Archive for October, 2018
October 26, 2018
ISTANBUL (AP) — The son of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi has left Saudi Arabia after the kingdom revoked a travel ban and allowed him to come to the United States. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino says Washington welcomes the decision.
It’s the latest turn in the saga of the killed Saudi writer and dissident after the kingdom on Thursday cited evidence showing that his killing was premeditated — changing its story again to try to ease international outrage over the macabre circumstances of Khashoggi’s Oct. 2 death at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had discussed the case of Khashoggi’s son, Salah Khashoggi, during his recent visit to the kingdom, making it “clear to Saudi leaders” that Washington wanted the son to return to the United States.
DUBAI – A gargantuan touring book sale that touts itself as the world’s largest is making its first stop in the Middle East, filling a huge hangar in Dubai with stacks of 3 million discounted books, open around the clock.
The Big Bad Wolf Book Sale, launched in Kuala Lumpur in 2009, has since regularly toured Asian cities including Jakarta, Manila, Cebu, Colombo, Bangkok and Taipei. Organizers hope to attract as many as 300,000 visitors during 11 days in Dubai.
Founder Andrew Yap said he expects the sheer number of books will lure in punters.
“In a mature market like Dubai, this will give variety to readers,” he said.
Roudha Al Marri, an Emirati co-author of a guide to life in the UAE whose own book was on sale at the fair, said a city such as Dubai needed such an event to help spur reading among a “tablet generation” preoccupied with screens.
“To hold a book, smell it, to return us to more beautiful days, to throw us into mazes of stories. Every generation needs this,” she said.
Source: Middle East Online.
June 28 2018
A Qatari businessman vowed to give away three new cars as gifts to celebrate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s election victory while suggesting to rename his country’s traditional camel races as “the Erdoğan race,” Turkish daily Yeni Şafak reported on June 27.
Jarallah bin Hamad al-Salameen, a businessman and participant of Qatar’s annual camel races, had vowed before Turkey’s June 24 elections that he would give away three new cars if Erdoğan wins.
After Erdoğan was elected president in the first round of elections, al-Salameen said he was ready to deliver the cars to the competition committee.
“We congratulate the people of Qatar, everyone who loves Erdoğan and the Islamic world. I am gifting three cars to this competition to mark this occasion,” al-Salameen reportedly said.
“I also propose to rename the camel race as the Erdoğan race,” he added.
Dozens of camels race in Qatar’s traditional races every year in the competition also known as the Race of the Sheiks, as most of the animals are owned by the leading families of the Gulf nation.
Although the tradition dates back to the early years of the Islamic period, the human jockeys were recently replaced by “robot jockeys” affixed to their camel’s backs for safety reasons.
October 17, 2018
ISTANBUL (AP) — Police searching the Saudi Consulate found evidence that Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed there, a high-level Turkish official said Tuesday, and authorities appeared ready to also search the nearby residence of the consul general after the diplomat left the country.
The comment by the Turkish official to The Associated Press intensified pressure on Saudi Arabia to explain what happened to Khashoggi, who vanished Oct. 2 while visiting the consulate to pick up paperwork he needed to get married.
The crown prince “told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly,” Trump said in a tweet. The president later appeared to take a stronger stance in defense of Saudi Arabia, criticizing the global condemnation against the kingdom and comparing it to the allegations of sexual assault leveled against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.
“Here we go again with you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Trump told AP in an interview. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia to talk to King Salman and the 33-year-old crown prince about the fate of the journalist who wrote critically about the Saudis for The Washington Post.
While it was all smiles and handshakes in Riyadh, one prominent Republican senator said he believed that the crown prince, widely known as MBS, had Khashoggi “murdered.” “This guy has got to go,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, speaking on Fox television. “Saudi Arabia, if you’re listening, there are a lot of good people you can choose, but MBS has tainted your country and tainted himself.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “serious evaluation” was being given to whether U.S. law enforcement officials would aid in the investigation of Khashoggi’s disappearance. He declined to comment further, or to say whether he had any concerns with the current investigation.
Saudi officials have called Turkish allegations that a team of 15 Saudi agents killed Khashoggi “baseless,” but U.S. media reports suggested that the kingdom may acknowledge the writer was killed at the consulate, perhaps as part of a botched interrogation.
The close U.S. ally is ruled entirely by the Al Saud monarchy, and all major decisions in the ultraconservative kingdom are made by the royal family. Washington Post Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan said the Saudi government “owes the Khashoggi family and the world a full and honest explanation of everything that happened to him,” noting that Tuesday marked two weeks since the disappearance of the 59-year-old journalist.
“The Saudi government can no longer remain silent, and it is essential that our own government and others push harder for the truth,” Ryan added. The high-level Turkish official told the AP that police found “certain evidence” of Khashoggi’s slaying at the consulate, without elaborating. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
Police planned a second search at the Saudi consul general’s home, as well as some of the country’s diplomatic vehicles, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. Leaked surveillance video shows diplomatic cars traveled to the consul general’s home shortly after Khashoggi went into the consulate.
Consul General Mohammed al-Otaibi left Turkey on Tuesday afternoon, state media reported, just as police began putting up barricades around his official residence. Saudi Arabia did not immediately acknowledge he had left or offer a reason for his departure.
Earlier in the day, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the “inviolability or immunity” of people or premises granted under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations “should be waived immediately.” That convention covers diplomatic immunity, as well as the idea that embassies and consulates sit on foreign soil in their host countries.
“Given there seems to be clear evidence that Mr. Khashoggi entered the consulate and has never been seen since, the onus is on the Saudi authorities to reveal what happened to him,” Bachelet said. Turkey had wanted to search the consulate for days. Permission apparently came after a late Sunday night call between King Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Certain areas of the consulate were to remain off-limits, although officials would be able to inspect surveillance cameras, Turkish media reported.
Erdogan told journalists Tuesday that police sought traces of “toxic” materials and suggested parts of the consulate had been recently painted, without elaborating. In Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir greeted Pompeo at the airport. The former CIA chief didn’t make any remarks to the media.
Soon after, Pompeo arrived at a royal palace, where he thanked King Salman “for accepting my visit on behalf of President Trump” before the two went into a closed-door meeting. Pompeo then met a smiling Prince Mohammed, the heir apparent to the throne of the world’s largest oil exporter.
“We are strong and old allies,” the prince told Pompeo. “We face our challenges together — the past, the day of, tomorrow.” Pompeo later said that Saudi Arabia had made a “serious commitment” to hold senior leaders and officials accountable in the case, and said the crown prince again denied any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.
Pompeo was to have a dinner Tuesday night with Prince Mohammed and was expected to fly to Turkey on Wednesday. Trump had previously warned of “severe punishment” for the kingdom if it was found to be involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance, which has spooked investors.
Trump’s warning drew an angry response Sunday from Saudi Arabia and its state-linked media, including a suggestion that Riyadh could wield its oil production as a weapon. The U.S. president has been after King Salman and OPEC to boost production to drive down high oil prices, caused in part by the coming re-imposition of oil sanctions on Iran.
On Monday, however, Trump offered a different theory after speaking by telephone with King Salman. “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers,” Trump said. “I mean, who knows? We’re going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial.”
The New York Times and The Washington Post have reported, citing anonymous sources, that Saudi officials may soon acknowledge Khashoggi’s slaying at the consulate but blame it on a botched intelligence operation.
That could, like Trump’s comments, seek to give the kingdom a way out of the global firestorm of criticism over Khashoggi’s fate. “The effort behind the scenes is focused on avoiding a diplomatic crisis between the two countries and has succeeded in finding a pathway to deescalate tensions,” said Ayham Kamel, the head of the Eurasia Group’s Mideast and North Africa division.
“Riyadh will have to provide some explanation of the journalist’s disappearance, but in a manner that distances the leadership from any claim that a decision was made at senior levels to assassinate the prominent journalist.”
Nils Melzer, the U.N. special investigator on torture, said that if Turkey and Saudi Arabia can’t conduct “a credible and objective investigation,” then international involvement may be needed.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey, and Gambrell from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Jill Colvin and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.
Turkey has 11 temporary military bases in northern Iraq, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Thursday.
Speaking in a live interview to private A Haber broadcaster, Yildirim also said 400 square-kilometers of the region has been cleared of terrorists.
“We are shelling Mt. Qandil through air operations at times. This time PKK terrorists are crossing into Iran when they are on the back foot,” the prime minister said.
He added Turkey has no problem with Iran over its Qandil operation.
“We cleared the area in northwestern Syria’s Afrin during Operation Olive Branch. We will do the same thing in Mt. Qandil area,” the prime minister added.
