African Leaders Arrive New York For United Nations General Assembly

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US police train in counterterrorism in Israel, attend 9/11 memorial

By Daniel K. Eisenbud
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“In our communities, for a lot of police officers, it’s a job, and I think that it’s more than a job for a lot of the officers in Israel because they are protecting their homeland.”

For the second consecutive year, the Police Unity Tour, a delegation of 52 American law-enforcement officers from 12 states, arrived in Israel to train in counterterrorism techniques and attend an annual 9/11 memorial service outside Jerusalem.

According to the delegation’s leader, Michael Safris, chief of the Essex County’s Sheriff’s Office Deputy Division, the Police Unity Tour was established in 1997 to honor officers killed in the line of duty.

“We are here to honor fallen police officers from the US and Israel,” he said on Monday.

“The motto of the Police Unity Tour is ‘We ride for those who died,’ and last year when we came here we did a one-day bike tour with Israeli officers, and in May we had 12 Israeli officers ride with us from New Jersey to our police memorial in Washington, DC, to participate in a candle-lighting vigil for fallen US officers,” Safris said.

During their stay, the US delegation will be based at the Beit Shemesh police academy, where they will participate in multiple counterterrorism training exercises, meet with elite units, and be briefed by Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.

The delegation will conclude following a September 11 memorial service held at the 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza in the Arazim Valley.

Safris, 72, who is Jewish and has hosted Israeli police delegations in the US for the past 10 years, said he has visited Israel 40 times.

“From all my trips, I know the delegation forms an important relationship, and if something happens in the US or something happens here, we stay in touch and honor each country’s fallen officers,” he said. “The relationship and comradery developed over the last two years is one of the reasons we keep coming.”

In terms of heightened antisemitism in the US – recently manifested by violent white supremacists who chanted “Jew will not replace us!” while marching in Charlottesville, Virginia – Safris said the country is indeed becoming alarmingly polarized.

“There is definitely a big divide, and I think people feel more emboldened by some of the things that President Trump said, or didn’t say,” he said. “There is a definite uptick [in antisemitism].”

Asked if security for Jewish people and organizations has been heightened in the US, Safris responded “100 percent.”

“Jewish communities have hired security directors and people now have to sign in at synagogues and community centers,” he said. “It’s a lot different than it was over the last year.”

Safris said what distinguishes the Israeli police internationally is their commitment not only to law enforcement, but to Israel’s existential struggle.

“In our communities, for a lot of police officers, it’s a job, and I think that it’s more than a job for a lot of the officers in Israel because they are protecting their homeland,” he said.

“We have a lot of discussions about this when we are here,” Safris said. “It’s not just about keeping Israel going, but keeping it strong. You know, you can’t put down your weapons; you gotta be strong and act quickly, otherwise it’s going to be a lot worse.”

“They are protecting a way of life here,” he added.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, who met with the American delegation, said Israel’s ongoing security threats and the police’s efficient handling of them makes it an ideal arena for officers from across the globe to train.

“In terms of counterterrorism tactics that have been used and implemented at numerous scenes across the country, where unfortunately terrorist attacks have taken place, the Israeli police have used those tactics to minimize injuries, as well as find rapid solutions,” he said.

“Over the next few days, the Police Unity Tour will learn and see a number of these tactics across the country,” Rosenfeld added.

 Source : Jerusalem Post

Troops, Reforms, Regional Role Define Afghanistan Plan

U.S. Officials Brief at USIP to Fill in Details of Trump Announcement

By: USIP Staff

Along with military pressure to coax the Taliban into a peace process, the new U.S. plan for Afghanistan will support government reforms such as tackling corruption, economic development to make the country less dependent on foreign aid and diplomacy to persuade Pakistan to help—rather than hurt—the cause, top U.S. officials said in a briefing at the U.S. Institute of Peace today.

Farmers working in a field in the Shibar Valley in Bamian province, Afghanistan.

Farmers working in a field in the Shibar Valley, July 2016. The farmers’ unions in Afghanistan help ensure a more reliable/diverse food supply, while also empowering its female leadership. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times/Adam Ferguson
“We’re not looking at nation-building or economic development as an end in itself,” said one of four senior administration officials who briefed two dozen policy experts from a range of research institutions to explain and respond to questions about the plan President Trump announced in a prime-time television address on Aug. 21. But support to Afghanistan is “necessary to protect the ultimate goal of a stable Afghanistan, where the government is in control of the territory and terrorists cannot set up shop there.”

The briefing aimed to add details to the military, political and economic plan the new administration will pursue to achieve the goal, which one official described as “a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban that protects vital U.S. national security interests.” The officials spoke on condition they not be identified by name, to allow a more candid discussion.

The plan calls first of all for increasing military pressure on the Taliban to reverse some of its gains in recent years, as the militants have retaken parts of Helmand Province in the south and briefly twice seized control of the major northern city of Kunduz. ISIS, too, has made inroads, prompting the U.S. to drop its largest non-nuclear bomb for the first time in combat in April, to destroy a system of bunkers and tunnels the group was using in Nangarhar Province in the country’s east. The influence of ISIS also is turning more Taliban members to further extremes, one of the senior officials said.

The heaviest burden … will still be borne by the Afghan people.

U.S. senior administration official
Trump’s announcement this week didn’t specify the number of American troops that might be added to the current contingent of 8,400, down from a peak of 100,000 in 2010-2011, but news reports say the Defense Department has authorization to add as many as 3,900. The U.S. will work with Afghan forces to step up counter-terrorism operations and to increase training, advising and assistance, the senior officials said. NATO allies and partners also will continue their contributions to the mission, they said.

“We believe this will send a clear message to the Taliban that you can’t wait us out,” one official said. “The heaviest burden, though,” another said, “will still be borne by the Afghan people and their security forces.”Afghanistan lost some 6,700 soldiers in the fighting last year alone, another official noted, adding, “I don’t think we can doubt the commitment of Afghan security forces.”

‘Kabul Compact’

Government reform will be a key element to sustaining a more stable Afghanistan, the officials said. One outlined a recent “Kabul Compact” initiated by Afghan President Ghani and co-led by his governing coalition partner, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, as well as U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens and U.S. Army General John W. Nicholson, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. The four met this week to discuss the compact’s four lines of effort on governance, economic development, the peace process and security.

“The Afghans have already made significant progress on some of its elements, including replacing 150 ineffective or corrupt generals and filing corruption charges against prominent business people,” one official said. “The Afghans have to build their own nation; we can’t do this for them. But we can work with them as friends and encourage the kinds of reforms that we think are necessary.”

One official expressed confidence that the Trump administration will have the funding needed for a range of effective assistance to Afghanistan, considering its requested budget for fiscal year 2018 and remaining funding for longer-term projects such as infrastructure. “There’s no dearth of assistance to be working our objectives over the next several years.”

The U.S. also will revive regional peace efforts to persuade the Taliban to negotiate, including pressure on Pakistan to eliminate safe havens for the group across the border, and measures to cut off other supply lines. The officials didn’t specifically mention Russia and Iran, but reports have surfaced in recent months that the Taliban are getting weapons and other new support from those sources as well.

The officials repeated several times that the U.S. considers Pakistan an “important partner” that shares many common interests—and enemies—and that the U.S. recognizes the sacrifices Pakistan has made in the fight against certain terrorist elements.  The officials said they aim for a “mature, constructive relationship” with Pakistan even as the U.S. develops strategic ties with India and encourages India to support democracy and economic development in Afghanistan.

Nuclear Weapons

Pakistan and India have fought repeated wars and skirmishes along their disputed border, and Pakistan’s security establishment supports the Taliban to maintain influence over Afghanistan as a defense against being encircled by hostile forces. The fact that both Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons continues to concern the U.S., too, the senior officials said.

“We are particularly concerned by the development of tactical nuclear weapons that are designed for battlefield use,” one of the administration officials said. “We see these as more susceptible to terrorist theft and also increasing the likelihood of nuclear exchange in the region.”

As a result, the U.S. will urge India and Pakistan to take confidence-building steps and re-engage in dialogue about their points of tension.

But the U.S. reserves the right to use “more punitive, more disruptive, persuasive” measures if needed, and American officials will take up most such issues with Pakistani counterparts “in private,” one official said. U.S. talks will “mark a change in how we approach the challenge of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan,” and likely will play out over time, rather than immediately, the officials said. One reiterated Trump’s warning, saying Pakistan “has a lot to gain” by working with the U.S. and “a lot to lose if it fails to take adequate steps.”

The gains would include close involvement in any peace process for Afghanistan, as part of regional groupings. “We understand Pakistan has legitimate interests in Afghanistan and what happens there.”

The losses might involve, for example, U.S. security assistance, which already has fallen in recent years.

China could be key to “encouraging better behavior” by Pakistan and giving it the confidence “to engage in a more constructive fashion,” one official said. The  Chinese “want to play a bigger role. We’ve seen the foreign minister do shuttle diplomacy between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Source : United States Institute of Peace

Terrorists Should Be Sentenced to Death-Israeli PM

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu  has declared that the time has come for terrorists to face the  death penalty, when caught.

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Netanyahu made this declaration, when himself and his wife  paid a condolence visit to the Salomon Family home in Elad.

“My position as prime minister, in the case of such a lowly murderer, is that he should be executed, so that he will smile no more” Netanyahu said, referring to the testimony of Tova Salomon who was wounded in the attack, who said that the terrorist smiled before he started stabbing her and her family members”, the Prime Minister stated.

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

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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.

OdaTV

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.

Taraf 

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

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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

By:
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