Monday, January 12, 2015
BY BENGE NSENDULUKA
French Officials defended President Barack Obama on Monday amid growing criticisms about his absence from an anti-terrorism rally in Paris on Sunday. The United States was represented by the Ambassador to France Jane Hartley.
World leaders from around the world joined an estimated 3.7 million people who marched in rallies across France yesterday (1.5 million in Paris), to promote peace and unity days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
Top White House officials, including the president himself, were noticeably drew criticism, but on Monday senior French officials defended Obama to veteran CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour.from the unity march, which
"President Obama was "very present" from the start, Senior Official in President Hollande's office tells me. #CharlieHebdo," Amanpour tweeted to her 1 million followers early Monday.
On Jan 7 three jihadists, reportedly armed with a Kalashnikov and a rocket-launcher, stormed the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo killing 12 people, including the editor Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier, staff cartoonists and a police officer.
Obama wasted no time condemning the attack, which marked the terrorist attack France has seen in the last decade, by calling it "an attack on our free press." According to Amanpour, French President Francois Hollande expressed "deep appreciation" for the president's support.
Obama is also said to have personally called Hollande to offer condolences.
"Senior official in Pres Hollande's office expresses deep appreciation for Pres Obama's strong statement & actions ever since the attacks. President Obama was one of the first leaders to call President Hollande on Wednesday, Senior Official in Hollande's office tells me," Amanpour wrote in a series of tweets.
The following day, a solemn-looking Obama paid a visit to the French Embassy in Washington to showcase support for French allies. He again condemned the Paris shooting and signed a condolence book.
"As allies across the centuries, we stand united with our French brothers to ensure that justice is done and our way of life is defended," Obama wrote. "We go forward together knowing that terror is no match for freedom and ideals we stand for — ideals that light the world … Vive la France!"
Senior French officials acknowledged the Embassy visit and called it "an emotional moment of solidarity," according to Amanpour.
World leaders present at yesterday's rally at Paris' Place de la Republique included Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Germany's Chancellor, EU President Donald Tusk, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas among others. Each of them marched arm-in-arm Hollande to showcase support in the wake of France's horrific ordeal.
Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who has deep ties to France, did not attend and while an official critics have likened their absence to security risks and logistics.has not been made public, some
USA said that it is common for presidents to avoid public gatherings of such a large magnitude because it is difficult to properly execute the standard security routines.Ray Locker
It should be noted that Kerry attended an entrepreneurshipwith new Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India last week.
Attorney General Eric Holder was in Paris attending a security summit on combating terrorism, but he too did not attend the rally.
"As far as public signs of French solidarity from the U.S. -- don't forget several public statements from the president, his call to [French President Francois] Hollande and a condolence stop to the French embassy," an administration official told CNN, with a White House official adding "It noting that the security both the president and (vice president) can be distracting from events like this. For once this event is not about us!"
By Amie Parnes
Hillary Clinton is ready to run on President Obama’s record when it comes to the economy.
Clinton allies say that if the former secretary of State does in fact announce a second bid for the presidency this year, they expect that she’ll tether herself to a main slice of Obama’s legacy.
A series of economic reports including Friday’s positive jobs numbers is adding to Democratic confidence that the economy will finally be a winner for Obama in his last two years in office, and that it will help the Democratic White House candidate in 2016.
But even as Clinton embraces Obama’s economic record, they expect her to telegraph that more needs to be done to help the middle class, a message Obama will highlight in his State of the Union address later this month.
They also predict that Clinton will present policies distinct from those of the Obama administration she served, and even her own husband’s administration, which is regularly credited with presiding over years of strong economic growth.
This tack, allies say, will allow her to to carve out her own identity and provide her with the opportunity to speak about education, making housing more affordable and helping younger Americans find jobs and build her own narrative.
“She'll be running armed with the current information and with programs and plans and polices that she wants to support,” said Ellen Tauscher, the former congresswoman who serves as undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs at the State Department under Clinton.
Democratic strategist Jim Manley said that he expects Clinton to “keep pretty close to the administration’s basic economic policies. But, he added, “I wouldn’t be surprised if she found ways to exploit the growing debate on economic equality.”
One longtime Clinton ally agrees with that sentiment. This source said Clinton would argue for “a Main Street platform that combines certain kinds of tax reform, trade agreements and investment strategies, perhaps fashioned around overarching goals.”
“This is an approach that a Republican candidate could choose to take too; what will matter is who does it best,” the ally said.
Republicans—from the RNC to the superPAC America Rising-- are already working to portray Clinton as a third term for Obama.
“She has no choice but to own the Obama economic agenda because she has been in lock-step with him on it ever since 2008,” Tim Miller, the executive director for America Rising, said Friday.
Miller said healthcare will fall under Obama’s economic package and Clinton has no choice but to own that piece as well. The bookHRC State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton, revealed that the secretary of state played a role in pushing along Obamacare. She voiced her support for it in a cabinet meeting and spoke to lawmakers about the issue, even though Secretaries of State rarely get involved in domestic matters.
“He took her healthcare plan and then she whipped votes for it,” Miller said. “There is no path for her to distance herself from him on it.”
Clinton allies say they are aware that Republicans will do everything to tie her to Obama's policies.
But as Tauscher cautioned, Republicans have to be careful invoking that Clinton could be a third term Obama because Democrats could very easily say that Jeb Bush or other Republican candidates could be a third term for George W. Bush, who was president during the economic meltdown.
The Democratic National Committee was quick to strike back at Jeb Bush’s intentions to run for president on Friday, putting out a release accusing the Bush team of being “the same people who not once but twice were at the helm as our nation headed into recessions, one of which was our worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”
The plan to embrace Obama’s economic record differs from Clinton’s approach to Obama on foreign policy.
Even though she serves as Obama’s secretary of state, she has made a point of highlighting her differing views and strategies on Syria. In an interview with The Atlantic, she said that the administration’s decision not to get involved in the Syrian conflict was a “failure.”
People in Clintonworld have also signaled recently that she would have taken a different approach to ISIS.
“You never want to be a Monday morning quarterback on these issues because who knows how things would ultimately turn out but Obama has been passive on these issues,” one former Clinton aide told The Hill in September. “She would have taken a more aggressive approach.”
When it comes to the economy though, Clinton could face a different set of challenges in a Democratic primary.
Progressives have bashed her support of Wall Street and have insinuated that she cares more about protecting the well-heeled over the middle class.
But Tauscher pushed back at that notion calling that debate “distracting.”
“The question should be how do we get a Main Street thriving and doing well and how do we get a responsible Wall Street that is stimulating jobs,” she said. “It’s not an either or.”
Ghani's chief of staff, Abdul Salam Rahimi, announced the 25 cabinet nominees on January 12 at a ceremony in Kabul that was attended by the president.
Ghani did not speak at the gathering.
The so-called "unity" cabinet includes three women -- nominees to head the higher education, information and culture, and women's affairs ministries.
The list also includes nominees for the governor of the central bank and director of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan's intelligence service.
The cabinet still needs to be approved by parliament, and there was no immediate word on the timing of a vote.
In keeping with a promise from Ghani, no former government minister was nominated. However, current NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil is nominated to retain the same position.
Former President Hamid Karzai's government was dogged by allegations of widespread corruption and cronyism.
Ghani and his election rival, Abdullah Abdullah, now in the new No. 2 post of chief executive, have spent months wrangling over the makeup of the new cabinet.
The delays have raised worries over whether their unity government could survive, let alone govern effectively.
Ghani was sworn into office on September 29, after negotiations produced a power-sharing deal with Abdullah following a runoff election marred by fraud allegations.
The tense election standoff dragged on for months before the breakthrough.
Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank official, has promised a reformist, corruption-fighting government made up of technocrats and free from the patronage that marked the government of his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.
However, the makeup of the government reflected the balancing act to include candidates favored by the two camps.
The four most prominent positions -- the defense, interior, finance, and foreign portfolios -- were evenly divided between nominees seen as close to Ghani or to Abdullah.
Defense Ministry nominee Sher Mohammad Karimi and the nominee for finance minister, Ghulam Jilani Popal, are seen as close to Ghani.
The nomination for the powerful Interior Ministry post went to Nur ul-Haq Ulumi, who endorsed Abdullah during the election campaign.
Foreign Ministry nominee Salahuddin Rabbani is also associated with Abdullah, a former foreign minister.
Many government institutions have been all but paralyzed for a year amid the protracted election crisis and uncertainty over whether the withdrawal of most foreign troops in December 2014 -- when NATO formally ended its combat mission -- would lead to more violence by Taliban insurgents.
Afghan officials confirmed for the first time Monday that the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is active in the south, recruiting fighters, flying black flags and, according to some sources, even battling Taliban militants.
The sources, including an Afghan general and a provincial governor, said a man identified as Mullah Abdul Rauf was actively recruiting fighters for the group, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.
Gen. Mahmood Khan, the deputy commander of the army's 215 Corps, said that within the past week residents of a number of districts in the southern Helmand province have said Rauf's representatives are fanning out to recruit people.
"A number of tribal leaders, jihadi commanders and some ulema (religious council members) and other people have contacted me to tell me that Mullah Rauf had contacted them and invited them to join him," Khan said.
But he said the Taliban, which is active across Helmand and controls some districts, have warned people not to contact Rauf.
Rauf was a corps commander during the Taliban's 1996-2001 rule of Afghanistan, according to Amir Mohammad Akundzada, the governor of Nimroz province neighboring Helmand, who said he is related to Rauf but has not seen him for almost 20 years.
Both Khan and Akundzada said Rauf was apprehended after the fall of the Taliban in the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and was detained for years at Guantanamo Bay.
"People are saying that he has raised black flags and even has tried to bring down white Taliban flags in some areas," said Saifullah Sanginwal, a tribal leader in Sangin district. "There are reports that 19 or 20 people have been killed" in fighting between the Taliban and ISIS, he added.
Khan and Akundzada suggested Rauf may have fallen out with the leaders of the Afghan Taliban after spending time in the Pakistani city of Quetta, where Afghan officials and analysts believe senior Taliban leaders are based.
A video released online Saturday purports to show militants from both Afghanistan and Pakistan pledging support to ISIS.
But Akundzada said ISIS was not likely to gain traction with ordinary Afghans. "People who want to fight in Afghanistan just create new names - one day they are wearing white clothes (of the Taliban) and the next day they have black clothes and call themselves Daesh, but they are the same people," he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Analysts say most claims of allegiance to ISIS in Afghanistan have been motivated by opportunism and that a new jihadist outfit would find it difficult to establish a presence where there are already long-established militant groups with tribal links. The Taliban have confined their insurgency to Afghanistan, and do not espouse the pan-Islamic model of jihad embraced by ISIS.
Parts of Helmand have seen fierce fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces since U.S. troops pulled out more than six months ago.
Meanwhile, ISIS has posted a new video on Twitter telling its followers to attack targets in the West, New York City Police Department Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.
Miller, a former CBS News correspondent, said the video specifically mentions the United States, Great Britain and France and suggests civilians, police officers, intelligence officials and the military as targets. It is a renewal of a call for attacks ISIS issued in September.
"We see they are using the momentum from the Paris attacks in part of their messaging strategy to see who can we get to follow this," Miller said. He added that New York City police officers have been informed of the threat and reminded to take extra care and be extra vigilant.
By ISMAIL KHAN
The survivors of a massacre at a Pakistani school last month returned to their school on Monday, offering a grief-tinged show of defiance and apprehension.
