Gates of Vienna News Feed 10/30/2014

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service are searching for three young culturally enriched men from Quebec, who are thought to have been radicalized and may have traveled abroad to wage jihad. The three were allegedly members of the same student group as Chiheb Esseghaier, who is currently on trial in Toronto for allegedly plotting to bomb an alleged Via Rail train.

In other news, foreign jihad fighters are pouring into Syria faster than ever. According to British and American counterterrorism experts, the estimated numbers of foreign mujahideen in Syria have recently risen from 12,000 to 16,000.

To see the headlines and the articles, click “Continue reading” below.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Insubria, Papa Whiskey, Phyllis Chesler, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in.

Notice to tipsters: Please don’t submit extensive excerpts from articles that have been posted behind a subscription firewall, or are otherwise under copyright protection.

Caveat: Articles in the news feed are posted “as is”. Gates of Vienna cannot vouch for the authenticity or accuracy of the contents of any individual item posted here. We check each entry to make sure it is relatively interesting, not patently offensive, and at least superficially plausible. The link to the original is included with each item’s title. Further research and verification are left to the reader.

Financial Crisis
» US Posts Better-Than-Expected GDP Gain
» Former Marine Gets Banned From Daughter’s School Over Islam-Lesson Dispute
» Ohio Veteran Found Guilty, Fined Over Pet Ducks
» Russian Space Agency Offers Help to NASA After Explosion
» Suspect Charged After Oklahoma Man Nearly Beheaded
» Mounties and CSIS Looking for Three Quebec Muslims; At Least One Has Gone Overseas
Europe and the EU
» Italy: De Magistris Returns as Naples Mayor, Pending Appeal
» Italy: Centre-Left EMP Insinuates CGIL Union Head Faked IDs
» Italy: Catholic Churches Organize ‘Alternatives’ To Halloween
» Italy’s North Recycles as South Lags Behind
» Italy: Pumpkins Flying Off Shelves for Halloween, Says Coldiretti
» Italy to Propose 1,000 Projects to EU Worth 10 Bn
» Slovenia’s 2015 Budget Gets EU Green Light
» Spanish Intelligence Intercepts Plot to Weaponise Ebola
North Africa
» Secularist Party Wins Tunisia Elections
» Tunisia: Two Blocs Not Enough, Rihahi May Hold Key
Israel and the Palestinians
» Gaza: Nobel Winner Malala Gives USD 50,000 to UNRWA
» Nobel Winner Malala Yousafzai Donates Thousands to Gaza Schools Used by Hamas
Middle East
» Foreign Fighters Pouring Into Syria Faster Than Ever, Say Officials
» Only Christians Can Show Muslims the “Mad Utopia” of the Islamic State
» Tripoli: Lebanese Army on the Offensive Against Islamist Militias
» World Islamic Economic Forum, Islamic Finance Will be Norm
» 7 Kiev Soldiers Killed in Fiercer East Ukraine Fighting
Far East
» Ashraf Ghani Offers China Cooperation Against Islamic Terrorism in Exchange for Aid
Sub-Saharan Africa
» 9 Niger Security Staff Killed in Attacks Near Mali
» Burkina Demonstrators Storm Parliament, State TV
» Manila Orders Repatriation of Citizens From African Nations Affected by Ebola
Latin America
» New Chambers and Artifacts Discovered in 2,000-Year-Old Tunnel at Mexico’s Teotihuacan
» Foreigners Make Up 8.1% of Italian Population, Says UNAR
» Italy: Ministries to Do Follow-Up Health Checks on Rescued Migrants
» Italy: Triton Operation Set to Replace Mare Nostrum
Culture Wars
» Human Rights Groups Slam Singapore Gay Ruling

US Posts Better-Than-Expected GDP Gain

3.5% in Q3

(ANSA) — Rome, October 30 — The US economy grew at an annual rate of 3.5% in the July-September quarter, the Commerce Department has said.

That was better than the 3% pace that economists had been expecting and follows the 4.6% growth rate recorded in the April-June quarter.

Strong export growth and higher government spending helped to boost growth in the third quarter.

In a sign of confidence in the US recovery, on Wednesday the Federal Reserve ended its stimulus scheme.

The fall in the unemployment rate to a six-year low has helped to boost that confidence.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Former Marine Gets Banned From Daughter’s School Over Islam-Lesson Dispute

A father of a student at La Plata High School in Maryland was banned from school grounds last week when he took issue with a lesson on the history of Islam in his daughter’s World History class.

On Wednesday evening, Kevin Wood, a former corporal with the U.S. Marine Corps, saw his daughter, a junior at the school, working on a homework assignment that examined Islam. “It’s not a religion my husband believes in,” Kevin’s wife, Melissa, tells Yahoo Parenting. “My husband’s issues, and mine too, are that they’re teaching Islam, but they are not teaching the current events on Islam. They are making Islam sound like [its followers] are peaceful people.… He is not saying all Muslims are bad.”…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

Ohio Veteran Found Guilty, Fined Over Pet Ducks

An Ohio Army veteran who says his pet ducks help relieve his post-traumatic stress disorder and depression has been convicted of a minor misdemeanor for keeping them.

Darin Welker was cited for violating a ban on keeping farm animals in West Lafayette, a village 80 miles east of Columbus. He was found guilty Wednesday and was fined $50 plus court costs.

A prosecutor says the ordinance is clear and the judge’s hands were tied.

The Coshocton Tribune reports Welker recently gave away eight of the ducks but still has six.

