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Islamic World News ( 14 March 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Al Qaeda Praises Taliban While Reacting To Group’s Peace Deal with the U.S.

New Age Islam News Bureau

14 March 2020

• World Sindhi Congress Urges UNHRC to Hold Pakistan Accountable For Human Rights Violation Of Sindhi People

• Communal Riots in North Eastern Delhi Have Given India’s Diplomatic Image a Beating

• Umno Leader Chides PAS Deputy Minister Over Child Marriages

• Hezbollah Not against Foreign Aid under ‘Reasonable Conditions,’ Says Nasrallah

• Muslim Groups Urge Mosques to Suspend Friday Prayer Services Amid Coronavirus Fears

• One Year after Christchurch We Seek Solace In Community And Being Unapologetically Muslim

• Turkey Detains Kurdish Human Rights Lawyers on Terror Claims

• Mali’s Jihadists Demand French Withdrawal as Condition for Talks


South Asia

• Al Qaeda Praises Taliban While Reacting To Group’s Peace Deal with the U.S.

• Afghanistan Summons UN Official over Meeting with President’s Rival

• Taliban Attacks Need To Go Down Considerably In Afghanistan, U.S. General Says

• Coronavirus fear grips Rohingya camps in Bangladesh

• Church calls for action to halt eviction of Bangladeshi Santals

• Bangladesh Does Not Require Suspension Of Friday Prayers As The Situation Is Under Control

• Kabul Police solve brutal murder mystery; perpetrator arrested



• World Sindhi Congress Urges UNHRC to Hold Pakistan Accountable For Human Rights Violation Of Sindhi People

• Attack on press freedom continues in Pakistan

• 250,000 pilgrims mass in Pakistan despite coronavirus warnings

• Probe launched against Pakistan PM’s top aide

• Coronavirus ‘not bigger’ than Pakistanis’ resolve: Shehbaz

• PML-N wants joint session of parliament for virus briefing

• PML-N suspends membership of ‘rebel’ MPAs

• Pakistan has a ‘very important’ role in implementing Doha accord: US general



• Communal Riots in North Eastern Delhi Have Given India’s Diplomatic Image a Beating

• Security Agencies Flag Indonesia Link to Delhi Riots

• Shaheen Bagh Protest On Despite Health Risk

• India frees top Kashmir leader Farooq Abdullah after 7 months

• Will go to Parliament, raise voice on 370, says Farooq

• Govt curbs travel via border, suspends bus, rail links to Bangladesh


Southeast Asia

• Umno Leader Chides PAS Deputy Minister Over Child Marriages

• Maintaining Harmony: Indonesia’s Inter-Religious Forum

• Agong Calls For Shorter Friday Sermon, Mosques To Take Preventative Measures Against Covid-19

• Singapore to Close Mosques for Cleaning To Fight Virus

• Mammoth task tracing mosque event participants


Arab World

• Hezbollah Not against Foreign Aid under ‘Reasonable Conditions,’ Says Nasrallah

• Syria won war against terrorism, but Turkey pulled agonizingly: EX-CIA official

• Northeast Syrian airwaves home to radio tower of Babel

• Turkey blames Kurdish fighters for Syria blast that killed 4

• Iraq to complain to the UN over US air strikes, says foreign ministry

• Coronavirus: Iraq bans entry for travellers from Qatar, Germany

• Iraq military says US strikes kill five troops, one civilian

• Saudi Arabia to suspend international flights starting Sunday to help stop spread of coronavirus


North America

• Muslim Groups Urge Mosques to Suspend Friday Prayer Services Amid Coronavirus Fears

• Trump Authorizes Military to Respond after Deadly Attack Blamed On Iran-Backed Militia

• US to keep two carriers in Gulf to counter Iran proxies

• Trump declares national emergency over coronavirus

• US hits Kata’ib Hezbollah weapon storage sites in Iraq



• One Year after Christchurch We Seek Solace In Community And Being Unapologetically Muslim

• Ardern says racist threat lingers after New Zealand mosque attacks

• Australian FBI suspect admits to role with Islamic State after capture in Syria

• Turkey rescues 34 asylum seekers from boats in Aegean

• Violence is down but Idlib, Syria, still not safe: UN

• Turkish defines minister meets with British counterpart

• Bosnia charges two men with fighting for ISIS



• Turkey Detains Kurdish Human Rights Lawyers on Terror Claims

• Trump biggest liar on earth: Nasrallah on US corona transparency

• Yemen's Houthis advance in Marib, Saudi border areas

• Tehran: US Least Fit Country to Advocate Human Rights

• Iran Appreciates Japan's Medical Aid to Combat Coronavirus Outbreak

• Iran Foreign Ministry Elaborates Anti-Corona Measures, Foreign Aids

• Leader Orders Setting Up Health, Treatment Base to Fight Coronavirus Spread

• Coronavirus: Turkey to hold migration summit by teleconference

• Turkey says agreed with Russia on Idlib ceasefire details

• Iran coronavirus toll reaches 514 deaths, 11,364 infections: Health official

• Iran Armed Forces will start clearing streets nationwide to fight coronavirus: Commander

• Iran: Trump must reassess behaviour of US forces in region



• Mali’s Jihadists Demand French Withdrawal as Condition for Talks

• Tanzania Vows to Support War on Terrorism

• Sudan announces first coronavirus death

• 6 al-Shabaab militants killed in Kenya

• Somalia: Bus Driver Recounts Al-Shabaab Attack in Kenya

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau




Al Qaeda praises Taliban while reacting to group’s peace deal with the U.S.

14 Mar 2020

The Al Qaeda terrorist network reacted to the signing of the peace deal between the United States and Taliban in Afghanistan, praising the Taliban group for its alleged ‘great victory’ over America and its allies.

Referring to Haibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of Taliban, as the ‘Emir of the Faithful’, the terror network called on all Afghans and mujahideen to bolster the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — a totalitarian regime the jihadists have been fighting to resurrect since 2001.

In its new statement, Al-Qaeda’s general command reminds readers of Mullah Omar’s defiance in the face of American pressure in late 2001, the Long War Journal report, after obtaining the latest statement of Al Qaeda terrorist network.

“Ayman al-Zawahiri and his comrades in al-Qaeda’s general command call on all “scholars,” wealthy donors, and others “to support the Islamic Emirate” in its quest to found a ‘nation of Islam ruled by the noble sharia of Allah’,” the report further cites the Al Qaeda statement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims the Taliban agreed to “break” with al-Qaeda, while helping the U.S. to “destroy” Ayman al-Zawahiri’s organization in Afghanistan.

However, the Long War Journal reports that “The text of the written agreement doesn’t not call for that. Instead, the Taliban has supposedly agreed to prevent al-Qaeda and others from using Afghan soil to plot attacks against the U.S. and its allies — a promise the group has long made, but failed to keep.” “The Taliban’s political delegation also agreed to three provisions stipulating that the group would prevent terrorists who threaten the U.S. from operating inside Afghanistan. But the terms of those same provisions are vague, while no verification or enforcement mechanisms are set forth in the text released late last month,” the report by Long War Journal added.

The U.S. and Taliban group signed a peace deal late last month after observing a 7-day reduction in violence. The two sides signed the agreement after almost 18 months of negotiations in Qatari capital of Doha.

However, there are fears that the latest trends in Taliban attacks in remote parts of the country and the growing political tensions could undermine the peace process, specifically the launch of intra-Afghan peace talks.

The State Department confirmed that the Taliban group has taken steps to stop attacks against the coalition forces and in the cities but the group is still killing too many Afghans in the countryside.

Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokesperson said the current high level of violence by the Taliban is unacceptable.

“We acknowledge the Taliban have taken steps to stop attacks against the Coalition and in cities,” Ortagus said in a statement, adding that “But they are killing too many Afghans in the countryside.”

She also added “This must change. Violence at these levels risks drawing both sides into a vicious cycle, serves no one, and undermines peace.”



World Sindhi Congress urges UNHRC to hold Pakistan accountable for human rights violation of Sindhi people

Mar 13, 2020

GENEVA: Condemning Pakistan over enforced disappearances and persecution of minorities in Sindh, World Sindhi Congress on Wednesday urged the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to hold Pakistan government accountable for the violation of human rights of Sindhi people.

Speaking at the 43rd session of UNHRC on March 11 in Geneva, Lakhu Luhana, Secretary-General of World Sindhi Congress said," The enforced disappearances of Sindhi people by Pakistani agencies continue unabated in order to ruthlessly silence every voice in the struggle of Sindhi people for their historical, political, economical and cultural rights."

"In the last three years, more than 300 people have been abducted including renowned political leaders, workers and intellectuals. In the last three days, four more political workers have been abducted. The persecution of indigenous Sindhi Hindus continues relentlessly including forced conversions and marriages of hundreds of Sindhi Hindu girls, mostly minor, attacks on their places of worship and properties and implication in false blasphemy cases," he said.

Calling on the UNHRC to take action to protect the human rights of Sindhi people and hold the Pakistan government accountable for the violation of their rights, he said," The last tragic case is of a 15-year-old girl, Mehak Kumari who despite her repeated statements to the court to go with her parents, has been sent to a so-called protection house, in fact, a prison. All the systems in Pakistan including judicial system have provided no remedy and the perpetrators continue with impunity, therefore, we request the council to take action to protect the human rights of Sindhi people and hold the Pakistan government accountable," he added.

Mehak Kumari was recently forcibly converted and married to a Muslim man in Pakistan's Sindh province.

The abduction and forceful conversion of Hindu and Christian girls are widespread in Pakistan. Such incidents have sparked widespread criticism as many victim families are forced the migrate in foreign countries, including India.

Recently, the World Sindhi Congress also held a demonstration in front of the United Nations office in Geneva to raise the issue of the persecution of minorities, especially the Hindus, in the Sindh province of Pakistan.

Another Sindhi political activist, Dua Kalhoro raised the issue of the illegal grabbing of the land of indigenous Sindhi people in Pakistan and said, "We believe that these land-grabbing policies are part of the design to convert Sindhis into a minority in their own motherlands. We request the council to press upon Pakistan to stop these colonial land-grabbing policies which are a great violation of human rights."



Communal Riots in North Eastern Delhi Have Given India’s Diplomatic Image a Beating

14 Mar 2020

The communal riots in North Eastern Delhi have given India’s diplomatic image a beating, however, New Delhi’s handling of the concerns expressed by the Islamic Nations threatens to create fissures in ties with the Muslim World

Misplaced priorities

The recent spate of communal violence in the national capital which claimed over 50 lives in early February has triggered considerable concern among the international community, particularly among the Muslim nations about the ability of India to safeguard the lives of not only their own citizens but the Muslim citizens who bore the main brunt of the targeted violence. Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia who have routinely criticized New Delhi over issues ranging from its treatment of people in Jammu and Kashmir to the staunch opposition to the abrogation of Article 370 were quick to express concern. The ruling dispensation in the South and North Block turned a blind eye to such criticism and lashed out on these countries over their statements.

However what took New Delhi with surprise was the concerns expressed by Jakarta and Tehran, Indonesia summoned the Indian envoy and expressed concern over the communal violence in New Delhi. Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Zarif condemned the attacks and asked the New Delhi to “rein in the extremist Hindus”. India stands to be isolated from the world of Islam. Adding insult to injury, he appended #IndianMuslimsInDanger. New Delhi in an amazing volte-face lashed out again on two of its closest allies which have stood with New Delhi through thick and thin of times and have time tested ties with India, this diplomatic fiasco indicates that New Delhi in pandering to its domestic majoritarian vote bank is losing site of its friends in the international arena.

Ties with the Islamic World under threat

India has had a time tested policy of crafting careful yet astute diplomatic ties when it comes to the Muslim World, while India has emerged as the most reliable ally of Israel after the US, the Narendra Modi government has bolstered its ties with the Gulf countries like UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia so much so that these countries had strongly supported India during the Operation Bandar( Balakot airstrikes) and the abrogation of Article 370 as India’s internal matter and the right of India to take defend itself against terrorism and radical Islamic terror to deter Pakistan.

The stoic silence of the Saudis and the Emirati is a sign of relief so far for the government, however, the silence is not expected to last longer as these countries are following the events keenly and will shape their opinion through the future. Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s tweet reflects the perception that India is in the US-Saudi-Emirati corner and of little use as long as Trump is president. Hugs in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Ahmedabad would have led Iran to this conclusion. In the Islamic world, Iran by publicly defending Indian Muslims embarrasses the silent Saudis. The Muslim majority countries, which are relatively democratic, or at least where foreign policy is responsive to public opinion, have taken a clear stand against Modi’s perceived anti-Muslim policies. The more autocratic countries which have more room to strategize in terms of purely pursuing strategic interests have largely ignored the central government’s human rights record, have chosen to either stay silent or actively fete the BJP government.

Any damage to ties with the Islamic world would exert a very heavy toll on India’s diplomatic heft. India imports close to 83% of its oil and petroleum and over 40% of its imports come from the countries of UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Besides at a time when the Indian economy is on the nascent path to recovery, earning the wrath of the Islamic countries doesn’t augur well for India’s West Asia economics and diplomacy.

Taking steps to contain the fallout

At a time when India is at crossroads vis-a-vis in its ties with the Muslim World, it is necessary for New Delhi to take immediate steps to mend the fissures in ties-

Firstly, embarking on a diplomatic blitzkrieg with the diplomatic missions posted in the Islamic countries to assure them the central government is taking all steps necessary to ensure the safety of India’s citizens and preserve India’s pluralistic ethos. Secondly, stopping the policy flip flops and genuinely assuaging the concerns of all major nations particularly the Muslim nations over the Citizenship Amendment Act(CAA) and the propose National Register of Citizens(NRC).

Thirdly, giving priority to countries in the neighborhood particularly Bangladesh, Maldives, etc which have consistently (not the latter) expressed misgivings on the aims of the BJP government of expelling millions of Muslim citizens through such institutionalized mechanisms.

Unless a thorough course correction is undertaken, instead of petty knee-jerk reactions, it would not only mean the fraying of enduring relationships but also preserve India’s image as a beacon of pluralism and democracy of the global south. Therefore it is imperative for India to actively take steps to not only improve ties with the Muslim world but finally come out clean on the divisive laws of CAA and the NRC.



Umno Leader Chides PAS Deputy Minister Over Child Marriages

14 Mar 2020


KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — The ideological disparity between Umno and PAS was brought to the fore today when Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said told a deputy minister from the latter not to use her faith to undo protections against the sexual exploitation of children.

Former minister in charge of legal affairs Azalina was commenting on a news report of Deputy Women and Family Development Minister Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff rebutting her predecessor, Hannah Yeoh’s concern that the move to ban child marriages could be in jeopardy.

“YB, don’t use RELIGION to negate or manipulate protective laws for our children esp the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017.

“Please don’t allow predators to use marriage as a way out (or way in!) to justify sexual exploitation,” Azalina wrote on Twitter today.

In the report, Siti Zailah said the policy to ban child marriage will be reviewed in consultation with the “ulama” or Muslim clerics.

Prior to its collapse, the Pakatan Harapan administration had been working to introduce a nationwide ban on child marriage.

The plan was complicated as it involved Islamic laws and consequently required that all states support the plan in order for it to be effective.

Among those who did not subscribe to the proposed ban were Kelantan and Terengganu that are governed by PAS.

Umno and PAS are nominally allies in the Perikatan Nasional ruling coalition.



Hezbollah not against foreign aid under ‘reasonable conditions,’ says Nasrallah

13 March 2020

Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement, which has opposed foreign interference in the country's crisis-hit economy, said on Friday it could accept Beirut receiving an International Monetary Fund financial rescue package under ‘reasonable conditions’.

“Any help within reasonable conditions, there's no problem with it in principle,” the Shiite movement's chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address.

But he warned that “Lebanon must not fall under anybody’s trusteeship or hand over its financial and economic administration” to outside parties.

In a televised speech, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said his Shiite movement, which backs the government, refused conditions “that would make the country explode”. He said it was against raising the value-added tax (VAT), particularly for the poor.

Lebanon declared last week it could not pay debt maturities as it faces an unprecedented financial crisis that has weakened the local currency, hiked prices and fueled unrest.

Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni told Reuters on Thursday that the country’s crisis plan would meet IMF recommendations and be ready in weeks. Wazni said any recourse to an IMF program must have political agreement and terms that do not cause suffering.

The heavily armed Iran-backed Hezbollah has said it rejects letting the IMF manage Lebanon’s crisis.



Muslim groups urge mosques to suspend Friday prayer services amid coronavirus fears

Mar 13, 2020

Coronavirus fears have prompted two national Islamic groups to urge mosques around the country to cancel Friday prayers.

In a joint statement issued Thursday evening, the Canadian Council of Imams and the Muslim Medical Association of Canada recommended that services be suspended indefinitely, including today.

"As Muslims, we must do our part to reduce the spread of the virus," the statement said.

The groups say they are forming a task force, made up of representatives from each as well as community leaders, to advise mosques in the days and weeks ahead.

The Islamic Institute of Toronto, a large mosque in Scarborough, has told congregates that it will not be holding a Friday sermon. It has also cancelled all congregational prayers until further notice.

ISNA Canada in Mississauga, Ont. regularly attended by hundreds, also cancelled prayers on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto has said it will still host Friday prayers, though the sermon will be shorter than usual. The mosque is also asking attendees not to socialize afterward.

Alternatively, some places like the Syeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga are asking congregants who feel ill to tune in to its live stream of the Friday sermon instead.

As of yesterday, there were at least 137 presumptive and confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, reported in Canada. Sixty of those cases are in Ontario, mostly concentrated in the GTA.



One year after Christchurch we seek solace in community and being unapologetically Muslim

Sara Mansour

13 Mar 2020

The scars of the Christchurch massacre linger. Time has carpeted the pain. Slowly but surely, the shock recedes until all we feel is the echo of the tragedy. One year on after Haji Daoud Nabi walked out of the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch and uttered the words “Welcome, brother” only to be met with bullets in response.

“Al Noor” is an Arabic term which means “the light”. In the Qur’an, the term is used to describe the divine light of God. A light that a man filled with hatred tried to extinguish when he opened fire on dozens of innocent people in their place of worship on their holiest day of the week.

