US: American fighters in Syria a security risk

November 30, 2013

 

Federal officials say Americans are joining the bloody civil war in Syria, raising the chances they could become radicalized by al-Qaida-linked militant groups and return to the U.S. as battle-hardened security risks.

The State Department says it has no estimates of how many Americans have taken up weapons to fight military units loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people over 2 ½ years. Other estimates — from an arm of the British defense consultant IHS Jane’s and from experts at a nonprofit think tank in London — put the number of Americans at a couple dozen. The IHS group says al-Qaida-linked fighters number about 15,000, with total anti-Assad force at 100,000 or more.

This year, at least three Americans have been charged with planning to fight beside Jabhat al-Nusrah — a radical Islamic organization that the U.S. considers a foreign terrorist group — against Assad. The most recent case involves a Pakistan-born North Carolina man arrested on his way to Lebanon.

At a Senate homeland security committee hearing this month, Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., said: “We know that American citizens as well as Canadian and European nationals have taken up arms in Syria, in Yemen and in Somalia. The threat that these individuals could return home to carry out attacks is real and troubling.”

Current FBI Director James Comey said this month that he worried about Syria becoming a repeat of Afghanistan in the 1980s, after the Soviet invasion, with foreign fighters attracted there to train. The FBI refused to say whether it’s directed agents to increase efforts to stop Americans bound for Syria.

 

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/us-american-fighters-in-syria-a-security-risk/2013/11/30/0d1dd91c-59d3-11e3-bdbf-097ab2a3dc2b_story.html

The State Department’s Arabic outreach team spoofed an al-Qaeda video

In the war for Middle Eastern hearts and minds, the U.S. Digital Outreach Team is on the virtual front lines: debating America’s critics on Twitter, commenting on Arabic message boards and generally engaging with anyone they can reach. But that outreach appears to have crossed a new line: spoofing al-Qaeda propaganda videos on an official State Department YouTube channel.

The Digital Outreach Team is fairly transparent about its activities — as evidenced by that closing credit. According to an Associated Press article from April, a month before the Zawahiri spoof went online, the team consists of roughly 50 native Arabic, Punjabi, Somali and Urdu speakers. It’s grown considerably since January 2009, when a State Department bulletin listed only 10 team members; it’s been around, per the bulletin, since November 2006.

The team runs Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels, and it tangles with commenters on popular Arab news and discussion sites, always identifying themselves as State Department employees and using their real names. In 2012, they had 7,000 online engagements, reports the AP, up from 2,000 in 2009. The idea is to “explain U.S. foreign policy and to counter misinformation” through the power of Diplomacy 2.0, says the State Department bulletin.

The program’s success is difficult to gauge. A 2012 study of the program, published in The Middle East Journal, concluded that engagement did little to change the tone of anti-American conversations. In a sample of several hundred forum posts, users were more likely to ridicule or refute the Outreach Team than engage with it. Only 4 percent of posts expressed positive views of the team, and a sliver more — 4.8 percent — expressed positive views toward U.S. foreign policy.

Support of any kind for a group on the State Department’s list is now grounds for a trial on charges of terrorism

A four-month hunger strike, mass force-feedings, and widespread media coverage have at last brought Guantanamo, the notorious offshore prison set up by the Bush administration early in 2002, back into American consciousness. Prominent voices are finally calling on President Obama to close it down and send home scores of prisoners who, years ago, were cleared of wrongdoing.

Still unnoticed and out of the news, however, is a comparable situation in the U.S. itself, involving a pattern of controversial terrorism trials that result in devastating prison sentences involving the harshest forms of solitary confinement.  This growing body of prisoners is made up of Muslim men, including some formerly well-known and respected American citizens.

In the U.S. these days, the very word “terror,” no less the charge of material support for it, invariably shuts down rather than opens any conversation.  Nonetheless, a decade of researching a number of serious alleged terrorism cases on both side of the Atlantic, working alongside some extraordinary human rights lawyers, and listening to Muslim women in Great Britain and the U.S. whose lives were transformed by the imprisonment of a husband, father, or brother has given me a different perspective on such cases.

Perhaps most illuminating in them is the repeated use of what’s called “special administrative measures” to create a particularly isolating and punitive atmosphere for many of those charged with such crimes, those convicted of them, and even for their relatives.  While these efforts have come fully into their own in the post-9/11 era, they were drawn from a pre-9/11 paradigm.  Between the material support statute and those special administrative measures, it has become possible for the government to pre-convict and in many cases pre-punish a small set of Muslim men.

Ore. Muslim sues FBI, claims torture

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An American Muslim who says he was beaten with batons by prison interrogators while held in solitary confinement overseas for more than three months has sued the FBI and State Department, claiming the torture was done at their behest.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Oregon seeks $30 million and several injunctions against the U.S. government concerning its treatment of citizens overseas.

Yonas Fikre said he was held for 106 days in the United Arab Emirates after refusing to cooperate with Portland, Ore.,-based FBI agents in an interview in Sudan. The State Department has confirmed previously that Fikre was held in Abu Dhabi ‘‘on unspecified charges,’’ but said he was visited by State Department officials and showed no signs of mistreatment.

Two other Oregon Muslims who worship at the mosque have also alleged they were held overseas and were asked to become informants by Portland-based FBI agents. Both men have returned to Oregon.

The mosque has come under scrutiny before. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali American convicted of plotting to set off a bomb in downtown Portland in 2010, occasionally worshipped there. A decade ago, seven Muslims with ties to the mosque were arrested following a failed effort to enter Afghanistan and fight U.S. forces.

