Top News: ISIS Executes US Aid Worker and Eighteen Soldiers

ISIS militants released a chilling videotape on Sunday showing they had beheaded a fifth Western hostage, an American aid worker the group had threatened to kill in retaliation for airstrikes carried out by the United States in Iraq and Syria. President Obama on Sunday confirmed the death of the aid worker, Peter Kassig, a former Army Ranger who disappeared more than a year ago at a checkpoint in northeastern Syria while delivering medical supplies.

Kassig “was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group,” Obama said in a statement from aboard Air Force One. A British medical student and a Frenchman who went to Syria last year are believed to appear in the video, which shows a squad of ISIS jihadists beheading at least eighteen Syrian soldiers and displaying the severed head of Kassig. ISIS has executed nearly 1,500 people in Syria in the five months since it declared the establishment of its so-called caliphate



Mubarak-era figures join forces for parliamentary election
Two electoral alliances containing Mubarak-era politicians, the Egyptian Front coalition founded by Mubarak-era aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq and an alliance formed by Mubarak-era minister Kamal al-Ganzouri, will join hands to contest the upcoming parliamentary poll. A source close to Ganzouri had said that his group, which remains unnamed, would only contest party-list seats. The Egyptian Front coalition also includes established leftist and liberal parties – like Tagamoa and Ghad – as well as the lesser known Modern Egypt and Egypt My Country parties, whose spokesman is prominent journalist and ex-MP Mostafa Bakri. The Conference party, led by Mubarak-era minister Amr Moussa, is also in the Egyptian Front coalition. [Ahram Online, DNE, 11/15/2014]

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claims responsibility for deadly attack on soldiers
Egypt’s most violent militant group, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (ABM), has claimed responsibility for last month’s attack on a North Sinai army checkpoint, which left over thirty soldiers dead. The group released a video on social media late on Friday showing the attack, which took place on October 24 near the city of Sheikh Zuweid. Speaking directly to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, ABM promised further attacks on the country’s security forces. The ABM video released on Friday starts by saying that the only way to “liberate al-Aqsa Mosque is by purifying all land from Jewish agents, like Sisi’s army.” The defense ministry posted a YouTube video on Saturday, titled “The Egyptian Military’s Message from Sinai,” depicting edited footage of military raids, shelling and combat techniques, coupled with soldier’s statements. The ministry denies it was a response to ABM’s message. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Reuters, Mada Masr, 11/16/2014]

Egypt welcomes UAE terror listing of Muslim Brotherhood
The world must intensify cooperation to fight terrorism, said Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty on Monday, as he welcomed the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) decision to list the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. The UAE issued a new law on Saturday, which brands eighty-three groups as terrorist organizations, including the UAE branch of the Brotherhood, Islamist groups in Europe, and Egypt-based militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. A group of Islamist scholars led by an influential Qatar-based cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi expressed “astonishment” on Monday that their organization was among those designated a terrorist group by the UAE. [DNE, SIS, 11/17/2014]

Egyptian rights group divided over pro-regime support
A disagreement over support for Egypt’s new authorities has caused a rift in one of Egypt’s oldest rights groups and ended with the resignation of one of its leading members. Dalia Zeyada of the Ibn Khaldun Centre for Development Studies said a conflict of ideologies between her and the centre’s head, Saad El-Din Ibrahim, forced her to leave. Ibrahim wrote an article in which he slammed local media for its portrayal of civil society groups as traitors serving foreign agendas. He denounced foreign funding to non-governmental organizations as treason and wondered if President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi should thus be held accountable for receiving aid from foreign countries. He also criticized Zeyada for taking part in an Egyptian delegation at the UN human rights periodical review that defended the country’s human rights record. “He believes civil society should play a critical role, while I think we have to back the state at this critical time, particularly before the international community,” Zeyada said. [Ahram Online, 11/16/2014]

