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Human Rights Watch World Report 2021 - Imran Khan-led Pakistan Government Stepped Up Crackdown On Media, Failed To Stem Violence Against Women, Minorities In 2020

New Age Islam News Bureau

15 January 2021


• ‘Irresponsible’: Bangladesh Slams Pompeo’s Al-Qaeda Attacks Claim

• Pirzada Of Furfura Sharif, Bengal, To Announce His New Outfit Of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis

• Israel To Urge Biden Administration To Limit Criticism Of Saudi Arabia, UAE: Report

• US Likely To Name Saudi Embassy Street After Khashoggi

• Mais Allowed To Be Part Of Sisters In Islam’s Constitutional Challenge Of Selangor Law On Shariah Courts’ Powers For Judicial Review

• ISIS Wives at Syria’s Al-Hol-Camp Complain about Struggles of Living in ‘Isolated State’

• ISWAP Suicide Bomber Kills Six Nigerian Troops in Borno: Military



• Human Rights Watch World Report 2021 - Imran Khan-led Pakistan Government Stepped Up Crackdown On Media, Failed To Stem Violence Against Women, Minorities In 2020

• 12 Police Officials Dismissed For Negligence In Protecting Hindu Temple From Vandalisation In Pak

• Violent Nationalist Groups Should Be Outlawed Like Terror Outfits, Pakistan Tells UNSC

• ‘Focus on Islam, Islamabad is not in your fate’, Sheikh Rashid tells Fazl

• Under-fire PTI insists funds being managed transparently

• Govt committed to improving justice system: PM

• Passenger aircraft 'held back' in Malaysia as part of legal dispute: PIA

• ‘RAW-trained militant’ held by police in Karachi

• Govt told to contact India for appointment of Jadhav lawyer

• Turkish firms to invest in urban transport, waste management


South Asia

• ‘Irresponsible’: Bangladesh Slams Pompeo’s Al-Qaeda Attacks Claim

• A Rohingya Camp Fire Leaves Hundreds Homeless

• Government ‘Warns’ Local Media, over Using Drones above Arg Premises

• Ghor Provincial Council Member Killed in ‘NDS Shootout’

• Would An Afghan Interim Government Help Or Hinder Peace Efforts?



• Pirzada Of Furfura Sharif, Bengal, To Announce His New Outfit Of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis

• UP Police To Probe ‘Hindu Panchayat’ Call For 'Economic Boycott' Of Muslims

• Jignesh Patel Moves Gujarat High Court To Expedite Conversion To Islam after Bharuch Collector Withheld Conversion Application For More Than A Year

• NIA team in Bangladesh to probe alleged 'love jihad' case involving Zakir Naik

• UP: Men Arrested For Asking Muslims To Go To Pakistan In A Video

• Why Owaisi’s AIMIM poses serious challenge to Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in UP

• Pakistani intruder shot dead by BSF along IB in Punjab

• Madhya Pradesh corporation allows pork sale: Hindus, Muslims cite hurt sentiments

• 35 per cent fall in number of terrorists operating in J&K: Army

• Targeted killings in Afghanistan aimed at suppressing freedom of expression: MEA

• UP police in K’taka to nab youth booked for ‘love jihad’



• Israel To Urge Biden Administration To Limit Criticism Of Saudi Arabia, UAE: Report

• UN official: US blacklisting of Houthis means 'death sentence to hundreds of thousands'

• President Rouhani: Investment in Iran's Free Trade Zones Increases

• Iran, Pakistan Stress Strengthening Common Front against Extremism

• Terrorist Houthi militia responsible for Yemen humanitarian crisis: State Department

• Saudi warplanes bomb Sana'a airport, 20 other targets in Yemen


North America

• US Likely To Name Saudi Embassy Street After Khashoggi

• Pentagon investigates white supremacists in US military after Capitol riots

• F.B.I. Urges Police Chiefs Across U.S. to Be on High Alert for Threats

• US says China committed 'possibly genocide' in Xinjiang

• US down to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, as ordered by Trump

• US Warns Iran Fuelling Potential al-Qaida Resurgence

• UN urges US to drop Houthi terrorist designation

• US terror label of Houthis raises concerns over Yemen

• Bangladesh slams Pompeo over 'irresponsible' remarks


Southeast Asia

• Mais Allowed To Be Part Of Sisters In Islam’s Constitutional Challenge Of Selangor Law On Shariah Courts’ Powers For Judicial Review

• Indonesia earthquake kills at least 35, injures hundreds

• Deputy FT Mufti Moots Requiring Muslim Eateries To Pause During Friday Prayers

• Allow dine-in customers during MCO, plead restaurant groups


Arab World

• ISIS Wives at Syria’s Al-Hol-Camp Complain about Struggles of Living in ‘Isolated State’

• Saudi Arabia Using Coronavirus Detection Apps To Spy On Its Citizens, Residents: Report

• Iraq’s PMU: US hostile towards those who fought against global terrorism

• Fatemiyoun Brigade Denies Casualty in Israeli Attack on Syria

• Arab Coalition destroys three Houthi drones launched towards Saudi Arabia

• US main barrier to Iraq’s procurement of advanced ammunition: Lawmaker

• Syria dismisses US claim of link between Iran, al-Qaeda as American hallucination

• HRW says Bahrain human rights situation deteriorated in 2020 as regime continues to stifle dissent



• ISWAP Suicide Bomber Kills Six Nigerian Troops in Borno: Military

• Bullets and panic: rebels attack Central African Republic capital

• Ethiopian forces kill Sudanese citizen, arrest 3 others at border area

• Five civilians killed in Algeria home-made bomb blast: Ministry

• Four UN peacekeepers from Ivory Coast killed, five wounded in central Mali attack

• Jordan: 11 jailed up to 15 years for joining Daesh, plotting attacks

• Kenya: Suspected Al-Shabaab Militants Bomb Telco Mast



• Manchester Arena And Parsons Green Bombers Charged With Prison Officer Attack

• Greece calls on EU to ensure Turkey takes back over 1,000 migrants

• Coronavirus: Pope Francis, former Pope Benedict get COVID-19 vaccine

• Turkey, Greece expected to resume talks at NATO

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



 Human Rights Watch World Report 2021 - Imran Khan-led Pakistan Government Stepped Up Crackdown On Media, Failed To Stem Violence Against Women, Minorities In 2020

Jan 14, 2021


NEW YORK: Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2021 said that Prime Minister Imran Khan-led Pakistan government intensified its crackdown on the media, political opponents and civil society in 2020, while failing to stem violence against women and minorities.

The report mentions that authorities harassed and at times, prosecuted human rights defenders and journalists for criticising government policies. The government has also deployed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the country's anti-corruption watchdog, to detain political opponents and critics of the government, including the Dawn editor Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, who was held without bail for six months.

"Pakistan's continuing assault on political opponents and free expression put the country on an increasingly dangerous course... Threatening opposition leaders, activists, and journalists who criticise the government is a hallmark of authoritarian rule, not a democracy," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Furthermore, the report highlights worsening violence against Pakistan's Ahmadiyya community in 2020, with at least four Ahmadis killed for alleged incidents of blasphemy. It also noted that the government failed to amend or repeal blasphemy law provisions, which have led to arbitrary arrests and prosecutions and has provided a 'pretext for violence' against religious minorities.

Several leading women journalists had issued a statement in August, where they had condemned the "well-defined and coordinated campaign" of social media attacks, including death and rape threats, against women journalists and commentators whose views and reporting have been critical of the government.

In September, a Lahore police chief made a public statement suggesting that a woman, who had been gang-raped on a highway in Punjab, was herself at fault because she should not have been "travelling without her husband's permission" on a motorway late at night.

In addition, data from domestic violence helplines across Pakistan have indicated that cases of domestic violence increased by 200 per cent from January-March 2020, and further worsened during the Covid-19 lockdowns after March. Partial or complete Covid-19 lockdowns to prevent the spread of infection also had a disproportionate effect on women workers, especially home-based and domestic workers. (ANI)


‘Irresponsible’: Bangladesh slams Pompeo’s al-Qaeda attacks claim

14 Jan 2021


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (File photo| AP)By PTI


Bangladesh has strongly condemned remarks by United States’ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, labelling the South Asian country as a place where the al-Qaeda group carried out attacks.

“Such irresponsible comments by a senior leader are very unfortunate and unacceptable. Bangladesh strongly rejects these kind of baseless remarks and falsification,” Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

In a statement published a day before on the US State Department’s website, Pompeo implicated some countries as “terror hubs”, drawing criticism from several quarters.

He also termed Iran as a new home base of al-Qaeda, a remark also protested by Tehran.

“Imagine too the potential to completely upend fragile places with an established al-Qaeda presence like Libya, Yemen, and the Maghreb, or increase turmoil in places like Bangladesh, where al-Qaeda cells have carried out attacks,” Pompeo said in the statement.

In response, the Bangladesh foreign ministry statement said “there is no evidence of any presence of al-Qaeda” in the Muslim-majority country and stressed that it maintains a “zero tolerance” policy against all forms of “terrorism and violent extremism”.

“Attention of the Government of Bangladesh has been drawn to a recent statement made by the US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo. In the statement, Mr Pompeo mentioned Bangladesh as a place where the terrorist group al-Qaeda carried out attacks, falsely apprehending similar terrorist attacks in future,” the ministry said.

“Our track record in countering terrorism has earned us global appreciation. In line with our commitment to countering terrorism, we have become a party to all fourteen international counter-terrorism conventions and are actively involved with international ‘preventive’ initiatives to counter terrorism.”

The ministry said Bangladesh regards Pompeo referring to the country as a possible location for al-Qaeda operations as unfounded.

“If any such claim could be substantiated with evidence, the Government of Bangladesh would be happy to take necessary measures against such activities,” it said.

Bangladesh considers it “very unfortunate, especially in the context of the ever-growing bilateral ties between the two friendly countries based on shared values, peace and common goals”, the statement underlined.


Pirzada Of Furfura Sharif, Bengal, To Announce His New Outfit Of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis

Jan 15, 2021


Asaduddin Owaisi with Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui of Furfura Sharif


KOLKATA: Abbas Siddiqui, Pirzada of Hooghly’s Furfura Sharif, is set to announce his new outfit of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis on January 21, giving a new dimension to identity politics in West Bengal.

“I am going to launch the new outfit on January 21. This outfit will be a platform for Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis in Bengal. Many Adivasi and Dalit representatives came to me in the last few months. Leaders of mainstream political parties also came to me for talks. For the moment, we are aiming to contest 60-80 seats in the assembly elections,” Siddiqui said.

The Furfura cleric got a boost when All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi came to his place a fortnight ago and promised to work with him. Since then, Siddiqui had been floating the prospect of launching a new party at religious jalsas held in rural North and South 24 Parganas and East Midnapore.

Speaking in one such jalsa at Kadambagachi in North 24 Parganas, Siddiqui rubbished the charge he was an Owaisi clone and was jumping into the fray to make things easy for BJP by dividing minority votes that went in favour of Trinamool Congress. “I was not in politics during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. BJP got 18 seats in Bengal. How could the party get so many seats when Trinamool is in power in Bengal? We didn’t see BJP making inroads in the state during Left Front rule. We have been betrayed by the party (Trinamool) that we voted for to keep BJP at bay,” Siddiqui said.

A religious cleric, Siddiqui has no intention of contesting elections. “I want some prominent Muslim, Adivasi, Dalit representatives to contest the polls to represent voice of the oppressed. They didn’t get a trusted voice in Bengal for the last 73 years. We want these men to develop their assembly constituencies into model constituencies. I have been told that former Trinamool MP Akbar Ali Khondekar once tried it in his own way,” he said.

Asked if he had had talks with Trinamool leaders, Siddiqui said: “We submitted our charter of demands to Trinamool link persons. But we didn’t get a reply. Others have also contacted us. But nothing has matured till date. We are floating our own outfit. Let us see how things shape up.”


Israel to urge Biden administration to limit criticism of Saudi Arabia, UAE: Report

15 January 2021

Senior Israeli military officials say the Tel Aviv regime plans to lobby the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden to adopt a relaxed stance on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, and limit criticism of them over human rights violations and the ongoing war in Yemen, a report says.

Axios news website reported that Israel sees its security and intelligence relationships with the three countries as central to its strategy to counter Iranian influence in the region.

The report added that Israeli authorities are concerned about the incoming Biden administration’s return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and a decision to cool relations with Washington’s Arab partners.

Israeli officials intend to warn Biden's team that a crisis in relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt could push those countries away from the US, and could lead them to pivot towards Russia and China.

“We were very close to losing Egypt several years ago and our message to the Biden administration will be: 'Take it slow, dramatic changes took place, don’t come with predispositions and don’t harm relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE,'" a top Israeli official told Axios.

Israeli officials also plan to tell Biden that the regime’s recent normalization deals with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco should be prioritized over rights concerns, the Times of Israel online newspaper reported.

The Israeli official claimed the normalization agreements have helped encourage Saudi Arabia and Egypt to improve human rights in their countries.

While Israel has official relations with Egypt and more recently with the UAE, it has no official ties with Saudi Arabia.

Analysts suggest Biden’s administration could end the near-unconditional support that Riyadh has enjoyed over the years.

“Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia], end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil,” Biden said during a presidential rally in October.

During the Trump Administration and with overt its overt support for Saudi Arabia, the regime continued its devastating war on Yemen and pressed ahead with its deadly crackdown on dissent at home and abroad, including the assassination of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Outgoing US President Donald Trump has bragged that he protected Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) after Khashoggi’s killing. Many Democrats, on the other hand, have called for Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader to be held accountable.

Moreover, US legislators are calling on Biden to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to label Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement a “foreign terrorist organization”, slamming it as “short-sighted” and “a death sentence” for millions of people already grappling with years of Saudi aggression and tight blockade.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to blacklist Ansarullah on January 19 — one day before the inauguration of Biden, “endangers the lives of the Yemeni people.”

“The Trump Administration has yet to learn that they can’t sanction their way out of a civil war,” Meeks said in a statement on Monday. Under US law, Congress has seven days to review and reject a designation of a terrorist group.

Washington’s decision has also drawn criticism from the United Nations and international aid groups.

Yemen’s popular Ansarullah movement has condemned the move as well, saying it reserves the right to respond.

Saudi Arabia has been leading a war on Yemen since March 2015, in hopes of reinstating former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and destroying the popular Houthi movement.

The war, which the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the impoverished Arab country over the last nearly six years.

The popular Houthi Ansarullah movement, backed by armed forces, has been defending Yemen against the Saudi-led alliance, preventing the aggressors from fulfilling the objectives of the atrocious war.


US likely to name Saudi embassy street after Khashoggi

Ovunc Kutlu  


A member of the Washington, D.C. City Council introduced a legislation on Thursday that proposes to name a street in the US capital after the slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto, the youngest in the district's history, introduced the "Jamal Khashoggi Way Designation Act of 2021," although the initiative to name a street after the former columnist for the Washington Post had started in 2018.

The act proposes the location on New Hampshire Avenue, between Virginia Avenue and F Street in Northwest, to be named after Khashoggi, who was a critic of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.

The proposed "Jamal Khashoggi Way" is located right in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C.

"Everyone who visits the Saudi embassy will be reminded of Mr. Khashoggi's courage [...] Through his journalism, Jamal Khashoggi was a fierce advocate for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law," Pinto said in a statement.

"Journalists around the world and here in America face similar dangers every day, and we must never let those who seek to intimidate them succeed, because when journalism is under assault, our freedom and democracy are under assault," she added.

Khashoggi, 59, was killed and dismembered on Oct. 2, 2018 by a group of Saudi operatives shortly after he entered the country's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Activists and human rights groups have said the murder was premeditated and carried out upon the directives of Mohammed bin Salman, a charge Riyadh denies.

Turkish prosecutors and leaders have pressed for a full accounting of the murder and for its perpetrators to face justice.


Mais allowed to be part of Sisters in Islam’s constitutional challenge of Selangor law on Shariah courts’ powers for judicial review

14 Jan 2021


KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — The Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) was today allowed to intervene or be part of SIS Forum (Malaysia) Bhd’s constitutional challenge at the Federal Court, with the court challenge being on whether Selangor had the powers to make a state law to grant Shariah courts powers to carry out a judicial review of state religious authorities’ decisions.

Today was the hearing at the Federal Court of an application by Mais to be allowed to be an intervener in the court challenge by SIS Forum. Sisters in Islam operates as SIS Forum.

Sisters in Islam executive director Rozana Isa said a Federal Court judge granted the intervener application by Mais and allowed it to intervene due to it having a legal interest in the matter.

“She said they have an interest because they are named in Section 66A,” Rozana told Malay Mail when contacted today.

As for the constitutional challenge by SIS, the Federal Court has yet to fix a hearing date for it.

On September 22, 2020, the Federal Court granted leave under Article 4(3) and 4(4) of the Federal Constitution for SIS Forum (Malaysia) Bhd to initiate its challenge against Section 66A of the Administration of the Religion of Islam (State of Selangor) Enactment 2003.

This meant that SIS was allowed to pursue its legal challenge at the Federal Court over Section 66A of the Selangor state law. The Selangor state government was named as the respondent in SIS’ court challenge.

Under Article 4(3) and Article 4(4) of the Federal Constitution, the validity of laws that are made by Parliament or any state legislature can be challenged on the basis that either Parliament or the state legislature has no power to make such laws, but with the requirement that a Federal Court judge grants leave before such court proceedings can start.

The Section 66A provision in the Selangor state law enables the Shariah courts in Selangor to carry out the judicial review function or to review decisions that were made by Selangor Islamic religious bodies: “The Shariah High Court, may, in the interest of justice, on the application of any person, have the jurisdiction to grant permission and hear the application for judicial review on the decision made by the Majlis or committees carrying out the functions under this Enactment.”

The lawyer for SIS, Fahri Azzat, had last September argued in the Federal Court that the Selangor state legislature had no power to make and introduce Section 66A as law to give Shariah courts the power of judicial review, saying that this was because it did not fall within the scope of matters that the Federal Constitution allows state legislatures to make law on.

Instead of the state governments, Fahri had also argued that it is the federal government that has the power under the Federal Constitution to list the power of the courts such as to carry out judicial review.

