Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

Pilgrim Carries ISIL Flag at Hajj Rituals on Arafat Plain

Pilgrim Carries ISIL Flag at Hajj Rituals on Arafat Plain

TEHRAN (FNA)- A pilgrim has carried the flag of the ISIL terrorist group on the Plain of Arafat in Saudi Arabia during the Hajj rituals, media reports said.

According to Iraq’s Alsumaria satellite TV network, social media, especially Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, posted photos on Saturday showing a pilgrim carrying the ISIL flag during the Hajj rites on Jabal ar-Rahmah mountain on the Plain of Arafat on Friday, press tv reported.

The Saudi television aired footage of the pilgrim with the ISIL flag for just a few seconds before it stopped broadcasting the video.

This comes as Saudi Arabia and its former intelligence chief Prince Bandar Bin Sultan have played a leading role in the formation of the ISIL terrorist group.

The ISIL controls large areas of Syria’s East and North. The group sent its militants into Iraq in June, seizing large parts of land straddling the border between Syria and Iraq.

The West and its regional allies, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are reportedly giving financial and military support to the militants.

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A dark day for Fifa after claims of arms deals for World Cup votes

The shockwaves from the corruption scandal that brought down Sepp Blatter continue to reverberate, with claims in Germany that the 2006 World Cup vote was influenced by a shipment of rocket-propelled grenades and allegations in Egypt that a Fifa executive solicited bribes during the 2010 bidding race.

As seven Fifa officials continued to fight extradition to the US over claims they were involved in a “World Cup of fraud”, Blatter’s right-hand man Jérôme Valcke remained at the centre of speculation over what he knew about a $10m payment to the disgraced former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner.

And pressure on the Football Association of Ireland also grew amid the fallout from its admission that it agreed a secret €5m (£3.6m) payment after threatening legal action in the wake of Thierry Henry’s handball that led to the goal that ended their chances of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

The FAI chief executive, John Delaney, said the payment was agreed after he confronted Blatter about Henry’s role in Ireland’s World Cup play-off defeat. Fifa has claimed the payment was a loan towards the construction of a stadium that was later written off.

The Irish taoiseach, Enda Kenny, called on Delaney to provide more detail about the situation, after Delaney admitted receiving the payment in a radio interview on Thursday.

“This is quite extraordinary,” said Kenny.

“But I would say that any questions that need to be answered here in the interests of transparency and accountability … John Delaney should answer and will answer all of those questions, I’m quite sure.”

As it emerged that the Ireland players had no knowledge of the payment, amid calls for Delaney to explain why it was not revealed at the time, Kenny said he believed the FAI chief executive’s position remained “tenable”.

The FAI last night released a detailed statement and bank documents to prove it had acted properly, also arguing it had suffered reputational damage after Blatter made light of an earlier meeting at a press conference.

Elsewhere, the downfall of Blatter has sparked an avalanche of claims about major decisions taken by Fifa in recent years. The German newspaper

Die Zeit reported on Friday that the then chancellor Gerhard Shröder supplied arms to Saudi Arabia in return for support in Germany’s World Cup bid, in which it defeated South Africa 12-11 in the final round in controversial circumstances.

The claims alleged that the government lifted arms restrictions days before the vote in order to make the shipment and help swing Saudi Arabia’s vote to Germany.

The claims mean that the votes for the 1998, 2006, 2010, 2018 and 2022 tournaments are now under scrutiny in some way. Brazilian authorities and the FBI are also looking into the contracts signed in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup.

FBI sources have confirmed that it is investigating claims relating to all of those tournaments except 2006 and Egypt, one of the bidders for 2010, has now alleged that Warner – who has vigorously denied wrongdoing but was charged in the US indictment – asked for a $7m bribe.

“I did not imagine that Fifa was so corrupt,” the former Egypt sports minister Aley Eddine Helal told ONTV in Cairo. “Jack Warner demanded $7m before the voting. Egypt’s FA president El-Dahshori Harb met with the Fifa official in the United Arab Emirates and informed me that he wanted a $7m bribe.”Helal said he and other officials on the 2010 bid committee have been silent for the 11 years since losing because they did not have any proof to back “the suspicions we have always had about the disgraceful way we lost”.

Egypt failed to poll a single vote and the tournament was awarded to South Africa, which was desperate to clinch the right to host the World Cup after losing out so narrowly to Germany for 2006. New evidence has also emerged that appears to confirm that Danny Jordaan, the leader of the 2010 World Cup bid and organising committee, and the Fifa secretary general, Valcke, knew about a disputed $10m payment to Warner’s Concacaf confederation.

In a statement this week, Fifa insisted that neither Blatter nor Valcke initiated the payment but a letter quickly emerged that showed the Fifa general secretary was aware of the detail in 2008. A new leaked letter from Jordaan, dated December 2007, appears to be the first time he outlines the scheme to Valcke.

He suggests that the $10m, which the US alleges ended up in Warner’s Bank of America account, be deducted by Fifa from the monies owed to the World Cup organising committee and sent to Concacaf.

Fifa and the South African Football Federation have denied wrongdoing, claiming the payment was made in good faith to support the World Cup’s Diaspora Programme in the Caribbean. Valcke insisted this week he was “beyond reproach”.

Uefa’s president, Michel Platini, arrived in Zurich on Friday to consider his options a week after frustration at seeing his chosen challenger to Blatter, Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, defeated turned to relief at seeing Blatter deposed.

All six global confederations are lying low, biding their time as they work out how to best calibrate their positions while Blatter attempts to cling on to power until promised elections between December and March.

The FBI investigation is ongoing and further indictments are expected to follow, while US investigators and Swiss prosecutors are looking into the 2018-22 bidding race.

David Gill, the Football Association vice-chairman, has ruled out standing for the Fifa presidency.

City in the sky: world’s biggest hotel to open in Mecca

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Desert fortress through the eyes of a Disneyland imagineer … the 45-storey Abraj Kudai hotel in Mecca. Click to view full image. Photograph: Dar Al-Handasah

The holy city is fast becoming a Las Vegas for pilgrims, thanks to the new £2.3bn megahotel that has four helipads, five floors for Saudi royalty – and 10,000 bedrooms

Four helipads will cluster around one of the largest domes in the world, like sideplates awaiting the unveiling of a momentous main course, which will be jacked up 45 storeys into the sky above the deserts of Mecca. It is the crowning feature of the holy city’s crowning glory, the superlative summit of what will be the world’s largest hotel when it opens in 2017.

With 10,000 bedrooms and 70 restaurants, plus five floors for the sole use of the Saudi royal family, the £2.3bn Abraj Kudai is an entire city of five-star luxury, catering to the increasingly high expectations of well-heeled pilgrims from the Gulf.

Modelled on a “traditional desert fortress”, seemingly filtered through the eyes of a Disneyland imagineer with classical pretensions, the steroidal scheme comprises 12 towers teetering on top of a 10-storey podium, which houses a bus station, shopping mall, food courts, conference centre and a lavishly appointed ballroom.

Located in the Manafia district, just over a mile south of the Grand Mosque, the complex is funded by the Saudi Ministry of Finance and designed by the Dar Al-Handasah group, a 7,000-strong global construction conglomerate that turns its hand to everything from designing cities in Kazakhstan to airports in Dubai.

For the Abraj Kudai, it has followed the wedding-cake pastiche style of the city’s recent hotel boom: cornice is piled upon cornice, with fluted pink pilasters framing blue-mirrored windows, some arched with a vaguely Ottoman air. The towers seem to be packed so closely together that guests will be able to enjoy views into each other’s rooms.

“The city is turning into Mecca-hattan,” says Irfan Al-Alawi, director of the UK-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, which campaigns to try to save what little heritage is left in Saudi Arabia’s holy cities. “Everything has been swept away to make way for the incessant march of luxury hotels, which are destroying the sanctity of the place and pricing normal pilgrims out.”

The Grand Mosque is now loomed over by the second tallest building in the world, the Abraj al-Bait clocktower, home to thousands more luxury hotel rooms, where rates can reach £4,000 a night for suites with the best views of the Kaaba – the black cube at the centre of the mosque around which Muslims must walk.

The hotel rises 600m (2,000ft) into the air, projecting a dazzling green laser-show by night, on a site where an Ottoman fortress once stood – razed for development, along with the hill on which it sat.

The list of heritage crimes goes on, driven by state-endorsed Wahhabism, the hardline interpretation of Islam that perceives historical sites as encouraging sinful idolatry – which spawned the ideology that is now driving Isis’s reign of destruction in Syria and Iraq. In Mecca and Medina, meanwhile, anything that relates to the prophet could be in the bulldozer’s sights.

