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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Al Qaeda

MUSLIM WORLD: Poll shows majority want Islam in politics; feelings mixed on Hamas, Hezbollah

Meccaminihaj7 A majority of Muslims around the world welcome a significant role for Islam in their countries' political life, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center, but have mixed feelings toward militant religious groups such as  Hamas and Hezbollah.

According to the survey, majorities in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and Nigeria would favor changing the current laws to allow stoning as a punishment for adultery, hand amputation for theft and death for those who convert from Islam to another religion. About 85% of Pakistani Muslims said they would support a law segregating men and women in the workplace.

Indonesia, Egypt, Nigeria and Jordan were among the most enthusiastic, with more than three-quarters of Muslims polled in those countries reporting positive views of Islam's influence in politics: either that Islam had a large role in politics, and that was a good thing, or that it played a small role, and that was bad.

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ALGERIA: WikiLeaks documents reveal close collaboration with U.S. against Al Qaeda


Algeria is now considered America's closest ally in the fight against Al Qaeda in North Africa, an unlikely partnership that emerged following years of strained relations, leaked US diplomatic cables obtained by Babylon & Beyond show.

The documents show extensive intelligence, security and, increasingly, economic cooperation between the two states, despite Algeria's violent history, oppressive government and ongoing tensions over its placement on the American Transportation Security Administration's enhanced screening watch list in January 2010.

A detailed timeline of "major anti-terrorism successes" of 2008 including the killing or capture of at least 19 militant figures, several major illegal weapons cache discoveries and a thwarted assassination attempt on then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she visited Algeria in September of that year.

"It is worth remembering that no country is more important than Algeria in the fight against Al Qaeda in the Sahel and Maghreb," the American ambassador to Algiers, David D. Pearce, wrote in a Jan. 6, 2010, cable.

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YEMEN: Car bomb targeting Shiite tribesmen kills 17 [Updated]

Suicide bombing [Updated at 9:52 a.m.: Death toll revised and reference to Yemen media report report of alleged Al Qaeda responsibility added.]

A car bomb exploded along a procession of Shiite Muslims in northern Yemen, killing at least 17 people and raising concerns that Al Qaeda was seeking to exploit religious differences in a country engulfed in rebellion.

The blast occurred in a rugged province where the government and Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, are under a tense ceasefire in fighting that has killed hundreds and displaced thousands. No one claimed immediate responsibility but a tribal leader told Yemen media that Al Qaeda carried out the attack as retaliation against the Houthis for detaining five Al Qaeda operatives earlier this year.

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ISRAEL, GAZA: Security forces target Army of Islam operatives, again

One of two Palestinians killed in Gaza in an Israeli airstrike Wednesday evening was Islam Yasin, a senior operative of the Army of Islam, according to an Israeli army statement. This is the second joint IDF-Shin Bet operation in two weeks targeting members of the organization, believed to be engaged in terrorism plots in Egypt's Sinai peninsula.

Two weeks ago, in the first targeted killing in some time, Israeli forces killed Mohammed Namnam, also in Gaza. The army, after a few hours of silence on the matter, said Namnam was a top member of the organization, which identifies with global Islamist causes and Al Qaeda, and was involved in preparing an attack against "American and Israeli targets" in the peninsula.

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EGYPT: Authorities on high alert to protect churches after Al Qaeda threat

_41564186_copsixEgyptian authorities are stepping up efforts to protect the country's Christian churches following a series of threats by Al Qaeda. 

Newspapers reported Tuesday that the Ministry of Interior had tightened its security presence and police patrols around all churches in Cairo and other provinces across the country. Worshipers will also be thoroughly searched before entering any church.

An eyewitness in the Qena, where six Copts and a Muslim were killed in a drive-by shooting outside a church on Jan. 7, said that no fewer than six security vehicles were positioned outside his neighborhood church. He added that no cars were allowed to park within about 300 yards of the area.

The red alert comes after Al Qaeda-affiliated militants in Iraq attacked the Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad during a Sunday Mass attended by 120 worshipers. At least 58 were killed and 75 were wounded during the raid.

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YEMEN: Air strikes against Al Qaeda follow bloody week

Yemeni army

As Yemen steps up its fight against Al Qaeda, the group is finding plenty of cover in rural areas where the army has little control and local separatists are often engaged in their own battles against U.S.-backed government forces.

On Sunday, the Yemeni army continued a series of air strikes in south Yemen after an ambush on a military convoy (link in Arabic) Saturday killed at least four Yemeni soldiers and a number of suspected Al Qaeda militants. The number of casualties from Sunday's bombing could not be confirmed, but the satellite channel Al Jazeera reported that "a number" had been killed and wounded.

The channel showed footage of Yemeni military trucks rolling through the dusty streets of a city in the Abyan province that had been the site of deadly clashes between government troops and alleged Al Qaeda militants. Sometimes, it's tricky to tell who is whom: Yemeni separatist movements are also active in a region defined by tribal allegiances and a deep disdain for the government.

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YEMEN: Attacks occur amid heightened Al Qaeda fears in troubled Arabian Peninsula country


Several people were injured in a pair of attacks Wednesday on another dangerous day for foreigners in the Arabian Peninsula nation of Yemen.

Arab media and diplomats reported that a shell or missile struck a vehicle carrying five British Embassy staff as it headed toward the embassy in Sana, Yemen’s capital, Wednesday morning. 

Separately, employees of the Austrian energy giant OMV were shot by a security guard at the company’s office near Sana. Agence France-Presse cited Yemeni security officials as saying one French national was killed in the attack, but Dow Jones cited OMV as saying two people were injured and no one killed.

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MOROCCO: 'Superterrorist' Belliraj denies accusations, claims torture

The accusations read like a spy novel. Following his arrest in early 2008, Moroccan authorities linked 52-year-old Abdelkader Belliraj, a Belgian citizen of Moroccan descent, with virtually every known terrorist on record.

Morocco-belliraj Belliraj allegedly met with Al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri during the week preceding the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; was granted a private audience with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah; and was tied to six murders in Brussels, Belgium, during the 1980s -- four of them as a hit man for Abu Nidal, the Palestinian militant whose organization is credited by the U.S. State Department with terrorist attacks in 20 countries, killing or injuring almost 900 people.

Belliraj allegedly confessed to all these allegations under interrogation by Moroccan police but retracted everything at his trial, claiming he had been tortured. He was convicted and received a life sentence in July 2009, together with dozens of other defendants, who received sentences of two to 25 years in prison.

Last week, as his trial was set to start in a court in Sale, near the Moroccan city of Rabat, Belliraj gave interviews to two Belgian newspapers on a cellphone that had been smuggled into his cell.

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YEMEN: Clerics condemn foreign intervention, threaten global jihad

Yemen  A group of 150 Islamic scholars, sheiks and imams in Yemen issued a statement today condemning foreign intervention in the nation's affairs, with one leading cleric calling for global jihad if Washington sends forces to battle Al Qaeda.

The statement, distributed on glossy yellow brochures and CDs to taxi drivers and passersby, was designed to remind Yemenis and Muslims worldwide that this Arabian peninsula nation will not be a puppet of the United States, said Sheik Ali al Warafi, a member of Yemen's conservative Islamist party.

Sheik Arif bin Ahmad al Sabri, a member of parliament who read the document aloud to a group of several hundred men and women in a mosque in Yemen’s capital, Sana, called it a crucial step to maintaining freedom and independence in Yemen.

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IRAN: Bin Laden family said to be held captive in Tehran

 Bin Laden

Since the U.S. invasion and subsequent toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan eight years ago, the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s family has been shrouded in mystery. Some reports claimed several of his children died in bomb raids; others said they joined Al Qaeda to fight alongside their father.

But recent reports describe a quite different scenario. Members of the Bin Laden family now say several of their close relatives, some of whom were thought to be dead, are being held in house arrest in Iran.

Details of the Bin Ladens' Iranian saga started to surface in November when Omar bin Laden, the fourth-eldest son of Osama bin Laden, was called up by his siblings out of the blue. 

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LEBANON: Militant group's attack on Israel complicates the situation along tense border


For years, Israel's main concern on its northern border was the militant Shiite group Hezbollah, a tightly organized resistance movement that participates in the Lebanese government but still maintains its own military and social infrastructure. 

But now another player has appeared, a previously little-known Islamist group calling itself the Battalions of Ziad Jarrah, a branch of the Abdullah Azzam Brigade, that has now claimed responsibility for its second rocket attack on Israel this year.  Ziad Jarrah was a Sept. 11 hijacker, and Abdullah Azzam a mentor of Osama bin Laden.

Although Hezbollah has been labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel, it often coordinates with the Lebanese army and the U.N., which maintains a peacekeeping force in the south.

The Battalions of Ziad Jarrah, on the other hand, are thought to have connections to Al Qaeda, using the well-known Jihadist Fajr media center to claim responsibility for the rocket that was fired on northern Israel on Tuesday from the Lebanese border village of Houla. 

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IRAQ: Baghdad warns neighbors, airs militants' confessions on TV


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has turned the heat up on his Arab neighbors after last month’s double bombings at the foreign and finance ministries, which killed about 100 people. Maliki and his government have repeatedly accused Syria of providing shelter to those behind the blasts. Syria has denied the charge, and some Iraqi politicians have raised serious questions about whether Syria or the Baath Party was involved.

Today, Maliki once more slammed his neighbors. “We will continue looking [for a way] to close all the gaps and the doors from which the killers can breathe again. We censure the others from our brothers, friends and the neighborly countries,” Maliki said on a visit to the southern city of Karbala. “They used to say that they are with us and they did stand with us in certain situations, but how can we describe the practice of embracing the killers. To where will they be exported [next] time, to Iraq again or to a different country? Can the evil be contained to one specific country?” 

Maliki has asked the U.N. Security Council to establish a formal investigation into the bombings. He has also accused Syrian intelligence agents of sitting in on a meeting in July of Baath Party officials and Islamic militants. The government sees it as the latest episode in which Syria has allegedly been complicit in the activities of anti-Iraq militants. Iraqi security officials confirmed today that they had sent additional security forces to reinforce the vast Syria-Iraq border. 

Since the bombings, the government has revived the practice of showing taped confessions from alleged militants. Two confessions have been shown on state television and a third was aired at a news conference. The first confession was of an Iraqi arrested for the Aug. 19 attack, who blamed Baath Party leaders in Syria for planning the attack. The other confessions have shown foreign fighters recounting their alleged travels through Syria. There is no way to verify whether the taped remarks were genuine or staged.  But they mark a concerted effort to blame Syria in part for recent security breaches.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the state channel broadcast the purported confessions of an alleged fighter from Yemen named Mohammed Oud.

The following are excerpts from the broadcast:

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