ISIS, Al Qaeda, Houthi Rebels Compete in Yemen

Local Fighters Team with al-Qeada, Abyan Province, Yemen, Photo by Joe Sheffer

Local Fighters Team with al-Qeada, Abyan Province, Yemen, Photo by Joe Sheffer

YEMEN - ISIS has infiltrated Yemen, a country already flooded with terrorist groups. The Syria-based terror group, known for its extreme brutality and shockingly successful recruitment of outsiders, has gained a tentative foothold alongside the Al Qaeda forces already present.

Al Qaeda remains the dominant presence, but the competition for recruits and support may sway in favor of the more financially-appealing ISIS. This friction between the two groups can spell increased trouble for civilians in Yemen and elsewhere. In-country fighting and instability has escalated, as is evidenced by a gun battle between the two groups last month and White House analysts fear the competition will become a race to see who can hit US soil first and hardest. (Source: CNN)

Another key player in the Yemeni crisis is the Houthis, a rebel group demanding greater control of what they claim is a western-controlled government and protesting unequal distribution of resources. They belong to the Zaidi branch of Shia Islam, also known as Fivers, a sect of Islam almost exclusively present in Yemen. They are from the Shi'ite minority similar to the Twelvers found mainly in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran and are known for being most similar to Sunni Muslims in matters of religious law and rulings. They do however, believe in the concept of an Imamate as being essential to their religion, which makes them distinct from Sunnis. (Global Security.org, "Zaydi Islam”, by John Pike)

Pressure from Houthi fighters resulted in the resignation of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. His departure triggered thousands of Yemeni citizens to counter-protest the Houthi actions. (Source: BBC)

Yemen, although among the world's poorest countries, has strategic political and geographical importance. The terror activity poses a danger to the U.S., who is often the target for attacks. In addition, it is a gateway for foreign fighters to go to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, providing ample recruiting opportunities for ISIS and other terror groups. The U.S. government had found allies in Yemen officials and was working with their government to develop counter-terrorism methods. Now that the shaky government has been obliterated by rebels and terrorist groups compete for dominance and destruction, the future of Yemen is unclear.

Iranians Arrested after Celebratory World Cup Video

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Allyson Cartwright, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 16:42 p.m. DST, 09 July 2014

Ali karimi and Nakamura Shunsuke during their the World Cup 2006 qualifying match in Tehran, Photo by  MEVA_SLS

TEHRAN, Iran — For the second time in the past few months, Iran authorities have arrested those involved in making a celebratory music video. Last month, six individuals were arrested and since released for filming a music video to the Pharrell Williams song “Happy”.

This week, three individuals have been arresting for filming a music video entitled “Gole Iran” by the London-based Ajam Band in support of Iran’s World Cup football team. VICE News reports that those arrested are two 23-year-olds, who can be seen in the video, and a 26-year-old photographer.

Like in the video that the young Iranians made to “Happy”, Iranian authorities have issue with the women in the videos being shown not wearing headscarves. The official IRNA news agency of the state released a quote from police chief Colonel Rahmatollah Taheri, who called the World Cup music video “vulgar”, according to Associated Press.

For this reason, the World Cup video was also condemned by Iranian authorities because it is illegal for women without scarves to be in—and especially dance in—public. In this World Cup video, both men and women can be seen dancing and singing in various locations in Iran, including the city where the arrests were made, Sharoud. They are shown waving Iran’s flag and playing musical instruments.

Iran has been known to censor websites in the past, but with the arrests made from the highly-viewed “Happy” video and “Gole Iran” videos it appears that Iranian authorities are making examples of viral videos to Mahsa Alimardani, an Iranian-Canadian internet researcher, specializes in human rights criticized the arrests telling Mashable, "They're trying to make a point about the world cup festivities, and this is the only way they can scare people. It's really ridiculous."

The punishment of the makers of the video echoes sentiments of the country’s hardliners who are aiming to steer the country away from what they consider Western “decadence”. However, the country’s more moderate president Hassan Rouhani has sought for more cultural and social tolerance in Iran. Despite this, internet censorship apparently still has a presence as this is the second public arrest made over a harmless YouTube video.

There are thirteen credited individuals in the making of “Gole Iran”, including the seven members of Ajam Band, who wrote the song played in “Gole Iran”. Aside from the seven-member band, there are six that were responsible for the directing, editing, filming, and graphics, according to VICE News. The roles of the individuals arrested in making the video remains unknown. In the case of the “Happy” arrests, the detained parties included the dancers and the film’s director.

