Italian police on Friday arrested 18 people in what5 they called a “vast” operation against a group allegedly inspired by the Al Qaeda and planning an attack on the Vatican.
All those arrested were Pakistanis and Afghans, police said.
The group was based on the island of Sardinia and was plotting attacks against the Pakistan government and US forces in Afghanistan, according to police.
Most of the arrests were made in Sardinia but the operation covered seven Italian provinces, police said.
Some of the those arrested are alleged to be responsible for terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including an attack in 2009 on a market in the northwest frontier city of Peshawar that killed more than 100 people, according to the police.
Those arrested were plotting an attack against the Vatican, police said citing wiretap evidence.
A Pakistani citizen arrived in Italy in 2010 with the alleged intention of carrying out a suicide bombing for the group, investigators said.
The suspect was immediately identified by Italy’s anti-terrorism DIGOS police branch but the cell managed to get him out of the country as police searched for him, according to investigators.
The Vatican was aware of an alleged terrorist plot against it in 2010 (during the papacy of Benedict XVI) but had not learned of any subsequent threats, its spokesman Federico Lombardi said on Friday.
Following the report, the Pakistan foreign office said that its embassy in Rome was in contact with the Italian government to get details regarding the arrest of the suspected terrorists.
In a statement issued on its Twitter page, Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam said that the embassy was also inquiring about the nationalities of the terrorists.
New York — With journalists often facing a choice of life in exile or prison, and with even reporters for state-run outlets in fear of arrest, Eritrea secures its place as the most censored country in the world, with secretive North Korea coming in close second, according to a list of the 10 Most Censored countries released by the Committee to Protect Journalists today.The eight other countries on the list are Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Iran, China, Myanmar, and Cuba.
The 10 Most Censored Countries report is excerpted from CPJ’s annual publication, Attacks on the Press, which will be released in full on Monday, April 27, at 11 a.m. EST at a press conference in the United Nations headquarters in New York.
“Technology has enabled the spread of information as never before, but old-fashioned censorship is alive and well in the countries highlighted on this list of shame,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.
“Much has been made of the new, more subtle forms of censorship and information control, but let us not forget that the brutal methods of jailing dissidents, blocking outside information, and restricting access by international correspondents are still widely practiced and extremely effective.”
Eritrea and North Korea are leading examples. The Internet is largely unavailable in both countries and international correspondents are severely restricted. Despite the recent opening of diplomatic relations with the United States, the Internet remains largely unavailable in Cuba, which was featured in 10th place on the list.
Twenty-three journalists are in prison in Eritrea, Africa’s leading jailer of journalists. Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Iran, China, and Myanmar-all featured on the list-regularly jail reporters in reprisal for critical writing.
Azerbaijan, with at least eight journalists behind bars, is the most closed country in Europe. Despite this record, the country will host the upcoming European Games, scheduled to take place in the capital, Baku, in June.
This is CPJ’s third list of the world’s most censored countries.
Previous lists were released in 2006 and 2012. CPJ’s staff considers a number of factors in compiling the list, ranging from restrictions on the Internet to the number of journalists in jail. The list is intended to highlight the repressive policies of governments, and thus does not include countries around the world where the primary threat to the media comes from non-state actors, such as criminal and militant groups.
To stem the tide of Eritrean asylum seekers heading for Italy, policymakers need to ensure the country is really on a path from dictatorship to nascent democracy
Abinet spent six years completing her national service in one of Eritrea’s ministries, but when she joined a banned Pentecostal church, she was arrested, interrogated, threatened, released and then shadowed in a clumsy attempt to identify other congregants. She arranged to be smuggled out of the country in 2013 and is now in a graduate programme in human rights in Oslo.
Many Eritreans are feared to have drowned in Sunday’s shipwreck in the Mediterranean, from which the death toll could reach 950, with more migrant vessels reported in distress on Monday – the weekend’s incident has caused EU ministers to hold emergency talks on the growing migration crisis.
The reason most Eritreans cite for leaving is conscription for national service of indefinite duration, with pay so low their parents have to subsidise them.
There were other reasons I heard during the hundreds of interviews I conducted over the past year with Eritrean refugees in North America, Europe, Israel, Africaand Central America.
Refugees cited unrelenting abuse and humiliation, constant threat of imprisonment or torture for offending someone in authority, often without even realising how they had done this, or for abetting someone else’s escape or practising a banned religious faith.
The EU and a number of its member states are responding to this crisis by offering aid to Eritrea with the aim of reinvigorating its stagnant economy based on unofficial assurances that national service will be scaled back in the future. But they are missing an essential point: the crushing repression of Eritrea’s citizens, especially its youth, is as much a driver of the outflow of people as the lack of economic prospects. Nor are they separate, as the economy is almost completely dominated by the state and ruling party. Money alone will not change this.
However, despite the country’s belligerent behaviour in the region and its egregious human rights record, which have long left it isolated, there is an opportunity for engagement given that prominent regime officials have indicated a willingness to reform.
But if the EU and individual states jump too rashly and simply throw money at Eritrea, they risk entrenching the very practices that lie behind much of the exodus, while doing precious little to stem it.
Eritrea is dominated by its self-appointed president, Isaias Afwerki. He has surrounded himself with weak institutions, and there is no viable successor. Although the three branches of government – cabinet, national assembly and high court – provide a facade of institutional governance, real power is exercised through informal networks that shift and change at the president’s discretion. Theassembly has not met in a decade, and there is no published national budget. Every important decision is made in secret.
Under these circumstances, taking private pledges of reform at face value is a risky proposition. As a minimum, a date for an end to the practice of indefinite national service should be announced, along with a plan for a rolling demobilisation of those who have already served longer than the 18 months designated when the programme was set up in the 1990s.
Making this public would make it difficult – not impossible, but harder – for the government to renege on a promise it is quietly making to visiting delegations but not telling its own conscripts. Given President Afwerki’s unbending resistance to such moves in the past, there is reason to be sceptical. Such an announcement would be likely to slow the migration rate of those in military service, and preparing to be called up for it, but more is needed to stem the flow.
When I’ve asked refugees, especially recent arrivals, what it would take to get them to go back, there are two things they mention right away: the release of political prisoners, including those jailed for their religious convictions, and the implementation of the constitution, which was ratified in 1997 but has sat on a shelf in the president’s office ever since. It is deeply flawed and needs revision, but it would be a start.
Many also talk about the need for basic freedoms – of press, of speech, of movement, of religion – but the rule of law tops the list, as everyone wants to know what the rules are and that those in power have to play by them, too. Without this, few are likely to take promises of reform seriously.
Those policymakers in other countries inclined to re-engage with this regime and offer aid need to use this opportunity to demand hard evidence that change is coming and that it’s more than cosmetic.
There are more steps needed to ensure that Eritrea is really on a path from dictatorship to some form of nascent democracy with increased transparency in state affairs, reform of the deeply flawed judicial and penal system, and the nurturing of a political culture in which stable political institutions can take root.
Eritrea also needs a structured process of truth and reconciliation to give people back their history and start a process of healing on which this once promising new nation can build a future. And there has to be movement toward normalising relations with its neighbours, including Ethiopia. But one step at a time.
One thing is certain: if the wrong steps are taken at the outset – or false hope is raised and no steps taken – what little hope still flickers within the younger generation inside Eritrea will be further dimmed, more will flee, and it will be much, much harder to convince any of them to go back soon.
• Dan Connell is a visiting researcher at the Boston University African Studies Centre, who has been writing about Eritrea for nearly 40 years
Dear Eritrean brothers and sisters, The Eritrean community in Washington DC is planning to hold a candlelight vigil to remember Eritrean, Ethiopian and other victims of the latest boat accidents in the Mediterranean Sea and those who were murdered by Libyan terrorists. The vigil will take place on Sunday, May 3rd, 2015 at Thomas Jefferson Memorial park. The program will start at 6pm. This is not the time for people of good conscience to remain indifferent but a trying time that’s calling us to show our humanity. Please join us to mourn the lives of hundreds of young men, women and children we have just lost. Please mark your calendar and try to put this event at the top of your priorities for that day. We would also appreciate if you can spread the word as much as you can.
European leaders are scrambling to find a way of stemming the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean after a large spike in deaths drew public condemnation.
The most eye-catching of the draft proposals being discussed is the push for a military mandate to destroy boats used by people traffickers before they set out to sea.
The idea has the backing of Italy’s Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti, who told Italian TV: “The plans for military intervention are there.”
But would military action really work – and if not, what would?
Boats are “cheap and plentiful” and easily replaced, he added.
And while we do not know what form a direct attack on the vessels might take, Mr Northwood, a former captain in the UK’s Royal Navy, said this approach could result in unwanted loss of life.
Hans Lucht, writer and senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, points out that a mandate from the EU – possibly also the UN – would be needed for any military activity.
The authorities in Libya have admitted to the BBC that they rarely stop traffickers, as the collapse of central government and the rise of Islamic State militants leave the country in chaos.
It may be a challenge to get some counties, especially Russia, to go along with a new intervention in the country, Mr Lucht says.
And destroying the boats would not necessary stop the trafficking.
“We know little about the smugglers. They don’t have a main office that you can walk into and arrest everybody,” says Mr Lucht.
“Reports show that criminal activity and traffic in illicit goods – not just human beings but also drugs, weapons and smuggled goods – have become widespread and have strong local and ethnic ties.
“You can’t just expect to hit one or two smuggling operations and then the whole thing goes away.”
Send them back
Earlier this week, Australian PM Tony Abbott urged Europe to follow his country’s lead, saying: “The only way you can stop the deaths is, in fact, to stop the boats.”
Australia detains all asylum seekers who arrive by boat, holding them in offshore processing camps.
Military vessels also intercept migrant boats, towing them back to the country they came from or sending asylum seekers back in inflatable dinghies or lifeboats.
The EU’s proposals suggest considering “options for an emergency relocation mechanism” and a “programme for rapid return”.
Australia’s approach has been hailed by some European politicians, but criticised by rights groups and the UN.
Paul Barrett, a former secretary of Australia’s defence department, told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that returning vessels to Libya was very different from turning them back to countries such as Indonesia.
“If you turn around boats that are fleeing from Libya and send them straight back to Libya you’re injecting them straight back into the danger that they’ve fled,” he said.
Any operation would be obliged to observe the international legal principle of “non-refoulement” – meaning that people fleeing conflict or persecution are not sent back to a life-threatening place.
Meanwhile Gerry Northwood said his experience in Somalia showed that migrants were so not easily deterred, with the same people attempting a crossing a “third, forth, or fifth time around”.
Boost naval patrols
He said the main lesson from the Atalanta anti-piracy operation is the need for co-operation between countries, as well as with the commercial shipping sector.
Other proposals being debated in Brussels include significantly boosting the EU’s maritime patrol to help rescue migrants – something aid agencies have long been calling for.
Some EU countries have argued that such operations encourage more people to attempt the perilous journey.
But Mr Norwood said he backed the increase. “There is value in these patrols in terms of maintaining law and order on the high seas,” he said.
The only real solution to the problem, however, is to improve conditions ashore, while ensuring the criminal networks “do not have any targets”, he added.
For pirates off the Somali coast, this means protecting vulnerable ships. But in the Mediterranean it means working to stop the flow of migrants.
Let them in
The EU’s plans include supporting UN efforts to help form a stable government in Libya, and much emphasis has been put on the need to improve conditions in the countries the migrants come from.
The majority of migrants who arrived by sea in 2014 came from Syria, where a brutal civil war has raged for more than four years.
In 2013 Sweden announced that Syrians seeking asylum there would be granted permanent residency.
And the deaths of more than 800 people in the Mediterranean on Sunday has only served to highlight calls for countries to let more migrants in.
“The root cause of people getting on rickety boats or paying smugglers in the first place is that they have been legally barred from travelling by any other means,” says John Lee from the action group Open Borders.
“If EU countries let these people buy a plane ticket in the first place, you wouldn’t have the sort of deadly chaos we’re seeing now in the Mediterranean.”
European leaders facing economic pressures and concerns over immigration in their own countries are unlikely to transform their policies on this issue.
But Mr Lee argues that the problem will therefore remain.
“Ultimately if you prevent broad swathes of people from living in societies governed by safe and sane rule of law, simply because they weren’t lucky enough to be born into those societies, you are going to see civil disobedience to this arbitrary exclusion.”
Tens of thousands of Ethiopians have attended a rally in the capital, Addis Ababa, condemning the murders of Ethiopians by Islamic State militants.
More than 20 migrant workers – most thought to be Ethiopian Christians – were killed by the Libyan branch of IS.
It released videos on Sunday of some of the men being beheaded and others shot.
Ethiopia’s prime minister warned the protesters about the dangers of illegal immigration and described the killings as “Satanic”.
IS and other jihadist groups are active in many towns in Libya, which has been torn by civil conflict since last year – and has been unstable since long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.
“This week’s cruel act which was committed against our citizens in Libya not only gives a glimpse into terrorism, but also shows the Satanic acts and objectives of those who committed the act,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told the mass rally in Addis Ababa’s Meskel Square.
He also urged unity in the fight against what he called “home-grown extremism” in Ethiopia, and said those who chose to an illegal route to migrate risked falling prey to human traffickers.
“It is clear to everyone that our fellow citizens all have the right to live and work in any part of the world. But the illegal migration that leads to unnecessary suffering and death carried out by illegal human traffickers must stop.”
However, later the government-condoned protest broke into scuffles with some parts of the crowd throwing stones, chanting anti-government slogans and clashing with police.
Police fired rounds of tear gas at some towards the end of the demonstration, the AFP news agency reports.
The rally comes a month before Ethiopia holds parliamentary elections, the first since the death in 2012 of long-time leader Meles Zenawi.
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