Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Saudi crown prince discusses anti-corruption crackdown, threats posed by Iran, more

March 19, 2018

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

JEDDAH:  Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed has said the anti-corruption crackdown he initiated in the Kingdom was “extremely necessary” because roughly $20 billion of state funds was “disappearing” every year.

In a wide-ranging interview aired by CBS television on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, the crown prince also spoke about the threats posed by Iran and its proxies across the region and the reforms being undertaken in the Kingdom to fight extremism.
The crown prince said that if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon then Saudi Arabia will too.
CBS anchorwoman Norah O’Donnell interviewed the crown prince in Riyadh two weeks ago, shortly before he left for his visit to Egypt and Britain.
O’Donnell earlier said there were “no time restrictions and no preconditions” and that the crown prince spoke candidly.
The crown prince said Saudi Arabia has recovered more than $100 billion so far in its crackdown against corruption.
“The amount exceeds $100 billion, but the real objective was not this amount or any other amount. The idea is not to get money, but to punish the corrupt and send a clear signal that whoever engages in corrupt deals will face the law,” he said.
During the crackdown last November, the Kingdom detained a big number of incumbent and former government ministers, prominent businessmen, and at least 11 princes who were accused of corruption.
The accused were held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel for some time until they either returned what they have been accused of stealing from the government or proved their innocence.
On reports of human rights abuses in the Kingdom, Prince Mohammed assured that “Saudi Arabia believes in many of the principles of human rights.”
“In fact, we believe in the notion of human rights, but ultimately Saudi standards are not the same as American standards. I don’t want to say that we don’t have shortcomings. We certainly do. But naturally, we are working to mend these shortcomings,” he said.

Religious tolerance, women rights
Prince Mohammed said that his country was not always like what it has been in the last 40 years. “We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries. Women were driving cars. There were movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979,” he said.
The widespread perception of the Kingdom as a place with harsh Islamic laws impacted the youth of the country, recalled the crown prince, “After 1979, that’s true. We were victims, especially my generation that suffered from this a great deal.”
“We have extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man and a woman alone together and their being together in a workplace. Many of those ideas contradict the way of life during the time of the Prophet and the Caliphs. This is the real example and the true model,” he said.
The prince was asked if women were equal to men. “Absolutely. We are all human beings and there is no difference,” he said.
On the issue of women’s dress code and the stipulations of the Sharia, the crown prince said: “Women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear.”
With a ban lifted on women driving in the Kingdom and women getting ready to sit behind the wheel this June, the crown prince was again asked the issue of women and driving in Saudi Arabia. He said: “This is no longer an issue. Today, driving schools have been established and will open soon. In a few months, women will drive in Saudi Arabia. We are finally over that painful period that we cannot justify.” The crown prince also said work is underway to a new initiative to introduce regulations ensuring equal pay for men and women.
Prince Mohammed promised to eradicate any trace of extremist elements in the Kingdom’s educational institutions. “Saudi schools have been invaded by many elements from the Muslim Brotherhood organization, surely to a great extent. Even now, there are some elements left. It will be a short while until they are all eradicated completely,” he said, adding “no country in the world would accept that its educational system be invaded by any radical group.”
Regional security
On regional security, the crown prince said Iran poses a clear and present danger. He likened Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, to Hitler, adding that the Iranian mullah’s expansionist plans poses a serious threat to the security of the Middle East.
“He wants to expand. He wants to create his own project in the Middle East very much like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time. Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realize how dangerous Hitler was until what happened, happened. I don’t want to see the same events happening in the Middle East,” he said.
Prince Mohammed said Saudi Arabia has no interest in acquiring a nuclear bomb, but “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
Crown Prince Mohammed, who is also the defense minister, said Iranian ideology had infiltrated parts of neighbor Yemen. “During that time, this militia was conducting military maneuvers right next to our borders and positioning missiles at our borders,” he said, referring to the Houthi militia that is fighting the UN-recognized Yemen government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Houthi militias have launched missiles toward Saudi Arabia’s Makkah region and at the capital, Riyadh. Scores of civilians have also been killed or hurt in these strikes. Most of these missiles have been traced to Iran.
“I can’t imagine that the United States will accept one day to have a militia in Mexico launching missiles on Washington D.C., New York and LA while Americans are watching these missiles and doing nothing,” he added.

He said the catastrophe in Yemen was ’truly very painful’ and hoped the Houthi militia “ceases using the humanitarian situation to their advantage in order to draw sympathy from the international community. They block humanitarian aid in order to create famine and a humanitarian crisis.”

On the suggestion that what was happening in Yemen was a proxy war, the crown prince said: “Unfortunately, Iran is playing a harmful role. The Iranian regime is based on pure ideology. Many of the Al-Qaeda operatives are protected in Iran and it refuses to surrender them to justice, and continues to refuse to extradite them to the United States. This includes the son of Osama bin Laden, the new leader of Al-Qaeda. He lives in Iran and works out of Iran. He is supported by Iran.”
“Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy.  Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia,” He said.
Personal wealth
Asked to comment on news reports on his personal wealth, he said: “My personal life is something I’d like to keep to myself and I don’t try to draw attention to it. If some newspapers want to point something out about it, that’s up to them. As far as my private expenses, I’m a rich person and not a poor person. I’m not Gandhi or Mandela. I’m a member of the ruling family that existed for hundreds of years before the founding of Saudi Arabia. We own very large lots of land, and my personal life is the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago. But what I do as a person is to spend part of my personal income on charity. I spend at least 51% on people and 49 on myself.”
The crown prince talked warmly about his father, King Salman’s fondness for history and how he would foster a love of reading in his children’ “He loves history very much. He is an avid reader of history. Each week, he would assign each one of us a book. And at the end of the week, he would ask us about the content of that book. The king always says, “If you read the history of a thousand years, you have the experience of a thousand years,” the crown prince recounted.
When the 32-year-old heir to the throne was posed the prospect of him shaping the Kingdom’s future for the next 50 years, he said “only God knows how long one will live.”
Can anything stop Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman? “Only death,” he said.

Norway’s Christian Democrats to decide government’s fate in row — “Putting terrorists’ rights before national security.” — Facebook post may topple Norway govt

March 19, 2018


Picture taken on March 15, 2018 shows Norwegian Minister of Justice and Public Security Sylvi Listhaug speaking to the media at the Norwegian Parliament in Oslo, Norway. (AFP/NTB Scanpix/Gorm Kallestad)
OSLO: Norway’s Christian Democrats, holding the balance of power in parliament, are expected to decide on Monday whether to back a no-confidence vote against Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug, a rarely used step that would probably bring down the government.
Listhaug recently rocked Norway’s traditionally consensual politics by accusing the opposition Labour Party — target of the country’s worst peacetime massacre — of putting terrorists’ rights before national security.
Five center-left parties last week said they would vote on Tuesday to oust the minister, leaving her fate in the hands of the small Christian Democratic Party, which has scheduled meetings on Monday to discuss its vote.
On Sunday, daily Verdens Gang and broadcasters NRK and TV2 quoted sources close to Prime Minister Erna Solberg saying her cabinet would stand by Listhaug and resign if the no-confidence vote succeeds.
Snap elections are not allowed, and Norway’s next general election is not due until 2021. This may allow Solberg to form a new government, but may also throw the job to Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere if the Christian Democrats switch sides.
On July 22, 2011, far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed eight people in downtown Oslo with a car bomb and then shot dead 69 people, many of them teenagers, at a Labour party camp on Utoeya Island.
On Facebook, Listhaug recently posted a photograph of masked people clad in military fatigues, black scarves and ammunition with the text: “Labour thinks terrorists’ rights are more important than the nation’s security. Like and Share.”
The comments unleashed a political storm, and Listhaug, a member of the right-wing Progress Party, apologized in parliament on March 13. Most opposition parties, however, said her gesture was not sincere enough.
But although many attempts have been made by parties in parliament to oust governments via no-confidence motions, the last vote to succeed in bringing down a cabinet was in 1963.
Daily Aftenposten on Monday said that Solberg and Christian Democrats leader Knut Arild Hareide had discussed the possibility of defusing the situation by having Listhaug apologize a second time.
The dispute erupted after Labour and the Christian Democrats helped defeat a bill allowing the state the right, without judicial review, to strip individuals of Norwegian citizenship if they are suspected of terrorism or joining foreign militant groups.
While Hareide’s party has backed Conservative leader Solberg for prime minister since 2013, it has declined invitations to join the cabinet, primarily due to its opposition to the Progress Party.
 Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug heightening the risk that the minority cabinet will fall.


