UN calls for enhanced international cooperation to tackle terrorism

Vladimir Voronkov, under-secretary-general of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism. (AFP/File)
Vladimir Voronkov, under-secretary-general of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism. (AFP/File)
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Updated 13 January 2021

UN calls for enhanced international cooperation to tackle terrorism

UN calls for enhanced international cooperation to tackle terrorism
  • Security Council ministerial meeting told that threats have evolved and spread in the 20 years since 9/11
  • ‘Even better-equipped states are challenged to keep pace with evolving and emerging threats,’ expert warns

NEW YORK: The terrorism threat has evolved and spread in the 20 years since the 9/11 attacks, causing “unspeakable human suffering and loss,” according to Vladimir Voronkov, under-secretary-general of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism.
Al-Qaeda has proven to be resilient despite the loss of many of its leaders, he said. It has “pioneered a dangerous transnational model of regional franchises exploiting local fragilities and conflicts.”
Meanwhile new groups have emerged in the past two decades, Voronkov added, including Daesh. Though defeated in Iraq and Syria, he said, the group is using social media to recruit and radicalize followers around the globe and, as it seeks to rebuild and re-establish itself, it continues to carry out attacks.
Voronkov was speaking on Tuesday at a ministerial meeting of the UN Security Council marking the 20th anniversary this year of Resolution 1373, which was unanimously adopted on Sept. 28, 2001 in response to the 9/11 attacks. Considered a watershed in the international fight against terrorism, it includes a number of counterterrorism measures.
The council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee was established at the same time to monitor implementation of the resolution and enhance the institutional capacity of member states to prevent and counter threats by criminalizing terrorist activity, bringing terrorists to justice and denying them safe havens and financial support.
Voronkov urged the ministers, many of whom have witnessed terrorist attacks in their own countries, to work to ensure Daesh is held accountable for its crimes.
He also called on them to repatriate the thousands of their citizens, mostly women and children, who remain in limbo as a result of their prior connections with the terror group.
About 70,000 women and children associated with Daesh are being held in camps in Northern Syria. Of those, about 13,000 are from countries other than Syria or Iraq. The camps suffer from severe overcrowding and high rates of child mortality, but many nations refuse to accept the return of their citizens who are held there.
Richard Mills, the US deputy ambassador to the UN, said that repatriating these foreign nationals would not only “prevent fighters from going back to battle, but also, for humanitarian reasons, the situation in those camps is untenable.”
He added that the US has so far repatriated 12 teenagers and 16 adults, six of whom face criminal charges.
Tarek Ladeb, permanent representative to the UN for Tunisia, which holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, highlighted Daesh’s “considerable financial capacities, their use of sophisticated methods for recruitment, financing and planning, and their ability to adapt to national and international counterterrorism mechanisms.”
He added that the group’s activities cause ongoing conflicts to escalate, making them more violent, complex and difficult to resolve. He also talked about more-recent trends in global terrorism, including the mobilization of so-called “sleeper cells” or “lone wolves,” the growing links between terrorism and transnational organized crime, and the emergence of ethnically or racially motivated terrorism.
Michele Coninsx, the UN’s assistant secretary-general and executive director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, also highlighted “the proliferation of extreme right-wing (or racially and ethnically motivated) terrorism” which, she said, is “also a cause of increasing concern.”
To face these challenges, Ladeb called for a holistic approach in which civil-society groups, the private sector, women and young people all have a say, and urged states to balance their counter-terrorism measures with a commitment to the principles of international human-rights laws.
“(Terrorism) cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group,” he added.
Voronkov said that terrorists adapt quickly and are “keen to exploit cyberspace and new technologies, linkages with organized crime, as well as regulatory, human and technical gaps in national capacities. Their tactics are appealing to new groups across the ideological spectrum, including racially, ethnically and politically motivated violent extremist groups.
“The COVID-19 crisis has magnified these trends, just as it has been a stress test for international cooperation and solidarity.”
He called for enhanced international cooperation in counterterrorism efforts, given that “even better-equipped states are challenged to keep pace with evolving and emerging threats, both offline and online.”
Voronkov also stressed the need to “look beyond terrorism as a tactic” and address the underlying factors that cause it to spread, while also continuing with efforts to make progress on “the interlinked peace and security, sustainable development, and human-rights agendas.”
“It is time for the international community to walk the talk,” said Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s minister of external affairs. He presented an eight-point action plan as he called on members to summon the political will to address terrorism in a spirit of transparency and accountability, and to reject double standards.
“Terrorists are terrorists, and those who cover up for them are just as culpable,” he added.
 


Muslims around the world mark Eid al Fitr

Muslims around the world mark Eid al Fitr
Updated 13 May 2021

Muslims around the world mark Eid al Fitr

Muslims around the world mark Eid al Fitr
  • For the second year Muslims celebrations are being impacted by COVID-19 restictions
  • In Gaza Muslims marked Eid despite the escalating violence with Israel

DUBAI: Millions of Muslims around the world performed Eid Al-Fitr prayers on Thursday with varying degrees of restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 and civil unrest.

Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from any form of food – liquid or solid – as well as not smoking during daylight hours.

There are some similarities in the way Muslims celebrate around the world, with prayers and where possible with family and friends.

In Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Muslims bake cakes, go on picnics and organize barbecues in forests.

In Gaza, Muslims still prayed together despite intense fighting with Israel.

 

 

And in China - where the government has been facing intense criticism for its treatment of minority Muslims - Beijing's Muslim community gathered for Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Niujie Mosque - the capital city's biggest and oldest mosque.

In Afghanistan a three-day ceasefire has been agreed by the warring Taliban and Afghan forces, which came into force on Thursday.

Indonesia – the world’s biggest Muslim majority nation – has for a second year been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.  

Many mosques have had to be closed and restrictions on movements have impacted family reunions.

Even in non-Islamic countries, Muslims will attend local mosques to pray - but Thursday is normal working day and some will book the time off work to be with family - COVID–19 restrictions allowing.

For more images of Muslims welcoming Eid Al-Fitr click here.


Macron’s party pulls support from woman in Muslim headscarf

Macron’s party pulls support from woman in Muslim headscarf
Updated 13 May 2021

Macron’s party pulls support from woman in Muslim headscarf

Macron’s party pulls support from woman in Muslim headscarf
  • Sara Zemmahi is shown in a campaign poster with a white headscarf before the June elections
  • While France bans Muslim headscarves in classrooms, they aren’t forbidden in the public space or on campaign posters

PARIS: France’s long-standing debate over the Muslim headscarf has landed in a local political race, giving it a national message, with a decision by President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party to withdraw its backing for a candidate because she was pictured in a poster with her head covered.
“I’m frankly pained by the decision,” Mahfoud Benali, the lead candidate on the list for a district in the southern city of Montpellier, said Wednesday of the move by Macron’s party to refuse support for Sara Zemmahi, a quality engineer, from his list.
Zemmahi is shown in a campaign poster with a white headscarf before the June elections. She was on a work trip and not immediately available to comment, Benali said on a TV talk show on Channel 8.
While France bans Muslim headscarves in classrooms, they aren’t forbidden in the public space or on campaign posters.
However, Stanislas Guerini, head of Macron’s LREM party, told radio station RTL Tuesday that, nevertheless, the party wouldn’t back Zemmahi, one of four people in the poster.
“We consider that ostentatious religious signs don’t have their place on posters, whatever the religion,” Guerini said.
The poster for the June 20 and 27 local elections shows two men and two female candidates, including Zemmahi, under the sign “Different But United For You.” On the bottom, it notes the candidates stand for the “presidential majority.”
The decision, which drew criticism from some members of Macron’s own party, underscored the divisiveness of France’s long-standing debate on headscarves, and secularism, and how it may play out in politics before next year’s presidential vote. Macron is expected to try to renew his mandate, and, if so, could find himself in a repeat of the 2017 race, facing off against far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
It was a tweet of the poster by the No.2 official in Le Pen’s National Rally party, Jordan Bardella, that brought the issue into the public eye, along with his remark: “That’s the fight against separatism,” a reference to Macron’s priority effort to rid France of political Islam and extremists.
In a later tweet, Bardella said the Muslim headscarf is “contrary to all our values” and his National Rally party “will forbid it in public.” He was clearly making a reference to an eventual victory of Le Pen in next year’s presidential race.


Exclusion from US Census ‘weakens the Arab American voice,’ expert warns

Exclusion from US Census ‘weakens the Arab American voice,’ expert warns
Updated 50 min 33 sec ago

Exclusion from US Census ‘weakens the Arab American voice,’ expert warns

Exclusion from US Census ‘weakens the Arab American voice,’ expert warns
  • During a discussion on the Ray Hanania radio show, they said this lack of official recognition means the community misses out on many benefits
  • Currently the census does not allow people to identify as Arab or Middle Eastern; instead they are forced to identify themselves as white

Experts warned on Wednesday that the lack of recognition and inclusion in the US Census continues to undermine the strength of the Arab American community.

Because the demographics of their community are not precisely measured, Arabs in the US fail to benefit from more than $80 billion in Federal grants, and they are excluded from policies designed to enhance political representation, professor Edmund Ghareeb and researcher Matthew Jaber Stiffler said during a discussion broadcast live on the Ray Hanania radio show. Even their sense of community pride is undermined, they added.

Currently the census does not have an option that allows people to identify as Arab or Middle Eastern. Instead they are forced to identify themselves as white.

Ghareeb, an author and specialist on Arab American affairs, and Stiffler, who works with the Arab American National Museum in Detroit, agreed that this “census exclusion” is preventing Arab Americans from fully enjoying the benefits of life in America.

“The way race and ethnicity is collected on the census is directed by the Office of Management and Budget, and because of that it applies to all federal agencies,” said Stiffler, who also leads a national research initiative through the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), the nation’s largest not-for-profit Arab American grassroots social-service agency.

 

“For instance at the office of Minority Health, which is a federal agency, Arab Americans cannot get grants to study the health of Arab Americans because we are not considered a minority — we are considered a part of the white community. It is not just the census, it is the fact that Arabs are not counted all across all of the government.”

 

Ghareeb, who has taught at the American University in Washington, Georgetown University and George Washington University, said the damage caused by this long-running failure of the census to recognize Arab ethnicity has been significant.

 

“The census is important primarily because, right now, Arab Americans are not able to participate as fully as other communities in getting government positions, for example, or support in the health area and the unemployment area,” he said.

 

“Of course, for some it is more important than that: it is the recognition and identity of your own community.”

Ghareeb and Stiffler identified a number of ways in which Arab Americans lose out because their ethnicity is not recognized by the census. They said, for example, that it affects the community’s political clout, access to federal funding, its sense of community pride, and leads to marginalization by mainstream businesses and industries, including the mainstream news media.

“It is really tough because it really impacts everything, from education to health to political representation,” Stiffler said. “The Arab American community does not see itself. We don’t even know how many of us there are. We have estimates but they range from 2.5 million to 4.5 million.

 

“So I think it is really about seeing us, and seeing us in the industries that we are in. We know Arab Americans are very entrepreneurial but if you go to all of the federal business indexes, Arab Americans are not listed as being a group that owns businesses. So it is really hard to see the impact that Arab Americans have made, if we are not counted.”

Ghareeb said part of the problem lies in the varied nature of the community itself, which includes people from 22 Arab nations but also reflects the sub-ethnicities within each country. He added that the community needs to become more active and more demanding of its rights.

“It’s important because of the politics as well, especially when it comes to foreign policy and what is going on in the region,” he said. “I think that when Arab Americans have a voice they will also have more of a voice to influence American foreign policy. All of these things are extremely important.”

 

As a topical example of a way in which Arabs are excluded from official consideration as a distinct community in the US, Stiffler cited the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Southeast Michigan, ACCESS, the largest Arab American community non-profit, has given 20,000 doses of the COVID vaccine in the past few weeks,” he said.

“If you go onto the Michigan State dashboard — it would take some work but you could find this information — it says that of those 20,000 doses, two were (given to Arabs) because that is just the way (it is): it is very difficult to get Arabs identified in any of this data. So it looks like only two Arabs were vaccinated by ACCESS and not what was more likely 15,000.” 

 

Both experts said they favor a “MENA” category for identification, rather than “Arab,” because this would allow each individual Arab identity to be included. A MENA category has been considered as a category for ethnicity but its inclusion was stymied by lack of support from sitting presidents, who have the power to influence the contents of the census without seeking congressional approval.

Ghareeb noted that census categories for Asians and Southeast Asians were added as a result of presidential directives.

“There is no doubt that the Arab American community is losing some important benefits that other communities have achieved,” he added. “My preference based on what the science and the data tells us is right now is that MENA is the best category.

 

“And the way the census was going to do it was they were going to have MENA (as an option), but it was going to be a write-in option. You could put anything on that line — Iranian, Lebanese, Chaldean — and then they were going to count all of that. So not only would we get the MENA count but we would get the disaggregated counts of all these other ethnicities and nationalities so we would know who everybody is.

 

“It was going to be wonderful. Of course, that didn’t happen. But I think the broader the category, the better. Let people self-identify under that and we will count everybody that way.”

 

•  The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 Radio and in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 radio at 8 a.m. on Wednesday mornings. Hosted by the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, the leading English-language newspaper in the Middle East, the show is also streamed live at Facebook.com/ArabNews. The radio podcast is available at ArabNews.com/RayRadioShow.


Duterte calls on officials to help stop violence in Maguindanao

Duterte calls on officials to help stop violence in Maguindanao
Updated 13 May 2021

Duterte calls on officials to help stop violence in Maguindanao

Duterte calls on officials to help stop violence in Maguindanao
  • Filipino president warns of ‘an all-out offensive’ if situation does not improve

MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday called on local leaders in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to help the national government bring peace to the center of the region. 

During a visit to the 6th Infantry Division’s headquarters in Maguindanao, Duterte urged the officials to do more to prevent atrocities committed by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other militant groups in their area. 

The president’s message follows a recent attack by BIFF — a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) — in the Datu Paglas town of Maguindanao. 

Senior leaders of the MILF now head the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which is the interim regional government of the BARMM. 

“The violence is very much present,” Duterte said, adding: “I am begging you to help me because otherwise, if I give the order for an all-out offensive, it will be bloody, and it will be sad. I do not want that.”

He added that militant groups should not continue to commit atrocities because if he orders the military to strike back, he will “not withdraw it, and this could mean loss of more lives.”

The president said: “Please do not give them the sanctuary ... Do not wait for me to call you to Malacañang if there are intelligence reports,” adding that he had done “everything to ensure the creation of the BARMM” and was willing to expand “what is necessary for an effective governance of the region.”

He said: “But the monkey wrench of the whole situation now is the BIFF, and they continue to inflict not only small harm. They continue to burn, ambush, detonate bombs. It’s really full-blown terrorism.”

He also asked that anyone who could approach and engage with the BIFF to do so. 

“If there is still a chance for you to cross the line and talk to them ... do not commit atrocities that could no longer be stomached by the government.”

Duterte’s visit to Maguindanao comes three days after BIFF members led by Ustadz Sulaiman Tundo attacked Datu Paglas and briefly occupied the town’s public market on Saturday. 

The group, which belonged to the BIFF faction under Mohiden Animbang (also known as Commander Kagi Karialan), was eventually repelled by government forces. 

Karialan’s group has been the target of a military crackdown after receiving reports of the group planning to conduct attacks in nearby towns in Maguindanao. 

Following Saturday’s strike, BARMM Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim issued a statement condemning the group’s atrocities. 

“We will not tolerate any act that threatens peace and order,” he said. 

“As a region that is just beginning a chapter of healing and justice, attacks like the one today are nothing but a mere attempt to distract everyone from the gains of the peace process. We will not let violence prevail and make sure that we protect our people who have gone through so much over the past decades,” he added. 

Drawing attention to the holy month of Ramadan, Ebrahim said: “We must be reminded of its teachings that form part of who we are as Muslims and as Bangsamoro.”

He added: “The Bangsamoro government will closely monitor the situation. The MILF forces on the ground are directed to uphold the primacy of the peace process and work closely with their counterparts from the military and the police to protect the gains of the peace process.”

In January, Ebrahim told Arab News that hundreds of local militants from Daesh-inspired groups in the southern Philippines were considering giving up their weapons and returning to normal lives, as the government’s anti-terror programs in BARMM continue to thrive.

Since its inception two years ago, the BARMM government has overseen the decommissioning of thousands of fighters from the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). 

The BIAF is the military wing of the MILF, once the largest Muslim insurgent group in the Philippines. 

On Wednesday, the Western Mindanao Command said sustained military operations had resulted in the killing of four BIFF gunmen under the Karialan faction during an early morning clash in the outskirts of Datu Paglas.

Brig. Gen. Roy Galido, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, said troops had recovered the bodies of the slain militants.


Indonesians go extra mile for Eid festivities despite travel ban

Indonesians go extra mile for Eid festivities despite travel ban
Updated 13 May 2021

Indonesians go extra mile for Eid festivities despite travel ban

Indonesians go extra mile for Eid festivities despite travel ban
  • Some defy safety rules to celebrate end of Ramadan with families despite spike in virus cases

JAKARTA: Indonesians are preparing for a second successive year of muted Eid celebrations after the government rolled out new travel restrictions aimed at combating a spike in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country.

The Southeast Asian nation has witnessed a steady rise in virus infection rates over the Ramadan holiday season and on May 6 imposed a 12-day nationwide travel ban in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

However, Jakarta police said on Tuesday that an estimated 1.5 million people had still left the capital city by car to travel to their hometowns throughout Indonesia’s main island of Java, although the exodus was in stark contrast to the usual 8 million in pre-pandemic years.

The country’s transport ministry said almost 138,000 vehicles had driven out of Jakarta each day since the start of the travel ban.

Those staying in the capital were on Tuesday rocked when regional governments in Jakarta and its satellite cities made a joint last-minute announcement restricting people from traveling within the urban areas during the Eid holidays starting Wednesday.

Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan ordered shopping centers, restaurants, public places, entertainment venues, and even cemeteries, to close down until Sunday to prevent public gatherings during the holidays.

Indonesians also celebrate Eid by paying respects to deceased family members by praying at their graves.

Police set up checkpoints to monitor people traveling in and out of Jakarta to its suburban areas, which administratively are under neighboring West Java and Banten provinces.

The move has left Jakarta residents faced with the prospect of being unable to celebrate Eid with family members often only a 30 to 60-minute drive away.

“The government realizes that the Eid travel ban is not perfect in its implementation, but we still carry out the policy in accordance with the regulations,” national COVID-19 task force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito told a press briefing on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, there were reports of some travelers going the extra mile to meet relatives in defiance of the ban.

On the first day of the travel restrictions, police discovered a group of people hiding under vegetables in a truck during an inspection at Cikampek toll road, which connects Jakarta to cities across Java.

Others took the less-traveled routes, known as the rat road, to get to their destination despite the journey taking more time.

By the third day of the ban, police said at least 70,000 vehicles had been turned back from 318 checkpoints throughout the islands of Sumatra, Java, and Bali.

Aang Surmana, who works as a garbage collector in South Jakarta, told Arab News that he managed to reach his hometown in Tegal, Central Java, on Wednesday afternoon, after traveling on a motorcycle with his son for eight hours, as opposed to the regular travel time of six hours.

“I dodged the checkpoints by taking detours on village roads, and I tried to blend in like locals by traveling light, with just a small bag, so we didn’t look like we were traveling long distance with big bags,” he said.

Java, Indonesia’s most populated island where about half of its 270 million people live, has been contributing about 60 to 70 percent to the national COVID-19 caseload, with authorities saying people traveling out of the island to less-infected regions could lead to a surge in local infections.

Adisasmito said: “COVID-19 is not just Java’s problem. There could be a surge in cases in regions out of Java, even in less crowded and populated areas. If we don’t anticipate it, you could bring COVID-19 to your hometowns even though there were no cases there previously.”

On Wednesday, Indonesia reported 4,608 new infections, registering an average of 5,000 cases daily in recent weeks.

On Monday, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said that three new variants of COVID-19 – from the UK, South Africa, and India – had been detected and were a cause for concern.

Nadia Yovani, a sociologist at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News that the rationale of COVID-19 prevention measures of avoiding mass gatherings defied the norms that Indonesians ascribed to festivities with their extended family members during the Eid holiday.

“Despite the hassles in the travel, people still travel to celebrate Eid, pandemic or not. It is part of their struggles to fulfill their spiritual needs to conclude Ramadan by celebrating it with their families,” she said.

“In pandemic times, authorities and spiritual leaders should introduce a new perspective on how to celebrate Eid with a different format than the usual one,” she added.