Top News: ISIS Shoots and Beheads Thirty Ethiopian Christians in Libya

A video purportedly made by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and posted on social media sites on Sunday appeared to show militants shooting and beheading about thirty Ethiopian Christians in Libya. The video, in which the militants call Christians “crusaders who are out to kill Muslims,” showed about fifteen men beheaded on a beach and another group shot in the head. A masked man brandishing a gun delivers a message that the Ethiopians have the choice to pay the taxes, convert to Islam, or die. [ReutersLibya Herald, 4/19/2015]



Interior ministry threatens legal action after critical news report amid deaths in custody
Egypt’s interior ministry said it would take “legal action” against what it said was an “unprofessional” news report in a private daily criticizing police practices, in a statement it released on Sunday. Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) daily published on Sunday a seven-page series of reports highlighting what it described as the “coercive and arrogant” practices of police. The reports address torture, rape, and bribery in custody and the use of illiterate conscripts for “total obedience” in the Central Security Forces. Khaled al-Balshy, chairman of the Journalists’ Syndicate’s Freedoms Committee, said Sunday that the Interior Ministry’s response is a violation of the freedom of the press. Meanwhile, two detainees died in the span of one week at the Masr al-Qadima police station, prompting prosecutors to open an investigation. The ministry of interior said they died due to “circulatory failure.” Primary investigations show they died due to a lack of ventilation and overcrowding, with 380 detainees in a cell fit to take only 100. The police station is also facing additional accusations of torture from the families of two detainees. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, DNE, Egypt Independent, 4/20/2015]

Court rules lack of jurisdiction over Nour Party dissolution, April 6 terrorist designation
Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court referred on Saturday a lawsuit filed to dissolve the Salafist al-Nour Party back to the administrative court, reported the state agency MENA. The Supreme Court said it cannot look into the lawsuit, tasking the administrative court with issuing its ruling in the case. Meanwhile, Cairo Court for Urgent Matters said on Monday it does not have the jurisdiction to rule in a lawsuit that calls for labeling the banned April 6 Youth Movement a “terrorist organization.” The court explained that it could not rule on the matter since Article 3 of a newly passed “terrorist entities’ law” stipulates that only criminal courts can rule on such issues. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, DNE, 4/20/2015]

Egypt ranks 129th in World Economic Forum gender report
Egypt has ranked 129th out of 142 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report, in a list topped by Iceland, Finland, and Norway. The report focuses on examining gender gaps between men and women in four key areas including health, education, economy, and politics. The World Economic Forum (WEF) quantitatively measures gender-based disparities and tracks them over time. Egypt’s ranking has deteriorated over time. While it ranked 109th in 2006, it dropped to 120th in 2007 and has wavered around the 120s since: 124th in 2008, 126th in 2009, 125th in 2010, 123rd in 2011, 126th in 2012, before reaching 125th in 2013. Kuwait is the leading Arab country in the list, ranking 113th. [Mada Masr, 4/20/2015]

Sisi, Shoukry meet with high-level US officials
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met on Sunday with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director to explore means of reinforcing bilateral relations and discuss the latest regional and international developments, the presidency said in a statement. According to the statement, Sisi and CIA Director John Brennan stressed the importance of bilateral strategic relations and laying the foundations for peace and stability in the Middle East. The head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Major General Khaled Fawzi and US Ambassador to Cairo Stephen Beecroft attended the meeting. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met on Sunday the US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS John Allen and met on Monday with US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller to discuss preparations for the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference that will convene next week in New York. Another meeting is set to take place in New York on April 27 between FM Shoukry, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Gouda to discuss the developments in Yemen. [Aswat Masriya, SIS, Ahram Online, DNE, AP, 4/20/2015]

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ISIS shoots and beheads thirty Ethiopian Christians in Libya
A video purportedly made by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and posted on social media sites on Sunday appeared to show militants shooting and beheading about thirty Ethiopian Christians in Libya. The video, in which the militants call Christians “crusaders who are out to kill Muslims,” showed about fifteen men beheaded on a beach and another group shot in the head. A masked man brandishing a gun delivers a message that the Ethiopians have the choice to pay the taxes, convert to Islam, or die. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 4/19/2015]

Hundreds die in new Mediterranean migrant disaster; EU foreign ministers to meet
A second catastrophic migrant tragedy has occurred this weekend involving illegal migrants who set out from Libya with 700 feared drowned after an overcrowded boat capsized on Saturday night. Rescue crews searched Monday for survivors and bodies from what could be the Mediterranean’s deadliest migrant tragedy ever. Libya is a transit point for migrants fleeing conflict, repression and poverty in countries such as Eritrea, Niger, Syria, Iraq and Somalia. In light of these recent events, EU foreign ministers are meeting in Luxembourg on Monday focusing on the migration crisis and the role of the conflict in Libya fueling the influx. [Libya Herald, AP, 4/20/2015]

Heavy clashes in central district, suburb of Tripoli
Heavy clashes broke out in Tripoli on Saturday with gunfire and explosions heard in areas home to groups that oppose the Tripoli-based government. The gunfire and explosions could be heard since early morning in the central Fashloum district and the eastern Tajoura suburb, both areas that oppose the Tripoli-based General National Congress. Shells hit several residential buildings, but there were no immediate reports of casualties. Operation Libya Dawn, a militia allied to the Tripoli government reportedly killed and arrested residents in the area and cut electricity and water to it as well. [Reuters, 4/18/2015]

Tunisia relations with Tripoli regime thaws
The Tunisian president Beji Caid-Essebsi and Prime Minister Habib Essid met with the Prime Minister of Libya’s Tripoli-based government Khalifa Ghwell. Ghwell briefed the two about his side’s position on the UN-brokered dialogue in Morocco and security issues along the Tunisia-Libya border. This is the first official visit by the Tripoli-based General National Congress to Tunisia and was a low-key event. Officially, Tunisia does not recognize the Tripoli government, but deals with it on issues related to its national interests, mainly security. It has reiterated its support of current UN dialogue and attempts to maintain a neutral position on Libyan affairs. [Libya Herald, 4/18/2015]

Draft security law raises concerns about rights in new Tunisia
Tunisian political parties and unions have criticized a draft security law draft, saying it could harm freedom of expression and other rights in Tunisia four years after an uprising that ushered in democracy. The draft law sets out five years in prison for insulting the morale of the security forces and two years for anyone who publishes information on operations. Publication of any security documents can lead to a sentence of up to ten years in prison. The Tunisian journalists’ union described the draft law as hostile to freedom and security unions criticized it, saying it would widen the gap between citizens and security forces. [Reuters, 4/20/2015]


More than 90,000 people flee violence in Iraq’s Anbar province
More than 90,000 people have fled their homes in Iraq’s western province of Anbar where the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has gained ground over the past week, the United Nations said on Sunday. “Our top priority is delivering life-saving assistance to people who are fleeing—food, water and shelter are highest on the list of priorities,” Lise Grande, humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations in Iraq, said in a statement. Iraqi forces are preparing to mount a counteroffensive to reverse ISIS advances on the eastern edge of Ramadi after Baghdad sent military reinforcements, officials said. Provincial officials warned earlier this week Ramadi was in danger of falling to the militants. [Reuters, AFP, 4/19/2015]

Saddam Hussein’s officer drew up ISIS master plan
An ex-intelligence officer under the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was “the strategic head” behind ISIS and drew up the blueprints for the jihadists’ capture of northern Syria, Der Spiegel reported Saturday. Former colonel Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, who was better known as Haji Bakr and was killed by Syrian rebels in January 2014, “had been secretly pulling the strings at ISIS for years.” Spiegel said it had been given exclusive access to thirty-one documents by Bakr, including handwritten lists and charts, after lengthy negotiations with a rebel group in Aleppo, which came in possession of the pages after ISIS fled the area. [AFP, The Guardian, 4/20/2015]

Syrian doctors ask Russia to help unblock medical aid
Two Syrian doctors urged Russian diplomats at the UN on Friday to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to allow life-saving medical supplies into the city of Douma near Damascus. Head of the the Syrian American Medical Society Zaher Sahloul told the diplomats that ten people had died of kidney failure in Douma because they did not have access to dialysis fluid. Twenty-three others are at risk unless the medical aid is let in. Sahloul said the Russian diplomats said they would try to help unblock the aid. Sahloul and Dr. Mohamed Tennari asked Russian diplomats to help set up “protected areas” in Syria for hospitals, schools, and other civilian areas. The Russian mission at the UN confirmed the meeting, but declined to give details.[AFP, 4/18/2015]

Lebanon gets first shipment of $3 billion worth of French arms
Lebanon received the first installment of $3 billion worth of French weapons paid for by Saudi Arabia on Monday, part of a four-year plan to help arm Beirut in its battle against jihadi groups. Lebanese and French defense ministers and top army officers attended the handover ceremony held at Beirut’s international airport. The deal aims to boost Lebanon’s military as it struggles to contain a rising tide of violence linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the deal will include dozens of armored vehicles, six transport helicopters, and other types of weapons. He added that the next shipment will arrive in May. The deal also includes training programs for Lebanese troops run by the French military.[The National, AP, 4/20/2015]


Houthi leader accuses Saudi Arabia of seeking reason to invade Yemen
The leader of Yemen’s Houthi militia accused Saudi Arabia on Sunday of plotting to seize the country, in a fiery speech. Saudi Arabia’s goal is “the invasion of this country, its occupation and placing this country again under its feet and hegemony,” Abdel Malik al-Houthi said. Al-Houthi gave no indication that he was willing to negotiate with the Saudis or agree to their conditions for a ceasefire, including that the Houthis withdraw from cities they have captured. However, in a blow to the Houthis, a Yemeni commander responsible for the vast military district covering half the country’s border with Saudi Arabia pledged support on Sunday to exiled President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, local officials said. [New York Times, Reuters, Al-Masdar, 4/19/2015]

Saudi-led campaign strikes missile base in Sana’a
An air strike on a Scud missile base in the Yemeni capital Sana’a caused an explosion that blew out windows in homes, killing seven civilians and wounding dozens. The blast hit the base on Faj Attan Mountain beside Hadda district, home to the presidential palace and many embassies, and sent a thick pillar of smoke into the air. The relief organization Oxfam said in a statement on Sunday that the coalition had also bombed one of its storage facilities in Saada Province, in northwest Yemen. On Friday, the coalition launched more than one hundred sorties on the country in twenty-four hours. [Reuters, New York Times, AP, Al-Masdar, 4/20/2015]

Kuwait’s top court releases leading activist on bail
A lawyer for Kuwaiti opposition leader Musallam al-Barrak says the country’s top court has released the activist on bail ahead of a final decision on charges he insulted the country’s ruler. Al-Barrak’s charges stem from a speech he gave during a rally in 2012. He called on Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, not to “drag the country into a dark abyss,” and said Kuwait risked becoming an autocratic state. Al-Barrak originally was sentenced to five years in prison by a lower court, but the appeals court overturned that verdict and issued a shorter two-year sentence in February. Al-Barrak’s lawyer is hopeful the court will rule in his favor in the next hearing on May 18. [AP, 4/20/2015]


World Bank, Arab Monetary Fund to finance Arab regional development
The Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) and the World Bank Group (WBG) on Friday signed an Enhanced Partnership Framework to support Arab countries in developing their economies and financial markets. The initiative will include collaboration on joint strategies to promote the development of financial markets and trade, support economic stabilization, and accelerate broad-based, inclusive economic growth and job creation. Meanwhile, the AMF and the International Monetary Fund pledged to deepen their cooperation to respond more effectively to the needs of their common membership. [Times of Oman, 4/19/2015]

Iraqi forces retake Baiji refinery from the Islamic State
Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have cleared the country’s largest oil refinery of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), the international coalition helping Baghdad fight the militants said Sunday. ISIS has made repeated attempts over the past ten months to capture the Baiji refinery, most recently seizing parts of the facility and holding out for days. The refinery once produced some 300,000 barrels of refined products per day, meeting half the country’s needs. [AFP, 4/19/2015]

IMF downgrades UAE growth forecast, says Gulf governments must cut spending
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) called on Gulf governments to cut total public spending in response to lower oil prices as it again downgraded its growth forecast for the United Arab Emirates. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members must moderate spending to save resources and achieve a sustainable fiscal situation, the IMF said. The IMF cut its projections for UAE growth this year to 3.2 percent. According to the IMF, only Kuwait and Qatar are projected to avoid a budget deficit this year. [The National, 4/19/2015]

World Bank pledges five billion dollars to Tunisia
Tunisia will be granted 5 billion dollars in aid by the World Bank. The deal provides for 1 billion dollars each year over five years. The funds will assist several projects in Tunisia concerning decentralization and infrastructures, particularly roads. [ANSAmed, 4/20/2015]

Saudi Arabia promises $274 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen
Saudi Arabia pledged Saturday to cover the entire $274 million in humanitarian aid sought by the UN for conflict-torn Yemen, which has also been the target of Saudi-led air strikes against the Houthi rebels. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ordered the humanitarian pledge following a United Nations appeal on Friday for $274 million in emergency assistance for the millions affected by Yemen’s war. The kingdom “stands with its Yemeni brothers” and hopes for “the restoration of security and stability”, the state Saudi Press Agency said. UN Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw said Friday that “ordinary families are struggling to access healthcare, water, food and fuel — basic requirements for their survival”. [AFP, Asharq al-Awsat, 4/19/2015]