U.S. counter-terrorism officials backed negotiations with two prominent jihadi clerics in a failed attempt to save the life of an American hostage who was later beheaded by Islamic State militants, the Guardian newspaper reported on Friday.
Citing emails, the Guardian said talks with the spiritual leaders of Islamic State, also known as ISIS, aimed at releasing hostage Peter Kassig began in mid-October and ran for several weeks with the knowledge of the FBI.
U.S. officials were not immediately available to comment on the newspaper report.
Islamic State militants beheaded Kassig, 26, in November. U.S. President Barack Obama said at the time that the killing was “an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity”.
The Guardian said the unsuccessful initiative to save Kassig, an aid worker, was the work of a New York lawyer, Stanley Cohen, who has represented Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and members of Hamas in U.S. courts.
Cohen persuaded senior clerics aligned with al Qaeda to intervene with ISIS on behalf of Kassig, the newspaper said. FBI staff confirmed that senior officials at its headquarters were kept abreast of Cohen’s actions, the Guardian said.
The bureau confirmed it would pay $24,000 of expenses incurred by Cohen, the newspaper said. An FBI spokesman cited by the newspaper said the bureau’s top priority was the safe return of U.S. citizens and that it rarely discussed the details of its efforts in public.
The Guardian said it had provided the Kassig family with the details of the negotiation effort before publication but that the family had declined to respond.
Eight children have been killed and a woman who was mother to seven of them was injured in the northern Australian city of Cairns, police said on Friday, in what several media outlets reported was a mass stabbing.
Australia is in a state of heightened alert after police stormed a Sydney cafe early on Tuesday to end a 16-hour hostage standoff in which three people were killed, including the hostage-taker.
Queensland state police said in a statement they were called to a house in the Cairns suburb of Manoora just before midday after reports of a woman with serious injuries on the premises.
They found the bodies of the children, aged between 18 months and 15 years, when they were examining the location.
Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar said police believed the woman was the mother of seven of the children.
“There is no formal suspect,” Asnicar told reporters.
“We are talking to a range of people. Anybody who has had any involvement in the past two or three days is a person of interest,” he said.The woman, aged 34, was receiving treatment for her injuries, police said, and was assisting them with their investigation.
Forensics officers have locked down the scene and there has been no formal identification of the children.
While unrelated to the mass stabbing in tropical Cairns, the Sydney siege has triggered an outpouring of grief, with shocked Australians laying thousands of bouquets of flowers at a makeshift shrine in a central city mall near the siege cafe.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott called the events in Cairns “heartbreaking” and acknowledged that these were “trying days” for Australia.
“All parents would feel a gut-wrenching sadness at what has happened. This is an unspeakable crime. Tonight, there will be tears and prayers across our country for these children,” he said in a media release.
“There is no need for the public to be concerned about this, other than it is a tragic, tragic event,” Asnicar said.
“The situation is well controlled at the moment and there shouldn’t be any concerns for anyone else,” he said.
Specialist officers were being sent from Brisbane, the state capital, to assist with the investigation, Asnicar said.
Media outlets reported that the neighborhood was predominantly inhabited by indigenous Aboriginal Australians, and was known by residents to have a high crime rate.
A Turkish court kept a media executive and three other people in custody on Friday pending trial on accusations of belonging to a terrorist group, in a case which President Tayyip Erdogan has defended as a response to “dirty operations” by his enemies.
Hidayet Karaca heads Samanyolu Television which is close to the president’s ally-turned foe Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric. Erdogan accuses Gulen of seeking to topple him through supporters in the judiciary and police.
The European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, has said last weekend’s police raids to detain Karaca and other media workers was contrary to European values but Erdogan told the bloc to mind its own business.
Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of the Gulen-linked Zaman newspaper, was released but forbidden from traveling abroad before trial. Seven more people whom prosecutors sought remanded in custody in the case were also released pending trial.
Erdogan and Gulen have been in open conflict since a corruption probe targeting Erdogan’s inner circle a year ago, which Erdogan blamed on Gulen. The cleric denies involvement.
The most hated man in Pakistan is a 36-year-old father of three and volleyball enthusiast nicknamed “Slim”.
His real name is Umar Mansoor and the Pakistani Taliban say he masterminded this week’s massacre of 132 children and nine staff at a school in Peshawar – the deadliest militant attack in Pakistan’s history.
A video posted on Thursday on a website used by the Taliban shows a man with a luxuriant chest-length beard, holding an admonishing finger aloft as he seeks to justify the Dec. 16 attack. The caption identified him as Umar Mansoor.
“If our women and children die as martyrs, your children will not escape,” he said. “We will fight against you in such a style that you attack us and we will take revenge on innocents.”
The Taliban say the attack, in which gunmen wearing suicide-bomb vests executed children, was retaliation for a military offensive carried out by the Pakistani army. They accuse the military of carrying out extrajudicial killings.
The accusation is not new. Many courts have heard cases where men disappeared from the custody of security services. Some bodies have been found later, hands bound behind the back and shot in the head, or dismembered and stuffed into sacks.
Some security officials say privately the courts are so corrupt and afraid, it is almost impossible to convict militants.
“You risk your life to catch terrorists and the courts always release them,” said one official. “If you kill them then they don’t come back.”
The country is so inured to violence that the discovery of such bodies barely rates a paragraph in a local newspaper. Despite this, the school attack shocked a nation where traditionally, women and children are protected, even in war.
Six Pakistani Taliban interviewed by Reuters confirmed the mastermind was Mansoor. Four of them said he is close to Mullah Fazlullah, the embattled leader of the fractious group who ordered assassins to kill schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai.
“He strictly follows the principles of jihad,” one said. “He is strict in principles, but very kind to his juniors. He is popular among the juniors because of his bravery and boldness.”
Mansoor got a high school education in the capital, Islamabad, two Taliban members said, and later studied in a madrassa, a religious school.
“Umar Mansoor had a tough mind from a very young age, he was always in fights with other boys,” said one Taliban member.
Mansoor has two brothers and spent some time working in the city of Karachi as a laborer before joining the Taliban soon after it was formed, in late 2007, said one commander.
His nickname is “nary,” a word in the Pashto language meaning “slim”, and he is the father of two daughters and a son, said another commanders.
“(Mansoor) likes to play volleyball,” said one of the Taliban members. “He is a good volleyball player. Wherever he shifts his office, he puts a volleyball net up.”
The Taliban video describes him as the “amir”, or leader, of Peshawar and nearby Darra Adam Khel. Mansoor deeply opposes talks with the government, the commanders said.
“He was very strict from the start when he joined,” a commander said. “He left many commanders behind if they had a soft corner (of their heart) for the government.”
Winter in Ukraine is injecting further uncertainty into an already volatile conflict. After well over 5,000 deaths and eight months of war, eastern Ukraine – particularly the separatist-held parts of Donetsk and Luhansk – now runs the risk of a humanitarian crisis. All parties involved in the conflict should refrain from offensive operations, concentrating instead on helping the population survive the winter, and laying the groundwork for a political settlement.
With the onset of the cold, many people living in the east will find themselves without access to food, heating or medication. The separatists will be unable to do much to help, having created little in the way of a functioning government and having few competent administrators. In its latest report, Eastern Ukraine: A Dangerous Winter, the International Crisis Group examines the thinking and capacity of the separatist leadership and their relationship with Moscow, and proposes short-term recommendations to stabilise the security situation and build confidence on all sides.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
The EU, U.S. and all others involved in the peace process should call on the separatists, the Ukrainian and Russian governments to foreswear any offensive military actions over the winter. All actors involved should move urgently to demilitarise the conflict by substantially increasing monitors on the ground, both to separate the forces and closely observe the Ukrainian-Russian border. They should also urge separatist and Ukrainian leaders back to the negotiating table.
On its part, Russia should spell out the exact nature of its political relationship with the separatist areas of the east, in particularly clarifying what it has long hinted at – that it has no plans to recognise their independence. Moscow should propose negotiations with Kyiv to resupply Crimea by land during the winter if needed and offer wholehearted support for a significant increase in the number of monitors on the ground in south east Ukraine.
Ukraine should facilitate the delivery of emergency humanitarian assistance, if needed, to the separatist-held areas, and consult with the international community on ways to lessen the impact for non-combatants in Donetsk and Luhansk of presidential decree 875/2014, which declares illegal any bodies established by the separatists on the basis of their 2 November elections.
“Both Kyiv and the separatists are under pressure from their war lobbies, and the near-term risk of further hostilities is high’s mandate”, says Isabelle Arradon, Deputy Chief Policy Officer and Director of Research. “The separatists’ improvised and rudimentary administrative structures are totally unequipped to handle any major humanitarian crisis should one happen”.
“There is an urgent need to halt the conflict, separate the troops, deploy substantially larger numbers of international monitors across the warzone and the Russian-Ukrainian border, as well as take immediate steps to assist civilians on both sides”, says Paul Quinn Judge, Europe and Central Asia Program Director. “The winter should be used to achieve the first steps toward a political settlement”.