Top News: ISIS Declares a Caliphate While Russia Sends Experts to Aid Iraqi Army

The leader of the powerful Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group was declared Sunday the caliph, or absolute ruler. The news was announced in a video, mostly in English, featuring a bearded fighter with an AK-47 on his back, explaining the new caliphate.


Two policemen killed, ten injured in blasts at presidential palace
Three homemade bombs went off near Egypt’s presidential palace in Cairo on Monday, killing two senior police officers and injuring ten other people on the anniversary of the mass protests that led to the ouster of Mohammed Morsi. The first policeman, Colonel Ahmed al-Ashmawy, an explosives expert at the Cairo security directorate, was killed while attempting to defuse the first device and three other police officers from the explosives department were injured. A second policeman, whose name and rank has not been disclosed, was killed in a third explosion. The militant group Ajnad Misr said it had planted several bombs near the presidential palace to target security forces before realizing that civilians could be in danger. It later released a statement saying it had been unable to remove the devices and urging passersby to be cautious. Security forces were able to defuse two additional bombs and closed Tahrir Square after the explosions. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Reuters, Egypt Independent, The Guardian, Aswat Masriya, 6/30/2014]

June 30 was victory says Egypt PM; Pro-Morsi camp calls for ‘uprising’
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said in a televised interview on Sunday that “the June 30 revolution was a huge victory and brought happiness to many people.” Mahlab also spoke on a number of issues, including President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s meeting with Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. He also urged Egyptians to work during the holy month of Ramadan to overcome the country’s economic crisis. Supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi have called for an uprising on the first anniversary of his ouster, July 3. In a statement on Saturday, The People Defend President Mohamed Morsi campaign accused the armed forces of “conducting the ruin, failure and fall of Egypt.” [Ahram Online , 6/30/2014]

Egypt forecasts economic growth above 3 percent in 2014/15 fiscal year
Egypt’s economy is expected to grow by more than 3 percent during the 2014/15 fiscal year, Finance Minister Hany Kadry Dimian said today, in line with previous forecasts. The minister spoke the day after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi approved a revised and tightened budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Tuesday. The deficit for the fiscal yaer 2014/2015 is forecasted to stand at 10 percent of the country’s GDP compared to 12 percent in the fiscal year 2013/14, Mesbah Qotb, spokesperson at the finance ministry said. Last week, Sisi refused to ratify the state budget for the 2014/2015 fiscal year on the grounds that the budget deficit was excessively high. The reigning in of the budget deficit will be achieved through the introduction of a Value Added Tax (VAT) to replace Egypt’s current complex and unjust web of sales taxes, said Dimian, a move that is eventually expected to bolster state revenues by EGP 40 billion. Energy subsidies will also be subjected to further reform through price hikes and other measures, Dimian said. [SIS, Aswat Masriya, DNE, Reuters, 6/30/2014]

Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz donates one million Saudi riyals to Sisi initiative
Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz, president of the Arab Council for Childhood and Development, has donated one million Saudi riyals (US$266,631) to the “Long Live Egypt” fund. The campaign was announced by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to support the Egyptian economy. [Egypt Independent, 6/29/2014]


Libya needs two weeks to publish election results
Libya will need around two weeks to count the votes and publish final results of last week’s parliamentary election, according to the Higher National Election Commission (HNEC). The election was marred by low turnout and violence, including the murder of prominent human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis. The head of HNEC estimates final results will be announced in mid-Ramadan, though preliminary results for some cities have been released. [Reuters, 6/28/2014]

Reconciliation pact between Zawia and Bani Walid hailed as model for Libya
A number of Libyan public figures welcomed formal reconciliation between Bani Walid and Zawiya, including the Grand Mufti, as a model for the rest of the country. A major ceremony to mark the reconciliation between the Warfalla tribe and the town of Zawiya took place last week. A longtime rivalry between the two communities was exacerbated during the 2011 revolution in which the parties supported opposite sides. In a statement, the two groups said they would support dialogue and reconciliation between Libyan towns and tribes without exception. [Libya Herald, 6/30/2014]

Libyan police ordered back to work
The interior ministry has issued a final warning to policemen, saying that they will be fired if they do not turn up for work by the end of Ramadan. Large numbers of police in Tripoli are reported to be receiving salaries but are either not working or doing other jobs, such as driving taxis. Fears for their own safety and low wages are cited as main reasons for the absenteeism. [Libya Herald, 6/29/2014]

Libyan suspect pleads not guilty in Benghazi attack
Libyan militia leader Ahmed Abu Khatallah pleaded not guilty in a US federal court on Saturday to a terrorism charge in the 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Abu Khatallah was transferred to the court in Washington on Saturday morning from a Navy warship where he had been held since his June 15 capture. He has been charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists resulting in death in the September 2012 assault—a charge that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, according to the justice department. [Reuters, 6/28/2014]


ISIS declares caliphate in Raqqa, crucifies eight in Aleppo
Militant Islamist fighters held a parade in Raqqa province to celebrate their declaration of an Islamic “caliphate” after the group captured territory in neighboring Iraq. The group declared it was changing its name from Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) to “The Islamic State” and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as “Caliph”—the head of the state—on Sunday. On Saturday, ISIS executed eight men in Aleppo province for being “sahwa” fighters, a term ISIS uses to refer to rival combatants it accuses of being controlled by Western powers. The men were crucified in the town square of Deir Hafer in eastern Aleppo and will be left there for three days. [Reuters, 6/30/2014]

Rebels wage counteroffensive against ISIS in Iraq border region
Islamist rebels waged a counteroffensive in the border town of Albu Kamal on Saturday, challenging the grip of ISIS, which has seized large areas on each side of the crumbling Iraqi-Syrian frontier. Significantly, the counter-offensive included Nusra fighters from nearby towns. Last week the Nusra leader in Albu Kamal broke ranks and swore allegiance to Nusra’s rival, ISIS. Also on Saturday, members of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army expelled ISIS fighters from parts of the eastern city of Al Bukamal near the border with Iraq. Intense fighting continued in the border region on Monday. [Reuters, 6/28/2014]

Jarba expected to withdraw confidence from interim government chief
Syrian Opposition Council President Ahmad al-Jarba is attempting to garner support to set a vote-of-no-confidence from the head of the opposition interim government, Asharq al-Awsat reported Sunday. Jarba, head of the Western and Arab-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC), annulled on Friday a decision by the prime minister of the interim opposition government Ahmad Tohme to disband the Supreme Military Council over graft allegations. Jarba rebuked Tohme’s decision, saying it falls outside his authority, however Jarba’s decision requires a majority vote from the 121-seat SNC. [Al Arabiya, 6/30/2014]

Rebel fire kills fourteen in Idlib; Regime air-raids kill two dozen
Rebel mortar shells pounded the northwestern city of Idlib on Monday, killing fourteen people, state television said, a day after twenty-seven people, including four children, died in regime air raids on a nearby opposition-held area. Fresh air strikes were launched on Monday in the province, according to activists who have reported an escalation of violence in the area, which is important because it borders Turkey. [AFP, AP, 6/30/2014]


Kidnapped Tunisians return home from Libya
Two Tunisian embassy staffers freed by kidnappers in Libya have been welcomed home in Tunis after several months of captivity. Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi said on Monday no ransom had been paid for two embassy members, nor had Libyan prisoners been released in exchange, but he declined to give details on how the release was arranged. Contacts to arrange the freeing were with Libyan authorities, not the kidnappers, he said. [Deutsche Welle, TAP, 6/30/2014]

Terrorists’ hideaway in Fernana destroyed
On Sunday, national guard and army units attacked the hideaway of a group of terrorists in the heights surrounding Fernana, governorate of Jendouba. The units conducted joint sweeping and shelling operations in the area throughout the weekend. Official spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior Mohamed Ali Laroui said the hideaway was utterly destroyed. An improvised mine exploded during the operation, injuring a national guard officer whose condition is stable. A “dangerous terrorist leader,” Wael Boussaidi, tied to the same group, was arrested on Saturday. National guard units eliminated six terrorists after armed clashes. [TAP, 6/29/2014]

Jomaa does not feel concerned by presidential consensus candidate
Interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa does not feel concerned by the consensus between political parties about a President of the Republic, as relayed by some media outlets and social networks. This “is a partisan matter,” Press Officer of the Prime Minister Mofdi Mseddi indicated on Friday. Jomaa said he supports “a consensual president,” according to media reports. [TAP, 6/27/2014]


Suspected Islamists stage attacks in southern Yemen
Five Yemeni soldiers and four suspected Islamist militants died in attacks in southern Yemen on Saturday. Four assailants and two soldiers were killed and three soldiers were wounded when suspected militants attacked a hospital in al-Qatan town in southeast Yemen. In another incident, suspected militants on motorbikes attacked a military checkpoint in al-Houta town in Lahj province, killing three soldiers. [Reuters, 6/30/2014]

Committee discusses ways of ending the violence in Amran and Sana’a
The committee tasked with ending the violence in Amran and Sana’a held a meeting on Monday to discuss the concerns of Yemeni locals and Houthi rebels. The meeting addressed ways to treat the wounded in al-Askiri hospital in Sana’a, and the formation of local committees as stipulated by the ceasefire. One day before the meeting, Yemen’s Defense Minister Mohammed Nasser Ahmed visited Hamdan province in a failed attempt to persuade Houthi rebels to hand over control of territories in Sana’a to the Yemeni army. [Al Masdar (Arabic), Saba (Arabic), 6/30/2014]

Yemen and Turkey sign memorandum of understanding on electricity cooperation
On Saturday, Yemen signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Turkey to cooperate in the field of electricity. Yemen’s Minister of Electricity Abdullah al-Akwa and Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yıldız signed the MoU, under which both sides agreed to form a joint technical committee to promote cooperation between the two countries. [Saba, 6/28/2014]


ISIS declares a caliph while Russia sends experts to aid Iraqi army
The leader of the powerful Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group was declared Sunday the caliph, or absolute ruler. The news was announced in a video, mostly in English, featuring a bearded fighter with an AK-47 on his back, explaining the new caliphate. The news comes as the Iraqi government declared Sunday that Russian experts had arrived in Iraq to help the army get twelve new Russian warplanes into the fight against Sunni extremists.  Separately, Iraqi political blocs are facing sharp divisions over whether to hold or postpone the first session of parliament scheduled to take place on July 1 amid ongoing disagreements over the election of a new government. [NY Times, AFP, The Guardian, 6/30/2014]

Saudi Arabia sacks another deputy defense minister
Saudi Arabia on Saturday sacked its fourth deputy defense minister in less than fifteen months amid concerns over extremist militants getting closer to the borders with the kingdom. The royal decree sacking the deputy defense minister lacked the customary upon his request line usually used with departing members of the ruling family. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud warned on Saturday that he would not allow “a group of terrorists” to harm the Arab state. [WSJ, 6/30/2014]

Qatar and Iran set to cooperate in fighting terrorism
The leaders of Iran and Qatar vowed on Sunday to cooperate to fight terrorism in the region, especially in Iraq President Hassan Rouhani’s office reported. The pledge between the two sides would create a “constructive role to establish security and stability.” An Iranian general stated that the country is ready to help Iraq fight an armed revolt using the same methods it deployed against opposition forces in Syria. [Gulf News, 6/30/2014]

ISIS names leader for Lebanon
The extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has appointed an “emir” over Lebanon and has set up a camp to train would-be suicide bombers that would target the country, a media report said on Sunday. An interrogation of a detained Saudi would-be suicide bomber Abdul Rahman al-Shenifi, who survived the Duroy blast, confirmed these reports, according to Lebanese TV network. [Naharent, 6/30/2014]