Friday, January 16, 2015
Turkish officials are facing criticism after a female terror suspect sought by French police after the attacks in Paris entered Turkey shortly before the attacks and traveled from there to Syria.
Her travel route raises questions about whether Ankara is doing enough to fight groups like the Islamic State, analysts say.
Hayat Boumeddiene went to Istanbul just days before the attack and, after spending a few days in Turkey, reportedly crossed into Syria with the aid of the smugglers.
Political scientist Cengiz Akar of Istanbul’s Suleyman Sah University said the ease with which Boumeddiene traveled through Turkey has put Ankara in a difficult situation.
"It is extremely damaging for the image of Turkey," he said. "Turkey was already under the spotlight regarding the passive collaboration with those fighters in Iraq and Syria."
"So today, Turkey’s name is associated in the world media, to this lady who is being searched in connection with the killings in Paris," he said. "And it is far from being an enviable situation."
Ankara is facing growing dismay from its Western allies who claim the country is becoming a superhighway for jihadists seeking to join the ranks of the Islamic State in neighboring Iraq and Syria.
The head of German domestic intelligence, Hans-Georg Maassen, said this month that 90 percent of the 550 Germans who went to fight in Syria traveled through Turkey.
But Semih Idiz, diplomatic columnist for Turkey’s Taraf newspaper and Al- Monitor website, said the circumstances of Boumeddiene's escape underscore Ankara’s frustrations with Europe.
"Turkey does have a point in some respects there, when the prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu says that 35 million people visit Turkey and you cannot vet every person that comes into Turkey, especially if intelligence and information has not been provided about those persons," he said.
"It appears Hayat Boumeddiene, this girl being sought now, she was not on the list of 500 names provided by France to Turkey," Idiz said. "But despite that fact, she was monitored while she was in Turkey. But the monitoring was dropped after a while because nothing irregular was found."
Ankara is expected to come under pressure to further tighten its border when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu attends a meeting on countering the Islamic State in London next week.
Improving intelligence cooperation will be a key issue at the meeting.
Ankara has continuously complained about the failure of Western intelligence services to provide sufficient and timely information on jihadists.
Earlier this month, the head of Turkey’s intelligence service, Hakan Fidan, said security forces had deported over a thousands jihadists and that 7,000 people were barred from entering Turkey.
But despite such claims, Idiz warns Ankara will struggle to overcome growing Western suspicions over its allegiances. He said this is because of broader issues that includes the government's current "Islamist leanings," it's reluctance to get too involved in the fight against IS, and the president's anti Israeli, anti-Western outbursts where he again had "strong words concerning hypocrisy in the West after the Paris attack."
"When you combine all this,Turkey is really under the projector," Idiz said. "And this feeds into the impression that Turkey is not doing its share in trying to control its border as far as these radicals are concerned."
While Turkish officials continue to bristle at suggestions that they allowed Boumedienne to slip through their fingers, Western allies are likely to continue to question Turkey's commitment to the battle against IS.
Analysts say if Turkey’s NATO partners have reservations, they know that the country that shares a nearly 900 kilometer border with Syria is crucial in the battle against the jihadists.
Last year was Earth’s warmest on record, bolstering the argument that people are altering the planet’s climate by relentlessly burning fuels that belch greenhouse gases into the air, two major US government agencies said on Friday.
Baga, a town in the north-eastern state of Borno, Nigeria, suffered an unimaginable catastrophe recently when Boko Haram, Nigeria’s vampires of death, slaughtered innocent residents of that town. Amnesty International described it as the Islamist militant group’s “deadliest massacre in recent history”. Controversy rages between the official estimates of 150 deaths against the 2,000 reported by other independent sources.
However, this horrid news did not make global headlines as much as the Paris attacks that left 17 people dead. While many reasons abound for the media silence, in this case it appears to be a combination of three factors: the nearness news factor, the numbing callousness of Nigeria’s political elites — both the ruling party and the opposition — and a compromised local press.
#IamCharlie, but #IamBaga too!
Baga is an out-of-the-way town tucked in the impermeable Borno state. Most places within north-eastern Nigeria, which borders Chad, Niger and Cameroon, are now controlled by Boko Haram. Nigeria’s chief of defense staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, stated earlier this month that Boko Haram had seized the headquarters of a multinational military force located on Nigeria's border after Chad and Niger had withdrawn its forces from the base.
This means that neither journalists nor bloggers have full access to Baga and cannot give the exact assessment of the situation on ground. This is a direct opposite of the horror that gripped Paris, an easily accessible city full of netizens wielding smartphones. In an article for The Conversation, Global Voices co-founder Ethan Zukerman expounded further:
Paris is a highly connected global city with thousands of working journalists, while Baga is isolated, difficult and dangerous to reach. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo targeted journalists, and it’s understandable that journalists would cover the death of their comrades. The attacks in Paris were a shock and a surprise, while deaths at the hands of Boko Haram have become distressingly common in an insurgency that has claimed over ten thousand lives since 2009.
