An American citizen who allegedly led a female battalion in Syria is facing charges over providing support to the Islamic State (ISIS), the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Saturday (January 29).
Allison Fluke-Ekren, a 42-year-old former resident of Kansas, was handed over to the custody of the FBI on Friday after she had previously been detained in Syria, according to the DOJ.
Fluke-Ekren allegedly played a role in a wide range of activities from the years 2014 to 2017 after travelling to Syria.
According to a statement from the DOJ, she was the leader and organizer for Khatiba Nusayba, an all-female ISIS battalion, whose members she trained to take part in the defense of Raqqa during the siege of ISIS’ de facto capital in Syria in 2017.
She allegedly provided training with weapons and suicide belts to others, including children. Six eyewitnesses testified to Fluke-Ekren’s active role in support of ISIS’ activities.
She also had a role in planning and recruitment for an unrealized plot to stage a terror attack on a college campus in the US, according to the DOJ.
Fluke-Ekren is charged with "providing and conspiring to provide material support to ISIS, a designated foreign terrorist network.” She is due to appear in court in Alexandria, Virginian on Monday.
Former UK Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the British prime minister’s office ordered him to burn a secret memo that said the 2003 invasion of Iraq could be illegal, the Daily Mail reported on Tuesday (January 4).
The allegation comes amid a campaign to strip former British Prime Minister Tony Blair of his knighthood. Blair, who was in power from 1997 to 2007 was rewarded with the Order of the Garter over the New Year.
The allegations over the order to destroy the memo first emerged in 2015, when the former PM said the claim was "nonsense.”
Hoon said, according to the Daily Mail, that his private secretary was told by Blair’s chief of staff "in no uncertain terms” to destroy the secret memo after reading it. The former defense secretary says he ignored the order and preserved the document in a locked safe.
Hoon’s claim may add fuel to the campaign to revoke Blair’s knighthood. A petition to remove the honor has topped 600,000 signatures, according to the BBC.
The royal family of Brunei concluded week-long wedding festivities on Monday (January 24) celebrating the marriage of Princess Fadzillah Lubabul, the daughter of the Sultan of Brunei, to Awang Abdullah Nabil Mahmoud al-Hashimi, an Iraqi-Canadian.
Princess Fadzillah, 36, is the ninth daughter of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world’s richest men.
Hashimi grew up in Brunei, is the son of a university lecturer, and is largely known for staying out of the public eye.
Princess Fadzillah is the captain of Brunei’s national netball team and has a master’s degree in business administration.
The Sultan of Brunei, who is also the small Southeast Asian country’s prime minister, has a net worth estimated at $20 billion.
The week-long celebration ended in a ceremony where the couple is seen in photographs wearing white and silver brocade outfits decorated with diamonds in one of the gold-plated rooms in the royal palace.
WASHINGTON, United States - Twitter said Saturday it had permanently suspended an account linked to Iran's supreme leader that posted a video calling for revenge for a top general's assassination against former US president Donald Trump.
"The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy," a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.
The account, @KhameneiSite, this week posted an animated video showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump, who ordered a drone strike in Baghdad two years ago that killed top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's main accounts in various languages remain active. Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.
The recent video, titled "Revenge is Definite", was also posted on Khamenei's official website.
According to Twitter, the company's top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.
The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.
As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani was the architect of its strategy in the Middle East.
He and his Iraqi lieutenant were killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.
Khamenei has repeatedly promised to avenge his death.
On January 3, the second anniversary of the strike, the supreme leader and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi once again threatened the US with revenge.
Trump's supporters regularly denounce the banning of the Republican billionaire from Twitter, underscoring that accounts of several leaders considered authoritarian by the United States are allowed to post on the platform.
By Zana Abdalla
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said on Sunday (January 2) that 45 journalists were killed in work-related incidents, including targeted killings, crossfire fatalities as well as bomb attacks in 2021.
In its annual report of journalists and media professionals who were killed in 2021, IFJ said "the Asia Pacific region tops the regional list with 20 killings, before the Americas (10), Africa (8), Europe (6).”
It also said that the Middle East and Arab World on just one killing. There was also a deadly accident that cost the lives of two journalists in Iran.
According to the report, the recorded number is a drop from 65 killings in 2020, and the 45 killed in 2021 included 9 killed in Afghanistan, 8 in Mexico, 4 in India and 3 in Pakistan.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – One of the survivors of the recent migration tragedy in the Aegean Sea recounted on Saturday the horror of watching the Greek waters take the lives of families and children, washing away their dream of reaching western Europe as they drowned one-by-one.
In an exclusive talk with Rudaw, the surviving migrant, who preferred to stay anonymous said that on Wednesday evening, the smugglers drove the group of over 100 migrants who were staying at a hotel in Turkey’s Marmaris city to a jungle where they were later taken to the port.
“They had promised us a 16-meter boat would be ready to take us, but there was a 12-meter boat when we arrived. The number of migrants was 103 people at the time; 84 adults and 19 children. We were all forced into the boat,” the survivor who is in his late thirties told Rudaw’s Salar Raza over WhatsApp from a camp in Athens, where he and the other survivors are staying.
The boat was too small for the large number of migrants but the smugglers managed to pack the desperate 103 people, including Kurds, into the boat that set off at around 2:00 am, marking a journey of perished hopes and dreams.
Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for refugees and migrants. However, the flow tapered off following the arrival of nearly one million people, including Syrian Kurds, in Europe after crossing to Greek islands close to Turkey in 2015.
The boat started suffering from issues four hours after its departure, the survivor said.
“There were two seamen on board who said they were from Kyrgyzstan, they fixed the problem,” the migrant said. “We sailed until 2:00 pm of December 23 [Thursday] until the boat broke down completely and its engines stopped working. The seamen lost hope. The waves were very strong and they took the boat with them.”
The tidal surge took the boat to a rocky island as it slammed several rocks, breaking pieces of it and leading to the fall of at least 11 people into the waters, according to the survivor.
“Three people from Kirkuk, including a grandmother, her daughter and her granddaughter and a family of seven, among them a women, who were originally from Halabja also drowned,” he said, adding “the others have survived.”
Among the people on the boat were a number of Kurds from the Kurdish areas of Iran who tied the boat to rocks, “which is how they managed to save most of the migrants’ lives.”
At least 30 people died when three separate migrant boats sank in the Aegean since Wednesday, AFP reported Greece’s coastguards as saying.
The details of the incidents and the total number of migrants the boats carried remain unclear.
Fryad Ali and his wife, who hoped to reach Greece or Italy, lost their two children in the Greek waters after their boat capsized.
Kurdish migrants have suffered a catastrophic fate this year. A boat carrying 33 migrants, most of them Kurds, capsized in the English Channel on November 24, in what the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has called the "worst disaster on record" in the Channel.
There are only two known survivors of the disaster, including a Kurd from the Region. Bodies of the sixteen identified Iraqi Kurds are to be returned to the Kurdistan Region on early Sunday, following the return of the body of Sirwan Alipour, an Iranian Kurd, to Tehran on Monday.
Thousands of other Kurds have traveled to Belarus in recent months with the help of Kurdish smugglers, hoping to reach western Europe in a search for jobs and opportunities they feel they cannot access at home where unemployment is high and political tensions, corruption, and instability leave them with little hope for their future.
An estimated 193,443 people have left the Kurdistan Region and Iraq by irregular means since 2018, according to data from the Summit Foundation for Refugee and Displaced Affairs (Lutka).
The Kurdistan Region, often called a safe haven within Iraq, is facing crises of its own - high unemployment, corruption, political instability, and an economic downturn during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has acknowledged the existence of systemic problems and financial hardships but says it is working to address these issues
By Zana Abdalla
At least sixteen people died when a migrant boat sank in the Aegean, Greece's coastguard said early Saturday, just hours after a similar incident claimed another 11 lives.
The latest tragedy -- the third since Wednesday -- came amid high smuggler activity not seen in Greek waters in months.
According to Athens News Agency, the coastguard found 16 bodies late Friday, including those of three women and a baby, and rescued 63 people from a boat that overturned and sank near the island of Paros.
Hours earlier, 11 bodies were recovered from a boat that ran aground on an islet north of the Greek island of Antikythera on Thursday evening.
Ninety people stranded on the islet were rescued, the coastguard said.
On Wednesday, a dinghy carrying migrants capsized off the island of Folegandros, killing at least three people.
Thirteen people were rescued, while dozens remain missing, Greek authorities said.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said the Folegandros accident was the worst in the Aegean Sea this year.
"This shipwreck is a painful reminder that people continue to embark on perilous voyages in search of safety," said Adriano Silvestri, the UNHCR's assistant representative in Greece.
Earlier Friday, the coastguard had intercepted another boat with 92 men and boys on board after it ran aground on the coast of the Peloponnese peninsula.
Three suspected smugglers who fled the boat on foot were later arrested.
The UNHCR estimates that more than 2,500 people have died or gone missing at sea in their attempt to reach Europe from January through November this year.
Nearly one million people, mainly Syrian refugees, arrived in the European Union in 2015 after crossing to Greek islands close to Turkey.
"These days, the criminal activity of smugglers, who are indifferent to human life, has intensified, stacking dozens of distressed people, without life jackets, on boats that do not even meet the basic safety standards," Giannis Plakiotakis, Maritime Affairs Minister commented late Friday.
By Zana Abdalla
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - The tenth repatriation flight carrying hundreds of Iraqi migrants is scheduled to land in Iraq from Belarus on Friday, Iraqi state media reported an official as saying.
The voluntary evacuation flight will carry over 400 Iraqis, Ahmed al-Sahaf, spokesperson for Iraq's foreign ministry saidon Friday.
Thousands of Iraqi and Kurdish people have traveled to eastern Europe in recent months, where they hoped to cross over and make their way to Germany and, from there, the rest of Europe.
In response, Poland has tightened its border security. Some migrants on the Belarus-Poland border have sustained injuries, and several others have lost their lives.
Iraq began offering repatriation flights last month, returning over 3,000 Iraqi and Kurdish migrants from Minsk. It granted 420 return permits to migrants stranded on the Belarus-Poland border on Wednesday.
At least 417 Iraqi and Kurdish migrants, including two children, arrived in Baghdad and Erbil last week.
The exodus of Kurds is part of a migrant crisis that has compelled European nations to fortify their borders. Tensions are high between Belarus and Europe. Minsk has been accused of exploiting the migrants and using them as a pressure tactic against the European Union in answer to sanctions.
Poland has refused to take in any migrants, instead calling on them to return home.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has acknowledged the existence of systemic problems and financial hardships but says it is working to address these issues.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - A Kurdish family from Sulaimani province are making their "last attempt" to reach Germany, seeking better care for their eight-year-old son with special needs. They have spent tens of thousands of dollars since 2015 on their attempts to reach Europe, which have so far failed.
Taman Sangar was born in 2013 with an issue in his ankle joints. His father, Sangar Jawad, says he has spent up to $50,000 on hospitals, trying to find the right treatment. He has been trying to migrate to Germany with his family since 2015, both legally and illegally, in hope of finding a treatment for his son in order to save his legs. He applied for a German visa in Erbil three times, using his son's medical reports, but was rejected.
In November 2019, Taman (which means 'age' in Kurdish) was left with no option but to have his two legs amputated at a Sulaimani hospital.
Jawad, currently at a logistics center on the Belarusian border, told Rudaw English via WhatsApp that the family is making their "last attempt" to reach Germany where he believes better medical care can be provided for his son. Jawad added that he can no longer afford changing Taman's prosthetic legs almost twice a year.
On September 23, Jawad, his wife, and three children - including Taman - left their hometown of Arbat in Sulaimani province via airplane, landing in Dubai early the next day. They were supposed to travel to Belarus two days later but could not make the trip and stayed in Dubai for a month.
"We arrived in Belarus on October 28. We stayed in Belarus for two nights and then we went to the forest. We stayed there until we moved to this camp [the logistics center] November 8," said Jawad.
"This was my last attempt as a father who tries [to find better lives] for his children. I have no more energy. The reason behind our [attempts] to migrate to Europe is that Taman is now eight years old but as a person with special needs he has not received a penny [from the Kurdish government]. His prosthetic legs need to be changed every eight months and this costs about $6,000 each time," said the father.
"Someone who is a worker lives in a rental house and has no salary cannot afford this. We are migrating because of these factors. If we reach a country like Germany, Taman's prosthetic legs could be changed for free and he could get better service there as well as better education," he added.
Jawad also said that he has sold all his assets and has spent all his savings, as well as the money received from relatives, on providing for his son.
"Before Taman was born, I used to have a house and car. After his birth, we sold the house and car and spent all the money we had [for his recovery]," he said.
Taman has been taunted by children at school in the Kurdistan Region and at the camp he is staying now over his prosthetic legs, the father said, believing that he will not experience discrimination in Germany.
Thousands of people from the Kurdistan Region have used Belarus as a gateway to reach Europe, mainly Germany. However, the majority have not made it and have remained stuck along the Belarus-Poland border. Some have spent weeks in forests, while others have stayed at the logistics center on the border. Jawad and his family have been through both experiences.
Following their disillusion or losing of their passports, over 2,000 people have returned to the Kurdistan Region via flights organized by Erbil and Baghdad. The latest group, consisting of over 400 people, returned on Saturday. Kurdish and Iraqi officials have stated that returning is voluntary, but some migrants have stated otherwise.
The Kurdistan Region has been confronting an economic crisis since 2014, mostly blamed on the Islamic State (ISIS) war, a dramatic drop in oil prices, and Baghdad's cutting of Erbil's budget. Jawad said he even worked as a taxi driver to make ends meet and cover his son's medical costs, but this was not enough.
Many people from the Kurdistan Region seek medical treatment in neighboring and Western countries due to an overwhelmed domestic health sector.
Jawad fears that they could be repatriated to the Kurdistan Region where he will have to start from scratch to make ends meet and take care of his children, especially Taman.
By Zana Abdalla