In Other News
ISIS claimed responsibility for twin suicide blasts that killed at least 80 and wounded 230 Shi'ite Hazaras who were gathered in Kabul for a protest demonstration July 23—the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since 2001. The attack represents a major escalation for ISIS in Afghanistan, which so has largely been largely confined to the eastern province of Nangarhar. The attakc was claimed in a short statement posted by Amaq Agency, the ISIS media arm. The Taliban issued a statement rejeccting the attack, saying it was aimed at sowing divisions among Afghanistan's communitie. The Talibam waged a campaign of genocide against the Hazaras during their time in power in the 1990s.
The bodies of 14 civilians were found July 22 in a landfill in Benghazi's Lathi neighborhood, which is under the control of "Operation Dignity" forces, led by renegade Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar. The victims included the imam from the local mosque, Abdullah al-Fakhri, a revered community figure and a father of three. The bodies showed signs of torture as well as gunshots to the head. The UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, denounced the executions, calling them a war crime. "Those responsible must be held accountable and brought to justice," he said. Operation Dignity forces are attempting to tighten their grip as the Benghazi Defense Brigades, a group of armed IDPs, announced a drive to take the city by force. (Libya Herald, Libya Observer, July 22)
US-led coalition air-strikes near the northern Syrian town of Manbij July 19 "accidentally" killed between 56 and 160 civilians—including many women and children. The strike was conducted in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their ground offensive against ISIS. The civilians in the ISIS-controlled village if Tokhar were apparently assumed to be militants. (The Telegraph) Russia, meanwhile, continues to be a senior partner in the Assad regime's ongoing aerial terror, taking a similar toll in civilians casualties on a near-daily basis. On the same day as the disastrous US strike on Tokhar, Russian and regime aerial bombardment of besieged Aleppo killed 21. (AFP) The following day, Russian and regime on Aleppa and Douma killed at least 51 civilians, including 15 children. (Reuters) But this ongoing carnage fails to win the same kind of headlines.
A threat to the Colombian peace talks emerged this month, as some FARC units unilaterally attacked government forces and declared their non-compliance with the ceasefire—in repudiation of the guerilla army's high command. On July 8, a unit of the FARC's 55th Front attacked troops of the army' 2nd Mobile Brigade in the vereda (hamlet) of Candilejas, Uribe municipality, Meta department. An uncertain number of casualties on the guerillas' side was reported. The government's chief peace negotiator, Humberto De la Calle, said the attack was "an error on the part of the FARC," and that the guerillas' chief negotiator Iván Márquez had taken responsibility for it. (El Colombiano, July 12; El Tiempo, El Espectador, July 11)
Amid moves toward peace in Colombia, the goad of the war—the country's lucrative cocaine trade—clearly remains robust. In an international operation announced June 30, Colombian police joined with US and Italian authorities to confiscate a whopping 11 tons of cocaine in refrigerated containers ostensibly shipping tropical fruits to Europe. The stuff was mostly seized in Colombia, but was bound for the US and Europe. Of the 33 arrested in the operation, 22 were popped in Colombia and the rest in Italy. (El Tiempo, June 30)
Members of Mapuche Ancestral Resistance in the pre-dawn hours of July 19 burned two excavator machines belonging to British business magnate Joe Lewis, that were being used to build a hydroelectric dam at El Bolsón, in Argentina's Río Negro province. The dam is planned for the headwaters of the Río Escondido, on Lewis' private property, and is being built in cooperation with Edenor electric company, of which Lewis is the biggest stock owner. The militants left leaflets headlined "Lewis Out of Patagonia," and listing their demands for the release of political prisoners and the eviction of oil, mining and hydroelectric companies from Mapuche traditional territories. Liberty was especially demanded for Facundo Jones Huala, who was arrested in May and is being held pending an extradition request by Chile, where he is wanted for "land usurpation." Mapuche territory is bisected by the Chile-Argentina border. (The Bubble, Buenos Aires, Clarín, Buenos Aires, July 19; Crónica, Chubut, June 29)
The man who apparently shot dead three police officers before being brought down himself in Baton Rouge on July 17, Gavin Eugene Long, was a former Marine sergeant who went by the online name Cosmo Setepenra. His blog seems to be still online, as well as his YouTube rants in which he made clear that he did not want to be associated with any organized groups, apparently in anticipation of his attack. "I'm affiliated with the spirit of justice: nothing else, nothing more, nothing less," he said in one clip. But the Kansas City Star notes that he filed documents last year with county authorities at his Missouri home declaring himself a "sovereign" affiliated with the "United Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah Mu'ur Nation, Mid-West Washita Tribes." It is a little strange to suddenly see the Washitaw Nation making headlines on NBC, and being mentioned in CNN, the New York Times and the like.
A team of two gunmen killed three security officers and two civilians in an attack on police station and an office of the National Security Committee (KNB) in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty July 18. While no group has yet taken responsibility for the attack, the shootings come a month after a deadly assault in the northwestern town of Aktobe. In the June 6 incident, a number of militants in Aktobe stole guns from sporting goods stores and attacked a military post. In the ensuing shoot-out, 12 of the attackers were killed and nine were detained. Within days, a court in Aktobe convicted the nine and three alleged accomplices of plotting the attack on behalf of ISIS. The suspects in the Almaty attack remain at large. A "terrorism alert" has been declared in the city. While this is the first report of an ISIS franchise in Kazakhstan, depressed oil prices are causing economic chaos in the Central Asian nation. (Russia Direct, EurasiaNet, NYT, Bloomberg)
The Bahrain High Civil Court on July 17 ordered al-Wefaq, the main Shi'ite opposition group in the country, to be dissolved. The Bahraini court previously issued a three-month suspension of the group. The court found that the group has engaged in "terrorism, extremism, and violence." The dissolution order requires al-Wefaq's assets to be liquidated and transferred to the state treasury. The order has sparked criticism from many sources, such as UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, as being repressive and preventing political freedom.
In the wake of the July 15 attempted coup in Turkey, 265 are dead, 1,440 wounded and 2,839 soldiers detained, by official figures. Members of military brass are among the arrested. Also taken into custody are 2,745 judges and prosecutors—including two members of the Constitutional Court. (Jurist, BIANet, NYT, BIANet) A security lockdown is in place at Incirlik air base, shutting down US sorties against ISIS that routinely fly from the base. (World Bulletin, NYT) Tensions with Washington may also be enflamed by President Erdogan call for the US to extradite "terrorist leader and coup plotter" Fethullah Gülen (who is almost certainly a scapegoat). (Daily Sabah)
Well, this is pretty hilarious. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who crushed the 2013 Gezi Park protest movement in Istanbul and this year instated draconian curfews across the country's southeast in response to a Kurdish intifada, is now calling for his supporters to take the streets in response to an attempted coup d'etat by the military. BBC reports that he said: "I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports. I never believed in a power higher than the power of the people." Gezi Park itself is said to be now occupied by militants of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), who are facing down armed troops there—certainly a perverse irony. Erdogan is at this moment boasting that the coup has been crushed, but this seems far from certain. A bomb blast has reportedly hit the parliament building in Ankara. Several police are reported killed at Ankara's Special Forces headquarters, indicating the security forces are themselves divided.
The House Intelligence Committee on July 15 released a declassified "28-pages" (PDF) detailing possible connections between Saudi Arabia and the 9-11 hijackers. Whether the "28-pages" should be released was a hotly debated matter, spanning years as victims' families and lawmakers pressed for the report to be issued. Some calling for the release of the report believed that the US had been attempting to cover up Saudi Arabia's involvement in the attacks. The document acknowledges that "some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government." But other sources, including the 9-11 Commission report, have held that the Saudi government was in no way involved in the attacks. Despite containing only leads to possible Saudi ties to the hijackers, former Sen. Bob Graham applauded the release, saying it would lead to further questioning of the Saudi government's potential involvement. He stated: "I think of this almost as the 28 pages are sort of the cork in the wine bottle. And once it's out, hopefully the rest of the wine itself will start to pour out."
More than 1,000 are being held in horrific conditions, facing disease, malnutrition and torture, as part of Cameroon's crackdown on Boko Haram, Amnesty International charges in a new report. Entitled "Right cause, wrong means: Human rights violated and justice denied in Cameroon's fight against Boko Haram," the report details how the military offensive has resulted in widespread rights violations against civilians in the Far North region of the country. "In seeking to protect its population from the brutality of Boko Haram, Cameroon is pursuing the right objective; but in arbitrarily arresting, torturing and subjecting people to enforced disappearances the authorities are using the wrong means," said Alioune Tine, Amnesty's West and Central Africa regional director. "With hundreds of people arrested without reasonable suspicion that they have committed any crime, and people dying on a weekly basis in its overcrowded prisons, Cameroon's government should take urgent action to keep its promise to respect human rights while fighting Boko Haram."
French President Francois Hollande announced that he will extend the state of emergency for another three months in light of the Nice attack—just hours after saying he would lift it. Both Hollande's earlier Paris announcement that he would lift the emergency provisions and the Nice attack came amid official Bastille Day celebrations. Speaking to a crowd on the Champs-Elysées, Hollande said that the state of emergency—in place since November's Paris attacks— would not extend beyond July 26: "We can't prolong the state of emergency forever. That would make no sense, it would mean that we were no longer a republic with laws which can apply in all circumstances." The state of emergency was extended three times by parliament—most recently in an effort to to ensure security through the Euro-2016 soccer match.
The Turkish government is blocking access for independent investigations into reports of mass abuses against civilians across southeast Turkey, Human Rights Watch said this week. The alleged abuses include unlawful killings of civilians, mass forced civilian displacement, and widespread unlawful destruction of property. Since the July 2015 breakdown of a peace process to end the decades-long conflict between the Turkish state and the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), violence and armed clashes in the southeast region have escalated. During security operations since August, the authorities have imposed blanket, round-the-clock curfews on 22 towns and city neighborhoods, prohibiting all movement without permission. The curfews also prevent non-governmental organizations, journalists, and lawyers from scrutinizing those operations or any resulting abuses by security forces or armed groups. Authorities have blocked rights groups—including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Physicians for Human Rights—from trying to document abuses even after curfews and operations ended.