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US Authorises Commanders to Deal with Safe Havens in Pakistan: Report

New Age Islam News Bureau

1 Feb 2018 

Social media networks with their billions of users have made their way to the heart of political and ideological clashes, providing a deep-reaching platform that some leaders and regimes tend to use in a rather propagandistic manner.



 US Authorises Commanders to Deal with Safe Havens in Pakistan: Report

 UK Rights Activists Call For Saudi Prince's Arrest over 'Yemen War Crimes'

 Taliban Openly Active In 70 Percent of Afghanistan: Report

 Saudi Using Army of Online Trolls to Spew Hatred, Sectarianism against Iran

 "Good Muslims, Bad Muslims": Karnataka BJP Leader Triggers Controversy


North America

 US Authorises Commanders to Deal with Safe Havens in Pakistan: Report

 Ordering Guantánamo to Stay Open Is One Thing, but Refilling It Is Another

 US Taking Refined Approach to Muslim Brotherhood

 American ‘Islamic State fighter’ case challenges Trump

 US allows Syrians to stay for another 18 months

 US puts Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on terror blacklist

 US urges end to Qatar-Gulf row



 UK Rights Activists Call For Saudi Prince's Arrest over 'Yemen War Crimes'

 Italy Rejects Reports of 50 Islamic States Jihadists Entering Country

 'Brainwashed' Children Of Islamist Fighters Worry Germany - Spy Chief

 Interpol circulates list of suspected Isis fighters believed to be in Italy

 Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan taken into custody by French police

 Returning jihadists pose continuing threat to Australia

 US evidence on Iran missiles in Yemen inconclusive: Russia

 Polish Senate passes Holocaust bill slammed by Israel


South Asia

 Taliban Openly Active In 70 Percent of Afghanistan: Report

 Trump Calls Afghan Forces ‘Heroic Partners’ Of the US Military

 Petrol bomb thrown at Suu Kyi’s lakeside villa: Myanmar govt

 Five suspected JMB and Ansar al-Islam members held in Dhaka, Rajshahi

 AP confirms 5 previously unreported Myanmar mass graves

 Key local Taliban commander arrested in Nangarhar province


Arab World

 Saudi Using Army of Online Trolls to Spew Hatred, Sectarianism against Iran

 Terrorists Target Plane Carrying Syrian Delegation Returning from Sochi

 Turkish airstrikes kill 49 Kurdish militants in northern Iraq: army

 Saudi-led Arab coalition denies Houthis targeting Riyadh with ballistic missile

 Russia says hundreds killed in Turkish operation in Syria’s Afrin

 ISIS remains mortal threat to Middle East, Qatari envoy warns

 US Places Egyptian Terrorist Groups Hasm and Lewaa Al-Thawraa on Terror List

 Almost 30 Turkish Soldiers Killed in Clashes with Kurdish Fighters in Northern Syria

 Egyptian court sentences 16 over Church raid



 "Good Muslims, Bad Muslims": Karnataka BJP Leader Triggers Controversy

 Karnataka: BJP, RSS Supporters Try to March through Muslim Locality, 10 Injured

 Pakistan violates ceasefire in J&K’s Rajouri district, 71 schools closed

 Before Shopian, series of futile J&K pleas to prosecute Army men

 After Kabul attacks, Ashraf Ghani & PM Modi discuss terror sanctuaries

 Mehbooba Mufti denounces call for separate state for Muslims

 Terror funding case: Delhi court dismisses bail plea of Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Shah

 Officers like Bareilly DM are rare today, says Muslim cleric

 Kashmir holds massive funeral for Shia cleric



 Iran President: People Will Support the Islamic Republic

 Turkey Ramps up Syria Incursion despite Criticism

 US puts Hamas chief Haniya on terror blacklist

 Yemeni army declares north and east of Taiz ‘military zones’

 EU announces $53mn for Palestinians following US aid cut

 Hezbollah vows to defend Lebanon’s oil, gas against Israel

 9 Yemeni civilians killed, nearly dozen injured as Saudi jets hit Amran

 Clashes in Yemen's Aden leave 40,000 displaced without aid: UN


Southeast Asia

 Morality Push May Outlaw Sex Outside Marriage in Indonesia

 Malaysian Church Attacks Highlight Growth of Islamic Extremism

 As shadow falls on moon, Hindu temples fall silent

 Back off Indira’s ex or there may be violence, Muslim scholars tell police

 AirAsia limits Aceh flight attendants to men, Firefly mulls non-Muslim crew



 Educationists Underscore Significance Of Peace For Survival Of Humanity

 Only parliament can amend disqualification law: Aitzaz

 Islamabad pledges security cooperation to Kabul

 Pak, Afghan officials hold ‘useful talks’ after deadly Kabul attacks



 UNHCR Appeals for $157mn For Those Fleeing Boko Haram

 European ambassadors urge Sudan to free protesters

 UN launches appeal for over 200,000 displaced by Boko Haram

 Nigeria: Desperate Appeal for Funds for Boko Haram Victims

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




US authorises commanders to deal with safe havens in Pakistan: report

Feb 1, 2018

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration’s South Asia strategy provides US commanders in the region complete authority to ‘deal with terrorist safe havens in both Afghanistan and Pakistan’, according to a White House statement.

A local English daily reports that the United States (US) strategy announced by Trump last year highlighted the US conviction to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan and make them succumb to the Afghan government.

The Trump administration recently also increased drone strikes at the alleged terrorist safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with reports emerging that several ‘commanders’ of the dreaded Haqqani network also got killed in those attacks. But this is the first time that any US administration has ever spoken of authorising its field commanders to deal with the alleged safe havens inside Pakistan.

White House released a document on Tuesday night indicating that American commanders in the region also had the authority to deal with alleged terrorist safe havens inside Pakistan.

“President Trump’s conditions-based South Asia strategy provides commanders with the authority and resources needed to deny terrorists the safe haven they seek in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” it stated. “President Trump is making clear to our allies that they cannot be America’s friend while supporting or condoning terror.”

The White House also mentioned an executive order, issued earlier this month, to suspend security aid to Pakistan, saying: “The president has suspended security assistance to Pakistan, sending a long overdue message to aid recipients that we expect them to fully join us in combating terrorism.”



UK rights activists call for Saudi prince's arrest over 'Yemen war crimes'

Jan 31, 2018

Human rights activists in the United Kingdom have called on British authorities to issue a warrant for the arrest of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his imminent visit to the country for war crimes committed in Yemen.

Kim Sharif, the director of Human Rights for Yemen from London, submitted an application to Westminster Magistrates’ Court and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) to issue the arrest warrant as the crown prince is expected to visit Britain in the coming weeks.

Sharif said the documents submitted to the court contained evidence of war crimes, witness statements regarding instances of war crimes and reports from reputable NGOs that confirmed the commission of these crimes in the war-ravaged country.

“There is jurisdiction in the UK to try war criminals and there is no immunity for such crimes, irrespective of where they have been committed. Salman is ultimately responsible for these crimes and he must be arrested for war crimes during his anticipated visit to the UK soon,” Sharif said.

Opposing Bin Salman’s imminent visit to Britain, the director of Human Rights for Yemen said that “It would not be good for us, Britain… to be receiving brutal dictators such as this man.”

“We believe that Saudi forces are committing war crimes, and violating the Geneva Conventions and its Protocols with impunity,” Sharif noted. “If he wants to submit to the UK authorities to answer to war crimes, he is welcome.”

The legal challenge comes as a coalition of human rights groups, including the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Arab Organization for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR UK), have asked UK Prime Minister Theresa May to withdraw an invitation extended to the Saudi crown prince to visit the UK.

“Bin Salman is the second most senior member of the Saudi regime, which has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Torture, arbitrary detention, and other appalling abuses are widely documented,” the coalition said in a statement.

“It shames us as a nation to support and associate with a brutal dictator who uses hunger as a weapon, and has allowed the largest cholera epidemic in history to develop in Yemen,” it added.

May had invited the crown prince and Saudi King Salman in December to visit the UK in 2018 amid the international outcry over Riyadh’s ongoing war crimes in Yemen.

Britain is a major supporter of the Saudi war on Yemen and the May government has been under fire at home and abroad for refusing to suspend British arms sales to Saudi Arabia amid its ongoing war on the impoverished country.

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

More than 12,000 people have been killed since the onset of the campaign more than two and a half years ago. Much of the Arabian Peninsula country's infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and factories, has been reduced to rubble due to the war.

Moreover, Riyadh has imposed a tight blockade on nearly all Yemeni air, land and sea ports, prompting human rights and charity groups to raise the alarm over the deteriorating situation in the country as people, particularly children, are increasingly suffering from the lack of food and medical supplies.

The Saudi-led war has also triggered a deadly cholera epidemic across Yemen.

According to the World Health Organization’s latest count, the cholera outbreak has killed 2,167 people since the end of April and is suspected to have infected more than one million people.



Taliban openly active in 70 percent of Afghanistan: report

FEBRUARY 1, 2018

WASHINGTON: The Taliban are openly active in 70 percent of Afghanistan’s districts, fully controlling 4 percent of the country and demonstrating an open physical presence in another 66 percent, according to a BBC study published the

other day.

The BBC estimate, which it said was based on conversations with more than 1,200 individual sources in all districts of the South Asian country, was significantly higher than the most recent assessment by the NATO-led coalition.

The coalition said on Tuesday that the Taliban contested or controlled only 44 percent of Afghan districts as of October 2017.

Afghanistan has been reeling over the past nine days from a renewed spate of violence that is adding scrutiny to the latest, more aggressive US-backed strategy to bolster Afghan forces battling the Taliban in a 16-year-old war.

A bomb hidden in an ambulance struck the city centre and killed more than 100 people, just over a week after an attack on the Hotel Intercontinental, also in Kabul, which left more than 20 people dead, including four US citizens.

The BBC counted 399 districts in Afghanistan, but the NATO-led force counted 407. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear.

The BBC study said the Afghan government controlled 122 districts, or about 30 percent of the country. Still, it noted, that did not mean that they were free from Taliban attacks.

“Kabul and other major cities, for example, suffered major attacks – launched from adjacent areas, or by sleeper cells – during the research period, as well as before and after,” the report said.

Asked about the BBC’s study, the Pentagon did not comment directly, but pointed to the latest figures by the NATO-led coalition, asserting that about 56 percent of Afghanistan’s territory was under Afghan government control or influence.

Captain Thomas Gresback, a spokesman for the coalition in Kabul, said the BBC estimate overstated the militants’ “influence impact”.

“This is a criminal network, not a government in waiting,” Gresback said in an emailed statement.

“What really matters is not the number of districts held, but population controlled. RS assesses that around 12 percent of the population is actually under full Taliban control,” he said, referring to the Resolute Support mission.

The study by Britain’s public broadcaster quoted a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani playing down the findings. The BBC study also said Islamic State had a presence in 30 districts, but noted it did not fully control any of them.



Saudi using army of online trolls to spew hatred, sectarianism against Iran

Jan 31, 2018

Social media networks with their billions of users have made their way to the heart of political and ideological clashes, providing a deep-reaching platform that some leaders and regimes tend to use in a rather propagandistic manner.

Mix this desire with an unlimited amount of money and you will arrive at a dangerous concoction of technology and mind control techniques that will allow you to force your ideology upon people without really lifting a finger.

This is what Saudi Arabia has done in a never-ending push to forward its ideological agenda through spreading sectarian sentiments.

Marc Owen Jones, a Research Fellow at the Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University, has discovered hundreds of Twitter bots that the oil-rich Riyadh regime has been using to sway people's minds about the reality of regional crises in the Middle East region.

In an article on his personal blog, Jones argues that repressive regime like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have used social media to prevent the spread of uncensored information about themselves.

Warning of "industrial-scale propaganda" in the Persian Gulf region, the author says his investigations have revealed thousands of "fake" Twitter accounts used for the purpose of "polluting hashtags around the Persian Gulf with anti-Shia and anti-Iranian propaganda."

The accounts are all automated and "would, at certain times of the day, generate hundreds to thousands of tweets per hour, quickly flushing out legitimate tweets on various hashtags, including #Bahrain, #Yemen, #Saudi and others," writes Jones, who is also a researcher and director at Bahrain Watch NGO.

The suspicious accounts generated a whopping 10,000 tweets per day, promoting sectarian rhetoric aimed at spamming hashtags about unrest in Saudi Arabia's Shia-dominated region of Qatif, the Saudi-led war against Yemen, and Bahrain's crackdown on anti-regime protests.

An example: #Bahrain

Jones decided to put his findings to the test by analyzing thousands of tweets that contained the #Bahrain hashtag and were published on June 22, 2016, two days after prominent Shia cleric and opposition leader Sheikh Isa Qassim was arrested by Bahraini forces.

From the 10,000 #Bahrain tweets that Jones monitored during a 12-hour period on that day, around 51 percent were produced by Saudi-owned "bots or spammers with a sectarian, hate-inciting agenda."

Jones found out that the shady accounts had been used to tweet a total of four original tweets thousands of times.

"The relevant thing is that hundreds of what seems to be automated or spam Twitter accounts are repeating propaganda that conflates acts of violence, terrorism and unrest, with both Arab Shia and Iran," Jones writes.

"This strongly suggests that institutions, people or agencies with significant resources are deliberately creating divisive, anti-Shia sectarian propaganda and disseminating it in a robotic and voluminous fashion," he further argues.

Jones warns that the fake accounts not only create the impression that the Riyadh regime's policies are popular, they also drown out tweets that are legit and prevent them from being seen.

When Jones handed over the data to Twitter, the social networking company said it had identified and removed some 1,800 fake Saudi accounts and was expanding its probe.

However, Jones believes that much more needs to be done in order to stop the mind control tactic.

"Even with the greatest intention by social media companies, it remains a sad truism that the profound influence of certain agencies or states distorts the online public sphere by disproportionately allowing those with wealth and power to shape the nature of discourse available to other netizens," he concludes.



"Good Muslims, Bad Muslims": Karnataka BJP Leader Triggers Controversy

February 01, 2018

BENGALURU:  In the backdrop of the alleged political violence in Karnataka, where assembly elections will be held later this year, a senior BJP leader has triggered controversy. Party leader KS Eshwarappa has said Muslims who are with the Congress "are killers" while those linked with his party are "good Muslims" -- a remark that has been rubbished by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

The BJP has alleged that a number of its workers and those of its ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have been murdered in the run-up the elections, which will be held in April-May.

"Muslims who killed 22 RSS and BJP activists are with the Congress and those who are good Muslims are with the BJP," Mr Eshwarappa told reporters at Tumkuru on Monday. The 69-year-old was the Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka in 2012.

The BJP government, which came to power in 2008, was bogged down by repeated corruption allegations and its first Chief Minister, BS Yeddyurappa, had to step down. In a rare gesture, the party, which is trying to recapture power in Karnataka, has named Mr Yeddyurappa as its Chief Ministerial candidate ahead of the elections.

"He talks nonsense," said Mr Siddaramaiah, referring to the statement by Mr Eshwarappa. His party, which is hoping to win a second stint in power, has already accused the BJP of stirring up communal feelings in the state.

Congress lawmaker Rizwan Arshad said, "The BJP used to certify nationalism. Now they have moved a step forward by certifying the good and the bad Muslims. They are, in fact, trying to divert attention from the core issues".

The BJP has been accusing the Congress of encouraging the Popular Front of India and the Social Democratic Party of India of targeting activists of the Sangh Parivar in Karnataka.

"Elements of extremism are there in the BJP and the RSS. Whoever violates rules will be dealt with the law of the land," Mr Siddaramaiah said when asked if his government would ban the Muslim organisations like the Popular Front of India and its political arm, the Social Democratic Party of India.

State Congress leader Dinesh Gundu Rao had added to the controversy, saying, "Saffron party ran the risk of becoming a terrorist organisation", pushing the BJP to file a complaint with the police.

