Not guilty pleas entered in Jordan sedition trial

Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hasan bin Zeid escorted to state security court by security guards for their high-profile sedition case. (Supplied)
Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hasan bin Zeid escorted to state security court by security guards for their high-profile sedition case. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 June 2021

Not guilty pleas entered in Jordan sedition trial

Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hasan bin Zeid escorted to state security court by security guards for their high-profile sedition case. (Supplied)
  • The court also heard testimonies of two prosecution witnesses related to leaked audio clips
  • The court is scheduled to hold another closed-door session on Tuesday

AMMAN – The suspects in Jordan’s high-profile “sedition case,” former minister Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, appeared in court on Monday over their alleged roles in a plot to “destabilize the country.”

Dozens of reporters had been outside the State Security Court (SSC) since the early hours on Monday waiting for permits to enter the heavily-guarded court but were told it was a closed-door hearing.

 

Images on social media showed Awadallah, a former royal court chief, and bin Zaid both wearing blue prison uniforms as they were escorted by security guards to the SSC building.

Sources who attended the session said that the judges read out the charge sheet against the defendants, who pleaded not guilty. The court also heard testimonies of two prosecution witnesses related to leaked audio clips.

The court is scheduled to hold another closed-door session on Tuesday.

Last week, the SSC prosecution office leveled sedition and incitement charges against Awadallah and bin Zaid and accused them of conspiring with former crown prince Hamzah to destabilize the country and fuel unrest against the monarch in collaboration with foreign parties.

Bin Zaid was also charged with possessing illegal narcotics (hashish).


Turkey refuses to serve as ‘waiting room’ for US-bound Afghan refugees

Turkey refuses to serve as ‘waiting room’ for US-bound Afghan refugees
Updated 16 min 11 sec ago

Turkey refuses to serve as ‘waiting room’ for US-bound Afghan refugees

Turkey refuses to serve as ‘waiting room’ for US-bound Afghan refugees

ANKARA: Ankara on Tuesday slammed a US move to offer potential resettlement to Afghan migrants who have US affiliations, saying it would cause another “migration crisis” in the country.

Under the new program announced by the US State Department on Monday, the US will open its doors to thousands of Afghans who are fleeing the Taliban violence, but with certain preconditions.

Ahead of the formal withdrawal of US soldiers at the end of this month, the Priority Two refugee program will cover Afghans who worked for US-funded projects and US-based NGOs and media outlets.

Afghans who do not qualify for the Special Immigration Visa program are among those eligible for this program. However, they should be referred by a US agency or the most senior US citizen employee of an NGO or media outlet that is based in the US.

In the meantime, they must wait in a third country after they leave Afghanistan, and this waiting time can last for 12 to 14 months before their application is processed.

Ankara fears this may trigger potential refugee inflows to the country as Afghans mostly use Turkey as a transit country to reach Europe and the US.

“It is unacceptable to seek a solution in our country without our consent instead of finding a solution among the countries in the region,” Tanju Bilgic, a spokesperson for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, said on Aug. 3, adding that Turkey cannot handle another migration wave on behalf of a third country.

Hundreds of Afghans have recently crossed into Turkey over the passing week, fueling anti-immigrant sentiment in the country and raising concerns about further influx as the country already hosts more than 4 million refugees, mostly Syrians and Afghans.

On Aug. 3, 264 Afghans were held after being found inside a truck in the eastern province of Van, where the country has begun building high walls to stop infiltrators from Iran.

“If the US wants to take these people…it is possible to transfer them directly to their country by planes,” Bilgic said.

Fahrettin Altun, communications chief for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told Bloomberg on Wednesday: “Turkey does not, and will not, serve as any country’s waiting room.”

A great majority of Afghan asylum seekers will probably remain in Turkey because the number of people who are eligible under the US program is limited, while the UN only resettled 20,000 asylum seekers from Turkey this year.

Deniz Senol Sert, a migration expert from Ozyegin University, said the migration wave following the US decision will mainly comprise highly educated Afghans.

“These people will come to Turkey following visa procedures, and they will not cross the border by land but, most likely, by plane. However, Afghanistan’s passport still ranks as the world’s least powerful,” she told Arab News.

According to Sert, Afghan migrants who have already applied for asylum will have to wait at least one year before their procedures finish.

“It is still unknown whether we have the capacity to handle all these migrants. This wave will continue for months depending on the moves of the Taliban, although Turkey has traditionally faced an influx of Afghan migrants in the summer,” she said.

Neva Ovunc Ozturk, a law expert working on transnational migration at Ankara University, said: “The US ranks among the countries that make the most settlements. It is not the first time that the US resettles Afghan migrants under this procedure. This time, it is focusing on Afghans who are affiliated with the US,” she told Arab News.

According to Ozturk, such settlement programs have served as pull factors in the past for immigration waves.

“However, Turkey already has a legal framework for conditional refugee status for those who will be resettled in third countries. Therefore, legally speaking, we have already been serving as a waiting room for some categories of refugees,” she said.

However, experts underline that the latest US decision should accompany diplomacy that promotes fair burden-sharing among countries that are neighboring war-torn Afghanistan.

“The UN High Commissioner for Refugees can encourage states to increase their refugee resettlement quotas. The US may also encourage countries close to Afghanistan, like Pakistan and Bangladesh, to host a certain number of refugees fleeing the Taliban,” Ozturk said.


UN chief: Threat to global peace from Daesh rising

UN chief: Threat to global peace from Daesh rising
Updated 26 min 57 sec ago

UN chief: Threat to global peace from Daesh rising

UN chief: Threat to global peace from Daesh rising
  • The report said Daesh and other terrorist groups have taken advantage of the disruption caused by COVID-19
  • It added that the group remains active in wide swaths of Syria where it is seeking to rebuild its combat capabilities

UNITED NATIONS: Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says in a new report that the threat to international peace and security from extremist group Daesh is rising, pointing to an “alarming” expansion of its affiliates in Africa and its focus on a comeback in its former self-declared “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.
The report to the UN Security Council, which was circulated Tuesday, said Daesh and other terrorist groups have taken advantage of “the disruption, grievances and development setbacks” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, both on the ground and online.
While lockdowns in non-conflict areas suppressed terrorist activity, in conflict areas where pandemic restrictions have less impact the threat from Daesh “has already increased,” Guterres said.
“As pandemic-related restrictions gradually ease, there is an elevated near-term threat of Daesh-inspired attacks outside conflict zones by lone actors or small groups that have been radicalized, incited and possibly directly remotely online,” he said.
The UN chief said this exemplifies a wider and evolving risk from the accelerated use of digital technologies during the pandemic, and the potential for “new and emerging technologies to be used for terrorist purposes.”
In assessing Daesh’s threat, Guterres said its leader, Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman Al-Mawla, “remains reluctant to communicate directly with supporters,” and “the group’s command and control over its global affiliates has loosened, even though it continues to provide guidance and some financial support.”
He said the autonomy of regional affiliates has strengthened especially in West Africa and the Sahel, East and Central Africa, Afghanistan and South Asia. This evolution will be an important factor in Daesh’s future global impact, he quoted unidentified UN member states as saying.
Member states also assess that the extremist group “will continue to prioritize regrouping and seeking resurgence” in Iraq and Syria as its core area of operations, he said.
The 16-page report, prepared by Security Council counter-terrorism committee and by experts monitoring sanctions on Daesh, said the group remains active in wide swaths of Syria, where it is seeking to rebuild its combat capabilities and expand its insurgency.
Guterres said Daesh wages hit-and-run operations against checkpoints from hideouts on both sides of the Euphrates River in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and continues operations against government forces and in the Syrian desert.
In Iraq, Daesh remains under constant counter-terrorism pressure but continues to carry out hit-and-run operations “seeking to undermine critical infrastructure projects, inflame sectarian divisions and communal grievances and generate media coverage,” he said.
As for the extremist group’s finances, the UN chief said estimates of financial reserves available to Daesh in Iraq and Syria range between $25 million and $50 million, with one unidentified UN member state saying most funds are in Iraq.
The secretary-general said the most striking development in the first half of 2021 has been the expansion of Daesh in Africa, where terrorist groups have inflicted the largest number of casualties.
He said some of the most effective Daesh affiliates are spreading their influence and activities from Mali into Burkina Faso and Niger, from Nigeria into Niger, Chad and Cameroon, and from Mozambique into Tanzania.
“It highlights that the interplay between terrorism, fragility and conflict has grown stronger, and underscores the need for an urgent, global response to support African countries and regional organizations,” Guterres said.
In Afghanistan, he said, the Daesh affiliate has expanded its presence in several provinces and in and around the capital Kabul, “despite leadership, human and financial losses during 2020.” In Kabul, most of its attacks have targeted minorities, civil society actors, government employees and security forces, he said.
In Daesh’s efforts to regroup and rebuild in Afghanistan, Guterres said the group has prioritized the recruitment and training of new supporters and hopes to attract Taliban members and other militants who reject the US-Taliban agreement as well as fighters from Iraq.
Estimates of Daesh strength in Afghanistan range widely, from 500 to 1,500 fighters, with one unidentified UN member state saying its strength may rise to 10,000 in the medium term, he said.
Guterres said UN member states have already warned “that Daesh could regain the ability to orchestrate international attacks if either its core or one of its regional affiliates became strong enough.”
“This scenario has only become more plausible,” the UN chief warned.


Italy calls for return of ‘constitutional order’ in Tunisia

Italy calls for return of ‘constitutional order’ in Tunisia
Updated 04 August 2021

Italy calls for return of ‘constitutional order’ in Tunisia

Italy calls for return of ‘constitutional order’ in Tunisia
  • Since turmoil broke out in Tunisia, arrival of migrants to small Italian island has significantly increased
  • Italian prime minister reassures Tunisia of support, donates 1.5m vaccine doses, other medical aid

ROME: Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi urged Tunisian President Kais Saied to “re-establish promptly the constitutional order.”

The Italian premier spoke directly for the first time on Wednesday with the Tunisian president since July 25, when Saied froze the parliament, dismissed the prime minister and announced he will temporarily rule by decree. He also rescinded parliamentary immunity and issued a nationwide curfew for 30 days.

Last week, members of the Tunisian government, including the foreign minister, were expected in Rome for talks, but their visit was canceled at the last moment.

Since political turmoil broke in Tunisia, the arrival of migrants to the tiny island of Lampedusa has significantly increased, and Italian security forces expect that their number could reach up to 20,000 in a few weeks if the country does not achieve stability.

In a long telephone call, described to Arab News as “cordial but firm” by a source in Draghi’s office, the Italian prime minister reassured Saied that the “assistance and support that Italy has offered to Tunisia will continue.”

Italy has made good on this offer, delivering 1.5 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Tunisia last Sunday to help the country to fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Twenty-five tons of health equipment, including ventilators, protective masks, gloves, surgical gowns and sanitizing gel, were also provided by the Italian government to Tunisia in the past few weeks.

Draghi, it is understood, asked Saied for “more cooperation” in the management of migration flows.

In a press event attended by Arab News, Deputy Foreign Minister Marina Sereni said that Italy, along with other EU nations, is “very concerned” about the current crisis in Tunisia, a country with which it shares “a long friendship and historical ties.”

“COVID, the stagnant economy and the difficulty in carrying out economic and social reforms have fueled the discontent of the population. In this situation, we all hope that the country will go back to normal soon, that the constitution will be respected and the functionality of the Parliament is restored,” she added.

Concerning the issue of migration, Sereni said that Italian Minister of the Interior Luciana Lamorgese “is following the situation of instability and difficulty in Tunisia as well as that of Libya.”

In this regard, she said it was understood that people whose lives were in danger “must be saved” and called on Europe to take on not only the rescue operations but also the redistribution of those who land on Italian coasts.


Iran made ‘big mistake’ with tanker attack: UK’s top soldier

Iran made ‘big mistake’ with tanker attack: UK’s top soldier
Updated 04 August 2021

Iran made ‘big mistake’ with tanker attack: UK’s top soldier

Iran made ‘big mistake’ with tanker attack: UK’s top soldier
  • Gen. Nick Carter slams Tehran “reckless behavior,” urges West to “restore deterrence”
  • Response to Iranian aggression must be kinetic, not just cyber, analyst tells Arab News

LONDON: Iran made a “big mistake” in attacking a commercial tanker last week, claiming the life of a British Army veteran, the chief of general staff and the UK’s most senior soldier said on Wednesday.
“What we need to be doing, fundamentally, is calling out Iran for its very reckless behavior,” Gen. Sir Nick Carter told the BBC. “We’ve got to restore deterrence because it’s behavior like that which leads to escalation, and that could very easily lead to miscalculation, and that would be very disastrous for all the peoples of the Gulf and the international community.”
The attack on the Liberian-flagged Mercer Street tanker killed a Briton and Romanian. The Briton has been identified as Fiji-born Adrian Underwood, a married father who was working as a security contractor when the tanker was struck in Omani waters. The UK and Romania have blamed the drone strike on Iran. 
Tehran is accused of masterminding maritime attacks since 2019, with tankers linked to both Saudi Arabia and Israel — its major rivals — being blighted by mines and other explosive assaults.
Furthermore, investigators determined that drones and missiles that struck a major Saudi oilfield were manufactured in Iran, which has ratcheted up its maritime attacks in recent months, allegedly launching strikes on vessels linked to Israel. 
“Gen. Carter said Iran made a ‘big mistake’ by carrying out the attack that killed Underwood since it has ‘internationalized’ the response, and he’s obviously correct that deterrence needs to be restored because without it Iran will continue escalating,” Kyle Orton, an independent geopolitical researcher, told Arab News.
“The question now is over what form this response takes. So far, the discussion within the British government seems to be about options that are covert and in the cyber realm, neither of which are adequate,” he added.
“If the response to murdering a British citizen isn’t overt, kinetic retaliation, then it will fail. The Iranians — who are quite sensitive to the limits they can push — will conclude that the cost of lethal attacks on us is tolerable.”
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said his country is “working on enlisting the world” in response to the tanker strike, but warned Iran that “we also know how to act alone.” 
He added: “The Iranians need to understand that it is impossible to sit peacefully in Tehran and from there ignite the entire Middle East. That is over.” 
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called for a “collective response” to the assault, which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called an “outrageous attack on commercial shipping.”
On Monday, Britain summoned Iranian Ambassador Mohsen Baharvand to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to demand that vessels be allowed to freely navigate the region’s waters. On the same day, Iran said it would respond promptly to any threat to its security.


Radio call describes Iranian gunmen storming tanker off UAE coast

Radio call describes Iranian gunmen storming tanker off UAE coast
Updated 22 min 31 sec ago

Radio call describes Iranian gunmen storming tanker off UAE coast

Radio call describes Iranian gunmen storming tanker off UAE coast
  • “Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” a crew member said in a radio recording

FUJAIRAH, UAE: The hijackers who captured a vessel off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman departed the targeted ship on Wednesday, the British navy reported, as recorded radio traffic appeared to reveal a crew member onboard saying Iranian gunmen had stormed the asphalt tanker.
The incident — described by the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations the night before as a “potential hijack” — revived fears of an escalation in Mideast waters and ended with as much mystery as it began.
Hints of what unfolded on the Panama-flagged asphalt tanker, called Asphalt Princess, began to emerge with the maritime radio recording, obtained by commodities pricing firm Argus Media and shared with The Associated Press. In the audio, a crew member can be heard telling the Emirati coast guard that five or six armed Iranians had boarded the tanker.
“Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” the crew member says. “We are … now, drifting. We cannot tell you exact our ETA to (get to) Sohar,” the port in Oman listed on the vessel’s tracker as its destination. It was not clear whether the crew members, whom he identified as Indian and Indonesian, were in immediate danger.
No one took responsibility for the brief seizure, which underscored mounting tensions as Iran and the United States seek a resolution to their standoff over Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Apparently responding to the incident, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Tuesday denied that Iran played any role. He described the recent maritime attacks in the Arabian Gulf as “completely suspicious.”
Over the past years, the rising tensions have played out in the waters of the Arabian Gulf, where just last week a drone attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman killed two crew members. The West blamed Iran for the raid, which marked the first known fatal assault in the years-long shadow war targeting vessels in Mideast waters. Iran denied involvement.
Late on Tuesday, the intruders boarded the Asphalt Princess sailing off the coast of Fujairah, authorities said. The official news agency of Oman’s military said it received reports that the Asphalt Princess had been hijacked and immediately dispatched Royal Air Force maritime patrol aircraft and naval vessels “to contribute to securing international waters.”
In the recorded radio traffic, when the Emirati coast guard asks the crew member what the Iranian gunmen were doing onboard, he says he “cannot understand the (Iranians),” his voice muffled, before trying to hand over the radio to someone else. The call then cuts off.
Possible signs of trouble began to emerge that evening when six oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah announced around the same time via their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were “not under command,” according to MarineTraffic.com. That typically means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer.
Satellite-tracking data for the Asphalt Princess had showed it gradually heading toward Iranian waters off the port of Jask early Wednesday, according to MarineTraffic.com. Hours later, however, it stopped and changed course toward Oman, just before the British navy group declared the hijackers had departed and the vessel was now “safe.”
In an analysis, maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global described the seizure of the Asphalt Princess as the latest Iranian response to outside pressures, economic conflicts and other grievances.
“Iran has consistently shown that in conducting this kind of operation, it is calculated in doing so, both by targeting vessels directly connected with ongoing disputes and (vessels) operating within the ‘grey space’ of legitimacy,” which may be involved in illicit trade, Dryad Global said.
The owner of the Asphalt Princess, listed as Emirati free zone-based Glory International, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The US military’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet and the British Defense Ministry also did not respond to requests for comment. The Emirati government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
The Gulf of Oman sits near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil passes. Fujairah, on the UAE’s eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew.
For the past two years, after then-President Donald Trump withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal and imposed crushing sanctions, the waters off Fujairah have witnessed a series of explosions and hijackings. The US Navy has blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers.
In the summer of 2019, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops detained a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz. Last year, an oil tanker sought by the US for allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked off the Emirati coast and later ended up in Iran, though Tehran never acknowledged the incident.
And in January, armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops stormed a South Korean tanker and forced the ship to change course and travel to Iran. While Iran claimed it detained the ship over pollution concerns, it appeared to link the seizure to negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks.