Islamist Mob Forces Christians in Pakistan to Flee Homes

Pakistan mapA young Christian boy travelling on a motorbike on the main street in a village close to Faisalabad accidently struck a Muslim man standing near the road last week. Uninjured, the man got up and started beating the boy who managed to escape.

The man then began shouting, calling all his relatives and friends, claiming that a Christian hit him intentionally with his motorbike.

In rage, the mob gathered rods and sticks and ran towards the Christian dwellings in the village. Many Christians fled the town, but some – including women — were captured and brutally beaten by the mob. Their injuries were horrific.

As the mob attacked and the Christians begged for their lives, the Muslims shouted that they would kill every one of them if the entire community didn’t pick up and leave the area.

Pakistani Christians mourn victims of an Islamist attack
Pakistani Christians mourn victims of an Islamist attack

While the attack was underway, one member of the Christian community was able to contact Robin Daniel, a Christian leader and chairman of the National Minority Alliance of Pakistan based in Faisalabad, who rushed to the scene with a team of helpers. He took all injured to a nearby hospital, where they were given medical treatment.

Armed with the necessary documentation of the injuries from the hospital, Daniel went to a local police station and filed a complaint against the Muslim extremists who instigated and participated in the attack.

The police, however, refused to register the complaint. Christians say this is common practice whenever a member of the Christian community registers a complaint against a Muslim in Pakistan.

As is typical, they say, local Muslims had already pressured the police not to take any action. In addition, Muslim political leaders advised Christians to move from the area as local Muslims threatened the Christians they would target them again.

Faisalabad is the third most populous city of the Punjab province. Christian missionaries established several villages in the vicinity of the city but now, because of persecution, thousands of Christians who once made the area their home have left.

Those that remain, live in the village next to Faisalabad, where this incident occurred. They mainly eke out a living through manual labor.

Since the beginning of 2016, a severe wave of persecution was launched against minorities in Pakistan, with the government taking no apparent interest in safeguarding their rights.

Southeast Asia Could Be a Haven For Displaced Islamic State Fighters

A Muslim woman releases a dove as a symbol of peace during a rally against the Islamic State in Jakarta, IndonesiaThe Islamic State hasn’t had much success in recruiting militants among the vast Muslim populations in Southeast Asia. But what happens when the caliphate’s capitals in Syria and Iraq are destroyed, and hundreds of foreign fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines try to go home?

Experts here in Australia see the counterterrorism challenge as a regional problem, rather than simply an affliction of the Middle East and North Africa. They fear that a potentially dangerous new phase may lie ahead, as the jihadists look for new sanctuaries.

Governments in Southeast Asia have been working quietly with the United States, some for more than a decade, to monitor and try to disrupt radical Islamist groups, and they’ve had considerable success. The United States helped train an Indonesian police unit known as Detachment 88, which has largely destroyed Jemaah Islamiah, the al-Qaeda affiliate responsible for the 2002 Bali bombing that killed more than 200 people.

But the prisons, slums and youth gangs of Southeast Asia provide an ecosystem where terrorism could fester anew, experts say. Islamic State operatives in Syria have tried to reach out to these potential jihadists, as in the bombing in January in Jakarta that killed eight people, for which the Islamic State claimed credit.

Most Southeast Asian Muslims reject such violence, but to plot mass-casualty attacks, it takes only a tiny fringe. “We have more activity among jihadi groups than at any time in the last 10 years,” said Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, in a speech in April in Australia.

The would-be catalysts for violence are the jihadists who traveled from Southeast Asia to Syria and Iraq. Experts estimate that this foreign-fighter network includes as many as 500 to 600 Indonesians, 110 Australians, about 100 Malaysians and a small number of Filipinos. This Southeast Asian contingent is far larger than the number who traveled to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda before Sept. 11, 2001. And in Iraq and Syria, the volunteers have fought and killed.

“We haven’t yet seen the worst” in Southeast Asia, said Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute, a foreign policy think tank in Sydney that arranged my visit to Australia.

Islamic State fighters from Southeast Asia proposed a Philippines caliphate in a video that was released in June. This region could be a haven for jihadists; a Muslim revolt against the Catholic-dominated government has been simmering there for a century.

“Kill the disbelievers where you find them and do not have mercy on them,” Abu Abdul Rahman al-Filipini urged in the video, which was recorded in Raqqa and translated by SITE Intelligence Group .

In Malaysia, the army has been a worrying source of recruits. The country’s defense minister told parliament last year that at least 70 former members of the military volunteered for the Islamic State. Malaysian authorities long wary of Western help have been working closely with the United States and Australia since last year to contain such jihadist activities.

In Indonesia, police have campaigned aggressively against jihadists, killing or imprisoning many leaders. But as in Iraq and Syria, the prisons have been a breeding ground for extremism. Based on her research in Jakarta, Jones argued in a recent study: “The prison system — where plots are hatched, travel arranged and [Islamic State] supporters recruited — needs urgent attention.” Experts worry that as many as 200 former jihadists are due to be released from Indonesian prisons soon.

For nearly 15 years, the United States has been quietly funding counterterrorism efforts in Southeast Asia. A study published last year by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point noted that the United States had provided $441 million in security assistance to the Philippines, mostly for its military, and $262 million to Indonesia, mostly for its police. Police efforts appear to be a better bet: Terrorist attacks increased in the Philippines by 13-fold between 2002 and 2013; attacks declined 26 percent over that period in Indonesia.

The Islamic State may lose its caliphate in Syria and Iraq. But there could be a boomerang effect — a bigger jihadist threat in countries to which the fleeing fighters return.

UN Inquiry Finds That Both ISIS and Assad Used Chemical Weapons Against Civilians

United Nations logoA UN special expert committee concluded for the first time that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons during the civil war in the country at least twice. In addition, the committee stated that ISIS used mustard gas in Aleppo in the past year. This is the first time that it has been officially determined with certainty that such weapons were used in the past 5 years in Syria.

The committee determined that all 3 incidents in which chemical weapons were used occurred during 2014 and 2015. The committee recommended that several other incidents be investigated as the committee members suspect that chemical weapons were also used against civilians during them. However, the committee was not able to determine with certainty that chemical weapons were used in 6 other incidents that it investigated.

The findings of the report indicate that the Syrian Air Force used a chemical weapon when it bombed villages in the northeastern part of the country. The first incident occurred in April 2014 when the Air Force bombed Talmenes and the second occurred in March 2015 when Sarmin was attacked by al-Assad’s forces. In both the incidents, aircraft dropped a device that released toxic substances once it landed in the villages. The committee members also determined with certainty that in August 2015, ISIS used mustard gas against civilians in Aleppo.

Borders Are The Worst invention Ever!’ EU Chief Jean-Claude Juncker Widens Rift With European Leaders As He Calls For Open Borders

EU chief Jean-Claude JunckerUnder-fire EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker risked widening divisions with European leaders today by saying borders were the ‘worst invention ever’.

He called for all borders across Europe to be opened, despite the chaos caused over the last year from the flood in refugees fleeing Syria and the wave of terror attacks hitting various continent’s cities.

The remarkable comments will further undermine Mr Juncker’s precarious position as European Commission President.

He has faced repeated calls to quit after his failure to keep Britain in the EU and the refugee and Greek debt crises.

Today he accepted the Commission ‘deserves criticism’ but insisted national government’s ‘have to share the blame’.

Speaking at the Alpbach Media Academy this morning, Mr Juncker said: ‘Borders are the worst invention ever made by politicians.’

The contentious remarks from the Brussels chief are the polar opposite of moves by elected leaders of EU member states who have tighten their borders over recent months after more than a million entered the bloc from Syria in less than a year.

Mr Juncker also said a stronger EU was the best way of beating the rising trend of nationalism cross Europe.

In another extraordinary remark, he appeared to warn of war on the continent if the EU disintegrates as he echoed the warning from the former French president Francois Mitterrand, who said nationalism added to nationalism would end in war.

‘This is still true so we have to fight against nationalism,’ Mr Juncker said.

Border Patrol Siezes $3 Million in Drug Money from Traffickers in California!

Logo_of_the_United_States_Border_Patrol.svgCash 1U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested two men on Tuesday afternoon for smuggling more than $3 million dollars that was being transported in separate vehicles traveling in North County. 

At about 1:45 p.m. an agent conducted a vehicle stop on a Kia Forte on W Country Club Ln. after following the vehicle on Interstate 15.  The agent suspected that the driver of the Kia Forte was driving in tandem with a Volkswagen Passat, which sped off as the vehicle stop was in progress.

At the scene of the vehicle stop, a Border Patrol K-9 alerted agents to conduct a search of the vehicle, resulting in the discovery of eight vacuum-sealed bundles containing $33,880 that was stashed in the center console.  A 53-year-old male U.S. citizen was arrested upon the discovery.

Cash in TrunkAdditional agents were able to locate the Volkswagen Passat as it was abandoned at a cul-de-sac located in a residential area within close proximity of the vehicle stop.  Soon after, the agents found the vehicle’s driver, a 41-year-old male Mexican national, hiding in some brush nearby and arrested him for suspicion of currency smuggling.  Agents searched the vehicle and seized $3,018,000 that was found inside eight boxes located in the trunk. 

“This amount of money represents the largest currency seizure ever in San Diego Sector,” said Chief Patrol Agent Richard A. Barlow.  “The hard work and perseverance demonstrated by the involved agents was essential for this outcome.”

The two suspects were turned over to Homeland Security Investigations and are facing federal charges for currency smuggling. 

Turkey and China, Join Syrian Civil War

Smoke billows after Turkish airstrikes on the Syrian Turkish border village of Jarabulus during fighting against the Islamic State
Smoke billows after Turkish airstrikes on the Syrian Turkish border village of Jarabulus during fighting against the Islamic State

Turkey upped the stakes of the already ruinous Syrian conflict after it launched a direct offensive across its southern border, targeted ostensibly at Islamic State positions in the northern Syrian town of Jarabulus. With the support of U.S. forces, Turkish tanks motored into Syrian territory in the early hours of Wednesday, helping Syrian rebels to swiftly recapture an important border town but also adding another layer of complexity to Syria’s deeply complicated war.

A Turkish tank on its way to Jarabulus in Syria
A Turkish tank on its way to Jarabulus in Syria

The attack led by Turkey which sent troops, tanks and war planes into Syria for the first time in 5 and a half years. The operation also included American advisers who planned it via bases in Turkey. At the same time, they provided the Turks with surveillance and intelligence as well as aerial backing if needed. Ankara labeled the operation Euphrates Shield, a reference to the river that threads through Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

The rebels encountered almost no resistance from Islamic State fighters, who fled ahead of the advancing force, according to rebel commanders in the area.

“There wasn’t much resistance at all from ISIS forces and they retreated even faster after Turkish troops marched across the border,” said Ahmed al-Gader, a rebel fighter speaking from Jarabulus. “We have taken over the main buildings of the town, and things are very quiet now.”

The fact that Coalition Forces took control of Jarabulus is expected to weaken ISIS’s grip along the Turkish-Syrian border. The city was utilized by ISIS to smuggle supplies and members to the murderous terror group. As a result, the operation is expected to loosen their grip on Syria.

The date chosen for the operation, August 24, is of historical significance, because it marks exactly 500 years to the day since Ottoman Sultan Selim I won the decisive Battle of Marj Dabiq, leading to the Ottoman conquest of Syria and much of the rest of the Middle East.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously shown his neo-Ottoman ambitions with comments such as, “We were born and raised on the land that is the legacy of the Ottoman Empire. They are our ancestors. It is out of the question that we might deny that presence. Of course, the empire had some beautiful parts and some not so beautiful parts. It’s a very natural right for us to use what was beautiful about the Ottoman Empire today.”

This particular campaign may simply be an effort to cut off Kurdish forces from gaining too much territory thus weakening Kurdish elements in southern Turkey. Erdogan has been engaged in an attempt to crush all dissent among the Kurdish population there, where there is a strong movement for greater regional autonomy.

Turkish forces in Syria
Turkish forces in Syria

Turkish officials also made clear that the operation wasn’t simply about targeting the militant group. Ankara has long worried about the advances of Syrian Kurdish militias in northern Syria. The most prominent faction are the People’s Protection Units, or the YPG — key fighters in the ground war against the Islamic State and recipients of American aid, but a group that Turkey sees indelibly linked to outlawed Kurdish insurgents operating within its borders.

When a coalition of rebel units known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes the YPG, captured the northern Syrian town of Manbij this month from the Islamic State, the victory led to scenes of joy among its residents, who had suffered under months of extremist rule. But Turkey wasn’t so thrilled. It considers the YPG crossing over onto the western bank of the Euphrates, where Manbij sits, a “red line.”

On Monday, Turkish forces shelled YPG positions in Manbij. And as the advance toward Jarabalus pressed ahead, Turkey’s foreign minister issued a warning on Twitter to Syrian Kurds there.

Ibrahim Kalin, a senior spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, signaled Turkey’s long-standing argument that the fight against the Islamic State is the same as Ankara’s struggle with Kurdish terrorism.

“The purpose of the Jarabulus operation is to clean up all the terrorist elements including ISIS and YPG,” Kalin tweeted. “Turkey’s determination is whole.”

What happens next in Manbij is as important as what happens after the Turkish-led recapture of Jarabulus. As Syria analyst Hassan Hassan wrote earlier this week, the largely Arab city is a vital testing ground for future reconciliation and unity in war-ravaged Syria.

“Manbij was a key stronghold for ISIS, and a city that can serve as a refuge for the hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing regime violence in Aleppo and ISIS oppression in eastern Syria,” Hassan wrote. “If Manbij is turned into a bastion of good governance, it will be no small success story. Due to its significance, the city’s stability and success will resonate far and wide.”

For the time being, though, it remains yet another hot spot.

Chinese flagsMeanwhile China has also entered the fray on the side of the Syrian regime. China sent military advisors to Syria to support the regime’s army and trainers to teach Syrian soldiers how to use Chinese weapons.

China has also opened discussions with Russia and Iran about humanitarian aid and as to whether or not China will regularly deploy military advisers to Syria.

China’s interest in Syria is twofold. First, it wishes to protect itself from terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists in China, where there have been jihadist strikes in the Uighyur province in the West of the country in the past.

Second, China needs regional stability in order to safeguard its titanic “One Belt, One Road” project, which seeks to re-open the ancient silk road, running trade overland from Europe to Asia.

China is investing billions in in modern infrastructure to make global trade along that highway possible and the presence of jihadists and other unstable armed militia groups near the route jeopardize that investment.

China does not seem to mind whether Turkey is Islamist or not, what it cares about is stability and security.

The intervention of both countries marks a serious escalation in the Syrian Civil War.

Colombia Government and FARC Rebels Announce Peace Deal

Colombia mapAfter 52 years of fighting and nearly four years of grinding negotiations, the Colombian government and the country’s FARC rebel group declared Wednesday that they had reached an agreement to end the longest-running armed conflict in the Americas.

“The war is over,” said Humberto de la Calle, the government’s lead negotiator, after signing the accord with his guerrilla counterparts.

The two sides made the announcement in Cuba, where the negotiations began in 2012 and where Fidel Castro launched a Communist revolution that once inspired guerrilla insurgencies across the hemisphere. Colombia, a nation of 50 million that is among the closest U.S. allies in Latin America, is the one place where the war has yet to end.

“We have finished fighting with weapons, and will now do battle with ideas,” said FARC chief negotiator Ivan Marquez, a former congressman who took up arms after many other leftist politicians were assassinated by right-wing groups in the 1980s.

The two sides said ending their country’s sordid history of political violence was the accord’s overarching goal.

More than 220,000 Colombians have been killed in fighting over the past half-century, and nearly 7 million have been driven from their homes. But one major obstacle remains for the peace deal to stick.

Colombian voters must ratify the accord at the ballot box in a vote, which Santos said would take place on Oct. 2. That plebiscite is shaping up as a showdown between Santos and his biggest political rival.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos

Santos, who has staked his legacy on the peace accord, will be campaigning for Colombians to approve it. His nemesis, former president Álvaro Uribe, is leading the drive to sink the deal. He and other critics say it is too favorable to FARC leaders, whose guerrilla war tactics included kidnapping, drug trafficking and murder. Opinion polls have shown mixed results on whether Colombians will approve the peace deal.

One element of the accord made public for the first time Wednesday that is likely to stir controversy governs the FARC’s return to representative politics. Under the agreement, the rebels will be given a limited number of seats in Colombia’s congress and senate for an initial period of time.

The FARC representatives will be allowed to speak in the chambers on legislation, but not vote. Rebel commanders would eventually be able to run for political office as full representatives if they are cleared of war crimes and other criminal charges.

If approved at the ballot box, the peace agreement would become law, and the FARC would begin demobilizing its 7,000 fighters at designated camps and “protected zones” with monitors from the United Nations. The rebels — whose full name is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — would have 180 days to fully disarm under the terms of the agreement.

“This is the final chapter of the Cold War in the hemisphere,” said Bernard Aronson, the U.S. envoy to the peace talks, in an interview before the announcement.

Aronson said he expected the Colombian government to publish a final text of the treaty within days. FARC commanders are planning to return to their remote camps in the mountains and jungles of Colombia, where they will hold a FARC “congress” to build support for the deal among rank-and-file soldiers and prepare for disarmament and demobilization.

Wednesday’s announcement follows days of marathon negotiations between the government team and the guerrilla commanders. A final sticking point has been the timing of a blanket amnesty that will be offered to lower-ranking guerrillas who face only charges of “rebellion,” in contrast with more senior FARC members accused of committing more serious crimes. Under the terms of the accord, those FARC members will be able to avoid prison if they fully disclose their role in the war and make reparations as part of a truth-and-reconciliation process.

One point of concern for the FARC commanders has been when their fighters would leave their mountain redoubts and move into U.N. camps. They have been reluctant to make that move before the plebiscite is completed, fearing that if it fails, the rebels would be stuck in the camps and partially disarmed, even as fighting could resume. Neither side said Wednesday when the guerrillas would begin their demobilization.

Santos did not travel to Havana for Wednesday’s ceremony, which did not occur with the same fanfare as a cease-fire announcement in June attended by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and several heads of state.

Santos has acknowledged that peace with the FARC will end Colombia’s longest war — but not all its armed conflicts.

His government has struggled so far to make progress in talks with a smaller guerrilla group known as the National Liberation Army, or ELN, which will be looking to boost its estimated force of 1,500 fighters with disaffected FARC soldiers who reject a transition to peaceful civilian life. The government insists it will not negotiate while the ELN continues to kidnap civilians and members of the Colombian security forces.