Posts Tagged Terrorism

Obama Determined to Add Gitmo Closure to his Legacy

Obama Gitmo closurePresident Barack Obama launched a final push on Tuesday to persuade Congress to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but lawmakers, opposed to rehousing detainees in the United States, declared his plan a non-starter.

In White House remarks, Obama, a Democrat, pleaded with the Republican-led Congress to give his proposal a “fair hearing.” He said he did not want to pass along the issue to his successor next January.

The Pentagon plan proposes 13 potential sites on U.S. soil for the transfer of remaining detainees but does not identify the facilities or endorse a specific one.

“We’ll review President Obama’s plan,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “But since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in U.S. communities, he should know that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal.”

Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said Obama had yet to convince Americans that moving the prisoners to the United States was smart or safe.

Obama pledged to close the prison as a candidate for the White House in 2008. The prisoners were rounded up overseas when the United States became embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. The facility in years past came to symbolize aggressive detention practices that opened the United States to allegations of torture.

“Let us go ahead and close this chapter,” Obama said.

“Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values … It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law,” he said.

Obama is considering taking unilateral executive action to close the facility, situated in a U.S. naval station in southeast Cuba, if Congress does not vote to allow transfers to the United States. Republicans oppose any executive order.

The White House has sought to buttress its argument for closing the prison by focusing on its high cost. Obama said nearly $450 million was spent last year alone to keep it running. The new plan would be cheaper, officials said.

The transfer and closure costs would be $290 million to $475 million, an administration official told reporters, while housing remaining detainees in the United States would be $65 million to $85 million less expensive than at the Cuba facility, meaning the transfer bill would be offset in 3 to 5 years.

The prison, which Obama said once held nearly 800 detainees, now houses 91 detainees. Some 35 prisoners will be transferred to other countries this year, leaving the final number below 60, officials said.

Obama noted that his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, transferred hundreds of prisoners out of Guantanamo and wanted to close it. Republican Senator John McCain, Obama’s 2008 presidential opponent and a former prisoner of war during U.S. involvement in Vietnam, also wanted it shut.

The plan would send detainees who have been cleared for transfer to their homelands or third countries and transfer remaining prisoners to U.S. soil to be held in maximum-security prisons. Congress has banned such transfers to the United States since 2011.

Though the Pentagon has previously noted some of the sites it surveyed for use as potential U.S. facilities, the administration wants to avoid fueling any political outcry in important swing states before the Nov. 8 presidential election.



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Ankara Rocked By Terrorist Car Bomb

AnkaraAt least 28 people were killed and 61 wounded Wednesday by a car bomb targeting the Turkish military in the heart of the capital Ankara, the latest in a string of attacks to shake the country.

The blast struck a convoy of military service vehicles but it was still not clear who carried it out, said Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, confirming the latest toll.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed retaliation against the perpetrators of the attack, which came on the heels of a spate of deadly strikes in Turkey blamed on jihadists but also on Kurdish rebels.

The car bomb detonated when a convoy of military buses carrying dozens of soldiers stopped at traffic lights in central Ankara, creating scenes of panic and chaos.

“This attack has very clearly targeted our esteemed nation as a whole and was carried out in a vile, dishonourable, treacherous and insidious way,” said Kurtulmus.

Plumes of smoke could be seen from all over the city rising from the scene, close to the headquarters of the Turkish military and the parliament.

The powerful blast was heard throughout Ankara, sending alarmed residents rushing to their balconies. The army said the attack took place at 1631 GMT and had targeted “service vehicles carrying army personnel”.

Without specifying what the retaliation could entail, Erdogan warned that “Turkey will not shy away from using its right to self-defence at any time, any place or any occasion.”

“Our determination to respond in kind to attacks taking place inside and outside our borders is getting stronger,” he said.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu cancelled a planned visit to Brussels on Thursday, his office said. Erdogan also shelved a trip to Azerbaijan.

A mini-summit on Europe’s refugee crisis gathering 11 EU countries and Turkey scheduled for Thursday was cancelled due to Davutoglu’s absence, diplomats said.

In Ankara, ambulances and fire engines were sent to the scene and wounded victims were seen being taken away on stretchers.

Images showed fire-fighters trying to overcome a fierce blaze engulfing wrecked service buses that were gutted by the blast.

Turkish police threw a security cordon around the area. A second blast later rocked the area, but officials said this was police detonating a suspicious package.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance strongly condemned the bombing. “NATO Allies stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against terrorism,” he said.

French President Francois Hollande denounced the attack as “odious”.

“We are with Turkey and its people in these difficult times,” added EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Kurtulmus acknowledged that “we don’t have any information yet about who carried out this attack” but vowed the perpetrators “will be revealed as soon as possible.”

The Islamic State group has been blamed for a slew of bombings in the country since the middle of last year but the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has also killed dozens of soldiers in attacks mainly in the southeast of the country.

The capital was already on alert after 103 people were killed on October 10 when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowd of peace activists in Ankara, the bloodiest attack in the country’s modern history.

Eleven people, all German tourists, were also killed on January 16 when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the tourist heart of Istanbul.

Those attacks were blamed on IS jihadists, as were two other deadly bombings in the country’s Kurdish-dominated southeast earlier in the year.

But Turkey is also waging an all-out assault on the outlawed PKK which has repeatedly attacked members of the security forces with roadside bombings on their convoys in the southeast.

The PKK launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984, initially fighting for Kurdish independence although now more for greater autonomy and rights for the country’s largest ethnic minority.

The conflict, which has left tens of thousands of people dead, looked like it could be nearing a resolution until an uneasy truce was shattered in July.

Meanwhile, Turkish artillery in southern Turkey shelled positions of Kurdish fighters in Syria for the fifth day in the row on Wednesday in an escalating standoff, reports said.

Turkey says the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) are merely the Syrian branch of the PKK and themselves terror groups.

The banned ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party–Front (DHKP-C) has also staged a string of usually small-scale attacks in Istanbul over the last few months.


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Bashar al-Assad Vows to Reclaim Whole of Syria

Bashar al-AssadSyria’s President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to retake the entire country but warned it could take a “long time,” in an interview with the AFP as international pressure grows for a ceasefire.

Speaking at his office in Damascus, hours before a new ceasefire plan was announced early Friday by world powers in Munich, Assad said he backed peace talks but that negotiations do “not mean that we stop fighting terrorism”.

Regime forces backed by Russian air strikes have registered major advances in recent days, particularly in northern Aleppo province, where Assad said the army was seeking to sever the opposition’s supply route from Turkey.

The push is one of the most significant regime advances since the conflict began in March 2011 with protests against Assad’s government, before spiralling into a bloody war that has killed more than 260,000 people.

The advances have prompted consternation from opposition backers including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and Assad said he saw a risk that the two countries would intervene militarily in Syria, pledging that his forces would “certainly confront” them.

He also addressed the massive flow of refugees from his country, saying it was up to Europe to stop “giving cover to terrorists” so Syrians could return home.

Over the past week, Syrian regime forces backed by pro-government fighters and Russian air strikes have encircled Aleppo, Syria’s second city.

The advance is one of several for the government since Russia began an aerial campaign on September 30 after a string of regime losses to rebel forces and the Islamic State group.

Dressed in a dark blue suit, Assad appeared bolstered by his recent military gains, and said his eventual goal was to retake all of Syria.

“Regardless of whether we can do that or not, this is a goal we are seeking to achieve without any hesitation,” he said.

“It makes no sense for us to say that we will give up any part.”

Assad said it would be possible to “put an end to this problem in less than a year” if opposition supply routes from Turkey, Jordan and Iraq were cut.

But if not, he said, “the solution will take a long time and will incur a heavy price”.

The interview with Assad is the first he has given since the effective collapse of a new round of peace talks in Geneva earlier this month.

The talks are officially “paused” until February 25, and 17 nations agreed early Friday on an ambitious plan intended to bolster efforts for new negotiations.

The plan would see a cessation of hostilities implemented in as little as a week, and also demands humanitarian aid access to all of Syria.

Assad said his government has “fully believed in negotiations and in political action since the beginning of the crisis”.

“However, if we negotiate, it does not mean that we stop fighting terrorism. The two tracks are inevitable in Syria.”

The Aleppo offensive has been the main focus of Syrian government forces in recent weeks.

The regime has virtually encircled rebels in eastern parts of Aleppo city after severing their main supply line to the Turkish border.

“The main battle is about cutting the road between Aleppo and Turkey, for Turkey is the main conduit of supplies for the terrorists,” Assad said.

The operation has raised fears of a humanitarian crisis, with some 300,000 civilians in eastern Aleppo facing the prospect of a government siege.

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes already, mostly from northern Aleppo province, with many flocking to the border with Turkey seeking entry.

The displaced could join a wave of more than four million Syrian refugees who have left the country since the conflict began in March 2011.

Last year, many of those refugees began seeking asylum in Europe in a major crisis that has failed to slow throughout the winter.

Assad said “any scene of suffering is painful to all of us as Syrians”, but he said blame for the influx lay at Europe’s feet.

“I would like to ask every person who left Syria to come back,” he said.

“They would ask ‘why should I come back? Has terrorism stopped?'”

Instead, he urged Europe’s governments “which have been a direct cause for the emigration of these people, by giving cover to terrorists in the beginning and through sanctions imposed on Syria, to help in making the Syrians return to their country”.


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Islamic State Issues Statement Claiming San Bernardino Terrorist Couple Were Followers

San BernardinoIslamic State said on Saturday that a married couple who killed 14 people in California in an attack the FBI is investigating as an “act of terrorism” were followers of the militant group based in Syria and Iraq.

The group’s declaration, in an online radio broadcast comes three days after U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his spouse, Tashfeen Malik, 29, a native of Pakistan, carried out the attack on a holiday party for civil servants in San Bernardino, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Los Angeles.

The two died hours later in a shootout with police.

U.S. government sources have said Malik and her husband may have been inspired by Islamic State, but there was no evidence the attack was directed by the militant group or that the organization even knew who they were. The party the couple attacked was for workers in the same local government agency that employed Farook.

If Wednesday’s mass shooting proves to have been the work of people inspired bys as investigators now suspect, it would mark the deadliest such attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001.”Two followers of Islamic State attacked several days ago a center in San Bernadino in California,” the group’s daily online radio broadcast al-Bayan said on Saturday.

The broadcast came a day after Facebook confirmed that comments praising Islamic State were posted around the time of the mass shooting to an account on the social media website established by Malik under an alias.

However, it was uncertain whether the comments were posted by Malik herself or someone with access to her page.

“I know it was in a general timeline where that post was made, and yes, there was a pledge of allegiance,” David Bowdich, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Los Angeles office, told a news conference about a reported loyalty pledge posted on Facebook by Malik on the day of the attack.

A Facebook Inc spokesman said the profile in question was removed by the company on Thursday for violating its community standards barring promotion or praise for “acts of terror.” He declined to elaborate on the material.

CNN and other news media outlets reported the Facebook posts on Malik’s page included a pledge of allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

FBI officials said mounting signs of advanced preparations, the large cache of armaments amassed by the couple and evidence that they “attempted to destroy their digital fingerprints” helped tip the balance of the investigation.

“Based on the information and the facts as we know them, we are now investigating these horrific acts as an act of terrorism,” Bowdich told reporters.

He said the FBI hoped examination of data retrieved from two smashed cellphones and other electronic devices seized in the investigation would lead to a motive for the attack.

The couple had two assault-style rifles, two semi-automatic handguns, 6,100 rounds of ammunition and 12 pipe bombs in their home or with them when they were killed, officials said. And Bowdich said they may have been planning an additional attack.

Speaking to reporters separately in Washington on Friday, FBI Director James Comey said the investigation pointed to “radicalization of the killers and of potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organisations.”


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Presidential Hopefuls Knock Obama and Trump at Republican Jewish Coalition

R J CA gathering of GOP presidential candidates before major donors on Thursday prompted predictable condemnations of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and a surprise bill of attainder against the Republican Party.

In an appearance before the Republican Jewish Coalition forum in Washington, billionaire Donald Trump predicted that “you are not going to support me because I don’t want your money even though I’m the best thing that could ever happen to Israel” as he gave a stump speech filled with insults about his rivals that had the audience at times laughing like a crowd at a comedy club. “I’m gonna win,” said Trump, who bragged about coining the term “low energy” for competitor Jeb Bush. He seemed to be preparing a similar line against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

“She doesn’t have the strength or the energy to support Israel,” Trump said, contending that Clinton disappears from the campaign trail for three or four days at a time. The former secretary of state is appearing Thursday in New Hampshire, during a week of public appearances that has taken her to Washington, Alabama, and Florida. On Friday, Clinton will make two appearances in Iowa.

Trump’s rivals at the RJC forum spent the bulk of the day vying for the title of most pro-Israel, though New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie turned the audience’s attention to the killings in San Bernardino, California by late afternoon.

“For the first time since 9/11, I think we’re going to have to confront the loss of Americans lives on American soil to terrorism,” Christie said. “I am convinced that was a terrorist attack,” he continued, saying, “the president continues to ring his hands.”

