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Scientists restart Large Hadron Collider

Scientists have successfully restarted the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the most powerful atom-smasher ever built, hoping to enter a new realm of physics and make history for the second time.

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Two beams of particles travelling a whisker below the speed of light were sent flying in opposite directions through the LHC’s 27 kilometres of circular underground tunnels straddling the Swiss-French border.

Amid scenes of jubilation in the LHC control room, Professor Rolf Heuer, director general of Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, said: “Congratulations. Thank you very much everyone… now the hard work starts.”

Currently the 3.74 billion machine is running at a low “injection” energy of 450 giga-electron volts (GeV). In June, the energy level will be ramped up to a record-breaking 13 tera-electron volts (TeV) and experiments probing the fundamental building blocks of the universe can begin.

Two years ago the LHC team, which includes a number of British physicists, astounded the world with the discovery of the Higgs boson, an elementary particle that gives other particles mass.

Now the scientists have their sights set on an even more exotic trophy – dark matter, the invisible, undetectable material that makes up 84 per cent of matter in the universe and binds galaxies together yet whose nature is unknown.

With a beam energy of 13 TeV – almost twice that which produced the Higgs boson – it is conceivable that the LHC will capture dark matter, marking a leap forward in our understanding of the universe.

A technical hitch had delayed the restart of the LHC after a two year re-fit and upgrade.

An electrical short circuit prompted fears that operations could be put back weeks or even months. However, engineers quickly located the problem – a small piece of metal debris – and removed it.

As tension built during the final minutes before the restart, Frederick Bordry, Cern’s director for accelerators and technology, handed out Easter eggs to staff in the LHC control room.

The particles of protons, the “hearts” of atoms, travel round the LHC at just three metres per second below the speed of light.

When experiments begin they will be smashed together in four giant detectors located around the beam ring, sparking the creation of new particles and hopefully opening up a new era in physics.

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Dwyer becomes most capped hockey player

Jamie Dwyer became Australia’s most-capped hockey player and scored his 207th goal in the Kookaburras’ 7-0 win over Canada on Sunday at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia.

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It was Dwyer’s 322nd appearance for Australia, passing Jay Stacy, who retired following the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

“I’m very honoured to have played for Australia,” Dwyer said.

“It feels a bit weird passing Jay’s record because Jay was one of the main reasons I wanted to play for the Kookaburras.

“I watched him at the ’92 Olympics (Barcelona) and in ’96 (Atlanta), as a kid I had posters on my wall of him and he’s someone I looked up to,” Dwyer said.

Five times named world player of the year, Dwyer scored the Kookaburras’ fourth goal in the opening-day rout of Canada.

“I’m glad it’s done now. There were times last year when I thought that it wasn’t going to happen,” he said.

“I’ve never played for personal milestones. I love being out there as part of the team.”

Victorian Tim Cross debuted for the world No.1 Australians and scored his first goal just 12 minutes in against Canada.

It was followed a minute later by Dylan Wotherspoon’s first goal in only his fifth senior appearance.

Dwyer said it was exciting to see Australia’s future looking so bright.

“Tim Cross is my roommate here in Malaysia. He’s a young enthusiastic guy who works hard and wants to learn.

“A week and a half ago, he probably had no thoughts of playing here and then he’s come in for an injury and put his first shot into the corner.

“That should be a bit of a confidence booster. “I try to give advice and share my experience with guys like him and Dylan Wotherspoon but I also love to feed off their energy.”

Despite the world champions’ dominance over the 15th-ranked Canadians, it remained 2-0 until shortly before three-quarter time when Eddie Ockenden struck a third.

In the final 10 minutes, play began to open up and Dwyer struck, marking his return to senior international hockey after almost nine months out.

His last game, and last goal, came in June’s 6-1 World Cup final demolition of the Netherlands in The Hague with the two-time World Cup winner not selected for the Commonwealth Games and ruled out of the Champions Trophy in December through injury.

Trent Mitton scored 60 seconds after Dwyer to make it 5-0, before a Glenn Simpson penalty corner took it 6-0 and a strike by Jake Whetton finished off the 7-0 win.

Kookaburras coach Graham Reid hailed Dwyer’s performance for Australia.

“Jamie is a very special player with a unique set of skills and qualities.

“His commitment, passion for the game and determination has led to his extraordinary longevity in the game at the top level.

“Today’s game was a recognition and celebration for Jamie and all players, coaches and off-field staff that have been a part of his career.

“But Jamie now has a firm eye on the present and the future and what extra he can bring to the Kookaburras’ group to take us to another level.”

Australia’s next play Malaysia on Monday at 10:30pm (AEST).

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FIFA election campaign swings through Cairo

The three candidates vying to unseat incumbent Sepp Blatter will be all in the Egyptian capital for Tuesday’s Confederation of African Football Congress to canvas support on a continent expected to be solidly behind the FIFA president as he bids for a fifth successive term in office.

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FIFA vice-president Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, Dutch FA president Michael van Praag and former Portugal international Luis Figo are not expected to make much headway among the 54 African countries who have traditionally been backers of Blatter.

But they will attempt to persuade individual countries of their credentials while Blatter will be hoping for an enthusiastic acclamation at the congress to bolster his status as firm favourite for the poll in Zurich at the end of May.

The CAF congress is the latest stop for all candidates, who have already swung through similar confederation congresses in Asuncion and Vienna. Next they will be in the Bahamas for the CONCACAF congress next week, followed by the Asian version in Bahrain at the end of the month.

Blatter used a column in the latest edition of his organisation’s mouthpiece FIFA Weekly to call for respect for the African game. “The refreshing skills and technical finesse of the African teams are among the greatest attractions at the World Cup,” he wrote.

Luis Figo responded on Sunday by saying: “Africa lives and loves football much as I do. I know that FIFA has been doing relevant things in Africa but FIFA can and should do much more to help develop African football.”

The Congress will elect two places to the all-important FIFA executive committee and also pass an amendment to the statutes, doing away with age limits for office bearers to allow CAF president Issa Hayatou to continue his long-standing tenure at the head of the organisation.

CAF will also decide the next host of the African Nations Cup in 2017, after the withdrawal of war-torn Libya, and hold the draw for the qualifiers on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Justin Palmer)

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You thought the Brotherhood was bad?

In one of the many bizarre twists of Egypt’s recent political convulsion, hardline Salafi parties look poised to replace the Muslim Brotherhood as the most important Islamist players in the political process.

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It’s a situation ripe with irony: For years, the Brotherhood represented the “good guys” of the Islamist world — a movement that other parties could deal with — while the Salafis were irreconcilable zealots bent on establishing an Islamist state by any means necessary. But with former “bad guys” redeeming themselves by siding with the opposition in the weeks preceding President Mohammed Morsi’s ouster, they now have a shot at becoming the standard-bearers for Islamist politics in the Arab world’s largest nation.

The Nour Party, the largest Islamist organization, joined in the opposition’s call for Morsi to step down, claiming that he and the Muslim Brotherhood were attempting to monopolize power. But it did not participate officially in the street protests against the Brotherhood, and has been sitting on the fence ever since, criticizing the military’s transition roadmap and its constitutional proclamation, and declaring that their members would neither join the transitional government nor oppose it.

Salafist participation, however, will come at a price — and there’s no guarantee that Egypt’s new rulers will want to pay it. The military officers that deposed Morsi — along with the parties and personalities now trying to ride their coattails into power — are facing a difficult choice: Should they include Islamists in the new system? Or should they seek to push them resolutely to the margins, as Hosni Mubarak and a succession of previous governments did?

It’s not clear that this decision has been made yet. Officially, the military and its civilian appointees now argue that Islamists must be included in the political process. In practice, however, the actions of the military and its allies tell a different story: Muslim Brotherhood leaders are being rounded up in growing numbers, Islamist television channels have been shuttered, and dozens of Morsi supporters have been shot dead on the street by the police and army.

At the same time, the new leadership has made a huge concession to Salafis by including in its July 8 constitutional proclamation some of the most controversial clauses of the suspended 2012 constitution. Article 1 of the proclamation proclaims Islam to be the religion of the state and the principles of sharia the main source of legislation. It was the Salafis, particularly members of the Nour Party, who insisted on including these stipulations in the constitution.

There is no guarantee, however, that the Salafi parties can coexist in the long term with their new secular allies. Tamarod, the “rebel” movement that spearheaded the June 30 demonstrations, was incensed by references to sharia in the constitutional proclamation and is opposed to Islamist participation in the new government. Many of the so-called liberals in the National Salvation Front and in the business community also call, at least privately, for the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party — and do not hide their desire to see a ban on all parties with a religious orientation in the new constitution. Indeed, a major secular-Islamist battle is brewing over the writing of the new constitution.

No matter what the new constitution says about the legality of parties based on religion, the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have been drummed out of the political process for the time being. It is unlikely to participate in the parliamentary election that should take place in early 2014, as it still insists that Morsi is the duly elected president of the country and that he must be reinstated. That will leave its voters with nowhere else to turn but the Salafist parties, which will be the last players on the Egyptian political scene explicitly calling for a strong Islamic reference in government.

Salafis did not come to political participation easily. Until the overthrow of Mubarak, they had shunned political activity, concentrating instead on proselytizing and building their own community. The decision to enter the political sphere was a sudden response to the events of January 2011 — Salafis saw an opening, and were able to take advantage of it by mobilizing their social and religious networks for political ends. Their success was startling: They went from having no political organization in January 2011 to capturing a startling 25 percent of seats in parliament by March 2012, besting secular parties that had been in existence for years.

Because the Salafis’ rise was so sudden, it was not accompanied by a corresponding ideological transformation. Salafi parties had few discussions about the implications of participating in a pluralistic political system — they simply decided that the goal of building an Islamic state, previously set aside as premature, was worth pursuing right away. The Muslim Brotherhood, by contrast, had been discussing the implications of political participation for decades and had modified its positions in response, accepting the notion of pluralism and a civil state. The transition was still incomplete and contested, but it was a start.

Differences between the Brotherhood and Salafi organizations were particularly evident in the discussions of the 2012 constitution. Salafis were uncompromising, insisting that the constitution should embody references to sharia in its Sunni interpretations, rejecting explicit references to gender equality and to hiding their end-goal of turning Egypt into an Islamic state. The Muslim Brotherhood accepted the idea of a civil state and generally showed greater flexibility.

The inclusion of Salafis as representatives of the Islamist trend would thus come at a high price for the country’s new rulers. The constitution would have to include many of the same clauses concerning sharia and Islam as the state religion as the 2012 constitution — as was already made clear in the latest constitutional proclamation. Any constitution acceptable to Salafis, moreover, would have to soft-pedal issues such as gender equality and the equality of Muslim and non-Muslim citizens — thus raising the ire of secular forces.

But the cost to Egypt if Salafi parties joined the Muslim Brothers in shunning political participation would be just as high. At this current tumultuous moment in Egyptian politics, Islamists will not quietly withdraw from politics and concentrate solely on religious affairs. The Muslim Brotherhood is already openly calling for defiance of the regime, and the Salafis could follow suit. The Mubarak regime only managed to repress Islamists by arresting thousands of them and rigging elections — any regime seeking to limit Islamist participation would have to do the same, and probably on an even larger scale. The exclusion of Islamists, in other words, also means the exclusion of democracy.

Ottaway is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

© Foreign Policy, 2013

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The great escape

BAGHDAD — On July 21, the temperature spiked to a sweltering 107 degrees in Baghdad — brutal heat for the guards and prisoners inside Abu Ghraib’s cement confines.

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Outside, among a patchwork of green farmland and dry brown fields, federal police and army troops — packing AK-47s, PKC machine guns and sniper rifles — were positioned throughout the terrain, which is dotted with Sunni farms and villages where insurgents had once launched a guerrilla war against U.S. troops. Within the walls of the infamous prison, the guards — armed only with pepper spray and clubs — were the last line of defense from would-be assailants.

At around 9 p.m. that night, as detainees were being counted on the way back to their cells after dinner, the mortars began to fall.

A barrage of more than 40 rounds hit the grounds in rapid succession — some counted as many as 100 explosions. As guards and detainees scrambled for cover, two car bombs exploded outside, punching a hole in the walls of the massive prison compound.

More than 50 gunmen wearing tribal robes then entered the grounds, wielding pistols, AK-47s, and hand grenades. They had been on the road and in nearby villages, waiting to storm the facility. The power was cut, and the detainees broke out in cries of “God is great.”

The gunmen opened fire on any officer they saw. “The prisoners rioted. Some burned mattresses and clothes, others had stored homemade explosives to hurl at the guards. The infiltrators handed weapons to their jailed comrades. There was screaming and chaos,” one of the guards at Abu Ghraib recalled. “We were surrounded.”

When the assault ended, 71 prisoners were dead but hundreds of hardened militants had been freed in a stunning attack by al-Qaeda’s local subsidiary. The exact number is still unclear: The Iraqi government estimated anywhere from 300 to more than 850 detainees, including some arrested by U.S. forces years ago, had been busted out. The fact that the Iraqi security apparatus still does not know exactly how many militants escaped is a stunning admission of incompetence — and a testament to how badly it was knocked off balance by the assault.

It’s not just this one prison break — there are signs that militants are gaining momentum across the country. Iraq just witnessed its deadliest month since the end of its civil war in 2008: The United Nations announced last week that 1,057 Iraqis had been killed in July.

Al-Qaeda’s assaults are also becoming more sophisticated. The July 21 attack was coordinated with an assault on Taji Prison, the other main detention facility just north of Baghdad, though no detainees were freed there. Militants have also grown expert at staging coordinated car bombings — like the wave of attacks on July 29, when 15 car bombs struck Shiite neighborhoods across the country, killing at least 50 people and injuring over 1,000.

The Abu Ghraib prison break was not only a counterterrorism disaster, it laid bare Iraq’s political dysfunction. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has dashed the hopes of U.S. and Iraqi officials who banked that the 2007-2008 “surge” destroyed the movement, taking advantage of the country’s poisonous sectarian politics to regain its strength. Sen. John McCain blamed America’s failure to leave a residual U.S. force in the country for the attack. “We won the peace and lost the war. It is really tragic,” he said. “And those people who are out of Abu Ghraib now, they are heading right to Syria.”

Indeed, Syria’s descent into civil war has bolstered al-Qaeda’s fortunes in the region. The group now identifies itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, in a nod to the fact that its cross-border ambitions stretch from Damascus to Baghdad. While al-Qaeda has yet to deploy fighters from Syria for attacks in Iraq, according to a former insurgent, some Syrian jihadists have fled into Iraq and received weapons from Sunni tribes.

In addition to using the Syrian conflict to bolster its reputation among disaffected Sunnis, al-Qaeda has sought to recruit supporters by exploiting missteps by Iraq’s Shiite-led government. In its statement claiming responsibility for the jail break, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant said their operation was carried out as reprisal for the shooting of peaceful Sunni protestors in the northern city of Hawija in April, where security forces killed more than 50 mostly unarmed Sunni protesters.

Meanwhile, the Abu Ghraib prison break debacle has sowed dissension among Iraq’s political elite, as members of the ruling class blamed each other for the fiasco.

The rancor started at the top. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused a key political partner and rival, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s followers, who make up a large number of the rank-and-file prison guards in Iraq’s penitentiary system, of assisting al-Qaeda. “What happened in Abu Ghraib prison was the guards who were inside the prison, are connected to these militias, and it was they who colluded and it was they who opened the doors,” Maliki said. The Sadr movement, which holds several government ministries, responded with their own statement mocking the prime minister for “losing his mind.”