Welker argued for a change in the law. He said in court the ducks are fenced in his yard but sometimes have been in his house or sitting on a recliner…

[Return to headlines]

Russian Space Agency Offers Help to NASA After Explosion

Russian provisions ready for ISS after NASA supply rocket blast

(ANSA) — Moscow, October 29 — The Russian space agency on Wednesday offered an emergency launch of provisions to the International Space Station (ISS) after the explosion of an American, unmanned resupply rocket.

“At the moment we have not received a request, but if we do, we are ready,” the Russian space agency told Russian news wire Ria Novosti.

A NASA rocket, loaded with 2.2 tons of supplies for the six astronauts living aboard the ISS, blew up six seconds after take-off on Thursday. NASA said the rocket’s cargo was not crucial to the crew, because the Russian space agency was proceeding with a launch of its own provisions on Wednesday. The cause of the blast is still unknown. No injuries were reported.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Suspect Charged After Oklahoma Man Nearly Beheaded

Police in central Oklahoma said Thursday that they charged a suspect with homicide after finding a man with his head “almost entirely severed from his body.”

Isaiah Marin, 21, was charged in the murder of Jacob Andrew Crocket, Fox-25 Oklahoma City reported. Police had no motive, but said Marin, who lives in Stillwater, confessed to the killing and told them he planned to commit murders one at a time.

Police were reportedly informed about the killing when Marin called them around 2:45 p.m. The report said when officers arrived, they found Marin jogging with a long knife covered in blood…

[Return to headlines]

Mounties and CSIS Looking for Three Quebec Muslims; At Least One Has Gone Overseas

The RCMP and CSIS are looking for three missing Muslim men from Sherbrooke, Que., after they vanished and at least one travelled to the Middle East, QMI Agency has learned.

The Mounties and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service have visited parents of two of the men, Youssef Sakhir and Samir Halilovic.

A third man, Zakria Habibi, went missing in Turkey on July 17.

The three are Facebook friends with the Muslim student association at the University of Sherbrooke.

Chiheb Esseghaier, currently on trial in Toronto for allegedly plotting to bomb a Via Rail train, was a member of the same group from 2008 to 2010.

Sakhir is a psychology graduate from the university, located in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

His mother, Maria Houem, told QMI Agency she hasn’t spoken to him for months.

“He’s in Syria or somewhere, I don’t know where,” the emotional mother said. “He isn’t giving us any news. Just that he’s alive, that’s all. It’s soul destroying.”…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

Italy: De Magistris Returns as Naples Mayor, Pending Appeal

‘Surreal’ affair, I’ll be street mayor says ex-prosecutor

(ANSA) — Naples, October 30 — Former headline-grabbing prosecutor turned leftist politician Luigi de Magistris got his job as Naples mayor back pending an appeal to Italy’s top court Thursday.

“I’m overcome with emotion,” de Magistris said.

“This is a long-awaited decision”, said the mayor, who denies all wrongdoing in an abuse-of-power case stemming from his former career.

De Magistris said he would continue to be “a mayor in the streets” and dubbed the affair “surreal”.

“Over the last month I have been almost exclusively in the streets,” he said.

“That has regenerated me and will mark a watershed in the way I’ll perform my duties over the coming months.

“It’s better to be among the people than in the palazzi of power,” de Magistris said. However, soon afterward he took back his old seat at city hall, presiding over a session that dealt with “sundry business”, local sources said.

De Magistris returned to provisional power after the Campania Regional Administrative Court (TAR) referred his suspension to the Constitutional Court, restoring him to office pending the outcome. De Magistris was suspended October 1 after receiving a suspended 15-month sentence for abusing his power to order unwarranted wiretaps in his previous career as a headline-grabbing public prosecutor. He was suspended based on a law introduced during Mario Monti’s technocrat administration in 2012 designed to fight corruption among public officials.

It was wielded in 2013 to eject ex-premier and then Senator Silvio Berlusconi from parliament after he received a suspended four-year sentence for tax fraud.

De Magistris is currently the target of a fresh probe into tampering with the America’s Cup which took place in the southern Italian city last year.

News that his appeal was ruled admissible was greeted with applause and shouts of joy at his office in city hall, where councillors crowded to congratulate him.

The head of the Campania TAR, Cesare Mastrocola, said “it was an enormous task, given the complexity of the issues before us”.

When he was suspended, de Magistris said Italy is a “sick democracy” and there is “a long way to go to stop it becoming a regime”.

He voiced the hope he would serve a suspension of “just 3-4 months”, until his appeal verdict comes out, instead of the longest term possible, 18 months.

He reiterated he had no intention of resigning.

The former prosecutor, convicted of ordering unauthorised wiretaps of politicians including former premier Romano Prodi, claimed justice had been hasty in his case.

“They served the order to (Raimondo) Pasquino, (president of the Naples city council assembly), when he was in his pyjamas last night.

“What did they think, that I was going to try to escape?”.

De Magistris said the sentence was part of a plot to wrestle control of Naples from him.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Centre-Left EMP Insinuates CGIL Union Head Faked IDs

CGIL ‘indignant’ at words against Camusso, Picierno apologizes

(ANSA) — Rome, October 29 — A European MP for Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) on Wednesday insinuated that the head of the powerful CGIL Italian trade union confederation rigged her own election and hired paid buses to bring in protesters to demonstrate against the Italian government.

“I was very disturbed by the words of (Susanna) Camusso who told some newspapers today that (Premier Matteo Renzi) is heading the government thanks to power (figures). I could recall that Camusso was elected with falsified ID cards or that the square was filled with paid buses, but I won’t,” Pina Picierno told the television programme Agora’ on RAI Tre. The trade union confederation responded in a statement, “We are indignant at the words of the PD EMP, Pina Picierno. We can say that the Hon. Picierno is saying falsehoods and nonsense, perhaps (derived from) a period of nervousness and tension, as CGIL membership cards are certified”.

Picierno later apologized for her comments, saying, “It was not my intention to launch accusations. If my comments gave this impression, I am sorry”. Picierno also called on Camusso to respect the democratic processes behind the government leadership of the PD party head.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Catholic Churches Organize ‘Alternatives’ To Halloween

Prayer vigils, Masses, and Christian rock concerts

(ANSA) — Rome, October 30 — Throughout Italy, the Catholic church has taken pains to organize October 31 events in hopes of drawing youth away from the temptation of carving a pumpkin or attending a Halloween costume party.

Alternative events include all-night prayer vigils, Masses, and Christian rock concerts.

“It’s OK to have a party if the children want one, but let us not forget All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 1 and 2, respectively),” said Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family).

“This kind of feast…does not belong to our Christian roots,” commented the bishop of Assisi, Monsignor Domenico Sorrentino.

Halloween is not a traditional date on the Italian calendar but has been growing in popularity in recent years, with trick-or-treating becoming more common and pumpkin sales rising.

Codacons, a consumer group, says some 10 million Italians celebrate the festival each year, with a turnover estimated at some 300 million euros ($420 million).

More than a million pumpkins are sold over the holiday while fancy-dress shops whose traditional bonanza used to come at Carnival time in February now make a killing in masks, costumes and accessories.

One place in Italy has a much longer Halloween history.

A small town in the southeastern region of Puglia, Orsara di Puglia, has been celebrating it for the past 1,000 years.

According to local historians, the only real difference between the American tradition and the town’s version of Halloween is the date.

Halloween, a secular take on All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, is traditionally celebrated on the night of October 31, but in Orsara di Puglia the pumpkins come out on the evening between November 1 (All Saints Day) and Nov 2 (All Souls Day).

Hollowed-out and candle-lit pumpkins are placed outside homes on the evening of All Saints Day to keep away evil spirits and witches.

Townsfolks also light huge bonfires in the streets so as to illuminate the path of souls on their way to Purgatory.

Historians have traced Orsara’s tradition back to a short-lived 8th-century incursion by a Germanic people, the Longobards, who in more northern parts supplanted older civilisations and reigned as the Lombards.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy’s North Recycles as South Lags Behind

‘Impossible for Sicily to achieve EU 2020 target’ says ANCI

(ANSA) — Rome, October 30 — Italy’s cities and towns are improving their waste separation and CO2 emission records, although overall they are still far from achieving European Union-imposed targets, according to data released Thursday.

The report by the National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI) and the National Packaging Consortium (CONAI) showed six municipalities of varying sizes did reach EU 2020 targets. The northern cities of Trento and Pordenone and the Tuscan town of Capannori achieved recycling targets, while the northern cities of Belluno, Perugia and Treviso reached CO2 emission reduction targets.

As well, seven central and northern regions are recycling more than 50% of their trash. These are Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Marche, Piedmont, Sardinia, Trentino and Veneto.

The south, however, lags behind and Italy might incur EU fines if it does nothing to help its impoverished southern regions implement recycling and CO2 reduction programs, the report said.

“The southern problem is enormous,” said ANCI delegate Filippo Bernocchi. “The way things are, it will be impossible for Calabria and Sicily, for example, to achieve 50% recycling by 2020”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Pumpkins Flying Off Shelves for Halloween, Says Coldiretti

Pulp of favourite fruit packed with antioxidants — farm group

(ANSA) — Rome, October 30 — One day before Halloween, prices for large pumpkins ready to be hollowed out and carved as a jack-o’-lantern are jumping as sales climb, farm group Coldiretti said Thursday.

Prices that normally average between one euro and 1.5 euros per pound have doubled recently, good news for producers who tend to be focused in Tuscany, Lombardy, Piedmont and even the Veneto, the organization said.

A good pumpkin for ornamental use could run anywhere from five euros to 25 euros, depending on size.

Despite other kinds of decorations such as scary cats, witches, and harvest moons, carved pumpkins remain the favourite image for the Halloween, said Coldiretti.

And the flesh inside the pumpkin, which is a form of fruit, is popular for its versatility in the kitchen as well as packing a punch with a high content of such antioxidants as vitamin A.

About 2,000 hectares of Italian land is covered in pumpkin patches, ranging from Mantua and Cremona to Ferrara and Venice.

Some farmers are also working to restore traditional marine pumpkin production in Chioggia in the Veneto region, the organization said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy to Propose 1,000 Projects to EU Worth 10 Bn

Possibilities include work on broadband and Naples-Bari line

(ANSA) — Naples, October 30 — Italy will present proposals for 1,000 investment projects in five sectors with a combined value of over 10 billion euros to the European Union on November 14, Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said on Thursday. Among the proposals will be investments in ultra broadband networks and a high-speed train link between Naples and Bari in southern Italy, he said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Slovenia’s 2015 Budget Gets EU Green Light

After deficit adjustments as required by Brussels

(ANSA) — LJUBLJANA — The European Commission has approved the Slovenia’s draft budget for 2015, proposed by the Miro Cerar government, Slovenian media reported. The approval has arrived after the governnment sent the revisions as required by Brussels.

Slovenia was amongst the countries from which the European Commission had asked for adjustments so that the EU deficit rules as imposed by Maastricht parametres (3% of GDP) are not breached. The provisions are to be presented in the Parliament over the next weeks.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spanish Intelligence Intercepts Plot to Weaponise Ebola

Spanish intelligence has intercepted messages passed between jihadists online discussing the weaponisation of the deadly Ebola virus for use against the West, while a blackmailer in Prague has threatened to unleash the virus unless the Czech Republic pay him one million bitcoin, a volume of online currency worth over £200 million.

The national secretary of state for security in giving evidence to the Spanish Senate revealed online jihad propagandists had issued an edict to followers to kill Westerners by any means possible. Some of the methods suggested included “deadly chemical products from laboratories”, “poisonous injections” and “Ebola as a poisonous weapon”, reports

Rumours of Ebola as a weapon have long circulated among the international intelligence community, as speculation arose over the potential successes of the former Soviet Union’s extensive biological weapons programme in the last century. It is thought that at least one terrorist organisation, the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult has attempted to cultivate the Ebola for attacks. The cult killed thirteen on the Tokyo subway in 1995 with a release of potent nerve agent Sarin gas.

Although Aum Shinriyko and Islamic Fundementalists have an ideological reason for engaging in biological warfare, the communications received by the Czech government last week appear to have been entirely driven by a profit motive. The bitcoin demand, which is worth £210 million in fiat currency terms was demanded in three tranches, one payment on Monday this week, a second on Wednesday, and a third after the blackmailer handed the Ebola material to the government.

The deadline has now passed for the payments and the Czech government has no intentions to cave in…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

Secularist Party Wins Tunisia Elections

The Nidaa Tounes party wins 85 seats, defeating Ennahda, the main Islamist party. Tunisia was the first country in the Middle East to experience the Arab Spring and the only one to go through a real democratic transition.

Tunis (AsiaNews/Agencies) — For the first time in the modern history of Tunisia, a secular party will form the country’s new government.

Tunisia’s secularist party Nidaa Tounes won 85 seats in the country’s parliament following Sunday’s elections, official results show.

The Islamist Ennahda party, which won 69 seats, has already urged Nidaa Tounes to form an inclusive government.

Around five million Tunisians were registered to cast their ballot.

Tunisia’s uprising in January 2011 was the first to kick off the Arab Spring, which spread across the entire Middle East in just a few months.

Despite economic difficulties and some violence, Tunisia was the only nation that avoided real political and social chaos, unlike in Egypt and Libya.

When the first free elections were held in November 2011, Ennahda came to power. However, last January, the Islamist party handed power to a transitional government headed by Mehdi Jomaa.

The new Parliament will now have to choose a prime minister who will choose the members of the new democratic government.

In January, under the transitional government, Tunisia adopted a new Constitution.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the charter a model for post-revolution countries in the region.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Two Blocs Not Enough, Rihahi May Hold Key

‘Tunisian Berlusconi’ has 16 seats, is presidential candidate

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, OCTOBER 30 — The Tunisian political landscape emerging from the final results of Sunday’s legislative vote confirms a system divided in two main blocs with 85 seats going to Nidaa Tounes and 69 to Ennhadha, with no one holding the majority. Alliances will therefore be necessary to gain a parliamentary majority, 109 representatives out of a total of 217 . Many conjectures about future parliamentary cartels have been floating around in the last few hours, some have even suggested the idea of a “grand coalition” between the two rival parties. However, at the moment, these are all suppositions as the main players have chosen to postpone any decisions until the election of the President of the Republic scheduled for November 23.

The one party that could tip the balance one way or another, is the Free Patriotic Union (Upl) of 42 year old businessman Slim Rihahi, holding 16 members of parliament. While campaigning Rihahi called Nidaa Tounes a “disposable” party banking on the fear of Ennhadha’s return to power, on the other hand he also said the islamic party led by Rached Gannouchi was the “symbol of incompetence”.

Rihahi has been striving to appear close to the people and alien to ideology. He calls his party “pragmatic” and realist, and describes his prime goals as the reduction of inequalities and job-growth. Listed by Wealth-X as the richest man of Tunisia, Rihahi is the president of one of the country’s best known football teams, the Club Africaine de Tunis, an association responsible for the nickname “Tunisian Berlusconi”. However, Rihahi is also one of the 27 presidential candidates, while Ennhadha has chosen not to file any candidates.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Gaza: Nobel Winner Malala Gives USD 50,000 to UNRWA

Prize money to be used to repair school damaged in conflict

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, OCTOBER 29 — Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai said Wednesday she would donate 50,000 dollars to help repair a UNRWA school damaged last summer in fighting between Hamas and Israel, reported UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness. Malala announced in Stockholm — where she received the World’s Children’s Prize — that she would donate the entire amount of prize money to Gaza students and UNRWA which, she added “is performing heroic work to serve children in Gaza, in very difficult circumstances”.

“The needs are overwhelming,” she said, “more than half of Gaza’s population is under 18 years of age. They want and deserve quality education, hope and real opportunities to build a future.” “Innocent Palestinian children have suffered terribly and for too long. We must all work to ensure Palestinian boys and girls, and all children everywhere, receive a quality education in a safe environment. Because without education, there will never be peace,” she said, according to the UNRWA statement.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Nobel Winner Malala Yousafzai Donates Thousands to Gaza Schools Used by Hamas

by Phyllis Chesler

Our latest and youngest-ever Nobel prize winner has announced that she is donating $50,000.00 to rebuild an UNRWA school in Gaza. She made this announcement in Stockholm, where she accepted the prestigious World’s Children’s Prize and donated it all to Gaza. She is not donating her Nobel prize winnings, which is usually a cool million.

Who got to her? Has no one told her that so many UNRWA schools in Gaza were used to store weapons and to hide terrorists dressed as civilians? Does she not know that Hamas in Gaza have used civilians, including child civilians, as human shields -that they trapped vulnerable civilians in their homes and would not allow them to evacuate in the hope that Israel would follow through on their warnings, and bomb a particular building because Hamas’s weapons were stored there?

Finally, has no one told her that UNRWA is the biggest boondoggle in the world, that it has been impoverishing civilians, fattening the bank accounts of terrorist leaders, buying weapons? In 1980, Afghan refugees never similarly received five generations of support from the UN, the EU, and the international community; only the corrupt Palestinian elite did, and for the sole purpose of waging continual war against the Jews of Israel.

Malala Yousafzai is the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban because she wanted education for girls. She lived—due to British medical intervention. She also received the Nobel Prize for her inspiring stand.

           — Hat tip: Phyllis Chesler [Return to headlines]

Foreign Fighters Pouring Into Syria Faster Than Ever, Say Officials

Top U.S. and British counterterrorism officials said Tuesday that the growing number and variety of foreign fighters streaming into Syria is unprecedented in recent history.

“The rate of travel into Syria [by foreign fighters] is greater than we saw into Afghanistan prior to 9/11,” Randy Blake, a senior strategic advisor in the U.S. Office of Director of National Intelligence, said Tuesday during a panel at the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference in Orlando, Florida. “It’s greater than anything we’ve seen into Afghanistan, into Yemen, into Somalia, into Iraq, or anything that we’ve seen in the last 10-year period.”

Blake said the number of Westerners heading to Syria to fight has risen so rapidly in recent weeks that a new law enforcement video shown at the four-day event is already out of date.

“The video said there are somewhere around 12,000 foreign fighters in Syria. We would update that number to about 16,000 foreign fighters who have traveled to Syria from over 80 countries,” Blake said, adding that roughly 2,000 of those fighters hail from Western countries — including “at least 500 from the U.K, 700 from France, 400 from Germany, and more than 100 Americans [who] have traveled, or tried to travel into Syria.”


No one knows for sure what is motivating so many Westerners to head to Syria, but one U.S. official offered a personal theory.

“When we try and figure out: what is different about this foreign fighter foe? What separates this conflict from Afghanistan, from Somalia, from Bosnia?” asked Andrew McCabe, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office.

“To me, the instant appeal of participating in the caliphate that’s happening now, I think that resonates with our young people.”

[But … but … Dear Leader said the tide of war was receding! I heard him on TV! — PW]

           — Hat tip: Papa Whiskey [Return to headlines]

Only Christians Can Show Muslims the “Mad Utopia” of the Islamic State

Superstitions, rituals, deportation, rape, summary justice and indoctrination are the foundations upon which the power of terrorists rests. The latter want to create a theocratic and regressive “perfect city”. But utopias generate terror and monsters like Communism and Nazism. Christians have a duty to show Muslims the “true face” of their religion as well as its “elements of violence.”

Beirut (AsiaNews) — What kind of power is emerging in the territory controlled by the “Islamic State”? >From what we know, it includes superstitious ritualism (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi walking up the steps of the minbar starting with the right foot), the deportation or liquidation of apostates and non-Muslim religious minorities, the indoctrination of children, summary justice (crucifixion, stoning, throat slitting), looting, ethnic and cultural cleansing, etc. We are in the presence of a theocratic power in which the temporal is subordinate to the spiritual or its equivalent. This is Utopia.

By and large, this utopia is a longing for a “perfect city” in the future. In this case, this utopia is backward-looking. The ideal society to which it aspires is in the past, and the goal is to go back to its alleged purity. This is a return to a “golden age” in which God’s law ruled — or so some believe — all aspects of personal, social and political life.

We know, in view of the lessons provided by dozens of examples in history, particularly the monstrous models of Nazism and Communism that emerged in the 20th century — that utopias beget terror and that such a system of power, such an embryo, such a civilisational desire is based on an fatal anthropological error, namely the belief in the perfectibility of the citizens of an “ideal city”, and the controllability of their impulses, entropy and tendency to disorder. However, this is not feasible except through grace from within or terror from without.

Obviously, political utopia are source of great fear. This is nothing new. John Paul II often spoke of temporal messianism. However, to encourage readers to explore all his writings, we will take out a pearl of the Red Sea of his personal diary, which his secretary did not have the heart to destroy, as its author had expressed in his will. “Temporal messianism, the kingdom of God on earth, has always been a problem,” wrote the great pope. Of course, the Vatican has taken clear positions regarding the evangelical needs in the world, which is different from political messianism.

The Church has not given up on making the world a place where it is to good live, or in any case a better place than in a state of barbarism, but it has dropped the utopia of the “perfect city” or the “reign of a thousand years” found in Revelation, which some have used to justify temporal messianism. Such messianism has, at times, marred the evangelical message.

