Archive | January 26th, 2017

Just Back From Syria, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Brings Message: ‘There Are No Moderate Rebels’

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Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front gesture as they drive in a convoy touring villages in the southern countryside of Idlib

The Following report is from CNS News

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, says she made a secret, four-day trip to Syria — meeting with ordinary people and even President Bashar al-Assad — because the suffering of the Syrian people “has been weighing heavily on my heart.”

“I wanted to see if there was in some small way, a way that I could express the love and the aloha and the care that the American people have for the people of Syria, and to see firsthand what was happening there, to see that situation there,” Gabbard told CNN’s “The Lead” with Jake Tapper on Wednesday.

She returned with a message:

I’ll tell you what I heard from the Syrian people that I met with, Jake, walking down the street in Aleppo, in Damascus, hearing from them.

They expressed happiness and joy at seeing an American walking through their streets. But they also asked why the U.S. and its allies are providing support and arms to terrorist groups like al-Nusra, al-Qaida or al-Sham, ISIS who are on the ground there, raping, kidnapping, torturing and killing the Syrian people.

 

“They asked me, why is the United States and its allies supporting these terrorist groups who are destroying Syria when it was al Qaida who attacked the United States on 9/11, not Syria. I didn’t have an answer for them,” Gabbard said.

The reality is… every place that I went, every person that I spoke to, I asked this question to them, and without hesitation, they said, there are no moderate rebels. Who are these moderate rebels that people keep speaking of?

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) meets with Syrian religious leaders in Aleppo, led by Archbishop Denys Antoine Chahda of the Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo, and joined by Archbishop Joseph Tabji of Maronite Church of Aleppo, Rev. Ibrahim Nseir of the Arab Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Aleppo, and others. Each called for peace, and an end to foreign support of terrorists who are trying to rid Syria of its secular, pluralistic, free society. (Photo from Gabbard’s website, courtesy of Abraham Williams)

Regardless of the name of these groups, the strongest fighting force on the ground in Syria is al Nusra, or al Qaida and ISIS. That is a fact,” Gabbard said.

There is a number of different, other groups — all of them essentially are fighting alongside, with, or under the command of the strongest group on the ground that’s trying to overthrow Assad.

The Syrian people recognize and they know that if President Assad is overthrown, then al Qaida — or a group like al Qaida, that has been killing Christians, killing people simply because of their religion, or because they won’t support their terror activities, they will take charge of all of Syria.

This is the reality that the people of Syria are facing on the ground, and why they are pleading with us here in the United States to stop supporting these terrorist groups. Let the Syrian people themselves determine their future, not the United States, not some foreign country.

Gabbard said initially, she didn’t plan to meet with President Assad: “When the opportunity arose to meet with him, I did so because I felt it’s important that if we profess to truly care about the Syrian people, about their suffering, then we’ve got to be able to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that we could achieve peace, and that’s exactly what we talked about.”

Tapper noted that Assad is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of people being forced from their homes and even their country during the five-year civil war:

“Did you have any compunctions about meeting with somebody like that, giving him any sort of enhanced credibility because a member of the United States Congress would meet with someone like that?” Tapper asked.

“Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria,” Tulsi replied. “In order for any peace agreement, in order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur, there has to be a conversation with him,” Gabbard said.

The Syrian people will determine his outcome and what happens with their government and their future, but our focus, my focus, my commitment is on ending this war that has caused so much suffering to the Syrian people.

In a speech on the House floor earlier this month, Gabbard criticized America’s “interventionist wars.”

Our limited resources should go toward rebuilding our communities here at home, not fueling more counterproductive regime change wars abroad.

She urged her fellow lawmakers to support her bill, the “Stop Arming Terrorists Act,” legislation that would stop the U.S. government from using taxpayer dollars to directly or indirectly support groups allied with terrorist groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda in their war to overthrow the Syrian government.

“The fact that our resources are being used to strengthen the very terrorist groups we should be focused on defeating should alarm every American,” Gabbard said.

I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan legislation and stop this madness.”

Gabbard supported Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, but after the election, she was one of many people invited to meet with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York.

“President-elect Trump asked me to meet with him about our current policies regarding Syria, our fight against terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, as well as other foreign policy challenges we face,” Gabbard said about the meeting.

I felt it important to take the opportunity to meet with the President-elect now before the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government — a war which has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives and forced millions of refugees to flee their homes in search of safety for themselves and their families.

Posted in USA, SyriaComments Off on Just Back From Syria, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Brings Message: ‘There Are No Moderate Rebels’

The British Government Colludes with Monsanto. Crimes against Humanity and “Ecocide”

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Should be Held Accountable in the International Criminal Court

 

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“The British Government has colluded with Monsanto and should be held accountable in the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity and ecocide.” Dr Rosemary Mason.

The British public and the environment are being poisoned with a deadly cocktail of 320 pesticides. Moreover, Wales has become a storage dump for Monsanto’s most toxic chemicals. These are the messages conveyed by Dr Rosemary Mason in her recent open letter to Councillor Rob Stewart, the leader of Swansea City and County Council.

Dr Mason adds that Swansea has over the years been a testing ground for glyphosate with the outcome being a huge spike in illness and disease among the local population as well as ongoing environmental devastation. There has been a long-term reckless use of a glyphosate-based weedkiller in Swansea, regardless of EU recommendations.

Dr Henk Tennekes, an independent toxicologist from the Netherlands, and Dr Pierre Mineau, an expert on ecotoxicology from Canada, both prophesied environmental catastrophe from the self-regulated and unsustainable use of pesticides by the agrochemical industry.

In Tennekes’ book, ‘The Systemic Insecticides: a disaster in the making’, he showed that these chemicals act on the brains of insects (and humans). He showed that collapse of bee colonies, the loss of other invertebrates and bird declines in Europe are associated with chronic low levels of these chemicals. Dr Pierre Mineau wrote a Report for the American Bird Conservancy ‘Neonicotinoids and Birds’ in which he accused the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of collusion with the agrochemical industry and negligence.

Mason has written to the relevant UK authorities about these issues and the situation in Wales, but the UK Environment Agency has refused to act.

Monsanto using Wales as a toxic dump

Monsanto established a factory in Newport in 1949, and Mason notes that the company paid a contractor to illegally dump chemical waste in Brofiscin Quarry, Grosfaen. These included polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the defoliant Agent Orange and dioxins used in the Vietnam War. When PCBs were banned in the US, the UK government agreed to ramp up production in a Monsanto-owned factory in Wales in 1971. They were manufactured until 1977. Toxic dumps were established at seven quarries around Wales.

Brofiscin Quarry in Grosfaen, near Cardiff, is one of the most contaminated places in Britain. In 2003, the lining of the quarry burst and the orange contents drained into west Cardiff. According to engineering company WS Atkins, the site contains at least 67 toxic chemicals. The Environment Agency claimed: “they offered no identifiable harm or immediate danger to human health.”

Citing a study by WWF-UK in 2003, Mason shows that residues of PCBs and other organochlorines were found in 75 adipose tissue samples taken from human cadavers throughout 1990 and early 1991 from Welsh populations. The researchers found: “little changes in the concentrations of these compounds in the Welsh population over the last decade, despite reduction in their use that came into force in the 1970s.”

Mason states that children in Wales have low scores in the PISA tests, a measure of reading, maths and science ability in 15 year olds, and low educational achievement in primary schools.

She also notes that organophosphate pesticides have supposedly been banned but are now used on salmon lice in fish farms: from 2006-2016 the salmon produced by fish farms has increased by 35%, but the use of OPs increased by 932%.

Theresa May promoting the great agrochemicals-pharmaceuticals scam

Glyphosate contamination of food is associated with an epidemic of diseases: in 2012, the area treated by glyphosate in the UK was 1,750,000 ha and by 2014 it had increased to 2,250,000 ha. Glyphosate (captures) and washes out the following minerals: boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, nickel and zinc.

Hypercholesterolaemia caused by glyphosate is now treated by statins.

The enzyme aromatase is activated by glyphosate and atrazine. Aromatase inhibitors are used to treat breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Mason says that the UK prides itself in being ‘in the forefront of new technologies’ that its companies can sell privately to the rich or to other countries: many are drugs to treat the toxic effects of pesticides. These include treatment for infertility, gene therapy, new treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes and drugs to boost immunity.

Theresa May was very upbeat about Brexit: she said Britain had many things to sell to the world including chemicals, pharmaceuticals and medical expertise.

Cover-ups, deceptions and the dodging regulation  

The industry has worked overtime to cover-up its crimes, to try and discredit those who challenge its products and practices and to put a positive spin on what it does. Mason discusses the Seralini affair and how a massive PR campaign sprang into operation to try to discredit the study and pressurize the editor of the journal that published it to retract it. The UK-based Science Media Centre (SMC) was in the forefront of the attacks. The SMC defends and promotes GM technology and is 70% funded by corporations, including Monsanto and other big GMO developer firms.

The SMC’s director was subsequently reported as saying that she took pride in the fact that the SMC’s “emphatic thumbs down” on the study “had largely been acknowledged throughout UK newsrooms.” Bruce M. Chassy, professor emeritus of food science at the University of Illinois provided scathing quotes about the study.

Yes, that Bruse Chassey: the one later exposed as having received a grant from Monsanto of more than $57,000 in less than two years.

Mason says that in Wales there are cancer/disease hotspots in the surrounding villages where Roundup has been sprayed: for example, brain tumours (mostly glioblastomas), cancers of the breast, ovary, prostate, lung (more than half of which were in non-smokers), oesophagus, colon, pancreas, rectum, and kidney as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), uterine carcinoma, leiomyosarcoma of the uterus, multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, motor-neurone disease and Alzheimer’s/Dementia.  Many of the cancers are aggressive and unusual; they resemble the cancers that were seen in factory workers in the pesticides industry in the 1960s.

And yet a global biocide industry has emerged to advise on dodging regulations. It is controlled by the pesticides industry and is based in the UK making lots of money for Britain.

Mason cites the example of Exponent Inc., which describes itself as “a research and scientific consultant firm with clients from industry (including crop protection) and government.” Exponent was employed by Bayer to criticise EFSA’s work on neonicotinoids and bees in 2013. It also contributed to a review by a Dow employee that concluded that “exposure to specific pesticides during critical periods of brain development and neurobehavioral outcomes is not compelling.” This review was supported by the various UK government agencies.

Glyphosate and the destruction of biodiversity

In her letter, Mason describes how Japanese knotweed Reynoutrie japonica was introduced to Europe in the mid-16 Century. For 500 years, it caused no problems. Glyphosate was introduced in 1974 and by 1981 both plants were classified in the Wildlife and Countryside Act as invasive species. Mason argues that Swansea has been a test-bed for Roundup and is known as the Japanese knotweed capital of Europe because recurrent spraying makes the plants grow bigger and stronger. It grows in in old mine workings where the soil is loose. So, the people most affected by Roundup are the poor.

She then highlights that in the US the first confirmed glyphosate-resistant weed, rigid ryegrass, was reported in 1998 within two years of Roundup Ready crops being grown. Super-weeds in the US in GM cropping systems are now a massive problem. Between 1996 and 2011, as a result of GM technology, 22 glyphosate-resistant super-weeds had developed.

In 2016, Charles Benbrook said:

“Since 1974 in the U.S., over 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate active ingredient have been applied, or 19 % of estimated global use of glyphosate (8.6 billion kilograms). Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since so-called “Roundup Ready,” genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996. Two-thirds of the total volume of glyphosate applied in the U.S. from 1974 to 2014 has been sprayed in just the last 10 years.”

The 2016 UK State of Nature Report highlights the devastating loss of biodiversity in the UK.

What we are seeing a war on any plant (or creature) that is not part of the moncultured (increasingly genetically engineered) system of agriculture favoured by the agrichemicals/agritech cartel.

What can be done?

At the end of her letter, Rosemary Mason states:

“The people of Wales are sick and NHS Wales is in crisis. Human health depends on biodiversity and Wales has an environmental catastrophe caused by pesticides.”

The UK government is engaged in criminality by colluding with agrochemicals manufacturers that are knowingly poisoning people and the environment in the name of profit and greed. As Mason points out, communities, countries, ecosystems and species have become disposable inconveniences.

Corporate totalitarian tries to hide beneath an increasingly fragile facade of democracy.

The agrochemicals industry lobbies hard to have its products put on the market and ensures that they remain there. It uses PR firms and front groups to discredit individuals and studies which show the massive health and environmental devastation caused and gets its co-opted figures to sit on bodies to guarantee policies favourable to its interest are put in place. Mason has documented all of this in her numerous fully-referenced documents and has identified and named the culprits.

We have enough information to know that agrochemicals are killing us and exactly who (corporations, public bodies and individuals) is culpable.

Readers can consult all of Mason’s fully-referenced documents here.

The regulatory system surrounding agrochemicals is not broken and in need of a bit of tinkering to put things right. From bought-and-paid-for science and public relations that masquerades as journalism to policy implementation and the lack of regulation, the argohemicals industry wallows in a highly profitable cesspool of corruption. Money wields power and political influence.

We must restore the link between farmer and consumer and challenge the corporate hijack of the food system. As a global movement, Nyeleni has a radical agenda that is committed to challenging some of the issues that fuel the problems we are facing, including:

“Imperialism, neo-liberalism, neo-colonialism and patriarchy, and all systems that impoverish life, resources and eco-systems, and the agents that promote the above such as international financial institutions, the World Trade Organisation, free trade agreements, transnational corporations, and governments that are antagonistic to their peoples.”

The Nyeleni Europe website contains some valuable information.

The agrochemicals industry continues to get away with crimes against humanity and the environment. Not everyone can grow their own or afford to eat healthily all the time and no one can escape the pollution and destruction of the environment and the impacts. The aim must be to educate, organise, agitate and inform the wider public who are gradually waking up to the reality of a corrupt food system.

“The model of production dominating European food systems is controlled by corporate interests and is based on concentrated power, monocultures, patenting seeds and livestock breeds, imposing pesticides and fertilisers…. it is a system perpetuated by ineffective regulation and unjust laws. Across Europe we are developing and supporting local food systems, swapping local seeds, realising peasants’ rights, building the fertility of our soils, and strengthening and increasing the resilience of local production and food webs. We need to strengthen local food cultures and public policies that support links between producers and consumers… .” Nyeleni Europe

Further reading:

Readers are urged to consult Roundup and birth defects-the public has been kept in the dark’ by Rosemary Mason (2017), a 44-page, fully-referenced document

Posted in Health, UKComments Off on The British Government Colludes with Monsanto. Crimes against Humanity and “Ecocide”

Nazi Shadowy Role in Guatemala’s Dirty War

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Israel’s Shadowy Role in Guatemala’s Dirty War

 

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Last year was a busy one for Guatemala’s criminal justice system.

January 2016 saw the arrests of 18 former military officers for their alleged part in the country’s dirty war of the 1980s. In February last year, two ex-soldiers were convicted in an unprecedented wartime sexual slavery case from the same era.

Such legal proceedings represent further openings in the judicial system following the 2013 trial and conviction of former head of state General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. Although the Guatemalan Constitutional Court very quickly annulled the trial (finally restarted in March after fitful stops and starts, but currently stalled again), a global precedent has been set for holding national leaders accountable in the country where their crimes took place.

Israel’s well-documented role in Guatemala’s Dirty War that left more than 200,000 dead has not been met with justice. William Gularte Reuters

And in November, a Guatemalan judge allowed a separate case against Ríos Montt to proceed. The case relates to the 1982 massacre in the village of Dos Erres.

Ríos Montt was president from 1982 to 1983, a period marked by intense state violence against the indigenous Mayan peoples. The violence included the destruction of entire villages, resulting in mass displacement.

Mayans were repeatedly targeted during the period of repression that lasted from 1954 – when the US engineered a military coup – to 1996. More than 200,000 people were killed in Guatemala during that period, 83 percent of whom were Mayans.

The crimes committed by the Guatemalan state were carried out with foreign – particularly US – assistance. One key party to these crimes has so far eluded any mention inside the courts: Israel.

Proxy for US

From the 1980s to today, Israel’s extensive military role in Guatemala remains an open secret that is well-documented but receives scant criticism.

Discussing the military coup which installed him as president in 1982, Ríos Montt told an ABC News reporter that his regime takeover went so smoothly “because many of our soldiers were trained by Israelis.” In Israel, the press reported that 300 Israeli advisers were on the ground training Ríos Montt’s soldiers.

One Israeli adviser in Guatemala at the time, Lieutenant Colonel Amatzia Shuali, said: “I don’t care what the Gentiles do with the arms. The main thing is that the Jews profit,” as recounted in Dangerous Liaison by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn.

Some years earlier, when Congressional restrictions under the Carter administration limited US military aid to Guatemala due to human rights violations, Israeli economic and military technology leaders saw a golden opportunity to enter the market.

Yaakov Meridor, then an Israeli minister of economy, indicated in the early 1980s that Israel wished to be a proxy for the US in countries where it had decided not to openly sell weapons. Meridor said: “We will say to the Americans: Don’t compete with us in Taiwan; don’t compete with us in South Africa; don’t compete with us in the Caribbean or in other places where you cannot sell arms directly. Let us do it … Israel will be your intermediary.”

The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather program attempted to explain the source of Israel’s global expertise by noting in 1983 that the advanced weaponry and methods Israel peddled in Guatemala had been successfully “tried and tested on the West Bank and Gaza, designed simply to beat the guerrilla.”

Israel’s selling points for its weapons relied not only on their use in the occupied West Bank and Gaza but also in the wider region. Journalist George Black reported that Guatemalan military circles admired the Israeli army’s performance during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Their overseas admiration was so unabashed that rightists in Guatemala “spoke openly of the ‘Palestinianization’ of the nation’s rebellious Mayan Indians,” according to Black.

Military cooperation between Israel and Guatemala has been traced back to the 1960s. By the time of Ríos Montt’s rule, Israel had become Guatemala’s main provider of weapons, military training, surveillance technology and other vital assistance in the state’s war on urban leftists and rural indigenous Mayans.

In turn, many Guatemalans suffered the results of this special relationship and have connected Israel to their national tragedy.

Man of integrity?

One of the most haunting massacres committed during this period was the destruction of the El Petén district village named Dos Erres. Ríos Montt’s Israeli-trained soldiers burned Dos Erres to the ground. First, however, its inhabitants were shot. Those who survived the initial attack on the village had their skulls smashed with sledgehammers. The bodies of the dead were stuffed down the village well.

During a court-ordered exhumation in the village, investigators working for the 1999 UN Truth Commission cited the following in their forensics report: “All the ballistic evidence recovered corresponded to bullet fragments from firearms and pods of Galil rifles, made in Israel.”

Then US President Ronald Reagan – whose administration would later be implicated in the “Iran-Contra” scandal for running guns to Iran through Israel, in part to fund a paramilitary force aiming to topple Nicaragua’s Marxist government – visited Ríos Montt just days before the massacre.

Reagan praised Ríos Montt as “a man of great personal integrity” who “wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.” Reagan also assured the Guatemalan president that “the United States is committed to support his efforts to restore democracy and to address the root causes of this violent insurgency.” At one point in their conversation, Reagan is reported to have embraced Ríos Montt and told the Guatemalan president he was getting “a bum rap” on human rights.

In November 2016, however, judge Claudette Dominguez accepted the Guatemalan attorney general’s request to prosecute Ríos Montt as intellectual author of the Dos Erres massacre, pressing him with charges of aggravated homicide, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Among the 18 arrested this year was Benedicto Lucas García, former army chief of staff under his brother Romeo Lucas García’s military presidency. Benedicto, who was seen by some of his soldiers as an innovator of torture techniques for use on children, described “the Israeli soldier [as] a model and an example to us.”

In 1981, Benedicto headed the inauguration ceremony of an Israeli-designed and financed electronics school in Guatemala. Its purpose was to train the Guatemalan military on using so-called counterinsurgency technologies. Benedicto lauded the school’s establishment as a “positive step” in advancing the Guatemalan regime to world-class military efficiency “thanks to [Israel’s] advice and transfer of electronic technology.”

In its inaugural year alone, the school enabled the regime’s secret police, known as the G-2, to raid some 30 safe houses of the Revolutionary Organization of People in Arms (ORPA).

The G-2 coordinated the assassination, “disappearance” and torture of opponents to the Guatemalan government.

While Guatemalan governments frequently changed hands – through both coups and elections – during the 1980s, Israel remained Guatemala’s main source of weapons and military advice.

Belligerence at the border

The Israeli military-security complex casts a long, intercontinental shadow over Guatemalans who are still fleeing the consequences of the dirty war.

In some areas along the US-Mexico border, such as in Texas, the numbers of migrants hailing today from Central America (but only from the countries combusted by US intervention – Guatemala, El SalvadorHonduras) – has begun to outpace the number coming from Mexico.

According to information provided to this author by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office in Arizona, many Guatemalans who have perished while crossing these desert borderlands originated from among the indigenous Mayan areas hit hardest by the 1980s genocide: El Quiché, Huehuetenango, Chimaltenango.

Southern Arizona has also seen a spike in undocumented Guatemalan migration. US firms and institutions have been collaborating with Israeli security companies to up-armor Southern Arizona’s border zone.

The Israeli weapons firm Elbit won a major government contract to provide 52 surveillance towers in Southern Arizona’s desert borderlands, beginning with the pilot program of seven towers currently placed among the hills and valleys surrounding Nogales, a border town split by the wall.

More towers are slated to surround the Tohono O’odham Nation, the second largest Native American reservation in the US. Already the number of federal forces occupying permanent positions on Tohono O’odham lands is the largest in US history.

Alan Bersin, a senior figure in the US Department of Homeland Securitydescribed Guatemala’s border with Chiapas, Mexico, as “now our southern border” in 2012. That “southern border” was heavily militarized during Barack Obama’s eight years as US president.

We can safely expect that militarization to continue during Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump’s anti-migrant rhetoric during the presidential election campaign suggests it is likely to be intensified.

During the dirty war, tens of thousands of Guatemalans fled over this border into Southern Mexico. Today, Israel assists the Mexican authorities in Chiapas with “counterinsurgency” activities largely targeting the indigenous Maya community.

Though media reporting on Guatemala’s connection with Israel has dissipated, Israel’s enterprising efforts in the country have never diminished. Today, Israel’s presence in Guatemala is especially pronounced in the private security industry which proliferated in the years following the so-called Guatemalan peace process of the mid-1990s.

Ohad Steinhart, an Israeli, relocated to Guatemala at this opportune moment, originally working as a weapons instructor. Roughly two years after his 1994 move to Guatemala, he founded his own security firm, Decision Ejecutiva.

Steinhart’s modest 300-employee company is small compared with the colossal Golan Group, Israel’s largest and oldest private security conglomerate in Guatemala.

Founded by ex-Israeli special forces officers, the Golan Group has also trained Department of Homeland Security immigration agents along the US-Mexico border. The Golan Group has employed thousands of agents in Guatemala, some of whom have been involved in repressing environmental and land rights protests against mining operations by Canadian firms. The company was named in a 2014 lawsuit by six Guatemalan farmers and a student who were all shot at close range by security agents during a protest the previous year.

Guatemala’s use of Israeli military trainers and advisers, just as in the 1980s, continues. Israeli advisers have, in recent years, been assisting the current “remilitarization” of Guatemala. Journalist Dawn Paley has reported that Israeli military trainers have shown up once again at an active military base in Coban, which is the site of mass graves from the 1980s. The remains of several hundred people have so far been uncovered there.

The mass graves at Coban serve as the legal basis for the January arrests of 14 former military officers. This past June a Guatemalan judge ruled that the evidence is sufficient for eight of those arrested to stand trial. Future arrests and trials are likely to follow.

Scholars Milton H. Jamail and Margo Gutierrez documented the Israeli arms trade in Central America, notably in Guatemala, in their 1986 book It’s No Secret: Israel’s Military Involvement in Latin America. They worded the title that way because the bulk of the information in the book came from mainstream media sources.

For now, Israel’s well-documented role in Guatemala’s dirty wars passes largely without comment. But Guatemalans know better than most that the long road to accountability begins with acknowledgment.

Yet it is unclear how long it will be before we hear of Israeli officials being called to Guatemala to be tried for the shadowy part they played in the country’s darkest hours.

Posted in ZIO-NAZI, South AmericaComments Off on Nazi Shadowy Role in Guatemala’s Dirty War

Al-Qaeda Consolidates Its Front Groups In Syria

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fsa-alqaeda

A few days ago Al-Qaeda in Syria and the Salafist Takfiri group Ahrar al Sham produced a show claiming they were fighting each other. I fell for it and wrote:

The Turkish, Russian and Iranian governments had agreed on talks in Astana in Kazakhstan between delegations from “moderate” militant groups in Syria and the Syrian government. Ahrar al Sham, which ideologically borders between al-Qaeda and the “moderates”, was also invited. It declined to take part in solidarity with the not invited designated terrorist group Jaish Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front aka al-Qaeda in Syria).Russia had suggested the talks with the intent of separating the “moderate” Takfiris under Turkish control from the designated “terrorist” Takfiris. The talks had no immediate results but still achieved their purpose. Shortly after the talks began al-Qaeda attacked Ahrar al Sham. After some on and off fighting al-Qaeda started yesterday to attack all “moderate” Takfiri groups in Idleb and Aleppo governate.

I was wrong. Ahrar did not fight with al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda did not attack it. As far as one can tell they coordinated their actions for the purpose of eliminating smaller “rebel” groups under the disguise of Takfiri infighting. Those smaller groups are led by local war lords and supported by Turkey and the CIA. They all had earlier cooperated with al-Qaeda which provided the “storm troopers” for their attacks on Syrian government forces. They recently took part in the Astana talks while Ahrar declined in solidarity with al-Qaeda.

The ruse came to light when the “reports” of Ahrar and al-Qaeda infighting were not followed up with any reports of casualties, neither from the sides of those groups nor from any other account. How can there have been fighting when no one was killed or wounded?

Ehsani explains the situation:

Thread on Battles in #Idlib: All battles that took place in Naaman & Jabal Al Zawiye are imaginary battles that were essentially prearranged
2-The main purpose of these prearranged battles is to swap checkpoints of #Ahrar with #Nusra and vice versa
3-Even the v public battle in village of Dana is also imaginary as shooting that took place involved firing in the air around Dana crossing
4-Even news of arrest of the two Nusra security officers is untrue as both spent the time at residence of Amr al jeldi, Emir of #Ahrar
5-This #Ahrar Emir’s residence in M’araa acted as joint operations center for both #Ahrar & #Nusra to coordinate this entire scenario
6-Importantly, it appears that there has not been a single casualty yet during these entire so-called battles

That report has since been confirmed by several other accounts and sources on the ground.

Al-Qaeda in Syria (aka Jaish Fateh al-Sham aka Nusra Front) did attack several local groups, raided their headquarters and confiscated their CIA supplied weapon and ammunition caches. One major alliance of local groups, the Army of Mujaheddin, was eliminated. Other local groups took refuge by joining Ahrar al-Sham:

SOHR was informed that the factions of Soqor al-Sham, alMOjahdin Army, Eqtasim Kama Amart grouping, al-Islam Army in Idlib and the Shamia front in western Aleppo, joined Ahrar al-Sham Islamic faction against Fateh al_Sham front

It seem that the plan for now is to keep Ahrar al-Sham as a “moderate” front group for al-Qaeda while eliminating all other “moderate” forces on the ground. Parts of Ahrar al-Sham take part in the Turkish “Euphrates Shield” operation against the Islamic State while al-Qaeda in Syria is no longer openly supported by the Turkish state.

The ruse of the claimed fight between Ahrar and al-Qaeda is used to uphold a distinction between these groups even when hardly any exists. Ahrar al-Sham was, like al-Qaeda in Syria, founded by a senior member of al-Qaeda central under command of the al-Qaeda’s central leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

There once were components within Ahrar that argued for a less radical course. But other significant parts had argued for officially joining al-Qaeda. The middle ground found now is to cooperated with al-Qaeda as a means for absorbing all other “rebel” groups on the ground while keeping up good relations with Turkey.

Some (minor) ideological differences between Ahrar and al-Qaeda in Syria still exist. It is expected that a fight for primacy will indeed start between (parts of) these two groups in the not so distant future. But that will only happen after all weaker groups on the ground are eliminated and after Ahrar is exposed and can no longer act as a Turkish supported intermediary for weapons and other supplies.

The Associated Press still reports fighting between Ahrar and Al-Qaeda based on quotes of the Gulf propagandist Charles Lister. Like us it fell for the ruse. Unlike us it will probably stick to the fake version. The ruse will thus have worked in deceiving the “western” public and decision makers.

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A Croatian Perspective on the Bulgaria and Romania CVM Reports

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini

“In order for the EU to be effective in the disciplining of member states, it needs to be able to sanction. Cutting of EU funds because of problems with the rule of law in some of them might be a good idea”. This is the beginning of the commentary [in Croatian language] by the correspondent of one of the most read newspapers in Croatia, Jutarnji list, Augustin Palokaj on the occasion of the tenth report by the European Commission on the progress of Bulgaria and Romania under the unique for the EU Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. This is an idea, which euinside has put forward on numerous occasions and not only regarding the case of Bulgaria and Romania. Augustin Palokaj’s text has been written before the reports were made public and rather analyses the mechanism itself and its purpose.

“Exactly ten years have passed since Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, but these two states continue to be second grade members of sorts. The problem is not that the two are the poorest members, although Romania has gotten very close to Croatia, but in the verification and cooperation mechanism, which is a sort of monitoring by the EC, nonexistent for any other member state”, writes my colleague Palokaj, pointing out that the situation in Bulgaria is far worse than in Romania, for at the moment the country has no government and in less than a year it will take over the Presidency of the Council. “It would be truly embarrassing if the country that is presiding the Council is monitored by the EC due to insufficient results in the battle against corruption and organised crime”, continues the analysis.

Augustin Palokaj reports that the EC is preparing a scenario where the Mechanism is lifted before Bulgaria takes over the Presidency, but this will be subject to several conditions. He reminds that it was exactly because of Romania and Bulgaria that Croatia got a special monitoring levied on it prior to the membership, which saved the country from this very same Mechanism after joining in 2013. The other thing that saved Croatia was the scepticism of Germany and The Netherlands.

“Looking back from the perspective of today, such mechanisms for Bulgaria and Romania are truly useless, unpleasant, and unfair. Of course, there is a problem with corruption in these states and a serious one at that. But is there no such problem in other EU states as well?”, writes the Croatian journalist and reminds us of the words of the former Commissioner for Enlargement Günter Verheugen, according to whom, when talking about corruption, it is not Bulgaria and Romania that spring to his mind first. “And now there are more serious problems with the rule of law arising in other EU states, Poland and Hungary for example”, further writes the Jutarnji correspondent.

“Those mechanisms have grown obsolete. They did not manage to solve the problem and left Bulgaria and Romania with the feeling that they are being discriminated against, treated like second grade members. This is why it is urgent that they are removed”, ends his commentary Augustin Palokaj. He believes European institutions have the ability to affect member states when it comes to the protection of the European values. “And those values are much more threatened in some other member states, than in Bulgaria and Romania”, believes the journalist.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Is Trump Endangering the EU-US Data Protection Agreement?

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini

The first report for the year of the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová (Czech Republic, ALDE) to the responsible Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs Committee in the European Parliament was dominated by questions on whether the new American President Donald Trump can be trusted with keeping the reached as a result of much hard work data protection agreements between the USA and the EU. In her very opening statement Mrs Jourová set a tone of concern by pointing out that adhering to the agreements package is in the hands of the USA. This is about the Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreement and the Data Protection Umbrella agreement.

The Passenger Name Record agreement for trans-Atlantic flights was signed in 2012 and is a part of the joint effort of the EU and the USA to fight terrorism. Arguments surrounding its signing were quite heated in the EU, but an agreement was finally reached. In July of last year the Commission made a decision for the creation of a privacy shield between the USA and the EU. The purpose of the shield is to protect the fundamental rights of EU citizens whose personal data has been transferred to the USA, as well as provide legal certainty for businesses, who rely on data transfers across the Atlantic ocean. The document includes safeguard clauses regarding the access of the American government, security agencies included, to EU citizens’ data and equalisation of the rights of EU citizens with those of American ones.

Personal data exchange is treated by the umbrella agreement between the USA and the EU. One of its most important goals is providing guarantees that every transfer of personal data (names, addresses, criminal records, bank accounts) will require prior authorisation by the competent authorities in the country of origin; that the data will only be held for a certain period of time; that every citizen will have access to their own personal data (under certain conditions); a mechanism is put in place for notification in case of a security breach; equalisation of rights. The agreement is coming into force on February 1 of this year.

This became possible after the USA made the necessary designations for its enforcement. Up until now 7 bodies and state administrations have been designated, who will deal with the privacy shield, informed Věra Jourová. On the umbrella agreement, on January 17 the US Attorney General has signed for the creation of 4 federal agencies and 9 new divisions within existing federal agencies, such as the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Department of Justice, including the FBI. Up to date, 1700 companies have registered and the system is functioning well, reported Commissioner Jourová. “I now count on the new US administration to maintain the commitments that underpin the privacy shield. This includes keeping in place presidential policy directive number 28 which is a key foundation for the part of privacy shield addressing exceptional access to data for national security reasons. It also requires the continued effective functioning of the new ombudsperson”, stated the Czech Commissioner, adding that she will make an official visit to the USA in April to meet her colleagues and check on the implementation.

This was, however, not sufficient for the MEPs in the committee. During the discussion, which lasted a little over an hour and a half on Monday afternoon, Mrs Jourová was literally flooded with questions about whether the new American administration could be trusted. As was pointed out by the Liberal MEP from The Netherlands Sophie in ‘t Veld, it is unlikely that Trump will be “the new champion of data protection”. “The main obligations stay on the side of the US”, replied the Commissioner. She expressed hope that there will be continuity. “I also cannot foresee now or say that Mr Trump will be a champion and big defender of privacy of Europeans. So, I think nobody of us can foresee something like that”, she added.

In the end Věra Jourová wanted to be optimistic. She shared with the committee members that she had been assured by people “who understand the American situation” that Mr Trump is a businessman, who knows what is good and what is bad for business. “So he will probably check and assess the system from this perspective”, were her words. She promised that the first annual review of the functioning of the umbrella of agreements and the shield will not be a rosy picture, but will consist of nothing but the truth. Even if the American administration should veer in a direction, which is unwanted by the EU, the solution is simple, she assured – unilateral cessation of the agreements.

Věra Jourová  informed that on January 10th the EC has presented a strategic approach to the international transfer of personal data and for the promotion of data protection standards worldwide. The main goal at this stage is brokering agreements with key partners like Japan and South Korea, who have recently modernised their legislation on personal data protection.

This, too, was met with scepticism. Sophie in ‘t Veld asked the rhetorical question how, having in mind the difficulties of negotiations with the USA, will the implementation of the correct standards be guaranteed. The initiative for an agreement about personal data with the USA was initiated by the European Parliament, which in a resolution of March 2009 requested such an agreement. In December of that same year the European Council mandated the Commission with proposing a recommendation for negotiations. In May of 2010 the EC proposed a draft of a mandate for negotiations, which began in March of 2011. The umbrella agreement was officially signed in June of last year.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev 

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The Lobby P2: The Training Session

NOVANEWS

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In part two of The Lobby, our undercover reporter joins a delegation from the Nazi Jewish Embassy at last year’s Labour Party Conference. The programme reveals how accusations of anti-Semitism were made against key Labour Party members – and how a former official at the Nazi Jewish Embassy was upset when her background was revealed.

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Could Russia Recognise Kosovo?

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini

In two consecutive days this week one of the most popular newspapers in Serbia – Blic – runs on its title page the headline that Putin is prepared to recognise Kosovo as a favour to Trump. The newspaper cites Mary Dejevsky – a former correspondent to Moscow and Washington and currently author for The Guardian and member of the British think-tank Chatham House – who claims that the recognition of Kosovo might be a part of a package deal, which would provide closure for several problematic issues from the time of the Cold war, which have been placing strain on the American-Russian relations. The analyst has met Putin himself on several occasions through the influential Valdai club, reminds BalkanInsight. The issue has been tackled by Blic for three days in a row now.

How probable is such a turn of events?

Moscow’s position so far has been that the cases of Kosovo and Crimea are different. This, however, is not exactly true. Kosovo was a part of former Yugoslavia and had a special status. During the bloody process of the federation’s disintegration Kosovo requested independence, but Belgrade refused. This led to the armed conflict, which provoked the NATO intervention in 1999, which made the pact’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg express regret about the innocent victims it led to. The country has been recognised by a little over a half of the UN members and by less than all of EU members. Besides, the EU is committed to mediating the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo – the so called Belgrade-Priština dialogue. It is a part of Serbia’s process of negotiation for EU membership, which has an entire chapter dedicated to it – number 35.

Crimea was an integral part of the territory of the Ukraine. In 2014 Russia occupied the Ukrainian peninsula under the pretext that it had to protect Russian citizens there, thus violating all international rules and agreements. A ludicrous referendum was organised, which was supposed to legitimise the occupation, but it was held against all democratic standards. The illegal aggression was supported by 8 countries worldwide, amongst which North Korea and Syria.

Similar lines about the protection of the Serbian minority in Kosovo (and not just there) are being heard more and more often from the mouths of highest ranking Serbian officials. President Tomislav Nikolić, for example, who is running for a second term at this year’s presidential elections, has recently stated straight up that if need be he would even send Serbian armed forces to protect the Serbian minority in Kosovo.

As a result to the annexation of Crimea, the international community, led by the USA, imposed sanctions on Russia. The change in power at the White House has changed the international environment in an instant. President Donald Trump has been promising to lift the sanctions from all the way back during the campaign. This will however have a price. Should the USA lift the sanctions, it would practically mean a step towards legitimising the unlawful annexation of Crimea by Russia. Trump has many times now demonstrated his disrespect towards international law and international organisations. At the background of ever growing in number voices within the EU for restoring relations with Russia, such move by Trump would be a serious present for Mr Putin. In exchange, he could recognise Kosovo, betraying Serbia’s friendship and pushing it towards the European sphere of influence.

This might be too high a price for Moscow, so there exists the possibility that the hypothetical package includes portioning out of Syria and redistribution of influences in the Middle East in general. Certainly, data on such a scenario is extremely scarce, so it is entirely hypothetical and rather less probable.

Russia has sprung into activity quite seriously in the Balkans in recent months, being most active in the parliamentary elections in Montenegro, where an attempt at a coup and sabotaging the elections was made through a proxy. Part of the opposition in the small Balkan republic, which is expecting the ratification of its treaty of accession to NATO, is keeping close relations with Russia and enjoys Russian support. The long arm of Moscow was also felt in the Serbian entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina – Republika Srpska – whose leader Milorad Dodik often visits Moscow and had its support for holding an unconstitutional referendum, which legitimised the republic’s national holiday – January 9th, and this is a step towards the breaking away of the Serbian entity from BiH, as Dodik himself announced recently.

It is unknown at this stage and will probably never become clear what the truth is about the prevented assassination attempt against the Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. Whether this was a threat and where it came from – forces within Serbia, or from Russia, for it came immediately after Vučić backed Montenegro in preventing the coup attempt in the country – is not very clear. Russia is lending serious support to Serbia on the military side and has considerable economic interests in the Balkans, which it would be unlikely to just casually lose.

Having in mind its centuries-long presence and strategic interest in this part of the world, it would be difficult to accept that the Kremlin will part with this region in exchange for something else. Moreover, to the USA the Balkans have for a long time now been rather a stone in the shoe, than a strategic interest. Even if new conflicts should explode in the region, it would hardly force the new administration in particular to return to the region and against Russia at that. So the possibility of a Russian recognition of Kosovo sounds rather less probable, which could be good news to Serbia, but not to the region.

Such theories, especially having in mind the commentaries in Blic are rather aimed to ease tensions in Serbia, where in the race for the presidential elections and possible new parliamentary elections rhetoric has escalated dramatically. But still, one thing is certain, though – uncertainty. Donald Trump’s inauguration strengthens uncertainty and ad hoc politics. Unlike Trump, Putin is far more predictable.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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The Matter Is Closed — But Would It Be Closed If The Country Involved Wasn’t Israel?

NOVANEWS
Image result for NAZI CARTOON
By Brian CLOUGHLEY 

The Al Jazeera television channel has revealed an Israeli plan to destroy the careers of senior British government figures because they have been critical of Israel. Shai Masot, a senior official in the Israeli embassy in London, was recorded by an Al Jazeera undercover reporter in conversation in a London restaurant with Ms Maria Strizzolo, formerly chief of staff to the British government’s ‘minister of state for skills’, Robert Halfon, the past political director of the Conservative Friends of Israel, who has a colourful history.

Shai Masot (right, with the Israeli Ambassador at the British Labour Party Conference in 2016)

In one of the exchanges between Ms Strizzolo and Mr Masot, he is recorded as asking her ‘Can I give you some [names of] MPs [Members of Parliament] that I would suggest you take down?’ to which Ms Strizzolo replied that all MPs have ‘something they’re trying to hide.’ (The expression ‘take-down’ is defined as ‘a wrestling manoeuvre in which an opponent is swiftly brought to the mat from a standing position,’ but in this context has more disturbing connotations.)

Mr Masot speaking with Ms Strizzolo

Mr Masot then told her ‘I have some MPs’ and specified ‘the deputy foreign minister,’ Sir Alan Duncan, who has been critical of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. According to transcripts of the meeting, Strizzolo implied that ‘a little scandal’ might result in Duncan being dismissed, and added ‘don’t tell anyone about this meeting,’ which was clear indication that she knew it was clandestine and involved sensitive matters.

It was not surprising that Ms Strizzolo resigned her position following disclosure of her agenda — but first she tried to lie her way out of the affair, as is usual for such people.

In answer to a reporter’s questions she claimed her conversation with Masot was ‘tongue-in-cheek and gossipy… Any suggestion that I could exert the type of influence you are suggesting is risible.’ She declared that Mr Masot ‘is not someone with whom I have ever worked or had any political dealings beyond chatting about politics, as millions of people do, in a social context.’ This was strange, coming from a person who was recorded as saying she could help Israel because ‘If at least you can get a small group of MPs that you know you can always rely on… you say: ‘you don’t have to do anything, we are going to give you the speech, we are going to give you all the information, we are going to do everything for you’.’

Pronouncements of innocence did not end with Ms Strizzolo’s assertion of virtue, and the Israeli Embassy declared that ‘the comments were made by a junior embassy employee who is not an Israeli diplomat, and who will be ending his term of employment with the embassy shortly.’

This so-called ‘junior embassy employee’ describes himself as ‘a Senior Political Officer’ on his business card, and his social media page states he is ‘the chief point of contact between the embassy and MPs and liaising with ministers and officials at the Foreign Office’ which indicates that he is responsible for dealing with influential representatives of his host country.

It is bizarre to state that Mr Masot would explore methods of ‘taking down’ British government ministers without authorisation from a very high level.

Masot told Joan Ryan, a Member of Parliament and Chair of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), that he had plans for ‘another delegation of LFI activists’ to visit Israel and Ms Ryan said ‘That’d be good. What happened with the names we put in to the embassy, Shai?’ To which Masot replied ‘We’ve got the money, more than a million pounds, it’s a lot of money… I have got it from Israel. It is an approval.’

Israelis don’t spend a million pounds for nothing.

Predictably, Ms Ryan said the filmed revelations are ‘rubbish,’ but the Al Jazeera recording provides undeniable evidence of her involvement in chicanery as well as an Israeli scheme to interfere even more directly in the domestic politics of the United Kingdom.

It cannot be denied that an official of the Israeli Embassy in London collaborated with a British government employee who worked for a pro-Israeli Member of Parliament in order to attempt to destroy the reputation of a British government Minister. Yet the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office — the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose Minister of State (in effect the deputy foreign minister) was the person specifically targeted for a campaign of Israeli-British denigration — quickly stated that ‘The Israeli Ambassador has apologised and is clear these comments do not reflect the views of the embassy or government of Israel. The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.’

And that is that. There will be no action by the British government, in spite of Mr Masot reflecting amusingly, and no doubt to the approval of Ms Strizzolo and much of the British public, that the Foreign Minister himself, Mr Boris Johnson, ‘is an idiot with no responsibilities.’

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, is entirely pro-Israel, as demonstrated by her criticism of departing US Secretary of State John Kerry who described the Israeli government as the ‘most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.’ He was perfectly correct, but Mrs May scolded him and pleased the Israeli government by stating that she does ‘not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally.’

The Conservative and Labour and all the other Friends of Israel have worked their magic in Britain, as does the enormously powerful Israeli lobby in the United States, and the Al Jazeera revelations were only a one-day-wonder in the West.

The Matter is Closed.

But imagine the outcry if there had been reports concerning such actions in London (or Washington) by a representative of any nation other than Israel.

If a Russian diplomat in the capital of any Western country had tried to engage in underhand antics like Israel’s ‘Senior Political Officer’ in London there would be massive journalistic fandangos in American and British media. The West’s television channels would be near meltdown with hysterical condemnation of the threat to democracy and there would be prolonged and frenzied anti-Russian outbursts in their halls of government.

But when Israel schemes to ‘take down’ a respected British Government minister with the assistance of a British government official, and the Israeli ambassador apologises for being found out, the British ignore insult, injury, contempt and condescension, and declare that ‘The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.’

It is amazing what money can buy.

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Creating Frankenstein: Saudi Arabia’s ultra-conservative footprint in Africa

Saudi Islamism in Africa

By James M. Dorsey

There is much debate about what spurs political violence. The explanations are multi-fold. There is one aspect that I’d like to discuss as it relates to Africa, and that is the role of Saudi Arabia. Let me be clear: With the exception of a handful of countries, none of which are in Africa, Saudi Arabia, that is to say the government, the religious establishment and members of the ruling family and business community, does not fund violence.

Promoting intolerance and supremacism

It has, however, over the last half century launched the single largest public diplomacy campaign in history, pumping up to $100 billion into ultra-conservative interpretations of Islam.1 That campaign has succeeded in making ultra-conservatism a force in Muslim religious communities across the globe. It involves the promotion of an intolerant, supremacist, anti-pluralistic interpretation of Islam that even where it rejects involvement in politics creates an environment which, in given circumstances, serves as a breeding ground, but more often fosters a mindset in which militancy and violence against the other is not beyond the pale.

What that campaign has done, certainly in Muslim majority countries in Africa, is to ensure that representatives of Saudi-backed ultra-conservatism have influence in society as well as the highest circles of government. This is important because, contrary to widespread beliefs, the Saudi campaign is not primarily about religion, it’s about geopolitics, it’s about a struggle with Iran for hegemony in the Muslim world. As a result, it’s about anti-Shi’ism and an ultra-conservative narrative that counters that of Shi’ism and what remains of Iran’s post-1979 revolutionary zeal.

The campaign also meant that at times resolving the question of whether the kingdom maintains links to violent groups takes one into murky territory. Again, I want to be clear, certainly with the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group and its affiliates in Africa and elsewhere, and even before with the emergence of Al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia has made countering jihadism a cornerstone of its policy. That is, however, easier said than done.

What is evident in Africa is that the kingdom, or at least prominent members of its clergy, appear to have maintained wittingly or unwittingly some degree of contact with jihadist groups, including IS affiliates. What I want to do is anecdotally illustrate the impact of Saudi-backed ultra-conservatism on three African states – Nigeria, Niger and Mali – and how this at times relates to political violence in the region.

Nigeria

Let’s start with Nigeria. One of the earliest instances in which Saudi Arabia flexed its expanding soft power in West Africa was in 1999 when Zamfara, a region where IS affiliate Boko Haram has been active, became the first Nigerian state to adopt Sharia. A Saudi official stood next to Governor Ahmed Sani when he made the announcement. Freedom of religion scholar Paul Marshall recalls seeing some years later hundreds of Saudi-funded motorbikes in the courtyard of the governor’s residence. They had been purchased to enforce gender segregation in public transport. Sheikh Abdul-Aziz, the religious and cultural attaché at the Saudi embassy in Abuja, declared in 2004 that the kingdom had been monitoring the application of Islamic law in Nigeria “with delight.”2

Like elsewhere in the Muslim world, local politicians in Zamfara were forging an opportunistic alliance with Saudi Arabia. If geopolitics was the Saudi driver, domestic politics was what motivated at least some of their local partners. Nonetheless, the lines between militant but peaceful politics and violence were often blurry. Political violence analyst Jacob Zenn asserts that Boko Haram even has some kind of representation in the kingdom. 3 A Boko Haram founder who was killed in 2009, Muhammad Yusuf, was granted refuge by the kingdom in 2004 to evade a Nigerian military crackdown. In Mecca, he forged links with like-minded Salafi clerics 4 that proved to be more decisive than his debates with Nigerian clerics who were critical of his interpretation of Islam.5

Once back in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s Borno state, Yusuf built with their assistance a state within a state centred around the Ibn Taymiyyah mosque and a compound in the city centre on land bought with the help of his father-in-law. Yusuf’s group had its own institutions, including a Shura or advisory council, a religious police force that enforced Islamic law, and a rudimentary welfare, microfinance and job creation system. 6

It operated under a deal struck in talks in Mecca brokered by a prominent Salafi cleric between a dissident Boko Haram factional leader identified as Aby Muhammed and a close aide to former Nigerian President Jonathan Goodwill.7 Under the agreement Yusuf pledged not to preach violence and to distance himself from separatist groups, an understanding he later violated. Boko Haram has further suggested that before joining IS, it had met with Al-Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia. 8 Moreover, a Boko Haram operative responsible for attacking a church in Nigeria reportedly spent months in Saudi Arabia prior to the attack. 9

Yusuf’s religious teacher, Sheikh Ja’afar Adam, a graduate of the Islamic University of Medina, presided over a popular mosque in the Nigerian city of Kano that helped him build a mass audience. Adam’s popularity allowed him to promote colleagues, many of whom were also graduates of the same university in Medina, who became influential preachers and government officials. Adam was liberally funded by Al-Muntada al-Islami Trust, a London-based charity with ties to Saudi Arabia 10 which has repeatedly been accused by Nigerian intelligence and a British peer, Lord Alton of Liverpool, of having links to Boko Haram and serving as a platform for militant Islamic scholars. 11 Al-Muntada, which operates a mosque and a primary school in London, has denied the allegations while a UK Charity Commission investigation failed to substantiate the allegations. Kenyan and Somali intelligence nonetheless suspected Al-Muntada of also funding Al-Qaeda’s Somali affiliate, Al-Shabab.12

Among scholars hosted by Al-Muntada are Mohammad Al Arifi, a Saudi preacher who argues that “the desire to shed blood, to smash skulls and to sever limbs for the sake of Allah and in defence of His religion, is, undoubtedly, an honour for the believer”. He also reasons that the Muslim world would not have suffered humiliation had it followed “the Quranic verses that deal with fighting the infidels and conquering their countries, say that they should convert to Islam, pay the jizya poll tax, or be killed”.13

Abd al-Aziz Fawzan al-Fawzan, a Saudi academic, is another Al-Muntada favourite. Al-Fawzan advises the faithful that “if (a) person is an infidel, even if this person is my mother or father, God forbid, or my son or daughter, I must hate him, his heresy and his defiance of Allah and His prophet. I must hate his abominable deeds.”14 Organisationally, the charity also maintained close ties to major Saudi funding organisations, including the Muslim World League (MWL), the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation,15 a Saudi governmental non-non-governmental organisation that was shut down in the wake of 9/11 because of its jihadist ties.

Adam publicly condemned Yusuf after he took over Boko Haram. In response, Yusuf in 2007 ordered the assassination of Adam, a protégé of the Saudi-funded Izala Society (formally known as the Society for the Removal of Innovation and Re-establishment of the Sunnah), which sprang up in northern Nigeria in the late 1970s to campaign against Sufi practices and has since gained ground in several West African states. Much like Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism’s relationship to jihadism, Izala after spawning Boko Haram became one of its main targets. The group has since the killing of Adam gunned down several other prominent Saudi-backed clerics.

Nigerian journalists and activists see a direct link between the influx of Saudi funds into Yusuf’s stomping ground in northern Nigeria and the greater intolerance that rolled back the influence of Sufis that had dominated the region for centuries and sought to marginalize Shi’is. According to Shi’i activist Hairun Elbinawi. 16

They built their own mosques with Saudi funds so that they will not follow kafirs in prayers and they erected their own madrasa schools where they indoctrinated people on the deviant teachings of Wahhabism. With Saudi petro-dollars, these Wahhabis quickly spread across the towns and villages of Northern Nigeria… This resulted in countless, senseless inter-religious conflicts that resulted in the death of thousands of innocent Nigerians on both sides.

Adam started his career as a young preacher in Izala, a Salafist movement founded in the late 1970s by prominent judge and charismatic orator Abubakr Gumi who was the prime facilitator of Saudi influence and the rise of Salafism in Northern Nigeria. A close associate, Gumi represented northern Nigeria at gatherings of the MWL starting in the 1960s, was a member of the consultative council of the Islamic University of Medina in the 1970s and was awarded for his efforts with the King Faisal Prize in 1987. All along, Gumi and Izala benefited from generous Saudi financial support for its anti-Sufi and anti-Shi’i campaigns. 17

Adam and Gumi’s close ties to the kingdom did not mean that they uncritically adopted Saudi views. Their ultra-conservative views did not prevent them from at times adopting positions that took local circumstances in Northern Nigeria into account at the expense of ultra-conservative rigidity. Adam’s questioning of the legitimacy of democracy, for example, did not stop him becoming for a period of time a government official in the state of Kano. In another example, Gumi at one point urged Muslim women to vote because “politics is more important than prayer”, a position that at the time would have been anathema to Saudi-backed ultra-conservative scholars. Similarly, Adam suggested that Salafists and Kano’s two major Sufi orders, viewed by Saudi puritans as heretics, should have equal shares of an annual, public Ramadan service. 18

Peregrino Brimah, a trained medical doctor who teaches biology, anatomy and physiology at colleges in New York never gave much thought while growing up in Nigeria to the fact that clerics increasingly were developing links to Saudi Arabia. He said: “You could see the money, the big ones were leading the good life, they ran scholarship programmes. In fact, I was offered a scholarship to study at King Fahd University in Riyadh. I never thought about it until December 2015 when up to a 1,000 Shiites were killed by the military in northern Nigeria,” Brimah said.19 “Since I started looking at it, I’ve realised how successful, how extraordinarily successful the Wahhabis have been.”

Brimah decided to stand up for Shi’i rights after an incident in which the army arrested prominent Shi’i cleric Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky following a clash in Kaduna state. 20 The Nigerian army confirmed that it had attacked sites in the ancient university town Zaria after hundreds of Shi’i demonstrators had blocked a convoy of Nigeria’s army chief, General Tukur Buratai, in an alleged effort to kill him. Military police said Shi’is had crawled through tall grass towards Buratai’s vehicle “with the intent to attack the vehicle with [a] petrol bomb” while others “suddenly resorted to firing gunshots from the direction of the mosque”. Scores were killed in the incident.21 A phone call to Nigerian President Mohammed Buhari in which King Salman expressed his support for the government’s fight against terrorist groups was widely seen as Saudi endorsement of the army’s crackdown on the country’s Shi’i minority. The state-owned Saudi Press Agency quoted Salman as saying that Islam condemned such “criminal acts” and that the kingdom, in a reference to Iran, opposed foreign interference in Nigeria.22

Brimah’s defence of the Shi’is has cost him dearly and further illustrated the degree to which Saudi-funded Wahhabism and Salafism had altered the nature of Nigerian society.

I lost everything I had built on social media the minute I stood up for the Shi’is. I had thousands of fans. Suddenly, I was losing 200-300 followers a day. My brother hasn’t spoken to me since. The last thing he said to me is: “how can you adopt Shi’i ideology?” I raised the issue in a Sunni chat forum. It became quickly clear that these attitudes were not accidental. They are the product of Saudi-sponsored teachings of serious hatred. People don’t understand what they are being taught. They rejoice when thousand Shi’is are killed. Even worse is the fact that they hate people like me who stand up for the Shi’is even more than they hate the Shi’is themselves.

In response to Brimah’s writing about the clash, Buratai, the Nigerian army chief, invited him for a chat. Brimah politely declined. After again accusing the army of having massacred Shi’is, Buratai’s spokesman, Colonel S.K. Usman, adopting the Saudi line of Shi’is being Iranian stooges, and accused Brimah of being on the Islamic republic’s payroll. In an email, Usman wrote:

Several of us hold you in high esteem based on perceived honesty, intellectual prowess and ability to speak your mind. That was before, but the recent incident of attempted assassination of the chief of army staff by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria and subsequent events and actions by some groups and individuals such as you made one to have a rethink. I was quite aware of your concerted effort to smear the good name and reputation of the chief of army staff to the extent of calling for his resignation. He went out of his way to write to you and even invited you for constructive engagement. But because you have dubious intents, you cleverly refused… God indeed is very merciful for exposing you. Let me make it abundantly clear to you that your acts are not directed to the person of the chief of army staff, they have far reaching implication on our national security. Please think about it and mend your ways and refund whatever funds you coveted for the campaign of calumny.23

Brimah’s inbox has since then been inundated with anti-Shi’i, anti-Iranian writings in what he believes is a military-inspired campaign.

Brimah was not the only one to voice opposition to Saudi-backed ultra-conservatism. Murtada Muhammad Gusau, chief imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’at Mosque and Alhaji Abdurrahman Okene’ s Mosque in Nigeria’s Okene Kogi State, took exception to the kingdom’s global effort to criminalise blasphemy, legitimise in the process curbs on free speech and reinforce growing Muslim intolerance towards any unfettered discussion of the faith.  In a lengthy article in a Nigerian newspaper, Gusau debunked the Saudi-inspired crackdown on alleged blasphemists, citing multiple verses from the Qur’an that advocate patience and tolerance and reject the killing of those that curse or berate the Prophet Muhammad.24

Brimah and Gusau were among the relatively few willing to invoke the wrath of spreading ultra-conservative, sectarian forms of Islam across a swath of Africa at an often dizzying pace. In the process, African politicians and ultra-conservatives, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia, have let a genie of intolerance, discrimination, supremacy and bigotry out of the bottle.

Niger

In the Sahel state of Niger, Issoufou Yahaya recalls his student days in the 1980s when there wasn’t a single mosque on his campus. “Today, we have more mosques here than we have lecture rooms. So much has changed in such a short time,” he said.25

One cannot avoid noticing Saudi Arabia’s role in this development. The flags of Niger and Saudi Arabia feature on a monument close to the office tower from which Yahaya administers the History department of the Université Abdou Moumouni in the Niger capital of Niamey.

Sheikh Boureima Abdou Daouda, an internet-savvy graduate of the Islamic University of Medina and the Niamey university’s medical faculty as well as an author and translator of numerous books, attracts tens of thousands of worshippers to the Grand Mosque where he insists that “We must adopt Islam, we cannot adapt it.”26 Daouda serves as an advisor to Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou and chairs the League of Islamic Scholars and Preachers of the Countries of the Sahel. “Before, people here turned to religion when they reached middle age, and particularly after they retired. But now, it is above all the young ones. What we see is a flourishing of Islam.” Daouda said.27

What Daouda did not mention was that Africa, the battleground where Iran put up its toughest cultural and religious resistance to Saudi-backed ultra-conservatism, was witnessing the world’s highest rates of conversion to Shi’a Islam since many Sunni tribes in southern Iraq adopted Shi’ism in the 19th century. Shi’is were until recently virtually non-existent in Africa, with the exception of migrants from Lebanon and the Indian subcontinent. A Pew Research survey suggests that that has changed dramatically. The number of Shi’is has jumped from 0 in 1980 to 12 per cent of Nigeria’s 90-million strong Muslim community in 2012. Shiites account today for 21 per cent of Chad’s Muslims, 20 per cent in Tanzania and eight per cent in Gaza, according to the survey.28

Africa and Islamism -Pew survey

Source: Pew Research Centre

Mali

Ironically, Mali a nation where Shi’ism has not made inroads and where only two per cent of the populations identifies itself as Ahmadis, an Islamic sect widely viewed by conservative Muslims as heretics, is the only country outside of Pakistan that Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nubuwwat (AMTKN), a militant anti-Ahmadi, Pakistan-based group with a history of Saudi backing, identifies by name as a place where it operates overseas.29 The fact that AMTKN, which says that it operates in 12 countries, identified Mali is indicative of the sway of often Saud-educated imams and religious  leaders that reaches from the presidential palace in the capital Bamako into the country’s poorest villages.

The government at times relies on Salafis rather than its own officials to mediate with jihadists in the north or enlist badly needed European support in the struggle against them. Moreover, cash-rich Salafi leaders and organisations provide social services in parts of Mali where the government is absent. In 2009, the Saudi-backed High Islamic Council of Mali (HICM) proved powerful enough to prevent the president from signing into law a parliamentary bill that would have enhanced women’s rights. Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita reportedly phones HICM chief Mahmoud Dicko twice a week. Malians no longer simply identify each other as Muslims and instead employ terms such as Wahhabi, Sufi and Shi’i that carry with them either derogatory meanings or assertions of foreign associations.30 

Dicko condemned the November 2015 jihadist attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako in which 20 people were killed but argued that world powers cannot enjoy peace by fighting God through promotion of homosexuality. Dicko said the perpetrators were not Muslims but mostly rappers with drug-related charge sheets.

They rebel and take arms against their society. This is a message from God that the masters of the world, the major powers, which are trying to promote homosexuality, must understand. These powers are trying to force the world to move towards homosexuality. These world powers have attacked the Prophet (peace be upon him) into his grave… These masters of this world, who think that the world belongs to them, must understand that we will not attack God and escape safely. They cannot provoke God and get his clemency, his mercy. They cannot have peace and peace with such provocations towards the Creator of the world down here. They will not have peace. God will not leave them alone.”31 

Like elsewhere, ultra-conservatism as a cornerstone of Saudi soft power has proven in Mali to be a double-edged sword for the kingdom and its beneficiaries. Iyad Ag Ghaly nicknamed “The Strategist”, a Malian Tuareg militant who led tribal protests in the 1990s and emerged in 2012 at the head of Ansar Eddine, one of the jihadist groups that overran the north of Mali, found ultra-conservative religion while serving as a Malian diplomat in Jeddah. A Sufi and a singer who occasionally worked with Tinariwen, the Grammy Award winning band formed by veterans of Tuareg armed resistance in the 1980s and 1990s, co-organised an internationally acclaimed annual music festival outside of Timbuktu that attracted the likes of Robert Plant, Bono and Jimmy Buffett, and hedonistically enjoyed parties, booze and tobacco, Ag Ghaly grew a beard while in Saudi Arabia. His meetings with Saudi-based jihadists persuaded the Malian government to cut short his stint in the kingdom and call him home.32 Pakistani missionaries of Tablighi Ja’amat, an ultra-conservative global movement that has at times enjoyed Saudi backing despite theological differences with Wahhabism and Salafism, helped convince Ag Ghaly to abandon his music and hedonistic lifestyle. He opted for an austere interpretation of Islam and ultimately jihadism.33 

This pattern is not uniquely African even if Africa is the continent where Iranian responses to Saudi promotion of Sunni ultra-conservatism have primarily been cultural and religious in nature rather than through the use of militant and armed proxies as in the Middle East. It is nonetheless a battle that fundamentally alters the fabric of those African societies in which it is fought; a battle that potentially threatens the carefully constructed post-colonial cohesion of those societies. The potential threat is significantly enhanced by poor governance and the rise of jihadist groups like Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Al-Shabab in Somalia, whose ideological roots can be traced back to ultra-conservatism but whose political philosophy views Saudi Arabia as an equally legitimate target because its rulers have deviated from the true path. At the bottom line, both Africans and Saudis are struggling to come to grips with a phenomenon they opportunistically harnessed to further their political interests; one that they no longer control and that has become as much a liability as it was an asset.

Posted in Saudi ArabiaComments Off on Creating Frankenstein: Saudi Arabia’s ultra-conservative footprint in Africa


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