Saudi shakeup: New king purges Abdullah’s sons from key security posts

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ABU DHABI — Saudi Arabia’s new king has launched a purge of the sons of his predecessor.

Former National Security Adviser Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, left, and new King Salman.

Former National Security Adviser Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, left, and new King Salman.

Saudi King Salman has reshuffled the Cabinet and government in what appeared to be directed against his late brother. On Jan. 29, Salman ordered the dismissal of several sons of the late King Abdullah, who died on Jan. 23.

Under the decree, Salman fired Abdullah’s sons, Turki and Mishaal, appointed governors of the Riyad and Mecca provinces in 2014. The king, however, retained Abdullah’s leading son, Miteb, as national guard minister.

[Egypt’s Sisi vows to secure Gulf states, urges ‘reformed discourse’]

The purge also included senior officials appointed by Abdullah. Saudi intelligence director Prince Khaled and National Security Adviser Prince Bandar Bin Sultan were fired. Both played a leading role in the Sunni revolt in Syria.

At the same time, Salman, who also ordered a significant salary increase for civil servants, continued to place his sons into senior positions. One son, Abdul Aziz, was named deputy oil minister.

The king’s 35-year-old son, Mohammed, has already been appointed defense minister. Mohammed was expected to clash with Miteb for budgets and authority.

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ISIL offensive in Bekaa Valley turns Christian village into ghost town

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NICOSIA — Islamic State of Iraq and Levant has targeted a key route to Lebanon.

Officials said ISIL has recruited hundreds of fighters to control a key route from Syria to Lebanon. They said the effort included ISIL assaults on several Lebanese towns along the Syrian border.

Ras Baalbek

Ras Baalbek

A key ISIL target was believed to be Ras Baalbek, about five kilometers from Talet Al Hamra, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said Ras Baalbek, a Christian community, has turned into a virtual ghost town in wake of ISIL and Nusra attacks in the northern Bekaa.

“People have seen what ISIL does to Muslims, let alone Christians, and left for other parts of Lebanon or abroad,” an official said. “They also see that the army does not have the forces to guard the town.”

[Leaked documents show Turkish intel shipped weapons to Al Qaida]

On Jan. 23, ISIL attacked a Lebanese Army base in the Bekaa Valley. ISIL fighters captured the base and eventually withdrew after a 16-hour battle that included Lebanese air and ground strikes.

“The terrorists have made a decision to establish a stronghold along the border,” an official said. “It seems that they have obtained a sufficient number of fighters and weapons to sustain operations.”

Officials said the attack on the army base in Talet Al Hamra reflected an escalation in ISIL operations in Lebanon. They said ISIL and its Al Qaida rival, Nusra Front for the Defense of Levant, have been recruiting Sunnis, particularly Palestinians, in the campaign to take over parts of Lebanon.

Ras Baalbek is adjacent to two additional ISIL targets. Officials said ISIL has been trying for more than six months to capture neighboring Arsal and Al Qaa.

The Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah has been assigned protection of Ras Baalbek. Over the last year, Hizbullah formed a civil guard called the Resistance Brigades to monitor those arriving in the town, whose population dropped from 7,000 to 1,500.

“There is a new death triangle for ISIL that stretches from Arsal to the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein Hilwe to Roumieh prison and which reaches Iraq and [the Syrian city of] Raqa,” Lebanese Interior Minister Nouhad Mashnouq said.

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Ukraine crisis overlooked amid Mideast turmoil: ‘Onus is on Russia’

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By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — While America seems transfixed on a spate of six separate Middle East crises, there’s been far less attention paid on the brewing storm in Europe. Thus as politico/military efforts are focused on trying to sort out Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Lebanon and Iran, Washington policymakers have been blindsided by fast unraveling events in Ukraine.

We had better take notice of a very dangerous situation.

Though there’s been some reporting on the seesaw struggle between Russian-backed separatists and the Kiev government over territory in eastern Ukraine, the UN Security Council has remained laser focused on this dangerous situation where more than 5,000 people have been killed and over a million people have been displaced from their homes.

A demolished parking lot in Mariupol, Ukraine, Jan. 24. / AP

A demolished parking lot in Mariupol, Ukraine, Jan. 24. / AP

France’s UN Ambassador Francois Delattre warns the country is slipping into a “spiral of violence,� with the renewed rebel attacks.

Ukraine’s current political fault line between East and West is historic. The eastern parts of Ukraine tend to be Russian speaking, Orthodox, and tend to look to Moscow as their political mentor. The western part of Ukraine, tilts to Western Europe, especially Poland, and is Catholic. The Kiev government and the majority of the population want closer ties with the European Union, not Moscow.

At the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine, formerly a constituent republic of the old USSR, became an independent country but with this built-in ethnic divide.

Last year, events unraveled, first with the Ukrainian majority ousting a corrupt Moscow-centric government, and then bidding to join the European Union. This was a line too far for Russia. Vladimir Putin mobilized his military proxies.

Just a week after the successful Sochi Winter Olympics, Putin went for a geopolitical encore and took back the disputed Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. During the spring and summer of 2014, Moscow-backed separatists seized large swaths of Ukrainian territory which bordered Russia and proclaimed “independent People’s Republics.� During the same period in July, separatist forces shot down a Malaysian civilian (flight MH 17) airliner killing all 298 passengers and crew.

In September a cease-fire was established. The Minsk Protocol’s short-lived benefits however were soon overshadowed by renewed fighting and what diplomats see as a “deepening political stalemate.� UN Under Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman warns bluntly, “Ukraine as well as its neighbors and the broader region, cannot afford the current, violent status quo.

While Western economic sanctions against Russia have tightened, the real threat to Moscow is not Western rhetoric nor political posturing but the dramatic drop in petroleum prices. Given that Russia is a major energy producer and exporter, and has based its budgets on oil prices being over $100 per barrel, prices have now fallen to below $50. In other words, Moscow’s primary revenue has been nearly cut in half, causing a tumble in the national currency the Ruble and a recession.

But Ukraine’s economy is far from robust; the country has long been on the intravenous of IMF loans. Last year Ukraine’s already weak economy saw negative 8 percent GDP growth. The local currency the Hryvnia fell by 50 percent.

In the current flare-up, almost 50 civilians were killed and another 150 wounded when Russian-backed rebels fired rockets which hit the city of Mariupol.

During an emergency meeting of the Security Council, British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant advised, “In the last few weeks, Russia has transferred to the separatists hundreds of additional heavy weapons, not just rocket systems, but also heavy artillery, tanks and armored vehicles. Hundreds of Russian regular forces and Special forces continue to operate on Ukrainian territory in clear violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.�

“Russia arms the separatists, it finances them, it advises them and it fights covertly alongside them. What it has not managed to do is to get its separatist proxies to stick to Russia’s deceitful narrative, � he added.

American UN Ambassador Samantha Power stated, “The Russian Federation had then denounced the attacks while continuing to play the international community as fools and condemning Ukraine.� Putting the case succinctly Ambassador Power added, “This offensive was made in Moscow.�

Naturally Moscow begs to differ. While Russia asserts that, “force alone could not solve the conflict, “ it demands that the Kiev government open a “dialogue� with the separatists. Yet one must concede that complex cultural and religious emotions are intertwined with Moscow’s geopolitical ambitions in Ukraine.

Maybe Lithuania’s UN delegate Raimonda Murmokaite put it best when she stressed, “The onus is on Russia to put an end to this senseless war.� Indeed so.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for He is the author of “Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany; Korea, China”, 2014

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Ansar, backed by ISIL, goes on rampage in northern Sinai

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CAIRO — Egypt’s largest insurgency group, which sustained major losses over the last year, has launched major strikes in the Sinai Peninsula.

Ansar Beit Maqdis, now part of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, conducted a series of attacks on the Egyptian Army and police in Sinai. The attacks on Jan. 29, for which Ansar claimed responsibility, were said to have killed at least 27 people in El Arish, the capital of the North Sinai province, Middle East Newsline reported.

Scene of attacks in El Arish: "The attacks were meant to show that the terrorists could still operate in northern Sinai."

El Arish: “The attacks were meant to show that the terrorists could still operate in northern Sinai.”

“The attacks were meant to show that the terrorists could still operate in northern Sinai,” an official said.

Officials said Ansar fired mortars and rockets, stormed facilities as well as detonated several car bombs in El Arish, the regional headquarters of the Egyptian Army and Central Security Forces. They acknowledged that Ansar operatives penetrated the new security system meant to monitor incoming traffic in the provincial capital, under night curfew since October 2014.

The insurgency attacks, reported to have injured around 40, were deemed the largest in months in Sinai. Officials said Ansar sustained major losses in army and CSF operations throughout 2014, particularly in the corridor between El Arish and Rafah, located along the border of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Ansar’s targets included an army base, CSF checkpoints and a hotel. The car bombs were said to have been detonated near the security headquarters for the North Sinai province.

“More than one car bomb was detonated,” Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency said.

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War and peace, then and now

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DonKirk3By Donald Kirk,

In sunny Florida, while storms and blizzards rage in the American Northeast, old war correspondents from our days in Vietnam and Cambodia talk about those days of fighting in the jungles, of going down remote roads, of running into the bad guys and coming back alive.

One of them, Don Tate, one-time star of the Scripps-Howard chain, shows me fading newspaper clippings featuring his stories on the front pages of papers that have long since gone out of business. And he also digs out features and photos from war games in Korea where he was writing about American and South Korean troops as they floundered over snow-covered crags south of the DMZ. The going in Korea, if anything, was tougher than in Vietnam, Tate notes, but the difference was that no war was going on.

Tate tells war stories as armies fight off and on in the Middle East and war clouds gather from Africa to Northeast Asia. For sure, these wars look quite different from the ones we covered as journalists decades ago. High-tech means weapons with far greater range and accuracy than those we saw in our time. With all that weaponry, it seems amazing that U.S. troops still carry M16 rifles fighting enemy soldiers carrying AK-47s. The M16 and AK-47 have gone through a few generations of modernization but remain the basic infantry weapons.

Don Kirk on a truck with South Vietnamese soldiers on route one,  1972.

Don Kirk on a truck with South Vietnamese soldiers on route one, 1972.

Dropping by the home of veteran Canadian TV correspondent and producer Bill Cunningham, we share memories of our encounter with a North Vietnamese and Viet Cong unit in Cambodia. We had driven down from Phnom Penh on the strength of rumors that the North Vietnamese were building up for an offensive across the South Vietnamese border in the Seven Mountains region deep in the Mekong Delta.

[Beijing cheers exit of man it considered father of Pentagon’s China threat theory]

Turning up a side road, I saw soldiers wearing pith helmets festooned with camouflage leaves carrying AK-47′s. Reversing course was not an option. They would have fired on us if we seemed to be fleeing. Slowly, we inched into a base camp where a thin, grizzled older man, fondling a grenade, pointed a pistol at Cunningham and cameraman Maurice Embra.

I remember a female soldier, carrying an AK-47, looking somberly at me as I opened my notebook — a real notebook, that is, not a notebook computer, a latter-day device that no one in those days imagined. Cunningham showed his Canadian passport, assuring the old man we were “all Canadians” as I was about to pull out my U.S. passport. After a few minutes’ hesitation, they let us go after giving us propaganda leaflets in Vietnamese and Khmer.

Those of us who lived through these wars were lucky. A lot of journalists got killed in Vietnam and Cambodia, a number as they drove down roads in search of war. As the weaponry, conditions and battlefields change, the dangers are just as extreme. Journalists get killed by rifle fire and execution — these days they are beheaded, a method of death that seems unique among Al Qaida and ISIS extremists.

The big difference between covering U.S. forces then and now is journalists these days have to be “embedded” in operations. They go through an elaborate accreditation process and then are okayed to join up with an American unit. Their interviews are monitored, missing that first-hand spontaneity of quotes and glimmerings that we were always hearing and seeing. In our time, a press card from the U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam — MACV — was a pass to anywhere.

Free to roam, Don Tate survived firefights, close calls and near misses throughout South Vietnam. I was with him on some of these adventures, jumping in and out of helicopters, riding on American tanks and armored personnel carriers, roaring across the Cambodian border as U.S. forces rampaged through North Vietnamese base areas after the fall of Prince Sihanouk in 1970.

But those were not really the good old days. Rather, they left an indelible impression of the cruelty and horrors of war. Older Koreans, having gone through the hell of the Korean War, know the feeling much better than I. A second Korean War, a wider Northeast Asian war, would if anything be more frightening than all the mayhem we see and read about in the Middle East. And the specter of war in Eastern Europe, as Russia asserts its presence in eastern Ukraine and maybe elsewhere, is still more horrifying.

Years after our encounter with the bad guys in Cambodia, Cunningham and I went back again. The idea was to see what people remembered of the fighting that once swept their villages and how they looked decades later. Cunningham did a great TV special, and I did a lengthy story for the International Herald Tribune, for which I was filing at the time.

New buildings, concrete and shiny aluminum had turned hamlets into roadside shopping areas. People were crossing the border into Vietnam, trading, visiting friends. It was a relief to see the region at peace all those years later. You wonder if some years from now peace will settle upon the Middle East and caravans will crisscross the region as in centuries past.

Columnist Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace for decades. He’s at

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Alibaba meets with China regulator, controversial report retracted

(Reuters) – The head of China’s commerce regulator met with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd chairman Jack Ma on Friday to discuss combating fake products, the official Xinhua news agency reported, with the two adopting a conciliatory tone after a row over illegal business on the Internet company’s platforms.

The meeting took place the same day the regulator, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), backtracked on an earlier report that had excoriated the Chinese online commerce company for not doing enough to suppress counterfeiting on its websites.

SAIC issued what it called a “white paper” on Wednesday saying many products sold on Alibaba’s websites infringed on trademarks, or were banned, substandard or fake. White papers often convey official policy positions.

But in a follow-up statement posted on its website on Friday, a spokesman for the regulator said the report was in fact not a white paper and carried no legal force.

“The most recent SAIC posting speaks for itself. We feel vindicated,” Alibaba said in a statement in response.

It’s unclear what prompted the regulator’s seeming about-face in a highly unusual episode, one that saw a major Chinese corporation clash publicly with an influential government organization.

While it remains unclear whether the SAIC intended any specific action against Alibaba or counterfeiting in general, analysts said the incident reminded investors of the political risk inherent in Chinese companies, that the country’s regulators may clamp down on business activities with little warning.

In the meeting with the SAIC on Friday, Ma promised to “actively cooperate with the government (and) devote more capital” to weeding out fake goods, according to Xinhua.

Zhang Mao, minister of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), said the company had made good efforts in safeguarding consumer interests and added his agency should find new modes of oversight for e-commerce.

The Chinese company is sensitive to accusations about its efforts to suppress counterfeit products, which span several years. During a quarterly earnings call on Thursday, Alibaba vice-chairman Joseph Tsai called the SAIC’s initial report “flawed,” and said the firm was preparing to file a formal complaint.

(This story was refiled to change reporter’s dateline from Bengaluru to Beijing)

(Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing, John Ruwitch in Shanghai and Edwin Chan in San Francisco; Editing by Mark Potter, Bernard Orr)

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Factbox: Canada security bill’s main provisions

By Randall Palmer

(Reuters) – The Canadian government introduced legislation on Friday to counter terrorism in response to attacks in Canada, France and Australia by Islamist militants since last October.

The following are the main provisions:


– CSIS would have powers to disrupt threats to the security of Canada at home and abroad, not just collect intelligence.

– Threat disruption could include online counter-messaging and/or disrupting radical websites and Twitter accounts.

– It could include interfering with travel plans and financial transactions, and degrading or intercepting goods or weapons.

– Judicial warrants would be required if measures infringe an individual’s legal rights.


– It would make it a crime to call for attacks on Canada in general.

– Actively encouraging specific terrorism offences had already been illegal.

– This provision would not ban the “glorification of terrorism”, which is praising those who commit terrorism.

– It would allow a judge to order the removal of terrorist propaganda from a website hosted by a Canadian Internet service provider.


– Lowering the threshold for making preventive arrests to circumstances where an officer believes terrorism activity “may” be carried out, rather than “will” be carried out.

– Lengthening the period of preventive arrests to seven days from three.

– A separate “terrorism peace bond” which limits the movement of individuals who may commit a terrorism offence, without actually detaining them.


– Broaden the no-fly list to include individuals traveling by air to take part in terrorist activities abroad.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing By Grant McCool)

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Hedge funds lose court bid over deal price

By Tom Hals

Wilmington, Del. (Reuters) – Hedge funds lost a court bid to get extra cash for their shares of online family research site Inc, in a ruling involving an increasingly popular hedge fund strategy.

A Delaware judge ruled on Friday that a private equity firm paid a fair value of $32 per share in 2012 to acquire and rejected hedge fund claims the price should have been as high as $47 per share.

The case involves “appraisal arbitrage” in which investors vote against a proposed deal and then ask a judge to determine the fair value of the stock after a trial. was sold to European private equity firm Permira Advisers. The private equity firm paid 40 percent above the market price for the stock, according to the 56-page opinion from Sam Glasscock, a judge on Delaware’s Court of Chancery.

After the deal closed, Merion Capital, Merlin Partners and Ancora Merger Arbitrage Fund exercised appraisal rights and sought a better price for their 1.4 million shares. Their expert argued for between $42.81 and $47 per share, while’s expert put the fair price at $30.63 per share, according to the opinion.

One lawyer who specializes in appraisals said he would not be deterred from bringing the cases because, while Glasscock arrived at the merger price, he made a detailed analysis of the presentations from both sides.

“I’m not at all thinking less of bringing claim because of this decision,” said Steven Hecht, of Lowenstein Sandler.

Glasscock said reviewing both detailed financial analyses was like “eating chicken gizzards: plenty of chewing but mighty little swallowing.”

Earlier this month, Glasscock issued a ruling that would make it easier for funds to pursue appraisal arbitrage cases.

Merion, founded by securities class action lawyer Andrew Barroway, has been a leader in bringing appraisal arbitrage cases, which can take years to resolve.

While the investors failed to increase the amount, the judge also declined to find fair value below the deal price. The funds will also collect interest, limiting their potential losses.

The appraisal arbitrage strategy has produced big returns. In 2012, Orchard Enterprises Inc was ordered to pay Merlin Partners and others $4.67 per share for their stake in the company, more than twice the $2.05 per share merger price. declined to comment. Attorneys for the investors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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Canada security bill provides new powers to combat terror

By Andrea Hopkins

RICHMOND HILL, Ontario (Reuters) – New anti-terror legislation in Canada would make it a crime to call for attacks on the country and give a much larger role to the government’s main spy agency.

The bill introduced by the Conservative government on Friday would give the spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the ability to disrupt attacks by interfering with travel plans or communications, for example. In the past, CSIS has been limited to the collection of intelligence.

The bill, whose passage is assured because the Conservatives have a majority in Parliament, would also make it easier for police to make preventive arrests.

“Jihadi terrorism as it is evolving is one of the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who faces a general election in October, said at a news conference. “Violent jihadism is not a human right. It is an act of war.”

The government promised the legislation after a gunman attacked Canada’s Parliament Buildings in Ottawa in October after fatally shooting a soldier at the nearby National War Memorial. The attack by a so-called “lone wolf” Canadian convert to Islam came two days after another Canadian convert rammed two soldiers in Quebec with his car, killing one.

Harper also cited recent attacks in France and Australia, saying such events show the danger of terror is not a future possibility but current and imminent.

To make recruitment more difficult, the legislation would give the courts authority to remove terrorist propaganda from the Internet.

It is already illegal to counsel someone to commit specific terrorist attacks, but the bill would make it illegal to make a general call for attacks in Canada.

The government said, however, that the bill would not ban what it called the “glorification of terrorism” – praising those who commit acts of terror – only those who urge the acts be replicated.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association called the bill unsound and counterproductive.

“Criminalizing people’s words and thoughts is misguided and won’t make Canadians any safer. We will be less free, less democratic and less likely to know who to keep an eye on,” said policy director Michael Vonn.

Among other measures, the bill would make it easier for authorities to prevent Canadians from traveling abroad to join extremist groups such as Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Police would be able to detain suspects for up to seven days without charge instead of the current three.

It also allows for limiting the movement of individuals considered suspect without actually detaining them.

Responding to critics, Harper said security and police agencies would still need judicial approval for preventive arrests or to disrupt potential attacks.

“Canadians understand their freedom and their security go often hand in hand. They expect us to do both; we are doing both,” he said. “We do not buy the argument that every time you protect Canadians you somehow take away their liberties.”

Thomas Mulcair, leader of the opposition New Democrats, called on the government to ensure that the security agencies had enough funding, saying cutbacks had hampered their ability to carry out their existing mandates.

(Additional reporting by Randall Palmer, Leah Schnurr and Mike De Souza in Ottawa; editing by Peter Galloway and Dan Grebler)

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Dating site Topface says paid hacker to not sell stolen data

By Jim Finkle

BOSTON (Reuters) – Topface, one of the world’s largest dating websites, said it has paid a hacker an undisclosed sum to stop trying to sell about 20 million email addresses stolen from the Russian company.

Topface Chief Executive Dmitry Filatov said the company located the hacker, who had published ads to sell the data but had not actually sold them.

“We have paid him an award for finding a vulnerability and agreed on further cooperation in the field of data security,” Filatov said in an email on Friday, declining to disclose the size of the reward.

Topface says it has some 92 million users and 1.6 million daily visitors.

Cybersecurity experts typically advise companies not to pay hackers to return stolen data, calling that a ransom and saying cyber criminals often break promises.

But Filatov noted that the ads have already been removed and Topface has agreed not to pursue charges against the unidentified individual.

“As we made an agreement with him we do not see any reason for him to break it,” said Filatov.

Atlanta-based fraud protection firm Easy Solutions disclosed the hack on Sunday, reporting on its blog that a hacker known as “Mastermind” was attempting to sell 20 million credentials for an unnamed dating site.

The security firm had warned the credentials might be used to access accounts on other sites because people frequently use the same passwords for multiple accounts.

It said the data included 7 million credentials from Microsoft Corp’s Hotmail service as well as 2.5 million from email accounts with Yahoo Inc and Google Inc.

Only email address had been stolen, Filatov said. “There was no access to other information – neither passwords, nor content of the accounts.”

(Reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Richard Chang)

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