The video published days before the World Cup commenced garnered 30,000 views on YouTube and now has over 300,000 views. Agence France-Press said the video aired on satellite television in Iran, which is watched illegally by many of its people. Iran was eventually knocked out of the competition June 25 after impressively holding their own against semi-finalists Argentina. Amir Jahnashai, the founder of an Iranian opposition television channel in London tweeted, “The entire Iranian nation today supports our football team. Such solidarity should be present in all fields,” as was the message of “Gole Iran”.

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

Iran: Morality Laws Lead to Arrest of Dancing to “Happy” Celebrants

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Allyson Cartwright, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 00:52 p.m. DST, 22 May 2014

House Party, Iran, Photo by Beyond Borders Media

TEHRAN, Iran — Three men and three women were arrested in Tehran after posting a YouTube video of themselves dancing to Pharrell Williams’s hit song “Happy."

The video entitled “Happy in Tehran” was deemed obscene by the Tehran police chief, Hossein Sajedinia. The country, however, has rallied around the six young Iranians and is criticizing the government for being too socially restrictive.

Subsequently, five of the dancers in the video have been released, but the director is still being held in police custody, according to CNN.

The “Happy in Tehran” video depicts the Iranians dancing around different locations to the song “Happy”. Most notably, the three women were publicly unveiled—a punishable offense in Iran. It became a viral video in Iran and was shared all over social media. When it was posted in April, the video garnered more than 165, 000 views on YouTube before it was blocked.

After the attention that the video received, it also caught the attention of Tehran police who determined that making the video was criminal. Police Chief Sajedinia explained to the state-run Iranian Students' News Agency why the video creators had been detained, “After a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity was released in cyberspace, police decided to identify those involved in making that clip.”

Sajedinia decided to make an example out of the creators adding, “Our dear youths should try to avoid these kinds of people. Like actors, singers, and these kinds of problems. Try to avoid it.”

The police tricked the video creators into their arrest, a source told Iran Wire.  The sources said, “All of the young producers received phone calls informing them that a friend had suffered a car accident and required their help. When they arrived at the address they had been given over the phone, security forces were waiting to arrest them.”

After the arrest, The Huffington Post says a public interrogation was held on Iranian state TV. On Iranian TV, the video creators were identified as “actors” who were coerced into making the video for an audition and told that it would not be aired.

The Iranian regime that has been in power since the 1979 revolution enforces conservative, religious values that result in the limitations of internet publication. The “Happy in Tehran” video represents how social media has been used globally to rebel against this kind of hardliner authority. After the arrests of the creators, most people seemed to defend them. Other Iranians reposted the video adding “#FreeHappyIranians” in support of the detained.

Even the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, came to the defense of the creators. He tweeted today, in reference to the five creators’ release, a quote he made last year, “#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.” Reuters reports that Rouhani has been vocal about his opposition to harsh internet censorship saying in a speech from this weekend, “We ought to see (the Internet) as an opportunity.

We must recognize our citizens' right to connect to the World Wide Web.” Pharrell Williams, the singer of “Happy”, also spoke out in support of the six Iranians. The Grammy Award winner posted on his Facebook page, “It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.”

The video credits seem to suggest their intentions were just that harmless as it reads, “We have made this video as Pharrell Williams' Fans in 8 hours, with iPhone 5S. 'Happy' was an excuse to be happy. We enjoyed every second of making it. Hope it puts a smile on your face. © All Rights Reserved by Sol Production.” According to the video creators, the purpose of the video was to celebrate the UN's International Day of Happiness. Neda, one of the arrested dancers told Iran Wire, “We wanted to tell the world that the Iranian capital is full of lively young people and change the harsh and rough image that the world sees on the news.”

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

Women Seeking Safety Encounter Abuse in Syrian Refugee Camps

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Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 00:33 a.m. DST, 10 April 2014

Syria Bedouin Woman, Photo by Marc VeraartDAMASCUS, Syria – By every metric, the Syrian countryside is a war zone. Suburbs are subject to aerial attacks and corner stores have become foxhole retreats from city gunfights. The death toll now exceeds 150,000 lives. Massacres waged by Syrian troops and rebel forces alike continue to raise questions about the legitimacy of either side's agenda. All the while, ordinary people either defend their community or seek stability in a less contentious Syrian locale or border country.

Amidst the chaos, the international community places bets on either the Syrian Army or various rebel collectives. The United States, Russia and Iran make high-stakes wagers in the form of assault rifles, chemical weaponry and large-scale explosives. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are also seated around this international card table. Given the current political landscape and the violations of basic human rights by the establishment and the rebellion, global efforts to arm either side are a gamble indeed.

One thing is certain. With increased weaponry provisions, a commensurate level of unfathomable bloodletting has followed throughout major cities like Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Latakia. The widespread violence and continued threat of biological warfare has been a powerful impetus for Syrian migration to more stable nations. Over two million nationals have escaped the perimeter of their home country, while millions more try to cope in the crossfire. There, they face the reality of suicide bombers and large-scale attacks carried out by both factions.

Lebanon has been the principle destination for those people fleeing the ongoing turf war. To date, over one million Syrians have claimed refugee status in Lebanon, a staggering influx for a nation numbering less than five million before civil war broke in Syria three years ago. Thousands more seek safety in the Mediterranean nation every day. Lebanon has been a gracious host to Syrians seeking asylum, forgoing required permit fees upon entry and allowing their neighbors to live outside of designated treatment centers and refugee shelters.

Syrian migrants exercise this right, but not without adversity. Women are particularly affected by sexual abuse following their relocation. Human Rights Watch reports that female refugees are subject to improper advances and verbal abuse on a regular basis while living in their makeshift communities in Lebanon. Perpetrators range from employers to volunteers from religious institutions, according to HRW. The actual scope of abuses remains unknown, as many victims presumably have outstanding residency payments or have little faith in the criminal justice system. Assailants continue to act in the shadows of fear and silence.

For many of these women, leaving home meant a better life for themselves and their children. Rape is used in Syrian warfare as a tool of power and coercion against men, women and children indiscriminately. While President Bashar al-Assad and top leaders of various opposition forces have not openly condoned sexual assault of the enemy, the act is permissible and never punished internally. Externally, retaliatory rape is not uncommon. In a society where rape is taboo, victims are hushed and assaults go unreported. But anecdotal evidence confirms the disturbing and rampant nature of the mistreatment.

Journalist Lauren Wolfe directs The Women Under Siege project and discusses abuse against Syrian women in her feature Syria Has a Massive Rape Crisis. Wolfe cites a report from Ya Libnan news website in which a member of the Syrian Army was commanded to rape teenagers in late 2012. The girls were later slaughtered. Similarly, Wolfe describes a young rebel soldier who was arrested by Syrian forces. During his imprisonment, the man was forced to watch while Syrian security raped his fiancée, sisters, mother and other female acquaintances. Belligerents in both camps resort to these barbaric measures.

The mass-exodus of Syrians will continue so long as lawlessness persists. Massacres such as August's Ghouta chemical attack on civilians and the execution of 51 loyalist prisoners in July have only added fuel to vehicles of hate and violence. While the United States is heavily invested in the success of the rebellion, the White House now knows that many of these renegades are affiliated with al-Qaeda and other terror organizations. If history repeats itself, these weapons may be trained at their supplying nation in the future.

If the efforts of the States involved more non-lethal aid, certainly the people of the world would be grateful. The need for the increased protection of women is self-evident. When better mechanisms to report and convict perpetrators of sexual abuse are established in refugee camps, these facilities will truly be places of refuge.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom

Action Needed on Iranian Hostage Situation

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Jessamy Nichols, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified: 14:41 p.m. DST, 16 September 2013

Omid Dana, Iranian Dissident in danger of execution, Photo by Robert Reed Daly

CAMP ASHRAF, Iran - On 1 September 2013, Iraqi soldiers led by a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard entered Camp Ashraf in Iraq and proceeded to kill 52 members and take 7 hostage of the Iranian dissident movement, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI).

With ties growing stronger every day between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran, an attack on the unarmed residents of Ashraf appears to have only been a matter of time, as the other PMOI camp, Liberty, has already been targeted several times.

After eleven days of pressure, Iraq, a staunch ally of Iran’s government, finally admitted on September 12th to having the hostages in custody. Several human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have released statements urging action to be taken as the hostages are at risk of being sent back to Iran to face execution at the hands of the Revolutionary Guard.

Furthermore, the remaining residents in Camp Ashraf, many of whom were injured in the raid, are being moved to Camp Liberty, which further exacerbates the ongoing refugee situation there. This tense situation has the potential to explode into further violence if further action is not taken by the international community promptly. Otherwise, the Iranian and Iraqi governments may feel emboldened to continue these threatening actions.

This incident comes at a critical time in terms of the global agenda as President Obama has given the Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power the mandate to press forward on human rights, as well as Iran being on the agenda of next month’s UN General Assembly meeting. With attention shifting towards Iran in the midst of Syria’s chaos, Rouhani and his leaders should be pushed to explain the attack, ensure the release of the hostages, and assure freedom from persecution for opposition groups.

Follow Jessamy on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols

Oil for Silence Fuels Bahraini Torture Deaths

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:49 PM EDT, 23 May 2012

Bahraini Torture Victim, Photo by Nabeel RajabMANAMA, Bahrain — The call for democracy that began during Bahrain's Arab Spring has fomented into a full-scale revolution in response to the ruling Sunni monarchy's persistence in maintaining power by refusing to acquiesce to Bahraini citizens' demands for democratic elections.

External human rights groups have charged the monarchy with gross violations but lack sufficient access to the country to allow them to fully investigate. Internal investigations have confirmed that the Bahraini monarchy is guilty of gross human rights violations and have published their findings on several websites and papers found at the end of this post.

The latest victim of this dictatorial regime could be Yousef Mowali, 23, who was found dead of an apparent drowning earlier this week. However, Al Jazeera reported that autopsy results indicated evidence of torture, and if the allegations are proven true, then Mowali could be latest Bahraini to have died from torture while in the custody of Bahraini military police.

In testimony before the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), representatives of the monarchy continued to assert that all individuals in detention are being treated humanely as their cases progress through the justice system. They have also vociferously denied any culpability in the deaths of Mowali and others.

The ruling Sunni monarchy has politicized the human rights abuses occurring in their nation by claiming that the violence is the result of sectarianism instigated by the Shiite minority and covert Iranian operatives who seek to overthrow the monarchy.

According to the monarchy, the suppression of 'sporadic' violence in which some people may have sustained injuries is justified to maintain law and order and to protect the sovereignty of Bahrain.

Many countries in which martial law has been instituted under the guise of suppressing 'subversive elements,' find that once law and order is restored the military often refuses to relinquish power even after the crisis has passed.

In Bahrain the military could prove just as dangerous to the monarchy as they are to the protesters. This possibility is bolstered by images of wanton violence, destruction, and undisciplined behavior by a police force seemingly out of control.

The military in Bahrain has been responsible for the disappearance of hundreds of people, they have maimed, killed, and disappeared thousands more, and a growing number of women have been assaulted and raped by policemen.

Though human rights abuses have been substantiated through empirical evidence, it is the videotaped footage of police brutality that refutes the monarchy's claims of benevolence and a desire for sincere reform.

In late 1990 "some of the most egregious offenders included Ian Henderson, a former colonial officer employed in Bahrain who was accused by multiple witnesses of torturing prisoners. Adel Flaifel, a notorious security officer identified by many detainees as having overseen torture, both of whom were given immunity under Royal Decree 56 of 2002.

The torture described by many human rights reports was widespread and systematic. Up to 1866 who made up 64% of detainees reported being tortured during this time period by members from three government agencies, namely the Ministry of Interior, the National Security Agency, and the Bahrain Defence Force. (Source: Wikipedia)

Victims claimed that representatives from each of these agencies were actively involved in interrogating detainees in relation to the unrest leading up to Bahrain's Arab Spring uprising.

Though, as one commentator noted, these figures hail from a 'distant' past, the fact that allegations of torture and abuse persist nearly twenty years later signifies a pattern of systemic and despotic governance. These abuses which have occurred over a long period of time have only become more visible because of the uprising, and the legislative reforms ratified by the BICI look good on paper but do not seem to have translated into real change.

At the grassroots level people are still suffering abuse at the hands of those who are charged with protecting them, and like the civil rights movements which occurred in other countries like South Africa, United States, and India to name a few, it was because of the sustained will of the people that these governments eventually had to bring their governance inline with the human rights legislation codified in their constitutions.

Most troubling about Bahrain's 'Bloody Spring' is the fact that both the United States and the United Kingdom, two countries that present themselves as the enforcers of global justice and the arbiters of human rights abuses, have remained silent on this grave issue. In fact, both governments have recently announced their support of the Bahraini monarchy during official state visits apparently out of fear that a rift between the two nations could adversely impact national security interests and oil supplies.

For more in-depth coverage of this issue view the news reports below, and since a picture is worth a thousand words, the video footage of the brutal crackdown and its victims presents undeniable proof that the Bahraini monarchy is unwilling to entertain democracy and will not go 'gently into that good night.'

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias