This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Murderous African Despots

"Hissene Habre, this court finds you guilty of crimes against humanity, rape, forced slavery, and kidnapping [as well as war crimes]."
"The court condemns you to life in prison."
Gberdao Gustave Kam, Burkinabe president of the Extraordinary African Chambers (CAE) court

Habre raises his hand in defiance following the court proceedings in Dakar on Monday [AP]

"For many years, as Souleymane and his colleagues hit one obstacle after another on their path to justice, the common refrain was that they would never succeed. But in a case that looked dead so many times, the victims made it clear that they would never go away."
"[Hissene] Habre's conviction for these horrific crimes after 25 years is a huge victory for his Chadian victims, without whose tenacity this trial never would have happened. This verdict sends a powerful message that the days when tyrants could brutalize their people, pillage their treasury and escape abroad to a life of luxury are coming to an end."
"Habre's conviction signals that no leader is above the law, and that no woman or girl is below it ... This is the first time in history that a former head of state  has been convicted in an international trial of personally committing rape."
Reed Brody, lawyer, Human Rights Watch
Guilty as charged. Chad's former dictator was responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, deliberately murdered under his regime, with tens of thousands more Chadians taken from the streets, imprisoned and tortured. Among those many who experienced imprisonment and torture was Souleymane Guengueng, a civil servant and accountant tortured under the regime. And it was this man's experience that hardened his resolve to bring Habre to justice.

There was also the Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina whom a 2001 grenade attack from a henchman of Habre failed to kill and who took the initiative to lead the former dictator's victims in a battle for justice. And another Chadian, Clement Abaifouta, called the "gravedigger" who had been forced to bury in mass graves other detainees who had been murdered. Mr. Abaifouta had stepped in to fill the role that Mr. Guengueng was forced to abandon when he was forced into exile by death threats.

Monday's conviction held Hissene Habre responsible for thousands of deaths and torture in prisons during the 1982 to 1990 period when he ruled the country. A Chadian Truth Commission in 1992 had accused his government of systematic torture, that while he was in power 40,000 people were murdered by his political police force. Guilty: of crimes against humanity; guilty: of war crimes, torture and sex crimes; sentenced: to life in prison.

The Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar, Senegal, a creation of Senegal and the African Union was where Habre was tried and convicted, the first trial where the courts of one country successfully prosecuted the former ruler of another for human rights crimes. In essence, it is a reflection of the United Nations' 'responsibility to protect' provision whereby a government that abuses and torments its population can expect the international community to intervene on behalf of the population.

That the African Union has finally taken such a step is an enormous advance for human rights entitlements on the Continent where murderous regimes proliftrerate. The successful prosecution and punishment of Sudan's president who has already been tried and found guilty in absentia by the International Criminal Court might be another step in that same right direction.

Pencil sketch of a man being tortured with a rope around his head
Victims drew pictures of torture techniques Some of his victims were subjected to "supplice des baguettes" (torture by sticks), when the victim's head is put between sticks joined by rope which is then twisted.  BBC

Souleymane Guengueng had formed an association of victims after his 1990 release from prison. As part of his campaign he had gathered testimony of former prisoners and in the process collected over 800 accounts presented as evidence that would ultimately prove the case at trial against Habre. Despite his crimes, however, Habre was surrounded by supporters in court, cheering him as their champion.

As for Mr. Guengueng, he has finally been able to savour the sweet taste of justice not only for himself personally, but for his country and for the countless families of people who were murdered by the regime, let alone the thousands who had been imprisoned and tortured, yet lived to see another day bring them vindication.

"It's truly a great example for all the other victims around the world, particularly in Africa, to no longer remain silent. It's the people in charge who must now be afraid", said Mr. Guengueng.

If only.

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"For a while it seemed that the photograph of Aylan had succeeded in affecting public opinion in the West and in the attitudes of politicians. Schools and campaigns were named after my son and I liked that because I thought it would increase empathy and mean that my family was not forgotten."
"But the news of more boat sinkings and of walls being built along the Balkan route tells me that, in reality, beyond the initial emotional reaction, little has changed."
Abdullah Kurdi, Irbil, Kurdistan

"When the morning came, I saw how the children were crying and the women. At this point I only tried to pray."
"Everybody was trying to take the water out of the boat."
"For me, it was very shocking [people desperately dragging others underwater, trying to save themselves as their boat sank]."
Habtom Tekle, 27, Eritrean migrant, Greece

"I started to cry when I saw the situation and when I found the ship without an engine. There were many women and children."
"Water was coming in from everywhere, top, bottom."
Filmon Selomon, 21-year-old Eritrean
Once again, hundreds of migrants have lost their lives in their desperate efforts to reach Europe. What started out as Syrian refugees fleeing their tyrant's bloody war against a sectarian rebellion that arose from Syrian President Bashar al Assad's stark refusal to meet the human rights demands of a majority of his population who are Sunni -- complaining that under his regime the Shiite demographic that he represents have favoured treatment -- then chose to turn protests into rebellion, then a civil war.

The displacement of millions of Syrians, both internally and externally has resulted in neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey receiving millions of people settling in vast refugee camps. Life for these refugees has become a misery of bare existence  lacking the dignity of human rights, and many have  hopes of seeking a future in Europe. A situation which unscrupulous people traffickers have made a lucrative business from, selling passage on rickety, unsafe vessels to cross the Mediterranean.

Joining Sunni Syrians in their flight from oppression and conflict have been people fleeing conflicted lives in Afghanistan, Gaza, Somalia, Libya and Eritrea, among other places where Islamism rules and dictators and terrorism have become the order of the day, leaving people to live their lives in the inhumane degradation of extreme fear and poverty. As for Abdullah Kurdi, he lost his wife and both his little boys because he decided to make that perilous sea voyage; he and he alone.

This was not their first attempt, and his wife Rehan, feared another attempt, but obviously her opinion and her fears were not part of the equation when her husband decided that his family would make another effort. And it was he who was in control of the vessel they were crossing in and failed. Other people's children were lost besides his own; grieving parents who identified him as the captain. His determination sacrificed his sons Galip five, and Aylan, three.

He lives now in Kurdistan. He and his family are ethnic Kurds. He gambled and they lost. He is bereft of wife and children and must live with his conscience. Seeking to balm  his conscience by blaming Europe for the failings of the Middle East tyrannies and the spectacular failure of Islam as a religion that might lead its faithful to lives of decent human relations represents a refusal to face realities and see the situation as it really is.

Europe has been invaded, as a result, with more refugees and haven seekers and economic migrants than it could conceivably handle, arriving on top of the Muslim migrants it had already accepted through immigration, some from former colonies, others seeking opportunities for advancement they have been unable to find in their countries of origin. Their presence, from vastly different cultures and heritage along with a religion that is contrary to Europe's has been hugely unsettling.

The immense failure of Islam as a religion that claims for itself the right of political imperialism and social and cultural control of every aspect of every person's life, to administer affairs of state under corrupt tyrants has resulted in this massive migration. So is the solution the surrender of Europe's own reasoned politics and economy, its heritage and its culture to salvage the living tide of migrants eager to find opportunity for themselves while importing with themselves a way of life that is all-consuming and contrary to Europe's own?

The latest tragedy of drownings of migrants took place on the weekend, involving roughly 700 people, mostly Eritrean, according to Save the Children. Where, among other unseaworthy vessels, three ships loaded with migrants capsized, and one sank in the Mediterranean. This one had no engine, it was being towed by an equally unseaworthy vessel with a like number of migrants on board. And the one being towed was leaking beyond the capacity of those aboard to bale.

Abdullah Kurdi criticizes Europe for not eagerly scooping up all migrants and refugees in a grand humanitarian gesture, when the real problem is why these people are leaving their countries of origin and the need of the international community to stem the flow by courageously identifying the cause and working together to convince these countries' administrations that it would be preferable for them to alter their political trajectory rather than face an external threat to force them to do so.

Syria's situation is the most obvious one long past the need for its neighbours to mount a forceful challenge to its dictator that his human rights abuses causing strain and stress on his population and on neighbouring countries will no longer be tolerated. The United Nations' R2P would most certainly support such an initiative; if its neighbours were not so craven, awaiting the forceful intervention of NATO, the Syrian situation might have been mitigated years ago.

In one boat alone 550 people are held to have perished. The 28-year-old Sudanese captain of the tow boat cut the rope pulling the one his own boat was towing, and the rope, under pressure, flew back decapitating a woman, and led to the drowning of most of the boat's passengers; a mere 70 survivors were plucked from the sea.

As for the much-vaunted peace talks on Syria, the chief opposition negotiator has resigned. Mohammed Alloush stated his opinion from his informed perspective that the international community was not "serious" in resolving the five-year civil war which has so far been responsible for the deaths of 450,000 people.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Talking The Talk in Turkey

"These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it."
"It should be known that adopting a malicious and offending approach toward the sensitive issues of  [the] Islamic world by hiding behind some democratic freedoms like freedom of speech and right of free publication is unacceptable." 
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan 
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses lawmakers at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, in June (photo credit: AP)
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses lawmakers in parliament, Ankara, Turkey (photo credit: AP)

"If the faith of all religious groups in this country is guaranteed in the constitution, and the state’s equal distance to all religious groups is a foundation, why do you need to emphasize Islam? If I can live my faith as a Muslim the way I want to, the issue is over. If a Christian can live his/her Christianity, if a Jew can live his/her Jewishness or an atheist can live his/her atheism, the issue is also over for them."
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu 
"Erdogan is turning Turkey into a powder keg in an attempt to shore up his own political base. He is intentionally activating the longstanding fault lines separating religious and secular Turks — and most dangerously the divide between the country’s Sunni majority and its Alevi [Kurdish] minority. If he continues to do so, Turkish democracy itself could become a casualty of his confrontational policies."
Turkish researcher Halil M. Karaveli
Well, no big surprise, Mr. Karaveli's prediction is now recognized as reality, and Ahmet Davutoglu is no longer Turkey's prime minister. Effectively, it could be said, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who began as prime minister then transitioned to president to remain in power in a masterful subterfuge emulating Russian President Vladimir Putin (disproving the adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery), has now altered the constitution to his liking and has become the government incarnate.
The West was all agog over the "Turkish model", not so long ago. When Erdogan's Justice and Development Party was elected to government in 2002, surely alarm bells rang in the ears of most Turks who valued the separation of church and state in their country's tradition? But then Mr. Erdogan headed the country during a time of economic growth and prosperity, and he tamped down fears of fundamentalism, in a clever bid to present as dedicated to democracy.
How else be accepted into the European Union, as the country lodged between East and West, moderate and secular? It was only its human rights record, fairly abysmal in its treatment of Turkish Kurds and just incidentally a free press, and its failure to acknowledge the genocidal treatment of Armenians that had the EU keep Turkey at arms-length. Not NATO, though, accepting Turkey with one of its membership's largest standing armies.
He garnered high praise as a reformer and basked in the admiration that came his way, presiding over a wealthier, more peaceful country on the verge of cleaning up its human rights record and soon to be invited into the EU. And then, everything began to fall apart. Cordial relations with the Syrian regime became impossible with an Alawite Bashar al Assad attacking his rebellious Sunni majority. And soon enough anger with Moscow's decision to enter Syria provoked the irascible Erdogan.
Who had already demonstrated how volatile he could be when his own citizens protested at Gezi Park and he set the military police on them. His subdued authoritarian penchant was divulged. And when corruption that was taking place with impunity in a party that publicly prided itself on its anti-corruption stance was made public by revelations implicating Erdogan's son and his cronies he struck hard and fast; the police, the judiciary, the journalists, the population found themselves purged.
The military had already faced his righteous wrath when he had senior members imprisoned, charged with plots to unseat him. He was transforming Turkey back into a vestige of its Ottoman Empire glory and he would become its timeless leader. Turkey's reputation in the West  has since also undergone a transformation, its brash negotiating blackmail with the EU to stem the tide of Syrian refugees, and Erdogan's pathological hounding of his critics betrayed his aspirations as a modern-day caliph.
One beset and embattled by Western cabals plotting against him, enlisting "agents" of nefarious intent in Turkey in their campaign to tarnish the great man ensconced in his sumptuous palace befitting the stature of a caliph. When the Turkish generals, determined to preserve Turkey's secular-type society and governance attempted to keep the A.K.P. from power they paid the price once it attained power. But in the process the A.K.P. presented itself as democracy-bound.
They were intent on acquiring EU status for Turkey by moving it unerringly in the direction of liberal democracy. And so liberal reforms were enacted and above all the liberal rhetoric that was so beloved of the West. No longer would the state not recognize citizens' rights. A new perspective on Kurdish nationalism was to be viewed as authoritarian-resistance. Given greater rights and freedoms the Kurds would surrender their aspirations toward autonomy and an eventual state of their own.
All so very persuasive. Once the electoral victories were achieved, alongside a subdued military there was a gradual relaxation of liberal rhetoric to be replaced by social conservatism of the type that marks the existence of Islamist rule. When popular dissent challenged the A.K.P. in 2013 it responded by a more authoritarian stance by Mr. Erdogan. And the A.K.P. revealed itself to be the aspiring Islamist tyranny that it had kept under wraps.
Those who support Mr. Erdogan have been amply rewarded with wealth and recognition, and they have no intention of seeing it all fade away, so they are loyal not to the vision of a faded Turkish democracy, but to its replacement, a reflection of the glory of the Ottoman Republic. Welcome to the future. This is the Turkey we all know and deplore, the Turkey of Armenian vengeance, of Kurdish conflict, of a Cyprus challenge of Greek possession.

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Living in Fear and Trepidation of Hamas

"Dear God -- we will be torn apart."
"I am sure, one million percent, that those with tunnels under their houses cannot sleep, or taste the joy of life."
Umm Nidal, fearful Palestinian woman, Gaza

"[Tunnels] create a sense of balance of power [against an enemy with sophisticated weaponry]. The Israelis can watch our fighters on the ground, but can they say what is inside a tunnel?"
"As long as there is Israeli aggression against us, the tunnels will be our priority."
Taher El-Nounou, Hamas spokesman, Gaza
 Hamas tunnel
Hamas tunnel found in southern Gaza. (photo credit:IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

Against all reason, Hamas operatives speak of 'Israeli aggression'. It is not the State of Israel whose mandate is the destruction of the Palestinian Territories and Palestinian life. But it is the guiding mandate of the Hamas terrorist group to destroy Israel and take the geography on which it stands as its own. Israel, understandably enough, does not subscribe to the Arab belief that the territory is their own by historical right, but the reality that history and heritage attribute Israel as the rightful nation in residence augmented by the legal status conferred through the UN's Partition Plan is shrugged away.

Israel has twice dispatched its military into Gaza while under the control of Hamas. In the first instance it was a belated response to the thousands of Qassam rockets blasted by Hamas and Islamic Jihad across the border into Israel. In the second instance, though the rockets continue as a provocation, it was the network of tunnels built from Gaza into Israel that elicited the response from the IDF when it was discovered that one of the tunnels exited beside a kibbutz in Israel.

The physical infiltration from Gaza into Israel gave Hamas terrorists the opportunity to kill five Israeli soldiers when their army base was accesse through a tunnel. On four separate occasions, the IDF found members of Hamas exiting tunnels into Israel, and they were killed before taking advantage of the opportunity they sought to kill more Israeli soldiers. More latterly, a number of Hamas members were killed in roof collapses while constructing tunnels.

Salma Najjar outside a makeshift shelter on the rubble of her home in Khuzaa in the Gaza Strip in October 2014, after the war between Israel and Hamas. Hamas is rebuilding tunnels from Gaza into Israel, and residents are worried about Israeli bombs dropping on their homes once again. Credit Wissam Nassar for The New York Times
The work of constructing more networks of tunnels continues, with materials meant to be used in re-building homes of Gazans who lost them during the 2014 incursion of the IDF into Gaza being diverted for use in tunnel-building. Hamas is renowned for using Palestinians as human shields in their belligerence against Israel. In 2014 convincing some Gazans to defy IDF warnings to evacuate buildings being targeted in response to bombs being set off against the IDF from them.

Now, residents of Gaza living close to the border with Israel, whose homes were destroyed in 2014 are living in makeshift temporary homes. And while living in those temporary homes they shudder in fear and apprehension at the realization that the sounds they hear of construction are not crews building new homes for them, but rather crews underground busy building new tunnels to enter Israel from Gaza.
[Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90 ]

These Palestinians hear the stealth but unmistakable sounds of digging during the night. The very same noises that keep Israelis on the other side of the border awake at night and terrified of what comes next. Fear of reprisals from Hamas ensure their voices of complaint keeps Gazans from being too specific about their fears, unwilling to name their neighbourhoods lest Hamas come looking for them or leading the IDF to bomb the tunnels reaching into Israel from underneath their homes.

Two tunnels about 30 meters underground were recently discovered by Israeli officials. One of the tunnels was seen to be equipped with electricity, communication lines and a rail system used to truck construction rubble out of the tunnels. Israeli authorities have commented that the IDF destroyed 32 tunnels during the 2014 operation, fourteen of which penetrated into Israel itself.

Digging tunnels under homes deliberately places civilians in harm's way, pointed out Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an IDF spokesman. He calls the practise "insidious", meant to enable Hamas to attack Israelis "while concealing Hamas activities behind the people of Gaza". The situation led Israel to suspend cement delivery to Gaza meant for the reconstruction of  homes, but the ban was lifted May 23.

Border residents in one area of Gaza are quite clear that they hear sounds underneath a shack they feel is the cover for a tunnel entrance. Living in a cluster of donated mobile homes, where hundreds have made their residence since the end of the last IDF invasion to stop infiltration into Israel, Gazan civilians are clearly angry: "We have a Gaza City under the ground, and we have nothing up here", said a man.

The dangers inherent in the tunnels being built nearby where these people live ends up making them feel reluctant to rebuild: "I give it 99.5 percent that our house will be destroyed again. I go crazy thinking about it", said another man. In a town along the border a man slipped into a tunnel during heavy rains and was pulled to safety by passers-by.

"We lost our home last time. This time we fear for the souls of our children", said one woman whose name was given as Umm Fadi [mother of Fadi}.
A tunnel entrance that Israel’s military says it discovered this month. Credit Amir Cohen/Reuters

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Death Fell From The Sky

"I could hear schoolchildren screaming: 'Help me! Help me!"
"It was too pitiful, too horrible. Even now it fills me with emotion."
Kinuyo Ikegami, 82, Hiroshima survivor

"The suffering, such as illness, gets carried on over the generations -- that is what I want President Obama to know."
"I want him to understand our sufferings."
Han Jeongsoon, 58, daughter of Korean survivor

"Death fell from the sky and the world was changed. [Use of atomic bombs] demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself."
"We stand here[Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park monument] in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell ... we listen to a silent cry."
"We must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them [nuclear weapons]."
U.S. President Barack Obama
President Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on Friday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times
"At any place in the world, this tragedy must not be repeated", said his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. These are words that have been spoken countless times, emotionally and with full intent to ensure that they are a prophecy that will be fulfilled. Hiroshima and Nagasaki represent crimes against humanity, no less and no more than the meticulously-carried out, far more time-consuming measures of the Final Solution.

The Holocaust took years to reach its intended target, falling short when it reached six million Jews and additional political prisoners, gypsies, homosexuals and others unfortunate enough to become temporary residents of death camps. The decision to bomb two Japanese cities with a device whose full potential was not yet fully realized led to two events each of which took minutes as the bombs dropped on an unsuspecting citizenry.

Death harvested 150,000 men, women and children in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and an additional 70,000 three days later when a second bomb hit Nagasaki. True, it is this president singularly most capable of empathizing with the enormity of the decision and the outcome. Yet he treads a fine line between empathy and the rigour of acknowledging that history gives us dual accounts and interpretations.

It was significant as an exchange between human beings who always have far more in common with another than the vain trifles that set them belligerently apart from one another in preparation to doing great harm, that it would be this man expressing himself before survivors of the atrocities. For definitions of need and response aside, even those who promote the message of 'no other choice', must call the dropping of those bombs atrocities.

The sane among us long for a resolution and the determination to carry forward the destruction of all nuclear weapons. But sane people too are sometimes carried away on the seas of passion and anger and conflict between nations. Calling for a nuclear-free world is a sentiment of passion and righteousness.

But it must also be acknowledged that gunpowder was never eschewed because of its destructiveness, and the powerful destructive devices we call nuclear bombs are a genie outgrown its original container.

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Massive Lethality of MidEast Malfunction

"The stories coming out of Fallujah are horrifying. People who managed to flee speak of extreme hunger and starvation. Now they are caught in the crossfire with no safe way out."
Nasr Muflahi, Norwegian Refugee Council aid group

"All our security forces are preoccupied with liberating Fallujah and nearby areas, and imposing pressure on them in Baghdad and other provinces to protect the demonstrations will affect this issue [the Fallujah offensive]."
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi
AFP / Ahmad al-Rubaye<br />Iraq's counter-terrorism service (CTS) reach al-Sejar village in Iraq's Anbar province, on the boundaries of Fallujah, on May 28, 2016, as they take part in a major assault to retake the city of Fallujah, from the Islamic State (IS) group
AFP / Ahmad al-Rubaye    Iraq's counter-terrorism service (CTS) reach al-Sejar village in Iraq's Anbar province, on the boundaries of Fallujah, on May 28, 2016, as they take part in a major assault to retake the city of Fallujah, from the Islamic State (IS) group

Iraq is a country in a slow self-destructive passage to truncate its territory into zones exclusively protective of ethnic groups, tribes, clans and sectarian militias. There is no central governing body capable of stitching back together the geography that once expressed Iraq, in the absence of its tyrant, Saddam Hussein. Which says a great deal about the dynamics of the Arab Middle East with its irresolvable enmities and constant warfare.

It is a country destined to be divided in reflection of its demographics; a Sunni, a Shiite and a Kurd portion of complete autonomous sovereignty. The reality is that the largest part of divided Iraq is in the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant jihadists who claim it for their caliphate which they intend to expand, despite world powers attempting to aid the Iraqi regime in recapturing that territory.

And the Shiite government of Iraq, replacing the previous Saddam Sunni Baathist government, saw fit to shut out the Sunnis of Iraq from any portion of governance, effectively creating the climate for the rise of a Sunni-radicalization led by former Saddam army officers and supported by the Iraqi citizens resentful of their second-class status.

It is an unfortunate fact of life in the Middle East that intransigence of a lethal nature informs the traditions of strife, enmity and death in the name of tribal entitlements and religious conviction. While the country is embroiled in massive conflicts the population suffers displacement and death. The regime cannot even manage a coalition of Shiites to fight together to combat ISIL.

The Sadrists flying the banner of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, with no doubt the expedited blessing of Shiite Iran, are contesting the government and in the process stage protests challenging the government in their reform demands. For the moment, the government is focused on retrieving Fallujah from ISIL.

And aid agencies are reporting "extreme hunger and starvation" stalking the 50,000 civilians trapped there, though ISIL has sold exit permits for families, and had other solutions for their own embattled troops wishing to exit the surrounded city by torturing and shooting them. While the Islamic State has planted snipers on the main routes out of the city and the roads have been mined, the regime's forces have ensured that no supplies, food or medicine enter the besieged city.