On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to remove YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin region. On March 18, Day 58 of the operation, Turkish troops, and Free Syrian Army members liberated the town of Afrin.
Turkey has been conducting a counter-terrorism operation in the area to clear it of PKK terrorists.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU.
The group’s three-decade-long terror campaign against Turkey has left more than 40,000 people dead, including numerous women and children.
About a possible joint operation with Iran, Yildirim said: “Iran expects to work with us all the time, including sharing intelligence, but it is naturally reluctant to launch a joint counter-terror operation within its borders.”
On relations between Turkey and the U.S., Yildirim said: “The reluctance over the extradition of FETO terrorist leader Fetullah Gulen is bothering us and our citizens’ doubts about the U.S. are increasing. Less than 20 percent of our citizens rely on America, according to the field researches.”
One of the main issues between the two sides is the U.S. cooperation with the PYD/YPG terrorist organization. “The U.S said we would part company with them [PYD/YPG] but did it happen?” he asked.
Speaking about the Manbij deal, Yildirim said: “In close cooperation, if the U.S. operates in Manbij in line with Turkey’s concern, relations between Turkey and the U.S. may be normalized.”
On June 12-13, Turkish and U.S. military officials agreed on a plan for ridding terrorists and stabilizing the northern Syrian city of Manbij during a preliminary meeting for implementation of the plan at the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.
On June 18, Turkish and the U.S. troops started coordinated/independent patrols in the region, which are still ongoing.
Earlier on Wednesday, Turkish Armed Forces began a second round of patrolling in Manbij as part of its objective to rid the area of the YPG/PKK terror group.
Source: Anadolu Agency.
October 15, 2018
ISTANBUL (AP) — A team of investigators entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Monday for what Turkish officials called a joint inspection of the building where Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared nearly two weeks ago.
The team arrived by unmarked police cars at the consulate and said nothing to journalists waiting outside as they entered the building. Police then pushed back journalists from the front of the consulate, where they’ve been stationed for days, setting up a new cordon to keep them away.
The makeup of the investigative team that entered the diplomatic compound was not immediately clear. International concern continues to grow over the writer’s Oct. 2 disappearance. American lawmakers have threatened tough punitive action against the Saudis, and Germany, France and Britain have jointly called for a “credible investigation” into Khashoggi’s disappearance.
A Foreign Ministry official had earlier said the team would visit the diplomatic post Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations. Officials in Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team that flew into and out of Turkey on Oct. 2 killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who had written Washington Post columns critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The kingdom has called such allegations “baseless” but has not offered any evidence Khashoggi ever left the consulate.
Such a search would be an extraordinary development, as embassies and consulates under the Vienna Convention are technically foreign soil. Saudi Arabia may have agreed to the search in order to appease its Western allies and the international community.
However, it remained unclear what evidence, if any, would remain nearly two weeks after Khashoggi’s disappearance. As if to drive the point home, a cleaning crew with mops, trash bags and cartons of milk walked in past journalists waiting outside the consulate on Monday.
President Donald Trump has said Saudi Arabia could face “severe punishment” if it was proven it was involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance. Trump tweeted Monday that he had spoken with Saudi King Salman, “who denies any knowledge” of what happened to Khashoggi.
“He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer,” Trump wrote. “I am immediately sending our Secretary of State (Mike Pompeo) to meet with King!” On Sunday, Saudi Arabia warned that if it “receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom’s economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy.”
“The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures or repeating false accusations,” said the statement, carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
The statement did not elaborate. However, a column published in English a short time later by the general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite news network suggested Saudi Arabia could use its oil production as a weapon. Benchmark Brent crude is trading at around $80 a barrel, and Trump has criticized OPEC and Saudi Arabia over rising prices.
Saudi media followed on from that statement in television broadcasts and newspaper front pages Monday. The Arabic-language daily Okaz wrote a headline on Monday in English warning: “Don’t Test Our Patience.” It showed a clenched fist made of a crowd of people in the country’s green color.
The Saudi Gazette trumpeted: “Enough Is Enough,” while the Arab News said: “Saudi Arabia ‘will not be bullied’.” The Arab News’ headline was above a front-page editorial by Dubai-based real-estate tycoon Khalaf al-Habtoor, calling on Gulf Arab nations to boycott international firms now backing out of a planned economic summit in Riyadh later this month.
“Together we must prove we will not be bullied or else, mark my words, once they have finished kicking the kingdom, we will be next in line,” al-Habtoor said. Already, international business leaders are pulling out of the kingdom’s upcoming investment forum, a high-profile event known as “Davos in the Desert,” though it has no association with the World Economic Forum. They include the CEO of Uber, a company in which Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars; billionaire Richard Branson; JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Dimon; and Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford.
News that the CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, would pull out of the conference drew angry responses across the region. The foreign minister of the neighboring island kingdom of Bahrain, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, tweeted Sunday night that there should be a boycott of the ride-hailing app both there and in Saudi Arabia.
Late Sunday, Saudi King Salman spoke by telephone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about Khashoggi. Turkey said Erdogan “stressed the forming of a joint working group to probe the case.” Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said King Salman thanked Erdogan “for welcoming the kingdom’s proposal” for forming the working group.
The king said Turkey and Saudi Arabia enjoy close relations and “that no one will get to undermine the strength of this relationship,” according to a statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency. While Turkey and the kingdom differ on political issues, Saudi investments are a crucial lifeline for Ankara amid trouble with its national currency, the Turkish lira.
Prince Mohammed, King Salman’s son, has aggressively pitched the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. But Khashoggi’s disappearance has led several business leaders and media outlets to back out of the upcoming investment conference in Riyadh, called the Future Investment Initiative.
The Saudi stock exchange, only months earlier viewed as a darling of frontier investors, plunged as much as 7 percent at one point Sunday before closing down over 4 percent. On Monday, Riyadh’s Tadawul exchange closed up 4 percent.
Concerns appeared to spread Monday to Japan’s SoftBank, which has invested tens of billions of dollars of Saudi government funds. SoftBank was down over 7 percent in trading on Tokyo’s stock exchange.
Khashoggi has written extensively for the Post about Saudi Arabia, criticizing its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women’s rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving. Those policies are all seen as initiatives of the crown prince.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey, and Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.
October 13, 2018
WASHINGTON (AP) — The disappearance of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi after visiting a Saudi consulate in Turkey has thrown the large number of diplomatic vacancies under President Donald Trump into the spotlight — notably in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It’s a gap the administration says it has been trying to fix but with limited success.
Khashoggi’s case and the fact that there are no American ambassadors in either Ankara or Riyadh have prompted concerns about dozens of unfilled senior State Department positions almost two years into Trump’s presidency. And, those concerns have sparked an increasingly bitter battle with Congress over who is to blame.
Aside from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Trump has yet to nominate candidates for ambassadorial posts in 20 nations, including Australia, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, Singapore and Sweden. At the same time, 46 ambassadorial nominees are still awaiting Senate confirmation, prompting angry complaints from the administration and pushback from Democratic lawmakers.
A number of ambassador positions to international organizations also remain unfilled as do 13 senior positions at the State Department headquarters, for which five have no nominee. It’s unclear if high-profile issues like Khashoggi’s disappearance suffer from neglect in the absence of an ambassador. Indeed, Turkey freed American pastor Andrew Brunson on Friday after repeated complaints and sanctions from Washington. But the management of day-to-day diplomatic relations can languish without a personal representative of the president present.
The difference between having an ambassador in country or having only a charge d’affaires running an embassy is a matter of degree but can be substantial, according to Ronald Neumann, the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. Non-ambassadors can have trouble getting access to senior officials and may not be viewed as the legitimate voice of the president or his administration.
“It’s a lot harder when you’re not the presidential appointee and you don’t have Senate confirmation,” he said. “An ambassador is the personal representative of the president. A charge is the representative of the State Department.”
In addition to problems with access, some countries may resent not having an ambassador posted to their capital, Neumann said. “Countries may get grouchy without an ambassador and that may affect relations,” he said. “Without an ambassador, there is a greater chance of misunderstanding and greater chance you aren’t able to persuade them to do something we want.”
“There are real, direct impacts of not having these people confirmed,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this month, making the case for the Senate to act quickly. Those remarks set off a war of words with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was singled out by Pompeo for blame.
“I want every single American to know that what Sen. Menendez and members of the Senate are doing to hold back American diplomacy rests squarely on their shoulders,” Pompeo said. He later maintained that Senate Democrats are blocking more than a dozen nominees “because of politics” and are “putting our nation at risk.”
Menendez fired back, accusing Pompeo of politicizing the process and blaming confirmation delays on the unsuitability of candidates for certain posts and the Republican leadership for not calling votes on the others. He also slammed the administration for failing to nominate candidates for critical posts.
“We cannot confirm nominees who have not been nominated,” he noted wryly, adding that some nominees had been or are currently being blocked by Republicans. Two cases in point: The nominee for the top U.S. diplomat for Asia, a career foreign service officer, was forced to withdraw earlier this year after Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he would do everything in his power to stop the nomination. The career diplomat nominated to be ambassador to Colombia is being blocked by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Pompeo responded by again blaming Menendez for holding up more than 60 nominees and using them as a “political football.” ”We need our team on the field to conduct America’s foreign policy,” he said.
Perhaps as a result of the sparring, the Senate late Thursday did vote to confirm several ambassadorial nominees, including those to Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Suriname and Somalia.
September 25, 2018
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An Iranian media outlet close to the country’s hard-line Revolutionary Guard published a video Tuesday threatening the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with missile attacks, further raising regional tensions after a weekend militant attack on a military parade in Iran.
The video tweeted and later deleted by the semi-official Fars news agency comes as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for the attack in the city of Ahvaz on Saturday, which killed at least 25 people and wounded over 60.
The threat amplifies the unease felt across the greater Persian Gulf, which is seeing Iran’s economy upended in the wake of America’s withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers and Saudi and Emirati forces bogged down in their yearslong war in Yemen.
Meanwhile, Iranian officials on Tuesday identified the five men who carried out the parade attack, which authorities have blamed on Arab separatists. At least two of the men identified have appeared in a video distributed by the Islamic State group in its own claim of responsibility for the Ahvaz attack. This further complicates the process of determining who exactly was behind the assault.
The Fars video shows file footage of previous ballistic missile attacks launched by the Guard, then a graphic of a sniper rifle scope homing in on Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The video also threatened Israel.
“The era of the hit-and-run has expired,” Khamenei’s voice is heard in the video, the segment taken from an April speech by the supreme leader. “A heavy punishment is underway.” Iran has fired its ballistic missiles twice in anger in recent years. In 2017, responding to an Islamic State attack on Tehran, the Guard fired missiles striking targets in Syria. Then, earlier this month, it launched a strike on a meeting of Iranian Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.
The Guard, a paramilitary force answerable only to Khamenei, has sole control over Iran’s ballistic missile program. Under Khamenei’s orders, Iran now limits its ballistic missiles to a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), which gives Tehran the range to strike Israel, Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as regional American military bases.
Saturday’s attack targeted one of many parades in Iran marking the start of the country’s long 1980s war with Iraq, part of a commemoration known as “Sacred Defense Week.” Militants disguised as soldiers opened fire as rows of troops marched past officials in Ahvaz.
Arab separatists in the region claimed the attack and Iranian officials have blamed them for the assault. The separatists accuse Iran’s Persian-dominated government of discriminating against its ethnic Arab minority. Iran’s Khuzestan province, where Ahvaz is the provincial capital, also has seen recent protests over Iran’s nationwide drought, as well as economic protests.
IS also claimed Saturday’s attack, initially offering incorrect information about it and later publishing a video of three men it identified as the attackers. The men in the video, however, did not pledge allegiance or otherwise identify themselves as IS followers.
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry identified the attackers as Hassan Darvishi, Javad Sari, Ahmad Mansouri, Foad Mansouri and Ayad Mansouri. It said two of them were brothers and another was their cousin. Darvishi and Ayad Mansouri both appeared in the IS video. A third man in the video resembled either Ahmad or Foad Mansouri, but The Associated Press could not independently verify his identity.
Iranian officials have maintained that Arab separatists carried out the attack. A spokesman for an Ahvazi separatists group on Saturday also identified one of the attackers by name — Ahmad Mansouri — in an interview with AP reporters.
State TV reported late Monday that authorities have detained 22 suspects linked to the group behind the attack and confiscated ammunition and communication equipment. The Guard’s acting commander, Gen. Hossein Salami, vowed revenge Monday against the perpetrators and what he called the “triangle” of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States.
