Archive for August, 2015

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, 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.


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Iran official says British Embassy in Tehran reopens Sunday

August 22, 2015

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s deputy foreign minister says Britain will reopen its embassy in Tehran on Sunday after it being closed for nearly four years.

Majid Takht-e-Ravanchi also told state television on Saturday that the Iranian Embassy in London also will reopen at the same time. Takht-e-Ravanchi says British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will attend the reopening of the British Embassy in Tehran on Sunday. It will be the first visit by a British foreign secretary to Iran since 2003.

Takht-e-Ravanchi said the two embassies will operate at charge d’affaires level. The British Embassy has been closed since hard-liners protesting the imposition of international sanctions stormed it in November 2011.

The recent nuclear deal between Iran and world powers helped accelerate a thaw in relations between Britain and Iran.

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Iran unveils new longer-range solid fuel missile

August 22, 2015

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran unveiled a short-range solid fuel ballistic missile Saturday, an upgraded version that the government says can more accurately pinpoint targets.

The surface-to-surface Fateh-313, or Conqueror, was unveiled at a ceremony marking Defense Industry Day and attended by President Hassan Rouhani, who said military might was necessary to achieve peace in the volatile Middle East.

State television showed footage of the missile being fired from an undisclosed location. The missile is a newer version of Fateh-110 and has a quicker launch capability, a longer lifespan and can strike targets with pinpoint accuracy within a 500-kilometer (310-mile) range, the report said.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed a landmark nuclear deal reached between Iran and world powers last month, has called on Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iran says none of its missiles are designed for that purpose.

The resolution also contains an arms embargo against Iran for the next eight years, but it’s not part of the historic nuclear deal. Iran has said it won’t abide by that part of the resolution and Rouhani reconfirmed it Saturday.

“We will buy weapons from anywhere we deem necessary. We won’t wait for anybody’s permission or approval and won’t look at any resolution. And we will sell weapons to anywhere we deem necessary,” he said in comments broadcast live on state television Saturday.

Rouhani said Iran can’t remain passive when instability has spread in neighboring countries. “Can we be indifferent … when there are special circumstances on our eastern, western, northern and southern borders,” Rouhani said, apparently referring to fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the region. “How can a weak country unable to stand up to the military power of neighbors, rivals and enemies achieve peace?”

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Thousands of Iraqis protest against government corruption

August 08, 2015

BAGHDAD (AP) — Thousands of Iraqis braved the scorching summer heat to stage a huge protest in central Baghdad on Friday, calling on the prime minister to dissolve the parliament and sack corrupt government officials.

Security forces and riot police sealed off Iraq’s iconic Tahrir Square and searched anyone who entered the area, but tens of thousands of men, women and children thronged the sprawling square, waving Iraqi flags.

“In the name of religion, the thieves robbed us,” they chanted long into the evening. Men with the government-backed Popular Mobilization Forces, the umbrella group made up predominantly of Shiite militias, pulled up in trucks and handed out ice water bottles to the protesters.

Their gesture was welcomed by roaring shouts in support of the paramilitary force now fighting the Islamic State group. The PMU was hastily assembled last year, with pre-existing militias and new volunteers, to reinforce the Iraqi military after it crumbled in the face of the Sunni militant blitz that seized a third of the country.

“The government is robbing the Mobilization Forces too!” the protesters cried, with many PMU fighters claiming they weren’t receiving salaries promised to them. This is the second Friday of protests in Baghdad and across Iraq, with people initially calling on authorities to address the country’s chronic electricity problems as temperatures in the capital soared above 50 degrees Celsius (123 Fahrenheit). But with little action from the Shiite-dominated government following last week’s demonstrations, the call for a government shake-up intensified.

As Haider al-Abadi nears his one-year anniversary since assuming the role of Iraq’s prime minister, he faces his biggest challenge yet as an economic crisis and crippling war with the Islamic State group put a choke on domestic services. Discontent is rising, even among the country’s Shiite majority, with protests springing up in cities from Baghdad to Basra.

“Change, that’s what we need,” said schoolteacher Najlaa Malek, one of the protesters in the square Friday. “The problems in this country have become too many to list. And our leaders talk a great deal but then they do nothing to fix them.”

One man circled the square holding a mock donations box, with the written message: “proceeds go to the house of representatives.” The protesters represented mixed political and religious affiliations, organizers of the protest saying that about 75 percent were liberals, communists, linked to various political groups for youth, or independent. Professional syndicates were on hand, with the members of the lawyers syndicate marching in their judicial robes through the square demanding basic human rights.

Two of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite organizations, Badr and Asaib al-Haq, were represented in smaller numbers, while a few religious clerics attended but kept a low profile. Fadel el-Khafaji, a self-described liberal who has a degree in engineering, sells women’s clothing, he said, because he can’t find a job in his field.

The problems, he said, include “unemployment, general finances, human rights, where are the proceeds from our oil wealth, where is an end to this war we are living through?” he asked. “The only solution is to dissolve the parliament and a restore presidential authority.”

Earlier Friday, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani addressed the prime minister in his Friday sermon, calling on al-Abadi to quickly address internal issues in the government. Through his spokesman Ahmed al-Safi, al-Sistani said the prime minister must be more “daring and courageous” in his steps to reform the government, urging him to strike “with an iron hand fist anyone who is tampering with the people’s money.”

In a statement following al-Sistani’s sermon, the prime minister’s office said al-Abadi is “fully committed to the valued guidance of the supreme religious authority.” It added that the premier “pledges to announce a comprehensive plan of reform and work on the implementation” of a reform program.

Shiite factions in Iraq turned against al-Abadi’s predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki largely because they saw him as a domineering leader who monopolized power and allowed widespread corruption. Critics say al-Maliki staffed the military’s officer corps with incompetent loyalists, playing a major role in the army’s collapse in the face of the IS advance. Sunni factions made similar accusations.

Similar anti-government protests took place in Iraq at the height of the pan-Arab uprising in 2011, but al-Maliki took heavy-handed measures to suppress any calls for change. When al-Abadi was named premier elect on Aug. 10 last year, he vowed to form a government based on efficiency and integrity.

However, protesters say that much of the country’s domestic problems have been sidelined as a result of the war with the Islamic State group, and that senior government officials are turning a blind eye to problems that have plagued Iraq for decades.

Al-Maliki, who now holds the largely symbolic role of vice president, issued a statement late Friday calling on the government to “tackle the offenders financially and politically.” In a televised speech Friday, Iraq’s speaker of parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, said that the parliament “will interrogate all the ministers in the government who the protesters demand to be questioned.”

“We do not hesitate in questioning both those suspected of theft,” al-Jabouri, Iraq’s most senior Sunni politician, added but called on the demonstrators “exercise their constitutional right” without turning to violence.

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Saudi official says bin Ladens killed in England plane crash

August 01, 2015

LONDON (AP) — Family members of the late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden were among four people killed in a private jet crash in southern England, the Saudi ambassador to Britain said.

He did not further identify the dead, but Arab media and NBC News reported they included a sister, brother-in-law and stepmother of Osama bin Laden. The plane’s Jordanian pilot also died. The ambassador, Prince Mohammed Bin Nawaf Bin Abdel-Aziz, offered his condolences to the wealthy bin Laden family, which owns a major construction company in Saudi Arabia.

“The embassy will follow up on the incident and its circumstances with the concerned British authorities and work on speeding up the handover of the bodies of the victims to the kingdom for prayer and burial,” the ambassador said in a statement tweeted by the embassy late Friday.

Police say a pilot and three passengers died when an executive jet crashed into a parking lot and burst into flames while trying to land at Blackbushe Airport in southern England Friday afternoon. The plane had been flying from Malpensa Airport in Milan.

No one on the ground was hurt. Police and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch launched a joint investigation. Blackbushe Airport said the Embraer Phenom 300 jet crashed near the end of the runway while trying to land at the airfield about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southwest of London, which is used by private planes and flying clubs.

Andrew Thomas, who was at a car auction sales center based at the airport, told the BBC that “the plane nosedived into the cars and exploded on impact.” He said he saw the plane and several cars in flames.

The official Saudi Press Agency earlier identified the plane as Saudi-owned without mentioning the bin Ladens. It said a Saudi official would work with British authorities in investigating the crash. The plane’s pilot was Mazen Salem al-Dajah, a Jordanian in his late 50s. His brother Ziad told The Associated Press that al-Dajah’s family had been told of his death by a representative of the bin Laden family’s corporation. He said al-Dajah received his pilot’s license in California about 25 years ago and had been employed by the bin Laden family.

The bin Laden family disowned Osama in 1994 when Saudi Arabia stripped him of his citizenship because of his militant activities. The al-Qaida leader was killed by U.S. special forces in Pakistan in 2011.

The family is a large and wealthy one. Osama bin Laden’s billionaire father Mohammed had more than 50 children and founded the Binladen Group, a sprawling construction conglomerate awarded many major building contracts in the Sunni kingdom.

Mohammed bin Laden died in a plane crash in Saudi Arabia in 1967. One of his sons, Salem, was killed when his ultralight aircraft flew into power lines in San Antonio, Texas, in 1988.

Gambrell reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.

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