Marine Le Pen says Assad solution to Syria crisis

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on Monday called Syrian President Bashar Assad “the most reassuring solution for France,” a major divergence with her nation’s official policy.

Le Pen, head of the National Front, spoke after meetings with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. They were among numerous officials, including the Christian Maronite patriarch, that Le Pen was meeting on her two-day visit to Lebanon, a former French protectorate.

The trip represented the first major foray into foreign policy for Le Pen, a leading candidate in France’s April 23 and May 7 election.

She said she told Hariri that there is “no viable and workable solution” to the Syrian civil war beyond choosing between Assad and the Islamic State group.

“I clearly explained that in the political picture the least bad option is the politically realistic. It appears that Bashar al Assad is evidently today the most reassuring solution for France.”

Le Pen has made known her preference for Assad in the past — a position that runs counter to the French government’s strong anti-Assad approach — but it carries extra weight being stated while on a foreign visit with a Syrian neighbor, and during unusual meetings with the nation’s top officials. The trip is Le Pen’s first real public foray into foreign policy.

Before meeting with the prime minister, Le Pen had a visit with Aoun, the leader of a Christian party allied with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia fighting on the side of Assad.

Le Pen said she and Hariri, who has longstanding ties to France, agreed on “the absolute necessity” for nations wanting to fight the Islamic State group tearing Syria and Iraq apart to come “to the table,” an apparent reference to formal talks. She noted the threat to France of the Islamic State group which has claimed deadly attacks in Paris, Nice and elsewhere, and has lured hundreds of French youths to the war zones in Syria and Iraq.

Le Pen was also using her two-day visit to the former French protectorate — and her unusual encounter with a foreign president — to appeal to the thousands of French voters in Lebanon.

Little-known law stops some Muslims from obtaining US citizenship

Mohammad Al-Falahi had just gotten home from work and was about to take a shower when two detectives showed up at his door.

At least one of them was on the Southern Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force with the FBI in Las Vegas.

Al-Falahi claimed one of the detectives wanted him to inform on another man who lived in the same apartment complex. Both men were from Iraq.

This happened in early 2014, about a week after Al-Falahi had his first U.S. citizenship interview, which lasted about 90 minutes, three times longer than most.

The now 30-year-old aviation student from Las Vegas was confounded by the sudden mysterious activity surrounding him.

And that was just the beginning.

His citizenship case was delayed and he couldn’t get answers as to why. Al-Falahi hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit in federal court. He and his attorney say he was asked by immigration officials to drop the lawsuit in return for another interview.

After he did so, his second interview lasted about two hours, but still nothing happened.

Al-Falahi was notified in mid-January his U.S. citizenship had been denied after his attorney, M. Edwin Prudhomme, appealed an intent to deny notice in November.

“They were harassing me for two years with no reason just because my name is Mohammad and I’m from Iraq and I’m Muslim,” said Al-Falahi, who claims the treatment is a result of his refusal to be an informant. “Is it a crime that I’m from Iraq and my name is Mohammad?”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal was able to confirm that one of the two detectives who visited Al-Falahi is on the Southern Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force, but he declined to comment.

Al-Falahi’s case is not unusual in the Las Vegas area, where other Muslims have similar experiences but never learn why they were treated differently.

Many believe they’re caught up in a little-known program called Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program, or CARRP. It was established in 2008 by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to “ensure that immigration benefits or services are not granted to individuals who pose a threat to national security and or public safety, or who seek to defraud” the immigration system, according to Immigration Services officials.

A total of 41,805 CARRP cases nationwide have been opened since the program’s implementation, according to records obtained by the newspaper through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The top five countries of birth for individuals affected by CARRP since 2008 are Pakistan, Iraq, India, Iran and Yemen, according to the records.

UNUSUAL TREATMENT

A typical process to become a U.S. citizen takes 90 to 100 days, said Prudhomme, who has been handling immigration cases for more than 50 years. It’s also rare for interviews to last more than 30 minutes, or for multiple interviews.

“I think only once in the 50-plus years have I had more than one interview,” Prudhomme said.

But Prudhomme said he has been seeing a string of delays in cases involving Muslims, with several exceeding 18 months. He said he didn’t understand why until learned about the Immigration Services program.

CARRP’s methods of identifying “national security concerns” are flawed and sometimes based on religion, national origin and profiling by association, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said in a 2013 report based on Immigration Services documents it obtained through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests.

“Predictably, the … program not only catches far too many harmless applications in its net, but it has overwhelmingly affected applicants who are Muslims or perceived to be Muslim,” the report says.

Citizenship applications are flagged as threats without informing the individuals, whose applications are delayed and sometimes denied, the organization found.

