Civilian Martyr in Regime Artillery Shelling West of Aleppo

One civilian passed away on Sunday in artillery shelling conducted by regime forces against the countryside west of Idlib.

Our reporter mentioned the death of one civilian this evening, as regime forces based in the rural of Lattakia shelled the outskirts of al-Najia town and Mara’and village in Jisr al-Shughur western Idlib province.

For the third straight day, regime forces violate the announced cease fire announced in Buffer Zone shelling the villages and towns in liberated areas in Hama, Idlib and rural of Aleppo.

Syrian press center

Huddersfield school refugee’s sister ‘also attacked’

A video appearing to show the sister of a Syrian refugee being attacked at the same school where her brother was allegedly assaulted has emerged.

Footage circulated online shows the boy, 15, being pushed to the ground at Almondbury Community School in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.

A 16-year-old is to be charged with assault.

Further video of a separate incident allegedly shows the boy’s sister being attacked by other pupils.

The footage shows the girl being shoved from behind, and then being pushed towards a grass verge.

At the end of the clip, she can be seen to fall to the ground.

Media captionA video of the 15-year-old boy being pushed to the ground has been widely shared

In a statement, West Yorkshire Police said: “We have been made aware of a video showing a girl being assaulted at Almondbury Community School.

“The incident had not previously been reported to the police but we are now liaising with the girl’s family who we are continuing to support.”

The first video, showing the boy being dragged to the ground before water is poured into his face, was filmed during a lunch break on 25 October, West Yorkshire Police said.

His father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the BBC the attack had left his son “very tired psychologically”.

“Because of what happened in the video my son is shattered,” he said.

“He is not concentrating on his studies. When he is asleep he wakes up saying they want to beat me up.”

In an interview with ITV News, the boy said he had been left “feeling like I couldn’t study or do my homework”.

In a letter sent to parents, headteacher Trevor Bowen said: “The safety and welfare of students is our number one priority and I can assure you that this situation is being taken extremely seriously.”

An online fundraising page set up to help the 15-year-old boy and his family has so far raised more than £100,000.

 

Source : BBC

Jamal Khashoggi case: All the latest updates

Saudi Arabia has admitted Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

Khashoggi – a Saudi writer, United States resident and Washington Post columnist – had entered the building on October 2 to obtain documentation certifying he had divorced his ex-wife so he could remarry.

After weeks of repeated denials that it had anything to do with his disappearance, the kingdom eventually acknowledged that its officials were behind the gruesome murder. The whereabouts of his body are still unknown.

Here are the latest related developments:

Wednesday, November 28

Pompeo says downgrading US ties to Saudi Arabia would be mistake

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that downgrading US ties with Saudi Arabia would be a mistake for national security and would not push Saudis in a better direction at home.

“The October murder of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on. But degrading US-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies,” Pompeo wrote in a blog post shortly before he testified before a Senate committee.

Saudi crown prince arrives in Argentina for G20

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman landed in Buenos Aires for the ahead of the G20 leaders summit, according to Argentine TV news.

His arrival comes amid international furor over the murder of Khashoggi and a request by Human Rights Watch that Argentina investigate him for war crimes in Yemen.

US officials face Senate grilling over Khashoggi murder, Yemen war

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pentagon chief James Mattis will brief the US Senate on Wednesday on the latest developments related to Saudi Arabia.

The closed-door briefing could determine how far Congress goes in punishing its long-time Middle East ally over Khashoggi’s murder.

Many US lawmakers, including some of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats, have expressed concern about Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Turkey last month and the war in Yemen, which has created one of the world’s most urgent humanitarian disasters.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says “some kind of response” is needed from the United States for the Saudis’ role in the gruesome death. While President Donald Trump has equivocated over who is to blame, the Senate is considering a vote as soon as this week to halt US involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

“What obviously happened, as basically certified by the CIA, is completely abhorrent to everything the United States holds dear and stands for in the world,” McConnell said. “We’re discussing what the appropriate response would be.”

Mattis and Pompeo are expected to address the Senate at 16:00 GMT in Washington, DC.

Saudi crown prince leaves Tunisia to Argentina to attend G20 summit

Reuters news agency is reporting  that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman left Tunisia for Argentina to attend the G20 summit, where all eyes will be on world leaders’ reaction to the man accused of ordering Khashoggi’s murder.

The prince left Tunisia early on Wednesday, Reuters quoted Alarabiya’s website as saying.

The crown prince’s G20 attendance is a bold effort to force the issue of whether world leaders will work with Saudi Arabia, analysts say. Riyadh is also indicating with his appearance in Buenos Aires that Prince Mohammed is back in the saddle and the worst of the controversy is over.

Human Rights Watch requested that Argentine authorities arrest the crown prince and that he be tried by a court for war crimes in Yemen and Khashoggi’s killing.

Turkey FM on Saudi killer: ‘He likes to cut up people’

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for the first time recounted gruesome details from audio tapes purportedly of the killing, confirming some of the content that has so far only been leaked by Turkish media.

A Saudi forensics doctor involved in the Istanbul consulate murder is “instructing the others they should listen to music while he dismembers the body”, Cavusoglu said in an interview with German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung published on Tuesday.

“You can tell he is enjoying it,” he said. “He likes to cut up people. It is disgusting.”

The remains of Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, have not been located.

Can Turkey trigger international probe into Khashoggi’s murder?

Tuesday, November 27

Saudi crown prince arrives in Tunisia amid protests

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmanhas arrived in Tunisia’s capital, as protests against his visit were held for the second day.

Hundreds of people gathered in the iconic Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis to protest against the crown prince’s arrival after the allegations of his involvement in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“I was here yesterday and I came here again to say ‘No’ to the murderer and criminal, Mohammed bin Salman,” Said Arous, a prominent human rights activist told Al Jazeera, calling Khashoggi’s killing “an appalling crime”.

Read more here.

Bolton: What do you think I’ll learn by listening to Khashoggi tape?

US National Security Advisor John Bolton said he has not listened the audio linked to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

“I haven’t listened to it,” Bolton said.

“Why do you think I should? What do you think I’ll learn from it?” he added.

Pressed further by Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, Bolton said because he doesn’t speak Arabic, he cannot get much from the tape.

No plans for Trump-MBS meet at G20: Bolton

US National Security Advisor John Bolton said President Donald Trump had no plans to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at this week’s G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that while no meetings are planned, she could not rule out any interaction between Trump and Prince Salman.