Last month, Union minister Anant Kumar Hegde, who is one of the key BJP leaders from the state, triggered controversy by saying the BJP will "soon change the Constitution" which mentions the word "secular". The party distanced itself from the comment, saying "was not on the same page with Hedge".

The Congress had asked for Mr Hegde's resignation. If a person doesn't believe in the Constitution, "he has no right" to be a member of parliament, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad had said.



North America


Ordering Guantánamo to Stay Open Is One Thing, but Refilling It Is Another


JAN. 31, 2018

WASHINGTON — When President Trump announced Tuesday in his State of the Union address that he had signed an executive order to keep the Guantánamo Bay wartime prison open, he ad-libbed a line that was not in his staff-vetted prepared remarks, declaring that “in many cases,” terrorism detainees who are captured in the future will now be sent there.

With that, Mr. Trump signaled that he still wants to fulfill a vow he made during the 2016 presidential campaign to fill the prison back up — even though he sent no new detainees there in his first year. But the problems with Guantánamo that so far have steered his administration to other options have not changed.

“This is much easier said than done,” said Robert M. Chesney, a University of Texas, Austin, law professor who worked on a detention policy task force at the Justice Department in 2009. “Nothing in the new executive order changes the various legal and policy obstacles that help explain why no one was brought there in 2017, despite his campaign pledge.”

Even if one rejects the Obama administration’s arguments that it is too expensive to imprison people at the American military base in Cuba and that it is a tainted symbol that fuels anti-Americanism, Guantánamo is unattractive because of three sets of practical problems, he said. They involve the Islamic State, transfers and the military commissions trial system.

Mr. Trump’s new order was largely symbolic, rescinding an already obsolete executive order that President Barack Obama signed in January 2009. In it, Mr. Obama had directed the prison shuttered within one year. His administration failed to achieve that goal, although it did winnow the number of detainees to 41 from 242.

Mr. Obama also refused to send any new detainees there. Mr. Trump’s order, by contrast, stated that the government may send new detainees to Guantánamo “when lawful and necessary to protect the nation,” which was already his administration’s policy, in theory. And if any new detainees are someday sent there, the order directs that they receive periodic reviews before a parole-like board established under Mr. Obama.

Finally, Mr. Trump directed Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, to consult his colleagues and then recommend a policy within 90 days about what to do with newly captured terrorism suspects — “including policies governing transfer of individuals” to Guantánamo.

Mr. Mattis has been reluctant to send new detainees to Guantánamo, seeing it as an unnecessary headache for the military, according to a person familiar with administration deliberations. By contrast, other officials — including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who, while a senator, regularly voiced support for using Guantánamo, and John F. Kelly, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, who formerly oversaw the prison as the leader of the Southern Command — are said to be more enthusiastic about trying to find a way to do so.

Mr. Trump had been on the verge of signing a version of the detention order in August when Mr. Kelly became his chief of staff. One of Mr. Kelly’s first acts was to send the draft back to national security departments and agencies for further work. The direction to Mr. Mattis to reconsider detention policy grew out of that move, as well as a push late last year by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

Mr. Graham is a longtime advocate of holding terrorism detainees in military custody. He was upset after the Trump administration used the civilian criminal justice system to handle two new terrorism suspects — an apparent Islamic State sympathizer who ran over people with a truck in New York, and a man suspected of participating in the 2012 attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, who was captured in that country.

Government lawyers had maintained that there was no clear legal authority to place either man in military custody because there was insufficient evidence that either was part of a group covered by Congress’s Authorization for Use of Military Force, or A.U.M.F., against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But Mr. Graham argued for a less restrictive interpretation that would permit such newly captured suspects to be held in military custody for a period of interrogation without defense lawyers. He met separately in December with Mr. Sessions, Mr. Mattis and Mr. Kelly to argue that the administration was keeping the Obama-era approach, which he saw as misguided, and was promised that the Trump team would start a policy review.

Mr. Graham is also said to have proposed one alternative procedure: using Guantánamo to hold new terrorism suspects when they are captured abroad, and using the military brig in Charleston, S.C., for future terrorism suspects arrested on domestic soil. It remains unclear what policy Mr. Mattis will recommend.

One problem with using Guantánamo is the legal risk that would be created by sending an Islamic State suspect there, as opposed to the Qaeda and Taliban suspects sent there years ago. It is contested whether the A.U.M.F. can be legitimately interpreted to cover the war against the Islamic State, as the government contends. Guantánamo detainees have the right to file habeas corpus lawsuits challenging their detention in court, so sending an Islamic State suspect there would give a judge an opportunity to rule against the government — jeopardizing the legal basis for the broader war effort.

In theory, Congress could solve that problem by specifically authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump appeared to throw his support behind that idea, saying, “I am also asking the Congress to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda, we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists — wherever we chase them down.” (It was then that Mr. Trump ad-libbed his line that many would now go to Guantánamo.)

But Congress has been debating since 2014 whether and how to enact an Islamic State-specific A.U.M.F. It has been paralyzed by a lack of consensus over whether to impose new limits on the war effort, like limiting its duration, geographic scope and extension to associated forces.

Another problem with using Guantánamo is that once a detainee touches the base, it becomes difficult to get rid of the detainee later. That is because Congress made it harder for Mr. Obama to close the prison by imposing legal restrictions on transferring detainees who have been held at that base — but not other ones — to other countries.

Finally, once a detainee has been held at Guantánamo, the transfer restrictions also forbid sending the detainee to the United States for a civilian trial. That eliminates a way to secure a sentence that would provide a legally stable justification to keep such a prisoner locked up for life — or a legal justification to execute him or her.

The alternative is to use the military commissions trial system at Guantánamo. But that system has floundered in practice, with contested cases bogging down in years of pretrial hearings. Mr. Trump acknowledged that problem in November, explaining why he had decided to keep the New York truck attack suspect in the civilian criminal justice system.

“Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantánamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, adding: “Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”



US Taking Refined Approach to Muslim Brotherhood

31 Jan 2018

A year ago it looked like Donald Trump was going to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Some of his closest advisers pushed for it. U.S. allies like Egypt quietly made the case too. Many Republicans in Congress also believed the movement that created political Islam should be treated like al Qaeda.

It didn't happen. Trump administration officials tell me the initial proposal last year to designate the entire Muslim Brotherhood, which includes chapters and offshoots in countries all over the world, stalled out. By the time the White House approved its national security strategy in December, it didn't even mention the Muslim Brotherhood by name.

Instead the Trump administration has settled on a more refined approach, seeking to designate violent chapters of the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, but not going after the entire organization. As the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told reporters in December: "We will be evaluating each organization on its own terms. The organization is not monolithic or homogenous."

In some ways this approach is not new. The Obama administration managed to reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after the Arab Spring in 2011, and nonetheless treat its Palestinian wing, Hamas, as terrorists. There are no plans for the Trump administration to attempt to find common ground with the Muslim Brotherhood, U.S. officials tell me. But the administration is getting more aggressive against the Brotherhood's violent affiliates.

On Wednesday, the U.S. ambassador for counterterrorism, Nathan Sales, gave some specifics on this new approach at the annual conference for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. To start he named Ismail Haniyeh, the chief of the Hamas politburo, as a specially designated global terrorist. That means his assets will be blacklisted from the global financial system. Hamas was first designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in 1997. But in Obama's second term, the pace of designations against Hamas slowed to a trickle.

Jonathan Schanzer, the senior vice president for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told me this week, "There was a reluctance in the last three years of the Obama administration to designate Hamas guys." Part of this is because of Israel. After the 2014 rocket war with Hamas in Gaza, Israel reached an understanding with two principal supporters of Hamas — Qatar and Turkey — to allow more approved goods into Gaza, loosening the blockade Israel imposed after 2007 when Hamas took over Gaza and ousted the Palestinian Authority. Schanzer told me that at the time, he had heard from his contacts at the Treasury Department that they did not want additional sanctions to undermine those nations' understanding with Israel.

"It's interesting that the U.S. is signaling it does not see a difference between the political leadership in Gaza, the politburo and the military leadership," Schanzer said. This approach is evident in the State Department's announcement of the new designation for Haniyeh. It says: "Haniyeh has reportedly been involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. Hamas has been responsible for an estimated 17 American lives killed in terrorist attacks."

Another reason the Haniyeh designation is important is because it signals the U.S. will not support efforts at a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the party of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. Trump has already threatened to cut off aid to the statelet Abbas runs, and Abbas responded in January with a deranged speech declaring the peace process a dead letter. Now Sales is making clear the U.S. will not encourage a Palestinian unity government either.

Sales also announced the designations of two relatively new organizations, Liwa al Thawra and Harakat Sawa’d Misr. The groups, formed in 2016 and 2015, are led by former members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Both groups have taken responsibility for acts of terror.

Operatives for Liwa al Thawra last year claimed responsibility for a bombing outside of an Egyptian police training facility. In 2016, the group was responsible for the assassination of Brigadier General Adel Ragai, who commanded the Egypt's Ninth Armored Division.

Harakat Sawa’d Misr also has a violent past. It attempted the assassination of Egypt’s former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, and killed Ibrahim Azzazy, an officer with Egypt's National Security Agency. In 2017, the group claimed responsibility for an attack on the Egyptian embassy in Myanmar.

Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has pressed the U.S. to designate the entire Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. He will likely view these designations as a half measure. But of course, Egypt's government, which has expanded its domestic crackdown well beyond the Muslim Brotherhood, does not dictate U.S. policy.

Full report at:



American ‘Islamic State fighter’ case challenges Trump

February 1, 2018

WASHINGTON, Feb 1 — The first and only US citizen caught on the battlefield allegedly fighting for the Islamic State is in a legal limbo, held in Iraq without rights as Washington grapples with his fate.

Identified in court papers as “John Doe,” the man has been held for nearly five months, the military allowing him access to legal advice only after being forced to do so by a federal judge in Washington DC.

He was born in the United States but also has Saudi nationality, and the government has maintained the right to transfer him to another country, presumably Saudi Arabia.

It would be one way — highly illegal according to rights lawyers — to handle a fundamental dilemma for President Donald Trump, a test case challenging his pledge to be tough on any captured Islamic State supporters and his commitment to US law.

Between 100 to 200 US nationals traveled to Syria and Iraq after 2010 to work and fight in their ranks, according to various estimates.

A handful are known killed, but the number isn’t clear: the US has not provided any data.

‘Enemy fighter’

John Doe is the only one known captured alive.

On September 14 the Pentagon confirmed that they were holding a US citizen who had been fighting for the Islamic State group and surrendered to the allied Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria days earlier.

He was moved to Iraq where he has been interrogated by military and FBI investigators.

US forces allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to meet him, but since then have fought to prevent him from gaining legal representation and a hearing in US courts.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit to get access to the prisoner. The government refused to provide any information about him — his name, age, or origins.

They termed him an enemy fighter and claimed he showed no desire for legal representation.

Hearings on his status between September and January were surreal: government lawyers argued he had never expressed the desire for legal representation, though they would not say if he had been asked; that the ACLU had no standing to represent him because they had not been requested; and that the ACLU could not represent the man because they did not know his identity.

In January the judge, Tanya Chutkan, rejected government arguments and ordered them to grant the ACLU access.

ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz said that since then they have had several video conferences, and are waiting for a full ruling on a habeas petition.

But meanwhile the government maintains it has an option to transfer him to another country, though never explaining why.

Fundamental rights

“He deserves the basic right of American citizens not to be rendered by their government to a foreign country in the dead of night without judicial review of the basis for their transfer,” Hafetz told AFP in an interview.

“They cannot lawlessly transfer an American citizen to another government potentially as a way of defeating the habeas petition.”

Hafetz said they now know his identity, but do not want to reveal it, since he has not been formally charged and the government has yet to provide any evidence that he had enlisted in the Islamic State cause.

“The label of enemy combatant is a terrible label, a stigmatizing label, and the government hasn’t made any case that he’s an enemy combatant.”

It’s not clear why the government refuses to hand him over to the US justice system, as other Americans accused of terror have been.

But analysts think the Trump administration wants to avoid the fundamental question of whether an American caught fighting for Islamic State has any rights.

They speculate Trump might want to send him to the Guantanamo prison for foreign “war on terror” detainees.

On Tuesday Trump reversed an order by his predecessor Barack Obama to shut down Guantanamo, which still has 41 inmates.

Asked what their stance is, the Justice Department declined to answer.

Full report at:



US allows Syrians to stay for another 18 months

1 February 2018

The Trump administration said on Wednesday it would allow some 7,000 Syrians to remain in the United States for at least another 18 months under protected status as civil war rages in their native country.

The decision was a relief for the Syrians who would have faced the prospect of returning to a fractured country racked with violence if the administration had rescinded their temporary protected status (TPS) when it ran out in March.

Instead, they are allowed to stay through September 30, 2019.

“After carefully considering conditions on the ground, I have determined that it is necessary to extend the Temporary Protected Status designation for Syria,” said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a statement.

“It is clear that the conditions upon which Syria’s designation was based continue to exist, therefore an extension is warranted under the statute,” she added.

The administration stopped short of re-designating Syria’s status, which means that it will continue to benefit only Syrians who have been in the United States since 2016 or earlier.

Full report at:



US puts Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on terror blacklist

Jan 31, 2018

The United States has put the leader of the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, on its so-called terror blacklist and imposed sanctions on him, raising tensions in the region following Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel's capital.

The US State Department said in a statement on Wednesday that Ismail Haniyeh has close links with Hamas' military wing and has been a proponent of armed resistance against Israel.

"He has reportedly been involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. Hamas has been responsible for an estimated 17 American lives killed in terrorist attacks," the statement said, without providing any evidence to back the claims.

"These designations target key terrorist groups and leaders -- including two sponsored and directed by Iran -- who are threatening the stability of the Middle East, undermining the peace process, and attacking our allies Egypt and Israel," the State Department quoted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as saying in a statement.

Haniyeh was also placed on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions blacklist, which freezes US-based assets if he holds any and bans American firms and individuals from doing business with him.

Nothing deters Hamas resistance against Israel

The Palestinian movement Hamas said the US move to place Haniyeh on the terror list will not deter its resistance against Israel.

"This Zionist policy supported by the US cannot be confronted unless we ignite a new intifada (uprising)," a Hamas spokesman said.

“We reject and condemn the decision and we see it as a reflection of the domination by a gang of Zionists of the American decision,” the spokesman added. “The decision is worthless."

The US move comes as tension is already high in the occupied Palestinian territories following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem al-Quds as the capital of Israel and his plan to relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the holy city.

Trump's al-Quds shift was a break from decades of US policy that left the occupied city’s status to be decided in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Full report at:



US urges end to Qatar-Gulf row

31 January 2018

The Secretaries of Defense and State urged an end to the ongoing row between Qatar and four of its neighbors Tuesday, saying the Gulf crisis has not only hurt the countries directly involved but Washington as well.

"This dispute has had direct negative consequences economically and militarily for those involved, as well as the United States," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the inaugural round of the U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue in Washington.

"It is critical that all parties minimize rhetoric, exercise restraint to avoid further escalation, and work toward a resolution. A united GCC bolsters our effectiveness on many fronts, particularly on counter terror – countering terrorism, defeating [Daesh], and countering the spread of Iran’s malign influence," he added, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Tillerson was speaking alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis and their Qatari counterparts.

Qatar has been at odds with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since June, with the bloc accusing Doha of supporting terrorism and severing ties with the country. Qatar has adamantly denied the allegations.

The crisis is unprecedented in inter-Arab relations and has resulted in the four countries imposing a land, sea and air blockade on Qatar.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani thanked the U.S. for "taking a just position on the illegal activities of the blockading states throughout this Gulf crisis".

"The state of Qatar and its people have been illegally and unjustifiably blockaded. This blockade disrupts the joint efforts in providing stability for the region," al-Thani said. "Qatar and the U.S. are committed to delivering justice to our citizens."

The defense and foreign affairs meeting occurred one day after Qatar agreed to expand al-Udeid Air Base, which houses the U.S.'s Combined Air Operations Center, the United States Air Force Central Command Forward Headquarters and Central Command’s Forward Headquarters.

Roughly 10,000 U.S. service members are stationed at the air base.

"A united Gulf Cooperation Council bolsters our effectiveness on many fronts, particularly on countering terrorism, defeating ISIS/Daesh, and countering the spread of Iran’s malign influence," Mattis said.

Full report at:





Italy rejects reports of 50 Islamic States jihadists entering country

February 1, 2018

Italy’s Interior Ministry on Wednesday rejected a report that 50 Tunisian fighters from the Islamic State jihadist group may have entered the country aboard migrant ships, saying there was “no evidence” for such claims.

“There is no evidence that 50 ISIS fighters have come to Italy on board migrant ships as reported by Interpol,” the ministry’s Public Security Department said in a statement.

“Constant and deep” collaboration between Italy and Tunisia had enabled Italian police to identify “a tiny number of people” flagged by Tunis authorities, and they had already been deported, the statement said.

The department stated that Italy pays “maximum attention towards all those who arrive illegally on national territory”.

“The immediate expulsion of certain suspects provides incontrovertible proof of this,” it added. A total 243 alleged extremists have been expelled from Italy since 2015, according to the Interior Ministry.

The Tunisians on the Interpol list are believed to have arrived in Sicily between July and October last year on fishing boats or small vessels that were then abandoned on the beach, Britain’s Guardian newspaper quoted a European counterterrorism officer as saying.

The migrants reportedly disappear into the countryside, a few miles from the coast, avoiding the Italian Coast Guard and police controls. Around 3,000 Tunisians are believed to have secretly landed in southern Sicily since last July of whom only 400 were stopped and identified by police, the Guardian said.

Many Tunisians who arrive in Italy are categorised as economic migrants and are issued with orders to leave the country within seven days, but often authorities lose track of them.

The Interpol list was sent on November 29 to the Italy’s interior ministry which distributed it to national anti-terrorism agencies across Europe, according to the Guardian report.

Interpol believes the suspects may be attempting to reach other European countries, the Guardian said.

Around 5,500 Tunisians were believed to have travelled to IS territory in Syria and Iraq to fight for the terror group, according to UN estimates.



'Brainwashed' Children Of Islamist Fighters Worry Germany - Spy Chief

Feb 01 2018

BERLIN - Germany’s domestic intelligence chief wants the government to review laws restricting the surveillance of minors to guard against the children of Islamist fighters returning to the country as “sleeper agents” who could carry out attacks.

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the BfV agency, told Reuters that security officials were preparing for the return of Islamic State fighters to Germany along with potentially “brainwashed” children, although no big wave appeared imminent.

Nearly 1,000 people are believed to have left Germany to join up with the Islamist militants. As the group’s presence in the Middle East crumbles, some are returning with family members.

Only a small number of the 290 toddlers and children who left Germany or were born in Syria and Iraq had returned thus far, Maassen said. Many were likely to still be in the region, or perhaps moving to areas such as Afghanistan, where Islamic State remains strong.

He said Germany should review laws restricting surveillance of minors under the age of 14 to prepare for the increased risk of attacks by children as young as nine who grew up in Islamic State schools.

“We see that children who grew up with Islamic State were brainwashed in the schools and the kindergartens of the IS,” he said. “They were confronted early with the IS ideology ... learned to fight, and were in some cases forced to participate in the abuse of prisoners, or even the killing of prisoners.”

He said security officials believed such children could later carry out violent attacks in Germany.

“We have to consider that these children could be living time bombs,” he said. “There is a danger that these children come back brainwashed with a mission to carry out attacks.”

Maassen’s comments were the first specific estimate of the number of children affected, following his initial warning in October that such children could pose a threat after being indoctrinated in battlefield areas.

The radicalisation of minors has been a big topic in Germany given that three of five Islamist attacks in Germany in 2016 were carried out by minors, and a 12-year-old boy was also detained after trying to bomb a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen.

The German government says it has evidence that more than 960 people left Germany for Iraq and Syria through November 2017 to fight for the Islamic State jihadist group, of which about a third are believed to have returned to Germany. Another 150 likely died in combat, according to government data.

Maassen said Islamic State also continued to target vulnerable youths in Germany through the Internet and social media, often providing slick advertising or age-appropriate propaganda to recruit them to join the jihadist group.

Full report at:



Interpol circulates list of suspected Isis fighters believed to be in Italy

31 Jan 2018

Interpol has circulated a list of 50 suspected Islamic State fighters who it believes have recently landed in Italy by boat, and may be attempting to reach other European countries.

The list, obtained by the Guardian, was drafted by the general secretariat of the international police organisation. It was sent on 29 November to the Italian interior ministry, which subsequently distributed it to national anti-terrorism agencies across Europe.

The suspects listed are all Tunisian nationals, some of whom were identified by officials when they landed in Italy. The document shows their first names, surnames and dates of births.

Around 5,500 Tunisians were believed to have travelled to Isis territory in Syria and Iraq to fight for the terror group, according to UN estimates – more than any other country. Now, after the collapse of its “caliphate,” governments have expressed concern that former fighters may try to mount attacks in Europe.

Four of the suspected Isis fighters on the Interpol list are already known to European intelligence agencies. One of them “may have already crossed the Italian-French border, to reach Gard, a department in southern France, in the Occitanie region,” the agency says.

“According to the information obtained in the field of international cooperation, the Tunisian citizens are linked to Isis/Daesh and would have reached Europe aboard unidentified boats,” it added.

Last July, the Guardian obtained an Interpol list of 173 suspected Islamic State fighters, which the agency said could have been trained to mount attacks in Europe, as revenge for the group’s military defeats in the Middle East.

“Interpol regularly sends alerts and updates to its national central bureaux (NCB) on wanted terrorists and criminals via the agency’s secure global police communications network,” a spokesman for Interpol told the Guardian at the time.

A European counter-terrorism officer told the Guardian that the Tunisians on the most recent list are believed to have arrived in Sicily between July and October 2017 on fishing boats or small vessels that were then abandoned on the beach.

Torre Salsa beach in Agrigento has recently become one of the most popular landing points for Tunisian migrants attempting to reach Europe. Most depart from Ben Guerdane, a Tunisian city on the border with Libya, where Isis clashed with the Tunisian army in 2016, killing at least 28 people.

Tunisians, many of who are economic migrants, are packed on the small boats and mainly disembark on the beach at night, 20 or 30 at a time. The groups disappear into the countryside, a few miles from the coast, avoiding the Italian coastguard and police controls.

Local authorities call these arrivals “ghost landings” and believe more than 3,000 Tunisians have secretly landed on the coast of Agrigento since July. Of these, the police managed to block and identify only 400 people.

Luigi Patronaggio, Agrigento’s chief prosecutor, said “investigators cannot exclude that, behind these ghost journeys, they may be jihadi loyalists hidden amongst the people travelling into Sicily”.

Since October, the Italian government has been implementing a counter-terrorism strategy, using naval patrols to prevent the “ghost landings’’ along the Sicilian coast.

“We do not know what they were doing before they got here, we do not really know who they are and where they were before they arrived in Sicily,” Salvatore Vella, a prosecutor in Agrigento, and head of investigations, told the Guardian. “Certainly there are those who do not want to be identified. They do not want their prints to be recorded ... For this reason, if you are terrorist, illegally landing in Agrigento is the safest way to get to Europe.”

Vella says the boats that arrive from Tunisia are very different to the vessels used by Libyan people smugglers. “The boats they travel with have nothing to do with the crumbling migrant boats coming from Libya,” he said. “The Tunisians arrive with excellent boats, sturdy and sailed by experts who know the sea well.”

The Italian interior ministry, which customarily does not comment on leaked documents, said in a statement it was not aware of an Interpol list of 50 suspected Isis fighters. “A few numbers of suspected Tunisian terrorists have been identified and sent back with the help of the Tunisian government,” it added. The interior minister, Andrea Minniti, said in October that fighters were likely to have come to Italy on boats.

According to data from Italy’s interior ministry, over 5,500 Tunisians arrived and were identified in Italy in 2017. The country has repatriated 2,193 of those people, via twice-weekly flights from Palermo.

Many Tunisian arrivals are categorised by Italian authorities as economic migrants and are are forced, at least on paper, to leave the country within seven days.

Every year, Italy spends about 3.5m euros on repatriations to Tunisia, but authorities struggle to send arrivals home within seven days. As a result, many stay in repatriation centres for months, and often flee north.

In December 2016, 24-year-old Tunisian Anis Amri killed 12 people and injured 56 more when he drove a lorry into the crowds at a Christmas market in Berlin. Five years earlier Amri had paid for an illegal boat journey to Europe, arriving first on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Full report at:



Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan taken into custody by French police

31 Jan 2018

The prominent Swiss academic Tariq Ramadan, a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at the University of Oxford, has been taken into custody by French police following accusations of rape.

A judicial source confirmed to Reuters that Ramadan was taken into custody on Wednesday. A preliminary investigation was opened after two women filed police complaints against him late last year, accusing him of rape.

Ramadan, a senior research fellow of St Antony’s College, took a leave of absence from the university last November after the two women filed complaints. He has denied the allegations and filed a complaint for slander against the author Henda Ayari, one of his accusers.

In October, Ayari, 40, who heads the women’s organisation Les Libératrices, filed a complaint with prosecutors in Rouen, France, alleging rape, sexual violence, harassment and intimidation by Ramadan. She said she was assaulted by him in a Paris hotel room in 2012.

Ayari said she had described the rape in a chapter of her book, I Chose to be Free, published in France in November 2016, giving her attacker a made-up name. In the book, Ayari describes a sex attack by an intellectual in a Paris hotel room after a conference, saying she fought back but was insulted, slapped and treated violently.

In the wake of the sexual assault and harassment scandal involving the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Ayari said she decided to name Ramadan and made a formal complaint to police.

Later, a second woman reported Ramadan to police, alleging that he had raped and violently assaulted her in a hotel room in the French city of Lyon in 2009.

The 55-year-old Swiss-born academic made his name as an author and commentator on modern Islam, as well as advising successive British governments on Islam and society. A well-known figure in the Middle East, he is the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt, Hassan al-Banna.

Full report at:



Returning jihadists pose continuing threat to Australia

February 1, 2018

One of the government’s great successes has been border protection policy. Given the scale of the people-smuggling under the former Labor government, not even the original architects of border protection, John Howard and Philip Ruddock, thought it could be done. But very quickly we stopped the illegal boats that brought 50,000 uninvited people to our country and led to more than 1000 deaths at sea. And the boats have stayed away thanks to the continued good work led by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

An even stickier problem than stopping the boats is stopping the jihadi fighters. It’s one thing to stop foreigners who’ve first flown to Indonesia and have no entitlement whatsoever to come to Australia. It’s another to stop Australian citizens from returning home even though they’ve taken up arms against Australian forces, fought against our way of life and may subsequently prove a deadly menace to their fellow Australians. Yet it is absolutely necessary to keep our people safe, and that means keeping off our streets anyone who regards themselves as at war with Australia.

Late last year, ASIO boss Duncan Lewis told a Senate committee that about 85 Australians had been killed while fighting as terrorists in Syria and Iraq, and 40 Australian foreign fighters had already returned. But about 110 Australians were still in the war zone. Most of the returnees, he stressed, had come back before the declaration of the Islamic State caliphate and were not now considered threats to security. And “every returnee” he said, would be closely scrutinised for prosecution and prison or “some form of diversionary program depending on the circumstance of the individual”.

At one level, this is very reassuring. But for it to succeed our intelligence about Australian jihadis needs to be accurate, our airport security has to be foolproof, our courts need to convict all the dangerous ones, and the “infidels don’t really deserve to die” re-education has to work. It’s a lot to ask.

And keeping in jail people who think they have a religious duty to kill any or all of their unbelieving fellow Australians is very costly, especially if they have to be segregated from susceptible prisoners to stop our prisons from becoming jihadi enlistment centres.

No one should assume that the fall of the caliphate has disillusioned its followers about militant Islam. Some years back, about 25 Australians went to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban; and 19 of them were subsequently involved in terrorist plots after their return. Eleven of the 17 Bali nightclub terrorists had previously trained with the by then deposed Taliban and its allies.

Even though the current conflict in the Middle East seems to be winding down, its “soldiers” are unlikely to abandon allegiances anytime soon and, back here, would swell the potential pool of trained, battle-hardened jihadi warriors to an unprecedented size.

Almost on taking office, the Abbott government was focused on counter-terrorism, but dramatically ramped up its efforts after the caliphate urged attacks on Australians in mid-2014. In my time as prime minister, we established counter-terrorism teams at international airports, started to introduce biometric screening for travellers, boosted AFP and ASIO resources and personnel, made it easier to prosecute and convict potential terrorists, stripped welfare payments from security threats, and — importantly — legislated to strip terrorists who were dual nationals of their Australian citizenship because we didn’t want them back in the country they had betrayed. This is not controversial now; but it was at the time, even inside the cabinet.

As I said back then, “we’re trying to prevent people from leaving our country to become terrorists; we’re trying to prevent hardened terrorists from coming back; and we’re striving to lock up any that we can’t keep out”. But here’s the point: given the way Australian courts work, there’s no way all of them will be locked up; so now that they can be expected to return, we need better ways to keep them out. As I said in June 2015, “fighting with a terrorist group at war with Australia is the modern form of treason — and those who have left our country to fight against us may require a modern form of banishment”.

This is what now needs to be put in place: a way to stop terrorists returning even though they are solely Australian citizens with a normal right to be here. And there is a readily available overseas precedent.

Since early 2015, the British government has been able to make court-supervised “temporary exclusion orders” against sole-citizens who have left the country to fight with terrorists and would pose a menace to the public if they returned.

Last year the Home Secretary said that these TEOs had started to be used against some of the 1000 UK nationals thought to have been fighting for the caliphate. It’s time that the Australian government had the same power.

Not even the most diligent government with the best possible security services can guarantee preventing all acts of terrorism. So far our police have been highly professional and luck has mostly eluded our local would-be terrorists; but we can’t count on always being lucky.

Inevitably, the government will be held to account if and when there is a big terrorist atrocity here — and blame would be justified if there were any reasonable precautions that the government had failed to take.

Full report at:



US evidence on Iran missiles in Yemen inconclusive: Russia

Jan 31, 2018

Russia says evidence presented by the United States alleging that Iran had supplied missiles to Yemen's Houthi fighters is not conclusive, stressing there is no case for any UN action against Tehran.

After traveling to Washington to view pieces of weapons that Washington claims Tehran gave to Houthi fighters, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters on Wednesday that "Iran is vehemently denying it is supplying anything to Yemen."

“We only heard some vague talk about some action,” Nebenzia said. “If there is something (proposed), we will see. How can we pass judgment prematurely before we know what it is about?”

The Russian envoy said Yemen hosted a pile of weapons from the old days, “so I cannot give you anything conclusive."

Asked whether there was a case against Iran at the UN, Nebenzia answered: “No.”

Nebenzia along with other UN Security Council ambassadors paid a visit to Washington this week to inspect debris purportedly from a Yemeni missile that reached deep inside Saudi territory last year, with the US claiming that it was supplied by Iran.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley last month presented the remnants of an alleged Iranian-made ballistic missile fired from Yemen in November at King Khalid International Airport near the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Haley said remnants of the missile proved that Iran was violating international law by giving missiles to the Houthi Ansarullah movement.

The Houthis have been fighting back a Saudi-led aggression with allied Yemeni army troops and tribal fighters.

Iran’s UN mission has rejected the US claim as “unfounded,” saying the accusation seeks to “cover up for the Saudi war crimes in Yemen, with the US complicity, and divert international and regional attention from the stalemate war of aggression against the Yemenis.”

Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami has also dismissed the US claim as a “ridiculous charade,” while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said the allegation is aimed at covering up Washington’s “highly dangerous moves” in the region.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has for months been lobbying for Iran to be held accountable at the UN, saying Washington will seek action at the Security Council against Iran.

Saudi Arabia and its allies launched the war on Yemen in March 2015 in a bid to crush the Houthi movement and reinstate the former Riyadh-friendly regime, but they have achieved neither of their goals.

The Saudi-led war, which has been accompanied by a naval and aerial blockade on Yemen, has so far killed over 13,600 people and led to a humanitarian crisis as well as a deadly cholera outbreak.

The US has been one of the main suppliers of arms to the US-led coalition pounding Yemen.

Full report at:



Polish Senate passes Holocaust bill slammed by Israel

1 February 2018

Poland’s senate on Thursday passed a controversial Holocaust bill, which was designed to defend the country’s image abroad but has instead sparked a diplomatic row with Israel.

The bill, which sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish or accuses Poland of complicity in the Third Reich’s crimes, was approved by 57 votes to 23 in the upper house of parliament, with two abstentions.

Israel had earlier called for the bill to be dropped, seeing one of its provisions as an attempt to deny Polish involvement in Nazi Germany’s extermination of Jews. “We have no tolerance for the distortion of the truth and rewriting history or denying the Holocaust,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.

The lower house of parliament, which like the senate is controlled by the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, had passed the bill on Friday -- triggering the protest from abroad.

Knesset lawmakers penned a proposed bill of their own Wednesday amending Israel’s law regarding Holocaust denial, so that diminishing or denying the role of those who aided the Nazis in crimes against Jews would be punishable with jail.

Before the vote on the Polish bill, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed “concern” that “if enacted this draft legislation could undermine free speech and academic discourse”.

“We are also concerned about the repercussions this draft legislation... could have on Poland’s strategic interests and relationships -- including with the United States and Israel,” she added.

‘Right to defend’

To take effect, the legislation still needs to be signed by Polish President Andrzej Duda, who has 21 days to do so. In theory he could veto the bill but on Monday he said: “We absolutely can’t back down, we have the right to defend the historical truth.” He added that he was “flabbergasted” by Israel’s “violent and very unfavorable reaction”. Poland was attacked and occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II, losing six million of its citizens including three million Jews.

Muslim World League: Holocaust is a crime that no one can deny or undermine

Helping Jews, even offering them a glass of water, was punishable by death in occupied Poland. More than 6,700 Poles -- outnumbering any other nationality -- have been honored as “Righteous Among the Nations”, a title given to non-Jews who stood up to the Nazis, by Jerusalem’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.

Yad Vashem said it opposes the Polish bill, as it “is liable to blur the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust”.

Full report at:



South Asia


Trump calls Afghan forces ‘heroic partners’ of the US military

Feb 01 2018

The US President Donald Trump called the Afghan national defense and security forces the ‘heroic partners’ of the US military as he insisted on relentless fight against terrorism in his State of the Union address.

President Trump said he has signed an order directing the Defense Secretary to reexamine the military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay.

“I am asking Congress to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda, we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists, wherever we chase them down, wherever we find them. And in many cases, for them, it will now be Guantanamo Bay,” he said.

He also added “At the same time, as of a few months ago, our warriors in Afghanistan have new rules of engagement.”

“Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans,” President Trump added.

This comes as President Trump on Monday said the US government is not ready and does not want to talk with the Taliban after a series of deadly attacks left scores of people dead.

Condemning the recent Taliban attacks in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan, President Trump said “When we see what they’re doing and the atrocities that they’re committing, and killing their own people, and those people are women and children — many, many women and children that are totally innocent — it is horrible.”

“So there’s no talking to the Taliban.  We don’t want to talk to the Taliban.  We’re going to finish what we have to finish.  What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” he said.



Petrol bomb thrown at Suu Kyi’s lakeside villa: Myanmar govt

1 February 2018

YANGON: A petrol bomb was thrown at the lakeside Yangon compound of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday while she was away from her home, a government spokesman said.

“It was a petrol bomb,” spokesman Zaw Htay confirmed to AFP, without giving further details on a possible motive for a small but rare attack targeting the Myanmar democracy heroine.

The petrol bomb caused minor damage. But the attack on the villa where Suu Kyi was held for long years of house arrest by the former junta is hugely symbolic.

Suu Kyi has increasingly attracted the ire of the international community over her perceived failure to speak up on behalf of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim community.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled a brutal military crackdown in northern Rakhine state into refugee camps in Bangladesh since August, bringing with them testimony of murder, rape and arson.

But inside Myanmar Suu Kyi, who swept elections in 2015, is still widely regarded as a heroine by the majority-Buddhist population, who fondly dub her “The Lady.”

Many inside Myanmar regard the Rohingya as illegal “Bengali” immigrants.

Full report at:



Five suspected JMB and Ansar al-Islam members held in Dhaka, Rajshahi

January 31, 2018

Ismail is an accused in a case filed with Dhaka Railway police station

Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has arrested five suspected militants from Ansar al-Islam’s Askari faction and Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) from Rajshahi and Dhaka.

Ismail Hossain, a trainer of militant outfit Ansar al-Islam, was arrested on Wednesday morning. He is the accused in a case filed with Dhaka Railway police station.

Confirming the matter, RAB 10 Additional Superintendent of Police (SP) Mohiuddin Faruki said: “Acting on a tip-off, a RAB team followed Ismail from Narayanganj to Gandaria rail station. Later, we detained him and confiscated some jihadi books and training manuals from his possession.”

Meanwhile, RAB-1 official Senior ASP Samira Sultana said they conducted a drive in the Kawla area of Dhaka after receiving a tip-off that a group was gathering there to plan subversive activities.

Although some managed to flee the scene, Nur Islam alias Arman and Iqbal Hossain were detained from the location, with 11 books containing extremist ideologies and anti-state propaganda also recovered, she added. Both the detained were 24 years of age.

Furthermore, according to a RAB 5 press release, a team of the elite force conducted drive at Kashiyanga in Rajpara Thana of Rajshahi on Wednesday afternoon, leading to the arrests of Ataullah Sarker, 23, and Moksedul Islam, 22.

Full report at:



AP confirms 5 previously unreported Myanmar mass graves

February 01, 2018

The faces of the men half-buried in the mass graves had been burned away by acid or blasted by bullets. Noor Kadir finally recognized his friends only by the colors of their shorts.

Kadir and 14 others, all Rohingya Muslims in the Myanmar village of Gu Dar Pyin, had been choosing players for the soccer-like game of chinlone when the gunfire began. They scattered from what sounded like hard rain on a tin roof. By the time the Myanmar military stopped shooting, only Kadir and two teammates were left alive.

Days later, Kadir found six of his friends among the bodies in two graves.

They are among more than five mass graves, all previously unreported, that have been confirmed by The Associated Press through multiple interviews with more than two dozen survivors in Bangladesh refugee camps and through time-stamped cellphone videos. The Myanmar government regularly claims such massacres of the Rohingya never happened, and has acknowledged only one mass grave containing 10 “terrorists” in the village of Inn Din. However, the AP’s reporting shows a systematic slaughter of Rohingya Muslim civilians by the military, with help from Buddhist neighbors — and suggests the presence of many more graves with many more people.

“It was a mixed-up jumble of corpses piled on top of each other,” said Kadir, a 24-year-old firewood collector. “I felt such sorrow for them.”

The graves are the newest piece of evidence for what looks increasingly like a genocide in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state against the Rohingya, a long-persecuted ethnic Muslim minority in the predominantly Buddhist country. Repeated calls to Myanmar’s military communications office went unanswered Wednesday and Thursday. Htun Naing, a local security police officer in Buthidaung township, where the village is located, said he “hasn’t heard of such mass graves.”

Myanmar has cut off access to Gu Dar Pyin, so it’s unclear just how many people died, but satellite images obtained by the AP from DigitalGlobe, along with video of homes reduced to ash, reveal a village that has been decimated. Community leaders in the refugee camps have compiled a list of 75 dead so far, and villagers estimate the toll could be as high as 400, based on testimony from relatives and the bodies they’ve seen in the graves and strewn about the area. A large number of the survivors carry scars from bullet wounds, including a 3-year-old boy and his grandmother.

Almost every villager interviewed by the AP saw three large mass graves at Gu Dar Pyin’s northern entrance, near the main road, where witnesses say soldiers herded and killed most of the Rohingya. A handful of witnesses confirmed two other big graves near a hillside cemetery, not too far away from a school where more than 100 soldiers were stationed after the massacre. Villagers also saw other, smaller graves scattered around the village.

In the videos of the graves obtained by the AP, dating to 13 days after the killing began, blue-green puddles of acid sludge surround corpses without heads and torsos that jut into the air. Skeletal hands seem to claw at the ground.


Survivors said that the soldiers carefully planned the Aug. 27 attack, and then deliberately tried to hide what they had done. They came to the slaughter armed not only with rifles, knives, rocket launchers and grenades, but also with shovels to dig pits and acid to burn away faces and hands so that the bodies could not be identified. Two days before the attack, villagers say, soldiers were seen buying 12 large containers of acid at a nearby village’s market.

The killing began around noon, when more than 200 soldiers swept into Gu Dar Pyin from the direction of a Buddhist village to the south, firing their weapons. The Rohingya who could move fast enough ran toward the north or toward a river in the east, said Mohammad Sha, 37, a shop owner and farmer.

Sha hid in a grove of coconut trees near the river with more than 100 others and watched as the soldiers searched Muslim homes. Dozens of Buddhists from neighboring villages, their faces partly covered with scarves, loaded the possessions they found into about 10 pushcarts. Then the soldiers burned down the homes, shooting anyone who couldn’t flee, Sha said.

At the same time, another group of soldiers closed in from the north, encircling Gu Dar Pyin and trapping villagers in a tightening noose.

When Mohammad Younus, 25, heard explosions from hand grenades and rocket launchers, he ran to the road. He was shot twice while trying to call his family. One of the bullets, still in his hip, can be seen when he pinches the skin.

His brother found him crawling on his hands and knees and carried him to some underbrush, where Younus lay for seven hours. At one point, he saw three trucks stop and begin loading dead bodies before heading off toward the cemetery.

Buddhist villagers then moved through Gu Dar Pyin in a sort of mopping-up operation, using knives to cut the throats of the injured, survivors said, and working with soldiers to throw small children and the elderly into the fires.

“People were screaming, crying, pleading for their lives, but the soldiers just shot continuously,” said Mohammad Rayes, 23, a schoolteacher who climbed a tree and watched.

Kadir, the chinlone player, was shot twice in the foot but managed to drag himself under a bridge, where he removed one of the bullets himself. Then he watched, half-delirious, for 16 hours as soldiers, police and Buddhist neighbors killed unarmed Rohingya and burned the village.

“I couldn’t move,” he said. “I thought I was dead. I began to forget why I was there, to forget that all around me people were dying.”

Near dawn, three boys creeping toward the bridge from another village to see what had happened heard Kadir’s groans and brought him back with them.

For days, Rohingya from the area stole into Gu Dar Pyin and rescued people who’d been left for dead by the soldiers. Thousands of people from the area hid deep in the jungle, stranded without food except for the leaves and trees they tried to eat. More than 20 infants and toddlers died because of the lack of food and water, villagers said.

A day after the shooting began, another group of survivors watched from a distant mountain as Gu Dar Pyin burned, the flames and smoke snaking up into a darkening sky.


Six days after the massacre, Kadir risked his life to dodge the dozens of Myanmar soldiers occupying the local school so he could look for his four cousins. That’s when he found his teammates half-buried in the mass graves. He also saw four plastic containers that turned out to contain acid.

In the next days and weeks, other villagers braved the soldiers to try to find whatever was left of their loved ones. Dozens of bodies littered the paths and compounds of the wrecked homes; they filled latrine pits. The survivors soon learned that taller, darker green patches of rice shoots in the paddies marked the spots where the dead had fallen.

As monsoon rains pounded the sometimes thin layer of dirt on the graves to mud, more bloated bodies began to rise to the surface.

“There were so many bodies in so many different places,” said Mohammad Lalmia, 20, a farmer whose family owned a pond that became the largest of the mass graves. “They couldn’t hide all the death.”

Eleven days after the attack, Lalmia set out to see if the soldiers had destroyed the Quran in the village mosque. He walked quickly along the edge of the jungle to the mosque, where he found torn pages from the Muslim sacred book scattered about.

As he tried to clean up, someone shouted that the soldiers were coming. He fled through an open window, looking back over his shoulder at about 15 patrolling soldiers.

When he turned back to the path, he stopped abruptly: A human hand stuck out of a cleared patch of earth.

Lalmia counted about 10 bodies on the grave’s surface. Although he was worried about the military finding him, he used a six-foot bamboo stick to check the pit’s depth. The stick disappeared into the loose soil, which made him think that the grave was deep enough to hold at least another 10 bodies.

“I was shocked to be that near so many bodies I hadn’t known about,” Lalmia said. He and other villagers also saw another large grave in the area.

He estimates that soldiers dumped about 80 bodies into his family’s pond and about 20 in each of the other four major graves. He said about 150 other bodies were left where they fell.

Three of the big graves were in the north of the village. Two of those pits were about 15 feet wide and 7.5 feet long, villagers said. The pond, which Lalmia had helped dig, measured about nine feet deep and 112 square feet.

Many other smaller graves with three, five, seven, 10 bodies in them were scattered across Gu Dar Pyin. During a short walk, Abdul Noor, an 85-year-old farmer, saw three dead bodies stuffed into what might have been a latrine hole and covered with soil. He saw another two near some banana plants, and three in the corner of a compound.

“I tried to see more, but the stench was overwhelming and the soldiers were still at the school,” he said.

Two other men separately said they saw another latrine filled with bodies and covered with a thin layer of soil. They said it contained between five and 10 bodies on the top, and thought there were at least five more corpses below.

After 12 days, Younus went to try to find four family members who’d been killed. He saw people in the graves without hair or skin who he thought had been burned with acid, and dozens of decomposing bodies in the rice fields.

The next day, on September 9, villager Mohammad Karim, 26, captured three videos of mass graves that were time-stamped between 10:12 am and 10:14 am, when he said soldiers chased him away. When he fled to Bangladesh, Karim removed the memory card from his phone, wrapped it in plastic and tied it to his thigh to hide it from Myanmar police.

In the Bangladesh refugee camps, nearly two dozen other Rohingya from Gu Dar Pyin confirmed that the videos showed mass graves in the north of the village. They easily picked out details from a geography they knew intimately, such as the way certain banana plants were positioned near rice paddies.

The videos show what appear to be bones wrapped in rotting clothing in a soupy muck. In one, the hands of a headless corpse grasp at the earth; most of the skin seems melted away by acid that has stained the earth blue. Nearby are two bloated legs clad in shorts. A few paces away, the bones of a rib cage emerge from the dirt.

The AP saw several other videos that appeared to show graves in the village, but only Karim’s contained the original time stamps. In some cases, villagers said Myanmar soldiers took their phones and memory cards, sometimes at knife and gun point, at the checkpoints they had to pass through on the way to Bangladesh.

Some survivors never found the bodies of their loved ones.

Rohima Khatu, 45, recounted her story as tears streamed down the face of her 9-year-old daughter, Hurjannat, who sat silently by her mother’s side.

Khatu was determined to find her husband, even though women risked not only death but rape if they were caught by the soldiers. Villagers said her husband was shot after he stayed home to protect their 10 cows, five chickens and eight doves, along with their rice stockpiles.

So 15 days after the massacre, she searched for him in the graves at Gu Dar Pyin’s northern entrance, trying to identify him by the green lungi and white button-down shirt he had been wearing. Only 10 minutes passed before someone shouted that about 20 soldiers were coming.

Full report at:



Key local Taliban commander arrested in Nangarhar province

Jan 31 2018

A key local commander of the Taliban group has been arrested during an operation of the Afghan national defense and security forces in eastern Nangarhar province.

According to the local officials, the Taliban local leader was arrested during an operation of the Afghan police forces in Chaparhar district.

The provincial police commandment in a statement confirmed the arrest of the local Taliban commander saying the detained individual has been identified as Bismillah also famous as Ayoubi.

The statement further added that Bismillah was in charge of a group of at least twenty Taliban fighters and actively involved in major terrorist related activities in Chaparhar and other parts of the province.

Bismillah was operating under the leadership of the Taliban group leader Ghazi Mansoor, the police commandment said, adding that he has confessed to his crimes and regrets for the killing the civilians and having role in other destructive activities.

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

This comes as the local officials said Sunday that the deputy shadow district chief of the Taliban group for Sri Rod was killed during an operation of the Special Forces of the National Directorate of Security.

Full report at:



Arab World


Terrorists Target Plane Carrying Syrian Delegation Returning from Sochi

Jan 31, 2018

The Arabic-language al-Hadath news reported on Wednesday that the terrorists launched several missiles at the Damascus international airport as soon as the plane carrying participants in Sochi conference landed in the Syrian capital.

The report said one of the missiles hit near the runway and only 50 meters away from one of the planes which had landed 10 minutes earlier.

No casualties were reported in the missile attack.

The Sochi talks, which are in fact dialogues between some of the Syrian opposition parties and the Syrian government, started on Tuesday with the participation of the three guarantor countries (Iran, Russia and Turkey).

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres sent de Mistura, to the Syrian peace conference in Russia.

Guterres is confident that the congress in Sochi will be an important contribution to revive the UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.

The UN decision to send its envoy to the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi came despite the Syrian opposition’s calls for the boycott of the event.

Some 1,600 people were invited to the talks aimed at resolving the years-long crisis in the Arab country.

Last December, Iran, Russia, and Turkey agreed to hold the congress in Sochi on January 29-30. While the Syrian government at the time immediately announced that it would attend the event, some Syrian “opposition” groups rejected the Russian initiative, which is also aimed at agreeing on a post-war constitution in the Arab country.



Turkish airstrikes kill 49 Kurdish militants in northern Iraq: army

1 February 2018

ISTANBUL: Turkish warplanes struck 19 Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq on Monday, killing 49 militants, Turkey’s armed forces said on Thursday.

Two airstrikes were carried out in the Asos/Qandil, Zap, Avasin/Basyan and Hakurk regions on Monday, the army said in a written statement.

The Turkish military destroyed shelters, hideouts and weapon positions of the militant group, which was believed to be preparing an attack on Turkish border posts, it said.

Full report at:



Saudi-led Arab coalition denies Houthis targeting Riyadh with ballistic missile

1 February 2018

JEDDAH: The spokesman of the Saudi-led Arab coalition, Col. Turki Al-Maliki, denied rumors circulated by some media outlets that Houthi militias managed to successfully target Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport, Saudi news agency SPA reported.

Al-Malki confirmed that it was rather a failed attempt by the Iran-backed militias to fire a ballistic missile toward an uninhabited desert.

Full report at:



Russia says hundreds killed in Turkish operation in Syria’s Afrin

31 January 2018

Several hundred people, including civilians, have been killed during Turkey’s military operation in Syria’s Afrin, Interfax news agency cited Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying on Wednesday.

Rockets fired from northern Syria into a Turkish border town killed a teenage girl and wounded another person on Wednesday, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported amid Ankara’s intensifying offensive on a Syrian Kurdish-controlled enclave.

It was the latest in a string of rocket attacks on the border towns of Reyhanli and Kilis since Jan. 20, when Turkey’s military launched a cross-border operation to drive out the Syrian Kurdish militia from the northern enclave of Afrin. Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, an extension of the outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting an insurgency inside Turkey.

Rockets fired in Afrin

Earlier today, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency said Syrian Kurdish fighters in Afrin fired two rockets Wednesday, hitting a house and a garden wall in Reyhanli.

Two people were hospitalized after the attack and one, 17-year-old Fatma Avlar, died from her wounds, the agency said. The attacks inside Turkey have so far killed four people, including Avlar. Two of the victims were Syrian refugees.

The Kurdish militia, meanwhile, accused Turkey of firing Katyusha rockets into Afrin, and reported that at least 12 people were wounded from the shelling that targeted the neighborhood of Ashrafieh. The wounded were brought to Afrin hospital.

As Turkey’s military operation in Syria continues, officials in the US-led international coalition against ISIS have warned the offensive could destabilize recent gains against ISIS along the Iraq-Syria border in the Euphrates River valley.

Full report at:



ISIS remains mortal threat to Middle East, Qatari envoy warns

January 31, 2018

Islamic State remains a mortal threat to the region despite its recent battlefield defeats, Qatar’s foreign minister warned in an interview Wednesday, cautioning that the terrorist group could rise again if Washington and its Arab allies fail to address the root causes fueling religious extremism.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, the top diplomat from the tiny but influential Persian Gulf nation, said the military victories over Islamic State should be celebrated but the terrorist group’s ideology must be crushed “in order to defeat any version” of the group rearing its head.

A portion of the Islamic State has likely dissolved into the general population of the Middle East, Sheikh al-Thani said, and nations across the region need to “become more responsive to their people and the needs of their people to fill the vacuum that was there and created [such] organizations.”

The sheikh, who serves as both deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, was in Washington this week for an inaugural “strategic dialogue” with the Trump administration. In an interview with The Washington Times, he touched on a wide range of other matters, including the future of the Iranian nuclear deal, the growing economic ties between Qatar and the United States and the bitter diplomatic stalemate that has divided Qatar from other U.S. Arab allies in the region.

His remarks on the need for vigilance against terrorism were noteworthy because Qatar has been accused by Saudi Arabia and other Arab powers of supporting terrorist groups and radical Islam.

Nearly eight months ago, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates banded together to impose an economic and diplomatic blockade against Qatar, a wealthy country that sits atop some of the world’s largest proven natural gas reserves, over what they say is its weak posture on Islamic extremism.

The rift among Arab nations within the Gulf Cooperation Council has put Washington on shaky diplomatic ground. The Trump administration has resisted siding completely with Saudi Arabia because of American interests in Qatar.

In addition to major investments by U.S. companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. in Qatar’s oil and gas sectors, the Qataris host what is widely considered Washington’s most strategic military base in the Persian Gulf. Al Udeid Air Base, situated just outside Doha, is home to U.S. Air Force Central Command and is critical to U.S. military operations in the Middle East, Afghanistan and South Asia.

In a separate interview with The Associated Press, Qatari Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah said his country had agreed to expand the base to accommodate more U.S. forces and increase facilities for their families.

The Saudis and the others say Doha provides funding for jihadi groups, such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and that it has developed close economic ties to Iran. Qatar shares ownership over a massive offshore natural gas field in the Persian Gulf with Tehran — a field that has fueled Doha’s growth as a major Middle East player in recent years.

Pushing back

Sheikh al-Thani said the charges from Saudi Arabia and others were exaggerated to justify an attempt to contain Doha’s economic rise.

“Our country has been subject to an unjust aggression,” he said, adding that claims by Saudi Arabia and the others have created “an unnecessary distraction for the region.”

With regard to Iranian relations, the sheikh asserted that the Arab world’s overall trade with Iran is “dominated by the United Arab Emirates, which has accused Qatar of having stronger ties with Iran.”

“How are we closer to Iran when we are a front-runner against Iranian policy in Syria and Iraq and Yemen?” he said.

He said Qatar stood with Iraq’s Sunni Muslim population while it was marginalized under Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was perceived to have close ties to Iran.

Sheikh al-Thani took a cautious tone on the Iranian nuclear deal, which President Trump has harshly criticized but which other parties to the deal, including the European Union, China and Russia, continue to support.

“We were not part of the deal,” Sheikh al-Thani said. “But what we know is that we need to make sure that any nuclear program which will be developed [in Iran], we have to assure that it’s a peaceful program.”

Iran, he said, “is a neighbor, and we need to deal with it in a way that ensures the security of the entire region is not affected by any confrontation, to ensure that Iran doesn’t have any destabilizing factors for us.”

Despite U.S. mediation efforts, the sheikh said he was not optimistic about a quick end to the diplomatic divide in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

“It will not end by bullying, this is for sure,” he said. “It will end if every country understands that its rights and responsibilities are equal to other nations’.”

He said Qatar, with U.S.-backing, has repeatedly called for dialogue with the Saudis and the others to no avail. “The other side is not willing,” he said. “President Trump invited everybody to Camp David. We responded positively; they just rejected the invitation.”

Ties to Trump

The Qataris have been engaged in a charm offensive in Washington as the stalemate deepens, seeking to curry favor with the Trump administration while it gets its bearings on Middle East policy.

Part of the push has involved an uptick in Qatari investments in the U.S. economy. In addition to tens of billions of dollars worth of ongoing weapons deals between the two nations, Sheikh al-Thani touted major investments in the U.S. financial services, health care, technology and energy sectors.

Doha in recent months has ramped up its commitment to investing in the “LNG Golden Pass” in Texas, a joint venture between Qatar Petroleum and Exxon Mobil touted as a linchpin to facilitating eventual U.S. entree into the global liquid natural gas market. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, a former CEO of Exxon Mobil with long ties with Doha, pressed Qatar to embrace a more aggressive counterterrorism posture. In July, Doha signed a special memorandum of understanding with Washington to combat terrorism, including a promise to crack down on suspected fundraising for terrorist organizations by individuals with Qatari bank accounts.

The Qataris in August hired the Financial Integrity Network, a U.S.-based company run by former American counterterrorism officials, to help close loopholes that had allowed terrorist financing to flourish in Qatar.

Sheikh al-Thani said the results were evident in this week’s strategic dialogue with the Trump administration. Mr. Tillerson made headlines across the Middle East on Tuesday when he appeared beside the Qatari foreign minister in Washington to declare that Doha has made “significant progress to improve efforts to combat terrorism.”

Full report at:



US places Egyptian terrorist groups Hasm and Lewaa Al-Thawraa on terror list

31 Jan 2018

The US State Department placed on Wednesday two Egyptian terrorist groups, Hasm and Lewaa Al-Thawra, on its terror list, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.

The US also put the head of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, Ismail Haniya, on its terror blacklist and has hit him with sanctions.

The US government also placed sanctions on Harakat Al-Sabireen, a small Iran-affiliated militant group that splintered from the Islamic Jihad and operates in Gaza, according to the US Secretary of State.

"These designations target key terrorist groups and leaders – including two sponsored and directed by Iran – who are threatening the stability of the Middle East, undermining the peace process, and attacking our allies Egypt and Israel," Tillerson said in a statement.

The Egyptian government has linked Hasm and Lewaa Al-Thawra with the Muslim Brotherhood group, which is banned and designated a terrorist organisation in Egypt.

Full report at:



Almost 30 Turkish Soldiers Killed in Clashes with Kurdish Fighters in Northern Syria

Jan 31, 2018

The Arabic-language website of Sputnik quoted Canikli as saying that 29 Turkish army forces have been killed in Operation Olive Branch against the Kurds in Afrin region.

He further told Sputnik that some people in Turkey are supporting the Kurdish forces, adding that the Operation is underway against the Kurdish militants in Afrin and against the supporters of the Kurds in Turkey.

The Turkish Army General Staff announced in a statement earlier today that over 710 Kurdish fighters have thus far been killed in Operation Olive Branch by the Turkish Army troops and allied militants in Afrin region in Northwestern Aleppo.

The statement said that the Turkish Air Force bombed and destroyed 22 positions of the Kurdish fighters in Afrin region yesterday.

Full report at:



Egyptian court sentences 16 over Church raid

31 January 2018

An Egyptian court on Wednesday gave 15 people one-year suspended jail sentences over a December attack on an unlicensed Coptic Church in a village south of Cairo, judicial sources said.

The perpetrators were each fined 500 Egyptian pounds ($28) on charges of inciting sectarian strife, harming national unity and vandalizing private property. They can appeal.

Owner fined

The Giza misdemeanor court also fined the owner of the building, a Christian man, 360,000 Egyptian pounds ($20,500) for turning his residency into a church without a license.

Dozens of Muslims from the village of Kafr al-Waslin attacked the church after Friday prayers on Dec. 22, smashing windows and breaking everything inside.

The Archdiocese of Atfih had applied to legalize the church, which housed worshippers for 15 years after a church building law was passed in 2016.

Full report at:





Karnataka: BJP, RSS supporters try to march through Muslim locality, 10 injured

February 1, 2018

Police in Bidar lathicharged a group of BJP and Sangh Parivar supporters, injuring 10 of them on Tuesday, when they tried to enter the old Bidar town area that has a concentration of Muslim homes because they wanted to protest the murder of a woman allegedly by her Muslim lover. The 20-year-old woman was allegedly murdered on January 28.

BJP protesters, led by the local MP Bhagwant Khuba, who were initially given police permission to stage a protest at the Dr Ambedkar Circle in the town, were lathicharged by the police after they marched to the local deputy commissioner’s office and then threatened to enter Muslim localities in old Bidar in separate groups, police sources said.

The protest was organised by the BJP and its affiliates in Bidar against the murder of the college student from Bhalki taluk of the district by her supposedly spurned lover and neighbour Shamsuddin (24), who surrendered before police on Sunday.

The protesters submitted a memorandum to the deputy commissioner seeking a compensation of Rs 25 lakh for the family of the woman, employment for a member of her family and a judicial probe into her death.“The protesters had sought permission to march through the old town inhabited by Muslims and permission was denied. Their leaders agreed that things could get out of hand if a march was allowed. However, after submitting the memorandum to the DC, the protesters split into three groups and one tried to go to the old town. We had to arrest the leaders and lathicharge the protesters to disperse them,’’ a police officer said.



Pakistan violates ceasefire in J&K’s Rajouri district, 71 schools closed

February 1, 2018

Pakistan violated ceasefire on Thursday in Nowshera sector of J&K’s Rajouri district, prompting about 71 schools to close for the day. The violation comes after the Border Security Force (BSF) and Pakistani Rangers held a flag meeting last week, where India lodged a strong protest over ‘unprovoked’ firing by Pakistan along the International Border (IB).

The incident occured at 9 am in Lam area of the Nowshera sector. Shahid Chowdhary, DC, Rajouri, said 71 schools were shut down and children asked to go home due to heavy shelling from the Pakistani side. He said measures were being taken for ensuring safety of the people. “71 schools have been closed due to heavy shelling in Lam area of Nowshera. Measures being taken for safety of people,” ANI quoted Chowdhary as saying.

Full report at:



Before Shopian, series of futile J&K pleas to prosecute Army men

By Bashaarat Masood

February 1, 2018

An FIR by Jammu & Kashmir police against the Army for killing of three civilian protesters in Shopian has divided ruling coalition partners BJP and PDP. Army personnel fired on protesters who were allegedly pelting them with stones Saturday; two persons died that day and the third died Tuesday.

While the BJP has demanded the FIR against the Army be withdrawn, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has said the probe would be taken to its conclusion and that “justice and peace are the two faces of same coin”.

In J&K, where armed forces enjoy protection under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the process of justice for victims of alleged atrocities by the armed forces is complex. Though police have registered a case, previous such instances show that it does not necessarily mean the Army men, if charged by police, will have to face the court.

Going by data from the Ministry of Defence, none of the previous cases has ever proceeded to the stage of prosecution. AFSPA makes it mandatory for the state government to seek sanction from the ministry before prosecuting any Army personnel. And sanction has been denied each time.

On January 1 this year, the government told Rajya Sabha that from 2001 to 2016, the MoD received 50 requests of sanction for prosecution from the J&K government. The ministry denied sanction for prosecution in 47 cases while the other three cases are pending before it. Of the 50 cases, 17 pertained to alleged killing of civilians, 16 to custodial deaths, 8 to alleged custodial disappearances and 4 to alleged rape and molestation.

The Army maintains that its and men and officers accused of human rights violations will be tried in its own courts. In most of the cases pending in civilian courts in J&K, the Army has argued that these be transferred for court martial. Two of these cases, Pathirabal and Machil, have become symbolic of a trend.

Pathribal 2000

The Army chose to court-martial the accused soldiers and exonerated them at the evidence stage.

Five Army officers were alleged to have killed five civilians on March 24, 2000, and dubbed them foreign militants of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). The Army announced before then home minister L K Advani that the “five militants” were responsible for the killing of 35 Sikhs at Chittisinghpora village, south Kashmir, four days previously.

A public outcry led to the J&K government exhuming the five bodies, DNA tests confirmed they were civilians who had gone missing from south Kashmir some days previously. The CBI took over the case, charged the five Army officers with the civilian killings, in the court of the Srinagar chief judicial magistrate.

The Army first argued that they could not be prosecuted under AFSPA. This was turned down in the trial court and later J&K High Court. The Army then went to the Supreme Court, which gave it an option — prosecution in a criminal court or court-martial — and the Army chose the latter. After the “summary of evidence” stage, the Army court said there was no evidence to prosecute the officers.

Machil 2010

On April 29, 2010, the Army claimed to have killed three militants while they were trying to infiltrate into the valley at Machil area of Kupwara. A police probe found that three civilians had been lured for jobs, taken to the Line of Control at Machil and killed in a fake encounter to claim promotion and awards. A case was registered against Army officers and men at the CJM’s court in Sopore. The Army got the case transferred for court-martial.

Full report at:



After Kabul attacks, Ashraf Ghani & PM Modi discuss terror sanctuaries

By Shubhajit Roy

February 1, 2018

IN THE wake of a series of terror attacks in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke over telephone on Wednesday and “discussed the need for an end to terrorist sanctuaries” in the “neighbourhood” — a clear reference to Pakistan.

The conversation took place even as news reports claimed that Ghani had refused to take a phone call from Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Tuesday — the reports were denied by an Afghan diplomat.

South Block sources told The Indian Express that the 20-minute conversation between Modi and Ghani reflected the “shared concern” of New Delhi and Kabul, and a “meeting of minds” in assessing Islamabad’s role in Afghanistan.

“There was complete consensus after the Uri attacks in 2016, when the Afghan President took the lead in pulling out of the SAARC summit in Islamabad that year. The rest had followed, isolating Pakistan in the region. The latest conversation between the top two leaders is a manifestation of that convergence of views,” sources told The Indian Express.

Sources said Wednesday’s conversation between the two leaders was not a “one-off” but a “regular feature”.

While there was no official word from New Delhi, Ghani posted on his Twitter account: “PM Modi called me to offer condolences on the recent senseless killings of civilians across (sic) #AFG by the enemies of humanity. We discussed the need for an end to terrorist sanctuaries in our neighbourhood. India has always been a good friend of Afghans, sharing our pain and grief.”

Leading Afghan news outlet Tolo News reported that Abbasi reached out to Ghani on Tuesday night “in connection with the spate of recent attacks in Afghanistan” but received no response. However, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal denied that such a phone call had taken place.

“Not true — no phone call has taken place. Following recent horrific terrorist attacks in Kabul, PM Abassi conveyed a message to President Ghani to which it was responded to by high-powered personal delegation by the President to meet the PM today,” he tweeted.

Ghani had sent a delegation to Islamabad “to hand over evidence related to recent attacks in Kabul” to be shared with the Pakistan Army. The high-level delegation comprised the interior minister and the intelligence chief, Pakistan newspaper Dawn reported.

Kabul has been hit by a series of terror attacks over the last 10 days, which has claimed around 150 lives and injured hundreds more. On Monday, Islamic State militants attacked Afghan soldiers guarding a military academy in Kabul killing at least 11 troops and wounding 16.

On January 20, in an assault reminiscent of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, Taliban armed with Kalashnikovs and suicide vests attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and killed around 25 people, going from room to room searching for foreigners during a more than 12-hour ordeal.

The hotel attack was followed by a Taliban-claimed ambulance bombing on January 27 in the Afghan capital that claimed over 100 lives, mostly civilians.

The Afghan government has blamed the attack on the dreaded Haqqani Network. After the ambulance bombing, India strongly condemned the “barbaric and dastardly terrorist attacks” in Kabul, saying that it “stands ready to extend all possible assistance, including for treatment of those injured”.

Afghanistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN Mahmoud Saikal has accused Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, of training a terrorist involved in the attack in Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel.

In the recent past, India-Afghanistan relations have been strengthened by the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in October 2011.

Subsequently, when Modi visited Afghanistan on December 25, 2016, India gifted four Mi-25 attack helicopters to the Afghan Air Force. On June 4, 2016, Modi visited Herat in western Afghanistan to jointly inaugurate the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, earlier known as Salma Dam, along with Ghani.

Full report at:



Mehbooba Mufti denounces call for separate state for Muslims

January 31, 2018

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Wednesday denounced a demand to have a separate state for Muslims, in an apparent reference to a top cleric’s suggestion made on Tuesday.

“J&K was neither a party to the partition of our country nor did we support division on religious lines. We as a state opted for the opposite, but unfortunately are still paying the price. I strongly condemn any statement made asking for Muslims in India to demand a separate state,” the chief minister posted on Twitter, though she did not name anyone, a PTI report said.

Full report at:



Terror funding case: Delhi court dismisses bail plea of Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Shah

January 31, 2018

Delhi’s Patiala House court on Wednesday dismissed the bail plea of Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Shah in an alleged money laundering case related to terror funding. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is probing a case of terror funding against Shah based on a case first registered by Delhi Police’s Special Cell after arrest of an alleged hawala dealer named Aslam Wani, who reportedly claimed that he passed on Rs 2.25 crore to Shah. Wani was arrested in August 2005.

The new development comes after ED questioned Shah’s wife Bilquis Shah in connection with the case. Sources had told The Indian Express that Bilquis Shah was questioned by ED sleuths for more than seven hours and was asked about her and Shah’s properties, bank accounts, financial details and sources of earning. Also Read: Terror funding case: ED questions Shabir Shah wife, she claims same questions ‘over and over’

Full report at:



Officers like Bareilly DM are rare today, says Muslim cleric

Jan 31, 2018

Bareilly: A local Muslim cleric has extended his support to DM Raghvendra Vikram Singh over Singh’s recent facebook post.

“Raghvendra Vikram Singh is a true Jihadi officer. Officers with a character like him are rare these days. Everyone must support his views,” said Tauqir Raza Khan, a Barelvi cleric.

“Ajab riwaz ban gaya hai. Muslim mohallo main julus le jao aur Pakistan murdabad ke nare lagao. Kyun bhai woh Pakistani hain kya? (A strange tradition has been formed. To visit Muslim areas and raise slogans against Pakistan. Why, are they (Muslims) Pakistanis)?” RV Singh wrote on Sunday.

The officer put it down on Tuesday after several leaders of the ruling party criticised him for it.

Full report at:



Kashmir holds massive funeral for Shia cleric

Jan 31, 2018

Thousands of people have gathered to attend a massive funeral for a renowned Shia cleric in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

A large number of mourners held the funeral ceremony for well-known Islamic scholar Agha Syed Muhammad Fazlullah in Budgam district of the Muslim-majority region on Tuesday, Press TV reported.

He passed away at his ancestral home in the region early on Monday after a brief illness.

Fazlullah was a son of Aga Syed Yousuf al-Moosavi al-Safvi, the founder of Anjuman Sharie Shian, a largest socio-politico-religious organization of Shia Muslims in the valley.

Agha Fazlullah, 70, who studied at a religious seminary in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf was a widely respected intellectual, educationist and leader with massive following in Kashmir.

Full report at:





Iran president: People will support the Islamic Republic

Jan 31, 2018

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says the people of Iran will continue supporting the Islamic Republic despite foreign pressure.

His comments came Wednesday, just hours after President Donald Trump said the U.S. stands with the people of Iran against the country's ruling establishment. Rouhani spoke during a visit to the mausoleum of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.

Rouhani said in remarks broadcast by state TV: "The Iranian nation will never give up Imam Khomeini's legacy; Islamism and Republicanism. Return is impossible."

During his State of the Union address, Trump called the Islamic Republic a "corrupt dictatorship" and said "America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom."



Turkey ramps up Syria incursion despite criticism

February 01, 2018

AFRIN - Clashes raged between Turkish-backed forces and Kurdish militia in Syria 's Afrin region on Wednesday, as wounded civilians fled intense Turkish air strikes.

Turkey and allied Syrian rebels have pressed on with Operation Olive Branch in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin enclave despite mounting international concern and reports of rising civilian casualties.

An AFP correspondent in Afrin heard warplanes flying overhead, and Kurdish officials said rocket fire on the town wounded 12 civilians.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy bombardment and Turkish air strikes were accompanying ground fighting around Jandairis and Rajo, two areas to the west of Afrin near the Turkish border.

The Britain-based war monitor reported that Turkish-backed forces had seized control of the border village of Shinkal to the northwest.

"Turkish forces dispatched new military reinforcements overnight, including fighters and equipment, to Shinkal in an attempt to consolidate their control over several points and support attacking forces," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Turkey and its Syria rebel allies launched Operation Olive Branch against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), on January 20.

The group has been a key ally of Washington in its fight against the Islamic State group, but Ankara says it is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984.

On Wednesday, the Turkish army said it destroyed 22 YPG targets overnight.

Ankara has denied hitting civilians in its military operations, but hospitals in Afrin say they are receiving civilian casualties on a daily basis. At the region's main hospital on Tuesday, a heartbroken family carried out the body of their father, killed in shelling several days earlier. A sobbing woman touched her head to the casket. Nearby, an elderly man was yelling to anyone who would listen.

He had survived heavy Turkish bombardment of his neighbourhood, but 12 of his family members - including two infant grandchildren - had not.

"The whole world knows what's happening here. Everyone know that civilians are dying," he screamed.

"A four month old and a nine month old - as if we're the Daesh of Afrin," he said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

The Observatory says the Turkish operation has left 67 civilians dead so far, 20 of them children.

Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli insisted on Tuesday that Ankara's forces and its rebel allies "have not harmed any civilian" during the operation.

But the offensive has come under growing global pressure, with French President Emmanuel Macron warning Ankara against a full-blown "invasion" on Wednesday.

"If the operation became more than fighting a potential terrorist threat on the Turkish border and turns out to be an invasion operation, we would have a real problem with that," Macron told Le Figaro daily.

In reaction, Turkish Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim said any suggestion that Ankara had broader designs in Syria beyond pushing the YPG back from the border, was "totally wrong".

Since launching the assault, Turkey and rebel allies have captured 11 villages and the strategic Barsaya hill, according to the Observatory.

Barsaya overlooks both the rebel-held Syrian town of Azaz, and Kilis across the border in Turkey .

Advancing fighters were facing "fierce resistance from YPG fighters holed up in the mountains, in spite of Turkey 's massive firepower," said Abdel Rahman.

The Observatory said that 91 YPG fighters and 85 pro-Ankara rebels had been killed in the fighting so far.

Turkey says seven of its soldiers have been killed.

On Wednesday, rockets launched from Syria killed a 17-year-old girl and wounded another resident of a Turkish border town, officials said.

The US and France have repeatedly expressed concern over the cross-border offensive, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week threatened to expand.

Erdogan has vowed to "clean up" the YPG-held city of Manbij east of Afrin, where the US has troops as part of its operations against IS.

Syria 's conflict erupted in 2011 with anti-government protests but has morphed into a tangled war pitting rebels, jihadists, Kurds, and government forces against each other.

Full report at:



US puts Hamas chief Haniya on terror blacklist

31 January 2018

The US Treasury Department put on Wednesday Hamas chief Ismail Haniya on the terror blacklist.

The move is sure to raise tensions, after Washington recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"Haniya has close links with Hamas' military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians," the State Department said in a statement.

"He has reportedly been involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. Hamas has been responsible for an estimated 17 American lives killed in terrorist attacks."

Haniya is now on the US Treasury sanctions blacklist, which freezes any US-based assets he may have and bans any US person or company from doing business with him.

Hamas -- which has controlled the Gaza Strip for more than a decade -- had already been on the US terror blacklist since 1997.

The US government also slapped sanctions on Harakat al-Sabireen -- a small militant group that is close to Iran and operates in Gaza -- and two other groups active in Egypt: Liwa al-Thawra and HASM.

“These designations target key terrorist groups and leaders -- including two sponsored and directed by Iran -- who are threatening the stability of the Middle East, undermining the peace process, and attacking our allies," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.

“Today’s actions are an important step in denying them the resources they need to plan and carry out their terrorist activities.”

Full report at:



Yemeni army declares north and east of Taiz ‘military zones’

31 January 2018

The headquarters of the 22nd Brigade in the city of Taiz on Wednesday declared several areas of the north and east of the city as military zones warning citizens not to approach, as fighting continues on several fronts.

This comes after the National Army announced a large-scale military operation to liberate the province of Taiz from the occupation of the Houthi militia.

The leadership of "Brigade Mika 22" in Taiz called upon the fighters of the Houthi militia to surrender themselves as a last chance to prevent spilling of blood.

During the last few days many areas have been liberated including the Sarmin, Ab’ar, Adnah, Luzam, Laseb, al-Karifaat, and parts of the Taba al-Ja’isahaa, in addition to a number of sites in the northern front.

This progress happened in coordination with the Arab coalition air strikes and logistical support, which have had a very significant impact on victories achieved in Taiz.

Full report at:



EU announces $53mn for Palestinians following US aid cut

Feb 1, 2018

The European Union has approved a new package of aid worth 42.5 million euros (nearly $53m) to help the Palestinians build their future state following the US’s decision to cut support for the UN aid agency in Palestine.

“I am glad to announce today that we have just adopted a new assistance package of 42.5 million euros, including for activities in East Jerusalem [al-Quds] and support towards building a democratic and accountable Palestinian state,” the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday.

The aide came two weeks after the US President Donald Trump announced his intention to reduce Washington’s contribution to the UNRWA, the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees.

Mogherini’s comments came ahead of an emergency meeting of an international committee coordinating Palestinian development aid.

The meeting brought Israeli, Palestinian, US and Arab officials and politicians together for the first time since US President Donald Trump made the controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s “capital” in December 2017.

Trump’s declaration drew global condemnations and prompted the UN General Assembly to overwhelmingly approve a resolution against it.

Mogherini said “this is a difficult moment” for the region, alluding to Trump’s decision, saying that Wednesday’s meeting would focus on ways to promote the so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The top EU diplomat said that the United States will not be able to end the conflict without the help of the rest of the international community, warning that doing so would end in failure.

“Any framework for negotiations must be multilateral and must involve all players - all partners - that are essential to this process. A process without one or the other would simply not work, would simply not be realistic,” she said.

On January 16, the US State Department announced that Washington would hold back 65 million dollars to UNRWA - more than half its planned contribution this year - and demanded that the agency make unspecified reforms.

In a tweet on January 2, US President Donald Trump said Washington gave the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but got “no appreciation or respect.”

On Monday, the 13,000 employees of UNRWA staged a strike that forced the closure of the organization’s schools, clinics and food stores, serving 1.4 million Gazans in protest at the US’s decision to cut its aid for the organization by $65 million.

Full report at:



Hezbollah vows to defend Lebanon’s oil, gas against Israel

Jan 31, 2018

Lebanon’s resistance movement Hezbollah has vowed to defend the rights of the country in oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean region against any new Israeli aggression.

