Daily Archives: April 23, 2014

Egypt intel: Hamas provided Muslim Brotherhood safe haven in Gaza to plan terror ops

Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim.

Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim.

CAIRO — Egypt has determined that Muslim Brotherhood fighters were receiving weapons and combat training in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Officials said the Egyptian intelligence community was tracing the flow of Brotherhood members to and from the Gaza Strip.

The officials said the Brotherhood was granted at least two facilities in southern Gaza for training and planning operations in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

“Despite repeated warnings, Hamas was allowing and in some cases aiding the Brotherhood terrorists,” an official said.

Officials said the Gaza Strip was also being used as a safe haven for the Brotherhood. They said Brotherhood fighters were learning weapons skills and the assembly of remote-controlled improvised explosive devices.

On April 17, the Egyptian Army captured 37 suspected Islamist fighters in northern Sinai. Two insurgents were killed in shootouts with army and Central Security Forces units around Sheik Zweid and El Arish.

Officials have identified at least one insurgency group as linked to the Brotherhood. The Interior Ministry determined that Ajnad Misr, which emerged in 2014 and claimed responsibility for eight bombings, was formed by a
Brotherhood leader. Ajnad was also believed linked to Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, deemed the most active insurgency group in Egypt.

“Call it Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, call it Ajnad Misr, either way, it is a Muslim Brotherhood militia, and the Brotherhood-era youth minister Osama Yassin was behind them,” Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said.

In a statement to Egypt’s independent daily Al Masri Al Yom, Ibrahim said Ajnad was an offshoot of Ansar. The minister said Ajnad, endorsed by Al Qaida leader Ayman Zawahiri, stemmed from the Brotherhood-linked protest group, Students Against the Coup, which began operating after the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.

Ajnad has released a 23-minute video on Facebook that included footage of attacks on Egyptian security forces. The group claimed responsibility for the assassination of a senior police officer outside Cairo University in early April.

Officials said Yassin was recruiting additional militias, some of them linked to Al Qaida in Libya. They cited the new Free Egyptian Army in Libya.

“State bodies are currently examining methods to handle what is called the Free Egyptian Army in Libya, which provides a fertile ground for the growth and birth of jihadist groups,” Ibrahim said.

Officials said the Brotherhood was also establishing connections with the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant. They said ISIL, through an intermediary identified only as Abu Suhail, was working with the Brotherhood in operations in Sinai.

“The link began even before Morsi’s ouster,” an official said. “ISIL showed the Brotherhood techniques in surveillance of military positions.”

world tribune

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‘Nothing to lose’: Three inmates hold officer hostage in Ohio jail

Three inmates at the Trumbull County Jail in Warren, Ohio are holding a correctional officer hostage in a jail cell, according to local news reports.

Trumbull County deputies have confirmed the hostage situation, which began at approximately 3:30pm EDT, but are not offering any details, according to WOIO-TV.

The inmates are David Martin, Richard Ware, and Kevin Johns, according to reports.

Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office Major Thomas Stewart said they are holding Officer Joe Lynn in a holding area. The inmates have covered the door of the room with sheets and tied them to the table so that should anyone try to enter, the sheets tighten, WKBN-TV reported.

Trumbull County Sheriff Thomas Altiere told WFMJ-TV that the inmates tackled and handcuffed the officer on the third floor of the jail.

A hostage negotiator with the Ohio State Patrol is trying to resolve the situation, according to WOIO. The FBI, Ohio State Patrol, SWAT, and Youngstown Police are also assisting.

Martin, from the Cleveland area, is facing a murder charge. Johns was recently convicted on rape and kidnapping charges. Ware is in jail on aggravated robbery charges. His pre-trial is set to begin on May 20, according to WKBN.

Some jail employees were evacuated from the facility, WKBN reported.

Martin called WOIO-TV and told a reporter that he had “nothing to lose” and wanted “his story told” according to the New York Daily News, although that information could not be immediately verified.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

 

 

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Benghazi attack resulted from US ‘allowing arms deliveries’ to militants

A vehicle (R) and the surrounding buildings burn after they were set on fire inside the US consulate compound in Benghazi late on September 11, 2012.

The deadly attack on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, could have been prevented if Washington had not allowed arms shipment to reach al-Qaeda-linked militants, said a group launched to unearth truth behind the 2012 ordeal.

“The White House and senior Congressional members deliberately and knowingly pursued a policy that provided material support to terrorist organizations in order to topple a ruler [Muammar Gaddafi] who had been working closely with the West actively to suppress al-Qaeda,” the Citizens Commission on Benghazi (CCB) said in an interim report released Tuesday.

As a result of such policy, there has been “utter chaos” in Libya, across North Africa and beyond, “the spread of dangerous weapons (including surface-to-air missiles), and the empowerment of jihadist organizations like al-Qa’eda and the Muslim Brotherhood,” the group said in the document, entitled “How America Switched Sides in the War on Terror.”

The commission, set up last year by US center-right press watchdog Accuracy in Media (AIM), is comprised of retired senior military officers and CIA insiders and experts. Its goal is to answer the remaining questions about the September 11, 2012 attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Following a seven-month review of the bloody incident, the Commission blamed the Obama administration for failing to prevent a multi-million dollar United Arab Emirates weapons shipment from getting into hands of al-Qaeda-linked militants.

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames.

The United States switched sides in the war on terror with what we did in Libya, knowingly facilitating the provision of weapons to known al-Qaeda militias and figures,” Clare Lopez, a member of the commission and a former CIA officer, told the MailOnline.

Lopez claimed that the weapons that came into the city of Benghazi “were permitted to enter” by American armed forces who were blockading the approaches from air and sea.

They were permitted to come in. … [They] knew these weapons were coming in, and that was allowed,” she said. “The intelligence community was part of that, the Department of State was part of that, and certainly that means that the top leadership of the United States, our national security leadership, and potentially Congress – if they were briefed on this – also knew about this.”

Now all those arms are in Syria, according to another commission member, Retired Rear Admiral Chuck Kubic.

Talking to journalists on Tuesday, he noted that Gaddafi, Libya’s overthrown and killed leader, “was not a good guy, but he was being marginalized.”

According to the commission findings, shortly after the beginning of the Libyan uprising in February 2011, Gaddafi “offered to abdicate.” However, Washington, “ignored his calls for a truce,” the group wrote, which led to extensive loss of life – including the four Americans – chaos, and detrimental outcomes for U.S. national security objectives across the region.

We had a leader who had won the Nobel Peace Prize,” Kubic said, “but who was unwilling to give peace a chance for 72 hours.”

On March 21, 2011, the US Army General Carter Ham, who was leading the American forces enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, said that attacking Gaddafi was not part of the mission.

That, Kubic noted, was a signal to the Libyan leader that there was a chance for a deal.

By 22 March 2011, Qaddafi verifiably had begun to pull his forces back from key rebel-held cities such as Benghazi and Misrata. Word was passed that he wanted a way out of the crisis and was willing to step down and permit a transition government to take power in his stead,” the report said.

In exchange for the stepping down, Gaddafi reportedly wanted permission to continue fighting al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – the north-African wing of the terrorist organization. The second condition was the lifting of the sanctions against Gaddafi himself, his family members and people loyal to him.

However, the CCB said, despite the willingness of both the US Army General and the Libyan leader to pursue the possibility of truce talks, “permission was not given to Gen. Ham from his chain of command in the Pentagon and the window of opportunity closed.”

The Obama Administration and the National Security Staff did not immediately respond to questions about the commission’s findings, the Daily Mail reported.

We don’t claim to have all the answers here,” Roger Aronoff, AIM’s editor told journalists. “We hope you will, please, pursue this. Check it out. Challenge us,” he added.

The Commission’s findings are based on information they got from interviews with “several knowledgeable sources,” they said. As part of the investigation, the CCB along with AIM have also filed 85 document requests under the Freedom of Information Act. The requests were addressed to the Department of State, Department of Defense, CIA and FBI.

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Lavrov : Kiev issued ‘criminal order’ allowing use of weapons against civilians

Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov speaks during an interview with RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze.

