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Saturday, March 14, 2015

‘Terror owl’ captured after year-long attacks

A bird dubbed the “terror owl” has been captured in a Dutch city after it attacked more than 50 people, Sky News reported Saturday.
The animal, which was attacking residents in the north Amsterdam city of Purmerend over the past year, was captured by citizens.
“The animal was trapped by a falconer,” Purmerend city council said in a statement.
“It’s in good health and is currently being kept in a temporary facility awaiting a transfer once a proper permanent home has been found.”
The owl has injured many residents and caused authorities to advise citizens to use umbrellas to protect themselves.
Some of the attacks left victims needing hospital treatment, with two runners needing stitches for head injuries inflicted in a swooping aerial assault on Tuesday.
Mario Hegger, a city council member, expressed mixed feelings toward the capture.
“On the one hand, you would of course rather leave such a magnificent beast alone,” Hegger said.
“But on the other hand, the situation could not continue. We had to do something,” he said.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Islamic State (IS) has accepted a pledge of allegiance from Nigeria's militant group Boko Haram- BBC

In the tape, which has not been verified, an IS spokesman says the aim of establishing a caliphate has now been expanded to West Africa.
Last week, Boko Haram posted a message saying it wanted to join ranks with IS.
Boko Haram began a military campaign to impose Islamist rule in northern Nigeria in 2009.
The conflict has since spread to neighbouring states.
Growing influence In the tape, a man - who describes himself as IS spokesman Mohammed al-Adnani - says: "We announce to you to the good news of the expansion of the caliphate to West Africa because the caliph... has accepted the allegiance of our brothers of the Sunni group for preaching and the jihad."
The spokesman also urges Muslims to join militants in West Africa, rejecting suggestions that Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition have recently had a series of victories against IS in Iraq and Syria.
The audio tape has not been independently verified.
IS aims to establish a caliphate, a state ruled by a single political and religious leader according to Islamic law, or Sharia.
Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is known to his followers as Caliph Ibrahim.
In the audio message posted on Saturday, the Boko Haram leader purportedly said: "We announce our allegiance to the caliph... and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity.
"We call on Muslims everywhere to pledge allegiance to the caliph."
IS has forged links with other militant groups across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
In November, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi accepted pledges of allegiance from jihadists in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
IS seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria last year. It still controls the key Iraqi cities of Tikrit and Mosul, despite a major ongoing Iraqi offensive on Tikrit.
IS jihadists have attracted condemnation worldwide for its brutal tactics - including mass killings and the beheadings of soldiers and journalists.
Boko Haram at a glance
Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create an Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria - has also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Abducted hundreds, including at least 200 schoolgirls
  • Controls several north-eastern towns
  • Launched attacks on neighbouring states

Bihar Govt. presented the revenue surplus budget

A day after proving majority in the Bihar Assembly with comfortable margin, the Nitish Kumar government on Thursday presented the revenue surplus budget expenditure of Rs. 1,20 685.32 crore for the year 2015-16 with no new or extra taxes imposed on the people of the state.
In the budget presented by the State finance minister Bijendra Yadav the Non Plan Expenditure for 2015-16 is estimated at Rs. 63,259.59 crore, which is Rs. 4028.55 crore more than last year and State Plan Outlay is estimated at Rs. 57137.62 crore, which is Rs. 254.82 crore less than Rs 57392.44 crore for the year 2014- 15. The Centrally Plan Scheme (CPS) for the financial year 2015-16, however, is estimated at Rs. 288.11 crore.
“If revenue receipt is more than revenue expenditure the surplus amount is called revenue surplus. For the year 2015-16 revenue surplus is Rs. 11980.95 crore which is 2.63 per cent of GSDP, estimated as Rs 4,55,451 crore for the year 2015-16”, said the State Finance Minister.
This revenue surplus will be used for investment in physical infrastructure generating productive capital assets like roads, buildings, power, schools, health centres, irrigation schemes etc., he added further. However, for the year 2015-16 the estimated Fiscal Deficit is Rs 13584.46 crore, which is 2.98 percent of GSDP Rs 455451 crore.
The minister further said that Bihar is one of those States which have taken its fiscal responsibility seriously and implemented the FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Managament) Act in letter and spirit.
Meanwhile, the Opposition BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi termed the budget as depressing for the people of the State. “Contrary to the high expectation from the new government of Nitish Kumar there is no new development plan declared in the budget. It is a depressing budget”, said Mr. Modi.
The Hindu

Iran’s role of victory in Tikrit

By U.S. Army General Dempsey’s admission, Iran's proxy Shiite militias make the overwhelming majority of the forces fighting ISIS in the Iraqi town of Tikrit. Out of roughly 25,000 fighters, 20,000 of those, said Dempsey, are from militias funded and trained by Iran, thus highlighting Tehran’s rising influence and dominance in neighboring Iraq.
Tikrit, the birthplace of Saladin the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty in the 12th century and of Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein, is witnessing another chapter in its history unfold. Shiite militias with the Popular Mobilization Forces (Hashd Shaabi) along with one Brigade from the Iraqi forces and a 1000-Sunni-tribal force are poised to push militants from ISIS out of the town it had captured last June.

