Archive for April 23, 2019

Islamic State claims responsibility for Sri Lanka terror attack

April 23, 2019

Source: Islamic State claims responsibility for Sri Lanka terror attack | The Times of Israel

( The “religion of peace” strikes again… – JW )

United Nations says at least 45 children killed in Easter Sunday bombings

Security camera footage shows a suicide bomber, carrying a backpack, seconds before entering a church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on April 21, 2019. (screen capture: Twitter)

Security camera footage shows a suicide bomber, carrying a backpack, seconds before entering a church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on April 21, 2019. (screen capture: Twitter)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AFP) — The Islamic State group on Tuesday said it was behind a devastating string of suicide attacks against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed at least 321 people on Easter Sunday.

The claim emerged more than 48 hours after the near-simultaneous blasts tore through three high-end hotels popular with foreigners and three churches packed with Christians marking Easter.

It came after Sri Lanka’s government said initial investigations suggested the attack had been carried out as “retaliation” for shootings at two mosques in New Zealand last month that killed 50 people.

The Sri Lankan government had already pointed the figure at a little-known local Islamic extremist group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), but said it was investigating whether they had international support.

A Sri Lankan family mourns next to the coffins of their three family member, all victims of Easter Sunday bombing, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 23, 2019 (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

“Those that carried out the attack that targeted members of the US-led coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday are Islamic State group fighters,” a statement released by the group’s propaganda agency Amaq said.

It presented no immediate evidence for the claim, or further details on the attackers.

But police sources in Sri Lanka told AFP that the attackers who targeted two of the hotels hit Sunday were Muslim brothers, sons of a wealthy Colombo spice trader.

Their names were not immediately revealed, but they were said to be in their twenties.

Guests were queuing for breakfast at the Shangri-La and Cinnamon Spice hotels when the two men detonated their bombs.

A Sri Lankan Police officer inspects a blast spot at the Shangri-la hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2019. (AP/Chamila Karunarathne)

A fourth attack against a hotel on Sunday failed, sources also told AFP, though it was not immediately clear if the bomber’s explosives had failed or he had chosen not to detonate them.

He later blew himself up when police tracked him to a lodging in the capital.

Police have detained at least 40 people as they investigate the worst act of violence in Sri Lanka since a civil war ended a decade ago.

‘Hard to bear’

On Tuesday, grieving Sri Lankans began to bury their dead and the country observed a day of national mourning.

Three minutes of silence were marked nationwide from 8:30 a.m. (0300 GMT), the time the first suicide bomber struck on Sunday, unleashing carnage.

Flags were lowered to half mast on government buildings, and liquor shops were ordered closed for the day.

Hours earlier, the government imposed a state of emergency giving police and the military special powers including the ability to arrest suspects without a court order.

Nuns walk past military personnel standing guard at the St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo on April 23, 2019, two days after a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP)

More than a thousand people gathered Tuesday at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of the capital, which was among those devastated in the blasts, to pay tribute to the dead.

An elderly man wept uncontrollably by the coffin bearing the body of his wife, while relatives of other victims stood aghast and silent.

Coffins were carried into the church grounds one by one for services, and then to a newly established cemetery on church land.

“It’s beyond words,” said Father Suranga Warnakulasuriya, who had come from another parish to help conduct funerals. “It’s very hard to bear. For me it is very difficult, so imagine how hard it is for the loved ones.”

The attacks were the worst ever against the country’s small Christian minority, who make up just seven percent of the 21 million population.

45 children killed

Officials are investigating why more precautions were not taken after an April 11 warning from Sri Lanka’s police that a “foreign intelligence agency” had reported the NTJ planned suicide attacks on churches.

Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the warning was not passed on to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe or other top ministers.

More details have begun to emerge about some of the foreigners killed in the blasts.

A man cries as he walks behind the coffin of a bomb blast victim after a funeral service at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo on April 23, 2019, two days after a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (Jewel SAMAD / AFP)

The United States reported at least four Americans killed — including a child — and the Netherlands raised their toll to three.

A Danish billionaire lost three of his children in the attacks, a spokesman for his company said.

Eight Britons, ten Indians and nationals from Turkey, Australia, France, Japan and Portugal, were also killed, according to Sri Lankan officials and foreign governments.

The United Nations said at least 45 children, Sri Lankans and foreigners, were among those killed.

The suicide bombers hit three Colombo luxury hotels popular with foreign tourists — the Cinnamon Grand, the Shangri-La and the Kingsbury — and three churches: two in the Colombo region and one in the eastern city of Batticaloa.

Two additional blasts were triggered as security forces carried out raids searching for suspects.

Interpol said it was deploying investigators and specialists to Sri Lanka, and the US State Department warned of possible further attacks in a travel advisory.

Ethnic and religious violence has plagued Sri Lanka for decades, with a 37-year conflict with Tamil rebels followed by an upswing in recent years of clashes between the Buddhist majority and Muslims.

The attacks have sparked local and international outrage, and have been condemned by Sri Lankan Muslim groups.

 

US severs Iran’s oil export lifeline. A hawkish new Revolutionary Guards chief prepares payback – DEBKAfile

April 23, 2019

Source: US severs Iran’s oil export lifeline. A hawkish new Revolutionary Guards chief prepares payback – DEBKAfile

The US placed its Middle East forcs on high alert on Monday, April 22, before announcing the cancellation of waivers that allowed 8 countries to buy embargoed Iranian oil.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an unprecedentedly tough statement. “We are going to zero across the board. We’ll continue to enforce sanctions and monitor compliance and any nation or entity interacting with Iran should do its diligence and err on the side of caution; the risks are simply not going to be worth the benefits.” He went on to say: “How long we’ll remain there at zero depends solely on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s senior leaders.”

The countries who will no longer benefit from the waivers are China, India, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Italy, Greece and Turkey. They collectively imported a million barrels a day of Iranian oil. Prior to sanctions, Iran was exporting 2.1 million barrels per day. That figure had already dropped to 700,000 barrels. Since oil is Iran’s single export commodity, its cutoff to zero is a virtual death blow to its economy.

Before the latest tightening of US sanctions, the first round had been devastatingly effective. The official inflation rate had soared past 50 pc to stand at an annual rate of 30.6pc. Basic foods, water and tobacco were priced 85.3p higher than the corresponding period the year before. Whereas in 2018, the US dollar went for 40,000 rial, today the rate has sunk further to 140,000 rial. Therefore, the zero-oil sales level projected by the US is tantamount to zero revenue for the Iranian revolutionary treasury.

 “The goal remains simple,” as defined by Pompeo: “To deprive the outlaw regime of the funds it has used to destabilize the Middle East for four decades and incentivize Iran to behave like a normal country.” He calculated that the sanctions will divert “well north of $10 billion” away from the Iranian regime.

This monumental and unprecedented US pressure on Tehran is compounded by the cruel effects on the population of the most severe weather disasters the Islamic republic has known for many years. Weeks of incessant rainfall have caused widespread flooding  in 25 of the country’s 31 provinces, forcing more than 2 million people to flee their homes. More than 150 homes were destroyed, crops amounting to 14pc of Iran’s annual national product were destroyed, roads, bridges, and installations worth $2.5m for drinking and irrigation water were washed away.

The Trump administration is also turning the screw on Tehran’s allies in the violent propagation of its influence, including Syria and proxies such as the Lebanese Hizballah and Iraqi Shiite militias. Hizballah, whose fund-raising methods have long been targeted by Western law enforcement, was this week treated by Washington in the style of a wanted miscreant with the offer of a $10bn reward for information leading to the disruption of its finances. The State Department said the money would be paid to anyone who provides intelligence in such areas as Hizballah’s donors, financial institutions that assist its transactions and businesses controlled by the movement. Hizballah is already feeling the pinch from the slowdown of its regular subsidy from sanctions-bound Iran and is appealing for donors.

US financial pressure on Iran is so deep that even if China, Russia, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and some West European countries try to bypass or defy the Trump administration by buying Iranian oil, regardless of sanctions, the quantities will be too negligible to affect the overall calamity.
It has placed the Islamic Republic of Iran face to face with two options: to knuckle under to US demands, or resort to military measures to force Washington to ease the grip on its windpipe. Tehran has often warned that if its oil exports are choked off, the Arab oil nations of the Gulf will be equally prevented from sending their product to market, either by a partial or total blockage of the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the world’s daily consumption of fuel passes, or disruption of the oil tanker routes through the Red Sea.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Iran lacks sufficient military strength to totally blockade Hormuz or the Red Sea oil routes. However, a single attack on tanker traffic would send oil prices shooting skyward past $100 the barrel, creating market pressure on Washington. Other offensive options for Tehran would be attacks on US military bases in the Middle East, including Syria and Iraq, the Gulf and the Red Sea. Local Shiite militias or Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) special units would be activated to strike targets belonging to US allies, including Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

With his mind focused on belligerency, Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday, April 21, replaced the veteran IRGC chief, Gen. Ali Jafari, with a younger, more radical and dynamic figure, deputy Guards chief Brig. Gen, Hossein Salami.  According to our sources, Salami, who stands out even among the radical IRGC officers as a hawk, was selected by the supreme leader to prepare a military campaign against the United States and its allies in the region for the purpose of breaking the back of American sanctions. He is being closely watched not just in Washington, but also in Riyadh and Jerusalem.

 

Iranian parliament labels entire US military a terrorist force

April 23, 2019

Source: Iranian parliament labels entire US military a terrorist force – www.israelhayom.com

Legislation also demands Iranian government take unspecified action against other governments that formally back U.S. designation of Revolutionary Guards as foreign terrorist group.

The legislation comes after lawmakers in Tehran last week approved a bill labeling U.S. troops in the Middle East as terrorist, a day after the U.S. terrorism designation for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard went into effect.

The report by the semi-official ISNA news agency says 173 out of 215 lawmakers at the session voted for the bill on Tuesday.

The bill also demands the Iranian government take unspecified action against other governments that formally back the U.S. designation. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel have all supported the Trump administration’s designation.

The U.S. on Monday said it will no longer exempt any countries from U.S. sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil.

 

Iranian parliament labels entire US military a terrorist force

April 23, 2019

Source: Iranian parliament labels entire US military a terrorist force – www.israelhayom.com

Legislation also demands Iranian government take unspecified action against other governments that formally back U.S. designation of Revolutionary Guards as foreign terrorist group.

The legislation comes after lawmakers in Tehran last week approved a bill labeling U.S. troops in the Middle East as terrorist, a day after the U.S. terrorism designation for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard went into effect.

The report by the semi-official ISNA news agency says 173 out of 215 lawmakers at the session voted for the bill on Tuesday.

The bill also demands the Iranian government take unspecified action against other governments that formally back the U.S. designation. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel have all supported the Trump administration’s designation.

The U.S. on Monday said it will no longer exempt any countries from U.S. sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil.

 

Trump is using the weapon he knows best: Economic sanctions

April 23, 2019

Source: Trump is using the weapon he knows best: Economic sanctions – www.israelhayom.comT

he U.S. president is a busessman who views the world through an economic prism. Preferring to avoid the military option, he is instead using economic sanctions to bludgeon countries and regimes that pose a threat to American interests.

by  Eldad Beck

Donald Trump has no significant military, diplomatic or political experience. The U.S. president is a businessman and thus views the world through an economic prism. Obviously, the United States became the most important global superpower, diplomatically and militarily, because of its economic clout. Trump also understood the U.S. was close to losing its leadership status in the international arena, due to willfully weakening its own economy through globalist policies enacted by previous administrations and trade agreements within that framework.

Trump’s path to making America great again doesn’t just pass through amending these trade deals, which have hurt American industries, but also through using his country’s considerable economic might against its adversaries. Trump doesn’t plan on launching wars. He is wielding a different type of weapon to bludgeon countries and regimes that pose a threat to American interests: Economic sanctions.

Trump is applying this weapon to varying degrees against Russia, China and the European Union; and with particular fervor against the regimes in North Korea and Venezuela. Against Iran, he is going all out. Trump’s goal isn’t necessarily to topple these regimes. If they do fall, all the better. Officially, however, he wants to create economic pressure levers to force these nearly-bankrupt regimes to recalibrate their course and start cooperating with Washington to dismantle the threats that Washington wishes to eradicate.

In the case of Iran, first and foremost, this means forcing Tehran back to the negotiating table to rehash the terrible nuclear deal, which the international community co-signed some five years ago; to cease developing ballistic missiles; stop its subversive activities across the Middle East; or risk civil revolt amid the country’s deteriorating economic situation.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently told Iranian-American leaders that from the administration’s perspective, “There are no moderates anywhere in the Iranian regime.” Asked if he can guarantee that economic sanctions against Tehran won’t hurt the Iranian people, he replied: “There is no such guarantee.” Indeed, without harming the Iranian people, the internal pressure can’t be created to foster the desired changes in Tehran.

In two weeks, the American administration will intensify its economic stranglehold on Iran by canceling exemptions for the five main importers of Iranian oil. In Tehran, officials threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to Gulf State oil tankers. Even if the U.S. doesn’t want to instigate a military confrontation with Iran, in Tehran officials know Washington will respond to any action against its allies. It’s possible the Iranian regime will have no choice but to escalate matters militarily. But even the ayatollahs know that playing with fire in such a manner, with festering civil unrest at home, could end in losing their grip on power.

 

US presidential candidate Sanders calls Israel’s government ‘racist’

April 23, 2019

Source: US presidential candidate Sanders calls Israel’s government ‘racist’

Democratic senator – who is Jewish – says he is ‘100% pro-Israel’ but Netanyahu’s right-wing government mistreats the Palestinian population and US policy in the Middle East should be ‘on a level-playing-field’ basis
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is standing by his criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the US goal in the Middle East must be to try to bring people together and “not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing, dare I say, racist government.”Sanders, who is Jewish, said Monday at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire that he believes the United States should “deal with the Middle East on a level-playing-field basis,” and not express support for just one country.

The senator from Vermont says he is “not anti-Israel” – nor does he oppose sending military aid to the Jewish State – but feels Netanyahu’s policies don’t help to advance peace.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (Photo: AFP)

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (Photo: AFP)

“As a young man I spent a number of months in Israel, worked on a Kibbutz for while, I have family in Israel, I am not anti-Israel but the fact of the matter is that Netanyahu is a right-wing politician who I think is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly,” Sanders said as the audience erupted in applause and cheers.

Sanders then added that he is “100% pro-Israel” and that the country has “every right in the world to exist and to exist in peace and security and not be subjected to terrorists’ attacks.”

 

 

U.S. looking to sign new agreement with Iran: Brian Hook

April 23, 2019

Source: U.S. looking to sign new agreement with Iran: Brian Hook – World News – Jerusalem Post

“You can either work with the United States, or you can work with Iran, but you can’t do both,” Hook told the Saudi-owned television news channel.

BY MAAYAN JAFFE-HOFFMAN
 APRIL 23, 2019 06:21
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US envoy Brian Hook and US Ambassador David Friedman

The United States is looking to sign a new agreement with Iran that covers its nuclear and missile programs, the country’s regional aggression, and the arbitrary detention of foreign nationals, which include Americans, according to US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook.

In an interview with Al Arabiya English, Hook said, “That is the kind of deal we need. We are ready to negotiate something like that.”

Hook was speaking Monday, the same day that Washington declared it would start ending waivers to Tehran’s oil customers.
“You can either work with the United States, or you can work with Iran, but you can’t do both,” Hook told the Saudi-owned television news channel.

Embedded video

Al Arabiya English

@AlArabiya_Eng

The US needs an agreement that covers Iran’s “nuclear program, their missile program, their regional aggression, and the arbitrary detention of foreign nationals which include Americans,” the US Special Representative for Iran tells Al Arabiya.https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2019/04/22/Brian-Hook-Countries-can-either-work-with-US-or-Iran-but-not-both.html 

He noted that the United States has denied the Iranian regime more than $10 billion in revenue and expects that number to increase dramatically, with the support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, countries that Hook said, “share a lot of the United States’ national security goals when it comes to Iran.”

“Yes, we had very good meetings with both of the Saudis and the Emiratis,” he continued. “So, it’s in our interest and it’s in their interest to deny the Iranian regime the revenue it needs to fund its foreign policy.

“And now Saudi Arabia has been very helpful, increasing its production as it did many months ago in order to offset the loss of Iranian crude, and they’ll continue to be helpful,” he said. “So, there’s a convergence of interest, especially with Arab nations, Israel, the United States, many of our European allies. We want a more peaceful Iran, and that’s up to Iran. They can either start behaving more peacefully or they can watch their economy crumble.”
The White House officially announced Monday its intention to end sanctions waivers on eight countries that are still trading oil with Iran, increasing the “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic. Current exemptions are set to expire in early May.
Some of the countries that are slated to be affected are allies such as India. Other countries that will be affected include China and Turkey, which could open new friction.
The goal of the sanctions is not only to create a more peaceful Iranian regime, but also to suck the economic life out of the terror organization Hezbollah, which is predominantly funded by Iran, though it also receives money from business investments, donor networks and money laundering activities.
“What we are doing is making it harder for Hezbollah to meet payroll, because 70% of Hezbollah’s revenue comes from the Iranian regime,” Hook told Al Arabiya. “Historically Iran gives Hezbollah $700 million a year, that’s 70% of their budget.”
The State Department designated Hezbollah a Foreign Terrorist Organization in October 1997, and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in October 2001.
Hook noted that in March, the leader of Hezbollah made a public appeal for donations and it was the first time in history they’ve had to do that.
On Monday, the US Department of State announced a new program that will offer up to $10 million rewards for information leading to the disruption of the global financial mechanisms of Hezbollah. It is the first time that the department is offering a reward for information regarding Hezbollah’s financial networks.