Signs of the Times (2/23/16)

Released Gitmo Detainee Now the Face of Al Qaeda

A Guantanamo Bay detainee that was released by President Obama in 2012 is now the face of Al Qaeda, reports Last December, al Qosi began appearing in al Qaeda propaganda videos denouncing the Saudi’s and advocating for jihadists to go to Yemen and join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Al Qosi had joined al Qaeda in 1990, and by 1994 was part of Osama Bin Laden’s personal security. As reported by Daily Mail, Ibrahim al Qosi was sent to Gitmo in December 2001 after being captured in Afghanistan. He was offered a plea deal that ultimately led to his release from Gitmo after pleading guilty to conspiracy and providing material support to al Qaeda.

  • In Obama’s haste to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, he has fostered the regrowth of the Taliban in Afghanistan, ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and rejuvenated al Qaeda.

Obama Releases Plan to Close Guantanamo Bay

President Obama released a plan Tuesday to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, setting up a last-year confrontation with Congress about a campaign promise he made eight years ago. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that the Pentagon report “will make a compelling case that closing the prison is clearly in our national security interest, but also will reflect the need for the United States government to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars.” There are 91 detainees remaining in the prison; each one costs more than $3 million per year to maintain. Current law prohibits the president from transferring the Guantanamo Bay detainees — taken captive in the global war on terror and held without trial off U.S. soil — to the United States. Congress added a provision to the defense policy bill signed by Obama last year requiring the administration to put forward a plan for transferring the remaining detainees to prisons in the United States.

Anti-Semitism Thriving in Europe

Michael B. Oren, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States and a member of the Knesset parliament, says anti-Semitism is thriving in Europe, prompting a record-setting Jewish migration to Israel in 2015. Most recently, the European Union’s decisded to label Jewish goods coming from Judea, Samaria (the West Bank) and the Golan Heights. “There are more than 200 territorial disputes in the world, but Europe does not label products as made in Chinese-occupied Tibet or Turkish-occupied Cyprus,” Oren told CNN. “Palestinian leaders have ordered or encouraged terrorist attacks that have killed more than 1,500 Israelis and maimed many thousands more… Yet Europe does not label Palestinian products, only those made by Jews.” Europe will also label Jewish products as coming from the Golan Heights, where there are no Palestinians at all, he adds.

Threats, Harassment, Vandalism at U.S. Mosques Reach Record High

Through December 8, American mosques and Islamic centers have been the victims of vandalism, harassment and anti-Muslim bigotry at least 63 times last year, the Council on American-Islamic Relations says in the study. That’s the highest number since the Muslim civil rights group began keeping track in 2009 and a threefold increase over last year. The previous high was 53 incidents in 2010, during the controversy over the “ground zero mosque” near the site of the 9/11 attack in New York. But this past year’s hostilities have a sharper edge. Last November alone saw 17 anti-Muslim incidents at mosques, with the vehemence rising after terrorists aligned with the Islamic State killed 130 people in Paris. Death threats and vandalism appear to be spiking again since December 3, when a Muslim couple killed 14 people and injured 21 more in San Bernardino, California.

Poll: Apple Should Help FBI Unlock Terrorism Suspect’s iPhone

As the standoff between the Department of Justice and Apple Inc. continues over an iPhone used by one of the suspects in the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, 51% say Apple should unlock the iPhone to assist the ongoing FBI investigation. Fewer Americans (38%) say Apple should not unlock the phone to ensure the security of its other users’ information; 11% do not offer an opinion on the question. The latest national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 18-21 among 1,002 adults, finds that almost identical shares of Republicans (56%) and Democrats (55%) say that Apple should unlock the San Bernardino suspect’s iPhone to aid the FBI’s ongoing investigation. The war of words between Apple Inc. and the government continued Sunday as FBI Director James Comey said forcing Apple to help unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters is no big deal. “We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land,” Comey said in a statement Sunday night, insisting that vital decisions involving safety from terrorists shouldn’t be left in the hands of “corporations that sell stuff for a living.” Apple said it wouldn’t comply, arguing that helping the government unlock an encrypted phone would sabotage the entire point of encryption and endanger the privacy of millions of its customers.

Sea Levels Rising Fastest in 3 Millennia

Sea levels rose faster in the past century than during the previous 27 centuries, a pair of studies published Monday found. “The 20th century rise was extraordinary in the context of the last three millennia — and the rise over the last two decades has been even faster,” said Robert Kopp, study lead author and an associate professor at Rutgers University. The study, “Temperature-driven global sea-level variability in the Common Era,” was published in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. To reach their conclusions, the scientists compiled a database of geological sea-level indicators from marshes, coral atolls and archaeological sites around the world that spanned the last 3,000 years. Global sea levels stayed fairly steady for about 3,000 years. Then, with the Industrial Revolution, global sea levels began to rise, the study said. Scientists say the seas rose 5.5 inches from 1900 to 2000, a significant increase, especially for low-lying coastal areas.

Zika Virus ‘Spreading Explosively,’ WHO Leader Says

The Zika virus “is now spreading explosively” in the Americas, the head of the World Health Organization said Thursday, with another official estimating between 3 million to 4 million infections in the region over a 12-month period. The lack of any immunity to Zika and the fact that mosquitoes spreading the virus can be found most “everywhere in the Americas” — from Argentina to the southern United States — explains the speed of its transmission, said Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, an official with the WHO and Pan American Health Organization. Some 80% of those infected with the Zika virus don’t even feel sick, and most who do have relatively mild symptoms such as a fever, rash, joint pain or pink eye. But there are major worries about the dangers pregnant women and their babies face. Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general, said that, where the virus has arrived, there’s been a corresponding “steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome.”

Migrant Update

Onlookers celebrated as a suspected arson fire damaged a former hotel being converted into a refugee home in eastern Germany, police said Sunday, raising new concerns about violence toward new arrivals in a nation that registered more than a million asylum-seekers last year. While most Germans have been welcoming toward refugees, a vocal minority has staged protests in front of refugee homes, especially in the east. Germany last year saw a surge in violence against such lodgings. Investigators found traces of a fire accelerant at the scene and believe the fire was caused by arson. The Bautzen fire came after a mob in the small town of Clausnitz, also in Saxony, on Thursday screamed “We are the people!” and “Go home!” as they blocked a bus carrying asylum-seekers outside a new refugee home.

Economic News

Oil prices jumped Monday as the International Energy Agency projected a sharp decline in oil production growth rates over the next half decade. The IEA said a rapid decline in investments in exploration and production activities will lead to an average of 4.1 million barrels per day in new production from 2015 through 2021. That compares to the boom-time rate of 11 million barrels per day in new production from 2009 through 2015. Capital expenditure on global oil exploration and production is expected to fall 17% in 2016, following a 24% drop in 2015

In the last three months of 2015, earnings declined 4% at the largest 500 publicly-traded companies compared to a year ago. It was the largest drop since 2009, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch research. Energy companies accounted for much of the decline as oil prices have continued to fall. Earnings growth for energy firms slowed by 75% in the fourth quarter. Excluding energy, earnings increased by 1.7%.

Homeownership patterns are shifting for Americans over age 55, even as the senior population grows. Among those age 55 to 64, renting is becoming more common, and that trend is likely to continue, according to Rolf Pendall, director of the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute. Pendall and his colleagues have observed a decline in the share of 55- to 64-year-olds owning homes since 1990, which accelerated between 2010 and 2013 in the wake of the financial crisis.

The British pound plummeted the most in six years Monday after London’s popular and internationally-known mayor said he would oppose the government and campaign for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union.

European Union

UK Prime Minister David Cameron reached a deal with the European Union in Brussels late Friday after marathon negotiations at a summit of the group’s leaders. He sought to amend the country’s relationship with the EU ahead of setting a date for the vote, in part because he faces skepticism within his own Conservative Party about the merits of retaining Britain’s ties with the 28-nation political bloc. Among the measures that Cameron secured concessions on from the EU were assurances that Britain would not be forced to join the euro currency, restrictions on some welfare payments to the citizens of other EU nations who come to work in Britain, and a guarantee that it can forgo “ever-closer union” — a reference to ceding more government powers to the seat of EU power in Brussels. “Three years ago I committed to the British people that I would renegotiate our position in the EU and hold an in-out referendum. Now I am delivering that commitment. You will decide,” he said. Britain will hold the historic referendum on whether to remain in the European Union on June 23. An average of the six most recent polls of voting intentions showed that 51% of Britons would choose to remain in the EU, while 49% would opt to leave.

Middle East

Israelis suffered another violent weekend including several stabbing attacks. On Sunday morning, a 16-year old Palestinian attempted to stab soldiers guarding the Habitot junction in the Samaria region and was shot dead before he could wound any of his intended victims. Also on Sunday, a 14-year old Palestinian attempted to stab soldiers near the village of Kafr Bnei Naim and was stopped and arrested without any harm to the soldiers or himself. Another attempted attack on Sunday was prevented when police stopped 17-year old Palestinian who was on her way to carry out an attack near Ariel.

Islamic State

The use of child soldiers far predates ISIS, but what concerns researchers and policymakers is that ISIS’ use of boys and girls is far more atrocious than in previous conflicts. Of 89 child deaths published by CTC Sentinel Friday, 39% died detonating a vehicle born IED device and 33% were killed as foot soldiers. Some 4% killed themselves while committing mass casualty attacks against civilians. Nearly 20% of the children killed were “marauders” who carried out so-called “plunging attacks.” That’s a military operation in which a group of fighters attack an enemy position before blowing themselves up. Last month, five adult ISIS fighters flanked by three children infiltrated the Tariq base in Iraq. ISIS boasted that the group attacked from within for three hours, killing people before detonating their suicide belts. Children are integrated into ISIS’ military operations — often with parental consent.

The Islamic State has released dozens of Assyrian Christians taken hostage in northeastern Syria a year ago, the Associated Press reported Monday. Younan Talia of the Assyrian Democratic Organization told AP the 43 freed captives were on their way to the town of Tal Tamr. The group represents the last of more than 200 Christians freed since all were kidnapped from 11 villages near Tal Tamr. Younan told AP the release came after mediation led by a top Assyrian priest in northern Syria. The abductions came during a three-day militant offensive as the Islamic State pushed to carve a caliphate out of a swath of Syria and Iraq. The abductions caused thousands of residents to flee and become refugees in nearby cities. More than 600 of the refugees were children, the organization said.


Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that a “provisional agreement” has been reached on a cease-fire that could begin in the next few days in Syria’s five-year civil war. Kerry said he spoke in the morning with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss terms of a ceasefire and the two now must reach out to the parties in the conflict. He declined to go into the details of the agreement because all parties need to be fully consulted. Kerry said he hoped President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin would talk soon and that after that, implementation could begin. Russia has to talk with Iran and the Syrian government and the U.S. has to talk with the opposition and members of the International Syria Support Group. Residents of the Syrian capital expressed skepticism on Monday about reports that a “provisional agreement” has been reached for a truce, a day after a wave of Islamic State bombings killed about 130 people in government-held areas near Damascus and beyond.

Two blasts in the central Syrian city of Homs killed at least 14 people and wounded 29 Sunday in the latest wave of violence to hit the city in recent weeks, state TV said. The television report said Sunday’s blasts struck in the pro-government neighborhood of Zahraa — a frequent target for similar explosions. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists around Syria, said the blasts killed 25 and wounded more than 100. The Observatory said the blasts were caused by two vehicles rigged with explosives. The Zahra neighborhood is predominantly Alawite, the minority sect to which President Bashar Assad belongs. Homs, once dubbed the capital of the Syrian revolution, has been hit with a wave of explosions in recent months, killing and wounding scores of people.


