• Why Saudi Crown Prince Wanted Khashoggi

    The mind plays strange tricks sometimes, especially after a tragedy. When I sat down to write this story about the Saudi regime’s homicidal obsession with the Muslim Brotherhood, the first person I thought I’d call was Jamal Khashoggi. For more than 20 years I phoned him or met with him, even smoked the occasional water pipe with him, as I looked for a better understanding of his country, its people, its leaders, and the Middle East. We often disagreed, but he almost always gave me fresh insights into the major figures of the region, starting with Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, and the political trends, especially the explosion of hope that was called the Arab Spring in 2011. He would be just the man to talk to about the Saudis and the Muslim Brotherhood, because he knew both sides of that bitter relationship so well.

    And then, of course, I realized that Jamal is dead, murdered precisely because he knew too much.

    Although the stories keep changing, there is now no doubt that 33-year-old Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the power in front of his decrepit father’s throne, had put out word to his minions that he wanted Khashoggi silenced, and the hit-team allegedly understood that as “wanted dead or alive.” But the [petro]buck stops with MBS, as bin Salman’s called. He’s responsible for a gruesome murder just as Henry II was responsible for the murder of Thomas Becket when he said, “Who will rid me of that meddlesome priest?” In this case, a meddlesome journalist.

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  • The Backlash of One Journalist’s Death

    If you had to pick a year in the past decade when the contradictions of the American-Saudi relationship seemed likeliest to explode into crisis, 2018 would not be the obvious choice.

    You might pick 2011, when Arab Spring protests compelled the United States to support Middle Eastern democracy movements that the Saudi government saw as mortal threats, or 2013, when Saudi Arabia supported an Egyptian military coup that the United States had tried to prevent and that signaled the end of the region’s democratic moment.

    Or perhaps even 2016, by which point the Saudi-led war in Yemen had become one of the worst humanitarian disasters in years, and one in which the United States had gotten itself entangled.

    But you would be wrong. Instead, the informal alliance has reached its greatest point of crisis this year, when circumstances would seem to point toward its strengthening. The two countries are aligned on every major policy issue, particularly Iran. Their leaders are closer than at any point in a decade.

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  • Khashoggi chose to tell the truth

    George Orwell titled a regular column he wrote for a British newspaper in the mid-1940s “As I Please.” Meaning that he would write exactly what he believed. My Saudi colleague Jamal Khashoggi has always had that same insistent passion for telling the truth about his country, no matter what.

    Khashoggi’s fate is unknown as I write, but his colleagues at The Post and friends around the world fear that he was murdered after he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last Tuesday.

    I have known Khashoggi for about 15 years and want to share here some of the reasons he is beloved in our profession and the news of his disappearance has been such a shock.

    Journalists can sometimes seem dry and remote, living in the flat two dimensions of a newspaper page. Khashoggi was a tall, reserved man, austere in the long, white thobe he wore until he went into exile in the United States last year. But in his work, he has always been full of life and daring; he embodied the restless curiosity and refusal to compromise on principle that are the saving graces of our business.

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  • “He Actually Believes He Is Khalid”

    My name is Khalid,” he tells me, and I want to believe him. After all, he has traveled the world as royalty—the son of the king of Saudi Arabia, no less. Leading international investors know him as His Royal Highness Khalid bin al-Saud. He moved in an entourage of Rolls-Royces and Ferraris, his every whim tended to by uniformed housekeepers and armed bodyguards. A suave British-born C.E.O. handled his business affairs, and a well-connected international banker marketed his investment deals to a select few, leaving him to live a life of astonishing excess.

    Ever since he was a boy, he had been pitted against his royal brothers in an expensive game—to see who could “outdo the other one” in spending, he liked to say. Khalid was surely winning. He was in negotiations to purchase 30 percent of the famed Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach for $440 million, and he was selling early access to what promised to be the biggest I.P.O. in history: the initial public offering of Aramco, the Saudi oil giant. Until last June, when the Saudi government shelved the plan, the I.P.O. was expected to be worth more than $2 trillion.

