Top News: Al-Qaeda in Yemen claims responsibility for attack on Charlie Hebdo

Al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, saying it was ordered by the Islamist militant group’s leadership for insulting the Prophet Mohammad, according to a video posted on YouTube.

In the eleven-minute video, a top commander for al-Qaeda claimed the attack was planned and financed by AQAP in order to take “revenge for the prophet.” On Wednesday, President Hadi convened a press conference to affirm Yemen’s commitment to stopping terrorism and remind the world of the devastating impact it has had on the country. [Reuters, New York Times, AP, 1/14/2015]



Sisi moves on banning foreign publications offensive to religion
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has issued a decree giving Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab the power to ban any foreign publication offensive to religion. Issued in the official State Journal on Tuesday, the presidential decree delegated the prime minister the president’s powers stipulated a law regulating the publishing of printed media in Egypt. The law stipulates that “to maintain order in society, publications issued abroad can be banned in Egypt by an order from the cabinet to ban its republication and dissemination in the country.” The law also stipulates, “The cabinet has the right to ban publications offensive to religion or publications promoting erotica in a way that can disturb the public peace.” Meanwhile, Al-Azhar has called on Muslims to “ignore the nasty frivolity” of Charlie Hebdo’s latest edition, which has a drawing of the Prophet Mohammed on its cover. [Ahram Online, 1/14/2015]

Sisi says he will not create political party, rejects proposal to amend protest law
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced on Tuesday that he would not found a new political party to represent him during his meeting with political party leadership in Egypt for the second consecutive day. Sisi said his decision was out of fear of causing “polarization” at a “critical” time in Egypt. During the meeting, Sisi also rejected proposals to amend some laws, including the protest law and fuel subsidy law. [Ahram Online, DNE, 1/14/2015]

Foreign ministry says Sisi may pardon Al Jazeera journalists when appropriate
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry announced, “It’s still possible for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to issue a pardon for the imprisoned Al Jazeera English journalists, if deemed appropriate.” Asked about a presidential pardon, Shoukry said, “All avenues are on the agenda in the context of the president’s constitutional and legal rights.” He concluded, however, that for now, the fate of the three journalists depends on the outcome of their retrial. Meanwhile, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is in Egypt on a two day trip to meet political and religious leaders, including Sisi. The Foreign Minister said before his trip, “While I’m [in Egypt], I’ll certainly take the opportunity as I have in the past, to raise Mr. Fahmy’s case.” [Mada Masr, Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 1/14/2015]

Washington welcomes bathhouse acquittals
Washington has welcomed the acquittal of twenty-six men accused in December of committing actions of “debauchery” inside a popular bathhouse in Cairo, but express concern over whether the decision would ensure protection of human rights in the future. “We welcome the court’s decision that brought this case to a just conclusion; obviously continue to stress the importance of protecting the human rights of all Egyptians,” US State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, said during the daily press briefing on Monday. “Clearly, we have ongoing concerns about the space for people in Egypt, whether it’s to express themselves freely in terms of freedom of speech—for journalists, we’ve talked about a lot in this room—but sort of across the board. Obviously, protecting human rights is something we care very much about and do have ongoing concerns,” she said. [Egypt Independent, 1/13/2015]

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UN to launch Libya talks despite doubts over participation; Misrata criticizes GNC boycott
UN Special Representative to Libya Bernardino Leon said that the Geneva talks will still occur despite hardliners within the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) withholding their participation. The dialogue will go forward with members of the internationally recognized House of Representatives, Misrata-based Operation Libya Dawn, and various other officials or ex-officials. The participation of the Misrata Municipal Council members calls attention to a growing rift within the Libya Dawn group between it and Islamists. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 1/13/2015]

Aid agencies fear Libya public services collapse; hospitals suffer
International aid organizations fear that Libya’s public services will collapse due to the dropping oil prices and continued violence across the country. With the fall in oil production and price and the battle over resources, the Libyan government will not be able to pay salaries, subsidies, or running costs for hospitals or utilities. There are more than 450,000 internally displaced people within Libya and more than 100,00 refugees in neighboring states. Hospitals are short on supplies, workers often leave, food prices have risen, and recurrent fuel, water, and power shortages exist. [Reuters, 1/13/2015]

Tobruk approves more spending
The Tobruk-based House of Representatives passed another spending approval allowing the health ministry to receive more funding for medical supplies. Although the 2015 budget has not been passed, the finance ministry is operating on monthly allotments based on 2014 figures. The House does not have access to the Central Bank of Libya, but is operating on a loan from the National Commercial Bank. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/14/2015]

Tunisia marks fourth anniversary of revolution; pardons more than 2,000 detainees
On the fourth anniversary of the Tunisian revolution, President Beji Caid Essebsi pardoned more than 2,000 detainees. More than 1,300 were immediately released, and more than 800 received a reduced sentence. The decisions were made based on the severity of the crime, jail time, and good behavior. Tunisian jails are overcrowded, lack proper hygiene and healthcare, and are under pressure to reform from international groups. [TAP, ANSAmed, 1/14/2015]

Seventy Nidaa Tounes members against involvement of Ennahda in government, says leader
Mondher Bel Hadj Ali, leader of Nidaa Tounes, stated that seventy of the eighty-nine Nidaa Tounes representatives in the parliament are against Ennahda’s inclusion in the new ruling government. He said that his party will not govern alone and that other political parties will participate, except for the Ennahda party, which, according to Bel Hadj Ali, is harmful to Tunisia. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 1/13/2015]


Nusra Front tightens grip around military airport near Idlib
The Nusra Front captured the village of Tel Salmu in Idlib province from regime forces Tuesday, overlooking the regime-controlled Abu al-Thuhur military airport. The village of Tel Salmu is the main source of drinking water for soldiers stationed in the airport. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that rebels captured several villages surrounding Abu al-Thuhur. Anti-regime activists also reported the gains but did not give details about casualties. [The Daily Star, Enab Baladi, 1/14/2015]

Kerry backs Russian bid for new Syria peace talks
US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced support Wednesday for a Russian effort to bring Syria’s warring factions together for talks to end the conflict. Meeting with the UN and Arab League envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, Kerry said he hoped the Russian initiative “could be helpful.” Russia is trying to bring members of the Assad regime and opposition figures together in Moscow to discuss a possible political solution to stop the war. Kerry also said he wished de Mistura well in his bid to organize local ceasefires in embattled Syrian towns, starting with Aleppo. He stressed that the situation in Syria remains on the “front burner” for the United States. However, newly elected president of the Syrian National Coalition Khaled Khoja and former president Moaz al-Khatib have ruled out Moscow talks saying that “necessary conditions” for talks with the regime have not been met. [AP, 1/14/2015]

Syria urges intelligence sharing in anti-terror war
On Wednesday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad urged states fighting terrorism to share intelligence, adding that European policies were responsible for attacks by Islamist gunmen in France last week. Assad accused Western policymakers of being short sighted—criticizing their policy of support for the 2011 Syrian uprising that descended into an insurgency dominated by Islamist militants. Assad also said that his government already had warned about the consequences of the West’s short sightedness. “We told the West, ‘You cannot support terrorism and provide a political umbrella for it because that will reflect on your countries and nations’,” adding that last week the attacks in France showed the rising danger of the kind of Islamist militancy espoused by the groups fighting in Syria. [Reuters, Naharnet, 1/14/2015]

Eighteen air strikes target Islamic State in Syria, Iraq
US-led forces launched eighteen air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Syria and Iraq in the past twenty-four hours. Twelve of the strikes were in northern Iraq and targeted ISIS tactical units, buildings, and equipment belonging to the militants. Air strikes in Syria targeted eight ISIS fighting positions and an armored vehicle. The news comes as France’s lower house of Parliament approved Tuesday to extend airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. [Al-Arabiya, Reuters, 1/14/2015]


Al-Qaeda in Yemen claims responsibility for attack on Charlie Hebdo
Al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, saying it was ordered by the Islamist militant group’s leadership for insulting the Prophet Mohammad, according to a video posted on YouTube. In the eleven-minute video, a top commander for al-Qaeda claimed the attack was planned and financed by AQAP in order to take “revenge for the prophet.” On Wednesday, President Hadi convened a press conference to affirm Yemen’s commitment to stopping terrorism and remind the world of the devastating impact it has had on the country. [Reuters, New York Times, AP, 1/14/2015]

Yemen Journalists Syndicate condemns death threat to Al Jazeera reporter
Yemeni Journalists Syndicate on Tuesday condemned a death threat by an unknown person to the manager of the office of Al Jazeera TV, Saeed Thabit. In a statement, the syndicate voiced concerns over threats to journalists and grave dangers facing Yemeni media in general. It called on the authorities to investigate and arrest the person who threatened Thabit while holding the security forces responsible for protecting him. The incident came a few days after the Freedom Foundation said attacks on media had increased in 2014. [Yemen Post, 1/13/2015]

Yemen Socialists accuse GPC, Saleh of coup plot
The Yemeni Socialist Party on Monday accused the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his party of plotting to coup against the transition president Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. The party also accused Saleh and the General People’s Congress Party (GPC) of plotting a coup against the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference and the Peace and National Partnership Agreement. The spokesperson for the GPC, Abdu al-Janadi, denied the accusation and regretted that the Socialist Party has started to depend on and spread baseless information. [Yemen Post, 1/13/2015]

Protesters demand release of youth political prisoners
On Wednesday, activists gathered in front of the Supreme Judicial Council to demand the release of youth imprisoned during the revolution. More than twenty youth still remain in Yemen’s prisons without charges being brought against them. The protesters hope to pressure the government into releasing prisoners of the revolution. The protesters gathered for more than an hour outside of the council and barred the head of the Supreme Judicial Council from leaving. [Al Masdar, 1/14/2015]


Major British trade delegation in Egypt
British companies are paying one of the most high-profile visits to Egypt by a Western trade delegation since the 2011 uprising. The delegation is seeking assurances that Egypt will eliminate complex investment laws and stamps of approval required from dozens of government agencies. Investment Minister Ashraf Salman said he is optimistic a draft investment law will be implemented in March, creating a one-stop shop. [Reuters, 1/13/2015]

Libyan government looks at new eastern free trade zone
The government is looking at the idea of creating a free trade zone in the Gulf of Bomba, between Tobruk and Derna. The creation of free trade zones in the east of the country has been circulating and generally approved by succeeding governments since the revolution. Currently, the only functioning free trade zone in the country is that at Misrata. Another one at Zuwara is still in the project stage. [Libya Herald, 1/14/2015]

WFP offers $87 million to support education in Yemen
Yemen’s minister of education and the acting president of the World Food Programme (WFP) signed a $ 87 million agreement for the education support project. The project targets 275,000 students in its first year by giving light meals to 160,000 students during the school day in the poorest areas and providing food aid for 115,000 schoolgirls. [SABA, 1/14/2015]

Tunisian activists launch “Where is Paypal” campaign
A movement has emerged calling on the Tunisian government to lift its heavy regulations on Paypal. Restrictions on Paypal have been in place because the Tunisian Central Bank is concerned that it could threaten its tight trade policy. The Tunisian Dinar, a closed currency, cannot be taken out of the country and faces rigid limits on convertibility. While government welcomes foreigners to spend in Tunisia, it discourages Tunisians from spending abroad in an effort to keep money circulating within the country’s borders and support domestic industry. [Tunisia live, 1/13/2015]