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Eminent writer Mahasweta Devi hospitalised

Banerjee was there for around 20 minutes in the hospital. Doctors said Mahasweta is better now and will be discharged after a week. <!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>


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New York Police Department foils suspected Islamic State backed attack on New Year’s eve <!– /.block –>
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Also ReadIndiaEminent writer Mahasweta Devi hospitalisedIndiaAnimal Welfare Board advises Centre not to allow jallikattu, claims PETAIndiaUP CM Akhilesh Yadav attends ‘Saifai Mahotsav’IndiaOdd-Even Rule: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal asks his ministers to lead by example IndiaAfter Modi’s barbs, Congress accuses him of ‘confrontational mindset’IndiaUttar Pradesh: Beat rape accused with shoes, panchayat tells victim <!– /.block –>

<!– /#sidebar-second –>Come January 1, eatables in Parliament canteen to get costlier<!– /.block –>New York Police Department foils suspected Islamic State backed attack on New Year’s eve<!– /.block –> <!– /#content_bottom –>
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Animal Welfare Board advises Centre not to allow jallikattu, claims PETA

“We want to respect that but also ensure that there should be no cruelty. Therefore, we will give you good news in the next couple of days. We will give you good news so that the cultural practice can be followed as well as cruelty should not happen to animals. We have found out some ways and will announce by January 1. The government is positive on the issue,” he had said.

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UP CM Akhilesh Yadav attends ‘Saifai Mahotsav’ <!– /.block –>
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Also ReadIndiaEminent writer Mahasweta Devi hospitalisedIndiaAnimal Welfare Board advises Centre not to allow jallikattu, claims PETAIndiaUP CM Akhilesh Yadav attends ‘Saifai Mahotsav’IndiaOdd-Even Rule: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal asks his ministers to lead by example IndiaAfter Modi’s barbs, Congress accuses him of ‘confrontational mindset’IndiaUttar Pradesh: Beat rape accused with shoes, panchayat tells victim <!– /.block –>

<!– /#sidebar-second –>New York Police Department foils suspected Islamic State backed attack on New Year’s eve<!– /.block –>UP CM Akhilesh Yadav attends ‘Saifai Mahotsav'<!– /.block –> <!– /#content_bottom –>
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Starting 2016, devotees can’t wear jeans, leggings, bermudas to Tamil Nadu temples

“The department should consider implementing the dress code as follows: for men dhoti or pyjamas with upper cloth or formal pants and shirts and for women saree or half saree with blouse, churidhars with upper cloth, for children any fully covered dress,” the judge had said, adding, it should be followed in temples from January 1, 2016.


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Indonesia arrests three with suspected links to Islamic State <!– /.block –>
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Also ReadIndiaDMK chief slams Centre’s decision on LPG subsidyIndiaCensus 2011: Sikhs, Jains have the worst sex ratioIndiaCentre sanctions 4227 additional posts for Delhi PoliceIndiaStarting 2016, devotees can’t wear jeans, leggings, bermudas to Tamil Nadu templesIndiaWill finalise electoral strategy for Tamil Nadu assembly polls at appropriate time: JayalalithaaIndiaNepal’s KP Oli calls up PM Modi; discusses political situation in Nepal <!– /.block –>

<!– /#sidebar-second –>Bangladesh recalls its envoy from Pakistan<!– /.block –>Indonesia arrests three with suspected links to Islamic State <!– /.block –> <!– /#content_bottom –>
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Delhi: Prominent malls and shopping complexes evacuated in late night security drills

“The drills were held to enhance our preparedness ahead of New Year’s eve to deal with any potential threats,” the official added.


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Also ReadIndiaNCR developers default on Rs 10,000 crore land paymentsIndiaCPCB, a look at the science behind the air quality indexIndiaGovernment to revamp Censor Board on global linesIndiaMaharashtra: Government launches artificial coral reef project in MalvanIndiaNarendra Modi asks ministers to connect with people in two LS constituencies a monthIndiaDoes separatist Syedah Asiya Andrabi have Islamic State links? <!– /.block –>

<!– /#sidebar-second –>Republican George Pataki drops out of 2016 US presidential election bid<!– /.block –>Asian stocks rise up tracking overseas gains<!– /.block –> <!– /#content_bottom –>
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One of three missing Mumbai youths suspected to have joined ISIS traced near Pune


Wajid was last night traced near Pune, the ATS official said.

One of the three missing youths from Mumbai suspected to have joined terror outfit Islamic State (IS) has been traced near Pune and let-off after interrogation, an ATS official said on Wednesday. Three missing youths – Wajid Shaikh (25), Mohsin Sayyed (26) and Ayaz Sultan (23) — all from the Malvani area in western suburb of Mumbai — had left home and were suspected to have joined the IS. The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) as well as local police were trying to locate their whereabouts after their parents lodged missing complaints with the Malvani Police. <!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Wajid was last night traced near Pune, the ATS official said. “Wajid Sheikh was in some part of south India, we followed him and tracked him near Pune,” he said. The youth was brought to Mumbai and allowed to go home this morning after being quizzed, he said, adding that the whereabouts of two other youths were not yet known.Sultan went missing on October 30 and Wajid and Mohsin since December 16, a police official had earlier said. According to police, Sultan left home on October 30 after telling his parents that he had to go to Pune in connection with a job offer he got from a Kuwait-based firm. Mohsin left home on December 16, saying he was going to attend a friend’s wedding. Wajid also left home the same day saying he had to get the name on his Aadhar card corrected, police had earlier said.

Decoding the ISIS threat to India


It is safe to say that the threat posed by ISIS today is real and requires due attention, as almost all nations in the world stand vulnerable to it.

ISIS militant
File Photo

During the annual meet of the Director General of Police and Inspectors General of Police in the arid yet spectacular Runn of Kutch in Gujarat, the Indian government has once again red flagged the growing global concerns on ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, Daesh etc).Home Minister Rajnath Singh highlighted the fact that influence of ISIS has witnessed an increase in India’s neighbourhood, particularly Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Prior to this, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had stated that India would be willing to participate in anti-ISIS operations if the same were to be conducted under the flag of the United Nations. While India’s External Affairs ministry distanced this stance by Parrikar, saying the minister was only talking about a hypothetical situation, the fact that only a day later US Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss a gateway UN resolution on talks to end the Syrian crisis was perhaps not so hypothetical, but a months long process by Washington and Moscow that India must have keenly followed via diplomatic channels (a detailed look at India’s stance on Syrian crisis is readable here). <!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>It is safe to say that the threat posed by ISIS today is real and requires due attention as almost all nations in the world stand vulnerable to it. The reasons behind the ‘new’ nature of how ISIS works are witnessed in the manner with which the terror organization functions. As ISIS declared large swathes of territories in Iraq and Syria as part of its ‘Islamic State’ caliphate, the group has managed to create some of the most organized jihadist structures ever seen. How they have done this is a mixture of hierarchical discipline, experience of former Saddam regime Ba’athist generals in ISIS, organized economic traits such as black marketeering of oil, earning from local taxations, extortions from kidnappings and so on. The entire financial operation of ISIS today earns it an estimate $1.2 billion per year, providing teeth like no other terror organization has perhaps experienced before (UN is now moving to halt ISIS financial streams). Even though ISIS has managed to attract many foreign fighters, mainly from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Europe, there have not been too many known cases as of yet of Indian citizens travelling to fight in Iraq or Syria. While the case of the youths from Kalyan, which included Areeb Majeed who returned and surrendered, remains the most high profile and significant such case, it is also important to note here that very little data is available whether any Indians already residing in various countries in West Asia have joined ISIS. India’s measures to both understand and counter ISIS both in influence and practicality are still in the blueprint phase. This is not unexpected, as gauging and quantifying the ISIS threat is not easy and has many layers that require different counter-measures. For India, however, ISIS’s biggest threat comes through its effective and planned use of media propaganda through the Internet. For example, even though the case is still under investigation, the recent arrest of an Indian Oil employee in Jaipur for ‘Islamic State links’ claimed that the man was in possession ISIS’s glossy, well-produced propaganda magazine Dabiq. Prior to this, one of the most pro-ISIS Twitter accounts over the past few years, known as @ShamiWitness, was found to be run by Indian engineer named Mehdi Masoor Biswas in Bengaluru. Other cases where Indian citizens were stopped from travelling over their intentions to join ISIS had history of online communications with ISIS sympathisers and recruiters. This is where India needs to increase its vigilance urgently. The case of Biswas being behind the most popular pro-ISIS propaganda handle was not picked up by Indian intelligence agencies, but Channel 4 of Britain did the unmasking of the case. In another case that followed much later, one Salman Mohiuddin was arrested from Hyderabad over his plans to travel to Turkey and eventually make his way to fight for ISIS in Syria. The Americans were also observing for his online pro-ISIS activities, but Mohiuddin, a middle-class educated engineer seemed to have escaped the eyes of Indian intelligence. ISIS’s strategy of effectively using online propaganda is in today’s world as dangerous as traditional geographical conflict involving states and borders. In fact, the ability to rally support purely based on the idea of a caliphate (not necessarily so much so on sharia or jihad) around the world to some successful effect is worrisome. While India is, by all means, not at any significant direct threat from ISIS, its neighbourhood is providing two case studies of effects worth noting. Afghanistan: A country with vast pockets of governance vacuums with factionalism between tribes, the Taliban, the state, Kabul is facing the first signs of ISIS footprints. Pictures and videos of alleged ISIS training camps in Afghanistan have surfaced in the recent past, and recent reports also suggest pro-ISIS radio stations have come up in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province. The said station broadcasts in Pashto under the ‘Voice of the Caliphate’ badge. Kabul has said it is looking to trace the station’s roots and shut it down. The political state of Afghanistan is bound by a fragile government, built on a compromise and a military that is being kept afloat by the US in every sense of the word. Bangladesh: ISIS footprints in Bangladesh have surfaced in a completely different manner than seen in any other place. The targeting murders of secular bloggers in the country over the recent past have come with an accompanying ISIS badge. Blogger Avijit Roy, who was hacked to death in front of his wife in Dhaka earlier this year, was murdered allegedly by an Islamist group called Ansarullah Bangla Team to avenge America’s war on ISIS. Other cases like those of Roy have taken place in the country against secularists, and again often accompanied by ISIS justification. Whether this justification reflects directly to ISIS hierarchy in Iraq and Syria is still up for debate. Keeping the two above cases in mind, direct ISIS threat to India is an unlikely outcome from its borders with Pakistan, but slightly more likely from Bangladesh albeit in limited capacity. On Pakistan, the country’s own furnished terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network may not allow a rise of ISIS in the region. However, complacency here should also not be preempted. Jihadi fighters often work like any other careerists, they move from faction to faction looking for better positions in hierarchy, more money and more influence. In such moves often ideology is not fundamental, and examples of this can be seen in both ISIS held territories and in Afghanistan. For India, the immediate jihadi threat remains from its neighbourhood, specifically Pakistan and its state-sponsored terror groups. However, ISIS is a rising, untraditional Islamist force that has taken modern technological routes to propagate its influence much faster than states have been able to install counter-measures. For India at the moment, the real challenge remains in trying to be one step ahead in intelligence. Much of ISIS threat to India can be contained with a robust, effective chain of intelligence gathering and sharing where it does need to learn from other foreign agencies about prevailing threats posed by ISIS within its own borders.

India ready for operation against ISIS if UN adopts resolution

Asked specifically if India will operate against the ISIS under the UN flag, Parrikar said, “that depends on whether UN takes a resolution”.

India on Wednesday said it can undertake operations against the ISIS terror group under a UN flag if the global body adopts a resolution in this regard.Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who has returned after a crucial meeting with his US counterpart Ashton Carter in Washington, also said that India has been sharing intelligence on the ISIS and it will be enhanced.”We have made it clear that if there is a UN resolution and if there is UN flag and a UN mission, then as per India’s policy to operate under UN flag, we will participate,” Parrikar told reporters at India Gate after laying wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti on Vijay Diwas.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>He was replying to questions on the possibility of India’s participation in operations against the ISIS.Asked specifically if India will operate against the ISIS under the UN flag, he said, “that depends on whether UN takes a resolution”.India had earlier this month, along with major world economies, participated in the first-ever global meeting held in Paris to discuss and evolve mechanisms to combat the clandestine and largely undetected terrorist financing network of the Islamic State terror group.Indian security establishment suggests that around 20 Indians are currently fighting for ISIS in Iraq-Syria. They include two youths from Kalyan in the outskirts of Mumbai, an Australia-based Kashmiri, one youth from Telangana, one from Karnataka, one Oman-based Indian and another Singapore-based Indian.Last year, a youth from Kalyan had returned home after spending about six-months with ISIS. He was arrested upon arrival in Mumbai.Among the six Indians, who fought alongside ISIS and got killed were three Indian Mujahideen terrorists, including Sultan Ajmer Shah and Bada Sajid, who had joined its ranks after being in Pakistan, two from Maharashtra and one from Telangana.On September 15, the UAE deported four Indians suspected to have links with ISIS.The UAE had also sent back in September a 37-year-old woman, Afsha Jabeen alias Nicky Joseph, who was allegedly involving in recruiting youths for ISIS.In January, Salman Mohiuddin of Hyderabad was arrested at Hyderabad airport when he was preparing to board a flight to Dubai on way to Syria via Turkey.So far, 17 young men, mostly from Telangana, have been prevented from travelling to Syria, ostensibly to join ISIS.

In touch with ISIS supporters, J&K youths were questioned before PM Modi’s visit last month

The official said while the possibility of IS coming to Kashmir had not grown too much as on date, it was “a concern we must watch” as there were some attempts to connect with the Kashmiri youth through Internet.

Representational Image of ISIS fighters

Security agencies picked up some youths for questioning ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kashmir last month as they had come in touch with supporters of global terror group Islamic State on Internet.However, the youths were released and handed over to their parents after being cautioned and counselled about the dangers of IS, a senior security official told PTI.The official, requesting anonymity, said that while Kashmiri youths have not shown much interest in IS, there were some incidents where few of them have come in contact with its supporters through social networking sites. “Yes these people are connecting (with IS) on the Internet. Some were rounded up before visit of the Prime Minister (on November 7). It happened around that time,” the security official said.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”The youth who were detained were questioned by the police … something was there … they were cautioned, counselled and handed over to their parents. These were young boys who were visiting them (IS contacts) on the net. Many a time people get into discussions on the Internet without knowing who they are interacting with,” he added.Related Read: NIA seeks details of internet use, finances of arrested ISIS recruit Areeb Majeed from foreign countriesThe official said while the possibility of IS coming to Kashmir had not grown too much as on date, it was “a concern we must watch” as there were some attempts to connect with the Kashmiri youth through Internet. “At the present moment, we think it (Islamic State) is a very very nascent thing in terms of interest,” he said. The official ascribed the waving of flags in Kashmir during Friday protests to the publicity they are getting from the media.”Those guys who are waving the flags, which happens once in a while on Fridays, … earlier they used to get more publicity and there was more flag waving. Now the publicity is less, so the flag waving has also reduced,” he said.The official, while ruling out any physical presence of the IS in Kashmir, said such an event will be even opposed by outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Hizbul Mujahideen. “Distancing from Islamic State by Lashkar and Hizb was due to the fact that all the outfits are vying for the same people. They (militants) will either join the Lashkar or the IS,” he said.According to the official, intelligence agencies were monitoring the Internet traffic in Kashmir for any interest in the IS. “The intelligence agencies are monitoring this kind of activity,” he added.The LeT last month issued a statement distancing itself from IS. “Kashmiri people don’t want aid and support from an external group,” a LeT spokesperson had said. He also called the IS a “production of anti-Islamic Western countries”.

Terrorists of all shades must be tackled without any differentiation: Parrikar tells US Defence Sec Carter

The two leaders discussed a range of regional security issues, including the threat posed by the Islamic State and entities such as Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad, D Company, the Haqqani Network and other regional terror groups, according the joint statement


India has told the US that terrorists of all shades must be tackled without any differentiation as the Defence Ministers of the two nations discussed threats posed by groups like the Islamic State and Pakistan-based entities LeT and D Company.”The issue of terrorism was a key topic discussion in all engagements terrorism has become a global phenomenon and requires a comprehensive response,” Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told reporters at a joint press conference with his US counterpart Ashton Carter after their meeting on Thursday. “Terrorists of all shades and affiliations must be countered without any differentiation,” he said.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The two leaders discussed a range of regional security issues, including the threat posed by the Islamic State and entities such as Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad, D Company, the Haqqani Network and other regional terror groups, according the joint statement. Carter said terrorism of all kinds in South Asia has been and remains a serious problem. India, he said, has been attacked and is continuously threatened with attack from terrorists.In the wake of the latest incident of terrorism in the US by a Pakistani-origin couple who gunned down 14 people, Carter said at the joint press event that the US had regular conversations with India about the issue.”We have regular conversations with India both about counterterrorism and about regional security issues,” he said. “And with respect to India, I’ll just say that counterterrorism clearly is a key common interest,” Carter said. “We work a lot together on that.””And then we have a wide range of geopolitical, strategic and technology areas of cooperation as well. So it’s a very wide-ranging relationship. In today’s world, you can’t leave out terrorism,” Carter said.Meanwhile, India ruled out any enhancement of its role in the Middle East in view of the emergence of deadly Islamic State in Syria and Libya.Parrikar said there has been no change in India’s policy on participating only in UN approved peacekeeping missions. But India is and has been sharing intelligence with the US on issues related to terrorism, he said.

Manohar Parrikar to raise issue of cross-border terrorism by Pakistan with US counterpart Ashton Carter

India’s concern about the US policy in Middle-East relates to the rise of the Islamic State (IS) which recently carried out terror strikes in Paris killing more than 120 people.

Manohar Parrikar

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is likely to do some ‘plain talking’ on cross border terrorism by Pakistan and articulate India’s stand on the situation in Afghanistan and the Middle East during a crucial meeting with his American counterpart Ashton Carter this week.Top Defence sources said Parrikar, at the meeting on December 9 and 10, will “plainly” tell the US that its policy of engaging Pakistan was not working.Parrikar will also be telling Carter that the American military and foreign policy in the Middle-East and Afghanistan “are not very sound” and not working properly, sources said. Parrikar, who is already in the US on his maiden visit as Defence Minister, will also express his concern over Islamabad’s “threat” to use tactical nuclear weapons against India.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Parrikar’s visit comes against the backdrop of reported US plans to sell eight F-16 fighters and 15 Bell AH 1Z Viper attack helicopters to Pakistan. He is also likely to articulate India’s stand on this.India’s concern about the US policy in Middle-East relates to the rise of the Islamic State (IS) which recently carried out terror strikes in Paris killing more than 120 people. Besides Pakistan and the security situation, Parrikar will also take forward the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) as both countries work towards greater collaboration in joint development and manufacture of next-gen military technology, sources said.Both Parrikar and Carter will review the functioning of the joint working group on aircraft carrier and identify technologies India could acquire in future. The two are also expected to discuss possible programmes that could be taken up under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.US’ Lockheed Martin has already offered to manufacture its planes here in line with the government’s ‘Make in India’ push. Indicating its growing interest in the Indian market, Lockheed recently entered into a joint venture with the Tatas to manufacture parts of C-130J aircraft at a newly built facility in Hyderabad.A forward movement is also expected in India’s decision to acquire 145 pieces of M777 Ultra-Light Howitzers from the US under a government-to-government deal that would see its manufacturer BAE Systems invest over US $200 million in India as offset.Parrikar is also scheduled to visit the powerful Hawaii-based US Pacific Command, the first by an Indian Defence Minister. Its area of responsibility includes China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and Vietnam.

Will help curb ISIS but stop anti-Muslim comment by BJP leaders, Shia body asks PM Modi

Raza said there is nothing Islamic about ISIS – the Islamic State – and their actions are evil and outside the boundaries set by Islam

A prominent body of Shias on Thursday said the community is prepared to give all support to the government to help curb ISIS activities in the country but asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to rein in BJP MPs and leaders from making statements against Muslims.”We are with central government. We will support and give any information to curb ISIS and terrorist activities in India. “At the same time, we would like the Prime Minister to rein in his MPs and leaders from making any ugly statements against Muslims,” Anjuman-E-Imamia President Syed Zamin Raza told PTI here.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Raza said there is nothing Islamic about ISIS – the Islamic State – and their actions are evil and outside the boundaries set by Islam. Speaking on the sidelines of the commemoration of martyrs of the Battle of Karbala, Raza said a provocative and an emotive speech against Muslims has the potential to spoil the good work done to check ISIS activities in India. “A minute’s speech against Muslims will spoil the good work of curbing ISIS activities in the country,” he said.Raza also accused USA and some sections of Wahabi cult in Saudi Arabia of supporting global terrorism. “It is the US and some section of Wahabi cult in Saudi, who are spreading terrorism. Sunnis, however, are not terrorists. Why does the US does not take any action against such cult but are out to dismantle kingdoms of other Muslim countries. Why this double standard?” he asked.Asked whether AEI has chalked out any strategy to stop Muslims from joining ISIS, Raza said an event will be held next month where all important leaders of Islamic communities will be present and discuss terrorism perpetrated by ISIS and other terrorist outfits including Taliban and Al-Qaeda.Raza said ISIS is a threat to humanity and it cannot be defeated unless all work together with the help of technology at people’s disposal. He said the terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and Turkey are against divine and human laws. “We the Shia Muslim community join the nation in calling for swift apprehension and stiff punishment of the perpetrators,” he said.

Russia says it has proof Turkey involved in Islamic State oil trade | Reuters

MOSCOW Russia’s defence ministry said on Wednesday it had proof that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his family were benefiting from the illegal smuggling of oil from Islamic State-held territory in Syria and Iraq.

Moscow and Ankara have been locked in a war of words since last week when a Turkish air force jet shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border, the most serious incident between Russia and a NATO state in half a century.

Erdogan ressponded by saying no one had the right to “slander” Turkey by accusing it of buying oil from Islamic State, and that he would stand down if such allegations were proven to be true. But speaking during a visit to Qatar, he also said he did not want relations with Moscow to worsen further.

At a briefing in Moscow, defence ministry officials displayed satellite images which they said showed columns of tanker trucks loading with oil at installations controlled by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and then crossing the border into neighbouring Turkey.

The officials did not specify what direct evidence they had of the involvement of Erdogan and his family, an allegation that the Turkish president has vehemently denied.

“Turkey is the main consumer of the oil stolen from its rightful owners, Syria and Iraq. According to information we’ve received, the senior political leadership of the country – President Erdogan and his family – are involved in this criminal business,” said Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov.

“Maybe I’m being too blunt, but one can only entrust control over this thieving business to one’s closest associates.”

“In the West, no one has asked questions about the fact that the Turkish president’s son heads one of the biggest energy companies, or that his son-in-law has been appointed energy minister. What a marvellous family business!”

“The cynicism of the Turkish leadership knows no limits. Look what they’re doing. They went into someone else’s country, they are robbing it without compunction,” Antonov said.

Erdogan last week denied that Turkey procures oil from anything other than legitimate sources.

He has said Ankara is taking active steps to prevent fuel smuggling, and he challenged anyone who accused his government of collaborating with Islamic State to prove their allegations.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said Turkey had made progress in sealing its border with Syria, but Islamic State was still exploiting gaps to bring in foreign fighters and sell oil.


The Russian defence ministry also alleged that the same criminal networks which were smuggling oil into Turkey were also supplying weapons, equipment and training to Islamic State and other Islamist groups.

“According to our reliable intelligence data, Turkey has been carrying out such operations for a long period and on a regular basis. And most importantly, it does not plan to stop them,” Sergei Rudskoy, deputy head of the Russian military’s General Staff, told reporters.

The defence ministry said its surveillance revealed that hundreds of tanker trucks were gathering in plain sight at Islamic State-controlled sites in Iraq and Syria to load up with oil, and it questioned why the U.S.-led coalition was not launching more air strikes on them.

“It’s hard not to notice them,” Rudskoy said of the lines of trucks shown on satellite images.

Officials said that the Russian air force’s bombing campaign had made a significant dent in Islamic State’s ability to produce, refine and sell oil.


Ministry officials described three main routes by which they said oil and oil products were smuggled from Islamic State territory into Turkey.

It said the Western route took oil produced at fields near the Syrian city of Raqqa to the settlement of Azaz on the border with Turkey.

From there the columns of tanker trucks pass through the Turkish town of Reyhanli, the ministry said, citing what it said were satellite pictures of hundreds of such trucks moving through the border crossing without obstruction.

“There is no inspection of the vehicles carried out … on the Turkish side,” said Rudskoy.

Some of the smuggled cargoes go to the Turkish domestic market, while some is exported via the Turkish Mediterranean ports of Iskenderun and Dortyol, the ministry said.

Another main route for smuggled oil, according to the ministry, runs from Deir Ez-zour in Syria to the Syrian border crossing at Al-Qamishli. It said the trucks then took the crude for refining at the Turkish city of Batman.

A third route took oil from eastern Syria and western Iraq into the south-eastern corner of Turkey, the ministry said.

It said its satellite surveillance had captured hundreds of trucks crossing the border in that area back in the summer, and that since then there had been no reduction in the flow.

The defence ministry officials said the information they released on Wednesday was only part of the evidence they have in their possession, and that they would be releasing further intelligence in the next days and weeks.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Winning; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Giles Elgood)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

ISIS threatens Narendra Modi and India, rakes up Dadri lynching

The organisation claims that Modi is a ‘right-wing Hindu nationalist who worships weapons and is preparing his people for a future war against Muslims’. It goes on to claim that they ‘have a political wing for the propaganda to get more recruits, and armed militias who can start a terror campaign against their number 1 enemy—the Muslims’.

File Photo

The Islamic State has vowed to expand its war against India, citing religious prophecies which talks about a global war that will precede Mahdi (redeemer), promising to free the world of evil and pave way for the day of judgement. A e-book released online on jihadist platforms called Black Flags from the ISIS said: “The Islamic State would now expand beyond Iraq and Syria”, Black Flags states. “It would now expand into… India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan [and several other countries]”.The publication offers analysis on the beef controversy in India. It notes, “A movement of Hindus is growing who kill Muslims who eat beef. The people who fund these organisations want to grow a huge following of Islam-haters who can turn into potential recruits for future wars in their countries”. The organisation claims that Modi is a ‘right-wing Hindu nationalist who worships weapons and is preparing his people for a future war against Muslims’. It goes on to claim that they ‘have a political wing for the propaganda to get more recruits, and armed militias who can start a terror campaign against their number 1 enemy—the Muslims’.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>This is the first time that the ISIS has directly talked about events in India, particularly the Dadri incident. The book also claims that the Paris attacks was based on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. A chapter says: “”In the centre of Paris, some Mujahideen holding AK-47s copied the (2008) Mumbai attacks’ style of shooting through the window of a Cafe bar (where alcohol and food was served), then the people fell on the floor, so they threw a grenade into the building.”

ISIS influenced very few Indian youths; govt monitoring cyber space, minister tells Parliament

New Delhi: The terrorist organisation Islamic State has been able to influence very few Indian youths and security agencies are closely monitoring the situation, including keeping potential recruits under surveillance.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary told Lok Sabha that the government is closely monitoring the situation and has directed the intelligence and security agencies to identify potential recruits and keep them under surveillance.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

“The cyber space is being closely monitored in this regard,” he said.

The minister said a few incidents of unfurling of flags of ISIS by some misguided youths were noticed on different occasions in Jammu and Kashmir and some other states in the recent past.

“…state governments concerned have been directed to take appropriate action against such statements as per relevant provisions of law,” he said.

Home Ministry officials had earlier said that 23 youths have joined ISIS of which six were reportedly killed.

Quoting intelligence inputs, officials had said, it emerged that the dreaded terror outfit considered South Asian Muslims, including Indians, inferior to Arab fighters in the conflict zones of Iraq and Syria.

According to an intelligence report prepared by foreign agencies and shared with Indian agencies, fighters from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as certain countries like Nigeria and Sudan are considered not good enough by ISIS and often tricked into suicide attacks.

Around 150 Indians are under surveillance for their alleged online links with ISIS, the officials had said.


ISIS not Muslim, people of other faith defaming Islam: Assam leader

According to the senior Muslim leader, due to the destructive activities of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the entire Muslim community is affected globally and suspected to be involved or sympathiser of terrorist activities.

“ISIS is not at all Muslims, rather these are people from other religion wearing masks and defaming Islam”, viewed Vice President of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat HRA Choudhury.Speaking to ANI at the sideline of a convention Choudhury said, “I understand that these people (ISIS) are not Muslims at all. They are not Muslims and are from some other religion and wearing Muslim masks and doing all their activities.”Choudhury, a senior advocate of Gauhati High Court and president of Samajwadi Party of Assam’s state committee, was one of the chief guests at the convention of Tripura State Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind in Agartala Sunday.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>According to the senior Muslim leader, due to the destructive activities of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the entire Muslim community is affected globally and suspected to be involved or sympathiser of terrorist activities.”Everyone is affected and questions are being raised (against Islam) due to the ISIS activities. Those who are doing all these in the name of the Koran and Allah are misusing the name of Koran and Allah. See no religion teaches all these ………. a real Muslim can never do all these things,” said Choudhury.He expressed that in India’s northeast often the people of Islamic faith are often under doubt due to subversive activities conducted by intruders for neighbouring Bangladesh or even from Pakistan.According to him, Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, – the largest organisation of Muslims in India is keeping a strict vigil on such activities and if there is any attempt to involve the local Muslim population in terrorist and ISIS activities, and so it will be very tough for them to flouring in this part of India. Though a previously released map of Islamic State territorial claims did not include India or Bangladesh but included the Middle East, including Israel, the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Europe including the Balkans and Spain but of late a Twitter account affiliated with the Islamic State proclaimed the formation of a new ISIS province ‘Wilayat Hind’ which includes India and Bangladesh.

Residences of PM, Home Minister under threat of ‘aerial strikes’ from ISIS

The areas under threat, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs, include the Prime Minister’s house, the residences of Home Minister and Vice President, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Rajpath, India Gate

New Delhi is under a serious threat of aerial strikes from different terror outfits including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Ministry of Home Affairs said. The report said that security agencies have taken necessary steps to foil any such attacks and have prepared a list of 15 key areas in the Indian capital that they fear might be targeted. The areas under threat, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs, include the Prime Minister’s house, the residences of Home Minister and Vice President, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Rajpath, India Gate and the CGO Complex that houses the headquarters of key agencies such as the CBI, CISF and BSF.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Various objects like unmanned air system (UAS), drones, and paramotors could be used to launch these attacks, the ministry said.The security agencies have been instructed to shoot down any unidentified or suspicious flying object once it is declared ‘non-friendly’ by the India Air Force (IAF). “Delhi is the most sensitive metro in India. It has been facing threats from various outfits. But aerial attack threats are now the main focus. Security and intelligence agencies have given reports about such attacks in Delhi. The government is coming out with a plan to counter the threat,” a top government official was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying.Last month, a suspected drone had been noticed at the airport in Delhi. However, security agencies are still unable to demystify the incident.

Obama to meet Modi, China’s Xi at Paris climate talks – White House | Reuters

WASHINGTON U.S. President Barack Obama will meet China’s president and India’s prime minister on the first day of Paris climate talks on Nov. 30 to give momentum to the two-week U.N. negotiations, White House officials said.

Obama’s meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the start of the two-week climate summit “send a strong message to the world about their strong commitment to climate change,” White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said.

Nearly 140 world leaders confirmed their attendance at the opening day of the U.N. Climate Change conference that runs until Dec. 11, even after the Nov. 13 attacks by Islamic State militants rattled the host city.

Rhodes said Obama is likely to pay tribute to the people of Paris during his trip, and said he and other world leaders will attend the climate talks as a “clear sign of strength and resilience in the face of terrorism.”

Paul Bodnar, senior director for energy and climate change at the White House National Security Council, said Obama’s meetings with Xi and Modi are not expected to yield new announcements but to consult on key issues of the negotiations.

“These two countries are two of our most important partners in dealing with global climate change,” he said.

Obama will also meet with French President Francois Hollande, as well as with leaders of island nations such as the Seychelles and Marshall Islands that are threatened by rising sea levels.

The administration officials said Obama will be joined in Paris by key members of his cabinet, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Jeff Mason; Editing by Eric Walsh and Chizu Nomiyama)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Bombing of Tunisia presidential guard bus kills 12 | Reuters

TUNIS At least 12 people were killed on Tuesday after an explosion tore through a bus full of Tunisian presidential guards in an attack one source said was probably carried out by a bomber detonating his explosives in the vehicle.

Ambulances rushed wounded from the scene and security forces closed off streets around Mohamed V Avenue, one of the major streets in the capital Tunis and where the charred wreckage of the bus lay not far from the interior ministry.

It is the third major attack to strike Tunisia this year after a militant killed 38 foreigners at a beach hotel in June and gunmen killed 21 tourists at the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March. Islamic State claimed both those attacks.

Security sources said the guards were boarding the bus to be taken to the presidential place on the outskirts of the city when the explosion hit. One presidential source said it was likely that a bomber had detonated his explosive belt inside.

“I was on Mohamed V, just getting ready to get into my car, when there was a huge explosion. I saw the bus blow up. There were bodies and blood everywhere,” said Bassem Trifi, a witness.

At least 12 guards were killed and 17 wounded, according to an interior ministry statement.

President Beji Caid Essebsi cancelled a trip to Europe he had planned for Wednesday.

Mohamed V is a major boulevard usually packed with traffic and pedestrians, and the site of several hotels and banks.

Fighting Islamist militants has become a major challenge for Tunisia, the small North African country that was hailed as a blueprint for democratic change in the region after an uprising in 2011 ousted autocrat Zine Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia has had free elections and is operating under a new constitution and a broad political consensus that has allowed secular and Islamist parties to overcome a crisis that threatens to overturn their young democracy.

But several thousand Tunisians have also left to fight in Syria, Iraq and Libya with Islamic State and other militant groups, and some have threatened to carry out attacks at home.

The army has also been fighting against another Islamist militant group in the mountains near the Algerian border. Militants have hit checkpoints and patrols in rural areas in the past.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Kevin Liffey and John Stonestreet)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Islamic State consider Indian fighters inferior, use them for suicide attacks

New Delhi: Twenty-three Indians have so far joined the Islamic State of which six were reportedly killed even as it emerged that the dreaded terror outfit considered South Asian Muslims, including Indians, inferior to Arab fighters in the conflict zone of Iraq and Syria.

According to an intelligence report prepared by foreign agencies and shared with Indian agencies, fighters from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh as well as certain countries like Nigeria and Sudan are considered not good enough by IS and often tricked into suicide attacks.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The report said that a total of 23 Indians have so far joined the IS of which six were reportedly killed in different incidents.

The dead were identified as Athif Vaseem Mohammad (Adilabad, Telangana), Mohammad Umar Subhan (Bangalore, Karnataka), Maulana Abdul Kadir Sultan Armar (Bhatkal, Karnataka), Saheem Farooque Tanki (Thane, Maharashtra), Faiz Masood (Bangalore, Karnataka) and Mohammad Sajid alias Bada Sajid (Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh).

The intelligence report suggests that there is a disproportionately high level of casualties among the South Asian and African foreign terrorist fighters since they are forced to the frontlines of battle as foot soldiers.

The Arab fighters with better battle experience are mostly positioned behind these fighters and hence their casualties are proportionally less in terms of their total numbers. This explains why so many Indians from a small Indian contingent have died, it says.

There appears to be clear hierarchy wherein the Arab fighters are preferred as officer cadre and provided better arms and ammunition, equipment, accommodation and salaries.

“The fighters from South Asia are usually housed in groups in small barracks and are paid less than the Arab fighters and are provided inferior equipment,” the input says.

There are reports that the so-called inferior fighters are also, at times, tricked into suicide attacks. Usually they are given a vehicle loaded with explosives and asked to go near a targeted destination and call a certain number, who would purportedly come and meet them to explain the mission.

However, as soon as the number is dialled, the car explodes due to a pre-set mechanism aimed at destroying a specific target.

The intelligence report says there is information that foreign fighters of Chinese, Indian, Nigerian and Pakistani origin are housed together and are monitored closely by the IS Police.

Incidentally, only Tunisian, Palestinian, Saudi Arabian, Iraqi and Syrian are allowed to be in the IS Police force, which is barred for fighters of all other nationalities.

Hence, there is a clear trust deficit between the dominant Arab fighters from other nationalities, who are mostly attracted to IS through its sophisticated propaganda techniques on the Internet.


Future wars may be cyber wars, so a ‘digitised army’ is the need of the hour: Parrikar

New Delhi: Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Monday expressed concern over the use of internet by Islamic State militants for recruitment and said it was important to enhance information and communications technology (ICT) capabilities to face any threat.

“…you take the example of terrorist organisation like Daesh or Islamic State; they use internet to ensure lot of recruitment and support. They are the ones who are the best users of Internet technology for promoting their cause,” Parrikar said at an event.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTIDefence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

“My worry is about information blackout due to various disruptive mechanisms… information corruption can be another danger to platforms; and information overload is also a problem,” he said.

The minister was speaking at a conference on ‘Enabling ICTEC Infrastructure and Harnessing the Human Capital for Digital Army’, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry.

“One way to progress is through ICT use and make a more digitised army… we need to enhance our capability so that we are protected,” he said.

“ICT has a very important role to play. The future wars may be cyber wars. I see the signals for it and this is not necessarily in a way we think… I believe very strongly that ultimately a conventional army cannot be replaced but it can be equipped with all the information to fight in a well planned way without interruption,” Parrikar added.


An Indian born in Pakistan: Meet and chat with Tarek Fatah at Firstpost Salon this Thursday

Tarek Fatah will be the featured guest for the fourth Firstpost Salon, a series of conversations with the sharpest minds and biggest names.

From a leftist student twice imprisoned by military dictators in Pakistan to a popular journalist in Canada, Tarek Fatah has not lost his feistiness. After the 11 September, 2001, attacks shocked the world, Tarek founded the Muslim Canadian Congress, a platform for Muslims who denounce armed jihad to express their views. He has always spoken out in favour of a more liberal form of Islam by supporting gay rights, denouncing Sharia laws and supporting the ban on the burqa and the niqab. He has also spoken out against the US occupation of Iraq.

File image of Tarek Fatah. IBN-Live

File image of Tarek Fatah. IBN-Live

An author, columnist and broadcaster, Fatah was born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1949. He later moved to Saudi Arabia and then emigrated to Canada in 1987. He has hosted several television shows including Muslim Chronicle, The Agenda, Strong Opinions Show, Friendly Fire and The Tarek Fatah Show. He writes a column for The Toronto Sun.

Tarek describes himself on his website as being “an Indian born in Pakistan, a Punjabi born in Islam; an immigrant in Canada with a Muslim consciousness, grounded in a Marxist youth…I write as a Muslim whose ancestors were Hindu. My religion, Islam, is rooted in Judaism, while my Punjabi culture is tied to that of the Sikhs. Yet I am told by Islamists that without shedding this multifaceted heritage, if not outrightly rejecting it, I cannot be considered a true Muslim.”

In 2008, he released his first book, Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, in which he states his belief that the Islamic state (not to be confused with the terrorist organisation Islamic State) is an unattainable goal that Muslims have been chasing for a millennium. The book was a finalist for the 2008 Donner Prize. Two years later, his second book The Jew is Not My Enemy won the Helen and Stan Vine Award.

Raghu Raman, former CEO of Natgrid and an expert on security and defence matters and himself a TEDx India regular, will engage Tarek Fatah in conversation on Thursday, 26 November. We will be live-streaming from 6 pm. Do tune in and don’t forget to send us your questions for Tarek on Twitter (@firstpost) or on Facebook so we can include them in the conversation.

Seven years after Tarek’s first book and two weeks after the deadly Paris attacks that announced the arrival of the IS beyond Syria, Iraq and the Middle East, it is time to reflect if the ‘illusion’ of an Islamic State is getting dangerously closer to reality? Has radicalisation of Muslim youth taken firm roots? Why? How will the world, Muslim and the rest, deal with this clear and present danger? Is the combined military might of the global powers enough to stamp out the IS? Or does the solution lie elsewhere?

Is there a solution at all?

These are some of the questions that will be asked of Tarek, one of the most outspoken critics of the very idea of an Islamic State.

The good news this time is that the Fourth FP Salon is being thrown open to a limited number of Firstpost readers.

All you have to do to get that Special Invitation is to answer this simple question:

Why did Tarek Fateh do a mixture of the lungi dance and bhangra on 28 August 28?

Rush your answer with your contact number to [email protected]. The first 20 persons to provide the right answer will be invited as Special Guests.

Mumbai-based winners can attend the event in person. Those living outside Mumbai will have their questions answered by Tarek.

Saudi funding fans ultra-conservative Islam in India; the political, ideological response to it remains meek

By Sunil Raman

For years, the growing following and influence of ultra-conservative Islamist ideology in parts of Europe including Belgium, France and even Scandinavian countries has been talked and written about. Sometimes attacks on small scale were ignored as petty crimes or for reasons of political correctness, these were pushed under the carpet as Europe tried hard to project its image as a multi-cultural and multi-religious project where people of all faiths were free to follow and propagate their religious beliefs.

Until the 7 July, 2005 London attacks, Britain loved to show its openness to ideas and people even if they as UK residents preached hatred and opposition to Westminster style of democracy. A radical Egyptian cleric Abu Hamza was treated virtually as a state guest as he preached radical doctrine to Muslims in London and UK. Many in India will remember the freedom given to Khalistani Sikh organisations and Tamil Tigers by British authorities. Radical groups were allowed to spread hatred in the name of freedom and free speech.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

If the London attacks forced British authorities to wake up to the threat posed by such groups and the ideas they propagated, the November 2015 attacks in Paris seem to have woken up mainstream political parties in Europe to such a threat. Suddenly, Belgium is viewed as a weak link and liberal democracies have realised the danger of giving “unfettered” freedom to Islamic groups.

Flirtation with Saudi Arabia saw the rise of fancy mosques across the continent where many clerics preached a return to “pure Islamic ideals” as espoused in the Quran. Puritanical Wahabi ideology was and continues to be propagated from many of these mosques across the world, where clerics are not only sowing seeds of hatred against liberal democracies but also against Shia Muslims.

The last few years witnessed Salafis grow and spread with great speed across the globe as well. Their brand of Islam that considers all ideas and practices of Muslims that are not in conjunction with the Holy Book as heretical has taken root across the continent, among a growing population of young Muslims who are being told day in and day out that they must return to their roots.

Salafis are more conservative and do not accept many of the beliefs of Sunni Muslims, and they are more aggressively opposed to any cultural influence impacting Muslim practices. They are greater opponents of mysticism, and reject ideas of saints and their shrines as unacceptable. This makes South Asian Islam as nothing short of heretical. Men and women must not mix with non-Muslims, give up any form of worship such as visits to Sufi shrines and abjure any act that could be construed as un-Islamic.

Saudi Arabia’s brand of Islam that it has successfully marketed to millions across Asia, Africa and now Europe through generous financial payoffs and donations, has impacted younger population of Muslims in parts of India for last few years.

India has also over the years seen more and more Muslims, particularly the younger population, get attracted to preachings of ultra-conservative clerics. This is not to say that they are supporters of radical groups like the Islamic State and Taliban. But, the change in the complexion of discourse within sections of Muslim population, their responses and growing assertion of some people that there is need to abandon centuries old brand of South Asian Islam are a natural consequence of years of government indifference, some complicity and failure to recognise what/how Saudi money was actually contributing to a change in the way many Muslims think.

A few months ago Oman flagged concern about growing radicalisation of thousands of Muslim workers from India in the Gulf country.

The growing pressure of Wahabis to push their conservative ideology has disturbed sections of Sunnis in India and a few months ago some of its leaders sought government intervention to check its spread.

The Sunni Wakf Board fears that Wahabis could take over a majority of shrines and ‘dargahs’ of Sunnis allowing terror groups like IS inroads into the country. Wahabi clerics and preachers have had little difficulty in getting visas to address and influence congregations across the country.

Salafis in Bengaluru

In the last few years Salafis have managed to take root in large parts of the country including Benguluru which boasts of 42-odd Salafi mosques that preach ideas that are repugnant to centuries-old Islamic traditions in India. That it was not easy to set up Salafi mosques due to opposition from existing Islamic groups in Bengaluru is well acknowledged by the Salafi trust on its official website. “There were physical fights, social boycott, warnings and torture for the above members for bringing the Salafi methodology in their locality” before they managed to build Salafi mosques, states its official website.