In turn, Justice Minister Hassan Shimmari blamed the security forces for assisting the prison break. “I had the impression that there was a collusion,” Shimmari said on television, saying checkpoints around the prison had been abandoned. “The 120 policemen responsible for this area all disappeared except for an officer and two cops.”

Admission after admission has come out in the local media: 200 Sunni prisoners, some of them from al-Qaeda, had been transferred to Abu Ghraib just days before the escape; prisoners had easy access to cell phones, so were able to communicate with the prison break plotters in the countdown to the escape. The attack has demoralized Iraqis. Shiite religious clerics have publicly questioned the competence of the security forces and drubbed the government for letting down the families of terror attack victims. “As the criminals return, people will feel depression, frustration, fear and panic,” said Sheikh Abdel Mehdi Karbalai, a senior representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite religious figure in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the surviving guards are angry that they are being treated as accomplices rather than the victims. The justice minister and deputy minister visited them shortly after the attack, in the middle of the night, and continued pointing fingers. “They were blaming us for what happened,” one of the guards said.

The guard, however, believes that the corruption that allowed such a disaster reaches much higher up the Iraqi political system. “We are under the impression that some elements from the government and the security troops helped the gunmen,” the guard said. “How could so many prisoners disappear within minutes after they left the prison?”

For al-Qaeda, the political infighting was icing on the cake of an immensely successful operation. The terror group boasted about the operation in a lengthy statement, bragging that it had “freed the lions” from the “Safaween,” or Safavids, a derogatory term for Shiites.

The guards were stunned at the brutality of the assault. One guard pretended to be dead, lying in a pile of his fellow guards’ corpses. An al-Qaeda fighter was checking the bodies for the living, executing anyone who was still breathing. The guard, who had been shot in the leg, covered himself in blood. A fighter tried to kick his body over, but gave up and moved on. “Thank God, I am still alive,” the guard said.

Another guard recalled watching a colleague call out to the shooters: “I am from Abu Ghraib, my name is Othman Omar,” a Sunni name. The gunmen assured him he would be safe if he came out, since he belonged to their sect — when he approached, they shot him dead. Gunmen held one policeman at gunpoint and took his pistol and badge, telling another fighter, “We can use this.” Al-Qaeda claims they killed more than 100 security forces in the raid; official Iraqi government figures put the number at 10.

The Abu Ghraib prison break may be over, but its effects will reverberate around Iraq and the broader region for many months to come. The men who carried it out are still on the loose, ready to carry out more bombings, stronger than ever. The guards, meanwhile, marveled at the jihadists’ confidence and cool.

“They seemed not to be in a rush, they were doing what they wanted, with no confusion,” one guard said. “They knew what to do.”

Raheem Salman is a correspondent with Reuters in Baghdad and a former staffer with the Los Angeles Times.

Ned Parker is the former Baghdad bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times and the 2011-2012 Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

© Foreign Policy, 2013

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Israeli-Palestinian peace process glossary

Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Amman, Jordan, on Friday that his shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East is paying off.

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“We have reached an agreement that establishes the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” he proclaimed. Remember the peace process? After three years of dormancy, it’s back.

Well, maybe. “The agreement is still in the process of being formalized,” Kerry hedged, but Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni will meet in Washington this week to continue planning.

In case you’ve forgotten what all this means, here’s a handy guide to the buzzwords you’ll be hearing for the next few weeks.

Preconditions: What’s keeping these talks from being “formalized”? Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been reticent to sit down at the same table without a general framework and some early concessions. A reported stumbling block in Kerry’s latest push to re-establish talks has been Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ insistence that Israeli negotiators propose a border for a potential Palestinian state and agree to a settlement freeze. What’s that, you ask?

Settlement Freeze: A perennial problem in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Palestinian officials regularly call for the Israeli government to halt the construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, places that Palestinian negotiators hope to claim for a Palestinian state. Many Palestinians consider the proliferation of settlements in the West Bank, often subsidized by the Israeli government, to be a tacit effort to informally annex the West Bank. The more settlements that are built, they argue, the harder it will be to reach a two-state solution based on the 1967 border.

1967 Border: At the start of the Six Day War in 1967, Gaza was held by Egypt, the Golan Heights by Syria, and the West Bank by Jordan; after the Six Day War, Israel had pushed its Arab neighbors to the Sinai Peninsula to the West, to the Jordan River to the East, and out of the Golan, and its occupation of these new territories has continued since (except for Gaza, from which Israel withdrew but has since subjected to a military blockade to isolate the Strip’s Hamas-led government). The two-state solution is premised on a Palestinian state established in the Gazan and West Bank territory held by Egypt and Jordan at the start of the Six Day War. But those exact borders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued, have become indefensible, and Israeli negotiators are pushing to retain settler-held territory in the West Bank.

Mutually Agreed Swaps: The compromise, then, is to exchange territory — Palestinian negotiators will concede settlement blocs in the West Bank to Israel in exchange for territorial additions to the Palestinian state. Exactly what those land swaps will entail, though, will be a major subject of any negotiation.

Right of Return: This can be a tricky one, even for some politicians. Palestinian negotiators argue that Palestinians and their descendents displaced by the 1948 war and the establishment of Israel should be allowed to return to the homes they fled. Israeli negotiators have consistently resisted the resettlement of Palestinian refugees to Israel, arguing that it is logistically not feasible and would alter the fundamental identity of the Israeli state.

Recognition as a Jewish State: The last round of direct talks fell apart when Palestinian negotiators reportedly would not concede that Israel is a “Jewish state” in exchange for a settlement freeze. The identity of Israel as a Jewish state has become an increasing priority for Israeli negotiators over the past decade as Israel has faced growing demographic challenges.

“Missed Opportunity”: Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Abba Eban famously accused Palestinian negotiators of “never miss[ing] an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” but it could be said of all the parties involved, including, often, the United States. This latest round of talks — still potential talks, remember, next week’s meeting will still be hashing out the preliminary details — could well be yet another “missed opportunity” for all involved. See also: the 2010 negotiations, the Annapolis Conference, the Roadmap for Peace, the Clinton administration’s Camp David Summit, the Oslo Negotiations, the Madrid Conference, etc.

© Foreign Policy, 2013

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Blue-eyed jihad

European jihadists in Syria have been blamed by some Syrians for ruining the purity of their revolution, held up by Bashar al-Assad’s regime as a sign of that the rebels are foreign-backed radicals, and feared by Western security agencies as a potential terrorist threat.

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But despite all the talk about them, they rarely speak with outsiders about their beliefs and goals. So when two European jihadists agreed to speak with us, it marked the first time that fighters working with al Qaeda inside Syria explained to the world why they are doing battle in Syria and what future they imagine for the country.

The two fighters — one of whom is an ethnic European who converted to Islam, while the other is ethnically neither European nor Arab, and was born a Muslim — set a couple of preconditions. Their real names and countries of origin could not be published; as they put it, “Europe will do.” They also wore masks during the interview, so they could not be recognized. “I still want to travel to my family in Europe,” one said.

It was also strictly forbidden to name the town where the interview would take place. “You can mention somewhere in northern Sham,” one of the men declared, a reference to Greater Syria — encompassing not only modern-day Syria but also Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq — that existed in the early Islamic period.

Getting to the location of the interview posed another problem. In a sign of how perilous Syria has become, al Qaeda-affiliated militants man a checkpoint slightly more than a mile outside the Atmeh refugee camp along the border with Turkey. And there were many more such checkpoints along the way to where the two European jihadists live. With kidnappings of journalists and aid workers by rebels spiking in recent months, locals all advised against the idea of driving deeper into the country. After long deliberations, we chose to stay in Atmeh and send a trustworthy Syrian middle-man on our behalf deeper inside the country. He carried our questionnaire, a camera, and conducted the interviews.

The meetings with the European jihadists occurred separately, on two separate days in two different locations. The interviews were conducted in English, as the fighters are not fluent in Arabic.

The phenomenon of European jihadists flowing into Syria is increasingly attracting the attention of Western security agencies, which fear what they will do when they return home. According to American and European intelligence officials speaking to the New York Times, more Westerners are currently fighting in Syria than in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, or Yemen: The estimates range from 600 to 1,000 fighters. Their primary motivation is religion — the vast majority are white converts to Islam or naturalized immigrants with a Muslim background.

The jihadists’ religious extremism, military experience in Syria, and the ease with which they could travel around Europe and the United States make a potentially lethal cocktail. Matthew Olsen, the director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, recently told a conference that Syria has become “the predominant jihadist battlefield in the world,” and raised fears that such jihadists could return “as part of really a global jihadist movement to Western Europe and, potentially, to the United States.”

Abu Talal, a blond-haired, blue-eyed fighter sporting a black balaclava, is just the sort of religious warrior that keeps Western security officials up at night. He says that he came to Syria “to help the mujahideen [jihadists] against Bashar,” but refuses to say how he arrived from Europe. However, he adds that he “will visit my family [in Europe] again and then return to Syria.”

In the interview, Abu Talal, who carries a gun and sits in front of a black banner used by jihadist groups, says that he has joined the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” — the al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq that is both fighting against the Assad regime and attempting to extend its “Islamic emirate” into Syria.

The ISIS, which is headed by Iraqi national Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is considered the most radical group in Syria. With bases in and around the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, the northern cities of Raqqa and Aleppo, and the northwestern Turkmen Mountains, it is an extension of the al Qaeda forces that battled U.S. and Iraqi government troops in Iraq during that country’s civil war.

He claims that the relationship between the ISIS and the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella group of more mainstream Syrian rebel groups, is good. “They are mujahideen and we are mujahideen. We ask God to guide us both to fight Bashar.”

But why do many around the world see foreign jihadists as terrorists? “That is funny,” Abu Talal says, “because we don’t kill innocent people like the forces of Bashar do. The whole world thinks sharia [Islamic law] is bad, but that is not true. We help people…. And we will bring the sharia here — no matter what.”

The jihadists often stated their conviction that the United States will sooner or later get involved in Syria — not to topple the Assad regime, but to target them for death. Both believe that the United States will use drones against Syrian jihadists — just like what is happening in Pakistan or Yemen.

“I am sure the Americans will start using drones,” says Abu Salman, the second European fighter, who wears a traditional Arabic shawl to hide his identity. “As soon as we get rid of the Assad regime they will send their weapons. But of course, we will fight them. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘The infidels will fight you as they fought me.’ But God willing, we will win this fight… [E]ven if the Americans attack, we will not retreat.”

Abu Salman is something of a free agent in the Syrian jihad, moving fluidly between groups depending on who needs his services. “I am involved in electronics,” he says. “I cooperate with any group who needs me here. I did not join one specific group because of the nature of my work, every group needs me.”

But Abu Salman adds that he mostly works with al Qaeda affiliates such as Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, or alternatively Ahrar al-Sham and Suqoor al-Sham, militias known for their strict interpretation of Islamic law. “They are the best fighters of Islam,” he explains.

Abu Salman believes that foreign jihadists in Syria have gotten a bad rap: He says he agreed to give this interview to explain to the world what foreign fighters are doing in Syria. “It doesn’t matter how long you speak of what you do,” he says. “If you have a beard, if you do salaat [Muslim prayers] you are considered a terrorist. The outside world doesn’t understand us. They don’t have our mentality. They don’t know what we want.”

Unlike Abu Talal, Abu Salman is willing to explain how he came to Syria. “I came from the airport [in Turkey] and went illegally through the border from Turkey into Sham,” he says. “Everybody is taking this road.

The journey, however, is starting to become more difficult for foreigners. “The road is starting to get cut,” Abu Salman says. “You cannot enter into Sham anymore without a Syrian passport, there are many more checks.”

Abu Salman agrees with his jihadist comrade that some elements of the Free Syrian Army are good “mujahideen” — but worries that the United States is funneling support to “bad” elements within the umbrella organization. “They [the United States] only give weapons to the worst groups; those who want democracy,” he explains. “These groups operate inside the Free Syrian Army, but they even don’t fight for democracy, they just steal money.”

The presence of foreign jihadists is controversial among local supporters of the Syrian revolt. Foreign Islamists regularly flog or execute alleged regime supporters in Raqqa, while in Aleppo jihadists executed a Syrian youth they believed had committed blasphemy. Kidnappings of Syrians, foreign journalists, and aid workers by Islamists are on the rise. Just this week, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a well-known Jesuit priest who lived in Syria for three decades and was staunchly pro-revolution, disappeared in Raqqa.

Abu Salman knows how tenuous the jihadists’ position is among the Syrian population: He is convinced that after the Assad regime’s defeat, some Syrians will launch a second revolution against radical Islamist groups. “I feel this will happen,” he says. “But it doesn’t matter. Because the prophet peace be upon him, has said ‘You will win this fight.'”

And after Abu Salman and his cohort topple Assad and crush more secular rebel groups, what then? What will become of Syria’s sizeable Christian, Alawi, and Shiite minority populations?

“The minorities?” he answers. “They must just accept it. Those who do not accept it, they will be thrown out — or they can leave.”

Jenan Moussa is the roving reporter for Dubai based pan Arabic Al-Aan TV.

Harald Doornbos is a reporter based in Pakistan covering the greater Middle East.

© Foreign Policy, 2013

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Snapshot: Western Sydney marginal seat of Reid

Created in 1922, Reid is named after the former prime minister (1904 to 1905), NSW premier (1894-1899) and high comissioner, Sir George Reid.

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The seat covers an eclectic mix of wealthy, multicultural and young, gentrified areas.

This mix is the result of a major 2009 redistribution which effectively carved out entirely new boundaries for the seat. Initially, the old 1922 division of Reid was to be abolished completely, but the name was kept and now describes a division made up mostly from the old seat of Lowe and a small section of the old seat of Reid.

GEOGRAPHY

Source: ABS

Reid sits in Sydney’s inner west covering a mix of inner and outer city suburbs spanning along the southern edge of Parramtta River, from Drummoyne in the east to Auburn in the west.

As a result it covers wealthy harbourside suburbs, ethnically-diverse hubs as well as Greens-friendly, inner-city pockets.

Major suburbs include Drummoyne, Burwood, Strathfield, Homebush, Five Dock, Auburn and Granville.

MAIN CONTENDERS

Sitting Labor MP John Murphy is running for re-election. The Liberal Party is running Craig Laundy.

John Murphy held the seat of Lowe between 1998-2010 before it was abolished, he then won Reid at the 2010 Federal Election. He began his career in law, before moving to the public service. Mr Murphy served as a councillor on Drummoyne Council between 1995 and 1998. He is a vocal opponent of gay marriage.

Craig Laundy comes from a business background, having studied economics. His family owns a series of Sydney pubs. Main policies includeinvestment in local roads and hospitals and reducing cost of living pressures.

The Greens are running Pauline Tyrrell. Katter’s Australian Party is running Bishruel Izadeen. The Palmer United Party is running Nadeem Ashraf. The DLP are running Emily Dunn.

PEOPLE

People: 166,481

Median age: 34

Families: 42,933

Average children per family: 1.8

Median weekly household income: $1,493

Reid covers a distinct mix of cultural and socio-economic divides, which is reflected in its marginal status.

In the wealthier, habourside suburb of Drummoyne, close to 65 per cent of residents were born in Australia, followed by England (5%) and Italy (2.6%). Only 37 per cent of residents have both parents born overseas, with 72% of residents speaking English at home, followed by Italian (4.3%) and Greek (3.8%).

By contrast, in the electorate’s western suburb of Granville, only 37 per cent of voters were born in Australia, followed by India (9%), China (7%) and Lebanon (7%). Some 71 per cent of residents have parents who were both born overseas and only 25 per cent speak English at home. Almost 20 per cent of Granville’s residents speak Arabic.

