SAUDI ANNOUNCES ANTI-TERROR COALITION
Saudi Arabia announced today that it is leading a military coalition of Arab countries against Islamic terrorism, the Saudi Press Agency reports. Other alliance countries include Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and Gulf Arab and African states. A joint statement said that a joint operations center would be based in Riyadh to coordinate military engagement. Reuters notes that Saudi Arabiaâ€™s arch Shia rival Iran, against which it is engaged in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen, is absent from the list of participants.
KERRY IN MOSCOW FOR SYRIA TALKS
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Moscow today with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in preparation for Fridayâ€™s meeting of world powers in New York, where they will discuss the war in Syria, Reuters reports. Kerry is also set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later today.
- Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a warning from the Pentagon yesterday: â€œISIS leaders cannot hide, and our message to them is simple: You are next.â€ Read more from USA Today.
â€œThere has been a complete and utter protection failure,â€ The Guardian quoted Doctors Without Borders official Pete Buth as saying today of the UNâ€™s mission in war-torn South Sudan. â€œCivilians talk about the most horrendous incidents of sexual violence, and Iâ€™m sure weâ€™re only seeing the tip of the iceberg,â€ he added. The civil war in South Sudan, now entering its third year, has displaced 2.2 million people inside and outside the country and left 4.6 million people hungry.
YEMEN CEASEFIRE BEGINS TODAY
A week-long ceasefire between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition took effect in Yemen this morning, coinciding with UN-brokered talks in Switzerland between the warring sides, Al Jazeera reports. But fighting went on shortly before the ceasefire started early this morning. Warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrikes in the southwestern city of Taiz as Houthis attempted to advance towards the loyalist-held northern neighborhood of al-Zonooj. According to the BBC, the coalition backing the government says it reserves the right to respond to any breach.
Photo: Daniel Reinhardt/DPA/ZUMA
Employees at a car junkyard in Hamburg, Germany, have piled up dozens of wrecked cars to create an impressive, if not particularly merry, Christmas tree.
PARIS TEACHER FAKED ATTACK
A French kindergarten teacherâ€™s claim yesterday that he was stabbed in the throat early in the morning in his class by a man claiming to support ISIS turned out to be completely false. The man was indeed injured, but he admitted to French police that he invented the terrorist attack story. Le Monde reports that the teacher was due to undergo a National Education examination later that week, and had called in sick several times on previous occasions.
- Meanwhile, Le Parisien reports that French authorities arrested two people this morning who may have supplied weapons that were used in the attacks on a kosher store outside of Paris in January.
- French television network iTELE also reported that another man, this time linked to last monthâ€™s attacks in Paris, was also arrested this morning. He was reportedly planning to travel to Syria.
The European Commission pledged yesterday to provide Greece with 80 million euros to help house asylum seekers through rent subsidies and family programs, a statement says. â€œToday we stand in solidarity with Greece and with children, women and men seeking refuge in Europe,â€ European Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva said in the statement.
- Meanwhile, the European Commission is also set to launch new, controversial plans for an EU Border and Coast Guard force in an attempt to curb a record number of refugees, the BBC reports. The force would be given a stronger mandate than the current Frontex border team. Several countries such as Poland have opposed these new plans, claiming they would violate national sovereignty.
MY GRAND-PÈREâ€™S WORLD
Once again in France, voters of traditional parties, left and right, combined their votes in Sundayâ€™s elections to withstand a thriving far-right party, ultimately denying any side a true victory. â€œIn the wake of the second round, these symmetrical ebbs and flows, the seemingly predictable reflexes, might seem reassuring, as if the old electoral clockwork of the past 30 years was still functioning â€" for better or worse. As if the National Frontâ€™s time was bound never to arrive,â€ Le Monde writes in an editorial. â€œAnd yet, the results are in fact as worrying as they were after the first round. Now we see more clearly just how broken our democratic machinery is, even as we may be lulled again to not feel the urgency to repair it before it disintegrates completely.â€
Read the full article, Have No Illusions, Franceâ€™s Far Right Is Still A Huge Threat
ON THIS DAY
Sitting Bull, the Tower of Pisa and John Paul Getty III â€" all in todayâ€™s 57-second shot of history.
A NEW FLAG FOR NEW ZEALAND?
New Zealand has confirmed the winning design for what could become the countryâ€™s new flag. A March vote will determine whether the black, white and blue silver fern will replace the current Union Jack-inspired symbol.
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.
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.
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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