Top News: UK Drone Strike Kills Three ISIS Fighters

Britain killed two of its nationals fighting for the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in its first air strike in Syria, said Prime Minister David Cameron. Despite not having a parliamentary mandate to take military action in Syria, Cameron told lawmakers that Briton Reyaad Khan had been targeted and killed in a drone strike because of his plans to carry out attacks in Britain. Cameron said the Royal Air Force strike had been approved by the attorney general and was permissible because of Britain’s intrinsic right to self-defense. British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said that his country would not hesitate to carry out similar raids against militants suspected of plotting attacks against Britain and its allies. [ReutersAPNYT, 9/8/2015]



Egypt Agriculture Minister detained pending investigation into corruption charges
Egypt’s outgoing Agriculture Minister Salah Helal was arrested in Cairo on Monday after being told to step aside in connection with an investigation into corruption at his ministry, judicial and media sources said. Salah Helal “resigned on the orders of the president,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s office said. He was detained after a meeting in the premier’s office, a judicial source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. Officials at the agriculture ministry are alleged to have taken bribes worth over $1 million to help businessmen illegally acquire state land, a prosecution official and media reports said. A statement by acting Prosecutor General Ali Omran said that Helal and three other ministry officials also were detained pending an investigation. Later on Monday, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab selected Irrigation Minister Hossam Moghazi to step in as acting Agriculture Minister until a new appointment is made. [AFP, Ahram Online, Reuters, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 9/8/2015]

Egyptian court rulings force electoral committee to change plans
Two court decisions were issued Monday highlighting violations to parliamentary electoral laws. One ruling issued by the Administrative Court stated that the decision by the Higher Elections Committee (HEC) to accept candidate’s medical check-ups conducted in February was a violation of the House of Representatives law. Following the ruling, however, the HEC extended the scheduled registration period, originally scheduled to close on September 12, for three days in order to allow candidates to retake their medical tests. The Administrative Court also accepted a lawsuit filed by a lawyer against Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab’s decision to change the boundaries of two electoral constituencies, one in Cairo and one in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Qena. The lawsuit argued that Egypt’s official gazette had issued the constituency law with a change in the locations of the two constituencies, and it was unclear whether the Prime Minister intended to make these changes or whether it was a procedural error. At least 4,273 parliamentary hopefuls have submitted their papers to register as candidates since the registration period began last Wednesday, the HEC announced in a statement Monday. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, 9/8/2015]

Cairo Criminal Court releases reasoning behind Al Jazeera trial verdict
An Egyptian court released a detailed ruling on Sunday on why it sentenced three Al Jazeera English journalists to three years in prison for airing what it described as “false news” and biased coverage. The ruling, published by the state news agency MENA, says the three men—Canadian national Mohammed Fahmy, Australian journalist Peter Greste, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed—were by default members the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, which Egyptian authorities consider a terrorist organization. “It has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that the Al Jazeera media channel has dedicated its broadcasting to the service and support of the Muslim Brotherhood faction and that they have permanently sided with them at the expense of their media ethics,” the ruling said. “This provides enough ground for a conviction of belonging to a group based on violations of the law.” The ruling also said the three operated without press credentials and secretly worked at the Marriott hotel in central Cairo without a permit. The journalists and the network deny the accusations. [DNE, Ahram Online, AP, 9/6/2015]

Egypt discusses draft law to fight illegal immigration
Egypt’s national security committee passed a draft law imposing up to five years imprisonment and a fine for human trafficking, Minister of Transitional Justice Ibrahim Heneidy on Sunday. The fine is set between EGP 50,000 (around $6,388) and EGP 200,000 ($25,550), Heneidy said. The draft also stipulates a penalty of up to life in prison if the human trafficking process is organized by a group known for implementing a “terrorist target” or if a migrant dies. The draft law is due to be referred to the state committee tasked with carrying out legislative reform ahead of its ratification by the cabinet, the minister added. The anti-illegal immigration law deals with illegal immigrants as “victims,” Heneidy explained. [Aswat Masriya, 9/6/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


ISIS attack near Benghazi kills Libyan soldiers
Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) gunmen killed three Libyan pro-government soldiers and wounded four others in an attack on Monday outside the eastern city of Benghazi, LANA news agency reported. An ISIS affiliate tweeted that its militants seized a tank and two military vehicles in the attack. LANA, which is linked to Libya’s Tobruk government, cited the source as saying that the gunmen struck an army position about eight kilometers south of Benghazi. Near the eastern city of Derna, heavy clashes broke out between ISIS and army units loyal to the country’s Tobruk government on Friday, killing four soldiers and wounding three more. [AFP, Reuters, 9/8/2015]

German UN official seen as favorite for Libya post
Martin Kobler, a German United Nations official currently overseeing the mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the top candidate to take over as head of the UN’s mission to Libya, UN diplomats said. If UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decides to appoint Kobler to head the mission in Libya, he would replace Bernardino Leon. While Leon is expected to step down in the coming weeks or months, the diplomats said he might remain in the post longer if a deal on a unity government emerges. Prior to his work in the Congo, Kobler served as UN Special Envoy to Iraq and deputy UN Representative in Afghanistan. [Reuters, 9/4/2015]

Tripoli regime’s Ghirani welcomed by Qatar’s Foreign Minister
Mohamed al-Ghirani, Foreign Minister of Libya’s Tripoli government, met with Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled bin Mohamed al-Attiyah yesterday. Qatar’s official policy towards Libya is in line with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which recognizes the eastern government in Tobruk, rather than the western Tripoli-based government, as Libya’s official government. Yesterday, however, the state-run Qatar news agency QNA referred to Ghirani as al-Attiyah’s “Libyan counterpart” and said the two sides discussed the latest developments in Libya. [Libya Herald, 9/7/2015]

Tunisia warns of car bomb plot in Tunis, imposes traffic bans
Tunisian authorities warned of possible car bombings in Tunis and banned traffic in parts of the city after receiving intelligence reports about potential attacks, state news agency TAP said on Sunday. Armed Islamists often carry out attacks on the armed forces in remote areas in Tunisia but have not previously attempted mass killings with car bombs. A source from the interior ministry said that a potential assault involving car bombs and attackers with bomb belts had meant to target strategic points in the capital, without giving further details. Authorities closed off access to the main Avenue Habib Bourguiba in the center of the city and several other main streets. [Reuters, AP, All Africa/TAP, 9/6/2015]

Agreements on wage increases in public and private sectors to be signed soon in Tunisia
An agreement on wage increases in the private sector was reached and will be signed at the end of this month, while a similar agreement in the public sector is being finalized and will be concluded by the weekend, President Beji Caid Essebsi said Monday. Essebsi welcomed the significant progress made in negotiations between the government, the Tunisian General Labor Union, and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade, and Handicrafts. He said the initiatives aim to create an environment conducive to boosting the economy and revitalizing domestic and foreign investment. [All Africa/TAP, 9/7/2015]

Morocco’s Islamists win key urban posts in local election
Morocco’s ruling Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), won most of the country’s key cities during Friday’s local elections, but trailed in total seats behind two parties with strong backing in the countryside. The wins further expanded the PJD’s reach after four years of leading a coalition government that undertook major fiscal reforms. For the first time in its history, the PJD won control of all of Morocco’s major cities including the capital Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, Fez, Marrakesh, and Agadir. Meanwhile, its rivals fielded more candidates and performed more strongly in rural areas. The PJD took the most seats in the regional councils, with 25 percent of the total, but fell behind the Authenticity and Modernity Party and the conservative Independence Party in the local councils, which are weighted towards rural areas. Turnout in the elections was 53.67 percent, almost the same as in the last local elections in 2009. [Reuters, AP, 9/5/2015]


Deadly sandstorm sweeps Lebanon and Syria
An unseasonal sandstorm passing through the Levant has killed two people and sent hundreds to the hospital with breathing difficulties. A Syrian pro-government newspaper said the weather forced a halt in government air strikes against rebel fighters north of the central province of Hama. Reduced visibility threatened a planned protest by Lebanese activists. The storm also hit Israel and Jordan, where schools around the country shut down or shortened their length of day. The dust will begin to dissipate late Wednesday. [The Guardian, Reuters, AP, 9/8/2015]

Russia answers US criticism over military aid to Syria
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswomanMaria V. Zakharova said in an interview, “We have always supplied equipment to [Syria] for their struggle against terrorists. We are supporting them, we were supporting them, and we will be supporting them.” Russia says it never concealed the fact that it supplied military equipment to Syria aimed at fighting terrorism. A Syrian military official told Reuters there has recently been a “big shift” in Russian military support, including new weapons and training. In related news, Bulgaria has denied a Russian request to use its airspace for supply flights to Syria due to serious concerns about the cargo on the planes, the Bulgarian foreign ministry’s spokeswoman. Furthermore, the United States asked Greece to deny Russia the use of its airspace for supply flights to Syria, a Greek official said. [Reuters, NYT, 9/7/2015]

US to overhaul rebel force fighting ISIS in Syria
In an acknowledgment of severe shortcomings in its effort to create a force of moderate rebels to battle ISIS, the Pentagon is drawing up plans to significantly revamp the program by dropping larger numbers of fighters into safer areas as well as providing better intelligence and improving their combat skills. The proposed changes come after a Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda attacked many of the first fifty-four Syrian graduates of the military’s training program and the rebel unit they came from in late July. A day before the attack, two leaders of the American-backed group and several of its fighters were captured. The United States is planning a major overhaul of the program to train moderate rebels to fight ISIS in Syria. The effort amounts to an admission that the force is failing to be effective. [NYT, AFP, 9/7/2015]

France to prepare air strikes against ISIS in Syria
France will send reconnaissance flights over Syria beginning Tuesday and is considering air strikes in the fight against ISIS, President Francois Hollande said. “We have proof that attacks against several countries, notably ours, are being planned…Today in Syria what we hope to learn, is what is being planned against us and what is happening to the Syrian population.” Hollande ruled out ground operations in Iraq and Syria, saying they would be “inconsequential and unrealistic.” He added, “It’s for regional forces to take their responsibilities. France, however, will work to find political solutions.” [AFP, AP, 9/7/2015]


Iran denies reports of closure of embassy in Yemen
Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham rejected media reports claiming that Iran has closed its embassy in Sana’a, saying “the Iranian embassy in Sana’a continues operation as usual.” She added that Iranian Ambassador to Yemen, Seyed Hossein Niknam, returned to Iran Monday on annual leave. Afkham’s statement comes after comments by Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin that Iran’s embassy in Sana’a had become a “Houthi operations room” and that Iranian intelligence and military experts at the embassy were helping Houthis plan attacks against government loyalists and Saudi-led coalition forces. Afkham said the claims are unfounded, describing them as rumors intended to divert and weaken “the Yemeni people and groups’ role in their six-month-long under-siege resistance, fighting against the foreign aggressors, terrorists, and Takfiri groups inside Yemen.” [Asharq al-Aswat, ABNA, Fars News, Sahafah, 9/8/2015]

Saudi-led coalition deploys more troops to Yemen
A Saudi-led alliance has reportedly deployed 10,000 troops to Yemen in an apparent sign of determination to rout Iran-allied Houthi forces after they killed at least sixty Gulf Arab soldiers on Friday. One thousand ground troops, supported by armored vehicles and thirty apache helicopters, will enter Yemen through the al-Wadee border crossing with Saudi Arabia today. The United Nations says some 4,500 people – including at least 2,110 civilians – have been killed in fighting on the ground and by coalition air strikes since late March. Coalition sources have also reportedly said that Egyptian and Kuwaiti forces, as well as 6,000 Sudanese troops will soon join the fight inside Yemen. These military advances come after the United States reaffirmed its support for Saudi-led military action taken in Yemen. [BBC, Reuters, Al Arabiya, Arab News, 9/8/2015]

Coalition airstrikes bomb rebel encampment
Air strikes from the Saudi-led coalition destroyed a key rebel encampment on Sunday in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, while also hitting a school, restaurants, and embassies. The strikes wounded seventeen people including school children taking final exams. While the Saudi and Emirati embassies were damaged, the strikes also hit the headquarters of the Special Security Forces, where troops remain loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Security officials said warplanes also targeted weapons caches in the mountains of Noqum and Ayban, east and west of Sana’a. The coalition carried out its heaviest airstrikes yet on the Yemeni capital in response to a missile strike two days ago that killed sixty coalition troops in the eastern province of Marib. [The Boston Globe, EPA, Arab News, Washington Post, 9/7/2015]

Kuwait calls for Iranian embassy to close
Kuwaiti lawmakers have demanded the closure of the Iranian embassy in Kuwait over the breaching of diplomatic norms after the embassy issued a statement in which it denied its link to the Abdali terrorist cell. The members of the cell are accused of spying for Iran and Hezbollah with the aim of carrying out aggressive acts against Kuwait. On September 1, Kuwait’s public prosecution said twenty-six defendants, including one Iranian, were standing trial for the possession of weapons, ammunition, and explosives, and espionage for Iran and Hezbollah. However, the Iranian embassy downplayed the significance of the terrorist cell and the charges of espionage on September 3, saying that the case was a domestic Kuwaiti issue pertaining mainly to the discovery of weapons and ammunitions. Kuwaiti Member of Parliament Majid Mousa al-Mutairi said in a press statement that the Iranian Embassy’s statement is considered interference in the affairs of Kuwait. [Ettela’at, Arab News, Gulf News, 9/9/2015]


Saudi Arabia to cut spending after oil price decline
Saudi Arabia is cutting unnecessary expenses and delaying some projects to compensate for low oil prices, Finance Minister Ibrahim Alassaf said. His comments were the clearest official signal yet that Saudi Arabia is reducing expenditure in some areas. Alassaf said the country is well-prepared to cope with the plunge of crude prices, but that Saudi policymakers are taking the drop seriously. “We have built reserves, cut public debt to near-zero levels and we are now working on cutting unnecessary expenses while focusing on main development projects and on building human resources in the kingdom,” he said in an interview with CNBC Arabia. Alassaf did not provide details of how spending would be cut but insisted that spending on education, health, and infrastructure would not be affected. He said the government will continue issuing bonds and may sell Islamic bonds to finance specific projects. In addition, sources reported that Saudi Arabia is considering cutting gasoline subsidies, following on the heels of the United Arab Emirates last month. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman met with senior US executives in Washington this weekend in an effort to attract foreign investment. According to a source, top Saudi officials met with representatives from General Electric, Chevron, JPMorgan, Boeing, Halliburton, Raytheon and Lockheed, and others. Finally, on Sunday, Saudi Central Bank Governor Fahad Al Mubarak said the country will stick with its currency peg as long as oil underpins the economy, dismissing speculation that the country’s currency system is coming under pressure. [Reuters, AFP, BBC, 9/6/2015]

Egypt to issue at least $1 billion international bonds in 2015
Egypt plans to raise between $1 billion and $1.5 billion from international markets by issuing bonds before the end of the calendar year, Samy Khallaf, Head of Debt Management at the finance ministry said Monday at the Euromoney Egypt Conference. The planned bond issuance is part of a $10 billion program, $1.5 billion of which was raised in June, according to Khallaf. In addition, Finance Minister Hany Kany Dimian said Egypt plans to issue Islamic bonds (Sukuk) to finance its budget deficit for the current fiscal year. The Sukuk will be issued in 2016, Dimian said at the Euromoney conference. Meanwhile, Investment Minister Ashraf Salman said at the conference that Egypt needs $51.1 billion in domestic investments and $10 billion in foreign direct investments to grow at a rate of 5 to 5.5 percent of gross domestic product. He added that the depreciation of Egypt’s pound “is no longer a matter of choice.” According to the Central Bank, Egypt’s foreign currency reserves fell to $18.096 billion at the end of August from $18.534 billion in July. [Ahram Online, Bloomberg, 9/7/2015]

Egypt and Tunisia seek to boost bilateral trade by $500 million
An Egyptian-Tunisian joint committee is working to increase trade between the two countries from $317 million in 2015 to $500 million. Egypt’s Ambassador in Tunis, Ayman Musharrafa, received a committee of Egyptian experts on Friday who will take part in joint Egyptian-Tunisian preparatory meetings ahead of a meeting between Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and his Tunisian counterpart Habib Essid. Musharrafa said the joint committee will tackle several political, economic, and cultural files, and that ten deals and memorandums of understanding will be discussed in a ministerial meeting with the committee. Meanwhile, on Monday, Egypt signed an agreement with a Chinese company on building and financing part of the planned new administrative capital and secured a $243 million fund from Japan for electricity. [Amwal Al Ghad, Al Bawaba, 9/7/2015]

Kurdistan preparing payments for oil companies
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said on Monday it had allocated $75 million of revenue from its independent crude sales to oil exporting companies that have gone unpaid for months. The figure represents just a fraction of what international oil firms in the region say they are owed, but the promise of regular payments could restore some confidence. Gulf Keystone Petroleum will receive $15 million, whilst DNO and TTOPCO – a joint venture between Genel and Sinopec’s Addax Petroleum – will each receive $30 million, the KRG’s Ministry of Natural Resources said in a statement. The payments will be wired to the companies’ accounts within seven days. “Regular payments will be needed to allow the exporting companies to cover their ongoing expenses and plan for further investment in the oil fields, which will in turn boost production and thus help the people of the Kurdistan region,” the statement said. Further payments will be made as shipments rise in 2016.  [Reuters, FT, Bloomberg, 9/7/2015]