The house of Khadijah, his first wife, was crushed to make way for public lavatories; the house of his companion Abu Bakr is now the site of a Hilton hotel; his grandson’s house was flattened by the king’s palace. Moments from these sites now stands a Paris Hilton store and a gender-segregated Starbucks.

“These are the last days of Mecca,” says Alawi. “The pilgrimage is supposed to be a spartan, simple rite of passage, but it has turned into an experience closer to Las Vegas, which most pilgrims simply can’t afford.”

Along the western edge of Mecca, the Jabal Omar development, which will accommodate 100,000 people. Photograph: Jabal Omar Development

The city receives around 2 million pilgrims for the annual Hajj, but during the rest of the year more than 20 million visit the city, which has become a popular place for weddings and conferences, bringing in annual tourism revenue of around £6bn. The skyline bristles with cranes, summoning thickets of hotel towers to accommodate the influx.

Along the western edge of the city the Jabal Omar development now rises, a sprawling complex that will eventually accommodate 100,000 people in 26 luxury hotels – sitting on another gargantuan plinth of 4,000 shops and 500 restaurants, along with its own six-storey prayer hall.

The Grand Mosque, meanwhile, is undergoing a £40bn expansion to double the capacity of its prayer halls – from 3 million worshippers currently to nearly 7 million by 2040. Planned like a vast triangular slice of cake, the extension goes so far back that most worshippers won’t even be able to see the Kaaba.

“It is just like an airport terminal,” says Alawi. “People have been finding they’re praying in the wrong direction because they simply don’t know which way the mosque is any more. It has made a farce of the whole place.”

Strange Bedfellows – Middle-East ‘Frenemies’

United Against Islamic State

The enemy of your enemy is your… frenemy; and so it is across the Middle East as the WSJ notes the spread of The Islamic State has united many parties once at odds with each other to become ‘strange bedfellows’.

Strange Bedfellows – Parties that display friction or outright aggression toward one another are finding themselves aligned in a desire to counter Islamic State.

U.S. and Iran
The U.S. and Iran share an interest in fostering an Iraqi government strong enough to fend off Islamic State.

U.S. and Syria
The U.S. and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad share an interest in quashing Islamic State in Syria, even if the regime appears to put a higher priority on fighting other rebel groups.

Israel and Egypt
Israel and Egypt have come together to oppose Hamas, and they now have a similar long-term interest to do the same in confronting Islamic State.

Syria, Kurds, Turkey and Iraq
Turkey and Syria, long fearful of building up the region’s Kurds, have a shared interest in building up the Kurdish Peshmerga to combat a more immediate threat, Islamic State. Iraq has acquiesced.

Turkey and Qatar
Turkey and Qatar suddenly have a shared interest in keeping the Islamist movement they separately helped foster in check before Islamic State absorbs and consolidates it.

Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq
Saudi Arabia supported Sunnis in Iraq while Iran supported Shiites. They now have an interest in aiding the Shiite-led Iraq government to counter a common threat.

U.S., China and Russia
Russia and China have plenty of disputes with the U.S., but they agree that, as big powers, they are threatened in similar fashion by the expansionist Islamic extremism of Islamic State.

U.S., Egypt, Qatar and Turkey
Egypt’s military ruler sees Qatar, Turkey and the U.S. as hostile to his suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. They all now fear Islamic State will consolidate the Islamic threat.

U.S. and al Qaeda
The greatest odd bedfellow of all: Islamic State threatens al Qaeda as well as the West, meaning that, in fact, al Qaeda and the U.S. now have a shared enemy.

Yemen’s Houthis Extend Advance in South After Saudi Warning

MAP: Yemen's Growing Crisis

(Bloomberg) — Forces loyal to Shiite rebels advanced deeper into southern Yemen, battling fighters supporting the president a day after Saudi Arabia warned it may act to restore stability in its neighbor.

Six Houthi rebels and two fighters loyal to Saudi-backed President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi were killed Tuesday in Ad-Dali’ province, about 150 kilometers (95 miles) north of Aden, the Yemeni leader’s stronghold, al-Masdar news website reported.

In Taiz, another southern city seized by the Houthis at the weekend, six people were killed and dozens wounded as security forces fired on a crowd of thousands protesting the rebel advance, according to Ahmed al-Wafi, a local activist.

The violence in Yemen is threatening to escalate into civil war, increasing the risk that Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, will be drawn in. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Monday that Gulf countries will take “necessary measures to protect the region” from the Houthis.

The erosion of government authority has already allowed al-Qaeda to take root in Yemen and use it as a base for attacks.

Prolonged Conflict

“It is not at all clear that the Houthis have the capacity to control the whole of Yemen, even if Hadi is expelled from Aden,” said John Jenkins, executive director of the Middle East office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and former U.K. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “That is likely to lead to prolonged civil conflict.”

Hadi has asked the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia, to impose a no-fly zone and send troops to stop the Houthi advance, Foreign Minister Riad Yassin told Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. The Yemeni leader fled to Aden last month after weeks of house arrest by the Houthis.

Kép megtekintése a Twitteren
Here’s who controls what in Yemen.

Prince Saud said that Saudi Arabia is ready to host talks among Yemen’s factions, while United Nations envoy Jamal Benomar, who brokered earlier rounds of negotiations, said they may resume in Qatar.

The Houthis are opposed to both options, spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam said on Facebook on Tuesday. He accused both countries of supporting and funding al-Qaeda and inciting sectarian conflict in Yemen.

Top Priority

The UN Security Council on Sunday urged the Houthis to lay down their arms and return to talks. Hadi wrote to the council on Tuesday urging it to go further and adopt a binding resolution authorizing “all willing countries” to take any necessary measures, including military intervention, to stop the Houthis’ aggression, according to a copy of the letter.

The Saudis and their allies among the Sunni Muslim monarchies of the Persian Gulf support Hadi and say Iran is behind the rise of the Houthis, who advanced from their base in north Yemen to capture the capital, Sana’a, last year. The Houthis, who have been targeted by al-Qaeda attacks, accuse Hadi and his Gulf supporters of encouraging the jihadists.

“Finding a resolution to the violence, political uncertainty and ascendancy of the Houthis in Yemen may very well be at the top of Saudi Arabia’s priorities,” said Fahad Nazer, a political analyst at JTG Inc. in Virginia. “Unrest in Yemen has always adversely affected Saudi Arabia.”

Inside Osama bin Laden’s Afghan lair

Osama Bin Laden at his Tora Bora hideout high in the Afghan mountains in 1996

Rare images of al-Qaeda leader in Tora Bora during the 1996 visit of a journalist are revealed during US terror trial

Rare photographs of Osama bin Laden’s life in Afghanistan have emerged during a terrorism trial in Manhattan.

They show the spartan life of al-Qaeda’s leader in the years before terrorists flew airliners into the World Trade Centre in New York and offer a glimpse into the warren of tunnels and fortifications he was building in the remote, mountainous area of Afghanistan known as Tora Bora.

They were taken by Abdel Barri Atwan, a Palestinian journalist who was invited to the hideout in 1996, as part of Bin Laden’s propaganda campaign to spread his message of hate around the world.

The images came to light last month in a Manhattan courthouse, only a few blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood. They were shown during the terrorism conspiracy trial of Khaled al-Fawwaz, who acted as Bin Laden’s mouthpiece in London during the mid-1990s.

He helped set up bin Laden’s first television interview – with CNN’s Peter Arnett and Peter Bergen in 1997 – and the visit by Mr Atwan that yielded the photographs.

“I was told that Osama bin Laden was fond of my writing, he liked my style, and he wanted to meet me personally,” he was quoted as saying in Mr Bergen’s 2006 book, The Osama bin Laden I Know. “I was hesitant, because it was very dangerous.”

The photographs show the al-Qaeda leader in a string of poses, looking healthy and relaxed. He cracks a smile in some.

He arrived in the Afghan city of Jalabad after being asked to leave Sudan in 1996, and promptly set about building a fortified lair in the mountains close to the border with Pakistan, ready for a last stand.

Mr Atwan met bin Laden in a small, book-lined cave. It was location used to film his pronouncements.

“He wanted media exposure,” Mr Atwan said. “He wants to say, ‘Now I am an international figure; I’m not just a Saudi. I am aggrieved at Americans who are occupying Saudi Arabia who are desecrating the Holy Land.’ “