Little else is known about the program, said Tod Story, executive director of the Nevada ACLU.

“This is one of those programs that has been kept in secret,” he said in January.

The ACLU considers the program a civil rights violation, and says the program shifts authority mostly reserved for Immigration Services to federal law enforcement, in particular the FBI.

“The FBI is not required to tell them they are on the list,” he said. “They basically don’t hear anything from the Immigration Services. They don’t know why their application is in limbo, and nobody has to tell them why.”

Maria Elena Upson, an Immigration Services regional spokeswoman, said her agency is unable to discuss individual cases, and she wouldn’t be able to confirm or deny if local cases had been flagged under the program.

A request to interview Jeanne M. Kent, Immigration Services director in Las Vegas, was denied.

Al Gallmann, director of the agency’s Western District, did not respond to requests for comment.

The FBI did respond, but said only that it “does not originally confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.”

GROUNDS FOR DENIAL

Al-Falahi, at least, was able to find out why his application was denied: Immigration Services officials said records show he gave false testimony about membership in the Baath Party, which ruled Iraq before the 2003 invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and his explanation of why he fled his country conflicted with his refugee interview.

During his citizenship interviews, Al-Falahi was asked if he was a member or sympathizer of the Baath Party or any other organization in Iraq.

A transcript of the interview shows he answered, “No, but I have an addition. If you went to (go to) school in Iraq, you must sign for Baath. It’s like a mandatory thing to sign for it.”

He wrote the same thing in a 2008 refugee application he filed in Beirut, and explained that he left because of the war and he needed to provide for his family. Records related to that application say Al-Falahi “states that during his intermediate studies it was required that he join the Baath Party in order to continue his studies.” And although he “registered, he never attended any meetings nor did he make any payments towards the Baath Party.”

That was about 15 years ago, he said, when he was still under his parents’ guardianship in Baghdad.

But Immigration Services said Al-Falahi failed to disclose “previously claimed ties to the Baath Party” during his first citizenship interview. “Failure to disclose your Baath Party membership and provide credible explanation for such was considered false testimony” the denial letter reads.

Story said officials are using Al-Falahi’s owns words to punish him since he disclosed the information, but should instead focus on finding evidence such as donations or records that indicate his client was ever active in the Baath Party.

“I think it’s illustrated as to why the program is problematic,” he said. “That’s why the program has to be reformed; whether it’s reformed by (Immigration Services) or Congress intercedes or the executive branch, somebody needs to do something.”

HE’S NOT ALONE

Nasser Karouni, 45, a Lebanese Muslim who lives in Las Vegas, didn’t know why his citizenship process was different than most people’s until he found out about CARRP.

“That pretty much cleared up many questions,” he said.

He applied in 2011 and passed his citizenship test in 2012, but then went through a three-year nightmare that included a 2012 FBI polygraph interrogation, extra security checks, questioning at airports and no answers. A few weeks after the test, he received a summons to meet the FBI the following day. After an hour of questioning, he agreed to the agent’s request that he sit for a polygraph examination.

“I am clear, I sit down, no problem for me,” he said in broken English.

The Review-Journal obtained a partial transcript of the interview, which is normally considered confidential, that was declassified in 2014. The transcript shows that agents sought information about Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group operating in Lebanon, and Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic political party with an armed wing, and Islamic Jihad.

“No, God forbid,” he responded.

His case languished for two more years, but on Aug. 8, 2014, he became a U.S. citizen.

But his son, Haidar Karouni, 20, is now seeing the same stalling action. He applied to become a U.S. citizen almost a year ago and was fingerprinted in spring 2015, but his case has stalled since.

Under CARRP, applicants are to be labeled a security concern based on national origin or if they have traveled through or resided in areas of “known terrorist activity,” according to the ACLU report.

But for the Karouni family, that means automatic designation even for routine travel such as a family visit to Lebanon last summer or Nasser Karouni’s 2011 pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which is required at least once in the life of all able Muslims.

Applicants also make the security list based on their profession, if they wire money to families in their home countries, if their names appear on an FBI file related to a national security investigation even if they were not the subject of the investigation, or if they have voluntarily given interviews to the FBI, according to the ACLU report.

The Karouni family has lived in Las Vegas since 2006. In April 2009, Nasser Karouni opened Afandi Market and Restaurant on West Charleston Boulevard with his friend Ghazwan Salem, an Iraqi Christian. Karouni’s family had a butcher shop in Lebanon. He met Salem while working at another butcher shop in Las Vegas before the pair decided to open their business.

Salem, who became a U.S. citizen in 1999, said he didn’t experience any issues during the process, has been there for the Karounis through their struggles.

“The story that we lived with his (Karouni’s) situation, we are reliving it with his son,” Salem said. “With his situation we didn’t know what was going on.”

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said she’s aware there is a lack of public access to CARRP data for national security reasons.

Federal officials have said the agency doesn’t track reasons for the delay or denial of an application associated with CARRP; monitor the program on a state-by-state basis; or track religious affiliation of people under review.

“That’s why my office looks at everyone on a case-by-case basis,” Titus said. “We are available to review instances where constituents think they were not given full consideration for legal residency status by (Immigration Services) or other federal agencies.”

Story, the Nevada ACLU official, questioned whether immigration officials can know if CARRP is working if key information isn’t tracked.

“If they can demonstrate that it has worked, it needs to be brought to light,” he said.

Prudhomme said he’s preparing to take Al-Falahi’s case to federal court. His office met with Nevada ACLU officials last week to discuss the case.

The ACLU of Southern California says it might file a class-action suit of which Al-Falahi would be a plaintiff this year.

Marine who disappeared in Iraq in 2004 back in US

June 29, 2014

WASHINGTON — A Marine who was declared a deserter nearly 10 years ago after disappearing in Iraq and then returning to the U.S. claiming he had been kidnapped, only to disappear again, is back in U.S. custody, officials said Sunday.

Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, 34, turned himself in and was being flown Sunday from an undisclosed location in the Middle East to Norfolk, Va. He is to be moved Monday to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, according to a spokesman, Capt. Eric Flanagan.

Maj. Gen. Raymond Fox, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Lejeune, will determine whether to court martial Hassoun.

In a written statement from its headquarters at the Pentagon, the Marine Corps said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service “worked with” Hassoun to turn himself in and return to the U.S. to face charges.

Hassoun disappeared from his unit in Iraq’s western desert in June 2004. The following month he turned up unharmed in Beirut, Lebanon and blamed his disappearance on Islamic extremist kidnappers. He was returned to Lejeune and was about to face the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing when he disappeared again.

In a February 2005 interview with the Associated Press in Salt Lake City, Hassoun’s brother, Mohamad, said Wassef Ali Hassoun was a victim of anti-Muslim bias in the U.S. military. The Marine Corps denied this.

The brother also said the pressure of facing desertion charges was partly to blame for Hassoun’s decision to flee while in Utah.

“Instead of them giving him medals and making him feel good about his service and what he was doing for his country, they gave him an Article 32,” Hassoun said of the military court proceedings that his brother was to have faced in January 2005.

Family members have said they last saw him on Dec. 29, 2004.

Quebecois Muslim activist charged under terrorism laws

News Agencies – July 13, 2012

 

A Quebec activist who fought the stereotyping of Muslims was charged with supporting terrorism after an RCMP investigation linked her to an alleged scheme to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Mouna Diab, 26, was charged with committing a crime “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group,” the RCMP said in a statement. She faces a possible life sentence if convicted.

The Laval woman was arrested at Montreal’s Trudeau airport last year and accused of violating an international arms embargo targeting Lebanon, but police added the far more serious terrorism charge. While Canadian police have laid dozens of charges under the anti-terrorism laws enacted after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Ms. Diab is the first woman to face charges related to a foreign terrorist organization.

Drawing U.S. Crowds With Anti-Islam Message

Through her books, media appearances and speeches, and her organization, ACT! for America, Ms. Brigitte Gabriel has become one of the most visible personalities on a circuit of self-appointed terrorism detectors who warn that Muslims pose an enormous danger within United States borders.

“America has been infiltrated on all levels by radicals who wish to harm America,” she said. “They have infiltrated us at the C.I.A., at the F.B.I., at the Pentagon, at the State Department. They are being radicalized in radical mosques in our cities and communities within the United States.” She insists that she is singling out only “radical Islam” or Muslim “extremists”—and yet her speeches and books leave the opposite impression.

As a child growing up a Maronite Christian in war-torn southern Lebanon in the 1970s, Ms. Gabriel said, she had been left lying injured in rubble after Muslims mercilessly bombed her village. She found refuge in Israel and then moved to the United States, only to find that the Islamic radicals who had terrorized her in Lebanon, she said, were now bent on taking over America.

Ms. Gabriel is only one voice in a growing circuit that includes counter-Islam speakers like Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Walid Shoebat. What distinguishes Ms. Gabriel from her counterparts is that she has built a national grass-roots organization in the last three years that has already engaged in dozens of battles over the place of Islam in the United States.

Radical “Tottenham Ayatollah” sentenced to death in Lebanon

12 November 2010

Omar Bakri Mohammed, known as the “Tottenham Ayatollah”, was on the run after a court in Beirut found him guilty of funding al-Qaeda and starting a militant group to weaken the Lebanese government.
Bakri, who now lives in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, was one of 54 people convicted in the latest of a series of trials against suspected militants who fought clashes with the Lebanese army in 2007.
The Syrian-born preacher became an irritant to the British government after he hailed the September 11, 2001 terrorists as the “magnificent 19” and told the British public it was responsible for the attacks on tube stations in London four years later.

A Spanish radio station interviews Abu Sharif leader of the Al Qaeda Group Osbat Al Ansar

The Spanish radio station, Cadena Ser, one of the most popular radio stations in Spain has published an interview with Abu Sharif, the leader of Osbat Al Ansar an Al Qaeda Group settled in the south of Lebanon, in a Palestinian refugee camp. The Spanish radio station highlighted the thesis of Abu Sharif about Al-Andalus: “Al-Andalus will be again an Islamic caliphate”

Interview with Mouhanad Khorchide: “For me, it’s a question of finding a contemporary interpretation of Islam”

Mouhanad Khorchide, originally from Lebanon, has been appointed Professor of Islamic Religious Education Theory at the University of Münster, where he will take over from Sven Kalisch, a controversial figure in Muslim circles.

Enquired about his principles of a contemporary interpretation of Islam, Khorchide replied: “This interpretation [of the Koran] should ask what answers were given in what social context to what questions. We have to understand what people’s concerns were at that time and what the meaning was of the answers that were given at that time. On the basis of hermeneutics we can then ask ourselves what meaning the sacred texts have for us today.”

Muslim hate preacher Bakri makes a mockery of UK law

Just days after Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced tough new measures to name and shame foreign-based extremists barred from UK, Muslim hate preacher Omar Bakri Muhammad has dodged the law to preach his views in the UK. More than 200 Muslims attended a packed public meeting in Tower Hamlets and were told by organiser Anjem Choudary: “We have a special surprise, a special treat for you. Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad will be joining us on a live feed from Lebanon.”

“As Muslims, we will not submit to any man-made law, any government, or any prime minister – Bush or Brown – or Jacqui Smith. We submit to Allah,” he added. Choudary, who, with Bakri led the fanatical Al-Muhajiroun organization – notorious for its glorification of terrorism and the 9/11 attacks before its banning and dissolution in 2004 -warmed up the crowd with his own inflammatory rhetoric. Bakri, who was booted out of Britain after calling for the West’s downfall, addressed a meeting of young Muslims via a videolink from Lebanon.

Bakri, who is on the UK’s terror watch list, sidestepped the law by not appearing at the east London meeting in person. Choudary, who had booked the council-run room in Tower Hamlets for the event, told the gathering that taking over the UK was their duty.

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Islamic radicals make mockery of hate laws

Just days after Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced tough new measures to name and shame foreign-based extremists and prevent them coming from abroad to stir up hatred in the UK, firebrand preacher Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad cocked a snook at her new initiative, the Evening Standard reveals.

More than 200 Muslims at a packed public meeting in Tower Hamlets were told by organiser Anjem Choudary: “We have a special surprise, a special treat for you. Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad will be joining us on a live feed from Lebanon.” He added: “As Muslims, we will not submit to any man-made law, any government, or any prime minister – Bush or Brown – or [to] Jacqui Smith. We submit to Allah.”

Choudary, who with Bakri led the fanatical Al-Muhajiroun organisation – notorious for its glorification of terrorism and the 9/11 attacks before its banning and dissolution in 2004 -warmed up the crowd, two Sundays ago, with his own inflammatory rhetoric. “It is our religious obligation to prepare ourselves both physically and mentally and rise up against Muslim oppression and take what is rightfully ours,” he said. “Jihad is a duty and a struggle and an obligation that lies upon the shoulders of us all. We will not rest until the flag of Allah and the flag of Islam is raised above 10 Downing Street.”

To loud cheers of “Allah Akbar” [God is great], he railed: “There are three types of Muslims, those in prison, those of us that are on our way [to prison] and non-practising Muslims. Brothers and sisters, if you do not fear your home being raided by the Kufar [non-believer] police, you are not enforcing the Sharia.”

Later, in front of a huge banner that exhorted “Muslims rise against British oppression”, he introduced Omar Bakri, who was standing by in Lebanon. A giant screen, six-feet high and six-feet wide, had been set up to project the image of the extremist known as “the Tottenham Ayatollah”.

He was refused re-entry to the UK in 2005 as “not conducive to the public good” after vowing that Muslims would “give the West a 9/11 day after day after day”. But when a problem with the live internet video feed failed to yield a picture, Mr. Choudary phoned his colleague from the stage and put the receiver to the microphone. The connection was loud and clear and Bakri spoke for 15 minutes.

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