Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Iraqi Parliament Bans Display of Israeli Flag; Says It Tarnishes Iraq, Vows Criminal Action

Following the display of the Israeli flag in pro-independence Kurdish rallies, the Iraqi parliament voted today (October 31, 2017) to ban the Israeli flag, describing it as a Zionist symbol, according to the VOA News website.

"A dangerous phenomenon, representing the hoisting of the Zionist entity flag during public rallies in front of the media, has recently appeared that breaks the basic constitutional principles of Iraq," Salim al-Jabouri, Speaker of the Iraqi parliament, said.

The new law vows criminal prosecution against those who raise the Israeli flag in the country.

"This is an exercise that damages the reputation of Iraq and its nation and the law punishes it by the maximum penalties," the speaker added.

Today Is the 500th Anniversary of Protestantism; Martin Luther Criticized Corrupt Church Dogma

Five hundred years ago today (October 31, 1517), a monk named Martin Luther went to a church in Wittenberg -- a small town in Germany -- and nailed a list of criticisms of the Catholic Church to its doors, according to the Time website.

Luther had just sparked what would become the Protestant Reformation. His list of criticisms -- known as the 95 theses -- would have a powerful impact on world history.

The birth of Protestant Christianity led to the translation of the Bible into languages other than Latin, allowing many people to engage with scripture for the first time.

Luther also played a major role in ending the church's sale of "indulgences" -- payments to the church to speed up entrance into heaven of loved ones who had died -- which Luther regarded as corrupt.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Coptic Christians Slam Church Closings in Egypt; No. of Churches Shut Down Recently by Islamists

Coptic Orthodox Christians in the south of Egypt called on local authorities for an end to discrimination, after a number of churches were closed down in recent weeks, the Reuters website reports today (October 30, 2017).

Two churches in two separate villages in the southern province of Minya have been shut down by the authorities, a statement by the Minya diocese said.

It said worshipers were harassed at both churches and pelted with rocks at one of them. A third church was closed following rumors of a pending attack, but no attack has occurred, and the church remains closed.

Coptic Christians, who make up 10 percent of Egypt's predominantly Muslim population of nearly 95 million, have been persecuted for years by Islam radicals.

Pope to Host Forum to Avoid US-N.Korean War; Says "Humanity Risks Suicide with Nuclear War"

Pope Francis warned today (October 30, 2017) that "humanity risks suicide" with the increased threat of nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea -- a threat that will dominate an imminent Vatican conference gathering 11 Nobel peace laureates, top U.N. and NATO officials, and ambassadors from key countries, according to the ABC News website.

The Vatican announced details of the November 10-11 conference today, saying it was part of the Vatican's effort to promote a nuclear weapons-free world.

Today, Francis visited staff of the Vatican office organizing the conference and warned that "humanity risks suicide with nuclear war."

Francis is due to address the conference on its opening day.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Russian Orth.Patriarch: 1917 Rev."Catastrophic;" Communists Leveled Churches,Murdered Priests

The 1917 October Revolution that heralded the triumph of communism in Russia had "catastrophic consequences" for religious communities, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, told the Interreligious Council in Moscow on the 100th anniversary of the revolution, according to the Christian Today website.

Patriarch Kirill, who maintains a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has seen the Orthodox Church flourish under the Putin regime with thousands of churches rebuilt and a new public role for the Orthodox Church.

In his address to the Interreligious Council, Kirill said: "This event [the 1917 revolution] led to truly catastrophic consequences for religious communities, to persecution of believers, destruction of churches, and totally anti-religious propaganda." (Communist control of Russia ended in 1989, with the collapse of the Soviet Union.)

Kirill added that during purges under Russian communist leaders -- notably Joseph Stalin -- churches were closed, church property expropriated, and priests were imprisoned and executed.

Pope: Christians Should Shape Europe's Future; Rel. Can Play a Key Role by Promoting Dialogue

Pope Francis said yesterday that Christians can play an important role in shaping Europe's future by promoting political dialogue "especially where it is threatened and where conflict seems to prevail," the Fox News website reports today (October 29, 2017).

Francis' fifth foreign policy speech on Europe, titled "To be the Soul of Europe," was made to a forum on Europe organized by the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community.

Pointedly, Francis said politics, rather than promoting dialogue as it should, "is becoming instead a forum for clashes between opposing forces. The voice of dialogue is replaced by shouted claims and demands."

He added religion can play a positive role by promoting dialogue, and he called on Europeans "to restore dignity to politics and to view politics as a lofty service to the common good, not a platform for power."

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Church Removes George Washington Memorial; Leaders Say It's Polemic, Decreases Worshipers

Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia announced this week it was pulling down a memorial to George Washington, and another memorial to Robert E. Lee, saying the two former parishioners have become too controversial and are "chasing away" would-be parishioners, the Washington Times website reports today (October 28, 2017).

While acknowledging "friction" over the decision, the Episcopal church's leadership said the twin memorials, which are attached to the wall on either side of the altar, are relics of another era -- an era in which slavery pervaded the United States -- and have no business in a church that proclaims its motto as "All are welcome -- no exceptions."

"The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques," the church leaders said.

The Rev. Noelle York-Simmons, rector of the church, said the decision was made by "unanimous vote" of the vestry.

American Who Joined IS Gets 20 Years in Prison; Mohamad Jamal Khweis: It Was a "Bad Decision"

A 27-year-old American, who joined the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Syria and later claimed he escaped and fled into the hands of Kurdish troops after a "bad decision," was sentenced to 20 years in prison yesterday, the Times of Israel website reports today (October 28, 2017).

Mohamad Jamal Khweis left his job driving a bus for disabled people in northern Virginia in December 2015 to travel to IS's stronghold of Raqqa in Syria.

He spent about two and a half months as a member of IS, and prepared to become a suicide bomber.

A federal jury convicted Khweis on June 8 on all three charges against him.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Qatar Accused of Transporting IS Mil. to Libya; Arabs Claim Qatar Provides Financial Aid to IS

Arab media accused Qatar this week of helping to transport Islamic State (IS) militants from Syria and Iraq to the south of Libya, the VOA News website reports today (October 27, 2017).

The allegations were the latest in a series made against the Gulf emirate by a coalition of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and United Arab Emirates.

The coalition imposed sanctions against Qatar in June for supporting terrorists.

Leon Panetta, a former U.S. defense secretary and CIA director, also said this week that Qatar has a history of supporting terrorism. "We know they've provided support -- financial support -- for the Muslim Brotherhood, for terrorism, for Hamas, for elements of al-Qaida, the Taliban."

Catalan Parliament Votes for Ind. for Catalania; Angry Spain Reacts by Taking Control of Region

The parliament of Catalonia voted overwhelmingly today (October 27, 2017) to declare full independence from Spain, a move that was followed by an angry Madrid allowing the government to take over direct rule of the region, according to the UPI website.

By a vote of 70-10, the Catalan Parliament took its first full step toward independence.

The legislation directs the semi-autonomous region to begin a process to formally secede from Spain and to declare itself a republic.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy today asked Madrid's senate for authorization to remove Catalan leader Charles Puigdemont from office, as allowed by Spain's constitution.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Trump Ends Aid to UN Due to Its Ineffectiveness; Shifts Money to AID to Help Mideast Persecuted

Saying that Middle Eastern Christians facing persecution have not been served well by the United Nations, Vice President Mike Pence announced yesterday that the Trump administration will direct money away from the international body and instead disperse it to faith-based and other nonprofit organizations, the America Magazine website reports today (October 26, 2017).

"Our fellow Christians and all who are persecuted in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly," the vice president said at a summit in Dallas hosted by In Defense of Christians, a D.C.-based nonprofit organization that advocates for Christians living in the Middle East.

"And tonight, it is my privilege to announce that President Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations," Pence continued.

"From this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities," through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), he added.

Russian Orth.Patriarch Travels to Free Romania; 1st Rus.Patriarch to Visit Since Communism End

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church arrived today (October 26, 2017) in Bucharest on the first visit to Romania by a head of the Russian church since the end of communism in the country in 1989, according to the ABC News website.

NATO and European Union member Romania has cool relations with Russia, as a result of Russia controlling it as a communist satellite for decades after World War II, but the two countries share cultural and religious ties through their Greek Orthodox churches.

Kirill arrived a day ahead of a service celebrating 10 years since Patriarch Daniel was elected head of the Romanian Orthodox church.

Kirill and Daniel will lead tomorrow's service, joined by senior Orthodox bishops from Albania, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Poland Property Law Limits Holocaust Survivors; Due to Most Jews Emigrating Poland after WWII

International Jewish organizations are voicing disappointment over a new Polish law that compensates people whose property was seized under communism, saying it excludes most Polish Holocaust survivors and their heirs, the US News website reports today (October 25, 2017).

The new law requires that claimants be Polish citizens and limits compensation to spouses, children, or grandchildren.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization says those provisions exclude the vast majority of Holocaust survivors and their families, because most Jews left Poland during or after World War II and settled elsewhere.

The Jewish organization also said that because of the Holocaust's toll, the heirs of seized properties are usually nieces or nephews, not direct descendants.

European Council Pres.:Brexit Can Be Stopped; Donald Tusk States UK Can Still Remain in EU

The president of the European Council said today (October 25, 2017) that the UK could still decide to reverse Brexit and remain a member of the European Union (EU), according to the Independent (British) website.

Donald Tusk said negotiations could end in "no Brexit" if the British government agreed to that.

Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Tusk said, "It is in fact up to London how this will end: With a good deal, no deal, or no Brexit."

In December, 2017, MPs will hold a non-binding debate on the possibility of a second referendum on the final deal.

Pope:Heaven Is the Ultimate "Goal of Our Hope;" Heaven Is an Embrace with God,Not a Fairy Tale

Pope Francis today (October 25, 2017) spoke about the hope Christians have at the end of life, which is found in God's promise to be with us at the moment of our death and give us eternal life with Him in heaven, according to the National Catholic Register website.

"Paradise is not a fairy tale, nor is it an enchanted garden. Paradise is an embrace with God [who is] infinite Love, and we enter thanks to Jesus, who died on the cross for us," the pope said today.

"Where there is Jesus, there is mercy and happiness; without Him, there is the cold and darkness," he said, explaining that, at the hour of death, "the Christian repeats to Jesus: 'Remember me.' And even if there is no one who remembers us, Jesus is there beside us."

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims during his general audience, which he announced would conclude his yearlong catechesis on Christian hope. He dedicated his address to a reflection on heaven, which is the ultimate "goal of our hope."

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tillerson Warns Pakistan Not to Support Taliban; Trump Had Hit Pakistan for Harboring Militants

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson got a cool welcome from leaders in Pakistan today (October 24, 2017), as a result of Washington recently accusing Islamabad of providing "safe havens" for Taliban militants, according to the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website.

Tillerson's visit comes after U.S. President Donald Trump accused Islamabad in August of harboring "agents of chaos" who could attack U.S.-led NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan -- a predominantly Muslim nation -- hit back at Trump's claims, insisting it has lost thousands of lives and spent billions in fighting Islamic extremism.

As one of 16 "Non-NATO Major Allies," Pakistan benefits from billions of dollars in U.S. aid each year and has access to advanced U.S. military technology banned from other countries.

Pentagon Calls for Women to Register for Draft; Would Be 1st Time in History Women Signed Up

The Pentagon says the country should stick with mandatory registration for a military draft, and it advocates a requirement for women to sign up for the first time in the nation's history, the Washington Times website reports today (October 24, 2017).

The recommendations are contained in a Defense Department report to Congress that serves as a starting point for a commission examining military, national, and public service.

Currently, only male citizens and residents ages 18-25 are required to register, for a pace of about 2 million each year.

Women -- whom the government has never ordered to sign up -- would add 11 million to the Selective Service System database "in short order," the report says.

Anti-Semitic Fliers Posted on Cornell U. Campus; Say "Just Say No to Jewish Lies!," Have Swastika

Anti-Semitic fliers with swastika symbols were discovered on the campus of Cornell University in upstate New York, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (October 24, 2017).

The posters, which read "Just say no to Jewish lies!" and urged students to "join the white gang," were discovered yesterday and taken down.

Police were investigating the matter and increased patrols around Jewish buildings on campus, the Cornell Hillel said in an email to the Jewish community.

"We are deeply concerned that a poster of this nature was placed on our campus, as these sentiments run counter to the spirit of diversity and pluralism that our university works to uphold," Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Ari Weiss said in a statement.

Monday, October 23, 2017

French Couple Probed for Calling Child "Jihad;" Name Infers Muslim Terror in Western Society

A couple is being investigated in France for calling their son "Jihad," the Euro News website reports today (October 23, 2017).

The boy was born in August in the city of Toulouse.

French law allows parents freedom to choose any name which is not considered harmful to their child, or that infringes on the rights of third parties.

While the Arabic term "jihad" is usually associated in Western discourse with Islamic terrorism, the name translates to "an effort to achieve good," a Muslim cleric in Toulouse said.

Tillerson: Iran's Troops in Iraq Must Go Home; Image Appalls Christians,Blocks Returm Home

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for Iranian-backed militias, who helped defeat the Islamic State (IS) in Mosul, Iraq and have set up checkpoints in Iraqi villages once mostly populated by Christians over three years ago, to leave the country, the Christian Post website reports today (October 23, 2017).

Tillerson stressed yesterday now that the Islamic State has been pushed out of its stronghold in Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh Plains, "all foreign fighters need to go home."

Tillerson's comment comes as representatives of the Christian community in Iraq and human rights activists have voiced concern about how Iranian presence in towns once populated by Christians before the IS displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in the Nineveh region in 2014 is intimidating Christians and preventing them from returning to their rightful homes.

Nina Shea, a human rights lawyer who serves as director of Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, told the Christian Post last month that the U.S. government should not take lightly the fact that "Iran is aggressively establishing schools and mosques and libraries and other structures [in Iraq]within the main Christian towns."

IS Murdered at Least 128 People in Syrian Town; Considered Them "Agents of the Syrian Regime"

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today (October 23, 2017) that the Islamic State (IS) terror group killed at lest 128 people in  a Syrian town in central Homs during the past three weeks, before the Syrian army recaptured it on October 21, according to the Jerusalem Post website.

Syrian troops and allied forces regained control of al-Qaryatayn town after eliminating the IS group, state media said.

The IS had killed the civilians because it viewed the as being "agents of the (Syrian) regime."

The Syrian government did not comment on the Syrian Observatory report on the 128 people killed by IS.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Conservative Jews Send Mixed Marriage Note; Back Mixed Marriage Ban, Interfaith Couples

A letter signed by leaders of the Conservative Jewish movement, reasserting a ban on rabbis performing interfaith weddings, has manged to wed confusion and anger, as clergy state that the missive is doing more harm than good, the Times of Israel website reports today (October 22, 2017).

The letter does not reflect a change in policy, as it reasserts the ban on interfaith weddings, and urges its member synagogues to welcome interfaith couples before and after nuptials.

