Three Palestinians slain in West Bank since beginning of Gaza assault and more than one thousand arrested by occupation forces.
Anger, apology over Shiv Sena MPs’ Ramzan bullying
Video footage of a Shiv Sena MP forcing a fasting Muslim worker to eat at a state guest house triggered outrage in Parliament and social media on Wednesday, but the government said the allegations were unsubstantiated.
Opposition parties demanded action as television channels showed footage of the Thane MP, Rajan Vichare, apparently upset over the poor quality of food, thrusting a chapati into the Maharashtra Sadan catering supervisor’s mouth. The employee, who had his name tag on his shirt, was seen pleading with Vichare and 10 other Shiv Sena MPs to excuse him as he was fasting.
Two MPs almost came to blows in the Lok Sabha and parliament was adjourned over the incident, which is a huge political embarrassment for the ruling coalition as the Shiv Sena is a part of the National Democratic Alliance.
BJP member Ramesh Bidhuri and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi faced off as union heavy industries minister Anant Geete defended his party MPs. “Those who want to respect the month of Ramzan should not make false statements in the house … the Congress is trying to tarnish the image of the Narendra Modi government,” Geete said.
Pandemonium broke as South Delhi MP Bidhuri rushed to the well of the house, shouting at opposition members. Owaisi said Bidhuri charged at him shouting, “Muslims should go to Pakistan and even gestured to cut down them to pieces.”
Parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu, who tried to calm frayed tempers, said the government did not approve of Bidhuri’s actions and asked him to apologise.
However, Naidu insisted the allegations against the Sena MP had to be verified. “We are dealing with a sensitive issue … Don’t try to raise communal passions. Nobody knows the truth. Whether the incident has happened or not, we are not sure,” Naidu said.
The BJP did not issue a formal statement condemning the allegations against its largest alliance partner. BJP patriarch LK Advani was the only senior party leader to comment on the controversy. “It was wrong,” he said.
Sena MPs initially denied the incident which was reported by Indian Express. But as the video footage went viral, Vichare finally apologised. “I came to know that the employee was a Muslim only after seeing TV footage and I regret it,” he said. He added that he was only trying to draw the attention of authorities to the poor quality of food served at Maharashtra Sadan.
Several opposition members wrote to the Lok Sabha Speaker demanding an inquiry into the incident which they said was an “attack on secularism”.
“We would request you to uphold the dignity of the house by ordering an inquiry … so that such wanton behaviour is no longer repeated,” they wrote.
The National Commission for Minorities said it would probe the matter following a complaint by activist Shehzad Poonawala.
Angry Muslims demanded the suspension and arrest of the MPs. “What is more shocking is Parliament took the matter lightly. What can we expect in the Modi government,” said Zafarul Islam Khan of the All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat.
The Muslim Council of Britain has warned education authorities "not to be sidetracked by culture wars initiated by divisive commentators", as it rejected many of the findings of a government-commissioned report that found a co-ordinated effort by extreme Muslims to take over some Birmingham schools.
The MCB said the report, written by Peter Clarke, the former Met counter-terror chief, was guilty of "conflating conservative Muslim practices to a supposed ideology and agenda to Islamise secular schools".Continue reading...
The past decade has been catastrophic for the Arab world's beleaguered 12 million strong Christian minority. In Egypt revolution and counter-revolution have been accompanied by a series of anti-Copt riots, killings and church burnings. In Gaza and the West Bank Palestinian Christians are emigrating en masse as they find themselves uncomfortably caught between Netanyahu's pro-settler government and their increasingly radicalised Sunni neighbours.
In Syria most of the violence is along the Sunni-Alawite fault line, but stories of rape and murder directed at the Christian minority, who used to make up around 10% of the population, have emerged. Many have already fled to camps in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan; the ancient Armenian community of Aleppo is reported to be moving en masse to Yerevan.Continue reading...
India's parliament erupted in anger on Wednesday after television footage showed a hardline Hindu nationalist politician apparently trying to force-feed a Muslim man during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Opposition Congress MPs launched raucous protests, saying the politician in question had violated the man's religious beliefs by aggressively trying to shove a chapati or piece of bread into his mouth.Continue reading...
The UK government tried to disappear Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad to the US, but the basic rules of evidence were unexpectedly applied
Days after Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad were extradited to the US in 2012, the home secretary, Theresa May, began her speech to the Conservative party conference by asking : Wasnt it great to say goodbye? For the government, it must have been a relief to have outsourced the problem, when the pair were flown to the US, 3,500 miles away.Continue reading...
Police question Musa Cerantonio, but Isis supporters offensive' social media posts not found to breach Australian law
Radical Islamic preacher Robert Musa Cerantonio has arrived in Melbourne after being deported from the Philippines.
Cerantonio, who was under surveillance by Philippines police for five months before his arrest two weeks ago, landed at Melbourne airport early on Monday morning and was met by Australian federal police (AFP) officers.Continue reading...
(Washington, DC) –The US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive counterterrorism “sting operations” based on religious and ethnic identity, Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute said in a report released today. Many of the more than 500 terrorism-related cases prosecuted in US federal courts since September 11, 2001, have alienated the very communities that can help prevent terrorist crimes.
The 214-page report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,” examines 27 federal terrorism cases from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement. It documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as overly aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement.
“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report. “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”
Many prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks, the groups found. But many others have targeted people who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them. And many of the cases involve due process violations and abusive conditions of confinement that have resulted in excessively long prison sentences.
The report is based on more than 215 interviews with people charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, members of their families and their communities, criminal defense attorneys, judges, current and former federal prosecutors, government officials, academics, and other experts.
In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act. Multiple studies have found that nearly 50 percent of the federal counterterrorism convictions since September 11, 2001, resulted from informant-based cases. Almost 30 percent were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot.
In the case of the “Newburgh Four,” for example, who were accused of planning to blow up synagogues and attack a US military base, a judge said the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”
The FBI often targeted particularly vulnerable people, including those with intellectual and mental disabilities and the indigent. The government, often acting through informants, then actively developed the plot, persuading and sometimes pressuring the targets to participate, and provided the resources to carry it out.
“The US government should stop treating American Muslims as terrorists-in-waiting,” Prasow said. “The bar on entrapment in US law is so high that it’s almost impossible for a terrorism suspect to prove. Add that to law enforcement preying on the particularly vulnerable, such as those with mental or intellectual disabilities, and the very poor, and you have a recipe for rampant human rights abuses.”
Rezwan Ferdaus, for example, pled guilty to attempting to blow up a federal building and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Although an FBI agent even told Ferdaus’ father that his son “obviously” had mental health problems, the FBI targeted him for a sting operation, sending an informant into Ferdaus’ mosque. Together, the FBI informant and Ferdaus devised a plan to attack the Pentagon and US Capitol, with the FBI providing fake weaponry and funding Ferdaus’ travel. Yet Ferdaus was mentally and physically deteriorating as the fake plot unfolded, suffering depression and seizures so bad his father quit his job to care for him.
The US has also made overly broad use of material support charges, punishing behavior that did not demonstrate an intent to support terrorism. The courts have accepted prosecutorial tactics that may violate fair trial rights, such as introducing evidence obtained by coercion, classified evidence that cannot be fairly contested, and inflammatory evidence about terrorism in which defendants played no part – and asserting government secrecy claims to limit challenges to surveillance warrants.
Ahmed Omar Abu Ali is a US citizen who alleged that he was whipped and threatened with amputation while detained without charge in Saudi Arabia – after a roundup following the 2003 bombings of Western compounds in the Saudi capital of Riyadh – until he provided a confession to Saudi interrogators that he says was false. Later, when Ali went to trial in Virginia, the judge rejected Ali’s claims of torture and admitted his confession into evidence. He was convicted of conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists, and conspiracy to assassinate the president. He received a life sentence, which he is serving in solitary confinement at the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
The US has in terrorism cases used harsh and at times abusive conditions of confinement, which often appear excessive in relation to the security risk posed. This includes prolonged solitary confinement and severe restrictions on communicating in pretrial detention, possibly impeding defendants’ ability to assist in their own defense and contributing to their decisions to plead guilty. Judges have imposed excessively lengthy sentences, and some prisoners suffer draconian conditions post-conviction, including prolonged solitary confinement and severe restrictions on contact with families or others, sometimes without explanation or recourse.
Nine months after his arrest on charges of material support for terrorism and while he was refusing a plea deal, Uzair Paracha was moved to a harsh regime of solitary confinement. Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) – national security restrictions on his contact with others – permitted Paracha to speak only to prison guards.
“You could spend days to weeks without uttering anything significant beyond ‘Please cut my lights,’ ‘Can I get a legal call/toilet paper/a razor,’ etc., or just thanking them for shutting our light,” he wrote to the report’s researchers. After he was convicted, the SAMs were modified to permit him to communicate with other inmates. “I faced the harshest part of the SAMs while I was innocent in the eyes of American law,” he wrote.
These abuses have had an adverse impact on American Muslim communities. The government’s tactics to seek out terrorism suspects, at times before the target has demonstrated any intention to use violence, has undercut parallel efforts to build relationships with American Muslim community leaders and groups that may be critical sources of information to prevent terrorist attacks.
In some communities, these practices have deterred interaction with law enforcement. Some Muslim community members said that fears of government surveillance and informant infiltration have meant they must watch what they say, to whom, and how often they attend services.
“Far from protecting Americans, including American Muslims, from the threat of terrorism, the policies documented in this report have diverted law enforcement from pursuing real threats,” Prasow said. “It is possible to protect people’s rights and also prosecute terrorists, which increases the chances of catching genuine criminals.”
To return to status quo before Israeli attack would mean “living death,” say dozens of Gaza civil society leaders.
Michael Gove sat in unaccustomed silence in the chief whip's place on the end of the government frontbench in the Commons yesterday. His face was impassive as his successor Nicky Morgan began picking up the pieces of his school reforms after the collision of practice and ideology revealed by the Trojan horse affair. Ms Morgan claims that she is continuity Gove. She says she has no intention of undoing his revolution: only days into the job, and months out from an election, she could hardly be expected to say anything else. But the logical implication of her statement yesterday in response to Peter Clarke's report into extremism in Birmingham schools could be seen as just that. The fundamental weakness identified by Mr Clarke was lack of oversight, the flip side of the very autonomy so treasured by the former education secretary.
Mr Gove's decision to send the former Met counter-terrorism chief to investigate the Trojan horse affair was a deeply flawed response to allegations that a small group of Muslim extremists was running an entryist plot in some schools. Perhaps Mr Gove imagined that the move would distract attention from the systemic weakness of his reforms. It did not. The draft of the Clarke report obtained by the Guardian last Friday found that the city's academies, lacking proper oversight, were in a state of what the draft called benign neglect, "vulnerable to those without good intentions". It is indicative of the resistance to the message at the report's heart that in the final version published yesterday the phrase "benign neglect" is missing.Continue reading...
Can revelations about 'sting' operations move the government beyond 9/11-era discrimination? Because you can't stop terrorism by alienating a generation of people
Even after immigrating as a child from Syria, for a new life, I learned to view my new government with a certain level of suspicion. My parents drilled into my head the understanding that law enforcement and government officials were there to protect "the community" but whether that protected community would be mine, well, that felt like an open question in the United States after 9/11.
Our parents had to caution my siblings and I to be wary of strangers at the various mosques and community centers that we frequented, just in case those strangers might try to convince us to participate in radically-informed activities. My father himself was no stranger to the odd men who would appear out of nowhere, spout plans to commit "jihad" against the "horrible American government" and then disappear entirely once they discovered that nobody else was particularly enthusiastic about their quest.Continue reading...
On social media, posts, relating to the crass coverage and devaluing of Palestinian life versus Israeli life are being shared and commented upon.
In one such instance a pic. with the headline “Sharp Rise in Gaza deaths” is being shared, the by-line reads, “13 Israeli soldiers, 70 others killed…”
What is an other? Is it a human being? Is it so hard to type “PALESTINIANS?”
My guess is that this has to do with latent racism and Islamophobia, in which one people’s blood is thought of as more precious than another.
(h/t: Fred)The Terrorist That Wasn’t by JAMES RIDGEWAY and JEAN CASELLA
Talha Ahsan was today sentenced in a federal court in Connecticut for terrorist acts committed in and against the United States. This despite having never set foot on American soil until he was extradited from the UK in 2012. Federal District Judge Janet Hall sentenced Ahsan to time served, surprising family and friends who had gathered at the New Haven courthouse, and perhaps also the U.S. government, which had requested 15 years.
Time served is a significant sentence, however, since Ahsan has spent a full eight years without a trial in prisons on both sides of the Atlantic. He will be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and deported to London, where he will be free. His co-defendant, Babar Ahmad, received 12½ years, of which he has already served ten.
Ahsan, 34, a British citizen of Bengali descent, is an award-winning poet, a scholar and translator of medieval Arabic writing. He has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. He was raised by immigrant parents who were practicing Muslims, but not unusually devout. As a young man he became engrossed in the history and teachings of Islam, including the concept of jihad—the religious duty of Muslims to “struggle in the way of Allah.”
In 1999, when he was 19 years old, Ahsan travelled to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where he was reportedly something of a washout in military training. He later briefly did administrative work for an Islamic fundamentalist website run by Babar Ahmad.
According to his family, Ahsan’s interests shifted toward Sufism, a mystical, contemplative aspect of Islam. He was planning on pursuing an advanced degree in philosophy and had applied for a job as a librarian in July 2006 when he was arrested at his family home in London by Scotland Yard, at the request of the United States government.
What happened next is a study in America’s ability to ride roughshod over Europe’s sovereign governments and its international human rights apparatus. It also showcases the U.S. justice system’s willingness, in its prosecution of terrorism cases, to rewrite history, distort Islam, inflate evidence, and manufacture threats where they quite clearly do not exist.
Although the fundamentalist web operation for which Ahsan worked, Azzam Publications, was based in London, it briefly utilized a server in Connecticut. This fact was key to the extradition of Talha Ahsan, who had never been to the United States.
Also key was the existence of a 2003 treaty between the U.S. and the UK, which made it possible to transport Britons to the United States to stand trial without any prima facie evidence. In fact, the UK apparently lacked enough evidence to convict Talha Ahsan of anything under British law. But it also ordered his extradition to America, where standards were likely to be less exacting.
The case was appealed to the High Court of England and Wales, to the House of Lords, and finally to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which simultaneously considered the extraditions of four other terrorism suspects, including the far more notorious Abu Hamza. Under consideration by the Court was whether conditions in the U.S. supermax prisons where the men were likely to be held, violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Convention clearly prohibits prisoners from being tortured or subjected to “cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.” And the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, has stated that “indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement, in excess of fifteen days, should be subject to an absolute prohibition.” But despite considerable evidence to the contrary, the ECHR accepted a series of grotesque misrepresentations from the U.S. government claiming that life in an American supermax was not really solitary confinement, and not really all that bad.
Meanwhile, the extradition aroused controversy in the UK, where resistance was spearheaded by Talha Ahsan’s younger brother, Hamja. Some opponents saw it as evidence of the vilification of the British Muslim community—especially after the UK refused to extradite accused military hacker Gary McKinnon, who was also diagnosed with Asperger’s. Other opponents felt it threatened national sovereignty, and demanded “British justice for British citizens.” At one point, Parliament went so far as to debate the matter and the underlying extradition treaty.
But other Britons no doubt concurred with the Daily Mail, which described the Muslim terrorism suspects as “unwanted guests” despite the fact that several were British citizens. The Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron–and especially his Home Secretary, Theresa May, who signed the extradition order—apparently agreed. “Wasn’t it great to say goodbye – at long last – to Abu Hamza and those four other terror suspects?” May said at a Conservative Party Conference days after Ahsan left Britain for the United States.
At the time of his extradition in October 2012, Talha Ahsan had already been held for more than six years in high security prisons in England. He was closely watched, but was permitted to congregate with a small number of other prisoners, and had weekly visits from his parents and brother. He passed the time by reading mostly English literature, translating Tenth Century Arabic poetry, and writing poetry of his own—including a sonnet to Teresa May and a sestina called “Extradition,” which begins:
Five years ago they brought me to a cell
and ever since a waiting game plays here.
As they decide on sending me away,
my parents grow so grey and sad at home.
How will they manage visiting me there
or must they wait until the end of time?
In the United States, although a federal prisoner, Ahsan was housed in Northern State Prison in Connecticut—the state where the server that had housed Azzam.com was located, and where he would presumably be tried. He was in solitary confinement—23 hours in a cell alone, with one hour to exercise alone—but unlike many supermax prisoners, he was permitted to call his family. According to his brother, he has written another volume of poetry while in solitary.
Talha Ahsan was by no means the first Muslim terrorism suspect to be held in solitary confinement while awaiting trial. Opponents of the practice point to evidence that solitary is a form of torture that leads to psychological anguish and breakdown, and argue that it becomes a form of coercion, pressuring the accused to agree to a plea bargain.
The track record of terrorism trials in post-9/11 America—where the accused are virtually always convicted, and sentences are harsh—also weigh in favor of plea bargains. On December 10, 2013, Talha Ahsan pleaded guilty to offering “material support” to terrorists.
The sentencing memo provided by Talha Ahsan’s defense team also notes: “Throughout these proceedings, the government has insisted that Mr. Ahsan’s case is about ‘jihad’”—defined as “the use of violence including paramilitary action” against perceived enemies of Islam. Ahsan’s defenders assert that the broader definition of jihad, as simply a religious duty to struggle that takes many forms, applies in his case.
Ahsan came of age in the 1990s amid news of the genocide in Bosnia where Muslims were attacked and killed by foreigners on their own soil, right in Europe itself. He believed, according to the sentencing memo, that “Islam requires adherents to prepare oneself for the possibility of self-defense and the defense of others.” In pursuit of this goal, he joined several thousand British Muslims in traveling to Taliban-led Afghanistan for training—an act that was, at that time, not illegal under UK law.
Ahsan’s presence in Afghanistan—and that of many other “holiday jihadists”—was reported by an informant. But by all accounts he was a terrible military trainee, and returned home chastened, convinced that violence, even in self-defense, was “not his jihad.” Ahsan never had any contact with Al Qaeda on this or on a second trip to Afghanistan in mid-2001 for study, which was cut short when he became ill. And in fact, Ahsan was indicted for nothing having to do with the trips to Afghanistan.
Instead, all charges stem from Talha Ahsan’s work for Azzam Publications. The family of web sites was named for Abdullah Azzam, an Islamic scholar from Palestine and a major figure in the battle against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, which he considered a jihad. It was operated in large part by Babar Ahmad.
According to the sentencing memorandum, “Mr. Ahsan played a minor role in the operation of the website…Mr. Ahsan never edited, proofread or in any way contributed to the content placed on the websites.”
He was one of the website’s “mailmen” for only six months, between March and August of 2001. That was the beginning and the end of his involvement with the website. The website offered books and videos for purchase. Some of the books – like those written by Abdullah Azzam – were widely available in libraries and bookstores, including the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies. Some of the videos provided a perspective on the Second Chechen War that was not featured in mainstream media. Those accessing the website could print out an order form and mail it to a Post Office box. Mr. Ahsan’s sole job was filling the orders. He was provided with a box of Azzam Publications materials, envelopes, and postage, and provided instructions on how to proceed: send the customers what they ordered and save an electronic copy of any written correspondence sent to the mailbox.
Many other volunteers also worked for Azzam, and they were duly investigated, but never charged. “What separates Mr. Ahsan from the many known individuals with far greater responsibility for the website, its contents, and its message is that he—unlike any of them—received a letter sent to Azzam Publications post office box by a man calling himself ‘Hassan Abu-jihaad.’”
This was a letter that arrived out of the blue in the mail box which “purported to describe the port of call schedule of a group of US naval ships sailing from the United States to the Persian Gulf.” No one has claimed that the letter was solicited. It is clear that Ahsan received the letter “in the normal course of his limited duties as a mailman.” He typed it up and saved the file on a floppy disc, but “nothing was ever done with the electronic document. It was never, in any way, disseminated.”
According to the memo, “It is undisputed that Ahsan did not in any way aid or encourage Hassan Abu-Jihaad to break the law and, moreover, his actions were neither intended to nor led to any harm whatsoever.” Abu-Jihaad was a naval officer sending out classified material, and was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison—less than the 15 years the government sought for Talha Ahsan.
Beyond the handling of the naval letter, Talha Ahsan is supposed to have provided “material support”—a catchall charge that resurfaces again and again in federal terrorism cases. This took place through his clerical work at Azzam, which supported and encouraged other to support not only the Taliban, but also for Muslim independence fighters in the Second Chechen War.
Richard Haley, a British activist, points out in his introduction to a booklet of Ahsan’s poetry: “The British government has never branded the Chechen separatist forces as terrorists. No Chechen separatist group has been place on Britain’s list of proscribed organisations.” A Chechen resistance leader is based in Britain and the British have blocked his extradition demanded by the Russians. “If the leader of the Chechen resistance can operate from Britain, how can it be criminal for a British citizen to show support for the Chechen resistance?’’ asks Haley.
In fact, the Chechen separatists became something of a cause célèbre in the early 2000s among American neo-conservatives, who hoped support for the rebels might result in a further diminution of influence of the former Soviet Union.
As for Afghanistan, throughout the 1990s the Pakistani secret service, the ISI supported the Taliban, and the United States generously supported the ISI, providing Pakistan military aid and intelligence. As late as June 2001, unofficial representatives of the Taliban traveled freely about the United States, speaking in public and soliciting support from the State Department in return for which they promised to turn over Bin Laden.
Nothing that Talha Ahsan is accused of doing took place after September 11, 2001. Nothing he is accused of doing had anything to do with Al Qaeda or with any act of terrorism against the United States or U.S. citizens.
Talha Ahsan seems to have encountered one piece of good fortune in his dealings with the U.S. justice system—a reasonable judge. In most similar cases where defendants are accused of providing “material support” to terrorists, judges have handed down the sentences requested by the government, or even longer ones. For example, Fahad Hashmi, an American college student who pled guilty to conspiracy to provide material support, got 15 years. His crime consisted of allowing an acquaintance to stay in his apartment with suitcases containing socks and rain ponchos meant for Al Qaeda.
Judge Janet Hall, appointed by Bill Clinton, is Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court in Connecticut. In a pre-sentencing hearing yesterday, she questioned both the U.S. attorney and the defense team sharply regarding the actual evidence that Ahsan, via Azzam Publications, had provided material support to terrorists. (At one point, the government pointed out that “Azzam.com published bin Laden’s declaration of war.” The judge replied, “So did the New York Times.”)
Hamja Ahsan, who has devoted the past eight years of his life to his brother, said after the sentencing, “the judge exposed both the U.S. and British governments as liars. There was no evidence of any terrorism.”
James Ridgeway and Jean Casella are co-editors of Solitary Watch (www.solitarywatch.com).