“You are responsible for these actions; you will face the repercussions,” the general said. “We warn all of those behind the story, we will take revenge.” Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, said Monday that the attack showed Iran has “a lot of enemies,” according to remarks posted on his website. He linked the attackers to the United States, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“Definitely, we will harshly punish the operatives” behind the terror attack, he added.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
September 24, 2018
AHVAZ, Iran (AP) — Iran was holding funerals Monday for the victims of the weekend terror attack on a military parade in the southwestern city of Ahvaz that killed 25 people, the deadliest attack in the country in nearly a decade.
Thousands of mourners gathered at the city’s Sarallah Mosque on the Taleghani junction, carrying caskets in the sweltering heat. Others, mainly young people wearing ethnic clothes of the region’s Arab minority, held large photographs of those slain at Saturday’s parade in Ahvaz, the Khuzestan provincial capital, where militants disguised as soldiers had opened fire at marching troops and onlookers. Of those killed, 12 people were from Ahvaz and the rest from elsewhere in Khuzestan.
The procession walked down the Naderi and Zand Streets, many weeping and beating their chests, a traditional way of showing grief. Mourners played drums, cymbals and horns, according to local custom. Cries and wails erupted when the casket of a local hero, 54-year-old Hossein Monjazi, a disabled war veteran and Revolutionary Guard member who had lost a leg and a hand in the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s, was brought out.
Monjazi was in the wheelchair watching the parade when the gunshots erupted and was unable to find shelter from the hail of bullets. Speaking at the funeral ceremony, Revolutionary Guard’s acting commander Gen. Hossein Salami vowed revenge against the attack’s perpetrators and what he called the “triangle” of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States.
“You are responsible for these actions; you will face the repercussions,” the general said. “We warn all of those behind the story, we will take revenge.” Arab separatists have claimed the assault, which killed 25 and wounded 60, including Guard members and soldiers. Iranian officials have blamed the separatists for the attack. The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for the attack, but offered no clear evidence it carried out the assault.
President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday accused an unnamed U.S.-allied regional country of supporting the perpetrators. Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned Western diplomats, accusing them of allegedly providing havens for the Arab separatists behind the attacks.
The Ahvaz attack has further shaken Iran, already facing turmoil in the wake of the American withdraw from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Rouhani’s remarks could refer to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain — close U.S. military allies that view Iran as a regional menace over its support for militant groups across the Middle East.
“All of those small mercenary countries that we see in this region are backed by America. It is Americans who instigate them and provide them with necessary means to commit these crimes,” Rouhani said before leaving for the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Associated Press cameraman Mohsen Ganji reported from Ahvaz, Iran, while AP writer Nasser Karimi reported from Tehran, Iran.
September 23, 2018
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Militants disguised as soldiers opened fire Saturday on an annual Iranian military parade in the country’s oil-rich southwest, killing at least 25 people and wounding over 60 in the deadliest terror attack to strike the country in nearly a decade.
Women and children scattered along with once-marching Revolutionary Guard soldiers as heavy gunfire rang out at the parade in Ahvaz, the chaos captured live on state television. The region’s Arab separatists, once only known for nighttime attacks on unguarded oil pipelines, claimed responsibility for the brazen assault.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed regional countries and their “U.S. masters” for funding and arming the separatists, issuing a stark warning as regional tensions remain high in the wake of the U.S. withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal.
“Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives,” Zarif wrote on Twitter. The attack came as rows of Revolutionary Guardsmen marched down Ahvaz’s Quds, or Jerusalem, Boulevard. It was one of many around the country marking the start of Iran’s long 1980s war with Iraq, commemorations known as the “Sacred Defense Week.”
Journalists and onlookers turned to look toward the first shots, then the rows of marchers broke as soldiers and civilians sought cover under sustained gunfire. Iranian soldiers used their bodies at time to shield civilians in the melee, with one Guardsman in full dress uniform and sash carrying away a bloodied boy.
“Oh God! Go, go, go! Lie down! Lie down!” one man screamed as a woman fled with her baby. In the aftermath, paramedics tended to the wounded as soldiers, some bloodied, helped their comrades to ambulances. Video obtained by The Associated Press of the aftermath showed bodies of soldiers, some appearing lifeless, laying on the ground in pools of blood. One had a blanket covering him. A man screamed in grief.
The attack killed at least 25 people and wounded over 60, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. It said gunmen wore military uniforms and targeted a riser where military and police commanders were sitting. At least eight of the dead served in the Revolutionary Guard, an elite paramilitary unit that answers only to Iran’s supreme leader, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
“We suddenly realized that some armed people wearing fake military outfits started attacking the comrades from behind (the stage) and then opened fire on women and children,” an unnamed wounded soldier told state TV. “They were just aimlessly shooting around and did not have a specific target.”
State TV hours later reported that all four gunmen had been killed, with three dying during the attack and one later succumbing to his wounds at a hospital. President Hassan Rouhani ordered Iran’s Intelligence Ministry to immediately investigate the attack.
“The president stressed that the response of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the slightest threat would be harsh, but those who support the terrorists should be accountable,” IRNA reported. Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the attack as exposing “the atrocity and viciousness of the enemies of the Iranian nation.”
“Their crime is a continuation of the conspiracies by the U.S.-backed regimes in the region which have aimed at creating insecurity in our dear country,” Khamenei said in a statement. “However, to their dismay, the Iranian nation will persist on the noble and prideful path they have taken and will — like before — overcome all animosities.”
Tensions have been on the rise between Iran and the U.S. The Trump administration in May pulled out of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, and since then has re-imposed sanctions that were eased under the deal. It also has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran to try to get it to stop what Washington calls “malign activities” in the region.
Despite those touchy relations, the U.S. government strongly deplored the attack, saying that “the United States condemns all acts of terrorism and the loss of any innocent lives.” “We stand with the Iranian people against the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism and express our sympathy to them at this terrible time,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
Initially, authorities described the assailants as “takfiri gunmen,” a term previously used to describe the Islamic State group. Iran has been deeply involved in the fight against IS in Iraq and has aided embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s long war.
But later, state media and government officials seemed to come to the consensus that Arab separatists in the region were responsible. The separatists accuse Iran’s Persian-dominated government of discriminating against its ethnic Arab minority, though an Ahvazi Arab, Gen. Ali Shamkhani, serves as the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
Khuzestan province also has seen recent protests over Iran’s nationwide drought, as well as economic protests. Iran has blamed its Mideast archrival, the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for funding Arab separatists’ activity. State media in Saudi Arabia did not immediately acknowledge the attack, though a Saudi-linked, Farsi-language satellite channel based in the United Kingdom immediately carried an interview with an Ahvazi activist claiming Saturday’s attack.
Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the U.K., called the channel’s decision a “heinous act” in a post on Twitter and said his country would file a complaint with British authorities over the broadcast.
Yacoub Hor al-Tostari, a spokesman for the Arab Struggle Movement to Liberate Ahvaz, later told the AP that members of an umbrella group of Ahvazi activists his organization leads carried out the attack.
The attack undermined the Iranian government “on the day it wants to give a message to the world that it is powerful and in control,” al-Tostari said. To bolster his claim, he gave details about one of the attackers that the AP could not immediately verify.
The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for the attack in a message on its Amaaq news agency, but provided no evidence it carried out the assault. They also initially wrongly said the Ahvaz attack targeted Rouhani, who was in Tehran. The militants have made a string of false claims in the wake of major defeats in Iraq and Syria.
In Tehran, Rouhani watched a military parade that included ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel and U.S. military bases in the Mideast. Rouhani said the U.S. withdraw from the nuclear deal was an attempt to get Iran to give up its military arsenal. United Nations inspectors say Iran is still complying with the deal, which saw it limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
“Iran neither put its defensive arms aside nor lessens its defensive capabilities,” Rouhani said. “Iran will add to its defensive power day by day.” Meanwhile, Iranian Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, a spokesman for the armed forces, alleged without evidence that the four militants involved in Saturday’s attack “were dependent to the intelligence services of the U.S. and the Mossad” of Israel.
“They have been trained and organized in two Persian Gulf countries,” he said, without elaborating. Saturday’s attack comes after a coordinated June 7, 2017 Islamic State group assault on parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. At least 18 people were killed and more than 50 wounded.
That assault shocked Tehran, which largely has avoided militant attacks in the decades after the tumult surrounding the revolution. In the last decade, mass-casualty militant attacks have been incredibly rare. In 2009, more than 40 people, including six Guard commanders, were killed in a suicide attack by Sunni extremists in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province.
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi reported this story in Tehran and AP writer Jon Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. AP writers Sarah El Deeb in Beirut, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and television producer Mohammad Nasiri in Tehran contributed to this report.