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Islamic World News ( 6 March 2019, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pak’s Punjab Province Information and Culture Minister, Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, Sacked over His Anti-Hindu Remarks

New Age Islam News Bureau

6 March 2019

With an increase in Muslim visitors to Japan, more prayer rooms are being installed in commercial facilities across the country



 Pak’s Punjab Province Information and Culture Minister, Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, Sacked over His Anti-Hindu Remarks

 New Pakistani Leader’s Education Aims May Include Reining in Religious Schools

 What’s wrong With ‘Kafir’, Muftis Disagree with Call by Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama?

 Japan Getting More Muslim Prayer Rooms, But Some Are Seeing Only Limited Use

 Pakistan Puts Jaish Chief Masood Azhar's Brother, Son In ‘Preventive Custody’, Bans Saeed’s JuD

 All Muslim Parties Open To Mediation: Waqf Board Counsel

 World Islamic Group Votes to Take Myanmar Rohingya Abuses to International Court of Justice

 Waqf Defies Israeli Court Order to Close Al-Aqsa Mosque Gate

 Members of Terror Group Allowed To Speak At UN

 US: Omar's Comments Trigger House Vote On Anti-Semitism



 Pak’s Punjab Province Information and Culture Minister, Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, Sacked over His Anti-Hindu Remarks

 New Pakistani Leader’s Education Aims May Include Reining in Religious Schools

 Satellite Images Show Madrasa Buildings Still Standing At Scene of Indian Bombing

 US visa duration for Pakistani citizens reduced to 3 months

 Pakistan SC bars private channels from airing Indian films, TV shows

 Pak places Hafiz Saeed-led JuD, FIF in list of banned organisations

 Punjab legislators distance themselves from Pak minister's anti-Hindu remarks

 JuD, FIF seminaries, other assets confiscated

 Punjab govt takes over Sialkot mosque


Southeast Asia

 What’s wrong With ‘Kafir’, Muftis Disagree with Call by Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama?

 Japan Getting More Muslim Prayer Rooms, But Some Are Seeing Only Limited Use

 Khalid Samad fails in bid to sink Muslim activist’s defence

 Lack of ‘meaningful action’ for China Muslims, US lawmakers say

 Yadim: Hold more inter-religious dialogues to promote understanding

 IGP: Police hunting man who insulted Prophet Muhammad in Twitter



 Pakistan Puts Jaish Chief Masood Azhar's Brother, Son In ‘Preventive Custody’, Bans Saeed’s JuD

 All Muslim Parties Open To Mediation: Waqf Board Counsel

 Pakistan Incites Tribals In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa To Form Anti-India Militia

 India to Go Ahead With Pakistan on Kartarpur Corridor Plans

 Pakistan team to visit Delhi on March 14 for talks on Kartarpur corridor

 Govt intensifies offensive to get Masood Azhar sanctioned at UN

 Navy rubbishes Pakistan's claim of India submarine in its waters

 Terrorists being trained to carry out attacks via sea: Navy chief


South Asia

 World Islamic Group Votes to Take Myanmar Rohingya Abuses to International Court of Justice

 MEF Applauds Rep. Banks for calling out Islamist groups

 Up to 50 militants killed in Afghan Special Forces operations, airstrikes

 US House resolution calls on BNP to cut ties with Jamaat

 Suicide bomb attack in Afghan city of Jalalabad, casualties feared

 At least 16 killed in bomb, gun attack in eastern Afghanistan



 Waqf Defies Israeli Court Order to Close Al-Aqsa Mosque Gate

 Iran’s Rouhani accuses US of trying to change clerical establishment

 Islamic council rejects Israeli court closure at holy site

 UN postpones reports on companies with business ties to Israeli settlements

 Europeans created Daesh, Iran stopped its spread: Qassemi

 Iran expels Dutch diplomats in reciprocal move: FM Zarif

 Israeli jets strike northern Gaza Strip in fresh act of aggression

 Turkey slams US plan to end special trade status

 Scores of Houthi militia killed in clashes

 Israel carries out fresh Hamas strikes over incendiary balloons



 Members of Terror Group Allowed To Speak At UN

 Be More Open To Combat Extremism Muslim Leader Urges UK Mosques amid Radicalisation Fears

 Russia Will Be One-Third Muslim in 15 Years, Chief Mufti Predicts

 French extremist Jean-Michel Clain killed in Syria: Wife

 UK ruling party suspends 14 members over Islamophobia

 Pope Francis’ visit to Morocco to focus on migrants

 Terror probe after explosive devices found at London airports, Waterloo Station

 ISIS mugshot library aims to halt foreign fighters

 British aid worker stranded in Syria after citizenship is revoked


North America

 US: Omar's Comments Trigger House Vote On Anti-Semitism

 Trump: 'I Agree 100%' To Keep US Troops In Syria

 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans first visit to Lebanon

 Don’t give Turkey F-35 Jets If They Buy Russian S-400: Top US General

 Omar the flashpoint as Democrats confront divide over Israel


Arab World

 Prince Turki Al-Faisal: US Pullout From Syria Will ‘Create A Vacuum’ For Iran

 Saudi Arabia To Become ‘Global Player In Education Sector’

 Saudi cabinet welcomes ‘constructive’ UK Hezbollah ban

 Yemen Destroys Saudi Ammunition Depot with Missile

 Saudi king, crown prince split over MbS’ recent moves: Report

 Saudi Arabia to be rebuked at UN rights council for first time

 Russian satellites find cemetery with 300 graves near Syria’s Rukban camp

 Syrian army attacks Daesh targets in desert

 Saudi Arabia pledges $500 million in support for UN humanitarian plan for Yemen 



 Elections: Save Your Energy for Boko Haram, Wike Tells Security Agencies

 Thousands On Strike In Sudan Calling For President To Quit

 ISIS-Backed Boko Haram Faction May Have New Chief

 Islamic State-backed Boko Haram faction may have new chief: Sources

 Nigeria: Boko Haram Urged to Free Kidnapped Nurse

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Pak’s Punjab Province Information and Culture Minister, Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, Sacked over His Anti-Hindu Remarks

March 6, 2019

Pakistan’s Punjab province government on Tuesday sacked its Information and Culture Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan over his anti-Hindu remarks that invited intense criticism from senior party leaders and the minority community.

Prime Minister Imran Khan took serious notice of Chohan’s ‘anti-Hindu’ remarks and directed Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to remove him forthwith, party sources said.

“PTI Punjab government has removed Fayyaz Chohan from the post of Punjab Information Minister following derogatory remarks about the Hindu community,” official twitter account of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf tweeted.

It further said: “Bashing someone’s faith should not be a part of any narrative. Tolerance is the first & foremost pillar on which #Pakistan was built.”

A spokesman for Punjab chief minister said Chohan submitted his resignation to the chief minister which was immediately accepted.

According to a senior government official, the chief minister had “forgiven” Chohan after he publicly apologised for his remarks, but the prime minister directed Buzdar to immediately remove him from the ministry.

Chohan had come under severe criticism from senior members of his party, ministers and social media users with #SackFayazChohan trending on Twitter for his controversial remarks while addressing a gathering on February 24 in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack.

Earlier in the day, Chohan apologised for his remarks following intense criticism.

“I was addressing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indian armed forces and their media not the Hindu community in Pakistan,” he said.

“I apologise if my remarks hurt the Hindu community in Pakistan,” Chohan said. “My remarks were in no way directed at Pakistan’s Hindu community.”

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government “will not tolerate this nonsense”, party leader Naeemul Haque, who is special assistant to Prime Minister on Political Affairs, said Monday night in response to Chohan’s remarks.

“The derogatory and insulting remarks against the Hindu community by Fayyaz Chohan the Punjab Info Minister demand strict action. PTI govt will not tolerate this nonsense from a senior member of the govt or from anyone. Action will be taken after consulting the Chief Minister,” Haque tweeted.

Haque’s tweet was followed by condemnation from Shireen Mazari and Asad Umar, the federal ministers of human rights and finance, respectively.

“Absolutely condemn this. No one has the right to attack anyone else’s religion. Our Hindu citizens have given sacrifices for their country,” Mazari tweeted. “Our PM’s msg is always of tolerance & respect & we cannot condone any form of bigotry or spread of religious hatred,” she added.

Financer Minister Umar tweeted, “Hindus of Pakistan are as much a part of the fabric of the nation as I am. Remember the flag of Pakistan is not just green…its not complete without the white which represents the minorities.”

Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal also took to Twitter and said, “Pakistan proudly owns the white in the flag as much as the green, values contributions of the Hindu community and honours them as our own.”

Several members of the Hindu community in Pakistan also took to Twitter to condemn the minister’s remarks.

Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan.

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

Majority of Pakistan’s Hindu population is settled in Sindh province where they share culture, traditions and language with their Muslim fellows.



New Pakistani leader’s education aims may include reining in religious schools

March 5, 2019

LAHORE, Pakistan (RNS) — Like several Pakistani leaders before him, Prime Minister Imran Khan came into office vowing to reform the country’s 38,000 madrassas — the Islamic seminaries that for decades have educated the poor while also promoting sectarianism, extremism and hatred for the West.

After taking office in August, Khan said reforming the madrassas was a priority of his government. He wanted to give the estimated 3.5 million children currently enrolled in madrassas an opportunity to pursue mainstream education.

“Madrassa students should be able to become doctors, engineers, judges and generals,” Khan said in his inaugural address.

“Imran Khan’s wish is not his alone,” said A.H. Nayyar, a physicist and independent educational expert based in Islamabad. “Reforming madrassas has been wished for a long time by many rulers, but all failed.”

Madrassas attract mostly poor students in a country where the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child recently found that around 22.6 million children, particularly girls from traditional families, don’t attend school.

The narrow religious education that madrassa students receive, said Nayyar, “does not make them eligible for any societal function other than clerical leadership.”

In October, the prime minister laid out his reform plans at a meeting of religious school leaders, saying he wanted to eliminate private schools, which are largely attended by well-to-do Pakistanis, improve the public education system that educates the country’s poor and introduce a nationwide curriculum that madrassas would also need to follow.

“It is of utmost importance that we have a uniform education system without discrimination in the country,” he told the clerics.

The government oversees the five madrassa boards affiliated with various Islamic sects, but Khan’s plan is likely to face opposition from the religious political parties.

Pakhtunkhwa Fazlur Rehman, the leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam political party, which runs many madrassas, has warned Khan about seeking to alter the schools.

“The government is trying to please the Western powers by talking about reforms in madrassas,” said Rehman. “Any action against madrassas will be seen as action against Islam. We will protest and force the government to withdraw its decisions.”

The suspicion of reform as an infiltration of Western values is common among madrassa supporters and students.

“Why does government want to reform madrassas? We are better than the Americanized private schools that spread vulgarity,” said Madiha Fayyaz, a madrassa student in Lahore.

Many madrassa students also believe their education is sufficient. “I have learnt Quran and that is enough for me to survive in the world,” said Mohammad Hashim, a madrassa student in Lahore. “I don’t feel the need to study anything else, as my teacher said that more education spoils a man.”

But asked about other subjects at his madrassa, Hashim was less confident.

“We are taught computer skills too, but we are only allowed to see Islamic material online,” he said.

Pakistan’s madrassas flourished in the 1980s under the military dictatorship of Gen. Ziaul Haq. During the Soviet-Afghan war, the seminaries got massive funding from the United States and Persian Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia, and madrassa students called “mujahedeen,” or holy warriors, trained and went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets.

Along with the Saudi money came the radical ideologies of Wahhabism, a strictly conservative Sunni sect that fanned the flames of sectarianism. Long after the end of the Soviet war, the schools not only proliferated in numbers, but became overt and covert partners in religious militancy.

Since 2000, Pakistan’s security agencies have kept a close eye on madrassas that produce radicalized youth and feed recruits to Islamist militant outfits in the country.

Though the foreign funding problem is now under control, according to Nayyar, there is still a political struggle for control of the madrassas. He questioned whether the politicians’ reforms are truly aimed at education, or at reducing the power of lslamic leaders to put hordes of madrassa students into the streets for political agitation.

“Whenever there is any anti-Islam activity our students are the first ones who take to streets,” said Amjad Butt, a madrassa graduate and a teacher at Jamia Ashrafia Seminary in Lahore.

“Demand for the madrassas has a lot to do with poverty and overpopulation,” said Hira Sajjad, principal of a public school in Lahore. “Sending two to three children to a madrassa eases off the poor families of extra financial burden. They don’t have to provide food and clothing to their children and as a result they don’t care much about the education.”



What’s wrong With ‘Kafir’, Muftis Disagree with Call by Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama?

Mohamad Fadli

March 6, 2019

PETALING JAYA: Two state muftis disagree with the recent call by Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) to stop using the word “kafir” (infidel or disbelievers) when referring to non-Muslims.

Perak mufti Harussani Zakaria said they were simply called “non-Muslims” in everyday conversation, adding that the term “kafir” was acceptable as it was mentioned in the Quran and hadith, or sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad.

“Kafir means non-Muslim. It’s not a problem in Malaysia,” Harussani told FMT, adding that there is no alternative to the Arabic term.

“Kafir means one who rejects Islam.”

Indonesian Muslim scholar Ahmad Muntaha, who represents NU’s East Java chapter, had said that it was wrong for Muslims to address non-Muslims as “kafir” in any social context.

Muntaha said they could be referred to as “muwathin”, or citizens with the same rights and obligations as Muslim Indonesians.

Pahang mufti Abdul Rahman Osman, who sparked a controversy not long ago when he used the term “kafir harbi” on non-Muslims who questioned moves to implement shariah, agreed with Harussani.

He said the word “kafir” had been in use for a long time, adding that one could differentiate non-Muslims by adding the word “dhimmi” (one who lives under an Islamic administration) or “harbi” (one who wages war against Muslims)

“It’s up to us. We are not obliged to use it,” he added.

Despite its widespread use in the Malay language, the word “kafir” is seen as derogatory.

NU’s call for Muslims to refrain from using the word is not new.

Last year, a similar suggestion was made by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa who said non-Muslims should not be classified as “dhimmi” and “harbi” as it was against the spirit of the constitution which recognises equal rights for all.



Japan getting more Muslim prayer rooms, but some are seeing only limited use

MAR 5, 2019

HIROSHIMA - With an increase in Muslim visitors to Japan, more prayer rooms are being installed in commercial facilities across the country, but the number of users remains limited due to reasons such as lack of awareness and difficulty of access.

The prayer rooms are often equipped with a washing area for cleaning hands and feet before prayers, and a sign indicating the direction of prayer.

According to the operator of a website providing information for Muslims, there are about 170 prayer rooms in Japan, and the number is increasing as more tourists visit Japan from Southeast Asia.

Travelers from Malaysia and Indonesia, which both have large Muslim populations, totaled around 700,000 in 2017, a sevenfold increase from a decade earlier, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

As more prayer rooms open up, making the most of them remains a challenge, however.

A prayer room installed recently in a shopping mall in Hiroshima Prefecture has been used only two or three times a month.

Some customers misunderstood the purpose of the room and tried to use it as a place to rest. “It is difficult to promote the room,” an official of the facility said.

At LaLaport Expocity, a major shopping mall in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, a prayer room has been used not only by travelers but also people working in the area since the mall opened in 2015. It gets about 30 uses a month.

“The news has spread through word of mouth and the number of users has been rising,” said Sachiko Kato, who manages the room.

But there is room for improvement.

People who want to use the room have to ask staff at the service counter to unlock it, and this instruction is written in English and Japanese only.

“It is hard to leave the room open because it is located where many people come and go,” Kato said.

Ken Miichi, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies of Waseda University, pointed out that just increasing the number of prayer rooms is not enough.

“First we need to understand why (the rooms) are necessary by learning (Muslim) customs and culture, and then develop an environment where people can use them easily,” Miichi said.



Pakistan Puts Jaish Chief Masood Azhar's Brother, Son In ‘Preventive Custody’, Bans Saeed’s JuD

Mar 6, 2019

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI: Amid pressure from the global community to rein in terror outfits operating from its soil in the wake of the Pulwama attack, Pakistan on Tuesday detained Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar’s son and brother and put Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-eInsaniat Foundation (FIF) on the list of banned terror outfits .

Hamad Azhar and Mufti Abdul Rauf, the son and brother of the JeM chief, along with 42 other members of the jihadi outfit have been taken into “preventive custody”, even as Masood Azhar himself continues to be a free bird. Both Hamad and Rauf figure in the dossier India submitted to Pakistan after launching air raids on a Jaish camp at Balakot+ in Pakistan.

On February 21, the Pakistani government had announced that it had banned JuD and FIF. However, as reported by TOI on Tuesday, the website of National Counter Terrorism Authority updated on Monday showed JuD and FIF were still under the watch list. Junior interior minister Shehryar Afridi and the ministry’s secretary Azam Suleman Khan said at a press meet on Tuesday that Hamad Azhar and Rauf were among those detained who were named in the Indian dossier on the Pulwama attack+ .

However, Khan claimed that this did not mean that action was being taken only against those who were mentioned in the dossier. “This action against banned organisations is across the board. We don’t want to give the impression that we are against any one organisation,” he said.

The move to hold Rauf in “preventive detention” evoked scepticism in India with official sources dismissing it as of little significance while underlining that it was a ploy to distract international opinion+ just before the UN Security Council is to decide on putting the Jaish chief on the 1267 banned list. They said Masood Azhar and Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed were repeatedly detained as part of a ritual which never amounted to more than house arrests.



All Muslim Parties Open To Mediation: Waqf Board Counsel

Mar 06, 2019

A majority of litigants in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case have communicated their consent for a dialogue to the Supreme Court. But three important parties to the dispute have reportedly not given their consent. They are the Hindu Mahasabha, Ram Lalla Virajman, which represents the infant deity, and Mahant Suresh Das.

The Supreme Court will on Wednesday hold a crucial hearing to decide whether the politically and religiously sensitive issue can be adjudicated through mediation.

Triloki Nath Pandey, who is representing Ram Lalla Virajman in the Supreme Court, said: “I am against any form of mediation in the case at this stage.”

“In the past, all efforts for out-of-court settlement of the dispute through mediation have failed. I have informed the court that I am against any form of mediation even if it is through a court appointed mediator,” said Pandey.

The apex court on February 26 said it would pass an order on March 6 on whether to refer the matter to a court-appointed mediator. A five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, had asked the contesting parties to explore the possibility of amicably settling the decades-old dispute through mediation, saying it may help in “healing relations.”

“I would be representing the Sunni Central Waqf Board, in person, in civil appeal number 921/2011 in the mediation process, if any, initiated by the orders of the Supreme Court,” said Zufar Ahmed Faruqi, the chairman of the Waqf board.

“All Muslim parties in the Ayodhya case have expressed their willingness after the apex court’s observation to explore mediation. Only the Hindu Mahasabha, Ram Lala Virajman and Mahant Suresh Das did not agree,” said Zafaryab Jilani, Waqf board counsel and secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

He said past attempts for an out-of-court settlement of the issue had failed and this had apparently made some of the parties to the dispute sceptical.



World Islamic Group Votes to Take Myanmar Rohingya Abuses to International Court of Justice


The world’s top Islamic intergovernmental body has unanimously adopted a resolution to pursue legal recourse through the International Court of Justice to seek accountability and justice for large-scale human rights violations committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, a statement issued by Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said.

The Council of Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said it will also seek legal means through the ICJ to establish the legal rights of the Rohingya, the ministry said in a news release after the resolution passed on Monday.

The resolution to pursue legal recourse through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) came after a long series of negotiations to seek accountability for crimes committed against humanity and gross violations of human rights against Rohingya in Myanmar, it said.

“The OIC Council of Ministers at this Abu Dhabi meeting has taken a decision in a resolution to move the International Court of Justice address the question of accountability and justice regarding the gross human rights violations against the Rohingyas,” said Gousal Azam Sarjer, spokesman of Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry, told RFA’s Myanmar Service by phone on Tuesday.

In a declaration at the end of the 57-member organization’s two-day meeting in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, the OIC stressed the importance for its member states to continue to be involved in the United Nations system, including the General Assembly, the Rights Council, and relevant international organizations to respond to the rights violations against the Rohingya and the latest developments concerning them.

In a previous declaration following a ministerial meeting in May 2018, the OIC said that Myanmar’s treatment of Muslims in northern Rakhine state amounted to ethnic cleansing and is a “serious and blatant violation of international law.”

At that meeting, the OIC agreed to form an ad hoc ministerial committee to ensure accountability and justice for gross violations of international human rights against the Rohingya and to assist in gathering information and evidence collection for accountability purposes.

During the committee’s first session this February, it recommended taking legal steps to establish legal rights for the Rohingya on the principles of international law based on the U.N.’s Genocide Convention and other human rights and humanitarian law principles, the Bangladeshi government’s news release said.

Bangladesh houses more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, including over 730,000 who arrived there following a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar military forces in northern Rakhine state, which included killings, torture, rape, and arson in Muslim communities.

The Myanmar government justified the crackdown as a necessary countermeasure to defeat a group of Muslim militants in the state, and denied that its military had committed mass atrocities against the Rohingya.

An extensive report by U.N. investigators in September 2018, however, detailed violence by Myanmar security forces and called for the prosecution of top military commanders on genocide charges at the International Criminal Court or by another criminal tribunal.

‘We will not accept it’

Reacting to news of the OIC’s measure, Myo Nyunt, spokesman of Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy government, said officials need to know what rights for the Rohingya the OIC is talking about.

“What do they mean?” he said. “If they ask us to recognize all of them as ‘ethnic Rohingya’ without identifying any of them, then it is interference in a country’s sovereignty, and we will not accept it at all.”

He reiterated Myanmar’s position of accepting back those who have proof that they lived in Rakhine under the terms of a 1993 agreement between the two countries.

“If it [the OIC] pressures us to do something by force, we have to protect our sovereignty,” Myo Nyunt said.

Aye Lwin, a Muslim leader in Myanmar who was a member of a commission headed by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan that called for an end to restrictions on the stateless Rohingya minority to prevent further violence in Rakhine state, said basic rights should be extended to all people affected by atrocities.

“A country is responsible to give rights not only to the Rohingya, but also to all victims,” he said Muslim leader Aye Lwin.

“It is important for those responsible in the relevant country to understand that point,” he said. “So what is needed is to convince those people and make them understand.”

Myanmar is supposed to take back many of the Rohingya refugees living in sprawling displacement camps in southeastern Bangladesh under a repatriation agreement that the two countries signed in November 2017, but the program has yet to get underway.

The refugees say they are afraid to return to Myanmar, where they are viewed as illegal immigrants, denied citizenship, and subjected to systematic discrimination, unless their safety can be assured and they are guaranteed certain rights. None have agreed to return under current conditions.

In mid-February, Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs, raised the possibility with OIC member states of creating a civilian “safe zone” for Rohingya who return to Myanmar that would be monitored by human rights and humanitarian groups, according to a ministry press release.

During a briefing with OIC delegates who were in Geneva to attend the launch of the U.N. Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis for 2019, he also provided details about n the Bangladeshi government’s plans to relocate some of the Rohingya refugee living in camps in Cox’s Bazar district to Bhashan Char Island.

Rights groups have s warned against the move, saying that the island is uninhabitable and prone to flooding.

Bangladesh told the U.N. on Feb. 28 that it could not accept any additional refugees from Myanmar, who have strained humanitarian resources in the impoverished country.

On Tuesday, Yanghee Lee, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said she was “concerned” by the suggestion of ting safe zones in northern Rakhine state for returning Rohingya refugees, Reuters news agency reported, without elaborating.



Waqf defies Israeli court order to close al-Aqsa Mosque gate

Mar 6, 2019

The Islamic authority that oversees Muslim holy sites in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem al-Quds has dismissed an Israeli court order to shutter Bab al-Rahma (Gate of Mercy or Golden Gate) in the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, with Palestinians calling for mass protests against the ruling.

Sheikh Abdel Azeem Salhab, head of the Islamic Waqf (Endowment) organization, stressed on Tuesday that the court’s decision does not apply to the al-Aqsa Mosque.

“It is our right, religious and contractual to access the Golden Gate and keep this door open for Muslims to pray,” he said in a statement issued after an emergency meeting of the organization seated in Jordan, which is the custodian of the holy sites in occupied Jerusalem al-Quds.

“We will not respond to courts of the occupation regarding the issue of Bab al-Rahma and Al-Aqsa Mosque and it [does not have authority over the matter],” he added.

Israel closed Bab al-Rahma in 2003, alleging that it had turned into a place for political activities against the Tel Aviv regime.

For the first time in 16 years, the Islamic Waqf defied Israel’s ban and re-opened the gates to Palestinian worshipers last month.

Angered by the move, Israel has been engaged in an arrest campaign against the Palestinians joining prayers in the premises of Bab al-Rahma.

Last month, Israeli authorities arrested 229 Palestinians and banned 133 others, among them was Salhab, from entering the al-Aqsa Mosque, according to a report by the al-Quds-based Wadi Hilweh Information Center.

On Monday, an Israeli court said it would order the closure of Bab al-Rahma unless the Islamic Waqf responds within a week to a request to shut the area.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Salhab demanded that Israel permit the Waqf to renovate Baba al-Rahma and revoke orders banning dozens of the organization’s officials, guards and worshipers from the site.

Palestinians have long been wary of Israeli attempts to change the status quo of al-Aqsa Mosque, which is Islam’s third holiest site and where only Muslim prayers are allowed under the status quo reaffirmed in 1967 between Israel and Jordan.

According to the status quo, the holy compound is administered by the Islamic Waqf endowment on behalf of Jordan and Palestine. Non-Muslims can visit the site, but cannot pray there.

The status quo also coincided with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s declaration in 1967 that Jews are not allowed to the compound as it would desecrate the site's holiness.

However, Israeli settlers, escorted by the regime’s military, frequently desecrate the site by storming it and performing prayers there.

Palestinians call for mass protests

Meanwhile, Adnan Gheith, the Palestinian Authority’s governor of occupied Jerusalem al-Quds, called on the Palestinian people to converge on the Haram al-Sharif, known by Jews as Temple Mount, to protest recent Israeli measures.

Barring Palestinian officials and activists from Bab al-Rahma is part of an Israeli scheme to divide the Haram al-Sharif and “Judaize” Jerusalem al-Quds, he added.

Hamas official Hussam Badran also called for anti-Israeli demonstrations in the coming days.

“Next Friday will be a new day in Jerusalem (al-Quds) during which the Palestinians will prove to Israel that the holy sites are Arab, Islamic and Palestinian,” he said. “There is no room for Israeli sovereignty over these sites.”

Moreover, a senior Palestinian official in Ramallah slammed Tel Aviv for seeking to “undermine” the authority of the Waqf organization in a bid to establish a section for the Jews at the Haram al-Sharif.

“This is a very dangerous precedent,” he told the Jerusalem Post.

In a similar stance, the Popular National Conference for Jerusalem al-Quds urged the Palestinians to take to the streets to condemn a possible closure of the Bab al-Rahma.

“We don’t need statements of condemnation,” the group said in a leaflet distributed in East Jerusalem al-Quds. “We need practical steps on the ground to safeguard the religious, political and historical heritage of our capital from the guillotine of the occupation.”



Members of terror group allowed to speak at UN

Bayram Altug



Despite all attempts by Turkey, two suspected members of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) were allowed to spread propaganda during a recent UN panel discussion.

A panel defaming and threatening Turkey and state-run Anadolu Agency was held by the terror group at the UN Office in Geneva during the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Abdullah Bozkurt, the former Ankara representative of the now defunct Today’s Zaman newspaper who is sought over charges of being a FETO member, and Levent Kenez, who is also suspected of being part of FETO’s media arm, spoke at the event.

The panel, which took place near the council’s offices despite written and verbal initiatives by the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the UN Office at Geneva, reflected the solidarity between the FETO and PKK terror organizations.

Eric Sottas, secretary-general of the World Organization Against Torture, who is also a known PKK sympathizer, moderated the panel, which was organized by the Global Alliance Against Female Genital Mutilation.

UN rapporteur skips panel

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, decided not to take part in the event due to a “conflict of interest”.

The event’s organizers sent a letter to the Association of Accredited Correspondents at the United Nations and invited journalists to cover the panel, but only two showed up.

Anadolu Agency targeted

PKK sympathizers in Switzerland taking part in the event showed solidarity with the FETO terror group.

Bozkurt threatened an Anadolu Agency reporter covering the panel ahead of the event, telling him that “from now on, you are on my radar.”

In response to the reporter asking “Aren’t you ashamed of always defaming Turkey on Twitter?”, Bozkurt said, “You wait. I will have a lot of things to say about Turkey at the panel.”

During his speech, he used a denying tactic employed by FETO members about the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey which left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.

Both Bozkurt and Kenez overwhelmingly targeted Anadolu Agency during their speeches.

Hostile stance toward Turkey

Bozkurt has been living in Stockholm for three years.

One of the founding members of the Stockholm Center for Freedom, he is reportedly receiving aid from the Swedish state.

Frequently appearing in Swedish media outlets, he attempts to justify FETO’s coup attempt and speaks against Turkish NGOs in Sweden.

Spreading black propaganda against Turkey on social media, he often sues Turkish citizens who oppose him.

Three days before the assassination in December 2016 of Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Bozkurt wrote an article saying that "ambassadors in Turkey are no longer safe" almost hinting at the envoy's possible murder.

On Dec. 19, 2016, Karlov was killed at an Ankara art gallery opening by Mevlut Mert Altintas, an off-duty police officer linked to the FETO. During a standoff, Altintas was shot dead by police.

Regarding Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch launched in northern Syria to eliminate the PYD/PKK and Daesh terror groups, he claimed on social media that it was conducted to fuel religious bigotry within the country.

He expressed on Twitter annoyance over recital of "Allahu Akbar!" during a rally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey’s Bursa province.

In another Twitter post, Bozkurt targeted Turks protesting U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.



US: Omar's comments trigger House vote on anti-Semitism

Umar Farooq



The U.S. House of Representatives will vote this week on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism after congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s latest remarks on Israel.

Top House Democrats are reportedly planning a vote for Wednesday and deciding whether the measure will condemn Omar's comments specifically or anti-Semitism more broadly, The Washington Post reported.

"I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country," Omar said at a town hall in Washington D.C. last Wednesday.

Her comments sparked outrage from members of Congress, with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel calling them “unacceptable and deeply offensive".

While the freshman congresswoman has apologized for her anti-Israel comments in the past, she stood her ground this time and doubled down on what she said.

"I am told every day that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks," she wrote on Twitter.

"I have not mischaracterized our relationship with Israel. I have questioned it and that has been clear from my end."

Reports of the resolution being drafted come as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a leftwing pro-Israel rights group, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking for Congress to take up a case condemning Omar for her anti-Israel comments.

"In light of these additional anti-Semitic statements by Rep. Omar, we ask that you give the entire Congress an opportunity, through a House resolution, to voice its rejection of her latest slur and make clear that no matter what may divide the 435 members of the House of Representatives, they are united in condemning anti-Semitism," ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan A. Greenblatt wrote.

However, Omar herself has been a target of hatred. Last week, the chairwoman of West Virginia's Republican party denounced an anti-Muslim poster on display in the state's capitol during a Republican event. It contained two images: one of Omar and one showing planes flying into the World Trade Center in reference to the Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

The caption read: “Never forget, you said”…"I am proof you have forgotten."

Greenblatt acknowledged the display of hate against Omar but said it was not an excuse to "rationalize anti-Semitism".

The resolution marks the second time Congress has pushed forward legislation condemning Omar for comments made against Tel Aviv.

Last month, Republican lawmakers pushed legislation for condemning anti-Semitism after Omar said on Twitter that political support for Israel was entirely motivated by money doled out by the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.





Satellite Images Show Madrasa Buildings Still Standing At Scene Of Indian Bombing

March 06, 2019

NEW DELHI/SINGAPORE: High-resolution satellite images reviewed by Reuters show that a religious school run by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in northeastern Pakistan appears to be still standing days after India claimed its warplanes had hit the group’s training camp on the site and killed a large number of militants.

The images produced by Planet Labs Inc, a San Francisco-based private satellite operator, show at least six buildings on the madrasa site on March 4, six days after the airstrike.

Until now, no high-resolution satellite images were publicly available. But the images from Planet Labs, which show details as small as 72 cm (28 inches), offer a clearer look at the structures the Indian government said it attacked.

The image is virtually unchanged from an April 2018 satellite photo of the facility. There are no discernible holes in the roofs of buildings, no signs of scorching, blown-out walls, displaced trees around the madrasa or other signs of an aerial attack.

The images cast further doubt on statements made over the last eight days by the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the raids, early on Feb. 26, had hit all the intended targets at the madrasa site near Jaba village and the town of Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

India’s foreign and defense ministries did not reply to emailed questions sent in the past few days seeking comment on what is shown in the satellite images and whether they undermine its official statements on the airstrikes.


Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, who has 15 years’ experience in analizing satellite images of weapons sites and systems, confirmed that the high-resolution satellite picture showed the structures in question.

“The high-resolution images don’t show any evidence of bomb damage,” he said. Lewis viewed three other high-resolution Planet Labs pictures of the site taken within hours of the image provided to Reuters.

The Indian government has not publicly disclosed what weapons were used in the strike.

Government sources told Reuters last week that 12 Mirage 2000 jets carrying 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs) bombs carried out the attack. On Tuesday, a defense official said the aircraft used the 2,000-lb Israeli-made SPICE 2000 glide bomb in the strike.

A warhead of that size is meant to destroy hardened targets such as concrete shelters.

Lewis and Dave Schmerler, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation studies who also analyzes satellite images, said weapons that large would have caused obvious damage to the structures visible in the picture.

“If the strike had been successful, given the information we have about what kind of munitions were used, I would expect to see signs that the buildings had been damaged,” Lewis added. “I just don’t see that here.”

Pakistan has disputed India’s account, saying the operation was a failure that saw Indian jets, under pressure from Pakistani planes, drop their bombs on a largely empty hillside.

“There has been no damage to any infrastructure or human life as a result of Indian incursion,” Major General Asif Ghafoor, the director general of the Pakistan military’s press wing, in a statement to Reuters.

“This has been vindicated by both domestic and international media after visiting the site.”


In two visits to the Balakot area in Pakistan by Reuters reporters last Tuesday and Thursday, and extensive interviews with people in the surrounding area, there was no evidence found of a destroyed camp or of anyone being killed. [ ]

Villagers said there had been a series of huge explosions but the bombs appeared to have landed among trees.

On the wooded slopes above Jaba, they pointed to four craters and some splintered pine trees, but noted little other impact from the blasts that jolted them awake about 3 a.m. on Feb. 26.

“It shook everything,” said Abdur Rasheed, a van driver who works in the area.

He said there weren’t any human casualties: “No one died. Only some pine trees died, they were cut down. A crow also died.”

Mohammad Saddique from Jaba Basic Health Unit and Zia Ul Haq, senior medical officer at Tehsil Headquarters Hospital in Balakot said they had seen no casualties.


India must hold a general election by May, and pollsters say Modi and his Hindu nationalist party stand to benefit from his aggressive response to a suicide bomb attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in the disputed Kashmir region on Feb. 14.

India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said on the day of the strike that “a very large number of Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists, trainers, senior commanders, and groups of terrorists who were being trained for Fidayeen action were eliminated” in the attack. Fidayeen is a term used to describe militants on suicide missions.

Another senior government official told reporters on the same day that about 300 militants had been killed. On Sunday the president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Amit Shah, put the number killed at more than 250.

The Indian government has not produced evidence that a camp was destroyed or that any militants were killed in the raid.

That has prompted some opposition politicians to push for more details.

“We want to know how many people actually died,” said Mamata Banerjee, the firebrand chief minister of West Bengal state, in a video published by her All India Trinamool Congress party in a tweet on Feb. 28. “Where did the bombs fall? Did they actually fall in the right place?“

Banerjee, who is seen as a potential prime ministerial candidate, said that she stood behind the Indian Armed Forces, but that they should be given a chance to speak the truth.

“We don’t want a war for political reasons, to win an election,” she said.

Modi has accused the opposition Congress party, and other opponents such as Banerjee, of helping India’s enemies by demanding evidence of the attacks.

“At a time when our army is engaged in crushing terrorism, inside the country and outside, there are some people within the country who are trying to break their morale, which is cheering our enemy,” Modi said at an election rally on Sunday.



US visa duration for Pakistani citizens reduced to 3 months

Mar 6, 2019

ISLAMABAD (PAKISTAN): The visa duration for Pakistani nationals has been reduced to three months from five years, said a spokesperson of the US embassy in Pakistan.

Apart from civilians, the new visa policy will also be applicable to Pakistani journalists. The scribes will be issued visas for three months, ARY News reported quoting the US embassy spokesperson.

The US government has also increased visa application fees for the Pakistani citizens to $192 form $160.

The move, announced on Tuesday, comes after Pakistan took reciprocal steps in modifying the visa policy for US citizens, including reduction of visa period and fee increment in applying for the document, the spokesperson said.

However, issuance of visas to the government officials will be made in view of their working period by the US administration, the spokesperson added.

In May last year, Pakistan foreign ministry had announced travel restrictions on US diplomats in a tit-for-tat move, after the US had imposed similar restrictions on Pakistani diplomats in that month, amid the rocky ties between Islamabad and Washington.

The US government had stated that Pakistani diplomats at its embassy in Washington DC and consulates will not be allowed to travel over 40 km from their posts without prior permission, according to ARY News.

Washington has repeatedly told Islamabad that it should take strong and effective steps to stop providing support and safe haven to terrorists operating in Pakistani soil.

This came in the wake of the terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district on February 14, which claimed the lives of 40 CRPF personnel, the responsibility of which was claimed by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Full report at:



Pakistan SC bars private channels from airing Indian films, TV shows

Mar 6, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday barred private channels from airing Indian films and television shows, amid escalating tensions between the two countries following the Pulwama terror attack.

A three-member bench headed by justice Gulzar Ahmad took up the case in which an order of the Lahore high court (LHC) allowing Indian channels in Pakistan was challenged.

A lawyer of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which challenged the LHC ruling, told the court that government through a policy in 2006 allowed airing of 10 per cent foreign content on local channels.

However, PEMRA on October 19, 2016 imposed a complete ban on airing Indian content on local television channels.

The lawyer said that since India authorities banned airing of Pakistani content, PEMRA had to do the same for Indian contents in Pakistan.

But the decision of PEMRA was challenged in the LHC which in 2017 ordered that the ban on Indian contents should be lifted.

After hearing the arguments, the Supreme Court set aside LHC order and reinstated the 2016 policy of PEMRA banning the transmission of Indian content on local television channels.

The move came a week after Pakistan's information and broadcasting minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said Pakistan film exhibitors association will be boycotting the Indian films following Indian air strikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Balakot in Pakistan's restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province last month.

Full report at:



Pak places Hafiz Saeed-led JuD, FIF in list of banned organisations

Mar 5, 2019

ISLAMABAD: ISLAMABAD: Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeedled Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its wing Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation were formally paced in the list of banned organisations on Tuesday, a day after the Indian media reported that the two outfits continue to be only on the watchlist.

According to Pakistan's National Counter Terrorism Authority (NCTA) list, which was updated on Tuesday, JuD and FIF were among 70 organisations proscribed by the Ministry of Interior under the AntiTerrorism Act 1997.

"This list is updated as of 05th March, 2019 and prepared by NACTA based on the Notifications issued by Ministry of Interior," said a note at the bottom of the list.

The development comes a day after Indian media reported that the two organisations continue to be only in the list of groups under watch.

On February 21, Pakistan government had announced that it had banned the JuD and FIF, amid intense global pressure to rein in the militant groups following the February 14 Pulwama terror attack that killed 40 CRPF jawans.

However, in the NCTA list, which was earlier updated on Monday, JuD and FIF were under watch by the Ministry of Interior.

Both JuD and FIF were placed on the watch list in January 2017.

The Pakistan government on Monday also put out another order saying it has frozen assets of all UN designated organisations like JuD, FIF.

According to officials, JuD's network includes 300 seminaries and schools, hospitals, a publishing house and ambulance service. The two groups have about 50,000 volunteers and hundreds of other paid workers.

The JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the LeT which is responsible for carrying out the Mumbai attack that killed 166 people. It had been declared as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US in June 2014.

The US Department of the Treasury has designated its chief Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and the US, since 2012, has offered a USD 10 million reward for information that brings Saeed to justice.

Saeed was listed under UN Security Council Resolution 1267 in December 2008. He was released from house arrest in Pakistan in November 2017.

Full report at:



Punjab legislators distance themselves from Pak minister's anti-Hindu remarks

March 6, 2019

Punjab cabinet ministers staged a walkout from the Punjab Assembly over derogatory remarks on Hindus made by Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, who was sacked on Tuesday as the province's Information and Culture Minister.

Condemning Chohan's remarks, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Khalil Tahir Sandhu said that the disgraced former minister insulted Pakistani Hindus at a time when the country was facing threats of war while some ministers were dividing the nation, The Dawn reported.

Punjab Prosecution Minister Chaudhry Zaheer, who is a part of Imran Khan-led ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), said he was proud of the patriotism of Pakistani Hindus, Christians and Sikhs.

Furthermore, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader Makhdoom Usman asserted that the government should educate its ministers, adding that the comments made by Chohan would tarnish Pakistan's international image, according to The Dawn.

Following this, the legislators staged a walkout from the Punjab Assembly as a mark of protest against the anti-Hindu comments made by Chohan. However, they were brought back to the House.

Chohan had made derogatory remarks against Hindus during a rally last month and after a video of his comments went viral, there was a huge outcry in the country, demanding his immediate sacking.

Although Chouhan later apologised for his comments, he was summoned by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, where he was asked to turn in his resignation papers, Geo News reported quoting sources.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan approved Syed Samsam Ali Shah as Chohan's replacement as the province's Information and Culture Minister. Khan had previously denounced Chohan's statement.

The remarks by Chohan came amid escalating tensions between India and Pakistan following the Pulwama terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir that claimed lives of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel.

According to reports, at least 1.6 per cent of Pakistan's population is Hindu and Hinduism is the second largest religion followed in the country.

Full report at:



JuD, FIF seminaries, other assets confiscated

Mohammad Asghar

March 06, 2019

RAWALPINDI: At least two seminaries and property belonging to proscribed Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) and Falah-i-Insaniyat (FIF) were taken over by the government in a fresh crackdown launched by the law enforcement agencies under the National Action Plan (NAP) on Tuesday.

Major actions were taken in Chakwal and Attock districts after the additional chief secretary of Punjab in a meeting with commissioners and divisional police heads via a video link directed the officials concerned to take over the property.

In a subsequent operation, the seminaries of Jamaatud Dawa situated in Chakwal — Madrassa Khalid Bin Waleed in the Talagang area and Madrassa Darus Salam on Chakwal’s Railway Road — along with their staff were placed at the disposal of Auqaf department.

Following the Punjab government directives, administrators were appointed at the seminaries to take over their control.

According to sources, three properties owned by the JuD and FIF were spotted in Attock district during a fresh survey conducted by a divisional intelligence committee on Feb 27. Subsequently, the management and operational control of the properties were taken over by the district administration of Attock. They were Madrassa and Masjid Musab Bin Umair in Peoples Colony, Attock. It was an under-construction structure spread over 13-kanal area and its monthly expenditures were Rs60,000. It was taken over by the chief executive officer of the Attock district education authority.

An ambulance of FIF with a monthly running expenditure of Rs48,000 was taken over by the district emergency office, Rescue 1122, Attock. Besides, Hasanabdal assistant commissioner confiscated a 17-marla plot of the organisation on Ahmed Din Khan Road and a Passo car bearing a registration plate of Islamabad with monthly expenditure of Rs18,000.

Full report at:



Punjab govt takes over Sialkot mosque

March 06, 2019

SIALKOT: The Punjab government has taken over the administrative control of Al-Noor Masjid and sealed a religious seminary adjacent to the mosque.

A team of local officials along with a large contingent of police, led by Assistant Commissioner Waqar Akbar Cheema, on Tuesday sealed Madressah Abdullah Bin Mubarak and took over administrative control of Masjid Al-Noor in Mundeyki Goraya village near Daska.

Both establishments were said to be the local headquarters of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM).

The local administration of Daska also fixed banners on the gates of the mosque and seminary mentioning taking over of their official control by the Punjab government.

Sialkot District Peace Committee Chairman Hafiz Muhammad Asghar and auqaf department Administrator Shahid Hameed Virk were also present on the occasion.

Daska-based JeM activist Chaudhry Arshad Ali, a former chairman of Daska municipality, was running the administrative and financial affairs of the mosque and seminary.

Hafiz Asghar assumed temporary charge of the administration of the mosque till the appointment of a regular administrator.

Full report at:



Southeast Asia


Khalid Samad fails in bid to sink Muslim activist’s defence

06 March 2019

By Ida Nadirah Ibrahim

KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 6 — Federal Territories Minister Khalid Abdul Samad lost today his application to strike out the defence statement filed by Muslim activist Wan Asshima Kamaruddin in the former’s defamation lawsuit.

High Court judge Datuk Nik Hasmat Nik Mohamad made the decision in chambers and ordered the minister to pay RM3,000 in costs, according to lawyer Muhammad Rafiqree Hamka who represented Khalid.

“The court was of the opinion that both sides should go to trial to ventilate on the defence,” he told reporters later.

He said the judge also fixed April 8 as the deadline for both sides to file their submissions for the trial.

Khalid sued the Gerakan Muslimah Islam Malaysia (GMIM) president in September 2018 for allegedly defaming him in a video published on YouTube last August.

When asked if they will contest today’s ruling, Muhammad Rafiqree said he is awaiting further instructions from Khalid.

In his application for dismissal filed last November, Khalid had argued that Wan Asshima’s defence statement was trivial and abusive of the court process.

The Shah Alam MP had proceeded with the lawsuit despite the activist apologising for previously accusing the minister of approving a “gay festival”.

Wan Asshima claimed she did not mean to embarrass Khalid in the video containing the allegations that had been shared openly on YouTube but which had since been removed.

In the video published on August 18, 2018, Wan Asshima mockingly congratulated two ministers for allegedly allowing the festival to take place, which she claimed was to be held in conjunction with Merdeka celebrations on August 31.

She had claimed the festival would draw the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community to gather and celebrate their victory and freedom, and had alleged Khalid to be proud of the group.

Since the video was published, two police reports have been lodged against her under Section 505 of the Penal Code for criminal defamation and public mischief.

These were lodged by Zulhazmi Shariff, special functions officer to Khalid, and Hisham Fauzi, special functions officer to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mujahid Yusof.



Lack of ‘meaningful action’ for China Muslims, US lawmakers say

March 5, 2019

WASHINGTON: A bipartisan group of US lawmakers complained to the Trump administration on Monday that its response to rights abuses against China’s Muslim minority was inadequate months after it said it was looking into imposing sanctions.

“This issue is bigger than just China. It is about demonstrating to strongmen globally that the world will hold them accountable for their actions,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The group is led by Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel, and includes Republican ranking member representative Ted Yoho.

Pompeo wrote to the committee on Sept 28 saying his department was looking into a request for sanctions on those responsible for abuses and for controls on exports of technology that facilitates mass detentions and surveillance of ethnic minorities in western China’s Xinjiang region, the letter said.

“It appears that the Administration has taken no meaningful action … and we write today with a renewed sense of urgency on this serious matter,” said the letter, also signed by Democratic chairman of the Asia and Pacific subcommittee Brad Sherman, and Republican ranking member of the human rights subcommittee Chris Smith.

The US ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, told reporters the issue was “being discussed thoroughly within the administration,” but he had no new steps to announce.

Brownback spoke at a Capitol Hill event to mark the formation of the Coalition to Advance Religious Freedom in China, a multi-faith group of over a dozen religious and rights organizations established to campaign against persecution.

A spokeswoman for the State Department said it remained “deeply disturbed that since April 2017, the Chinese government has detained more than one million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in internment camps.”

“We will continue to call on China to end these counterproductive policies, free all those arbitrarily detained, and cease efforts to coerce members of its Muslim minority groups residing abroad to return to China to face an uncertain fate,” she said.

China denies the allegations.

No benefit

US officials said last year the administration was considering sanctions against companies and officials linked to China’s crackdown, including Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, a member of the Chinese leadership’s powerful politburo.

But no action has been forthcoming, with the administration engaged in sensitive negotiations to resolve a trade war between the countries. Pompeo said on Monday he thought they were “on the cusp” of a deal to end the trade war.

In a November interview with Reuters, China’s ambassador to Washington warned of retaliation if Washington were to impose sanctions on Chen.

Speaking at a daily news briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he hoped the lawmakers would “respect the facts” and “refrain from smears and actions that could damage the China-U.S. relationship”.

“This will bring no benefit to them,” he said.

The U.S. lawmakers said it was a particular concern that U.S. firms might be contributing to the Xinjiang persecution, given commercial ties to Chinese tech companies that had profited from a surge in security spending there.

They called for written responses from Pompeo as to whether the U.S. government monitored the use of U.S. technology that could be used for surveillance or detention in Xinjiang and information on any U.S. firms providing such technology.

Full report at:



Yadim: Hold more inter-religious dialogues to promote understanding

05 March 2019

PUTRAJAYA, March 5 — Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (Yadim) today suggested that more inter-religious dialogues be held to promote understanding of the different religions and to find common ground on universal issues such as oppression, terrorism and social problems.

“Dialogues and mutual understanding are essential to building good, harmonious relations among people from different cultures, religions and civilisations,” said Yadim president, Nik Omar Nik Abdul Aziz in a statement today.

He said Yadim (Islamic Propagation Foundation of Malaysia) also called on people in this country to stop any form of religious provocation via all platforms.

“Although the current government has an open attitude and supports freedom of expression and press freedom, the people are advised to always be sensitive and careful not to spread slander and fake news, and not to opportunistically create religious disharmony.

“Islam (in this country) is placed at the highest position based on it being the religion of the federation as stipulated in the Constitution of Malaysia, hence its position should be respected by all citizens of this country,” he said.

Nik Omar said Yadim also welcomed the government’s swift action in handling the issue of insulting Prophet Muhammad by charging two individuals in court within a month, proving that the government did not take this issue lightly, as otherwise claimed by some quarters.

Full report at:



IGP: Police hunting man who insulted Prophet Muhammad in Twitter

06 March 2019

By G. Prakash

KUALA LUMPUR, March 6 — Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said a 43-year-old suspect who is wanted for insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter is believed to be on the run in Klang Valley.

“As of now we believe he is still in Klang Valley and police are in the midst of tracking him down.

“We urge anyone with information on the suspect to come forward and assist police,” he told reporters during a press conference in Bukit Aman this morning.

Mohamad Fuzi said police are working closely with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on such cases, with investigations carried out under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

He said authorities will not hesitate to take stern action against those who misuse social media or communication networks to upload provocative remarks.

In a statement yesterday, Mohamad Fuzi said police have taken further action against four more people accused of insulting Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad via social media.

The suspects aged between 22 and 52 years old were arrested in Labuan, Sarawak, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

All four cases are being probed under the Penal Code and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

Full report at:





Pakistan incites tribals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to form anti-India militia

Mar 5, 2019

SRINAGAR: The day IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured, Pakistani security officials began holding “jirgas” (meetings) with ethnic Pashtun leaders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), asking them to raise a tribal militia.

The move is significant in view of the fact that Pakistan’s first attempt to invade Kashmir involved tribal militia. In October 1947, Pakistan sent tribal raiders to invade Jammu and Kashmir which was at the time ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh.

The tribal invaders, who committed massive atrocities in Kashmir, were resisted and repulsed by native Kashmiris under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah while New Delhi sent its forces after Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession with India. Since the first Indo-Pak war post-independence, the Pakistan Army has been propagating the view that Kashmir is “the unfinished agenda of the Partition”.

On Tuesday, Pashtun sources based in KPK told TOI that though “Pakistani security officials asked ethnic Pashtun elders and tribal leaders to form ‘defence militias and peace committees’, it is not an ordinary development. Pakistan has a history of using civilians for its wars against Afghanistan and India.”

When tensions along the Line of Control escalated with the dogfight between Indian and Pakistani fighter jets on February 27, officials from Pakistan’s paramilitary forces and the government held meetings with Pashtun elders in various parts of KPK province, including in the merged tribal areas formerly known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Sources said the Pakistan Army returned weapons to Marwat and Betani tribesmen after having them seized two years ago in the wake of clashes between tribes in the southern Lakki Marwat district of KPK. On February 27, brigade commander Brigadier Waqas Zafar Raja and some other officials held a meeting with local elders and officials, Pakistan’s English daily Dawn had reported on February 28.

The commander of the Swat Scouts, Muhammad Tahir Khattak, held a jirga with tribal elders from towns in Khyber and Mohmand tribal districts on February 28. In Bajaur tribal district, the Pakistan Army’s sector commander, Brigadier Naeem Akbar

Raja, and the civilian administrator, Usman Mehsud, urged the tribal and religious elders to support the armed forces of the country, sources said.

All the so-called “defence committees” which the Pakistan Army raised in FATA and Swat in 2008 and 2009, sources said, were on their payrolls and were pro-Taliban. Sources said many tribals have already registered their names with the officials and have consented to fight along with the military in case a war breaks out between India and Pakistan.

However, sources said the Pakistan Army has been facing a serious challenge from Pashtun youth, who are rallying behind Manzoor Pashteen, a popular ethnic leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement (PTM) which is opposed to the Pakistan Army’s military campaigns in the region.



India to go ahead with Pakistan on Kartarpur corridor plans

Mar 05, 2019

India is going ahead with work on the Kartarpur corridor in line with plans finalised before the Pulwama terror attack last month triggered a stand-off with Pakistan, according to officials familiar with the matter.

The external affairs ministry is also ready for a meeting of officials of the two countries in India on March 14 to finalise modalities and decide the coordinates for the crossing point of the corridor on the international border . The two sides are also expected to discuss a draft agreement that will allow Indian pilgrims to travel without visas.

Last year, the two sides announced plans to build the corridor, which will link Dera Baba Nanak in India with Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, and to complete the project in time for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, in November.

Recent India-Pakistan tensions fuelled speculation that the March 14 meeting could be called off, but the people cited above said that India is ready for holding talks as scheduled. India accepted a proposal made by Pakistan for the meeting, and New Delhi is fully prepared for holding talks on the Kartarpur corridor next week, the people said.

They added that India is going ahead with the meeting as the corridor deals with the sentiments of a very significant part of the country’s population, and any Pakistani delegation coming for talks will be welcomed.

A statement issued by Pakistan’s Foreign Office on Tuesday said a delegation will visit New Delhi on March 14 and this will be followed by the return visit of an Indian delegation to Islamabad on March 28 to discuss the draft agreement.

The road transport and highways ministry identified the land it needs for the corridor and issued a notification under the National Highways Act of 1956 in January. This kick-started work on connecting Dera Baba Nanak with the gurdwara at Kartarpur in Pakistan, the final resting place of Guru Nanak.

“We have been given a mandate to build the road and we are going ahead. We cannot stop unless we are directed to do so... Tomorrow, even if the government decides not to open it, we still have to keep everything ready,” said a senior government official who asked not to be named.

Full report at:



Pakistan team to visit Delhi on March 14 for talks on Kartarpur corridor

Mar 05, 2019

A Pakistan delegation will visit New Delhi on March 14 to discuss the draft agreement on the Kartarpur corridor.

This latest development comes amid festering tensions between India and Pakistan after the Pulwama suicide bombing that killed 40 CRPF jawans on February 14 this year and an air strike by the Indian Air Force on a Jaish-e-Mohammad terror training camp in Balakot in Pakistan. The air strike was followed a day later by a “package” of the Pakistan Air Force transgressing into Indian air space with a view to bomb military installations in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district.

The Pakistani delegation’s visit to New Delhi will come exactly a month after the Pulwama attack.

The statement, issued by the Pakistan ministry of foreign affairs on Tuesday, comes after the acting Indian High Commissioner was “invited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today” to convey that Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India would be “returning to New Delhi after completion of consultations in Islamabad”.

The statement also said that the Pakistani delegation’s visit would be followed up by a “return visit of the Indian delegation to Islamabad on 28 March”.

It also stated that Pakistan was committed to continued “weekly contact at the Military Operations Directorates level”.

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan had laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur corridor in Pakistan’s Narowal on November 28. Punjab cabinet minister and Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu had also attended the event amid much criticism from fellow Congress leaders and other political parties.

Full report at:



Govt intensifies offensive to get Masood Azhar sanctioned at UN

Mar 5, 2019

NEW DELHI: The government has stepped up its diplomatic offensive against Pakistan-sponsored terror and is focusing its energy on getting Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar on the United Nation Security Council’s banned list.

The government has shared details of the dossier on JeM that was given to Pakistan’s envoy after the Pulwama terror attack with all 15 members of the UNSC. The council has until March 13 to seek clarifications or block it — a tool China has used thus far to save Azhar at the instance of Pakistan which has used the Jaish chief as one of its main weapons in the unconventional war against India.

“We are leaving no stone unturned,” a source said, emphasising that all options were on the table and the government would not hesitate to use any of those should Pakistan choose to escalate matters.

India’s effort to establish Jaish’s complicity in the Pulwama attack have been helped by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sharing information crucial for identification of the perpetrators of the Pulwama attack.

Pakistan, sources said, was building up disinformation about India’s aggressive intent. India spent the last few days denying or rejecting Pakistani claims that India was on the verge of attacking it. Sources said Pakistan had been talking to some foreign countries for a “mediatory” role but none was forthcoming. “The PM has spoken to a number of world leaders. Nobody has proposed mediation,” the source said.

India’s efforts to nail Pakistan’s defence of Jaish have been helped by the FBI, which has shared with Indian agencies intercepts of conversations of JeM members in J&K with their handlers in Pakistan in the days leading up to the suicide attack on the CRPF convoy on February 14.

Sources said the FBI has shared phone numbers in Pakistan and other countries which were contacted by members of Jaish’s Pulwama cell, identified as Mudassir Ahmad Khan, Ghazi Ahmad, Sajjad Khan, Kamran and others.

Indian agencies have established that the horrific attack was masterminded by Mudassir, as first reported by TOI on February 20.

Sources said Mudassir, following instructions from Jaish’s leadership in Pakistan, executed the plot by motivating Aadil Ahmad Dar, who was already radicalised.

Sources described Mudassir as an old Jaish hand, who was closely involved with the operations of the jihadi outfit in J&K, including recruitment, logistics and planning of attacks on security camps. Though he was probed by J&K police, he did not figure in the NIA’s investigations into terror attacks.

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Navy rubbishes Pakistan's claim of India submarine in its waters

Mar 6, 2019

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD: India on Tuesday rubbished Pakistan’s claim that it had prevented an Indian submarine from entering Pakistani waters and accused Islamabad of indulging in “false propaganda and spread of misinformation” over the last few days.

“The Indian Navy does not take cognizance of such propaganda and remains deployed as necessary to protect national maritime interests. Our deployments remain undeterred,” Navy spokesperson Captain D K Sharma said.

Sources said Pakistan’s claim of an Indian submarine prowling in its vicinity was based on a doctored video from November 2016, with “the time and date stamp being changed” to show as if the incident had taken place on Monday.

Moreover, the coordinates of the submarine (purportedly Scorpene submarine INS Kalvari) released by Pakistan show that the Indian vessel was at least 200 km away from Karachi. “This is well into international waters because a country’s territorial waters are up to just 12 nautical miles from the coastline,” a source said.

The armed forced have issued strong statements over the last few days to warn Pakistan to cease and desist from aiding and abetting cross-border terrorism.

Navy’s acting director-general of operations, Rear Admiral D S Gujral, said, “We are in a high state of readiness and remain poised in all three dimensions — air, land and sea — to defeat any misadventure by Pakistan... I can assure you of resolute, swift and strong response when needed.”

Pakistan had earlier claimed that it detected an Indian submarine on Monday night and thwarted its attempt to enter into Pakistani waters. “The Pakistan Navy detected an Indian submarine and stopped it from entering into Pakistani waters. By doing so, the Pakistan Navy foiled every attempt of the Indian submarine to avoid being detected,” a statement from the Navy spokesperson said.

Full report at:



Terrorists being trained to carry out attacks via sea: Navy chief

Mar 6, 2019

NEW DELHI: Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba on Tuesday warned that the security establishment had fresh reports that terrorists were being trained to carry out operations against India through the sea, raising memories of the attacks on Mumbai. 

The 26/11 terror attacks in 2008 were carried out by 10 terrorists, including Pakistani national Ajmal Kasab who was captured and hung on conviction.

The jihadi squad had infiltrated through the sea route after hijacking an Indian fishing trawler, Kuber.

Admiral Lanba told a gathering of international participants at the IndoPacific Regional Dialogue that the Pulwama terror attack, in which over 40 CRPF troopers were killed on February 14, was carried out by terrorists who were “aided and abetted by a country that seeks to destabilise India”. “We also have reports of terrorists being trained to carry out operations in various modus operandi, including through the medium of the sea,” he said.

The global nature that terrorism has acquired in recent times has further enhanced scope of this threat. India, however, faces a “far more serious” version of “state-sponsored” terrorism, Admiral Lanba said. “We have seen how quickly terror groups evolve across the globe. A particular brand of terror can well become a global problem in the near future,” he warned.

The Indian security establishment is continuously working to address this menace, he said, noting that “it is imperative that the global community works in concert to contain and eliminate terrorism in all its forms”.

Admiral Lanba also emphasised the importance of the Indo-Pacific Region. “There is a renewed focus of the world on the seas.

Full report at:



South Asia


MEF Applauds Rep. Banks for calling out Islamist groups

March 5, 2019

The Middle East Forum strongly supports H.Res.160, Expressing concern about the threat posed to democracy and human rights by theocratic groups operating in South Asia. This resolution, introduced by Congressman Jim Banks, Republican of Indiana, focuses on both the foreign and domestic threat posed by Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist organization founded in South Asia with a long history of jihadi violence.

While Jamaat has little popular support in Bangladesh and Pakistan, it has been sadly effective at terrorizing and marginalizing religious minorities in South Asia, as well as imposing a powerful degree of influence over Muslim communities in the West.

H.Res. 160 calls on the Governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh to disrupt and dismantle Jamaat’s networks, names prominent Jamaat proxy groups in the United States, calls for USAID and the State Department to halt all partnerships with Jamaat organizations; and urges an investigation into American Jamaat funding of terrorists in Pakistan and Kashmir.

Middle East Forum research has shown that Jamaat front groups raise millions in the United States and employ lobbyists in Washington. Groups such as Helping Hand for Relief and Development openly partner with designated terrorist organizations. The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the self-described “sister organization” of Helping Hands, was at one point led by Ashrafuzzaman Khan, the “chief executor” of a Jamaat killing squad during Bangladesh’s 1971 Liberation War.

“Jamaat-e-Islami commits many violent acts South Asia and is a key promotor of extremism,” said Sam Westrop, director of MEF’s Islamist Watch. “Its proxies in America are key components of Islamist radicalization. And yet they raise millions of dollars, including from Federal Government sources. Each taxpayer dollar affords this extremist movement political legitimacy — a blow for those moderate American Muslims fighting to free their communities from Islamist control.”

“It is important that Washington cease its head-in-the-sand approach to this dangerous movement,” adds Cliff Smith, director of MEF’s Washington Project. “For too long, Jamaat’s network has operated with shamelessness abroad and with impunity domestically. The Banks resolution will sound the alarm.”

H.Res.160 has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank, is dedicated to defining American interests in the Middle East and protecting America from Islamist threats. It achieves its goals through intellectual, activist, and philanthropic efforts.



Up to 50 militants killed in Afghan Special Forces operations, airstrikes

06 Mar 2019

Up to fifty militants were killed during the operations of the Afghan Special Forces and airstrikes in five provinces of the country.

Informed military sources announced Tuesday that the operations were conducted in Jowzjan, Uruzgan, Kapisa, Khost, and Helmand provinces.

The sources further added at least 31 of the militants were killed in Faizabad district of Jowzjan province during the operations of the Afghan Special Forces which were launched few days earlier.

A strike in Tarin Kot district of Uruzgan resulted in two Taliban fighters killed, the sources said, adding that a total of 18 Taliban have been killed in the same area in the past week.

A similar strike in Tagab district of Kapisa province left two Taliban fighters dead while Afghan Special Forces killed 8 militants during an operation in Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar.

Full report at:



US House resolution calls on BNP to cut ties with Jamaat

6 March, 2019

A resolution was placed at the United States’ House of Representatives on Thursday, urging the government to more actively engage with Bangladesh to prevent the growth of religious extremism and calling BNP to cut ties with its alliance partner Jamaat-e-Islami. Introducing the resolution H. Res. 160, US Republican Congressman Jim Banks, who represents Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District, said ,“The fight for religious freedom, pluralism, and security in South Asia is not new. However, the growing influence of radical Islamic organizations in Bangladesh, Pakistan and the wider region demonstrates the urgency for continued efforts to stymie the spread of radical extremism in the region. Even worse, these organizations do so with the help of domestic proxy groups that raise money and peddle influence in the United States.

“Any freedom-loving nation should be concerned and appalled by the human rights violations that are revered

and encouraged by terrorist groups like Jamaat-e-Islami and its proxies and partners. I encourage our allies in South Asia unite to oppose Jamaat-e-Islami’s radicalism and violence,” he added.

The resolution has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Congressman Jim Banks had placed a similar resolution in the US House on November 20 last year, ahead of the 11th national election, urging Bangladesh to stop radical organisations such as Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Chhatra Shibir, and

Hefazat-e-Islam, which, he said, pose an ongoing threat to the country’s stability and secular democracy.

The Thursday’s resolution has called on the Governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan to deny, disrupt, and dismantle the ability of Jamaat-e-Islami and its affiliates to continue posing an immediate and ongoing threat to religious freedom and regional stability.

It also said the United States should more actively engage with the Government of Bangladesh regarding shared interests in safeguarding human rights, religious freedom, and secular democracy in Bangladesh, while preventing the growth of religious extremism and militancy. The House resolution urged the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and all political parties to unequivocally distance themselves from Jamaat-e-Islami and other extremist organizations and called on the US bodies including United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, and other relevant agencies, to halt all partnerships and funding arrangements with groups affiliated with Jamaat-e- Islami and its domestic affiliates, including the Islamic Circle of North America, ICNA Relief, Helping Hand for Relief and Development, and the Muslim Ummah of North America.

The resolution identified Jamaat-e-Islami as a threat to democracy and human rights and said religious minorities, including Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and Ahamadi Muslims, have been attacked by Jamaat-e-Islami, and their subsidiary Islami Chhatra Shibir, as a result of which hundreds of homes have been damaged, shops damaged or looted, and temples vandal-ized in Bangladesh.

It noted that Bangladesh emerged as a secular democratic state in 1971 at the cost of approximately 3 million deaths, more than 10 million and 200,000 women raped, many at the hands of Islamist militants led by Jamaat-e-Islami. It also mentioned that Bangladesh plays a critical role in the safe and voluntary repatriation of over 800,000 Rohingya Muslims who have taken refuge in Bangladesh from religious and political persecution in Myanmar.

Full report at:



Suicide bomb attack in Afghan city of Jalalabad, casualties feared

6 March 2019

A suicide bomber in Afghanistan blew himself up on Wednesday in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, an official said.

The attacker detonated his explosives near the office of a construction company near the city's airport, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province, of which Jalalabad is capital.

Firing erupted between members of the security forces and gunmen after the blast, he said.

Full report at:



At least 16 killed in bomb, gun attack in eastern Afghanistan

March 06, 2019

KABUL: Suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a construction company office in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday killing 16 employees of the Afghan company, a provincial official said.

The attack began when two suicide bombers set off their explosives outside the company office and gunmen then opened fire, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province.

As well as the 16 dead at the company, including several of its guards, five attackers were killed — the two bombers and three gunmen, he said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Jalalabad is the capital of Nangarhar province, which is on the border with Pakistan.

It has become the main stronghold in Afghanistan of Islamic State, which has grown into one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous militant groups since it appeared around the beginning of 2015.

Full report at:





Iran’s Rouhani accuses US of trying to change clerical establishment

March 06, 2019

DUBAI: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused the United States on Wednesday of plotting to use economic pressure to overthrow the Islamic republic’s clerical establishment, and ruled out the possibility of talks with Washington.

“Iran is in economic and psychological war with America and its allies ... their aim is to change the regime ... But we will not allow it as our nation and the leadership are united against our enemies,” Rouhani said in a speech in the northern province of Gilan.

Tensions have grown between Iran and America after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 multinational agreement on curbing Iran’s nuclear program in May. Trump said the agreement was flawed because it did not curb Iran’s ballistic missiles program or its support for proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.

Washington re-imposed sanctions on Iran that were lifted in 2016 under the deal.

The European signatories of the deal, Russia and China are opposed to the US decision to re-impose oil and financial sanctions on Iran and have been trying to salvage the agreement.



Islamic council rejects Israeli court closure at holy site

March 05, 2019

JERUSALEM: The Islamic authority that oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem has rejected an Israeli court order to close a religious hall that has ignited tension between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police in recent weeks.

Sheikh Abdelazeem Salhab, chairman of the Waqf Council appointed by neighboring Jordan, said Tuesday that the structure, called Mercy Gate, would “remain open for Muslims to pray,” despite Israel’s ultimatum to close the site by next Monday.

Salhab demanded that Israel permit the Waqf to renovate the building and revoke orders banning dozens of Waqf officials, guards and worshippers from the sacred compound.

Full report at:



UN postpones reports on companies with business ties to Israeli settlements

Mar 6, 2019

The United Nations has one again delayed the publication of a database of companies with business ties to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, angering activists who had campaigned for the move over the past three years.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said in a letter to the Human Rights Council on Tuesday that despite progress made since launching the study, further work was needed due to the “novelty of the mandate and its legal, methodological and factual complexity.”

She added that her office aimed to finalize and issue the study “in coming months.”

Meanwhile, activists have expressed outrage over Bachelet's decision, stating that her predecessor, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, had already postponed the publication of the database of firms with ties to Israeli settlements in 2017 before stepping down last August.

“Israeli authorities’ brazen expansion of illegal settlements underscores why the UN database of businesses facilitating these settlements needs to be published,” Bruno Stagno Ugarte of Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“Each delay further entrenches corporate involvement in the systematic rights abuses stemming from illegal settlements,” he added, calling on Bachelet to commit to a clear publication date.

Palestinian rights groups and trade unions, in a letter dated February 28, had urged Bachelet to publish the database.

They said further delays would undermine her office and foster an “existing culture of impunity for human rights abuses and internationally recognized crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The World Jewish Congress said its CEO, Robert Singer, had met Bachelet last month and urged the cancellation of the database.

Israeli officials and pro-Israel lobbyists say companies appearing in such a database could be targeted for boycotts or divestment, and this will stepping up pressure on the Tel Aviv regime over its land expropriation and settlement expansion policies in the West Bank.

Good produced in settlements, which most world countries and the United Nations view as illegal, include fruit, vegetables and alcoholic beverages.

Last month, Ir Amim, an Israeli NGO opposing Tel Aviv’s settlement expansion activities, published a new map that illustrated an “accelerated, intensifying chain of new facts on the ground in the most historically contested and politically sensitive part of Jerusalem [al-Quds]: the Old City and adjacent ring of Palestinian neighborhoods,” which help reinforcement of settlement plans.

The NGO pointed to a number of Israeli-sponsored settlement campaigns inside Palestinian neighborhoods, including “settler initiated evictions of Palestinians, takeovers of their homes, and the expansion of settler compounds,” in addition to the use of the so-called “touristic settlement sites” as “key points” contributing to the campaigns.

Ir Amim said the supposed tourism and archaeology projects “assume a central role in Israeli settlement policy.”

About 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.

The UN Security Council has condemned Israel’s settlement activities in the occupied territories in several resolutions.

Less than a month before US President Donald Trump took office, the United Nations Security Council in December 2016 adopted Resolution 2334, calling on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem” al-Quds.

Palestinians want the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.

Full report at:



Europeans created Daesh, Iran stopped its spread: Qassemi

Mar 4, 2019

Iran says Daesh would have overridden Europe if it had not been for the Islamic Republic's fight against terror groups that Western countries once planted in the Middle East to further their own agenda.

“European governments and intelligence services know very well that Europe owes its security today to Iran’s efforts,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said Sunday.

“We saw what terrorist and Takfiri outfits did on the streets in Paris and other European capitals and how they caused insecurity and violence,” he said, referring to deadly attacks by Daesh sympathizers.

Qassemi said Daesh and other terrorist groups were nearing their demise thanks to Iran’s struggle.

“Iran has been serious in its fight against terrorism, so much so that today we see terrorists have been purged from most territories in Syria and Iraq,” he said.

“However, we believe despite their decline, terrorism still exists and a serious resolve and a global coalition are required to eradicate them,” he added.

Iran has been actively providing the governments of Iraq and Syria with military advice to push back against foreign-backed militants who have been terrorizing both countries using support from Western countries and their regional allies.

Qassemi said the spread of Daesh and other groups into Europe was in large part due to the European governments' own actions.

“The terrorists were first nurtured, developed and armed in this very region by certain parties and then caused terror and panic in Europe using the funds they had been provided with.”

The spokesman blasted Europe’s double policy in dealing with terrorist groups, something he said had left an adverse effect on their image among their own people.

“Europeans’ instrumental use of terrorism is nothing new and they divide terrorists into good and bad categories,” Qassemi said.

“We believe we should not practice multiple standards in fighting terrorism… and only defend certain groups to serve our own interests,” he added.

The spokesman said Europe‘s double standard was best demonstrated in Syria, where it first supported a terrorist push to topple President Bashar al-Assad but changed its position when it realized its mistake.

Those policies, he said, have encouraged many European citizens to join Daesh without facing serious consequences back home.

Qassemi said all Europe needed to fight terrorism was “determination” because it already has complete knowledge of the terrorist groups’ “nature, action and funding channels.”

UK ban on Hezbollah example of double standards

Qassemi also referred to Britain’s recent move in blacklisting Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah as a terrorist group as a bare example of European double standards.

“Hezbollah, like many freedom fighters and those who are trying to bring independence and security to the region, has made great sacrifices in the fight against terrorists and Takfiri groups and is very popular in Lebanon and other countries of the region,” Qassemi said.

“The UK’s move is unfathomable and seems like they are following the same double standards that have led to insecurity, instability and extremism across the region,” he added.

‘Bolton suffering from lethal anti-Iranian disease’

Qassemi also addressed reports about US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s upcoming trip to Australia as part of his efforts to shore up support for Washington’s pressure on Iran.

“Forming coalitions against Iran is a normal routine for Bolton,” he said. “He is touring the world while trying to beg for hostility towards Iran.”

“We believe he really is suffering from an anti-Iranian disease. He wrongfully thinks Iran is going to ambush either him or the US,” Qassemi said.

“Bolton’s grudge and animosity toward Iran has gone beyond what is expected from a politician and apparently has turned into a lethal disease that needs a serious treatment,” he continued.

Bolton has gained notoriety for spearheading US pressure campaigns against Iran under President Donald Trump as well as the past US administrations.

Full report at:



Iran expels Dutch diplomats in reciprocal move: FM Zarif

Mar 4, 2019

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says the country has declared two Dutch diplomats persona non grata in reaction to the Netherland’s “illegal” expulsion of two Iranian diplomats on false accusations.

Zarif made the remarks while speaking to reporters on Monday on the same day that Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said his country has recalled its ambassador to Iran for consultations after diplomats at its embassy in Tehran were expelled.

“We expelled two Dutch diplomats in line with the decision, which was communicated to the Foreign Ministry, and in reaction to illegal expulsion of Iranian diplomats [by the Dutch government]. The Netherlands has also summoned its ambassador [to Iran] for consultation,” Zarif said.

The Iranian foreign minister added that expulsion of Iranian diplomats by the Netherlands was illegal, because "the Dutch officials have admitted that their decision to expel the Iranian diplomats was not based on any evidence or document and was merely a politically-motivated move."

He noted that the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is taking all necessary measures in this regard.

The Dutch foreign minister said in a statement on Monday that the government of the Netherlands "has decided to recall the Dutch ambassador in Tehran for consultations."

Blok added, "This decision follows the announcement by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that two Dutch diplomats at the embassy in Tehran have been declared persona non grata and have to leave the country."

A spokesperson for the Dutch intelligence service AIVD said on July 7 that the country had expelled two "persons accredited to the Iranian embassy," but refused to provide any further information.

Iran responds to moves against its interests in kind: Qassemi

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi also said on Monday that Iran has told two Dutch diplomats to leave the country after Tehran declared them persona non grata.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran does not seek tension in its ties with European countries, but will respond to any move against its national interests with a reciprocal measure in an appropriate time and place," he added.

Full report at:



Israeli jets strike northern Gaza Strip in fresh act of aggression

Mar 6, 2019

Israeli military aircraft have carried out a series of airstrikes against targets in the northern part of the Gaza Strip as the Tel Aviv regime continues with its acts of aggression against the besieged Palestinian coastal sliver.

The Israel Air Force said in a statement that its aircraft hit a number of targets in a military compound belonging to Hamas resistance movement late on Tuesday. No immediate reports of casualties in the aerial assaults were available.

The statement added that the strikes were conducted after two balloons with explosives were flown from the Gaza Strip into Israeli-occupied territories earlier in the day. The balloons exploded inside communities in the southern sector of the region. There were no injuries or damage.

On Tuesday evening, two Palestinians sustained injuries when Israeli military forces opened fire on them east of the Bureij refugee camp.

Local sources told Arabic-language Palestinian Safa news agency that the 17-year-old teenagers were struck in their legs. They were later transported to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the city of Deir al-Balah, located over 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) south of Gaza City, to receive medical treatment.

Palestinians have held weekly protests on the Gaza border, over the siege on the enclave and the right for refugees to return to their homes they fled during the 1948 creation of Israel.

Nearly 270 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces ever since anti-occupation protest rallies began in the Gaza Strip on March 30. Over 26,000 Palestinians have also sustained injuries.

The Gaza clashes reached their peak on May 14 last year, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe), which coincided this year with the US embassy relocation from Tel Aviv to occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds.

On June 13, 2018, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution, sponsored by Turkey and Algeria, condemning Israel for Palestinian civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip.

The resolution, which had been put forward on behalf of Arab and Muslim countries, garnered a strong majority of 120 votes in the 193-member assembly, with 8 votes against and 45 abstentions.

The resolution called on UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to make proposals within 60 days “on ways and means for ensuring the safety, protection, and well-being of the Palestinian civilian population under Israeli occupation,” including “recommendations regarding an international protection mechanism.”

Full report at:



Turkey slams US plan to end special trade status

Mar 5, 2019

Ankara has blasted the United States for its decision to scrap the preferential trade status granted to Turkey, saying Washington’s plan is contrary to mutual trade goals.

“This decision contradicts our mutual objective of reaching bilateral trade volume of $75 billion...The decision will also negatively affect US small and medium-sized enterprises and manufacturers,” Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan tweeted on Tuesday.

“We still would like to pursue our target of increasing our bilateral trade with the US, who we see as our strategic partner, without losing any momentum,” she added.

A day earlier, the US Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) had said Washington sought to terminate Turkey and India’s designations as “beneficiary developing countries under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program” because they no longer met the program’s eligibility criteria.

Established in 1974 and having covered 120 countries, the GSP is the largest and oldest US trade preference program. It allows “certain products” to enter the US free of tariffs, given that the countries exporting them meet the criteria such as “providing the US with equitable and reasonable market access.”

The statement said Turkey could be “graduated” from the program on the back of “sufficient economical development.”

Last August, however, the USTR had said it was reviewing Turkey’s eligibility under the GSP after Ankara imposed tariffs on US goods.

Ankara had levied the duties in response to American tariffs on Turkish-supplied steel and aluminum at the height of bilateral tensions under US President Donald Trump.

The escalation was caused by Washington’s support for Kurdish militants, which Ankara calls terrorists, and Turkey’s subsequent imprisonment of an American pastor.

The two sides are separately at odds over Washington’s refusal to extradite Fetullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric accused of masterminding an abortive 2016 coup against the Turkish government.

The situation was not defused despite Turkey’s release of the pastor, whom it had detained over alleged links to anti-Ankara outfits.

In the case of India, meanwhile, the USTR claimed New Delhi had failed to provide guarantees that it would allow the amount of market access required for by the GSP program.

Full report at:



Scores of Houthi militia killed in clashes

March 05, 2019

Members of Yemen’s national army killed 70 Houthi militants and injured several others during clashes in Saada province, national military website “September Net” reported on Monday.

Among the dead was a Houthi leader who was killed in the clashes, Brigadier Saleh Al-Majeedi told “September Net.”

Yemeni troops liberated several areas, including villages from Houthi militants in Razih district in Saada.

Full report at:



Israel carries out fresh Hamas strikes over incendiary balloons

March 06, 2019

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Israeli jets struck a Hamas military target in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for balloon-borne explosive devices late Tuesday, the army said, the fourth such strike in recent days.

A Palestinian security source confirmed the strikes, with no injuries reported.

The army said in a statement late Tuesday that “fighter jets and aircraft struck a number of terror targets in a Hamas military compound in the northern Gaza Strip.”

“The strike was conducted in response to explosive balloons that were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.”

A Palestinian security source in Gaza said a number of Hamas sites, including an observation post, were hit near Gaza City, causing damage but no injuries.

Eyewitnesses also described an explosion at a Hamas site in southern Gaza, though the Israeli army statement did not mention such targets.

The Israeli strike was the fourth since Saturday, each in response to either balloons or explosive devices hurled at the border fence.

Islamists Hamas have controlled Gaza since 2007 and have fought three wars with Israel since.

The so-called incendiary balloons involve flaming devices floated across the border with the aim of starting fires in the Israeli communities and farmlands on the other side.

Clusters of balloons have been flown during regular protests and clashes along the frontier.

They largely stopped after an informal Egyptian-brokered truce agreement between Hamas and Israel in November.

Under that deal Israel agreed to ease its crippling blockade of Gaza in exchange for calm.

Hamas has accused Israel of breaching the terms of the agreement.

An Egyptian security delegation met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniya in Gaza Tuesday.

Full report at:





BE MORE OPEN to combat extremism Muslim leader urges UK mosques amid radicalisation fears

Mar 6, 2019

Farhad Ahmad of the Baitul Futuh Mosque in south London made the case for countering the negative public perception of Muslim places of worship as a source of danger to national security. The senior cleric of what is considered Europe’s largest mosque called on the UK Government to ensure worshippers feel safe and protected against hate crime. Mr Ahmad's intervention comes at a time of hardening attitudes, such as the use of targets with an image of Shamima Begum’s face at a shooting range in the Wirral.

Echoing the words of the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community he told “Mosques should be monitored by the Government to see what is being preached inside.

“You cannot be asking others if there is any hatred in your mosque that is being preached.

“The Government must have a look whether it is or not the case.”

The Imam warned these measures should not alienate the Muslim community in the UK but explained: “There has to be some level of understanding of what is going on, you can’t be too lenient or too strict you have to look at what is sensible at the time.”

He added: “If you think there is a problem somewhere you have to be pragmatic about it if people are being radicalised then measures have to be put into place.”

The Home Office has set up an anti-extremism programme, Prevent, whose aim is "to reduce the risk to the UK and its interests overseas from terrorism, so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence".

The strategy is to be independently reviewed after ministers gave into pressure to address concerns over its impact on communities.

Announcing the review in the House of Commons in January this year, the security minister, Ben Wallace, said: “I have decided that the time is now right to initiate a review of Prevent.

“Communities across the country have got behind the policy and are contributing to it because they want, as we do, their own young people to be protected from grooming and exploitation by terrorists.

“Over the last two years, the Home Office has built on the solid work of Prevent by releasing annual statistics.

“They clearly show that Prevent is not about singling out any particular group or ideology but is similar to other forms of safeguarding carried out every day by social workers, teachers and police.

“I am proud we have helped divert hundreds of people away from posing a real threat and put them back on the path of living a fulfilling, law-abiding life.”

The Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community Mirza Masroor Ahmad has more than 20 million followers worldwide and lives in Southfields, London.

He will lead a symposium about “The Critical Need for Peace” at the Morden based mosque on March 9.

A press release for the event states: “The Caliph's message will encourage a concerted effort for lasting peace and will counter the negative perceptions about Islam.”

Mr Ahmad described last year’s peace symposium as being focused on, “the causes of radicalisation”.

He stressed the need for a deeper understanding of the root causes of radicalisation by looking “at the frustrations that extremists prey upon”.

He added: “Innocent minds that have frustrations, they are very easy to prey upon by extremists who have vested interests and are very clever in picking people.”



Russia Will Be One-Third Muslim in 15 Years, Chief Mufti Predicts

Mar 06, 2019

Around 30 percent of the Russian population will practice Islam within the next 15 years, Russia’s grand mufti has predicted, citing demographic trends.

Russia’s Muslim-majority regions, including republics in the North Caucasus and the republic of Tatarstan, are known to have the highest birth rates in the country, reflecting similar trends worldwide. Various estimates place the current Muslim population in Russia at between 14 million and 20 million people, or between 10 to 14 percent of Russia's total population of 146.8 million in 2018.

“According to experts, Russia’s [Muslim] population will increase to 30 percent in a decade and a half,” said Ravil Gainutdin, the chairman of the Council of Muftis, a religious group representing Russia’s Muslim community.

The changing demographics mean that “dozens” of new mosques will need to be built in Russia’s largest cities, Gainutdin said at a forum hosted by the State Duma on Monday.

Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, an official in Russia’s Orthodox Church, agreed with Gainutdin’s forecast and predicted that “there won't be any Russians left in 2050.”

Full report at:



French extremist Jean-Michel Clain killed in Syria: Wife

5 March 2019

The wife of French extremist Jean-Michel Clain told AFP Tuesday that her husband was killed last month in Syria after a coalition strike killed his brother Fabien, another notorious extremist.

“The drone killed my brother-in-law and then the mortar killed my husband,” Dorothee Maquere said at a screening area after exiting ISIS’ last pocket in Baghouz.

Fabien Clain, 41, gained notoriety after voicing an audio recording claiming responsibility for the November 2015 attacks in Paris, when ISIS fighters slaughtered 129 people in coordinated attacks at restaurants and bars around the French capital.

He was killed in a coalition drone strike last month in Baghouz, the village in eastern Syria where diehard ISIS fighters are making a bloody last stand.

His younger brother Jean-Michel, 38, was wounded in the same February 20 coalition on Baghouz but survived, Maquere said. However, he died in a mortar attack two days later.

She was speaking at a screening center run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led force that has spearheaded the military operation against the last dreg of the ISIS “caliphate.”

She was among a group of several hundred civilians who exited the tiny besieged enclave, where a dwindling number of extremist fighters were refusing to surrender.

Maquere was wearing a full black veil and was surrounded by her five surviving children. She lost three other children in a bombardment.

Full report at:



UK ruling party suspends 14 members over Islamophobia

Mar 5, 2019

Britain’s ruling Conservative Party has suspended more than a dozen of its members after they posted Islamophobic or racist comments online.

The Independent said on Tuesday that party officials had decided to suspend a total of 14 members after allegations emerged of their online hate activity against Muslims, mostly on a Facebook page affiliated with senior Tory politician and former foreign minister Boris Johnson.

“We have identified some people who are party members and they have been immediately suspended, pending further investigation,” said a Conservative spokesperson, adding that the page established by Johnson’s fans on Facebook was “in no way” affiliated with the Tory party.

Reports last week suggested that Dorinda Bailey, a Tory council candidate, had approved of the Islamophobic content on the Facebook page, including one demanding all mosques and Muslim worship places in Britain should be “get rid of”.

Muslim campaign groups and senior Tory lawmakers have demanded more action from the Tory leadership on what they believe is a surge in Islamophobic views in the party.

Sayeeda Warsi, a Muslim Conservative politician and member of the House of Lords, said on Tuesday that her party had become institutionally Islamophobic.

“The problem is not just individuals, it's institutional,” said Baroness Warsi, adding that Tory leader and Prime Minister Theresa May and party chairman Brandon Lewis had failed to act on the issue.

“I have been raising these issues for over three years and yet still the party fails to act. We now have daily examples of the most vile racist and Islamophobic comments from both elected representatives and members and still the party remains in denial,” said Warsi, who was the first Muslim woman to become a member of the cabinet under former prime minister David Cameron.

Full report at:



Pope Francis’ visit to Morocco to focus on migrants

March 05, 2019

CASABLANCA: Morocco’s bishops said Tuesday they hope Pope Francis’ visit to their country will help shed light on the situation of migrants in the country that is a key transit point for those trying to reach Europe.

The Catholic church in Morocco mainly works with people from Sub-Saharan Africa, who make up 50 to 70 percent of churchgoers. Many are migrants illegally staying in the majority Muslim country living in poor conditions.

“We have had to prioritize to whom the aid goes first. Our church suffers from lack of funds. We can give some migrants food, plastic, covers, yet we can’t give them the respect they deserve. They are people not animals.” said Santiago Agrelo Martinez, Archbishop of Tangier.

He said he hopes that the pope’s visit on March 30-31 will help improve the situation.

The city he oversees is particularly known for being a focal point for departure into the Mediterranean Sea. A large crackdown on migrants was led by Moroccan authorities there last summer to limit numbers of crossings.

“Pope Francis loves to go to frontiers, to places of transit,” said Cristobal Lopez Romero, archbishop of Rabat, at a news conference in Casablanca Tuesday.

Morocco’s officials have repeatedly said the country cannot be the region’s immigration police, putting pressure on Europe to provide funds to manage the crisis.

Yet crackdowns on migrants and deportations are rampant, pushing international rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to denounce Morocco’s security measures.

Full report at:



Terror probe after explosive devices found at London airports, Waterloo Station

March 05, 2019

LONDON: UK police say a counter-terrorism investigation has been launched after small improvised explosive devices were found at Heathrow Airport, City Airport and Waterloo Station on Tuesday.

At least two of the parcel bombs sent to the locations had Irish stamps, Sky News said. Irish police are now assisting British counter-terrorism officers, they said on Tuesday.

The mailers – all A4-sized white postal bags containing yellow Jiffy bags – were assessed by specialist officers to be small improvised explosive devices. The devices, at this early stage of the investigation, appear capable of igniting an initially small fire when opened, the Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

The Met Police Counter Terrorism Command is treating the incidents as a linked series and is keeping an open mind regarding motives. British Transport police said their specialist units were called to Waterloo Station after a “suspicious item” was found in the mailing room, but said the public were not put in harm’s way.

One package was found near Heathrow Airport at an office building, which was evacuated as a precaution after the package was opened and part of it burned causing a small fire. Officials say the building is not at the airport and flights were not affected. No one was injured by the devices and air and rail services were not affected. No arrests have been made.

The extent of the incident is still not yet known. Most of Waterloo Station remained in operation; when contacted by Arab News, several shops were not even aware of the incident and one said they were trading as normal. Some were informed, and were given a warning with minimal information, and told to follow updates on the Metropolitan Police's social media accounts.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, thanked first responders for their “swift actions” and urged residents and visitors to the city to “remain vigilant.”

In a separate incident late on Tuesday, Transport for London said that Kings Cross St Pancras underground station had been closed due to fire alert.

Earlier on Tuesday, police confirmed they were investigating security alerts at two London airports as well as at Waterloo station involving “suspicious packages.”

“British Transport Police were called to Waterloo station at 11.40am today following reports of a suspicious package. The item is currently being assessed by specialist teams. Cordons are in place however train services continue to operate as normal at this time,” the British Transport Police said.

Full report at:



ISIS mugshot library aims to halt foreign fighters

March 5, 2019

Foreign fighters secretly returning to Europe are undergoing new facial-recognition checks against a library of seized ISIS mugshots to try to stop them at the continent’s borders, a senior law enforcement official said on Tuesday.

The European policing agency Europol has built a database of 200,000 images gleaned from propaganda videos and social media to try to identify returning fighters from the Middle East as they cross the EU’s porous borders.

Europol has launched the technological operation amid concerns that committed terrorists are slipping too easily back into EU with no documents to establish their true identities, said Peter Van Osselaer, the agency’s head of counter-terrorism operations. Investigators say that extremists have previously used migrant trafficking routes to covertly return to Europe, allowing them to avoid the radar of domestic security agencies.

“It’s really easy to come into the EU without any documentation and without being detected,” Mr Van Osselaer told the Security and Counter Terror Expo in London.

“We have seen events where people to try to enter Europe at Greece and then try a few months later in Italy.”

The threat of untracked foreign fighters is just one prong of a triple security threat faced by European governments, said officials.

Governments are also scrambling to prepare for a large-scale planned release of convicted terrorists at the end of their sentences in 2019, and the potential chaos caused by Brexit and the severing of intelligence links between traditional counter-terrorist allies, said officials.

A unit at Europe’s intelligence centre has pulled together an image library over the last year from national criminal records, social media files and fake travel documents to build the most accurate database of returning threats.

Europol analysts have built an algorithm that allows officials at border hot spots to screen the most suspicious new arrivals to try to identify trained fighters who could pose the greatest threat.

Mr Van Osselaer declined to quantify the numbers stopped using the new system but said the results of checks against fake documents had been “magnificent”.

The issue of returning foreign fighters continues to exercise European governments amid policy differences of the best way to handle detained ISIS suspects.

EU countries have shown little appetite to bring back their nationals to stand trial. The UK has stripped the citizenship from some suspected terrorists and Germany announced similar plans.

Up to 4,300 foreign fighters from the EU – mostly from Belgium, France, Germany and the UK – are suspected to have travelled abroad, according to 2016 report cited by the EU parliament. Some 30 per cent had returned, the research found.

“Where foreign fighters end up, how much they have been radicalised, and the collective ability to track them … will be key determinants of the threat,” Russell Travers, a senior official at the US counterter-rorism centre, told the conference.

The EU has long had concerns about its ability to track and trace extremists travelling across national borders.

Investigations into the 2015 Paris and Brussels suicide bombings revealed that police had missed opportunities to arrest suspects because they had failed to share information.

Europol’s counter-terrorism expertise has relied heavily on the UK and Mr Van Osselaer said there were great concerns about the impact of the UK leaving the European Union without a deal. The move would lock the UK out of information sharing programmes.

“I think everyone agrees on an operational level there's no way we can disconnect the UK from Europe,” he said.

Full report at:



British aid worker stranded in Syria after citizenship is revoked

Jack Dutton

March 5, 2019

A British aid worker has criticised the UK government’s decision to revoke his citizenship and claims his family is stuck in Syria.

Tauqir Sharif, 31, from Walthamstow, north-east London, lives and works in Idlib with his wife, Racquell Hayden-Best, The Guardian reported.

Mr Sharif’s British citizenship was revoked in May 2017 by then Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

Mr Sharif has called on the UK government to review its citizenship policies for humanitarian aid workers in conflict zones.

He said that the government made no distinction between aid workers or doctors in war-torn countries and militants.

Mr Sharif founded Live Updates from Syria in 2012, an organisation that provides support for families in the country and raises awareness about the conflict.

“Our job is to help those in need,” Mr Sharif told The Guardian. “I have friends here who are doctors, British expats.

"Whoever comes into a hospital, whether ISIS or a supporter of Bashar [Al Assad, President of Syria], they will treat them because they are trying to save lives.

Full report at:



North America


Trump: 'I agree 100%' to keep US troops in Syria

Umar Farooq



U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday he agrees with the decision to keep a military presence in Syria.

His comments come two months after he abruptly announced Washington would be pulling all forces from the region.

NBC News obtained a copy of a letter sent by a group of lawmakers to Trump, which included a written response from the president.

The Feb. 22 letter applauded the decision by the president to keep a "small American stabilizing force" along with "ground forces from our European allies" in the area, to prevent the resurgence of the Daesh terror group.

"Like you, we seek to ensure that all of the gains made in Syria are not lost, that ISIS never returns, that Iran is not emboldened, and that we consolidate our gains and ensure the best outcome in Geneva for American interests," read the letter, referring to the Daesh by an alternative name.

"I agree 100%. ALL is being done," Trump wrote in response, directly writing on the letter and signing it.

In December, Trump announced plans to withdraw all 2,000 American troops from the war-weary country, saying the U.S.-led coalition had succeeded in militarily defeating Daesh.

Then, last month the Trump administration backtracked, saying some 200-400 troops would remain in Syria as part of a peacekeeping effort.

U.S. military personnel have since said that a couple hundred troops will be remaining in the region, with forces staying in northeast Syria to create a "safe zone" as well forces being at the al-Tanf garrison in southern Syria.

Last week, while speaking to U.S. troops at the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, Trump said that 100 percent of Daesh territory had been taken over.



US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans first visit to Lebanon

5 March 2019

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he is planning to visit Lebanon sometime in the next week for the first time since the country formed a government.

Pompeo said he will travel to Lebanon, Israel and then to Kuwait but did not set out exact dates.

“You see all of this. This is American diplomacy at work. When I go, all the people from the embassy will have already begun to do the work to convince these countries to work alongside America,” Pompeo told a group of people at the Future Farmers of America event in rural Iowa.

Pompeo’s expected visit to Lebanon will be his first since taking office last April.

Ahead of Pompeo’s planned visit, David Satterfield, acting US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, arrived in Beirut on Monday evening on an unannounced visit for talks with senior Lebanese officials and political party leaders.

Local Lebanese media outlets reported that Satterfield met with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil.

Full report at:



Don’t give Turkey F-35 jets if they buy Russian S-400: Top US general

Mar 6, 2019

The top US general and the head of American forces in Europe has said the United States should not sell its high-tech F-35 fighter jets to Turkey if Ankara moves ahead with plans to buy advanced missile defense systems from Russia.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, General Curtis Scaparrotti said it would be his “best military advice" that the United States not sell Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 jets to NATO ally Turkey unless Ankara drops plans to purchase Russia-built S-400 surface-to-air missile defense systems.

“If they accept the S-400 to establish it in Turkey, there is first the issue that it’s not interoperable with NATO systems, nor is it interoperable inside of our integrated missile defense system. The second has to do with the F-35. It presents a problem to all of our aircraft, but specifically the F-35, I believe,” Scaparrotti said during the Senate hearing.

"My best military advice would be that we don't then follow through with the F-35, flying it or working with an ally that's working with Russian systems, particularly air defense systems, with what I would say is probably one of most advanced technological capabilities," he added. “I would hope that they [Turkey] would reconsider this one decision on the S-400.”

The US general also warned that there could be potential consequences in the wake of the purchase deal with Russia, namely, no future foreign military sales between Washington and Ankara.

Additionally, the US State Department later in the day said Washington has made clear to Turkey that Ankara's participation in the F-35 fighter program would be reassessed if it preceded with the purchase of Russian air defense systems.

“If Turkey acquires the S-400, it will not receive the Patriot,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told a briefing.

“We have clearly warned Turkey that its potential acquisition of the S-400 will result in reassessment of Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program, and risk other potential future arms transfers to Turkey, as well as lead to potential actions under Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act upon any government entities, private industry, or individuals involved in such a transaction,” the spokesperson added.

The remarks came a day after the United States sent out a stark warning to Turkey over its plan to buy the advanced Russian-built S-400 air defense missile systems.

“Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense system will have grave consequences for the US defense relationship with Turkey,” Pentagon Spokesperson Eric Pahon said.

Moscow and Ankara finalized an agreement on the delivery of the S-400 missile systems in December 2017. Back in April last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said in Ankara that they had agreed to expedite the delivery of S-400 missile systems. At the time it was said that the delivery could be made between late 2019 and early 2020.

Earlier, Erdogan had stressed that his country “has a right to use different air defense systems” and that other parties have no right whatsoever to criticize Ankara for its military purchases.

The deal has drawn concerns among some of Turkey’s NATO allies, particularly the US, who claim the missile batteries are not compatible with those of the military alliance and that the purchase could jeopardize Ankara's acquisition of American Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets and possibly result in US sanctions.

The S-400 system, whose full name is the Triumph Mobile Multiple Anti-Aircraft Missile System (AAMS), is an advanced Russian missile system designed to detect, track, and destroy planes, drones, or missiles as far as 402 kilometers away. It has previously been sold only to China and India.

Turkey is striving to boost its air defense, particularly after Washington decided in 2015 to withdraw its Patriot surface-to-air missile system from Turkey's border with Syria, a move that weakened Turkey’s air defense.

Nevertheless, the US State Department in December last year approved a possible $3.5 billion sale of Patriot missile systems to Turkey, after notifying Congress of the certification.

Before gravitating towards Russia, the Turkish military reportedly walked out of a $3.4 billion contract for a similar Chinese system. The withdrawal took place under purported pressure from Washington.

Full report at:



Omar the flashpoint as Democrats confront divide over Israel

March 05, 2019

WASHINGTON: Back in January, the Democrats welcomed their brash young newcomers to Congress with smiles and hugs. That was before the new colleagues dragged the party’s simmering divisions over Israel out in the open.

Provocative comments from Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota have thrust the Democrats into an uncomfortable debate over Israel policy a few weeks before a high-profile conference where senior Democrats typically make a show of support for the Jewish state. Increasingly, the rift appears as much generational as ideological, with newly elected Democrats showing less deference to the party line.

Omar became the flash point after she suggested last week that Israel’s supporters are pushing US lawmakers to take a pledge of “allegiance to a foreign country.” It’s at least the third time she has forced older, pro-Israel Democrats who run the House into awkward territory over US-Israeli policy.

Republicans have been happy to stoke the furor, with President Donald Trump calling Omar’s remarks “a dark day for Israel” and posting a photo of himself in Jerusalem. Inside the Democratic family, meanwhile, leaders are in a bind, torn between a need to admonish Omar for her comments and their desire to defend one of the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress.

This time Omar is not apologizing. And this time pro-Israel Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi are not just warning her about the dangers of Jewish tropes. They’re expected to offer a resolution condemning anti-Semitism on the House floor.

“Accusations of dual loyalty generally have an insidious, bigoted history,” a draft of the resolution reads in part. “The House of Representatives acknowledges the dangerous consequences of perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes and rejects anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”

The text, which includes a history of bigotry against Muslims and blacks as well as Jews, sounds unobjectionable by itself. But the fact that senior Democrats felt obliged to put the House on-record on the topic points to a transformation in the country — mostly among Democrats — about supporting the Jewish state.

In a poll by the Pew Research Center in January of last year, 46 percent of Americans said they sympathized more with Israel and 16 percent with the Palestinians in their Middle East discord.

But Democrats are about evenly divided, with about a quarter sympathizing with each side and the rest saying they side with neither or don’t know — and in recent years they have become less likely to sympathize with Israel than they were in the past. Liberal Democrats were nearly twice as likely to say they sympathize more with the Palestinians (35 percent) than with Israel (19 percent). Older Americans were much more likely to say they sympathize with Israel than with the Palestinians, with more division among younger Americans.

Omar, a Somali-American, says that what she is questioning is the influence game in Washington and she worries that anything she says about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians will be construed as anti-Semitic.

“Being opposed to (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic,” she tweeted on Sunday. “I am grateful to the many Jewish allies who have spoken out and said the same.”

But Democrats in Congress remain largely supportive of Israel. Pelosi, for example, often attends the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, which is coming up later this month.

Omar on Tuesday got a boost from allies who point out that the congresswoman, too, has been the target of threats and bigotry.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested in a tweet that her fellow freshman was being treated unfairly.

“No one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities,” the New York Democrat wrote.

Jewish groups generally said they support the resolution — but. ...

“We are concerned that the timing of this resolution will be seen as singling out and focusing special condemnation on a Muslim woman of color as if her views and insensitive comments pose a greater threat than the torrent of hatred that the white nationalist right continues to level against Jews, Muslims, people of color and other vulnerable minority groups,” said J Street, a nonprofit that says it’s a home for “pro-Israel, pro-Peace Americans.” The Democrats’ strategy, the group added, “plays directly into the hands of the president and his allies, who act in bad faith to weaponize the debate for political gain.”

Back home in Minnesota, a collection of elected officials started a #StandWithIlhan hashtag with a statement that reads in part:

“We call on Democrats to stand with Ilhan against Republican efforts to pit Jews and Muslims against each other.”

But there also was talk of finding a candidate to challenge her in 2020.

“I firmly believe that her anti-Semitic expressions do not reflect the views of her district’s residents,” said state Sen. Ron Latz, who is Jewish, lives in her district and has been critical of Omar’s recent statements on Israel. “She is rapidly making herself a pariah in Congress, rather than an effective representative for her constituents,” he added — “exactly the kind of scenario that would open the door for a primary challenge.”

Senior Democrats were standing firmly against Omar’s comments, and not for the first time. Earlier this year, she apologized for a 2012 tweet in which she said Israel had “hypnotized” America. And last month, she apologized for suggesting that members of Congress support Israel because they are paid to do so.

That earned her stern rebukes from Pelosi and House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, among others. This time, Engel declared that Omar’s suggestion about divided loyalties was a “vile” stereotype that had no place on his committee. Republicans, meanwhile, demanded that Democrats throw Omar off Engel’s panel. There was no sign of that happening at midday Tuesday.

“I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee,” Omar tweeted.

Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell said Engel, while upset with Omar’s comments, “feels that she brings a different perspective to the committee” that keeps it strong.

Full report at:



Arab World


Prince Turki al-Faisal: US pullout from Syria will ‘create a vacuum’ for Iran

5 March 2019

In an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya English, Prince Turki al-Faisal, Chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, said that the US administration’s decision to pullout troops from Syria could increase Iranian presence in the region.

When asked about the imminent withdrawal of troops, Prince Turki responded that it could “create a vacuum that would be filled by Iranian troops and the Iranian militias.”

He advised the US to reconsider the decision.

“It’s a pity because they withdraw from that area and the next day the Iranians will be moving in. So how they can, on one hand, proclaim publicly that they want to want to get Iran out of Syria and, on the other hand, create a vacuum that would be filled by Iranian troops and the Iranian militias,” Prince Turki said as part of a wider interview with Al Arabiya English.

Referring to talks regarding Arab governments pushing for Syria to expel Iranian influence, Prince Turki said that governments should not trust the Assad regime to “give up the Iranian connection that he has.”

“Assad did not turn to his people in order to improve the livelihood and to meet their aspirations and their longing for a better life. On the contrary, he persecuted them, he killed them, he dislocated them, he threw them out of Syria and he turned to Iran in order to do that,” he told Al Arabiya English.

Responding to a question about Russia pressuring the Syrian government to cut ties with Iran as well, the Prince noted that it would be “delusional” to think that Russia could influence the Assad regime since Iranian presence in Syria has increased in the past three years rather than decreased.

He added that no Russian official has given any indication of attempts to pressure Assad to reduce Iranian influence.



Saudi Arabia to become ‘global player in education sector’

March 05, 2019

JEDDAH: A major initiative aimed at propelling Saudi Arabia to the top of the class for education provision has been launched in the Kingdom.

The two-day Global Educational Exhibition of Development and Support (GEDS), which kicked off on Monday at the Hilton Hotel in Jeddah, is the first event of its kind to be staged in the country.

And organizers hope the exhibition will provide the springboard for helping the Kingdom become a leading world player in the sector.

British, American, Lebanese and Emirati education specialists were among experts taking part in GEDS, which aims to throw the spotlight on the latest learning products, technologies and innovations in a bid to transform Saudi society.

With education a key plank of the Saudi National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020, the GEDS event played host to a range of education suppliers and service providers with a view to promoting investment opportunities in the Kingdom’s education sector.

GEDS’ executive manager, Eman Khankan, told Arab News that the exhibition presented an inspiring mix of content for teachers, students and businesspeople.

She said the event had attracted worldwide interest, with teaching experts volunteering to run workshops and give presentations as part of ambitious efforts to modernize the Saudi education system. 

CEO at publishing firm World Book Company (WBCO), Dr. Ahmad Al-Kubaisi, said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s focus on driving the sector forward via the country’s Vision 2030 reform plan was adding great value.

“The crown prince’s special care for education is giving a strong push to the educational sector, and this fills us with hope of becoming a global leader in the sector. The determined move has started, and a thousand miles begins with a step,” Al-Kubaisi told Arab News.

Medeni Menekse, sales director at McGraw-Hill Education, emphasized the need to modernize the public- and private-sector education systems by using the latest technologies such as digital learning, interactive communication, and virtual reality to hone student skills.

Zulfiqar Ali Mian, sales and marketing director at WBCO, said: “Saudi Arabia has the largest generation of young people. Investment today in the education sector, training and skills development, will be transformational for young people over the coming years and will contribute to achieving the national educational goals of Vision 2030.

“Increasing investment in young people is key to transforming any country in the world,” he added.

As well as workshops, more than 150 companies exhibited the latest innovations in education at the GEDS gathering.

Among these was “Administrative Development in Education in light of the requirements of the Saudi Vision 2030,” with researcher Moodhi Al-Hilfi delivering a presentation on possible solutions to dealing with a national deficit of teachers and stressing the important role of human resources.

She recommended separating non-educational services from school administration and introducing electronic management systems.

In January 2019, Saudi Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh stressed the importance of studying the current status of education and overcoming the challenges facing its development.

He gave education leaders 100 working days to come up with a practical plan to move the sector forward.

Full report at:



Saudi cabinet welcomes ‘constructive’ UK Hezbollah ban

March 05, 2019

RIYADH: The Saudi Cabinet on Tuesday lauded the British government’s move to classify the political wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

At its weekly meeting, chaired by King Salman, the Cabinet described the move to outlaw the Lebanese movement as an “important and constructive” step in the global fight against terrorism.

The Cabinet stressed it was now important that the international community followed suit in taking a firm and united stance towards terrorist militias that threatened the security and stability of the region.

Among other national and global issues discussed, the Cabinet reinstated its commitment to helping the people of Yemen by donating $500 million to co-finance the UN Humanitarian Response Plan for the war-torn country this year.

The funding is in addition to the “IMDAD” initiative announced earlier this year to support food security and nutrition in Yemen.

The Cabinet noted the Kingdom’s participation in the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, held in Geneva, and expressed its appreciation of the organization’s role in the promotion and protection of human rights around the world, which Saudi Arabia fully backed.

During the meeting, the Cabinet authorized the go-ahead for talks between Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) over the headquarters of the Unified Military Command for member states.

Full report at:



Yemen Destroys Saudi Ammunition Depot with Missile

Mar 05, 2019

According to the Yemeni media “Al-Masirah”, the Yemeni army and Ansarullah popular forces fired a Zelzal-1 missile at Saudi depot in Jizan late on Monday.

The Yemeni forces also took control of the Saudi position in Jabal al-Nar, Jizan.

During the operation a number of Saudi coalition forces were also killed.

Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan, launched a brutal war against Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to reinstall Yemen’s former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The aggression initially consisted of a bombing campaign but was later coupled with a naval blockade and the deployment of ground forces to Yemen. Around 20,000 people have died since the war began, says Yemen’s Health Ministry.

The Saudi-led war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories. The United Nations (UN) has said that a record 22.2 million Yemenis are in dire need of food, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger.

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

Full report at:



Saudi king, crown prince split over MbS’ recent moves: Report

Mar 6, 2019

Saudi King Salman is said to be outraged by the recent moves made by his son, Crown Prince Mohammed, the Guardian has reported, hinting at growing signs of a potentially destabilizing rift between the king and his heir.

In a Tuesday report, The Guardian quoted sources as saying that King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed are understood to have disagreed over a number of important policy issues in recent weeks, including the war in Yemen.

The rift is said to have been building since the brutal murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Arab kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, which was reportedly carried out at the order of Crown Prince Mohammed.

However, a source has told The Guardian that the tension between the king and the crown prince dramatically increased late February, when Salman, 83, visited Egypt and was warned by his advisers about the risk of a potential move against him.

His entourage was so alarmed at the possible threat to his authority that a new security team, comprised of more than 30 hand-picked loyalists from the interior ministry, was flown to Egypt to replace the existing team.

The move was made because “some of the original security staff might have been loyal to the prince”, the source said.

According to the source, the friction in the father-son relationship was underlined when the prince was not among those sent to welcome the king home.

When King Salman was in Egypt, Mohammed signed off two major personnel changes including the appointment of a female ambassador to the US for the first time, and that of his full brother Khalid bin Salman to the defense ministry.

The appointment of Khalid as the country’s defense chief has further centralized power in one branch of the ruling family.

The announcement was made without the knowledge of the king, who was especially angered by what he believed was a premature move to elevate Prince Khalid to a more senior role, the source said.

The Guardian has been told the king and his team learned about the reshuffle via television.

Prince Mohammed angered the Muslim world last month when he walked on top of the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, provoking complaints to the king by some religious scholars that the move had been inappropriate, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Full report at:



Saudi Arabia to be rebuked at UN rights council for first time

Mar 6, 2019

Saudi Arabia is to be censured for the first time at the UN Human Rights Council over its dark record of violating human rights, particularly for detention of women’s rights activists and the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

In a joint statement due to be read out on Thursday, European countries will urge Saudi Arabia to release detained activists and cooperate with a UN-led probe into the murder of Khashoggi.

This will be the first rebuke of the kingdom at the Human Rights Council, diplomats and campaigners said.

Iceland has led the initiative, winning support from European countries and possibly delegations from other regions for the criticism of Saudi Arabia, a member of the 47-nation forum, activists said.

"We believe that members of the Council have a particular responsibility to lead by example and put on the Council's agenda human rights issues that warrant our collective attention," an Icelandic diplomat told Reuters on Tuesday, adding rights in Saudi Arabia was one such instance and this view was shared by numerous countries.

Iceland was elected last year to take a seat on the council for the first time, replacing the United States which quit because of what it said was an anti-Israel bias.

In a statement welcoming what it said would be the first collective action at the council addressing human rights in Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch said rights council members should demand that Saudi Arabia cooperate with probes into Khashoggi’s murder, stop targeting activists, journalists and critics and release wrongfully detained people.

"No State is above the law," said John Fisher, the group's Geneva director.

The move comes amid growing concern about the fate of Saudi detainees, identified by watchdog groups as women's rights activists, after the public prosecutor was reported to be preparing their trials.

Back on Monday, the United Nations human rights experts voiced alarm at Saudi Arabia’s application of its so-called anti-terrorism laws to target activists.

The experts raised the warning during a panel event titled "Saudi Arabia - Time for Accountability,” held on the sidelines of a UN Human Rights Council gathering in Geneva.

They said those being targeted with the laws -- which the kingdom has redefined, notably expanding the remit of its security forces and judicial system -- included woman. The practice by the kingdom violated the international law guaranteeing freedom of speech, they added.

The kingdom has attracted international opprobrium for its intolerance of dissent. It has nabbed, detained, and reportedly tortured hundreds of dissenters, including civil rights activists, religious rights defenders, and dissident clerics.

Last year, it famously apprehended and incarcerated prominent female activists campaigning in favor of the Saudi women’s right to drive.

Saudis are also under fire for allegations of their role in the assassination of Washington-based journalist and critic of the Saudi government Khashoggi, which was "planned and perpetrated" by Saudi officials at its Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2.

Full report at:



Russian satellites find cemetery with 300 graves near Syria’s Rukban camp

Mar 5, 2019

Russia’s Defense Ministry says Russian satellites have found a cemetery with hundreds of graves near Rukban refugee camp in southern Syria, where US forces and their allied militants are preventing residents from leaving the site toward government-controlled areas.

“A fresh cemetery with 300 fresh graves has been uncovered on the southern side immediately outside the camp’s fence,” the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

The statement added that satellite data suggest that most structures in the Rukban camp are makeshift settlements and unfit for winter conditions.

It further noted that the images disclose that a part of refugees simply had to live under open shelters, and unsanitary conditions reign in the camp.

While garbage dumps are located close to housing tents, food storage and meal facilities are absent. Foodstuffs and other products are exchanged at makeshift mini-markets that are controlled by militants, the ministry highlighted.

It went on to say that Rukban camp is surrounded by a mound and a fence, beyond which US-backed militant groups do not let anyone out.

“Actually, Rukban camp has long lost its status and turned into a reservation area, where hostages are held forcibly,” Russia’s Defense Ministry pointed out.

“US forces prevent refugees from exiting the camp, while militants are forcibly holding them inside, demanding large sums of money in US dollars to let them out.

“At the same time, the UN data show that more than 35,000 Syrians want to return to the territory controlled by the Syrian government, including 28,000 to the province of Homs, 2,800 to the province of Dayr al-Zawr, 1,600 to the provinces of Rif Damashq and Hama and 1,200 to the province of Aleppo,” the ministry said.

On February 28, a Syrian official held US military forces and their allied militants responsible for the humanitarian crisis affecting thousands of internally displaced people at Rukban refugee camp.

“The responsibility for the humanitarian crisis of our people at al-Rukban camp falls solely on US occupation forces and their stooges, as they have been preventing civilians’ departure by means of force and threats. This is while safe corridors have been opened for those who are willing to leave the camp,” an unnamed official at the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates was quoted by official SANA news agency as saying on Thursday.

He stressed that the Damascus government is prepared to take responsibility for securing a safe and decent return of displaced people to their hometowns.

The UN says about 45,000 people, mostly women and children, are trapped inside Rukban, where conditions are desperate. This is while Geneva-based international aid agency Doctors Without Borders has put the number there at some 60,000.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on February 25 that US forces were unlawfully deployed to al-Tanf region in southern Syria, and were training terrorists, who carry out acts of terror across Syria and prevent the return of displaced people in Rukban to their hometowns.

Full report at:



Syrian army attacks Daesh targets in desert

March 05, 2019

BEIRUT: The Syrian military has mounted air strikes against Daesh militants and clashed with the militants in central Syria, the pro-Damascus Al-Watan newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The flare-up in the area of Al-Sukhna, between Palymra and Deir Ezzor, on Monday points to the foothold the ultra-hardline Islamist group still has west of the Euphrates even as US-backed fighters are poised to seize its last enclave east of the river.

The Syrian air force mounted “a number of air strikes targeting Daesh movements in the eastern Badiya, specifically on one of the dirt roads leading to the town of Al-Sukhna and southeast of the town,” Al-Watan said, citing a military source.

Daesh is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been laying siege to Daesh’s last enclave east of the Euphrates, the village of Baghouz, for several weeks.

Some 200 of the militants surrendered in Baghouz after a ferocious battle at the weekend, but around 1,000 may still be holding out, a spokesman for the US-backed Syrian force battling them said on Monday.

While the group’s defeat at Baghouz would mark a milestone in the fight against Daesh, the group is expected to remain an insurgent threat inside Syria and Iraq.

The Syrian army recaptured Sukhna from Daesh in 2017 as it pushed the militants back across central Syria in an advance along the crucial desert highway from Palmyra to Deir Ezzor.

Full report at:



Saudi Arabia pledges $500 million in support for UN humanitarian plan for Yemen 

March 05, 2019

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has pledged $500 million to finance the United Nations Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen, it was announced on Tuesday.

The announcement was made during a Saudi cabinet meeting headed by King Salman.

Following the meeting, Information Minister Turki Abdullah Al-Shabana said in a statement that the Kingdom's donation was in addition to the $500 million declared earlier this year for a food aid programme for Yemen called the 'Imdad' initiative.

The step, Al-Shabana said, symbolized Saudi Arabia’s commitment toward the people of Yemen and its efforts in seeking to support the humanitarian and economic aspects, which will reflect on Yemen’s security and stability. The Kingdom has contributed in supporting the brotherly people of Yemen in all fields, he said.

During the cabinet meeting, King Salman also went over his royal highness’ meeting with the Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, at Al-Yamamah palace in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Full report at:





Elections: Save your energy for Boko Haram, Wike tells security agencies

March 5, 2019

Cletus Ukpong

The governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, has advised security agencies to apply best practices while on election duty in the state.

“Security agencies, please perform your duties in line with the rules governing elections,” Mr Wike said on Monday during a town hall in Bori, Khana Local Government Area of the state. “Conserve your energy to fight Boko Haram and violent crimes.”

Mr Wike has been criticising security agencies in the state, accusing them of taking side against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the general elections.

His remarks at the town hall were posted on Twitter, through his account @GovWike.

“If they like, they should bring Police, Army and thugs from all over the world; we are quite confident that we shall smile on March 9, 2019. Come out and vote for people you can vouch for,” Governor Wike told the people who attended the town hall.

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“Just be vigilant and protect your votes. We have no security with us, but we have the ‘Chief Security Officer of the world’ on our side,” the governor said.

The governor blamed the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the election violence in the state.

“Where are the children of the APC leaders preaching violence in Rivers State. Nobody in Rivers State ran for the post of President and Vice President on February 23, 2019, yet the APC visited deaths on Rivers people.

“APC fought themselves and pushed themselves out of the race. Now, they want to kill everyone in the state. What is the offence of Rivers people, that we must all die because the APC excluded themselves from the ballot?” the governor said.

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APC reacts

The APC, in their response to Mr Wike’s remarks, said the governor should be held responsible for what was happening in the state.

“Wike is the merchant of violence,” the APC spokesperson in the state, Chris Finebone, told PREMIUM TIMES, Tuesday.

“Rivers State knew peace all through the time (Rotimi) Amaechi was governor. It was only when Wike came to power that all hell broke loose, and we have had this bad,” Mr Finebone said.

‘Cat and mouse game’

The relationship between the Rivers government and the security agencies have been on its lowest level since the inception of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government in 2015.

Rivers is under the control of the PDP, and Mr Wike, who is a critic of President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration, is one of the most influential leaders in the party.

The governor has often accused the police and the army in the state of planning to kill him. Both the police and the army has repeatedly denied such accusation.

The Nigerian army recently, in turn, accused Mr Wike of attempting to bribe a military chief, Jamil Sarham, a major general and the General Officer Commanding (GOC) the 6 Division of the Nigerian army, because of the 2019 general elections.

The Rivers government responded by saying the military was trying to divert attention from the “atrocities they are committing in Rivers because of the elections”.



Thousands on strike in Sudan calling for president to quit

March 05, 2019

KHARTOUM: A one-day strike shuttered businesses and emptied streets in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and other parts of the country on Tuesday, as pressure mounted on longtime autocratic President Omar Al-Bashir to step down following more than two months of deadly protests.

Initially sparked by rising prices and shortages, the unrest quickly turned to calls for Al-Bashir to resign after two decades in power. A heavy security crackdown has killed scores since the current wave of demonstrations began in December, the most serious protests against Al-Bashir.

Many students, doctors, markets, public transportation and other professionals took part in the strike Tuesday in support of Al-Bashir’s ouster, according to photos and videos provided by activists and posted by the Sudanese Professionals Association. The association is an umbrella group of independent professional unions that has been spearheading the recent wave of protests.

Sarah Abdel-Jaleel, a spokeswoman for the group, said in a video posted late Monday that the strike is part of their “peaceful resistance” against the government.

Media workers at the privately owned newspaper Al-Tayar joined the strike. “We’ve faced daily abuses since protests first broke out,” said Shamayel El-Nour, a journalist. “We cannot do our work. Security agencies censor and confiscate our newspaper and others.”

The opposition Sudanese Congress Party said its leader, Omer El-Digair, was released Monday after two months in detention. El-Digair tweeted Tuesday that he would “resume the path with our people ... to freedom. We will not come back halfway.”

The country’s intelligence and security officials, along with Al-Bashir, insist that the rallies are the work of what they describe as “evil” foreign powers, and have vowed to stop them.

Al-Bashir has banned unauthorized public gatherings and granted sweeping powers to the police since imposing a state of emergency last month, and security forces have used tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and batons against demonstrators.

Activists say at least 57 people have been killed in the current wave of protests, but the government total stands at 30, including police. The figures have not been updated in weeks.

Opposition leaders, doctors, journalists, lawyers and students have been arrested, along with some 800 protesters. Emergency laws and night-time curfews have been imposed in some cities.

Al-Bashir’s current term ends in 2020, and he would not be able to seek another term without amending the constitution.

Full report at:



ISIS-backed Boko Haram faction may have new chief


The leader of an Islamic State-backed faction of Boko Haram may have been replaced, sources say, against a backdrop of speculation as to his fate - and the group's future direction.

Three sources with deep knowledge of the group said they had been told in recent days that the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) had dropped Abu Mus'ab Al-Barnawi.

A previously unknown figure named Abu Abdullah Ibn Umar Albarnawi is said to have replaced Al-Barnawi, whose father Muhammad Yusuf founded Boko Haram in 2002.

The name Al-Barnawi or variations of it derive from Arabic words meaning "The man from Borno," a state in northeastern Nigeria.

"If the information turns out to be true, it will have far-reaching implications and raise a lot of questions, including the fate of Al-Barnawi," one of the sources told AFP.

"The big question is, where is Al-Barnawi? Is he alive or is he dead? Knowing how Boko Haram operates, it is unlikely for a leader to be deposed and allowed to move freely."

Under Al-Barnawi, ISWAP split from the faction led by longtime Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in mid-2016 in opposition to the latter's indiscriminate targeting of civilians.

Shekau had previously pledged allegiance to ISIS chief Abubakr al-Baghdadi in 2015 but IS recognised only Al-Barnawi as leader.

Al-Barnawi was considered only a figurehead, with the real power being held by his second-in-command, Mamman Nur.

Nur, who was the mastermind of the 2011 bombing of the UN headquarters in Abuja which killed 26, was assassinated by more radical ISWAP commanders in August 2018.

Since then, Al-Barnawi "has been living on the fringes, careful not to cross the path of the new leadership and earn their wrath", a second source said.

A third said any change in leadership, which has sparked online speculation among those tracking the conflict, could be considered a "formality".

"Al-Barnawi had long lost relevance in the group," he said.

Dead or alive?

Nur's demise followed a lull in ISWAP activity in northeast Nigeria and the abduction of more than 100 schoolgirls from the Yobe town of Dapchi in February 2018.

The more radical lieutenants accused him of helping himself to a ransom allegedly paid for the girls' release, robbing them of cash needed for operations.

Since July last year, ISWAP attacks on military bases and soldiers have increased, not only denting morale but also allowing the jihadists to restock vital arms and ammunition.

One of the most recent attacks came just hours before polling was due to begin in presidential elections on February 23, and saw rockets fired on the Borno state capital, Maiduguri.

Weapons experts have identified the rockets used as those seized from the Nigerian army in an attack on the Lake Chad town of Baga in December.

Whether Al-Barnawi has suffered the same fate as Nur is unclear but his absence would explain the more aggressive positioning of the group in recent months.

The three sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, suggested that his only guaranteed way out alive was to "abdicate".

But even that would be a risk for the new leadership, with the possible emergence of another splinter group of Al-Barnawi loyalists.

Unilateral decision?

The recognition of Al-Barnawi over Shekau was widely announced on ISIS-affiliated media outlets. But there has so far been no such announcement about the new leadership.

"The silence from ISIS suggests ISWAP took a unilateral decision to get rid of Al-Barnawi," said one of the sources.

"It is an indication that IS doesn't have the kind of tight control on ISWAP as many are suggesting, especially since the death of Mamman Nur."

In November, ISIS claimed to have killed 118 people in five attacks in Nigeria and Chad, making ISWAP its deadliest affiliate.

Analysts said the increasing number and intensity of attacks indicated a greater capacity and mobility, as well as possible wider support from jihadist groups in the Sahel region.

ISIS's silence on Nur's execution was a clear sign of its helplessness in reining in ISWAP, the second source said.

"IS needs ISWAP more than ISWAP needs them because of the defeat it has suffered in Syria and Iraq," he said.

Full report at:



Islamic State-backed Boko Haram faction may have new chief: Sources

Mar 06, 2019

Nigeria: The leader of an Islamic State-backed faction of Boko Haram may have been replaced, sources say, against a backdrop of speculation as to his fate -- and the group's future direction. Three sources with deep knowledge of the group said they had been told in recent days that the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) had dropped Abu Mus'ab Al-Barnawi.

A previously unknown figure named Abu Abdullah Ibn Umar Albarnawi is said to have replaced Al-Barnawi, whose father Muhammad Yusuf founded Boko Haram in 2002. The name Al-Barnawi or variations of it derive from Arabic words meaning "The man from Borno," a state in northeastern Nigeria.

"If the information turns out to be true, it will have far-reaching implications and raise a lot of questions, including the fate of Al-Barnawi," one of the sources told AFP.

"The big question is, where is Al-Barnawi? Is he alive or is he dead? Knowing how Boko Haram operates, it is unlikely for a leader to be deposed and allowed to move freely."

Under Al-Barnawi, ISWAP split from the faction led by longtime Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in mid-2016 in opposition to the latter's indiscriminate targeting of civilians.

Shekau had previously pledged allegiance to IS chief Abubakr al-Baghdadi in 2015 but IS recognised only Al-Barnawi as leader. Al-Barnawi was considered only a figurehead, with the real power being held by his second-in-command, Mamman Nur.

Nur, who was the mastermind of the 2011 bombing of the UN headquarters in Abuja which killed 26, was assassinated by more radical ISWAP commanders in August 2018. Since then, Al-Barnawi "has been living on the fringes, careful not to cross the path of the new leadership and earn their wrath", a second source said.

A third said any change in leadership, which has sparked online speculation among those tracking the conflict, could be considered a "formality". "Al-Barnawi had long lost relevance in the group," he said.

- Dead or alive? -

Nur's demise followed a lull in ISWAP activity in northeast Nigeria and the abduction of more than 100 schoolgirls from the Yobe town of Dapchi in February 2018. The more radical lieutenants accused him of helping himself to a ransom allegedly paid for the girls' release, robbing them of cash needed for operations.

Since July last year, ISWAP attacks on military bases and soldiers have increased, not only denting morale but also allowing the jihadists to restock vital arms and ammunition.

One of the most recent attacks came just hours before polling was due to begin in presidential elections on February 23, and saw rockets fired on the Borno state capital, Maiduguri.

Weapons experts have identified the rockets used as those seized from the Nigerian army in an attack on the Lake Chad town of Baga in December.

Whether Al-Barnawi has suffered the same fate as Nur is unclear but his absence would explain the more aggressive positioning of the group in recent months.

The three sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, suggested that his only guaranteed way out alive was to "abdicate". But even that would be a risk for the new leadership, with the possible emergence of another splinter group of Al-Barnawi loyalists.

- Unilateral decision? -

The recognition of Al-Barnawi over Shekau was widely announced on IS-affiliated media outlets. But there has so far been no such announcement about the new leadership. "The silence from IS suggests ISWAP took a unilateral decision to get rid of Al-Barnawi," said one of the sources.

"It is an indication that IS doesn't have the kind of tight control on ISWAP as many are suggesting, especially since the death of Mamman Nur." In November, IS claimed to have killed 118 people in five attacks in Nigeria and Chad, making ISWAP its deadliest affiliate.

Analysts said the increasing number and intensity of attacks indicated a greater capacity and mobility, as well as possible wider support from jihadist groups in the Sahel region.

IS's silence on Nur's execution was a clear sign of its helplessness in reining in ISWAP, the second source said. "IS needs ISWAP more than ISWAP needs them because of the defeat it has suffered in Syria and Iraq," he said.

Full report at:



Nigeria: Boko Haram Urged to Free Kidnapped Nurse

5 MARCH 2019

By Ahmed Obafemi

Maiduguri — The United Nations (UN) is pleading for the release of a female aid worker kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria a year ago.

Alice Lokshah, a nurse and mother, was among seven humanitarian officials and medical doctors the Islamist group killed or abducted in the northeastern city of Rann.

Three doctors were killed during the attack while three humanitarian workers were abducted and later executed by the terror group late last year.

The fate of Lokshah is unknown but hopes are that she is held captive.

"The UN calls for the immediate release of Alice, and for her safe return to her family," said Edward Kallon, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria.

Last Friday, the UN marked one year since the attack in Rann, a devastated town in the Borno State.

The attack on March 1, 2018 sent shock waves through the community of aid workers from the UN and non-governmental organisations.

"Any time violence claims an innocent life, it affects us all. That is a shock that strikes at the very core of our humanity," Kallon said.

Rann, which is 8 kilometres from the border with Cameroon, is among the worst affected by the Boko Haram crisis.

Some 40 000 were forced to flee their homes following recent deadly attacks in the city.

Full report at:




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