Iran’s moment

Ever since ISIS took over Mosul declaring its Caliphate last summer, Iran’s role and influence has transformed in Iraq. Its “Dark Night” IRGC General Qassem Suleimani is no longer in the shadows, but posing in battlefront photos assuring fighters from Shiite militias against ISIS, sipping tea, and embracing the elderly in Iraq. Qassem Suleimani’s visibility brings home Iran’s new message: its role and influence in Iraq will no longer be concealed and its ambitious agenda in Sunni and U.S. areas alike is a reality for everyone to reckon with.
Washington’s hands are tied politically and militarily in countering Iranian influence in Iraq
Joyce Karam
While the invasion in 2003 and the shortsighted policies by the U.S. disbanding the Iraqi army and propping up the sectarian rule of Nouri al-Maliki, opened the door for Iranian meddling and militia-building in Iraq, ISIS has invited a more aggressive role for Iran along the Euphrates.
“Iran has taken full advantage of the collapse of the Iraqi army in Mosul” says Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and author of a policy paper on Shiite Jihad. The rise of ISIS as an existential threat to Shiites whom it considers heretics and apostates, drove many in that community to carry arms and defend themselves while the Iraqi state continued to crumble. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s Fatwa last summer “to defend the country, its people, the honor of its citizens, and its sacred places” was exploited to set the stage for the formation of the Popular Mobilization Forces, made up of disciplined Shiite recruits and a much smaller component of Sunni tribal and Kurdish forces.
Smyth sees Iranian influence in funding, training and equipping Shiite militias at an all time high. He estimates the number of Shiite militia fighters in Iraq today between 70,000 100,000, a volume that “is both astounding and strategic to the way that Iran has constructed them.” The expert sees Iran as player whose influence is only rising in Iraq, “they run ministries in Iraq today with their own security apparatus.” This new dynamic was front and center in appointing Mohammad Ghabban from the Iranian funded militia Badr as the new Iraqi interior minister.

U.S. concerned but constrained

In his hearing yesterday, Dempsey voiced concern over the role of Shiite militias in Tikrit battle and in Iraq at large. The U.S. army general told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “We are all concerned about what happens after the drums stop beating and ISIS is defeated, and whether the government of Iraq will remain on a path to provide an inclusive government for all of the various groups within it.”
Statements of concern and policy reviews aside, Washington’s hands are tied politically and militarily in countering Iranian influence in Iraq. Smyth explains that the U.S. by eying a “light military footprint in Iraq has set limits on its influence, and has little say of how and who should fight ISIS on the ground.” While the Obama administration is pursuing a parallel structure of Sunni trained “ National Guard” force to take on ISIS, neither the Iraqi government nor these tribes who have visited Washington recently promise a fast execution of such plan anytime soon.
The U.S. increasingly finds its hands tied in Iraq, blindsided by an Iranian-Iraqi offensive in Tikrit and a lame duck government in Baghdad. In this context, the Tikrit battle will “greatly impede U.S. strategy” says Smyth in potentially alienating more Sunnis, and blocking a political path for an inclusive plan to fight ISIS. It was the political marginalization of Sunni Iraqis after all from the beginning of the Iraqi war in 2003 till today that set the stage for the notorious al-Qaeda affiliated groups and then ISIS. Absent of a strategy that addresses this Sunni marginalization and the political malignancy in Iraq, the ISIS phenomenon will unlikely disappear.
For now, Iran’s “Shadow Commander” Suleimani will relish in victorious moments in Tikrit and beyond, only few miles from where his former arch-foe Saddam Hussein is buried and with him the old order of Iraq.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

MSC OSCAR - Biggest Cargo Ship of the World

MSC Oscar

Able to hold 19,224 standard 20ft-long containers, the Oscar is the world's biggest carrier ship, in terms of volume. Built by Daewoo in South Korea at a cost of $140m (£93m) and named after the eight-year-old son of Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) president and chief executive Diego Aponte, she is 395.4m (1,297ft) long - a few metres greater than the height of New York's Empire State building, if the antenna on top is not taken into account.

ISIS Syria-Iraq supply line destroyed- AFP

Forces fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have cut critical communication and supply lines used by the extremists between Syria and Iraq after a two-week operation, AFP quoted the U.S.-led coalition as saying late Tuesday.
Backed by air strikes, the forces “overcame ISIL [ISIS] resistance” in northeastern Syria near the strategic town of Tal Hamis – once an ISIS stronghold – and “denied the terrorist group its freedom of maneuver in the area,” the Combined Joint Task Force said in a statement.
During the operation, which ended Saturday, ISIS lost access to primary travel routes it has previously used to move personnel and materials into Iraq.
“Anti-ISIL forces were able to seize critical portions of route 47 in Syria, a key ISIL communications and supply line leading into Iraq,” it added, noting that 94 villages were freed from the clutches of the extremists.
The coalition said “multiple” ISIS weapons systems, vehicles and fighting positions were also destroyed.
“This operation demonstrated the ability of anti-ISIL forces to further degrade Daesh influence in this region,” Combined Joint Task Force commander Lt. Gen. James Terry said in a statement, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS, which commands vast areas of Iraq and Syria.
“The determination of these anti-ISIL forces and our precision air strikes enabled us to deny Daesh this key terrain in Syria.”
Kurdish forces seized Tal Hamis on Feb. 27 with the help of Arab fighters, but fighting then continued in the area.