Coexistence In The Middle-East (And Every Where else On Earth): Or Self Inflected Armageddon?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY  ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Coexistence Is the Last Chance to Avoid the Precipice

Last week, Egypt’s Coptic Christians cancelled Easter celebrations in mourning for those who were killed in two separate terrorist explosions targeting churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.

In Iraq too, new maps are being drawn by sectarianism, while minorities shrink and ethno-religious fabric change under the violence perpetrated by Iran on one side and ISIS on another.

Likewise, we openly witness how shredded Syria has become, and under the eyes of the international community, it is well on the road of partition and population exchange– finally, the less said the better it is when the subject matter is ongoing events in occupied Palestinian territories.

Given this painful regional climate, the ongoing arguments about Lebanon’s future electoral system become a travesty, not much different from the ‘crowded’ field of Iran’s presidential elections where neither votes nor abundance of candidates mean a thing against what the Supreme Leader utters and the elitist Revolutionary Gaurd the (IRGC) dictates.

In Lebanon, the Middle East’s ‘democratic’ soft belly, the Lebanese’ daily bread and butter is endless and absurd arguments and counter-arguments about what the most appropriate electoral system should look like in upcoming parliamentary elections. This is not actually new. Moreover, true intentions behind what is going on have nothing to do with what is being said, whether the intention is escalation or hypocrisy.

The real problem is that the Lebanese are acutely divided on several basic issues regarding conditions of coexistence, political representation and even the meaning of democracy.

For a start, one must ask oneself whether the next elections – regardless of what system is adopted – are going to produce any change in the status quo? Is there any common Lebanese vision as to what the country’s identity is among the ostensible ‘allies’, let alone political adversaries and those dependent on foreign backing and sectarian hegemony?

Then, one may also ask – given defective mechanisms of governance – would ‘state institutions’ still be relevant and meaningful? Would any electoral law be effective in the light of accelerating disproportionate sectarian demographics, and the fact that one large religious sect enjoys a monopoly of military might outside the state’s umbrella, while still sharing what is underneath that umbrella?

The other day in his Easter sermon the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Ra’i said “the (Lebanese) Christians are nobody’s bullied weaklings, but are rather indispensable (!)…”. This is tough talk indeed, but it too is not new.

From what is widely known about Cardinal Ra’i, even before assuming the Patriarchate, is that he is highly interested in politics, and that political views are as candid as they are decisive. On Syria, in particular, he has been among the first to warn the West against and dissuade its leaders from supporting the Syrian uprising; when he claimed during his visits – beginning with France – that any regime that may replace Bashar Al-Assad’s may be worse, and thus it would better to keep him in power.

The same path has been followed by current Lebanese president Michel Aoun, who was strongly backed by Hezbollah, to the extent that the latter forced a political vacuum on Lebanon lasting for over two years.

Of course, Hezbollah, in the meantime, had been imposing its hegemony over Lebanon, fighting for Al-Assad in Syria, and training the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as part of Iran’s project of regional dominance. In promoting this ‘project’ globally, but particularly in the West, Iran has given it the themes of ‘fighting terrorism’ – meaning ‘Sunni Muslim terrorism’- and ‘protection of minorities’ within the framework of a tactical ‘coalition of the minorities’.

A few days ago Aoun said during an interview that “the aim behind what is taking place in the Orient is to empty it of Christians and partition the region into several states”. Again, this is not something new, as it used to be said on the murder and kidnapping road blocks during the dark days of the Lebanese War between 1975 and 1990. Those days the fears of uprooting were common and widespread; reaching the climax within the Christian community with rumors that the mission of American diplomat Dean Brown was to evacuate Lebanon’s Christians to Canada, and within the Druze community during ‘the Mountain War’ (1983-1984) that they would be expelled to southern Syria.

However, Aoun, as it seems, has not been quite aware of who was applying the final touches on population exchange, and drawing the map for the ‘future’ states he has been warning against. He has simply ignored the full picture, turning instead, to repeat old talk in order to justify temporary interests that are harmful if not fatal to minorities, rather than being beneficial and protective.

In this context, come the ‘try-to-be-smart’ attempts to impose a new electoral law in Lebanon as a means of blackmail, as if the country’s sectarian ‘tribal chieftains’ are naïve or debutants in the arena of sectarian politics. The latest has come from Gebran Bassil, the foreign minister and President Aoun’s son-in-law, when he expressed his “willingness to entertain the idea of a Senate, on the condition that it is headed by a Christian!”. This pre-condition was quickly rejected by the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri on the basis that the presidency of a Senate, as approved in “Taif Agreement” – which is now part of Lebanon’s Constitution – was allocated to the Druze; and thus, what Bassil had suggested was unconstitutional.

It is worth mentioning here that all suggestions regarding the future electoral law have ignored the issue of a Senate. It was has also been obvious that another item in the “Taif Agreement” was being intentionally ignored too, which is adopting ‘Administrative De-Centralization’.

However, if some Lebanese parties feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘De-Centralization’, more so as both Iraq and Syria seem to be on their way to actual partition, it is not possible anymore to separate Lebanon’s politics from its demographics.

The latter are now being affected by radical and everlasting demographic changes occurring across the country’s disintegrating eastern borders with Syria. These include what is being reported – without being refuted – about widespread settlement and naturalization activities in Damascus and its countryside. Furthermore, once the population exchange between Shi’ite ‘pockets’ of northern Syria and the Sunni majority population of the Barada River valley is completed, the new sectarian and demographic fabric of Damascus and its countryside would gain a strategic depth and merge with a similar fabric in eastern Lebanon.

This is a danger that Lebanese Christians, indeed, all Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis and all Arabs, must be aware of and sincere about. The cost of ignoring facts on the ground is tragic, as blood begets blood, exclusion justifies exclusion, and marginalization undermines coexistence.

Nation-building is impossible in the absence of a free will to live together. It is impossible in a climate of lies, while those who think they are smart gamble on shifting regional and global balances of power.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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Iran Widens It’s Influence In Bahrain In Attempt To Over through Their Goverment

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Exiled cleric points to Iran’s widening influence in Bahrain

A still image taken from a video provided by Bahraini security officials shows Bahraini forces raiding a speedboat manned by Shi’ite militant fugitives it says were heading for Iran from Bahrain’s northeastern coast, February 9, 2017. Bahraini security officials/Handout via REUTERS
By Noah Browning and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin | MANAMA/DUBAI

At a wake in Iran’s holy city of Qom in February, a small group of Bahraini emigres and clerics mourned a young militant killed in a gun battle with Bahrain’s security forces.

The eulogy was delivered by an exiled Bahraini cleric who has called for the island’s Shi’ite Muslim majority to uproot the Sunni Al Khalifa monarchy in a holy war.

“The choice of resistance is widening and spreading on the ground,” said the cleric, Murtada al-Sanadi, who has been named by the United States as a “specially designated global terrorist” backed by Iran.

The ceremony shines a light on Iran’s widening influence over an armed fringe of the opposition in Bahrain, a country with a strategic value that belies its small size. It hosts a U.S. naval base and is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival. A quickening tempo of mostly crude bombing and shooting attacks has accompanied a government crackdown, which culminated last year in the dissolution of the main opposition bloc.

The dead 29-year-old militant, Reda al-Ghasra, was shot and killed when security forces ambushed the speedboat carrying him and fellow fugitives at dawn on February 9. Ghasra had just a few weeks earlier escaped from a prison where he was serving a life sentence for terrorism.

Ghasra’s two brothers, both wanted on militant charges, also appeared at his wake in Qom. They played a recorded phone call of Reda saying his boat was on its way. The Bahraini government has asserted he was fleeing to Iran.

A confidential assessment by Bahrain security officials, reviewed by Reuters, names Sanadi as the leader of the Ashtar Brigades, a militant group that has carried out bombings and shootings directed at the kingdom’s police. In a statement online, the group hailed Ghasra as a “martyr commander” on his death.

According to the security assessment, Sanadi tasked Ghasra with forming militant cells with Iranian help.

Iran’s foreign ministry called Bahraini government accusations that Iran had any role in supporting Sanadi or the Ashtar Brigades in violent acts “baseless and fabricated.” Sanadi did not respond to requests for comment.

 

SUPREME LEADER

An uprising by some in Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority was quelled in 2011 with the help of a Saudi intervention.

Low-level protests followed. Clashes with police killed scores of activists and suspected militants, while Bahrain says 24 of its officers have been killed. Most clashes involve youths throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, but there has been a series of bombings in recent years. Opposition activists say these attacks show that a government crackdown is pushing Shi’ite youths into the arms of extremists.

An analysis of years of statements by Bahrain’s public prosecutor on Ashtar Brigades suspects suggests that the group operates in cells of fewer than 10 young men overseen by emigre militants like Sanadi based in Iran.

Recruited on religious pilgrimages or study trips to Iran, Bahrain’s prosecutor has said, the suspects were given weapons and explosives training in Iran or neighbouring Iraq. Iran denies the accusation.

Sanadi has powerful allies in Iran, where he has lived since he went into exile in 2012.

The official website of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei published an editorial by Sanadi in December accusing the U.S. of helping repress Shi’ite activism in Bahrain.

The U.S. State Department put Sanadi on its proscribed “terrorist” list on March 17. His name appears alongside leaders in al Qaeda and Islamic State. The U.S. cited Sanadi’s links to the Ashtar Brigades which, it said, “receives funding and support from the Government of Iran.”

Bahrain accuses Sanadi of having organized deadly attacks on police and smuggling arms from Iran.

According to Bahraini security dossiers on Ghasra and Sanadi reviewed by Reuters, Bahraini authorities consider the Ashtar Brigades to be the armed wing of Sanadi’s Islamic Wafa Movement, a political party that is banned in Bahrain.

Wafa and the Ashtar Brigades did not respond to requests for comment about their relationship. A Wafa party representative contacted by Reuters agreed to relay questions to Sanadi but did not ultimately reply.

Sanadi, the security documents say, receives funding from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and commissioned Ghasra to organize the military training of Bahraini militants in Iran by the IRGC and in Iraq by the Hezbollah Brigades militia.

The Ashtar Brigades announced an alliance with the Iran-backed Hezbollah Brigades via an online statement in February.

Sanadi spoke of his relationship with Ghasra in a communication to his followers on messaging app Telegram, dated in March and seen by Reuters. “I found him a lover of (Shi’ites), ready for the highest sacrifice and dedicated to the choice of resistance.”

Ghasra’s brother Yasser, speaking to Reuters from Iran, acknowledged that his brother Reda was a fighter but denied he received Iranian help. He declined to comment on links between his brother and Sanadi.

 

PROUD TO BE AN ENEMY

Speaking to Iranian state TV channel al-Alam in March Sanadi said: “I’m proud that America considers me an enemy.”

While not commenting directly on the state department accusations, he said the U.S. was using “so-called terrorism and … an imaginary danger they claim is coming from the Islamic Republic of Iran” to sell arms to Gulf allies and maintain influence.

Sanadi is the only official of his party to have eluded a long-term jail sentence, though he spent six months behind bars amid 2011 protests on rioting charges.

Six months later he departed legally for Iran.

Chronicling his experiences in a prison manifesto called “Pain and Hope” published in Iran last year, he said he suffered torture and watched fellow detainees killed at the hands of Jordanian and other foreign officers he scorns as “mercenaries.”

Bahraini security officials denied to Reuters that Sanadi suffered torture in custody. “There have been isolated abuses which have been investigated and addressed but this is not a systematic phenomenon,” said one official

In January, Sanadi called on Bahrain’s opposition to abandon mostly peaceful protests in public squares and to take up arms. “From today and hereafter, the period has changed. We in the Islamic Wafa Movement announce that we have begun a new phase as a tribute to the martyrs: one grip on the squares and one grip on the trigger!” he said in a speech in Qom.

Iran’s promotion of Sanadi appears to point to an endorsement of his agenda. Next to an Iranian flag and a banner reading “Death to the House of Saud,” referring to Saudi Arabia’s rulers, Sanadi delivered a sermon at Friday prayers in the country’s most prestigious mosque in Qom in September – an exceptional honor.

Sanadi also took to the main stage at a 2013 conference of Ahl al-Bayt, a Qom-based global fraternity of scholars founded by Khamenei in 1990. The meeting commemorated Bahrain’s uprising. “We are truly thankful to the Iranians, especially the leader of all Muslims, Ayatollah Khamenei,” Sanadi declared.

For his part, Iran’s Supreme Leader in a speech last summer warned that Bahrain government moves against top opposition figures was “removing an obstacle in front of the passionate, heroic Bahraini youth to fight against the ruling system.”

(edited by Janet McBride)

There Is A Video War Being Played Out In Kashmir

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

Video vs Video: The other war playing out in Kashmir

INDIA Updated: Apr 17, 2017 07:39 IST

Toufiq Rashid, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Kashmir unrest

Protesters clash with police and paramilitary soldiers during a protest after Friday prayers in Srinagar.(Waseem Andrabi/HT Photo)

A grainy short video shot with a cellphone shows Wali Mohammed Bhat, a supporter of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), apologising profusely and shouting anti-India slogans at gunpoint.The petrified Kashmiri man is heard saying he has long quit all political activities.

In another similar video, a group of security men are seen pinning a youth in a red vest to the ground. His hands are tied behind his back, and the men are beating his legs with sticks.

He screams: “Paani … maafi (water… mercy).”

Read more

The two clips were uploaded on social media on Sunday and quickly became the most shared, watched and commented items online in militancy-riddled Jammu and Kashmir as well as the rest of India.

These are from a long line of videos showing the two stark realities of Kashmir — alleged atrocities of a hardnosed establishment trying to bulldoze the insurgency, and the threats, brickbats and stones that people on the non-separatist side of the political divide face in the Valley.

This is Unacceptable ! Cant do this to our CRPF jawaans .This rot has to stop. Badtameezi ki hadd hai.

The troubled region’s pro- and anti-separatist battle is fought through videos — a quick-reaction psychological weapon that is exploding on social networks more often lately, especially after the protest-blighted by-elections to the Srinagar parliamentary seat on April 9.

At least eight people died in the unrest and hundreds were wounded as security forces fired at and caned crowds that tried to disrupt the bypoll in response to a separatist call to boycott the democratic process.

The video of an armed CRPF trooper being kicked and booed by a group of youth when he was returning from bypoll duty with his colleagues became a nationwide television debate.

Another Socking & Outrageous Video from occupied . Indian Brutality & oppression on its peak

The men in uniform do nothing to the hecklers. They walk on. Their action is peddled on the loop in national television as an epitome of restraint shown by the armed forces.

Read more

The tide turns on April 13 as another explosive clip surfaced. It shows security forces firing at a group, mostly children, throwing stones. The soldiers are seen moving behind a wall, bending, locating the position of the stone-throwers, and firing at a boy. Netizens called it targeted killing.

A day later, a video showed a Kashmiri youth tied to the bonnet of a military jeep as a human shield against stone-throwers. The background audio warns people that “this will be the fate of stone-pelters”.

Here’s the video as well. A warning can be heard saying stone pelters will meet this fate. This requires an urgent inquiry & follow up NOW!!

The video was supposedly shot in Budgam district on April 9 during the bypoll.

Another clip emerged, showing Kashmiri youth protecting a security man who allegedly fell behind from the rest of his troop.

It rained videos last Saturday. One of them shows a child screaming his lungs out as four men in army fatigues beat him mercilessly with sticks. Another one has three Kashmiri youth shouting “Pakistan Murdabad”, allegedly at the behest of a security man, half-visible in the video.

Hindustan Times could not authenticate where and when these videos were shot. But these are having an effect.

Should The World Bank Finance A Bounty On The Heads Of All Earths Dictators?

 

I know that this is something that will never happen, so it is just a query to each of you. This post today is like almost all of the articles that I write to you, it is an attempt to get you to think out of your minds personal comfort zone, outside of ‘the box’ we wrap around ourselves. Those of you who know me know that I am a person who is anti violence, I wish that there was only kind people on this planet, but we all know that such a thing is just a unfillable dream. I believe that no one has the ‘right’ to be an aggressor toward another. But I do believe that everyone has the right and the duty to protect themselves, their families and even total strangers when they are being attacked. Attacks come in more venues than just the physical abuse they also come in the forms of psychological abuse and abuse by authorities. Also as I am rather sure of, you know that in a lot of cases aggression comes upon many of the innocent and the poor all at one time. This can come from a parent, a guardian, the police, the military or from politicians. Today’s article is about when those who have control of a government decide to make themselves ‘The Supreme Ruler/Leader’ of all the people in a country, in other words, Dictators.

 

Many countries have ‘Presidents’ who come to power in democratic elections but when it comes time for them to step down at the end of their term, they refuse to. There are many examples of this around the world of which most are in Africa or the Middle-East. I am also thinking of people whom have taken control of a country then have farce elections so that they can say they to the world that they are a democracy. There are examples like Mugabe, Assad, Saddam, Putin, Erdogan and whom ever Iran’s “Supreme Leader” decides whom he wants for president. This is just a small handful of the Earths wicked rulers, there are many more. What constitutes being a Dictator in your eyes? Are Kings and Queens all Dictators like they were 500 years ago? In today’s world I would have to say no. The reason for the no is because of examples like in England, Spain and Norway where the ‘Royal Family’ are more Figure Heads than Rulers.

 

The type of Dictators I am speaking of are ones that are also Tyrants and murderers of their own people. The reason I have thought of this article’s subject matter today is the ‘vote’ going on in the beautiful nation of Turkey. Their ‘President’ Mr. Erdogan has been taking all of the power within Turkey unto himself for a few years now but today’s election will finish giving him absolute authority within that country. Elections in countries like Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Russia have been nothing but a joke for a long time now. After today’s ‘vote’ in Turkey they will be joining this list of farces.

 

I have to put the ‘thought of’ a disclaimer regarding this issue though. I call it the George Bush disclaimer, one for the wisdom of Papa Bush and for the ignorance of Baby Bush. The example here is the nation of Iraq. A lot of people here in the U.S. were upset that in the first ‘Gulf War’ that we did not continue the march toward Baghdad and that we did not remove Saddam from power then. Old man Bush had the knowledge and the fore site about removing Dictators of Islamic countries. Baby Bush either didn’t learn anything from his daddy or the chance to show his dad up, that he could do what his dad couldn’t (wouldn’t) was to great a temptation for him. Then of course there is the situation in Syria that the whole world is suffering from because of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s belief that Assad should be removed in the ‘Arab Spring’.  Old man Bush knew a simple fact his son nor Hillary seemed to understand. In countries with mostly Islamic populations that having a strong Dictator who can control the actions of the members of the Islamic Civil War (Sunni against Shiite) then you will have situations like we have today in Libya and Syria.

 

In the title I used the example of the ‘World Bank’ because it is supposed to be independent of the worlds governments thus making them a logical choice to offer multi million dollar rewards to anyone who could/wood kill the Dictators. Plus the obvious reality that it would take a person or an organization with very large bank accounts to pay out those bounties. I realize that North Korea has nothing to do with having the people vote for their Leader but the idea that if the World Bank, or someone else with that kind of money was to put a 50 million dollar reward for the head of the little fat boy with the bad hair cut it honestly wouldn’t bother me. This whole article is just conjecture, an attempt to get people to think. Is killing anyone ever a good idea? If you could go back in time and kill Stalin before he murdered the Czars whole family back in 1917, would you? If you could have killed Hitler as a baby would you? If killing one literally could save the lives of millions, would you? This article is intended for the sole purpose of giving you fodder for the brain as even our brains need food or they will die just like the body without food will die.

Egypt frees U.S. charity worker held for three years in pretrial detention

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK POST)

Egypt frees U.S. charity worker held for three years in pretrial detention

April 16 at 11:19 AM
An Egyptian court on Saturday acquitted a U.S. charity worker who had spent almost three years in pretrial detention for her work with a charity helping street children.Police arrested Aya Hijazi, her husband and six others in May 2014 on charges of abusing children in her care and engaging in human trafficking, kidnapping, sexual exploitation and torture.

Human rights groups said the charges were fabricated. Her detention came as part of a broader crackdown that has neutered independent civil society in Egypt.

The acquittal comes about two weeks after President Trump met Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi in Washington, the strongman’s first visit to the United States since he came to power in a 2013 military coup.

On Saturday, the Cairo Criminal Court dropped all charges against Hijazi and her co-defendants and ordered their release. As Judge Mohamed el-Feqqi read his verdict aloud, the courtroom erupted. Dressed in white prison uniforms, Hijazi and her husband, Mohammed Hassanein, embraced inside the defendants’ cage as friends and family cried, cheered and chanted for joy.

“They were singing, ‘The sun of freedom has risen,’ ” said Tarek Hussein, an activist who attended the hearing.

Hijazi, an Egyptian American, and Hassanein, an Egyptian citizen, are co-founders of the Belady Foundation, which provided services for Cairo street children. Police raided the organization’s premises in May 2014, also detaining a cook, an artist who shared the premises and the children present at the time.

A forensic report by the public prosecutor later found no evidence that any of the foundation’s children had been sexually abused.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and several U.S. lawmakers have spoked out about the case.

Lawyers said Saturday that the state’s witnesses had offered contradictory and inadequate evidence against the defendants. “Even the child and his mother testified at court in defense of Aya and the others,” said Taher Abol Nasr, Hijazi’s attorney.

Tens of thousands of Egyptians have been detained or forcibly disappeared by security forces since Sissi led a putsch against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in summer 2013.

State officials depict the crackdown as part of a war against Islamist extremists who threaten to destroy the country. Human rights groups and activists say the dragnet has extended to dissidents of all political persuasions.

The Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to U.S. foreign aid, but the White House has said it expects that the $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid to Egypt will continue.

“You have a great friend and ally in the United States and in me,” Trump told Sissi during their meeting at the Oval Office.

Non-governmental organizations in Egypt have faced growing pressure since late 2011, when authorities raided 17 pro-democracy and rights groups, accusing them of joining an international conspiracy against Egypt.

During Sissi’s presidency, that pressure has accelerated, and representatives of many of the country’s leading human rights groups have been arrested, subjected to travel bans or had their assets frozen.

“Aya Hijazi, her husband, and their colleagues are finally free, but the system that subjected them to a travesty of justice for nearly three years remains unchanged,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Shouting above the din from his courtroom cage Saturday, Hassanein vowed to continue their charity work. “We promised the children they won’t return to the streets again, and this promise was hindered for three years. We will return and meet that promise,” he said.

Loveluck reported from Beirut.

North Dakota: Muslim refugee gets 20 years for sexually assaulting and terrorizing young women

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘CREEPING SHARIA’ WEBSITE)

North Dakota: Muslim refugee gets 20 years for sexually assaulting and terrorizing young women

Abdirahman Sahel listens to his attorney Monty Mertz during his sentencing hearing Monday, April 10, 2017, in District Court in Fargo for gross sexual imposition and terrorizing in 2013. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

His second conviction. Source: Fargo teen who spent childhood in refugee camp gets 20 years for sex assault | Grand Forks Herald

A Fargo teenager who endured a “feral” childhood in a refugee camp was sentenced Monday, April 10, to 20 years in prison for sexually assaulting and terrorizing a young woman nearly four years ago.

Abdirahman P. Sahel, who is believed to be 18 years old, approached two young female guests in the parking lot of the Fargo Holiday Inn in August 2013 and threatened them with a handgun before forcing one of the girls to perform a sexual act, prosecutor Cherie Clark said during Monday’s sentencing hearing.

Clark said the victim was traumatized by the attack, as was the young woman who witnessed the incident.

The essence of the sentence—20 years behind bars—was endorsed by both Clark and Sahel’s attorney, Monty Mertz. Sahel earlier pleaded guilty to gross sexual imposition and terrorizing in connection with the attack.

The sentence will be served at the same time as a 12-year sentence Sahel received after he was convicted at trial in September of attacking a woman in the parking lot of the West Acres Shopping Center in September 2014. In that case Sahel was convicted on charges of robbery, attempted kidnapping, terrorizing and simple assault. DNA collected from Sahel while he was in custody for the West Acres assault tied him to the Holiday Inn attack.

At Sahel’s earlier plea hearing, the victims in the Holiday Inn case said they wanted the sentence for that crime to be served consecutive to the 12 years behind bars ordered in the West Acres case. That would have meant a much longer sentence for Sahel, since he wouldn’t serve the sentence for the 2013 crime until serving the 12-year term. The women said the two cases were separate and deserved separate sentences.

Mertz said during Monday’s sentencing hearing that Sahel will likely spend more than 15 years behind bars and when he gets out there is a strong chance he will be deported.

The defense attorney called Sahel’s situation a complex one, as it was possible Sahel was 14 when the crime at the hotel parking lot was committed. He said Sahel, who is from Somalia, lost his parents at a very early age and lived the “life of a feral child” in a refugee camp.

Mertz said because Sahel’s believed birth date in January 1999 is not a certainty, at least one psychologist who has assessed him thinks he may still be a juvenile.

“Which was very fascinating to me,” Mertz said.

Sahel was given credit for having already served about two and a half years of his sentence.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani Has Registered To Run For A Second 4 yr Term

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

ANKARA, Turkey — Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who helped end the country’s diplomatic and economic isolation with a landmark nuclear deal with major powers, registered on Friday to seek a second four-year term in the May 19 election.

Despite remaining faithful to Iran’s theocratic system, Mr. Rouhani has angered hard-liners with his calls for improved relations with the West, more freedom of expression and an easing of strict Islamic rules.

“Once again, I am here for Iran, for Islam, for freedom and for more stability in this country,” Mr. Rouhani told reporters on Friday as he announced his bid.

Mr. Rouhani’s more conservative critics accuse him of having encouraged moral corruption by advocating social tolerance. Some erstwhile supporters who had hoped for radical social changes under his presidency are also critical, saying he has failed to stand up to Iran’s religious establishment.

The president’s constitutional powers are limited. Ultimate authority rests with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Political analysts said they expected Iranian voters to rally around Mr. Rouhani even though many complain that they have seen few economic benefits from the lifting of sanctions.

“Rouhani is still very popular, and he is in a very strong position,” said one analyst, Saeed Leylaz. “People will vote for him to prevent a hard-liner from winning the election.”

Born into a religious family in 1948, Mr. Rouhani, a Shiite cleric, played an active role in the opposition that overthrew the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, in 1979. He has held several sensitive jobs in the Islamic republic of Iran, including representing Ayatollah Khamenei for 25 years at the Supreme National Security Council.

Mr. Rouhani is also a member of the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts, two influential advisory bodies in Iran’s multitiered power structure. The latter will choose the country’s next supreme leader.

21 Year Old Female British Student Stabbed To Death In Jerusalem

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

A British exchange student was fatally stabbed Friday by a Palestinian attacker just steps from Jerusalem’s Old City, where thousands of Jews and Christians gathered for religious holidays at one of the busiest times of the year, officials said.

Thousands of people filled parts of the ancient city: Jews to celebrate Passover, which ends Monday in Israel; and Christian pilgrims for Good Friday. The attack took place inside a car of the city’s light-rail train near the entrance to the Old City’s Christian Quarter.

The woman identified as Hannah Bladon, 21, was treated for stab wounds in a hospital and later died, police said.

Bladon was an exchange student from the University of Birmingham in Britain, and she arrived in Israel in January to spend a semester at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the latter said in a statement.

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency named the suspected attacker as 57-year-old Jamal Tamimi from East Jerusalem, a mostly Arab area. They said he had mental health issues and had attempted suicide this year while hospitalized. Tamimi was arrested at the scene, the report said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared the attack to other violent acts around the world in recent weeks. “Radical Islam strikes at the capitals of the world and, unfortunately, terrorism has hit the capital of Israel — Jerusalem,” he wrote on Facebook.

Israel considers Jerusalem its united capital, and all of its official offices are based there. Palestinians want part of Jerusalem as the capital of any future state.

Friday’s killing is the latest in a spate of stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks by Palestinians over the past 18 months.

Israel has been accused internationally of being too heavy-handed in response to the attacks, which have left nearly 50 Israelis and more than 200 Palestinians dead. Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were attempting to carry out attacks against Israeli civilians, soldiers or police officers.

The targeted stabbings and other attacks started in October 2015 with almost daily assaults. Incidents slowed in mid-2016 and, with Israeli forces stepping up their response, fatal attacks are now rare.

The violence contrasts with the first and second intifadas of the 1980s and 2000s, which were centrally organized and included mass unrest.

Egypt Solidarity: After ISIS Church Bombings Outrage Muslims And Christians Alike

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) Egyptians of different faiths rallied together on Sunday in defiance of ISIS, after the group claimed responsibility for two Coptic Christian church bombings hundreds of miles apart. The attacks left at least 43 dead and dozens more injured, amid grim scenes of hollowed-out churches, with body parts and blood scattered among the debris.

Outraged Egyptians posted messages of solidarity with members of the embattled religious minority on social media, using a hashtag saying “your terrorism brings us together.”
Video posted on Facebook shows an angry crowd surrounding and beating Maj. Gen. Hussam Ad-Din Khalifa, director of security in Gharbiya Province where Tanta is located, when he tried inspecting the damage at St. George church. Shortly afterward, President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi relieved Khalifa of his duties.
Sunday’s bombings came nearly four months after a suicide bomber killed 23 people in a Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo. Copts, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s 91 million residents, have been the target of increased persecution and discrimination since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.
Despite tensions between the groups, the country’s Muslim community has frequently shown support for Christians following acts of violence. Images on social media showed Muslims gathering inside mosques Sunday to donate blood for victims.
After a deadly Alexandria church bombing in 2011, Egyptian Muslims attended Coptic Christmas services in a show of solidarity.

‘Blood and body parts everywhere’

St. George’s Church in Tanta, a small city located between Cairo and Alexandria, had been the target of a bomb threat in March. That didn’t deter an estimated crowd of 2,000 congregants from attending Palm Sunday mass, the start of Holy Week before Easter.
The first bomb went off around 9:00 a.m. Church camera footage showed that the choir was in the middle of performing before the feed abruptly cut off.
Peter Kamel was about to leave home for mass when he learned about the explosion and rushed over to look for friends.

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 Source: CNN
“The bombing was so loud that even people who live far away could hear it,” Kamel told CNN. “Everything is destroyed inside the church.”
The bomb appeared to have exploded near the altar, striking choir members and priests, Kamel said.
On Facebook, Kamel posted scenes of the devastation inside the church:
A pair of sneakers laying among the debris.
Blood splashed on marble pillars, spattered across paintings and woven stalks of green palms.
The bodies of victims, many of them burned, among splintered pews.
Mina Abdel Malak said he was outside St. George’s during the explosion and rushed inside to look for his cousin.
“It was horrible; blood and body parts everywhere,” he said. “People on the other side of the street felt the explosion shaking their cars.”
He rushed to the hospital and saw the name of his cousin, a teacher with two young children, on a list of the deceased.
The previous bomb threat should have put authorities on notice, he said.
“This shouldn’t have happened. This is our feast and there was supposed to be strict security measures,” he said. “For someone to get this amount of explosives inside, then security wasn’t doing its job.”

‘Thank God it is a Sunday’

Fadi Sami heard about the Tanta bombing during mass at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria. The church had drawn an especially big crowd because Pope of Alexandria Tawadros II was leading prayers.
The Pope did not mention the bombing but Sami said a feeling of uneasiness hung over the congregation. He said he left after the sermon, and 20 minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the church’s gate.
“It’s difficult to process this idea, that if I had left 20 minutes later, I would have stopped to exist in this world,” Sami, 26, told CNN.

Egyptians gather near a church in Alexandria after a bomb blast struck worshipers.

The blast tore through nearby storefronts, he said. The area was enveloped in smoke as people rushed over to find bodies and body parts scattered among debris, he said.
“I saw a man put together what was left of his son in a bag,” he said.
The death toll could well have been worse if it had been a weekday, Egyptian blogger Maged Butter said. Usually, this commercial part of downtown Alexandria is crowded with shoppers.
“Thank God it is a Sunday, and many shops are closed.”
He recorded video showing crowds filling the streets as emergency vehicles tried to pass.
“Every now and then, I see a person crying — I think they are Christian — and they keep saying: Have you seen my family? Have you seen my family?”

A violent act ‘against all of us’

As the protesters were gathering outside St. Mark’s on Sunday night, volunteers were searching for remains in a secured area nearby.
Meanwhile, Sisi gave a televised speech in which he declared a state of emergency and called for unity.
“What’s happening now is against all of us” — not just Copts, he said. “The main aim is to destroy the unity of our country, Egypt.”
“We will defeat terrorist groups, the killers and will continue fighting and building at the same time,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s Finance Minister Says That Citizens And Companies Will Pay No Income Tax

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

 

Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said on Sunday that citizens would not pay taxes on income and Saudi companies would not see their profits taxed under sweeping economic reforms being introduced in the oil-rich kingdom.

The collapse in oil prices after mid-2014 has pushed Saudi Arabia to contemplate a radical overhaul of all parts of its economy, including new taxes, privatizations, a changed investment strategy and sharp cuts in government spending.

Mohammed al-Jadaan sought in a statement carried by state news agency SPA to allay concern that people would be taxed as part of the ambitious reform plan. Saudis currently do not pay any income tax, nor are Saudi companies taxed on their profits.

He also said a value-added tax planned for 2018 would “not be raised above 5 percent before 2020”.

The six Arab monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council are aiming to introduce a 5 percent value-added tax at the start of next year to raise non-oil revenues. But economists and officials in some countries have said privately that simultaneous introduction in all countries may not be feasible.

That is because of the complexity of creating the administrative infrastructure to collect the tax and the difficulty of training companies to comply with it in a region where taxation is minimal.

(Reporting by Mostafa Hashem; Writing by Tom Finn; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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