The hurt that was expressed both on a community and global level wasn’t a pain that was uniquely or selectively Muslim. It was a universal and fundamentally human pain. It was the visceral pain of knowing that innocent people had been murdered. It was the outrage at the media outlets that humanised the terrorist by referring to him as an “angelic boy” and an “ordinary white man”.

At the start of this month, I felt a sense of anxiety. I thought it was just me. In preparing to write this piece, I started reaching out to my Muslim friends to check in with them and ask how they were feeling with the one year anniversary of the tragedy fast approaching. The responses have been similar in many ways – united by a common thread of sadness, fear, frustration, and a deep sense that pain is still felt.

Mohamed Hassan, a poet and journalist from Cairo, Egypt has just launched a new podcast entitled The Guest House which explores the five stages of grief specifically in relation to the events of 15 March 2019. In the fourth episode, Hassan explores the connection between negative media rhetoric about Muslims and Islam, and the corresponding backlash that Muslims experience. Similarly in Australia, a University of Sydney study found that Muslims were the most common victim religion of hate crimes, followed by Jewish people (73% and 14% respectively). An Asio analytical report prepared after the Christchurch massacre has revealed concerns that far right groups may carry out a terrorist attack in Australia in the next decade, drawing on the Christchurch terrorist attacks as “inspiration”.

What has followed is vicarious trauma. What this concept has meant for us, as individual Muslims, and for our Muslim identities after the Christchurch massacre varies from individual to individual. For some Muslims it meant de-veiling. It meant standing with our backs to the wall on the train platform. It meant not setting foot in a mosque. It meant feeling a certain anxiety in public spaces – and for some it still does. However, it has also presented opportunities for us to lean on our communities for support, to express ourselves through art and poetry and to be unapologetically Muslim.

We hold the Bankstown Poetry Slam on the last Tuesday of every month. Our event at the end of March 2019 was a space for community healing, support and love. The energy in the room was different. It was nervous, tense and sad. Mohammad Awad held back tears as he performed a poem dedicated to Mucad Ibrahim, the youngest victim of the massacre. “I keep seeing his smile … his cheeks/will never grow laugh lines.” Ali Al Hajj implored us to understand that “hate speech” is not “free speech” but rather “comes at the cost of innocence”. Iman Etri asked rhetorically: “Don’t you know? He preyed on them in prayer but we make mosques of everywhere we go.” In many ways, spaces like this provide a platform for us to illuminate our struggles, our fears, our love, and our pain.

For many of my Muslim friends, life has not changed. The stereotypes continue to be perpetuated. The fear of being attacked is palpable. The stares linger. In many ways, life has not changed because the world has not changed. However, hope exists. Hope is the opioid of the oppressed. As long as there is hope, the light of a future world that we can dream into existence looms on the horizon.

Our Prophet Muhammad’s cousin, Imam Ali (peace be upon them both) is known for two quotes which I try to embody and live by.

The first is to “be like the flower that gives fragrance, even to the hand that crushes it”.

The second is that “every person is either your brother in faith or your equal in humanity”.

If we all truly saw each other as equals, we can start to rebuild … with open mosque doors and open arms. With dignity, and with “noor”.

• Sara Mansour is a lawyer, poet and the co-founder and director of the Bankstown Poetry Slam



Turkey detains Kurdish human rights lawyers on terror claims

Amberin Zaman

March 12, 2020

At least nine lawyers were detained on terror charges in early morning raids in the mainly Kurdish provinces of Urfa and Diyarbakir today, part of an ongoing campaign of repression targeting human rights defenders, said Abdullah Oncel, the president of the Urfa Bar Association.

Seven of the lawyers were detained in Urfa and two others in Diyarbakir. Three others — all from Diyarbakir — are being sought, Oncel told Al-Monitor. Several of the lawyers’ offices were ransacked by police and their homes raided, he added.

Bunyamin Seker, co-chair of the Jurists for Freedom Association, said a fourth lawyer from Sirnak, a heavily Kurdish province on the Iraqi border, was also being sought in connection with the case that is being overseen by the chief prosecutor of Urfa.

“We have been unable to find out the details or the exact reasoning of this operation but it’s obvious to us that with respect to lawyers, it’s to do with their work on abuses, particularly those that occur inside prison,” he told Al-Monitor. Another 12 individuals, none of them lawyers, are also believed to be facing charges in the case but their identities remain unknown and it remains unclear whether any have been detained, Seker said.

A secrecy order has been slapped on the investigation. The lawyers are thought to be accused of aiding and abetting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a rebel group that is waging an armed campaign for political autonomy and is classified as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the United States.

The charge is liberally dispensed to lock up anyone who demands greater rights for the country’s 14 million or so Kurds. They include dozens of democratically elected Kurdish officials, among them Selcuk Mizrakli, the mayor of Diyarbakir, ousted from office in October and jailed.

Mizrakli, who was elected with 63% of the vote in March 2019, was sentenced to nine years, four months and 15 days on Monday on thinly evidenced charges of “membership of a terrorist organization.”

Oncel denied any of the detained lawyers were connected with the PKK. “These are men and women dedicated to defending human rights and recording abuses. They are a constant thorn in the side of authorities who want to cover them up,” he said.

Torture under detention including sexual abuse, beatings and electric shocks has been on the rise since the failed July 2016 coup, rights groups say.

One of the detained lawyers, Sevda Celikol Bingol, was among a group of 11 lawyers who documented the cases of some 54 men, women and children who were rounded up in Urfa’s Halfeti district and tortured after a policeman died in a clash there with PKK rebels.

Coming during the Ramadan fast, photos of the detainees lying on the ground, face down with their hands cuffed behind them as soldiers stood over them, provoked an outcry. The president of the Diyarbakir Bar Association, Cihan Aydin, likened the scene to Auschwitz, Gaza and Abu Ghraib in a tweet.

“There were boot marks on their backs,” Oncel said. Authorities are still investigating a criminal complaint filed against the perpetrators.

Bingol was also representing the family of four men who were killed in a feud with the tribe of Ibrahim Halil Yildiz, a lawmaker for Urfa from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. Yildiz made headlines last week when he broke his hand during a fistfight in the parliament that erupted when an opposition lawmaker criticized Erdogan’s Syria policy.

At least two more of the lawyers detained in today’s sweep have already served jail time on terrorism charges. They include Emin Baran, who practices in Urfa’s township of Suruc, where the Islamic State carried out a 2015 bomb attack that killed 33 young activists. They had been planning to help rebuild the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani that was wrecked by the jihadis during a months-long siege. Baran spent two years in pre-trial detention in 2016-2019, Oncel said.

“The police have had Baran in their sights before. He was unjustly accused of terrorist propaganda,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director for Human Rights Watch. The New York-based advocacy group published a 56-page report in April 2019, cataloging what it called the systematic abusive detention and prosecution of human rights lawyers in Turkey since July 2016.

“It's part of a pattern of targeting lawyers for discharging their professional duties, resulting in an erosion of the right to defense [and] a violation of fair trial. They get accused of the same crimes of the people they sometimes represent,” she told Al-Monitor.

“And Urfa has a very bad record of abuses over a long time.”



Mali’s jihadists demand French withdrawal as condition for talks


A Malian jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda says it is willing to engage in dialogue with the government – but only if French troops and the United Nations mission leave the country.

The statement by GSIM, or Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, follows a decision taken this year by Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to open talks with jihadist groups in the country.

Ketia’s move breaks away from the official line taken by the government since 2012, when the crisis erupted, not to engage with terrorists and jihadists.

The statement by GSIM, issued on 8 March, has been verified by SITE intelligence group, a counter-terrorism NGO.

The al-Qaeda affiliated organisation, which regroups several jihadist groups in Mali, wrote that a precondition for talks was "an end to the arrogant, racist, crusader French occupation".

GSIM or JNIM (Jam’at Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimeen) is asking for “the departure of all French forces and their followers from Mali”.

It wants the Malian government to “openly declare an end to the presence of Barkhane and MINUSMA troops on their territories”.

MINUSMA, the United Nations mission in Mali with some 12,000 troops, has been established since April 2013. Operation Barkhane is the French anti-jihadist operation with 5,100 soldiers deployed in Mali and across the Sahel. It took over in August 2014 from Operation Serval, set up in January 2013.

'We don't negotiate with terrorists'

Keita has been adamant for the past 7 years that he will not engage with terrorists. But in February this year, in an interview with RFI, he said he had sent Dioncounda Traoré, his high representative in central Mali, on “a mission to listen to everybody”, including jihadists Iyad Ag Ghaly, who leads the GSIM, and Amadou Koufa who heads the Katiba Macina militia group.

Mali open to dialogue with jihadists

Keita also did not rule out talking to the Islamic State's group leader in the region, Adnane Abou Walid al-Sharaoui.

“It is my duty to explore all possible avenues to reach some kind of peace as the death rate in the Sahel is increasing continuously,” Keita told RFI a month ago. “We are ready to build bridges. At some point, we have to sit around a table and talk.”

There has been no official response to the conditions imposed by GSIM from either Mali, France or the UN.

Mali without foreign troops

Despite regular anti-French demonstrations in the capital Bamako and various other towns, the Malian government has repeatedly said that the withdrawal of foreign forces is not at all in the interest of Mali.

“Mali needs the help of foreign troops to fight terrorism,” Keita said in January during his new year wishes.

The president later told RFI that those who keep demanding the withdrawal of foreign troops are playing into the hands of terrorists and are confused about who the real enemy is.

Last November, Mali’s Foreign Affairs minister, Tiébilé Dramé, told RFI that the French troops came to Mali in January 2013 following an official demand made by the Malian authorities.

“Operation Serval freed Mali, let’s not forget that,” he said.

Referring to the anti-French protests, Dramé also said that the terrorists are attempting to create confusion among the population and feed on a sense of despair.

Malians have their say

Listeners who called in from Mali on RFI's flagship programme, “Appels sur l'actualité”, to voice their opinion on the matter do not seem to agree with the jihadists.

Lassana from Bamako says it will be total chaos if Barkhane leaves Mali as the foreign troops are the only forces the jihadists really fear.

Chérif says the demonstrators in Bamako demanding the withdrawal of French forces are completely out of touch with the reality on the ground in the north, in towns like Tessalit or Aguelhoc.

“Ag Ghali pretends he wants to dialogue when he knows that Keita will never accept his conditions,” he told RFI.

“Who will safeguard this accord?" asked Adama. "This is a trap the terrorists are laying out for the government. If the foreign forces do withdraw, we will be like Somalia, without a proper government."



South Asia


Afghanistan summons UN official over meeting with president’s rival

13 March 2020

The Afghan Foreign Ministry has summoned the United Nations (UN) special representative for Afghanistan to protest his meeting with Abdullah Abdullah, a former official and a rival to incumbent President Ashraf Ghani.

Abdullah has contested the official results of the recent presidential election in Afghanistan, which Ghani won. On Monday, Ghani and Abdullah both held inauguration ceremonies in the capital, Kabul.

UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto held a meeting with Abdullah earlier on Friday. 

The ministry said in a tweet that Deputy and Acting Foreign Minister Mohammad Haroon Chakhansuri on Friday “reminded Mr. Yamamoto that the electoral process has reached its end and in accordance with the constitution” of Afghanistan.

According to the ministry, Yamamoto stressed during the meeting that the UN did not recognize or support any parallel government in Afghanistan.

In the election last year, Abdullah was seeking the presidency for the third time, after losing in 2009 and 2014.

Following the 2014 presidential election, Afghanistan was struck by a similar power crisis. Back then, Ghani and Abdullah fought a close and angry race that sparked widespread allegations of fraud and saw the United States step in to broker an awkward power-sharing agreement between the rivals under which Ghani became president and Abdullah became “chief executive.”

On Wednesday, Afghanistan’s former president Hamid Karzai blamed the US’s policies for the current political crisis in the country.



Taliban attacks need to go down considerably in Afghanistan, U.S. general says

MARCH 12, 2020

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. general said on Thursday that the Taliban had to significantly reduce the number of attacks it is carrying out, after an accord it signed with the United States earlier this month.

“I would not consider what the Taliban is doing as consistent with any path to going forward to come to a final end state agreement with the current government of Afghanistan,” U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of the military’s Central Command, said during a Senate hearing.

“Those attacks are going to have to come off considerably... we need to get way below where we are now,” he added.



Coronavirus fear grips Rohingya camps in Bangladesh

Md. Kamruzzaman


DHAKA, Bangladesh

Years-long ordeal and the tireless struggle for survival have made Master Abdur Rahim adept to deal with potential disasters.

He, however, is worried about what lays in store for him and nearly a million other Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The virus, which has killed nearly 5,000 people in 118 countries and territories, reached Bangladesh last week.

Although only three COVID-19 cases have so far been confirmed in the Muslim-majority South Asian nation, refugees in the southern Cox's Bazar district are distressed.

"We are poor. We are stateless. We are dependent on the mercy of others," the community leader of the persecuted minority told Anadolu Agency.

He spoke of the vulnerable conditions they were living in -- a breeding ground for all sorts of viruses.

"More than a million of our people reside in 34 refugee camps... four to five stay in a single makeshift room made of tarpaulin sheets and bamboo sticks," he said. "Most of us sleep on plastic paper spreading on muddy floor in the tents. We have fewer options to think about our hygiene or take measures necessary to fight the coronavirus."

Besides, the displaced community is still struggling for clean drinking water and flowing water in toilets let alone masks, liquid soaps or hand sanitizers.

"Some of us bought masks... 200 Bangladeshi taka [nearly $3] each," Rahim said, adding that it cost around 20 takas until a few days ago. "Very few of us wash our hands and faces properly."

He added: "We are panicked, praying to Allah to save us from this disaster."

The global death toll from the virus has neared 5,000, with over 125,000 confirmed cases -- the majority being in China, Italy, South Korea and Iran, according to the World Health Organization.

Water for hygiene

At the refugee camps, activists say, there is an urgent need for more water to ensure adequate hygiene, and prevent viruses from spreading.

"I, along with some other rights workers, are volunteering at refugee camps... building up awareness on how to stay safe with limited water supply," Razia Sultana told Anadolu Agency.

The lawyer, who won the International Women of Courage Award 2019, said nearly two-thirds of Rohingya refugees were women and children, who required more care.

"Children play on the muddy grounds the entire day, and get back to the tents in the evening dirty," she said. "Mothers are unable to clean their kids properly mostly because of water shortage."

Sultana urged authorities, as well local and international aid agencies, to pay more attention to the supply of water and hand washes for the Rohingya.

Possible risks

International aid workers also expressed concerns over the looming virus threat to the refugee community in Bangladesh.

"While there are currently no suspected cases of COVID-19 in the camps, the UNHCR takes the situation very seriously and is closely monitoring," Louise Donovan, communications officer at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told Anadolu Agency.

Focusing on combined efforts, she said Bangladesh's Health Ministry had completed and validated a national response plan to contain the virus.

In Cox’s Bazar, she added, humanitarian agencies were finalizing a multi-sector plan, in support to the government.

"Almost 300 health staff have received training in Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) so far and up to 250 clinical focal points of health facilities are receiving refresher trainings on Early Warning Alert and Response System (EWARS)," Donovan said.

Emphasizing on supply of necessary materials, she said: "Increasing the number of handwashing facilities in distribution centers, health points and nutrition centers, etc., as well as the provision of additional soaps are underway."

Meanwhile, the European Rohingya Council also expressed concerns over the safety of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement on Thursday, the council urged Bangladesh to lift the bar on Internet access in refugee camps, considering the prevailing situation.

"The fear of coronavirus is spreading among the Rohingya community in Bangladesh refugee camps and inside Myanmar. In the emergency situation like now, people rely on updated information available via the internet, radio, television and so on to take necessary safety precautions," the statement said.

The Rohingya have been denied Internet access in Bangladesh, as well as in Myanmar, for several months.

The internet blackout in Rakhine and Chin states of Myanmar was the longest continuous internet shutdown in 2019 -- and continues to date.

'Preventive measures in place'

Bangladesh, meanwhile, says all necessary preventive measures have been taken in the Rohingya camps.

"We have already collected sufficient testing kits to detect coronavirus for Rohingya camps," said Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Md. Mahbub Alam Talukder in an interview with this news agency.

Some 64 beds, he said, were designated in health centers inside the camps to quarantine anyone tested positive.

"The health centers, jointly run by international aid agencies, also have some empty seats to quarantine patients if needed," he added.

He said that the government had also provided the state-run Cox’s Bazar General Hospital with sufficient kits and other materials.

Regarding the apprehensions over hygiene, he said the water supplied to the camps was "fully purified", and that they, along with aid agencies, "will try to supply more water during crucial periods."

Persecuted people

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

Full report at:



Church calls for action to halt eviction of Bangladeshi Santals

March 13, 2020

A senior Catholic official in Bangladesh has condemned an attempted forceful eviction of 20 ethnic Santal families by a group of Muslims and demanded immediate action to reinstate legal entitlement of their land.

“As per the law of the country, a person residing on particular land for a long time is legally entitled to land ownership. It is really sad to see people face eviction threats and have no one to raise a voice for them as they are poor and powerless,” Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, told UCA News.

The priest was reacting to an eviction attempt of 20 Santal Hindu families by Muslims in Ranirhat Bazar area of Sherpur in Bogra district on March 10.

Dozens of Santals migrated to the area during the zamindari period of landholding in British-ruled India and are involved in agriculture and daily labor for a livelihood, community leaders say.

Authorities of Hafezia Qwami Madrasa, an Islamic school, have recently been trying to grab their land by forceful eviction.

Madrasa officials wants to grab the land to lease it out for a marketplace to make money, said Bashi Soren, 44, a Santal leader.

“Earlier they issued threats for eviction from the land. On March 10, they forcefully set up a tin-roofed shop. They beat up Santals who tried to resist and brought in some local thugs to smash several mud houses of Santals. Many Santals fled their houses fearing for their lives,” Soren told UCA News.

Madrasa director Mokhlesur Rahman and his brother Mokbul Hossain are the masterminds behind the eviction attempt, he said.

“About 70 Santals from 20 families have no property except their ancestral land. They are poor and illiterate, so most of them don’t have land documents despite living here for decades. If they are evicted, they will have nowhere to go,” Soren added.

Rahman and Hossain refused to talk to UCA News when contacted by telephone.

“It is true that Santals have been living here for more than 100 years but the news about eviction was exaggerated,” said Zakir Hossain Khan, a local politician and chairman of Bishalpur Union Council, a local government body.