    Khalid could regularly be overheard talking on his phone with the likes of Bill Gates and Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. “I’m sick and tired of Trump calling me and inviting me to the White House!” he often complained. He kept in touch with his father, the Saudi king, on FaceTime, and, if you were lucky, he would let you listen in. But the prince’s favorite companion was Foxy, his beloved Chihuahua, whom he draped in diamonds and designer dog clothes and toted around in a $2,690 Louis Vuitton dog carrier. He stuffed other Louis Vuitton bags with stacks of $100 bills, tossing the money from his jewel-encrusted fingers, one sporting a nine-carat diamond, to those who tended to his needs—flashes of benevolence from an academic genius whose LinkedIn page lists his law studies at Harvard, his master’s in business administration from the University of Southern California, and his top marks at Institut Le Rosey, the elite Swiss boarding school attended by Rockefellers and Rothschilds.

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  • US Quietly Expanding Its War in Tunisia

    Last month, a U.S. Africa Command spokesperson confirmed in a Task & Purpose report that Marine Corps Raiders were involved in a fierce battle in 2017 in an unnamed North African country, where they fought beside partner forces against militants of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AFRICOM acknowledged that two Marines received citations for valor but withheld certain details, such as the location—undisclosed due to “classification considerations, force protection, and diplomatic sensitivities.” The command also said the Marine Special Operations unit was engaged while on a three-day train, advise and assist operation. However, subsequent research and analysis strongly suggest U.S. involvement runs much deeper. In fact, the dramatic events described in the award citations obtained by Task & Purpose align with those that took place in Tunisia, which has been combatting a low-level insurgency in its western borderlands for the past seven years. Evidence indicates the battle occurred at Mount Semmama, a mountain range in the Kasserine governorate, near the Algerian border. There, the United States sustained its first casualty in action in Tunisia since World War II.

    While not of the same magnitude, the events that AFRICOM confirmed took place on Feb. 28, 2017, echo a disastrous ambush less than seven months later in the village of  Tongo Tongo , Niger. In that battle, members of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara killed four Army Special Forces soldiers and four Nigerien partners. U.S. partner forces engaged militants of AQIM’s Tunisian branch, the Uqba ibn Nafaa Battalion (KUBN) in a firefight, which resulted in the killing of one militant. The engagement also necessitated a request for air support to rout the militants. The jihadis then attempted to flank the joint U.S.-Tunisian force from the rear, forcing the Marines to return fire. While engaged on the ground, U.S. forces were also part of the air-support component. When a Tunisian soldier manning an M60 machine gun aboard a helicopter sustained wounds after being shot twice by militants returning accurate fire, a U.S. Marine Raider took control of the machine gun to maintain suppressive fire against the militants and simultaneously treated the wounded Tunisian soldier. The Marine Raider unit and their Tunisian partner force each sustained one casualty in the battle, both of whom recovered from their wounds. At the time,  local  media  reported the incident without alluding to any U.S. participation.

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  • Coddling Arab strongmen to keep out refugees

    Much of Syria lies in ruins, but Bashar al-Assad’s bureaucracy of repression hums along. Earlier this year a pro-opposition website published a list of Syrians wanted by the regime. The database is both staggering in scope-1.5m people, or 7% of the pre-war population-and incomplete. Jamil Hassan, the head of the air-force intelligence service, is said to have told senior officers in July that he wants to arrest twice that number. On August 9th another regime official announced that 100,000 Syrians have died of “unknown causes” since 2017. Yet European politicians are debating whether to send refugees back to this bloody oubliette.

    Seven years ago, when Arabs revolted against their autocratic rulers, European leaders engaged in a collective mea culpa. Decades of working with dictators had not created a stable, prosperous Arab world. From now on, democracy and human rights would be the cornerstones of the European Union’s Middle East policy, they vowed. But the high-mindedness was short-lived. Driven by a fear of migrants, European governments have once again embraced strongmen.

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  • Clues in one of Syria war’s biggest mysteries

    Razan Zaitouneh earned enemies on all sides of her homeland’s civil war. One of Syria’s most well-known rights activists, she was bold, outspoken and defiantly secular. Perhaps most dangerously, she was impartial. She chanted in protests against President Bashar Assad, but was also unflinching in documenting abuses by rebels fighting to oust him.

    Then she vanished.

    Her fate has been one of the longest-running mysteries of Syria’s long conflict. There has been no sign of life, no proof of death since a cold December evening in 2013 when Zaitouneh, her husband and two colleagues were abducted by gunmen from her office in Douma, a rebel-held town on the outskirts of Damascus. Five years later, bits of clues are emerging: a handwritten threat vowing “I will kill you;” a log-on from her computer after the kidnappers stole it from her office; possible sightings by witnesses and reports of graffiti on a prison cell wall reading, “I miss my mother — Razan Zaitouneh, 2016.”

