New Age Islam News Bureau
Bangladesh tense ahead of verdict
By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Dhaka
At least 12,000 extra policemen have been deployed in Bangladesh ahead of a verdict in the trial of army officers accused of killing the first president.
Authorities say they are concerned that supporters of the five army men on trial may try to disrupt proceedings.
The trial began 10 years ago and the last stage has seen the final appeal of the alleged killers.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed in 1975, just four years after leading Bangladesh to freedom from Pakistan.
Five of the accused are in prison in the capital, Dhaka. Six others are on the run abroad.
The killers were a group of young army officers, who went on to murder not just the charismatic president, but also his wife, three sons, two daughters-in-law and about 20 other relatives and aides.
Mr Rahman's daughter Sheikh Hasina, who was re-elected prime minister in December, escaped the massacre only because she was out of the country at the time.
The thousands of extra policemen are guarding strategic buildings ahead of Thursday's final verdict in the trial, one of the country's longest-running and most controversial.
Extra men have been posted outside the Supreme Court building in the capital, Dhaka, where the verdict will be announced, as well as outside foreign embassies, at the state television and radio stations and other key buildings across Bangladesh.
The government has already blamed supporters of the men on trial for a grenade attack on one of the prosecution lawyers last month, which left several people injured.
The police arrested a group of their relatives, and the army said it was investigating possible links to serving officers. Nobody has been charged yet for the attack, and those arrested say they had nothing to do with it.
The five former soldiers do not deny their role in the death of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, but they say they should be tried in a military rather than a civilian court.
If their appeal is rejected, then they will be hanged.
Six fellow plotters, on the run abroad, have also been sentenced to death.
The government the majors helped install passed a law indemnifying their actions and until 1998 they were free men.
But by then Sheikh Hasina had herself become prime minister and the accused were put on trial, found guilty and sentenced to death.
She lost the following elections, and the next government, led by the party which ultimately benefitted from the coup, slowed the process down.
But Sheikh Hasina returned to power earlier this year, and has made the conclusion of the trial one of her top priorities.
Somali Islamists stone a woman to death for adultery
MOGADISHU, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- Islamist rebels on Tuesday publicly stoned a woman to death and flogged a man 100 times for alleged adultery in southern Somalia.
Sheik Ibrahim Sheik Abdurrahman, a Al-Shabaab court judge in ElBon village in Bakool region, told local media about the courts verdict.
"Haliimo Ibraahim Abdurrahman, 29, who had been previously married, had an illegal sex with Nanah Mohamed Maadey, 20, previously unmarried, and they have confessed to the acts in front of the court which sentenced Halimo to be stoned to death and Nanah to receive 100 lashes in accordance with the Islamic law," Sheikh Abdurrahman said.
Hundreds of local people, mostly women and children, saw the stoning of the woman and the lashing of the man which were carried out by Islamist fighters from the hard-line Al-Shabaab insurgent group which controls much of south and center of Somalia.
The group which is waging a deadly insurgency against Somali government applies stricter version of the Islamic law or the Sharia by carrying out similar punishments on people alleged to have "confessed" of committing crimes.
Al-Shabaab, considered by the Somali government as a terrorist group with links to Al-Qaeda, bans music, films the mixing of different sexes and demands women to wear dress that cover the whole body.
The movement wants to establish an Islamic state in war wrecked Somalia while the Somali government said it adopted a moderate version of Islamic rule.
The Somali government which is internationally recognized but is struggling for its survival controls only parts of the country's restive coastal capital of Mogadishu.
Somalia has had no strong central government for nearly two decades since the ouster of former ruler Mohamed Siyad Barre in 1991.
Muslim scholars rejecting Darwin's theory of evolution as 'unproven'
17 Nov 2009
Muslim scholars around the world are increasingly rejecting Darwin's theory of evolution as an "unproven".
Muslim students and academics also said they felt they were being asked to make a "binary choice" between Darwinism and creationism, rather than both having a place.
The claim was made by Nidhal Guessoum, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, at a conference organised by the British Council to celebrate the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth.
He told his audience that in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia, only 15 per cent of people surveyed believed Darwin’s theory was “true” or “probably true”.
A poll he conducted at his own university showed that 62 per cent of Muslim professors and students believed evolution to be an “unproven theory”, compared with 10 per cent of non-Muslim professors.
“The rate of acceptance of evolution and of the idea of teaching evolution was extremely low,” he said. “I wondered, who are all these educated people rejecting evolution? They are even rejecting the fact that it should be taught as scientific knowledge.”
Dr Guessoum, a Sunni Muslim, said that contrary to some beliefs, evolution does not contradict Islam, unless the texts were read too literally. “Many Muslim scholars, from the golden age of Islam to today, adopted an evolutionary world view,” he said.
But he said some Muslims were finding creationist theses on the web and taking their ideas to heart, even though the theses were on the fringes of scientific debate and had little credibility in the West.
“It is a serious problem,” he said. “It would be like going to my students and telling them the planets are not related to the stars, there is no relationship between them and gravitational pull or radiation, and they were all created on one day. We would not dream of describing the cosmos in such a ridiculous manner ... We cannot allow people to go into the 21st century with no understanding of science.”
There is also debate about the teaching of Darwinism and creationism in the UK. In a poll conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the British Council, 54 per cent of respondents wanted Christian-backed explanations of the origins of life to have space on the curriculum alongside Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
Less than a quarter (21 per cent) believed that schools should teach only evolution – a lower proportion than in India and Roman Catholic countries such as Spain. At present, Government guidance states creationism should only be taught in religious education lessons.
KARACHI: Ulema’s help in promoting family planning is key: Nayyar Agha
November 18, 2009
KARACHI: Federal Secretary Population Welfare Nayyar Agha has said that the government has not and will not take any steps contrary to Islamic teachings or in contradiction to Islamic dictates while implementing the population welfare program.
He was speaking as chief guest at a provincial workshop on the "role of religious scholars in population welfare programme" held at a local hotel.
Mr Agha said that the government takes decisions regarding population welfare keeping Islamic teachings in view and so much so that the Ministry of Population Welfare has withdrawn the two-children slogan as well.
The workshop was organized by the Provincial Population Welfare Department and also attended by Secretary Population Welfare of Sindh, Mohammed Siddiq Memon besides members of the Ulema and other notables.
The Federal Secretary informed that the Ministry is chalking out programmes for the next 5 years for which religious scholars and people belonging to various walks of life are being contacted to give their suggestions.
Nayyar Agha said that some brother Muslim countries like Malaysia, Iran, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Syria and other countries are ahead of us in their population welfare programmes and the basic reason for this is the implementation of recommendations of their Ulema.
He said it is the desire of the Ministry to incorporate the suggestions received through seminars and workshops to plan better programmes in the future.
The Federal Secretary said that "Fatwas" are obtained from various countries on population programming and now the Ministry is compiling them into book form and it will distributed after its completion.
He was of the view that if other Islamic countries can bring improvement in their population welfare programmes, then why can't Pakistan benefit from the recommendations of its ulema and bring the required improvement here as well.
Earlier groups of participating Ulema were formed and their leaders who included Hafiz Kazi Umer Tufail, Hafiz Syed Ahsanul Huq and Syed Mohammed Azhar presented their recommendations.
They stressed that people should play their role for making a better society.
Pakistan, Girls School in Khyber District Bombed
It is the third attack against a girls school since the beginning of November. Last year the tribal areas saw hundreds of Taliban attacks against schools, most of them for female education.
Peshawar (AsiaNews / Agencies) - On the night of 16 November, the Taliban targeted a girls school in a bomb attack in the village of Yousaf Kely, near the town of Bara, 20 km south of Peshawar.
The blast damaged the building, making it unusable, but caused no casualties because the structure was empty at the time of the blast. It is the third attack this month by Islamic militants against a girls' school in Khyber district.
November 1, two bombs hit a school for girls in the village of Kari Gar injuring four people, damaging the structure and the adjacent houses. On November 4, another explosion occurred in the suburbs of Bara: 30kg of explosives destroyed 8 of the 26 classrooms of a local school and damaged the entire building.
Last year, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Province registered hundreds of Taliban attacks against schools, most of for female education. With the start of the new army offensive in South Waziristan, Islamabad, the government ordered the closure for a week of schools and colleges because the subject of frequent attacks by Islamic extremists.
JEDDAH: Ministry considering dawa wing for women
Fatima Sidiya & Omaima Al-Fardan
18 November 2009
JEDDAH: The Ministry of Islamic Affairs is to look into the possibility of establishing a ladies’ dawa department in which women would be employed as preachers to address women issues that cannot be handled by men.
According to Saudi writer Amira Kashgary, the concept of dawa, which in its original sense meant guiding non-Muslims, has now been confused with all types of guidance. “Dawa, I believe, should target non-Muslims,” she said, adding that people have also confused dawa with the issuing of fatwas or religious injunctions.
Kashgary said people who give dawa “should be open to others, have adequate knowledge about different cultures and religions, and be aware of different schools of Islamic jurisprudence.”
Kashgary also voiced concern about a new phenomenon among Saudi women in which they preach to guests visiting their homes. She added that not all women who do this have adequate religious knowledge and that they sometimes make stories up to convince people of their arguments. She said this could also lead to people falling prey to deviant ideologies. “I call this ideological terrorism,” she said.
Kashgary said such women target poorly educated women who easily fall into their trap. “People who give dawa should be obliged to carry IDs and not abuse their positions,” she said, adding that this would prevent the spread of certain ideologies threatening the Kingdom’s security.
Amal Nusair, a dawa activist and a manager of the women’s section of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in Makkah province, said 20 years ago dawa work was unorganized. She said WAMY now has specialist departments for non-Arabic speaking communities. She added that in the past WAMY was only capable of holding basic lectures delivered by women who knew foreign languages.
Asked about dawa in homes, Nusair said WAMY often receives calls from people asking for women preachers to deliver lectures at their homes.
Asked about monitoring such lectures, she said that this could be achieved by providing robust training to preachers. “In the end, women preachers would only teach what they have been taught in terms of religious ideas,” Nusair said.
She added that women dawa workers still need training to be able to address their audiences rather than drive them to dislike religion.
“It is inappropriate, for example, for a preacher to come to a wedding and talk about death,” said Nusair, adding that some families ask for preachers to come to weddings. She often advises them against this and suggests they hold quizzes instead.
Asked how popular dawa women are, she said, “As far as I can see, thanks to Allah, demand exceeds the supply. We cannot meet demand.”
Speaking about the mixing of dawa and fatwa, she said that not every dawa woman is capable of issuing fatwas.
“Some women dawa workers are not Shariah specialists. They might specialize in other fields, including medicine or education, but they link religion to their field of study when they lecture. There are, however, other women who are capable of issuing fiqh rulings and also knowledgeable in other fields, such as the economy and women issues,” she said.
Tawfeeq Al-Sudairi, deputy minister for Islamic affairs, the body in charge of dawa, guidance and mosques affairs, said the ministry is looking forward to benefit from women who are qualified in Shariah.
He added it is hard to determine the number of dawa workers needed in the Kingdom. “In fact, every Muslim is a dawa worker,” he said.
Asharq Al-Awsat reported in 2007 that up to 200 female dawa workers were registered at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.
Al-Sudairi said though the ministry is responsible for selecting suitable places where religion can be taught and dawa given “this does not mean that it is necessary to specify places where dawa can take place.”
Asked if the ministry is responsible for women who give dawa at home, he said, “The ministry is responsible for what falls under its remit. Everything else comes under the responsibility of other (government) bodies.”
Asked if women in the dawa field would be sent abroad as men are, he said, “This is ahead of time.”
Headley-Rana Terrorist duo’s reel link getting real
November 18, 2009
The probe into the role of American terror suspect David Headley and his Canadian associate Tahaw-wur Hussain Rana reveals that the duo was part of a larger conspiracy, including 26/11 Mumbai terror strike last year.
Both the terror suspects and the Pakistani terrorists involved in the audacious attack in the financial capital of the country had the same handlers in Pakistan, official sources said here.
After Rahul Bhatt’s role coming under the scanner, Headley’s direct link to Bollywood has emerged. Reports indicate that he met Mahesh Bhatt’s nephew and actor Emraan Hashmi as also Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut. A TV channel report said Headley first met Hashmi at a pub in Bandra in 2008. He was introduced to Hashmi by Rahul. Headley again met Hashmi on the sets of Woh Lamhe, where he was also introduced to Kangana.
The NIA is likely to question Hashmi. Headley and Rana knew eight Bollywood personalities very closely, including two actresses, sources said and added that they were introduced to the film personalities by Rahul.
Union Home Ministry officials had on Monday said that the duo had stayed in Pakistan during the Mumbai attack and left that country in the first week of December 2008.
Meanwhile, the NIA that registered a case last week against the duo for waging a war against the nation has requested the FBI to furnish audiotapes of voice samples of Headley and Rana so that it could be compared with the samples gathered here.
The NIA has also sought the tapes of satellite phone conversation of Kasab with his handlers in Pakistan and the agency is awaiting the voice samples to figure out if the duo was part of the 26/11 terror operations and unravel the larger plot, a senior Home Ministry official said.
The duo had used satellite phones for talking to their handlers in Pakistan during their visit in this country between 2006 and 2009. The official said Rahul has not been given a clean chit but he is being quizzed as a witness and not as a suspect.
Evidence gathered so far point out that Headley and Rana were part of the conspiracy behind the Mumbai attack. The investigation, sources said, has also revealed that about 100 persons had contacted Rana following newspaper advertisements issued by him offering immigration services. The detailed probe will help establish how many persons had actually availed his services, an official said.
Credit card transactions undertaken by the duo during their stay in India are also being probed even as preliminary investigation point out that they had mostly used international credit cards for payments here and had received money from abroad through Western Union Money Transfer.
A report from Kochi, meanwhile, said NIA officials, probing the visit of Rana there, have got the names of four persons who had met him during his stay.
The agencies are also examining the immigration records of Pakistani-born people who have acquired American or European citizenship and had travelled to India between 2006 and 2009.
Pointers available with the NIA clearly indicate that Headley had visited Pune twice between June 2008 and March 2009 to conduct reconnaissance of Pune’s National Defence Academy.
Having got to know from records of Osho Ashram located at Pune’s Koregaon Park — that Headley had indeed visited the Ashram sometime in June 2008 and on March 19, 2009 — the investigators are trying to establish as to how long he stayed at Pune, whom did he interact with and the places he visited during his two visits to the city.
According to sources, Headley’s visit to the Ashram was more of a cover than anything else. “His agenda during his visit to Pune was definitely something else than just going to Ashram for meditation. We are trying to establish his hidden agenda,” a senior police official said, even while declining to divulge details.
On their part, Pune’s Deputy Commissioner of Police Ravindra Sengaonkar and spokesperson for Osho Ashram Amirti Sadhana separately confirmed that Headley had visited the Ashram between June 2008 and March 2009.
Talking to The Pioneer, Sengaonkar said that LeT’s operative had stayed a day each at the Ashram in June 2008 and March 2009, while Sadhana said that her Ashram had computerised records of Headley’s visits there. “We keep passport and other details of all foreign visitors to our Ashram. We have passed on whatever details we have about Headley’s visit to Ashram, to the police. We are fully cooperating with the investigation,” Sadhana said.
Headley’s visit to Pune assumes significance as Pune is a strategic city from the country’s defence point of view.
Apart from housing the Southern Command headquarters, Ordnance Factory and National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), the city boasts of having the NDA there. And it is also in this city that a large number of defence personnel have settled after their retirement.
Though the references to the “defence college” made in the telephonic conversations between Headley and Rana were initially dismissed as the ones relating to the Delhi-based National Defence College, the NIA is not taking any chances. For, the investigators know for sure by now that Headley was referring to NDA when he talked about “defence college”.
For ready reference, here are the excerpts of the relevant reference to the “defence college” made in point 92 of a 46-page complaint filed by Lorenzo Benedict, a special agent of FBI, filed in an Illinois’ northern district court, against Rana, Headley and others:
“In this same recorded conversation on September 7, 2009, Individual A (Headley) and Rana discussed and named multiple targets of their planning. More specifically, individual A listed four targets, one of which was “Denmark,” then commented “after that if I will pray for any other action call me a thief . . .God may help me complete this task.”
Later in this same conversation, Rana asked Individual A to ‘pass along a message’ to Individual B. Rana then stated words to the effect that ‘top class’ was a ‘befitting’ name for Individual B. Rana and Individual A then discussed a fifth target. More specifically, Individual A referred to the earlier discussion, and stated words to the effect of “oh my friend, not four, five, five.” While Rana laughed, Individual A stated “defense college” twice, and Rana commented “right, this is it. I knew already.” After other discussion, Rana continued, “That one, uh, I thought that was the target.”
The above reference should be read in the context of the remarks made by FBI investigator Lorenzo Benedict on page number 27 of the same complaint in where there are many e-mail references to one “Rahul” who, it has now been established, is the son of filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. (Rahul Bhatt had met Headley on several occasions during the latter’s stay in Mumbai, notwithstanding the oft-repeated stand taken by Mahesh Bhatt that Headley was just an acquaintance of his son and his friend.)
“Based on my review of this and other communications, I believe that Individual A had inquired of LeT Member A whether the Denmark project was on hold, and whether the visit to India that LeT Member A had asked him to undertake was for the purpose of surveilling targets for a new terrorist attack. Later on July 10, 2009, LeT Member A responded to Individual A’s email, stating, in part, that: “There are some investment plans with me, not exactly at Rahul’s city but near that. Rest we can decide when we meet according to your ease,” the FBI investigator says in his complaint.
When the FBI investigator quotes Headley having said that he had some “investment plans” (read targets) “not exactly at Rahul’s city (read Mumbai) but near that”, the target is definitely not Delhi and it was all likelihood Pune.
Vande Mataram: Muslim artistes, academicians criticise Jamiat resolution
New Delhi, Nov 18 2009
Over 100 artistes and academicians belonging to Muslim community today launched a scathing attack on Jamiat-Ulema-e Hind resolution on 'Vande Mataram' saying the move would only ''unnecessarily provoke'' a controversy and strengthen Hindutva forces.
"We don't believe Vande Mataram is a test case of some one's patriotism. We strongly condemn the Jamiat move to unnecessarily provoke a controversy over it.
"This move has only strengthened the Hindutva forces, which have been in disarray since the last Parliamentary elections. We also condemn the Hindu right wing forces' attempt to impose its recitation on citizens to prove one's patriotism," they said in a statement.
The 115 signatories of the statement include historian Irfan Habib, actors Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi, lyricist Javed Akhtar and filmmaker Sayed Mirza.
They also criticised the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind's move to establish non-residential schools for girls with a "specially carved out" syllabus, saying it was a "retrogressive move not only isolate girls from the mainstream but also to keep them confined to the secluded sectarian atmosphere."
Speaking at a press conference where the statement was released, filmmaker Sohail Hashmi said "the voice of Mullahs does not represent the voice of the entire Muslim community in the country."
Hashmi said, "a clergy cannot solve the problems. We need to look out for secular solutions. There is a voice among Muslims which is left unheard. The voice of the particular section or the clergy is not the voice of all the Muslims."
Speaking on the same lines senior journalist, Zafar Agha said, "We need India to understand that the voice of Mullahs isn't the voice of all of us. There is a large number of liberal, educated Muslims who are totally against the resolution and the fatwa."
Scientist and poet Gauhar Raza said, "Whatever they are proposing is anti-scientific and anti-democratic. We, Muslims have a voice, which just needs to be amplified."
Regarding the Jamiat's move in girl's education, Hashmi said the rate of educated Muslims is already less and this system would decline it further.
Supporting the Centre's move to standardise modern education syllabus through establishing a madrasa board, the group said, "This will open a window for madrasa students to modern education and surveys show that an overwhelmingly large number of Muslims are in favour of modern education."
Obama admits delay on Guantanamo
18 November 2009
US President Barack Obama has for the first time admitted that the US will miss the January 2010 deadline he set for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Mr Obama made the admission in interviews with US TV networks during his tour of Asia.
He said he was "not disappointed" that the deadline had slipped, saying he "knew this was going to be hard".
Officials are trying to determine what to do with some 215 detainees still held at the US prison in Cuba.
Mr Obama's announcement follows considerable speculation that the deadline would slip, as the administration wrestles with how to deal with those inmates who cannot either be freed or tried in US courts.
He did not set a specific new deadline for closing the camp, but said it would probably be later in 2010.
"We had a specific deadline that was missed," he told NBC.
And he told Fox News: "It's hard not only because of the politics. People, I think understandably, are fearful after a lot of years where they were told that Guantanamo was critical to keep terrorists out."
Closing the facility was "also just technically hard", he added, and depended on co-operation from Congress.
Moving to close Guantanamo was one of Mr Obama's first acts in office.
On 22 January 2009, just two days after inauguration, he set a deadline of a year for closing the heavily-criticised prison.
His administration says it will try some detainees in US courts and repatriate or resettle others not perceived as a threat.
Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four other defendants would be transferred from Guantanamo to face trial in a New York federal court.
Some lawmakers and relatives of 9/11 victims reacted angrily, arguing that the move put Americans at risk.
Asked about domestic opposition, Mr Obama told NBC that the anger over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's civilian trial would disappear "when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him".
And in separate comments to CNN, he said that the notion that "terrorists possess some special powers that prevent us from presenting evidence against them, locking them up and exacting swift justice" was a "fundamental mistake".
In terms of other detainees, five have been ordered to face military commission trials in the US and a number of others, including several Chinese Muslim Uighurs, have been cleared by investigators for release and resettled overseas.
But the issue of detainees assessed as dangerous but who for legal reasons could not be successfully prosecuted in US courts remains unresolved.
The BBC's Jonathan Beale, who is at Guantanamo Bay, says the announcement of the delay to the deadline has come as no surprise.
The question of where to put those detainees who cannot be freed or tried remains a huge political obstacle, he says.
Helmand to get more Afghan troops
18 November 2009
Afghanistan's presient Hamid Karzai is to provide 5,000 troops to help hold ground taken by British forces in Helmand, Gordon Brown has told MPs.
The prime minister said UK forces would train and mentor them before allowing the Afghans to "hold ground and free our forces for other tasks".
He also expects more allies will pledge to increase troops in Afghanistan.
Tory leader David Cameron had urged a military surge saying "we cannot go on as we are" taking and losing ground.
In a Commons debate following the Queen's Speech, Mr Cameron urged "a military surge to protect the populated areas and increase the rate at which we train up the Afghans, combined, vitally, with a proper political strategy".
He also called for a "strong international figure" to drive forward coalition policy in Afghanistan.
The prime minister said he had spoken to President Karzai and his defence minister on Tuesday.
'Fairer burden sharing'
They had agreed to provide Afghan forces "who will be trained in Helmand, troops who will partner the British forces, be mentored by them", Mr Brown said.
"They will allow Afghan forces to hold ground and free our forces for other tasks."
He also said he had approached eight countries and asked them to contribute to an increase in Nato troops in Afghanistan.
Slovakia had already announced it would double troops and Mr Brown said he expected further announcements from others in the next few days.
"I expect there will be fairer burden sharing in the next stage of our effort," he said.
Mr Brown repeated his hope, expressed in a speech on Monday, that Nato would be able to hand over control "district by district" to Afghans.
"In that way we will allow, over time, our troops to be able to come home," he said.
Mr Cameron also pressed Mr Brown on when an announcement might be expected from US President Barack Obama on the deployment of more US troops to Afghanistan.
He questioned whether the PM was "being fully involved in all the consultations".
Last week Mr Brown said an announcement was expected "in a few days" but that was contradicted by a White House spokesman who said an announcement was still "weeks and not days" away.
Downing Street said at the time Mr Brown had been using the phrase "in the vernacular" but he repeated it on Wednesday telling MPs: "Our strategy on Afghanistan is the same as will be announced by President Obama in the next few days."
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged member countries to send more troops to Afghanistan.
The UK has 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and is willing to send another 500 - if other Nato countries - excluding the US - provide a further 5,000 troops.
After a summer of heavy casualties for British forces and amid some calls for troops to pull out of Afghanistan, Mr Brown said on Monday that he hoped control of some districts could be handed to local control from 2010.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Tuesday the war in Afghanistan was not a "war without end" but stressed the need for a "clear political strategy" so as not to leave a "vacuum which the Taliban will quickly fill".
Israel defends settlement expansion
November 18, 2009
The Israeli construction of 900 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem is part of a "routine building programme", an aide to the prime minister has said in reaction to US criticism.
The aide's comments came on Wednesday after Washington said it was "dismayed" by Israel's decision to approve the building at the Gilo settlement, despite a reported request from Washington that construction be halted.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, sees Gilo as "an integral part of Jerusalem" and does not typically review municipal building plans, the aide said.
"Construction in Gilo has taken place regularly for dozens of years and there is nothing new about the current planning and construction."
The Palestinians have made the settlement issue central to efforts to restart stalled peace talks, demanding that all construction is halted before they sit down with the Israelis.
Barack Obama, the US president, warned on Wednesday that any settlement activity not only made harmed attempts to get negotiations going again, it could also threaten Israel's security.
"I think that additional settlement building does not contribute to Israel's security, I think it makes it harder for them to make peace with their neighbours," he told Fox News.
"I think it embitters the Palestinians in a way that could end up being very dangerous."
The Palestinians, Europe and the UN have also heavily criticised the expansion of the settlement, outlined in blueprints published by a government commission on Tuesday.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the spokesperson for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, told Al Jazeera: "Israel wants, through its actions, to secure the invalidity of establishing an independent Palestinian state.
"The international community's continued acceptance of these Israeli measures threatens stability in the region and the foundations of peace we seek."
Gilo sits on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed to its Jerusalem municipality.
Under international law, all Israeli settlements built on occupied land are illegal.
Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland in Jerusalem said: "What we are seeing is Israel's strategy of trying to differentiate between East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank.
"We have seen the government repeatedly claim that Jerusalem is its so-called united capital and the government said just today that whereas it planned to exercise what it called maximum restraint in the West Bank, it claimed that Jerusalem was a different case."
'Strengthening its grip'
The plan for the housing units was cleared at a local level in April and passed by a committee of the interior ministry on Tuesday, Rowland said.
"It [Gilo] is one of these Jewish settlements across the green line in occupied Palestinian land which is attached to Jerusalem basically as a way of Israel trying to strengthen its grip on the capital, and literally create 900 more facts on the ground," she said.
Israel rejects the international description of Gilo as a settlement and says it is a neighbourhood of Jerusalem.
The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority has expressed frustration at Israel's refusal to concede in order to get peace talks back on track and on Sunday said they would take steps to get the UN to back their right to an independent state.
Al-Shabab Accuses ONLF of Aiding Islamist Rival in Somalia
By Alisha Ryu Nairobi
17 November 2009
The spokesman for Somalia's militant al-Shabab group in Kismayo says members of the Ethiopia-based rebel group, Ogaden National Liberation Front, are fighting alongside one of the factions of al-Shabab's former Islamist ally, Hizbul Islam, in the south of the country. The accusation runs counter to Ethiopia's claim that the ONLF has ties to al-Shabab.
Al-Shabaab fighters on patrol in Mogadishu, 30 Oct 2009
Al-Shabab's spokesman for the Jubba regions, Hassan Yacqub, spoke to local reporters late Monday, following a day of heavy fighting between the militant group and forces led by Islamist leader Ahmed Madobe in Lower Juba.
Madobe is the newly-appointed leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade, an Islamist group that also has strong ties to a regionally dominant Somali sub-clan called the Ogaden.
Yacqub says the fighting began after Ahmed Madobe led an attack on al-Shabab bases in the village of Hagar. The al-Shabab spokesman says Madobe's troops included ONLF fighters.
Monday's fighting appeared to be a continuation of the violent power struggle that erupted in the port city of Kismayo in late September between al-Shabab and factions of Hizbul Islam, led by Ras Kamboni.
Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam, which formed an alliance earlier this year to oppose the U.N.-backed government in Mogadishu, had jointly administered Kismayo since they captured the city in August 2008. Violence broke out after al-Shabab militants tried to exclude Hizbul Islam members from holding top positions.
Al-Shabab's claim that ONLF fighters were part of Ahmed Madobe's force could not be independently verified. But it appeared to contradict accusations by Ethiopia that ONLF has ties to al-Shabab, a radical Islamic movement that is believed to be a proxy for al-Qaida in Somalia.
ONLF is a rebel group in the Ogaden, an area dominated by the Ogaden sub-clan which came under Ethiopian rule in the mid 19th century. Since 1995, the military wing of the ONLF has been waging a separatist war against the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, while its largely secular political wing has been trying to secure recognition and support from the West.
The vice chairman of the ONLF, Abdikadir Hassan Hirmoge, tells VOA that the ONLF has no links to al-Shabab and has urged young men in the Ogaden to reject the group's radical agenda. He says his group also does not encourage people in the Ogaden region to go to Somalia to fight against militants.
"Our people are under big pressure. We try to educate, we try to use our media. We want to explain to our people what our future is," said Hirmoge. "But we are very concerned. I hope we can lead our people to a peaceful solution and liberate Ogaden."
Somali analysts say the fighters identified as ONLF by al-Shabab may be a group from the Ogaden region. But they are more likely to be fighting alongside Ras Kamboni Brigade as fellow clan members rather than as representatives of the ONLF.
Iran military denounces Saudi "killing" in Yemen
Nov 17, 2009
TEHRAN, Nov 17 (Reuters) - A senior Iranian military official on Tuesday accused Saudi Arabia of killing Shi'ite Muslims in Yemen and denounced it as the onset of "Wahhabi state terrorism," the official IRNA news agency reported.
In another sign of increased regional tension over fighting in northern Yemen, Iran's parliament shelved a bill on tax cooperation with Sanaa in protest at its treatment of Yemen's minority Shi'ites, Iranian state broadcaster IRIB said.
Riyadh launched an assault on neighbouring Yemen's Houthi rebels about two weeks ago after they staged a cross-border incursion that killed two Saudi border guards.
The rebels of the Zaidi Shi'ite sect have accused Saudi Arabia, whose Wahhabi brand of Islam regards Shi'ites as heretics, of backing the Yemen government, while the government sees Iran's hand behind the rebels.
Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil producer and a U.S. ally which sees itself as the guardian of Sunni Islam, has often been at odds with Shi'ite Iran.
"The killing of Yemeni Shi'ites by Saudi Arabia is the onset of Wahhabi state terrorism, which is very dangerous for Islam and the region," said Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, IRNA reported.
He warned that the situation could spread and sooner or later "engulf all Muslims, everywhere."
Saudi clerics have accused the rebels in Yemen of working with Iran to try to spread Shi'ism in Sunni Islam's heartland.
Yemen said last month it had seized a vessel carrying weapons destined for the rebels and detained its Iranian crew at a port in Haja province bordering the area of conflict.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has said Iranian religious figures provide funding for the rebels, and officials have also accused Iranian media of backing them.
Iran has denied the allegations and called on Yemen's government to end the fighting through negotiations.
Yemen, which is mostly Sunni Muslim, is battling al Qaeda militants and secessionist discontent in the south, as well as the rebellion in the north that borders Saudi Arabia.
Both the Yemen government and the rebels have said that the conflict between them is not sectarian.
Yemen stepped up a military campaign against Houthi rebels in August. Fighting between Yemeni troops and Houthis, who belong to Yemen's Zaidi Shi'ite minority and say they suffer religious, economic and social marginalisation and neglect, has flared on and off since 2004 in the northern province of Saada. (Reporting by Hashem Kalantari; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Samia Nakhoul )
Taliban Blame ‘Blackwater’ for Pakistan Bombings
By ROBERT MACKEY
November 17, 2009
On Monday, Al Jazeera reported that a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said the group accepted responsibility for only some of the recent suicide bombings in Pakistan, laying the blame for others, including a deadly attack on a market last month that killed more than 100 civilians, on the American security firm formerly known as Blackwater. The spokesman claimed that the firm, now called Xe, was involved in an attempt to discredit the militants by staging deadly attacks.
This video report from Al Jazeera includes shots of of Azam Tariq, a spokesman for the broad alliance of Pakistani militant groups known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban, saying, “I want to tell the people in Pakistan and the Muslim nation that the Tehrik-i-Taliban are not responsible for the bombings, but Blackwater and Pakistan’s spy agency are behind them.”
According to The Associated Press, the spokesman tried to pass off blame for two recent attacks that were particularly deadly, saying:
The dirty Pakistani intelligence agencies, for the sake of creating mistrust and hatred among people against the Taliban, are carrying out blasts at places like the Islamic university, Islamabad, and the Khyber bazaar, Peshawar.
The A.P. also reported that the video, posted on YouTube on Sunday, bore the logo of Al Qaeda’s media wing, As-Sahab. The A.P. noted that this was “the first time the Taliban spokesman has appeared in an As-Sahab video,” suggesting that there are “growing links between the two groups.”
An earlier report on the Web site of The Daily Times, a publication based in Lahore, said that the spokesman had also suggested that the ruling Pakistan People’s Party was involved in the attacks, adding, “All these killings by the infamous Blackwater are aimed at maligning the Taliban.”
On Monday, Issam Ahmed of The Christian Science Monitor reported from Peshawar that some Pakistanis were ready to believe that the American private security firm is the enemy, rather than the Taliban. Mr. Ahmed reported:
The company’s operatives are often viewed by Pakistanis as akin to C.I.A. agents, and local conspiracy theories sometimes assert that the U.S. with the help of Blackwater, rather than the Taliban, are responsible for the suicide attacks. [...]
According to Faizullah Jan, a lecturer at the department of journalism and mass communication at the University of Peshawar, such conspiracy theories are fed by Pakistan’s mainstream media and the proliferation of underground jihadist media outlets. “In such an environment anything which is seemingly obvious is not real, and anything which is hidden is deemed to be real,” he says.
Indeed, it is not hard to find reports in Pakistan’s media that blame American private contractors and the intelligence agencies of other countries for terrorist attacks in the country. Last month the Web site Pakistan Daily reported that a former chief of staff of Pakistan’s army had claimed in a television interview that Blackwater was involved in the assassination of Pakistan’s former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. The same Web site published an editorial days later claiming that the attacks killing Pakistani civilians were carried out by “Blackwater Talibans” working on behalf of “the underground drug mafia controlled by the Zionists.” Pointing to an even broader conspiracy the same writer suggested,
Pakistan is under the attack of various Talibans which include Indian Talibans, Israeli Talibans, Karzai Talibans… British Talibans and American Talibans which of course include Blackwater.
The fact that the United States government has employed the private security firm to work in secret inside Pakistan makes it hard to knock down the wilder conspiracy theories. My colleagues James Risen and Mark Mazzetti reported in August:
From a secret division at its North Carolina headquarters, the company formerly known as Blackwater has assumed a role in Washington’s most important counterterrorism program: the use of remotely piloted drones to kill Al Qaeda’s leaders, according to government officials and current and former employees.
The division’s operations are carried out at hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company’s contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft, work previously performed by employees of the Central Intelligence Agency. They also provide security at the covert bases, the officials said.
Weeks after that news broke, it became fodder for the Pakistani journalist and blogger Ahmed Quraishi, who dug into the Web site of the United States Training Center, which calls itself “a Xe company,” and noticed that job applicants were directed to a form — posted on the Web site Blackwaterusa.com — that includes Urdu and Punjabi in a list of languages that prospective contractors might speak.
Mr. Quraishi took one look at that form and jumped to publish his conclusion that “hiring continues as we speak for agents and for people with military training who can speak Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, and Punjabi, spoken by the natives of Pakistan’s largest populated province.” Mr. Quraishi took no note of the fact that the list of languages applicants might be proficient in also includes German, Italian, Thai and sign language.
One imagines it won’t take long for conspiracy-minded Pakistanis reading Sunday’s report in The Los Angeles Times that the C.I.A. has been bringing “ISI operatives to a secret training facility in North Carolina” to notice that the Web site of United States Training includes a photograph of its center in Moycock, N.C. above a statement that the company “is currently training select military and other government groups from U.S.-friendly nations.”
Perhaps picking up on the popular mood, Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, reportedly blamed foreign militants for the violence during a meeting with leaders of the Mehsud tribes from Waziristan on Tuesday. According to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, Mr. Gilani “said foreign militants of Arab, Uzbek, Afghan and Chechen origin were operating in the country and were involved in terrorist activities.” Dawn also reported that the prime minister said that the tribesmen, despite their links to the former Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, were blameless:
Gilani categorically stated that the Mehsud tribes were patriotic Pakistanis and had nothing to do with the handful of terrorists who had taken refuge in their area. He lauded the role of the tribal people in the creation of Pakistan and said the nation can never forget it.
Afghan leader to take oath, reputation in tatters
Nov 18, 2009
By Peter Graff
KABUL (Reuters) - Foreign dignitaries began descending on Kabul on Wednesday, the eve of the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai, who is struggling to rehabilitate his tattered reputation in the West after a fraud-marred election.
U.S. President Barack Obama, soon to announce whether he will send tens of thousands of extra troops, said his new Afghan strategy would emphasize an "end game", ensuring U.S. forces are not dragged into a long-term occupation against U.S. interests.
Afghanistan's foreign ministry says 300 international dignitaries will attend Thursday's oath-taking ceremony at the sprawling presidential palace in Kabul, including 30 presidents, vice presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner have confirmed they will attend. For security reasons, the United States did not say in advance who would come.
In an interview with CNN, Obama said he did not want to hand over the war to his successor, and his strategic review would include an exit strategy to avoid "a multi-year occupation that won't serve the interests of the United States".
"The American people will have a lot of clarity about what we're doing, how we're going to succeed, how much this thing is going to cost, what kind of burden does this place on our young men and women in uniform and, most importantly, what's the end game on this thing," he said.
The Taliban insurgency has never been deadlier during Karzai's 8-year rule, the Western force protecting him has never been larger, and his own reputation has never been weaker, wrecked by election fraud, corruption and weak government.
Security for the inauguration in Kabul will be extreme, with roads closed in the capital. The government declared Thursday a holiday and told citizens to stay off the streets. Reporters will be barred from attending the swearing-in ceremony itself.
The centerpiece will be Karzai's inauguration speech, with Western officials hoping that the veteran leader can lay out a specific program to combat corruption, improve performance and limit the influence of former warlords.
"We would like some sort of roadmap. We want some clear direction given here," a European diplomat said.
The election, intended to bolster the legitimacy of the Afghan leader, had the opposite effect, driving a wedge between Karzai and the Western countries whose troops defend him, and alienating many Afghans.
A U.N.-backed probe concluded nearly a third of votes for Karzai in the August 20 poll were fake, meaning he failed to win the 50 percent needed to avoid a second round. He was declared the winner anyway when his opponent quit before the run-off.
"No one can change the fact that Karzai won the election through fake votes and support from notorious warlords in return for ministerial and high-ranking posts," said Abdul Shukoor, an elderly man heading to a Kabul mosque for noon prayers.
"When the government is based on cheating and compromise, I can guarantee you, there won't any improvement for many years."
Obama gave a lukewarm endorsement of Karzai, saying Washington's focus was on improving the government as a whole.
"I think that President Karzai has served his country in important ways. If you think about when he first came in, there may not have been another figure who could have held that country together," Obama said in the CNN interview.
"He has some strengths, but he's got some weaknesses. And I'm less concerned about any individual than I am with a government as a whole that is having difficulty providing basic services to its people in a way that confers legitimacy on them."
In Western countries, public support for the war has tumbled as the insurgency spreads and death tolls soar.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Tuesday found that 52 percent of Americans now believe the war is not worth fighting, although 55 percent believe Obama will choose a strategy that will work.
Obama has already presided over a massive escalation of the war. There are now nearly 110,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, including 68,000 Americans, more than half arriving this year.
Obama's commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has requested tens of thousands of additional troops, warning that without them, the war will probably be lost.
Karzai's government announced anti-graft measures this week, including a new major crimes police task force, prosecutors' unit and tribunal -- steps welcomed in the West, although it remains to be seen if they will be more effective than previous efforts.
Karzai was installed by the United States and its Afghan allies after they helped drive the Taliban from power in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001. He won a full term in the country's first democratic presidential election in 2004.
(Additional reporting by Sue Pleming and JoAnne Allen in WASHINGTON; Editing by Paul Tait)
Obama Says He Is Close to Afghan War Decision
By HELENE COOPER
November 18, 2009
BEIJING — President Obama said Wednesday he is “very close to a decision” on a troop increase for the war in Afghanistan, and will make his case to the American people for his Afghan strategy in the next “several weeks.”
“I am very confident that when I announce the decision, the American people will have a lot of clarity about what we’re doing, how we’re going to succeed, how much this thing is going to cost,” Mr. Obama told CNN in an interview at his hotel in Beijing. Most important, he said, is that he is asking “what’s the end game on this thing, which I think is something that unless you impose that kind of discipline, could end up leading to a multi-year occupation that won’t serve the interests of the United States.”
Mr. Obama said that his “preference” on Afghanistan “would be not to hand off anything to the next president,” but did not indicate if that meant he plans to pull out most American troops by 2012. “We have a vital interest in making sure that Afghanistan is sufficiently stable, that it can’t infect the entire region with violent extremism.”
He said that Afghan President Hamid Karzai “has served his country in important ways,” but added that Mr. Karzai also has some weaknesses.
Mr. Obama’s comments came as part of a series of interviews he conducted with the major American television networks from his hotel in Beijing on his last day in China. He arrived in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday afternoon, the final stop on his Asian trip.
Before leaving Beijing, he met with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao,
Mr. Wen said China does not seek a trade surplus with the United States and wants to balance flows, striking a conciliatory note but avoiding public comment on currency rifts, Reuters reported. Mr. Wen’s comments during the meeting were posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry Web
“China does not pursue a trade surplus,” Mr. Wen said, adding that his government wants “to encourage a steady balancing of bilateral trade, ” according to Reuters. “Lively global trade and investment will help to overcome the international financial crisis and accelerate global economic recovery.”
China has come under heavy pressure, not only from the United States but also from Europe and several Asian countries, to revise its policy of keeping its currency, the renminbi, pegged at an artificially low value against the dollar to help promote its exports. Some economists say China must take that step to prevent the return of large trade and financial imbalances that may have contributed to the recent financial crisis.
Mr. Obama is ending his Asia trip in Seoul, where he is expected to discuss trade, as well as efforts to get North Korea to return to the 6-party talks that are meant to eventually denuclearize the Korean peninsular.
On Tuesday, in six hours of meetings, at two dinners and during a stilted 30-minute news conference in which President Hu Jintao did not allow questions, President Obama was confronted, on his first visit, with a fast-rising China more willing to say no to the United States.
On topics like Iran (Mr. Hu did not publicly discuss the possibility of sanctions), China’s currency (he made no nod toward changing its value) and human rights (a joint statement bluntly acknowledged that the two countries “have differences”), China held firm against most American demands.
With China’s micro-management of Mr. Obama’s appearances in the country, the trip did more to showcase China’s ability to push back against outside pressure than it did to advance the main issues on Mr. Obama’s agenda, analysts said.
“China effectively stage-managed President Obama’s public appearances, got him to make statements endorsing Chinese positions of political importance to them and effectively squelched discussions of contentious issues such as human rights and China’s currency policy,” said Eswar S. Prasad, a China specialist at Cornell University. “In a masterstroke, they shifted the public discussion from the global risks posed by Chinese currency policy to the dangers of loose monetary policy and protectionist tendencies in the U.S.”
White House officials maintained they got what they came for — the beginning of a needed give-and-take with a surging economic giant. With a civilization as ancient as China’s, they argued, it would be counterproductive — and reminiscent of President George W. Bush’s style — for Mr. Obama to confront Beijing with loud chest-beating that might alienate the Chinese. Mr. Obama, the officials insisted, had made his points during private meetings and one-on-one sessions.
“I do not expect, and I can speak authoritatively for the president on this, that we thought the waters would part and everything would change over the course of our almost two-and-a-half-day trip to China,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman. “We understand there’s a lot of work to do and that we’ll continue to work hard at making more progress.”
Several China experts noted that Mr. Obama was not leaving Beijing empty-handed. The two countries put out a five-point joint statement pledging to work together on a variety of issues. The statement calls for regular exchanges between Mr. Obama and Mr. Hu, and asks that each side pay more attention to the strategic concerns of the other. The statement also pledges that they will work as partners on economic issues, Iran and climate change.
But despite a conciliatory tone that began weeks ago when Mr. Obama declined to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, before visiting China to avoid offending China’s leaders, it remains unclear whether Mr. Obama made progress on the most pressing policy matters on the American agenda in China or elsewhere in Asia.
The president has had to fend off criticism from American conservatives that he appeared to soften the American stance on the positioning of troops on the Japanese island of Okinawa, and for bowing to Japan’s emperor.
At a regional conference in Singapore, Mr. Obama announced a setback on another top foreign policy priority, climate change, acknowledging that comprehensive agreement to fight global warming was no longer within reach this year.
Past American presidents have usually insisted in advance on some concrete achievements from their trips overseas. President Bush received vigorous endorsements of his top foreign policy priority, the global war on terrorism, during his visits to Beijing, and President Bill Clinton guided China toward joining the World Trade Organization after prolonged negotiations. When either of those presidents visited the country, China often made a modest concession on human rights as well.
This time, Mr. Hu declined to follow the lead of President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, who, after months of massaging by the Obama administration, now says that he is open to tougher sanctions against Iran if negotiations fail to curb Iran’s nuclear program. The administration needs China’s support if tougher sanctions are to be approved by the United Nations Security Council. But during the joint appearance in Beijing on Tuesday, Mr. Hu made no mention of sanctions.
Rather, he said, it was “very important” to “appropriately resolve the Iranian nuclear regime through dialogue and negotiations.” And then, as if to drive home that point, Mr. Hu added, “During the talks, I underlined to President Obama that given our differences in national conditions, it is only normal that our two sides may disagree on some issues.”
White House officials acknowledged that they did not get what they wanted from Mr. Hu on Iran but said that Mr. Obama’s method would yield more in the long term. “We’re not looking for them to lead or change course, we’re looking for them to not be obstructionist,” one administration official said.
In a meeting in Beijing with a senior Chinese official on Wednesday morning, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton again pressed China on Iran. She told the official, Dai Bingguo, that even if China had not decided what sanctions on Iran it would accept, “you need to send a signal,” said a senior American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity so he could describe the exchange.
There are many reasons the White House may have heeded China’s clear desire for a visit free of the polemics that often accompany meetings between leaders of the two countries. Mr. Obama’s foreign policy is rooted in recasting the United States as a thoughtful listener to friends and rivals alike. “No we haven’t made China a democracy in three days — maybe if we pounded our chest a lot that would work,” Mr. Gibbs said in an e-mail message on Tuesday night. “But it hasn’t in the last 16 years.”
Kenneth Lieberthal, a Brookings Institution scholar who oversaw China issues in President Clinton’s White House, agreed. “The United States actually has enormous influence on popular thinking in China, but it is primarily by example,” he said. “If you go to the next step and say, ‘You guys ought to be like us,’ you lose the impact of who you are.”
The National Security Council’s spokesman, Michael A. Hammer, added, “What we did come to do is speak bluntly about the issues which are important to us, not in an unnecessarily offensive manner, but rather in the Obama style of showing respect.”
Mr. Obama, even as he projected a softer image, did nudge the Chinese on some delicate issues.
On Tuesday, standing next to Mr. Hu, Mr. Obama brought up Tibet, where Beijing-backed authorities have clamped down on religious freedom. “While we recognize that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China, the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve any concerns and differences that the two sides may have,” he said.
Pakistani military hits Taliban in Arakzai
By Bill Roggio
November 17, 2009
he Pakistani military pounded Taliban strongholds in the tribal agency of Arakzai, a region where Taliban leaders from South Waziristan have regrouped. Pakistani Air Force fighter-bombers, Army attack helicopters, and artillery batteries struck enemy hideouts and supply depots in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency on Saturday and Sunday, killing 30 Taliban fighters.
On Saturday, Pakistani Air Force fighter-bombers hit Taliban ammunition and supply depots that were established in the homes of Sikhs who had been forced to leave the tribal agency. This bombardment reportedly killed 12 Taliban fighters. In December 2008, the Taliban imposed sharia, or Islamic law, in Arakzai and forced the Sikhs to pay jizya, a tax enforced on non-Muslims. Many Sikhs fled their homes, which were subsequently taken over by the Taliban.
On Sunday, fighter bombers, attack helicopters, and artillery batteries hit Taliban bunkers, supply depots, and safe houses in Ghiljo, Dabori, and Mamozai in Arakzai. These attacks reportedly killed 18 Taliban fighters. A "large seminary" in Dabori was also "razed" in the operation, Dawn reported.
Taliban leaders have relocated to Arakzai in order to escape the Army offensive against the group's main base in South Waziristan, US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal.
"The [Pakistani] Army telegraphed this offensive and gave the Taliban enough time to relocate its command and control from South Waziristan to alternate hubs in the tribal areas," a military intelligence official said.
Taliban leaders and fighters have also relocated to regions in North and South Waziristan as well as to Jamrud in the Khyber tribal agency. The Army has a peace agreement with the Taliban leaders in North and South Waziristan. One of the conditions of the agreement requires Taliban leaders Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Mullah Nazir not to provide shelter to fleeing members of the Mehsud branch of the Taliban. But Nazir and Bahadar have violated the agreement and allowed the Mehsuds safe haven in their tribal areas.
The Taliban have left a significant rearguard of fighters behind in South Waziristan to slow the Army advance and "buy time for its forces to reestablish command and control in the alternate locations," the military official said.
"The Taliban are using these alternate hubs to launch its terror offensive against Pakistan's major cities, particularly Peshawar, the provincial capital," the official continued. The Taliban have pounded Peshawar with suicide attacks against police, the military, and civilians. One such attack leveled the headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Arakzai has become a main hub for the Taliban. Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, was the commander of Taliban forces in Arakzai prior to taking control of the terror alliance after the death of its former leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in August. Hakeemulah is known to have an operations center in Ghiljo in Arakzai.
Some of the most deadly Taliban groups operate from Arakzai, and many of the suicide and military attacks carried out in Pakistan have originated from this tribal agency [see list below]. The Taliban terror alliance in Arakzai has taken credit for some of the most lethal terror attacks inside Pakistan, including suicide attacks in Islamabad and terror-military assaults in Lahore and Peshawar. These groups often cooperate in attacks, and leaders and members may be affiliated with several groups.
Major Taliban groups based in Arakzai
Fedayeen-e-Islam: Led by Hakeemullah Mehsud, the Fedayeen-e-Islam has taken credit for multiple terror assaults and suicide attacks throughout Pakistan. The group is made up members of the Pakistani Taliban, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and other Islamist terrorists from Pakistan. It is based in Arakzai and South Waziristan. Senior leaders of the Fedayeen-e-Islam include Qari Hussain Mehsud, a former senior deputy to Baitullah who trains child suicide bombers; Qari Mohammed Zafar, the operational commander of the September 2008 attack on the Islamabad Marriott; Asmatullah Moaviya, another senior aide to Baitullah who was reportedly arrested in Mianwali in Punjab province; and Rana Afzal.
Lashkar-i-Jhangvi: An anti-Shia terror group that has integrated with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan's tribal areas. The Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has an extensive network in Pakistan and serves as the muscle for terror attacks.
Commander Tariq Group: This group is considered the most powerful outfit in Arakzai. Led by Commander Tariq Afridi and based in Darra Adam Khel, the group conducts attacks on Pakistani security forces in Arakzai, Kohat, Peshawar, and Hangu. The Commander Tariq Group took credit for murdering Polish geologist Piotr Stanczak earlier this year.
Omar Group: Another major Taliban group based in Darra Adam Khel. It has conducted attacks in the regions around Peshawar.
Ghazi Force: This group is named after Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, the brother of former Red Mosque leader Maulana Abdullah Aziz. Ghazi was killed when Pakistani troops assaulted the Red Mosque in July 2007. The Ghazi force runs a terror training camp in Guljo in Hangu and has conducted suicide attacks in Islamabad.
Abdullah Azzam Brigade: This shadowy group appears to be made up of Taliban members from the Commander Tariq Group who merged with some Arakzai-based elements of Ayman al Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad. A spokesman named Amir Muawiya, who is also a leader in the Commander Tariq Group, said the Abdullah Azzam Brigade was behind a terror assault in Peshawar.
Pakistan has more nuclear weapons than India, claim US experts
PTI 18 November 2009,
WASHINGTON: Pakistan is estimated to have more nuclear warheads than India and the two Asian neighbours along with China are increasing their arsenals and deploying weapons at more sites, two eminent American atomic experts have claimed.
While Pakistan is estimated to possess 70-90 nuclear weapons, India is believed to have 60-80, claims Robert S Norris and Hans M Kristensen in their latest article 'Nuclear Notebook: Worldwide deployments of nuclear weapons, 2009'.
The article published in the latest issue of 'Bulletin of the Atomic Science' claimed that Beijing, Islamabad and New Delhi are quantitatively and qualitatively increasing their arsenals and deploying weapons at more sites, yet the locations are difficult to pinpoint.
For example, no reliable public information exists on where Pakistan or India produces its nuclear weapons, it said.
"Whereas many of the Chinese bases are known, this is not the case in Pakistan and India, where we have found no credible information that identifies permanent nuclear weapons storage locations," they said.
"Pakistan's nuclear weapons are not believed to be fully operational under normal circumstances, India is thought to store its nuclear warheads and bombs in central storage locations rather than on bases with operational forces. But, since all three countries are expanding their arsenals, new bases and storage sites probably are under construction," the two nuclear experts said.
Pakistan says Taliban fled 2 villages
By Pamela Constable
November 18, 2009
SARAROGHA, Pakistan - A toy car booby-trapped with explosives, Arabic-language chemistry and electronics texts, and handwritten case notes from a Taliban courtroom were among the debris left behind by fleeing Islamic militants in this remote village in the conflicted tribal region of South Waziristan.The now-deserted village, retaken by Pakistani Army forces two weeks ago and viewed by journalists yesterday for the first time, had been a stronghold of Taliban forces for nearly five years. Army officials described its capture as a military and psychological milestone in their month-old operation to flush militants out of the region.
“This place was a fountainhead of terrorism. All government authority was expelled, and the Taliban leaders even had press conferences here,’’ said Major General Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, standing on the roof of a mosque that overlooked the rubble of the local market, school, and stone military fort that were destroyed in five days of heavy fighting.
Army officials said they had killed 180 Taliban fighters in Sararogha, bringing the total of enemy dead to more than 550 since the Waziristan operation began. Yet the officials acknowledged that hundreds, perhaps thousands, more had melted away into the vast desert scrub and craggy hills surrounding this remote outpost, postponing the fight for another day and testing the army’s will to continue pursuing them.
The Obama administration has been pressing Pakistan to move more aggressively against the Taliban forces, a message that national security adviser James Jones was reported to have carried to Pakistani officials during a visit last week. In particular, US officials have urged the army to move into neighboring North Waziristan, where most Taliban fighters are believed to have fled.
But Pakistani officials immediately bristled at the suggestion. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureshi declared Monday that Pakistan “will not be prodded by outsiders’’ into conducting particular military operations. Although Pakistan and the United States cooperate closely in the war against Islamist terrorism, the partnership has been fraught with resentment, frustration, and clashing strategic goals.
Amid the signs of bilateral military frictions, army officials seemed eager to portray the recent capture of Sararogha, and another longtime Taliban stronghold in the village of Laddha about 20 miles north, as proof that their Waziristan campaign is moving ahead successfully. The army flew a group of journalists to the region by helicopter and gave them a tour.
In Laddha, a town perched on a high ridge, army officials said Pakistani troops discovered a huge arsenal of weapons and ammunition, as well as piles of Islamic literature, military manuals, chemicals to make explosives, tiny circuit boards for remote-control devices, and handwritten notebooks with religious and military instructions.
Morale seemed high among the soldiers now stationed in the two villages. Many wore long beards, and some saluted visiting officers with the Muslim greeting “Salaam o aleikum.’’ But they took pains to distinguish their notion of faith from the extreme and violent credo of the Taliban.
“These militants say they are fighting a jihad, but we are fighting a jihad against them, against those who have no humanity, no values, and no mercy for the innocent,’’ said Lieutenant Colonel Faridullah as he held up a handmade Taliban poster showing a Kalashnikov rifle surrounded by flowers and poetry. Faridullah, who like many Pakistanis uses only one name, described the town as a Taliban “training hub’’ and said troops had found several bomb-making laboratories.
There was not a single civilian left in either place yesterday, only a few stray donkeys grazing here and there among the rubble of ruined mosques, shops, and schools. Army officials said the villages’ inhabitants had fled long ago, many even before last month’s fighting. But they added that once the region is secure, they hope the government can attract people back with new roads and development projects.
Despite the gung-ho mood accompanying these recent advances, military officials in both towns acknowledged that the Taliban were extremely well organized, armed, and equipped, and said the campaign against them is far from won. They estimate there are between 5,000 and 8,000 active militant fighters in Waziristan, meaning that only a fraction have been killed after a month of combat operations.
“I do not see an end to this war,’’ said Major Nasir Mehsud, an army official who accompanied the journalists. “They want to stretch our resources thin and lure us into difficult areas. We cannot take on these monsters everywhere at once. But they are terrorists, and we must keep on fighting them.’’
© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.
Pak Taliban chief escapes to Afghanistan
November 17, 2009
The leader of the Taliban militants in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat district, Maulana Fazlullah, said on Tuesday that he had survived the military offensive and was now in Afghanistan.
Fazlullah told the BBC Urdu Service via cell phone from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan that his loyalists would soon “launch guerrilla raids against the army in Swat”.
Pakistani officials had previously claimed that Fazlullah was wounded and surrounded in Swat, a scenic valley located some 140 km north-west of Islamabad.
In another development, Pakistan Army claimed that its forces waging a tough ground offensive in the lawless South Waziristan tribal region have captured most of the towns and populated centres from the Taliban.
“The myth has been broken that this area will be the graveyard for the Army,” military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told foreign and local journalists who were flown to Sararogha, once a Taliban stronghold.
The Army claimed that Sararogha believed to be a bastion of Uzbek and Arab fighters had been captured after a five day fight in which 180 Taliban militants were killed.
Abbas said that the Army had captured most of the populated centres in South Waziristan and completely crippled Taliban supply lines.
Iraqis feel lingering effects of Baghdad blasts
November 18, 2009
Sadiya Khadem Rashid just needed a stamp. One stamp from Baghdad’s city hall so she could receive $850 in compensation given to displaced Iraqis who return home. But before she could get there, the building was blown up.
Recent bombings that hit Government buildings in downtown Baghdad killed more than 250 people and wounded hundreds more. The blasts also had a wider effect: slowing down the Government services Iraqis use on a daily basis.
The bureaucratic snarl adds to the blow that the attacks inflicted on public confidence in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ahead of national elections in January. Infuriated Iraqis have wondered how the blasts could happen in what was supposed to be one of Baghdad’s safest neighbourhoods.
While other bombings have targeted locations such as mosques or restaurants, these explosions targeted the heart of the Government: the Foreign and Finance Ministries in August, and the Justice Ministry, the Baghdad Provincial Administration and the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works in October.
Weeks after the October 25 blasts, the Baghdad Administration building, akin to a city hall, is still almost uninhabitable.
Some employees work out of rooms in the far back of the building away from the street, which was the least affected by the blast, but closer to the street, there are no phones, no floors and no walls.
A mound of mangled concrete and broken glass is piled up in the intersection between the Justice and Municipalities Ministries. A long Iraqi flag hangs down the face of the Justice Ministry, partially covering the blown out walls and windows.
At the Foreign Ministry, employees have begun to move back into some offices even as construction crews noisily work to rebuild the walls, windows, ventilation and elevators damaged in the blast.
Out in the parking lot, dust-covered desks and coffee tables and ripped office chairs from the gutted building are piled up. Rashid put off her attempt to finish her compensation paperwork until a week after the bombing. Amid the destruction, she appealed to a security guard, showing him her pink folder full of documents and asking him where she should go.
“I just need a stamp,” she told him.
Rashid’s family was forced by sectarian fighting to leave their home in Youssifiyah, 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Baghdad. Now she seeks the compensation that al-Maliki’s Government has offered to each returning family in hopes of reversing the exodus caused by years of vicious Sunni-Shiite violence.
Iraq VP vetoes part of vote law, poll work halted
18 November 2009
Iraq¡'s Sunni Arab vice president vetoed an election law on Wednesday over the number of seats for refugees, prompting poll workers to halt preparations.
Thus casting fresh doubt on whether the vote can take place in January.
Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi said his veto of one article of the law was unlikely to delay the poll.
But his actions were likely to open the door to a fresh round of political debate over the legislation that only won parliamentary approval after protracted wrangling.
Any material delay to the ballot, planned for between Jan. 18-23, could affect US plans to end combat operations next August, ahead of a full pullout by the end of 2011.
‘I did not veto the whole law. I have vetoed the first article of the law and I think parliament will understand my stance,’ Hashemi told a news conference. ‘My suggested amendment is to give justice to all Iraqis living abroad, not just Iraqis displaced in neighbouring countries.’
Many Iraqis abroad are, like Hashemi, members of Iraq’s once-dominant Sunni Muslim community. Many of them fled when the country descended into sectarian warfare after Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, propelling Iraq’s Shia majority to political dominance.
Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, a Shia , rebuked Hashemi and said his move was ‘a serious threat to the democracy and political process’ in Iraq. He urged the election commission to continue poll preparations.
Iraq’s electoral commission, which had already complained it has little time to prepare for the elections, said however that it had suspended its work. ¨ûID:LI106169¨ü
Hashemi, one of Iraq’s two vice presidents and part of a presidential council that has veto power over legislation, said he had sent the law back to parliament after objecting to the first article because it did not give a voice to Iraqis abroad.
The electoral law allocates five percent of the 323 seats in the next parliament to minorities, such as Christians, and to Iraqis displaced from their homes.
But it does not spell out how the two million Iraqi refugees estimated to be living abroad will be represented.
‘A DARK TUNNEL’
Hashemi wants 15 percent of parliamentary seats for minorities and Iraqis displaced internally and abroad.
He said the issue could be resolved in a single session of parliament and that electoral authorities should continue preparing without any expectation of a delay in the poll date.
But other politicians, wary of parliamentary squabbling over the issue, were sceptical.
‘The election law veto threatens the whole political process and the presidency council’s responsibility is to safeguard the constitution — not to push the country into a dark tunnel,’ Haidar Al Ibadi, an influential lawmaker from Maliki’s Dawa party, told state television.
The election date had already been in question for weeks because of a dispute pitting ethnic Kurds against Arabs and Turkmen on how to conduct the vote in the northern city of Kirkuk, which Kurds claim as their ancestral home.
The differences were ironed out 10 days ago following pressure from the United Nations and US officials. The vote is viewed as a major milestone as Iraq emerges from 6-1
2 years of bloodshed and stands on its own feet while US forces withdraw.
13 Iraqis abducted, slain
November 18, 2009
-- Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms abducted and killed 13 people whose bodies were found Monday with gunshot wounds in the head, including a local leader of Iraq's largest Sunni party, which once helped fight al-Qaida.
Monday's attack took place near the town of Abu Ghraib on Baghdad's outskirts, Abu Ghraib Mayor Shakir al-Zubaie said.
The gunmen ordered residents outside, saying they wanted to search houses for weapons. They then shoved 13 men into a minibus and drove off, al-Zubaie said. The bodies of all 13 men, including an official in the Iraqi Islamic Party, were in a cemetery, he said.
Peace effort stalls after Israel OKs settlements
November 18, 2009
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Israel gave the go-ahead yesterday to build hundreds of new housing units in annexed Arab east Jerusalem, drawing Western criticism as it drove another stake into troubled Middle East peace efforts.
The Interior Ministry said it approved construction of 900 units in Gilo, one of a dozen Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem, in a move that flew in the face of Palestinian calls -- with U.S. backing -- for a complete freeze on new building before fresh peace talks.
Washington was quick to voice its unhappiness.
"We are dismayed at the Jerusalem planning committee's decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem," said Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman.
"At a time when we are working to relaunch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed."
Israeli news reports said Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, had rejected a request from the United States to halt construction in Gilo.
Britain echoed the United States, with the Foreign Office saying David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, "has been very clear that a credible deal involves Jerusalem as a shared capital."
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South Sudan violence kills 12, injures minister
17 November 2009
JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - Twelve people were killed and a government minister wounded in clashes in south Sudan, which is preparing for a referendum on whether to split off as an independent state. A surge of ethnic violence has killed more than 2,000 people this year, the United Nations estimates, raising fears for the stability of the oil-producing territory which secured the referendum and a semi-autonomous government in a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war with the north.
A surge of ethnic violence has killed more than 2,000 people this year, the United Nations estimates, raising fears for the stability of the oil-producing territory which secured the referendum and a semi-autonomous government in a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war with the north.
The conflict, which also set southern tribe against southern tribe, left lingering resentments in a region already riven by traditional disputes over territory and cattle.
At least seven people were killed during an attack by fighters from the Mundari tribe on the rival Dinka Aliap group in Awerial county in Lakes state, officials said on Tuesday.
"There was an attack...all yesterday (Monday) night that continued to this morning," Lakes state Information Minister Agad Chol told Reuters, adding that it was probably in revenge for an earlier Dinka assault.
On Sunday, a vehicle carrying South Sudan's Agriculture Minister Samson Kwaje was ambushed just after he had given a speech encouraging people in neighbouring Central Equatoria State to take part in national elections, said officials.
The minister was shot and five people killed, the south's Internal Affairs Minister Gier Chuang Aloung told Reuters. Officials said the minister was flown to Nairobi for treatment.
Aloung said the attackers were from a group that wanted the state's Wonduruba area to remain part of Juba County.
"(They) got angered ... They strongly believe that Samson Kwaje is one of the leaders in the area who wants Wonduruba to be annexed to Lainya (county)," Aluong said. "It's a bad start ... This could impede the elections," he added.
The dispute over Wonduruba is only one of several running conflicts over land, boundaries and cattle in the south.
The peace deal promised national elections, set for April 2010, which will be Sudan's first multi-party poll in 24 years.
The south's main party and opposition groups have called for a nationwide two-week extension to register voters, accusing election officials of being ill-prepared for the vote.
Some southern politicians have blamed their old civil war foes in the north of arming militias in a bid to destabilise the region. Khartoum has dismissed the accusation, and commentators have suggested some southern leaders may also be using the violence to build up local support.
(Reporting by Skye Wheeler in Juba, editing by Andrew Heavens)
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Bulgaria Mayor Bans Construction of Turkish Warrior Monument
November 18, 2009
The Mayor of Popovo in North East Bulgaria, Lyudmil Veselinov, has ordered the re-building of the controversial monument of the "unknown Muslim/Turkish warrior" to be stopped.
Regional Prosecutor, Stefan Hristov, confirmed that Veselinov had issued a ban on the illegal building of the monument and had also stopped workers from entering the sight. According to Hristov the monument needs permission from the local government as it is legally a ‘war memorial.’
Darik Radio reported Tuesday that Ali and Yuzeir Yuzeirovi, the two brothers from the village of Slavyanovo in Northeast Bulgaria, had started to rebuild the monument in their own backyard without legal permits.
The Unknown Turkish Soldier monument which featured a pyramid with a crescent and a cross on top with the inscription “Bulgaria, They Died for You”, which is also on the Unknown Warrior Monument in downtown Sofia, was torn down in October after it was constructed without permission.
Views on the initiative of the Yuzeirovi Brothers have ranged from seeing it as inspired by attempts to radicalize the Muslims in Bulgaria, to undercover attempts by the ethnic Turkish party DPS that was testing the government of GERB and Boyko Borisov by creating religious and ethnic tensions.
Ali Yuzeirov is quoted as saying that the rebuilt monument would be opened on November 26, the day of the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday known in Bulgaria by its Turkish name Kurban Bayrami.
Yuzeirov said his lawyers found at least 50 000 illegal structures in Bulgaria, and asked if they would be torn down as well, or the double standards would continue.
The nationalist party VMRO-BND has issued a declaration warning that the erection of any new “Turkish monument” would be met with “firm resistance”.
Muslim Women Arrested In Southern Uzbekistan
November 18, 2009
KARSHI, Uzbekistan -- Some 30 women have been arrested in the southern Uzbek city of Karshi since the beginning of November, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.
Mehriniso Hamdamova, 40, a teacher of a religious course for women at Karshi's Kuk Gumbaz Mosque, is the latest woman to have been arrested.
Hamdamova's daughter, Latofat Orzikulova, told RFE/RL that in the early morning of November 5 a dozen police and security officers entered
Hamdamova's home and searched it.
She said that although they found nothing illegal they confiscated two Uzbek films on CDs and a book given to Hamdamova as a gift by the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Uzbekistan.
Hamdamova is being held in pretrial detention after being charged with establishing "jamoats" (societies) and promoting them among young people.
Orzikulova said that on the same day several of Hamdamova's female relatives -- including her sister, a daughter-in-law, and nieces -- were also arrested. Orzikulova said police refused to say why her relatives were arrested.
The detentions are the latest in a string of arrests of women in Karshi.
Shoira Karomova, who works at a state department on religious affairs dealing with women and who helped develop the religious course taught by Hamdamova, told RFE/RL that she does not think Hamdamova's professional activities were the reason for her arrest, because her course had been officially approved.
Surat Ikromov, a leader of the Independent Group for Human Rights Defenders, told RFE/RL that the arrested women have been pressured while in detention in Karshi to give evidence against Hamdamova.
Hamdamova's relatives have appealed for help in the case to President Islam Karimov, the prosecutor-general, the head of the state security service, and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Uzbekistan.
Muslim extremists recruiting from UK jails
Nov 18, 2009
Two of Britain's most notorious Muslim extremists have been given free rein to recruit fellow inmates in prison and are spreading propaganda from behind bars, a think-tank founded by two former Islamic radicals said Monday.
London-based Quilliam Foundation said in a report that Muslim cleric Abu Qatada - once described as Osama bin Laden's ambassador in Europe - managed to smuggle out extremist propaganda from prison with the help of visitors, who then spread his message on the Internet.
It said that another radical preacher, Abu Hamza al-Masri - the one-eyed, hook-handed cleric whose extradition is being sought by the United States - was able to hold sermons through the pipes that link cells. It said another inmate used his allotted phone calls to speak to an Islamic TV station.
Britain holds convicted terrorists in several high-security prisons, including the notorious Belmarsh prison in London. A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said the conditions under which they are held depend on individual cases.
In a statement reacting to the report, the ministry said British prisons are "extremely skilled in managing all challenging and dangerous criminals."
James Brandon, the report's author, said the government needs to create a specialized de-radicalization center which can "de-program" extremists - a practice that has seen some success in Egypt and Yemen.
"We need to take leading extremists out of the mainstream prison population and to make sure they don't radicalize other people," he said.
Quilliam bills itself as a think tank dedicated to stamping out extremism. It was founded by Maajid Nawaz and Ed Husain, two activists in the Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir who left the group and renounced radical Islam.
The report said most prison staff lack the training to recognize or tackle Islamist extremists - sometimes treating them as representatives of all Muslim prisoners and even allowing them to lead Friday prayers.
The report is based largely on the testimony of prisoners, smuggled out by their supporters. It said there are now around 100 Muslims held in British prisons on charges relating to Islamist terrorism, but provided no statistics on how many people have converted to Islam while in prison. The Ministry of Justice said such information is not collected.
Maha Azzam, a specialist in political Islam at Chatham House, said the report's claims may be exaggerated and could spark further distrust of the U.K.'s Muslim community.
"What's clearly happening is that there is anger within prisons and Muslims feel they are picked on - this is also happening outside prisons. But will they go on to be terrorists? I don't really think so," Azzam said.
"The number of those who later go on to become terrorists is very difficult to quantify," she said.
The Ministry of Justice said Quilliam did not apply to visit any prisons or speak to prison staff.
"We run a dedicated, expert unit which leads work to tackle the risk of extremism and radicalization in prison," the statement said. "Staff are supported with the information and training they need to deal with these individuals."
Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders to visit Czech Senate
Nov 18, 2009 14:48
A Czech senator said Wednesday that he had invited anti-Islamic Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders to speak to the Czech Senate and present his controversial film.
Senator Jan Oberfalzer said Wilders will talk about freedom of speech and the "Islamization of Europe" on November 30, and show his 15-minute film, "Fitna."
The movie suggests Islam justifies violence and terror, and it prompted angry protests when it was released online last year.
Wilders, the leader of Holland's right-wing Freedom Party, was denied entry to Britain to show his film to legislators in February, but he returned on Oct. 16 after successfully suing the British government to overturn the ban.
Oberfalzer said in a statement that Wilders may say controversial things but they are "true in essence."
Poverty and graft 'fuel Afghan war'
November 18, 2009
Corruption and poverty are fuelling the war in Afghanistan, a survey by British charity Oxfam and local organisations released a day before Hamid Karzai's inauguration for a second presidential term has said.
In the survey of 704 randomly selected Afghan men and women, which was released on Wednesday, 70 per cent said that unemployment and poverty were the leading reasons why Afghanistan remains so unstable.
Forty-eight per cent of those interviewed said that corruption and ineffectiveness of the Afghan government was a major cause.
"The Afghan government must demonstrate a stronger commitment to addressing corruption, increasing transparency and improving the rule of law," the report concluded.
Karzai, who will be sworn in for a second term on Thursday, has been told by Western governments that he must crack down on corruption among members of the political class and the police.
The US has been at the forefront of such international pressure, with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state calling on Karzai to ensure his next government is free of corruption.
Clinton arrived in Kabul on Wednesday to attend Karzai's inauguration ceremony.
She was also expected to meet with Afghan officials, US troops and international allies during her trip - her first to the country as secretary of state, the US state department said.
Afghans are facing the most deadly period of violence sine 2001, when US-led forces overthrew the Taliban regime, the report said.
More than 100,000 Nato and United States troops are in the country to fight against Taliban loyalists who have been resurgent in recent months.
"The past three decades of war and disorder have had a devastating impact on the Afghan people," the report said.
"Millions have been killed, millions more have been forced to flee their homes, and the country's infrastructure and forests have all but been destroyed.
"The social fabric of the country is fractured and state institutions are fragile and weak."
Many of those surveyed said that some warlords holding positions of power had spread insecurity and fuelled a lack of confidence in the government in Kabul.
"All officials and power-holders who are believed to have links to criminal networks must be subject to thorough and independent investigation, including those at the highest levels of government, and prosecuted accordingly," the report said.
Farooq Bashar, an Afghan political analyst, said that Karzai has to move quickly on political reforms.
"He has to pick up people who are obedient to the law, who are not corrupt, and who are not involved in human rights violations," he told Al Jazeera.
"We should look at him as a suspicious person, however, we do not need to disregard him. Right now, all of the Nato countries and the United States of America are saying that Karzai must work to remove corruption ... there is pressure from outside."
Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Karzai's choice for vice-president, is alleged by US-based Human Rights Watch and diplomats to have a role in abuses including murder during Afghanistan's 1990s civil war, weapons and drugs smuggling, and corruption.
US media have also accused Ahmad Wali Karzai, the Afghan president's brother, of having links to Afghanistan's drug trade, claims he has denied.
"Now the killers are in power. They are not thinking about what is best for the country and are only thinking about how they can benefit," one un-named Afghan man quoted in Oxfam's report said.
The report said that the international community must do more to counter corruption in Afghanistan, while ensuring that economic development continues.
"Many individuals felt that though much had been promised to the Afghan people, little had actually been delivered - creating frustration and disillusionment and ultimately undermining stability," it said.
Governor-Evangelist Ties Upset US Muslims
By Dina Rabie
Nov. 18, 2009
WASHINGTON –- Even before taking the oath of office, Virginia Governor-elect Bob McDonnell is already troubling Muslims because of his close links to controversial evangelist Pat Robertson, who is infamous for his anti-Islam rants.
"A lot of Muslims here are very concerned," Imam Mohamed Majid, of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Virginia, told IslamOnline.net.
McDonnell, who won the Virginia gubernatorial race earlier this month, received a $25000 donation from Robertson, who has earned notoriety for his scathing attacks on Islam, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and Muslims.
The controversial evangelist attended McDonnell's election night victory party, asserting they share common ideas.
After the election, Robertson made his latest anti-Islam rant describing the Muslim faith as "a violent political system rather than a religion."
He suggested American Muslims, estimated at eight millions, should be treated like members of a communist or fascist party.
"This is a hate speech," says imam Majid.
"This is not the first time Robertson makes such ridiculous comments but what is new is that Robertson has shown close relation with McDonnell, our elected governor."
Imam Mahdi Bray, Executive Director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, is equally disturbed.
"This is not new from Robertson, he has always said hateful things about Islam and Muslims," he notes.
"But I am troubled that the governor has received money from a person who is known with his Islamophobic speech."
Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition and a presidential candidate in 1988, has called Islam the "religion of the slavers" and described Muslims as "satanic" and "worse than the Nazis".
He said the Qur'an was a "fraudulent" and Prophet Muhammad "an absolute wild-eyed fanatic, a robber and a brigand...a killer".
Robertson believes Americans who embrace Islam exhibit "insanity" and advises against appointing Muslims to government positions.
Muslims are urging McDonnell to distance himself from the controversial evangelist and his anti-Islam rants.
"During his campaign, McDonnell has reached out to Muslims. We want him now to keep his promise of being a governor of all Virginains," says imam Majid.
"We want him to address Muslims’ worries and publicly deny Robertson comments."
Ibrahim Hooper, communication director at the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), also urges McDonnell to take very clear steps.
"It is very simple; he should return the campaign donation money to Robertson, repudiate his comments and apologize to all Virginian Muslims," he told IOL.
"No elected official should be close to somebody who makes such bigoted comments."
McDonnell has reportedly snubbed calls to repudiate Robertson's remarks.
Bray, the MAS-Freedom chief, says Virginia Muslims must have a role to play.
"There are about 48,000 Muslim voters in Virginia, and Muslims have been civically and politically active there," he notes.
"Virginian Muslims must act to keep this governor in the right direction and make him take his distance from bigotry."
Bray says Virginia had a history of being an ethnically lined, Islamophobic and xenophobic state.
"We must not let that governor take us back to the old days."
Northern Nevada Muslim group to open school offering Islamic studies
By Don Weinland
November 18, 2009
Plans to establish Northern Nevada's first charter school that will offer an Islamic curriculum are under way, with the hopes of opening in fall of 2010, members of the Reno Muslim community said.
The Northern Nevada Muslim Community finalized its purchase of a 12,000-square-foot building on Oddie Boulevard in mid-October, Northern Nevada Muslim Community president Mahmoud Hendi said. The group plans to renovate the building into Reno's first charter school to offer courses on Arabic and Islamic studies, he said.
The fall 2010 date for enrollment is tentative, Hendi said. Renovation will begin only after the building has been paid for in full. At present, 60 percent of the building has been paid for, he said.
The site of the proposed school sits just behind the Northern Nevada Muslim Community Center on Oddie Boulevard, home to Reno's only mosque. The center was established in 1999.
Open to the general public, the school will offer a full core curriculum to elementary school-aged students and will feature optional courses in Islamic studies, including Arabic language instruction and Quran studies, Hendi said.
"We have a responsibility to help our community prosper and attract new families," Hendi said. "Parents want to instill good ethics in their children, but this often takes second seat to other matters. This school offers that opportunity."
Hendi, a native of Jordan and longtime Reno resident, sees the opening of the school as a way of appealing to Muslim parents looking to raise their children in a more traditional Islamic environment. The lack of such educational institutions has led some families to leave the Reno area in search of better developed Muslim communities, he said.
"There have been several families in the past 10 years who have moved on to different communities in search of a better environment for their children," Hendi said.
Sherif Elfass, vice president of the Northern Nevada Muslim Community, thinks about the environment his two daughters are growing up in.
"My daughter asks me, 'Why are Muslim women oppressed, dad?' And I think about what they learn on TV," he said.
Elfass, a civil engineering professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said he would like his daughters to attend a school where they can learn about the real values of Islam. He said he feels his children and other children in the community are misguided by what they hear on television about Islam.
"As a Muslim, I would like to instill Muslim values in my children, but they don't receive information from me like they would from a formal teacher," Elfass said.
A formal environment where children are instructed by professionals is essential to learning the core values of Islam, he said.
The Northern Nevada Muslim Community has provided Islamic studies instruction during weekends at Reno's mosque for years, and the idea of a full-time school offering Islamic studies has been discussed by the community board numerous times, Elfass said
"There are many things the community would like to do but can't, due to limited resources," he said.
When the building next to mosque went on the market in June, the Northern Nevada Muslim Community knew this was a good opportunity to expand, he said.
Kowsar Khan, 19, president of the Muslim Student Association at the University of Nevada, Reno, has a 9-year-old brother and said there is a need for such a school in the area.
Khan, a native of Bangladesh, said that parents desire to raise their children with an understanding of Islam.
"As a Muslim parent, the main goal is to get your children to read the Quran, and most parents want to do that," he said.