At a Wednesday press conference, the family of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran on March 9, 2007, announced: "We recently received information from US officials that has led both them and us to conclude that our wonderful husband and father died while in Iranian custody. We don't know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic."
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei announced Wednesday people may no longer leave their cities and will soon face further restrictions to prevent a "second wave of the coronavirus." Security forces will enforce the travel restrictions. President Hassan Rouhani added that the government might need to close parks during the nature festival of Sizdah Bedar on 1 April, when Iranians traditionally have picnics.
Denmark's state prosecutor Wednesday charged a Norwegian citizen of Iranian descent with collecting and passing on information to an Iranian intelligence service as part of an assassination attempt on a leading member of the opposition Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz. Swedish authorities arrested the defendant in October 2018 and extradited him to Denmark, where his trial will open on May 1.
Turkish prosecutors formally charged 20 Saudi nationals with murdering Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Those charged include former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani and former deputy head of intelligence Ahmed al-Asiri.
Since Riyadh refuses to extradite the defendants, Turkey will try them in absentia and seeks life sentences for each of the accused. Although King Salman dismissed Qahtani and Asiri from their posts after Khashoggi's murder, Saudi authorities dropped charges against Asiri for lack of evidence and never pursued charges against Qahtani, who reportedly remains politically active. Riyadh sentenced five to death for Khashoggi's murder, but never released their names. UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Agnes Callamard urged the US to release its findings on the Khashoggi murder, "including the responsibility of Saudi Arabia crown [sic] Prince Mohammed Bin Salman."
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu announced Wednesday Turkey has arrested 410 people for "attempting to stir unrest" through "provocative" social media posts about COVID-19. Without elaborating, Soylu claimed the suspects' social media accounts were linked to terrorist groups.
Likud's Yuli Edelstein resigned as Knesset speaker on Wednesday rather than heed the High Court of Justice's Monday ruling that he hold a plenum vote on Wednesday to elect a new speaker. The Knesset's legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, informed Edelstein that he is still obligated to call the plenum vote and will be in contempt of the court ruling if he fails to do so. Edelstein will remain Knesset speaker for 48 hours after expressing his intent to resign. He justified resigning on principle, calling the court's ruling, "a gross and arrogant intervention of the judiciary in the affairs of the elected legislature." He previously stated that electing a new Knesset speaker before the formation of a government would be destabilizing, especially since President Reuven Rivlin invited Blue and White's Benny Gantz to form a government even though Likud won more seats in the last election and Gantz does not have a clear path to assembling a coalition.
An appellate court upheld the sentences of former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, who served under ex-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and were sentenced to 15 and 12 years respectively for misappropriating government funds. They are the first Algerian prime ministers ever to stand trial and have eight days to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh late Tuesday ordered Palestinian laborers in Israel and in Israeli settlements to return home, saying their jobs exposed them to risk of contracting COVID-19. Israel made special living arrangements for the approximately 100,000 Palestinians who work in Israel and the settlements before sealing off PA territory Sunday to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Israel's construction industry is heavily reliant on Palestinian labor.
A day after Libya confirmed its first COVID-19 case, clashes in the capital between the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and Khalifa Hafter's Libyan National Army escalated. GNA militia commander Ossama Gowelii said that in response to LNA shelling of Tripoli last night his forces seized al-Waitya airbase in southern Tripoli, capturing LNA fighters and foreign mercenaries, while the LNA claims to have repulsed the attack.
Sudanese Defense Minister General Gamal al-Din Omar died from a heart attack Wednesday during peace negotiations in Juba, South Sudan between Sudan's transitional government and rebel groups.
Sudan released 4,217 prisoners from al-Hoda prison on Wednesday to impede COVID-19's spread. Khartoum did not identify their crimes.
As the number of COVID-19 infections in the kingdom hit 900, King Salman Wednesday barred entry or exit from Riyadh, Mecca, and Medina along with movement between provinces. Starting Thursday, the curfew in the three aforementioned cities will start at 3 PM, instead of 7 PM.
King Salman will chair an emergency G20 virtual summit on Thursday to coordinate a response to COVID-19. Saudi Arabia, which currently holds the G20 presidency, called for the "virtual summit" last week and representatives from Spain, Jordan, Singapore, Switzerland, the UN, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organization will also participate.
Human Rights Watch published a report accusing Saudi Arabia and the Aden-based, internationally recognized government of "arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, and illegal transfer of detainees to Saudi Arabia" in their war against the Houthis.
Syria imposed Wednesday a 6 PM to 6 AM curfew after previously closing shops, markets, and public transportation. Interior Minister Mohamad al Rahmoun warned on state television, "Any violator will be detained and face legal measures."
United Arab Emirates
Dubai's economic department mandated that from March 25 to April 9 all private sector organizations – excluding pharmacies, grocery stores, and supermarkets – must operate with 80 percent of their employees working from home. Starting Wednesday all Dubai government workers who are able also began working from home.
ISIS claimed responsibility through its official Amaq news agency for Monday's attack on the Mozambican town of Mocimboa da Praia, occupying an army barracks before being driven out the following day. This is the first time that Mozambique's jihadists captured a town and government spokesman Filimao Suaze said ISIS left a "trail of destruction and dead bodies." In the last 48 hours, ISIS militants attacked Quissanga village and, according to images circulating on social media, control its police station.
Micah Levinson is a Washington, DC resident fellow at the Middle East Forum.