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RT, previously known as Russia Today, is a global multilingual television news network based in Russia. RT was the first all-digital Russian TV network.
Gold bars, the typical form of bullions

Iraqi Dealers Confirm ISIS Hoarding Gold, Precious Metals To Issue Currency – Report

Islamic State militants are reportedly acquiring gold, silver and other precious metals in a bid to further solidify their control over large swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory by issuing their own currency, Iraqi metal dealers confirmed to McClatchy.

Earlier this month, the militants’ Beit al Mal, an ancient Islamic term which translates as “Treasury Department,” issued a statement announcing the plan. The coins, which they plan to fashion from gold, silver and copper, will be modeled on the 8th century currency of the Umayyad Caliphate.

At the time, experts expressed doubts the militant group had the technological capability and overall knowhow to produce their own modern currency for the territory under their control; roughly one third of Iraq and Syria.

A recent report in McClatchy, however, which draws on interviews with precious metal dealers in northern and western Iraq, would indicate the group is in fact moving ahead to obtain enough material necessary to carry out the plan.

One Fallujah-based gold trader, identifying himself as Hajj Samir, told McClatchy that foreign jihadists had been buying up all the gold and silver in the city’s markets. He said he alone had sold more than 15 pounds to known affiliates of the militant group.

“They said it was for gifts for their wives, but now I know why, and all the traders say the same thing,” Hajj Samir told the news portal. “We’ve been making trips to Baghdad to get more, and they buy all of it.”

Another 37-year-old trader who has worked out of Mosul told a similar story of selling off his precious metals to those connected to the group.

“We don’t ask why they’re buying so much,” said the trader, Osman Ahmed.

“But even silver in small shops outside the city is sold out.”

Ahmed said the speed with which they were buying up precious metal stocks was forcing traders such as himself to travel to cities in Kurdish-controlled territory to renew their stocks.

Zakaria Ahmed, a Mosul resident not related to Osman, said US-led airstrikes had taken their toll on IS’s currency plans, noting they had made it difficult for the militants to transport valuables.

Despite the setbacks, Zakaria, whose brother is reportedly an IS official, said the currency plan was still coming along.

“It is still in an ongoing process to be released,” he told McClatchy by phone.

The desire to create their own currency has also extended to the battlefield, with militants reportedly stripping copper wiring from electric transmission cables and other sources to gather materials for the coins.

The Islamic militant group notorious for extreme violence and war crimes has gone to great lengths to establish a caliphate with all the requisite state institutions over a piece of territory roughly the size of Belgium.

Relying on funds brought in from taxes, stolen oil and gas and organized crime, IS has, in the words of Jordanian journalist Raed Omari, “undergone the quickest transformation to statehood in modern history.”

Blast On Gulf Of Mexico Platform Leaves 1 Dead, 3 Injured

An explosion off the US coast in the Gulf of Mexico on an oil and gas platform has killed one worker and injured three others.

The blast occurred on the Echo Platform just before 3pm about 12 miles (19km) off the coast of Louisiana, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), as quoted by AP. The platform is owned by Texas-based company Fieldwood Energy, which has not yet released a statement on the reported incident.

Shannon Savoy, a spokeswoman for Fieldwood Energy, confirmed the death of one of its workers involved in the explosion off Louisiana’s coast.

“One employee of a contractor was fatally injured and a second contractor employee was seriously injured,” Savoy said in a statement. “We have accounted for all other personnel who were working at the facility.”

She described the explosion as an “isolated incident that has been fully contained. The facility was not damaged and there was no pollution that resulted from the incident.”

A statement released by BSEE said the platform was not operating at the time of the blast and damage was confined to the immediate area. There was no sign that any oil had spilled into the Gulf waters.

BSEE spokeswoman Chauntra Rideaux said the injured workers were receiving medical attention at a nearby hospital. She did not provide information on the location of the medical facility or the condition of the workers.

The incident is under investigation, Rideaux said.

Any accident involving offshore platforms is bound to stir up anxiety, especially in Louisiana, which was worst-affected by the April 2010 BP oil disaster – the largest marine oil spill in history. The US government estimated the total discharge of oil into the Gulf of Mexico at about 4.9 million barrels.

READ MORE: BP oil spill left Rhode Island-sized oily ring on seafloor

In 2011, a White House probe said the accident occurred following the implementation of cost-cutting measures and a faulty safety system.

Boris Johnson giving a victory speech in City Hall after being elected Mayor of London. Photo by Secretlondon, Wikipedia Commons.

American-Born London Mayor Refuses To Pay US Taxes, Threatens To Renounce Citizenship

The Internal Revenue Service reportedly wants London Mayor Boris Johnson to write a check for taxes he owes to the United States government, but the UK politician says he isn’t paying.

Johnson, 50, has been the mayor of London since 2008 and is considering a bid at Parliament in the near future. In the meantime, however, he might soon find himself in hot water on the other side of the pond. Johnson, who was born in New York but moved at the age of five, told NPR host Susan Page during an interview last week that the US wants him to pay a capital gains tax owed by American citizens who earn income abroad.

Previously, Johnson wrote in a 2006 column that he was “getting a divorce from America” and would renounce his citizenship, noting “for years I have travelled exclusively on a British passport,” and not the US-issued one he also holds. That threat failed to materialize, but a question emailed to the mayor while he was being interviewed by NPR recently might have rekindled his interest — and without a doubt revealed another issue that has peculiarly pitted Johnson against the IRS.

“It is very hard but I will say this: the great United States of America does have some pretty tough rules, you know,” Johnson said. “You may not believe this but if you’re an American citizen, America exercises this incredible doctrine of global taxation, so that even though tax rates in the UK are far higher and I’m Mayor of London, I pay all my tax in the UK and so I pay a much higher proportion of my income in tax, then I would if I lived in America.”

“The United States comes after me, would you believe it, for the — for capital gains tax on the sale of your first residence which is not taxable in Britain, but they’re trying to hit me with some bill, can you believe it?” Johnson continued.

Page, who was filling in during the Nov. 13 episode on behalf of NPR host Diane Rehm, quickly pressed Johnson: “Are you gonna pay the bill?” The mayor initially rebuffed her, though, saying instead that he just thought America’s demands were “outrageous.”

“Outrageous or not, will you pay this tax bill?” Page inquired again.

“Well, I’m — no, is the answer,” the mayor finally admitted. “I think, it’s absolutely outrageous. Why should I?”

“I could but I pay — I pay the lion’s share of my tax, I pay my taxes to the full in the United Kingdom where I live and work,” Johnson added, saying later that he continues to carry an American passport because “it’s very difficult to give up.”

Robert W. Wood, an expert on taxes and litigation, wrote for Forbes that Johnson still could decide to renounce his citizenship — something that Americans have done in record numbers in recent years. That wouldn’t solve the mayor’s tax problems, Wood wrote, however.

“When you exit you must certify five years of US tax compliance to the IRS. And any tax for the current or prior years must be paid. So, maybe Mayor Johnson should have renounced when he threatened to in 2006,” Wood wrote.

Around 2,353 Americans have renounced their citizenship since the start of 2014, Wood wrote later, and a continuation of the current trend would shatter last year’s record-breaking statistic of 2,999 renunciations.

Barack Obama

Obama To Announce Immigration Action On Thursday

US President Barack Obama will announce an executive order on immigration reform Thursday, according to the White House.

In a statement on Wednesday, the White House said Obama will give a prime-time address at 8 p.m. on Thursday to discuss his plan for immigration reform, likely to include temporary reprieve from deportation for as much as 5 million undocumented immigrants.

A senior congressional aide told The Washington Post that Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, will meet with Democratic senators on Thursday, further proof that an executive action looms. Democrats have worked in recent days, writing op-eds and appearing on television, to defend such an announcement from Republican criticism.

Pres. Obama was first reported on Wednesday to be giving an immigration announcement on Friday, but later the White House said the address would be given on Thursday evening.

