Posts Tagged ‘Al-Qaeda’

Lies, politics and Iran-Qatar axis

September 15, 2017

By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

It is hard to understand someone if he doesn’t understand himself. It gets worse when that someone is a government with multiple heads and decision process speaking with many tongues and sending conflicting messages. Worse, their speech has no relations with their actions.

So you may accept what is offered in private conversation, or even public forum, only to find the very same day that those offers are fake. Promises are made to be broken, agreements are signed to be violated, and commitment, no matter how many guarantors and witnesses, cannot be trusted for even 24 hours.

Iran, Russia, and all those in between, are famous for such tactics. Al-Houthi in Yemen, for example, signed many agreements with the Yemeni government in two decades, but broke them all. They agree with you in a night negotiation session, but the next morning they will have the opposite stand. You would be excused to think they have a collective amnesia, but it is more of a culture.

I believe Qatar has a big problem — not knowing what they want. Unless they make up their mind, they won’t stop playing games and changing their stand so frequently

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

Guns for hire

They used to be guns for hire, with zero principles or conscious — there is no honor among thieves. So, with no regret or need for explanation they turned against their ally, ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who gave them the keys to all of Yemen, and put his loyalists in the army and tribes at their service

Iran, the mothership of this culture, is infamous for its contradictory statements, and unreliable commitments. Recently we heard different stands toward Saudi Arabia from different people. There are those who thank Saudi Arabia for a successful and safe Haj, for instance, and those who complain that we didn’t allow them political demonstration. Some threaten us with ballistic missiles that would burn all our oil fields and cities (except Makkah and Madinah!) and others wonder why would we doubt their peaceful intentions!

Also read: Qatar’s characteristic obstinacy and Iran’s ‘honor’

Not just different officials say different things, sometimes the same person would send contradictory messages. Take President Rouhani and his team for example. During the last couple of weeks, we dealt with accusations that Saudi Arabia is sponsoring all its own enemies! — Daesh (the so-called Islamic State), Al-Qaeda, etc. Days later, they extended their hands of brotherhood and friendship, calling for cooperation and good relations.

In the meanwhile, their terrorist and espionage cells are found in Saudi Arabia and the Iranian-made scuds are fired from Yemen toward our cities and towns, including Makkah. No wonder why it is so hard to understand their real positions and intentions—unless one reads their constitution, ideology and culture.

Qatar is another example of double-talk and multiple positions. During private conversations and indoor meetings, they present a totally different position than in public. They managed to draw a picture for themselves in the public mind, and hate to change it.

Reflecting reality

The problem is, the picture doesn’t reflect reality. While their public image is of a small country, but with strong, principled government, the truth is far from that beauty. It is more of scheming politicians that would cross any principle, heavenly or earthly, to realize their self interests. It doesn’t matter how many die, and how much destruction their neighbors and world would suffer, as long as they get their share of fame and influence. Lies become a way of life; and cheating rules the game.

In their latest episode, Emir Tamim called Prince Muhammad Bin Salman to express his desire to solve the crisis once and for all. He showed his willingness to meet with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to discuss the details of the 13 demands. Prince Muhammad welcomed the gesture and promised to discuss it with the other three partners.

Also read: Iran Revolutionary Guards’ commanders to support militias in the region

Few minutes later, the Qatari News Agency and Al Jazeera news channel reported a different story. According to their version, it was a call requested by President Trump to discuss ways to unite our GCC front, during which the Emir agreed to a meeting of envoys to discuss ways to restart dialogue. So we are back to square one. No agreement. No acceptance of the conditions. And no summit. Just low-level discussion of how to talk!

I believe Qatar has a big problem — not knowing what they want. Unless they make up their mind, they won’t stop playing games and changing their stand so frequently. Saudi Arabia is right to demand a clear and stated position before we go forward! With Iran and company, any less is pointless!

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on September 15, 2017.
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi journalist and writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at Follow him at Twitter: @kbatarfi.

Last Update: Friday, 15 September 2017 KSA 12:46 – GMT 09:46



Saudi Commander of Tahrir Al-Sham Assassinated in Idlib

September 14, 2017



Saudi Commander of Tahrir Al-Sham Assassinated in Idlib

TEHRAN (FNA)- A Saudi commander of Tahrir al-Sham Hay’at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) was assassinated in the Eastern parts of Idlib province.

News websites affiliated to the terrorists reported that Abu Mohammad al-Share’i was killed by unknown assailants in Saraqib city in Eastern Idlib.

Image result for Abu Mohammad al-Share'i, photos

They added that he was formerly a commander of Jund al-Aqsa terrorist group.

Relevant reports said on Tuesday that Abdullah Muhammad al-Muhaysini, the commander and Mufti (religious leader) of Tahrir al-Sham Hay’at has left the terrorist group only hours after leaked audio files indicated widening of rifts among the commanders of the Al-Nusra Front (Tahrir al-Sham Hay’at or the Levant Liberation Board), reports said.

Al-Muhaysini together with another mufti of Tahrir al-Sham named Mosleh al-Aliyani in a statement released on social networks on Monday declared their separation from the terrorist alliance, the Arabic-language media reported.

Al-Muhaysini and al-Aliyani mentioned the reason behind their separation as to be recent clashes between Tahrir al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham in Idlib province and also leakage of the audio files and disrespecting the religious leaders (muftis).

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Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (Arabicهيئة تحرير الشام‎‎, transliterationHayʼat Taḥrīr al-Shām,[21] “Organization for the Liberation of the Levant” or “Levant Liberation Committee“),[19][20] commonly referred to as Tahrir al-Sham and abbreviated HTS, is an active Salafist jihadist militant group involved in the Syrian Civil War. The group was formed on 28 January 2017 as a merger between Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front), the Ansar al-Din FrontJaysh al-SunnaLiwa al-Haqq, and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement.[2] After the announcement, additional groups and individuals joined. The merger is currently led by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and former Ahrar al-Sham leaders, although the High Command consists of leaders from other groups.[22][23] Many groups and individuals defected from Ahrar al-Sham, representing their more conservative and Salafist elements. Currently, a number of analysts and media outlets still continue to refer to this group by its previous names, al-Nusra Front, or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.[24][25]

Despite the merger, Tahrir al-Sham has been accused to be working as al-Qaeda‘s Syrian branch on a covert level.[26][27] However, Tahrir al-Sham has officially denied being part of al-Qaeda and said in a statement that the group is “fully independent and doesn’t represent any foreign body or organization”.[28] Furthermore, some factions such as Nour al-Din al-Zenki, which was part of the merger, were once supported by the US.[29] Some analysts reported that the goal of forming Tahrir al-Sham was to unite all groups with al-Qaeda’s extreme ideology under one banner, and to obtain as many weapons as possible. They also reported that many of the former Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters still answered to al-Qaeda, and held an increasing amount of sway over the new group.[11] It has also been claimed that despite the recent formation of Tahrir al-Sham, the new group secretly maintains a fundamental link to al-Qaeda, and that many of the group’s senior figures, particularly Abu Jaber, held similarly extreme views.[26][better source needed] Russia claims that Tahrir al-Sham shares al-Nusra Front’s goal of turning Syria into an Islamic emirate run by al-Qaeda.

Latest on North Korea — Russia and Japan ‘decisively condemn’ weapons tests

September 7, 2017
Money Control

South Korea has said it may have detected activity related to an intercontinental ballistic missile launch. Live updates.

  • Sep 06, 06:43 PM (IST)
  • Sep 07, 09:47 PM (IST)

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the two leaders “decisively condemned” North Korean weapons tests.

    “We decisively condemned North Korea’s launch of a medium-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan’s territory on August 28, as well as the new nuclear tests conducted on September 3,” Putin said in a statement.

    Putin reiterated that the crisis around North Korea should be resolved only by political means, and that it posed a threat to peace and stability in the region.

    He called for it to be resolved through a road map proposed by Moscow and Beijing.

  • Sep 07, 09:11 PM (IST)

    Everyone is waiting for Kim Jong-un’s next move, but in South Korea, some people are more worried about Donald Trump.

  • Sep 07, 09:07 PM (IST)

    Everyone is waiting for Kim Jong-un’s next move, but in South Korea, some people are more worried about Donald Trump.

  • Sep 07, 07:58 PM (IST)

    It is not even a week since North Korea fired its sixth nuclear test. Now, South Korea says that its neighbor may fire an intercontinental ballistic missile this weekend. South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon suggested that Kim Jong Un could order a launch on Saturday, which is the 64th anniversary of the totalitarian regime’s founding. Read it here.

  • Sep 07, 06:59 PM (IST)

    So, what did North Koreans do after testing their hydrogen bomb? They celebrated by filling hte streets of Pyongyang on Wednesday, reports Newsweek.

  • Sep 07, 05:52 PM (IST)

    North Korea breaks its silence. It has vowed to take the fight to US if more sanctions are placed over its missile programme. It has called Washington a war-monger. Read it here.

  • Sep 07, 05:20 PM (IST)

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has been vocal about the North Korean crisis. He predicted a ‘global catastrophe’ if North Korea didn’t respond to diplomacy. Later, a more despairing Putin said it may be ‘impossible’ to solve the situation. And now, Putin has said that the US could be adding fuel to Pyongyang’s fire, if it keeps its pressure on North Korea. Read it here on CNN.

  • Sep 07, 04:49 PM (IST)

    An opinion piece in written by Nic Robertson says that making North Korea fall to its knees will be harder with broken diplomacy. Read it in full here.

  • Sep 07, 03:40 PM (IST)

    As both US and North Korea seem to be on collision course, many people have started asking what this means for them. Wall Street, however, has chosen to ignore the elephant in the room. MarketWatch has published an interesting read on how investors are living in denial about the risk of war with North Korea. Read it here.

  • Sep 07, 03:31 PM (IST)

    15.30 The Russian President’s comment comes after North Korea’s Minister of External Economic Relations Kim Yong-jae said earlier today that his country will introduce strong countermeasures against the United States’ attempts to exert pressure through sanctions.

    “Attempts to use unprecedented aggressive sanctions and pressure to intimidate us and make us reverse our course, are a huge mistake,” Kim had said. “The United States should by all means keep in mind the nuclear status of our country, who owns nuclear and hydrogen bombs, and intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

  • Sep 07, 03:26 PM (IST)

    Russian President Vladimir Putin once again urged the US to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in the Korean Peninsula and said that by increasing pressure through sanctions, US could be playing right into North Korea’s hands. “It’s a provocation from North Korea, it’s obvious. They count on a specific reaction from the partners and they get it. Why are you playing along with it? Have ever you thought about it?” Putin said.

  • Sep 07, 02:55 PM (IST)

    North Korea’s Minister of External Economic Relations and head of the delegation at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Kim Yong-jae, has said that the country will introduce strong countermeasures against the United States’ attempts to exert pressure through strong sanctions.

  • Sep 07, 02:12 PM (IST)

    UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said that the unity among certain members of the UN Security Council was paramount for resolving the ongoing North Korea issue. Guterres said that unity between China, the United States and Russia was essential if North Korea’s nuclear ambitions were to be put to an end.

  • Sep 07, 02:05 PM (IST)

    “Given the new developments on the Korean peninsula, China agrees that the UN Security Council should respond further by taking necessary measures,” Wang told reporters in Beijing. “We believe that sanctions and pressure are only half of the key to resolving the issue. The other half is dialogue and negotiation,” he added.

  • Sep 07, 02:05 PM (IST)

    China seems to have finally given in to the idea of imposing stronger sanctions on North Korea. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has said that China would support the United Nations taking further measures against North Korea.

  • Sep 07, 01:32 PM (IST)

    European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has called for the European Union to impose additional sanctions on North Korea as a part of the international pressure being exerted at the moment on the rogue nation.

  • Sep 07, 01:26 PM (IST)

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that he hopes the situation in the Korean Peninsula does not descend to a conflict involving the use of weapons of mass destruction.

  • Sep 07, 01:02 PM (IST)

    The price of automobile fuel has reportedly skyrocketed in North Korea, possibly because of developments related to the sanctions being imposed on the country. Last month, gasoline prices had risen to nearly USD 30 for 15 kilograms and they have risen substantially once again. Drivers in Pyongyang have had to visit multiple gas stations to get their tanks full as gas supply has been significantly reduced. Some stations are secretly charging extra too, according to some media reports.

  • Sep 07, 12:54 PM (IST)

    This rare aerial footage of North Korean capital Pyongyang shows a city full of skyscrapers and other modern structures but devoid of pedestrians and cars.

  • Sep 07, 12:51 PM (IST)

    Pyongyang from above: Singaporean given rare access to film North Korean capital    

    Pyongyang from above

    Pyongyang from above: Singaporean given rare access to film North Korean capital

    SINGAPORE: Singaporean photographer Aram Pan has taken rare footage of the North Korean capital Pyongyang after he was given access to film while flying over the city. Pan flew in a Piper Matrix…

  • Sep 07, 12:31 PM (IST)

    “There are possibilities to achieve the settlement of Pyongyang’s problem by diplomatic means. This is possible and must be done. We are telling them that we will not impose sanctions, which means you will live better, you will have more good and tasty food on the table, you will dress better. But the next step, they think, is an invitation to the cemetery. And they will never agree with this,” Putin said in his address at Vladivostok.

  • Sep 07, 12:27 PM (IST)

    Criticizing the United States’ demand for stronger sanctions on North Korea, Russia’s Vladimir Putin said that if that happens, it could push North Korea into starting an armed conflict.

  • Sep 07, 12:24 PM (IST)

    Speaking at the same forum in Vladivostok, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the issue surrounding North Korea needs quick action and that all major world powers must push Pyongyang to meet its obligations to the United Nations and put an end to its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

  • Sep 07, 12:19 PM (IST)

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he believes that US President Donald Trump’s administration is willing to defuse tensions in the Korean Peninsula, but reiterated Russia’s opposition to imposing stronger sanctions on North Korea. Putin was speaking at an economic forum being held in Vladivostok.

  • Sep 07, 12:09 PM (IST)

    In a phone conversation with US President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s commitment towards denuclearising North Korea, after Trump warned that any threat from the rogue nation will be met with an “overwhelming” response.

  • Sep 07, 11:54 AM (IST)

    According to a report by The Times, UK, South Korean commandos will be working with the team of US Navy Seals who killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden to create a special squad to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

  • Sep 07, 11:50 AM (IST)

    According to media reports, dozens of South Korean protestors have been injured in clashes between them and the South Korean police as the US military added more launchers to their THAAD missile defence systems deployed across the country. The police officers also reportedly smashed windows of cars that were being used to block roads.

  • Sep 07, 11:48 AM (IST)

    Suki Kim, a South Korean-born American writer who worked undercover in North Korea for over 6 months, has said that an uprising by the people of North Korea against the Kim Jong-un regime is the only way of dealing with the issue. “Literally the only way to approach it is a regime change, North Korea as a regime will not cooperate, you cannot actually come to any conclusion dealing with [their] great leader system,” she said.

  • Sep 07, 11:40 AM (IST)

    South Korean citizens took to the streets today, protesting the deployment of THAAD missile defence systems by the US military. South Koreans have been opposing the THAAD systems for quite some time as they believe the system’s presence will impact the environment and health of people in an adverse way. Some maintain that deploying these systems is only going to result in an escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula, not help calm them down.

France seeks UN sanctions regime for Mali

September 1, 2017


© AFP/File | Mali’s government and coalitions of armed groups signed a peace deal in June 2015 to end years of fighting in the north that culminated with a takeover of the territory by jihadists in 2012
UNITED NATIONS (UNITED STATES) (AFP) – France is asking the UN Security Council to set up a sanctions regime for Mali to punish opponents of the 2015 peace deal as fears grow that the West African country is sliding back into turmoil, according to a draft resolution obtained by AFP on Friday.

The move is backed by Mali’s government which told the council in a letter last month that repeated violations of a ceasefire since the beginning of June were threatening to derail the peace deal.

The French-drafted resolution presented last month would set up a sanctions committee made up of all Security Council members who would designate individuals and entities to be blacklisted by the United Nations.

Those who are blacklisted would be subject to a global travel ban and an assets freeze.

It was unclear when the proposal would come up for a vote at the Security Council.

Mali’s government and coalitions of armed groups signed a peace deal in June 2015 to end years of fighting in the north that culminated with a takeover of the territory by jihadists in 2012.

A French-led military intervention in January 2013 drove out the Islamists, but insurgents remain active, moving to the center where attacks and trafficking of drugs and weapons are on the rise.

Mali and four neighboring countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger – are working to set up a counter-terrorism force to fight jihadists in the Sahel, which France has warned could become a haven for extremists.

In the latest attack to shake the region, gunmen opened fire on a restaurant in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou on August 14, killing 19 people including several foreigners who were dining on a terrace.

The UN peacekeeping force in Mali has come under repeated attacks by insurgents and is now known as the world’s most dangerous UN mission.

Four armed groups active in Mali are already on the UN sanctions blacklist for their ties to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS): Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the MUJAO Islamist movement, Al-Mourabitoun and the Ansar Eddine group along with its leader Iyad Ag Ghali.

The measure would also set up a panel of experts tasked with monitoring compliance with the sanctions and reporting to the council on violations.

The sanctions regime would have a one-year mandate.

Riyadh’s regional policies destructive: Iran

August 26, 2017

26 Aug 2017 – 8:15

Riyadh’s regional policies destructive: Iran

Tehran | Agencies

Riyadh’s policies in the region are destructive and even to the detriment of itself, said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in an exclusive interview with Isna.

Zarif pointed out that “Iran has always wanted to have good relations with its neighbours, but we believe that Riyadh’s policies in the region are destructive and even to the detriment of itself”

“We insist on the establishment of a safe, strong and convergent region which is in line with the national interests of Iran and the region. Iran’s policy for interaction with the regional countries and Saudi Arabia is within this framework and has not changed,”

“We have always emphasised that we are ready to dialogue with Saudi Arabia to resolve the crises in the region, whereas Riyadh unfortunately did not do this and sees its interests in creating tension in the region,” Zarif noted.

Zarif who won the confidence vote of Parliament for the second term spoke about the latest development in the Iranian foreign policy, region, structural changes in the foreign ministry’s management positions.


Iran-Saudi Arabia rift narrows amid shifting alliances in region

Some 86,000 Iranian pilgrims to attend annual Hajj for the first time in two years

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Saudi’s defence minister Mohammed bin Salman attending a military parade by Saudi security forces ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca. Photograph: Bandar Al-Jaloud/AFP/Getty Images

The rift that has divided the Middle East between Sunnis and Shias and fuelled proxy wars in Syria and Yemen appears to have eased, enabling 86,000 Iranian pilgrims to attend next week’s annual Hajj for the first time in two years as well as an exchange of diplomatic visits between Riyadh and Tehran that could prepare the way for restoration of relations severed early last year.

The bitter breach began with Tehran’s boycott of the Hajj following the 2015 stampede that killed 465 Iranians, and intensified when Riyadh severed diplomatic relations due to Iranian protests over the execution of dissident Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr in January 2016.

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The first indication that Riyadh and Tehran might ease tensions came on August 1st, when their foreign ministers shook hands at an Organisation of Islamic Co-operation’s gathering in Istanbul. Subsequently, Saudi crown prince Mohamed bin Salman called on Iran’s ally, the Shia fundamentalist government in Baghdad, to mediate between Tehran and Riyadh, hosted Iraqi dissident Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Saudi Arabia, and pledged to fund Iraq’s post-war reconstruction. Riyadh is eager to court Baghdad with the aim of weakening Iranian influence in Iraq.

These initiatives on the bilateral level, initiated by bin Salman, have been accompanied by other shifts in Saudi policy. On Syria, the Riyadh-based Syrian opposition coalition has been told to negotiate with Damascus on the basis that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad will stay in office. Since the coalition failed to capitulate last week during a meeting with two other opposition groups, the Saudis have vowed to remove hard-line coalition members answerable to Qatar.

Failed policies

Since June, Saudi Arabia and its allies have tried to deflect attention from their failed policies by shunning and boycotting Qatar, allegedly due to its ties to Iran, support for jihadis in Syria, and sponsorship of Al Jazeera.

Although Riyadh seeks to ease relations with Tehran, Qatar’s decision to restore full diplomatic ties with Iran, which were cut last year, could intensify tensions between the kingdom, its allies and its tiny neighbour.

On Yemen, the Saudis are reportedly under pressure from the United Arab Emirates – a partner in the war but a critic of Saudi management – to ditch Riyadh-based Yemeni president Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has undermined efforts to make peace with tribal Houthi rebels, and to replace him with a figure who would end the Saudi-led war which has killed 10,000 Yemeni civilians and devastated the country.

While Saudi policy changes have been taking place without fanfare, it is likely the hyper-ambitious crown prince – who sponsored the 2015 insurgent surge in Syria and launched the Yemen war – has been obliged to reconsider the kingdom’s failure to project power through warfare and could revert to traditional and chequebook diplomacy.

Join forces

Saudi Arabia is not the only country revising its policies. Although on opposite sides of the Syrian war, Turkey and Iran have pledged join forces against the Kurds in their countries and Syria to prevent the emergence of Kurdish autonomous or independent entities.

On Syria, although Iran continues to back the government, Turkey has told al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, which rules the northwest Idlib province, that the group has to disband and merge its fighters with non-al-Qaeda groups. Turkey seeks to ensure it has a grip on territory in northern Syria by creating allies not branded “terrorists” by the UN.

The Jabhat is unlikely to comply and could face the US-led coalition and the Syrian army once they defeat Islamic State in Syria.

The main reasons for these shifts in the Middle East are the failure of regional and international proxy wars in Syria to effect regime change, the inability of the Saudi-led coalition to defeat the Yemeni rebels, and uncertainty over Trump administration policies in the region.


© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir | A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on July 30, 2017 shows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah

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Imam in Spanish Town Emerges as Suspect in Barcelona Attack

August 21, 2017

Police focused on Moroccan national Abdelbaki Es Satty, who led a mosque in Ripoll, Spain

Photos: Many Dead After Van Attack on Barcelona Thoroughfare
People leave the cordoned-off area in Barcelona. A terrorist mowed down pedestrians with a van in the heart of Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday, killing at least 13 people and injuring scores in an attack claimed by Islamic State. Witnesses recalled their panic and shock.

Aug. 20, 2017 8:12 p.m. ET

RIPOLL, Spain—An imam in northeastern Spain emerged as a prime suspect in the investigation of the terror attack in Barcelona as Spanish authorities look into whether he radicalized a group of young men and plotted with them to launch an even deadlier assault.

Spanish authorities said Sunday they are looking into Abdelbaki Es Satty in connection with the attack Thursday, when a terrorist drove a van into a crowd in central Barcelona and killed 13 people. Mr. Es Satty, a Moroccan national, was the former imam at a mosque in Ripoll, the hometown of most of the 11 others police suspect of involvement.

Josep Lluís Trapero, police chief in Catalonia, said investigators believe that the cell may have been conspiring for more than six months to carry out one or more bombings in Barcelona, but was aborted when gas canisters being used to build bombs exploded.


Barcelona attack: Moroccan imam at centre of Spain terror cell had links with Madrid bombers and Belgium

Investigation widening amid fears van driver may have fled into France

By Lizzie Dearden

The Independent

The imam believed to be the ringleader of the Spain attackers had links with the 2004 Madrid bombers and recently travelled to Belgium, it has emerged.

Investigators are piecing together the background of Isis supporters who launched two deadly attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils as the driver of the van used to kill 13 people remains at large.

Police say they cannot rule out the possibility that Younes Abouyaaquoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan who could be the only surviving member of the terror cell, has escaped into France and travelled onwards through Europe.

The investigation into the attacks has spread to several countries recently visited by attackers, including Morocco, France and Switzerland.

Belgian media reported that the suspected ringleader of the attack, Moroccan imam Abdelbaki Es Satty, spent at least three months in the country.

The mayor of Vilvoorde, once a notorious jihadi hub, confirmed Es Satty lived in the city from January to March 2016 – the month that saw Isis’ attacks launched in nearby Brussels – but the Belgian immigration minister said he was not registered with authorities.

Hans Bonte said Es Satty attempted to work at mosques in the city but was refused by community members who reported his arrival to the police.


Abdelbaki Es Satty is believed to have been the ringleader of the terror cell

Belgian authorities said they contacted their Catalan counterparts for information but were told he was not known to be radicalised, De Redactie reported.

The imam is not believed to have been under surveillance by Spanish security services, despite his apparent extremist connections following a period in prison in 2012.

Acquaintances of Es Satty said he was not religious until being jailed for smuggling hashish and meeting Rachid Aglif, who was serving time for his part in the al-Qaeda inspired Madrid bombings.

In 2015 he started teaching at a mosque in Ripoll, the quiet Spanish town home to most of the Spain attackers.

Friends and relatives said the plotters, including a waiter and extreme sports instructor, appeared to lead normal lives until they started attending Es Satty’s sermons.

A woman who knew members of the cell said the imam repeatedly preached about jihad and killing “infidels”, adding: “I feel like I could have done something. I feel a little bit guilty now.

“Everybody knew it. It was an open secret. But I can’t say it because these people are dangerous and they could come after me. I don’t trust anybody now.”

A building thought to have been used as a mosque by imam Abdelbaki es Satty (AFP)

Leaders of Es Satty’s former mosque denounced the terror attacks, but denied the preacher was anything other than “a normal imam”.

At least three sets of brothers and cousins were among the cell’s alleged members – a pattern previously seen among large groups of European foreign fighters joining Isis in Syria and in terror attacks including Paris, Brussels and Boston.

Only one, suspected van driver Abouyaaqoub, is known to remain alive after fleeing from the scene of the rampage that left 13 people dead and more than 100 injured on La Rambla.

Family members told Reuters that Abouyaaqoub started showing more religiously conservative behaviour within the past year, refusing to shake hands with women during a visit to his birthplace in Morocco in March.

They expressed shock and anger after discovering his alleged involvement in the Barcelona attack, with his mother, Hannou Ghanimi, telling reporters in she wanted her son to give himself up to police and would rather see him in prison than dead.

His brother, El Houssaine, and first cousins Mohamed and Omar Hichami were killed alongside Moussa Oukabir and Said Aalla by police in the second ramming attack in the resort town of Cambrils.

Es Satty was one of at least two plotters killed in an accidental explosion that destroyed a house they were using as a bomb factory in Alcanar on Wednesday night.

There are reports that possible bomb maker Youssef Aalla may have died in the explosion that wounded fellow plotter Mohamed Chemlal.

He has been detained alongside Driss Oukabir, Mohammed Aalla and Salh el Karib.

Police said traces of the volatile explosive TATP, used in Isis’ Manchester, Paris and Brussels attacks, was found alongside around 120 bottles of gas in the ruins in Alcanar.

Josep Lluis Trapero, the head of Catalonia’s police force, said the original plan to create huge vehicle bombs was foiled by the accidental blast, which rushed plotters into “rudimentary” assaults the following day.

“Our thesis is that the group had planned one or more attacks with explosives in the city of Barcelona,” Mr Trapero said.

He would not confirm that Abouyaaquoub was behind the wheel in Barcelona but confirmed that officials did not know where he or the driver are.

Asked whether Abouyaaquoub could have crossed into France, he replied: ”We don’t have any specific information on this but it cannot be ruled out.”

It would not be the first time a terrorist has managed to flee across borders in the immediate aftermath of an attack.

Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam was driven through a police checkpoint into Belgium on the night of Isis’ November 2015 massacres, while Berlin attacker Anis Amri managed to reach Italy before being shot dead by police.

Carles Puigdemont, the head of the Catalan government, denied reports that the CIA warned local police that Barcelona could be Isis’ next target.

Catalonia has become increasingly known as a centre of extremism, with almost one third of Isis-linked arrests in Spain made there, according to an analysis by a Spanish think tank.

A 2007 cable from the US State Department warned of the risk of radicalisation in Catalonia and called for a regional counter-terror hub to be set up in Barcelona.

The missive, which was later published by Wikileaks, said Spanish and American authorities had identified the region as a “major Mediterranean centre of radical Islamist activity” that had become a “magnet for terrorist recruiters”.

Officials said Catalonia housed al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam recruiters, as well as a terror cell including an unnamed imam arrested earlier that year.

The State Department cited men with a North African background at particular risk for radicalisation in “circumstances would provide fertile ground for terrorist recruitment”, adding: “The threat is clear.”

The cable described Catalonia as “a prime base of operations for terrorist activity” but claimed Spanish authorities had little intelligence on or ability to penetrate the groups.

Questions remain over how the cell of more than a dozen plotters were able to plan multiple and sophisticated terror attacks without detection, and on the extent of Isis’ involvement in the massacres.

See also:

Lebanese army launches offensive against an Islamic State enclave on the northeast border with Syria

August 19, 2017


© STRINGER / AFP | A picture taken on August 17, 2017, during a tour guided by the Lebanese army, shows soldiers holding a position in a mountainous area near the eastern town of Ras Baalbek during an operation against jihadist fighters


Latest update : 2017-08-19

The Lebanese army launched an offensive against an Islamic State enclave on the northeast border with Syria, a Lebanese security source said on Saturday, as Hezbollah and the Syrian army announced an assault from the Syrian side of the border.

The Lebanese army was targeting Islamic State positions near the town of Ras Baalbek with rockets, artillery and helicopters,the source said. The area is the last part of the Lebanese-Syrian frontier under insurgent control. “We started advancing at 5 a.m. (0200 GMT),” the Lebanese source said.

The operation by the Syrian army and Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Lebanese group, was targeting Islamic State militants in the western Qalamoun region of Syria, the
Hezbollah-run al-Manar television station reported, an area across the frontier from Ras Baalbek.

Last month, Hezbollah forced Nusra Front militants and Syrian rebels to leave nearby border strongholds in a jointoperation with the Syrian army.

The Lebanese army, a major recipient of U.S. military aid, did not take part in the July operation, but it has been gearingup to assault the Islamic State pocket in the same mountainous region. A military source said around 500 IS fighters were holed up in the enclave.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun was following the army operation, called “Jroud Dawn”. “Jroud” refers to the barren,mountainous border area between Lebanon and Syria.

Lebanese security sources have previously said the army intends to fight Islamic State in Lebanese territory on its own,in response to suggestions Hezbollah or the Syrian army may help it.



Lebanon army says to begin offensive against IS on Syria border

August 19, 2017


© Hezbollah media office/AFP/File | Smoke billows in Lebanon’s Jurud Arsal, a mountainous region bordering with Syria

BEIRUT (AFP) – The Lebanese army announced Saturday the start of an offensive against the Islamic State (IS) group close to the Syrian border in the east of the country, where jihadists have been operating for several years.

“In the name of Lebanon, in the name of kidnapped Lebanese soldiers, in the name of martyrs of the army, I announce that operation ‘Dawn of Jurud’ has started,” army chief General Joseph Aoun said, referring to the mountainous Jurud Arsal border region.

Related image

General Joseph Aoun

Hezbollah, which provides military support to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, launched last month an offensive to eliminate Syrian rebels as well as all jihadists formerly linked to Al-Qaeda from the region.

After six days of fighting, a ceasefire deal between Hezbollah and fighters from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, previously known as the Al-Nusra Front, was announced.

Nearly 8,000 refugees and jihadists from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch were bused back to Syria following the deal and on Monday the last Syrian rebels were evacuated from the region.

The army is now launching an offensive against the IS fighters still operating in the area.

Jurud Arsal had been used for years as a hideout by Syrian anti-regime militants but was also home to an unknown number of refugees seeking shelter from Syria’s six-year war.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said that IS holds around 296 square kilometres (115 square miles) on both sides of the border, of which around 140 square kilometres are in eastern Lebanon.


Popular sites targeted in string of Africa attacks

August 14, 2017

© AFP | Burkina Faso gendarmes and troops launch an operation after gunmen attacked a Turkish restaurant in the capital Ouagadougou

PARIS (AFP) – The attack on a Turkish restaurant in Burkina Faso’s capital on Sunday was the latest in a series of assaults in Africa targeting spots popular with foreigners and locals alike.Here is an overview of the worst such attacks in recent years, most of which have been claimed by jihadist groups:

– 2017 –

– August 13: Three gunmen open fire at a Turkish restaurant in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, killing at least 18 people and injuring dozens.

– June 18: At least two people are killed when suspected jihadists stormed the Kangaba tourist resort popular with foreigners on the edge of Mali’s capital Bamako. More than 30 hostages are freed.

– June 14: At least six people are killed when a suicide car bomber targets the popular Posh Treats restaurant in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab claims responsibility.

– 2016 –

– March 13: Fourteen civilians, including foreigners, and two special forces troops are killed when gunmen storm the Ivorian beach resort of Grand-Bassam. Al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claims responsibility.

– January 15: Thirty people are killed, including many foreigners, in an attack on a top Burkina Faso hotel and a nearby restaurant in Ouagadougou. AQIM claims the assault, saying the gunmen were from the Al-Murabitoun group of Algerian extremist Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

– 2015 –

– November 20: Gunmen take guests and staff hostage at the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako in a siege that leaves at least 20 dead, including 14 foreigners. The attack is claimed by AQIM, which says it was a joint operation with the Al-Murabitoun group. Another jihadist group from central Mali, the Macina Liberation Front, also claims responsibility.

– October 31: A Russian passenger jet is downed en route from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort to Saint Petersburg, killing all 224 on board. The Egyptian branch of the Islamic State group claims responsibility. Russia confirms the crash was caused by a bomb.

– August 8: Malian armed forces storm the Byblos hotel in the centre of the country, ending a hostage-taking by gunmen that leaves at least 12 people dead including four UN foreign contractors.

– June 26: Thirty Britons are among 38 foreign holidaymakers killed in a gun and grenade attack on a beach resort near the Tunisian city of Sousse. The attack is claimed by the Islamic State group.

– March 18: Gunmen kill 21 tourists and a policeman at the Bardo Museum in Tunis in another attack claimed by IS.

– March 7: A grenade and gun attack on the popular La Terrasse nightclub in Bamako kills five people — three Malians, a Belgian and a Frenchman. The attack is claimed by Al-Murabitoun.


Saudi Arabia and Israel Agree on Al Jazeera

August 11, 2017

There are still honourable Israelis who demand a state for the Palestinians; there are well-educated Saudis who object to the crazed Wahabism upon which their kingdom is founded; there are millions of Americans, from sea to shining sea, who do not believe that Iran is their enemy nor Saudi Arabia their friend. But the problem today in both East and West is that our governments are not our friends

By Robert Fisk

The Independent 

may-saudi.jpgTheresa May has already suppressed a report so it wouldn’t upset the Saudis. And we wonder why we go to war with the Middle East AFP

When Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite channel has both the Saudis and the Israelis demanding its closure, it must be doing something right. To bring Saudi head-choppers and Israeli occupiers into alliance is, after all, something of an achievement.

But don’t get too romantic about this. When the wealthiest Saudis fall ill, they have been known to fly into Tel Aviv on their private jets for treatment in Israel’s finest hospitals. And when Saudi and Israeli fighter-bombers take to the air, you can be sure they’re going to bomb Shiites – in Yemen or Syria respectively – rather than Sunnis.

And when King Salman – or rather Saudi Arabia’s whizz-kid Crown Prince Mohammad – points the finger at Iran as the greatest threat to Gulf security, you can be sure that Bibi Netanyahu will be doing exactly and precisely the same thing, replacing “Gulf security”, of course, with “Israeli security”. But it’s an odd business when the Saudis set the pace of media suppression only to be supported by that beacon of freedom, democracy, human rights and liberty known in song and legend as Israel, or the State of Israel or, as Bibi and his cabinet chums would have it, the Jewish State of Israel.

So let’s run briefly through the latest demonstration of Israeli tolerance towards the freedom of expression that all of us support, nurture, love, adore, regard as a cornerstone of our democracy, and so on, and so on, and so on. For this week, Ayoob Kara, the Israeli communications minister, revealed plans to take away the credentials of Al Jazeera’s Israeli-based journalists, close its Jerusalem bureau and take the station’s broadcasts from local cable and satellite providers.

Al Jazeera exclusive: Former leader of al-Nusra Front confirming split from al-Qaeda

This, announced Ayoob Kara – an Israeli Druze (and thus an Arab Likud minister) who is a lifelong supporter of the colonisation by Jews of Israeli-occupied Arab land in the West Bank – would “bring a situation that channels based in Israel will report objectively”. In other words, threaten them. Bring them into line.

Bibi Netanyahu long ago accused Al Jazeera of inciting violence in Jerusalem, especially in its reporting of the recent Jerusalem killings – but since just about every foreign journalist in and outside Israel who has dared to be critical of the state has at one time or another been accused of incitement as well as anti-Semitism and other lies, this is just par for the course.

Personally, I have found Al Jazeera’s reporting from Israel pretty pathetic, its fawning reverence for the state all too painfully illustrated when its Qatar anchorwoman expressed to an Israeli government spokesman live on air her channel’s condolences on the death of Ariel Sharon, the monstrous Israeli ex-defence minister who was held responsible for the massacre of up to 1,700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres of 1982.

Ayoob Kara, however, has actually taken his cue from his fellow Arabs. And he admits it. Israel had to take steps, he said, against “media, which has been determined by almost all Arab countries to actually be a supporter of terror, and we know this for certain”. So the Israelis, it appears, now receive lessons on media freedoms from “Arab countries”. Not just the Saudis, of course, but from “almost all Arab countries” whose unfettered media – one thinks at once of the untrammelled liberal press of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Algeria and yes, “almost” the entire media of the Gulf – are bastions of truth-telling, hard-hitting opponents of authoritarian regimes, constitutionally protected from dictatorial abuse. Forgive the hollow laughter. But is this really how Israel wants to define itself?

Well, yes it is, I suppose. For if an unwritten alliance really exists between Saudi Arabia and Israel, then all options – as US presidents and secretary Hillary Clinton used to say – are “on the table”.

Imprisonment without trial, extrajudicial executions, human rights abuses, corruption, military rule – let’s say this at once: all these characteristics belong to “almost all” Sunni Muslim Arab nations – and to Israel in the lands it occupies. And as for being a “supporter of terror” (I quote Israeli minister Kara again), one must first ask why Sunni Gulf Arabs have exported their fighters – and their money – to the most vicious Sunni Islamists in the Middle East. And then ask why Israel has never bombed these same vile creatures – indeed, ask why Israel has given hospital treatment to wounded fighters from the Sunni al-Nusra – in other words, al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of 9/11 – while attacking Shiite Hezbollah and Alawite (Shiite) led-Syria, and threatened to bombard Shiite Iran itself which is a project, I should add, of which Kara himself is all in favour.

Nor must we forget that America’s insane President and his weird regime is also part of the Saudi-Israeli anti-Shiite confederation. Trump’s obscene $350bn arms sales to the Saudis, his fingering of Iran and his hatred of the world’s press and television channels makes him an intimate part of the same alliance. Indeed, when you look at one of Trump’s saner predecessors – George W Bush, who also hated Iran, kowtowed to the Saudis and actually talked to Tony Blair of bombing Al Jazeera’s own headquarters in Qatar, he who made sure the wealthy bin Laden family were flown out of the States after 9/11 – this American-Saudi-Israeli covenant has a comparatively long history.

Being an irrational optimist, there’s an innocent side of my scratched journalistic hide that still believes in education and wisdom and compassion. There are still honourable Israelis who demand a state for the Palestinians; there are well-educated Saudis who object to the crazed Wahhabism upon which their kingdom is founded; there are millions of Americans, from sea to shining sea, who do not believe that Iran is their enemy nor Saudi Arabia their friend. But the problem today in both East and West is that our governments are not our friends. They are our oppressors or masters, suppressors of the truth and allies of the unjust.

Netanyahu wants to close down Al Jazeera’s office in Jerusalem. Crown Prince Mohammad wants to close down Al Jazeera’s office in Qatar. Bush actually did bomb Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad. Theresa May decided to hide a government report on funding “terrorism”, lest it upset the Saudis – which is precisely the same reason Blair closed down a UK police enquiry into alleged BAE-Saudi bribery 10 years earlier.

And we wonder why we go to war in the Middle East. And we wonder why Sunni Isis exists, un-bombed by Israel, funded by Sunni Gulf Arabs, its fellow Sunni Salafists cosseted by our wretched presidents and prime ministers. I guess we better keep an eye on Al Jazeera – while it’s still around.