After nine years of proceedings, a court in Belgium on March 8 acquitted multiple defendants accused of activities involving the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Belgian judicial authorities had requested that 36 individuals and companies be tried by a criminal court on charges of taking part in "terrorist activity." The Belgian Chamber of Indictment, however, blocked proceedings against all defendants, ruling that the PKK insurgency is an "internal armed conflict" within Turkey and, as such, neither the party nor its armed wing, the People's Defense Forces (HPG), may be considered a terrorist organization under Belgian law. The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the decision. (Kurdistan 24)
Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court on Jan. 15 acquitted former Côte d'Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, his former youth minister. Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were accused of four counts of crimes against humanity related to violence following a disputed 2010 election that left 3,000 dead and 500,000 displaced. Gbagbo was arrested in 2011 in a presidential palace bunker by UN and French-backed forces supporting his rival, Alassane Ouattara. He was the first former head of state to face trial at the ICC. The Chamber ordered both accused to be immediately released. A prosecution request to extend Gbagbo's custody pending appeal was rejected. "The acquittal of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé will be seen as a crushing disappointment to victims of post-election violence in Cote d'Ivoire," said Amnesty International in a statement. (BBC News, Reuters, Amnesty International, ICC press release)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an ultimatum to the defenders of Aleppo's rebel-held east that they abandon the city by Friday Oct. 4. The rebel leaders pledge defiance, saying that promised safe passages out of besieged areas are a trap. "This is completely out of the question. We will not give up the city of Aleppo to the Russians and we won't surrender," Zakaria Malahifji, of the Fastaqim rebel group, told Reuters, denying that there are safe exit corridors. "It's not true. Civilians and fighters are not leaving. Civilians are afraid of the regime, they don't trust it. And the fighters are not surrendering." (The Guardian, Al Jazeera) A Russian military fleet is meanwhile making its way to Syria, signaling an imminent escalation in the ongoing aerial assault on Aleppo. There has been some controversy about the fleet's refueling stops along the way. While NATO member Spain has allowed Russian warships en route to Syria to resupply at its port of Ceuta before, this time international pressure led Moscow to withdraw its request for a stop there. (World Post, The Local, Spain) The Royal Navy, which monitored the fleet's passage through the English Channel, says it includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as well as three submarines (two nuclear-powered) armed with cruise missiles. (The Independent)
The terror attacks on the airport and a subway station near the European Union headquarters in Brussels have left at least 34 dead, and some 170 injured. Amaq News Agency, an ISIS propaganda organ, issued a claim of responsibility. (Long War Journal) This was of course good news for the Republican presidential contenders in the US, helping to shift the debate from domestic economic suffering to the international jihadist threat. Ted Cruz wasted no time, saying in a statement: "We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence. We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized." This was of course a call for bringing back the NYPD surveillance program that targeted Muslims before it was shut down in the wake of outcry and litigation. It was all the more galling that Cruz made his comment on a visit to New York City, where he was quickly blasted by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. "If he's that short-sighted, I can understand why the American public would repudiate his efforts to run this great country," said Bratton. (Daily News)
Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah is laundering money for the "Oficina de Envigado," said to be the successor organization to Colombia's legendary Medellín Cartel, according to the DEA. In a Feb. 1 press release, the agency said that members of Hezbollah's External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC) is part of a transnational drug-trafficking scheme that involves "South American drug cartels, such as La Oficina de Envigado." According to the statement, the BAC uses the "black peso money laundering system" established by the Medellín Cartel to launder profits from European cocaine sales through money exchange offices in Colombia and overseas. "These drug trafficking and money laundering schemes utilized by the Business Affairs Component provide a revenue and weapons stream for an international terrorist organization responsible for devastating terror attacks around the world," said DEA acting deputy administrator Jack Riley.
The French National Assembly voted Nov. 19 to extend the state of emergency for another three months. The state of emergency expands police power for searches and arrests, and allows authorities to restrict movement of individuals and vehicles with the country's borders. During the debate, Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that France must be prepared to defend against chemical and biological warfare. The bill secured 551 votes with only six against, far surpassing the 279 necessary to pass the legislation through the chamber. The bill will now move to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.
As ISIS forces penetrated the besieged north Syrian town of Kobani, setting off street battles with Kurdish defenders, Kurds across Turkey took to the streets in angry protests at Ankara's inaction. Authorities in the southern province of Mardin declared a curfew in six districts after clashes with police, but Kurds continue to take to the streets in defiance of the order. One young protester was killed in the southeastern city of Mus as police fired on demonstrators—some of whom were armed, by Turkish media accounts. In Diyarbakir, Turkey's largest Kurdish city, two were killed and 10 others injured as Islamist militants attacked Kurdish protesters, sparking a shootout. Protesters reportedly fired shots in the air in the eastern city of Batman. In Istanbul, police used tear gas and water canon to disperse angry protests in Kurdish neighborhoods, and clashes were also reported between demonstrators and Turkish nationalist gangs. One protester was shot in the head and critically injured in the city's Sarigazi district. In the Kadikoy neighborhood, human rights lawyer Tamer Dogan was badly wounded after being hit in the head by a tear-gas canister.
Now comes the disturbing news that a Frenchman arrested in the killings at the Brussels Jewish museum had traveled to Syria as an insurgent and is apparently linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Police in Marseille arrested the suspect, Mehdi Nemmouche, after he arrived on a bus from Amsterdam May 30. Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said he had an automatic weapon like that used in the Brussels attack, and ballistics analysis is underway to determine if it is the same weapon. The rifle was reportedly wrapped up in a white sheet scrawled with the name of ISIS. Police in Belgium meanwhile say the suspect had tried to film the May 24 killings, but his camera failed. Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said: "The new elements in this investigation draw attention once more to the problem of the 'returnees'—in other words the people going to Syria to participate in combat and return afterward to our country. All European countries are confronted at this moment with this problem." (AP, June 1) The days since the arrest have seen more raids on suspected "returnees" in France. Four were arrested in the Paris area and southern France on suspicion of recruiting militants to fight in Syria. Interior Minister Bernard Cazaneuve told Europe 1 radio: "There are people who recruit jihadists... We are acting everywhere. There will be no respite in the fight against terrorists." (BBC News, June 2)