“I am aware of the incident but there was no eviction attempt on Santals. I guess Santals have got scared as the madrasa authority set up a tin house. Santals are poor people and my voters, so I will resist any attempt at their eviction. I will visit the area soon and do everything to resolve the problem.”

Police have yet to receive a written complaint from the Santals, said Humayun Kabir, officer in-charge of Sherpur police station.

“Santals filed complaints with the UNO (chief government officer) of Sherpur, which was sent to me. As far as I know. no eviction has taken place, but I will send my force to investigate what happened,” Kabir told UCA News.

Eviction and land grabbing of minority communities are very common but very frustrating realities in Bangladesh, Father Gomes said.

“People of all faiths and ethnicities are citizens of this country because they have fought and suffered together for independence from Pakistan in 1971. The Church strongly advocates for inclusive development for all, and so these poor and helpless people must have legal entitlement to the land and be allowed to live peacefully,” the priest added.

About 90 percent of Bangladesh’s population is Muslim, about 8 percent Hindu and the rest belong to other faiths including Buddhism and Christianity.

Full report at:



Bangladesh does not require suspension of Friday prayers as the situation is under control

March 13th, 2020

Syed Samiul Basher Anik

State Minister for Religious Affairs recommends shortening of sermons and prayers on Fridays

Jumma prayers will continue on Fridays across Bangladesh as the coronavirus situation in the country is not alarming and is under control as of now, Islamic clerics have said.

Amid widespread concerns that coronavirus can spread easily through congregations, they said the situation in Bangladesh is not serious enough to warrant cancellation of Friday prayers.

They, however, opined in favour of limiting Friday sermons and prayers as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country.

Bangladesh confirmed three patients of Covid-19 on March 8, but two of them returned home as consecutive tests found the duo as virus-free.

“It is not yet time to suspend Jumma prayers. Any such decision will rather create panic among the people,” Mawlana Mohammad Abdullah, a Mufti at Islamic Foundation told Dhaka Tribune on Friday.

The Islamic Foundation has requested all the mosques across the country to distribute leaflets containing messages on how to avoid the coronavirus infection, and discuss the issues during Friday prayers to make people aware about how to stay safe, he said.

During Friday's Jumma prayers, Imams across Bangladesh gave directives to devotees on how to avoid the virus infection. A special doa and munajat was offered after the prayers at Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, too.

Chairman of Bangladesh Jamiatul Ulama and Imam of Sholakia Eidgah Maulana Farid Uddin Masud told this correspondent: “The situation is not as crucial in Bangladesh.

“The situation in our country is not critical as of today (Friday), since two of the infected people have been cured. We will not suspend the Friday prayers at this moment.”

The cleric, however, opined in favour of limiting the Friday sermons, if required.

“In some mosques, it takes an hour to complete the prayers. What we can do is shorten the sermons and prayers so that people do not stay for long in large gatherings,” he said.

The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) has advised all citizens to avoid unnecessary public gatherings to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Look, we live in a country where the Muslim sentiment is a major concern. Right at this moment, we are prioritising on alerting people and raising awareness,” said State Minister for Religious Affairs Advocate Sheikh Md Abdullah.

Imams across Bangladesh will issue messages to people on how to be safe and secure in this situation, he added.

“We are indirectly trying to shorten the sermon and prayers on Fridays which can be followed from next week,” said the state minister.

What is happening in the outside world?

Iraq cancelled Friday prayers in the Shia holy city of Kerbala due to concerns about the coronavirus on March 6. In Iran, authorities also cancelled the weekly prayers in Tehran and provincial capitals on the same day.

In Kuwait, a fatwa has been issued by the Kuwaiti authorities to temporarily suspend Friday sermons and prayers in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus. The decision came to effect from on Friday.

Instead of attending weekly collective mosque prayers, Muslims can pray at home, Turkey's highest religious body said on Friday.

Singapore announced the closure of all mosques for at least five days for deep cleaning to prevent the spread of coronavirus after two congregants were thought to have been infected during an Islamic conference in neighbouring Malaysia.

Malaysia's northern state Perlis also cancelled Friday prayers on Friday.

Full report at:



Kabul Police solve brutal murder mystery; perpetrator arrested

14 Mar 2020

he Kabul Police arrested a man in connection with the suspicious murder of four members of a single family, the Kabul Police Commandment said.

According to a statement released by Kabul Police Commandment, the police force arrested the perpetrator, Abdul Majeed, during a special raid which they conducted in Kabul city.

The statement further added that Majeed is accused of murdering his father, mother, brother and nephew on 8th of March in the vicinity of Qala-e Barqi in the 8th district of the city.

The Kabul Police Commandment also added that the family members of the deceased confirm that Majeed is directly involved in the brutal murder of his parents, brother and nephew.

Full report at:





Attack on press freedom continues in Pakistan


MARCH 13, 2020

While the rest of the world is busy dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is busy muzzling the media and criticizing its political opponents.

On Thursday the Pakistani government arrested Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the editor-in-chief of the Jang media group, the largest in the country. Rahman was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for allegedly buying property illegally from Nawaz Sharif in 1986 when Sharif was serving as chief minister of Punjab province.

Rahman’s arrest did not come as a surprise, as Prime Minister Imran Khan is known to use the NAB to silence his critics and political opponents. Since the days of the sit-in he organized against the government then headed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Imran Khan has been critical of the Jang Group, as contrary to most of the other media houses, it did not support him blindly but presented other perspectives as well.

Khan often said in his speeches that if he came into government he would have Rahman arrested. Geo News, Geo TV Network and the print editions The News and Daily Jang were all tagged as traitors by Khan, and his followers of course blindly believed him.

Ever since Khan has assumed the post of prime minister, press freedom in Pakistan has been in decline, while the NAB anti-graft body has been used to settle scores with dissenting journalists, media houses and political opponents.

It was clear from Day 1 that Khan wanted to introduce an autocratic model of governance like those of Saudi Arabia and China where the government controls the media and information. However, arresting Rahman at a time when the focus of the government should have been to devise a strategy to deal with the coronavirus outbreak is evidence that Khan and his cabinet are only interested in curbing the media and suppressing dissent.

The media houses are already facing a financial crunch due to the government cutting back its advertising during the economic slump, and working journalists are bearing the brunt, as they are not receiving their salaries on time – many have not been paid for months. Worse, many journalists who refused to compromise on the integrity of the profession and refused to become part of the propaganda machine of the government and the military establishment are jobless.

Despite the fact that the majority of the TV news channels and publications are still siding with the government propaganda, even the dissenting voices of two or three media houses are not tolerated by Imran Khan. But the question arises whether Khan is capable of carrying on this crackdown against the media on his own, and the answer is a clear no. To be sure, Imran Khan is no democrat and has a dictatorial mindset, but cracking down on the press and arresting the editor-in-chief of the Jang Group could have not been possible if the invisible forces had not given the nod.

Since 2018 when Khan assumed power, Pakistan has been under indirect martial law, and the establishment has been successful in shrinking the space for dissent and freedom of the press by using him as a puppet. He is more concerned about his critics and the media exposing his administration’s weakness on the governance and foreign-policy fronts and thinks that those journalists not praising him and accepting him as a saint are either traitors or taking bribes from his political opponents.

Since Khan himself is an insecure man, he knows that the manufactured opinion shaped through a large section of the media by the invisible forces not only played a pivotal role in undermining former prime minister Nawaz Sharif but also brought himself to power. However, what Khan is not capable of understanding is that without the backing of the invisible forces, the few media houses that are actually exposing the failures of this rigged political discourse and its backers cannot dethrone him unless the main opposition parties decide to side with the invisible forces, and those forces decide to throw him out of power.

Perhaps this is the disadvantage of not coming to power on a genuine mandate, as Khan deep inside knows that he is incapable of fulfilling his unrealistic electoral promises. So in frustration, he is targeting the press without realizing that throughout history there has always been a section of press that refused to surrender even in the worst periods of martial law under Generals Ayub Khan and Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

The Jang Group in the 1990s faced the wrath of the PML-N when then-prime minister Sharif was unhappy with the Daily Jang and The News and started a crackdown against the media group. So for the Jang Group and dissenting journalists, the current arrests and financial curbs are not new, as from Ayub Khan’s Press and Publication Ordinance (PPO) in 1962 to Zia’s worst Islamization of the press, journalists have seen this all before.

While it is true that Imran Khan lacks political acumen and has no taste for reading and research, his backers should realize that first by terming the Dawn newspaper a foreign mouthpiece and traitor and then accusing the Jang Group and its Geo TV as treacherous and arresting its owner, he is only further damaging the already weakened credibility of the country.

So the question is, what actually has been achieved by crackdowns against press freedom and promoting those newspapers and TV channels that remain submissive to the narratives of the state? “Obedient” and “positive” reporting, analysis and commentary have only nurtured narcissism and delusions in Pakistani society and hastened the demise of journalism and literature in the whole country.

Not even a single “positive” and “obedient” journalist or media house is considered credible outside the country, while inside the country the controlled section of the press has only created a mindset that prefers to live in a state of delusion and illusions.

One does not need to be a genius to figure out that independent journalists and a free press are the faces the country presents to the outside world, and they are the ones who despite being the targets of malicious campaigns by the deep state and elected governments have still been able to break the inertia encircling the journalism and literature.

Intellectual drought is the death of a society, and by promoting a controlled press and literature the PTI government along with its backers is rapidly moving on a self-destructive path. The manufactured opinion and rotten narratives imposed through a controlled section of the press will only create minds full of bigotry and prejudice, as it is the only a free press that guarantees smooth sailing for a civilized society by pinpointing its flaws and giving it the opportunity to rectify its errors.

From criticizing the media groups to the attack on the Dawn News office in Islamabad last year to denying job opportunities to dissenting journalists, and from not allowing Steven Butler, the Asia coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), to enter the country to the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Imran Khan has not only damaged the image of Pakistan in the global community of journalists but also has proved that he is a dictator in the guise of a democrat.

However, just as dictators like Ayub and Zia were not able to muzzle the press, neither will Khan, as the problem with dictatorial regimes is that they thrive on fascism. As US-based author and sociologist DaShanne Stokes rightly said, “Fascism thrives in obscurity and darkness.” But darkness, no matter how long it persists, always has to surrender eventually to the rays of the new dawn. Perhaps this dark night too will pass soon and a free press and genuine democracy will prevail in Pakistan, where there is no dearth of fearless and objective journalists and genuine political parties who despite being suppressed never quit trying and keep the hope alive that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.



250,000 pilgrims mass in Pakistan despite coronavirus warnings

March 13, 2020

LAHORE: Hundreds of thousands of Islamic worshippers gathered in eastern Pakistan this week amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, ignoring government warnings that such events could propagate the disease.

Organizers late Thursday curtailed the annual Tablighi Ijtema congregation, which had drawn people from across the country, but cited rainy weather as the cause.

The early closure came after about 250,000 people had already congregated in camps near Lahore since Wednesday for the five-day festival.

“Most of the people have returned to their homes but still tens of thousands of people are here. They will return today,” one of the event’s organizers Ehsanullah, who goes by one name, said on Friday.

Pakistan has only recorded 21 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and no deaths, but officials have tested fewer than 500 potential cases in the country of about 215 million, where health care is frequently inadequate.

Many countries are advising against large gatherings in a bid to slow the spread of the highly communicable virus. Some nations — like France and Italy — have banned them altogether.

The federal government has yet to enforce nationwide measures to contain a possible outbreak, leaving provinces to act independently. Organizers of the Tablighi Ijtema were free to ignore government advice to postpone.

“The government asked us to cancel the gathering because of the coronavirus, but our elders and organizers decided that the gathering will proceed as planned,” Ehsanullah said.

The movement was founded by religious scholars more than five decades ago and focuses exclusively on preaching Islam.

It usually sees hundreds of camps and sub-camps set up on a dusty site outside Lahore to accommodate people from across Pakistan, giving the gathering a festival feel.

Schools in three of Pakistan’s four provinces are closed for March and authorities are conducting basic screenings of passengers arriving by air from overseas.

Full report at:



Probe launched against Pakistan PM’s top aide

Mar 13, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) of Pakistan has launched an inquiry against Prime Minister Imran Khan’s top aide on health over his alleged involvement in smuggling of 20 million surgical masks to other nations amid the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country. The director general of FIA, which probes civilian criminal matters in Pakistan, has ordered officials to submit the inquiry report within two weeks.

An association of pharmacists had filed a complaint with FIA against Dr Zafar Mirza, special assistant to the PM on health, accusing him of smuggling masks out of Pakistan. Mirza is responsible for taking policy decision on health issues in the country.

The association claimed that Mirza, with the help of Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) director Ghazanfar Ali, smuggled the masks to a foreign country.

The allegations surfaced when Pakistan was facing a shortage of face masks after cases of coronavirus were reported in the country. Prices of masks also skyrocketed due to their shortage in markets.

Earlier this month, customs authorities had foiled a bid to smuggle a huge quantity of surgical masks into foreign countries at Islamabad airport. Customs officials intercepted three passengers at the airport and recovered 72,000 masks from their possession. They were smuggling the item to Bankok and Doha.

Full report at:



Coronavirus ‘not bigger’ than Pakistanis’ resolve: Shehbaz

March 14, 2020

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif said on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic was “not bigger” than the Pakistani people’s resolve but everyone should “take care” regardless.

Taking to Twitter, the former Punjab chief minister noted that the “great Pakistani nation is capable of overcoming any adversity & defeating any challenge” and that “each crisis has strengthened us & brought the best out of us”.

He called upon people to show an “unwavering sense of duty by acting upon the precautions for the well-being of everyone around us”, especially given the country’s battle against dengue infection.

“We did it together back then. We CAN DO it now as well,” Sharif added.

He said that the government alone will not be able to deal with the coronavirus and all Pakistanis needed to come together to help fight the pandemic which has so far infected at least 21 people in Pakistan and left upwards of 5,000 people dead around the world.

History bears witness to the fact that great Pakistani nation is capable of overcoming any adversity & defeating any challenge. Each crisis has strengthened us & brought the best out of us.

“Whichever profession or walk of life we may belong to, we need to come together as one people,” the PML-N leader wrote. “I appeal to the families to cooperate with the doctors & medical staff and help/let them treat the patients as per guidelines.”

In addition, he asked the PTI government to “look into locally customised solutions as well, ones based on our local conditions & shaped by our peculiar dynamics”.

The government alone can’t deal with the COVID-19 threat. Whichever profession or walk of life we may belong to, we need to come together as one people. I appeal to the families to cooperate with the doctors & medical staff and help/let them treat the patients as per guidelines.

Full report at:



PML-N wants joint session of parliament for virus briefing

Iftikhar A. Khan

March 14, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Friday demanded immediate convening of a joint session of parliament for a briefing on the coronavirus issue.

The demand was made at a parliamentary party meeting of the PML-N, jointly presided over by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal and Rana Sanaullah, said a press release issued by the party.

Informed sources told Dawn that the position taken by the PML-N reflected a division among the opposition, as the PPP wants no parliamentary proceedings for a few weeks in the wake of coronavirus threat, while the PML-N not only wanted the National Assembly session prorogued sine die on Friday to continue, but also seeks an immediate joint session of parliament.

Briefing reporters on decisions taken at the party meeting, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurengzeb said that an application seeking the joint session of parliament had been submitted to National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser.

She said that there was a lockdown in different countries of the world due to coronavirus threat, but the federal government was still in deep slumber, while the number of coronavirus cases continued to increase.

She said the prime minister who held the portfolio of minister for national health services and regulations should come to parliament to brief lawmakers on the steps taken by the government to cope with the coronavirus issue.

She said the meeting also decided to file a petition in the high court challenging the arrest of Mir Shakilur Rehman. She said party leaders Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Sanaullah, Barrister Mohsin Shah­nawaz Ranjha and she herself would file the petition in the Islamabad High Court on Saturday.

The meeting regretted that days after the Islamabad High Court held that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) could not make arrest to conduct roving inquiries, an ambush had been carried out against the media.

She said that arrests of mediapersons, oppression and pressure tactics were a violation of the Constitution, fundamental human rights and international conventions.

Meanwhile, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani has postponed meetings of all parliamentary committees and other parliamentary gatherings for two weeks, with effect from March 16 (Monday), as a precautionary step in view of the coronavirus threat.

Full report at:



PML-N suspends membership of ‘rebel’ MPAs

Zulqernain Tahir

March 14, 2020

LAHORE: The basic party membership of six ‘rebel’ MPAs of opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has been suspended and show-cause notices have been issued to them for holding a meeting with Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, who belongs to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, and expressing confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

PML-N Punjab general secretary Awais Leghari on Friday served the notices on the lawmakers, most of them belonging to south Punjab, who had showed no ‘re­morse’ for meeting with Mr Buzdar and praising PM Khan. Those who are served notices are Nishat Ahmed Daha (Khanewal), Faisal Niazi (Khanewal), Moham­mad Arshad (Bahawal­na­gar), Azhar Abbas (Muzaf­fargarh), Abu Hafas Ghaya­s­uddin (Narowal) and Cha­udhry Ashraf (Gujranwala).

In the show-cause notice, the PML-N asked them to explain why they called on Mr Buzdar and expressed confidence in the leadership of both the chief minister and the prime minister. It also asked them to clarify their position with regard to their earlier meeting with PM Imran Khan. “You had no moral and legal ground to hold meeting with the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI),” the show-cause notices said. They were asked to clarify their position and submit a reply within seven days failing which legal action would be initiated against them.

‘Rebel’ PML-N lawmaker Nishat Ahmed Daha said he and other MPAs met CM Buzdar basically to “seek development funds for their respective constituencies.” Ghazanfar Ali Khan (Rahim Yar Khan) of the PPP had also called on Buzdar but he later clarified that he had no intention to leave the party.

PML-N’s Punjab information secretary Azma Bokhari told Dawn that the MPAs in question had been elected on the symbol of ‘tiger’ but violated their oath by meeting the PTI leadership. “If they have found a sudden love for the PTI leadership they should quit the PML-N and contest on ‘bat’ symbol (PTI) and they will come to know the popularity of Mr Khan’s party,” Ms Bokhari said.

Criticising the premier, she said PM Khan on the one hand spoke against forward bloc in parties and on the other hand was promoting it. “The prime minister should leave such double standards,” she said. When asked was the establishment helping PTI creating a forward bloc in PML-N, Ms Bokhari said: “They are afraid of PML-Q — PTI’s ally party in the Centre and Punjab — that is why they are doing this cheap things.”

A PML-N insider said a message had been conveyed to the Sharif brothers in London that the size of the forward bloc might increase if the party president, Shahbaz Sharif, chose to extend his stay there. “Shahbaz Sharif needs to rush back immediately and stop the birds from flying out of PML-N camp,” he said, adding ‘they’ had been also working on the ‘soft targets’ in the Centre. Recently some PML-N MNAs requested Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif to return from London and lead the party in the face of poor performance of the PTI government especially on economic front.

Full report at:



Pakistan has a ‘very important’ role in implementing Doha accord: US general

March 14, 2020

WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s role in the Afghan dispute remains very important as the United States tries to assess if the Taliban will live up to the commitments they made in Doha, says a top US general.

Gen Kenneth McKenzie, who heads the US Central Command (CENTCOM), also told a Senate panel on Thursday that the American military always tried to maintain a close relationship with the Pakistani military, even when political relations between the two countries are in turmoil.

As CENTCOM head, Gen McKenzie is responsible for Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East. He and other key defence officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week on President Donald Trump’s defence budget request for 2021, which includes funds for implementing the peace accord.

“I maintain a close relationship with Gen Bajwa, chief of the army staff. We talk frequently. I have been to visit him a couple of times in Pakistan,” said Gen McKenzie when Senator Timothy Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, asked him to summarise the military-to-military relationship between the two countries.

Asked if the United States and Pakistan could work together to implement the deal Washington signed with the Taliban on Feb 29 in Doha, Gen McKenzie said: “Their support has been very important in directing the Taliban to come to negotiations and their continued support is going to be very important as we go to this difficult period of deciding is the Taliban actually serious about this and they are going to live up to their commitments.”

“How do you see the level of US and Pakistan cooperation on the mil-to-mil side … getting better, always been good?” Senator Kaine asked.

“We have always had — US Central Command and I have 10 years of experience in this organisation — we have always seen a relationship with Pakistan as critical,” Gen McKenzie said.

“Whether at the political level it’s turmoil, up and down, we always keep the military channel open. There are good reasons to do that, to prevent fratricide, to prevent miscalculations and things like that. So, we work very hard to keep that channel open.”

Gen McKenzie said there were conditionalities in the Doha agreement that required the Taliban to fulfil their commitments and “we are going to have the opportunity to see what the Taliban do”.

He was responding to a question from Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, who wanted to know if there was a plan B for if the Taliban failed to abide by the Doha agreement.

Gen McKenzie said the Taliban would have to significantly reduce the number of attacks they were carrying out because the Doha accord required them to do so.

“I would not consider what the Taliban is doing as consistent with any path going forward to a final end state agreement with the current government of Afghanistan,” he said. “Those attacks are going to have to come off considerably.”

Gen McKenzie confirmed to media reports that US special operators would serve as the main security force to combat militants when foreign troops start leaving Afghanistan. The Doha deal calls for all American troops to leave within 14 months. He explained that the Pentagon’s plan to use special operators to combat terrorist groups was not new as that’s how the US military has been “doing business for a while now in Afghanistan”.

US special operators have served as a hammer calling in strikes against Taliban and ISIS militants for several years now while military advisers train Afghan forces. Gen McKenzie said the United States would soon reduce its troop presence in Afghanistan to 8,600 but further reductions would require major progress in intra-Afghan talks and integration between the Taliban and Afghan army.

In another hearing this week, Gen McKenzie said he would advise not reducing the US footprint below 8,600 if the peace progress stalled or Afghan forces were incapable of defending themselves.

Full report at:





Security agencies flag Indonesia link to Delhi riots

Shishir Gupta

Mar 14, 2020

Indian security agencies have red-flagged an Indonesia-based non-government organisation (NGO) with past links to the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), the so-called charity wing of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror group, for raising funds on cyberspace in the name of the Delhi riots.

The money was to be ostensibly sent to Muslims who either lost their family members, were injured or lost their property in the February 24-25 riots that left 53 people dead and more than 500 injured, Hindustan Times has learnt

The funds were being collected using the Delhi riots as the excuse and using images and messages on the Internet as propaganda tools , and being routed to India from Dubai through the hawala route.

The revelation comes a day after Union home minister Amit Shah said in Parliament that money had been funnelled abroad to instigate the Delhi riots and said five people were arrested for allegedly distributing money before the violence. The minister said social media accounts had been opened to channel incendiary content.

Pakistan-based cyber warriors are at the forefront of efforts to spread toxic propaganda against the Narendra Modi government and India in countries like the UK, Canada, Germany and in parts of the US.

A large number of Karachi-based tactical groups, which have been brought to the notice of the Indian government, have been found to defame India on issues like nullification of Article 370, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act,and now the Delhi riots.

According to information available in New Delhi, the Indonesia-based NGO (name withheld) has been making attempts to send Rs 25 lakh to the

Delhi riot victims with its board of trustee members contacting local Muslim organizations in the capital to distribute

the aid.

This NGO, through its Twitter handle and other platforms, is circulating selected riot images/messages as part of its propaganda. It is also planning to send a team from Indonesia to review the situation in north-east Delhi for distributing targeted relief to the victims.

The NGO is said to be a highly radicalized group and as part of its Islamic spread, provides financial assistance to Muslim communities in different countries. It also established a camp for the displaced Rohingya Muslims at Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh after sectarian clashes near the Myanmar border.

This NGO also helped the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD),the parent organization of LeT, in 2015 in executing outreach activities in Rohingya camps in the Banda Aceh region of Indonesia. Photographic records of the activities are available on the NGO’s Twitter handle.

This reflects the fact is that LeT is trying to expand its footprint among the Rohingya community and in south-east Asian countries.

Indian security agencies are concerned that the riot images and selected statements of politicians made during the same period will be used to weaponise innocent people through toxic ideology as has been evident in the past two decades.



Shaheen Bagh protest on despite health risk

Mar 14, 2020

Despite advisories to avoid public gatherings in order to control the spread of Covid-19, protesters at Shaheen Bagh, who have been on an almost 90 days agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act, said that they would continue with their demonstration, while taking necessary health precautions.

This comes on a day when the Delhi government ordered a ban any formal gathering of more than 200 people, including sports events such as the Indian Premier League (IPL). Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia on Friday asked people to avoid public gatherings and maintain “social distancing” as preventive measures. When asked if the order will apply to the ongoing protest at Shaheen Bagh, he said, “That (removal of protesters) will have to be done by the central government”.

“Yesterday, we issued an order to shut all cinema halls, schools and colleges till March 31.Today, in another order, we have banned any sports gatherings, seminars and conferences having 200 people or more. Beyond this, if people are still meeting in large numbers, we can only appeal to them not to do so. Public health should be of prime importance,” said Sisodia.

Reacting to the government’s advisory, Qazi Emad, media coordinator of the Shaheen Bagh protest said, “We respect the ban imposed by the government at cinema halls and events such as IPL. But those are a form of entertainment whereas our agitation is about our fight for survival. It cannot be compared.”

Advocate Anwar Siddiqui, a member of their legal team, said, “We will not take any decision on the protest unless Supreme Court directs us to do so.”

In order to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens, hundreds of locals blocked the arterial road no. 13 A — that connects south Delhi withNoida at Shaheen Bagh on December 15, 2019. In the three months that passed by, protesters have refused to vacate the spot unless CAA is repealed.

They also held a dialogue with Supreme Court-appointed interlocutors who presented their report to the apex court last month. The matter is listed for hearing on March 23. Several demonstrators at the spot said they were waiting for the SC directive to decide on a future course.

The CAA fast-tracks citizenship for people belonging to non-Muslim minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan who entered India before December 31, 2014. The law has been challenged in the Supreme Court for being exclusionary and based on religion, and has resulted in widespread protests across India.

Since Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, health experts said exposure to large gathering increases the chances of contracting it. “People from all walks of life attend these gatherings. It is possible that they may have had some contact with those from affected areas or with those who were in contact with the affected. It can make the virus spread faster. The risk can be reduced if outsider contact is limited and the protesters are educated about the disease so that they recognise the symptoms and go for checkups and practice respiratory etiquettes and hygiene,”said Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the department of community medicine, Safdarjung Hospital.

The organisers said they are carrying out awareness programmes on coronavirus and educating protesters to wash hands and take other precautions. They are discussing options to hold a more “controlled gathering” as a preventive measure. “We will also be installing hand sanitisers at the protest site,” said Emad.

Full report at:



India frees top Kashmir leader Farooq Abdullah after 7 months

Mar 14, 2020

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir - Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have released veteran politician Farooq Abdullah seven months after he was detained following the revocation of the Muslim-majority region's special status.

The 82-year-old leader is among the top mainstream leaders, a three-time chief minister and sitting parliamentarian, who was detained on August 5 when the Himalayan region was put under a strict military and communication lockdown hours before the Article 370, which granted the disputed region a measure of autonomy, was removed.

"I am free today. Now, I will be able to go to Delhi and attend Parliament and speak for you all," Abdullah said while addressing reporters from his house where he was flanked by his family.

Abdullah said he was grateful to the people "who spoke for our freedom".

"This freedom will be complete when all leaders are released. I hope the government of India will take action to release everyone," he added. He, however, refused to answer any political questions.

His son Omar Abdullah, also a former chief minister, still remains in detention.

The revocation of Abdullah's detention order under Public Safety Act (PSA), a law under which a person can be detained for up to two years without bail, was issued on Friday by Shaleen Kabra, Kashmir's principal home secretary.

'A right step'

Farooq Abdullah's daughter, Safia Abdullah Khan, wrote on Twitter that "my father is a free man again".

An official source told Al Jazeera that one of the reasons to release Abdullah, who is in his 80s, was his health situation. The official said Abdullah went through an eye surgery two weeks ago.

"Being in an advanced stage of life he was not keeping well," the official said.

After the abrogation of Article 370, a law that had protected the demography of the Muslim-majority region, the Indian authorities launched a massive crackdown and detained political leaders, separatists and thousands of others.

While most of the people, including some political leaders have been released, many continue to be in detention, including two former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

Farooq Abdullah, who often termed Article 370 a "matter of honour" for the Kashmiris, was on September 15 booked under the PSA, a law that has been termed "lawless" by rights groups like Amnesty International.

Farooq is the son of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah - Kashmir's tallest leader. The Abdullah family has dominated the National Conference, the largest mainstream political party in Kashmir that has ruled most of the last 70 years in the region.

In a statement, the National Conference, said, "Abdullah's release from detention will be a right step for the restoration of a genuine political process in Jammu and Kashmir".

"The process will receive a further fillip when party leader Omar Abdullah and other political detainees are set free. We urge the government to do so at the earliest," it said.

Full report at:



Will go to Parliament, raise voice on 370, says Farooq

Mar 14, 2020

NEW DELHI SRINAGAR: F arooq Abdullah on Friday said that he would raise his voice in Parliament on the nullification of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution to revoke J&K's special status.

The 82-year-old former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, who had been booked under the Public Safety Act, was released on Friday after seven months in detention.

T here had been reports of a political outreach to those held in detention at their homes with former RAW chief A S Dulat meeting Abdullah. There were indications that NC and PDP, the two main regional parties in the Valley, might consider participating in panchayat elections if their members were released. There was also a limit, in political terms, to the length of detention, particularly as the situation has been largely peaceful.

"T he release of Farooq Abdullah and further plans to review detention orders of Mehbooba and Omar under J&K Public Safety Act (PSA) indicate the situation in J&K has returned to complete normalcy," said a central government functionary. The detention order issued under PSA against Mehbooba and Omar in early February has a validity of three months.

A bdullah's release comes as there are indications that the Centre might consider scheduling panchayat polls that were put off recently. The emergence of Apni Party under former PDP member Altaf Bukhari, with the support of some 40 former legislators, has stirred the waters in the Valley and given NC and PDP something to think about.

Th ough the NC chairman had been under house arrest since August 5 last year, it wasn't until September 15 that the administration invoked PSA to extend his custody by three months. The move came hours before the Supreme Court was to hear a petition filed by MDMK's Vaiko, challenging Abdullah's detention. On December 13, the administration issued a fresh order extending his detention by another three months.

TOI ha s learnt that the delimitation commission - constituted last week with former SC judge Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai as chairperson and election commissioner Sushil Chandra and state CEO as ex-officio members - is likely to begin its work towards the end of this month. Sources indicated that the panel, which will also be handling delimitation of seats in four other states - Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh - may take between six-eight months to complete its work.

Full report at:



Govt curbs travel via border, suspends bus, rail links to Bangladesh

Mar 14, 2020

NEW DELHI: As the official number of Covid-19 cases in the country rose to 82, the Centre on Friday decided to restrict international traffic only through 19 of 37 border check posts and suspended passenger bus and rail services to Bangladesh for a month starting from March 15.

Only four India-Nepal border check posts will be operational during this period. Though the Kartarpur corridor is currently open, the government will take a decision on it by Saturday, officials said.

"India-Bangladesh passenger buses and trains will remain suspended till April 15. Along the India-Nepal border, four check posts will remain operational. For citizens of Bhutan and Nepal, visa-free entry to the country will continue," Anil Malik, additional secretary in the home ministry, said.

"There will be intensified health inspections at all these entry points and any traveller, whether Indian or Nepalese or Bhutanese or from any other country showing Covid-19 symptoms or with a recent travel history to one of seven Covid-19 outbreak countries - Italy, Iran, China, Spain, France, Germany and Republic of Korea - shall be subjected to quarantine at a facility of state or central government," a office memorandum said.

So far, 10 of 82 cases reported have been declared cured, while two have died, one in Karnataka on Thursday and another in Delhi on Friday.

72 out of 82 infected clinically stable: Health ministry official

Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry said, “All other cases are clinically stable as of now.” Around 4,000 people who came in contact with the 81 positive cases are under vigorous observation across the country, whereas 42,000 people are under community surveillance, Agarwal said.

The government maintained there was “no health emergency or epidemic” in India, while urging people to be aware and take precautions to protect themselves and others from the infection. Agarwal clarified that the 76-year-old patient who died in Karnataka had “comorbid” conditions of asthma and hypertension. Moreover, he was admitted to a private hospital and refused an advice from the government to move to a public facility.

The health ministry also said the death of a 68-year-old woman from west Delhi (mother of a confirmed case of Covid-19) was caused due to co-morbidity (diabetes and hypertension). She has also tested positive. She had contact with a positive case (her son who had travelled to Switzerland and Italy between February 5 and 22).

The government is working to evacuate all Indians stranded in Iran and Italy. “An exercise will be undertaken on Saturday to bring back Indian passengers stranded in Iran. Air India will also send a flight to Milan on Saturday to bring Indians. It will land on Sunday morning at Delhi airport,” said Rubina Ali, joint secretary in the civil aviation ministry. So far, India has evacuated 1,031 people, including from Maldives, US, Madagascar and China.

Full report at:



Southeast Asia


Maintaining Harmony: Indonesia’s Inter-Religious Forum

March 13, 2020

The Inter-Religious Harmony Forum (FKUB) in Indonesia had functioned since 2006 as the main arbiter on matters concerning interfaith relations, in particular the approval of new houses of worship. Its duties as a consulting body for religious by-laws in Indonesia is less often discussed.

By Jonathan Chen*

In the wake of an escalation of conflicts between religious communities over sacred sites and places of worship, the Inter-Religious Harmony Forum (commonly known as FKUB or Forum Kerukunan Umat Beragama) was established in 2006. It was initiated by a Joint Regulation of the Minister of Religion and the Minister of Home Affairs to provide an advisory role at the provincial, regency and city levels on matters of inter-religious relations.

Seen largely as a consulting body, its primary role had been to arbitrate across religious lines and recommend approval of new houses of worship from all six officially recognised religions (Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism) in Indonesia. Its other duties are to advise on local regulations (peraturan daerah), decrees (surat keputusan) and circulars (surat edaran) related to matters of religion.

Majority’s Inherent Advantage

The Forum, since its conception, had been accused of privileging bureaucratisation over being a platform where the aspirations of all religions could be manifested. Consisting of at least 21 members, the Forums are skewed towards favouring the dominant religion in each region.

This means that most regions in Java and Sumatra have greater numbers of Muslim members while provinces like North Sulawesi and East Nusa Tenggara have more Christian members appointed by the local chief executives (governors, regents, or mayors).

For example, in the East Java FKUB, Muslims number eleven out of the 21 members consisting of a representative each from organisations like Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Muhammadiyah and the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), giving Islam a simple majority amongst the religions.

This often translates into Islamic votes overruling other minority votes, in the case of East Java. In addition, while the Forum’s religious minority members may object to a ruling by refusing to sign the official statement issued by the group, key decisions were often already made by the governor with advice from MUI.

For instance, in 2012 the East Java FKUB issued a statement condemning Shi’a Muslims as heretics, in accordance with the East Java MUI fatwa and the decree issued by former Governor Soekarwo. Even though representatives from minority groups refused to sign the statement, it was still released as an official statement of the East Java Forum.

Informal Decrees and Circulars

Within the past few years, there was a conversion in the type of legal status for local religious regulations that saw an increase in less formal but still legally binding regulations. These took the form of decrees (surat keputusan) and circulars (surat edaran), in comparison to formal regulations (peraturan daerah or in short perda). This shift is seen as a strategic move by groups to make sure that regulations are harder to detect by the Ministry of Home Affairs or human rights and religious minority watchdog groups.

Such informal decrees and circulars are usually issued by local executives such as the governor, regent or mayor and would often first be delegated to the local agency (dinas) most relevant to the topic. Unlike that of a perda, which needed to be discussed and approved by the provincial legislature (DRPD I) or district/city council (DPRD II), decrees and circulars are exempted and only require the signature of the local executive.

In other words, these informal regulations do not require legislative consent and approval or checks and balances, resting solely on the prerogative of the local executive and bureaucracy.

It is thus common for religious power brokers to request and lobby for the passage of these informal regulations. Local executives are often willing to approve these requests in order to ensure electoral support. Most civil servants and bureaucrats also see these as devices to execute the wishes of local executives, thus few are willing to express disagreements for fear of facing retaliatory actions from the executives themselves.