Selangor state legal advisor Datuk Salim Soib @ Hamid, who was representing the Selangor state government, had last September — when objecting to the leave to be granted to SIS — argued that the Selangor state legislature had the power under the Federal Constitution to make the Section 66A provision as law to enable Shariah courts to review the decisions of the executive such as Mais and the Selangor state fatwa committee.

Salim had also argued that the Shariah courts should be given the power to carry out judicial review of matters that involve Islamic matters, such as for fatwa or religious edicts issued in Selangor and which would affect Muslims in Selangor.

The arguments presented by Fahri and Salim then were only in relation to the application by SIS for leave to start its constitutional challenge. The actual constitutional challenge has yet to be heard.

This constitutional challenge is related to SIS’ challenge of a Selangor fatwa against it.

SIS had filed in the High Court on October 31, 2014 for judicial review of a gazetted fatwa in Selangor that declared the group as “deviants” in Islam due to their alleged religious liberalism and pluralism.

The fatwa had also deemed any publications with elements of liberalism and religious pluralism as “haram” or forbidden to Muslims, and can be seized by religious authorities, while also seeking for local Internet regulator the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to monitor and block social media websites with content that are against Islam.

Previously, the High Court had in August 2019 relied on Section 66A as a reason to dismiss SIS’s application for the civil court to hear its judicial review against the Selangor religious bodies’ fatwa against it.

The High Court had cited Section 66A to say that SIS Forum should have instead filed its judicial review application at the Shariah courts, and not the civil courts. This was despite SIS Forum being a company, which its lawyers said meant that it is not a “person professing the religion of Islam” and would not come under the Shariah courts’ jurisdiction.

SIS has since filed an appeal in the Court of Appeal against the High Court’s dismissal of its judicial review application, but the appeal there has been put on hold and with no hearing dates fixed until the Federal Court decides on this Section 66A challenge.

At the same time, the High Court had also granted a stay on the fatwa against SIS until the Court of Appeal decides on the appeal, SIS lawyer Surendra Ananth had previously said.


ISIS Wives at Syria’s Al-Hol-Camp Complain about Struggles of Living in ‘Isolated State’

13 January, 2021

With their husbands having been dealt a blowing defeat by the US-led International Coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dozens of ISIS wives now face the challenges of living in Syrian refugee camps.

Al-Hol camp, located in northeastern Syria near borders with Iraq, hosts crowds of women and children who traveled thousands of miles away from home to be with their husbands, brothers and fathers who had joined the ranks of the terrorist organization in the Levantine country.

Today, ISIS wives and children face the tough reality of their husbands and fathers having been killed or locked away for trial at a time most Western and Arab countries are refusing to repatriate nationals who had joined the terror group in Syria.

Jawaher, a 45-year-old Syrian national from the central Hama city, is an ISIS wife currently staying at al-Hol. She, like many of her fellow women at the camp, is refusing to leave before knowing the fate of her husband, who has been arrested by SDF authorities.

“My husband, an ISIS employee, voluntarily surrendered to the SDF during the battle of Baghouz. It’s been over 22 months since I last heard any news of him. I requested visitation rights yet with no avail,” Jawaher dressed in a black niqab told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“We will not leave before knowing the fate of our husbands, brothers and sons,” she shouted alongside a crowd of ISIS wives who gathered in front of the camera.

First established during the second Gulf War in the 1990s, al-Hol camp is built to receive a maximum of 20,000 people.

Significantly overcrowded, the camp hosts today over 60,000 individuals, most of whom are displaced Syrians and Iraqi refugees. It also includes a special section for immigrant women, where nearly 12,000 females of 52 Arab and Western nationalities are kept.

Onoud, 27, is an Iraqi national who could not hold her tears back while telling the story of how she ended up at al-Hol.

“I was a 17-year-old girl when my father decided to join ISIS. I was first married off to an Iraqi fighter who was killed a few months later, then I married a Moroccan fighter. After my second husband disappeared (likely killed), I married an Iraqi who is 30 years older than me,” she recounted, blaming fate for what had happened to her.

She went on to complain about the dire living conditions ISIS wives suffer from at al-Hol, which she said now resembles an “isolated state.”

In this closed off camp, women and children endure a bitter life and struggle to secure bare necessities for survival, all while waiting patiently to know what happened to their husbands and fathers.


ISWAP Suicide Bomber Kills Six Nigerian Troops in Borno: Military

JANUARY 13, 2021

Six Nigerian soldiers were killed when a jihadist rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into them during a clash in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state, two military sources said Tuesday.

The suicide bombing by a member of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) group occurred Monday as the soldiers were conducting a raid of the group’s stronghold in the village of Talala, the sources told AFP.

They said scores of jihadists have been killed in the operation launched last week on ISWAP’s second largest camp.

“Our men dominated the terrorists, killing dozens, and out of frustration they sent a suicide bomber who killed six soldiers,” one of the officers said. They said the troops overran the Talala camp despite the bombing.

On Saturday 13 soldiers were killed in an ISWAP ambush near the town of Gujba in the neighboring state of Yobe, according to military sources.

ISWAP, which split from the mainstream Boko Haram in 2016, has become a dominant group, focusing on military targets and high-profile attacks, including against aid workers.

The jihadist group has in recent times stepped up attacks on troops and frequently abduct travelers at bogus checkpoints along the highway linking the Borno capital Maiduguri and Damaturu, the capital of Yobe.

At least 36,000 people have been killed in the conflict since 2009 with around two million displaced in the northeast, according to the UN.

The violence has spilled into neighboring Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition to fight the jihadist groups.





12 police officials dismissed for negligence in protecting Hindu temple from vandalisation in Pak

Jan 14, 2021

PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government in Pakistan has dismissed 12 police officials following an enquiry report that found them guilty of "negligence" in protecting a Hindu temple in the province, which was torched by a mob led by members of a radical Islamist party.

The government also forfeited one-year service of 33 police officials in connection with the incident.

The temple in Terri village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Karak district was attacked on December 30 by the mob after members of the Hindu community received permission from local authorities to renovate its decades-old building. The mob demolished the newly constructed work alongside the old structure.

Deputy Inspector General of Police, Kohat Region, Tayyab Hafeez Cheema had appointed Superintendent of Police (Investigation Wing) Zahir Shah as enquiry officer to probe the incident and submit its report within a week's time.

Shah conducted the probe against 73 police officials and recommended to dismiss 12 of them from service on charges of negligence and irresponsibility in the discharge of their official duties.

“Keeping in view the available record and facts on file, perusal of enquiry papers and the recommendations of the Enquiry Officers, they are found guilty of the charges. They show cowardice, negligence, and irresponsibility in the discharge of their official obligations. They failed to protect the Hindu Temple which caused disrepute for the Police department in the eyes of the general public," the report said.

The report recommended forfeiting one-year regular service of 33 police officials. The officer also recommended writing to the Superintendent of Police, Frontier Reserve Police, Kohat for minor punishment to the remaining 28 personnel.

The 12 police officials dismissed include the station house officer (SHO) and assistant sub inspector of Terri Police Station.

The report said that the mob, under the supervision of Maulana Shareef, assaulted the Hindu Temple in Terri, wherein the mob burnt the said temple and damaged it without any interruption as a result of which a complaint under various sections was filed in the Terri police station.

Maulana Shareef, who is in judicial custody, is said to have incited the crowd.

"This is highly quite adverse on their part and shows negligence, carelessness and irresponsibility on the part of delinquent hands,” the report said.

Meanwhile, a delegation of MP's belonging to the minority communities on Tuesday visited the vandalised Hindu temple.

The Supreme Court has ordered the Evacuee Property Trust Board (EPTB) to start reconstruction of the damaged temple and instructed authorities to recover the money for the restoration work from the attackers whose act has caused "international embarrassment" to Pakistan.

On January 1, India lodged a strong protest with Pakistan over the vandalisation of the temple, saying it expects Pakistan to carry out an investigation into the incident and has asked for sharing of the probe report with it.

According to sources, the Ministry of External Affairs conveyed its serious concerns to the Pakistan High Commission here over the repeated instances of similar incidents and atrocities against the members of the minority community.

"It was also impressed upon the government of Pakistan that this was not the first time the temple was destroyed. This has been going on since 1997. We also asked for the investigation report to be shared with the ministry," a source said.

Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan.

According to official estimates, 75 lakh Hindus live in Pakistan. However, according to the community, over 90 lakh Hindus are living in the country.

The majority of Pakistan's Hindu population is settled in Sindh province where they share culture, traditions and language with Muslim residents. They often complain of harassment by the extremists.


Violent nationalist groups should be outlawed like terror outfits, Pakistan tells UNSC

January 13, 2021

Pakistan has laid out an action plan before the United Nations Security Council to tackle nationalist groups including Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the parent group of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) — that "pose a clear [..] danger to regional and international peace and security".

Pakistan's Ambassador to the UN Munir Akram on Tuesday told the 15-member Security Council that "violent extremist supremacist groups" should be outlawed like other terrorist outfits.

“Such violent racist and extremist terrorism will inevitably breed counter-violence and validate the dystopian narrative of terrorist organisations such as ISIS/Daesh and Al-Qaeda," Akram said at the UNSC.

He also cautioned that the Hindutva ideology which is followed by the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, threatened India's Muslim population.

The Pakistani envoy called for immediate steps to curb the rise of violent nationalism and proposed the following measures:

calling on states to designate acts of violent nationalist groups, including white supremacists and other racially and ethnically motivated groups, as terrorism, just as the world has done in case of Al-Qaeda/ISIS and their affiliated groups

initiating immediate domestic actions to prevent the propagation of their violent ideologies, recruitment to and financing of these groups

requesting the secretary general to present a plan of action to confront and defeat nationalist groups' extremist ideologies and actions

expanding the mandate of the 1267 Sanctions Committee to include nationalist terrorist groups like the RSS

Akram also called upon the body to "address certain neglected manifestations of terrorism, one of which is the phenomenon of ‘state terrorism’", citing the situation in occupied Kashmir where Indian forces "are perpetrating war crimes, crimes against humanity, and against the occupied peoples in order to terrorise them into submission".

As new threats to global peace and security arise, Akram said, the world needs to expand and adjust its counter-terror strategy to "defeat terrorism in all forms and manifestations".

This is not the first time Pakistan has highlighted the threat posed by nationalist groups, particularly the BJP and RSS. Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly urged the world to take note of BJP's "racist" ideology, which, according to the premier, is inspired by the Nazis. The incumbent government has highlighted the Indian government's moves that critics say discriminate against minorities, especially Muslims.

In its years in power, the BJP government stripped occupied Kashmir of its special status, a move which ignited a diplomatic rift between India and Pakistan. The abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution followed a strict clampdown that confined residents to their homes for months. Kashmiris as well as critics believe the move is an attempt to dilute the demographics of Muslim-majority Kashmir with Hindu settlers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration also introduced the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which grants citizenship to non-Muslims who migrated to India from neighbouring countries. The passage of the law — which critics say is discriminatory against Muslims — followed the first National Register of Citizens (NRC), published in August 2019, which left almost two million people — mostly Muslims — stateless. Most of those who were left out of the register had migrated from then East Pakistan in 1971.


‘Focus on Islam, Islamabad is not in your fate’, Sheikh Rashid tells Fazl

January 14, 2021

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid on Thursday asked Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman to focus on Islam, saying ‘Islamabad is not in his fate’.

“Fazl-ur-Rehman should keep his attention towards Islam as he leads a religious party; Islamabad is not in his fate,” the seasoned politician said, implying that Fazl’s struggle was only aimed at getting into the corridors of power.

He was addressing the media while accompanied by the Law Minister Barrister Farogh Nasim, Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry, and others.

Regarding the opposition parties’ slogans, the interior minister said, “no one has advocated the cause of Khatm-e-Nabuwat more than us." He added that the opposition must not incite people in the name of religion and also made it clear that Prime Minister Imran Khan will not recognise Israel at any cost.

Regarding the ongoing foreign funding case, he claimed the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had presented the signatures of 40,000 people as an endorsement of the party’s stance, while the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) or Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) hadn’t furnished a single cheque.

Addressing the media, Farogh Naseem said holding protests is a right of the opposition, however, he warned that the "the law will take its course if the protestors took the law into their hands".

He advised the protesters to protest as per the law and as civilized citizens. “Protest is your basic right, but the Supreme Court had stated in the Faizabad sit-in hearing that a protest cannot take place everywhere.”

The PDM has announced a protest in front of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on January 19. PDM chief Fazlur Rehman has demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan by January 31 and has warned of a long march towards Islamabad if he does not do so.


Under-fire PTI insists funds being managed transparently

Iftikhar A. Khan

January 15, 2021

ISLAMABAD: As the scrutiny committee of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) auditing foreign funding of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf met for a second consecutive day on Thursday, the PTI said it was the only party that was managing its funds with complete transparency.

“PTI is the first party to have made a departure from the established practice of PML-N, PPP and JUI-F of receiving heavy donations from vested interest groups, land grabbers and other rogue elements and returning the favour to them at the cost people of Pakistan after the polls,” Information Minister Shibli Faraz told Dawn.

He said the PTI set a new tradition of fundraising by its party members both within the country and Pakistani expatriates, owing no obligation to anybody for “investing in election campaigns”.

“All this was transparent and all the details of the funds received by the party have been submitted to the ECP,” he added.

Opposition questions meeting of PM’s close associate with CEC amidst hearing of foreign funding case against ruling party

Mr Faraz said the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party had failed to submit details of their suspicious donations and it was time for them to submit all the documents asked for by the ECP without any delay. “These parties must stop a hue and cry over the PTI’s funding and come clean on donations received by them.”

The ECP’s scrutiny committee at its second meeting in as many days again examined the PTI record of two LLCs (limited liability companies) registered in the United States.

According to sources, the petitioner’s lawyer Syed Ahmad Hassan Shah, assisted by Badar Iqbal Chaudhry, objected to the PTI record and demanded that official record of the two companies registered on the instructions of PTI chairman Imran Khan be scrutinised. He said they were being asked to scrutinise fake documents and were participating in the process in protest.

Hassan Shah told the committee that it should follow the ECP order of Aug 27, 2020 to authenticate each and every evidence before it. He said the committee should not expect “us to rubber-stamp fake and forged PTI documents”.

The committee was asked to either accept or reject official evidence to bring some credibility into the scrutiny.

The committee is expected to meet again on Jan 20 to deliberate on the authenticity issue and communicate its order before proceeding further.

In a related development, PTI’s chief organiser Saifullah Niazi on Thursday called on Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja when on another floor the ECP’s scrutiny committee was hearing the foreign funding case against the party.

The timing of the meeting raised many eyebrows as it took place a day after the PTI claimed that if any funds were collected illegally through the two US companies registered on Imran Khan’s written instructions, the responsibility lies with their agents managing the two LLCs.

“This is called special handling: Chief Organiser PTI Saifullah Niazi called on Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja on Thursday, while on another floor of the building the scrutiny committee was hearing THE foreign funding case against the party,” PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman tweeted.

CEC Sikandar Raja, when contacted by Dawn, confirmed the meeting, but said that “ECP is accessible and available to all the parliamentarians and political parties and they do visit the commission”. He said Mr Niazi came to the commission with a complaint that many votes were registered at third address other than temporary or permanent address and he was told that the commission would look into the matter.

“Commission also received complaints of violation of code of conduct in by-elections from other parties as well and commission addresses it. Commission is totally neutral and is determined to be so always,” he asserted.

The apparent change in PTI’s stance which had in the past been denying any foreign funding evoked a strong reaction from the opposition parties, with many of them raising questions using social media platforms.

PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz took to Twitter, saying that “bogus certificate holder of being truthful and honest has confessed his crime and now says that the agents appointed by him were responsible for any wrongdoing”.

“(The army knows) that the decision on the shameful saga of malpractice pending for seven years has been taken and is only to be penned down. Coming for accountability on January 19 Insha Allah,” she tweeted.

“PTI accepted illegal funding collected through 2 US companies registered after Imran Khan’s written instructions. Illegal funding Rules for Corrupt practices shall apply here,” PPP Senator Sehar Kamran tweeted.

The opposition also raises questions over the meeting of a close associate of the prime minister with the CEC at a time when a case against the party is pending with the commission.


Govt committed to improving justice system: PM

Syed Irfan Raza

January 15, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said the government was committed to utilising all available resources to improve the justice system in the country to provide relief and justice to people.

The prime minister also called for stern action against corrupt element by strengthening reward and punishment system.

The prime minister issued directives for removal of bottlenecks in the much ambitious Ravi Urban Development Project and asked for addressing problems in shifting Walton Airport, Lahore.

To provide relief to the common man, Mr Khan emphasised the need for implementation of administrative reforms within the prescribed period.

“The previous government took advantage of lawlessness by marring the system,” the prime minister said while presiding over a meeting on the criminal justice system and implementation of the civil procedure code in the provinces and Islamabad.

Later, chairing a weekly meeting of the National Coordination Committee on housing, construction and development, he said digitisation of land record was vital for assessment of people’s residential requirements and effective planning for the provision of shelter to them.

Naya Pakistan Housing Authority chairman retired Lt Gen Anwar Ali Haider apprised the meeting of the provinces’ performance in the provision of data to the surveyor general of Pakistan for digitisation of the land record.

The provincial chief secretaries briefed the meeting about the measures taken for provision of data for digitization of land record by the provinces.

The prime minister stressed the need for provision of data, saying the digitization of land record would bring about a significant improvement in the construction sector through better planning and elimination of ‘land mafia’.

Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman, Javed Ghani while presenting a review of the tax incentives package, FBR portal and increase in registration of builders and developers, told the meeting that construction activities across the country, particularly in Punjab, had significantly increased.

Punjab Chief Secretary Jawwad Rafiq briefed the meeting about the measures taken for the protection of green area in the province and evolving a future action plan. He said the province had to face a decrease in green areas and an increase in environmental pollution due to disorderly spread of construction projects, particularly housing schemes, in the past.

However, since 2019, he said, the provincial government had started implementation of a comprehensive action plan, formulated through effective coordination among relevant departments and participation of civil society for increasing green areas.

The chief secretary also apprised the meeting of the implementation of an action plan for executing urban forest projects and increasing green cover in various cities of the province this year on the pattern of the Urban Forest at Liberty Market, Lahore.

Besides, the meeting was also informed about the framing of rules and regulation for protecting green areas in the construction projects of Punjab.

Advisor to the PM on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam told the meeting about consultation on piloting the housing schemes with green building code and controlling urban flooding in big cities.

The prime minister, while stressing the importance of environmental protection, said they had to take timely measures before the effects of environmental pollution reached dangerous levels in big cities.

Describing environmental pollution as a “silent killer” which affected health of common man, he said the government had taken urgent steps to protect the masses from adverse effects of environmental pollution.

The prime minister issued directives for expediting the plantation campaign and the formulation of a coordinated strategy along with a monitoring mechanism to protect green areas in the provinces.

The Capital Development Authority (CDA) chairman briefed the meeting about the progress of ongoing infrastructure development projects in the federal capital as well as future projects.

The prime minister, while stressing the importance of multi-storey construction and protection of green areas in the capital, called for taking special care of the protection of green areas in construction projects.

PM visits Lahore

Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting Lahore on Friday (today) where he will have a series of meetings on development projects, health coverage and political issues.

The prime minister will also have one-on-one meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar.


Passenger aircraft 'held back' in Malaysia as part of legal dispute: PIA

January 15, 2021

A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane was held back in Malaysia as part of a legal dispute between the airline and another party, the national flag carrier said on Friday.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the airline said: "A PIA aircraft has been held back by a local court in Malaysia taking a one-sided decision pertaining to a legal dispute between PIA and another party pending in a UK court.

"The passengers are being looked after and alternate arrangements for their travel have been finalised," the statement said.

"It is an unacceptable situation and PIA has engaged support from the government of Pakistan to take up this matter using diplomatic channels."

The airline's spokesperson has not yet responded to a request by for details of the dispute.


‘RAW-trained militant’ held by police in Karachi

January 15, 2021

KARACHI: Police on Thursday claimed to have arrested an alleged RAW-trained militant in the city. “Police and personnel of sensitive institution carried out a joint action in Ittehad Town and detained the suspect, Mansoor Ali alias Aneel,” said Keamari SSP Fida Husain Janwari.

“The held suspect is affiliated with banned Sindh Revolutionary Army, which is being supported by Indian agency, RAW,” claimed the senior officer. “RAW is involved [in] spreading terror in Pakistan through SRA whose head, Asghar Shah is in contact with the hostile agency.”

The SRA’s motive was to target CPEC and personnel of law enforcement agencies, believed the Keamari SSP.

The police claimed to have recovered one kilogram of explosive material, land mine and arms from his custody.

According to a police statement, of recent the hostile foreign agency was acting indirectly by using those persons of impressionable age who can be easily influenced and persons who were “greedy”.

“Since some time, a group by using name of Sindhi sub-nationalist parties has been carrying out sabotage activities in cities of Sindh whose leader is Asghar Shah.” As per information of intelligence agencies, Shah had fled the country and was in touch with RAW.

“Asghar Shah provides targets and arms and explosives to the terrorists in the country at [the] behest of his masters and he has also support of Baloch sub-nationalist groups. For all these activities, RAW is providing funds,” it was stated.


Govt told to contact India for appointment of Jadhav lawyer

January 15, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday asked the federal government to contact the Indian government to know whether it is willing to appoint a lawyer for the detained Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav or otherwise.

The IHC bench, comprising Chief Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, was hearing a petition of the law ministry seeking appointment of a defence counsel for Jadhav.

Deputy Attorney General Syed Mohammad Tayyab informed the court that Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan was busy in the Supreme Court in connection with the hearing of a presidential reference on Senate elections and he was unable to argue the Jadhav case in the IHC.

The court then adjourned the hearing of the case till Feb 3.

IHC hears case of another Indian spy

Commander Jadhav was a spy of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) who was arrested in Balochistan in March, 2016. A Field General Court Martial awarded him death sentence on April 10, 2017 for fomenting terrorism in Balochistan and Karachi.

India later moved the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the verdict and the ICJ on May 18, 2017, stayed the execution of Jadhav pending the final judgement in the case. On July 17, 2019, the ICJ rejected India’s appeal for Jadhav’s release, but also ordered Pakistan to suspend the execution.

It also ruled that Pakistan would have to review the entire process of trial and conviction and provide India with consular access to the spy. This year, Pakistan also promulgated the ICJ (Review and Reconsideration) Ordinance, 2020, to comply with the ICJ verdict.

The IHC bench also heard the case of another Indian prisoner spy Ismail on Thursday.

The deputy attorney general informed the court that the interior ministry had given no objection certificate (NoC) to him and he was likely to be released on Jan 22 through the Wagah border.

The court had inquired about the detention of spy Ismail even after completion of his sentence awarded by the Field General Court Martial.

Mr Tayyab informed the court that the interior ministry had written a letter to the Home Department of Sindh for release of the Indian prisoner.

As per the letter, he said, spy Ismail would be released through the Wagah border on Jan 22.


Turkish firms to invest in urban transport, waste management

Tahir Siddiqui

January 15, 2021

KARACHI: Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah addressing the inauguration ceremony of new building of the Turkish Consulate in Clifton said that Pakistan’s relationship with Turkey predated the independence of both the states.

The chief minister also hosted visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at CM House earlier, where matters of trade and investment were discussed.

Speaking at the inauguration, Mr Shah said that under the British rule, the Muslims of India regarded the Ottoman sultan as their caliph and Muslim freedom fighters led the Khilafat Movement to collect donations, assisting their Turkish brethren in their struggle for independence.

During “Turkey’s War of Independence from 1919 to 1923, the Muslims of British India extended their unflinching support to their Turkish brothers by sending financial assistance to the Ottoman Empire,” the CM said and added that during the Turkish-Russian War, a notable educationist from Sindh, Hassanally Effendi mobilised the people of Sindh to help the people of Turkey during the war.

New Turkish consulate building inaugurated

Mr Shah said that in recognition of Mr Effendi’s struggle, Turkish government awarded him with two Turkish titles — “Effendi” and “Bey”. He added that Mr Effendi was also appointed the honorary Turkish Consul in Karachi.

“Based on this history, the people of Pakistan and particularly of Sindh, share a very special bond with Turkey that has been preserved for over a century,” the CM said.

“When it comes to independence or the strengthening of democracy, the political struggles of Pakistan and Turkey have been quite similar,” Murad Shah said and added both the countries had had similar struggles for democracy and both had had female prime ministers — Ms Tansu Ciller the 22nd Prime Minister of Turkey and Benazir Bhutto.

He said as female prime ministers of Muslim countries, they shared a strong relationship. He added that in 1994, they visited Bosnia together “as brave mothers and not as politicians” to appeal to world leaders to end atrocities in Bosnia.

The CM said that Turkey and Pakistan did not just share strong diplomatic relations, but also deep economic, religious, cultural and military ties. “Turkey was among the first few countries that recognised the independent state of Pakistan and supported Pakistan’s bid to gain UN membership,” he said and added that “the Republic of Turkey has expressed its unequivocal and categorical support and solidarity with Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir.”

Murad Ali Shah said that the Turkish government had always stood by Pakistan during difficult times. “During the earthquake of 2005 in Pakistan, Turkey announced a $150 million package for the earthquake victims,” he said and added during the 2010 floods when the Pakistan Peoples Party was in power, the Turkish government provided extensive assistance, including the reconstruction of houses in flood-affected areas.

Similar aid was extended by Pakistan to Turkey during earthquakes in Turkey in 1999 and 2011, Mr Shah said.

The CM said that the Pak-Turkey Strategic Economic Framework had led to billions of dollars of trade and investment between the two countries, particularly in areas of transport, telecommunications, manufacturing and tourism.

“Both countries are founding members of the Economic Cooperation Organisation and also a part of the Developing-8 Countries,” he said and added with the Turkey-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement, we could foresee our bilateral trade achieve new heights.

According to the CM, Pak-Turk Schools have played a key role in educating countless children in Pakistan who are attending these schools. He added that each year we witnessed an increase in the number of Pakistani students pursuing higher education in Turkish universities.

“Today the inauguration of the new building of the Consulate and the visit of Turkish Foreign Minister to inaugurate this diplomatic office marks another beginning, highlighting the strength of our ties with the Republic of Turkey,” he said.

Trade and investment

Earlier, Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu along with a delegation attended a reception the chief minister hosted for him at CM House.

The provincial ministers and chief secretary also attended the reception.

The chief minister invited Turkish investors to invest in urban transport, waste management in Karachi, in renewable energy and coal mining.

The visiting Turkish minister agreed to send his investors to Sindh to explore investment opportunities, however, he agreed to work with the Sindh government in urban transport and waste management.

The chief minister presented traditional gifts damburo (a musical instrument), rilli (Sindhi bed sheet), khes, ajrak and Thari shawl.

The visiting guest told the chief minister that the president of Turkey would visit Karachi during his next visit to Pakistan.

The CM and the visiting foreign minister agreed to exchange delegation of investors so that they could explore investment opportunities in both the countries.



South Asia


A Rohingya Camp Fire Leaves Hundreds Homeless

By Sameer Yasir

Jan. 14, 2021

A large fire tore through a crowded Rohingya camp in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh on Thursday, destroying hundreds of ramshackle shelters and forcing thousands of displaced Muslim refugees to flee in the winter chill.

The blaze claimed no lives but left hundreds of people without homes, according to aid workers and officials. It struck at a time when officials in Bangladesh look for long-term solutions for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have crossed its border from Myanmar in recent years.

The fire erupted around 1 a.m. in the Nayapara refugee camp in southeastern Bangladesh. Fire service officials there said that the fire was brought under control within two hours and that they had opened an investigation to determine the cause.

About 550 shelters were lost, as well as shops and other facilities, said the Inter Sector Coordination Group, a humanitarian organization that works with the refugees who have gathered in Cox’s Bazar.

Residents said huge flames quickly spread from one edge and enveloped the whole camp. Some said that firefighters initially struggled to douse the flames amid the chaos, as people in neighboring camps also fled to escape the blaze.

“When I opened my eyes, I saw fire everywhere,” said Haleema Khatoon, who lived in the camp along with her two children and husband and said she lost everything in the blaze. “The sky turned red and smoke was everywhere.”

Ms. Khatoon and others said the confusion and delays may have doomed some shelters that could have been saved.

The Inter Sector Coordination Group said that local fire officials arrived quickly and were able to contain the blaze. “We reached the area quickly and tried to douse the fire,” said Mohammad Abdullah, a Cox’s Bazar Fire Service official. “But fire spread fast and destroyed dwellings.”

Ms. Khatoon, 34, fled Rakhine State in 2017 and gave birth to her second child in the camp. She said she had turned her small hut into a home for her family. Now, she said, she and her family had no food to eat and nowhere to go.

More than 750,000 Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since a campaign of killing, rape and arson began against them in 2017. The area near Cox’s Bazar, in southern Bangladesh, has turned into a makeshift home for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing the campaign of violence carried out by Myanmar’s military. The Rohingya have been persecuted relentlessly by the government and mobs of Buddhists, who make up the majority in Myanmar.

The settlements there turned into mega camps as the huge influx of desperate people fleeing conflict or persecution continued to trickle in. Onno van Manen, a country director for Save the Children in Bangladesh, said the fire was yet another devastating blow for the displaced Rohingya Muslims.

Mr. Manen said that since 2017 more than a million refugees, half of them children, have lived in cramped camps with little freedom of movement, inadequate access to education and abuse, including child marriage.

“Put simply, despite the relentless efforts of humanitarian communities, a refugee camp is no place for a child to grow up,” he said.

In May last year, a similar fire reduced to ashes more than 400 shelter homes in the nearby Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. And with an increasing population and new shelter homes being built over time, officials say it has become increasingly difficult for firefighters to navigate slum areas.

The authorities in Bangladesh say they are trying to reduce the population at some camps, with a plan to move 100,000 people to an island in the Bay of Bengal. Rights groups have criticized the plan, saying that the Rohingya were yet again being forcibly displaced.

Mahbub Alam Talukdar, a Bangladeshi relief official, said the Thursday blaze broke out in E-block of the Nayapara refugee camp and officials continue to assess the damage.

“Refugees have been shifted to another place and we are helping them with food and necessary items.” Mr. Talukdar said. “We will try to rebuild their shelters quickly.”


Government ‘Warns’ Local Media, over Using Drones above Arg Premises

By Mohammad Haroon Alim

14 Jan 2021

The presidential palace warned local media in a released letter, that the use of camera drones near Arg is prohibited.

Government Media and Information Center (GMIC) has recently sent a letter refraining from the flight of media’s drone camera inside and around the presidential palace.

The letter stated that drones are prevented due to security considerations and possible enemy attacks. It noted that such camera drones are an easy means of photography, but can be used to target protected areas, it is a potential bombing tool for “enemy”.

GMIC warned that if drones have been seen around the palace, the Directorate of Palace Security and protection will take action to drop the cameras.

National Directorate of Security (NDS), confirmed the use of drones as warring tools by the “enemy”.

NDS previously said that the Taliban targeted the Afghan Forces through the utilization of the drones.

Earlier, for the First time drones were used in Iraq and Syria by ISIS members, and woefully the drone bombing technic was shared among other terrorist groups.

Two months ago, Ahmad Zia Siraj, head of National Directorate of Security indicated to Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) that drones are openly traded in markets mainly for photography.

But he stressed that efforts are being made to prevent the import of “assumedly” dangerous small drones.


Ghor Provincial Council Member Killed in ‘NDS Shootout’

By Mohammad Haroon Alim

14 Jan 2021

A member of Ghor provincial council was killed in a shootout with the National Directorate of Security forces on Thursday, NDS said in a statement.

NDS’ special unit attempted to detain Bek, who was suspected of being involved in the assassination of both Bismillah Adil Aimaq, a local journalist, and Abdul Rahman Atshan deputy provincial council head of Ghor.

“Instead of surrendering, Ezatullah Bek responded by shooting at the forces involved in the operation,” he was killed when the NDS forces opened fire.

Local security officials told the media, that an NDS security member was also killed during the clashes.

According to reports, two of Bek’s bodyguards were also wounded, and that the clashes occurred on Thursday morning when NDS tried to arrest Bek.

On January 1st 2021, Head of Sada-e-Ghor Radio, Journalist, and civil society activist, Bismillah Adil Aimaq was killed in unknown gunmen attack in Feroz Koh city, the central part of Ghor province, local confirmed to media.

Mohammad Aref Abir, a spokesman to Ghor governor, said that Adil was killed in an attack by unknown armed men, in Feroz Koh, capital of the province.

Reporters Without Borders stated that 50 journalists were killed in the year 2020 across the world, much of them were killed in countries that are not at war.


Would An Afghan Interim Government Help Or Hinder Peace Efforts?

January 14, 2021

Peace talks between Afghan government representatives and the Taliban have been painstakingly slow, bogged down for months by disagreements over minor issues.

The warring sides have agreed on the rules and procedures for the negotiations. But they have yet to settle on an agenda for the talks. Negotiations over the substantial issues -- including a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing formula -- are far off.

Progress has been hampered by deep mistrust and animosity. A huge gulf remains on key issues between the sides, which have conflicting priorities in the negotiations.

Those divisions have been exacerbated by soaring violence. Both sides have intensified military operations, particularly the Taliban, which sees violence as its main source of leverage against the government.

Amid the bloody impasse, there have been growing calls for President Ashraf Ghani to step down and a neutral interim government that includes the Taliban to take over.

That transitional authority could pave the way for a political settlement, proponents say, including the future distribution of power and changes to the constitution.

The idea has been floated privately by U.S. officials and has been supported by the Taliban, Pakistan -- the militant group’s main foreign sponsor -- and some Afghan opposition figures. But the proposal is deeply controversial and has been strongly rejected by Ghani and his allies.

Supporters of the idea say it would stop the escalating violence and allow the warring Afghan factions to reach a settlement, given the Taliban’s refusal to recognize Ghani’s administration.

But critics describe it as premature and a risky ploy that could trigger chaos and state collapse. Opponents say the idea is being pushed by opposition figures who want to gain a stake in power.

A political settlement is a key part of the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February 2020 that is aimed at ending the war.

That deal calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces in Afghanistan by May in return for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which is to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing arrangement with the internationally recognized government in Kabul.

It is unclear if President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on January 20, will stick to the deal. The Afghan government and the Taliban have effectively put peace talks on hold in recent weeks as they wait for signals from the new U.S. administration.

‘Undeniable Topic’

Calls for an interim government have grown since Afghan and Taliban negotiators reconvened for talks in the Gulf state of Qatar on January 5, following a 20-day hiatus.

The talks have turned toward setting an agenda for the talks -- what and in which order issues should be negotiated by the sides.

But the discussions have stalled.

The government is prioritizing a permanent cease-fire. The Taliban wants to discuss power-sharing, insisting it will only agree to a cease-fire when progress is made on the form of a future power-sharing government.

"An interim government is an undeniable topic of discussion, because we want a cease-fire and the Taliban aren't ready to agree to one with the current government," said Hafiz Mansur, a member of the government negotiating team, on January 3.

Amin Ahmadi, another government negotiator, said in an interview on January 7 that the international community backed an interim government, adding that “we cannot say no to the world's demand.”

Meanwhile, Atta Mohammad Noor, a powerful regional leader, said on January 7 that “we should not oppose” the idea of an interim government “but further develop it for the sake of national unity.”

Those calls came as U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad visited Kabul last week where he held talks with senior Afghan officials and key power brokers to gauge their support for an interim government, Afghan media reported. Ghani did not meet with the U.S. diplomat.

Gul Rahman Qazi, a close aide to former President Hamid Karzai, with whom Khalilzad held talks, said “three options” were discussed.

“The first one is to include the Taliban in the present government, the second option is to merge this government with the Taliban, but both of these options aren’t acceptable for the international community. The third option was to establish an interim and inclusive government.”

Ross Wilson, the most senior U.S. diplomat in Kabul, denied that Washington had “advocated” for the creation of an interim government.

“We have not advocated, and the United States is not advocating, an interim government,” Wilson said in a tweet on January 13. “The outcomes of Afghanistan Peace Negotiations are up to Afghans & we believe those outcomes should reflect the wishes & aspirations of the Afghan people.”

‘Peace Of The Graveyard’

Ghani ruled out an interim government with the Taliban last week, saying he would complete his five-year term as president.

Ghani won a 2019 presidential election that was marred by record-low turnout and widespread irregularities.

Khalilzad had first proposed the idea of an interim government before the election but it was rejected by Ghani, the incumbent.

"My basic goal is to be able to hand power, through the will of the people, to my elected successor,” Ghani told CNN on January 8. “We’re not a type of society that the Taliban-type approach of the past can be imposed on us. That was the peace of the graveyard.”

Second Vice President Sarwar Danish recently warned that an interim government would “mean rupture and the collapse and dissolution of the constitution.”

Critics have accused Ghani and his allies of stalling the peace process to retain power.

Critics say the president has surrounded himself with staunch anti-Taliban figures, including First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, a former intelligence chief.

Ghani this month also reappointed as his adviser Mohammad Mohaqiq, a former anti-Taliban commander. Last year, the president dismissed Mohaqiq, a senior figure in the mainly Shi'ite Hazara ethnic community.

Critics have also accused Ghani of stalling the peace process in the hope that the Biden administration would reverse the withdrawal of U.S. forces or even renegotiate the terms of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal. Observers consider both scenarios unlikely.

That agreement excluded Ghani’s government and is seen as skewed in favor of the militants.

‘Collapse Of The State’

Torek Farhadi, an analyst and former Afghan government adviser, says Ghani has become a “polarizing” figure who has postponed “peace possibilities” in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has called Ghani an American "puppet" and ruled out joining the current political system.

“Because of the emergency situation we are in, Afghanistan can't afford for President Ghani to complete his term while dozens of Afghans are killed every day,” says Farhadi. “It is not sustainable and over time it risks the collapse of the state after the exit of the foreign forces.”

The solution, Farhadi says, is a transitional authority that oversees an end to hostilities and gives the warring Afghan factions the space to agree to a political settlement.

“To end this war, and because no side is winning it, I don't expect the Afghan government to join a Taliban government nor the Taliban to join the Afghan government,” he says. “There is a need for a transitional governance structure including both.”

‘Further Fragmentation’

But critics also say the idea of an interim government is premature, given that the Taliban has yet to show the willingness to make the significant compromises needed to reach a political settlement.

The Taliban has entered peace talks from a position of relative strength. Controlling or contesting roughly half of the country, the extremist group has the military advantage to drive a hard bargain at the negotiations, observers say.

Under the U.S.-Taliban deal, the militant group extracted substantial concessions from Washington, including a timetable for the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces, its core demand.

Afghan officials fear that the Taliban could simply wait out the United States and forcibly attempt to take control of the country after a complete pullout. The U.S. military has reduced U.S. troops to around 2,500 -- the lowest since the war began in 2001.

The United States also made controversial pledges on behalf of the Afghan government, including the release of 5,000 Taliban inmates. In return, the militants made only small concessions.

Critics say the agreement gave the Taliban international legitimacy and recognition, while undermining the Western-backed government in Kabul.

Emboldened by what it sees as its “victory” in the war, the Taliban has intensified attacks on government forces and killed dozens of civic and political figures in recent months, seeking to further undermine the Kabul government.

Davood Moradian, the director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, a Kabul-based think tank, says an interim government should only be explored as a way forward if and when it is part of a mutual tradeoff or an overall peace deal.

“Amid the Taliban's political advancement and military consolidation and expansion, talk of an interim government will only result in the further fragmentation of the government, which would not advance the peace process,” he says.

Memories are still fresh of the anarchy and violence following the decision of former President Mohammad Najibullah, Afghanistan’s last communist leader, to resign.

Najibullah’s announcement in 1992 was intended to pave the way for an interim government that would include the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels that had fought against Soviet and Afghan communist forces.

Instead, state institutions broke down and a devastating civil war erupted that eventually paved the way for the rise of the Taliban. When the Taliban seized control of Kabul in 1996, it brutally tortured and executed Najibullah, who had been living in a United Nations compound.

“Dr. Najibullah made the mistake of his life by announcing that he was going to resign,” Ghani said during a June event in Washington. “Please don’t ask us to replay a film that we know well.”





UP Police to probe ‘Hindu Panchayat’ call for 'economic boycott' of Muslims

Jan 15, 2021

MEERUT: Police in Meerut are probing an alleged instance of hate speech during a ''Hindu Panchayat'' organised at a college after one of the speakers called for “economic boycott” of Muslims. The cyber cell of the UP police was also roped in as the video of the inflammatory speech got shared on social media, drawing widespread condemnation from several quarters. The panchayat was organised four days ago at the Chaudhary Charan Singh University (CCSU).

“We have not received any information from the college staff so far. But a probe is being conducted by the cyber cell,” said Akhilesh Narayan Singh, superintendent of police (city).

In the video shot during the event, Swami Anand Swaroop, head of Shankaracharya Parishad, is purportedly heard saying, “My argument is that if you (Muslims) want to remain associated with us, you should first stop reading the Quran and stop offering namaz.” In the same breath, he tells the listeners: “You decide that you will not buy anything from a Muslim. If you destroy them socially, politically and economically, they will begin converting to Hinduism from Islam.”

Swami Swaroop is not new to controversies. On January 6, in Kolkata, he gave a call to declare India a Hindu rashtra.

Meanwhile, the college administration has distanced itself from the event.

Vice-chancellor NK Taneja claimed the university only provided space for the event. “It was not a university function. Therefore I will not be able to comment on it. We just facilitated space (for them),” Taneja said.

Bhagyodya foundation, one of the organisers of the event, said such panchayats are being organised across the country. The next one will be held in Haridwar.

Ram Mahesh Mishra, president of the foundation who was present at the event, said the idea behind the panchayat was to “unite” Hindus.

“The Hindu community has been weakened due to its caste divisions. This weakness is being exploited by other communities. Once they are united, the country will become stronger. When Swami Swaroop gave that appeal, it resonated with us,” Mishra said. He added that such panchayats have been held in several cities across the country, including in Delhi, Lucknow, Ballia and Kolkata.


Jignesh Patel Moves Gujarat High Court To Expedite Conversion To Islam after Bharuch Collector Withheld Conversion Application For More Than A Year

January 14, 2021

Ahmedabad: A 32-year-old Hindu man, seeking to convert to Islam, has moved the Gujarat High Court to direct Bharuch district authorities to expedite the process as more than a year has passed since he submitted an application for the same.

Petitioner Jignesh Patel's lawyer MT Saiyad on Thursday said Bharuch's collector has withheld Mr Patel's application for more than a year, despite a sub-divisional magistrate's inquiry report filed in February 2020 giving a favourable opinion that he may be granted permission for conversion.

In a recent order, Justice Bela Trivedi directed the district collector to decide on Mr Patel's application "as expeditiously as possible", preferably within eight weeks.

"The application seeking permission of the collector at Bharuch is pending for more than a year. The petition was filed to direct the collector to decide on the application," Mr Patel's lawyer said.

The sub-divisional magistrate's report established that Jignesh Patel was not under pressure to convert, as mandated in the state's anti-conversion law, Mr Saiyad said.

Mr Patel submitted his application to the collector on November 26, 2019, with a declaration that he was not under pressure or allurement for conversion.

The petitioner said in his affidavit that he was attracted to Islam and wanted to convert.

He had been living like a Muslim for six years observing fasts during Ramzan, offering namaz and following other rituals associated with the religion, he said in the affidavit.

His application was even supported by one Imran Patel, the person who was to preside over the conversion, originally scheduled on January 1, 2020, but the collector never responded, Jignesh Patel said in his plea before the high court.


NIA team in Bangladesh to probe alleged 'love jihad' case involving Zakir Naik

Jan 14, 2021

New Delhi: A team of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has reached Bangladesh to probe an alleged "love jihad" case involving Islamic preacher Zakir Naik and two hardline preachers of Pakistan origin, sources said on Wednesday.

An NIA source related to the probe told IANS, "A team of NIA has reached Bangladesh to collect details in the alleged love jihad case it had registered in August last year."

The source said that the team has gone to Bangladesh to question an Indian woman and the son of a Bangladeshi politician named Nafees. The NIA had recently questioned the woman through WhatsApp. The woman belongs to the family of a Chennai-based businessman.

The source said the NIA will question the woman on whether she married on her wish or was kidnapped from London, where she was living earlier for higher studies, and then taken to Bangladesh.

The source said the anti-terror probe agency will also question Nafees and his politician father Sardar Shekhawat Hussain.

The NIA has named Islamic preacher Zakir Naik and two hardline preachers of Pakistan origin as accused in an FIR pertaining to the high-profile "love jihad" case.

The case involves the daughter of a Chennai-based businessman and the son of a top Bangladesh politician belonging to former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

The NIA is probing the Indian businessman's daughter and the Bangladesh politician's son's marriage in London.

Zakir Naik, who is wanted by the Indian enforcement agencies, and the hardline preachers of Pakistani origin based in the US have been named as accused in the case.

The girl's father had initially lodged a complaint with the Chennai Central Crime Branch in May last year, alleging that his daughter, who was studying in London, was radicalised and forced to covert to Islam.

He had also alleged that his daughter was abducted from London and taken to Bangladesh by some Bangladeshi nationals.


UP: Men Arrested For Asking Muslims To Go To Pakistan In A Video

14 January 2021

Police in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahar arrested two people after a video showed them hurling abuses at the Muslim community and asking its members to go to Pakistan, an official said on Thursday.

The incident took place in the Shikarpur area here and the arrests were made after the video of the incident surfaced on social media.

Many more people can be seen in the video on motorcycles.

Superintendent of Police (Rural) Harendra Kumar said the provocative video was uploaded on social media by the accused on Wednesday.

When the superintendent of police was asked if there was a rally at the time the video was shot, he said it is a matter of investigation.


Why Owaisi’s AIMIM poses serious challenge to Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in UP

Jan 15, 2021

NEW DELHI: After a decent performance in the 2020 Bihar assembly elections, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi has set his eyes on Uttar Pradesh (UP) that goes to polls next year. In UP, Owaisi’s main target seems to be Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP).

It was clear from what Owaisi said during his latest visit to the country’s most populous state on January 13 that AIMIM considered SP as its main rival party. Just after landing in Varanasi, he told mediapersons that during Akhilesh government’s regime (from 2012 to 2017), he was stopped 12 times from entering UP and permission for arrival was denied to him on 28 occasions.

What he said next could be music to Yogi Adityanath’s BJP government in the state. He said he was in the state after he got the permission. “Now, when I got the permission I am here,” he said.

AIMIM always faces two serious questions from its rivals - that it is a “vote-katwa” party (vote splitting party) and it is the “BJP’s agent”.

Owaisi, a Lok Sabha MP from Hyderabad, replied to both these charges. On AIMIM being a “vote-katwa” party, he said its opponents wanted that the people should keep voting them like slaves and other political parties should not contest elections. When AIMIM contests any election, their motive is to win it, and not to ensure victory or defeat of anyone else, he said.

On AIMIM being “BJP’s agent”, Owaisi’s curt reply was that his party leaders should not care about such allegations. In Bihar elections, AIMIM was in Secular Democratic Front and everybody knows who benefitted out of it. His obvious reference was to the five seats which AIMIM won in the Bihar assembly elections for the first time.

In fact, Bihar has inspired Owaisi to launch AIMIM in UP in a major way. It contested 38 seats in the 2017 UP assembly elections and did not win even a single one. It garnered a mere 0.24 per cent of the vote share.

However, Owaisi has declared that AIMIM would contest on about 25 per cent of the total seats - which comes to about 100 in the 403-seat assembly.

As far as increasing the number of winning seats and vote share in the 2022 elections is concerned, AIMIM is eyeing the SP which gets most of the votes of the Muslims who constitute 19.3 per cent of the state’s population.

In the 2017 assembly elections, SP had fought on 311 seats while its then alliance partner Congress on 114 seats. While SP won 47 seats by garnering 21.9 per cent of vote share, the Congress was victorious on just seven seats and it got 6.3 per cent of the votes polled.

Similarly, Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) contested on all 403 seats but it was victorious on just 19 seats. But it garnered 22.2 per cent vote share.

On the other hand, the BJP fielded its candidates on 384 seats, won 312 by garnering 39.7 per cent vote share.

Om Prakash Rajbhar-led Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) had contested on eight seats, won four and polled 0.7 per cent of vote share. SBSP has aligned with AIMIM for the 2022 UP assembly elections.

Owaisi wishes to replicate the Bihar experiment in UP. Instead of being a “vote-katwa” party, AIMIM is striving to carve out a constituency for itself. It has already declared its first candidate for the next assembly elections. Abdul Mannan, an eye surgeon by profession who quit the Peace Party to join AIMIM, would be fielded from Utraula assembly constituency in Balrampur district.

In Bihar, AIMIM damaged Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) the most. AIMIM split the Muslim votes which, otherwise, usually used to go to RJD.

In UP, SP is likely to suffer the most with AIMIM’s serious entry. Incidentally, both SP and RJD have the same vote banks - Muslims and Yadavs (MY). AIMIM might walk away with a sizeable chunk of Muslim votes which used to fall in SP’s kitty till the last elections.

While AIMIM would gain from this strategy, it would tangentially also benefit the BJP, as it did in Bihar, where the latter emerged as the second largest party by winning 74 seats, just one less than RJD out of total 243 seats.


Pakistani intruder shot dead by BSF along IB in Punjab

Jan 15, 2021

CHANDIGARH: A Pakistani intruder was shot dead by the BSF along the International Border in Punjab's Amritsar district, an official said on Friday.

The force personnel noticed suspicious activity near the border fence on Thursday evening, said the BSF official.

Sensing threat, troops shot him dead at around 8:30 pm, the official further said.


Madhya Pradesh corporation allows pork sale: Hindus, Muslims cite hurt sentiments

By Shruti Tomar

JAN 15, 2021

Madhya Pradesh State Livestock and Poultry Development Corporation’s approval for a kiosk to sell pork in Bhopal has both Hindus and Muslims up in arms, saying the move hurts their religious sentiments. Hindu religious leaders say the move amounts to the promotion of meat-eating that they oppose while their Muslim counterparts cited prohibition of pork eating in Islam to oppose it.

Pandit Surendra Tiwari of Pipleshwar Mahadev Temple said the move is against Sanatan Dharma as they oppose the sale of all types of meats. He added the government is introducing one more type of meat. “This move is against Hindu sentiments. We will request the government to withdraw this anti-Hindu decision.” He noted the road on which the corporation has started the pork kiosk has many temples and religious places.

Sanskriti Bachao Manch convener Chandrashekhar Tiwari questioned how could the corporation that sells milk and cow products sell pork and called the move an insult to the holy cow. “By promoting the sale of pork, the government wants to promote meat consumption.”

Mushtaq Ali Nadvi, a local Muslim religious leader, said Islam strictly prohibits pork consumption. “If people eat pork, they will spread filth in our society. The government should not promote bad things. Just to make a section of people happy, the government should not hurt the sentiments of many people.”

Anas Ali, the head of a local organisation, said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government believes in publicity but started the kiosk without making much noise as it knew its intention is bad. “...the government opposed the distribution of eggs in schools which is necessary for the nourishment of malnourished kids because it will hurt sentiments of a religion.... the same government has started the sale of pork in the name of nourishment. We are opposing the intention and double standards of the government.”

Youth Congress leader Vivek Tripathi questioned the requirement for selling pork. “This is a deliberate attempt of the state government to hurt the religious sentiments of a particular community. We will not allow this project of the government.” He added they will expose the BJP’s duality. “In 2019, when then Congress-led state government started the sale of chicken near a milk parlour, the BJP leaders staged a sit-in protest saying it hurts religious sentiments... but now the same party is in power and started selling of pork without thinking of religious sentiments.”

Kedar Singh Tomar, the corporation’s executive director, said they issued a tender for the pork sale and an ex-army man won the bid. He justified the move for allowing it, saying pork is not only full of nutrients but its sale will also boost the economy of the community that rears pigs. “The kiosk will give them a respectful way to sell pork.”

Animal husbandry principal secretary JN Kansotia said their department is mandated to promote the sale of pork, chicken, and eggs. “The government is giving subsidy for pigs rearing. We are not selling pork of normal street pigs but of farm pigs. The scheme has nothing wrong with it. We are not compelling anyone to eat pork and many people are rearing pigs and under this project, we will provide the marketing support. ”


35 per cent fall in number of terrorists operating in J&K: Army

January 15, 2021

Despite 27 per cent increase in incidents of ceasefire violations by Pakistan to facilitate cross border infiltration into the Union Territory during 2020 than previous year, there has been nearly 35 per cent fall in the number of terrorists operating in Jammu and Kashmir.

Releasing the data pertaining to 2020, army said that there were 274 terrorists active in Jammu and Kashmir last year as compared to 421 terrorists operating during 2019.

The incidents of ceasefire violation rose from 3,824 during 2019 to 5,246 in 2020.

The security forces killed 221 terrorists in 2020 as compared to 152 terrorists eliminated in 2019, it said, adding that 47 terrorists were apprehended during 2020 against 43 caught during the previous year.

Similarly, eleven terrorists surrendered before security forces last year as against only three surrendering due the corresponding period during 2019.

While the number of infiltration foiled remained the same during 2019 and 2020, most of the times infiltrating terrorists were killed, it said. As a result, only 32 terrorists could infiltrate as against 141 in 2019, it said quoting multi agency centre figures.

In view of heightened vigil by security forces along the border and its continued anti terror operations in the hinterland, the number of terrorists at launch pads in Pakistan had decreased between 294-336 during 2020 as against 520-556 the previous year, it added.


Targeted killings in Afghanistan aimed at suppressing freedom of expression: MEA

January 15, 2021

India on Thursday described the targeted killing of journalists and civil society members in Afghanistan as an attempt to suppress freedom of expression and pitched for an “immediate and comprehensive” ceasefire to lay the ground for a meaningful peace process in the country.

Expressing deep concern over the killings, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said India stands with the people of Afghanistan in their journey towards peace and these attacks are contrary to the spirit of the peace process and should immediately stop.

Asked about National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s two-day visit to Afghanistan, Srivastava said at a media briefing that his discussions with Afghan leaders focused on bilateral relations and the Afghan peace process.

Doval called on President Ashraf Ghani, and held talks with Afghan peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah, Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib, Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar and former president Hamid Karzai.

“In the past few weeks, we have received inputs of several attacks on journalists and civil society activists in Afghanistan. The targeted killing of journalists and civil society members, aimed at suppressing the freedom of expression and informed discussion on critical issues related to peace and governance, is of deep concern,” Srivastava said.

He said people of Afghanistan long for a peaceful future and India stands with them.

“An immediate and comprehensive ceasefire will lay the ground for a meaningful peace process to establish a peaceful, prosperous and progressive Afghanistan. India stands with the people of Afghanistan in their journey towards peace,” he said.

The MEA spokesperson said India has invested heavily in peace and development in Afghanistan and it supports all efforts to bring peace and stability there.


UP police in K’taka to nab youth booked for ‘love jihad’

Jan 15, 2021

Gorakhpur: A three-member police team was dispatched to Bijapur, Karnataka, late Wednesday to arrest a Muslim youth booked under Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance in Gorakhpur for allegedly kidnapping a teenage girl for marriage in the garb of a job offer and then forcing her to change her faith.

The FIR against the Karnataka-based man was lodged at Chiluatal police station in the district on January 11. The couple is yet to be traced.

“The girl’s father lodged a missing report on January 5 and fresh charges under the new anti-conversion ordinance were added after the girl’s call records showed she was in touch with a Karnataka man, Mehboob, for over a year. The girl’s father, who later lodged a police complaint, alleged Mehboob concealed his religious identity to kidnap his daughter with a fake job offer,” said SHO Chiluatal police station, Neeraj Kumar Rai.

“I accompanied my daughter to Sardar Patel Institute of Technology on January 4 and she did not return home that night. On January 5, I lodged a missing complaint. Later, I found that my daughter was in touch with Mehboob via Facebook since November 2019,” the girl’s father stated in the complaint.

The youth was booked under Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020, along with charges of kidnapping a woman to compel her for marriage on January 11, said the police officer.





UN official: US blacklisting of Houthis means 'death sentence to hundreds of thousands'

14 January 2021

A top UN official has called on the US to reverse its controversial decision to designate Houthis as a “terrorist” organization, warning that such a move literally means giving a “death sentence to hundreds of thousands” in Yemen.

David Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme, made the call during a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday, four days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that he intended to blacklist the Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist group on January 19, just one day before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The much-condemned decision by the outgoing administration of US President Donald Trump was made in defiance of the aid groups, which fear the move would deteriorate a humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country. Only, the US Congress can block the dangerous decision.

“We are struggling now without the designation. With the designation, it's going to be catastrophic. It literally is going to be a death sentence to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of innocent people in Yemen,” said Beasley, the former South Carolina governor, at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Thursday.

"This designation - it needs to be reassessed; it needs to be re-evaluated. And quite frankly, it needs to be reversed," he added.

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

The Houthi fighters have been helping the Yemeni army confront the invaders since the onset of the war which has killed more than 110,000 Yemenis so far. The Houthi Ansarullah movement is deeply rooted in the Yemeni nation and many Yemenis consider themselves either members of the movement or loyal to it.

UN urges US to reverse decision

Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the meeting that the White House must cancel its decision to blacklist the Yemeni movement as a “terrorist” organization.

He insisted that the US must reverse its decision to avoid the risk of a famine not seen for decades.

“What is the likely humanitarian impact? The answer is a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years,” said Lowcock, adding, “Would licenses and exemptions for aid agencies prevent that? The answer is no. What would prevent it? A reversal of the decision."

"Aid agencies cannot – they simply cannot - replace the commercial import system," Lowcock added.

At least 80 percent of the 28-million-strong population of Yemen is reliant on aid to survive in what the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

UN Yemen envoy warns of 'chilling effect'

Meanwhile, UN Yemen mediator Martin Griffiths warned that the controversial decision by the US against the Houthi movement could have “a chilling effect on my efforts to bring the parties together” and should be reversed on humanitarian grounds.

"We fear that there will be inevitably a chilling effect on my efforts to bring the parties together," Griffiths told the 15-member body, adding, "The decision will contribute to the prospect of famine in Yemen and should be revoked based on humanitarian grounds at the earliest opportunity."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also said in a statement that it feared Washington’s designation could only lead to a “chilling effect” on delivering the desperately-needed humanitarian aid to sick and starving civilians.

“In particular, the ICRC is concerned about the possible ‘chilling effect’ the designation may have on humanitarian action, leading to it being impeded or delayed,” said ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart.

He added that the ICRC, whose second-largest operation worldwide is in Yemen, had already urged countries imposing such measures to consider “humanitarian carve-outs” to mitigate any negative impact on populations and on impartial aid.

Stillhart further said that his independent organization is increasingly alarmed at the humanitarian situation in Yemen, where infectious diseases, hunger, and rising food prices constantly hitting civilians.

“Increased operational risks and possible de-risking from the banking and private sectors in response to the designation ultimately may constrain the humanitarian response in Yemen,” he further warned.

The brutal war has destroyed or closed half of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics, leaving Yemenis helpless particularly at a time when they are in desperate need of medical supplies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yemen’s Ansarullah says won’t abandon peace talks over US designation

Later on Thursday, Yemen's Ansarullah movement said it will not walk away from peace talks with the UN and Saudi Arabia despite the US designation of the movement as "a foreign terrorist organization."

In an interview with Reuters, Ansarullah spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam said, "These (talks) have nothing to do with the (US) decision, which will not limit our movements nor our international relations," adding this applied to both UN efforts and ceasefire talks with Riyadh.

"We will not stop our efforts to reach peace in Yemen ... it is our responsibility to talk, to end the war and the blockade," he said.

Abdulsalam emphasized that the US “decision will have no political or military impact whatsoever, except that it will worsen the humanitarian situation in Yemen, which is already under blockade."

The Ansarullah spokesman stated that any agreement on a nationwide ceasefire should include "humanitarian solutions" allowing fuel imports, reopening of airports and ports, and "make room for political talks."


President Rouhani: Investment in Iran's Free Trade Zones Increases


Addressing a ceremony to inaugurate 61 infrastructural projects in different Iranian provinces on Thursday, President Rouhani said the figures show that the US maximum pressure and the economic terrorism of the White House have failed.

He added that people’s investment in free trade zones is great achievement for receiving and providing services, adding that the Government has put providing electronic services on its agenda to help boost transparency.

President Rouhani added that it is very important to provide plans to enable the private sector become more active in the FTZs and throughout the country.

He said that by the end of his term in office (mid-summer), the Government will advance the agenda of promoting electronic services to bring about transparency and stem corruption and rent-seeking.

President Rouhani inaugurated an extra heavy crude oil refinery in Qeshm Island, Persian Gulf, along with 60 other projects throughout the country via video-conference today in the 41st series of inauguration ceremonies.

The other projects inaugurated by President Rouhani on Thursday are in Gilan, Bushehr, Qom, East Azerbaijan, and Markazi provinces.

He said with the new system provides a service that any one that wants invest in the FTZs does not need to travel to the area. They can do the job through the website and the maximum time it takes is 30 days, hoping that it will reduce to 20 days by the end of his term in office.'s-Free-Trade-Znes-Increases


Iran, Pakistan Stress Strengthening Common Front against Extremism


The meeting was held between Pakistan's Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri and Iranian Ambassador to Islamabad Seyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini on Wednesday.

The two sides discussed a wide range of issues related to Iran-Pakistan bilateral relations, the unity of the Islamic world, strengthening cohesion and unity among Islamic nations against the plans of enemies and the efforts of arrogant powers to create division, cooperation in religious and cultural fields.

The two sides also discussed the strengthening of religious tourism.

Emphasizing the inseparable friendship and love of the people of Pakistan for the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan’s Minister of Religious Affairs said there is no need to provide reasons for a strong bond between two brotherly nations because Iran and Pakistan always stand together in any situation.

He mentioned the Islamic Revolution as a promise of new life for Muslim nations saying after the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the enemies of the two countries tried to spoil the relations between Iran and Pakistan however they failed.

He added Iran and Pakistan have never witnessed a dispute between each other, and if there is a misunderstanding, the two countries, like a brother and a member of a family, have tried to resolve it immediately and constructively.

The meeting was held days after ISIL terrorist group announced last week that it has captivated and beheaded 11 Shiite Muslims in Western Pakistan.

Victims were Hazara Shiites and the incident took place on Sunday morning at a mine located 48 km away from Quetta.

Iran condemned the massacre of 11 miners in Pakistan's Balouchistan province by the ISIL terrorist outfit, stressing the need for regional convergence for fighting the Takfiri terrorist groups.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Kahtibzadeh condemned the massacre of 11 miners in Pakistan's Balochistan province by the ISIL terrorist outfit and said, "This criminal act once again highlights the need for the cooperation of all regional countries in the fight against Takfiri and terrorist groups."

"It is necessary for the Islamic countries to work together to eliminate all the ideological bases and financial support of these Takfiri groups, and to prevent the support of these groups by certain regimes," he added.


Terrorist Houthi militia responsible for Yemen humanitarian crisis: State Department

Joseph Haboush

14 January 2021

The United States recently designated Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia as a terrorist organization, a move criticized by the United Nations as having the potential to impact innocent civilians.

Officials in Washington will not budge, but they will ensure that needed caveats are put in place for humanitarian aid to continue to flow to the most vulnerable in Yemen.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo moved to designate the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity.

On Thursday, UN Yemen mediator Martin Griffiths, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock and UN food chief David Beasley issued their warnings during a Security Council meeting on Yemen. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres backed the call by his officials for Washington to reverse the designation, a UN spokesman said.

Asked for comment, a State Department spokesperson said that the US continued to support the UN Special Envoy’s efforts, “but we recognize that his efforts have been at an impasse for some time due in large part to Ansarallah’s refusal to engage with him productively.”

The designations will come into effect on January 19, Pompeo said.

Pompeo said the designations were intended to advance efforts to achieve a peaceful, sovereign, and united Yemen free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors.

As for the years-long Yemen war, Pompeo voiced frustration with the “those responsible for obstructing peace” and calling for them to be held “accountable for their actions.”

Yemen’s Houthis continue to attack Saudi Arabia with rockets and missiles on a near-daily basis. The militia is trained, armed and funded by Iran.

What do these designations mean?

The designation freezes any US-related assets of the Houthis, bans Americans from doing business with them and makes it a crime to provide support or resources to the movement.

Pompeo, the top US diplomat, said the designation was meant to push a political track and return to dialogue “to the maximum extent possible.”

He said the political process had produced “limited results over several years,” which “compels us to look for additional means by which to change the behavior” of the Houthi militia.

Elana DeLozier, the Rubin Family Fellow in the Bernstein Program on Gulf and Energy Policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes the designation was “borne of frustration.”

“The [Trump] administration sees designation as one of the few tools left in the US toolbox capable of providing leverage against the Houthis,” DeLozier told Al Arabiya English.

“Not only is the designation aimed at targeting the Iran-backed militia, but the Yemeni government also hopes such a listing will grant leverage in negotiations, but also raises the cost of aligning with the Houthis,” DeLozier added.

On Thursday, a Houthi spokesman told Reuters that they would not walk away from peace talks with the UN and Saudi Arabia despite the recent designation, which was lauded by Riyadh and other Gulf states.

UN criticism

But the United Nations quickly condemned the move, with officials calling for a reversal to the designation and warning of a “famine” in Yemen.

When news first broke that Washington was considering the designation after the Yemeni militia continued to block attempts of achieving peace in the war-torn country, experts and members of the international community criticized it.

Inside Washington, Democratic lawmakers and officials also spoke out against the move.

Nevertheless, the US has pushed through and in a preemptive move anticipating blowback, Pompeo said he recognized the concerns that the designations would impact Yemen’s humanitarian situation.

But he announced plans to “put in place measures to reduce their impact on certain humanitarian activity and imports into Yemen.”

In a further explanation, Pompeo said the US was ready to work with the UN, NGOs and other donors in order to mitigate the risk of further deteriorating humanitarian problems.

Assistance from the US and other international organizations, including the UN, will continue to flow via waivers or licenses granted from the Treasury Department.

“The licenses and guidance will also apply to certain humanitarian activities conducted by non-governmental organizations in Yemen and to certain transactions and activities related to exports to Yemen of critical commodities like food and medicine,” Pompeo said.

However, DeLozier noted that the private sector imported 80 to 90 percent of Yemen’s food. “Banks will start refusing to do business with the Yemeni merchants until clear OFAC guidance is issued. The fear is that the Trump administration has not - and will not - do enough to stave off a potential famine before they leave office,” she said.

The State Department official said the US recognized the “grave humanitarian situation” in Yemen were planning to take certain actions to mitigate unintended humanitarian impacts when the designations take effect.

“But make no mistake: It is [the Houthis] that [bear] responsibility for the humanitarian situation in Yemen,” the official added. “We believe these designations will apply additional pressure on [the Houthis] to change [their] approach to the conflict.”


Saudi warplanes bomb Sana'a airport, 20 other targets in Yemen

15 January 2021

Saudi warplanes have bombed the Yemeni capital's airport and about 20 other targets across the country in a fresh escalation of the kingdom's war on the impoverished nation.

The Arabic-language al-Masirah television network reported that the warplanes hit Sana’a International Airport twice overnight. There were no immediate reports of casualties and the extent of damage.

The Saudi-led coalition also targeted 12 locations in the Jabal Murad district of the central Yemeni province of Ma’rib.

Saudi-led warplanes further bombarded four sites in the al-Dhaher district of the northwestern mountainous province of Sa’ada, besides an area in the Kitaf wa al-Boqe'e district of the same province. No reports of casualties and damage were quickly available.

Harf Sufyan district of the western province of ‘Amran was also bombarded, but no casualties were immediately reported.

‘Saudis must cease aggression, lift siege as Trump's term expires’

Meanwhile, spokesman for Yemen's popular Houthi Ansarullah movement, Mohammed Abdul-Salam, has called on member states of the Saudi-led alliance to promptly end their military onslaught and siege of Yemen.

Abdul-Salam said in a post published on his Twitter page that those who depended on US President Donald Trump and required his protection must immediately cease their actions as the Republican leader’s tumultuous term will expire in less than a week.

The Saudi-led coalition has been enforcing a land, air and sea blockade on Yemen, particularly on the strategic western port city of Hudayda, which acts as a lifeline for the impoverished nation, since August 2015, five months after it started the devastating war.

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

Last month, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) put the death toll from the Saudi war on Yemen at 233,000.

The popular Ansarullah movement, backed by armed forces, has been defending Yemen against the Saudi-led alliance, preventing the aggressors from fulfilling the objectives of the atrocious war.

Yemeni Foreign Ministry slams US terrorist designation of Ansarullah

The Yemeni Foreign Ministry on Thursday condemned the move by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to brand the popular Ansarullah movement “a foreign terrorist group.”

An unnamed official at the ministry described the designation as ridiculous and illogical, adding that such a futile step comes as the Trump administration, which failed miserably to break the steadfastness of the Yemeni people, is leaving office.

He said the outgoing US administration has consistently pursued a policy of pressure, blockade and sanctions against many free countries and nations that reject American hegemony in the region as well as normalization of ties with the Israeli regime.

The official stressed that Trump’s administration is “the mother of terrorism in the world,” noting it greatly contributed to the Saudi devastating war and blockade against Yemen for nearly six consecutive years.

He said the US administration led by Trump facilitated aggression against Yemen through arming and supporting the Saudi regime, which consequently claimed the lives of thousands of civilians.

The official highlighted that Ansarullah is a national liberation movement, which has its roots within the context of Yemeni society, civilization as well as cultural and political heritage.



North America


Pentagon investigates white supremacists in US military after Capitol riots

15 January 2021

Far-right and white supremacist extremists have been actively recruiting in the US military, the Department of Defense has acknowledged, announcing an investigation into the extent of extremist ideologies among active-duty personnel.

Concern about extremism in military ranks spiked after numerous people who took part in the violent attack on the US Capitol last week were found to be active military personnel and veterans. Several military veterans were arrested in connection with the unprecedented riot, that was incited by President Donald Trump and left five people dead.

An Army Special Forces officer is under investigation for appearing on the Capitol grounds on January 6 when the attack took place. One military captain, a psychological operations specialist in North Carolina, is also suspected of organizing a group of 100 Trump supporters to join the riot.

The Pentagon’s internal watchdog said on Thursday that it was launching an investigation this month to ascertain whether the military is doing enough to snuff out extremism from within its ranks.

The announcement came after more than a dozen Democratic senators, led by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, called on the Defense Department to look into the prevalence of white supremacy in the US military.

“The issue of white supremacy and extremist ideology within the ranks of our military is not new, but the attack on the Capitol makes clear this alarming trend must be immediately addressed,” the senators wrote in a letter to the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Sean O’Donnell.

The objective of the investigation is to determine the extent to which the military services have implemented policies that prohibit active military personnel from engaging in “supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology, or causes,” said Carolyn Hantz, the Pentagon’s assistant inspector general for evaluations programs.

A senior Pentagon official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, acknowledged in call to reporters that there was an increase in extremist activity and ideology in the military ranks, especially over the past year.

“We know that some groups actively attempt to recruit our personnel into their cause, or actually encourage their members to join the military for the purpose of acquiring skills and experience our military force,” the official told reporters.

“We recognize that those skills are prized by some of these groups, not only for the capability it offers them, but it also brings legitimacy in their mind to their cause.”

Law enforcement authorities are preparing for potentially more violence ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday. Officials fear that extremists online are attempting to organize rallies to disrupt the event.

About 20,000 National Guard service members are protecting Washington ahead of Biden’s inauguration, a troop presence that is four times larger than the number of soldiers currently deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria combined.

The senior Pentagon official told reporters that the National Guard members protecting the events in Washington will undergo additional background checks.


F.B.I. Urges Police Chiefs Across U.S. to Be on High Alert for Threats

By John Eligon, Frances Robles, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Helene Cooper

Jan. 13, 2021

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The F.B.I. on Wednesday urged police chiefs across the country to be on high alert for extremist activity and to share intelligence on any threats they encounter, as the U.S. government issued a dire intelligence bulletin warning of potential violence ahead of the inauguration.

In the call with police chiefs, Christopher Wray, the F.B.I. director, and Kenneth Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, warned about potential attacks on state capitols, federal buildings, the homes of congressional members and businesses, according to one of the chiefs on the call. The officials failed to identify any specific threats, participants said, but called on law enforcement officers across the country to watch for signs of trouble, no matter how small.

“They don’t want to be dismissive of anything,” Chief Jorge Colina of the Miami Police Department, one of thousands of officials participating in the call, said in an interview. “So even if it sounds aspirational, even if it’s just like, ‘Yeah, it’d be great if the whole place is burned down,’ they don’t want us to think, ‘Ah, that’s just some knucklehead, pinhead,’ and be dismissive.”

The federal authorities also issued a joint intelligence bulletin warning that the deadly breach at the Capitol last week would be a “significant driver of violence” for armed militia groups and racist extremists who are targeting the presidential inauguration next week.

Extremists aiming to trigger a race war “may exploit the aftermath of the Capitol breach by conducting attacks to destabilize and force a climactic conflict in the United States,” officials wrote in the bulletin issued by the National Counterterrorism Center and the Justice and Homeland Security Departments, which was disseminated widely to law enforcement agencies around the country.

In Washington, the state of readiness remained high, with Chief Robert J. Contee III of the Metropolitan Police Department saying on Wednesday that he expected more than 20,000 members of the National Guard in the Washington region on Inauguration Day. It remains unclear how many of the Guard members will carry weapons.

On Tuesday night, Defense Department officials said that the Army secretary, Ryan McCarthy, had decided to arm National Guard members who will be deployed to protect the Capitol building complex as Mr. Biden is sworn into office.

The number of National Guard troops in Washington may ultimately stretch beyond 20,000; the figure has been rapidly climbing in recent days as intelligence officials monitoring pro-Trump groups online have grown increasingly worried that militant, far-right organizations have plans for violent protests in Washington.

The decision to arm the Guard members illuminates the gnawing uncertainty of the past week. Members of Congress expressed concern about their return to the Capitol after they were briefed on several active threats against them, and the F.B.I. has warned of possible violence at all 50 state capitol buildings.

Defense Department officials met with Washington authorities on Wednesday to work on plans to try to ensure there is not a repeat of last week’s violent breach. The scope of the protests and the violence of the mob took law enforcement by surprise.

A Pentagon official expressed worry about a repeat of the pipe bombs that were placed in Washington last week. The official said the law enforcement agencies are also concerned that some protesters have threatened to show up at the homes of lawmakers, or to target their families.

On the call with police chiefs, federal officials said they were closely monitoring extremist communications online and urged the chiefs to be mindful of potential lone-wolf actors and local armed groups, said Chief Chris Magnus of Tucson, adding that he had rarely heard federal officials this alarmed.

“They’re very, very worried about these, what they referred to as domestic violent extremists, embedding themselves in other protests,” he said. “Christopher Wray seemed particularly concerned about what was sort of the disregard these folks have for democratic government.”

There was also some discussion about balancing the rights of protesters against the threat of violence.

“I think the message is they want everyone to have their First Amendment rights and be able to assemble without any government intrusion,” said Chief Rick Smith of Kansas City, Mo., who was on the call. “At the same time, how do you prevent violence?”

In the bulletin, written by the National Counterterrorism Center and the Justice and Homeland Security Departments and obtained by The New York Times, federal officials said that extremist groups have viewed the breach of the Capitol as a success and have been galvanized by the death of Ashli Babbit, a military veteran and QAnon follower who was shot by the police as she tried to enter the heavily protected Speaker’s Lobby, just outside the House chamber. The extremists could perceive that death as “an act of martyrdom,” they said.

Officials warned of possible activity by the “boogaloo,” a movement that seeks to start a second civil war. They also wrote that “the shared false narrative of a ‘stolen’ election,’” a narrative that has been perpetuated by President Trump, “may lead some individuals to adopt the belief that there is no political solution to address their grievances and violent action is necessary.”

Antigovernment militias and extremist groups “very likely pose the greatest domestic terrorism threats in the 2021,” said the bulletin, which was dated Jan. 13.

Already, state and local officials are taking preparations into their own hands.

In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown activated the National Guard “to assist with potential upcoming civil unrest,” the Oregon State Police said Wednesday. Authorities did not identify the locations the National Guard would be deployed, but troops in neighboring Washington State have used the Guard in recent days to protect the state’s Capitol building.

“The recent events at our Nation’s Capitol building and at our own statehouse illustrate the need for law enforcement to be prepared and appropriately staffed for any large gatherings,” Oregon State Police Superintendent Terri Davie said in a statement.

The National Guard was also assisting in state capitols in Michigan and Wisconsin.

Law enforcement presence has intensified at the California State Capitol in Sacramento, with California Highway Patrol officers on standby and outside at the entrances, and with squad cars parked on the grounds, blocking walkways. The F.B.I. has set up a joint command post with local authorities in Sacramento, and members of state, federal and local law enforcement have been meeting daily.

Even though Los Angeles officials have not received specific threats, the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department has ordered all officers, close to 10,000 people, to be in uniform every day leading up to the inauguration so they are ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has adjusted staffing levels in anticipation of protest activity.

Part of the challenge for law enforcement agencies collecting intelligence was weeding out “aspirational” commentary, said Chief Colina of Miami. On the call Wednesday, the F.B.I. acknowledged the uneasiness felt across the nation in the wake of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, he said.

“It kind of shook everyone up, you know, seeing what happened at the Capitol. It gives you a terrible feeling of uneasiness, and so, they’re concerned with that,” he said, adding, “They’re concerned with the mind-set of, ‘Are we safe here in this country?’”


US says China committed 'possibly genocide' in Xinjiang

Övünç Kutlu  


China has committed "crimes against humanity and possibly genocide" against the Uighurs and other Muslim minority communities in the western Xinjiang province, according to a US commission report released Thursday.

"Chinese government is intentionally working to destroy Uyghur and other minority families, culture, and religious adherence," the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) said in its 2020 annual report.

In addition to new evidence of a systematic and widespread policy of forced sterilization and birth suppression of the Uyghur and other minority populations, there is half a million middle and elementary school-age children, with many of whom involuntarily separated from their families, according to the CECC.

All of these trends "should be considered when determining whether the Chinese government is responsible for perpetrating atrocity crimes -- including genocide -- against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in China," the report said.

China has been widely accused of putting Uighurs into camps. As many as 1.6 million Uighurs have left China to live abroad, according to the World Uyghur Congress.

Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, accuse Beijing of oppressing 12 million Uighurs, most of whom are Muslims.

A 2018 HRW report detailed a Chinese government campaign of "mass arbitrary detention, torture, forced political indoctrination, and mass surveillance of Xinjiang's Muslims."

China, however, has repeatedly denied allegations it is operating detention camps in its northwestern autonomous region, claiming instead that they are "re-educating" Uighurs.


US down to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, as ordered by Trump

Jan 15, 2021

WASHINGTON: The US military has met its goal of reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan to about 2,500 by Friday, a drawdown that appears to violate a last-minute congressional prohibition.

President Donald Trump, who ordered the reduction in November, said Thursday that troop levels in Afghanistan had reached a 19-year low, although he did not mention a troop number. Last February his administration struck a deal with the Taliban to reduce American troop levels in phases and to go to zero by May 2021, although it is unclear how the incoming Biden administration will proceed.

President-elect Joe Biden, who has advocated keeping a small counterterrorism force in Afghanistan as a way to ensure that extremist groups like al-Qaida are unable to launch attacks on the United States, faces a number of questions on Afghanistan. One is how and whether to proceed with further troop cuts. Trump in his brief statement alluded to his longstanding desire to get out of Afghanistan entirely.

“I will always be committed to stopping the endless wars,” he said, referring to US wars that have dragged on in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq for much of the period since 2003.

Although senior military officials had cautioned against speedy troop reductions in Afghanistan, acting defense secretary Christopher Miller announced on Nov. 17 that he was implementing Trump's order. As a result, military commanders scrambled to pull more than 1,500 troops out of the country in the last few weeks. At Trump's order, commanders also cut US troop levels in Iraq to 2,500 from about 3,000 in the same period.

The Afghanistan decision was seen by some as unnecessarily complicating the decision-making of the incoming administration. Trump at the time had refused to acknowledge that he had lost the election and would be ceding to Biden on Jan. 20. Some in Congress, including fellow Republicans, opposed Trump's decision.

Under the National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress two weeks ago, the Pentagon was explicitly forbidden to use money from this year's or last year's budget on reducing the number of troops below 4,000 — or below the number that was in the country the day the bill was finalized, which was January 1. Trump vetoed the measure, but both the House and Senate voted to override his veto.

The Pentagon has not yet fully explained how it squares its continued drawdown with the legal prohibition. In response to questions about this, the Pentagon issued a written statement saying, “DoD will adhere to all statutory provisions of the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act, to include those in Section 1215 that impact the ongoing drawdown in Afghanistan.”

It said it has been working with the National Security Council “on the most efficient means to ensure consistency amidst an anterior drawdown already occurring across Afghanistan, and in a manner that continues to ensure the safety of US personnel.”

The defense legislation provides two conditions under which the Pentagon could get around the prohibition -- a presidential waiver or a report to Congress assessing the effect of a further drawdown on the US counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan and the risk to US troops there. As of Thursday the Pentagon had met neither of those conditions.

The prohibition on completing the drawdown put the Pentagon in a bind, coming weeks after it had begun the drawdown, which involved a large logistical effort to remove equipment as well as troops. Because of less-than-transparent military procedures for counting troops in Afghanistan, it is possible that the 2,500 figure may be fudged.

The main reason for concern about a too-quick troop withdrawal is what the Pentagon sees as continued high levels of Taliban violence against the Afghan government. Some US officials have questioned he wisdom of fully withdrawing, in accordance with the February 2020 agreement with the Taliban, if violence remains high.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was aimed at overthrowing the Taliban regime, running al-Qaida out of the country and laying the groundwork for a global “war on terrorism.” It turned into something more ambitious but less well-defined and became far more costly in blood and treasure. During Biden's time as vice president, the US pushed US troop totals in Afghanistan to 100,000 in a failed bid to compel the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. When Trump took office four years ago there were about 8,500 troops in the country, and he raised it to about 13,000 that summer.

Last month, when he met with Afghan officials in Kabul and with Taliban representatives in Qatar, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he emphasized to both sides that in order to give fledgling peace talks a chance, they must rapidly reduce levels of violence.

“Everything else hinges on that,” Milley told reporters.

During Milley's visit, Army Gen. Scott Miller, the top commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, told reporters that the Taliban had stepped up attacks on Afghan forces, particularly in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, and against roadways and other infrastructure.


US Warns Iran Fuelling Potential al-Qaida Resurgence

By Jeff Seldin

January 13, 2021

Far from potentially fading into obscurity, one of the world’s most feared jihadist terrorist organizations may be poised for a potential resurgence thanks to an unlikely ally.

Almost two decades after the United States first targeted al-Qaida’s leadership in Afghanistan for carrying out the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the terror group has established a new home, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Tuesday, one he suggested was somewhat sheltered from U.S. military might.

"Al-Qaida has a new home base. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran," Pompeo said during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

"Tehran has allowed al-Qaida to fundraise, to freely communicate with al-Qaida members around the world, and to perform many other functions that were previously directed from Afghanistan or Pakistan,” Pompeo said. 

"As a result of this assistance, al-Qaida has centralized its leadership inside of Tehran,” he added, describing Iran as the terror group’s new “operational headquarters.”

The warning from the United States’ top diplomat, in the waning days of U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidency, returns the administration’s focus to Iran, which it criticized early and often following Trump’s inauguration.  But it also represents a stunning shift from assessments of al-Qaida shared by other top administration officials just in the past several months.

"I think al-Qaida's on the ropes, no doubt," State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Ambassador Nathan Sales told a virtual forum this past November.

“There’s a sense in which the question of who leads al-Qaida's core matters is a little bit less today than it did a decade ago, certainly two decades ago,” Sales said, calling the group’s leadership “really a remnant of its former self.”

U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien was equally optimistic, saying just a day earlier that al-Qaida has been "incapable of directing a complex, large-scale attack against the U.S. because of the pressure that we've kept on them.”

But in his speech Tuesday, Pompeo argued it is, in fact, precisely because of al-Qaida’s leadership and the refuge it has found in Iran that the core group is becoming ever more dangerous.

"Tehran has allowed al-Qaida to fundraise, to freely communicate with al-Qaida members around the world, and to perform many other functions that were previously directed from Afghanistan or Pakistan,” the U.S. secretary of state said.  

"Since 2015, Iran has also given al-Qaida leaders greater freedom of movement inside of Iran under their supervision,” Pompeo added “The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the IRGC have provided safe havens and logistical support – things like travel documents, ID cards, passports – that enable al-Qaida activity.”

To further bolster his case, Pompeo gave the first U.S. public confirmation of the death of al-Qaida’s number two official, Abu Muhammad al-Masri, gunned down in the streets of Tehran along with his daughter this past August, as first reported by The New York Times.

U.S. intelligence officials said Al-Masri, also known as Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, had been living in Tehran since 2015, when he and four other senior al-Qaida figures were released by the Iranian government in exchange for an Iranian diplomat.

Still, U.S. officials believe other key al-Qaida officials remain in Iran. 

The list includes Saif al-Adel, now thought to have replaced al-Masri as al-Qaida’s second-in-command; Sultan Yusuf Hasan al-‘Arif; and MuhammadAbbatay, also known as Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, who serves as a general manager for the terror group, coordinating with its global affiliates and heading up its media arm.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Pompeo’s speech on Twitter, calling the U.S claims "fictitious.”

Only officials and experts contend that as strange as an alliance might seem between a Shia regime like the one in Iran and a Sunni terror group like al-Qaida, the evidence is clear.

“This relationship is real and goes back many years,” Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told VOA. “There's a whole long history of State Department and Treasury Department designations and official statements.”

“Basically, Iran keeps tabs on what al-Qaida does,” he said. “If al-Qaida crosses the line to commit attacks inside Iran, tries to recruit, something along those lines, they [Iran] basically snap back into place and sort of crack down.”

Only Joscelyn is wary of calling Iran a home base for al-Qaida.

“It's a little more complicated than that,” he said. “They have a distributed sort of leadership platform … they're not only in Iran. They're also in other countries, as well.”

Some U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials have likewise been cautious, describing the relationship as uneasy, noting Iran and al-Qaida use each other to advance mutual goals when convenient.

“The point is, these ties are … transactional in nature,” according to retired Ambassador James Jeffrey, who until last November served as the Trump administration’s special representative for Syria engagement and special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

"They are not a joint campaign against the United States. They are involving, ‘You scratch my back I'll scratch yours,’ ” he told a webinar Wednesday, adding, “The ties between al-Qaida and Iran have long been known both to the intelligence community and to the media.”

That assessment by many current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials seems to be supported by letters recovered from the raid that killed former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

“Iran is our main artery for funds, personnel, and communication, as well as the matter of hostage,” bin Laden wrote in a 2007 letter declassified by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. “There is no need to fight with Iran, unless you are forced to.”

An unsigned al-Qaida report from the same year said Iran offered the terror group’s fighters, “money and arms and everything they need, and offered them training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia.”

Other documents, though, indicated bin Laden worried about betrayal, referencing what he called “tyrant prisons,” while warning his sons the government in Tehran could not be trusted.

“Remember any questionable action or observation in any hospital in Iran,” he wrote. “If they inject you with a shot, this shot might be loaded with a tiny chip.”

Like some of their U.S. counterparts, international counterterrorism officials are also reticent to proclaim Iran is al-Qaida’s new base of operations.

They note that while rumors persist regarding the demise of current al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, the most recent intelligence placed him in Afghanistan. And they argue that the relationship with the Afghan Taliban continues to be one of the most important to core al-Qaida leadership.

U.S. military commanders have also pointed to the enduring bond between al-Qaida and the Taliban, despite pledges by Taliban leadership to break ties with the terror organization.

Still, Pompeo said Tuesday that the al-Qaida operations in Iran pose the greatest threat.

“Unlike in Afghanistan, when al-Qaida was hiding in the mountains, al-Qaida today is operating underneath the hard shell of the Iranian regime’s protection,” he said. “This axis poses a grave threat to the security of nations and to the American homeland itself.”

And some former U.S. intelligence officials agree the risk of the ongoing al-Qaida presence in Iran cannot be understated.

“Iran could have turned over the leadership to their home countries. Iran could have expelled that facilitation node and it did not,” Norman Roule, a former national intelligence manager for Iran, told VOA.  “It correctly calculated the international community wouldn’t do anything about it.”

As a result, Roule said, a growing number of al-Qaida leaders and operators have come to see Iran as a safe haven, and one that they will eventually use to their advantage.

"If we fail to neutralize this presence, we risk another al-Qaida attack against America, Americans, or our partners,” he said.


UN urges US to drop Houthi terrorist designation

Michael Hernandez  



The UN urged the Trump administration on Thursday to reverse its decision to label Yemen's Houthi rebels as a terror group, warning the move could exacerbate the country's dire humanitarian crisis.

The UN's aid chief Mark Lowcok told the Security Council the decision will push the impoverished nation into "a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years."

Yemen, which has been locked in a civil conflict exacerbated by regional interests since 2014, imports 90% of its food through commercial channels. The Houthis control commerce in areas they govern.

The US announced the decision, which will take effect on President Donald Trump's last full day in office next Tuesday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the designation is intended to hold the rebel group "accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping."

The Houthis are the de facto authority across a wide swath of the badly-impoverished and food scarce nation, and concerns have mounted that designating the group as a terror organization could hinder the distribution of badly-needed aid during the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

Aware of repeated concerns voiced by the UN and humanitarian groups, Pompeo said the US would issue licenses to exempt "certain humanitarian activity and imports into Yemen."

Lowcock said that plan is insufficient to prevent the looming humanitarian fallout from the US decision.

"Aid agencies give people vouchers or cash to buy commercially imported food in the market. Aid agencies cannot – they simply cannot - replace the commercial import system," said Lowcock. "What this means is that what the commercial importers do is the single biggest determinant of life and death in Yemen."

Yemen has been beset by violence and instability since 2014, when Iran-aligned Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including the capital of Sanaa. The crisis escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition launched a devastating air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi territorial gains.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the conflict has claimed 233,000 lives.


US terror label of Houthis raises concerns over Yemen

Mohammed Alragawi 


Just days before leaving office, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has unveiled plans to designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization.

The designation also includes labeling three Houthi leaders -- Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, and Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi -- as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).

"These designations will provide additional tools to confront terrorist activity and terrorism by Ansarallah, a deadly Iran-backed militia group in the Gulf region," Pompeo said.

The US designation of Houthi rebels was swiftly welcomed by Yemen’s internationally recognized government.

"The Yemeni government has steadfastly supported the US administration's designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization and continues to provide full support for all efforts led by the United Nations to reach a lasting peace," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Houthi group, for its part, condemned the US decision, saying it would reserve the right to respond.

Yemen has been beset by violence and chaos since 2014, when Iran-aligned Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including the capital Sanaa.

The crisis escalated in 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition launched a devastating air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi territorial gains.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the conflict in Yemen has so far claimed the lives of 233,000 people.

War crimes

The US designation of the rebel group will go into effect on Jan. 19, just a day before the Donald Trump administration leaves office.

“The Houthi group is certainly a terrorist organization as it, according to its leader, Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, has killed 65,000 Yemeni citizens and members of the Yemeni army since its first rebellion in 2004,” Faisal Ali, head of the Yemenyoon Center for Studies, told Anadolu Agency.

“The Houthis have displaced at least three million Yemenis abroad, and millions of IDPs. The organization killed and injured thousands of civilians,” he said.

“The Houthi demolition of homes continues until this moment. They blew up mosques and homes, used civilians as human shells, tortured and killed hundreds, kidnapped women, and forced them into prostitution with their soldiers.”

Ali accused the rebels of carrying out last month’s missile attack that targeted the Aden airport as a plane carrying the new Yemeni government arrived.

“They committed war crimes and organized terrorism. They have ties with a country that supports terrorism, Iran, which trained terrorists in Yemen and sent them to Syria,” he said.

Humanitarian concerns

The designation has raised concerns about exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the conflict-ridden country.

“It's clear that the decision is likely to have serious humanitarian and political repercussions,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said in his daily briefing.

“We're concerned that the designation will negatively impact, including through possible ‘over-compliance’ by commercial entities, the imports of food and other essential commodities just as more Yemenis are starving, as we've been saying repeatedly.”

“There is a growing risk of famine in Yemen, and that underlines for us the imperative for the US to swiftly grant the necessary licenses and exemptions to ensure that principled humanitarian assistance can continue to reach all people who need it across the country without disruption,” he noted.

But Ali downplays the concerns, saying most of the humanitarian aid goes to Houthi rebels, not Yemeni civilians.

“This claim (negative effect of the US designation) is only made by Houthi supporting organizations. So, appropriate mechanisms must be found to deliver aid to citizens in the areas controlled by the Houthi terrorist organization,” he said.

“Humanitarian organizations that exposed the Houthi practice of confiscating aid and delivering it to its militias and their fighters’ families were expelled from Sanaa, which is a major scandal that the pro-Houthi media did not focus on,” Ali said.

Several humanitarian organization as Save the Children have warned of grave consequences of the US terror label of Houthis.

"Humanitarian actors have warned for weeks that the consequences of this decision could be catastrophic for countless children and their families in Yemen who are barely surviving," said Janti Soeripto, president and CEO of Save the Children.

The Norwegian Refugee Council’s secretary-general, Jan Egeland, tweeted that US "exemptions for aid work and civilian supplies must be crystal-clear".

Oxfam America's humanitarian policy lead Scott Paul also expressed doubt that US assurances would be "good enough to convince many of the banks and donors to keep the money flowing".

Ali argues that the US decision constitutes an important step in achieving a comprehensive peace in Yemen.

“The Houthis underestimated the peace process and used violence and terrorism to achieve Iran's interests in Yemen. They have no cause other than supporting Iran and completing its control over Yemen. Stopping all these crimes is what will bring peace to all Yemenis,” he said.

“Peace cannot be achieved with terrorists. We have never heard any peace with Al-Qaeda, nor peace with ISIS/Daesh, and this group is a more dangerous terrorist organization than Al Qaeda and ISIS/Daesh.”


Bangladesh slams Pompeo over 'irresponsible' remarks

SM Najmus Sakib  


Bangladesh on Wednesday strongly condemned remarks by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labeling the country as a place where the Al-Qaeda terrorist group carried out attacks.

“Such irresponsible comments by a senior leader are very unfortunate and unacceptable. Bangladesh strongly rejects these kind of baseless remarks and falsification,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In a statement on Jan. 12 on the US State Department's website, Pompeo implicated some countries as terror hubs, drawing criticism from several quarters.

He also termed Iran as a new home of Al-Qaeda, which was also protested by Tehran.

“Imagine too the potential to completely upend fragile places with an established Al-Qaeda presence like Libya, Yemen, and the Maghreb, or increase turmoil in places like Bangladesh, where Al-Qaeda cells have carried out attacks,” Pompeo said in the statement.

"Attention of the Government of Bangladesh has been drawn to a recent statement made by the US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo. In the statement, Mr. Pompeo mentioned Bangladesh as a place where the terrorist group al-Qaeda carried out attacks, falsely apprehending similar terrorist attacks in future," the ministry said.

“There is no evidence of any presence of Al-Qaeda in Bangladesh," it stressed, adding that "Bangladesh maintains a 'Zero Tolerance' policy against all forms of terrorism and violent extremism."

“Our track record in countering terrorism has earned us global appreciation. In line with our commitment to countering terrorism, we have become a party to all fourteen international counter-terrorism conventions and are actively involved with international ‘preventive’ initiatives to counter terrorism.”

The ministry said Bangladesh regards Pompeo’s referring to the country as a possible location for Al-Qaeda operations as unfounded.

“If any such claim could be substantiated with evidence, the Government of Bangladesh would be happy to take necessary measures against such activities,” it said.

Bangladesh considers it very unfortunate, especially in the context of the ever-growing bilateral ties between the two friendly countries based on shared values, peace and common goals, the statement underlined.



Southeast Asia


Indonesia earthquake kills at least 35, injures hundreds

January 15, 2021

A 6.2-magnitude earthquake on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island killed at least 35 people and injured hundreds on Friday, with the meteorological agency warning of aftershocks, possibly strong enough to trigger a tsunami.

The powerful quake struck six kilometres northeast of the town of Majene, at the relatively shallow depth of 10km, just before 1:30am (local time), sending thousands of frightened residents out of their homes and fleeing for higher ground.

The earthquake and aftershocks caused three landslides, cut electricity, damaged bridges to regional hubs such as the city of Makassar, and damaged more than 60 homes, two hotels and the provincial governor’s office, where at least two people were buried under rubble, authorities said.

“Praise be to God, for now [we are] ok, but we just felt another aftershock,” said 26-year-old resident Sukri Efendy.

Darno Majid, chief of the disaster agency in West Sulawesi, told Reuters that 35 people had been killed in Majene, and in the neighbouring district of Mamuju, with more deaths likely to be confirmed as rescue workers fanned out.

Initial information from the national disaster mitigation agency showed that 637 people had been injured in Majene, and two dozen in Mamuju.

No tsunami warning was issued but the head of Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), Dwikorita Karnawati, told a news conference that aftershocks could follow, with a possibility that another powerful quake could trigger a tsunami.

There had been at least 26 aftershocks, she said, with Friday’s quake preceded by a 5.9 magnitude quake on Thursday afternoon.

West Sulawesi provincial government spokesman Safaruddin said authorities needed to restore telecommunications, mend several damaged bridges and deliver tents, food and medical supplies.

Pictures of the aftermath appeared on social media as the head of the disaster agency and social affairs minister were scheduled to fly in.

Videos showed residents fleeing to higher ground on motorcycles, and a child trapped under the rubble as people tried to remove debris with their hands.

Straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is regularly hit by earthquakes.

In 2018, a devastating 6.2-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck the city of Palu, in Sulawesi, killing thousands.

A 9.1 magnitude quake off the north of Indonesia’s Sumatra island on Boxing Day 2004 triggered a tsunami that swept over coastal areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and nine other countries, killing more than 230,000 people.


Deputy FT mufti moots requiring Muslim eateries to pause during Friday prayers

14 Jan 2021


KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — Muslim restaurant operators in states where the movement control order (MCO) is in place have been asked to temporarily cease their businesses during Friday prayers.

Harian Metro reported Federal Territories Deputy Mufti Jamali Mohd Adnan as saying that doing so is also one way to gain God’s blessing as the country faces the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added that although the authorities have limited the number of congregants attending Friday prayers, it does not mean that those who are unable to attend mosque can move about freely.

“There are certain states which do not conduct Friday prayers, aside from setting a certain number (as quorum) to do so. Those who can attend should consider themselves fortunate to be able to fulfill their obligations while those who do not should respect the period and not be out and about.

“This includes Muslim restaurant owners, who should rightly put their businesses on hold until after Friday prayers, so as to honour the period,” Jamali was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Indian Muslim Restaurants Owners Association (Presma) president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said his organisation will take note of this and inform its members to take appropriate action.

He said when the MCO was first implemented last year, the issue was brought up yet certain operators did not comply.

“Prior to this, we overlooked the issue even though it is Presma’s habit to close up until after Friday prayers. So with this MCO, I advise all members to cease business activities temporarily to honour Friday prayers, starting tomorrow.

“Hopefully, in this manner, businesses will be blessed and we can stay far away from any untoward incidents,” Jawahar said.


Allow dine-in customers during MCO, plead restaurant groups

Jason Thomas

January 15, 2021

PETALING JAYA: Associations representing more than 30,000 food and beverage (F&B) establishments are hoping to see the government relax restrictions to allow dine-in customers during the movement control order (MCO) period.

The Malaysia Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietors’ General Association (MSCSPGA) said it is planning to send a joint memorandum to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin with associations such as the Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) and the Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association (Primas).

MSCSPGA has about 20,000 members, Presma about 10,000 and Primas about 2,000.

“We have arrived at a common stand over the last two days and will be sending a joint memorandum to the government to appeal for looser restrictions,” said MSCSPGA president Ho Su Mong.

“Rental alone takes up about 20% to 30% of our members’ total costs each month, and our businesses cannot carry on if we are limited to takeaways.

“If the government doesn’t encourage people to come out and spend, the economy is going to get even worse.”

The first MCO, which started on March 18 last year, also saw restrictions on dine-in customers before Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that restaurants and eateries would be allowed to welcome patrons back from May 4.

Apart from fewer customers at each table, strict SOPs also meant tables had to be placed 2m apart, the 1m physical distancing rule had to be observed at all times, and contract tracing was a must.

The limit on the number of diners ended last month before Muhyiddin’s announcement on Monday led to the second MCO, and a ban on dine-in customers once again.

With his members’ sales now just a fraction of their usual figure, Primas president J Govindasamy said he hoped to see the two diners per table rule introduced once again.

“Now with takeaways, we’re only making 20% of what we used to.

“What about our rental and workers’ salaries? This is going to further damage the economy.

“It’s not just us. There are a lot of other companies like the vegetable, seafood and poultry suppliers. We’re all going to be affected,” he said.

The Statistics Department valued the F&B sector’s output at RM82.8 billion in 2017, during which it employed 958,803 people.



Arab World


Saudi Arabia using coronavirus detection apps to spy on its citizens, residents: Report

14 January 2021

Technology experts have warned that Saudi authorities are exploiting coronavirus fears to trick the kingdom’s citizens and residents into installing two apps developed by the regime, which claim to test and keep track of the virus infections, but are spying on their users instead.

The London-based and Arabic-language Nabaa television news network, citing the unnamed experts, reported that Tawakkalna and Tetamman applications are actually spyware specifically designed to collect real-time geolocation data, monitor the movement of their users, and spy on private communications.

The applications have reportedly been developed by Saudi Arabia’s National Information Center and the Health Ministry, respectively.

Tawakkalna allegedly provides instant and live information about the number of coronavirus infections in the kingdom, and helps in the early detection of possible infections once users show coronavirus symptoms.

Through the application, the users purportedly can also report COVID-19 suspected cases.

Tetamman supposedly aims to reinforce the commitment of all Saudi citizens and residents directed to isolation, and follow up their cases.

A groundbreaking investigation by The Guardian in late March last year revealed numerous Saudi attempts to hack into its citizens' phones during their stays in the United States.

According to The Guardian, Saudi cyber experts were exploiting weaknesses in the global mobile telecom networks to keep monitoring the movements of those citizens, who used Saudi registered phones while abroad.

A whistleblower told the British daily newspaper that the global messaging system suffers several vulnerabilities as a result of “an organized surveillance campaign” by Saudi Arabia.

According to the whistleblower, suspicions were raised when the system received a very high number of location tracking requests, all emerging from Saudi Arabia and related to Saudi citizens traveling through the United States.

Saudi Arabia has stepped up politically-motivated arrests, prosecution and conviction of peaceful dissidents and human rights campaigners.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.


Iraq’s PMU: US hostile towards those who fought against global terrorism

14 January 2021

Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), in reaction to US sanctions on its deputy leader, says Washington is hostile toward those who played a role in the defeat of global terrorism.

The US Department of Treasury on Wednesday issued a fresh wave of sanctions on Abdul Aziz al-Muhammadawi, also known as Abu Fadak, listing him as a specially designated terrorist.

"Hashd al-Sha’abi congratulates the courageous leader Abu Fadak al-Muhammadawi for his inclusion in America's blacklist that targets ... leaders who contributed to the elimination of global terrorism," the PMU said in a Twitter post.

🔹 #مباركة 🌸

يبارك #الحشد_الشعبي الى القائد الشجاع #ابو_فدك المحمداوي ادراجه على قائمة امريكا السوداء التي استهدفت #قادة_النصر وما تزال تستهدف كل القيادات التي ساهمت بالقضاء على الارهاب العالمي#العراق 🏻🇮🇶

مديرية الإعلام - هيئة الحشد الشعبي (@teamsmediawar) January 13, 2021

Mohammedawi was named the PMU’s deputy chief last year, replacing Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was assassinated along with Iran’s top anti-terror Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani in an American drone strike near Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020.

Fighters of the PMU, better known among Iraqis as Hashd al-Sha’abi, have helped the army regain control of Daesh-held territories, which were captured by the terrorist group after it launched an offensive in the country in June 2014.

Three years after Daesh began its campaign of death and destruction in Iraq, the army finally managed to regain control of all the lost territories, thanks to the PMU fighters and Iran’s military advisory assistance.

Hashd al-Sha’abi has been recognized by Iraq’s Parliament as an official force with similar rights as those of the regular army, including the right to receive salaries and pensions.

Iraq’s al-Nujaba Movement, which is part of the PMU, also denounced the US decision, calling the US Treasury a sponsor of terrorism.

The US Treasury Department is itself a source of financial support for terrorism, and its sanctions have no legal validity,” said Hashim al-Musawi, a senior official of al-Nujaba Movement.

Musawi said the US government must “pay the price of its cruel decisions,” IRNA reported, citing the Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV channel.

He also termed the US blacklisting of Mohammedawi a violation of Iraq as a sovereign state and its military institutions.

The outgoing administration of President Donald Trump has ramped up pressure against the resistance front – including Iran, Syria and other regional countries and forces such as Hezbollah and the PMU, which strongly oppose the US and Israeli hegemony over the region – in its final days in power.

On January 8, the US also blacklisted Falih al-Fayyadh, the head of the PMU, after accusing him of serious human rights abuses during anti-government demonstrations in the Arab country in late 2019.

In a statement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claimed that Fayyadh was involved in waging a “violent campaign against Iraqi democracy and civil society.”

The move drew a wave of anger from around the region, with condemnations pouring in from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Yemen’s Ansarullah movement, the Islamic Iraq Movement, Iraqi Sunni Scholars Association, and others.


Fatemiyoun Brigade Denies Casualty in Israeli Attack on Syria


"The fighter jets of the Zionist regime in their latest attacks targeted the Syrian army positions on the road between Deir Ezzur and Albu Kamal, leading to the martyrdom of a number of Syrian army men," the commander of Fatemiyoun told the Persian-language Tasnim news agency on Thursday.

He added that despite claims by the West-affiliated media, the attacks neither targeted Fatemiyoun's positions nor martyred any Afghan fighter.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed on Wednesday a spike in the death toll of the recent Israeli attacks on Deir Ezzur province in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

It added that at least 40 were killed and 37 others were injured.

The SOHR claimed that the fatalities were 9 Syrian army soldiers and 31 non-Syrian fighters of Fatemiyoun Brigade in the area between Deir Ezzur city and the Syria-Iraq border in Albu Kamal desert.


Arab Coalition destroys three Houthi drones launched towards Saudi Arabia

Tamara Abueish

15 January 2021

The Arab Coalition intercepted and destroyed three booby-trapped drones that belong to the Iran-backed Houth militia and were launched towards Saudi Arabia, the coalition’s spokesperson Colonel Turki al-Maliki said on Friday.

The drones were launched from the Yemeni city of Hodeidah, according to the coalition.

The Houthi militia continues to violate the Stockholm Agreement – a deal signed by the government and the Houthi militia in 2018 which calls for the withdrawal of troops – and use Hodeidah as a launching point for its terrorist operations and attacks, al-Maliki said, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The attacks pose a real threat to regional and international security and undermines the political efforts put forth by the Stockholm Agreement, he added.

Taking action

The coalition is taking the appropriate measures to deal with the Houthi’s threats in accordance with international humanitarian law, while continuing to support the political efforts made by the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, al-Maliki said.

The failed attack is the latest attempt by the Houthis to target the Kingdom and innocent civilians in the country.

Iran backs the Houthis in Yemen’s civil war against the internationally-recognized government. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) supplies the Houthis with missiles, drones, and training, allowing the group to target airports and other critical infrastructure.

Earlier this week, the United States announced it will be designating the group as a terrorist organization, and three of its leaders as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the decision and said the move was in line with the Yemeni government’s efforts to “put an end to the violations of the Iran-backed militia and the real dangers it poses, which has led to the deterioration of the humanitarian situation of the Yemeni people, and the ongoing threats to the international peace and security.”


US main barrier to Iraq’s procurement of advanced ammunition: Lawmaker

14 January 2021

An Iraqi legislator from the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance says the United States is the chief obstacle to the Baghdad government’s acquisition of sophisticated military hardware and missile systems to protect the country against any possible act of aggression.

Fadel Jaber told Arabic-language al-Maalomah news agency that there are three reasons behind the Iraqi army’s inability to rebuild, restructure and elevate its military prowess and procure advanced ammunition.

“The chief and primary reason is the American side, which has always been a stumbling block on the path of any arms deal, especially contracts with Russia or any other country that possesses advanced weapons,” he noted.

Jaber then referred to certain corrupt arms deals concluded over the past years, as well as some political factions and external push as other factors behind Iraq’s failure to acquire advanced military hardware.

Mohammed al-Baldawi, a member of the Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, also said in an interview with al-Maalomah news agency on November 23 last year that the United States is fiercely opposed to Iraq’s procurement of Russian-made surface-to-air S-400 air defense missile systems for fear the advanced anti-aircraft weapons could undermine the aerial hegemony of Washington in the region.

“The main reason is to prevent the Russian side from marketing its air defense systems in the region, whether it is Iraq, the [Persian] Gulf region, Iran or any other country in the Middle East, because the US, along with Israel, will lose its hegemony over regional countries’ airspace, and its freedom of movement to target anti-Israel sites would be constrained,” he said at the time.

The United States has already warned Iraq of the consequences of extending military cooperation with Russia, and concluding deals to buy sophisticated weaponry, particularly S-400 missile systems.

Washington had earlier threatened sanctions against Iraq under the so-called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) as a possible consequence of striking defense deals with Moscow.

The CAATSA was signed into law in August 2017, imposing sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia.


Syria dismisses US claim of link between Iran, al-Qaeda as American hallucination

14 January 2021

Syria strongly denounces the United States’ fresh allegations of a link between the al-Qaeda terrorist organization and Iran, calling such accusations “American hallucination.”

An official source within Syria’s Foreign and Expatriates Ministry made the remarks on Thursday, conveying Damascus’ complete solidarity with the Islamic Republic “in the face of the American delirium," Syria's official news agency SANA reported.

The Syrian foreign ministry source said Washington's accusation fits within “the framework of the US’ hysteric campaign against Iran,” saying the Arab country expresses its “extreme denunciation and astonishment” concerning the claim.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has established himself as the most radical anti-Iran official within US President Donald Trump’s now-outgoing administration, called Iran the terrorist group’s “new home base” without producing any evidence. He made the remarks as part of, what he called publicizing “declassified US intelligence,” which — as in the case of Washington’s other claims against Tehran — surprisingly lacked all “declassified proof.”

This was not the first time Pompeo was trying to associate the terror group with Iran. Similar to the latest push, however, his previous such attempts too lacked any evidentiary basis.

Pompeo’s allegations come although all the US’ previous such accusations, including those made by former president George W. Bush’s administration — during which al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks against the US took place — have been discredited.

Iranian officials have identified such efforts as Washington’s attempt to try and eclipse its own role in creation and reinforcement of al-Qaeda and similar terror outfits.

The Syrian official likewise said the top US diplomat had come up with the remarks as “a desperate attempt” to project the accusations that faced “the US [own] harebrained administration and attach it to others.”

Such accusations “no longer deceive [anyone], except those who launch them,” the source noted.

He further called the terrorist organization “one of the tools of the US policy to terrify [other] peoples and destabilize other countries and subjugate them to the US hegemony.”

A day earlier, Zamir Kabulov, who is Russia's presidential envoy on issues related to Afghanistan, had similarly slammed Pompeo’s rant as “absolutely unsubstantiated and unreasonable.”

“There is absolutely no information” to support such a claim, the Russian official had added.


HRW says Bahrain human rights situation deteriorated in 2020 as regime continues to stifle dissent

14 January 202

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Bahrain’s human rights situation deteriorated dramatically in 2020 as regime's authorities escalated repression against online and social media activists and critics with courts upholding death sentences against opposition figures.

The New York-based organization said in its World Report 2021 that the Court of Cassation, Bahrain's highest court, upheld death penalty against at least four people who participated in opposition activity following trials marred by reports of torture and due process violations.

According to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, at least 27 people are on death row in the country, of whom 26 are at the imminent risk of execution. The ruling Al Khalifah regime has put 6 people to death since it ended a moratorium on executions in 2017.

“Bahraini authorities use the many repressive tools available to them to silence and punish anyone who criticizes the government,” said Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Middle East director.

He added, “Bahrain has escalated its use of the death penalty, targeted people for their social media activity, and denied medical treatment to prominent opposition figures in detention.”

HRW went on to say that Bahraini officials in 2020 prosecuted several public figures, including prominent lawyers Abdullah al-Shamlawi and Abdullah Hashim, solely for their posts on social media.

The organization highlighted that no independent media outlet has been allowed to operate in Bahrain since the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) suspended independent and opposition-linked al-Wasat newspaper in 2017.

HRW also pointed to the unsafe health and hygiene conditions in Bahrain’s overcrowded prisons, emphasizing that Bahraini authorities excluded opposition leaders, activists, journalists, and human rights defenders – many of whom are old and/or suffer from underlying medical conditions – from the list of 1,486 prisoners released last March due to COVID-19 outbreak.

Moreover, Bahraini prisoners are denied adequate medical care, and the case includes some of the 13 prominent dissidents serving lengthy prison terms since their arrest in 2011 for their roles in pro-democracy demonstrations.

Human Rights Watch concluded that Bahraini officials in 2020 once again failed to credibly investigate and prosecute officials and police officers who apparently committed serious violations, including torture.

Bahrain’s parliament approved the trial of civilians at military tribunals on March 5, 2017. The move drew widespread condemnation from human rights bodies and activists, and was described as imposition of an undeclared martial law across the country.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah rubber-stamped the constitutional amendment on April 3 that year.

The Persian Gulf kingdom has seen anti-regime protests over the past nine years. The major demand has been the ouster of the Al Khalifah regime and the establishment of a just and conclusive system representing all Bahraini nationals. The Manama regime has ignored the calls.





Bullets and panic: rebels attack Central African Republic capital

By Antoine Rolland

JANUARY 13, 2021

BANGUI (Reuters) - Rebels in Central African Republic attacked the capital early on Wednesday, but were repelled by President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s security forces and United Nations peacekeepers, authorities said, in an escalation of an election conflict.

Helped by newly-arrived troops from Russia and Rwanda, the CAR army has been battling groups seeking to overturn a Dec. 27 vote in which Touadera was declared victor despite fraud claims.

“The attackers who came in large numbers to take Bangui have been vigorously pushed back,” Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada said in a post on Facebook.

A Reuters witness heard explosions and later saw helicopters circling, after the rebels attacked on various outskirts, including the north of the city.

In one place, the body of a man in rebel fatigues lay in a garden, while streets were scattered with bullet casings.

The United Nations’ 10,000-strong peacekeeping mission said one of their soldiers was also killed.

However, the city appeared calm after 0800 GMT, with security forces patrolling and manning checkpoints.

A U.N. source said around 200 rebels had participated in the attack and remained close to the city. They had previously attacked towns nearby in the former French colony.

“We heard gunfire from six this morning. We’re staying home. There’s panic. We’re scared of stray bullets,” said north Bangui resident Rodrigue, who did not give his surname.


The rebels had sought to take a police station in the northern PK12 district before they were pushed back, the U.N. source added, saying three CAR soldiers were wounded.

The United Nations says former President Francois Bozize is backing the rebels, but he has not directly responded to that.

The gold- and diamond-rich nation of 4.7 million people has suffered bouts of violence since Bozize was ousted in 2013.

The latest flare-up has forced over 30,000 more people to flee to neighbouring countries and led to food shortages and price rises.

The rebels had sought to derail last month’s election and have vowed to take Bangui after the vote went ahead amid allegations of irregularities and insecurity preventing people from voting in some parts.

The constitutional court is expected to ratify the final results on Jan. 19.

France has publicly backed Touadera and sent warplanes for two flyovers on Dec. 23 and Jan. 9 to try and deter the rebels.

Touadera is an ally of Russia, a relationship often seen as a threat to France’s influence in the French-speaking country.


Ethiopian forces kill Sudanese citizen, arrest 3 others at border area

Ismaeel Naar

14 January 2021

Ethiopian forces have killed a Sudanese citizen and captured three others at its border area with Sudan, according to Al Arabiya sources.

The sources said that after the forces killed the Sudanese citizen and captured the three other citizens, it demanded a ransom in exchange for their release.

“It is likely that the incident was within the framework of the gangs operating at the border area,” according to a source who spoke to Al Arabiya’s correspondent in Khartoum.

Tensions have been running high between Khartoum and Addis Ababa over the al-Fashaqa region, which has been hit by deadly clashes in recent weeks.

The region is inhabited by Ethiopian farmers who cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan.


Five civilians killed in Algeria home-made bomb blast: Ministry

14 January 2021

A homemade bomb blast killed five civilians and wounded three others in eastern Algeria on Thursday, the defense ministry said.

The roadside bomb went off as a car drove by in the region of Tebessa, the ministry said in a statement.

It added that an extremist was killed by security forces in the neighboring region of Khenchela, but it was not immediately clear if the two incidents were related.

“Following an ambush in Oued Boudekhane... in Khenchela prefecture, a detachment of the People’s National Armed Forces shot dead... a dangerous terrorist,” the statement said.

A machine gun, ammunition, and cell phones as well as a radio transmitter were recovered during the operation, the defense ministry said, adding that the operation was still ongoing.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune denounced the attack in Tebessa as a “cowardly and barbaric act.”

Tebboune, who has returned to Germany for treatment of post-Covid-19 complications, also sent his condolences to the families of the five Algerians killed.

General Said Chengriha, the army's chief of staff, meanwhile urged Algerians to be “vigilant” and to avoid going to regions considered unsafe.

Algerian authorities use the term “terrorist” to describe armed Islamists who have been active in the country since the early 1990s.


Four UN peacekeepers from Ivory Coast killed, five wounded in central Mali attack

14 January 2021

Four United Nations peacekeepers were killed and five wounded in central Mali on Wednesday after a convoy struck an explosive device and came under fire, the UN said.

It was not clear who carried out the attack about 20 km (12 miles) north of the town of Bambara-Maoudé in the Timbuktu region.

Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS operate in the region and have made much of the West African country ungovernable.

The UN mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, said in a statement on Wednesday that three peacekeepers had been killed and six wounded in the attack. A MINUSMA spokesman said on Thursday that a fourth had since died.

The dead peacekeepers were from Ivory Coast, the country’s defense ministry said in a statement.

MINUSMA has over 13,000 troops to contain violence caused by armed groups in the north and center of the country. The mission has recorded about 230 fatalities since 2013, making it the deadliest of the UN’s more than dozen peacekeeping missions.


Jordan: 11 jailed up to 15 years for joining Daesh, plotting attacks

January 14, 2021

Samir Salama

Abu Dhabi: Eleven people, convicted of joining Daesh and planning attacks against churches and security officials in Jordan, were jailed for between five and 15 years by a Jordanian court on Wednesday.

Eight defendants, present in court, were sentenced to between five and 15 years, while the trio who travelled to Afghanistan in 2019 to join the Taliban in its fight against US forces, were handed terms of nine years.

The eight had been found guilty on charges including “plotting to carry out terrorist acts” and “attempting to join armed groups and terrorist organisations”.

The trio had stayed in touch with the other eight, who had been arrested ahead of planned attacks in Jordan under the banner of Daesh.

Their targets included security forces and churches in the Mafraq and Zarqa provinces, according to a charge sheet.

Zarqa was home to Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the former leader of Iraq’s Al Qaeda franchise, which was the predecessor to Daesh. Zarqawi was killed by a US air strike in 2006.

All the defendants were suspected of supporting Daesh.

The Jordanian intelligence services discovered the militants’ plans and arrested them in 2019, according to the charge sheet.

Jordan, a member of the US-led coalition against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, has suffered a number of deadly jihadists attacks, including one in December 2016, which left 10 people dead, mostly security officers.


Kenya: Suspected Al-Shabaab Militants Bomb Telco Mast

13 JANUARY 2021

Suspected al-Shabaab militants have bombed a telecommunications mast in Banisa Sub-County, Mandera County three days after they attacked a bus and a private vehicle in the same area.

Local residents who spoke to the Nation said the militants used explosives to destroy the mast at Darkale center on Tuesday night.

"We are in distress and we don't know who will save us. The militants are here creating havoc and fear. They bombed the Safaricom mast at night and that has weakened the communication network," said Hassan Ahmed.

He said the destroyed mast had been serving about ten other sub-stations.

On Monday, a roadside planted the suspected al-Shabaab militants exploded, partially damaging a private vehicle transporting examination material to Mandera.

Three of the vehicle's occupants are yet to be found.

A few hours later, a bus heading to Nairobi was shot at by the same group but the driver sped off and the police on escort engaged the group in a shootout.

On Tuesday, Edward Ibwaka, the Banisa sub-county police commander, said air and foot patrols had been launched in search of the missing three.

"We were told police and the military were combing our area for the militants but it is surprising that in less than a day, a mast has been damaged," said Mr Ahmed.

Security agencies in Banisa could not be reached for comment.

Rob conductor

In neighbouring Wajir County, suspected al-Shabaab militants on Tuesday afternoon stopped a bus from Mandera in Tarbai and robbed its conductor of Sh40,000.

According to a security report seen by the Nation, the suspected militants stopped the bus about 2:30pm as it headed to Wajir town from Mandera.

"A conductor of AL-Mukaram bus registration number KDA 110T plying Mandera -Nairobi route reported that at around 1430hrs while heading to Nairobi from Mandera , between Kotulo and Tarbaj at a place called Darkut along Mandera - Wajir road they were stopped by six men suspected to be Alshabaab militants," says the report.

The report says the men were armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades.

The bus conductor told the police that the assailants fired one shot in the air and ordered all the passengers to alight from the bus, it says.

"They separated men and women and interrogated men by asking whether they carry Non-locals in their buses and also among them whether there was any civil servant," says the report.

The armed men took some food stuff and robbed the conductor of Sh40,000 and warned him not to carry non-locals on their bus, the report says.

"Later they were released to proceed with their journey at about 1530 hrs. There was no casualty," it says.

Mandera Governor Ali Roba recenetly called for immediate intervention from the national government.over the resurgence of al-Shabaab in northeastern Kenya.





Manchester Arena and Parsons Green bombers charged with prison officer attack

Jan 15, 2021

The Manchester Arena and Parsons Green bombers have been charged with assaulting a prison officer together, the BBC has learned.

Hashem Abedi, 23, and Ahmed Hassan, 21, are accused of assaulting an officer in HMP Belmarsh, south London, in May last year.

Another man who is awaiting sentencing for terror offences is also charged with assaulting the same person.

The three men are due to appear at Bromley Magistrates' Court on 7 April.

Abedi, who was jailed in August for murdering the 22 victims of the May 2017 Manchester Arena attack, is also charged with assaulting a second prison officer during the same incident on 11 May.

Hassan, from London, whose Parsons Green tube bomb injured 51 people in September 2017, was jailed for attempted murder the following year.

Muhammed Saeed, 22, from Manchester, is the third person charged. Last year, he admitted possessing terrorist documents.


Greece calls on EU to ensure Turkey takes back over 1,000 migrants

14 January 2021

Greece called Thursday on European Union authorities to better enforce a landmark 2016 migrant deal and ensure that Turkey take back nearly 1,500 people whose asylum requests were rejected.

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said his government had submitted a “request” to the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, and the Frontex border agency “for the immediate return to Turkey” of just under 1,500 “third country citizens who are not entitled to international protection.”

Under an EU-Turkey 2016 pact that sharply stemmed the flow of migrants to Europe, Ankara had undertaken to take back migrants not entitled to international protection, in return for billions of euros in aid.

But Ankara has long accused the EU of not fulfilling its end of the bargain while it continues to host more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

“Europe needs to establish a common mechanism to address this issue within the new Migration and Asylum Pact, as well as implementing the necessary legal and operation mechanism for achieving returns,” Mitarachi said in a statement.

Among asylum claimants whose applications had been “conclusively” rejected on appeal, 995 are in Lesbos, 180 in Chios, 128 in Samos and 187 in Kos, the migration ministry said.

Only 139 returns took place in 2020 before Turkey halted the process in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Athens said Thursday.

“We expect Turkey to step up its efforts under the Joint Statement,” Mitarachi said.

“First, to prevent the passage of boats departing from its shores bound for our country and European Union. And second to accept the return of migrants, on the basis of the EU-Turkey Joint Statement, but also, on the basis of existing bilateral readmission agreements,” he said.

The EU in December said it had it had allocated to Turkey the full six billion euros ($7.3 billion) pledged in 2016.

The EU money has been earmarked for specific social projects inside Turkey for helping refugees and will not be paid directly to the Turkish government.


Coronavirus: Pope Francis, former Pope Benedict get COVID-19 vaccine

14 January 2021

Both Pope Francis and his predecessor, former pope Benedict XVI, have received the coronavirus vaccine, the Vatican said on Thursday.

“I can confirm that as part of the Vatican City State vaccination program to date, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been administered to Pope Francis and the Pope Emeritus,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

Earlier, Pope Francis said he is not sure if his trip to Iraq in March can take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He cast doubt on the trip, which would be the first by a pope to the country, in an interview with Italy’s Canale 5 broadcast on Sunday night.


Turkey, Greece expected to resume talks at NATO

Sarp Ozer  


Turkish and Greek military delegations are expected to resume technical talks next week at the NATO headquarters, security sources said Friday.

The technical talks to discuss maritime disputes between Turkey and Greece were agreed to be held and implemented by the military delegations of the two countries following a meeting held between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

As a result of the meetings, a mutual understanding was reached and "general principles" were announced on Oct. 2, 2020.

Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that the excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.

Ankara sent several drill ships last year for energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting its rights in the region, as well as those of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving outstanding problems in the region through international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue and negotiations.




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