Yevhen Karakashev, a 41-year-old left-wing activist from Yevpatoria in Russian-annexed Crimea, was sentenced to six years in prison by a Russian court on April 19, with the charges based solely on years-old private messages on the social-media network VKontakte. Russia's FSB security agency claimed that the posts fell under Article 205.2 of the Russian criminal code, which imposes penalties for "public calls to carry out terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism." The sentence was three years less than that demanded by the prosecutor, and also includes limits on Karakashev's online activities for two years after his release. Russia's independent Memorial Human Rights Center stated that there is a strong likelihood "the criminal proceedings against Yevhen Karakashev were initiated in the context of his opposition civic and political activities as a frequent participant in protests in Crimea." They view this as part of a mounting attack on left-wing activists and anti-fascists in Russia since January 2018.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed 37 men on April 23 for terrorism-related crimes. Among those killed, 11 were accused of spying on behalf of Iran. Fourteen were convicted for offenses pertaining to anti-government protests. Most of the convicts identified as Shi'ite, and were predominantly from the country's Shia-majority eastern province. Most of the defendants were arrested between 2011-2. One was arrested when he was 16 years old.
After claiming responsibility for the Easter Sunday bomb attacks in Sri Lanka that killed over 320 people, ISIS has released a photo and video of the supposed mastermind of the attack and other of the alleged suicide bombers. The video and the photo released through the terrorist network's Amaq News Agency purport to show the Sri Lankan militants pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in his presence. (Colombo Page) Sri Lankan authorities had named a little-known militant group called National Thowheeth Jama'ath as behind the attacks—a name roughly translated as "group in the name of the oneness of God." Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acknowledged that his security services had been tipped off that the group was planning attacks, admitting that the "information was there." (Al Jazeera, Gulf News, Time)
More than 10,000 people have been reported killed in Yemen over the last five months, bringing the war's total death toll to over 70,000 since 2016, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). While overall reported fatalities have trended downward this year amid a UN-backed peace process, fighting continues across the country and has even intensified in some areas, including the governorates of Taiz and Hajjah. The Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the highest number of reported civilian fatalities from direct targeting: over 4,800 since 2016. The Houthis and their allies are responsible for over 1,300 reported civilian fatalities from direct targeting. (ACLED, Madison, WI, April 18)
Gunmen killed at least 14 passengers after forcing them off several passenger vehicles on the coastal highway through Pakistan's restive Balochistan province April 18. Some 20 militants apparently stopped vehicles, checked passangers' identification papers, and shot selected ones to death on the roadside. There was initially speculation that those marked for death were ethnic Punjabis, targeted by the region's Baloch separatists. A statement later issued by a previously unknown militant group said those targeted were determined to be members of the military or security forces. The attack was claimed by the Baloch Raji Aajoi Sangar, or Baloch People's Liberation Coalition, which is believed to have emerged from factional rivalry between the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Liberation Front (BLF). Pakistan has filed a diplomatic complaint with Iran, accusing it of giving the Baloch militants harbor on its territory across the border. (Khaama Press, AP, RFE/RL, Pakistan Tribune)
Reports are emerging of a clash between Russian forces and an Iran-backed militia in Syria—pointing to mounting tensions between the two most significant foreign powers backing the Assad regime. At least 11 were killed in the fighting in the city of Aleppo April 16. The clash began near a vegetable market in Khaldiya district, and quickly escalated to the use of heavy weaponry, with ground-to-air missiles fired on nearby areas within the city. At least some of the casualties are believed to be civilians. The militia was unnamed, but Tehran is backing numerous Shi'ite militias in Syria, many made up of volunteers from Iran and Iraq. The clash followed recent Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets near Aleppo, and Tehran-backed factions apparently accused Russia of green-lighting Israel's attacks, or even coordinating with Tel Aviv on the strikes. (Syria Call, Middle East Monitor, Arab Weekly)
Satellite imagery posted by activists appears to show that the Chinese government is systematically destroying landmark mosques in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region. The revelations come as human rights organizations step up their criticism of Beijing over its abuse of the Uighur people and internment of hundreds of thousands in so-called "reeducation camps." Tweets by Uighur activists indicate that at least two landmark mosques in Xinjiang have been destroyed. The website Bellingcat confirmed the claims with before-and-after satellite imagery. Among the destroyed mosques is the historic Keriya Aitika Mosque in the city of Hotan, which was built in 1237, and inducted to the Chinese Architectural Heritage list in 2017. Unconfirmed reports claimed that the Kargilik Mosque was also razed by the Chinese government. (Yeni Safak, Turkey, UNPO, April 11)
Bahrain's High Criminal Court on April 16 sentenced 139 terror suspects to prison terms ranging from three years to life in prison. The court also revoked the citizenship of all but one of those convicted. The accused were sad to be part of a network organized and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), an arm of the Iranian state recently designated by the US Treasury Department as a "terrorist organization." Bahrain's ruling family is Sunni and most of those sentenced are believed to be Shia.