Author Archives: Kristine L Ming

Elephant seals ‘recognise vocal rhythm’

Northern elephant seal calling (c) Ari Friedlaender/NMFS 19108Image copyright
Ari Friedlaender

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Male northern elephant seals can weigh more than two tonnes

Male elephant seals recognise the rhythm of one another’s voices, researchers say.

Scientists in the US “decoded” the calls of male elephant seals, revealing that vocal communication played a crucial part in their social lives.

This showed seals communicating their identity with deep, rhythmic calls.

In their Current Biology paper, the team says this is the first example of non-human mammals “using rhythm” in everyday life.

Singing elephants?

Just as humans can identify a particular song based on its distinctive rhythm, this research revealed that male elephant seals could identify each other from the pulsing pattern of their calls.

Lead author Prof Nicolas Mathevon, from the University of Lyon and St Etienne, described these grumping vocalisations as “distinctive”.

They were “very rhythmic, like a metronome”, he told BBC News.

“In the colony, everyone knows who is who… they recognise the voice of all the other males in the colony.”

And this is important in a congested beach colony – at the site the team studied, more than 4,000 seals are packed on to the beach, so it is important to know your neighbours.

Seal social networking

“If you think about the social life of a male elephant seal, it’s actually quite complicated,” said co-author Caroline Casey, from the University of California Santa Cruz.

“Within his own social network, he’s potentially interacting with 20-30 other individuals.”

In these situations, it can be crucial to distinguish quickly between dominant and subordinate males – to avoid a potentially lethal conflict.

“If he gets it wrong, the costs of that mistake are pretty high. We saw a male die last year from a canine through the skull,” Ms Casey said.

In this context, the rhythmic call of a male elephant seal acts as a distinctive “fingerprint”, helping other males decide whether to flee the vicinity.

Image copyright
Colleen Reichmuth

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Male elephant seals compete for access to females


The research team spent six years studying the colony of more 4,000 elephant seals in Ano Nuevo National Park, California.

They recorded the vocalisations of dominant males, then played back those calls through loudspeakers to subordinate males.

As expected, less dominant males fled the sound of the high status seals, which are referred to as “beachmasters”.

Crucially though, when the researchers artificially modified the rhythm of a call, subordinate males no longer recognised it and did not respond.

If they did not recognise a voice, “they wait and see”, said Prof Mathevon. “It’s their strategy.”

Image copyright
Colleen Reichmuth

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Male northern elephant seals lose up to 40% of their body weight over the breeding season

While doing nothing might seem lazy, this “very efficient strategy” is also potentially life-saving.

During the breeding season, elephant seals haul out from the ocean and stay in the colony for almost 100 days without any food or water.

So, if males do not recognise the rhythm of a call, they simply do not move, and therefore avoid a waste of vital energy.

Prof Patricia Gray, from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the research, said it had captured “natural animal behaviour in the wild” and shown how important producing and recognising rhythm was to their survival.

She added that understanding how other species used rhythm could “unlock many answers” about how they perceived other animals and their surroundings and how these qualities related to human perception.

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Farm subsidies ‘must be earned’

Michael GoveImage copyright

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Mr Gove says leaving the EU will allow Britiain to reform how it cares for the environment

Farm subsidies will have to be earned rather than just handed out in future, the Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said in a speech.

Farmers will only get payouts if they agree to protect the environment and enhance rural life, he will say.

The move is part of what he calls his vision for a “green Brexit”.

Farmers’ leaders want the current £3bn total to be spent on the environment, more infrastructure to develop farm businesses, and promoting British food.

The government has promised to keep overall payments at the same level until 2022.

The Tenant Farmers’ Association – which represents tenant farmers in England and Wales – has called for the same amount of money to remain after that time.

Under the EU’s current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), farmers are paid based on the amount of land they own.

However, in a speech at WWF’s Living Planet Centre in Woking on Friday, Mr Gove said the current system will be abolished after the UK has left the EU.

He criticised the current system for giving money to some of the UK’s wealthiest landowners, for encouraging wastage, and for not recognising “good environmental practice”.

