Archive for November 5, 2015


July 24, 2015

ISTANBUL (AP) — Last month, the first edition of the Islamic State group’s Turkish-language magazine contained not a word of criticism of the Turkish government. This week, the second edition calls Istanbul occupied territory and blasts President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a tyrant.

The difference? Turkey has started to crack down on the group under Western pressure and Islamic State now sees Turkey as the enemy, raising the stakes in the struggle against the extremist network. And Turkey’s decisive response on Friday — airstrikes on Islamic State targets and 290 arrests nationwide — show how seriously the nation is now taking a threat it had long downplayed.

The abrupt shift in Islamic State’s Turkish propaganda magazine shows just how quickly a tacit truce has come apart. But the underlying changes have not happened overnight. Islamic State — also known by acronyms ISIS and ISIL — has spent years building its network inside Turkey, even as Turkish security services monitored the group to glean valuable intelligence.

“There is significant evidence that ISIS has built a network and an infrastructure in Turkey to support its operations in both Syria and Iraq,” said Andreas Krieg, an analyst at King’s College London. “Turkey has never thought that these jihadists would ever become a problem for Turkey itself. Quite on the contrary, they were under the impression that jihadists who wanted to go to Syria are embarking on a local — not a global — jihad.”

While Turkey was early to brand IS a terrorist group, the two largely refrained from attacking each other. Turkey took a soft line on Islamic State because it was fighting the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad — Turkey’s arch-enemy — and Ankara has actively supported other Islamist groups trying to bring down Assad. That gave Islamic State cover to continue building its network in the country.

Now, Turkey faces questions about whether its policy of restraint has backfired — finding itself facing an extensive, well-funded and organized extremist group threatening it from within. This week’s suicide bombing that killed 32 people in the border city of Suruc forced Turkey’s hand, causing it to beef up anti-IS efforts with Washington. Then came a big escalation.

On Thursday, as Turkey’s government tried to counter criticism over the suicide bombing, Islamic State struck again, this time in an ambush along the border that left a Turkish soldier dead. Turkish police then carried out simultaneous raids in Istanbul and 12 provinces on Friday, detaining 290 people before lunch, compared with about 500 in recent months. Officials say the mass arrests reflect careful monitoring of IS’s followers over a long time, but the scale of detentions also underscores how broad Turkey has allowed the Islamic State network to become.

The IS web in Turkey even extended into the jailhouse, according to court documents for a Spanish woman detained in Turkey and accused of recruiting for Islamic State. Islamic State hired a lawyer linked to the group to represent the woman. Samira Yerou was granted repeated phone calls that allowed her to be “duly informed, by at least two members of ISIL, of the passage of female recruits joining the group from Turkey to Syria, changes in hiding places, etc., even from within the detention center,” according to the court documents.

In one chilling episode, Yerou, who was jailed along with her 3-year-old son, had a freewheeling phone call with a Saudi emir for Islamic State, telling the child what to say. “Tell him, ‘I will behead the police,'” she ordered. The boy repeated her words and both she and the Saudi emir laughed after the child spoke. The documents do not indicate how authorities obtained the transcript, but make clear that communications and information were freely available in the jail — and that recruitment continued apace behind bars.

Authorities and analysts say Turkish citizens are a relatively small proportion of IS fighters and supporters, but they are crucial for shepherding supplies and recruits from the West and North Africa safely across the border to Syria or Iraq.

According to Omer Ozdemir, a researcher at Sakarya University, most of the IS supply network in Turkey is contracted out to large tribes that have worked as smugglers on both sides of Turkey’s borders for generations. He said the government could work to put pressure on the tribes to end the relationships and significantly squeeze IS.

While Turkey appears to have a close eye on IS operations in Turkey, this week’s suicide bombing shows that Turkish authorities can’t afford to miss one IS operative.

Hinnant reported from Paris. Alan Clendenning in Madrid and Mohammed Rasool in Istanbul contributed.

Advertisements

June 26, 2015

An Islamic State affiliate that calls itself Najd Province said it was behind a deadly bombing at a Shiite mosque on Friday in Kuwait City, the third in a string of attacks that the previously unknown group has claimed responsibility for in wealthy Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Here’s a look at the attacks on Shiite mosques that the group, which calls itself Najd Province — a reference to the historic region of the central Arabian Peninsula where the Saudi capital Riyadh is located — claims was its work:

May 22

A suicide bomber unleashed a blast in a Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia as worshippers commemorated the birth of a revered saint, killing 21 people and wounding dozens more. The attack happened in the village of al-Qudeeh in the eastern Qatif region, the heartland of Saudi Arabia’s Shiite Muslim minority. It was the deadliest militant assault in the kingdom in more than a decade.

The Islamic State group views Shiites as apostates deserving of death and also seeks the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy, which it considers corrupt and illegitimate. Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has repeatedly called for attacks on the Saudi kingdom.

Following the attack, the Islamic State warned of more “black days” for Shiites in Saudi Arabia, a member of the U.S.-led coalition targeting the group.

May 29

A suicide bomber disguised as a woman blew himself up in the parking lot of the only Shiite mosque in the Saudi port city of Dammam, killing four people. Dammam is in the kingdom’s oil-rich east, where the Shiite community has long complained of discrimination. The death toll at the Imam Hussein mosque could have been higher had authorities and worshippers not been on alert for attacks. One witness said the bomber was chased from the entrance away by young men who had set up checkpoints.

June 26

An explosion at the Imam Sadiq Mosque in Kuwait City left at least 16 dead and dozens wounded. Following the attack in al-Sawabir, a residential and shopping district, a posting on a Twitter account known to belong to the Islamic State group said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt. IS said on Twitter that the bomber had targeted a “temple of the apostates.”

All of the attacks took place on a Friday, when mosques are generally full of worshippers. The attacks bolster concerns that Islamic State militants are establishing a toehold outside of the group’s stronghold in Iraq and Syria.

November 03, 2015

BAGHDAD (AP) — Ahmad Chalabi, a prominent Iraqi politician who became a Pentagon favorite when he helped convince the Bush administration to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003 by pushing false allegations of weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida, died Tuesday of a heart attack. He was 71.

Iraqi state TV said he died in Baghdad but did not provide further details. Chalabi, a secular Shiite politician who lived in exile for decades, was a leading proponent of the invasion and had close ties to many in the Bush administration, who viewed him as a favorite to lead Iraq.

However, he had a falling out with the Pentagon after the invasion, and was largely sidelined by other Iraqi leaders, many with close ties to neighboring Iran. Chalabi had most recently been serving as the chairman of parliament’s finance committee, and was previously a deputy prime minister.

To his supporters in Iraq, Chalabi was a campaigner for democracy who deserves credit for Saddam’s removal. “It is a very bad day for Iraq,” Shiite lawmaker Muwaffak al-Rubaie, a former national security adviser, told The Associated Press. “He was one of the most seasoned and pioneering politicians. Chalabi worked for a democratic, liberal Iraq … I am glad he died peacefully.”

But Robert Baer, a former CIA officer who met with Chalabi repeatedly in the mid-1990s and in the lead-up to the 2003 war, called him a “con man” who was able to manipulate American politicians. “He was the most charming man I’ve had to deal with at the CIA and the most educated,” Baer told the AP. “He understood American politics and he understood the American political narrative better than most Americans.”

The scion of a wealthy Baghdad family, Chalabi fled Iraq as a teenager when the monarchy was overthrown. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965, and then went on to get a PhD in mathematics at the University of Chicago.

He became a leading figure in Iraq’s exiled opposition in the 1990s and cultivated close ties with the future Vice President Dick Cheney and Washington’s so-called neo-conservatives, who favored a more muscular U.S. policy in the Middle East.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Chalabi played a key role in convincing the administration that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida, unfounded claims at the heart of the case for war.

“There are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam has them, and they are developing them continuously, and I think, if there is a correct way to look for them, they will be found,” Chalabi told AP television in 2003.

After the invasion, Chalabi was appointed to the 25-member Iraqi governing council and earned a seat directly behind First Lady Laura Bush during the 2004 State of the Union. “He more than any other Iraqi helped get rid of Saddam,” said Sajad Jiyad, a fellow at the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform in Baghdad. “He brought together all the opposition parties — Islamists, communists, ex-Baathists, secularists, nationalists.”

Chalabi went on to chair Iraq’s de-Baathification Committee, which worked to purge the government of Saddam loyalists but was seen by the country’s Sunni minority as a means of sectarian score-settling by the country’s newly empowered Shiite majority.

Baer, the former CIA officer, said Chalabi’s role in de-Baathification in particular was severely destructive. “He alienated the Sunnis more than anyone” else in Iraq, Baer said. Chalabi’s relationship with the U.S. soured in the months after the invasion, and in 2004 U.S. forces raided his home on suspicions that he was funneling intelligence to Iran.

In 2010, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill said Chalabi was “under the influence of Iran,” and “a gentleman who has been challenged over the years to be seen as a straightforward individual.” After a closed-door briefing with Chalabi in 2005, then-Representative Christopher Shays told The AP: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he told Iranians facts, issues, whatever, we did not want them to know in order to develop a relationship.”

Chalabi strongly denied the allegations, dismissing them as politically motivated. Chalabi also faced accusations of financial impropriety throughout his career linked to business dealings in neighboring Jordan.

In 1992, a Jordanian court tried and convicted Chalabi in absentia for bank fraud in connection with the collapse of Petra Bank, an institution he established in the late 1980s with the help of members of the Jordanian royal family. After quickly becoming one of the country’s leading banks, it collapsed in 1990 with millions missing in deposits. He fled the country days after Jordanian authorities took control of the bank.

An audit commissioned by Jordan months later found Petra Bank had overstated its assets by more than $300 million. Chalabi was sentenced to 22 years of hard labor in prison and ordered to pay back $230 million of the bank’s funds the court said he embezzled, a sentence he never served.

He repeatedly denied the charges, and filed a suit in the U.S. against the Jordanian government, claiming the ruling was politically motivated. King Abdullah II of Jordan eventually pardoned Chalabi after he assumed the post of deputy prime minister of Iraq.

In recent years, Chalabi focused his efforts on budget talks and working to expose fraud within the government. He also lent support to the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, led by that country’s Shiite majority against its Sunni monarchy.

His Baghdad home was a testament to one of his passions — art collecting — with paintings lining the hallways and exotic sculptures decorating each room. As recently as a month ago, he regularly attended events at the Baghdad National Theatre and other music and art venues.

He is survived by his wife Leila Osseiran, the daughter of the prominent Lebanese politician Adil Osseiran, and their four children, including Tamara Chalabi, a well-known author.

Associated Press writers Vivian Salama and Susannah George in Baghdad and Joseph Krauss in Cairo contributed to this report.

Sunday, 01 November 2015

Egypt’s representative at United Nations voted on Friday in support of Israel’s bid for membership of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), Israeli media reported.

Since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and its acceptance to membership of the UN, Egypt had never voted in its favour at the UN before last Friday.

One hundred and seventeen countries voted in favor of Israel, 21 abstained, while only Namibia voted against the decision. Countries that abstained include: Qatar, Tunisia, Syria, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Iraq and Algeria.

Israeli sources said that they were accepted to this UN committee after “intensive diplomatic efforts” exerted at different levels.

Prior to the vote, spokesman for the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs Ahmed Abu Zeid refused to comment on the matter. However, in the face of fierce domestic criticism, he said that voting for Israel was necessary in order to secure the membership of a number of Arab countries to the committee.

Egyptian politicians and activists widely rejected this move and severely criticized Egyptian Military President Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria started a war against Israel that paved the way for peace talks between Egypt and Israel. It ended up with a peace treaty in 1979 that ended state of war between the two sides, reciprocal recognition and normalization of ties.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/22027-for-the-first-time-since-1948-egypt-votes-for-israel-at-un.

November 02, 2015

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday hailed a big victory for his ruling party in the country’s parliamentary election and demanded the world respect the result.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, secured a stunning victory in Sunday’s snap parliamentary election, sweeping back into single-party rule only five months after losing it. With all of the ballots counted early on Monday, the preliminary results showed that the party won more than 49 percent of the votes. It was projected to get 317 seats in the 550-member parliament, restoring the party’s single-party majority that it had lost in a June election.

Turkish financial assets were buoyant Monday after the AKP’s victory as investors hoped it will bring an end to a long period of political uncertainty. The Turkish lira was one big beneficiary from the result, surging by 5 percent or so on foreign exchange markets.

