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Published: 06.28.14, 10:52 / Ynetnews
Act will prevent the
terrorist group from
WASHINGTON - The US House Foreign Affairs Committee is completing legislation that would put intensified financial pressure on Hezbollah. The Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2014 will prevent the Lebanon-based Shia terrorist group from receiving financing through international institutions. The bill, introduced by US representatives Mark Meadows and Brad Schneider will force international institutions to choose between conducting business with Hezbollah or the United States. Hezbollah is already defined as a terrorist organization by US law, and American institutions are not permitted to engage in business with the organization. However, the new legislation would prohibit international institutions from entering into financial dealings with the organization, including in Lebanon itself.
According to the law, the institutions that will continue doing business with the organization will be blacklisted and will have heavy sanctions imposed on them. Four years ago, a similar law was passed that formed the basis for the global financial sanctions that caused severe damage to Iran's economy and led to a sharp devaluation of the local currency. The new version of the bill that targets Hezbollah was presented for the first time several months ago and is now in the final stages for approval. The legislation introduced by US lawmakers determines that Hezbollah poses a direct threat to the security of the United States and Israel, taking into consideration the fact that the organization killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization, apart from al-Qaeda. In addition, it was noted that the organization dominates Lebanon's government, fought on behalf of the Assad regime in Syrian and is in possession of more than 100,000 rockets. The American move may also influence a similar step on the part of the European Union, which already classifies the military wing of Hamas as a terrorist organization. The United States controls a major part of the global financial market and such legislation will significantly damage Hezbollah's ability to operate worldwide. Today, the organization holds money in banks in Europe and Latin America. The Committee Chairman Ed Royce said, “The threat posed by Hezbollah’s global operations has exploded. Underpinning that development is a financing and logistical network. In 2011, we saw the tip of the iceberg when a massive Hezbollah drug and money laundering operation was uncovered. "To deter dealings with Hezbollah, the bill targets those financial institutions that knowingly do business with what has been called the “A-team” of terrorists
ISIS fears in Lebanon on the rise
Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Fears continue to spread in Lebanon about the presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after the Sunni militant group claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on a central Beirut hotel, the third such attack in two weeks. The militant group has expanded its operations in both Syria and Iraq, giving rise to fears that it could also seek to start an insurgency against the Lebanese government at a time when the country still has no president. In a statement published on Friday, ISIS announced that a Saudi suicide bomber had attacked the Duroy Hotel in central Beirut. Three police officers were wounded in the attack. “Two lions of ISIS, who infiltrated the city of Beirut at the Duroy Hotel, engaged a group from the General Security service loyal to the Party of Satan,” the statement said, referring to Shi’ite militia Hezbollah. The statement said that ISIS would continue its attacks on Hezbollah, adding “that this is the first rain, and we tell you that there are hundreds of people seeking suicide who love the blood of rejectionists,” a derogatory term used by radical Sunnis to describe Shi’ites. The Iran-backed Shi’ite militia has been heavily criticized for its involvement in the Syrian crisis and backing for the Bashar Al-Assad regime, amid fears that Sunni Islamists could seek to target Hezbollah at home for its role in Syria. The Syrian crisis has divided the Lebanese people, with Shi’ites and Maronite Christians mostly supporting Assad and Sunnis sympathizing with the rebels.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, a senior member of the Islamist Hizb Al-Tahrir (Liberation Party), Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim, acknowledged that many Lebanese Sunnis “sympathize” with ISIS. He blamed the radicalization of Lebanese Sunni youth on “the Lebanese government and its wrongful practices, most importantly the random arrests it carried out in Tripoli.”
Lebanon’s second city has become increasingly divided along sectarian lines since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, with the majority Sunni community backing rebels across the border, to the anger of the Alawite and Shi’ite minorities. “I do not deny that some of the youth are reacting [to Hezbollah] in a wrong manner, but the talk in the street of Lebanon’s authorities being subjugated to Hezbollah strengthens [public] support for extremist organizations,” Ibrahim added.
The fears of Sunni radicalization come as Islamists residing in the Ain Al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon raised a banner on Saturday praising ISIS, according to local media.
“O God, grant victory to our brothers, the mujaheddin in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Lebanon,” the banner read. Retaliatory attacks by Sunni Islamist groups on Hezbollah-dominated areas have increased greatly since 2012, including an attack on the headquarters of the Iranian embassy in Beirut in November 2013. Fears over a renewal of attacks targeting Shi’ites have prompted the cancellation of this year’s public Iftar, or fast-breaking, dinners hosted by Hezbollah during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“There is no reason to panic, but at the same time we must be cautious, particularly as terrorists may target places outside their repertoire of targets in the Hezbollah-dominated areas,” a source close to Hezbollah speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity said.
The source did not rule out the possibility of “targeting Sunni-majority areas with the aim of provoking tensions,” adding that “[Public] Iftar dinners may be a target of terrorism.”
Lebanese political expert Talal Atrissi attributed ISIS’s crossing the borders into Lebanon to “the gains it has made in Iraq, after taking over Mosul and advancing towards other areas, and to its failure to topple the [Assad] regime and establish an Islamic caliphate in Syria.”Atrissi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the deteriorating security in Iraq “has encouraged [ISIS] to spread” to the rest of the region. But he maintained that the group’s influence in Lebanon will be different from that in Iraq and Syria and “will remain limited within the framework of directing strikes against Hezbollah and the Lebanese military.”
Nazeer Rida and Paula Astih reported from Beirut.
Vatican Delegation Visits Lebanon, Al-Rahi Heads on Foreign Tour over Presidential Elections
Naharnet /The Vatican plans to dispatch a delegation to Lebanon in a bid to prompt Lebanese officials into ending the presidential vacuum, amid reports that Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi also plans a trip to several major countries to up pressures to elect a president. The Vatican plans to send a delegation to Beirut next week, conveying Pope Francis' concern “on hurdles delaying the presidential elections in light of the inflamed situation in the region,” al-Liwaa daily reported on Saturday. The delegation is set to meet several Lebanese officials in a bid to find ways that could end the almost month-long presidential vacuum in the top Christian post in Lebanon. A similar delegation had visited Lebanon in April and toured various officials focusing on a number of pressing issues including the necessity to hold the presidential elections on time “because vacuum harms the presidential post and the Christians as well.”In that regard, al-Rahi “may travel to several major power countries to push further the efforts to elect a president,” added the daily. The Patriarch could “visit Washington for consultations with officials to pave way for a good environment that could end up with electing a president.”
Al-Rahi is set to travel to Australia in October in a pastoral visit. Since the end of President Michel Suleiman's tenure in May, and the failure of the parliament to elect a successor, Lebanon has been witnessing vacuum in the top Christian post. According to the constitution, the government "combined" assumes powers of the president in case of absence.
March 14 Camp
Naharnet /Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea is keen to hold the parliamentary elections and avoid the extension of parliament's tenure for a second time, reported al-Joumhouria newspaper on Saturday. It said that he strongly advocates holding the polls for “constitutional reasons,” adding that he has started his consultations with March 14 camp parties, namely the Mustaqbal Movement, to that end. The daily said that the LF bloc will not vote for the extension of parliament's term should matters come to this, but it is instead preparing for the elections. Circles close to Geagea told al-Joumhouria that all recent surveys showed that the LF has gained in popularity as opposed to its rival the Free Patriotic Movement of MP Michel Aoun given the latter's political practices. Geagea has accused Aoun of obstructing the presidential elections through a boycott of his Change and Reform bloc of six of the last elections sessions. The boycott, along with that of its allies in Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance bloc, has resulted in a lack of quorum at parliament, which led to the failure of the polls. In May 2013, parliament voted to extend its term, consequently postponing parliamentary elections that were scheduled for June of that same year. Both pro- and anti-Syrian blocs, except for the Change and Reform bloc, agreed to the 17-month extension, which was prompted by deteriorating security conditions related to Syria's turmoil and lawmakers' failure to agree on a parliamentary electoral law. The decision marked the first time that parliament has had to extend its term since the country's own 15-year civil war ended in 1990 and underlines the growing turmoil in Lebanon spilling over from the conflict in its neighbor.
Report: Hariri, Kerry Meeting May Create New Dynamic over Presidential Elections
Naharnet/Mustaqbal Movement chief MP Saad Hariri and United States Secretary of State John Kerry stressed during their meeting on Thursday the need to elect a new president for Lebanon as soon as possible. As Safir newspaper reported on Saturday that the talks “may produce a new international dynamic to deal with the presidential elections.”“The results of this dynamic will emerge in July,” diplomatic sources revealed to the daily. Meanwhile, a high-ranking French source told As Safir that the conditions to hold the elections will not “ripen” until autumn, reported the daily An Nahar on Saturday. It revealed that officials from the French and American foreign ministries recently held a meeting in Paris to discuss the Lebanese file and efforts carried out by Kerry and his French counterpart Laurent Fabius over this issue. Hariri had held talks with Fabius in Paris on Tuesday. Kerry had paid a brief visit to Lebanon on June 4 during which he held talks with Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Tammam Salam, and Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi. He highlighted during his trip the negative impact the Syrian crisis is having on Lebanon, urging Hizbullah, Iran, and Russia to help end the war in the country.
He also voiced his concern over the “deeply troubling” political stalemate in Lebanon given the political powers' failure to elect a new president. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ended in May with lawmakers failing to elect his successor due to disputes between the rival March 8 and 14 camps. Seven presidential elections sessions were held without a new head of state being elected.
The eighth session is scheduled for July 2.
Lebanese Army Discovers Explosives Cache in Cave in Fnaideq
Naharnet /The army announced on Saturday that detainees apprehended during raids in the northern Akkar region of Fnaideq over the past week confessed to the existence of a cave in the region where they used to prepare explosives. The army said in a statement that it carried out a raid of the cave where it discovered bombs that were prepared to be detonated. It also discovered weapons, CDs, several SIM cards, mobile phones, documents, and lessons on how to manufacture explosives. The confessions were made by Alaa Kanaan and Mahmoud Khaled, members of a terrorist bombing who were recently arrested. The National News Agency had reported earlier on Saturday that the army raided the areas of Fnaideq, al-Kafroun, and Jisr Ain al-Banat. It also raided the nearby Aziziyeh encampment for Syrian refugees where soldiers searched for wanted suspects. LBCI television meanwhile reported on Saturday that the detainees confessed to providing suicide-bombers, including the Duroy Hotel assailants, with explosives. A detainee confessed on Thursday to storing a number of explosives and weapons in property he owns in Fnaideq. Also Thursday, the army raided another residence in Fnaideq where it seized 42 dynamite sticks, 34 120-millimeter and 80-millimeter mortar shells, 14 propellant charges for the mortar shells, and 36 stun grenades. On Wednesday, a Saudi suicide-bomber blew himself up at the Duroy Hotel when he detonated his explosives during a security raid. His accomplice, also a Saudi citizen, survived the blast and is being questioned at hospital.
Report: Surveillance Towers to Be Set up to Monitor Illegal Border-Crossings
Naharnet/Security agencies have intensified their efforts to control Lebanon's land, air, and maritime borders given the recent bombings in the country and infiltration of terrorists, reported al-Liwaa newspaper on Saturday. The measures include setting up modern surveillance towers to monitor the illegal land crossings. The legal crossings will meanwhile be equipped with the necessary technology to connect them to main security databases to determine the identity of travelers to and from Lebanon. Such a plan was initially proposed by Germany soon after United Nations Security Council resolution 1701 was issued in 2006 to resolve the 33-day July war between Hizbullah and Israel that erupted that same year. The UK and European Union pledged to fund the plan during the Rome conference held earlier this month that was aimed at bolstering the capabilities of the army. Lebanon has witnessed three bombings in six days carried out by suicide bombers amid reports that other terrorists and booby-trapped vehicles are present in the country. Media reports said that the would-be terrorists are Arab nationals.
Expected to Launch
Naharnet/Head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun is expected to launch an initiative next week on the presidential elections, reported al-Liwaa newspaper on Saturday. Change and Reform bloc MP Naji Garious revealed to the daily that Aoun will announce the initiative during a press conference on Monday. He did not disclose the details of the announcement. “The main purpose of any of Aoun's actions lies in building the state” and including all factions in this process, he added. The FPM chief has so far not announced his candidacy for the elections, adding however that he would run if he is chosen as a consensual nominee by the rival political powers. Aoun's Change and Reform bloc and Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance bloc, of the March 8 camp, have boycotted six of the last presidential election sessions, resulting in a lack of quorum at parliament and leading to the failure of the elections. The boycott has been prompted by a dispute over a presidential candidate. The eighth elections session is scheduled for July 2. Lebanon has been without a president since Michel Suleiman's term ended in May.
Lebanon Announces 3-Day Mourning over Solh's Passing
Naharnet/Lebanon announced three days of mourning over thee death of former Prime Minister Rashid al-Solh. A state funeral will also take place on Saturday afternoon to bid farewell to the former Premier, who passed away on Friday evening at the age of 88. He will then be laid to rest at the Imam al-Ouzai shrine in southern Beirut. Prime Minister Tammam Salam ordered in a released statement flags to be flown at half mast at all state institutions, and for the national television channel and radio station to stop playing any music in these three days of mourning. Al-Solh has promoted and strengthened values of dialogue and sectarian coexistence as the only means to protect Lebanon, Salam described the late PM's legacy in a released statement. With his passing, Beirut has lost a politician who was in continuous communication with the city's residents and an MP who represented it greatly in seven parliamentary terms, the Premier added.
"With his passing, (Lebanon has lost) a statesman who played a crucial political role and undertook important national missions during difficult times in the country's history. He was very keen on performing his duty to the fullest without neglecting national values, on top of them the unity of the Lebanese entity,” Salam continued. Former PM Saad Hariri, meanwhile, said al-Solh dedicated his life to serve the people of Beirut. "He served Lebanon with wisdom and a national sense that is a characteristic of the Solh family,” Hariri said in a released statement. Al-Sold was chosen to form and head Lebanon's cabinet in 1974 by late President Suleiman Franjieh. But his term in office was cut short after the eruption of the Lebanese Civil War. In 1992, he was also chosen as Premier by former President Elias Hrawi, but his second term in office only lasted for five months. Al-Solh served as a Beirut MP in seven parliamentary terms, and was the Minister of Interior in his own cabinet in 1974.