“This is a step forward in the President’s plan to work with Congress on passing common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Last Wednesday, following the Republican Party’s takeover of the US Senate, Obama warned that he would take whatever lawful actions he feels are necessary to “improve the function of our immigration system,” following years of unsuccessful efforts from Congress to accomplish as much on its own. The White House says that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has previously pushed back on efforts from Democratic lawmakers to introduce immigration reform, and the results of last Tuesday’s mid-term elections will soon see to it that the GOP has a majority in the Senate as well next session.

“So if in fact there is a great eagerness on the part of Republicans to tackle a broken immigration system, then they have every opportunity to do it,” the president said. “My executive actions don’t prevent them…but should be a spur for them to try and get something done,” said Obama.

On the heels of Obama’s post-Election Day remarks, Republican Party representatives said the GOP should consider countering any attempt from the White House to unilaterally weigh in on immigration reform with an order of impeachment. GOP leaders added that any executive action would “poison the well” for the rest of Obama’s two-plus years in office.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the soon-to-be Senate majority leader, said the use of executive authority in this instance “would be like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”

By taking executive action, it is likely that Obama will derail any opportunities to cooperate with the GOP majority in Congress during the rest of his term, including on bipartisan initiatives like tax reform, among other issues.

Keystone pipeline route

Keystone XL Pipeline Bill Fails To Pass Senate By 1 Vote

The US Senate failed to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline project, falling one vote short of breaking a filibuster against the bill, which would have allowed the transport of crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico.

The bill failed despite garnering 59 “Yes” votes to 41 “No” votes. All Republican senators voted “Yes,” and they were joined by 14 Democrats. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who co-sponsored the bill, needed one more vote to pass it but could not persuade another Democrat to go along.

Landrieu, the chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, originally introduced the measure confident that there was enough support for the tar sands pipeline. The senator is facing a run-off election for her seat on December 6 and wanted to be seen as a key player in the pipeline project’s passage.

Earlier today, the White House indicated that President Barack Obama would veto legislation fast-tracking the Keystone pipeline. A spokesman said Obama does not support the legislation because it’s a decision that should be made through “the regular process.”

The Obama administration will have to make a “national interest” determination on the pipeline, which will take in factors like economics, geopolitics and the environment. One of the president’s main concerns is whether the project will “significantly exacerbate” carbon-dioxide emissions.

However, with Republicans taking control of both the House and Senate next year, they are likely to fast-track approval next year. The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell (Ky.), already said the new Congress will quickly arrange a vote on the project. If passed, President Obama would have to decide whether or not to veto the bill.

“Senate Democrats once again stood in the way of a shovel-ready jobs project that would help thousands of Americans find work,” McConnell said in statement. “Once the 114th Congress convenes, the Senate will act again on this important legislation, and I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone jobs bill early in the New Year.”

The project would transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada down to Nebraska. Over the last decade, oil companies have started extracting oil from Alberta’s tar sands, but the gooey mix of sand, clay and oil is difficult to ship to refineries to turn it into usable fuel. The pipeline would help by offering a connection to refineries in Texas. Labor unions support the project because it would bring 42,000 jobs over its two-year construction period, with just 35 permanent jobs.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, say producing oil from Canada’s tar sands is energy-intensive and will add 17 percent more carbon dioxide than regular oil production over the project’s life-cycle, exacerbating global warming. Opponents are also concerned that the pipeline will put nearby communities at risk of oil spills into water supplies.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who was considered a “swing vote” regarding the the bill, said it was not Congress’ place to decide Keystone’s fate.

“Congress is not — nor should it be — in the business of legislating the approval or disapproval of a construction project,” he said in a statement. “And while I am frustrated that the President has refused to make a decision on the future of the pipeline, I don’t believe that short-circuiting the process to circumvent his Administration is in the best interest of the American people.”

NSA

Senate Kills NSA Reform Bill Over Terror Fears

The US Senate failed to get the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster and move forward with the USA Freedom Act, which would have placed significant restrictions on the way the National Security Agency’s conducts surveillance domestically.

