Top News: Nusra Front Militants Blow Up 13th Century Muslim Tomb in Southern Syria

Reports from Syrian state news agency SANA and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claim that Nusra Front militants have blown up the 13th century tomb of the revered Islamic scholar Imam al-Nawawi in Nawa City near the Jordanian border, a town captured by groups fighting the Syrian government in November. 

Nusra follows the same puritanical interpretation of Sunni Islam as ISIS, and both groups see tombs as sacrilegious and have destroyed many shrines, cultural heritage sites, and precious manuscripts and archives. According to a UN report published in September, nearly 300 cultural heritage sites have been destroyed, damaged, and looted in Syria since 2011. [Reuters, al-Akhbar English, 1/8/2015]



Egypt court sets April 21 for verdict in Morsi Ittihadeya trial
Cairo Criminal Court has set April 21 as the date for the final verdict in one of the trials of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in which he faces murder charges, a judicial source said Thursday. Morsi, along with fourteen other members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, faces charges of inciting the killing of protesters outside the Ittihadeya presidential palace in December 2012. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, AP, Aswat Masriya, 1/8/2015]

Egypt’s prosecutor general approves grounds for appeal in Mubarak’s trial
Egypt’s top prosecutor approved on Thursday the grounds for appeal in the case against former President Hosni Mubarak over the charge of complicity in killing protesters, state-run Nile News channel broadcast. Hisham Barakat had announced on November 29 that he will challenge the Cairo Criminal Court’s decision to drop the case against Mubarak over the charge of complicity in killing protesters. [Aswat Masriya, 1/8/2015]

Egypt’s Sisi condemns ‘terrorist attack’ on French magazine
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi condemned Wednesday the “terrorist attack” on a French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that left at least twelve people dead, voicing Cairo’s solidarity with France and underlining that the fight against terrorism is a global concern. The Arab League and Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious centre of learning, also both condemned the deadly attack. Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate condemned the attack, saying the assailants do not represent Islam. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 1/8/2015]

Egypt starts second phase of Rafah evictions
Egypt starts on Thursday the second phase of evictions at the border city of Rafah, a security measure that seeks the creation of a buffer zone following a surge of bloody attacks against security forces in the Sinai Peninsula. The second phase seeks to clear 500 meters, equal to the first stage. Governor of North Sinai Abdel Fattah Harhour said 1,220 houses, sheltering 2,044 families, are to be evicted in the second stage, adding that a specialized panel will review their data to determine recipients of the government’s compensations. [Egypt Independent, AP, Aswat Masriya, DNE, 1/8/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


UN mission in Libya ‘running out of time and ideas,’ says Leon
Bernardino Leon, the chief of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, said that he is running out of ideas and time to broker a negotiated end to violence in Libya. He fears that soon the international community will need to, “use more stick and less carrot.” Leon is responsible for bringing the fighting factions of the Tobruk-based House of Representative and Operation Libya Dawn together in dialogue to resolve Libya’s crisis. Leon cited the recent Libya Dawn attacks on the oil export terminals at Sidra and Ras Lanuf as taking the conflict to a new level that could soon spread across the country.  [Libya Herald, 1/7/2015]

Misrata says port and airport open; Tobruk issues bombing threat
Both the Misrata port and airport remain open despite rumors claiming they closed. The terminals remain open with limited operations despite attacks and threats of attack by forces allied to the Tobruk-based House. The spokesman for the Libyan Air Force claimed that any vessels approaching Misrata will be hit, beginning January 9. Due to the threats and attacks, Turkish Airlines has suspended services to Libya. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/8/2015]

Turkey urges remaining citizens to leave Libya after airline threat
Turkey’s foreign ministry published a warning to its citizens in Libya urging them to leave the country. The statement comes just after a threat made by the Libyan Air Force spokesman that Turkish civilian and military aircraft will be shot down. Libyans aligned with the the Tobruk-based House government harbor ill-feelings toward Turkey after a Turkish special representative was the first international envoy to meet with the internationally unrecognized authorities in Tripoli. [Reuters, 1/8/2015]

