Twin bombing in eastern Syria kills 20 including oil workers

A picture taken on February 21, 2019 shows vehicles belonging to the US-backed coalition as they drive down a road in Syria's northern Deir Ezzor province. (AFP)
Updated 22 February 2019

Twin bombing in eastern Syria kills 20 including oil workers

  • The incident took place near the town of Al-Shahil in the southeast of oil-rich Deir al-Zor province that borders Iraq
  • It came as the SDF presses on with efforts to retake the last small area of territory held in Syria by Daesh

NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria: A car bombing killed 20 people near the main base of US-backed Syrian forces on Thursday as fighters tried to negotiate the release of civilians still trapped in Daesh’s last redoubt.
As the Syrian Democratic Forces pressed the last extremist diehards the car bomb killed 14 oil workers and six of the Kurdish-led alliance’s conscripts near the Omar oil field which is uses as its main base in the region, the US-backed group and a monitor said.
SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin said the blast in the village of Shheel, some 100 kilometers north of Baghouz, was another example of Daesh cells attacking its fighters behind the front line.
The SDF are working toward evacuating civilians remaining in the holdout in east Syria, so they can retake the last scrap of the dying Daesh “caliphate” whether through an assault or a surrender deal.
The extremists overran large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, but several offensives have retaken all but half a square kilometer (a fifth of a square mile) of the territory in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz.
A spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting Daesh said international forces “continue to support the SDF as they negotiate having innocent civilians released” and their captured fighters returned.
A day after hundreds of people were evacuated from the last Daesh remnant, more than 50 trucks on Thursday returned near empty from Baghouz to SDF territory, an AFP correspondent said.
“We couldn’t enter Baghouz,” said a man who had accompanied the convoy.
“We got to an SDF point and we found around 15 people — women and children including a French woman and an Egyptian woman. We took them,” he said.
“The fighters asked us to go back tomorrow at 8 am.”
Thousands of people have escaped Daesh territory in recent weeks, but the flow slowed to a trickle at the weekend, before Wednesday’s first batch of evacuees.
Paul Bradley, from the Free Burma Rangers volunteer group, said people fleeing painted a grim picture of life inside.
“They showed us this bread that’s basically mashed up wheat with water burnt on both sides, $16 a kilo,” he said.
SDF spokesman Afrin said most of those trucked out on Wednesday were civilians, but they also included Daesh fighters.
On Thursday, the AFP reporter saw hundreds of people waiting in a screening area where the SDF have been questioning new arrivals in recent weeks, to separate out suspected extremists from the civilians.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Wednesday that negotiations were being held “for the surrender of the last Daesh fighters.”
It said there were “reports of a deal” but the details were unclear.
At the height of its rule, Daesh imposed its brutal ideology on a territory roughly the size of the United Kingdom, attracting thousands of supporters from abroad.
But the extremists have since lost almost all their territory, and hundreds of foreigners suspected of being Daesh fighters, as well as related women and children, are being held by the SDF.
Other foreign members have been killed.
A top French extremist, who voiced an audio recording claiming responsibility for the November 2015 attacks in Paris, was killed in an overnight airstrike, security sources told AFP on Thursday.
Fabien Clain, who is believed to have gone to Syria in March 2015, was killed in Baghouz, they said.
Across the border, security officials in Iraq said the SDF handed over 130 Iraqi extremsts to Baghdad on Thursday, but SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali denied the claim.
Syria’s Kurds have long demanded the repatriation of foreigners accused of belonging to Daesh in their custody, but their home countries have been reluctant.
US President Donald Trump said Wednesday he was barring a US-born former Daesh propagandist from returning home from Syria, where the conflict has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the diplomatic status of the father of Alabama woman Hoda Muthana means she is not a US citizen.
It came after a lawyer for the family of a teenager who fled London to join the extremists when she was 15 said Britain was revoking her citizenship.
Shamima Begum, 19, at the weekend gave birth to her third child. Two previous children died at an early age.


Turkey tightens control on social media platforms

Updated 52 sec ago

Turkey tightens control on social media platforms

  • Failure to comply with the requirements could shrink their access by Turkish users by up to 95 percent

ISTANBUL: Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter will be legally bound to appoint a formal representative in Turkey under a new draft law that will be brought to the country’s parliament soon.

The bill is initially designed for the government’s fight against the spread of the coronavirus, but it covers clauses about social media restrictions.

According to the experts, if adopted, this bill will pave the way for exercising government pressure on the platforms.

Failure to comply with the requirements could shrink their access by Turkish users by up to 95 percent. The social media platforms are also obliged to share users’ information with the prosecutors’ office when required.

They will also have to execute decisions coming from the criminal courts for “content removal” and/or “access denial” without any exception. Even individuals may apply to state authorities to ask the platforms to remove content. The platforms could be fined up to 1 million Turkish lira if they do not comply with the request within 24 hours.

It is still unclear whether news outlets with social media sites will also have to abide by these requirements.

Last August, the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) was officially granted the authority to regulate and monitor online platforms, including series on digital TV platforms such as Netflix, news broadcasts on YouTube and social media platforms delivering news on a regular basis. Those broadcasting online were obliged to get a license first from RTUK. According to that legislation, overseas companies who broadcast in Turkey on the internet are also required to establish a company and obtain a license.

Dr. Sarphan Uzunoglu, a scholar at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University and editor in chief of NewsLabTurkey.org, said it had long been the wish of the Turkish government to keep Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter — as some of the most-used social networks in the country — under control.

“This new draft that will be brought to the parliament is a concrete step toward making Turkey’s digital sphere more controllable than ever for the government,” he told Arab News.

According to Uzunoglu, it is natural that Twitter, Facebook, Google and others are questioned by governments worldwide due to their financial activities and uncontrolled flow of money worldwide.

“Some responsible governments and politicians always question this shady feature of social networks. However, unfortunately, Turkey is not one of these countries or Turkish politicians aren’t the kind of politicians that think (about) the privacy of individuals. All they want is clearly a person who will be like an ambassador for the brand in their country whom they can get in touch with on a regular basis,” he said.

The bill also requires that all data about Turkish social media users be stored in Turkey.

Uzunoglu thinks that the daily routine of such a representative will not be very different from the life of the US ambassador in the time of crisis between US and Turkey.

“The only difference is, the government will try to keep this person and social network for everything in the platform. So that will be a disaster for both the operation of the social platform and the democracy of the country. And unlike an ambassador, the national law system in Turkey will be imposed on them. So, Facebook or Twitter won’t be different from any other web site active in Turkey,” he said.

Turkey has also increased control over social media during the coronavirus outbreak. More than 400 people have been arrested for “provocative” posts on their social media accounts about the virus.

Turkey has blocked access to social media platforms several times in the recent past, especially after the military deployments to Syria.

As social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter host the remaining free-speech platforms and provide an alternative information flow, Uzunoglu thinks that being forced to give away data about their users will be an attack on individual privacy.

“This definitely shows that the government is living in a completely different reality, or they imagine to live in a completely different world,” he said.

Uzunoglu also drew attention to the problematic timing of the move, especially under the extraordinary conditions caused by COVID-19.

“Just think about the Internet freedom related activism of the early 2010s when people went into the streets for the first time to protect Internet freedom. Comparing it to the self-isolation period that we are experiencing right now, it would be naive to think that it is just coincidental,” he said.