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Islamic World News ( 14 March 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Fresh Plea in Supreme Court to Declare Polygamy, Nikah-Halala in Islam Illegal


 

Fresh Plea in Supreme Court to Declare Polygamy, Nikah-Halala in Islam Illegal

Efforts to Rewrite Indian History Worry Christians, Muslims

At Geneva Forum, a Host of Pakistanis Speak Of Human Rights Violations

Hezbollah Leader Accused of Saying Shiite Law More Important Than Lebanese Constitution

Palestinians Praise ‘Uniquely Courageous’ Hawking For Stance against Israel

Facebook Blocks Britain First, a Far-Right Anti-Muslim Group Promoted by Trump

 

India

Fresh Plea in Supreme Court to Declare Polygamy, Nikah-Halala In Islam Illegal

Efforts to Rewrite Indian History Worry Christians, Muslims

Pro-IS Kashmiri Group Hails Slain Terrorist Essa Fazili

All Hindu descendants, Muslims should support Ram temple: Giriraj Singh

5-Judge Bench To Hear Babri Case? SC To Rule

Ansar Ghazwatul Hind claims one terrorist slain in Anantnag was from Hyderabad

NIA detains Hizbul chief's family members

Ayodhya Dispute: Will See If 1994 Ruling on Mosques in Islam Needs Re-Look, Says Supreme Court

Terror funding case: Hizbul Mujahedeen chief Syed Salahudin’s sons questioned by NIA

NIA: UK resident who entered India illegally had ties with al-Qaeda

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Pakistan

At Geneva Forum, A Host Of Pakistanis Speak Of Human Rights Violations

Rise of Militant-Linked Party Casts Doubt on Pakistan’s Terrorist Crackdown

TTP Claims Responsibility of Lahore Tableeghi Markaz Suicide Attack

Nine martyred, 20 injured in Raiwind blast

5 terrorists killed in Karachi ‘encounter’

Pakistani bishops to invite pope to visit their country

Punjab Assembly makes history by passing Sikh Marriages Act

FIA asks FO to contact US state department for Haqqani’s return

EU and China urge Afghan Taliban to accept talks offer

Though militants have left for now, Sikhs of Tirah Valley live without govt support

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Arab World

Hezbollah Leader Accused Of Saying Shiite Law More Important Than Lebanese Constitution

Militant Threat Emerges In Egyptian Desert, Opening New Front in Terrorism Fight

Terrorists Sustain Heavy Losses in Attack on Syrian Army Positions in Hama

Syrian Army Gains Control over New Regions in Eastern Ghouta

Aleppo: Syria-Backed Forces Killed in Turkish Air Force Raids in Afrin

More Militant-Held Regions Join Peace Agreement with Syrian Army

Monitor: Syrian regime, Russian bombardment kills 25 civilians in Ghouta

‘Russian strike’ kills two commanders in eastern Ghouta rebel group

Assad vows to confront West schemes against Syria unity

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Mideast

Palestinians Praise ‘Uniquely Courageous’ Hawking For Stance against Israel

Tillerson’s Sacking Shows US Determined to Leave Iran Nuclear Deal: Araqchi

Yemeni forces shoot down Saudi-led spy drone in Asir

Yemeni snipers kill 14 Saudi mercenaries in retaliatory attacks

Turkey ramps up assault on Kurdish enclave in Syria

Yemen security forces seize shipment of weapons on its way to the Houthis

Yemeni army advances against Houthi militia in Nahm front, east of Sanaa

Israel has destroyed 5,000 Palestinian homes in al-Quds since 1967: Report

Turkish hopes to fully seize Syria’s Afrin region daydream: YPG spox

Iran warns US against ‘foolish’ moves against Syria

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Europe

Facebook Blocks Britain First, a Far-Right Anti-Muslim Group Promoted by Trump

‘UK Muslims Are Not Incapable Of Integrating’: Muslim Council of Britain

Terrorist threat still looms over Europe, Europol expert warns

UK Muslims stress danger of Islamophobic letter

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South Asia

Taliban Hostage Kills 7 Militants, Injures 18 More in Paktika Province

Arghandiwal Defies Hekmatyar, Vows To Continue Political Activities For HIA

Myanmar says it has verified fewer than 400 Rohingya for repatriation

Myanmar urged not to drag out case against Reuters reporters

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Southeast Asia

Indonesia's Aceh Considers Beheading As Punishment for Murder

Malaysia to introduce premium halal food gifts

Judiciary’s independence affected if Chief Justice’s appointment upheld, court told

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Africa

U.S. Kept Silent about Its Role in another Firefight in Niger

IMN Says Nigeria Will Keep Zakzaky Detained Until He Dies

25 killed in fresh clashes in central Nigeria: Police

Security agents thwart multiple attacks by Al shabaab militants

Somali forces kill 7 Al-Shabaab militants in south Somalia

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North America

Top US General in Afghanistan Urges 'Tired' Taliban to Talk Peace

3 men accused of bombing mosque in Midwest US to 'scare Muslims out of the country'

US general blames Russia for US-Turkey tensions

Three arrested, charged in US mosque bombing

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/fresh-plea-in-supreme-court-to-declare-polygamy,-nikah-halala-in-islam-illegal/d/114604

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Fresh plea in Supreme Court to declare polygamy, nikah-halala in Islam illegal

March 14, 2018


Organization from Balochistan, Sindh and PoK have raised the issue of human rights violations by Pakistan at the UNHRC in Geneva

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A fresh plea was on Wednesday filed in the Supreme Court seeking to declare as “illegal” and “unconstitutional” the practices of polygamy and nikah-halala among the Muslim community. Nikah-halala is a practice intended to curb the incidence of divorce under which a man cannot remarry his former wife without her having to go through the process of marrying someone else, consummating it, getting divorced and observing a separation period called ‘Iddat’ before coming back to him.

The petition, filed by a Delhi-based woman, has said that by virtue of Muslim Personal Law, section 494 of IPC (marrying again during lifetime of husband or wife) was rendered inapplicable to Muslims and no married woman from the community has the avenue of filing a complaint against her husband for the offence of bigamy. “This is in blatant contravention of Articles 14 (equality before law), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and 21 (right to life and personal liberty) of the Constitution,” the petition filed through advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey said.

The plea has also sought to declare the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, unconstitutional and violative of Articles 14, 15, 21 and 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) of the Constitution in so far as it fails to secure for Indian Muslim women the protection from bigamy which has been statutorily secured for women in India belonging to other religions. “The practice of polygamy is neither harmonious with the modern principles of human rights and gender equality, nor an integral part of Islamic faith,” the plea said, adding that while Muslim women cannot engage in a polyandrous marriage, Muslim men claim to have a right to re-marry.

“Such discrimination and inequality hoarsely expressed in the form of polygamy is abominable when seen in light of the progressive times of the 21st century,” it said. The petitioner, who herself claimed to be a victim of such practices, has alleged that her husband and his family used to torture her for want of more dowry and she was ousted from the matrimonial home twice.

She also alleged that her husband had married another woman without taking any legal divorce from her and the police had refused to lodge FIR under section 494 and 498A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) of the IPC stating that polygamy was permitted under the Sharia. On March 5, Delhi BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay had moved the apex court against the practices of polygamy and nikah-halala saying they violated the basic fundamental rights of Muslim women granted under the Constitution.

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/fresh-plea-supreme-court-polygamy-nikah-halala-islam-illegal-5097972/

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Efforts To Rewrite Indian History Worry Christians, Muslims

March 14, 2018

Christian and Muslim leaders in India are appalled by federal government moves to "revise" the country's history in a bid to push a pro-Hindu narrative.

Reuters revealed last week that a committee appointed by the Narendra Modi government has been working for six months to prove Hindus are direct descendants of India's first inhabitants. The reports also said that the committee is seeking to demonstrate that ancient Hindu scriptures are fact, not myth.

The aim of Modi's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and affiliated Hindu groups is "ultimately to shape the national identity to match their religious views, that India is a nation of and for Hindus," reported Reuters, which broke the story on March 6.

Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma told the news agency that the committee was part of larger plans to revise India's history.

Christian and Muslim leaders say the move is a systematic attempt to sideline non-Hindus as second-class citizens in their own land.

The measure "cannot be appreciated" and especially as it comes amid accusations of the government ignoring "burning issues" of the country, said Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Indian bishops' conference.

"There is large-scale poverty in the country, coupled with marginalization and alienation of the farmers and village poor," Bishop Mascarenhas told ucanews.com. "Instead of trying to rewrite history, the government should first deal with the issues troubling the common masses."

Catholic lay leader A.C. Michael said the effort to revise or rewrite history was part of an agenda to bury Christian contributions to India's development and to demonize Muslims as invaders who inflicted violence upon Hindus.

"They have already issued an education policy which is silent on Christian contributions to education. Although Christian missionaries brought modern education to India, the document is silent on it," Michael said. India's Christians make significant contributions in education and health care through their thousands of schools and medical facilities.

Michael agreed with Zafarul-Islam Khan, chairman of the Delhi Minority Commission, that the committee aims to extend the Hindu-nation agenda beyond politics.

Khan said the government wants to educate young generations with a world view of Hindu hegemony. "This will further entrench the Hindu-nation narrative in the Indian polity and marginalize non-Hindus," he asserted.

BJP's ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has been claiming that the ancestors of all Indians — Christians and Muslim included — were Hindu and that they must accept the common Hindu ancestry and all cultural aspects of Hinduism.

Prominent RSS member Dinanath Batra has argued that the world's first airplane was invented in India because Indian epic Ramayana speaks of Hindu lord Ram flying in a mythical vehicle  to Sri Lanka.

Some Hindu educationists have likewise been advocating the removal of Urdu and Persian worlds from school textbooks. They also want to avoid eulogizing Muslim rulers including the Mughal Empire who ruled most of northern India from 1526-1857.

Kausar Rza, a Muslim leader, said the move also aims at attracting votes. "The BJP came to power four years ago promising development and employment. No promises were fulfilled. Next year we face another election, so the BJP is raising these emotive issues for votes," she said.

The history of Muslim rule in India started in the 12th century and continued until the 19th century with ups and downs until the British siege of Mughal Delhi in 1857. Most Muslim rulers came from what is now Afghanistan and were responsible for building some of India's most notable structures such as New Delhi's Red Fort, Agra's Taj Mahal and thousands of mosques across the subcontinent.

India's population of 1.2 billion people includes 172 million Muslims and 29 million Christians.

https://www.ucanews.com/news/efforts-to-rewrite-indian-history-worry-christians-muslims/81794

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At Geneva forum, a host of Pakistanis speak of human rights violations

Mar 15, 2018

NEW DELHI: A host of organizations representing Pakistan's ethnic minority communities from Balochistan, Sindh and Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir have raised the issue of human rights violations committed by Pakistan at the 37th Session of the UNHRC in Geneva in the last couple of days.

The members of Baloch Republican Party (BRP) accused Pakistan of "looting" the precious natural resources of Balochistan and committing atrocities on its people.

"The precious natural resources of Balochistan are being looted and taken away by the Pakistani state while the Baloch people are forced to live in Stone Age like conditions," said representative of the BRP to the UNHRC Abdul Nawaz Bugti.

"Whenever the Baloch people demanded their rights from the Pakistani state, the response has always been military operations and massacre by the army," he added, "300 thousand Baloch have been displaced and 27 thousands have become the victim of enforced disappearances."

Similar concerns were raised for the people of the Sindh province by the World Sindhi Congress (WSC).

"Want to inform Council about gross human rights violations against Sindhi people by state and security establishment of Pakistan. The Pakistani establishment is ruthlessly crushing any voice and struggle of Sindhi people against China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC)," WSC activist Dr Hidayat Bhutto said in Geneva.

Bhutto also alleged that Pakistan, as part of a systematic policy, is driving out Sindhis from the province with designs to convert the community into a minority in their own motherland.

"Cruel loot of resources and occupation of lands of Sindhi people pushing them into perpetual poverty, malnutrition, social injustice, and disease," Bhutto added.

The Sindhi activist also accused Pakistan of carrying out systematic efforts to spread religious fundamentalism and violence against Sindhi Hindus to coerce them to leave the country and to counter the national movement.

The concerns of Baloch and Sindhi community where also echoed by activists of the United Kashmir People's National Party (UKPNP), who spoke against the gross human rights violation committed by Islamabad in Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (PoK).

"Our organization is deeply concern over serious human rights violations in PoK and Gilgit Baltistan. The practice of enforced disappearances has increased dramatically security forces continued to act with impunity and are accused of widespread human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, deaths in custody and extrajudicial executions," UKPNP activist Nasir Aziz Khan said.

Another activist from the party, Jamil Maqsood urged UNHRC to ask Pakistan to revive fundamental rights of the people, abolish all discriminatory laws against political parties, human rights defenders and allow the press to freely function in PoK.

Last Sunday, Pakistani journalist Arif Tauqeer, who now lives in exile in Germany, had spoken on the issue of media freedom in Pakistan in Geneva.

While speaking to ANI on the sidelines of the 37th Session of UNHRC, Tauqeer said that media in Pakistan is not free to report reality.

"The national security in Pakistan is defined by the military itself. Some of the minorities are facing persecution, killings, and abductions in Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and PoK. The human rights violations in Pakistan are not reported in mainstream media and that is very disturbing," he said.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/at-geneva-forum-a-host-of-pakistanis-speak-of-human-rights-violations/articleshow/63311127.cms

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Hezbollah Leader Accused of Saying Shiite Law More Important Than Lebanese Constitution

15 March 2018

BEIRUT: An Iranian news website has caused controversy in Lebanon by claiming Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah told his followers that Shiite Islamic law is more important than the Lebanese constitution and “it is mandatory to implement its orders.”

Nasrallah’s comments, allegedly made during a meeting with Iranian supporters living in Lebanon, were reported by the Iranian Farda News website. However, the website later retracted the statements and issued an apology to its readers. Hezbollah’s media office also issued a statement rejecting the Farda News article.

According to the original story, Nasrallah made a series of controversial remarks addressing the religious and political situations in Lebanon and Syria. While praising Lebanese President Michel Aoun, he complained that many Shiites in the country had “converted to Christianity or become Sunni Muslims.”

Nasrallah was quoted as saying that “the principles of Wilayat Al-Faqih,” in which religious scholars qualified in Shiite Islamic law make legislation and issue socially binding edicts, “are above the Lebanese constitution.”

Lebanon is one of the Middle East’s most diverse countries, with a population including Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Druze, Maronites and Copts. Under Lebanese law, the president must be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of Parliament a Shiite.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1266646/middle-east

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Palestinians praise ‘uniquely courageous’ Hawking for stance against Israel

15 March 2018

AMMAN: Palestinians have praised the world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking as being “uniquely courageous” in his support for non-violent resistance against the Israeli occupation.

In a statement marking the scientist’s death, Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said that the Briton “will be missed.”

She added: “We join the rest of the world in celebrating his exceptional achievements and legacy, not just in science, but in his deep understanding of the human condition and spirit.”

Hawking visited Birzeit University, in the Occupied West Bank, where Ashrawi used to teach English, in 2006. He was known as a long-term advocate of the Palestinian cause.

When Israel launched a military offensive on Gaza in late 2008, Hawking condemned the attack. He said: “A people under occupation will continue to resist in any way it can. If Israel wants peace it will have to talk to Hamas like Britain did with the IRA.”

In 2013 he endorsed an academic boycott of Israel and withdrew from a major conference in Jerusalem, which was hosted by Israel’s then president, Shimon Peres.

Hawking was also a keen supporter of Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, who spent much of his life leading the struggle against apartheid.

On meeting Mandela in 2008, Hawking said: “I admire how you managed to find a peaceful solution to a situation that seemed doomed to disaster. It was one of the great achievements of the 20th century. If only the Israelis and the Palestinians could do the same.”

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1266666/middle-east

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Facebook Blocks Britain First, a Far-Right Anti-Muslim Group Promoted by Trump

By NIRAJ CHOKSHI

MARCH 14, 2018

Facebook said Wednesday that it had taken down several pages associated with “Britain First,” a far-right group whose leaders were recently convicted of hate crimes and whose inflammatory anti-Muslim videos President Trump shared with the world late last year.

The social network said that the pages of Britain First and its leaders, Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, had repeatedly violated community standards with posts that boasted of Islamophobia, incited hateful anti-Muslim comments and compared Muslim immigrants to animals.

After the administrators of the pages failed to heed a final warning to abide by Facebook’s standards, the company took the fringe group’s pages down.

“We do not do this lightly, but they have repeatedly posted content designed to incite animosity and hatred against minority groups, which disqualifies the Pages from our service,” Facebook said.

The Britain First Facebook page had about two million followers around the world.

Facebook said that while it remains an open platform for all ideas and political speech, a wide range of views can and should be expressed “without needing to denigrate others on the basis of who they are.”