“Man is neither angel nor beast, and unhappily whoever wants to act the angel, acts the beast,” said Blaise Pascal. This is the anthropological error par excellence, one that has engulfed so many political systems that sought to “start over”, leading in modern times to the concentration camps in Europe, the Gulag in the Soviet Union, and the killing fields in Cambodia. Whoever wants to be an angel and forget that man is also beast falls himself into bestiality. Might is right and the thirst for power, which in Christian terms is called “flesh” and not the “body” as opposed to that which is spiritual and grace, insidiously creep into the best systems in the world, even democracy.

Some believe that the Islamic State is an occult creation that obeys to geopolitical plans to cause upheaval in the East for economic reasons. This explanation notwithstanding, if we accept that the founders of this state are actually motivated by religious zeal, it is clear that they unfortunately yield to the illusion of a non-existent “golden age” to justify their violence in its name.

“We modern civilisations, we too now know that we are mortal like the others,” a somewhat gloomy Valéry said. Civilisations, some would say especially those based on religion, are just human constructs, fragile scaffolding, ephemera, which must continually consider man divided between nature and grace, with freedom as the referee. What is more, and this is something the Church certainly knows, given our fallibility, it is with infinite caution that we must work to bring about a more just world. “We do not have a mission to establish the truth, but to bear witness to it,” said Henri de Lubac. So much for utopia.

Violence and Islam

The violence of the Islamic State has created a second problem. We said above that we are in the presence of a theocratic power in which the temporal is subordinate to the spiritual. Is the Islam of the Islamic State “the true face” of Islam? This at least is what many Muslim leaders in Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are keen to reject. The Mufti of Egypt, Abdel Aziz Allam wants the term “Islamic state” be replaced by “the ISIL terrorist organisation.” The mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, spoke in similar terms. “Extremism and violence have nothing to do with Islam,” he said. “They are the first enemy, and Muslims are their first victims.”

“Naturally, it is comforting to know that many Muslims do not identify with the ideas and the actions of the Islamic State,” wrote Michele Brignone, scientific secretary of the online magazine of the Oasis Foundation (Monday, 22 September). But such statements about a general extraneousness to ‘true’ Islam run the risk of being objectively unsatisfactory, as demonstrated by the Egyptian scholar Sherif Younis, one of the most acute and competent interpreters of modern Arab and Islamic thought (even though he is almost unknown in the West), in two articles published on 18 August and 1 September respectively, in the important Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Ahram.

In the first, entitled ‘The Ideology of the Islamic State and the Islamist revival’, Younis wrote, without pulling any punches and with a frankness that is rare in the public debate of Arab-Islamic countries, that ‘to accuse violent organisations like this one [the Islamic State] simply to ignore Islam is a sort of grave simplification, if not connivance. The reality is that violence is a part of the Islamist revival and is based upon a reactivation of existing traditional elements.

“It is a good thing that Islamic thinkers condemn the traumatic experience of the Islamic State,” Younis wrote. “But it is important, above all, for this State to be thought about. Without an adequate judgement, the Islamist projects could be temporarily opposed but never really overcome.”

Experts note in fact that there is not one but many Islam, Islamic traditions or schools, regardless of the literalness of the Qur’an, as there were and continue to be different Christian traditions, inspired nevertheless by same body of texts.

Thus, just as the Catholic Church made amends in the Galileo case, and apologised for the slave trade, it is incumbent on Muslims to tell us where to look for the “true face” of their religion and if “elements of violence” found in the Qur’an are constitutive of their faith or not, and how.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Tripoli: Lebanese Army on the Offensive Against Islamist Militias

Lebanon’s military launched a major operation to oust Jihadi groups from the heart of the Old City and the Sunni neighbourhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh. Violence breaks out again in the Arsal area. Patriarch Rahi expresses support for the army, which is trying to ensure “security and stability”. Lebanese authorities say they cannot accept more refugees from Syria.

Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) — The Lebanese army has launched a fierce assault against Sunni militants in Tripoli, northern Lebanon’s main city, forcing the Jihadists to retreat from the Old City and the nearby neighbourhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh.

Renewed fighting erupted on Friday and continued during the weekend. At least five soldiers and two civilians have died in the violence.

The militants, thought to be linked to Islamic State and al-Qaeda, have threatened to kill captured soldiers unless the army halts its operations.

In the last few hours, the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front warned the “Lebanese army against any military escalation targeting Sunnis in Tripoli”, demanding they “accept a peaceful solution, or else we will be forced in the coming hours to bring closure to the issue of the soldiers we are holding hostage, given that they are prisoners of war.”

Tripoli has already seen violent outbreaks in the past, but this is the first time since the start of the war in Syria that militants seized the Old City and its bazaar, a candidate to become UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The military responded quickly, forcing the militia to retreat to the suburb of Bab al-Tabbaneh, home to at least 100,000 people.

The army resumed its offensive today but the armed militias appear to have abandoned their positions and only isolated gunfire could be heard.

Lebanon’s Future Television has also reported fierce clashes between the army and al-Nusra Front and Islamic State groups in the Wadi al-Raayan area in the Arsal region where gunmen from the two groups clashed with the army back in August.

On Sunday, the army raided an apartment in Arsal’s Ras al-Saraj area, arresting five Syrians suspected of ties with terrorist groups.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi also spoke about events in the country. On Sunday, he voiced his support for the army and slammed the attack against it in the northern city of Tripoli.

“We pray for the success of the military institution and security forces in preserving security and stability in Lebanon,” the cardinal said during an official visit to Sydney, Australia.

“We also pray for peace in Syria, Iraq, and the rest of the countries of the Middle East,” he added, reiterating his demand that the presidential deadlock end and elections be held.

Finally, the Lebanese government recently announced it could not admit more refugees from neighbouring Syria because the country had reached its saturation point.

Lebanon has taken in 1.1 million Syrians fleeing the armies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and those of his enemies, including terrorist groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State, this in a country of just over four million people.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

World Islamic Economic Forum, Islamic Finance Will be Norm

But public still doubtful about true muslim values

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI — In the near future, islamic finance will become the norm rather than an alternative as it is now. This was one of the concluding remarks at the World Islamic Economic Forum (Wief) wrapping up today in Dubai.

Islamic finance — based on the rules of Sharia, or Islamic law — regulates 1.4% of the global market with assets valued between a trillion and a trillion and a half dollars, but as the conference confirmed, muslim customers remain doubtful and their scepticism hinders its growth.

A study conducted by the consultancy firm PwC in Gulf Cooperation Council countries — the oil-producing bloc composed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Oman — revealed that only 52% of clients of islamic financial institutions believe that these banks actually follow rules and parameters complying with Sharia. It’s not enough for the world’s 400 something islamic institutions to rest on the “islamic” label to gain their clients’ trust and guarantee themselves future growth. Financial products must reflect islamic values and that is the catch.

Potential clients will not be won over by a neat separation from conventional services, on the other hand, the tendency to duplicate well established services will not convince the section of the clientele keener to find a stronger islamic connotation in is banks. “Opportunities for growth are staggering but to tap into this potential, banks must correct customer-perception and improve their services in order to bring them on a par with other financial institutions” said Ashruff Jamall, director of Islamic financial services at PwC. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs), both promoters and beneficiaries of the growth of islamic banking, will play a fundamental role, stressed Hussein Al Qemzi, managing director of the Noor Bank, the Islamic bank of Dubai, in his opening address. According to Qemzi, islamic finance will soon be the norm and no longer the alternative but emphasis should be drawn on the need to unify interpretation and application by Sharia Boards. The standardisation of the islamic banking sector as a means to promote solid and stable growth was one of the themes running through the three-day Wief conference.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

7 Kiev Soldiers Killed in Fiercer East Ukraine Fighting

Despite Sep 5 truce deal

(ANSA) — Moscow, October 30 — Seven Kiev soldiers have been killed in the last 24 hours amid fiercer fighting with pro-Russian rebels despite a September 5 truce deal, the Ukraine security council said Thursday.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Ashraf Ghani Offers China Cooperation Against Islamic Terrorism in Exchange for Aid

The afghan president is in Beijing on his first official trip abroad. To Xi Jinping, he vowed to tackle Islamist-controlled pockets on the border with Pakistan. By 2017, Beijing will provide Kabul with US$ 327 million dollars in aid.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, is offering his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, help against Islamic terrorism in exchange of economic aid. Both issues are critical to Kabul, which is trying to secure stability before the final withdrawal of US troops, now set in two years time.

On his first foreign trip as head of state, Ghani chose Beijing, where he arrived yesterday on a four-day visit.

China and Afghanistan share a 91-kilometer mountainous border between Pakistan and Tajikistan, in particular, the narrow and almost impassable Wakhan Corridor.

China claims that Uygur separatists from its western Xinjiang region are being trained by the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

“In the area of security, President Ghani expressed the readiness and staunch support from the Afghan side in China’s fight against East Turkistan Islamic Movement terrorist forces,” Kong Xuanyou, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Department, after Ghani and Xi met.

The two sides said in a joint statement that China would give Afghanistan 2 billion yuan (US$ 327 million) by 2017: 500 million yuan in 2014 and 1.5 billion yuan over the next three years.

Beijing will also help train 3,000 Afghan professionals over the next five years. However, it does not seek to replace Western troops in Afghanistan once they have pulled out. Instead, it has promised to play a “huge” commercial role in helping rebuild the country.

China’s commitment to Afghan reconstruction since the fall of the hard-line Islamist Taliban regime in 2001 has been about US$ 250 million and its security support has been mostly limited to counter-narcotics training.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

9 Niger Security Staff Killed in Attacks Near Mali

In twin attacks in Tillabéri region

(ANSA) — Rome, October 30 — Nine members of Niger’s security forces were killed Thursday in simultaneous attacks by “terrorists” in the western region of Tillabéri near Mali, the government said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Burkina Demonstrators Storm Parliament, State TV

Protesters against president Campaoré serving another term

(ANSA) — Rome, October 30 — Demonstrators in Burkina Faso stormed parliament and ransacked state television on Thursday in protest against plans to change the constitution to allow President Blaise Campaoré, in power for 27 years, to serve another term. Parliament was due to vote on the constitutional amendment later in the day.

Police also fired tear gas at angry demonstrators gathered outside the parliament building in the capital Ouagadougou as the protests entered their fourth day.

Several hundred protesters subsequently ransacked the presimses of state broadcaster Rtb, damaging vehicles and equipment.

They left the premises after failing to force their way into the television studios.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Manila Orders Repatriation of Citizens From African Nations Affected by Ebola

The overseas workers in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone will be subject to 21 days quarantine. The government has adopts “voluntary repatriation” for at least 900 people. With 10 million workers abroad the country is considered “highly vulnerable” to deadly epidemics.

Manila (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The Philippine government has launched an appeal to hundreds of their fellow citizens, urging them to abandon the nations of West Africa, hit by the Ebola outbreak. Manila also added that all workers overseas or those coming from countries where the virus has developed will be subjected to a quarantine of 21 days, the maximum time required for symptoms to manifest. The Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario states the government has started a “voluntary repatriation” program for 900 workers present in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where the epidemic first broke out.

Interviewed by the Philippine ABS-CBN television the Minister said that President Benigno Aquino had also ordered those who did return would have to be isolated in a government facility undergoing a 21-day quarantine. With 10 million Filipinos working abroad, the country is “very vulnerable” amid the outbreak of the killer disease.

The Philippine government follows a provision has already taken place in recent weeks by the United States, which has ordered the quarantine of persons considered to be at risk; However, the measure raises serious doubts and disputes concerning violation of human rights.

This week the Department of Health has launched a program aimed at training 130 doctors, nurses and health care professionals, working in public hospitals in the country to prepare in case of Ebola. Added to these are at least another 300 who work in private hospitals scattered across the archipelago. In recent weeks, at least 126 Filipino workers have returned from three African countries in which the disease developed and were “monitored” carefully. Of these, at least 12 developed a fever during the 21-day quarantine, but tested negative for Ebola.

Yesterday at the Wednesday Audience Pope Francis appealed for “every necessary effort to eradicate” Ebola, which he described as a “relentless disease” The Pope said he was “close to those affected” assured his prayers for “the suffering, as well as doctors, nurses, volunteers, religious institutes and associations, who are working heroically to help our brothers and sisters who are sick” .

Ebola is a virus that causes very aggressive hemorrhagic fevers and has a very high mortality rate; the current strain has an incidence of around 70%, but can reach up to 90%. So far it has killed 4,922 people, but the real figure could be even higher. The first case of infection occurred last February in Guinea, and then spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. It is spread by contact with blood and body fluids of infected persons. There is no effective treatment and the epidemic of recent months has prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare it an international emergency.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

New Chambers and Artifacts Discovered in 2,000-Year-Old Tunnel at Mexico’s Teotihuacan

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A yearslong exploration of a tunnel sealed almost 2,000 years ago at the ancient city of Teotihuacan yielded thousands of relics and the discovery of three chambers that could hold more important finds, Mexican archaeologists said Wednesday.

Project leader Sergio Gómez said researchers recently reached the end of the 340-foot (103-meter) tunnel after meticulously working their way down its length, collecting relics from seeds to pottery to animal bones.

A large offering found near the entrance to the chambers, some 59 feet (18 meters) below the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, suggests they could be the tombs of the city’s elite…

[Return to headlines]

Foreigners Make Up 8.1% of Italian Population, Says UNAR

Contributed 9bn euros to Italian economy in 2012

(ANSA) — Rome, October 29 — Foreign residents make up 8.1% of Italy’s population, and they contributed nine billion euros to the Italian economy in 2012, the National Anti-Discrimination Office (UNAR) said in a report Wednesday.

More than half, or 52.7%, are women, and one million are minors, UNAR said.

Of these, more than 800,000 are enrolled in school. Their average age is 31.1, compared to 44.2 years for native Italians, according to UNAR.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Ministries to Do Follow-Up Health Checks on Rescued Migrants

Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin tells parliament

(ANSA) — Rome, October 29 — Italy’s health, defense and interior ministries are working together to develop follow-up health checks on migrants rescued at sea, Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said Wednesday.

Lorenzin went on to point out that Italy has an extremely low rate of tuberculosis, with 6.99 cases per 100,000 inhabitants as of 2012. This is will below the defined low-prevalence level of 10 cases per 100,000, she said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Triton Operation Set to Replace Mare Nostrum

New EU program to emphasize border controls in Mediterranean

(ANSA) — Rome, October 30 — The European Union’s maritime patrol operation Triton is ready to take over responsibility on Saturday from Italy’s Mare Nostrum Mediterranean rescue program, officials said Thursday.

Triton, operated by the EU border agency Frontex, will use six ships, two airplanes, and one helicopter to patrol for illegal migrants fleeing from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe.

But with only one-third of the budget of Mare Nostrum, officials have said Triton will emphasize border control more than rescue.

The new operation comes after strenuous pressure from Italy to take over from the Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) migrant rescue program that was set up one year ago on an emergency basis after two boat disasters killed more than 300 migrants.

It is expected that the Italian cabinet on Thursday will officially end the rescue program.

Triton will have bases on the island of Lampedusa, Italy’s southern-most point where many migrants land; and Porto Empedocle on the coast of Sicily. Patrols will also watch the Strait of Sicily and the sea off the coast of Calabria, while remaining within about 30 miles of Italian land.

However, rescue operations can exceed that limit if needed and draw closer to the coast of Libya, which is reportedly a change from Mare Nostrum’s remit. Equipment has been pledged by countries including France, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and non-EU member Iceland, the BBC has reported on its website About 150,000 migrants — mostly from northern Africa and the Middle East — have been rescued by Italian ships in the 12 months since Mare Nostrum began.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Human Rights Groups Slam Singapore Gay Ruling

Court rejects challenges to ‘indecency’ law

(ANSA) — Rome, October 30 — Human rights groups on Thursday slammed a Singapore court’s ruling that a law banning gay sex is Constitutional.

The Court of Appeal on Wednesday rejected two legal challenges arguing that the law, Section 377A, infringes on gay citizens’ rights.

Under Section 377A, men who engage in “gross indecency” privately or publicly can be jailed for up to two years.

Singapore, which largely remains conservative, has seen intense debate in recent years over gay rights. Human Rights Watch called the decision “a major setback for equal rights”, adding that it “tramples upon basic rights to privacy, equality and non-discrimination”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

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