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Egypt national dialogue initiative to exclude Muslim Brotherhood

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 14:08
Egypt national dialogue initiative to exclude Muslim Brotherhood
An alliance of political figures says the country's crushed opposition group 'has not and will not be invited' to the government-sponsored talks
MEE staff Tue, 07/05/2022 - 15:08
On Monday, Sisi delivered a speech confirming the ban on Muslim Brotherhood participation in the dialogue group (AFP)

Egypt's national dialogue initiative launched earlier this year by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will be initiated without the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition group, an alliance of political figures said on Tuesday.

Sisi announced the initiative on 26 April during a Ramadan iftar attended by several opposition figures.

However, many critics and human rights groups have expressed scepticism about the president’s genuine commitment to democratic change and the release of political prisoners.

On Monday, which marked the ninth anniversary of Sisi’s military coup against his democratically elected predecessor Mohamed Morsi, the president accused the Brotherhood, from which Morsi hailed, of turning down his proposals to hold early elections in 2013 and avoid the coup.

"On 3 July we presented them with a vision to overcome their crisis... by holding early presidential elections," Sisi said. 

"The people went out on the streets... We said let's give them a chance to express their opinion... but they [the Brotherhood] insisted they have supporters and that this was a conspiracy.

"We said if people vote for you again then okay... and if they don't, you can remain part of the political process in Egypt. This did not happen, they chose war." 

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Morsi was only one year into his presidential term when his defence minister Sisi staged the coup, backed by a range of secular and salafist political forces as well as protesters on 30 June calling for an end to Morsi’s rule.

Since 2013, the Egyptian government has targeted members and supporters of Morsi's administration in a large-scale crackdown, which later widely targeted government critics from across the political spectrum. 

The former president was detained after the coup, and died in June 2019 while in custody in circumstances described by UN experts as "state-sanctioned arbitrary killing".

On Tuesday, an alliance of liberal and left-wing political figures reiterated Sisi’s statement that the Brotherhood will be excluded from the dialogue. “We did not and will not invite the Brotherhood to participate in the dialogue,” it said in a statement.

The movement’s position comes in the wake of recent statements made by some of its leaders, including Khaled Daoud, who said the Brotherhood must recognise Sisi’s legitimacy and refrain from calling his powergrab a “bloody coup” before being invited to the talks.

The new dialogue initiative is now headed by Dia Rashwan, a Sisi ally and the head of the State Information Services, the government's media and public relations arm. 

Crackdown on opposition continues

The dialogue comes amidst the government's ongoing crackdown on dissent, including the incarceration of tens of thousands of prisoners who oppose Sisi's rule.

The Civil Democratic Movement, which declared its participation in the dialogue, said Rashwan is chairing a meeting on Tuesday as part of "preliminary steps" for the dialogue, which it said must be held after the release of government critics.

"The dialogue is not supposed to be held before the release of those imprisoned in connection with opinion cases. We note here our rejection and condemnation of the continued campaigns of arresting opponents in recent days for peacefully expressing their views," it said in its statement

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The movement also mourned Ahmed Yassin Ali Badawi, a member of the liberal Al-Dostour party who passed away in detention on Monday after spending 10 months in pre-trial detention. 

Badawi is among three political prisoners who died in Egyptian detention in the first week of July.

The movement called for the release of political prisoners which it did not name and who it said shall be participants in the dialogue. 

It added that the actual dialogue sessions are due to be held after Eid al-Adha holidays later this month, but did not specify a date.

According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the total number of prisoners in Egypt in March 2021 was 120,000, with an estimated 65,000 political prisoners - at least 26,000 of whom were held in pre-trial detention.

In conjunction with the dialogue initiative announcement, the Egyptian government announced the reactivation of the Presidential Pardon Committee on 26 April during Ramadan, a month during which presidential pardons have often traditionally been handed out.

Following the move, more than 3,000 prisoners were reportedly released, as well as a number of high-profile political prisoners, including Hossam Moniss, a prominent leftist organiser and journalist.

Most of those released were not political prisoners. 

Hajj: Western pilgrims left 'with no hotel room' days before pilgrimage

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 13:09
Hajj: Western pilgrims left 'with no hotel room' days before pilgrimage
Pilgrims describe hotel as like a 'madhouse' and guests being double-booked into the same room
Areeb Ullah Tue, 07/05/2022 - 14:09
Muslim worshippers around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on 5 July 2022. (AFP)
Muslim worshippers around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on 5 July 2022 (AFP)

Western pilgrims, using the Saudi-backed Motawif portal, say their hotel in Mecca has "run out of rooms", with some people given keys to rooms already occupied by other guests, just days before the Hajj pilgrimage is due to begin. 

One British pilgrim, staying at the city's Fairmont Hotel, who wished to remain anonymous, said pilgrims were left "crying in the hotel lobby" after they were not allocated rooms.

"People have paid for and been told they have rooms [by Motawif] - but the hotel has no rooms," the pilgrim from Coventry told Middle East Eye. 

Images sent to MEE confirmed that pilgrims had been left waiting for hours in the hotel lobby. 

Some pilgrims at the Fairmont were also given key cards by the hotel, only to discover their rooms were already occupied by someone else.

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"One woman was kicking off, as she paid for the platinum package, and they kept giving the card to her room to other people so random people kept walking in."

The pilgrim said there appeared to be no "real coordination" between Motawif, who had pre-assigned rooms to pilgrims who paid for their services, and the hotels tasked with handing out guests their keycards.

Another western pilgrim who arrived two days earlier in Mecca from Medina said it felt like being in a "mad house".

"They have volunteer kids manning the front desk and supervisors nowhere to be seen," said the western pilgrim. 

"These kids are at university so most people don't understand it's unfair to have a go at them.

"When we checked in they didn't have any rooms for us. Anyone who said they were in a group of three were able to get a key card, but it was not checked which package they had paid for."

MEE has contacted the Fairmont Hotel for comment.

Fairmont Hotel is located in the clock tower that oversees the Grand Mosque in Mecca (Supplied)
Fairmont Hotel is located in the clock tower that oversees the Grand Mosque in Mecca (Supplied)

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The problems faced by pilgrims in Mecca mirror similar issues reported by visitors to Medina. 

Last week, a female pilgrim, who booked a platinum package, had told MEE that she was placed in a room with a "random bloke" in the Pullman Hotel in Medina.

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"The night before, there were about 30 people still waiting for beds. I offered a lady the chance to store her luggage and have a shower in my room as we had all endured 24 hours of travel," the pilgrim told MEE. 

"One couple, the lady was constantly in tears because she was pregnant." 

"The hotel staff were also knocking on doors to find out how many people were in each room because they were worried about fire regulations."

MEE had requested comment from Accor, which runs the Pullman hotel in Medina.

The Hajj pilgrimage lasts six days and consists of various rites. Hajj pilgrims typically arrive in Mecca before completing other rites associated with the pilgrimage. 

From Mecca, they will head to Mina, an area outside of the city, before heading to Mount Arafat and Muzdalifah. 

Packages 'downgraded' by Motawif 

On Saturday, pilgrims told MEE that their Hajj packages worth tens of thousands of dollars had been "downgraded", with no offer given of partial refunds to make up the difference. 

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In early June, the Saudi government made a surprise decision to sideline traditional travel agencies and instead use Motawif, a government-backed portal run by an Indian company with links to New Delhi, as revealed by MEE, to carry out a lottery system.

Motawif organised a random draw that Muslims from Europe, Australia and the Americas had to go through to attend Hajj this year, set to start on 7 July.

Since then, applicants have told MEE of numerous problems, including being turned away at airports and bookings failing despite full payments going through.

Many pilgrims who had previously been in the "paid but failed" category have since had their bookings approved, but have now complained of not receiving what they've paid for. 

Additional reporting by Rayhan Uddin. 

Western pilgrims left 'with no hotel room' days before Hajj

Tunisia: Kais Saied urges voters to support controversial constitution

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 12:03
Tunisia: Kais Saied urges voters to support controversial constitution
An umbrella opposition group warns the president is paving the way for 'absolute autocracy'
MEE staff Tue, 07/05/2022 - 13:03
President Kais Saied attending a cabinet meeting in the capital Tunis,13 December 2021 (AFP)

Tunisia's President Kais Saied has urged citizens to vote in favour of the new constitution, which is set for a referendum on 25 July, if they want to live a life where there is "no misery, nor terrorism". 

In a three-page letter tweeted by the Tunisian presidency's official account, Saied told Tunisians "to say Yes, so that the state does not fall into old age, so that the goals of the revolution are achieved. So there is no misery, no terrorism, no starvation, no injustice, no pain."

'Say Yes, so that the state does not fall into old age, so that the goals of the revolution are achieved'

- Kais Saied, Tunisian president

Saied blamed "others," without naming them, for emptying the coffers of the state to the point where "the poor became poorer and more destitute," while others accumulated immense wealth.

pic.twitter.com/jNtgCcXyT3

— Tunisian Presidency - الرئاسة التونسية (@TnPresidency) July 5, 2022

He said that Tunisians were disappointed by seeing Tunisia sinking in economic despair and fierce political competition over the past 10 years.

"It was necessary to think seriously about drafting a new constitution," he said, adding that this project was not launched "except on the basis of what the Tunisian people expressed since the outbreak of the revolution" in 2011.

"This project presented to you, sons of our great people, is from the spirit of the revolution and the spirit of the path of correction, and there is no fear for a people who gave thousands of martyrs and wounded, and echoed its historic slogan, 'The people want,'" he claimed.

Saied's letter comes after Sadeq Belaid, the head of the committee that drafted the new constitution, withdrew support for the charter.

Belaid warned on Sunday that Tunisia's new charter had changed into a text that could lead to a "dictatorial regime". 

"It has nothing to do with the text we drafted and submitted to the president," he Belaid.

One-man rule

Saied has ruled by decree since last summer, when he brushed aside parliament and the democratic 2014 constitution in a step his foes called a coup, moving towards "one-man rule" and vowing to remake the political system.

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Political parties have rejected calls for a vote on a new constitution. The Salvation Front, an umbrella of opposition parties, said that Saied is paving the way to send Tunisia back to "absolute autocracy".

"The proposed draft constitution represents an apostasy that threatens to return the country to the absolute autocracy from which Tunisia suffered for more than five decades until the 14 December-14 January [2011] revolution which came to establish a rule based on the separation of powers which promoted freedoms and guaranteed right," the opposition group said in a statement. 

The new draft constitution introduces a presidential system of government in a departure from the mixed presidential-parliamentary system enshrined in the 2014 constitution.

Explained: Tunisia’s political crisis
Read More »

Whereas the 2014 charter was written by a constituent assembly elected in the wake of the revolution, Saied's draft has been worked on by a committee he handpicked in a process decried by many politicians and constitutional experts as undemocratic. 

The draft constitution published in the official gazette last week would bring most political power under Saied, giving him ultimate authority over the government and judiciary.

Saied would be allowed to present draft laws, have sole responsibility for proposing treaties and drafting state budgets, appoint or remove government ministers and appoint judges.

Since his power grab last summer, Saied has imposed numerous controversial measures including suspending parliament, shutting down the country's independent anti-corruption body, and sidelining the national election authority.

In early February, he dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council and granted himself control over the selection and promotion of judges.

Kais Saied urges Tunisians to support controversial constitution

Mainz fans condemn Newcastle United friendly, citing Saudi human rights abuses

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 11:34
Mainz fans condemn Newcastle United friendly, citing Saudi human rights abuses
Supporters accuse German club of 'giving the Saudi regime a stage', ahead of practice match against Riyadh-funded English club on 18 July
Rayhan Uddin Tue, 07/05/2022 - 12:34
Newcastle United fans celebrate the club's takeover by a Saudi-led consortium at St James' Park stadium on 17 October 2021 (AFP)

Fans of German football team Mainz have called on their club to cancel a friendly match against Newcastle United, citing human rights abuses carried out by its Saudi Arabia-led owners.

Last year, a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, completed a £300m takeover of Newcastle United. 

Supporters of Mainz, who are due to face the English club in a practice match on 18 July in Austria, have joined the chorus of critics accusing Riyadh of attempting to “sportswash” its reputation.

“The motive behind Saudi Arabia’s Newcastle takeover is not identification with the club or the love of football. The motive is sportswashing,” Supporters Mainz, the umbrella organisation for fan groups, said in a statement on Saturday.

“Saudi Arabia isn’t only an absolute monarchy where citizens have little to no participation in the democratic discourse, but also a country where human rights are constantly being violated.”

It added that the kingdom persecuted the LGBTQ+ community, and cracked down on freedom of opinion and women’s rights, as well as carrying out the death penalty.

“In times when authoritarian countries, big companies and billionaires use football for their interests, it’s no longer possible to argue football and politics should be separated,” it said.

“With the game against Newcastle, Mainz gives the Saudi regime a stage.” 

Banning Disney

Last week, Watford cancelled a friendly match against World Cup hosts Qatar on similar grounds, after a backlash from fan groups over human rights concerns in the Gulf kingdom.

German football fans and players have in recent years been vocal about human rights issues in the Gulf: Bayern Munich fans publicly criticised its club’s partnership with Qatar Airways, while the German national team wore T-shirts protesting against Qatar’s human rights record ahead of a World Cup qualifying match.

Mainz’s manager Bo Svensson defended the club's decision to play against Saudi-owned Newcastle. 

Explained: Saudi Arabia’s takeover of Newcastle United
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“Whenever it comes to football, things become very inflated and become huge issues. How far are we going? Will we also then ban Disney films with our children?” he told German newspaper Bild, referring to the PIF’s investment in the entertainment giant. 

Fans of Munich-based club 1860, which is due to play Newcastle three days after Mainz, have also raised concerns. 

One group of 1860 ultras hung up a banner with the slogan: “Against sportswashing! Fuck the Sheikhs!” 

Last year MEE spoke to jubilant Newcastle fans - dressed in kefiyyehs and thobes - outside St James' Park Stadium before the first game under Saudi ownership, who expressed mixed views about accusations of “sporstwashing”.

Three die in Egyptian detention in first days of July

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 11:20
Three die in Egyptian detention in first days of July
The deaths highlight the poor conditions and lack of healthcare in Egyptian detention centres
MEE staff Tue, 07/05/2022 - 12:20
Yasser Farouk Al-Mahlawi had been in detention for two and a half years prior to his death (Facebook)

Three detainees have died in Egyptian detention since 1 July, highlighting deterioration conditions inside the country’s detention centres, said the Geneva-based human rights advocacy organisation Committee for Justice (CFJ) on Tuesday.

The foundation has documented the cases of three detainees, including Yasser Farouk Al-Mahlawi, who had been in detention for two and a half years prior to his death.

He was accused of belonging to a banned political group and smuggling funds abroad, stated the CFJ.

The second prisoner, Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed Ali Hamad, died on 2 July after being transferred to a maximum-security prison hospital.

He was suffering from liver disease, which combined with the conditions of his imprisonment, led to a deterioration in his health and subsequent death. CFJ blames his death on the improper health treatment provided by the prison administration.

Ahmed Yassin, the third detainee who died in July, suffered from a heart attack in prison, after which he was moved to a prison hospital. He was accused of spreading false news about the political and economic situation in the country.

The rights group said it has documented 1,163 deaths inside detention centres in Egypt since 2013.

In 2021, it registered 62 deaths in detention centres and prisons, while in 2022, there were a total of five deaths.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former defence minister, became president in 2014 after a military coup that had toppled his democratically elected predecessor Mohamed Morsi a year earlier.

Since then, his government has targeted members and supporters of Morsi's administration in a widespread crackdown. More recently he has also targeted the secular opposition.

Rights groups have accused his government of jailing tens of thousands of peaceful critics under the pretext of fighting terrorism. 

According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the total number of prisoners in Egypt in March 2021 was 120,000, with an estimated 65,000 political prisoners - at least 26,000 of whom were held in pre-trial detention.

Sisi launched a "national strategy" for human rights in September last year, insisting that education, health and electricity were more important than freedom of assembly, which is virtually forbidden in the country.

President Sisi has repeatedly denied that his country holds any political prisoners, but his administration has recently launched an initiative to pardon prisoners detained in connection with political cases. 

Three Egyptian detainees die in first days of July

Israeli army 'kills Palestinian worker' near West Bank wall

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 09:23
Israeli army 'kills Palestinian worker' near West Bank wall
Ahmad Harb Ayyad's family claims he died after being physically assaulted by soldiers while he was attempting to cross into Israel to reach his workplace
MEE staff Tue, 07/05/2022 - 10:23
Ahmad Harb Ayyad, 32, died near the separation barrier in the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarm (Twitter)
Ahmad Harb Ayyad, 32, died near the separation barrier in the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarm (Twitter)

The family of a Palestinian worker has accused the Israeli army of causing the death of the 32-year-old after physically assaulting him near the separation barrier in the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarm. 

The Israeli army denies knowledge of the incident.

Ahmad Harb Ayyad, who is from Gaza, came under fire from soldiers along with a group of other Palestinians while trying to cross the barrier to reach his workplace in Israel, his uncle Jamal Ayyad told Middle East Eye. 

The group managed to get away from harm but were then apprehend and beaten by soldiers, Jamal added.

Ahmad was then taken to a Tuklarm hospital but due to the seriousness of his condition he was transferred to a hospital in the nearby city of Nablus where he died shortly after.

His body was handed back to the family in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army via the Beit Hanoun crossing late on Monday, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

The Israeli army told Middle East Eye it was "not aware of any such event with involvement of IDF soldiers."  

Crackdwon on workers

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the killing as a crime and placed the blame on the Israeli government.

For months, Israeli forces have been attacking workers along the separation wall in the villages and towns of the West Bank, preventing thousands from reaching their workplaces inside Israel and arresting many.

In June, Israeli forces killed another Palestinian worker near the separation wall in the south of Qalqilia city in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian health ministry. 

'They dumped him like trash': Palestinian with suspected coronavirus symptoms thrown out of Israel
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A ministry statement published by Wafa news agency identified the worker as Nabil Ahmad Ghanem, 53, a resident of Nablus. He was on his way to his workplace inside Israel when soldiers opened fire on him and he died instantly.

The Israeli army said in a statement at the time that its forces "shot and wounded a suspect who tried to infiltrate through the wall near Qalqilia into the Green Line, where he was transferred to the hospital in critical condition, and there the doctors announced his death".

The same month, two other Palestinian workers were wounded after Israeli soldiers opened fire towards them near the town of Idna, Hebron district, the Arab48 news website reported.

Israel began building the separation wall, known by Palestinians as the Apartheid Wall, in 2002 claiming it was aimed at protecting its citizens from attacks.

However, the International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the wall violated international law because it led to the destruction and confiscation of Palestinian lands and property, and imposed unlawful restrictions on the movement of Palestinians.

More than 65 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed by Israeli forces this year, including journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a prominent TV reporter with Al Jazeera.

Arabic press review: Egypt's external debt increased by 8.5 percent in three months

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 08:55
Arabic press review: Egypt's external debt increased by 8.5 percent in three months
Meanwhile, the cost of domestic flights in Saudi Arabia triples during Eid season, and Kuwait prosecutes its former minister of defence in the US over luxury real estate deals
Mohammad Ayesh Tue, 07/05/2022 - 09:55
An Egyptian farmer takes part in wheat harvest in Bamha village near al-Ayyat town in Giza province, some 60km south of the capital on 17 May 2022 (AFP)

Egypt's external debt rises

Egypt's external debt surged to $157.8bn at the end of March from $145bn at the end of December. The increase was about 8.5 per cent within three months, according to a report published by Al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper.

Egypt has increased its external borrowing since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led a coup against his predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013, raising the debt value from $38.38bn in March 2013 to $157.8bn in March 2022, with an increase of about 311 percent.

Egypt plans to sell off state assets to boost private sector but doubts remain
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The crises of Covid-19 and the Russian war on Ukraine led to an increase in the pace of external borrowing, which triggered the Egyptian government to raise the idea of selling state assets to creditors, especially Gulf states, instead of repaying debts, according to the London-based newspaper.

In his statements at the end of June, Egyptian Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said that his country will resort to other alternatives to the hot money in financing the budget after it had received three shocks within four years causing a large percentage of losses in these funds.

The increased global interest rates, the weakness of the Egyptian pound and investors' caution about emerging markets indicate that Egypt will find it difficult to finance an expected deficit of $30bn in the general budget for the fiscal year that began on 1 July, according to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

Saudi domestic flights in price hike over Eid

The prices of domestic flights in Saudi Arabia have increased by more than 300 percent, according to a report published by the Saudi Al-Watan newspaper.

Domestic airports in Saudi Arabia, a total of 15, are witnessing active travel in conjunction with the summer holidays and the advent of Eid al-Adha. 

Hajj lottery for western pilgrims descends into farce
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In March, the Saudi government announced the cancellation of all precautionary measures it had imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to an increase in the number of travellers.

An investigation by Al-Watan newspaper indicated a massive increase in the prices of domestic flights, which ranged between 32 and 314 percent.

The report compared the prices of flights on 25 June and the prices five days later.

It found that the flights between Dammam and Riyadh recorded the lowest rate of increase (32 percent), while flights from Riyadh to Jeddah recorded a rise of 259 percent. Likewise, flights to the city of Taif increased in price by 314 percent, and to Madinah by 311 percent.

Kuwait prosecutes former minister in LA

A court in Los Angeles started to consider a new case filed by Kuwait against the former minister of defence, Khaled al-Jarrah Al Sabah, over the alleged purchase of luxury real estate with state funds, according to the Kuwaiti Al-Rai newspaper.

The court began to hear the case after the Kuwaiti government filed it on 20 May, weeks after the Kuwaiti Court of Ministers acquitted former prime minister, Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Khaled al-Jarrah, and others of criminal charges relating to the same allegations.

The new case filed before the Los Angeles Superior Court focuses primarily on al-Jarrah, who served as defence minister from 2013 to 2017.

"The Kuwaiti government filed the case due to its claim that the money spent by Al-Jarrah for luxury real estate in one of the most prestigious neighbourhoods of the US County of Los Angeles are Kuwaiti public funds.

"Accordingly, the State of Kuwait has the right to recover the amount that will be proven by litigation," according to Al-Rai.

Ukraine minister: Losses from Russia's invasion may exceed $1 trillion

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has told a Saudi newspaper that the international community will end the war in his country by applying more severe sanctions against Russia, and force it to accept a political solution later on.

In the exclusive interview with Saudi Arabia's Asharq Al-Awsat, Kuleba said that the support of partners and the Ukrainian resistance had thwarted the Russian invasion plans.

Ukraine says Turkey has detained Russian ship carrying stolen grain
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"Over the years, we have worked to reform our military, including with the support of partner countries... So, the result was clear on the battlefield,” Kuleba said.

"The goal of the Russians was to destroy Ukraine as a country within days; they said so explicitly from the beginning. That is why they pushed their full military power against us from all directions in the early hours.

"However, they greatly misjudged Ukraine's ability and willingness to defend itself. After Ukraine thwarted these aggressive plans, Russia was forced to abandon its primary goals.”

As for the economic repercussions of the war on Ukraine, Kuleba said: "It is difficult to set accurate numbers while the war is still raging, but Ukraine’s gross domestic product is expected to decline by at least 30 per cent in 2022."

The Ukrainian minister said that the Russian invasion has so far damaged or destroyed up to 30 per cent of Ukraine's infrastructure with a cost of at least $100bn. The total economic and infrastructure losses may exceed $1 trillion, he added.

"We are very grateful to our partners who provide Ukraine with huge financial, humanitarian and military assistance. I urge our friends to continue and increase them because every day of war brings more destruction."

He added that Ukraine needed more military aid, saying, "There is a need for more heavy weapons and ammunition.”

*Arabic press review is a digest of news reports not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.

France repatriates children and mothers from Syrian refugee camp

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 07:07
France repatriates children and mothers from Syrian refugee camp
France's foreign ministry said the children had been handed over to social services and mothers would face judicial proceedings
MEE staff Tue, 07/05/2022 - 08:07
A woman and her daughter at Camp Roj, Syria, where relatives of people suspected of belonging to the Islamic State group are held, on 4 March 2021 (AFP)

France has announced the repatriation of dozens of women and children linked to suspected Islamic State members from Syrian refugee camps.

"France has today undertaken the return to the country of 35 French minors who were in camps in northeast Syria,"  the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

"This operation also includes the return of 16 mothers from these same camps," it added, without specifying which camps they had come from.

The statement said the minors had been handed over to child protection services and would be subject to "medical monitoring".

It said the mothers would face judicial proceedings.

Rising violence

Roughly 10,000 men and hundreds more adolescent boys are held across 14 overcrowded prisons in Syria's northeastern Hasakah region.

Women and children, including orphans like Sara, live in two sprawling camps, al-Roj and al-Hol, home to roughly 60,000 people: around 20,000 from Syria, 31,000 from Iraq, and up to 12,000 from other countries: 4,000 women and 8,000 children.

The camps are administered by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who have increasingly called for countries to repatriate their citizens as unrest has continued to build in the camps, spurred on by suspected IS activity.

France has 300 women and children in IS camps. When will they go home?
Read More »

Along with the SDF, the United Nations, the European parliament, countless rights groups and the United States have also called for repatriation of foreign citizens.

But many governments are reluctant to repatriate citizens who may have had ties to IS.

The UN last year documented cases of "radicalisation" and training at the camp, warning that foreign children were being "groomed" as future IS operatives. 

Last month the UN said that more than 100 people, including many women, had been murdered in Syria's Al-Hol camp in just 18 months.

The father of a 29-year-old French woman recently transferred to Roj told MEE in February that the woman and her three young daughters barely left their tent in Hol.

“She [was] petrified that Daesh would return,” he said, using a different acronym for IS.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah: Family urges British government to pressure Egyptian foreign minister during London visit

Mon, 07/04/2022 - 19:11
Alaa Abd el-Fattah: Family urges British government to pressure Egyptian foreign minister during London visit
Sisters of imprisoned Egyptian activist hope meeting of foreign ministers could be turning point in securing brother's release
Alex MacDonald Mon, 07/04/2022 - 20:11
Activists and family of Alaa Abd el-Fattah protest outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London (MEE/Alex MacDonald)

The family of imprisoned activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah have called on Britain’s foreign secretary to raise the British-Egyptian's case with Egypt’s foreign minister during a visit to London this week.

Sameh Shoukry arrived in the UK on Monday and held a meeting with North Africa Minister Lord Ahmad, and is likely to have another meeting with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Tuesday.

Both ministers have in the past acknowledged the case of Abd el-Fattah, who acquired British citizenship through his mother last year and has been on hunger strike since April, in protest against the denial of consular visits.

Mona and Sanaa Seif, Alaa’s sisters, staged a demonstration in collaboration with Amnesty International outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) on Monday evening, calling on the British government to intervene more directly in Alaa’s case.

Speaking in the House of Commons in June, Truss for the first time acknowledged Alaa’s situation and said she would be raising his case with her Egyptian counterpart and attempt to secure his release.

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“We know that the visit has started. He was meeting with Lord Ahmad this morning, so we want to be here to remind her of that promise and to encourage her to do whatever she has in her capacity to save Alaa,” Sanaa told Middle East Eye.

Sanaa and Mona Seif catch up with North Africa Minister Lord Ahmad as he comes from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (MEE/Alex MacDonald)
Sanaa and Mona Seif speaking with North Africa Minister Lord Ahmad as he comes from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (MEE/Alex MacDonald)

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At one point during the protest, the sisters managed to speak to Lord Ahmad as he was leaving the FCDO and asked him about the possibility of a meeting with the family.

Ahmad, who has reportedly already met with Shoukry, initially appeared to ignore the demonstrators outside the FCDO until Mona and Sanaa ran to catch up with him.

According to the sisters, he promised to speak to their family after meetings with the Egyptian foreign minister concluded. In a tweet on Monday, following his meeting with Shoukry, Ahmad said he had raised Abd el-Fattah's case.

“We’ve been requesting a meeting with the foreign secretary and what we hear is that the meeting is ‘being processed’. We didn’t hear a ‘no’. So we hope that means that maybe she wants first to make a deal or get something, get a result and then meet the family," said Sanaa.

'We feel like if it doesn’t happen now, it isn’t going to happen'

- Mona Seif, sister of Alaa Abd el-Fattah

“We hope that after her meeting with the minister of foreign affairs, we hope we can hear some good news, but right now we don’t know.”

In a statement to MEE, the FCDO said the government had continued to raise Abd el-Fattah's case at the "highest levels" in Egypt.

They added that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had specifically raised his case during a phone call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

“We are working urgently to secure consular access to Mr Abdel Fattah and are urging the Egyptian authorities to ensure his welfare needs are met," said the FCDO.

'Secure his release'

Abd el-Fattah was an icon of the 2011 Egyptian revolution and has spent eight out of the last 10 years in jail on a range of charges.

While incarcerated in December 2021, he was sentenced to five years in prison by an emergency state security court on charges of "broadcasting false news", in a trial widely condemned by human rights defenders. The evidence used against him was a retweet.

He began a hunger strike on 2 April and that same month was granted British citizenship through his mother, Laila Soueif.

Mona Seif, who is now in the fourth week of a hunger strike in solidarity with her brother, told MEE that the Truss meeting with Shoukry could be a turning point and hoped it could see a plan developed for his release.

Activists and family of Alaa Abd el-Fattah protest outside the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office in London (MEE/Alex MacDonald)
Activists and family of Alaa Abd el-Fattah protest outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London (MEE/Alex MacDonald)

//--> //--> //-->

“We feel like if it doesn’t happen now, it isn’t going to happen," she explained.

//--> //--> //-->

"Alaa has been in prison since 2013. Every time they release him, they find an excuse to get him back."

Concerns were raised last year that Abd el-Fattah's conditions were such that he had been pushed into a "suicidal" state.

During his incarceration in Tora Prison, he was denied reading materials, a bed, or even a clock.

Egyptian officials have questioned his family's assertions that he was on hunger strike and claimed it has footage that "disproves" the claim.

In May, Abd el-Fattah was transferred to the Wadi El Natrun prison complex north of Cairo, where his conditions have reportedly improved, including having access to a bed.

Activists say that the increased coverage of Abd el-Fattah's situation in recent months helped forced an improvement in his conditions, but they warn that he is far from safe.

“Because he has become a British citizen, it means that Amnesty sees that there’s a responsibility on the British authorities to provide consular visits and secure his release," said Deborah Singer, Amnesty International UK's country coordinator for Egypt.

London

Egyptian researcher sentenced to three years in prison for publishing 'false news'

Mon, 07/04/2022 - 18:23
Egyptian researcher sentenced to three years in prison for publishing 'false news'
Ahmed Samir Santawy was studying at the Central European University in Vienna when he was arbitrarily arrested during a visit to Egypt in February 2021
MEE staff Mon, 07/04/2022 - 19:23
A picture taken on 16 January 2022 shows Badr city's correctional and rehabilitation centre, 65 km east of Cairo, during a government-guided tour for the media (AFP)

Egyptian activist and researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy was sentenced on Monday to serve three years in prison on charges of publishing “false news".

Santawy was initially sentenced to four years in prison on the same charge last month. Monday’s verdict by the emergency state security court concludes Santawy's retrial, which cannot be appealed. 

Santawi, a master's student in anthropology at the Central European University in Vienna (CEU), was arbitrarily arrested for his academic work on women's rights during a visit to Egypt in February 2021.

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According to Amnesty International, he was “beaten and questioned” by the Egyptian authorities for five days and interrogated for terrorism-related accusations.

In May 2021, he was referred to trial over the charge of “publishing false news to undermine the state, its national interests and public order and spread panic among the people”.

Santawy is among scores of Egyptians who have been arrested since 2013. According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the total number of prisoners in Egypt in March 2021 was 120,000, with an estimated 65,000 political prisoners - at least 26,000 of whom were being held in pre-trial detention.

Human rights activist Patrick Zaki was freed in December. The 28-year-old had been studying at Italy's Bologna University at the time of his arrest. He was taken into custody upon his return to Cairo in February 2020. 

Zaki’s arrest drew international condemnation, particularly in Italy. Zaki had been an outspoken campaigner for the truth about the 2016 murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Egypt. 

