Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman elevated to Crown Prince  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman elevated to Crown Prince

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman waves as he meets with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 11, 2017. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS
By Stephen Kalin and William Maclean | DUBAI

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman made his son his successor on Wednesday, removing his nephew as crown prince and giving the 31-year old almost unprecedented powers as the world’s leading oil exporter implements transformation reforms.

A royal decree appointed Mohammed bin Salman crown prince and deputy prime minister. He retains defense, oil and other portfolios.

It said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a counter-terrorism chief admired in Washington for putting down an al Qaeda campaign of bombings in 2003-06, was relieved of all positions.

Although Mohammed bin Salman’s promotion was expected among close circles it came as a surprise at a time the kingdom is facing heightened tensions with Qatar and Iran and is locked in a war in Yemen.

The royal decree said the decision by King Salman to promote his son and consolidate his power was endorsed by 31 out of 34 members of the Allegiance Council, made up of senior members of the ruling Al Saud family.

Always intent on dispelling speculation of internal divisions in the Al Saud ruling dynasty, Saudi television was quick to show that the change in succession was amicable and supported by the family.

Throughout the early morning it aired footage of Mohammed bin Nayef pledging allegiance to the younger Mohammed bin Salman who knelt and kissed his older cousin’s hand.

“I am content,” Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said. Prince Mohammed bin Salman replied: “We will not give up taking your guidance and advice.”

Analysts said the change ends uncertainty over succession and empowers Prince Mohammed bin Salman to move faster with his plan to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil, which includes the partial privatization of state oil company Aramco.

“The change is a huge boost to the economic reform program…Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is its architect,” said John Sfakianakis, director of the Riyadh-based Gulf Research Center.

Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, said the king’s decision was aimed at avoiding a power struggle between his son and Mohammed bin Nayef by setting the line of succession clearly.

“It’s clearly a transition that has happened smoothly and bloodlessly. Now it’s clear, it’s straightforward. That kind of clarity lowers the risk, there’s no question as to who’s going to be in charge.”

ESCALATING REGIONAL TENSIONS

“Some people were predicting that this would lead to a division in the family and strife and some kind of revolt. I don’t see that happening.”

A senior Saudi official said the decision was taken due to what he called special circumstances presented to the members of the Allegiance Council. He added that Mohammed bin Nayef supported the decision in a letter sent to the king.

The royal decree did not nominate a new deputy crown prince. The position is relatively new in Saudi Arabia where a king has traditionally chosen his own successor.

As deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman has been responsible for running Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, dictating an energy policy with global implications and spearheading plans for the kingdom to build an economic future after oil.

That the royal succession in the world’s top oil exporter is closely scrutinized only makes the rapidity of Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power, and the speed with which his better known cousins were brushed aside, more astonishing.

The announcement follows 2-1/2 years of already major changes in Saudi Arabia, which stunned allies in 2015 by launching an air war in Yemen, cutting back on lavish subsidies and proposing in 2016 the partial privatization of state oil company Aramco.

Financial analysts said Prince Mohammed’s promotion gave further assurance that key parts of radical reforms to diversify the Saudi economy beyond oil would continue.

“We do not expect to see any major changes to key areas of policy, including economic,” said Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.

Last year Mohammed bin Salman, or “MBS” as he is widely known, announced sweeping changes aimed at ending the kingdom’s reliance to oil, part of his campaign to tackle systemic challenges that the kingdom has previously failed to address.

 

POWER BEHIND THE THRONE

Until his father Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became Saudi Arabia’s seventh king in January 2015, few people outside the kingdom had ever heard of Prince Mohammed.

MBS as he is widely known is now Defense Minister, a role that in Saudi Arabia gives its incumbent command of one of the world’s biggest arms budgets and makes him ultimately responsible for Saudi Arabia’s military adventure in Yemen.

He also heads the Council for Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA), a group of cabinet ministers who meet weekly and which oversees all elements of policy that touch on the economy or social issues like education, health and housing.

Prince Mohammed chairs the supreme board of Aramco, making him the first member of the ruling family to directly oversee the state oil company, long regarded as the preserve of commoner technocrats.

But perhaps most importantly, he also holds the critical position of gatekeeper to his father, King Salman, who in Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy retains the final say in any major decision of state.

Outside Saudi Arabia, that rapid advance and the sudden changes to longstanding policies on regional affairs, energy and its economy have prompted unease, adding an unpredictable edge to a kingdom that allies long regarded as a known quantity.

Inside, they have prompted admiration among many younger Saudis who regard his ascent as evidence that their generation is taking a central place in running a country whose patriarchal traditions have for decades made power the province of the old.

Saudi Arabia’s stock market surged more than 3 percent in early trade on Wednesday after Prince Mohammed’s promotion was announced.

After 70 minutes of active trade, the stock index .TASI was 3.4 percent higher. National Commercial Bank 1180.SE, the biggest listed lender, which is expected to play a major role in funding some of the non-oil industries which Prince Mohammed aims to develop, was the top gainer and soared 10 percent.

Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main rival for regional influence, called Prince Mohammed’s appointment a “soft coup”.

Iran’s leadership was critical of comments by Prince Mohammed last month that the “battle” should be taken into Iran.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei labeled the Saudi leadership then as “idiots”.

(Reporting by Stephen Kalin, William Maclean, Rania El Gamal, Sylvia Westall, Sami Aboudi, Andrew Torchia, Reem Shamseddine, Angus McDowall; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Angus MacSwan)

Saudi Arabia Captures Iranian Boat With 3 Republican Guard Soldiers With Explosives: Iran Says They Were Fishing Boats

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN NEWS PAPER)

Iran and Saudi Arabia offer clashing accounts of offshore confrontation

Iran says Saudi navy opened fire on fishing boats as Saudi navy says it captured boat and detained three members of Revolutionary Guards

Saudi army officers walk past F-15 fighter jets at King Salman airbase in Riyadh.
Members of the Saudi armed forces walk past F-15 fighter jets at King Salman airbase. The country’s navy intercepted three boats last week. Photograph: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

The Saudi navy said it had captured three members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards from a boat seized last week as the vessel approached Saudi Arabia’s offshore Marjan oilfield, Riyadh has said.

Iran’s interior ministry denied the Saudi claim, however, saying that the Saudi navy had opened fire on two Iranian fishing boats.

Relations between the two countries are at their worst in years, as they support opposite sides in conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, and each accuses the other of destabilising regional security.

In a statement on Monday, the Saudi information ministry said: “This was one of three vessels which were intercepted by Saudi forces. It was captured with the three men on board, the other two escaped.

“The three captured members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are now being questioned by Saudi authorities,” the statement said, citing a Saudi official.

The vessel, which was seized last Friday, was carrying explosives and the those captured intended to conduct a “terrorist act” in Saudi territorial waters, the statement claimed.

An earlier report from the Saudi Press Agency said the Saudi navy had fired warning shots at the two boats that managed to escape.

But Majid Babaei, the director of Iran’s border agency, told the semi-official Youth Journalist’s Club (YJC) news agency that the Saudi claim was untrue.

“The issue is about two fishing boats and Saudis have fired at the boats, which resulted in the death of one fisherman. The people targeted were fishermen and the boats they were sailing on were fishing boats,” he said.

Iran’s Tasnim news agency said on Saturday that Saudi border guards had opened fire on an Iranian fishing boat in the Gulf on Friday, killing a fisherman. It said the boat was one of two Iranian boats fishing in the Gulf that had been pushed off course by waves.

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have steadily deteriorated. On 5 June, Riyadh and other Arab governments severed ties with Qatar, citing its support of Iran as a reason.

Days later suicide bombings and shootings in Tehran killed at least 17 people. Shia Muslim Iran repeated accusations that Saudi Arabia funds Sunni Islamist militants, including Islamic State. Riyadh has denied involvement in the attacks.

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Saudi Arabia, Bahrain Agree to Build New Causeway

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

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain Agree to Build New Causeway

Saudi

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain agreed on a plan to build a new road and rail causeway between the two countries and they hope private firms and the state can share the costs, risks and profits.

The new connection will help ease congestion on the existing link and will seek funding from the private sector, a document about the project showed.

The King Hamad Causeway is expected to cost $4 billion to $5 billion, according to sources who attended an industry consultation event in Manama.

The existing 25 km (16 mile) King Fahd causeway between the two countries has been open since 1986 and had average daily traffic of 31,000 passengers in 2016. But that is expected to double by 2030, the document distributed at the meeting showed.

Gulf Arab states including Saudi Arabia have historically financed infrastructure projects but while they still help with the cost of some, the oil price slump has forced them to slash spending and to consider bringing in private investment.

The meeting in Manama was attended by officials from the transportation ministries in the two countries and more than 150 companies that are expected to build the project using the public private partnership (PPP) model.

Besides a new four-lane road causeway running parallel to the existing one, there will be a new 70 km railway connecting a passenger terminal in Salmabad and freight facilities at Khalifa bin Salman port in Bahrain to the Saudi railway system.

Eight million passengers per year are expected to use the rail link by 2050 and some 600,000 containers and 13 million tonnes of bulk freight are expected to be transported by the railway, which could be developed under a design, build transfer, or design, build, maintain and transfer basis.

While the project’s technical details were clearly described in the document, key details of the PPP structure were still preliminary, said one of the sources.

The project is expected to be owned by the private sector through a new company with a 25-30-year PPP arrangement.

Private sector developers, co-investors, contractors and lenders should express their interest in the project by June 29, the document said. Advisers will be appointed in the first quarter of 2018 and pre-qualification requests are due to be issued in the second quarter of next year.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Qatar Has Two Choices To Resolve Gulf Dispute: Conform Or Live In Isolation

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

Two Choices to Resolve the Qatar Crisis

Those who know the history of Qatar’s disputes with its neighbors know that finding a solution is easy. I will reveal this solution at the end of the article, but first, here is a brief summary of the history of the crisis.

It began in the late 1990s after Qatar reignited the dispute with Bahrain over the islands. In 1995, the Doha coup took place and new Prince Hamad rejected the Saudi mediation and instead insisted on heading to the International Criminal Court. This ultimately fell in Bahrain’s favor that won a ruling that granted it power over most of the disputed land.

Had Qatar accepted the mediation of late King Fahd, it would have gotten more or at least as much as Bahrain.

The Qatari government then turned against Saudi Arabia and renewed its dispute over new border areas after it had resolved the first dispute through the mediation of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. That settlement saw Saudi Arabia make concessions to Qatar in 1992. The second dispute was resolved in 2001 through appeasing both sides.

Qatar however reneged on its pledges and waged media wars of incitement against Saudi Arabia. It harbored those who oppose the Kingdom and backed al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, who in his first speech called for changing the regime in Saudi Arabia by force.

Despite the numerous settlements, Doha continued on financing and supporting opposition groups that want to topple the governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

After the 2011 Arab Spring revolts, Qatar sought to expand its incitement and began to target the United Arab Emirates because it was backing those opposing Doha. It then turned its attention to Egypt in an unprecedented and blatant way, vowing to topple the regime of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

This would all have been understandable if the Qatar government itself accepted change through democracy or by force. The problem however is that it is the least tolerant Gulf state. It had sentenced a Qatari poet to 15 years in prison over a poem!

Four Gulf countries finally said enough and they all announced that they were severing ties with Qatar.

It appears that there a number of conditions that can restore the situation back to normal, but it seems that they will not go with the reconciliation approaches of 2013 and 2014. Qatar had at the time signed in Riyadh a pledge of 20 points, of which only one has been implemented.

The truth is that the four countries can live in peace without having ties with Qatar. It seems however that Qatar is the one who cannot tolerate this situation given its outcry after the June 5 statement on cutting ties.

How can this problem be solved and how will Qatar be able to come out of the crisis?

It wants to repeat its old methods of bringing in mediators and offering pledges and perhaps change its behavior. It will then continue in its attempts to topple the regimes of these four countries or incite strife against them.

It should be noted that Qatar in its last Riyadh agreement had vowed to stop the incitement machine. Indeed, this was witnessed through its al-Jazeera channel that has been adopting a calm approach in the three years that followed the agreement. Qatar had in secret however set up websites and television stations that had taken up the incitement mission.

It may have expelled a number of anti-Gulf figures from Doha, but it gave them homes in Turkey and London. It has continued to finance and support them through secret networks that it set up in those countries.

Qatar has since the eruption of the current crisis been adopting the same old approach. It sought the help of Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah, but these countries have learned their lesson. They announced that they will continue in severing ties and living in peace without Qatar. They will seek to put an end to anything that has to do with it and destroy its internal networks.

Doha is faced with two options for resolving the crisis. It can either completely concede to the demands of the four countries or live in isolation from its surrounding.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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Saudi King Salman, Russian President Discuss Counter-Terrorism in Phone Call

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

Saudi Arabia

Saudi King Salman, Russian President Discuss Counter-Terrorism in Phone Call

Saudi

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz received on Tuesday a telephone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin, reported the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The two leaders discussed joint cooperation to confront extremism and terrorism in order to achieve security and stability in the region.

They also tackled the latest developments in the region, as well as Saudi-Russian ties and ways to develop them in all fields, said SPA.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Why Terror Suspects in Europe Slip Through Security Cracks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND FROM THE WASHINGTON POST)

Why Terror Suspects in Europe Slip Through Security Cracks

London- About a year ago, police stopped a young man in the airport of Bologna, a town in northern Italy. Youssef Zaghba, an Italian citizen of Moroccan origin, had raised suspicions because he was to embark on a one-way ticket for Istanbul: They feared he was trying to reach Syria through Turkey to join a terror group.

After ISIS propaganda materials were found on his smartphone, Zaghba was arrested and briefly detained between March and April 2016. (Attempting to join a foreign ogranization is a crime in Italy, since a special law was introduced in 2015.)

Eventually authorities had to release him because his lawyer found irregularities in the arrest, but the secret services kept monitoring him and put his name in the Schengen Information System (SIS), the database where European Union member states share security information, so that other countries could be alerted that Zaghba posed a danger.

On June 3 of this year, Zaghba participated in the London Bridge attack that left eight people dead, along with the three terrorists.

Despite being in the EU’s watch list, Zaghba was let into Britain at least twice. Moreover, according to the local media, he was not considered “a subject of interest” by British security. Most recently, Zaghba traveled between two countries in January: He was briefly questioned in London’s Stansted airport. (It is unclear if the British failed to go through a check of the SIS database, or if they saw his name on the database and simply ignored the warning, as the newspaper Repubblica suggests.)

How could a terror suspect be on Italy’s watch list and not in the British one? And why didn’t the presence of Zaghba’s name in the SIS prompt UK authorities to keep an eye on him?

The London Bridge attack raises issue about the sharing of security information between European countries, at a time when terrorists have been shown to move often across the EU’s open borders.

It is not unusual after an attack to learn that the perpetrators were already known to anti-terror agencies. Some analysts argue that this doesn’t always imply a security failure, because there are too many people on watch-lists to monitor effectively all of them: There are some 23,000 “subjects of interests” for anti-terror agencies in the UK and 15,000 in France.

“Since it takes at least four agents to monitor a single suspect, it becomes apparent that many European countries lack the resources to monitor all of them and that there’s an overload of security information,” said Arturo Varvelli, the head of the Terrorism Program at ISPI, a think tank in Milan.

However, Zaghba’s case is different — and the way he slipped by, despite all the warnings, might not be just the result of an overburdened security system but also symptomatic of a different problem: European countries still haven’t fully learned how to read (and perhaps trust) each other’s red flags.

“It’s the second time, in less than a year, that a terrorist already known to Italian authorities has carried an attack in another European country,” notes Francesco Strazzari, a security expert at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, referring to last winter’s attack in Berlin. The Christmas Market attack was carried by a Tunisian man who immigrated to Italy, and whom Italian authorities had tried to deport because they were aware of his radical tendencies.

In an interview, Strazzari recalled that the November 2015 attacks in France were also carried out by terrorists that had ties to a different country, Belgium, and who seemed to move freely between the two.

Critics of the EU have blamed its open borders for security failures, while its supporters point out that assets such as the SIS database are actually supposed to improve the security of each country. But Strazzari says that the main problem is that sometimes information gets “lost in translation.”

The EU, he says, doesn’t really have a pan-European security apparatus, but only a system that aims at coordinating the security services of each of its member states.

Varvelli, the ISPI researcher, argues that lack of trust might also pose a problem. Red flags about individuals are not clear cut, he explains: “Security officials need to interpret them, in order to grasp the level of danger, and knowing where that information comes from plays an important part in the process.”

But while they are bound to share information, the secret services of different countries aren’t keen on sharing with each other how they gathered that information — which ends up making the information less useful.

Varvelli said that ISIS is “well aware” of this weakness and are exploiting it: “Terrorists have realized that if they are closely monitored in the country they are based in, a good strategy is to move to a different country.”

The Washington Post

Qatar insists it’s ‘business as usual’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

Qatar insists it’s ‘business as usual’

QATAR tried to avoid an escalation of its feud with Gulf neighbors yesterday by telling their citizens they are welcome to stay, while boasting of “business as usual” for vital gas exports.

Iran also announced it had sent tons of vegetables to Qatar, which has seen food imports threatened.

Nearly a week after Saudi Arabia and several of its allies severed ties with Qatar in an unprecedented Gulf diplomatic crisis, there were no signs of the bitter dispute being resolved.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and others accused Qatar of supporting extremist groups, an assertion since backed by US President Donald Trump.

Qatar strongly rejects the allegations and has said it is open to talks on ending the dispute, which also saw the three Gulf states order all Qatari citizens out of their countries within 14 days.

The crisis has raised deep concerns of instability in the region, and yesterday Kuwait’s foreign minister said his country would continue efforts to mediate a solution to the crisis.

Qatar said late on Saturday that it would not retaliate with such measures of its own. A statement carried on Qatari state media said Doha would “not take any measures against residents of Qatar who hold the nationalities of countries that severed diplomatic ties … on the back of hostile and tendentious campaigns against the country.”

The decision will come as a relief to the more than 11,000 people from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain living in Qatar.

Concerns have been raised about the impact of these measures on people who live in all the countries affected.

“For potentially thousands of people across the Gulf, the effect of the steps imposed in the wake of this political dispute is suffering, heartbreak and fear,” Amnesty International has said.

Despite the unprecedented sanctions, Qatar says that its crucial exports of liquefied gas have not been interrupted.

“Qatar Petroleum … is conducting business as usual throughout all its upstream, midstream and downstream businesses and operations, and in all activities across all of QP’s world-class facilities,” a statement read.

Gas has helped transform the tiny emirate into one of the richest countries in the world, fueling its rise into a major regional player and helping fund huge infrastructure projects such as the 2022 football World Cup, which will be hosted by Qatar.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said yesterday that he was confident the crisis posed no threat to the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar’s rivals have also accused Doha of being too close to the Sunni Arab Gulf states’ arch-rival — Shiite-dominated Iran — in claims that Doha has also denied.

Iranian officials said tons of vegetables had been sent from Iran to Qatar since the measures were taken against it.

Iran Air spokesman Shahrokh Noushabadi said five planes carrying around 90 tons of vegetables each had been sent to Qatar in recent days.

“We will continue deliveries as long as there is demand,” Noushabadi added, without saying if the deliveries were commercial exports or aid.

Three ships loaded with 350 tons of fruit and vegetables were also set to leave an Iranian port for Qatar, the Tasnim news agency quoted a local official as saying.

On Saturday, Moscow joined other nations in calling for a dialogue, after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Saudi Arabia and its allies to ease their “blockade” of Qatar.

Washington has sent mixed signals on the crisis, despite Qatar’s position as a key ally and host to the largest US airbase in the region.

While Tillerson and others have called for an easing of tensions, Trump said on Friday that Qatar had “historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”

Kuwait, which has not joined its neighbors against Qatar, has been leading mediation efforts and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled Al-Sabah said yesterday that would continue.

“Kuwait stresses the need for the dispute to be resolved within the Gulf framework,” Sheikh Sabah said in a statement quoted by the KUNA news agency.

Qatar has expressed readiness “to understand the concerns of its brothers and respond to the efforts of the emir (of Kuwait) to strengthen peace and security,” the foreign minister said.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE have announced hotlines to help families with Qatari members, their official news agencies reported, after their cutting of diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar led to travel disruption.

Until the dispute, Gulf societies enjoyed close travel ties and many families are intermarried.

But authorities in the UAE and Bahrain have made praise for Qatar’s government a criminal offense, and some Gulf citizens have worried that the strong rhetoric on Qatar’s foreign policy would divide their peoples.

But the UAE said it drew a distinction between Qatar’s government and its people.

Afghan Soldier Kills 3 US Servicemen in Taliban Attack

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

Afghan Soldier Kills 3 US Servicemen in Taliban Attack

Achin

Kabul, Kandahar – The Taliban claimed on Saturday an insider attack by an Afghan commando that left three American Troops dead US and Afghan officials said.

One US soldier was wounded in the incident.

Nangarhar provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP the Afghan commando had opened fire on US troops during an operation in the volatile Achin district.

“The (Afghan) soldier was also killed in the return fire,” he said.

The Pentagon said the families of the three dead soldiers were being informed.

“One US soldier was wounded and has been evacuated for medical treatment,” a spokesman added. “This incident is under investigation.”

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the deaths, saying the attack was carried out by an infiltrator.

This is a latest in a line of so-called “green-on-blue” attacks where Afghan soldiers have turned their weapons on international forces they are working with.

It also comes as the Taliban ramp up their campaign against the Western-backed government in Afghanistan, and as US President Donald Trump mulls sending more troops into the lengthy conflict.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed on Twitter that four US soldiers were killed in the attack. The insurgents are known to exaggerate battlefield claims.

Achin is also contested by militants of the ISIS group.

In April, the US military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat on a complex of caves in Achin used by ISIS fighters.

The deployment of the so-called Mother Of All Bombs killed dozens of extremists, but fighting in the area has continued.

American troops have partnered with Afghan soldiers in raids against ISIS Khorasan, claiming the local offshoot of the militant group based in Iraq and Syria is steadily losing ground in Afghanistan.

Green-on-blue attacks have been a major problem during NATO’s long years fighting alongside Afghan forces.

Western officials say most insider attacks stem from personal grudges and cultural misunderstandings rather than insurgent plots.

Saturday’s attack came just hours after an errant US air strike killed and wounded at least six Afghan policemen in southern Helmand province, in the latest “friendly fire” incident.

Such strikes have bred deep mistrust between local and foreign forces.

Three US troops were wounded in March when an Afghan soldier opened fire in Helmand, in the first known insider attack on international forces this year.

Similar incidents have also plagued Afghan troops, depleting morale and causing mistrust within security ranks.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Houthis Ruin Ramadan Spirituality among Yemenis

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

Houthis Ruin Ramadan Spirituality among Yemenis

Yemen

Riyadh – Houthi militias have replaced a number of clergy and orators in several mosques with others who are affiliated with them and banned the Taraweeh prayers in most of Sanaa mosques which ruined Ramadan’s spirituality for Yemenis.

Thousands of those in Yemen suffering under Houthi and Saleh’s militias were forced to leave towns to villages, rural areas and abroad.

Minister of Endowment and Guidance, Ahmed Attiyah has warned the coup militias of the consequences of continuing to impose ideas on the Yemeni society that are not accepted by its people. He called mosques to avoid being involved in sectarian and partisan conflicts.

Attiyah stressed that militias changed the message of the mosques and linked them with Iranian references to impose them on Yemenis.

Militias prevented worshipers from performing Taraweeh prayers in mosques, according to the minister, and later assaulted the worshipers while they removed them from mosque by force of arms.

The militias also kidnapped several worshipers in a clear violation of the sanctity of mosques and a disruption of the social fabrics and coexistence of Yemenis.

A citizen from Sanaa, Abdallah Abdul Bari stated that Houthis have prevented citizens from performing Taraweeh prayer, which ruined the spirituality of Ramadan and the rituals Yemenis were used to do every year during the Holy month.

“I am used to going out with my friends to visit many places in Old Sanaa and see some of my relatives. This year however, each one has their own problems and many of our coworkers and friends are in prisons. Ramadan this year is totally different,” he said.

Abdul Bari also stated that usually, citizens would buy their Ramadan essentials before the month begins, but they weren’t able to do so this year because Yemeni employees didn’t receive their salaries.

Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed had presented an initiative to find practical ways to ensure the resumption of salaries to all Yemeni civil servants nationwide. But his attempts were faced with rejection from Houthi and Saleh militias.

According to the U.N. statement, Ould Cheikh Ahmed discussed ways to ensure the resumption of salaries to Yemeni civil servants who complain that salaries have not been paid on time since Hadi ordered, last year, the move of the central bank from Sanaa to the southern port city of Aden.

The initiative stated that Houthi and Saleh militias will send state revenues from Sanaa and other areas under their control like Hodeidah port, taxes and oil revenues to an independent fund that is impartial and ensures public servants salaries are paid. The government will also transfer its revenues from Aden and other areas to the fund.

Observers believe that the initiative aims to organize the withdrawal of militias from Hodeidah governorate and the formation of the committee of financial and economic experts to help the government reach the suitable and swift mechanism to pay the salaries.

Yemeni sources reported that the suggestion resulted from great efforts of experts during their meeting with the UN delegation, ambassadors of permanent members of the UN, and EU officials. It states that the port should be handled by officials who are currently managing the port under the supervision of UN.

Port incomes are deposited in the Central Bank, Hodeidah branch.

At the end of his visit, the Special Envoy expressed his deep concern regarding the attack on his convoy while traveling from the airport to the UN compound on May 22.

The Special Envoy reminded the parties that it is the responsibility of the local authorities to ensure the safety of all U.N. personnel in the country and urged them to investigate the incident, hold those responsible to account, and prevent any such incidents in the future.

Ould Chiekh indicated that the incident increased his determination to continue with his efforts to find a negotiated political settlement that serves the best interests of the Yemeni people.

Sources confirmed that Houthis and Saleh militias are continuously trying to prolong war and destruction in the country while getting rich on the expense of Yemenis.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdul Malik al-Mekhlafi reiterated that insurgents must redirect the incomes and revenues of official institutions to the Central Bank in Aden and other governorates to salary payments. He pointed out that the insurgents use institutions’ incomes to finance their war.

In related news, dozens of Yemeni civil servants are protesting daily calling for the payment of the salaries.

Demonstrators protested before the Minister of Interior under militias’ control calling for the departure of the insurgents and release of wages.

Protests announced they’d continue until their rightful requests have been met.

Yemeni sources reported that the demonstrators are being attacked by Houthi supporters.

There are about 1.2 million civil servant in Yemen, with one million in Sanaa and other areas under Houthi control.

They have no received wages for eight consecutive months. Whereas employees in the legitimacy areas are no more than 200 thousand and have been receiving their salaries on regular basis.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news report

(THIS COURTESY OF CNN)

US investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news report that contributed to a crisis among the US’ closest Gulf allies, according to US officials briefed on the investigation.

The FBI recently sent a team of investigators to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident, Qatari and US government officials say.
Intelligence gathered by the US security agencies indicates that Russian hackers were behind the intrusion first reported by the Qatari government two weeks ago, US officials say. Qatar hosts one of the largest US military bases in the region.
The alleged involvement of Russian hackers intensifies concerns by US intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Russia continues to try some of the same cyber-hacking measures on US allies that intelligence agencies believe it used to meddle in the 2016 elections.
US officials say the Russian goal appears to be to cause rifts among the US and its allies. In recent months, suspected Russian cyber activities, including the use of fake news stories, have turned up amid elections in France, Germany and other countries.
It’s not yet clear whether the US has tracked the hackers in the Qatar incident to Russian criminal organizations or to the Russian security services blamed for the US election hacks. One official noted that based on past intelligence, “not much happens in that country without the blessing of the government.”
The FBI and CIA declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Qatari embassy in Washington said the investigation is ongoing and its results would be released publicly soon.
The Qatari government has said a May 23 news report on its Qatar News Agency attributed false remarks to the nation’s ruler that appeared friendly to Iran and Israel and questioned whether President Donald Trump would last in office.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN the FBI has confirmed the hack and the planting of fake news.
“Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis being based on misinformation,” the foreign minister told CNN’s Becky Anderson. “Because it was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency which was hacked and proved by the FBI.”
Sheikh Saif Bin Ahmed Al-Thani, director of the Qatari Government Communications Office, confirmed that Qatar’s Ministry of Interior is working with the FBI and the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency on the ongoing hacking investigation of the Qatar News Agency.
“The Ministry of Interior will reveal the findings of the investigation when completed,” he told CNN.
Partly in reaction to the false news report, Qatar’s neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have cut off economic and political ties, causing a broader crisis.
The report came at a time of escalating tension over accusations Qatar was financing terrorism.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted criticism of Qatar that mirrors that of the Saudis and others in the region who have long objected to Qatar’s foreign policy. He did not address the false news report.
“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” Trump said in a series of tweets. “They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
In his tweet, Trump voiced support for the regional blockade of Qatar and cited Qatar’s funding of terrorist groups. The Qataris have rejected the terror-funding accusations.
Hours after Trump’s tweets, the US State Department said Qatar had made progress on stemming the funding of terrorists but that there was more work to be done.
US and European authorities have complained for years about funding for extremists from Saudi Arabia and other nations in the Gulf region. Fifteen of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
Last year during a visit to Saudi Arabia, Obama administration officials raised the issue of Saudi funding to build mosques in Europe and Africa that are helping to spread an ultra-conservative strain of Islam.
US intelligence has long been concerned with what they say is the Russian government’s ability to plant fake news in otherwise credible streams, according to US officials.
That concern has surfaced in recent months in congressional briefings by former FBI Director James Comey.
Comey told lawmakers that one reason he decided to bypass his Justice Department bosses in announcing no charges in the probe of Hillary Clinton’s private email server was the concern about an apparent fake piece of Russian intelligence. The intelligence suggested the Russians had an email that indicated former Attorney General Loretta Lynch had assured Democrats she wouldn’t let the Clinton probe lead to charges.
The FBI came to believe the email was fake, but still feared the Russians could release it to undermine the Justice Department’s role in the probe.