MBS asked to meet Erdogan at G20: Turkish FM

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had asked for a meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and that there was currently no reason not to meet him.

Tunisians take to the streets to protest MBS’s visit

“Yes, he has asked Erdogan on the phone, whether they could meet in Buenos Aires. Erdogan’s answer was ‘Let’s see’,” Cavusoglu told Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Erdogan and Prince Mohammed will attend the G20 meeting in Argentina later this week. “At the moment there is no reason not to meet with the crown prince,” Cavusoglu said.

Saudi-Turkish relations have been strained by the killing of Khashoggi in Istanbul.

Argentina pressed to probe Saudi prince over Yemen, Khashoggi

Argentina has been asked to investigate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for possible war crimes in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said it submitted the request to Argentina’s federal judge Ariel Lijo on Monday. Prince Mohammed is expected to arrive in Buenos Aires on Friday for the G20 summit.

Argentina’s constitution recognises universal jurisdiction for war crimes and torture, meaning judicial authorities can investigate and prosecute those crimes no matter where they were committed.

“There’s an extremely strong basis for Argentina to closely examine a very broad record of documentation and facts. People around the world are desperate to see real accountability for people who are getting away with terrible crimes,” HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson told Al Jazeera.

Monday, November 26

US politicians’ concern on Saudi Arabia prompts Pompeo, Mattis briefing

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis will brief the US Senate on Wednesday on the latest developments related to Saudi Arabia, Senator John Cornyn, the number two Senate Republican, told reporters on Monday.

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said earlier this month he wanted Pompeo, Mattis and CIA Director Gina Haspel to come to the Capitol for a classified Senate briefing.

A Senate aide said Haspel is not scheduled to be involved in Wednesday’s briefing, which will take place at 11am (16:00 GMT).  A House of Representatives aide said no similar briefing had been scheduled in that chamber.

Cornyn also said he thought the Senate would vote on a Yemen resolution introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders seeking to pull back any US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Asked if the measure, which failed earlier this year, stood a chance of passage now, Cornyn said he did not want to “give Iran a pass.”

Turkish police search properties linked to Saudi businessmen

Police searched two villas in the province of Yalova, just south of Istanbul, in connection with the search for Jamal Khashoggi’s body.

Officials brought sniffer dogs and forensic teams were also on the scene.

The Istanbul prosecutor’s office said one of the villas belongs to a Saudi businessman named Mohammed Ahmed Alfaouzan, who is allegedly close to the Saudi crown prince, Turkish media reported.

Turkish media outlets also said Alfaouzan received the phone call from Mansour Othman Abahussain, an officer in the Saudi military and one of the 15 men accused of carrying out the Washington Post journalist’s killing.

“According to the Turkish prosecutor, a phone call was made a day before Mr Khashoggi was killed to the villa, and in that conversation, details were discussed as to how to dispose of Mr Khashoggi’s body,” Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley said.

Sunday, November 25

Members of US Congress disagree with Trump on Khashoggi murder

Adam Schiff, a Democratic senator who is set to lead the House Intelligence Committee when the US Congress returns in January, accused President Donald Trump of not telling the truth in his response to Khashoggi’s murder.

Trump branded ‘dishonest’ about CIA report on Khashoggi

Trump said earlier this week that a CIA report lacks evidence to blame Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of the Washington Post columnist.

“I think the president is being dishonest with the American people,” Schiff said during an interview with CNN.

“It would be one thing if he said ‘this is what has happened but nonetheless we need to maintain a relationship with the kingdom, but that is not what he is doing,” Schiff said.

“It telegraphs to despots around the world they can murder with impunity and that this president will have their back as long as they praise him or do business with him.”

Schiff’s comments were echoed by Mike Lee, a senator from Trump’s Republican party, who called on Congress to take action

Lee said on NBC’s Meet the Press that he disagreed with Trump’s allegations that information from US intelligence services does not implicate Prince Mohammed in the killing.

“I disagree with the president’s assessment. It’s inconsistent with the intelligence I’ve seen,” Lee said during the interview.

“I don’t know why he’s siding with the Saudis, but I think there are things we can do to change our relationship with the Saudis notwithstanding whatever his personal motivations might be,” Lee added.

“But again, I think Congress has to take some ownership of US foreign policy.”

Lee added that he was certain that the next US Congress, which will be inaugurated in January, will look into Trump’s alleged ties to Saudi Arabia.

Senior Saudi prince casts doubt on reported CIA findings

A senior Saudi prince cast doubt on the reported CIA finding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, saying the agency could not be counted on to reach a credible conclusion.

“The CIA is not necessarily the highest standard of veracity or accuracy in assessing situations. The examples of that are multitude,” Prince Turki al-Faisal, a senior member of the royal family, told journalists in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

The prince, a former Saudi intelligence chief who has also served as ambassador to the United States, said the agency’s conclusion that Iraq possessed chemical weaponsbefore the US invasion in 2003 showed it could be unreliable.

“I don’t see why the CIA is not on trial in the United States. This is my answer to their assessment of who is guilty and who is not and who did what in the consulate in Istanbul,” he said.

Saturday, November 24

Daughters vow to keep Khashoggi legacy alive

The two daughters of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi have vowed to keep the legacy of their father alive, in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post.

For Noha Khashoggi and Razan Jamal Khashoggi, growing up included visits to countless museums and historical sites, reflecting their parents’ love of knowledge.

The sisters recalled staying up nights wondering what their father was doing on one of his many trips abroad, “trusting that no matter how long he was gone, we would see him again, wide-armed, waiting for a hug”.

“As bittersweet as it was, we knew from a young age that Dad’s work meant that his reach extended far beyond our family, that he was an important man whose words had an effect on people over a great distance.”

They recounted the days after their father was first reported missing and how the family had visited his home in Virginia.

“The hardest part was seeing his empty chair. His absence was deafening. We could see him sitting there, glasses on his forehead, reading or typing away.”

“This is no eulogy, for that would confer a state of closure. Rather, this is a promise that his light will never fade, that his legacy will be preserved within us,” they wrote.

Friday, November 23

Khashoggi murder planned 12 days in advance, Turkish officials say

Turkish investigators analysing phone calls and the movement of the suspects in Khashoggi’s murder have told Al Jazeera that the operation to kill the journalist was planned 12 days in advance.

Investigators sifting through 19 phone calls made by Maher Mutreb, thought to be the lead negotiator inside the consulate, to Saudi Arabia have found that four of them were made to Saud al-Qahtani and that there is a third voice on the calls.

Al-Qahtani was believed to be the right-hand man of Prince Mohammed before being removed as a royal court adviser following the uproar over the murder.

“Today we learned from the officials that when Mutreb and al-Qahtani were talking on the phone, there was a third voice coming from the background of al-Qahtani’s phone … Al-Qahtani was transferring the information that he got from Mutreb to that third person,” Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Ankara, said.

“According to Turkish officials, they strongly believe that this third voice could belong to the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman but the technical analysis hasn’t concluded that yet because Mutreb was doing all these calls from his Saudi mobile phone and technically Turkey needs support to analyse it properly, ” she said.

It has also come to light that along with the Saudi consul-general, three other Saudi nationals employed in the consulate are considered prime suspects in the investigation into Khashoggi’s killing.

Turkish officials say those employees fled Turkey within three days of the consul-general also leaving the country shortly after Khashoggi’s murder.

One of the employees, who is thought to be linked to the Saudi intelligence agency, travelled to Riyadh 72 hours before Khashoggi’s arrival and returned to the consulate in Istanbul just before Khashoggi.

Cavusoglu: Trump shows he will turn blind eye to Khashoggi murder

US President Donald Trump’s latest comments about the killing of Khashoggi show that he will “turn a blind eye” to the issue regardless of what investigators uncover, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said.

Trump has vowed to retain Saudi Arabia as a “steadfast partner” despite saying that the kingdom’s crown prince may have known about the plan to murder the journalist.

Criticising Trump for prioritising commercial relations over justice, Cavusoglu said that human life should take precedence.

“This statement that Trump made also means: ‘No matter what happens, I will turn a blind eye.’ This is not a correct approach. Not everything is money,” Cavusoglu told broadcaster CNN Turk on Friday.

The foreign minister also commented on recent moves by European partners in relation to the case.

On Monday, Germany said it would bar 18 Saudis from entering its territory and Europe’s Schengen passport-free zone over their alleged links to the murder.

In October, Germany called for EU countries to follow its lead and suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, prompting a dismissive response from France.

But Denmark on Thursday followed suit, freezing all sales of weapons and military equipment to Riyadh.

Cavusoglu said “artificial measures” would not help solve the crisis.

“They (Europe) say they don’t want to upset ties with Saudi Arabia. We do not want to upset our relations either,” he said, but added Ankara would do anything to shed light on the murder.

Trump: CIA did not conclude MBS ordered murder

President Trump said that the CIA did not conclude that Prince Mohammed, also known as MBS, ordered the murder of Khashoggi.

US intelligence officials have reportedly said that the operation would have needed the approval at the highest levels, but the Saudis have strongly denied allegations that MBS was involved.

When asked about the CIA’s findings, Trump said that the intelligence agency “didn’t conclude”.

Citing vehement denials by MBS and King Salman, Trump said that “maybe the world should be held accountable because the world is a vicious place”.

“I hate the crime, I hate the cover-up. I will tell you this: The crown prince hates it more than I do, and they have vehemently denied it,” he said.

Thursday, November 22

EU’s Mogherini calls for ‘credible investigation’

A transparent and credible investigation into the killing of Khashoggi has not yet been completed, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, said on Thursday, after talks with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Speaking at a joint news conference with EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn and Cavusoglu in Ankara, Mogherini also said she was completely against any application of the death penalty.

On his part, Cavusoglu said the Khashoggi investigation was taking a long time and the international community expected an independent probe into the case.

Denmark suspends weapon export approvals to Saudi

Denmark has decided to suspend approvals of weapon and military equipment exports to Saudi Arabia over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the situation in Yemen, its foreign minister said on Thursday.

The decision was taken after recent discussions with other foreign ministers in the European Union, he added.

The suspension also includes some dual-use technologies, a reference to materials that might have military applications.

Saudi FM blasts ‘outrageous’ report that prince won’t become king

Journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder was an “unfortunate accident” and any discussion that Prince Mohammed was responsible and may not take the throne is “outrageous”, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said.

In a series of interviews on Wednesday, al-Jubeir reiterated that calls for MBS to be held accountable for Khashoggi’s shocking killing are a “red line”.

“We will not tolerate any discussion of anything that is disparaging towards our monarch or our crown prince,” al-Jubeir told the BBC.

On other television networks, Jubeir steadfastly defended MBS despite a CIA assessment reportedly saying there was “high probability” that he ordered the murder.

“We have made it very clear that Saudi Arabia’s government is not involved in this and the crown prince is not involved in this at all,” he told US network CNBC.

The foreign minister was also asked about a Reuters news agency report this week that quoted Saudi sources saying a move was in play to prevent MBS from ascending the throne once his father, King Salman, 82, dies.

“These are outrageous comments that have been made and are totally unacceptable. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is committed to its leadership,” he said.

“The crown prince has the confidence of every Saudi citizen, including King Salman. The crown prince is the architect and driving force behind the reform programme in Saudi Arabia and the Vision of 2030,” Jubeir told CBS.

Meanwhile, in a statement on Wednesday, Reuters said: “We stand by our story.”

Wednesday, November 21

US politicians accuse Trump of putting ‘Saudi Arabia first’

US senators accused Trump of putting “Saudi Arabia first” in his decision to not take punitive measures against the kingdom or Prince Mohammed over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Trump’s decision is “yet another fawning prostration to a foreign authoritarian”, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine tweeted on Tuesday.

“It’s only a matter of time until actions like this one by the president directly threaten our security,” he added.

US newspaper blasts Trump’s ‘business as usual’ with Saudi

The Washington Post denounced President Trump’s decision to refrain from punishing Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s death.

The Saudi writer, who was based in the US, wrote columns critical of the Saudi royal family for the newspaper.

In a statement published on Twitter, Washington Post publisher, Fred Ryan, accused Trump of putting personal relationships and commercial interests above American values of respect for human rights to continue to “do business as usual” with the Saudi crown prince.

Ryan further stated the CIA had “concluded with high confidence” that Prince Mohammed directed the October 2 killing. Ryan added if there is any reason to doubt these findings, Trump should immediately make that evidence public.

Trump said the CIA never made a “definitive” conclusion about who was responsible.