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  • Is Intentional Starvation the Future of War?

    The malnutrition ward of the Al-Sabaeen hospital, in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, is a quiet place even when it is busy. Parents speak in murmurs and children are too weak to cry. In a room off a pink-painted hallway, a mother named Salami Ahmed sat cross-legged on a bed, resting her ten-month-old daughter Mateea on her knee. Each of the baby girl’s ribs pushed out from underneath a fine layer of skin. The child’s eyes stared wide from her gaunt face. Ahmed told me that her husband was a cobbler, and business was bad. “Some days he comes home with four hundred rials, another day five hundred or a thousand rials,” she said, amounts of local currency worth one and a half to four dollars. “Some days nothing if he has no work. We only buy sugar and tea. Before the war, we could buy other things but now no more. We were already poor and when the war broke out we became even poorer.

    In the room down the hallway, Mohammed Hatem stood over his baby, Shahab Adil, who is also ten months old. Shahab also suffered from malnutrition. Her body appeared much too small for her age. “It’s happening everywhere in Yemen,” Hatem told me. “Food prices were already high before the war, and since it started they went sky high.” Back in his village, several hours’ drive away, there were many more cases of malnutrition, he said. Few villagers can afford to take a taxi to the capital for treatment. For many, the cost of fuel puts even short bus rides beyond reach.

    The U.S.- and Saudi-backed war here has increased the price of food, cooking gas, and other fuel, but it is the disappearance of millions of jobs that has brought more than eight million people to the brink of starvation and turned Yemen into the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. There is sufficient food arriving in ports here, but endemic unemployment means that almost two-thirds of the population struggle to buy the food their families need. In this way, hunger here is entirely man-made: no drought or blight has caused it.

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  • Where steam locomotives are still king

    Located on the side of a dusty road, Amman’s Hejaz Railway station is easy to miss. To get there, you must leave the labyrinthine streets that spiral through the city’s historical centre, swirling up hills and eddying around better-known sites like the ancient citadel or Roman theatre. The drive out to the station is about 5km; when there is traffic, as there often is in Jordan’s capital, it can feel longer. Step through the stone gate, though, and it feels like you’ve entered a different era. Here, steam locomotives are still king. The Ottoman sultan controls a swath of land from modern-day Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Black Sea and Basra to Beirut. And hopes are high that a railway can unite the Muslim world.

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  • How nations come together

    Why do some countries fall apart, often along their ethnic fault lines, while others have held together over decades and centuries, despite governing a diverse population as well? Why is it, in other words, that nation-building succeeded in some places while it failed in others? The current tragedy in Syria illustrates the possibly murderous consequences of failed nation-building. Outside of the media spotlight, South Sudan and the Central African Republic went through similar experiences in recent years. In some rich and democratic countries in western Europe, such as Spain, Belgium and the United Kingdom, longstanding secessionist movements have regained momentum. Within our lifetimes, they might well succeed in breaking apart these states. On the other hand, there is no secessionist movement among the Cantonese speakers of southern China or among the Tamils of India. And why has no serious politician ever questioned national unity in such diverse countries as Switzerland or Burkina Faso?

    Before answering these questions, it is necessary to define nation-building more precisely. It goes beyond the mere existence of an independent country with a flag, an anthem and an army. Some old countries (such as Belgium) haven’t come together as a nation, while other more recently founded states (such as India) have done so. There are two sides to the nation-building coin: the extension of political alliances across the terrain of a country, and the identification with and loyalty to the institutions of the state, independent of who currently governs. The former is the political-integration aspect, the latter the political-identity aspect of nation-building. To foster both, political ties between citizens and the state should reach across ethnic divides.

    Such ties of alliance connect national governments with individual citizens, sometimes through intermediary political organisations such as voluntary associations, parties, professional groups, etc. Ideally, these ties link all citizens into networks of alliances centred on the state. In such countries, all citizens see themselves represented at the centre of power, even if their preferred party or political patron is not currently occupying one of the seats of government. Intellectuals, political elites, as well as the average individual will eventually see all citizens, irrespective of their racial or ethnic background, as equal members of the national community.

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  • Nazi war criminal reportedly died in Syrian dungeon

    A Nazi war criminal, believed responsible for the deaths of 130,000 European Jews during the second World War, died in a dungeon cell near the presidential palace in Damascus in late 2001 at the age of 89, the French quarterly review XXI revealed in its winter issue this week.

    Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the “Final Solution,” wrote in his memoirs that Alois Brunner “was my best man”. Brunner organised the deportation of 56,000 Jews from Vienna, 43,000 from Salonica, 14,000 from Slovakia and 23,500 from France to Auschwitz.

    Brunner, who was originally from Austria, was twice convicted of war crimes in absentia in Paris, in 1954 and in March 2001. As XXI’s investigation makes clear, he was still alive when his second trial took place. His fate had remained a mystery.

    Though Brunner’s presence in Damascus was for decades an open secret, he was protected and then imprisoned, by the late dictator Hafez al-Assad and his son, Bashar al-Assad. The Nazi hunters Simon Wiesenthal, who died in 2005, and Serge Klarsfeld, now 81, led futile searches for him.

    Klarsfeld was a boy when Brunner came to his family’s apartment in Nice in September 1943. While he, his mother and sister hid, they heard Brunner arrest their father and husband, who died at Auschwitz.

    When a journalist from XXI told Klarsfeld of its investigation, the first question he asked was whether Brunner had suffered.

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  • The Two Futures of the Arab World

    The Arab world is undergoing its most transformative change for a century. There are factors in this transformation that could plunge the Arab world into more disintegration, violence and chaos than what we have been seeing in the last five years. Yet, also within this transformation, there are changes that could salvage the Arab world, and usher it on a new trajectory of regeneration.

    Aside from the uprisings, regime-change, and civil wars, the key development that the Arab world has witnessed in the last few years has been the fall of the Arab state system of the past seven decades. The nation states in the Eastern Mediterranean that Britain and France created after the First World War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire have been unravelling. In Iraq and Syria central state authority has collapsed. Lebanon’s various political factions have for over a year and half now been unable to agree on a president, leaving the country effectively a shell-state where the government undertakes administration and coordination, while its different religious and feudal communities retain their own political structures and foreign alliances. Eight years after the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas took control of Gaza and broke off relations with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a cohesive Palestinian political entity remains elusive.

    For over two decades, Somalia, which commands a strategic location at the strait linking the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean, has been ruled by a coterie of war lords. The chaos there has given rise to multiple threats afflicting East Africa—violent Islamism, pirating, human trafficking. On the other side of the Arab periphery, close to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, the Sahara separating North and West Africa has effectively fallen under the control of violent Islamists, of which Boko Haram is the most famous. The region’s main economic activities now are trading in arms, drugs and humans.

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  • The Medicis in the desert

    When Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, visited New York earlier this year, the face of Ahmed Mater, the kingdom’s most celebrated artist, was beamed onto an enormous billboard in Times Square. In recent years, he has been feted at exhibitions in London, New York and Venice. He dominates the Saudi art scene so thoroughly that his peers struggle for attention. “He’s the only artist anyone writes about,” says one Saudi curator. In 2017 Mater was appointed as artistic director of the Prince’s cultural and educational foundation, entrusted to promote art across the kingdom and liberalise the school system. He plays a crucial role in the enormously ambitious plan for economic and social transformation, which aims to wean the country off reliance on oil revenues, strip down the power of clerics and dispel a reputation for medieval obscurantism and misogyny.

    Prince Muhammad has travelled the world to convince business leaders, tech titans and entertainment impresarios that Saudi Arabia is a place where both popular and high culture can flourish. For the first time in over 30 years, cinemas show films. For the first time ever, pop stars perform in concert halls. Mater has accompanied the prince on his pilgrimage as the epitome of the country’s artistic reawakening. When the Saudi Crown Prince met Xi Jinping, he brought Mater along and gave the Chinese president one of his paintings as a gift.

    The story behind Mater’s rise is more complex and ambiguous than his current pre-eminence suggests. It illuminates the unprecedented liberalisation that many of the country’s cultural elite are experiencing at the moment, as well as the compromises with power that they must still make. Mater did not reach the pinnacle without help. But some of his companions have fallen by the wayside. “Of course”, one Saudi artist tells me, “it wouldn’t have happened without Ashraf.”

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  • Cairo: A Type of Love Story

    Natasha was the first of our daughters to get bitten by a rodent. It probably happened while she was sleeping, but she was too small to communicate anything. As with Ariel, her identical-twin sister, Natasha’s early vocabulary was mostly English, but the girls used Egyptian Arabic for certain things—colors, animals, basic sustenance. Aish for bread, maya for water. If I twirled one of them around, she would laugh and shriek, “Tani!”: “Again!” And then her sister would pick up the refrain, because anything that was done to one twin had to be repeated with the other. Tani, tani, tani. They weren’t yet two years old.

    I noticed the mark while changing Natasha. To the right of her navel, there were two pairs of ugly red puncture holes: incisors. Perhaps the animal had been nosing around the top of her diaper. If Natasha had cried out, neither I nor my wife, Leslie, heard.

    We had moved to Cairo in October, 2011, during the first year of the Arab Spring. We lived in Zamalek, a neighborhood on a long, thin island in the Nile River. Zamalek has traditionally been home to middle- and upper-class Cairenes, and we rented an apartment on the ground floor of an old building that, like many structures on our street, was beautiful but fading. Out in front of the Art Deco façade, the bars of a wrought-iron fence were shaped like spiderwebs.

    The spiderweb motif was repeated throughout the building. Little black webs decorated our front door, and the balconies and porches had webbed railings. The elevator was accessed through iron spiderweb gates. Behind the gates, rising and falling in the darkness of an open shaft, was the old-fashioned elevator box, made of heavy carved wood, like some Byzantine sarcophagus. The gaps in the webbed gates were as large as a person’s head, and it was possible to reach through and touch the elevator as it drifted past. Not long after we moved in, a child on an upper floor got his leg caught in the elevator, and the limb was broken so badly that he was evacuated to Europe for treatment.

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  • Egypt Holds a Farcical Election

    From modern downtown bookstores to dusty street-corner bookstands where venders peddle Xeroxed copies of international best-sellers, one new release has proved popular this winter in Cairo: translated copies of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” Ahmed, a thirty-one-year-old bookseller in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, told me that Egyptian readers found the bluntness of America’s new President entertaining. “Trump is funny,” Ahmed said, declining to give his last name. “He says what he thinks.”

    For Egypt’s democracy and human-rights activists, Trump is something far different: an enabler of repression who has embraced Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as he carries out the most repressive crackdown in the country in decades. Three days after taking office, Trump phoned Sisi and effusively pledged his support for the authoritarian ruler. When Sisi visited Washington last spring, Trump warmly welcomed him to the White House, reversing an Obama Administration policy of declining to meet the former general because of his government’s sweeping human-rights abuses.

    Five years ago, Sisi seized power and jailed the country’s democratically elected President in a popularly backed military coup that led to the massacre of thousands of supporters of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood. Under Sisi, the government has arrested at least sixty thousand people, handed down hundreds of preliminary death sentences, and tried thousands of civilians in military courts, according to human-rights groups. Torture, including beatings, electric shocks, stress positions, and sometimes rape, has been systematically employed. After a pair of church bombings by the Islamic State killed forty-seven people last April, Sisi declared a nationwide state of emergency that gave the government sweeping powers to arrest people, seize assets, and censor the media. Trump has made no mention of the repression, called Sisi a “fantastic guy,” and even complimented the Egyptian leader on his shoes. Sisi, in turn, has praised Trump for being “a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible.” Trump’s embrace of Sisi is not unusual: he has praised authoritarian leaders around the world, but his backing of autocratic regimes is perhaps nowhere more visible than in Egypt.

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  • The ISIS Files

    Weeks after the militants seized the city, as fighters roamed the streets and religious extremists rewrote the laws, an order rang out from the loudspeakers of local mosques.

    Public servants, the speakers blared, were to report to their former offices.

    To make sure every government worker got the message, the militants followed up with phone calls to supervisors. When one tried to beg off, citing a back injury, he was told: “If you don’t show up, we’ll come and break your back ourselves.”

    The phone call reached Muhammad Nasser Hamoud, a 19-year veteran of the Iraqi Directorate of Agriculture, behind the locked gate of his home, where he was hiding with his family. Terrified but unsure what else to do, he and his colleagues trudged back to their six-story office complex decorated with posters of seed hybrids.

    They arrived to find chairs lined up in neat rows, as if for a lecture.

    The commander who strode in sat facing the room, his leg splayed out so that everyone could see the pistol holstered to his thigh. For a moment, the only sounds were the hurried prayers of the civil servants mumbling under their breath.

    Their fears proved unfounded. Though he spoke in a menacing tone, the commander had a surprisingly tame request: Resume your jobs immediately, he told them. A sign-in sheet would be placed at the entrance to each department. Those who failed to show up would be punished.

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  • How a secret Russian airlift helps Assad

    In a corner of the departures area at Rostov airport in southern Russia, a group of about 130 men, many of them carrying overstuffed military-style rucksacks, lined up at four check-in desks beneath screens that showed no flight number or destination.

    When a Reuters reporter asked the men about their destination, one said: “We signed a piece of paper – we’re not allowed to say anything. Any minute the boss will come and we’ll get into trouble.

    “You too,” he warned.

    The chartered Airbus A320 waiting on the tarmac for them had just flown in from the Syrian capital, Damascus, disgorging about 30 men with tanned faces into the largely deserted arrivals area. Most were in camouflage gear and khaki desert boots. Some were toting bags from the Damascus airport duty-free.

    The men were private Russian military contractors, the latest human cargo in a secretive airlift using civilian planes to ferry military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his six-year fight against rebels, a Reuters investigation of the logistical network behind Assad’s forces has uncovered.

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  • The Useful Village

    There is no cinema in Sumte. There are no general stores, no pubs, gyms, cafés, markets, schools, doctors, florists, auto shops, or libraries. There are no playgrounds. Some roads are paved, but others scarcely distinguish themselves from the scrub grass and swampy tractor trails surrounding each house, modest plots that grade into the farmland and medieval forests of Lower Saxony. There is no meeting hall. All is private and premodern. You can’t quite hear the eddying rills of the Elbe—the river lies a few miles to the west—but in the cathedral silence of an afternoon in Sumte you might easily imagine you hear flowing water, or a pan flute, or the voice of God. You’re in the great European nowhere, where cows outnumber people and the darkness at night is as unalloyed and mysterious as a silent undersea trench.

    One day in October, after a thousand years of evening gloom, a work crew arrives and lines the main avenue with LED streetlamps, which cast a spearmint glow over the chicken coops and the alien corn. The lights are a concession to the villagers—all 102 of them—from their political masters in the nearby town of Amt Neuhaus, who manage Sumte’s affairs and must report to their own masters in Hannover, the state capital of Lower Saxony, who in turn must report to their masters in Berlin, who send emissaries to Brussels, which might as well be Bolivia, so impossibly distant do the villagers find that black hole of tax dollars and goodwill. It’s this vague chain of command that most alienates the people of Sumte. They are pensioners and housepainters. They are farmers, subsistence and commercial. They are carpenters, clerks, and commuters who cross the Elbe by ferry every morning, driving to jobs in Lüneberg or Hamburg, ninety minutes away. More than a few are out of work. Nobody tells them anything.

    Which is not to suggest anyone here is unaware of what’s going on in the world in 2015. The people of Sumte are not hicks (or hinterwäldler, as the Germans say). Word has reached Dirk Hammer, the bicycle repairman, and Walter Luck, the apiarist, about the capsizing trawlers, the panic in Lampedusa. Sumte’s mayor, Christian Fabel, has read in the Lüneburger Landeszeitung about the bivouacs at Austrian border towns. They watch the nightly news. They’ve heard of this crisis, the so-called Flüchtlingskrise. And they wonder where these people—more than a million migrants, displaced from the world’s bomb-cratered imbroglios and forsaken urban wastelands—are headed. The streetlights, a long-standing request now mysteriously granted, make them suspicious.

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  • Steele: the Man Behind the Trump Dossier

    In January, after a long day at his London office, Christopher Steele, the former spy turned private investigator, was stepping off a commuter train in Farnham, where he lives, when one of his two phones rang. He’d been looking forward to dinner at home with his wife, and perhaps a glass of wine. It had been their dream to live in Farnham, a town in Surrey with a beautiful Georgian high street, where they could afford a house big enough to accommodate their four children, on nearly an acre of land. Steele, who is fifty-three, looked much like the other businessmen heading home, except for the fact that he kept his phones in a Faraday bag—a pouch, of military-tested double-grade fabric, designed to block signal detection.

    A friend in Washington, D.C., was calling with bad news: two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham and Charles Grassley, had just referred Steele’s name to the Department of Justice, for a possible criminal investigation. They were accusing Steele—the author of a secret dossier that helped trigger the current federal investigation into President Donald Trump’s possible ties to Russia—of having lied to the very F.B.I. officers he’d alerted about his findings. The details of the criminal referral were classified, so Steele could not know the nature of the allegations, let alone rebut them, but they had something to do with his having misled the Bureau about contacts that he’d had with the press. For nearly thirty years, Steele had worked as a close ally of the United States, and he couldn’t imagine why anyone would believe that he had been deceptive. But lying to an F.B.I. officer is a felony, an offense that can be punished by up to five years in prison.

    The accusations would only increase doubts about Steele’s reputation that had clung to him since BuzzFeed published the dossier, in January, 2017. The dossier painted a damning picture of collusion between Trump and Russia, suggesting that his campaign had “accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” It also alleged that Russian officials had been “cultivating” Trump as an asset for five years, and had obtained leverage over him, in part by recording videos of him while he engaged in compromising sexual acts, including consorting with Moscow prostitutes who, at his request, urinated on a bed.

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  • Iran’s Leader ‘Makes Hitler Look Good’

    This much, at least, can be said for Mohammed bin Salman, the putatively reformist crown prince of Saudi Arabia: He has made all the right enemies. Among those who would celebrate his end are the leaders of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas, as well as Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and the entire clerical and military leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a bonus, there are members of his own family, the sprawling, sclerotic, self-dealing House of Saud, who would like to see him gone—or at the very least, warehoused at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, where the 32-year-old prince recently imprisoned many of his enemies and cousins during an anti-corruption sweep of the kingdom.

    The well-protected Prince Mohammed does not seem particularly worried about mortal threats, however. He was jovial to the point of ebullience when I met him at his brother’s compound outside Washington (his brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, is the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.). Prince Mohammed (who is known widely by his initials, MbS) seemed eager to download his heterodoxical, contentious views on a number of subjects—on women’s rights (he appears doubtful about the laws that force Saudi women to travel with male relatives); on Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who is, in the prince’s mind, worse than Hitler; and on Israel. He told me he recognizes the right of the Jewish people to have a nation-state of their own next to a Palestinian state; no Arab leader has ever acknowledged such a right.

    Prince Mohammed, who is on a seemingly endless pilgrimage to the nodes of American power (he is in Hollywood this week) is an unfamiliar type for Middle East reporters accustomed to a certain style of Saudi leadership, which is to say, the functionally comatose model of authoritarian monarchism. Prince Mohammed’s father, the 82-year-old King Salman, is not overly infirm, but it is clear that his son is already in charge. And if the prince, his many handlers, and his partisans on Wall Street and in the White House (especially his fellow prince, Jared Kushner) are to be believed, he is in a genuine hurry to overturn the traditional Saudi order.

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  • French Company Pushing Limits in Syria

    PARIS — Mostafa Haji Mohamad, a medical worker, was just starting the morning shift at a cement factory in Syria when gunfire rattled across the desert. The air was stifling, and he and the other employees were on edge.

    For months, they had worked to the percussion of distant fighting as the Islamic State waged fierce battles in the autumn of 2014 to seize territory in Syria’s rapidly escalating civil war. Their employer, one of the world’s largest cement makers, Lafarge, didn’t want to abandon the plant, but aimed to keep it running so it would be well positioned when the civil war ended. And the men, all local workers, had few other options for employment in a country where conflict was ravaging the economy.

    Security managers urged the workers not to worry. Safety was a priority, they insisted. If the fighting got too close, Lafarge had an evacuation plan that included buses to get them out in case of danger.

    As the men gathered that morning in a sweltering hall, Mr. Mohamad’s supervisor, the factory’s doctor, called with a frantic warning. ISIS had just taken the village closest the factory. “You’ve got to get out of there,” the supervisor said. “ISIS is coming!”

    Mr. Mohamad and the rest of the employees ran outside. The evacuation buses were not there.

    So they piled, one on top of the other, into two small cars and a delivery van. Mr. Mohamad jumped onto a rickety scooter and puttered nervously across the desert as explosions rang out.

    They all got away. By nightfall, ISIS had captured the factory.

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    ...

  • Made-up beautiful. Sent out to die.

    Falmata is getting a full beauty treatment – a thick paste of henna, with its delicate pointed swirls, adorns her feet.

    While it dries, a woman is battling with her hair. Comb in hand she’s stretching and straightening Falmata’s tight curls.

    “We were allowed to choose any style for the hair and the henna,” remembers Falmata. “We got the henna to dye our hands, legs and sometimes even the neck.”

    Falmata knows she is going to look beautiful. But there’s a deadly consequence.

    Once she’s been made up, a suicide bomb will be attached to her waist.

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  • The American Climbing the Ranks of ISIS

    At dawn on a warm September morning in 2013, a minivan pulled up to a shattered villa in the town of Azaz, Syria. A long-bearded 29-year-old white man emerged from the building, along with his pregnant British wife and their three children, ages 8, 4, and almost 2. They had been in Syria for only about a month this time. The kids were sick and malnourished. The border they’d crossed from Turkey into Syria was minutes away, but the passage back was no longer safe. They clambered into the minivan, sitting on sheepskins draped on the floor—there were no seats—and the driver took them two hours east through a ravaged landscape, eventually stopping at a place where the family might slip into Turkey undetected.

    They disembarked amid a grove of thorny trees. Signs warned of land mines. The border itself was more than an hour’s walk away, through the desert. They’d forgotten to bring water. Tania dragged the puking kids along; Yahya carried a suitcase and a stroller. Midway, Tania had contractions, although she was still several months from her due date. They continued on. At the border itself, while the family squeezed through the barbed wire, a sniper’s bullets kicked up dirt nearby.

    Yahya had arranged for a human trafficker to meet them, and when the trafficker’s truck arrived, Yahya pressed a few hundred dollars into the man’s hand. Yahya and Tania had been married for 10 years, but they did not say goodbye. Satisfied that his family would not die, Yahya turned and ran across the border, back into Syria—again under gunfire—without even a wave.

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  • ‘Migrants more profitable than drugs’

    Joy, a young Nigerian woman, was standing in the street outside the sprawling, overcrowded Cara di Mineo reception centre for asylum seekers in central Sicily, waiting for someone to pick her up when I met her. It was late summer 2016, and the weather was still hot. She said she was 18, but looked much younger. She was wearing a faded denim jacket over a crisp white T-shirt and tight jeans, and six or seven strings of colourful beads were wrapped around her neck. A gold chain hung from her left wrist, a gift from her mother.

    As we spoke, a dark car came into view and she took a couple of steps away from me to make sure whoever was driving saw her, and saw that she was alone. There were a handful of other migrants loitering along the road. The approaching car didn’t slow down, so Joy came back over to me and carried on our conversation.

    The oldest of six children, Joy (not her real name) told me she had left her family in a small village in Edo state in Nigeria at the age of 15, and gone to work for a wealthy woman who owned a beauty salon in Benin City. She had since come to suspect that her parents had sold her to raise money for their younger children. “They probably had no choice,” she said as she looked down the road toward the thick citrus groves that hid the coming traffic.

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  • The American Climbing the Ranks of ISIS

    At dawn on a warm September morning in 2013, a minivan pulled up to a shattered villa in the town of Azaz, Syria. A long-bearded 29-year-old white man emerged from the building, along with his pregnant British wife and their three children, ages 8, 4, and almost 2. They had been in Syria for only about a month this time. The kids were sick and malnourished. The border they’d crossed from Turkey into Syria was minutes away, but the passage back was no longer safe. They clambered into the minivan, sitting on sheepskins draped on the floor—there were no seats—and the driver took them two hours east through a ravaged landscape, eventually stopping at a place where the family might slip into Turkey undetected.

    They disembarked amid a grove of thorny trees. Signs warned of land mines. The border itself was more than an hour’s walk away, through the desert. They’d forgotten to bring water. Tania dragged the puking kids along; Yahya carried a suitcase and a stroller. Midway, Tania had contractions, although she was still several months from her due date. They continued on. At the border itself, while the family squeezed through the barbed wire, a sniper’s bullets kicked up dirt nearby.

    Yahya had arranged for a human trafficker to meet them, and when the trafficker’s truck arrived, Yahya pressed a few hundred dollars into the man’s hand. Yahya and Tania had been married for 10 years, but they did not say goodbye. Satisfied that his family would not die, Yahya turned and ran across the border, back into Syria—again under gunfire—without even a wave.

    Read more.

    ...