The letter is believed to have been sparked by declarations by a few Conservative rabbis earlier this year that they would begin performing mixed marriages.

Several leading Conservative rabbis are criticizing the letter, questioning why it was necessary and calling for the ban to be either lifted or modified.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

At Least 54 Egypt Police Killed Fighting IS Mil.; Police Raid on Militant Cache Turns to Firefight

At least 54 policemen were killed today (October 21, 2017) when a raid on a militant hideout outside of Cairo escalated into an all-out firefight, according to the Chicago Tribune website.

It was one of the largest losses of life for Egyptian security forces since militants began targeting government after the 2013 military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, whose one-year rule proved divisive.

The exchange of fire began late last night in the al-Wahat al-Bahriya area in Giza governorate, about 135 kilometers from the capital after security services moved in.

Egypt has been struggling to contain an insurgency by Islamic militants led by an affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) group, centered mostly across the Suez Canal in the northern region of the Sinai Peninsula, but attacks on the mainland have also recently increased.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Mideast Christians Need World Leaders' Help; Still Need to Be Protected Despite Defeat of IS

A Catholic charity organization has said that despite recent major victories against the Islamic State (IS) terror group, unless world leaders make a change, IS may still destroy the Christian population in Iraq and Syria, the Christian Headlines website reports today (October 20, 2017).

"We have seen drastic reductions in the Christian populations in many nations in the Middle East. Iraq might very well have lost 80 percent of their native Christian people," Edward Clancy, ACN (Aid to the Church in Need) director of outreach told The Christian Post. "Syria might have lost 50 percent."

Middle East church leaders have said they feel "forgotten" by the international community.

"They need our help. It is more than just guaranteeing property rights for returning families. The security of their communities is a major issue. It is about leaders not being afraid to say that these Christians belong in their ancestral towns and that they deserve to be supported and protected," Clancy said.

Suicide Bombers Attacked Two Afghan Mosques; At Least 72 Killed,Believed by Sunni IS Militants

Suicide bombers attacked two mosques in Afghanistan today (October 20, 2017), killing at least 72 people -- including children -- according to the Reuters website.

One bomber walked into a Shi'ite Muslim mosque in the capital Kabul as people were praying and detonated an explosive.

At least 39 people died in the blast at the Imam Zaman mosque. Separately, a suicide bombing killed at least 33 people in central Ghor province, a police spokesman said.

Shi'ite Muslims have suffered a series of attacks in Afghanistan in recent months, many of them claimed by the Sunni Muslim militants of the Islamic State (IS).

Fed.Court Says Md. WWI Peace Cross Unconst.; American Legion May Appeal to Supreme Court

In a case that has critical ramifications for memorials and cemeteries across the U.S., a federal court ruled on October 18 that a World War I memorial in the shape of a cross in Bladensburg, Maryland is unconstitutional, the Spero Forum website reports today (October 20, 2017).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision that the 40-foot "Peace Cross" violates the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) -- an organization that promotes atheism in the United States -- initiated the court case, and wants the cross demolished, altered, or removed.

In voting against the cross, Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote, "The monument here has the primary effect of endorsing religion..." The American Legion is expected to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Headstones Sacked at Romania Jewish Cemetery; Three Teens Nabbed for Smashing 10 Headstones

Police in Romania arrested three teenagers accused of destroying 10 headstones at a Jewish cemetery, the Jerusalem Post website reports today (October 19, 2017).

The incident occurred last weekend near the northern city of Reghin, located 200 miles north of Bucharest, the Romanian capital.

The suspects allegedly smashed the headstones and drew a swastika on two gates, although police said they were not sure if the swastikas had already been painted on the gates.

The Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania said it was "shocked by this new antisemitic act of vandalism."

Quebec Province Passes Law Banning Face Veils; Is First Law to Ban Them in All of North America

The Canadian province of Quebec has passed a new law banning face veils -- the first law of its kind in all of North America -- the Euro News website reports today (October 19, 2017).

The new law bars face coverings for people giving or receiving provincial government services. It includes forcing those who use public transportation to unveil.

Critics say it targets Muslim women. The government says the measure protects public safety.

The new ruling is due to take effect in July, 2018.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Most Americans:God Not Needed for Moral Life; Due Mainly to Surge in No. of American "Nones"

For the first time in history, a majority of Americans (56 percent) say it is possible to be a good person without a religious belief, the Religion News website reports today (October 18, 2017).

So finds a Pew Research poll conducted among 5,000 American adults in June and July, 2017.

"God is not a prerequisite for good values and morality," Greg Smith, Pew's associate director of research, said in a post about the findings.

Smith added, "The public's increased rejection of the idea that belief in God is necessary for morality is due, in large part, to the spike in the share of Americans who are religious "nones;" that is, Americans who have no affiliation with any religion or denomination.

NYC Orth.Rabbi Stole $5M in Children's Funds; Samuel Hiller Stole Disabled Preschooler Funds

A New York City Orthodox rabbi has been sentenced to prison for stealing $5 million in funding intended for disabled preschoolers, the Times of Israel website reports today (October 18, 2017).

Samuel Hiller will spend one to three years behind bars, after pleading guilty to stealing the money.

Hiller was assistant director of the now-defunct Island Child Development Center. It provided services to Orthodox Jewish communities in Far Rockaway, Queens, and Brooklyn's Williamsburg and Borough Park neighborhoods.

Restitution is part of Hiller's plea agreement.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

High Court:Public Land 10 Command.a No-no; Backs Lower Court Ruling,Rejects Case Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal in a case regarding a Ten Commandments display on public property in New Mexico, thus allowing a lower court ruling against the display to stand, the Christian Post website reports today (October 17, 2017).

Yesterday, the highest court in the land issued an order in which it declined without comment to hear the appeal in "City of Bloomfield, New Mexico v. Felix."

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which was helping to represent Bloomfield, released a statement denouncing the court's refusal to hear the appeal.

"Just because we disagree with what something says, does not mean we can ban it from the public square," stated the ADF. "By allowing the Tenth Circuit decision to stand, the Supreme Court has given anti-religion advocates a license to challenge any monument [on public land] that they see and offends them."

IS Defeated in Raqqa after Four-Month Battle; Kurdish Rebel Forces Regain IS Syrian Capital

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said today (October 17, 2017) it has cleared Raqqa -- the Islamic State's de facto Syrian capital -- of all militant fighters, according to the UPI website.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) -- the U.S.-backed rebel force -- said the fierce four-month fight to regain Raqqa ended today with about 300 remaining IS (Islamic State) militant holdouts confined to a narrow section of the city.

IS had held the city for three years and some of its fighters could still be holed up in the city's buildings and tunnels, officials said.

The SDF believes it will take months to clear explosives from the city, which had a population of more than 300,000 before the IS terrorists seized it.

Monday, October 16, 2017

NYC Bomber Is Found Guilty of All Charges; Ahmad Khan Rahimi Facing a Life in Prison

The man accused of planting two bombs in New York City -- leaving 30 people injured in September 2016 -- was found guilty today (October 16, 2017) of all charges, according to the VOA News website.

Twenty-nine-year-old Ahmad Khan Rahimi of Elizabeth, New Jersey, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for charges, including counts of using a weapon of mass destruction and bombing a public place.

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said "inspired by ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] and al-Qaida, Rahimi planted and detonated bombs on the streets of Chelsea, in the heart of Manhattan, and in New Jersey, hoping to kill and maim as many innocent people as possible..."

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio congratulated all involved with the prosecution today.

Army Sgt. Bergdahl Pleads Guilty to Desertion; Trump Called Him Traitor for Joining Taliban

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl -- the soldier held by Taliban insurgents for nearly five years after abandoning his post in Afghanistan -- said today (October 16, 2017) that he is pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, according to the USA Today website.

The Army will hold a hearing to determine the punishment for Bergdahl, who faces a potential life sentence. He was scheduled to face a court-martial later this month.

He was charged with one count each of "desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty" and "misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place."

When he was a candidate for U.S. president in 2016, Donald Trump said Bergdahl was a "traitor," because he deserted his Army unit and joined the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Philippine Troops Bomb IS Militants in Marawi; Over 1K Killed in Marawi Since IS May Usurping

Philippine troops today (October 15, 2017) bombed militants loyal to the Islamic State (IS) group who have held out for over four months in a southern city, according to the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website.

The fighting in the Philippine city of Marawi has killed more than 1,000 people. The radical Muslims had intended to establish a local IS caliphate there.

"We are hoping that we will end this Marawi siege very soon," Colonel Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the task force battling the IS militants, told reporters.

Pro-IS fighters occupied parts of Marawi on May 23, 2017. Since then, 822 militants, 162 government troops, and 47 civilians have been killed, Brawner said.

Syria Tells Turkey to Rid Its Troops from Nation; Says Troop Presence Violates International Law

Syria demanded yesterday that Turkish troops who entered northwestern Syria leave immediately, saying their presence constituted a "flagrant aggression," the Reuters website reports today (October 15, 2017).

The Foreign Ministry statement said the entry of Turkish military vehicles into rebel-held northwest Syria on October 12 was a violation of international law.

Turked says it is operating alongside Syrian rebel groups to reduce the fighting between insurgents.

But Syria rejects this Turkish excuse and insists that "the Turkish aggression" is a violation of international law.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Iraqi Forces Regain Kurd Region Near Kirkuk; Determined to Retake Oil-Rich Kurd Province

Iraqi forces yesterday retook positions controlled by Kurdish peshmerga fighters since 2014 in the oil-rich province amid a bitter row with the Kurds over a vote for independence last month, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports today (October 14, 2017).

A senior Kurdish official said thousands of heavily armed fighters had been deployed to defend themselves "at any cost" against the Iraqi operation and called for international intervention.

Ethnically divided but historically Kurdish-majority Kirkuk is one of several regions that peshmerga fighters took over from the Iraqi army in 2014 when Islamic State (IS) group swept through much of northern and western Iraq.

Baghdad is bitterly opposed to Kurdish ambitions to incorporate the oil-rich province in its autonomous region in the north and is determined to take it back.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Coptic Orth. Priest Killed with Cleaver in Cairo; Muslims Killed 100 Egyptian Christians in 2017

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church says a priest has been killed in a knife attack in Cairo, the latest deadly assault on the country's Christian minority, the ABC News website reports today (October 13, 2017).

The church said the attack occurred yesterday, apparently by a Muslim radical.

Security officials said the attacker struck the priest's head with a cleaver and fled the scene, but was later arrested.

Attacks on Egypt's Christians in the predominantly Islamic country have increased in recent months. A series of suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State (IS) militant group has resulted in the deaths of some 100 Christians so far in 2017.

Trump Vows He Won't Certify Iran Nuclear Deal; Determined Iran Never Obtains Nuclear Weapon

U.S. President Donald Trump struck a powerful blow against the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement today (October 13, 2017), as he decided not to certify that Tehran is complying with the deal and warning he might in fact terminate it, according to the Reuters website.

Trump announced the major shift in U.S. policy in a speech in which he detailed a more aggressive approach to Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

He accused Iran of "not living up to the spirit" of the nuclear agreement and said his goal is to ensure Teheran never obtains a nuclear weapon.

"We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror  and the very real threat of Iran's nuclear breakout," Trump said.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Many IS Fighters Leaving Iraq,Syria for Libya; US Fighter Jets Now Pound IS Troops in Sirte

The U.S. military is ramping up operations and bombing raids against the Islamic State (IS) in Libya, where the terrorist group's fighters have increasingly found refuge as their territorial base shrinks in Iraq and Syria, the Washington Times website reports today (October 12, 2017).

U.S.-backed militias largely crushed the Islamic State's operation in the North African nation in late 2015, but signs that the group is gaining a new foothold there began to emerge last month.

Although the Trump administration has resisted a major U.S. military role in Libya, the Pentagon wasted little time responding to the flurry of IS activity there. On September 22, military officials announced that American fighter jets had been dispatched to pound an IS encampment about 150 miles south of the city of Sirte.

The Sirte outpost is vital to the Islamic State in part because it is the heart of Libya's oil-producing region, a potential source of critical funding for the group.

US, Israel Leave UNESCO Due to Its Israeli Bias; UNESCO's $653M Annual Budget Also a Reason

The United States and Israel announced today (October 12, 2017) that they were quitting the United Nations' cultural agency, UNESCO, on December 31, 2017, after Washington accused it of anti-Israel bias, according to the Reuters website.

The withdrawal of the United States -- which provides a fifth of UNESCO's budget of $653 million a year -- is a major blow for the Paris-based organization.

Founded after World War II to protect culture and natural heritage around the world, UNESCO is known for designating World Heritage Sites such as the city of Palmyra in Syria and the Grand Canyon National Park.

The State Department decided to quit UNESCO because of the organization's financial plight and its voting against Israel on several occasions during the past year. Hours after the U.S. decision, Israel also announced it would leave UNESCO.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Pope: Death Penalty Is Contrary to the Gospel; God Alone Is True Judge and Guarantor of Life

Pope Francis declared today (October 11, 2017) that the death penalty is "contrary to the Gospel," according to the American Magazine website.

He did so in a major speech to an audience of cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns, catechists, and ambassadors from many countries on the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the catechism, affirming that there has been a development of doctrine in the church and a change in the consciousness of the Christian people on the question of the death penalty.

The pope's comments and the timing of them suggest that a revision of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" may be forthcoming to reflect this new development in the church's understanding.

Pope Francis also said, "It is contrary to the Gospel, because it is freely decided to suppress a human life that is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, and of which, in the final analysis, God alone is the true judge and guarantor."

Greece Passes Law Easing Legal Gender Change; Greek Orthodox Church in Fury,Calls It Immoral

The Greek Orthodox Church is in uproar over a new law passed by Greece's parliament yesterday that will increase the ease with which individuals can change their legally recognized gender, the Christian Today website reports today (October 11, 2017).

The law will allow people to change their gender on official documents with a court ruling, and without requiring medical tests or sterilization.

Until now, anyone needing to officially change their gender had to be diagnosed with a "gender identity disorder" and have their reproductive organs removed.

The law has been condemned as "immoral" by the Greek Orthodox Church and as a "monstrosity" by right-wing politicians.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Filipino IS Suspect Targeted NYC for Attacks; Philippines a "Breeding Ground for Terrorists"

A Filipino terror suspect in a thwarted jihadi plot targeting New York City had boasted that his country was "a breeding ground for terrorists," the Japan Times website reports today (October 10, 2017).

Russell Salic, 37, has been charged with a plan to carry out the attacks in the name of the Islamic State (IS) group in 2016, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Multiple locations -- including New York's subway, Times Square, and some concert venues -- were identified as targets in the plot.

According to a Justice Department statement, Salic sent messages to others involved in the plot in which he described terror laws in the Philippines as "not strict" compared to Western countries. "Terrorists from all over the world usually come here [the Philippines] as a breeding ground for terrorists..." he said.

KKK Flyers Threaten Blacks,Jews in Florida; "Only Good Jew Is One with Bullet in Head"

Several neighborhoods in Jacksonville, Florida were littered with flyers containing messages from the Ku Klux Klan over the past few days -- including anti-black and anti-Semitic messages -- the Forward website reports today (October 10, 2017).

One of the flyers contains threats against African-Americans who are caught "making eyes" at white women.

The flyer also says that "the only 'good Jew' is the one with a bullet hole through his head."

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said there was an "active criminal investigation" on-going.

Monday, October 9, 2017

US Judge Ends Exempt Clergy Rental Allowance; Rules IRS Provision Exempting Clergy Unconst.

A federal judge has ruled that an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provision that exempts clergy from including their rental allowance in their reported gross income is unconstitutional, the Christian Post website reports today (October 9, 2017).

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled on October 6 that IRS 26 U.S. Code 107 (2) violated the First Amendment.

Judge Crabb referenced a 2013 decision of hers against the IRS provision, saying that it "violates the establishment clause because it does not have a secular purpose or effect."

"Although defendants try to characterize 107 (2) as an effort by Congress to treat ministers fairly and avoid religious entanglement, the plain language of the statute, its legislative history and its operation in practice all demonstrate a preference for ministers over secular employees," wrote Crabb.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Jewish Girl,10,Is Beaten by Classmates in France; Damage to Rib Cage Required 10 Days to Recover

A 10-year-old Jewish girl in France has been hospitalized after she suffered a beating from her classmates in Paris, according to the BNVCA  (National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism), the Jewish Press website reports today (October 8, 2017).

The child arrived at the hospital with visible contusions on her rib cage and stomach requiring 10 days of recovery.

The attack on the child -- identified by the name of "Ness" --  was not the first; her mother told police the girl's classmates have beaten her several times "only because she is Jewish."

Ness will be transferred to a different school, according to BNVCA. Due to the recent rapid rise in France's anti-Semitism, thousands of Jews have left the country during the past three years and have become citizens of Israel.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

IS Calls on Women to Join It,Perform Terrorism; Says Many Women Fought in Islam's Golden Age

The Islamic State (IS) terror group -- now desperate for more troops due to the loss of many fighters and most of the land it controlled in Iraq and Syria -- has for the first time called on women to carry out terror attacks and wage jihad against the West, the Times of Israel website reports today (October 7, 2017).

A newspaper run by the terror group called on Muslim women to "prepare themselves to defend their religion by sacrificing themselves by Allah."

IS is infamous for its oppression and subjugation of women under its rule, and has entrusted females only with homemaking roles.

The jihadist paper justified its new approach by noting that many Muslim women had in fact partaken in combat in some points in history, including during Islam's Golden Age from the 8th to the 13th century.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Turkey Nabs a Consulate Worker for Espionage; US Embassy:Allegations "Wholly Without Merit"

Turkish authorities have arrested a U.S. Consulate employee in Istanbul over his alleged links to a movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, the CBS News website reports today (October 6, 2017).

The U.S. Embassy said it believes the allegations against the staff member are "wholly without merit."

Turkey's Anadolu News Agency said the man -- a Turkish citizen identified by the initials M.T. -- was ordered arrested by a court in Istanbul on October 4 on charges of espionage and attempts to "destroy" the constitutional order and Turkey's government.

The man is accused of ties to a former prosecutor and four former police chiefs who are being prosecuted for leading a corruption probe in 2013, which the government says was orchestrated by Gulen's movement in a bid to topple it.

Flier Threatening Jews Sent to Brooklyn Bakery; Asserts "Make America Great Again!!! Jews Out"

An anti-Semitic flier that threatens Jews was sent to a kosher bakery in Brooklyn, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (October 6, 2017).

Police are investigating the notice sent to the Weiss Bakery in the haredi Orthodox neighborhood of Borough Park.

It reads: "Make America Great Again!!! Jews Out..."

Above the words is a black swastika surrounded by a white circle on a red background.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Pope: We Must Not Reject Differences of Sexes; Power of Biotechnologies Raises Dire Questions

While societies must find a way to overcome the subjugation of women, pretending there are no differences between men and women -- or even using technology to change a person's sex -- is not the answer, Pope Francis said today (October 5, 2017), according to the America Media website.

He denounced the utopia of "the neuter," which seeks to remove "both the human dignity of the sexually different constitution [of man and woman] and the personal quality of the reproductive transmission of life."

The pope was speaking today at the plenary assembly of the newly reconstituted Pontifical Academy for Life. The academy was convening for a discussion: "Accompanying life. New responsibilities in the technological era."

He warned the gathering -- which includes participants from all the continents -- that "the power of biotechnologies, which allows the manipulation of life in a way that was unthinkable yesterday, raises formidable questions."

Iraqi Forces Capture IS's Last Stronghold in Iraq; Capture Town of Hawija Near Oil City of Kirkuki

Iraqi forces today (October 5, 2017) captured the town of Hawija and the surrounding area from the Islamic State (IS), although some fighting still raged in a pocket to the north and east of the town where the militants were surrounded, according to the Huffington Post website.

The only area that remains under the control of the IS in Iraq now is a stretch alongside the western border with Syria.

Hawija is near the Kurdish-held oil-rich city of Kirkuki.

Kirkuki shaped up as a flashpoint last month when the Kurds included the city in a referendum that voted in favor of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Trump: Netanyahu Blocks Mideast Peace Talks; Views Israeli PM as Bigger Problem Than Abbas

President Trump told United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was more of an obstacle to peace efforts in the Middle East than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, The Hill website reports today (October 4, 2017).

Trump reportedly made the comments during a meeting with Guterres at last month's U.N. General Assembly in New York City.

A Western diplomat who had been briefed on the meeting said Trump had acknowledged both Netanyahu and Abbas were being "problematic," but the Israeli leader was "the bigger problem."

Many international affairs experts believe that Netanyahu is not in favor of peace talks because such talks would endanger Israel's retention of the Arab territories it seized in the 1967 war, and they could also put an end to Israeli construction of settlements on the occupied land.

Bomb Blast Kills 4, Wounds 4 in SE Turkey; Kurds Responsible,Seek Ind.State in Turkey

A bomb planted by Kurdish militants ripped into a military vehicle today (October 4, 2017), killing four soldiers and wounding four more, as they traveled in southeast Turkey near the border with Iran, according to the Reuters website.

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants were behind the attack, which occurred in the Yuksekova district of Hakkari province, the provincial governor's office said in a statement.

Security sources said several armored vehicles were sent to the site of the blast. The wounded were being treated at a nearby hospital.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in Turkey since the PKK launched its separatist insurgency in 1984. The Kurds are seeking to establish their own independent state in southern Turkey, but Turkey refuses to allow a Kurdish state.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Pat Robertson: Massacre Caused by Disrespect; "With No Vision of God,People Will Run Amok"

As Americans struggle to make sense of the massacre in Las Vegas that left at least 59 dead and more than 527 injured, Pat Robertson -- the TV preacher and former Republican presidential candidate -- said the real cause of the carnage was the widespread "disrespect" that pervades our society, The Wrap website reports today (October 3, 2017).

"The fact is that we have disrespect for authority; there is profound disrespect of our president, all across this nation," Robertson said on "The 700 Club" TV program yesterday.

He added... "There has to be some controlling [biblical] authority in our society and there is none."

Robertson concluded, "And we have taken from the American people the vision of God. And when there is no vision of God, the people run amok."

Five AF Academy Students Hit with Racial Slurs; "Go Home Nigger" Is Written on Students' Doors

Five black cadet candidates found racial slurs written on the message boards on their doors at the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School this week, the Washington Post website reports today (October 3, 2017).

Security forces are looking into this matter, according to Lt. Col. Allen Herritage, a spokesman for the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The Air Force Times reported that a cadet candidate's mother posted a photo on social media of "the words 'go home nigger' written on the white board outside her son's room."

The mother added, "These young people are supposed to bond and protect each other and the country. Who would my son have to watch out for? The enemy or the enemy?"

Monday, October 2, 2017

Judge: Fla. County Can't Ban Atheist Invocations; ACLU Argued Banning Atheist Speakers Unconst.

A federal judge has ruled against a Florida county government's prayer policy that bans atheist invocations from its public meetings, the Christian Post website reports today (October 2, 2017).

In a decision released September 30 in "Williamson v. Brevard County," the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida concluded that the Brevard County Board of Commissioners was unlawfully limiting who could give invocations at their meetings.

"For a government entity to require, or attempt to require, 'religious' content in invocations is, in effect, that entity composing prayers for public consumption or censoring the content of prayer," the court concluded.

In agreeing with the court's ruling, Danaiel Mach, director of ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said on a statement: "The county's outright exclusion of nonreligious speakers was unfair and unconstitutional."

Burqa Ban Became Law in Austria on October 1; Police Tell Woman Wearing Niqab to Remove It;

Muslim women in Austria were forced by police to remove their facial coverings on October 1, when an anti-burqa law went into effect, The Telegraph (British) website reports today (October 2, 2017).

The so-called "burqa ban" prohibits facial coverings, including niqabs and burqas.

Yesterday, a woman wearing a niqab facial veil -- which only leaves the eyes uncovered -- was seen being told to remove her veil by two police officers in Zell am See, a city south of Saltzburg.

Those who defy the ban could face a fine of 150 euros.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Islamic Knifeman Kills Two Women in Marseille; Shouts "Allahu Akbar," Shot to Death by Soldiers

A suspected Islamist knifeman killed two women at the main train station in the French Mediterranean city of Marseille today (October 1, 2017) before being shot dead by soldiers patrolling there, according to the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website.

One of the victims was fatally stabbed while the other had her throat slit by the assailant who shouted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is Greatest") at the start of the rampage.

Soldiers posted in the station to guard vulnerable areas in terror-hit France shot the man dead.

Armed police were deployed afterwards and the grand and ornate rail terminus in the heart of France's second-largest city was evacuated, stopping all train traffic in the region.