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Tripoli airport reopens after armed clashes forces brief closure
Clashes forced the brief closure of Matiga airport in eastern Tripoli, which has since resumed both its local and international services. Flights were suspended for one day due to fighting near the facility, with reports that two guards were killed, though it is unclear exactly which groups were involved in the clashes. With the main international airport in Tripoli closed since July due to the conflict, Matiga has become the capital’s main airport, but it operates a very limited number of services. [Libya Monitor (subscription), Reuters, 11/17/2014]

Month-long battle for Benghazi results in 356 dead
At least 356 people have been killed in fighting for Benghazi since the launch of an armed, government-backed offensive against Islamist militias a month ago, according to medical sources. More than 200 of the dead have been soldiers, from both the regular army and supporters of Operation Dignity. Civilians, caught in the crossfire, are also among the casualties. Meanwhile, aircraft under the command of the Libyan National Army have carried out airstrikes on a Benghazi hotel and other positions to push Ansar al-Sharia from its encampments in the city center. [AFP, 11/15/2014]

Former Libyan parliament voting bloc rejects reconvening of GNC
Ninety-four members of the former General National Congress (GNC) who often voted as a bloc have formally rejected calls by colleagues to reconvene the old parliament. They published a statement declaring their refusal and recognizing the elected House of Representatives as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people. The statement bears the signatures of only twenty-three members of the bloc, most of whom are from eastern Libya. One member said that, while all approved of the statement, many could not be accessed for a signature due to their areas being controlled by Operation Libya Dawn, which has propped up the rival GNC in Tripoli. [Libya Herald, 11/16/2014]

Tunisian authorities reject rumors of abducted journalist’s death in Libya
A spokesman from Tunisia’s ministry of foreign affairs on Sunday dismissed allegations that abducted journalist, Sofiene Chourabi, had been killed in Libya. A statement released from the ministry noted that Tunisian authorities were making considerable efforts to secure her release, and that of her photographer Nadhir Ktari. Both Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari were abducted on September 3 in the town of Briga, which is located to the West of Benghazi, while covering a news story. Dozens of journalists, intellectuals and representatives of various civil society organizations gathered, Saturday, in Pasteur square in Tunis to claim the release of journalists. The National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) also released a statement of solidarity and requested that Tunisian authorities investigate the origins of the false allegations. [TAP, 11/17/2014]

Protesters march in Nebeur following terror attacks on Tunisian security forces
Residents of Nebeur, a city located in Tunisia’s westerly governorate of Kef, on Monday staged a peaceful march to denounce recent terror attacks and express solidarity with the military and security forces. Protesters shouted slogans against terrorism and called for increased support for security forces. Last week’s attack on a bus carrying military personnel in Nebeur claimed the lives of five security officers and injured at least ten others. [TAP, 11/17/2014]

Human rights group mobilizes 3,500 observers ahead of Tunisia’s presidential elections
Tunisia’s Civil Development and Human Rights Center, announced Monday, that it had mobilized at least 3,500 election observers in all of Tunisia’s electoral constituencies ahead of the November 23 elections. Organizers noted that all deployed observers had undergone rigorous training under the supervision of expert observers and were adequately prepared to support the election observation mission once the elections are underway. During the legislative elections in October, the Civil Development and Human Rights Center deployed 2,396 observers in twenty-seven domestic constituencies and one overseas constituency in Switzerland. [TAP, 11/7/2014]


ISIS executes US aid worker and eighteen soldiers
ISIS militants released a chilling videotape on Sunday showing they had beheaded a fifth Western hostage, an American aid worker the group had threatened to kill in retaliation for airstrikes carried out by the United States in Iraq and Syria. President Obama on Sunday confirmed the death of the aid worker, Peter Kassig, a former Army Ranger who disappeared more than a year ago at a checkpoint in northeastern Syria while delivering medical supplies. Kassig “was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group,” Obama said in a statement from aboard Air Force One. A British medical student and a Frenchman who went to Syria last year are believed to appear in the video, which shows a squad of ISIS jihadists beheading at least eighteen Syrian soldiers and displaying the severed head of Kassig. ISIS has executed nearly 1,500 people in Syria in the five months since it declared the establishment of its so-called caliphate. [NYT, Washington Post, 11/16/2014]

Tense standoff as ISIS threatens to execute seven Lebanese soldiers
Families of captive servicemen have re-opened roads across Lebanon after receiving assurances that ISIS will not behead the hostages it threatened to kill Monday. Reports indicated that the jihadist militant group had given the Lebanese government a 4 p.m. deadline to revoke death sentences handed down to Islamist militants in Roumieh Prison before its militants were to execute seven Lebanese captives. Authorities, however, explained that last minute negotiations had suspended the alleged executions as negotiators continued talks with ISIS commanders. ISIS and Nusra Front are still holding twenty-seven hostages abducted during clashes with the Army in the border town of Arsal in August. They have executed three servicemen and released seven so far, holding the rest in the outskirts of the northeastern border with Syria. [The Daily Star, 11/16/2014]

New US-led strikes on Kobani as clashes intensify
The US-led coalition against ISIS carried out a series of air strikes overnight in the embattled Syrian town of Kobani. Clashes between Kurdish fighters defending Kobani and ISIS intensified over the weekend, as coalition fighter jets continued to target ISIS positions in the south of the town. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released casualty figures for the ongoing Kobani conflict noting an overall death toll of 1,153, including twenty-seven civilians, 398 Kurdish YPG fighters, sixteen non-Kurdish rebels, and 712 ISIS militants. [Naharnet, 11/16/2014]

Qatari official warns against US-led airstrikes in Syria
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiya on Monday warned that airstrikes against ISIS militants in Syria were strengthening President Bashar al-Assad and risked exacerbating tensions between regional Sunni and Shia communities. The foreign minister called on the Obama administration to begin targeting the Syrian government’s forces and expedite the arming and training of moderate Syrian rebel groups. He also suggested that Arab special forces could be inserted to secure land taken from ISIS. Qatari officials have stressed since the start of the campaign that Assad’s removal was a prerequisite for ending Syria’s civil war, but have faced international criticism for financing regional Islamist groups, some with ties to radical militant organizations. [WSJ, 11/16/2014]

United State weighs expanded CIA training, arming of Syrian allies struggling against Assad
US officials on Monday announced that the Obama administration is weighing plans to escalate the CIA’s role in arming and training fighters in Syria, as the Pentagon prepares to establish its own training bases. The CIA’s current program vets and trains about 400 fighters each month and officials explained that as many as are expected to be trained by the Pentagon when its program reaches full strength late next year. The Obama administration’s lead coordinator for the anti-ISIS coalition, retired General John Allen, said in an interview last month that US officials were focused on training recruits who are be able “to hold their own against Assad’s military, al-Nusra and other groups but will focus their offensive operations against the Islamic State.” [Washington Post, 11/14/2014]


President Hadi urges army leadership to cooperate with Houthi forces
Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi called on the leadership of the Yemeni army to cooperate with Houthi militant forces to normalize the country’s security situation. Hadi’s urging came during a meeting Monday with Defense Minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi, Army Chief of Staff Ahmed al-Ashwal, and the heads of other military bodies. Hadi added that he hoped Houthi expansion south would cease to prevent further fighting and bring a return to stability in the country. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 11/17/2014]

Independence protests continue throughout the south as more schools fly southern flag
Schools throughout the southern provinces flew the southern flag Monday as protests and demonstrations for southern independence took place beyond Aden. In Radfan in Lahj province, the southern flag was flown over schools and saluted by students in accordance with a southern teachers union plan to fly the flag in all southern provinces and directorates. Schools in Shahr in Hadramawt also raised the flag, as did employees of the city’s electricity department. In Aden, students at the college of administrative sciences demonstrated for independence as workers from the central bureau of statistics became the latest civil servants to join demonstrations. The head of the department of women’s development in Mahra province called on women to join men in demonstrating for southern independence. [Aden al-Ghad (Arabic) 11/17/2014]

Houthis bar head of naval and coastal defense forces from entering headquarters in al-Hudaydah
Houthi forces and northern military officers prevented naval and coastal defense force leaders from entering the naval headquarters in al-Hudaydah for several days. A source said the Houthis prevented Major General Abdullah Salaam al-Nakhawi from entering his office, and were preventing southern naval officers from entering the command. The source added that the northern officers had hired Houthi militants, who took control of al-Hudaydah in October, to take the preventative actions and that a ministry of defense committee was headed to the province to solve the problem. Northern officers in the headquarters have erected tents to demand the expulsion of southerners. [Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 11/17/2014]

GCC leaders end dispute with Qatar, decide to return envoys to Doha
Gulf leaders agreed Sunday to return Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini envoys to Qatar, ending eight months of tense relations over Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood. The emirs of Kuwait and Qatar, the king of Bahrain and the UAE vice president arrived in Saudi Arabia over the weekend for an unannounced summit aimed at resolving their differences. Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah has led mediation efforts. Qatar has frustrated its neighbors by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other banned Islamist groups, and Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain all withdrew their ambassadors to Doha in March. The dispute had led to reports that the annual GCC summit would be moved from Doha, although Kuwait last week denied any change. [AFP, 11/16/2014]

Qatar vows to change Kafala labor law
Qatar pledged Sunday to introduce new legislation to replace its controversial “kafala” sponsorship system and improve conditions for migrant workers by early 2015. Under the new legislation, the exit permit that foreign workers need to leave the country would be replaced by a system where permission is granted automatically after a three-day period. Foreign workers would be able to change jobs at the end of their contracts without the certificate they currently require from their previous employers showing. Those on open-ended contracts would be entitled to change jobs after five years, and employers who confiscate the passports of their workers would face tougher penalties. “We intend to effect meaningful and lasting change for the benefit of all those who live and work in Qatar,” the labor ministry said Sunday. [AFP, 11/15/2014]


Libyan stock market operator posts more losses as closure continues
The Libyan Stock Market (LSM), which operates the Tripoli bourse, has now posted losses for all three quarters this year, publishing on its website a loss of LD3.5m ($2.8m) in the third quarter of 2014. According to the statement, the LSM’s assets stood at LD40.6m ($32.5m) at the end of September. An external auditor has not verified the figures. The Tripoli bourse has been closed since late July amid closure of Tripoli’s main airport and escalating violence. Activity on the stock market had been virtually non-existent in the preceding weeks. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 11/17/2014]

Morocco’s trade deficit falls by 5.6 percent
Morocco’s trade deficit reached 159.69 billion dirhams at the end of October, 5.6 percent less than last year’s deficit. According to the foreign exchange regulator, this reflects the rise in exports by 8.2 percent since January 2014. Imports rose by 1 percent due to the doubling of wheat imports. [Reuters, 11/17/2014]

Yemen inflation hits one-year high
According to released official data, Yemen’s annual inflation rate reached its one-year high of 10 percent in August, while central bank reserves fell further in September. The frequent bombings of oil pipelines have hurt oil revenues and the central bank’s gross foreign asset reserves fell to $5.1 billion in September. Crude oil exports, accounting together with liquefied natural gas for nearly 54 percent of government budget revenue, fell by 46.5 percent. [Reuters, 11/17/2014]

Egypt’s unemployment remains high at 13.1 percent in third quarter
Egypt’s unemployment rate shrank in the third quarter of 2014 by 0.2 percent, reaching 13.1 percent. Unemployment remains above the 8.9 percent registered in the same period preceding the 2011 uprising. According to official statistics, there are 3.6 million unemployed Egyptians nationwide. At least three quarters hold diplomas or university degrees and persons between 15 and 29 of age comprise 64 percent of the unemployed. [Ahram Online, 11/16/2014]