Progressive Democrats press Biden on 'doomsday settlements' ahead of trip to region

Mon, 07/04/2022 - 16:27
Progressive Democrats press Biden on 'doomsday settlements' ahead of trip to region
Planned settlement would bisect a future Palestinian state and cut it off from East Jerusalem
MEE staff Mon, 07/04/2022 - 17:27
An advertising sign for a new housing project is seen in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumin, located between Jerusalem and Jericho, on 25 November 2009 (AFP)

Twenty-nine progressive Democrats have called on the Biden administration to pressure Israel to prevent the construction of a “doomsday” settlement between Jerusalem and the West Bank, which critics say threatens the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state.

Israeli authorities are expected to hold a long-delayed meeting to discuss the building plans, shortly after US President Joe Biden's visit to the region.

The area of E1, east of Jerusalem, has long been considered a red line for previous US administrations and a point of no return for a potential two-state solution.

“We urge you to continue emphasizing in the lead-up to [US President Joe Biden’s July 13-14] visit [to Israel and the West Bank] that settlement construction in E-1 remains a red line for the United States and to use every diplomatic tool at your disposal to ensure that Israel does not further advance these devastating plans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

E-1 lies beyond the armistice demarcation line which separated Israel and the West Bank before the 1967 Six-Day War. A settlement in E-1 would essentially bisect the West Bank in two, while also cutting off the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, long envisioned as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

//-->

Thomas Nides, the US ambassador to Israel, has called the proposed settlements a “disaster” and said the Biden administration is going "full bore” to prevent its construction.

The Israeli government must stop any effort to build settlements in the E-1 area of the West Bank. Period.

29 of our colleagues joined @JanSchakowsky and me in urging @SecBlinken to hold firm and work with Israel to prevent any expansion in this region. https://t.co/O3XMURKZsL pic.twitter.com/9piqptJpbL

— Rep. Mark Pocan (@RepMarkPocan) July 1, 2022

More than two dozen House Democrats sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in November saying the E1 settlements posed an “irreconcilable challenge to a lasting peace solution between Israel and the Palestinians”.

The lawmakers referred to the area as "a vital corridor to Palestinian life" and requested an update on the State Department's efforts to discourage E1 settlement advancement by mid-December.

Last year, the Biden administration said it "strongly oppose[s] the expansion of settlements", referring to plans to advance more than 3,000 homes for settlers in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law.

Despite opposition from Washington, Israel has continued to advance its plans with Defence Minister Benny Gantz, saying it was moving ahead with a "balanced" construction plan and it was not promoting all the construction plans on the table.

The E1 project near the Maale Adumim settlement was first proposed nearly two decades ago but has been shelved repeatedly due to international pressure.

On 18 July, Israel’s defence ministry is slated to hold a final hearing on the objections to two E1 projects totalling 3,412 housing units.

US primaries 2022: Ballots will be available in Arabic in Dearborn, Hamtramck

Mon, 07/04/2022 - 15:58
US primaries 2022: Ballots will be available in Arabic in Dearborn, Hamtramck
Translated ballots will go into effect for the August primaries, and will be available for absentee voting and at polling locations on election day
MEE staff Mon, 07/04/2022 - 16:58
A resident casts his vote at Berston Field House in Flint, Michigan, on 3 November 2020 (AFP)

The cities of Dearborn and Hamtramck will now be offering ballots in Arabic, just in time for the upcoming primary elections in August. 

Earlier this year, both Michigan cities passed resolutions to make Arabic-language ballots available. Now, translated ballots will go into effect for the August primaries. They will be available for absentee voting and at polling locations on election day.

“This measure honours the fundamental ideal in our democracy: that it belongs to all of us, no matter our background, zip code, or native tongue,” Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud said. “We encourage Dearborn residents to vote in the language they are most comfortable, and to embrace the universal language of democracy.”

Voters who wish to request an Arabic-language absentee ballot can do so by visiting their local clerk's office or mailing in the Arabic-language absentee ballot application. Those planning to request their absentee ballot by mail are encouraged to do so as soon as possible and no later than 18 July, in order to prevent possible postal delays.   

Between 2000 and 2016, the population in Michigan that identified as having Arabic-speaking ancestry on the US Census grew by more than 42 percent. The number of Michigan residents who claim Arab ancestry has more than doubled since the Census first measured ethnic origins in 1980. Michigan is among the fastest-growing Arab populations in the country, with an estimated  statewide population of 277, 534, Yalla Count Me In! reported.

Dearborn has one of the largest Arab and Muslim communities in the world. Last November, the city elected Hammoud, its first Arab-American mayor.

Last November, Hamtramck also elected Amer Ghalib, its first Yemeni-American mayor. Hamtramck is the first US city to have an all-Muslim government. In 2016, it made history as being the first city in the country to elect a Muslim-majority city council.

“This is a big step toward improving community engagement in the election process. It makes it easy for people to understand the ballots and make the right choices and will decrease the number of voided ballots," Ghalib said.

"This is a historic moment for the Arab community, especially in Hamtramck and Dearborn, and we look forward to seeing the positive impact it brings to our community.”

The statewide primary will take place on 2 August. Voters will take to the polls to cast their ballot for governor, congress members, state senators, and district court judges, among others.

There are several tight races in the state, including the one between two incumbent Democratic congress members first elected in 2018, Haley Stevens and Andy Levin. Both are running for Congressional District 11, which was redrawn as part of the congressional map changes.

Levin has been one of Congress's most prominent Jewish members. In a message sent to pro-Israel donors in the Detroit area, David Victor, a past president of AIPAC, which is a pro-Israel lobbying group, called Levin “arguably the most corrosive member of Congress to the US-Israel relationship”, and urged the donors to back Stevens in the race.

Emirati royal may have lost millions of dollars in 'cryptoqueen' bitcoin scam

Mon, 07/04/2022 - 14:52
Emirati royal may have lost millions of dollars in 'cryptoqueen' bitcoin scam
Sharjah royal Saoud bin Faisal Al Qassimi reportedly lost around $52m in an alleged scam by Ruja Ignatova, who is wanted by the FBI
MEE staff Mon, 07/04/2022 - 15:52
Ruja Ignatova's 'Most Wanted' poster published by the FBI on 30 June 2022 (AFP)

An Emirati royal may have lost millions of US dollars worth of bitcoin in an alleged cryptocurrency scam run by FBI-wanted German-Bulgarian "missing cryptoqueen" Ruja Ignatova.

According to the BBC, Ignatova, who is accused of scamming $4bn (£3.2bn) from investors through the OneCoin cryptocurrency scam, was involved in a 2015 deal with Saoud bin Faisal Al Qassimi, a member of the royal family ruling Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Al Qassimi reportedly handed Ignatova four USB memory sticks which contained 230,000 bitcoin tokens, worth around €48.5m ($50.5m) in 2015, according to leaked documents allegedly from Dubai's courts. 

In return, she wrote three cheques to Al Qassimi from the Dubai-based Mashreq Bank, worth roughly €50m ($52m), but they were unable to be cashed because Ignatova's accounts were being closed amid money-laundering concerns. 

The 42-year-old, who the FBI says may have had plastic surgery to alter her appearance, disappeared in 2017 after allegedly tricking and scamming investors from around the world. 

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Jamie Bartlett, a British journalist who spent the last four years trying to locate the "cryptoqueen", wrote in the Daily Mail that Al Qassimi's bitcoin deal with Ignatova was in exchange for owning one of her companies.

The 230,000 bitcoins were estimated to be worth $1.21bn when Ignatova vanished into thin air in 2017. Their value rose to almost $15bn in November 2021. 

Ignatova could be the largest holder of bitcoin tokens, with an estimated value of $5bn as of July.

Al Qassimi sought in April to get the cheques' money paid to him from Ignatova's funds in Mashreq Bank, according to Dubai Court of Appeal records seen by the BBC. But as Igantova remains missing, it is unclear if he will ever see his money.

On Thursday, the FBI put Ignatova on the "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List" for "allegedly leading a fraud scheme that affected millions of investors worldwide", making her the 11th woman placed on its "10 Most Wanted List" during its 72-year history.

In addition, the FBI has announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to her arrest.

"She is currently 42 years old and has brown eyes and dark brown to black hair. Investigators, however, believe she could have altered her physical appearance," the FBI said in a statement.

In 2017, a US arrest was issued against Ignatova, and in 2018 she was indicted by a US court on charges of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to commit securities fraud.

Turkey: Inflation hits two-decade high of 78.6 percent

Mon, 07/04/2022 - 14:11
Turkey: Inflation hits two-decade high of 78.6 percent
Turkey's government has struggled to deal with an economic crisis that has caused widespread anger
MEE staff Mon, 07/04/2022 - 15:11
People hold up their electricity bills as they protest against high energy prices in Ankara on February 9, 2022, as temperatures plunged well below freezing and energy prices soared (AFP)
People hold up their electricity bills as they protest against high energy prices in Ankara on 9 February 2022, as temperatures plunged well below freezing and energy prices soared (AFP)

Inflation in Turkey has hit its highest rate for two decades once again, reaching almost 80 percent in June.

The heavy rise in consumer prices, which stood at 78.6 percent over twelve months, against 73.5 percent in May, is largely explained by the collapse of the Turkish lira, which has lost nearly half its value against the dollar in one year.

Inflation has not reached similar levels since 1998, four years before the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power promising economic reform.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seeking re-election in June 2023, has said he would deal with the impact of rising prices, but the economy has continued to worsen.

He has taken a number of measures, including increasing the minimum wage - earned by roughly 40 percent of working Turks - from 2,826 liras in late December to 5,500 liras ($325) this month.

Erdogan has put forward two reasons for the high living costs: the large volume of dollars in deposit accounts and Turkey’s overreliance on imports.

On Friday Economy Minister Nureddin Nebati vowed that consumer prices would start dropping in December.

"I promise to you and to the president, we will see a drop in inflation starting in December," he was quoted as saying by Turkish media.

Explained: Turkey's battered economy and Erdogan's attempts to fix it
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Inflation has been a major issue in Turkey, with rising prices chipping away at household purchasing power week after week.

Its calculation is also the subject of intense debate, with the opposition and many economists accusing the National Statistics Office of knowingly and largely underestimating its magnitude.

The Inflation Research Group, made up of independent Turkish economists, said on Monday morning that inflation was actually 175.5 percent year on year, more than twice the official rate.

According to a survey published last week by the Metropoll Institute, less than a quarter of Turks say they trust the official inflation figure.

Erdogan himself has dismissed four directors of the statistical institute since 2019.

AFP contributed to this report

Inflation in Turkey hits two-decade high of 78.6 percent

Shireen Abu Akleh: US says gunfire from Israeli positions likely killed journalist

Mon, 07/04/2022 - 13:46
Shireen Abu Akleh: US says gunfire from Israeli positions likely killed journalist
The assessment was based on investigations by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, says US security coordinator
MEE staff Mon, 07/04/2022 - 14:46
A Palestinian woman takes pictures at the scene where Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead during an Israeli raid, in Jenin, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, 17 May 2022.
A Palestinian woman takes pictures at the scene where Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead during an Israeli raid, in Jenin, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, 17 May 2022 (Reuters)

Gunfire from the positions of Israeli forces was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh but there was no definitive conclusion on the origin of the bullet, the US security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC) said on Monday.

The assessment, which found no reason to believe the killing was intentional, was based on investigations by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Independent third-party examiners could not reach a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the bullet that killed the Palestinian-American journalist despite an "extremely detailed forensic analysis", the US State Department said in a statement.

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Read More »

"By summarizing both investigations, the USSC concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh," the department said, using another term for Israeli forces.

"The USSC found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad on May 11, 2022, in Jenin, which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel."

The Palestinian Authority on Saturday handed the bullet that killed Abu Akleh to US authorities for forensic examination.

Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American journalist for Al Jazeera Arabic, was killed on 11 May while covering an Israeli military raid in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank. Her death sparked Palestinian outrage and widespread international condemnation.

Israel said on Monday after concluding its investigation into the killing, that after a forensic examination they could not determine from which weapon the bullet was fired.

"The physical condition of the bullet and the quality of the characteristics on it do not enable a ballistic examination to conclusively determine whether or not the bullet was fired from the weapon which was examined," the Israeli army said.

US authorities 'stalling the truth'

The killing of Abu Akleh was met with international outrage and calls for an independent investigation. Rights groups have said that it's unlikely Israel would conduct a proper investigation into the matter, saying that the country has a poor record of probing the conduct of its forces in relation to the deaths of Palestinians.

Multiple eyewitnesses, including Middle East Eye contributor Shatha Hanaysa, said the 51-year-old veteran Al Jazeera journalist was shot dead by Israeli snipers while reporting during a raid in the West Bank city of Jenin.

//-->

Investigations by the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations, as well as several journalistic probes, also found that the shot that killed Abu Akleh was fired by Israeli forces.

Following the US's statement on Abu Akleh's killing, a senior Palestinian official accused Washington of protecting Israel and said that Israel needs to be held accountable.

'The truth is clear but the US administration continues to stall in announcing it'

- Wasel Abu Youssef, Palestine Liberation Organisation

"The truth is clear but the US administration continues to stall in announcing it," Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), told Reuters.

"We say Israel killed Shireen Abu Akleh and it has to be held responsible for the crime it has committed."

Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said it was not clear on what grounds the US State Department dismissed the killing as "the result of tragic circumstances". 

"As far as Israel is concerned, its policy regarding the killing of Palestinians has never been anything other than an organized whitewash meant to enable the continuation of the killings with impunity, and it is no different when it comes to a US citizen as in the current case."

The rights group added that the odds there will be accountability for the killing of Abu Akleh were "nonexistent".

"Meanwhile, Israel’s international impunity remains unchallenged.”

'Insulting to Shireen's memory'

Abu Akleh's family, who had already voiced doubts over the US involvement in the investigation, issued a scathing rebuke of Monday's conclusion, saying that to describe it as "a disappointment would be an understatement".

"The notion that the American investigators, whose identity is not disclosed in the statement, believe the bullet 'likely came from Israeli positions' is cold comfort," the family said in a statement.

Statement by our family. We will continue to call for justice and accountability and call upon the UN and ICC to take immediate action in order to bring justice. This doesn’t end here. #JusticeforShireen pic.twitter.com/n0EoMmvRRY

— Lina Abu Akleh (@LinaAbuAkleh) July 4, 2022

"We say this in light of the addition of a conclusory pronouncement that the killing was not intentional but rather the result of a purported Israeli counterterrorism raid gone wrong, which is frankly insulting to Shireen's memory and ignores the history and context of the brutal and violent nature of what is now the longest military occupation in modern history."

Shireen Abu Akleh killing: The legal mechanisms available for justice
Read More »

The family added that the killing was a clear example of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, but the investigation's "focus on the bullet" was an attempt "by the Israeli side to spin the narrative in its favor, as if this were some kind of police whodunit that could be solved by a CSI-style forensic test".

In the early aftermath of the killing, legal experts told MEE that there were a number of legal mechanisms that Abu Akleh could use in order to seek justice, given the journalist's American citizenship.

Her family said in its statement that it would continue to advocate for justice, hold Israel accountable, and call on the US to conduct its own probe into the killing.

Al Jazeera has already referred the case to the International Criminal Court in the Hague and vowed to bring the killers to justice through all international legal platforms.

However, Israel maintains that it is not subject to the court's mandate because it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the tribunal, and that the ICC cannot investigate abuses in the Palestinian territories because Palestine is not a state.

Turkey's development of air-to-air missiles for its drones not likely to revolutionise aerial warfare, experts say

Mon, 07/04/2022 - 13:23
Turkey's development of air-to-air missiles for its drones not likely to revolutionise aerial warfare, experts say
Despite Turkey's progress in drone making, it will face challenges in developing effective air-to-air capabilities for its unmanned aerial vehicles, experts tell MEE
Paul Iddon Mon, 07/04/2022 - 14:23
A young man looks at a Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone during the opening of a aerospace and technology festival in Baku, Azerbaijan on 27 May 2022.
A young man looks at a Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone during the opening of an aerospace and technology festival in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 27 May 2022 (AFP)

Turkey's new Bayraktar Akinci (Raider) drone and its upcoming Kizilelma (Red Apple) unmanned fighter aircraft will both be compatible with domestically-built air-to-air missiles (AAMs) that could potentially make them less vulnerable to enemy aircraft.

However, as drone experts outlined to Middle East Eye, their air-to-air capabilities will remain limited and will not likely revolutionise air or drone warfare. 

Turkey's pro-government Daily Sabah reported in early June that Baykar Defense (the manufacturer of the Akinci and Kizilelma) and the Defense Industries Research and Development Institute (Sage) of the Scientific Technological Research Council of Turkey (Tubitak) are working together to develop AAMs.

The latter is reportedly in the final stage of developing the Bozdogan (Merlin) and the Gokdogan (Peregrine) missiles, within and beyond visual range AAMs.

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Turkey has widely exported its Bayraktar TB2. The TB2 has seen successful combat deployments in various conflicts including between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with the latest being Ukraine. However, the TB2 has no air-to-air capabilities, meaning it's vulnerable when operating in contested airspace.

The Akinci - a far larger, more heavily armed, and sophisticated drone - could theoretically prove much less vulnerable to enemy aircraft when armed with Bozdogan and Gokdogan AAMs.

Despite the progress it has made, Turkey will most likely find developing effective air-to-air capabilities for its unmanned aerial vehicles immensely challenging. In the early 2000s, the US armed some of its MQ-1 Predator drones with short-range Stinger AAMs, which proved highly ineffective. For example, an Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat jet swiftly shot down one of these drones in 2002 after it fired one of its Stingers and missed. 

"The primary issue for arming remotely piloted UAVs such as MQ-1 Predator or Bayraktar TB2 with air-to-air missiles for self-defence is that the sensors on the aircraft only give the remote crew a very limited field of view," Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow for airpower and technology in the military sciences team at the Royal United Services Institute (USI), told Middle East Eye.

"This means that whilst they can have good awareness about what is going on around the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) within the field of view of the sensor ball (typically pointed at the ground), they are not able to reliably detect or track aircraft around them." 

"Also, due to both airframe limitations, control signal lag, and antenna placement, remotely piloted UAVs like TB2 or MQ-1/9 cannot maneuver aggressively, which prevents them from reliably getting a decent missile shot against a hostile fighter aircraft or evading a missile shot at them," he added. 

Bronk believes the upcoming jet-powered Kizilelma is a "potentially promising project since it would be a true unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) designed for survivability and lethality in contested airspace (unlike the TB2)."

Nevertheless, for the Kizilelma to realise its full potential, "it would have to not only have effective stealth properties, sensor, and weapons integration (such as the new Bozdogan and Gokdogan AAMs) but also be highly automated in flight so that it is not limited by hostile jamming of a remote control signal and can maneuver aggressively without having to avoid losing antenna alignment with a ground control station."

A future where 'drones engage in Top Gun style agile, fast-moving, dogfights over a battlefield is likely to be pretty far off'

- James Rogers, University of South Denmark

"This is not an easy task, and one which is likely to challenge Turkey's vibrant but relatively inexperienced combat aircraft development industry," Bronk said. 

Samuel Bendett, a researcher at the Center for Naval Analyses think tank, outlined how AAMs have been deployed on "relatively sizable drones" with comparable speeds to helicopters.

"There are projects that seek to turn UCAVs into adversary drone hunters – prior to the Ukraine war, Russia's Orion UCAV was tested in Crimea against a slow-flying helicopter-type UAV, so it's possible to turn such a military drone into enemy drone hunters," Bendett told Middle East Eye.

"That particular test was done with air-to-surface missiles, but it was an apparent response to the Bayraktar TB2 acquisition by the Ukrainians." Bendett also said Russians are testing drone hunting capabilities on smaller drones.

"I think using AAMs on larger drones is also possible against a certain type of unmanned aerial targets, but this depends on the AAM capacity and the carrier drone specs as well," he said. 

Ukraine highlights difficulties of aerial combat

James Rogers, assistant professor in war studies at the University of Southern Denmark, pointed out that air-to-air capabilities "have not traditionally been a marketable strength of military drones".

"In fact, over the last 20 years, drones have mainly been used by powerful nations against less powerful non-state actors who do not have an especially effective or threatening air power capacity," Rogers told Middle East Eye.

"Put simply, until recently, drones were operated in airspace where command of the air was secured, and few threats were apparent; there was little need for air-to-air. Today this is starting to change with over 100 nations and 50+ non-state actors deploying various types of weaponized systems in more contested airspace." 

He also noted that the war in Ukraine has aptly demonstrated how securing air superiority has become more difficult given the various types of aircraft contesting control of the skies. And while the Akıncı armed with Bozdogan and Gokdogan AAMs could give it limited defences against other drones and manned aircraft alike, it won't necessarily make Turkey a pioneer or world leader in this particular field. 

"Such a system is likely to be purchased by medium and smaller powers, with the US continuing to lead the way in high-tech air-to-air drone systems," Rogers said.

"The DARPA-pioneered LongShot program is one such example. Deployed from a larger aircraft (likely a bomber), the Longshot will extend the range of traditional military aircraft and missiles by being launched at long-range towards a hostile aircraft, where it will then engage the enemy with its own missiles. The key point here is that the human pilots and the bomber aircraft can be kept at a safe distance, without threat from the enemy."

Rogers believes that a future in which "drones engage in Top Gun style agile, fast-moving, dogfights over a battlefield is likely to be pretty far off."

"In fact, in the near future, when drones engage enemy airpower, it would be more akin to the movement and speed of an attack helicopter and less comparable to a jet fighter," he said. 

"This is even with the development of jet-powered drones like the Kizilelma, which are unlikely to have the adaptability and dexterity of a highly-trained pilot in an expensive F-35."

Turkey: Court rejects request to extradite Jordanian over Haiti assassination

Mon, 07/04/2022 - 13:03
Turkey: Court rejects request to extradite Jordanian over Haiti assassination
Samir Handal was arrested at Istanbul airport in November in connection with the death of Haiti President Jovenel Moise
MEE staff Mon, 07/04/2022 - 14:03
Local artists paint murals in tribute to Jovenel Moise in front of the place where he was buried in Cap-Haitien ahead of his funeral in July 2021 (AFP)
Local artists paint murals in tribute to Jovenel Moise in front of the place where he was buried in Cap-Haitien ahead of his funeral in July 2021 (AFP)

A Turkish court rejected on Monday a request to extradite a Jordanian man wanted by Haiti over his alleged involvement in the assassination of president Jovenel Moise and ordered his release.

Moise, 53, was found lying on his back with 12 bullet wounds and a gouged eye at his private residence in Port-au-Prince on 7 July 2021.

His wife was also wounded in the attack, with a group of Colombian mercenaries seen as the main suspects. 

Four months after the murder, Jordanian businessman Samir Handal boarded a flight from the United States on 15 November to visit his mother in Palestine

However, after the plane took off, a red notice was issued against him by Interpol over Moise's death and he was arrested at Istanbul aiport.

Interest in Handal had arisen after it was found that two months before the assassination he had rented an office to Emmanuel Sanon, a doctor indicted in Moise's murder. 

Haiti's police also claimed in August that Handal had hosted "meetings of a political character" at his Port-au-Prince home, which had been attended by Sanon.

Handel's lawyers told the court that their client was innocent and that the red notice against him was lifted on 20 April.

"I rented an office space for a medical clinic hospital for Dr Sanon," Handal told the Turkish court in a hearing on 30 May. 

"I have never been in any meeting, nor known anything. I heard about the assassination on radio and social media."

Torture fears

Turkey's Daily Sabah newspaper said Handal and his lawyers had argued he would be "tortured and killed" if he was extradited to Haiti.

"Haiti is in the hands of a serious unrest. Prisons there lack water and medical equipment. A United Nations report notes convicts' deaths in prison," a Turkish lawyer for Handal told the court. 

EXCLUSIVE: Turkey set to deport 'Islamic State Beatle' Aine Davis to UK
Read More »

Daily Sabah said another lawyer referred to warnings on security risks in Haiti "by Turkey and the United States".

Turkey's Medyascope website said Istanbul's 37th High Criminal Court, which heard the case, had unaminously rejected Handal's extradition, ruling that "the reasons for his extradition were not sufficient".

Handal, who has been attending hearings via video link from Ankara Sincan High Security Prison, cried and threw his hands up in the air as the judges read the verdict.

Daily Sabah reported that Mahmut Barlas, one of Handal's lawyers, said it has been "a busy eight months" for them but that they were happy to see "justice prevail".

More than 40 suspects have been arrested over Moise's assassination, although nobody has been convicted in connection with the case. 

Meanwhile, Haiti's judicial proceedings into the murder have stalled, with four judges on the case resigning amid complaints about death threats and concerns for their security.

Turkish court rejects request to extradite Jordanian over Haiti assassination

Egypt: Authorities remove all of Cairo's iconic Nile houseboats

Mon, 07/04/2022 - 11:36
Egypt: Authorities remove all of Cairo's iconic Nile houseboats
Authorities say they seek to restore 'the civilised scenery' of the Nile, in the tourist-popular Cairo and Giza areas
MEE staff Mon, 07/04/2022 - 12:36
An Egyptian resident stands at the balcony of his houseboat, a community located in the Agouza district on the Giza bank of the Nile river, 27 June 2022 (AFP)
An Egyptian resident stands at the balcony of his houseboat, a community located in the Agouza district on the Giza bank of the Nile river, 27 June 2022 (AFP)

Egyptian authorities have completed the removal of an entire community of houseboats in Cairo, which floated near the Nile banks, as an official Monday deadline came into effect.

Since last month, Egyptian officials from the Central Administration for the Protection of the River Nile and the river police had started removing 32 houseboats in the Kit Kat area of the Giza neighbourhood of the capital.

'I'm like a fish in the sea, if I get out from here, I'll die. I sold everything I own to buy this houseboat' 

- Ekhlas Helmy, houseboat resident

Some residents had lived in their houseboats for dozens of years, tending their front gardens and seeing their children and grandchildren grow up on the river.

The 32 houseboats sat on a narrow section of the Nile bank, that stretched nearly one kilometre up to the Imbaba Bridge.

Manar, an architect, and her mother Nahed used to live in houseboat number 39.

Manar told Middle East Eye that her father, a war veteran who fought in the 1973 war against Israel, had invested his army end-of-service compensation and sold two flats to buy the houseboat in 2017.

"I've packed up all of our stuff four months ago. I always dreamed of living in a houseboat when I was a kid, when we used to go fishing in the Nile, but my dream had turned into a nightmare," she said.

"I think it will be the last day of my life when I get out of my house boat." 

'Displacement'

Egyptian authorities had told the residents to obtain a commercial permit, normally purchased by restaurants and cafes, to keep the houseboat in its place, but they had refused.

Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian-British novelist who lives in houseboat number 53, told MEE that the authorities had cut their water and electricity in recent days, describing the removal orders as "displacement decisions".

//-->

"My houseboat is a private ownership. I pay the government for a navigation licence and protection on the Nile every year. We live here and these are our houses," she said.

They have taken our home. pic.twitter.com/o1fEJdKwzd

— Omar Robert Hamilton (@ORHamilton) July 4, 2022

On Monday, Soueif's houseboat was removed along with the remaining houses. She tweeted a picture of her front garden, where she planted an olive tree to remind her of her trips to Palestine.

Ekhlas Helmy, the oldest resident living in the houseboats, told MEE that she was born in a houseboat and has lived all of her life there.

"I'm like a fish in the sea, if I get out from here, I'll die. I sold everything I own to buy this houseboat. I'm 88 years-old and I wanted to finish my life in this houseboat," she said.

A once thriving community

On Monday morning, a last-minute meeting between residents and officials at the Ministry of Justice did not resolve the issue of removing the houseboats. However, some residents may store their houseboats until authorities allow them to move to another location on the Nile river.

Egyptian houseboats were once a thriving community on the Nile, where society's elite lived.

Before the 1960s, almost 600 houseboats were floating near the upmarket area of Zamalek, homes to writers, musicians, media figures, British and German spies and politicians.

However, Egyptians began to abandon the houseboats after the government decided in the 1960s to move them north of the river close to Imbaba, one of Cairo's working-class neighbourhoods.

//-->

Egyptian authorities said that removing the houseboats is part of a plan to develop the Nile corniche and create river walkways.

Ayman Anwar, the director of the Central Administration for the Protection of the River Nile, told local media that the plan is to restore "the civilised scenery of the Nile River, in the Cairo and Giza areas, which are considered tourist attractions".

"These houseboats are damaging the civilised scenery. They don't have permits to dock in the Nile, and they will be removed...while the tourist houseboats will remain in place," Anwar said.

Egyptian authorities remove last of Cairo's iconic Nile houseboats

How the FBI trapped 'Islamic State Beatle' Aine Davis

Mon, 07/04/2022 - 10:42
How the FBI trapped 'Islamic State Beatle' Aine Davis
Simon Hooper Mon, 07/04/2022 - 11:42
Kamran Faridi rented a luxury Istanbul villa used as a safehouse by Aine Davis, an alleged member of an Islamic State execution cell. But were others arrested there ‘collateral damage’ in an FBI sting operation?

Kamran Faridi was a generous benefactor, known in the circles in which he moved between Pakistan and Turkey for helping Palestinians, Syrians and orphans in need.

But Faridi’s gestures of largesse did not find favour with everyone he met.

Faridi spoke in an American accent that still betrayed its Pakistani origins. He drove a red Mercedes and wore a Rolex watch. And although sometimes concealed behind a baseball cap and shades, Faridi made little effort to hide his own affluent lifestyle.

One volunteer with Syrian aid charities who knew Faridi in Turkey told Middle East Eye: “He was always asking if there were any projects he could get involved in. He always wanted to pay for everything for everyone. I don’t like that style.”

A Pakistani-American dual national, Faridi had travelled into opposition-held Syria at the height of the country’s civil war. He talked of building an orphanage there through IHH, the Turkish humanitarian organisation.

'A few times we caught him out on a lie, but we never confronted him. We just thought: this guy is full of shit'

He had contacts with charities based in Konya, a southern Turkish hub for Syrian aid. He had plans as well, he told acquaintances, to buy a religious school (madrassa) for Syrian children growing up as refugees in Turkey.

Faridi, who was also known to some in Turkish as Ebu Muhammet Amerika, appeared to be a successful businessman. He had established an import-export company in Turkey, trading in wholesale goods, with interests too in the Turkish tourism industry.

According to one person who met him, Faridi said he was also discreetly involved in trafficking artefacts.

“He said he was dealing stuff. He showed us statues, Buddha statues or something like that. That’s why he said he travelled, that was his line of business,” they said.

But there was more to Faridi's itinerant lifestyle than met the eye.

In November 2015, Turkish investigators began digging into the Pakistani's background after a luxury villa he had rented a few months earlier in Silivri, a seafront suburb west of Istanbul, was raided by counter-terrorism police acting on a tip off about a planned Islamic State attack on the city.

Six men were arrested, including Aine Davis, a British man alleged to have been a member of the IS execution cell dubbed “the Beatles” and a subject at the time of an Interpol red notice.

Later, it was revealed in court that US and British intelligence agencies told Turkish officials that Faridi was not linked to IS. Instead, it was claimed, he had ties with Jabhat al-Nusra, the Idlib-based hardline Syrian militant group then still aligned with al-Qaeda.

What Turkish officials do not appear to have known, nor been told by their western intelligence contacts, is that Kamran Faridi was himself working for another organisation: the FBI.

Faridi had not been among the six men arrested at the Silivri villa in that early morning raid on 12 November. Instead, he had left Istanbul for New York via Amsterdam a few days earlier.

In a months-long investigation, Middle East Eye has been able to piece together the labyrinthine events surrounding this Pakistani street criminal turned US federal agent, his effect on those who came into his orbit - and how he himself ended up in jail after falling out with his US intelligence bosses.

The family in the villa

Alwalid Khalid Alagha needed a home. A large home.

A Palestinian then in his mid-2os, Alagha grew up in Pakistan before travelling to Turkey to claim refugee status along with his mother and his nine sisters.

It is unclear how Alagha and his family reached Turkey. He would later admit he had entered the country illegally but claimed to have travelled to Turkey directly from Pakistan. Prosecutors accused of him of having been in Syria.

Alagha also had two wives and four children. The family, including his mother and sisters, had been living in a property in Sirinevler in central Istanbul, but neighbours had complained to police about the noise.

Faridi (C), with Alagha (R) and another man in Konya, in a copy of a photo from Alagha's phone (MEE)
Faridi (C), with Alagha (R) and another man in Konya, in a copy of a photo from Alagha's phone among court documents seen by MEE (MEE)

Alagha's refugee status meant he was unable to take out a tenancy agreement in his own name, never mind afford the cost of a property big enough to accommodate his extended family comfortably.

But he had connections. Alagha's family was originally from Gaza but he had grown up in Pakistan because his father had travelled there in the 1980s to join the Arab Mujahideen fighting against the Soviet Union in neighbouring Afghanistan.

As well as a fighter, Abu al-Walid al-Filistini was a jihadist scholar of renown, once praised by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri as “a man of the sword and the pen”.

In later police interviews and court testimony seen by MEE, Alagha said he had been introduced to Faridi by a mutual acquaintance in Pakistan as someone who could help him.

“Kamran Faridi was known as a benevolent person who helped orphans, Palestinians and Syrians,” said Alagha.

But sources spoken to by MEE suggest Faridi had cultivated Alagha because of the reputation his father enjoyed in militant Syrian opposition networks, which at the time were dominated by hardline Islamist factions including Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

One source said: “Faridi piggybacked off Walid’s [Alagha] name to get into the world. Your references need to be deep. Faridi bought his way in through Walid. He kept saying how great his father was.”

The men talked on the phone for eight or nine months, Alagha said.

Al-Qaeda, Taliban and the history of the Mujahideen
Read More »

Then he sent Faridi photos of a new property development that had caught his eye in Silivri: large luxurious villas, with swimming pools and private beaches. Ideal for big families.

According to Alagha, Faridi agreed to rent one of the properties on behalf of the family for 3,000 Turkish lira a month – then the equivalent of about $1,100. He travelled to Istanbul to finalise the paperwork in August 2015.

The relationship between the men deepened. Faridi included Alagha in some of his business dealings, sources said. The pair were seeking a shared office in Istanbul, and drove together to Konya in September 2015 to spend Eid al-Adha in the religiously conservative Turkish city.

Alagha spent just a day in Konya, a journey by car of about eight hours and 700kms from Istanbul. During court hearings he was quizzed about why he and Faridi had driven so far for such a short visit.

Faridi, Alagha said, had invited him to Konya to pray. He also had a beautiful car, he added - a Mercedes.

“Ebu Muhammet [Faridi] has a lot of money. Ebu Muhammet said he likes to travel a lot.”

But the relationship between the men could also be fractious.

One of MEE’s sources who knew both men said: “Walid and Faridi had digs at each other. Faridi said Walid could not be trusted. He would badmouth Walid. It didn't make sense because he would badmouth Walid yet he was paying his rent."

People who met Faridi said they had their own doubts at the time about whether he could be trusted, and suspicions about his motives and identity.

“He would just come and go. He would say one thing to someone and something else to someone else. He would say he knew a particular sheikh, and when we asked the sheikh if he knew this guy he would say, 'What are you talking about?'

“A few times we caught him out on a lie, but we never confronted him. We just thought, 'This guy is full of shit', to be honest.”

Faridi's connections were solid enough, however, for him to travel into a northwestern Syria dominated by Jabhat al-Nusra, where he moved around without seeming to attract suspicion.

Nusra had been established as a fighting force in Syria in 2011 with the approval of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the future self-declared IS caliph who at that time headed al-Qaeda’s operations in Iraq.

But by 2013 Baghdadi had split from al-Qaeda. And Nusra and IS were engaged in a fierce internecine conflict, competing for the loyalties of foreign fighters, weapons and territory at a cost of hundreds of lives.

Nusra remained loyal to al-Qaeda but also worked with, and fought alongside, other Syrian rebel groups against both pro-Syrian government forces and IS.

Kamran Faridi, photographed at a road junction on the M4 highway outside Saraqib (MEE)
Faridi, pictured in a mobile phone screengrab found in court documents, at a road junction on the M4 highway outside Saraqib (MEE)

By 2015, when Faridi was in Idlib, Nusra was a key element within the Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest), a rebel coalition that was then gaining territory in northwestern Syria.

The following year, Nusra split from al-Qaeda, renaming itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. It later became the main faction within Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the militant alliance which still controls most of Idlib.

'Everyone was having photos taken with armed individuals like that in order to show off'

Aine Davis

Photos from phones and laptops seized in the raid showed Faridi in opposition-held Syria in 2015. One showed him wearing a baseball cap, shades, and a holster with a handgun. In another he is standing in what appears to be an office in front of a shahada flag, which was commonly used as a banner by Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist militant groups.

A photo of a mobile phone screen shows him raising his finger at a road junction on the M4 highway outside the town of Saraqeb, a Nusra stronghold.

Material seized from phones also included images of Faridi's Turkish residency permit and a Syrian ID card with his photo in the name of Mohammad Alomar and stating his place of birth as South Africa.

At his trial, Alagha also found himself under scrutiny over photos showing him posing with heavy weaponry. Other material found on his phones and laptop, including images showing cars with Aleppo number plates, indicated he had been in Syria, prosecutors said.

Alagha said the photos had been taken in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where gun ownership is common. He argued it was false to accuse him of links to IS because his loyalties lay elsewhere.

“They call us infidels,” he told the court. “They call Hamas infidels. They call Palestinians infidels. Why should I do evil to Turkey? No place other than Turkey accepts us.”

London to Syria to Istanbul

In early October 2015, Aine Davis sought the help of IS border commanders in Syria to cross into Turkey, according to an account of events leading up to the Silivri raid in Turkish court records.

A messaging app and phone number apparently being used by Davis was being monitored and he had been tracked electronically as he travelled across the country, reaching Istanbul on 7 November.

Phone records later produced in court indicated Davis was in contact with Alagha as he made his way across Turkey. At the same time, Alagha used a different phone number to keep in contact with Faridi.

Police then applied for a search warrant to raid the villa. Citing “reliable sources”, the warrant stated that Davis was a “known high-ranking operative of Daesh [IS]” who “may engage in organisational meetings and activities in our country, as well as engage in provocative and sensational actions”.

The warrant also sought authorisation to seize any knives or firearms found at the villa.

On the early hours of 12 November, Turkish counter-terrorism police raided the villa, arresting Davis, Alagha and four other men. In the days after the raid, Turkish officials said they had disrupted final preparations for an IS attack in Istanbul.

That scenario appeared all the more plausible after the IS attacks across Paris on 13 November, one day after the raid, when bombers and gunmen killed 130 people.

On the same day as the raid, IS also claimed responsibility for an attack in Beirut, in which 43 people were killed in two suicide bombings in the Lebanese capital's southern suburbs.

The day of the raid saw another noteworthy event  the targeted killing of Mohammed Emwazi in a US drone strike in Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State in Syria.

Aine Davis
Aine Davis admitted posing for photos with armed men during visits to Syria but said he had been "showing off" (Police handout)

Emwazi, a British citizen, had gained notoriety in the British and US media as “Jihadi John”, the masked militant responsible for a series of beheadings of western hostages broadcast on IS media channels.

He was identified as the ringleader of a group called “the Beatles”, four Londoners alleged to have been leading figures in IS. Aine Davis had been named in the media as another member of the cell.

In court, Davis denied any association with IS, and denied knowing Emwazi in Syria. The pair had been linked in the media, he explained, because they had prayed at the same mosque in west London.

He had travelled to Istanbul, he explained, to acquire a fake passport because he had heard about an Interpol red notice for his arrest and did not want to return to the UK. The Interpol notice said material seized from the phone of Davis's wife in the UK included photos of him with “guns, an Islamic flag, a dead martyr and other individuals who are also armed”.

Davis's wife, Amal el-Wahabi, had been convicted of a terrorism offence in 2014 for trying to send her husband 20,000 euros in cash. Police had assessed the money was “destined to support the Jihadist cause in Syria”.

The red notice also said Davis had referred in messages to his wife to “being 'on point', believed to be a reference to assuming the most advanced position in a combat military formation advancing through hostile territory”.

But Davis denied being a fighter. He said he had travelled into Syria earlier in the war to undertake aid work, and had mostly been living in Gaziantep in Turkey since then.

He conceded he had acted “stupidly” by posing for photos with guns and armed militants - photos that would later pop up in British newspapers.

“Everyone was having photos taken with armed individuals like that in order to show off,” he told the court.

The search for evidence

Questions about Kamran Faridi swirled over months of legal proceedings at the Istanbul court as prosecutors searched in vain for evidence to back up officials' claims that the men arrested in the villa had been plotting a major attack.

Eventually, the prosecutors were forced to admit that no such evidence existed. The raid - and warnings of an imminent attack - had been based on information provided by an FBI liaison officer based in the US embassy, they said.

In a statement to the court in April 2016, prosecutors said some of those arrested in the raid on 12 November had apparent links with three other men who had been identified by the FBI as “experts in explosives and weapons”.

These three men had taken “an active role in terrorist acts that had taken place previously in Pakistan and Afghanistan”, and were linked to an earlier raid in Istanbul's Meydan area in which explosives and firearms had been seized from a house occupied by a group of Iraqi men.

Intriguingly, one of these alleged explosives experts was identified as a man called Faisal, who had been in phone contact with Alagha. “Faisal” is Kamran Faridi's middle name, although there is no evidence in the documents to confirm they are the same man.

Prosecutors said photos of Alagha indicated he had been in Syria. Alagha said photos of him with guns were taken in Pakistan (MEE)
Prosecutors said photos of Alagha indicated he had been in Syria. Alagha said photos of him with guns were taken in Pakistan (MEE)

Two other men, including a Pakistani man who Alagha said later was a childhood friend and a relation by marriage, were separately arrested by Turkish police but released without charge.

Prosecutors had concluded that there were no grounds to proceed against those arrested in the raid on the grounds that they had been preparing an attack.

“Sufficient evidence could not be obtained to file a public lawsuit against them that they committed a crime, other than the intelligence report of a foreign country, which does not have the quality of evidence,” prosecutors told the court.

But Davis, Alagha and the others arrested in the raid remained in prison.

Eventually, more than a year later, Davis, Alagha and Mohammad Ahmad Hamdan Alkhalaileh, a Jordanian man also arrested at the villa, were convicted on the lesser charge of membership of a terrorist group.

In May 2017, the three men were sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison.

The Karachi 'street hustler'

It is not known what role Kamran Faridi played in bringing together the men arrested in the Silivri villa on the day of the raid.

Nor is it known whether he was the source of the intelligence provided by the FBI to Turkish police which prompted the operation.

According to legal papers seen by MEE, Faridi would later say he had been tasked with getting Davis out of IS-controlled Syria by a senior figure in Jabhat al-Nusra.

But the suspicion that western intelligence agencies had been involved in the case hung over the Istanbul court proceedings.

At one hearing, a lawyer for one of the defendants, frustrated at the continuing detention of her client long after prosecutors had conceded they lacked any evidence of an actual plot, suggested that the case had been tainted by “the misinformation of foreign intelligence units such as Mossad and the CIA”.

It remains unclear whether any local officials were aware Faridi was working for the FBI on Turkish soil at the time of the raid.

MEE has established that the FBI approached Turkish officials in February 2016 to propose that Faridi could work undercover for Turkish intelligence. But Turkish officials rejected the offer because, they said, Faridi's cover had already been blown.

Faridi had in fact been working for the FBI for more than two decades, according to details of his career based on his own account first reported by Pakistan’s Geo News and verified by MEE.

Faridi, now 58, had grown up in Karachi. There, he had “started hustling” on the streets before making his way to Sweden and then migrating to the US in 1991, where he bought a petrol station in Atlanta, Georgia.

Faridi joined the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York after the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks in 2001 (MEE)
Faridi joined the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York after the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks in 2001 (MEE)

After contacting the FBI to complain of harassment by local police, Faridi was recruited to infiltrate a local Urdu-speaking gang, and then employed as a full-time informant in 1996.

In 2001, after the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks in the US, Faridi joined the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York.

He is said to have travelled the world infiltrating al-Qaeda networks in southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America and disrupted suspected attack plots. Sources have told MEE he was also “loaned out” to other intelligence services.

But Faridi's tenure as an FBI employee was abruptly terminated in February 2020 when he was dismissed following a disagreement with his bosses over an entrapment operation in which he had been involved targeting a Pakistani businessman, Jabir Motiwala.

The FBI accused Motiwala of being a senior member of D-Company, an organised crime gang based in India, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates with links to militant groups.

The alleged head of D-Company, Dawood Ibrahim, is subject to United Nations Security Council sanctions, which describe him as having “used his position as one of the most prominent criminals of the Indian underworld for most of the past two decades to support al-Qaeda and related groups”.

Motiwala, who was arrested in London in 2018 and faced extradition to the US on drug trafficking charges, maintained his innocence and said he was a victim of entrapment.

As part of the operation, FBI informants had arranged for four kilograms of heroin to be shipped from Karachi into the US, and laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars of drug trafficking profits.

Part-redacted US government legal papers describe the main FBI informant involved in the case as “a United States citizen, born in Pakistan, who has posed as a representative of La Cosa Nostra [the mafia] and Russian Organised Crime entities based in New York”.

9/11 attacks 20 years on: How the 'war on terror' turned full circle
Read More »

After he was dismissed by the bureau, Faridi gave a statement to Motiwala's lawyers in which he is understood to have said that his FBI bosses had told him to fabricate evidence against Motiwala.

He then flew to the UK in March 2020 with the intention of testifying on behalf of Motiwala, who was challenging his extradition in an appeal at the High Court.

But Faridi never made it to the courtroom. He was detained on arrival at Heathrow Airport on 2 March on a US arrest warrant, then flown straight back without facing extradition proceedings.

At Motiwala's extradition hearing in London, his lawyers nonetheless put before the court Faridi's statement. Lawyers for the US government immediately requested an adjournment.

Shortly afterwards, the US Department of Justice dropped charges against Motiwala and withdrew its extradition request. Motiwala was released and returned to Pakistan in April 2020.

In a statement, Motiwala's London lawyers, ABV Solicitors, said: “It is strongly suspected that the decision was due to the admission to ABV Solicitors by an FBI informant Kamran Faridi, of being asked by the FBI to frame and fabricate evidence against Jabir Siddiq [Motiwala].”

ABV argued that the way in which Faridi had been prevented from giving evidence amounted to “an abuse of the court process as a form of prosecutorial misconduct.”

In November last year, Faridi was found guilty by a New York court of making threats against his former FBI bosses after losing his job, and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Faridi said he was angry because the FBI owed him thousands of dollars in unpaid expenses, according to reports of the case.

MEE understands Faridi is seeking to appeal his conviction. But he now faces further charges for talking to journalists about his career. MEE did not talk to Faridi and could not reach him for comment in researching this story.

One person familiar with Faridi's career told MEE he had played an important role over many years in infiltrating terrorist networks and disrupting terrorist plots, and had saved many lives and faced life-threatening situations.

They said Faridi had been “completely screwed over” by the FBI for “trying to tell the truth”. An FBI spokesperson told MEE: “We have no comment.”

Air hockey and bumper cars

As the prosecution's case that the men arrested at the villa had been plotting an attack unravelled, three of them - two British nationals and one British-Turkish dual national - were released.

They were eventually advised by the court to seek compensation for the 10 months they had spent in prison.

Alwalid Khalid Alagha was released from prison in Turkey earlier this year. He declined to speak to MEE for this story.

Mohammad Ahmad Hamdan Alkhalaileh, the Jordanian man convicted in the case, has also been released, his lawyer confirmed to MEE.

Kamran Faridi outside a restaurant in Idlib City in a photo taken from Alwalid Khalid Alagha's phone (MEE)
Kamran Faridi outside a restaurant in Idlib City in a photo taken from Alwalid Khalid Alagha's phone (MEE)

Aine Davis, who is currently being held at Ankara's Sincan prison, is also due to be released. MEE exclusively reported this week that he is scheduled to be deported to the UK on 9 July, though administrative procedures could delay that process.

EXCLUSIVE: Turkey set to deport 'Islamic State Beatle' Aine Davis to UK
Read More »

Davis's court-appointed lawyer declined to speak to MEE.

Sources who met Faridi in Turkey have told MEE they now suspect that many of those caught up in the raid on the villa were “collateral damage” in an entrapment operation in which Davis was the main target.

They said that many of those who passed through the villa in the days leading up to the raid were linked to Faridi.

Among the photos of Kamran Faridi in Syria found by Turkish officials on Alagha's phone was one showing him standing in front of Idlib al-Ezz, a restaurant in Idlib City.

According to MEE's sources, the restaurant at the time was a known meeting place for foreign fighters and militant leaders associated with Jabhat al-Nusra and other hardline groups.

But sources within HTS told MEE they did not recognise photos of Faridi or know who he was.

They said the organisation had introduced new procedures two years ago to verify the identities of foreign nationals because of earlier problems with unidentified people from unknown backgrounds associating with HTS and its predecessors.

Idlib al-Ezz was later taken over by Nusra's “spoils committee”, which seized public buildings in territories under the group's control, but fell into disrepair after being targeted by Syrian government air strikes.

Under HTS, the restaurant has been renovated and reopened under civilian management as an entertainment complex, with “video games, bumper cars, air hockey and stuffed animal claw machines”, according to one visiting western journalist.

It also has a new name: Disneyland.

Ragip Soylu in Ankara, Harun al-Aswad in Istanbul and Azad Essa contributed reporting.

Illustration by Mohamad Elaasar.

Update Date
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 21:28
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Inside the meeting that broke Sweden and Finland's Nato deadlock with Turkey

Mon, 07/04/2022 - 10:30
Inside the meeting that broke Sweden and Finland's Nato deadlock with Turkey
Attempts to find a compromise started poorly when Erdogan began berating the Swedish and Finnish leaders. MEE reveals how the countries finally reached a deal
Ragip Soylu Mon, 07/04/2022 - 11:30
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend a trilateral meeting between Turkey, Finland and Sweden 28 June (Reuters)
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend a trilateral meeting between Turkey, Finland and Sweden on 28 June (Reuters)

When Turkey last week signed a memorandum in Madrid to unblock Sweden and Finland’s Nato bid, Ankara’s sudden change of heart elicited much surprise and enthusiasm. 

But what the countries' subsequent declarations didn't tell you was that the nearly three-hour negotiations were far from easy, with tensions running high as each leader got increasingly agitated by each other’s tone and stance.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who just a few weeks ago vowed that he wouldn’t permit Finland and Sweden into the alliance as long as he was in office, began Tuesday's talks in harsh fashion.

'It was a clear win for Turkey. The first time ever they got such recognition'

- western ambassador

He made clear that his participation in the negotiations with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden was only possible thanks to Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s invitation. 

“I wasn’t planning to talk to you,” Erdogan said, according to a source who was present in the room. “I’m here due to my friend Stoltenberg’s insistence.” 

Turkish officials involved in the technical talks before the meeting were happy with the progress they had made. One senior Turkish official appreciated Sweden’s efforts to amend their laws to combat terrorism more forcefully, even though they predated Turkey’s demands. Yet the political leadership wasn’t satisfied.

Images of PKK flags flown freely in demonstrations on Stockholm's streets and interviews with YPG leaders on Swedish state TV had given Erdogan the jittters. Both Kurdish factions are considered terrorist groups by Turkey. Before the Tuesday meeting, there had even been a debate within Ankara's corridors of power over giving Finland the green light while maintaining that further negotiations with Sweden were needed.

In Madrid, negotiators saw little sign of a conciliatory approach, as Erdogan used his opening remarks to repeat his red lines: the PKK being allowed free rein in Swedish and Finnish cities; suspects linked to the group not being extradited; and aid given to the YPG. Both countries were still blocking arms exports to Turkey, he noted.

Erdogan’s tone agitated the Nordic leaders, who complained that the Turkish president had been too harsh to them. 

“We respect your red lines, but what about other states, do they show the same sensitivity? We are bothered by this tone,” one of the Nordic leaders reportedly said, referring to the fact that other Nato states still provide material and financial help to the YPG.

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The United States and some Nato states have worked closely with the YPG to combat the Islamic State group since 2014, a move that substantially undermined Ankara’s trust in its western allies. 

Erdogan responded by saying that Finland and Sweden’s Nato membership was not a birthright but a privilege, so they don’t set the rules. 

“I want you to abide by our red lines,” Erdogan repeated, bringing the negotiations to a stalemate. 

Sources said one fundamental disagreement was whether the YPG and the movement of Fethullah Gulen, which is accused of being behind the 2016 Turkish coup attempt, should be designated as terrorist groups.

Sweden and Finland refused to recognise them as such, and then the parties took a break to contemplate. 

"And then we had a coffee break and, as always, during the coffee break, great ideas come up and then in the end, towards the end of the meeting, it was easier to come to the conclusion," Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told Reuters in an interview last week. 

The solution was put forward by Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, who said Erdogan wouldn’t sign a deal unless Sweden and Finland made clear commitments on the YPG and the Gulenists.

“Instead of designating them as terror groups, both countries clearly said in the text of the memorandum that they would not provide support to these specific groups, which broke the deadlock,” said a source. 

Nato grumbling

In the end, Erdogan and the Turkish leadership were happy to have the YPG and Gulenists referenced in such a way for the first time in an international memorandum signed by western states. “It was a clear win for them,” one western ambassador said.

“The first time ever they got such recognition.” Ankara is planning to repeat the trick by making sure the groups are referenced in the official Nato ascension process as well.

Yet there was still some grumbling within Nato. Turkish sources claimed that the US government wasn’t totally happy with the resolution reached, even though Washington was relieved that Turkey had decided to unblock the Nordic countries' application.

“US officials have criticised Finland and Sweden for not resisting enough against citing YPG and Gulen in an official document as groups not to be supported,” one Turkish official said.

“They were clearly bothered. But the Finns and Swedes explained that there was no other way to break the stalemate.”

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