January 19/15

Bible Quotation for today/Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving
Isaiah06/08-13: "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’  Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”And he answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 18-19/15
Extremists and the corruption of relations among people/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Srabiya/ January 18/15
The tyranny of the past, the uncertainty of the future/Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya/January 18/15
Another page in the global war on terror/Raghida Dergham /Al Arabiya/January 18/15
In Saudi Arabia, imams need to focus on sermons – not loudspeakers/Khaled Almaeena/Al Arabiya/January 18/15

Lebanese Related News published on January 18-19/15
Several Hizbullah Fighters Killed in Israeli Raid in Syria, Including Mughniyeh's Son
Miss Lebanon in Hot Water after Selfie with Miss Israel
Christian Family in Shock at Accused Jihadist Son
Lebanese Lawyers Assaulted by Syrian Delegation in Cairo
Al-Rahi Visits Blasts-Hit Jabal Mohsen, Calls for 'Rising Above Wounds'
Rifi Says Islamist Inmates Trials to End in 2 Months, Blames 'Syrian Regime Legacy'
Army Arrests Four Suspects in Beirut on Terrorism Charges
Mashnouq: Islamist Inmates to Return to Roumieh's Block B after Renovations are Complete
Soldiers Suffer from Suffocation after Israeli Troops Toss Teargas in Aita al-Shaab
Report: Hizbullah Intensified Dahieh Security Measures in Wake of Jabal Mohsen Blast
Report: Bekaa Security Plan to Kick Off amid Concerns over Hizbullah, AMAL's Lack of Cooperation
Bassil: Uproar over Nasrallah's Bahrain Claims Must Prompt Powers to Respect Disassociation Policy
Report: Palestinian Forces in Ain el-Hilweh Reject Confrontation with Islamists to Avoid Bloodshed
Report: Aoun to Attend Next FPM-LF Representatives Meeting
Report: Palestinian Forces in Ain el-Hilweh Reject Confrontation with Islamists to Avoid Bloodshed

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 18-19/15
Mastermind of Jihadist Cell in Belgium 'Still at Large'
Italy: Muslims Destroy and Urinate on Virgin Mary Statue
Boko Haram kidnaps at least 60 in deadly Cameroon attack
Iran, world powers review nuclear positions at latest talks
18 Dead as Kurds Battle Regime Forces in Syria City
Kobane Setback Puts Brakes on IS Syria Ambitions
Israeli President Calls on Abbas to Renew Peace Talks
HRW Urges West to Press Bahrain to Free Opposition Figures
35 Syrian Soldiers Killed in Plane Crash
Kuwait to Host Third Syria Donors Conference
Yemen Province to Halt Oil Flow unless Official Freed
Japan PM Begins 3-Day Trip to Israel, West Bank
Thousands Evacuated from Syrian Rebel Area
Saudi, UAE Agents Bust Heroin Network
U.S. Lawmakers Unveil More Toned Down Iran Sanctions Bill

Jihad Watch Site Latest Posts
Islamic supremacists “have too long controlled the discourse…by crying “Islamophobia”
Miss Lebanon is like, totally going jihad because Miss Israel got in her selfie
The media can smear us and the President can stand with them. We the people are not having it.”
Germany bans anti-Islamization rally, citing jihad terror threat
Cameron: “There is a right to cause offence about someone’s religion”
Video: Robert Spencer on the Glazov Gang: how Islam inspired Charlie Hebdo massacre
Video: Pamela Geller at Garland, Texas, Free Speech Rally
Standing for free speech in Texas
Jihad meth” popular among Islamic State jihadis seized in Judea and Samaria
Greek police detain 4 jihadis, including possible Belgium jihad mastermind 

Jihad Mughniyah planned attacks against Israel in the Golan Heights
Yoav Zitun, Roi Kais/Ynetnews/ 01.18.15/ Israel News
Western intelligence sources say son of master terrorist Imad Mughniyah was planning attacks meant to 'kill soldiers, hit Israeli communities in the Golan Heights and kill Israeli civilians'. Master terrorist Imad Mughniyah's son, Jihad Mughniyah, was himself planning deadly terrorist attacks against Israel, Western intelligence sources said Sunday. He was a man who stood at the head of a wide-scale terrorist infrastructure with direct sponsorship from Iran and direct connection to Hezbollah, which has already been acting against Israel in the Golan Heights," the sources said. "Jihad Mughniyah was already planning, and had prepared, more major murderous attacks against Israel in the Golan Heights. These attacks include rocket fire, infiltrations, explosive devices, anti-tank missile fire, ect., with the goal of killing soldiers, hitting Israeli communities in the Golan Heights and killing Israeli civilians."The sources went on to describe Mughniyah junior as "an uninhibited terrorist, who built a murderous terror organization aided by Iran and Hezbollah, a terror organization with capabilities, and was busy preparing significant attacks."Close ties to Nasrallah and Iran
Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyah – Hezbollah's head of operations until his assassination in February 2008 – was appointed as the group's commander in the Syrian Golan sector last October. He was killed Sunday in an attack, attributed to Israel, in the Syrian Golan, along with a number of other Hezbollah fighters. He is one of the most prominent Hezbollah officials to die in Syria since the group entered the fray in 2012, fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces against the Sunni-led rebellion.
Officials close to Hezbollah said Jihad Mughniyeh, who was estimated to be around 25, was active in the group from a young age. He was a Hezbollah student activist at the Lebanese American University, and took on a more prominent role after the death of his father.
He was close to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nassrallah, his father's replacement Mustafa Badr Al Din, and Iran's Revolutionary Guards. He once said: "We swore never to put down our guns until victory is achieved."
Since his father's death, Mughniyeh appeared at memorial events held by Hezbollah. In 2013, he was seen together with the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, in a visit to Iran he made to express his condolences for the death of Soleimani's mother.Jihad Mughniyeh's uncle, who shares the same name, died at a young age and is considered a martyr by the family. Imad Mughniyeh's brother died in unknown circumstances. The three brothers' mother said prior to her son Imad's burial: "I wish I had more sons, so they could continue the way."Jihad was killed at the age of 18, unmarried and with no children, while Fuad left three children," she said. "Imad is also the father of three children – two boys and a girl."Until his assassination, Imad was considered by some intelligence circles to be the second most-wanted individual in the world, after Osama bin-Laden. Time and again, he popped up in different locations around the world, only to disappear again. The United States placed a $25 million bounty on the head of the arch-terrorist, who was believed to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds. He stood behind terror attacks against Israel in various periods, as well as the 1983 US Embassy bombin in Beirut, the Beirut barracks bombing that year that killed more than 300, and the hijacking of TWA Flight 847.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Several Hizbullah Fighters Killed in Israeli Raid in Syria, Including Mughniyeh's Son
Naharnet/Several Hizbullah fighters were killed Sunday in an Israeli airstrike on the Quneitra region in the Syrian sector of the Golan Heights.
“The Israeli enemy's helicopters fired missiles at a group of Hizbullah fighters who were inspecting the town of Mazraat al-Amal in the Syrian Quneitra region,” Hizbullah's media department announced in a statement. The strike “resulted in the martyrdom of a number of jihadist brothers, whose names will be announced later, after informing their honorable families,” the party added. A source close to Hizbullah told Agence France-Presse that the strike killed a military commander of the Lebanese group and five fighters.
The dead included Mohammed Issa, a Hizbullah commander responsible for its Syrian and Iraqi operations, as well as Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, a top Hizbullah operative killed in a 2008 car bombing in Syria which was blamed on Israel, the source told AFP.Lebanese and Arab media outlets identified the other four Hizbullah members killed in the raid as Mahdi al-Moussawi, Ali Fouad, Hussein Hassan and Abbas Hijazi. Al-Arabiya TV meanwhile said that “a prominent Hizbullah leader and 6 Iranians were killed in the Israeli airstrike on Golan.”Al-Jadeed television for its part said "Iranian commander Abu Ali al-Tabtabani was among the martyrs of the Israeli raid on Golan."Earlier on Sunday, an Israeli security source said an Israeli helicopter carried out a strike against "terrorists" in the Syrian sector of the Golan Heights. The source told AFP that the militants were preparing an attack on Israel and that the airstrike took place near Quneitra, close to the ceasefire line separating the Syrian part of the Golan Heights from the Israeli-occupied sector, confirming a report by Hizbullah's al-Manar television.
The source could not provide details about the identities of the targets or the nature of the attack they were allegedly preparing.
The Israeli army has declined to comment on the incident. "Hizbullah's members went on high alert on Lebanon's southern border with Israel only minutes after the party announced that Israel had bombed Syria's Quneitra," Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported.
In the wake of the raid, Israel's warplanes and reconnaissance aircraft “intensified their overflights above the occupied Shebaa Farms and the Golan Heights,” Lebanon's National News Agency reported. Unusual movements by the Israeli forces were also reported along the border with Lebanon and in the occupied Shebaa Farms, said NNA.According to the Israeli source, Israeli drones were present in the area during the attack. Last month, the Syrian army said it shot down an Israeli reconnaissance drone flying over Quneitra province.
The attack comes a few days after Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah threatened in an interview with the Beirut-based al-Mayadeen news channel that his group would retaliate against Israel for repeated strikes on Syria. Nasrallah also told al-Mayadeen that Hizbullah has had Iranian Fateh-110 missiles that can hit the whole of Israel since 2006, adding that it is always ready to fight Israel. Hizbullah fought a bloody war with Israel in the summer of 2006 that killed some 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers. In August, five rockets fired from Syria hit the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights and in July Israel shelled Syrian army positions after a Syrian rocket hit Israel.
Syria and Israel are officially in a state of war, and Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967. The occupation is not recognized by the international community.

Al-Rahi Visits Blasts-Hit Jabal Mohsen, Calls for 'Rising Above Wounds'
Naharnet /Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Sunday visited the Tripoli district of Jabal Mohsen to offer condolences to the families of the victims of the recent suicide bombing that killed nine people at a packed cafe. “We came here to thank you for the beacon of tolerance and entire Lebanon appreciates you for dousing the flames of vengeance,” said al-Rahi. “It is unacceptable that Tripoli has become the city of poverty and development projects must be implemented in the city to end the deprivation of all its sons,” he added.
The two suicide bombers who carried out the deadly attack have been identified as Taha al-Khayyal and Bilal al-Meraayan, both residents of the adjacent al-Mankoubeen district. The twin suicide bombing was swiftly claimed by al-Qaida's Syria branch, al-Nusra Front, but Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq has said that the Islamic State group was behind the attack. “Let us consider our diversity as a value and we can only have an honorable life through the army and security forces,” said al-Rahi from the neighborhood that is still reeling from the blasts. “We must rise above the wounds and seek the welfare of the country and the state must shoulder its responsibility regarding balanced development,” the patriarch added. He also saluted the servicemen who were taken hostage from Bekaa's Arsal in early August at the hands of al-Nusra and the IS, hoping the government's efforts “will succeed for the sake of the country and the military institution.”

Rifi Says Islamist Inmates Trials to End in 2 Months, Blames 'Syrian Regime Legacy'
Naharnet/Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi announced Sunday that the long-stalled trials of Islamist inmates held at the Roumieh prison would be finalized “within two months,” blaming the delay on “the Syrian regime's legacy” in Lebanon. “The Syrian regime's 30-year legacy cannot be ended in three months and the issue needs more time and we have a long way ahead,” Rifi told families of Islamist prisoners during a meeting at the al-Salam Mosque in Tripoli. The families had earlier carried out a sit-in outside the mosque to protest perceived ill-treatment of their relatives. “I do not want to justify or defend mistakes that might have been committed against your sons but I will follow up on the issue from A to Z and I will seek to organize visits for you to meet your sons according to the applicable laws,” Rifi added.
He also revealed that trials have made a “major progress” and that the pending cases have not been finalized “due to some detainees' boycott of trial sessions.”However, Rifi promised that the trials will be finalized “within two months.” After the meeting, Rifi held phone talks with Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud and Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous to follow up on the situations in the Roumieh prison. “Basbous stressed to me that all lacking clothes, medicines and other needs will be provided (to the Islamist prisoners) and that a judicial or disciplinary probe will be launched into any unjustified violence,” Rifi said in a statement. Al-Mashnouq had told al-Hayat newspaper in remarks published earlier on Sunday that the Islamist inmates, who were last week moved out of Roumieh prison's block B, are set to return to the building after renovations there are complete. “They will be returned once the prison is transformed into a humanitarian facility that offers its inmates all of their needs,” he stressed.
Moreover, Mashnouq denied to al-Hayat that some Islamist inmates were wounded during their transfer from block B to D. “Not a single drop of blood was shed during the operation,” he stated. In addition, he told the daily that the families of the Islamists have been allowed to visit them starting January 17. On Monday, the Internal Security Forces transferred detainees from block B where Islamists were being held after an investigation suggested that the January 10 suicide bombing in the northern city of Tripoli was directed from the facility.
The clearing of block B came after years of warnings that the overcrowded section was a meeting point for militants to plot attacks. The inmates were transferred to block D, which has been renovated and has better security. Most of the Islamist inmates were arrested in 2007 on charges of fighting with or aiding the Fatah al-Islam fighters against the Lebanese army in the Palestinian Refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared, which lies near the northern coastal city of Tripoli. There were around 190 Fatah al-Islam prisoners at the notorious prison's block B, which was known as a virtual no-go zone for security forces and where prisoners had access to laptops, phones and money.

Army Arrests Four Suspects in Beirut on Terrorism Charges
Naharnet/The army announced on Sunday the arrest of four suspects in Beirut wanted on terrorism charges. The communique said that Lebanese Mohammed Ali Shukr was arrested on Saturday night in Beirut's Haret Hreik neighborhood for carrying out terrorist activity.
A number of counterfeit checks were seized in his possession. Two Syrians, who were accompanying him, were also arrested. They were identified as Ahmed Rahmo al-Satouf and Ghosoun Ibrahim al-Hussein. On Sunday morning, continued the military statement, an army unit raided the residence of terror suspect Ahmed Mustafa Qahwaji in Beirut's Sabra neighborhood. It arrested the suspect and seized a quantity of cannabis and other narcotic substances in the apartment. He is wanted for shooting and terror offenses, said the communique.
The four suspects have since been referred to concerned authorities for investigation.

Christian Family in Shock at Accused Jihadist Son
Naharnet/When Lebanese authorities announced the arrest last week of three alleged jihadists planning suicide bomb attacks, Elie Warraq's family was stunned to see his name among the accused. Warraq, 22, would hardly be the only young man in Lebanon lured to the ranks of Sunni Muslim extremists -- but he appears to be the first Christian. Choking back tears at the family home in the northern Lebanon village of Mejdalaya, Warraq's father Tony said his relatives were devastated. "We were so shocked when we heard the news, I haven't slept since. It's my son!" Warraq's father Tony told Agence France-Presse, chain-smoking cigarettes as he sat near a Christmas tree and a table mounted with a small cross. Warraq's case appears to be the first time in Lebanon that a Christian has converted to Islam and joined a jihadist group. Lebanon has a complex and fragile sectarian balance and has been struggling with increasing attacks by Islamic extremists. On Thursday, the army announced it had thwarted "a plan to implement a series of suicide attacks" and arrested three people including Warraq, who was going by the name "Abu Ali.""They were preparing to carry out terrorist attacks against army posts and residential areas and were using falsified Syrian and Palestinian identity documents," the army said.
"The investigation found they had pledged allegiance to terrorist organizations and participated in fighting in Syria and attacks against the army," it added. It gave no information on which group Warraq and the others had joined or details on their planned attacks.
- 'How do they brainwash them?' -Warraq's family are well-known devout Christians in northern Lebanon, which has seen increasing jihadist violence, particularly against the army, as the conflict in neighboring Syria spills across the border. The family are also army supporters and Warraq's 20-year-old brother Michael is a soldier -- making his arrest even more distressing.
"I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy," Tony Warraq said. "Whenever I see on television that people are blowing up churches and mosques in Iraq and Syria, I wonder 'How could a human do such a thing?'"But to hear your son is in the same category is very difficult. Am I hallucinating? I still can't believe it."Warraq initially followed his father into the construction business after finishing high school, and twice worked as a policeman before quitting. His family says that about 18 months ago, Warraq began to stay away from home for long periods, spending time in the nearby city of Tripoli, where several jihadist groups have a presence. Despite the absences, Tony Warraq never suspected his son's ideological shift. "He would go to church on special occasions and holidays," he said. "He loved music, particularly popular songs, and he would often introduce us to his girlfriends. He was very fond of his dog 'Luc'.""How do they brainwash them? Do they give them something?" he asked angrily.
- 'Polite and pleasant' -
Warraq's arrest came less than a week after two suicide bombers who hail from Tripoli killed nine people at at packed cafe in the city's mainly Alawite Jabal Mohsen district. The attack was claimed by al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate, al-Nusra Front, and was the latest in a string of jihadist attacks in Lebanon. In the city's al-Qobbeh area where Warraq spent time, residents described him as "polite and pleasant.""He was an introvert. He didn't drink alcohol or smoke," a local mobile phone vendor said. According to a security source, Warraq twice visited Turkey, where he is believed to have crossed into Syria. Security services began monitoring him late last year on suspicion that he was transferring arms within Lebanon, passing more easily through checkpoints because he was registered as Christian. A military source alleged Warraq was planning to become a suicide bomber, but his father insisted that was not possible. "Maybe he was with a group that was using him because he was Christian, but blowing himself up? Impossible," he said. Warraq's uncle George said the family could have accepted a conversion to Islam, but not the militancy his nephew allegedly embraced. "I told him before: 'If you want to become a Muslim, you're free to. But don't get involved in something bad'," the uncle said.
"It's clear that he got caught up in something that there is no coming back from."Agence France Presse

Lebanese Lawyers Assaulted by Syrian Delegation in Cairo
Naharnet/A Lebanese lawyers delegation was assaulted Sunday by members of the Syrian delegation as Lebanon's representative was delivering a speech on terrorism at the Conference of Arab Lawyers in Cairo. “Lebanese lawyers representing the Beirut and Tripoli bar associations at the 23rd general conference of Arab lawyers in Cairo came under a blatant attack from the Syrian lawyers delegation representing Bashar Assad's regime,” the media department of Lebanon's al-Mustaqbal movement announced. The assault happened as “Fadi Saad, the coordinator of al-Mustaqbal movement's lawyers dept., was delivering a speech before the committee specialized in terrorism affairs,” Mustaqbal added. “As the lawyer Saad was delivering his speech, he was interrupted several times by Assad's representatives, before they assaulted him and Lebanese delegation members Jabil Qambris and Munir al-Husseini,” it said. An Internet video shows the Syrian lawyers pouncing on Saad and his colleagues the moment he makes a comparison between the approaches of the Syrian and Egyptian armies towards the Arab Spring uprisings that erupted in their countries. In a separate statement, Mustaqbal's lawyers department condemned what it called “the vicious attack against Lebanon's lawyers delegation at the hands of the thugs of Bashar Assad's regime.”
The statement called on the Arab Lawyers Union to “take a decisive stance on what happened and exclude the representatives of the Assad regime from participation in the conferences of Arab lawyers.” Meanwhile, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi telephoned Beirut Bar Association chief George Jreij and Tripoli Bar Association chief Fahd al-Muqaddam to condemn the assault.He also called for “boycotting” the Syrian regime and “taking the appropriate measures against it by depriving it of participation in the Arab legal and judicial conferences and forums,” urging Cairo to “penalize the perpetrators of this attack.”

