Proof Or Media Speculation That Obama Wiretapped Trump?

Mr. Manafort is among at least three Trump campaign advisers whose possible links to Russia are under scrutiny. Two others are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative.

The F.B.I. is leading the investigations, aided by the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit. The investigators have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks but have found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, the officials said. One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.

Counterintelligence investigations examine the connections between American citizens and foreign governments. Those connections can involve efforts to steal state or corporate secrets, curry favor with American government leaders or influence policy. It is unclear which Russian officials are under investigation, or what particular conversations caught the attention of American eavesdroppers. The legal standard for opening these investigations is low, and prosecutions are rare.

“We have absolutely no knowledge of any investigation or even a basis for such an investigation,” said Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump transition.

In an emailed statement Thursday evening, Mr. Manafort called allegations that he had interactions with the Russian government a “Democrat Party dirty trick and completely false.”

“I have never had any relationship with the Russian government or any Russian officials. I was never in contact with anyone, or directed anyone to be in contact with anyone,” he said.

“On the ‘Russian hacking of the D.N.C.,’” he said, “my only knowledge of it is what I have read in the papers.”

The decision to open the investigations was not based on a dossier of salacious, uncorroborated allegations that were compiled by a former British spy working for a Washington research firm. The F.B.I. is also examining the allegations in that dossier, and a summary of its contents was provided to Mr. Trump earlier this month.

Representatives of the agencies involved declined to comment. Of the half-dozen current and former officials who confirmed the existence of the investigations, some said they were providing information because they feared the new administration would obstruct their efforts. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the cases.

Numerous news outlets, including The New York Times, have reported on the F.B.I. investigations into Mr. Trump’s advisers. BBC and then McClatchy revealed the existence of a multiagency working group to coordinate investigations across the government.

The continuing investigation again puts the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, in the middle of a politically fraught investigation. Democrats have sharply criticized Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Mrs. Clinton has said his decision to reveal the existence of new emails late in the campaign cost her the election.

The F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Manafort began last spring, and was an outgrowth of a criminal investigation into his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and for the country’s former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. In August, The Times reported that Mr. Manafort’s name had surfaced in a secret ledger that showed he had been paid millions in undisclosed cash payments. The Associated Press has reported that his work for Ukraine included a secret lobbying effort in Washington aimed at influencing American news organizations and government officials.

Mr. Stone, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, said in a speech in Florida last summer that he had communicated with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that published the hacked Democratic emails. During the speech, Mr. Stone predicted further leaks of documents, a prediction that came true within weeks.

In a brief interview on Thursday, Mr. Stone said he had never visited Russia and had no Russian clients. He said that he had worked in Ukraine for a pro-Western party, but that any assertion that he had ties to Russian intelligence was “nonsense” and “totally false.”

“The whole thing is a canard,” he said. “I have no Russian influences.”

The Senate intelligence committee has started its own investigation into Russia’s purported attempts to disrupt the election. The committee’s inquiry is broad, and will include an examination of Russian hacking and possible ties between people associated with Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Investigators are also scrutinizing people on the periphery of Mr. Trump’s campaign, such as Mr. Page, a former Merrill Lynch banker who founded Global Energy Capital, an investment firm in New York that has done business with Russia.

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Page expressed bewilderment about why he might be under investigation. He blamed a smear campaign — that he said was orchestrated by Mrs. Clinton — for media speculation about the nature of his ties to Russia.

“I did nothing wrong, for the 5,000th time,” he said. His adversaries, he added, are “pulling a page out of the Watergate playbook.”

The lingering investigations will pose a test for Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who has been nominated for attorney general. If Mr. Sessions is confirmed, he will for a time be the only person in the government authorized to seek foreign intelligence wiretaps on American soil.

Mr. Sessions said at his confirmation hearing that he would recuse himself from any investigations involving Mrs. Clinton. He was not asked whether he would do so in cases involving associates of Mr. Trump.

Eleven Shia Women Murdered In Parachinar Suicide-Bombing

[SEE: The actual story of Parachinar Pakistan]

Suicide attack targeting Shia mosque in Pakistan kills 11, wounds 60


In this January 21, 2017 photo, security officials inspect the site of an explosion at a vegetable market in Pakistan’s Parachinar city. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami and Pakistani Taliban splinter Shehryar Mehsud group both separately issued a joint claim of responsibility for that blast.

