The constitutional chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court of Justice on Aug. 24 ruled that the country's notoriously violent street gangs and those who support them financially will now be classified as "terrorist groups." The ruling came in a decision rejecting four challenges to the constitutionality of the country's Special Law Against Terrorist Acts (LECAT). The ruling defines terrorism as the "organized and systematic exercise of violence," placing the label on any group that attempts to usurp the state's monopoly on use of force. The ruling upholds the freezing of funds for any persons believed linked to the named groups, and a ban on any negotiation with the groups. At issue are the rival Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs.
Well, the long-awaited "other shoe" is finally dropping. It is clear that Washington has given Turkey a green light to crush the revolutionary Kurds—in Turkey, Syria and Iraq alike—as the price of Ankara's cooperation against ISIS. And it's also pretty clear that crushing the Kurds is far more of a priority for Ankara than fighting ISIS. The New York Times writes: "Turkey's new airstrikes...against the Islamic State...came alongside an equally intense barrage on Kurdish militants in Iraq, whose Syrian affiliates are also fighting the Islamic State." Equally intense or far more intense? Media accounts have few specifics of ISIS targets hit by the Turkish strikes. But Haaretz reports: "Turkish fighter jets launched their heaviest assault on Kurdish militants in northern Iraq overnight since airstrikes began last week... The F-16 jets hit six targets in Iraq and were scrambled from an air base in Turkey's southeastern province of Diyarbakir... Turkey began bombing PKK camps in northern Iraq last Friday in what government officials have said was a response to a series of killings of police officers and soldiers blamed on the Kurdish militant group."
Middle East Eye reported July 7 that Egypt's dictatorial President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi received a delegation representing the American Jewish Committee (AJC) at his presidential headquarters in Cairo. The delegation, headed by the president of the organization's executive council, Stanley Bergman, discussed ways to "defeat terrorism" and militancy in the region. We'd love to know what the hell Sisi was thinking by agreeing to this meeting. Way to play right into the hands of the jihadis, fool. What a cynical, duplicitous game this guy is playing. Trying to appease the Islamists by sending atheist bloggers to prison, and then cozying up to the dreaded Zionists as an "anti-terrorist" ally. Who does he think he's kidding?
The US State Department on June 19 released its "Country Reports on Terrorism 2014," finding that the number of terrorist attacks around the world rose by a third in 2014 compared with the previous year. The number of people killed in such attacks rose by 80%, to nearly 33,000. The sharp increase was largely due to the "unprecedented" seizure of territory in Iraq and Syria by ISIS, and the growith of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Terrorist groups used more aggressive tactics in 2014 than in previous years, such as beheadings and crucifixions. ISIS attacks on religious minorities like Christians and Yazidis are cited. Islamic State was particularly lethal. The reports says the June 2014 massacre at a prison in Mosul, Iraq, in which ISIS killed 670 Shi'ite prisoners "was the deadliest attack worldwide since September 11, 2001." The report notes the "central al-Qaeda leadership" has been weakened, but the network's regional affiliates have gained ground in places like Yemen and the Horn of Africa. (BBC News, Reuters, State Department, June 19)
The Obama administration sent a formal report (PDF) to Congress criticizing the Egyptian government for its human rights abuses and lack of movement toward democracy but still supporting $1.3 billion to Egypt in mostly military aid. The report, signed by Secretary of State John Kerry and submitted quietly on May 12, condemned Egypt's due process restrictions and a "lack of fair trial safeguards," pointing to mass trials, mass death sentences and extremely poor prison conditions. Government agents and police have largely not been held responsible for rights violations. Current laws "effectively ban...most forms of street protest...including peaceful dissent." While Egypt has a general "democracy roadmap" that has been implemented in part, "the overall trajectory of rights and democracy has been negative." Ultimately, however, the report cites its counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State as a key reason Egypt remains of "vital importance" to the US from a security perspective. The report recommends continued support to Egypt despite the growing list of grievances.
The New York Times offers this sobering lede on the anti-ISIS summit now underway: "With Islamist militant fighters on the ground in Syria and Iraq moving faster than the international coalition arrayed against them, a meeting in Paris by coalition members on Tuesday seemed unlikely to reverse the momentum anytime soon. With the French and American governments playing host, 24 foreign ministers or their representatives have been meeting here in the aftermath of serious losses to the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria last month and the possibility that more territory will be lost in the coming days." Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose forces are virtually collapsing, was of course on hand to appeal for more aid. (Reuters) Disgracefully, no Kurdish leaders were invited to the summit—despite the fact that Kurdish forces have been by far most effective on the ground against ISIS. "The [Iraqi] federal government didn't invite any representative from Kurdistan to the Paris meeting and have participated in this gathering alone," reads a statement from the Kurdish Regional Government. "The Peshmerga are the only forces that have so far bravely battled the terrorists and driven them out of our territories." (IBT) Needless to say, no representatives of the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria were invited either.
Key provisions of the USA Patriot Act expired June 1 after a late Senate vote failed to establish an extension. The provisions that expired were in Section 215 of the act and included: the "Bulk Data Collection" provision, which allowed the government to collect data, the "Lone Wolf" provision, which allowed surveillance on individuals not directly tied to terrorist groups, and the "Roving Wiretaps" provision, which allowed the government to surveil all of a suspected terrorist's communications. The Senate gathered to vote on the bill late May 31, but fierce debate pushed the vote into the early hours of the next morning. Although the Senate failed to establish an extension for the Patriot Act, they are set to vote on the USA Freedom Act which is supposed to serve as a limit on government surveillance.
The US government on May 29 formally removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a positive step toward restoring Cuba-US diplomatic relations. US President Barack Obama said in April that he would drop Cuba from the list. In December Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro stated they would take steps to restore diplomatic relations that were severed in 1961 by the US. Removal from this list ends a variety of sanctions from the US including opposing financial backing of the World Bank and International Monetary fund, US economic aid bans, and bans on US arms exports. Although not all sanctions have been removed from Cuba, the removal from the list may make private US companies and banks more likely to do business with Cuba. The two sides have held several rounds of negotiations since December and have stated they are close to a deal with to reopen US embassies. As of now, the only countries left on the list are Iran, Syria and Sudan.