Initial opposition later dissolved and they managed to expand their influence in the city and among its young population,

I recall meeting a young Muslim in Benguluru some years ago who was forthright in his criticism of his mother and sister’s “un-Islamic” acts of visiting Sufi shrines and praying at mazars of saints. He also minced no words to state his opposition to Shias terming them as non-Muslims. This young educated man was a regular at a Salafi mosque in Koramangala area, home to wealthy people such as Infosys and Wipro chiefs.

Kerala has for many years seen a subtle shift in the way women dress up, use of headscarves, and even design for new mosques. In fact, preachers from Muslim Brotherhood have had access to Kerala in last several years where institutions like the Islamic Mission Trust have used foreign funding to set up educational and social institutions to widen their reach and influence.

Salafi organisations like Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen have been around since 1950s but post-1992’s Babri Masjid demolition and the turn of the new century, they have witnessed growth and radicalisation of minds that is a matter of concern.

Al-Jamiya Al-Islamia in Malappuram (north Kerala) with well-defined objectives to provide leadership for teaching, training and research in Arabic Language and Literature has emerged as a new institution that preaches conservative Islam. Saudi Arabia pledged millions of Saudi Riyals to them ostensibly for constructing an arts and science college building. In 2003, it became a university “and a dream come true” when a celebrated international scholar Sheikh Yusuful Qardawi declared it a university. Qardawi, now in exile in Qatar, belongs to Muslim Brotherhood. According to international websites he is known for his militant religious rulings and political commentary in support of acts of terrorism and repression of women.

It also pledged one million Saudi Riyal to the construction of a nursing college. A similar amount was also pledged to Palghat Mujahideen Arabic College Committee in Kerala for the purpose of extending an existing medical college and the Karuma hospital building.

In eastern Uttar Pradesh, Saudi Riyals were donated to establish a madrasa building and a vocational centre for girls in Mirzapur and Siddharth Nagar. Schools and colleges with Arabic names prominently stick out across western UP today. Attempts to also link Muslim identity with Saudi Arabia, reminiscent of what happened in Pakistan, need to be addressed politically and ideologically.

UP, Kerala and Karnataka examples merely illustrate how ultra-conservative ideas alien to Muslims in India are now getting greater attention and following among sections of Muslims because of inadequate political understanding and response. Political parties in India that claim to be flag-bearers of secularism need to look beyond short term electoral gains to formulate a response to Wahabis and Salafis gaining mindspace among sections of world’s third largest Muslim population.

The writer is a former BBC journalist

ASEAN Summit: PM Modi calls for new strategies to combat terrorism, Obama vows to destroy ISIS

Noting that the East Asia Summit is the key forum to shape the region’s collective future, Modi told the leaders of the 18-member grouping that the world still looks to the region to address global challenges and uncertainties.

World leaders at the ASEAN Summit in Malaysia

Voicing concern over a spate of recent terror attacks in several countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said terrorism is no longer a “peripheral problem” for the region as its long shadow stretches across the world and called for new strategies to combat the menace.”We often thought of terrorism as a peripheral problem for this region. The barbaric terrorist strikes in Paris, Ankara, Beirut, Mali and on the Russian aircraft is a stark reminder that its shadow stretches across our societies and our world, both in recruitment and choice of targets,” Modi said in his remarks at the East Asia Summit here.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>He called for a new global resolve and new strategies to combat terrorism, without balancing it against political considerations and said no country should use or support terrorism.”There is no distinction between groups. There are no sanctuaries. There are no funds. There is no access to arms. But, we also have to work within our societies and with our youth,” he added. The Prime Minister welcomed the commitment to delink religion from terrorism and the efforts to promote human values that define every faith.Noting that the East Asia Summit is the key forum to shape the region’s collective future, Modi told the leaders of the 18-member grouping that the world still looks to the region to address global challenges and uncertainties.He said that since his government assumed office 18 months ago, no region has seen greater engagement from India than the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region. “This reflects a long standing national consensus in India on the importance of this region for India and the world,” Modi said.On upcoming Paris climate talks, the Prime Minister said, “There, we must not only come together to craft a balanced and concrete outcome on climate change. But we must also stand together to send a clear message that we will not retreat in the face of terror.”Modi reaffirmed India’s active participation in the ASEAN led security dialogue and cooperation forums and said the East Asia Summit must continue to support the evolution of an inclusive, balanced, transparent and open regional architecture for security and cooperation. “We must deepen our collective commitment to strengthen and abide by international rules and norms,” he said. Noting that oceans remained the pathway to prosperity and security, Modi said India shared with ASEAN a commitment to freedom of navigation, over flight and unimpeded commerce, in accordance with accepted principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.Noting that India and Bangladesh had recently settled their maritime boundary using the mechanism of UNCLOS, he said territorial disputes must be settled through peaceful means. “India hopes that all parties to the disputes in the South China Sea will abide by the Declaration on the Conduct on South China Sea and the guidelines on the implementation. Parties must also redouble efforts for early adoption of a Code of Conduct on the basis of consensus,” Modi said, without naming any country.China claims sovereignty on almost all of the South China Sea which is firmly opposed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. The Prime Minister also called for stronger commitment and closer cooperation on cyber security. He listed out outer space as emerging a major area of security concern. “We must also continue to strengthen cooperation on non-proliferation,” he said.India, which shares both land and maritime boundaries with ASEAN, said it will continue to deepen bilateral security partnerships in ASEAN and with other EAS partners. “We will remain active participants in the ASEAN-led security dialogue and cooperation forums,” he added. Modi also spoke about early conclusion of a balanced and broad-based Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. “Trans Pacific Partnership is also a major development. These, I hope, will eventually not become competing regimes, but the foundations of an integrated economic community in the region,” he said.Modi said development cooperation was at the heart of the East Asia Summit. “India will continue to support the efforts of our partner countries”. He said India was taking the lead in establishing EAS Virtual Knowledge Portals on Disaster Management and Trauma Care & Nursing. The Nalanda University is shaping up as a world class centre of knowledge and learning, he added. U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday said the United States and its allies would not relent in its fight to combat Islamic State extremists and would hunt down their leaders and cut off the group’s financing.”Destroying (Islamic State) is not only a realistic goal, were going to get it done,” he told a news conference after a meeting of Asian leaders in Malaysia.”We will destroy them. We will take back land they are currently in, take out their financing, hunt down leadership, dismantle their networks, supply lines and we will destroy them.”Obama said it “would be helpful” if Russia directed its focus on tackling Islamic State and he hoped Moscow would agree to a leadership transition in Syria that meant its president stepping down.

Former SIMI member from Karnataka detained in Dubai for suspected ISIS activities

Investigations showed Damudi to be in touch with several other Muslim youths in India as well.

Islamic State militants

Dubai police have detained a 33-year-old from Bhatkal, Karnataka, who was being tracked for over a year by Indian authorities for suspected online activities linked to the Islamic State, reports Indian Express. Former SIMI member Adnan Hasan Damudi, moved to Dubai in 2012 for work, and is said to have acted as an online recruiter and propaganda agent for ISIS.Indian authorities are hopeful that Damudi, an accountant by training who was last known to be employed as an assistant delivery coordinator at the World Trade Center in Dubai, would be deported soon to India. He was detained a couple of months ago. However his present location is ‘not known’.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Since the detention, Damudi’s ‘suspect’ online activities have come to a halt, sources added. The Twitter account allegedly linked to Damudi, with the handle @AdnanDamudi, that would propagate IS ideology has been defunct over the last year along with his YouTube subscription.Indian and UAE phone numbers suspected to have been provided by Damudi on online forums are also inactive. A Telangana Police investigation into an attempt last year to recruit four Hyderabad youths to IS led to Damudi. The terrorist is alleged to have influenced the four engineering college dropouts to travel to Syria as well as arranged funds for their travel, before the authorities were alerted and the youths detained near Malda in West Bengal and brought back to Hyderabad. A commerce graduate from Karnatak University in Dharwad, Damudi was allegedly also in touch with Sultan Armar from Bhatkal, who was reported by IS-linked websites to have been killed in Kobane in Syria in March this year. Investigations showed Damudi to be in touch with several other Muslim youths in India as well, reports Indian Express. An alleged active participant in online platforms linked to the IS, he was a subscriber a year ago to a YouTube channel operated by controversial Australian pro-IS preacher Robert Musa Cerantonio, who was deported to Australia from the Philippines in 2014.Investigations into the attempt by the four Hyderabad youths to make their way to IS ranks in Syria had revealed that they were initially handled online by a Karnataka-origin man based in the Gulf. Initially 6 youths from Hyderabad had been convinced into signing up for the IS and visas were to be arranged for their travel via Istanbul, says Indian Express. However, two had later dropped out after their parents got wind of their plans as well as the person who was to arrange their visas backed out. The four youths who eventually decided to leave first went into hiding in the Karimnagar district of Telangana and, out of desperation, allegedly contacted Damudi on an Indian number provided by him. Damudi allegedly put the youths in touch with Sultan Armar, who was suspected then to be on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

About 27 dead after Islamists seize hotel in Mali’s capital | Reuters

BAMAKO Around 27 people were reported dead on Friday after Malian commandos stormed a hotel seized by Islamist gunmen to rescue 170 people, many of them foreigners, trapped in the building.

The jihadist group Al Mourabitoun, allied to al Qaeda and based in the desert north of the former French colony, claimed responsibility for the attack. Mali has been battling Islamist rebels for years.

A security source said the drama was over by early evening and two militants were dead.

A U.N. official said U.N. peacekeepers searching the hotel had made a preliminary count of 27 bodies. The government held an emergency cabinet meeting on Friday night and was expected to give an official death toll later.

“At first I thought it was a carjacking. Then they killed two guards in front of me and shot another man in the stomach and wounded him and I knew it was something more,” said Modi Coulibaly, a Malian legal expert who witnessed the start of the assault.

State television showed troops brandishing AK47s in the lobby of the Radisson Blu, one of the capital Bamako’s smartest hotels and beloved of foreigners. A body lay under a brown blanket at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

Peacekeepers saw 12 dead bodies in the basement of the hotel and another 15 on the second floor, the U.N. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. He added that the U.N. troops were still helping Malian authorities search the hotel.

A man who worked for a Belgian regional parliament was among the dead, the assembly said. France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was not aware of any French nationals killed.

The White House said it was working to locate all American citizens in Mali, offered to help with an investigation and urged its citizens to limit their movements around Bamako.

Minister of Internal Security Colonel Salif Traoré said the gunmen burst through a security barrier at 7 a.m. (0700 GMT), spraying the area with gunfire and shouting “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is great” in Arabic.

The attacks are a slap in the face for France, which has stationed 3,500 troops in northern Mali to try to restore stability after a 2012 Tuareg rebellion which was later hijacked by al Qaeda-linked jihadists.


Bursts of gunfire were heard as the assailants went through the hotel room by room and floor by floor, one senior security source and a witness told Reuters.

Some people were freed by the attackers after showing they could recite verses from the Koran, while others managed to escape or were brought out by security forces.

One of the rescued hostages, celebrated Guinean singer Sékouba “Bambino” Diabate, said he had overheard two of the assailants speaking English as they searched an adjacent room.

“We heard shots coming from the reception area. I didn’t dare go out of my room because it felt like this wasn’t just simple pistols – these were shots from military weapons,” Diabate told Reuters by phone.

“The attackers went into the room next to mine. I stayed still, hidden under the bed, not making a noise,” he said. “I heard them say in English ‘Did you load it?’, ‘Let’s go’.”

The raid on the hotel, which lies just west of the city centre near government ministries and diplomatic offices, came a week after Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris.

Twelve Air France (AIRF.PA) flight crew were in the hotel but all were brought out safely, the French national carrier said.

A Turkish official said five of seven Turkish Airlines staff had also managed to flee. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua said three of 10 Chinese tourists caught inside had been rescued.


Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cut short a trip to a regional summit in Chad, his office said.

Northern Mali was occupied by Islamist fighters, some with links to al Qaeda, for most of 2012. They were driven out by a French-led military operation, but sporadic violence has continued in Mali’s central belt on the southern reaches of the Sahara, and in Bamako.

One security source said as many as 10 gunmen had stormed the building, although the company that runs the hotel, Rezidor Group, said it understood that there were only two attackers.

Al Mourabitoun has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks, including an assault on a hotel in the town of Sevare, 600 km (375 miles) northeast of Bamako, in August in which 17 people including five U.N. staff were killed.

One of its leaders is Mokhtar Belmokhtar, blamed for a large-scale assault on an Algerian gas field in 2013 and a major figure in insurgencies across North Africa.

In the wake of last week’s Paris attacks, an Islamic State militant in Syria told Reuters the organisation viewed France’s military intervention in Mali as another reason to attack France and French interests.

“This is just the beginning. We also haven’t forgotten what happened in Mali,” said the non-Syrian fighter, who was contacted online by Reuters. “The bitterness from Mali, the arrogance of the French, will not be forgotten at all.”

(Additional reporting by Adama Diarra, Joe Penney and Kissima Diagana in Bamako, Makini Brice in Dakar, John Irish in Paris, Washington and United Nations bureaus; Writing by Joe Bavier and Ed Cropley; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Andrew Roche)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Tapped phone led Paris attack leader to his death | Reuters

PARIS The top suspect behind last week’s Paris attacks was watched by police being led into a building by a woman suicide bomber the evening before they both died there during a raid by special forces, a police source said on Friday.

Police had been tapping the phone of Hasna Aitboulahcen as part of a drugs investigation and were able to track her down to the Saint-Denis suburb north of the French capital.

They watched the 26-year-old take Abdelhamid Abaaoud, suspected mastermind of the Nov. 13 bombings and shootings that killed 130 people, into the building where both died early on Wdnesday morning.

She detonated a suicide belt during the seven-hour police assault on the building, where officials said a third unidentified person died with them. Aitboulahcen may be Abaaoud’s cousin.

Once they learned Abaaoud was in France from Moroccan officials, French police focused on Aitboulahcen, a woman with links to him whom they were already trailing.

Earlier, a police source said Abaaoud had been identified on CCTV footage recorded at a suburban metro station at the same time as the killings were in progress in central Paris.

He was seen at the Croix de Chavaux station in Montreuil, not far from where one of the cars used in the attacks was found, one of the police sources said.

In response to the attacks, police carried out raids across France for a fifth night. A bill to extend a state of emergency until February and give the police new powers goes before the upper house of the French parliament later on Friday.

So far, police have searched 793 premises, held 90 people for questioning, put 164 under house arrest and recovered 174 weapons including assault rifles and other guns, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.

Police searched a mosque in Brest in western France. Its imam, Rachid Abou Houdeyfa, who has strongly condemned the Paris attacks, achieved notoriety earlier this year after telling children they could be turned into pigs for listening to music.


Abaaoud, 28, was spotted on the CCTV tape at 10:14 p.m. (2114 GMT) on Friday last week, after shootings at several cafes and suicide bombings near a packed soccer stadium, but while an attack was still under way at the Bataclan concert venue.

Abaaoud was a petty criminal who went to fight in Syria in 2013 and, until the attacks, European governments thought he was still there.

He is believed to have recruited young men to fight for Islamic State from immigrant families in his native Brussels district of Molenbeek and elsewhere in Belgium and France.

Moroccan-born Abaaoud was accused of orchestrating last Friday’s attacks in which seven assailants died. A suspected eighth person, Salah Abdeslam is still on the run.

Abaaoud was one of Islamic State’s highest-profile European recruits, appearing in its slick online English-language magazine Dabiq, where he boasted of crossing European borders to stage attacks. He claimed to have escaped a manhunt after a police raid in Belgium in 2013 in which two militants died.

Islamic State, which controls parts of Iraq and Syria, has attracted thousands of young European and Abaaoud was seen as a leading figure in luring others to join, particularly from his home country Belgium.

His own family has disowned him, accusing him of abducting his 13-year-old brother, who was later promoted on the Internet as Islamic State’s youngest foreign fighter in Syria.

Moroccan authorities also arrested his younger brother Yassine last month after he arrived in Agadir and has been held in custody since, a Moroccan security source said on Friday.


While quickly tracking Abaaoud down will be seen as a major success for French authorities, his presence in Paris will focus more attention on the difficulty European security services have in monitoring the continent’s borders.

EU interior and justice ministers in Brussels on Friday pledged solidarity with France in the wake of the attacks and agreed a series of new measures on surveillance, border checks and gun control.

“We must be implacable in our determination, we must speed up our action, otherwise Europe will lose its way,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

The 28 governments agreed to speed new legislation to share air passengers’ data, curb firearms trafficking and ensure closer checks on EU citizens crossing Europe’s external borders.

France has called for changes to the functioning of the EU’s Schengen border-free travel zone to make it tougher to travel across Europe.

Hundreds of thousands of people have reached Europe as Syrian refugees in recent months, including at least one person using a passport found at the scene of Friday’s attacks.

Belgium, stung by revelations several of the attackers were based there, has announced a 400 million euro ($430 million) security crackdown.

France has called for a global coalition to defeat the group and has launched air strikes on Raqqa, the de-facto Islamic State capital in northern Syria, since the weekend. Russia has also targeted the city in retribution for the downing of a Russian airliner last month that killed 224.

(Additional reporting by Chine Labbe, John Irish, Emmanuel Jarry and Leigh Thomas in Paris, Pierre-Henri Allain in Rennes, Francesco Guarascio and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; writing by Giles Elgood and David Clarke; editing by Andrew Callus and Peter Millership)

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At least two die in police raid on group planning new Paris attack | Reuters

SAINT DENIS, France A woman suicide bomber blew herself up in a police raid that sources said had foiled a jihadi plan to hit Paris’s business district, days after attacks that killed 129 across the French capital.

Police stormed an apartment in the Paris suburb of St. Denis in a hunt for Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian Islamist militant accused of masterminding the bombings and shootings, but more than 15 hours later it was still unclear if they had found him.

Heavily armed officers entered the building before dawn, triggering a massive firefight and multiple explosions. Eight people were arrested and forensic scientists were working to confirm if two or three militants died in the violence.

“A new team of terrorists has been neutralised,” Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters, saying police had fired 5,000 rounds of munitions into the apartment, which was left shredded by the assault, its windows blown out and the facade riddled with bullet impacts.

“This commando could have become operational,” Molins said.

A source close to the investigation said the dead woman might have been Abaaoud’s cousin, while the Washington Post quoted senior intelligence officials as saying Abaaoud himself had died in the shoot out.

Molins said none of the bodies had been identified, adding only that Abaaoud was not amongst those detained.

Police were led to the apartment following a tip off that the 28-year-old Belgian, previously thought to have orchestrated the Nov. 13 attacks from Syria, was actually in France.

Investigators believe the attacks — the worst atrocity in France since World War Two — were set in motion in Syria, with Islamist cells in neighbouring Belgium organising the mayhem.

Local residents spoke of their fear and panic as the shooting started in St. Denis just before 4.30 a.m. (0330 GMT).

“We could see bullets flying and laser beams out of the window. There were explosions. You could feel the whole building shake,” said Sabrine, a downstairs neighbour from the apartment that was raided.

She told Europe 1 radio that she heard the people above her talking to each other, running around and reloading their guns.

Another local, Sanoko Abdulai, said that as the operation gathered pace, a young woman detonated an explosion.

“She had a bomb, that’s for sure. The police didn’t kill her, she blew herself up…,” he told Reuters, without giving details. Five police officers and a passerby were injured in the assault. A police dog was also killed.


Islamic State, which controls swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, saying they were in retaliation for French air raids against their positions over the past year.

France has called for a global coalition to defeat the radicals and has launched three air strikes on Raqqa — the de-facto Islamic State capital in northern Syria — since the weekend. Russia has also targeted the city in retribution for the downing of a Russian airliner last month that killed 224.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Wednesday the bombardments have killed at least 33 Islamic State militants over the past three days.

Citing activists, the Observatory said Islamic State members and dozens of families of senior members had started fleeing Raqqa to relocate to Mosul in neighbouring Iraq.

French prosecutors have identified five of the seven dead assailants from Friday — four Frenchmen and a man who was fingerprinted in Greece last month after arriving in the country via Turkey with a boatload of refugees fleeing the Syria war.

Police believe two men directly involved in the assault subsequently escaped, including Salah Abdeslam, 26, a Belgian-based Frenchman who is accused of having played a central role in both planning and executing the deadly mission.

French authorities said on Wednesday they had identified all the Nov. 13 victims. They came from 17 different countries, many of them young people out enjoying themselves at bars, restaurants, a concert hall and a soccer stadium.

Empowered by a state of emergency introduced in France last Friday, police here have made hundreds of sweeps across the country over the past three days, arresting 60 suspects, putting 118 under house arrest and seizing 75 weapons.

Until Wednesday morning, officials had said Abaaoud was in Syria. He grew up in Brussels, but media said he moved to Syria in 2014 to fight with Islamic State. Since then he has travelled back to Europe at least once and was involved in a series of planned attacks in Belgium foiled by the police last January.

Two police sources and a source close to the investigation told Reuters that the St. Denis cell was planning a fresh attack. “This new team was planning an attack on La Defense,” one source said, referring to a high-rise neighbourhood on the outskirts of Paris that is home to top banks and businesses.

A man in St. Denis told reporters that he had rented out the besieged apartment to two people last week.

“Someone asked me a favour, I did them a favour. Someone asked me to put two people up for three days and I did them a favour, it’s normal. I don’t know where they came from I don’t know anything,” the man told Reuters Television.

He was later arrested by police.


Global anxiety was reflected in a flurry of new security alerts on Wednesday after a soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands was cancelled on Tuesday evening in response to what a senior politician called a “concrete indication” of danger.

Sweden raised its threat level by one step to four on a scale of five, the high-speed Eurostar train that connects Paris and London briefly suspended check-in at Paris’s Gare du Nord and several German Bundesliga soccer teams said they were beefing up security ahead of their matches.

The Russian air force on Wednesday carried out a “mass strike” on Islamic State positions around Syria, including Raqqa, Russian news agencies reported.

Paris and Moscow are not coordinating their air strikes in Syria, but French President Francois Hollande is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Nov. 26 to discuss how their countries’ militaries might work together.

Hollande will meet U.S. President Barack Obama, who says Russia must shift its focus from “propping up” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, two days before that in Washington.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Western nations had to drop their demands for Assad’s exit if they wanted to build a coalition against Islamic State.

Russia is allied to Assad but the West says he must go if there is to be a political solution to Syria’s prolonged civil war. Hollande said countries should set aside their sometimes diverging national interests to battle their common foe.

“The international community must rally around that spirit. I know very well that each country doesn’t have the same interests,” he told an assembly of city mayors on Wednesday.

A French aircraft carrier group was headed to the eastern Mediterranean to intensify the number of strikes in Syria. Russia has said its navy will cooperate with this mission.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Callus, Matthias Blamont, Marine Pennetier, Emmanuel Jarry, Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Jean-Baptiste Vey, Chine Labbé, Svebor Kranjc, John Irish in Paris, Alastair Macdonald and Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels, and Matt Spetalnick in Manila, Victoria Cavaliere and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Amran Abocar in Toronto and Dan Wallis in Denver; Writing by Alex Richardson and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Andrew Callus, Sonya Hepinstall and Philippa Fletcher)

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India warns of Islamic State threat, tightens vigil at French, US missions

Despite India’s large Muslim population, Islamic State has only been able to draw a handful of recruits from the country, although security officials say they don’t have a full picture, and that there could be more youth getting radicalised.

India has warned of Islamic State using regional militant groups to mount strikes in the country, and has increased security around the diplomatic missions of the United States, France and Britain among others, a government advisory said.The federal interior ministry said in the note issued to state police chiefs that Friday’s attacks in Paris in which 129 people were killed showed the intentions of Islamic State to expand its arc of operations beyond Syria and Iraq.Despite India’s large Muslim population, Islamic State has only been able to draw a handful of recruits from the country, although security officials say they don’t have a full picture, and that there could be more youth getting radicalised.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>But some of the world’s deadliest militant groups, including the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba that carried out the Mumbai 2008 attacks, operate in India, and the fear is Islamic State might turn to them to target foreign interests in the country.”Though ISIS/ISIL has not been able to establish any significant presence in India, its success in radicalising some youth, attracting certain section of the local population/Indian diaspora… or the possibility of piggybacking on terrorist groups operating in India have opened up the possibility of ISIS sponsored action on Indian territory,” the note said.Reuters has a copy of the advisory issued on Monday. It ordered security to be enhanced for the missions of France, the United States, Britain, Germany, Russia, Australia, Turkey and Israel.”Available intelligence about ISIS activities should be immediately reviewed to identify plans, targets, areas vulnerable to attack by ISIS and appropriate action taken to neutralise potential threats,” the advisory said.Ten Lashkar-e-Taiba gunmen attacked luxury hotels, a train station and a Jewish centre in a three-day shooting spree in Mumbai seven years ago, killing 166 people, India said, in an assault similar to the attacks in Paris.

Putin vows payback after confirmation of Egypt plane bomb | Reuters

MOSCOW President Vladimir Putin vowed to hunt down those responsible for blowing up a Russian airliner over Egypt and intensified air strikes against militants in Syria, after the Kremlin concluded a bomb had destroyed the plane last month, killing 224 people.

Putin ordered the Russian navy in the eastern Mediterranean to coordinate its actions on the sea and in the air with the French navy, after the Kremlin used long-range bombers and cruise missiles in Syria and announced it would expand its strike force by 37 planes.

“We will find them anywhere on the planet and punish them,” Putin said of the plane bombers at a sombre Kremlin meeting broadcast on Tuesday. The FSB security service swiftly announced a $50 million bounty in a global manhunt for the bombers.

Until Tuesday, Russia had played down assertions from Western countries that the Oct. 31 crash was the work of terrorists, saying it was important to let the official investigation run its course.

But four days after Islamist gunmen and bombers killed at least 129 people in Paris, Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the FSB, said in televised comments that traces of foreign-made explosive had been found on fragments of the downed plane and on passengers’ personal belongings.

“We can unequivocally say it was a terrorist act,” Bortnikov said at a Kremlin meeting.

Egyptian authorities have detained two employees of Sharm al-Sheikh airport, where the downed plane originated, for questioning, two security officials and an airport employee said on Tuesday.

“Seventeen people are being held, two of them are suspected of helping whoever planted the bomb on the plane at Sharm al-Sheikh airport,” said one of the security officials, who both declined to be named.

The Airbus A321, operated by Metrojet, had been returning Russian holiday makers from the Egyptian resort to St Petersburg when it broke up over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all on board. A group affiliated with Islamic State claimed responsibility.


Putin, wearing a dark suit, presided over a minute of silence in memory of the victims at the Kremlin meeting, before telling security and military chiefs the incident was one of the bloodiest crimes in modern Russian history.

“Our air force’s military work in Syria must not simply be continued,” he said. “It must be intensified in such a way that the criminals understand that retribution is inevitable.”

On Tuesday evening, Putin visited the defence ministry’s command centre in Moscow, to hear reports from military chiefs about what they were doing to implement his orders.

As dozens of uniformed servicemen watched on, the defence minister and top military officials gave Putin their reports one-by-one, reporting that long-range bombers had loosed 34 cruise missiles and that Russia would bolster its strike force of around 50 planes and helicopters with a further 37 aircraft.

“You are defending Russia and its citizens,” Putin told military chiefs. “I want to thank you for your service and wish you luck.”

Russia began air strikes in Syria at the end of September. It has always said its main target is Islamic State, but most of its bombs in the past hit territory held by other groups opposed to its ally, President Bashar al-Assad.

A senior French government source said Russia had launched air strikes against the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria on Tuesday, signalling Moscow was becoming more concerned about the threat posed by IS.

A French defence official said Russia’s realisation that its plane had been felled by a bomb was a wake-up call for Moscow.

“What’s changed is less that France has changed, but that Russia has,” said the official. “Russia has acknowledged that the plane was an attack carried out by Daesh (Islamic State). Russia … is now beginning to say to itself that Daesh is also its enemy and has to be hit.”

Putin, in language reminiscent of how he talked about Chechen militants during a war when he came to power 15 years ago, ordered the secret services to hunt down those responsible.

“We must do this without any statute of limitations and we must find out all their names,” he said, invoking Russia’s right to self defence under the United Nations charter.

“Anyone who tries to help the criminals should know that the consequences for trying to shelter them will lie completely on their shoulders.”

(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Vladimir Soldatkin, Polina Devitt, Jack Stubbs and Daria Korsunksya in Moscow and by John Irish and Marine Pennetier in Paris; Editing by Christian Lowe and Peter Graff)

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Getting it all wrong: After Paris, here’s why terrorism is not merely a matter of policing

Is global terrorism merely a policing problem? The sharper the intelligence networking among big powers and the tougher the approach to the perpetrators of terrorist actions, the weaker terror becomes. This appears to be the wisdom going around after the Paris incident. There’s nothing gross about this line of thinking, the only problem is we have seen such responses earlier, after every such attack, and they have not helped us address the problem at hand any better. It shows either that we either take terrorism as a low-brained criminal activity, or we cannot make head-nor-tail of the matter.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants a definition for terrorism and a strong collective global response to it. France promises to be very harsh on the perpetrators of the Paris killers and goes about intensifying its operations in Syria and back home. US president Barack Obama tells the G-20 summit that the perpetrators will be hunted down.


Representational image. AP

Representational image. AP

The anger is justified, so is the collective call for retribution. The mastermind behind the killing needs to be punished. But do we have a clear idea who the enemy is? Not by a long stretch.

After the 11 September, 2011 attacks, the US believed it could ‘shock and awe’ them with the scale of action, and ‘smoke them out’. After a long, expensive engagement in Afghanistan — both in terms of manpower lost and the logistics of waging a war in a faraway inhospitable terrain — it has little to show by way of concrete result. Yes, it has managed to hunt down its prime target Osama bin Laden, but that has hardly stopped terror operatives in the region. Western powers have been engaged in covert and overt operations against the Islamic terrorists — Islamic State or by whatever name they go these days — in West Asia and adjoining regions for some time now.