Nonetheless this does not totally extricate the complicity of Western mainstream media. Correspondent Simon Allison wrote in a piece for South African news site Daily Maverick that “African lives are still deemed less newsworthy – and, by implication, less valuable – than western lives”.
Some Nigerians are of the view that the country deserves more assistance from the global community against Boko Haram's unending murders. For instance, Ignatius Kaigama, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria, thinks that the global solidarity accorded the Paris violence should also be shown to Nigerians. “We need that spirit to be spread around. Not just when it [an attack] happens in Europe, but when it happens in Nigeria, in Niger, in Cameroon,” he told the BBC.
‘The outrage is almost non-existent’
As much as the global media conspiracy of silence seems inviting, it neither does justice to the complex nature of the Baga massacre nor does it exonerate Nigeria's callous political leadership.
Less than 24 hours after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan issued a statement condemning that “dastardly terrorist attack” but kept mute on a similar but more devastating attack at home.
However, about week after the Baga incident, the president visited Borno State. Astatement by his spokesman states that President Jonathan told “officers and soldiers of the Division that the nation was very proud of them and grateful for their dedication and commitment to the defence of the civilian population against terrorists and violent extremists”
Nonetheless, this criticism is not reserved for the government alone, but also extends to opposition politicians who wish to score cheap political points from the Baga catastrophe.
It's election season in Nigeria, and as such the local media is more concerned with ads from politicians, joining and covering their electoral train than any factual reporting. The Nigerian media is as much complicit in maintaining a silence on Baga as their foreign counterparts.
The complicated mess of the Baga situation was best summed up by this Facebook post by San Francisco-based author and editor Jeremy Adams Smith:
The first thing you'll notice that there is not a lot of coverage of the massacres in Baga and Askira; in many papers, it's totally unmentioned and invisible. Why this crime is not being covered IN NIGERIA, I'll address in a moment. But what you do see in the papers is a lot of finger-pointing and rage against the government of Nigeria; of course, it's election season. It's the job of that government to protect its people, and the government is not doing its job.[...] The government of Nigeria doesn't want you to know, isn't transparent, and isn't helping people who are suffering. In fact, there is widespread denial throughout Nigeria of what is happening–a denial that extends to the press.
#IamBaga will certainly not trend as #JeSuieCharlie has for these reasons. Nonetheless, as much as there exists glaring evidence of a global media blackout on Baga, this does not mean that the Nigerian government is free from blame. At the same time, the local press cannot be canonized. In the end, it a combination of all these that make the injustice of the Baga slaughter bloodcurdling.
More than 600 people took to the streets in Prague to protest against the spread of Islam in the Czech Republic Friday.
By Yao Siyan Win-win competition and cooperation rather than superpower games between China and United States is to benefit the whole world, said Xu Changyin of Xinhua News Agency World Affair Research Center. Looking back at Sino-U.S. relationships in 2014, there were handshakes between the two, but petty actions that affects the bilateral ties existed as well, said Xu at the fifth forum of Xinhuanet Thinker on China’s diplomacy and the current international hot topics held in Beijing Jan. 8. The United States stepped up its military deployment in the Asian-Pacific region, showing no signs of stopping it or slowing it down, he said. While seeking to expand economic and trade relations with China, the United States made short-sighted attempts to obstruct the establishment of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and oppose the creation of an international reserve currency proposed by China. It opposed China to play a bigger role in the World Bank and other international financial institutions, obstructed China to help infrastructure construction in the developing countries, and fears China’s innovations in international economic and financial system. This year, economic and trade relations is still the maintaining factors and impetus of Sino-U.S. relation, but fiercer game will be played on economic and trade front. The reason is that U.S. President Barack Obama has set his priority to revive the U.S. economy in the next two years. On December 3, 2014, Obama said in a speech at the U.S. Enterprise Roundtable that his four main tasks are to promote domestic infrastructure construction for prosperity of U.S. economy, promote international trade while strive to achieve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), carry out tax reform to provide driving force to U.S. economy, and reform immigration policy to attract talents. At present, U.S. economy has taken a turn for the better. If President Obama would stick to his priority as economy revival and benefit U.S. middle class that account for the country’s majority population, he would be remembered by as a president who leads United States out of financial crisis. As a matter of fact, Obama is not as terrible as the Republican Party criticized. Objectively speaking, he has served the nation's vital interests by retreating force from Afghanistan, raising threshold of military means, and resort to sanction on Ukraine issue. A report of "2015 Global Trend" released by CIA (American Central Intelligence Agency) 15 years ago has predicted that the America's ability to intervene in the world will be greatly diminished. Obama had to comply with the reality that United States in the international community is becoming more and more powerless. In the new year, Obama will focus diplomatic efforts on Asia. He will be uncomfortable about the contract of his sanctions with the "Belt and Road" strategy initiated by China. Thus, the game on the diplomatic front will be intensified, Xu predicted. He concluded that Obama’s focus on domestic economic development is good for Sino-U.S. relationship. The two countries should seize the opportunity, turn superpower game into competition to breed win-win results. It will benefit the world, because no conflicts between China and the United States, no havoc in the world, he noted.
The wife of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for criticising leading clerics, says King Abdullah has referred his case to the supreme court amid an international clamour over his flogging.
Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Canada with the couple’s three children, told the BBC the decision had raised hopes that the authorities wanted to end her husband’s punishment. But there has been no official statement from the Saudi government.
The authorities had already postponed Badawi’s flogging on medical grounds after a doctor said wounds from a previous lashing had not healed. Campaigners said the move exposed the “outrageous inhumanity” of his punishment.
The 31-year-old was due to receive 50 further lashes after Friday prayers, the first 50 having been given outside al-Jafali mosque in the port city of Jeddah last week. He was sentenced last May to 10 years in prison, a fine and 1,000 lashes after criticising Saudi Arabia’s powerful clerics on his blog.
According to Amnesty International, which has adopted Badawi as a prisoner of conscience, he was removed from his cell on Friday morning and taken to the prison clinic for a health check. The doctor concluded that the wounds from last week’s flogging had not yet healed properly and Badawi would be unable to withstand more. He recommended that the flogging be postponed until next week.
Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “Not only does this postponement on health grounds expose the utter brutality of this punishment, it underlines its outrageous inhumanity.
“The notion that Raif Badawi must be allowed to heal so that he can suffer this cruel punishment again and again is macabre and outrageous. Flogging should not be carried out under any circumstances.”
The postponement follows widespread international pressure from governments and human rights groups for the Saudi government to halt the punishment. On Thursday, the UN commissioner for human rights appealed to the Saudi king to intervene.
“Flogging is, in my view, at the very least, a form of cruel and inhuman punishment,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who is a member of the Jordanian royal family.
“Such punishment is prohibited under international human rights law, in particular the convention against torture, which Saudi Arabia has ratified. I appeal to the king of Saudi Arabia to exercise his power to halt the public flogging by pardoning Mr Badawi, and to urgently review this type of extraordinarily harsh penalty.”
Badawi’s case was one of several recent prosecutions of activists. On Monday, an appeal court upheld the conviction of Badawi’s lawyer and brother-in-law, Waleed Abu Al-Khair, on charges that included offending the judiciary and founding an unlicensed organisation. Khair’s sentence was extended from 10 to 15 years on appeal.
Vigils were held outside Saudi embassies in Berlin, Paris, The Hague and Tunis on Thursday, and the Canadian government expressed concern at a punishment it described as “a violation of human dignity and freedom of expression”.
The Foreign Office has said it is “seriously concerned” at the flogging. “The UK condemns the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment in all circumstances,” a spokesman said. “We have previously raised Mr Badawi’s case and will do so again directly with the Saudi authorities. The UK is a strong supporter of freedom of expression around the world.”
Expressions of concern have not led to any diplomatic action against Saudi Arabia, which is regularly criticised for its prolific use of the death penalty. On Friday, Murdi al-Shakra became the 10th person to be beheaded this year. He was sentenced to death for murdering fellow tribesman Faraj al-Shakra, the interior ministry said.
On Monday, Laila Bint Abdul Muttalib Basim, a Burmese woman living in Saudi Arabia, was beheaded after being dragged through the street and held down by four police officers. She was convicted of the sexual abuse and murder of her seven-year-old stepdaughter.
Amnesty International has accused the UK government of “wearing the Saudi muzzle” because of its oil, business and strategic interests in the conservative kingdom.
“David Cameron and his ministers should have the courage of their convictions and say – loud and clear – that Raif Badawi’s case is an absolute disgrace, that this weekly flogging should be halted and he should be freed from jail,” said Kate Allen, UK director of Amnesty. “At the very least the Foreign Office should be calling in the Saudi ambassador and telling him this in person if they haven’t already done so.”
The United States has welcomed Pakistan’s reported move to clamp down on militant outfits including the Afghan Haqqani network and Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), saying that banning the organisations would be an important step toward eliminating terrorist activity. “We welcome reports that the Government of Pakistan plans to outlaw the Haqqani Network, Jamaatud Dawa, and I think 10 other organisations linked to violent extremism,” said Marie Harf, Deputy Spokesperson at the State Department, while commenting on Islamabad’s plan to ban the two militant groups. Speaking at a briefing hosted by Washington’s Foreign Press Centre, the spokesperson called the decision “an important step toward eliminating terrorist activity in Pakistan”. Earlier during the daily briefing, Harf said, “I know this was just an announcement that this is going to happen. I don’t have more details on when it might.” On Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Pakistan this week, the spokesperson said the chief American diplomat had a “very good” visit during which he discussed counterterrorism, along with how the two sides could work more closely. “Obviously, the Secretary (Kerry) was just there and had a wide-ranging conversation with the Pakistanis about counterterrorism, certainly. He emphasized that we’re committed to deepening our security partnership with Pakistan, and obviously had many conversations with Prime Minister (Nawaz) Sharif and others,” Harf concluded.