Britain First, a Christian nationalist group estimated to have about 1,000 members, has used inflammatory tactics like confronting Muslims on the street and entering mosques to spread its belief that Islam is destroying Britain.

In November, it got an unexpected boost from President Trump, who helped to promote its message by sharing with his tens of millions of Twitter followers three videos Ms. Fransen, the deputy leader, had posted on her own account.

One video was titled “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” but featured an assailant who was not, in fact, a “Muslim migrant.” The other two, titled “Muslim destroys a statue of Virgin Mary!” and “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” were several years old and included no context.

Before Mr. Trump retweeted those videos, no modern American president had amplified inflammatory content of that nature from an extremist organization.

Mr. Golding, Britain First’s leader, and Ms. Fransen were both convicted last week on counts of religiously aggravated harassment stemming from videos they posted online. Mr. Golding was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison while Ms. Fransen was sentenced to 36 weeks.

The videos, from May, showed Ms. Fransen knocking on doors that she believed — incorrectly, according to prosecutors — were hiding the Muslim defendants in a rape trial. She insulted the men and challenged them to come out.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/14/world/facebook-ban-britain-first.html?mtrref=www.google.co.in&gwh=29410A2B375B1C2E293A75E96AA2329E&gwt=pay

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India

 

Pro-IS Kashmiri Group Hails Slain Terrorist Essa Fazili

Bharti Jain

Mar 15, 2018

NEW DELHI: Pro-Islamic State terrorists have hailed the ‘martyrdom’ of ‘brother’ Essa Fazili, purported leader of an IS-pledged Kashmiri group killed in Anantnag on Monday, while calling upon Kashmiris to desire for ‘shahadah’ (martyrdom) and replace every slain IS fighter in the Valley with two.

The IS supporters, while reporting death of “leader of the IS-pledged group in Kashmir” via Telegram, urged Muslims of the state to fight rather than participate in demonstrations and also attack members of the separatist factions, according to a post by SITE Intelligence website.

The website reported that pro-IS terrorists ‘Bakistani al-Mujahir’ and ‘The Anfal’ had, on their respective Telegram channels, identified Fazili as Abu Yahya al-Istashadi, while referring the other two slain terrorists, Syed Owaid and Sultan al-Hyderabadi by the nom de guerre ‘Abu Barra al-Kashmiri’ and ‘Abu Zar al-Hindi’.

Bakistani al-Muhajir wrote: “If anyone among the murtadeen of Hurriyat, UJC (United Jihad Council), LF (Liberation Front) tries to approach the families of our beloved brothers, kill them, deface them and then spit over their dead bodies”.

‘The Anfal’ stated: “One thing that makes me sad is so many people giving crying smileys on social media and protesting by throwing stones. What is sad about is that these people will soon get over it. They will get out this emotion and then go back to normal mode.

“It shouldn’t be like this....You should be willing to die in Jihad. Even parents get over the loss of their sons after some time. But these brothers were not end of this war. It will go on and on. It will need blood supply constantly. So we should be willing to supply that blood. When one is killed we should replace with two”.

Incidentally, Al Qaeda affiliate Ansar Ghazwatul Hind, on Tuesday also came forward to claim Sultan-al-Hyderabadi as its own, declaring on Al-Hurr Media that he had come to Kashmir from Hyderabad in 2017 and was among the first in the Zakir Musa-led group’s ranks.

Al-Qaraar Media, information unit of the IS-pledged group and which has rebranded itself as Al-Husam Media, had on February 6, 2018, published a photo of Abu Yahya al-Istashadi with fighters in a jungle. Abu Barra al-Kashmiri is the same nom de guerre used by a Kashmiri fighter who appeared in the December 25, 2017, video released by the IS-pledged group.

J&K police sources had earlier claimed Fazili, suspected in the killing of J&K police constable Farooq Ahmed Yatoo last month, was part of Tehreek ul Mujahideen, a small jihadist group active in south and central Kashmir.

Both the Centre and J&K police have so far maintained that IS “has no presence as an organisation” in the state, while conceding that there may be a few individuals or small groups influenced by the IS ideology.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/pro-is-kashmiri-group-hails-slain-terrorist/articleshow/63309991.cms

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All Hindu descendants, Muslims should support Ram temple: Giriraj Singh

Mar 14, 2018

New Delhi: Union Minister Giriraj Singh on Wednesday said that Muslims should follow in the footsteps of Shia Waqf Board and support the construction of Ram temple on the disputed site.

"I believe our side is stronger. We will respect the court's decision but I would say that the way our Shia brothers have extended support to build the Ram temple, other Muslim brothers should also do so, and let go of their obstinacy because we both are descendants of Hindus," Singh said.

"If they remain adamant, it will harm the communal harmony. Do they want that?" he added.

BJP MP Vinay Katiyar concurred with Singh and said, "Whatever happens, Ram Mandir will be there and nothing else."

Commenting on the impending verdict, Katiyar said, "One party is going to get hurt. But leaving aside Hindus, nobody will be hurt, because those trying for unauthorized capture will not be able to do so and for this reason they will be hurt."

The Supreme Court has begun hearing the case.

On February 9, the top court was likely to start 'final hearings' on a bunch of 13 petitions over the 2.7 acre land dispute that is claimed by both Hindus and Muslims.

However, the date was postponed, as some documents and translations were not filed before the apex court.

The petitions before the judges relate to the 2010 verdict of the Allahabad High Court in the title suit that had been pending for nearly six decades.

The dispute before the court was whether the 2.7 acres of disputed land on which the Babri Masjid was constructed belonged to the Sunni Central Waqf Board or to the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, who claimed the land to be the birthplace of Hindu Lord Ram, and thus entitled for the construction of a Ram Temple.

Full report at:

http://www.asianage.com/india/all-india/140318/all-hindu-descendants-muslims-should-support-ram-temple-giriraj-singh.html

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5-judge bench to hear Babri case? SC to rule

Dhananjay Mahapatra

Mar 15, 2018

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court began hearing arguments on Wednesday on a critical issue — whether the 70-year-old legal battle between Hindu and Muslim communities over ownership of the nearly 3 acres of Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi disputed land should be sent to a five-judge bench.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer took into account arguments of senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing original plaintiff M Siddiq now replaced by his legal heir after his death, that the matter needed to be sent to a larger bench as a five-judge bench in Ismail Faruqui case had “wrongly” decided that Muslims do not need a mosque to pray.

In answering the meaning of mosque, the SC in Ismail Faruqui case had said Muslims did not need a mosque to pray and if this ruling stands, then it would be fatal to the Muslims’ arguments in the land dispute case. The land was acquired by the Centre through an ordinance, later converted into a law, on January 7, 1993, a month after a right-wing mob demolished it in the presence of top BJP functionaries, who are facing criminal trial in the case.

“It is this fallacious declaration that requires to be revisited by the Supreme Court. I find it objectionable that the SC said Muslims can pray anywhere. The judgment also took into account only the Hindus’ right to pray at a makeshift temple completely ignoring the rights of Muslims to pray. Moreover, there are two non-compoundable illegalities that stare at the court in this case,” Dhavan said.

He said Babri Masjid, dedicated by Babur, was rebuilt by the British in 1937 after it was damaged. “The locks of the gate were illegally opened in 1986 after idols were placed inside after criminally trespassing into the mosque. Then, the mosque was illegally demolished and the right of Muslims to pray there was taken away illegally,” Dhavan said.

The Ismail Faruqui judgment completely fell into error by ruling that mosques were not integral to prayers by Muslims, Dhavan said. “Even if a mosque is demolished, it continues to exist as a mosque, a property of Allah. Then, the land which belonged to the mosque was acquired by the government. Can the government have the courage to acquire Tirupati or Meenakshi temple? If there is any decency in our secular system, then the mosque should be rebuilt there,” he added.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/5-judge-bench-to-hear-babri-case-sc-to-rule/articleshow/63307771.cms

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Ansar Ghazwatul Hind claims one terrorist slain in Anantnag was from Hyderabad

M Saleem Pandit

Mar 14, 2018

SRINAGAR: Ansar Ghazwatul Hind, the al-Qaida cell in Kashmir, has claimed that one of the terrorists killed in an encounter with security forces in Anantnag district on Monday was from Hyderabad.

Three terrorists were killed in an encounter with security forces in Hakoora area of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district on Monday morning. While two of them were identified as Eisa Fazili of Soura, in Srinagar, and Syed Owais Shafi of Kokernag, Anantnag, the identity of the third slain terrorist was not known.

However, a local news agency quoted on Wednesday an Ansar statement identifying him as Muhammad Taufeeq of Hyderabad. “Taufeeq started his jihadi journey in 2017 after making hijrah (migration) from India’s Hyderabad city to the mountains of Kashmir and was among the first in the ranks of Ansar,” the al-Qaida cell’s statement read.

The statement said the purported Hyderabadi was known by two noms de guerre — Sultan Zabul Al-Hindi and Abu Zarr Al-Hindi. Ansar, headed by Zakir Bhat, alias Zakir Musa, also released an undated picture of the purported south Indian terrorist with the outfit’s deputy chief, Rehan Khan.

Terming Taufeeq as a “descendant and heir of mujahid and conqueror of India Mehmood Ghaznavi”, the Ansar said on its official website, Al-Nasr: “We congratulate Islamic ummah on the martyrdom of the mujahid and preacher Muhammad Taufeeq. His martyrdom is a cry of truth for the Muslims of India.”

Even if proven that the slain terrorist was from Hyderabad, it will not be the first time that a person from an Indian state other than J&K joined militancy here. In 2008, two terrorists from Kerala were killed in an encounter in the frontier district of Kupwara; they were identified by their aliases, Yasin and Fayaz, and reportedly belonged to the terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ansar-ghazwatul-hind-claims-one-terrorist-slain-in-anantnag-was-from-hyderabad/articleshow/63304958.cms

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NIA detains Hizbul chief's family members

M Saleem Pandit

Mar 14, 2018

SRINAGAR: National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Wednesday detained four family members of Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin in connection with a terror funding case, sources said.

The NIA picked up Salahuddin’s three sons, Shakil Ahmed, Javaid Ahmed and Muhammad Moieed and his son-in-law Muhammad Umar.

Sources said that all the four were detained and questioned by an NIA team at their Srinagar office. While Javaid Ahmed was released after questioning, the rest of the family members were still in the custody of the NIA till late evening. The Hizb chief’s another son Shahid Yousuf is already languishing in Tihar Jail.

Meanwhile, photojournalist Kamran Yousuf, who was arrested on stone-pelting charges last year, has been released from Delhi jail Wednesday morning. Delhi court on Monday had granted bail to Kamran, who was arrested by NIA in an alleged terror funding case six months ago. Additional sessions judge Tarun Sherawat allowed the bail plea of Yousuf, asking him to furnish two sureties of Rs 50,000.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/nia-detains-hizbul-chiefs-family-members/articleshow/63305232.cms

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Ayodhya dispute: Will see if 1994 ruling on mosques in Islam needs re-look, says Supreme Court

by Ananthakrishnan G

March 15, 2018

A Supreme Court bench hearing the Ayodhya title suit on Wednesday said it will first examine whether the apex court’s 1994 judgment in the M Ismail Faruqui case — that a mosque was not an essential part of the practice of Islam, and hence could be acquired by the state — needs to be sent to a larger bench for reconsideration.

The court ruled out sending the entire title suit to a larger bench, and underlined that it cannot compel the parties involved in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute to arrive at a settlement.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices Ahok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer said: “After due deliberation, we have thought it appropriate that we should hear Dr (Rajeev) Dhavan, learned senior counsel appearing in one of the appeals on behalf of the appellants, whether the judgment in Dr M Ismail Faruqui requires reconsideration…. We must immediately make it clear that our addressing the said issue shall singularly relate to whether this bench should think the dictum in Dr M Ismail Faruqui…requires reconsideration.”

In that event, the bench said, it “may pass appropriate orders for placing the matter before a five-judge bench for consideration”.

A five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by then CJI M N Venkatchalliah, had in 1994 held, “under the Mohammedan Law applicable in India, title to a mosque can be lost by adverse possession…. If that is the position in law, there can be no reason to hold that a mosque has a unique or special status, higher than that of the places of worship of other religions in secular India to make it immune from acquisition by exercise of the sovereign or prerogative power of the State. A mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaz (prayer) by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in open.”

Accordingly, the court had then held, “its acquisition is not prohibited by provisions in the Constitution of India.”

On Wednesday, the CJI Misra-led bench also rejected all applications by people seeking to intervene in the case after the parties to the suit opposed all such interventions.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who had also filed an IA, contended that he had originally filed a writ petition seeking enforcement of his fundamental right to worship. Another bench had allowed him to intervene by converting the writ into an IA, he said. But the court said since it had rejected all IAs, it cannot allow Swamy’s application either.

The bench said Swamy’s original writ will stand revived.

The Shia Waqf Board, which has filed a Special Leave Petition, requested that it should also be heard in the matter, but the court said the Board’s petition is yet to come on record, and will be taken up as and when it comes up.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, who raised the question of the Ismail Faruqui case, submitted that the court will “have to decide what is the concept of mosque to Muslims”. He contended, “If the judgment stands, it is abundantly clear that it will affect the outcome of the case…. Do you take it as gospel that a mosque is not essential to a Muslim? If you do, our nation will be damaged.”

Full report at:

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/ayodhya-dispute-will-see-if-1994-ruling-on-mosques-in-islam-needs-re-look-says-supreme-court-5098252/

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Terror funding case: Hizbul Mujahedeen chief Syed Salahudin’s sons questioned by NIA

March 15, 2018

The National Investigative Agency (NIA) on Wednesday questioned six persons, including four sons of Hizbul Mujahedeen chief Syed Salahudin, in a terror funding case registered in 2011.

Hizbul chief’s sons — Syed Abdul Wahid, Abdul Mueed, Syed Khalid and Syed Farooq — were questioned for six hours at NIA’s Humhuma camp office, official sources said. The two other quizzed by the NIA are Muzamil Khan of Darmuna Soibugh in Budgam and Syed Muhammad Yusuf of Hyderpora in Srinagar.

Officials said the six men were questioned in 2011 terror funding case relating to the transfer of money from Pakistan to J&K through hawala channels via Delhi, which the agency believed was used in funding terrorism and secessionist activities.

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/terror-funding-case-hizbul-mujahedeen-chief-syed-salahudins-sons-questioned-by-nia-5098176/

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NIA: UK resident who entered India illegally had ties with al-Qaeda

Mar 14, 2018

The National investigation Agency (NIA) on Wednesday filed formal charges against a UK resident who entered India illegally from Bangladesh for planning to carry out terrorist activities in the country and also to fight for the Rohingyas in Myanmar.

Samiun Rehman, a British national of Bangladeshi origin, was arrested in east Delhi in September 2017.

The NIA said incriminating material including alleged chats with an al-Qaeda associate were found in his laptop and mobile phone showing his alleged allegiance to the proscribed terror outfit.

Rehman’s parents settled in the UK from Bangladesh in 1960s. His businessman father lives in London. Rehman was allegedly radicalised while serving a prison sentence in London. He later went to Mauritania after his release.

The NIA in a statement said that during the investigation it was established that Rehman illegally entered India from Bangladesh through the Beenapole border in West Bengal. He stayed at several hideouts in India, the agency said.

“He wanted to establish base of proscribed terror outfit al-Qaeda in Delhi in order to carry out terrorist activities in India and he also had planned to fight for the Rohingya cause in Myanmar,” said the NIA statement.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/nia-uk-resident-who-entered-india-illegally-had-ties-with-al-qaeda/story-xPS3HxUqMrcp6hNNWRPFjK.html

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Pakistan

 

Rise of Militant-Linked Party Casts Doubt on Pakistan’s Terrorist Crackdown

March 15, 2018

The Mili Muslim League’s website reads like a regular Pakistan political outfit, offering translations in Urdu and English and promoting the rights of minorities and women. The party’s spokesman even calls for good trade relations with arch-rival India.

Yet it’s backed by Hafiz Saeed, the suspected planner of the 2008 Mumbai attacks who was designated as a terrorist by the U.S. a decade ago.

The MML’s creation, pushed along by Saeed who inaugurated its offices in Lahore in December, has led to fears Pakistan’s military is renewing its push to lend terror groups political legitimacy. Those concerns deepened with a high court decision on March. 9 to approve the party’s registration, allowing it to run in national elections scheduled for July.

Pakistan is at pains to show it is acting against militants as it comes under increasing U.S. pressure. But the court’s ruling presents a challenge to incoming U.S. secretary of state and current CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, who’s vowed a harder line against the country if it fails to show it’s eliminating safe havens for terrorists.

Read more: Pushing Pakistan Seems Obvious But Isn’t Simple: QuickTake Q&A

"We see the Pakistanis continuing to provide safe harbor, havens inside of Pakistan for terrorists who present risks to the United States of America," Pompeo said on Jan. 7. "If they fix this problem, we’re happy to continue to engage with them and be their partner. But if they don’t, we’re going to protect America."

There’s "no doubt" Pompeo has taken a tougher stance on Pakistan than Tillerson, Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London said in an email Wednesday. "The agency has always had a unique view of Pakistan, seeing up close both its cooperation with the United States and its extensive support for militant groups."

Dodging Sanctions

Last month, a U.S.-led coalition of western nations pushed for its addition to the Financial Action Task Force’s terrorism-financing watch list, a move which may lead to sanctions.

Pakistan has long been accused of supporting proxy groups of fighters furthering its foreign policy objectives -- from the claim on the disputed region of Kashmir to the installation of a pro-Pakistani government in Afghanistan. The army has consistently denied supporting terrorists.

Retired Pakistani Lieutenant-General Talat Masood expects Pompeo "will be much firmer" than his predecessor. The "Americans have tried their best," Masood said. "They have applied lot of pressure on Pakistan and they have seen it didn’t work."

The U.S. says Saeed’s charities are fronts for militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Saeed refutes the allegations and in sermons in Lahore he has denounced Islamabad’s moves to seize his organizations’ assets as an American-led persecution.

Describing the allegations as “propaganda,” the MML’s spokesman Tabish Qayyum said the party wants Pakistan to devise a neutral foreign policy. “We want to serve the people regardless of their faith and ethnicity,” Qayyum said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

The MML’s actual election prospects are dim. Religious parties have fared poorly in past elections and the MML has just over 3,100 followers on Twitter. Qayyum said the party’s campaign plans haven’t been finalized, though the MML is more interested in creating a “long-term political movement.”

Still, the court’s move may allow its proxy groups more freedom to operate and raise funds in the open. On March 11, the local Daily Times said army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa told reporters he stood by the judiciary and subversion of its rulings wouldn’t be allowed. The military declined to comment.

‘Cynical Contradiction’

The move has provoked condemnation from New Delhi.

It “completely exposes Pakistan’s duplicity,” Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry, told reporters. “This is an attempt by the Pakistani establishment to mainstream him, to mainstream this system as a political party.”

In February, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told Bloomberg he saw no evidence to support claims the military was “mainstreaming” extremist groups. Pakistan’s de-facto finance minister, Miftah Ismail, also said in an interview last week the government will tighten anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism laws, noting it had already done enough to avoid the FATF listing.

Read more: Pakistan Hits Back Against U.S. Accusations in Terror Stalemate

Washington isn’t convinced. The U.S. persuaded Islamabad’s allies, Saudi Arabia and China -- the latter of which is financing about $60 billion of infrastructure works in Pakistan -- to remove earlier objections to Pakistan being placed on FATF’s monitoring list from June.

“Pakistani leaders have said that they are going after terrorism financing, but, unfortunately, there is a cynical contradiction between their words and actions,” said Javid Ahmad, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center in Washington. “If Pakistan ends up on FATF’s grey list in June, it faces being placed on the blacklist and is likely to face economic sanctions, global banking isolation, limiting foreign investments that would corrosive effects on the country’s teetering economy.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-14/militant-linked-party-casts-doubts-on-pakistan-terror-crack-down

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TTP claims responsibility of Lahore Tableeghi Markaz suicide attack

Asif Chaudhry

March 15, 2018

LAHORE: At least nine people, including five policemen, were killed and 20 others injured in a suicide attack on a police check-post set up near a religious gathering in Raiwind on Wednesday.

The suicide bomber blew himself up at the Nisar Police check-post near the Tableeghi Markaz after a cop tried to stop him from entering the venue where a bi-annual congregation was under way.

“It was at around 9:20pm when a teenage boy approached the police personnel. When a policeman tried to stop him, he blew himself up injuring all of the 12 police personnel present there,” DIG Operations Dr Haider Ashraf told Dawn, adding that five of those cops, including two sub-inspectors, later succumbed to their injuries. He said that four civilians had also lost their lives in the attack, while the condition of some of those injured, being treated at various hospitals, is said to be critical. Those injured include an assistant superintendent of police (ASP) and two station house officers.

Dr Ashraf was of the view that the attacker had wanted to target the check-post set up to provide security to hundreds of the faithful who came from all over the country to attend the event.

According to Rescue-1122 officials, the attack took place a few kilometres from the residence of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

They said that rescue ambulances took the injured to the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital at Raiwind and the Sharif Medical Hospital where the condition of five of them was stated to be serious.

An injured constable, Abid Hussain, told journalists that he had been deputed at the entry point of the check-post to frisk those passing through the area.

“I saw a young boy who was trying to enter [the venue] and as soon as my colleague stopped him, I heard a powerful blast,” Mr Hussain said, adding that he had lost consciousness after that and came to later at a hospital.

According to people who had witnessed the attack, a massive fireball was seen at the check-post. Pakistan Rangers quick response force arrived at the spot and cordoned off the area. However, no militant group has claimed responsibility for the blast so far.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1395369/five-policemen-among-nine-killed-in-lahore-suicide-attack

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Nine martyred, 20 injured in Raiwind blast

Mar 15, 2018

LAHORE: At least nine persons, including five police personnel and four citizens, were killed and 20 others were injured in a blast near a police post at Raiwind on Wednesday.

Two sub-inspectors and three constables are among the dead while the injured include Raiwind ASP Zubair Nazir and SHO.

Rescue sources said that the injured were rushed to Tehsil Headquarters (THQ) Hospital Raiwind, Sharif Medical City Hospital and General Hospital Lahore, adding that the blast occurred when policemen present at the posting were changing their shift. A motorcycle was destroyed in the blast, while police and law enforcement rushed to the site and began further investigation.

Some of the injured are listed in a critical condition, triggering fears that the death toll might go up.

According to rescue officials, a caller who informed them about the incident said it was a cylinder blast. However, the impact and sound of the blast suggest it was a terrorist attack.

Defunct Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.

Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police Operations Dr Haider Ashraf said that the attack was carried out against police personnel. The injured include Raiwind assistant superintendent of police (ASP), he said.

The DIG further said that a motorcycle was probably used by terrorists to target a police check-post 600 meters from the Raiwind Tableeghi congregation site. He added that dozens of vehicles were also damaged in the blast.

DIG Haider Ashraf further said that body parts of the suicide bomber were recovered from the explosion site and sent to the forensic lab for further examination. The senior police official stressed that if the suicide attacker had managed to enter the congregation site, the death toll could have been much higher.

The government of Punjab has issued a list of the martyred and the injured.

The martyrs include Muhammad Aslam (SI), Tanvir (SI), Saeed (Constable), Amir Afridi and two unidentified while injured are identified as M Naeem (Cop), Sabir (Cop), Manzoor (Cop), Israr (Cop), Karamat (Cop), Abid Hussain (Cop), Babur Hayat (Cop), Muhammad Farooq (Cop), Muhammad Akram (Cop), M Yaseen, M Saeed, Fareedullah, Zeeshan, Asim Afridi and five unidentified persons.

President, CM condemn attack

President Mamnoon Hussain condemning the terrorist attack, prayed for eternal peace of the martyred police personnel and people.

While expressing sympathies with the bereaved families, the president directed the authorities concerned to provide best medical treatment and every possible assistance to the injured and affected people.

He also said such kinds of cowardly acts could not deter the resolve of the government against the war on terrorism and the Pakistani nation had defeated terrorists after giving numerous sacrifices.

Separately, Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned the blast and sought a report from Punjab inspector general of police (IGP) and directed him to investigate the matter. The CM expressed a deep sense of sorrow and grief over the loss of precious human lives, directing the administration that best treatment facilities should be provided to the injured police officials and other people.

In another post onTwitter, Shehbaz paid tribute to the martyred policemen and said the nation is proud of their sacrifices.

High Alert

Meanwhile, Punjab IGP Captain (r) Arif Nawaz Khan has directed to declare a security high alert in the province and has asked Lahore CCPO and all RPOs and DPOs to strengthen security in their respective regions and districts.

The IGP directed all officers to ensure implementation of all security standard operating procedures (SOPs)  released. He also directed the CCPO to ensure that best medical treatment is provided to the personnel and injured officers.

The top officer also directed for further tightening the process of checking and monitoring at the entry and exit routes of the metropolis. He directed that all measures be taken to ensure the safety of the life and property of the masses.

Lahore’s first attack in 2018

This is the first incident of such nature in Lahore this year, however, almost 60 people lost their lives in terrorist attacks in 2017. At least 45 people were injured in an explosion in a fruit truck stationed in a parking lot on Band Road in August last year.

In July 2017, 26 people, including nine policemen, were martyred and 58 others were injured in a suicide hit on Ferozepur Road.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/03/14/nine-dead-20-injured-in-raiwind-blast/

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5 terrorists killed in Karachi ‘encounter’

March 15, 2018

KARACHI - At least five gangsters were gunned down in alleged encounter followed by the attack on Rangers personnel leaving one dead wounded three others in Zikri Para Lyari.

According to the details, unknown gunmen opened firing on Rangers personnel, resultantly four men wounded in Ali Muhammad Locality, Zikri Para. The wounded personnel were taken to the hospital where one of them succumbed to his injures while his comrades admitted with critical wounds.

Following the attack heavy contingents of law enforcers including police and Rangers rushed to the spot and cordon off the locality. Law enforcement agencies claimed to have gunned down five Lyari gangsters while recovered weapons from their possession.

The gangsters gunned down in alleged encounters were identified as Chaker Ali, Mehar Ali, Amir Ali, Umair Ali  and Ameer aka Panda. The bodies of the gangsters associated with Ghafar Zikri gang of Lyari were handed over to the families after autopsy while police registered the case against the gangsters.

Witnesses said that the law enforcement agencies still cordon off the localities and door to door search operation in the area has been continue. Witnesses said that Ghafar Zikri escaped the area returned couple of months ago and continue operating the gang in Lyari. The funeral prayer of the Ranger’s cop Fawad Khan offered at 61 Wing, Abdullah Shah Ghazi.

Home minister Sohail Anwar Syal, Corp Commander Karachi Lieutenant General Shahid Baig Mirza, Interior Secretary Sindh Qazi Shahid Pervaiz, DG Rangers Sindh Major General Muahmmad Saeed, Additional IG Karachi Mustaq Meher and other police high ups participated in the funeral prayer.

Full report at:

https://nation.com.pk/15-Mar-2018/5-terrorists-killed-in-karachi-encounter

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Pakistani bishops to invite pope to visit their country

By Robin Gomes

Mar 15, 2018

When Pakistan’s Catholic bishops meet Pope Francis in the Vatican on Thursday, they are going to invite him to visit their country.  Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karchi, made the declaration to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Wednesday.

Members of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (PCBC) are currently in Rome on what is called the “ad limina” visit.  Heads of dioceses make such visits every 5 years or so to report on the state of their jurisdictions.

Thursday morning, the bishops will concelebrate Mass with the Pope in the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta residence and later meet him to discuss the current situation in the country.

Invitation has government backing

Arch. Coutts said that their invitation to the Pope has the support of the Pakistani government.  In 2015, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had sent two federal ministers to Rome to personally deliver the letter of invitation to the Pontiff.

Archbishop Coutts noted that, "Pope Francis is highly esteemed by all Pakistanis, including Muslims. They consider him a man of peace and appreciated his steps towards the Islamic community, not least the good relations with the Al-Azhar,” University of Cairo, Egypt,  Arch. Coutts said. 

He however said that the possibility of such a visit can be discussed only after the establishment of a new government following the general elections scheduled for 15 July.  He was confident it will be possible.

Air of uncertainty in Pakistan

The archbishop expressed concern over the great uncertainty in the troubled south Asian country ahead of the elections.  "The main parties as well as those with Islamic affiliations are fighting each other, and a mature and wise candidate has not yet emerged,” he noted.   These tensions concern not only Christians but also the entire population, he said.

Pakistan's small Christian minority continues to suffer, mainly due to attacks on churches,  the 72-year old archbishop said, noting that the last attack was on the Methodist church of Quetta on 17 December.  Since several churches have been hit in recent years, he said, places of worship are given police protection on Sundays and feast days. However, he said, “There is constant danger and we do not know where and when the terrorists will strike again.”

The other source of great concern for Christians, Arch. Coutts pointed out, is the abuse of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.  He spoke about the recent incident of a Christian boy from Lahore, Patras Masih, who has been arrested for offending the Prophet Muhammad.  "For the umpteenth time,” lamented Arch. Coutts, “a person, almost always innocent, is accused without any proof and without the possibility of defending himself.”

The blasphemy laws remain an extremely sensitive issue in the predominantly Muslim nation and they have drawn intense criticism even within the country.  Insulting the Prophet Muhammad in Pakistan is a crime punishable by death, while offending the Koran, Islam’s holy book, incurs life imprisonment. Rights organizations say the law is often misused to settle personal scores.

Arch. Coutts pointed out that Islamist extremists exert much pressure to fomenting the feelings of people, that prevents the right course of justice, even for Muslims.  According to him, a change in mentality is needed in order to prevent the abuse of the blasphemy laws.  The problem of blasphemy laws, he said, is inherent in Pakistani society, that is not yet ready to properly handle the issue of religion.

International solidarity

However, Pakistan’s tiny Christian community draws strength from international solidarity.  Arch. Coutts expressed gratitude to ACN for its efforts in this regard, especially for lighting up Rome’s famous landmark, the Colosseum in red on 24 February, in solidarity with the suffering Christians of the world.

Among those invited to the Rome event were the husband and youngest daughter of Asia Bibi of Pakistan, condemned to death in 2010 for blasphemy.

Such initiatives, Arch. Coutts said, show to the Western world that there are Christians in other parts of the world who suffer because of the lack of separation between religion and state.  “When we know you are aware of our situation and pray for us, we feel encouraged and no longer feel alone,” he said thanking ACN for its efforts.

Full report at:

http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2018-03/pakistan-bishops-ad-limina-invite-pope-francis-.html

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Punjab Assembly makes history by passing Sikh Marriages Act

15 March 2018

LAHORE: In a historic move, Pakistan’s Punjab Assembly passed a law on Wednesday that recognizes the separate religious identity of the country’s Sikh community by allowing its members to register their marriages with union councils according to their own family law.

The Punjab Sikh Anand Karaj Marriages Act, 2018, was tabled in the House by Sardar Ramesh Singh Arora last Friday after getting approval from the Standing Committee on Minorities and Human Rights.

“I am really happy that we have got recognition today by getting our own family law,” said Gurmeet Singh to Arab News. He had come from Nankana Sahib to witness the historic moment at the Punjab Assembly. “Even in India, our marriages are registered under the Hindu Marriage law,” he said.

About 25,000 Sikhs live in Pakistan with the majority in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The tomb of the founder of their religion, Guru Nanak, is in Nankana Sahib which is 80 km from Lahore.

Given the religious significance of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Sikhs from different parts of the world, especially India, Canada and the US, visit the province every year in order to perform their religious rituals.

While Pakistan does not have a huge Sikh population, it has benefited their global community by setting an example for other parts of the world and accepting their separate religious identity.

“It is a great moment in our country’s history,” Ramesh Singh Arora told Arab News. “Pakistan will gain global recognition for passing this first-of-its-kind legislation.”

Members of the Sikh community who live in Punjab can now register their marriages — or dissolutions — with union councils under a law that sets them apart from the Muslim majority.

The union councils have also been authorized to issue them with marriage certificates that were previously denied them in the absence of a relevant legal framework.

The Sikh marriage certificates will also be acceptable to the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), making it possible for community members to get documents that are necessary to prove their ties at the international level and get family visas.

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1266511/offbeat

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FIA asks FO to contact US state department for Haqqani’s return

Mar 15, 2018

ISLAMABAD: In a bid to ensure the return of former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States (US) Husain Haqqani, who is also a key player in the ‘Memogate’ scandal, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has written a letter to the Foreign Office (FO) asking it to contact the US Department of State to intervene in this matter.

Sources in FIA said that details have been provided to FO about the case against Haqqani in which he was accused of embezzling $7.2 million from a secret fund.

The sources further said that the FO wing dealing with the US would review the letter and contact the American officials for further action.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/03/14/fia-asks-fo-to-contact-us-state-department-for-haqqanis-return/

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EU and China urge Afghan Taliban to accept talks offer

Mar 15, 2018

BEIJING: China and the European Union believe the Taliban should seize Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to recognise the movement as a legitimate political group, the EU’s special envoy to Afghanistan said on Wednesday.

Ghani proposed a ceasefire and a release of prisoners among a range of options, including new elections involving the militants, and a constitutional review for a pact with the Taliban to end a conflict that, last year alone, killed or wounded more than 10,000 Afghan civilians.

The Taliban have not yet given any formal answer to the offer, but US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday during an unannounced visit to Kabul that the United States is seeing signs of interest in talks from elements of the insurgency.

“China and the EU believe that this is an offer that is meaningful. It is an offer that presents an opportunity and a window that should be seized by all parties across the conflict lines,” EU Ambassador Roland Kobia said after meeting his Chinese counterpart, Deng Xijun, in Beijing.

“We, as the EU, very much hope that the Taliban will respond to that offer to start the discussion,” Kobia said.

“In these kinds of scenarios windows open very quickly but they can also close very quickly,” he added.

Kobia added that China had various contacts with the Taliban, but he was not aware of the details. Taliban fighters still control large parts of the country and any new battlefield gains by US and US-backed Afghan forces cannot promise to overcome Afghanistan’s yawning political divisions and entrenched corruption. Western diplomats and officials in Kabul say contacts involving intermediaries have been underway with the aim of agreeing on ground rules and potential areas of discussion for possible talks with at least some elements in the Taliban.

However, the insurgents, who seized a district centre in western Afghanistan this week, have given no public sign of accepting Ghani’s offer, instead issuing several statements suggesting they intend to keep fighting.

China has worked with Pakistan and the United States to broker peace talks to end the conflict that has raged since the Taliban were ousted by US-backed forces in 2001.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/03/14/eu-and-china-urge-the-taliban-to-accept-talks-offer-says-eu-ambassador/

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Though militants have left for now, Sikhs of Tirah Valley live without govt support

Abdullah Malik

MARCH 15, 2018

Khyber Agency: Outside his small shop of herbal products, 55-year-old Gujreet Singh sits idle as there is no sign of a customer in the famous Bara Bazar of Khyber Agency.

The once bustling market famous for smuggled goods including arms and ammunitions remains deserted for the most part of the day ever since the area became a hotbed of militancy over a decades ago.

Singh was a resident of the volatile Tirah Valley but he left the area after militants captured the valley and imposed their law in the area. “We left Tirah valley in the early days of militancy and established a shop of herbs in the [Bara] market but soon we had to leave Bara as well when militants reached the area. Then we moved

to Peshawar.”

Khyber Agency has seen various conflicts with the onset of the war on terror. It remained in de facto control of Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI), a militant group led by Haji Namdar and Mufti Shakir, that had started as an anti-Barelvi sectarian outfit in 2004. The LeI was an offshoot of a religious group that wanted domination in the area and engaged in propaganda using illegal FM radio channels.

The group, known as Amr bil Maruf Wa Nahi Anil Munkar (Suppression of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue), under Mufti Shakir was engaged in bloody clashes with a Barelvi group of Khyber Agency led by Pir Saifur Rehman. When the bloodshed between the two groups escalated, the authorities intervened, asking tribal elders for help in restoring peace.

Tribal elders, in collaboration with the political administration, held Jirgas to reach an understanding between the two warring groups. A series of Jirgas were organized by Afridi tribes, which forced Mufti Munir and Pir Saifur Rehman to leave Bara.

Gurjeet Singh’s families was amongst those who left Tirah valley when the clashes between the two rival groups increased, and most of the families left for Bara but soon that area also witnessed bloody clashes, when Mangal Bagh, a warlord LeI, imposed his version of Sharia in the area.

After Singh’s family left Bara for Peshawar, he spent some years there but decided to return to Bara.

After recent series of military operations, peace has been restored in the area, but an environment of fear and uncertainty still prevails. Media from outside the area have no permission to take photos or make videos in the area [when I reached the main market, my cell phone was taken away by a security official because I was taking photographs].

Salam Khan, another shopkeeper, also has vivid recollections of the days when militants ran supreme. He says, “we had to wear caps as no one could dare to neglect the orders of the militants. In every mosque there was registration system, those who didn’t come for five daily prayers were punished harshly. One day I skipped the Zuhr prayer because I was not feeling well. In the evening, five masked men came to my house and gave me a severe beating before presenting me before the Amir. I was made to swear an oath that I will never miss any prayer next time.

“Taliban have physically left the place but their sympathizers remain. They demand extortion and threaten us when we don’t pay on time. The government has failed to safeguard us. Minorities have no right to exercise their religious beliefs openly.”

A wall eight-feet tall divides the tribal belt and Peshawar. As you cross over into the tribal belt, it appears that the writ of the Pakistani state has ceased. In Bara Bazaar, traders still sell arms and ammunitions without fear of reprisal.

Singh’s family frequently visits Peshawar valley for religious occasions, as there are no worship places left in tribal areas. Singh recalls that there used to be a worship place of the Sikh community in his area where they performed religious rites, but when militants struck all the sacred objects in the worship place were shifted to Peshawar out of fear for their safety. Now, he says, they offer daily prayers inside their homes.

During attacks by militants, his family and several other Sinkh households got temporarily displaced as well. He says mistreatment at camps set up for IDPs left them with no choice but to seek shelter in gurdwaras in Peshawar and Punjab. When they returned, he recalls, they found their shops [in Bara] burnt.

Pakistani security forces have carried out four major offensives in the Khyber Agency – Khyber 1, 2, 3 and 4. The latest was launched in the Rajgall valley to counter TTP and Islamic State.

In FATA, the Sikh community is concentrated in Khyber Agency, mostly in the volatile Tirah valley linking Pak-Afghan border with Nangarhar province of Afghanistan on the other side. Singh complains that the government did not fulfill its promise of rehabilitation of the Bara Market after the military offensive. “We rebuilt the shops on our own and set up our businesses from scratch.”

Full report at:

https://dailytimes.com.pk/214914/though-militants-have-left-for-now-sikhs-of-tirah-valley-live-without-govt-support/

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Arab World

 

Militant threat emerges in Egyptian desert, opening new front in terrorism fight

By Sudarsan Raghavan

March 14, 2018

EL WAHAT EL BAHARIYA, Egypt — The desolate terrain of Egypt’s Western Desert is emerging as a new frontier in the global fight against terrorism.

Militant groups linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are using the desert as both a haven and a crossing point for smuggling fighters, weapons and illicit goods from Libya, where lawlessness rules.

Along a highway stretching toward the Libyan border, the winds blow across a vast no man’s land of sand dunes, rocky scrubs and barren hills. There are no villages, no signs of life save for the cars and trucks that speed past. But this peaceful landscape, just an hour’s drive from Cairo, is the staging ground for an ambitious insurgency.

“It’s geographically a crucial place for the terrorists and extremists,” said Khaled Okasha, an Egyptian security expert and member of a government council to counter terrorism and extremism. “The presence of caves and hills makes it easier for them to attack and hide. And the capital is close. They can carry out attacks in a lot of nearby places.”

The ranks of the insurgents are being filled, in part, by fighters returning from Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic State’s caliphate has been dismantled, according to security officials and analysts.

Ominously, a new group linked to al-Qaeda has also emerged in the desert, announcing its presence with an attack in October that killed at least 16 security forces. This group, Ansar al-Islam, is now competing directly with the Islamic State, which had already been active in the Western Desert, introducing a rivalry that could fuel a further uptick in violence.

In recent months, the militants have been solidifying their presence along the Libyan border, moving freely across it with the help of sympathetic tribes. It is a reminder of the extent to which the instability that emerged in Libya after the Arab Spring revolts continues to spill across national borders.

While there have been sporadic attacks in the Western Desert since 2014, security officials and analysts say the Islamist extremist threat is escalating there, expanding beyond the northern Sinai Peninsula, where a virulent ISIS affiliate is combating Egyptian security forces. The militants have also struck in the heavily populated Nile Valley, which stretches from north to south.

The fighters in the desert potentially pose an even graver threat to the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi than do fighters in Sinai, analysts said. Last month, the Egyptian military launched a campaign targeting militants in Sinai and the desert, underscoring the government’s growing concern about this front.

Egypt is using American equipment and military vehicles to surveil and patrol its 700 mile-long border with Libya. At the same time, the Sissi government is aligning with Russia in backing Libyan strongman Khalifa Hifter, who controls much of eastern Libya in the hopes that he will stabilize the border areas.

Yet, despite billions of dollars in military assistance from the United States and other western nations, Egypt’s security forces have struggled to control the flow of militants into the Western Desert.

“There are areas of the border that remain completely unsecured 100 percent,” said Mohannad Sabry, an Egyptian journalist and the author of a book on the Islamist insurgency in Sinai. “The attacks in the past few months tell a lot about how much the terrorists are able to mobilize across the border.”

The militant activity in the Western Desert has largely been overshadowed by the violence emanating from the northern Sinai. ISIS suicide bombers have blasted churches. Hundreds of minority Christians have been killed or injured in militant attacks.

Sufi Muslims, viewed as heretics by the Sunni extremists, have also been targeted. In November, militants who authorities said were affiliated with ISIS overran the Sufi al-Rawda mosque in the northern Sinai, killing more than 300 worshipers gathered for Friday prayers. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s history.

Meanwhile, attacks on security forces in urban areas by smaller Islamic extremist groups, with names like Hasm and Liwaa el-Thawra, that seek political change have risen in the past year, also catching the public’s attention. Hasm is the Arabic acronym for the Forearms of Egypt Movement.

The extent of the threat in the Western Desert became clearer in October. About 80 miles southwest of Cairo, not far off the highway, militants attacked a security convoy patrolling near an oasis, killing at least 16 soldiers and police. Military officials said more than 50 died, but the government disputed that figure, even attacking foreign media for reporting the higher number.

For security officials and analysts, the attack revealed that the situation in the Western Desert was more serious than the government had admitted. The attack was claimed by a little-known al-Qaeda-linked group, Ansar al-Islam, which declared a holy war against the Egyptian state, suggesting another lethal dimension to Egypt’s spreading Islamist militant landscape. Linked to Libyan extremists, the group has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the network’s North and West Africa branch.

“The location of the ambush suggests that a new theatre of operations linked to Libya may be emerging,” wrote the International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan U.S. think tank, in a Jan. 31 report.

For the past four years, al-Qaeda and its affiliates have been quietly rebuilding in North Africa and elsewhere, preparing to fill any vacuum left by a weakened ISIS, terrorism experts say. In Libya and Egypt alone, there are now an estimated 6,000 fighters linked to al-Qaeda, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Al-Qaeda has systematically implemented an ambitious strategy designed to protect its remaining senior leadership and discreetly consolidate its influence wherever the movement has a significant presence,” Bruce Hoffman, a senior visiting fellow at the Council and former director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, wrote in a brief last week.

Few Egyptians and westerners, though, have been aware of the deepening insurgency in the Western Desert. As in the northern Sinai, the Sissi government has banned journalists from traveling to many parts of the Western Desert, declaring them military zones. A crackdown on activists, researchers and nongovernmental organizations has further curbed the availability of independent information.

As in the northern Sinai, tensions have been percolating in the Western Desert since a military coup ousted the elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, two years after Egyptians rose up to topple President Hosni Mubarak. Morsi’s ouster and a subsequent crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood party have helped fuel Egypt’s Islamic militancy.

In the winter of 2014, ISIS claimed responsibility for the killing of an American contractor working for Houston-based oil and gas exploration firm Apache Corp. in the Western Desert. That same year, militants killed 21 security force personnel at a checkpoint in Farafra, close to the Libyan border.

In 2015, a group of Mexican tourists were killed by Egyptian security forces who mistook them for militants, triggering a diplomatic crisis and criticism of the military’s efforts to govern the Western Desert. Last year, there was another attack on a checkpoint that killed eight police officers; four months later, ISIS militants slaughtered 29 Christians who were traveling in a bus to a monastery on the desert highway.

Security officials and regional analysts say the attack in October was designed as much for propaganda value as to inflict carnage or embarrass the Sissi government.

“We have started our jihad with the battle of the Lion’s Den in the Bahariya Oasis area on the borders of Cairo and were victorious against the enemy’s campaign,” Ansar al-Islam said in a statement following the attack.

Though relatively small, Ansar al-Islam is made up of highly trained former Egyptian army officers and soldiers who became radicalized, said analysts. The group is believed to have tried to assassinate Egypt’s interior minister in 2013; two years later, the group used a car bomb to kill the country’s chief prosecutor, according to security officials. They continue to recruit through networks in the army, analysts said.

“Compared to the insurgency in the Sinai, this is not a layman’s insurgency,” said Hause Waszkewitz, a Tunis-based regional analyst on Islamic groups. “They have military training and are comprised of former army members, which makes it very hard for counter attacks by the Egyptian army to bring these areas under their control.”

A former Egypt special forces officer, Hisham al-Ashmawy, is believed by security officials and analysts be the leader of Ansar al-Islam, as well as another militant group, al-Murabitun. He was once a leader in the Islamic militant group in the Sinai that became the ISIS affiliate, Wilayat Sinai. Ashmawy split off from Wilayat Sinai when they pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and he formed his own group, Ansar al-Islam, that would later link with al-Qaeda. Ashmawy is believed to be operating out of the Libyan city of Derna, about 165 miles west of the Egyptian border.

Unlike ISIS in the Sinai, which is engaging Egypt’s military almost weekly, Ashmawy prefers fewer large-scale attacks.

“He is a ghost. He is a boogeyman,” said Zack Gold, an expert on Egypt’s militant groups at the Center for Naval Analyses. “Every major attack, he either has been behind it or has been blamed for it.”

The threat from the Western Desert is of particular concern, analysts say, because it could seep more deeply into the heavily populated Nile Valley, where militant cells can hide and receive help from sympathetic locals. “The threat of a spread into the Nile Valley is much more real and much more dangerous and much more likely from the Western Desert and from Libya than from Sinai,” Gold said.

Meanwhile, the growing rivalry between al-Qaeda and ISIS could trigger more attacks in the Western Desert as each group tries to outdo the other for more recruits, funding and safe havens, analysts warn.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/militant-threat-emerges-in-egyptian-desert-opening-new-front-in-terrorism-fight/2018/03/13/1b24e776-1653-11e8-930c-45838ad0d77a_story.html?utm_term=.ffd13618d543

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Terrorists Sustain Heavy Losses in Attack on Syrian Army Positions in Hama

Mar 14, 2018

The Syrian army fiercely clashed with terrorists who had attacked the government forces' positions in the surrounding areas of Karnaza and al-Hamimat villages in Northwestern Aleppo.

Battlefield sources reiterated that the army troops killed tens of terrorists and destroyed their military equipment in the clashes.

Meantime, Syria's Tahrir Front said its commander Mohammad Khatab was also killed in clashes with the Syrian army in Northern Hama.

A sum of eight terrorist groups started large-scale attacks against the Syrian government forces' positions in Northern Hama in order to deflate pressures on their comrades in Eastern Ghouta.

Websites close to the militant groups reported that the terrorists of eight terrorist groups, including Jeish al-Ezzeh, Jeish al-Ahrar, Jeish al-Thani, Jeish al-Nokhbeh, Jebhat al-Enqaz, Regiment 111, Infantry 1st Division and Syria Tahrir Front (Jbhat al-Tahrir Souriya) have launched a large-scale military assault against the Syrian army in Northern Hama.

The websites noted that the militants' attack is aimed at reducing pressures on the terrorist front in Eastern Damascus.

In a relevant development on Wednesday, the Syrian army carried out mop-up operations in newly-liberated areas of Eastern Ghouta and found several workshops used by the terrorists for making chemical weapons and ammunition in the region.

The army units seized a workshop of chemical and poisonous substances, including chlorine during their cleaning operations in al-Sheyfouniyeh town in Eastern Ghouta.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army troops also seized workshops for making chemicals, rockets, mortars and bombs.

Also on Monday, the Syrian Army troops found a workshop used by the terrorists for making chemical weapons.

The Arabic-language website of Sputnik quoted Syrian Army Colonel Feras Ibrahim as saying that the army men seized a workshop that was used by the terrorists to build chemical weapons near the small town of Aftaris.

He further told Sputnik that the seized chemicals would likely be used to launch a false-flag chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta to later accuse the army of the attack.

Earlier reports said that the army troops continued their attacks on terrorists' positions after hours of a daily ceasefire ended in Eastern Ghouta on Sunday afternoon and laid siege on the town of Douma, the most important bastion of the terrorists in region.

The army men started attacking terrorists' defense liens from the newly-feed Modira region and advanced in Harasta.

The government troops, then, seized control over a number of buildings near the Vehicles Management Center, the farms near Modira and near the town of Harasta.

The advancing army soldiers met each other in a region between Harasta and Modira and laid siege on the strategic town of Douma, the main and the largest base of terrorists in Eastern Ghouta.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13961223001381

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Syrian Army Gains Control over New Regions in Eastern Ghouta

Mar 14, 2018

The Syrian government troops backed by the army's artillery and missile units fiercely clashed with the terrorists in Jasrin in Southern Ghouta, gaining control of at least 10 buildings in the Eastern part of this region.

Field sources have indicated the death and injury of tens of terrorists in the Syrian army's military operations, and emphasized that gaps have widened among terrorists as they are suffering increasing casualties and their position is aggravating under a tightening noose.

In a relevant development earlier on Wednesday, the Syrian army troops took full control of a strategic region in Southern Damascus as hundreds of terrorists of Al-Nusra Front (Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at or the Levant Liberation Board) left the area within the framework of an agreement with the Syrian army.

A sum of 300 terrorists of Al-Nusra Front and their allied groups with their families (a total of 1,000 people) left al-Qadam region in Southern Damascus on Tuesday for Idlib.

Meantime, with the exit of the terrorists from al-Qadam region and completion of clean-up operations in there, the Syrian army took full control of the region.

Field sources said on Tuesday that tens of terrorists of Al-Nusra Front and their allied groups have left the Southern countryside of Damascus city together with their family members for militant-held regions in Idlib province.

The sources said that the first group of Al-Nusra terrorists, allied groups and their family members left al-Qadam region in Southern Damascus for Idlib in an agreement with the army.

They said that 600 militants and their family members will leave al-Qadam in the first phase of evacuation.

The total number of terrorists and their family members in al-Qadam stands at 2,000.

The militant who do not want to leave al-Qadam for Idlib are to hand over their arms and ammunition and will apply for government amnesty.

Militant-affiliated websites disclosed on Sunday that gunmen of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) agreed on withdrawal of their gunmen from al-Qadam to militant-held regions in Idlib province.

They further reported that the army had previously given a 48 hours ultimatum to the militants to leave al-Qadam.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13961223001295

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Aleppo: Syria-Backed Forces Killed in Turkish Air Force Raids in Afrin

Mar 14, 2018

At least 8 pro-government forces were killed in the Turkish airstrikes on a border passage of refugees in Kimar village near Afrin, the Arabic-language al-Mayadeen TV channel reported.

The Turkish air raids on Kimar came as this region is said to have been handed over to the Syrian army by the Kurdish forces on the basis of an agreement.

In a relevant development on Tuesday, well-informed sources said that the Kurdish gunmen were to deliver control over nine regions in Afrin to the Syrian Army troops as the Turkish Army men and Ankara-backed militants were tightening noose on the Kurdish-held lands in Northwestern Aleppo.

The sources said that the Kurdish combatants are to hand over the villages of Kimar, al-Ziyarah, Borj al-Qas, Bashmara, Basoufan, Deir al-Jamal, Tal Raf'at, Kafr Naya, Ming airport and the village of Ming in Northern Aleppo to the Syrian Army troops after an agreement with Damascus government.

Other sources said that the Kurdish-held villages have been handed over to the army.

The Ankara forces have imposed control over tens of villages and towns near the town of Afrin in recent days.

Local sources reported on Monday that more Kurdish combatants and military hardware were sent to Afrin region in Northwestern Aleppo to face the Turkish Army and Ankara-backed militants.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13961223001189

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More Militant-Held Regions Join Peace Agreement with Syrian Army

Mar 14, 2018

The ministry said that militants in Havayez, al-Huweija and al-Shariyeh in Hama province handed over their arms and joined the nationwide reconciliation plan.

The ministry said that the total number of towns, regions and villages that have thus far joined peace with the army stands at 2,434 now.

Dissident-affiliated websites reported in February that reconciliation talks were underway between Damascus and representatives of militant groups over affiliation of more regions in Eastern Qalamoun region to the nationwide peace plan.

The news websites reported that preliminary agreement was reached for the implementation of a peace plan in Eastern Qalamoun after the representatives of militants, the Syrian Army commanders and a sum of civilians met in the town of al-Rahibeh.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13961223000984

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Monitor: Syrian regime, Russian bombardment kills 25 civilians in Ghouta

14 March 2018

Bombardment by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia killed 25 civilians, among them three children, in the embattled rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday, a monitor said.

“At least 25 civilians including three children were killed on Wednesday, most of them in regime air strikes and others in Russian raids on an area controlled by Faylaq al-Rahman,” a rebel group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday claimed that Syrian rebels were planning to stage a chemical attack to give the US-led coalition a pretext to strike Damascus.

Lavrov’s claims came after he and the Russian military warned Tuesday that any such strike by the US coalition would lead to Russiam retaliatory steps in Syria and “very serious” consequences.

Chemical weapons

They spoke after US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that the United States was ready to act in Syria “if we must” to address the use of chemical weapons and “inhuman suffering”.

“New provocations with the use of chemical weapons are being prepared -- performances will be organized in Eastern Ghouta, among others,” Lavrov told reporters on Wednesday.

A second day of medical evacuations from Syria’s Eastern Ghouta got underway on Wednesday, with dozens more civilians expected to be taken out of the besieged rebel enclave.

The United Nations has called for urgent medical evacuations for more than 1,000 people who are in desperate need of treatment unavailable in the enclave.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2018/03/14/Bombardment-kills-25-civilians-in-Syria-s-Ghouta-monitor.html

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‘Russian strike’ kills two commanders in eastern Ghouta rebel group

14 March 2018

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday an air strike killed 12 members of the Failaq al-Rahman rebel group in eastern Ghouta, including two of its commanders.

The group's spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Observatory said the strike took place on Tuesday evening and that, based on activist reports, it was conducted by Russia. Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Britain-based war monitor, named the two commanders as Abu Mohammad Saif and Abu  Mohammed Jobar.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2018/03/14/-Russian-strike-kills-two-commanders-in-eastern-Ghouta-rebel-group.html

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Assad vows to confront West schemes against Syria unity

Mar 14, 2018

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has pledged to fully deal with “Western plans” targeting the national unity and territorial integrity of his war-battered Arab country.

“Our war on terrorism will not cease as long as there is one terrorist left,” a post published on the Syrian presidency's Telegram account read.

It added, “We will continue to confront the Western scenarios that target the unity and sovereignty of our country.”

Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States and its allies have plans to “break up” Syria.

“The information that we receive from a wide variety of sources indicates that a narrow, non-inclusive group formed by the Americans on Syrian issues is developing plans for the collapse of the Syrian state,” Lavrov told reporters during a press briefing in Namibia on March 5.

The top Russian diplomat added that Moscow regrets the fact that not all Western countries are ready to behave “honestly” in regard to the current state of affairs in Syria.

The Russian foreign minister criticized the Western states' stance on the Syrian crisis and said that their actions on the ground are in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2401.

"The major clause of this resolution requires that all — I emphasize, all — the parties to the Syrian conflict agree on a ceasefire in order to provide at least a 30-day pause for delivery of humanitarian aid," Lavrov said, adding that Damascus is being pressured to stop its military operation despite the fact that it is targeting members of the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham Takfiri terrorist group, formerly known as al-Nusra Front, who are not covered by the truce.

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/14/555431/Assad-Syria-partition-

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Mideast

 

Tillerson’s sacking shows US determined to leave Iran nuclear deal: Araqchi

Mar 14, 2018

An Iranian deputy foreign minister says the sacking of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shows Washington is set on pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

"Americans are determined to leave the JCPOA, and changes at the country’s State Department were made in line with this goal, or at least it was one of the reasons," ISNA quoted Abbas Araqchi as saying during a meeting at the Iranian parliament’s Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy on Wednesday.

The senior Iranian official, who was a member of the negotiating team in talks over Tehran’s nuclear program, said that Europeans were trying to keep the US in the JCPOA but it remained to be seen whether their efforts would bear results. 

“Europeans are walking on the razor’s edge because if they incline towards [US President Donald] Trump, they will lose Iran,” Araqchi added.

He warned that Iran would leave the JCPOA too should the US decide to do so.

Trump on Tuesday fired Tillerson after a series of public rifts over policy. Tillerson’s departure had long been anticipated due to the clashes.

The US president said he and Tillerson had disagreed on many topics, but he specifically singled out their dispute on whether or not to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.

"When you look at the Iran deal; I thought it was terrible. He thought it was OK," Trump said. "I wanted to either break it or do something, he felt a little differently. So we were not really thinking the same."

Trump has repeatedly described the JCPOA, which was negotiated under his predecessor, Barack Obama, as “the worst and most one-sided transaction Washington has ever entered into,” a characterization he often used during his presidential campaign, and threatened to tear it up.

The US under Trump has been seeking a revision of the deal and making modifications to it, including the conclusion of Iran’s missile program to the agreement.

Washington has also been accusing Tehran of not fulfilling its commitments under the deal.

This is while the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has in several reports verified Iran’s commitment to the deal.   

Iranian officials have rejected the idea of making revisions to the deal, saying the US is in no position to alter or modify the JCPOA, which is backed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 and is an international document.

Earlier this month, the IAEA head once again confirmed Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries, warning that any collapse of the deal would be a "great loss."

"As of today, I can state that Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments… If the JCPOA were to fail, it would be a great loss for nuclear verification and for multilateralism," Yukiya Amano said on March 5.

Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the US, France, Britain, Russia and China – plus Germany signed the nuclear agreement on July 14, 2015 and started implementing it on January 16, 2016.

Under the JCPOA, Iran undertook to put limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of nuclear-related sanctions imposed against Tehran.

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/14/555448/Iran-US-Tillerson-nuclear-deal-Donald-Trump

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Yemeni forces shoot down Saudi-led spy drone in Asir

Mar 15, 2018

Yemeni army forces have shot down a Saudi-led reconnaissance drone in flight over a border area in the kingdom’s southern region of Asir.

According to the al-Masirah television network, the Yemeni air defense units downed the unmanned aerial vehicle belonging to the Riyadh-led coalition on Wednesday night over the al-Ulab border crossing between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Yemeni snipers killed a Saudi soldier in the Saudi southwestern border region of Jizan.

Moreover, Yemen’s artillery unit targeted Saudi forces in Hamezeh village in Jizan region, inflicting damage on them.

Saudi forces, on the other hand, launched airstrikes on residential areas in Tuhayat District in Hudaydah Province, in which a woman and two children were critically injured.

Saudi Arabia has been incessantly pounding Yemen since March 2015 in an attempt to crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement and reinstate former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is a staunch ally of the Riyadh regime.

At least 13,600 people have been killed since the onset of Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Yemen. Much of the Arabian Peninsula country's infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and factories, has been reduced to rubble due to the war.

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/15/555495/Yemen-Saudi-drone

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Yemeni snipers kill 14 Saudi mercenaries in retaliatory attacks

Mar 14, 2018

Yemeni army soldiers, supported by fighters from allied Popular Committees, have shot dead more than a dozen pro-Saudi militiamen loyal to resigned Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in the kingdom’s southwestern border region of Asir.

Yemeni troops and their allies fatally shot 14 Saudi soldiers in the the al-Alab border crossing of the region on Wednesday, Arabic-language al-Masirah television network reported.

Earlier in the day, Saudi military aircraft carried out a dozen airstrikes against Sana'a International Airport, causing extensive damage to the already defunct site.

The developments came a day after Yemeni soldiers and Popular Committees fighters targeted three Saudi troopers in al-Haskoul and Tabbe al-Nassour bases of Saudi Arabia’s Jizan region, located 967 kilometers southwest of the capital Riyadh.

The Yemeni forces shot and killed four Saudi-sponsored militiamen near al-Alab border crossing as well.

Saudi Arabia has been incessantly pounding Yemen since March 2015 in an attempt to crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement and reinstate former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is a staunch ally of the Riyadh regime.

At least 13,600 people have been killed since the onset of Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Yemen. Much of the Arabian Peninsula country's infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and factories, has been reduced to rubble due to the war.

The United Nations says a record 22.2 million people are in need of food aid, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger.

A high-ranking UN aid official recently warned against the “catastrophic” living conditions in Yemen, stating that there is a growing risk of famine and cholera there.

“After three years of conflict, conditions in Yemen are catastrophic,” John Ging, UN director of aid operations, told the UN Security Council on February 27.

He added, “People's lives have continued unraveling. Conflict has escalated since November driving an estimated 100,000 people from their homes.”

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/14/555465/Yemen-Saudi-mercenaries

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Turkey ramps up assault on Kurdish enclave in Syria

15 March 2018

Turkey turned up the heat on Syria’s Afrin on Wednesday, as pro-Ankara forces bombarded the Kurdish enclave and closed in on its main city.

The development -- which could redraw the map of northern Syria as the conflict enters its eighth year -- came as Russian-backed regime forces pounded shrinking rebel pockets in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, killing 31 civilians.

Turkish-led bombardment killed 10 civilians in Afrin city, which lies in the heart of a Kurdish-majority enclave against which neighbouring Turkey launched a deadly ground and air offensive on January 20.

Afrin’s encirclement “will have been completed by the evening”, a Turkish presidency source said Wednesday, toning down President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s earlier statement saying it would fall by evening.

Before the retraction, Erdogan had told supporters in Ankara he hoped “Afrin will, God willing, have completely fallen by the evening.”

A top official in the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which controls Afrin, laughed off the claim.

“It sounds like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is daydreaming when he says Afrin will fall tonight,” Redur Khalil told AFP.

Turkish and allied forces have almost encircled Afrin city, from which thousands started fleeing when it became apparent Ankara’s goal was nothing short of full capture.

Strike on regime loyalists

On Wednesday, Turkish bombing raids killed 10 fighters loyal to the regime, which last month deployed pro-government forces after the Kurds asked for help.

“The air strikes targeted a checkpoint on the only road leading from Afrin to regime-controlled territory to the southeast,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Displaced families have swelled the city’s population to around 350,000, and officials feared a humanitarian crisis should Turkish forces draw closer.

Shells rained down on Afrin city on Wednesday, killing 10 civilians including four children.

Earlier, dozens of desperate residents were seen lining up outside a bakery distributing free bread.

“Regardless of who will win in the end, as soon as the battle for this small pocket begins, it will mean a massacre against civilians,” said YPG media adviser Rezan Hedo.

The Observatory said on Wednesday that Turkey-led forces controlled 70 percent of the wider Kurdish enclave, after seizing several villages.

On the outskirts of Damascus, hundreds of kilometers (miles) south of Afrin, another humanitarian emergency was unfolding in Eastern Ghouta.

For nearly a month, Moscow-backed Syrian government forces and allied militia have waged a devastating air and ground assault that has killed more than 1,220 civilians.

The United Nations has called for urgent medical evacuations for more than 1,000 people who desperately need medical treatment outside the besieged area.

A trickle of evacuations from Ghouta’s largest town Douma began Tuesday under a deal with rebels, and more patients were allowed out Wednesday.

Dozens awaiting evacuation gathered at a Red Crescent center in Douma on Wednesday morning, an AFP correspondent reported.

They crowded around buses and ambulances, with Syrian Arab Red Crescent members checking names on a list.

Among them, 18-year-old Omran stood leaning on crutches. Badly wounded two years ago in bombardment on Ghouta, he was missing his left leg, right arm, and left eye.

Red Crescent workers carefully carried a wincing young girl from her wheelchair into an ambulance. On a nearby bus an elderly man clutched his belongings and appeared to be praying under his breath.

“We haven’t been able to treat some of these cases for more than a year,” said Mohammed al-Marhum, a doctor.

The patients were transported to the government-controlled Wafideen checkpoint on the edges of Ghouta.

An AFP correspondent at Wafideen saw around two dozen civilians arrive, including a wheelchair-bound man being helped by Red Crescent volunteers.

The Jaish al-Islam rebel group that controls Douma said around 35 sick and wounded were to be evacuated Wednesday, along with their companions.

The Observatory said more than 220 people including 60 patients had left the rebel enclave in two days of evacuations.

Deadly raids on Ghouta

The UN Security Council demanded a 30-day truce last month to allow for aid deliveries and medical evacuations from Ghouta. Such evacuations in Syria typically see people taken out of a besieged area for care, and then transported back in after treatment. The Syrian government’s assault on Ghouta has split the enclave into three sections, each controlled by different rebels.

The regime has reportedly been pursuing separate tracks of negotiations to secure local truces or evacuations from each zone.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said any evacuations must be carried out “humanely”. It said evacuees should be allowed freedom of movement, access to medical care, and a safe return to their homes.

The Russian military said the situation in Douma had “significantly stabilized” and an aid convoy of 20 vehicles was planned to enter the enclave on Thursday.

Fresh regime and Russian bombardment o Wednesday killed at least 31 civilians in an isolated southern zone of Ghouta, the Observatory said.

State news agency SANA said five civilians died of their wounds after shelling on Damascus.

Moscow’s strikes also killed a dozen rebels from the Faylaq al-Rahman faction controlling the area, including two top commanders, the monitor said.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2018/03/15/Turkey-ramps-up-assault-on-Kurdish-enclave-in-Syria.html

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Yemen security forces seize shipment of weapons on its way to the Houthis

14 March 2018

Yemeni security forces seized a shipment of weapons on their way to the Houthi militia in Sanaa on Wednesday.

Security sources revealed that one of the security forces at a check point, in Marib province east of Sanaa seized the shipment.

The weapons ranged from missile launchers, Kalashnikovs, explosives, which were hidden carefully in a large truck.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2018/03/14/Yemen-security-forces-seize-shipment-of-weapons-on-its-way-to-the-Houthis.html

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Yemeni army advances against Houthi militia in Nahm front, east of Sanaa

14 March 2018

The Yemeni army advanced in the Nahm front, east of Sanaa, and liberated the Rabaeen and Admagh mountain range.

Battles killed 26 Houthis and injured dozens others while three vehicles and two armored vehicles were destroyed. The Houthis also fled their posts.

The army also shelled the Houthis’ posts across Nahm and targeted 70 Houthi members on the outskirts of Masura and destroyed some of their vehicles.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2018/03/14/Yemeni-army-advances-in-Nahm-front-east-of-Sanaa.html

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Israel has destroyed 5,000 Palestinian homes in al-Quds since 1967: Report

Mar 15, 2018

A new report shows that Israeli forces have destroyed some 5,000 Palestinian houses in Jerusalem al-Quds since the Tel Aviv regime’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967.

The Palestinian Land Research Center (LRC) reported on Monday that the Israeli regime demolished some 1,706 homes between 2000 and 2017, displacing 9,422 Palestinians, including 5,443 children.

According to the report, around 380,000 Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied city need 2,000 new housing units annually, while the Jerusalem al-Quds municipality has put in place a series of procedures that would make Palestinian construction there impossible.

It also said that some 70,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem al-Quds were displaced in 1967 - the year of the Six-Day Israeli-Arab War - and were prevented from returning to the city.

The report also said that Israeli forces razed 39 villages around Jerusalem al-Quds in 1948, displacing 198,000 Palestinian residents.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds during the Six-Day War in 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community.

The report comes amid anger among Palestinians at US President Donald Trump’s hostile measures in favor of Israel, especially his decision last December to recognize Jerusalem al-Quds as the “capital” of the regime and begin work to transfer Washington’s embassy from Tel Aviv to the occupied city.

Washington’s dramatic U-turn on Jerusalem al-Quds drew global condemnations, prompting the UN General Assembly to overwhelmingly approve a resolution against Trump’s declaration in December 2016.

Israel lays claim to the entire city of Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital. The regime is expanding settlements on the parts of the city which the Palestinians want to make the capital of their future independent state.

More than half a million Israelis live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.

On Wednesday, Israel’s parliament (Knesset) passed the so-called “breach of loyalty” law allowing the interior minister to revoke the permanent residency status of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem al-Quds who are deemed to be a threat to the Tel Aviv regime.

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/15/555496/Isrtael-Palestine-Jerusalem-alQuds-Land-Research-Center

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Turkish hopes to fully seize Syria’s Afrin region daydream: YPG spox

Mar 14, 2018

A high-ranking member of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) has dismissed as a “daydream” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest remarks that Turkish military forces and their allied militants will fully capture Syria’s northwestern region of Afrin by nightfall.

“It sounds like Erdogan is daydreaming when he says Afrin will fall tonight,” Redur Xelil, the spokesman of the US-backed forces, said on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, the Turkish leader expressed hope that Turkish servicemen and militants from the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) would take control over Afrin as early as Wednesday evening.

Speaking during a weekly meeting with local headmen at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Erdogan asserted that utmost care is being taken to avoid harming civilians.

He went on to say that civilians are being withdrawn through a humanitarian corridor, emphasizing that YPG militants are obstructing the evacuations in a bid to use the local residents as human shields to prevent Turkish aerial and artillery strikes.

Erdogan added that around 1,300 square kilometers of land have been cleared of YPG terrorists nearly two months after Ankara’s cross-border operation in northern Syria.

The Turkish General Staff said in a statement on Wednesday morning that a total of 3,444 terrorists have been "neutralized" since the start of Operation Olive Branch in Afrin.

Turkish authorities often use the word "neutralized" to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.

Ankara views the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militant group that has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.

Erdogan has repeatedly said that Afrin should be cleared of “terrorists,” and demanded the deployment of Turkish troops there during a speech back in November 2016.

This is while US officials regard the YPG as the most effective fighting force against the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in northern Syria, and have substantially increased their weaponry and technology support to the group.

The controversy over a possible Syria border force first started on January 14 when a report emerged on Reuters saying that the military coalition led by the United States in Syria was planning to set up a large border force of up to 30,000 personnel with the aid of its militia allies.

The Syrian government has already condemned the Turkish offensive against Afrin, rejecting Ankara’s claim about having informed Damascus of the operation.

Damascus "strongly condemns the brutal Turkish aggression on Afrin, which is an inseparable part of Syrian territory," Syria's official news agency SANA cited a Syrian Foreign Ministry source as saying on January 20.

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/14/555449/Turkish-hopes-to-fully-seize-Syrias-Afrin-region-daydream-YPG-spox

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Iran warns US against ‘foolish’ moves against Syria

Mar 14, 2018

Iran has warned Washington against taking any “foolish” decisions with regards to Syria, as speculation mounts that the administration of US President Donald Trump is gearing up for a military strike against the country.

Speaking to reporters in a briefing on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi advised Washington to carefully consider the implications before adopting any interventionist policies in the Middle East.

“That America takes hostile actions against the countries of the region is nothing new but the US cannot intervene and this is a kind of invasion nonetheless,” said Qassemi.

“Nations in the region have shown that they will not accept foreign presence and we hope the US reconsiders this foolish decision,” he added.

There have been reports that the US and some of its Western allies partaking in an airstrike campaign against purported terrorist positions inside Syria are considering a large-scale military action against the Arab country under the pretext that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons against its people.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley stirred more concerns on Monday, saying Washington was ready to unilaterally “act” against Syria, just as it did last year when it bombed a Syrian government air base.

The Trump administration used a similar excuse in April 2017 to fire a barrage of cruise missiles against an airbase that Washington claimed Damascus had used to conduct a sarin gas attack on Khan Shaykhun village in Idlib Province days earlier.

Syria has denied the allegations, arguing that it has no reason to resort to chemical weapons while its forces have the upper hand in the fight against terrorists.

Iran’s advisory role

Defending Tehran’s military advisory role in Syria, Qassemi said Wednesday that unlike the US-led coalition, Iran’s presence in Syria has been based on an official request by Damascus to help it with the fight against terrorism.

“We hope that peace returns to Syria through diplomacy,” he said.

The possibility of a new US-led attack against Assad’s government has gained more weight in the recent weeks, following the Syrian military’s advances in Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb and one of the last strongholds of Daesh terrorists.

Russia’s concerns

Moscow has also warned Washington that, unlike the last time, it will respond if Syria is attacked once more and its servicemen there are threatened.

The Kremlin fears that any attacks against Syrian military sites would put in harm’s way the lives of thousands of Russian military forces who are stationed across Syria to help the country with its ongoing fight against terrorists.

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/14/555426/Iran-Qassemi-Russia-US-Syria-Haley-chemical-weapons-Trump

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Europe

 

‘UK Muslims are not incapable of integrating’: Muslim Council of Britain

15 March 2018

LONDON: Force-feeding “British values” counteracts integration and undermines the basic principle of “live and let live” according to a new report published in Parliament on Wednesday by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

Launched on the same day as the government’s Integrated Communities Strategy green paper, the report entitled ‘Our Shared Future: Muslims and Integration in the UK’ calls on policy makers to devise an “equal integration strategy for all Britons” that avoids placing the onus disproportionately on British Muslims.

“The debate on integration is skewed in one direction,” said Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. Speaking at the launch event on Wednesday evening, he challenged the “implicit accusation that British Muslims are incapable of integrating into society.”

Labour MP Naz Shah, who’s constituency of Bradford West is 51 percent Muslim identified the need for “refining the conversation about British Muslims.”

She said the language is starting to shift but, “We’re not out of the woods” and an “underbelly of Islamophobia” persists in politics. “Equality is not about having the same outcomes but about having the same opportunities,” she added.

Journalist James Fergusson, described the warm reception he received while living among UK Muslim communities to research his book My Country: A Journey Through Muslim Britain. “Not only are Muslims capable of integrating, they are actually doing so,” he said.

Writing in the report, Samayya Afzal, community engagement manager at the Muslim Council of Britain in Bradford, said: “The current language of integration imposes a responsibility on one segment of the population to integrate into British society, but there is no such thing as a one-way street to community cohesion.”

“If any integration policy is to succeed, as the government plans to do in 2018, it needs to be inclusive. The same goes for ‘British values’, a relatively new term coined after concerns of extremism,” the report states.

The findings urge policy makers not to “conflate extremism with integration” and reminds them that “religiosity is not a barrier to integration.”

Sir Peter Fahy, former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police and one of 30 expert voices featured in the report, said that the debate on integration and immigration has been poisoned by the impact of extremism, which aims to “sow division.”

Cohesion must be built from the bottom up rather than imposed as a national strategy, he says. “You cannot force integration. The French have tried this through fining women for wearing the hijab and discouraging all forms of ethnic monitoring,” creating a, “Profound alienation among their minority communities.”

“Attempts by the UK Government to promote ‘British values’ were unsuccessful; this was not surprising when one of the most profound British values is arguably ‘live and let live.’”

Integration has become a buzz word in Brexit Britain amid growing concerns over the marginalization of British-Muslim and a rise in anti-muslim sentiment and attacks.

Hate crimes increased by 29 percent in England and Wales between 2016 and 2017 according to Home Office statistics, with surges around the EU referendum and after the Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks.

A spokesperson for MCB told Arab News that the British press is partly responsible for pedalling a divisive dialogue with, “frequent false and hate-filled stories about British Muslim which “Creates distrust and fosters Islamophobia.”

“The media plays a key role in the misrepresentation of British Muslims with their negative portrayal on a daily basis,” the report states. It calls for “more balanced and positive news stories that demonstrate accurately British Muslim participation in society.”

Contributing to the report, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi points to the depiction of British Muslims as “other” by some politicians and sections of the press.

“Sadly, when it comes to British Muslims, the policy of disengagement applied by successive governments has led to more and more British Muslim individuals and groups viewed as ‘beyond the pale’ and thus pushed out of the mainstream and into the margins.” This week, four Muslim MPs were targeted with suspicious packages, including copies of a hate letter calling for attacks on British Muslims. Copies of the letter, which claims April 3 will be “Punish a Muslim Day” and assigns points for various assaults — from 25 points for pulling off a woman’s headscarf to 500 points for murdering a British Muslim — have been doing the rounds in several UK cities, including London, Leicester, Cardiff, Bradford and Sheffield.

MPs condemned the letter as “abhorrent” during an urgent question raised in the House of Commons on Monday.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1266601/world

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Terrorist threat still looms over Europe, Europol expert warns

Mar 14, 2018

The threat of terrorism “has not diminished and still persists” in Europe, despite the loss of Islamic State territories in Syria and Iraq, according to the head of Europol’s Counter Terrorism Centre, Manuel Navarrete. EURACTIV’s partner Euroefe reports.

“In Europe, we continue to be very vigilant. The threat is significant and takes many forms. We are talking about more than 20 incidents in 2017, from well-planned attacks such as in Barcelona and Manchester to less prepared ones”, Navarrete said in an interview at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague (Netherlands).

The colonel from the Guardia Civil (the Spanish police force) has been at the helm of the European Counter Terrorism Centre since January 2016, and his department works to “strengthen (the EU’s) response to terror”.

According to Europol (which has not yet submitted its annual report), 980 arrests linked to jihadism were recorded in Europe last year, slightly below the 1,000 arrests a year earlier.

On the consequences of terrorism, Manuel Navarrete pointed out that “even if the threat persists, the number of victims has decreased,” in 2017 there were around “68 deaths” as a result of Islamic attacks in Europe, compared to 135 in 2016.

Al Qaeda

International attention is focused on the Islamic State’s (ISIS) loss of territory and loss of its self-proclaimed “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq, but Manuel Navarrete warned that this does not mean the terrorist group Al-Qaeda has disappeared: “the two threats are simultaneous,” he warned.

For this counter terrorism expert, the threat of ISIS “takes various forms, is difficult to establish and has many tendencies even abroad”, but it continues to maintain “links, competition and conflicts” with Al-Qaeda.

“Talking about ISIS and Al-Qaeda as one and the same is wrong. We cannot say that there is collaboration between them, but there is a link,” Navarrette stated.

What matters for the security forces is “the way it is manifested in terrorist attacks or actions,” in Europe and in the rest of the world.

ISIS has “a trademark, it’s more aggressive and ruthless,” as shown by the propaganda the group broadcasts on social media with videos and photos of their crimes.

However, Al-Qaeda, which carried out large-scale terrorist attacks such as on 11 September in New York (3,016 deaths) or on 11 March in Madrid (193 deaths), is an “equally aggressive and ruthless group, but with a certain degree of sophistication and planning,” said Navarrete.

Nowadays, three sources of terrorist threats can be identified: solitary actors who “go from 0 to 100 in a very short time”, Al-Qaeda’s more sophisticated and longer-term plans”, and the complex action system of ISIS, he added.

Growing threat outside Syria

The retreat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria “does not reduce the terrorist threat” in Europe, and even increases a risk factor: extremists who fought in the “caliphate” and are confronted with the siege of their territory will seek to return to the European countries they came from.

“Over the last few years, we were getting ready and preparing for how to deal with this issue. Information sharing data has been improving, and police operations are getting better and better and are aligned with the fight against terrorism and online propaganda.”

Full report at:

https://www.euractiv.com/section/defence-and-security/news/terrorist-threat-still-looms-over-europe-europol-expert-warns/

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UK Muslims stress danger of Islamophobic letter

14.03.2018

A letter calling on people to perpetrate violent crimes against Britain’s Muslim community has highlighted the dangers of escalating hatred in the U.K.

The letter titled "Punish a Muslim Day", which has been circulating since Friday, advertises April 3 as a day of violence against the U.K.'s Muslim minority.

“These letters represent the reality and seriousness of escalating Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred in the U.K. as well as throughout Europe,” says Anas Altikriti, president of the Muslim Association of Britain.

“Whilst this specific letter might be the workings of a few desperate and pathetic individuals; to undermine the reality this letter reflects would be a huge mistake,” Altikriti told Anadolu Agency.

Altikriti said certain far-right extremists could take the existence of such a letter as an opportunity to attack on Muslims.

“Muslim families in the areas which received these letters are deeply disturbed and some have expressed fear of leaving their homes, in case some racist sees this as an open invitation to exert their tendencies and make this threat real,” he said.

The U.K.’s biggest Muslim umbrella group, the Muslim Council of Britain, also said that the vicious letter had caused “deep distress”, and urged the police to act. 

'Vile letter'

“This vile letter campaign sent to Muslims across the U.K. has caused deep distress and alarm,” it said in a statement.

“We welcome the action being taken by the police to investigate this matter.

“Sadly it is reflective of hate against Muslims which continues to manifest itself alongside the rise of the far right. Our elected officials need to stand up and take action against Islamophobia in the same way they have taken action to counter bigotry against other groups.”

Following the first reports about the letter this past Friday, British counterterrorism police have launched a probe into the post calling for acts of violence against Muslims.

The letter, announcing a so-called “Punish a Muslim Day”, calls on people to attack Muslims in the form of verbal abuse, removing a woman’s hijab or headscarf, physical assault, or splashing acid on them. The letter also puts forth a point-award scale, with points scored according to the seriousness of the crime it proposes.

Counterterrorism police said it has received reports of "potentially malicious communications sent to individuals across the U.K." and they “are coordinating the investigation at this time and will consider any potential links to existing inquiries.”

“As uplifting it is to see the various police authorities take this seriously, it is important to note that this comes after years of official denial that Islamophobia even exists, never mind comprises a real threat,” Altikriti told Anadolu Agency.

'Undermines British society'

“It is crucial that everyone realizes that this not only threatens the Muslim community in Britain, but undermines British society as a whole by driving a wedge between its various components," he added. “As such, everyone must come together to condemn this act in the most vocal and visible way possible.”

On Monday, Victoria Atkins, a Conservative MP and the parliamentary under-secretary of state for the home department, said the government believes that the “abhorrent letters have no place in a decent society".

“This government takes hate crime and Islamophobia extremely seriously and the U.K. has a robust legislative framework to respond to it.

“Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, and equal rights define us as a society. The government is determined to promote these values actively working in partnership and alongside with the Muslim and indeed all faith communities,” she told British lawmakers.

Tell MAMA, a U.K. group that monitors hate crimes against Muslims and other minorities, has reported that communities in London, the Midlands, and Yorkshire have received the threatening letter this past weekend.

The anti-Muslim hate letter has since been received by at least four Muslim members of the British Parliament, according to police.

Rupa Huq, London's Ealing Central and Acton Labour MP, was the latest politician to have received a package that contained a noxious substance and a “Punish a Muslim Day” letter, copies of which were also sent to other Muslim MPs Rushanara Ali, Mohammad Yasin, and Afzal Khan. 

'Sow division and fear'

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the founding secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain between 1997 and 2000, thinks the letter intends to create division and fear.

“The dissemination of these 'Punish a Muslim' letters are a maligned act,” he told Anadolu Agency.

“Its sole purpose is intended to sow division and fear within our communities and to bring into question the cohesion and harmony we have built over the decades,” he added.

Praising the initial response from the government, he urged for a stronger response.

Full report at:

https://aa.com.tr/en/europe/uk-muslims-stress-danger-of-islamophobic-letter/1088448

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South Asia

 

Taliban hostage kills 7 militants, injures 18 more in Paktika province

Mar 15 2018

A man kidnapped by the Taliban insurgents has killed at least seven militants before escaping from the captivity of the militants, the local officials said.

The Paktika governor’s office said in a statement the kidnapped individual hails from Sarobi district and is the brother of Afghan Local Police (ALP) forces commander.

The man has been identified as Awal Khan the brother of ALP commander Darya Khan who was kidnapped on Wednesday.

Darya Khan says the Taliban militants were looking to present his brother to Taliban shadow governor as they were conducting aerial firing on the way to their leader’s residence.

He said his brother reacted immediately after reaching Gomal district and while the Taliban insurgents were busy consulting among themselves and took the weapon of one of them.

Khan further added that his brother opened fire on Taliban insurgents, leaving seven of them dead and eighteen others wounded and escaped the district using the Taliban vehicle.

In the meantime, the govenror’s office in Paktika says the death toll of the Taliban could higher than reported but citing initial reports the provincial government said at least seven militants have been killed and eighteen others have been wounded.

The anti-government armed militant groups including Taliban insurgents have not commented regarding the report so far.

https://www.khaama.com/taliban-hostage-kills-7-militants-injures-18-more-in-paktika-province-04656/

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Arghandiwal defies Hekmatyar, vows to continue political activities for HIA

Mar 15 2018

The senior member of Hezb-e-Islami Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal reacted at Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s decision for his removal from the leadership council of the party as he insisted that no one has the right to remove him.

Defying Hekmatyar’s recent decision for the removal of three senior party members, Arghandiwal said he will continue to his political activities for Hezb-e-Islami, insisting that the party belongs them and they have given sacrifices for the party.

In the meantime, reports indicate that Hezb-e-Islami is registered in the name of Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal in the Ministry of Justice of Afghanistan.

Hezb-e-Islami on Tuesday said in a statement that Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal, Eng. Mohammad Khan, and Dr. Basir Anwar have been dismissed from the leadership council of Hezb-e-Islami.

The statement further adds that the three senior members have been dismissed considering the recent developments and the involvement of the dismissed leaders in political activities which in contrast to the goals and demands of the party.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/arghandiwal-defies-hekmatyar-vows-to-continue-political-activities-for-hia-04655/

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Myanmar says it has verified fewer than 400 Rohingya for repatriation

MARCH 14, 2018

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar has only been able to verify 374 Rohingya Muslim refugees for possible repatriation from Bangladesh, officials said on Wednesday, blaming their neighbor for not providing the correct information about the refugees.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after militant attacks on Aug. 25 sparked a crackdown led by security forces in the western Rakhine state that the United Nations and United States have said constituted ethnic cleansing.

The administration of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has sought to counter the allegations by forging ahead with development in Rakhine and by readying reception centers and a camp for returnees.

The two countries reached a deal in November to begin repatriation within two months, but repatriation has not begun, with stateless Rohingya, who face restrictions on their movements in Myanmar, still crossing the border.

Myint Thu, permanent secretary at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said officials had checked documents handed over by Bangladesh in February relating to 8,032 refugees.

“Out of 8,032, we verified 374. These 374 will be the first batch of the repatriation,” Myint Thu said at a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw.

“They can come back when it’s convenient for them.”

It was unclear whether the 374 people had agreed to return to Myanmar.

Myanmar was unable to confirm whether the rest of the refugees had previously lived in the country, he said, because some documents did not include fingerprints and individual photographs.

The documents were “not in line with our agreement”, police Brigadier-General Win Tun said at the same news conference.

Myanmar had found three “terrorists” among the people Bangladesh was proposing for repatriation, Win Tun added.

Bangladesh officials have expressed doubts about Myanmar’s willingness to take back Rohingya refugees.

Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner, said he could not comment in detail because he had not yet received Myanmar’s response. But he questioned how more than 300 people could have been verified if the documents were in the wrong format.

At the Naypyitaw news conference, Myanmar officials sought to counter accusations heard at the U.N. Human Rights Council this week.

The head of an U.N. fact-finding mission denied visas by Myanmar and a special envoy on human rights in Myanmar who has been blocked from visiting the country, both spoke in Geneva on Monday. Yanghee Lee, the envoy, said atrocities against the Rohingya in Myanmar “bear the hallmarks of genocide”.

“We have a clear conscience,” said Aung Tun Thet, coordinator of a public-private partnership set up by Suu Kyi to rehabilitate Rakhine.

Full report at:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-rohingya-repatriation/myanmar-says-it-has-verified-fewer-than-400-rohingya-for-repatriation-idUSKCN1GQ1RX

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Myanmar urged not to drag out case against Reuters reporters

MARCH 14, 2018

YANGON (Reuters) - Some international observers urged Myanmar on Wednesday not to drag out legal proceedings against two Reuters journalists, as they appeared in court for the 10th time since they were arrested in December and accused of possessing secret government papers.

A Yangon court began preliminary hearings in January to decide whether reporters Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, will face charges under the colonial-era Officials Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

Denmark’s embassy in Yangon, which has closely followed the case, said ahead of the latest hearing that the journalists should be “thanked and not punished” for their reporting on northern Rakhine state - where they found evidence of security forces’ involvement in the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men.

“Nor should they be subject to a dragged out trial that appears to be set to last for months while keeping Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo incarcerated, away from their families and their work,” the embassy said in a statement.

Two civilians that police brought to witness a search of Wa Lone’s family home the evening after the reporters were arrested gave testimony on Wednesday.

Min Min, a neighborhood official in north Yangon, told the court he joined nine or 10 policemen searching the residence and signed a form to confirm a laptop with a charger and a bag, a hard drive and a notebook were discovered there.

Asked by defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung during cross-examination whether any government papers were discovered in the search, he said no.

Min Aung, a ward administrator who joined the search and gave testimony, said he could not remember seeing police find official documents.

Lead prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung left the court building before Reuters was able to put questions to him after the hearing. Government spokespeople have declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing court proceedings.

The government prosecutor has now called 12 of 25 listed witnesses to hearings that have been taking place weekly. The court agreed to hear three witnesses at its next session on March 21.

HELD IN CUSTODY

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been in custody since their arrest on Dec. 12.

The pair had been invited by police officers to a restaurant in northern Yangon. They have told family members they were arrested by plainclothes officers almost immediately after being handed some rolled up papers by the policemen, whom they had not met before.

Previous police witnesses have said they were stopped and searched at a traffic checkpoint by officers who were unaware they were journalists, and found to be holding in their hands documents relating to security force deployments in Rakhine.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, wearing handcuffs, were rushed in and out of court by police on Wednesday, giving them only a brief opportunity to talk to their families or reporters. Kyaw Soe Oo was prevented by police from hugging his young daughter.

Myanmar has denied accusations the two reporters were targeted over their reporting in Rakhine, where a security response to insurgent attacks has seen nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims flee to Bangladesh since August.

Last week, responding to comments from U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein who said he strongly suspected “acts of genocide” had taken place in Rakhine, Myanmar’s national security advisor Thaung Tun said the country wanted to see “clear evidence” to support such allegations.

Sean Bain, a legal adviser in Myanmar for the International Commission of Jurists, a human rights group made up of 60 senior international judges, lawyers and legal academics, called for the case against the reporters to be dropped.

Full report at:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-journalists/myanmar-urged-not-to-drag-out-case-against-reuters-reporters-idUSKCN1GQ1NK

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Southeast Asia

 

Indonesia's Aceh considers beheading as punishment for murder

Nicola Smith

15 MARCH 2018

The Indonesian province of Aceh is considering the introduction of beheading as a punishment for murder, adding to growing fears about the spread of conservative Islam in the world’s most populous Muslim country.

Aceh, in northern Indonesia, is already governed by sharia law, and frequently carries out the public caning of gay people and alleged adulterers and gamblers.

Syukri M Yusuf, the head of Aceh’s sharia law and human rights office, said that the provincial government had now asked his office to research beheading as a method of execution under Islamic law and to consult public opinion.

“Beheading is more in line with Islamic law and will cause a deterrent effect. A strict punishment is made to save human beings,” he said, according to the AP.

“We will begin to draft the law when our academic research is completed.”

Aceh is the only province of the 260-million strong nation to enforce sharia law and it often hits the headlines for its harsh punishments.

Last month a court in the capital Banda Aceh caned a non-Muslim couple for gambling. The same court convicted another man and woman for “affectionate contact between an unmarried couple”.

Last year, hundreds packed a courtyard to witness the caning of two men found guilty of having consensual sex. The men were caught together by vigilantes who burst into the house where they were staying, and were later sentenced to 83 strokes of the cane each.

Mr Yusuf claimed that if sharia law was consistently applied, then crime, particularly murder, would decrease significantly or disappear, adding that “relatively mild” punishments meant that murderers could reoffend.

Indonesia already has the death penalty for crimes such as murder or drugs trafficking, which it carries out by firing squad. The last executions were of Nigerian drugs traffickers, in July 2016.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/15/indonesias-aceh-considers-beheading-punishment-murder/

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Malaysia to introduce premium halal food gifts

BY JERRY CHOONG

March 14, 2018

KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — Malaysia plans to introduce premium halal food gifts to boost tourism and enhance the country’s reputation in the global halal food industry, Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz said today.

Nazri said the concept was unique as it meant tapping into the international sale of food gifts, which is expected to grow to US$73 billion (RM284.69 billion) by 2020.

“Premium halal food gifts can be given as presents to overseas friends and associates, and its shelf-stability means it does not need refrigeration and can last longer in room temperature,” he said during the signing of the memorandum of understanding between Seni Teknologi Sdn Bhd and KDU University College.

Under the memorandum, KDU’s students will participate in Seni Teknologi’s efforts to collaborate with halal food manufacturers in terms of improving the food gifts’ aesthetic appeal, creating brand names and market awareness.

Given Malaysia’s status as a progressive Muslim nation and the first in the world with a documented and systemic halal assurance system developed by the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), Nazri said now is the time to introduce a Halal Food Marketplace (HalalFood) programme so that overseas buyers can easily purchase Jakim-certified products from Malaysian companies.

“HalalFood works with Malaysian companies and Jakim in listing appropriate certified food items on the marketplace. The companies will also be carefully scrutinised to ensure they comply with Jakim’s and international standards. To date, some 30 suppliers with over 1,000 food items have already been listed.

“If the programme is successful, it will further enhance the country’s standing in the global halal food industry. Additionally it can further stimulate the tourism sector, support domestic companies in penetrating the international market, and provide opportunities to the future generation of Malaysians,” he said.

Full report at:

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/malaysia-to-introduce-premium-halal-food-gifts#2EOhG5rAL0ZbU6uH.97

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Judiciary’s independence affected if Chief Justice’s appointment upheld, court told

BY IDA LIM

March 14, 2018

PUTRAJAYA, March 14 — The judiciary’s independence will be affected if the Federal Court decides that the appointment of the country’s two top judges beyond their mandatory retirement age is valid and constitutional, the Malaysian Bar’s lawyer said today. Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, a lawyer for the Malaysian Bar in the legal body’s lawsuit challenging the top two judges’ appointments, told the Federal Court to consider the impact if the apex court were to uphold last year’s appointment of the Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal president.

She summed up the “far-reaching” consequences expected, including the mandatory retirement age in the Federal Constitution becoming “meaningless” and the promotion of judges being affected.

“And it affects the independence of the judiciary because it affects security of tenure,” she told the Federal Court.

Ambiga was referring to the Malaysian Bar’s argument that the appointment of Tun Md Raus Sharif and Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin as “additional judges” of the Federal Court for three years and two years respectively would affect judicial independence, as such appointments are for varying and unfixed periods.

The Malaysian Bar contrasted this to the usual appointment of Federal Court judges, where the maximum retirement age of 66 years old and an additional six months would ensure judges know that their positions are secure until they hit that age.

She said it was not a “happy task” for those involved in the lawsuit and for the Federal Court panel hearing it, but said upholding the Federal Constitution is a burden that the judges have to shoulder.

“Unfortunately the burden is on the judiciary...to ensure compliance with the Federal Constitution. The outcome here will reverberate long after we are over.

“It has already affected the judiciary, it will continue to affect the judges coming up through the judiciary,” she said.

The hearing of four questions of law posed by the Malaysian Bar in its challenge of the top two judges’ appointment concluded today, with the Federal Court to deliver its decision on a date to be fixed later.

The seven-man panel today was headed by Tan Sri Hasan Lah and composed of Tan Sri Zainun Ali, Tan Sri Ramly Ali, Tan Sri Zaharah Ibrahim, Datuk Seri Balia Yusof Wahi, Tan Sri Aziah Ali and Datuk Alizatul Khair Osman Khairuddin.

On October 10, 2017, the Malaysian Bar filed a lawsuit against Chief Justice Raus and his immediate predecessor Tun Arifin Zakaria, Court of Appeal president Zulkefli, and the Malaysian government.

The Malaysian Bar had sought various court orders, including declarations that the appointment of Raus and Zulkefli as additional judges and their subsequent appointments as Chief Justice and Court of Appeal president are “unconstitutional and void”.

In the Malaysian Bar’s lawsuit, the Muslim Lawyers Association of Malaysia is intervener. Lawyers held a watching brief for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who had last year filed two separate lawsuits to push for the cancellation of the two judges’ appointment. The Malaysian Bar’s lawsuit was heard together with a similar court challenge by Ranbir Singh Sangha, who sued on behalf of the Advocates Association of Sarawak.

Ranbir adopted the arguments presented by the Malaysian Bar.

Full report at:

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/judiciarys-independence-affected-if-chief-justices-appointment-upheld-court#L3K52Bpi8oc4gjt3.97

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Africa

 

U.S. Kept Silent About Its Role in Another Firefight in Niger

By CHARLIE SAVAGE, ERIC SCHMITT and THOMAS GIBBONS-NEFF

MARCH 14, 2018

WASHINGTON — Green Berets working with government forces in Niger killed 11 Islamic State militants in a firefight in December, the American military acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday. The battle occurred two months after four United States soldiers died in an ambush in another part of Niger — and after senior commanders had imposed stricter limits on military missions in the West African country.

No American or Nigerien forces were harmed in the December gun battle. But the combat — along with at least 10 other previously unreported attacks on American troops in West Africa between 2015 and 2017 — indicates that the deadly Oct. 4 ambush was not an isolated episode in a nation where the United States is building a major drone base.

After the ambush, senior officers at United States Africa Command, which oversees American military operations on the continent, imposed additional measures to enhance the safety of troops on missions that were designed to train and advise local forces in Niger.

But the missions did not end.

On the morning of Dec. 6, a combined force of Nigerien and American troops “came under fire from a formation of violent extremists,” Samantha Reho, a spokeswoman for Africa Command, said in a statement to The New York Times on Wednesday.

She said the gun battle killed 11 militants — including two wearing suicide vests — who were believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State in West Africa. No American or Nigerien forces were killed or wounded, she said.

It was the first time the American military has acknowledged the December firefight, and Ms. Reho gave no explanation for the Pentagon’s failure to disclose the episode at the time.

The head of Africa Command, Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, did not mention the December battle in testimony to Congress this month and only broadly outlined the threats in the region. A senior House Republican aide said on Wednesday that lawmakers had been notified about the Dec. 6 attack soon after it happened.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is reviewing the results of a lengthy internal investigation into the October ambush, near the border with Mali, which set off a widespread debate about why American troops are fighting a shadowy war in Niger. A military official said on Wednesday that Mr. Mattis was wrestling with the investigation’s apparent attempts to blame low-level commanders for the deaths of the four soldiers and not implicate senior officers.

The families of the soldiers — Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson and Sgt. La David Johnson — have not been told of the investigation’s conclusions, said the military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the findings have not yet been released.

The Pentagon appears ready to scale back military operations in West Africa even further. A draft of the investigation, parts of which were described to The Times in February, called for the military to reduce the number of ground missions, and to strip commanders in the field of some authority to send troops on potentially high-risk patrols.

Between 2015 and 2017, there were about 10 instances of American troops and local training partners being attacked in Niger and elsewhere in West Africa, said Brig. Gen. Donald C. Bolduc, the former commander of United States Special Operations in Africa. Enemy fighters were killed in some of those unreported episodes, General Bolduc said on Wednesday, but there were no American casualties.

The existence of the Dec. 6 firefight was referenced in a terse line in an unclassified report the Trump administration gave to Congress this week about its legal and policy views on using military force. That report, obtained by The Times, mentioned only that a joint American-Nigerien force was attacked by a group of presumed Islamic State militants on that date, and returned fire “in self-defense.”

Ms. Reho portrayed the firefight as an act of self-defense after the unit happened to come under attack.

“The purpose of the mission was to set the conditions for future partner-led operations against violent extremist organizations in the region,” she said. “There was no aspect of this mission focused on pursuing enemy militants, and the combined force was postured to respond as necessary in case contact with the enemy occurred.”

She added: “With that said, our forces do operate in unstable areas and are occasionally exposed to danger from enemy forces. When such a situation occurs, our personnel are authorized to respond to threats and violence appropriately.”

However, another military official familiar with the Dec. 6 firefight, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, offered a different portrayal of the events.

The official said that the Green Berets were assisting Nigerien forces on a multiday operation near Diffa, a city in southeastern Niger near the border with Nigeria. It sought to clear the potentially hostile area so that Nigerien forces could build a new outpost there. It is unclear if the small base was ever built.

The mission had attracted attention among American forces after the firefight, the official said, because it was one of the first major forays into the field in Niger since the Oct. 4 ambush.

The White House only this month approved giving combat pay to American troops deployed to Niger. Army soldiers in Niger are still not eligible for certain combat awards — including the Combat Infantry Badge and Combat Action Badge — that are highly respected and sometimes can help with promotion. The four soldiers who were killed in the Oct. 4 raid were given the awards posthumously, but those troops who have fought in Niger have not received them.

Questions about whether the American military, under the Trump administration, is seeking to obscure the expanding scope of operations in Africa were raised last week when it was revealed that the United States carried out four airstrikes in Libya between September and January that Africa Command failed to disclose at the time. The military has said it will acknowledge such missions if asked about them, even if it does not affirmatively disclose them in a news release.

The Dec. 6 firefight was the main nugget of new information in the report that the Trump administration submitted to Congress this week, and was eagerly awaited by specialists on national security issues related to counterterrorism operations.

They hoped it would offer a thorough public explanation of issues — ranging from when the Trump administration thinks it can attack other countries without prior permission from Congress, to an acknowledgment that President Trump secretly relaxed limits on when the military or the Central Intelligence Agency can carry out kill-or-capture operations with drones or commando teams, away from conventional battlefields.

But the unclassified portion of the report, which was just over eight pages long, largely consisted of a slightly rewritten version of last December’s version of the semiannual War Powers Resolution letter in which the executive branch lists deployments abroad.

The unclassified report gave only terse descriptions of certain matters while making no mention of key topics like Mr. Trump’s changes to the drone strike rules, suggesting that they were relegated to the classified annex the public cannot see.

“It’s disappointing to see this administration show disrespect for Congress’s effort to obtain public answers to key legal questions of our time,” said Joshua Geltzer, a former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council in the Obama administration.

“This report was an opportunity to inform discussion on the Hill and, perhaps even more important, across the country on critical questions about when and why our country can take the grave step of using military force. That opportunity for a more robust public debate has now been lost.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/14/world/africa/niger-green-berets-isis-firefight-december.html?mtrref=www.google.co.in&gwh=F9D9A8CECEE85DEEABB5CBE0E3C3E050&gwt=pay

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IMN says Nigeria will keep Zakzaky detained until he dies

Mar 14, 2018

The Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) says the government in Abuja plans to keep the movement's leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, and his wife Zeenah in detention until they die.

"Are the tyrants holding the brave sheikh captive waiting for time to kill him since Allah has rescued him from their attempt to kill him using their military might?" said IMN spokesman S.I. Ahmad on Wednesday.  

"Sheikh Zakzaky has been shot at close range for him to die, but Allah wishes to see him alive from the barbaric December attack. He has been denied proper medical care, but he is still living," Ahmad added.

Ahmad added that the sheikh is still suffering bullet wounds inflected on him while he was first detained and the after-effects of a recent stroke. He noted that Zeenah is also ill and needs medical attention.

The remarks were made at the end of a protest rally held in Abuja with a large number of demonstrators calling for Zakzaky's release.

On January 13, Zakzaky, at the time rumored to have died in detention, made his first public appearance since he was illegally detained by security forces in 2015.  

The top Shia cleric lost his left eyesight in a raid which was carried out by the Nigerian army on his residence in the northern town of Zaria in December 2015.

During the raid, Zakzaky’s wife sustained serious wounds too and more than 300 of his followers and three of his sons were killed. Zakzaky, his wife, and a large number of the cleric’s followers have since been in custody.

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/14/555484/nigeria-zakzaky-imn-death

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25 killed in fresh clashes in central Nigeria: Police

Mar 14, 2018

Herders are believed to have killed 25 villagers in central Nigeria's Plateau State, police said on Wednesday, in the latest violence linked to land, water, and grazing rights.

The killings happened on Monday in the Bassa area of Plateau State, just a few days after at least five people were killed in the area.

"The people were returning to Zirechi [Village] from Dundun when they were attacked by gunmen believed to be Fulani herdsmen," state police commissioner Undie Adie told AFP.

"I can confirm that 25 villagers were killed while two were injured. A number of houses were also burnt down by the attackers," he said.

No arrests have yet been made, he said, adding, "The terrain is mountainous. The assailants had fled before police could (get) there."

"We have launched a man-hunt for the killers with a view to bringing them to justice," he said. "We appeal for calm and for the people to sheathe their swords. The violence is not new. It has been a lingering dispute between the local people and Fulani herders. We are making efforts to resolve the problem."

Plateau State governor Simon Lalong blamed "hoodlums who take advantage of conflicts among citizens to perpetrate killings and destruction of property in the name of ethnic crisis."

The state lies in Nigeria's so-called Middle Belt, which separates the predominantly-Muslim north from the largely-Christian south.

The area has long been a hotbed of ethnic, sectarian, and religious tensions between indigenous farming communities, who are mainly Christian, and the nomadic Hausa/Fulani cattle herders, who are Muslim.

Tensions have boiled over access to land and resources, escalating into a rift that has deepened along nominally religious lines.

Last week, at least five people were killed in the state while President Muhammadu Buhari rounded up a tour of Plateau and four other states hit by violence.

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/14/555416/Nigeria-herders-villagers-internal-sdt

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Security agents thwart multiple attacks by Al shabaab militants

Mar 15, 2018

The government has revealed the cache of weapons found concealed in a vehicle in Isiolo was intended to blow up major government installations in Nairobi.

The inspector general of police displaying the deadly weapons found in the hands of suspected Al Shabaab terrorists says their surveillance networks remain on high alert.

He urged the public to work with security agents to foil acts of terrorism.

According to the police, the cache that was concealed in a Mitsubishi motor vehicle would have caused mass destruction if the suspects were to have their way.

Displaying the deadly weapons, inspector general of police Joseph Boinet said the foiled attempt by terrorist to stage what he described as a major attack on government installations within the capital Nairobi was a clear indication that the country was still not off the hook yet.

He promised Kenyans round the clock security but appealed to Kenyans not to let down their guard and be their brother’s keeper.

Police on patrol in Merti in Isiolo County on the 15th of last month noticed this motor vehicle hidden in a thicket.

Full report at:

http://www.kbc.co.ke/security-agents-thwart-multiple-attacks-al-shabaab-militants/

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Somali forces kill 7 Al-Shabaab militants in south Somalia

2018-03-15

MOGADISHU, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Seven Al-Shabaab fighters were killed Wednesday by Somali forces in the coastal city of Kismayo in southern Somalia.

Somali military commander in Kismayo, Mukhtar Abdi, told journalists that the forces launched an ambush against the militants following a tip-off in Wirkoy area.

"We got prior information that they were planning to attack us in Wirkoy area. We moved in fast and killed seven Al-Shabaab fighters."

The commander added that one soldier was injured in the fight which lasted for a short time. The militant group has not commented on the development. Security forces have continued assaults against the militants in southern parts of the country.

Full report at:

http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-03/15/c_137039326.htm

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North America

 

Top US general in Afghanistan urges 'tired' Taliban to talk peace

Mar 14 2018

BAGRAM: Now is the best time for the Taliban to negotiate for peace, the top US general in Afghanistan said Wednesday, warning that an increased air and ground campaign against the insurgents would only get worse.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last month unveiled a plan to open talks to end the 16-year-old war, offering to negotiate with the Taliban without any preconditions.

So far the group's response to the offer has been muted, which analysts said reflects debate among Taliban leaders over the merits of engaging with an administration it has long viewed as illegitimate.

But US officials including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this week that some Taliban elements are open to talking with the Afghan government.

General John Nicholson, who leads US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban have taken heavy casualties since US President Donald Trump authorised ramped-up air operations last year, pointing to increasingly effective Afghan commando and regular Afghan army units.

"In the Taliban's mind, they see what is coming and these capabilities are only going to get greater," Nicholson told reporters accompanying Mattis on a visit to Bagram Airfield, America´s largest air base in Afghanistan that is located north of Kabul.

"So this really is probably their best time to attempt a negotiation, because it's only going to get worse for them," he added, as both sides prepare for the start of what is expected to be an intense spring fighting season.

Nicholson's comments come as Afghanistan deploys more troops to the western province of Farah where the Taliban have launched multiple attacks in recent weeks.

The latest assault in the province, which borders Iran, happened in the early hours of Wednesday when militants stormed a checkpoint manned by police and intelligence officers on the outskirts of the provincial capital Farah, killing seven security forces, officials said.

Ghani's peace plan includes eventually recognising the Taliban as a political party. In return, the Taliban would need to recognise the Kabul government and constitution - a perennial sticking point in past attempts to open talks.

Despite Nicholson's tough talk, US data shows the Taliban are far from being driven off the battlefield.

In October, insurgents controlled or influenced nearly half of Afghanistan's districts - double the percentage in 2015, the US government's office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in January.

Over the same period, the watchdog said, the number of districts under Afghan government control or influence fell to its lowest level since December 2015.

Focus on Kabul

"My perception of what is going on inside the Taliban is they are tired of this war as well, they'd like to return home, they'd like to rejoin society and, just like the people of this country, would like to see the end of this war as would all of us," Nicholson said.

He added that there are "many Taliban who could see a way to work within this framework" but cautioned there would always be those that will never reconcile.

"It's encouraging that these offers are on the table and we would appear to be at a point where they could start having a conversation about this," he said.

Aside from military pressure, Nicholson said it is important that diplomatic pressure is strong on "those who externally enable the insurgency" and he credited the role that religious pressure from other Islamic countries is playing.

The four-star general also underscored the need to strengthen security in Kabul, where a string of devastating attacks in recent months has killed hundreds of civilians.

"Kabul is our main effort right now, to harden Kabul, to protect the people of Kabul and the international community that are here because of the strategic impact that has and the importance to the campaign," he said.

https://www.geo.tv/latest/186367-top-us-general-in-afghanistan-urges-tired-taliban-to-talk-peace

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3 men accused of bombing mosque in midwest US to 'scare Muslims out of the country'

Mar 15, 2018

Three men are accused of bombing a mosque in a large Somali community in the midwest United States, in an attempt to scare Muslims into leaving the country, authorities said.

The men allegedly traveled some 500 miles (805 kilometers) from a rural farming community in Illinois to carry out the Aug. 5 attack, which caused a damaging fire at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. No one was hurt.

The men are also suspected in the attempted bombing of an abortion clinic on Nov. 7 in Champaign, about 140 miles south of Chicago, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Springfield.

Investigators are now turning to the suspects' backgrounds to learn more about their possible affiliations and motivations.

One of the men, 47-year-old Michael B. Hari, filed a federal lawsuit last month in central Illinois, naming the U.S. secretaries of agriculture and health and human services as defendants. It accuses their departments of violating his constitutional rights by doing the food-safety certification work that his firm, Equicert, does.

"The people of the United States have rejected the Marxist doctrine that the government shall own the means of production," he wrote, according to the court document. He requested a court order barring federal officials from interfering with his business. Hari described in an April 2017 Chicago Tribune article how he drafted a $10 billion plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico, citing President Donald Trump's call for such a barrier. Hari drew up the proposal after launching a security company, Crisis Resolution Security Services, the newspaper said.

The other two men charged in the mosque bombing were identified as Joe Morris, 22, and Michael McWhorter, 29. All three are from Clarence, a community of less than 100 people some 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of Champaign. A fourth man was charged with a gun offense, but he was not identified as a suspect in the attack on the mosque or the clinic.

A tip in December led authorities to investigate the three men, after a person sent the local sheriff photos of guns and bomb-making material inside Hari's parents' home, where Hari often stayed. In January, a second informant told authorities that the three men had carried out the mosque bombing and the failed clinic bombing, according to a complaint.

McWhorter allegedly told an FBI agent during an interview that the three rented a pickup in Champaign and drove to Minnesota with a plan to bomb the mosque, according to a criminal complaint. He said they wanted to let Muslims know they are not welcome in the United States and to "scare them out of the country," according to notes taken by the FBI.

It was not clear from the complaint why the men targeted that particular mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Morris told one informant that Hari had promised to pay him and McWhorter $18,000 for participating in the mosque bombing, according to the complaint.

The men broke a window to the imam's office and threw a pipe bomb containing black powder into the mosque. The pipe bomb exploded, causing a fire that was extinguished by sprinklers, according to an affidavit.

The attack happened just before morning prayers.

McWhorter also allegedly admitted that the three men tried to bomb the clinic known as Women's Health Practice, again renting a truck to carry out the attack. McWhorter described a PVC pipe bomb and said Morris broke a window and threw it in, where it failed to go off, according to the complaint.

The complaint said nothing about a possible motivation for the clinic attack.

Full report at:

https://www.dailysabah.com/islamophobia/2018/03/14/3-men-accused-of-bombing-mosque-in-midwest-us-to-scare-muslims-out-of-the-country

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US general blames Russia for US-Turkey tensions

14 March 2018

Russia is behind recent tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, with Moscow’s role in Syria impacting relations between the two NATO allies, a high-ranking general said Tuesday.

Speaking during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Gen. Joseph Votel said Russian support of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime has not only propped it up but also increases the complexity of the defeat-Daesh campaign as Moscow plays the role of both "arsonist and firefighter", fueling tensions among various parties in the region, including the U.S. and other coalition partners, and then serving as an arbiter to resolve disputes.

"So I am concerned about this role that Russia plays in northern Syria and how it impacts all of our relationships and especially relations between us and Turkey," he said.

Turkey has been “a key partner in the fight against ISIS [Daesh] here for a long period of time, and we do recognize they have legitimate concerns with security along their border from terrorism".

Votel said Turkey's ongoing military operation in Syria has led to a "little bit of tension" between Washington and Ankara that the two sides are working through largely diplomatically but also militarily to overcome.

Turning to a question about the U.S. stance on Syria's city of Afrin, Votel said the U.S. has not operated there and has no intention of doing so.

"The concern we have is that the activities up in Afrin are a distraction to our defeat-ISIS activities right now, and there has been an impact to that," he said, referring to Turkey's military operation to remove terror groups in Afrin.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear YPG/PKK-Daesh terrorists from Afrin, northwestern Syria.

According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as to protect Syrians from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.

The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey's rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN Charter and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, it said.

The military also said only terror targets are being destroyed and that "utmost care" is being taken to avoid harming civilians.

Full report at:

http://www.worldbulletin.net/america-canada/199773/trudeau-trump-want-quick-nafta-deal

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Three arrested, charged in US mosque bombing

14 March 2018

Three men were arrested Tuesday and charged in the bombing last year of a mosque in a Minneapolis suburb.

In a written statement, the U.S. attorney's office in Springfield said the men -- identified as Michael B. Hari, 47, Joe Morris, 22, and Michael McWhorter, 29 -- also face charges of possession of assault rifles, which are classified as machine guns, and attempting to bomb an Illinois abortion clinic in November.

A fourth man, Ellis Mack, 18, was arrested for possession of an assault rifle but was not identified as a suspect in the bombing or attempted bombing.

Last August, the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota was bombed while Muslims gathered inside for morning prayers.

Bloomington police said the bomb only damaged the imam's office at the center and worshippers extinguished the blaze before firefighters arrived.

"A witness saw something being thrown at the imam's office window from a van or truck before the blast," Asad Zaman, director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, said at a news conference. The mosque’s executive director, Mohamed Omar, said the vehicle immediately sped away.

The predominantly Somali mosque, like many other mosques around the country, were receiving threatening calls and emails, Omar told the Star Tribune.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the attackers.

Full report at:

http://www.worldbulletin.net/america-canada/199772/trudeau-trump-want-quick-nafta-deal

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