Turkish guards will be charged in embassy protest, officials say

The New York Times reports: Law enforcement officials plan to announce charges Thursday against a dozen members of the Turkish president’s security detail for their involvement in a brutal attack on protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence here last month, two American officials said on Wednesday.

The authorities have already charged several others, including two Americans and two Canadians, with taking part in the violent skirmish.

The Washington police have been investigating the May 16 attack along with the State Department and the Secret Service. The police planned to announce the charges at a news conference on Thursday morning, according to the two officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the charges before they were made public. [Continue reading…]

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Terrorist attacks inflame Saudi-Iranian rivalry and Gulf tensions

The New York Times reports: If the Islamic State did carry out the twin terrorist attacks on Wednesday in Iran, as the militant group claims, it struck at an opportune time to further the cause of chaos.

Iran rushed to blame Saudi Arabia, its chief rival in a contest for power playing out in proxy wars in at least two other countries in the region, Syria and Yemen.

Saudi Arabia, however, seemed too preoccupied to respond. Its state-run news media was dominated by criticism of its neighbor and ostensible ally, Qatar, after the Saudis and other Arab allies cut off ties to Qatar as part of a different struggle for power within the Persian Gulf.

The attacks in Tehran threatened to escalate the broader regional conflict between the two heavyweight powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, at a time when the Western-allied gulf bloc is divided against itself. And Saudi Arabia, under the two-year-old reign of King Salman and his powerful son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is demonstrating an unexpected willingness to plunge into risky multifront battles.

Turkey has long been a partner to the gulf monarchs in their proxy war against Iran in Syria. But in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Wednesday, Parliament voted to authorize sending troops to Turkey’s base in Qatar — presumably to help defend against the Saudis.

What’s more, the Saudis may actually risk driving Qatar — the world’s largest producer of natural gas, and home to the largest American air base in the region — even closer to Iran.

Tehran has eagerly offered to provide Qatar with food and other supplies to make up for a closing of the vital overland shipping routes from Saudi Arabia.

Qatar has so far rebuffed the Iranian offer, saying it prefers to rely on supplies delivered by air from Turkey. But Qatari diplomats have also quietly stepped up dialogue with their Iranian counterparts, officials close to the Qatari foreign minister say. [Continue reading…]

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Special counsel Mueller to probe ex-Trump aide Flynn’s Turkey ties

Reuters reports: Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible ties between the Trump election campaign and Russia, is expanding his probe to include a grand jury investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, three sources told Reuters.

The move means Mueller’s politically charged inquiry will now look into Flynn’s paid work as a lobbyist for a Turkish businessman in 2016, in addition to contacts between Russian officials and Flynn and other Trump associates during and after the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Federal prosecutors in Virginia are investigating a deal between Flynn and Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin as part of a grand jury criminal probe, according to a subpoena seen by Reuters.

Alptekin’s company, Netherlands-based Inovo BV, paid Flynn’s consultancy $530,000 between September and November to produce a documentary and research on Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric living in the United States. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan blames Gulen for a failed coup last July. [Continue reading…]

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If Trump wants to fight Iran, he’ll soon get the chance in Syria

Bloomberg reports: Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in eastern Syria is surrounded by some of the world’s strongest military powers. Their forces are advancing on several fronts. The battlefield odds aren’t even close.

That’s why the commanders of those armies — in Washington, Moscow and Tehran, as well as Damascus and Ankara — are looking beyond the coming showdown with the jihadists. When they’re killed or driven out, who’ll take over? It’s an especially sharp dilemma for President Donald Trump. Because for the second time this century, the U.S. risks defeating one Middle Eastern enemy only to see another one, Iran, emerge as the big winner.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 toppled Iran’s bitter rival Saddam Hussein and replaced him with a sympathetic Shiite-led government. In Syria today, Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad has survived six years of civil war during which U.S. leaders repeatedly insisted that he had to go. His army, fighting alongside militias loyal to Tehran, is driving into Islamic State-held territory, setting up a race with U.S.-backed forces to liberate it. Even the areas where the Americans arrive first may eventually revert to Assad’s control.

That might not have been a problem for Trump the candidate. Before the election, he vowed to smash Islamic State without getting sucked into a wider war, and said he’d work with Russia, Assad’s other key backer. It could be a problem for the President Trump who told America’s regional allies last week that he’ll help roll back Iranian power — a promise that, in Syria at least, won’t be easy to keep. [Continue reading…]

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Abedi flew from Istanbul to Manchester 4 days before bombing; UK security services tackle large-scale threat

The Telegraph reports: The security services have foiled five attacks in the past two months since the Westminster attack, a senior Whitehall source has said.

Defending against accusations that MI5 had been repeatedly warned the Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was dangerous, the source outlined the scale of the job facing counter-terrorism officials.

The source said MI5 is currently managing 500 active investigations, involving 3,000 subjects of interest at any one time. [Continue reading…]

In February, The Guardian reported: In the small pocket of Manchester where the suicide bomber who killed himself in Iraq this week grew up, many before him had trodden the same path.

The handful of streets in Moss Side within a mile of the childhood home of Ronald Fiddler, also known as Jamal al-Harith, have been home to nine who are known to have joined terrorist organisations and have either been jailed, have disappeared or have killed themselves in the name of Islamic State.

A Guardian investigation has found that 16 convicted or dead terrorists have lived within 2.5 miles of al-Harith’s home address. It is understood that they were part of a radical network and some of them prayed at the same mosque.

In a nearby gym a group of young men are sweating and sparring through a Friday afternoon boxing session. The scene could easily be one of those glossy local authority propaganda pictures that tells the story of a community trying to shed its guns-and-gangs reputation.

Former champion boxer Maurice Core has trained young men there for decades and acknowledges that terrorism is stalking the area’s disaffected youth.

One of those who is understood to be dead after joining Isis is Raphael Hostey. The 24-year-old was a member of Core’s gym and knew al-Harith. He died last year after leaving Moss Side in 2013. [Continue reading…]

Sky News reports: Abedi and Hostey hung around on the same estates and worshipped in the same Didsbury mosque, before they became disaffected with life in the West.

Counter-terrorism sources have told Sky News they have established a “significant” connection between the two men as they investigate the murder of 22 concertgoers and search for possible accomplices. [Continue reading…]

Financial Times reports: [Abedi] flew from Istanbul to the UK via Dusseldorf’s international airport, a German intelligence official said. A senior Turkish official said the Turkish government sent a file on Abedi to British authorities on Wednesday morning, but declined to discuss the details of the communication. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Flynn misled Pentagon about his Russia ties, letter says

The New York Times reports: Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, misled Pentagon investigators about his income from companies in Russia and contacts with officials there when he applied for a renewal of his top-secret security clearance last year, according to a letter released Monday by the top Democrat on the House oversight committee.

Mr. Flynn, who resigned 24 days into the Trump administration, told investigators in February 2016 that he had received no income from foreign companies and had only “insubstantial contact” with foreign nationals, according to the letter. In fact, Mr. Flynn had sat two months earlier beside President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at a Moscow gala for RT, the Kremlin-financed television network, which paid Mr. Flynn more than $45,000 to attend the event and give a separate speech.

His failure to make those disclosures and his apparent attempt to mislead the Pentagon could put Mr. Flynn in further legal jeopardy. Intentionally lying to federal investigators is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Separately, he also faces legal questions over failing to properly register as a foreign agent for lobbying he did last year on behalf of Turkey while advising the Trump campaign, which is also a felony.

The House letter, written by Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, was made public hours after Mr. Flynn formally rejected a subpoena from senators investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and chose to instead invoke his right against self-incrimination, a person familiar with his decision said. [Continue reading…]

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Flynn’s Turkey connection is the case worth pursuing

Noah Feldman writes: What’s been missing so far in the scandals surrounding the Trump White House is a concrete act taken at the behest of foreign powers. Now there’s strong evidence of one: Michael Flynn reportedly stopped an attack on the Islamic State capital of Raqqa by Syrian Kurds, a military action strongly opposed by Turkey, after receiving more than $500,000 in payments from a Turkish source. The Kurds’ offensive had been greenlighted by Barack Obama’s administration, and is now back on track, reapproved by President Donald Trump sometime after Flynn was fired.

If this story proves accurate then it’s a game changer for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. It demonstrates that, at least while Flynn was national security adviser-designate and until he was fired after 24 days in office, U.S. government policy on a core matter of national security was open to the highest foreign bidder. That’s a form of bribery that could land Flynn in prison and, potentially, give Mueller leverage to get Flynn to testify about whatever else he knows. [Continue reading…]

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Video shows Erdogan watching his security guards beating up peaceful protesters in Washington

 

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State Dept condemns ‘brutal attack’ carried out by Turkish officials against peaceful protesters in Washington

 

The New York Times reports: Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, including his government security forces and several armed individuals, violently charged a group of protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence here on Tuesday night in what the police characterized as “a brutal attack.”

Eleven people were injured, including a police officer, and nine were taken to a hospital, the Metropolitan Police chief, Peter Newsham, said at a news conference on Wednesday. Two Secret Service agents were also assaulted in the melee, according to a federal law enforcement official.

The State Department condemned the attack as an assault on free speech and warned Turkey that the action would not be tolerated. “We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms,” said Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman.

A group of Republican lawmakers went a step further, calling the episode an “affront to the United States” and calling for Turkey to apologize. [Continue reading…]

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Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed – after being paid as its agent

McClatchy reports: One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against the Islamic State was made by Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired – and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests, unbeknownst to anyone in Washington, he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent.

The decision came 10 days before Donald Trump had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, who had explained the Pentagon’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces whom the Pentagon considered the U.S.’s most effective military partners. Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president.

Flynn didn’t hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months.

If Flynn explained his answer, that’s not recorded, and it’s not known whether he consulted anyone else on the transition team before rendering his verdict. But his position was consistent with the wishes of Turkey, which had long opposed the United States partnering with the Kurdish forces – and which was his undeclared client. [Continue reading…]

To refer to Flynn’s representation of Turkish interests as being “unbeknownst to anyone in Washington,” seems a bit premature. Trump’s unwillingness to fire Flynn, rather than being an expression of loyalty — not something Trump is famous for — may be an indication that whenever Flynn finally tells his own story, it’s going to destroy Trump.

So far, Trump’s ties to Flynn have largely been portrayed as an error in judgement. The real story, however, may reveal Trump’s complicity in Flynn’s corruption — that Flynn was far more transparent than we thus far know and that Trump and Pence with the hubris of victors thought they were immune from facing any repercussions.

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After Trump welcomed Erdogan, the Turkish president’s bodyguards beat up protesters in Washington

CNN reports: Nine people were injured during a protest outside of the residence of the Turkish ambassador in Washington, DC on Tuesday, according to the official Twitter account of Washington, DC fire and EMS department.

About two dozen demonstrators showed up outside of the embassy just hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with President Donald Trump at the White House.

“We are protesting (Erdogan’s) policies in Turkey, in Syria and in Iraq,” said Flint Arthur of Baltimore, Maryland.

Arthur accused Erdogan supporters of breaching police lines and attacking protesters on at least three separate occasions.

A Facebook video captured at the scene shows several protesters covered in blood.

“They think they can engage in the same sort of suppression of protest and free speech that they engage in in Turkey,” Arthur said. “They stopped us for a few minutes … but we still stayed and continued to protest Erdogan’s tyrannical regime.”

The victims were transported to George Washington University Hospital.

The incident came as Trump extended a warm welcome to Erdogan, an authoritarian-style leader who had a strained relationship with the previous US administration. [Continue reading…]

This is a particularly lame piece of reporting. There aren’t many observers who had any difficulty in identifying the men in dark suits, recognizing them as not merely Erdogan “supporters” but more importantly as representatives of the Turkish state.

This isn’t authoritarian-style behavior — it’s authoritarianism plain and simple and it’s being given license to operate on the streets of Washington D.C.. And note who the police arrested and who they just waved away.

