Greater Middle East

Jordan acquits radical cleric of terrorism charges

A three-man civilian panel in the Jordanian State Security Court on June 26 declared radical preacher Abu Qatada (ABBC profile) not guilty of terrorism offences relating to an alleged plot in 1998 on the American school in Amman. The court ruled there was insufficient evidence to find Qatada guilty of terrorism charges for the 1998 plot, but he will remain imprisoned in Jordan for his alleged role in an attempted attack on tourists during the Jordanian New Year celebration of the year 2000. That hearing is scheduled for September and it extends the 20-year timeline of involvement with al-Qaeda in Jordan and the UK. In December Qatada's defense argued the presence of a military judge in the three-judge panel of the State Security Court violated the deportation agreement between the Jordanian and UK governments to provide Qatada with a fair trial, which was established as part of his deportation from Britain last July. Qatada was tried by a three-judge panel of civilians on Thursday, and the composition of the judicial panel of the State Security Court in September may be a point of contention because of its vague and controversial nature as a quasi-military judicial body with civilian judges.

Egypt: court confirms mass death sentence for 183

Judge Said Youssef of the Minya Criminal Court of Egypt on June 20 confirmed the death sentence of 183 Muslim Brotherhood members while simultaneously acquitting over 400 in the death of police officers over a year ago. Only 110 of the accused were present in a holding area outside of the court during the determination, while the remainder were tried in absentia. According to Egyptian law, each absentee will be retried upon apprehension. This marks a slight reversal of the initial mass death sentence of 683 members of the Brotherhood after a review of the mass trial by the Grand Mufti, the spiritual leader of Egypt. Multiple human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have critiqued the mass trial for lack of due process, as neither the defendants nor their attorneys were permitted to appear before the court. This is the second death sentence against former leaders in two days.

UN report: Syria conflict threatens whole region

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria on June 17 warned the UN Human Rights Council that the continuing civil war in Syria has "reached a tipping point, threatening the entire region." The Commission was established by the UN Human Rights Council in August 2011 to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law during the Syria conflict. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chair of the Commission, condemned the international response to the conflict in Syria, stating:

Top Kuwait court jails activist over Twitter posts

Kuwait's Supreme Court on June 15 upheld the two-year jail sentence of an opposition online activist for writing tweets found to be offensive to the country's Emir. After the ruling, activist Hejab al-Hajeri said on his Twitter account that his "determination is bigger than their jail." Al-Hajeri, a law student in his early 20s, was sentenced by the emirate's lower court last April after it found that comments he made on his Twitter account were critical of the emir, Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. The appeals court upheld the sentence six months later. Al-Hajeri has been out on bail, but now must serve the jail term, as the high court's verdicts are final. Criticizing the emir is illegal in Kuwait, and carries a jail term of up to five years.

Egypt: activist sentenced to 15 years in prison

An Egyptian court on June 11 sentenced a prominent activist from the 2011 revolution to 15 years in prison for organizing an unsanctioned protest and assaulting a police officer last year. Activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah was forced to wait outside of a courtroom at Cairo's Torah Prison while he was tried in absentia inside. Abdel Fattah, who was released on bail in March, was charged along with 23 other co-defendants for a protest in Cairo that occurred in November of last year. The men were protesting provisions in a new constitution that would allow civilians to be tried in military courts, breaching a law banning all but police-sanctioned protests. The defendants were additionally fined LE 100,000 ($14,000) each and will be placed on five years probation after the completion of their sentences. The conviction is the first of a leading activist since Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took the office of the presidency on Sunday. Abdel-Fattah is expected to be granted a retrial.

Syria war fuels Lebanon hashish boom?

A May 20 Reuters report picked up by Israel's dialy Ha'artez portrays Lebanon's government as having basically thown in the towel on cannabis eradiction in the Bekaa Valley, apparently afraid of the war spilling across the border from neighboring Syria. Towns in the Bekaa were hit by rocket fire last year, and the valley continues to be shaken by periodic sectarian attacks related to the fighting across the border in Syria. During Lebanon's own 1975-1990 civil war, the fertile Bekaa Valley produced up to 1,000 tons of hashish annually, before production was nearly stamped out under an aggressive eradication program. "From the 1990s until 2012, cannabis eradication took place on an annual basis," Col. Ghassan Shamseddine, head of Lebanon's drug enforcement unit, told Reuters. "But in 2012...it was halted because of the situation on the Lebanese borders and the instability in Syria."

ISIS behind Brussels Jewish Museum killings?

Now comes the disturbing news that a Frenchman arrested in the killings at the Brussels Jewish museum had traveled to Syria as an insurgent and is apparently linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Police in Marseille arrested the suspect, Mehdi Nemmouche, after he arrived on a bus from Amsterdam May 30. Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said he had an automatic weapon like that used in the Brussels attack, and ballistics analysis is underway to determine if it is the same weapon. The rifle was reportedly wrapped up in a white sheet scrawled with the name of ISIS. Police in Belgium meanwhile say the suspect had tried to film the May 24 killings, but his camera failed. Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said: "The new elements in this investigation draw attention once more to the problem of the 'returnees'—in other words the people going to Syria to participate in combat and return afterward to our country. All European countries are confronted at this moment with this problem." (AP, June 1) The days since the arrest have seen more raids on suspected "returnees" in France. Four were arrested in the Paris area and southern France on suspicion of recruiting militants to fight in Syria. Interior Minister Bernard Cazaneuve told Europe 1 radio: "There are people who recruit jihadists... We are acting everywhere. There will be no respite in the fight against terrorists." (BBC News, June 2)

Russia blocks ICC action on Syria, heightening 'anti-war' contradiction

Well, this is rich. Russia and China have vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have referred the conflict in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). More than 60 countries supported the French-drafted text calling for an investigation into "likely" war crimes committed by regime forces or "non-State armed groups." (BBC News, May 22) Will all those on the "anti-war" left in the West who called for ICC action "instead of" military action (as if ICC action would stop Bashar Assad from killing his people) now protest this? Just asking, Kevin Zeese. We feel we should add a parenthetical "(sic)" after the phrase "anti-war," because those who oppose any pressure on the Assad regime are of course enabling an actually existing war that has now cost more than 150,000 lives. Repetition of the mantra that "the USA is not the world police" is worse than meaningless when accompanied by silence over the blocking of UN and ICC efforts to hold mass-murderers accountable, which effectively means the world order is set by thugs.

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