Tunisian PM receives Ennahda delegation led by Ghannouchi
The new Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid received a delegation of the Ennahda opposition party led by Rached Ghannouchi. He was joined by the party’s Secretary-General Ali Larayedh and President of the Shura Council Fethi Ayadi. At the meeting the two sides agreed that Ennahda will present its vision for the next stage in the transition and government to the prime minister at a later date. No mention was made, however, of Ennahda’s participation in the coming government. [All Africa, 1/7/2015]

Amnesty International calls for ‘urgent action’ against jailing of Tunisian film director
Amnesty International released a call to action regarding the jailing of Tunisian film director, Ines Ben Othman, who was arrested for criticizing a police officer. Amnesty International remains an outspoken advocate for legal system reform in Tunisia, without which it claims the future of free speech and expression is threatened. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Tunisian Ministry of Interior announced that police officers are now authorized to carry their weapons while off-duty. [Tunisia Live, 1/7/2015]

Tunisian president determined to fight terrorism
In his first speech, Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi stressed that he and his party are serious about confronting terrorism. For his prime minister he chose Habib Essid, a former chief of staff to the minister of interior under Ben Ali and also headed the ministry after the revolution. In his first speech as president, Essebsi called on all Tunisians to protect their country’s experience and to stand united against terrorism. A ministry of interior report released last week shows a spike in the number of people detained in connection to terrorist cases from 2013 to 2014 and as such Essebsi is making security a top priority for the new government. [Magharebia, 1/7/2015]


US-led air strikes have hit 3,222 Islamic State targets
US-led air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria have damaged or destroyed 3,222 targets since August. The figures signal a steady expansion in the scale of the air campaign launched in August and also reveal an adversary with hundreds of armored and other sophisticated vehicles at its disposal. Pentagon officials could not say how many of the targets were damaged or destroyed but are confident that the destruction level is high and that the air strikes have put ISIS on the defensive. The news comes as the Pentagon states that the US military has made progress in its effort to identify moderate Syrian rebels to train for the fight against ISIS and that a US training mission could begin this spring. [Al-Arabiya, The Daily Star, The Wall Street Journal, 1/8/2015]

Members of ISIS’ religious police kidnapped in eastern Syria
Reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say that members of the religious police force set up by ISIS have been kidnapped by unknown gunmen in the eastern city of Mayadin. The news comes a day after reports that the force’s deputy leader in the same area had been killed by unknown assailants. His severed head was reportedly found with a cigarette in its mouth and close by was a note with a mocking reference to the fact that smoking is a sin in the eyes of the religious police. The Observatory said it was unclear how many members of the police had been kidnapped. [BBC, 1/8/2015]

Nusra Front militants blow up 13th century Muslim tomb in southern Syria
Reports from Syrian state news agency SANA and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claim that Nusra Front militants have blown up the 13th century tomb of the revered Islamic scholar Imam al-Nawawi in Nawa City near the Jordanian border, a town captured by groups fighting the Syrian government in November. Nusra follows the same puritanical interpretation of Sunni Islam as ISIS, and both groups see tombs as sacrilegious and have destroyed many shrines, cultural heritage sites, and precious manuscripts and archives. According to a UN report published in September, nearly 300 cultural heritage sites have been destroyed, damaged, and looted in Syria since 2011. [Reuters, al-Akhbar English, 1/8/2015]

Suicide attacks in central Iraq kill dozens
Suicide attacks targeting security checkpoints and Shia worshippers near the town of Youssifiyah, southwest of Baghdad, killed twenty-three people on Thursday. Later, an ISIS suicide bomber driving a pickup loaded with explosives struck a checkpoint manned by police and Shia militiamen near the city of Samarra and killed eight people and wounded twenty-three. After noon prayers, a suicide bomber set off his explosives belt among Shia worshippers who were leaving a mosque in western Baghdad, killing eight worshippers and wounding sixteen others. Samarra and surrounding areas have repeatedly come under attack in recent months by ISIS. [AP, Reuters, Al-Arabiya, BBC, 1/8/2015]


Police identify police academy bomber
Security services believe they have identified the attacker who blew up a car bomb near the Police Academy on Wednesday killing thirty-seven students and injuring sixty-three others. Sana’a Police Chief, Brigadier General Abdul Razaq al-Mouayad, said the attacker parked the car near a crowd of policemen waiting outside the academy to be enrolled as cadets and fled the scene before the car went off. Al-Mouayad said police investigators identified the owner of the car used in the attack and the attacker’s identity would be made public in the next few hours. [Yemen Times, SABA, 1/8/2015]

Tribes prepare for Houthi attack
Tribes from Marib province have begun preparations to repel fighters loyal to the Houthi movement attempting to take control of the oil-rich region, following reports of large numbers of Houthis marching from the neighboring Sadaa and al-Jawf provinces as part of a campaign to tighten the group’s grip on the country’s oil infrastructure. An attack on the strategic province could lead to grave consequences, as it may exacerbate tribal and sectarian tensions. [Mareb Press, Asharq Al-Awsat, 1/8/2015]

Information Minister’s office stormed by Houthis, documents taken
Thursday morning, a group of unarmed Houthis stormed the offices of Minister of Information Nadia Saqqaf. In a tweet, Saqqaf wrote that the invaders forcibly took documents and photographed others in the office. Saqaaf said she was not present in her office at the time of the break in and that she had been informed by the chief of staff about the incident. This is not the first time Houthis have stormed the ministry. In November, they invaded the deputy minister’s office, forcing him to leave the building. [Al Masdar, Yemen Times, 1/8/2015]

Attack in Radaa leaves ten Houthi militants dead
More than ten Houthi militants are dead after an attack by local tribesmen. Clashes between the two groups began on Wednesday night and continued early into Thursday morning. Similar attacks against the Shiite group have taken place after the group started arresting numbers of tribesmen. In October, the Houthis took control of Radda from al-Qaeda. Since then, the group has been arresting alleged al-Qaeda supporters as well as potential political rivals. [Al Masdar, Al Jazeera, 1/8/2015]


Egypt’s urban consumer price inflation rises to 10.1 percent
According to the official statistics agency CAPMAS, Egypt’s urban consumer inflation rose to an annual 10.1 percent in December from 9.1 percent the previous month. Inflation spiked in Egypt after the government slashed energy subsidies in July but fell in November from a peak of 11.8 percent in October. The central bank has kept interest rates steady after raising them in July to counter the subsidy cuts, but is due to make its next interest rate decision next week. [Reuters, 1/8/2015]

Morocco fourth quarter growth slows to 2.7 percent
According to the Moroccan planning agency, Morocco’s economic growth slowed to 2.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 from a year ago, but could reach 4.1 percent in the first quarter of 2015 as agricultural output picks up. Bad weather had diminished Morocco’s agricultural output from 9.7 million tonnes in 2013 to 6.7 million tonnes of grains in 2014. The output is expected to rise again in 2015 after improved rainfall. [Reuters, 1/8/2015]

Tobruk cabinet approves 2015 subsidies budget
The cabinet of Abdallah al-Thinni says it has approved the spending of nearly half a billion dinars for subsidies in 2015, on top of a further arrangement to provide some ministries with over LD 200 million ($160m). Approvals include Thinni’s economy minister’s request for LD 490 million ($392 million) to cover costs related to contracts and other commodities, the interior ministry’s request for LD 171 million ($137 million) to procure “high-end equipment for detecting weapons and drugs”, the justice minister’s request for LD 35 million ($28 million) to spend on the police force, and LD 250,000 ($200,000) to cover the running costs of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Despite these spending approvals, it is unclear if the Tobruk government has the ability to gain access to these funds from the Central Bank. [Libya Monitor, 1/8/2015]

Algeria would achieve growth of 7 percent in 2019
Algerian Prime Minister, Abdelmalek Selllal announced that the Algerian government will attempt to strengthen its economic diversification policy in order to achieve 7 percent growth by 2019. The plan includes an acceleration of the political transformation and diversification of the Algerian economy by relying on the 2015-2019 Five-Year Plan and a framework of consultation and dialogue according to the National Economic and social growth pact. The government’s goal is to turn the national economy towards production and wealth creation to achieve an annual growth of 7 percent and to maintain the downward trend of the unemployment rate which has already decreased from 29.8percent in 2000 to 9.8 percent in 2014. [Medafrica, 1/8/2015]