The coup-appointed Kiev government’s order to use force against Ukrainian citizens is “criminal,” the Russian Foreign Minister told RT. He also denied claims that there is Russian military presence on Ukrainian territory.

In an interview with RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze, Sergey Lavrov called acting Ukrainian President Alexander Turchinov’s order to reinitiate an anti-terror operation in East Ukraine, a criminal act.

Read the full transcript

Referencing the four-sided talks between the EU, the US, Russia and Ukraine that took place in Geneva on April 17, Lavrov accused Kiev’s coup-appointed government of going back on its pledge to put a stop to all violence.

“In Geneva we agreed there must be an end of all violence. Next afternoon [interim Ukrainian President Aleksandr] Turchinov declared almost a state of emergency and ordered the army to shoot at the people.”

Turchinov announced the resumption of the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday. Moscow has decried the operation and urged the Ukrainian government to refrain from using force on civilians living in the region.

The Russian Foreign Minister said the buildup of troops on the border with Ukraine was within the bounds of international law and denied the presence of Russian troops in East Ukraine. Lavrov said the troops were participating in routine military drills, something that has been verified by international inspectors.

Describing a worst case scenario in the Ukrainian crisis, Lavrov said Russia would be forced to respond if it were attacked.

“If we are attacked, we would certainly respond. If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law,” he said.

“Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation,” he told RT.

Referencing Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s trip to the Vatican on Wednesday, Lavrov said the acting Prime Minister would do better to visit the South of Ukraine and actually meet with the anti-Maidan protesters.

The foreign minister also spoke about American involvement in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, accusing Washington of trying to manipulate the situation.

“There is no reason not to believe that the Americans are running the show,” said Lavrov, referencing US Vice-President Joe Biden’s visit to Kiev and its coincidence with the renewed counter-terror operation on activists in eastern Ukraine.

“It’s quite telling they chose the moment of the Vice President of the US’ visit to announce the resumption of this operation because the launching of this operation happened immediately after [head of the CIA] John Brennan’s visit to Kiev,” said Lavrov.

The situation in Ukraine is just another example of Washington trying to gain ground in the geopolitical fight, the minister said.

“Ukraine is just one manifestation of the American unwillingness to yield in the geopolitical fight. Americans are not ready to admit that they cannot run the show in each and every part of the globe from Washington alone,” said Lavrov, adding Washington’s “ready-made solutions” cannot remedy a crisis that it does not understand.

The Russian government does not recognize Kiev’s interim government, which took power on February 22 following weeks of deadly protests ending with the ouster of President Victor Yanukovich.

RT News.

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​FBI ‘intentionally and unlawfully’ used No Fly List to recruit Muslims as informers

The FBI used a no-fly list to recruit four US Muslims as informants, violating their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, association and religion. That’s the claim being made by four US Muslims in a New York federal court Tuesday.

Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, Naveed Shinwari and Awais Sajjad, who are between them either US residents or permanent US residents, are demanding that the FBI remove them from the no-fly list which contains the names of people who are not permitted to board a commercial aircraft for travel in or out of the United States, according to threat and intelligence reporting.

“This impermissible abuse of the No Fly List has forced Plaintiffs to choose between their constitutionally-protected right to travel, on the one hand, and their First Amendment rights on the other,” says the lawsuit.

One of the plaintiffs, Awais Sajjad, a lawful permanent US resident, learned that he was on a No Fly List in 2012 when he tried to board a flight to Pakistan. The FBI agents questioned Sajjad at the airport before releasing him. Soon they returned with an offer: he could work as an FBI informer and in return the agency would give him citizenship and compensation, the Washington Post reported.

When he refused, the bureau “kept him on the list in order to pressure and coerce Mr. Sajjad to sacrifice his constitutionally-protected rights,” says the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, three other complainants – Tanvir, Algibhah and Shinwari – said they were added to the list immediately after they refused to work as FBI informants for religious reasons.

Shinwari, a legal US resident from Omaha, Nebraska, said that after his arrival from his native country, Afghanistan, in 2012, he was twice detained and questioned by FBI agents who wanted to know if he knew anything about national security threats. He was soon put on the No Fly List, though he has never been convicted of a crime or posed a threat to national security, according to his lawyers.

In one of their visits, FBI agents wanted to know about the “local Omaha community, did I know anyone who’s a threat?” he says.

“I’m just very frustrated, [and I said] what can I do to clear my name?” says Shinwari. “And that’s where it was mentioned to me: you help us, we help you. We know you don’t have a job; we’ll give you money,” The Guardian reported him as saying.

Though Shinwari was allowed to fly within the United States in March, he still fears that if he flies to Afghanistan to see his wife and family, whom he hasn’t seen for at least two years, he might not be able to return.

“Defendants’ unlawful actions are imposing an immediate and ongoing harm on Plaintiffs and have caused Plaintiffs deprivation of their constitutional rights, emotional distress, damage to their reputation, and material and economic loss,” adds the lawsuit.

According to Jameel Algibhah, from the Bronx, New York, the FBI asked him to get access to a Queens mosque and even pose as an extremist in online forums.

“We’re the only ones who can take you off the list,” an unnamed FBI agent told him, Algibhah told The Guardian.

The fourth plaintiff, Muhammad Tanvir, started taking action against the FBI in October 2013, after he refused to spy on his local Pakistani community. Now he can’t visit his ailing mother.

Ramzi Kassem, associate professor of law at the City University of New York, told the Washington Post that “the no-fly list is supposed to be about ensuring aviation safety, but the FBI is using it to force innocent people to become informants.”

Meanwhile, the lawsuit seeks not only the plaintiffs’ removal from the no-fly list but also the establishment of a more robust legal mechanism to contest placement upon it.

“This policy and set of practices by the FBI is part of a much broader set of policies that reflect over-policing in Muslim-American communities,” said Diala Shamas, one of the lawyers for the four plaintiffs.

The FBI has not commented on the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, this is not the first No Fly List-related lawsuit against the FBI. In 2010 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attempted to sue US Department of Justice and the FBI over their barring of American citizens, including several veterans of the US military, who ended up on the No Fly List and have been denied entry to their own country.

The No Fly List was created by the US government’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. In 2012, the list was extended to around 21,000 individuals.

The list, including US citizens and residents as well as foreigners, has been repeatedly criticized on civil liberties grounds, due to ethnic, religious, economic, political and racial discrimination. It has also raised concerns about privacy and government secrecy.

The ACLU called inclusion on a list a potentially “life-altering” experience, adding that “it is not at all clear what separates a ‘reasonable-suspicion-based-on-a-reasonable-suspicion’ from a simple hunch.”

Until March, no one had successfully convinced a court to force authorities to take them off the No Fly List. Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian architect, became the first person ever removed from the notorious list after the managed to force officials to admit she had been placed on the list due to an error by the agency.

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Hamas or Israel? Netanyahu says Palestinian Authority must choose

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must choose either peace with Israel or an alliance with Hamas, but he cannot have both, Israel’s PM has said. His comments come after the Palestinian Authority restarted talks on a unity government with Hamas.

During a meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said if the Palestinian Authority united with Hamas it would bring an end to the US-sponsored peace talks.

“Instead of moving into peace with Israel, he’s moving into peace with Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “He has to choose: Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace; so far he hasn’t done so.”

Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman echoed Netanyahu’s sentiments and said signing an agreement with Hamas was equivalent to “signing the termination of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Furthermore Netanyahu said that the Authority continues to demand “additional conditions,” knowing that Israel cannot accept them. On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated the conditions that Israel needs to fulfill for the continuation of peace talks.

He called for the establishment of borders between Israel and Palestine, the release of a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners and a halt to the construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority has been pushing for these conditions since the restart in negotiations with Israel following a three-year hiatus last July.

Abbas also threatened to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, forcing Israel to take on the burden of governing the region, if bilateral talks fail.

“If the negotiations stop, it’s the Israeli government that will bear the responsibility for the economic situation and the paying of the salaries of (Palestinian) employees, workers and farmers, for health and for education just as it did before the establishment of the Authority,” he told reporters Tuesday.

