U.S. looking at new ISIS leader and role in organization: U.S. official

Late Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is seen in an undated picture released by the U.S. Department of Defense in Washington, U.S. October 30, 2019. U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS

U.S. looking at new ISIS leader and role in organization: U.S. official
By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is researching the new leader of the Islamic State to determine his previous roles in the organization, Nathan Sales, the U.S. counter-terrorism coordinator, said on Friday after a U.S. raid last month killed its former leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“Any time there is a leadership transition in the terrorist organization, we want to make sure that we have the latest information that we need to have to confront the threat,” Sales told a briefing.

Islamic State, in an audio tape posted online on Thursday, confirmed that Baghdadi was killed in a weekend raid by U.S. special forces in northwestern Syria. It vowed revenge against the United States.

The group, also known as ISIS, said a successor to Baghdadi identified as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi had been appointed. Earlier on Friday, President Donald Trump tweeted: “ISIS has a new leader. We know exactly who he is!” he said, without elaborating.

Baghdadi had risen from obscurity to lead the ultra-hardline group and declare himself “caliph” of all Muslims, holding sway over huge areas of Iraq and Syria from 2014-2017 before Islamic State’s control was wrested away by U.S.-led coalition forces including Iraqis and Syrian Kurds.

Trump has been softening his pullout plans for Syria after a backlash from Congress, including fellow Republicans, who say he enabled a long-threatened Turkish incursion on Oct. 9 against Kurdish forces in Syria who had been America’s top allies in the battle against Islamic State since 2014.

Sales said combating Islamic State remained a top national security priority for Washington. “We will dismantle the group regardless of who its leadership cadre is,” he said.

While world leaders hailed Baghdadi’s death, security analysts warned the threat of Islamic State and its ideology was far from over.

An annual State Department report that his office put out on Friday concluded that despite losing almost all of its territory, Islamic State’s global presence continued to evolve in 2018, with new affiliates in Somalia and East Asia and through home-grown attacks.

“Additionally, battle-hardened terrorists headed home from the war zone in Syria and Iraq or traveled to third countries, posing new dangers,” Sales said in the report.

Separately, Sales said the United States brought back and prosecuted 6 adult fighters or Islamic State supporters. It has also returned 14 children who are now being “rehabilitated and reintegrated,” he said.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Dan Grebler)

Iran warns U.S., Israel of revenge after parade attack

A general view shows an attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, Iran, in this September 22, 2018 photo by ISNA. The photo is watermarked from source. ISNA/Iranian Students' News Agency/Social Media/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. MANDATORY CREDIT.

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday that the attackers who killed 25 people at a military parade were paid by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and that Iran would “severely punish” those behind the bloodshed.

The deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards also accused the United States and Israeli of involvement in the attack and he said they should expect a devastating response from Tehran.

In the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, thousands packed the streets to mourn the victims of Saturday’s assault, many chanting “Death to Israel and America”. Twelve members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were among the 25 dead.

The coffins, wrapped in the flag of the Islamic Republic, were carried by the mourners. Many held pictures of a four-year old boy killed in the incident, one of the worst such attacks against Iran’s the most powerful military force.

Four assailants fired on a viewing stand in Ahvaz where Iranian officials had gathered to watch an annual parade marking the start of Iran’s 1980-88 war with Iraq.

“Based on reports, this cowardly act was done by people who the Americans come to help when they are trapped in Syria and Iraq, and are paid by Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” Khamenei said on his official website.

Guards Brigadier General Hossein Salami, in a speech broadcast on state TV, said: “You have seen our revenge before. You will see that our response will be crushing and devastating and you will regret what you have done,”

Tasnim new agency also quoted Salami as saying that the “horrific crime” exposed the dark side of an alliance that the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel had created to counter Iranian influence in the region.

The secretary of Iran’s National Security Council said Tehran needed to talk to its neighbors to avoid tensions.

“It’s essential to be fully aware and increase our constructive dialogues to neutralize the plots of enemies who want to create suspicion and disagreement among regional countries,” Ali Shamkhani said.

He also criticized the United States, saying U.S. sanctions against Iran were illegal and that President Donald Trump was using them as a tool for “personal revenge”.

ANTAGONIZE

The United Arab Emirates, a close ally of Saudi Arabia and Washington, rejected Iran’s allegations alluding to its involvement in the violence.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asked by a Fox News interviewer if the United States played any role in the attack, said: “When you have a security incident at home, blaming others is an enormous mistake.”

The loss of innocent lives was tragic, Pompeo added. There has been no reaction yet from Saudi Arabia or Israel.

Accusations against Gulf countries will almost certainly antagonize Iran’s regional foe Saudi Arabia. The oil super-powers are waging a war for influence across the Middle East, backing opposite sides in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.

It is, however, highly unlikely the Guards will strike any of its foes directly and risk sparking a regional conflict.

Analyst said the violence has led to a boost in domestic support for the Guards which they could use to silence their critics, who include pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani.

Rouhani engineered Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that ushered in a cautious detente with Washington before tensions flared anew with Trump’s decision in May to pull out of the accord and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.

Iran’s Intelligence Minister, Mahmoud Alavi, said a network of suspects had already been arrested in connection with the attack, the judiciary’s news agency Mizan reported. He did not elaborate..

Ahvaz National Resistance, an Iranian ethnic Arab opposition movement which seeks a separate state in oil-rich Khuzestan province, and Islamic State have both claimed responsibility.

The Guard Corps was set up after the 1979 Islamic revolution to protect the Shi’ite clerical ruling system and revolutionary values. It answers to Ayatollah Khamenei and has an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Gazans bury dead after bloodiest day of Israel border protests

Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from Israeli fire and tear gas during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams

GAZA-ISRAEL BORDER (Reuters) – Thousands of Gaza residents turned out on Tuesday for the funerals of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops a day earlier, while on the Gaza-Israel border, Israeli forces prepared to face the expected final day of a Palestinian protest campaign.

Monday’s violence on the border, which took place as the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem, was the bloodiest for Palestinians since the 2014 Gaza conflict.

The death toll rose to 60 overnight after an eight-month-old baby died from tear gas that her family said she inhaled at a protest camp on Monday. More than 2,200 Palestinians were also injured by gunfire or tear gas, Palestinian medics said.

Palestinian leaders have called Monday’s events a massacre, and the Israeli tactic of using live fire against the protesters has drawn worldwide concern and condemnation.

The United Nations Security Council was due to meet to discuss the situation.

Israel has said it is acting in self-defense to defend its borders and communities. Its main ally the United States has backed that stance, with both saying that Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the coastal enclave, instigated the violence.

On Tuesday morning, mourners marched through Gaza, waving Palestinian flags and calling for revenge.

“With souls and blood we redeem you martyrs,” they shouted.

There were fears of further bloodshed as a six-week protest campaign was due to reach its climax.

May 15 is traditionally the day Palestinians mark the “Nakba”, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven from their homes in violence culminating in war between the newly created Jewish state and its Arab neighbors in 1948.

The protests, dubbed “The Great March of Return,” began on March 30 and revived calls for refugees to have the right of return to their former lands, which now lie inside Israel.

Israel rejects any right of return, fearing that it would deprive the state of its Jewish majority.

Palestinian medical officials say 105 Gazans have now been killed since the start of the protests and nearly 11,000 people wounded, about 3,500 of them hit by live fire. Israeli officials dispute those numbers. No Israeli casualties have been reported.

More than 2 million people are crammed into the narrow Gaza Strip, more than two thirds of them refugees. Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions on the enclave, deepening economic hardship and raising humanitarian concerns.

SHARPSHOOTERS

On the Israeli side of the border, Israeli sharpshooters took up positions to stop any attempted breach of the fence should demonstrations break out again. Tanks were also deployed.

A senior Israeli commander said that of the 60 Gazans killed on Monday, 14 were carrying out attacks and 14 others were militants.

He also said Palestinians protesters were using hundreds of pipe bombs, grenades and fire-bombs. Militants had opened fire on Israeli troops and tried to set off bombs by the fence.

Many casualties were caused by Palestinians carrying out devices that went off prematurely,” he said.

“We approve every round fired before it is fired. Every target is spotted in advance. We know where the bullet lands and where it is aimed,” said the commander, who spoke on condition that he not be named, in accordance with Israeli regulations.

“However reality on the ground is such that unintended damage is caused,” he said.

In Geneva, the U.N. human rights office condemned what it called the “appalling deadly violence” by Israeli forces.

U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said Israel had a right to defend its borders according to international law, but lethal force must only be used a last resort, and was not justified by Palestinians approaching the Gaza fence.

The U.N. rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, said Israel’s use of force may amount to a war crime.

YOUNG VICTIM

In Gaza City, hundreds marched in the funeral of eight-month-old Leila al-Ghandour, whose body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag.

“Let her stay with me, It is too early for her to go,” her mother cried, pressing the baby’s body to her chest.

Speaking earlier, her grandmother said the child was at one of the tented protest camps and had inhaled tear gas.

“When we got back home, the baby stopped crying and I thought she was asleep. I took her to the children’s hospital and the doctor told me she was martyred (dead),” Heyam Omar said.

Many shops in East Jerusalem were shut throughout the day following a call by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a general strike across the Palestinian Territories. A 70-second siren was sounded in the occupied West Bank in commemoration of the Nakba.

HOLY CITY

Most Gaza protesters stay around tent camps but groups have ventured closer to the border fence, rolling burning tyres and throwing stones. Some have flown kites carrying containers of petrol that spread fires on the Israeli side.

Monday’s protests were fueled by the opening ceremony for the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem following its relocation from Tel Aviv. The move fulfilled a pledge by U.S. President Donald Trump, who in December recognized the contested city as the Israeli capital.

Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel regards all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed, as its “eternal and indivisible capital”.

Most countries say the status of Jerusalem – a sacred city to Jews, Muslims and Christians – should be determined in a final peace settlement and that moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.

Netanyahu praised Trump’s decisions but Palestinians have said the United States can no longer serve as an honest broker in any peace process. Talks aimed a finding a two-state solution to the conflict have been frozen since 2014.

Trump said on Monday he remained committed to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. His administration says it has nearly completed a new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan but is undecided on how and when to roll it out.

Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the Gaza violence. Hamas denied instigating it but the White House backed Netanyahu, saying Hamas “intentionally and cynically provoking this response”.

The United States on Monday blocked a Kuwait-drafted U.N. Security Council statement that would have expressed “outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians” and called for an independent investigation, U.N. diplomats said.

In the British parliament, junior foreign office minister Alistair Burt said the United States needed to show more understanding about the causes of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hamas’ role in the violence must be investigated, he added.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell, Writing by Maayan Lubell, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Chinese state tabloid warns Trump, end one China policy and China will take revenge

Taiwan President Tsai Ingwen visiting Texas

By Brenda Goh and J.R. Wu

SHANGHAI/TAIPEI (Reuters) – State-run Chinese tabloid Global Times warned U.S. President-elect Donald Trump that China would “take revenge” if he reneged on the one-China policy, only hours after Taiwan’s president made a controversial stopover in Houston.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met senior U.S. Republican lawmakers during her stopover in Houston on Sunday en route to Central America, where she will visit Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. Tsai will stop in San Francisco on Jan. 13, her way back to Taiwan.

China had asked the United States not to allow Tsai to enter or have formal government meetings under the one China policy.

Beijing considers self-governing Taiwan a renegade province ineligible for state-to-state relations. The subject is a sensitive one for China.

A photograph tweeted by Texas Governor Greg Abbott shows him meeting Tsai, with a small table between them adorned with the U.S., Texas and Taiwanese flags. Tsai’s office said on Monday she also spoke by telephone with U.S. senator John McCain, head of the powerful Senate Committee on Armed Services. Tsai also met Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

“Sticking to (the one China) principle is not a capricious request by China upon U.S. presidents, but an obligation of U.S. presidents to maintain China-U.S. relations and respect the existing order of the Asia-Pacific,” said the Global Times editorial on Sunday. The influential tabloid is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily.

Trump triggered protests from Beijing last month by accepting a congratulatory telephone call from Tsai and questioning the U.S. commitment to China’s position that Taiwan is part of one China.

“If Trump reneges on the one-China policy after taking office, the Chinese people will demand the government to take revenge. There is no room for bargaining,” said the Global Times.

Cruz said some members of Congress had received a letter from the Chinese consulate asking them not to meet Tsai during her stopovers.

“The People’s Republic of China needs to understand that in America we make decisions about meeting with visitors for ourselves,” Cruz said in a statement. “This is not about the PRC. This is about the U.S. relationship with Taiwan, an ally we are legally bound to defend.”

Cruz said he and Tsai discussed upgrading bilateral relations and furthering economic cooperation between their countries, including increased access to Taiwan markets that would benefit Texas ranchers, farmers and small businesses.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang on Monday urged “relevant U.S. officials” to handle the Taiwan issue appropriately to avoid harming China-U.S. ties.

“We firmly oppose leaders of the Taiwan region, on the so-called basis of a transit visit, having any form of contact with U.S. officials and engaging in activities that interfere with and damage China-U.S. relations,” Lu said.

In a dinner speech Saturday to hundreds of overseas Taiwanese, Tsai said the United States holds a “special place in the hearts of the people of Taiwan” and that the island via bilateral exchanges has provided more than 320,000 jobs directly and indirectly to the American people, her office said on Monday.

Tsai said Taiwan looked to create more U.S. jobs through deeper investment, trade and procurement.

Tsai’s office said James Moriarty, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, which handles U.S.-Taiwan affairs in the absence of formal ties, told the Taiwan president in Houston that the United States was continuing efforts to persuade China to resume dialogue with Taiwan.

China is deeply suspicious of Tsai, who it thinks wants to push for the formal independence of the island.

The Global Times, whose stance does not equate with government policy, also targeted Tsai in the editorial, saying that the mainland would likely impose further diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan, warning that “Tsai needs to face the consequences for every provocative step she takes”.

“It should also impose military pressure on Taiwan and push it to the edge of being reunified by force, so as to effectively affect the approval rating of the Tsai administration.”

(Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai, J.R. Wu in Taipei, and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

Bin Laden’s son threatens revenge for father’s assassination

Newspaper headlines and clippings are posted on a wall inside a staff office at the White House in Washington May 2, 2011, the morning after U.S. President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden.

DUBAI (Reuters) – The son of slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has threatened revenge against the United States for assassinating his father, according to an audio message posted online.

Hamza bin Laden promised to continue the global militant group’s fight against the United States and its allies in the 21-minute speech entitled “We Are All Osama,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

“We will continue striking you and targeting you in your country and abroad in response to your oppression of the people of Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and the rest of the Muslim lands that did not survive your oppression,” Hamza said.

“As for the revenge by the Islamic nation for Sheikh Osama, may Allah have mercy on him, it is not revenge for Osama the person but it is revenge for those who defended Islam.”

Osama bin Laden was killed at his Pakistani hideout by U.S. commandos in 2011 in a major blow to the militant group which carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Documents recovered from bin Laden’s compound and published by the United States last year alleged that his aides tried to reunite the militant leader with Hamza, who had been held under house arrest in Iran.

Hamza, now in his mid-twenties, was at his father’s side in Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks and spent time with him in Pakistan after the U.S.-led invasion pushed much of al Qaeda’s senior leadership there, according to the Brookings Institution.

Introduced by the organization’s new chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in an audio message last year, Hamza provides a younger voice for the group whose aging leaders have struggled to inspire militants around the world galvanized by Islamic State.

“Hamza provides a new face for al Qaeda, one that directly connects to the group’s founder. He is an articulate and dangerous enemy,” according to Bruce Riedel of Brookings.

(Reporting By Asma Alabed; Editing by Noah Browning and Janet Lawrence)