Cancel Daily Iftars
over Security Fears
Naharnet/Shiite organizations and charities have taken the decision to cancel over security fears the daily iftars that they used to hold throughout the holy month of Ramadan, reported al-Liwaa newspaper on Saturday. The decision was also part of judicial rulings that call for canceling gatherings, regardless of the occasion, it added. There are fears that terrorists may infiltrate such events and blow themselves up. Hizbullah has also taken such measures, but no official statement has been issued by the party yet to confirm it, said al-Liwaa. The cancellations only include iftars held in Beirut, but it will go ahead in the South and eastern Bekaa region. Al-Liwaa noted that this is the first time in several years that these organizations have canceled the iftars, adding that they were held even during the worst years of the civil war. A previously unknown jihadist group linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's Duroy Hotel suicide attack in Beirut. The group calling itself the state of Damascus-Qalamoun said on Thursday that two ISIL members targeted General Security agents at the hotel in Raouche. It also vowed to carry out more attacks against Hizbullah and its agents, saying Wednesday's bombing was just the start. Syria's civil war has spilled into Lebanon on numerous occasions and inflamed sectarian tensions. A series of car bombs have struck Shiite areas across Lebanon, killing dozens of people. Sunni militants have claimed responsibility for the attacks to avenge Hizbullah, which has sent its fighters to Syria to help President Bashar Assad's troops in their fight against the rebels seeking to topple him.
Bombs away/Will terrorism in Lebanon bring in a new president?
By: Michael Young
Will terrorism in Lebanon bring in a new president?
Lebanese security forces secure a street at the bottom of the Duroy hotel where a man blew himself in his room on June 25, 2014 in the Raoucheh quarter in Beirut Perhaps it’s my natural skepticism, but there is something terribly fishy about the bomb explosions that have hit Lebanon in the past week.
Most noticeable in all three incidents is that they were somehow thwarted by one or the other of Lebanon’s security services. All took place after the offensive in Iraq by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East. And all come at a sensitive time for Lebanon, which has been unable to elect a president to replace Michel Sleiman. However, this is very little to go on. But it’s a fact that while the security services, bolstered by those of Hezbollah, were unable to prevent any of the bomb explosions that took place earlier this year in the southern suburbs, despite myriad checkpoints, in the space of a week they have repeatedly, if not interrupted attacks, forced alleged bombers to detonate their loads early.
It’s possible that the security services have gotten a hold of accurate intelligence information, but that doesn’t apply to the blast in Tayyouneh, which occurred after an alert officer from General Security became suspicious of a driver. As for the bomb in Dahr al-Baydar, the versions of the story told by General Security Director Abbas Ibrahim and the Internal Security Forces (ISF) did not match, and indeed tended to contradict one another.
During this period the intensity of the panic has been multiplied, propelled by reports of terrorism cells being uncovered in Tripoli, purported threats against Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri followed by his cancellation of an Amal conference last week, and statements, with little corroborative evidence, that we are witnessing a terrorism offensive by ISIS.
This sense of panic has been further intensified by arrests of foreigners in Beirut hotels and elsewhere. Last week two Tunisians were interviewed by Al-Jadeed after spending the morning detained by the ISF. They were among the more than 22 people brought in on the day of the Dahr al-Baydar explosion. Far from being hardened jihadists, the pair was in Beirut to attend an Arab nationalist conference. Reports the next day indicated that several of those detained had been set free.
So where is all this leading? A great deal remains unclear or elicits skepticism: security services that behave like James Bond; official explanations that are immediately questionable; assassination lists that keep getting longer; and the near-automatic presumption that ISIS cells are involved.
That is not to say that ISIS is a victim or that there are no terrorist cells in Lebanon. Far from it. ISIS is a real threat to the region, and would readily use terrorist actions to build on its credibility. But until now the evidence in Lebanon seems to be limited. All we have are suspicions, warnings of plots, but nothing that definitely tells us what is true and what isn’t.
Maybe that’s why certain Lebanese politicians view the panic in Lebanon as a manufactured effort to affect the outcome of the presidential election. In this view, Hezbollah and its allies seek to bring in a candidate of their choice to the presidency, thereby using the two elections scheduled this year – the presidential and parliamentary elections – to reinforce their hold over the country. According to this narrative, the Party finally feels that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is relatively secure in power, and would like to reflect that reality within Lebanon.
In this context, Hezbollah has an interest in taking advantage of the security situation, and even in heightening the fear level. The theory is that Hezbollah has two favorite candidates in its scabbard: the army commander, Jean Qahwaji, and Michel Aoun. To impose them on the political scene, the argument goes, their elevation must be justified by the unstable security situation, making the public more willing to embrace either man.
Neither Aoun nor Qahwaji has been accused in any way of involvement in this purported conspiracy. And given Interior Minister Nouhad Mashnouq’s allegiance to March 14, he is hardly someone likely to be complicit in such a scheme.
And yet one thing can be said if this theory is true: it is not Aoun who would benefit most from a public backlash against the climate of insecurity in the country, but rather Qahwaji, as army commander. Therefore, putting both men in the same basket may be misleading. Hezbollah may be keeping the prospect of an Aoun presidency alive both to neutralize the general, who avidly desires the post, and to absorb potential reactions against Qahwaji, who may remain the party’s first choice as president.
Indeed, Aounist suspicions of such a scenario were evident in an ambiguous piece penned by Jean Aziz last week in Al-Akhbar. Aziz, who is close to Aoun, looked back at how the Nahr al-Bared battle was used to bring Sleiman to power in 2008, blocking Aoun. His implication was that the latest violence may be used in the same way, though Aziz underlined that he was not accusing Jean Qahwaji of complicity in such a move. Too many pieces of the puzzle are missing to decisively conclude what is going on. But there does seem to be a calculated intention to scare the Lebanese after months of relative calm. Maybe that’s a response to a real threat from terrorism, or maybe someone is simply letting things happen to exploit this politically. Whichever it is, there is more than meets the eye to this affair.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of The Daily Star newspaper. He tweets @BeirutCalling
By: Ana Maria Luca
Published: 28/06/2014/Now Lebanon
cooperate in the
When NOW asked the hotel manager about how his hotel was raided three times by three different Lebanese security agencies in the same night, he seemed uncomfortable. The hotel he works for is located in Raouche, the same area where a suicide bomber blew himself up in his hotel room Wednesday evening when he realized a security team was raiding the establishment.
The manager preferred to speak anonymously because he didn’t want trouble with the police. “They’re all over us as it is,” he said. “They came three times on Wednesday night after the explosion at Hotel Duroy. Once the ISF [Internal Security Forces], once the General Security, and another time the military intelligence, I think. They all checked the passports of the guests. They didn’t find anything and they left. In other hotels I heard they actually detained some guests,” he explained. The explosion was bad news for business, the hotel manager told NOW. “We never expected anything like this to happen here,” he said. “We were convinced this was a safe area.” But the way the security forces are handling the situation has made things even worse: “They’re scaring people more than they’re reassuring them. Some guests felt harassed. They didn’t understand why their passports had to be checked three times. It was all very chaotic,” the manager complained.
Most politicians, especially government members, applauded the Lebanese security forces for averting bigger terrorist attacks, sometimes by sacrificing their own security and even their lives. Interior Minister Nohad al-Mashnouq described the raid on the Hotel Duroy as a "preventative strike" by authorities. "The suicide bomber was going to detonate himself elsewhere and they managed to stop him," he said.
Multiple officers of the security forces have averted other tragedies. A police officer died and several others were wounded on June 20 when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Dahr al-Baydar ISF checkpoint in the Beqaa Valley. A few days later, a General Security officer in Tayyouneh noticed a suspicious car and stopped it from entering a densely-populated area. It cost him his life: the car exploded while he was asking for the driver’s papers. Then, on June 25, General Security officers who raided Hotel Duroy were wounded in the explosion.
But the security procedures that followed the three explosions did not have the expected effect of reassuring Lebanese civilians. After the Dahr al-Baydar explosion on June 20, Beirut was brought to a standstill: all entrances were closed, and checkpoints were installed by different security agencies on all the main roads. A raid by the Internal Security Forces on Beirut’s Hamra neighborhood, in the wake of the threat of a terrorist attack targeting an Amal Movement meeting at the UNESCO Palace, led to the detention of 17 Tunisians who were in town for a conference. Over 100 people were randomly arrested after the explosion, but only one remained in custody.
Raouche became a fortress in the days following the explosion at the Hotel Duroy, while the ISF and General Security competed in hotel raids and checking guest documents in the hunt for suspected terrorists. At the same time, the Lebanese Army surrounded a small Palestinian refugee camp largely inhabited by Palestinian Catholics. In combating terrorism, defense analyst and retired LAF General Wehbe Katisha argued, the Lebanese Army Intelligence Directorate, the General Directorate of General Security, and the Internal Security Forces “should cooperate and compete at the same time. If one security agency has certain information, it is obliged to share it with the other agencies,” he told NOW.
The division of jurisdiction between the three agencies should also be clear, Katisha said. General Security handles issues related to foreigners in Lebanon, he explained; meanwhile, the Army Intelligence Directorate investigates crimes related to the military regardless of whether they involve Lebanese or foreigners, and the ISF Information Branch deals with internal problems. Moreover, Katisha stressed, “a strategy [to combat terrorism] should be set by the government. The security forces should have a technical strategy.”
But in the past week it has been unclear which security agency has handled what investigation. The degree of cooperation between them is a mystery, and the manner in which they have dealt with civilians in the course of their investigations has raised additional concerns.
Future bloc MP Mouin Merhebi told NOW he was angry with security forces for their lack of discretion and for tipping off the suicide bombers at the Hotel Duroy. Describing their actions in Hamra and Raouche as “looking for a media show,” he also accused security agencies’ behavior of being politically motivated: the officers in charge of the various agencies in the Lebanese security apparatus are in a state of constant competition, he said.
“Security forces are showing off with a big number of cars in convoys – this happened last week and [Wednesday] as well. This is not professional, and this is what led to the failure of the operation [at the Hotel Duroy]. Each agency is trying to be a media star showing off its great achievements,” Merhebi bemoaned. “Procedures for security reasons should be done in a certain way that doesn’t harm civilians.”“They shouldn’t show off and arrest 100 people and then keep only one in detention,” he concluded.
Pakistani Jets Kill 18 in Anti-Militant Offensive
Naharnet/Pakistani jets and artillery bombarded militant hideouts in the country's restive northwest on Saturday as part of a massive ongoing offensive against the Taliban, killing 18 insurgents, the military said. Pakistan Air Force (PAF) planes pounded the outskirts of Mirali town late Friday while tanks targeted militant sanctuaries outside Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan where almost half a million civilians have fled. "The PAF jets destroyed six confirmed terrorist hideouts killing 11 terrorists," the military said in a statement. "Terrorist concentrations were targeted early Saturday morning by integrated fire of artillery, tanks and heavy weapons outside Miranshah killing seven terrorists," it added. The statement said a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander was killed while a "prominent" al-Qaida commander was arrested while trying to flee. The fresh bombardment came as aid agencies geared up relief efforts for refugees fleeing the military operation. Nearly 500,000 people have fled the offensive in North Waziristan which is aimed at wiping out longstanding militant strongholds in the area, which borders Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of families have left for the town of Bannu, close to North Waziristan, while hundreds more have moved further afield to the towns of Lakki Marwat, Karak and Dera Ismail Khan since the offensive began in mid-June. A full assault by ground troops has been expected for some days and the intensive shelling in several areas could indicate that it is now imminent. Nearly 370 militants and 12 security personnel have been killed in the offensive, dubbed "Zarb-e-Azb" after a sword used in battle by the Prophet Mohammad, although the number and identity of the victims are impossible to verify. Pakistan's armed forces have used jet fighters, tanks and artillery in the operation that began almost two weeks ago. The assault on the militant bastion of North Waziristan, long urged by Washington, was finally launched after a dramatic attack on Karachi airport which killed dozens of people and marked the end of a faltering peace process with the Pakistani Taliban. There was one piece of good news from Bannu on Saturday when a baby boy was born in a camp set up for those who have fled the offensive. It was the first reported birth at the facility in Bakakhel where at least 250 people have taken refuge. Agence France Presse
Clashes near Tikrit as Iraq Troops Launch Fightback
Naharnet/Iraqi forces pressed a campaign Saturday to retake militant-held Tikrit, clashing with jihadist-led Sunni militants nearby and pounding positions inside the city with air strikes in their biggest counter-offensive so far. A senior officer said security forces was coordinating with the United States, which has deployed military advisers to help the government push back the militants, who have overrun large parts of five provinces north and west of Baghdad. Armed U.S. drones were flying over Baghdad to provide protection for the advisers and U.S. diplomats against the militants, led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is revered among Iraq's majority community, has urged political leaders to unite and form a new government within days to tackle the crisis. International agencies have raised alarm bells over the humanitarian consequences of the fighting, with up to 10,000 people having fled a northern Christian town in recent days and 1.2 million displaced by unrest in Iraq this year. Thousands of soldiers, backed by air cover, tanks and bomb disposal units, were advancing on Tikrit -- now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown -- which fell to insurgents on June 11. Witnesses said loyalists were moving toward Tikrit from the west and engaged in heavy clashes. "A large military operation started today to clear Tikrit of ISIL," Staff Lieutenant General Sabah Fatlawi told Agence France Presse, saying its fighters now have two choice "flee or be killed."
Helicopter-borne troops swooped into a strategically located university campus in the city on Thursday, with sporadic clashes reported throughout Friday. Taking the university is seen as an important step towards regaining control of Tikrit, one of the biggest cities held by the militants. Iraqi forces were carrying out air strikes against insurgents inside the city, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's security spokesman said. They were also now in full control of a key road from Baghdad to Samarra, between the capital and Tikrit, Lieutenant General Qassem Atta added. There is coordination with the U.S. over "studying important targets," Atta said, without elaborating.
Although they initially wilted in the face of the offensive in majority Sunni Arab areas that began on June 9, the security forces have appeared to perform more capably in recent days. A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "a few" armed drones were being used over Baghdad as a precaution to safeguard Americans, but they will not be used for offensive action against the militants. The Pentagon confirmed that among the manned and unmanned U.S. aircraft flying over Iraq to carry out surveillance, some were carrying bombs and missiles.
The U.S. flights come despite Maliki's insistence on Friday that "Baghdad is safe" from militant assault. World leaders have insisted that a political settlement be reached among Iraq's Shiite Arab, Sunni Arab and Kurdish communities. Sistani urged Iraqi leaders to unite and form a government quickly after the new parliament elected on April 30 convenes on Tuesday. Maliki, who has publicly focused on a military response to the crisis, has acknowledged that political measures are also necessary. On Saturday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in Damascus that "Russia will not remain passive to the attempts by some groups to spread terrorism in the region.""The situation is very dangerous in Iraq and the foundations of the Iraqi state are under threat," he said. Iraq has agreed to purchase more than a dozen Sukhoi warplanes from Russia and Belarus in a deal that could be worth up to $500 million (368 million euros). Iraq has appealed for U.S. air strikes against the militants, but Washington has offered only up to 300 military advisers. U.S. official have said a proposed $500 million plan to arm and train moderate rebels in neighboring Syria could also help Iraq's fight against ISIL, which operates on both sides of the border. But amid calls for unity, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani said Baghdad could no longer object to Kurdish self-rule in Kirkuk and other areas from which federal forces withdrew as the insurgents advanced. "Now, this (issue)... is achieved," he said, referring to a constitutional article meant to address the Kurds' decades-old ambition to incorporate more territory into their autonomous northern region, a move Baghdad opposes. Maliki's security spokesman has said hundreds of soldiers have been killed since the offensive began on June 9, while the U.N. puts the overall death toll at nearly 1,100.The International Organization for Migration warned that aid workers could not reach tens of thousands of Iraqis displaced by the violence, and called for humanitarian corridors to be established.
Agence France Presse
Report: ISIL Selling
Oil to Finance
Security Forces Main
Targets in Lebanon
Naharnet/Interrogation with the detained would-be suicide bomber Abdul Rahman al-Shenifi revealed that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is selling oil to finance its terrorist operations, LBCI television reported on Saturday. “Al-Shenifi revealed that ISIL is selling oil in Syria and Iraq and through this activity has managed to have cash money,” LBCI said. The would-be bomber also told his nterrogators that a Syrian man informed him and his partners in the Turkish city of Istanbul that their mission was to attack security forces and army troops in Lebanon, according to the same source.
But later, al-Monzer al-Hasan, the man who provided the Duroy Hotel bombers with explosives, asked the suicide bombers to change their target and instead attack al-Saha restaurant in the southern suburbs of Beirut. "Three people went to the restaurant to inspect it and to explore the entrances leading to it,” LBCI added. Meanwhile, the television channel also revealed that the brother of Duroy suicide bomber Ahmed Abdul Rahman al-Thwaini was recently arrested by the General Security for suspecting that he is a terrorist. He was later released, however. On Wednesday, a Saudi suicide bomber detonated his explosives at his room in the Duroy Hotel in the Beirut neighborhood of Raouche during a raid by General Security officers. LBCI reported on Friday that the suicide bomber and his accomplice, who are both Saudis, arrived to Lebanon from Istanbul where they had spent five days. The TV network said investigations have highlighted a “key role” for al-Hasan in several suicide bombings. They said al-Hasan receives $50,000 for facilitating the mission of every suicide bomber. Al-Hasan's picture was circulated by the General Security agency on Thursday. Wednesday's suicide attack was the third in Lebanon in less than a week and sparked fears of renewed violence in a country that has been deeply affected by the civil war in neighboring Syria.
ISIS Won’t Take
Jamie Dettmer/The Daily Beast
The jihadist-led Sunni coalition that’s swept through parts of Syria and northwest Iraq strikes where there’s local support and the least resistance. That’s not the Iraqi capital.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Fighters loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have at times been as close as six miles to Baghdad, according to Iraqi and Kurdish commanders interviewed by The Daily Beast. But the Iraqi capital may well be “a city too far” for this ferocious al-Qaeda offshoot that is determined, as its name says, to establish a state of its own.
While there’s no solid consensus among intelligence analysts in the region about ISIS’s precise strategy, several interviewed in recent days say the jihadists are likely to launch demoralizing commando raids and a suicide bombing blitz in Baghdad, probably timed to coincide with the arrival of the main contingent of US military advisers. (An advance guard arrived Tuesday.)
The Americans presumably will make the defense of the capital a priority, but that may be precisely what ISIS hopes they will do, because it has other interests. “The priority, I think, for ISIS is to build their Islamic State straddling the Syria-Iraq border – that is their ultimate objective—and trying to capture Baghdad would be too big for them to accomplish; it could also sidetrack them,” says a US intelligence official based in the Middle East who is closely monitoring ISIS.
ISIS has not picked difficult battles. It has calculated carefully where it could move with the biggest impact and the least resistance. Mosul was not Stalingrad, holding out against a powerful siege; it was more like Copenhagen in World War II, folding without a fight.