The Palestinian Authority revived talks with Hamas on Tuesday and agreed to form a government of national unity within the “next few weeks,” Palestinian officials told AFP.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority now face an April 29 deadline to resolve their differences and make headway with bilateral talks before Washington withdraws its support.

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Kiev must immediately deescalate east Ukraine crisis, call back troops – Moscow

Ukrainian soldiers drive an airborne combat vehicle near Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine April 16, 2014.

Kiev authorities must “immediately” deescalate the situation in southeast Ukraine by withdrawing its troops from the region, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said, adding that Kiev must start nationwide talks and stop “distorting” the Geneva agreement.

“The Russian side once again insists on an immediate deescalation of the situation in the southeast of Ukraine, the withdrawal of divisions of the Ukrainian Army and the start of a real inter-Ukrainian dialogue including all the regions and political entities of the country,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.

Moscow is “surprised” by Kiev’s interpretation of the four-sided Geneva agreement adopted by Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU on April 17, it added.

Despite the call for disarmament of “all the illegal armed groups” specified by the agreement, Kiev, Washington and a number of European leaders “keep harping on the necessity to ‘hand over weapons’ [referring] only to the Ukrainian citizens defending their rights in southeastern Ukraine.” With that, the Western powers “are turning a blind eye to the ongoing provocative actions of the gunmen of the far-right groups, including that of the so-called Right Sector.”

Such actions, which have been taking place in both the capital, Kiev, and in southeastern Ukrainian cities, “have already led to death of people overnight into April 20,” the ministry said.

Russia continues to believe that the Western partners are “earnest” in their stated commitment for the peaceful resolving of the Ukrainian crisis, the statement said. However, the facts “regretfully speak to the opposite,” it added. Kiev has not moved to enter a dialogue with the regions of Ukraine protesting against its rule, while the US officials have apparently chosen not to discourage the coup-imposed authorities in their “strongarm ambitions.”

Immediately after US Vice-President Joseph Biden ended his April 21-22 talks and left the Ukrainian capital, Kiev announced the renewal of the so-called “anti-terrorist operation” in eastern Ukraine, the statement noted. Previously, CIA director’s John Brennan’s April 13 visit to Kiev coincided with the start of the same military operation, it said.

Moscow blasted the US-backed distinction between “legally occupied” buildings in central Kiev at the Independence Square (Maidan) and the “illegally occupied” buildings in southeastern Ukraine, calling US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s recent statements on the issue “absolutely incorrect.”

The statements voiced by the Ukrainian oligarch and multibillionaire Igor Kolomoysky, picked by the Kiev authorities as the governor of the Dnepropetrovsk region, “look even more absurd,” the ministry said. Kolomoysky’s deputy Boris Filatov recently announced a $10,000 bounty for each “Russian mercenary” captured and handed over to the Kiev-backed authorities and a $200,000 reward for each regional administration building freed. Filatov also said the servicemen at the Mariupol military base, who on April 16 killed three people and injured 13 more during an attempted storming allegedly inspired by the anti-government activists, have been paid 500,000 hryvnas ($43,000).

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Coup no more ? US clears Egypt to receive Apache helicopters

The United States pledged 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt on Tuesday, easing back for the first time on sanctions placed against the country last year following the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi.

Delivery of the choppers is intended to aid in counterterrorism operations, the Pentagon said in a statement Wednesday, but comes only months after the US first suspended military aid to Egypt after the country’s interim government began harshly cracking down on dissidents and protesters.

“We believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten US, Egyptian and Israeli security,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

According to the statement released by the US military on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told his Egyptian counterpart, Col. Den. Sedki Soby, that US President Barack Obama has authorized the decision to deliver the helicopters.

Next, the Pentagon said, US Secretary of State John Kerry “soon will certify to Congress that Egypt is sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States and is meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.” That deal between America’s top Middle East ally on Egypt has for decades allowed Cairo to stand as one of the largest recipients of US military and economic aid.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon said that American officials have yet to be assured that Egypt is on a US-favored path so soon after last year’s uprising.

“Secretary Hagel told General Sobhy that we are not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition,” Kirby added, “and he urged the Egyptian government to demonstrate progress on a more inclusive transition that respects the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Egyptians.”

Military aid to Egypt was suspended by the US last year after Pres. Morsi was ousted during a coup d’état led by Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, setting in motion the second government overthrow there in a span of just two years. Adly Mansour was installed as Egypt’s interim president last July after the removal of Morsi, and Al-Sisi is expected to win presidential elections scheduled there next month.

In a phone call this week with his Cairo-based counterpart, Sec. Kerry “urged Egypt to follow through on its commitment to transition to democracy – including by conducting free, fair and transparent elections,” State Dept. spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

The Guardian newspaper reported earlier this month that, according to government statistics, 16,000 dissidents have been arrested in Egypt since last July. Alleged terrorist operations have stayed rampant as well, however, and on Wednesday this week a senior Egyptian security official was killed by a car bomb placed by militants, according to local media reports cited by the Los Angeles Times.

US Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign aid, said in a statement of her own published on Tuesday that she favored the Obama administration’s decision to deliver the Apaches to Egypt.

“As Egypt continues its transition toward a new democratic government, the United States must work with the government of Egypt and support the Egyptian people,” Granger said.

But the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), has previously insisted that the US should suspend all aid once a military coup occurs.

Late last month, the Human Rights Watch humanitarian group wrote in a letter to Sec. Kerry that Egypt has failed to progress whatsoever with regards to improving democracy in the wake of the last two uprisings.

“The question is no longer whether Egypt is on the road to democratic transition, but how much of its brute repression the US will paper over,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “An accurate appraisal of Egypt’s record since the military-backed overthrow of President Morsi would conclude that, far from developing basic freedoms, the Egyptian authorities are doing the opposite.”

The United States pledged 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt on Tuesday, easing back for the first time on sanctions placed against the country last year following the ousting of Mohamed Morsi.

Delivery of the choppers is intended to aid in counterterrorism operations, the Pentagon said in a statement Wednesday, but comes only months after the US first suspended military aid to Egypt .

“We believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten US, Egyptian and Israeli security,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

According to the statement released by the US military on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told his Egyptian counterpart, Col. Den. Sedki Soby, that US President Barack Obama has authorized the decision to deliver the helicopters.

Next, the Pentagon said, US Secretary of State John Kerry “soon will certify to Congress that Egypt is sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States and is meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.” That deal between America’s top Middle East ally on Egypt has for decades allowed Cairo to stand as one of the largest recipients of US military and economic aid.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon said that American officials have yet to be assured that Egypt is on a US-favored path so soon after last year’s uprising.

Military aid to Egypt was suspended by the US last year after Pres. Morsi was ousted during a coup d’état led by Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, setting in motion the second government overthrow there in a span of just two years. Adly Mansour was installed as Egypt’s interim president last July after the removal of Morsi, and Al-Sisi is expected to win presidential elections scheduled there next month.

In a phone call this week with his Cairo-based counterpart, Sec. Kerry “urged Egypt to follow through on its commitment to transition to democracy – including by conducting free, fair and transparent elections,” State Dept. spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

US Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign aid, said in a statement of her own published on Tuesday that she favored the Obama administration’s decision to deliver the Apaches to Egypt.

“As Egypt continues its transition toward a new democratic government, the United States must work with the government of Egypt and support the Egyptian people,” Granger said.

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In First, Erdogan Sues Own Country Over Twitter Free-Speech Rulings

rwrq

Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News over the weekend characterized the country’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as having broken new legal ground after the Turkish leader applied for damages from the Turkish state as part of an ongoing controversy related to Twitter:

The move has been described as a “first of its kind” by the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) head Metin Feyzioğlu, who said the prime minister of Turkey had never before filed a lawsuit against the state.

“There is no precedent for the Prime Minister of the Turkish Republic to sue the Turkish Republic and demand compensation. This is happening for the first time,” said Feyzioğlu.

Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) had banned access to both Twitter and YouTube on the eve of recent nationwide elections, a move that was widely seen as aimed at dampening discussions of a massive graft scandal that had ensnared top AKP elites including Erdogan and his family.

The bans drew global ridicule and triggered a diplomatic crisis with Europe, and were promptly overturned by Turkish courts on free speech grounds (the government restored access to Twitter but YouTube has remained unreachable). Erdogan’s lawsuit appears to claim that the Turkish state allowed Twitter to continue being accessible, and Twitter violated his privacy rights by linking to purported recordings of him discussing how to hide vast sums of money, and so the Turkish state violated his privacy rights and owes him damages.

Legal scholars interviewed by various Turkish outlets expressed skepticism regarding the soundness of the legal theory. Nonetheless two anonymous Twitter accounts that posted links to the conversations were apparently suspended in the immediate aftermath of Erdogan’s court application:

Twitter last week agreed to comply with a Turkish government request to close some accounts that officials said had breached national security or privacy regulations.

The two accounts – Haramzadeler and Bascalan – each had more than 400,000 followers, who now see only a red circle with a line through it and cannot access any tweeted material.

 The Tower.

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No winner seen in first round of Lebanon president vote

Samir Geagea, leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces

Samir Geagea, leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces

(Reuters) – A majority of Lebanese parliamentarians may submit blank voting slips on Wednesday in the first ballot for a new president, political sources said, as they struggle to agree on a consensus candidate after months of violence and political deadlock.

Parliament has been summoned to choose a successor to President Michel Suleiman, whose six-year term ends in late May, but deep divisions over the war in neighboring Syria could delay any decision, possibly for several months.

Putting off the choice of president could add to a political vacuum in Lebanon, which is struggling to contain domestic sectarian conflict while also grappling with a flood of Syrian refugees and a sharp slowdown in economic growth.

Lebanon’s presidency is reserved for the country’s Maronite Christians under a confessional system aimed at sharing representation among its many religious communities.

But the war in Syria has split Lebanon’s Christians just as it has divided Muslims. Shi’ites support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Sunnis mainly back the rebels.

The leading Maronite to declare his candidacy so far is Samir Geagea, a vocal opponent of Assad who is expected to be backed – at least in the first round – by the anti-Assad March 14 coalition, led by Sunni Muslim former premier Saad al-Hariri.

Geagea, 61, spent 11 years in jail for political murders and other killings during Lebanon’s civil war, the only warlord imprisoned after the conflict ended in 1990.

The rival March 8 political bloc, led by militant Shi’ite group Hezbollah which is fighting in Syria to support Assad, has indicated it would back former army chief Michel Aoun.

Aoun, a Hezbollah ally trying to portray himself as a consensus figure in contrast with Geagea, has yet to declare himself formally in the running.

March 14 and March 8 sources say that means Wednesday’s vote is likely to be inconclusive, with Geagea unable to garner the two-thirds support necessary for a first-round victory – or the 50-percent-plus-one vote needed in any subsequent count.

“Wednesday’s session will not bring a new president, but it might pave the way for consensus options, including Michel Aoun,” one March 8 source told Reuters, adding that many parliamentarians would hand in blank papers.

OTHER POSSIBLE CANDIDATES

Geagea is expected to win between 45 and 50 votes in the 128-seat parliament, well short of the 86 needed to win outright in the first round.

That could open the way for Aoun and other candidates – including the current army chief and the central bank governor – to nominate themselves as candidates in future rounds of voting.

Army commander General Jean Kahwaji would be following a well-trodden path if he were to join the race. Both Suleiman and his predecessor President Emile Lahoud led Lebanon’s armed forces before switching to political office.

Riad Salameh, central bank governor for more than two decades, has earned international respect for steering Lebanon’s economy through the turbulent post-year wars, managing the country’s high debt levels and keeping the currency stable.

Although the Taif agreement which ended Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war transferred some powers from the Maronite president to the Sunni Muslim prime minister, the presidency remains an influential role in Lebanon.

In the last months of his term Suleiman has increasingly criticized Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria – a stance which almost certainly cost him any chance of an extension to his six-year mandate.

His successor will have to help maintain stability in a small country hosting more than a million Syria refugees and hit by car bombings, rocket attacks and street fighting which killed scores of people in the last year.

He will also have to pave the way for a parliamentary election later this year which has been delayed for months by the same political impasse which threatens to drag out the choice of a new president.

 

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