This is a technique especially beloved of regimes planning to punish those who challenge their authority, and it is one that was well honed and practised by Syria's Bashar al Assad where the same sectarian-led conflict is ongoing. So when the fleeing families report that people in the city are malnourished as a result of lack of food, it is largely because the government, in trying to starve out the jihadists are doing the same to the civilians.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Bomb-Shelter Schools in Israel

"They [Civil Protection Division, IDF] are building all the time [new bomb-proof schools]."
"We have had several [rocket] hits on some of the schools, some of the kindergartens, we had nearby hits and several direct hits. But nothing happened. The protection paid off."
"No one wants to build like that. No one wants their child to be in a place like that [border villages in Israel close to the Gaza Strip]. But they also don't have a threat like that [other countries, elsewhere in the world]."
Lt. Col. Ghassan Tarif, head, Engineering Branch, Civil Protection Division, IDF Home Front Command
Hila Fenlon, 38, farmer, Netiv Ha'asara, Israel
A decorated bomb shelter stands beside a basketball court at a school built from reinforced concrete in the Israeli town of Sderot March 27, 2014. (REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly)
Interested in finding online sources through an Internet search engine for the new schools that are being built near the Gaza border with Israel, to shelter Israeli children from never-ending incoming rockets, and countless sources pop up all focusing on Israeli forces bombing schools in Gaza when the Israel Defence Forces entered Gaza in 2009 determined to put an end to the Qassam rockets hitting Israeli towns. Hamas used the schools as it did hospitals and densely crowded neighbourhoods to mount attacks across the border into Israel and to store weapons within, including UN schools.

It's a little harder to inform the search engine what, precisely, to look for if you're curious about the defences Israel is undertaking to protect Israeli children from incoming rocket fire. Bear in mind that the IDF entered Gaza after years and thousands of rockets in provocation threatening the safety of Israeli towns and the people living in them. And that Hamas makes a special virtue out of using Palestinians and civic institutions as living shields. When Israel strikes back and there are casualties it's a sympathetic win-situation for Hamas which then accuses Israel of brutality, to the international community.

But make no mistake, it is the determination of Hamas to terrify Israelis and to cause death and pain and destruction in the greater interest of their mandate to destroy the presence of an Israeli nation on land that Hamas means to reinstate as Arab Palestinian territory undisturbed by the presence of any nation but that of one claimed by Palestinians. So Israeli children living in towns in rocket-distance from Gaza become accustomed to running for their lives; literally. They have all of five seconds after an alarm to find shelter. That is the clearance time: five seconds.

Israel's voluntary unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 resulted in the Strip's domination by Hamas. The move by Israel was meant to free Israel from its constant attempts to pacify Palestinians and to live amongst them, giving Palestinians the opportunity to govern themselves civilly and to reach prosperity by their own efforts in becoming responsible for their welfare. Instead chaos ensued and crime soared and tribal and ideological conflict arose until Hamas expelled all Fatah militias and took control. Then concentrated its efforts on destroying Israel while manipulating Gazans' lifestyles.

Since 2005 when Hamas became the de facto rulers in Gaza, over 11,000 rockets were fired into Israel. Each time the IDF enters Gaza to defend its population against the increasingly more powerful rockets, a hudna results, a respite from fighting allowing Hamas the opportunity to rebuild its tunnel system and its weapons arsenals and its Arab support, before setting off on another round of deadly challenges to Israel and its citizen. As the sole country in the world that has been forced to construct children's schools as doubles for bomb shelters, the public relations employed by Palestinians succeeds internationally in painting Israel as the aggressor, the Palestinians their victims.
A decorated bomb shelter sits in a playground at a school built from reinforced concrete in the Israeli town of Sderot March 27, 2014. (REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly)

In those bomb-shelter schools children from pre-Kindergarten through college age are offered physical, if not psychological security. Wherever they happen to be when a rocket alarm goes off they are protected; they are already in the bomb shelters that double as schools, and there are over 200 such bomb shelter schools built in the geography around the east and north Gaza borders with more in the process of being built. Although these schools look like typical schools they are fortified, capable of withstanding heavy explosions.

There are 50,000 residents living in 66 villages and towns in what is called the Gaza Division in Israel, and all those 66 villages and towns have bomb shelters. In homes, in workplaces, in schools. The government has mandated and funded fully fortified schools since 2007. Any schools as far as 6 kilometres from the border with Gaza are paid for by the government. Living with the constant threat of rockets being fired, the impact on children's psychological health is predictable.

Hila Fenlon of Netiv Ha'asara  speaks of the new bomb shelter in their home, closer to the bedrooms.
The cost for a home shelter is in the range of $20,000 to $30,000 and theoretically will be funded by government. She estimates that if every home in her village with its 700 people upgraded their shelters, the cost to the state would come to $6-million. But this is the cost in every sense, to a nation whose existence has been militarily threatened and contested since its 1948 introduction to the world community as a Jewish state.

It's well known that Palestinians living in Gaza experience their own version of misery, given the extrajudicial killings carried out by Hamas, validated by Amnesty International. Any Palestinians suspected of having given information to or acting on Israel's behalf or collaborating in any shape or form is tortured to death or summarily executed in public. And Hila Fenlon feels that families like her own, living on the opposite side of the border experience their own misery; wanting peace they live in terror of their own rulers.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Genie Escaped

"To be honest my understanding of the Middle East is a lot deeper today than it was when I was prime minister, quite frankly."
"For sure we underestimated profoundly the forces that were at work in the region and would take advantage of change once you topple the regime. That is the lesson. The lesson is not complicated. The lesson is simple. It is that when you remove a dictatorship out come these forces of destabilization whether it is al-Qaeda on the Sunni side or Iran on the Shia side."
"I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong. I also apologize for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime."
"Airstrikes are not going to defeat [ISIL]. It does not mean it has to be our forces all the time -- it could be that our forces are in support. But be in no doubt, if you want to defeat these people you are going to have to wage a proper ground war against them. The only question for us is whether we are prepared to."
Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Britain : UN Middle East Envoy
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair prepares to address a forum on Britain in the World in London.
(Stefan Rousseau / PA via AP) Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair prepares to address a forum on Britain in the World in London.

History will always be re-written by those who find real events discouraging in retrospect. And so, the mantra that incorrect information had been received and relied upon on which to base the decision to invade Iraq was responsible for the invasion and for its long and far-reaching consequences is rather another in a long list of outright lies. Most people who were interested in the suspenseful period when President G.W. Bush was agitating for agreement internationally on a coalition led by the United States to invade Iraq and free it from its dictator recall the televised presentations by Colin Powell.

Colin Powell, the popular general who became part of the Republican administration because he was admired and trusted and even thought of as one time to be a potential future presidential candidate, was used and abused by the White House, as then-Secretary-of-State. He was their credible explainer of the situation, speaking of the Saddam administration carefully taking steps to keep its nuclear weapons from view, using special vehicles to take them from one part of the country to another so their presence would remain undetected.

But trust him, the man whom the White House manipulated; the weapons of mass destruction were there and they were threats to humanity and to the international community. There was a credible element there. It was fairly well known that Saddam Hussein was fascinated by weapons of attack, and contracted with inventors to create military field pieces capable of destroying at long distances, but most of this was nonsense, just as his attainment of nuclear weapons were, as justification of invasion.

It seems that G.W. Bush was critical of his father's decision as president during an earlier invasion to oust Iraq from Kuwait not to advance the international troops led by the United States and sanctioned by the United Nations right to the capital of Baghdad, at that time to take out Saddam Hussein; the elder Bush in his wisdom made the decision to leave Iraq intact under its Baathist tyrant. Perhaps he had a more well-rounded understanding of the violence-and-sectarian-prone demographics of the tribal Middle East than his son.

Perhaps his son was simply more arrogant in his ignorance and determined to do his father one better. Whereas France chose to stand down on this occasion, Great Britain became a champion of George W. Bush's vision as liberator of Iraq, only too happy to accept the premise that an invasion was inevitable because of the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of an Iraqi butcher. The irony is that the country that Iraq engaged in a brutal killing war for years is now on the cusp of acquiring nuclear weapons and now that Sunnis no longer sit in Baghdad's power seat, Iraq and Iran are best friends.

But it is precisely because the minority Iraqi Sunnis, in Saddam's absence, no longer control Baghdad, that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, growing out of that disempowered Sunni demographic, threatening the entire Middle East and beyond with its medieval brand of butchery now poses an international threat. When the Iraqi Shiite majority felt entitled to turning the tables on the once-powerful Sunnis, the stage was set for a sectarian revenge that would have the repercussions that has bifurcated both Iraq and its neighbour Syria.

On the one hand there is the government, no longer in full authority of the entire geography that once made up a country, and on the other there are the divisions created by rebels, Islamist jihadis and the Kurds who represent the only significantly capable and effective fighting force capable of defending the country and its disparate minority ethnic and religious parts from the atrocities of Islamic State. To admit to a 'misunderstanding' leading to a decision with such far-reaching consequences is the very least of a mea culpa pointing out the malfeasance of ignorance paired with power.

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Tribute To An Exemplary Man

"Certain things didn't happen in the best way but that doesn't take anything away from the immense privilege and opportunity of a lifetime, serving one of the best prime ministers our country has ever had."
"I consider him a father figure and always will."
Dimitri Soudas, former Conservative party executive director, and Prime Ministerial director of communications

"He reminded me of Pierre Trudeau. You could see his intellect working. He was very at home on policy -- very sure-footed."
"It was an impressive performance and he [had] the potential to be influential as a world leader."
Allan Gotlieb, former Canadian ambassador in Washington

"His decade in power changed this country in immeasurable ways and you know whether you agreed or disagreed with his politics, Mr. Harper is a man of enormous integrity who has dedicated his entire life to public service and continues to do so."
"I wish him the very best of luck."
"I understand he's thinking of offers in the private sector which will be a switch for someone who's dedicated his whole life to public service. But really, he's had an enormous impact and we're very proud as Calgarians that we had a prime minister for a decade who hailed from this city."
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi
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CBC News : Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, and (right) former Prime Minister Stephen Harper

"I wouldn't be surprised to see him try and carry on that work [influence on foreign relations] if there are donors who want to fund him to do that [set up his own foundation on international issues]."
"He had survived for almost ten years [as prime minister] which made him kind of an elder statesmen, so I think he was quite respected in those forums."
Tom Flanagan, formerly Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff
As Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper was viewed by many as stiff and unbending, a man who kept his emotions intact and to himself. That he was also a man of stern principles and great integrity was simply a recognition of the mettle of the man who expected much from himself as leader of the country and who delivered to the citizens of Canada his considered and appropriate responses to situations calling for them. Doubt greeted his initial minority government, to be swiftly replaced with trust and reliance on his judgement.

Certainly not from all quarters, but of a certainty from people who shared his thoughts and aspirations for the country and its people. It could not have been but a humbling experience for this man to suffer defeat in the October 19 election that brought Justin Trudeau to office as Canada's prime minister. For many, the disappointment of seeing Mr. Harper replaced by an amateur politician who had never before entering politics prepared himself in any way to assume that office, was a profound misery.

An intellectual, a man schooled in academic economics and with the experience of positions of significance behind him, replaced by a dilettante, a man with experience in snowboarding, bar-bouncing and drama classes, whose name-recognition offered him the entree to speaking engagements where his smiling presence seemed compensation to those who attended for his lack of knowledge and gravitas. Where Trudeau is egotistical and entitled, Mr. Harper has been unassumingly humble.

It cannot have been an easy decision to remain in the House of Commons, to stay on in his elected position as a Member of Parliament, from his former status as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and Prime Minister of Canada, but Mr. Harper quietly took his seat and diligently took part in all Parliamentary votes. He has chosen now, to leave after the Parliamentary summer break, before Parliament resumes in the fall.

His was a steady hand at the helm of the ship of state. And those who supported him and worked alongside him speak now of paying homage to his decade as prime minister. "People who care about his legacy are rolling up their sleeves", said one of those in talks relating to sponsoring a think-tank in his name to focus on foreign policy directions for Canada.

