Saturday, December 6, 2014

US hostage killed in Yemen raid

American hostage Luke Somers, who was held by al-Qaeda in Yemen, has died during a rescue operation in the southern province of Shabwa, a senior official in the president's office has said.
Somers, 33, who was abducted in September 2013 while he worked as a freelance photojournalist forYemen Times, died from injuries sustained during the operation.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel confirmed Somers' death and that of a non-US hostage, reported to be South African, saying they had been "murdered" by al-Qaeda during the rescue attempt.
Hagel said there were "compelling reasons" to believe Somers' life was in danger before the rescue operation was launched.
"Yesterday by the order of the president of the United States, US special operations forces conducted a mission in Yemen to rescue a US citizen Luke Somers and any other foreign nationals held hostage with him," Hagel said, speaking from Kabul.
"There were compelling reasons to believe Somers' life was in imminent danger."
The New York Times said Somers was shot at by his captors as the joint raid by US and Yemeni forces unfolded and was badly wounded when the commandos reached him. He died while being flown to a US naval base in the region, the paper reported.
Yemeni journalist Nasser Arrabyee told Al Jazeera the fighters originally tried to escape with Somers. He was apparently shot after his captors found themselves surrounded.
At least ten al-Qaeda fighters were also killed in the raid.
Somers appeared in a video released by al-Qaeda on Thursday in which he pleaded for help. His captors said in the same video that "he would meet his inevitable fate" unless the group's demands were met within three days.
His sister, Lucy, was quoted by AP as saying that she was informed by the FBI of his death. “We ask that all of Luke’s family members be allowed to mourn in peace,” she said.
The South African hostage who was killed in the failed raid was due to be released on Sunday, charity Gift of the Givers, the group that had been negotiating his release, said on Saturday.
"We received with sadness the news that Pierre [Korkie] was killed in an attempt by American Special Forces, in the early hours of this morning, to free hostages in Yemen," the NGO said.
"The psychological and emotional devastation to Yolande and her family will be compounded by the knowledge that Pierre was to be released by al-Qaeda tomorrow."

'Ultras' fuel Egypt's campus protests

Protests continued on university campuses across Egypt following the court verdict that cleared ousted President Hosni Mubarak of charges of killing protesters during the January 25 uprising.
The protesters comprise a broad mix of Islamists, liberals, leftists, independents and other non-affiliated students. The scale of protests prompted state-owned news website Al-Ahram to describe it as Egypt witnessing "a university uprising". 
But it was one group of activists that has given a sharper edge to many of the ongoing protests on university campuses across Egypt since the new academic year began on October 11: Ultras Nahdawy.
Ultras are generally known as hard-core football fans, but "Nahdawy" activists are not linked to any team. Most of their original members came from ultras groups supporting Cairo sporting clubs, al-Ahly Club and Zamalek Club.
According to its spokesperson, they formed a new ultras movement during the 2012 presidential campaign to support the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi, who later won the election. "We were the first political ultras in Egypt," the Nahdawy's spokesperson said.
But it was the escalating repression against students that brought the ultras and students, from across the spectrum, together.
Students have rebelled against a raft of government measures, which include pre-emptive arrests of students, and the banning of political activities and "insulting" the president on campus.
Universities have been given a military makeover, with the installation of steel walls, barbed wire, metal detectors and CCTV, backed by a heavy-handed security presence in and around campuses.
The new measures were designed to prevent a repeat of the anti-government protests that occurred during the last academic year, in which at least 16 students were killed and hundreds arrested.

OPINION: The undone revolution in Egypt

Ultras in Egypt are renowned both for their fanatical support of their clubs and for their willingness to confront the guns and batons of the security forces.
"We took the culture of the ultras in the stadiums and tried to copy and paste it into the street," said Zizou, a supporter of al-Ahly who declined to give his real name for security reasons.
The majority of Nahdawy members are in high school, but many of the more senior members are university students.
Ultras Nahdawy members have been a small, but prominent, part of many protests. Their chants, songs, flares and fireworks have been particularly notable during demonstrations, particularly at al-Azhar and Ain Shams universities. They are also active in regular Friday protests in their own neighbourhoods.
"Nahda", meaning "renaissance", is the term used to refer to the Muslim Brotherhood's economic and political project. 
The creation of Ultras Nahdawy was controversial among football fans and many chose to keep their membership hidden after some were booted out of their original ultras groups when their Nahdawy alliances were discovered.
They claim to put aside their footballing rivalries within their group to focus on the political collective.
They were involved in the protests that followed the military's ousting of Morsi in July 2013.
Following the violent dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-in at Rabaa al-Adaweya on August 14, 2013, they were forced underground and began operating secretly to evade the authorities and occasionally pop-up at demonstrations.
We took the culture of the ultras in the stadiums and tried to copy and paste it into the street.
- Zizou, an ultras activist
Many have been arrested under the Protest Law, which effectively outlaws demonstrations that are not sanctioned by the authorities.
From an estimated membership of between 1,500 and 2,000, they claim that around 350 have been arrested and 14 killed since the military ousted Morsi.
Ultras Nahdawy activists claim that they no longer have any official link with the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, although their core demographic still appears to be Islamist. They say that their membership has widened.
"During the January 25 revolution we had our demands and they are still the same: bread, freedom, justice," Zizou said.
"But now we are also calling for an end to military rule, freedom for the prisoners of conscience, and democratisation - because SCAF [the military leadership] violated democratic principles when they kicked out Morsi."
Morsi, currently imprisoned and facing multiple charges, is reviled by many Egyptians for his perceived authoritarianism and economic mismanagement while in power.
The Nahdawy are part of a diverse mix of student protesters, many of whom are secular and oppose the Nahdawy's call for Morsi to return. Yet, repression is forging a degree of solidarity as students and ultras across the political spectrum call for academic and political freedom.
Reem Khorshid, a student at Cairo University, in a recent article for the independent media online platform, Mada Masr, wrote that she knows students who are politically indifferent but who would side with Muslim Brotherhood-supporting colleagues against the security forces.
"The state's vendetta against the student body doesn't only include supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi," wrote Khorshid. "All students feel chafed at the new draconian procedures on campus."

RELATED: Egypt: 'The counterrevolution is at its peak'

In his address at Cairo University in late September, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared: "I love Egypt's youth and consider them my children," before warning students against engaging in "malicious" activities and urging them to view the university as solely for education.
Yet, at least one student has died in ongoing confrontations and at least 230 have been arrested so far in this academic year as students vent their anger at the security measures.
The authorities' repression of student dissent is part of a wider crackdown on secular activists, the media, NGOs, and other ultras groups.
A Cairo court is currently considering a lawsuit to ban Zamalek Sporting Club's Ultras White Knights (UWK) group following a series of clashes in the past few months.   
As one of the few groups to regularly confront the security forces in the streets during Mubarak's era, ultras were active beyond the stadiums long before the formation of Ultras Nahdawy. When the January 25 uprising broke out in 2011, ultras were at the forefront of protests that toppled the dictator.
"Spectators have been banned from attending football matches for much of the last three and a half years and certainly since the Port Said incident in February 2012, which tells you to what degree the regime views the ultras as a problem or a threat," says James M Dorsey, author of a forthcoming book on football in the Middle East.

Analyst: Egypt protests 'beyond the Muslim Brotherhood'
Dorsey recently wrote that "protesting students backed bymilitant football fans have turned university campuses into the new stadia", battling with the authorities over public space.
Some analysts believe the restriction on students, ultras and other groups, may encourage some to become more politically active, and may push others into radicalisation.
"The crackdown will help to nurture violence among young people in general and especially among the ultras," says Yasser Thabet, author of several books on Egyptian ultras and football.
He believes that some may be tempted to join more radical groups. "Due to the violent confrontations, especially in the universities or at protests, some may move from direct to indirect confrontation which might include even more violence."
Ultras Nahdawy claim to follow non-violent principles of protest, although Gandhi might not approve. According to Zizou: "If the police attack us, we defend ourselves with fireworks."
But they also concede that some members are losing patience with "peaceful" protest, especially due to the level of violence they are facing from the authorities.
" Against the political ultras [such as Nahdawy], the police use live ammunition and birdshot," claimed Zizou. "With the sporting ultras, they just arrest them to scare them or teach them a lesson, to make them bite the bullet. For us it is tougher."
The targeting of students and ultras is nothing new in Egypt, analysts argue, but the scale of the recent repression is perhaps unprecedented. "We should assume that if attacks from the police continue, the youth will eventually explode," said one ultras activist.
Al Jazeera

A fierce battle for control in Libya's desert

South Libya - In Libya's southwest Saharan desert, near the vast el-Sharara oil field and the borders with Niger and Algeria, a fierce struggle for control of the small oasis town of Ubari and its surrounding area has dragged on since September.
This desert conflict illustrates the shift of tribal allegiances in the country's post-revolution fight over resources and power, now cast within the larger national context of Libya's two competing governments and their agendas as the country slides deeper into civil war.
"We are taking out dead bodies. Our challenge is how to get help inside the town, and to get people out," Mahmoud al-Araby, head of the Red Crescent Society in Ubari, told Al Jazeera. Along with his volunteer emergency health staff, he has been exiled to the nearby town of al-Ghoraifa.
"We have brought out nine dead bodies so far," he said. "And they were decomposed when we got them."

