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Bill Nelson weighs in on ISIS, arming Ukraine and Baileygate

Sen. Bill Nelson says that the Muslim world is now coming together to fight ISIS, in the wake of the attention given to the video showing Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh being burned alive after being captured by the group.

Jordan has certainly raised its efforts, promising an “earthshaking response” to his killing. That nation’s fighter jets struck ISIS targets in Syria on Thursday, a day after King Abdullah called for more action against the group. Today ISIS claimed an American female hostage was killed in an airstrike in Syria. The State Department says it can’t confirm reports of the death “in any way.”

“I can tell you that this has galvanized not only Jordan, but the entire Muslim world like nothing else has,” Nelson said Friday, speaking to reporters after a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the just-established Florida Center for Cybersecurity at USF. “Burning alive that Jordanian pilot was so offensive to the Muslim faith that you’re going to see now the U.S. is not just in this with partners like Jordan and the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, but the entire Muslim world,  from Morocco in the West, to Indonesia to the East.”

However, it was reported this week that the UAE has not flown combat missions over Syria since December, and completely dropped out of the group of countries conducting air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria after a Jordanian pilot was captured, citing fears for their pilots’ safety in the case of downed planes. The UAE said it wants the United States to improve its search-and-rescue efforts, including the use of V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, in northern Iraq, closer to the battleground. The New York Times reported this week that the UAE will not rejoin the fight against ISIS until the Ospreys are deployed in northern Iraq.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande were scheduled to meet with Russia’s Vladimir Putin Friday to try to end escalating fighting in Ukraine. Russia is accused of arming pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine — a claim it denies. It also rejects claims that its regular troops are fighting alongside the rebels in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

On Thursday in Washington, Nelson teamed up with Sen. John McCain at a news conference to call on President Barack Obama to provide defensive weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian-backed rebel groups.

“It is the Russian army that is invading from the East,” Nelson said Friday in Tampa. “And these poor people, they just can’t go up against a Russian tank. Even though the Russians are saying it’s not their troops, well, in fact it is; they just put on a different uniform. I visited with all of the Ukrainian government leaders last August. I called for lethal assistance then. We’ve given them about 350 million dollars worth of assistance for some intelligence, some training, but they now need lethal arms.”

Nelson was also asked to weigh in on the latest in the Rick Scott/Gerald Bailey scandal.

Three weeks ago Florida Politics reported that Nelson said that the Justice Department could be the place for an independent investigation into Gov. Scott’s handling of the former Florida Department of Law Enforcement chief. But there has been nothing to indicate that such a probe is under way, and no other law enforcement agency has stepped in to begin an investigation.

Nelson cautiously said he didn’t want to tread into an issue that “is not my area of responsibility,” but once again referenced the fact that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder wrote to Scott last year regarding voting issues.

“Whether or not the Department of Justice of the United States is going to be getting into this, I don’t know,” he said. “But someone in Tallahassee it is reported has already referred that to the Department of Justice,” but he said he could not confirm such an action has taken place.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice responded to Florida Politics in an email, writing, “We’ll decline to comment on this.”

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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