In Other News
Yet more grim evidence emerged this week that Mexico's warring cartels are becoming a real military force and underground parallel state in the country's lawless northeast. Small Wars Journal on Feb.
In an open acknowledgement that it cannot secure its pipeline system from plunder by criminal gangs, Mexico will no longer pump refined gasoline and diesel through the network.
In another grim signal of a widening war in northern Burma's opium zones, last week saw an outbreak of intense fighting between government forces and ethnic rebels, prompting some 50,000 Kokang civilians to flee across the border to China. The clashes at the town of Laukkai (also rendered Laogai), Shan state, saw government air-strikes and helicopter strafing on villages controlled by the Kokang rebel group, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and two allied militias. Some 50 government troops have been killed in the fighting, and soliders have recovered the bodies of several rebels. A line of refugees 10 kilometers long has reportedly piled up at the Chinese border crossing of Nansan. (AP, Feb. 14; Democratic Voice of Burma, Feb. 12; The Irrawady, Feb. 11)
Bibi Netanyahu's polarizing speech before Congress today was basically a repeat of his 2012 performance at the UN, but with the level of doublethink considerably jacked up. It is pretty damn terrifying that his relentless barrage of lies and distortions won virtually incessant applause throughout—although it is a glimmer of hope that some dozen Democrats declined to attend. But most of the outrage has been over Bibi's perceived meddling in the US political process (thanks for playing right into the anti-Semitic stereotype, Bibi, very helpful)—not the outrageous dishonesty of his speech. Here's a few choice chuckles from the transcript...
Turkey and the Kurdish rebel movement on Feb. 28 announced a landmark political deal that calls for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to lay down arms. The news came in a joint press conference with senior cabinet ministers and Kurdish leaders of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), where they conveyed a call by imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan for a congress this spring to discuss the group's disarmament. "This is a historic declaration of will to replace armed struggle with democratic politics," said the HDP's Sırrı Sureyya Onder. The Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), the PKK-aligned civil organization in Turkey's east, also issued a statement in support of the call for a peace process in the region. Some 40,000 people have lost their lives since 1984 when the PKK launched its armed struggle.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro led a mass rally in Caracas Feb. 28 marking the anniversary of the "Caracazo," the 1989 popular rebellion against an IMF structural adjustment package imposed by then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez. Over the course of 72 hours, perhaps 3,000 were killed or "disappeared" in a wave of repression, although the actual figure remains unknown. Maduro announced that 75 more victims and survivors of the repression would receive indemnification from the state. Since 2002, some 600 victims and survivors have received restitution. Maduro of course also linked the commemoration to the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela, pledging to defend "the anti-imperialist charatcer of the Bolivarian Revolution" despite designs by "the oligarchy" for a "coup d'etat." (Diario BAE, Argentina, Noticías24, Venezuela, Feb. 28; VenezuelAnalysis, Feb. 27)
Colombia's supreme court on Feb. 27 convicted two close aides of former president Alvaro Uribe for illegal eavesdropping on the communications of the conservative leader's top opponents. Maria del Pilar Hurtado, former head of the now-disbanded DAS intelligence agency, and Bernardo Moreno, Uribe's chief of staff, were both found guilty on several charges, including conspiracy, and each face more than 10 years in prison. The convictions were widely anticipated since a number of former DAS agents accused them of ordering wiretaps of journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and even members of the supreme court who had been critical of Uribe. President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the DAS shut down shortly after taking office.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Dhaka Feb. 27 to denounce the murder of Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy, hacked to death with machetes earlier that day while walking near a book fair he was visiting in the city. Roy was founder of Mukto-Mona (Free Mind) blog, which advocated secularism and atheism. He had received numerous threats from Islamists in recent months. His wife was also injured the attack. There have been no arrests. At the rally, protesters chanted "We want justice" and "Raise your voice against militants."
A former aide of Osama bin Laden was found guilty on Feb. 26 of plotting the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224. Extradited from the UK in 2012, Saudi national Khalid al-Fawwaz was convicted on four counts of conspiracy by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York after three days of jury deliberations, and faces a possible life sentence. US Attorney Preet Bharara said al-Fawwaz "played a critical role for al-Qaeda in its murderous conspiracy against America." He described al-Fawwaz as one of bin Laden's "original and most trusted lieutenants" who was leader of an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and later acted as bin Laden's spokesperson in London. Al-Fawwaz was arrested in the UK in 1998, the same year as the bombings. His trial lasted a month under heavy security in Manhattan. Al-Fawwaz did not testify.
A federal judge in Argentina on Feb. 26 dismissed charges against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, who had been accused of covering up Iranian involvement in the deadly 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA). Judge Daniel Rafecas concluded that there was "no legal basis" to pursue the charges, which had been prepared by special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, just before he was found dead in his apartment last month. Rafecas also dismissed related charges against lawmaker Eduardo "Wado" de Pedro and two leftist leaders close the the government, Luis D'Elía and Fernando Estreche. (BBC News, InfoBAE, Feb. 26)
A Swedish court sentenced Syrian refugee Mouhannad Droub to five years in prison Feb. 26 after convicting him of abusing a captured member of President Bashar Assad's forces. Droub was part of a group under the Free Syrian Army, where he and other members beat a prisoner and posted a video of the abuse on Facebook. Droub received asylum in Sweden in 2013. He was indicted in the Södertörn District Court earlier this month. It is the first time that charges in connection with the Syrian conflict have been brought to a Swedish court.
A Bahraini court found 11 Shi'ities guilty on Feb. 26 of an attack carried out last year and sentenced three to death. The other eight defendants were sentenced to life in prison and will be stripped of their citizenship. The case centered on the country's deadliest attack since Bahraini security forces repressed Shi'ite protests in 2011. In March three police officers were killed by bombings in a Shi'ite village while breaking up groups of "rioters and vandals" on Manama's outskirts. One of the fallen officers had been a policeman from the United Arab Emirates deployed to Bahrain to assist in security measures. The defendants plan to appeal.
Two young men living in Brooklyn were arrested Feb. 25 and charged with plotting to travel to Syria to fight under the banner of ISIS. A third Brooklyn man was charged with helping organize and fund their activities. All three are immigrants from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and were living in the Midwood neighborhood. One of the men who reportedly sought to fight for ISIS, Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, worked in a gyro shop. The other, Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, worked at cellphone repair kiosks owned by the third man charged, Abror Habibov, 30. (NYT, DNAInfo, Feb. 25)
Extremist Jewish settlers set fire to a mosque in the southern West Bank town of al-Jaba west of Bethlehem in the small hours of Feb. 25, locals told Ma'an News Agency. As worshipers arrived around 4:30 AM to prepare for the dawn prayer at al-Huda mosque, they saw smoke and flames rising from inside the building. Worshipers alerted neighbors and together they joined forces until they managed to put out the fire. Racist slogans calling for killing Arabs and Muslims were sprayed on the walls in Hebrew. The Palestinian foreign ministry said the attack was tantamount to "an official declaration of religious war," the official WAFA news agency reported. "This new attack is a sign of the mounting violent extremism within Israeli society." The attack coincides with the 21st anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron when an extremist US-born Jew, Baruch Goldstein, opened fire at Muslim worshipers at dawn prayer. The attack killed 29 people and injured more than 120. (Ma'an)
Amnesty International (AI) claimed Feb. 23 that the Egyptian military failed to take adequate precautionary measures to avoid civilian casualties in an attack on the Libyan city of Derna last week. The airstrikes occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 16, and AI argues that indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations, such as this attack by the Egyptian military, amount to war crimes. The AI article cites eyewitness testimonies from local residents who claim there are no military targets near the largely residential area of Sheiha al-Gharbiya, where two missiles were fired resulting in the deaths of seven civilians. Additionally, Sheiha al-Gharbiya is located near the city's university. The international community is largely restricted to eyewitness accounts of missile attacks within urban areas of Libya due to the hostile conditions for journalists in the country. The Egyptian airstrikes were executed in retaliation for the slaughter of 21 Egyptian Christians [by presumed ISIS militants]. AI urges the Egyptian military and all warring parties in Libya to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians and to ensure that their forces do not carry out direct attacks on civilians or attacks which are indiscriminate or disproportionate.