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U.S. arms Kurds who are ISIS enemies, Turkey enemies, Assad friends

Citizen journalist Muhammad Noor (a pseudonym) writes from PKK-controlled Manbij: When Islamic State extremists captured Manbij three years ago, they forced the population to pray at mosque, ordered women to wear full chador and they beheaded their opponents in public.

But if you attended their religious courses and agreed to their rules you could get a job and earn enough to sustain your family.

That world turned upside down last August, when a Kurdish-led ground force with U.S. air support ousted ISIS from Manbij. Arabs were among the fighters in the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF, but it was Kurds from outside Syria who suddenly became our new masters.

Local Kurds, who comprise 10 per cent of the population of 100,000, became the privileged class. They now dominate local commerce and they get special treatment from the police. Religious observance shifted 180 degrees. Traditional practice such as covering women is forbidden—not by decree but in practice. Anyone who objects can be arrested and tortured. I know from personal experience.

Since August, all the key positions in the SDF and in the Manbij administration were taken over by Kurds from outside Syria—from the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK. We called them Qandilians, those trained in Qandil, Iraq, the PKK’s mountain stronghold.

You knew them from the cars they drive, festooned with posters of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the PKK, who’s now sitting in a Turkish jail near Istanbul. They didn’t use their real names; they operated behind the scenes.

Make no mistake. We were very happy to be rid of ISIS. But the new order became so oppressive that some Arabs spoke openly about the “good old days of ISIS.” They saw the new Kurdish masters as destroying the social fabric, spoiling centuries of good relations between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. [Continue reading…]

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Trump to arm Syrian Kurds, even as Turkey strongly objects

The New York Times reports: President Trump has approved a plan to provide Syrian Kurds with heavier weapons so they can participate in the battle to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

American military commanders have long argued for arming the Y.P.G., a Kurdish militia that contains some of the most experienced fighters among the Syrian force that is battling the Islamic State.

But Turkey has vociferously objected to such a move, insisting that the Kurdish fighters are linked with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the P.K.K., which both it and the United States regard as a terrorist group.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is scheduled to meet with Mr. Trump in Washington this month, and the American decision on arming the Kurds is likely to figure prominently in the discussion. Mr. Erdogan is expected to press Mr. Trump to give Turkey and the Syrian rebels it backs a bigger supporting role in the assault on Raqqa. [Continue reading…]

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Russia reaches deal for Syria safe zones, but some rebels scoff

The New York Times reports: Russia, Iran and Turkey signed a memorandum on Thursday to create four “de-escalation zones” in Syria, to reduce bloodshed in a war now in its seventh year, but many questions remained about the plan.

Presented at talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, the memorandum was the most ambitious of recent proposals, but it was not signed by the Syrian rebels or government. Rebel representatives said it left too many loopholes for the Syrian military to continue what the rebels called indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas.

The memorandum calls for a pause in fighting, including government airstrikes, and for unhindered aid deliveries in and around the four main zones still held by rebels unaffiliated with the Islamic State. It also calls for all parties to fight jihadists like the Islamic State and the Qaeda-linked group once known as the Nusra Front.

The top United Nations envoy dealing with Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called the memorandum an “important, promising, positive step in the right direction.”

But some rebels, in rejecting the deal, said they would not accept Iran as a guarantor and reiterated their demands for the ouster of Iran-backed militias like Hezbollah, an end to arbitrary detentions, and other concessions the government is unlikely to grant. [Continue reading…]

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To freeze Syria war, Russia proposes setting up ‘de-escalation zones’

The New York Times reports: Russia is circulating a draft proposal to Syrian rebel groups and diplomats that envisions pausing the war in Syria through the creation of safe “de-escalation zones,” with outside troops possibly acting as buffers between the antagonists.

The draft proposal, shared with The New York Times on Wednesday by participants at Syria talks held in Astana, Kazakhstan, is one of the most detailed suggestions to emerge in recent months in the rocky negotiations to halt the war, now in its seventh year.

The proposal would apply to Syrian government and rebel forces in the four main areas of the country where insurgents unaffiliated with the Islamic State still hold significant territory.

But it faces a number of challenges, most notably acceptance by the Syrian government and the insurgent groups attending the talks.

The insurgent groups suspended participation in the talks on Wednesday to protest what they described as heavy bombing by the Syrian government’s Russian-backed forces the day before that killed dozens, including civilians.

The Russian proposal does not specify measures to prevent government warplanes from carrying out such bombings. Rebels said they remained suspicious of Russian guarantees, regardless, because Russia has been unable or unwilling to curb government attacks on civilians.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Wednesday that the proposal had the backing not only of Russia but also of Iran, another ally of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and Turkey, which backs some anti-Assad groups.

“We as guarantors — Turkey, Iran, Russia — will do everything for this to work,” Mr. Putin said in remarks carried on Russian television, speaking in Sochi, Russia, after meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

The proposal was made as the United States, another supporter of some anti-Assad groups, appeared to be re-engaging in the negotiations after a prolonged absence.

Stuart E. Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state, was in Astana, the most senior American official to participate in Syria talks since President Trump took office. [Continue reading…]

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Erdogan expands his crackdown on dissent

The New York Times reports: The Turkish government expanded its crackdown on dissent and free expression over the weekend, purging nearly 4,000 more public officials, blocking access to Wikipedia and banning television matchmaking shows.

A total of 3,974 civil servants were fired on Saturday from several ministries and judicial bodies, and 45 civil society groups and health clinics were shut down, according to a decree published in Turkey’s official gazette.

Turkish internet users also woke up on Saturday to find that they no longer had access to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia written by volunteers.

The dismissals mean that an estimated 140,000 people have now been purged from the state and private sectors, and more than 1,500 civil groups closed, since a failed coup last year.

It also ends opposition hopes that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may ease the crackdown and build greater national consensus after his narrow victory in a recent referendum to expand the power of his office.

Instead, Mr. Erdogan has accelerated the process. Since the referendum, and before Saturday’s move, the police had detained more than 1,000 workers and suspended a further 9,000 accused of having ties to an Islamic group founded by a United States-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen.

The organization was once allied with Mr. Erdogan, but is now accused by the government of masterminding the failed attempt to overthrow him in July. Those purged on Saturday were also accused of having connections to Mr. Gulen. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey just banned Wikipedia, labeling it a ‘national security threat’

The Washington Post reports: If you try to open Wikipedia in Turkey right now, you’ll turn up a swirling loading icon, then a message that the server timed out.

Turkey has blocked Wikipedia. If you’re inside the country, you can only access the online encyclopedia through a virtual private network connection to a system outside the country.

Turkish officials reportedly asked the online encyclopedia to remove content by writers “supporting terror.”

Wikipedia “has started acting as part of the circles who carry out a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena, rather than being cooperative in fight against terror,” ministry officials said, according to Al Jazeera. It tried to show Turkey “at the same level and in cooperation with terror groups.”

The Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications told the Daily Sabah, a pro-government newspaper, that Wikipedia was blocked for “becoming an information source acting with groups conducting a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena.” The ministry did not cite specific examples of offending content. Officials also said the site would not be unblocked until Wikipedia opened an office in the country and started paying taxes. [Continue reading…]

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Top Pentagon watchdog launches investigation into foreign payments Michael Flynn received

The Washington Post reports: The Pentagon’s top watchdog has launched an investigation into money that former national security adviser and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn received from foreign groups and whether he failed to obtain proper approval to do so, lawmakers and defense officials said Thursday.

The Pentagon has in the past advised retiring officers that because they can be recalled to military service, they are subject to the Constitution’s rarely enforced emoluments clause, which prohibits top officials from receiving payments or favors from foreign governments.

On Thursday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, released an Oct. 8, 2014, letter in which a Defense Department lawyer warned Flynn upon his retirement from military service that he was forbidden from receiving payments from foreign sources without receiving permission from the U.S. government first.

Flynn received $45,000 to appear in 2015 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gala dinner for RT, a Kremlin-controlled media organization. He also worked as a foreign agent representing Turkish interests for a Netherlands-based company, Inovo BV, which paid his company $530,000 in the fall. [Continue reading…]

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