Greater Middle East

Syria: Nusra Front renegades in Druze massacre

Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front acknowledged on June 13 that its followers were responsible for a massacre at the Druze village of Qalb Loze, Idlib governorate, saying they had violated orders and would face justice. Twenty Druze villagers were reportedly killed June 10 when Nusra militants opened fire in an incident that began with the militants' attempt to seize a local home. (Reuters, June 13) Following the massacre, five of the largest militias in Idlib, all members of the Jaysh a-Fatah coalition, issued a statement condemning the killings. The militias—identified as Ahrar al-Sham, the Sham Front, Ajnad al-Sham, Thuwar al-Sham and Fastaqm Kama Umrat—declared that "Islam forbids spilling people's blood whatever their sect is." The massacre was also condemned by the more secular Syrian National Coalition. (Mkaradjis blog, June 13) In the wake of the massacre, Israel is said to be considering creation of a "safe zone" on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights to protect Druze residents of the area. (Times of Israel, June 14)

White House criticizes Egypt, supports military aid

The Obama administration sent a formal report (PDF) to Congress criticizing the Egyptian government for its human rights abuses and lack of movement toward democracy but still supporting $1.3 billion to Egypt in mostly military aid. The report, signed by Secretary of State John Kerry and submitted quietly on May 12, condemned Egypt's due process restrictions and a "lack of fair trial safeguards," pointing to mass trials, mass death sentences and extremely poor prison conditions. Government agents and police have largely not been held responsible for rights violations. Current laws "effectively ban...most forms of street protest...including peaceful dissent." While Egypt has a general "democracy roadmap" that has been implemented in part, "the overall trajectory of rights and democracy has been negative." Ultimately, however, the report cites its counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State as a key reason Egypt remains of "vital importance" to the US from a security perspective. The report recommends continued support to Egypt despite the growing list of grievances.

Drone strike survivors file suit against US

The families of two Yemeni men who were killed by US drone strikes filed a lawsuit June 7 against the US, claiming that the men, Salem bin Ali Jaber and Waleed bin Ali Jaber, were "innocent bystanders" who were wrongfully killed. The lawsuit, which seeks no monetary relief, states that the men were not "likely targets of the strike that killed them," as both men spent their lives preaching against al-Qaeda and terrorism. The lawsuit further alleges that the killings were in violation of the Torture Victim Prevention Act's ban on extrajudicial killings (PDF) and that the government knew within hours that a mistake had been made. The lawsuit specifically names President Barack Obama, former defense secretary, Leon Panetta former CIA director David Petraeus and three unknown defendants.

Saudi Court upholds lashing for blogger

A Saudi court on June 8 upheld blogger Raif Badawi's sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam through electronic channels." The blogger ran the Liberal Saudi Network for four years before being arrested by Saudi authorities. Badawi was originally charged with insulting Islam for co-founding the religious discussion website Free Saudi Liberals. He was detained in June 2012, and his case was referred to the Public Court of Jeddah in December with a recommendation to try him for the crime of apostasy. Sharia-based Saudi law is not codified and judges do not follow a system of precedent; however, apostasy is a capital offense which can be punishable by death. The blogger received his first 50 lashes this January, but floggings have been delayed since, for reasons that have not been made public. A medical report shows that he was not fit for punishment. 

Gains for Kurds, Armenians in Turkish elections

Thousands of jubilant Kurds flooded the streets of Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey, on June 7, setting off fireworks and waving flags as election results showed the pro-Kurdish opposition likely to enter parliament for the first time. Initial results show the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) taking 80 of 550 seats—a major setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose AK Party is poised to lose its majority. Erdogan had been counting on the AKP majority to push through constitutional changes giving him broad executive powers. The elections also brought three Armenians to the Turkish parliament after a lapse of several years—one from the HDP, one from the AKP, and one from the Republican People's Party (CHP). Two members of Turkey's small Yazidi community were also elected on  the HDP ticket.

Egypt: court orders Mubarak retrial in 2011 killings

Judge Anwar Gabri of the Egyptian Court of Cassation ordered a retrial on June 4 for former president Hosni Mubarak regarding his complicity in the killings of hundreds of protestors in the 2011 demonstrations that ousted his regime. This order overturns his acquittal by Cairo's Criminal Court last November, and he is set to stand trial again beginning November. Mubarak was separately convicted of corruption earlier this year and sentenced to three years in prison. The Cassation Court upheld the rulings in other cases that acquitted Mubarak and his sons of graft charges. Opponents of Mubarak view this decision for retrial as a victory in a court system that has been too lenient, but his supporters claim there can be no stability in the region while Mubarak is treated "unfairly." This retrial marks the third time this case will be heard, but its verdict will be the final verdict in this case.

Turkey: mine disaster survivors face prison

Nine Turkish miners who survived last year's Soma mining disaster face six years in prison for violating the law restricting demonstrations and damaging property during a protest to demand that the bodies of their co-workers be extracted from the mine. The protestors are alleged to have blocked a road and damaged a passing vehicle at a protest to demand justice over the disaster, in which 301 miners died in an explosion on May 13, 2014. The trial for the Soma disaster opened on April 13, during which the 45 suspects, including the eight former managers from the Soma Coal Mine Company denied charges of "killing with probable criminal intent," precipitating anger among the families of the victims.

ISIS insurgency escalates in Sinai Peninsula

Egyptian security forces killed 12 suspected militants during raids on the Sinai Peninusla towns of al-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid last week, Egypt's state news agency MENA reported May 25. Security sources said 18 suspects were arrested in the raids, and that forces destroyed various "terrorist hotbeds." as well. One solider was killed in a clash with a "terrorist cell" in the town of Sheikh Zuweid. The armed forces announced two weeks earlier that "security operations" have left a total of 725 suspected militants killed between late October and late April. (Aswat Masriya via AllAfrica, May 26) Iran's Press TV on June 1 identifies the group involved in the clashes as the (ISIS-aligned) Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, which it now says has been renamed the Velayat Sinai. Although it has not been reported elsewhere, the account claims militants destroyed the (presumably Shi'ite) al-Rifa'i Mosque in Sheikh Zuweid, leaving it "flattened" with rocket-propelled grenades. 

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