DDMA Headline Animator

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Boko Haram changes its name to ‘ISIL in West Africa’

28 April 2015 Tuesday

The ISIL armed group may have gained a firm foothold beyond the Middle East and North Africa for the first time, after Nigeria’s Boko Haram adopted the name “ISIL’s West Africa Province” (ISWAP).

The Nigerian armed group’s leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIL last month, but the diffuse organization had appeared to continue to operate under its official name.

But now propaganda materials shared by ISIL-affiliated social media accounts have dropped both those names for ISWAP, and appear to share the slick production values and brazen style more usually associated with members in Syria and Iraq.

The images show Boko Haram members toting guns and with their faces visible for the first time – with the exception of figurehead Shekau, group members have previously been reluctant to reveal their identities.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/158459/boko-haram-changes-its-name-to-isil-in-west-africa.

IS 'executes at least 37 civilians' in central Syria

March 31, 2015

Beirut (AFP) - The Islamic State jihadist group Tuesday executed at least 37 civilians, including two children, in a raid on a regime-held village in Hama province of central Syria, a monitor said.

IS "executed at least 37 people, including women and children, by burning, beheading, and firing on them" in the village of Mabujeh, said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syrian state television reported that 44 people were killed and 21 injured in the raid.

Mabujeh, east of the provincial capital Hama, has a population of Sunni Muslims as well as Alawites and Ismailis, minority sects that are offshoots of Shiite Islam.

IS has regularly targeted minority sects in Syria, especially Shiite Muslims it accuses of apostasy, as well as Sunnis who it alleges have violated its interpretation of Islam.

Mabujeh lies near a vital road that serves as the regime's only link between the central province of Homs and the northern province of Aleppo.

IS militants have repeatedly tried to sever the route.

In late March, the extremist group killed 83 regime soldiers in the region in a bid to gain control over the road.

In northwest Syria, the Observatory said Tuesday, at least 32 people were killed in government air strikes on the city of Idlib in the past 48 hours.

Regime forces lost control of the city Saturday to a coalition of Islamist forces led by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

In Geneva, the UN's human rights office said it was worried about the situation in the city.

"We are deeply concerned by the human rights situation in Idlib" after the rebel takeover, spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly said at a briefing.

Pouilly said the UN was concerned about reports of an attack on a hospital run by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in the city.

Syria's Red Crescent published photos of destruction at its Idlib hospital on Facebook, but did not give details on how it had been damaged.

Pouilly also voiced UN concerns over the fate of Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shiite-majority villages near Idlib city.

One of the leaders of the Islamist coalition that captured Idlib warned Sunday that the two villages would be targeted if the regime bombed Idlib.

Syria's conflict began with peaceful demonstrations in 2011 but has since spiralled into a bloody civil war that has left more than 215,000 people dead.

Hezbollah throws weight behind protests, deepening crisis

August 26, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — The powerful Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah threw its weight Tuesday behind mass protests calling for the government's resignation, deepening a crisis that started over piles of uncollected garbage in the streets of the capital but has tapped into a much deeper malaise.

The explosion of anger targets the endemic corruption, hapless government and sectarian divisions of a brittle country once torn by civil war and now struggling with a wave of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

A grassroots youth movement calling itself "You Stink" mobilized thousands of people in two rallies over the weekend, and has called for another large protest on Saturday. The Hezbollah announcement of support for the protests is likely to fuel concerns the Iranian-backed group will try to hijack a rare, non-political movement for its own political gain.

Hezbollah ministers and their allies walked out of a Cabinet meeting Tuesday meant to discuss the worsening garbage crisis. Prime Minister Tammam Salam called the emergency session after the weekend clashes between security forces and demonstrators protesting corruption and poor public services.

The six ministers withdrew four hours into the meeting. Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil, whose Free Patriotic Movement is aligned with Hezbollah, said he was pulling out because of the political "theater" surrounding the trash issue.

