LONDON, July 20 -- Britain said Iran seized two oil tankers in the Gulf on Friday and told Teheran to return the vessels or face consequences in the latest confrontation to ratchet up tension along a vital international oil shipping route.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards said they had captured the British-flagged Stena Impero, announcing the move two weeks after the British navy seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar. Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency said the second vessel, the British-operated Mesdar, had not been seized. It said the ship had been allowed to continue its course after being given a warning over safety and environmental issues. The Stena Impero and Mesdar changed direction sharply within 40 minutes of each other shortly after entering the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, taking up a course towards Iran, Refinitiv tracking data showed. The data later showed Mesdar changing direction again, heading westward back into the Gulf. "These seizures are unacceptable. It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region," British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said. Hunt later said, in comments reported by Sky News, that there would be consequences if Iran did not return control of the ships, but said Britain was not considering military options. US President Donald Trump said he would talk to Britain about the issue, speaking after a war of words earlier on Friday about whether the United States had shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz. Already strained relations between Iran and the West have become increasingly fraught since the British navy seized Iran's Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. Oil prices gained on Friday after the latest spike in tensions along the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world's oil supplies pass.
Iran's Guards, an elite force under the command of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said they seized the Stena Impero at the request of Iranian authorities for "not following international maritime regulations", state television reported. Northern Marine Management, which is owned by Stena AB, confirmed the Stena Impero was heading towards Iran. Norbulk, the manager of the tanker Mesdar, said the vessel had been boarded by armed personnel but was later allowed to continue its voyage.
BANGKOK, July 18 -- Thailand were assigned in Group G alongside not just Asian powerhouses such as the UAE and regional No1 Vietnam but also Malaysia and Indonesia. The teams will play each other both home and away.
It will serve as a tough baptism for newly-appointed national coach Akira Nishino from Japan, who is due to officially sign a contract with the Football Association of Thailand in Japan on Friday. The second round of Asian qualification for the 2022 World Cup consists of eight groups, each with five nations. The eight group leaders and four best second-placed teams will move into the third round and will automatically qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup in China. Thailand’s opening qualifier will be against Vietnam on September 5. Thailand were placed in a tricky group with the United Arab Emirates and arch-rivals Vietnam when the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification draw was conducted in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
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
RIYADH, July 4 -- Rap star Nicki Minaj will perform in Saudia Arabia later this month, organisers of the Jeddah Season cultural festival announced, as the ultraconservative kingdom tries to shed decades of restrictions on entertainment.
Saudi organisers said at a press conference Wednesday that Minaj, whose real name is Onika Tanya Maraj, will headline the festival on July 18. Minaj is known for her outlandish performances and flamboyant, hyper-sexualised image. Her music videos often feature figure-hugging, skin-bearing outfits and provocative dancing. Her lyrics are laced with profanities and Minaj's songs mainly address sex, rumoured liaisons with other rappers and female empowerment. Her famously large posterior is regularly referenced, as is a play on words between her surname and a French term for group sex.
The concert, in line with Saudi laws, will be alcohol and drug-free, open to people 16 and older and will take place at the King Abdullah Sports Stadium in the Red Sea city. Saudi Arabia is promising quick electronic visas for international visitors who want to attend. Local media reported the headline act, to be televised on MTV, will also feature British musician Liam Payne and American DJ Steve Aoki.
While the announcements for Payne and Aoki posted on the Jeddah Season Twitter account featured photos of the artists, Minaj's announcement ran with only an animated image of her name. Her image was used at the press conference on Wednesday, however.
All her songs are indecent
The announcement triggered a storm on social media, ranging from joy to criticism and disappointment. One fan posted a video of Minaj performing with the caption: "Am I dreaming or is this really happening?", while several others posted doctored images of the rapper in traditional Saudi dress. In a profanity-filled video posted on Twitter that has been viewed more than 37,000 times, a Saudi woman wearing a loose headscarf accused the Saudi government of hypocrisy for inviting Minaj to perform but requiring women who attend the concert to wear the modest full-length robe known as the abaya. "She's going to go and shake her ass and all her songs are indecent and about sex and shaking ass and then you tell me to wear the abaya," the Saudi woman said. "What the hell?" Minaj is yet to comment on her headline slot. This is not her first performance in the Middle East, having previously performed in the United Arab Emirates in 2013. In 2015, Minaj performed at a Christmas event in Angola despite calls from a human rights group to abandon the concert. The Human Rights Foundation said the money to pay Minaj came from "government corruption and human rights violations".
Author: Linda Lim
THE HAGUE, June 30 -- The meeting that Queen Máxima had during the G20 with the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has come to criticize her.
Agnes Callamard, who was investigating the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi for the UN, said he was confident that the prince had raised the issue of extrajudicial execution. "I trust that you have insisted on justice." The point now is that Máxima had not done that. She is a special advocate for the UN for inclusive financing (microcredit in developing countries). Among other things, they discussed the economic position improvement of women in Saudi Arabia, in preparation for the next G20 in Saudi Arabia. The murder of the columnist Washington Post in the Saudi consulate in Instanbul remained undiscussed. That is not good, according to Callamard, for whom silence equals complicity.
"Credible evidence" about responsibility
The Callamard UN investigation revealed that there is "credible evidence" that Bin Salman was responsible for the murder. Kashoggi, columnist from The Washington Post, was stunned with an injection during a visit to the consulate and killed with a plastic bag over his head. The body of the Saudi dissident, presumably cut to pieces, was never recovered. A critical response was received in the Lower House, including by D66, SP. "Is it really true that she did not talk about the murder of journalist Khashoggi?" Says MP Karabulut. "Incomprehensible." She wants to talk to Minister Blok (Foreign Affairs) about the meeting on Monday. The VVD also sees it differently. Member of Parliament Sven Koopmans is "proud that our queen is having difficult diplomatic talks." "The inclusive financing envoy dares to have a difficult conversation here about women's rights with someone far away from her."
The RVD said it was customary for the queen to have a conversation with the host of the next G20 summit, which is Saudi Arabia. "The conversation between Queen Maxima and Prince Mohammed bin Salman was conducted under the responsibility of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, as usual in international performances by members of the Royal House," Algemeen Dagblad cited the RVD. "The cabinet was aware of the conversation."
US President Donald Trump also faced questions about his sit-down with Bin Salman at the G20 in Japan, his first face-to-face meeting since the US intelligence community concluded that the crown prince directed the killing of the Washington Post columnist. Trump, who called Bin Salman his "friend", has long sought to minimise the crown prince's role in the killing and has been reluctant to criticise the killing of the critic. Trump views the kingdom as the lynchpin of his Middle East strategy to counter Iran. At the news conference on Saturday, Trump was asked by a reporter if he agreed it was "despicable" for a government to kill a journalist. Trump replied: "Yes, I do. I think it's horrible. Or anybody else, by the way. And if you look at Saudi Arabia, you see what's happening, thirteen people, or so, have been prosecuted. Others are being prosecuted. They've taken it very, very seriously. And they will continue to." Callamard said the ongoing trial in Saudi Arabia was not carried out in "good faith". "Overall it does not meet international standards," she said. Only 11 out of 15 operatives who were at the consulate were being indicted, but their names and their charges have not been made public, said Callamard. She said the chain of command's responsibility was not being investigated and the trial's proceedings were contradicting the statements made by the public prosecutor. "For those who want to see a proper criminal trial taking place, an official request should be undertaken by the UN secretary-general upon the request of at least one member state," she said.
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.
Az-Zahra Hussein, his daughter, said in a Facebook post her father will be released "with precautionary measures", and will soon be transferred to a police station from the prison. Gamal Eid, the executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said under Egyptian law Hussein must be freed within 24 hours. "This is a final court ruling but the problem is that security forces tend to delay releases when they do not like those freed," said Eid, adding in some previous cases the execution of the release order took several months. The journalist has been in custody since 2016 without formal charges, trial or conviction. Hussein was accused of "incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos", allegations he and Al Jazeera Media Network deny. Nasr told Anadolu news agency the Cairo Criminal Court rejected the prosecutors' appeal on Thursday. "This case shows the misuse of pre-trial detention as a form of punishment in Egypt," said Eid. He said there are at least 20,000 people currently in detention without charge in Egypt for political reasons. Hundreds of them have already exceeded the legal two-year pre-trial term, he added. Since the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Al Jazeera Media Network has been portrayed as Egypt's national enemy for its coverage of the group. Many of its reporters have been arrested on grounds of spreading lies and supporting "terrorists" - a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organisation.
Hussein's detention was in violation of both Egyptian and international laws, with the former setting 24 months as the maximum period for pre-trial detention. Egyptian authorities have repeatedly renewed his two-year detention. He was arrested on December 20, 2016, by Egyptian authorities upon his arrival in Cairo to visit his family. In February, the United Nations called Hussein's jailing "arbitrary detention", saying the "appropriate remedy would be to release Mr Hussein immediately". In 2013, Egypt also arrested and later imprisoned Al Jazeera's Abdullah Elshamy, Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste on charges of spreading "false news" - cases that were widely condemned by international media outlets and many politicians. All have since been freed. Ibrahim Helal, former editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera Arabic, was sentenced to death in absentia for purportedly endangering national security. Several other colleagues have also been charged in absentia, such as journalists Sue Turton and Dominic Kane.
ADEN, Yemen, May 18 -- Yemen's security forces managed to capture one of the most prominent al-Qaida leaders during an anti-terrorism operation launched on Saturday in the country's southwestern province of Taiz.
"An elite anti-terrorism security operation managed to capture one of the most dangerous al-Qaida leaders named Bilal Ali Wafi who is wanted as a global terrorist," officer Abdul-Basit Baher said. He added that the anti-terrorism security troops raided an old house in the western countryside of Taiz province and succeeded in capturing Wafi who refused to surrender himself and attempted to use children and women as human shields. A security member was injured during the shooting that erupted while attempting to capture Wafi in his hometown village, he added. Yemeni security authorities previously accused Wafi of masterminding a series of attacks and assassinations against the country's security and government officials. Wafi was operating as a prominent member of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and participated in a terrorist attack in 2012 against a military parade in capital Sanaa, killing more than 100 soldiers and injuring nearly 300 others, Yemeni authorities said.
In October 2017, the United States and other Gulf countries designated 11 Yemenis including Wafi as terrorists who were wanted by security authorities. The Yemen-based al-Qaida branch AQAP, which mostly operates in eastern and southern provinces, has been responsible for many attacks against security forces in the country. The provinces of Abyan and Shabwa, former main strongholds of AQAP, have also been the scene of sporadic attacks or heavy clashes between the United Arab Emirates-backed security forces and al-Qaida militants from time to time. The AQAP, seen by the U.S. as the global terror network's most dangerous branch, has exploited years of deadly conflicts between Yemen's government and Houthi rebels to expand its presence, especially in the southern and southeastern provinces. Enditem
RIYADH, May 13 -- Saudi Arabia says two of its oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates(UAE) in attacks that caused "significant damage" to the vessels.
One of the ships was en route to pick up Saudi oil to take to the United States, Saudi Energy MinisterKhalid al-Falih said on Monday. The announcement by al-Falih came as the UAE's regional allies condemned the reported sabotage on Sunday of four ships off the coast of the port city of Fujairah. On Sunday, Iranian and Lebanese media outlets aired reports of explosions at the city's port but UAE authorities said the reports were inaccurate. Emirati officials have declined to elaborate on the nature of the sabotage to the ships or say who might have been responsible. The reports come as the US warned ships that "Iran or its proxies" could be targeting maritime traffic in the region, and as the US is deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Gulf to counter what it called "threats from Tehran".
UAE says four ships subjected to 'sabotage' off east coast
Shortly after the Saudi announcement, Iran's Foreign Ministry called for further clarification about what exactly happened with the Saudi tankers. The ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying there should be more information about the incident. Mousavi also warned against any "conspiracy orchestrated by ill-wishers" and "adventurism by foreigners" to undermine the maritime region's stability and security. Tensions have risen in the year since President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, restoring US sanctions that have pushed Iran's economy into crisis. Last week, Iran warned it would begin enriching uranium at higher levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal. In his statement, al-Falih said the attacks on the two tankers happened at 6am on Sunday. "One of the two vessels was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude oil from the port of Ras Tanura, to be delivered to Saudi Aramco's customers in the United States," al-Falih said. "Fortunately, the attack didn't lead to any casualties or oil spill; however, it caused significant damage to the structures of the two vessels." Saudi Arabia did not identify the vessels involved, nor did it say whom it suspected of carrying out the alleged sabotage.
Underlining the regional risk, the general-secretary of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council described the alleged sabotage as a "serious escalation" in an overnight statement. "Such irresponsible acts will increase tension and conflicts in the region and expose its peoples to great danger," Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani said. Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen's internationally recognised government similarly condemned the alleged sabotage. A statement on Sunday from the UAE's Foreign Ministry put the ships near the country's territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, east of the port of Fujairah. It said it was investigating "in cooperation with local and international bodies." Earlier on Sunday, Lebanon's pro-Iran satellite channel Al-Mayadeen, quoting "Gulf sources", reported that a series of explosions had struck Fujairah's port. State and semi-official media in Iran picked up the report from Al-Mayadeen, which later published the names of vessels it claimed were involved. AP news agency, after speaking to Emirati officials and local witnesses, found the report about explosions at the port to be unsubstantiated. Fujairah's port is about 140km south of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Gulf through which a third of all oil at sea is traded. The facility handles oil for bunkering and shipping, as well as general and bulk cargo.
BANGKOK, January -- Saudi teenager who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her has been granted asylum in Canada, the Thai immigration chief told Reuters on Friday.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, will be boarding a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday night, immigration chief Surachate Hakpark said, before boarding a connecting flight to Canada. "Canada has granted her asylum," Surachate told Reuters. "She'll leave tonight at 11.15 pm." Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that Canada will grant asylum to a Saudi woman fleeing alleged family abuse.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who is 18, arrived in Thailand on Saturday, but was initially denied entry. She said she feared her family, which she accused of abuse, would kill her.