Supporters of the bill tallied 58 “yes” votes against 42 “no” votes, but they fell two shy of bringing the USA Freedom Act up for a clear majority vote. Opposition generally came from Republicans, but not all conservatives voted against proceeding with the bill. Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Texas) was a co-sponsor of the measure, and was one of four Republicans to vote in favor of advancing it.

Senior Republicans said stopping the surveillance would benefit enemies of the United State, including Islamic State militants, according to Reuters.

“God forbid that tomorrow we wake up to the news that a member of ISIL is in the United States,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), according to the Huffington Post. If the NSA cannot track phone calls, he said, “that plot may go forward — and that would be a horrifying result.”

“Let’s not have another repeat of 9/11,” added Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.).

However, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said there has been no evidence to suggest that the NSA’s surveillance program prevented a terrorist attack on the US.

“If this was important to stop ISIL, ISIL never would have started,” he said.

The bill, now effectively dead for this year, would have stopped the NSA from collecting the phone records of millions of Americans who are not suspected of any crime. The reforms are unlikely to be reviewed when the new Congress convenes in January, but the controversial surveillance program will most likely be debated next year as Congress decides whether to renew the Patriot Act, which serves as the foundation for the NSA’s activity.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a key advocate for change at the NSA, said the vote showed the majority of the US Senate is ready to debate intelligence reform.

“They join a chorus of Americans who oppose these programs, which violate the privacy of millions of Americans without making our country safer. Although I’m disappointed that debate won’t happen this week, those who value civil liberties and the U.S. Constitution will not rest until there is true reform that ends this unnecessary overreach,” he said.

If passed into law, the bill would have placed metadata records – information such as the time a call was made and the duration of the call, but not the actual content of the call itself – in the possession of telephone companies instead of the NSA. If intelligence agencies wanted access to the data, they would have to seek approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA).

The bill would also allow public advocates to participate in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) proceedings. Additionally, the government would be required to disclose FISA opinions and statistics about the extent of domestic spying activities, though these could be withheld if they posed a risk to national security.

Although the House of Representatives passed the original draft of the Freedom Act in May, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-.Vt.) further strengthened the bill at the request of civil liberties advocates. Key reformers like Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have not yet thrown their support behind the bill, hoping for stronger measures against the “backdoor” collection of Americans’ data – something done indirectly when the primary target is a foreigner.

Third party supporters also expressed disappointment over the vote.

“We are disappointed that the Senate has failed to advance the USA Freedom Act, a good start for bipartisan surveillance reform that should have passed the Senate,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement. “[The] Act is a first step in comprehensive surveillance reform. Future reform must include significant changes to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act, to the operations of Executive Order 12333, and to the broken classification system that the executive branch counts on to hide unconstitutional surveillance from the public.”

Israel flag

3 US & 1 UK Rabbis Killed, 8 Injured In Attack At Jerusalem Synagogue

Four people have been killed and at least 8 wounded when two assailants attacked worshipers with knives, axes and a pistol in a synagogue in North Jerusalem in the morning. Three of the victims were dual nationality US citizens and one was from the UK.

Israeli police say both attackers were shot dead on the spot by officers. Spokeswoman Luba Samri described the incident as a “terrorist attack,” according to AP.

Israel’s Public Security Minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, has said that gun controls for self-defense will be eased in wake of the attack.

“In the coming hours, I will ease controls on carrying weapons,” he said in comments broadcast on public radio.

He added that the new rules will apply to anyone who owns a gun license, such as private security guards and off duty army officers.

Israeli police have confirmed four people have died in the incident and eight have been wounded, four seriously, two moderately and two lightly.

All four of the victims were rabbis and one of them, Moshe Twersky,was the head of the English speaking Yeshiva Toras Moshe, an institution for religious studies, in Jerusalem. His funeral procession will be held at 2:00 pm local time.

Another of the victims was a British-Israeli national, according to the UK’s Foreign Office.

“We are aware of the death of a dual British-Israeli national in Israel on 18 November 2014,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

The other three were US citizens, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld

The FBI has said it will open an investigation into the attack as three of the victims were US citizens.

The suspects have been named as Uday Abu Jamal and Ghassan Abu Jamal, from East Jerusalem, and were both members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has praised the attack but stopped short of claiming responsibility, Hamas also honored the attack.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri confirmed the suspect’s identity, AP reports.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Prime Minster has ordered the homes of the two suspects to be demolished, according to his spokesman.

The attacked synagogue is situated on Agasi Street, in the ultra-Orthodox Had Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem.

“We were praying in synagogue in the morning, we heard gunshots from downstairs… one shot, two shots and then a flurry of shots,” a witness who was inside the building told AP.

The first call to the emergency services was at 7:01 and two traffic policemen were the first on the scene who were joined by a third officer. They started shooting at the terrorists and killed them, although one of the policemen was critically wounded in the firefight and another moderately.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israel is going to ‘respond harshly’ to this latest terror attack.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue.

“The presidency condemns the attack on Jewish worshipers in their place of prayer and condemns the killing of civilians, no matter who is doing it,” Reuters cited Abbas’s office as saying in a statement.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been running particularly high over the last two weeks and world leaders are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations. On Monday the EU’s newly-appointed foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state in the next few years.

There have also been a number of symbolic votes in favor of recognition of the Palestinian state in parliaments of several European states, such as Sweden, France and UK.

Spanish MPs are expected to vote in support of a Palestinian state on November 18.

Last weekend Israeli Haaretz revealed a secret EU document that Israel could soon face sanctions from Brussels if Tel Aviv makes any further attempts to pose obstacles to a two-state solution with occupied Palestine.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s reply to that was that Israel will never stop its settlement constructions in occupied East Jerusalem.

On Monday the conflict escalated even further as a Palestinian bus driver was found hanged inside his vehicle at a depot in Jerusalem, with the Israeli police saying the man committed suicide, while the driver’s family claim he was lynched by Israelis.

Doctor With Ebola Dies At Nebraska Hospital

Dr Martin Salia, a surgeon who contracted the Ebola virus while working in Sierra Leone, has died at a hospital in Nebraska.

The 44 year-old was taken to hospital in Omaha on Saturday, but passed away on Monday according to hospital officials.

“We are extremely sorry to announce that the third patient we’ve cared for with the Ebola virus, Dr. Martin Salia, has passed away,” the hospital said in a statement, as reported by AFP. The other two patients who were treated at the facility were given clean bills of health.

The 44 year-old, who was a permanent US resident, contracted the virus while working at a hospital in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, according to his relatives. He was already suffering from advanced symptoms, including kidney and respiratory failure when he arrived at the Nebraska Medical Center, which is one of four US hospitals equipped to handle treatment of the disease, and has the largest bio-containment unit in the country.

While at the medical facility in Omaha, he was treated by Dr Phil Smith. Writing, on his Twitter page, the doctor explained that Salia had received a dose of convalescent plasma and ZMapp therapy. “We used every possible treatment available,” said Dr Smith.

Salia’s wife, Isatu Salia, said on Monday that she and her family were grateful for the efforts made by her husband’s medical team. “We are so appreciative of the opportunity for my husband to be treated here and believe he was in the best place possible,” Salia said, according to AP.

Salia, who was based in the state of Maryland, but spent a significant amount of time in Freetown, had originally been tested for the disease in early November. His test came back negative leading to jubilant celebrations and embraces from worried colleagues, the Washington Post reported. However, his symptoms did not go away and he took another test on November 10, which was positive forcing everyone who had been in physical contact with the 44 year-old into quarantine

“We were celebrating. If the test says you are Ebola-free, we assume you are Ebola-free,” said Komba Songu M’Briwa, who cared for Salia at the Hastings Ebola Treatment Center in Freetown, the Washington Post added. “Then everything fell apart.”

In an interview in April, Dr Martin Salia talked about how important it was for him to work in the land of his birth and help others. He worked as a surgeon at the United Methodist Kissy Hospital in Sierra Leone.

“I took this job not because I want to, but I firmly believe that it was a calling and that God wanted me to. That’s why I strongly believe that God has brought me here…and I’m pretty sure and confident that I just need to lean on him because he sent me here. And that’s my passion,” he said in a video posted on YouTube.

Salia, who was originally from Sierra Leone, was the 10th patient to be treated on US soil for the virus. He is the second person to have died in the United States from Ebola. In October, a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, died at a Texas hospital from the virus, which has killed thousands of people in West Africa.

The current outbreak of Ebola is the worst on record. It has so far killed at least 5,177 people, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, as reported by Reuters.

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey’s Erdogan Says Muslims ‘Discovered America’ Before Columbus

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says the Muslim faith was “widespread” in America before the arrival of Columbus in the 15th century, and insists that a massive mosque should be erected in Havana, despite the city’s refusal to grant a building permit.

“The religion of Islam was widespread before Columbus,” the longtime Turkish leader told the audience at the first ever Latin American Muslim leaders summit in Istanbul, as cited by Hurriyet Daily News.

“Muslim sailors had arrived in the shores of America in 1178. In his diaries, Christopher Columbus referred to the presence of a mosque on top of a mountain in Cuba.”

The claim comes from a 1996 paper from Youssef Mroueh of the As-Sunnah Foundation of America.

“Columbus admitted in his papers that on Monday, October 21, 1492 CE while his ship was sailing near Gibara on the north-east coast of Cuba, he saw a mosque on top of a beautiful mountain,” it alleges.

The veracity of this statement has been comprehensively disproved in the past.

The actual quote comes from a log of Columbus’ first journey in 1492, as recorded decades later by colonization historian Bartholome de Casas, but it was made on October 29 – likely near a different part of Cuba than claimed by Mroueh. Most importantly, it explicitly does not imply that Christopher Columbus saw an actual mosque – only a hill that looked like a minaret.

“Remarking on the position of the river and port, to which he gave the name of San Salvador, he describes its mountains as lofty and beautiful, like the Pena de las Enamoradas, and one of them has another little hill on its summit, like a graceful mosque,” reads the entry from the de Casas chronicle.

Even if this claim is easily debunked, it is part of a growing volume of Muslim scholarship that seeks to prove that Islam pre-dated Christianity in the New World, using circumstantial evidence. This idea itself has gained traction in swathes of the Islamic world.

Among the usual pieces of proof that form the backbone of the argument is a 1980 paper by Harvard academic Barry Fell, who claimed that some of the ancient engravings in the Americas resembled Muslim fonts.

There are also references to various trans-Atlantic journeys by Muslims made as far back as the 11th century, of explorers bringing back hoards of gold, using the relatively sophisticated navigational equipment possessed by the Islamic world at the time.

Alternative theories additionally propose that common Indian proper names were bastardizations of Islamic terms. For example, they claim that ‘Seminole’ is actually the Turkish ‘Sami nal’ or ‘Semites who ran away,’ while ‘Shawnee,’ another tribe name, is derivative of ‘sah ne’ which means the ‘Great Shah.’

No actual archaeological links – be it buildings or artifacts – suggesting contact between the Muslim world and that of pre-Colombian Indians have been unearthed.

But Erdogan believes the “re-popularization” of Islamic culture can begin anew, starting with a new mosque back in Cuba.

“Now I will speak to my Cuban brother [the country’s delegate at the forum]. A mosque will suit well on top of that mountain today, too. Their permission is enough,” said Erdogan.

The newly-elected Turkish president has contrasted the impact of Islam and Christianity on newly-converted territories.

“Converting people by force, by the sword, has never been a part of Islam. Our religion has never been a tool of exploitation,” said 60-year-old Erdogan, who was prime minister from 2003, until moving into his new post in August. In contrast, Erdogan said that European Christians “colonialized America for its gold and Africa for its diamonds, now do it in the Middle East for its oil with the same dirty plot.”

Islamic leaders used ‘futuhad’ – religiously-motivated military campaigns – to rapidly spread the religion through the Middle East and North Africa within a century of the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD. Muslim rulers also forcibly converted millions of locals in Spain and Eastern Europe, in the centuries after. Currently, ISIS, Boko Haram, and other militias around the world, say they are following the teachings of the Koran, by establishing new Muslim territories with jihad.

Problematically, a plan by a Turkish company to construct a 3,500-place mosque for Cuba’s estimated Muslim converts – who number up to 9,000 according to five-year-old Pew Research data – has stalled, in what is officially an atheist state.

The project, modeled on the Ortaköy Mosque in Istanbul, was touted in April, following an official visit by Turkish officials – with a sign in Arabic appearing on the proposed site in Havana.

But in October, Lazo Torres, head of the local Muslim community, said that no permit has been given for the building, prompting reports that the project was rejected by the authorities, which have themselves not commented. Recently, Torres has clarified his statements, saying that the future of the project – which he says will serve the entire community, not just Muslims – remains undecided.

US Government Warns iOS Users Their Devices May Be In Danger

Apple customers are being warned by computer security experts, including the United States government’s own cyber squad, to watch out for a new bug affecting iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad.

The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team, or US-CERT, said Thursday that users of mobile phones and tablets running Apple’s latest iOS software should be careful of what they click. A so-called “masque attack” is taking users by storm, tricking iPhone and iPad owners into installing malicious software resembling legitimate applications but actually embedded with code that could compromise an entire device.

“This attack works by luring users to install an app from a source other than the iOS App Store or their organizations’ provisioning system,” US-CERT explained. From there, the fake app may let a hacker control the infected device and “access sensitive data from local data caches,” “perform background monitoring of the user’s device” and “gain root privileges to the iOS device.”

The exploit was discussed earlier in the week by security experts at the firm FireEye, who said they informed Apple of the vulnerability on July 26 but believe new versions of iOS are still able to be exploited as part of a new masque attack hacking campaign they’ve dubbed “WireLurker.”

“Masque Attacks can replace authentic apps, such as banking and email apps, using attacker’s malware through the Internet. That means the attacker can steal user’s banking credentials by replacing an authentic banking app with an malware that has identical UI. Surprisingly, the malware can even access the original app’s local data, which wasn’t removed when the original app was replaced. These data may contain cached emails, or even login-tokens which the malware can use to log into the user’s account directly,” FireEye warned.

“We have confirmed this attack with email apps where the malware can steal local caches of important emails and upload them to [a] remote server,” FireEye said.

“In this situation, we consider it urgent to let the public know,” FireEye said, “since there could be existing attacks that haven’t been found by security vendors.”

Meanwhile, US-CERT says Apple users should avoid clicking “Install” from any third-party applications or websites, and watch for any other unusual activity.

“If you are getting something from your work, it looks like a work email asking you to download an outside app, just call your boss and ask ‘did you really send me this email? Did you really want me to download that?'” CNET reporter Bridget Carey suggested. “Be careful what you download. Only download from the Apple store.”

‘War on Christmas’ as DC suburb scraps religious holidays on calendar

US conservative groups are in an uproar as an affluent D.C. suburb decided to remove any mention of religious holidays – Christmas included – following complaints from Muslim groups that their holidays were not being recognized.

The multi-ethnic, multi-denominational Montgomery County faced a dilemma after its Muslim community had petitioned to include two of its religious holidays in the school calendar, as was the case with Christian and Jewish holidays.

Instead of finding the space on the calendar for mentioning the Muslim holidays, however, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted 7-1 to eliminate the mention of all religious holidays, a move that sparked a religious firestorm. Now, schools will be closed on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which are celebrated next year on the same day, without mention of the feast days in the calendar.

The announcement triggered heated criticism from around the country. One Fox commentator practically compared the decision to the ‘Grinch who stole Christmas.’

“As of next year – all Christian and Jewish holidays will be removed from the calendar,” wrote Todd Starnes, with no loss of hyperbole. “That means no more Christmas, no more Easter and no more Yom Kippur.”

“There’s no word on whether the board will remove the Irish from St. Patrick’s Day or the love from St. Valentine’s Day, or the trees from Arbor Day,” he added.

Even for the Montgomery School Board, the decision did not bring much comfort.

“It was a no-win situation for us,” school board chairman Phil Kaufman told AP.

At the same time, the Muslim community was also disappointed with the vote, describing it as a “drastic step.”

“By stripping the names Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they have alienated other communities now, and we are no closer to equality,” said Saqib Ali, a former Maryland state delegate and co-chair of the Equality for Eid Coalition. “It’s a pretty drastic step, and they did it without any public notification.”

Zainab Chaudry, also a co-chair of the coalition, said the Montgomery school officials went “so far as to paint themselves as the Grinch who stole Christmas” to avoid recognizing Muslim religious days.

“They would remove the Christian holidays and they would remove the Jewish holidays from the calendar before they would consider adding the Muslim holiday to the calendar,” she said.

Due to the separation of church and state, US public schools are forbidden from citing religious holidays as a reason for closing. However, in the event that remaining open would appear redundant due to the high number of students remaining at home, schools are permitted to declare days off on those holidays.

Montgomery County’s school system ranks as the 17th largest in the country, with 154,000 students.

Palestine's Mahmoud Abbas

Abbas Warns Israel Of Religious War Amid Mosque Row

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said a global religious war could be triggered if Jews are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount in Al-Aqsa mosque, which in his words would “contaminate” it.

Abbas also warned the Israeli government against changing the status quo at the site, which is holy for both Muslims and Jews, adding that protesters at Al-Aqsa mosque have the right to defend themselves. Abbas was apparently referring to clashes provoked by the closure of the holy site earlier. [link to our article]

Speaking at the 10th anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Abbas said Muslims and Christians would never recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“Keep the settlers and the extremists away from Al-Aqsa and our holy places,” Abbas said. “We will not allow our holy places to be contaminated. Keep them away from us and we will stay away from them, but if they enter Al-Aqsa, [we] will protect Al-Aqsa and the church and the entire country.”

Jews are allowed to come to Al-Aqsa but they cannot pray inside the building. It was captured by Israel in 1967, but Muslims govern the area.

Abbas warned against any Israeli plans to divide the mosque. “Israel’s leaders are making a big mistake if they think they can turn back history, to impose a reality, and to divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque [into separate prayers times and areas] as they divided the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron,” Abbas said, adding that Muslims “have the right to defend themselves and the holy places” if attacked.

With the current situation unfolding, Israel is “leading the region and the world to a destructive religious war,” Abbas claimed.

Israeli authorities have repeatedly stated that they are not planning to change the current situation. They also denied reports last week that the nation’s security forces have followed rioters into Al-Aqsa mosque.

Meanwhile, Israel claims that Palestinians use the mosque for storing items such as Molotov cocktails, rocks, and bottles.

Abbas also said that areas occupied by Israel since 1967 are “not up for debate.”

“The Muslim and Christian worlds will never accept Israel’s claims that Jerusalem belongs to them. The Jerusalem that was occupied in 1967 belongs to us,” he said.

The remarks of Abbas came on the same day that another Palestinian demonstrator was killed by Israeli forces near the West Bank city of Hebron. A trooper fatally shot 21-year-old Imad Jawabreh in the chest after he pointed an “improvised weapon,” according to Israeli authorities. The shooting came amid clashes between the Israelis and stone-throwing Palestinians in the area.

Violent clashes in front of Al-Aqsa mosque have also intensified over the past month.

On Wednesday, Israeli police shut access to Al-Aqsa mosque to Muslim worshipers for several hours due to continued clashes in the city.

The shutdown was triggered after clashes in the streets of East Jerusalem and the Old City, in which Palestinian youths attacked Israeli police with stones and firecrackers.

Israel’s control of access to Al-Aqsa has been a sore point in relations between Jews and Palestinians for decades. However, tensions at the holy site have been particularly high since last week, when Israel closed it to Muslim worshipers.

Israeli police closed the site for the first time since 1963 in retaliation for the killing of a prominent right-wing Jewish activist, provoking outcry from the Arab population. Access was renewed a day later, but males under 50 were still banned from entering.