Amnesty International has told Sky News that Russia is guilty of some the most “egregious” war crimes it has seen in decades. The human rights organization claims Moscow’s warplanes have been deliberately targeting civilians and rescue workers in Syria over the last week. Tirana Hassan, director of Amnesty’s crisis response program, said the attacks are ongoing, with strikes documented on schools, hospitals and civilian homes. She said the bombing of civilian targets by Russian and Syrian forces was in itself a war crime, but claimed there have been consistent reports of additional bombardments which injure and kill humanitarian workers and civilians attempting to evacuate the wounded and the dead.


Libya’s interim government issued a statement saying that it “strongly condemns the airstrikes carried out by the US Air Force at certain positions in the town of Sabratha on Friday morning, February 19, 2016, without any coordination or consultation with the interim Libyan government.” “Any interference, similar to the one that has taken place, will be considered an open and flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the Libyan state and international law,” the statement said. The interim government said that it values the foreign assistance it receives in the war on terror, but added that “any military or political interference into Libyan affairs should be performed in a legal way through parliament and the newly formed government.”


Cameroonian special forces killed 162 Boko Haram militants during a raid to regain control of Goshi, a town in northeastern Nigeria. During the three-day operation, the Cameroonian force freed about 100 captives held by the militants, including Nigerians and Cameroonians. “The town of Goshi in Nigeria was formally identified as one of the Boko Haram posts, hosting factories for the manufacturing of bombs and mines,” said Cameroon’s communication minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary. The town also served as a hub for holding the teenagers Boko Haram used for its suicide bombing missions, Bakary said. In the course of the attack, the soldiers dismantled four mine factories.


Two years after a pro-Western revolution provoked a conflict with Russian-backed separatists, Ukraine faces a graver threat from rampant corruption — the problem that sparked its 2014 revolt in the first place. In eastern Ukraine, government forces are under the fiercest assault from militants since a cease-fire began to take hold in the beginning of September. And in the capital, Kiev, Ukrainian politicians face a growing backlash over an economy in shambles and widespread cronyism it had pledged to eradicate when parliament voted on Feb. 22, 2014, to oust Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. Parliament’s actions were backed by mass demonstrations on Maidan square in Kiev, where Yanukovych’s troops shot and killed many protesters. While the conflict in the east saps energy and costs lives, what’s at stake in Ukraine’s faltering struggle with corruption is the support of its European allies and full integration with the West, warned Germany, who provided the most financial and diplomatic assistance to the former Soviet Republic in the past two years.


The same storm system that kicked up powerful winds as high as 148 mph in the Rockies and fueled grass fires in the Plains Friday has created violent winds that are whipping across the Midwest. Extensive damages have been spotted in Wisconsin and Illinois, and evacuations have been made in Chicago. Numerous wind gusts have topped 60 mph in the greater Chicago area, including gusts of 72 mph near Douglas Park, 70 mph at Gary Airport and 62 mph at O’Hare. Buildings on Walker Street in Chicago had to be evacuated due to falling debris knocked over by the wind Friday. The wind also collapsed a building under construction, crushing a car but causing no injuries. Some streets in downtown Chicago were shut down due to falling glass blown out by the strength of the wind. The same storm system that kicked up powerful winds as high as 148 mph in the Rockies and fueled grass fires in the Plains, many of them in Oklahoma.

Tropical Cyclone Winston raked across Fiji Saturday with Category 5 winds, the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone on record in the South Pacific archipelago. Winston is now located west of Fiji and is forecast to curl southward away from land while weakening the next few days. Winston made landfall along the north coast of Fiji’s largest, most populous island, Viti Levu, Saturday evening, local time packing estimated maximum sustained winds of 180 mph. Winston not only was the first Category 5 tropical cyclone of record to hit Fiji, but earlier Saturday afternoon, became the strongest tropical cyclone of record in the Southern Hemisphere. Most of Fiji was without electricity Sunday and residents were told to stay inside for a second straight night as officials scrambled to restore services and assess damage in the wake of a ferocious cyclone that left at least 21 people dead and destroyed hundreds of homes. In some cases, entire houses were blown to pieces.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: