South Sudan Opposition Try to Forge a United Front

South Sudanese opposition groups tried to forge a united front on Monday ahead of an expected resumption of peace talks, in the first such meeting since the start of their country’s civil war nearly four years ago, attendees told Reuters.

South Sudan’s civil war, triggered by a feud between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, has plunged parts of the world’s youngest nation into famine and forced a third of the population – some four million people – to flee their homes.

Representatives of South Sudan’s many armed and unarmed opposition groups met in the Kenyan town of Nyahururu, said Kosti Manibe, a former government minister who was briefly jailed and represents a group of ex-political prisoners.

“I call it like-minded groups who are opposed to the policy that the regime of Salva in (South Sudan’s capital) Juba is pursuing,” Manibe said.

The gathering, expected to last three days, comes after diplomats from the regional bloc IGAD held talks with Kiir in Juba at the weekend to press the government to participate in the planned peace talks in December.

“The opposition is speaking in a cacophony of voices. There is a need to harmonise these voices,” said Majak D‘Agoot, another member of the former prisoner group.

Manibe said Kenya’s government had “graciously allowed” the opposition groups to meet in their country, without elaborating.

Kenyan foreign affairs ministry spokesman Edwin Limo said he was not aware of the meeting.

The United Nations says South Sudan’s civil war has resulted in ethnic cleansing and other war crimes.

A Western-backed peace deal between Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar collapsed last year, spawning the creation of new armed and political groups opposing the government.

Machar’s SPLA-IO rebel group, the country’s largest which still controls swathes of territory in the south and northeast of South Sudan, declined to attend the Nyahururu meeting, according to Nathaniel Oyet, a senior member of the group, saying it may distract from the December talks.

Oyet also cited security concerns in Kenya where SPLA-IO officials have disappeared in the last year, including Machar’s spokesman who was arrested and deported to Juba in 2016.

Among those attending Monday’s meeting in Kenya were representatives of former army general Thomas Cirillo, who is waging an insurgency in the southern region of South Sudan, and other former government officials Lam Akol, Gabriel Changson, and Joseph Bakosoro, all of whom live in exile.

South Sudanese government officials were unavailable for comment on the Kenya meeting.

European Countries Will Remain Committed to Nuclear Deal

Trump, Nuclear deal

London– Reactions to the announcement of US President on Iran’s nuclear deal are still surfacing, and despite Germany and UK’s confirmation that they will stand committed to the nuclear deal, both countries stated they are “concerned by the possible implications” of Trump’s refusal to certify it and reiterated the importance of thwarting Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region.

Britain and Germany agreed on Sunday they remained committed to the nuclear deal with Iran even after US’ decision to decertify the agreement.

“They agreed the UK and Germany both remained firmly committed to the deal,” spokeswoman of UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement after a call between the PM and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The spokeswoman stated that the two officials also agreed that the international community needed to continue to come together to “push back against Iran’s destabilizing regional activity, and to explore ways of addressing concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile program.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday the US is trying to stay in the Iran nuclear deal while hoping to achieve more from it.

During an interview with CNN, Tillerson said the US is open to the possibility of seeking another agreement.
“We’re going to work with our European partners and allies to see if we can’t address these concerns,” he added.

Tillerson said Iran had committed technical violations of the deal, but that the agreement was structured in a way to give Iran significant time to remedy its violations.

Tillerson explained that Trump demanded a broader strategy on Iran, adding that the US was focused on more issues than simply Iran’s potential nuclear ambitions, citing the nation’s ballistic missile program and support for groups adversarial to the US throughout the Middle East.

“What the President wants is a more comprehensive strategy,” Tillerson confirmed.

He said the US was working to address issues it had with the multilateral agreement and anticipated that might require a new deal.

During several occasions, Tehran confirmed it refuses re-negotiations on its nuclear programs.

Earlier last week, Head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Mohamad Ali Jafari announced that Iran believes that many issues in the region can be solved outside the negotiations’ table.

When asked if he agrees with Defense Minister James Matis, Tillerson said he agrees with the minister that they shouldn’t rush the Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran.

Meanwhile, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said the US will stay in for now, as it looks for ways to help the American people “feel safer” by going to Congress.

“I think what you’re going to see is the president’s going to work very closely with Congress to try and come up with something that is more proportionate, something that does make sense for the US to agree to,” Haley told NBC.

Haley said that Iran should not become the next North Korea.

“So what this says to North Korea is, ‘Don’t expect us to engage in a bad deal. And also, if at any point we do come up with something, expect us to follow through with it. Expect us to hold you accountable. You’re not just going to have a free-for-all,” she stated.

For his part, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said that nobody else will trust any US administration to engage in any long-term negotiation.

During an interview with CBS, Zarif reiterated that this is not a bilateral treaty between Iran and the United States, adding that the US is a permanent member of the Security Council and if it’s not going to uphold a resolution, that not only it voted for but it sponsored, then the credibility of the institution that the United States considers to be very important would be at stake.

Zarif warned that this administration is withdrawing from everything and people cannot trust anymore the word of the US.

“I believe the Trump administration is closing its eyes on the realities of our region. We believe it would be important for the United States for the Trump administration to exercise a reset in its cognitive disorder with regard to our region,” Zarif told CBS.

Speaking in an interview with state TV late Saturday, Zarif also said, “Trump’s last night remarks on Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are inconsistent with articles 26, 28 and 29 of the treaty.

“The action plan bans the US administration officials from making negative comments on JCPOA,” he said.

The deal is required to be implemented “in good faith” and the US should “refrain from re-introducing or re-imposing” sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme.

Zarif said he lodged nine complaints to the Joint Commission and will write a new one concerning Trump’s statements.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded to Trump’s statements saying no president could single-handedly revoke an international document backed by UN. He added that Trump’s decision made the US more isolated than ever.

The future of the agreement is at stake, now that the Congress has 60 days to decide whether it will re-impose sanctions on Iran or not.

Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi declared that the country would no longer abide by the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty if the nuclear deal fell apart.

“Without the nuclear agreement its application is meaningless,” Salehi told state television.

He warned that Iran could very quickly return to the production of highly enriched uranium if the US reimposed sanctions.

“If one day, the leaders of the country conclude that the nuclear agreement is no longer to the benefit of the country and decide to resume 20 percent enrichment we can do so within four days,” he said.

30 Killed as Fires Rage in Portugal and Spain

At least 27 people have died in fires which have ravaged forests in northern and central Portugal over the past 24 hours, rescuers said Monday, as three people were killed in neighboring Spain in blazes sparked by arsonists.

In Portugal, Prime Minister Antonio Costa asked for international help and declared a state of emergency as more than 4,000 firefighters fought some 20 major fires still raging Monday.

The 27 deaths, confirmed by Portugal’s national civil protection agency, came four months after 64 people were killed and more than 250 injured on June 17, in the deadliest fire in the country’s history.

About 520 separate fire outbreaks on Sunday were caused by “higher than average temperatures for the season and the cumulative effect of drought, which has been felt since the start of the year”, civil protection agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar said.

In the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, on the Portuguese border, authorities were blaming arson for about 17 fires which have caused three deaths.

“They are absolutely intentional fires, premeditated, caused by people who know what they are doing,” said Alberto Nunez Feijoo, the head of the Galicia regional government.

On Monday, the “situation remained very worrying”, Feijoo said, adding that firefighters along with soldiers and locals were battling the flames.

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said in a tweet that “several people have been identified in connection to the fires in Galicia”.

The fires were being fanned by wind gusts of up to 90 kilometers per hour as Hurricane Ophelia moved north off the coast of Spain towards Ireland, Zoido told private broadcaster La Sexta.

“We have not had a situation like this in the past decade. We have never deployed so many means at this time of the year,” he said.

Madrid Gives Catalan Leader until Thursday to Clarify Independence Declaration

Catalonia

Madrid lamented on Monday that the Catalan leader had failed to respond to its demand that he clarify if he had declared the northeastern region independent last week.

It has given Carles Puigdemont until Thursday to come up with a definitive “yes or no” answer as demanded by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last week shortly after the Catalan leader had told regional lawmakers last week he was ready for Catalonia to “become an independent state” following a secession referendum on October 1.

But he immediately said he was suspending proceedings to allow time for negotiations with Madrid.

Responding to an initial deadline set by the central government, Puigdemont sent a letter early Monday calling for talks with Rajoy “as soon as possible” amid Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Anything less than a full climb-down by Thursday’s 10:00 am (0800 GMT) deadline is likely to prompt moves by Madrid to impose direct control over the semi-autonomous region.

“The government regrets that the president of the Catalan government has decided not to respond to the request made by the government,” Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told a news conference.

“All we are asking for is clarity.”

In Monday’s letter addressed to the premier, Puigdemont wrote: “For the next two months, our main objective is to bring you to dialogue.”

In a written response, Rajoy said it was “absolutely necessary” that Catalonia clarify its position.

“I hope that in the hours that remain until the second deadline… you reply with all the clarity which citizens demand and the law requires,” Rajoy said, calling on the Catalan separatists to “return to legality”.

Puigdemont and some separatist allies want mediation with Madrid over the fate of the 7.5 million-strong region, an idea the central government says is a non-starter.

In his letter, he wrote that his “suspension of the political mandate given by the polls on October 1 demonstrates our firm will to find a solution and not confrontation.

“Our desire for dialogue is sincere, despite all that has happened,” he added.

He also called on Spanish authorities to halt “all repression” in Catalonia, referring to a police crackdown during the referendum that left hundreds injured.

Puigdemont said the Spanish government should also end its sedition case against two senior Catalan regional police force officers and the leaders of two pro-independence associations. All four, including Catalan police chief Josep Lluis Trapero and Jordi Sanchez, the head of the Catalan National Assembly, were due at a hearing Monday in Spain’s National Court in Madrid.

Officials are investigating the roles of the four in September 20-21 demonstrations in Barcelona. Spanish police arrested several Catalan officials and raided offices in a crackdown on referendum preparations.

The four were released after questioning October 6, but the court said they would be recalled once it reviewed new police evidence relating to the referendum.

Catalonia, an economic heavyweight that accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy, has its own language and distinct culture but is deeply divided over independence. Separatists argue the prosperous region is helping to prop Spain up, saying it pays more in taxes than it gets back and that a break from the rest of the country would allow it to prosper.

But the region itself is profoundly split on independence. Although separatists say 90 percent of people who voted on October 1 backed secession from Spain, turnout was just 43 percent as many unity supporters stayed home.

Puigdemont, a 54-year-old former journalist and father of two, is under intense pressure from Madrid and world leaders to back off.

But he is also being squeezed by his separatist allies to crack on with independence.

Rajoy said he is ready to invoke article 155 of Spain’s constitution, allowing him to retake full control of Catalonia — the so-called “nuclear option.”

Suggesting Puigdemont and his team remained in no mood to follow Rajoy’s game plan, Catalan interior chief Joaquim Forn said Article 155 did not allow Madrid to remove members of the Catalan government.

And Puigdemont’s separatist allies have threatened mass strikes and protests in the event of a climb-down.

European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker last week said Catalan independence would encourage other regions to follow suit, potentially making the European Union ungovernable.

Russia Dismantles ISIS Cell in Moscow, Makhachkala

Russia

Moscow- The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has uncovered a ‘sleeper cell’ linked to ISIS that was active both in Moscow and the North Caucasus region, the Russian National Anti-terrorist Committee said. Four members of the cell were detained.

In Makhachkala, the capital of Russia’s southern Republic of Dagestan, security forces also discovered two extremist hideouts, where they found three ready-to-use improvised explosive devices.

According to investigators, the members of the cell were plotting several potentially high-profile attacks in southern Russian regions, including explosions at public events as well as assaults on officials and the military.

“On October 13 and 14, four members of the so-called sleeping cell of ISIS organization (terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation) were detained by the FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow and Makhachkala, all of them are from Dagestan,” the statement issued by Russian National Anti-terrorist Committee said.

The statement added that the detainees are confessing and providing detailed information about their contacts with elements of the organization’s envoys, as well as the preparation of terrorist attacks using IEDs and knives in areas in Dagestan, where large crowds of people gather during large celebrations and social events.

Russian Security forces released video footage showing arrest operations and confessions of the detainees.

One of the videos showed security forces while they were arresting two terrorists in a car and confiscating cold weapons they had with them.

In another video, one of the detainees was shown confessing and admitting that he was planning to travel to one of Central Asia’s republics to buy weapons needed to carry out terrorist attacks and target security forces and headquarters in Dagestan.

Another detainee said that the IEDs they have made were stuffed with iron rollers, which terrorists usually do to maximize the number of injuries.

He explained that they were filled with a magnet to stick to the walls or metal screens, and he confirmed that the cell members had carried out the necessary tests before assembling the IEDs.

Notably, this is the second operation of its kind the Russian security forces have carried out within two weeks and ended up with thwarting the activity of terrorist sleeper cells in Moscow.

Russia’s FSB security service said on October 2 that it had detained members of what it said was ISIS sleeper cell in the Moscow region that had been planning to launch a series of high-profile attacks on the country’s transport system.

The FSB said in a statement on its website that the detentions had occurred on Sept. 30 and that the cell included Russian citizens from the North Caucasus region, who, it said, were committed to trying to set up a global Islamic caliphate and were directed by foreign militants.

It said the cell had been planning to set off explosives in crowded public places and target transport infrastructure.

The FSB said then that it had detained all of the cell’s members, but did not say how many people it had taken into custody. The question of opening criminal cases against them was being decided, it added.

Somalia’s Deadliest Bombing Kills more than 300

More than 300 people have been killed by a massive truck bomb that tore through a busy shopping district of Mogadishu, the government said Monday, making it the deadliest attack ever to hit Somalia.

The explosion occurred on Saturday afternoon at a junction in Hodan, a bustling commercial district which has many shops, hotels and businesses in the city’s northwest.

The devastation caused was widespread. Muhidin Ali, a Mogadishu resident who was close by at the time said it was, “the biggest blast I have ever witnessed, it destroyed the whole area.”

Desperate residents of the capital searched for news of missing relatives and friends after the monster explosion destroyed several nearby buildings, leaving victims burned beyond recognition.

“We have confirmed 300 people died in the blast. The death toll will still be higher because some people are still missing,” Abdikadir Abdirahman, the director of the city’s ambulance service, told Reuters on Monday.

But the country’s ministry of information confirmed that 276 people were killed in the blast and 300 wounded were admitted at the different hospitals in Mogadishu.

“There is still a national rescue operation” under way, the ministry said in a statement, adding that there would be “national mourning and prayers for the victims” in the coming days.

Police official Ibrahim Mohamed told AFP that many of the victims were “burned beyond recognition” in what he described as “the deadliest attack ever.”

The government statement said an emergency center had been set up in the capital for people to seek information abut their loved ones.

“It has been more than 24 hours now and we don’t have any traces or information about the sister of my friend, we can assume she is dead with her flesh somewhere amongst the horribly burned dead bodies,” said Abdulahi Nuradin, who was helping in the search.

“We went to several hospitals to seek any information but no to avail, the family is now 99 percent convinced she is dead, I saw so many severed pieces of human flesh at the hospitals, you cannot even look at them,” he added.

Some of those seriously injured in Saturday’s bombing were moved by ambulance to the airport on Monday morning to be flown to Turkey for further treatment, Aden Nur, a doctor at the city’s Madina hospital, said.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Shabaab, a militant group aligned with Al-Qaeda, carries out regular suicide bombings in Mogadishu in its bid to overthrow Somalia’s internationally-backed government.

Saturday’s blast, the worst in Somalia’s history, came six years after Shabaab militants were pushed out of Mogadishu by African Union and Somali troops.

While they were also pushed out of major towns across southern Somalia the militants still control rural areas and launch attacks on military, government and civilian targets in Somalia, as well as terrorist raids in neighboring Kenya.

Government: Philippine Troops Kill Southeast Asia’s ISIS Chief

The head of ISIS in Southeast Asia, who figures on the US “most wanted terrorists” list, has been killed in the battle to reclaim Philippines’ southern Marawi city, the country’s defense minister said Monday. 

Security analysts say Isnilon Hapilon has been a key figure in the terrorist group’s drive to establish a so-called “caliphate” as ISIS suffers battlefield defeats in Iraq and Syria.

Hapilon’s death came during a push to end the four-month siege of Marawi.

“(Our troops) were able to get Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute. They were both killed,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters, referring to another fighter who led the attack with Hapilon on Marawi in May.

“Their bodies have been recovered by our operating units.” 

The US government had offered a $5 million bounty for information leading to Hapilon’s arrest.

Lorenzana said Philippine ground forces mounting a final assault on the militants in Marawi killed Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, one of two brothers who lead a militant group allied to Hapilon, early Monday.

DNA tests will be carried out on the two bodies because of the reward offer from the US and Philippine governments, he added.

“The implication of this development is that the Marawi incident is almost over and we may announce the termination of hostilities in a couple of days,” Lorenzana said. 

“We were able to get a testimony from a hostage. She was able to confirm the presence of Isnilon and Maute in that particular building. That’s the building that we assaulted,” he added.

Pro-ISIS gunmen occupied parts of Marawi on May 23 following a foiled attempt by security forces to arrest Hapilon, authorities said. 

The Philippine military says Hapilon joined forces with the Maute group to plan the rampage. Since then more than 1,000 people have been killed and 400,000 residents displaced. 

Defense chiefs last month said other Philippine militant leaders had been killed in the battle for the southern city. 

Troops were still pursuing Malaysian militant leader Mahmud Ahmad in the Marawi battle zone, Lorenzana said on Monday. 

Hapilon is believed to have been involved in 2001 kidnappings of three Americans, two of whom were later killed. 

Advocates for Americans Held in Iran Worried by Trump’s Hard Line

London — Advocates for Americans imprisoned by Iranian authorities said on Friday they were concerned the Trump administration’s hard line on Iran would close off the chance for talks to secure the prisoners’ release.

In a major shift in US policy, President Donald Trump announced he would not certify that Iran is complying with a 2015 nuclear deal and warned that he might ultimately terminate the agreement.

The administration also designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the dominant player in the country’s security, economy and politics, as a terrorist group, a move one expert said would make the group less willing to negotiate over the prisoners.

Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who was detained by Iran for 18 months, said on Twitter that Trump’s Iran strategy “will only hurt American hostages being held in Iran,” Reuters reported.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. A State Department official said the United States calls for the “immediate release” of US citizens held “unjustly” in Iran.

The American citizens who have been detained in the last two years in Iran are seven and hold a US permanent residency.

In January 2016, the Obama administration secured the release of five Americans imprisoned in Iran by agreeing to a much-criticized prisoner swap after protracted direct talks with Iran.

Washington Works with Allies, Tehran Escalates its Mobilization

Iran

Washington, London – The US confirmed it would work with its allies on facing the Iranian destabilizing behavior, while the Republicans and Democrats in the Congress still bet on passing the new strategy of US President Donald Trump regarding Iran, especially the items related to the flaws listed in the Nuclear Deal.

After Trump proposed his new strategy on Iran, US State Secretary Rex Tillerson predicted Friday that European allies and the Middle East would be “very supportive” of the President’s new Iran strategy, despite their preference for the previous policy.

“To our friends and allies in Europe, I think we have a real opportunity to address all the threats that are posed by Iran. I think the plan the President’s laid out has been quite clear in terms of articulating those threats; that really, it’s in all of our interests to work together,” he said.

For his part, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that his first priority would be to talk with allies in the Middle East and elsewhere and assess views on Iran’s “misbehavior.”

Later, Iran responded on Trump’s new strategy.

Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, a Guard commander and spokesman for Iran’s joint armed forces staff, said late on Friday that his country is now “more determined and with more motive than before to develop and enhance its defensive power.

Meanwhile, the lawyers of Americans imprisoned by Iranian authorities said they were worried the Trump administration’s new strategy on Iran would obstruct the chance for talks to secure the prisoners’ release.

Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who was detained by Iran for 18 months, said on Twitter that Trump’s Iran strategy “will only hurt American hostages being held in Iran.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comments, but a State Department official said the US calls for the “immediate release” of its citizens held “unjustly” in Iran.

At Least 4 Dead in Ivory Coast Cargo Plane Crash

A cargo plane crashed Saturday into the Atlantic Ocean after taking off from Ivory Coast’s international airport in Abidjan, leaving at least four people dead.

Four Moldovan nationals were killed and two others were injured in the crash, the Ivorian security minister said.

Four French citizens also survived the crash but were injured, Sidiki Diakite told reporters at the scene of the
accident. Several Ivorian security sources said they were French soldiers.

The spokesman for French forces in Ivory Coast also said at least six people were injured.

The Antonov aircraft, which had been chartered by the French army as part of the anti-militant Operation Barkhane, was carrying French military cargo, the spokesman and a French military source said.

“We have six injured that we have evacuated to the Port-Bouet camp in Abidjan for treatment,” said the spokesman.

Ange Koutaye Ismael, a 19-year-old student, told The Associated Press he saw four bodies carried out of the airplane, which had been broken in two in the shallow waters.

Stormy weather likely played a role in the crash, he said.

“There was winds yesterday and I saw how planes seemed to have difficulties in getting up,” he added.

Hundreds of onlookers gathered at the beach as rescue workers ran to the scene. The tail and propellers of the plane were exposed.

Air traffic at the airport in the West African nation appeared to continue after the crash, according to the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.