Monday, January 4, 2016
Over the weekend, members of a right-wing (and entirely white) militia seized a federal building while threatening to kill any federal agents who tried to remove them -- yet the response from law enforcement and the media seemingly downplayed the situation.
The quiet response was in glaring contrast from the extreme reactions from both militarized police and the media that we have seen with the peaceful, unarmed, protests against police brutality in places such as Ferguson and Baltimore.
Germany has decided to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia because of “instability in the region,” German daily Bild reported Sunday.
The United States had raised concerns with Saudi Arabia ahead of the recent execution of a Shi'ite Muslim cleric that worsened tensions between the Sunni kingdom and Iran and deepened the sectarian divide in the Middle East, the White House said on Monday.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest also said the United States "certainly would condemn any country that's carrying out mass executions" and warned that the dispute between Tehran and Riyadh would make it more difficult to push warring sides in the Syrian conflict toward a political solution.
"There have been direct concerns raised by U.S. officials to Saudi officials about the potential damaging consequences of following through on the execution -- on mass executions, in particular, the execution of" the Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, Earnest told a news briefing.
"This is a concern that we raised with the Saudis in advance, and unfortunately, the concerns that we expressed to the Saudis have precipitated the kinds of consequences that we were concerned about," he said.
Shi'ite communities around the world reacted furiously to the execution of Nimr, whom Earnest described as a political opposition figure and religious leader. Protesters in Tehran set fire to the Saudi Embassy and the kingdom cut diplomatic relations with Iran, its Shi'ite regional rival.
"We do continue to be concerned about the need for both the Iranians and the Saudis to de-escalate the situation. We are urging all sides to show some restraint and to not further inflame tensions that are on quite vivid display in the region," Earnest said.
He said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had been in touch with his Iranian counterpart and U.S. diplomatic officials had been in contact with Saudi officials to convey the message.
Earnest said the United States had regularly raised concerns about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, including in conversations between President Barack Obama and Saudi King Salman.
The flare-up between Iran and Saudi Arabia threatened to derail efforts to end Syria's 5-year-old civil war, where Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab powers support rebel groups against Iranian-backed President Bashar al-Assad.
"It was very difficult to get everybody around the table. It certainly is going to be even more difficult to get everybody back around the table if you have the Saudis and the Iranians trading public barbs and public expressions of antagonism between the two countries," Earnest said.
The White House spokesman also expressed concern about the Iranians' failure to protect the Saudi diplomatic facility.
Iran’s U.N. mission sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday defending its actions to protect Saudi diplomatic sites and officials and pledged to continue to take necessary measures to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
The execution of the popular Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other prisoners on Saturday was about the worst way Saudi Arabia could have started what promises to be a grim and tumultuous year in the kingdom and across the Middle East. It is hard to imagine that the Sunni rulers of the kingdom were not aware of the sectarian passions the killings would unleash around the region. Saudi Arabia’s rulers may even have counted on the fierce reaction in Iran and elsewhere as a distraction from economic problems at home and to silence dissenters. America’s longstanding alliance with the House of Saud is no reason for the Obama administration to do anything less than clearly condemn this foolhardy and dangerous course.
The immediate consequence of the executions was a burst of hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The two rivals are already backing opposite sides in civil wars in Syria and Yemen. Iranians infuriated by the killing of a revered cleric promptly ransacked and set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Though Iranian leaders condemned the action and arrested many protesters, Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-led allies in Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates were quick to cut or curtail ties with Iran.
That in turn promised to set back international efforts to resolve the wars in Syria and Yemen and to combat the Islamic State and other Islamist terrorist organizations. Just weeks ago, a series of talks led by the United States and Russia and including the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers brought rival powers to the table to discuss a road map for peace in Syria. Then, on Saturday after announcing the executions, the Saudis ended a shaky cease-fire in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia’s income has sharply declined as a result of the prolonged drop in oil prices — caused, in part, by the regime’s insistence on maintaining production levels — and the government has announced cutbacks in the lavish welfare spending that Saudis have long taken for granted. The executions provided both a sectarian crisis to deflect anger over the cutbacks and a graphic warning of what can befall critics.But the executions were not out of character for Saudi Arabia. The country has a dismal human rights record with its application of stern Islamic law and its repression of women and practitioners of religious traditions other than Sunni Islam. The regime has become only more repressive in the years since the Arab Spring. According to Human Rights Watch, the mass execution this weekend followed a year in which 158 people were executed, the most in recent history, largely based on vague laws and dubious trials. Sheikh Nimr was a vocal critic of the regime and champion of the rights of the Shiite minority in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, but not an advocate of violent action. He was executed for offenses that included “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and “inciting sectarian strife.”