Senator Ted Cruz compared President Barack Obama to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and former President Jimmy Carter; Senator Marco Rubio accused Obama of trying to use “diplomacy and engagement” with “people who have an apocalyptic vision of the future”; and Senator Lindsey Graham said he was throwing out his prepared remarks on the Middle East to warn that his competitors’ views on immigration and social issues are jeopardizing the Republican Party’s chances of taking back the White House.

“I believe Donald Trump is destroying the Republican Party’s chances to win an election,” said Graham of the Republican front-runner, who spoke later. In an apparent reference to Trump’s frequent vows to deport undocumented immigrants and build a wall along the Mexican border, the South Carolina senator called for an end to “hateful rhetoric” against Hispanics. Graham criticized 2012 nominee Mitt Romney for endorsing the concept of “self-deportation,” which holds that undocumented immigrants will return to their native countries if laws against them are tough enough.

“You think you’re going to win an election with that kind of garbage?” Graham asked. Referring to the common phenomenon of American-born citizens with parents in the U.S. illegally, Graham asked, “Is the Marine Corps American citizen going to vote for a party that’s going to deport his mother? I don’t think so.”

Graham also took aim at Cruz, saying the Texas senator’s no-exceptions position on banning abortion will cost the party voters. “Telling a woman who was raped you will have to carry the child of the rapist? Good luck with that,” Graham said. “We will lose in droves.”

Among the other candidates who spoke, most stuck to foreign policy, especially as it pertains to Israel.

Cruz called Obama “an unmitigated socialist who won’t stand up and defend the United States of America,” likening the president’s “feckless foreign policy” to that of Chamberlain, who infamously accommodated Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in a futile attempt to avert World War II. He criticized the president’s nuclear deal with Iran and accused him of ignoring “the gathering storm of homicidal maniacs who tell us they want to kill us.” He repeated his criticism of the president for not inveighing against “radical Islamic terrorism.”

In another proposal that won applause from his audience, the Texas lawmaker said that if he is elected president, he will cut off federal funding for any university supporting the BDS movement, a pro-Palestinian effort to back “boycotts, divestment, and sanctions” against Israel.

Rubio ducked a question about whom he might tap to be his secretary of state, saying it is “premature,” and dismissed the idea of negotiating with Palestinians. “Israel has no partner for peace in this conflict,” he said. But unlike some conservatives, he also dismissed the idea of maintaining Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power to counter the Islamic State, calling it a “simplistic notion” that ignores Assad’s role in the region. Rubio called the Syrian dictator “an Iranian puppet” who has “actively facilitated anti-Israel and anti-American terrorism.”

Ohio Governor John Kasich, a former member of the U.S. House who has been emphasizing his years in government in his bid for the Republican nomination, seemed to criticize some of his competitors for intemperate rhetoric on Iran. “If you’re inexperienced, you say ‘I’d go and blow the place up,’” Kasich said. “Executives have to be tough and calm and decisive.”

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has received criticism about his grasp of foreign policy, broke from his off-the-cuff style to read from a prepared speech so he didn’t “miss any points” he wanted to make. Looking down at his notes for much of the time, Carson spoke about the history of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the need to address a long list of issues in the Middle East, and his recent trip to Jordan to visit Syrian refugees. A few times during the speech, Carson appeared to mispronounce “Hamas,” the name of the Palestinian political party and terror group, prompting a response from RJC board member Ari Fleischer on Twitter: “Poor Ben Carson. … He sounds like he’s not familiar with the group.”

Fourteen Republican presidential contenders were set to address the group, which includes a number of active donors. For the candidates, the stakes are high as they make their pitches to more than 600 attendees.

The gathering took place amid signs that the party establishment is growing concerned about the continuing lead of the controversy-cultivating Trump for the party’s nomination. Trump told attendees at a rally in nearby Virginia on Wednesday that he plans to visit Israel “very soon.” Trump in his speech emphasized his ties to the Jewish state, saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “asked me to do a commercial” during his last campaign for re-election. “I think our president has been unbelievably rude to Bibi,” said Trump, referring to the rocky relations between Obama and the Israeli leader. The audience applauded that remark.

Trump got briefly heckled, however, when he ducked a question about whether he’d recognize Jerusalem, a city claimed by three religions, as the capital of Israel. “You can’t go in to do a deal and just shove it down their throat,” he said.

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Taliban Leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour Seriously Wounded

Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has been seriously wounded in Pakistan in a shootout between senior members of the Islamist movement, Taliban sources said on Wednesday, but the group’s main spokesman dismissed their report as “baseless”.

The conflicting accounts deepen the confusion over the already opaque leadership situation in the Taliban following the death of the movement’s founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and cloud prospects for any resumption of stalled peace talks.

Two Taliban commanders said Mansour, whose authority is disputed by rival factions in the Islamist movement, was wounded when fighting broke out over strategic issues in the house of a senior Taliban leader called Mullah Abdullah Sarhadi outside Quetta in western Pakistan.

“During the discussion, some senior people developed differences and they opened fire on each other,” one of the commanders said.

He said five senior Taliban members had died on the spot and more than a dozen, including Mullah Mansour, had suffered serious bullet injuries. Mansour was being treated in a private hospital after being hit four times by bullets from an AK-47 assault rifle, the Taliban commander said.

However, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the incident ever took place and said Mansour was in Afghanistan.

“This is a rumor which is completely baseless. Akthar Mohammad Mansour is totally fine and nothing has happened to him,” he told Reuters.

“This is the act of Afghan intelligence agencies. They spread these rumors about a clash between Taliban leaders. Nothing happened like this even in that area”.

The Taliban has faced serious internal divisions since it was confirmed in July that Mullah Omar had actually died two years earlier.

Mansour, Mullah Omar’s longtime deputy, was immediately named leader but some sections of the Islamist group quickly rejected his claim, accusing him of covering up Omar’s death and saying that Pakistan had steered his appointment.

His grip on the leadership appeared to have been tightened by the capture of the northern city of Kunduz in late September, which insurgents held for several days before government forces could regain control.

What the latest incident may mean for the Afghan peace process remains unclear for now.

There were varying accounts of exactly what may have happened in the incident, with some sources saying it took place in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar near the border with Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

According to the first Taliban commander, the meeting on Tuesday was to discuss the future of any peace talks with the United States and the Kabul government as well as the strategy for dealing with a rival splinter group headed by Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund, which rejects Mansour’s authority.

A second source said the dispute had broken out over ways of dealing with the rival faction, following heavy fighting in the southeastern province of Zabul last month in which dozens of people were killed.

“We have no access to Mullah Mansour after the incident last night. We have been hearing that he had succumbed to his injuries but we can neither confirm nor deny it,” said the second Taliban commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said this week that he was ready to talk to Taliban members but he cautioned that since the death of Mullah Omar there was “no such thing as the Taliban There are groups of Taliban…”

According to some officials in the Kabul government, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, a senior commander in the group that opposes Mansour, was killed in last month’s fighting, although the claim has been denied by a spokesman for his faction.


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Putin Vows To Continue Cooperating Western Allies in ISIS Fight

PutinRussia will keep cooperating with the United States and its partners to fight Islamic State in Syria, but that cooperation will be in jeopardy if there are any repeats of Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian jet, Russia’s Vladimir Putin said.

Speaking after talks in the Kremlin with French President Francois Hollande, Putin voiced lingering anger at Turkey’s actions, saying he viewed the downing of the jet as an act of betrayal by a country Moscow had thought was its friend.

But he said he would order Russia’s military to intensify cooperation with the French armed forces, including exchanges of information about targets and viewed that as part of creating a broader international coalition bringing together Russia and Western states.

“We are ready to cooperate with the coalition which is led by the United States. But of course incidents like the destruction of our aircraft and the deaths of our servicemen… are absolutely unacceptable,” Putin said at a news conference, standing alongside Hollande.

“And we proceed from the position that there will be no repeat of this, otherwise we’ll have no need of cooperation with anybody, any coalition, any country.”

He said he and the French leader had “agreed how we will cooperate in the near future, on a bilateral basis and with, as a whole, the coalition led by the United States.

“We are talking about a designation of the territories against which we can conduct strikes, and where it is better to refrain from strikes, about the exchange of information on various issues, and the coordination of our actions on, so to speak, the battlefield,” Putin said.

On bilateral cooperation with France, he said the aim was to “establish constructive work by our military specialists to avoid duplication and avoid strikes on those territories and groups which are themselves ready to fight terrorism.”

“We view this as the formation of a wide anti-terrorist coalition under the aegis of the United Nations,” Putin said.

The Russian leader said, under the cooperation already established with the U.S.-led coalition, Russia’s military had passed on details of the flight plan of the jet that was shot down this week.

“Why did we pass this information to the Americans? Either they were not controlling what their allies were doing, or they are leaking this information all over the place,” Putin said.


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