US defense, intel warn against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as terrorist group – media

Top military officials have cautioned the White House against designating Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group, arguing the move would endanger American troops in Iraq, where the Corps is also fighting Islamic State, US media revealed.

The concerns were raised recently by defense and intelligence officials at the highest levels, according to the Washington Post, citing unnamed sources in the administration. 

The news comes amid emerging reports that the White House is preparing to list Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – by far the most powerful national security and defense entity in Iran – as a terrorist organization. The proposal, possibly coming in the form of an executive order by the Trump administration, would prohibit any material support or other kinds of contact with the sanctioned entity.

Given the extraordinary nature of the proposal and its potential impact on Middle Eastern affairs, the issue was still under debate, a senior administration official told the newspaper.

Despite pressure from hardliners in the Trump administration who champion a tough stance against Iran, dissenting voices are still making themselves heard. “I don’t think it’s so much defense and intelligence; I think it’s ourselves,” the official said.

“There are so many second, third and fifth order of facts with every decision, as we see it, and so I think that this is an area where, rightly so, we have to be very smart,” the official added. “This all has to do with [Iran’s] behavior. What we have to do is figure out what are the right things to consider. We consider a lot of things. What we actually decide to do is different.”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer declined to comment on the report, telling journalists on Wednesday that “there is no one who can question the president’s commitment to fully attacking and addressing the threat that we face from radical Islamic terrorism… The first step is knowing and proclaiming who the enemy is.”

With that in mind, US defense officials are concerned that the designation could affect the uneasy contact the US military maintains with Shiite militias in Iraq that are organized by the Quds Force unit of the Revolutionary Guards.

According to the Washington Post, there is a tacit agreement – negotiated through the Iraqi government – between the US contingent in Iraq and the Shiite militias, allowing them to avoid clashes. However, the agreement is fragile and could possibly lead to attacks on American forces, officials said.

While the designation could favor rulers in the Gulf – with many of them accusing Tehran of forming a ‘Shia crescent’ to undermine the Sunni monarchies – it would also strengthen Iranian hardliners in their internal dispute with moderate President Hassan Rouhani, whose cabinet negotiated the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal with several major world powers, including the US.

If issued, the executive order would create the first known instance of designating a foreign government institution as a terrorist entity. The IRGC is the guardian of Iran’s internal security and a powerful yet independent military organization that includes its own army, navy and air forces as well as special forces and intelligence units.

Created by Ayatollah Khomeini shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to safeguard the ruling regime, the Corps is said to comprise more than 120,000 active personnel. Throughout the past years, the Revolutionary Guard has been deployed abroad, including in neighboring Iraq and Syria, where it is engaged in fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

The Corps’ elite Quds Force has already been designated as a terrorist organization by the US Department of Treasury, prohibiting transactions between the group and US nationals, and freezing any assets under American jurisdiction. While little is reliably known about the Quds Force, the group is believed to conduct high-risk intelligence, sabotage and special operations against Iran’s adversaries.

Last week the US administration imposed new sanctions against 25 Iranian nationals and entities in response to a ballistic missile test. Iran itself is one of three countries on the State Department’s notorious list of so-called ‘state sponsors of terrorism.’ The other nations on the list are Sudan and Syria.

Somewhat ironically, Iran is contributing military advisers, troops and materiel to the armed forces of Syria, where a bloody war against Islamist extremists has been raging since 2011.

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New CIA Deputy Director Linked to Torture 'Black Sites'

Haspel has been a key figure in a secret U.S. torture program, which Donald Trump has called an effective way of gathering intelligence. 

U.S. President Donald Trump named Gina Haspel, who has been accused of running a torture “black site” for suspected terrorists, as the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

RELATED: Denying Feud Over Russia Hacking, Trump Vows Support to CIA

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent “war on terror” launched by then-President George W. Bush, Haspel was a key figure in helping launch a network of secretly operated “black sites.”

Haspel allegedly ran a secret prison called “Cat’s Eye” in Thailand where suspected terrorists belonging to al-Qaida were subject to controversial torture techniques such as waterboarding.

The 60-year-old has worked as an intelligence officer for the majority of her career and was believed to be present in the torture of at least two suspected al-Qaida members Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, according to an investigation by the U.S. Senate.

According to declassified CIA cables released in January, Zubaydah was subjected 83 times to the waterboarding torture technique, sleep deprivation and had his head struck into walls.

According to information from U.S. officials leaked to the media, Haspel was also responsible for carrying out the destruction of video footage in 2005 which showed suspects being tortured.

RELATED: How Trump Continues Obama's Legacy by Killing 8-Year-Old Girl

Trump has controversially said that torture works as a means of gaining intelligence, saying that, “We have to fight fire with fire.” When asked about his stance on torture in a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May last week, Trump said that he would leave the decision up to Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA director Mike Pompeo. 

A draft executive order requesting a review into reopening foreign CIA prisons and revisiting interrogation methods not considered torture is being considered by the White House, but it remains unclear if it will be signed.

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23 killed, dozens injured as twin blasts rock Kabul

Two explosions have rocked the Afghan capital of Kabul. Up to 27 people have been killed and 70 others injured, according to conflicting figures cited by media outlets.

The first explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber, according to AP. It was quickly followed by a car bomb near the same area.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi confirmed that there are casualties, but said the exact numbers are so far unclear.

Meanwhile, a health official cited by Reuters stated that 23 people had been killed and more than 20 others injured, while TOLO News reported that 27 had been killed and 70 wounded.

@TOLOnews - ministry of health confirms at least 40 wounded in Kabul that targeted convoy of officials leaving parliament offices

The blasts were likely targeting an area which includes government and lawmakers' offices, according to Sediqqi.

: Twin explosion (suicide bomber and car bomb) hit outside parliament offices in ; Gunfire heard in the area


TOLO reported that the blasts were targeting a convoy of officials leaving parliament offices.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group was responsible for the attacks.

@TOLOnews - eyewitnesses indicate casualty toll of dead and wounded in twin blasts on parliament offices could be as high as 50

Earlier on Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed at least seven people in southern Helmand province, according to provincial police chief Gen. Agha Noor Kemtoz. He said the target of that attack was a guesthouse used by a provincial intelligence official.

No one has claimed responsibility for the earlier attack, but the Taliban frequently uses suicide attacks and roadside bombs to target government officials and Afghan security forces.

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Syrian President: Ready to Negotiate End of Conflict

Paris, Jan 9 (Prensa Latina) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad today expressed his willingness to negotiate to end the conflict in his country, but it must be with the real opposition, he told to the French media in statements released today.

'We are ready to negotiate everything: the end of the conflict, the future of Syria ... Everything is open,' he said in the interview with France Info, RTL and LCP.

However, the president warned that the success of the negotiations, scheduled for the end of the month in Kazakhstan, depends on who will represent the other party.

Regarding the current situation in the Middle East nation and the declared truce, he said that it must be fully respected so that the peace talks can move forward.

The president said in this regard that a ceasefire is viable when all parties stop the fighting, but this is not the case in many Syrian regions, where groups such as Al-Nusra or the Islamic State continue hostilities.

The French media that carried out the interview published yesterday a fragment in which the president said that 'we are on the road to victory,' and that it will be achieved when the territory is free of terrorists, he added.

Yesterday, the Syrian president received three French deputies who visited the Middle East nation: Thierry Mariani, Jean Lassalle and Nicolas Dhuicq.

During the meeting, participants discussed the harm done to the Syrian people by armed organizations, often supported by states in the region and Western countries.

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Syria: 21 Civilians Killed by Terrorists in Aleppo

Damascus, Dec 26 (Prensa Latina) Syrian authorities are currently trying to identify 21 bodies of civilians killed by terrorists before the city of Aleppo was evacuated.

The director of the Department of Forensic Medicine in Aleppo, Zaher Hajjo, reported that a preliminary investigation confirmed that the remains of five children and four women have been found.

According to the data, the corpses were found in the prisons of extremist groups in al-Sukkari and Kallasa and the victims had been shot at close range.

Following the recent liberation of the city, Syrian army units have found numerous ammunition and weapons depots and interrogation rooms in public schools and buildings.

Extensive demining work by Russian and Syrian specialists continues in the city.

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Slain Russian ambassador Karlov laid to rest in Moscow, named hero posthumously

Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov, who was shot dead in Ankara, has been buried in Moscow with honors. Russian President Vladimir Putin was among those who bid a final farewell to the slain diplomat, who was named a hero of Russia posthumously.

The funeral for the assassinated ambassador began at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the ceremony to pay his last respects.

Putin “expressed heartfelt condolences to Andrey Karlov’s family, his mother Maria, widow Marina, son Gennady ,and sister Elena,” a statement from the Kremlin said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov presented the ‘Hero of the Russian Federation’ star, the country’s highest honorary title, to the diplomat’s family.

Karlov “became a victim of the vile, heinous terrorist act,” Lavrov said at the ceremony, adding that many of his colleagues and President Putin himself have praised Karlov for his diplomatic skills and “his contribution to the solution of many key problems of our foreign policy.” Kirill of Moscow and All Russia holds a funeral service for Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov at the Christ the Savior Cathedral. © Grigoriy Sisoev / Sputnik

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also joined the farewell ceremony at Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

Putin signed an Executive Order on Wednesday posthumously awarding Karlov with the title of ‘Hero of the Russian Federation’ “for the fortitude and courage he displayed as an ambassador,” according to the Kremlin.

The burial service was later performed by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.

“Andrey Karlov’s life ended tragically. He will be remembered in our history as the Russian ambassador killed in the line of duty. There are a few diplomats like him… His death made him immortal…,” the Patriarch said, adding that he had known Karlov personally.

Karlov was later buried at Khimkinskoye cemetery in Moscow.

A farewell ceremony also took place at an Orthodox church in Pyongyang, North Korea, where Karlov had worked as ambassador before Turkey. Karlov helped initiate the building of two Orthodox churches in North Korea, and he married his wife Marina in one of them back in 2006.

Head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill and Marina Karlova, widow of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. © Sergei Pyatakov

The diplomat was appointed as a fully-authorized ambassador to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2001, a post he held until 2006.

Karlov was shot dead as he was speaking at the opening of an exhibition called ‘Russia in the Eyes of Turks’ at an art gallery in Ankara. The gunman has been identified as 22-year-old Mevlut Altintas, a member of Ankara’s riot police force.

On July 12, 2013, Karlov was appointed to the position of ambassador to Turkey by a presidential decree and assumed his new post at the Russian embassy in Ankara. As ambassador to Turkey, Karlov oversaw a difficult period in Russian-Turkish relations, which were severely strained when Turkey downed a Russian jet over Syria in 2015.

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Women and Children Represent 71 Percent of Human Trafficking Victims

United Nations, Dec 22 (Prensa Latina) Women and children represent 71 percent of the people subjected to human trafficking, said a UN report.

According to the report issued by the United Nations Office against Drugs and Crime (UNODC), women and girls are often forced to marry and subjected to sexual slavery.

Meanwhile, men and boys mainly end up in exploited labor, as mining and recruitment to fight, said the report. UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov deplored the situation of millions of people while asking for urgent actions from the international community.

Fedotov pointed out the link between human trafficking and armed groups, a phenomenon worsened in recent years by the advance of the Islamic State, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and other terrorist groups.

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9 dead, many injured as truck plows into Christmas market in Berlin in likely terrorist attack

A truck has ploughed into a Christmas market in western Berlin killing nine and injuring several people, according to police.

The incident happened in one of Berlin’s largest Christmas markets, located in the western Charlottenburg district. It is also close to Berlin’s key shopping mile, Kurfuerstendamm, and a famous tourist site, Memorial Church.

“We can confirm nine fatalities & many injured. A lot of our colleagues are at #Breitscheidplatz to investigate the background,” a message on the official police Twitter account said.

A police spokesperson told German media that they are treating the truck incident in Berlin as a terrorist attack.

@polizeiberlin Just now a truck drove over the sideway at . Our colleagues report injured people. More information here.

It looked like [it was done] on purpose,” a police officer who witnessed the incident told Berliner Zeitung.

Lorry just ploughed through Christmas market in . There is no road nearby. People crushed. I am safe. I am safe.

According to a spokesperson from Berlin Fire Department, “around 50” were injured.

@PollaGarmiany Truck drives into a crowded Christmas Market in 's .
Many people injured. Many unconscious on the ground. Reports of a shot.

The cause of the incident is not yet clear.

LKW rast in Menschenmenge. Schwerverletzte und Tote. Unfassbar! Bestürzend!

Police evacuated the Christmas market and sealed it off. Officers armed with assault rifles are now patrolling the area around the Christmas market. A nearby Underground station, Zoologischer Garten, was closed at both the entrance and exit.

Law enforcement also set up a special area for the relatives of those injured, local media reported.

It is not presently clear what happened to the driver of the lorry, and police have given no details as to his whereabouts.

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