In response to comments made by Israeli Minister for Military Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, who on Wednesday warned companies not to engage in exploration activities with Lebanon, Hezbollah said the group would do its best to defend the Lebanon’s “oil and gas rights” against any Israeli threat.

Lieberman told a security conference in the occupied territories that giant international energy companies who have been bidding on a Lebanese tender for offshore activities on the Levant Basin in were “making a grave error”. He said Lebanon’s tender for the Block 9, one of the five blocks in the area which is disputed with Israel, was “very provocative”.

Hezbollah said Lieberman’s comments were “a new aggression”, warning that it would “decisively confront any assault on our oil and gas rights.”

Other Lebanese officials also reacted to the comments, with Prime Minister Sa’ad al-Hariri saying they were one of several “threatening messages” from Israel in recent days.

President Michel Aoun said on his official Twitter account that “Lieberman’s words about Block 9 are a threat to Lebanon and its right to sovereignty over its territorial waters.”

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil also said that he had highlighted the case with the United Nations two weeks ago when he sent a letter affirming Lebanon’s right to defend itself and its economic interests.

Full report at:



9 Yemeni civilians killed, nearly dozen injured as Saudi jets hit Amran

Jan 31, 2018

At least nine civilians have lost their lives and nearly a dozen others sustained injuries when Saudi fighter jets carried out a string of airstrikes against a residential area in Yemen’s northwestern province of Amran as the Riyadh regime does not shy away from its atrocious aerial bombardment campaign against its southern neighbor.

Local sources, requesting not to be named, told Yemen’s Arabic-language al-Masirah television network that nine people were killed and 11 others were injured when Saudi warplanes targeted a group of civilians who had converged near Afrah Bridge in the al-Qaflah district of the province on Wednesday evening.

Separately, Yemeni army soldiers and allied fighters from Popular Committees have fatally shot three Saudi troopers in the kingdom’s southwestern border region of Jizan in retaliation to the Saudi aggression against their impoverished and crisis-hit country.

A Yemeni military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Yemeni forces targeted the Saudi soldiers in the al-Khazan hilly region on the outskirts of Quwa village as well as Hamezah village of the region, located 967 kilometers southwest of the capital Riyadh.

Yemeni military units also launched a barrage of artillery rounds at the gatherings of Saudi soldiers in Raqabah al-Hanjar area and al-Alab border crossing in Asir region of Saudi Arabia.

At least 13,600 people have been killed since the onset of Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Yemen in 2015. Much of the country's infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and factories, has been reduced to rubble due to the war.

The Saudi-led war has also triggered a deadly cholera epidemic across Yemen.

According to the World Health Organization’s latest tally, the cholera outbreak has killed 2,167 people since the end of April 2017 and is suspected to have infected 841,906.

In November 2017, the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, said more than 11 million children in Yemen were in acute need of aid, stressing that it was estimated that every 10 minutes a child died of a preventable disease there.

Additionally, the UN has described the current level of hunger in Yemen as “unprecedented,” emphasizing that 17 million people were food insecure in the country.

Full report at:



Clashes in Yemen's Aden leave 40,000 displaced without aid: UN

Jan 31, 2018

More than 40,000 internally displaced people are without aid in Yemen’s second city Aden in the wake of a fight between separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates and rival forces loyal to Yemen's former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the UN says.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Wednesday that it had been unable to distribute aid since the separatists seized most of Aden at the weekend.

"UNHCR emergency aid distributions and humanitarian assessments planned this week for vulnerable, displaced Yemenis have now been postponed and UNHCR humanitarian cargo remains at Aden port unable to be released," the UNHCR tweeted.

"We are also particularly concerned for those newly displaced in Aden who have fled other areas in Yemen. More than 40,000 people fled to Aden and nearby governorates since December and we anticipate more displacement as people continue to flee from hostilities in the west coast," the agency added.

On January 28, the separatists launched their assault in Aden, taking control of a number of sites and military camps run by forces loyal to Hadi following intense clashes. They swiftly seized the presidential palace in the southern port city.

The UAE has played a key role in the Saudi military campaign against Yemen, which was launched in March 2015 with the aim of reinstalling Hadi's government and crushing the Houthi Ansarullah movement that currently runs state affairs.

Prior to the offensive, Hadi had resigned and fled to Riyadh. The Saudi regime and its allies later managed to seize Aden from the Houthis and put it under the control of the ex-president’s officials.

Given its economic importance, Aden’s control would lend considerable leverage to any side exercising ultimate control over the port.

International charity Save the Children announced on Tuesday that it too had been forced to suspend its humanitarian work in Aden due to concerns over its staff’s safety.

Full report at:



Southeast Asia


Morality push may outlaw sex outside marriage in Indonesia

February 01, 2018

Riding a tsunami of moral conservatism and anti-gay prejudice, Indonesia’s Islamic political parties appear on the cusp of a major victory: outlawing all sex outside marriage .

Revisions to Indonesia’s criminal code being considered by Parliament would allow prison sentences of up to five years for sex between unmarried people. Those changes would also criminalize gay sex , the bugbear of Indonesia’s Islamic and secular political parties.

Rights groups and legal experts fear a profound setback to human rights and privacy in Indonesia , one of the world’s largest democracies, and the spread of vigilantism, already common in parts of the sprawling Muslim-majority nation of more than 250 million people. They are racing to organize opposition. An online petition launched this week has gathered more than 20,000 signatures.

“Indonesia, whose constitution guarantees human rights and has ratified many human rights covenants, will be ridiculed by the world for creating a law that is potentially violating many of those rights,” said Said Muhammad Isnur, head of advocacy at the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation.

While the possible criminalization of sex between unmarried consenting adults has grabbed attention, the revised criminal code, which has nearly 800 articles, also contains changes that could weaken checks and balances in Indonesia’s young democracy. One article potentially makes criticism of the president defamation and other articles could be used to weaken the Corruption Eradication Commission, one of Indonesia’s most effective public institutions.

Asrul Sani, a lawmaker from the Islamic-based United Development Party, has told reporters that a 25-member parliamentary working committee has agreed on nearly all the articles in the revised code. It and another Islamic party are seeking longer prison sentences for gay sex in circumstances that involve force, public acts or pornography and that is still being argued, he said.

Statements from different committee members indicate there isn’t total agreement but a majority of parties appear to have swung behind at least criminalization of gay sex . Bambang Soesatyo, the speaker of Parliament and a lawmaker from the major secular party Golkar, said same-sex relationships should be criminalized because they could “corrupt the morality of the nation.” A few politicians outside the committee have raised concerns about the fundamental threat to privacy.

One of the obstacles in the way of the Islamic parties is President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s power of veto. But with provincial elections due this year and a presidential race in 2019, it’s unclear whether Jokowi is willing to risk political capital on protecting a hated and misunderstood minority or being seen as soft on morality issues.

“The Islamic parties are really using this issue as their marketing going into the political years, this year and next year,” said Bivitri Susantri, a constitutional law expert who helped establish the Indonesian Center of Law and Policy Studies.

“The only thing we can do is to push the government, the president, to stop this,” she said. “Because if we see how the political parties, both the secular ones and the Islamic ones discuss this, I think this draft law will be passed as it is now.”

Islamic parties make up four of the 10 factions in Indonesia’s Parliament and due to the popular vote threshold being raised to 4 percent, are at risk of losing their seats in Parliament next year if they can’t rouse their bases.

They have typically commanded far less votes than secular parties, but their concerns resonate with a broad cross-section of Indonesians. Hard-line Muslim groups considered fringe a decade ago, such as the Islamic Defenders Front, have moved into the mainstream and shook Jokowi’s government last year with a mass movement against the minority Christian governor of Jakarta, who was subsequently imprisoned for two years for blasphemy.

Conservative groups such as the Family Love Alliance believe Indonesia is being overwhelmed by immoral behavior such as sex between unmarried young couples, and in December nearly succeeding in convincing Indonesia’s Constitutional Court to outlaw gay sex and sex outside marriage .

Moderate groups, meanwhile, have struggled to muster their forces. While many speak out online, that has little impact compared with the ability of Islamic groups to summon tens of thousands for mass protests.

The Islamic parties’ message is perhaps at its most politically potent when aimed at Indonesia’s besieged LGBT minority, which for the past two years has been the target of an escalating campaign of raids, arrests, hateful rhetoric from government officials and vigilante attacks.

Police in the conservative province of Aceh, which practices Shariah law, over the weekend rounded up 12 transgender people who worked in hair salons and publicly humiliated them by forcing them into men’s clothing and cutting their hair.

Susantri and other legal experts said enforcement would be a huge and impossible burden on police and encourage vigilante acts from self-appointed “guardians of morality ,” undermining an already fragile rule of law in Indonesia .

She said people who practice religions not recognized by the state could also be criminalized because their marriages aren’t recognized.

“The president should say no to this law,” Susantri said. “But looking at how Jokowi is handling issues related to Islam I think he wouldn’t do that.”



Malaysian church attacks highlight growth of Islamic extremism

01 February 2018

Located within easy reach of three active centres of Islamic extremism – Mindanao in the Philippines, Arakan in Myanmar and the southern provinces of Thailand – Malaysia has become a breeding ground for IS recruitment, weapon smuggling and communication, according to the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.

In its latest report, the Singapore-based research centre says IS sympathisers number into the thousands in Malaysia and amount to a “virtual caliphate”, as reported by Free Malaysia Today.

But although they pose a real security threat, Malaysia’s Christians are generally unaware of the risk, a local source told World Watch Monitor.

“When we talked about IS in our [security] training, they do not show concern as they think it will not happen here,” the source said. “This could be due to lack of knowledge and exposure about the matter itself.”

Two attacks on churches were reported recently by The Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM), the ecumenical body which includes the Province of South East Asia dioceses of Kuching, Sabah and West Malaysia.

In one of the incidents, shortly after the midnight service on 1st January, a “water bomb” made from modified fragments of fireworks exploded in front of the Luther Centre in Petaling Jaya, to the west of the capital Kuala Lumpur, injuring three Christians.

The general secretary of the CCM, Rev Dr Hermen Shastri, said “police believe the attack on the Luther Centre was carried out by a ‘Mat Rempit’ – a gang-style individual who carries out public disturbances”.

A week later, a Methodist Church was attacked with a petrol bomb in Kota Bharu, a conservative city on the north-east of Peninsular Malaysia. The attack is believed to have been “motivated by extremists who are out to stoke the flames of religious intolerance in the country”, according to Rev Shastri. Four weeks earlier, some objects thrown at the church had smashed its windows, Malaysia’s Star newspaper reported.

“We call on the police to reinforce their efforts to act firmly against this growing trend, where there are people committed to disrupting inter-religious harmony by targeting religious buildings with flagrant acts of vandalism and arson,” Rev Shastri said. “Such actions if left unchecked may embolden extremists and unscrupulous elements to engage in such actions in the run up to the coming national General Elections in 2018.”

Full report at:



As shadow falls on moon, Hindu temples fall silent


January 31, 2018

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 31 — Hindu devotees started exiting temples across the city starting 3pm today as priests shut the doors well ahead of the lunar eclipse — seen as an ill omen — happening tonight.

“It is the tradition as the eclipse is considered to bring negative energy and is considered impure.

“It is not just us, but all temples which you will find closed except for the main temple at Batu Caves, ”a priest at the Sri Kandaswamy temple in Brickfields told Malay Mail during a visit this evening.

Unlike other temples visited, Sri Kandaswamy closed its doors at 7pm sharp after ushering out the few devotees who had braved an evening downpour to make their offerings.

The temple was brightly lit but silent and priests oversaw devotees who had come to perform their rights.

“I do not recall when temples last had to close but I am here to perform my prayers before the eclipse,” said one devotee, Ganesh Kalaisamy.

“They are closing soon and will be open tomorrow… I will return for the morning prayers,” he added.

At the Arulmigu Sri Ramalingeswarar temple in Bangsar, another Hindu who had come with his offerings said he had expected the temple to stay open till just before the eclipse started in the evening and was surprised to find the doors shut.

“The announcement was 7pm but they must have a reason for closing early.

“Perhaps they are tired or are preparing for tomorrow’s prayers,” Ramesh Muralingam told Malay Mail when approached while standing outside the temple’s main gate.

While many astronomy aficionados have been anticipating tonight’s super blue blood moon and lunar eclipse, the celestial event on Thaipusam this year has cut short the festival that marks the transfer of power from the Hindu goddess Parvathi through her spear to her son Lord Muruga to vanquish the evil Soorapadman and restore peace and well-being.

The Hindu Sangam has announced that all temples nationwide be closed between 7pm and 11pm, with the exception of the famous Sri Subramaniar Swamy temple at Batu Caves.

Sri Subramaniar Swamy temple officials said they had decided to do so after consulting with scholars and priests who advised them the temple could remain open.

However traditions were important to keep, according to Batumalai Kalaisamy, a garland seller who had set up shop near the Sri Mahamariamman temple along Jalan Tun HS Lee.

Full report at:



Back off Indira’s ex or there may be violence, Muslim scholars tell police

January 31, 2018

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 31 — The Malaysian Association of Muslim Scholars (PUM) has urged the police today to stop pursuing the fugitive ex-husband of M. Indira Gandhi and her youngest daughter that he abducted nine years ago.

In a statement posted on its Facebook page, the group warned that religious sectarian violence may erupt in this country if the police continue to hunt Muhammad Riduan Abdullah and Prasana Diksa.

“We ask for the kind consideration of the police to not hunt the father and the children until a solution can be found.

“We are concerned that if it is carried out, there is a possibility of conflict between religious adherents in this country that may spark violence in society,” its president Datuk Abdul Halim Abd Kadir said.

After the landmark ruling, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun has pledged that the police will continue hunting down Muhammad Riduan.

He said the police are confident that the convert is still in the country, but they lack any leads to find him.

PUM also urged that the children unilaterally converted into Islam by Muhammad Riduan must not be allowed to revert back to Hinduism.

Indira’s two elder children, Tevi Darsiny, 20, and Karan Dinish, 19, told Malay Mail they can now proudly declare their Hindu identity after their conversion that was done without their mother’s consent was nullified by the Federal Court.

On April 2, 2009, K. Pathmanathan, or Muhammad Riduan Abdullah as he is now known, had covertly converted his three children to Islam without their knowledge and without Indira’s consent, before going to the Shariah court just a few days later to obtain custody rights for them. The Shariah court only has jurisdiction over Muslims.

Indira had in May 2016 told Malay Mail however that both her elder children have been practising Hindus since birth, with their identity cards still carrying the names they were born with and stating their religious status as Hindu.

PUM had also requested the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to allow the group to advise in matters involving conversion to Islam.

Full report at:



AirAsia limits Aceh flight attendants to men, Firefly mulls non-Muslim crew


January 31, 2018

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 31 — AirAsia said it will only place male cabin crew on its flights to Aceh, after the Indonesian province enforced requirements for Muslim female flight attendants to wear the “tudung” (headscarf) upon arrival.

In a short statement to Malay Mail, the budget carrier said it was ready to comply with the new regulations imposed by authorities in the province that practises Shariah law.

“We are committed to ensure that our operations adhere to it. For the time being, all AirAsia flights from and to Aceh will be operated by male cabin crew,” the statement said.

Another Malaysian flight operator to Aceh, Firefly Sdn Bhd, said it may review its crew rostering to have only non-Muslim flight attendants to cater to the new law.

Its chief executive officer, Ignatius Ong, said Aceh’s request was still being assessed, but stressed that decisions have not been made.

He added the airline was also looking into incorporating an additional layer of clothing to its signature uniform — a knee-length form-fitting orange dress — only on flights to the Indonesian province.

“We are in the midst of assessing their request and also looking at the other airlines’ responses.

“At the same time, we are reviewing our crew rostering as well as trialling some possible overcoat options just for this destination,” he told Malay Mail in a written reply today.

Firefly flies four times weekly from Penang to Banda Aceh and four times weekly from Banda Aceh to Penang and Subang.

Full report at:






Educationists underscore significance of peace for survival of humanity

FEBRUARY 1, 2018

HYDERABAD: The educationists, writers and intellectuals addressing a seminar here on Wednesday underscored the significance of peace for the survival of humanity and the role which different stakeholders could play in achieving that objective.

The experts expressed their views over the issue at a three-day seminar titled ‘Practical and Theoretical Review of Aspects of Peace and Conflict in Local and Global Perspectives’ organized at University of Sindh, Jamshoro.

The event was organized by Office of Research, Innovation and Commercialization (OREC) of SU, Higher Education Commission and Shamsul Ulema Mirza Kaleech Baig Chair.

Speaking at the seminar’s first session Prof Farhat Jokhio of Sindh University said that conflicts of different nature in the world were creating numerous problems and also providing breeding ground for terrorism.

“We all seem to have a role in some way in the spread of such strife,” she observed.

She said that in order to spread love and peace in the world the humans would first have to attain internal peace.

“When we are at peace within ourselves only then we can make the society peaceful,” Farhat believed.

The professor said although the human psyche disliked the situation of strife, circumstances compel the humans to become entangled in such situations.

“Humans can enjoy life only when there is peace and love in the society,” she said.

Expressing ambivalence over the role of the media for creation of both peace and conflict, Prof Farhat said the media highlighted positive and negative issues and situations which become reasons for promoting peace or conflict.

Speaking in the second session titled ‘Peace and Trade’, Focal Person of SU’s Naushahro Feroze Campus Dr Hakim Mahesar explained how conflict and strife affected trade and how promotion of trade could lower the incidence of conflict.

He gave example of Pakistan, where he said China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project had contributed to establishing peace and curbing violence.

“Not only peace is restoring in Pakistan, the economic landscape of the country has also improved and will keep improving,” he observed.

Dr Mahesar said peace and trade had a close relation because when the economy prospers and employment opportunities are created, the humans tend to dedicate their lives for work and their families.

“War and conflicts don’t only affect the two sides who engage in fighting but their implications are far reaching which adversely affect the society as a whole,” he noted.

Dr Mehmoodul Hassan Mughal, who addressed the third session titled ‘Peace and Hope for Humanity’, elaborated that the objective of peace was to live and let others live.

“There are two types of people. There are those who perturb other people and those who get perturbed. While the latter somehow find a way out of perturbation, the former remain ensnared in that state,” he observed.

Mughal stressed on the need of adopting positive approach by the humans as a panacea to end the strife and pave the way for peace in society.

“The journey of thousands of miles starts with the first step,” he said.

He advised the people to prefer identifying good qualities in the characters of other people and desist from pointing out only negative aspects.

“Instinctively humans are peaceful but circumstances compel them to opt for wrong path in their lives. If we want peace, we will have to promote the positive approach to life,” he believed.

Dr Mughal urged the people to develop closer relations with their family members and relatives and to learn to be helpful to them when they were in need.

The event concluded with performance of a tableau titled ‘Need for Peace’ while the notable musician Zulfiqar Ali Khan read a poem of late poet Mirza Kaleech Baig.

The event’s coordinator Sheeraz Shaikh informed that the seminar’s concluding ceremony would be held on its third day on Thursday.



Only parliament can amend disqualification law: Aitzaz

Feb 1, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Senator Aitzaz Ahsan has said that only the parliament has the authority to amend legislature pertaining to the lifetime disqualification of the lawmakers.

Talking to the media here, he said that the ‘Maryam group’ in the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) wants to pressure the court to the extent that it receives a verdict in its favour. “The pressure tactics [are being used] to get a verdict from the court that will reduce the disqualification tenure,” he said.

He also said that the disqualification tenure was infinite and for-life, to the existing assembly. “But the Supreme Court cannot determine this term, only the parliament has the authority to do so,” he said.



Islamabad pledges security cooperation to Kabul

February 01, 2018

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Wednesday rejected the ‘documentary evidence’ shared by Afghanistan regarding the recent spate of attacks by the Taliban in the war-torn country but pledged to cooperate with Kabul to eliminate terrorism, official sources said.

Earlier in the day, Afghan Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak and National Directorate of Security Chief Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai visited Pakistan, carrying a message from President Dr Ashraf Ghani for Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

The Afghan team held a meeting with PM Abbasi to discuss the growing tension. The meeting was also attended by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Inter-Services Intelligence Chief Lt Gen. Naveed Mukhtar, Chief of General Staff General Bilal Akbar, Afghan Envoy to Pakistan Dr Omar Zakhilwal and other officials.

Soon as the Afghan delegation left Pakistan, the federal cabinet gave a 60-day extension in the Proof of Registration Cards for Afghan Refugees. The cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi decided that the PoR will be valid until the end of March.

The validity of legal refugee status for many Afghan refugees expired on January 31. Pakistan has extended the validity of PoR for the refugees at least six times in the past. The last time, the extension was granted only for a month. This was the shortest extension ever granted.

Senior government officials said Pakistan tried to convince the Afghan delegation that their allegations were ‘mere misunderstanding’ which could be removed through talks.

“We have seen their evidence which is only a bunch of allegations. We will still investigate and help them (Afghanistan),” one official told The Nation.

Another official said the talks will continue and Pakistan was optimistic the dialogue process will remove the misunderstandings. “There has been a consensus on better intelligence-sharing. They (the Afghan delegation) spoke about taking up the (terrorism) issue in the United Nations (accusing Pakistan-based militants of terror attacks in Afghanistan),” he added.

After the meeting, Afghan Deputy Head of Mission in Islamabad Zardasht Shams said the visiting delegation had a detailed meeting with PM Abbasi and senior officials.

The meeting came hours after Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan denied reports that President Ashraf Ghani refused to take a condolence phone call from Prime Minister Abbasi after the Kabul terror attack.

“Not true – no phone call has taken place. Following recent horrific terrorist attacks in Kabul PM Abassi conveyed a message to President Ghani to which it was responded to by high powered delegation by the President to meet the PM today (January 31),” he tweeted.

Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said the high-level delegation representing the Afghan government had arrived in Islamabad to discuss “cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

He said the delegation also carried a message from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for the Pakistani leadership

This week, the foreign ministry said that 27 individuals suspected of belonging to Tehrik-e-Taliban Afghanistan and the Haqqani Network were handed over to Afghanistan in November 2017.

Dr Faisal said Pakistan continued to push any suspected TTA and HN elements to prevent them from using “our soil for any terrorist activity in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan, he said, had sacrificed 75,000 civilians and 6,000 soldiers to the scourge of terrorism. “We have one of the highest officer-to-soldier casualty rate globally and suffered economic losses worth $123 billion.

However, Ambassador Zakhilwal said he was ‘astonished’ to see the reports. He said if this indeed happened it would be a huge step forward in Pakistan and Afghanistan mutual bilateral relations.

Afghan delegation’s visit came amid rising tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghanistan was furious after an attack on a luxury hotel and a car bomb in the capital Kabul that killed more than 120 people. Afghanistan blamed Pakistan-based militants for carrying out the attack.

Meanwhile, a  delegation from Islamabad will visit Afghanistan on February 3. “The delegation, led by the foreign secretary (Tehmina Janjua), will hold constructive and meaningful discussions with Afghanistan on all issues including counter-terrorism, peace and reconciliation and repatriation of refugees,” an official statement said.

The Pakistani delegation will participate in the first meeting of Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Solidarity.

The delegation, the statement said will hold “constructive and meaningful discussions with Afghanistan on all issues including Counter-Terrorism, Peace and Reconciliation and Repatriation of Refugees.”

It added Pakistan wanted to engage with Afghanistan at official and State to State level rather than conducting diplomacy through the media.

Full report at:



Pak, Afghan officials hold ‘useful talks’ after deadly Kabul attacks

Tahir Khan

FEBRUARY 1, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Afghan Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak and Intelligence Chief Masoom Stanekzai, who arrived in Islamabad on a surprise visit on Wednesday, held detailed talks on security cooperation days after Taliban-claimed attacks in Kabul killed about 125 people and injured nearly 250, Afghan and Pakistani sources said. Afghan security officials had accused the Haqqani network of carrying out the attack in Kabul on security forces on January 27 and Kabul’s Hotel Intercontinental on January 20. Afghan and American officials claim Afghan militants live in Pakistan, the charges rejected by Pakistan. No statement was issued after the high level talks; however, official and diplomatic sources said the two-hours meeting was held in a “cordial atmosphere and both sides were satisfied with the outcome”. Both sides also agreed to continue negotiations and a Pakistani delegation is likely to visit Kabul on February 3 for follow up talks and share “Pakistan’s concerns about the presence of militants on the Afghan side of the border,” a Pakistani source said. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi led Pakistani side while the Afghan delegation was headed by Afghan interior Minister Barmak. Afghan ambassador Omar Zakhilwal accompanied the Afghan delegation.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the ISI chief and other senior military and intelligence officials assisted the prime minister.

Afghan deputy ambassador Zardasht Shams told section of the media that Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi assured the Afghan side that Pakistan will extend full cooperation regarding the probe into the Kabul attacks, which were claimed by the Taliban.

Daily Times has learnt that Prime Minister Abbasi “rescheduled other engagements to give more time to the Afghan delegation members, who talked about all issues.” The meeting started around 2:45 pm and continued until 4:45 pm, an official said.

The Foreign Office spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal had earlier wrote on his Twitter that the Afghan government had requested that a high level delegation comprising Interior Minister and National Directorate of Security chief would like to visit Pakistan “with a message from Afghan President and for discussions about cooperation between the two countries.”

Spokesman for the prime minister’s declined to comment and referred the queries to the foreign the spokesman, who did not reply to several messages. Pakistan and Afghan officials held talks in Islamabad following the foreign office announcement that Pakistan has handed over 27 members of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network to Afghanistan. Faisal wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that the Afghan militants were handed over in November.

“The Pakistan continues to push any suspected TTA (Tehrik-e-Taliban Afghanistan & HN (Haqqani Network) elements to prevent them from using our soil for any terrorist activity in Afghanistan. In this context, 27 individuals suspected of belonging to TTA & HN have been handed over to Afghanistan in November 2017,” the foreign office spokesman said.

Afghan officials in Islamabad and Kabul said they were unaware of the handover.

“This certainly is news to me! It would be a huge step forward in our important bilateral relations if this indeed happens,” Afghan ambassador Zakhilwal said on Twitter,

He also denied Afghan media reports that President Ashraf Ghani has refused to attend phone call from Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. “Not true – no phone call has taken place. Following recent horrific terrorists attacks in Kabul PM Abassi conveyed a message to President Ghani to which it was responded to by high powered personal delegation by the President to meet the PM today,” Zakhilwal wrote on Twitter.

Full report at:





UNHCR appeals for $157mn for those fleeing Boko Haram

Feb 1, 2018

The UN refugee agency has appealed for $157 million to help over 280,000 people affected by the Boko Haram Takfiri terrorist group.

On Wednesday, the UNHCR announced that the amount was required to aid some 208,000 Nigerian refugees and 75,000 of their hosts in Niger, Cameroon and Chad, who are under pressure from the influx of people fleeing the terrorist group.

The agency added that Boko Haram's incursion has had “devastating” side effects such as large increase in food insecurity and severe malnutrition.

"The Boko Haram crisis lingers on and is far from over,” said UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly Clements.

“The world should not forget the victims of this deadly conflict, especially as there appears to be little hope for a return to peace and stability in the near future,” she added.

More than 20,000 people have been killed since Boko Haram started its deadly campaign in northeastern Nigeria in 2009. The violence has claimed many lives in the neighboring countries of Chad, Niger, and Cameroon as well.

Boko Haram has been largely pushed out of its main strongholds in northern Nigeria, according to the country’s military and government. The group, however, is still active in its Sambisa Forest enclave in Borno and launches sporadic attacks on civilians and security forces from there.



European ambassadors urge Sudan to free protesters

31 January 2018

European embassies in Sudan made a joint plea Wednesday for Khartoum to free dozens of people, including opposition leaders and human rights activists, detained while protesting against high food prices.

"We condemn the violence used against peaceful protest, and continue to encourage those exercising their fundamental rights to do so peacefully," the embassies of European Union member states said in a statement.

"The ambassadors of the resident EU embassies in Sudan are very concerned by the prolonged detention without charge or trial of a large number of political leaders, human rights activists and other citizens."

They urged Khartoum to release all those still detained to ensure that they "are not mistreated".

Sporadic protests erupted across Sudan earlier this month after prices of food, notably bread, soared following a jump in the cost of flour due to a shortage of wheat.

Anti-riot police and plainclothes security agents swiftly moved in and crushed the demonstrations held in Khartoum and some other parts of the country. Police often fired tear gas to break up the protests.

In an attempt to crush the rallies, the authorities detained several opposition leaders and human rights activists. Several journalists were also detained while covering the protests, but most of them have since been released.

The embassies also expressed concern at the "repeated seizures" of newspapers by security agents who have often confiscated entire print runs of some dailies that criticized the authorities for the rise in food prices.

Some opposition groups have called for protests on Wednesday.

There were also sporadic protests in late 2016 after the government cut fuel subsidies.

The authorities cracked down on those protests in an attempt to prevent a repeat of deadly unrest that followed an earlier round of subsidy cuts in 2013.

Full report at:



UN launches appeal for over 200,000 displaced by Boko Haram

31 January 2018

The UN refugee agency appealed on Wednesday for $157 million (126 million euros) to help over a quarter of a million people affected by the insurgency led by the militant group Boko Haram.

Since 2013, the Boko Haram conflict has internally displaced another 2.4 million people in northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, it said.

"The Boko Haram crisis lingers on and is far from over," said UNHCR deputy high commissioner Kelly Clements while launching the appeal.

"The world should not forget the victims of this deadly conflict, especially as there appears to be little hope for a return to peace and stability in the near future."

"Devastating" side effects of the conflict include a huge rise in food insecurity and severe malnutrition, the agency said.

More than seven million people in the Lake Chad Basin region were food-insecure as of September 2017, with potentially severe consequences for child health, it said.

A similar appeal for $241 million in 2017 was only 56-percent funded, the UNHCR noted in its press release.

Chad and Cameroon are engaged alongside Nigeria and Niger in the battle against Boko Haram extremists, who first took the conflict across the border into Niger in 2015, with numerous raids around the region of Diffa.

Between 2015 and 2017, UN monitors recorded 582 civilian casualties in 244 raids blamed on Boko Haram in Diffa.

On Monday at least two soldiers were killed in southeastern Niger while fighting off an attack by suspected Boko Haram militants.

Full report at:



Nigeria: Desperate Appeal for Funds for Boko Haram Victims

31 JANUARY 2018

By Emeka Okonkwo

Abuja — HUMANITARIAN agencies have appealed for US$157 million (R1,877 billion) to help over 250 000 people affected by the Boko Haram terror in Nigeria and neighbouring countries.

The 47 United Nations agencies and humanitarian organisations, who have joined the 2018 Nigeria Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP), will cater for the needs of some 208 000 Nigerian refugees and 75 000 of host families in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

A similar appeal of $241 million was made for 2017 but only half was secured.

"The Boko Haram crisis lingers on and is far from over," said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Deputy High Commissioner Kelly Clements, said Niger's capital Niamey.

"The world should not forget the victims of this deadly conflict, especially as there appears to be little hope for a return to peace and stability in the near future."

Nigerian refugees continue to arrive in remote and impoverished communities in neighbouring countries.

Since it intensified in 2013, the Boko Haram conflict has internally displaced 2,4 million people in northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. An estimated 100 000 people have been killed. The countries are in the Lake Chad Basin.

The Muslim insurgency has rendered over 7 million people in the region food insecure.

Full report at:




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