Turkey ‘Aided Islamist Fighters’ in Attack on Syrian Christian Town

A severely damaged house in the Armenian Christian town of Kasab (Photo: REUTERS).Turkey facilitated an attack carried out by Islamist fighters against the Armenian town of Kasab inside Syria, eyewitnesses have told the Telegraph.

In an operation that was months in the planning, Turkish authorities gave rebel groups the mandate they needed to attack, allowing them access through a heavily militarised Turkish border post, whose location was strategically vital to the success of the assault.

“Turkey did us a big favour,” said a Syrian activist with the rebel group, whose name the Telegraph knows but has been asked not to reveal. “They allowed our guys to enter from their border post.

“We needed to hit the regime from different sides and this was the only way from near the coast, so it was a big help.”

Kasab, the ancestral home of the Armenian ethnic minority in Syria, which had remained relatively sheltered from the conflict in Syria.

Residents were woken on the morning of the attack, on March 21, to screams and cries.

“We woke to the sounds of the shelling. There was no time even to get dressed,” remembered Bedros, 45, an Armenian resident who asked not to be identified by his real name. “I grabbed my wife and my children. We had no time to take our things. Some people fled in their night gowns.”

Two days later Kasab was in the hands of an alliance of Islamist groups, including the jihadist Jabhat al-Nusra, aligned with al-Qaeda. Almost all of the villages approximately 2,000 inhabitants had fled.

The night of the attack a relative of Bedros had gone to one of the main border posts with Turkey, which is only lightly armed with Syrian troops, reportedly because of an agreement signed decades before the war.

“By the time he arrived the attack had begun. He saw the Islamist fighters standing with the Turkish army. They started launching their shells from the border”.

The Turkish foreign ministry has issued a statement stating that the claims that the government aided the opposition in the attack are “totally unfounded and untrue”.

However, the findings of investigation by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which included interviews with local eye-witnesses, directly contradict this claim.

“It is not feasible that these groups could have crossed into Syria from where they did without the knowledge of the Turks,” Lama Fakih, the Syria and Lebanon researcher at HRW told the Telegraph.

“One of the areas they used was an official border crossing that residents say has a Turkish military presence.”

The entry through the Kasab border crossing allowed the rebels to attack the Syrian military positions near village from several sides, making it key to the rebel assault.

Rebel groups had wanted to attack Kasab for a long time, said the female activist, but Turkey had previously denied them access.

“In the past the Turks refused to give us passage, because they said that in order to succeed in the attack we needed to be united,” she said, referring to the battles that took place at the end of last year between the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, and other rebel groups in the area.

The attack on Kasab sparked dark memories of the Ottoman massacres for its inhabitants, and a hysterical flurry across social media from pro-government sources claiming horrific massacres in the town.

Residents themselves brought up memories of massacres in 1909, and the genocide in 1915, when Kasab villagers were slaughter in their thousands by the Ottomans.

“We always thought the Turks would attack us one day,” said Bedros, the fellow family members who he is sharing his new lodgings in Lebanon, nodding as he spoke. “And with the attack on Kasab it was clear that Turkey helped. The attackers came from Turkish territory.”

Kasab was however the Syrian regime’s ‘Achilles heel’ in the well defended coastal province of Latakia, where many Alawites, the same religious minority as President Assad, live.

Al-Nusra and the Islamic Front have pushed deeper into the terrain, taking control of Samra, giving them access to the coastline and engaging in fierce battles for ‘observatory 45′, the highest mountain point in the area, and a strategically vital military position.

“You can see why we needed to take Kasab,” said Dr Mahmoud, diplomacy envoy for the Islamic Front. “You can see what has happened. Now the regime is very very afraid.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Casualties As Gunmen Attack NATO Supply Trucks In Pakistan

Pakistani officials say at least one driver has been killed in attacks on trucks carrying supplies to NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.

The violence on April 14 took place in the Jamrud area, near the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The AFP news agency quoted Ali Sher, a local official, as saying three trucks were attacked, leaving one driver dead and two others injured.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.

The violence came days after a cease-fire declared by the Pakistani Taliban expired.

The cease-fire had been announced as the militants explored peace talks with the Pakistani government.

Based on reports from AFP and dpa

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Turkish-backed Rebels Blamed for Gas Attack

Russian intelligence sources claim there are clear signs Turkey was involved in Friday’s gas attack that reportedly injured scores of people in a central Syrian village.

Both Russian intelligence sources and sources within the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told WND there is information Turkey supplied the gas to the rebels, who in turn carried out the attack in Kfar Zeita, a village in Hama province about 125 miles from Damascus.

Rebel leaders, however, were quoted by the news media blaming Assad’s forces for the attack, which they say occurred following air raid raids on the rebel-held village that is one of the last remaining rebel strongholds in Syria.

Rebel groups posted online videos of what they said were civilians struggling to breathe at a field hospital following the attack.

Syrian state-run media fingered an al-Qaida-linked organization, the Nusra Front, which has been fighting alongside the rebels.

Assigning blame in the immediate aftermath of these kinds of attacks is often unwise.

In August, the Obama administration blamed Assad’s regime for a chemical attack that reportedly killed hundreds of people, but that information was widely questioned.

As WND reported, after publishing an influential analysis in September that claimed a missile carrying chemical weapons was fired from a Syrian military complex, the New York Times later reported on a new study that, if accurate, would make its analysis an impossibility.

The details are critical because the original study was utilized by the Obama administration in its accusation that Assad had committed atrocities against civilians.

On Sept. 17, the Times utilized data released by the United Nations to conduct its own analysis pinpointing the origin of a reported chemical-weapons attack on Aug. 21. The attack killed hundreds, including children.

The U.N. report stated its investigation of munitions showed at least two kinds of rockets had been used, an M14 artillery rocket and an unidentified 330-millimeter rocket.

The Times focused on an aspect of the U.N. report: “One annex to the report identified azimuths, or angular measurements, from where rockets had struck, back to their points of origin.”

The Times used the U.N. data and the known distance the rockets can travel — some up to 20 kilometers — to conclude that the origin “pointed directly” to a Syrian military complex.

Reported the Times: “When plotted and marked independently on maps by analysts from Human Rights Watch and by The New York Times, the United Nations data from two widely scattered impact sites pointed directly to a Syrian military complex.”

In January, however, the Times reported on a new study that showed the rockets used had a range of only about three kilometers — far less than the distance assumed by the newspaper’s original analysis putting the Syrian military complex “directly” within range.

The new study was conducted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Theodore A. Postol and Richard M. Lloyd, an analyst at Tesla Laboratories, a military contractor.

The study utilized video and photographic evidence to determine that the rockets used in the attack were taken from the motors of 122-millimeter conventional artillery rockets, or BM-21. The rockets have a distance of less than three kilometers, putting rebel-controlled areas within the firing range.

The Times admitted in the January article about the study that its own trajectory analysis from September based on the original U.N. data could have been wrong.

The Times reported the new, smaller range “would be less than the ranges of more than nine kilometers calculated separately by The New York Times and Human Rights Watch in mid-September, after the United States had dropped its push for a military strike.”

“Those estimates had been based in part on connecting reported compass headings for two rockets cited in the United Nations’ initial report on the attacks,” continued the Times.

The Times noted that the new analysis “could point to particular Syrian military units involved, or be used by defenders of the Syrian government and those suspicious of the United States’ claims to try to shift blame toward rebels.”

The Times further reported that both the Syrian army and the rebels possess BM-21s and that the rockets were not noted in Syria before the rebel-led insurgency.

Assyrian International News Agency

Turkish Military Assists Attack on Christians

By F. Michael Maloof

WASHINGTON — The Turkish military is actively assisting foreign-backed Sunni Islamic militants who are routing Christian Armenians from the northwestern Syrian town of Kassab, Syrian and Lebanese sources told WND.

The Armenians are being forced to seek refuge in the Syrian city of Latakia.

While there have been numerous reports of Islamic militant groups such as the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and the ISIS attacking Syrian Christians, the attack on Armenian Christians in Syria by Turkey has brought back memories of the Ottoman Turk attacks on Christian Armenians.

The Turkish attacks beginning in 1915 and lasting until 1923 killed more 1.5 million people and has been regarded by many experts as genocide.

As a result, many hundreds of thousands of Armenians fled to neighboring Syria and Lebanon to seek refuge and reestablish Armenian communities.

In addition to some 120,000 Armenian Christians, the government of embattled Shiite-Alawite President Bashar al-Assad has been protecting Christian Syriacs, Marionites and Eastern Orthodox believers.

Beginning last March 21, Sunni rebels have expelled some 5,000 Armenian Christians from their historic town, violently attacking the residents and desecrating their churches. Sources say the al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists then occupied the town’s abandoned homes and businesses.

The Armenian refugees fled some 35 miles, mostly on foot, to Latakia, a Syrian Army stronghold. There also is a sizeable Christian population in Latakia.

The Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denied any involvement in aiding al-Nusra militants, even though Erdogan, who also is Sunni, has allowed the Syrian opposition and al-Nusra militants to use his country as a base from which to launch military operations, hold meetings and store supplies.

Sources told WND that Turkish military personnel manning the border between Turkey and Syria allowed the foreign Islamic militants to pass without interference.

The stunning story of three Christians martyred by Muslims in Turkey, and what one widow said after she lost her husband, in “Malatya.”

The sources also report that al-Nusra fighters have taken control of the Kassab border crossing into Turkey.

According to Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi, the Turkish government is facilitating the infiltration of foreign militants into Kassab. He said such assistance violates international resolutions, since it constitutes involvement in terrorism.

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian also expressed concern about the fate of the Christian Armenians in Kassab.

“About 120,000 ethnic Armenians live in Syria — in Kassab and other areas,” he said. “Military actions and the humanitarian situation have forced ethnic Armenians to leave the city.”

Lebanese sources told WND that given the Sunni attacks on the Christian Armenians in Syria, it is possible that the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah will intervene to protect them and get back Kassab.

Pointing to the threat from al-Nusra, whose members increasingly are descending on Lebanon, sources say that the Armenian Christians have asked Hezbollah for protection in the country.

The Armenian Christians are a relatively small minority group in Lebanon but have sided with most of the other Lebanese Christians to seek Hezbollah’s protection.

In addition, Lebanese sources say that the Armenians in Lebanon are training a small militia which they have organized to protect against attacks from the Sunni al-Nusra group.

In 2000, the Lebanese parliament voted to recognize the turn-of-the-century Turkish killing of Armenians as genocide. It is the only Arab country and one of the few countries in the world that has done so.

Assyrian International News Agency

Syrian sides trade blame over new gas attack

Syrian state television and rebel forces have traded accusations over a poison gas attack that reportedly caused “suffocation and poisoning” of residents.

Details of the attack on Friday in Kafr Zita, a village in Hama province about 200km from Damascus, remain sketchy.

The Syrian National Coalition, the Western-backed opposition group, said the poison gas attack hurt dozens of people.

Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which gathers data on the conflict from activists inside Syria, said: “Regime planes bombed Kafr Zita with explosive barrels that produced thick smoke and odours and led to cases of suffocation and poisoning.”

But state television claimed that the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front had released chlorine gas in the deadly attack on the town.

“There is information that the terrorist Al-Nusra Front released toxic chorine … leading to the death of two people and causing more than 100 people to suffer from suffocation,” it said.

“There is information that Al-Nusra Front is preparing to hit Wadi Deif in Idlib province and Morek in Hama province with toxic chorine or sarin,” the state broadcaster added.

There was no independent verification of either of the claims. The latest reported poison gas attack comes after a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus last year.

The opposition and much of the international community blamed that attack, which reportedly killed as many as 1,400 people, on the Syrian regime.

The regime denied responsibility, in turn blaming the rebels, but agreed under threat of US military action to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile for destruction. 

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Syrian Rebels, Government Confirm Poison Gas Attack

Syrian Rebels, Government Confirm Poison Gas Attack

Posted 2014-04-12 17:48 GMT

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian government and rebel forces say poison gas has been used in a central village, injuring scores of people, while blaming each other for the attack.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, says dozens of people were hurt in a poison gas attack Friday in the village of Kfar Zeita.

State-run Syrian television on Saturday blamed members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front for using chlorine gas at Kfar Zeita, killing two people and injuring more than 100.

In August, a chemical attack near the capital, Damascus, killed hundreds of people. The U.S. and its allies blamed the Syrian government for that attack, which nearly sparked Western airstrikes against President Bashar Assad’s forces. Damascus denied the charges and accused rebels of staging the incident.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraqi Secularists Under Attack Ahead of Elections

Iraqi secular Sunni politician Mithal al-Alusi speaks during an election campaign rally ahead of March 7 parliamentary elections in Baghdad, Feb. 27, 2010 (photo by REUTERS/Saad Shalash).Kadhem al-Haeri, a cleric who has close ties with the Islamic Dawa Party and the Iranian regime, issued a fatwa March 30 banning the election of secular candidates in the upcoming elections. Large banners were hung in many areas of Baghdad and included a picture of the marja (spiritual guide) and the signature of the party’s office. The banners read: “It is forbidden to elect secular candidates.” The banners, hung late in March, are still present in some areas in Baghdad.

This fatwa has come in tandem with a media attack by ruling Islamic parties against the secular movement. The official media outlets of these parties are constantly instilling fear among the people regarding the “dangerous agendas” of secular candidates, claiming they have links to foreign parties and ties with the former regime.

A good example of this drive is what recently happened to civil activist Hanaa Edwar, known as the “Mother Theresa of Iraq” for the large-scale humanitarian services she provides there. Almasalah, affiliated with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, accused Edwar of raising the old Iraqi flag from the era of deposed President Saddam Hussein and of being involved in corruption cases, without presenting any documents or supporting evidence. The website also described her critical stance against Maliki and the Iraqi government’s violations of human rights during a conference held by Maliki himself in 2012 as “exhibitionist, theatrical and characterized with overreaction and self-inflation.”

Another example is the use of propaganda against a prominent candidate of the secular movement in the current election, Mithal al-Alusi. Darbonh, affiliated with the State of Law Coalition, accused Alusi of being Baathist and having close ties with Zionists and Western security agencies. Alusi had been excluded from this election by the Iraqi High Electoral Commission, only to be accepted later by the Supreme Court. It is worth mentioning that Alusi lost his two sons in 2005, when they were killed by a terrorist militia after he visited Israel. He was also ejected from the Iraqi parliament by Islamic parties, although he was officially elected.

Many threats have been leveled by extremist groups against prominent figures in the civil movement. Among those threatened are Fatima al-Bahadli, a feminist activist from Basra, and Saad Salloum, an academic and journalist. The latter brought his human rights and minority rights activism to a halt after he was threatened through letters, phone calls and messages on social media.

These tactics are common ways to exert pressure on the secular sphere in Iraq. Smear campaigns in the media and threats of violence are used together to undermine the political participation of secular candidates. Many figures belonging to the secular movement have been killed with the perpetrators never being discovered, no governmental probe carried out nor any conviction issued.

The main reason for targeting secular individuals is extremist religious parties’ belief that their electoral interests depend on keeping secular candidates out, as they have contradictory principles and goals of governance. This common interest brings together divergent extremist religious parties against secularists.

Misleading stereotypes about secularism pave the way in Iraq for religious parties. Secularism is depicted as going against religion and threatening to ban the religious freedoms Shiites acquired after the fall of Hussein. Many also believe that since the old regime was secularist, any call for secularism means a return to the previous era — even though the idea that the previous regime was secular is totally wrong.

It is striking that extremist Sunni and Shiite religious movements, regardless of their differences and religious conflicts, are united over opposing secularists, which results in the latter being threatened by terrorist groups, militias and even the government itself. While the government disregards the sectarian statements of some of its members, it issued arrest warrants against secularists for criticizing the government’s underachievement and inclination toward sectarian approaches.

The use of religious fatwas is a dangerous and unprecedented development in these elections. Haeri, who issued the aforementioned fatwa, is one of the more extremist clerics in Iran. He previously issued a fatwa to allure Shiite mujahedeen into going to Syria to fight and is seen as one of the main supporters of Shiite militias.

It is also important to mention that the trend opposing secularists is not supported by Shiite Supreme Guide Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani. Until this time, he has not criticized or adopted any stance against secularists. On the contrary, he was critical of the imposition of religious vision on society, and has called for equal opportunities for everyone in terms of political participation.

The resorting to fatwas, coinciding with smear campaigns in the media and threats of violence, shows the fear on the part of extremist religious parties that the Iraqi people will change their orientations in the upcoming elections to their detriment, especially as signs foretell of moderate religious parties getting closer to secular parties.

Translated by Steffi Chakti.

Assyrian International News Agency

Five Sentenced Over Deadly Vladikavkaz Terrorist Attack

A court in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don has sentenced a group of alleged Islamic extremists over a deadly 2010 terrorist attack in North Ossetia.

The court sentenced the leader of the group, Isa Khashagulgov from Russia’s North Caucasus region of Ingushetia, to life in prison; his four associates received prison terms between 14 and 25 years.

The defendants were found guilty of organizing and carrying out a series of “criminal” acts in Ingushetia and the neighboring region of North Ossetia, including the suicide bombing at a marketplace in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, in September 2010.

Twenty people were killed and more than 200 were injured in the attack.

The defendants’ lawyers told journalists that they plan to appeal the sentences.
 

Based on reporting by Interfax and ITAR-TASS

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Deadly mortar attack on Damascus Opera House

A mortar attack on the Damascus Opera House has killed two people, as regime forces intensify their campaign against rebels on the Syrian capital’s outskirts.

“Two people were killed and five others wounded by a mortar round that hit the Damascus Opera House” near key government and military buildings on Umayyad Square, the official SANA news agency said on Sunday.

The Opera House, officially called the Assad House for Culture and Arts, is located near a cluster of government and security buildings. The building, which was inaugurated by President Bashar al-Assad in 2004, was the venue for a defiant speech he made last year vowing to continue fighting rebels seeking his overthrow.

Rebels holed up in the city’s rural periphery have focused their efforts on hitting the area, an activist who uses the name Muaz al-Shami told the Associated Press news agency.

Syrian rebels often fire mortar shells into Damascus from outlying communities, but the fire has recently intensified as pro-Assad forces advance on the rural Ghouta suburb to the capital’s east, a long-held opposition area, Shami told AP in a Skype interview from the area.

“They [rebels] are trying to shell security strongholds in Damascus. It’s an attempt to reduce pressure on the neighbourhood,” he said.

Pro-Assad forces began fighting hard to seize Ghouta over the past five days, Shami said. As he spoke, explosions could be heard in the background.

The assault on Ghouta is part of a push by Assad forces to solidify its hold on Damascus by dislodging rebels from the towns and neighbourhoods on the city’s fringes.

‘Secret lines’

Last week government forces seized the outskirts of the town of Mleiha, near the Ghouta area. The government’s gain came after pro-Assad forces severed important rebel supply lines from the eastern Lebanese border into the Damascus periphery.

Shami said rebels still had “secret lines” that allowed in food and weapons, and that they were making some projectiles in rudimentary workshops within the neighbourhood.

On Saturday, mortar rounds struck near the Russian embassy, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group monitoring the developments in the country.

Rebel fire on Damascus has wounded at least 22 people in recent days, as government forces step up a campaign to crush insurgents in its eastern suburbs, the Observatory said.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Terror Training in Syria Makes Attack on UK ‘Inevitable’

Fighters are returning from the conflict radicalised and ready to strike Britain, counter-terror chief warnsThe danger faced by Britain and other countries from jihadist fighters returning from Syria is “unprecedented” and a terror attack on British soil “inevitable”, experts warned last night.

Thousands of foreign fighters, including hundreds of Britons, are now in Syria according to government sources. They are gaining “combat experience and forging connections with extremists”. As a result they could “return radicalised” and “seek to carry out attacks against the West”.

The threat posed by veterans from Syria is “unprecedented”, according to Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terrorism co-ordinator. The warning is made in written evidence to a Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry on counter terrorism, published last Tuesday.

“All the reports I have seen suggest that it is becoming increasingly acute,” he added.

“National budgets devoted to counter-terrorism are declining across the EU. Yet the threat that we face is becoming more diverse, more diffuse, and more unpredictable.”

Nor is the problem confined to Syria. Africa is now a “particular” concern, since “the terrorism threat is growing and becoming a major obstacle to development”, Mr de Kerchove warned.

He is calling for “concerted and co-ordinated action” by European countries to “avoid destabilisation … and the establishment of terrorist safe havens”. He added: “We should be investing a lot more in counter-terrorism work, including externally, if we are to prevent or mitigate future terrorist attacks.”

More needed to be done to “counteract more effectively the use of the internet and social media for radicalisation and recruitment purposes” and to “identify and detect” foreign fighters, he said.

The EU counter-terror chief praises Britain for having developed “one of the best communication campaigns, which not only raises awareness of the phenomenon and the possible risks related to it, but also offers an alternative to those who want to go to Syria for humanitarian reasons”.

Countries need to share intelligence because “it is not inconceivable that a foreign fighter could return to his home country with the intention of joining former comrades for an attack in another”.

Terror experts echoed his concerns yesterday, in the run-up to a talk on foreign fighters due to be hosted by the Chatham House think-tank on Thursday.

The number of fighters means they are “almost impossible to monitor”, Richard Barrett, former the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, told The Independent on Sunday yesterday. While many will return and not be a problem, some will come back “radicalised and a real danger to society”.

He said that simply arresting people returning from Syria was a “knee-jerk reaction” and that such heavy-handed treatment by the police risked radicalising people.

