By Golly, The Bison Are Back

By Golly, The Bison Are Back

ARMENIS — Much to the delight of the residents of Armenis, a small village in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, 17 bison were released into a local acclimation enclosure Saturday. The operation, carried out by the WWF and Rewilding Europe, is part of an international effort to restore the emblematic animal in the region, more than 250 years after it went extinct.

The European bison, also known as wisents, were transported from Sweden, Germany, Italy and Belgium to their new home — 15 hectares of wild forests and mountains that should satisfy all their bison-needs. In October, when the animals are hopefully perfectly acclimated to their new wild lives, another 160-hectare rewilding area will open up to them.

The foundations hope the herd will grow to 500 heads by 2025. WWF-Romania said that locally-hired people have already been trained as bison rangers and bison guides.

Visitors may also have a chance to observe the herbivores during their acclimation. A bison conservation center is set to offer more insight on the animal and the local region, where bison have played a large part in the cultural heritage. In Romania, they appear on coats-of-arms, in legends, books, historical sites — and even on beer labels.

The Armenis bison rewilding operation is the largest in European history. It is part of a continent-wide movement aiming to reintroduce faunal assemblages in Europe, as well as reignite local communities and economies.

Photo: Neil McIntosh

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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