President Trump's Special Envoy to Syria Joel Rayburn reportedly met Monday in Istanbul with a delegation that included a high-ranking pro-Turkish Syrian rebel leader who endorsed al-Qaida-linked rebels.
A photo posted by the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Force, known by the Arabic acronym ETILAF, shows the group's former president, Anas al-Abdeh, attending the meeting. Al-Abdeh is not named in the post, but he appears in the upper left corner of the photo.
"They are all in the same trench," Al-Abdeh said in 2016 about the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the al-Qaida-linked Al Nusra Front. "We cannot differentiate between fighters ..."
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment about al-Abdeh's presence at the meeting.
This week's Istanbul gathering focused on developments in Syria's Idlib province, a statement on ETILAF's website said. This meeting otherwise went unreported.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the successor organization to al-Qaida's former Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, currently controls Idlib.
Al-Abdeh opposed the ultimately successful effort by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to cleanse ISIS from its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa due to his alignment with the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The Obama administration spent $500 million training and equipping Syrian rebels linked with the FSA, but only succeeded in training four or five fighters before President Trump ended the program.
FSA forces formed a major portion of Turkey's invasion force in the Kurdish-dominated Afrin region in northwestern Syria. Since the FSA took control, an extremist interpretation of sharia has been implemented, Yazidis have been forcibly converted to Islam, and some ethnic cleansing already has taken place, Afrin native and current Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) Executive Director Ilham Ahmed said earlier this month during a visit to Washington. The SDC is the civilian political arm of the SDF.
The FSA has been closely linked with Turkey's security services since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. Its operations are closely linked with Turkey, which has used it as a proxy against the Kurds.
ETILAF announced in December that FSA militias will participate in an anticipated Turkish invasion of SDF-controlled northeastern Syria and effort to create a Turkish-controlled "safe zone" along the Syrian-Turkish border. HTS leader Abu Muhammad al-Joulani also has endorsed participating in the Turkish offensive.
Turkey says it will not attend a U.S.-sponsored summit set to be chaired by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today because it's "anti-Iran." This United States and Poland set up the meeting to organize allies against Iranian influence.
Sixty countries, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are attending, Hürriyet Daily News reported. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will attend. Qatar also is noticeably absent.
"Turkey's political participation that targets one country is out of the question," said a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson. "Our embassy in Warsaw will follow it."
When the issue is Israel, Turkey lacks such apprehension. Following President Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Turkey called on the Organization for Islamic Cooperation to convene an extraordinary summit to confront the decision.
While posturing as an American NATO ally in the Middle East, Turkey increasingly has become cozier with U.S. adversaries like Iran. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced new Trump administration sanctions against Iran as "imperial" and told U.S. officials it would not implement them. Turkey gets an estimated 200,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran at full at full capacity, as well as a fifth of its gas imports.
"We buy oil from Iran and we purchase it in proper conditions. What is the other option?" Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu asked last June.
A federal court in New York convicted Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla last May of participating in a scheme to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran. Atilla and others conspired to give the Iranian government and associated entities access to restricted oil revenues through U.S. and international financial networks. The conspirators lied to U.S. Treasury officials about Turkish state-owned Halkbank's involvement in actions to help evade U.S. sanctions. Documents fraudulently disguised prohibited transactions with Iran as humanitarian in nature.
Co-defendant Reza Zarrab claimed that these transactions could not have taken place without Erdogan's approval, a hushed 2013 probe by Turkish prosecutors found. Turkish prosecutors found evidence that suggested that Erdogan received kickbacks from the transactions. Tehran received at least $13 billion in 2012 and 2013 alone due to this scheme.
President Trump granted Turkey a waiver from U.S. sanctions in November.
Turkey's cooperation with Iran isn't limited to economics. Both countries oppose the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).
Iran and Turkey have vowed to work together following the U.S. pullout from Syria.
This pattern reiterates that Turkey's alliance with the U.S. only exists on paper.
Maybe Ilhan Omar had a point – it is all about the Benjamins baby.
As the freshman U.S. representative was called out by her own Democratic Party leadership for anti-Semitic tweets implying Jewish money controls the Congress she now sits in, ideological allies took to social media encouraging people to donate to Omar's 2020 campaign.