“The whole world must show respect. So far I haven’t seen such a maturity from the world,” Erdogan said after attending prayers at a mosque and visiting his parents’ graves. It was an apparent reference to Western media’s often critical coverage of AKP’s policies in the past few years, including the ruling party’s backsliding on democratic reforms and moves to muzzle critical voices.

International election observers on Monday noted that elections were free and peaceful but criticized media restrictions in the run-up to the vote, including the seizure by the government of an opposition media company and criminal investigations of journalists for allegedly supporting terrorism or defaming Erdogan. The observers said the incidents of violence as well as physical attacks on party officials had hindered many of the contestants’ ability to campaign freely.

“Unfortunately we came to the conclusion that this campaign was unfair and was characterized by too much violence and by too much fear,” Andreas Gross, who headed a delegation of parliamentarians from the Council of Europe, told a news conference in Ankara.

There were no allegations of large-scale fraud. Any hope that Erdogan would ease media repression evaporated on Monday after a court ordered police to seize all copies of a weekly political magazine for suggesting on its front page that the aftermath of the election would mark the start of a civil war in the country. Nokta magazine said on its website that its chief editor and a manager were expected to be questioned for allegedly inciting people to violence.

Erdogan had called for a new election after Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu failed to form a coalition with any of the three opposition parties in parliament after the June vote. Sunday’s election was held amid renewed violence and Erdogan and Davutoglu argued that only a single-party majority could restore stability.

Fighting between Turkey’s security forces and Kurdish rebels has left hundreds of people dead and shattered an already-fragile peace process. Two recent massive suicide bombings at pro-Kurdish gatherings that killed some 130 people, apparently carried out by an Islamic State group cell, also raised tensions.

“The will of the people … opted for stability,” Erdogan said. “The developments in that short span of time made the people say: ‘there is no way out other than stability.'” Most analysts had expected AKP to fall short of a majority again, but the preliminary results suggest it picked up millions of votes at the expense of a nationalist party and a pro-Kurdish party.

On Monday, the European Union’s chief diplomat Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn issued a joint statement praising the strong voter turnout of more than 85 percent as a sign of the Turkish people’s commitment to democracy. They said the 28-nation group would work with the new government to advance ties.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said in Washington that “we congratulate the people of Turkey on their participation in yesterday’s parliamentary election. The United States looks forward to working with the newly elected parliament, and with the future government.”

Trudeau also reiterated U.S. concerns “that media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign, seemingly in a manner calculated to weaken political opposition.”

In Germany, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was now important for Turkey to tackle challenges including fighting IS militants, solving the Kurdish conflict and overcoming polarization “in the spirit of national unity and readiness to compromise.”

The lira’s recovery Monday came following a bad year. As well as suffering from the fallout of the previous election, the lira has been hit by expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve will soon raise interest rates. That will ratchet up the costs for Turkish companies, many of whom have borrowed in dollars to fund their expansion. It could also see an outflow of funds from Turkey as the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates encourages investors from around the world to reduce their exposure to emerging markets in favor of improving returns in the U.S.

As a result, analysts were careful not to get too carried away by Sunday’s election result as the fundamentals haven’t changed. “This rally should not blind us to the underlying issues in Turkey, such as the continued current account deficit which is causing underlying pressure on the currency as the market continues to fear the first Fed rate hike,” said Simon Smith, chief economist at FxPro.

Another worry in markets centers on whether President Erdogan will use the opportunity offered by his party’s surprisingly big election victory to push for greater powers. According to Derek Halpenny of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, any aggressive move by Erdogan on that front “could unsettle investors.”

He said that the AKP has also been well-known to interfere with central bank decision making, one of the factors behind the lira’s recent slump. “The strong gains we see for the lira are unlikely to be repeated going forward,” he said.

Pan Pylas in London and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Monday, 02 November 2015

Qatar has announced 100 new scholarships for Gaza’s university students through Al-Fakhoora organisation, Qatar’s Al-Raya newspaper reported yesterday.

The scholarships are an extension of previous subsidies provided by Qatar, Al-Raya added, these include the reconstruction of the Strip in partnership with UNICEF, UNRWA and other international organisations.

Al-Fakhoora has already offered 600 scholarships and is due to offer 1,000 extra scholarships by 2016, in effort aimed at paving the way to educate future leaders in Gaza.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22034-qatar-offers-100-new-scholarships-for-gaza-university-students.