Mr Gove described Brexit as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform how we care for our land, our rivers and our seas, how we recast our ambition for our country’s environment, and the planet”.

Loss of wildlife

Critics say under the CAP wealthy UK landowners are given subsidies of up to £3m a year.

The issue was highlighted last year when BBC News revealed that taxpayers are paying more than £400,000 a year to subsidise a farm where a billionaire Saudi prince breeds racehorses.

The Newmarket farm of Khalid Abdullah al Saud – owner of the legendary horse Frankel – is among the top recipients of farm grants, along with the Queen.

Environmentalists will applaud the promise of change; they blame the CAP for the huge loss of wildlife in the British countryside.

The question for Mr Gove will be what detailed policy takes its place.

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Getty Images

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The Environment Secretary says that CAP puts resources in the hands of the already wealthy

Mr Gove said in his speech: “There are very good reasons why we should provide support for agriculture. Seventy per cent of our land is farmed – beautiful landscape has not happened by accident but has been actively managed.

“Agriculture is an industry more susceptible to outside shocks and unpredictable events – whether it’s the weather or disease. So financial assistance and mechanisms which can smooth out the vicissitudes farmers face make sense.”

He also expressed a desire to protect the “human ecology” of Britain’s highlands, where farming without subsidy is impossible.

This won’t please radical environmentalists, who want Mr Gove to save money (and in their view enhance the environment) by letting sheep farming wither, and allowing the uplands to revert to natural forest.

The Country Land and Business Association, known as the CLA, accepts the need for reform and has launched a plan for a land management contract.

Ross Murray, president of the CLA – which represents owners of land, property and businesses in England and Wales – said there is “vital work to be done”, including to support farming practices, to manage soils and preserve land.

When pressed on whether rich landowners should received public money, he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme he was open to change but practices such as tree planting – which are good for the environment but provide landowners with little benefit – should still be recognised.

Asked if farming subsidies could be reduced in the future, he added: “In the long term perhaps, but in the meantime I think we’re going to have to support farmers who provide public goods which could never be provided by the market.”

Craig Bennett, head of Friends of the Earth, welcomed the speech, but said: “Current EU rules aimed at tackling air pollution and climate change and protecting our birds, bees and nature must not be watered down, and mechanisms must be put in place to enforce them post-Brexit.”

One crucial question will be who has the final say on proposed developments in the UK’s prime wildlife sites. At the moment they are protected by the EU as part of Europe’s common heritage. That protection may disappear after Brexit.

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Analysis: Is it really the end for ISIS?

Whether its charismatic leader is dead or not, the Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed in 2014 seems on the verge of collapse.

It is probably not the end of the dream of restoring the caliphate, but just another setback on the implementation of Prophet Mohammed’s grand scheme – to see all Arabs accepting Islam in an Islamic nation without borders where all the faithful would be brothers.

Rival caliphates were born and fought over the centuries – in Damascus, Baghdad, Andalus (Muslim Spain) north Africa and Egypt. The Ottoman empire was the last political and religious structure to unite all Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa for 500 years.

The caliphate was abolished by Kemal Ataturk in 1924, triggering the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Led by its founder, Hassan al-Banna, and Sayyid Qutub, its main theologian, the movement intended to end the penetration of Western liberal values and pave the way for the restoration of a Shari’a-based caliphate.

Jihad was to be a tool to impose Shari’a on any Muslim society branded as renegade.

The Brotherhood set up its own secret organization in the ’30s to destabilize the regime of King Farouk and then tried to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Militants later founded radical organizations such as “Takfir and Hijra” whose members would go on to set up Jihadi movements such as al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah, which assassinated president Anwar Sadat.

An Iraqi man waves his naitonal flag in the newly liberated city of Mosul, July 9 (Reuters)

Islamic State is an offshoot of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida, which in 2014 united with part of the Syrian branch. Together, they set up Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. On that basis, Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim el Badri proclaimed the establishment of the new Islamic caliphate under his leadership and the new name he was taking: Abu Bakr al Baghdadi el Hashemi el Kurayshi – associating the names of the family of the prophet with that of the first caliphate.

It was the latest development in attempts to revive the caliphate, which had started with violence in Egypt and expanded to Arab and Muslim countries with the intent to destabilize their regimes through terrorism.

It continued with al-Qaida, which launched terrorist attacks in the West to destabilize and weaken regimes.

Iraqi forces celebrate in Mosul as military says “victory” is imminent (credit: REUTERS)

Then came the last phase of the Islamic state – for the first time, a brutal Islamic terrorist organization bent on implementing Shari’a to the maximum had taken over vast territories in Iraq and Syria where some three million people lived.

It now had access to natural resources with its confiscation of Iraqi oil, abundant financial resources through the levying of taxes,  controlling banks, and selling said oil on the black market, and it could recruit and train fighters, as well as develop weapons.

It set up branches in Libya and in Egypt while conducting terrorist operations throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the United States.

Through its sophisticated communication apparatus, it managed to broadcast its message and acquire the prestige of a victorious organization, drawing thousands of young Muslims from all over the world.

The West reacted slowly, but decisively, and the Islamic State is now crumbling under the assaults of the US-led coalition; the rise of Kurdish militias in Iraq and Syria; a reconstructed Iraqi army; and Russia’s intervention in Syria to save the Assad regime.

Al-Baghdadi may have been misguided when he adopted a territorial basis, making Islamic State an easier target for the many forces bent on destroying it. His actions also weakened the Muslim Brotherhood, which was trying to destroy the West from within through massive Muslim immigration to gain power “by democratic means.” Today, several countries, including the UK and US, are considering branding the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

Al-Qaida and Islamic State are just the better-known parts of a global Islamist movement to restore the caliphate. Dozens of other organizations are working toward that goal, differing only on the background of their founders or they methods of action, such as al-Shabaab of Somalia; Boko Haram of Nigeria; Jemaa Islamiyah in Southeast Asia; Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines; and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Though initially based on Saudi Wahhabism, they have the same objective.

Western media has been wondering what Islamic State fighters would do after the collapse of the group. No doubt they will easily find a home within those organizations and do their utmost to intensify their terrorist operation to demonstrate that they are not abandoning their goal.

A still image taken from an Islamic State (ISIS) video (Reuters)

Arab sources reported in December that Fatah al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra), an al-Qaida offshoot in Syria that is well entrenched in the Idlib area bordering the Alawite region, is trying to unite with Ahrar al-Sham, a powerful Islamist organization backed by Saudi money.

The result would be an “Islamic Syrian organization” that would welcome other Jihadi groups trying to penetrate Assad’s Alawi region – an ambitious project considering Russian support for the Syrian leader.

In other words, with the disappearance of Islamic State as a geographical entity, new coalitions will be made to keep the fight for an Islamic regime through a variety of means that probably will come as a surprise.

Didn’t Abu Sayyaf Islamic just take over a city in the Philippines and promptly proclaim an Islamic emirate? The army is still trying, with little success, to drive them away.

The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.

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As ISIS declines, questions arise of the fates of fighter’s families

Their husbands, sons and brothers are dead, but the women and children Islamic State militants left behind will live to pay the price for their actions.

As Islamic State’s days of ruling over vast swathes of Iraq come to an end, questions are emerging about what to do with their families.

For now, many of them are effectively imprisoned in a rubbish strewn encampment east of Mosul, where the last people to be displaced from the city have been taken.

“All the men were killed,” said 62 year-old Umm Hamoudi, who fled the Midan district last week with 21 members of her family — all women and children.

Her husband, an Islamic State member, was wounded in the fighting for the Old City. They tried to carry him off the battlefield but he was too heavy, so they said goodbye and left him there to die.

Displaced civilians are returning home to rebuild their lives, but those who suffered three years of extreme violence and privation under Islamic State say the militants’ relatives have no place among them.

Leaflets threatening militants’ families have appeared in areas retaken from Islamic State, and vigilantes have thrown grenades at their homes.

“Revenge is not a cure,” said Ali Iskander, the head of the Bartella district where the camp is located. “These families should undergo rehabilitation courses”

Local authorities in Mosul recently issued a decree to exile Islamic State families to camps so they can be rehabilitated ideologically.

But rights groups say collective punishment undermines the prospects for reconciliation after Islamic State, and risks fostering a generation of outcasts with no stake in Iraq.

“If we isolate them, how will we bring them back into the fold of the nation?” said a local official visiting the camp on Saturday. “They will become Daesh.”

Umm Hamoudi’s daughter was only 14 years old when her father married her off to an Islamic State militant.

He too was killed around one year ago while the girl was pregnant with her first child, who lay sleeping on the floor of the tent, oblivious to the stigma that will likely cloud the rest of his life.

Umm Suhaib, 32, last heard from her husband two months ago. “He is certainly dead,” she said, showing no emotion.

She threatened to leave him when he joined Islamic State around one year after the group took over, but did not because of their four children.

A devout Muslim, her husband was seduced by the idea of a modern-day caliphate, and offered his skills as an engineer in service of Islamic State’s state-building project. He came to regret his decision, Umm Suhaib said, but by then it was too late. “He wasted his life and threw ours away with it,” she said. “We are lost now.”

Like other women whose male relatives joined Islamic State, Umm Suhaib said she was powerless to stop him.

“I have no authority over them,” 50 year-old Fatima Shihab Ahmed said of her two brothers who joined the group. She believes one of them is still alive in the militant-held city of Tel Afar, which Iraqi forces plan to assault next.

Ahmed is also a suspect herself: a neighbor’s son accused her of working for Islamic State’s morality police known as the Hisba, which punished women who broke the militants’ strict dress code. She denies it.

None of Umm Yousif’s close male relatives joined Islamic State, she said. She was separated from her wounded husband as they fled the Midan district last week and believes he was taken to a hospital after being screened by Iraqi security forces for links with the militants.

“Maybe he is dead. Perhaps he is alive,” she said, pleading to be allowed out of the camp so she could look for him.

“They say ‘you are all Daesh’, but we are not. Even if we were, what is it to do with women and children? Each person is responsible for himself.”

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Syria rebels blindsided by US move, say jihadists to benefit

BEIRUT/AMMAN – Syrian rebels said on Thursday a US decision to halt a covert CIA program of military aid would mark a big blow to the Syrian opposition and risked allowing jihadists to tighten their grip over the insurgency.

Rebels who have received aid under the CIA program said they had yet to be informed of the US decision first reported by the Washington Post on Wednesday and confirmed by two US officials to Reuters.

A Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander said the US decision risked triggering the collapse of the moderate opposition, which would benefit President Bashar al-Assad and jihadists linked to al Qaeda that have long sought to extinguish more moderate groups.

Other rebel sources said much would depend on whether US-allied regional states Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey kept up their support to groups fighting under the FSA banner, which had been the focus of the CIA program.

“We heard nothing about this,” said an opposition official familiar with the program, describing the decision as a complete surprise.

The US decision compounds an already bleak outlook for the Syrian opposition that has been battling since 2011 to unseat Assad, who appears militarily unassailable thanks in large part to staunch Russian and Iranian backing.

The CIA program which began in 2013 funneled weapons, training and cash to vetted FSA groups via Jordan and Turkey.

It regulated aid to the rebels after a period of unchecked support early in the war – especially from Gulf states – helped give rise to an array of insurgent groups, many of them strongly Islamist in ideology.

The support in some cases included anti-tank missiles that helped the rebels make big advances against the depleted Syrian army, triggering Russia’s intervention in September 2015.

FSA rebels have long complained the support fell well short of what they needed to make a decisive difference in the war against the better armed Syrian army and the Iran-backed militias helping it, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

One of the US officials said the decision was part of a Trump administration effort to improve relations with Russia.

Critics of the CIA program, including some US officials, have also said some of the armed and trained rebels defected to Islamic State and other radical groups.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment when asked what he thought about the US move and said only that US President Donald Trump and Putin did not discuss the issue when they met at a G20 summit earlier this month.

“We welcome all the efforts aiming at de-escalation of the situation and building security in the Middle East. It’s OK if that is what it’s all about,” deputy foreign ministry spokesman Artem Kozhin told a news briefing on Thursday, according to Interfax.


Before taking office in January, Trump suggested he could end support for FSA groups and give priority to the fight against Islamic State.

A separate US military effort to train, arm and support other Syrian rebels with airstrikes and other actions will continue, the US officials said. The US military support has included backing for Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State.

Groups included in the CIA program operate mostly in northwestern and southern Syria.

“Certainly this decision will have results and consequences on the Syrian scene, particularly in the north and the south. The halt of support to the FSA by the international community is a factor in escalation of Assad’s strength and the strength of the extremist groups,” the FSA commander said.

Backed by Jordan, FSA groups in southern Syria have helped contain jihadists such as the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, and have gone on the offensive against Islamic State.

FSA groups in northern Syria have had a tougher time withstanding the jihadists. Aid to the FSA in the northwest was temporarily suspended earlier this year following a major jihadist assault against them.

“The Americans have been informing us they have reached serious agreements with the Russians. The Americans are saying they have a new strategy towards Syria which is not like that of the Obama era,” said another rebel commander.

“Is this in our interest? Of course not,” the commander said of the reported US decision. “We are waiting to see.”

Turkey has supported FSA groups outside the CIA-backed channels to advance its interests in northern Syria, notably in its Euphrates Shield campaign last year that carved out a de facto buffer zone at the frontier

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UAE involvement in hacking of Qatari govt. sites sparks diplomatic row

The United Arab Emirates arranged for Qatari government social media and news sites to be hacked in late May in order to post fiery but false quotes linked to Qatar’s emir, prompting a diplomatic crisis, the Washington Post reported on Sunday, citing US intelligence officials.

The emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, had been quoted in May as praising Hamas and saying that Iran was an “Islamic power,” the Post reported. In response, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism.

Qatar said in late May that hackers had posted fake remarks by the emir, an explanation rejected by Gulf states.

The Post reported that US intelligence officials learned last week of newly analyzed information that showed that top UAE government officials discussed the planned hacks on May 23, the day before they occurred.

The officials said it was unclear if the UAE hacked the websites or paid for them to be carried out, the newspaper reported. The Post did not identify the intelligence officials it spoke to for the report.

UAE Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba denied the report in a statement, saying it was “false,” the Post said.

“What is true is Qatar’s behavior. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas and Gaddafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbors,” the statement said.

The US State Department declined comment in response to a Reuters query.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was previously known to be working with Qatar to probe the hacking.

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Addiction and intrigue: Inside the Saudi palace coup

On Tuesday June 20 Mohammed bin Nayef, a powerful figure in Saudi Arabia’s security apparatus for the past two decades and the next in line to the throne, was summoned to meet King Salman bin Abdulaziz on the fourth floor of the royal palace in Mecca.

There, according to a source close to MbN, as he is known, the king ordered him to step aside in favor of the king’s favorite son, Mohammed bin Salman. The reason: an addiction to painkilling drugs was clouding MbN’s judgment.

“The king came to meet MbN and they were alone in the room. He told him: ‘I want you to step down, you didn’t listen to the advice to get treatment for your addiction which dangerously affects your decisions’,” said the source close to MbN.

The new details about the extraordinary meeting between the king and MbN that touched off the de facto palace coup help to explain the events that are reshaping the leadership of the world’s biggest oil exporting nation.

Reuters could not independently confirm MbN’s addiction issues.

A senior Saudi official said the account was totally “unfounded and untrue in addition to being nonsense.”

“The story depicted here is a complete fantasy worthy of Hollywood,” the official said in a statement to Reuters, which did not refer to MbN’s alleged use of drugs.

The official said MbN had been removed in the national interest and had not experienced any “pressure or disrespect.” Reasons for his dismissal were “confidential.”