Over 10 per cent of the Reid electorate identifies as Muslim, based on 2011 figures.

IN DEPTH: GRANVILLE V DRUMMOYNE

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Is the US ramping up a secret war in Somalia?

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration earlier this year expanded its secret war in Somalia, stepping up assistance for federal and regional Somali intelligence agencies that are allied against the country’s Islamist insurgency.

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It’s a move that’s not only violating the terms of an international arms embargo, according to U.N. investigators. The escalation also could be a signal that Washington’s signature victory against al-Qaida’s most powerful African ally may be in danger of unraveling.

Just last year, Obama’s team was touting Somalia as unqualified success. “Somalia is a good news story for the region, for the international community, but most especially for the people of Somalia itself,” Johnnie Carson, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters last October at the New York Foreign Press Center. Carson praised African forces, principally Uganda and Kenya, for driving the terror group al-Shabab out of the Somalia’s main cities, Mogadishu and Kismayo. “The U.S.,” he boasted, “has been a significant and major contributor to this effort.” Indeed, the United States has emerged as a major force in the region, running training camps for Ugandan peacekeepers destined for battle with Somalia’s militants, and hosting eight Predator drones, eight more F-15E fighter jets, and nearly 2,000 U.S. troops and military civilians at a base in neighboring Djibouti.

But despite the array of forces aligned against it, Al-Shabab is demonstrating renewed vigor. “The military strength of al-Shabaab, with an approximately 5,000-strong force, remains arguably intact in terms of operational readiness, chain of command, discipline and communications ability,” according to a report by the U.N. Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea. “By avoiding direct military confrontation, it has preserved the core of its fighting force and resources.”

“At present, al-Shabaab remains the principal threat to peace and security in Somalia,” the report adds. “The organization has claimed responsibility for hundreds of assassinations and attacks involving improvised explosive devices, ambushes, mortar shelling grenades and hit and run tactics.”

Not coincidentally, perhaps, American involvement in the region is again on the rise, as well. Last year, according to the U.N. group, the United States violated the international arms embargo on Somalia by dispatching American special operations forces in Russian M-17 helicopters to northern Somalia in support of operations by the intelligence service of Puntland, a breakaway Somali province.

(The U.N. Security Council in 1992 imposed an embargo “on all deliveries of weapons and military equipment to Somalia.” The embargo was eased in March, 2013, allowing for the transfer of weapons, equipment or military advisers for the development of the federal government’s security forces. But the Somali government is required to inform the U.N. Security Council sanctions committee when it receives foreign military assistance.)

Two U.S. air-charter companies linked to American intelligence activities in Somalia have increased the number of clandestine flights to Mogadishu and the breakaway province of Puntland by as much as 25 percent last year.

Florida-based Prescott Support Co. and RAM Air Services, flew at least 84 civilian flights between August 2012 and March 2013. During the previous year, the two companies flew only 65 flights, “indicating an increase in United States support,” the U.N. report notes.

The flights — which have not been reported to the U.N. Security Council — suggest a further strengthening of American cooperation with Somalia’s National Intelligence Agency in Mogadishu and the Puntland Intelligence Service, which has been cooperating with U.S. counterterrorism operations for more than a decade.

Several flights last November by Prescott have been linked by the U.N. group with the construction of two buildings at the Puntland Intelligence Service compound, north of the town of Galkayo. “The construction of these two buildings during the month of November 2012 coincides with four Prescott Support Co. L-100-30 flights that landed at Galkayo airport between 3 and 9 November 2012 and constituted a load capacity of up to 80 tons of cargo,” according to the report.

It’s one of many ways that Western intelligence agencies — including those of the United States, Britain and France — have been secretly and “directly supporting intelligence services” in Mogadishu, Puntland and Somaliland, another breakaway Somali province, according to the U.N. investigators. At times, this assistance has been in violation of U.N. resolutions, claims their latest report, which runs nearly five hundred pages — not counting several classified annexes.

Since the report was finalized, al-Shabab has been riven by internal fighting that has splintered the movement, left one of its leaders dead, and sent several others fleeing from the group’s southern stronghold. But the insurgents’s well-financed secret service — Amniyat — remains intact, capable of carrying out terror operations at will. And al-Shabab’s leader, Ahmed Godane, remains firmly in charge of the movement’s terror apparatus, according to experts on Somali politics.

The survival of al-Shabab’s terror infrastructure has dealt a blow to what had appeared to be a signature achievement of the Obama administration: backing an African led effort to deny an al-Qaida affiliated insurgency a strategic toehold in the heart of East Africa.

In August 2011, a U.S.-backed African peacekeeping mission wrested control of the capital of Mogadishu, helping to deliver a rare respite of calm. It set the stage for the September 2012, election of a new, Western-backed President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Another key American ally, Kenya, last year joined forces with a Somali clan and seized control of al-Shabab’s principle stronghold, Kismayo.

But those gains are being threatened by rampant corruption within the U.S. backed government’s weak institutions, al-Shabab’s infiltration in the “highest levels” of the Somali government, and continued attacks against targets inside Somali, including a recent deadly strike on a U.N. humanitarian aid compound in Mogadishu.

