Satellite Images Show Nigeria Massacre


New satellite photographs released by Amnesty International today provide evidence of the scale of the Boko Haram attacks in northeastern Nigeria that are believed to have left hundreds dead earlier this month. Before and after images, taken on Jan. 2 and 7, show razed and burned structures in Doron Baga, a village 2.5 kilometers from Baga, where Boko Haram raids were reportedly carried out starting Jan. 3. Thousands of people are believed to have fled across or around the neighboring Lake Chad, but witnesses also report large numbers drowned in the lake or killed in the bush by jihadists. “These detailed images show devastation of catastrophic proportions in two towns, one of which was almost wiped off the map in the space of four days,” said Daniel Eyre, Amnesty’s Nigerian researcher. “Of all Boko Haram assaults analysed by Amnesty International, this is the largest and most destructive yet.”
For more information on the Boko Haram massacre in Nigeria, here’s a Worldcrunch roundup.

New copies of the Charlie Hebdo “survivors’ issue” published Wednesday have been issued today, both in France and globally. Newsstands are set to be restocked with the satirical magazine every day until Jan. 19. The print run for the lastest issue has also been increased from three million to five million to meet demand.

  • Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and journalists Georges Wolinski, Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac, Bernard Maris and Elsa Cayat are scheduled to be buried today, Le Monde reports. Jean Cabut (known as “Cabu”) and Michel Renaud, two cartoonists who were also killed in last week’s terrorist attacks, were buried Wednesday, while the other staff members and victims will be buried later this week. Most of the funerals have been private.
  • Meanwhile, French journalist Caroline Fourest was cut off during a live Sky News interview for showing the controversial Charlie Hebdo issue, which the station had explicitly decided not to show, Huffington Post reports. Sky News anchor Dharshini David quickly apologized to viewers. “As you know, here at Sky News we have taken the editorial decision not to show the cover of Charlie Hebdo.”
  • The cover is also causing controversy in Turkey, the only Muslim country where newspapers such as the daily Cumhuriyet published the cartoon image of the prophet Muhammad shedding a tear and holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign, Hürriyet reports. Turkish police raided the newspaper’s printing press Wednesday as the publication prepared to distribute the new issue in an act of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu compared his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu to last week’s Islamist terrorists, and a Turkish court ordered a ban on web pages featuring front cover.

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the world’s second-richest person, has become the largest New York Times investor after boosting his stake to 16.8% of the company’s Class A shares, Bloomberg reports.

In a new ISIS propaganda video shot in Raqqa, Syria, a member of the terrorist organization calls for new attacks in European countries such as France, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany, as well as “everywhere in America,” 20 Minutes reports. The video also claims responsibility for last week’s Paris terrorist attacks and calls on jihadists to “terrorize” Europeans. Almost two million people marched in the French capital Sunday to demonstrate against terror.

As Le Monde’s David Revault d’Allonnes writes, French President François Hollande has seen a resounding reversal of political fortunes since the terror attacks that rocked Paris. “Denounced for his lack of authority and his inaptitude to make clear decisions, he has led the police operations with ‘composure and determination,’ according to an insider. Often criticized for his failure to embody the presidential function, he looked like he belonged at the center of Sunday's march with the other world leaders.”
Read the full article, Can Charlie Hebdo Save Francois Hollande's Presidency?

The FBI arrested a 20-year-old Ohio man Wednesday for allegedly plotting a bomb and gun attack on the U.S. Capitol. Christopher Cornell, who claimed to sympathize with the terrorist group ISIS, had purchased two semi-automatic rifles and about 600 pounds of ammunition, The Washington Post reports. The man, also known as Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, confessed that he planned to “kill employees and officers working in and around the U.S. Capitol,” according to the FBI. Cornell doesn’t appear to have had any overseas training with jihadist groups.


Indonesian divers were searching for bodies this morning in the fuselage of the AirAsia jet that crashed into the Java Sea Dec. 28, killing all 162 people on board, Reuters reports. Only 50 bodies have been recovered so far, and searchers hope to find more victims, most of whom were Indonesian, in this section of the aircraft. They will also need to determine whether the fuselage can be lifted from the sea bottom using large balloons.

American mountaineers Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell made history Wednesday by successfully free climbing — with just their hands, feet and ropes — El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park, one of the world’s toughest of its kind, the Los Angeles Times reports. The two men began their climb Dec. 27 and shared their adventure online.


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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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