Internet filtering in the Middle East and North Africa

The Open Net initiative just released it’s 2008-2009 report on filtering trends across the Middle East and North Africa. Overall, there has been an increase in filtering practices since 2007, and further measures to monitor Internet activities, particularly in Internet cafés, have been introduced. Additionally, countries that have been filtering political content continue to add more Web sites to their political blacklists. Many Arab countries have begun blocking explicit and morally objectionable content in the Arabic language that was previously accessible. While many regimes are transparent about social filtering, most continue to disguise political filtering practices by attempting to confuse users with different error messages.

Bahrain, Iran, Syria and Tunisia have the strictest political filtering practices in the region. The majority of ONI-tested countries heavily filtering social content are in the Middle East and North Africa and consist of Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Yemen.

More here.

ACLU asks U.N. to investigate case of disappeared Spanish citizen

Human rights groups today asked two U.N. Special Rapporteurs and the U.N. Working Group on Involuntary or Enforced Disappearances to investigate the case of Mustafa Setmariam Nassar, a Spanish citizen who was forcibly disappeared almost four years ago. According to media reports, Nassar, an influential Islamic theorist, was apprehended by Pakistani officials and handed over to U.S. officials in October 2005 and has not been heard from since, although in June Reprieve said it was likely that Nassar was in Syria. Reprieve also says Nassar was held at Diego Garcia.

All info here.

Italy expels Palestinian hijacker to Syria

A lawyer says Italian authorities are set to expel to Syria one of the Palestinians who hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship and killed an American passenger in 1985. Attorney Gianfranco Pagano said Youssef Magied al-Molqui was about to be flown from Palermo, Sicily, to Rome and then on to Damascus last Saturday.In April, Al-Molqui was transferred to a holding center for immigrants in Sicily after spending 23 years in prison.

Al-Molqui was a member of the four-man team that hijacked the Achille Lauro off the Egyptian coast. He was convicted of shooting Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jewish man from New York, and ordering him to be dumped in the sea while in his wheelchair.

Mustafa Setmariam Nasar found in secret detention site in Syria

Human rights attorney Clive Stafford-Smith told Reuters that Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, also known as Abu Musab al-Suri, a senior al Qaeda ideologue wanted in Spain for possible links to 2004 bombings has been found in detention in Syria, in the first firm indication of his whereabouts following his capture in Pakistan in 2005.

Nasar’s arrest was never officially confirmed by the Pakistani government, but Pakistani intelligence officials told Reuters in 2006 that he was caught in the southwest city of Quetta on Oct. 31, 2005, after a gunbattle.  A senior intelligence source said at the time that he was handed over to the Americans in March 2006 after repeated demands by the United States.

Stafford-Smith said Nasar appeared to have been under effective U.S. control in a secret system of detention and transfers before surfacing in Syria, which is listed by Washington as a state sponsor of terrorism.Washington has not confirmed Nasar has been in U.S. custody. U.S. officials contacted on Wednesday declined to comment.

UK secret service accused over arrest of two Britons in Syria

Maryam Kallis, 36, from west London, and Yasser Ahmed, 28, from Woking, Surrey, were arrested eight weeks ago on consecutive days in Damascus by Arab plainclothes officers. Lord Ahmed, a Labour life peer who is representing the families, said to The Guardian he had been told last week by a senior official at the Syrian Embassy in London that other British agencies – and not the Foreign Office – had been involved in the detention.Yasser Ahmed’s father, Ahmad Zahur Qureshi, said he had been told by a ­reliable source who had spoken to Syrian diplomats that the arrests had been “British-driven” and related to “terrorism allegations”.

Both Mrs Kallis and Mr Ahmed have been denied access to lawyers and are understood to have been moved between a number of Syrian jails. The foreign secretary, David Miliband, raised the case with Syrian ministers last Friday, asking for them to be released or charged.

British embassy staff have only visited the pair twice in nearly 60 days, the last time being almost three weeks ago for 15 minutes. They told Mrs Kallis’s family that she had been “very emotional” and looked frail and tired, while Mr Ahmed was “under strain”.

US Country reports on Terrorism 2008

U.S. law requires the Secretary of State to provide Congress, by April 30 of each year, a full and complete report on terrorism with regard to those countries and groups meeting criteria set forth in the legislation. This annual report is entitled Country Reports on Terrorism. Read the full report here.

The state department singled out Iran as the “most active state sponsor of terrorism” in the world. Syria, Sudan and Cuba were also mentioned as terrorism sponsors.North Korea was dropped from the blacklist in October 2008 after it struck a verbal deal with the United States aimed at verifying its nuclear disarmament, even though a formal agreement was never sealed.

“Iran’s involvement in the planning and financial support of terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia had a direct impact on international efforts to promote peace, threatened economic stability in the Gulf, and undermined the growth of democracy,” it said.

It singled out the Qods Force, an elite branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as the Islamic republic’s main means to cultivate and support terrorists overseas.

The Qods Force gave “weapons, training and funding” to Hamas and other Palestinian anti-Israeli groups, Lebanon’s Shiite Muslim fundamentalist Hezbollah as well as Iraq-based militants and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, the report said.

The US said communist Cuba, which has been under a US embargo for decades, continued to be “provide safe haven to several terrorists” such as members of the Basque separatist group ETA and the Colombian rebel group FARC.

“Al-Qaeda remained the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners,” even though its structures have weakened and public support has waned, the report said.

And it warned that Al-Qaeda “has reconstituted some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities” by using the lawless Pakistan border areas, replacing key leaders, and restoring some “central control” by its top leadership.

The report said that since the September 11 attacks, Al-Qaeda (AQ) and its allies have moved from Afghanistan into Pakistan where they have built “a safe haven to hide, train terrorists, communicate with followers, plot attacks, and send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan.”Counter-terrorism experts released figures showing attacks in Pakistan had more than doubled from 890 in 2007 to 1,839 last year, with the number killed rising from 1,340 people to 2,293 in the same period.

The Report and Related Material

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Strategic Assessment

Chapter 2. Country Reports: Africa Overview

Chapter 2. Country Reports: East Asia and Pacific Overview

Chapter 2. Country Reports: Europe and Eurasia Overview

Chapter 2. Country Reports: Middle East and North Africa Overview

Chapter 2. Country Reports: South and Central Asia Overview

Chapter 2. Country Reports: Western Hemisphere Overview

Chapter 3: State Sponsors of Terrorism

Chapter 4: The Global Challenge of WMD Terrorism

Chapter 5: Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report) — 5.1. Terrorist Safe Havens/Strategies, Tactics, Tools for Disrupting or Eliminating Safe Havens

Chapter 5. Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report) — 5.1.a. International Conventions and Protocols Matrix

Chapter 5: Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report) — 5.2. Support for Pakistan

Chapter 5. Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report) — 5.3. Collaboration with Saudi Arabia

Chapter 5. Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report) — 5.4. Combating Violent Extremism

Chapter 5. Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report) — 5.5. Outreach Through Broadcast Media

Chapter 5. Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report) — 5.6. Visas for Participants in U.S. Government Programs

Chapter 5. Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report) — 5.7. Economic Reform

Chapter 5. Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report) — 5.8 Basic Education in Muslim Countries

Chapter 6. Terrorist Organizations

Chapter 7. Legislative Requirements and Key Terms

National Counterterrorism Center: Annex of Statistical Information

PDF Version

HRW urges Syria to reveal fate of 17 Held Incommunicado

According to HRW, the security services detained 13 men during an August crackdown on individuals from the northeastern district of Deir al-Zawr suspected of having ties to Islamists. Another group, detained in September, was of Syrian Kurds from the towns of Qamishli and `Ifrin suspected of belonging to an armed group called the Movement to Liberate Kurdistan (Haraket Tahrir Kurdistan). The body of one of those detained in Deir al-Zawr, Muhammad Amin al-Shawa, 43, was returned to his family on January 10, 2009, but they were allowed to see only his face before he was buried. Three Syrian human rights activists told Human Rights Watch that they believe that al-Shawa died under torture.

“Syrian authorities should order an investigation into the death of Muhammad al-Shawa and hold those responsible accountable,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities also should reveal the fate of the other detainees and immediately free them or charge them.”

A relative of one of the detainees from Deir al-Zawr said that Syrian security services freed three of the men but kept the other 10 in detention. The authorities have not disclosed where the men are being held, why they were arrested or whether they will be charged and put on trial.