CIA used Israel to justify torture


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

The newly-released report by the US Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA’s use of torture says that CIA lawyers used Israel as a justification for building a legal case for torture of Al-Qaeda suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

Most of the 6000 page-report remains classified. But according to the 528 pages that were released, in November 2001 CIA officers said they wanted legal justification for the interrogation methods they had begun using. The report cites the “Israeli example” that “torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm.” 

Israeli government spokesmen chose not to comment on the report. But an official at the Public Committee against Torture in Israel explained the “necessity defense” which is used against Palestinian suspects.

In 1987, the Landau Commission recommended that interrogators be allowed to use “moderate physical pressure” in cases where psychological pressure was not effective. That ruling was overturned in 1999 by the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that torture is unacceptable in Israel and then went on to detail various things that fall under the purview of torture,” Rachel Stroumsa, project manager at the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel told The Media Line. “The ruling left a loophole in what it called the “ticking bomb” situation.”

A “ticking bomb” means that a suspect knows where a bomb has been planted that is set to explode. In those cases, torture can be used to discover the place of the bomb.

“It means that if an interrogator feels compelled to use torture by necessity, he will be covered legally,” Stroumsa said. “You can’t get approval in advance for these cases.”

She said her organization deals with 100 – 150 cases per year, although she believes there are many more instances. Many Palestinians are afraid to come forward, afraid they or their family members will be arrested and tortured again.

Israeli officials say that intelligence interrogators are given clear instructions not to use torture, and that it is only used in extreme cases. However, Palestinian rights groups have claimed that some elements of what they call torture such as sleep deprivation are routinely used. Much of the evidence against a Palestinian prisoner is sealed and not presented in open court for security reasons.

The report also quotes the CIA attorney who referred to the “ticking bomb” scenario and said that “enhanced techniques could not be pre-approved for such situations, but if worst comes to worst, an officer who engaged in such activities could assert a common-law necessity defense if he were every prosecuted.”

Israel is also mentioned in another context. According to the report, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qa’ida official who planned the 9/11 attacks reportedly told his interrogators abut plans to carry out attacks on various targets including “an Israeli embassy in the Middle East.” Israel has peace treaties and embassies with two countries – Egypt and Jordan.

U.S. confirms death of al Shabaab leader Godane in Somalia air strike


The Pentagon confirmed on Friday that Ahmed Godane, a leader of the al Shabaab Islamist group, was killed in a U.S. air strike in Somalia this week, calling it a “major symbolic and operational loss” for the al-Qaida-affiliated organization.

“We have confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the co-founder of al-Shabaab, has been killed,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.

Godane was a co-founder and leader of the group, which has carried many bombings and suicide attacks in Somalia and elsewhere, including the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 that killed at least 39 people.

Godane publicly claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack, saying it was revenge for Kenyan and Western involvement in Somalia and noting its proximity to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

His death left a huge gap in al Shabaab's leadership and was seen as posing the biggest challenge to its unity since it emerged as a fighting force eight years ago.

Abdi Ayante, director of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, said Godane's death would be “a game changer in many ways for al Shabaab.”

“What is likely to happen is a struggle for power,” he said a day before the Pentagon's confirmed Godane's death. Ayante said fragmentation was also possible in the absence of a leader with Godane's experience and ruthless approach to dissent.

U.S. forces carried out the military operation targeting Godane in Somalia on Monday, but the Pentagon did not confirm his death until Friday, saying it was still assessing the results of the air strike.

Kirby said in his statement that “removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to al Shabaab.”

A separate statement from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the operation that killed Godane was the result of “years of painstaking work by our intelligence, military and law enforcement professionals.”

Earnest said the administration would continue to use financial, diplomatic, intelligence and military tools to address the threat posed by al Shabaab.

The U.S. State Department declared al Shabaab a foreign terrorist organization in 2008.

Somalia's government, with support from African peacekeepers and Western intelligence, has battled to curb al Shabaab's influence and drive the group from areas it has continued to control since it was expelled from Mogadishu in 2011.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey

Obama says U.S. will ‘take out’ Islamic State leaders


President Barack Obama said on Friday the United States would hunt down Islamic State militants in Iraq and “take out” their leaders with the goal of dismantling the organization as it had done with al-Qaida and was doing in Somalia.

In some of his toughest comments since Washington began air strikes last month to halt an Islamists' advance in northern Iraq, Obama set out a long-term plan to degrade and ultimately destroy the movement that has captured swathes of Iraq and Syria.

“We are going to achieve our goal. We are going to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, the same way that we have gone after al Qaeda,” Obama told a news conference after a NATO summit in Wales.

“You initially push them back, you systematically degrade their capabilities, you narrow their scope of action, you slowly shrink the space, the territory that they may control, you take out their leadership, and over time they are not able to conduct the same kinds of terrorist attacks as they once could,” he said.

He also confirmed that the United States had killed the co-founder of Somalia's al-Shabaab Islamist group, Ahmed Godane, in an air strike this week.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland; Writing by Paul Taylor

Obama says U.S. will ‘degrade and destroy’ Islamic State


The United States plans to fight Islamic State until it is no longer a force in the Middle East and will seek justice for the killing of American journalist Steven Sotloff, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday.

He added destroying the militant group will take time because of the power vacuum in Syria, the abundance of battle hardened fighters that grew out of al-Qaida in the Iraqi war, and the need to build coalitions, including with local Sunni communities.

Islamic State released a video on Tuesday showing the beheading of the U.S. journalist, the second American hostage to be killed within weeks, in retaliation for U.S. air strikes in Iraq.

“The bottom line is this, our objective is clear and that is to degrade and destroy (Islamic State) so that it's no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States,” Obama told a news conference.

“Whatever these murderers think they will achieve with killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed,” Obama said. “They failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism. We will not be intimidated.”

U.S and British officials both examined the video, showing the same British-accented executioner who appeared in an Aug. 19 video of the killing of U.S. journalist James Foley, concluding it was authentic.

The United States resumed air strikes in Iraq in August for the first time since the pullout of U.S. troops in 2011 and Obama said the strikes are already proving effective.

“Those that make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget and that our reach is long and that justice will be served,” he said.

“This is not going to be a one-week or one-month or six month proposition because of what's happened in the vacuum of Syria, as well as the battle hardened elements of (Islamic State) that grew out of Al Qaeda in Iraq during the course of the Iraq war … it's going to take time for us to be able to roll them back.”

The White House said late on Tuesday that Obama was sending three top officials — Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco — to the Middle East “in the near-term to build a stronger regional partnership” against Islamic State militants.

Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

Al-Qaida announces India wing, renews loyalty to Taliban chief


Al-Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahri on Wednesday announced the formation of an Indian branch of his militant group he said would spread Islamic rule and “raise the flag of jihad” across the subcontinent.

In a 55-minute video posted online, Zawahri also renewed a longstanding vow of loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, in an apparent snub to the Islamic State armed group challenging al-Qaida for leadership of transnational Islamist militancy.

Zawahri described the formation of “al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent” as a glad tidings for Muslims “in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujurat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir” and said the new wing would rescue Muslims there from injustice and oppression.

Counter-terrorism experts say Al-Qaida's ageing leaders are struggling to compete for recruits with Islamic State, which has galvanised young followers around the world by carving out tracts of territory across the Iraq-Syria border.

Islamic State leader Abu Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls himself a “caliph” or head of state and has demanded the loyalty of all Muslims.

The group fell out with Zawahri in 2013 over its expansion into Syria, where Baghdadi's followers have carried out beheadings, crucifixions, and mass executions.

As well being an indirect repudiation of Islamic State, the announcement could pose a challenge to India's new prime minister, Narendra Modi. He has already faced criticism for remaining silent about several incidents deemed anti-Muslim, underscoring fears that his Hindu nationalist followers will upset religious relations in the majority Hindi nation.

However, while al-Qaida is very much at home in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, due to influential contacts and a long presence there, it is a minnow compared to local militant groups in terms of manpower and regional knowledge.

SAFE HAVEN

Over the years Zawahri and his predecessor Osama bin Laden, killed by U.S. forces in 2011, repeatedly pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar, in return for the safe haven he granted their followers in Afghanistan.

The statement did not mention Islamic State or Baghdadi, but it appear to take a subtle dig at the group's efforts at administering areas it has seized in Iraq and Syria.

Islamic State's effort at state-building is something never attempted by al-Qaida's central leaders, who traditionally have preferred to plot complex attacks on targets in the West.

Zawahri called for unity among militants and criticised “discord” – echoing a common al Qaeda complaint against Islamic State's record of clashing with rival Islamist groups in Syria.

The statement also warned al-Qaida's new wing against oppressing local populations – another complaint levelled against Islamic State by critics in Iraq and Syria.

“If you said that you are doing jihad to defend the sanctities of the Muslims, then you must not transgress against them or their money or honour, and not even transgress your mujahideen brothers by word and action,” he said.

“Discord is a curse and torment, and disgrace for the believers and glory for the disbelievers,” he said. “If you say that by your jihad you do not want but the pleasure of Allah, then you must not race for governance and leadership at the first opportunity.”

Muslims account for 15 percent of Indians but, numbering an estimated 175 million, theirs is the third-largest Muslim population in the world.

Centuries of rule by medieval Muslim invaders drove a wedge between Hindus and Muslims. Tensions have grown since Pakistan was carved from Muslim-majority areas of India in 1947, a violent partition in which hundreds of thousands were killed. In the era of Washington's “war on terror”, some Indian Muslims have begun to sympathise more with hardline pan-Islamic groups and causes.

Editing by Alison Williams

Fiji says Syrian rebels want compensation, removal from terror list


Islamist fighters who seized dozens of Fijian soldiers serving as U.N. peacekeepers on the Golan Heights last week are demanding that their group be removed from a global terrorism list and that compensation be paid for members killed in fighting, the head of Fiji's army said on Tuesday.

Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga said negotiations had been stepped up betweenh the Al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and a new U.N. negotiation team now in place in Syria.

“The rebels are not telling us where the troops are, but they continue to reassure us they are being well-looked after,” Tikoitoga told media in Suva. “They also told us they are ensuring that they are taken out of battle areas.”

Heavy fighting erupted on Monday between the Syrian army and Islamist rebels near where 45 Fijian peacekeepers were captured and scores of their fellow blue helmets from the Philippines escaped after resisting capture. The number of Fijians captured had previously been put at 44.

Syria's three-year civil war reached the frontier with Israeli-controlled territory last week when Islamist fighters overran a crossing point in the line that has separated Israelis from Syrians in the Golan Heights since a 1973 war.

The fighters then turned on the U.N. blue helmets from a peacekeeping force that has patrolled the ceasefire line for 40 years. After the Fijians were captured on Thursday, more than 70 Filipinos spent two days besieged at two locations before reaching safety.

The Nusra Front, a Syrian affiliate of al Qaeda, says it is holding the peacekeepers because the U.N. force protects Israel.

Tikoitoga said the group was demanding compensation for three fighters killed in the confrontation with the U.N. peacekeepers, as well as humanitarian assistance to the people of Ruta, a stronghold of the group on outskirts of Damascus, and the removal of the organisation from the U.N. list of banned terrorist organisations.

“We've been assured by U.N. headquarters that the U.N. will bring all its resources to bear to ensure the safe return of our soldiers,” the Fijian army chief said.

HEAVY FIGHTING

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in the Syrian civil war, said the Nusra Front and allied fighters were battling government forces near the Quneitra crossing and in the nearby village of al-Hamiydiah.

The Observatory said there were casualties on both sides. Observatory founder Rami Abdelrahman told Reuters the Nusra Front's aim appeared to be “to end once and for all the regime's presence in the area and it also appears that the goal is to expel the international observers”.

The U.N. peacekeeping force in the area, known as UNDOF, includes 1,223 troops from India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands as well as the Fijians and Filipinos who came under attack last week.

The United Nations has announced that the Philippines will pull out of UNDOF. Austria, Japan and Croatia have also pulled their troops out of the force because of the deteriorating security situation as the civil war in Syria reaches the Golan.

Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Israel raises alarm over Islamist militants on its frontiers


Israel's frontier with Syria, where militants have kidnapped 45 U.N. peacekeepers, has become a magnet for Islamist activity and Israel itself is now a target, the defense minister and security analysts said on Tuesday.

The Nusra Front, an al-Qaida-linked group fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, has established a major presence in the region, analysts said, and is poised to carry out attacks across the barren borderlands where Syria, Israel and Jordan converge.

Iran meanwhile is seeking to expand its influence in the region via its support for Assad and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, all of which are allied against the Sunni insurgency confronting Assad, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said.

“Iran's fingerprints can be seen in Syria, including in the Golan Heights, in attempts to use terror squads against us,” Yaalon told an economic conference as he set out the combined threat from Islamist groups in Syria.

In their latest assault, Nusra Front fighters seized 45 Fijians serving as U.N. monitors in the demilitarized zone on the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria. It is demanding to be removed from global terrorism lists in exchange for their release.

“We now have Jabhat al-Nusra, which is basically al-Qaida, on the border with Israel, and Israel is a legitimate target for Muslim militants all over,” said Aviv Oreg, a retired Israeli intelligence officer and a specialist on al-Qaida.

Oreg said it was only “a matter of time” before the Islamist groups now engaged in fighting in Syria turn more of their attention towards Israel.

“I cannot tell you exactly when, but it's very risky. It only needs one suicide bomber to cross the fence and attack an Israeli military patrol or a tractor full of farmers going to work in the fields…”

But while Israel may be growing alarmed, it is not clear that the Jewish state is a strategic priority for Nusra or other radical Sunni Muslim groups.

Their focus since 2011 has been the overthrow of Assad, a campaign that has bogged down from infighting in their ranks and Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah's intervention on the side of Assad.

If Israel is attacked in any serious way, the retaliation would likely be intense, setting back the insurgency and opening the way for Assad's forces to further reclaim the initiative.

Israel has bolstered its forces in the Golan Heights, a rugged plateau seized from Syria during the 1967 war, with armored patrols keeping a close eye across the frontier, sometimes passing within 300 meters (yards) of Nusra fighters.

The plateau, scattered with fruit farms, vineyards and rocky peaks, looks down across the plains of southwest Syria, where Nusra and other groups, including the secular, Western-backed rebel Free Syrian Army, can be seen battling Assad's forces.

After three years of fighting, opposition forces control patches of territory to the west and south of Damascus, including a portion of the 375-km (225-mile) border with Jordan.

That has allowed thousands of foreign fighters from both the Arab world and Europe to cross into Syria, including an estimated 2,000 Jordanians. At least 10 Israeli Arabs have also gone to Syria, five of whom were later detained after returning home, according to Oreg.

RISKY CORNER

The frontier between Israel and Syria has been administered by the United Nations since 1974, a year after the last war between them. It consists of an area of separation, a narrow strip of land running about 70 km (45 miles) from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River with Jordan.

About 1,200 soldiers are involved in monitoring the separation zone, in what has been for most of the past 40 years one of the world's quietest peacekeeping missions. That changed with the uprising against Assad, and the area is now precarious.

Stephane Cohen, the former chief liaison between the Israeli army and the U.N. peacekeeping force known as UNDOF, said the U.N.'s mandate was now meaningless.

With the Philippines, Ireland and other contributing nations set to withdraw from the mission, it was questionable whether the United Nations could continue monitoring the area.

“UNDOF is collapsing and the mandate has not been relevant for at least two years,” said Cohen, now a defense analyst with the Israel Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group.

“Eighty percent of the border area is now in the hands of (Syrian) opposition forces,” he said, adding that if more nations withdrew, the militant presence would only rise.

For now, Israel is merely remaining vigilant.

“We have to be very cautious about our retaliation policy,” said Oreg, emphasizing that the priority should be to keep careful tabs on the Nusra Front and other groups' capabilities, while sharing any intelligence judiciously.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich

U.N. says 43 Golan peacekeepers seized by Syria militants, 81 trapped


Militants fighting the Syrian army have detained 43 U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights and trapped another 81 in the region, and the world body is working to secure their release, the United Nations said on Thursday.

The affected peacekeepers are from the Philippines and Fiji, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

“During a period of increased fighting beginning yesterday between armed elements and Syrian Arab Armed Forces within the area of separation in the Golan Heights, 43 peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were detained early this morning by an armed group in the vicinity of Al Qunaytirah,” the U.N. press office said in a statement.

It added that another 81 UNDOF peacekeepers were being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah. Dujarric said the 81 trapped troops were from the Philippines and the 43 seized ones from Fiji.

“The United Nations is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers, and to restore the full freedom of movement of the force throughout its area of operation,” it said.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, president of the Security Council this month, told reporters the trapped peacekeepers were surrounded by Islamist militants.

The 15-nation Security Council, which was meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria, was also discussing the issue of the kidnapped peacekeepers, Lyall Grant said.

The Philippine army said in a statement that militants and had surrounded the Philippine contingent’s encampments with Fijian hostages in tow and demanded that the Filipino troops surrender their firearms.

“The Philippine peacekeepers held their ground and demonstrated their resolve to defend their positions,” it said. “They did not surrender their firearms as they may in turn be held hostage themselves.”

The Security Council issued a statement strongly condemning the seizure of the peacekeepers and calling for their immediate release. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the council word's in his own statement of condemnation.

Reporters asked Dujarric if the United Nations was in contact with the group holding the Fijians. He declined to specify who the world body was in contact with but said there was communication under way. “There are contacts being held at different levels, on the mission and on the ground,” he said. “They are talking to representatives of various armed groups that they have … operational contact with. They are talking to countries in the region.”

Dujarric was also asked about the rules for peacekeepers in such situations.

“In extreme circumstances, these troops are trained and prepared and equipped to defend themselves, but, obviously, each situation has to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

FIJI ARMY CHIEF SAYS COMMITTED

U.N. officials say that the peacekeepers, whose job is to monitor the cessation of hostilities, carry small arms that are only to be used in extreme circumstances. In previous situations where UNDOF peacekeepers were held hostage, the troops did not use their weapons.

The Quneitra crossing on the Golan is a strategic plateau captured by Israel in a 1967 Middle East war. Syria and Israel technically remain at war. Syrian troops are not allowed in an area of separation under a 1973 ceasefire formalized in 1974.

UNDOF monitors the area of separation, a narrow strip of land running about 45 miles (70 km) from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan. There are 1,223 UNDOF peacekeepers from six countries.

Before the Syrian civil war, now in its fourth year, the region was generally quiet and the peacekeepers had mostly found their biggest enemy to be boredom.

The force's personnel come from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines. The United Nations said this week that the Philippines has decided to pull out of UNDOF, and from a U.N. force in Liberia, which is struggling with an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

Blue-helmeted U.N. troops were seized by militants in March and May 2013. In both of those cases they were released safely.

Austria, Japan and Croatia have all pulled their troops out of UNDOF due to the deteriorating security situation and spillover from the Syrian war.

But Fijian Army Commander Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga told Reuters in an interview on Friday that he would not be recommending to his government that Fiji follow suit.

“If I was to make any recommendation, I would increase our forces in Syria. That would be my recommendation,” he said by phone from Fiji.

“We will not make any recommendations of pulling out from the U.N. or any other engagement, because our contribution to U.N. peacekeeping – if we don't want to do this, then who else in the world would want to do this?”

He added that he was confident the Fijians would be released soon based on the strength of their contacts in the Golan Heights region.

Additional reporting by Matt Siegel in Sydney and Rosemarie Francisco in Manila; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Tom Brown, Jeremy Laurence and Ken Wills

Syrian planes bomb border post near Israel that was captured by rebels


Syrian jets shelled rebel positions near a border crossing close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that was seized by rebels in some of the heaviest clashes in the strategic area this year, rebels and residents said on Thursday.

Al-Qaida's Syria wing Nusra alongside moderate rebel groups who had launched the attack early on Wednesday on the border post were “holding ground” despite the heavy bombardment, according to a source in the Islamist Beit al Maqdis brigade, whose fighters were involved in the fighting.

[Related: U.N. says 43 Golan Heights peacekeepers seized by militants]

Abu Iyas al Horani, a spokesman for another rebel group operating in the area, said at least six rebels were killed in the latest spillover of violence in the area that lies almost 20 kilometers west of the town of Quneitra, the main urban center, which is under state control.

The crossing is monitored by the United Nations, which oversees traffic between the two enemy countries, but the distance between the two warring adversaries' posts is some 200 meters (yards).

During the fighting, two Israelis were wounded by stray bullets, a soldier and a civilian, both in the Golan Heights. Israel responded with artillery fire at two Syrian army positions, the Israeli military said on Wednesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 Syrian soldiers and 14 rebel fighters were killed in the clashes. The organization gathers information from all sides in the Syrian war.

A U.N. spokeswoman earlier said the organization's peacekeepers could not confirm whether the rebels had seized the crossing, “as fighting is ongoing” at one of its gates.

Rebels, who included Al-Qaida inspired militants hostile to the Jewish state, last year briefly took the Quneitra border crossing with Israel and now control many villages in the area.

Hundreds of Nusra fighters who fled from the eastern Deir al-Zor province after being driven out by their hardline rival, the Islamic State, earlier this year have regrouped in southern Syria, boosting a growing rebel presence in that area, activists say.

Earlier this year, Nusra and its allies seized several army bases near the town of Nawa, one of the biggest rebel gains in the south during the three years of Syria's war.

The advances in the south were important not just because they expand rebel control close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and the Jordanian border, but because Assad's power base in Damascus lies just 40 miles to the north.

Rebels say a stretched Syrian army fighting on several fronts that has already lost control of large parts of the countryside in southern Syria wants to ensure it does not lose control of the towns of Nawa and Quneitra in the Golan foothills and the city of Deraa, along the border with Jordan.

The southern front's potential as a launchpad for an offensive against the capital means it could ultimately pose the main challenge to Assad.

Rebels have repeatedly launched several offensives aimed at ultimately advancing towards the capital Damascus but they complain lack of sufficient support by Assad's Western and Gulf enemies has prevented them from making real progress.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Ken Wills

Video shows Islamic State executing scores of Syrian soldiers


Islamic State fighters executed scores of Syrian soldiers captures when the militants seized an airbase in the province of Raqqa at the weekend, according to a video posted on YouTube on Thursday.

The video, confirmed as genuine by an Islamic State fighter, showed the bodies of dozens of men lying face down wearing nothing but their underwear. They were stretched out in a line that appeared to be dozens of yards long.

A separate pile of bodies was shown nearby. Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.

The caption beneath it said the dead numbered 250. An Islamic State fighter in Raqqa told Reuters via the Internet: “Yes, we have executed them all.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in the war, put the death toll at more than 120.

Islamic State, a radical offshoot of al-Qaida, stormed Tabqa airbase on Sunday after days of clashes with the army and said it had captured and killed soldiers and officers in one of the bloodiest confrontations yet between the two sides.

The capture of Tabqa, the Syrian army's last foothold in that area, and apparent parading and killing of large numbers of its soldiers shows how Islamic State has cemented its grip on the north of the country.

The video begins by showing the captives apparently being marched in the desert with their hands behind their heads and watched by armed men. An Islamic State fighter repeatedly shouts out “Islamic State”, to which the men reply “It shall remain”.

NOT AN ALLY

Islamic State controls roughly a third of Syria, mostly areas in the north and east of the country. The United States has launched airstrikes on the same group over the border in Iraq and is considering doing the same in Syria.

The Syrian government, which is shunned by the West, has presented itself as a partner in a war on Islamist extremists.

But Washington, which has built its Syria policy on Assad leaving power, says he is part of the problem. French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday Assad was no ally in the fight against Islamic State.

Syrian warplanes on Thursday hit Islamic State targets in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, another of its strongholds, in an air strike that killed some of the group's commanders, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Observatory said the planes struck a building used as an Islamic State headquarters during a meeting of its commanders.

Syrian state TV reported that the army “eliminated more than 10 terrorists” in an attack east of Deir al-Zor military airport, including two men it named as Islamic State leaders in the province, and destroyed 14 armoured vehicles.

Syrian state television reported on Sunday that its troops had withdrawn from the base and regrouped but it has not reported any army deaths or captures. It has said Islamic State suffered heavy losses in the battle over the base.

SECTARIAN INSULTS

Another video posted online appeared to show at least one Syrian soldier being interrogated before a group of other captured men in their underwear, as voices off camera shout sectarian insults.

The soldier identifies himself as an officer and says he is from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, like Assad and the majority of high-ranking military officers. Islamic State members are Sunni Muslims.

The interrogator shouts insults at the soldier, suggesting Alawites are born out of wedlock. When at one point the soldier briefly looks down at the floor and rubs his eyes, another interrogator throws a metal rod at him, making him flinch.

“How many have you killed? How many have you raped?” the interrogator shouts. The soldier replies: “None. I've been stationed here in the airport.”

The interrogator asks why the soldier had been fighting on behalf of Assad and did not defect and he replies that he would have just been sent back to the army.

“They would have sent you right back to the army? And we're going to send you right back to hell: by slaughter,” the interrogator says, making him chant Islamic State slogans.

Although it is not clear how widespread public anger in Syria might be about the fall of the air base, some people supportive of the army have expressed anger on social media.

The Islamic State militants aim to set up a trans-border caliphate in the Iraqi and Syrian territory they have captured.

The United States has carried out air strikes on Islamic State in Iraq and left open the option for similar action in Syria.

Additional reporting by Beirut bureau; Editing by Tom Perry and Tom Heneghan

Ruth and Judea Pearl on James Foley, Daniel Pearl and the pragmatic fight against evil


As the online video of an ISIS militant’s murder of American freelance journalist James Foley went viral on the Internet last week, the gruesome scene recalled another journalist’s murder more than 12 years ago. In 2002, al-Qaida member Khalid Sheikh Mohammed killed Daniel Pearl, an accomplished foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Pearl had thought he would be meeting an interview source in Karachi, Pakistan, but instead was targeted for being a Jew.

He did not die in vain. As soon as his parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl, and sisters, Tamara and Michelle, learned about Danny’s murder, they turned their sorrow into an effort to promote peace and understanding by creating the Daniel Pearl Foundation. In addition to a global network of concerts on the theme of “Harmony for Humanity,” they support U.S. fellowships for Muslim journalists from the Middle East and South Asia, who come here to work in newsrooms in the United States, including spending a week at this Jewish newspaper.  

The Pearls spoke with the Journal at their Encino home about their continuing work with the foundation, the resonance for them of Foley’s murder, and their views and experiences of the Muslim world today.

 

Jewish Journal: What would you say to James Foley’s parents if you were to speak to them now?

Ruth Pearl: Find comfort in the beautiful memories you have of him, as a young man and as a committed journalist; no one can take those memories from you.

I miss Danny every day. But any time I think of him, as a child or an awe-inspiring, beautiful young man, or look at his pictures or talk to his old friends, it gives me warmth and comfort. 

 

JJ: You’ve thrown yourselves into creating a foundation that promotes peace and understanding, creating a new legacy in your son’s name. Would you suggest to the Foleys doing the same?

RP: Given the shock and outpouring of support from the public, it was impossible not to go for it. Danny was killed not only for being an American journalist, but also for his religion, and that presented us with the mission of promoting tolerance and East-West understanding. I can’t be sure if we are making a difference, but the fact that it’s keeping me so busy, evidently, is keeping me from feeling sorry for myself. I miss Danny every second; it doesn’t change. Observing our journalism fellows’ achievements, as they return to their home countries, is inspiring and rewarding. Our fellows come from a culture of seeking revenge and are deeply impressed by our inviting them to join us in tikkun olam, not revenge.  If the Foley family decides to take this path, they should be aware of the enormity of the task. 

 

JJ: When Danny traveled to places like Pakistan, did you ever say to him, “Don’t go”? As parents, did you ever try to stop him?

Judea Pearl: Constantly, we worried. And constantly, we would tell him, “Be careful.” And he was careful, and as a matter of fact, he wrote a protocol for safety for the Wall Street Journal. But as a journalist, this was his interest, and his commitment, so we trusted his judgment.

RP: I’ll tell you a story. One time, when Danny was about to go to Iraq, we were especially concerned, as I was born in Baghdad. So we thought, under the Saddam Hussein regime, he might be targeted. Danny agreed not to go but told us, “This is my job, so please don’t ask me again.”

 

JJ: When we spoke recently about the death of Foley, you said, “The only answer for democracy is journalism.” Why do you believe that? 

JP: As the family of Daniel Pearl, we found solace in journalists. They identified with Danny’s story, they identified with our mission, and we felt we had a listening ear within this community.

But who cares about democracy today? When [President George W.] Bush went into Iraq in the name of democracy, many laughed at him, and for a good reason. The recipient side is not interested in receiving it, and the giving side is ashamed of offering it. I still believe in it — that democracy is the solution, and that journalism is the vehicle through which we can achieve it. But it doesn’t sell anymore.

Listen to what ISIS is saying: “We don’t need your democracy.” And not only them, the Muslim Brotherhood has been saying it for the past 80 years.

 

JJ: When journalists take risks — like Danny or Foley did — their mission is often to tell the stories of the humanity on the other side, as well. 

JP: Journalists are our only means of communicating with the “other side.” Remember, normal journalistic channels are choked now, because many journalists’ guilds, even from Jordan and Egypt, forbid their members to report from Israel, or visit Israel, or even associate with Israeli journalists. Given this, Muslim readers have no channel to Israel, and yet Israel is the litmus test for Muslim moderation — so, in effect, they have no channel to moderation.

 

JJ: You came up with this notion for the foundation within a week of learning Danny had died?

JP: We were devastated, of course, but everybody said, “You have to start a foundation.” It was natural to do it. You have to capitalize on what you have. We had Danny’s legacy, and we felt pressure to leverage it and to fight the hatred that took his life. He could not just disappear from the world. So it was very natural; we didn’t think twice.

We also had a vision that, because Danny had so many friends in the Arab world, they would help to keep his legacy alive; they would be our friends, and they would help us share his vision among their peers. It was the wrong assumption. His friends in Al Jazeera abandoned us immediately. They were probably afraid. Because in their world, he became somewhat suspect. After all, maybe he was an agent for the CIA?

Listen to the BBC now, on the story of James Foley. It’s the same: The callers, British Muslims said, “We don’t even know if he was combatant, or not.” One said, “We don’t even know his political views.” This is the mentality among BBC listeners.

Ruth and Judea Pearl. Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images

JJ: So do you still believe you’re fulfilling Danny’s legacy, as you’d hoped to?

JP: Between him and us, there is perfect agreement. But whether it’s accomplishing more than just a drop in the bucket, I don’t know. 

 

JJ: But what about the saying in the Talmud: “Save one life, save the world”?

JP: Yes, and here’s another one: You don’t have the option of stopping what you’re supposed to do. You do your share and let others judge if it’s a drop in the bucket, or more.

What makes it even more complicated is that we keep being reminded that people need us. They tell us: “You give us the empowerment for optimism. Danny reminds us of the nobility of the profession. He makes our music sound better; you’re reminding us that there’s a purpose to society.” It doesn’t always translate into help, but it does translate into an emotional pressure to continue, because we owe it to them.

 

JJ: Most people these days criticize or put down journalism and the media. Fox News, for example.

JP: Let’s talk about Fox News. In the past week, I got more requests to be interviewed on Fox News than from the “enlightened media.”

 

JJ: Why is that?

JP: First of all, they want to speak out against terrorism, and they feel comfortable doing it. CNN doesn’t know how to do that. They are afraid of offending someone. 

 

JJ: I’ve known you for some years now, and despite everything, you still surprise me with your optimism, and also with your anger.

JP: I am not angry. I’m just pragmatic. I was trained as an engineer, and I want to be effective. So if I’m angry, I’m angry for missing an opportunity to do something effective that I could have done.

In this instance, I’m angry at Al Jazeera, because I think it’s the world’s largest recruitment camp for terrorists, and the world’s largest school of combustible, anti-Western anger. I’m angry at the journalist community for treating Al Jazeera like just another TV channel and not putting them in their place for featuring arch-terrorists like Samir Kuntar and Khaled Mashal as role models for Arab youth. 

Ruth said, “Everyone should write to CNN and tell them not to show James Foley in his orange outfit.” Show the executor, but show a separate picture of Foley as he was as a reporter. Do not put them side by side. Let the world see the difference, but at the same time, don’t show Foley that way. You do not show rape. It’s not right to show a person facing a barbaric execution. We fought against it when a photo from Danny’s video was displayed by the Boston Phoenix. We explained and explained that this is serving the cause of the perpetrators. We said, “It’s not for Danny or for us; it’s for your children.” The eye can scar the mind, and the mind will scar the soul.

Beheading projects weakness and defeat, and I don’t want your children to feel defeated. That’s what I told the editor of the Boston Phoenix, who was the first to display it. “Don’t let your children feel defeated, and they will. It’s a very primitive but effective technique.”

With Danny, they ran it in Saudi Arabia to get recruitment. We Westerners fail to understand that half of mankind today is aroused by cruelty.

I’ll tell you something: I almost canceled this conversation today because I could not think about Foley without thinking about Daniel Tragerman, the 4-year-old Israeli boy killed by a mortar attack from Gaza last week. I watched him on Israeli television — the way he danced, the way he smiled, he really got my heart.

I realized, it’s a triangle here — James Foley, Daniel Pearl and Daniel Tragerman — three torches of man’s inhumanity to man. Why is it that only when terrorists behead someone we notice that inhumanity? In Sderot, they have been showered with rocket attacks for years, which is a “war crime” by any legal standard. And yet, [United Nations Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon says, “We need to urge both sides.” “Both sides” connotes symmetry and indicates a failure of the United Nations and its leadership to distinguish a “crime” from a “side.”

Daniel Tragerman, a 4-year-old Israeli boy, was killed Aug. 22 by a mortar attack from Gaza in southern Israel.

JJ: So, in the triangle of Daniel Tragerman, Daniel Pearl and James Foley, what do you see?

JP: We have lost our moral compass. Danny’s story used to remind people that there is a crisp distinction between good and evil in the world. And now, so does Foley. But, unfortunately, Daniel Tragerman did not. We’re not supposed to say that Hamas is a terrorist organization. It might offend their supporters-bankers in Qatar. We need to put Daniel Tragerman in this triangle, because he is a victim of the same evil. And if I risk offending His Majesty, so be it.

Israel is the only society in the world that has managed, not to eradicate, but to curtail terrorism, and everybody is angry with her, because she reminds the world of its impotence.

 

JJ: Do you think what you’re doing with the Pearl journalist fellows has an effect?

JP: First of all, the fellows come to America and see what America is all about. Of course, when asked in their country, they’re not going to say, “America is all good.” But they are going to resist the tendency of their peers to put down America as the great Satan. They won’t accept the prevailing street norm that America is evil; that it’s against Muslims and that it has one intention in mind: to oppress Islam.

I think our fellows, when they go home, will offer more nuanced views to their readers. And that’s good enough. 

 

JJ: Have you seen results?

JP: We know of their achievements and publications. But we don’t know what goes on in the newsroom or at editorial meetings. We don’t know whether they moderate their peers or succumb to peer pressure. But it’s the best we can do. They seem to have a spine, and on that basis, the investment pays off now, and it will pay off over many years.

 

JJ: So, putting aside the immediacy of pragmatism for a moment, can you answer one last question, this time about the future? In light of what is happening in the Arab world now, are you frightened or hopeful?

RP: To see a beautiful human being shining and then slaughtered, it kills your hope. On the other hand, meeting our fellows gives you hope.

What Ramy knew about the fall of Assad and the rise of the Islamic State


After a few years of the cold shoulder, I finally heard from my Syrian friend, Ramy Mansour, and his message couldn’t have been more clear: “I told you so.”

Ramy didn’t use exactly those words. But his Facebook message to me, after years of silence, essentially summarized what the regime of Bashar Assad has been saying since the Arab Spring swept into Syria three years ago: that if Assad fell, Islamist terrorist thugs would rise.

I met Ramy in 2007. He came to the United States as a Daniel Pearl Fellow, one of just two or three Muslim journalists from the Middle East and South Asia selected each year to work for six months at a major American newspaper, in his case the Los Angeles Times. As part of their fellowship, the Pearl fellows also agree to spend one week at the Jewish Journal. 

Most of the Pearl fellows meet their first real Jews at the Jewish Journal — Ramy was our first real Syrian. But he was vastly different from the other fellows.

He was a handsome, buff 20-something journalist, with a close-shaved head, dark eyes and a cigarette always in hand.   

The other fellows over the years have come to us genuinely open to learning about America — its politics and its culture — and about Judaism. Ramy, by contrast, had a way of being apolitical, completely stuck in his beliefs and dismissive of my opinions — all in the same sentence.

When I asked him whether he was allowed to write positively about Israel in his independent paper, he said, “No.” 

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Because there’s nothing positive about Israel,” he said.

After Ramy left, we kept in touch through Facebook for a while. He became a broadcaster and eventually anchored a major TV news show. When the Syrian revolution broke out, I sent him a message of concern and wrote, with astounding naiveté, that I hoped freedom would prevail.

Ramy stopped messaging me.

Meanwhile, I noticed posted on his Facebook page diatribes against the Islamists that were, he wrote, the true face of the Syrian resistance. Sure, I thought, and Assad is Thomas Jefferson.

Two weeks ago, I posted my column on the persecution of Syrian Christians and other minorities at the hands of the Islamic fundamentalist ISIS militants. ISIS has seized a territory the size of Jordan in northern Iraq and Syria, slaughtered hundreds of Syrian government and rebel fighters, and last week a video was released of the beheading of the American journalist James Foley. Why hasn’t the West done more to stop them, I wondered?

Soon, I had my first message from Ramy in years. He wrote, “Hi Rob, Please ask this question to American government … Why American government supports Syrian opposition and all American Arms go to ISIS? Thanks my friend.”

In other words, I told you so.

Was Ramy right? For people like me who supported the Syrian revolution, it’s an important gut-check to ask. The Middle East is Murphy’s Law with sand, and perhaps support for the brutal Assad regime might have prevented the chaos that led to the rise of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).

But Syrian experts wiser than I still maintain that had President Barack Obama and the West quickly and intelligently armed and aided the legitimate resistance, they could have toppled Assad, consolidated power, and found a way to include Islamists à la Tunisia, and voilà — a new Syria would have been born.

But Obama didn’t listen to them, or to me, or to Hillary Clinton. Maybe he foresaw that even that choice was illusory: After all, the rebel groups allied themselves to what was then the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (now ISIS or the Islamic State) and Jabhat al-Nusrah (Syria’s al-Qaida wing) through late 2012. 

So who knows, maybe Obama was right, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Or maybe his fears were self-fulfilling. In any case, here we are, fighting the very people we most fear, ISIS, alongside the very people we most loathe, Assad and the mullahs of Tehran.   

The more important question now is: Now what do we do?

At the heart of the problem are two vacuums. One is the vacuum created by our half-assed support for the Syrian resistance. We provided enough aid to weaken the Syrian regime, but not enough to allow non-Islamist forces to consolidate power.  ISIS, backed by Qatari money, filled the void. 

Unlike al-Qaida, these groups have command and control and advanced weaponry.  On the northern border with Israel, they have rockets that make the stuff Hamas sends into Israel look like cherry bombs. 

“When you have boys with guns who have nothing to lose, they’re going to shoot them off, unless you go in and take them away,” James Prince, the head of the Democracy Council, told me by phone after returning from a recent trip to Syria. 

A long-term solution, Prince said, means supporting military action and bolstering civil societies across Syria, so people won’t have to turn to ISIS to run schools and bakeries and the like.

But the success of ISIS is also a victory for awful ideas. You can get a glimpse of the Salafist, or Islamic fundamentalist, rhetoric in Dabiq, the monthly online English-language magazine the group publishes, a kind of jihadi jewishjournal.com.

“It is only a matter of time and patience before [ISIS] reaches Palestine to fight the barbaric Jews,” a column in the Ramadan issue says. 

These images and messages cross continents and enter young minds.

Jessica Stern, who spent four years interviewing terrorists around the world for her acclaimed 2003 book, “Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill,” recently told NPR that the young men and women who flock to join ISIS are drawn by a sense of alienation, humiliation and purposelessness.

In other words, the real vacuum of Syria attracts young men suffering an inner vacuum of the spirit.  

And that is a dire threat to us all.

“It is only a matter of time before Western veterans of the Syrian conflict bring the jihad back home,” Stern said.

Prince, who is no alarmist, put it to me in even harsher terms. “As far as Israel and the Jewish community is concerned,  I’ve never seen a threat like this,” he said. “Palestinian  nationalism pales in comparison to the Salafi movement. And it knows no bounds. Kill a Jew anywhere. ISIS is preaching there’s no boundaries. 

“Osama bin Laden didn’t pay a lot of attention to Israel. But look at what [ISIS] is doing to Christians. The rhetoric is worse for Jews. You’re going to get crazies that are going to take it to the next level.”

So the war against ISIS is a war for inclusion and against alienation, to be fought as much with words and laws in the cities of Europe and America as with guns in Syria and Iraq.

It is also a war that is not yet lost. That is something I’ve learned from the Pearl fellows who have followed Ramy. To a person, they have proven themselves committed to the courageous practice of both independent journalism and moderate Islam . They, too, are young, and eager to see the forces of extremism and oppression in their countries defeated. They are a reminder that the people who pay the greatest price for Muslim extremism are other Muslims.

“You know things take time,” Asma Ghribi, a Tunisian journalist and one of this year’s Pearl fellows told me just a couple of weeks ago. “The French Revolution became bloody and people died, and it took them more than 100 years. Just give us some time.”


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Islamist fighters seize Syria crossing near Israel


Al-Qaida's Syrian wing Nusra Front and other Islamist fighters have taken control of a border crossing on the line dividing Syria from the Golan Heights, a group monitoring the Syrian conflict said on Wednesday.

The fighters, who have vowed to “liberate” the area, captured the Quneitra post on the Syrian side from forces loyal to President Bashar Assad after fierce clashes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The organization gathers information from all sides in the Syrian war.

The crossing is monitored by the United Nations, which oversees traffic between the two enemy countries but the distance between the two warring adversaries' posts is some 656 feet.

During the fighting, two Israelis were wounded by stray bullets, a soldier and a civilian, both in the Golan Heights. Israel responded with artillery fire at two Syrian army positions, the Israeli military said. It was the latest spillover of violence from the three-year conflict.

Stephane Dujarric, a U.N. spokesman, said the organization's peacekeepers could not confirm whether the rebels had seized the crossing, “as fighting is ongoing” at one of its gates.

Dujarric reported “heavy fighting between the Syrian armed forces and armed members of the opposition” in the Quneitra area adding that several mortars struck near U.N. positions near the peacekeepers' base, but that they took shelter apparently avoiding casualties.

He said the commander of peacekeepers there known as the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was in touch with Syria and the Israeli military urging both to “exercise restraint and prevent an escalation of the situation.”

Shelling from the Syrian civil war has occasionally reached into the Israeli-controlled Golan, occasionally causing injuries and damage to soldiers and civilians. Israel has said the firing has sometimes been deliberately aimed at its troops.

Israel captured the western part of the strategic plateau from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed it, a move that is not internationally recognized.

While the Syrian army has a presence on the Golan, some areas are controlled by rebels fighting to topple Assad, including Al-Qaida-inspired militants hostile to the Jewish state.

Rebels last year briefly took the Quneitra border crossing with Israel and now control many villages in the area. [ID:nL6N0O61O0]

In early July, another Al-Qaida off-shoot, Islamic State, which controls roughly a third of Syria and is the strongest insurgent group in the war against Assad, swept into Iraq, taking control of swathes of territory.

In the new Middle East, an embarrassment of evils


One of the crazy things about following the Middle East is trying to keep track of all the bad guys. Remember when Iran was the big bad Islamic wolf? Or al-Qaida? Or Hezbollah? Or the Muslim Brotherhood? Or Hamas?

Now, as if in a flash, along comes ISIS to become the evil flavor of the month. Seriously, how much evil can one region generate?

A screenwriter couldn’t make up such a cocktail of hatred. Just for starters, you have Shias against Sunnis, Persians against Arabs, Arabs against Turks, Turks against Persians, Iraqis against insurgents, Syrians against insurgents, insurgents against insurgents, Lebanese against Syrians, Egyptians against Qataris, Saudis against Iran — and everyone against the Jews.

I’ll leave it to the scholars to explain how each shade of evil differs from the next. I know that a lot of people these days are into the “Who’s worse? Hamas or ISIS?” game, but from where I sit, whether you chop people’s heads off or hide behind children to murder other children, evil is evil.

Even that old standby, “the enemy of your enemy is my friend,” doesn’t really hold up anymore. Just look at ISIS and Syria.

One of the sworn enemies of ISIS just happens to be … yeah, the biggest murderer of the new century, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who’s responsible for the deaths of nearly 200,000 of his own people.

I know ISIS is the height of evil, but can I really cheer for that Syrian butcher against anybody?

Same with the Jew-hating Holocaust deniers in Iran – they also hate ISIS. Aside from the fact that we belong to the same species, do I really want to have anything in common with the nuclear mullahs of Persia—even if it’s a common enemy?

It’s hard to fathom that one of the nastiest, Jew-hating threats to Israel – Hezbollah – could now be fighting in Syria against one of the nastiest, Jew-hating threats to Israel—ISIS.

Consider also Saudi Arabia, presumably in the “moderate” camp of the Mideast jungle. We’re now supposed to be buddy-buddies with the Saudi royalty because they’re the enemies of Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. But wait. Guess who for years has been funding the most violent strains of Islam in the region? That’s right, the Ferrari-driving House of Saud.

Those turkeys are surely coming home to roost.

The craziness is everywhere. Remember when the Muslim Brotherhood was running the show in Egypt and helping smuggle lethal weaponry to their Hamas brothers in Gaza? Well, the Brotherhood became so hated in Egypt that most of them are now in jail. So, guess who’s now Egypt’s sworn enemy? That’s right, Hamas, the sworn enemy of Israel.

Of course, the Egyptian people are not exactly crowding into Tahrir Square to cheer on the Zionist army as it fights Hamas. But cheering privately? Highly likely.

We saw another example of the new Middle East craziness a few weeks ago when Egypt first tried to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

On one side you had Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and (yes!) Israel—all sworn enemies of Hamas– and on the other side you had Turkey, Qatar and (yes!) the United States. Why would the U.S. be on the “wrong” side?

The best analysis I’ve read is that President Obama is obsessed with closing a nuclear deal with Iran, and since the Egyptian-led coalition is strongly opposed to Iran, Obama was reluctant to poke Iran in the eye by empowering the anti-Iran coalition on any issue.

In any event, now that ISIS has crossed the line by beheading an American journalist, Obama is facing some serious cognitive dissonance: Should he align with the evil mullahs of Iran or the butcher of Damascus against the evil killers of ISIS, at least covertly? Good luck with that one.

I knew things were getting hairy when I asked my daughter in Tel Aviv how she was holding up with all the latest Hamas rockets, and she replied: “We’re worried about ISIS now.”

This is what the new Middle East has come down to– an embarrassment of evils. ISIS may be a new brand of evil, but when I look at longtime murderous entities like Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran or Syria, all I can think is: Pick your poison, folks.

If a sinister game designer wanted to create a new video game to capture what’s going on right now in the Middle East jungle, that’s a good name right there: “Pick your poison.”

There wouldn’t be any good guys in this game– just an orgy of bad guys. The whole fun would be in deciding who the baddest guy is at any moment, and knocking down as many of these guys as possible.

The ultimate goal would be to take down the baddest “bad guy” of them all, the one the whole world really hates: Israel.

The killing machine called ISIS


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Long before ISIS – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – released the horrific video depicting the execution of journalist James Foley, the world had already become acutely aware that there was no limit to the group’s brutality and ruthlessness. For months, news outlets have been presenting a virtual non-stop horror show of mass beheadings and the slaughter of innocents as ISIS carves out a swath of land from northeastern Syria and western Iraq upon which to establish its “caliphate” – a state run strictly according to its extreme vision of Islamic (“sharia”) law. 

Beyond its repulsive recording of ISIS inhumanity, the Foley video is demonstrative in the detail it offers about ISIS, the organization. That the killer spoke with a British accent is, for instance, indicative of the global recruitment capability for ISIS fighters and the fear of Western security officials that the radical terror group is attracting adherents from nations including France, Britain and the United States, some of whom will presumably return home at some point and turn their weapons and killing experience on their own countrymen.   

Who are the people behind this video? How did the Islamic State, in an age of so many extremist terror groups, come to occupy such a pre-eminent role in the Middle East?

The roots of the Islamic State can be traced back to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. As the United States launched “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime, more and more local insurgency groups began to emerge in an attempt to confront the invading Western forces. One such group was Jamaat Al-Tawhid Wa Al-Jihad, led by Abu Musaab Al-Zarqawi, a radical Islamic terrorist reported to have been intricately involved in the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Under his auspices, Al-Zarqawi gathered a few small insurgency groups together to form Al-Tawhid.  One year later, in 2004, the group pledged its allegiance to Al-Qa’ida, becoming its local franchise in Iraq.

By April 2011, the group, now called “Al-Qa’ida Iraq,” was headed by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, having replaced Al-Zarqawi and his successor, Egyptian-born Abu Ayub Al-Masri, both of whom had been assassinated in American air strikes.

Under Al-Baghdadi’s rule, the organization began following its perceived Islamist imperatives of conquering territories and imposing Sharia (Islamic religious) law upon them, all of which is designated to form part of its “Caliphate” – a Muslim empire.  At first, Al-Baghdadi focused on subjugating parts of Iraq; but later, following the Arab Spring of 2011 and the onset of its civil war, became determined to take over parts of Syria as well.

Despite its shared Islamist, Jihadist ideology, Al-Qa’ida chief and Osama Bin Laden successor Ayman Al-Zawahiri did not like Al-Tawhid’s competitive incursion into Syria where he was already operating a separate franchise there called the “Al-Nusra Front.” Al-Zawahiri insisted that Al-Baghdadi limit his organization’s activity to Iraq, but the latter openly defied his Al-Zawahiri’s diktat and continued his extravagant conquests.

Finally, in 2014, Al-Qa’ida publicly disowned Al-Tawhid, removing it from the Al-Qa’ida umbrella. Al-Tawhid then rebranded itself as the “Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham” using the historic Arabic name for Syria – or ISIS.

Driving ISIS to murder and displace its own people long after the last American soldier left Iraqi soil is the commitment of Al-Baghdadi and his force to “Wahhabism” – the puritanical following of Allah as the one and only ruling authority, with the accompanying notion that the virtue of Islam has been degraded by the materialistic lifestyle of the 21st century. Wahhabis, therefore, seek to return to the purity of the Quran, rejecting any modern interpretation of Islam while emulating the 6th century lifestyle of the Prophet Mohammed. For the fighters of ISIS, the choice presented to those it has vanquished – whether Sunni, Shiite, Christian or any other belief – is to convert or be killed.

On June 29, ISIS proclaimed the formation of an autonomous Caliphate in the regions it has conquered and named Al-Baghdadi as its “Caliph.” Dropping the repetitive “IS” and becoming simply “Islamic State,” — the name change signaled the organization’s larger goal of taking over the entire Middle East. 

“ISIS is taking a multipronged approach, it strikes multiple opponents in multiple directions at once, and doesn’t work in a linear fashion,” Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Service Institute (RUSI) in London told The Media Line. “It is trying to spread wherever it can and in any direction it can.”

On July 18, following the annexation of the Iraqi city of Mosul into the Islamic State, Al-Baghdadi’s forces issued an ultimatum to its 2,000-year old Christian community and threatened its members to convert to Islam or evacuate the city within 24 hours.

According to various eyewitnesses, ISIS militiamen drove across the city’s streets, marking all Christian property and residences with the Arabic letter “Nun,” which stands for “Nassrani” (“Christian” in Arabic). Christians were forced to leave their homes barefoot while militiamen looted their belongings. As of today, the majority of Mosul’s 25,000 Christians have been completely displaced from the city or killed, and around 30 churches, some thousands of years old, were desecrated or destroyed. Similar scenes of conquest also played out in the cities of Tikrit and Samarra. 

At the same time, thousands of Yazidis (an ethnic minority indigenous to Northern Iraq) were displaced from their homes, many brutally murdered, others were trapped or besieged.

The ISIS rampage is being felt beyond the growing borders of its caliphate and far from the Middle East. Utilizing modern technology such as the Internet and social media, the organization’s global recruiting in part explains the British-accented killer of James Foley. 

Disaffected young men from everywhere are finding ISIS and joining its ranks, according to James Lewis, senior fellow at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. He explained to The Media Line that the group attracts Muslims and others, “a real mix; most dangerous to Western nations because they blend in so easily. This is of particular concern to the United States and to European countries.”

According to Ghaffar Hussain, managing director of the Quilliam Foundation, “At least 2,000 Europeans have joined the ranks of ISIS — estimated at about 13,000 — including 900 from France; 500 from the United Kingdom; and the rest from Holland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Most are of Muslim descent or connected to Islam.”

The fear is that untold numbers of Western nationals who are trained by ISIS and fight alongside its minions will return home and direct their newly-honed propensity for violence inward.

Experts approached by The Media Line were of the opinion that there is only a military solution to the ISIS threat.

“The future of the Islamic State,” Joshi from RUSI concludes, “depends on whether or not someone will be willing to take it on militarily – be it the Iraqi Air Force, the Arab states, NATO, the U.S., or a combination of some of them.” He added that “if there is a coalition to support the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, both diplomatically and militarily, then the Islamic State may be contained”.

Ghassan Hussein agreed. “ISIS is not an organization that can be negotiated with and therefore only a military solution can solve this,” he said.

Despite the many uncertainties regarding the group’s future, one thing remains clear: from a small insurgent group formed over a decade ago to fight Western forces in Iraq, the Islamic State has grown today into an organized army, conquering, murdering and displacing anyone who defies its rule along the way.

From the Iraqi city of Mosul to the Lebanese city of Arsal, the Islamic State is on a constant expansion – becoming a tangible threat not only to Iraqis or Syrians, but also to those in Europe and the Untied States.

Jewish graves destroyed in Syrian city


Al-Qaida-linked terrorists reportedly demolished several ancient Jewish mausoleums in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

The graves were located in the historical town of Tadif, according to the semi-official Iranian FARS news agency and other Iranian news outlets. The terrorists reportedly belong to the al-Qaida-backed al-Nusra Front.

A tomb said to be that of Ezra the Scribe is located in the town. It is unclear if it was one of the damaged grave sites.

Several religious sites in Syria have been destroyed in the country’s two-year civil war.

Netayahu offers condolences to Kenya as Nairobi mall crisis nears end


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta over the al-Qaida-linked terror attack on a mall in Nairobi.

“Israel empathizes with the Kenyan people’s pain and with your own personal loss due to the terror attack. We value your nation’s determined struggle against terrorism,” Netanyahu said in a phone conversation on Monday night, according to his office.

The call came as security forces at the upscale Westgate mall worked to secure the area, free hostages and apprehend the terrorists.

At least 62 people are known killed in the attack and siege which began on Saturday afternoon, though the death toll could rise once the siege is completely over.

An explosion and gunfire were heard in the mall at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Associated Press reported, despite Kenyan government reports that the crisis was over.

Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said that two to three Americans and a British citizen of Arab origin were among the gunmen.

The French news agency AFP reported that Israel agents were involved in the rescue operations, something that was neither confirmed nor denied by Israeli officials.

One Israeli was injured and three others escaped harm, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Several Americans also were injured.

Militants from al Shabab, a Somalia-based terror group linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack. Al Shabab said the attack was revenge for Kenya’s military operations in Somalia that began nearly two years ago.

Al-Qaida-affiliated terror group says it’s resuming holy war against Jews


A terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaida that claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on northern Israel said it has resumed a jihad, or holy war, against the Jews.

The Lebanon-based Azzam Abdullah Brigades said the rocket attack last week was carried out “as part of the resumption of the jihad against the Jews.”

“We’ve frozen the activity for the sake of the blessed Syrian revolution,” read the statement posted Monday on the Twitter account of a radical Salafist cleric.

Azzam Abdullah Brigades, an offshoot of al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed responsibility for firing four long-range missiles into northern Israel, including two that fell in residential areas, causing damage to houses and cars in Nahariya and Acre.

The “green light given by Israel and the Western countries to Hezbollah in the fight against our people in Syria, so that Israel could safeguard its security, will not provide it with security,” the statement said. “Rather, it will bring it closer to the fire of the jihadi fighters and make it much more exposed to them.”

The attack gives the “Jewish conquerors an indication of the quality of rockets in our possession,” it said. “Haifa should be decorated with the most magnificent shrouds to greet our rockets.”

At least one rocket in the attack was intercepted by an Iron Dome anti-missile battery deployed in the area, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Group tied to al-Qaida says it fired on Eilat


A jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaida claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Eilat.

The Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted the rocket fired early Tuesday morning by the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, which operates in Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, from the Sinai near the Israel border.

The Iron Dome battery was moved to the Eilat area about a month ago.

The Mujahideen Shura Council in its statement claiming responsibility said the attack was carried out to avenge the deaths of four jihadi terrorists on Friday in a drone attack in the Sinai. The attack was blamed on Israel, though Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility.

“Eilat and other Jewish towns will not be enjoying security, tourism or economy. Jews will pay for the blood of the jihad fighters,” the statement said.

Israeli authorities late last week ordered the closure of the Eilat airport for several hours following a warning from Egyptian security services about a possible attack, according to reports.

Hotels in Eilat, a major tourist destination for Israelis and Europeans, are nearly filled at this time of year.

U.S. diplomatic posts in Israel reopen, 19 others in Mideast to remain closed


The U.S. diplomatic missions in Israel reopened after a daylong closure due to what was deemed a credible al-Qaida threat.

While the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, and the consulates in Jerusalem and Haifa reopened on Monday, the State Department issued a statement Sunday extending the closure of several diplomatic missions in the Middle East through Aug. 10 “out of an abundance of caution.”

“This is not an indication of a new threat stream, merely an indication of our commitment to exercise caution and take appropriate steps to protect our employees including local employees and visitors to our facilities,” said the statement issued by State Department spokesman Jen Psaki.

Diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa, Tripoli, Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali and Port Louis will remain closed this week, according to the statement.

The State Department on Aug. 3 issued a global travel alert for American citizens. The alert warned of possible terror attacks by al-Qaida operatives and affiliated terror groups from Sunday through the end of August.

Senior Obama administration officials met Saturday to discuss the terror threat. The meeting reportedly was led by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and included Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; Secretary of State John Kerry; Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; and CIA director John  Brennan.

“There is a significant threat stream, and we’re reacting to it,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also reportedly attended the meeting, told ABC on Sunday.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” said the electronic chatter among terror suspects about a possible attack was “very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.”

“This is the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years,” he said.

Two charged in Canada in Iran-al-Qaida plot


The Royal Canadian Mounted Police charged two men in a bomb plot it said was directed by al-Qaida elements based in Iran.

James Malizia, the assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said Monday that the men planned to bomb a train traveling from New York to Toronto on the Canadian side of the border.

“Had this plot been carried out, it would have resulted in innocent people being killed or seriously injured,” Malizia was quoted as saying by CTV.

He identified the two men as Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser, adding that neither was a Canadian citizen. He would not say their countries of origin. 

Malizia also did not elaborate on how the plot was, as he said, “supported by al-Qaida elements in Iran.”

The U.S. government in recent years has accused Iran of harboring terrorists in the group, although in neighboring Iraq, factions allied to the group and to Iran have often been in bloody conflict.

Report: Bulgaria lacks proof of Hezbollah involvement in terrorist attack


Bulgaria says there is no evidence that Hezbollah was behind an attack on Israelis last year.

According to the report Thursday on 24chasa.bg, Bulgarian authorities have identified an Arab with links to al-Qaida as a suspected accomplice in the bombing at the Black Sea resort of Burgas last July.

The report came shortly after Nikolai Mladenov, Bulgaria’s foreign minister, paid a surprise visit to Israel to brief leaders on its probe into the bombing.

Jerusalem blamed the suicide attack, which killed seven Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian, on Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas and Iran.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not disclose the details of the meeting with Mladenov.

A Bulgarian finding that Hezbollah was linked to the attack could lead to its classification as a terrorist group in the European Union.

Congress has in recent weeks called on European bodies to join the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in designating Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Al-Qaida places bounty on head of Jewish U.S. envoy to Yemen


Al-Qaida in Yemen has placed a bounty on the head of the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa, Gerald Feierstein.

In a message posted on terrorist websites, al-Qaida offered three kilograms worth of gold, or about $160,000, to anyone who kills the ambassador, who is Jewish.

The group also offered cash for the killing of American soldiers inside Yemen. Both offers are valid for the next six months, according to The Associated Press.

The statement called the awards a way to “inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad,” the statement reportedly said.

Feierstein has been ambassador to Yemen since September 2010. He formerly served as deputy chief of mission in Islamabad.

The Daily Beast quoted an unnamed Yemeni government official as saying that Feierstein is “very well protected” and that the “threats are taken seriously, and he is the most secured diplomat in Yemen.”

Al-Qaida in Yemen called on Muslims to kill U.S. diplomats working in Muslim countries following the release of a trailer of an anti-Muslim film showing the Prophet Muhammad in a negative light in September. Four U.S. diplomats, including the ambassador to Libya, were killed in Benghazi in September.

Joe Lieberman: No problem with Susan Rice


Departing U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman said he would not object to the nomination of Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as secretary of state.

Tuesday's apparent endorsement by Lieberman (I-Conn.) of Rice is largely symbolic, as he is retiring as senator and likely will not be serving by the time Hillary Rodham Clinton, the current secretary of state, steps down — a move anticipated early next year.

However, Lieberman's statement this week after meeting with Rice that she was telling “the whole truth” about why she initially depicted the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as a spontaneous eruption and not a planned terrorist attack undercuts criticism of Rice as unreliable by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Throughout much of his career, Lieberman has joined with McCain and Graham as a foreign policy hawk. His dissent now that he is free from such alliances could be used by Democrats to depict GOP attacks on Rice as political and not substantive.

The Benghazi attack is believed to have been the work of terrorists affiliated with al-Qaida — intelligence that Rice says was not made available to her in the days after the attack, when she was the Obama administration's point person in explaining U.S. reaction.

Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed in the attack.

President Obama has not said he would nominate Rice to the post, but also said he would not be deterred from doing so by McCain and Graham.

Sudan threatens to ‘strike back’ at Israel


A Sudanese government minister threatened to strike Israel, and the country called on the United Nations Security Council to condemn Israel, over the bombing of a weapons factory in Khartoum.

Sudan “reserves the right to strike back at Israel,” Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman said Wednesday, hours after the attack on the arms factory which left two dead.

Osman told reporters that the four military planes that attacked the plant belonged to Israel, and were seen entering the country's airspace from the east.

He said that the factory made “traditional weapons.”

Sudan on Wednesday asked the Security Council to condemn Israel.

“We reject such aggression and expect your esteemed council to condemn this attack because it is a blatant violation of the concept of peace and security,” Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, the Sudanese envoy to the U.N. reportedly said. .

Sudan accused Israel of attacking a weapons convoy traveling from Sudan to the Gaza Strip last December and of a similar attack in 2009, as well as targeting a car carrying a high-ranking Hamas official last spring and other targeted attacks on vehicles.

Sudan reportedly is a transit spot for weapons smuggling, particularly to Gaza through Egypt, and a center for al-Qaida terrorists.

Israeli officials on Wednesday and Thursday would neither confirm nor deny involvement in the attack.

Why al-Qa’ida found hotbed in Yemen?


On Saturday, Human Rights Watch released a report indicating that Yemeni government soldiers raided some hospitals in the southern port city of Aden in search of suspected Al-Qa’ida terrorists.

The report further stated that army troops have stormed hospitals and medical facilities in Aden at least five times since the beginning of this year, saying the raids led one hospital in the city to suspend its operations and others to turn patients away in fear of violence.

Human rights activist Mosa Al-Nimrani told The Media Line that, “Arresting wounded people is a crime that violates human rights conventions. The government can arrest the suspected terrorists, but it has first to make sure they avail of medical services.”

The HRW report was released one day after Al-Qa'ida loyalists launched an attack on a military base in the southern town of Shuqra, killing at least 15 soldiers and wounding scores of others. Shuqra, a town in Abyan province, had been taken over by Ansar Al-Sharia, the Yemeni Al-Qa’ida franchise, in 2011, but was retaken by the army earlier this year.

After the Ansar Al-Sharia members were kicked out of strongholds they had seized last year, the terrorist group resorted to carrying out deadly suicide attacks targeting high-ranking army commanders and sometimes launching surprise attacks against army posts.

In May, with American backing, the Yemeni army initiated a comprehensive offensive against the Al-Qa’ida-aligned terrorists at the behest of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, driving them out from their strongholds in the southern part of the country.

The victory was viewed as significant progress in the fight against the group, but its proven capability to continue to launch deadly attacks leaves many to wonder how Al-Qa'ida operatives are able to successfully hide from government and what makes them so dangerous.

Speaking with The Medial Line on condition of anonymity, one high-ranking security official who participated in the offensive against the terrorists in Abyan, theorized that, “Terrorists thrive and gain strength in areas of conflicts.”

“The terrorists found a sanctuary in Yemen because of the constant conflicts in the country,” he elaborated. “When they saw the 2011 unrest — the biggest conflict– they expanded their presence and attempted to establish ‘Islamic Emirates,’” he said.

Abdusalam Mohammed, the chairman of Abaad Studies and Research Center, told The Media Line that, “Al-Qa'ida, as well as any other militant group, exists where the governments are weak and unable to establish their authority.”

“Al-Qa'ida found a hotbed in Yemen because the central government is too weak to establish its authority in cities, let alone in distant and remote areas,” he said. “Yemen has rugged mountainous areas and vast deserts where Al-Qa’ida-linked fighters can hide from the government. It has also a coastline of about 2,200km (1,367 miles) on both the Arab and Red seas, through which terrorists can get supplies of weapons because the government can't protect it.”

Al-Nimrani shared Mohammed's thinking that the main factor behind the existence of Al-Qa'ida in Yemen is the fact that the government is too weak to establish its authority in every part of the country.

Gailan Abdulmalik, a resident of Abyan, where Al-Qa'ida is most active, told The Media Line that, “Al-Qa'ida members live normally. Some of them work in public offices; others work in trade and other businesses.”

Representing another way of looking at Al-Qa'ida in Yemen, Ali Al-Amad, a leader in the Houthi Movement, a Shiite group backed by Tehran, told The Media Line that Al-Qa'ida has been established in Yemen at the desire of some regional and international powers (referring to the U.S and its regional backers).

“Earlier this year, it was announced that Al-Qa'ida has a great number of fighters in some Yemeni cities and towns like Rada. Then they disappeared at once,” he cited as evidence that Al-Qa'ida in Yemen is the creation of regional and international powers and their local agents in the country. “They make it appear and disappear according to their will,” he said.

Al-Amad believes that “What has been attributed to Al-Qa'ida in the context  of the recent terrorist attacks and bombings comes within the framework of political conflicts between the war lords in the country,” an understanding that almost all Houthi followers share.

Al-Amad described President Hadi's inauguration speech, in which he pledged to make fighting terrorism in Yemen his priority, as a way of declaring that he would implement external powers' agendas in the country.

“He [Hadi] came to power via a US-backed, Gulf monarchies-drawn initiative. And this tells you the whole story.” Al-Amad said.

According to Mohammed, Al-Qa'ida in Yemen has been greatly weakened after the recent offensive against its operatives in the south.

Al-Qa'ida is currently practicing guerrilla war against army troops in which it depends largely on collaboration inside these military institutions as well as on the element of surprise, Mohammed said.

“Yemen, as well as the US, should not focus primarily on the Al-Qa'ida threat because it's no longer the biggest challenge facing the country. Currently, the biggest threats to Yemen's security as well as to the regional security are the expansion of the Houthi Group and the former regime which tries to sew chaos,” he concluded.

American kidnapped by al-Qaida asks Netanyahu to intervene


Kidnapped American Warren Weinstein called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help free him from his al-Qaida captors.

The plea from Weinstein, 71, was included in a video released by al-Qaida late Wednesday night.

“As a Jew, I am appealing to you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Jewish State of Israel, as one Jew to another, to please intervene on my behalf, to work with the mujahideen and to accept their demands so that I can be released and returned to my family, see my wife, my children and my grandchildren again,” he said in the video, according to reports.

Weinstein, of Rockville, Md., also said the U.S. government has “no interest” in his case.

He was kidnapped in August 2011 outside Pakistan while he was working for J.E. Austin Associates, a private company that advises Pakistani businesses.

In May he appealed to President Obama to save his life.

“My life is in your hands, Mr. President,” Weinstein, a former Peace Corps and USAID official, said on the video posted on Islamist websites. “If you accept the demands, I live. If you don't accept the demands, then I die. It's important that you accept the demands and act quickly and don't delay.”

The demands included a halt to U.S. airstrikes and the freeing of all al-Qaida and Taliban suspects, according to reports.

The United States has said it will not negotiate with al-Qaida, which the United States designates as a terrorist organization.

In a video released in March, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said he would swap Weinstein for prisoners in the U.S. with links to the organization. The video noted that Weinstein was Jewish.

Wife of kidnapped American worker in Pakistan pleads for his release


Wife of kidnapped American worker in Pakistan pleads for his release

August 13, 2012

(JTA)—The wife of Warren Weinstein, who was kidnapped in Pakistan by Al-Qaida gunmen, marked the first anniversary of his abduction with a plea for his return.

Elaine Weinstein released a statement Monday saying she fears that his health will “deteriorate” since he suffers from several medical conditions, and that his grandchildren ask for him every day, The Associated Press reported.

“It is impossible to describe the pain and sadness my daughters and I feel,” Elaine Weinstein reportedly said. “We are simply heartsick. I always imagined growing old with Warren and enjoying our family together.”

Weinstein, of Rockville, Md., was kidnapped in August 2011 outside Pakistan while he was working for J.E. Austin Associates, a private company that advises Pakistani businesses. Weinstein, 71, a former Peace Corps and USAID official, had worked in Pakistan for eight years and spoke the local language, Urdu.

In May, al-Qaida released a videotape of Weinstein in which he begs President Obama to save his life. In the video, Weinstein tells Obama that he wants to “live and hopefully rejoin my family and also enjoy my children, my two daughters, like you enjoy your two daughters.” Sitting before a platter of food, he also says he is in good health. It is not known when the video was recorded.

In a video released in March, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said that he would swap Weinstein for prisoners in the U.S. with links to the organization. The video noted that Weinstein was Jewish.

Mimicking Al-Qaida, militant threat grows in Sinai


They came in Toyota pick-up trucks, dozens of heavily armed masked men, firing machineguns and waving the black flag of Al-Qaida as terrified residents and police huddled indoors, and then disappeared again, melting away into the mountains and remote villages of Egypt’s Sinai desert.

The raid on the town of al-Arish in July 2011 was the first warning Egypt had of the strength of the jihadis in North Sinai. It was a warning largely unheeded until suspected Islamist militants killed 16 Egyptian border guards this month and drove a stolen armored car across the Israeli border before it was destroyed by Israeli forces.

Egypt is now pouring in troops to try to restore stability, and the sophistication of the border attack has finally set alarm bells ringing about the militant threat in the Sinai.

“Sinai is ideal and fertile ground for Al-Qaida,” said Khalil al-Anani, a Middle East specialist at Durham University in England. “It could become a new front for Al-Qaida in the Arab world.”

Diplomats and analysts say there is no evidence as yet of formal links between Al-Qaida and the Sinai militants – made up of Bedouin aggrieved at their treatment by Cairo, Egyptians who escaped prisons during last year’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak, and Palestinians from neighboring Gaza.

They blend a toxic mix of smuggling, gun-running and human trafficking with the “takfiri” ideology of Al-Qaida – which declares all Muslims who do not follow their purist, Salafist interpretation of Islam as “kafirs” – infidels. Crime and religion are soldered by ferocious opposition to Israel.

“The Sinai has become a base for all kinds of extremist groups,” Yitzhak Levanon, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, told Reuters. “Their overarching objective is to hurt us, to expel us, to set up a caliphate and shock the Middle East.”

And they pose a serious threat not just to Israel, but, perhaps more importantly, to Egypt.

Any attack on Israel that provoked Israeli retaliation could upset a peace treaty signed with Egypt in 1979 and put huge pressure on new Islamist President Mohamed Mursi. Or militants could turn west to attack the Suez Canal.

“It is much easier for these fundamentalist Bedouin groups inspired by extreme Salafi/Qaeda-like doctrine to attack ships in the Suez Canal than to mount an operation on the Israeli border,” said Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Sinai region, handed over to Egypt by Israel under the terms of their U.S.-brokered peace accord, has long been neglected by Cairo, leaving room for crime to flourish.

But residents in al-Arish, the administrative centre of North Sinai on the Mediterranean coast, said they realized the threat had become much more serious when their town was raided on July 29 last year.

‪‪“They looked like trained groups, not the normal thugs we see,” said one shopkeeper, who like other residents was afraid to be named for fear of retribution.

Waving copies of the Koran and the flag of Al-Qaida – recognizable by the white Arabic lettering declaring faith in Islam superimposed on black to signify jihad – they spread out across the town and took up positions on rooftops.

At the police station nearby, terrified security forces barricaded themselves inside, while the gunmen shot at anyone who ventured outside. “They had all kinds of weapons, including rocket-propelled-grenades,” said another resident.

One had a Palestinian accent, said the shopkeeper, saying he heard him speaking over the phone saying that, “Our ammo is over and we don’t know where we are.”

Six died, including one of the gunmen, before Egyptian reinforcements arrived. “They ran away in all directions and nobody knows where they went,” said the shopkeeper.

PINNING HOPES ON MURSI

‪‪The newly launched army operation – billed as the biggest offensive in the region since the 1973 war with Israel – has yet to make much of an impact, and may make things worse if heavy-handed tactics drive more youth into the arms of the militants.

“Sinai needs a comprehensive strategy: social, economic and political,” said Durham University’s Anani.

Some residents even expressed cautious optimism that Mursi – who sacked army chief Hussein Tantawi on Sunday [ID:nL6E8JD1UW] – might improve the situation by reining in the military, whose past crackdowns have helped militants attract fresh recruits.

It was unclear whether Tantawi’s sidelining was linked to the attack on the border, although the deaths of the 16 Egyptian guards caused widespread public anger.

“There are some extremist ideas in Sinai but in my view, they don’t require all this military mobilization; there should have been a round of dialogue and tribal work,” said Abdel Rahman al-Shorbagy, a member of parliament for North Sinai representing the Freedom and Justice Party of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood allies. He estimated the numbers of militants in the sparsely populated desert region at between 1,000 and 1,500.

Mubarak built up tourist resorts in South Sinai that locals say mostly benefited Egyptians from the Nile Valley, and tried to impose an Egyptian administrative structure on North Sinai which undermined the authority of local Bedouin tribal elders.

Economic neglect forced people to seek work in the Gulf, and after Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007, many made money smuggling arms and other supplies through tunnels into the enclave ruled by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

The situation worsened during the uprising when security forces often abandoned their posts; the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi later that year brought an influx of weapons.

For Sinai youth, struggling to make a living, it was easy to be drawn into the simple message of Al-Qaida – that only if Muslims return to the purist lifestyle of the Prophet Mohammed can they challenge the economic and political clout of the West.

“What brought this ideology is the marginalization,” says one resident. “If someone can’t earn a living, he thinks the alternative is to be strict in worship.”

In every village, three or four youths have disappeared to join the militants, sometimes inspired by Al-Qaida propaganda over the Internet, and sometimes by preachers in local mosques.

They often sever contact with their relatives, not even returning during the month of Ramadan when families gather together for the “iftar” meal which ends the day-long fast.

“We always have iftar together but they never come,” said one villager who had two cousins who had joined the militants.

“TORA BORA OF SINAI”

With a lack of roads, development and state control, the mountains and villages of North Sinai’s vast desert hinterland are nearly impenetrable, making it easy for militants to hide.

In the Jabal al-Halah mountain in central Sinai, they are believed to be so well dug in that nobody can touch them.

“The Bedouins call this place the Tora Bora of Sinai. The Egyptian authorities are extremely reluctant to go there,” said Yaari, in a reference to the Afghan mountain hideout used by Al-Qaida after the United States overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

He said, without explaining how he knew, that the men behind the attack on the border had spent some time encamped there.

North Sinai is in some ways similar to the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Al-Qaida has dug deep roots. Both have been neglected by central government; both lie in the middle of wider political conflicts.

And the authority of tribal leaders in both has been diminished as money – from crime, Gulf remittances and state patronage – filtered into other hands – making it easier for militants to promote unity in Islam over tribal loyalty.

“We are witnessing today the rise of these new Bedouin fundamentalists,” said Yaari. “They are destroying the old tribal structures. They allow marriages between rival tribes and force women to wear the veil. This never happened before.”

A particular fear is that militant Salafists in Gaza and Sinai are joining forces, creating an environment ripe for Al-Qaida were it to seek a base for use against Israel or the more moderate political Islam of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Already, according to one Arab diplomat in Islamabad, Egyptian members of Al-Qaida have begun to move back from Pakistan to take advantage of political changes at home.

As yet, however, the Sinai militants appear to be mimicking Al-Qaida rather than trying to establish formal links with the group whose leader Ayman al-Zawahri – who took over after Osama bin Laden was killed last year – is himself Egyptian.

Diplomats and experts in Gaza say Salafist leaders there speak of admiration for Al-Qaida but deny factional ties.

“Al-Qaida is more interested in using Palestine as a tag for its global fight rather than have an actual base in Gaza or the West Bank,” said one diplomat. “They believe a Palestinian group would have a more nationalist outlook.”

Yaari said he believed the Bedouin jihadis were communicating with Al-Qaida in Yemen, and maybe also in north Africa. “But so far, although they are seeking recognition from Al-Qaida, they have not obtained it.”

He also dismissed suggestions that foreign fighters might have played a big role in the border attack. “There are some foreigners in the Sinai, but they are more like hitchhikers,” he said. “If it weren’t for the fact that so many are heading to Syria, we would see more in the Sinai.”

(Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Myra MacDonald in London and Michael Georgy in Islamabad; Writing by Myra MacDonald; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Iran, Taliban and al-Qaida owe $6 billion to 9/11 victims’ families, U.S. court says


A U.S. district court recommended that Iran, the Taliban and al-Qaida pay $6 billion in compensation to the families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The symbolic decision came Monday in New York as a recommendation in response to a lawsuit brought by relatives of 47 victims that was decided in the relatives’ favor last year, according to The Associated Press.

“It’s hard being happy, but I am happy about it,” plaintiff Ellen Saracini, wife of one of the captains of a plane that hit the World Trade Center, told the AP. “But it opens up old wounds. We were never in it for a lawsuit. I wanted to know what happened to my husband.”

Iran repeatedly has denied any connection to the attacks but gave several of the terrorists passage through the country, according to AP.

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