“I was a bit horrified to see a few weeks back some chief constable was saying all these guys should be locked up, and I think already 16 people have been arrested who have come back from Syria. Maybe there was good reason for that. But how you treat people is really important. There is a balance to be struck, where you do not mistreat people on the one hand, but do not overlook people who are a threat [either].”

Raffaello Pantucci, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said: “It seems almost inevitable that some sort of a threat back to the UK will come off the battlefield in Syria, something supported by the fact that security services in the UK believe they have already disrupted at least one plot with links to Syria.”

Last month, The IoS revealed that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had started a new cyber offensive to deter would-be jihadists from going to Syria. A six-figure sum is being spent on “social media activity” as part of the project.

In a statement, a Home Office spokesman said: “The UK advises against all travel to Syria. Even people travelling for well-intentioned humanitarian reasons are exposing themselves to serious risk, including being targeted for recruitment by terrorist groups.”

He added: “The police and security services are actively working to detect and disrupt any terrorist threat from Syria and individuals who travel there.

“People thinking about travelling to Syria to engage in terrorist activity should be in no doubt that we will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Afghan Attack Kills 1 Western Reporter, Critically Injures Another

Two foreign journalists shot in eastern Afghanistan, leaving one dead and the other in critical condition.

Local media have identified the victims as AP journalists photographer Anja Nidringhaus, who was said to have been killed, and Canadian Kathy Gannon, who was said to have been gravely injured.

Reports said the gunman was dressed as a policeman.

The two were reportedly in a remote small town on Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan when the incident took place.

There has been an influx of international journalists ahead of the presidential election, the first round of which takes place on April 5.
 

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

If New York City Is the Victim of a Nuclear Attack, It Won’t Be by Nuclear Terrorists

Illustration of a nuclear attack on New York, Colliers, 1950

Illustration of a nuclear attack on New York, Colliers, 1950

At a news conference at the end of Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague on March 25, President Obama sought to put in perspective any threat to U.S. national security that Russia’s annexation of Crimea might pose.

“I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”

In a new book titled Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers (IISS Adelphi), Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London maintains that, as reported by Agence France-Press, that “the risk of a much-discussed scenario in which Islamic extremists seize nuclear weapons was exaggerated, and that the larger danger was that Pakistan-linked militants would launch a new attack inside India and trigger a devastating nuclear war.”

Even if confined to South and Central Asia, a nuclear war would have devastating consequences to the world. But, when it comes to a nuclear attack on New York, the source is much less unlikely (or marginally more likely) to be Islamist extremists than Russia.

Thus when President Obama states that he’s more concerned with a nuclear strike on Manhattan, he’s actually speaking about a Russian attack without necessarily realizing it. In the same vein, if President Putin voiced similar concerns about Moscow, the source of a nuclear attack is much less likely to be Islamist extremists than the United States. In other words, nuclear war remains the domain of the superpowers.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Four Killed in Islamist Attack on Church in Egypt

Four Killed in Islamist Attack on Church in Egypt

Posted 2014-03-31 02:58 GMT

An Islamist attack on a Coptic Church in Cairo on Friday left four people dead. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood held demonttrations across the country in reaction against the official candidate in the upcoming presidential election of General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

In the suburb of Ain Sham in Cairo, protesters carried out their violence against the Coptic church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Michael. A young woman, Sameh Merry, driving past was shot dead when the mob saw that she had a cross hanging in the front of her car. A 25 year old journalist was also killed.

Bishop Raphael, secretary of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, expressed words of condolences for the death of the woman.

Assyrian International News Agency

Deadly Attack In Southwest Pakistan

A teenage girl has been killed and 15 other people injured in a bomb blast in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta.

Police told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that the bomb was planted in a rickshaw on Saryab Road.

The bombing apparently targeted vehicles of the paramilitary Frontier Corps.

The wounded included three soldiers of the Frontier Corps.

No group has claimed the responsibility for the attack.

Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan Province that borders Iran and Afghanistan.

The province sees chronic violence, with sectarian extremist, Islamist militant, separatist, and criminal groups all operating in the impoverished province.

In the eastern city of Lahore, gunmen opened fire late on March 28 on a car carrying a journalist who frequently criticizes the Taliban, killing the driver.

Early this month, Ahrarul Hind, a little-known insurgent group, claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed at least 10 people in Quetta.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Gunmen attack Afghan election commission

Attackers believed to be fully armed with machine guns, rocket launchers and suicide vests have opened fire on the main Afghan election commission headquarters east of Kabul.

The attack on Saturday occured after the armed men entered a building in front of the commission headquarters, according to Al Jazeera sources in the area.

There is no word on casualties yet, as police rushed to the scene.

The attack is the fourth in the past eight days in Afghanistan, and the second attack targeting election offices in Kabul.

More to follow …

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

The Kunming Attack and China’s Uighur Politics

kunming-attack-china-uighurs-separatism-xinjiang

Uighur merchants in Uruqmi, Xinjiang. Like other Chinese minority groups, Uighurs face linguistic and religious discrimination, fueling a separatist movement that Chinese authorities have blamed for the March 1 terrorist attack in Kunming. (Photo: Peter Morgan / Flickr)

On March 1, a group of knife-wielding assailants stormed a railway station in the southern Chinese city of Kunming. It was a grisly scene: Attacking passengers at random, the assailants killed 29 people and wounded 130. According to Chinese authorities a gang of six men and two women carried out the attack. Four attackers were shot and the other four have been detained.

Dubbing the incident “China’s 9/11,” Chinese authorities led by President Xi Jinping called for an all-out effort to “punish the terrorists in accordance with the law.”

While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, authorities have blamed it on separatists from the Uighur community — a Muslim, Turkic-speaking minority from Xinjiang, a semiautonomous province in northwestern China. Security forces reported finding a black flag at the scene calling for the independence of the region, which Uighurs call East Turkestan. More recently, Abdullah Mansour, the leader of the rebel Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), appeared on video appearing to praise the attack. While not claiming responsibility for the murders, he described them, according to Reuters, as “an ‘expensive offer’ for China to reconsider its ‘cruel’ policies” toward Uighurs and predicted that more attacks would follow. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that “the video exposes the true nature of their terrorist organization” and called for the international community to support China’s policies against terrorism.

If a Uighur group was indeed responsible, the attack would represent a considerably expanded theater of operations for the separatist movement. Kunming is some 2,500 miles away from Xinjiang, which, as a writer for The Atlantic put it, “shows that Uighurs are, like Chechens in Russia, expressing their discontent throughout the country, not just where they are based.”

Tensions have simmered between Uighurs and China’s majority Han population for decades. The Han population was first introduced into Xinjiang in 1949 following the People’s Liberation Army’s “triumphant march” into the province, and tensions heightened as China’s economic liberalization began during the 1980s.  Xinjiang happens to be a mineral-rich area, which has led to a boon of mining and oil development projects and, with them, a huge influx of Han workers. At the beginning of the 20th century, Uighurs comprised 95 percent of Xinjiang’s population, but represent just 40 percent today. [pc1]  This is a policy that is markedly similar to what China has adopted in Tibet, where the goal is to “Sinicize” or “Hanicize” parts of the country that do not have an indigenous Han population.

The arrival of the Han in such numbers brought with it widespread discrimination towards the Uighur community, which pervades all aspects of life. In Xinjiang and throughout China, speakers of Uighur and other minority languages suffer widespread unemployment because many Chinese employers require job applicants to speak unaccented Mandarin. Uighurs also face religious discrimination on account of the fact that they are Muslim. The Chinese government controls the mosques where the Uighurs pray and only permits the use of state-approved Qurans. Religiously observant Uighur men are forced to shave their beards, and women are forbidden from wearing headscarves.

The result is a thriving Uighur separatist movement and simmering ethnic tensions, sometimes culminating in violence. In 2009, for example, ethnic riots in Xinjiang’s provincial capital Urumqi killed hundreds, and smaller clashes have erupted sporadically since. Meanwhile, some Islamist-leaning Uighur separatists, particularly those in exile, have reportedly forged closer links with terrorist factions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. TIP itself is based in Waziristan.

The U.S. embassy in Beijing initially described the Kunming attack as “a horrific, senseless act of violence” but refrained from calling it a “terrorist attack.” China’s state-run news agency Xinhua was highly critical of the U.S. stance, calling it evidence of America’s “double standards in the global war on terrorism” and of U.S. sympathy for the Uighur cause. “Behind [the statement’s] wording,” the paper complained, “is the entrenched U.S. belief that the Xinjiang murderers were the ‘ethnically oppressed seeking autonomy.’” This sentiment was echoed by Chinese internet users, who excoriated the United States for not calling the Kunming attack an act of terrorism. A spokeswoman for the State Department later amended the initial statement to describe the Kunming attack as “an act of terrorism targeting random members of the public.”

The U.S. relationship with the Uighurs is complicated. As part of its bid to secure Chinese cooperation in the “war on terror,” the United States captured 22 Uighur men in Afghanistan and Pakistan in late 2001 and detained them in Guantanamo Bay. According to some reports, U.S. soldiers “softened these detainees” at the behest of Chinese intelligence officials who were allowed to visit Guantanamo Bay to interrogate them. Several years later, after finally admitting that the detainees did not pose a threat to the United States, the U.S. government negotiated the release of the Uighur prisoners to six different countries, with the last three being released and resettled in Slovakia in December of last year. The U.S. refusal to return the prisoners the prisoners to China—where they would have likely faced further abuse—drew the ire of Chinese officials, who accused Washington of abetting terrorism.

In the wake of the Kunming attack, experts unanimously expect the Chinese government to crack down hard on the Uighurs and anyone sympathetic to them. Chinese authorities have already arrested Ilham Tolti, an economics professor and a leading critic of China’s policies towards the Uighurs, on charges of “inciting separatism.” In another recent incident, Chinese police shot dead a man in Xinjiang after he attacked a Chinese police officer.

Critics warn that hardline tactics, which have led to more than a 100 deaths in Xinjiang since April of last year, will backfire. As Dru Gladney, an expert on Uighur affairs, told the Christian Science Monitor, “unless there are real and dramatic changes in policy” towards the Uighur minority, “one can only expect that there will be more of these attacks.” But Chinese authorities don’t see it that way, as evident from a recent opinion piece by Zhu Weiqun, the chairman of the ethnic and religious affairs committee in the Chinese parliament. “As China becomes more involved in international affairs,” he wrote, “and as Tibet and Xinjiang further open to the world, more and more Westerners will have an understanding of Tibet and Xinjiang that better accords with reality.”

Ved Singh is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Islamabad Rejects Kabul Attack Claim

Islamabad says it is “highly disturbing that attempts are being made” to implicate Pakistan in a deadly attack on a Kabul luxury hotel.

Afghanistan on March 23 said the attack on the downtown Serena Hotel was planned “outside the country.”

Afghanistan’s National Security Council didn’t say who purportedly was behind the attack.

But it said a Pakistani diplomat was seen surveying the hotel’s corridors before the night raid on March 20.

“The tendency to immediately blame Pakistan is unhelpful, and should be discarded,” Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

Nine people, including children, were killed in the attack that was carried out by four teenage gunmen.

Afghan officials accuse Pakistani government of backing militants who launch terrorist attacks inside Afghanistan.
 

Based on reporting by AFP and RFE/RL

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Journalist and Family Buried After Afghan Hotel Attack

Hundreds of mourners turned out in pouring rain for the funeral of Sardar Ahmad, AFP’s senior reporter in Afghanistan, together with his wife and two of their children.

Ahmad and his family members were among the victims of a Taliban attack on a Kabul luxury hotel.

After a funeral procession through the capital, they were buried side by side on March 23 at a cemetery on the outskirts of Kabul.

Four teenage gunmen with concealed pistols carried out a raid on Kabul’s Serena hotel on March 20.

The 40-year-old Ahmad; his wife Homaira; and their six-year-old daughter Nilofar and five-year-old son Omar were among nine civilians killed in the assault.

The couple’s youngest son, two-year-old Abozar, survived with bullet wounds to his head, chest, and leg.

He remains hospitalized in intensive care.

With reporting by AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Militants Attack Kabul’s Serena Hotel

Afghan security forces have surrounded the Serena Hotel in downtown Kabul after gunmen gained access to the building.

Afghan Channel One TV reported late on March 20 that shots were being fired inside the hotel.

Security forces said some people have been wounded, but the situation inside the Serena hotel was still unclear.

Some unconfirmed reports suggested a hostage situation had developed.

A suicide bomber attacked the same hotel in 2008 killing six people.

Earlier on March 20, a suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan left 18 people dead, including 10 police officers, one civilian, and the seven attackers.

Fourteen police officers were also wounded in that attack, which targeted a police station in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province.

It was the latest in a series of attacks ahead of next month’s presidential election, which the Taliban has vowed to disrupt.

Based on reporting by Afghan Channel One, AFP, and Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Afghan Insurgents Attack Police Station In Jalalabad

A suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan has left 18 people dead, including 10 police officers, one civilian, and the seven attackers.

The district police chief was among the dead.

Fourteen police officers were also wounded in the attack, which targeted a police station in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province.

Deputy Interior Minister General Mohammed Ayub Solangi said the early morning assault involved a suicide bomber and two remotely detonated bombs.

He said the attack triggered a gun battle with Afghan forces that lasted for four hours.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a message to the media that the attack had been staged by Taliban insurgents.

It was the latest in a series of attacks ahead of next month’s presidential election, which the Taliban has vowed to disrupt.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Several Killed In Afghan Suicide Attack

A suicide bomber has killed at least 15 civilians at a market in Maimana, the capital of Faryab Province, in northern Afghanistan.

Provincial Governor Mohammadullah Patash said on March 18 that dozens of others were wounded when the bomber, who was driving an auto rickshaw, blew himself up near a checkpoint at the entrance to the crowded market.

Abdul Sattar Barez, deputy governor of Faryab Province, said all the victims were civilians on their way to work in the morning.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Deadly Maoist attack on Indian police

Maoist fighters have killed at least 20 members of India’s security forces in a massive attack in restive Chhattisgarh state, police say.

Security officials and police sources said on Tuesday the victims were all killed when up to 200 rebels ambushed a patrol in forests to the south of the state capital Raipur before a major gun battle erupted.

Eleven members of the national paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed along with four members of the state police force, said Mukesh Gupta, one of Chhattisgarh’s most senior police officers.

“As of now, a total of 11 CRPF, four policemen and one civilian have died,” Gupta told AFP news agency.

Others suggested the death toll was even higher.

Rajinder Kumar Vij, the head of anti-Maoist operations in the central state, put the number of CRPF personnel dead at 15 and said that five state policemen had also been killed.

There were no figures on the number of Maoist casualties.

The forces were involved in an operation to clear and open a road in Sukma district when the rebels detonated a landmine and started firing indiscriminately, Vij told AFP.

“The attack sparked a gun battle that lasted about three hours.”

Gupta said the attack took place at around 10:30am in a heavily-forested area during the operation to clear the road some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Raipur.

“The attack was on one of our police parties as the Naxalites (Maoists) have been frustrated at our increased presence in the area,” he said. ”We don’t yet know the casualties on the attackers side … It is difficult for us because of the topography of the area.”

The attack was close to the site of an ambush in May last year on a convoy carrying members of India’s ruling Congress party in which 24 people were killed, including the state party president and his son.

The latest deaths will heighten fears of unrest in the Maoists’ stronghold in the build-up to the nationwide elections which begin in early April.

345

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Afghan District Head Killed In Taliban Bomb Attack

Officials in Afghanistan say a district chief has been killed by a bomb placed in his car.

Noor Agha Kamran, head of the Nazran district of Nangarhar Province, was reportedly killed in the blast in the city of Jalalabad on March 8.

The Taliban has reportedly assumed responsibility for the attack, in which two of Kamran’s bodyguards and four bystanders were injured.

On the same day, six Afghan security force members were killed and two were injured by a roadside-bomb explosion outside Mihterlam, the capital of Laghman Province, officials said.

The dead included four soldiers and two police officers.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack as well.

In a month, Afghanistan will hold a presidential election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

First Kurdish Attack in Months Sets Off Alarm Bells in Turkey

Turkish Kurdish people in Istanbul hold pictures of their relatives who were killed in clashes between Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas and Turkish security forces, June 8, 2013 (photo by REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov).The March 5 incident that resulted in martyrdom of gendarmerie Sgt. Musa Somay close to the Iraqi border near the village of Ortasu in Sirnak province has set off alarm bells for those concerned with keeping the solution process intact.

First reports said the Turkish soldier was killed when he stepped on a mine, but military sources have provided some crucial information.

The military unit at Sirnak received a tip that a smuggler caravan was about to move on a specified route. The gendarmerie special operations battalion responded by dispatching a team. As this team reached the location 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) south of Ortasu to intercept the smugglers, a major explosion went off. It turned out to be a powerful improvised explosive device (IED) triggered from the other side of the border. Somay died on the spot.

According to the military officers. this was a planned operation, verified also by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) radio chatter. They were heard saying, “Excellent targeting … good timing,” indicating that the explosion was set off by remote control.

The explosion did not happen while the gendarmerie team was near the smugglers, but while it was moving to cut off the smuggler’s route.

The PKK knew about the smugglers. Military officers said the smugglers had received their contraband from the PKK, which in turn tipped off the military, knowing it would send out a detachment to deal with it. The PKK used the smugglers as bait.

The attack was not only an IED attack. Intensive fire was directed at the gendarmerie detachment from the other side of the border. Turkish soldiers, after recovering from the shock of the explosion, returned similarly heavy fire. The PKK militants left the Kurasin area after a half-hour clash. While the exchange of fire was going on, another IED was set off destroying vehicles.

What happened to cross-border operations authorization?

One of the critical questions is why the PKK attackers were not pursued. Military sources refer to a Council of Ministers decision of April 2013. According to their understanding, the authority of military units to cross the border was annulled by that decision. But we know that the authority for cross-border operations was renewed in October 2013.

No doubt the reluctance to cross the border was related to the solution process with the Kurds. The military still has the option of hot pursuit, but sources said hot pursuit has certain rules, too. Accordingly, the terror group has to cross the border into Turkey to clash. Then soldiers can begin a hot pursuit, even crossing the border.

Fully planned attack

In this attack near Ortasu, our soldiers came under direct fire from across the border. This requires an operation across the border. But in recent months the Turkish military has only been conducting “air reconnaissance” operations to collect intelligence.

The other critical aspect of the attack is its possible effects on the solution process that Ankara can hardly keep moving.

Military sources, however, are drawing attention to some escalatory incidents of late, such as destruction of a military bulldozer and wounding of another sergeant. Sources also emphasize the incidents related to the construction of a road in the region. Both the PKK and residents of the nearby town of Uludere have been objecting to the construction of this road that would link eight hills. The existing road is too far away from the border and the new road will allow the military to intervene quickly, hence the increasing harassment of the Turkish military in the area.

Military sources are annoyed by labeling of these incidents as “harassment.” They say in all these incidents they were deliberately targeted and attacked.

Military sources describe the latest attack that killed Somay as the first “fully planned operation since the days the solution process was initiated,” and interpret it is as a move by the PKK to sabotage the process.

Their aim is to exploit the election environment and other developments that have distracted Ankara, to consolidate the PKK strength and presence in the region.

This is an important warning for Turkey, which has been happily saying, “We have had no reports of martyrs since the solution process started.”

Translated by Timur Goksel.

Assyrian International News Agency

China Blames Muslim Militants for Train Station Knife Attack Which Left 29 Dead

The attackers targeted commuters at a train station in the south-west city of Kunming yesterday evening at around 9:20.pm local time (1:20pm GMT).

Witnesses told how the carnage unfolded as the group, who were dressed mostly in black, began stabbing and hacking at people at random.

Yang Haifei, who was buying a ticket when he saw the group rush in, said: “I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone.”

He added that the attackers caught those who were slower, saying: “They just fell on the ground.”

A parking attendant, who also witnessed the attack, said: “I saw five or six of them.

“They all had knives and they were stabbing people madly over by the first and second ticket offices.”

Police claim four of the attackers were shot dead and one has been detained.

It is believed around five are still on the run.

China today claimed the “organised, premeditated violent terrorist attack” was carried out by militants from Xinjiang – a heavily Muslim region in the west of the country which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.

State news agency Xinhua said: “Evidence at the crime scene showed that the Kunming Railway Station terrorist attack was carried out by Xinjiang separatist forces.”

Graphic pictures on the Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo showed bodies covered in blood lying on the ground at the station.

Details of what happened were also posted on the site, although many were quickly deleted by government censors, including ones claiming some of the attackers had been women.

Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered that no effort be spared to track down those behind the attack.

He said: “Severely punish in accordance with the law the violent terrorists and resolutely crack down on those who have been swollen with arrogance”.

The far western region of Xinjiang is home to a simmering rebellion against Chinese rule by some members of the Muslim Uighur population, who resent Chinese restrictions on their culture and religion.

Unrest in Xinjiang has killed more than 100 people in the past year, prompting authorities to toughen their stance.

It is the first time people from the region have been blamed for carrying out such a large-scale attack so far from their homeland, and follows an incident in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in October in which a car ploughed into tourists killing the three people in the vehicle and two bystanders.

The attack comes at a sensitive time as China gears up for the annual meeting of parliament, which opens in Beijing on Wednesday and is normally accompanied by a tightening of security across the country.

Assyrian International News Agency

Why Did The North Caucasus Insurgency Fail To Attack Sochi Winter Olympics?

The two suicide bombings on consecutive days in late December targeting public transportation in Volgograd compounded existing fears both in Russia and abroad that the North Caucasus insurgency posed a major security threat to the Winter Olympic Games to be held in Sochi in February. Self-styled Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov had called on his fighters in an appeal posted online last July to use “any methods Allah allows” to prevent the Games from taking place.

