November 23, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Down But Not Out

The Islamic State is on the ropes in Iraq, Syria and Libya. It’s conceivable that the group might hold little or no significant territory in the Middle East and North Africa in the next year or two, a remarkable turnabout for a terrorist organization that seized power in blitzkrieg-like assaults that took the world by surprise more than two years ago.

Don’t count the Islamic State out, however.

As they’re waning in their heartland, the Islamic State is “gathering momentum” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, CNN reported.

Calling themselves the Islamic State in Khorasan – an ancient name for a region that encompassed much of Central and South Asia — the group has been staging raids and breathing new life into the old jihadist networks that have been battling for decades.

“They are inspiring the like-minded youth in Pakistan through their strong social media propaganda,” Pakistani Senior Counterterrorism Commander Junaid Sheikh told the Associated Press, adding that the group is also recruiting Uzbek fighters, Taliban warriors and other violent groups.

Most recently, the Islamic State in Khorasan, or ISK, has been linked to a suicide bomber killing at least 50 worshipers and injuring 100 others at a Sufi shrine on Saturday in southwest Pakistan.

ISK was also blamed for an attack on a police academy in Baluchistan that killed 60 people last month. The group was connected to a faction of the Pakistani Taliban that killed 72 people at funeral in August and 69 people on Easter Sunday in a park in Lahore, too.

In Afghanistan, ISK claimed responsibility for a bombing at a Shiite Muslim mosque in Kabul that killed 28 on Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times. Last week, the group killed seven security officers in the capital. It’s also taken credit for kidnappings and other violence.

The group operates out of Afghanistan, but has developed different tactics depending on which side of the border it’s working, Reuters reported.

In Pakistan, ISK is joining with proxies – local terrorists, in other words – a new approach that extends its reach without necessarily adding to its responsibilities, like paying or equipping fighters.

In Afghanistan, ISK has recruited disgruntled Afghan and Pakistani Taliban fighters who don’t want to stop the jihad they’ve been fighting since the late 1970s.

Whether the Islamic State can achieve the authority in Central and South Asia that it enjoyed in Iraq or Syria is still unknown.

It’s obvious, however, that the delays in confronting the group head-on – Baghdad is only now beating back the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – have failed to stop the metastasis.

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WANT TO KNOW

Guilt and Atonement

After a widespread outcry, Turkey withdrew a controversial bill that might have overturned some men’s convictions for sexually assaulting children.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Tuesday the government was withdrawing a proposed bill that would have deferred sentencing or punishment for men who committed sexual assault on girls under the age of 18 if they married them, and if no physical force was involved, Al Jazeera reported.

Critics feared the proposal could have legitimized the practice of men marrying underage girls, and thousands took to the streets in protest over the weekend.

The government has said some relief is required for families where fathers were placed in jail for marrying underage girls with the consent of both the bride and groom and both sets of parents.

Opponents say the bill – which will now go to a parliamentary committee for further review – would amount to a pardon for statutory rape.

Have Morsi

After sparing him the death penalty, Egypt’s highest court overturned a life sentence against former President Mohammed Morsi and cleared 18 other senior Muslim Brotherhood officials in a long-running espionage case.

The court dropped all verdicts against the group, found guilty in June 2015 of spying for Hamas, according to the Wall Street Journal. It also called for a retrial, but no date has been set.

Last week, the same court overturned the death sentence issued against Morsi for his prison escape during the 2011 protests that toppled then-dictator Hosni Mubarak. Morsi will also face a retrial in that case.

Though he is still serving a 40-year sentence for spying on behalf of Qatar and a 20-year sentence for alleged involvement in anti-government clashes outside Egypt’s presidential palace in 2012, this week’s judgment voided the most severe punishment he’d been handed.

Chaos Reigns

With chaos abated in the cities but still reigning in rural India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may soon offer more relief to ordinary citizens who are suffering due to his surprise withdrawal of the country’s 500- and 1,000-rupee notes in a strike against counterfeiting, tax evasion and corruption.

After a cash crunch resulting from the demonetization caused a run on the banks, India imposed strict withdrawal limits to try to reduce the chaos. But recently Modi has been forced to make a series of concessions – such as allowing withdrawals of 250,000 rupees for families who are holding weddings – to stem anger over the move.

Even that may not be enough to curb the pain, Reuters reported. While the finance minister says the flood of notes into the country’s banks will eventually push down interest rates, ease the flow of credit and boost private investments, for now the shortage of cash is preventing people from spending and businesses across the country are suffering.

According to Ambit Capital, a Mumbai-based equity research firm, GDP growth could plunge to 3.5 percent this year from 7.6 percent a year earlier as a result, the agency said.

DISCOVERIES

Rare Find

Centuries-old antiques can yield some peculiar backstories about their former owners, and a rare find in Denmark is clueing scientists in on the eating habits of the Danish bourgeoisie.

While cleaning out the storage area of their museum in Aarhaus, archaeologists discovered a wooden box used as an 18th century latrine.

The box still contained some of its original contents. Namely, a bottle filled with a clump of 300-year-old poo.

Analysis of the fecal remains yielded evidence of a refined palate, which led scientists to deduce the identity of the stool’s creator, Bishop Jens Bicherod. The bishop was the prior resident of the dwelling in Aalborg where the latrine was originally uncovered in 1937.

“In the sample, we have a variety. We have berries. We have nuts. We have spices and we have fruits, black currant. We have buckwheat, which is rather special. We have figs and we have grapes. And then we have peppercorns,” Jette Linaa, an archaeologist at the Moesgaard Museum where the latrine was rediscovered, told the CBC.

Stoked by the discovery, Linaa hopes the find will become part the museum’s holdings.

“It is so much fun…We get this very little glimpse into one man and one diet. We get as close to the man himself – of the people themselves – that we ever can.”