Thus a decree or circular to ban people from celebrating Valentine’s Day or holding Christmas Service for example, can be implemented within a short time. Local governments will deny the existence of such regulations as these informal regulations take the form of voluntary compliance (himbauan).

On the other hand, these informal decrees and circulars are also more likely to violate national laws. For example, the East Java governor’s decree to limit Ahmadiyah activities in the province violates both the 1945 Indonesian constitution and the Law on Human Rights.

Strategies to Protect Religious Minorities and Beliefs

While it may seem that the odds are stacked against religious minorities, especially that of indigenous beliefs (kepercayaan) or sects considered deviant (Ahmadis and Shi’a Muslims), there are viable strategies that they can take to protect themselves, depending upon the context. For example, Indonesian Hindus practising their faith openly can opt to identify themselves more as a ‘cultural group’ (known as aliran kepercayaan) which are perceived as less of a threat by Muslim hardliners.

Christians, in a hostile environment, can be more attuned when promoting tolerance, by choosing not to use overtly religious rhetoric or take the approach of addressing more general issues concerning honesty, inequality and injustice that are also of concern to Muslims.

While the FKUB may not be a perfect vehicle for all occasions, harmony can oftentimes be achieved in various contexts without recourse to arbitration or legislation if sensitivity is respected. A minority religious group may not have to rely on state apparatuses if a delicate balance of tolerance, depending on the context can be achieved. This means not ruling out innovative strategies or adopting less invasive methods in order to protect the peace.



Agong calls for shorter Friday sermon, mosques to take preventative measures against Covid-19

13 Mar 2020

KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 — Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah has called on all mosques to shorten the Friday sermon and to provide forehead thermometer, hand sanitizer and facemasks as Covid-19 infection prevention measures.

Comptroller of the Royal Household of Istana Negara Datuk Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin in a statement here today said His Majesty agreed for all Muslim males to make ablutions at home before going to the mosque for the congregational Friday prayers and those who were symptomatic of the disease should not attend the prayers as advised by the Religious Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri yesterday.

Ahmad Fadil said Al-Sultan Abdullah also decreed that all mosques in the country hold a recital of Qunut Nazilah during the congregational Subuh and Friday prayers to pray for protection from Covid-19 infection.

“Al-Sultan Abdullah is very concerned and has followed closely the latest development on Covid-19 infection. His Majesty has also expressed worry over the people’s safety and health following the rising number of confirmed infections in the country,” he said.

Yesterday, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah was reported as saying that the total cumulative confirmed Covid-19 cases in Malaysia stood at 158, with the number of patients discharged from hospital had risen to 32.

Ahmad Fadil said Al-Sultan Abdullah also called on those who participated in the tabligh gathering at the Sri Petaling Mosque recently to give their cooperation to the Ministry of Health (MoH) by coming to the nearest District Health Office to minimise Covid-19 infections in their communities.

“His Majesty urged all Malaysians to postpone any mass gathering as advised by the MOH and those symptomatic of Covid-19 not to attend any programme involving many people in crowded settings.

“Members of the public are also advised to contact the Online Health Advisory Service or the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC) through the MoE’s website to find answers to their doubts and questions so as to prevent the dissemination of wrong information which may cause panic,” he said.

Ahmad Fadil said Al-Sultan Abdullah also advised the people to adhere to personal hygiene guidelines and preventive measures issued by the MoH.

Full report at:



Singapore to close mosques for cleaning to fight virus

March 12, 2020

SINGAPORE: Singapore will temporarily close all the country's mosques for deep cleaning from Friday after two men contracted the coronavirus while attending an Islamic gathering in neighbouring Malaysia, authorities said.

About 10,000 people from several countries took part in the February 28 to March 1 event at a mosque near the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

After discovering two men who attended the event were infected, Singapore Islamic authorities immediately closed four mosques which they had visited after returning.

The remaining 66 mosques in the city-state will be shuttered from Friday for at least five days to be disinfected, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore said.

"These are temporary measures to proactively minimise the possible spread of Covid-19 in our mosques," the council said.

"(The council) seeks the support and the understanding of the Muslim community for such preemptive measures to safeguard public health and the well-being of all communities in Singapore."

The majority of multi-ethnic Singapore's citizens are ethnic Chinese and do not follow Islam, but the country is also home to a substantial Muslim minority.

Authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia have also reported a handful of virus infections linked to the gathering, and are trying to track down thousands of citizens who attended it.

Malaysia has not ordered the closure of all mosques or banned communal prayers on Fridays -- the holiest day for Muslims -- although authorities have recommended some steps such as shortening sermons.

A man from Brunei also became infected after attending the event, and then passed on the virus to several people when he returned to the tiny sultanate neighbouring Malaysia.

Full report at:



Mammoth task tracing mosque event participants

14 Mar 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: Health Ministry personnel have been working around the clock conducting large-scale Covid-19 screenings at Masjid Jamek Sri Petaling here over the last two days, after a participant at an event held from Feb 27 to March 1 tested positive for the virus.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the ministry’s team had received the full cooperation of all parties, namely the participants, staff and students.

“Our health officers from Lembah Pantai are supported by staff from other states to trace and track all the participants.

“It’s a mammoth and daunting task. However, we need to prepare to share the responsibility as everyone can help to protect themselves and their communities, ” he said in a Facebook post yesterday that was picked up by Bernama.

The urgency of the task became more apparent when the Health Ministry revised its earlier estimate of attendees from 5,000 to some 16,000, with an estimated 14,500 of them Malaysians.

Earlier this week, Dr Noor Hisham had said the estimated number of programme attendees were around 10,000 people, of which half were Malaysians.

Yesterday, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba said the mosque was temporarily closed for disinfection, and urged those who attended the gathering to get tested.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs), Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, advised those who attended the programme to head to the nearest hospital or clinic.

He said he had an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong before Friday prayers yesterday, and the King also urged those who attended the event to undergo screening.

“Hopefully, Covid-19 will go away and the ray of happiness and the blessings of good health will dock at our shores, ” said the former Federal Territories Mufti on his Facebook page yesterday.

In a related development, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) has imposed a temporary ban on all tabligh (missionary) events in mosques and surau in the state, based on the Health Ministry’s advice.

Mosque and surau administrators in Selangor are not only obeying the Jais directive, but are also taking the initiative to scrap all other group activities as well.

Klang Chinese Muslim Mosque’s fundraising committee chairman Sharin Loh Abdullah said all their regular activities had been axed as soon as the directive was issued.

“We have regular fundraising activities in other mosques to go towards building the Klang Chinese Muslim Mosque, but we have stopped such activities for the time being, ’’ said Sharin.

“Given the increase in Covid-19 cases, the mosque committee did not want to take the risk of exposing themselves and the congregation to possible infection.”

Klang Indian Muslim Mosque chairman Md Yusoff Noor Mohamed said his committee was strictly adhering to the Jais directive.

“As far as the mosque is concerned, we are following the directive closely, and even our prayer sessions are conducted under close supervision.

He said generally tabligh groups from outside were granted permission to stay in the mosque while conducting their activities, but this had been stopped at the moment.

“With the ban by Jais, we will not be allowing them to come in for activities, ’’ he said, adding that the mosque committee had also placed hand sanitisers at all four entry points to the prayer hall.

In a statement on Thursday, Jais director Shahzihan Ahmad said the temporary ban on tabligh was based on the Health Ministry’s advice.

The ministry found that six Malaysian Covid-19 cases were linked to the tabligh activity in the Sri Petaling mosque.

“The spread of Covid-19 has somewhat raised uneasiness among the public, and to decrease the risk of infection, Jais has taken steps to halt all tabligh activities in mosques and surau, ’’ said Shahzihan.

However, he said activities such as lectures, talks and weddings could still continue with proper supervision and measures.

Full report at:



Arab World


Syria won war against terrorism, but Turkey pulled agonizingly: EX-CIA official

14 March 2020

The government of Syrian President Basher al-Assad has managed to score a victory in the nine-year war with the support of Russia and Iran while Turkey is "pulled agonizingly" in several directions, says a former deputy director of the US spy agency CIA.

"Syria’s Assad has won — at least militarily, "John McLaughlin wrote in an article for the online platform OZY titled "SYRIA: IS THE END GAME APPROACHING?".

"Assad owes his survival to Russia and Iran, which brought significant ground and air forces to his rescue," he added.

The Syrian army has been fighting against a host of foreign-backed terrorist groups, which have been wreaking havoc on the country since 2011.

At the request of Damascus, Iran has been offering advisory military assistance to the Syrian government. Russia, too, has military advisers in the Arab state, besides carrying out aerial bombardments against the terrorist.

The Damascus government has managed to win back control of almost all regions from Takfiri elements in view of the Iranian and Russian support.

"Moscow emerges as the great power credited with standing by its ally and willing to put force and reputation on the line for Assad,” McLaughlin wrote. "Russian President Vladimir Putin may now be the most influential foreign leader in the Middle East."

"Iran is entrenching itself in Syria — and plans to stay, he noted, saying that Tehran "sees Syria as anchoring a land bridge of influence from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean."

Syria has now been engaged in a liberation operation in Idlib Province, the last major bastion of the terrorists in the country.

The recent sweeping Syrian army gains, however, coincided with a massive deployment of troops and military equipment by Turkey, which is evidently upset by changing conditions on the ground.

"Idlib is the last piece of territory standing in the way of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regaining control of the country. As a last refuge, Idlib has been a magnet for one of the most diverse populations on Earth, ranging from millions of innocent refugees to numerous fighting groups, the largest of which is an al-Qaeda offshoot, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and its 20,000 fighters”, the ex-CIA official wrote.

"Probably no comparable piece of real estate on Earth is at this moment an active battleground closely engaging the interests of at least four major powers — Russia, Turkey, Iran and the United States," he pointed out.

Ankara backs militants fighting to topple the Damascus government. Those elements continue to target Syrian troops and allied Russian personnel.

In turn, the US has also been supporting anti-Damascus Kurdish militants and at the same time stealing Syria’s crude resources.

Analyzing the situation in Idlib, McLaughlin wrote that while Syrian government forces are advancing from the south, NATO member Turkey "is pushing back; Ankara claims it cannot absorb more refugees and has begun pointing those it already has toward the border with Greece and into Europe."

"Turkey is pulled agonizingly in multiple directions. It opposes Assad’s advance but doesn’t want to fight Russia, with which it tries to maintain good relations in hopes of influencing an eventual Syrian political settlement, particularly the future of the country’s Kurds," he added.

"Ankara sees Syria’s Kurds as allies of Kurds in Turkey, who are viewed as terrorists and separatists by Turkish leaders. Meanwhile, Turkey’s refusal to absorb more refugees strains its relations with Europe. And its harsh policy toward the Kurds has often put it at odds with the US, its chief NATO ally often closely partnered with the Kurds in Iraq and Syria."

Anti-American sentiment  is currently running high in Syria as the US is maintaining its military presence there under the guise of fighting Daesh.

Earlier this month, a US military convoy had been forced to retreat from an area in Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakah after government forces blocked its way and groups of angry local residents threw stones at it.

"The United States, thanks to its hesitant policy during the [Barack] Obama administration and its erratic one under President Donald Trump, has forfeited most of its influence in Syria and over its future," McLaughlin wrote.

"With the US drawdown and the changing mission definition — now oddly one of protecting Syria’s negligible oil — Washington has left the region and Syria’s other players uncertain of its intentions and doubtful of its seriousness and staying power."

He concluded, "Strategically, the US has probably lost more than we can now realize... Syria was never a candidate for that kind of massive US intervention. What it needs and has lacked is, above all, constancy of purpose and clearly defined priorities — integrated with skillful diplomacy and a modest amount of force."



Northeast Syrian airwaves home to radio tower of Babel

Rana al-Ahmde

March 14, 2020

QAMISHLI, Syria — A small radio station in the town of Qamishli, on the border of Turkey and Syria, has been broadcasting in the ancient Christian liturgical language of Syriac. The station, run by a husband-and-wife team, is a newcomer to the multilingual radio scene in Rojava, ruled by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.

Suroyo FM settled into its regular broadcasts in Syriac and Arabic on Feb. 2, after three months as a pilot project. Broadcasts in Armenian and Kurdish are expected to follow within the year.

The station will offer news reports from correspondents on the ground throughout the volatile region. It will also broadcast on social issues and the rich cultural heritage of the area inhabited by Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians.

“We will have a variety of programs that cover politics, social issues and culture,” co-director Samer Hanna told Al-Monitor. “We will address the culture and history of the Assyrians and mark historical and religious occasions. We will have special programs on health and women.”

“We are now broadcasting for 12 hours — from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. — our news and cultural programs to this region in the northeast of Syria, including Qamishli, Amouda, Al-Darbasiyah, Tal Tamr, Al-Hasakah, Qahtaniya and Derik and their suburbs,” co-director Maria Hanna told Al-Monitor. She is also a producer and presenter of news programs in Arabic and Syriac.

The station's Feb. 2 official opening, held at the station in the neighborhood of Al-Arbawiya, was attended by representatives of the Assyrian community, the autonomous administration and the local police force.

The radio station, whose slogan is “Giving a United Voice to Everyone,” employs seven journalists full time and many correspondents on the ground.

“We also have correspondents in most cities of northeast Syria who have their ears to the ground, including the military front lines, such as Tal Tamr and Ain Issa,” Samer said, referring to the venues of intensified fighting during Turkey’s Olive Branch Operation.

“These diverse programs are to be broadcast in Syriac, Assyrian, Chaldean and Arabic,” he said. “We will tackle the rich heritage of the region — from Assyrian to Chaldean.”

He said that Suroyo FM is an affiliate of Suroyo TV, an Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac satellite television channel that has been broadcasting for 15 years from its studios in Södertälje, Sweden.

Journalist Nalin Boutan told Al-Monitor that media has an important role to play in promoting cultural and linguistic diversity in the region. “Arabic, Kurdish, Syriac or Armenian-language journalism, whether print, visual or audio, is important for developing a multicultural society,” she said.

Khaled al-Qassem, a photojournalist who works for several foreign agencies in Raqqa, agreed, saying that linguistic diversity was already present in the media. “There are radio and TV stations, newspapers and online publications that come out in the various mother tongues in the region,” he told Al-Monitor. “In Raqqa, there is Arabic-speaking BISSAN FM, whose programs mainly cover the cultural and social life of Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor and Tabaqa and highlight art expos and festivals. In Amouda city, Arta FM broadcasts its programs online in Kurdish, Arabic, Syriac and Armenian. Almost all stations broadcast music in all the languages of the region.”

Boutan told Al-Monitor that female journalists have a strong presence in Rojava. “Women journalists have successfully covered battles in Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor, Manbij and Kobani, among others. They have also succeeded in managing media platforms. Arta FM has been managed by program presenter Shirine Ibrahim since 2014 and it is a success.”

Boutan noted that the region also has an all-women radio station. JIN FM has been broadcasting from Amouda since 2014. “It was the first all-women station broadcasting in Kurdish. JIN means ‘women’s station’ in Kurdish. The station launched the all-women JIN TV on March 8, 2018, on International Women’s Day," she said.

Full report at:


Turkey blames Kurdish fighters for Syria blast that killed 4

March 12, 2020

BEIRUT — A car bomb exploded at a checkpoint manned by Turkey-backed opposition fighters in northeast Syria killing at least four people Thursday, local officials and Syrian opposition activists said.

The governor’s office of Turkey’s southern Sanliurfa region said in a statement on its website that one gendarmerie corporal and three local security personnel were killed in the attack.

It blamed Kurdish militants for the blast on the road leading to the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn Thursday afternoon.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the blast killed five, including three Turkey-backed opposition fighters and two members of Turkey’s paramilitary force.

The governor’s office said 10 others were wounded, including seven civilians, who were being treated in the Turkish border village of Ceylanpinar and their conditions were stable.

Turkey has blamed explosions that killed and wounded dozens of people in northeast Syria in recent months on Kurdish fighters.

Full report at:



Iraq to complain to the UN over US air strikes, says foreign ministry

13 March 2020

Iraq will complain to the United Nations and the Security Council about overnight US air strikes, a spokesman for the foreign ministry said on Friday.

The Iraqi military said earlier on Friday that the air strikes had killed six people and described them as a violation of sovereignty.

The United States said it carried out the strikes on Thursday against an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq that it blames for a rocket attack a day earlier which killed two American soldiers and a British soldier.



Coronavirus: Iraq bans entry for travellers from Qatar, Germany

13 March 2020

Iraq has banned entry to travelers coming from Germany and Qatar, its health minister said on Friday, bringing the total number of countries on its entry ban list to 13 as it tries to stem the spread of coronavirus.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

The ban does not extend to Iraqi citizens and foreign diplomats, Health Minister Jaafar Allawi said in a statement. Iraq has so far recorded 83 cases of coronavirus, eight deaths, and 24 recoveries.

Allawi, who heads the government’s coronavirus taskforce, also banned domestic travel between provinces from March 15-25 with the exception of emergencies, trade, and employees commuting to work. Major religious gatherings during the Islamic month of Rajab (Feb. 25 - March 24) were also banned.



Iraq military says US strikes kill five troops, one civilian

13 March 2020

US air strikes targeting pro-Iranian military factions in Iraq early Friday killed one civilian and five security personnel, the Iraqi military said.

Three of the dead were Iraqi soldiers and two policemen, the military statement said, adding that 11 Iraqi fighters were also wounded, some of them critically.

The civilian was a cook working at the unfinished Karbala airport, where another civilian employee was also wounded in the raids.

The volley of strikes was in response to a rocket attack on an Iraqi base late Wednesday that killed two US military personnel and one British soldier.



Saudi Arabia to suspend international flights starting Sunday to help stop spread of coronavirus

March 14, 2020

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will suspend international flights for two weeks from Sunday to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, the Ministry of Interior announced on Saturday.

On Friday, 24 new cases of COVID-19 infections were reported in the Kingdom, raising the total to 86.

The suspension will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, the ministry said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

Some flights would only be allowed in "exceptional cases" during the two-week period, the ministry said.

For residents who cannot come back during this period, it will be considered as an official holiday.

Necessary arrangements will be made regarding health procedures such as examination and isolation according to the preventive measures approved for all arrivals.

The Ministry of Health, in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, the Civil Aviation Authority and other relevant parties, will arrange for the arrival of citizens who wish to return, and the relevant procedures will be soon announced, the statement added.

Earlier this week, the entire European Union and 12 other countries in Asia and Africa were added to a list of countries in which travel to and from the Kingdom is suspended. 

Full report at:



North America


Trump Authorizes Military to Respond after Deadly Attack Blamed On Iran-Backed Militia

Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali

MARCH 12, 2020

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump has authorized the U.S. military to respond to Wednesday’s rocket attack in Iraq that killed two American troops and a British service member, the Pentagon said on Thursday, blaming Iran-backed militia.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stopped short of blaming Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah or naming any specific militia.

But they were clear that they believe Iran backed the fighters who carried out the attack, and warned that all options were on the table - language suggesting the United States, Iran and the forces Tehran backs were again on a path toward renewed confrontation inside of Iraq.

“I have spoken with the president. He’s given me the authority to do what we need to do, consistent with his guidance,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon.

Asked if a U.S. response could include strikes inside Iran, Esper hinted that strikes against the militia itself were the priority.

“I’m not going to take any option off the table right now, but we are focused on the group - groups - that we believe perpetrated this in Iraq, as the immediate (focus),” he said.

Trump told reporters at the White House it was not “fully determined it was Iran” and declined to say what the United States might do.

“We’ll see what the response is,” he said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack and Iran has not commented.

The United States has repeatedly and publicly warned that killing Americans overseas constituted a red line that would trigger a U.S. response.

“We gotta hold the perpetrators accountable. You don’t get to shoot at our bases and kill and wound Americans and get away with it,” Esper said.

Washington blamed Kataib Hezbollah for a strike in Iraq in December that killed a U.S. contractor, leading to a cycle of tit-for-tat confrontations that culminated in January’s U.S. killing of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory Iranian missile attack that left more than 100 U.S. troops with brain injuries.

Wednesday would have been Soleimani’s 63rd birthday.

In the latest attack, some 14 U.S.-led coalition personnel were wounded, including American, British, Polish and others. Private industry contractors were among the wounded. Milley said five of the wounded were categorized as “urgent,” suggesting serious injuries that could require rapid medical evacuation.

Britain named its fallen service member as Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, a 26-year-old with the Irish Guards Battle Group.

The United States has not yet identified the U.S. service members killed.


Earlier on Thursday, U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the military’s Central Command, noted that only Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah had been known to wage such an attack in the past.

“While we are still investigating the attack, I will note that the Iranian proxy group Kataib Hezbollah is the only group known to have previously conducted an indirect fire attack of this scale against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq,” McKenzie told a U.S. Senate hearing.

The U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq says 18 107 mm Katyusha rockets struck Iraq’s Taji military camp.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a total of 30 of the rockets were fired from a nearby truck and that only 18 of them landed at the Iraqi base.

Milley said the truck yielded evidence about those responsible.

“We have good indication based on forensics of where (the attack) was fired from, who did the firing and so on and so forth,” Milley said, adding that “we have pretty good confidence we know who did this.”

In a sign of concern that tensions between the United States and Iran could be headed toward open conflict, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday to limit Trump’s ability to wage war against Iran.

The Republican president has been engaged in a maximum-pressure campaign of renewed sanctions and near-constant rhetoric against Iran, after pulling the United States out of the international nuclear deal reached during the administration of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months.

Iran-backed paramilitary groups have regularly been rocketing and shelling bases in Iraq that host U.S. forces and the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.



US to keep two carriers in Gulf to counter Iran proxies

13 March 2020

The Pentagon said on Friday it would keep two aircraft carrier task forces in the Gulf region after carrying out strikes in Iraq on five depots for Iran-supplied rockets.

Central Command commander General Kenneth McKenzie said the two carrier groups would be staying in the region for a sustained period in the wake of a series of attacks on US positions in Iraq by Iranian-backed groups that have ratcheted up tensions with Tehran.

Retaliatory strikes against Kata’ib Hezbollah

Early Friday the US military launched air strikes against weapons depots of Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iraqi armed faction that receives support from Iran.

The strikes were in retaliation to Wednesday's rocket attack, attributed to Kata’ib Hezbollah, that killed two American and one British soldiers at Iraq's Taji air base.

Showing journalists before and after surveillance photographs of the five sites, McKenzie said the US strikes effectively destroyed them, degrading the Iraqi group's ability to carry out attacks.

“We are confident that we have effectively destroyed these facilities and expect they will no longer be able to house the type of advanced Iranian supplied weapons that were used in the Kata’ib Hezbollah attacks on the Iraq base at Camp Taji,” he said.

Countering Iran proxies

He accused Tehran of continuing to support attacks against US and coalition forces via its proxies in Iraq. To maintain an effective ability to counter such threats, the Pentagon had authorized keeping the two aircraft carriers in the Gulf for the first time since 2012.

With the two carriers in the region, he said, “We have the flexibility, the capability and the will to respond to any threat,” McKenzie said. “I think the threat remains very high. I think that tensions have actually not gone down,” he added.

Full report at:



Trump declares national emergency over coronavirus

Friday, 13 March 2020

US President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency over the fast-spreading coronavirus, freeing up additional resources and federal funding of about $50 billion to fight the disease.

Trump made the announcement at a news conference on Friday at the White House, saying he was declaring the national emergency in order to "unleash the full power of the federal government," Reuters reported.

He called on all US states to establish emergency centers to help fight the deadly virus.

Declaration of an infectious disease emergency under the 1988 law would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide disaster funds to state and local governments and to deploy support teams.

"To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words. The action I am taking will open up access to up to $50 billion - a very important and a large amount for states and territories or localities in our shared fight against this disease," Trump said.

Donald J. Trump


To unleash the full power of the Federal Government in this effort, today I am officially declaring a National Emergency.

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2:30 AM - Mar 14, 2020

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Trump said his government would partner with the private industry to speed up production of test kits to make them available to Americans.

He said perhaps more than 5 million coronavirus tests will be needed, and requested people to only seek out the test if they really need it.

"We don't want people to take a test if we feel that they shouldn't be doing it and we don't want everyone running out and taking - only if you have certain symptoms," he said.

The Trump administration has faced harsh criticism over the slow response and availability of coronavirus tests.

“The goal is for individuals to be able to drive up and be swabbed without having to leave your car,” Trump said.

Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health expert, who is on Trump's coronavirus task force, was standing alongside Trump in the White House while he declared the national emergency. 

"We still have a long way to go. There will be many more cases. But we'll take care of that," said Fauci. "What's going on here today is going to help it end sooner than it would have."

Trump has earlier blamed his predecessor for the slow coronavirus testing process in the country, saying former President Barack Obama "made changes that only complicated things further."

Trump blamed Obama on Friday as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has come under fire over the past days following the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

Full report at:



US hits Kata’ib Hezbollah weapon storage sites in Iraq

Servet Günerigök 



The U.S. conducted strikes against pro-Iranian militia Kata’ib Hezbollah's facilities in Iraq, the Pentagon said Thursday.

"These strikes targeted five weapon storage facilities to significantly degrade their ability to conduct future attacks against Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces," the Department of Defense said in a statement.

It said the targets included facilities that housed weapons used to target U.S. and coalition troops on Wednesday which left two American troops and one British serviceman dead.

At least 14 others were injured when some 30 rockets were fired at Camp Taji, an Iraqi base north of Baghdad.

"The United States will not tolerate attacks against our people, our interests, or our allies," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in the same statement. "As we have demonstrated in recent months, we will take any action necessary to protect our forces in Iraq and the region."

Several local Iraqi media outlets reported that the U.S. targeted Iraq's Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) forces and Hezbollah group in Babil, Karbala, Saladin, Anbar and other provinces.

Iraqi authorities have yet to issue a statement on the strikes.

Full report at:





Ardern says racist threat lingers after New Zealand mosque attacks

March 13, 2020

CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealand’s leader Jacinda Ardern admitted Friday there was “much more” her country could do to tackle white supremacists a year after the Christchurch mosque massacres.

Ardern was widely praised for her compassion toward the Muslim community after a lone gunman attacked two mosques on March 15 last year, killing 51 in New Zealand’s worst modern mass shooting.

But she said some in the South Pacific nation continued to espouse the views of the Australian attacker, a self-avowed white supremacist who targeted Muslims at Friday prayers.

“New Zealand is not free of those groups who define themselves as extremist white supremacists, those groups exist here,” she told reporters.

“The responsibility we have is to combat not only that existence, but the precursors to that existence. There is much more that we can do,” she said.

Ardern, who was speaking ahead of a national memorial service on Sunday, said the best way to honor victims was to call out racism, bullying and discrimination.

“People will feel safe when they feel supported,” she said.

“When they feel the community is looking after them and when they feel they are not facing discrimination or jibes in the street or comments that make them feel unsafe.”

Ardern said the March 15 attacks “fundamentally changed” New Zealand, she hoped for the better.

“I would like to think there is a growing resolve among New Zealanders that we wish to be defined by what we are not as much as what we are,” she said.

Her remarks come after police arrested a 19-year-old man this month over a threat against one of the mosques attacked last year.

“It is unfathomable to me that, after everything the Muslim community has experienced, we have people who are... (making) threats against our Muslim community,” she said.

Ardern later joined more than 1,000 Muslims for their Friday prayers as the Al Noor and Linwood mosques held a combined service and were joined by fellow Muslims from around New Zealand.

Nasir Ali, who flew in from Auckland with his family, said it was important to share the “sorrow and hardship” and keep the memory alive.

“We need to keep it on the radar that this sort of tragedy and this sort of extremist ideology does exist and we need to continue to be vigilant about it,” he said.

Farid Ahmed, whose wife was killed by the gunman, said 12 months on he was still at a loss to understand why the killing occurred.

Ahmed has publicly forgiven the gunman and said he refuses to be cowed.

“I feel I could die anytime and I should not be afraid because I have got my freedom not to be afraid. No one or nothing can take that away,” he said.

“The lesson is that hate does not solve any problem. If there are differences there is another way and that is the peaceful way.”

“We should talk, we should dialogue, we should ask one another questions and we should not be afraid of one another.”

Taj Mohammed Kamran, who was shot three times while his friend beside him was killed by the gunman, said he felt safe at the Friday prayers because of the large police presence.

“But I was sad because my friend was not there,” he added.

The alleged mosque attacker Brenton Tarrant, an Australian national, is due to go on trial on June 2 facing terrorism charges plus 51 counts of murder and 40 of attempted murder over the killings.



Australian FBI suspect admits to role with Islamic State after capture in Syria

March 14, 2020

A Sydney man wanted by the FBI over accusations he helped young Americans join Islamic State has confessed to Turkish authorities that he worked for the group as a translator and communications official, the ABC can reveal.

Mohamed Zuhbi, 29, was captured by a pro-Turkish militia in June last year and handed over to Turkish authorities.

He has since been convicted in a court there and is expected to be deported to Australia soon.

Zuhbi was one of the most prominent among Australia's Islamic State supporters and was close to many of the Australian men who went to fight and die in Syria and Iraq with the declared terrorist group.

Until now there has been no suggestion that Zuhbi actually joined or fought for Islamic State.

However, the ABC has obtained Turkish court documents which state the Australian confessed that he had travelled to the group's de-facto Syrian capital, Raqqa, in 2015, to join, and underwent weeks of religious and military training.

He told prosecutors he was then assigned a role in an Islamic State bureaucracy connected to travel and communication and also worked as an English translator for the group.

When Raqqa fell to a Kurdish offensive in mid-2017 he used smugglers to flee to Syria's north-west.

He then lived in that area for two years — even opening a childcare centre with a male relative of a local woman he married — before being captured at a militia checkpoint, the Turkish documents state.

He was sent to Turkey and ultimately sentenced to more than seven years for joining Islamic State and related crimes, the documents states.

The court then gave him a series of reductions because of "assistance provided" that saw his final sentence reduced to about a-year-and-a-half.

The Turkish documents are authentic and base themselves on what they say is Zuhbi's own confession.

However, the Turkish judicial system has become increasingly controlled by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's authoritarian government and convictions and confessions there would likely not meet the levels of evidence required in the Australian judicial system.

His arrest and expected return to Australia is the end of a four-year manhunt by authorities for the Australian citizen but may also create a new legal headache for the Federal Government.

The US has explicitly stated it expects Zuhbi to be extradited to America for trial there, with prosecutors in Houston arguing that because Zuhbi was engaged in an alleged conspiracy with US citizens they have jurisdiction.

However, Zuhbi is an Australian citizen and given his apparent confession in Turkey, the Australian Government may wish to first prosecute him here for his ISIS membership.

He has also been accused in the media of helping Australians cross into Syria and may face charges related to those Australian allegations when he returns.

The Australian Government declined to respond to questions by the ABC about whether Zuhbi would face Australian courts or if Canberra would allow the Americans to prosecute him.

'He's not a criminal'

Zuhbi's father, Bara Zuhbi, spoke to the ABC from the family home in Sydney's south-west earlier this week.

He said his son was born in Syria and had travelled there to help those affected by the war.

"I don't want him to go to [the US]," he said.

"I don't want the Americans to touch him; he didn't do anything — he's not a criminal — and it's none of their bloody business."

Zuhbi did not join Islamic State or fight for them, he said.

If his son was accused of crimes, he said the family should be informed of them, and Zuhbi should be tried in Australia.

"This is not right … this is an Australian citizen? We think he has done something wrong? [If] we got him back, we take him to court and the onus is on us to prove he's done something wrong to Australia or any Australian citizen.

"If he didn't do anything wrong, he should be let go."

He speaks to his son every week and said Zuhbi was unaware of plans to return him to Australia or charge him with crimes here.

The Australian Federal Police referred the ABC's questions to the Department of Home Affairs, who declined to comment on Zuhbi's case.

Zuhbi has been previously linked in the press with helping three Australians — John Zakhariev, Sharky Jama and Yusuf Yusuf — and two Americans travel to Syria.

The ABC is unable to verify his role facilitating the travel of the Australians, but Zuhbi has been indicted in the US District Court over the case of the two Americans, Houston men Asher Abid Khan and Sixto Ramiro Garcia.

FBI alleges Zuhbi is an Islamic State facilitator

In 2015, the FBI charged Asher Abid Khan, from Houston, with conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State and to kill people overseas. The charges related to an alleged 2014 plan hatched by him and Garcia to travel to Syria to join the group.

In material filed with the US District Court between 2015 and this year, prosecutors outlined their allegations, as described below.

A key element was that Khan and Garcia had an "Unnamed Co-Conspirator" — identified only as "CC-1" — who played a central role in facilitating their plan to join Islamic State.

Prosecutors later identified CC-1 as Zuhbi. In March 2016, they announced they had also charged him with providing material support to Islamic State and conspiring to kill people overseas.

"[Zuhbi] is a foreign national, believed to reside in Turkey, who facilitates the travel to Syria of foreign fighters seeking to join [Islamic State]," a prosecution document states.

'I wanna join ISIS can you help?'

Asher Abid Khan was raised in Houston but moved to Sydney in October 2013 after graduating from high school.

In January 2014, while still in Sydney, he used Facebook to reach out to Zuhbi, who by that point was living in Turkey and Syria.

"I wanna join ISIS can you help?" Khan said, according to court documents.

Zuhbi told Khan he could help him if he flew to Istanbul, and then travelled to the Turkish border city of Antakya, where he would be waiting for him.

The next month Khan and Garcia flew to Istanbul but Khan's family managed to convince him to return to the US.

Garcia, however, was undeterred — he travelled to Antakya and met with Zuhbi.

Later that day he sent a message to Khan saying he had "been delivered :)" and that he was still with "Mohammad," whom prosecution documents state was Zuhbi.

Later that year Garcia message Khan to say he had finally made it to "ISIS."

In December, a message was posted on Facebook announcing Garcia had died in the fighting.

Khan was arrested by the FBI several months later and then, in March 2016, the US issued a warrant for Zuhbi's arrest.

"By providing additional personnel to serve as fighters in [Islamic State]'s ranks, Zuhbi directly contributed to and supported all aspects of the organisation's mission, thereby engaging in criminal activity that harmed the interests of the United States and threatened its security," prosecutors stated in a document filed to the court in April 2016.

The US Department of Justice and the FBI both declined to discuss Zuhbi's case.

Bara Zuhbi says his son states the US charges are "false and exaggerated."

"[Mohamed said to me], 'This is all wrong. It's all false. I did speak to one person, a Pakistani or something … And it was about him wanting to cross.

"He didn't give me details, but he said this was one person. [Zuhbi said], 'I wasn't in the business of greeting people'."

If Zuhbi returns to Australia, he will be the second Australian returned home from the Middle East, following a decision by the Turkish Government late last year to begin deporting almost 1,000 people they accuse of being Islamic State members or associates, and their relatives.

The first Australian returned from Turkey as part of those deportations, 30-year-old Queensland man Agim Ajazi, arrived in Australia in early December.

He has since been charged with entering Syria with the intention of fighting and being a member of a Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate.

Father said Zuhbi was setting up Syrian bakery

Zuhbi left Australia for Syria in 2013, where he adopted the name Mohamed Ibn Albaraa.

He came to the attention of Australian authorities and the public when he released videos showing him delivering aid to Syrians in the north-western area of Lattakia, which borders Turkey.

In August 2016, a home associated with Zuhbi family in Sydney's south-west was raided by federal police over allegations of overseas terrorism financing.

Bara Zuhbi told the ABC his son eventually settled in Syria's north-west, married a local woman, and was trying to set up a bakery. The couple have four young children, and his father is concerned about their fate if Zuhbi is deported to Australia.

In May 2018, Zuhbi was captured by Kurdish forces and held for six months before being released, his father said.

Then, in June 2019, he was detained for a second time by a Turkish-backed militia, the Sultan Murad Division, at a checkpoint in or near the northern Syrian city of Efrin, where he had gone to buy cooking equipment.

The militia held him for three months before sending him to Turkey where he faced a brief trial, his father said.

Zuhbi told audience he was supportive of Islamic State

In May 2014, a person using Zuhbi's adopted name and linked to his Facebook page hosted a question and answer session about travelling to Syria on the website

In answer to a question about how to avoid the risk of being refused entry to Syria, the person said: "If you try and enter legit border crossings, you will likely get sent back, but if you get smuggled in, like most, you will not have any issues."

The ABC interviewed Zuhbi in late June 2014 — the same month Mosul fell to Islamic State and the group declared its global caliphate.

In that interview, Zuhbi said he had received more than $30,000 in donations before his bank account was shut down by the Australian Government.

"We look after the injured, the orphans and the widows … we also sponsor bakeries, we've sponsored ambulances like for patient transport," he said.

He rejected suggestions he was providing financial assistance to Islamic State or other terrorist groups.

"Funding for jihad and so on and so forth, it doesn't come in amounts of $100, $20, $50 and so on — it comes in amounts of 100,000, 50,000, 200,000," he told the ABC.

The ABC asked him if he was working as a middleman to help people enter Syria.

"The only thing I've helped with is charity work, I haven't helped with anything else," he said.

"Where's the proof if they want to accuse anyone of doing that?"

He attracted so much attention he also appeared live from Turkey during an episode of the SBS panel show, Insight.

"I believe that they are the future of Syria and I believe that they're the future of the Islamic empire to come.

"I have full conviction that at the rate that they're going, they will indeed establish justice and establish the Koran of Islam in the land."

Zuhbi told Insight he was not fighting, but confirmed he was comfortable with other Australian Muslims fighting for Islamic State.

"Look, just as the Israeli Defence Force has Australian members in it, serving, killing innocent children and women … if an Australian citizen wants to fight for ISIS and fight the oppressors like the Assad regime, look, this is their personal choice."

At its height, Islamic State controlled an area across Syria and Iraq the size of Britain and governed the lives of up to 12 million people.

It gained global infamy for a well-documented series of war crimes and abuses, including the attempted genocide of Yazidis, killing of prisoners, public executions and floggings, and crimes against women.

Full report at:



Turkey rescues 34 asylum seekers from boats in Aegean

Erdoğan Çağatay Zontur 


The Turkish Coast Guard rescued 34 asylum seekers off the Aegean coast, security sources said Friday.  

The Turkish team rescued the group of people, who were in rubber boats which had been driven to Turkish territorial waters by the Greek Coast Guard, said the sources, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

Turkey has been a key transit point for asylum seekers aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.

Late last month, Turkey announced it would no longer stop asylum seekers from reaching Europe via land, while banning boat crossings as too dangerous, accusing the EU of failing to keep promises under the 2016 migrant deal.

Ankara also warned that due to incessant attacks on civilians in Idlib, Syria, a million refugees were moving toward Turkey’s borders.

Full report at:



Violence is down but Idlib, Syria, still not safe: UN

Peter Kenny  



Violence in Idlib, northwestern Syria, has gone down after the cease-fire announced by Turkey and Russia last week, but the area is still not safe, the UN said on Friday.

Displacement from areas close to the frontlines has also slowed down, said Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

“But that does not make Idlib a safe place to be. The situation in the northwest remains the most alarming manifestation of the Syria crisis right now, as the conflict enters its 10th year,” Laerke said at a press briefing.

He said shelling continues to be reported from areas along the frontlines. “The risk of death and injury from explosive hazards, such as unexploded ordnance, has increased over past months due to artillery and aerial bombardments,” said the UNOCHA spokesman.

According to the UN body, some 960,000 people, most of them children and women, have been displaced since December.

“Aid workers are reporting incidents of exploitation and abuse of displaced women and girls by men in positions of power such as property owners, in exchange for cash or material assistance,” Laerke said.

“We also have reports of women not being able to shower for several weeks due to lack of privacy and refusing to eat or drink, so they do not need to use a bathroom. They feel exposed and unsafe.”

As per UNOCHA estimates, some 327,000 people are currently staying in camps and individual tents, while 165,000 people are in unfinished houses or buildings.

Moreover, around 366,000 internally displaced people are living with host families or in rented homes, while some 93,000 people are staying in collective shelters, mostly converted from public buildings such as schools and mosques.

“However, there are still people who are sheltering under trees,” said Laerke.

The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also issued a statement on Friday and called for attention to the needs of Syrian people.

“As the crisis in Syria moves into its tenth year, the needs of the people who have endured so much are vast and complex,” read the statement.

Full report at:



Turkish defines minister meets with British counterpart

Orhan Onur Gemici


Turkey’s defense minister met with his British counterpart Thursday.

Hulusi Akar received Ben Wallace, who was in Ankara as an official guest, with a military ceremony, according to a statement from Turkey's Defense Ministry.

After the ceremony, Akar and Wallace held a meeting with their delegations.

The main topics of discussion were regional defense and security issues, especially in Syria’s Idlib province, and the defense industry.

The two ministers emphasized their determination to stop the bloodshed in Idlib, preserving stability on Turkey's borders and preventing a humanitarian crisis in war-torn Syria.

Regarding these issues, the importance of mutual dialogue and collaboration was stressed.

The ceasefire in Idlib, which came into effect last week, was agreed by Turkey and Russia after bilateral talks and meetings in Moscow that lasted over six hours.

Under the deal, all military activities were to end there, along with the establishment of a security corridor 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) to the north and south of the key M4 highway.

On Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Turkey will respond heavily if its observation posts in Idlib are targeted.

Full report at:



Bosnia charges two men with fighting for ISIS

13 March 2020

Two Bosnian Muslim men were charged with terrorism offences on Friday, over accusations they fought for ISIS in Syria, the Bosnian state prosecutor’s office said.

The men were part of a group of seven flown back to Bosnia from Syria in December, along with 18 women and children.

Jasmin Keserović, 26, from the central town of Zavidovici, and Senad Kasupovic, 40, from the northwestern village of Grabovac, were accused of organizing a terrorist group, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Keserovic, who used the name “Muhamed” and spent nearly seven years fighting in Syria, was also charged with inciting others to take part in terrorist activities, the statement added.

“The defendant is also accused that during his stay in Syria, wearing uniform and armed with an automatic rifle, he recorded and distributed on the internet a video in which he personally called for the killings of Christians,” the office said.

A third member of the group was charged on Thursday with taking part in terrorist activities.

Bosnia’s state court has tried and convicted 46 people who have returned from Syria or Iraq over the past few years.

Full report at:





Trump biggest liar on earth: Nasrallah on US corona transparency

Friday, 13 March 2020

Secretary-general of the Lebanese resistance movement of Hezbollah strongly criticizes the US’s avoiding transparency concerning the extent of the outbreak of the deadly new coronavirus.

“We are in the middle of a battle that resembles a world war,” Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah said during a televised speech on Friday, commenting on the enormity of the outbreak, Lebanon’s Naharnet news website reported.

US President Donald Trump and his team have, however, been “the worst liars” when it comes to fighting the new virus, the Hezbollah chief added.

‘US, UK concealing virus-related data’

He cited Trump’s effort to downplay the risk posed by the virus, and said the US and the UK have been concealing the real number of those infected with the virus.

The virus emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has so far infected over 137,000 people and killed more than 5,000 others.

Nasrallah hailed the Lebanese Health Ministry’s transparency in reporting the figures that concern the outbreak, and said the resistance movement’s entire resources and potential were at the government’s disposal to be used towards fighting the deadly virus.

Battling the virus now constituted the government’s top priority, he said, and noted that confronting the issue was a national duty for all that had to be approached with absolute unity, Lebanon’s The Daily Star paper reported.

Nasrallah called on both his supporters and opponents to look beyond political, sectarian, and religious differences to tackle the new virus. He warned that the battle against the deadly virus would not be successful and instead would lead to greater losses if the issue was to be instrumentalized for political gains.

US sanctions on Iran

The Hezbollah chief denounced the US’s attitude towards Iran amid the Islamic Republic’s tough battle against the viral outbreak.

He said what the Islamic Republic was currently in need of was not the US’s help -- apparently referring to Washington’s offers of assistance for Iran’s preventative measures -- but the removal of the American sanctions.

Tehran, itself, has condemned such proposals as duplicitous, reminding that the US was making such offers while retaining the sanctions and preventing exports of food and medicine to the Islamic Republic.

The Hezbollah chief also hailed Iran’s observance of the principle of transparency amid the outbreak.

He also criticized some Persian Gulf countries’ media outlets for trying to direct attention towards some Iranian authorities’ reported affliction with the virus. Nasrallah called such officials, who stand with their people and are infected with the virus amid their efforts to provide service for the nation, a source of pride.

Lebanon’s financial woes

Separately, the Hezbollah secretary-general pointed to Lebanon’s financial crisis, saying he did not oppose foreign assistance, not even from the International Monetary Fund, as long as the conditions suited the Lebanese people and did not do them disservice.

"Reform, fighting corruption, transparency, and judicial independence are excellent conditions [for a rescue package] that we have asked for," The Daily Star cited him as saying.

US attacks on Iraq

Nasrallah also condemned a recent set of deadly American airstrikes against Iraq as violation of the Arab country’s sovereignty.

Earlier, the air raids targeted several locations in Iraq, including a recently-opened airport in the holy city of Karbala, killing three soldiers, two police officers, and one civilian.

According to the Iraqi military, four more soldiers, two other officers, another civilian, and five individuals affiliated with Iraq’s anti-terror Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) were also wounded in the attacks.

The Pentagon claimed the strikes had targeted five weapons stores used by Iraqi groups that “targeted US forces.”



Yemen's Houthis advance in Marib, Saudi border areas

Ammar al-Ashwal

March 12, 2020

Houthi rebels in Yemen this week secured crucial areas of oil-rich Marib province — the main stronghold of the internationally recognized government of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The Houthis took over critical parts of the province March 10, building on recent victories that gave them control over the strategic Nahm district, east of the capital, Sanaa, and the Hazm district, the center of al-Jawf province. They also captured al-Ghail district adjacent to Hazm in the country's northeast.

This comes in light of the retreat of the forces of Yemen's internationally recognized government, backed by a Saudi-led Arab military coalition, and Riyadh’s declining military support to this government. Government military sources told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity for security reasons that Saudi Arabia didn't adequately support government forces in the al-Jawf battle.

The recent defeat of government forces is due to several reasons, most notably the struggle of field military wings with multiple political and ideological loyalties. While many of them are affiliated with al-Islah Party (the Muslim Brotherhood), other forces are loyal to the General People's Congress political party led by Lt. Gen. Sagheer bin Aziz, the president's recently appointed chief of staff.

In addition, rampant corruption rages within the national army. Yemeni Defense Minister Mohammed Ali Maqdashi revealed in April 2019 that only 30% of the army’s troops are on the front lines; 70% stay home while getting paid for fighting.

Meanwhile, Riyadh's reluctance to provide military support in the battle of al-Jawf can be traced to political, economic and military reasons.

At the political level, Saudi Arabia is holding unofficial peace talks with the Houthis. The kingdom, expected to host the G-20 Summit later this year, could be seeking to defuse the heated confrontation with the Houthis in part for that reason. Meanwhile, the Houthis on Feb. 14 downed a Tornado jet belonging to the Saudi air force in al-Masloub district in al-Jawf. They also bombed the facilities of Saudi oil giant Aramco in the industrial city of Yanbu Feb. 21 in tandem with the battle in al-Jawf. In addition, Saudi Arabia is pressuring the Yemeni army to restructure to reduce al-Islah's influence.

The strategic importance of al-Jawf province stems from its location on the Saudi border. If the Houthis can get control of the entire province, they would add to their current border control in Saada province. Moreover, controlling al-Jawf would pave the way for Houthis to take over Marib.

The Houthis control areas surrounding Marib from three directions, to the east from Nahm, to the south from Sirwah, and to the north from al-Jawf.

If the Houthis manage to impose full control on Khub and al-Shaaf district, the largest district in al-Jawf province, they would clear their way toward the Wadi Hadhramout region of northeastern Yemen. But field indications and movements show that the Houthis are making Marib their priority.

The Yemeni government issued multiple statements after the Houthis’ victory in al-Jawf. But the most daring and foreboding was by presidential adviser Ahmed Obaid bin Dagher, in a series of tweets. “The fall of al-Jawf may change the balance of military forces once and for all in the crucial battle with the Houthis," he began.

Bin Dagher, a former prime minister, added, “If we deal with this victory like we did with the fall of Nahm, we would be deciding the battle in favor of the Houthis in Yemen and in favor of Iran regionally.” He pointed out that this would be the end of the Saudi-led Arab coalition intervention that started in March 2015.

At the military level, by controlling Nahm, the Houthis secured an administrative stronghold — the center of Sanaa. By controlling the center of al-Jawf, they also secured their main stronghold in Saada.

However, on the political level, by advancing in al-Jawf province, the Houthis seek to gain an upper hand in negotiations with Saudi Arabia or any future talks the United Nations might encourage between the Yemeni parties.

Adel Shujaa, a member of the General People's Congress party, told Al-Monitor, “External reasons led to the fall of the center of al-Jawf province, most notably the conflict between the UAE and al-Islah Party on one hand, and the conflict between the UAE and Saudi Arabia on the other. Each of these parties believe this is a matter of settling scores. This falls in favor of the Houthi militia. If the Houthis achieve a complete victory, they will control land and sea regional security.”

Even as the Houthis have their eyes set on Marib, UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths made a surprise visit to the province March 7, anticipating any military escalation.

He called for “an immediate and unconditional freeze” of military activities and the “start of a comprehensive, inclusive and accountable de-escalation process,” demanding the parties of the conflict “ensure that Marib … not become the next epicenter of fighting and of the war.”

This UN concern was accompanied by clear and direct warnings to avoid a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Marib province, especially as “it represents a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of displaced Yemenis amid the madness of war.”

In his statement to the media after he met with Gov. Sultan al-Arada in Marib, Griffiths said, “Last week alone, thousands of displaced people arrived here to escape the fighting in al-Jawf.”

It seems that the Houthis might use their recent military victories as a trump card during unofficial peace talks to pressure Riyadh to reduce its support for the Hadi government. However, the Houthis are likely to avoid any direct confrontation with Saudi Arabia, to present a reassuring message regarding the borders.

Meanwhile, Houthis are likely to focus on controlling the vast areas in al-Jawf, and then advance toward Marib. This would open another path toward the oil and gas provinces of Shabwa and Hadhramaut in southeast Yemen.

Based on these recent developments, Riyadh's priorities are likely to pivot toward protecting its borders and improving its economy, away from its direct and crucial interference in the military confrontations on the Yemeni scene.

The Houthis succeeded in gaining a short-term military path to the source of wealth in Marib, home to oil wells and refineries, without the need to storm the center of the province, for now. They seem to be applying a well-known tactic of accepting negotiations or a truce to take a breath, and then launching a painful military strike against their opponents.

Full report at:



Tehran: US Least Fit Country to Advocate Human Rights

Mar 13, 2020

In a statement on Friday, Mousavi rejected the US State Department’s annual report on human rights situation in Iran, saying Washington is in no position to give other countries prescription on the issue of human rights.

He stressed that the US regime lacks any political, legal, and ethical eligibility to comment about the issue of human rights.

“A regime whose president proudly issues the order to assassinate the most decent children of Iran, and his accomplices… shamelessly host the most hated anti-Iran terrorist groups and attend their meetings, has nothing to do with the elevated concept of human rights,” the spokesman noted.

Mousavi was apparently referring to the US assassination of the Middle East's most prominent anti-terror commander General Qassem Soleimani and its support for the MKO group which Washington has removed from its list of terrorist organizations just to spite Tehran.   

The spokesman said the US regime, whose president “recklessly makes racist remarks, shamelessly defends religious discrimination, degrades women and considers them solely as an object of sexual pleasure, denies entry to the people of other countries into the US solely based on their religion and race, recklessly threatens to destroy the cultural centers of other countries, backs the infanticidal and murderous Saudi regime and the anti-human Zionist regime, is not in a position to give human rights recipes to other countries."

Mousavi said such reports are based on a series of lies, misrepresenting realities, exaggerating weak points and blackwashing positive points and hence have no value and credibility.

His comments came in reaction to the US State Department’s annual review of human rights situation in Iran, which was released on March 11, 2020.

In the report, the US State Department claimed that the Islamic Republic had committed abuse “as a matter of government policy,” with impunity for perpetrators “throughout all levels of the government and security forces.”

The UN Human Rights Council, however, on Thursday adopted a report which effusively praised the Islamic Republic following a mandatory human rights review that all UN member states undergo every five years.

According to a UN Watch count, 95 out of 111 countries, or 85%, praised Iran for its human rights achievements.

This included 49 countries that glowingly praised the Islamic Republic, and another 46 that expressed some praise for Iran’s achievements.

Only a small minority of 16 nations used their brief speaking time to raise allegations against Iran’s human rights record.

Last month, Head of the Judiciary's High Council for Human Rights Ali Baqeri Kani said that international human rights promoters are required to seek revenge from the US for assassination of the great defender of human rights in the Middle East, Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani.

In November, Mousavi said Washington's numerous crimes against humanity and American military forces’ use of arms against civilians show the White House’s “hypocrisy” to accuse Tehran of violating human rights.

In a tweet, Mousavi refuted US human rights allegations against Iran as "Shameless Hypocrisy", adding that seriously a US "Human Rights fair" would be great!

Shooting passenger flights, discriminating blacks, bombing civilians in endless wars from Vietnam to Iraq, Yemen...let alone full support for the most brutal terrorist inhuman regimes in the region. "Shameless Hypocrisy” at its core! He added.

Full report at:



Iran Appreciates Japan's Medical Aid to Combat Coronavirus Outbreak

Mar 13, 2020

"The all-out fight against the COVID-19 virus requires global solidarity", the Iranian embassy in Tokyo said in a twitted message on Friday, stressing the Japanese government's friendly action in granting $ 23.5 in medical aid to Iran deserves appreciation.

Iranian Health Ministry Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced on Friday that the new coronavirus outbreak in the country has claimed 514 lives out of 11,364 confirmed cases of infection so far, adding that 3,529 coronavirus patients have recovered.

Based on the latest reports, in the past 24 hours, 1,289 new cases were confirmed with the coronavirus in the country, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 11,364, Jahanpour declared this noon, adding that 3,529 coronavirus patients have recovered and discharged from hospitals as of Friday.

The health ministry official went on recounting that 85 deaths were registered in the past 24 hours in the country, rising the death toll to 514.

Jahanpour highlighted that the only way to defeat the outbreak is to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travels. 

Novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory disease first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. The World Health Organization on Wednesday described the outbreak as a pandemic.

According to the latest reports, the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has infected 134,818 people in 127 countries, claiming 4,984 lives.

Mainland China reported 21 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, putting the country’s total infections at 80,814 and a death toll of 3,177.

On Thursday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the country’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif had written a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, urging lifting of the illegal sanctions, which have greatly hampered the Islamic Republic’s fight against the new coronavirus epidemic.

Zarif reminded in his letter how the renewed sanctions had come in the way of legal trade with Iran amid the outbreak, adding that American officials had recently set some preconditions with the aim of preventing sales of medicine, medical equipment, and humanitarian commodities to the Islamic Republic.

On Wednesday, the Iranian foreign ministry declared that despite Washington’s claims of cooperation to transfer drugs to Iran via the new Swiss-launched payment mechanism, the US is troubling the process amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Although US claims that medicines and medical equipment are not under sanctions, they have practically blocked the transfer of Iran’s financial resources in other countries into the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

The government also imposed travel restrictions, specially on Iran’s north, which is among the red zones. The country has also adopted strict digital health control procedures at airports to spot possible infections.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced last week that a new national mobilization plan would be implemented across the country to fight against the coronavirus epidemic and more effectively treat patients.

Namaki said that the plan will include all the 17,000 health centers and the 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages.

He added that the plan will include home quarantine, noting that infected people will receive the necessary medicines and advice, but they are asked to stay at home.

Namaki said that people with a more serious condition will stay at the hospitals, adding that the public places will be disinfected, the entries of infected towns and cities will be controlled to diagnose and quarantine the infected cases.

He added that the necessary equipment and facilities have been provided, expressing the hope that the epidemic would be curbed.

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Iran's response to the virus has so far been up to the mark. Still, it says the US sanctions are a big challenge, and Washington would be complicit in the rising death toll in Iran if it would not remove its sanctions.

Full report at:



Iran Foreign Ministry Elaborates Anti-Corona Measures, Foreign Aids

Mar 13, 2020

Speaking to reporters, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi appreciated Chinese government and people for their aid.

"It is an honor for the Foreign Ministry to be among the first bodies which stood by people in fighting coronavirus", he added.

"Iranian foreign ministry has put on the agenda supporting Iranian nationals in other countries", the Iranian official said adding that during the period of the virus outbreak in China all efforts were made for helping Iranian students in Wuhan.

After doing investigations, Iranian students were transferred home by Mahan flight.

After the outbreak of coronavirus in Iran, Iranian Foreign Ministry has focused its efforts on attracting voluntarily aid from friends and also from international organizations, Mousavi noted.

The following contributions have so far been received by Iranian Health Ministry from China and by eight Mahan cargo flights:

1. About 350,000 coronavirus test kit

2. About 2,400,000 face-masks

3. About 130,000 isolation gown

4. About 120 ventilators and respirators

5. About 2,800 thermometers and pulse oximeter

6. About 13,000 protective goggles

7. About 160,000 face and head protectors

8. About 50 boxes of special anti-COVID19 drug

Mousavi went on to say that many contributions, including about 32,000 kg packed aid are waiting for the next flights to be transferred to Iran.

Iranian Health Ministry Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced on Friday that the new coronavirus outbreak in the country has claimed 514 lives out of 11,364 confirmed cases of infection so far, adding that 3,529 coronavirus patients have recovered.

Based on the latest reports, in the past 24 hours, 1,289 new cases were confirmed with the coronavirus in the country, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 11,364, Jahanpour declared this noon, adding that 3,529 coronavirus patients have recovered and discharged from hospitals as of Friday.

The health ministry official went on recounting that 85 deaths were registered in the past 24 hours in the country, rising the death toll to 514.

Jahanpour highlighted that the only way to defeat the outbreak is to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travels. 

Novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory disease first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. The World Health Organization on Wednesday described the outbreak as a pandemic.

According to the latest reports, the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has infected 134,818 people in 127 countries, claiming 4,984 lives.

Mainland China reported 21 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, putting the country’s total infections at 80,814 and a death toll of 3,177.

On Thursday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the country’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif had written a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, urging lifting of the illegal sanctions, which have greatly hampered the Islamic Republic’s fight against the new coronavirus epidemic.

Zarif reminded in his letter how the renewed sanctions had come in the way of legal trade with Iran amid the outbreak, adding that American officials had recently set some preconditions with the aim of preventing sales of medicine, medical equipment, and humanitarian commodities to the Islamic Republic.

On Wednesday, the Iranian foreign ministry declared that despite Washington’s claims of cooperation to transfer drugs to Iran via the new Swiss-launched payment mechanism, the US is troubling the process amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Although US claims that medicines and medical equipment are not under sanctions, they have practically blocked the transfer of Iran’s financial resources in other countries into the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

The government also imposed travel restrictions, especially on Iran’s north, which is among the red zones. The country has also adopted strict digital health control procedures at airports to spot possible infections.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced last week that a new national mobilization plan would be implemented across the country to fight against the coronavirus epidemic and more effectively treat patients.

Namaki said that the plan will include all the 17,000 health centers and the 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages.

He added that the plan will include home quarantine, noting that infected people will receive the necessary medicines and advice, but they are asked to stay at home.

Namaki said that people with a more serious condition will stay at the hospitals, adding that the public places will be disinfected, the entries of infected towns and cities will be controlled to diagnose and quarantine the infected cases.

He added that the necessary equipment and facilities have been provided, expressing the hope that the epidemic would be curbed.

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Iran's response to the virus has so far been up to the mark. Still, it says the US sanctions are a big challenge, and Washington would be complicit in the rising death toll in Iran if it would not remove its sanctions.

Full report at:



Leader Orders Setting Up Health, Treatment Base to Fight Coronavirus Spread

Mar 13, 2020

In his Thursday edict, which was addressed to Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, Ayatollah Khamenei first commended the services, which have been so far rendered to the people of Iran by the Armed Forces in their drive to hamper further spread of coronavirus.

“While commending the services that the Armed Forces have so far provided to the dear people of Iran, and while emphasizing the need for those services to further expand and continue, it is necessary that these services be organized in the form of a health and treatment base,” the Leader wrote in his edict.

Ayatollah Khamenei added that in addition to establishing such treatment facilities as field hospitals and infirmaries, and so forth, you must focus on prevention of further spread of this disease through necessary means as well.

“Since there is some evidence that this incident might be a ‘biological attack’, this measure could be also some form of biological defense drill, which would add to national power and strength of the country,” the leader said.

Novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory disease first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. The World Health Organization on Wednesday described the outbreak as a pandemic.

Right after the virus emerged in the north-central Iranian city of Qom, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) expressed preparedness to help fight the unwelcome phenomenon.

Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami also assigned his ministry's subsidiary organizations with the task of mass-producing liquid disinfectants and protective gear, including face masks, which are currently in high demand and are being freely distributed by health centers countrywide.

Full report at:



Coronavirus: Turkey to hold migration summit by teleconference

13 March 2020

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan will hold talks with French and German leaders about solving a migration crisis next week by teleconference, rather than hosting a summit as originally planned, a Turkish official said.

The decision comes as countries grapple with the spread of coronavirus. Erdogan has postponed his own foreign visits for an unspecified period of time, his spokesman said.

Erdogan said earlier this week he would convene a summit in Istanbul on March 17 on the migrant issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and possibly British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Full report at:



Turkey says agreed with Russia on Idlib ceasefire details

13 March 2020

Turkey and Russia have agreed on the details of a ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib region after four days of talks in Ankara, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday, adding that joint patrols along a key highway will begin on Sunday as planned.

Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in Syria’s war, agreed on March 5 to halt hostilities in the country’s northwest after a recent escalation of violence displaced nearly a million people and brought the two sides close to confrontation.

Under the agreement, Turkish and Russian forces will carry out joint patrols along the M4 highway linking Syria’s east and west, and establish a security corridor on either side of it. A Russian delegation arrived in Ankara Tuesday to work out details.

“The text that was prepared was signed by both sides and is now in effect. We will see its first application with the joint patrols on March 15,” Akar was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Akar said both Turkey and Russia were working to ensure the ceasefire becomes lasting, adding that Ankara and Moscow would establish joint coordination centres to monitor the agreement.

While the ceasefire deal addresses Turkey’s main concerns in Idlib - stopping a flow of migrants and preventing the death of more Turkish soldiers - it also cements recent gains by Russian-backed Syrian government forces and leaves Turkish observation posts in the region encircled by the Syrian side.

Akar said there were signs that migration from Idlib towards Turkish borders had stopped after the ceasefire deal. His ministry said separately talks with the Russians had concluded.

Earlier on Friday, a Turkish security official said Turkey’s observation posts in Idlib will remain in place and function despite being encircled. The official said that no heavy arms or equipment would be withdrawn from the posts.

“There are no violations (of the ceasefire) against observation posts,” which are meant to “end the bloodshed and humanitarian drama,” the official told a briefing in Ankara.

Turkey, which supports Syrian rebel groups looking to oust President Bashar al-Assad, will do “what is necessary” against any groups trying to deter the planned joint patrols, the official added.

Full report at:



Iran coronavirus toll reaches 514 deaths, 11,364 infections: Health official

13 March 2020

The total number of deaths in Iran from the coronavirus outbreak has risen by 85 to 514, a health ministry official said on state TV on Friday, adding that the total number of infections had increased by more than 1,000 in the past 24 hours, to 11,364.

“Sadly, 85 people infected with the COVID-19 disease have died in the past 24 hours,” health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised news conference.

Friday’s is the highest single-day death toll in one of the world’s worst affected countries.

Iran’s security forces have been ordered to clear the streets nationwide within 24 hours in a bid to stop the novel coronavirus spreading, the armed forces chief said Friday.

Despite the already shockingly large numbers of infections and deaths and Iran being one of the top countries in the world suffering from community infections, the Islamic Republic continues to be accused of significantly underreporting the number of its coronavirus victims.



Iran Armed Forces will start clearing streets nationwide to fight coronavirus: Commander

13 March 2020

Iran’s security forces will begin to empty shops, streets and roads nationwide within 24 hours as part of measures to contain the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, says a top military commander.

"Over the next one week to 10 days, the entire Iranian nation will be monitored once through cyberspace, by phone and, if necessary, in person, and those suspected of the disease will be identified," said Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Baqeri on Friday.

"Our law enforcement and security committees along with the Interior Ministry and provincial governors will be clearing shops, streets and roads in a national decision. This work will be organized within the next 24 hours," he added.

He noted that the suspected cases would be then transferred to medical centers and said the Iranian Armed Forces would establish up to 1,000 treatment units to provide clinical examinations for coronavirus patients and would do their utmost to treat them.

The top commander called on the Iranian people to pay heed to all recommendations and requests by the Health Ministry to help defeat the virus as soon as possible, otherwise, he said, the containment would take more time.

In an edict to Major General Baqeri on Thursday, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei emphasized the need for the establishment of a “health and treatment base” to prevent further spread of the ongoing epidemic in the country.

“While commending the services that the Armed Forces have so far provided to the dear people [of Iran], and while emphasizing the need for those services to further expand and continue, it is necessary that these services be organized in the form of a health and treatment base,” the Leader wrote in his edict.

“In addition to establishing such treatment facilities as field hospitals and infirmaries, and so forth, you must focus on prevention of further spread of this disease through necessary means as well,” Ayatollah Khamenei added.

Kianoush Jahanpour, the head of the public relations and information center of the Iranian Ministry of Health, said on Friday that the new coronavirus has claimed another 85 lives, bringing to 514 the overall number of deaths in Iran.

Full report at:



Iran: Trump must reassess behaviour of US forces in region

13 March 2020

Iran says US President Donald Trump must reconsider behavior of occupying American forces in the region instead of leveling groundless accusations against other countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Friday rejected the “baseless” accusations leveled by the US president against Iran regarding the recent attack on a US-occupied base in Iraq.

“Instead of making dangerous moves and baseless accusations, Mr Trump had better thoroughly reassess the presence and behavior of his forces in the region,” Mousavi said.

He also urged the US to seriously avoid spreading the virus of pinning the blame on others and making accusations with the aim of justifying its illogical behaviour and evading responsibility.

The spokesman suggested that such attacks on US interests in Iraq are the consequences of its illegal presence in the Arab country, stressing that Washington cannot blame others for the Iraqi people’s reaction to the US assassination and slaughter of their commanders and fighters.

A rocket attack on Wednesday hit a military base housing American troops near the capital Baghdad. The attack against Taji military camp killed three members of the US-led coalition, including two Americans and one Briton.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack in which some 18 107mm Katyusha rockets struck the US-occupied camp.

However, Trump on Thursday claimed that the attackers were a group that “most likely looked like it could be backed by Iran.”

He later authorized the US military to respond to the rocket attack by launching a string of airstrikes against multiple locations of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), better known by the Arabic name Hashd al-Sha’abi, as well as the Iraqi army and police.

‘Taji attack linked to Soleimani assassination’

Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani on Friday suggested that there might be links between the US assassination of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq and its claims about the rocket attack on Taji base.

"In my visit to Iraq, I called on the country's officials to find the domestic traces of the operation to assassinate Martyrs Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and disclose their names," he tweeted.

"It seems there are commonalities between the assassination plot and the US claim about the attack on Taji base," Shamkhani noted.

Full report at:





Tanzania Vows to Support War on Terrorism

12 MARCH 2020

By Deogratius Kamagi

TANZANIA has reiterated the willingness to cooperate with global communities to end threats of terrorism in in the world, highlighting possible strategies that would simplify the process.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Dr Damas Ndumbaro made the statement yesterday during the 16th European Remembrance Day for the victims of terrorism.

At the event that was attended by Ambassadors from European Union (EU) countries, Dr Ndumbaro said terrorism can be defeated if countries would complement security measures with prevention efforts that identify and address root causes.

"We must prioritise international cooperation in our counter-terrorism strategy as there is no single country or organisation that has all the answers to the cross-border challenges posed by terrorism, in this case, private sector and civil societies should play a part to successfully address the challenge," he explained.

The deputy minister also suggested that the United Nations (UN) should strengthen its institutional links with regional organisations, especially through exchanging critical information and knowledge, and the implementation of joint investigations and operations.

He also hailed the EU for starting to provide support to victims of crimes and terrorist attacks through its commission, and putting in place strong legal framework to protect victims in the region.

Earlier, the representative of the EU, Mr Manifredo Fanti said fighting terrorism needs joint efforts from global communities.

"We need to be strong, combine all the efforts and be much braver to end terrorism attacks in the world," he said in a note that was seconded by France Ambassador to Tanzania, Frédéric Clavier, who also delivered a key note speech from French President Emmanuel Macron.

"It is indeed important to remember the challenges that terrorism, in all its forms, seeks to impose the destruction of our democracies, culture identities, family and beliefs," he said.

According to him, since 2012, France has paid a heavy price with the appearance of a new form of terrorist attacks that resulted in 258 causalities.

"Much has been done to better identify the threat and improve intelligence, but human, technological and legal resources must be reinforced to counter terrorism," he noted



Sudan announces first coronavirus death

13 March 2020

Sudan announced on Friday its first case of the novel coronavirus following the death of a 50-year-old man the night before.

The Sudanese citizen had recently been in the UAE, the health ministry said in a statement, without providing further details.

Dozens of COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the UAE.

Sudan on Thursday announced a series of measures against the novel coronavirus.

It closed its land border with Egypt and suspended flights from China, Iran, Italy, Spain, Japan and Egypt, a government statement said.

Sudan would stop granting visas to nationals of those countries and Sudanese were advised not to travel to them.

Mass gatherings have been discouraged, and the government has asked the health ministry and military medical services to prepare quarantine centres.



6 al-Shabaab militants killed in Kenya

Andrew Wasike



Six al-Shabaab militants were killed by security forces in northern Kenya on Friday.

Kenyan special forces also captured one more militant, who is injured and receiving treatment, in Garissa County, North-Eastern Regional Commissioner Nicholas Ndalana told Anadolu Agency.

“The timely action by Kenyan forces has prevented the loss of innocent Kenyan lives,” he said.

Kenya’s porous border with Somalia is on high alert following a warning by the U.S. Embassy in the capital Nairobi.

A few weeks ago, the embassy warned of a possible attack on a major hotel in Kenya.

The Somalia-based al-Shabaab, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, has carried out several attacks along the border over past years.

Full report at:



Somalia: Bus Driver Recounts Al-Shabaab Attack in Kenya

13 MARCH 2020

By Rael Ombuor

Two people were killed Wednesday evening and another reported missing when gunmen, believed to be al-Shabab militants, attacked a bus in Kenya's Mandera county, along with the border with Somalia.

The bus driver described the ordeal in an exclusive interview with Rael Ombuor for VOA News.

Bus driver Anis Abdinoor has plied the route between Nairobi and Mandera for the last seven years.  He says he left Nairobi Tuesday night with a bus carrying 59 passengers.

It was near the end of the trip, about 5.30 p.m on Wednesday, when he saw a vehicle blocking the narrow road that he was traveling on.

“When I tried to slow down the vehicle before getting to where the vehicle was blocked, I heard a gunshot from both sides of the vehicle,” Abdinoor said. “I identified people who were wearing military uniform who were shooting the vehicle, so I started slowing down the vehicle.  When I thought of escaping, I saw that the road had been blocked by another vehicle which had been stopped before I reached.”

Abdinoor said that the attackers numbered more than 30.

He said that after he stopped, the attackers ordered everyone off the bus, and made it clear who they were looking for.

“When they reached us, they told us everybody should get out. They told me to get out, they beat me up. So when they were beating me up they were asking me questions. They asked me how many non-locals are you carrying in your vehicle? I told them I am carrying no non-locals in my vehicle,” Abdinoor said. “So they told everybody to alight from the vehicle, from there, they started checking everybody one by one, searching for non-locals ... I tried talking to them to tell them these people were not non locals, they said they were looking for non-Muslims.”

The ordeal, according to Abdinoor, took about one hour.  He believes the attackers stationed themselves in that spot several hours earlier, as they had detonated explosives in the road and hijacked the vehicle that they used to block Abdinoor's bus.

The bodies of two people, suspected to be from the vehicle the attackers used to block the road, were later discovered near the scene of the attack.

Nobody on Abdinoor's bus was killed, but the attackers took away his bus mechanic.

Mandera, the town where the attack happened, is located in northeastern Kenya and has seen several attacks from suspected Al-Shabab militants.

In the deadliest incident, Shabab gunmen attacked a quarry in Mandera five years ago, killing 14 people.

Full report at:




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