Turkey: Politically-motivated trials of journalists and human rights defenders continue


Last week, ARTICLE 19, PEN International and Reporters without Borders (RSF) monitored the hearings of several criminal cases against journalists and human rights defenders in Turkey, all of whom face politically-motivated charges of propaganda for, or involvement in, terrorist organizations.

We are deeply concerned by the visibly political nature of these trials and the blatant abuse of the Penal Code and Anti-Terror law against journalists and human rights defenders. To date, no convincing evidence of the accused journalists’ involvement in terrorism or incitement to violence has been publicly presented. The cases also raised serious concerns in terms of due process and the right to a fair trial.

ARTICLE 19, PEN International and RSF call on the Turkish government to take immediate steps to restore the independence of the judiciary, reform laws which contradict international human rights standards, ensure due process during trials and cease the judicial harassment of journalists and human rights defenders.

The trials

Representatives from the three organisations attended the following trials on 14 – 15 February 2017:

  • Özgür Gündem Solidarity Case: On Tuesday 14 February, participants monitored a hearing of 22 of the journalists, writers and human rights defenders who participated in a solidarity action with the daily newspaper Özgür Gündem, which was forced to cease publication in August 2016. During the hearing, writer and journalist Cengiz Baysoy, peace activist İmam Canpolat  and a leader of the opposition, pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Çilem Küçükkeleş, were found guilty of “spreading propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)” and “releasing statements sent by PKK”, in relation to the articles published on the day they acted as symbolic editor. All three were sentenced to one year and three months in prison and a fine of 6000 Turkish Liras (approx. 1500 Euro).
  • On 14 February, RSF also attended a hearing in a separate case against Hasan Cemal, veteran author and columnist, former editor-in-chief and now commentator for news portal T24. The author received a suspended sentence of one year and three months in prison under Article 7 (2) of the Anti-Terror Law (“making propaganda for a terrorist organisation”) in relation to an article referring to a previous interview with a PKK leader.
  • OdaTV Case: On Wednesday 15 February ten prominent journalists, including Ahmet Şık, Nedim Şener, Soner Yalçın, Barış Pehlivan and Barış Terkoğlu, made their final defense statements in the OdaTV trial. The case has been ongoing since 2011. The defendants are accused of being the media arm of a secret terrorist organisation, known as “Ergenekon”; however, at the previous hearing on 14 December 2016, the prosecutor requested the acquittal of all twelve defendants due to insufficient evidence of the existence of the “Ergenekon” organisation. A verdict is expected on 12 April 2017.
  • Taraf Case: Also on 15 February, the organisations monitored the third hearing in the trial of journalists and editors affiliated with the Taraf newspaper: Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Baransu, Yasemin Çongar, Yıldıray Oğur and Tuncay Opçin. They are all charged with acquiring and divulging state secrets in relation to the Egemen military plan, an out of date military war plan to respond to a Greek invasion. Baransu and Opçin face additional charges of membership and administration of the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ). The hearing was cut short as Baransu, who has been in pre-trial detention for over two years and was due to present his defence, was unable to attend as he had a hearing in a separate case in Mersin.

Inconsistent, politically-motivated charges

The indictments and charges include multiple inconsistences, suggesting the influence of politics on the justice system.

For example, investigative journalist Ahmet Şık, whose hearing in the OdaTV Case was observed this week, is in the unusual position of being tried simultaneously in two separate and contradictory cases, one in which he is accused of “supporting the Ergenekon organization” on the basis of his book in 2011 criticising the Gülen movement, and another for “supporting the FETÖ and the PKK”.

The Taraf case is also marred by inconsistencies and confusion, with an indictment that was largely copy-pasted from last year’s case against Can Dündar, with his name still featuring in the text.

The series of cases relating to those involved in the Özgür Gündem Solidarity Campaign constitute  a politically motivated abuse of the Anti-Terror law against Kurdish journalists and civil society activists defending them. The charges against the defendants rely solely on their association with the newspaper, either as members of the advisory board or through columns written in the paper.

Due process and the right to a fair trial

We are concerned by multiple abuses in the defendants’ right to a fair trial, and failures to observe due process.

Many of the defendants face numerous cases, with several being held in pre-trial detention, despite no clear rationale offered for this, with no indication that they will receive a fair trial within a reasonable period. This includes Mehmet Baransu, detained since 2 March 2015; Ahmet Altan, detained since 10 September 2016; and Ahmet Şık, detained since 29 December 2016. The Turkish authorities’ use of indefinite periods of pre-trial detention against journalists is in violation of international standards on the right to liberty and the right to a fair trial.

