Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

Egypt’s Christians, While Still Mourning, Ready To Welocme Pope Francis

April 26, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Tony Gamal-Gabriel | Worshippers attend Sunday Mass at Saint Mary’s church in the Egyptian capital Cairo, on April 23, 2017, ahead of Pope Francis’ visit

CAIRO (AFP) – Egypt’s Christians are still mourning fellow members of the Coptic Orthodox community murdered this month by jihadists, but there is also joy ahead of Pope Francis’s visit this weekend.

In a Cairo church amid wafting incense, strident percussion and prayers, worshippers are looking forward to the Roman Catholic pope’s arrival on Friday, seeing his two-day trip as one of support for their minority community.

It will be the Argentine pontiff’s first visit to the Arab world’s most populous nation where the population is 90 percent Muslim.

His already arranged trip rapidly assumed a highly symbolic tone after two jihadist suicide bombers on April 9 targeted Coptic churches in the northern cities of Alexandria and Tanta.

The Islamic State group said it was behind the attacks which killed 45 people.

“Obviously everyone is worried after what happened,” said 23-year-old student Karim Saber after Sunday night mass at the Virgin Mary Catholic Coptic Cathedral in northern Cairo.

“But by coming to Egypt, the pope is showing us that nothing can prevent us from praying, including terrorism.”

The threat remains ever-present, however, as the jihadists have threatened further attacks against the Copts who make up some 10 percent of Egypt’s population of more than 90 million.

On April 18, IS gunmen attacked a police checkpoint near the famed St Catherine’s monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, killing one officer and wounding three.

But at Sunday night’s mass in Cairo there was optimism.

– ‘A blessing for us’ –

“After each painful moment, there is always something beautiful which brings joy,” said 25-year-old graphic designer Dina Fahmi.

“The pope, the head of the church in the world, is coming to give us support and this is a blessing for us,” she said.

While the overwhelming majority of Egypt’s Christians are Coptic Orthodox, Roman Catholics have also lived in the country since the fifth century.

Egypt’s small Catholic community — some 272,000 faithful, according to Holy See estimates — also wants a lavish welcome for its spiritual leader.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Catholic orders in Egypt — Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits — developed a network of schools, hospitals and charitable activities.

The papacy formally and legally established the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate in the 19th century.

On Saturday, Pope Francis will lead a mass at a Cairo sports stadium bringing together all of the Catholic churches: the Catholic Coptic church, the Armenian, Maronite and Greek Catholic churches.

Ahead of this weekend’s celebrations, one choir is rehearsing in a hall beside Saint Joseph’s church of the Franciscan fathers in central Cairo.

Soprano, tenor, and bass voices rise in Arabic, Italian and French, accompanied by piano, flute and saxophone and led by head chorister Magdeline Michel.

“On the uniform, we have agreed on white shirts and black trousers,” she told the choir, speaking in Arabic interspersed with some French.

“Of course his visit at this time makes us proud,” Michel told AFP.

– ‘Moral and spiritual support’ –

“At the same time, his visit makes us feel safe — his insistence on coming despite the circumstances is something that reassures us,” she said.

“He’s coming to support us, and that allows us to feel safe.”

Ibrahim Isaac, the Catholic Coptic patriarch in Egypt, echoed the same sentiments.

He said the papal visit represents “moral and spiritual support” at a time when “the succession of incidents is causing a form of frustration among the people, and sometimes anger”.

The Palm Sunday bombings followed an attack in December by a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives in a packed Cairo church, killing 29 people.

Pope Francis is also scheduled to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Coptic Pope Tawadros II and Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest institution of Sunni Islam.

“The visit is very important to consolidate inter-religious dialogue,” said Catholic Coptic Bishop Yohana Kolta.

“Pope Francis has rebuilt bridges which were broken,” he said.

The visit comes 17 years after Pope Jean-Paul II came to Egypt in a trip that had a lasting impact.

“He was much loved by Christians, and also by Muslims — he represented goodness and love for everyone,” Bishop Kolta said.

And the current Bishop of Rome?

“Pope Francis is from Argentina, he comes from the third world. And he stands with the poor and the weak,” Kolta said.

by Tony Gamal-Gabriel
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© AFP / by Tony Gamal-Gabriel | Mourners pray next to coffins of the victims of the blast at the Coptic Christian Saint Mark’s church the previous day during a funeral procession east of Alexandria on April 10, 2017

© Mohamed El-Shahed / AFP (file photo) | Members of the Egyptian police special forces stand guard on Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square on January 25, 2016.

Relatives of a Christian woman who was killed in the bombing of Cairo's main Coptic cathedral carry her casked in Cairo on Monday.
Relatives of a Christian woman who was killed in the bombing of Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral carry her casked in Cairo on December 14, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
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Members of the special police forces stand guard to secure the area around St. Mark"s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral after an explosion inside the cathedral in Cairo

The building bombed in December 2016 is next to St Mark’s Coptic Cathedral, seat of the church’s pope. Reuters Photo

A Christian employee at Cairo's Coptic Cathedral checks for damage from the blast after an explosion inside the cathedral in Cairo

The interior of the church, where Christians had gathered, was also hit in the explosion. AP photo

Image result for Reina nightclub attack, photos

Islamist gunman Abdulgadir Masharipov killed 39 people  in the Reina nightclub shooting on January 1, 2017, in Istanbul. © Dogan News Agency/AFP/File

 (December 11, 2016)

David Dosha, the priest of the Church of Mart Shmoni, located in the Christian Iraqi town of Bartella. (Safin Hamed/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

An Iraqi Christian forces member lights a candle at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on October 30, 2016 in the town of Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), 30 kms east of Mosul, after Iraqi forces recaptured it from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. (AFP/ SAFIN HAMED)
An Iraqi Christian forces member lights a candle at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on October 30, 2016 in the town of Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), 30 kms east of Mosul, after Iraqi forces recaptured it from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. (AFP/ SAFIN HAMED)
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26 July 2016
A photo of Priest Jacques Hamel taken from the website of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray parish84 year-old Father Jacques Hamel was giving morning Mass when the Islamist attackers stormed his church. AFP

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The Isis jihadist group

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians requires “the fundamental acceptance of the Jewish State” — Must stop “rewarding those who engage in terrorism”

April 21, 2017

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and suit

Palestinian Authority leader Abbas and Israel’s Netanyahu in 2010. AP photo by Charles Dharapak

Fox News

The spokesman for Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Fox News’ “Hannity” Thursday that peace between the Israelis and Palestinians requires “the fundamental acceptance of the Jewish State.”

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Sean Hannity at the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv, where Palestinian terrorists shot and killed four Israelis and murdered 16 others last year.

CATCH SEAN HANNITY’S INTERVIEW WITH ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU FRIDAY AT 10 P.M. ON FOX NEWS CHANNEL

“They ordered brownies. They were dressed in suits. They tried to blend in,” Keyes said of the attackers, “and they stood up and they murdered four people in cold blood.”

Keyes noted that “every time we’ve had a real partner for peace, Israel has actually worked out peace deals which have lasted decades, [as] in the case of Egypt and Jordan.”

“Look, everyone in this region deserves to live in peace,” Keyes added, “and there’s nobody who would want peace more than the Israeli people and the Israeli Prime Minister.”

Hannity also toured the market with Dore Gold of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, who decried Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for “rewarding those who engage in terrorism.”

“The real stumbling block for making peace,” Gold said, “is the culture of hatred that the Palestinian Authority has built.”

Includes video:

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/04/21/netanyahu-spokesman-mideast-peace-requires-acceptance-israel.html

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‘Defeat ISIS and go home’: Trump rejects US role in Libya nation-building — While Mediterranean is awash with refugees

April 21, 2017

Russia Today (RT)

'Defeat ISIS and go home': Trump rejects US role in Libya nation-building
President Donald Trump does not see a US role in helping its European allies build a government in Libya. Instead, he told reporters, he wants to defeat Islamic State, after which the US can focus on domestic issues.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, DC on Thursday, following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Trump contradicted his guest’s assessment that the US role in stabilizing Libya would be critical, arguing the US has “enough roles… everywhere.”

“I do not see a role in Libya,” Trump said. “I do see a role in getting rid of ISIS. We’re being very effective in that regard.”

‘US has enough roles’: not interested in nation-building

Read more: https://on.rt.com/89ft 

“We are effectively ridding the world of ISIS. I see that as the primary role, and that’s what we’re going to do – whether it’s in Iraq, or in Libya, or anywhere else.  And that role will come to an end at a certain point, and we’ll be able to go back home and rebuild our country, which is what I want to do,” Trump concluded.

Gentiloni had just finished making a case for US involvement in stabilizing Libya by helping the internationally recognized government in Tripoli establish control over the country’s entire territory.

READ MORE: Chaos unrelenting: 6 years since Arab Spring started, no democracy in sight for Libya

“We need a stable and unified Libya,” the Italian PM said, noting that US Special Forces had taken part in defeating Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in the port city of Sirte, but that solving the problem of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Italy and beyond would require nation-building. “The US role in this is critical.”

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© Reuters

Trump’s rejection of that role is at odds with his recent actions – launching a missile strike in Syria, escalating tensions with North Korea, and authorizing a review of the nuclear deal with Iran – but in line with his promise during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“We’re getting out of the nation-building business,” Trump announced on April 27 of last year, describing his foreign policy as “America first.”

Libya collapsed into chaos and anarchy in 2011, after the Obama administration backed a rebellion in Benghazi against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s leader since 1969. Using UN Security Council resolution 1973, authorizing a no-fly zone in the north of the country, NATO began air strikes in support of the rebels. In October 2011, one such strike hit a convoy carrying Gaddafi, who was then captured and killed by the rebels.

As Libya collapsed, neighboring countries of Tunisia, Egypt and Mali had to deal with a surge in terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, human traffickers exploited tens of thousands of African migrants, who try to reach Italian shores in rickety boats. In a recent report, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) spoke of slave markets in the south of Libya, where Africans are traded for as little as $200.

https://www.rt.com/usa/385481-trump-rejects-nation-building-libya/

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More than 8,000 migrants rescued in Mediterranean and brought to Italy over Easter long weekend

Migrants try to stay afloat after falling off their rubber dinghy during a rescue operation by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship in the central Mediterranean 

Migrants try to stay afloat after falling off their rubber dinghy during a rescue operation by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship in the central Mediterranean  CREDIT: DARRIN ZAMMIT LUPI/REUTERS

More than 8,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean and brought to Italy in the space of just three days over Easter, as Italian politicians denounced the exodus as a racket that should be stopped as quickly as possible.

Nearly 8,500 asylum seekers were saved from dinghies and ex-fishing boats by the Italian coast guard, Frontex, the EU’s border patrol agency, and humanitarian NGOs operating rescue vessels.

It was a huge number, even by the standards of the relentless flow of migrants and refugees who regularly depart from the coast of Libyawith the hope of reaching Europe.

The bodies of 13 migrants were recovered, including that of an eight-year-old boy who drowned. The spate of operations boosted the total number of rescues in the central Mediterranean so far this year to nearly 36,000.

Migrants on a wooden boat are rescued by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) in the central Mediterranean
Migrants on a wooden boat are rescued by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) in the central Mediterranean CREDIT: DARRIN ZAMMIT LUPI/REUTERS

The departure of so many boats was prompted in part by calm weather conditions, but also by concern among smugglers that EU efforts to beef up the Libyan coast guard may soon make it harder for them to operate.

“When 8,500 illegal immigrants arrive in three days, it’s clear that it is all organised,” said Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Right-wing Northern League political party.

Mr Salvini said he intended to sue the Italian government, as well as NGOs which rescue migrants at sea, for “favouring clandestine immigration”.  The Northern League leader said: “It is quite clear that clandestine immigration is being organised. So we’ve decided to sue the government and the commanders of the navy and coast guard”.

If arrivals continue at this pace, 2017 could be a record year for migrants reaching Italy, outstripping even last year, when 181,000 were rescued and brought to Italian shores. Rescuing, processing and accommodating the asylum seekers is likely to cost the government 4.6 billion euros – a billion euros more than in 2016.

Migrants in a rubber dinghy hang on to ropes beneath the bow of the Panama-registered ship Tuna 1, after some migrants on another rubber dinghy drowned in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Libya
Migrants in a rubber dinghy hang on to ropes beneath the bow of the Panama-registered ship Tuna 1, after some migrants on another rubber dinghy drowned in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Libya CREDIT: DARREN ZAMMIT LUPI/REUTERS

The government says it has little choice but to rescue the migrants, but critics say that trafficking gangs in Libya have come to depend on Italian, EU and NGO vessels deployed in the Mediterranean as a free taxi service.

Smugglers launch boats packed with migrants from Libyan beaches with little fuel and cheap outboard engines, knowing full well that they are likely to be rescued once they reach international waters.

“Thousands more people who don’t have the right to come to Italy, reaching our shores,” said Maurizio Gasparri, an MP from Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-Right Forza Italia party. “A catastrophe, the fault of the (governing) Democratic Party.”

Paolo Romani, another MP from Forza Italia, accused the Italian, British, French and German NGOs operating in the Mediterranean of “incentivising human trafficking” – a charge that organisations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres strongly deny, arguing that migrants will try to reach Italy regardless.

The majority come from West African countries such as Mali, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Guinea, as well as from other countries such as Bangladesh. They are classed as economic migrants, rather than refugees fleeing conflict.

At least 900 migrants have died while trying to reach Europe by sea so far this year. The International Organisation of Migration reported earlier this month that growing numbers of African migrants passing through Libya are traded in what they call “slave markets” before being held for ransom, forced labour or sexual exploitation.

“So there’s a full-on economy of trafficking or trading in migrants who think they are going to a better life in Europe and end up effectively in a gulag of exploitation,” IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle told a briefing in Geneva.

Pence praises moderate Islam in Indonesia in bid to heal divisions

April 20, 2017

AFP

© POOL/AFP | US Vice President Mike Pence (L) listens to Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their meeting at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta

JAKARTA (AFP) – US Vice President Mike Pence Thursday praised Indonesia’s moderate form of Islam as “an inspiration” at the start of a visit to the Muslim-majority country seen as a bid by his administration to heal divisions with the Islamic world.

It came ahead of a visit by Pence to the largest mosque in Indonesia, which has the world’s biggest Muslim population, where he will hold a multi-faith dialogue.

His visit represents the most high-profile outreach to Muslims by the Donald Trump administration since the brash billionaire came to office and echoes a similar trip by Barack and Michelle Obama in 2010.

Since becoming president almost 100 days ago, Trump has hosted leaders from majority-Muslim Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

But his administration has also tried to ban travellers from several Muslim-majority nations, citing concerns about terrorism — an effort currently being challenged in US courts.

As a presidential candidate, Trump often appeared to flirt with the far right as he railed against “radical Islamic terrorism”.

Pence arrived at the presidential palace in Jakarta for talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo to a colourful official welcome by hundreds of schoolchildren in regional dress.

Indonesia, where most practice a moderate form of Islam, has long been held up as an example of a successful Muslim democracy where followers of the faith live largely peacefully alongside religious minorities.

After talks with Widodo, Pence said: “Indonesia’s tradition of moderate Islam is frankly an inspiration to the world and we commend you and your people.

“In your nation as in mine, religion unifies, it doesn?t divide.”

– Tolerant Islam under threat –

But his optimistic words came as Indonesia’s traditionally inclusive Islam is under threat from the rising influence of hardliners and an increasing trend towards more conservative forms of the faith.

On Wednesday Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was defeated in a run-off election to lead the capital by a Muslim challenger who was accused of pandering to hardliners to win votes.

Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, lost after his once-unassailable lead in opinion polls was dented by allegations he committed blasphemy, claims that sparked mass protests led by radical groups but were seen by his supporters as unfair and politically motivated.

Pence is currently on a tour of South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Australia that is aimed at smoothing some of the rougher edges of Trump’s rhetoric.

In South Korea and Japan, Pence played down protectionist declarations of “America first” and reaffirmed US treaty commitments to the security of the two countries as tensions rise over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

Pence’s Muslim outreach in Indonesia has been welcomed locally, with Maruf Amin, the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s top Muslim clerical body, saying he hopes that it “indicates a change in attitude” towards Islam.

But it is unlikely to be enough to assuage fears that the Trump administration is anti-Islam.

“President Trump’s hostile pronouncements on Islam and Muslims have done considerable damage to his reputation in the Islamic world. It would take more than a visit to repair the damage,” said Fawaz Gerges, an expert on the Middle East and Islam from the London School of Economics.

After his talks with Widodo, Pence also said that the US was committed to building a stronger defence partnership with Indonesia to combat the threat of terrorism.

Indonesia has long struggled with Islamic militancy, and in January last year suffered a suicide and gun attack claimed by the Islamic State group that left four assailants and four civilians dead.

He also pledged to uphold the “fundamental freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea. Indonesian and Chinese vessels have clashed repeatedly in recent times in waters near Indonesia’s Natuna Islands, on the fringes of the disputed waters.

Widodo, who wants more foreign investment as he seeks to boost Southeast Asia’s top economy, said the leaders had focused on “the US commitment to enhance the strategic partnership with Indonesia, focusing on cooperation and investment”.

Trump’s incoherent strategy is Putin’s opportunity

April 19, 2017

By Nina L. Khrushcheva, Professor of International Affairs and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at The New School and senior fellow at the World Policy Institute

Last week’s chemical attack on the rebel-held Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun compelled US President Donald Trump to strike for the first time at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. With the bombing of an air base in western Syria, the Trump administration stepped into a gaping power vacuum in the Middle East. But what, if anything, will Trump do next?

Coming after six years of civil war, in which some 400,000 civilians have been killed and millions displaced, Trump’s unexpected intervention was praised by most US politicians, though it was carried out without the requisite congressional approval. Syrian rebel groups and America’s international allies (including those at the just-concluded meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Italy) welcomed the United States’ attack on Syrian government forces.

With 59 Tomahawk missiles, Trump sent a message to the Assad regime and its patrons, especially Russia and Iran, that he, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, is willing to enforce “red lines.” Unsurprisingly, Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin condemned the US attack, claiming that it violated international law – a questionable proposition, given that Syria is a signatory to the international treaty banning chemical weapons.

But whatever statement Trump’s decision made, it seems destined to be drowned out by his administration’s subsequent babble of strategic incoherence. While Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, has suggested that Assad’s ouster is now a priority, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson insists that defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) still tops America’s agenda. Worse, Trump’s decision to take military action was reportedly influenced by his daughter, Ivanka, who claimed to be “heartbroken and outraged” by the images of the victims of the chemical attacks.

Impulsive actions driven by personal feelings are no substitute for a long-term foreign policy. In fact, it is the lack of a clear and comprehensive approach that allowed Russia to embed itself in the Syrian conflict in the first place. From Putin’s perspective, Obama’s reluctance to engage created a golden opportunity to get his foot in the Middle Eastern door.

Putin’s goal in the region is not to have long-term or positive influence. Rather, he wants to wedge Russia between various actors that lack coherent policies toward one another, thereby boosting Russia’s own power and prestige. Like any good KGB operative, Putin is playing all sides, in order to advance his own agenda. And, already, a new kind of Warsaw Pact is taking shape.

As part of this strategic game, Russia has worked to increase its influence over America’s closest ally, Israel. In the last year alone, Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have held five meetings and deepened bilateral ties. Squeezed by sanctions imposed over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin is looking to Israel’s technology sector to provide what the West no longer will. Israel, for its part, hopes that Russia will help rein in Iran. Contrary to some of Netanyahu’s public statements, Israel does not oppose Russia’s intervention in Syria; it believes that Assad is a lesser evil than a chaotic failed state, such as Libya after the removal of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right.  (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, Pool)

Putin is also making inroads in Iraq. Last year, the Kremlin sent the largest delegation in years – over 100 officials – to Baghdad to strengthen commercial and security ties. The resulting exchanges have focused largely on military assistance, though Putin has also wooed Iraq’s new ambassador to Russia, Haidar Mansour Hadi, with the prospect of cooperation in the energy sector.

Then there is Afghanistan, where Russia has sought to forge a viable relationship with the Taliban, replicating the US behavior of the 1980s. By courting the Taliban, Putin is helping to destabilize the already weak government in Kabul – and making himself indispensable to any US strategy to escape the longest war in its history.

In Egypt, Russia is also attempting to recapture its Soviet-era influence. And it has had some success with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, an eager devotee of Putin’s model of strongman governance who also has a strong interest in rebuilding Egypt’s tourism industry – an effort to which Russia can contribute.

Before terrorists blew up a plane carrying Russian tourists as it flew over Sinai in 2015, Russians accounted for 30% of visitors to Egypt. While Russia recently restored commercial flight service to the country, the suicide bombings at two Coptic churches on Palm Sunday have called into question Sisi’s promise of security.

Egypt’s travails provide Putin with further opportunities to lend a hand. Already, Russia has received permission to expand its special industrial zone in Port Said, and the government has signed billion-dollar contracts for Russian military equipment, including missile systems. Moreover, Egypt has given Russia access to air bases to deploy special forces in Libya in support of Khalifa Haftar, the warlord whom Putin is backing.

Putin’s foreign policy is based not on wielding Russian strength, but on capitalizing on others’ weaknesses. Winning the loyalty of failing regimes by pledging to prop them up may seem to be a successful strategy, but the house Putin is building is made of cards. Russia has neither the wealth nor the military power to sustain failing regimes ad infinitum. Putin must know that. Tillerson certainly does.

During his visit to Moscow this week, Tillerson appeared to make it clear that, if Putin continues to be part of the problem in the Middle East, Russia’s relationship with the US will deteriorate further. Because Putin respects strength, and wants to be treated by the US on equal terms, he could well be convinced to become part of the solution.

With the bilateral relationship at such a low point, it is somewhat promising that both sides agreed during Tillerson’s visit to establish working groups for improving it. But persuading Putin to get on the “right” side in Syria in the long term will require the Trump administration to present a real solution – which, so far, it has not shown itself to have.

By Nina L. Khrushcheva, Professor of International Affairs and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at The New School and senior fellow at the World Policy Institute

http://www.euronews.com/2017/04/18/view-trumps-incoherent-strategy-is-putins-opportunity

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Shooting at Egypt monastery kills policeman: security source

April 18, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Egyptian Bedouins wait for tourists with their camels outside the walls of St Catherine monastery in the Sinai desert

CAIRO (AFP) – A policeman was killed and four more were wounded on Tuesday in a shooting outside St Catherine’s monastery in Egypt’s south Sinai, a security source said.

The shooting occurred at a security checkpoint, the source said, but it was not immediately clear who had opened fire.

No other information on the incident was immediately available.

Khalid Abu Hashem, the health ministry official for South Sinai province, told state television that one person had been killed and four wounded.

The injured were in a stable condition and had been taken to hospital in the nearby Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, he said.

St Catherine’s monastery, which lies some 500 kilometres (300 miles) southeast of Cairo in the south of the Sinai peninsula, attracts thousands of visitors a year.

Egypt is battling a jihadist insurgency in north Sinai that has killed hundreds of policemen and troops since the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

In October 2015, the Islamic State group said it was behind the bombing of a Russian airliner carrying holidaymakers home from the popular south Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.

ISIS and the Coptic Christians

April 16, 2017
BY RAMY AZIZ
APRIL 16, 2017 07:00
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After nearly three years of Sisi’s reign, the Copts find themselves facing continuous decay in their livelihoods and rights, with no end in sight.
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 Egypt terror

Egyptians gather in front of a Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. (photo credit:REUTERS)

December 11, a massive explosion shattered St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abbasia, central Cairo, claiming the lives of more than 25 worshipers and wounding scores of others. The event cast even more anxiety and strain over the situation of Egypt’s Copts, which has been volatile and troubled for some time.

Immediately after the blast, anger spread among Copts, especially youths, who gathered at the site of the incident chanting slogans against both Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Sisi and his interior minister, holding them ultimately responsible for the massacre. Anger quickly escalated against media personalities close to the Egyptian regime, including Lamis Elhadidy and Ahmed Moussa, who were assaulted and expelled by the protesting crowd, ostensibly rejecting their efforts to justify the regime’s failure to prevent the attack.

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Fearing that these demonstrations might grow, the government declared an official state of mourning in the country for three days. President Sisi himself attended the funeral for the victims. But rather than holding the funeral service at the main St. Mark’s Cathedral in central Cairo, as would have been expected, the ceremony was conducted in a church in the Nasr City suburb. Attendance was restricted to families of the victims. Other mourners from the Coptic community seeking to enter were detained, stirring the ire of many toward the harsh measures, which were in fact carried out in coordination between the state and the Coptic Church.

The general feeling in the community could be summed up with one question: does the Coptic community not have a right to bid farewell to its martyrs? Prior to the funeral service, Sisi himself had named the culprit in the blast while simultaneously rejecting accusations against the security agencies for dereliction and deficiency.

The event was a clear indication that the Sisi administration, of which Copts have generally been major supporters, fears their protests. Sisi seemed to realize that the Coptic Church leadership, notably Pope Tawadros II, would not be able to curb the anger of the Coptic youth, and has thus resorted to security measures. Indeed, the Church leadership has not been immune to accusations from many in the Coptic community of collusion with the authorities at the expense of the Copts themselves.

Pope Tawadros II – who among detractors is dubbed “the regime’s pope” – had already become subject to criticism for his involvement in controversial measures deemed detrimental to the status of Copts in political affairs. The security approach adopted by Sisi toward the Copts carried an additional message: he will not hesitate to use force against anyone, even close allies, if his assessment is that they constitute opposition or a threat, whether actual or potential.

The Coptic community was accorded little reprieve. A few days after the incident at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Egypt witnessed anti-Copt incidents in several governorates. In Alexandria, a follower of a hard-line Salafist group slaughtered a Coptic merchant in front of his shop; in the Monufia governorate, a Coptic couple was found murdered in their home; and in the Assiut governorate in southern Egypt a Coptic medical doctor was found murdered in his apartment. Egyptian Copts felt targeted nationwide.

On February 19, the Sinai branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization released a video vowing to target Copts everywhere, considering them local proxies of the “Crusader” countries, including the United States, and accusing them of complicity with the Egyptian regime.

The video declares that “it is incumbent upon the mujahideen and the monotheists to strike Egypt’s Christians, disturb their lives, and bring them into the circle of conflict, for they are among the warriors of the Crusaders.” It also claims responsibility for the bombing of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church last December.

Indeed, soon after the release of the video segment, followers of ISIS in Sinai killed, beheaded and burned a number of Copts – amid a seemingly total absence of the state, despite ample awareness that the Copts had become a primary target for terrorists. Facing horrendous attacks and feeling abandoned by security forces, many Copts in the Sinai Peninsula felt compelled to relocate to the city of Ismailia, west of the Suez Canal, leaving behind their homes and property. One early count was 133 families, with a total of 546 members.

The state media seemed more focused on contesting the characterization of these grave events as being population “displacement” and “flight” – terms with connotations of ethnic cleansing – rather than focusing on seeking solutions for a serious issue affecting Egyptian citizens irrespective of their religious affiliation. Pope Tawadros II, in a position perceived by many Copts as supportive of the government at the expense of the community, issued a statement on March 1 rejecting in turn the use of the term “displacement.” The pope’s statement provoked a wave of resentment and indignation, not only among Copts, but also among human rights and civil society activists who viewed it as a distortion of facts, crafted merely to absolve the authorities of their responsibilities before the international community and international law.

While the dominant Coptic reaction was anger and frustration, some voices within the community sought to exonerate the Sisi government regarding the successive calamities that have befallen Egyptian Copts, by resorting to the standard argument used by the government. The Coptic community was thus warned that the only alternative to the Sisi administration, were it to fall, would be the Islamists.

After nearly three years of Sisi’s reign, the Copts find themselves facing continuous decay in their livelihoods and rights, with no end in sight. Violence against them has reached unprecedented levels, raising the genuine fear of suffering the same fate of minorities in Syria and Iraq, effectively obliterated. Copts have witnessed the destruction of their churches, the killing, beheading and burning of their people and the looting of their possessions, and now they have to endure forced displacement and mass exodus.

The sentiment among Copts is that Sisi will provide no real security for their community. Copts will instead be left to attrition, loss and neglect, facing on their own the depravity of terrorism – while Sisi, against ground realities, polishes his credentials and legitimacy to a world audience as a fighter of terrorism. While suffering continuous losses, the Copts expect little from Sisi apart from annual attendance at the Christmas mass, more unfulfilled promises and more supportive but hollow rhetoric – all designed to improve his own image before the West, with precious little regard for the actual interests of the Copts or other Egyptians.

These momentous events in Egypt add to the complexity of the nation’s delicate situation and cast shadows of anxiety, not only over the Copts, but also over Egypt as a whole. The question is thus not just about the future of the Copts but about the future of all of Egypt under Sisi’s precarious rule.

The author is an Egyptian writer and analyst of Middle East affairs, and a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Rome – La Sapienza. This article was originally published on the Fikra Forum.

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Sisi-and-the-Copts-488067

Related:

© AFP / by Tony Gamal-Gabriel | Mourners pray next to coffins of the victims of the blast at the Coptic Christian Saint Mark’s church the previous day during a funeral procession east of Alexandria on April 10, 2017

© Mohamed El-Shahed / AFP (file photo) | Members of the Egyptian police special forces stand guard on Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square on January 25, 2016.

Relatives of a Christian woman who was killed in the bombing of Cairo's main Coptic cathedral carry her casked in Cairo on Monday.
Relatives of a Christian woman who was killed in the bombing of Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral carry her casked in Cairo on December 14, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
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 (December 2016)
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Members of the special police forces stand guard to secure the area around St. Mark"s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral after an explosion inside the cathedral in Cairo

The building bombed in December 2016 is next to St Mark’s Coptic Cathedral, seat of the church’s pope. Reuters Photo

A Christian employee at Cairo's Coptic Cathedral checks for damage from the blast after an explosion inside the cathedral in Cairo

The interior of the church, where Christians had gathered, was also hit in the explosion. AP photo

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 (December 11, 2016)

David Dosha, the priest of the Church of Mart Shmoni, located in the Christian Iraqi town of Bartella. (Safin Hamed/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

An Iraqi Christian forces member lights a candle at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on October 30, 2016 in the town of Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), 30 kms east of Mosul, after Iraqi forces recaptured it from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. (AFP/ SAFIN HAMED)
An Iraqi Christian forces member lights a candle at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on October 30, 2016 in the town of Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), 30 kms east of Mosul, after Iraqi forces recaptured it from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. (AFP/ SAFIN HAMED)
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26 July 2016
A photo of Priest Jacques Hamel taken from the website of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray parish84 year-old Father Jacques Hamel was giving morning Mass when the Islamist attackers stormed his church. AFP

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The Isis jihadist group

Egypt’s Coptic Christians to celebrate Easter Mass amid heavy security after twin bombings last week — Christians in Koum el-Loufy were attacked by Muslims on Friday

April 15, 2017

AFP

© MOHAMED EL-SHAHED / AFP | A general view shows the Monastery of Marmina in the city of Borg El-Arab, east of Alexandria on April 10, 2017.

Egyptian Copts will celebrate Easter mass on Saturday, marking one of Christianity’s most joyous occasions just days after the deadliest attacks in living memory against the country’s religious minority.

The faithful will spend a large part of Easter eve going through arduous security checks outside places of worship, after twin Palm Sunday bombings killed 45 people in two cities north of Cairo.

The government has declared a state of emergency and called in the army to protect “vital” installations following the suicide bombings in Tanta and Alexandria, which were claimed by the Islamic State group.

“Security has indeed improved so much as it seems the situation needed to be tightened up a lot,” said Coptic Church spokesman Boulos Halim.

Coptic Pope Tawadros II will lead Easter mass in Cairo’s Saint Mark’s Cathedral, while the church said celebrations this year would be scaled back.

“Tanta and Alexandria created a big shock, for all of Egypt,” Halim said.

Easter, which along with Christmas is one of Christianity’s most important events, marks the resurrection of Christ three days after followers believe he was crucified.

In Egypt, Copts break a 55-day fast abstaining from all animal products following Saturday’s mass.

The Sunday bombings were the latest in a series of attacks against Egypt’s Copts, which make up around 10 percent of the population.

In December, an IS suicide bomber struck a Cairo church, killing 29 people.

Halim said the church will forgo Sunday morning’s traditional celebrations, and instead members will visit the families of “martyrs” as well as those wounded in the blasts, including police officers.

“Even if we are in pain over them parting their bodies… the happiness of resurrection helps us overcome feelings of pain,” said Halim.

Further attacks feared

IS, which has waged an insurgency in the north of the Sinai Peninsula that has seen scores of attacks on security forces, has issued repeated calls for atrocities against Copts.

One Copt who gave his name only as John said he will attend Easter mass despite the heightened security risk.

He plans to go to a church in the relative safety of the capital, but admitted “if I were somewhere else outside of Cairo, like a village, I would not want my relatives to go and I would be worried about attending”.

In a village south of Cairo, some Christians were reportedly prevented from holding Good Friday prayers, and police deployed to prevent further unrest.

Christians in Koum el-Loufy were attacked by Muslims after they tried to pray in an abandoned home on Thursday, after which a mob set fire to four homes nearby, according to police officials.

While the village boasts several mosques, Christians there have been prevented from building a church, Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights told AFP.

“Probably they won’t be able to pray on Saturday either,” said Ibrahim.

“There is a general climate where Copts are being persecuted and unfortunately the state just tries to stop violence from spreading, they don’t solve the root cause of the problem.”

(AFP)

Date created : 2017-04-15

Related:

© AFP / by Tony Gamal-Gabriel | Mourners pray next to coffins of the victims of the blast at the Coptic Christian Saint Mark’s church the previous day during a funeral procession east of Alexandria on April 10, 2017

© Mohamed El-Shahed / AFP (file photo) | Members of the Egyptian police special forces stand guard on Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square on January 25, 2016.

Relatives of a Christian woman who was killed in the bombing of Cairo's main Coptic cathedral carry her casked in Cairo on Monday.
Relatives of a Christian woman who was killed in the bombing of Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral carry her casked in Cairo on December 14, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
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 (December 2016)
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Members of the special police forces stand guard to secure the area around St. Mark"s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral after an explosion inside the cathedral in Cairo

The building bombed in December 2016 is next to St Mark’s Coptic Cathedral, seat of the church’s pope. Reuters Photo

A Christian employee at Cairo's Coptic Cathedral checks for damage from the blast after an explosion inside the cathedral in Cairo

The interior of the church, where Christians had gathered, was also hit in the explosion. AP photo

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Islamist gunman Abdulgadir Masharipov killed 39 people  in the Reina nightclub shooting on January 1, 2017, in Istanbul. © Dogan News Agency/AFP/File

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David Dosha, the priest of the Church of Mart Shmoni, located in the Christian Iraqi town of Bartella. (Safin Hamed/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

An Iraqi Christian forces member lights a candle at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on October 30, 2016 in the town of Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), 30 kms east of Mosul, after Iraqi forces recaptured it from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. (AFP/ SAFIN HAMED)
An Iraqi Christian forces member lights a candle at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on October 30, 2016 in the town of Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), 30 kms east of Mosul, after Iraqi forces recaptured it from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. (AFP/ SAFIN HAMED)
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26 July 2016
A photo of Priest Jacques Hamel taken from the website of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray parish84 year-old Father Jacques Hamel was giving morning Mass when the Islamist attackers stormed his church. AFP

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The Isis jihadist group

Pope Francis expresses shame over humanity’s failings on Good Friday

April 15, 2017
Pope Francis lies down in prayer during the Good Friday Passion of Christ Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, April 14, 2017. Pope Francis began the Good Friday service at the Vatican with the Passion of Christ Mass and hours later will go to the ancient Colosseum in Rome for the traditional Way of the Cross procession. AP/Gregorio Borgia

ROME — Thousands of people, including nuns, families with toddlers, and young tourists, endured exceptionally tight anti-terrorism checks to pray at the Good Friday procession at the Colosseum, where Pope Francis expressed shame over humanity’s failings.

Francis, wearing a plain white coat, presided over the traditional, evening Way of the Cross procession from a rise overlooking the popular tourist monument as faithful took turns carrying a tall cross and meditations were recited to encourage reflection on Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion.

After the 90-minute-long procession ended, Francis, in a quiet voice, read a prayer he composed that alternated expressing shame for humanity’s failings and hope that “hardened hearts” will become capable of forgiving and loving.

With Easter two days away, Francis said faithful look to Christ “with eyes lowered in shame and with hearts full of hope.”

Such shame, he said, derives from “all those images of devastation, destruction, shipwrecks, that have become routine in our lives.” Hundreds of thousands of migrants have endured hardships at the hands of human traffickers to try to reach Europe, which has increasingly been rejecting them, and thousands of them have perished at sea during the last few years.

Evoking wars and conflicts, as well as attacks on Christian minorities, Francis also voiced shame for “the innocent blood spilled daily by women, children, immigrants, and persons persecuted because of the color of their skin, or for the ethnic or social group they belong to, and for their faith” in Jesus.

The pontiff also made a reference to clergy’s handling of sex abuse of minors, saying: “shame for all those times that we bishops, priests and other clergy scandalized” the church.

Hours before the evocative, candlelit ceremony, pilgrims underwent the first of two rounds of security checks that started while they still were blocks away from the ancient arena. There was a heavier-than-usual police presence keeping watch on every aspect of the event.

Anti-terrorism measures have been heightened for large public crowds after several vehicle attacks in Nice, Berlin and other European cities.

Police opened handbags and backpacks. They checked computers, and, in at least one case, asked an Italian woman to open a package. It turned out to be a tray of pastries, and the woman good-naturedly offered one of the sweets to the officer.

Streets surrounding the Colosseum were closed to traffic, armored vehicles blocked intersections, bomb-sniffing dogs were used and police checked chemical toilets with scanners for explosives near the Colosseum.

“I believe that we have a situation in which we Europeans have to unite and take the issue of security very seriously,” Jose de Laoz, a businessman from Spain, said while the security sweeps were conducted near the Colosseum.

Terrorism’s repercussions were being felt in Christian communities across the Mediterranean. In Egypt, Coptic churches announced that Easter services would be limited to prayers, without festivities. The measure was taken after twin bombings killed 45 people at churches on Palm Sunday.

In Rome, the Good Friday gathering was calm as participants, estimated by Vatican security to number 20,000, clutched candles in the silence of a warm night. Some parents hoisted children on their shoulders so they could watch. Many people kept their eyes fixed on a towering cross, studded with lit candles glowing against the Colosseum’s ancient stone.

Hours earlier at the Vatican, Francis prostrated himself in prayer during a Good Friday service in St. Peter’s Basilica. The 80-year-old pope lay for several minutes before the central altar.

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Patricia Thomas contributed to this report.

Egypt’s Coptic Christians mark solemn Good Friday

April 14, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Women mourn for the victims of the blast at the Coptic Christian Saint Mark’s church in Alexandria during a funeral procession at the Monastery of Marmina in nearby Borg El-Arab on April 10, 2017

CAIRO (AFP) – Egyptian Copts observed a solemn Good Friday with prayers and fasting, as the community reeled from a pair of church bombings that killed dozens on Palm Sunday.

The government had declared a state of emergency and called in the army to protect “vital” installations following last week’s suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State group.

On Friday, Copts attended churches across the country to commemorate the day they believe Jesus Christ was crucified.

The services mark the Stations of the Cross, representing the Biblical account of the cross-bearing Christ as he was led to his crucifixion and burial.

The rites were especially mournful for the Christian minority following last Sunday’s suicide bombings at churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria which killed 45 people, Coptic Bishop Kirillos told AFP.

“With these incidents we are now living with Christ in his pain,” he said.

On Saturday, the Orthodox will mark Easter, with Coptic Pope Tawadros II leading services in Cairo’s Saint Mark’s Cathedral.

The church had announced it would scale back Easter celebrations to a simple mass in the wake of the bombings.

“Given the current circumstances and our solidarity with the families of the dead, we are going to limit our celebrations to Easter mass,” it said in a statement.

“There will be no decorations in churches and the rooms normally reserved for the reception of worshippers wishing to exchange season’s greetings will remain closed,” an official at the Coptic patriarchate told AFP.

The violence came ahead of Catholic Pope Francis’s first visit to Egypt, which a Vatican official said will go ahead as planned on April 28 and 29 despite the attacks.

Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt’s population of more than 92 million, have been targeted several times in recent months.

In December, an Islamic State group suicide bomber set off an explosives vest in a Cairo church, killing 29 people.

Related:

© AFP / by Tony Gamal-Gabriel | Mourners pray next to coffins of the victims of the blast at the Coptic Christian Saint Mark’s church the previous day during a funeral procession east of Alexandria on April 10, 2017

© Mohamed El-Shahed / AFP (file photo) | Members of the Egyptian police special forces stand guard on Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square on January 25, 2016.

Relatives of a Christian woman who was killed in the bombing of Cairo's main Coptic cathedral carry her casked in Cairo on Monday.
Relatives of a Christian woman who was killed in the bombing of Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral carry her casked in Cairo on December 14, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
.
 (December 2016)
.

Members of the special police forces stand guard to secure the area around St. Mark"s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral after an explosion inside the cathedral in Cairo

The building bombed in December 2016 is next to St Mark’s Coptic Cathedral, seat of the church’s pope. Reuters Photo

A Christian employee at Cairo's Coptic Cathedral checks for damage from the blast after an explosion inside the cathedral in Cairo

The interior of the church, where Christians had gathered, was also hit in the explosion. AP photo

Image result for Reina nightclub attack, photos

Islamist gunman Abdulgadir Masharipov killed 39 people  in the Reina nightclub shooting on January 1, 2017, in Istanbul. © Dogan News Agency/AFP/File

 (December 11, 2016)

David Dosha, the priest of the Church of Mart Shmoni, located in the Christian Iraqi town of Bartella. (Safin Hamed/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

An Iraqi Christian forces member lights a candle at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on October 30, 2016 in the town of Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), 30 kms east of Mosul, after Iraqi forces recaptured it from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. (AFP/ SAFIN HAMED)
An Iraqi Christian forces member lights a candle at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on October 30, 2016 in the town of Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), 30 kms east of Mosul, after Iraqi forces recaptured it from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. (AFP/ SAFIN HAMED)
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26 July 2016
A photo of Priest Jacques Hamel taken from the website of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray parish84 year-old Father Jacques Hamel was giving morning Mass when the Islamist attackers stormed his church. AFP

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The Isis jihadist group