LONDON: El Shafee Elsheikh, the former British national accused of being a member of the Daesh “Beatles,” was labeled as “Daesh aristocracy” by a former extremist at his trial in the US on Monday.
Elsheikh, 33, faces life in prison if convicted of playing a role in the kidnap and murder of four US citizens — aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig, and journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff — in Syria in 2017.
Omer Kuzu, 26, from Dallas, Texas, who fought in Syria and was captured by Syrian Democratic Forces in 2019, said Elsheikh had been a senior figure in the group.
He told the court in Alexandria, Virginia that he met Elsheikh on four separate occasions between 2015 and 2017, and that Elsheikh had gone by the alias Abu Thabit.
When asked to identify Abu Thabit, Kuzu pointed at Elsheikh, saying: “He’s right there with the blue button-up shirt and the beard and glasses.”
Elsheikh, who was born in Sudan but grew up in London, is suspected of being part of a four-strong group of prominent Daesh members known as the “Beatles” on account of their British accents.
He denies being a part of the four, and claims to have just been a “simple Daesh fighter,” admitting to having played a part in the kidnapping and killing of two British aid workers, David Haines and Alan Henning.
Kuzu added, though, that on one occasion he met Elsheikh in Raqqa in 2016, where Elsheikh was carrying a Glock pistol, a prized item “only carried by wealthy individuals, or people with a lot of experience or people who had a position in the hierarchy. It was a symbol of Daesh aristocracy.”
The Texan said that Elsheikh was also noted for seniority by his donning of military fatigues rather than casual wear. “His green military uniform and the fact he was very reserved also told me that he was no ordinary member,” Kuzu said.
He added that Elsheikh worked in IT for Daesh, which, given its importance for communication, was a task entrusted to a select few members. “You had to be trusted,” he said, adding that the role would not be entrusted to a “simple member.”
Kuzu also claimed that he met Elsheikh “with a very tall individual carrying an M4” in 2017, who he identified as Alexanda Kotey, another member of the so-called “Beatles” and who was captured alongside Elsheikh in 2018.
He added that the high status nature of the weapon, along with Kotey’s “air of importance” also singled him out as being a senior figure. “They seemed to be a duo or some sort of tag team,” Kuzu said.
Acting for the defense, Edward MacMahon asked Kuzu whether people with British accents working and fighting for Daesh had been common, to which Kuzu replied that there had been “a lot.”
Kuzu is now awaiting sentencing for conspiring to provide material support for terrorism, while Kotey, too, is awaiting sentencing after admitting to the charges relating to kidnap, detention and murder leveled against him by US authorities.
Mohammed Emwazi, the third member of the “Beatles,” was killed in a drone strike in Raqqa in 2015, while the fourth member, Aine Davis, was arrested in Turkey the same year.
Detention of consul by Russia for alleged spying comes hard on the heels of defense deals with Israel
Twin developments have called into question Japan’s neutrality, exposed its diplomatic vulnerabilities
Updated 52 min 1 sec ago
DUBAI: As the security environment surrounding Japan becomes more severe, maintaining a favorable balance of power has become an increasingly delicate task for Tokyo, which faces challenges on three major strategic fronts: China, North Korea and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Yet, two developments in the space of just two months have called Japan’s neutrality into question and exposed its diplomatic vulnerabilities.
In the latest incident, the principal security agency of Russia on Monday detained a Japanese consul in Vladivostok, in the country’s far east, on suspicion that he was obtaining information illegally in exchange for money.
The diplomat, Tatsunori Motoki, was subsequently ordered by the Russian Foreign Ministry to leave the country within 48 hours and an announcement made to the effect that a senior Japanese Embassy official in Moscow had been summoned to protest against his alleged improper acquisition of information.
“A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving classified information, in exchange for money, about Russia’s cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region,” the FSB security service said in a statement quoted by Russian news media.
On Tuesday, a Japanese government official said the consul had been released.
Nevertheless, on the same day, Takeo Mori, Japan’s vice foreign minister, summoned Mikhail Galuzin, the Russian ambassador, to the foreign ministry’s office in Tokyo to lodge a formal a protest over the Japanese consul’s detention.
Separately, Hayashi Yoshimasa, the foreign minister, said that detaining and interrogating a consul is a “clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” as well as of a consular treaty between Japan and Russia.
Hayashi said Russia’s action was “totally unacceptable,” and claimed that Motoki was taken away blindfolded and restrained before being subjected to high-handed questioning.
He denied the Russian allegation that Motoki had engaged in illegal activities.
Russia’s Federal Security Service said the Japanese consul obtained nonpublic information on Russia’s cooperative ties with an unnamed Asia-Pacific country and also on the effects of Western sanctions on the economic situation in Russia’s Far East by offering money.
The Russian agency also released secretly shot images of a person who appears to be the consul receiving documents at a restaurant.
Russia recently designated Japan as an unfriendly country in response to Tokyo’s cooperation with US and European countries on imposing sanctions on Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine.
The first diplomatic development that cast doubt on Japan’s neutrality was its decision sign a defense agreement with Israel in August.
$40 billion - Amount sought by Japan’s defense ministry for budget as country faces its ‘toughest challenges’ since the Second World War.
The deal was part of an effort to boost defense cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the area of military hardware and technology. But it potentially diminishes Tokyo’s ability to remain even-handed when it come to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Japan has long been hailed as an impartial broker of a future deal between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2019, a joint Arab News Japan-YouGov survey found that 56 percent of Arabs view Japan as the most credible potential candidate to act as a Middle East peace mediator.
On his trip to Tokyo, Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, met with Hayashi, who took pains to reiterate his government’s support for a two-state solution to solve the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Japanese analyst Koichiro Tanaka, a professor at Tokyo’s Keio University, believes the expansion of the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements signed between Israel and several Arab states in 2020, has relieved Japan of this mediator role.
“Japan feels relieved from the pressure that existed in trying to balance its Middle East policy with its energy security,” Tanaka told Arab News Japan.
Mindful of the need to maintain allies in its own standoff with China, Japan’s primary foreign-policy goal has been to “appease Washington,” he said. With that comes the expectation of “making friends” with Israel.
“Japan’s role to mediate has never materialized because of US reluctance and rejection by Israel of such a role,” Tanaka said.
The Abraham Accords were the first public expressions of normalization between Arab states and Israel since 1994. When the agreements were announced, Tomoyuki Yoshida, Japan’s former foreign press secretary, called it a “positive development” that could “ease tensions and stabilize the region.”
He reiterated that Japan supported a “two-state solution” whereby Israel and a future independent Palestinian state “live side by side in peace and security.”
However, with Japan’s increasingly tense relationship with China and North Korea, the country has been expanding its military cooperation beyond its traditional ally, the US, to other nations in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.
It is particularly concerned about Beijing’s military actions in the East and South China Seas. Israel has previously traded weapons with China and is the second-largest foreign supplier of arms after Russia.
China has accumulated a large arsenal of advanced military equipment and technology. The US has strongly opposed Israel’s arms trade with China. However, Israel has largely ignored Washington’s objections.
Some observers suspect Israel and China’s close trade relationship is the reason Japan has chosen to boost defense cooperation with Israel.
Japanese military strategists have been looking for ways to ease their defensive reliance on the US, potentially viewing Israel as a source of weapons and technology to strengthen Tokyo’s military power in the region.
But with the signing of the new defense deal with Israel, is Tokyo still in a position to mediate between Israel and Palestine?
Waleed Siam, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Tokyo, told Arab News Japan that the Japanese government is “mostly supportive” of the two sides.
“Japan has a long history with Israel, but I believe Japan could still be part of the neutrality in helping both sides achieve settlements,” he said.
Siam said Palestinians, and the Arab world in general, have great respect for Japan, noting that Tokyo “always has supported the Palestinians to the highest degree, through many UN organizations.
“Japan is committed to helping the state of Palestine and has also always stuck to the UN resolution, refusing to recognize East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and never recognized Israel’s illegal settlements.”
Asked whether Japan should have first reassured the Palestinian side of its continued neutrality before striking its security deal with Israel, Siam said Tokyo has the “right to do what it wants.”
He added: “Japan does not have to guarantee anything, because it stands very firm on its conviction with the international community and the UN resolution. It supports a two-state solution and the Palestinians’ right to independence.
“Even during the Trump period, when the former US president was pressuring everyone to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Japan stood strong in the UN and voted against it.”
However, Siam believes any country that signs an agreement with Israel should also place an emphasis on compliance with international law and human rights.
“I call on Japan to use this kind of deep friendship with Israel to put pressure on the Israelis to comply with international law,” said Siam. “If the international community does not stand together and pressure Israel into a two-state solution, there will never be peace.”
Israel has been the “largest obstacle” to finalizing a large agro-industrial park and logistics initiative in Jericho, proposed by Japan, called the “Corridor for Peace,” said Siam.
Japan, he argues, could utilize its deepening relations with Israel to help finalize the project.
During the 11-day war in Gaza in May 2021, Japan was adamant that all UN resolutions and international laws should be followed, reiterating its “clear, respecting and supporting” position in the conflict, said Siam.
Japan has long framed itself as the country most capable of negotiating a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
In the final analysis, few can argue that strengthening its military capabilities and investing in defense technology is a step in the right direction by Japan. But it clearly needs to be more diplomatic in pulling them off.
Three Armenians killed in fresh clashes with Azerbaijan
At least 286 people were killed from both sides during the two-day fighting earlier this month
Armenia's defence ministry said "Azerbaijani forces opened fire from mortars and large-calibre firearms at the eastern direction of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border"
Updated 28 September 2022
YEREVAN: Three Armenians died Wednesday in fresh border clashes with Azerbaijan, officials said, two weeks after the arch foes’ worst fighting since their 2020 war jeopardized nascent peace talks.
At least 286 people were killed from both sides during the two-day fighting earlier this month, before the United States brokered a truce.
The ex-Soviet Caucasus neighbors fought two wars — in 2020 and in the 1990s — over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated enclave of Azerbaijan.
On Wednesday, Armenia’s defense ministry said “Azerbaijani forces opened fire from mortars and large-calibre firearms at the eastern direction of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.”
“As a result, there are three dead from the Armenian side,” the ministry said in a statement.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan tweeted that three of his troops had been killed “an attack against Armenian independence, sovereignty and democracy.”
“Withdrawal of Azerbaijani troops and deployment of an international observer mission on the Armenian territories affected by Azerbaijani occupation and bordering areas is an absolute necessity,” he wrote.
A six-week war in 2020 claimed the lives of more than 6,500 troops from both sides and ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire.
Under the deal, Armenia ceded swathes of territory it had controlled for decades, and Moscow deployed about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to oversee the fragile truce.
With Moscow increasingly isolated on the world stage following its February invasion of Ukraine, the United States and the European Union had taken a leading role in mediating the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process.
Last week, the two countries’ foreign ministers met in New York for talks mediated by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
During EU-led negotiations in Brussels in April and May, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Pashinyan agreed to “advance discussions” on a future peace treaty.
They last met in Brussels on August 31, for talks mediated by European Council President Charles Michel.
The talks also focus on border delimitation and the reopening of transport links.
The issue of ensuring a land transport link between Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan and its ally Ankara via Armenian territory has emerged as the primary sticking point.
Azerbaijan insists on Yerevan renouncing its jurisdiction over the land corridor that should pass along Armenia’s border with Iran — a demand the Armenian government rejects as an affront to the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.
Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom
Domestic shortfall predicted as surging LNG prices push Pakistan out of short-term market
South Asian nation relies on imports through long-term contracts with Qatar and ENI
Updated 29 September 2022
KARACHI: Pakistan is bracing for a harsh winter this year amid skyrocketing prices of liquefied natural gas on the global market and record currency depreciation at home.
Analysts are warning of increasing gas outages during peak winter hours as the south Asian country struggles to meet domestic demand.
Pakistan needs 4.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas, with winter demand peaking to around 4.5 bcfd against local production of 3.22 bcfd. The shortfall is bridged through LNG imports.
Pakistan began importing LNG seven years ago. However, the price of the commodity on the international spot, or short-term, market has risen from lows of $2 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) in 2020 to highs of $57 in August this year after demand in Europe surged, pushing Islamabad out of the market.
At present, the country relies on imported LNG cargoes through long-term contracts with Qatar and Italian multinational ENI. The agreements allow the country to import about eight cargoes per month, four short of the required 12 to meet the shortfall.
An official from Pakistan LNG Limited, a state-owned entity mandated to import LNG, told Arab News on Tuesday that the country is currently importing long-term cargoes from Qatar and ENI.
With the spot LNG market out of reach, many Pakistani analysts predict shortages will make the coming winter tough for domestic gas consumers.
Pakistan imported its last LNG cargo from Qatar at $17 per mmBtu under a long-term supply agreement.
“Normally the demand in winter increases by around 1 bcfd,” Farhan Mahmood, head of research at Sherman Securities, told Arab News. “As this year Pakistan is unlikely to secure cargoes from the spot market, it is expected that shortfall and load shedding of gas will be higher than last year.”
He added: “With LNG prices currently hovering around $38 per mmBtu and the Pakistani rupee trading at historic lows amid depleting forex reserves, the government may not venture to import costly gas, rather it would prefer to save dollars.”
PLL did not receive any bid in response to a tender floated in July 2022 to import 10 cargoes of LNG.
Pakistan’s woes were compounded after Russia invaded Ukraine early this year, and European countries rushed to secure gas supplies from LNG-producing countries as Moscow slowed gas flows westwards.
The Kremlin has accused the West of triggering the energy crisis by imposing the most severe sanctions in modern history, a step Russian President Vladimir Putin said is akin to a declaration of economic war.
“The Russia-Ukraine war has also disrupted the international market and European countries have rushed to secure cargoes for winter as demand has increased substantially there,” Mahmood added.
However, some experts believe gas outages will be comparatively low this winter, with additional electricity generation compensating for the high demand.
“By December this year, some 1320MW of electricity will be added to the national grid with the commissioning of three coal-fired power plants in Thar, Sindh, that will compensate the gas demand,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, a Karachi-based brokerage firm, told Arab News.
“There will definitely be a shortfall of gas, but it will not be as severe as last year, keeping in view the additional electricity generation.”
Pakistan’s winter policy of diverting gas supplies from the power sector to domestic consumers also affects industrial production.
This year, the government is expected to encourage consumers to switch to electricity by offering incentives to save gas for industrial and heating purposes.
In another bid to secure long-term supplies of gas, PLL has invited bids for 72 LNG cargoes from international suppliers across a six-year period. The results of the tender will be decided on Oct. 3 when the bids are opened.
Pakistan’s LNG imports fell by 3.37 percent to $629.4 million during July and August compared with the same period last year.
Energy imports increased by 105.3 percent to $23.3 billion during the last fiscal year, including LNG imports, which rose by 90.6 percent to $4.98 billion, according to official data.
US announces $1.1 billion in new arms aid for Ukraine
The package of orders for US military suppliers includes Himars missile systems and ammunition
The new package took the total military aid from the United States to Ukraine since the Russians invaded on February 24 to $16.2 billion
Updated 28 September 2022
WASHINGTON: The United States announced Wednesday a new package of arms and supplies for Ukraine worth $1.1 billion for reinforcing Kyiv’s forces over the medium and long term.
The package of orders for US military suppliers includes Himars missile systems and ammunition, systems to counter drones, radars and armored vehicles, according to a Defense Department statement.
The package “represents a multi-year investment in critical capabilities to build the enduring strength of Ukraine’s Armed Forces” as they continue to battle the invading Russian army, the Pentagon said.
The new package took the total military aid from the United States to Ukraine since the Russians invaded on February 24 to $16.2 billion.
It includes 18 more Himars systems, highly accurate missile systems which the Ukrainians have been using effectively since June to hit Russian arms depots and command posts far behind the front lines.
It also includes 150 armored vehicles, 150 tactical vehicles for towing weapons, trucks and trailers, and systems to help Ukraine defend against Russia’s Iranian-made drones increasingly deployed on the battlefield.
Japan, Jordan confirm strong cooperation during summit talk
King Abdullah II expressed his heartfelt condolences for the passing of former Prime Minister Abe
The two leaders exchanged views on the regional situation including the Middle East Peace
Updated 28 September 2022
Arab News Japan
TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio, held a summit meeting on September 28 with King Abdullah II of Jordan, who is currently in Japan after attending the state funeral for former Prime Minister ABE Shinzo.
At the outset of the meeting that lasted 10 minutes according to the foreign ministry in Tokyo, Kishida expressed his appreciation for the king’s attendance at the state funeral and expressed his hope to hold discussions to further develop the diplomatic legacy inherited from the late former Prime Minister Abe.
King Abdullah II expressed his heartfelt condolences for the passing of former Prime Minister Abe, and stated that late former Prime Minister Abe was a great friend of not only Jordan but also the region and shared the hope to develop the bilateral relationship based on his legacy.
Prime Minister Kishida extended his congratulations to Crown Prince Hussein’s engagement and expressed his wish for the long-lasting prosperity of the Jordanian Royal Family and further development of friendly relations with Japan’s Imperial Family.
The two leaders exchanged views on the regional situation including the Middle East Peace. Prime Minister Kishida expressed his concern about the impact of the price hike of food and fuel on Jordan, which is hosting a large number of Palestinian refugees, and stated that Japan would continue its support for Jordan, including its support to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees).
In response, King Abdullah II expressed his gratitude for Japan’s wide-ranging cooperation for Jordan and UNRWA and stated that he would like to cooperate with Japan in advancing projects involving countries in the region.
The two leaders confirmed that they will continue to work closely together for the long-term stability of the region, according to the ministry.