Copenhagen, Sep 24 (AP/UNB) — The Right Livelihood Award — known as the "Alternative Nobel" — was awarded Monday to three jailed Saudi human rights defenders and two Latin American anti-corruption crusaders.
The prize foundation said the 1 million kronor ($113,400) cash award for 2018 was to be shared by Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani and Waleed Abu al-Khair "for their visionary and courageous efforts, guided by universal human rights principles, to reform the totalitarian political system in Saudi Arabia."
The 2018 honorary award was given to Thelma Aldana of Guatemala and Colombia's Ivan Velasquez "for their innovative work in exposing abuse of power and prosecuting corruption."
Created in 1980, the annual Right Livelihood Award honors efforts that the prize founder, Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, felt were being ignored by the Nobel Prizes.
Al-Qahtani and Al-Hamid were founding activists of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights, known by its Arabic acronym HASEM. In 2013, they were sentenced to 10 and 11 years respectively. Soon after, other verdicts followed against nearly a dozen members. The sentences came in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring.
Activist and lawyer Al-Khair, who defended a blogger sentenced to prison and lashings over his posts, was arrested in 2014 for signing a statement with dozens of others calling for reforms in the kingdom. He later received a 15-year sentence for "disobeying the ruler" and "harming the reputation of the state by communicating with international organizations," likely over his work as an outspoken activist.
Saudi Arabia's government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the awards from The Associated Press.
Aldana and Velasquez are respectively the former chief prosecutor and the serving head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known by the Spanish acronym CICIG.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has rejected a Guatemalan request to name a new head of CICIG, saying he "does not see any reason to change his current position of support for" Velasquez.
The award, to be presented Nov. 23 in Stockholm, "is a recognition of the struggle of the Guatemalan people against corruption, and that it is possible to combat these criminal activities," Aldana said in a statement released by the Stockholm-based prize foundation.
"This prize comes at a particularly dramatic moment in the fight against impunity and corruption," Velasquez added in the same statement. "It is very important because it will turn the eyes of the world to Guatemala."
Dubai, Sep 24 (AP/UNB)— On the same day Arab separatists killed at least 25 people in an attack targeting a military parade in southwestern Iran, President Donald Trump's lawyer mounted a stage in New York to declare that the government would be toppled.
"I don't know when we're going to overthrow them. It could be in a few days, months or a couple of years, but it's going to happen," former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Saturday. "They are going to be overthrown. The people of Iran obviously have had enough."
For Iran's Shiite theocracy, comments like these only fuel fears that America and its Gulf Arab allies are plotting to tear the Islamic Republic apart.
Those threats so far haven't led to a military confrontation or violence, but the risk is rising.
"Undoubtedly the Islamic Republic of Iran will not ignore this crime. It is absolutely clear for us who did that, what group they are and with whom they are affiliated," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned before leaving for New York for the United Nations General Assembly. "All of those small mercenary countries that we see in this region are backed by America. It is Americans who instigate them and provide them with necessary means to commit these crimes."
Rouhani is a relative moderate who was elected twice on promises to improve relations with West, and who signed the 2015 nuclear agreement. At the U.N. General Assembly that year, he declared that "a new chapter had started in Iran's relations with the world."
"For the first time, two sides rather than negotiating peace after war, engaged in dialogue and understanding before the eruption of conflict."
An eruption now seems more likely. What changed in the meantime seems to be the politics of the region and the U.S. While America's Sunni Gulf Arab allies in the region criticized the nuclear deal, many later acknowledged that it did what it was designed to do.
Iran limited its enrichment of uranium, making it virtually impossible for it to quickly develop nuclear weapons, something the government insists it has never sought. In exchange, some international sanctions were lifted, allowing Iran to rejoin the global financial system and sell its crude oil to American allies.
Over time, however, Gulf states adopted an increasingly harder tone with Iran. Officials in Tehran point to comments by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now next in line to the throne in Iran's Mideast archrival.
"We know we are a main target of Iran," Prince Mohammed said in a 2017 interview, shortly before becoming crown prince. "We are not waiting until there becomes a battle in Saudi Arabia, so we will work so that it becomes a battle for them in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia."
He did not elaborate, though the kingdom and its allies were mired then as they are now — in a war in Yemen against Iran-aligned Shiite rebels. While Iran denies arming the rebels, known as Houthis, U.N. investigators, analysts and Western nations all say Tehran supplies weapons ranging from assault rifles to the ballistic missiles, which have been fired deep into Saudi territory.
After Prince Mohammed's comments last year, Saudi-aligned satellite news channels began playing up stories about Iranian opposition and exile groups. They also began publicizing the nighttime pipeline attacks by Arab separatists in Khuzestan, Iran's oil-rich southwestern province, which Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein tried to seize in his 1980s war with Iran.
Those separatists claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack in Ahvaz, Khuzestan's capital, which struck one of many parades in the country marking the start of the 1980s war. Iranian officials, who blame the separatists for the attack, say the militants wore military uniforms and hid their weapons along the parade route ahead of time — showing a level of sophistication previously unseen by the separatists.
There has been no direct evidence linking the separatists to Saudi Arabia. However, Iranian officials have seized on the fact the separatists immediately made their claim of responsibility on a Saudi-linked, Farsi-language satellite news channel based in Britain.
The United States has meanwhile been ramping up pressure on Iran since Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement in May, restoring crippling sanctions and voicing support for anti-government protests fueled by economic woes.
The Trump administration has said its actions aren't aimed at toppling Iran's government. But in the meantime, Giuliani has continued speaking before meetings of an exiled Iranian opposition group. Before being appointed national security adviser earlier this year, John Bolton gave impassioned speeches calling for regime change.
"The declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the mullahs' regime in Tehran," Bolton told Iranian exiles in July 2017. "The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change, and therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself.
He added, to cheers: "And that's why before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran."
Tehran, Sep 23 (AP/UNB) — Militants disguised as soldiers opened fire on an annual Iranian military parade in the country's oil-rich southwest, killing at least 25 people and wounding over 60 in the deadliest terror attack to strike the country in nearly a decade.
Women and children scattered along with once-marching Revolutionary Guard soldiers as heavy gunfire rang out Saturday at the parade in Ahvaz, the chaos captured live on state television.
The region's Arab separatists, once only known for nighttime attacks on unguarded oil pipelines, claimed responsibility for the brazen assault and Iranian officials appeared to believe the claim. Iran summoned diplomats from Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands early Sunday for allegedly harboring "members of the terrorist group" that launched the attack.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed regional countries and their "U.S. masters" for funding and arming the separatists, issuing a stark warning as regional tensions remain high in the wake of the U.S. withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal.
"Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives," Zarif wrote on Twitter.
The attack came as rows of Revolutionary Guardsmen marched down Ahvaz's Quds, or Jerusalem, Boulevard. It was one of many around the country marking the start of Iran's long 1980s war with Iraq, commemorations known as the "Sacred Defense Week."
Journalists and onlookers turned to look toward the first shots, then the rows of marchers broke as soldiers and civilians sought cover under sustained gunfire. Iranian soldiers used their bodies at time to shield civilians in the melee, with one Guardsman in full dress uniform and sash carrying away a bloodied boy.
"Oh God! Go, go, go! Lie down! Lie down!" one man screamed as a woman fled with her baby.
In the aftermath, paramedics tended to the wounded as soldiers, some bloodied, helped their comrades to ambulances. Video obtained by The Associated Press of the aftermath showed bodies of soldiers, some appearing lifeless, laying on the ground in pools of blood. One had a blanket covering him. A man screamed in grief.
The attack killed at least 25 people and wounded over 60, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. It said gunmen wore military uniforms and targeted a riser where military and police commanders were sitting. At least eight of the dead served in the Revolutionary Guard, an elite paramilitary unit that answers only to Iran's supreme leader, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
"We suddenly realized that some armed people wearing fake military outfits started attacking the comrades from behind (the stage) and then opened fire on women and children," an unnamed wounded soldier told state TV. "They were just aimlessly shooting around and did not have a specific target."
State TV hours later reported that all four gunmen had been killed, with three dying during the attack and one later succumbing to his wounds at a hospital.
President Hassan Rouhani ordered Iran's Intelligence Ministry to immediately investigate the attack.
"The president stressed that the response of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the slightest threat would be harsh, but those who support the terrorists should be accountable," IRNA reported.
Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the attack as exposing "the atrocity and viciousness of the enemies of the Iranian nation."
"Their crime is a continuation of the conspiracies by the U.S.-backed regimes in the region which have aimed at creating insecurity in our dear country," Khamenei said in a statement. "However, to their dismay, the Iranian nation will persist on the noble and prideful path they have taken and will — like before — overcome all animosities."
Tensions have been on the rise between Iran and the U.S. The Trump administration in May pulled out of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, and since then has re-imposed sanctions that were eased under the deal. It also has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran to try to get it to stop what Washington calls "malign activities" in the region.
Despite that, the U.S. government strongly condemned the attack and expressed its sympathy, saying that "the United States condemns all acts of terrorism and the loss of any innocent lives."
Initially, authorities described the assailants as "takfiri gunmen," a term previously used to describe the Islamic State group. Iran has been deeply involved in the fight against IS in Iraq and has aided embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country's long war.
But later, state media and government officials seemed to come to the consensus that Arab separatists in the region were responsible. The separatists accuse Iran's Persian-dominated government of discriminating against its ethnic Arab minority, though an Ahvazi Arab, Gen. Ali Shamkhani, serves as the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.
Khuzestan province also has seen recent protests over Iran's nationwide drought, as well as economic protests.
Iran has blamed its Mideast archrival, the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for funding Arab separatists' activity. State media in Saudi Arabia did not immediately acknowledge the attack, though a Saudi-linked, Farsi-language satellite channel based in the United Kingdom immediately carried an interview with an Ahvazi activist claiming Saturday's attack.
Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran's ambassador to the U.K., called the channel's decision a "heinous act" in a post on Twitter and said his country would file a complaint with British authorities over the broadcast. Early Sunday, a Foreign Ministry statement quoting spokesman Bahram Qasemi similarly criticized Britain and said Danish and Dutch diplomats were told Iran "already warned" their governments about harboring Arab separatists.
Yacoub Hor al-Tostari, a spokesman for the Arab Struggle Movement to Liberate Ahvaz, told the AP that members of an umbrella group of Ahvazi activists his organization leads carried out the attack.
The attack undermined the Iranian government "on the day it wants to give a message to the world that it is powerful and in control," al-Tostari said. To bolster his claim, he gave details about one of the attackers that the AP could not immediately verify.
The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for the attack in a message on its Amaaq news agency, but provided no evidence it carried out the assault. They also initially wrongly said the Ahvaz attack targeted Rouhani, who was in Tehran. The militants have made a string of false claims in the wake of major defeats in Iraq and Syria.
In Tehran, Rouhani watched a military parade that included ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel and U.S. military bases in the Mideast. Rouhani said the U.S. withdraw from the nuclear deal was an attempt to get Iran to give up its military arsenal. United Nations inspectors say Iran is still complying with the deal, which saw it limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
"Iran neither put its defensive arms aside nor lessens its defensive capabilities," Rouhani said. "Iran will add to its defensive power day by day."
Meanwhile, Iranian Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, a spokesman for the armed forces, alleged without evidence that the four militants involved in Saturday's attack "were dependent to the intelligence services of the U.S. and the Mossad" of Israel.
"They have been trained and organized in two Persian Gulf countries," he said, without elaborating.
Saturday's attack comes after a coordinated June 7, 2017 Islamic State group assault on parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. At least 18 people were killed and more than 50 wounded.
That assault shocked Tehran, which largely has avoided militant attacks in the decades after the tumult surrounding the revolution.
In the last decade, mass-casualty militant attacks have been incredibly rare. In 2009, more than 40 people, including six Guard commanders, were killed in a suicide attack by Sunni extremists in Iran's Sistan and Baluchistan province.
Gaza City, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Gaza's Health Ministry says 26 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire during a mass protest on the border with Israel.
Thousands gathered Monday on the beach along the border fence separating the Gaza Strip and Israel to demonstrate against Egypt and Israel's blockade.
The Israeli military says protesters burned tires and threw rocks and explosives at troops on the border, who responded with tear gas and live fire.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group ruling Gaza since 2007, has led weekly protests since March to lift the blockade that has crippled the territory's economy.
Israeli fire has killed at least 131 Palestinians since protests began. Israel and Hamas came to the brink of full-blown conflict last month, and Hamas is widening protests as Egyptian-mediated ceasefire negotiations have stalled.
Damascus, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Loud explosions shook Syria's coastal province of Latakia late Monday, sending orange flames into the sky in what Syrian state media said was an Israeli attack on a state company for technical industries that injured 10 people.
Explosions continued for nearly a half hour, said state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV, which aired footage showing streaks of white light flashing across the sky. An unidentified military official was quoted as saying Syrian air defenses intercepted some missiles heading for the provincial capital of Latakia from the sea.
Al-Ikhbariya said all two of the injured were hospitalized and the rest were released after treatment.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which initially reported the explosions, also reported 10 wounded, saying all of them were soldiers and some were in critical condition.
The war monitoring group said the target appeared to be an ammunition depot that in the compound of the state Institute for Technical Industries. The group it was not clear if the depot was for Iranian or Syrian forces.
The strikes followed a similar attack on Damascus International Airport late Saturday, which Syrian state media also blamed on Israel. A military official quoted then on state media said Syrian air defenses intercepted some missiles coming from the sea.
Other attacks were reported on Sept. 4 that targeted sites in the coastal Tartus area and in Hama province. The Observatory said at the time that the Sept. 4 attacks were believed aimed at Iranian military posts.
Israel is widely believed to have been behind a series of airstrikes mainly targeting Iranian and Hezbollah forces in Syria that have joined the country's war fighting alongside the government. Israel rarely acknowledges attacks inside Syria, but has said it will use military action to prevent weapons transfers to its enemies. Earlier this month, an Israeli military official said the Jewish state has struck over 200 Iranian targets in Syria over the past 18 months.
U.S. and Israeli officials have said that Iran and Hezbollah should end their armed presence in Syria. Israel says it will not tolerate Iran's growing presence in Syria.
Monday's attack came hours after Russia and Turkey announced an agreement that effectively prevents a Syrian government offensive against Idlib, a rebel-held area in northwestern Syria.