Islam

Stories about Paris and other French incidents figure highly in all the papers, but we will focus on comments and underlying issues, such as Abu Hamza the British hate preacher found guilty of terrorism and jailed for life in US:

Extremist who preached at Finsbury Park Mosque in north London will spend the rest of his life behind bars after being found guilty of 11 charges of terrorism and kidnapping.

Abu Hamza will spend the rest of his life in prison after an American judge ruled on Friday that the world could not be a safe place if he were ever released. Katherine Forrest, sitting in a downtown Manhattan court just blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood, gave the British hate preacher two life sentences and 100 years for nine other counts of terrorism, with no chance of parole.

She said he had shown no remorse and was convinced the 56-year-old Egyptian-born cleric would continue to inspire followers in acts of violence. “It’s unacceptable in a civilised society, it is barbaric, it is wrong,” she said, reading out 13 excerpts of his exhortations to followers to take up arms.

The Independent reminds us of the “Finsbury Park” link and The Guardian has a leader from Tariq Ramadan that many readers of these pages are sure to disagree with: “The Paris attackers hijacked Islam but there is no war between Islam and the west

The attack on Charlie Hebdo compels us to be clear and to be consistent. We have to condemn what happened in Paris absolutely. I said the same after 7/7 and after 9/11. And after Jordan and Bali and Mali.

It is particularly important to be clear about where we stand, for the attackers said things that cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. They said they were avenging the prophet. That was wrong. In fact, it is the message of Islam, our principles and values, that have been betrayed and tainted. They refer to Islam to justify what they did. From a religious viewpoint, I feel it is my responsibility to say that this has nothing to do with the message of our religion. I would expect anyone, if something was happening in the name of their country or in the name of their religion, to take a stand. As a Muslim scholar I have to take that stand.

Meanwhile, The Guardian also reports from Nigeria: “2,000 feared killed in Boko Haram’s ‘deadliest massacre’

Amnesty International calls the killings ‘a disturbing and bloody escalation’ and a local defence group says its fighters have given up trying to count the bodies. Hundreds of bodies – too many to count – remain strewn in the bush in Nigeria from an Islamic extremist attack that Amnesty International described as the “deadliest massacre” in the history of Boko Haram.

Fighting continued on Friday around Baga, a town on the border with Chad where insurgents seized a key military base on 3 January and attacked again on Wednesday. “Security forces have responded rapidly, and have deployed significant military assets and conducted air strikes against militant targets,” said a government spokesman.

District head Baba Abba Hassan said most victims are children, women and elderly people who could not run fast enough when insurgents drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on town residents. “The human carnage perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists in Baga was enormous,” Muhammad Abba Gava, a spokesman for poorly armed civilians in a defence group that fights Boko Haram, told the Associated Press.

The Independent has an in-depth report: “A network of dissidents stretches from Algeria to Finsbury Park

Links have begun to emerge between the Islamists involved in France’s two deadly sieges, pointing towards the chilling scenario of a well-planned jihad in the heart of Europe.

Amedy Coulibaly, who took five hostages in a kosher bakery in Paris yesterday after the murder of a policewoman on Thursday, knew and was in touch with the Kouachi brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo murders. He was linked to the brothers through, among others, Djamel Beghal, a senior al-Qaeda member and convicted terrorist. Intercepts on telephone calls by the French security service reportedly showed Coulibaly and the Kouachis had recently planned to visit Beghal in Murat, Cantal, where he is under house arrest, but turned back after fearing they would come under suspicion.

Last night  al-Qaeda claimed it was behind the Charlie Hebdo slaughter. In a statement issued by al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, Aqap, the group claimed it directed the attack “as revenge for the honour” of Mohamed. Charlie Hebdo had published several cartoons featuring the Prophet. “The leadership of Aqap directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully,” it claimed in a statement given to Associated Press.

The Mail follows the trail of the woman associated with the Kosher supermarket killer: From bikini babe to burka-clad jihadi fighter with a crossbow: ‘Wife’ of Kosher supermarket killer becomes France’s most wanted woman after going on the run

Wearing a skimpy bikini with her arms wrapped around her lover’s waist, this is Hayat Boumeddiene before she turned into a jihadi killer’s accomplice and became France’s most wanted woman.   Photographs of the ‘wife’ of the Kosher supermarket hostage killer reveal how she was radicalised by the man she would go on to marry.  Her husband Amedy Coulibaly is dead, one of the three terrorists who brought France to a halt in 48 hours of bloodshed.

Now, 26-year-old Boumeddiene is on the run and is believed to be ‘armed and dangerous’.  Coulibaly died in a hail of bullets along with four hostages in the storming of the Jewish supermarket. But Boumeddiene may have eluded capture during the confusion as the hostages were running away, police said.

The Express reports that David Cameron to join other European leaders at ‘Unity Rally’ in Paris after terror attack

DAVID Cameron will join other European leaders at Sunday’s ‘Unity Rally’ in Paris called to ‘celebrate the values’ of the satirical magazine targeted in this week’s terror attacks, it was confirmed tonight. French President Francois Hollande is expected to line up with his political adversary and predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy to lead a cross-party march of tens of thousands of French people in the shocked capital.

Confirming that he would attend alongside other foreign counterparts, Mr Cameron posted on Twitter: “I’ve accepted President Hollande’s invitation to join the Unity Rally in Paris this Sunday – celebrating the values behind #CharlieHebdo.”

Election Debate

The Telegraph (with The Guardian) are trying to make the news with an item “David Cameron challenged to five-way digital leaders’ debate

David Cameron has been challenged to take part in a ground-breaking digital debate with the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Ukip and the Greens. The Prime Minister is one of five political leaders invited to take part in a pre-election debate broadcast over the internet and hosted by the Telegraph, the Guardian and YouTube.

The invitation for the Greens and Ukip to take part in Britain’s first online leaders’ debate comes after Ofcom, the media regulator, declined to give the Greens the status of a “major party”, something that is likely to exclude them from proposed debates to be hosted by conventional broadcasters like the BBC.

Mr Cameron has said he is not willing to participate in debates that exclude the Greens, who have one MP and are currently on around 8 per cent in the polls. His position has raised doubts about whether the broadcasters’ debates will go ahead at all.

Free Speech

Norman Tebbit in The Telegraph talks a lot of good sense, as usual, with Our politicians like talking about free speech. Now will they let us have it?. He also endorses Nigel Farage’s “Fifth Column” assertion.

As a victim of terrorism myself, when the terrorists strike as they have done in Paris, my first thoughts are for the victims, their families and friends. After that of course we begin to think more deeply about the factors behind the outrages.

We should not discount the existence in all societies of a tiny minority of mentally ill, psychopathic individuals seeking notoriety by committing particularly foul crimes. When such people live in minority communities harbouring resentment and grudges against the mainstream society, there is a natural seed bed for the cultivation of the grapes of wrath.

Mr Farage put that more bluntly with his comments about fifth columns within multicultural societies. That is, groups within minority cultural groups who work for the overthrow of the broader society in which they live. Or once again as Mr Farage put it: “people living in these countries (Britain and France) holding our passports who hate us.” That seems to me to describe the killers in Paris entirely accurately.

NHS

The Guardian reports from one NHS hospital with “‘Inadequate’ Hinchingbrooke hospital to be put in special measures

Hinchingbrooke hospital will be placed into special measures after a report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) revealed a catalogue of serious failings at the privately run hospital, including in its A&E unit, which put patients in danger and delayed their pain relief. Circle, the private company in charge of Hinchingbrooke, told the London Stock Exchange earlier that the CQC’s report was one of the reasons it was pulling out of running the hospital.

The CQC was scathing about the hospital, rating it as “inadequate” overall, and specifically for patient safety, displaying caring towards patients, and leadership. It is the first time the watchdog has found a hospital trust to be inadequate in how it cares for patients. Its verdict follows an exhaustive five-day inspection last September and a follow-up visit on 2 January, which found that some improvements were still needed.

Across the whole NHS, The Independent reports that Government says health workers should not be paid extra for weekend shifts.

Hospital consultants and other NHS staff must no longer be paid overtime payments for working at weekends, ministers have warned, putting the Government on a collision course with medical unions.

Under current arrangements consultants only have to work Monday to Friday apart from in emergency care. Those who do weekend shifts are paid a 33 per cent bonus for every shift worked on top of their base salary. Nurses who work at weekend are paid up to double time on Sundays and 50 per cent extra for evening and Saturday work.

But ministers are warning that the “unacceptable” and “unsustainable” system cannot be maintained under Government proposals to provide full hospital services seven days a week. But any move to reduce or remove the bonuses will be bitterly opposed.

The Mirror reports that the Tories have broken promise to look after children’s mental health services

The Government has “broken its promise” to prioritise children’s mental health by slashing funding by £50million a year. NHS England revealed in a parliamentary answer yesterday that spending on services has dropped by more than 6% in real terms since 2010 to £717million.

Sarah Brennan, of charity YoungMinds, said: “Services have been chronically underfunded for decades. These are deeply worrying figures.” Luciana Berger, Shadow Public Health Minister, said: “They prove the ­Government has broken its promise.”

Ministers said overall NHS spending had been protected but refused to deny funding for children had dropped. Mental Health Minister Norman Lamb said he wanted to “give children the best possible health care”.

Energy

The Mail reports that Ed Miliband’s energy prices plan ‘keeps bills high’: Families should have seen a £140 reduction but Big Six haven’t passed on savings amid fear over freeze policy

Ed Miliband plan to freeze energy prices is putting firms off cutting household bills before the election, experts say. The Big Six firms have been under pressure to pass on savings to customers as the crude oil price has plummeted, dipping below 50 dollars a barrel this week compared with 115 last June.

George Osborne has warned energy firms and airlines to cut their prices. Some estimates suggest families should have seen average annual bills fall by £140 due to tumbling wholesale prices. But analysts now believe that Labour’s promise to freeze energy bills for 20 months if they win office – to fix the ‘broken energy market’ – may be keeping prices high.

EU

The Mail reveals that UK taxpayers are to foot the rising bill for EU pensions: Britain expected to pay £4billion share of £35.8billion total

British taxpayers may have to pay more money to Brussels to cover the rising cost of pensions for EU civil servants and MEPs. This year the pension bill for EU officials jumped by more than seven per cent to £1.3 billion. Growing costs mean the EU now has a £36 billion pension time bomb, with Britain expected to pay a £4 billion share.

The pension bill for EU officials jumped more than seven per cent to £1.3billion this year. The EU’s total pension liabilities now stand at are £35.8 billion (€45.7bn), according to the latest figures for 2013. EU auditors have warned the cost of paying the pensions will be a major factor in pushing up British contributions to the Brussels budget.

Nigel Farage

Let’s end on a high note with “Farage on Friday” from the Express where the headline is David Cameron is running scared of Ukip by ducking election debates:

After over two decades of relentless campaigning, Britain’s television regulator yesterday declared that we can now consider ourselves a major party – and should be included in the leaders’ debates ahead of the General Election.

Almost 21 years ago, I stood in the Eastleigh by-election for the UK Independence Party. It doesn’t even really feel that long ago since I managed to win just a few more votes than the memorable Screaming Lord Sutch of the Monster Raving Loony Party. At the time, people told me I was more loony than him!

‘You can never break into this country’s three-party system,’ they said – adamant that the establishment had stitched it up so that no one else could bust open their monopoly and make an impact on British politics.

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