A concerted ISIS campaign to capture Baghdad would no doubt trigger greater military reaction from the Iranians -- key backers of the Shia-dominated government of beleaguered Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – who already have sent members of their Revolutionary Guard and military supplies to bolster Iraqi security forces. The Iranians reportedly are flying surveillance drone flights on behalf of Maliki’s government as well.
ISIS lacks the manpower to hold Baghdad even if it could succeed in storming the capital.
Such attacks as do take place in and around Baghdad will likely aim to sow political discord and fan sectarian divisions, keeping Maliki’s government wrong-footed and on the defensive. Iraqi troops and allied Shia militiamen are holding a line north of Baghdad and trying to establish what army commanders call the Baghdad Belt around the capital. But they are making little headway mounting an offensive, relying on instead on the spotty use of airpower to take the fight into ISIS territory.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other ISIS leaders have made clear their ambition to establish a caliphate stretching from Aleppo in Syria right across northern and western Iraq. “ISIS is not only talking the talk about establishing an Islamic state, it is walking the walk,” jihadist expert Aaron Zelin notes in a research paper on the group released Thursday by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a D.C.-based think tank.
“Further, the reality of a proto-state and ISIS’s willingness to try to govern—this khilafa project, as many within the group call it—is quite appealing to jihadists,” says Zelin. It is helping to attract recruits and undermine the standing of al-Qaeda, whose leadership disowned ISIS earlier this year, partly over its state-building aspirations.
On Baghdad, Zelin told The Daily Beast that ISIS has always had a presence in the capital. “I don’t think they can take it, though,” he said. “With 80 percent of the population being Shia, it would pretty much be impossible, though they may take Sunni neighborhoods.”
Mideast expert Jonathan Schanzer of the US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies says ISIS lacks the manpower to hold Baghdad even if it could succeed in storming the capital.
“Strategically for ISIS, invading Baghdad would therefore seem like a mistake,” says Schanzer. But he adds the caveat, “We also don't know what kind of quiet support it enjoys from the disaffected Sunnis -- former Baathists are said to be among ISIS base of support -- who could help the group conquer and hold the seat of power in Iraq.”
The Mideast-based American intelligence official says al-Baghdadi and his inner core of advisers made up of experienced Iraqi jihadists and military veterans -- as well as some Chechens -- are unlikely to make the mistake of trying to mount a full-scale assault on the capital.
He argues the group’s leadership has shown a remarkable grasp of military strategy, astutely withdrawing from towns in rebel-controlled provinces in northern Syria when faced by a backlash from Syrian rebel groups and thus avoiding defeats, negotiating with local Sunni tribes in both Syria and Iraq and entering a pact with former Saddam Hussein-era military officers and Iraqi Baath party members to unleash an audacious Sunni insurgency in Iraq.
Most ISIS military operations have focused on isolating the capital by securing important land routes around it or consolidating their hold on Sunni towns already captured, and by overrunning pockets of resistance in the majority-Sunni zones of western, south-western and northern Iraq bordering Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Another priority target has been refineries and oil wells. Already in eastern Syria ISIS has been smuggling and selling oil from wells captured in the uprising against Bashar al-Assad. It’s a lucrative trade that has helped swell the jihadist group’s coffers and transform it into the world’s wealthiest terrorist organization. Taking a chunk of Iraq’s oil production could make it much richer still.
The insurgents are continuing an intense fight at Iraq’s Baiji oil refinery, the country’s largest, despite Iraqi government claims that its forces have asserted full control over the facility.
Meanwhile, a jihadist bombing campaign in Baghdad appears to have started. Two car bombs hit Baghdad’s suburbs during the week, the latest killing 19 and wounding more than 40. Infuriated Shia vowed revenge.
Al-Baghdadi, who appears to be the master strategist, was trained by the late Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant who also defied al-Qaeda’s top leadership. Al-Baghdadi has been following his mentor’s vicious playbook, including beheadings and suicide bombings as well as targeting non-Sunnis or Sunnis opposed to his brand of jihad. Al-Zarqawi believed in the importance of purging apostates – something his follower clearly endorses. The brutality appears to have the terrifying spin-off: inspiring and attracting recruits eager to join in a “successful” jihad, and especially one that has them fighting Shia, whom they consider heretics.
ISIS says it killed at least 1,700 people after seizing the city of Mosul two weeks ago. Refugees from the city told The Daily Beast they had heard that 300 Shia Muslim and Christian inmates of Mosul prison had been executed. And on Friday Human Rights Watch said ISIS had appeared to have massacred Iraqi soldiers – possibly as many as 200 of them -- who had surrendered.
As ISIS no doubt had hoped, its jihadist violence is already triggering a Shia backlash in Baghdad, with reports of dozens of abductions and killings of Sunnis in the capital by vengeful Shia groups. The vendettas are likely to keep Sunnis loyal to the insurgency, if for no other reason than their need for protection.