RELATED: Libya's Benghazi sees battles for control

The battle of Ubari is between the historically semi-nomadic Tuareg and Tebu tribes, both indigenous to Libya's southern desert, with kin stretched across neighbouring countries. Both peoples coexisted under a truce called "Midi-Midi" as they found themselves marginalised by Muammar Gaddafi's favouritism towards Arab tribes.
During the 2011 revolution, many Tuareg fighters backed the regime, which had promised them rights and rewards upon victory, while the Tebu supported the rebellion. But Tuareg and Tebu guns were never turned on each other.
Today, the truce has been broken, with the tribes violently pitted against each other in Ubari. On the Libyan Tuareg side, their kin from countries such as war-ravaged Mali and groups like Ahmed al-Ansari have joined the fight, with support from the Misratan Libyan Dawn forces. Meanwhile, there are claims that Tebu from Chad have joined the Libyan Tebu, which has support from the Libyan Dignity government in Tobruk, based in the far northeast.
Misrata, currently in control of the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC), has a military presence now stretching through Libya's west and to the south. With the Misratans changing their alliance to the Tuareg, there are accusations that external forces with their own larger motives are at play. On November 5, local Tuareg fighters, backed by Misratan forces, wrested control of Libya's largest operational oil field, el-Sharara, from the Zintan and Tebu security guards who had patrolled the perimeter over the past three years. The Spanish consortium Repsol operates from there.
Armed Tuareg militias stormed the facility. They looted equipment, they fired shots, they were intimidating towards staff, and the facility subsequently closed because of the attack. They then left in a number of vehicles and drove towards the Algerian border. Some members returned, and the Misratan 'Third Force' claimed they had control of the Sharara facility.
Geoffrey Howard, analyst with Control Risks
"Armed Tuareg militias stormed the facility. They looted equipment, they fired shots, they were intimidating towards staff, and the facility subsequently closed because of the attack," Geoffrey Howard, an analyst with Control Risks, told Al Jazeera. "They then left in a number of vehicles and drove towards the Algerian border. Some members returned, and the Misratan 'Third Force' claimed they had control of the Sharara facility."
The fight in Ubari has blocked the pitted road past the installation, and goods and workers can only be flown to the enormous desert site. White plumes of smoke rise above Ubari near the oil site now heavily guarded by Tuareg fighters and the Misratan military; the tall oil flares have been extinguished by members of the Zintan tribe, who blocked a valve to the pipeline hundreds of kilometres closer to the sea.
Oil comprises 95 percent of Libya's economy. Before the revolution, production was about 1.6 billion barrels per day (bpd), and after Gaddafi's overthrow it bounced back to 1.4 billion bpd.
But last year, as Libya's political fortunes worsened and heavily armed groups ruled the streets, oil production took a sharp tumble when disgruntled workers and federalists, led by Ibrahim Jadhran, took control of three of Libya's largest oil terminals in the east. This past summer, Jadhran sided with Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani's government, and output has risen again to 800,000 bpd.
However, el-Sharara remains offline. The largest oil refinery at Ras Lanuf is shut, with the other, at Zawiyah, gravely affected by fighting. This translates to long lines of cars at petrol stations throughout Libya, and skyrocketing gas prices on a lucrative black market.
"The last few months have been a surprise mainly because Libya has managed to produce so much oil despite all of the political insecurity," Richard Mallinson, an analyst with Energy Aspects, told Al Jazeera. "The oil numbers and the rest of Libya, with its politics and violence, have gone on opposite trajectories.
"What seems to happen is that all the various factions are still able to draw government salary payments, whatever side they are on, and thus have an incentive to allow oil production to continue, so the revenue can continue," he added. "Then the victorious would take it all."
The southern Libya border is ripe for smuggling people, gasoline, food, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs; it is suspected that weapons and fighters also flow across. "The French are worried about the strengthening of terrorism in south Libya - it is kind of a Club Med for terrorists," one western diplomat told Al Jazeera.
After the Libyan revolution, many Tuareg fighters moved south into Mali with weapons, and fought alongside the group Ansar Dine. Now many of these young men are returning to Libya. Concerned French troops have moved closer to the Libyan border, and the United States has built two drone bases in neighbouring Niger. One concern is the possibility of weapons flowing to extremist groups like Ansar al-Sharia in towns in Libya's northeast.
"All the fighters in Benghazi and Derna belong to tribes," said rival Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi, who acknowledged an "uneasy alliance" between his government and Ansar al-Sharia. "Many tribes fight because they lost their boys. Now they are united because they fight [against retired Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, allied with the 'Dignity' government]. You will find very few extremists - most are very normal and have nothing to do with extremism."

RELATED: Libya: The war nobody can win

Issa Senussi, a Tuareg political activist who appears to advise the Misratan command in Sebha, echoes Misratan complaints about their former revolutionary allies, the Tebu, and their control over checkpoints and Libya's lucrative border trade.
"We need to drive the Tebu out of Ubari. This is the only way to make peace," Senussi told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, Misratan intelligence agents and fighters have gathered in a dilapidated former safari hotel in Germa, down the road from Ubari. "We will move into Ubari to keep the peace between the two tribes," one of the men said.
Rejab Agey, a Tebu elder from the nearby town of Murzuq, has been present at recent tribal negotiations in the Ubari valley. "We have no problem with the Libyan Tuareg. They are in their houses, and in valleys where they keep their camels. All southern tribes went to Ubari to broker a peace," he said. "But the Libyan Tuareg have no control over extremist groups like Ahmed al-Ansari, and the Misratans refuse to talk."
Adam, a Tebu policeman from Ubari, agreed: "We were discussing how to stop the war. The Tebu were offering to get rid of all battalions, and that citizens should be in the police and the army, no matter if they are Tebu or Tuareg. The Tuareg refused."
One Tuareg elder trying to forge peace is Mohammed from al-Aweinat, close to the Algerian border. "We are killing and destroying each other for nothing," he said. "Everyone has a different agenda. Myself, I am looking for an open dialogue, looking to bring back an agreement that was signed many years ago, and trying to protect the south in general.
"The Tuareg and Tebu can once again become two hands in the desert," he said. "This is our goal."
Al Jazeera

Seven sentenced to death in Egypt

An Egyptian court has sentenced to death seven men, including well-known fighter Adel Habara, for killing 25 policemen last year in an attack in Sinai near the border with Israel, judicial sources said.

The attack took place in August 2013, six weeks after the military ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, and days after hundreds of his supporters were killed when police broke up their protest camps in Cairo. 
The violence was part of a spike in attacks by armed groups against security forces and military personnel, who were seen as targeting Islamists.
Saturday's ruling came after the Grand Mufti endorsed the sentence.
Those sentenced were accused of stopping minibuses carrying the victims, forcing them to get off and then shooting them. 

450 Days in Jail

Following Ibrahim Halawa’s case,  Three  month ago, the trial of Mr Halawa was deferred and transferred to a new venue and a new judge, without a date being fixed. Referring to his trial on August 12 last, which was dramatically abandoned mid-hearing, Ibrahim writes: "I didn't get to talk to my lawyer and the court cage was sound-proof (the one I didn't even enter) which is also illegal. We refused to leave until we get to see a judge as a result we were beaten up, dragged down the stairs, handcuffed in threes, we were spat on and all this just because we refused to leave until we were to see a judge."

Tineke Harris, a director at Reprieve, said: “This ‘mass trial’ is a mockery of justice and Ibrahim Halawa’s inclusion in it must be stopped. Ibrahim’s life is in grave danger.”
Ibrahim Halawa prisoner of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression , an Irish citizen, only 17 when arrested – a minor according to Egyptian law. When first detained, Ibrahim was brutally beaten and shot in the hand. He was subsequently denied medical treatment, which has resulted in a permanent deformity.  Ibrahim has been repeatedly denied access to his lawyer and denied the right to a proper court hearing. This is clearly a violation of his basic civil and human rights.

While in jail, Ibrahim says he has been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment including electrocution, being stripped half naked, being beaten with whips and chains, and being held in solitary confinement,” the letter states. “No evidence has been provided to show that Ibrahim was ever involved in any illegal activity – instead he has been arrested for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.”

Ibrahim’s family is concerned that he will become locked into a continuous cycle of solitary confinement extensions without ever having fair legal process. The Halawa family Urge the government to demand for Ibrahim’s immediate release.
Ibrahim's birthday is on the 13th of December, this is the second time Ibrahim has to spend his birthday far from his home and family. His last trial was postponed for the third time without even getting to see a judge.