Employee at French Consulate in Jerusalem Admits to Smuggling Weapons From Gaza to West Bank

March 19, 2018


Case was reported on extensively in French press but a gag order was imposed on coverage of it in Israel – even though relevant agencies had already worked on press releases

A 24-year-old employee at the French Consulate in Jerusalem admitted that he smuggled dozens of weapons from the Gaza Strip into the West Bank through diplomatic vehicles, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported on Sunday. Israeli security sources have confirmed the existence of the case.

The employee was a driver and carried an official passport. He was detained for questioning by Israeli security authorities on February 19. A security guard at the embassy was also arrested. The two will stand trial on Monday, most likely in a Be’er Sheva court, for smuggling weapons from Gaza to the West Bank.

 French Consulate in Jerusalem

The case was reported on extensively on Sunday in the French press but a gag order was imposed on coverage of it in Israel, even though the relevant agencies in Israel, including the Shin Bet security service and the Foreign Ministry, had already worked on a press release on matter.

This is not the first time that a security-related case has been banned from publication while it was reported on extensively abroad.

One high-profile example was the case of a man identified as Prisoner X on an Australian website, which was only reported later in Israel following the lifting of the gag order.

The French Embassy issued a statement saying: “The authorities in France are taking the incident in which one if the workers at the consulate general of France in Jerusalem is a suspect with very great seriousness. The authorities in France are cooperating with Israeli authorities.”

Israeli diplomatic officials called the matter “a very difficult event, which we take very seriously.” They added that relations with France are excellent and this will not have an adverse effect, thanking French authorities for their cooperation.

The affair takes place days before French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is slated to arrive in Israel, amid the backdrop of a potential visit from French President Emmanuel Macron later this fall. This affair may overshadow the visit.


Malaysia’s Najib Says Rohingya Crisis Raises Regional Terror Threat

March 18, 2018

In a break from convention, prime minister criticizes a fellow Asean member at a summit

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at a reception on Friday as part of the Asean summit in Sydney.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at a reception on Friday as part of the Asean summit in Sydney. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

SYDNEY—Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak identified the Rohingya crisis as a major security threat to Southeast Asia, a rare criticism of a neighboring nation at a conference meant to engender better cooperation on security in the region.

Speaking at a counterterrorism conference in Sydney ahead of a special summit of regional leaders with Australia, Prime Minister Najib Razak broke with Association of Southeast Asian Nations convention to avert internal criticisms, warning bluntly that the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state could prove fertile ground for recruitment of Islamic State-inspired militants.

“Because of the suffering of Rohingya people and that of displacement around the region, the situation in Rakhine state and Myanmar can no longer be considered to be a purely domestic matter,” Mr. Najib told fellow leaders including Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Saturday.

“Rakhine, with thousands of despairing and exacted people, who see no hope in the future, will be a fertile ground for radicalization and recruitment of Daesh, by Daesh and Daesh-affiliated groups,” Mr. Najib said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. Malaysia, he said, was ready to help steer diplomatic efforts to end the crisis, as well as Islamist conflicts in the southern Philippines and southern Thailand.

Ms. Suu Kyi didn’t respond to Mr. Najib’s comments and Myanmar’s government has previously rejected reports presented to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations that it had committed human rights crimes.

A Myanmar government spokesman, however, promised last month that action would be taken against soldiers and police as part of an army investigation into alleged atrocities in Rakhine.

Australia is hosting the special summit with nine of the 10 leaders from the association, known as Asean, to try to strengthen security and economic ties as a hedge against a more muscular China under President Xi Jinping and uncertainty about U.S. commitment to the region under President Donald Trump.

The leaders signed an agreement to increase cooperation on counterterrorism and combat the threat from Islamic State fighters returning to the region after the group’s defeats in Syria and Iraq. The Philippine government’s long battle to drive Islamic State-linked militants from the southern city of Marawi has drawn Asean members closer together on counterterrorism efforts.

Mr. Najib’s remarks came at the end of the conference, at which Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the use of digital-messaging systems by terrorists and criminal groups had triggered “the most significant degradation of intelligence capability in modern times.”

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, opening the three-day summit, said regional security was inseparable from economic gains, calling for fellow leaders to support the “rules-based order” of international law as the U.S. and China jostle for influence in the region.

China has claimed territorial rights in most of the South China Sea, building and militarizing artificial atolls straddling strategic maritime trade routes in the face of challenges from neighbors including Asean members Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Asian leaders have come under pressure to raise human rights concerns with Ms. Suu Kyi over Myanmar’s military operations that have driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh.

Write to Rob Taylor at

Europeans propose new Iran sanctions to save nuclear accord in face of U.S. ultimatum

March 17, 2018


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Abbas Araghchi, political deputy at the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the secretary general of the European Union External Action Service, Helga Schmid, talk during a meeting between Iran and six world powers to review the Iran nuclear deal in Vienna on Friday. | AFP

Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, according to a confidential document, in a bid to persuade Washington to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal, which was signed by world powers and curbs Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

The joint paper was sent to European Union capitals on Friday, said two people familiar with the matter, to sound out support for such sanctions, which would need the support of all 28 EU governments.

The proposal is part of an EU strategy to save the accord by showing U.S. President Donald Trump that there are other ways to counter Iranian power abroad.

Trump delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories on Jan. 12. It said they must agree to “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal” — which was sealed under President Barack Obama — or he would refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran. U.S. sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12.

The document said, “We will therefore be circulating in the coming days a list of persons and entities that we believe should be targeted in view of their publicly demonstrated roles,” referring to Iranian ballistic missile tests and Tehran’s role in backing Syria’s government in the civil war.

The steps would go beyond what a U.S. State Department cable last month outlined as a path to satisfy Trump: simply committing to improving the nuclear deal.

It also reflects frustration with Tehran. “We’re getting irritated. We’ve been talking to them for 18 months and have had no progress on these issues,” a diplomat said.

European Union foreign ministers will discuss the proposal at a closed-door meeting on Monday in Brussels, diplomats said.

Analysts say the nuclear agreement, touted at the time as a breakthrough reducing the risk of a devastating wider war in the Middle East, could collapse if Washington pulls out.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif struck a defiant note toward Washington on Friday. “If the United States makes the mistake of pulling out of the JCPOA, it will definitely be a painful mistake for the Americans,” Iranian state television quoted Zarif as saying. The JCPOA is the formal name of the nuclear deal.

Image result for Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, photos

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Zarif did not refer to the possibility of new EU sanctions.

The commission overseeing the nuclear accord said on Friday in Vienna that Iran was meeting its obligations under the deal.

The joint document by Britain, France and Germany said they were engaged in “intensive talks with the Trump administration to “achieve a clear and lasting reaffirmation of U.S. support for the (nuclear) agreement beyond May 12.”



New European sanctions would affect nuclear deal: Iran official

March 17, 2018

A display featuring missiles and a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen at Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran September 27, 2017. (AFP)
BEIRUT: Any new European sanctions against Iran will have a direct effect on the nuclear deal struck between world powers and Tehran, Iran’s deputy foreign minister said Friday, according to state media.
“In case some European countries are following steps to put non-nuclear sanctions against Iran in order to please the American president, they will be making a big mistake and they will see the direct result of that on the nuclear deal,” Abbas Araqchi said, according to state media.
Image result for Abbas Araqchi, photos
Abbas Araqchi
“It’s better that European countries continue their current action to persuade America to keep its promises in the nuclear deal and for that country to effectively execute the deal in all its parts with good will and in a productive atmosphere.”
Araqchi’s comments were in reaction to a Reuters report that Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war to try to persuade Washington to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of a number of sanctions as part of the deal. Senior Iranian officials have repeatedly said their missile program is not up for negotiation.
The proposal is part of an EU strategy to save the accord signed by world powers that curbs Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, namely by showing US President Donald Trump that there are other ways to counter Iranian power abroad.
Trump delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories on Jan. 12. It said they must agree to “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal” — which was sealed under his predecessor Barack Obama — or he would refuse to extend US sanctions relief on Iran. US sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12.
If America pulls out of the agreement then the nuclear deal will be finished, Araqchi said, according to a report published by the Mehr News agency on Saturday.
“If America exits the deal and unilateral sanctions return, we will definitely not continue the deal because it will not serve our interests,” Araqchi was quoted as saying.


ASEAN, Australia sign deal to fight terrorism

March 17, 2018

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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit on Mar 17, 2018. Photo credit AFP

SYDNEY: ASEAN and Australia signed an agreement on Saturday (Mar 17) to work together to combat terrorism.

A memorandum of understanding signed at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit will focus on technology, which is timely given how extremists around the world are using social media platforms to spread their ideology. It will tackle terrorism financing.

The new MOU will see a slew of programmes implemented. These include regional dialogues and forums with law enforcement partners to combat the threat of terrorist groups, workshops on counterterrorism for border security officials, the use of electronic evidence for investigations and prosecutions, and courses for financial intelligence analysts in Australia and ASEAN.

A counterterrorism legislation that is in line with international standards will also be developed.

“It won’t be an easy fight, nor will it be a quick one”, said Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “And it’s made more complex because our adversaries’ methods and tactics are constantly evolving. We must evolve too,” he added, saying that it is not enough to simply react to this global threat.

Mr Turnbull noted how one tweet or YouTube video can reach millions of people in seconds, and this is exacerbated by the fact that more and more people are gaining access to mobile devices.

“It means we have a new generation of criminals and terrorists who are attempting to divide us, by attempting to exploit these platforms that were designed to bring us together”, said Mr Turnbull.

One area that governments must tackle is the use of social media and encrypted messaging applications, such as elegram.

Mr Turnbull gave the example of how a terrorist in Syria was able to send instructions to an Australian counterpart over encrypted messaging. This slipped past authorities as it was hard to detect, and the perpetrators did not have to connect to a domestic network.

Terrorism financing in the region is also becoming more prevalent, according to Mr Turnbull. This helps establish and maintain terror groups, as well as sustain the networks that connect them. He also mentioned the increasing popularity of financing methods that are less conventional and harder to detect, such as digital currencies, stored value cards and crowdfunding platforms.

As terrorist networks transcend borders, so must the collaboration of governments – particularly in the area of intelligence sharing – as countries have a vested interest in each other’s security.

“We cannot allow the cybersphere to be a lawless territory”, Mr Turnbull said, highlighting the importance of trust, sharing and collaboration.

“Those who seek to do us harm use technology as innovatively as any of us can, and they are able to adapt and move in a very agile way. We have to be as fast and as quick as them”, he noted.

Mr Turnbull added that Australia will continue to work together with its neighbours to not only “defeat terrorism at its source”, but also to stem the flow of fighters going to conflict zones and those returning home.

As the Islamic State has lost its hold in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, they are becoming more influential in this region, and IS sympathisers no longer need to travel to the battlegrounds to spread their cause or get training, said Mr Turnbull.

“So it’s vital for Australia and our ASEAN partners to collaborate across borders, to ensure that our conterterrorism legal frameworks are robust enough to provide effective investigation, prosecution, and punishment while being flexible enough to adapt to the changing and uncertain security environment”, Mr Turnbull said.

The new MOU is a progression of the 2016 ASEAN-Australia joint declaration for cooperation to combat international terrorism, which was signed in 2016.

“The MOU and its supporting outcomes are a symbol of our strength and solidarity as a region. They represent a further step in our relentless determination to rise up against those who seek to divide us”, Mr Turnbull said.

“We’re stronger when we work together. Our people are safer when we combine our efforts and cooperate.”

Source: CNA/aj


Belgium takes back Brussels’ Grand Mosque from Saudi government — reports it promotes radicalism

March 16, 2018


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium is taking back control of the Grand Mosque of Brussels by terminating Saudi Arabia’s lease of the building with immediate effect over concerns it promotes radicalism, the government said on Friday.

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FILE PHOTO: View of the Grand Mosque in Brussels, Belgium, October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

The announcement is Belgium’s first official confirmation of the move which comes after months of behind the scenes diplomacy to prevent any fall-out with Saudi Arabia, as reported by Reuters in February.

Concerns over Brussels’ biggest mosque, located near the European Union’s headquarters, surfaced after Islamist militants who plotted their assault in Brussels killed 130 people in Paris in 2015, and 32 in the Belgian capital in 2016.

 Image result for Grand Mosque in Brussels, photos

Friday’s decision breaks Saudi Arabia’s unusual 99-year, rent free use of the building, the government said.

“The concession will be terminated immediately … in order to put an end to foreign interference in the way Islam is taught in Belgium,” the Belgian government said in a statement.

Belgium leased the Grand Mosque to Riyadh in 1969, giving Saudi-backed imams access to a growing Muslim immigrant community, mostly from Morocco and Turkey, in return for cheaper oil for its industry.

It has been run by the Mecca-based Muslim World League (MWL), a missionary society mainly funded by Saudi Arabia. The MWL denies it espouses violence.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon tweeted of Friday’s announcement that “in this way we are tackling Salafist, violent extremist influences.”

Riyadh’s quick acceptance of Brussels’ request to relinquish the lease reflects a new readiness by the kingdom to promote a more moderate form of Islam – one of the more ambitious promises made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman under plans to transform Saudi Arabia and reduce its reliance on oil.

The handover of the mosque coincides with a new Saudi initiative, not publicly announced but described to Reuters by Western officials, to end support for mosques and religious schools abroad blamed for spreading radical ideas.

Justice Minister Koen Geens said the sprawling complex will instead house the offices of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, an official body which represents Muslim communities across the country.

The mosque will have to register as a place of worship, he said.

Geens and other Belgian leaders couched the move as a way to promote a “European Islam” better aligned with their values – a familiar refrain across Europe following recent Islamic State attacks.

“From now on, the mosque will have to establish a lasting relation with the Belgian authorities, while respecting the laws and the traditions of our country, which convey a tolerant vision of Islam,” Geens said.

In what he decribed as a way to promote more “diversity and tran


Something is rotten in the terrorist kingdom of Hamas

March 16, 2018

Bomb attacks against PA prime minister and IDF troops in areas under full control of terror group point to someone on the inside trying to undermine the organization’s strategy

Avi Issacharoff

Members of the Hamas security forces inspect the crater left at the site of an explosion that targeted the convoy of the Palestinian Prime Minister during his visit to the Gaza strip, near the Erez crossing, on March 13, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Members of the Hamas security forces inspect the crater left at the site of an explosion that targeted the convoy of the Palestinian Prime Minister during his visit to the Gaza strip, near the Erez crossing, on March 13, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Once again an explosive device was detonated in the Gaza Strip. And once again it appears that Hamas was not responsible for the attempted terror attack. However, the spate of recent incidents in Gaza raises suspicions that something is particularly rotten in the kingdom of Hamas. At best, there are officials within the terror group who are not following the orders of the leadership; at worst, they may be receiving a quiet nod to work secretly against Israel.

Thursday was not the first time that a roadside bomb within the coastal enclave has targeted Israeli troops or that the IDF has discovered explosives put in place to do just that. This, in areas that are supposed to be under the full control of Hamas forces.

On Tuesday, the chaos had escalated in an unusually serious incident, when someone, at present unknown, attempted to murder Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and PA General Intelligence Chief Majed Faraj as they visited Gaza.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (2nd-R), escorted by his bodyguards, is greeted by police forces of the Hamas terror group (L) upon his arrival in Gaza City on March 13, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

According to Hamas Deputy Interior Minister Tawfik Abu Naim, there were two 15-kilogram (33-pound) bombs placed 37 meters (120 feet) apart from each other. One bomb exploded but the second failed to detonate due to a technical problem. The devices were placed on the main north-south route through the Gaza Strip (Salah a-Din Street) only a few hundred meters away from the Erez border crossing to Israel — and under the nose of Hamas security forces.

“There is no chance that someone in Hamas didn’t know that these bombs were placed there,” a senior Palestinian Authority official told The Times of Israel later. “From a security point of view, someone there closed their eyes or gave it their blessing. It is impossible that everything was done there without anyone in Hamas knowing about it.”

It must be said that this Palestinian official is not known for his love of Hamas, but his suspicions are reasonable. It is equally difficult to imagine that no Hamas officials knew of the bombs intended to target the IDF on Thursday close to the border, which Hamas watches carefully.

Hamas’s former interior minister Fathi Hamad (YouTube screenshot)

Fathi Hamad is a senior Hamas official who opposes reconciliation with Fatah, the party that leads the Palestinian Authority, and urges a resumption of war against Israel. His name is being raised as a possible mastermind behind the Hamdallah assassination attempt, or perhaps as a senior figure who gave his blessing to Salafist terrorists from outside Hamas who may not even have known of his involvement.

In the past, Hamas has worked behind the scenes to root out those, including Fatah members, behind attacks — even when Hamad himself, working from within the organization, had a hand in planning them. Hamad is now a suspect in these latest incidents. But there are more than a handful of other groups or officials who could be responsible for an assassination attempt like this, or for the bomb attacks against the IDF.

Meanwhile, Hamas seems to be working vigorously to catch those responsible for the attempted killing of Hamdallah and Faraj. We may soon see the “guilty parties” publicly confessing their crimes in front of the Palestinian media. They may even say that the Israeli Mossad pushed them to the deed.

Such confessions can rarely be taken at face value.

Hamas representative Saleh al-Arouri, after signing a reconciliation deal with senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, during a short ceremony at the Egyptian intelligence complex in Cairo, Egypt, October 12, 2017. (AP/Nariman El-Mofty)

Though seen by some as signals of a new militancy on Hamas’s part, these attacks are actually a sign of confusion, of an organization working at cross-purposes. The group’s leadership in Gaza is trying to establish better ties with the Egyptians while the leadership abroad, led by deputy head Salah al-Arouri, attempts to get closer to Iran.

Hamas wants reconciliation with Fatah and is ready to compromise on the civilian front, but is not prepared to give up its military branches or its weapons. It is trying hard to avoid an escalation with Israel, while someone in Gaza is working hard to bring on a war with Israel, perhaps under the nose of Hamas and maybe even with (part of) the organization’s blessing.

Inciting the West Bank

If there is one thing that is clear and obvious, it is Hamas’s incessant attempt to inflame the West Bank. The organization has devoted a tremendous amount of energy towards this goal.

For example, Hamas terrorist Ahmad Nassar Jarrar, who became a hero among Palestinians when he murdered Raziel Shevach in a deadly West Bank shooting near the Havat Gilad outpost and escaped Israeli security forces several times before being killed in a shootout in the village of Yamoun, received financial assistance from Hamas in Gaza, from a group known as “The West Bank Headquarters.”

Ahmad Nassar Jarrar, 22, head of the terror cell who shot dead Rabbi Raziel Shevach in the West Bank on January 9 (Twitter)

This group is made up of some of the 150 terrorists freed by Israel in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal who were expelled to Gaza, and work alongside Hamas’s military wing in the Strip trying to orchestrate terror cells in the West Bank. Most of their attempts fail, but sometimes, as in the case of Jarrar, they bear murderous fruit.

In addition to the “West Bank Headquarters,” Hamas also operates the “Office of the West Bank” which is run from abroad, also mainly by those freed in the Shalit deal. One of the group’s bases is in Istanbul. It seems that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to host Hamas terrorists, including people who visit and operate from there continually: Arouri, Zaher Jabarin, Musa Dodin and others. This group of West Bank Palestinians, now based overseas, is also in contact with Iran and hopes Tehran will foot the bill for their livelihoods and activities. This despite the inevitable cost they may have to pay in loss of support in Sunni states like Egypt or Saudi Arabia if they are perceived as getting too close to Shiite Iran.

Here, too, Hamas is seen at cross-purposes. Yet that does not mean there aren’t unifying threads that should worry Israel. One obvious common denominator: both at home and abroad, Hamas’s activities are often driven to a significant extent by terrorists freed in the 2011 Shalit deal.


Conflict Between India and Pakistan — An Update From The Council on Foreign Relations

March 14, 2018

Recent Developments

With continued violence in Kashmir and a heightened threat of terrorist activity by Pakistan-based militant groups, the threat of a serious military confrontation between India and Pakistan remains high. In January 2016, six armed militants attacked an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot (near the border with Pakistan), killing seven Indian security personnel before being killed themselves.

In July 2016, anti-India protests broke out across the Kashmir valley following the death of local militant leader Burhan Wani. Violent demonstrations and protests calling for an independent Kashmir have continued through November 2016, with more than ninety people killed and thousands wounded in the heavy-handed response by Indian security forces.

In September 2016, armed militants attacked a remote Indian Army base in Uri, near the Line of Control, killing eighteen Indian soldiers in the deadliest attack on the Indian armed forces in decades. Indian officials have accused Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group with alleged ties to the Inter-Services Intelligence—Pakistan’s main intelligence agency—of being behind the attack. Later in September 2016, the Indian military announced it had carried out “surgical strikes” on terrorist camps inside Pakistani-controlled territory across the Line of Control, while the Pakistani military denied that any such operation had taken place.

Tensions remain high between the nuclear-armed neighbors. In late October 2016 and again in November 2016, Indian and Pakistani diplomats were each expelled from each other’s countries on charges of espionage, and an uptick in cross-border firing along the Line of Control continued throughout 2017 and into 2018, with military and civilian deaths on both sides.


Territorial disputes over the Kashmir region sparked two of the three major Indo-Pakistani wars in 1947 and 1965, and a limited war in 1999. Although both countries have maintained a fragile cease-fire since 2003, they regularly exchange fire across the contested border. There was an increase in high-profile cease-fire violations beginning in July 2014, and artillery shelling and small arms fire continued through late 2015. Both sides accuse each other of violating the cease-fire and claim to be shooting in retaliation to attacks.

After India’s newly-elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, invited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to attend his inauguration, there were hopes that his government would pursue meaningful peace negotiations with Pakistan. However, after a brief period of optimism, relations again turned sour when India canceled talks with Pakistan’s foreign minister in August 2014 after the Pakistani high commissioner in India met with Kashmiri separatist leaders.

In July 2015, Modi and Sharif met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Ufa, Russia, where they issued a joint statement and announced that Modi would travel to Pakistan in 2016 for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit. However, in August 2015, planned high-level talks between national security advisors were called off the night before they were slated to start after Pakistan announced it could not accept India’s precondition that talks only focus on terrorism.

In December 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had an unscheduled meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. This led to a meeting between national security advisors in Bangkok a few days later, where the Kashmir dispute was discussed. Later in December, Prime Minister Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore to meet with Prime Minister Sharif, the first visit of an Indian leader to Pakistan in more than a decade.

Following the Uri attack in September 2016, India announced a boycott of the SAARC summit, planned for November 2016 in Islamabad, citing Pakistan’s alleged involvement and support for terrorism; this boycott was joined by Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Bhutan and led to the summit’s indefinite postponement.

The diversion of jihadi fighters and proxy groups from Afghanistan to Kashmir threatens to further increase violence along the border. If another Mumbai 2008–style attack, where Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters rampaged through the city for four days, killing 164 people, were carried out by Pakistan’s militant proxies, it could trigger a severe military confrontation between the two nuclear-armed states.


Having identified South Asia as an epicenter of terrorism and religious extremism, the United States has an interest in ensuring regional stability, preventing nuclear weapons proliferation, and minimizing the potential of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.!/conflict/conflict-between-india-and-pakistan