There’s no conclusive victory yet.

Perhaps there’s a flaw in the global view of the problem at the fundamental level. If the war against terror was all about bombing ‘them’ out of existence, defanging ‘them’ and containing ‘them’ to geographies, it would have worked already. This is the typical policing approach. You are dealing with rogues with guns who have gone out of control. But the reality is global terrorism has gone far beyond that. It is much more seamless and fluid structurally. It feeds on individual and collective grievances and sense of hurt and with religion — Islam in this case — as the anchoring theme it has taken the shape of an ideology.

It’s a dangerous ideology and it has found a vehicle in abstract networking via technology. Policing cannot eliminate an ideology; it becomes more difficult when it seeps to the level of the autonomous individual. How many places can you protect or for how long can you insulate your country from attacks when individuals chose to blow themselves up? The solution is to take on this ideology at a more human level and stop it from finding new converts.

It may not be politically correct at this point — at least not when India wants to be counted among the big powers — to mention who created the monster in the first place. But it must be said. The Taliban, al-Qaeda and the likes of Osama bin Laden would not have existed if the US didn’t actively promote ideologically-driven thugs to fight its Cold War against Russia. Iraq would not be such a dangerous place if the US had not brought down Saddam Hussein for no reason at all.

Almost the whole of West Asia would not be so unstable unless the ‘democratic spirit’ myth around the Arab Spring was so vociferously propagated by the western intellectual circles and their media. If IS is such a threat to the world at this juncture, the blame should rest solely on those who disturbed the stability of the region by conspiring to overthrow established dispensations with no alternative to offer. Let’s not get deeper into that; it might embarrass the powers that have been dominating global politics after the Second World War. But the fact remains that they have created, by miscalculation or by self-serving design, the condition for the growth of a difficult foe.

It’s debatable whether India should allow itself to be dragged into a global war against terror by aligning itself with these powers. It looks like inviting trouble. Given the country’s inherently assimilative character and secular trait, the process of radicalisation among the Muslim youth has not quite taken off. But with the Hindutva-centric nationalism trying to make its presence felt in an abrasive way, things might change quickly. Given its vastness, porous borders and population composition, India is more vulnerable than any other developed country. Modi must take all this into consideration before committing himself to the war against terror.

Pakistan, if that is the sole concern, can be handled in other ways.

For now, India should be looking at not creating conditions that allow the terror ideology to gain acceptance. Policing is hardly an answer when that happens.

Vowing to destroy terrorism, France seeks global coalition against Islamic State | Reuters

PARIS French President Francois Hollande called on the United States and Russia to join forces to destroy Islamic State in the wake of Friday’s attacks across Paris, and announced a wave of measures to combat terror in France.

In a sombre speech to both houses of parliament after the coordinated suicide bombings and shootings that killed 129, Hollande said he would increase funds for national security, strengthen anti-terror laws and boost border controls.

“France is at war. But we’re not engaged in a war of civilisations, because these assassins do not represent any. We are in a war against jihadist terrorism which is threatening the whole world,” he told a packed chamber at the gilded Versailles Palace near Paris on Monday.

Parliamentarians gave Hollande a standing ovation before singing the national anthem in a signal of political unity following the worst atrocity in France since World War Two.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they were in retaliation for French airstrikes in Iraq and Syria over the past year.

Hollande said French forces would intensify its assaults and said he would meet U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming days to urge them to pool their resources.

“…We must combine our forces to achieve a result that is already too late in coming,” Hollande said.

A U.S.-led coalition has been bombing Islamic State for more than a year. Russia joined the conflict in September, but U.S. officials say it has mainly hit foreign-backed fighters battling its ally President Bashar al-Assad, not Islamic State.

Speaking in Turkey at the same time as Hollande, Obama called Friday’s attacks a “terrible and sickening setback”, but insisted the U.S.-led coalition was making progress.

“Even as we grieve with our French friends… we can’t lose sight that there has been progress being made,” Obama said at a Group of 20 summit.

Much of France came to a standstill at midday for a minute’s silence to remember the dead. Metro trains stopped, pedestrians paused on pavements and office workers stood at their desks.


Investigators have identified a Belgian national living in Syria as the possible mastermind behind the attacks, which targeted bars, restaurants, a concert hall and soccer stadium, with Brussels seen as the springboard.

“Friday’s act of war was decided upon and planned in Syria, prepared and organised in Belgium and carried out on our territory with the complicit of French citizens,” Hollande said.

Prosecutors have identified five of the seven dead assailants — four Frenchmen and a foreigner fingerprinted in Greece last month. His role in the carnage has fuelled speculation that Islamic State took advantage of a recent wave of refugees fleeing Syria to slip militants into Europe.

Police believe one attacker is on the run, and suspect at least four people helped organise the mayhem.

“We know that more attacks are being prepared, not just against France but also against other European countries,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told RTL radio. “We are going to live with this terrorist threat for a long time.”

Islamic State warned in a video on Monday that any country hitting it would suffer the same fate as Paris, promising specifically to target Washington.

French warplanes bombed Islamic State training camps and a suspected arms depot in its Syrian stronghold Raqqa late on Sunday — its biggest such strike since the U.S.-led mission launched in 2014.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters police had arrested nearly two dozen people and seized arms, including a rocket launcher and automatic weapons, in 168 raids overnight.

“Let this be clear to everyone, this is just the beginning, these actions are going to continue,” Cazeneuve said.

Hollande said he would create 5,000 jobs in the police and security forces, and boost staff in the prison service by 2,500. He also said there would be no cuts to defence spending. He acknowledged this would break EU budget rules, but said that national security was more important.


A source close to the investigation said Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, currently in Syria, was suspected of having ordered the Paris operation. “He appears to be the brains behind several planned attacks in Europe,” the source told Reuters.

RTL Radio said Abaaoud was a 27-year-old from Molenbeek. He was also reported by media to have been involved in a series of planned attacks in Belgium which were foiled by the police last January.

Police in Brussels have detained two suspects and are hunting Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old Frenchman based in Belgium. One of his brother’s died in the Paris assault, while a third brother was arrested at the weekend but later released.

Schools, museums and the Eiffel Tower re-opened in Paris on Monday after a 48-hour shutdown, but some popular tourist sites, including Disneyland, remained closed.

French tourism-related stocks fell sharply on fears visitors might shun Paris, one of the most visited cities in the world, but the country’s blue-chip CAC 40 index was steady, with no long-term economic impact seen.

Police have named two French attackers — Ismael Omar Mostefai, 29, from Chartres, southwest of Paris, and Samy Amimour, 28, from the Paris suburb of Drancy. A source close to the investigation named two other French assailants as Bilal Hadfi and Ibrahim Abdeslam.

France now believes Mostefai was in Syria from 2013-2014 and his radicalisation underlined the trouble France faces trying to capture an illusive enemy that grew up in its own cities.

“He was a normal man,” said Christophe, his neighbour in Chartres. “Nothing made you think he would turn violent.”

Latest official figures estimate that 520 French nationals are in the Syrian and Iraqi war zones, including 116 women. Some 137 have died in the fighting, 250 have returned home and around 700 have plans to travel to join the jihadist factions.

The man stopped in Greece in October was carrying a Syrian passport in the name of Ahmad Al Mohammad. Police said they were still checking to see if the document was authentic, but said the dead man’s fingerprints matched those on record in Greece.

Greek officials said the passport holder had crossed from Turkey to the Greek islands last month and then registered for asylum in Serbia before heading north, following a route taken by hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers this year.

(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry, John Irish, Leigh Thomas, Ingrid Melander, Marine Pennetier, Geert De Clercq and Claire Watson in Paris; Yves Herman, Robert-Jan Bartunek, Philip Blenkinsop and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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Immigration, oil, air strikes? Here’s what caused the Paris terror attacks, according to some ‘experts’

The horrific Paris terror attacks, in which at least 129 people were killed, have evoked a lot of strong reactions from leaders from across over the world. Many of them have made controversial statements on the cause of the attack, blaming immigration or the US air strikes on the Islamic State targets for the attacks.

Samajwadi Party leader and Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan faced a lot of criticism on Monday when he linked the Paris attacks to the air strikes on Islamic State targets. “The bombardments in Iraq and Syria on suspected IS strongholds apart from killing innocent civilians are also rendering thousands homeless. What justification do they have for this?” The Times of India quoted Khan as saying.

The Paris terror attack killed at least 129 people. Reuters

The Paris terror attack killed at least 129 people. Reuters

In what could be construed as a case of schadenfreude, Khan went on to ask, “Do you want to light up cities like Paris, known for their wine and party culture, with the money earned through illegally occupying oil reserves in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Iran?

However, Khan is not the only leader to have made such remarks. Leaders from other countries also gave controversial reasons for the Paris terror attacks, with many of them, apart from making remarks on air strikes on Islamic State targets, also linking immigration with the attack and calling for an immediate ban on immigration of Syrian refugees.

Bill Maher, host of HBO political talk show ‘Real Time‘, also said that the cause for the attack was “bombing IS”. “Bombing (IS) over there is what is causing the Paris thing to happen!” The Daily Beast quoted Maher as saying. However, Maher’s remark was less of a justification for the attack and more of a cause behind it, unlike Khan’s remark.

On Saturday, US presidential candidate Donald Trump, infamous for his views on immigration, said that it would be “insane” for the United States to accept any refugees from Syria in the wake of the Paris attacks, according to AP.

Apart from his rigid stance on immigration, Trump also said that the terror attacks in Paris would have been “a much, much different situation” had the victims been armed with guns.

Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio on Sunday said the United States should no longer accept Syrian refugees because it’s impossible to know whether they have links to Islamic militants. Another Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson said Syrian refugees should not be brought to the US because it is too easy for jihadis, intent on “wreaking havoc in this country,” to embed with them.

Other US politicians like Chris Christie, Rand Paul and Bobby Jindal also linked the attacks to immigration. “President (Barack) Obama and Hillary Clinton’s idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America: It is nothing less than lunacy,” Politico quoted US politician Ted Cruz as saying.

The new right-wing government in Poland declared that the Paris attacks showed that the European Union’s compulsory system of quotas for sharing refugees had to be rejected, according to The Guardian.

“Poland must retain full control over its borders, asylum and immigration,” the report quoted Konrad Szymanski, the new minister for European affairs, as saying.

Will McCants, an expert on terrorism and author of The ISIS Apocalypse, linked the airstrikes by France on Islamic State targets to the terror attack, although he did not blame the airstrikes for the attack and did not say that the airstrikes should be stopped. “(It could be) to say to France, ‘If you continue to bomb our positions, there’s going to be more of the same and you had better leave off or more of your civilians will die,'” Business Insider quoted McCants as saying.

Combating terrorism must be a priority for Brics nations, says PM Modi at G20

Antalya: Condemning strongly the terrorist attack in Paris, India on Sunday made a case for united global effort to combat the menace of terrorism.

“We stand united in strongly condemning the dreadful acts of terrorism in Paris… The entire humanity must stand together as one against terrorism. The need for a united global effort to combat terrorism has never been more urgent,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the meeting of the Brics leaders on the sidelines of the G20 Summit.

PM Narendra Modi. AFPPM Narendra Modi. AFP

PM Narendra Modi. AFP

India, which takes over the Chairmanship of Brics from 1 February, 2016, will accord priority to combating terrorism, he said.

In the worst ever terror attacks by IS in Paris on 13 November, at least 129 people were killed and 352 injured, many in critical condition.

Combating terrorism, Modi said, “must also be a priority for Brics nations”.

Besides Modi, Brics meeting is being attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Jacob Zuma and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Modi said: “We express deepest sympathy and support to Russia for the loss of life in Sinai. Ankara and Beirut are also reminders of terror’s growing spread and impact”.

“The theme of India’s Brics Chairmanship will be ‘Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions’ which, in short, will be ‘Brics’. It aptly describes the ethos of our group,” Modi said.

There was a time when the logic of Brics and its lasting capacity were being questioned, but today Brics can also give shape to G20, he added.

“We have provided proof of the relevance and value of Brics through our actions. And, this has come at a time of huge global challenges,” he said, adding that “together, we can also give shape to G20”.

The New Development Bank, the Currency Reserve Arrangement, Strategy for Brics Economic Cooperation – these are clear evidence of our vision and our resolve.

“India attaches the highest importance to Brics. We are honoured to assume the Chairmanship of Brics from February 1, 2016 and build on the great work done by other Members,” he said.


Obama vows effort to eliminate Islamic State as G20 seeks common Syria strategy | Reuters

BELEK, Turkey U.S. President Barack Obama vowed on Sunday to step up efforts to eliminate Islamic State in Syria and prevent it from carrying out attacks like those in Paris, while European leaders urged Russia to focus its military efforts on the radical Islamists.

Speaking at a G20 leaders summit in Turkey, Obama described the killings in Paris claimed by Islamic State as an attack on the civilised world and said the United States would work with France to hunt down those responsible.

The two-day summit brings Obama and fellow world leaders just 500 km (310 miles) from Syria, where a 4-1/2-year conflict has transformed Islamic State into a global security threat and spawned Europe’s largest migration flows since World War Two.

“Traditionally the G20 has been a forum primarily to discuss economic issues facing the globe … (but) the sky has been darkened by the horrific attacks that took place in Paris just a day and a half ago,” Obama said in a statement after meeting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

“The United States and its allies will redouble efforts to find a peaceful solution in Syria and prevent Islamic State militants from perpetrating attacks like those in Paris.”

Obama and his Western allies now face the question of how the West should respond after Islamic State again demonstrated it posed a threat far beyond its strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

Washington already expects France to retaliate by taking on a larger role in the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing campaign against Islamic State.

But European Council President Donald Tusk said Russia too should focus its military operations on Islamic State, rather than on the Syrian opposition battling President Bashar al-Assad, urging cooperation between Washington and Moscow.

“It should be our common aim to coordinate our actions against Daesh (IS) and for sure the cooperation between the United States and Russia is a crucial one,” he said.


Russia joined the conflict a month and a half ago with air strikes in Syria, but has been targeting mainly areas controlled by the moderate Syrian opposition fighting Assad, its ally, rather than Islamic State, its critics say.

Turkey and Western allies, by contrast, want Assad out.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he welcomed the renewed sense of urgency to find a solution to the war in Syria after the Paris attacks, adding the world had a “rare moment” of diplomatic opportunity to end the violence.

Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have no formal bilateral meeting planned. As the leaders moved into place for a group photo on Sunday, Putin approached Obama and they shook hands, exchanging words for only a few brief moments.

Obama is also seeking to coax other European and Middle Eastern countries into more tangible steps to show their military commitment and will hold a bilateral meeting with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, U.S. officials said. In a call late last month, the two leaders affirmed the need to cooperate in fighting Islamic State.

Obama said he had also discussed in his meeting with Erdogan the progress made by foreign ministers in Vienna, who on Saturday outlined a plan for a political process in Syria leading to elections within two years, although differences over Assad’s fate still remained.


The coordinated attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris on Friday puts Obama and other leaders of the world’s major economies under increased pressure to find common cause.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Washington itself has an appetite for much deeper involvement after already stepping up air strikes and committing small numbers of special operations troops to northern Syria to advise opposition forces in the fight against Islamic State.

The Paris carnage, in which 129 people were killed in attacks on a concert hall, restaurants, bars and a sports stadium, also poses a major challenge for Europe, with populist leaders rushing to demand an end to an influx of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

In a diplomatic coup for Europe and for Turkey, the G20 leaders will agree that migration is a global problem that must be addressed in a coordinated way, according to a draft communique seen by Reuters, although it has yet to be accepted by all and is due to be published only on Monday.

Europe and Turkey, the most heavily hit by the crisis, had been pushing for the G20 to recognise the issue as a global problem and help to deal with it financially, despite opposition from China, India and Russia. A million migrants from the Middle East and Africa are expected to come to Europe this year alone.

According to a separate statement due to be released later on Sunday, a draft of which was also seen by Reuters, they also agreed to step up border controls and aviation security in the wake of the Paris attacks, which they condemned as “heinous”.

The summit follows not only the Paris attacks but also comes two weeks after a suspected bomb attack on a Russian airliner killed 224 people in the Sinai Peninsula.

It also comes just over a month after two suspected Islamic State suicide bombers blew themselves up in Ankara, killing more than 100 people in Turkey’s worst such attack.

(Additional reporting by Lidia Kelly, Denis Dyomkin, Jan Strupczewski, Dasha Afanasieva, David Dolan, Humeya Pamuk, Orhan Coskun, Asli Kandemir; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Keith Weir)

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Afghan Hazara march through Kabul to protest beheadings | Reuters

KABULThousands of demonstrators from Afghanistan’s Hazara ethnic minority marched through cold and rainy Kabul on Wednesday to demand government action over the killing of seven members of their community by Islamist militants who dumped their partially beheaded bodies.

The demonstration, one of the biggest seen in Kabul in years, was peaceful but there was an angry mood directed at the Islamist militants blamed for the killings and the government that failed to prevent them.

The Hazara, a Persian-speaking, mainly Shia minority have long faced persecution in Afghanistan, with thousands massacred by the Taliban and al Qaeda in the 1990s, but a series of murders and kidnappings this year has stoked a mood of growing despair.

“The only way to prevent such crimes in the future is to take over all government offices until they wake up and make a decision,” said demonstrator Sayed Karim, 40, one of thousands who filled the whole of Mazari Square in western Kabul.

As well as adding to the daily toll of killings, the deaths of the seven Hazara, who included three women and two children, have heightened the risk that sectarian hatreds will further poison the climate in a country made up of different ethnicities.

Bearing the green-draped coffins of the dead and carrying banners with slogans like “The Taliban are committing crimes and the government is supporting them”, the crowd marched more than 10 km (six miles) to the presidential palace.

President Ashraf Ghani has condemned the killings and promised an investigation but they have added to a mood of insecurity that has grown since the Taliban briefly seized control of the key northern city of Kunduz in late September.

Ghani’s national unity government has come under increasing pressure to address parliament on the worsening security situation.

“This sends a very dangerous message to the people of Afghanistan, its government and its international allies,” parliamentary lower house speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi said.

“This issue doesn’t belong to a family, a tribe or an ethnic group but it belongs to all Afghans.”

The killings in the southern province of Zabul occurred amid fighting between rival Taliban factions and Islamic State militants that has underlined the risk of further fragmentation, complicating any reopening of the peace process and creating the risk of more generalised anarchy.

Demonstrators said Hazara people were being killed every day on the roads between Ghazni, Bamyan and Wardak provinces to the west of Kabul, where the Taliban control of much of the countryside after most international forces pulled out last year.

In addition to the Taliban and Islamic State, many Hazara have directed their anger more broadly against the Pashtun, the largest ethic group from which the Islamist movements recruit most of their followers.

“We’re from this country.” said a demonstrator who gave her name only as Sohaila. “We have to have the same rights as other citizens.”

(Additional reporting by Sayed Hassib and Samar Zwak, Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Russia stance on Assad suggests divergence with Iran | Reuters

MOSCOW Russia does not see keeping Bashar al-Assad in power as a matter of principle, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on Tuesday in comments that suggested a divergence of opinion with Iran, the Syrian president’s other main international backer.

Fuelling speculation of Russian-Iranian differences over Assad, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps suggested on Monday that Tehran may be more committed to him than Russia, saying Moscow “may not care if Assad stays in power as we do”.

While Russia and Iran have been Assad’s foremost foreign supporters during Syria’s four-year-old war, the United States, its Gulf allies and Turkey have insisted the president must step down as part of any eventual peace deal.Talks in Vienna on Friday among the main foreign players involved in diplomatic efforts on Syria failed to reach agreement on Assad.

Asked by a reporter on Tuesday if saving Assad was a matter of principle for Russia, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “Absolutely not, we never said that.”

“We are not saying that Assad should leave or stay,” RIA news agency quoted her as saying.

But another regime change in the Middle East could be a catastrophe that “could simply turn the whole region into a large black hole”, she added.

Zakharova said Russia had not changed its policy on Assad and that his fate should be decided by the Syrian people.

But her remarks appeared to suggest a difference of approach compared with Iran, which has sent forces to fight alongside Assad’s military and ordered in fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which it controls.

Russia “may not care if Assad stays in power as we do”, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, was quoted as saying by the Tasnim news agency on Monday. But he added: “We don’t know any better person to replace him.”

Syria’s deputy foreign minister rejected the idea of a transitional period sought by Western states that want Assad removed from power, saying during a visit to Iran that an expanded government was being discussed.

“We are talking about a national dialogue in Syria and an expanded government and a constitutional process. We are not at all talking about what is called a transitional period,” Faisal Mekdad said.

Russia intervened militarily at the end of September to support Assad by launching bombing raids on rebel groups trying to overthrow him.


But Moscow has also shown increasing flexibility as it steps up diplomatic efforts to resolve a conflict that has killed 250,000 and displaced millions.

Syrian government officials and members of the country’s splintered opposition could meet in Moscow next week.

“Next week, we will invite opposition representatives to a consultation in Moscow,” Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying.

“The meeting … will possibly be with the participation of government representatives,” Bogdanov said. He did not say which opposition members might attend, but the invitation appeared to suggest a change in tone from Moscow, which has until now dismissed such groups.

Moscow’s goal was not to support Assad, but to save the Syrian state and defeat terrorist groups, a Russian analyst said. “It is the beginning of a political process,” said Irina Zvyagelskaya, a Middle East analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura in Moscow on Wednesday to discuss attempts to start a dialogue between Damascus and the opposition, Moscow’s foreign ministry said.

At the talks in Vienna, where Russia was the leading player, Moscow said it wanted opposition groups to participate in future discussions on the Syria crisis and exchanged a list of 38 names with Saudi Arabia.

The list included mostly former and current members of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNC), Syria’s Western-backed political opposition bloc, Kommersant newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Among those named were former SNC head Moaz al-Khatib and incumbent president Khaled Khoja, the daily reported, as well as representatives from a diverse range of political, religious and ethnic groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and a Christian pro-democracy movement.

Khoja said last week the Russian air strikes were intended to prop up Assad and had helped Islamic State militants who have taken control of large areas of the country.

The SNC has been accused of slipping into virtual irrelevance on the battlefield as Islamist and Kurdish groups have grown stronger. But it remains one of the main parties in international discussions to end the war.

The coalition boycotted peace talks held in Russia in January and April, distrustful of the Kremlin and dismissing Damascus rivals who attended as token opposition, but it sent a delegation to Moscow in August.


On the battlefield, a newly-formed U.S.-backed Syrian rebel alliance advanced against Islamic State in the northeast province of Hasaka on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

In the west, Russian warplanes carried out airstrikes in Hama province while unidentified jets bombarded the outskirts of the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa in the north.

Syrian government forces and allied militia clashed in fierce battles with Islamic State fighters southeast of Aleppo city, the Observatory said.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry and Sylvia Westall in Beirut; Writing by Giles Elgood; editing by David Stamp)

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Russian airliner with 224 aboard crashes in Egypt’s Sinai, all killed | Reuters

ISMAILIA, Egypt/CAIRO A Russian airliner carrying 224 passengers and crew crashed in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula on Saturday after losing radar contact and plummeting from its cruising altitude, killing all aboard.

The Airbus A321, operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia under the brand name Metrojet, was flying from the Sinai Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg in Russia when it went down in a desolate mountainous area of central Sinai soon after daybreak, the aviation ministry said.

A north Sinai security source said initial examination showed the crash was due to a technical fault, but gave no detail. The plane, he said, had landed in a “vertical fashion”, explaining the scale of devastation and burning.

The Russian Embassy in Cairo said it had been told by Egyptian officials the pilot had been trying to make an emergency landing at El-Arish.

“I now see a tragic scene,” an Egyptian security officer at the site told Reuters by telephone. “A lot of dead on the ground and many who died whilst strapped to their seats.

“The plane split into two, a small part on the tail end that burned and a larger part that crashed into a rock. We have extracted at least 100 bodies and the rest are still inside,” the officer, who requested anonymity, said.

Sinai is the scene of an insurgency by militants close to Islamic State, who have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police and have also attacked Western targets in recent months.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria including Islamic State on Sept. 30. Security sources said there was no indication the Airbus had been shot down or blown up.


Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail was heading to the crash site in the Hassana area 35 km (22 miles) south of the Sinai Mediterranean coastal city of Al Arish with several cabinet ministers on a private jet, the tourism ministry said.

Russian television showed film of anxious relatives and friends waiting for information at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport. A middle-aged woman was shown weeping and crying out.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a day of national mourning for Sunday. The passengers included 214 Russians and three Ukrainians.

Speaking at a news briefing in the central Asia republic of Kyrgyzstan, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the crash as a tremendous tragedy and loss.

The A321 is a medium-haul jet in service since 1994, with over 1,100 in operation worldwide and a good safety record. It is a highly automated aircraft relying on computers to help pilots stay within safe flying limits.

Airbus said the A321 was built in 1997 and had been operated by Metrojet since 2012. It had flown 56,000 hours in nearly 21,000 flights and was powered by engines from International Aero Engines consortium, which includes United Technologies unit Pratt & Whitney and Germany’s MTU Aero Engines.

Emergency services and aviation specialists searched the wreckage for any clues to the crash. One of two flight recorders was quickly found, but wreckage was scattered over a wide area.

The security officer said 120 bodies had been found intact.

“We are hearing a lot of telephones ringing, most likely belonging to the victims, and security forces are collecting them and putting them into a bag,” he said.

Russian state-run television station Rossiya 24 reported that officials were searching the Kogalymavia airline’s offices in Moscow and had seized some documents.

Interfax news agency said Russian state transport regulator Rostransnadzor had found violations when it last conducted a routine flight safety inspection of Kogalymavia. But after the inspection, in March 2014, the airline remedied the breaches.

Kogalymavia was founded in 1993, and was earlier called Kolavia. Its fleet consists of two A320s and seven A321s.

Russia and other former Soviet republics have relatively poor safety records, notably on domestic flights.

Some Russian air crashes have been blamed on the use of ageing aircraft, but industry experts point to other problems, including poor crew training, crumbling airports, lax government controls and neglect of safety in the pursuit of profits.

The aircraft took off at 5:51 a.m. Cairo time (0351 GMT) and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes later, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement. It was at an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,400 metres) when it vanished from radar screens.

Accidents at cruising altitude are one of the rarest categories of accidents but also among the most deadly, accounting for 13 percent of fatal incidents but 27 percent of fatalities since 2005, according to Boeing.

Investigators would be looking into, among other things, the weather at the time, the pilots’ experience, maintenance records, signs of a stall and any evidence of an explosion.

Experts consistently warn air accidents are usually caused by a cocktail of factors, both human and technical.

According to FlightRadar24, an authoritative Sweden-based flight tracking service, the aircraft was descending rapidly at about 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) per minute before the signal was lost to air traffic control.

(Additional reporting by Ehab Farouk, Jason Bush in Moscow, Tim Hepher in Paris; Writing by Michael Georgy; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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Blasts kill one, wound dozens before Shi’ite march in Bangladesh | Reuters

DHAKA A series of blasts killed at least one person and wounded dozens as Shi’ite Muslims gathered for a procession in the old part of Bangladesh’s capital early on Saturday to mark the holy day of Ashura, police said.

Islamic State, the hardline Sunni Muslim group that sees Shi’ites as apostates, claimed responsibility for the attack.

But Bangladesh’s interior minister told Reuters that no militants were involved and the blasts were not linked to an attack that killed 16 people at a Shi’ite procession in neighbouring Pakistan hours earlier.

Police cordoned off the area and one officer said four suspects had been detained. Witnesses said people fled after blasts, losing their flip-flops and sandals in the panic.

Attacks on the Shi’ite minority have been rare in Sunni-majority Bangladesh, but Sunni militant groups have become more active.

“This is not a militant attack, rather it is a planned and destructive attack aiming only to destabilize the situation of the country,” Interior Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Reuters.

“Though the attack came hours after a suicide bombing in Pakistan, we strongly believe the situation is not similar at all as we live peacefully with Shia community,” he said.

But soon after, monitoring group SITE reported Islamic State had released a message saying “soldiers of the Caliphate in Bangladesh” detonated explosive devices in Dhaka during “polytheist rituals”.

In recent weeks the Bangladeshi government dismissed two other claims of responsibility by Islamic State, one for the killing of an Italian in September, and another for the killing of a Japanese man earlier this month.

At least 10 people were admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, and most of them were in a stable condition, an official there said.

Mirza Fakhrul Alamgir, acting secretary general of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, demanded a “neutral investigation” into the attack.

“This is a clear sign of a deteriorated law and order,” said Moqbul Ahmed, acting leader of the country’s largest Sunni-Muslim Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh.

U.S. ambassador Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat released a statement saying she was shocked by the attack and noted Bangladesh’s long tradition of religious tolerance and communal harmony.

After the attack, Britain said its security advice for citizens in Bangladesh remained the same, asking them to keep a low profile in all public spaces as further attacks targeting Westerners could occur.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Islamic state claims responsibility for Bangladesh bombings – SITE monitor | Reuters

DUBAI Islamic State has claimed responsibility for bombings that targeted Shi’ites in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, on Saturday, the monitor group SITE said.

It cited Islamic State as saying “soldiers of the Caliphate in Bangladesh” detonated explosive devices in Dhaka during “polytheist rituals”.

(Reporting by Jeremy Gaunt; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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Mumbai cops beat up two Muslim youths, tell them to ‘go back to Pakistan’

The teens have alleged that they were taken by Bandra Police on Friday night when they were trying to help two drunken people on the road.

Representational Image

Mumbai police has ordered an investigation into the allegations of two Muslim youths that they were beaten up by a policeman and later were asked to “go to Pakistan.” According to sources, the two teenagers, Asif Shaikh and Danish Shaikh, both 19 years old, were taken into custody after the police suspected them of being “agents of Islamic State” ot “terrorists”, NDTV reported.The teens have alleged that they were taken by Bandra Police on Friday night when they were trying to help two drunken people on the road. The teens further said that they were particularly targeted because they were Muslims. <!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>One of the youths, Asif said, “The police beat us up badly and told us to head for Pakistan. They did not even allow us to call home.” They teens also alleged that they police officers also tried to pay them to keep them from filing a complaint. Out of the two youths, one has been hospitalised and the other one is hurt. Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order), Deven Bharti, said, “DCP Zone IX has started his inquiry. He should be given some time to speak to both sides. We are recording statements of the so-called victims and also of the police officers. If there are allegations, they should come forward with some proof.”

Government cracks whip, blocks two websites and Facebook pages for carrying ISIS propaganda

The decision was taken during a high-level meeting in which officials from Department of Telecom, Home Ministry and central security agencies participated.

Picture for representational purpose

Cracking its whip on terror propaganda being carried on Internet, government on Wednesday ordered banning of two websites and some pages on social networking site Facebook after it was found that they contained material detrimental to the country’s sovereignty.The decision was taken during a high-level meeting in which officials from Department of Telecom, Home Ministry and central security agencies participated. The meeting was convened by Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), a nodal agency under Ministry of Communications, that deals with cyber security threats like hacking and phishing.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”On the request of the IB and some police, the CERT-In has blocked two websites belonging to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which were spreading outfit’s propaganda, and two Facebook pages which were being run by anonymous people in Jammu and Kashmir,” a senior government officer said. The two websites spreading ISIS propaganda had details of how to make bombs and training modules of the outfit.The officials said about 55-60 websites and social networking sites pages, related to terror activities, have been blocked by the government this year. Earlier in the day, Telecommunication Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that steps will be taken to check misuse of social media platforms to disrupt communal harmony and national security.”Well as far as radicalisation or extremism…communal or pro-terrorist views are concerned, there is a proper mechanism of coordination between Home Ministry and our Ministry,” he told a press conference.

Bombs kill 95 at pro-Kurdish rally in Turkish capital | Reuters

ANKARA At least 95 people were killed when two suspected suicide bombers struck a rally of pro-Kurdish and labour activists outside Ankara’s main train station just weeks before elections, in the worst attack of its kind on Turkish soil.

Bodies covered by flags and banners, including those of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), lay scattered on the road among bloodstains and body parts. The HDP blamed the government which, it said, had blood on its hands.

Footage screened by broadcaster CNN Turk showed a line of young men and women holding hands and dancing, and then flinching as a large explosion flashed behind them, engulfing people carrying HDP and leftist party banners.

“Like other terror attacks, the one at the Ankara train station targets our unity, togetherness, brotherhood and future,” said President Tayyip Erdogan, who has vowed to crush a Kurdish militant insurgency since the collapse of a ceasefire and resumption of intense violence in July.

As well as the 95 dead, 246 wounded people were still being treated, 48 of them in intensive care, the prime minister’s office said.

Witnesses said the two explosions happened seconds apart shortly after 10 a.m. as crowds, including HDP activists, leftists, labour unions and other civic groups, gathered for a planned march to protest over the deaths of hundreds since conflict resumed between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the mainly Kurdish southeast.

“I heard one big explosion first and tried to cover myself as the windows broke. Right away there was the second one,” said Serdar, 37, who was working at a newspaper stand in the train station. “There was shouting and crying and I stayed under the newspapers for a while. I could smell burnt flesh.”

There were no claims of responsibility for the attack, which comes as external threats mount for NATO member Turkey with increased fighting across its border with Syria and incursions by Russian warplanes on its air space over the last week.

But Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, exposing a mosaic of domestic political perils, said Islamic State, Kurdish or far-leftist militants could have carried out the bombing. He said there were strong signs two suicide bombers were responsible.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas blamed the government in blunt terms. He said the attack was part of the same campaign as the bombing of an HDP rally in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir on the eve of June elections and a suicide bombing blamed on Islamic State in Suruc near the Syrian border in July, which killed 33 mostly young pro-Kurdish activists.

“The government’s right and chance to hum and haw has long expired. You are murderers. Your hand is bloody. Blood has splattered from your face, your mouth to your nails and all over you. You are the biggest supporters of terror,” he told reporters in comments broadcast on the internet.

The HDP argues that Erdogan seeks to undermine its support and increase backing for his AK Party in elections due on Nov. 1 by associating it with PKK violence and factional infighting, a link the party denies strongly.

Sources in Erdogan’s office said U.S. President Barack Obama called the president on Saturday evening to convey his condolences, condemn the attack and stress that Washington would continue to stand beside Turkey in its fight against terror.


Davutoglu accused Demirtas, whose party garnered support from largely left-leaning voters beyond its Kurdish base to enter parliament in June, of “open provocation”.

Some activists saw the hand of the state in all three attacks on Kurdish interests, accusing Erdogan and the AK Party he founded of seeking to stir up nationalist sentiment, a charge Turkey’s leaders have vehemently rejected.

Labour unions which helped organise the rally hit by the bombs called a two-day strike for Oct 12-13, although such calls have not always been widely followed in the past.

The scale of casualties exceeded attacks in 2003, when two synagogues, the Istanbul HSBC Bank headquarters and the British consulate were hit with a total loss of 62 lives. Authorities said those incidents bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda.

Turkey has been on alert since starting a “synchronized war on terror” in July, including air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and PKK bases in northern Iraq. It has rounded up hundreds of suspected Kurdish and Islamist militants at home.

Hours after the bombing, the PKK as widely expected beforehand ordered its fighters to halt operations in Turkey unless they faced attack. It said it would avoid acts that could hinder a “fair and just election” on Nov. 1.

Renewed conflict in the southeast had raised questions over how Turkey can hold a credible election in violence-hit areas but the government has so far said the vote will go ahead.

Davutoglu invited the leaders of the main opposition CHP and nationalist MHP to a meeting on Sunday to discuss the events, his office said. Nationalist leader Devlet Bahceli declined.


Turkey’s problems have been compounded over the last week by Russia’s launching of air strikes in neighbouring Syria that could further swell a refugee population of over two million on Turkish soil. Turkey has protested to Moscow over incursions into its air space by Russian warplanes.

“This brutal terrorist attack on peaceful demonstrators is also an assault on the democratic process in Turkey which I vehemently condemn,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

The attacks come three weeks ahead of an election at which the AKP is trying to claw back its majority. In June polls, the party lost the overall majority it had held since 2002, partly because of the electoral success of the HDP, which Erdogan accuses of links to the PKK. The HDP denies the charge and says it seeks improved Kurdish minority rights by democratic means.

Designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK launched a separatist insurgency in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.

It has since reduced its demands to greater rights for the Kurdish minority; but Ankara fears a link-up between Kurdish militants in Turkey and Kurdish groups in Iraq and Syria that could lead to demands for a separate Kurdish state.

The state launched peace talks with the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan in 2012 and the latest in a series of ceasefires had been holding until the violence flared again in July.

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Daren Butler, Osman Orsal and Asli Kandemir in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Ralph Boulton and David Evans)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Russia backs Syrian forces in major assault on insurgents | Reuters

BEIRUT Syrian troops and militia backed by Russian jets mounted what appeared to be their first major coordinated assaults on Syrian insurgents on Wednesday and Moscow said its warships fired a barrage of missiles at them from the Caspian Sea, a sign of its new military reach.

The combined assault hit towns close to the main north-south highway that runs through major cities in the mainly government-held west of Syria, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group which tracks the conflict via a network of sources within the country.

Ground attacks by Syrian government forces and their militia allies using heavy surface-to-surface missile bombardments hit at least four insurgent positions and there were heavy clashes, the head of the Observatory, Rami Abdulrahman, said.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia took part in the fighting, a regional sourc said.

Islamic State militants have seized much of Syria since civil war grew out of anti-government protests in 2011, but the areas targeted in Wednesday’s combined assault are held by other rebels, some U.S.-backed, fuelling allegations by Russia’s critics that its real aim is to help the government.

Moscow says it shares the West’s aim of preventing the spread of Islamic State, and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin during a televised meeting that four Russian warships in the Caspian Sea had launched 26 missiles at Islamic State in Syria earlier in the day.

The missiles would have passed over Iran and Iraq to reach their targets, covering what Shoigu described as a distance of almost 1,500 km (900 miles), the latest display of Russian military power at a time when relations with the West are at a post-Cold War low over Ukraine.

The terrain-hugging Kalibr cruise missiles, known by NATO by the codename Sizzler, fly at an altitude of 50 metres and are accurate to within three metres, the Russian defence ministry said.

The air campaign in Syria has caught Washington and its allies on the back foot and alarmed Syria’s northern neighbour Turkey, which says its airspace has been repeatedly violated by Russian jets.

Ankara summoned Russia’s ambassador for the third time in four days over the reported violations, which NATO has said appeared to be deliberate and were “extremely dangerous”.

Turkey said Syria-based missile systems harassed its warplanes on Tuesday while eight F-16 jets were on a patrol flight along the Syria border.


Syrian state television quoted a military source as saying the missiles fired by Russian ships targeted 11 Islamic State positions in Raqqa, Aleppo and Idlib.

The missiles destroyed destroyed bomb-making factories, command posts, weapons and ammunition and fuel depots, as well as “terrorist training centres”, the TV said.

Russian air strikes destroyed the main weapons depots of a U.S.-trained rebel group, the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal, their commander said.

In conversation with Shoigu, Putin said it was too early to talk about the results of Russia’s operations in Syria and ordered his minister to continue cooperation with the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq on the crisis.

However, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the United States would not cooperate militarily with Russia in Syria, although it was willing to hold discussions to secure the safety of its own pilots bombing IS targets in Syria.

Calling Moscow’s strategy “tragically flawed”, he renewed accusations that the strikes were not focused on Islamic State. The Russian defence ministry accused the U.S. air force of not always bombing Islamic State targets itself.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said only two of 57 Russian air strikes in Syria so far had hit Islamic State, while the rest had been against the moderate opposition, the only forces fighting the hard-line insurgents in northwestern Syria.

But in Iraq, the head of parliament’s defence and security committee said Baghdad may request Russian air strikes against Islamic State on its soil soon and wants Moscow to have a bigger role than Washington in fighting the group.

Iraq’s government and powerful Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias question the United States’ resolve in fighting Islamic State militants, who control a third of the country, saying U.S.-led coalition air strikes are ineffective.

“We might be forced to ask Russia to launch air strikes in Iraq soon … and that depends on their success in Syria,” Hakim al-Zamili told Reuters.


Russia’s military build-up in Syria included a growing naval presence, long-range rockets and a battalion of troops backed by Moscow’s most modern tanks, the U.S. ambassador to NATO said.

“There is a considerable and growing Russia naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean, more than 10 ships now, which is a bit out of the ordinary,” Douglas Lute told reporters ahead of a meeting of alliance defence ministers in Brussels.

Abdulrahman said Russia appeared to have stuck to air support on Wednesday. The assault followed a report by Reuters last week that allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including Iranians, were preparing to recapture territory lost by the government to rebels in rapid advances this year.

“There is no information yet of any (government) advances on the ground, but the air strikes have hit vehicles and insurgent bases,” Abdulrahman said.

The regional source, who is familiar with the military situation in Syria, said forces including Hezbollah fighters were taking part in the ground attack against four rebel-held areas in western Syria.

Hezbollah-run al-Manar television said in a newsflash that “an operation by the Syrian army started in a number of villages and towns in the northern countryside of Hama province”.

A video posted by the media office of an opposition group in Hama province on YouTube purported to show heavy rocket strikes by pro-government forces on Wednesday hitting an areas in the northern Hama countryside. “>here

Other footage from Hama showed rebels from the Free Syrian Amry firing firing anti-tank missiles and hitting two army tanks.

(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam in BEIRUT, Alexander Winning in MOSCOW, Phil Stewart and Crispian Balmer in ROME and Michael Georgy in BAGHDAD; writing by Philippa Fletcher,; editing by Peter Millership and Giles Elgood)

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PM Modi meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, urges him to pass on info on Indians held captive in Mosul

According to President Abbas, all the captive Indians taken as prisoners are alive so far.

Image Credit: Narendra Modi’s Twitter page

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, discussed the condition of the Indians taken as prisoners in Iraq and Libya in New York before leaving for India. Modi also urged Abbas to pass on any information that he might have on the status of 39 Indians held captive.The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed that the 39 Indians, who have been taken as prisoners in Iraq, were still alive and said that the government would do the necessary to secure their release after gathering more information.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”The Prime Minister asked the President to share with him any information he had regarding the condition of the Indians, to which the President replied saying that any information regarding this matter has constantly been transferred between India and Palestine and as soon as they receive any new information regarding the prisoners, they will let us know,” MEA official spokesperson Vikas Swarup told the media.According to President Abbas, all the captive Indians taken as prisoners are alive so far. In Iraq, a group of 39 Indian construction workers have been held captive by Islamic State in Mosul for more than a year, despite attempts by the Indian government to secure their release. Earlier, four Indians had been detained near the Libyan coastal city of Sirte, an area that is under the control of Islamic State militants.Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will participate in the BRICS and SAARC ministerial meets. The External Affairs Minister will also be addressing a United Nations session during her visit.

dna Must Reads for morning: From Modi in US to Hillary Clinton’s new emails

Narendra Modi

1. Modi in US 2015: Islamic State greatest challenge facing international community, says PM ModiPrime Minister Narendra Modi has acknowledged that the dreaded terror group Islamic State poses one of the greatest challenges facing the international community today and said there is a need to “delink terrorism from​ religion”. Read more here.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>2. India, Nepal seek way out as blockade along border adds to troublesAs the models clad in designer Khadi dresses walked past the ramp in plush Soaltee Hotel of Kathmandu on Thursday night, chief guest of the event, Indian Ambassador in Nepal Ranjit Rae kept glued to his phone, intermittently pacing in and out of the venue. Read more here. 3. No water, no power, BMC leaves Muslim areas high and dry on Eid al-AdhaResidents of Ibrahim Rahimtulla Road, Abdul Rehman Street, Mohammed Ali Road, Carnac Bunder and neighbouring areas woke up to a rude shock on the day of Eid al-Adha on Friday; the corporation pipelines were running dry and there was no power either. Efforts by political parties’ local leaders and repeated calls to civic offices fell on deaf ears as the relief eluded citizens till noon. Read more here. 4. Narendra Modi wishes former PM Manmohan Singh on his birthdayPrime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday wished former prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on his 83rd birthday. “I wish Dr. Manmohan Singh on his birthday and pray to almighty that he remains in good health and leads a long life,” tweeted Prime Minister Modi. Former prime minister and economist Dr. Manmohan Singh is celebrating his 83rd birthday on Saturday. Read more here.5. US government finds new emails Hillary Clinton did not hand overThe US Defence Department has found an email chain that Hillary Clinton did not give to the State Department, the State Department said on Friday, despite her saying she had provided all work emails from her time as secretary of state. Read more here.