Tuesday, November 20

Senators demand ‘determination’ on MBS’s role in Khashoggi murder

High-ranking US senators called on Trump to investigate the part MBS played in Khashoggi’s death after the CIA reportedly determined the killing was ordered by MBS.

“In light of recent developments, including the Saudi government’s acknowledgement that Saudi officials killed Mr Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate, we request that your determination specifically address whether [MBS] is responsible for Mr Khashoggi’s murder,” Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Bob Menendez wrote in their letter to Trump, sent on Tuesday.

Corker is the chairman and Menendez the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Under the Magnitsky Act, a law which empowers the US government to investigate human rights abuses, the president is required “to determine whether a foreign person” has committed a “gross violation” of human rights against any individual, including extrajudicial murder.

The act also allows the US government to sanction individuals should it be determined they committed human rights violations.

Trump has said there will be no further punitive action against Saudi Arabia, citing arms deals and the kingdom’s role as “a great ally in our very important fight against Iran”.

Turkey demands clarification on Khashoggi killing: Cavusoglu

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara may seek a formal United Nations inquiry over Khashoggi’s killing if its liaising with Riyadh comes to an impasse.

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Tuesday, Cavusoglu said Turkey is not entirely satisfied with the level of cooperation it is receiving from Saudi Arabia over the case.

“Whoever gave the instruction should be held accountable… Whoever committed this crime should be brought to justice,” he said.

Repeating Ankara’s position that the truth had to come out on who ordered the journalist’s killing, Cavusoglu said his country had shared the latest information with the US.

Trump says open to MBS meeting at G20 summit

President Trump has said he is prepared to meet Prince Mohammed at the G20 summit in Argentina at the end of the month.

Press reports have linked MBS to the killing of Khashoggi, with US media reporting that the CIA has concluded that he ordered the assassination of the Washington Post columnist. The Saudi government has repeatedly denied the claim.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday shortly after releasing a statement in which he promised that the US would remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia, Trump said the CIA report into Khashoggi’s killing by Saudi agents found “nothing definitive”.

“The CIA looked at it,” he said at the White House. “They have nothing definitive.”

His comments came as leading Democrats in Congress criticised Trump for failing to take action against Prince Mohammed and called for cuts to Washington’s support to Riyadh.

Iran’s Zarif says Trump’s Khashoggi statement ‘shameful’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that US President Donald Trump’s statement that Washington will stand by Riyadh despite Khashoggi’s murder is “shameful”.

In his statement, Trump also took aim at Iran, saying the country “is considered ‘the world’s leading sponsor of terror’.”

In response, Zarif wrote on Twitter: “Mr. Trump bizarrely devotes the FIRST paragraph of his shameful statement on Saudi atrocities to accuse IRAN of every sort of malfeasance he can think of. Perhaps we’re also responsible for the California fires, because we didn’t help rake the forests – just like the Finns do?”

Javad Zarif

@JZarif

Mr. Trump bizarrely devotes the FIRST paragraph of his shameful statement on Saudi atrocities to accuse IRAN of every sort of malfeasance he can think of. Perhaps we’re also responsible for the California fires, because we didn’t help rake the forests— just like the Finns do?

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Pompeo backs Trump’s support of Saudi Arabia

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Washington’s support of Saudi Arabia in comments made shortly after President Trump defied international pressure over Khashoggi’s killing and promised to remain a “steadfast partner” of the kingdom.

Speaking to reporters following a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Washington on Tuesday, Pompeo said the US was obligated to “adopt policies that further America’s national security”.

He added: “The United States will continue to have a relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, they are an important partner of ours, we will do that with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its people – that is the commitment that the president made today, it is that straightforward.

“This is a long historic commitment and one that is absolutely vital to America’s national security.”

US president’s full statement on Khashoggi murder

Click here to read Donald Trump’s statement on the Saudi journalist’s killing last month.

Trump not taking punitive measures against Saudis over Khashoggi

Despite US intelligence reportedly linking MBS to the murder of Khashoggi, President Trump said on Tuesday the US would continue to have a “steadfast” relationship with the kingdom.

Trump said it “could very well be” that Prince Mohammed “had knowledge of this tragic event” and that the US intelligence agencies continue to assess all information surrounding the killing of the Saudi writer and critic.

‘Blindingly obvious’ that MBS ordered Khashoggi murder: report

A US State Department official who has seen a version of the CIA’s assessment on the murder of Khashoggi said it is “blindingly obvious” that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing.

“The idea that it goes all the way to the top is blindingly obvious. There’s overwhelming consensus that the leadership is involved – no one is debating it within the government,” the official told ABC News on condition of anonymity on Tuesday.

However, the official acknowledged that the words “probably” and “likely” are used when attributing the death to MBS, ABC News reported, adding that the source noted that CIA analysis reports rarely include explicit conclusions.

Pompeo handed Riyadh plan to shield MBS: Middle East Eye

Saudi Arabia’s king and crown prince are shielding themselves from the Jamal Khashoggi murder scandal by using a plan drawn up by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a senior Saudi source told Middle East Eye.

Pompeo delivered the plan in person during a meeting with Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, last month in Riyadh, said the source, who is familiar with the official’s talks with the Saudi leaders.

The plan includes an option to pin the Saudi journalist’s murder on an innocent member of the ruling Al Saud family in order to insulate those at the very top, the source told MEE.

That person has not yet been chosen, the source said, and Saudi leaders are reserving the use of that plan in case the pressure on MBS becomes too much.

“We would not be surprised if that happens,” the source told MEE.

The US State Department denied the Saudi source’s allegations and called them “a complete misrepresentation of the secretary’s diplomatic mission to Saudi Arabia”.

“We’ve spoken publicly about our goals: to impress upon Saudi leadership the seriousness which the United States government attaches to a prompt and complete accounting of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told MEE.

Trump under pressure to release Khashoggi murder report

President Trump is facing increasing pressure to take tougher measures against Saudi Arabia before the expected release of an official report into the killing of Khashoggi.

Trump told reporters on Saturday that a detailed report including information about who was responsible for the murder of the Washington Post columnist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul would be released “probably on Monday or Tuesday”.

According to US media reports, the CIA has concluded that Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s de facto leader, ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

Trump has called the reports “premature” saying he’s not convinced that MBS was directly responsible for the October 2 slaying of the writer.

Saudi FM: Turkey not blaming MBS for Khashoggi’s killing

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir rejected media reports that the CIA believes MBS ordered the killing of Khashoggi and said Turkish statements on the matter were not referring to him.

“We in the kingdom know that such allegations about the crown prince have no basis in truth and we categorically reject them, whether through leaks or not,” Jubeir said in an interview with Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in remarks published on Tuesday.

“They are leaks that have not been officially announced, and I have noticed that they are based on an assessment, not conclusive evidence,” he added.

Report: Saudi royals turn on king’s favourite son after killing

Members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are agitating to prevent Prince Mohammed from becoming king after the international uproar over the killing of Khashoggi, sources close to the royal court told Reuters news agency.

Senior US officials, meanwhile, indicated to Saudi advisers in recent weeks they would support Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz – who was deputy interior minister for nearly 40 years – as a potential successor to King Salman, according to Saudi sources with direct knowledge of the consultations.

Amid international outrage over Khashoggi’s murder, dozens of princes and cousins from powerful branches of the Al Saud family want to see a change in the line of succession, but will not act while King Salman – the crown prince’s 82-year-old father – is still alive, sources said.

They recognise the king is unlikely to turn against his favourite son, the report added. Rather, they are discussing the possibility with other family members that after the king’s death, Prince Ahmed, 76, uncle of the crown prince, could take the throne, according to the sources.

Click here for all previous updates

Saudi Arabia post-Khashoggi: Business as usual?

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Saudi Arabia post-Khashoggi: Business as usual?

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

 

Syria: Hundreds of bodies exhumed from mass grave in Raqqa

A month and a half since digging in one of Raqqa‘s largest discovered mass graves began, grave diggers continue to exhume bodies, with one official saying that more than 500 bodies have been so far recovered.

The operation in the city in northern Syria, once the de facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group, is being undertaken by local groups and first responders amid concerns regarding the preservation of bodies and evidence for possible war crimes trials.

WATCH

Competing narratives: The fall of Raqqa

Raqqa was taken from ISIL in October 2017 after a fierce US-backed campaign, but recovery teams continue to locate mass graves in and around the city.

The Panorama mass grave, named after the neighbourhood where it was found, is one of the largest of nine mass graves discovered so far, and is believed to contain around 1,500 bodies.

Hammoud al-Shawakh, a local official involved in the work, was quoted as saying by The Associated Press news agency on Tuesday that 516 bodies believed to be of ISIL fighters and civilians have so far been exhumed.

Race against time

The work to exhume the bodies, which are believed to have been buried there in the last days of the four-month campaign to capture Raqqa, is painstaking and the task is huge .

Abdul Raouf al-Ahmad, a deputy forensic doctor, said local teams start their work at 8am and work for more than seven hours straight each day.

“After we extract the bodies from this grave … we document whether it belongs to a fighter, child, baby, an adolescent or woman or an ordinary person,” he told AP.

“We document clothing, ornaments, height, type of injury, cause of death and how it was covered, what the person was wearing, with what it was wrapped and its position in the grave,” he added.

International human rights groups say they are concerned that local groups are not getting the support they need in terms of forensic expertise and human resources.

“We’re in a race against time. These bodies are decomposing at an exponential rate,” said Sara Kayyali, of Human Rights Watch.

“If these bodies are not preserved in the correct way, in the way that’s been established, then it does mean that much of this evidence might be lost when we’re seeking accountability for crimes committed either in the context of the battle or before it,” she added.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

Russia-Ukraine tensions rise after Kerch Strait ship capture

Ukraine’s parliament is to decide whether to bring in martial law, after Sunday’s capture of three of its naval vessels and 23 crew members by Russia.

The three ships were sailing off the coast of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, when they were seized.

Russia opened fire, before its special forces stormed the vessels. Between three and six Ukrainians were injured.

Ukraine said it was a Russian “act of aggression”. Moscow said the ships had illegally entered its waters.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he was proposing that parliament back a 30-day martial law – half the length of that recommended by Ukraine’s security and defence council a day earlier.

In a televised address, Mr Poroshenko said he did not want martial law to affect presidential elections set for 31 March 2019. If backed by MPs, martial law would enter into force at 09:00 local time (07:00 GMT) on 28 November.

Sunday’s clash between Russian and Ukrainian vessels marks a major escalation of tension between the two countries.

This is the first time the two militaries have come into open conflict in recent years, although Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists and Russia volunteers in the east of the country.

Kiev also says Russian regular troops have fired on Ukrainian positions a number of times in the past.

A number of Western countries condemned Russia’s actions.

In New York, the UN Security Council met to discuss the crisis – but failed to agree a Russian-proposed agenda amid sharp disagreements between Moscow and the West.

Sunday’s naval clash – what happened?

The Ukrainian navy said its vessels – two gunboats and a tug – were hit and disabled on Sunday evening as they tried to leave the area near a Russian-built bridge over the Kerch Strait – the only access to the Sea of Azov.

It said all the crew members – including six injured sailors – were captured by Russian special forces.

Russian navy vessels encircling Ukrainian ships, 25 NovemberImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionRussian navy ships intercepted the Ukrainian vessels after accusing them of entering Russia’s waters
The seized Ukrainian ships anchored in a port in KerchImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe Ukrainian vessels are now detained in Russian-annexed Crimea

Ukrainian military chief Viktor Muzhenko said the Russian coastguard had “fired to kill” during the confrontation.

Russia’s FSB security agency said its coastguard ships chased the Ukrainian ships and opened fire to force them to stop.

It also said three Ukrainian crew members were injured and were now being treated in a hospital in Crimea.

Before the clash, Russia scrambled fighter jets and helicopters, and also blocked the bridge with a tanker.

What led to this?

On Sunday morning, Ukraine’s vessels tried to sail from the Black Sea port of Odessa to Mariupol in the Sea of Azov.

Ukraine said Russia then tried to intercept the boats, ramming the tug.

map

Russia accused the Ukrainian ships of illegally entering its waters, after the FSB had temporarily closed an area of water for shipping.

Kiev called it a flagrant violation of international law, because the Black Sea is free for shipping, and annexed Crimea belongs to Ukraine.

Ukraine also cited a 2003 Russia-Ukraine treaty on unimpeded access to the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov.

It said it had informed the Russians in advance of its plan to move its ships through the sea to Mariupol – a claim denied by Russia.

In recent weeks, two Ukrainian vessels passed through the Kerch Straight without incident.