The tangled and volatile realities of the Middle East do not give the United States or the European Union the luxury of choosing or rejecting allies on moral criteria. Washington has no choice but to deal with regimes like those in Tehran, which also has an abysmal human rights record, including nearly 700 executions in the first half of last year, or in Riyadh to combat the clear and present danger posed by Islamist terrorists or to search for solutions to massively destabilizing conflicts like the Syrian civil war. But that cannot mean condoning actions that blatantly fan sectarian hatreds, undermine efforts at stabilizing the region and crudely violate human rights.
Hundreds of Saudi people protesting against the Riyadh government's execution of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr in the Eastern part of the kingdom called for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty.
Large groups of angry protesters chanted slogans such as "Down with Al Saud" in the village of Awamiyah in Qatif region, and underlined their resolve to overthrow the Saudi regime, FNA dispatches said.
They condemned the execution of Sheikh Nimr and suppression of the Shiite minority by the Riyadh government.
The call by protesters for Al Saud's overthrow came as Saudi Arabia's police killed a young man and injured another civilian during popular protests in Qatif region in the Eastern part of the kingdom to condemn Sheikh Nimr's execution by the Riyadh government.
Ali Omran al-Dawood was killed when the Saudi police started shooting at the protesters in the village of Awamiyah in Qatif region.
An eight-year-old boy was also injured during the police shootout.
Large groups of protesters were also beaten and arrested as security forces surrounded a group of young Saudis who were burning tires in protest at Sheikh Nimr's execution.
Saudi Arabia announced Saturday that it has executed the prominent Shiite Muslim cleric.
Sunni and Shiite Muslims from across the world rushed to condemn his execution, vowing revenge.
Saudi people still continue protest rallies in different parts of the kingdom's Eastern province of Qatif, specially Awamiyah and Qatif towns, to condemn execution prominent cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr and suppression of the Shiite minority.
Field sources from Awamiyah and Qatif said that the two regions are in a state of war with hundreds of Saudi army troops deployed in streets.
The Saudi troops have so far made tens of arrests, while local residents say protesters are beaten, arrested and shot at.
The angry people set fire to a police center, several military vehicles and a bus in Qatif.
Also on Anizah al-Badaya road near al-Qassim city, a 29-year-old man ran over a Saudi security force and killed him.
After the declaration, thousands of Bahraini people poured to the streets and chanted "death to the al-Saud" slogans.
The Bahrainis who also carried some placards to show their support for Sheikh Nimr warned Riyadh that shedding the cleric's blood will not remain unanswered.
Lebanon's Hezbollah, Yemen's Ansarullah, Pakistan's Shiite Assembly and tens of Sunni and Shiite figures, groups and movements across the world have rushed to condemn the Saudi regime, all underlining that Riyadh has poured oil to the flames of sectarian strife.
In Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in a statement condemned the killing of the prominent Muslim cleric, and said, "The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr shows that Saudi Arabia insists on pouring oil to the flames of sectarian sedition."
Sheikh Nimr's execution was also condemned by Head of Iraq's Badr Organization Hadi al-Ameri who expressed deep regret after hearing the news.
The Iranian Sunni figures also showed reaction to the Saudi cleric's killing by Saudi Arabia.
Molawi Abdolhamid Ismailzehi, the Friday prayers leader of Iran's Southeastern city of Zahedan, expressed deep regret over Sheikh Nimr's execution, and said under the conditions that the Muslim world needs unity, the Saudi officials should have refrained from his killing.
Also, representative of Iran's Sunni-populated Southeastern province of Sistan and Balouchestan at the Assembly of Experts, Molawi Nazir Ahmad Salami, condemned Sheikh Nimr's execution, and said, "There is no difference between the Shiites and Sunnis and any person who is opposed to tyranny and brutality should show reaction and deplore the Saudi measure."
Also, Chairman of the Sunni Lawmakers' Fraction at the Iranian parliament Abed Fattahi deplored the execution of Sheikh Nimr by Riyadh, and said the bells have now started ringing for the collapse of the Saudi regime.
He also said that Saudi Arabia's support for the terrorists, the mismanagement of Mina incident, execution of Sheikh Nimr and several other crimes by Riyadh, "closed the door of negotiations with the political structure of Saudi Arabia".
Their remarks came after the Iranian seminaries held a protest rally in front of the Saudi embassy in Tehran on Saturday, and condemned execution of the Shiite cleric by chanting "death to al-Saud" slogans.
The Iranian foreign ministry also strongly deplored Riyadh for killing the prominent cleric, and said the move proved the Saudi officials' "imprudence and irresponsibility", underlining that the Saudi regime will pay a heavy price for this crime.
"While the extremist and Takfiri terrorists have deprived the regional and world nations of security and tranquility and threaten certain regional governments' stability and existence, execution of a figure like Sheikh Nimr who didn’t have any instrument but words to pursue his political and religious goals merely shows the depth of imprudence and irresponsibility," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari said on Saturday.
Saudi Arabia executed 47 people on Saturday for terrorism, including Sheikh Nimr, the country's Interior Ministry said in a statement. Most of those executed were said to be involved in a series of attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda between 2003 and 2006. 45 of those executed were of Saudi nationality, one Chadian, one Egyptian.
The Interior Ministry statement announcing the executions began with verses from the Quran, justifying the use of the death penalty, while state television showed footage of the aftermath of Al-Qaeda attacks over the last decade. Shortly afterward, Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh appeared on Saudi Arabian television, hailing the executions as just.
Al-Qaeda is the number one enemy of Shiite Muslims, and the Saudi television did not explain how it could link the footage to the execution of a Shiite leader who has been the target of ISIL and Al-Qaeda.
Iranian high-ranking officials had regularly deplored Riyadh for handing down death sentence to prominent Shiite cleric, warning that execution of the Sheikh Nimr would incur a heavy price in Saudi Arabia, and would set the stage for the fall of the Saudi regime.
Several rights activists had also warned Riyadh that execution of Sheikh Nimr would set fire to Saudi Arabia.
Heretofore, Al Saud had frequently said that it plans to execute Sheikh soon, but the kingdom delayed it every time. According to an informed source, the new King and his hawkish cabinet members mean to send a message to the Shiite community, dissidents and Iran through the move to show they are ready to pay any price in confrontation with Tehran. Though Iran has repeatedly denied any link with the Shiite dissidents in Saudi Arabia.
During the recent months, people across the world staged protest in support of Sheikh Nimr, calling for immediate release of the leader, warning the Wahhabi authorities against executing prominent Shiite cleric.
Nimr was attacked and arrested in the Qatif region of Eastern Province in July 2012, and has been charged with undermining the kingdom’s security, making anti-government speeches, and defending political prisoners. Nimr has denied the accusations.
In October 2014, a Saudi court sentenced Sheikh Nimr to death, provoking huge condemnations and criticism in the Middle East and the world.
On October 25, Nimr’s family confirmed that the Saudi Supreme Court and the Specialized Appeals Court had endorsed a death sentence issued last year against him for inciting sectarian strife and disobeying King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The cleric has denied the charges.
The Shiite cleric’s lawyer, Sadeq al-Jubran, had also said that Nimr could be executed as soon as the Saudi monarch approves his sentence.
Human rights organizations have condemned Saudi Arabia for failing to address the rights situation in the kingdom. They say Saudi Arabia has persistently implemented repressive policies that stifle freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to execute a prominent Shiite cleric over the weekend caused a firestorm. While the move seemed reckless to many, a new analysis by the Eurasia Group shows that Riyadh’s actions may be the inevitable result of its waning influence.
By KIRK JOHNSON, ERIK ECKHOLM and RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑAThe small band of antigovernment protesters who took over a group of federal buildings in rural Oregon said Monday that they aimed “to restore and defend the Constitution,” in particular the rights of ranchers, and set off a national movement, forcing the federal government to release its hold on vast tracts of Western land.
The federal government, for its part, appeared content, for now, to monitor the situation and wait out the protesters.
The F.B.I. said in a statement that while state and local agencies would remain involved in the episode in rural Harney County, the bureau would take the lead. The law enforcement presence in the area appeared to be minimal, and no effort was made to keep the occupiers of buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge from coming and going as they pleased.
“Due to safety considerations for both those inside the refuge as well as the law enforcement officers involved,” the F.B.I. said, “we will not be releasing any specifics with regards to the law enforcement response.”
Federal officials may be mindful of past clashes with people who did not recognize government authority that ended in bloodshed — like those at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, and Waco, Tex., in 1993 — that became rallying cries for antigovernment militants, including self-styled militias. In contrast, the government retreated from the 2014 confrontation with Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher, when supporters rallied around him and threatened a gun battle with federal officials. For more than two decades, Mr. Bundy has refused to pay fees for grazing his livestock on federal land, becoming a symbol of resistance to people who object to federal control of vast acreage in the West. At a news conference with a handful of the occupiers and their supporters, one of the leaders, Ammon Bundy — a son of Cliven Bundy — expressed confidence that the government would not risk a confrontation. Asked how the group would respond if the government tried to remove them forcibly, he said, “We do not believe they will do that.” Law enforcement officials ”have reached out to individuals that we are closely affiliated with, and they have gave messages to us,” he said. “They do not intend to come up on us.” Officials in Washington played down the situation, describing the Justice Department and other agencies as being in a kind of wait-and-see mode. While President Obama is “certainly aware” of the situation, said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, it is a “local law enforcement matter” to which the president has not given much thought. The incident added to a fierce debate on social media, with some people offering support to the antigovernment group, and others arguing that if the people involved had not been white, they would have been dealt with harshly. Among the armed protesters involved in occupying the buildings at the refuge, south of here, those who have publicly identified themselves are from outside the area. Even local people and groups who sympathize with their aims have questioned their methods, and asked whether Harney County is being used by outsiders.Another group dedicated to opposing what it calls federal overreach, the Three Percenters Club Oregon, said of the takeover on its Facebook page, “These actions destroy everything that the Patriot community has been working toward and show the Patriots in a negative light again.”
Some members of Mr. Bundy’s group have claimed that as many as 100 people are involved in the armed takeover of the buildings, but the real figure appears to be much smaller; Mr. Bundy declined to give a number. But, calling themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom — a name Mr. Bundy said they had adopted only because reporters kept asking what their group was called — they claimed a mission as grand as their numbers are small.
They contend that under the Constitution, the federal government can own only a small amount of land for very limited purposes, which do not include wildlife refuges, and can acquire it only with a state’s consent, by paying the state for it. The courts have not agreed.
What would persuade the protesters to leave, Mr. Bundy said, is “for the federal government to give up its unconstitutional presence in this county.”
In a forum here last month, Mr. Bundy was more explicit about wanting to start a national movement. “We can restore the Constitution back to this county, and it can be an example to all the other counties across this nation,” he told local residents. “The people of this country will come to you and protect you if you will make the right stand.” At a glance, the stakes here would appear to be low. On Saturday, the armed group took control of a small group of unoccupied structures, miles from any town, in the dead of winter. But Heidi Beirich, the director of intelligence with the Southern Poverty Law Center who oversees the center’s tracking of extremist groups, said that there was a danger to under-reaction, and that the last Bundy standoff set a bad precedent. “They were emboldened by their ability to run federal officials off at the point of a gun,” Ms. Beirich said. “Now, a year and half later, there have been no prosecutions whatsoever. Pointing a gun at a federal officer is a crime.” The lesson, she said, is that “you can beat the federal government, you can do what you want with federal lands and you won’t be punished.”
A crucial lesson of Waco and Ruby Ridge “it to avoid an armed confrontation at all costs,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director for the Police Executive Research Forum, which studies law enforcement policies. “Where the situation is contained and you can negotiate, there should be no rush to move in.”
The clash stems, indirectly, from the arson convictions of two local ranchers, Dwight L. Hammond and his son Steven D. Hammond, who set fires that burned federal lands. The ranchers said they were fighting wildfires and invasive vegetation, while federal officials said they were covering up poaching on federal land.
This is a sparsely populated region — heavily dependent on ranching and logging — where the federal government owns much of the land. Such areas are common in the West, with frequent conflicts between federal officials who control access to the land and people who want greater freedom to use it.
The Hammonds served prison sentences and were released, but a federal court ruled that they were improperly sentenced, and ordered them to serve more time. They were expected to surrender to federal authorities on Monday.
The case became a cause célèbre for antigovernment groups, including those calling themselves militias, who contend that the federal government has usurped powers that belong to people and the states. A protest was held here in support of the Hammonds, and some of the protesters broke away and occupied the wildlife refuge buildings.
The Hammonds have distanced themselves from the group and its actions, as have other local residents.
“This county isn’t supportive of what’s being done here at all,” said Dan Nichols, a county commissioner who is a neighbor of the Hammond family. “Once again, it’s a bunch of those who live without the county telling us what we need to do, how we need to be doing it and the repercussions if we don’t.”
In a statement captured on video, Ammon Bundy said Sunday that his group was “prepared to be out here for as long as need be” and would leave only when the people of Harney County “can use these lands as free men.”