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I Am Negotiating With Agencies, Claims Lal Masjid Cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz

New Age Islam News Bureau

29 Jan 2016 

Photo: Maulana Abdul Aziz. - AFP/File



 I Am Negotiating With Agencies, Claims Lal Masjid Cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz

 230 Educational Institutions Sealed, 53 Warned Against Gaps in Security

 Pakistan accuses India of making unsubstantiated terror allegations

 Pakistan court junks petitions to provide 26/11 voice samples

 Four security personnel injured in Zhob suicide blast

 ‘Pakistan, Afghanistan should work together to eradicate polio’


Arab World

 Attack On Shia Mosque In Saudi Arabia Kills Three People: Arabiya TV

 Suicide Attack near Presidential Palace in Yemen; 8 Killed

 Syrian Army Wins Back Most of Turkmen Mountains in Northern Lattakia

 Syrian Army, Popular Forces Liberate Bluzah in Aleppo Province

 Syrian Army's Tunnel Attack Destroys Militants' Headquarters in Jobar



 Rouhani-Hollande Lunch Scrapped After French Insistence on Serving Wine

 Turkey Kills Members of Trapped Kurdish Minority in Besieged Cizre

 Syrian Kurds ‘Plan Big Attack’ To Seal Turkish Border

 Iran, Israel could ratify nuke test ban treaty, says UN official

 NATO to Strengthen Turkey’s Air Defense with More AWACS Aircraft

 Iran says it flew drone over US aircraft carrier, took 'precise' photos

 Iran coerces Afghans to fight in Syria: HRW

 Moscow, Tehran Share Opinions on Syrian Crisis Settlement

 Turkish fighter who allegedly killed pilot says not intimidated by Russian threat on life

 Iranian Navy Unveils New Radar System during Thursday Drills


South Asia

 Senior Taliban Leaders among 28 Killed In Latest Operations Led By Afghan Army

 Pakistan to host four-nation talks on Afghan peace next month

 US general calls for enduring commitment to Afghanistan as security deteriorates



 Australia Raids Homes of 'Doctor In Islamic State Video': Reports

 Australian Teen Accused of Anzac Day Terror Plot with 'Kangaroo Bomb'



 NIA Chargesheet on Udhampur Attack Details LeT Plot against India

 26/11 Trial A Test Of Pak Sincerity on Combating Terror: MEA

 Gujarat anti-terror Bill returned for 3rd time

 Muftis vacate CM’s official residence, spark speculation

 Indo-Pak agreement on rail link extended for three years



 Obama Calls for Efforts to Counter Islamic State in Libya



 British Jihadist Claims Responsibility for Abducting Swiss Missionary

 Total says will sign deal to buy Iranian crude


North America

 Why the US Needs to Cut Its Losses and Leave Afghan Quagmire, But Can't

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





I am negotiating with agencies, claims Lal Masjid cleric

January 29th, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Deposed Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz has alleged that an officer from the country’s premiere intelligence agency “was conspiring against him”, while other officials were in contact with him in an effort to sort out the differences between the two sides.

In a written statement and a video message, released via the official Facebook page of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa, Maulana Aziz claimed he was in negotiations with an officer of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

However, he claimed that while the negotiations were moving in the right direction, another senior ISI officer was acting as a ‘spoiler’.

“I have been told by one of my followers that a brigadier in ISI, who belongs to the ‘other sect’ is conspiring against me,” he said, adding, “I know they are making false videos about me [accusing me of] taking extortion money...”

He also claimed that the intelligence authorities were promoting extremism in the country with their attitude.

Deposed Lal Masjid cleric’s latest video levels allegations against intelligence officials, disparages other sects

“A major recently called and I invited him for a meeting so that we can understand each other,” Maulana Aziz said in the video.

But an ISI spokesperson Dawn spoke to rejected the cleric’s claims of meeting a major belonging to the agency, terming it “propaganda”.

“Maulana Abdul Aziz has a track record of fabricating stories and there has been no contact between him and any agency personnel,” the spokesperson said.

But ICT officials, on condition of anonymity, said that Islamabad police personnel and members of the civic administration had visited the cleric and tried to persuade him to obtain pre-arrest bail from the courts.

“This is strange; we have seen him visiting various parts of the city, buying fruit from street vendors on the sidewalk near the vacant plot that used to be the Children’s Library,” an ICT official said.

In the video, Maulana Aziz also made sectarian remarks, claiming that people with names such as ‘Shah’, ‘Haideri’ and ‘Shaheedi’ were involved in the killings of clerics from the Ahle Sunnat school of thought, including his own father.

“First a false case was registered against me and now they want me to obtain bail,” the cleric said, adding, “since the istakhara (divine guidance) is unfavourable, I am reluctant to post bail now.”

The issue of posting bail arose after PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar sought to move a privilege motion against the interior minister, who had earlier claimed in the Senate that there were no cases against Maulana Abdul Aziz. But Senator Babar showed documents that included an Islamabad High Court arrest warrant, issued around 11 months ago.

Talking to Dawn, he took the government to task over the release of the cleric’s latest video. “This is a clearly a violation of multiple laws and the question is where is the National Action Plan.”

“The violations are related to hate speech, fanning militancy, instigating sectarianism, inciting terrorism and challenging the state again,” he said, adding that either the government, including the interior minister, were complicit, or they were afraid of one man.



230 Educational Institutions Sealed, 53 Warned Against Gaps In Security

January 29th, 2016

ISLAMABAD: More than 230 educational institutions in Rawalpindi division, including 138 government-run schools and colleges, were sealed – not because of freezing temperatures, but due to inadequate security – police and security officials said on Thursday.

In addition, as many as 53 educational institutions in the Rawalpindi division, including Rawalpindi Medical College, on Thursday received final notices to improve security arrangements by Sunday, or the head of the institution would be booked.

In Jhelum, 15 educational institutions, including 10 government and five private schools were sealed, Chakwal saw four schools sealed and three others were given warnings by the administration, while in Wah Cantt, police said, the principal of a private educational institution was threatened.

In Attock, police and intelligence agencies completed a fresh survey of security arrangements at educational institutions and found 205 schools and colleges, including 127 government and 78 private institutions, lacked adequate security.

Interior minister takes issue with Punjab govt’s decision to close schools

After the Punjab government ordered educational institutions across the province to shut down for five days, their administrations have been directed to make sure these buildings are safe and are complying with standard operating procedures.

The Punjab home department has already ordered divisional police chiefs across the province to increase security around educational institutions in the light of intelligence reports that terrorist groups may be planning to target them.

An earlier deadline, given to educational institutions to improve security arrangements, expired on Thursday, but the administration gave them three more days to put all measures in place.

Acting Commissioner Sajid Zafar Dall told Dawn that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, in a video link meeting, had ordered that the head of the institution that failed to take adequate security measures should be booked.

“At least 22 educational institutions in Rawalpindi, 15 in Jhelum, 10 in Attock and six in Chakwal have been sent final notices,” he said.

He said Rescue 1122 and the Civil Defence department had started training teaching staff in Rawalpindi, Gujar Khan and Taxila to deal with any untoward situation.

They would attend training sessions in their schools and colleges, adding that similar training would be imparted to students after their winter vacations.

Director Colleges Humayun Iqbal on Thursday called a meeting of the private colleges’ representatives in his office. Representatives of 50 of the 80-odd private colleges in the garrison city attended the meeting. Mr Iqbal told Dawn that private colleges had been conveyed the government’s directions and asked to implement them by Sunday.

Interior minister

In a press conference held on Thursday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan took issue with the policy of the PML-N led Punjab government when he said he was opposed to the recent closure of schools.

“I have serious differences [with the Punjab government] over the policy of closing schools because of some threats. We have to give the enemy a message of unity, to fight and defeat the evil of terrorism. We cannot confine ourselves to our homes out of fear,” he remarked.

He praised the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), saying they were setting a good example by not closing schools in the province, adding that he would ask Punjab and other provinces not to shut educational institutions.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2016



Pakistan accuses India of making unsubstantiated terror allegations

PTI | Jan 28, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday accused India of "hurling unsubstantiated terror allegations" at it, saying it undermines efforts to eliminate terrorism from the region in a "collaborative manner".

At his weekly news briefing here, foreign office spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah said, "Terrorism is a problem for Pakistan and the world at large, not just India."

Asked about allegations against Pakistan whenever there is a terror attack, he urged India to do away with the practice of "hurling unsubstantiated terror allegations" against Pakistan.

Khalilullah said such a practice undermines efforts to eliminate terrorism from the region in a "collaborative manner".

He said foreign secretaries of both Pakistan and India are in touch with each other to finalise the dates for the talks. However, Khalilullah, refused to give any time-frame for the talks.

India and Pakistan mutually agreed to defer the foreign secretary-level talks in the aftermath of the Pathankot attack. They agreed to hold the parleys in the "very near future".

India has sought action by Pakistan on the evidence provided for apprehending the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorists suspected to have been involved in the January 2 attack.

Asked to comment on the joint Indo-French statement on terrorism, he said Pakistan has given a lot of sacrifices in the war against terror to make the world a safer place. Khalilullah said it has been appreciated by the world.



Pakistan court junks petitions to provide 26/11 voice samples

Omer Farooq Khan | TNN | Jan 28, 2016

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad high court has dismissed two petitions seeking voices samples of seven 26/11 accused facing trial in Pakistan besides declaring two others, including executed terrorist Ajmal Kasab, as absconders.

The Dawn reported this without elaborating why the HC dismissed the petitions on Monday. A trial court had earli er dismissed petitions on voice samples in 2011 and 2015 saying there was no law to allow this.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had sought the samples to compare them with conversations Indian investigators had recorded and to present them before an anti-terrorism court (ATC), where the seven are being tried. The first petition said Indian intelligence agencies had intercepted the conversations of the handlers instructing the terrorists who had attacked Mumbai in 2008.

"According to the reports, the handlers of attackers remained in touch with the terrorists for instructions through Voiceover Internet Protocol (VoIP) and satellite/mobile phones, which also indicate connectivity with LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) militants including Abu Al-Qama," the petition said.

It added that India had handed over the recordings to Pakistan in a CD and that the FIA needed the samples to verify if the conversations were those of the accused. The petition argued that the samples were essential for concluding investigations in the case.

The court dismissed another petition seeking declaration of Kasab and Fahim Ansari, who was acquitted in the case in India, as absconders to "meet legal formalities".

The dismissal of the petition regarding voice samples is likely to further delay the trial, which has been impeded several times since 2009.

In April 2005, 26/11 mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi was bailed after the government failed to keep him behind bars. He had been arrested in December 2008 from LeT's headquarters in Muzaffarabad and was booked along with six others two months later.



Four security personnel injured in Zhob suicide blast

January 29th, 2016

QUETTA: At least four security personnel were injured in a suicide blast at the gate of a military cantonment compound in Balochistan's Zhob district on Friday.

A suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into the gate of the compound, a security official speaking on condition of anonymity told DawnNews. The intensity of the blast shattered window panes in nearby buildings and spread fear and panic among residents.

Two security personnel were critically injured and are being treated in a military-run hospital, he said.

A heavy contingent of security forces' personnel reached the blast site and cordoned off the area.

Zhob is considered to be one of the sensitive districts of Balochistan since it borders with the country's volatile tribal belt. It is also considered to be a transit point for militants sneaking from neighbouring Afghanistan and the tribal belt of Pakistan.



‘Pakistan, Afghanistan should work together to eradicate polio’

January 29th, 2016

ISLAMABAD: The chairperson of Technical Advisory Group (TAG), an organisation that advises Pakistan on polio eradication programmes, has suggested that Pakistan and Afghanistan should come together in their efforts towards eradicating polio from both countries.

At a meeting to review the Pakistani governments’ progress over the last six months, Chairman TAG Dr Jean Marc Olive said: “Pakistan will not make it on its own so there needs to be a stronger coordination with Afghanistan. It is, however, good to see a better management of mass vaccination campaigns.”

Mr Olive added that the hardest part would be maintaining the gains and that there was a need for further improving operations in areas most affected by polio.

“I want to acknowledge the commitment to the programme, the difference this has made, and the support from the country’s security forces. It is now clear that accessibility is no longer a barrier or interruption. But the job is not finished yet. We need continuous support from security forces”, Mr Olive said, adding that there is still a need for improving surveillance in some areas.

The Prime Minister’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication, Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq told the meeting that the virus had been confined to just three places in the country including the Khyber-Peshawar corridor, Karachi and Quetta.

However, she cautioned, the rest of Pakistan is still at high risk high and said there is a need for focusing on delivering high quality campaigns and vaccinating every child to ensure the virus does not spread.

“We believe we can finish the job in 2016,” she said.

Secretary Ministry of National Health Service Mohammad Ayub Sheikh said the ministry had started the new year with a resolve to achieve the targets set.

“With strong political commitment from the government and with support from all our partners, I believe we will defeat the virus this year”, he said.

National Emergency Operations Centre Coordinator Dr Rana Safdar told the meeting that the next four months are critical in stopping the virus from spreading.

He said that while the number of children paralysed by polio last year had decreased by 80 pc, Pakistan still accounted for nearly three out of four children affected by polio worldwide.

“Every time we set out to finish the virus, it survives because it manages to find children who have not been vaccinated. This time, the program is focused on finding these children and vaccinating them, so the virus has nowhere to hide”, Dr Safdar said.

He briefed the meeting on the shifts in the program’s strategies and that there was now a focus on quality campaigns, not on quantities. He said the focus had moved to finding missed children and putting campaign workers at the centre of the efforts. He added that greater coordination and planning had led to better results last year.

TAG will be hearing in-depth analysis from provincial teams before delivering their recommendations to the government on what is needed to end polio in Pakistan in 2016.


Arab World

Attack on Shia mosque in Saudi Arabia kills three people: Arabiya TV

Jan 29, 2016

DUBAI: A shooting at a Shia mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia killed three people and wounded others Friday during prayers, security officials and a witness said, the latest violence to strike the region.

The attack struck the Imam Reza Mosque in the neighborhood of Mehasin during prayers.

Images on social media showed wounded people laying on the mosque's floor.

The security officials said the three deaths were an initial toll. They spoke on condition of anonymity as a formal announcement had yet to be made.

An activist, citing witnesses, told Reuters earlier that an explosion was followed by gun attack on Imam Reza Mosque in the town of Mahasen in al-Ahsa region in the Eastern Province.

Residents said security forces were exchanging gunfire with five “terrorists”.

Mohammed al-Nimr told The Associated Press the attack struck the mosque during Friday prayers.

Al-Nimr, who is the brother of the executed cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. said security forces and ambulances quickly surrounded the mosque.

He said that the attack was a shooting and that worshippers stopped the attacker from detonating a suicide bomb belt.

Saudi state media did not immediately report on the attack.

Shias in Saudi Arabia previously have been targeted in attacks by the Islamic State group in the kingdom.

Earlier this month, Saudi officials also executed a prominent Shia cleric from the region, raising tensions in the area.



Suicide attack near presidential palace in Yemen; 8 killed

January 29th, 2016

ADEN: A suicide car bombing claimed by the militant Islamic State (IS) group killed at least eight people on Thursday outside Yemen’s presidential palace in Aden, security and medical officials said.

The group said that one of its militants, apparently a Dutch national, carried out the attack on a checkpoint outside the palace in the main city of southern Yemen.

Both soldiers and civilians were among those killed, while at least 17 others were wounded, a medical source said.

A security source said the attack appeared to target the convoy of a local businessman who was entering the presidential complex.

Sources had initially said the convoy was carrying Aden’s governor, Aidarus al-Zubaidi, but later said he was not in the area at the time of the attack.

Zubaidi survived a car bombing earlier this month, after being appointed in December following the murder of his predecessor, Jaafar Saad, in an Aden bombing claimed by IS.

Witnesses said the blast damaged at least six vehicles and a nearby mosque.

In statement posted on Twitter, IS said “martyrdom-seeker Abu Hanifa al-Hollandi... detonated his explosives-laden vehicle at the presidential palace”.

The name used for the assailant implied he was from the Netherlands. President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi was in the palace at the time of the attack but remained unharmed, a government official said.

Military vehicles from the Saudi-led coalition which supports Hadi’s government were deployed around the complex after the attack, security sources said.

Aden has become the temporary headquarters of Hadi’s government as it battles to retake large parts of Yemen from Houthi rebels.

The port city has also seen a growing jihadist presence, with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, long active in Yemen, and IS apparently vying for influence.

Hadi fled to Aden after escaping house arrest in the capital Sanaa, which was overran by the Houthis in September 2014.

But he also had to flee the southern port city in March to Riyadh when the rebels advanced on the south, prompting Saudi Arabia to intervene with air strikes.



Syrian Army Wins Back Most of Turkmen Mountains in Northern Lattakia

January 29th, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army’s Special Forces and their popular allies, inflicted heavy losses on the Takfiri terrorists in northern Lattakia, seizing nearly third quarters of the Turkmen Mountains (Jabal Al-Turkmen) region.

Al-Qaeda's Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) lost scores of their fighters during the fierce clashes in northern Lattakia, retreating from almost vast regions to avoid more casualties.

Following the capture of Rabi'a last weekend, the Syrian Army and their allies turned their attention to the strategic town of Kinsibba, which is situated just north of Salma in the Kurdish Mountains (Jabal Al-Akrad) of northeast Latakia.

The battle for Kinsibba is of paramount importance to the Syrian Armed Forces; if captured, they would be able to isolate the remaining territory under the terrorists' control and cut off all supply routes from the Turkish border.

The Syrian Armed Forces are most likely to capture the remaining territory in the Turkmen Mountains before they decide to cross the Lattakia-Idlib axis and attack the strategic city of Jisr Al-Shughour.



Syrian Army, Popular Forces Liberate Bluzah in Aleppo Province

January 29th, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Syrian troops and popular defense forces (NDF), on Thursday, managed to win back control over the town of Bluzah in Aleppo province, Northwestern Syria.

The victory by the army and popular forces came after fierce clashes with Wahhabi-Takfiri terrorists over the town which is located south of Safira in Aleppo province.

The Syrian army forces also inflicted heavy losses on the militants, before forcing them to retreat from the region to avoid more casualties.

During the recent days, the Pro-governmnt forces have been making steady gains in Northwestern parts of Syria, being able to drive the militant groups back from more territories in the region. The Syrian fighter jets also have been targeting the militant groups' positions in the Aleppo province in recent days.



Syrian Army's Tunnel Attack Destroys Militants' Headquarters in Jobar

January 29th, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian army used a tunnel to attack and destroy the terrorists' stronghold in Eastern Ghouta, Damascus on Thursday.

The Syrian Arab Army’s Brigade 105 of the Republican Guard carried out a devastating tunnel attack on Jaish al-Islam terrorist group's headquarters in the city of Jobar, resulting in the complete destruction of this large building located near the Tayba Mosque.

The army announced on Wednesday that scores of militants were killed or wounded in the Syrian Army and Air Forces' offensives across Eastern and Western Ghouta in Damascus province.

"The Syrian fighter jets, in a fresh round of combat sorties, targeted the militant groups' defense lines near the town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, which left several terrorists dead and several more wounded," the army said.

"In the meantime, the Syrian army's artillery units shelled the terrorist groups' strongholds in Jobar, Zamalka and Douma in Eastern Ghouta and Darayya in Western Ghouta, which ended in the killing or wounding of tens of the militants," the army went on to say.

"Also, the Syrian army raided the militant groups' centers in al-Bilaliyeh in Eastern Ghouta and destroyed their military hardware in large scale," the army said.



Rouhani-Hollande lunch scrapped after French insistence on serving wine

January 29th, 2016

IRAN’S President Hassan Rouhani had been due to eat lunch with French President Francois Hollande in an upmarket restaurant on Thursday, but negotiations broke down after the Iranians requested a halal, alcohol-free meal.

French officials insisted on serving traditional local food and wine, saying making a meal “Iran friendly” went against their values.

The Elysee Palace suggested the heads of state share breakfast instead, but this was rejected as “too cheap”.

An official told a French radio station: “The leaders have missed out on a great opportunity to meet in the relaxed environment of a meal.”

His visit to Italy went much more smoothly as officials kept alcohol off the menu at state dinners and even covered up ancient nude statues in Rome as they signed deals worth 12 billion pounds.

By arrangement with The Times of India



Turkey Kills Members of Trapped Kurdish Minority in Besieged Cizre

January 29, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Ankara continues to bombard the Kurdish town of Cizre in southeastern Turkey and has shown no indication that it intends to resolve the crisis, according to Mehmet Tunс, one of 28 people who have been blocked in a half-ruined apartment house in the town.

In an interview with Sputnik, Mehmet Tunс, who is among 28 people who have been blocked in a dilapidated apartment house in the mainly Kurdish town of Cizre in southeastern Turkey, said that Turkish warplanes have continued to pound the town. Meanwhile, Ankara seems to have turned a blind eye to the crisis.

He spoke after the Turkish air strikes on Cizre partially destroyed the apartment building four days ago; several floors have collapsed and at least 28 people remain trapped inside.

Four people have already died, and 24 people have been injured, Tunc said, adding that the local authorities failed to organize the evacuation of those who are trapped and that the current situation is close to critical.

"To understand the horror that is going on here, you need to see it with your own eyes. We wrapped the dead in blankets. It is very stuffy and dusty in the basement where we have been blocked, and a smell of decomposing bodies is already being felt," he said.

Tunc lamented the fact that he is unable to help the wounded get out of the basement, and that the Turkish Interior Ministry is unwilling to address evacuation-related issues.

"We are powerless to do anything. If you go out on the street, you will be shot and if you stay inside, you can be killed by a bomb. I was told that I should try to evacuate all those injured all by myself but it is impossible to do so," Tunc said.

He was echoed by Nimettullah Erdogmus, spokesman for the Kurdish People's Democracy Party, who blamed the Turkish government for its unwillingness to solve the humanitarian crisis in Cizre.

"Unfortunately, the authorities refrain from openly discussing this issue with us. Probably, Ankara has preferred to lay the responsibility for the situation on the local security forces," Erdogmus said.

The Turkish Army's military operations against Cizre are in their third week; attacks have been launched under the pretext of combatting members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Earlier, the authorities imposed a 24-hour curfew on the besieged town, where the artillery shelling by the army forces has repeatedly hit residential neighborhoods, causing more than 50 civilian casualties in the past three weeks.

According to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Ankara's current operation against the Kurdish resistance is due to conclude by the end of January.



Syrian Kurds ‘plan big attack’ to seal Turkish border

Reuters | Jan 28, 2016

BEIRUT: The powerful Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and its local allies have drawn up plans for a major attack to seize the final stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border held by Islamic State jihadists, a YPG source familiar with the plan said on Thursday.

Such an offensive could deprive Islamic State jihadists of a logistical route that has been used by the group to bring in supplies and foreign recruits.

But it could lead to confrontation with Turkey, which is fighting against its own Kurdish insurgents and sees the Syrian Kurds as an enemy.

After a year of military gains aided by US-led air strikes, the Kurds and their allies already control the entire length of Syria's northeastern Turkish frontier from Iraq to the banks of the Euphrates river, which crosses the border west of the town of Kobani.

Other Syrian insurgent groups control the frontier further west, leaving only around 100km (60 miles) of border in the hands of Islamic State jihadists, running from the town of Jarablus on the bank of the Euphrates west to near the town of Azaz.

But Turkey says it will not allow the Syrian Kurds to move west of the Euphrates.

The source confirmed a report on Kurdish news website Xeber24 which cited a senior YPG leader saying the plan includes crossing the Euphrates to attack the Islamic State-held towns of Jarablus and Manbij, in addition to Azaz, which is held by other insurgent groups.

The source did not give a planned date, but said a January 29 date mentioned in the Xeber24 report might not be accurate.

The YPG has been the most important partner on the ground of a US-led air campaign against Islamic State, and is a major component of an alliance formed last year called the Syria Democratic Forces, which also includes Arab and other armed groups. The alliance is quietly backed by Washington, even as its Nato ally in the region, Turkey, is hostile.

The political party affiliated with the YPG, the PYD, has been excluded from Syria peace talks the United Nations plans to hold in Geneva on Friday. The PYD and its allies say their exclusion undermines the process and have blamed Turkey.

Ankara fears further expansion by the YPG will fuel separatist sentiment among its own Kurdish minority. It views the Syrian Kurdish PYD as a terrorist group because of its affiliation to Turkish Kurdish militants.

The United States and Turkey have for months been discussing a joint military plan to drive Islamic State from the border, but there has been little sign of it on the ground.

The border area is being fought over by several sides in the complex, multi-sided civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people and driven more than 10 million from their homes.

At the western end of the Islamic State-held stretch of frontier, Syrian insurgents backed by Turkey have been fighting Islamic State near Azaz in a to-and-fro battle that has not yielded major shifts, said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory Human Rights.

Tensions between the YPG and its allies on one hand and other insurgent groups backed by Turkey on the other have spilled into conflict near Azaz in the last three months.

Separately, the Syrian army and allied militia, supported by Russian air strikes, are meanwhile edging closer to the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab, some 50km (30 miles) southwest of Manbij in the Aleppo area.



Iran, Israel could ratify nuke test ban treaty, says UN official

Jan 29, 2016

VIENNA: The head of the United Nations nuclear test ban treaty organisation says arch enemies Iran and Israel are the closest of the eight holdout nations to ratifying the treaty and assuring the world they will never conduct a nuclear test explosion.

Lassina Zerbo said this week that having Iran and Israel ratify together would certainly lead to Egypt's ratification, and pave the way for a nuclear test-free zone in the Middle East.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, known as the CTBT, has 196 member states, 183 that have signed the treaty and 164 that have ratified it.

But the treaty has not entered into force because it still needs ratification by eight countries that had nuclear power reactors or research reactors when the UN General Assembly adopted the treaty in 1996: the United States, China, Iran, Israel, Egypt, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Zerbo, speaking during a week-long conference marking the 20th anniversary of the treaty being opened for signing, said he doesn't expect immediate results on ratification, but is hoping to visit both Iran and Israel and talk to their leaders because “I think that they're the ones who can unlock what is stopping the CTBT from moving.”

In a briefing and an interview, he said that implementation of last summer's deal to rein in Iran's nuclear programme and confirmation from Israeli and international scientists that Tehran can't produce nuclear weapons would mean “the biggest threat for Israel is gone and over”.

Zerbo said the next step should then be to ratify the CTBT, which both Iran and Israel signed in 1996. He called this “a low-hanging fruit,” toward the goal of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.

“Israel and Iran can make a huge difference for this treaty, and they have nothing to lose ... absolutely nothing,” Zerbo said.

“Both of them can take leadership and show carte blanche to the world to say we have together decided to ratify the CTBT.”

He said ratification by Iran and Israel would help defuse tensions between the countries, build trust and provide momentum, first for Egypt to ratify the CTBT and then to start negotiations for a nuclear test-free zone in the Middle East.

Zerbo said a nuclear test-free zone is an achievable step toward the much more difficult goal of establishing a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East.

“You can't jump and get a weapon-free zone in the Middle East if the CTBT isn't ratified,” he said.

Arab nations have been calling for a nuclear-free zone since the mid 1990s but efforts to hold a conference to discuss the possibility have failed.

One key issue has been differences with Israel, which is widely believed to have an arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons but has avoided confirming or denying their existence.

But if Israel, Iran and Egypt ratify the CTBT, Zerbo said this will put pressure on the United States to ratify as well.

“President Barack Obama wants to ratify the treaty”, he said. “But his hands are tied by the ‘Republican controlled’ senate.” Zerbo said ratification by the three Middle East countries should convince conservative Republicans in the US Senate to reconsider their opposition and support the treaty.

Looking at the current world situation and the other holdouts, Zerbo said, China won't ratify before the US, India won't ratify before China, and Pakistan won't ratify before India — which means US action is also crucial. North Korea, the only country to test nuclear weapons in the 21st century, is least likely of the eight key countries to ratify the CTBT, he said.

Zerbo said the international community needs to change the way it engages with North Korea, which earlier this month said it exploded a hydrogen bomb in its fourth nuclear test, which has not been confirmed.

“What they need at this point in time is … maybe a bit of respect and dignity in the dialogue we have with them,” he said.

“Instead of bang, bang on their head, maybe we have to come to sit with them around the table and say: ‘Hey guys, if this is confirmed that it's the fourth test, we don't want this to happen again. How can we work?'”

Zerbo said this should have happened after North Korea's first test in 2006.



NATO to Strengthen Turkey’s Air Defense With More AWACS Aircraft

Jan 29, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO will send additional AWACS early warning planes to Turkey in order to strengthen the country’s defense systems.

NATO will send additional AWACS early warning planes to Turkey in order to strengthen the country’s defense systems, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday, Sputnik reported.

"We have visibly increased NATO’s presence in the eastern part of our Alliance. And to the south, we have agreed to increase the presence of AWACS early warning aircraft over Turkey," Stoltenberg said presenting his annual report in Brussels.

The NATO chief added that NATO had tripled the size of its Response Force and would set up eight headquarters to ease planning and drills.

According to the report, NATO leaders will discuss the crisis in the southern borders and support of their partners during the alliance’s summit in Warsaw in July.



Iran says it flew drone over US aircraft carrier, took 'precise' photos

AP | Jan 29, 2016

TEHRAN: Iran flew a surveillance drone over a US aircraft carrier and took "precise'' photographs of it as part of an ongoing naval drill, state television reported on Friday. An American official declined to comment on the claim.

The reported drone overflight comes after a series of naval incidents between Iran and the US in the greater Persian Gulf, including test rocket fire by the Islamic Republic and its brief capture of American sailors who strayed into its territorial waters.

The brief report by state television did not say what day the drone flight occurred, nor did it show any of the images of the aircraft carrier reportedly photographed by the drone. A story from the state-run IRNA news agency said an Iranian light submarine closely participated in the surveillance operation.

Separately, state television said Iran's navy successfully fired surface-to-surface Noor cruise missiles during the drill.

The Iranian report did not name the US vessel targeted. The nuclear-powered USS Harry S Truman, based out of Norfolk, Virginia, is in the Persian Gulf region launching airstrikes and supporting operations against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, a spokesman for the US Navy's 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, declined to comment on the Iranian report.

"I can say that we are confident in the ability of U.S. naval forces operating in the region to respond appropriately as the situation dictates, and will exercise our right to defend our forces against any threat,'' Stephens said.

Iran has announced other military exercises in the past to demonstrate the capabilities of its armed forces.

Iran's navy began a naval drill this week over a 3-million-square-kilometer area including parts of the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. Iran said Wednesday its navy warned a US warship to leave an area of the naval drill. The US Navy later denied its operations were affected by the Iranian drill.

While Iran recently struck a nuclear deal with world powers including the US, its naval forces have continued its maneuvers. Iran has more than 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) of shoreline facing the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.

The US has criticized some of those maneuvers, including what it called a "highly provocative'' Iranian rocket test fire in December near its warships and commercial traffic passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran denied launching rockets, though the US later released footage showing the rocket fire.

The Strait of Hormuz, which sees nearly a third of all oil traded by sea pass through it, has been the scene of past confrontations between America and Iran, including a one-day naval battle in 1988.

In January, Iranian forces captured 10 US Navy sailors who entered Iranian territorial waters near Farsi Island, an outpost in the middle of the Persian Gulf that has been used as a base for Revolutionary Guard speedboats since the 1980s. The sailors were released within a day, though Iranian state media aired footage of the sailors' capture, angering US politicians.



Iran coerces Afghans to fight in Syria: HRW

January 29th, 2016

NEW YORK: Iran's Revolutionary Guards has recruited thousands of Afghans, some by coercion, to fight in Syria's war alongside forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Friday.

"Iran has not just offered Afghan refugees and migrants incentives to fight in Syria, but several said they were threatened with deportation back to Afghanistan unless they did," said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at the New York based HRW.

"Faced with this bleak choice, some of these Afghan men and boys fled Iran for Europe."

Tehran says its Fatemiyon Brigade, comprising Afghan recruits, are volunteers to defend sacred sites in Syria and Iraq against extremists like those of the militant Islamic State (IS) group.

But some reports say the Afghans have been offered residency and a monthly salary to fight for Iran.

The Islamic Republic denies having any boots on the ground and insists its commanders and generals act as military advisers in Syria and Iraq.

However, funerals are regularly held across Iran for volunteer fighters from Iran, Afghanistan, and sometimes Pakistan.

Iran hosts an estimated three million Afghans, many of whom have fled persecution and repeated bouts of armed conflict in their homeland, said HRW.

Only 950,000 have refugee status in Iran and the rest have been deemed unqualified for asylum.

At least two dozen Afghans interviewed by the watchdog said they or their relatives had been recruited or coerced by the Iranian authorities to fight in Syria.

Six of them said Iranian forces had trained them or their relatives in military camps near Tehran and Shiraz in 2015.

Two of the six had joined voluntarily, while the other four said they or their relatives had been coerced or forced to fight.

Afghans were fighting in many areas of Syria, including Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Deir Ezzor, Hama, Latakia, and in areas near the Syrian border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, they said.



Moscow, Tehran Share Opinions on Syrian Crisis Settlement

January 29, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Russia and Iran share a common view on the settlement of the Middle Eastern political and social crises, including the nearly five-year conflict in Syria, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said.

Tehran also supports the efforts of UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to ensure dialogue with Syria, he stressed.

"Moscow and Tehran have common position on the regulation of the Middle East problems, we also have the same position on Syria… Moscow and Tehran support political regulation of the Syrian conflict," Abdollahian told reporters at the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency.

Since 2011, Syria has been mired in war with a number of militant groups.

The intra-Syrian peace talks in Geneva are scheduled to begin on Friday, January 29 in a bid to end the ongoing carnage in the Arab republic. The peace process involving both Syrian opposition forces and the government of President Bashar Assad is expected to last six months, according to de Mistura.



Turkish fighter who allegedly killed pilot says not intimidated by Russian threat on life

January 28, 2016

Alparslan Çelik, the Turkish citizen who Russia is after for having killed a Russian pilot in Syria, has challenged the Russian threat to his life, vowing he will continue to fight to defend the Turkmens' territory in Syria against government forces backed by Russia.

“I have no such fear [of death]. We will continue our fight to the last person, the last breath, [and] the last drop of blood,” Çelik told the Doğan news agency on Thursday.

He confirmed that rebel groups fighting against Syrian government forces in the Turkmen region have been getting military support from Turkey.

Underlining the rebels' need to have air defense weapons to protect themselves against Russian jets, Çelik reportedly praised Turkey's assistance that has been given to Turkmens in the region; however, he said the amount of support is still not sufficient.

He complained about still being provided with the same rudimentary weapons as the ones those given to them while they were fighting Syrian and Iranian forces -- before the involvement of Russia on the side of the Syrian government.

He reportedly told the news agency: “The same [kind of] weapons are coming today when we are fighting against Russia, which is a world power. We are not equipped with the weapons to counter their high-tech devices. But they [weapons] are certainly coming from the Turkish state. The [sort of] weapons that work in combat at close quarters. But we don't have an air defense system… What we are asking from the Turkish state is to provide us with air defense weapons."

Çelik previously implied he had killed Oleg Peşkov, a Russian pilot, as he parachuted from his plane, which was hit by a Turkish jet for allegedly violating Turkish airspace. A Turkish F-16 shot down the Russian pilot's Su-24 on Nov. 24, an act that has led to a crisis in relations between the two countries. Peşkov was one of the two pilots in the downed jet that fell over Syrian territory near the Turkish border after being hit by a missile.

After weeks of intense fighting, the Syrian forces backed by Russian jets recently captured Turkmen Mountain, which lies to the south of Turkey's Hatay province.

He was seen admitting in video footage broadcast by Turkish television stations shortly after the downing of the jet that the pilot was killed by the Turkmens.

Andrey Karlov, Russian ambassador to Turkey, said in remarks to the Cumhuriyet daily in mid-December that the person who was seen in the video footage was a Turkish citizen and named Çelik.

Çelik is the son of Ramazan Çelik, who formerly served as an MHP mayor for the Keban district in the eastern Turkish province of Elazığ.

Turkey is particularly concerned about Russian bombing near the Turkish border because the area in question is populated by Turkmens.



Iranian Navy Unveils New Radar System during Thursday Drills

January 29, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Iranian Navy unveiled a new radar system with a range of 150km during the second day of the main phase of its massive wargames along the country's Southeastern Makran seashores on the rims of the Persian Gulf on Thursday.

The radar system which has been mounted on a mobile station during the drills can be used in electronic warfare and can continue mission even with some damaged parts.

The prototype model of the radra system can cover a range of 150km, but it can be upgraded to cover ranges of upto 400km.

The radar can also trace and discover surface and aerial targets at the same time.

Iran has taken big strides in building different radar systems.

In relevant remarks in November, Commander of Khatam ol-Anbia Air Defense Base Brigadier General Farzad Esmayeeli announced that Iran is one of the top 6 countries in the world which have made advanced long-range radar systems.

"We don’t have any technical bottleneck in the air defense field and don’t need to purchase anything in this field from the foreign states," Esmayeeli said in Tehran.

"Today, our experts have built a 3,000-km-range radar without any foreign help and we are among the six countries which can build it," he added.

Also, in September, Esmayeeli announced that Iran will unveil its new long-range radar systems in the coming months.

"The new radar systems would be unveiled by the end of the current Iranian calendar year in March 2016," Esmayeeli said.

He reiterated that the new radars can help the Khatam ol-Anbia Air Defense Base to detect and monitor aircraft flying beyond Iran's borders.

Also in September, Brigadier General Esmayeeli underlined that the country's integrated missile and radar systems are always monitoring moves and ready to fire and intercept hostile flying objects at any moment from over 3,000 kilometers away.

"Today we are capable of monitoring the enemies' slightest move from a distance of more than 3,000 kilometers," Esmayeeli said.

He reiterated that one of the achievements in the field of Air Defense in Iran is that the country has become self-sufficient in the production of radar systems and missiles.

Brigadier General Esmayeeli said Iran's Air Defense units have been deployed in some 3,700 locations across the country to give a crushing response to enemies' threats, while they have a message of peace and security to regional and friendly states.


South Asia

Senior Taliban leaders among 28 killed in latest operations led by Afghan army

By Khaama Press - Fri Jan 29 2016

At least three senior Taliban leaders were killed along with twenty five other militants in the latest counter-terrorism operations led by the Afghan National Army (ANA) forces, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said Friday.

The operations were conducted in different parts of the country during the past 24 hours, MoD said, adding that twenty others were also injured during the same operations.