 

A distressing map of religious freedom around the world

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued a report highlighting those it calls the worst violators of religious freedom in the world. Among them are many Asian and Middle Eastern governments, although some Western European countries are also included.

 

The report from the bipartisan advisory body divides violators into three categories. Fifteen “tier 1″ nations, marked red on the above map, have committed “particularly severe” violations that are “systemic, ongoing and egregious.” That includes all the countries you’d expect, as well as a few worsening problem areas, such as Egypt and Nigeria. The “tier 2″ countries are said to be “on the threshold” of meeting tier 1 status and include states that might have serious problems but, often, are at least making an effort to address them. A small third category of nations under “monitoring” for violations includes, among other states, some in Western Europe.

 

The report isn’t just about documenting abuses: The tier 1 countries can be officially designated as “countries of particular concern” by the U.S. State Department, at which point the president is legally required to follow up with some sort of action, recommended by the report. It might suggest, for example, engaging with Burmese civil society groups to promote tolerance or working with Pakistani lawmakers to improve legislation.

 

The report also discusses a trend in Japan it calls “kidnapping and forced religious de-conversion.”

 

Some readers, particularly those from countries highlighted in the map above, may wonder why the report includes nothing on the United States, which has seen some local and state-level movements to expel or suppress mosques or other forms of public worship by Muslims. And it’s a fair question. Alas, the commission exists to make recommendations to the U.S. State Department, which of course does not have oversight over the United States. Still, fairly or not, U.S. representatives who seek to promote religious freedom abroad risk having their advice deflected because some Tennessee officials tried to block construction of a mosque. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that religious freedom is an ongoing process as well as a state of being.

Glenn Beck: Michele Bachmann Under Investigation Because She’s Against Radical Islam

Glenn Beck suggested Tuesday that the ethics investigation into the erstwhile presidential campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is retribution for the congresswoman’s outspoken crusade against what she has called the threat of radical Islam.

 

“We have been sold to radical Islam,” Beck said matter-of-factly on his Internet show. “It has infiltrated and we have documented it.”

 

Beck continued, claiming that radical Islam is so powerful it affected the nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics, which, according to a Daily Beast report, is questioning former Bachmann staffers regarding “allegations of improper transfer of funds and under-the-table payments actions by Bachmann’s presidential campaign.”

 

Bachmann drew widespread criticism last year for spearheading a campaign alleging that high-profile aides in President Barack Obama’s administration had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Other Republican representatives and conservative pundits, including Beck, backed the discredited claims.

 

But Beck suggested there were other reasons for a supposed radical Islamic-linked backlash against Bachmann. According to him, she’d demonstrated her clarity on what was “going on” because she’d asked the State Department for answers on why it was sending Somali refugees to her district.

 

Iran says Obama administration’s removal of group from US terror list shows ‘double standards’

Iran condemned on Saturday the Obama administration for taking an Iranian militant group formerly allied with Saddam Hussein off the U.S. terrorism list, saying it shows Washington’s “double standards.”

The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), which began as a guerrilla movement fighting Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, helped overthrow the monarch in 1979 then quickly fell out with the Islamic Republic’s first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It fought in the 1980s alongside Saddam’s forces in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war but disarmed after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The State Department delisted the group on Friday, meaning that any assets the MEK has in the United States are unblocked and Americans can do business with the organization. On Saturday, at their Paris headquarters, MEK members gathered to celebrate, tossing flower petals and displaying photos of members killed in the past 15 years.

The group claims it is seeking regime change through peaceful means, aiming to replace Tehran’s clerical system with a secular government.

However, a senior State Department official suggested that removing MEK from the U.S. terrorist list does not translate into a shared common front against the Islamic Republic.

The MEK was removed from the European Union’s terrorist list in 2009.

Bishops blast Coptic Christians behind anti-Muslim film

(RNS) Coptic Christian leaders in the United States distanced themselves from an anti-Muslim film that has sparked protests in more than 20 countries, and denounced the Copts who reportedly produced and promoted the film.

“We reject any allegation that the Coptic Orthodox community has contributed to the production of this film,” the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of America said in statement on Friday (Sept. 14). “Indeed, the producers of this film have taken these unwise and offensive actions independently and should be held responsible for their own actions.”

Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Morris Sadek – all Coptic Christians who live in the U.S. – have emerged as the producers and promoters of the anti-Muslim film. Called “Innocence of Muslims,” the crude film depicts Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a bumbling sexual pervert.

There are about 300,000 Copts in the United States, most of whom live in California and the Northeast. Copts in Egypt, where the faith was born, regularly face discrimination and violence at the hands of the Muslim majority, according to the State Department.

Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii said he “strongly rejects dragging the respectable Copts of the Diaspora” into the controversy.

US report criticises French Islamic veil ban

News Agencies – August 1, 2012

 

The US on Monday criticised France and Belgium for banning women from wearing face-covering Islamic veils in public, while warning of growing anti-Semitism and hostility towards Muslims in Europe. The US State Department’s report on religious freedoms, researched in 2011 but released on July 30, 2012, warned that freedom of worship was being undermined across the globe — particularly in China and Pakistan.

In Europe there was “growing xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and intolerance toward people considered ‘the other’,” according to the report, which also complained of a “rising number of European countries, including Belgium and France, whose laws restricting dress adversely affected Muslims and others.” “Clinton needs to think more about the emancipation of women. It is not as straightforward an issue as the State Department portrays,” said Socialist-supporting philosopher Henri Pena-Ruiz.