Geopolitics

Three Westerners Killed By Syrian Forces

AL ARABIYA, CNN (US), BBC NEWS (UK), REUTERS, AFP.

Worldcrunch

IDLIB – Three westerners, including an American woman and a British man, suspected of working with the opposition, have been killed by Syrian forces in the northwest of the country, AFP reported Friday.

The deaths occurred on Wednesday, though only confirmed Friday, Al Arabiya reports. “They were shot dead during an ambush in the Idlib region and the army found them with maps of military positions,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

“The three had apparently been taking photos of military positions on the road between Harim, near the border with Turkey, and the town of Idlib further south when government troops ambushed them”, he added.

One of the victims has been identified as Nicole Mansfield, a 33-year-old American citizen, who had converted to Islam about five years ago, her family told Reuters on Thursday. "Evidently, she was fighting with opposition forces,” said her aunt, Monica Mansfield Speelman.

The British citizen has not been identified yet, but the spokesman for the SOHR said that he was Muslim, and that he came from London, the BBC reports.

Obcokrajowcy zginęli w Syrii - Westerners killed in #Syria #assad @Wiadomosci_PR http://t.co/GJCgHrBQmC pic.twitter.com/X35wccdWQr

— Wojciech Cegielski (@wojciechce) May 31, 2013

The UK Foreign Office said it was aware of the claims and was trying to verify them, while the US is working through the Czech Republic mission in Syria to obtain more information, a State Department official told CNN, on condition of anonymity.

The nationality of the third victim has not been confirmed yet, but he or she was described as a Westerner on Syrian TV, CNN reports.

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Society

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.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

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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