Tuesday, December 4, 2018

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REVEALED: The Saudi death squad MBS uses to silence dissent

MEE exclusively reveals details about the tiger squad, a team of assassins targeting Saudi critics at home and abroad.

Jamal Khashoggi fell victim to its assassins. He wasn't the first.
In new revelations, a Saudi source with intimate knowledge of his country's intelligence services told Middle East Eye about a death squad that operates under the guidance and supervision of Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince.
The Firqat el-Nemr, or tiger squad, is well-known to the US intelligence services. It was formed more than a year ago and is comprised of 50 of the best-skilled intelligence and military operatives in the kingdom.
The group was recruited from different branches of the Saudi security services, channelling several areas of expertise. Its members are unflinchingly loyal to Riyadh's young crown prince, commonly known as MBS.
MEE can exclusively reveal details about the tiger squad, after speaking to a very well-placed source. The source detailed to MEE the squad's makeup, targets, actions and personnel.
They [the Saudi leadership] have the belief that arresting critics will mount pressure on them, so that's why they started assassinating them quietly
- Saudi source
Although MEE was not able to confirm the information disclosed, the source was independently verified.
The tiger squad's mission is to covertly assassinate Saudi dissidents, inside the kingdom and on foreign soil, in a way that goes unnoticed by the media, the international community and politicians, the source said.
"They [the Saudi leadership] have the belief that arresting critics will mount pressure on them, so that's why they started assassinating them quietly," the source said.
The Tiger Squad's members are drawn from the military and intelligence services. (Reuters)
The tiger squad's assassination methods vary.
Sometimes it gets its hands dirty, such as with Khashoggi, who was tortured, murdered and dismembered by the tiger squad in Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.
But the unit also plans assassinations that keep the victim at arm's length, and are intended to appear as accidents, such as a car crash or housefire. The tiger squad has even had a dissident injected with deadly viruses as he visited hospital for a routine checkup, the source said.
The squad was named after Major General Ahmed al-Assiri, the deputy chief of Saudi intelligence, who was sacked by Riyadh last week after heavy international pressure on Saudi Arabia to take action over Khashoggi's killing. 
"Assiri is well-known among his colleagues as 'the Tiger of the South'. Since the coalition's war [on Yemen] the Saudi media also started calling Assiri 'the Beast', and he liked this nickname," the source said.

Ties to the crown prince

The source denied knowledge of who issues commands to the tiger squad, but said that Assiri and Saoud al-Qahtani, one of MBS's closest aides who was also dismissed last week, is part of the command structure.
The young crown prince selected five of his most loyal and trustworthy members of his personal security detail to serve in the tiger squad, the source said. 
All of them are among the 15 men sent to kill Khashoggi, including Maher Abdulaziz Mutrib, Mohammed al-Zahrani and Dhaar al-Harbi, the source said.
Mutrib is a diplomat and major general who has been seen travelling with MBS earlier this year on tours of Boston, Houston and the United Nations in New York.
He was described by the source as "the spinal cord of the tiger squad". "He was chosen by MBS himself, who depends on him and is close to him," the source said.
"The crown prince selected his close details in the squad in order for him to stay in direct contact with it and supervise the assassinations."
The source told MEE that Turkey intercepted 14 of Mutrib's phone calls on 2 October, the day of Khashoggi's death. Seven of them were to the office of the crown prince.
The source did not make it clear if Mutrib's calls were related to Khashoggi's killing but said that, if leaked, these calls would be "explosive".
According to the source, Mutrib and three others injected Khashoggi with a deadly drug, before dismembering his body on a table inside the consulate.
MEE understands that morphine is the drug the source mentioned. Turkish invesitgators have told MEE that Khashoggi was dismembered on a desk in the Saudi consul-general's study.
Mutrib's alleged calls to MBS's office were also reported on Monday by the newspaper Yeni Safak, which like other Turkish media outlets close to the government has been leaked details of the Khashoggi investigation day by day.
According to Yeni Safak, Mutrib spoke to Badr al-Asaker, head of the crown prince's private office, four times after Khashoggi was killed.

'Kill them with HIV'

One of the first covert operations the tiger squad carried out within Saudi borders was the killing of Prince Mansour bin Moqren, deputy governor of Asir province and son of a former crown prince, in November last year.
Prince Mansour, a known opponent of MBS, died when his helicopter crashed near the Saudi border with Yemen. MEE reported at the time that the prince was trying to flee the country, and died a few hours after a sweeping purge of the kingdom's upper ranks was launched on 4 November.
Dozens of princes, ministers and a billionaire tycoon were swept up by authorities and detained in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, and authorities placed a travel ban on all private aircraft.
According to the source, Meshal Saad al-Bostani, a tiger squad operative and one of the 15 Saudis suspected of Khashoggi's murder, was behind Prince Mansour's death.
"Bostani is a lieutenant in the Saudi Royal Air Force, and he shot down Mansour's helicopter with a missile from another helicopter," the source said. "But they made it seems like a natural death."
"It's a lie. He was locked in a prison and his food was poisoned," the source said. "Bostani holds the secret of the deputy governor of Asir's killing, as well as Khashoggi's."
Another internal covert operation run by the tiger squad was the murder of the Mecca public court's president, judge and sheikh Suliman Abdul Rahman al Thuniyan, in a hospital in Riyadh on 1 October.
"I believe he was killed by deadly viruses being injected into his body during a normal medical checkup. The squad knew he had an appointment in the hospital, and made it appear a natural death," the source said. 
"The judge [Thuniyan] had sent a letter to MBS opposing his 2030 economic vision."
He added that one of the techniques the tiger squad uses to silence dissidents or opponents of the government is to "kill them with HIV, or other sorts of deadly viruses".
MBS always said that he will cut off the fingers of every writer who criticises him
- Saudi source
MEE could not confirm what sort of illness was the cause of Thuniyan's death. As far as the source was aware, Khashoggi's murder was the first assassination the tiger squad had carried out in a foreign country. However, it was not the death squad's first attempt, the source said.
"I know of another attempt, which was to lure Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz in Canada to the consulate and kill him," the source said. "But Abdulaziz refused to go and the mission failed. Khashoggi was the first [successful] operation." Separate reports have described how Abdulaziz was targeted by the Saudis using Israeli spyware software. 
As proof of the Khashoggi mission's success, the source said, members of the tiger squad brought the Washington Post columnist's fingers back to Riyadh. They were presented to the young heir to the Saudi throne.
"MBS always said that he will cut off the fingers of every writer who criticises him," the source said.


Saudi crown prince ‘complicit’ in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, key GOP senator says after CIA briefing

Key Senate leaders emerged from a briefing Tuesday with CIA Director Gina Haspel convinced that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was complicit in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and that Congress must respond by penalizing the kingdom. 
“He murdered him, no question in my mind,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said of Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the killing. “The crown prince directed the murder and was kept apprised of the situation all the way through.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had demanded the Haspel briefing, called the crown prince a "wrecking ball" and suggested the evidence against the prince, known by his initials MBS, was overwhelming.
"I think he’s complicit to the highest level possible,” Graham said.
"There’s not a smoking gun. There’s a smoking saw," Graham added, a reference to reports that the Saudi operatives who killed Khashoggi used a bone saw to dismember him after the murder. Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, was killed inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 by a team of Saudi operatives.
Only about 10 senators were allowed to attend the briefing with Haspel on Tuesday. They included the chairmen and ranking members of four key committees, including the Senate intelligence panel and the Armed Services Committee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., were also in the closed-door, classified session. 
McConnell and Schumer left the briefing without talking to reporters. 
But Corker, Graham and others said the only question now was how Congress would respond. Graham said he would push legislation to sanction the crown prince and other high-level Saudis involved in Khashoggi’s killing and halt arms sales to the regime. He said he also wanted the Senate to pass a non-binding resolution naming Mohammed as responsible for Khashoggi’s death. 
"Saudi Arabia's a strategic ally and the relationship is worth saving, but not at all costs," Graham said. "We’ll do more damage to our standing in the world by ignoring MBS" than by confronting him.
Lawmakers were infuriated last week when Haspel declined to brief lawmakers on Khashoggi's murder. Senators wanted to hear directly from Haspel because the CIA has reportedly concluded that the Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder. But the Saudi government has denied that, and President Donald Trump has cast doubt on the CIA's conclusions.
Last week, the Trump administration dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to brief lawmakers, and both men played down the U.S. intelligence on Mohammed's involvement. 
Pompeo told reporters last week there was "no direct reporting connecting" the crown prince to the killing, and Mattis said there was no "smoking gun" implicating him. 
Graham suggested the two cabinet secretaries were being "willfully blind" in their statements because the Trump administration does not want to confront Saudi Arabia over the murder. 
"I’m going to assume they’re being good soldiers," the South Carolina Republican said. "I think the reason they don’t draw the conclusion that he’s complicit is because the administration doesn’t want to go down that road, not because there’s not evidence." 
Haspel's closed-door briefing came as the Senate considers legislation that would force the Trump administration to end its military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has caused a horrific humanitarian disaster. That measure could become the main vehicle for penalizing Saudi Arabia's role in Khashoggi's death. 
Corker said he is trying to craft an amendment to that proposal that would directly rebuke Saudi Arabia and the crown prince for Khashoggi's murder, separating the murder from the war in Yemen. He said combining the two issues would make it more complicated to win broad bipartisan support. 
"Temperatures are up by all involved," Corker said. "So figuring out something that can pass overwhelmingly still is going to be difficult." 
But Democrats have signaled they want the war in Yemen to be part of any legislative response. 
"The United States must have a strong response to both the war in Yemen as well as the killing of a United States permanent resident and journalist," said Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 
Last week, senators voted 63-to-37 to advance the Yemen measure, a direct rebuke to President Trump's warm embrace of Saudi Arabia. The timing for further debate and final passage is unclear. 
Pompeo has warned lawmakers against ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, where the U.S. is providing logistical assistance, munitions, and intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
"Abandoning Yemen would do immense damage to U.S. national security interests and those of our Middle Eastern allies and partners," the secretary of state told lawmakers last week, according to excerpts released by the State Department.

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Video Report - #YellowVests #giletsjaunes - Yellow Vests unimpressed with proposal to delay fuel tax

#YellowVests #giletsjaunes - Students overturn cars as protests spread in #France

Video - #YellowVests #giletsjaunes - '#Macron #France suspends fuel tax hikes amid 'yellow vest' protests

#YellowVests #giletsjaunes Trump’s retweet about the protests in France is wildly inaccurate

By Jennifer Williams and Alex Ward

The protests are not “a middle class rebellion against cultural Marxism.” Not even close.

France is currently in the grip of widespread protests and riots that have led to violent clashes with police, leaving hundreds injured and thousands of dollars’ worth of property damaged.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump evidently decided it was time for him to weigh in on the protests — by sharing a tweet from Charlie Kirk, a 25-year-old conservative political activist and ardent Trump supporter, with his millions of followers.
There’s one problem, though: Nothing in the tweet is even remotely accurate. The only facts in it are that there are protests in France over fuel taxes and that there are, indeed, streets in the city of Paris.
Let’s break it down, shall we?

There are riots in socialist France because of radical leftist fuel taxes

Media barely mentioning this

America is booming, Europe is burning

They want to cover up the middle class rebellion against cultural Marxism

“We want Trump” being chanted through the streets of Paris

29.4K people are talking about this

Cutting social welfare benefits and labor protections are not “radical leftist” policies

Kirk — who is not shy about his deep contempt for socialism — writes, “There are riots in socialist France because of radical leftist fuel taxes.” Now, the protests are partly about fuel taxes — just not “radical leftist” ones.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced a new gas tax earlier this year that will increase the price of fuel by about 30 cents per gallon and will continue to rise over the next few years. (Gas already costs about $7.06 per gallon in France.)
But Macron, a former investment banker, isn’t using the tax to support or expand social welfare benefits — quite the opposite, in fact. It’s part of his broader plan to reform the French economy to make it more pro-business.
He’s been cutting spending to popular, longstanding social welfare programs and has been scaling back labor protections. For instance, he’s made it easier for companies to hire and fire employees and fought unions to end subsidies for certain sectors.
As New York magazine reports:
In May, thousands of high-school students joined unionists and civil servants to protest Macron’s plan to cut 120,000 civil service jobs in addition to a reduction in benefits for France’s railway workers, who are unionized, public-sector employees. Macron’s 2019 budget “includes an €18.8 billion reduction in payroll and other business taxes to encourage hiring and investment,” the Times reported in October. That’s a continuation of tax policies he premiered not long after taking office in 2017; a newly empowered Macron moved swiftly to cut taxes for corporations and for the wealthiest 10 percent of French households.
 Last time I checked, ending labor protections, cutting taxes for wealthy corporations, and scaling back social welfare programs are not the policies typically associated with a “radical leftist” agenda, as Kirk phrased it.

The protests are also about Macron’s elitism and perceived disdain for the working class

While the protests may have started over the fuel tax, they have since morphed into a broader indictment of Macron’s handling of the French economy and his perceived elitist disregard for the effects his policies are having on France’s working class.
France’s economy is growing, but very slowly. Most of the growth is centered in its major cities, like Paris, and those on the periphery and in rural communities haven’t seen as many gains. What’s more, France’s rural population relies much more on cars than its urban dwellers do, which is why many in those regions seem the angriest with the gas tax.
“Ask a Parisian — for him none of this is an issue, because he doesn’t need a car,” Marco Pavan, a truck and cab driver in a small town near the France-Switzerland border, told the Washington Post on Saturday. “We live on the side of a mountain,” he continued. “There’s no bus or train to take us anywhere. We have to have a car.”
That’s why some see Macron as a president of the rich. Jeff Lightfoot, a France expert at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, DC, told Vox last week that Macron is initiating changes that many of the country’s wealthy can muddle through, but that the nation’s poorer citizens might not be able to overcome.
So, to recap, the protesters are mostly working-class folks who are angry at what they see as an out-of-touch elitist president whose policies favor the wealthy and corporations at the expense of working-class French people.
That is quite literally the opposite of a “middle class rebellion against cultural Marxism,” as Kirk characterized the protests.
(“Cultural Marxism” is a favorite phrase of many on the far right and alt-right, “where it serves as an umbrella term variously responsible for such un-American and anti-Western ills as atheism, secularism, political correctness, gay rights, sexual liberation, feminism, affirmative action, liberalism, socialism, anarchism, and, above all, multiculturalism,” as Vice explains.)
To be sure, people in the middle class who are also affected by the high cost of living are part of the protest movement as well — but it’s doubtful many of them would characterize their grievances against Macron as a “rebellion against cultural Marxism.”

Trump should know all of this. Instead, he retweeted Kirk’s demonstrably false comments.

Trump’s disregard for the truth and active attempts to create his own reality — and to convince his supporters of that imagined reality — are nothing new.
But the fact that the sitting president of the United States either does not understand or is deliberately misrepresenting the basic dynamics of a massive political crisis roiling one of America’s closest allies is deeply disturbing.
Trump has the entire US intelligence apparatus at his fingertips if he wants to understand what’s going on in any given country. He also could just call Macron at any time to ask him what’s going on.
Instead, the president chose to retweet the factually incorrect analysis of a 25-year-old conservative activist in the US who is quite well known for his magical ability to detect hidden whiffs of socialism wherever he goes.
It’s also possible that Trump didn’t even bother to think that deeply about the assertions Kirk was making, and merely shared Kirk’s tweet because of the part that describes people in the streets of Paris chanting, “We want Trump.”
To be fair, there is a video that seems to show people chanting, “We want Trump.” It’s just not entirely clear whether they were being serious — or just cheering for the guy wearing a rubber Trump mask and dancing for the crowd.
Oh, and it seems the video was taken in the UK — not France.

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Video - George H.W. Bush's letter to Bill Clinton

Obama, Clinton, son share recollections of George H.W. Bush


Former Presidents Clinton, Obama and George W. Bush paid tribute to the late former President George H.W. Bush in a segment broadcast Sunday night, praising the 41st president for his political accomplishments and his personal relationships.
The three former presidents spoke recently with "60 Minutes" about George H.W. Bush, who died on Friday at age 94.
George W. Bush, who took office eight years after his father, said his father taught him that the presidency "is more important than the man."
"And therefore, one of the jobs is to strengthen the institution of the presidency, bring honor to the office," he said. "And that clearly George H.W. Bush did."
George W. Bush said his father didn't like to discuss his legacy, and suggested that the elder Bush's time in office is often overlooked because it was a single term."I feel really good about — people, if they analyze not only his accomplishments but his character, they'll say, 'Job well done, George H.W. Bush,' " he said.
Clinton, who followed Bush into office after winning the 1992 election, said on "60 Minutes" that the two enjoyed a warm personal relationship, despite their political disagreements. He read a letter that Bush wrote him upon departing office in which the outgoing president wished his successor good luck.
"It's been one of the great joys of my life, my friendship with him," Clinton said. "Our arguments were good-natured and open, and we continue to debate things all the way up until recently."
Obama, who awarded Bush the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, praised the 41st president's foreign policy accomplishments, particularly his handling of the end of the Cold War.
Obama visited Bush at his home in Houston just a few days before he died.
"He was a good reminder that as fiercely as we may fight on policy and on issues, that ultimately we're Americans first," Obama said. "And that kind of attitude is something that I think a lot of people miss."
George H.W. Bush will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda from late Monday through Wednesday morning. President Trump declared a national day of mourning for Wednesday, when a service will be held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Bush's remains will then be transported back to Houston for a funeral service there. He will be buried next to his late wife, Barbara Bush, and his daughter Robin Bush at his presidential library and museum at Texas A&M University.

#Pakistan's aid group clampdown could hit 11 million people

Pakistan's expulsion of 18 international aid agencies will hurt 11 million aid recipients in a South Asian nation grappling with perilously low standards of education and healthcare, two Western diplomats said on Tuesday.
Affected NGOs include World Vision, Pathfinder, Plan International, Trocaire and Saferworld, while another group, ActionAid, last week said it was closing offices and laying off staff after the government told it to halt operations and leave.Pakistan's interior ministry confirmed it had rejected the appeals of 18 NGOs that had been allowed to continue operations while their appeals were being reviewed, but declined to give further details.Aid groups and western diplomats have criticised a lack of transparency in the process of expulsion and the review of appeals by the aid agencies, saying they crimped humanitarian work.
"It is as appalling as it is inexplicable that the government has decided to deprive 11 million of its own people of much-needed support with no apparent reason," a Western diplomat told Reuters, asking not to be identified.
The interior ministry did not immediately respond to the diplomats' comments, instead referring Reuters to a statement by Pakistan's foreign office last month.
In its Nov. 15 statement, the foreign office said policies regarding international aid groups were "fully aligned" with nationally determined development priorities and needs, and that Islamabad appreciated the assistance provided by donor agencies.
"Representatives of all 18 INGOs were given the right to appeal and the opportunity to provide additional details and discuss mutual concerns," it added.
"As for shrinking space, the evidence is contrary to assertions. Out of 141 that applied for registration since October 2015, applications of 74 INGOs have been approved."
A total of 27 international NGOs received expulsion orders late last year, but 18 appealed. Most of the affected groups worked on human rights and advocacy issues.This week's expulsion orders come amid complaints by Pakistani journalists about growing curbs on media freedom, though Islamabad has clamped down on foreign-funded aid groups for years.
"The international community is disappointed by the recent forced closures of a number of international NGOs," another Western diplomat told Reuters.
"We have consistently expressed our concern to the government and continue to urge a clear and transparent process to ensure INGOs can operate effectively in Pakistan or understand the reasons for their eviction."
Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/pakistan-s-aid-group-clampdown-could-hit-11-million-people--diplomats-say-10996490

#Pakistan - Editorial: Will the govt follow through on its assertion to hold TLP leaders accountable?

BELATEDLY, the state may be proceeding to hold accountable the party leadership and some of its supporters for the violence and terror that they unleashed on the country more than a month ago.
According to Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, the PTI government is moving towards having the leadership of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan and individuals involved in violence during the days-long protests that paralysed the country in late October and early November put on trial on an assortment of treason, sedition and terrorism-related charges. The trials will, according to the information minister, be held in anti-terrorism courts in the relevant jurisdictions across the country.
It remains to be seen if the government intends to follow through on what the information minister has asserted, but if it does it would lay down an important marker for lawful discourse and protest in the country.
The protests were a historic debacle for the state and more than a month since the country has tried to return to normality, the shocking nature and brazenness of the TLP rhetoric has not faded.So direct and categorical was the violence-inciting narrative against the government, the judiciary and the military leadership by the TLP leaders that the lawful sentencing of the latter and their violent supporters is a sine qua non for the re-establishment of the rule of law in the country.Unhappily, elements within the religious establishment in the country are seeking to shield the TLP leaders from lawful action by the state in the name of so-called religious harmony. Several clerics led by Mufti Muneebur Rehman, who heads the Tanzeem-ul-Madaris Ahle Sunnat and the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee, held a news conference on Sunday to demand that the government not take action against the TLP’s Khadim Rizvi and Afzal Qadri.
But what the religious leaders argued was necessary for religious harmony and peace in the country would amount to the state being blackmailed by violent extremists in the name of religion. There exist laws in the country against incitement to violence and attempts to spread religious hatred. If the language and actions of the TLP leaders and some of their supporters do not meet the criteria of unlawful incitement to violence and attempts to spread religious hatred, then what else possibly could?
Arguably, the one-sided politics of appeasement that the state has used — seemingly allowing those threatening violence and spreading intolerance in the name of religion free rein, while taking oppressive action against those demanding constitutionally protected rights — has created distortions in both state and society that now threaten to devour everyone.
Similarly, the dharna culture that has developed and been tacitly supported by elements within the state in recent years has turned political protests into deadly affairs.
The shocking events in the country after the acquittal of Aasia Bibi by the Supreme Court must never be allowed to take place again.