Took place near women’s entrance of the mosque in Parachinar as people gathered for Friday prayers

An explosion apparently targeting a Shia mosque in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Parachinar, in a remote area bordering Afghanistan, killed at least 11 people and wounded dozens, officials said. Parachinar is in the Kurram Valley of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan and has been sporadic target of terror attacks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the blast, which took place as people gathered for Friday prayers near the women’s entrance of the Shia mosque in the central bazaar, follows a series of attacks this year.

Gunfire before attack

A parliamentarian from Parachinar, Sajid Hussain, said the death toll from the explosion had reached 11, with 60 wounded. He said gunfire preceded the incident, which he described as a suicide attack, adding, “The attack took place in a busy area and a women’s mosque appears to be the target.”

Last month, more than 80 people were killed and dozens wounded in an attack on a crowded Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan that was claimed by Islamic State.

Authorities in mainly Sunni-Muslim Pakistan said a military rescue helicopter had been sent to the scene to help evacuate the injured.

Two children among dead

Mumtaz Hussain, a doctor at the Agency Headquarters Hospital in the region, said five bodies, including a woman and two children, and more than three dozen wounded, had been brought to the hospital and an appeal for blood donors had been made.

“Patients are being brought to us in private cars and ambulances and we have received over three dozen patients so far,” Dr. Hussain told Reuters.

The attacks have shattered hopes that Pakistan may have come through the militant violence that has scarred its recent history and increased pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to show it was improving security.

Mr. Sharif condemned the attack and said the government would keep up efforts to “eliminate the menace of terrorism.”

In a statement, he said, “The network of terrorists has already been broken and it is our national duty to continue this war until the complete annihilation of the scourge of terrorism from our soil.”

Spate of blasts

On 21 January 2017, a bomb was detonated at a vegetable market here in which at least 25 people were killed and 87 injured. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami and Pakistani Taliban splinter Shehryar Mehsud group both separately issued a joint claim of responsibility for that blast.

The same area has seen several explosions in 2008, February 2012, September 2012, 2013 and in December 2015.

Pentagon Bombed Building Full of People In Mosul Because ISIS Used Them “As Bait”

[After admitting to possession of video made by US aircraft, filming terrorists herding innocent people into the building, before the planes bombed it, the Pentagon spokesman tried to escape responsibility for attacking the building full of civilians with the excuse that they were “Bait.”]

Pentagon responds to criticism over civilian deaths in Mosul blast


By Idrees Ali | WASHINGTON

The Pentagon on Thursday said it would soon release a video showing Islamic State militants herding civilians into a building in the Iraqi city of Mosul and then firing from it, the U.S. military’s latest response to an outcry over a separate explosion thought to have killed scores of civilians.

The U.S. military has acknowledged that the U.S.-led coalition probably had a role in the March 17 explosion, but said Islamic State also could be to blame.

Local officials and eyewitnesses have said as many as 240 people may have died in the Al-Jadida district when a blast made a building collapse, burying families inside.

Rights group Amnesty International and Pope Francis have both called for better protection for civilians caught in war zones in Iraq.

The Pentagon does not regularly release images or videos from operations. However, it has had to do so once already this month after it denied striking a mosque in Syria, releasing an aerial image to show the mosque was intact. That incident is under investigation.

A spokesman for the U.S-led coalition fighting Islamic State told reporters on Thursday he was working to declassify a video showing militants hiding civilians in a building in west Mosul to “bait the coalition to attack.”

“What was see now is not the use of civilians as human shields … For the first time we caught this on video yesterday as armed ISIS fighters forced civilians into a building, killing one who resisted and then used that building as a fighting position against the (Counter Terrorism Service),” Colonel Joseph Scrocca said. He was using an acronym for Islamic State.

Scrocca said Islamic State tactics have led to adjustments in procedures, adding that about 1,000 Islamic State fighters remained in west Mosul, but did not give details on these changes. He added than an in-depth investigation into the strikes had been opened on March 17.

On Tuesday, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters by teleconference it was “a little disappointing” that questions during the briefing focused on U.S.-led air strikes.

“ISIS is slaughtering Iraqis and Syrians on a daily basis. ISIS is cutting off heads. ISIS is shooting people,” he said.

Amnesty International has said the high civilian toll in Mosul suggests U.S.-led coalition forces have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths.

Pope Francis on Wednesday said it was “imperative and urgent” to protect civilians in Iraq.

At his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said he was “concerned about civilian populations trapped in the neighborhoods of western Mosul”.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by John Walcott and James Dalgleish)

Pakistani Prosecutor Promises Acquittal To 42 Christians Charged w/Murder, If They Convert To Islam

Pakistan’s ‘last Jew’ wins right to convert from Islam 





Why 150 Islamic Leaders Are Calling for This Christian Woman’s Hanging  



[Pakistani “Blasphemy Law” is only slightly less harsh than Saudi “Law,” even though the majority of Pakistanis would prefer a much stricter interpretation of Shariah.  Ordinary Pakistanis, of all faiths, or no religious convictions at all, are made to pay the price for an intimidated judiciary, too afraid to do the right thing or to fairly apply Blasphemy Laws equally to all faiths, without discrimination or political intimidation.  Pakistan’s “Democracy” by militarized mob rule gives the Establishment’s captive courts the leeway to pardon one Islamicized Jew, while they persecute hundreds of Christians who dare to believe that “Issa”/Jesus Christ was the final and The Only Messiah sent from God, to save mankind from himself.–P.C.]

“42 Christians accused of murder were guaranteed their acquittal by a Lahore public prosecutor,  if they renounce Christianity and convert to Islam”

Pakistan: prosecutor offers accused Christians acquittal for conversion



People at mass in a Church in Pakistan - AFP

People at mass in a Church in Pakistan – AFP

42 Christians accused of murder were guaranteed their acquittal by a Lahore public prosecutor,  if they renounce Christianity and convert to Islam, a local newspaper reported on Thursday.

The 42 people, belonging to Pakistan’s minority Christian community, have been charged with lynching two men after March 2015’s suicide blasts that targeted Sunday Mass in two churches in Youhanabad in Lahore. Many in Youhanabad’s mostly Christian community believed the two men were involved in the planning of the bombings.

The trial is being conducted in an anti-terrorism court. Joseph Franci, a rights activist who’s legally assisting the accused, said that Deputy District Public Prosecutor Syed Anees Shah was the one who made the accused the acquittal offer. “He asks them if they embrace Islam, he can guarantee them their acquittal in this case,” Franci said.

Franci reportedly told the newspaper that the accused were dumbfounded. One of them even spoke out, saying he was ready to be hanged if he had to convert.

“The government should get rid of such elements that bring bad name to the state by such acts,” said Naseeb Anjum Advocate, counsel for some of the accused, to The Express Tribune, about the Deputy District Public Prosecutor.

When the newspaper contacted the public prosecutor Shah, he first denied it, and when told he was on video offering the acquittal-for-conversion deal, acknowledged that he may have “offered them a choice.”

The minorities in Pakistan in the past have been accusing Muslim clerics of forcibly converting them to Islam but it is for the first time that a state functionary used conversion as an incentive to dodge legal proceeding. ( Tribune, TOI)

China, Russia, Pakistan, Turkey Negotiating Superpower Circle?

The friendship between Turkey and Pakistan may have just given birth to a superpower circle involving Ankara, Islamabad, Russia and China. While Turkey and Pakistan are celebrating 70 years of diplomatic ties, the decades-long mutual trust and cultural, diplomatic and economic relations between Ankara and Islamabad are also bringing together China and Russia to form a formidable four-nation circle.

joannaoman / Pixabay

The brotherly relations between Turkey and Pakistan can trace their roots back several centuries. This very fact has laid the groundwork for bringing together two more nations that could benefit from a superpower circle – Russia from Turkey’s side and China from Pakistan’s side.

The speakers of the Turkish and Pakistani parliaments met on Monday to discuss strengthening the partnership between two nations that share close religious, cultural and economic ties. There are several reasons why closer ties between the two nations can fuel the machine that is the China-Russia-Pakistan-Turkey superpower circle and power it to run the world.

Turkey wants to join China-Russia bloc via Pakistan

The two nations have signed hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of military deals and have been trading more and more diplomatic trips. But it was Turkey that first sparked speculations about a possible superpower circle with Pakistan, China and Russia in November. That’s when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly declared that his country would pursue joining a bloc dominated by China and Russia and give up its hopes to join the European Union, which Ankara has expressed interest in joining for decades.

Erdogan declared that Turkey should join forces with Pakistan, China and Russia amid the EU’s criticism toward the Turkish regime’s seemingly dictatorship policies in the wake of the failed anti-government coup in July 2016. In fact, the EU has been stalling talks about Turkey’s membership, something that has enraged the Erdogan regime and motivated it to seek other powerful blocs as an alternative.

In recent months, Erdogan has publicly enhanced his interest in joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) led by Russia and China. If Ankara joins what is arguably the most ambitious organization in Eurasia, it would be a game-changer not only for Europe and Asia but also the world as a whole. It could also give rise to the China-Russia-Pakistan-Turkey superpower circle, which is an even more powerful and formidable political, economic and military bloc compared to the China-Rus-Pak triangle.

Why is it time for the Turkey-Pakistan-China-Russia circle?

Last week, the Turkish military band Janissary Mehter participated in the Pakistan Day military parade and was met with a standing ovation when it played “Jeeway Jeeway (Long Live) Pakistan.” This was the first time that the military band, which was established in 1299, took part in the Pakistan Day parade.

Last year, Turkey refused to back India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) while supporting Pakistan’s membership in the NSG. Despite having close trade ties with India, Turkey has remained loyal to its brotherly nation Pakistan on many international issues, including the dispute between Islamabad and New Delhi in Kashmir.

In November, Erdogan visited Islamabad and reiterated that his country is eager to strengthen ties with Pakistan. His visit came months after the Turkish President visited Moscow, where he and Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to strengthen trade, economic, military and diplomatic ties. China and Turkey, meanwhile, share deep economic and military ties, which means the four nations are coming together from all directions and could even form a four-nation superpower circle in the coming months.

In May, China plans to host its first major summit called “One Belt One Road,” which is focused on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The nation is expected to seek partnership support from Russia and Turkey at the summit.

Erdogan to join China, Russia-led bloc, not EU

Erdogan has been facing an incredible amount of criticism from the West in the past few months, which would make more sense if his country officially joins forces with China, Russia and Pakistan and gives up its decades-long hopes of joining the EU, something the Turkish president suggested a few months ago.

Turkey now has more chances of joining the China- and Russia-led SCO than joining the EU. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said earlier this month that Turkey should expect deeper relations within the SCO, as Ankara holds vital importance for Eurasia and has been a prominent ally for the organization. In fact, in December, China said that it would be willing to consider Turkey’s application to join the Chinese- and Russian-dominated bloc.

Erdogan has loudly declared that Turkey doesn’t need to join the EU “at all costs” and should instead pursue joining the SCO. His statements come in the aftermath of plummeting relations and a lack of trust between the West and Ankara after he purged his country’s military following the failed coup in July 2016. While the West criticized the Erdogan regime’s methods of punishing the organizers of the attempted coup, Pakistan, China and Russia stood firm in their support and showed solidarity with Turkey.

Is the Turkey-Pakistan-China-Russia superpower circle happening?

The four allied nations – Turkey, Pakistan, China and Russia – seem to be moving rapidly towards the creation of a four-nation superpower circle, as each country has stepped up efforts to strengthen ties within that circle.

China relies on stability in its relations with Turkey while enjoying a closer partnership in many areas with Pakistan and Russia. Russia is restoring its once-brotherly ties with Turkey, is warming up to China on all fronts and is even seemingly abandoning India, its top Asian ally for decades, to strengthen ties with Pakistan. Pakistan, meanwhile, has been particularly close to both China and Turkey for decades, and in recent years has started getting diplomatic, economic and military support from Russia.

Turkey, meanwhile, remains one of Pakistan’s major allies in terms of diplomacy, trade, economic ties and defense cooperation. Ankara has enjoyed stable trade, economic and military ties with China, but their bilateral relations are set to skyrocket after China’s support for the Erdogan regime over the attempted July 2016 coup. Ankara is also restoring ties with Moscow after their relations took a turn for the worse after the Turkish Air Force downed a Russian jet in 2015.

Nothing seems to be standing in their way of creating a powerful circle of four allied nations between Ankara, Islamabad, Beijing and Moscow.

Bombers from the Maldives

Societies provide oxygen for Islamists to grow in their midst. The liberal atmosphere of Britain, notably in institutions like the London School of Economics, over past decades offered sanctuaries for Islamists, considering their arguments as legitimate politics against imperialism. Saudi Arabia is bankrolling Wahhabism across the world. Pakistani society has been transformed into a 24×7 seminary for nurturing arguments favourable to jihadists and fatal to Muslim reformists. Under Saudi-Pakistani influence, now the Maldivian society is being transformed on a jihadist path.

Jihadists are armed Islamists; their methods differ but goals are the same: establishing sharia rule. In May, Maldivian national Abu Turab was among militants who carried out a suicide bombing in Syria. In tributes, jihadists noted that Turab was a loving husband and a grandfather. Another Maldivian was killed in Syria a few days later. They were not the first Maldivian suicide bombers. The first was Ali Jaleel who attacked a Pakistani intelligence office in Lahore in 2009. Last October, two Syria-bound Maldivian nationals were arrested from Malé as they were to board a plane. Currently, 20 Maldivians are fighting in Syria. The Maldives is at a turning point which favours jihadists.

Also, the latest developments connect India’s southern shore to jihadist threats emerging via Sri Lanka and the Maldives. In January 2010, Air India planes were alerted that hijacking could be attempted from airports at Colombo, Dhaka or Yangon. The recent arrest of Sri Lankan national Shakir aka Zakir Hussain in Chennai revealed that he made 20 reconnaissance trips to India to facilitate terrorists from the Maldives to attack Israeli and US consulates in Bangalore and Chennai. His arrest revealed terror cells in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India operated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). That the threats are real became clear when bombs exploded on a train in Chennai in May. Sri Lanka has stopped its visa-on-arrival facility for Pakistanis, fearing it is becoming a transit point for terrorists.

A vital point: terror attacks in India—those in Kashmir or by the Indian Mujahideen elsewhere—have so far been connected to Pakistan, but in the near future threats will emerge from terrorists who are ideologically committed by jihad, and are not necessarily controlled by the ISI. For example, Muslim youth from Tamil Nadu working in Singapore were recruited into jihad and went to Syria. There are also reports that one Indian went to Iraq to fight as part of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, now called the Islamic State. There are also Indian Muslims training as part of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan-Afghanistan. From Syria to the Maldives there’s a Pakistan connection but the Singaporean link points to the rise of ideological jihadists in India.

In February, tourists were furious when hotels in the Maldives abruptly cancelled their bookings. The cancellations were triggered by Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud who booked three entire islands. The Saudis are exerting religious influence on Maldivian society. Journalist Charles Haviland reported: Prince Salman promised to build 10 world-class mosques in the Maldives; Saudi scholars gave $100,000 for Islamic education and announced scholarships for Maldivians to study in Saudi Arabia; a five-year soft loan of $300 million was given last year. Maldivians are visiting the Middle East and Pakistan in large numbers to study, and return.In April, Pakistan’s Roznama Ummat reported that Saudis are “thinking of building a base consisting of three islands” as well as mosques and madrassas with Pakistani manpower.

The Maldives was a Buddhist society till mid-12th century when Islam arrived. Now, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are transforming it into a jihadist hub, aided by local leaders. In a recent article, bloggers Azra Naseem and Mushfique Mohamed warned that the 100 per cent Muslim nation of Maldives has become “an attractive prospect” for those advancing Osama bin Laden’s agenda of an Islamic caliphate. In 2009, nine Maldivian militants were arrested in Pakistan; then Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed confirmed Maldivians were visiting Pakistan to wage jihad. Nasheed is a secular leader, but as president he aided the Islamist takeover of Maldivian society, like all secular leaders across South Asia (apologies to Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh whose counter-extremism is superb).

According to Naseem and Mohamed, the worldview of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled the country from 1978 to 2008 was coloured by the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran and his education at Cairo’s Al-Azhar seminary. In 1997, he enacted a constitution which granted him “the ultimate authority to impart the tenets of Islam” but his religious power was questioned by Islamic groups. Gayoom began a crackdown, giving birth to the Adhaalath Party, an Islamist force. Ahead of the 2013 elections, secular president Nasheed forged a coalition with Adhaalath Party, giving Islamists official patronage. Adhaalath Party, which later quit the coalition, advocates converting the Maldives into a sharia state. Nasheed was unseated in a coup-like situation in 2012. Fatwas dictating dress code for women, banning music and dancing, and jihadist videos in Dhivehi language proliferating on YouTube are becoming a norm.

The Islamists are winning: in 2008, non-Muslims were barred from becoming citizens of the Maldives. In 2011, hotels were ordered to close spas to please Islamists, though the order was revoked later; an Indian teacher was deported for having a Bible; then Maldivian foreign minister Ahmed Naseem rejected a call by UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay to debate the practice of flogging women in extra-marital cases. In 2012, a court declared gifts given at the SAARC summit as offensive to Islam. In January, president Abdulla Yameen vetoed a bill on marital rape as un-Islamic after a cleric’s ruling; in April, the government began enforcing sharia law that imposes death penalty on 10-year-olds; police hunt atheists on Facebook to bring charges of blasphemy. New Delhi is shy of interventionism and lacks moral courage to state publicly that it will assist countries to curb Islamist forces. Before India wakes up, the Maldives will be transformed into another Pakistan in its backyard.

Tufail Ahmad is director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington