At least 50 people have been killed and more than 200 injured in a stampede as Iranians gathered for the funeral procession of General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad last week.
The deaths in the top military commander’s hometown of Kerman led to the burial ceremony being delayed.
Qasem Soleimani’s burial is the last in a series of funeral events that have brought millions on to the streets in Iran.
His killing has raised fears of a conflict between the US and Iran.
Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds force, was tasked with defending and projecting Iranian interests abroad, and was hailed as a hero by many in his home country. Immediately after his death, Iran threatened retaliation.
To the US, Qasem Soleimani was a terrorist, and in explaining why he ordered the strike, President Donald Trump said he was acting on an “imminent” threat.
The crush in Kerman happened at the start of a funeral procession that had drawn vast numbers of people on January 7, ahead of the planned burial.
According to officials, quoted on Iran’s Isna news agency, the death toll at 50, with those injured numbering more than 200.
Video online showed people on the ground with their faces covered by clothing.
Iranian media later reported that the burial had resumed. Video footage showed the procession of Qasem Soleimani’s casket. People threw items of clothing which officials touched against the casket before returning them.
Top Iranian officials renewed their threats of revenge. “The martyr Qasem Soleimani is more powerful… now that he is dead,” the Revolutionary Guards’ top general, Maj. Gen, Hossein Salami, told crowds in Kerman.
The Guards were set up to defend Iran’s Islamic system and are a major political and military force. The Quds Force is its overseas operations arm.
According to local reports, mourners in Kerman chanted “death to America” and “death to Trump”.
Thousands of Iranians have gathered in the city of Ahvaz, southwest of Iran, on January 5 to receive the remains of General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad.
The mourners beat their chests and chanted “death to America”.
Qasem Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s sphere of influence across the Middle East and he was considered to be the country’s second most powerful man.
The assassination of the top military commander marked a significant escalation between Iran and the US.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who had a close personal relationship with Qasem Soleimani, warned of “severe revenge” for the attack.
President Donald Trump, who authorized the attack on Qasem Soleimani on January 3 – an option refused by both Presidents Bush and Obama as too risky – said in a tweet that the US was ready to strike 52 sites “important to Iran & the Iranian culture”.
In a series of tweets likely to raise concerns about a path to war between the two countries, President Trump said the US would strike Iran “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if Iran targeted American bases or troops.
He said the 52 targets identified by the US represented 52 Americans who were held hostage in Iran for more than a year from late 1979 after they were taken from the US embassy in Tehran.
President Trump warned: “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way…and without hesitation!”
Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Twitter, saying that the killing of Qasem Soleimani was a breach of international law and that any targeting of cultural sites would be constitute a war crime.
Thousands of black-clad mourners gathered early on Sunday morning in the streets in Ahvaz, where Qasem Soleimani’s body had arrived before dawn.
The Irib state news agency showed footage of Qasem Soleimani’s casket, wrapped in an Iranian flag, being unloaded from a plane as a military band played, before it was flown on to Ahvaz.
The channel showed crowds gathered in the city’s Mollavi Square, waving flags and holding aloft portraits of Qasem Soleimani, who is seen by many in Iran as a hero because of his role as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and his closeness to the supreme leader.
In the capital Tehran, members of parliament chanted “death to America” for a few minutes during a session of the house, the ISNA news agency reported.
In a recent interview, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir has said all options, including a military response, are open after attacks on two oil facilities, which it has blamed on Iran.
A US assessment claiming Iran was behind the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities was backed up by France, the UK, and Germany this week.
However, Iran has denied any involvement.
The Iran-aligned rebel Houthi movement in Yemen, which is fighting a Saudi-led coalition in the country’s civil war, has said it launched drones at the facilities.
Saudi officials say the range, scale and complexity of the attacks exceeded the capabilities of the Houthis.
Meanwhile, the US re-imposed economic sanctions against Iran last year after abandoning a 2015 nuclear deal, and in May said it would attempt to force all countries to stop buying Iranian oil and put pressure on Iran to negotiate a new nuclear accord.
On September 25, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at the UN that the US wanted “a peaceful resolution with the Islamic Republic of Iran”.
He added: “In the end, it’ll be up to the Iranians to make that decision, or whether they’ll choose violence and hate.”
French President Emmanuel Macron had attempted to broker an historic meeting between President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
However, President Rouhani told delegates at the UN that he refused to meet President Trump while Iran’s punishing economic sanctions were in place. He cast doubt on US intentions, referring to Mike Pompeo’s boast last year that it had imposed “the strongest sanctions in history” on Iran.
He said: “How can someone believe them when the silent killing of a great nation, and pressure on the lives of 83 million Iranians, especially women and children, are welcomed by American government officials?
“The Iranian nation will never, ever forget and forgive these crimes and these criminals.”
President Rouhani also dismissed the idea of a photo with President Trump, who has staged several photo opportunities with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – including one apparently spontaneous handshake in the Korean peninsula’s Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Iran for “unprovoked attacks” on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13.
The US had made its assessment based on intelligence about the type of weapons used, he said.
Dozens of crew members were rescued after the explosions at the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous and the Front Altair, owned by Norway.
Both Iran and the US said they evacuated the crew.
“It is the assessment of the United States that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks,” the secretary of state said at a news conference in Washington.
“This is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise need to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”
“This is only the latest in the series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogates against American and allied interests.
“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran,” Mike Pompeo said.
The blasts in one of the world’s busiest oil routes comes a month after four oil tankers were attacked off the United Arab Emirates.
No group or country has admitted the incident in May, which also caused no casualties.
The US at the time blamed Iran – but Tehran denied the accusations.
Oil prices jumped as much as 4% after the incident.
The Gulf of Oman lies at one end of the strategic Strait of Hormuz – a vital shipping lane through which hundreds of millions of dollars of oil pass.
The Norwegian Maritime Authority said that the Front Altair had been had been “attacked”, and that there were three blasts on board.
Wu I-fang, a spokesman for Taiwan’s CPC Corp oil refiner, which chartered the Front Altair, said it was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha and was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo”, although this has not been confirmed.
Other unverified reports suggested a mine attack.
The ship’s owner, Frontline, said the vessel was on fire – but denied reports in Iranian media that it had sunk.
The operator of the Kokuka Courageous, BSM Ship Management, said its crew abandoned ship and were rescued by a passing vessel.
The tanker was carrying methanol and was not in danger of sinking, a spokesman said.
It is currently located about 80 miles from Fujairah in the UAE and 16 miles from Iran. The cargo remains intact.
According to the Israeli military, one of its F-16 fighter jet has crashed amid Syrian anti-aircraft fire after an offensive against Iranian targets in Syria.
The two pilots parachuted to safety before the crash in northern Israel. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the Syrian conflict.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tweeted: “Moments ago, IAF aircraft, targeted the Syrian Aerial Defense System & Iranian targets in Syria. 12 targets, including 3 aerial defense batteries & 4 Iranian military targets, were attacked. Anti-aircraft missiles were fired towards Israel, triggering alarms in northern Israel.”
Red alert sirens sounded in areas of northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire.
Residents reported hearing a number of explosions and heavy aerial activity in the area near Israel’s borders with Jordan and Syria.
Israel was carrying out strikes after the launch of an Iranian drone into Israel. The drone was intercepted.
Syria accused Israel of “aggression”, as Israel then launched more strikes.
In a statement, the Israeli military said “a combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.
It said the drone was identified quickly and was “under surveillance until the interception”.
The drone went down on Israeli territory and was “in our possession”, IDF spokesperson Brig Gen Ronen Manelis said.
The military said that in response the IDF “targeted Iranian targets in Syria”. It said the mission deep inside Syrian territory was successfully completed.
After coming under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, the F-16’s two crew ejected and were later taken to hospital. One of them was “severely injured as a result of an emergency evacuation”, the IDF said.
It was not clear whether the F-16 jet was hit by anti-aircraft fire or went down near Harduf for other reasons.
Syrian state media quoted a military source as saying that the country’s air defenses opened fire in response to an Israeli act of “aggression” against a military base on February 10, hitting “more than one plane”.
Meanwhile, Iran, Russia and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – key allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – dismissed as “lies” Israeli claims that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace, news wires report.
Houthi-aligned media reported that the rebels had fired a Burkan H2 ballistic missile at King Khaled International Airport, which is about 530 miles from the Yemeni border and 7 miles north-east of Riyadh, on November 4.
Saudi media reported that missile defenses intercepted the missile in flight, but that some missile fragments fell inside the airport area. No casualties were reported.
Human Rights Watch said the launch of an indiscriminate missile at a predominantly civilian airport was an apparent war crime.
On November 7, the official Saudi Press Agency (SAP) reported that in his telephone call with Prince Mohammed, Boris Johnson had “expressed his condemnation of launching a ballistic missile by Houthi coup militias” and affirmed “Britain’s stand with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in confronting security threats”.
“For his part, the crown prince stressed that the involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime and may be considered an act of war against the kingdom,” it added.
On November 6, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CNN that Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, an Iranian proxy, was also involved.
“It was an Iranian missile launched by Hezbollah from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen,” he said.
Correspondents say Saad al-Hariri’s sudden departure plunges Lebanon into a new political crisis and raises fears that it may be at the forefront of the regional rivalry between Shia power Iran and Sunni stronghold Saudi Arabia.
Following the statement on November 4, Iranian politicians lined up to denounce Saad al-Hariri’s assertions.
Hussein Sheikh al-Islam, adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Kahmenei, said: “Hariri’s resignation was done with planning by [President] Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi, quoted by the official Irna news agency, said Saad al-Hariri’s departure was aimed at creating tension in Lebanon and the region.
Bahram Qasemi said Saad al-Hariri had repeated “unrealistic and unfounded accusations” and had aligned himself with “those who want ill for the region”, singling out Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US.
Saad al-Hariri, whose family is close to Saudi Arabia, has been prime minister since December 2016, after previously holding the position between 2009 and 2011.
His father, Rafik al-Hariri was killed by a bomb in 2005 in an attack widely blamed on the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah, which wields considerable power in Lebanon.
The threat of terrorism and nuclear attacks are a concern for most of us. If you did a survey now, most people would probably rate terrorism as one of their biggest fears. None of us want to live in a world where we feel unsafe. But if you watch the news on a daily basis, you’ll find that it offers little reassurance. In 2015, a deal was reached with Iran, but what does it really mean and are we safe?
In 2015, a deal to shut down Iran’s nuclear program for the next decade was hailed as one of the most important political feats of recent times. But what does it mean, and what are the politicians hiding?
The US could have pushed for more
This is an opinion held widely by people in the know. Among them is Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The fact that both President Obama and Javad Zarif, the foreign minister in Iran, celebrated the deal supports this notion. To reach a satisfactory deal, one party would have to leave the table feeling a little disappointed. As a dominant world force, the US could have gone further and pinned more stringent restrictions on Iran. It may have taken a little more negotiation, but the thought is that more could have been achieved.
Was the time frame right?
When world leaders emerged from prolonged, intensive negotiations, a 5-15 year time frame seemed reasonable. But there is concern about the long-term intentions of the Iranian nuclear program. For now, production may be limited, but what happens when this agreed monitoring period elapses? Is there a possibility that Iran could already be plotting years ahead?
How watertight is the deal?
If you delve deeper into the small print of the nuclear deal, you may stumble across some alarming sentences. There is an agreement that sanctions can be reimposed in the event of Iran violating the terms. However, if you read on, you’ll discover that Iran can walk away from the deal if sanctions are reimposed. A written statement also suggests that EU countries and the US are not permitted to disturb economic agreements with Iran.
There’s a worry that the nuclear deal could cause ructions between the USA and European nations. There may be disagreements about the terms of the deal and wider implications for concerns such as terrorism. Disagreements are likely to weaken the allied group and strengthen Iran’s position.
When you read news reports, it’s easy to glance at the main points and think no more about it. There’s also the issue of rhetoric. Even if you only read a couple of newspapers, you’re likely to get a different version of events. Often, you read what you want to read and ignore everything else. On the surface, a deal may appear to be a fantastic step forward. But it’s always important to read the small print. Often, it’s impossible to get the full story from a short report about such a complex and convoluted deal.
Kuwait has recalled its ambassador to Iran as a regional row over the execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia deepens.
Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran was ransacked and set alight on January 2, after it executed Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others.
The kingdom severed diplomatic ties with Iran in response, followed on January 4 by its allies Bahrain and Sudan.
The UN, United States and Turkey are among those calling for calm in the region.
Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran are major rivals for power in the Middle East and back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
Saudi Arabia insists peace efforts should not be affected by the dispute but has criticized Iran’s contribution to the process.
Iran has reiterated its condemnation of Saudi Arabia, with President Hassan Rouhani saying it cannot “hide its crime of beheading a religious leader by severing political relations with Iran”.
The Kuwaiti government said it was recalling its ambassador from the Iranian capital, describing the attacks as a “flagrant breach of international norms”.
Kuwait did not expel Tehran’s ambassador or downgrade diplomatic ties.
Saudi Arabia’s unexpected decision to carry out the executions – following convictions over terror offences – prompted an expression of “deep dismay” from the UN secretary general, while the US accused Saudi Arabia of exacerbating tensions “at a time when they urgently need to be reduced”.
Since then, Saudi Arabia has gained support from some allies in its response to the attacks on its missions in Tehran and the Iranian city of Mashhad.
Saudi authorities on January 3 severed diplomatic relations with Iran. They said that all commercial and air traffic links were being cut and that Saudi citizens were banned from travelling to Iran.
As well as the moves by Bahrain, Sudan and Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has downgraded its diplomatic team in Iran.
On January 4, the UN Security Council issued a strongly worded statement condemning the attack on the Saudi embassy – making no mention of the execution of the cleric.
However, several of the smaller Gulf Arab states have good working relationships with Iran, and two of them, Oman and Qatar, have yet to take any action at all.
Protests against Saudi Arabia have erupted outside Iran, including in Shia-majority Bahrain, where nonetheless Sunni authorities moved to express solidarity with Saudi, clamping down on demonstrations.
Iran has responded angrily to the diplomatic moves, insisting it had no hand in the violent protests that followed the execution.
Earlier, in New York, Saudi UN ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi accused Iran of “interfering in the affairs of other countries, including our own”, and “taking provocative and negative positions”.
The UN’s special international envoy for peace in Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is holding talks in both countries and will be hoping the storm will blow over before a major peace conference on Syria is held towards the end of the month.
Saudi Arabia has decided to break off diplomatic ties with Iran, amid a row over the execution of Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in the Sunni Muslim kingdom, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir has announced.
Adel al-Jubeir was speaking after demonstrators had stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others were executed on January 2 after being convicted of terror-related offences.
Adel al-Jubeir said that all Iranian diplomats must leave Saudi Arabia within 48 hours.
Saudi Arabia was recalling its diplomats from Tehran, he said.
Adel al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia would not let Iran undermine its security, accusing it of having “distributed weapons and planted terrorist cells in the region”.
“Iran’s history is full of negative interference and hostility in Arab issues, and it is always accompanied by destruction,” he told a news conference.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said: “We will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions.”
“We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential,” he said.
Earlier on January 3, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that Saudi Arabia would face “divine revenge” for the execution – an act which also angered Shia Muslims elsewhere in the Middle East.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr a “martyr” who had acted peacefully.
Protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran on January 2, setting fire to the building before being driven back by police. The Saudi foreign ministry said none of its diplomats had been harmed in the incident.
Iran is Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival – they back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
Relations between the countries have been strained over various issues in recent decades, including Iran’s nuclear program and deaths of Iranians at the Hajj pilgrimage in 1987 and again in 2015.
Most of the 47 people executed by Saudi Arabia were Sunnis convicted of involvement in al-Qaeda-linked terror attacks over the last decade.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was involved in anti-government protests that erupted in Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Arab Spring, up to his arrest in 2012.
The execution sparked new demonstrations in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, where Shia Muslims complain of marginalization, as well as in Iraq, Bahrain and several other countries.
The top Shia cleric in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani denounced the execution as an “unjust aggression”.
The leader of Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, launched his sharpest attack yet on the Saudi ruling family on January 3, accusing them of seeking to ignite a Shia-Sunni civil war across the world.
Hassan Nasrallah said the blood of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr would “plague the Al Saud [family] until the Day of Resurrection”, prompting cries of “Death to the Al Saud!” among an audience watching his address.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned that Saudi Arabia will face “divine revenge” for its execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr as a “martyr” who acted peacefully.
Protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran on January 2, setting fire to the building before being driven back by police.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was one of 47 people executed for terrorism offences.
Ayatollah Khamenei said Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr had been executed for his opposition to Saudi Arabia’s Sunni rulers.
The ayatollah tweeted: “This oppressed scholar had neither invited people to armed movement, nor was involved in covert plots.”
“The only act of #SheikhNimr was outspoken criticism,” he added, saying the “unfairly-spilled blood of oppressed martyr #SheikhNimr will affect rapidly & Divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians”.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr had been a figurehead in the anti-government protests that erupted in the wake of the Arab Spring up to his arrest in 2012.
Iran – Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival – has led condemnation among Shia communities over the execution.
The foreign ministry in Tehran said the Sunni kingdom would pay a high price for its action, and it summoned the Saudi charge d’affaires in Tehran in protest.
Some of the protesters at the Saudi embassy in Tehran hurled petrol bombs and rocks. Forty people have been arrested, officials said.
There have also been demonstrations in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, where Shia Muslims complain of marginalization, as well as in Iraq, Bahrain and several other countries.
For its part, Saudi Arabia complained to the Iranian envoy in Riyadh about what it called “blatant interference” in its internal affairs.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s execution has worsened long-running tensions between the two Middle Eastern nations, which support opposite sides in the Syrian and Yemen conflicts.
The US and UN have both called for restraint.
In a statement after the executions, State Department spokesman John Kirby appealed to Saudi Arabia’s government to respect and protect human rights, and to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings.
John Kirby also urged the Saudi government to permit peaceful expression of dissent and, along with other leaders in the region, to redouble efforts to reduce regional tensions.
Most of the 47 executed by Saudi Arabia were Sunnis convicted of involvement in al-Qaeda-linked terror attacks last decade.
Saudi Arabia carried out more than 150 executions in 2015, the highest figure recorded by human rights groups for 20 years.
The execution of Saudi Arabia’s prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr has sparked anger and protests in Shia communities across the region.
Shia-led Iran, Sunni-led Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, has led the official condemnation of the execution.
Protests have taken place in Saudi Arabia’s Shia-majority Eastern Province, in Bahrain and several other countries.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was a vocal supporter of mass protests in the province in 2011.
He was a prominent, outspoken cleric who articulated the feelings of those in Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority who feel marginalized and discriminated against.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was among 47 people put to death on January 2 after being convicted of terrorism offences.
In the early hours of January 3, unconfirmed reports from Tehran said that the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital had come under attack from protesters.
Iranian officials have been strident in their condemnation of the execution. The foreign ministry said the Sunni kingdom would pay a high price for its action, and it has summoned the Saudi charge d’affaires in Tehran in protest.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said a “harsh revenge” would be exacted for the execution, Iranian news agencies report.
Saudi Arabia in turn summoned the Iranian envoy “and handed him a strong-worded protest note on the aggressive Iranian statements”, a foreign ministry statement said.
The website of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei posted a picture suggesting the execution was comparable to the actions of ISIS.
As the Shia power in the region, Iran takes huge interest in the affairs of Shia minorities in the Middle East.
However, one of the principal concerns of the Saudis is what they see as the growing influence of Iran in places like Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
At least one protest march was held in Qatif, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, defying a ban on public protests.
Protesters shouted the slogans “The people want the fall of the regime”, and “Down with the al-Saud family”, reminiscent of the 2011 protests in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr ‘s arrest in 2012, during which he was shot, triggered days of protests in Eastern Province in which three people were killed.
January 2 executions were carried out simultaneously in 12 locations across Saudi Arabia. Of the 47 executed, one was a Chadian national while another was Egyptian. The rest were Saudis.
The international rights group Amnesty International said the 47 executions demonstrated the Saudi authorities’ “utter disregard for human rights and life” and called Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s trial “political and grossly unfair”.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr ‘s family said he had been found guilty, among other charges, of seeking “foreign meddling” in the kingdom but his supporters say he advocated only peaceful demonstrations and eschewed all violent opposition to the government.
Saudi authorities deny discriminating against Shia Muslims and blame Iran for stirring up discontent.
Saudi Arabia carried out more than 150 executions in 2015, the highest figure recorded by human rights groups for 20 years.
American journalist Jason Rezaian has been sentenced to an unspecified prison term in Iran, the country’s judiciary has said.
The sentence follows the Washington Post reporter’s conviction last month on charges that include espionage.
Iranian officials did not give details about the sentence but said in a statement it included jail time.
Jason Rezaian, 39, has been detained in Iran for more than a year. The Post has dismissed the charges as absurd.
“In brief, it is a prison sentence,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said in a statement on Iranian state TV.
Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei added that the verdict is “not finalized” – referring to an expected appeal.
Jason Rezaian’s lawyer, Leila Ahsan, told the Associated Press news agency she had not been informed of the verdict or the details of the sentence.
The foreign editor of the Washington Post, Douglas Jehl, said in a statement that Jason Rezaian’s “trial and sentence are a sham, and he should be released immediately”. He added that the journalist had already spent 487 days in prison.
Jason Rezaian, his wife, who is also a journalist, and two photojournalists were arrested in July 2014 in Iran. Jason Rezaian was the only one of the group not to be released.
The Washington Post‘s Tehran bureau chief since 2012, Jason Rezaian was charged with espionage and distributing propaganda against the Islamic Republic.
Jason Rezaian is a dual Iranian-American citizen and was tried in four hearings behind closed doors. He was convicted in October.
Earlier reports said Jason Rezaian could face 10 to 20 years in prison.
Deutsche Bank has been fined $258 million by the New York State Department of Financial Services and the Federal Reserve for working with Syria and Iran.
Employees who worked on the illegal transactions must not work with the bank again, the Federal Reserve said.
Deutsche Bank also violated various New York state laws and is paying the two agencies separately.
“The company did not have sufficient policies and procedures to ensure that activities conducted at its offices outside of the United States complied with US sanctions laws,” an official from the Federal Reserve said.
The Fed is requiring Deutsche Bank to create an “enhanced” program to “ensure global compliance” with US sanctions, characterizing its transactions with Syria and Iran “unsafe and unsound”.
Deutsche Bank said in a statement that the conduct had stopped several years ago, adding: “Since then we have terminated all business with parties from the countries involved.”
Two French banks, BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole, received higher fines from the US for working with US-sanctioned countries.
Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian’s trial has begun in Tehran, Iran, behind closed doors.
Jason Rezaian, a US-Iranian citizen, was detained in Iran for almost 10 months on charges that include “espionage”.
He has been accused of passing information to “hostile governments”.
Washington Post‘s editor Martin Baron described the trial as “shameful” and criticized the decision to hold it in private.
Jason Rezaian could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Iran has not recently commented on the case, but the Washington Post has spoken out forcefully.
“The shameful acts of injustice continue without end in the treatment of [Jason] Rezaian,” a statement by the newspaper’s Executive Editor Martin Baron says.
“Now we learn his trial will be closed to the world. And so it will be closed to the scrutiny it fully deserves.
“There is no justice in this system, not an ounce of it, and yet the fate of a good, innocent man hangs in the balance.”
The newspaper points out that Jason Rezaian was arrested without charge and imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin prison – placed in isolation for many months and denied medical care he needed.
It says that Jason Rezaian was given only an hour-and-a-half to meet a lawyer approved by the court and “no evidence has ever been produced by prosecutors or the court to support these absurd charges”.
US officials have repeatedly raised Jason Rezaian’s case during months of nuclear negotiations with Iran, but have declined to link the two.
Jason Rezaian’s family has taken heart from recent comments by President Barack Obama, who said that the White House would not rest until the journalist was brought home safely.
The case is all the more sensitive because it has unfolded during nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West.
Some analysts have suggested the arrest was related to internal power struggles in Iran over the outcome of the nuclear talks.
Iran and six major world powers, including the US, have set a June 30 deadline for a conclusive nuclear deal to end a 10-year impasse.
Jason Rezaian had been the Washington Post‘s Tehran bureau chief since 2012.
The journalist’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who was arrested alongside him in July but later bailed, and a third person have also been summoned to appear in court.
In some parts of the world like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia or Indonesia, celebrating Valentine’s Day with flowers, chocolates or a glass of wine could result in severe punishment.
While Valentine’s Day is celebrated by many Indonesians, officials and Muslim clerics are less happy about the holiday.
In recent years there have been protests from conservative Indonesians, saying Valentine’s Day is un-Islamic.
They argue it promotes casual s** and the drinking of alcohol.
A number of political parties in India have criticized Valentine’s Day, arguing it promotes Western values and is unwelcome in India.
India used to be part of the British Empire until it declared independence on August 15, 1947.
In 2015, the Indian Hindu nationalist party Mahasabha said that they would encourage couples spotted out together on Valentine’s Day to get married, and will actually have a religious leader on standby to perform marriages.
Other groups have said that celebrating romance would encourage teenage pregnancy and instead pushed for Indians to ditch the idea of romance between boys and girls and replace Valentine’s Day with a celebration of the love between parents and children, a “Parent’s Worship Day”.
The idea began on religious leader Asaram Bapu’s website.
The Asian country has the world’s largest Muslim population, but is a secular nation, meaning that the government says it is neutral and neither supports nor disagrees with religion.
However, in the province of Aceh, the only place with Islamic rule, celebrations are banned as is the sale of gifts.
Photo Getty Images
While giving chocolates and flowers on Valentine’s Day is increasingly popular in Iran, in the past authorities have sought to crack down on celebrations, calling the day a “decedent Western custom”.
Despite this restaurants in Tehran reported being fully booked last year and many shops could be seen selling teddy bears and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates.
This was in spite of being threatened with prosecution if they sold traditional Valentine’s Day gifts.
According to the Economist, shops simply used lookouts to tell them if inspectors were coming on a Valentine’s Day patrol.
Last year, 80 Muslims were arrested by the Islamic morality police for celebrating Valentine’s Day.
They think Valentine’s Day encourages immoral activities.
Officers raided budget hotels in the central state of Selangor and capital, Kuala Lumpur, detaining unmarried Muslim couples who were sharing rooms.
The anti-Valentine’s Day campaign by the country’s Islamic authorities goes back to a fatwa (religious ruling) issued in 2005.
However, many Malaysians still celebrate the day and other faiths are not affected by the Valentine’s Day boycott in the country.
Additionally not all Malaysian Muslims agreed with the campaign, with some saying Valentine’s Day is harmless.
Muslims make up nearly two-thirds of the 28 million-population.
In 2014, there were clashes at a university in Peshawar over Valentine’s Day.
Liberal students were celebrating with red balloons and cake while another group felt such a show was un-Islamic.
Dozens of students threw rocks in the scuffle, leading to gunshots being fired by both sides and rooms in a student dormitory being set on fire.
Three students were injured and stones were thrown at police.
In Saudi Arabia, Valentine’s Day is banned by the kingdom’s religious police.
Women and men sit separately in restaurants and public displays of affection are taboo.
However, some shops continue to sell red roses and other traditional Valentine’s presents.
One shop owner described how Valentine’s Day orders are placed over the telephone to avoid detection and flowers are hidden in the back of the store.
Last August, the decision to sentence five Saudis to a total of 39 years in prison, as well as 4,500 lashes between them, was upheld.
The men had been found dancing with six women they were unrelated to on Valentine’s Day. Alcohol and red roses were also seized.
An Iranian court has ordered the closure of Mardom e-Emruz (Today’s People) newspaper after publishing a picture of George Clooney wearing a badge backing French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was attacked last week.
The Mardom e-Emruz newspaper ran a picture of the actor headlined “I’m Charlie too”.
Conservative elements in Teheran were incensed by a catchphrase they regard as “anti-Islamic”.
Charlie Hebdo has published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which many Muslims see as an offensive act.
The cover of Charlie Hebdo‘s latest edition, published after the attack in which 12 people were killed, featured a cartoon of the Prophet weeping while holding a sign saying “I am Charlie”.
Seven million copies of the edition are being printed in view of extraordinary demand, distributors announced on January 17.
“The court in charge of cultural affairs and the media imposed the ban on the newspaper for publishing a headline and a picture which it deemed insulting,”Mardom-e Emrouz director Ahmad Sattari told the Irna news agency.
The newspaper was only in its first month of publication, but that its political position was seen as close to that of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.
The court’s ruling is pending a final decision due later, but is unlikely to be overturned.
New reports claim that President Barack Obama wrote a secret letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, describing a shared interest in fighting Islamic State (ISIS).
The letter, reported by the Wall Street Journal, urges Ayatollah Ali Khamenei toward a nuclear agreement.
Barack Obama stresses any co-operation on fighting ISIS is contingent on Iran reaching such an agreement by a November 24 diplomatic deadline.
The White House has declined to comment on Barack Obama’s “private correspondence”.
The letter, sent last month, is at least the fourth time Barack Obama has written to the Iranian leader since taking office in 2009 and underscores his view that Iran is important in an emerging campaign against ISIS.
President Barack Obama is said to have written a secret letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Officials with the Obama administration have, in recent days, placed the chances for a deal on Iran’s nuclear program at only 50-50, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to begin negotiations on the issue with Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif this weekend in Oman.
World powers suspect Iran of trying to make a nuclear bomb, a claim it denies.
An interim deal agreed late last year gave Iran some relief from sanctions in return for curbs on nuclear activity.
However, talks later stalled on the extent of uranium enrichment Iran would be allowed and on the timetable for sanctions to be lifted.
On November 6, White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment directly on the secret letter.
“I can tell you that the policy that the president and his administration have articulated about Iran remains unchanged,” he said in response to questions.
Also on November 6, Republican speaker of the House John Boehner said he did not trust Iran’s leaders and said they should not be brought into the fight against ISIS.
The head of Iran’s chief clerical body, Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani, has died at the age of 83.
Iran’s clerical body is in charged with choosing or dismissing the country’s supreme leader.
Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani, a former acting prime minister and interior minister in the 80s, had been in a coma since June
Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani was the chairman of the Assembly of Experts, a body of 86 senior clerics that monitors the supreme leader and picks a successor after his death, making it one of the most powerful institutions in Iran, though it doesn’t involve itself in daily affairs of state.
He held the post since March 2011, after his predecessor, Iran’s influential former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was forced out following a dispute with several hard-line clerics.
Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani, a former acting prime minister and interior minister in the 80s, had been in a coma since June. He was considered a moderate conservative.