It was the first time the Army Public School had opened since seven Taliban gunmen went through its classrooms and assembly hall on Dec. 15 in a rampage of bloodshed that traumatized Pakistan. New official figures put the number of dead at 150, with at least 134 of them children.
Army soldiers stood at the gates as children, many clutching a parent’s hand, streamed into a school where the authorities had worked hard to erase traces of the killing. Walls had been washed and bullet holes hidden, parents and teachers said.
But for many, the trauma was vivid and present. Some students traded stories of survival, marveling that they had survived the eight-hour assault. Others shed tears, describing empty classrooms where fellow students had been mowed down by Taliban gunfire.
“I knew it would be difficult for me to fight off the tears,” said Andaleeb Aftab, a teacher whose 15-year-old son, Huzaifa, was killed in the assembly hall along with most of his class.
Ms. Aftab, who escaped the killers by locking herself in a bathroom, said she had quietly slipped into the school early, over the weekend, to start grieving on her own.
“I am a teacher,” she said, “and teachers are supposed to be role models.”
Classes officially resume on Tuesday, and Monday’s ceremony was limited to students, parents, teachers and some military officials. The army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, visited with his wife and led prayers and the national anthem.
Among the crowd were young people still wearing bandages or casts — wounded students, some of them shot several times in the attack. Mothers sobbed as their children recited a poem by Pakistan’s national poet, Muhammad Iqbal, he said.
Afterward, several students said they were determined to complete their education, regardless of the Taliban threat. “I am going to stay,” said Rizwan Khan, who lost several friends.
Army snipers perched on nearby rooftops, and the school walls were lined with thick bales of barbed wire. Students had been told to leave their schoolbags at home on Monday.
Though most of the school has been refurbished, the school assembly hall, where most of the deaths occurred, remained closed and was draped in a green cloth, said Ms. Aftab, the teacher.
Army officers told school staffers that they were considering putting the building to another use, but did not specify what that might be, she said.
A national sense of anger and grief has created an unusually strong sense of unity among Pakistan’s normally fractious leadership figures. The army’s popularity has risen sharply, and the country’s parliamentary factions lined up behind a constitutional amendment last week to allow military courts to try suspected militants.
After leaving the school, General Sharif held a meeting in Rawalpindi with the United States Central Command commander, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. On Tuesday, the commander was expected to meet with the United States secretary of state, John Kerry, who landed in Pakistan for a two-day visit on Monday.
The Pakistani national security adviser, Sartaj Aziz, told reporters that Mr. Kerry was expected to visit the Army Public School on Tuesday. American officials did not confirm those plans.
Fearing another Taliban attack on a school, the government has imposed onerous security requirements, including barbed wire, security guards and surveillance cameras, on educational institutions in many parts of the country.
Schools that failed the new standards were not allowed to reopen on Monday. In Peshawar district, only 118 of 1,380 private schools met the security guidelines, said Dr. Mian Muhammad Saeed, a senior police officer. In the capital, Islamabad, the police prevented some schools from reopening after the winter break on similar grounds.
Among students, even those who did make it back to class complained of a sense of pervasive vulnerability. “The uncertainty is terrifying,” said Nirmal Zara, 23, a student of psychology at Foundation University in Rawalpindi.
By Carol Morello and Tim Craig
Secretary of State John F. Kerry flew to Pakistan on Monday to urge officials not to falter in their campaign to rout Islamist militants from the northern tribal areas near the Afghan border.
Kerry was greeted by Sartaj Aziz, the main foreign affairs adviser to the Pakistani prime minister, upon arriving in the Pakistani capital, which was draped in a thick fog and bristling with security forces.
Aziz was overheard saying that he had heard that Kerry would visit Peshawar, the site of a Dec. 16 insurgent attack on a military-run school that killed about 150 children and teachers. The school, closed since the massacre, reopened Monday.
