U.S. working to designate Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group: White House

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders talks to reporters at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is working to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization, the White House said on Tuesday, which would bring sanctions against Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement.

“The president has consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern, and this designation is working its way through the internal process,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in an email.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi asked President Donald Trump to make the designation, which Egypt has already done, in a private meeting during a visit to Washington on April 9, a senior U.S. official said, confirming a report in the New York Times on Tuesday.

After the meeting, Trump praised Sisi as a “great president” while a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers raised concerns about Sisi’s record on human rights, efforts to keep him in office for many years and planned Russian arms purchases.

Sisi, who ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 and was elected president the following year, has overseen a crackdown on Islamists as well as liberal opposition in Egypt.

White House national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo support the designation but officials at the Pentagon and elsewhere have been opposed and have been seeking more limited action, the senior official said.

The Brotherhood, which estimates its membership at up to 1 million people, came to power in Egypt’s first modern free election in 2012, a year after long-serving autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising. But the movement is now banned and thousands of its supporters and much of its leadership have been jailed.

The Egyptian government blamed the organization for a 2013 suicide bomb attack on a police station that killed 16 people. The Brotherhood condemned that attack and denies using violence.

Some conservative and anti-Muslim activists have argued for years that the Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt in 1928 and sought to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate by peaceful means, has been a breeding ground for terrorists.

Designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist designation could complicate Washington’s relationship with NATO ally Turkey. The organization has close ties with President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and many of its members fled to Turkey after the group’s activities were banned in Egypt.

Turkey is under threat of U.S. sanctions if it pursues plans to purchase Russian S-400 missile defense systems, which are not compatible with NATO systems.

Washington also says Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s would compromise the security of F-35 fighter jets, which are built by Lockheed Martin Corp and use stealth technology.

The U.S. administration debated the terrorist designation for the Muslim Brotherhood shortly after Trump took office in January 2017.

Some branches of the Brotherhood, including the Palestinian group Hamas, have engaged in anti-government violence and provoked violent government reactions. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, was once a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Other offshoots in Turkey and Tunisia have forsworn violence and come to power by democratic means.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Trott)

Germany uncovers terrorist group which attacked foreigners in Chemnitz

Men suspected of forming a far-right militant organisation in Chemnitz, are escorted by special police in front of the General Prosecutor's Office at the German Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof) in Karlsruhe, Germany October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

By Andreas Burger

KARLSRUHE, Germany (Reuters) – German police detained six men on Monday suspected of forming a far-right militant organization which assaulted foreigners in the eastern city of Chemnitz and planning attacks on politicians and civil servants, the GBA federal prosecutor’s office said.

Some 100 police officers backed by special commando units detained the six suspects aged 20 to 30 at locations in Germany’s Saxony and Bavaria states. Authorities also revealed that another suspect had been taken into custody on Sept. 14.

The men are accused of forming “Revolution Chemnitz”, an organization named after the city where the fatal stabbing of a German man blamed on migrants in August prompted the worst far-right violence in Germany in decades.

“Based on the information we have so far, the suspects belong to the hooligan, skinhead and neo-Nazi scene in the area of Chemnitz and considered themselves leading figures in the right-wing extremist scene in Saxony,” prosecutors said.

The group had planned to attack senior civil servants and politicians, they said.

“In the course of further investigations we encountered tangible indications that the organization pursued terrorist goals,” the GBA said in a statement.

GBA spokeswoman Frauke Koehler told reporters that the authorities had intercepted communications which showed that the suspects were plotting attacks against political opponents as well as foreigners.

Five of the suspects had attacked and injured foreigners in Chemnitz on Sept. 14 using glass bottles, steel knuckle gloves and tasers, the GBA statement said. The group had planned to carry out another attack on Oct. 3, the national holiday that marks the reunification of East and West Germany in 1991.

SKINHEADS

The violence in Chemnitz, where skinheads hounded migrants and performed the illegal Hitler salute, exposed deep divisions over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to welcome almost one million mostly Muslim asylum seekers.

The events also strained Merkel’s coalition government. Her conservatives and their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners could not agree what to do with the head of the BfV domestic spy agency, who questioned the authenticity of a video showing skinheads chasing migrants. They reached a compromise last month to transfer him to the interior ministry, ending a row that almost felled their six-month-old government.

The events in Chemnitz also raised questions about whether authorities in Saxony were too complacent in the face of rising far-right violence and xenophobia, in a country sensitive to whether the lessons of its Nazi past have been learned.

The reputation of Germany’s law enforcement was hurt by the handling of case of a neo-Nazi gang that murdered 10 people during a 2000-2007 campaign of racially motivated violence. Two members of the group, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), killed themselves in 2011 when police discovered the gang by chance. Another member was jailed for life in July.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said investigators believed “Revolution Chemnitz” would have carried out more murders than the NSU.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said after the arrests on Monday that the threat of a militant attack in Germany remains high, which means “an attack could take place any moment.”

(Writing by Joseph Nasr, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean)

Turkey will drain ‘terror swamp’ in Iraq’s Qandil, Erdogan says

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during an election rally in Ankara, Turkey, June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will drain the “terror swamp” in northern Iraq’s Qandil region, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, a day after the military said it hit more than a dozen Kurdish militant targets in air strikes.

Turkey’s army has ramped up operations in northern Iraq, with the aim of destroying Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases in the Qandil mountains, where high-ranking members of the militant group are thought to be located. At the weekend the military said it destroyed 14 PKK targets in air strikes.

“We have started our operations on Qandil,” Erdogan said during an election rally in the central province of Nigde.

“Qandil will not be a threat, a source of terror for our people any more. We will drain the terror swamp in Qandil as we did in Afrin, Jarablus, Azaz, al-Bab.”

He was referring to areas in northern Syria where the Turkish army and its Syrian rebel allies have fought against Islamic State militants and a Kurdish militia. Ankara is particularly worried about the presence of the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia near its southern border.

Ankara considers the militia to be an extension of the outlawed PKK, which has carried out a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast. The PKK is considered a terrorist group by Europe, the United States and Turkey.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said last week that Baghdad was ready to cooperate with Ankara to prevent attacks from Iraq into Turkey. He also called on Turkey to “respect Iraqi sovereignty” and accused Turkish politicians of raising tensions for domestic purposes ahead of June 24 elections.

Erdogan has also vowed to extend military operations in Syria if need be, a stance that has caused friction with NATO ally the United States, which has backed the YPG in the fight against Islamic State.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by David Dolan)

U.S. designates Pakistan group an ‘alias’ for militants on terrorist list

FILE PHOTO:Saifullah Khalid (2nd L), President of Milli Muslim League (MML) political party, holds a party flag with others during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood/File Photo

By Saad Sayeed

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The United States has placed a Pakistani political group called the Milli Muslim League (MML) on its list of foreign terrorist organisations, saying it was merely an alias for a militant group blamed for a bloody 2008 attack in India.

The Milli Muslim League is controlled by Islamist leader Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head. The group shot to prominence after fielding a candidate in a September 2017 by-election to fill a seat vacated by deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Saeed is the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), or Army of the Pure, which is also on the U.S. terrorist list and blamed by the United States and India for a four-day militant attack on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 in which 166 people were killed.

Saeed has repeatedly denied involvement in the attack.

The U.S. State Department said the Milli Muslim League alias had been added to the LeT’s designations as a terrorist group.

“These designations seek to deny LeT the resources it needs to plan and carry out further terrorist attacks,” the State Department said in a statement.

“Make no mistake: whatever LeT chooses to call itself, it remains a violent terrorist group. The United States supports all efforts to ensure that LeT does not have a political voice until it gives up violence as a tool of influence,” it added.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Saeed was placed under house arrest in January 2017 after years of living freely in Pakistan but a court ordered his release in November 2017.

He was not available for comment on Tuesday.

India welcomed the U.S. decision saying Pakistan has failed to crack down on militants.

“Terrorist individuals and entities are allowed to change names and continue to operate freely from territory under Pakistan’s control,” an Indian foreign office spokesman said in New Delhi.

“The designation … highlights Pakistan’s failure to fulfil its international obligation to dismantle terrorist sanctuaries, and disrupt terror financing,” he added.

Pakistan has previously denied any state involvement in the Mumbai attack or links with LeT and other militant groups. It placed the LeT on a list of banned organizations in 2002.

In October 2017, Pakistan’s electoral commission barred the Milli Muslim League from contesting elections, saying it had links to militant groups and could not be registered.

In March 2018 the Islamabad High Court ordered the election commission to register the party.

Under pressure from the United States, the United Nations and international institutions to crack down on terrorist financing, Pakistan drew up secret plans last December for a “takeover” of charities linked to Saeed.

Saeed has since taken the government decision to court.

Saeed’s freedom in Pakistan, where he holds rallies, has been a thorn in Pakistan’s relations with old rival India and the United States.

(Additional reporting by Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

Israeli troops wound dozens on Gaza border as Palestinians bury dead from earlier violence

A Palestinian hurls stones at Israeli troops during clashes at the Gaza-Israel border at a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, in the southern Gaza Strip March 31, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli troops shot and wounded about 70 Palestinians among crowds demonstrating at the Gaza-Israel border on Saturday, health officials said, after one of the deadliest days of unrest in the area in years.

Thousands of people marched through the streets of Gaza in funerals for the 15 people killed by Israeli gunfire on Friday, and a national day of mourning was observed in the enclave and in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel was responsible for the violence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was protecting its sovereignty and citizens.

An Israeli military spokesman said he was checking the details of Saturday’s unrest. It broke out when Palestinians gathered on the border between the Hamas-run enclave and Israel then began throwing stones. Palestinian health officials said about 70 were wounded.

A Palestinian hurls stones at Israeli troops during clashes at the Gaza-Israel border at a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, in the southern Gaza Strip March 31, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

A Palestinian hurls stones at Israeli troops during clashes at the Gaza-Israel border at a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, in the southern Gaza Strip March 31, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

On Friday at least 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces confronting protesters. The military said some had shot at them, rolled burning tyres and hurled rocks and fire bombs toward troops across the border.

Hamas said five of them were members of its armed wing. Israel said eight of the 15 dead belonged to Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Israel and the West, and two others belonged to other militant groups.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians had gathered on Friday along the fenced 65-km (40-mile) frontier, where tents had been erected for a planned six-week protest pressing for a right of return for refugees and their descendents to what is now Israel.

But hundreds of Palestinian youths ignored calls from the organizers and the Israeli military to stay away from the frontier and violence broke out.

The protest, organized by Hamas and other Palestinian factions, is scheduled to culminate on May 15, the day Palestinians commemorate what they call the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe” when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out of their homes in 1948, when the state of Israel was created.

Israel has long ruled out any right of return, fearing an influx of Arabs that would wipe out its Jewish majority. It says refugees should resettle in a future state the Palestinians seek in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. Peace talks to that end have been frozen since 2014.

Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but still maintains tight control of its land and sea borders.

Egypt also keeps its border with Gaza largely closed.

Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said: “The message of the Palestinian people is clear. The Palestinian land will always belong to its legitimate owners and the occupation will be removed.”

A Palestinian is evacuated during clashes with Israeli troops at the Gaza-Israel border at a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, in the southern Gaza Strip March 31, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

A Palestinian is evacuated during clashes with Israeli troops at the Gaza-Israel border at a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, in the southern Gaza Strip March 31, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Israeli military spokesman Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis said Hamas was using the protests as a guise to launch attacks against Israel and ignite the area. He said violence was likely to continue along the border until May 15.

“We won’t let this turn into a ping-pong zone where they perpetrate a terrorist act and we respond with pinpoint action. If this continues we will not have no choice but to respond inside the Gaza Strip,” Manelis told reporters.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an independent investigation into Friday’s bloodshed, and appealed for all sides to refrain from any actions that could lead to further casualties or put civilians in harm’s way.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell, Editing by Angus MacSwan)