During the Cabinet session, ministers unanimously rejected the winning bidders to manage Beirut's trash collection, citing high costs and a bidding procedure some said was questionable. The Cabinet tasked a ministerial committee with restarting the bidding, meaning no imminent solution to the crisis was likely.

Salam suggested dumping the garbage in the remote, impoverished region of Akkar, which has been neglected for decades, in exchange for $100 million in development projects as an incentive. That further riled the protesters. "Akkar is not a garbage dump!" read the slogan on one protester's T-shirt.

The trash crisis has exacerbated the long-existing fault lines in Lebanon which in recent years have pitted the Iranian-backed Hezbollah against the country's Western-aligned, pro-Saudi camp. Those divisions mirror the larger regional Shiite-Sunni divide, and have long paralyzed the government.

Although Salam's government has elements from both camps, Hezbollah regards the prime minister as an ally of Saudi Arabia. The Shiite group's ally, Christian leader Michel Aoun, has been assailing the prime minister over his handling of Cabinet and security appointments.

In a statement Tuesday, Hezbollah said the garbage crisis reflected the "endemic and accumulated corruption of the past two decades" and policies that only serve "personal and political interests at the expense of citizens." It said holding peaceful protests was a legitimate right.

A columnist in the daily An-Nahar newspaper accused Hezbollah of exploiting the "You Stink" movement for its own agenda. Tarek Sarhan, a 17-year-old "You Stink" supporter, said there would always be groups that try to manipulate grass-roots movements for their own political gains in a country like Lebanon.

The protesters say they are fed up with leaders they accuse of caring only about lining their own pockets and a system they say ensures incessant bickering and paralysis. They contend the entire trash crisis is about which politicians get the bigger cut from waste management contracts.

Meanwhile, the political paralysis continues. The country's politicians have been unable to decide on a president, a post reserved for a Christian in a sectarian power-sharing system, for over a year. According to that system, the prime minister must be a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite. The current parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, has been in his post for 23 years.

Parliament has extended its term twice without elections and has been paralyzed because some lawmakers insist a president be elected first. Government has not made any substantial decisions as rival parties bicker over the decision-making process in Cabinet in the absence of a president to preside over the sessions.

Anger about the heaps of trash accumulating in Beirut's streets boiled over this week, with thousands protesting the government's failure to deliver basic services. The protests turned violent over the weekend, prompting the government to erect a concrete wall outside its main building to prevent protesters from reaching it.

Within hours, the wall was filled with anti-government graffiti. "State of Shabiha," one young man scrawled, an Arabic term for thugs. Another drawing showed a man's body wrapped in a black cloth below a caption that read: "The shroud of the state."

On Tuesday, authorities began removing the wall, just 24 hours after it was installed. "They won't fool us by removing the wall," said Sarhan, the You Stink supporter. "Remove it or not, we don't care. We want... an end to sectarianism. We want to build a state," he said.

"This is a corrupt government, an immoral government that is starving us and conspiring against the people," said Hassan Qatayesh, who suffered an injured jaw when he was struck by rocks during Saturday's protest.

"They raised the wall to protect themselves from the people, thinking that this wall will prevent our voices from reaching them. But our voices are louder than walls, tear gas and rubber bullets."

Libyan rebels take control of Surman

Monday, 24 August 2015

Rebel forces loyal to Libyan General Khalifa Haftar on Sunday took control of the town of Sorman, 80 kilometers from the capital Tripoli, and took up positions in the city center, security sources have reported.

Sources said that the Dawn of Libya militant group, which had previously controlled the city, withdrew towards Tripoli.

Sorman is a link between the city of Tripoli and the Ras Jedir border crossing between Libya and Tunisia.

Airplanes affiliated with Haftar’s forces are reported to have launched airstrikes against Dawn of Libya sites in Al-Hashan and Bawabet Al-Sahlah amid violent clashes with tribal forces in several areas in the west of Libya.