They linked to a fundraising page hosted by Act Blue, a self described "nonprofit, building fundraising technology for the left."
Zahra Billoo, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) San Francisco chapter, said she made a donation to Omar's re-election campaign Monday and urged followers to do the same. "Tweets to support her are important," Billoo wrote, "but let's also ensure she can keep on doing the important work she's doing."
Billoo has a well documented blind hate toward the Jewish state, comparing its soldiers to ISIS terrorists, and she has no qualms saying it has no right to exist. She was joined by fellow CAIR chapter director and rabid Israel hater Hussam Ayloush, and American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee policy director Abed Ayoub, who said Omar "is speaking the truth."
This came after Omar issued a statement "unequivocally" apologizing, but without ever specifically acknowledging her statements implying that Jewish money is the reason for U.S. support for Israel. "Anti-Semitism is real," she wrote, "and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole."
She never says she did anything hurtful.
Minnesota's 5th Congressional District is skewed heavily in favor of Democratic voters. So Omar is unlikely to lose her seat anytime soon absent redistricting that makes it more competitive.
Meanwhile, the Middle East Forum's Sam Westrop reports that Omar is set to speak Feb. 23 at a fundraiser for Islamic Relief USA. It is a part of Islamic Relief Worldwide, which allegedly has ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Israel and Bangladesh accuse the organization of helping finance radical groups.
Omar will appear with Islamic Relief USA operations manager Yousef Abdallah, who the Middle East Forum found had expressed violently anti-Semitic ideas on his social-media accounts.
One example Westrop cites indicates he and Omar may share similar ideas. Responding to then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's 2014 apology for describing the "occupied" West Bank and Gaza, Abdallah wrote: "Christie kneels down on his knees before the Jewish lords and says 'I am sorry.' Only money makes stuff like this happen. Mr. Christie. Muslims should remember this very well."
All about the Benjamins.
If her apology is sincere, Omar should reconsider appearing with Abdallah. And she should refund donations motivated by what her own party's leaders admit was clear anti-Semitism.
Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations recently threatened to ramp up violent protests on the Israel-Gaza border to force more Israeli concessions, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reports.
A Hamas source, cited in the al-Akhbar daily on Feb. 1, threatened to re-start the terrorist group's arson terrorism campaign, including incendiary kites and balloons. Other threats included dispatching "night harassment groups" and initiating new terror tactics.
Another senior Hamas official Musheir al-Masri said the "return marches" were increasing in severity and that "non-violent" means, including arson terrorist campaigns, would be reignited if Israel failed to comply with Hamas demands. A member of Hamas' Supreme National Authority threatened that demonstrators could launch new terrorist initiatives, while a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) official cited Palestinian "inventions" for confronting Israel. Similar threats were issued by Maher Muzhir, a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
The Meir Amit assessment suggests that Hamas "continues to preserve restraint" on the Israel-Gaza border amid ongoing discussions with Egyptian and United Nations representatives.
Hamas officials also threatened to attack Israelis in direct operations on the border, including infiltrations into Israel.
Palestinian terrorist groups have relied on these methods to attack Israelis and cause significant economic damage. Sporadic incendiary kites and balloons continue to land on Israeli territory. During the past year, these devices sparked destructive fires that burned thousands of acres of crops and natural forest area. Containing the fires is a major strain on Israel's resources and significantly disrupts civilians' lives.
The border violence and most recent threats are meant to coerce Israel into adhering to Hamas' demands, including open border crossings and financial transfers.
The vast majority of Palestinians killed in response to weekly violent protests on the Israel-Gaza border are affiliated with Hamas and other terrorist groups.
Since the end of March, when the "return marches" started, 187 Palestinians were killed – including 150 (80 percent) members or affiliates of terrorist organizations. About half of those killed are either associated with Hamas or are full-blown members. Hamas military wing operatives represent almost a quarter of the total fatalities.
The latest threats prove that Palestinian terrorist organizations, led by Hamas, are the driving forces behind organized violent attacks against Israel – hiding under the guise of peaceful and popular protests.
Turkish prosecution documents show that the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was up to its eyeballs supporting ISIS, a new report by the London-based Investigative Journal has found.
Wiretaps show that Turkey's intelligence agency, known by its Turkish acronym MIT, actively conspired to bus ISIS and al-Qaida jihadists across Turkish territory to Syria. It wasn't simply a case of the MIT looking the other way. The jihadis were bused to Syria on buses owned by the MIT, former Today's Zaman editor Abdullah Bozkurt, who wrote the report, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). At least 15,000 ISIS fighters entered Syria this way, he wrote. Turkish authorities knew but did nothing to stop it.
Ankara ordered police not to intercept ISIS jihadists crossing Turkish territory, former Turkish National Police counterterrorism official Ahmet Yayla told the IPT. Yayla oversaw a sector in southern Turkey near the Syrian border until 2015.
Georgetown University adjunct professor Anne Speckhard has interviewed 118 ISIS prisoners and defectors during the past three years. Some told her that Turkish intelligence knew of their activities and did not try to stop them.
One ISIS jihadist claimed that Turkey provided ISIS with drones and munitions to be used against the Kurds. He also claimed that Turkish hospitals treated ISIS fighters during the 2014-15 battle for Kobane. Wiretaps show that the company responsible for helping ISIS fighters receive treatment were linked to the Turkish government, Bozkurt said.
Evidence also suggests that Turkey's ruling party used ISIS for cynical political reasons.
The European Union's official intelligence body, EU INTCEN, reportedly suggested that an October 2015 ISIS suicide bombing that killed 109 people at a peace rally in Ankara was ordered by Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Victims were protesting against violence between the Turkish government and Kurdish rebels belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Dozens of intelligence reports had warned of a possible ISIS attack in Turkey, including one by the Turkish National Police Anti-Terror Department. It said a special ISIS team was being trained in Syria and that there were plans to target a large meeting in Turkey for a suicide attack. This report was not transmitted to authorities who could have stopped the attack, Bozkurt reported. Instead, security around the protest area was drastically reduced.
The bloodshed strengthened Erdogan's hand politically, Bozkurt said, pointing to the AKP's securing a parliamentary majority in elections the next month. Two other ISIS bombings took place around that time, and in each case, "All operatives were known to security" but were not intercepted.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed Wednesday that Iran and its terrorist proxy Hizballah will exploit the political and economic chaos in Venezuela to preserve their reach throughout South America.
"People don't recognize that Hizballah has active cells – the Iranians are impacting the people of Venezuela and throughout South America," Pompeo said in an interview with FOX Business, adding, "we have an obligation to take down that risk for America."
Instability continues to grow in Venezuela as competing factions vie for power in the socialist country. Following President Trump's lead, several major western countries last month recognized Venezuela's national assembly president Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate president.
Under the reign of former President Hugo Chavez, Iran exploited friendly ties with Venezuela to establish terrorist networks throughout region. Iranian and Hizballah operatives have cultivated and consolidated operating bases in South America, especially in the tri-border area (TBA) of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. With a large Muslim population featuring significant numbers of Hizballah sympathizers, the terrorist organization uses this area for recruitment, arms smuggling and drug trafficking, and logistics planning for terrorist operations.
A year ago, the Trump administration levied sanctions against Venezuela's then-vice president Tareck El Aissami after an extensive Treasury Department investigation identified him as a key figure in the global narcotics trade with ties to Iran.
That month, CNN received a 2013 secret intelligence document from several Latin American countries highlighting serious links between El Aissami and 173 Venezuelan identification cards and passports issued to people from the Middle East, including Hizballah-affiliated personnel.
Hizballah also relies on legitimate businesses and front organizations in the region, diversifying its terrorist financing profile to generate a significant portion of its revenues from its Latin American operations. With Venezuelan help, the terrorist group continues to expand its presence and consolidate support in other Latin American countries. Hizballah even registered as a political party in a Peruvian region characterized as having that nation's largest Muslim population.
Yet Hizballah's regional operations are not confined to South America. In 2011, Virginia prosecutors said that a Lebanese man helped the Mexican Los Zetas drug cartel smuggle of more than 100 tons of Colombian cocaine. The U.S. Treasury Department claimed that Hizballah benefitted financially from the criminal network.
The nexus between Iranian-backed operatives – including Hizballah – and Mexican drug cartels allows terrorists to earn big money to fuel their violent operations. These ties also help Hizballah to make inroads into the United States through its porous border with Mexico.
Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar dodged a question about her comments concerning Israel Tuesday morning during a discussion about religious freedom at the Center for American Progress (CAP).
Just last week, Omar said hearing Israel described as a democracy made her "almost chuckle," then comparing it to Iran's theocratic dictatorship.
She also compared Israel to the Jim Crow-era South, saying: "The American Jewish establishment claims Israel is a democracy for all its citizens. But the nation state law classifies 1.6 million Palestinian Israelis as second class."
Arabs comprise more than one-fifth of Israel's population of nearly 9 million people. They hold 18 seats in Israel's parliament, the Knesset. An Israeli-Arab has sat on the country's supreme court and a growing number serve in the nation's army.
CAP Executive Vice President Winnie Stachelberg tried to set the table for Omar, noting the new congresswoman had acknowledged that her some of her comments "had inadvertently echoed stereotypes against Jews." Omar rambled a bit in response, ultimately saying, "I, I think, am at a breaking point where we're starting to have a conversation about what it means to be of people that harbor hate and the kind of journey we can all be on in fighting against discrimination collectively while still having the freedom to debate foreign policy and not only think about how we engage our allies but also how we criticize and hold them accountable."
Omar did not take questions from reporters.
After criticizing the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement as "not helpful in getting that two-state solution" during her campaign, Omar endorsed it after her election. BDS is seen as anti-Semitic because it singles out the world's only Jewish state and seeks to isolate Israel politically, economically and culturally.
She also attempted to deflect criticism by talking about attending at a service at a Minnesota synagogue after October's murder of 11 people inside a Pittsburgh synagogue.
"We cannot stand up to one kind of hate while inflaming hate against a religion or nationality," Omar said.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) transferred over $135 million to imprisoned terrorists in 2018, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reports.
Based on open-source information and the PA's own budget, PMW broke down PA terror payments into various categories. More than $62 million was sent to terrorists while they were in jail, while almost $48 million was paid to released prisoners. Roughly $26 million was used to pay for other terrorist-related salaries and additional benefits.
PA security personnel jailed for terrorism charges continue to receive higher salaries from a different budget than other prisoners, which underestimates the overall figure of payments transferred to jailed terrorists.
Payments are a function of the severity of the attack and prison sentence. The more brutal the attack or murder, the more money a Palestinian prisoner receives. Prisoners with previous arrests receive more money as well.
These figures do not include other forms of PA support to Palestinian terrorists, such as salaries to the families of "martyrs" of dead terrorists.
Israel's Knesset passed legislation last July to impose structured sanctions targeting the PA for on its financial incentives program, which promotes violence against Israelis. The PMW report was sent to Israel's Ministry of Defense to help the government with their annual assessment of the PA's terror payments.
Last year, senior Palestinian officials, including PA President Mahmoud Abbas, issued defiant assurances that they will not end payments to terrorists and their families.
Qadri Abu Bakr, who directs the Palestine Liberation Organization's Commission of Prisoners' Affairs "emphasized that the leadership ... will continue to support the resolve of the prisoners and their families and will not succumb to the Israeli and American pressures calling to stop the Martyrs' (Shahids) and prisoners' salaries (rawatib) and allowances (mukhassasat)."
"By Allah, even if we have only a penny left it will only be spent on the families of the Martyrs and the prisoners, and only afterwards will it be spent on the rest of the people," Abbas said on official PA TV last July, adding that "martyrs and prisoners" are "stars in the sky" and that these terrorists "have priority in everything."
These statements reaffirm that the PA places more emphasis on taking care of Palestinians convicted of attacking Israelis than other sectors of Palestinian society. In fact, terrorists and their families receive far higher payments than welfare recipients.
Despite international pressure to halt this practice, roughly half of the foreign aid that the PA receives is allocated for payments to terrorist inmates and the "families of martyrs."
The vast majority of Palestinians killed in response to weekly violent protests on the Israel-Gaza border are affiliated with Hamas and other terrorist groups, reports the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.
Since the end of March, when the "return marches" started, 187 Palestinians were killed – including 150 (80%) members or affiliates of terrorist organizations. About half of those killed are either associated with Hamas or are full-blown members. Hamas military wing operatives represent almost a quarter of the total fatalities.
In May, Hamas senior official Salah Bardawil claimed that Hamas members represented half of the total deaths and boasted that of 62 people killed on May 14, 50 were Hamas members. Hamas political chief Yayha Sinwar claimed more than 60 Hamas deaths on that day.
Over the last year, Hamas orchestrated several attacks at the border and encouraged Palestinians to infiltrate into Israel. Other rioters threw pipe bombs at the fence and deployed Molotov kites, sparking fires in Israeli fields near the border. Some terrorists engaged in shooting attacks and planted improvised explosive devices.
Any attempts to portray the riots as "peaceful protests" defy the evidence and Hamas's own leadership.
Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahhar acknowledged that the Gaza demonstrations were "not peaceful resistance" and Hamas's efforts at the border are "bolstered by a military force and by security agencies."
"This is a clear terminological deception [i.e. "peaceful resistance"]. When you are in possession of weapons that were able to withstand the occupation in the wars of 2006, 2008, 2012, and 2014... This is not peaceful resistance... so when we talk about 'peaceful resistance,' we are deceiving the public," Al-Zahhar said in a May 13 interview.
The updated statistics reaffirm that violent demonstrations on Israel's southern border are not the product of spontaneous and popular uprising by Palestinian civilians. The protests are primarily planned and executed by Hamas, with assistance from other terror groups including Fatah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
For example, six members of Fatah's military wing and 33 Fatah affiliates were killed since the protests began.
The data is largely collected from information released by Gaza's Health Ministry. The list of fatalities is then corroborated by several websites and social networks, primarily based in the Gaza Strip.
Click here to read the full Meir Amit report.
Correction: The NAACP was not listed among march sponsors when this was published. It since has returned.
But in recent weeks, a slew of prominent liberal groups has – mostly quietly – withdrawn their support for the national Women's March. The third march is scheduled for Saturday.
It apparently will take place without support from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Emily's List and the National Organization for Women (NOW).
March leaders have struggled to put accusations of anti-Semitism behind them since February, when Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan gave a speech calling Jews "powerful" and "Satanic" and saying they "are my enemy." March co-president Tamika Mallory, who has called Farrakhan the "greatest of all time," was present for the speech.
She has refused to condemn Farrakhan's anti-Semitism and homophobia, most recently during an appearance Monday on "The View." The most Mallory would say is she does not use the kind of rhetoric Farrakhan espouses, but "I called him the greatest of all time because of what he's done in black communities."
Activist Tali Goldsheft has been comparing this year's list of "partners" on the Women's March website to previous years, finding a decrease from more than 500 organizations to about 200 today. She noticed the DNC's name missing from the list Tuesday morning. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood are the most prominent sponsors still listed.
In addition to the Farrakhan connection, a Tablet investigation published Dec. 10 cited former March officials recounting anti-Semitic diatribes from Mallory and board member Carmen Perez arguing that "Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people," including the slave trade. March co-President Bob Bland denied the accusation on "The View."
But former March spokeswoman Mercy Morganfield told the Tablet that the March was plagued with ideological and fiscal problems: "I told them over and over again: It's fine to be religious, but there is no place for religion in its radical forms inside of a national women's movement with so many types of women. It spoke to their inexperience and inability to hold this at a national stage. That is judgment, and you can't teach judgment."
The March's other board member, meanwhile, is Islamist activist Linda Sarsour. A strident foe of Israel, Sarsour embraces conservative and extreme Islamist clerics and in 2017 said she said she was "honored" to share a stage with Rasmieh Odeh, a terrorist whose 1969 Jerusalem grocery store bombing left two college students dead.
In September, Sarsour claimed a police training program in Israel organized by the Anti-Defamation League directly leads to police "killing unarmed black people across the country." Sarsour spoke at Farrakhan's 20th anniversary Million Man March in 2015, saying that black liberation and Palestinian liberation are "bound up."
A petition Goldsheft launched calling on the March leaders to step down has attracted more than 8,500 signatures.