a meeting with the chairman and members of the Board of Directors of Syrian Chambers of Commerce in Damascus on Wednesday.

He underlined that Iran is ready to transfer its experiences and export its scientific productions to Syria especially in the field of technology and training Syrian students.

During the meeting, Chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors of Syria Muhammad Abu Al-Hoda Al-Lahham stressed the importance of increasing trade exchange and using Iran's experience in the field of technology, expanding cooperation between businessmen of the two countries, facilitating the transfer of goods and setting up a joint Iranian-Syrian bank.

Iran on Wednesday also inaugurated Innovation and Technology Center in Damascus Free Zone to strengthen the scientific and economic relations between the two countries and establish the link between companies operating in the fields of biotechnology, information and nanotechnology, communications, industry as well as creating necessary infrastructure.

Sattari visited Syria along with heads of 40 knowledge-based companies.

Sattari had also earlier this week said his country is prepared to meet Syria’s need to medical equipment and technologies.

“Iran is ready to export medical equipment and technology needed by Syria,” Sattari said in a meeting on Tuesday with Syrian Minister of Health Hassan Ghabbash, noting that knowledge-based companies have notably improved Iran’s health sector.

“Iran has managed to export some equipment such as standard ventilators to Syria amid the coronavirus pandemic,” he said, noting that Factor VII (a vitamin K–dependent serine protease glycoprotein) have also been exported to Syria since two weeks ago.

Hassan Ghabbash, for his part, called on Iran to provide short-term courses for some Syrian physicians, and added that the import of medicines from Iran is very important, because the besieged country attaches importance to standard of drugs such as Iranian medicines.

He stressed that Syria attaches high importance to biotechnology products; so, Damascus wants to dispatch expertise teams to Iran to visit Iranian pharmaceutical factories.

In a separate meeting with the Syrian Industry Minister Ziyad Sabbagh, Sattari underlined further expansion of technological cooperation between Tehran and Damascus.

Sabbagh hailed using Iranian technology in Syria, expressing hope to benefit Iranian innovative youth's breakthroughs in his country.

In relevant remarks earlier on Tuesday, Sattari said that startups are powerful components of Iran’s defense against global sanctions, adding that technology diplomacy is a new form of diplomacy that Iran tries to build up in the world.

“Startups are the elements of Iran’s powerful defense against international sanctions,” Sattari said at the Iran-Syria Business Matchmaking event in Damascus on Tuesday, noting that Tehran is seeking to shape a new kind of diplomacy in the world called, “Technological Diplomacy”.

“Today, Iran has the largest startups in the region in advanced sciences,” he added referring to the managers of over 40 Iranian knowledge-based companies attending the event.

Sattari emphasized that the new generation of Iranian knowledge-based companies developed by youth, and added, "These companies have learnt how to export their product.”

The official noted that sales of these companies have topped over $12 billion.

We have no restrictions on the transfer of our experiences to Syria," he said.


Israel extends so-called administrative detention of two Palestinian officials

04 March 2021

Israel has extended the custody of two current and former Palestinian officials according to the so-called administrative detention rule, a form of imprisonment in which the individual is never tried and can be held indefinitely.

An Israeli court extended the solitary confinement of Sheikh Ra’ed Salah for yet another six months, the Palestinian Information Center said in a report on Thursday.

A few days earlier, his lawyer Khaled Zabarqa had revealed that the Tel Aviv regime intended to hold Sheikh Salah, the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, in isolation under flimsy security pretexts.

“He has been in isolation since six months ago and today the court extended it for another six months, which means he will spend a whole year in solitary confinement,” Zabarqa said.

Israeli security authorities claimed that the Palestinian official could pose a security threat to the regime if he were held with other inmates, his lawyer added.

Zabarqa described Wednesday’s court session as a mere formality, lambasting the tribunal for approving what the security services had requested without looking into the truth of their accusations and not caring about the impact of its verdict on his client.

“Israel is prosecuting Salah for his ideology and religious beliefs and not because of any criminal offense,” the lawyer stressed.

Separately on Wednesday, a court in the occupied Jerusalem al-Quds extended the administrative detention of Khaled Abu Arafa, the former Palestinian minister of al-Quds affairs, for another four months, without trial or indictment.

Israeli’s spy agency Shin Bet arrested Abu Arafa, 59, in November last year after summoning him for interrogation at the Ofer detention center near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.

A week later, an Israeli court in Jerusalem al-Quds extended his detention for several days before issuing an administrative detention order for four months against the ex-minister.

The Palestinian official has so far been in Israeli jail several times. He was banished from Jerusalem al-Quds upon his release in 2014.

More than 350 detainees are under administrative detention, in which Israel keeps the detainees for up to six months, a period which can be extended an infinite number of times. Women and minors are also among the detainees.

Such detentions take place on orders from a military commander and on the basis of what the regime describes as "secret" evidence.

Some prisoners have been held in administrative detention for up to 11 years without any charge. Palestinians in administrative detention resort to hunger strikes to force the Israeli authorities to release them.


Yemeni drones attack air base, airport in Saudi Arabia: Military

05 March 2021

Yemeni armed forces, backed by allied fighters from Popular Committees, have launched fresh retaliatory attacks against Saudi Arabia, targeting Abha International Airport and King Khalid Air Base in southwestern region of Asir.

Spokesman for Yemeni Armed Forces, Brigadier General Yahya Saree, said in a post published on his Twitter page that three domestically-manufactured Sammad-3 (Invincible-3) and Qasef-2K (Striker-2K) combat drones struck designated targets inside the sites with great precision early on Friday.

مجددا سلاح الجو المسير يتمكن بفضل الله من استهداف مواقع هامة في قاعدة الملك خالد الجوية ومطار ابها الدولي فجر اليوم بثلاث طائرات مسيرة نوع صماد 3 وقاصف 2k وكانت الإصابة دقيقة بفضل الله

يأتي هذا الاستهداف ردا على تصعيد العدوان وحصاره المتواصل على شعبنا العظيم

العميد يحيى سريع (@army21ye) March 5, 2021

He added that the airstrikes come within Yemen’s legitimate right to respond to the Saudi devastating war and all-out blockade against Yemeni people.

The latest drone strikes came a few hours after the Yemeni army forces and allies launched a ballistic missile at the southwestern Saudi port city of Jizan.

The Saudi-led coalition said it had intercepted and destroyed the missile.

On Thursday, Yemen’s military said it launched a missile attack against Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil facility in the kingdom’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.

Saree said on Twitter that a Quds-2 cruise missile had hit the economically strategic site and the strike was accurate.

The senior Yemeni military official noted that the missile attack was in retaliation for a six-year military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

Two civilians in Saudi-backed shelling of Ta’izz

At least two civilians were killed and ten others injured when artillery shelling targeted an area in Yemen’s southern coastal province of Ta’izz.

A local security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Saudi-led militants carried out heavy artillery shelling on al-Jumlah area in the Salh district of the province on Thursday evening.

Russian FM Lavrov invited to Sana’a 

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a member of Yemen's Supreme Political Council, has extended an invitation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to visit Sana’a and obtain a more detailed understanding of Yemen's humanitarian crisis.

We invite the Russian foreign minister, who plans to undertake a regional tour between March 8 and 12, to visit Sana’a to learn about security and stability [here in Yemen],” he wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Lavrov will visit the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on March 8-12 to discuss coordination on energy markets, the Interfax news agency reported on Thursday.

The Yemeni official called on Lavrov to reopen the Russian embassy in Sana’a instead of visiting the Saudi capital Riyadh, in order to acquire an in-depth understanding of the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen as a result of the aggression being waged by the Saudi Arabia, United States, Britain, the United Arab Emirates and their allies.

Back in December 2017, Russia closed its embassy in Sana’a and evacuated its diplomats from the Yemeni capital.

The United Nations says Yemen has the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80 percent of the country’s 30 million people needing some form of aid or protection. About 13.5 million Yemenis currently face acute food insecurity, UN data shows.

Last month, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said some 16 million people in Yemen were going hungry and five million of those people were “just one step away from famine.”

Some 400,000 children under the age of five are severely malnourished, he said.

Those children are in their last weeks and months,” he warned. “They are starving to death.”

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched the war on Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, back to power and crushing the popular Ansarullah movement.

The Yemeni armed forces and allied popular groups have, however, gone from strength to strength against the Saudi-led invaders, and left Riyadh and its allies bogged down in the country.


Tehran sues European firms for aiding Saddam’s chemical attacks against Iranians: Judiciary

05 March 2021

The head of the Iranian Judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights says Iran has filed lawsuits in international courts against European companies that provided chemical materials to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, who used chemical weapons against Iranians in the 1980s war.

Ali Baqeri-Kani made the remarks on Thursday in a meeting with families of the martyrs of the Sardasht chemical bombing during a visit to West Azerbaijan Province.

Baqeri-Kani said the Judiciary has filed lawsuits for more than 200 of the victims of Saddam’s chemical attacks, and final verdicts have been issued for 70 of the cases.

He lamented that the same countries which “brutally” butchered the Iranian people through their “chemical weapons” are now “arrogantly” violating the rights of the Iranian people through their “economic and political” tools, making a reference to their use of sanctions and international institutions against Iran.

The governments that are exerting the highest amount of pressure and the most extensive sanctions against the Iranian people today are the ones that provided Saddam with chemical weapons, prevented international action against the Ba'athist regime and prevented media coverage of Saddam’s crime,” he stated.

He further said the same Western countries that suffocated civilians in Sardasht neighborhoods now claim to champion human rights in Geneva fortresses.

The official went on to invite Western rulers to hold their next so-called human rights meeting in Sardasht, so that they closely see the effects of their atrocities against the Iranian people.

In the Sardasht crime, although Saddam played the role of the executioner in the most criminal way, the approach and action of some Western governments were certainly not less than the role of the executioner,” Baqeri-Kani said.

Those governments, he continued, consciously and deliberately produced and sold chemical weapons to Saddam, supported him in the international arena and suppressed media coverage of his crime in order to shift public opinion in their favor.

Sardasht, a small city in Iran’s West Azerbaijan Province, was targeted by Saddam’s Iraq on June 28, 1987, when Iraqi bombers attacked four densely populated parts of Sardasht with fatal chemical gasses.

Sardasht was the third city after Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki to become the target of weapons of mass destruction. At least 110 people were killed and 5,000 more were injured during the attack.

Iraq have launched over 350 large-scale gas attacks along the Iran-Iraq border between 1980 and 1988 on combatants and non-combatants, leaving behind over 107,000 victims.

As many as 2,600 of that total died at the time, and more than 45,000 others were left in permanent need of treatment.

Saddam possessed a huge arsenal of chemical weapons, which were reportedly produced using materials supplied by the US and other Western countries. Iranian officials have on numerous occasions urged the international community to bring the perpetrators to justice.



New Zealand


Christchurch homes raided after online threats to carry out terrorist attacks on mosques

By Sam Sherwood and Blair Ensor

March 4, 2021

Christchurch: Armed police have raided two Christchurch homes after a person allegedly made a series of online posts threatening a terrorist attack involving car bombs on March 15, the second anniversary of the mosque massacre.

Members of the armed offenders squad carried out search warrants at the properties in St Albans and Linwood shortly before 6pm, Christchurch time, on Thursday.

Two men were arrested. A 27-year-old man was later charged with threatening to kill, police said. He would appear in the Christchurch District Court on Friday morning.

The other man was released without charge.

Detective Inspector Michael Ford earlier said police searched the two properties after receiving information from the public regarding “concerning communications on the 4chan site”.

The site is an anonymous online message board known to be frequented by far-right individuals.

On Sunday night, a person made a series of posts on the site using a similar online name to that used by the Australian terrorist Brenton Tarrant who fatally shot 51 people at the al-Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch on March 15, 2019.

The poster said they were “originally English”, but grew up in South Africa before moving to New Zealand in 2009.

The person said they planned to “take action” on March 15 by carrying out an attack remotely on the two mosques using car bombs.

The explosions would be livestreamed, they said.

Others on the message board told them not to do anything “stupid or radical”.

Ford urged people to be vigilant in the lead-up to March 15 and report any concerning behaviour immediately.

“There’s absolutely no appetite for hate crimes in our community,” he said.

It is understood police have visited the Christchurch mosques in recent days and searched them for bombs.

A neighbour said she met a man who lived at the property a few days ago. He told her he had only just moved into the area, she said. She was shocked to hear the reason why police were at the house.

The Australian terrorist, now aged 30, was last year jailed for life without the possibility of parole after he pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and a charge of committing a terrorist act.





Kohistan clerics to help protect foreign workers of Dasu project

March 5, 2021

MANSEHRA: Clerics in Upper Kohistan district have assured the administration that they will not allow anyone to block work on the Dasu hydropower project and will help protect foreign workers.

“The ulema backed by all local tribes have announced that the residents won’t be allowed to hamper smooth execution of the Dasu energy project. Those challenging the government’s writ will be taken to task,” deputy commissioner Arif Khan Yusufzai told reporters at the end of a jirga in Dasu, the district headquarters of Upper Kohistan, on Thursday.

The event was attended largely by the clerics. Work on the dam was suspended last month when Wapda’s guards opened fire on a group of people, who attempted to enter an under-construction tunnel of Dasu dam.

Five of them had suffered injuries.

The deputy commissioner said the land acquired for Dasu dam was the public property and nobody could make an ownership claim about it.

Assure admin won’t let anyone block work

He said the district administration also wanted to ensure brotherhood among tribes settled across the district and that they be given an equal opportunity for project jobs.

Mr Yusufzai warned that those creating hurdles to the project would be dealt with strictly under the law.

Meanwhile, the deputy commissioner gave away Rs220 million cheques to the people, whose land was acquired for the Dasu dam.

He said the project would help meet the country’s electricity shortfall but develop Upper Kohistan district.

Also in the day, the office-bearers of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Women’s Wing visited the King Abdullah Teaching Hospital and expressed satisfaction with the services offered to patients, especially pregnant mothers.

“The Sehat Sahulat Programme is a revolutionary healthcare initiative of the PTI government and expecting mothers are availing themselves of it for free services including care by skilled birth attendants and medicines,” PTI Women’s Wing president Farrakh Ishtiaq told reporters.

She said the hospital’s bedding strength, which came down to around 150 after its wards were destroyed by the 2005 earthquake, had been enhanced to 350.

Another PTI leader, Tahira Jabeen, blamed high mother and infant mortality rate in the district at the deliveries handled by unskilled health workers and said the rate would plunge due to the Sehat Sahulat Programme, which provided free gynaecological services to visitors.


Pakistan court orders removal of ex-ISI chief from no-fly list

Mar 5, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (HC) on Thursday ordered the removal of ex-Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen (retired) Asad Durrani’s name from the no-fly list, saying there was no reason to prevent him from leaving Pakistan.

Chief justice Athar Minallah said that the court has examined all records and found that there was no inquiry underway against Durrani when his name was put on the Exit Control List (ECL) in 2018.

“Like all citizens, the retired general also has rights to move freely,” the judge remarked. The court then ordered that Durrani’s name be removed from the list.

Last month, another high court judge, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani had recused himself from hearing the petition, saying he had taken the decision owing to reasons he did not want to share.

Durrani had put himself into trouble after co-authoring a book, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, with ex-RAW chief Amarjit Singh Dulat, in 2018.

Following the book’s publication, the interior ministry had placed Durrani’s name on the ECL after being asked by the Military Intelligence (MI) to prevent him from leaving Pakistan. It had prompted Durrani to challenge the move in the Islamabad HC in 2019. The federation of Pakistan and ministries of defence and interior were made respondents in the case.

In a written reply submitted to the Islamabad HC last month in response to Durrani’s petition, the defence ministry had said the former ISI chief’s name was placed on the no-fly list for “his involvement in anti-state activities”.

The book, according to the ministry’s statement, contained “certain contents concerning the national security of Pakistan, being in contravention of the provisions of the Official Secrets Acts, 1923”.

Last year, the Pakistan Army announced that Durrani had been found guilty of violating the military’s code of conduct and a court of inquiry was ordered against him for writing the book. A military court subsequently stripped him of his pension and other post-retirement benefits. In October 2020, according to Durrani, the government had restored his pension.


Yousuf Raza Gilani's election as senator challenged with ECP

Saqib Virk

March 05, 2021


The election of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as a senator was challenged with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday.

The petitioner, on behalf of advocate Azhar Siddiq, stated that the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) candidate's win should be declared null and void as the polls were not transparent.

The plea said that rigging in elections is a crime and it should be investigated, highlighting that latest technology was not used in the polls despite the directions of the Supreme Court in this regard.

The petitioner further asked the ECP to not issue a notification of Gilani's successful election.

The plea further asked the electoral authority to investigate horse-trading in the polls and take action against those responsible.

It also sought action against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice-President Maryam Nawaz and Ali Musa Gilani over the allegations of rigging. According to the petitioner, Moosa's video and Maryam's statement were evidences of rigging.

ECP, the plea added, should have a case registered against the two over the violation of Section 167, 168, and 170 of the Election Act.

In a major upset in the Senate elections held on March 3, PDM's Yousaf Raza Gilani defeated Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidate Hafeez Sheikh by five votes.


Biden nominates Pakistani-American as deputy head of US agency on small businesses

March 5, 2021

US President Joe Biden has nominated a Pakistani-American, Dilawar Syed, to serve as the deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), according to a statement released from the White House.

Confirming the news on Twitter, Dilawar said he was "deeply humbled & honored" on the nomination, which is yet to be confirmed by the US Senate.

"I will put my heart and soul into helping small businesses everywhere in these challenging times," Dilawar said, adding that the "grit" of small businesses made America strong.

Dilawar holds an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and earned a BA in Economics and Computer Science from The University of Texas at Austin. He immigrated to the US from Pakistan as a freshman student to attend The College of Wooster in Ohio, the White House statement said.

Dilawar currently serves as the president and chief executive officer of Lumiata, an "AI for healthcare company focused on reducing healthcare costs and improving patient outcomes". He was previously the president at Freshworks where he worked in scaling the software company's products to thousands of small and medium-scale businesses, according to the statement.

The statement noted that Dilawar had a history of furthering civic efforts "at the federal, state, and local level focusing on economic growth and entrepreneurship".

"He served on President Obama’s White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) and chaired the White House Initiative on AAPIs’ Economic Growth Committee.

"In that role, Syed led the administration’s engagement with small businesses across the US after the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009."

This will not be his first interaction with the SBA as he also previously served as a liaison with the SBA and the Department of Commerce on federal initiatives such as the President’s Export Council, said the statement.

Biden previously inducted Pakistani-American Salman Ahmed into his foreign policy team to serve as director policy planning at the US State Department. This was the second such induction of a Pakistani American in Biden's team.

The president had also chosen a Pakistani-born climate expert, Ali Zaidi, to serve as as his Deputy National Climate Adviser in December. The appointment had made Zaidi the highest ranking Pakistani-Ameri­can in the Biden administration.

“This diverse and accomplished team […] embodies my core belief that America is strongest when it works with our allies,” Biden had said in a statement.

“Collectively, they have secured some of the most defining national security and diplomatic achievements in recent memory — and I am confident that they will use their diplomatic experience and skill to restore America’s global and moral leadership.”


COAS, ISI chief call on Prime Minister Imran

March 5, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Thursday met Prime Minister Imran Khan as part of the interactions between the civilian and military leadership on national issues.

Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Faiz Hameed was also present during the meeting.

No statement on the meeting was issued by the Prime Minister Office, which normally gives out press releases on such interactions.

An official, speaking on the background, said the meeting was held to review the “internal and external situation”.

There have been about five publicly known meetings between Prime Minister Khan and the army chief and ISI director general in the past couple of months under this format.

However, people were quick to link the meeting to the latest political developments in the country following the Senate elections in which the ruling coalition suffered an upset on the seat for the federal capital where Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh lost to opposition’s candidate former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The shock defeat forced Prime Minister Imran Khan to seek a fresh vote of confidence from the National Assembly.

Mr Khan during the day separately held consultations with his allies and party leaders over the vote of confidence.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Maryam Nawaz, while speaking at a presser, said that Gen Bajwa and Gen Hameed should not have met the prime minister at this occasion as it sends out wrong signals.

She said that the meeting at this juncture does not send out good visuals.

Ms Nawaz said that the “institutions” should end backing of PM Khan, if they have not done so far and should restrict themselves to the constitutional and lawful role.



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