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‘A difficult balance’

By Jonathan Marcus, defence and diplomatic correspondent

The incident in the Black Sea is a powerful reminder that the tensions between Russia and Ukraine are not part of a frozen conflict: they can flare up with very little warning.

Nato and Ukraine’s allies in the West have strongly backed President Petro Poroshenko. But what can they do to influence Russian behaviour?

There will be talk of more economic sanctions. But Russia is already heavily sanctioned and this has not encouraged it to rethink its annexation of Crimea. There will be calls for additional support for the Ukrainians; Nato countries provide training for Kiev’s military – they could presumably do more.

And the Trump administration, even before this episode, was already considering calls to sell additional weaponry to Ukraine in addition to the Javelin anti-tank missiles already supplied.

But there is a difficult balance to be struck between support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity on the one hand and avoiding anything that might tip the conflict into full-scale war.

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Why is this happening now?

There have been growing tensions between the two sides over access to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

In recent months, Russia has begun inspecting all vessels sailing to or from Ukrainian ports.

Media captionJonah Fisher talks to a commander of the Ukrainian Navy about the tensions in the Azov Sea

The inspections began soon after Ukraine detained a fishing vessel from Crimea in March. Moscow says the checks are necessary for security reasons, pointing to a potential threat to the Kerch bridge from Ukrainian radicals.

Ukraine has accused Russia of trying to occupy the Azov sea and damage Ukraine’s economy by hindering access to two important ports, Berdyansk and Mariupol.

President Poroshenko told the Washington Post in September that iron and steel products from Mariupol made up 25% of Ukraine’s export revenue.

How has Ukraine reacted?

The stand-off has been met with anger in Ukraine.

Late on Sunday, crowds gathered outside the Russian embassy in Kiev, some throwing flares. At least one car belonging to the embassy was set alight.

Activists of Ukrainian far-right parties hold flares during a rally at the Ukrainian parliamentImage copyrightAFP
Image captionFar-right activists in Ukraine have been demanding martial law
A man extinguishes a burning car of the embassy of Russia after a protest against the seizure by Russian special forces of three Ukrainian naval ships, which Russia blocked from passing through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov in the Black Sea,Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionRussia said it was outraged by the attack on its embassy

President Poroshenko described the Russian actions as “unprovoked and crazy”, and said he would ask parliament on Monday to introduce martial law. He has now signed the decree requesting parliament to do so.

He stressed that this did not mean a “declaration of war… Ukraine does not plan to fight anyone”.

The Ukrainian defence ministry announced that orders had been given to put the military on full combat alert.

What could martial law in Ukraine involve?

Martial law could give the government the power to restrict public demonstrations, regulate the media, suspend elections, and oblige citizens to carry out “socially necessary” tasks such as working at a defence facility, local media report.

Ukraine’s parliament is currently discussing how to proceed with the issue. A vote is expected later on Monday.

If approved, it would be the first time Ukraine has enacted martial law since the beginning of the Ukraine-Russia conflict in 2014.

However, politicians are split on the issue, with some expressing concern that it could lead to the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections being cancelled.

Some say President Poroshenko could be a main beneficiary, as his ratings have plummeted in recent months.

Why are relations so bad between Russia and Ukraine?

Ukraine gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

However, Russia considers a Western-leaning Ukraine a threat to its interests.

In 2014, Ukraine’s pro-Russian leader was overthrown, after large-scale protests against the government’s decision to abandon plans to sign an association agreement with the EU.

Russia then annexed Crimea, while Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions moved against the Ukrainian state.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of sending its troops to the region and arming the separatists.

 

Source : BBC

Syria war: Aleppo ‘gas attack’ sparks Russia strikes

Russia has carried out air strikes against Syrian rebels it accuses of launching a chemical attack on the government-held city of Aleppo.

Both Syria and its Russian allies say shells carrying toxic gas injured about 100 people late on Saturday.

State media showed images of Aleppo residents being treated in hospital as they struggled to breathe.

The rebels deny carrying out a chemical strike and say the claims are a pretext for an attack on opposition-held areas.

Parts of the Aleppo region, as well as the neighbouring provinces of Hama and Idlib, are controlled by Turkish-backed rebels and jihadists.

On Sunday the Russian defence ministry said warplanes had launched strikes on “the identified positions of terrorist artillery in the area that shelled civilians in the city of Aleppo” the previous evening.

It added that all “militant” targets had been “destroyed”. There is no word on any casualties.

Map showing control of Idlib province, Syria (3 September 2018)
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Earlier, the Observatory for Human Rights rights, a network of activist groups that monitor the conflict, said about 100 people, including women and children, had been treated for breathing difficulties following a strike on western parts of Aleppo on Saturday.

The Damascus government and Russia say rebels used chlorine gas in the attack.

Zaher Batal, the head of the Aleppo Doctors Syndicate, told Reuters news agency that it was the first gas attack against civilians in the city since the start of the conflict in 2011.

But Abdel-Salam Abdel-Razak, an official from the Nour al-Din al-Zinki, an influential jihadist group in the area, dismissed the reports as “purely a lie”, Reuters news agency reported.

Western countries and the UN have accused government forces of using chemical and nerve agents on numerous occasions since the start of the civil war.

There has been no major offensive in northern Syria since September, when Russia and Turkey agreed to create a buffer zone to separate government forces from rebel fighters in Idlib province.

 

Source : BBC

Raed Fares: Syria radio host shot dead in Idlib

A prominent Syrian radio journalist has been shot dead by gunmen in the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib.

Raed Fares, a well-known Syrian activist, was killed in the north-western town of Kafranbel.

It was not the first time the founder of Radio Fresh, an independent radio station broadcasting from inside opposition-held areas in the country, had been targeted.

His activism had earned the ire of both militants and the Syrian government.

Four years ago, two gunmen for the Islamic State (IS) militant group shattered several bones and punctured his lung in a failed attempt to silence Fares.

More attempts on his life would follow and yet the former estate agent was determined to carry on.

“He was very much aware that he should not expect to die quietly in his bed,” French journalist Nicolas Henin told the BBC.

Henin, who described Fares as “one of the most impressive leaders of the Syrian revolution”, explained that even with the constant threats, his friend had refused to carry a weapon.

“It was nothing for himself and because his fight was just dedicated to the people, and to the welfare of all groups, all society,” he said.

