Algeria to inaugurate Bouteflika-era mega mosque

Algeria to inaugurate Bouteflika-era mega mosque
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The great mosque of Algiers, the third largest in the world and the most monumental in Africa, will be inaugurated on Wednesday during a first collective prayer. (AFP)
Algeria to inaugurate Bouteflika-era mega mosque
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This picture shows the Great Mosque of Algiers, also known as Djamaa el Djazair, in Algiers on October 27, 2020. (AFP)
Algeria to inaugurate Bouteflika-era mega mosque
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The Great Mosque of Algiers, also known as Djamaa el-Djazair, on the eve of its inauguration in the Algerian capital. (AFP)
Algeria to inaugurate Bouteflika-era mega mosque
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This picture shows the Great Mosque of Algiers, also known as Djamaa el Djazair, in Algiers on October 27, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 28 October 2020

Algeria to inaugurate Bouteflika-era mega mosque

Algeria to inaugurate Bouteflika-era mega mosque
  • Known locally as the Djamaa El-Djazair, it is smaller only than the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah
  • To its critics, the mosque is a vanity project and a symbol of the megalomania of former autocrat Bouteflika

ALGIERS: Algeria’s Grand Mosque, the world’s third-biggest and Africa’s largest, will host its first public prayers on Wednesday, a year and a half after construction was completed.
Known locally as the Djamaa El-Djazair, the modernist structure extends across 27.75 hectares (almost 70 acres), and is smaller only than the two mosques in Makkah and Madinah, Islam’s holiest sites, in Saudi Arabia.
To its critics, the mosque is a vanity project and a symbol of the megalomania of former autocrat Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced out in April last year after mass street protests against his two-decade-long rule.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had been expected to inaugurate the mosque’s prayer hall — whose maximum capacity is 120,000 — at the event on Wednesday, the eve of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
But his presence was in doubt after his office announced the day before that he had been hospitalized.


Tebboune had gone into self-isolation last week following suspected coronavirus cases among his aides, but the presidency said Tuesday that Tebboune’s “state of health does not raise any concern.”
It was unclear how many people would be allowed to attend the prayers amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The mosque’s interior, in Andalusian style, is decorated in wood, marble and alabaster.
It features six kilometers (3.7 miles) of Qur'anic text in Arabic calligraphy, along with turquoise prayer mats.
The mosque aims to be an important theological, cultural and research center, and the complex includes a library that can host a million books.
Featuring geometric architecture, it also boasts the world’s tallest minaret — 267 meters (875 feet) — fitted with elevators and a viewing platform that looks out over the capital and the Bay of Algiers.
The tallest such structure had previously been a 210-meter minaret in the Moroccan city of Casablanca.


But it has all come at a cost of over $1 billion in public money, according to finance ministry figures.
The seven-year construction work was completed in April 2019, three years behind schedule, and the company in charge, China State Construction Engineering (CSCEC), brought in laborers from China.
“There is a mosque in almost every neighborhood,” said Said Benmehdi, an Algiers resident in his seventies, whose two children are both unemployed.
He told AFP bitterly that he would have preferred for the “state to build factories and let young people work.”
Five imams preside over the mosques and five muezzins are responsible for conducting the call to prayer, said Kamel Chekkat, a member of Algeria’s ulema association of Muslim scholars.
He told AFP that the mosque would be tasked with “regulating and harmonizing fatwas with Algerian life.”
A multidisciplinary study and research group will examine the Qur'anic text and “its keeping with the times and above all, with science,” he added.
“The idea is that the Grand Mosque will be a place for combatting all types of radicalism, religious and secular,” Chekkat said.
But sociologist Belakhdar Mezouar said the mosque “was not built for the people.”
It is the “work of a man (Bouteflika) who wanted to compete with neighboring Morocco, make his name eternal and put this construction on his CV, so he could get into paradise on judgment day,” he said, adding that his opinion was widely shared.
Nadir Djermoune, who teaches town planning, criticized the “ostentatious choice” of such mega projects at a time when he said Algeria needed new health, education, sporting and recreational facilities.
The mosque is “isolated from the real needs of the city in terms of infrastructure,” he said.
The most positive point, he said, was its modernist concept, which “will serve as a model for future architectural projects.”


Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure

Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure
Updated 5 sec ago

Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure

Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure
BEIRUT: The families of the victims of Beirut’s massive port blast last year reaffirmed Saturday their support for the judge leading the investigation into the explosion, despite increasing calls for his ouster by the militant Hezbollah group and its allies.
The families’ statement was apparently meant to counter a video released by their spokesman on social media late Friday in which he calls on Judge Tarek Bitar to step down.
The spokesman, Ibrahim Hoteit, could not be reached for comment. It was unclear if he had made the video under pressure. The families said he had not coordinated with them, which he always does before making public announcement, and that the video took them by surprise.
Since the August 2020 explosion at Beirut’s port that killed at least 215 people, the families of the victims have taken on an increasingly prominent role in Lebanon with their demands for accountability. After the blast, it emerged from documents that several senior politicians and security chiefs knew of the hundreds of tons of highly combustible ammonium nitrate stored haphazardly in a port warehouse and did nothing about it.
On Thursday, gunbattles erupted on Beirut streets between two camps opposing and supporting the judge in the probe, killed seven and wounded dozens.
The violence broke out at a protest organized by Hezbollah and Amal groups, which have called for Bitar’s removal. The two groups have suggested the investigation is heading toward holding them responsible for the blast.
“We, the families of more than 200 martyrs and thousands of injured and hundreds of thousands of people who suffered damages, have put our faith in investigative judge Tarek Bitar,” the families said.
In the video, the spokesman demands the judge step down because “the situation has turned into shedding of the blood of innocent people” — a reference to Thursday’s violence. The spokesman’s younger brother was killed in the port explosion.
Judge Bitar has charged and issued arrests warrant for Lebanon’s former ministers of finance and public works, both close allies of Hezbollah. Bitar has charged the two, along with another former minister and prime minister, with intentional killing and negligence that led to the blast.

Iranian court upholds new 1-year sentence for Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Iranian court upholds new 1-year sentence for Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Updated 16 October 2021

Iranian court upholds new 1-year sentence for Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Iranian court upholds new 1-year sentence for Zaghari-Ratcliffe
  • Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already served a five-year prison sentence in Iran
  • Her lawyer said the appeals court upheld a verdict issued earlier this year sentencing her to another year

TEHRAN: An Iranian appeals court has upheld a verdict sentencing an Iranian-British woman long held in Tehran to another year in prison, her lawyer said Saturday.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already served a five-year prison sentence in the Islamic Republic. Her lawyer Hojjat Kermani told The Associated Press that the appeals court upheld a verdict issued earlier this year sentencing her to another year.
The verdict additionally includes a one-year travel ban abroad, meaning she cannot leave Iran to join her family for nearly two years.
In April, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced for allegedly spreading “propaganda against the system” when she participated in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009.
Kermani said Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “concerned” when he informed her about the appeals court decision. He said his client is in touch with her family.
State media in Iran did not immediately acknowledge the ruling, apparently issued after a closed-door hearing.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny. While employed at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, she was taken into custody at the Tehran airport in April 2016 as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family.
Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies. Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, so detainees like Zaghari-Ratcliffe cannot receive consular assistance.
Authorities furloughed Zaghari-Ratcliffe from prison because of the surging coronavirus pandemic and she has been restricted to her parents’ Tehran home since.


Arab coalition says 160 Houthis killed, 11 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia

Arab coalition says 160 Houthis killed, 11 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia
Updated 16 October 2021

Arab coalition says 160 Houthis killed, 11 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia

Arab coalition says 160 Houthis killed, 11 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia
  • Abedia is a district in Yemen’s Marib which has been under a Houthi siege since Sept. 23
  • The coalition added that it continues to support the Yemeni army in its efforts to protect civilians from Houthi violations

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Saturday that 160 Houthis had been killed and 11 military vehicles destroyed in operations in Abedia.

The coalition said it had carried out 32 operations targeting Houthis in Marib’s Abedia district over the past 24 hours.

Abedia is a district in Yemen’s Marib which has been under a Houthi siege since Sept. 23, hindering the movement of civilians and impeding humanitarian aid flows.

The coalition added that it continues to support the Yemeni army in its efforts to protect civilians from Houthi violations.

The coalition announced on Friday that it had killed over 180 Houthis and destroyed ten military vehicles in similar operations in Abedia.


Turkish soldiers beat Afghan asylum seekers, force returns to Iran, claims HRW

Turkish soldiers beat Afghan asylum seekers, force returns to Iran, claims HRW
Updated 16 October 2021

Turkish soldiers beat Afghan asylum seekers, force returns to Iran, claims HRW

Turkish soldiers beat Afghan asylum seekers, force returns to Iran, claims HRW
  • The practice is in violation of international law and some families have been separated as a result: HRW
  • Some people had their bones broken as a result of the force used by Turkish soldiers

LONDON: Turkish authorities are violently returning Afghan asylum seekers from Iran as soon as they arrive in Turkey, Human Rights Watch has said.

The practice is in violation of international law and some families have been separated as a result, the rights organization said. 

Six Afghans, five of whom were pushed back, told HRW that the Turkish army had severely beat them and their fellow travelers and expelled them in groups of 50 to 300 people as they tried to cross the border into Turkey.

Some people had their bones broken as a result of the force used. 

“Turkish authorities are denying Afghans trying to flee to safety the right to seek asylum,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at HRW. “Turkish soldiers are also brutally mistreating the Afghans while unlawfully pushing them back.”

“EU member states should not consider Turkey a safe third country for Afghan asylum seekers and should suspend all deportations and forced returns of Afghan nationals, including to third countries like Turkey where their rights would not be respected,” Wille said.

“They should also ensure that Afghans entering the EU via Turkey have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures,” he added.

HRW said it had remotely interviewed six Afghans between Sept. 25 and Oct. 11. Five of them were hiding in Turkey to avoid being expelled to Iran, and one had been forcibly returned to Iran for a third time. All had fled Afghanistan shortly before or after Aug. 15, when the Taliban took control of Kabul.

The Afghans said they had traveled through Pakistan and Iran, and that Iranian smugglers took them to the border with Turkey in the middle of the night and told them to run across. Turkish soldiers fired above their heads and two said they were brutally beaten by soldiers.

One of the Afghans said he successfully remained in Turkey on his first attempt while another had been deported back to Iran. The other four said Turkish soldiers forced them back up to three times before they succeeded in remaining in Turkey.

Two said that Turkish forces destroyed their possessions, and those of everyone in the group they were expelled with. 

“Once they arrested us, they confiscated our phones, money, food, and anything else we were carrying and burned all of our things in a big fire,” one woman said. “I assume they did this to send the message that we should not try to cross the border again.” 

One man said they stripped the men in his group down to their underwear, burned their clothes and belongings, and then forcibly returned them.

Another man said that soldiers beat them with the butts of their guns and that several men in his group had broken hands, arms, and legs from the cruel beatings.

Another man said he saw Turkish soldiers beating people he had crossed with and that they were covered in blood and had wounds to their heads.

“They beat me for about 20 minutes with the butts of their guns and sticks, leaving me bleeding,” he said.

One woman said that on her third attempt to cross into Turkey with her two children, her brother, his wife, and their child, Turkish soldiers detained her brother and his wife and expelled them, leaving their child with her.

Turkey hosts the world’s largest number of refugees including 3.7 million from Syria who have been granted temporary protection status, and over 400,000 refugees and migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. 

HRW has previously documented illegal pushbacks and beatings of asylum seekers, including returning refugees to Syria.

The organization said that while most people interviewed said they were forcibly returned close to the border, one man said that he and eight of his relatives were deported after they went to a local immigration office in Turkey after feeling ill.

“When we got there, the authorities arrested us and took our phones and turned them off, so the rest of our family had no idea what happened to us,” he said.

“They held us for two nights and one day, and only fed us twice … after the second night they put us onto buses with about 100 other people and drove us to the border. One soldier at the border told us, ‘here is the border. Don’t come back. If you do, we will beat you.’”


Iran sentences ex-central bank chief to 10 years in prison

Iran sentences ex-central bank chief to 10 years in prison
Updated 16 October 2021

Iran sentences ex-central bank chief to 10 years in prison

Iran sentences ex-central bank chief to 10 years in prison
  • Besides violating the currency system, Valliollah Seif also had a role in smuggling foreign currency

TEHRAN: A court sentenced the former governor of Iran’s central bank to 10 years in prison for violating the country’s currency system, a judiciary spokesperson said Saturday.
Besides violating the currency system, Valliollah Seif also had a role in smuggling foreign currency, judiciary spokesman Zabihollah Khodaeian told state TV.
Ahmad Araghchi, a then-deputy to Seif, was sentenced to eight years on the same charges, Khodaeian said. Eight others were also sentenced to various prison terms, he said. All of the defendants have the right to appeal.
Seif was governor of Iran’s central bank for five years until 2018 under former President Hassan Rouhani. Araghchi was his deputy from 2017 to 2018.
State TV said they were involved in violations of the currency market in 2016, a time when the Iranian rial sustained considerable losses in value against major foreign currencies.
The defendants illegally injected $160 million and 20 million euros into the market, state TV said.
The rial exchange rate was at 39,000 to $1 in 2017 at the beginning of Araghchi’s time in office but it reached more than 110,000 to $1 by the time he was dismissed in 2018. The change partly coincided with severe US sanctions imposed on Tehran.
The rial has tumbled from a rate of around 32,000 rials to $1 at the time of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers to around 27,000 rials to $1 in recent months. The currency unexpectedly rallied for some time after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the nuclear deal and reimpose crippling trade sanctions on Iran in 2018.
The sanctions have caused Iran’s oil exports, the country’s main source of income, to fall sharply.