Even worse, Kenyan forces in Kismayo have clashed with clans loyal to the U.S.-backed federal government while colluding with financial backers of al-Shabab in the lucrative and illicit charcoal trade, enabling the Islamist movement to refill its war chest. “The revenue that al-Shabaab currently derives from its Kismayo shareholding, its . . . exports and the taxation of ground transportation likely exceeds the estimated U.S. $25 million it generated in charcoal revenue when it controlled Kismayo,” the report stated.

Over the long term, al-Shabab appears to pursuing a strategy that can best be described as biding its time. It has not carried out a major offensive against African peacekeepers in nearly two years.

Instead, it has stockpiled weapons and ammunition throughout Southern and central Somalia, launching hundreds of attacks against foreign African forces, civilians and U.N. humanitarian aid workers, and waiting for foreign forces to withdraw from the country. Earlier this year, Ethiopian forces, worn down by a campaign of guerrilla attacks, withdrew from the towns of El Bur, in the Galgadud region, and Hudur, in the Bakol region. Al-Shabab effortlessly seized control of the towns.

Ever since the 9/11 terror attacks, American military intelligence agencies have expanded their presence in East Africa, seeking initially to track al-Qaida militants responsible for attacks against U.S. targets, but later investing in regional African efforts to confront Somali militants. While the Obama administration has strived to conceal those activities from public view in the United States, its presence in Somalia has sometimes been hard to ignore. Last year, the U.N. monitoring group complained that drone flights had clogged the skies over Somalia, posing a threat to air safety in the country. According to the report, unmanned aircraft slammed into a refugee camp, skirted a fuel dump and nearly crashed into a passenger plan over Mogadishu.

This year’s report notes that international investigators have requested information from the U.S. government about “uncorroborated information” about a “handcuffed and blindfolded passenger” who boarded a plane at Galkayo airport. The United States government “has not replied to date.”

Spokespeople for the United States and British missions to the United Nations declined to comment on the reports, citing a longstanding policy of not commenting publically on intelligence operations. Officials from Prescott and RAM, the airlines, did not respond to requests for comment.

Kenneth Menkhaus, a professor at Davidson College and an expert on Somalia, said that for the time being the greatest threat to al-Shabaab is emerging within the organization’s own ranks, not from the U.S. counter-terrorism effort.

Internal division within the Islamist group exploded into all out fighting during the past month. In June, forces loyal to Godane killed al-Shabab cofounder Ibrahim al-Afghani, and sent two other Shabab leaders, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, and Hassan Dahir Aweys, fleeing. The fighting, according to Menkaus, has left Shabab “weaker. But weaker than what?”

The movement, more solidly under the control of Godane, remains “a strong and dangerous force, capable of extortion, intimidation, and assassination,” he added. “This fits the shift of al-Shabab from what had been a standing army, capable of controlling large swaths of territory, to a decentralized, clandestine terrorist network.”

In a particularly grim twist, it is America’s counterterrorism partners — corrupt Somali institutions and Kenyan collusion with al-Shabab’s financial backers — that pose a potentially even more lethal threat to American aims. “That Shabab is stronger than people think is interesting and newsworthy,” said Menkhaus. But to Menkhaus, the bigger story is the failure of America’s allies to maintain a united front against al-Shabab. “Our best friends are busy fighting one another.”

© Foreign Policy, 2013

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Snapshot: Western Sydney marginal seat of Lindsay

Created in 1984, Lindsay has, in every election since, been held by the party of government, making it a key bellweather seat.

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As a result it is often the site of fierce campaigning.

It was originally a safe Labor seat, but this changed in 1996 when the Liberal’s Jackie Kelly won and held the seat until 2007.

Since then, the seat has been held by Labor MP and Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury.

In 2007 it was the site of a controversial Liberal advertising campaign, with supporters distributing a fake leaflet that alleged Labor supported the building of a mosque and leniency for terror suspects.

GEOGRAPHY

Source: ABS

Lindsay is on the outer north-western fringe of Sydney’s suburbs. At its heart lies Penrith, but it stretches to Londonderry in the north to Mulgoa in the south.

Key suburbs include Cambridge Park, Castlereagh, Claremont Meadows, Cranebrook, Emu Plains, Glenmore Park, Jamisontown, Kingswood, Oxley Park, Penrith, Regentville, St Marys and Werrington

CONTENDERS

Lindsay is currently held by Labor MP and Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury, pictured right.

The seat will be contested by Liberal candidate Fiona Scott, pictured left, who pulled votes in the 2010 election with a swing of 4.71 per cent.

Both have made pledges to extend a major highway to connect Penrith to Sydney city. Mr Bradbury has announced further policies to protect local bushland and boost jobs via local infrastructure projects. Fiona Scott has pledged to support local businesses.

OTHER CANDIDATES

The Greens: David Lenton.

The DLP: Phil Howarth.

The Stable Population Party: Geoff Brown.

The Palmer United Party: Andrew Wilcox.

Australia First: Mick Saunders.

PEOPLE

Population: 148,983

Median age: 34

Families: 40,192

Average children per family: 1.9

Median weekly household income: $1,347

Nearly 75 per cent of the electorate’s population was born in Australia, with over 80 per cent speaking English at home (122,043). This is followed by Indo-Aryan languages (3105) and Arabic (1912).

Most of Lindsay’s voters are young, home-owners and families, with a median age of 34 years.

Cost-of-living pressures and the National Broadband Network are key issues in the area, as well as public transport.

IN DEPTH: LINDSAY SUBURB OF PENRITH

 

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