The Afghan armed forces also arrested 12 militants and confiscated various types of weapons, ammunition and Improvised Explosive Device (IED) belonging to the militants.

According to MoD, the operations covered large swaths of Parwan in noth, Nangarhar in east, Ghazni in southeast, Logar, Uruzgan and Wardak in central parts of the country, Kandahar and Zabul in south, Faryab, Baghlan, Kunduz and Jawzjan in north, and Badakhshan in northeast.

MoD also added that five soldiers of the Afghan National Army (ANA) embraced martyrdom during the operations against the local and foreign insurgents involved in terrorist activities.

The anti-government armed militant groups have not commented regarding the reports so far.

The Afghan security forces have stepped up counter-terrorism operations amid deteriorating security situation across the country, mainly due to Taliban-led insurgency.



Pakistan to host four-nation talks on Afghan peace next month

By Khaama Press - Thu Jan 28 2016

The third round of quadrilateral meeting on Afghan peace process will be held on 6th February in the capital city of Pakistan, the officials said Thursday.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry Qazi Khalilullah told reporters that representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, United States and China will meet next to discuss the Afghan peace process.

Khalilullah further added that the meeting would focus on ongoing efforts to lay out a roadmap to peace for the war-shattered Afghan nation.

He also added that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will soon travel to Qatar, shedding light on reports regarding invitation of the Taliban representatives to sit-in for peace negotiations once the quadrilateral meeting participants reach some understanding on the overall roadmap.

This comes as the Taliban group earlier announced that the group’s political office in Qatar was the only entity authorized to carry out negotiations on its behalf.

The second round of quadrilateral meeting on Afghan peace process was held in capital Kabul on 18th January where participants of the meeting calling on the Taliban groups to enter into early talks with the Afghan government in a bid to end the ongoing violence in the country.

The Afghan and Pakistani leaders agreed to revive the stalled Afghan peace talks during a meeting on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad last year.

Pakistan hosted the first round of direct peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban group earlier in July last year. However, the peace talks were suspended due confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death that led to widening rift among the Taliban leadership.

The Afghan officials were expecting to sit-in for the second round of peace talks with the Taliban group representatives in Pakistan before the confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death.



US general calls for enduring commitment to Afghanistan as security deteriorates

By Khaama Press - Fri Jan 29 2016

US AfghanistanThe top US commander nominated to take charge of the US forces in Afghanistan has called for ‘an enduring commitment to the Afghans’ amid deteriorating situation in the country, mainly due to the resurgent Taliban violence and threats posed by the emergent loyalists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group.

Lt. Gen. John Nicholson was briefing the US Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday following his nomination by President Barack Obama for commander of US operations in Afghanistan.

He said it was clear that “trans-national terrorist organizations,” including ISIS and al Qaeda, were attempting to “establish sanctuary inside Afghanistan.”

This comes as there have been growing concerns regarding the growing activities of the loyalists of the terror group as they have been trying to expand foothold in the country.

The Obama administration granted the US forces new authority to target loyalists of the terror group in Afghanistan earlier this month, a move followed shortly after the U.S. Department of State designated the Khorasan branch of the terror as a terrorist organization.

The current commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan Gen. John Campbell said last year that the loyalists of the terror group are attempting to establish a regional base in Jalalabad, the capital city of eastern Nangarhar province.

Gen. Campbell further added that foreign militants from Syria and Iraq had joined the loyalists of the terror group in eastern Nangarhar province and are trying to consolidate links with the leadership of the terror group based in Syria and Iraq.



Australia raids homes of 'doctor in Islamic State video': Reports

AFP | Jan 29, 2016

SYDNEY: Police have raided two Melbourne homes in counter-terrorism operations, with reports on Friday linking them to an Australian man who appeared in a slick Islamic State propaganda video last year.

The properties in the northern Melbourne suburbs of Craigieburn and Meadow Heights were raided yesterday, the Australian Federal Police confirmed today without giving further details as it was an "ongoing investigation".

They belonged to the former wives of Mohomed Unais Mohomed Ameen, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported, adding that he had appeared in a propaganda video promoting IS's "health service" in Syria.

The 41-year-old -- who was born in Sri Lanka according to the ABC -- had reportedly claimed to be working in physiotherapy at an IS-run hospital and appeared on screen beside another Australian, Tareq Kamleh, in the footage uploaded to YouTube in April.

The raids by the Victorian joint counter-terrorism team came as Melbourne court documents reportedly alleged that an Australian teenager facing terror charges discussed stuffing a kangaroo with explosives, painting it with the Islamic State group symbol and setting it loose on police.

The 19-year-old, Sevdet Besim, who on Thursday pleaded not guilty to four charges related to planning an attack last year, is due back in court next week.

The police operations are part of Australia's crackdown on nationals they fear are linked to home-grown extremism.

Canberra raised the terror threat alert level to high in September 2014, with the government passing a series of national security laws and police conducting numerous raids across the country.



Australian Teen Accused of Anzac Day Terror Plot with 'Kangaroo Bomb'

Jan 29, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- A 19-year-old in Melbourne is charged with allegedly planning to mount an explosive on a kangaroo, paint it with an ISIL symbol and “set it loose” on police officers during Anzac Day in April 2015, local media report.

Sevdet Ramadan Besim is one of five teens arrested during a police raid in Melbourne in April 2015, and has been in custody since, RT reported.

Prosecutors alleged on Thursday that Besim discussed the planned terror attack with a British accomplice, as well as doing online searches about Anzac Day events. Marked on April 25 each year, Anzac Day was originally to honor soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. 2015 marked the centenary of that campaign.

However, the plotted attack involved quite an unconventional explosive device. A summary of Telegram Messenger communications, an encrypted service, between the two teens quoted by ABS says Besim suggested mounting C4 on a kangaroo and making it approach police officers before blowing up.

“The conversation continues with Besim detailing what he did that day and they have a general discussion around animals and wildlife in Australia, including a suggestion that a kangaroo could be packed with C4 explosive, painted with the ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] symbol and set loose on police officers,” the summary reads.

“I'd love to take out some cops,” Besim is also alleged to have written, according to court documents. “I was gonna meet with them then take some heads.”

He has been ordered to stand trial in the Victorian Supreme Court in February facing charges relating to searching internet sites, engaging in communications and creating a memo with the intention of planning a terrorist attack.

A fifth charge of conspiring to commit a terror attack – which implies a life sentence – was withdrawn.

Police have alleged Besim was motivated by an extremist ideology and expressed support for terrorist organizations, particularly ISIL. In October, a British court sentenced a 15-year-old boy from Blackburn, northwestern England, for his part in the Anzac Day plot.

In passing sentence in the Manchester Crown Court, Judge John Saunders said the teenager, who cannot be named because of his age, would only be released when he was no longer a danger to the public. Saunders handed down a life sentence with no chance of parole for five years.



NIA chargesheet on Udhampur attack details LeT plot against India

Bharti Jain | TNN | Jan 29, 2016

NEW DELHI: The National Investigation Agency, in a chargesheet filed on Thursday against Pakistani national Mohammad Naveed and eight others in the Udhampur terror attack case, has described the August 2015 ambush on a BSF convoy as part of a larger conspiracy by Lashker-e-Taiba (LeT) to wage war against India.

"It is part of this overarching conspiracy that terrorists are recruited and trained in Pakistan and PoK by the LeT and then infiltrated into India to commit terrorist acts. The ends of the conspiracy are furthered by local terrorists, facilitators and supporters who provide a variety of logistic support to terrorists once they enter Indian territory," states the chargesheet while nailing the role of the Pakistan-based terror outfit.

The nine accused named in the chargesheet are Naveed, Khursheed Bhat, Showkat Bhat, Shabzar Bhat, Fayaz Ittoo, Khursheed Ittu, Setha, Ashiq Bhat and deceased attacker Abu Noman. The chargesheet records Mohammad Naveed, one of the two Udhampur attackers captured alive, as a Pakistani national and resident of Street Number 3, Rafiq Colony, Ghulam Mohammad Abad, Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan. His accomplice Abu Noman, who was killed in retaliatory fire, is also listed as a Paksitani.

According to the chargesheet filed in a special NIA court in Jammu, Naveed was recruited into LeT in 2011 at a local mosque through Bashir Moulvi, resident of Faisalabad. His training at Muzaffarabad, took place between late 2011 and May 2015.

Naveed and his aides Abu Noman, Mohammed Bhai and Abu Okasha were launched from 'Halen Det', a PoK camp used by LeT. They travelled from Forward Kahuta, PoK and crossed the LoC on June 2, 2015, after cutting the fence. They headed for Baba Reshi in Baramulla, using grid references and GPS, and reached a pre-determined tree where they were asked to meet a receiving party comprising Ashiq and Showkat.

The receiving party went checking for Naveed, using GPS to find the pre-determined tree on both occasions. This data has been found on the recovered GPS device.

The vehicle in which Naveed travelled from Baba Reshi has been seized. Also, the Pulwama house where Naveed and others stayed between June 14 and July 23, 2015 was identified. A Samsung mobile recovered from the site contained several videos, photos and text that establish the terror link.



26/11 trial a test of Pak sincerity on combating terror: MEA

TNN | Jan 29, 2016

NEW DELHI: The 2008 Mumbai attacks again took centre stage in Indo-Pak bilateral ties with New Delhi declaring on Thursday that 26/11 remained a test case for Pakistan's stated commitment to fighting India-specific terror groups.

While there has been much speculation about when the foreign secretaries are going to meet, the foreign ministry said the two countries have not yet agreed upon a mutually convenient date for the talks which Pakistan sees as essential to carry forward the engagement process. "We see Mumbai terror attack trial in Islamabad as a test of Pakistan's sincerity in combating terrorism directed against India," said MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup.

"The planning, training and financing of the Mumbai attack was done in Pakistan where 99% of the evidence is. It is Pakistan's responsibility to unearth and present the requisite evidences so that the perpetrators are brought to justice," he added.

As it sought a re-engagement with Pakistan late last year, the Centre seemed to shift focus from the ongoing trial of the 26/11 accused, including mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, to more topical humanitarian issues and religious tourism. The Pathankot attack though has made it difficult to have any engagement with Islamabad without terror as the main agenda.

Swarup said even when the foreign secretary S Jaishankar travels to Islamabad to meet his counterpart, he was going to take up the issue of terror emanating from Pakistan against India in the light of the Pathankot attack. Originally, after the two sides declared resumption of talks in December, foreign secretaries were meant to work out the modalities, leaving the issue of terrorism to be addressed by the NSAs. On the progress of probe by Pakistan in Pathankot terror strike, he said the two governments were in "continuous communication".

Pakistan though is likely to seek more evidence for carrying out Pathankot investigations. Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif's foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz Thursday was quoted as having said that the ball for foreign secretary talks was in India's court and that Pakistan was waiting for India to propose a date. Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit suggested that the talks could take place in the first or second week of February. But, as India and Pakistan haggle over dates, the fact is that a fresh spurt in neighbourhood diplomacy by India next week may leave little time for an engagement with Pakistan. Jaishankar now is preparing to welcome his Bangladesh counterpart, Shahidul Haque, for foreign office consultations on Sunday. The following weekend foreign minister Sushma Swaraj travels to Colombo for the next round of the India-Lanka joint commission.



Gujarat anti-terror Bill returned for 3rd time

TNN | Jan 29, 2016

NEW DELHI: President Pranab Mukherjee has returned the contentious Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GCTOC) Bill, 2015, pending with him for nearly four months now, seeking additional information on provisions that are not in sync with the special provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2004.

A home ministry source said the ministry had recalled the bill from the President in order to seek additional inputs from the Gujarat government. "The additional information will be relayed to the President and the Bill reworked after inputs are obtained from the state govenrment," a ministry official said.

MHA officials were not forthcoming on exactly what additional inputs were sought by the President, but sources indicated that the exercise was essentially aimed at reviewing certain provisions of the bill that were at odds with the special powers to deal with terrorism in UAPA. One such provision relates to admissibility of confessions made to a senior police officer. Under UAPA, only a confession made before a magistrate is admissible in a court of law.

The UAPA was amended during the UPA regime as the need for a law dealing with terrorism was felt after the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. Since the previous NDA-era POTA was scrapped on the ground that it was "anti-minority", some of the tough provisions were made part of the UAPA rather than reframing the scrapped law.

"The effort of the home ministry will be to persuade the Gujarat government to review the Bill, including revisiting its nomenclature or scope of application, so that it can be approved by the President without further loss of time," the official said.

The Bill was passed twice by the Gujarat assembly, only to be returned on both occasions by the then Presidents citing its allegedly "draconian" provisions.

It was first rejected by then President A P J Abdul Kalam in 2004, who demanded that the clause relating to interception of communication be removed. It was once again turned down when Pratibha Patil was President. During her tenure, BJP alleged that the bill was being held up for political reasons with Prime Minister Narendra Modi being then chief minister of Gujarat.

The GCTOC Bill, 2015, was again passed by the Gujarat assembly in April last year and was forwarded for presidential assent in September. Before that, in July, the Modi government sent the bill back to the state government asking it to clarify on certain issues raised by the ministry of information and technology (IT).

The IT ministry had objected to the provision in the bill which allowed authorisation of interception of telephone conversations and their admissibility as evidence before a court of law.

The Gujarat government had strongly rebutted the objections raised by the IT ministry. In its reply, the state government had cited the subjects mentioned in the 'concurrent list' under which the Centre and the state share the responsibility of formulating criminal law and criminal procedure.

The central government gave its consent to the provision of extensions of time limit for filing of chargesheet from 90 days to 180 days after consultation with other central ministries.



Muftis vacate CM’s official residence, spark speculation

M Saleem Pandit | TNN | Jan 29, 2016

SRINAGAR: Quietly and without fuss, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti and her mother Gulshah Mufti, widow of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, vacated the Jammu & Kashmir CM's official residence last week, a senior government official told TOI on Thursday.

Deputy director, estates, Satish Kumar, said the watchman at the bungalow reported the Mufti family landed at the Wazarat Road house last week and emptied it, which amounts to vacating the official CM house in the winter capital. PDP later issued a statement that the Mufti family's belongings were taken out to maintain the highest standards of dignified political conduct practised by late Sayeed. "There's no politics involved," senior PDP official Naeem Akhtar said.

But, exiting the official house, coupled with Mehbooba's lengthening silence over government formation, has made many observers contend that this could be yet another way of telling BJP about her unhappiness over their differences.

Among several points of departure between PDP and BJP, Mehbooba is particularly miffed with the Centre's rejection of the transfer of two power projects, Dulhasti at Kishtwar and Uri in Baramulla.

It was Union power minister Piyush Goyal who, in a written reply to a question by PDP MP Tariq Hamid Karra, had said the Centre would not hand over the NHPC power projects to the J&K government.

Karra claimed Goyal refused in spite of the Union finance ministry agreeing to provide Rs 27,000 crore to the state government to buy back Uri and Dulhasti projects.



Indo-Pak agreement on rail link extended for three years

Indrani Bagchi | TNN | Jan 29, 2016

 DELHI: India and Pakistan have extended their agreement relating to rail communication by mutual consent through diplomatic channels for next three years.

The agreement has been extended from January 19, 2016 to January 18, 2019, a statement issued by the ministry of external affairs said in a statement on Friday.

The agreement, signed on 28 June, 1976, enables India-Pakistan rail communication both in respect of goods and passenger traffic.

Currently, passenger and goods traffic operates on Delhi - Lahore route via Attari - Wagah, and passenger traffic between Jodhpur and Karachi via Munabao - Khokhrapar.




Obama calls for efforts to counter Islamic State in Libya

Reuters | Jan 29, 2016

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama directed his national security advisers on Thursday to counter efforts by Islamic State to expand into Libya and other countries, the White House said.

Islamic State militants have taken advantage of chaos in Libya to establish themselves in the city of Sirte, and they have carried out several attacks on oil installations this month.

"The President directed his national security team to continue efforts to strengthen governance and support ongoing counterterrorism efforts in Libya and other countries where ISIL has sought to establish a presence," the White House statement said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Earlier on Thursday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a news conference that Islamic State was establishing training sites in Libya and welcoming foreign fighters the way it had done in Iraq and Syria in years past.

"And we don't want to be on a glide slope to a situation like Syria and Iraq. That's the reason why we're watching it that closely. That's the reason why we develop options for what we might do in the future."

On Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the Unied States had already sent "a small number of military personnel" into Libya to try to "to engage in conversations with local forces to get a clearer picture of exactly what's happening there."

"We're looking at military options," Cook said, according to a transcript of his news conference on the Department of Defense website.

The political chaos in Libya has slowed the international community's ability to partner with the loose alliances of armed brigades of rebels who once fought veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was overthrown in 2011.



British Jihadist Claims Responsibility for Abducting Swiss Missionary

January 29, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- A jihadist with a British accent and affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for abducting a Swiss missionary in Mali in January.

Beatrice Stockly, believed to be in her mid-50s, was kidnapped on January 7 when armed men burst through the front door of her home in Timbuktu.

In an eight-minute video released by AQIM, one jihadist speaking with a British accent said, “We, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, declare our responsibility for the kidnapping of this Christianizing kaffir Beatrice Stöckly, who by her work drove out many from the fold of Islam by seducing them with crumbs of this worldly life.”

The Swiss missionary appeared at the end of the video wearing a black hijab.

The group further demanded the release of fighters imprisoned in Mali and one captured in Niger in exchange for the kidnapped woman’s release.

Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry told Fox News it has called for Stockli’s “unconditional release,” adding it has been in contact with her family and Malian authorities since the kidnapping.

This is the second time Stockly has been kidnapped by the jihadist group, according to the Times.

A new report, published on Wednesday, claims the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra Front, is a greater threat to Syria and the West than ISIL.

The report, which was jointly published by the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute, states that Al-Nusra Front poses “one of the most significant long-term threats” of any jihadist group.

“This Al-Qaeda affiliate has established an expansive network of partnerships with local opposition groups that have grown either dependent on or fiercely loyal to the organization,” the report states.



Total says will sign deal to buy Iranian crude

January 29th, 2016

PARIS: French energy giant Total will sign a contract with Iran to buy crude oil, the company’s chief executive said on Thursday after meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during his visit to France.

“We plan to sign a contract which will allow us to take between 150,000 and 200,000 barrels of crude a day,” Patrick Pouyanne said.

The deal will be signed at the French presidency later Thursday. With the end of economic and financial sanctions, Iran has decided to increase its oil production to 500,000 barrels a day, a decision which further weakened oil prices last week.

The price of crude oil is currently around $32 (29 euros) a barrel, about 70 per cent less than it was in June 2014. Iran, which has the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves, currently produces 2.8 million barrels a day, about a million of which are destined for export.

Pouyanne said other French projects were also in the pipeline with Iran.


North America

Why the US Needs to Cut Its Losses and Leave Afghan Quagmire, But Can't

January 29th, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- In a punchy analysis for Washington-based foreign affairs magazine The National Interest, Cato Institute senior fellow Trevor Thrall explains why it's high time for the United States to cut its losses in Afghanistan, and why the false assumptions of the Obama administration have prevented it from doing so.

"The US strategy in Afghanistan is a complete failure. So why are we still there?" Thrall asks, Sputnik reported.

Last fall, President Barack Obama announced that the US would keep 5,500 US troops in the country until 2017, well beyond the original deadline for withdrawal. After that point, officials have said, the size of the force would be reduced even further, from about 1,000 troops to a 'military advisory' component most likely numbering several hundred troops.

"The reason for the decision, on the surface, appears to be Obama's desire to keep up the pressure on the Taliban to end their insurgency and accept a political settlement," the journalist suggests. "But when considered in light of fourteen years of intense military efforts, the loss of thousands of American lives, trillions of dollars spent and public support for withdrawal, this explanation falls flat."

"The real answer," Thrall suggests, "stems from three fundamental errors of judgment by President Obama."

Reason #1: US Presence in Afghanistan Makes the US Less Safe, Not More Safe

"Let us first dismiss the idea that the US has stayed in Afghanistan for reasons of national security," the analyst writes. "For Obama and others who advocate staying, the endgame revolves around the argument that keeping a lid on Afghanistan is necessary to prevent future attacks."

"Sadly, this argument is a straw man. If the United States had wanted to create new extremist groups, encourage the use of terrorism and destabilize the Middle East, it could hardly have done better than invading Afghanistan (not to mention Iraq), removing the Taliban government and unleashing civil conflict on a massive scale, then leaving thousands of American troops to ensure that the United States got caught in the middle of the violence."

"Since 2001," Thrall recalls, "the number of Islamic extremist groups has skyrocketed by 185%. The number of terrorist attacks worldwide mushroomed from 1,878 in 2001 to 11,952 in 2013. The notion that a longer stay in Afghanistan will reduce the terrorist threat is a fantasy."

"By keeping the United States in Afghanistan, Obama has fallen prey to what psychologists call the 'zero-risk bias'. This term describes people's tendency to try to reduce a small risk to zero rather than try to make more significant reductions in larger risks. Despite 9/11 and a handful of other successful (but much smaller) attacks, the overall threat of terrorism against the United States is very low, and most of it has nothing to do with Afghanistan."

Therefore, the analyst writes, "spending more money trying to reduce an already small risk of Afghanistan-related terrorism just doesn't make sense compared to spending that money dealing with bigger problems. Even worse, Obama's plan to eliminate the small risk of Taliban-inspired terrorism ensures that the US will run larger and more certain risks by keeping American troops in Afghanistan on a daily basis."

Reason #2: The Sunk Cost Trap

In addition to the 'zero-risk bias', Thrall notes, US policy planners are caught in what is called the 'sunk cost trap', "unable to recognize that it is time to cut US losses."

"Like most people faced with having made massive expenditures without achieving their goals, Obama feels pressure to redeem all the lives and money wasted over the past fourteen years. But as hard as it may be emotionally, the decision to stay in Afghanistan should not be based on how hard we have worked up until now."

On the contrary, it "must hinge on whether or not the benefits of staying outweigh the costs moving forward. And since there is little to be gained, staying in Afghanistan is simply an exercise in throwing good money after bad."

Reason #3: Delusions of Grandeur

"Finally," Thrall suggests, "Obama's decision to stay in Afghanistan reflects a serious miscalculation about the ability of the United States to influence events and the behavior of less powerful actors. Given how often the US exhibits this delusion, we should probably call this the 'superpower bias'. Here, too, history reveals the harsh truth."

"Why, after fourteen years during which the United States has enjoyed almost complete military domination in Afghanistan, do policy makers imagine they will be able to influence events now, especially at troop levels far lower than at the height of the [2007] surge? Even in 2010, with 100,000 troops in the country, the US was never able to ensure desirable political outcomes in Afghanistan; nor were its military gains more than temporary. And as time has passed, US influence has only diminished."

Ultimately, Thrall suggests that America's leaders, were they to conduct a careful reassessment of the situation, could "challenge their own assumptions and arrive at better decisions," with "vigorous public debate" able to "provide a critical check on poor decisions and risky policies."

Unfortunately, he notes, "today's foreign policy debates have become one-sided affairs. Since 9/11, calling for a reassessment of our policies on terrorism and intervention has become a risky business. Sadly, given this state of affairs, the United States' stay in Afghanistan may have no end in sight."




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