The World Today for July 31, 2018

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Long Fuses

A series of explosions went off in southwestern Syria recently, killing more than 100 people and wounding almost 200 more.

The deaths were not the result of the civil war that has been raging in the country for more than seven years, Reuters reported.

The Islamic State was to blame.

Late last year, American military leaders and others claimed the terror organization that rose to power in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere four years ago was “on the run.”

That’s not exactly true.

The group no longer imposes its harsh version of Islam on a third of Iraq and Syria, as it did at the height of its power.

Instead, the jihadists who want to apply Sharia law on a global scale have reverted to guerrilla tactics on targets around the world.

“With its dream of a Caliphate in the Middle East now dead, Islamic State has switched to hit-and-run attacks,” wrote Reuters, referring to Iraq in particular in a story that described the situation in the region in general.

The news service described a rise in kidnappings, killings and other activities that terror-cum-criminal groups typically employ.

The Islamic State’s work is not confined to the Middle East, however.

The Associated Press described an attack on a polling station in Pakistan that killed 31 people during that country’s July 25 election and a suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed at least 19 people. The Islamic State took credit for the recent mass shooting in Toronto that claimed two lives and wounded 13 people, though police told Canada’s Global News there was no evidence to support that claim. In Michigan, said the Detroit Free Press, prosecutors charged a man with providing aid to the terrorists.

In an editorial titled “Islamic State. Diminished, but Still Dangerous,” the Chicago Tribune noted news reports that French and German authorities had recently thwarted potential attacks using the deadly toxin ricin. News reports also noted that the militants were using cryptocurrencies to evade intelligence agencies and that Islamic extremist groups were popping up in Congo and Mozambique.

Iraq is building an electrified, barbed-wire fence to keep Islamic State fighters who remain on the Syrian side of the border from entering the country. So far the barrier includes a nearly 20-foot-wide trench and runs about 12 miles, Agence France-Presse reported. But the border runs 373 miles, and the fence can’t keep out everyone who wants to cross, Newsweek observed.

Similar cautions apply elsewhere.

Researchers at King’s College London recently found that a significant number of women and children who had joined the Islamic State were now returning to European countries where they are still citizens, the EUobserver reported.

Judging by their fathers’ unwillingness to give up, the young returnees could be potential time bombs with very long fuses.



Same Same But Different

President Donald Trump’s Singapore talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un promised dramatic changes. But as Singaporeans might say, the situation looks to be “same same but different,” as US satellites detected renewed activity at a North Korean missile factory.

Negotiators for North and South Korea met Tuesday to try to extend the progress made at an inter-Korean summit in April at which leaders of the two Koreas agreed to defuse tensions and halt “all hostile acts,” Reuters reported.

But just a day earlier, a senior US official told the news agency that American spy satellites indicated that Kim may have rebooted the North Korean factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US. And last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that North Korea was continuing to produce fuel for nuclear bombs.

While Kim promised to work toward denuclearization at the summit with Trump, now North Korea appears to be dragging its feet while simultaneously pushing for the lifting of sanctions.


Now It’s Official

The US military confirmed that it has deployed armed drones in Niger earlier this year – as had long been suspected.

Niger granted permission for the deployment in November 2017, not long after a deadly ambush drew attention to the little-known US military presence in the West African country. But neither side had confirmed that armed drones had actually been put into use, Al-Jazeera reported.

Deployed to Niger’s Air Base 101 in the capital, Niamey, the drones are meant to “improve our combined ability to respond to threats and other security issues in the region,” Samantha Reho, spokeswoman for US Africa Command, told the Associated Press.

The US now has around 800 soldiers in Niger, where they accompany Nigerien troops on intelligence gathering and other missions. But the drone program could well prove controversial in Niger as it has in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen – where critics blame the remote-control strikes for hundreds of civilian casualties.


The Saddest of Do-Overs

After more than 100 days of deadly protests, there’s no end in sight to the troubles in Nicaragua.

On Monday, President Daniel Ortega rejected calls for a referendum on whether to hold an early election, Reuters reported, while the US turned up the heat by confiscating US-donated vehicles from Nicaraguan security forces and suspending future donations and sales, the Los Angeles Times said.

Echoing human rights organizations in its strongest condemnation yet, the White House claimed Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, had “brutalized their own people” with “indiscriminate violence” that has killed more than 300 people in three months.

Commemorating 100 days of protests last week, Nicaragua’s Association of Human Rights said that at least 448 people have been killed since the agitation began, Al Jazeera reported.

It’s an ironic development for Ortega, as he came to power more than 30 years ago amid hopes that Nicaragua might become an inclusive democracy following the ouster of dictator Anastasio Somoza, Rodrigo Urimny opined in El Espectador via WorldCrunch.

Now, he’s repeating Somoza’s worst crimes.


The Malaysian Terminal

In the 2004 film “The Terminal,” Tom Hanks plays an immigrant from the fictional country of Krakozhia who becomes stateless and is stranded in New York’s JFK airport after a civil war erupts in his nation.

Similarly, Hassan al-Kontar, a Syrian refugee, has been stuck in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport since March of this year, the BBC reported.

Spending his day reading and surfing the net, Hassan has been documenting his journey on social media and campaigning for asylum.

His troubles started back in 2011, when he refused to join the Syrian civil war, while working in the United Arab Emirates.

“I refused to join the fight because I don’t believe in war,” he told the BBC. “So I became wanted by the Syrian government.”

The Emirati authorities allowed him to travel to Malaysia, which provided him a three-month visa but didn’t accept him as a refugee.

Three months later, he tried his luck with Cambodia and Ecuador. But Cambodia rebuffed him, and he was not allowed to board his flight to Ecuador. So he got stuck in Kuala Lumpur.

Activists are now petitioning the Canadian government to allow him to enter that country.

Hassan remains hopeful about his case. “Dignity, human rights, love, peace, a place to work and be legal is all what I’m asking for,” he said, echoing the wish of tens of thousands of refugees from Syria and elsewhere.

Still, his case has spotlighted the grim situation. Click here to see his story.

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