At least three suspected U.S. drone strikes killed at least 12 alleged al Qaeda linked militants Thursday in Yemen. The strikes, in Yemen's Marib and Hadramout provinces, all reportedly hit targets in cars. The drone campaign has been stepped up in recent week after warnings of possible al Qaeda planned attacks on Yemeni and Western targets. Thursday's drone strikes came after Yemeni security officials claimed on Wednesday that they foiled an al Qaeda plot to attack two major oil pipelines and the port city of Mukalla. At least 30 suspected militants have been killed in drone strikes in the past two weeks. The strikes have mostly been concentrated in Yemen's remote mountainous areas where al Qaeda's top five leaders are believed to be located. The United States acknowledges its drone program in Yemen, however does not comment on individual strikes. The United States and Britain evacuated their diplomatic staff from Yemen's capital, Sanaa, this week over threats of an attack, and the United States has temporarily closed 19 embassies and consulates in the region. The plot was originally believed to have been ordered by al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, however a U.S. official reported Thursday that the attacks were proposed by al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The increased flow of foreign fighters into Syria is raising fears that the war torn country is becoming a haven for Islamist militants. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's second in command, Michael Morrell, recently said that the combination of extremism and civil war in Syria now poses the greatest risk to U.S. national security. Counterterrorism officials say that jihadist militants are streaming into Syria at greater rates than they did into Iraq at the height of the insurgency. Many militants belong to the extremist Nusra Front, but new groups are forming under the more extremist umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The head of the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), General Salim Idris, recently accused Islamist groups of receiving funding from the Assad regime, and there have been increasing clashes between FSA forces and jihadist groups over arms and supplies. Meanwhile, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed al-Jarba, said he is working with the FSA to pull together all rebel groups into one unified army.
- Gunmen seized two Turkish Airlines pilots in Lebanon on Beirut's airport road Friday demanding the release of nine Lebanese Shiite pilgrims abducted in May 2012 in Syria.
- Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations will resume next Wednesday in Jerusalem, as Palestinians condemn Israel's approval of the construction of over 800 new West Bank homes.
- The leader of Egypt's Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, has canceled some events in Cairo over heightened security concerns.
Arguments and Analysis
'Conspiracy Theories: the One Thing Everyone in Lebanon Has in Common' (Sulome Anderson, The Atlantic)
"Bilal, a Salafi sheikh, holds court at his well-furnished house in Bab al-Tabbaneh, a notoriously volatile Sunni neighborhood in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. The area, which has historically been a flashpoint for many violent conflicts with neighboring Alawites, is tense following June clashes between the Lebanese army and supporters of Sunni cleric Ahmed Assir in the southern town of Abra that left 46 dead. An uneasy truce has held in Tripoli since the army seized Assir's compound and Ramadan started, but Bilal says he's sure it won't last, and he blames that on Iran, the militant group Hezbollah, and, oddly enough, on the U.S.
'Americans see us as Bin Laden, as terrorists,' he says with a sneer.' But when the world talks about Hezbollah, they call them a militia. We have brains. We know the Americans are behind everything that's going on. They're sitting watching the blood of Muslims being spilled, and they turn a blind eye.'
Lebanon, a country rife with long-simmering sectarian tension, has recently begun to show signs of instability, escalated by conflict across the border in Syria. A heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah has attracted much condemnation for its military support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime, while radical Sunni groups have become more powerful and mobilized, allegedly with funding from Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In addition to the clashes in Abra, incidents such as assassinations, roadside bombings and rocket attacks have taken place over the past year with increasing frequency.
As cracks appear in the relative peace that has held since Lebanon's bloody 15-year civil war officially ended in 1990, a long-standing Lebanese pastime seems to have gone into overdrive. If there's one thing people from all four major Lebanese sects -- Sunni, Shia, Christian and Druze -- appear to agree on, it's that there's a conspiracy going on, and opposing sects, backed by nefarious foreign powers, are the masterminds."
'Egypt's Constitutional Crisis' (Jill Goldenziel and David Landau, LA Times)
"Revolution 2.0 will be better than beta only if the new constitutional process includes broad participation and representation from all social and political groups -- including the Brotherhood, which will not disappear as a political force any time soon. Such an inclusive, consensual approach has been an integral part of nearly every successful transition from military rule to democracy. Even in a society as divided as post-apartheid South Africa, an inclusive process helped the population heal from violence by giving traditionally unrepresented groups political voice.
Egypt's military and secular groups must avoid the temptation to shut the Brotherhood and other Islamist elements out of constitution-making. The new text will not succeed without buy-in from all significant political factions. This will require compromises on the text. It is more important to draft a document that is accepted by a broad swath of the population than it is to have the text judged perfect by international groups.
The parties can help ensure that the process reflects a consensus rather than imposition by a simple majority by writing rules that restrain the most powerful political groups while making sure that they deliberate and compromise with other factions. The new constituent assembly need not -- and should not -- be popularly elected. An elected assembly would merely ratify the dominance of the best-organized political groupings. It must instead be selected using transparent criteria that promote broad representation of all major political forces, women and minority groups."
--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber
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