Top News: American ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller confirmed dead

The United States has confirmed the death of aid worker Kayla Mueller, who had been held hostage since August 2013 by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) after being captured in Syria.

President Barack Obama vowed to “bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible.” Adding that Mueller “represents what is best about America.” Mueller’s family released a copy of a letter she had written in 2014 while in captivity. [BBCReuters, 2/10/2015]



Prosecution detains eighteen Zamalek fans, orders ultras leaders arrest
East Cairo’s general prosecution office ordered Tuesday the detention of at least eighteen Zamalek supporters pending investigations into the violence leading to the killing of approximately twenty supporters. The prosecution also ordered the arrest of a number of Zamalek Ultras White Knights leaders, accusing them of inciting the storming of the stadium, attacking security personnel, vandalizing police cars and public facilities, blocking the road and “inciting terror and panic among passersby,” said head prosecutor Mohamed Seif. The forensic medicine authority’s initial report indicates that the football fans died due to a stampede, claiming no deaths from live ammunition, birdshot, or suffocation. [DNE, Aswat Masriya, Egypt Independent, 2/10/2015]

Egypt appeals court judge condemns Al-Jazeera trial
A Cairo appeals judge has issued a damning appraisal of last year’s trial of three Al-Jazeera English journalists, a month after he quashed their convictions and sent their case to a retrial that will begin on Thursday. The initial trial failed to provide conclusive evidence that the defendants had helped the banned Muslim Brotherhood or promoted the group in the media, wrote Judge Anwar Gabry, the deputy head of the court of cassation, Egypt’s highest court of appeal. Gabry said that the initial trial also failed to investigate claims that the defendants had produced testimony under duress and as a result “the court of cassation is unable to show how right or wrong the verdict is.” His judgment also questioned whether the journalists should have been accused of terrorism, since their alleged crimes were not violent. [The Guardian, 2/10/2015]

Wafd to reconsider elections participation; Ganzouri reportedly axes electoral list
The Wafd party is to host a meeting on Wednesday for its higher committee to reconsider the party’s stance towards participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Party spokesman Bahgat al-Hossamy said that a number of higher committee members demanded discussions on what they described as the “state’s intervention in the parliamentary elections process.” The committee will convene on Wednesday to review the party’s election participation decision. Three parties in the alliance, the Constitution Party, Socialist Popular Alliance party (SPAP), and the Egyptian Popular Current have announced their decision to boycott elections. The Karama Party is still mulling the decision. In a related story, former Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri has reportedly decided not to participate in the elections, and will not be forming a consolidated electoral list. [DNE, 2/10/2015]

Putin, Sisi to hold press conference on Tuesday
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi accompanied Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Cairo Opera House following his arrival on Monday night, where both presidents watched a cultural show on the history of Egyptian-Russian relations, broadcast on state television. The two presidents are also scheduled to hold a press conference on Tuesday following talks between them. Al-Ahram published a lengthy interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin tackling several issues including Egyptian-Russian relations, the situation in Syria and Ukraine as well the support of the Palestinian state. Putin also gave Sisi a Kalashnikov automatic rifle model of AK-47 as a gift, while police have been guarding posters of Putin on Cairo’s October 6 Bridge. [Aswat Masriya, 2/10/2015]

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UNSMIL dialogue heads back to Ghadames
The UN-brokered negotiations between the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) will take place in Ghadames for a one-day session. The UN Special Representative, Bernardino Leon, said that another meeting would take place in Geneva later this week. Despite attempting to quit last week over pressure from hardliners, GNC Deputy President of the GNC Saleh Makhzoum’s resignation from the dialogue team was rejected and as a result, he will remain part of their negotiation team heading to the UN talks. [Libya Herald, 2/9/2015]

ISIS claims takeover of Libyan town near Ben Jawad
Supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) claim to have taken over the small town of Nawfaliya, near Ben Jawad, which is used by Libya Dawn’s Operation Sunrise forces as their base in the offensive to take the Sidra oil terminal. A video posted on social media and claiming to have been filmed Sunday shows a convoy vehicles driving with some displaying the black IS flag along the main street of the town. At present, the only town fully controlled by ISIS is Derna, although it believed to have cells operating in Tripoli, Sabratha, and Sirte. [Libya Herald, 2/9/2015]

LNA says has retaken main camp in Benghazi; EU ready to introduce sanctions against spoilers
Libyan special forces claimed to have retaken the military camp in Benghazi after more clashes with Islamist fighters. A video posted online appeared to show special forces commander Wanis Bukhamada at the camp’s gate. Deadly fighting continues across Libya as the UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon attempts to enforce a ceasefire and bring the warring parties into negotiations. In order to assist this effort, the European Union has said that it is ready to impose restrictive sanctions on those who are responsible for violence and spoilers to dialogue. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 2/9/2015]

South Tunisians strike after death in smuggling clash; Tunisia, Algeria to establish border strategy
Areas along Tunisia’s southern border with Libya staged a general strike in response deadly clashes between police and demonstrators after the seizure of contraband fuel. Much of the Tatouine area and Ben Guerdane near the Ras Jedir border crossing are shut down. Southern Tunisia lives largely off the profits of illegal cross-border trade. Tunisia and Algeria will also establish joint local and regional committees to devise a strategy for developing border areas, the two countries’ ministers of the interior announced. The committees will be responsible for identifying projects that can improve living conditions and security for these regions. [Yahoo (AFP), All Africa, 2/10/2015]

Swedish citizen sentenced to two years in prison for homosexual activity
A Swedish citizen was sentenced by a Tunisian court to two years in prison for homosexual activity, which is illegal in Tunisia and carries a punishment of up to three years in prison according to Article 230 of its penal code. A spokesperson for the Swedish foreign ministry said that it had “discussed the case with Tunisian representatives and stressed Sweden’s position that equal rights, regardless of sexual orientation, is a fundamental democratic principle.” The case recalls a similar arrest in 2013 of a Belgian citizen who Tunisia eventually freed three months into his three year prison term. [Tunisia Live, 2/9/2015]


American ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller confirmed dead
The United States has confirmed the death of aid worker Kayla Mueller, who had been held hostage since August 2013 by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) after being captured in Syria. President Barack Obama vowed to “bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible.” Adding that Mueller “represents what is best about America.” Mueller’s family released a copy of a letter she had written in 2014 while in captivity. [BBC, Reuters, 2/10/2015]

Assad claims Syria gets information on US-led air strikes via Iraq, denies use of barrel bombs
In an interview with BBC broadcast Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said third parties were conveying information to Damascus about the US-led campaign of air strikes against ISIS in Syria. President Assad denied that there was any direct cooperation with the United States but that “more than one party, Iraq and other countries, sometimes convey messages, general messages. But there’s nothing tactical.” He also denied the army had used barrel bombs in its campaign against the insurgency. “They’re called bombs. We have bombs, missiles, and bullets… There are no barrel bombs, we don’t have barrels.” [BBC, Reuters, Al-Akhbar English, AFP, 2/10/2015]

ISIS withdraws from areas northeast of Aleppo
ISIS has withdrawn some of its insurgents and equipment from areas northeast of Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS had re-deployed forces from Aleppo province to join battles further east with Kurdish forces and mainstream rebel groups. “There are tactical withdrawals. It’s not a complete withdrawal,” said a leader of a mainstream rebel group. Other militant groups had not moved to take the evacuated areas, he added, because ISIS had not fully pulled out. The news comes a day after a new propaganda video by ISIS featuring the British photojournalist John Cantlie titled From Inside Halab (the ancient name for Aleppo) where Cantlie describes the “advance and stretch” of ISIS as “remarkable and breathtaking.” [Reuters, 2/9/2015]

Syrian Kurds target new town after retaking Kobani
After taking Kobani, Syrian Kurdish forces are moving forward and have set their sights on taking back Tal Abyad (Gire Spi in Kurdish) from ISIS, another strategic town on the border with Turkey. Tal Abyad, located about forty miles east of Kobani, is an Arab and Kurdish town in Raqqa province used by ISIS militants to cross into Turkey. According to an activist in Raqqa, the battle for villages around Tal Abyad had already begun, forcing people to flee into Turkey. “Tal Abyad is so important to ISIS that it has dug tunnels in the area and built fortifications on the town’s outskirts.” In Iraq, Kurdish forces backed up by US-led air strikes have recaptured territory from ISIS near Mosul in northern Iraq. [AFP, 2/10/2015]

UAE says its jets resume airstrikes against ISIS
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched airstrikes Tuesday against ISIS from an air base in Jordan, marking its return to combat operations against the militants after it halted flights late last year. The General Command of the UAE Armed Forces said Emirati F-16s carried out a series of strikes Tuesday morning. The UAE did not say whether the strikes happened in Syria or Iraq. On Monday, The United States welcomed the decision by the UAE to base its fighter jets in Jordan for operations against ISIS. [Reuters, AFP, AP, 2/10/2015]


UN Envoy to propose draft settlement
UN Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar is set to put forward a draft settlement to resolve the political crisis in the country. This development comes a day after Islah and Nasserist party members walked out of the talks after allegedly receiving death threats from Houthi figures. Previous talks between Houthis and Yemen’s political factions have collapsed over the rebel group’s refusal to lift the house arrest imposed on former president Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi and his cabinet members despite their resignation from office, lay down arms and withdraw from state-run civilian and military buildings. [Asharq al-Awsat, 2/10/2015]

Violence intensifies in al-Beida
Houthis have taken control over several key districts in al-Beida governorate and are pushing towards areas considered strongholds of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Fighting between the Houthis, their allied forces in the military, and al-Qaeda supported tribesmen intensified over the weekend and skirmishes continued into Monday. Unconfirmed reports place the number of dead at around forty-five.[Yemen Times, Al Masdar, Aden al-Ghad, 2/9/2015]

Talks underway for independent southern region
Hundreds of tribesmen from Marib, al-Beida, and al-Jawf governorates gathered in Marib city on Sunday to discuss the creation of an autonomous region, one of the six federal regions approved at the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) but never put into effect. In a statement released on behalf of the attendees, the Houthi declaration was described as a coup, which undermined the legitimacy of the president and the agreements signed by political factions since the GCC Initiative was introduced in November of 2011. [Yemen Times, Aden al-Ghad, 2/9/2015]

Saudi channel suspended in Bahrain
According to Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority (IAA), the Saudi channel Al-Arab was suspended less than twenty-four hours after its launch for not obtaining the proper license. The Saudi channel was marketed with the promise of providing independent news to the country. Shortly after broadcasting an interview with a leader of Bahrain’s leading opposition party, the channel was taken off the airwaves. Bahrain’s IAA has also accused Al-Arab of not doing enough to “stem the tide of extremism and terrorism.” [Al Jazeera, BBC, Gulf News, 2/9/2015]


Algeria pumps $650 million into oil projects
According to the director of production and technologies at Sonatrach, the government of Algeria has earmarked $650 million to develop a series of hydrocarbon projects to be carried out by state-owned agencies Sonatrach and Sonelgaz. Algeria’s crude production stood at 1.2 million barrels per day during the past three years but the country is seeking fresh investors to increase energy production to compensate for the decreasing output from existing oil fields. [Zawya, 2/10/2015]

Egypt core inflation falls to 7.06 percent
According to the Egyptian central bank, Egypt’s core annual inflation rate declined to 7.06 percent in January from 7.69 percent the previous month. Egypt’s urban consumer inflation fell to an annual 9.7 percent in January from 10.1 percent in the previous month. The bank cut its benchmark interest rates by 50 basis points last month, citing an easing inflation outlook. [Reuters, 2/10/2015]

Syria approves 2015 budget
The Damascus government has approved a 2015 budget amounting to 1.55 billion Syrian pounds ($9 billion), with an increase of 164 million pounds ($868 million) compared to the 2014 budget. The 2015 budget was described as “the largest public budget” in Syrian history. It is a high figure in Syrian pounds, but a very small figure when calculating the deterioration of the exchange rate, caused by losses in different economic sectors due to the devastating war and the decline in tourism and oil revenue. [Al-Monitor, 2/10/2015]

Libya’s HoR to discuss CBL move
A member of the House of Representatives (HoR) said its next session will cover the proposed move of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) to Beida in the east of the country. The Tobruk government wants to close the CBL head office in Tripoli and set up a new one in Beida to restrict funds to the rival Tripoli authority. However, it is not clear how a rival CBL in Beida would acquire revenues, given its lack of involvement in international oil sales and few other sources of state income in Libya. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 2/10/2015]