The Sochi Olympics have now ended without any such bloodbath, despite the threat of “surprises” for those attending the Games by two men identified as the Volgograd suicide bombers in video footage posted on the Daghestan insurgency website on January 19. 

So was the insurgency deterred from staging a major attack in light of the unprecedented security measures? Were the losses it has sustained in recent years so great as to render a major attack impossible?  (According to the website Caucasus Knot, the insurgency lost 404 fighters in 2012 and a further 298 in 2013). Or was the decision taken to harbor resources and manpower in order to perpetrate attacks on other targets where security is more lax and the chances of inflicting serious damage concomitantly greater?

True, security measures for the Games were unprecedented, encompassing 70,000 police and security forces. But even so, the third explanation is the most plausible. It should be borne in mind that the insurgency never regarded disrupting the Olympics as an end in itself. On the contrary, it is engaged in a long-term campaign to compel the central Russian government to withdraw its military presence from the North Caucasus:  any operation to disrupt the Winter Olympics would have been just one battle in that campaign.

Two recent statements by different insurgency groups suggest that suicide bombings across the Russian Federation will be a primary tactic in that ongoing struggle. A hitherto unknown group calling itself Ansar al-Sunna that claimed responsibility for dispatching the two suicide bombers to Volgograd warned in a statement addressed to “Russia’s crusaders,”  “attacks like those carried out in Volgograd were just the beginning of your sufferings, if you do not come to your senses and take your forces back from the lands of the Caucasus. Otherwise, the attacks will continue, including chemical [ones], if Allah wills it.”

That statement goes on to warn that “every region, every city, street, district — we shall fill your homes with blood!” in retaliation for the sufferings Moscow has inflicted on the Muslims of the North Caucasus. It stresses that “each one of our warriors is waiting for the order from his amir [commander] in order to blow up your peace and calm the way it happened in Volgograd.”

A similar statement by the Information and Analysis Service of the Daghestan insurgency wing affirms that “today one mujahed can destroy tens, or even hundreds of people in your cities. And do not think that those losses will be imperceptible for you. The quantity of these explosions will only grow, and they will reach many of you.”

Where and when the next attack(s) might take place is impossible to predict.  Also unclear is whether Ansar al-Sunna does indeed have chemical weapons at its disposal to use against the Russian population. One U.S.-based analyst has suggested that militants from the North Caucasus fighting in Syria might have acquired such weapons from looted Syrian government stockpiles, although he acknowledges that transporting them to Russia would not be an easy matter. 

– Liz Fuller

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Erdogan Dubs Wiretap Incriminating Him of Corruption a ‘Vile Attack’

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the authenticity of the latest wiretap recording incriminating him of corruption during a Feb. 25 parliamentary group speech.

“Yesterday they published a play that they have montaged and dubbed themselves. What has been done is a vile attack against the prime minister of Turkey,” he said.

The fresh wiretap leaked into the Internet Feb. 24 containing four phone conversations between Erdogan and his son dating back to Dec. 17, the day when massive graft raids were conducted by the police.

“I was making calls for weeks. I said: Publish everything you have, disclose whatever you’ve got. And they go and make an immoral montage and publish it. But even fabricating has morals and decency,” Erdogan said, announcing that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would use the same technology and publish similar tapes featuring opposition leaders.

He also accused the opposition of opportunism after both the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) held extraordinary meetings over the leaked recordings. “Both the executive board of the CHP and MHP held extraordinary meetings. Why? Because they [are thinking] about how to take advantage of the montage. We can’t get it from the ballot box, and no coup is happening. Maybe we can do it thanks to [the help] from across the ocean,” he said, visibly referring to U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, whom he has repeatedly accused of orchestrating the probes.

The voice recordings have sent shockwaves through Turkish politics, prompting the Prime Minister’s Office to issue a statement denouncing a “manipulation” and calls from the main opposition CHP for resignation.

On Feb. 25, the MHP joined the CHP’s call for the government’s resignation, with its leader Devlet Bahçeli describing the recordings as “mindblowing.”

“It has been reported that Prime Minister Erdogan called his son Bilal asking him to gather with his brother Burak, uncle Mustafa and brother-in-law Berat to get rid of all the stolen money as soon as possible from his house. It is understood that the prime minister urgently and insistently asked for 2.2 billion [Turkish Lira] of dirty money hidden in different addresses to be dispersed,” Bahçeli said during his party’s group meeting in Ankara.

“If those conversations are true and nothing has been added, then it will be impossible to speak about the credibility, the humanity and, worse, the morality of the person in the position of prime minister,” he added.

‘A president cannot speak with PM’

Erdogan also described the reports of widespread wiretapping published by two newspapers on Feb. 24 as “the biggest eavesdropping scandal in Turkish history.”

According to the reports, hundreds of people, including the prime minister, his closest associates, the head of the National Intelligence Agency (MIT), as well as a number of journalists, scholars and business leaders had been tapped by prosecutors.

Erdogan said the scandal justified the recent bills that gave more control to the government over the Internet and the intelligence agency, announcing similar measures for Turkey’s science watchdog, TÜBITAK.

“It is very interesting; they even tap the state’s cryptic phones from there. A president cannot speak with a prime minister without being wiretapped at an instant,” he said, calling on the judiciary to take action about the mass eavesdropping.

“We will bring legal action against these [wiretapping] activities. If we let it go on, there will be no privacy for families, nor for the state in this country.”

The sons of the ex-Interior Minister Muammer Güler and ex-Economy Minister Zafer Çaglayan have remained in custody since the raids, along with the Iranian-born Azeri businessman Reza Zarrab, considered the main suspect of the investigation.

Bilal Erdogan also recently testified as part of the graft probe after a long period of uncertainty over his implication in the case.

The government has repeatedly accused Gülen of orchestrating the probes, and has launched a massive purge of its sympathizers from the civil service.

Assyrian International News Agency

Officials: Taliban Attack Kills 19 Afghan Soldiers

Afghan officials say Taliban insurgents attacked an army outpost in eastern Kunar province, killing 19 soldiers.

The attack early on February 23 was said to be the deadliest single assault on security forces in months.

Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said two soldiers were wounded in the four-hour battle between insurgents and the army in Kunar’s Ghaziabad district.

Abdul Ghani Musamem, spokesman for the provincial governor, said seven soldiers were missing following the attack in a remote, mountainous area near the border with Pakistan.

The Taliban in a statement to the media claimed responsibility for the attack. The Taliban said one of its fighters was killed and two were wounded.  

The office of President Hamid Karzai said the president postponed a planned visit to Sri Lanka over the soldiers’ killing.
 

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Kremlin Dismisses Police Attack on Pussy Riot

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak has dismissed a police attack against members of Pussy Riot in Sochi, saying “the girls came here specifically to provoke this conflict.”

The feminist punk rock collective was filming video for an anti-Kremlin song on February 19 in front of a Sochi Winter Olympics logo when Cossack auxiliary and plainclothes police tore off their ski masks and shoved them to the ground, beating and whipping them.

The police were part of Russia’s Olympic security forces in Sochi.

Kozak said the members of Pussy Riot were “searching for it for some time and finally they had this conflict with local inhabitants.”

The Pussy Riot video, for a song called “Putin Will Teach You How To Love Your Motherland,” was viewed more than 650,000 times around the world within 48 hours of being posted to the group’s official Youtube channel on February 21.

Based on reports by AP, UPI, and ITN.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Militants Attack Afghan Police Compound

Suicide bombers have attacked a police compound in a mountainous area near the capital, Kabul.

Interior Ministry spokesman Seddiq Seddiqi said a suicide car bomber first detonated explosives on February 21 at the gate of the district police headquarters in Surobi, some 45 kilometers east of Kabul.

He said that two other attackers, clad in women’s clothing, then opened fire and that a gunbattle ensued.

Kadam Shah Shaim, division commander of the Afghan Army for Kabul, said that at least one police officer was killed and two were wounded in the exchange.

All of the attackers were killed.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in an emailed statement. 

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Twenty Killed In Iraq Mortar Attack

In Iraq, at least 20 people have been reported killed in a mortar attack south of the capital, Baghdad.

Reports said five mortar rounds landed on February 20 in a residential area of Masayyib, a town described as mainly populated by Shi’ite Muslims.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible.

Iraq’s Shi’ite majority has been frequently targeted by Sunni Muslim insurgents seeking to weaken the Shi’ite-led government.

More than 1,500 people have been reported killed in attacks and clashes so far this year in Iraq, many in connection with sectarian-linked conflict.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Cossacks Attack Pussy Riot As They Sing Anti-Putin Song In Sochi

The two best-known Pussy Riot figures, former prison inmates Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, say the performance-art group was attacked by Cossacks in Sochi.

Tolokonnikova said on Twitter that Cossacks attacked the group on February 19 as it performed a song criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin near the Sochi Olympics banner.

Tolokonnikova said Cossacks brutally whipped group members and sprayed them with pepper gas.

Alyokhina posted pictures on Twitter of her chest showing bruising.

Tolokonnikova’s husband, Pyotr Verzilov, said he was taken to a hospital after getting pepper gas in his eyes.

WATCH: “Pussy Riot whipped by Cossack in Sochi performance fail,” as the Kremlin’s English-language RT station gleefully describes the attack. 

The activities of Cossacks, a traditional Russian military force, are sometimes approved by the authorities to boost security.

The attack came a day after Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were detained by police in Sochi for several hours, allegedly in connection with a theft case.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Taliban Claims Attack On Afghan Presidential Candidate Abdullah

KABUL — The Taliban has claimed responsibility for opening fire on the convoy of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul.

A spokesman for the Abdullah campaign, Fazelurhaman Orya, told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that no one was hurt in the attack.

A Taliban spokesman claimed that three of Abdullah’s bodyguards were killed and several others injured in the assault.

The attack occurred in the Surobi district of Kabul on February 18 as Abdullah was returning from a campaign event in the eastern province of Nangharhar.

Abdullah, a former Afghan foreign minister, is considered a leading contender for the April 5 presidential election.

Five years ago, he lost to outgoing President Hamid Karzai in a vote widely condemned for massive fraud.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Jihadist Group Claims Attack on Korean Pilgrims in Egypt

Cairo — The jihadist group Ansar al- Beit Maqdess has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack two days ago in the Sinai against a bus carrying s Koreans pilgrim that left four dead and 14 wounded. The Egyptian Catholic Church has sent a message of condolence for all those killed and expressing closeness to the injured.

In a statement published online, the group praises “one of the Beit al- Maqdess heroes” who carried out the attack. The group, based in the Sinai says it is linked to Al Qaeda and is at the forefront in major attacks against police and army in recent months, which have multiplied since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi and the outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

According to the group, the February 16 attack marked a new phase in the war against the new government, targeting “economic interests”, tied to tourism.

It is the first time in 10 years that a group of tourists have been targeted in an attack in Egypt , although bombings and massacres have occurred under all the presidents and governments.

In this case, the bus that was hit was carrying a group of 31 Korean Christian pilgrims, all from Jincheon county, who were on a tour that included Turkey, Egypt and Israel. The police established that the terrorist – 21 years of age or more – got on the bus and detonated an explosive belt that must have weighed about 5-10 kg. Human remains found on the site are being identified.

The bus was returning from the monastery of St. Catherine and was about to pass from Taba to Israel when the attack occurred. The four dead were the two Korean guides, a pilgrim and the driver an Egyptian Coptic Christian Orthodox named Sami, whose funeral will be held today.

The Egyptian Catholic Church has issued a message of condolence for the victims of the attack. “We pray for those who died – said Fr . Rafic Greiche , the spokesman – and for the wounded. But we also want to vigorously condemn this mindless violence”.

The attack took place on the very day that a new case against Mohamed Morsi began, this time accused of having collaborated in similar attacks with Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese militants.

The new round of violence seems to want to threaten to the candidacy for president of Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi who last week was in Moscow, where he obtained the support of Vladimir Putin. But it is especially a threat to all foreigners not to support the new Egyptian government, by undermining one of the richest assets of the national economy; tourism.

Assyrian International News Agency

Nigeria’s Boko Haram Kills 106 in Attack on Christians

Two deadly attacks rocked Northeastern Nigeria Saturday, in the towns of Izghe and Baga, seen above after an April 2013 attack.Kano, Nigeria (CNN) — Dozens of residents in northeastern Nigeria have been killed in two separate attacks launched by Boko Haram Islamists, according to officials and residents.

Scored of Islamist insurgents dressed in military uniforms stormed the Christian farming village of Izghe, in Borno state, late Saturday and opened sporadic fire on residents, killing at least 106 people in an attack specifically targeted at male residents.

The gunmen, who arrived in the village riding in trucks and on several motorcycles, opened fire and hacked male residents they had assembled in the village square. They moved door to door in search of male residents who were hiding.

The attack prompted an exodus of hundreds of panic-stricken residents of nearby villages to the neighboring Madagali district in Adamawa state.

“We suspect that the gunmen were members of Boko Haram. They have taken over the village,” said Madagali local government chairman, Maina Ularamu..

The attackers looted businesses and food stores “and loaded all their spoils into vehicles owned by residents and fled into the bush,” said Ularamu.

A survivor of the attack, farmer Barnabas Idi, said he scaled the fence of his house and crawled for about 40 minutes to safety. Idi said that security agents were not present during the attack.

In the second attack early Saturday, suspected Boko Haram gunmen opened fire on Doron Baga, a fishing village along Lake Chad.

“They opened fire from all directions, forcing residents to jump into the lake in a bid to escape, and many drowned while others were gunned down,” said Babagana Gwoni, a survivor of the attack.

The gunmen looted fish and foodstuffs before setting houses on fire, Gwoni said.

Lt. Col. Mohammed Dole, a military spokesman, confirmed the Doron Baga attack but declined to give details.

“We received report of the attack on Doron Baga, but we don’t have details because the area falls under the operational jurisdiction of the Multinational Joint Task Force,” Dole said.

The Multinational Joint task Force comprises troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad and was set up in 1998 primarily to fight light weapons proliferation. Its mandate has been expanded to include combating the Boko Haram insurgency.

Assyrian International News Agency

Scores killed in attack in northeast Nigeria

At least 90 people have been killed in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state by suspected members of Boko Haram, an armed group that wants to carve out a state ruled by Islamic law in the country’s north.

Witnesses said the fighters came into the village of Izghe, near the border with Cameroon, on Saturday night and killed the mostly Christian residents.

The attackers surrounded Izghe, spraying it with bullets, setting off explosions and burning down dozens of houses, chanting “Allah is great” as they shot dozens of villagers and slit the throats of others, the witnesses said.

Lawal Tanko, Borno state police commissioner, confirmed the reports but said he had no details of casualties.

Lawan Madu, a witness, told Reuters news agency that hundreds of residents had fled following the attack.

“They killed many, many people in the attack late on Saturday. From the latest information I have gathered, more than 60 people have been killed,” Maina Ularamu, a local government official, told AFP news agency from Abuja.

“They looted businesses and food stores and loaded all their spoils into vehicles owned by residents and fled into the bush.”

State of emergency

Ularamu, who was preparing to return to Maiduguri to deal with the fallout, said details of the attack had yet to be verified.

Survivors said they are among hundreds of people from Izghe and neighbouring villages who fled on foot through the bush in the night from Borno into Adamawa, two of three northeast Nigerian states under a state of emergency since May last year.

The air force began daily aerial bombardments on Wednesday near Izghe of suspected Boko Haram hideouts in the Sambisa Forest along the border with Cameroon.

Soldiers have moved in on foot following the bombing and at least nine troops and several fighters have been killed in a fierce hours-long battle, according to hospital and military sources.

Ularamu urged the military to deploy more troops, saying the soldiers are outnumbered and outgunned by the fighters, who are armed with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons as well as armoured cars looted during attacks.

Dozens more soldiers have been stationed in recent days in Madagali, a town about 30km from Izghe.

Hundreds of villagers in Borno fled to Maiduguri after Boko Haram fighters killed 43 people in two separate attacks last week.

The northern part of oil-rich Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country – is predominantly Muslim. The southern half of is mainly Christian.

Also on Saturday, armed men reportedly attacked a fishing village on Lake Chad, killing an unspecified number of residents.

A survivor said several residents had drowned in the lake while trying to escape the attackers.

Multinational task force

Mohammed Dole, a Nigerian military spokesman, confirmed the attack on the fishing village but declined to comment further.

He said the area fell under the jurisdiction of a multinational task force comprising troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad.

Boko Haram, whose literal translation is “Western education is forbidden”, has killed thousands of people in northeast Nigeria, killing Christians and Muslims indiscriminately, with frequent attacks on mosques and churches.

Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, ordered extra troops into the region in May to try to crush the group.

However, the fighters simply retreated into the remote, hilly Gwoza area bordering Cameroon, from where they have continued to mount deadly attacks that increasingly target civilians.

Jonathan faces an election in a year’s time, and the persistence of Boko Haram’s four-and-a-half-year-old insurgency despite an costly military operation against it remains a major headache.

He has voiced frustration with the progress of the operation, replacing his top military brass on January 16.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

At Least 11 Killed In Suicide Attack On Police In Karachi

ISLAMABAD — A suicide car bomber has targeted a bus full of Pakistani police, killing at least 11 people and injuring some 50 others.

Many of the injured are said to be in critical condition.

The attack occurred near the southern port city of Karachi.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility.

The latest violence comes amid peace talks between government and Taliban representatives aimed at trying to end Pakistan’s violent insurgency.

Both sides are supposed to refrain from major attacks during the talks.

The February 13 bombing follows an attack one day earlier on the home of a slain policemen in the northern city of Peshawar that killed nine members of a pro-government militia, while a grenade attack on a cinema on February 11, also in Peshawar, killed 13.

Based on reporting by dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP, and RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Maliki enters hospital for a heart attack

According to sources in the Prime Minister’s Office of Hammurabi to enter Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at night and secretly to the Ibn Sina hospital in the green zone following a heart attack because of the deterioration of the security situation in Anbar.

The sources said that Al-Maliki has formed an investigative Committee week before secret form of military and intelligence near him to uncover the truth of what is happening in Anbar, the military reports posted by field commanders and Defense Minister Saadoun al-dulaimi and agency on the validity of claims of successive victories in front of Al-Anbar.

The sources said that the length of the crisis and which exceeded the 5 weeks without any clear progress and critical and security forces could not break into the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, because of ferocious fighters clan, Al-Maliki questioned on reports from field officers and tribes loyal to him, decided to entrust the secret Committee of inquiry and the Committee has already submitted a detailed report, revealed the following points :

First: the difficult military situation for the Iraqi army and security agents because of (the lack of reinforcement and training and logistics)

Secondly: lack of harmonious Court and plans for leaders of the army and fighting traditional plans are administered and random and plans focus on abundance instead of numerical operations.

Third: the flight of large numbers of soldiers from the battlefield and the army’s use of new volunteers don’t improve use and did not have the experience of fierce battles, the loss of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs and wounded troops.

Fourth: increasing the number of officers with false reports of fake not real victories, for fear of punishment and redemption.

VA: vicious terrorists on the outskirts of the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, and survival odds and battles between Iraqi army in small areas such as pitch and albu Farraj.

VI: a large number of tribal fighters who are holed up in city centers and controlled by practical and security forces could not negotiate with them or destroy them.

VII: the inability of the local government in Anbar tribal to preempt her.

Sources indicate that Al-Maliki was very disappointed after listening to the report, the Committee recommended the following points as a way out of the current crisis:

First: a peaceful initiative to give way for political solutions, through meetings and negotiations gathered political leaders and local government and angry rebel clans.

Second: co-opt the Sunni clans to the Government through an amnesty on tribesmen and respond to the demands of the people of the province.

III. budgeting for reconstruction and compensation for its victims.

IV: the return of tens of thousands of displaced families and compensate them financially.

Fifth: Iraqi army withdrew from the province and giving a greater role to the local police.

VI: co-opt Sunni clerics from the Sunni Endowment materially and morally.

VII: trial of accused to Anbar to raise suspicion of politicization and sectarianism.

VIII: focus on file and change the atmosphere of a military campaign.

IX media: reduced intensity of spasticity and its military programmes and anthems and talking about the wedding.

The sources said that Al-Maliki during a meeting with the Committee had been taken ill, especially that the meeting was a lengthy and detailed and jerky because debates, causing syncope Prime and to was transferred immediately to the Ibn Sina hospital in the green zone and that the existence of signs of heart light was overridden due to high blood pressure in the Prime Minister, who suffered for years.

The sources also said that doctors advised Al-Maliki must rest and relaxation and warned him of the danger of cramping, nervousness and what can cause hypertension and probability not escape again to a.

Sources disclosed that Al-Maliki advisers huddled in order of initiative of the local government in Anbar and in particular by its Governor Ahmad Khalaf Al-dulaimi and accepted immediately and apply their provisions in order to overcome the crisis which has expanded and expanded in other areas (Nineveh and Salaheddin and belt of Baghdad) and to prevent uncontrolled situation and orientation of the electoral campaign and alleviate the cramping.

The sources noted that Al-Maliki had agreed to this proposal and this illness is the cause and background of the peace initiative announced by the Governor of Anbar.

LINK

Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Two NATO Soldiers Killed In Apparent Afghan Insider Attack

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) says  two men in Afghan National Army uniforms shot dead two alliance soldiers in eastern Afghanistan.

ISAF but did not reveal the nationalities of the foreign soldiers.

It said more information would be released later after an investigation into what happened.

An unnamed Afghan Interior Ministry official was quoted as saying the February 12 shooting took place in Kapisa Province, just north of Kabul.

There has been no claim of responsibility yet.

It was believed to be the first “insider” attack this year. Insider attacks in the past have been claimed by the Taliban.

According to a Reuters tally, there were 10 such incidents, resulting in the deaths of 15 ISAF soldiers, last year.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Speaker Of Iraqi Parliament Survives Attack

A roadside bomb has exploded near the convoy of the speaker of Iraq’s parliament.

His office said Usama al-Nujaifi was not wounded in the attack on February 10 close to the northern city of Mosul.

The explosion badly damaged a vehicle carrying his bodyguards, who were wounded.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Sunni Islamist militants have been regaining ground in Iraq, particularly in the western province of Anbar where they overran two cities on January 1.

Since then, more than 1,000 people have been killed across the country.

In a separate incident, a car bomb exploded near a coffee shop in a mainly Shi’ite district of southern Baghdad, killing three people.

Based on Reuters and AFP reporting

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Taliban airs Kabul CIA office attack video

The Taliban has released a video, which appears to show the planning and execution of an attack on the CIA compound in Afghanistan last June.

The video, which Al Jazeera obtained and aired on Sunday, showed the attack during a visit by US diplomat James Dobbins, who was in Afghanistan at that time to revive talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

The fighters used fake US identification cards and wearing equipment, making them appear like foreign soldiers with official looking vehicles.

Experts said that the video was a form of propaganda, but also indicated the evolution of Taliban fighters, who are now launching complex attacks against US forces in Afghanistan. 

“I think they are effective, they have belief in themselves and they are organised,” Masood Akhtar, a national security analyst from Pakistan, told Al Jazeera.

“The lesson learnt is don’t ignore their competence to get what they wish to do.”

Analysis: Taliban attacks becoming more sophisticated

Al Jazeera cannot independently verify when the pictures were filmed, but the Taliban said the attack was in retaliation for its flag being taken down at its office in Doha.

Last June, Taliban attackers armed with explosives and guns staged a raid resulting in the deaths of at least three Afghan guards.

At least four attackers were also reportedly killed.

The Taliban quickly said it carried out the attack inside one of the most secure areas of central Kabul.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, William Griffin, a US military spokesman, dismissed the tactics used by the Taliban saying they were “not new, or particularly sophisticated”.

“It can be expected that the Taliban will attempt to used different tactics and techniques.”

But Griffin also said that the Taliban had not achieved “any major strategic successes in these attacks”.

Robert Grenier, a security expert and former CIA station chief in Islamabad, however, said that the Taliban remained uncontained throughout Afghanistan.

“The Taliban, as a force, is not contained anywhere,” Grenier said. “They have free access to much of Afghanistan. They can strike virtually anywhere, and they are very sophisticated in doing so.”

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Deadly Grenade Attack On Peshawar Cinema

At least five people have been killed and more than 30 wounded when unidentified attackers hurled two grenades inside a cinema in northwest Pakistan.

Officials said the attack took place late Sunday in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Police said a stampede following the blasts was responsible for many of the injuries.

Some 100 people were inside the theater at the time of the attack.

Earlier, a senior police, Faisal Mukhtar, said that three people had been killed.

“A China-made hand grenade has been used in this blast. About 90 to 100 people were present here at the time of blast. Three people have died so far and 20 to 25 other are injured. All the injured have been moved to hospital,” Mukhtar told reporters.

Two of the injured later died in hospital.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

Peshawar is a frontline city in Pakistan’s battle against Islamist militants who regard films as sinful.

The attack comes a day after the Pakistani Taliban said it had chosen five people including ex-cricketer Imran Khan to represent them at peace talks with the government.

A statement from Khan’s party, which runs the government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province and backs talks with the militants, said he is not likely to accept the role but could still assist the peace process.

The Taliban also named hardline cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz as one of its negotiators.

Aziz was in charge of the famed Red Mosque in the capital Islamabad where government forces killed scores of militants in a 2007 military operation.

Last month, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif named a four-member team of negotiators to lead negotiations with the militants who have ties to Al-Qaeda.

In November, Sharif’s bid to hold peace talks with militants ended abruptly following the death of Taliban slain chief Hakimullah Mehsud in a suspected U.S. drone strike.

Few in Pakistan believe talks between the government and the militants can yield anything, as several deals in the past have resulted in more violence.

Based on dpa and Reuters reporting

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Egyptian Police Arrest Church Attack Gunmen

Egyptian Police Arrest Church Attack Gunmen

Posted 2014-01-28 20:26 GMT

The Virgin Mary Coptic Church (photo: Hosam Abutaleb).Egyptian police said they apprehended the perpetrators of a church attack in 6 October city west of Cairo on Tuesday afternoon.

The drive-by shooting on the Virgin Mary Coptic Church killed a policeman and injured another.

A firefight ensued between the attackers and police guarding the church, which ended in the apprehension of the gunmen, according to police.

Police stopped the attacking car, said an interior ministry statement, and arrested its driver, Mohamed Abdel-Hamid Ibrahim as well as a passenger, Ahmed Mohamed Abdel-Rahman.

Both attackers were injured in the aftermath. One sustained an injury to his back and the other to his hand, the statement said, adding that an automatic rifle and a shotgun were found in the car.

Assyrian International News Agency

The Tiguentourine Natural Gas Facility Attack in Algeria One Year Later

Tiguentourine natural gas facility

Tiguentourine natural gas facility

Cross-posted from Counterpunch.

1. With Washington  and London by his side “in spirit” – Bouteflika initiates one of the biggest purges in modern Algerian history.

A year after the attack on the Tiguentourine natural gas processing complex, in In-Amenas commune within the Illizi Province of Southeastern Algeria, the consequences of those events are still reverberating.

Under intense pressure from the United States, Great Britain and Norway the Algerian government has been forced to make major concessions to international oil companies. Tiguerntourine is run jointly by British Petroleum (BP) and Statoil (the Norwegian state oil company) in conjunction with the Algerian government’s energy company, Sonatrach.

According to an open letter written by Hocine Malti, a former Sonatrach vice president and author of a major work on the Algerian energy industry, after having conducted their own investigation of the incident, the Americans and British pressed the Algerian government to undertake a major purge of high ranking military and security personnel responsible for insuring security at Algerian oil and gas facilities.

Before restarting operations at Tiguentourine, Washington and London demanded nothing less than a major restructuring of the Algerian military and security apparatus and were apparently “persuasive enough” to get most of what they wanted. The affair is an indication of the degree to which the C.I.A., MI5, et. al. have been able to dictate their terms to the once proud Algerian military and to increase their influence over the Algerian military and security apparatus. Sometimes together, often in conflict, these two bodies have, despite some appearances, run the country, control, and essentially disperse the country’s extraordinary oil and natural gas wealth at the expense of the social welfare and overall economic development of the country.

It was a surreal scene to see Algeria’s president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, sign the orders eliminating – virtually decapitating – much of the country’s military leadership. Bouteflika, who had just returned from France for medical treatment, was so weak he could hardly lift the pen to sign the decree. That he had the physical and intellectual strength to organize such a political coup does not seem plausible.

But Bouteflika compensates for his weak base within Algerian society by the backing of his long-time ally and defender, France. France itself got strong support from the Americans, British and Norwegians. It is not possible to tell at this point what kind of pressure this quadruple whammy exerted upon the Algerian power elite, what threats were made, what possible revelations might have been exposed. But whatever, if, technically, it was Bouteflika’s pen that initiated the sweeping order, his poor health was bolstered by the political support he knew he enjoyed from Washington, London and Oslo, without which his order would have been laughed at and quickly reversed.

Many key high level military figures were “retired,” among themAthman TartagAbdelmalek Guenaïzia, Rachid LallaliAhmed Bousteila, Fewzi and M’Henna Djebbar. The head of the Département du renseignement et de la sécurité (DRS), the country’s dark secret service, Mohamed Mediene, barely managed to cling to his position. Furthermore, BP and Statoil have demanded that the Algerian security of the plant be replaced by foreign private security firms of their own choosing, compromising Algeria’s sovereignty to a degree, perhaps unparalleled since independence.

2. A year after Tiguentourine, Washington and London are a bit wiser, Algerian sovereignty a bit weaker

It was almost exactly a year ago – late January of 2013. It began on January 16th when a group of about 30 Islamic militants attacked and temporarily seized the huge Algerian natural gas complex at Tiguerntourine. The plant, which accounts for some 10% of Algerian natural gas production, is located 800 miles southeast of Algiers, the Algerian capital, and within 35 miles of the Libyan border. Some 700 Algerians and 130 foreigners were employed at the site.

The incident sent shock waves through the entire global energy production network, underlining the dangers associated with oil and gas production in politically unstable regions When the siege was over, with the Algerian military storming the facility, some 114 people lay dead with the number continually rising. Among the casualties were more than 57 foreign employees. Foreign casualties included ten Japanese, a number of Filipinos, Rumanians, and British citizens.

Although the Algerian government immediately claimed that the attack was the work of Islamic fundamentalist radicals tied to or close to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), the official version of events began to unravel almost immediately. How could a group of militants cross hundreds of miles of Sahara desert from Libya and/or Niger without detection? The attackers had detailed plans of the Tiguerntourine facility suggesting at the very least some kind of insider information. The Algerian military presence in the region is significant and they pride themselves on their ability to protect oil and gas facilities, none of which were successfully attacked during Algeria’s cruel civil war of the 1990s.

Through a media source in neighboring Mauritania, Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed credit for the attack. A number of informed commentators on Algerian (and more generally Saharan) politics (Jeremy KeenanHabib Souaidia) have repeatedly noted Belmokhtar’s connection to Algeria’s DRS where at one time he was a part of Algeria’s presidential guard! It is also noted that the DRS maintains close ties with Mauritanian intelligence.1

In different articles, both Souaidia and Keenan wrote damning critiques of the Algerian official explanations of Tiguerntourine; both put together a substantial case suggesting that Tiguerntourine was actually an inside job – a classic false flag operation – managed and actually carried out by the DRS in order to make the Algerian security apparatus look good!2 For a variety of reasons – which both explain – the plan backfired. As usual, neither Souaidia nor Keenan was taken seriously by the mainstream media in Europe or the USA at the time. (I took them quite seriously.)

While the United States and Britain – as well as the Algerian government – tried to publicly brush the issue under the rug as quickly as possible, privately both the C.I.A. and MI-5 did their own investigations. My hunch is – not verifiable, I would admit – that both intelligence organizations took the allegations of Souaidia and Keenan quite seriously while of course, writing them off as conspiracists and loonies – especially Keenan in UK – publicly.

Yet in the end, Washington and London essentially shared the Souaidia-Keenan hypothesis that at Tiguerntourine, the DRS had overstepped its bounds. Interesting way of putting it? It suggests that as long as the DRS, with a long history of treachery, torture and assassination of any and all manifestations of mass protest, is killing Algerians, their activities can be – and have been – overlooked. But when it involves an international oil company like BP, well, now that is a different story.

Malti explains:

“Then, together, these intelligence services [C.I.A. and MI5] and energy corporations informed Algerians of the results of their investigations and requested action from them. The American and British reached their conclusion: the Tiguentourine operation could not have taken place without complicity of the existing staff in the field, perhaps even with complicity of the Algerian security apparatus. The incompetence of some military leaders also played a role. The high number of casualties could not otherwise be explained.”

3. To Algerians…par for the course…

Is this not a polite manner of saying that the whole incident was contrived, planned and executed by the DRS, with its long and sordid history of false flag operations? To outsiders, it all sounds bizarre, bordering on the conspiratorial, if not downright “over the top.” To Algerians, to the contrary, it all was quite reasonable, the way things have been done in the country for decades.

There were some suggestions of what the Algerian authorities hoped to gain from such an operation. The militants, directed by Algiers, would have carried out the operation, the foreign hostages seized, thus creating a major international press event that the DRS would have tried to manipulate to their own advantage – as they have done many times in the past. The Algerian government, positioning themselves as “heroes of the day,” would have then “stepped in,, dramatically negotiated their release, the world press cheering. The hostages – perhaps minus a few casualties (adds drama to the situation) would then be released to great fanfare and acclaim: The DRS had shown its mettle once again! In this age of fast-advancing technology, the whole thing could have been orchestrated, arranged by cell phone. The intended lesson: Algeria can take care of its own security issues and has no need of a greater American (and/or French) security presence in their country and in the Sahel region.

In fact the whole operation could have been set up to somehow counter precisely this, in the aftermath of the chaos in Libya and the uprising in Mali. The foreign workers seized were just pawns in a game, that frankly the DRS had played a number of times before, but on a smaller scale and more successfully (using Belmoktar in fact). The  difference between this operation and previous DRS foreign kidnappings/ransoms (detailed by Keenan in both of his books)  was its scale, which involved many more hostages and the fact that this time it was a high-security energy complex that was targeted run in large measure by foreign world-class energy companies (whereas before it was mostly the kidnapping of French or German tourists in the desert).

But someone inside the In Amenas plant didn’t follow the planned script and in a matter of minutes the whole incident blew up in Algeria’s (but specifically the DRS’s) face. Thus the opposite from what was intended was learned: for energy operations to continue smoothly in Algeria (and not just there) a foreign security apparatus needed to be put in place. The government cover-up that followed was unconvincing at first mostly to long-time Algerian human rights watchers, but in the end to Washington, London and Paris, all of whom who had been made to look like fools. Although U.S. intelligence has, as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have shown, made a mess of things of late, in time, they got it right on this one.

One can only imagine the response that resulted in Washington as the intelligence community put all the pieces of the Algerian puzzle together. The DRS had overplayed its hand and had gotten caught in the act. That DRS chief Mohamed Mediene (codename Tewfik) did not “disappear,” himself caught up in the purge, was quite curious given his likely complicity. Malti argues convincingly that it was the intervention of the Algerian generals that saved his skin. Perhaps some other thinking was at work. Stripping Mediene of his main supporters and high level accomplices essentially strips him of his power, neutralizing his influence. Now he works for the Americans who know a good thing when they see it.

Besides, had Mediene been removed from power, it could have resulted in such discrediting of the entire Algerian ruling strata that the whole rotten system might very well have collapsed. Other than the Algerian people, who would have benefited from such a move? Certainly not the old military-security mafia that runs Algeria! Not even his Bouteflika – who has been a part of this system virtually all his adult life – would have benefitted. Why not simply gut the system, de-claw it so to speak, and then “turn it” so that from now on it serves Washington and its allies? Any Algerian kid on the street would understand what the Americans are up to and why.

Perhaps Washington and London had even more evidence of DRS involvement than what they were able to learn from Souaidia and Keenan. After all, for five years just after the millennium, the U.S. Special Forces had a secret military base in the southern Algerian city of Tamanrasset. Apparently it was closed down after the Algerians figured out that the communication equipment given to the Algerian military to monitor “terrorist activity” in the Algerian Sahara was actually being used to spy on the Algerians, with the information collected by both U.S. and Israeli intelligence by satellite. American drone satellites are known to be in the area as well.

Regardless, the Tiguerntourine incident has proven to be a useful pretext for American military/security penetration of Algeria as a part of its overall militarization of the Sahara region with its partner France. Washington has shown little to no interest in using this damning information to further Algerian democracy; to the contrary, Tiguerntourine will be a pretext for undermining Algerian economic sovereignty and its military security.

It is the latest in what has been more than a decade of U.S.-Algerian security cooperation in the Sahara since September 11, 2001. Early on the United States offered that Algerian government legitimacy, a cover for the war crimes that they had committed during the civil war of the 1990s. Algeria also got some communication and high-tech military toys out of the deal. The United States, seemingly impressed with the regime’s utter ruthlessness during the 1990s, gained a new partner in its “war on terror,” greater security access to the Sahara with its great energy and mineral (uranium, gold) wealth. At the same time, Algeria has tried to limit, to control U.S. access. It is classic power politics, where, behind the high phrases and rhetoric of “fighting terrorism,” at the same time the two countries are “partners” and are both trying to use one another for different ends.

Washington won this round and handily so. The DRS has suffered perhaps the most devastating blow of its existence, their credibility all but shattered. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of thugs. Still, it is too early to rule them out as political players. Their reach is long, their experience, when the story comes to life, as insidious as any. For decades, they were able to finesse their relations with France and run French-Algerian policy in a way similar to how AIPAC runs the U.S. Congress on support for Israel. But now they are dealing with Washington whose political acumen the DRS seemed to have under-estimated.

As usual while some of Algeria’s generals and intelligence officers were “retired” and can no longer dip into that great cash cow which is Algerian energy, in fact they are getting off easy. Those involved should be indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity. They are already millionaires. It is, once again, the long suffering people of Algeria who lose – they lose twice in fact – first from only seeing the smallest modicum of justice being meted out to the mafioso who have run the country for so long and second, because, having had their wealth first robbed by their generals and intelligence officers, now it will be taken by international energy cartels.

1. Habib Souaidia, a former Algerian intelligence officer now based in Paris. He is the author of La Sale Guerre, a damning condemnation of the role of the DRS (and the Algerian military) in the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. Jeremy Keenan is a British anthropologist with great – if not encyclopedic – knowledge of the Sahara and its peoples. He has authored two books detailing the role of Africom and U.S. militarization of the Sahara (to secure oil, natural gas, uranium, etc): The Dark Sahara and The Dying Sahara.

(2) On some level, admittedly it is impossible to conclusively prove that the whole thing was a DRS plan gone awry. But it certainly “smells of that.” Furthermore, nothing is more suggestive than looking at who in the Algerian power structure was removed from power. What undermines the hypothesis, frankly, is that the whole affair was exceedingly dumb – if not outright stupid. Could the DRS do something that was so poorly conceived? I believe so – this happens when arrogance, ideology and greed combine; this particular cocktail has long characterized DRS activity. Add to this that in the past, the DRS has – as we say in English – “gotten away with murder” so many times that they begin to think that they are invulnerable, a fatal error.

Rob Prince, whose teaching title has changed five times in the past 20 years, although the job is the same, is Teaching Professor at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies. In recent years, he has written extensively on North Africa. He is also the publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Iraqi Government Forces Attack Rebel Positions In Anbar

Iraqi government forces are reported to have carried out strikes in the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, as the fight against Al-Qaeda linked militants continues in Anbar Province.

The Reuters news agency reported government air strikes and artillery fire on targets in Fallujah on January 26.

RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq reported artillery and aerial bombardment targeting gunmen in Ramadi.

The strikes come amid continuing speculation that government forces could soon launch a broad offensive aimed at ousting the insurgents.

The government has so far refrained from mounting an offensive to give community leaders and Sunni tribes a chance to persuade the gunmen to withdraw.

Since breaking out around the new year, the conflict in Anbar has resulted in hundreds of casualties and forced tens of thousands of residents to flee their homes.

With reporting by Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Policemen killed in Egypt gun attack

Five policemen have been killed in an armed attack on a security checkpoint south of Cairo, Egyptian state television has reported.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that masked gunmen on motorbikes opened fire on the Beni Suef checkpoint early on Thursday, in an attack that also wounded two policemen. The assailants fled the scene.

The privately-owned Egyptian newspaper, Al-Watan, reported that the armed group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the shooting. 

At least 250 police and soldiers have been killed in attacks since the army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed Mohamed Morsi in July.

Thursday’s incident took place two days before the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising that ended the three-decade presidency of Hosni Mubarak.

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Deadly attack targets Pakistan polio drive

Armed men in Pakistan have killed three health workers taking part in a polio-vaccination drive – the latest in a series of deadly assaults on vaccination teams.

Following Tuesday’s deaths in Karachi, the polio workers’ association of Sindh said it was halting operations across the province.

Men on motorbikes opened fire on polio teams in two separate incidents in the Qayyumabad neighbourhood in the east of Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city.

Those killed in the attacks were between 24 and 31 years old, with no one immediately claiming responsibility for the attack.

Police said a passer-by was also injured.

Dr Seemi Jamali, the head of the government Jinnah Hospital, confirmed that three bodies and two wounded people were taken to her hospital.

Armed anti-government groups in Pakistan see vaccination campaigns as a cover for espionage, and there are also long-running rumours about polio drops causing infertility.

“The attackers wearing helmets were waiting for the teams on motorcycles,” a police spokesman told AFP news agency.

Campaign halted

Tuesday’s attacks came a day after Sindh’s health authorities began to immunise up to 7.6 million children with polio vaccines as part of a three-day nationwide drive.

Khairun Nisa Memon, the head of the provincial polio workers’ association, said vaccinations would stop as a result.

“We will not carry out the campaign from now on,” she said outside Jinnah Hospital.

“We have lost lives of our workers today and that will happen again and again.”

Saira Afzal Tarar, Pakistan’s junior health minister, denounced the assault after inaugurating a laboratory in the Pakistani capital Islamabad.

“It was an appalling act. We strongly condemn it,” she said.

Tarar said the authorities were waiting for a report on the incidents.

“We will hold a meeting on this tomorrow,” she said. “After that, we will direct the provincial governments on how to save the lives of those who are out to save lives of others.”

The Karachi shootings come just days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar was the world’s “largest reservoir” of the polio virus.

According to WHO, Pakistan recorded 91 cases of polio last year compared with 58 in 2012.

By contrast, the country’s neighbour India last week celebrated three years since its last polio case.

Repeated targeting

Polio can permanently paralyse or kill victims within hours of infection.

Intensive vaccination campaigns have almost eradicated the disease worldwide.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Efforts to eradicate it have been seriously hampered by the repeated targeting of vaccination teams in recent years.

Pakistani Taliban commanders have forbidden vaccination teams to access some areas.

A handful of religious leaders have also denounced the campaign as a plot to sterilise Muslim children.

The rhetoric has prompted violence against polio-immunisation teams in Pakistani.

Many teams only travel with police protection. Last year there were more than 30 attacks on polio teams.

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