“I think he believed that that was his best protection.”

Defiance

It was not just Fares the militants took issue with. The radio station – with its music and female presenters – also angered the groups which overran the town and surrounding area.

Four years ago, when IS had a presence in Idlib province, the station’s office was raided by militants. In 2016, Fares was detained by the Nusra Front, the former al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance (HTS), which currently controls most of Idlib province, had ordered Radio Fresh to stop broadcasting music.

The station’s response was to play long sequences of other sounds, such as tweeting birds, clucking chickens and bleating goats.

“They tried to force us to stop playing music on air,” Fares told the BBC in 2017. “So we started to play animals in the background as a kind of sarcastic gesture against them.”

Later, the station began to introduce further defiant sounds including bongs from London’s Big Ben clock, ticking sounds, ringing explosions and chanting football fans.

Another group, the now-dissolved Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, once instructed the radio station to take women off the air. Instead of complying, Fares told the BBC’s Mike Thomson about his creative solution to get round the issue.

“We simply put their voices through a computer software programme which makes them sound like men,” he said.

‘Let them kill me’

But, despite these battles, Fares never forgot the reason he had first gone out on to the streets back in 2011.

Up until the end, he remained a vocal critic of President Bashar al-Assad, the man who has clung to power through seven years of civil war.

In his final Facebook post, Fares described a protest in Kafranbel on 5 October calling for the end of Mr Assad’s reign.

“The people of Kafranbel are in Huriyah [Freedom] Square and voices are chanting: The people want the downfall of the regime. We started this in 2011 and we are continuing on. Our loyalty to the martyrs and detainees has increased our determination.”

In the end, he did not live to see the end of the war. Radio Fresh’s Facebook page posted a graphic photo of Fares’ body on 23 November, along with an image of the body of Hammoud Juneid, another activist who was shot dead.

Dozens of people gathered for their funerals the same day as news of his death began to filter out to the wider world, leading to an outpouring of grief on social media from activists and international journalists.

Among the tributes was one from Fadel Abdul Ghany, founder and chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, who revealed he had asked Fares to leave.

Fares, however, was not to be moved.

“What can they do? Kill me?” he asked. “Well let them kill me. I’m not going to leave and leave them the country.”

 

Source : BBC

Khashoggi murder: Calls to remove Saudi crown prince ‘a red line’

Calls to remove Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are a “red line”, the Saudi foreign minister has told the BBC, amid a global outcry over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Adel al-Jubeir said the prince had not been involved in the 2 October killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

This comes a day after the US Congress demanded an investigation into whether the prince had a role in the murder.

President Donald Trump has defended US ties with Saudi Arabia.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Trump acknowledged that the crown prince “could very well” have known about Khashoggi’s brutal murder, adding: “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

What did the Saudi foreign minister say?

Speaking to the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet in Riyadh, Mr al-Jubeir said: “In Saudi Arabia our leadership is a red line. The custodian of the two holy mosques [King Salman] and the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) are a red line.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. File photoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionJamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October

“They represent every Saudi citizen and every Saudi citizen represents them. And we will not tolerate any discussion of anything that is disparaging towards our monarch or our crown prince.”

Mr al-Jubeir reiterated that the crown prince had not been involved in the murder.

“We have made that very clear. We have investigations ongoing and we will punish the individuals who are responsible for this,” he said.

It has been widely reported in the US media that the CIA believes the grisly killing could only have happened on the crown prince’s order.

But Mr al-Jubeir disputed those reports, saying the killing was a “rogue operation” by intelligence agents.

Media captionWhy do Trump’s Saudi job numbers keep growing?

And the Saudi minister again urged Turkey to provide all the evidence about the killing and stop leaking information.

He also said any potential US sanctions against Saudi Arabia would be short-sighted.

What about the investigation demand from the US Congress?

On Tuesday, Republican Senator Bob Corker and Democrat Bob Menendez issued a statement on behalf of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In it they called on Mr Trump to focus a second investigation specifically on the crown prince so as to “determine whether a foreign person is responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture or other gross violation” of human rights.

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The request, issued under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, requires a response within 120 days.

What did Trump’s earlier statement say?

“The world is a very dangerous place!” Mr Trump said in his statement, before holding up Saudi Arabia as an ally of the US against Iran.

The kingdom spent “billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism” whereas Iran has “killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East”.

US President Donald Trump. File photoImage copyrightEPA
Image captionPresident Trump called Saudi Arabia a “steadfast partner”

It also stressed Saudi investment pledges and arms purchases. “If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries,” it added.

While admitting the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was “terrible”, Mr Trump wrote that “we may never know all of the facts” about his death.

“The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”

Mr Trump later said he would meet Mohammed bin Salman at a G20 meeting in Argentina next week if the crown prince attended.

Source : BBC

Explosion rips through large Sunni gathering in Kabul, killing at least 40

KABUL — A suicide bomber attacked a religious gathering Tuesday in the Afghan capital, killing more than 40 Muslim scholars and clerics who had gathered to mark the birth anniversary of the prophet Muhammad, officials said.

The victims included religious delegates from various parts of Afghanistan, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said. He said the gathering was convened by the Afghan Ulema Council, the country’s largest religious body, and was attended by hundreds of Sunni Muslims. More than 80 attendees were wounded, officials said.

In a statement, President Ashraf Ghani described the attack as “unforgivable and a clear act of hostility against Islam’s teaching.” The United Nations mission in Afghanistan said it was outraged by the attack.

According to government officials, the bombing was carried out by a lone assailant who targeted the ceremony in large hall on the first floor of a hotel close to the Interior Ministry, a venue usually used for weddings.

More than 20 of those wounded in the attack were in critical condition, Health Ministry officials said. There were unconfirmed reports about the deaths of a number of top religious figures.

Officials said they feared that the death toll could rise.

Afghan health workers bring an injured man to a hospital after a suicide attack on a religious gathering in Kabul killed at leat 40 people, Nov. 20, 2018. (Jawad Jalali/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
One police official said high-grade explosives were used in the blast, which left body parts strewn all over the floor of the hall.

Police were not asked to provide security for the event, a police spokesman said, and the suicide bomber was able to slip into the hall undetected.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

[Suicide bomber strikes meeting of Afghan clerics who had just condemned terrorism]

In June, at least 14 people, including seven clerics, were killed in a suicide attack in Kabul after leaving a government-sponsored conference of the Ulema Council at which religious leaders from both Sunni and Shiite sects condemned suicide attacks and the militants’ war against the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the June attack, denouncing the meeting of “tyrant clerics” and their condemnation of suicide attacks, according to a website affiliated with the group.

The Afghan Ulema Council had issued an unprecedented religious edict earlier that day that said the insurgency in Afghanistan has no religious basis. It also declared that suicide attacks, often used by Taliban and Islamic State insurgents, are “haram,” or forbidden by Islam.

Affiliates of the Islamic State have repeatedly targeted mosques and sites of worship of Afghan Shiite Muslims in recent years. The Islamic State, a radical Sunni group, regards Shiites as heretics.

Ambulance sirens could be heard in several parts of the capital after Tuesday’s attack. Images on social media showed part of the badly damaged hall of the hotel.

Earlier this month, a deadly blast targeted a demonstration by hundreds of minority Shiites in the capital. Afghan officials said several people were killed in the Nov. 12 explosion near a high school and close to a gathering of people protesting Taliban attacks on Shiite areas in the Jaghuri and Malistan districts of eastern Ghazni province.

While it remained unclear who carried out Tuesday’s bombing, hard-line Sunnis view venerating the prophet’s birthday as sacrilegious. Although the anniversary is widely celebrated in the Islamic world, it is a holiday that extreme fundamentalists are trying to stamp out.

 

Source :The Washington Post

Suing Jordan ‘only way to get truth’: Families of slain US troops

The families of three US soldiers killed by a guard at a military base in Jordan two years ago say their recently-filed lawsuit against the kingdom “is the only way” to expose the truth behind their relatives’ deaths.

In the complaint, which was submitted on Friday to a federal court in Washington, DC, the families accuse Jordan of being “complicit in a terrorist act” and seek unspecified damages over the wrongful death of their loved ones.

The three special forces soldiers – Staff Sergeant Matthew Lewellen, 27; Staff Sergeant Kevin McEnroe, 30; and Staff Sergeant James Moriarty, 27 – were part of a CIA programme training members of Syrian opposition groups in Jordan.

On November 4, 2016, they were shot at close range by Maarik al-Tawaiha, a sergeant in the Jordanian Air Force, when their convoy was stopped at the gate of the King Faisal base in southern Jordan after a training mission nearby.

Al-Tawaiha, who was named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit, was later convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison by a Jordanian military court.

The Jordanian sergeant had pleaded not guilty, maintaining that he opened fire because he believed the US troops were posing a threat after failing to stop their vehicle as they approached the gate.

According to publicly available documents in regards to the case, neither the FBI, which investigated the incident, nor the Jordanian government was able to establish a motive for the killing. 

“The families have decided to file a lawsuit because it is the only way to get the truth,” James R Moriarty, father of the slain 27-year-old soldier, told Al Jazeera on Monday.

He added that “there is no reason why the FBI still withholds information about the case and refuses to share with the families.”

Alleged Jordan cover-up

The lawsuit alleges that Jordan was engaged in “a cover-up” in the killing of the soldiers because of its multiple conflicting statements in the hours, days and months that followed the shooting.

These statements, the complaint says, showed that Amman was “complicit” in a “terrorist act” against legally protected US citizens on Jordanian soil.

Maarik al-Tawaiha [Courtesy of Al-Tawaiha family/Al Jazeera]

An initial statement carried by Jordan’s state media after the shooting claimed that the US soldiers had violated protocol and “refused to obey orders” upon entering the base, triggering the shooting from al-Tawaiha who shot them in accordance with “internationally recognised rules of engagement”.

There were also claims that the soldiers had consumed alcohol and that the killing was precipitated by some kind of “loud noise” or a shot that was heard in the vicinity.

Amid growing pressure, these statements were later retracted and the Jordanian government released a six-minute video of the incident that contradicted the previous version of events and officially apologised to the families.

Jordanian sources who were present at the hospital where the US soldiers were taken after the shooting told Al Jazeera that laboratory tests showed no presence of alcohol in their blood.

‘False narrative’

Moriarty, the father, insisted that there was Jordanian complicity in the incident, asking: “Why about 10 Jordanian soldiers who were present at the gate at the time of the shooting did not try to help my son who laid wounded on the ground?”

Brian McEnroe, the father of Kevin McEnroe, also told Al Jazeera on Monday: “The bottom line is that Jordan … started a false narrative from the day the shooting happened and continued to lie for four months after the incident trying not to blame the shooter and saying he was acting properly – and it was clear he did not.”

Jumana Ghunaimat, a spokesperson for the Jordanian government, did not respond to calls and messages requesting comments for this report.

Khalil Atieh, the longest-serving member of the Jordanian parliament, rejected the claims against Jordan in the lawsuit.

“Jordan has never aided and abetted terrorism, on the contrary, Jordan stands at the forefront in the war against terrorism in this region,” Atieh told Al Jazeera, adding that his country “has paid a heavy price because of our stance against terrorism and for its alliance with the US against terrorism”.

Referring to al-Tawaiha’s case, Atieh said, “The shooter was tried, convicted and sentenced in Jordanian court and everyone should respect the integrity of the Jordanian justice system.”

Jordan, a close ally of the United States, receives $1.7bn in economic and military aid a year from Washington.

Three US soldiers were killed at the entrance of the base [US Army]

‘Scapegoat’

Speaking to Al Jazeera, a relative of al-Tawaiha who wished to remain anonymous said the convicted Jordanian soldier was made a “scapegoat” to cover up the responsibility of certain government officials. The relative did not name the officials he was referring to.

“We pressed government officials in a meeting with them last year to publicly release the entire video of the incident but they refused,” the relative claimed.

He added that the officials, in refusing to release more information, said that there were things they should not see or know about.

Sayel Abu Tayeh, a former member of Jordan’s armed forces and a close relative of al-Tawaiha said he still believes the convicted sergeant is innocent, claiming that there is more information to this case than what has been publicly released.

“We don’t accept or agree to the killing of any American citizen,” he told Al Jazeera. “On the contrary, we are sorry that Americans were killed. The responsibility of their killing, however, lies elsewhere.”

A former senior Jordanian military officer familiar with the case, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, argued that Jordan has only itself to blame in this case because “its officials did not tell the truth” in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and “did not respect the people who died on its soil”.

 

Source : Aljazeera English