Of a certainty history and the perspective of time will be kinder to his memory than the electorate that voted to retire this man who will be recognized as one of the finest Canada ever had as prime minister.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Stealth Infiltration : Incurious Acceptance

"In November 2014, while testifying before the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, I raised the issue of Islamic clerics using mosque sermons to attack the foundational principles of Western civilization and liberal secular democracy."
"Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell was outraged by my testimony that at most Canadian mosques, the Friday congregation includes a ritual prayer asking, 'Allah to give victory to Muslims over the 'Kufaar' (non-Muslims).' In a heated exchange with me, the senator suggested I wasn't telling the truth, implying I was motivated by Islamophobia. Sadly, Sen. Mitchell is not alone in such views."
Tarek Fatah, Toronto writer, broadcaster, Muslim of reasonable faith

We refuse to believe what is before our very eyes. A succession of Muslim Canadians from Alberta travelled infamously to the Middle East to take up the scimitar to avenge Muslims whom they have been taught to believe have been victimized and slaughtered by armies of the West in a concerted effort to destroy Islam. Although the Internet is an undeniable source of inspiration for restive Muslim youth looking to identify with their 'cause' as defenders of the faith, there are ample real-time, real-life venues that provide more direct and personal connections to jihad, recruiting those same young Muslims.

In mosques and social centers, at conferences and in universities, agents of Islamist jihad have been busy persuasively convincing young men of their duty as Muslims to martyrdom and  jihad and they find an all-too-willing audience, all too often. Muslims listening to these lectures but who have no will to be recruited to violent jihad still have the mindset that it is a sacred duty that the young and the willing should fulfill. People like Tarek Fatah who dedicate their every moment in attempts to interdict and counter the anti-Western attitudes find themselves frustrated, their actions deplored.

Western attitudes toward foreign-sourced religious and ideological and political and social freedoms are relaxed and welcoming, seeing no threat posed by radicals other than when an unfortunate incident takes place and blood is shed and everyone rushes to declare their understanding that these are isolated incidents perpetrated by psychopaths. The general Muslim population declares itself shocked and complains of being lumped into the same barrel of suspicion as the rotten apples among them. Yet rotten or compliant, moderate or not, the inspirational source of jihad is Islam and the Koran.

Until a mass movement determining to expunge from the Koran and from Islam the passages that are so venerated and viewed as so critical to Islam that lead to suspicion and hatred and violence takes place to bring Islam to a place of respect for others and for others' religions and values, the claims of Muslims that those perpetrating hideous acts of barbarity and declaring themselves enemies of Western values are not true Muslims, ring false.

A speaker addresses the Hizb-ut-Tahrir conference in Mississauga, Ontario, on May 21

Among other instances of Islamist fundamentalism that Tarek Fatah writes of, is the recent conference by the Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, (an Islamist group outlawed in some countries) to discuss the re-establishment of a global Islamic caliphate. According to a Pakistani-Canadian writer with whom Mr. Fatah spoke afterward, people at the event, listening to the speakers gave them full credit for their views:
"The first speaker reminded Muslims that they are obligated to implement Allah's orders that fulfill the Islamic State. It is "not permissible for us to choose' he said, citing the Quran. However, he said it was necessary to win the public's hearts and minds; and to partner with people of power, citing examples from the life of the Prophet."
"At the end, a three-minute video was presented to demonstrate the collective oil and natural gas production capabilities of the Muslim world, the human capital needed to mine and process these resources ... the military power required to protect them and the types of weapons needed to make such a military effective."
And, as Mr. Fatah pointed out in his article published in the Middle East Forum, the current Liberal government of Canada under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a man with no experience of the world, but who greatly values smiley-faces and selfies, has seen fit to authorize a $200,000 grant for a mosque in southern Ontario linked to the Muslim Brotherhood (another outlawed Islamist group), as part of the government's debt-ridden infrastructure development program.

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Looking for Justice in Rue Copernic Synagogue Bombing

The long-running case of Lebanese-born Palestinian Hassan Diab is back again in the news. This is a man identified by German intelligence agents to the French justice authorities as having been the key person responsible for the death of four French citizens and over 40 people who were emerging from a synagogue on rue Copernic in October of 1980 by setting off explosives packed onto a motorcycle. Mr. Diab was identified by German intelligence through their sources as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an militant arm of the militant Palestine Liberation Organization.

The PLO, of which the former Yasser Arafat was a founding member and its longtime chairman, was set up to 'liberate' Palestine. To do so it was determined to destroy the State of Israel, since the PLO and its members accused Israel of looting the historical lands of Israel from what they claim to be its legitimate owners, Palestinian Arabs. In previous incarnations, Palestinians were always considered to be Jews, and for good reason, since the Jewish presence in that portion of the Middle East was unbroken, despite the diaspora when Jews were forced in antiquity to flee their native geography.

Hassan Diab stands accused by French justice officials of murder and attempted murder. He claims he is entirely innocent; a man of peace who harbours no prejudice against anyone, and that this is a clear instance of mistaken identity. A French police drawing derived from questioning witnesses who dealt with Mr. Diab in Paris was instantly recognized by an old friend, a Mr. El Khalil who verified to French police that both he and Mr. Diab were members of the PFLP.

Although Mr. Diab denies even having been in Paris at the time of the bombing, evidence to the contrary exists in a purportedly 'lost' passport in the possession of another man, which was clearly stamped with an entry at the right date, to France. Mr. Diab later claimed to have lost his original passport and requested a replacement. There appears to be evidence that French authorities believe identify him as the bomber.
  • - Mr. Diab resembles police sketches of the bomber;
  • - His handwriting matches that of the bomber;
  • - He is identified by intelligence sources and former friends as having been a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine;
  • - His passport was used to get into France around the time of the 1980 bombing, in suspicious circumstances.

All of which he denies, as does his lawyers and his supporters. France requested his extradition from Canada and after much circumlocution in the form of judicial enquiries, it was eventually agreed by Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger that Mr. Diab be extradited, though he remained unconvinced with the evidential quality brought before him and contested. The then-justice minister verified his extradition and he was finally removed to France (he had been arrested initially in 2008 by the RCMP).

The latest brouhaha was Mr. Diab's release on bail a week ago by a magistrate's order, which three French justices later overturned, ordering him to return to custody. He had previously exhausted all legal avenues in Canada to delay his extradition to France to stand trial on the charges brought against him. At the very last he hoped that the Supreme Court of Canada would intervene, but they had refused to hear the case.

It is now up to a French court to assemble all its evidence and a trial to take place establishing either his guilt or his innocence. It is doubtful that both German and French intelligence could be so errant in prosecuting their search for responsibility in a terrorist atrocity that they have erred badly enough to hound an innocent man. If that is the case, however, then surely a trial will result in bringing the truth to light.

Until that trial takes place and the matter of guilt or innocence is finally established, a man who purportedly engaged in terrorist acts (there is an additional accusation that another attack had taken place in Antwerp on another synagogue) must await justice. Roger Cukierman, president of the French Jewish umbrella organization CRIF and a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, speaks of the need to find the perpetrator of those attacks and bring him to justice.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Mother's Anguish

"No, no, not Shafee!"
"That boy now is not my son. That is not the son I raised."
"My kids were perfect. What suddenly happened?"
Maha Elgizouli, Sudanese immigrant, Britain
Maha Elgizouli with her two sons, Mahmoud Elsheikh (left) and El Shafee Elsheikh
Maha Elgizouli with her two sons, Mahmoud Elsheikh (left) and El Shafee Elsheikh  Credit: Buzzfeed News 
"We thought this [his radicalism] was just a phase … the flavour of the month. For me, understanding the images portrayed on websites and even in the news bulletins, deaths mounted by the western powers bombarding people … this ignited the sense of anger, of a drive to right things in their own way."
"But understanding as well that this second generation [of immigrants] suffer from an identity crisis. They’re no longer fully educated in their own background and heritage and culture and they are not fully accepted in the new society. Coming from a Muslim family, they are asked: ‘What do you know about your religion?’ So maybe this is the drive deep into understanding this part of their identity."
"Unfortunately the lenient way of our government here in tackling the radicalisation machinery in the mosques was complacent … So they go there [to the mosques] and they listen to a version of Islam which is synonymous to Isis and al-Qaida and all these radical terrorists. So they have the propensity to [believe] this erroneous version of Islam.
"We tried to handle this in a mild, considerate way, but before we could do anything he [his son] just left."
Rashid Sidahmed ElSheikh, translator, London 
El Shafee Elsheikh
El Shafee Elsheikh. Photograph: Facebook

Western recruits to Islamist jihad appear to be among the most brutal of the psychopaths attracted to the ideology of violent jihad reflecting the zeal of the 7th Century progenitors of a religion that had so recently been introduced to the Bedouin world of the Middle East. In a landscape of tribal suspicions and incessant territorial wars, this was a religion tailor-made by an Arab who saw an opportunity to unite disparate tribes under a flag of a zealot-like god demanding total obedience.
Clockwise from top left: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines,, Alan Henning, Peter Kassig, Kenji Goto ... Victims of Mohammed Emwazi , known as "Jihadi John."

That surrender to the demands of an powerful spirit promising to lead a war-obsessed population to widespread conquest motivated followers to ally themselves with a superior winning philosophy, fealty to a religion that would represent all things to all people, a religion that demanded constant obeisance through five-time-daily reminders in calls to prayer to the divine interlocutor, and a faith requiring never-ending conquest through the scimitar and the Shahada.

To state the obvious in complete surrender with the pledge of acknowledgement that "There is no god but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger", pledges the speaker to a lifelong devotion of Islam that will henceforth inform every minute of every day in a social, political, religious guidance that eschews individuality and human rights other than the obligation to venerate Allah and pay everlasting respects to his prophet.

That call, the purity of an Islamist functionality encompassing all that matters to the faithful, has a powerful appeal to the human spirit of tribal allegiance. The social community of the West simply is not invested with the same degree of sacrifice to an overpowering and to many, meaningful connection. The depth of the appeal does owe something to the promises meted out to Muslim men who see great appeal in the culture of patriarchy and misogyny.

And one of the assurances given recruits to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is that of the availability of women content to establish themselves as household slaves, and the opportunity to acquire as many wives as a single man can accommodate. El Shafee Elsheikh whose family arrived in Britain as Sudanese refugees has only two wives, but he is young at 27, and the opportunity exists for him to acquire more.

He is thought of as being among a handful of British-born recruits who had volunteered their services as ISIL 'jailers' whose task it was to torture and terrorize and on certain occasions, stage beheading videos for wide dissemination as a recruiting tool, one that attracted the attention of would-be jihadis, and caused Western sensibilities to recoil in horror at the atrocious waste of  human life, but which the British-accented killers revelled in.

According to former hostages who managed to live and escape, the 'Londoners' also referred to as 'Beatles', repeatedly beat, water-boarded and staged mock executions in their zeal to adequately terrorize prisoners. The most notorious of these was "Jihadi John", later identified as Mohammed Emwazi who had beheaded American, Japanese and British hostages, and was himself killed in an American drone strike.

As cruel as Emwazi had been, using a dull knife to saw off the head of one of the hostages, El Shafee Elsheikh, nicknamed Ringo, was thought to represent the most vicious of the four, and the leader of the group. A former U.S. counterterrorism official identified him. According to his family and friends some of whom he remains in contact with, he is alive and lives in Syria with two wives and a number of children.

His shocked mother, Maha Elgizouli, describes her son as a "regular Londoner", who championed the Queens Park Rangers soccer team and who worked diligently as a mechanic. He had married an Ethiopian woman who was living in Canada when he was 21, she said. When she was unable to move to London to live with him he became frustrated, and left for Syria where he married a Syrian woman and later welcomed his Ethiopian wife when she arrived in Syria.

It seems obvious that Islamic State in Syria fulfills his needs and as such has his loyalty. He can procreate at leisure while enjoying the opportunity commit ferocious atrocities and to kill at random. What more could any enterprising young man with an enthusiastic penchant for torture and slaughter whose pursuit entitles him to Paradise on Earth and in Heaven possibly wish for?

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