State Department officials, however, declined to comment on Kerry’s travel plans. He later went into a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, was set to accompany Kerry at all his meetings during the 24-hour visit, signifying the American emphasis on military and security concerns.
One of the main purposes of Kerry’s visit is to encourage Pakistan to “root out” all the militant groups arrayed in the country’s tribal areas, said a State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity under department protocol.
Sharif and Pakistan’s powerful military have stepped up operations against militant groups in recent months. They say hundreds of suspected militants have been killed in airstrikes and ground attacks. They also have pledged to more closely coordinate counterterrorism operations with neighboring Afghanistan along the countries’ restive border.
Although the United States has lauded the moves, it also wants to ensure that Pakistan’s army does not let up on some of the more dangerous groups. In the past, Pakistan has been accused of pursuing groups that oppose the Islamabad government and ignoring groups that use the country as a haven to launch operations against Afghanistan and India. Pakistani officials have promised to combat all militant outfits, but U.S. officials are unconvinced that the effort will not flag.
“Part of the secretary’s core message will be to ensure that actions are met with a real and sustained effort to constrain the ability of the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Afghan Taliban and other militants who pose a threat to regional stability and to direct U.S. interests,” the official said.
Kerry is also expected to talk about boosting trade, which is a priority for Pakistan as it seeks to counter the cost of its military campaign in North Waziristan.
The United States plans to announce this week the release of $250 million for reconstruction in the affected tribal areas, which have seen an exodus of hundreds of thousands of residents amid the fighting.
During the visit, Kerry also can expect to be asked to weigh in on tensions between Pakistan and India, nuclear-armed neighbors that deeply mistrust each other. Border flare-ups have renewed in recent weeks, and Pakistan says Indian “aggression” is distracting it from its counterterrorism efforts.
Over the weekend, there were signs that Pakistani security forces were making inroads in their bid to hunt down militant leaders. Late Friday, police in the sprawling port city of Karachi said they had killed the commander of the city’s al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent group. The next day, officials announced that a key Pakistani Taliban commander was killed in a police operation in the eastern city of Lahore.
But militant groups continue to pose a threat to the nation. On Sunday, a video surfaced showing a dozen former Pakistani and Afghan Taliban leaders, including former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State militant group, which has met with only limited success in Pakistan. At the end of the video, released by the Site Intelligence Group, insurgents can be seen beheading a man they claim was a captured Pakistani soldier.
Kerry arrived in Pakistan on the same day that students returned to the Peshawar school that was the scene of a slaughter by the Pakistani Taliban. The students will spend about a week receiving counseling and other services as part of a “soft opening” before classes fully resume.
Gen. Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s army chief, greeted the students and their parents when they arrived Monday morning. Inside the gate of the school, one parent whose child was killed in the massacre could be seen crying as she kissed some of the students.
by Raymond Ibrahim
"They picked them up by their arms and legs and held them over the brick furnace until their clothes caught fire. And then they threw them [alive] inside the furnace." — Javeed Maseeh, family spokesman, concerning a Christian couple in Pakistan murdered on rumors they had burned verses from the Qur'an.
"I would appeal to your honor to put pressure on the government of Pakistan to end misuse of blasphemy laws against Christians, Ahmadiyyia and other religious minorities and condition US Aid on human rights and repeal of blasphemy laws." — From a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama by Dr. Nazir S. Bhutti, President of the Pakistan Christian Congress, expressing surprise that the U.S. did not even bother to condemn the burning of Christians alive.
East Jerusalem: Despite constant and ever bolder attacks on a church, police refuse to respond to pleas for help from the Christian congregation.
Denmark: Muslim refugees are persecuting Christian refugees. "Christian asylum seekers are repeatedly exposed to everything from harassment to threats and physical abuse...." — Niels Eriksen Nyman, 10news.dk
"Young Christian men are made scapegoats to show police performance, while the real culprits are carrying out their illegal activities right under the police's nose." — Brother-in-law of "Mithu," 35, Christian father of five, who was arrested in Pakistan on false charges and tortured to death in prison.
The youngest [slave] being the most expensive. 20-30 years old: 100,000 dinars [$86]; 10-20 years old: 150,000 dinars [$129]; 9 years old: 200,000 dinars [$172]. — The Islamic State.
The Islamic State called on its followers to take the jihad to Egypt.
Qaiser Ayub, a 40 year old professor of computer science in Pakistan, of Christian background, was arrested and charged with insulting Islam's prophet Muhammad.
Both in the Islamic world and the Western world, Muslims continued to attack and slaughter Christians.
In Pakistan, "A mob accused of burning alive a Christian couple in an industrial kiln in Pakistan allegedly wrapped a pregnant mother in cotton so she would catch fire more easily, according to family members who witnessed the attack," reported NBC News:
Sajjad Maseeh, 27, and his wife Shama Bibi, 24, were set upon by at least 1,200 people after rumors circulated that they had burned verses from the Quran, family spokesman Javed Maseeh told NBC News via telephone late Thursday. Their legs were also broken so they couldn't run away.
"They picked them up by their arms and legs and held them over the brick furnace until their clothes caught fire," he said. "And then they threw them inside the furnace."
Bibi, a mother of four who was four months pregnant, was wearing an outfit that initially didn't burn, according to Javed Maseeh. The mob removed her from over the kiln and wrapped her up in cotton to make sure the garments would be set alight.
Shama Bibi (left) and Sajjad Maseeh, a Christian couple and parents of four children, were burned to death by a Muslim lynch mob in Pakistan because of a false blasphemy accusation.
Discussing this latest atrocity against Pakistan's Christian minorities, an AFP report states:
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in the majority Muslim country, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob violence.
Anyone convicted, or even just accused, of insulting Islam, risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.
A Christian woman [Asia Bibi] has been on death row since November 2010 after she was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a Muslim woman.
An elderly British man with severe mental illness, sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan in January, was shot by a prison guard last month.
Two days after the Christian couple were burned alive, a policeman in Pakistan hacked a man to death for allegedly making blasphemous remarks against Islam.
About the Christian couple, Dr. Nazir S. Bhatti, President of the Pakistan Christian Congress,wrote a letter to U.S. President Obama expressing surprise that the U.S. did not even bother to condemn this crime:
It is surprising that neither US Administration under your honor nor US State Department even bothered to condemn this horrific crime of burning live of Christian couple by a mob living in country named Islamic Republic of Pakistan which is receiving billions of aid of US taxpayers.
I would appeal your honor to put pressure on government of Pakistan to end misuse of blasphemy laws against Christian, Ahamadiyyia and other religious minorities and condition US Aid to Pakistan on human rights and repeal of blasphemy laws.
Meanwhile, in America itself, in Oklahoma, Jimmy Stepney, a Muslim, stabbed Jerome Bullock, a Christian, after Stepney had said that Muslims need to "step up" beheadings. According to Koco5 News:
The [police] report went on to say Stepney had been making comments about beheading people.
"We were watching the news," said Bullock. "He said he felt like more Muslims need to step up to the plate and do certain thing. He was talking about beheading people."
The severity of the plight of Christians in the Middle East was further underscored by Dr. Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, who wrote:
Russia is currently considering the possibility of initiating a draft decision of the UN Human Rights Council on the protection of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa. Russian experts are now working on this document.[…]
The scale of the problems demands the coordination of international efforts to protect Christians in the Middle East.
Further initiatives, new measures and relevant discussions aimed at finding durable solutions in this regard are strongly needed. Of course, we believe that Europe, including the UK, should make its contribution to these efforts, taking into account the Christian roots of the European civilization, which are now often forgotten for the sake of political correctness.[…]
The fate of the region's religious minorities is of the greatest concern. The mass exodus of Christians, who have been an integral part of the Middle Eastern mosaic for centuries, is particularly troubling.