Greater Middle East

Bahrain: court upholds two death sentences for police killings

Bahrain's Appeal National Safety Court on May 22 unanimously upheld death sentences for two men convicted of killing police officers during anti-government protests in March. The court reduced the death sentences of two others to life in prison. The four men were tried in the special appeals security court set up by Royal Decree in March, under emergency law, during the Shiite-led protests in Bahrain. The special court and other measure implemented under emergency law have been heavily criticized by various human rights groups. Nabeel Rajab, leader of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights criticized the ruling, expressing his concern that the cases are politically motivated and an attempt for the government to stop protests. The date for the two executions has not yet been disclosed but would first require the approval of Bahrain's king. The death penalty is rarely used in Bahrain and typically not used against the country's citizens.

Syria: thousands defy state terror, solidarize with Kurdish minority

Thousands took to the streets in towns and cities across Syria for Friday protests May 20, and security forces again responded with tear gas and live ammunition, leaving at least 32 people dead. The killings were reported in the southern region of Deraa, the Damascus suburb of Daraya, the seaport of Latakia, the central city of Homs, and a village near the north-central town of Idlib (see map). Among the dead in Homs were two boys, aged 16 and 11. Protesters in many places shouted "azadi," which means freedom in Kurdish. Organizers had dubbed the 20th as Azadi Day, in solidarity with Kurdish protesters and to reflect the failure of policies aimed at getting Kurdish Syrians on the government's side with promises of recognizing their civil rights. (DPA, AlJazeera, May 20)

Al-Qaeda appoints interim successor to bin Laden: report

Noman Benotman, named as a "former associate" of Osama bin Laden and now an analyst with the UK's Quilliam Foundation think tank, said May16 that an Egyptian veteran militant is acting as an interim operational leader of al-Qaeda pending the expected appointment of deputy chief Ayman al-Zawahri as bin Laden's successor. Benotman named the interim leader as Saif al-Adel, saying he has been appointed al-Qaeda's "caretaker" while the organization collects pledges of loyalty to Zawahri. US prosecutors say Adel helped plan the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings (for which he is wanted by the FBI) and established al-Qaeda training camps in Sudan and Afghanistan in the 1990s. A former Egyptian military officer, al-Adel was once a leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a militant organization that has since broken with al-Qaeda. (Reuters, CNN, May 17)

Egypt: sectarian strife escalates as Salafists attack Coptic protesters

At least two were killed and some 70 injured as presumed Salafists attacked Coptic protesters with sticks, firearms and Molotov cocktails in the Cairo neighborhood of Maspero early on May 15. The Copts fought back with hurled rocks, and police finally intervened with tear gas. The protesters were holding a sit-in in front of the Egyptian state television headquarters to demand justice in the face of growing attacks on their community.

Egyptians fill Tahrir Square in solidarity with Palestinians, Copts

Thousands of Egyptians filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square for a Friday rally May 13 calling for national unity after attacks on Coptic churches, and for solidarity with the Palestinians. Protesters held Egyptian and Palestinian flags, and placards reading in Arabic "No to secterian strife." The "Unity Rally" was called following clashes between Muslims and Christians that left 13 people dead after a church was attacked in Cairo's Imbaba district earlier this week. "If you attack a Christian, you're attacking all Egyptians," said one activist delivering a speech at the podium. "The churches attacked in Imbaba are not less than the mosques attacked in Jerusalem," he said, linking the two themes of the rally. Authorities have arrested 23 presumed Salafist militants in the church attack. (Daily Star, Lebanon, DPA, May 13; al-Masry al-Youm, May 12; BBC News, May 10)

More massacres in Syria, Yemen; cultural cleansing in Bahrain

In Syria, army tanks shelled the country's third biggest city, Homs, as security forces continue their nationwide crackdown on weeks of anti-government protests May 11. At least nine people have been killed and dozens wounded in Homs and surrounding villages, activists said. Amateur video footage posted to the Web also appears to show men in plain clothes shooting on the streets of Hama, in central Syria. (BBC News, May 11) In Yemen, security forces also opened fire on protesters in three cities, killing at least nine and wounding scores. In the capital Sanaa, forces fired on a crowd of tens of thousands marching to the cabinet building, killing at least six. In the industrial center Taiz, snipers killed two protesters, while in the Red Sea port of Hudaida, one protester was killed when security forces opened fire on marchers. (Reuters, May 11)

Syria: more massacres reported as US threatens "additional steps"

The military began to withdraw from the besieged Syrian city of Daraa on May 5, as more troop were deployed to towns in Homs province. Maj-Gen. Riyad Haddad, announcing the withdrawal form Daraa, did not give any figures of fatalities or detainees among what the Syrian government refers to as "terrorist elements," but he said that 25 soldiers were killed and 177 were wounded in the operation. This statement was denied by activists on social networking sites. At least 16 protesters were reported killed in Homs. Fresh protests were also reported in Hama and Aleppo. On May 6, a total of 27 protesters were reported killed at various locations around the country. (AlJazeera, May 6; Link TV, May 5)

Yemen: US drones attack, protesters release balloons

A US drone attack killed two al-Qaeda militants in southern Yemen May 5, days after the apparent killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The apparent target, Anwar al-Awlaki, leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is said to have narrowly escaped. (Reuters, May 6) Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in th capital Sanaa May 6, releasing red, white and black balloons painted with the message "Leave, Ali," with the hope that they would drift over the presidential palace. Near the palace, President Ali Abdullah Saleh was addressing a mass rally of his supporters, where he denounced his opponents as "outlaws, bandits and murderers." (Global Post, May 6)

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