Sources with knowledge of the situation said however that the king was determined to elevate his son to be heir to the throne and used MbN’s drug problem as a pretext to push him aside.

Three royal insiders, four Arab officials with links to the ruling house of Saud, and diplomats in the region, told Reuters that MbN was surprised to be ordered to step aside.

“It was a big shock to MbN,” said a Saudi political source close to MbN. “It was a coup. He wasn’t prepared.”

The sources said MbN did not expect to be usurped by the often impulsive Mohammed bin Salman, who MbN considered to have made a number of policy blunders, such as his handling of the Yemen conflict and cutting financial benefits to civil servants.

The high-stakes power grab has placed sweeping powers in the hands of the 32-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MbS, and appears designed to speed his accession to the throne.

Should he get the job, the young prince will preside over a kingdom facing tough times from depressed oil prices, the conflict in Yemen, rivalry with an emboldened Iran and a major diplomatic crisis in the Gulf.

The source close to MbN acknowledged that he had health issues, which were aggravated after an al-Qaida attacker tried to blow himself up in front of him in his palace in 2009. The health issues were corroborated by three other sources in Saudi Arabia and Arab official sources with links to the royal family.

An Arab source with close Saudi links also provided a similar account of the meeting at which King Salman asked MbN to step down because of his alleged drug addiction.

These sources said MbN had shrapnel in his body that could not be removed and he depended on drugs such as morphine to alleviate the pain. One source said MbN had been treated in clinics in Switzerland on three occasions in recent years. Reuters was unable to confirm this independently.


The King moved ahead of a meeting of the Political and Security Council. The meeting was due to start at 11 p.m., but a few hours before that, MbN received what he viewed as a routine phone call from Mohammed bin Salman. According to the source close to MbN, Mohammed bin Salman told MbN that the king wanted to see him.

In the hours that followed the meeting in which MbN was dismissed, the House of Saud’s Allegiance Council, comprising the ruling family’s senior members, were informed of a letter written in the name of the king.

Drafted by palace advisers to MbS, it said MbN had a medical condition – drug addiction – and “we have been trying for over two years to persuade him to seek treatment but to no avail.”

“Because of this dangerous situation we see that he should be relieved of his position and that Mohammed bin Salman be appointed in his place,” the Saudi source close to MbN quoted excerpts of the letter as saying.

The letter was read over the phone to members of the Allegiance Council, while MbN was kept isolated in a room all night, his mobile phone removed, and cut off from contact with his aides. His bodyguards from elite paramilitary interior ministry units were also replaced.

Envoys were sent to council members to get their signatures. All but three of 34 signed. The coup had worked.

Calls by council members who backed MbN’s removal were recorded and played to him by a palace adviser to demonstrate the strength of the forces against him and to discourage any urge the 57-year-old crown prince might have to resist.

According to two Saudi sources with links to the royal house, only three members of the council opposed his overthrow: Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, a former interior minister, Abdulaziz bin Abdallah, a representative of the family of late king Abdallah, and Prince Mohammad bin Saad, a former deputy governor of Riyadh. The three could not immediately be reached for comment.

At dawn MbN gave up. He told a palace adviser that he was ready to see the king. The meeting was short. MbN agreed to step down and signed a document to that effect.

When MbN left the king’s quarters, he was surprised to see MbS waiting for him, the adviser said. MbN was embraced and kissed by MbS while television cameras rolled.

Soon afterward a pre-written statement was released announcing the king’s decision to make his son the next crown prince. This was the clip that would play on all Saudi and Gulf media over the coming hours and days.


MbN remains under house arrest to keep him out of circulation following his overthrow, with no visitors allowed except close family members. He is not taking calls, the source close to MbN said. In the past week he was only granted permission to visit his elderly mother with the new guards assigned to him.

The senior Saudi official said, however, that MbN had received guests, including the king and the new crown prince.

The source close to MbN said he would like to take his family to Switzerland or London but the king and MbS had decided that he must stay. “He wasn’t given any choice.”

The White House and CIA declined to comment. A senior administration official said Washington knew that MbS was the favorite of the king but “beyond that it’s very opaque.”

The elevation of MbS had been predicted by some Saudi and Western officials, but it came much sooner than expected with a rushed exit for MbN.

Since King Salman’s accession, there had been clear indications that MbS was favored over MbN, setting the stage for the younger prince to eclipse the formal heir to the throne.

MbS was given unprecedented power by his ailing 81-year-old father, which he used to reorder the top jobs in the political, oil, security, security and intelligence sectors, often without the knowledge of MbN, according to diplomats and Saudi political and security sources.

Since Salman took the helm just over two years ago, MbS has placed his men in key positions. MbS has been interfering in MbN’s interior ministry, appointing, promoting and firing officers without informing him.

The succession quarrel, the sources said, began in 2015 when MbN’s personal court was disbanded and merged with the court of the king, preventing MbN from bestowing independent patronage and cultivating support. This was followed by the sacking of Saad al-Jabri, MbN’s security adviser.

When Donald Trump entered the White House, MbS cultivated contacts in Washington to offset the strong support that MbN had in the U.S. security and intelligence establishment because of his successes against al Qaeda.

The source close to MbN told Reuters the putsch went ahead after MbS struck up a strong relationship with Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.

A White House official declined comment when asked about Kushner’s relationship with MbS.

The official, referring to MbN’s removal as Crown Prince and MbS’ ascension to the post, said:

“The United States government also sought not to intervene or to be seen as intervening in such a sensitive internal matter. We have great respect for the King, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Prince Mohammed bin Salman and we consistently stressed our desire to maintain cooperation with the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) and its leadership. This message was communicated at all levels of government.”

With MbS’s sudden ascent, there is now speculation among diplomats and Saudi and Arab officials that King Salman is poised to abdicate in favor of his son.

Quoting a witness at the palace, one Saudi source said King Salman this month pre-recorded a statement in which he announces the transfer of the throne to his son. The announcement could be broadcast at any time, perhaps as soon as September.

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European court: Islamist hate speech not protected under law

Europe’s top human rights court ruled on Thursday (July 20) that online videos considered by a Belgian court to be Islamist hate speech were not protected under free speech provisions.

Fouad Belkacem is a Belgian national currently imprisoned for his activities as the head of Sharia4Belgium, an organisation banned for recruiting foreign fighters to participate in militant activities in the Middle East.

The European Court of Human Rights evaluated Belkacem’s argument that his remarks in a series of videos on online platform YouTube fell within his freedoms of expression and religion and were not meant to incite violence.

In the videos, Belkacem had called on viewers to “overpower non-Muslims, teach them a lesson and fight them”, content the Court called “markedly hateful” and “vehement”. He had also called for the violent establishment of Sharia law.

The ECHR upheld the 2013 decision of Belgium’s top court, which found that, far from simply expressing his views, Belkacem had incited others to discriminate on the basis of faith and to violence against non-Muslims.

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UK rhino eggs ‘could save last northern whites’

Egg collection at LongleatImage copyright

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Scientists have extracted eggs from rhinos at Longleat Safari park in Wiltshire

A UK zoo is taking part in a radical plan to save the world’s last three northern white rhinos from extinction.

At Longleat safari park, scientists have collected eggs from southern white rhinos – a closely related sub species – to use for IVF.

The eggs will help researchers to develop the technology to help the remaining northern whites to reproduce.

A back-up plan is to mix eggs from the southern white rhinos with sperm from northern whites to create a hybrid.

It means that if the bid to produce a pure northern white rhino fails, at least some of the critically endangered animal’s genes will live on.

Darren Beasley, head of animal operations at Longleat, added: “Effectively the female rhinos would act as IVF mothers, with embryos partly derived from northern white male sperm.

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Sudan is the only male northern white rhino on the planet

“If the procedure works, the hope would be that southern white females would carry the developing embryos for up to 18 months before giving birth.”

Experimental fertility technology may be the last hope for northern white rhinos.

The animals were once found across central Africa, but illegal poaching, fuelled by the demand for rhino horn, wiped out the wild population.

Today, there are just three of the animals left: a male, who is over 40, and two younger females. The former zoo animals, which are inter-related, are kept under tight security at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

However, a combination of age and fertility problems means that none is able to breed.

Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, which owns the animals, has now enlisted the help of wildlife fertility experts from Germany and Italy.

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The team used ultrasound to look inside the rhino’s ovaries

The team believes the northern white’s cousin – the southern white rhino – could be the key to saving the species.

Professor Thomas Hildebrandt, from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany, said: “We are trying to find a solution for a very critical situation: we have a doomed species.”

They have been collecting eggs from female southern whites living in zoos around Europe.

Longleat Safari Park is the first UK zoo to take part, and on Monday and Tuesday, the team managed to harvest nine eggs from three females.

The rhinos have not mated naturally with the zoo’s male, which is why they were put forward to take part in the study.

Extracting the eggs required millimetre precision.

Prof Hildebrand said: “We have a two-tonne animal, and the ovaries are more than two metres inside.

“We operate on an ovary that is lying next to a blood vessel and if we poke that with our needle, there is a very high risk that the animal dies.

“We have developed a very sophisticated technique to make sure we don’t do any harm to the animals.”

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The scientists managed to extract nine eggs from three rhinos

The eggs have now been rushed back to the Avantea clinic in Italy, a lab that specialises in assisted reproduction in animals, where they will be prepared for fertilisation.

A rhino has never been born through IVF before, and the first aim of the project is to refine the technology using southern white rhinos.

So far the team has mixed southern white eggs with southern white sperm, and has achieved cell division in early embryos, which have been cryogenically frozen and stored. None have yet been implanted back into a a rhino.

Later this year, the researchers plan to head to Kenya to harvest eggs from the last two female northern white rhinos. The scientists believe their extraction technique is now so well established it will not put these animals at any risk.

These northern white eggs will be mixed with northern white sperm – and implanted in a surrogate southern white mother – in a bid to produce new offspring.

The fertility scientists admit the chances of success may be slim – but they are optimistic that the technology could help.

Prof Hildebrandt said: “The classical conservationists would not even call this a conservation approach, because it is so technical, so far beyond what you normally do.

“But we hope future generations will understand that this is the way to go. It is a technology that allows us to bring a species back form the brink of extinction that would normally be impossible – and that is our goal.

“We are extremely optimistic that we will achieve that.”

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The scientists may create hybrids between southern white and northern white rhinos

But the scientists also have a plan B: mixing the eggs they have collected from southern whites with sperm from northern whites. This would create a hybrid species.

This would not be the first: a cross was born at a zoo in the 1970s after the two sub-species accidentally bred.

But it was little studied. And despite the fact southern and northern white rhinos are very closely related, some questions remain, such as whether a hybrid could breed to produce further offspring.

But with the northern white at such a critical conservation status, it could mean that at least some of its genetic material survives.

Dr Robert Hermes, also from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, said: “Our great hope is to go to Africa to collect eggs from these last two northern white females and the fertilise them so we would have a pure bred northern white rhino embryo.

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The technology developed with the Longleat rhinos could also help other species

“But the last northern whites could die any time: anything could happen to them, then all their genetics would be lost. If we have at least 50% of this preserved in a hybrid – we would preserve at least half for future generations.”

This rescue plan – which is also examining the role that stem cell technology could play in the future – is conservation science at its most extreme.

And some wildlife experts believe that rather than pouring money and resources into a species that is nearly doomed, more effort should be put in saving more viable rhinos species, whose numbers have plummeted in recent years as poaching has surged.

But Jan Stejskal, from Dvůr Králové Zoo, says that every effort should be made to save the last northern whites – and this could help other animals too.

He told BBC News: “Rather than conservation, I call this a rescue operation. There is no other option for these animals to reproduce.

“Of course, I have to admit we might not be successful. But on the other hand, we are gathering so much information that could be used for other species.

“I’m convinced this is worth trying, even if we don’t succeed.”

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