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Islamic World News ( 23 Feb 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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About 60 Deobandi and Sunni Muslim scholars to meet in Hyderabad, India, To ‘Save’ Youth from ISIS Influence

New Age Islam News Bureau

23 Feb 2016 

Photo: J&K mosques hailed 'mujahid' as Indian Army fought militants in Pampore encounter



 As Soldiers Fought Terrorists in J&K, Mosques nearby Hailed Mujahid

 Samjhauta Express to resume run Thursday after suspension due to Jat protests


Arab World

 Egypt: Grand Imam Calls for Muslims to Unite Against Terrorism

 Islamic State rigs currency rates in Mosul to prop up finances

 43 Assyrian Christians Released By ISIS After the Islamic State Receives Millions In Ransom Money

 Yemen: Mansour Hadi's Senior Commander Killed in Ta'iz Province

 Syrian Army Inflicts Growing Casualties on Militants in Homs

 Syrian Jets Pound Jeish Al-Fatah Positions in Hama

 Syria backs US & Russia-brokered ceasefire 'if fight against terrorists continues' - media

 Syrian Army Strikes Severe Blows at Militants in Aleppo Province

 Militant Positions in Northern Aleppo Bombarded by Russian-Syrian Jets

 Syrian Army, NDF Score More Victories against Militants Southwest of Damascus

 Kurdish Fighters Marching on Militant Centres in Syria's Aleppo

 Army Inflicts Heavy Death Toll on Terrorists East of Syria

 Russian, Syrian Air Fleets Pound Militant Centres in Deir Ezzur

 Jordan's Prince Ali calls for delay in FIFA vote: reports

 Syrian Parliamentary elections to be held in April

 Syria ceasefire set for Saturday: US, Russia


Southeast Asia

 7,000 Hindus Wrongly Documented As Muslims in Malaysia

 Singapore Deports Indonesians over Alleged Links to Islamic State Group

 Saudi Arabia, Iran look to Indonesia fuel pricing policy: govt



 Air Strikes Kill At Least 15 Militants, Destroy Hideouts In Kurram: ISPR

 12 Militants Killed In Karachi Encounter

 Josh Malihabadi Criticised Zia-Ul-Haq and Was Excluded From the Curriculum

 Pakistan presses India hard on J&K; confirms JeM chief Masood Azhar is in its custody

 Pak parliament becomes first in world to run entirely on solar power

 Spreading warmth through hand-me-downs


North America

 Nebraska-Lincoln Muslim Students Look To Bring Understanding, Love To Islam Dialogue

 Pentagon: Strike on ISIS in Libya Was Authorized



 Italy Okays 'Protective' US Drone Strikes On Libya from Sicily

 Slovak leader says EU agreement may not stem migrant flow from Turkey


South Asia

 NATO Advises Afghan Forces to Do Less Defending, More Attacking

 Taliban Suicide Bomber Kills At Least 13 in Afghanistan

 15 ISIS Loyalists Killed In Air and Ground Operations in Nangarhar

 U.S. Air Strikes Aid Afghan Forces Against Islamic State

 Two policemen martyred in Taliban attack in Kunar

 Gilani formally assumes charge of Afghan High Peace Council

 Russia to hand over 10,000 Ak-47s to Afghan forces on Wednesday

 Pakistan’s efforts important for trust building, Foreign Minister tells QCG meeting

 Explosion in Kunduz city leaves 1 dead, 3 wounded

 Militants Arrested Over Beheading of Hindu Priest in Bangladesh

 Pakistan’s COAS discusses Afghan reconciliation process with Qatari officials



 Turkish Border Officers Cooperate With ISIL

 Army Says 14 PKK Terrorists Killed In South-Eastern Turkey

 TV Host Öztürk Testifies On Charges Of Spreading ‘Terrorist Propaganda’

 Turkey welcomes Syria ceasefire, wants to see end to Russian bombardments

 Refugees employed to erect wall along Turkey’s Syrian border

 Report: Turkey sixth biggest importer of arms in world

 Israeli military demolishes homes of 2 Palestinian attackers



 Kidnap Deaths Spotlight Serbia-Libya Arms Deals

 Libya could soon run out of life-saving medicines: U.N.

Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau





About 60 Deobandi and Sunni Muslim scholars to Meet in Hyderabad, India, To ‘Save’ Youth From ISIS Influence

Feb 23, 2016

For the first time in India, about 60 Muslim scholars, mostly from the Deobandi and Sunni faith from across the country, will be assembling in Hyderabad on Tuesday to pass a resolution condemning the dreaded Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS). They will give a call to the Muslim youths against getting attracted to the outfit.

Though the community leaders have already been issuing statements separately and holding counselling sessions in the mosques during Fridays and Sundays, they realised the need to give a united call and strongly condemn the IS activities that they feel are bringing bad repute to Islam.

All India Muslim Personal Law Board secretary Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani and Khalil Ahmed have taken the initiative to bring the scholars together through an international conference on "Life and Teachings of Prophet Mohammed and The Determined Stand of Muslims against Islamic State (DAESH) and Its Threat to Humanity". Sources told Mirror that the platform would chalk out programmes to educate the community youths how the ISIS deeds are against Islam and the Quran.

While the Narendra Modi government has been trying to get closer to Sunni sub-sect of the community that is dominant in the country, Deobandhis, who do not believe in practices like offering prayers at Dargahs and believe that Allah is the only God and that there are no mediators in between, has remained untouched by the government in its initiatives to protect Indian Muslim youths from the influence of IS. Home Minister Rajnath Singh held a meeting last month to call upon the community leaders and scholars to prevent the youths from getting attracted to the IS.

Hyderabad has lost one youth, Atif Mohammed Waseem, who got attracted to the IS and died while working for it in Syria in April last year. About a dozen youths have been stopped by intelligence agencies when they were on their way to Libya. They are all under constant intelligence watch. The IS, which declared India as its target, has been trying to lure the youths through networking sites and through its offline mechanisms.

Last month, Jamaat-E-Islami Hind (JIH) chief Jalaluddeen Umri termed youths getting attracted to the IS as useless fellows (bevakoofs).

Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) party president Asaduddin Owaisi too has issued statements condemning the IS, its philosophy and activities. He said only two dozen youths from the large community had got attracted to the dreaded ideology of the IS.

In August last, as many as 1,050 Muslim scholars, Muftis and Imams had issued a joint fatwa against the IS. They wrote a common letter to the UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon strongly condemning the IS deeds and declaring it as an anti-Islamic outfit.



As Soldiers Fought Terrorists in J&K, Mosques nearby Hailed Mujahid

M Saleem Pandit | TNN | Feb 23, 2016

PAMPORE: A large swathe around the Pampore encounter site resounded with praise for 'Mujahid' (holy warriors) from loudspeakers as Indian security forces fought terrorists holed up in a building for three days.

Mosques in localities like Frestabal, Drangbal, Kadlabal and Sempora played recordings throughout Monday eulogising the terrorists. Slogans like ' Jaago, jaago subah hui' besides pro-Pakistan ( Jivey, jivey Pakistan!) and pro-Azadi (' Hum kya chahatey: azadi') blared from the mosques' loudspeakers.

Hundreds of youth assembled across the rivulet at the site of the encounter in the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) building, with clashes reported with security forces in their bid to cross the stream to try and physically prevent the security forces from launching combat operation against the terrorists. Sempora is a mere 15 km from Srinagar.

Police and paramilitary forces prevented the crowd from crossing the rivulet by firing tear gas shells from boats. In return, angry youths pelted cops with stones in a locality near Sempora, sources said.

Intelligence agencies, sources said, were taken aback by loud speakers blaring encomium on the terrorists. However, the police could not enter the mosques to stop these recordings, possibly supplied by Pakistan in recent months, said an IB source.

The entire Pulwama district, including the separatist hotbed of Tral, observed a complete shutdown on Monday in "solidarity" with the holed-up terrorists, stated posters put up by the separatists.



Samjhauta Express to resume run Thursday after suspension due to Jat protests

IANS | Feb 23, 2016

ISLAMABAD: The operation of Samjhauta Express, suspended due to the Jat protests in Haryana, will resume from Thursday, a Pakistan Railways official said. However the Dosti Bus service would resume only after clearance from Indian authorities, the Dawn online reported, quoting officials in Lahore. Train and bus services between India and Pakistan were suspended following widespread protests by the Jat community in Haryana that have cut off road and rail links to Delhi.

About 200 passengers had got their seats reserved for Monday's Samjhauta Express to Delhi. Tickets issued to passengers for Monday would be valid for the next immediate journey. The trans-border Samjhauta Express, running between Delhi and Lahore has a capacity of up to 500 passengers.


Arab World

Egypt: Grand Imam calls for Muslims to unite against terrorism

February 23 2016

During the speech, Ahmad said, he would ask for all Muslims in the world, both in western and eastern countries, to unite and put aside their differences, as friction in the Muslim community was mainly caused by differences in principles.

"Terrorism is not a part of Islam," Ahmad told The Jakarta Post during an interview on Monday.

Terrorist who wore Muslim attire did not reflect the true Islamic values, since their violent behavior was not in line with Islam as a religion which was a rahmatan lil alamin [blessing for the universe], Ahmad said.

As the nation with the largest Muslim population in the world, Ahmad added, Indonesia was a strategic partner in the spreading of Islamic values, and the bilateral relations between both countries could be traced back to the first Asia-Africa Conference in 1955.

Ahmad's public speech, which will also cover recent issues relating to global terrorism, is part of his wider agenda to bolster relationships with the local Muslim communities in Indonesia.

Earlier on Monday, Ahmad along with his delegation visited the State Palace and met with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who said that the Grand Imam's visit was an important opportunity to spread Islamic understanding.

After 15 years since his last visit to Indonesia, Ahmad says he wishes to tie up relationships with local Muslim communities. (dan)(+)



Islamic State rigs currency rates in Mosul to prop up finances

Reuters | Feb 23, 2016

BAGHDAD: Islamic State militants in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul are manipulating the exchange rate between US dollars and Iraqi dinars to squeeze money out of local people as coalition bombers attack the group's finances.

The US-led coalition has said that in addition to attacking Islamic State's fighters and leaders it will go after financial infrastructure too.

Air strikes have reduced Islamic State's ability to extract, refine and transport oil, a major source of revenue that is already suffering from the fall in world prices. Since October the coalition says it has destroyed at least 10 "cash collection points" estimated to contain hundreds of millions of dollars.

US military officials say reports of Islamic State cutting fighters' wages by up to half are proof that the coalition is putting pressure on the group.

Average pay has been cut from $400 to $200 a month. While wages for foreign fighters, which were between $600 to $800, have also been cut, it is not clear by how much, said US Army Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the international coalition.

Yet the militants, who have near total control of the local economy, appear to have adapted to these setbacks in Mosul by introducing a new revenue stream.

The group earns dollars by selling basic commodities produced in factories under its control to local distributors, but pays monthly salaries in dinars to thousands of fighters and public employees, currency traders in Mosul told Reuters.

It earns profits of up to 20 percent under preferential currency rates it imposed last month that strengthen the dollar when exchanged for smaller denominations of dinars, they said.

"Daesh sells (the products) to traders in dollars, but it pays salaries in small denominations of dinars," said an exchange bureau employee in Mosul, using an Arabic acronym to refer to Islamic State.

At the official rate set by the Iraqi government, $100 is currently valued at around 118,000 dinars.

In Mosul, the same amount costs 127,500 dinars when purchased with 25,000-dinar notes, the largest bill in circulation, according to the owner of a currency exchange bureau. The rate rise to 155,000 dinars when purchased with 250-dinar notes - the smallest bill available. Islamic State prefers the larger bills as they are easier to transport.

'Nobody would risk it'

Three other currency traders confirmed those details. They all spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity for fear of being punished by Islamic State. Security restrictions in areas the group controls prevented Reuters from independently verifying their accounts.

It was not possible to determine how much money Islamic State is making by controlling the currency market. It was also unclear if these practices extended beyond Mosul, the largest city under Islamic State control, to other territories in Iraq and Syria.

Parallel trading at more competitive rates is very limited, traders said, because Islamic State has threatened to confiscate the money of anyone who breaks the rules. If it happens, it is in complete secrecy.

"Nobody would risk it," one of the traders told Reuters.

Islamic State, which is frozen out of traditional financial institutions by international sanctions, operates a cash economy and controls most means of production, including factories producing cement, flour and textiles.

US officials have described it as the world's wealthiest terrorist group. The group looted nearly half a billion dollars from banks in areas it seized in 2014, and besides smuggling oil has derived millions of dollars from taxes and ransoms.

In January, the coalition said air strikes against Islamic State oil facilities had cut the group's oil revenues by about 30 percent since October, when US. defense officials estimate the group was earning about $47 million per month.

Iraqi authorities want to retake Mosul this year from Islamic State, which poses the largest threat to the country's security since the US.-led invasion in 2003. That is also part of the US. strategy for defeating the group.

Warren said air strikes against Islamic State's financial infrastructure were "body blows like a shot to the gut".

"(It) may not knock you out today but over time begins to weaken your knees and cause you to not be able to function the way you'd like to," he told reporters last week.

Eyewitnesses said the latest target was the central bank building in Mosul, destroyed in an air strike this month.

A photo published by Amaq, a news agency that supports Islamic State, showed the collapsed building surrounded by other destroyed structures; no obvious sign remained of its former role in regulating Iraq's financial system.



43 Assyrian Christians Released By ISIS After The Islamic State Receives Millions In Ransom Money

February 23 2016

A day after ISIS claimed responsibility for mass suicide bombings of Damascus and Homs, the extremist group released 43 Assyrian Christians for millions in ransom money. The Christians were the last of over 200 Assyrian Christians that were kidnapped by ISIS last year and held for ransom, according to Newsweek.

The kidnapped Christians were forced by ISIS to live under its strict Islam rule and made them pay jizya, a tax that early Islamic rulers demanded non-Muslim subjects to pay. They also had to sign a dhimma, a sort of social contract in a state that is under sharia law. The dhimma grants special status to non-Muslim subjects, protecting their rights of residence in return for paying jizya.

Negotiations have been going on since ISIS first kidnapped the Assyrian Christians and several of the hostages had already been released after ISIS received money for their return. Originally, the Assyrian community had raised $1.15 million and offered the money, which was $5,000 per hostage, to ISIS for the release of the hostages but ISIS turned the offer down. ISIS demanded $100,000 for each hostage instead, for a total cost of $23 million.

According to the Newsweek article, an Assyrian source who asked for anonymity, confirmed to Newsweek that the Assyrian community paid ransoms for the hostages’ release. The source did not reveal what organizations donated money, but a lower price than $100,000 per hostage was negotiated.

The Christian Post reported that several Christian aid groups together with IS-affiliated Sunni tribal leaders completed the trade that ultimately released the last of the Assyrian Christians. According to CP, an anonymous Syrian Christian activist told the AP that the exchange was made after the money was secured by donations from around the world. “We paid large amounts of money, millions of dollars, but not $18 million,” the activist told the media, adding “We paid less than half the amount.”

The Christians, including women and children, were kidnapped from villages surrounding Tal Tamr, and ISIS reportedly rounded up hostages from the south bank of the Khabur river in the early morning hours. The extremist group had launched a three-day offensive strike and attacked the 35 villages along the Khabur river. ISIS also blew up churches, looted and burned homes and crops while kidnapping entire families. The U. S. State Department condemned the attack as “brutal and inhumane treatment.”

“ISIL’s latest targeting of a religious minority is only further testament to its brutal and inhumane treatment of all those who disagree with its divisive goals and toxic beliefs.”

CP said the White House also later released a similar statement stating that the kidnappings “were proof of the terrorist group’s ‘depravity.'” The White House statement added, “The international community stands united and undeterred in its resolve to bring an end to ISIL’s depravity. The United States will continue to lead the fight to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.”

ISIS has released the hostages in stages beginnning last March, with 19 Christians released. Hostages were not released again until November when 10 Christians were released, then 25 in December, 16 in January, and finally the 43 who were the last to be released Monday morning.

Newsweek reported that Assyrian Christians are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the Middle East. The rise of radical Islamist groups such as ISIS has caused the Christian population to steadily decrease.

Newsweek also said that as of July 2015, a third of Syria’s 600,000 Christians had escaped from Syria, and only a third of the 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq in 2003 still live there today, according to the New York Times. Lebanon’s Christian population has shrunk from 78 percent down to 34 percent over the last century.

The hostages’ relatives also told Newsweek that they were relieved that their loved ones had been released. One relative, Sabah, said “I am shaking. I have been praying for this day. I thought it would never come. They are on their way to the church in Hasakah.”

Another relative, Shami, said she had spoken to her cousin after the release of the hostages.

“Thank you all that have shown that the world is not entirely egoistic, that people still can count on help. Today is a victory in so many ways. I have just spoken to my cousin that was released, there is no way that I can explain my feelings.”



Yemen: Mansour Hadi's Senior Commander Killed in Ta'iz Province

Feb 23, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Yemeni army and popular forces continued their advances in the Western part of Yemen, killing senior pro-Hadi militia commander in tough battle and cutting the supply line of the Saudi and Emirati forces in Ma'rib.

"Over 20 pro-Hadi militias, including their senior commander Colonel Mohammad Abde, were killed in fierce clashes with the militants over the past 24 hours," Senior Ansarullah commander Ebrahim al-Shari told FNA on Tuesday.

He noted that the Yemeni forces also cut the supply lines of the Saudi and the UAE forces in Ma'rib province.

"The popular forces have taken full control of villages in Northern Ma'rib province and seized several Saudi military vehicles.

In a relevant development on Monday, the Yemeni army and popular forces inflicted heavy casualties and losses on the Saudi and the Emirati forces in al-Jawf province, killing scores of them in heavy clashes.

Scores of militants were killed and wounded and their armored military vehicles were also destroyed in al-Khalifain front, FNA dispatches said.

Meantime, a group of other Yemeni forces killed a number of Saudi troops in al-Khanjar military base in al-Jawf province.

The Sabrin al-Maraziq region was also the scene of heavy clashes between the Yemeni forces and Saudi soldiers.

Also on Monday, the Yemeni forces seized back a strategic military base in Southern Saudi Arabia in tough battle with the kingdom's soldiers.

Al-Nahuqa military base in Najran province came under the full control of the Yemeni forces.

The Yemeni popular forces launched rocket attacks on Al-Nahuqa military base and then the Yemeni army entered the base.

The Saudi forces fled the military base as soon as the Yemeni soldiers entered it.

Al-Nahuqa military base's watchtower and an armored military vehicle were destroyed during the Yemeni forces' attacks.

Saudi Arabia has been striking Yemen for 333 days now to restore power to fugitive president Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh. The Saudi-led aggression has so far killed at least 8,300 Yemenis, including hundreds of women and children.

Hadi stepped down in January and refused to reconsider the decision despite calls by Ansarullah revolutionaries of the Houthi movement.

Despite Riyadh’s claims that it is bombing the positions of the Ansarullah fighters, Saudi warplanes are flattening residential areas and civilian infrastructures.

Over 3,750 schools have been closed and at least 1.2 million Yemeni people have been displaced so far.



Syrian Army Inflicts Growing Casualties on Militants in Homs

Feb 23, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The terrorist groups have sustained a growing number of losses in the Syrian army's ground and air assaults across Homs province on Tuesday, battlefield reports said.

"The Syrian fighter jets carried out several combat flights over the concentration centers of the Al-Nusra Front militant groups in the town of Tir Ma'ala in Homs province, totally destroying two major positions of the Al-Nusra in the town," the reports said.

Syrian warplanes, in a concerted operation, targeted the ISIL terrorists’ gatherings and positions in Tuloul al-Soud and in nearby areas around the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) in the Central province'.

"In the meantime, the Syrian Army and the National Defense Forces continued fierce battles to crush the militant groups' defense lines in Talbiseh, killing at least seven terrorists and damaging their military hardware across the city," the sources further added.

Yesterday, the Syrian Army announced that a large number of fresh forces have arrived in the Southeastern part of Homs province and have joined the government's front near Maheen and Quaryatayn.

"The fresh fighter have joined the pro-government forces and are preparing to participate in an imminent operation to liberate the ancient Assyrian town of Quaryatayn," the army said.



Syrian Jets Pound Jeish Al-Fatah Positions in Hama

Feb 23, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Warplanes targeted a number of positions and center points of "Jeish al-Fatah" terrorist group in the Eastern province of Hama, Killing dozens of militants and destroying their military hardware, military sources said on Tuesday.

Syrian army jets, in a concerted action, targeted several "Jeish al-Fatah" positions in Letamenah, the attacks which claimed lives of dozens of militants and left more injured, inflicting heavy damage on the militants' positions at the same time.

The Syrian air force also pounded military positions and gathering centers of the terrorists group in the city of Kefr Zeita, located 39 kilometers northwest of Hama, inflicting heavy losses on them.

On Monday, The Syrian air force pounded and destroyed the terrorists' military positions and heavy military equipment in Hama province, killing over a dozen militants.

The Syrian fighter jets killed 13 militants in al-Lataminah and Kafr Zita towns in Hama province.

The heavy military hardware of the terrorsits was also destroyed in the airstrikes.

Meantime, heavy clashes broke out between the Syrian army and the militants on the outskirts of Maan town in the Northeastern part of Hama province.



Syria backs US & Russia-brokered ceasefire 'if fight against terrorists continues' - media

23 Feb, 2016 11:56

A Syrian soldier examines radar systems at the Syrian Air Force base in the Homs Province © Iliya Pitalev / Sputnik

The Syrian government has accepted the terms of a ceasefire deal announced by the US and Russia, a foreign ministry source said, as cited by Sana news agency. But Damascus wants the fight against terrorists such as Islamic State to continue.

The source added that Syrian authorities would coordinate with Russia to decide which groups and areas would be included in the "cessation of hostilities" plan.

Syria said that it was important to seal the borders and halt foreign support for armed groups, as well as to prevent "these organizations from strengthening their capabilities or changing their positions, in order to avoid… wrecking this agreement," according to the source.

The source added that Syria “affirms readiness to continue to coordinate with the Russian side to identify the areas and armed groups that are to be included in the ceasefire during the period it is in effect.”

Syria said that it was important to seal the borders and halt foreign support for armed groups, as well as to prevent “these organizations from boosting their capabilities or changing their positions as to avoid anything that may undermine this agreement,” according to the source.

Damascus announced its acceptance of a halt to combat operations on the basis of continuing military efforts to combat terrorism – against Daesh [an Arabic acronym for Islamic State], the Nusra Front, and the other terrorist organizations linked to it and to Al Qaeda, according to the Russian-US plan.

Turkey said it welcomed the ceasefire plans, adding, however, that it is not optimistic about a positive outcome of the talks on a political transition, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said, as cited by Reuters.

On Monday, Russia and the US adopted “Terms for a Cessation of Hostilities in Syria” and proposed that a ceasefire start on Saturday, February 26 at midnight Damascus time.

According to the statement, the truce will “be applied to [all] those parties to the Syrian conflict that have indicated their commitment” to accept its terms. It will exclude Islamic State, the Nusra Front and “other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.”



Syrian Army Strikes Severe Blows at Militants in Aleppo Province

Feb 23, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Syrian army forces and their popular allies inflicted heavy damage and casualties on the militants in massive rocket attacks and air raids on their positions in the Southern and Northeastern parts of Aleppo province, military sources said on Tuesday.

"The Syrian army units launched several rockets at militants' personnel carriers on the roads near the village of Banes in Southern areas of Aleppo province, destroying the vehicles and killing or injuring all militants on board.

In a separate operation, the Syrian jets, tracking militants' movements inside the Northeastern city of al-Bab, targeted and destroyed a number of militant vehicles, killing or injuring the terrorists inside.

The Syrian Army announced yesterday that its soldiers alongside the popular forces stormed the militant groups' positions along one of the main supplying routes connecting Hama and Aleppo provinces and took back one more key height Southeast of Aleppo province.

"The militant groups were forced by the Syrian government forces' heavy attacks to withdraw from their positions in the Eastern part of Tal al-Haman along the strategic road of Ithriya in Hama to Khanaser in Aleppo," the army said.


Militant Positions in Northern Aleppo Bombarded by Russian-Syrian Jets

Feb 23, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Russian and Syrian air force jets conducted joint airstrikes in the Northern parts of Aleppo province, inflicting losses on the Takfiri terrorists and damaging their military hardware.

In a significant development, Syrian army units launched several rockets on the militants' strongholds in Castillo district of the city of Aleppo, inflicting heavy damage on militants' hardware and destroying at least one construction vehicle of the militants in the area.

The Syrian fighter jets also conducted several airstrikes over two key villages of Sheikh Isa and al-Taybeh, North of Aleppo province, destroying a number of militant gatherings and positions there.

The Syrian warplanes also in a separate operation destroyed several militant positions in the two cities of Noaman and al-Bab Northeast of the major city of Aleppo.

The Turkish Army's artillery units targeted concentration centers of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Northern part of Aleppo in a move to slow down the Kurdish fighters' advances against the terrorist groups near its border with Syria's Aleppo.

The Turkish artillery shelled the Kurdish strongholds in the newly-liberated town of Tal Rifat and the strategic Minaq airbase in the Northern part of Aleppo to prevent rapid advances of pro-government forces against Ankara-backed militants.



Syrian Army, NDF Score More Victories against Militants Southwest of Damascus

Feb 23, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army troops alongside the National Defense Forces (NDF) stormed the militant groups' positions in the Southern side of one of the strategic cities in Western Ghouta and pushed the terrorists back from more lands.

The Syrian army’s Special Forces launched a new assault on the besieged city of Darayya from the city’s southern side, marking the first time this year that the government forces have made a push from the nearby city of Sahnaya.

The Syrian soldiers, backed up by the NDF, conducted a powerful assault on the Dureid Farms in Southern Darayya, killed 13 enemy combatants while advancing North along the Sahnaya-Darayya Road towards the city’s central district.

This new assault from the Southern flank means to tighten siege around the Ajnad al-Sham and Free Syrian Army (FSA) controlled only 30 percent of the neighborhoods of Darayya, with the intent of forcing them to surrender to the Syrian Armed Forces before they launch a full-scale assault.

The Syrian government forces have recently gained more ground against the  militant groups in the Eastern part of Damascus province.

Military sources said on Monday that Syrian army units have been pounding militants positions in Damascus province, inflicting heavy losses and damage on terrorist groups.

The sources said that the Syrian artillery units heavily hammered down the Takfiri militants' positions in the contested Eastern Damascus neighborhood of Jobar, destroying terrorists' military hardware and annihilating some of them.

Also on Monday, several militants fighting with terrorist organizations active in Eastern Ghouta were put to death in clashes with the Syrian Army and the popular forces in al-Ajmi area near the town of Harasta.

Meanwhile, the Takfiri militants sustained heavy casualties and huge damage on their hardware during the clashes that flared as Syrian soldiers has been trying to win back more areas in major Eastern Ghouta battlefields including Khabiya and al-Marj areas, military sources said.



Kurdish Fighters Marching on Militant Centers in Syria's Aleppo

Feb 23, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Kurdish "People's Protection Units" (YPG), backed up by the Syrian warplanes and artillery units, continued to advance against the militant groups in the key neighborhood of Ashrafiyeh in the Northern city of Aleppo.

The YPG forces pushed the militant groups back from their positions in Ashrafiyeh and took full control over Istiqameh Mosque, Younes Saba'avi school and several residential building blocks in a several-hour tough battle.

The YPG has deployed its fighters only 50 meters from another key neighborhood of Bani Zeid that is known as the largest stronghold of the militant groups in the city.

Reports said on Monday that the Turkish Army's artillery units targeted concentration centers of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Northern part of Aleppo in a move to slow down the Kurdish fighters' advances against the terrorist groups near its border with Syria's Aleppo.

The Turkish artillery shelled the Kurdish strongholds in the newly-liberated town of Tal Rifat and the strategic Minaq airbase in the Northern part of Aleppo to prevent rapid advances of pro-government forces against Ankara-backed militants.

The SDF that is comprised of mainly Kurdish fighters as well as a few hundred Syrian Arab dissident forces have received trainings from the US and have been provided with scanty US-coalition air support in their battles in Raqqa province in Northeastern Syria; but in Northern and Northwestern battlefronts, they have been operating alongside the YPG and received the Russian air backup in their Aleppo wars that started with the conquest of Tishrin Dam on the Euphrates early in February.

Assisted by the Syrian army - that has along with popular forces and Hezbollah conquered almost all militant-held regions in Eastern, Southern, Western and Northwestern Aleppo province - and Russian air support, the Kurdish forces fighting against the terrorists in North-Northeast Aleppo province have been making striking advances against the al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and ISIL terrorists in February.

Last week, YPG and SDF fighters prevailed over the terrorists in the highly strategic city of Tal Rifat in Northern Aleppo and captured the city.

The YPG, who enjoyed the Russian air backup, prevailed the terrorists' positions from the Western direction and shook hand with the Kurdish units of the SDF who entered the town from the North.



Army Inflicts Heavy Death Toll on Terrorists East of Syria

Feb 23, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Scores of ISIL militants were killed and wounded in the Syrian Army offensives in one of the main neighborhoods of the Eastern city of Deir Ezzur in the last 24 hours.

The Syrian Army continued to hunt the ISIL terrorists in al-Hamidiyeh neighborhood and killed at least 65 of them while many more suffered critical wounds.

The militants' military hardware also sustained major damage in the army attacks.

Reports said on Monday that the Syrian Air Fleet and artillery units left no safe place for the militant groups in Deir Ezzur countryside and targeted their defense lines heavily.

The Syrian warplanes pounded the ISIL strongholds near the village of al-Janineh, leaving several terrorists dead or wounded.

The Syrian Army's artillery units, meanwhile, opened fire at the ISIL strongholds in a part of al-Hamidiyeh neighborhood, which claimed the lives of several terrorists.

The ISIL militants were pinned down behind their lines of defense under the heavy fire of the Syrian Armed Forces.



Russian, Syrian Air Fleets Pound Militant Centers in Deir Ezzur

Feb 23, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The ISIL militant group sustained heavy casualties in the massive airstrikes of the Syrian and Russian warplanes on its concentration centers and ammunition depots in the Eastern province of Deir Ezzur.

The Russian warplanes tracked and targeted one of the ISIL depots of weapons and ammunition near the village of Hatlah al-Fowqani, which ended in destruction of the depots and the killing of its guards.

The Russian air fleet also hit the ISIL gatherings hard in al-Hosseiniyeh region.

The Syrian Army's aircraft, meantime, bombed the ISIL strongholds near the village of al-Janineh near the city of Deir Ezzur, killing or wounding many terrorists.

Reports said on Monday that the Syrian Air Fleet and artillery units left no safe place for the militant groups in Deir Ezzur countryside and targeted their defense lines heavily.

The Syrian warplanes pounded the ISIL strongholds near the village of al-Janineh, leaving several terrorists dead or wounded.

The Syrian Army's artillery units, meanwhile, opened fire at the ISIL strongholds in a part of al-Hamidiyeh neighborhood, which claimed the lives of several terrorists.

The ISIL militants were pinned down behind their lines of defense under the heavy fire of the Syrian Armed Forces.



Jordan's Prince Ali calls for delay in FIFA vote: reports

Feb 23, 2016

LONDON: Lawyers for FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali bin al Hussein have called on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to suspend Friday's election, British media reported on Tuesday.

Ali, who's request for transparent voting booths had been rejected, was unhappy with voting arrangements, BBC and Sky News reported.

Neither CAS nor Ali was immediately available for comment.

Ali is up against South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale, Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, former FIFA deputy general secretary Jerome Champagne and UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino in the race to lead world soccer's governing body.



Syrian Parliamentary elections to be held in April

IANS | Feb 23, 2016

DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday set April 13 as the date for the next parliamentary elections in Syria, a media report said. The presidential decision to hold the elections came just hours after Russia and the US agreed to enforce a cessation of hostilities starting from February 27.

However, the media interpreted the decision on elections as evidence that Damascus still has its independent decision, and that the Syrian government doesn't count much on the negotiations that take place outside Syria.

The elections are set for the usual time as Syrian government holds such elections every four years, news agency SANA reported. The last parliamentarian elections were held in 2012, just months after the adoption of a new constitution in the war-torn country.

According to the partial truce deal between Russia and the US, parties wishing to be included in the agreement have until noon Damascus time Friday to inform of their intention to honor it. In return, the groups would be assured of protection from Russian and US-led coalition planes. The offer extends to parties that have committed to the deal -- but not to the Islamic State group or Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate.



Syria ceasefire set for Saturday: US, Russia

AFP | Feb 23, 2016

WASHINGTON: The United States and Russia announced Monday that a landmark "cessation of hostilities" in war-torn Syria will take effect on February 27.

In a joint statement, the two countries said Saturday's partial truce would begin at midnight Damascus time (2200 GMT Friday) and would apply to parties to the conflict that have committed to the deal -- but not to the Islamic State group or Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate.

"If implemented and adhered to, this cessation will not only lead to a decline in violence, but also continue to expand the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian supplies to besieged areas and support a political transition to a government that is responsive to the desires of the Syrian people," US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

US President Barack Obama and Russia's President Vladimir Putin discussed the deal in a phone call, the White House said.

"This is a moment of opportunity and we are hopeful that all the parties will capitalize on it," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the ceasefire a "long-awaited signal of hope" and urged all sides to abide by it.

Once the cessation of hostilities takes hold, the United Nations will work to secure "access to as many places as possible in order to deliver humanitarian aid," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The 17-nation group backing Syria's peace process agreed at a meeting in Munich to implement a ceasefire within a week, but the truce never materialized.

Ban said the truce announced Monday "contributes to creating an environment conducive for the resumption of political negotiations," which had been scheduled to resume this week.

A halt in hostilities in Syria would come after five years of brutal civil war that has killed more than 260,000 people and seen half the population displaced, including over four million overseas.

- US-Russian cooperation -

Parties wishing to be included in the agreement have until noon Damascus time Friday to inform Russia or the United States of their intention to honor it.

In return, the groups would be assured of protection from Russian and US-led coalition planes. The two powers are pursuing separate air wars in Syria, with Russia pounding rebel targets and the coalition focused on the IS group.

The deal marks a significant change in the level at which US and Russian officials are prepared to cooperate in Syria.

The Pentagon has previously stressed it is not willing to work with Moscow, which it has accused of indiscriminate bombing, and said any communications should be strictly limited to avoiding military mishaps.

But Monday's announcement notes Russia and the United States "are prepared to work together to exchange pertinent information ... and develop procedures necessary for preventing parties participating in the cessation of hostilities from being attacked by Russian Armed Forces, the US-led Counter ISIL Coalition, the armed forces of the Syrian government and other forces supporting them."

Nonetheless, the Pentagon on Monday stressed that any ceasefire would have no bearing on its campaign against the IS group.

"ISIL has not been party to this," Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said, using an alternate acronym for the IS group.

"Our operations will continue as they have. The coalition will continue to strike against ISIL."

In their joint statement, the United States and Russia called on all Syrian parties, regional states and other players to "support the immediate cessation of violence and bloodshed in Syria and to contribute to the swift, effective and successful promotion of the UN-facilitated political transition process."


Southeast Asia

7,000 Hindus wrongly documented as Muslims in Malaysia

February 23, 2016

Kuala Lumpur, Feb 23: A task force of non-governmental organisations in Malaysia has said that some 7,000 Hindus living in the country are wrongly classified as Muslims on their national identity cards, the media reported on Tuesday. Malaysia Hindu Sangam president Mohan Shan told The Malaysian Insider that the problem was widespread throughout Peninsular Malaysia and involved mostly practising Hindus from the lower income group who are documented as Muslims. Also Read:  15 fishermen rescued as their boat sinks off Malaysia coast

The task force of eight Hindu NGOs said they are assisting 500 Hindus, while some 7,000 others throughout the country were affected by the “system failure” in which anybody wishing to change their official religious status from Islam must first receive permission from the Shariah Court. He said the 7,000 cases were a mix of those registered as Muslims by a convert parent generations ago, while some found themselves erroneously registered by the ministry.

Restaurant manager S. Deepa, after a four-year battle, was only given custody of one of her two children by the Federal Court after her Muslim-convert ex-husband converted their children without her consent.  Similarly, the ex-husband of kindergarten teacher M. Indira Gandhi, had in 2009 converted the couple’s three children — then aged 12 years, 11 years and 11 months — to Islam, without their presence or Indira’s knowledge, just six days before he obtained a custody order for all three in the Shariah court. Meanwhile, the Muslim Lawyer’s Association of Malaysia (PPMM) said they would assist any registered Muslim who wish to change their official religious status. Islam is the largest and state religion of Malaysia accounting for 61.3 percent of the total population. Hindus account for about 6.3 percent.



Singapore deports Indonesians over alleged links to Islamic State group

Feb 23, 2016

JAKARTA – Singapore has deported four Indonesian men thought to be followers of an Islamic extremist leader. The men allegedly tried to travel to Syria, police said Tuesday.

The four, who included a 15-year-old boy, were arrested Sunday in the city-state when immigration officials became suspicious after checking their documents, finding one of them had previously spent time in Syria.

Authorities deported them to Batam, an Indonesian island not far from Singapore, the same day. They have since been sent to Jakarta.

After questioning the men, Indonesian officials “suspected that these four Indonesians were heading to Syria,” police spokesman Agus Rianto said.

“We are now investigating the case to find out more.”

National police chief Badrodin Haiti said the group were thought to be followers of radical preacher Aman Abdurrahman, who is in jail for his role in forming a militant training camp, and has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group.

There have been suspicions Abdurrahman may have helped plan last month’s gun and suicide attacks in Jakarta that left four attackers and four civilians dead.

They were claimed by IS and were the first major attack in Indonesia for seven years.

Police refused to be drawn on whether the detained men, all from the main island of Java, had been trying to join IS, which controls vast swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq.

They originally entered Singapore from Batam but left for Malaysia, where they stayed only several hours, said local police chief Helmy Santika.

They were detained as they came back into Singapore, where they planned to catch flights, he added, without giving further details.

Singaporean authorities did not immediately comment.

Indonesian police have launched a nationwide crackdown since the Jakarta attacks, rounding up dozens of alleged Islamic extremists.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, suffered several major bomb attacks by Islamic radicals between 2000 and 2009, but a subsequent crackdown weakened the most dangerous networks.

However, IS has provided a potent new rallying cry for Indonesian extremists, with hundreds believed to have headed to fight in the Middle East with the jihadis.



Saudi Arabia, Iran look to Indonesia fuel pricing policy: govt

February 23 2016, 2:58 PM

Indonesia’s policy of evaluating its subsidized fuel price every three months is considered a good model by Iran and Saudi Arabia, and may be applied in the two oil-producing countries, according to an official from the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry.

Rather than following the daily movement of oil prices in the market, the government sets the price of subsidized gasoline and diesel prices on the average price of oil in the previous three months.

"This way, the price is stable and people can predict the next price. Countries with strong economies like Singapore follow  market price, but Iran and even Saudi Arabia are interested in adopting our model," said the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry’s oil and gas director general, IGN Wiratmaja Puja, in Jakarta on Monday.

Under the three-month evaluation system, he continued, state-owned oil giant Pertamina could buy fuel at a lower price during a downward price trend, and sell it to the public at a higher price. Conversely, it would sell the fuel at a lower price when the price was trending upward.

"But it’s okay. Any losses caused by price spread will be covered by the government. That's not where Pertamina's profits come from," Wiratmaja explained, adding that the ministry applied a formula comprising Mean of Platts Singapore (MOPS)  plus Alpha (a margin for Pertamina) to estimate Pertamina’s gain in the subsidized fuel business.

Currently, he added, Alpha was around Rp 1,000 [US$0.075] per liter, as jointly decided by Pertamina, the government and House of Representatives Commission VII overseeing energy.

Subsidized Premium-brand gasoline is now sold at Rp 6,950 per liter, while diesel Solar costs Rp 5,650 per liter. The next price adjustment will be decided based on the average price from January to March, and will be enacted in April. (ags)



Air strikes kill at least 15 militants, destroy hideouts in Kurram: ISPR

Feb 23, 2016

PESHAWAR: At least 15 militants were killed and eight of their hideouts destroyed near the Pak-Afghan border area after cross-border mortar shelling targeted a security checkpost in upper Kurram Agency, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said Tuesday.

Aerial strikes were conducted in the Alwara Mandi, Khar-Tangi and Maizer areas ahead of Datta Khel near North Waziristan, ISPR said.

Earlier today, security officials claimed unidentified militants fired at least three mortar shells at a Frontier Corps security checkpost in Qaimatey from Afghanistan.

The attackers dispersed after security forces responded with retaliatory fire. No casualties or damage were reported. Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the shelling in a statement emailed to journalists.

IED blast injures seven

An improvised explosive device (IED) explosion injured seven Frontier Corps (FC) personnel in South Waziristan's tehsil Tayarza.

The FC vehicle was on routine patrolling of the area when it came under attack.

Security forces sealed the area and commenced a search operation in the area.

Kurram is one of the most sensitive tribal areas as it borders three Afghan provinces and at one point was one of the key routes for militant movement across the border. It lies adjacent to North Waziristan.

The region was claimed by the military to have been cleared of insurgents during an operation a couple of years ago, however, militants still carry out sectarian attacks and also target security forces occasionally.

The mortar attack on the border comes amid high tensions in the agencies.

Yesterday, an indefinite curfew was imposed in parts of Mohmand Agency after various clashes between militants and security forces, which left nine khasadars dead last week.

One suspected militant was also injured in a drone strike in Kurram Agency on Monday.



12 militants killed in Karachi encounter

IANS | Feb 23, 2016

ISLAMABAD: At least 12 militants were killed in an encounter with the police in Pakistan's Karachi, an official said. The militants belonged to the outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan militant groups.

Eight militants were killed in firing as the police launched a raid at the their hideout. Four others died while being chased after they fled the scene, Xinhua quoted the official as saying. The police also recovered armed and ammunitions from the hideout of the militants.

At least two policemen were also injured during the fighting. They were rushed to a nearby hospital and their condition was described to be stable.



Josh Malihabadi Criticised Zia-Ul-Haq and Was Excluded From the Curriculum

February 23rd, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Poet Josh Malihabadi was remembered on his 34th death anniversary at an event hosted by the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) on Monday.

Josh was born on December 5, 1894 in Malihabad, India. He moved to Pakistan in 1956 and died in Islamabad on February 22, 1982. His name was Shabir Hassan Khan, but went by his pen name, Josh.

The late poet wrote many songs, ghazals, nazms and marsias. His works include Shola-o-Shabnam, Junoon-o-Hikmat, Fikr-o-Nishaat, Harf-o-Hikaayat, Irfaniyat-e-Josh, Sunbal-o-Salaasal and Yadoon ki Baraat among others.

Josh’s grandson, Farrukh Jamal Malihabadi who is also the president of the Josh Literary Foundation, said his grandfather had struggled for democracy all through his life.

“During the tenure of General Ayub Khan, Josh spoke against the dictator while on a visit to India and said the President of Pakistan was illiterate and could not even get his pronunciations right. Ayub Khan removed him from the Taraqqi-e-Urdu Board where he was correcting the Urdu dictionary,” Mr Malihabadi said.

“He could not tolerate General Ziaul Haq and would always criticise him due to which his works were excluded from the curriculum”, Mr Malihabadi said of his grandfather.

Roads have been named after Josh’s students but not after Josh himself, Farrukh Malihabadi said.

To this, renowned poet Ataul Haq Qasmi said it was unfortunate that no road in the city had been named after Josh.

“I will talk to the prime minister and the minister of information and ask them [to name a road after Josh]. He was a great poet, the kind of person that you only come across once in a lifetime. I would meet him often and was very impressed by him,” Mr Qasmi said.

Josh had first written in Persian, said poet Dr Masood Jafri, and had switched to Urdu later.

“He was a unique poet and his works were so different,” he said.

Talking to Dawn after the event Farrukh Malihabadi, the late poet’s grandson, said it was unfortunate that no minister had attended the event held to remember Josh Malihabadi.

“Events for remembering such important people should be hosted by the government and not by organisations like the Josh Literary Foundation,” he added.



Pakistan presses India hard on J&K; confirms JeM chief Masood Azhar is in its custody

Sachin Parashar | TNN | Feb 22, 2016

NEW DELHI: Pakistan has confirmed that Masood Azhar, the chief of JeM which carried out the Pathankot attack, is in its "protective custody". Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif's adviser Sartaj Aziz told a news channel that Azhar has been in custody since January 14 in what is the first official confirmation of his detention by Islamabad.

Pakistan, which wants an early dialogue between the foreign secretaries, is hoping the confirmation would soothe nerves here. This is even as Islamabad continues to pedal the Kashmir issue hard, even demanding that India should not prevent Hurriyat leaders from travelling abroad.

While Pakistan has in the past been content with issuing statements on India's handling of J&K, Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit last week sought time with foreign secretary S Jaishankar to raise the issue of detention of Hurriyat leaders and alleged human rights violations in the state.

As TOI had first reported on Saturday, Basit had called for early talks between the foreign secretaries during the meeting. Sources, however, said on Monday that the main agenda of the meeting was to reiterate Pakistan's position that the J&K issue needed to be resolved in accordance with "UN resolutions and aspirations of the people of the state". Sources said Hurriyat leaders had earlier met Basit and asked him to take up their concerns over the situation in J&K with india.

Aziz also confirmed that phone numbers provided by India to Pakistan as leads had been traced to JeM headquarters in Bahawalpur. He said only one of these numbers was found active. Indian officials though said they would wait for Pakistan to directly confirm to them that Azhar had been detained.

While Pakistan wants to focus on Kashmir in the foreign secretary meeting, which is meant to finalize modalities for the comprehensive bilateral dialogue (CBD), Indian officials said they would insist on progress in both 26/ 11 and Pathankot investigations in the meeting.

A day after the Jaishankar-Basit meeting, Pakistan filed an FIR in the Pathankot case but did not name anyone. Aziz though said it was only the first FIR and that subsequent ones would have names.

In his interview to Karan Thapar from India Today channel, Aziz said the ball was in India's court now as far as the dates for the talks were concerned. Aziz said that agencies in Pakistan had told the government that Azhar was in custody. He expressed hope that both SIT visit and foreign secretary talks can take place simultaneously later February or early next month.

Aziz made another point in the interview when he said the Pakistan SIT, which wants to visit India for Pathankot investigations, will need access to some parts of the Pathankot airbase, a sticking point for India. Defence minister Manohar Parikkar, in fact, has already declared that India won't allow any access to the airbase.

While Mumbai accused David Headly, in a deposition from the US, blamed Pakistan agencies for the attack, Aziz dismissed it saying he had no credibility as he was a double agency and a drug peddler. On Hafiz Saeed, another Mumbai mastermind, Aziz said there was no evidence against him.

Aziz also said that Pakistan was sequencing its fight against terror by first targeting TTP and other internal groups and then LeT and Jaish. However, he added that while the NSAs remained in touch, India seemed to be obsessed with terror. According to Aziz, Pakistan will also propose troop withdrawal from Siachen.



Pak parliament becomes first in world to run entirely on solar power

PTI | Feb 23, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan parliament on Tuesday became the first in the world to completely run on solar power, a venture supported by China with $55 million funding.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a simple ceremony switched on solar-powered building of the parliament in capital Islamabad.

First announced in 2014, the venture has been funded by the Chinese government as an act of friendship, with the solar power plant costing around $55 million.

"This the first time since independence (1947) that parliament has become self-sufficient in electricity through solar power. Other institutions in private and public sector need to follow it," he said in his brief speech.

The project to run parliament on solar power was launched last year when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited and addressed the parliament.

China provided over $55 million to carry out the project.

"This is another example of Pak-China friendship," Sharif said.

Chinese ambassador to Pakistan was also present during the ceremony.

According to speaker National Assembly, Ayaz Sadiq, the parliament solar panels will generate 80 MW power.

He said 62 MW will be sufficient for parliament while 18 MW will be given to national grid.

Pakistan's parliament has become the first in the world to run entirely on solar power.

Officials said that there are some parliaments like the Israeli Knesset which are partly run on solar power.



Spreading warmth through hand-me-downs

February 23rd, 2016

RAWALPINDI: On a chilly evening in the garrison city, a disabled man in rags checks the clothes hanging on a roadside and moves away. A youngster, who has been watching the disabled man from afar, approaches him and asks if he needs something. He says nothing, but looks at the warm clothes on the wall, selects one and leaves.

A few minutes later, another man walks near the wall and fancies a sweater hanging there. He picks it, pulls it on and is on his way.

This is the Deewar-i-Meharbani, or wall of kindness, in Rawalpindi, where the more privileged are encouraged to come and donate clothes and shoes for the homeless and impoverished.

The wall, which is in fact the boundary of the Government Degree College in Satellite Town, has the words ‘Wall of Kindness’ emblazoned in English and Urdu. The orange colour scheme almost guarantees that passers-by will stop and take notice.

The idea started from the Iranian city Mash’had, and over the months, such walls have proliferated in different cities of Pakistan. The first such wall was introduced in Peshawar and then other cities followed suit.

Founder of Rawalpindi’s ‘Wall of Kindness’ hopes that citizens will help keep the initiative alive

The Rawalpindi wall is located at the Siddiqui Chowk on Saidpur Road and was brainchild of Asad Chaudhry, a 21-year-old Computer Science graduate from FAST.

“It all started through social media; I saw a news report on the Iranian wall of kindness and thought, why not here?” Mr Chaudhry told Dawn. “I visited different areas of Rawalpindi and finally decided that this place was ideal,” he says, gesturing to the wall.

It wasn’t easy, though. “I had to take permission from the college administration and shared the idea of the charity work with them by showing photographs, which they liked very much.”

Mr Chaudhry said that initially, he had asked friends and family to contribute items. But when the idea went viral on social media, donations started pouring in on their own. “I initially bought shirts and clothes and asked all my friends to help out so we could make ordinary people aware of this trend. Now, I get messages from people on a daily basis asking about the donations they have left at the wall.”

According to Asad, around ten to fifteen clothes and shoes are left here every day and nearly all of them get picked up by deserving individuals.

Azhar Hussain, a dholwallah who sits near the wall with his other co-workers, told Dawn the wall “is a great idea”.

“Those who need clothes can them pick from here and those who are wealthy enough can donate.”

“We regularly see people coming in cars and leaving clothes here. Just yesterday, a woman came here to hang clothes on her own.”

“Many people are shy about picking clothes from the wall and sometimes I have to talk to them and tell them that it is alright,” he says.

Rizwan Basharat, who lives nearby, has been snapping photos of the wall. “This country needs many such walls. I am happy that Rawalpindi has one too,” he said, adding that he would share the images on social media.

“Social media has played a major role in spreading the message; it would be nice to see more people step forward and introduce such initiatives in different areas,” he said.

Though many are sceptical about the initiative and think it won’t last, Asad Chaudhry is hopeful. “This wall doesn’t belong to me, this is a wall of kindness and it belongs to the people of Rawalpindi. I have been investing my time in it and I hope that the people of the city will not let it die,” he concludes.


North America

Nebraska-Lincoln Muslim Students Look To Bring Understanding, Love To Islam Dialogue

Feb 23, 2016

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Muslim Student Association will host “Islam 101” this week to educate students and combat Islamophobia in society.

MSA began preparing for the event last fall and has worked with faculty advisor Hany Makkawy, as well as listened to non-member student input. The group will host educational events at the City Union from Feb. 23 to Feb. 25.

“We’ve had numerous meetings and asked non-Muslims about the topics they would like to hear about. And from there we compiled a list of focuses that would be respectful and beneficial to the UNL campus and community,” MSA secretary Karez Hassan said.

In choosing the topics for the “crash course,” the MSA identified some of the most important details of Islam. They chose to address the pillars, beliefs and morals of Islam, Christianity in Islam, and stereotypes of Islam, women in Islam and Islamic art and architecture.

MSA president Sara El Alaoui said the MSA saw a need for Islamic Awareness Week after a Muslim UNL student was subjected to racism.

“The university and community immediately denounced this racism, and we were asked to organize an event to counter such actions and create a respectful and peaceful environment,” El Alaoui said.

El Alaoui hopes the lecture will educate attendees, the panel will personalize the concepts and teachings and the booths will offer an informal learning experience.

Hassan said Islam Awareness Week will give students a chance to ask reputable sources about Islam.

Hassan emphasizes the importance of discussion between different cultures and faiths. She said she has seen misunderstanding and unfair representation of Islam increase sharply in society, and that it must be combated with true knowledge.

“I don’t counterattack with ignorance. Rather, we should have interfaith dialogue and use education as a weapon to guide those who are misguided about Islam,” Hassan said. “Islamic Awareness Week will represent my faith in its true peaceful form, and I want non-Muslims to know what Islam truly is and not what the media portrays.”

On Feb. 25, from 12:30 to 3 p.m. in the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center, MSA will host booths explaining Islamic art and architecture, the Golden Age of Islam, nutrition in Islam and other Islam-related topics. Attendees will be served Mediterranean sweets on Feb. 23 and 25.

A lecture will be held in City Union Feb. 23 at 4 p.m., featuring a talk on Islam by an Imam of the Islamic Foundation of Lincoln, followed by a panel discussion with Muslim students and a question-and-answer session. On Feb. 24 in the City Union near Subway from 1 to 3 p.m., MSA members will set up a booth to answer questions about women in Islam and clear misconceptions and stereotypes. El Alaoui said women can try on hijabs, share their experiences and receive a free shawl.

“Through this event, we hope to clear up the stereotypes about Islam that have been circulated through the media, uninformed people or even people who have some political agenda,” El Alaoui said. “We should treat others for who they really are, not for the image that we build of them based on some stereotypes or social and cultural expectations, and I think that it is our responsibility as Muslims to teach our community and remind them of these concepts, in an effort to bring understanding, peace, harmony and lots of love.”



Pentagon: Strike on ISIS in Libya was authorized

Feb 23, 2016

WASHINGTON – A U.S. airstrike against an Islamic State training camp in the western Libyan city of Sabratha, which killed some 60 ISIS trainees and a Tunisian ISIS militant last week, prompted a strong protest from the internationally recognized Libyan government in the eastern city of Tobruk, according to a new report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The Libyan parliament filed a formal protest, saying it “strongly condemns” the airstrike because it involved no “coordination or consultation with the interim Libyan government.”

However, Pentagon spokesman U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told G2Bulletin that there was indeed prior consultation and coordination and that the United States will continue its airstrikes against ISIS locations.

Davis said that he wasn’t aware of any “fallout, per se” from the U.S. action but said that the attack was an “operation in coordination with international law and with the knowledge of Libyan authorities.”

The Obama administration has been hesitant to launch major attacks against ISIS in Libya until the United Nations could help broker a unity government between the two major factions fighting to control the country.

However, ISIS militants have been streaming into Libya as they escape the aerial bombing in Syria and Iraq. They are now estimated to number more than 6,000 fighters, and growing.

“Nobody wants to see Libya on a glide slope to the kind of situation that already engulfed Syria and Iraq,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said last week.

See the rest of this report, and more, at Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The dispute with the interim Libyan government raised the question of how such a conflict might lead to the U.S. and other Western government efforts working in the future with Libyan officials in the difficult effort of uniting various clans and jihadi militant groups throughout the country.

In October 2011, Western powers ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who had united them all.

“Any interference, similar to the one that has taken place, will be considered an open and flagrant violation of sovereignty of the Libyan state and international law,” a statement from the Libyan government said.

It added that “any military or political interference into Libyan affairs should be performed in a legal way through parliament and the newly formed government.”

Then the statement blamed the very international community that set up the interim government “for the worsening of the domestic economic and social situation, as well as the security situation that contributed to the spread of these organizations in our country,” referring to ISIS.

In “Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance,” renowned activist Pamela Geller provides the answer, offering proven, practical guidance on how freedom lovers can stop jihadist initiatives in local communities.



Austrian Islamic Hate Preacher Travelled Through Europe 'Like a Pop Star On Tour

23 February 2016

An alleged Islamic hate preacher reported to have been the terror mastermind who recruited the Austrian jihad 'poster girls' and more than 160 others was travelling Europe 'like a pop star on tour', a court heard.

Mirsad Omerovic, 34, known by the Islamic name of 'Ebu Tejma', was arrested in November last year at the council flat he shared with his pregnant wife and five children.

Authorities believe Omerovic, originally from Bosnia now on trial in Austria's southern city of Graz, recruited Samra Kesinovic, 17 and Sabina Selimovic, 16, who became the public face of jihad.

He was also involved in a further 166 defections of European youngsters to fight in holy war.

A picture believed to show Sabina Selimovic, 15, with jihadi fighters in Syria. A United Nations official revealed the girl may had died fighting in Syria

Omerovic flat was stuffed with jewellery, cash and savings books worth a fortune when it was stormed by Austria's elite heavily-armed police special forces team WEGA. He had also been spotted driving top-of-the-range sport cars.

Opening his trial in Austria, the prosecutor told the court that Omerovic's 'main message was that Islam needed to be spread to the world through jihad.'

He added that Ebu Tejma was travelling through Europe 'like a popstar on tour'.

And he added that the popstar analogy was particularly appropriate because Omerovic even had his own YouTube channel aimed at young Muslims aged between 14 and their late twenties.

The two Austrian teens became the terror organisation's latest PR coup when they turned out to be poster girls for the death cult, and featured on ISIS websites carrying AK-47s and surrounded by groups of armed men.

Neither however has been seen for almost a year, with a Tunisian ISIS returnee telling investigators that Samra had been forced to become a sex slave who was offered as a present to new fighters, and that she was later stoned to death when she tried to escape.

With regards to Sabina, a United Nations official revealed a girl 'of Bosnian origin from Austria' - believed to be Sabina - had died fighting in Syria.

Both had allegedly become radicalised by Omerovic. When they had left their homes, they left a note for their families which read: 'Don't look for us. We will serve Allah and we will die for him.'

As well as the two girls, Omerovic has also been linked in with the recruitment of more than 160 others who eventually joined ISIS.

The valuables that were seized at his home had all been provided by Muslims radicalised by the preacher and his cronies in a network that reportedly extended across the country and into the rest of Europe.

The prosecutor also claimed that on his computer a file that was a guide to making an explosive device was found. It was a guidebook to making an explosive device that could be detonated by mobile phone.

His arrest has been seen as a major blow against the terrorist group's activities and now the trial under judge Stephan Mertens is taking place in part behind closed doors to protect the identity of witnesses.

It is the first time a Muslim has been charged with murder through terrorism in Austria and he is also accused of inciting a co-accused in the murder of 'infidels' which could result in up to 20 years in prison.

As well as the two girls, Omerovic has also been linked in with the recruitment of more than 160 others who eventually joined ISIS

As well as the two girls, Omerovic has also been linked in with the recruitment of more than 160 others who eventually joined ISIS

Austria has been concerned for years over fears that the country was becoming a hub for terrorist activities after inviting thousands of Muslim refugees into the country during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia

The co-accused is a 28-year-old Russian who was targeted by police because of his violence as the right-hand man of Omerovic.

He is accused of carrying out numerous murders of civilians in Syria as well as the shooting of sex slaves and forcing others out of their homes.

Security service insiders claim that he was not only one of 200 leading jihadists, but was also one of the leaders of the so called 'Bosnian cell' based in the Meidling district of Vienna that it was 'one of the most important logistic and financial support centres for jihadist activities in Europe', according to the 'Vecernje novosti', a local newspaper in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Austria has been concerned for years over fears that the country was becoming a hub for terrorist activities after inviting thousands of Muslim refugees into the country during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

It meant Vienna provided a fertile breeding ground for Omerovic and his network. The Austrian newspaper the Krone claimed that 'there was scarcely a single recruit in Europe for Jihad in which he and his group were not involved'. In preparing the case, the prosecutor also asked German Islam expert Guido Steinberg to analyse YouTube videos that Omerovic had made.

Originally from the small Serbian town of Tutin, Tejma was known in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a preacher of hatred and intolerance, who very soon found himself allied with the extreme form of Islam known as Wahhabism – an ultra-conservative, Saudi brand of Salafism.

According to Austrian anti-terrorism authorities, Tejma appeared on their radar more than three years ago, when he began uploading videos onto his YouTube channel.

His arrest followed two years of investigation by intelligence officials that had been tapping his communications, monitoring his phone calls and building up a picture of his network - which then prompted the arrests on November 28.

One of those connections is allegedly a direct line to the caliph of ISIS terrorism, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Tejma appeared on their radar more than three years ago, when he began uploading videos onto his YouTube channel

Investigators saw a constant stream of Salafist Muslims during their operation on Tejma.

Salafism is the fastest-growing Islamic movement in the world. It is rooted in the 19th century where it emerged as a way of combating the spread of European ideas and values.

But in recent years, it has come to be associated with the jihad of extremist groups that advocate the killing of innocent civilians. Lawyers for Omerovic told the court that he would claim to have done nothing more than teaching Islam as he had been trained to do so in Saudi Arabia.

Security services recorded constant stream of Salafist preachers, often accompanied by Mujahedin fighters travelling up from Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the mosque and the imam has been appearing in online videos revealing that it is every Muslim's duty to join jihad if an Islamic state is under attack from non-believers.

Opening the case, the prosecutor in Graz added in conclusion that there were 'so many already from Austria who were young men and women who went to Syria and have been killed'. They added: 'The ISIS ideology is an enormous danger to our society that needs to be seriously tackled.'



Italy okays 'protective' US drone strikes on Libya from Sicily

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Italy has agreed that US forces can use an airbase in Sicily to launch drone strikes against Islamic State targets in Libya on a case-by-case basis, Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said in an interview published on Tuesday.

Pinotti told the daily Il Messaggero that any strikes launched from the Sigonella base would be limited to operations required to protect US and allied personnel and assets involved in combatting the Islamic State group in Libya and elsewhere.

She said every strike would be subject to an individual authorisation request to the Italian government and that they would only be used as a "last resort".

She added: "To date the drones have not been used in armed operations and there have been no requests for them to be."

The Italian decision comes after US fighter jets struck an IS base near Tripoli last Friday, killing 40 people including Noureddine Chouchane, a high-level Tunisian militant linked to attacks in Sousse and Tunis last year. The raid was launched from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.

Two Serbian diplomats, Sladjana Stankovic and Jovica Stepic, who were kidnapped by IS in November, were also killed in the strike.

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday offered his condolences to Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic over the killing of the two kidnapped Serbian diplomats, Belgrade said.

However, Belgrade said the strike's victims also included two officials from Serbia's embassy in Libya, Sladjana Stankovic and Jovica Stepic, who had been taken hostage in the area in November.

In a telephone conversation on Monday Kerry "expressed condolences to Vucic and the families over the death of Sladjana Stankovic and Jovica Stepic," the Serbian government said in a statement.

Kerry "told the prime minister that he would inform the Serbian government ... about all the details of an investigation conducted by the US and its services, about the murder of Serbian diplomats," it said.

Vucic on the weekend said that the pair "would have been released, had they not been killed".



Slovak leader says EU agreement may not stem migrant flow from Turkey

February 22, 2016

It is likely the numbers of migrants coming to Greece from Turkey will not drop in the coming weeks despite a European Union agreement and the EU should take steps to prepare new options, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Monday.

Fico, who has made a tough stance on migration the cornerstone of his policies before a March 5 election, told Reuters the government was prepared to erect mobile barriers on borders with Austria and Hungary to direct the flow of migrants he fears will rise soon.

Slovakia has so far seen only a trickle of migrants across its territory on their way from Syria or Afghanistan to western Europe. It has taken a particularly strong stand against accepting any significant numbers of Muslims who Fico says could not integrate.

Fico said calls by Slovakia and other central European countries of the Visegrad Four -- Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland -- for strict border protection were winning acceptance across the EU as it grapples with the migration crisis and a number of countries cap the numbers they are willing to accept.

EU countries earlier this month approved a 3 billion euro ($3.32 billion) fund for Turkey to improve living conditions for refugees there in exchange for Ankara ensuring fewer of them migrate on to Europe.

The EU is counting on the deal to lower the number of asylum seekers arriving in Europe after more than 1 million streamed onto the continent in 2015, mainly by sea from Turkey, with figures indicating little sign of the flow ebbing so far this year.

The next two or three weeks would show if the agreement between the EU and Turkey to limit the flow of migrants was working and if Greece was meeting its obligations on border control, Fico said.

"If that does not work, and I am very pessimistic, and all of us in Europe will insist on proper protection of external borders, there will be nothing left but protecting the border on the line of Greece-Macedonia and Greece-Bulgaria," he said.

The plan was proposed by the Visegrad Four before last week's EU summit and won some sympathy from countries like Austria but was dismissed by Germany, which stressed the need to make the deal with Turkey work.

Fico said it was clear that a common solution was needed but at some point Greece may have to be let go and the border defense built at its northern border, even if it means an unbearable accumulation of migrants in Greece.

"There was a correct decision, for now, not to expose Greece ... to this situation but it is only a matter of time when we say that it is simply not possible to go on like this any more," he said.

Austria announced last week it would cap the daily numbers of people seeking asylum or passage to Germany.

Fico said this could lead to people trying to bypass bottlenecks on the border between Slovenia and Austria via different routes that could lead through Slovakia.

He said the government was ready to detain those not seeking asylum there and return them across the border. The authorities are ready to erect barriers on Hungarian and Austrian borders to direct the potential flow, he said.

"There is a big risk, and the weekend confirmed this, that migrants will try to go around this Slovenian-Austrian border and get north through Hungary to Slovakia and on to the Czech Republic and Germany," he said.

Hungarian police detained 501 migrants over the weekend who cut their way through Hungary's steel border fence, the highest number since it sealed off its southern borders in mid October.


South Asia

NATO advises Afghan forces to do less defending, more attacking

By KHAAMA PRESS - Tue Feb 23 2016

Afghan forces 2NATO advisers want Afghan soldiers to spend less time manning checkpoints and more taking the fight to Taliban militants, a key tactical shift the coalition hopes will enable local forces to quell a rising insurgency, Reuters reports.

With NATO’s combat mission officially over, and only a few thousand foreign troops left, the onus has fallen on the Afghan army and police to impose stability, and the military alliance is looking for ways to use those resources more effectively.

Reducing reliance on thousands of poorly defended checkpoints that dot towns and roads across the country is a priority for NATO heading into summer, when fighting is expected to intensify as the Taliban renews its push to seize back power.

“They’ve got way too many soldiers on checkpoints,” said Brigadier-General Wilson Shoffner, spokesman for the NATO-led training mission known as Resolute Support.

“There’s an old military saying that if you defend everywhere you defend nowhere, and it’s very much true for them (Afghan security forces).”

There are early signs the idea is catching on.

Over the past week, army units in the embattled province of Helmand abandoned their outposts in several of the most disputed areas, a move officials said would allow them to consolidate forces for renewed attacks on insurgent strongholds.

“We have decided to pull out our troops from their defensive role and prepare them for an aggressive role in the coming year,” said General Murad Ali Murad, commander of the Afghan army’s ground forces.

“We are providing them with serious training and better equipment in order to prepare for a spring offensive.”

But countrywide, obstacles remain to changing tactics long favored by security forces.

Despite providing the enemy with an obvious target, checkpoints are still simpler to defend than launching mobile operations, which require logistics and air support often beyond the reach of limited Afghan resources.

Politics can also complicate efforts to change strategy, Shoffner said.

“If you’re a local chief of police or village elder, you want as many checkpoints as you can get around your village. So we often have conflict between the Afghan army that is trying to reduce checkpoints and the (local) leaders … that want them.”


South of Kabul, members of the Afghan National Army’s 1st battalion, 111th Capital Division hold a string of checkpoints to secure the mountain passes between the Afghan capital and Logar province.

Of roughly 600 soldiers in the battalion, more than 500 are based at checkpoints, while a small, more heavily armed mobile reserve force remains at a central base, said battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Reya Khuram.

“We have to have checkpoints to stop the Taliban,” Khuram told Reuters. “If we are not there, the Taliban will be.”

The outposts range from small earthen forts strung with barbed wire, to makeshift dugouts and shacks perched on rocky slopes. Many have no vehicles of their own, limiting troops’ ability to venture far without help from the central base.

While the area is not among the most violent in the country, soldiers say they are regularly targeted by Taliban snipers and find roadside bombs.

The Defence Ministry referred Reuters’ requests for comment for this article to Major General Abdul Nasir Ziaee, 111th Division commander. He said checkpoints were not necessarily wrong.

“We have two groups of soldiers at each checkpost. One is the security group and another is the reaction group,” he said. “The security group patrols and the other one responds to attacks, or when they get a report they react.”

But recent examples underline the risk of relying on static defenses.

This month, insurgents used captured military vehicles to attack a checkpoint in Helmand, southern Afghanistan, killing seven soldiers and 15 policemen.

In the east, checkpoints were among the first targets for militants supporting Islamic State when they attacked last year.

When troops fail to leave forts to conduct patrols and operations, it allows insurgents to place roadside bombs and mines, further restricting the military’s ability to move, according to coalition officers.

Western officials privately estimate the Taliban are contesting as much territory as at any time since their regime was toppled in 2001, underlining the need to wrest back the initiative.

Government forces, numbering more than 300,000 including soldiers and police, are only fully in charge of about 70 percent of the country, the U.S. military says.

Outposts can be a key part of disrupting insurgent movement, NATO military officers say, and during more than a decade of combat operations the coalition itself fought fiercely to establish small bases in Taliban strongholds in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

But fewer, stronger outposts can be an advantage, Shoffner argued.

“The idea is to reduce checkpoints and to consolidate onto strong points, so that not only does that strong point have the strength to defend itself, but so it also has a maneuver capability,” Shoffner said.

“So if there is a security situation in a nearby village or checkpoint, it’s got enough combat power to overwhelm whatever the security threat is.”



Taliban suicide bomber kills at least 13 in Afghanistan

AP | Feb 22, 2016

KABUL: A suicide bomber targeting a police commander killed at least 13 people on Monday, including nine civilians, in Afghanistan's northern Parwan province, an official said.

The attack happened near a clinic and a bazaar, said Gen Zaman Mamozai, the provincial police chief. Four local police were among those killed, and another 19 people, including 17 civilians, were wounded, he said. The police commander who was targeted in the attack was among those wounded.

"Once again, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked innocent civilians," Mamozai said, adding that the bazaar was packed with shoppers and that people were waiting outside the clinic for treatment.

The Taliban claimed responsibility in an email sent to media.

The UN's mission in Afghanistan reported earlier this month that most of the 11,000 civilians killed and wounded in 2015 were the victims of insurgent attacks. A total of 3,545 civilians were killed last year as a result of the war, the UN report said, with another 7,457 wounded.

The figures mark a 4 per cent drop in civilian deaths from the previous year, but a 9 per cent rise in civilians wounded. Taliban insurgents regularly target Afghan security forces, often killing civilians in the process.



15 ISIS loyalists killed in air and ground operations in Nangarhar

By KHAAMA PRESS - Tue Feb 23 2016

At least fifteen loyalists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group were killed in air and ground operations of the Afghan national security forces in eastern Nangarhar province.

The provincial government media office in a statement said the operations were conducted in Achin district as part of the Shaheen 18 operations.

The statement further added that the operation (Shaheen 18) has entered to its 10th day, incurring heavy losses to the loyalists of the terror group.

At least seven ISIS loyalists were also wounded during the operations, the statement said, adding that numerous weapons and explosives were also confiscated by the Afghan security forces.

The Afghan security forces have stepped up counter-terrorism operations targeting the loyalists of the terror group in Nangarhar province amid concerns that the terror group is looking to expand foothold in this province by creating a regional operations base.

Meanwhile, the US Forces in Afghanistan have also increased air campaign against the terror group in this province, carrying at least 20 airstrikes between late January and early February.

Army Brig. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner told reporters earlier this month that 1,000 to 3,000 Islamic State fighters in eastern Afghanistan are trying to establish a base of operations in the rugged mountains of Nangahar Province.

He said the loyalists of the terror group are operating in four or five remote districts of Nangarhar province.

“We’re seeing [ISIL] attempting to establish a base of operations there,” he said. “Afghan security forces have had quite a bit of success against them,” Gen. Shoffner said.



U.S. air strikes aid Afghan forces against Islamic State

Feb 23 2016

Afghan forces backed by U.S. air strikes have killed dozens of insurgents loyal to Islamic State this week as they continue a push into areas occupied by the radical group, officials said on Tuesday.

For months, security forces have been trying to dislodge Islamic State fighters from Achin district, an area in eastern Nangarhar province along the border with Pakistan.

More than 30 militants were reported killed in the most recent fighting, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the Nangarhar provincial government.

"Daesh fighters who had gathered in Mohman Dara village were attacked by a drone," he said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Khogyani said as many as 22 were killed in the air strike on Monday, but a U.S. military spokesman would not publicly confirm casualty numbers.

"U.S. forces conducted a counter-terrorism strike in the Achin district, Nangarhar province, yesterday," said Col. Michael Lawhorn. "For reasons of operational security, we do not discuss counter-terror operations."

Another 15 insurgents died in a gun battle with Afghan troops, Khogyani said, but that number could not be verified.

Militants claiming allegiance to Islamic State have taken advantage of the war between the government and insurgent groups like the Taliban to seize territory.

That prompted American leaders in December to relax restrictions on air strikes and allow U.S. warplanes to attack targets linked to Islamic State.

Since then, U.S. air strikes have spiked, with American warplanes using their weapons 128 times in January, more than three times as often as January 2015. In late January and early February, at least 20 air strikes hit Islamic State targets, military officials said.

"The air strikes are very useful and we have been able to make progress with their help," said Sherin Aqa, spokesman for the Afghan army's 201st Corps. "The air strikes must continue for us to stop Daesh."

The Afghan troops coordinated intelligence with U.S. forces who conducted the attacks, he added.

While Islamic State has not had the same success in Afghanistan as it has in Iraq and Syria, the group's fighters have proven well-equipped, motivated, and willing to use brutal tactics on civilians and security forces alike, military officials say.

(Additional reporting by Rafiq Sherzad; Editing by Nick Macfie)



Two policemen martyred in Taliban attack in Kunar

By KHAAMA PRESS - Tue Feb 23 2016

Two policemen have embraced martyrdom in a Taliban attack in eastern Kunar province of Afghanistan.

The provinces’s police chief said the incident took place in Jabba area of Naray District on Monday night.

While talking to Azadi Radio on Tuesday morning, Colonel Abdul Habib Sayedkhil said two other policemen sustained injuries in the incident.

Taliban have claimed responsibility for attack on soldiers in Naray District but in an online statement the group’s spokesperson has shown a different location for the incident.

The online press release states that a roadside bomb was detonated on a security vehicle Ghwayano Ghat area of Naray District at around 7 pm on Monday.

Kunar which shares a long border with Pakistan is one of the restive provinces in the eastern part of the country.

Besides Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups also operate in this province.



Gilani formally assumes charge of Afghan High Peace Council

By KHAAMA PRESS - Tue Feb 23 2016

Syed Ahmad GilaniA prominent religious and political figure Pir Syed Ahmad Gilani was formally assumed charged of the Afghan High Peace Council.

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah attended the ceremony for the introduction of Gilani as the new Chairman of the High Peace Council.

Gilani thanked the leaders of the government of national unity for his appoitment as the new Chairman of the High Peace Council, calling on the nation to assist the council with the reconciliation efforts.

The former Afghan Vice President Karim Khalili has been appointed as the Deputy Chief of the High Peace Council along with Mawlavi Ata-ur-Rehman, Mawlavi Khaibar and Habiba Surabi.

Gilani is assuming charge of the High Peace Council almost a month after the major donors including the United States and United Kingdom suspended their financial aid to the council.

According to the council officials, the donors suspended financial support to the High Peace Council since the beginning of the year, citing lack of chairman for almost a year and issues within the secretariat of the council.

Meanwhile, Gilani is assuming charge of the High Peace Council amid ongoing efforts by Quadrilateral Coordination Group involving representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, United States and China to revive direct peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban groups.



Russia to hand over 10,000 Ak-47s to Afghan forces on Wednesday

By KHAAMA PRESS - Tue Feb 23 2016

Russian Ak-47s to Afghan forcesThe Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will receive 10,000 Ak-47 assault rifles from Russia on Wednesday as part of Moscow’s efforts to equip and bolster the capabilities of the Afghan troops.

The delivery of the rifles will be done in a ceremony to be organized in military section of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

The Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar and officials from the Embassy of the Russian Federation are also expected to attend the ceremony.

The delivery of the assault rifles is part of Russia’s support to bolster the capabilities of the Afghan security forces to fight the menace of terrorism.

Russian President’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov said late in December last year “Russia has been consistently pursuing the policy of providing comprehensive assistance to Afghanistan in the establishment of a peaceful, independent, stable and self-sufficient state, free from terrorism and drugs.”

The Afghan government has stepped up efforts to attract the regional as well as global support to equip the Afghan national security forces.



Pakistan’s efforts important for trust building, Foreign Minister tells QCG meeting

By KHAAMA PRESS - Tue Feb 23 2016

Minister of Foreign Affairs Salahuddin Rabbani says that Pakistan’s efforts in Afghan peace process are crucial and trust building.

He expressed these comments while opening the 4th round of Quadrilateral Committee Group meeting in Kabul on Tuesday.

Rabbani said peace in Afghanistan is hope of Afghan nation and no one would be allowed to fail the reconciliation process.

He called on all insurgent groups to join the process and end the bloodshed saying that militants willing to join the process are welcome.

Those not laying down their guns, government has a specific stance against them, Rabbani warned.

The Foreign Minister also assured nation over the process saying that there shouldn’t be any doubt.

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullah Abdullah says that the 4th QCG meeting is expected to fix a date for direct peace talks with Taliban.

“Kabul is hosting the 4th Meeting of Quadrilateral Coordination Group. We expect a date of 1st meeting for direct peace talks with Taliban,” states a post on the official twitter account of the CEO.



Explosion in Kunduz city leaves 1 dead, 3 wounded

By KHAAMA PRESS - Tue Feb 23 2016

Kunduz city blastAn explosion rocked the provincial capital of northern Kunduz province of Afghanistan this morning, leaving at least four people dead or wounded.

The blast took place in the center of the city but the target of the explosion has not been ascertained so far.

According to the eyewitnesses in the area, the blast took place after an explosive device planted in a vehicle went off, leaving one dead and three others wounded.

Today’s explosion in Kunduz comes a day after the anti-government armed militants suffered heavy casualties during operations in Dasht-e-Archi district.

The provincial capital of Kunduz briefly fell to Taliban control last year and since then certain districts have been witnessing violence on occasional basis.

The Ministry of Defense (MoD) said two Pakistani nationals and three other belonging to Tajikistan were among those killed and at least 25 others were wounded.



Militants Arrested Over Beheading of Hindu Priest in Bangladesh

Tue Feb 23 2016

DHAKA, Bangladesh—Police on Monday arrested three people they described as local militants over the beheading of a Hindu priest in northern Bangladesh, the latest in a series of deadly attacks on foreigners and minority faith groups in the Muslim-majority country.

Jogeshwar Roy, a 55-year-old priest, was killed just before Sunday prayers at the Deviganj temple in Panchagar district, about 300 miles north of the capital, Dhaka, said Monirul Islam, head of Bangladesh’s Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack via a Twitter account, saying “caliphate soldiers” carried out the assault using light weapons, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist networks. Mr. Islam dismissed the group’s claim as “baseless.”

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for at least two attacks on Shia Muslim shrines in Bangladesh in recent months. It also claimed the killing of an Italian aid worker and a Japanese farmer in separate attacks in Bangladesh in September and October last year.

The attacks on foreign nationals and minority groups have heightened concerns in Bangladesh that groups linked with international militant networks could be gaining a foothold in the South Asian country.



Pakistan’s COAS discusses Afghan reconciliation process with Qatari officials

By KHAAMA PRESS - Tue Feb 23 2016

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif arrived in Doha on Monday and held separate meetings with Qatari leadership.

The military’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) says Gen. Sharif met Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Emir of the state of Qatar, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Naseer Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Minister of Defence Affairs, Doctor Khalid Bin Muhammad Al-Attiya and Major General Muhammad Bin Ali Al-Ghanim, Commander Qatari Emiri Land Force (QELF).

According to ISPR, during the meetings with Emir and PM, matters related to regional security, enhanced bilateral defence cooperation and facilitation of reconciliation process in Afghanistan through Taliban’s political office in Qatar was discussed in detail.

Gen. Sharif’s visit to Qatar comes a day before the 4th round of Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) meeting in Kabul.

In the previous three rounds, the four-nation committee fromed by representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China okayed a roadmap for restarting the halted peace process but in this round of talks they are expected to fix a date for direct talks with Taliban.

The meeting on Tuesday would be attended by Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, Ambassador Richard G. Olson from the United States and Ambassador Deng Xijun from China.

If talks successfully proceed and Afghanistan receives lasting peace after over a decade of bloody war, this would be the main achievement of the National Unity Government.



Turkish border officers cooperate with ISIL

February 22, 2016

Wiretapped telephone calls between a leading figure from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and several members of the Turkish military reveal cooperation between ISIL and the Turkish military in letting smugglers cross the Turkey-Syria border, a report by a Turkish daily has alleged.

Documents prepared by a prosecutor's office contain a large number of transcripts of “friendly” telephone communications between military officers and Mustafa Demir, the ISIL member in charge of Turkey's Syria border, the Cumhuriyet daily said on Monday.

The prosecutor's documents reportedly say Turkish military officers also met with Demir on the border. The ISIL leader is indicated in the documents as the person behind the transportation of bombs from Syria to Turkey.

“The transcripts and the documents in the investigation revealed that Demir received money -- purportedly for zakat [alms] -- from smugglers at the border and cooperated with the officers as far as [border] crossings are concerned,” the report stated.

The Turkish government has long been accused by the opposition of turning a blind eye to ISIL's activities in Turkey as well as of having helped ISIL in fighting against the Syrian government.

According to the report, the documents in question are from a file in an ongoing court case on ISIL at the Ankara 3rd High Criminal Court.

The issues alleged in the case came to light because of an investigation launched following information given by six Turkish citizens whose relatives joined ISIL, the report said.

Upon the application by the relatives, monitoring of the communications of 19 people started, and a prosecutor named Derda Gökmen reportedly filed a claim against 27 suspects.

Demir, who is currently in Syria, and İlhami Balı, another leading ISIL figure, are among the suspects, the daily said.

Noting Balı is the person who gave the order for Turkey's deadliest ever suicide bomb attack in Ankara in October of last year, the report said Demir had also previously come to public attention due to his close links to Balı.

According to the report, the prosecutor, on the grounds that the transcripts also indicated a crime other than the one he was pursuing, launched yet another investigation on the link between ISIL terrorists and the Turkish military.

The prosecutor then reportedly, due to legal incompetence, referred the new investigation file to the prosecutor's office of the Gaziantep 5th Armored Brigade Command.

The report also said the Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office had previously claimed, after some reports appeared in media outlets such as Cumhuriyet, that the phone calls are between military officers and smugglers, not ISIL members.

Below are transcripts of some phone calls Demir reportedly had with members of the Turkish military based on the investigation file.

Date: Nov. 25, 2014; 8:26 p.m.

A.A.: Was that you, the ones with a torch?

Mustafa: Well, with a little torch, where are you big brother? At the place where I told you to be?

A.A.: Yeah. We also saw you, your men…

Mustafa: Is it possible for you to arrange that I talk with the commander here, regarding the business here? What if we could establish a contact here as we helped you...

A.A.: Okay. If there are any needs [as far as your request is concerned], [tell them] to inform me here.

Mustafa: If it will be enough to contact you [to settle the issue], no problem.

A.A.: I'll pass this now. I have two military posts [at the border] there. If worse comes to worst, I'll tell that to the commander of the station and have him take a look…

**** ****

Time: 7:12 p.m.

Communication made by the telephone registered in the name of A.B.

A.B.: We're where you gave [him] the vehicle, we are in the mine [field]. We've put on a light. We have stuff; come here from that side, the men are here...

Mustafa: Okay, big brother, [I'm] coming.

A.B.: Come urgently; I'm in the mine [field] with a torch. Come running.

Mustafa: Well, big brother, is it the place where I gave First Lieutenant Burak a car?

A.B.: Yeah, just a little further down from that place. Our two vehicles are on the Turkish side [of the border].

Mustafa: Okay.

A.B.: We are also in the mine.

Mustafa: I'll right be there, big brother.



Army says 14 PKK terrorists killed in southeastern Turkey

February 22, 2016

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has said it killed 14 members of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on Sunday as part of ongoing operations in the Southeast of the country.

Four PKK members were killed on Sunday in the Sur district of the mainly Kurdish region's largest city of Diyarbakır, much of which has been under a round-the-clock police curfew since early December, the army said in a statement.

Ten others were killed on Sunday in the İdil district of Şırnak province, neighboring Syria, it said. A round-the-clock curfew was imposed in some parts of İdil last week as it become a new focus for the security operations.

Violence has surged across the Southeast following the breakdown of a two-year cease-fire between Turkish security forces and the PKK last July.

The PKK has sealed off entire districts of some towns and cities in the Southeast, prompting the security forces to step up their operations.

Rights groups and locals have voiced growing concern about the civilian death toll in the security operations since December. The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) party puts the toll at nearly 160.

In its statement, the army also said the bodies of five PKK militants, thought to have been killed earlier, were found during search operations in Cizre, a border town that was the focus of military operations for weeks.

Many homemade explosives, hand grenades, rifles and a large amount of ammunition were also seized during the search.

In the meantime, an official ceremony was held for two soldiers who were killed on Sunday during the ongoing battles between the PKK and the security forces in Sur.

The ceremony was held in front of the Diyarbakır Military Hospital. The bodies of sergeants Coşkun Karabulut and Serdar Akın were sent to their hometowns to be buried.

A ceremony was also held for Sgt. Mustafa Kalfe, who died in a clash with the PKK in the İdil district of Şırnak province on Sunday, at the Şırnak 23rd Gendarmerie Border Division Command on Monday. Kalfe's body was then sent to his hometown following the ceremony.

A funeral prayer was organized for another soldier in the western city of Aydın on Monday. The soldier, Oğuz Arslan, died on Sunday after he was injured on Feb. 18 when explosives hit a military convoy in the Lice district of Diyarbakır. Arslan was laid to rest following the prayer on Monday.

A settlement process that was launched by the government in 2012 to end Turkey's long-standing Kurdish problem came to an end late in July of 2015, with the revival of intense clashes between the PKK and security forces in the Southeast.

Turkish security forces have been trying to clear southeastern towns and cities of PKK terrorists since last July, when a two-year cease-fire with the group collapsed, shattering the settlement process and triggering the worst violence seen in the region in two decades.

The Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) said in a January report that, as of Jan. 24, at least 198 civilians including 39 children have died in combat areas under curfew since August of 2015. According to media reports, more than 260 members of the security forces have been killed in clashes in the region.



TV host Öztürk testifies on charges of spreading ‘terrorist propaganda’

February 22, 2016

Popular TV host Beyazıt Öztürk has reportedly testified to prosecutors for allegedly spreading terrorist propaganda during an airing of the show last month.

According to the Habertürk news station, Öztürk testified to Bakırköy Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor İdris Kurt on Monday as part of an investigation launched into him after a woman who introduced herself as a teacher from the southeastern province of Diyarbakır phoned in to his popular "Beyaz Show" last month and complained about the ongoing deaths of civilians in the Southeast.

The woman, Ayşe Çelik, expressed her frustrations to Öztürk, saying the media is not accurately portraying the conflict in the Southeast and that children are dying due to clashes between Turkish security forces and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Öztürk seemed surprised to hear the comments on his talk show, but thanked the woman and said: “We have been trying to get people to hear about what is happening as much as we can. What you said has taught us a lesson. We will continue to do more. I hope your wishes for peace come true as soon as possible," he said and asked the guests at the studio to applaud Çelik.

Öztürk and his station Kanal D were then targeted by pro-government circles, which accused them of spreading propaganda for the PKK. Some media outlets and pro-government Twitter users even labeled Öztürk a traitor.

Öztürk later apologized for what happened on his show, saying he apologizes to those whom he unintentionally offended.

The Bakırköy Chief Prosecutor's Office opened an investigation into Öztürk, the program's producer and the caller for allegedly spreading terrorist propaganda on the show.

The Bakırköy Chief Public Prosecutor's Office said the investigation was launched on Jan. 9 against the three individuals over allegations that terrorist propaganda was disseminated during the show's live broadcast on Jan. 8.

Turkey's Southeast has been the scene of fierce clashes between security forces and members of the PKK for months. A large number of civilians have been killed in confrontations between security forces and the PKK in southeastern towns and cities since a fragile cease-fire collapsed last July. Curfews lasting for weeks have been imposed on several particularly tense districts in the provinces of Diyarbakır, Hakkari, Mardin, Şırnak and Van. According to a report released by the Human Rights Association (İHD) in October, more than 100 civilians have been killed in the region since late July.



Turkey welcomes Syria ceasefire, wants to see end to Russian bombardments

February 22, 2016

Turkey welcomes a ceasefire plan for Syria worked out by the United States and Russia and hopes that Moscow will now cease air strikes that have killed civilians, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said on Monday.

"We view it as possible that a ceasefire will be reached. We hope it will not be like previous ceasefires and will have the capacity to be implemented," he told reporters at a press conference after a cabinet meeting.

"We hope that Russia, in its fight against Islamic State, will not fly its jets and kill innocent people" while the combatants negotiate over an end to the five-year conflict, Kurtulmus also said in comments broadcast live by CNN Turk.

The United States and Russia have agreed on a new cease-fire for Syria that will take effect Saturday, even as major questions over enforcing and responding to violations of the truce were left unresolved. Syria's warring government and rebels still need to accept the deal.

The timeline for a hoped-for breakthrough comes after the former Cold War foes, backing opposing sides in the conflict, said they finalized the details of a "cessation of hostilities" between President Bashar Assad's government and armed opposition groups after five years of violence that has killed more than 250,000 people.

The truce will not cover the Islamic State group, the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and any other militias designated as terrorist organizations by the UN Security Council. But where in Syria the fighting must stop and where counterterrorism operations can continue must still be addressed. And the five-page plan released by the US State Department leaves open how breaches of the cease-fire will be identified or punished.



Refugees employed to erect wall along Turkey’s Syrian border

February 22, 2016

Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring Turkey due to civil war in their country are now working on the construction of a wall the Turkish government has been building along its borders to stem the illegal crossing of terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.

A three-meter-high concrete wall is being built along some parts of the Turkish-Syrian border in the southern province of Kilis, which neighbors ISIL on the other side. The wall will consist of two-meter-thick concrete blocks and have one meter of razor wire on top.

Police have detained several alleged ISIL militants who reportedly entered Turkey illegally, crossing the border in the province.

Apart from the project foremen, most of the workers on the wall are Syrians and all of them wished to remain anonymous when speaking to the media. Expressing sorrow for their relatives on the other side of the border, they say, “We must put up this wall for our security.”

Speaking to Today's Zaman, Metin Çorabatır from the Ankara-based Asylum and Immigration Studies Center (İGAMDER) says the construction of the wall risks violating Article 14 of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees peoples' right to asylum.

“Even though we cannot say that the [intended] wall along Turkey's Syrian border will definitely violate this right, it will make it hard for one to avail oneself of this right,” Çorabatır said.

“If a [Syrian refugee] group wants to flee the war in the near future, how can they take refuge without facing this wall?” he added.

Turkey has been home to around 2.5 million Syrians, the world's largest refugee population. While only about 10 percent of those refugees stay at specially designated camps near the Syrian border, the rest have been scattered across the country.

Turkey has only very recently begun issuing work permits to the refugees.



Report: Turkey sixth biggest importer of arms in world

February 22, 2016

Turkey is the world's sixth biggest importer of arms while the US tops the list of major exporters of arms, according to a military think tank report.

According to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report released on Monday, the US has a 33 percent share of total arms exports between the years 2011 and 2015.

The report ranks Turkey as the sixth largest importer of weapons with a 3.4 percent share in the world. The five top importers of arms are India, Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates and Australia, according to the report.

The US is followed by Russia with a 28 percent share of weaponry exports. Forty-one percent of US arms exports went to Middle Eastern countries, whose imports rose 61 percent between 2011 and 2015 compared to the previous five-year timeframe.

In the period between 2011 and 2015, Saudi Arabia's arms imports rose 275 percent, the United Arab Emirates' rose by 35 percent and Qatar's imports went up by 279 percent.

China saw an 88 percent increase in its weaponry exports in the past five years, while France and German exports decreased 9.8 and 51 percent, respectively.



Israeli military demolishes homes of 2 Palestinian attackers

February 23 2016, 3:33 PM

The Israeli military says it demolished the homes of two Palestinians who committed deadly attacks against Israelis.

The military says the West Bank homes of Raid Halil and Mahmoud Harub were demolished Tuesday.

The assailants carried out two separate attacks on the same day last November. One stabbed and killed two Israelis in a Tel Aviv office building. The other opened fire on cars in the West Bank, killing one Israeli, an American student and a Palestinian. Both attackers were apprehended.

Some 28 Israelis have been killed in a five month-long wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence. At least 166 Palestinians have been killed, 119 said by Israel to have been attackers.

Israel says home demolitions can deter attacks. Critics say the tactic amounts to collective punishment. (ags)



Kidnap Deaths Spotlight Serbia-Libya Arms Deals

Feb 23, 2016

A leading military expert has called for a Serbian parliamentary committee to investigate the kidnap by ISIS of two employees of Belgrade’s embassy in Tripoli, after Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic at the weekend revealed a new link between the incident and the arms trade.

Military expert Aleksandar Radic told BIRN that an inquiry was needed to establish the facts surrounding the abduction of Sladjana Stankovic and Jovica Stepic, who died in a US airstrike on an ISIS camp where the two were being held.

The embassy employees were seized in November by gunmen close to ISIS who crashed into a convoy of vehicles taking Serbia’s ambassador Oliver Potezica to neighbouring Tunisia. The ambassador escaped unharmed.

Vucic told a press conference on Saturday that securing a ransom from Serbia was not the kidnappers’ primary motive and connected the case to “certain arms deals”.

“There are some other motives [for the kidnapping] which I would rather not talk about today, and which are related to certain weapons deals,” Vucic said.

Sanctions on Libya

The UN imposed an arms embargo on Libya in February 2011 to prevent further human rights abuses.

This was lifted in September 2011 after Libyan opposition forces took control of Tripoli from Colonel Gaddafi, although the government was required to notify the UN sanctions committee in advance of weapons imports.

In August 2014, following the start of the civil war, this process was tightened, requiring the internationally recognised government in Tobruk to apply for approval in advance of arms imports. The authorities in Tripoli are barred from buying weapons.

While Belgrade appears to have halted official exports to Libya in August 2014, when the country descended into civil war, BIRN has collected evidence showing that the Islamist-led authorities in Tripoli and the internationally recognised government in Tobruk have continued to look to Serbia as a source of weapons and ammunition.

Rumours linking the kidnapping to arms deals have been circulating in political and intelligence circles for months.

Diplomatic sources who spoke to BIRN have however given very different and often contradictory accounts, suggesting the involvement of different Libyan factions and various arms dealers.

Serbia's foreign ministry is expected to carry out an internal investigation into the events, but Radic believes that a parliamentary committee, formed of MPs and held in public, was the best way to establish the truth.

He also queried why Serbia had chosen to maintain an embassy in Tripoli, which is controlled by an unrecognised Islamist administration, while most countries had closed theirs or moved them to the seat of the internationally backed government in Tobruk.

“This is a textbook example of the need to establish a parliamentary commission which will answer all the open questions – foreign policy, arms deals and in whose interest we maintained our embassy with a government that was not recognized by us or by the international community,” he said.

A long history of arms deals

Serbia has a long and controversial history of supplying weapons to Libya – a relationship which has come under increased scrutiny over the past year as United Nations investigators have attempted to stem the flow of arms to the war-torn country.

BIRN has previously documented these links, which involve two of Serbia’s most high-profile weapons dealers – Slobodan Tesic and Petar Crnogorac – although there is no evidence linking either of them to the kidnapping.

In February last year, the UN’s panel of experts on Libya revealed a large deal between Tripoli and Tesic, Serbia’s most notorious arms merchant, who was placed on a UN black list for more than a decade because of sanctions-busting in Liberia.

He supplied 3,000 tonnes of Belarussian ammunition as well as Serbian small arms, light weapons and machine guns to Libya from 2013 to the summer of 2014.

The contract was inked after an official visit to Belgrade in 2013 by Khaled Al Sharif, a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who was then the official deputy defence minister.

The UN revealed that prior to April 2014, some of these weapons appear to have been delivered to “autonomous armed group” connected to Sharif, and not the Libyan army.

Later, as Libya fractured, the deliveries were made solely to areas under the control of groups linked to the official Libyan army.

Exports from Serbia were halted in the summer of 2014 when Libya descended into civil war between the Islamist regime in control of Tripoli, including Sharif, and the internationally recognised government in Tobruk.

In a bid to quell the unrest, the government in Tobruk attempted to secure a major haul of weapons in February 2015, including ammunition from Serbia, but was blocked by the UN Security Council members over fears the equipment could end up in the wrong hands, according to a Reuters news agency report.

General Khalifa Haftar, the head of Libya’s official army, also quietly visited Serbia in June 2015, although no arms deals are believed to have stemmed from his meetings there.

It also appears that Sharif, as defence minister of the Tripoli government, attempted to reopen supply lines from the Tripoli government with Serbia in December 2014 through Tehnoremont, a subsidiary of the Serbian arms exporter CPR Impex, owned by Petar Crnogorac.

Documents obtained by BIRN show that UN panel obtained a suspicious “end user certificate”, one of the key documents required to receive to export weapons. The documents detail ammunition, rocket launchers and mortar shells to be exported from Serbia and Montenegro.

Crnogorac has previously told BIRN that while discussions had been held on exports to Libya, no deal was signed and that proper procedures would have been followed if it had gone ahead.

The UN panel is expected to produce its latest report, which will likely reveal its finding on the Tehnoremont case, in the coming months.



Libya could soon run out of life-saving medicines: U.N.

February 22, 2016

Libya faces severe shortages of life-saving medicine and about one million people will soon be in dire need of help, a U.N. humanitarian official warned, as warring factions hamper efforts to end chaos and form a unity government.

"Our estimation is that by the end of march, Libya may run out of life saving medications which will impact about one million people.” said Ali Al-Za'tari, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for the North African country.

"If there is no medication and medical supplies coming in that will be a real issue for Libya."

Al-Za'tari was due to meet Arab League delegates on a visit to Cairo to try and win support for U.N. efforts to ease what he calls a humanitarian crisis in Libya.

His main concern at this point is scarcity of medicine needed to combat diseases like cancer, and the state of hospitals in Libya, which has descended into anarchy since the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi five years ago.

Compounding the many problems are about 435,000 internally displaced people living in schools and other public places and some 250,000 migrants and refugees who had hoped to pass through Libya and find a better life abroad.

Since 2014, Libya has had two competing governments, one based in Tripoli and the other in the east, both of which are backed by loose alliances of armed brigades and former rebels.


The U.N. plan under which the unity government has been named was designed to help Libya stabilize and tackle a growing threat from Islamic State militants. It has been opposed by hard-liners on both sides from the start and suffered delays.

Instability has taken a heavy toll on healthcare facilities. In Benghazi, for instance, only one or two out of about a dozen hospitals are functioning, said Al-Za'tari.

A few days ago, he was notified that the psychiatric care hospital in Benghazi has no resources. Scores of patients lack proper care.

"It is really difficult for a hospital to continue like this in a town that is witnessing constant daily fighting in certain parts," he told Reuters in an interview.

Al-Za'tari said 1.3 million people in Libya need humanitarian assistance.

"Today we are receiving requests from NGOs for food. That is not a good sign. It means you have a sizeable portion of the community requiring food intake that is stable food intake," said Al-Za'tari.

Focusing attention on their plight will be difficult in a region with multiple crises, from Syria to Iraq to Yemen.

"The perception is Libya is rich and can fend for itself. Libya is rich but it can’t fend for itself today," said Al-Za'tari, in reference to Libya's status as an oil producer

"It is not an easy story to sell and I admit it. I am living it. Telling people that Libya has a humanitarian situation makes them go back in their seats and say ‘no way’."




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