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inFOCUS Quarterly

Fall 2014

Europe: Whole and Free?


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North Korea Threatens New Nuclear Test

North Korea threatened on Thursday to conduct a new nuclear test as the country's scientists takes steps that could advance the North's weapons program. The latest development comes amid a failed charm offensive by the North's reclusive leaders and new pressure from the international community over the Pyongyang's human rights record.

In its boldest effort to confront crimes against humanity in North Korea, the UN General Assembly voted 111 to 19 to recommend that the Security Council refer Pyongyang's leaders to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Fifty-five nations abstained from the vote. The Security Council will now take up the issue, but China could veto an ICC investigation.

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By Michael Johnson  |  November 20, 2014 at 3:33 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Bill on NSA Surveillance Fails in Senate

The U.S. Senate blocked debate over a bill limiting the National Security Agency's ability to collect the phone records of American citizens on Tuesday. In a 58-42 procedural vote, the "USA Freedom Act" fell short of the 60 votes needed to bring the reform package to the Senate floor. The vote was a blow to the Obama Administration's recommended changes made by a special intelligence review board late last year.

The act would have restricted the NSA's legal authority to gather information about Americans. The agency would have had to provide "reasonable, articulable suspicion" that a phone number is linked to a terrorist or foreign power before requesting specific information from phone companies. Other changes would have involved appointing a new public advocate for privacy and civil liberties to the proceedings of the secretive Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court (FISA). Technology companies could also disclose more information about government requests for user's data.

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By Michael Johnson  |  November 19, 2014 at 4:14 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

More Europeans Identified in Recent IS Video

European authorities believe they have identified at least two Jihadists that appeared in a video recently released by the Islamic State (IS). The video, released over the weekend, shows the mass beheadings of Syrian soldiers, announces the death of Peter Kassig, and shows other European and international fighters who have not yet been identified.

The French interior ministry named one person appearing in the video as Maxime Hauchard, a 22-year-old student from Normandy. Hauchard, who converted to Islam at 17, had been monitored by the government since 2011 before traveling to Syria in 2013. Belgian officials are also investigating whether another man, 28-year-old Abdelmajid Gharmaoui, took part in the executions following his identification by friends and neighbors.

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By Michael Johnson  |  November 18, 2014 at 5:00 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Bombs Target Egyptian and U.A.E. Embassies in Libya

Two car bombs exploded outside the Egyptian and United Arab Emirates embassies in Tripoli on Thursday. No one was injured in the blasts, according to reports from Reuters. Both diplomatic missions have been closed for several months due security threats and political instability in the capital city. The attacks help to highlight the continuing conflict between secularists and Islamists in the country.

While the explosions broke windows and launched shrapnel into nearby buildings, the embassy buildings remained mostly undamaged. In a statement released to the press, Egypt's Foreign Ministry condemned the "terror attack" saying it was a "blatant violation" of international law.

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By Michael Johnson  |  November 13, 2014 at 4:54 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

New Attacks Rile Israel

Two Israelis were stabbed to death in separate terror incidents on Monday. Police identified the first victim as border policeman Almog Yissocher Shiloni. He was stabbed near a train station in Tel Aviv on Monday afternoon. Police arrested the perpetrator, a Palestinian man from Nablus who had entered Israel illegally, a few blocks away from the crime scene. A few hours later, another man attacked three Israelis with a knife on the West Bank in the town of Alon Shvut, killing a 25-year-old woman. A guard shot and killed the assailant, who had previously served more than four years in prison for throwing a firebomb at Israeli security forces.

EMS workers at the scene of the stabbing in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo: Reuters)

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By Michael Johnson  |  November 11, 2014 at 4:14 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Lebanon Secures $3 Billion Arms Deal

France signed a defense agreement with Saudi Arabia earlier this week to finance $3 billion worth of new weapons for the Lebanese army (LAF). The deal comes as the LAF and Hezbollah fight to contain violent spillovers from neighboring Syria.

While exact details of the contract were not disclosed, Lebanese media reports that Saudi Arabia will provide Beirut with French-made armored vehicles, combat and transport helicopters, anti-tank weapons, artillery pieces, small arms and possibly even anti-aircraft systems. Deliveries could begin as soon as next month.

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By Michael Johnson  |  November 6, 2014 at 4:52 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Pakistani Mob Kills Two Christians

Pakistani police arrested 43 people in connection to the killing of a Christian couple on Tuesday. Their murder highlights the continued violence against minorities in Pakistan and the extrajudicial implementation of the country's strict anti-blasphemy laws.

The two victims, Shahzad Masih and Shama Masih, had a running financial dispute with their employer, Yousaf Gujjar. Local news accounts suggest that when they refused to pay Gujjar, he accused the couple of blasphemy, saying they burned pages of the Quran. Clerics helped incite the violence, urging people gather and confront the two Christians. A crowd congregated outside of the couple's home, knocking down the family's door. The mob then tortured Shahzad and Shama before setting their bodies on fire in a nearby kiln.

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By Michael Johnson  |  November 5, 2014 at 4:41 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

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