Moreover, in the Taraf case, the right to a fair trial is severely compromised by the conditions of Baransu’s now almost two-year pre-trial detention, where he has insufficient access to his lawyer and the case documents, meaning that he has so far been unable to prepare his defence.

While we welcome the request of the Prosecutor in the OdaTV Case to acquit the defendants, we are nevertheless concerned that this will not enable the genuine restoration of justice for the defendants, many of whom were held in pre-trial detention, some for more than a year, during the course of the investigation. A thorough review into the criminal investigation and subsequent trials is required to ensure those responsible for the miscarriage of justice are held accountable. Urgent steps must be taken to ensure the independence of the police and judiciary to prevent the same miscarriage of justice in other cases, including with regard to the ongoing cases against journalists.

Independence of the Judiciary, national security and the right to freedom of expression

The independence of the judiciary is protected under Article 138 of the Turkish constitution, however in practice political interference in the justice system is undeniable. As noted by Nils Muiznieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, in his statement on 15 February 2017, elements of the judiciary have become “an instrument of judicial harassment to stifle opposition and legitimate criticism”.

Moreover, as stated in our joint report issued in September 2016, the judiciary have numerous legal provisions at their disposition, which are ostensibly aimed at ensuring national security but may be used to stifle free expression. This includes overly vague provisions in the Penal Code that prohibit “propaganda” or “praising” of a terrorist organisation, as well as clauses that allow for individuals to be accused of “aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation”, purely on the grounds of an act of expression about that terrorist group. This is in clear violation of international standards on freedom of expression.

In its official response to the Council of Europe, Turkey claims that those on trial are not journalists, but terrorists: that they are not charged on the basis of their journalism. To date, we are not aware of any evidence of involvement in terrorism being presented against any journalist. The evidence used against journalists appears to consist entirely of the content of their articles or news they edited.

Turkey further claimed that it “has compromised neither its efforts to strike the right balance between freedom and security nor its ultimate determination to maintain reform agenda”; and that the provisions in the penal code and Anti-Terror law fall within international standards.

We contest that Turkey has indeed failed to strike the right balance, both in law and in practice. The Johannesburg Principles on National Security and Freedom of Expression set out the appropriate balance under international law: for a restriction on freedom of expression in the name of national security to be legitimate, there must be an intentional, direct and immediate connection between the expression and the likelihood of violence. The articles in the Penal Code and the Anti-Terror law fail comprehensively to meet these requirements, with broad and undefined terms enabling the government to use them as a weapon to silence critical voices.

Recommendations to the Turkish authorities

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all journalists, media workers and others arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression, without any individualised evidence of involvement in a crime;
  • Cease the judicial harassment of journalists and human rights defenders;
  • Ensure the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice initiate a thorough and transparent investigation into failures in previous criminal investigations and past abuses of the criminal justice system, exemplified by the OdaTV case, with sufficient safeguards to avoid further politicisation;
  • Take immediate steps to restore the independence of the judiciary, including by working with international partners such as the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe. As a first step, ensure that defendants have the right to swift judicial review of decisions, including on pre-trial detention, and increase transparency of judicial decisions, by accepting the standing offer of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to send trial monitors, and cooperating fully with the Office on this initiative. Lift the state of emergency and reverse the measures implemented during the state of emergency which infringe the right to freedom of expression;
  • Reform the Anti-terror law and the criminal code, in line with international standards on the right to freedom of expression.

Background on the cases

Özgür Gündem Solidarity Campaign

The cases

Dozens of criminal cases have been initiated against participants in the Özgür Gündem campaign, initiated on 3 May 2016, which involved nearly 100 journalists, civil society, writers and human rights defenders volunteering to be symbolic editor of the paper for one day. The defendants have been charged with “spreading propaganda for the PKK” and “releasing statements sent by PKK” in relation to the articles published on the day they were symbolic editor. The first conviction related to the Özgür Gündem solidarity campaign that took place on 13 January 2017, when human rights defenders Şanar Yurdatapan and publisher Ibrahim Aydın Bodur received a one year and three month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 6000 Turkish Liras (approx. 1500 Euro) for their involvement.

The hearing on 14 February 2017

The hearing on 14 February involved the criminal prosecution of 22 journalists and human rights defenders for their involvement in the campaign. The defendants included Can Dündar and Said Sefa, who were absent; Cengiz Baysoy, İmam Canpolat and Çilem Küçükkeleş, who were found guilty and sentenced to one year and three months in prison and a fine of 6000 Turkish Liras (approx. 1500 Euro) and Nadire Mater, Necmiye Alpay, Yıldırım Türker, Hasan Cemal, Jülide Kural, Murat Uyurkulak, Faruk Balıkçı, Kumru Başer, Derya Okatan, Dicle Anter, Ayşe Batumlu, whose convictions were requested by the prosecutor and who face potential prison sentences of 10.5 years. The next hearings were set for 7, 9, 20 March, 20 April and 9 May 2017.


The case

The OdaTV case dates back to 2011, when 13 individuals, including ten journalists, one academic, one former police officer and one intelligence service officer ­­­who died in prison in 2011, were accused of being the media arm of a secret extreme nationalist terrorist organisation, known as “Ergenekon”. At the previous hearing on 14 December 2016, the prosecutor requested that all twelve defendants be acquitted, arguing that there was insufficient evidence of the existence of the “Ergenekon” organisation.

The hearing on 15 February­­­

On 15 February, the final defence statements were made by journalists Ahmet Şık, Nedim Şener, Soner Yalçın, Yalçın Küçük, Barış Pehlivan, Barış Terkoğlu, Muhammet Sait Çakır, Şükrü Doğan Yurdakul, İklim Kaleli, Coşkun Musluk and former police officer Hanefi Avcı. All said they were victims of a conspiracy involving members of the police and prosecutors with links to the Gülen movement, which at the time was an ally of the government.

A large number of journalists, supporters of Şık and foreign observers (including RSF and ARTICLE 19 representatives) were unable to enter the courtroom to observe the morning session, as the hearing was held in one of the small courtrooms. Despite requests from defence lawyers to move the hearing to an alternative room, the judge said there was not a larger room available. Some were able to enter in the later session, as people left the hearing one by one. Two judges of the Court were newly appointed and therefore the verdict was delayed until 12 April 2017.


The case

Five journalists, including previous Taraf editors and Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar, Yıldıray Oğur and Mehmet Baransu, in addition to journalist Tuncay Opçin were charged with acquiring and divulging state secrets in relation to the Egemen military plan, while Baransu and Opçin face additional charges of membership and administration of the “FETÖ. Baransu has been in pre-trial detention since March 2015 and Opçin has left the country. At the first hearing in September 2016, the defendants (apart from Opçin) presented their initial defence statements. At the second hearing in November 2016, Baransu was scheduled to make his defence, however he was unable to do so due to his lawyer’s absence and insufficient time to prepare due to strict conditions in detention leaving him with extremely limited access to the required documents, his lawyer and a computer to study the case material. At the second hearing, a group of co-plaintiffs requested to join the case on the prosecution’s side, raising concerns for the principle of “equality of arms” which relates to the balance between the prosecution and defence.

The hearing on 15 February 2017

At the third hearing on 15 February, Baransu was again expected to present his defence, however he was unable to attend the hearing due to also being on trial in a separate case in Mersin. The court ruled that the co-plaintiff’s request to join the case was refused, as their complaints relate to the Balyoz case, which does not feature in the charges in this case.

Source : Article 19

American Mom Held by Afghan Militants Pleads for U.S. Help


Caitlan Coleman, who has given birth to two boys in captivity, said her captors are threatening to kill her family if Afghan prisoners are put to death by the government.

An American woman held by Afghan militants along with her husband and two young sons is seen pleading for U.S. intervention in a new video obtained by The Daily Beast.

The video is intended to convey a message to the governments of Afghanistan, Canada, and the United States that there will be consequences for the execution of Taliban prisoners in Afghan jails, said a member of the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate that is holding the family captive and made the video.

Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle were kidnapped while hiking in Afghanistan in 2012. Their families have previously said that Caitlan gave birth to two boys while in captivity.

In the new video posted online by jihadists, Coleman and Boyle each speak in turn, slowly and apparently from a script prepared by their captors.

“We have been told that the Afghan government has executed some of their prisoners…and that our captors are frightened of the idea of further executions,” Coleman says. “Because of their fear, they are willing to kill us, willing to kill women, and to kill children, to kill whoever in order to get these policies reversed or to take revenge.”

“I ask if my government can do anything to change the policies of the Afghan government to stop their policy of executing men before these men start executing their prisoners,” Coleman said.

She also addressed her family, asking them to try to persuade the U.S. to get involved.

“If you are able to do anything to help, if you could please try to help stop this depravity,” she said, referring to the Afghan government’s policies.

A second video showing Coleman and Boyle as well as their two children has also been made, in an effort by their captors to prove that the family is alive and in good health, but it has not been released publicly, according to an individual familiar with the video and who asked not to be identified.

In May, the Afghan government executed six Taliban members. The Haqqani source said that the video was made two to three months ago, but that it’s being released now in response to Monday’s ruling by an Afghan court that Anas Haqqani, the brother of the network’s leader, will be executed for his role in helping to raise funds for the network. The Haqqani have conducted devastating terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, including some against U.S. forces.

The Haqqani member said Anas Haqqani was “a student, he was not involved in any kind of military activities,” and called his death penalty “unfair.”

One of Boyle’s relatives said the family hadn’t seen the new video until Tuesday morning.

“It made me cry,” Kelli O’Brien, Boyle’s aunt, told The Daily Beast in a brief phone interview. “Joshua is still my little nephew in mind.”

Over the years, the family has received videos and notes from their loved ones demonstrating that they are still alive. An Afghan Taliban member told The Daily Beast that all four hostages are in good health and are being held in a place where they can move about and exercise.

While the new video contains an implied threat, it doesn’t indicate that the hostages are in imminent danger of being killed, said a former U.S. official and expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan policy issues. That’s because the Haqqani have always viewed kidnapping and ransom as a business and know that Coleman and her family are valuable only if they’re alive.

“It seems like a fairly passive attempt to influence Afghanistan with respect to to the execution of Anas Haqqani,” the former official, who requested anonymity, said of the video.

But the Haqqani network has also grown closer to the Taliban, which has its own political goals and may see executing a prisoner as powerful leverage against the Afghanistan government and the United States.

“If the hostages are still in the umbrella of Haqqani’s criminal enterprises, then this really is a fairly insignificant shot across the bow, because it’s very important to the Haqqani that they protect their prisoners and safeguard their ability to receive ransoms, even if it takes years,” the former official said.

“On the other hand, if the closer alliance between the Haqqani and the Quetta Shura [the collective body of Taliban leaders] has thoroughly blurred the lines of their criminal enterprises, then this represents a subtle threat against the safety of the family.”

U.S. officials said they are aware of reports of the video and are working to free Coleman and her family. While Boyle is a Canadian citizen, U.S. officials are working to release all the family members and view the two children as American citizens.

“Certainly when Americans are taken captive, this becomes an immediate priority for us,”  Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who leads U.S. Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, referring to Coleman and her family.

“We are paying extraordinarily close attention to that. We always do. I won’t get into too many details with that. But I am satisfied that we are doing everything we can at this juncture to understand who took them and try to bring them back.”

Privately, U.S. officials have said in recent months that they believe they are opening new diplomatic channels, particularly with the government of Pakistan, to help free the hostages. But it has been slow going.

A Republican lawmaker said Coleman and her family’s plight shows that a new FBI team set up to improve hostage rescue efforts across hasn’t made sufficient progress.

“The fact that the Coleman family is still in captivity despite multiple attempts by Haqqani to work her release and the release of her family underscores the tremendous shortcomings of the FBI and the hostage fusion cell,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, a frequent critic of the Obama administration’s hostage policies, told The Daily Beast in a statement. The fusion cell was set up after family members of hostages who were killed by ISIS said that the U.S. government failed to communicate with them and didn’t work as a whole to bring their loved ones home.

Anas Haqqani, whose execution sentence prompted the release of the new video, was captured by U.S. authorities in 2014 while traveling through Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Americans turned over him and a traveling companion, Hafiz Rashid, to the Afghan government.

Rashid is the brother of Mohammad Nabi Omari, one of the five Taliban prisoners that President Obama decided to trade for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who also had been a Haqqani prisoner.

Ever since the Bergdahl trade, the families of U.S. hostages have pressured the Obama administration to make similar deals to free their loved ones. But the White House, which has refused to pay ransoms for American captives, has also refused to conduct trades for civilian hostages. Officials characterized the Bergdahl trade not as a hostage swap, but rather a military-style prisoner of war exchange.

But Coleman and her family’s captors don’t seem to acknowledge that distinction.

“The Taliban demands are obviously a prisoner swap, like what what they did in Bergdhal’s case, but now the Americans are too lazy to take care of the couple and two children,” a senior source in the Afghanistan Taliban’s representative office in Qatar told The Daily Beast.

Coleman and Boyle have been two of the most visible prisoners in Afghanistan. Their families have openly pleaded with the U.S. and Canadian governments to intervene on their behalf and ensure their safe return.

Recently, the Haqqani were close to a deal with the Canadian government to free Boyle, but he refused to return home without his wife and children, an Afghan Taliban source said.

One other American is known to be held by the Haqqani network, but The Daily Beast has not released the hostage’s name at the request of family members and U.S. officials.

—Shane Harris reported from Washington and Sami Yousafzai reported from Pakistan. With additional reporting from Nancy A. Youssef in Washington.

Source : Daily Beast

Masked Palestinian terrorists at large after stabbing 2 elderly women in Jerusalem

A peaceful morning stroll by a group of elderly Jewish women on a promenade overlooking sweeping vistas of Jerusalem turned into a bloody nightmare when two masked terrorists stalked and stabbed two of the octogenarians in their backs.

The attack, which ironically took place adjacent to the Peace Forest, occurred at approximately 8:30 a.m. when five women, all in their 80s, were walking together on the popular Haas Promenade in Armon Hanatziv/East Talpiot, police said.

“The two terrorists stabbed them in the back multiple times, both in the upper body, and fled the scene toward the adjacent neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said shortly after the stabbings.
“Police and emergency units rushed to the scene and gave immediate medical assistance before transferring both women to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in moderate condition. While a forensics team searched the area, police set up roadblocks to find the terrorists.”

Roughly one hour later, Rosenfeld said, Border Police officers arrested two suspects matching the description of the assailants, but after extensive questioning, both young men were released without charges.

“Police are continuing to search for the terrorists involved in the attack and hope to make arrests soon,” he said later in the day.

Shortly after the attack, Shaare Zedek Medical Center spokeswoman Shoham Ruvio said both victims were in stable condition and expected to survive.

“They are stable and conscious,” said Ruvio. “One, 86 years old, was stabbed in the back three times and is in the intensive care unit. The second victim, 82, was also stabbed multiple times and is in the department for heart surgery.

She doesn’t need surgery, but is being closely monitored due to a preexisting heart condition.”

Meanwhile, Rosenfeld said, security has been heightened throughout the capital, and will continue at elevated levels throughout the holiday.

 “All public areas will have additional police units deployed and nothing will be left to chance, as the city observes Remembrance Day and Independence Day,” he said.

Last October, the Armon Hanatziv/East Talpiot neighborhood made international headlines after two terrorists from Jebl Mukaber stormed an Egged bus and stabbed and shot four victims to death before being killed by police.

To stymie the deadly violence between the Arab and Jewish communities, police temporarily set up a concrete wall and checkpoint around Jebl Mukaber, which was soon taken down amid protests by human rights groups.

Near the scene of Tuesday’s attack, a cross-section of residents expressed shock and indignation that the assailants preyed on women in their 80s.

Meir Shahar, 67, a longtime resident of Armon Hanatziv/ East Talpiot said young Arab residents from Jebl Mukaber have long intimidated and terrorized Jews living in his neighborhood, but said he was stunned that defenseless elderly women were stabbed in the back.

“These are old women!” he said with clear revulsion. “What did they do that they should be stabbed? You fight with an army, you fight with grown men – you don’t fight with old women!” Moreover, Shahar said many Arab residents from Jebl Mukaber work in menial jobs throughout the neighborhood or routinely visit the area, making daily interaction with Jewish residents unavoidable.

“All the people from there come to the promenade, to our post office, to our supermarkets and to our hospitals – to every place there – and nobody says ‘You are Arab, why are you coming here?’” he said.

“The Jewish people in this area are with these people all the time, and it is known that a lot of the people who live there are connected with Hamas.

They are not peaceful people, and the [Jewish residents] are afraid. The children going to school, older people traveling at night – everyone is afraid.”

Indeed, May Schultz Sclair, who was riding her bicycle near the scene of the attack, said she now avoids the promenade, where she once routinely visited.

“It’s very troubling. It’s shocking, and certainly restricts my sense of peace of mind living in my own neighborhood,” she said. “The area where it happened is a place we used to walk during Shabbat, and we don’t go there anymore because we just don’t feel it’s safe.”

“We are worried about violence carried out by residents of these Arab towns,” continued Schultz Sclair, a retiree originally from the US.

“I often find young people walking around in groups – especially boys – intimidating; and given the violence that we’ve had, it’s increasingly intimidating. I have stayed away from there for at least the past year.”

Evgeny Kaveshnikov, 32, who made aliya from Russia two months ago, said he was deeply troubled by the attack, which took place just a few meters from where he was riding his bike later that day.

“When I heard about this, I worried a lot, of course, because I want to live in peace with everyone, but it’s very difficult to understand why these women were attacked, because it’s not their fault,” he said.

“I’m very worried that it has happened here, and that it is happening everywhere. I feel pain hearing about this. This is difficult to understand for a normal man. I am new here, and it’s horrible for me to see this.”

Although Kaveshnikov said he is not concerned for his own safety, he said the safety of his mother, wife and children is another matter.

“I will make sure they do not come here,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ilana Rass, a middle-aged woman who was walking alone near the scene of the attack, expressed her concerns about its religious and educational underpinnings and implications.

“I think if Muhammad came back, he would say to these people, ‘You are crazy,’” she said.

“I only read the Koran once, but when I did, I didn’t find anything about stabbing old women in the back. This book is supposed to be about love.

“I think it is a problem concerning education. There is no education, only aggression,” she added. “These people must be given a good education and learn how to live with other people.”

Source : Jerusalem Post

Brussels Attacks Highlight Connection to Regional Arcs of Crisis

USIP President Lindborg, Returning from Belgian Capital, Urges Redoubled Efforts

Nancy Lindborg

My sympathy goes out to the survivors and families of those who died in the terrible attacks in a string of bombings over this last week — from Brussels to Baghdad to Lahore. I was in Brussels on a business trip and was preparing to leave my hotel to catch a flight back to Washington when we got word of the explosions at the airport and the metro station there. The terror that was palpable last week in Brussels is sadly all too common in those five countries that top the list for violent extremist incidents and fatalities: Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Syria. And, we are increasingly seeing the outward ripples.

Photo courtesy of The New York Times/Daniel Berehulak

“These attacks remind us how closely linked we all are.” – USIP President Nancy Lindborg

Suicide bombings have recently devastated communities in Turkey, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Yemen—and the list keeps expanding. These attacks remind us how closely linked we all are to the kinds of tragedies that have resulted in a historic displacement of 60 million people globally who are fleeing conflict and violence.

Now, more than ever, we need to demonstrate a global commitment to peace.  We must redouble efforts to ensure that hard-security responses by military, police and other institutions are complemented with work that seeks to understand and address core issues at the root of violence.

We need to understand the local context that enables someone to succumb to the lure of extremist ideas, and even more urgently, what enables them to commit these horrible acts of violence.  Every context is different, but we urgently need to mobilize the resilience of youth, communities, faith leaders and families to resist extremism.  As our military leaders tell us, we can’t fight or arrest our way to durable solutions on violent extremism.  Nor, in the face of Internet recruiting can we delete our way out of this problem by erasing incitements to violence on social media.

I had gone to Brussels to attend the German Marshall Fund’s annual Brussels Forum and then meet with leaders of our relatively new counterpart, the European Institute of Peace, where my USIP colleague, Jonas Claes, is spending a year.  At the Brussels Forum, the opening session focused on the prospect of “A World Beyond Disorder,” and the first plenary examined “A Grave New Order: Future Global Security Challenges.” The discussions proved especially prescient as they coincided with the March 18 deal reached by the European Union and Turkey on the flood of refugees and other migrants streaming toward the continent and with the capture in Belgium of Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in the November attacks by Islamic State extremists in Paris. Authorities believe last week’s Brussels attacks might have been retribution for the arrest. And so the cycle continues.

I spoke twice at the Forum:  on one panel looking at the potential for a way forward in Syria, and then again as part of a conversation on “Rethinking the Security Paradigm.” USIP is working to build peace and address violent extremism at the community level in an arc of fragile countries. We are working in all of the top five countries–Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria–to equip individuals, communities and institutions with the means to manage conflict so it doesn’t become violent and to remain resilient in the face of extremist ideologies.

While in Brussels, I also briefed a group of European Union parliamentarians alongside my counterpart at the European Institute of Peace, Executive Director Martin Griffiths, on our respective efforts to address violent extremism. Just a day later, the tragedy of the Brussels attacks became another reminder of how vulnerable we are in an interconnected world.  Building walls and fences cannot solve this problem. Instead, we need to respond to what has become a global emergency with concerted, constructive action to address the root causes of this violence.

Nancy Lindborg is the president of USIP.

Source : USIP

Inside the Mafia-ISIS Connection

Written By Barbie Natza Nadeau
The mobsters have the weapons, and they’re making a killing selling them off to Islamic radicals.

CASTEL VOLTURNO — By the time Aziz Ehsan, a 46-year-old Iraqi, was arrested near Naples on Tuesday, local anti-mafia police had already been trailing him for days to determine just why he was in the heartland of the Camorra crime syndicate’s territory. He was well known by both the French and Belgian secret services, which list him as a suspected ISIS contact. The Neapolitan cops were also aware of an international arrest warrant for him in Switzerland, where he was wanted in connection with a variety of offenses, including forgery, assault, and possession of illegal weapons.

He was apparently just the type of person Italian authorities thought might provide a valuable clue as they work to piece together the details of the complex relationship between Jihadist fighters and Italy’s various mobs.

But when the attacks took place in Brussels, the authorities decided it was time to move in and get him. He was arrested as he slept in a car with Italian license plates registered to a deceased man on Tuesday and is awaiting extradition to Switzerland, France, or Belgium.

He claimed that he was in the area to scout out luxury hotels for rich Iraqi tourists, but the police didn’t buy it; he appeared to have been living in the car for days. They also pointed to an absence of notebooks, a laptop, or tablet—items you’d think to bring on a research trip. His no-frills, no contract “burner” cell phone, like the kind currently favored by Western jihadis, was another sign that Ehsan wasn’t in the region to see which five-star hotels offered the best glass of Limoncello.

“We executed a European arrest warrant near Naples and arrested an Iraqi citizen known to the Belgian and French secret service,” Italy’s interior minister Angelino Alfano declared after his arrest. “He was in contact with terrorists.”

Ehsan’s presence in Italy very likely posed no imminent threat to anyone in this country, but it may be extremely significant in Europe’s losing battle against ISIS-motivated terrorism. Authorities now want to know if Ehsan was here on business, especially if he was working with the Camorra to secure false documents or illegal arms—both big moneymakers for the Neapolitan clans.

Since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January 2015, Italian anti-mafia and anti-terrorism officials have been unraveling long-standing connections between Jihadi fighters and the Camorra in Naples. They have also uncovered ties to the Sicilian Cosa Nostra Mafia and the Calabrese ‘Ndrangheta gang, tracing weapons being trafficked in from the former Yugoslavia and several African nations which allegedly arrive easily in Neapolitan ports.

Italian anti-mafia police have made three major arrests in the last 12 months, during which they have confiscated major weapons arsenals that included Kalashnikov rifles, sub-machine guns, body armor and hundreds of rounds of ammunition that were ready to be sold to terrorist connections. They even found a price list for a wide variety of weapons available for prices ranging from €250 to €3,000 that was printed in Arabic, French and Italian.

“Naples has been, for many years, a central logistics base for the Middle East. The Camorra is also active in the world of Jihadist terrorism that passes through Naples,” Franco Roberti, head of Italy’s a prominent anti-mafia judge told The Daily Beast before the Brussels attacks. “Naples lends itself to this type of activity. In the past there have been contacts between Jihadi militants and the Camorra clans.”

He says that Italy’s mafia-fighting forces have “thwarted plots and synergies” between the terrorists and the mobsters. What’s not known, of course, is how many plots they’ve missed.

It is certainly a well-known fact that the Camorra runs a highly successful enterprise in the lawless Neapolitan hinterland running drugs, illegal arms and forged documents that make it especially easy for anyone entering Europe illegally to pass through even the tightest borders. It is just as well-known that the main client base has never been strictly Italian.

“We have evidence that groups of the Camorra are implicated in an exchange of weapons for drugs with terrorist groups,” Pierluigi Vigna, Italy’s national anti-mafia prosecutor said before he passed away in 2012.

Vigna’s words were quoted in a variety of Wikileaks cables that imply that the United States government has been well aware of the terrorist-mafia connection for some time. “Criminal interaction between Italian organized crime and Islamic extremist groups provides potential terrorists with access to funding and logistical support from criminal organizations with established smuggling routes and an entrenched presence in the United States,” according to one cable on Italy penned by the FBI.

Investigators say logistics help in moving Jihadi fighters through Europe is one of the hardest rackets to crack. Last summer, Salah Abdeslam, who, until last week, was the most wanted man in Europe for his role in the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, traveled freely through Italy with the help of a network of what could be referred to as mafia-sponsored terrorism travel agents.

Authorities in Italy say he boarded a ferry in Bari headed for Greece last August, and that he used a pre-paid Italian debit card until the Paris attacks. Authorities say he used his real name tied to fake Italian documents in both instances.

The idea of Europe’s most wanted man running free is concerning enough. But what is at least as worrying is that the weapons being trafficked into Italy will end up being used in European capitals. Michele del Prete, an Italian counter-terrorism official who has been focusing on the links between organized crime and violent jihadists, warns that the two forces of evil have found a comfortable partnership. “It is established and proven that the lawless climate in Naples has often created favorable conditions for logistical support, exchange of weapons and false documents,” he said. “There are specialized groups we have tracked in various municipalities and prefectures that we know are facilitating terrorism.”

Investigator Roberti takes it a step further. “Campania, especially the province of Caserta and Castel Volturno, is one of the main gateways into Europe for those who wants to become a terrorist,” he said. “It has been demonstrated by numerous investigations. On this now, there are no doubts.”

Source : The Daily Beast

In rare Oval Office address, Obama warns of terrorism succeeding

WASHINGTON – Terrorism has evolved since the events on September 11 into a less complex form of killing innocents, US President Barack Obama said Sunday night in an address to the American people, warning that successful lone-wolf attacks could tear at the country’s historic commitment to tolerance and equality.

“The terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase,” the president said. “As we’ve become better at preventing complex, multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turned to less complicated acts of violence, like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society.”

“The threat from terrorism is real,” he said. “But we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us.”

The speech, short on new policy proposals, did call on Congress to pass legislation that would prevent those on the country’s no-fly list from buying guns. He also asked for an assault weapons ban, noting that this new brand of terrorism relies on inspiring homegrown recruits who can easily acquire military arms.

“What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?” Obama said. “This is a matter of national security.”

“We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino,” he said. “I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies – no matter how effective they are – cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do – and must do – is make it harder for them to kill.”

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Obama stood at a lectern set up in the Oval Office – only his third speech from the room and his first in the Oval Office since the end of US combat operations in Iraq in 2010.

His speech began with an update on the attack last week in San Bernardino, California, that took the lives of 14 people at a disability center holiday party. The perpetrators had pledged support for the terrorist group Islamic State on social media.

Tashfeen Malik, one of the perpetrators, was born in Pakistan and lived in Saudi Arabia.

She moved to the US, having met her husband and terrorist partner-to-be, Chicago- born Syed Rizwan Farook, on a dating site.

The two murderers walked down “the dark path of radicalization,” Obama said. The FBI sees no evidence the attack was orchestrated overseas.

“They had stockpiled assault weapons, ammunition and pipe bombs,” he added.

Republicans have condemned the president for linking national security with the issue of gun control, and argue that the White House seeks to take advantage of crisis and fear to push unrelated legislation.

But the president says this new kind of extremism, stoked by anonymous sources on social media, is forcing the country to restrict access to deadly weapons.

Donald Trump, front runner for the GOP nomination for president, asked if “that is all there is” from the president in a dismissive post on Twitter. And Marco Rubio, another leading candidate, said that gun control would have done nothing to prevent the California assault.

“The president should resist using terrorist attacks to try to take away the rights of law-abiding Americans,” said Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, another presidential contender.

“Millions of Americans have chosen to protect themselves and their families by purchasing a firearm. This is their right; indeed protecting their families is their obligation.”

Half of the president’s remarks were devoted to his fear that successful attacks could challenge the character of the nation, as Republican presidential candidates debate whether to single out Muslim Americans for surveillance and to deny entry to all refugees from war-torn Muslim nations.

“We cannot turn against each other by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam,” the president said.

“That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world, including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology.”

A White House official said the president was backing up his speech with action. The president seeks to deny Islamic State any safe havens worldwide, and has increased the tempo of US-led coalition air strikes against targets in Syria and Iraq.

The administration is also directing the Department of Homeland Security to work with Congress on updating the country’s visa waiver programs and its terrorism alert system.

“As we intensify our counter-ISIL military efforts, we are also pressing forward on a reinvigorated political track in Syria,” the official said. “On November 14, participants in the International Support Group on Syria, including Russia and Iran, announced a path towards a Syrian-led political transition process.”

While the president rarely uses the term “war on terror” – a phrase coined by former President George W. Bush after the attacks in 2001 – Obama said on Sunday night that the US has been “at war with terrorists since al-Qaida killed nearly 3,000 people on 9/11.”

“I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history,” the president said. “We were founded upon a belief in human dignity – that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.”

“Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional,” he said.

“Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear; that we have always met challenges – whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks – by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people. So long as we stay true to that tradition, I have no doubt America will prevail.”

Source : The Jerusalem Post

Israeli surveillance balloon guarding Paris climate summit

An Israeli-made surveillance balloon is being used by the Paris municipal police to help guard the global climate change summit currently underway in Paris.

Yavne-based RT LTA System Ltd.’s SkyStart 180 Aerostat is in the air over the French capital, providing mid-range surveillance and public security services to the police, which leased the balloon from RT and the French company Groupe SSI.

The balloon can operate continuously for up to 72 hours, and can reach an altitude of as high as 1,000 feet.

In Paris, the SkyStart 180 is utilizing the TR-Stamp surveillance payload, made by Israeli defense company Controp.

TR-Stamp is electro-optical payload that provides tactical “Over-the-Hill” reconnaissance images.

SkyStart 180 is in continual use by the IDF and Israel Police, and has been leased to several international clients.