The United Nations has been leading intense efforts since September last year to resolve the security and political crisis in Libya.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20583-libyan-rebels-take-control-of-surman.

Saudi sentences chief of terrorist organization to 20 years in prison

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Saudi criminal court has initially sentenced Saleh Abdullah Al-Qar’awi to 20 years in prison over charges of heading the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a militant group blacklisted in the Kingdom, Al-Khaleejonline.net reported on Sunday.

Al-Qar’awi was initially involved in the war in Chechenia, and went on to join Al-Qaeda. He later headed the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and maintained contacts with its branches in Yemen and Lebanon.

He also got married the daughter of Al-Qaeda security official Abu-Jihad Al-Masri and adopted the son of former Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu-Mus’ab Al-Zarqawi.

Al-Khaleejonline said that Al-Qar’awi used Iran as a base to recruit terrorists and plan attacks against Saudi Arabia. He was also involved in plans to attack the American embassy in the UAE and further plots against the UK.

Recently, Al-Qar’awi was severely wounded in an American airstrike that cost him both legs as well as his right eye and right. He was returned to Saudi Arabia following demands made by his family.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20591-saudi-sentences-chief-of-terrorist-organisation-to-20-years-in-prison.

Ukrainian filmmaker sentenced to 20 years by Russian court

August 25, 2015

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (AP) — A Russian military court convicted a prominent Ukrainian filmmaker on Tuesday of conspiring to commit terror attacks and sentenced him to 20 years in prison in what critics called a politically motivated show trial.

A security officer walks past the portraits of Oleg Sentsov and other political prisoners in front of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2105. A Russian court convicted a prominent Ukrainian filmmaker on Tuesday of conspiring to commit terror attacks and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. The court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don said Oleg Sentsov had set up a terror cell in the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed last year, and was plotting attacks. He will serve time in a maximum-security prison.

The court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don said Oleg Sentsov had set up a terror cell in the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed last year, and was plotting attacks. He will serve time in a maximum-security prison.

Such lengthy prison sentences are rare in Russia even for politically tainted trials. The 39-year-old Crimean native was tried along with Crimean activist Alexander Kolchenko, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison. As the judge wrapped up the session, the two men smiled and began to sing the Ukrainian national anthem.

"Glory to Ukraine," Sentsov said at the end, to which someone in the courtroom gave the traditional response: "Glory to the heroes." Sentsov was a vocal opponent of Russia's 2014 annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. Critics have dismissed his prosecution by Russia as retaliation for his pro-Ukrainian position.

"The whole trial was designed to send a message. It played into Russia's propaganda war against Ukraine and was redolent of Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents," said Heather McGill of Amnesty International.

The international rights group, whose representatives observed the trial, said it was "rife with irregularities, including shocking revelations about the use of torture and other ill treatment to extract testimony."

Russian prosecutors claimed both men were plotting to blow up a Lenin monument and were behind attempts to burn down the offices of two Russia-related organizations. Sentsov, who unlike most Crimean residents didn't apply for Russian citizenship after the annexation, was grabbed on a street in Crimea's capital in May 2014 by Russian security officers and resurfaced days later in custody in Moscow. Sentsov had pleaded not guilty and insisted that a Russian court had no jurisdiction in his case.

In his closing arguments last week, Sentsov said he believes there are Russians who oppose the Kremlin but are afraid to speak out. He said many Ukrainians felt the same way before joining the protests that led to the ousting of Ukraine's pro-Russian president in early 2014.

"The only thing I can wish this third, informed part of the Russian population: Learn not to be afraid," he said. His sister said the verdict was exactly what defense lawyers expected. "The investigators said a year ago that Oleg would get exactly 20 years and they kept their promise, despite our battle," Natalia Kaplan told journalists. She said they would appeal.

Dozens of prominent Russian filmmakers have petitioned the Kremlin to release Sentsov, including Andrei Zvyagintsev, whose 2014 film "Leviathan" won a Golden Globe. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on his Facebook page sent a message of support for Sentsov.

"Hang in there, Oleg," he wrote. "A time will come when those who set this trial for you will land in the dock." The United States condemned the sentences. "This is a clear miscarriage of justice," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. "Both Ukrainians were taken hostage on Ukrainian territory, transported to and imprisoned in Russia, and had Russian citizenship imposed on them against their wills. They have reported abuses by Russian authorities who also restricted their access to lawyers, family, and others while in jail for more than a year."

"Mr. Sentsov and Mr. Kolchenko were targeted by authorities because of their opposition to Russia's attempted annexation of Crimea," he added. Britain also called the trial politically motivated. British Minister for Europe David Lidington said the charges were "disproportionate" and voiced concern that the two men did not have access to a fair trial.

Nataliya Vasilyeva and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.

Soviet WWII plane, Jewish tombstones found in Polish rivers

August 25, 2015

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — As river levels in Poland fall to record lows amid a prolonged drought, Jewish tombstones and a Soviet fighter plane with the remains of its pilots have been found in the riverbank, evidence of Poland's tortured 20th-century history.

Those discoveries follow the findings of stone fragments from the early 20th-century Poniatowski Bridge across the Vistula River in Warsaw, which the Germans blew up in 1944 as they crushed the Warsaw Uprising. The bridge was rebuilt after the war.

"The Vistula River is hiding no end of secrets. They are everywhere," said Jonny Daniels, the head of Jewish foundation "From the Depths," who waded Tuesday into a shallow area of the Vistula, picking up fragments of stones with Hebrew lettering.

Officials knew that archaeological remnants remained hidden under wild and murky waters of the Vistula River and its tributaries, but it was impossible to carry out searches for them until now. The Vistula, which flows 1,047 kilometers (651 miles) from the Beskidy Mountains to the Baltic Sea, is now at its lowest level since measurements started in the late 18th century.

On Sunday, explorers found the remnant of the Soviet fighter bomber in the Bzura River, a Vistula tributary, near the village of Kamion in central Poland. The pieces have been moved to a museum in nearby Wyszogrod for examination, with more recovery work planned for Saturday.

The head of the museum, Zdzislaw Leszczynski, told The Associated Press that parts of Soviet uniforms, a parachute, a sheepskin coat collar, parts of boots, a pilot's TT pistol and radio equipment were found, along with a lot of heavy ammunition. The inscriptions on the control panel and the radio equipment are in Cyrillic.

It's all part of the devastating war that played out across Poland from 1939-45: a German invasion from the west, a Soviet invasion from the east, the murder of Jews across occupied Poland and fighting between the Soviets and Germans after Adolf Hitler turned on former ally Josef Stalin.

Leszczynski said, according to witnesses, the plane was hit while flying low in January 1945 and crashed through the thick ice into the river. At the time, the German army was retreating toward Berlin before the Red Army's advance.

"Until now, the water level did not allow for the search and there was no one willing to enter this swamp," he said. Russian Embassy spokeswoman Valeria Perzhinskaya said she considers the discovery important and believes the crew could be identified by the numbers on the wreckage and properly buried. About 600,000 Soviet troops were killed fighting the German army on Polish territory.

The Jewish tombstones found in Warsaw are believed to come from the Brodno cemetery in the Polish capital's Praga district. Once the resting place for 300,000 Jews, only 3,000 tombstones remain there today. The rest were removed during and after the war, used as building materials and to reinforce the Vistula's banks.

Two weeks ago, a man walking along the river in Warsaw came across fragments of the tombstones with Hebrew lettering. On Tuesday, he took Daniels there. In the meantime, some had already been removed, although a few fragments were still lying on the riverbed.

Now Daniels hopes to take students there to do a more thorough search and return anything he can find to the cemetery. "Jewish history is buried in the Vistula," he said.

Surge of migrants walking through Balkans hits Hungary

August 25, 2015

SUBOTICA, Serbia (AP) — Thousands of migrants, many from Syria, poured into Hungary on Tuesday as soldiers frantically tried to finish a border fence to keep them out — the latest flashpoint as Europe struggles to handle a torrent of asylum seekers.

The rush over the border by migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia followed Macedonia's decision to lift a three-day blockade of its border with Greece after thousands of migrants simply stormed past the Macedonian police who tried to stop them with force.

Nearly 10,000 migrants, including many women with babies and small children, have crossed into Serbia over the past few days and then headed up north toward European Union-member Hungary. Once inside the 28-nation EU, they seek to reach more prosperous Western European nations such as Germany, The Netherlands or Sweden.

The so-called Balkan corridor for migrants is becoming increasingly popular as migrants seek to avoid the dangerous boat crossings in the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy. About 140,000 migrants have reached Hungary already this year, over three times as many as in all of 2014. According to Hungarian police data, 2,093 migrants were detained while crossing illegally Monday, the highest figure so far this year. Over the past week, the average was nearly 1,500 people a day.

So far the Hungarian border fence consists of three layers of razor wire, which the government says will be completed this month along its 174-kilometer (109-mile) border with Serbia. But there's no wire over railroad lines and roads and there are doors on the fence where the migrants can enter and formally seek asylum.

Once they do, they can easily slip from Hungarian asylum centers and head further west and north. Hungary, beleaguered by the influx and facing a right-wing backlash, has been rushing to build the fence both as a physical barrier and a symbol of its tough anti-foreigner stance. The government's anti-migrant billboard campaign and efforts to link migration with terrorism have drawn sharp criticism from the U.N. and others, who say it vilifies refugees and promotes xenophobia.

Hundreds of migrants, including a pregnant woman holding the hand of a small boy, children, and one man pushing another man in a wheelchair, walked along the railway tracks Tuesday leading into Hungary.

About a dozen migrants from Syria, including men, women and a child, were seen by AP journalists as they walked with their backpacks through a cornfield to the border fence. An elderly woman managed to cross over the wire fence, then two Hungarian policemen showed up and stopped the rest, telling them to go to an open gate instead.

The group hesitantly walked into Hungary one by one, escorted by the police. After entering, the migrants are taken to processing stations where they are registered and then sent by train to refugee centers around the country. The majority request asylum, but most quickly leave for other EU countries before their claims are settled.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said Tuesday that the migrant flow needs to be better controlled. Besides the border fence and the increased police presence, Hungary is preparing laws to make it a crime to cut through the fence or to enter Hungary illegally and is increasing the penalties for human traffickers.

"It is in the interest of all of us, Hungarians and Europeans, to develop some kind of order," Kovacs said in an interview, warning that otherwise many European cities could face unsustainable situations.

A U.N. migrant expert, however, said building physical barriers to stop migrants was futile. "Building fences, using tear gas and other forms of violence against migrants and asylum seekers, detention ... will not stop migrants from coming or trying to come to Europe," said Francois Crepau, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. "Let's not pretend that what the EU and its member states are doing is working. Migration is here to stay."

Abdul Munir Rahimi, a 33-year-old from Kabul, Afghanistan, said he and his family were aiming to go to Germany. His brother, his sister-in-law and their two children were hoping to take a taxi to the Hungarian border later in the day.

"No security in Afghanistan, no security," he said. "We have relatives in Germany."

Pablo Gorondi reported from Budapest, Hungary. AP writers Dusan Stojanovic, from Belgrade, Serbia, and Amer Cohadzic, from Gevgelija, Macedonia, contributed.

Colombians flee homes in Venezuela amid border crackdown

August 26, 2015

SAN ANTONIO DEL TACHIRA, Venezuela (AP) — Colombians carrying their possessions on their backs waded across a knee-deep river back into their homeland, fleeing a Venezuelan crackdown on illegal migrants and smugglers that has generated an increasingly angry dispute between the South American neighbors.

The dramatic scene came ahead of a meeting Wednesday between the nations' foreign ministers to cool tensions that spiked after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government closed a major border crossing last week, declared a state of emergency in six western cities and deported more than 1,000 Colombian migrants it blamed for rampant crime and widespread shortages.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday delivered his strongest rebuke yet of Maduro's actions since the crisis began. "Raiding homes, removing people by force, separating families, not letting them remove the few goods they own and marking their homes for demolition are totally unacceptable practices," Santos said. "They recall the bitterest episodes in history that can't be repeated."

Maduro said he was acting to defend residents along the border after gunmen he claimed were paramilitaries linked to former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe shot and wounded three army officers on an anti-smuggling patrol.

The socialist leader has vowed to keep the normally busy Simon Bolivar international bridge closed, and possibly extend restrictions to other transit crossings, until Colombian authorities do their part to bring order to the porous, 1,400-mile (2,200 kilometer) border, an area long plagued by violence and drug-trafficking.

On Tuesday, more than 100 Colombians, many of whom have lived in Venezuela for years, said they were abandoning their cinder block homes in a riverside shantytown community known as "La Invasion" — the Invasion — after they said they were given 72 hours to pack up and leave by Venezuela's army.

With makeshift pedestrian bridges between the two countries destroyed as part of a weeklong security offensive, police from Colombia helped migrants, including children and the elderly, ford the 10-meter wide Tachira River with mattresses, TVs and kitchen appliances slung across their backs and shoulders. Left behind were homes spray-painted in blue by security forces with the letter "R," for reviewed, while those marked with a "D'' are believed to be slated for demolition.

"People are carrying everything they can," said a weeping Virgelida Serrano, a 60-year-old seamstress who has lived in Venezuela for more than a decade. "We're going to Colombia to see what help the government gives us."

An estimated 5 million Colombians live in Venezuela, many of them displaced years ago by Colombia's half-century civil conflict. Although their homeland is much safer now, deep roots and the higher cost of living in Colombia has dissuaded many among the poor from returning despite mounting economic woes such as widespread shortages and triple-digit inflation.

Venezuela says more than 1,000 people have been deported in the past week, more than half the 1,772 people expelled last year, according to Colombian statistics. Those returning with no place to go have overwhelmed five government-run shelters in and around the border city of Cucuta to provide temporary sleeping quarters and channel donations of clothes and food to returning nationals.

Colombia's Ombudsman said it had registered 207 accounts of mistreatment by deportees, the most frequent forced removal from one's homes but also complaints that Venezuelan authorities broke up families and seized their belongings.

Maduro had denied security forces have used excessive force and says that all those expelled are being treated with respect, adding that he is a good friend of Colombians. He said he was forced to act to protect communities from violent mafias that smuggle goods purchased in Venezuela at ultra-low prices and resell them for huge profits across the border, further emptying already barren supermarket shelves.

Critics in Venezuela and Colombia have said the actions are an attempt by Maduro to distract Venezuelans from the severe economic crises facing his oil-rich country, which is troubled by soaring inflation and empty supermarket shelves.

As mandated by the constitution, the pro-government National Assembly approved the state of emergency decreed by Maduro during a special session Tuesday held near the border. For the next 60 days, constitutional guarantees such as the right to protest, carry weapons or move freely will be restricted, although officials have gone to great lengths to say they are using the extraordinary powers sparingly.

"I'm sorry if this is creating a humanitarian crisis in Cucuta, but we are only responsible for protecting people who are Venezuelan," National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said, brushing aside human rights concerns and claims by critics that the closure of the border is a ploy to influence upcoming congressional elections.

"Colombia needs to take care of its own problems," he said.

Sanchez reported from Caracas. AP writers Cesar Garcia and Libardo Cardona contributed from Bogota, Colombia.