Miss Lebanon in Hot Water after Selfie with Miss Israel
Naharnet /Miss Universe contestants are keen to proclaim their desire for world peace, but this year's Miss Lebanon has declared war after claiming Miss Israel muscled in uninvited during a group "selfie."Saly Greige took to her Facebook page to declare that Israel's Doron Matalon had pushed her way into a now widely-circulated photo showing the Middle Eastern beauties with Miss Japan and Miss Slovenia. "Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel (that tried several times to have a photo with me)," Greige wrote in English on her page. "I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia and myself, suddenly Miss Israel jumped in, took a selfie, and put it on her social media."
The offending photo, taken in Miami where the Miss Universe pageant is staged, appeared on Matalon's Instagram account on January 11. It shows Miss Israel with a beaming Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan, and Miss Lebanon, who appears to be gritting her teeth.
Matalon responded to the controversy herself on Sunday, saying it made her "sad." "It doesn't surprise me, but it still makes me sad. Too bad you can not put the hostility out of the game," she wrote in English and Hebrew. Lebanese media picked up the story, running Greige's allegations that Matalon had "photobombed" the selfie, and local social media users both defended and attacked their beauty queen for the picture. Israel occupied parts of Lebanon for 22 years until 2000, but the two countries are still technically at war and both armies occasionally skirmish along the U.N.-designated withdrawal line. Israel fought a bloody war against Lebanon's Hizbullah in 2006, which killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and some 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. Agence France Presse

Mashnouq: Islamist Inmates to Return to Roumieh's Block B after Renovations are Complete
Naharnet /Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq revealed that Islamist inmates, who were moved out of Roumieh prison's block B, are set to return to the building after renovations there are complete, reported the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat on Sunday. He told the daily that they will return to the block over three phases, first on March 1, then April 1, and May 1. “They will be returned once the prison is transformed into a humanitarian facility that offers its inmates all of their needs,” he stressed. The renovations will kick off on Monday. Moreover, Mashnouq denied to al-Hayat that some Islamist inmates were wounded during their transfer from block B to D. “They would have been treated by doctors had they been injured,” asserted the minister. “Not a single drop of blood was shed during the operation,” he stated. In addition, he told the daily that the families of the Islamists have been allowed to visit them starting January 17. On Monday, the Internal Security Forces transferred detainees from block B where Islamists were being held after an investigation suggested that the January 10 suicide bombing in the northern city of Tripoli was directed from the facility. The clearing of block B came after years of warnings that the overcrowded section was a meeting point for militants to plot attacks. The inmates were transferred to block D, which has been renovated and has better security.

35 Syrian Soldiers Killed in Plane Crash
Naharnet/At least 35 Syrian soldiers were killed overnight when an army cargo plane crashed in bad weather in the northwest of the country, a monitor said on Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the plane crashed after hitting electricity lines in heavy fog in Idlib province, a claim echoed by Syrian state media. But Syria's al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusra Front claimed on Twitter that it had shot down the aircraft. Syrian state media reported the crash without giving a death toll. "A medium-sized cargo plane crashed last night while landing at the Abu al-Duhur military airport because of bad weather conditions and heavy fog, killing the crew on board," state news agency SANA said. It gave no further details on the incident. The Observatory said the planes was carrying troops as well as military equipment and ammunition. It said regime forces were involved in heavy clashes with al-Nusra fighters in a bid to reach and recover the bodies of those killed in the crash.m On one of its Twitter accounts, al-Nusra claimed it had shot down the plane and posted photos it said showed some of those killed in the crash, as well as the remains of the aircraft. Militant groups have regularly shot down regime planes and helicopters in the country's civil war. In December, Islamic State group militants captured a Jordanian pilot whose plane crashed while participating in the U.S.-led coalition against the jihadist group. IS claimed to have shot down the plane, though Jordanian and U.S. authorities say the crash was an accident.Agence France Presse

HRW Urges West to Press Bahrain to Free Opposition Figures
Naharnet/Human Rights Watch on Sunday urged Bahrain's Western allies to press the kingdom to release detained activists, including a Shiite opposition chief whose arrest has sparked protests and condemnation. Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of the influential al-Wefaq bloc, has remained in custody since authorities arrested him on December 28 on charges including seeking regime change. Meanwhile, hundreds attended the funeral of a man who died from what al-Wefaq said may have been tear gas inhalation following Saturday clashes between protesters and police in the Shiite village of Bilad al-Qadim, where Salman lives. The cause of the death of the man identified as Abdulazziz Salman Alsaeed remain unclear and authorities have not released an official statement. Witnesses said that mourners clashed again with forces after the Sunday funeral. "When it comes to punishing peaceful critics of the government or ruling family, Bahrain is a serial offender," said HRW's deputy MENA director Joe Stork. Salman's arrest "seems calculated to send a message to Bahrainis and the world that political reconciliation and respect for fundamental rights is completely off the table," said Stork. HRW said that authorities have so far "failed" to release evidence against Salman, urging his immediate release and calling for charges against him to be dropped.
Prosecutors allege that Salman confessed to contacting foreign regimes and political groups abroad, some of whom had "expressed readiness" to interfere in Bahrain's affairs. Iran, which condemned Salman's arrest, has been accused of interfering in Bahrain since its Sunni ruling family crushed month-long protests led by al-Wefaq in 2011 seeking an elected government in the Shiite-majority kingdom. "Bahrain's allies in London, Paris, and elsewhere have largely stayed silent as Bahrain has filled its jails with the people who hold the key to the political solution the (United Kingdom) UK and (United States) U.S. claim to support," Stork said. "Who will Bahrain have to detain and on what nonsensical charges before Bahrain's allies speak out?"Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, is among the countries that have joined the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. Prominent Shiite activist Nabeel Rajab will stand trial on Tuesday over tweets deemed insulting to public institutions, in an another case that has been criticized by rights groups.
The United States has expressed concern over Salman's detention, warning it could only inflame persistent violence that has gripped the kingdom since 2011. Bilad al-Qadim has seen nearly daily protests since Salman was arrested. At least 89 people have been killed in clashes with security forces since 2011. Hundreds have been arrested and put on trial, human rights groups say.
Agence France Presse

Mastermind of Jihadist Cell in Belgium 'Still at Large'
Naharnet /The presumed mastermind of the jihadist cell dismantled this week in Belgium remains at large, a Belgian minister said Sunday, after arrests in Greece.
Asked if the suspected leader remained on the run after two people were arrested in Athens Saturday in connection with the Belgian probe, Justice Minister Koen Geens told VRT television: "That is indeed the case.""Last night's arrests did not succeed in nabbing the right person. We are still actively looking for him and I presume we will succeed," he added. Belgian media have named the suspected leader of the cell uncovered by police Thursday in the eastern town of Verviers as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 27-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin. Two suspects were shot dead in a fierce gun battle with police during the raid, which smashed a cell plotting to kill Belgian police officers on the street and in police stations, local authorities said. According to Belgian media, the group's suspected leader Abaaoud spent time fighting alongside the Islamic State group in Syria. He was already known to security forces after appearing in an Islamic State video, at the wheel of a car transporting mutilated bodies to a mass grave. Belgium's Flemish-language VTM channel reported that Abaaoud had made calls from Greece to the brother of one of the two heavily-armed suspects killed in Verviers. A Greek police source said antiterrorism investigators sent DNA samples and fingerprints to Belgium to establish whether Abaaoud was among the suspects arrested in Athens.
Initial reports had put the number of suspects in Greek custody at four but a police source said only two people were arrested, at least one of whom was released without charge Sunday.  A spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor's office, Eric Van Der Sypt, said there was "no connection" between the suspects and the Belgian inquiry. In Belgium itself, 13 people were arrested in connection with the probe, five of whom have been charged with "participating in the activities of a terrorist group." Weapons, bomb-making materials, police uniforms and fake documents were found during searches of their homes. Furthers searches were made Sunday in the Brussels district of Molenbeek where Abaaoud lived, media reports said. Two fugitives who left Belgium immediately after the attack were arrested in France.
The arrests across Europe came a week after 17 people were killed in Islamist attacks in Paris, rekindling fears in Europe about the threat posed by young Europeans returning home after fighting alongside extremist groups in the Middle East. Belgium estimates that 335 of its people have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq in the last few years -- making it the European country with the highest proportion of nationals enlisted with Middle Eastern jihadist groups. Of the 335 who have gone to fight -- out of a population of 11 million -- 184 are still there and 50 have been killed, while 101 have returned to Belgium, authorities have said. Agence France Presse

Italy: Muslims Destroy and Urinate on Virgin Mary Statue
By Raymond Ibrahim /January 17, 2015 in Muslim Persecution of Christians
Friday, January 9. A man was kneeling in prayer before the statue of the revered Madonna, with the photograph of a loved one in hand, in the small chapel of St. Barnabas in Perugia (Italy), when he was attacked by five “immigrants.”The first thing they did was rip the photo from his hands. Next they unleashed their hatred against the image of the Virgin Mary. They broke the statue to pieces and then urinated on it. Don Scarda, pastor of St. Barnabas, said the event was led by five “foreigners.” By the time police arrived at the chapel, the unidentified attackers had already fled. The incident has caused a stir among locals. Some have lambasted Pope Francis who is accused of appeasing immigrants—mostly Muslims—to wild extremes. Earlier he had said that “Migrants, through their own humanity, cultural values, expand the sense of human brotherhood.” Although the Diocese condemned the act of sacrilege against the Madonna statue, it also followed the Pope’s lead by absolving Islam of any responsibility for what happened. In the words of Monsignor Paolo Giulietti, the auxiliary bishop of Città della Pieve, near Perugia: For Islam, the figure of Mary is very important: she is the mother of the Prophet Jesus conceived in virginity, and the Blessed Virgin is the most holy woman. Muslims pray at the Marian shrines in the Middle East. We cannot see in this act of vandalism—which as I said is wrong in every way—an episode of religious hatred. It is important not to feed mutual suspicion, especially at this time. Meanwhile, Pope Francis has called on Catholics and Western people in general to refrain from insulting other religions—namely Islam: “It’s normal, it’s normal [violence]. One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”He made these statements on January 16, apparently in reference to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, when armed Muslims killed a dozen non-Muslims working for a satirical magazine that had mocked Islamic prophet Muhammad. One wonders if the Pope would be as “understanding” towards members of his own flock if they were to murder those who urinated on the Virgin statue? Thanks to funding from neighbors, the desecrated image could be restored and replaced in its original location. Hundreds of Catholics participated that day in a rosary of relief. [Source: Alerta Digital]

Extremists and the corruption of relations among people
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Srabiya
Sunday, 18 January 2015
My late friend Saleh al-Azaz was undergoing cancer treatment in Houston when the September 11, 2001 twin attacks, which shocked American society, happened. We were worried that these terrible events would affect the American public as a result of anger and incitement and that they would influence social relations with the country's Muslim residents, students and tourists.
A few weeks after these events, I called him to ask if there were any threats against them or if they had been harassed. He surprised me when he said that everyone around him, from the neighborhood he resided in to those at the clinic he was being treated at, was sympathizing with him. He said his neighbor, who didn’t know him, visited him at home to check on him and offered to take his children to school along with his own so his wife can stay with him as he resumes treatment. Such human relations among people is what terrorists and extremists want to sabotage. There are many joyful stories about the compassionate relations which followed the Paris events and the excessive anger felt by extremists from both sides.
French President Francois Hollande's speech evidently had a positive influence. He defended the Muslim community in France and declared it above terrorism as terrorist organizations killed more Muslims than non-Muslims. The aim of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and of al-Qaeda before it, is to incite Muslims against others and stir tensions in mixed communities to cause disputes, as they do in every society they infiltrate.
Despite that, there has been many incidents committed by racists who want to benefit from the Paris crimes, claimed al-Qaeda in Yemen, and use it to pit the French public opinion and others against peaceful Muslims.
“What groups like ISIS try to do is use the media to fuel Muslim public opinion against its own rivals”
However, the French people celebrated an act that contradicts with last week's attack on Charlie Hebdo which led to the death of 12 people. Despite the presence of Islamist terrorists, there are great Muslim heroes like Muslim policeman Ahmed Merabet who was killed by the terrorists as he chased them following the Charlie Hebdo attack. Another Muslim hero is the immigrant shop assistant who works at the supermarket which was attacked by a gunman who killed four people. The French government has decided to hold a celebration to honor the Malian Muslim as he risked his life to help save a few shoppers, including Jews, and hid them in the supermarket's freezer. The government has also promised to grant him French citizenship, and has commended his heroic acts and publicized his story in the media.
The act of the American neighbor who volunteered to take the children of my friend Saleh, God bless his soul, to school and what the Muslim shop assistant did to help the French people express the truth of people's essence, goodness and humanity – it's in their nature to co-exist as groups, sects and ideologies. And at the same time, we are aware that media is a power that can be used to either achieve good or evil aims.
It can also treat relations from any hatred and racism. What groups like ISIS try to do is use the media to fuel Muslim public opinion against its own rivals. They do so under excuses which are easy to make up and which easily stir disputes. They are also aware that the media is the best means to spread images, tears, anger, incitement and insults and to transfer the battle to neighborhoods and homes.

The tyranny of the past, the uncertainty of the future
Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya
Sunday, 18 January 2015
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
-William Faulkner
The debates, discussions and reflections in the United States and Europe that followed the terror attacks in Paris and later in Belgium covered the whole political spectrum.
There were those who said that the conflict with radical Islamists should be framed as a ‘religious war’ and those commentators and academics who claimed that the terror of ‘radical Islam’ is, on the whole, animated by Western, mostly U.S. military interventions in the Arab/Muslim lands.
Some British journalists placed the violence at the core of European, mainly French colonialism in Africa particularly the ‘savage war’ for Algeria’s independence. Former president Jimmy Carter invoked the Palestine cause as one of the reasons explaining the violence. However, a lot of commentary cautioned against falling into the trap, that the ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula AQAP and the other Jihadist fanatical groups are setting for the U.S. and Europe, which is to lash out militarily against targets in the Muslim world, and/or to further alienate and suppress their Muslim communities. Even those who would accept that the western response should include a military component, warned against precipitous or ad-hoc military reactions, and called for a thoughtful collective Western-Muslim strategy that would include political, economic, cultural as well as security components.
Arab reaction
The reaction in the Middle East was mainly defensive. There were few unequivocal condemnations of the violence against civilians, and many ‘we condemn but..’ where the blame was placed also on Charlie Hebdo for what they saw as its deliberate and repeated ‘insults to Islam’ under the guise of ‘freedom of expression’. Some blamed the victims outright. The decision by the publication, in its first issue after the attack to have on its cover a caricature of Prophet Muhammad was roundly condemned throughout the Arab/Muslim world. There were those, who pointed out French double standards in dealing satirically with religions and their sacred texts, prophets and symbols, when most of the publication’s satirical arrows were pointed at Islam and Prophet Muhammad; and how one columnist was fired because of comments that were perceived as anti-Semitic. Also France’s law against holocaust denial was invoked as another example of double standards.
Of cynicism, hypocrisy and denial
Of course there were disingenuous and cynical Arab leaders whose hands are dripping with the blood of their opponents, denouncing the attacks. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon – a fierce supporter of the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose late leader Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 issued a fatwa urging Muslims to kill novelist Salman Rushdie- criticized extremists killing people they consider infidels saying that they distort Islam, without explicitly condemning the Paris attack.
“The essence of the current Arab predicament is that the West cannot save the Arabs from themselves”
Nasrallah, whose forces occupied Beirut briefly in 2008, and is suspected of ordering the killings of those politicians and journalists who dared to challenge him, has dispatched his forces to do battles in Syria against Assad’s opponents. In 2006, a satirical television sketch about Nasrallah on LBC station led to riots in Beirut by Nasrallah’s supporters, something that would not happen without his approval. But, the most outrageous reaction came from Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who said ‘we are against the killing of innocent people anywhere in the world’.
The man who used chemical weapons against his own people, and who is still brutalizing civilians with his barrel bombs, had the temerity to claim that the Paris violence is a result of western support for ‘terrorists’ in Syria. Many Arab governments and religious institutions like the al-Azhar University condemned the Paris attack, with the usual caveat about the cartoons. In general, the reaction in the Middle East brought to the fore the depth of estrangement between many Arab and Turks and Europeans on vital values such as the freedom of expression, blasphemy, and the rule of law. Turkish president Tayyip Recep Erdogan was probably echoing the sentiments of many in the region when he blamed ‘Western hypocrisy’ and French Intelligence services for the Charlie Hebdo attack. Erdogan went further, making the outlandish claim that ‘as Muslims, we have never taken part in terrorist massacres,’ ignoring the death of untold numbers of civilians in the violence that marred the recent history of the region, between Turks and Kurds, Arabs and Kurds, Arabs and Iranians and Arabs against Arabs.
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
It is practically impossible for Arabs and Europeans to discuss the problems of the present without being burdened by their complex, torturous and violent past. Increasingly, the last few decades have created somewhat of a similar predicament in the relationship between the U.S. and a growing number of Arabs.
For centuries, the Mediterranean basin was the arena where armies and navies from Europe and the Middle East (Arabs and Ottoman Turks) moved back and forth; Crusades to the East, Ottomans knocking at the gates of Vienna, Arabs and Berbers creating the great cities of Al-Andalus in the Iberian Peninsula, European colonial enterprises in North Africa and the Arab East. In an incredible historic and long cultural and demographic transformation of two peninsulas, the Ottomans completed their control of Asia Minor, (with the fall of Constantinople in 1453) and few decades later the Spaniards finished their Reconquista of most of the Iberian peninsula (minus Portugal) with the fall of Granada in 1492.
All that complex history (which includes lots of positive aspects that are not always recognized) sits atop the last century, of colonial control and divisions, wars of independence, Western political intrigues and coups, economic tension and military interventions. The United States inherited the influence of the waning French and British empires after the Suez crisis in 1956, and began its own complex and tangled history with the modern day Arabs and their brittle states. It is that recent legacy, mostly bitter in the eyes of many Arabs that is usually dusted off in times of crisis between Arabs, and the Europeans and Americans, and invoked to justify real and imagined fears and concerns. William Faulkner’s great observation about the tyranny of the past is at the heart of the current tensions. How many times in the last few years, scholars, historians, journalists and politicians invoked the Sykes-Picot agreements, Western sponsored coups, the pain of decolonization, the wars with Iraq, and American and European military interventions?
The inability and unwillingness of many Muslim immigrants to assimilate in European societies, and the resistance of these societies to fully embrace them as full citizens, are in part a function of this torturous past. President Obama, was partially correct when he noted recently that ‘our biggest that our Muslim populations…feel themselves to be Americans...there is this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition..’ President Obama could have added, that for a long time, from the middle of the 19th century until the 1960s there was a huge reservoir of good will towards the United States in the Arab world, for many reasons chiefly among them the fact that the U.S. had no bitter colonial legacy in the Middle East. U.S. support for Israel after the 1967 war, and close collaboration with repressive Arab governments, became sources of new tensions.
The limits of military power
Confronting the rise of a nihilistic and atavistic strain of Jihadi Islamists – the sea of global Jihad includes ISIS, al-Qaeda branches, the Talibans, al-Shabaab, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Hezbollah, and other groups seeking to establish, by force an Islamist entity—cannot be successfully achieved by relying solely on military means, particularly Western military power. The recent history of Western, mainly American military intervention in the region clearly shows that hard power either backfired or achieved at best very limited or tentative results; the 1991 war with Iraq saved Kuwait, but led eventually to the disastrous 2003 invasion, this is also true of the interventions in Lebanon, Somalia and Libya. The current limited war with ISIS is a case in point.
This is a limited war, that is not an integral part of a whole strategy to eradicate the scourge of ISIS and al-Qaeda through the use of both hard and soft power, by the U.S. and its Western and Arab allies, a strategy with political, economic, social, ideological and media component. U.S. military intervention is a necessary component but not sufficient to achieve the goal of ‘degrading then destroying ISIS’. To do so require a collective commitment to wage a ‘long war’, something the Obama administration is loath to do. The current policy in Iraq and Syria is to keep the pressure on ISIS, prevent the collapse of Iraq, but basically to keep kicking the can down the road, until it becomes the responsibility of the next administration.
The Arab predicament
Challenging the malignant ideology of these death cults masquerading as Islamist movements, require going beyond acting incredulous each time Islamist fanatics commit an atrocity against civilians, and going beyond easy verbal condemnations. For the ‘moderate’ Muslims to take on the fanatics, they have to do so through viable, independent institutions, be they educational ones, such as universities and research centers, religious institutions and political movements. The bitter reality is that these institutions either they do not exist, or the states control all of them. Much has been made in the U.S. recently about Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s call for a ‘revolution’ or a reformation in Islam when he addressed the clerical establishment at Al-Azhar university saying that it is inconceivable that the ‘thinking we hold most sacred should cause the entire Umma to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world’. It was clear that the former Field Marshal was strengthening his religious Bona fide in his ongoing struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood that he crushed violently in 2013.
The Al-Azhar University, whose leadership is appointed by government cannot engage in such reforms and keep its discourse limited to the religious domain, in an autocratic country where there are thousands of political prisoners, and what seems to be a campaign of intimidation against the media and the NGOs. In this world there is no room for critical inquiry, introspection and self-criticism.
To deal with those who are promulgating wild, radical and poisonous interpretations of sacred Muslim religious texts, one has to deal also with that cumulative inheritance of decades and generations of autocracy, bad governance, an entrenched culture of corruption, sectarian practices that created the current broken societies, that are literally disintegrating in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen with others like Lebanon sliding towards the same abyss. It is worth repeating, that it took the Arabs decades to reach this nadir, and it will take them many years to come out of the heart of darkness. The essence of the current Arab predicament is that the West cannot save the Arabs from themselves, and the Arabs are unable or unwilling to exorcize their demons on their own.

Another page in the global war on terror
Raghida Dergham /Al Arabiya
Sunday, 18 January 2015
Despite the horrific nature of the terrorist attack that has since put Charlie Hebdo on everyone’s lips, what happened in Paris this month does not resemble the terrorist attacks of September 2001, which struck New York and paralyzed Washington, and led to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The similarity between the two attacks involves Islamist terrorism in Western cities, meaning that international intelligence chiefs will now place before their governments every possible option to keep terrorism away from their cities once again, and confine it in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq.
The flow of Western and Asian terrorists to the Arab region away from Washington, London, Moscow, and Paris remains an undeclared goal for many leaders. What is new is the growth of the phenomenon of non-Arab Western and Asian terrorists, who terrify all those who had thought the war in Syria had successfully gathered all terrorists in one geographical spot and created an opportunity to eliminate terrorism away from their cities.
“The flow of Western and Asian terrorists to the Arab region away from Washington, London, Moscow, and Paris remains an undeclared goal for many leaders”
Today it is not French President Francois Hollande or U.S. President Barack Obama alone who are concerned about more terrorist attacks in France and the United States. Russian President Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most concerned about a possible terrorist reprisal in his country, because I believe he too had thought that the war in Syria was useful to keep terror away from his cities and immediate neighborhood. A lot will happen when the new international counterterrorism strategy will be drafted after what happened in Paris. The Washington summit next month will possibly see the birth of a new alliance, which is likely to include Russia, Iran, and even Israel, in parallel with the anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States and comprising its Gulf allies. In the midst of these military and intelligence alliances, there is no indication that there is any willingness to admit to mistakes committed by the leaders of these countries, which contributed to spawning terrorists. There are no indications that there will be a radical and serious political approach to crises and conflicts that would prove the major players have good intentions in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Israel, Palestine, Iran, and elsewhere. This is the main problem that portends that the worst is yet to come.
What happened in Libya?
In Libya first, France had a leading role under Nicolas Sarkozy. At the time, Sarkozy side by side with French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy led the raid on Libya to topple a tyrant in the name of freedom and the Arab Spring. It is not clear today what France had in mind at the time, when it prepared military operations even before NATO gave the go-ahead, and rallied Arab support, beginning with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to go into Libya and depose Muammar Qaddafi.
Let’s say -- just to avoid a lengthy debate into this issue - that French oil interests were not the top priority for the Elysee, and that the goal was really to rescue Libya from the yoke of a tyrant to reinvent itself and rebuild itself, as a civil state rich in resources capable of building institutions.
So what happened then? How did it happen that just like that all NATO countries rushed militarily into Libya, they rushed out from Libya without offering help to build the necessary institutions that would have prevented the country from collapsing? Indeed, everyone knew full well that in the event Libya was left without assistance in rebuilding itself as a civil state, Libya would become either a failed state or an open arena to Islamist extremism, vendettas, and/or a fertile ground for terrorism.
Libya fell into the hands of corruption, the corrupt, and the corruptible. The human rights defenders of yesterday became new tyrants. Libya’s floodgates were then opened to all kinds of Islamists, from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda and ISIS. Libya’s oil became its curse once again. Tens of thousands of Libyans were killed, and Libya returned back in time without France and its allies in NATO showing any concern. When President Obama noticed a mistake had been made in Libya, he essentially blamed the Europeans, exonerating himself. Others said that what happened in Libya had been planned in Washington essentially, and implemented by France in its own acrobatic manner.
Thus, between Qaddafi’s acrobatics and NATO’s, resource-rich and beautiful Libya turned from a one-tyrant country to a country of neo-tyrants of various nationalities, identities, and agendas, at a heavy cost paid by the Libyans.
Today, we are hearing repeatedly that Libya was the target, but the other target was no doubt Egypt. Libya remains Egypt’s weak side, especially if the situation there continues unchanged without a drastic and earnest treatment.
We are hearing that what the Western powers want is to lure Egypt militarily into Libya, to implicate it there with a view to prevent it from recovering and retaking its place and position in the regional balance of power. If Egypt decides to intervene with its military in Libya, it would win the military battle without much effort. However, any military intervention requires follow up by staying in the country. This is exactly what makes Egypt very conscious of the dangers of falling into the trap of military involvement in Libya. There, it could end up fighting a war of attrition with ISIS and al-Qaeda, which had spread in Libya in the wake of the French adventure championed by Sarkozy and Levy, and their subsequent odd escape that threw Libya into a spiral.
France had nothing to do with the errors the United States and Britain made in Iraq. France had opposed the Anglo-American military intervention led by George W. Bush and Tony Blair in the name of preventing the proliferation of WMDs on falsified premises regarding Iraq’s possession of nuclear capabilities that both capitals knew full well Iraq did not have.
Bush’s candor soon exposed the real goals behind the Iraq war, which he had decided to wage directly after the terror attacks of 9/11. Bush declared that the objective of his war on terror in Iraq was in order to avoid having to fight that war in American cities. Bush was successful in keeping terrorism away from U.S. cities, but his war on terror in Iraq helped fuel Islamist terror and radicalism. As a result, the U.S. approach and priority produced a brand of extremism that was able to spread and move from Iraq to Yemen and then Syria.
Transcontinental war on terror
Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, and European leaders adopted the strategy of gathering terrorists in one place to pin them down in battles far from their cities, a purpose for which they found Syria to be ideal. However, it is not possible to say -- or believe -- that those leaders were not aware that prolonging the conflict in Syria would lead to developing the capabilities of the terrorists of all kinds, to the extent that they started attracting volunteers from Europe, America, Australia, Russia, and the Muslim republics in Central Asia to participate in the jihad in Syria.
Perhaps this was the implicit or calculated objective. In effect, the attack in Paris opened a new page in the transcontinental war on terror.
Today, Russia is saying: I am here. This suits Russia because it needs to deflect attention away from its adventure in Ukraine and the estrangement it caused with the United States and the European Union, and even with Russia’s friend German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Vladimir Putin will spare no effort to be a partner in the Washington Summit on February 18, which will most probably launch advanced intelligence cooperation in addition to giving broader functions for interior ministries such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, headed by Jay Johnson, which has extraordinary powers in the United States.
Iran is also saying: I am here. It is saying it in its own way, bearing in mind that any cooperation with Iran would not be public and direct at the Washington summit, but would be on the ground as is happening in Iraq, even though Tehran is not officially part of the anti-ISIS coalition.
Israel will exploit every opportunity provided by Islamic extremism and use it as ammunition against the Palestinians. Israel will stand ready to benefit from the global fixation on Islamist terrorism.
Europe is afraid of the repercussions of the fact that there are at least 3,000 European jihadists in Iraq or Syria. The European coordinator for counter-terrorism said that 30 percent of them have returned to the European Union countries. The Europeans feel they are today at risk from "inside and outside" as Francois Hollande said, and they will be vigilant and consider issuing exceptional laws that would give their governments sweeping powers.
The other horrific scene that emerged in the media this week -- in addition to the Paris attack -- is that of the boy from Kazakhstan nicknamed the “Cub of the Caliphate” executing two Russian “spies.” He shot them with steady hands and piercing looks and a face that embodied his ruined childhood. It was a truly terrifying sight.
There remains something necessary that should be said about the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the freedom of expression. Journalism and journalists have extraordinary privileges. We have the right to raise any question and write any opinion. We are the so-called fourth estate. But with privileges, there are responsibilities and a duty to abide by the principles of the profession. We enjoy those privileges because our duty is to be vigilant about the public interest and hold those infringe upon it accountable. Thus, it is not our right as journalists to place the private interest above the public interest.
If it is clear that provoking religious sentiments at this juncture would harm the public interest, then there is no point provoking for the sake of provoking under the banner of the freedom of expression. Neither the culture of empty provocation nor the culture of incitement is among the privileges of responsible journalism. Yet for anyone to justify the murder and mutilation of journalists under any excuses, e.g. to teach them a lesson or silence them, is near collusion in those foolish and despicable murders.

In Saudi Arabia, imams need to focus on sermons – not loudspeakers
Khaled Almaeena/Al Arabiya
Sunday, 18 January 2015
Last week, two news items about imams of mosques caught my eye. One was a remark by Ahmad Jeelan of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs who stated the khateeb or preacher should view Friday sermons as a social responsibility. They should observe the undesirable trends in our society and try to correct or remove them.
Jeelan also stressed the need for preachers and imams to be properly trained, and they should listen to members of society.
The second news item was a call to imams by the undersecretary of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs Dr. Taufiq Al-Sudairy. He urged them not to focus on conflicts and political developments in the world, saying that Friday sermons are not news broadcasts.
It is an encouraging sign that high officials are not oblivious of their responsibilities to society and speak their minds when such interventions are a must.
“Friday sermons are not news broadcasts”
I believe that a large number of imams and khateebs (preachers) in Saudi Arabia are not qualified, intellectually or theologically, for the tasks they are performing. They, in addition, want to force their own views on others — forgetting about the other mazahibs (sects) in Islam.
I have noticed some people coming to mosques only a few minutes before the Friday prayers. They miss Friday sermons. Latecomers include the young and old. Why so late, I asked some. Their reply did not surprise me. The Friday sermons, they said, are becoming monotonous and dull. Some are too lengthy.
These imams, some told me, harp on the same old things. They seem to be unaware of the problems afflicting our society.
How I wish the imams talked of the need for people to follow rules. Observing rules and regulations is the best way for us to express our love for our country. I would be happy if the imams focused on the Islamic view of voluntary work, good neighborliness, cleanliness and safety. Their sermons should help heal the wounds in our society and contribute to national cohesion.
Focus on dialogue, not criticism
I wish the imams drew the worshippers' attention to the dangers of extremism and inculcated in them the qualities of tolerance and openness. The focus should be on dialogue. They should not be critical of other beliefs.
How I wish the imams told the young and old of how kind the Prophet (peace be upon him) was to the weak, vulnerable and dispossessed in society. He said: “The best among you is he who is best to his womenfolk.”
But most of our imams waste their time and energy on trivial issues or irrelevant things. It is as though they are carried away by the mere sight of loudspeakers in mosques. They are more concerned with how to raise the volume of the loudspeakers oblivious to the fact that the pitched decibel only serves to give headache and ringing eardrums to the worshipers inside the mosque.
They are intent on silencing the voice coming from the nearby mosque. They shout rather than talk. At times you can hear the echoes of their scream within the mosque. A visitor from a European country after performing his Friday prayers asks, why do Imams here shout so much? I leave the answer for the readers.
They brazenly ignore the directives of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs regarding loudspeakers, which are to be used only to announce azan (call to prayer).
The young children and the old, some of them sick, have to suffer because of them. Even though they realize the fact that their raised voice could affect some, they do not make an effort to modulate their voice. There is no trace of compassion in them.
Just imagine how annoying it would be if loudspeakers in five mosques, all within walking distance of each other, in a neighborhood starts blaring simultaneously.
So instead of focusing on pushing their voices to be heard I suggest they deliver well-balanced sermons that tell us how we can improve our society and live as good Muslims. As long as they fail to fulfill this role, they are not discharging their duty to their society and nation.