BAGHDAD, July 12 -- Four Islamic State (IS) militants and two paramilitary Hashd Shaabi members were killed Friday in an operation to hunt down the extremist militants in Iraq's eastern province of Diyala, a statement and a provincial official said.
Early in the morning, the Iraqi army, interior ministry's provincial intelligence and Hashd Shaabi units carried out an operation to hunt down IS militants in the rugged area in the northeastern part of the province after being tipped off by intelligence report, the Hashd Shaabi said in a statement. Sadiq al-Husseini, head of the security committee in Diyala provincial council, told Xinhua that the troops, so far, killed four IS militants, including a local leader, and destroyed three of their hideouts. Also during the operation, a roadside bomb struck a convoy of a joint police, intelligence and Hashd Shaabi force in al-Hafayer area at the edges of al-Sa'diyah town, some 125 km northeast of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, al-Husseini said.
Brigadier General Ali al-Sudani, head of Diyala's intelligence, escaped the attack with wounds, but a Hashd Shaabi member was immediately killed and another died later in the hospital, while three other Hashd Shaabi members were wounded by the blast, al-Husseini added. Despite repeated military operations in Diyala, some IS militants are still hiding in some rugged areas near the border with Iran, and in the sprawling areas extending from the western part of the province to the Himreen mountain range in the northern part of the province. The security situation in Iraq was dramatically improved after Iraqi security forces fully defeated the extremist IS militants across the country late in 2017. IS remnants, however, have since melted in urban areas or resorted to deserts and rugged areas as safe havens, carrying out frequent guerilla attacks against security forces and civilians.
Author: Lora Smith
MADRID, July 10 -- On behalf of the EU, Morocco is making it more difficult to flee across the Mediterranean to Spain. In fact, the number of refugees is decreasing. But the deal has fatal consequences for migrants, human rights activists say.
"If only we could be left, we could save much more," says Manuel Capa. The trade unionist works for the sea rescue in the Spanish city of Valencia. If Morocco or Spain embark on a new course when it comes to migration, they will feel it immediately. And he does not like the new course of the Spanish government at all. According to the law of the sea every captain must take shipwrecked persons, if he is able to do so, Capa explains. Regardless of whose sea area he is in. "So, if a shipwrecked man was in the Moroccan Maritime Rescue Zone and Morocco did not take care of him because of the lack of resources or perhaps the will, then the Moroccans allowed us to go into their waters and save the humans." That has changed. A new protocol stipulates that Morocco is solely responsible for its zone. The Spanish saviors must often be left out. Trade unionist Capa says what happens to the people who are shipwrecked in Moroccan waters is incomprehensible. It remains unclear whether they were saved and if so, where they would be taken.
Does the government accept dead?
Helena Maleno from the non-governmental organization "Caminando Froteras" goes further. She accuses the Spanish government of a cynical game:
"We're basically doing the same thing as Salvini: We're retreating, but not so obvious, of course, we can not pull out the sea rescue, but we're taking some risk with the new measures."
Spain's motto is to close this route, whatever the cost. Maleno assumes that the government will not protest because of the dead.
140 million euros in aid
The Spanish maritime rescue rejects the allegations. In the first half of the year, the number of registered deaths had dropped significantly. Currently there are 81 people who did not make it to Spain alive. Last year, at 151, it was almost twice as many. The fact is that Spain and Morocco are working together again on migration. Spain's head of state, Sánchez, has worked hard to ensure that the European Union gives Morocco more support in terms of border management. With success: the EU promised Morocco a total of 140 million euros in aid in January.
The refugees are being transported inland
And Morocco has delivered. Anyway, this is the conclusion reached by an internal paper of the EU Commission, which is available in the Spanish newspaper El País. Support for Morocco, both from Spain and from the European Commission, is the basis for the declining trend in arrivals, it says. The Moroccan government is also not overshadowing their successes: The authorities have this year so far prevented 25,000 people from reaching by sea illegally Spain, according to an official Moroccan side.
Often, however, this is done with dubious methods, says Said Tbel, migration officer of the human rights organization Association marocaine des droits humains (AMDH) in Rabat:
"Since last summer, Morocco has again resorted to methods that violate the rights of migrants."
So many migrants were picked up on the coast in northern Morocco and spent in the south. It has become increasingly difficult for people to leave Morocco for Spain. Many boats were capsized, there are now many missing and dead. The human rights activist believes that the situation will worsen in the medium term. The Moroccan Ministry of the Interior was not available for an interview at short notice.
Author: Lora Smith
WASHINGTON, July 10 -- The United States is planning to create a military coalition to safeguard commercial shipping from Iranian threats in waterways off Iran and Yemen following attacks on two oil tanker last month, U.S. media reported.
"We are engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el Mandeb," said Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to reporters. Dunford also said he had discussed the plan with Mark Esper, the acting secretary of defense, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He added the Pentagon has developed a specific plan and it would be clear within a couple of weeks to see which nations join the coalition, according to the local media. Under the plan, the United States would provide command ships and lead surveillance efforts while its allies would patrol waters near the U.S. command ships and escort commercial vessels with their nation's flags, the reports said. Dunford called the coalition "scalable," suggesting that it will start small but will expand as more countries show interest.
President Donald Trump expressed frustration in June, questioning why the United States is protecting shipping lanes for oil-dependent countries like China and Japan, suggesting that countries should be protecting their own ships. Bilateral tensions have increased with the United States stepping up its pressure on Iran over Tehran's nuclear program, claiming that it is destabilizing the Middle East.
Washington has blamed Tehran on the June attacks on two oil tankers respectively operated by a Japanese company and chartered by a Taiwanese oil refiner near the Strait of Hormuz, a key corridor through which major oil exports flow to the world, as well as a similar tanker attack in May in waters off the United Arab Emirates. A U.S. drone was also shot down in Iran by the Middle Eastern country's paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in late June, drawing the ire of Trump. Iran has threatened in the past that it would close the Strait of Hormuz, further increasing tensions with the United States and some of its neighbors. The United States and Gulf allies also have concerns about the vulnerability of the Bab el Mandeb, a strait between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, caused by Houthi rebels who are accused by the United States of being Iranian proxies.
Author: Lora Smith
MOSCOW, July 9 -- The Moscow District Military Court has sentenced three members of the Islamic State (terrorist group, outlawed in Russia) to between 10 and 15 years in jail over plotting terrorist attacks in Moscow.
"The court has found the defendants guilty and sentenced Anzor Tlupov, Bakhtovar Tuychiyev and Manuchekhr Tuychiyev to 13, 15 and 10 years, respectively," the judge said, noting that the three men would be serving their sentences in a maximum security colony. The defendants were charged with illegal production of explosives, setting up a terrorist group, engagement in the group's activities, plotting a terrorist attack and contributing to terrorism. The court found that three IS group’s members had been plotting a series of terrorist attacks in Moscow and the Moscow Region. At the moment of detention in summer 2018, they were trying to destroy explosive substances.
Author: Lora Smith
ISTANBUL, June 24 -- In a major blow to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu has declared victory in the rerun of Istanbul's mayoral election, after initial results showed he was set for a clear win.
Imamoglu had won 54 percent of votes with almost all of the ballot boxes opened on Sunday, with the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) candidate trailing on 45 percent and conceding defeat. Imamoglu promised a "new beginning" for Turkey's largest city and commercial hub. "You have protected the reputation of democracy in Turkey," he told supporters. His opponent, former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, conceded defeat after initial results showed he was set to lose by a decisive margin. "According to the result as of now, my competitor Ekrem Imamoglu is leading the race. I congratulate him and wish him good luck," Yildirim said. CHP's projected win in the Istanbul election ends the 17-year rule by the AK Party in the metropolis. The Istanbul mayoral election was first held on March 31, when Imamoglu secured 48.8 percent of the vote, while the AK Party's Yildirim held 48.55 percent, granting Imamoglu the title of mayor with a razor-thin margin. The AK Party proceeded to file an "extraordinary objection" to the results, leading the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) to annul the results and schedule Sunday's rerun.
RIYADH, June 7 -- Days after Saudi Arabia announced it would allow women to drive in September 2017, blogger and activist Eman al-Nafjan wrote an uplifting column on CNN.
Praising the tenacity of women's rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathloul, she said: "Other issues seem conquerable. The biggest issue at the moment is the guardianship system." Eight months later, al-Nafjan, Loujain al-Hathloul, and other women's rights activists and male allies were arrested. They became victims of a widespread online and offline smear campaign, accusing them of trying to destabilise the country and incite public opinion. Since their arrest, there have been allegations of prisoners being tortured - with reports of lashings and electric shocks while in custody. Three Saudi Muslim scholars who are linked to the Sahwa, or the Awakening movement, who are reportedly on death row and could be executed in days, are also believed to have suffered in prison. Salman al-Awdah was hospitalised as a result of solitary confinement, according to Amnesty International, Awad al-Qarni health has also deteriorated, according to activists, while Ali al-Omari has reportedly suffered burns and injuries all over his body as a result of electric shocks during solitary confinement for more than a year.
Adam Coogle, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: "You have serious allegations of torture by investigators. This is something you will frequently hear from other human rights activists as well." Among these prisons are al-Haer in Riyadh, Dhahban near Jeddah, and Dammam in the Eastern Province. Women's rights defenders, protesters from the predominantly Shia Muslim minority Eastern Province, and other dissidents often stand trial at the Specialised Criminal Court,the kingdom's counter terrorism court. "Most human rights activists and dissidents are in [both] Mabahith-run prisons or general prisons," Yahya Assiri, a Saudi activist who founded the human rights organisation Al Qst said. While general prisons are run by the Ministry of Interior, maximum security prisons are headed by the police agency of the Presidency of the State Security, commonly known as the Mabahith. Conditions in the general prisons are abysmal and worse than in the maximum security facilities, said Assiri, adding that corporal punishment is common while corruption has fuelled an illicit drug smuggling trade. "These facilities are far more outdated than maximum security prisons, and cells are often overcrowded," he said. In its 2018 annual report, Al Qst claimed that authorities forced prisoners to sleep in the toilets.
Essam Koshak, an activist and computer engineer was arrested in January 2017 for speaking out against the male guardianship system on Twitter, and sentenced to four years in prison followed by a four-year travel ban. Though he was tried in the Specialised Criminal Court, he was held in Mecca General Prison before being transferred to the maximum security al-Haer Prison in Riyadh. Similarly, activist Issa al-Nukheifi was held in pre-trial detention in Mecca General Prison without any charges presented. At the Specialised Criminal Court, he was sentenced to six years in prison followed by a six-year travel ban over Twitter posts criticising the Saudi royal family and government. He is also being held at al-Haer. Though conditions at Mabahith-run facilities are relatively better, Assiri said that overall, prisons built and administered for detainees suspected of terrorism or other extreme security charges are "extraordinarily worse than before". Although several activists have been temporarily released as their trials proceed, it is expected that they could face 20 years in prison, as per Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism law. Saudi Arabia has acceded to the UN Convention Against Torture - with reservations, but reports from human rights organisations and testimonies indicate that systematic torture is widespread with impunity.
BANGKOK, June 4 -- Police and troops stepped up security in Songkhla province, and especially the town of Hat Yai, on Tuesday ahead of the Eid al-Fitr festival.
Tuesday is the last day of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. A security source said intelligence agencies believed Muslim insurgents would step up attacks on this day prior to Wednesday’s start of Eid, the “Festival of Breaking the Fast”. Officials were strictly checking motorcycles and other vehicles at road checkpoints on Tuesday. Within business areas and shopping malls in downtown Hat Yai, security officials increased the frequency of patrols as the number of Thai and Malaysian Muslim visitors increased. Officials expected more tourists on Wednesday and so are implementing increased security measures.
JAKARTA, June 4 -- A man was seriously injured when an explosive device he was carrying exploded at a police post in Indonesia's Central Java province, police said Tuesday.
Seven police officers were at the post at the time of the blast late Monday in Sukoharjo district but none was harmed, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said. "The suicide bomber is currently being treated in the police hospital," he said, adding that police suspected the device was of low intensity. Photos circulating on social media showed a man lying by the side of the road in a pool of blood before being taken to hospital in a police van. The explosion occurred two days before Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival at the end of the Ramadan fasting month. Authorities have deployed more than 160,000 security personnel during the holiday season, with police saying last week that they were on increased alert for possible terrorist attacks.
DAMASCUS, June 2 -- Syria’s air defenses have destroyed the enemy’s air targets on the southern outskirts of Damascus on Sunday.
The news agency SANA reported that explosions can be heard in this area. According to the agency, the air defenses successfully repelled the enemy targets coming out of the Golan Heights at 2:22. The TV channel Al Arabiya reported, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that the attack was carried out against Hezbollah’s base and arms depots.
LONDON, June 1 -- British comedy icon John Cleese’s claim that London is no longer an “English city” has unleashed a flood of reaction on Twitter as Brits latch onto another topic to fight about.
The Fawlty Towers and Monty Python star dredged up previous comments he made about the UK capital losing its sense of Englishness, tweeting that the observation has since been confirmed by virtually all his friends from abroad. “Some years ago I opined that London was not really an English city any more. Since then, virtually all my friends from abroad have confirmed my observation. So there must be some truth in it… I note also that London was the UK city that voted most strongly to remain in the EU.”
David Aaronovitch, a columnist with the Times, sought to give Cleese a brief history and geography lesson: “London has long been a British city, John. Which you might expect, what with it being the capital.” However numerous people supported Cleese’s views: “The texture and fabric of life in London is not quintessentially English. And many ethnic English outside of London all say the same thing,” author Thomas Clements responded. Some noted that Cleese’s observations were a clear-cut case of confirmation bias while others noted the comedian’s comments were supported by the facts on the ground. Pauls Joseph Watson wrote: “Over 41% of London’s population is foreign born. London also has the second highest foreign-born population of any city in the world. London is clearly the least “English” city in England. Cleese is merely stating a reality that anyone who lives in London understands.” Cleese has been vociferous in his support for Brexit. Explaining why he voted Leave, he said: “I don’t want to be ruled by Brussels bureaucrats who want to create a super state.”