Friday, December 21, 2007

Germany Charges Moroccan Man with Terror Links to al Qaeda

Deutsche Welle (Germany)

German prosecutors in Karlsruhe announced charges on Thursday, Dec 20, against a Moroccan man for allegedly assisting terror groups and planning to open a terrorist training camp in Sudan. The suspect has been identified as Abdel Ali M. He was extradited from Sweden in May and officially charged on Nov. 18 but details of the case were not released until Dec. 20. "The accused is believed to have been involved in the recruitment of fighters from Morocco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and smuggled them into Iraq to aid Al-Qaeda of Mesopotamia," the federal prosecutor's office said in a statement. He is also believed to have helped five Muslim radicals start a "terrorist organisation" in Sudan with the aim of waging an Al-Qaeda-inspired guerrilla war, the federal prosecutor's office here said in a statement. The 25-year-old is the third man to be arrested in the plot. He is allegedly an accomplice of another man in German custody known as Redouane E.H., a 37-year-old German of Moroccan descent who has been on trial since July.

Interior Ministry Warns of Radicalization of Muslims

der Spiegel, AFP, AP, DDP, DGS

A new study released by Germany's Interior Ministry on Tuesday found about 40% of Muslims surveyed had a "fundamentalist orientation," which the authors defined as a strongly religious worldview and moral values. The authors saw a potential threat in a small minority with Islamist leanings: Around 6% of those surveyed were classified as having "violent tendencies," while 14% of respondents had "anti-democratic" tendencies. However, the authors concluded that the vast majority of Muslims in Germany reject religiously motivated terrorism and violence: Some 92% of respondents agreed with the statement that terrorist acts in the name of Islam were a serious sin and an insult to Allah ... In the introduction to the report, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble writes that the study leads to the "worrying conclusion that a serious potential for Islamist radicalization has developed in Germany." According to Schäuble, the lack of integration of immigrants into German society is leading to a "fundamental religious orientation." The survey found that more than half of the respondents felt themselves excluded from German society and felt they were treated as foreigners. Around 20% had experienced some form of racism within the last 12 months ... According to a 2006 report by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which monitors Islamist activity in the country, there are currently around 32,000 Islamists in Germany who pose a potential security threat. That figure represents slightly more than 1% of the around 3 million Muslims who live in the country.

German Church leaders ask Turkey to build church in Tarsus

Catholic World News (US: Virginia)

In an interview with the magazine Cicero, Cardinal Karl Lehman, the president of the German bishops' conference, mentioned the appeal. He disclosed that Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne had introduced the petition to Turkish Prime Minister Recip Erdogan, with support from the Christian Democratic Union. Cardinal Lehmann told Cicero that Islamic countries should be pressed to allow greater religious freedom for their Christian minorities. "While it's possible to build a mosque taller than St. Peter's in Rome," he pointed out, "I'd be arrested for celebrating Holy Mass in Saudi Arabia."

Split among mullahs weakens religious parties

Saeed Shah, The Globe and Mail (Canada)

The mullahs shocked Pakistan and the rest of the world when they scooped nearly a fifth of the seats in the national parliament and formed the government of the Frontier Province. Maulana Rahman became the official leader of the opposition. Before 2002, the mullahs in Pakistan had never managed to translate their rabble-rousing into votes. But in that election, the religious parties rode on a wave of anti-Americanism stemming from the war launched in Afghanistan the previous year, taking 12% of the vote nationally. Once in power, they are alleged to have looked the other way while extremists gained in strength in the Frontier, culminating in an armed takeover of the region's Swat valley by militants this autumn - only recently reversed by deployment of the Pakistan army there. "If they [the Islamists] come to power again, you might as well forget about this province," said Mehmood Shah, a political analyst and former senior civil servant in the Frontier. "It will get Talibanized." What happens in the Frontier is no parochial issue. Hawkish commentators fear that it could break away from Pakistan, providing a haven for extremists from around the world and a base for Taliban fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Liberal and pro-U.S.? Who knew?

Scott Galupo. The Washington Times (US: Washington DC)

After a trip to the Pakistani-Afghan frontier, where he sees firsthand the casualties of the Soviets' wanton violence, Charlie Wilson is moved to action. Against the inertia of Washington's intelligence and diplomatic bureaucracy, he and Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) secretly funnel defense appropriations into arming Afghan mujahideen freedom fighters against the Russians. A decade after the 1979 invasion, the Soviets retreat from the equivalent of their Vietnam — and there's nary an American fingerprint on the Stinger missiles that brought down their helicopters, thanks to the canny back-channel machinations of Wilson and Avrakotos, who enlist the help of the Israeli, Egyptian, Pakistani and Saudi governments in smuggling ordnance to the mujahideen. It's true that Messrs. Nichols, Sorkin and Hanks attempt, so to speak, to have their anti-communism and eat it, too. For the same reasons that war shouldn't be left to generals, they imply, anti-communism shouldn't be left to Republicans — particularly religion-addled ones like Joanne Herring (played here by an inert Julia Roberts) the ultraconservative Houston socialite who urges Wilson to take on the freedom fighters' cause ... "Charlie Wilson's War" is unabashedly pro-American. Not in a Lee Greenwood-anthem sort of way, but pro-American nonetheless. Its protagonists, whatever their peccadilloes, are on the right side of history. Did the U.S. drop the ball in the aftermath of the Soviet-Afghan war? It's an arguable assertion, and it hardly constitutes the heart of the movie.

Scoping Out the Saudis: Are They With Us or Against Us?

Neal Sher, The Jewish Exponent (US: Pennsylvania)

While the Bush administration will in no way hold Saudi feet to the fire, some on Capitol Hill are fed up. Enter U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who have introduced the Saudi Arabia Accountability Act of 2007 in their respective chambers. The White House and State Department, of course, will never endorse this initiative, trotting out the disingenuous mantra that the Saudis are needed in our fight against the bad guys. Never mind that the kingdom and their U.S. hired guns assure us that the Saudis will stand shoulder to shoulder with us -- the empirical evidence proves the contrary ... Odds are the legislation will die on the vine, never making it out of committee. Similar legislation has gone nowhere, even when there was the hardest of evidence proving that the Saudi government was paying the families of suicide murderers and directly supporting Hamas ... This time, only the Zionist Organization of America has endorsed and will lobby for the Saudi accountability measure. Unfortunately, it probably will be virtually alone in this fight. Some battles must be fought because it is simply the right thing to do. Taking the Saudis to task for being the hub of terrorism is one of those instances. Jewish organizations would do well to remember that it was a losing battle -- over the sale of AWACS to the Saudis 25 years ago -- that for all practical purposes put it on the map. Unless and until sinister activities engaged in, tolerated and effectively endorsed by Saudi Arabia are challenged head on, the war on terror is not much more than an exercise of putting our heads in the sand.

Be the moderate you're looking for

Kareem Elbayar, Common Ground News Service (US: Washington DC)

In a 7 December op-ed in The New York Times, Ayaan Hirsi Ali asked where the moderate Muslims were, and concluded that the very notion of a moderate Muslim majority was "wishful thinking". Moderate Muslims are all around us, from the attorney and husband of the rape victim from Saudi Arabia, both of whom expressed revulsion and shame at the decision made by Saudi Arabian courts; to the delegation of British Muslims who travelled to Sudan and worked with Sudanese MP Ghazi Suleiman to secure the "teddy bear" teacher's release. It seems that Ali would like me and my co-religionists to go about our lives constantly marching around the streets apologizing for the acts of zealots – but I will not do so, for I bear no more responsibility for these acts than she does ... It seems that in our modern age of sound bites and one-liners, strident if uninformed criticism will always outperform calm and reasoned debate. If Ali is serious about supporting tolerance among Muslims, perhaps she should spend less time penning distracting and misleading screeds against Islam and more time reaching out to groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslims for Progressive Values, Al-Fatiha, and Sisters in Islam. The only way to prevent the "clash of civilisations" from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy is to build bridges between our communities. Promoting a black-and-white caricature of reality serves no one – least of all the tolerant Muslims Ali can't seem to find anywhere she looks.

The Middle East's 20 Richest People

Devon Pendleton, Forbes (US: New York)

Sky-high oil prices are good news for the region's 20 richest billionaires, who hail from six countries, made their money in nine industries and were worth $123 billion in March when we last locked in net worths, up about 10% from the previous year ... Interestingly, only one in the top 20, Mohammed Al Amoudi, actually makes his fortune from oil; the rest are merely beneficiaries from all the oil money sloshing through the region. That is especially true in Saudi Arabia, home to 25 % of the world's oil reserves and seven members of our top 20. Their wealthiest citizen, and also the region's richest, is prominent: Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud ranked 13th in the world in March, then worth $20.3 billion. In July, the prince took public his Kingdom Holding Co., a conglomerate of banking, media, real estate and hotel investments, raising $2.3 billion. He still has a substantial stake in U.S. financial giant Citigroup. Another Saudi investor, Maan Al-Sanea, made news in April when he disclosed a 3.1% stake in HSBC. The announcement propelled the former air force pilot -- and, until then, low-profile businessman -- into the limelight, and helped boost his fortune, which we estimated at $7.5 billion in March, to at least $10 billion ... Saudi Arabia's Al Rajhi family, whose eponymous bank manages the wealth of everyday Saudis, is perhaps the region's oldest banking family. Worth a collective $15.9 billion, the four aging Al Rajhi brothers (two of whom rank in the top 20) have controlled the bank since it began in the 1940s as a desert trading post.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Saudis biggest group of al Qaeda Iraq fighters: study

Kristin Roberts, Eric Beech, Reuters (UK)

Most al Qaeda fighters in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia and Libya and many are university-aged students, said a study released on Wednesday by researchers at the U.S. Army's West Point military academy. The study was based on 606 personnel records collected by al Qaeda in Iraq and captured by coalition troops in October. It includes data on fighters who entered Iraq, largely through Syria, between August 2006 and August 2007. The researchers at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center found that 41% of the fighters were Saudi nationals. Libyan nationals accounted for the second largest group entering Iraq in that time period with about 19% of the total ... "The apparent surge in Libyan recruits traveling to Iraq may be linked (to) the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group's increasingly cooperative relationship with al-Qa'ida, which culminated in the LIFG officially joining al-Qa'ida on November 3, 2007," wrote authors Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman ... "The incitement of a new generation of jihadis to join the fight in Iraq, or plan operations elsewhere, is one of the most worrisome aspects of the ongoing fight in Iraq," they wrote. "The United States should not confuse gains against al-Qa'ida's Iraqi franchises as fundamental blows against the organization outside of Iraq. So long as al-Qa'ida is able to attract hundreds of young men to join its ranks, it will remain a serious threat to global security."

Radio Mullah vs Gandhara Buddha

Caroline Watson, Asia Times (Hong Kong)

The Swat Valley was famed for its peace, serenity and beauty. But, today, its public image is dominated by another imposing figure. With a taste for the theatric and an eye on his own supremacy, Maulana Fazlullah is holding Swat in an ever-increasing grip ... A beacon of Gandhara heritage, the Buddha of Jehanabad is the only remaining Buddha of its size and quality carved into the rock in the area. Standing at 23 feet, the 7th-century statue is considered the most important carving of its kind. It is unique, the most complete and priceless remains of Gandhara. Recently, the Buddha of Jehanabad come into conflict with another famous personality of the region: the cleric-turned-militant who has led the campaign in the Swat Valley, Maulana Fazlullah - the "Radio Mullah". The Buddha of Jehanabad lost. The statue suffered two attacks by militants led by Maulana Fazlullah. The second attack succeeded in seriously defacing it after explosives were detonated on the Buddha's face. Quiet outrage has been expressed by a few. Others have grown numb to such acts, for they have happened before: this was a copycat attack, mimicking the destruction in 2001 of Afghanistan's Bamyian Buddhas.

Stand By Steyn

Robert Spencer, Human Events (US: Washington DC)

The Canadian Human Rights Commission and the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal have begun proceedings against Mark Steyn, author of America Alone. They are responding to complaints from the Canadian Islamic Congress about an excerpt from the book that was published in the Canadian journal Maclean’s. “The article,” the CIC claims, “subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt,” and was “flagrantly Islamophobic.” ... It was not Steyn who said that “Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor,” and that “the conquest this time will not be by the sword but by preaching and ideology.” That was Al-Jazeera’s Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi, who is widely hailed as a moderate reformer in the West. Did Steyn say that Muslims “will control the land of the Vatican; we will control Rome and introduce Islam in it”? Nope. That one comes from a Saudi Sheikh, Muhammad bin Abd Al-Rahman Al-‘Arifi, imam of the mosque of King Fahd Defense Academy. The Canadian Human Rights Commission is putting itself in the peculiar position of penalizing those non-Muslims who report on such statements, as if it is somehow an act encouraging “hatred and contempt” to reveal the unpleasant reality that comprises mainstream Islamic rhetoric today.

Gulf arms: Complex motives

Dr Dominic Moran, Spero News (US: Texas)

While Saudis-Iranian tensions are playing out in both the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, the main theater of potential confrontation remains Iraq and the waters of the Gulf itself. "There is a war by proxy going on in Iraq between Saudi-backed groups and Iranian-backed groups. That obviously colors the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran," said Chatham House's Dr Gareth Stansfield. Iran appears increasingly concerned at the progressive Gulf military build-up. Ahmadinejad offered an economic and security alliance with the states at Doha – an offer welcomed by Qatari officials, though the Saudis made no official response ... Nevertheless, Stansfield believes "A very real security liaison is going on regarding the wider security of the Gulf region and, not necessarily a relationship, but more a balance of power is emerging between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and recognition of each other's interests." ... Stanfield believes, "There has been much more of a realization of the level of interaction Iran has with the Gulf states." This "suggests that one of the ways they [Gulf states] may look at regional security is through some sort of regional security network - but they have to bring Iran into it rather than having something opposing it."

Friendlier hands across the Gulf

The Economist (UK)

On the same day on which a new American National Intelligence Estimate overturned previous assertions that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons, President Ahmadinejad made a first-ever appearance as a guest at the annual summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), a body created in 1981 largely with the goal of containing revolutionary Iran. Soon after the summit meeting, Saudi Arabia, the biggest by far of the GCC's six member states and long the most hostile to Iran, invited Mr Ahmadinejad to take part in the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca ... However much they dislike Iran's mullahs, Gulf Arabs dislike more the idea of getting caught up in a war between Iran and America. In recent months they have not been especially happy with their erstwhile American ally, despite the Bush administration's belated effort to address Arab concerns over Palestine and to disentangle itself from Iraq ... Cross-Gulf trade is growing fast. Bahrain itself recently signed a deal to import Iranian natural gas. And this link pales by comparison with the flourishing trade between Iran and Dubai, the most mercantile of the seven emirates that make up the UAE.

The Powers of Petrocracy

Fouad Ajami, U.S. News & World Report (US: Washington DC)

The great democratic wave of the last quarter century has bypassed the oil lands. The oil lands are distributive states. Wealth comes to the rulers, they dispose of it, they distribute it to cronies, they punish and overwhelm their would-be challengers at home, and they use it to sustain adventures abroad way beyond the limits of their societies ... In Saudi Arabia, an antimodernist cultural and religious ban on women driving cars persists because, at the very least, oil grants that society waiver from the imperatives of economic rationality. Younger, more educated people agitate against this ban, but the caravan proceeds, as a desert expression might put it. Over the past five years, the Saudi kingdom took in more that $800 billion of oil wealth: The arguments of modernity and economic rationality can be swept aside. Saudi Arabia today is the largest consumer, per capita, of energy, exceeding the United States. In that desert realm, oil consumption is an annual 33 barrels per person, versus 26 barrels per person in the United States. Liberty can wait—the need for air conditioning is more pressing.

Opec income to swell by $75bn

Emirates Business 24/7 (UAE)

From a record $506bn in 2006, Opec’s oil export earnings are forecast to surge to nearly $536bn this year and gain a staggering $75bn to hit an all-time high of nearly $611bn in 2008, according to estimates by the London-based Centre for Global Energy Studies (CGES). Saudi Arabia, the world’s oil powerhouse, netted nearly a third of Opec’s income in 2007, while the UAE emerged as the second largest earner although its crude production was far lower than Iran’s output. “This year, Opec is expected to achieve its highest oil export revenues in nominal terms because crude prices are heading for their highest average and production is still high,” said Leo Drollas, deputy director of CGES, which is owned by former Saudi oil minister, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Al Yamani. A breakdown showed Saudi Arabia’s income is expected to climb from $165bn in 2006 to $170bn in 2007 and a record $190bn in 2008.

Saudi firm eyes Islamic debt to fund $2.9 bln project

Reuters (UK)

Saudi Arabia's Jabal Omar Development Co. awarded Binladin, the country's largest contractor, and Saudi Oger, owned by the family of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, the contract to build a $2.9 billion project in Mecca. In addition to a prayer area accommodating 65,000 people, the development will have 39 buildings including hotels, residences and retail facilities. Jabal Omar raised $537 million by selling a 30% stake in a November initial public offering (IPO) that valued the company at around $1.79 billion. The remaining 70% of the company is held by the owners of a 23 hectare (56.8 acre) plot of land in Mecca near the Grand Mosque. The cost of land in Mecca, Islam's holiest city, has surged, with land selling for as much $50,000 per square metre, according to government statistics. That compares with $14,522 per square metre in London and $24,900 per square metre in Monaco, according to the Global Property Guide.