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Islamic World News ( 26 Dec 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Basement Islam: France’s real attitude towards its six million Muslims

US plane attack suspect quizzed after 'terror attempt'

Nigerian arrested in failed plane attack claims links to al-Qaeda

Christians 'forced to be Muslim'

Who are Egypt's Christians?

Renewed clashes reported in Iran

Six Palestinians killed in West Bank, Gaza attacks

Rawalpindi: Muslim attackers injure 65 Christians during Christmas services

Muslim holy day Ashura grows more popular worldwide

France opens a racial Pandora's box

Dance form - Taiwanese drama on a Buddhist's journey

2 Pak Army officers gave Headley $25,000 for India trip: FBI dossier

Birmingham Mosque alarmed at Quilliam Foundation allegations that it will host 'two extreme Wahhabi clerics who bolster al-Qaeda narratives'

Zardari pledges to fight for rights of minorities

Indian police stop Kashmir procession, 60 hurt

Taliban releases video of captured US soldier

Pilgrims killed in Baghdad bombing

Shiite pilgrims pour into Iraqi city for Ashura

Shia mourning procession dispersed in Srinagar, several hurt in clashes

Israel drops terror alert on India

'US plane incident an attempted terror attack'

US to scrap Iraq pregnancy rule

Pakistan releases 100 Indian fishermen

Suspected US Missiles Kill 3: Pakistan Officials

BJP slams J&K autonomy report, calls it a farce

DHAKA: Khaleda party leaders have terror links: Minister

Pakistan PM:  ‘Army, ISI working under me’

Vatican top cleric in Abu Dhabi walks thin line

Osama daughter at Saudi mission free to leave Iran: FM

Course correction: Catholic body seeks change in education Act

India: Centre sits on Hamid minority report

Peaceful Xmas for Kandhamal, Orissa

Pope knocked down, delivers Christmas message

Yemeni director combats terrorism with propaganda

Auschwitz sign stolen to fund terror attacks?

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

URL of this page:’s-real-attitude/d/2283


Basement Islam: France’s real attitude towards its six million Muslims

By David Chater in

December 26th, 2009

The Battle of the Minarets is spreading across the borders of Switzerland and spilling into France where it’s starting to shine an uncomfortable spotlight on the country’s real attitude towards its six million Muslims.

Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, is a champion of his country’s Republican values, forged in the Age of Reason and Enlightenment. He was quick to declare that he was shocked and scandalized by the result of the Swiss referendum last month which backed a ban on the building of minarets.

But one of the men who shares the same cabinet table as him, the Industry Minister, Christian Estrosi has a radically different attitude.

He  also happens to be the Mayor of Nice - a minaret-free zone - and he’s vowed to keep it that way.

The issue has arisen in the midst of a government-sponsored national debate on what it means to be French. It’s a debate that has had some unfortunate side-effects. It has allowed the country’s xenophobes to emerge from under their stones and give their extremist views the oxygen of publicity.

The Mayor though is an eloquent convert to that debate, speaking amidst the elegant frescoes of his City Hall he told me:

“Why not always nourish the debate around the humanist vision of France so that everybody can feel proud to be French, to share the same national identity? Look at me… I’m the son of an immigrant.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy has refused to condemn the result of the referendum in Switzerland and has called on all believers to practice discretion in their religious observance.

He has said politicians should start trying to understand what so many people in Europe - and in France - are now feeling. The President’s political opponents accuse him of a poorly camouflaged attempt to steal some the extreme right’s clothes with local elections due in just three months time.

Nationalists in Nice like Phillipe Vardon don’t mince their words: “ Minarets are just the visible tip of an iceberg of Islamisation - like burkas in the streets of France, halal meals being served in prisons, schools and hospitals. It’s becoming almost obligatory,” he told me.

In a suburb in western Nice we found equally uncompromising opinions amongst the residents of what was supposed to be a temporary re-settlement camp - set up in the early sixties for immigrants following the Algerian war of independence from France.

The fact that it has become a permanent ghetto for Araba from all over North Africa is a testament to the failures of integration in the city. One young man there said since Sarkozy came to power the police had started treating them like thieves. “They see an Arab face and that’s it. You get it”

In Marseille the local administration has given permission for the Muslim community to build a Grand Mosque with a twenty-five metre high minaret.

It’s a decision that has enraged the National Front in the city. One of their leading activists told me: “We must have no minarets and no cathedral like mosques. They are for us a symbol of a Muslim desire for political conquest. It goes way beyond just religious expression.”

Muslim activists in the city say they’ve seen it all before.

Ahmed Najjar told me he wished they could go back to quietly practicing Islam in their basements again:

“ The recipe before every election in France is to wave the scarecrow of immigration … but not every kind of immigration. It’s only the Arabs from North Africa and the blacks. Immigrants the establishment here think practice a kind of religion that is not able to integrate successfully in France … non-solvent religions”

The Muslim community in Marseille still need to find twenty million dollars before they can start to build their Grand Mosque. But no Quranic verses will be broadcast from the minaret. Instead a bright light will sweep the city for the call to prayers.


US plane attack suspect quizzed after 'terror attempt'

26 December 2009

Passengers from the flight describe what they saw during the incident

A Nigerian reported to have links to al-Qaeda is being questioned after an attempted act of terrorism on a plane arriving in the US, officials say.

They say the 23-year-old man was trying to ignite an explosive device as the jet approached Detroit from Amsterdam.

He was overpowered by some of the 278 passengers and 11 crew. Reports say he burnt his leg. No-one else was hurt.

Police in the UK are conducting searches and inquiries into the man, believed to be a London student.

Nigeria has ordered its security agencies to investigate the incident and verify the suspect's identity and motives. It has also said they will "co-operate fully" with the US investigations.

The Nigerian, named as Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, had third-degree burns, said Peter King, a Congressman on the US House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.

The Metropolitan Police said its officers were liaising with the US authorities, and University College London says it has a student of the same name.

Officials have described the device as a mixture of powder and liquid which failed to go off properly.

One terrorism expert said it looked as though a new way of concealing explosives on the body was involved.

President Barack Obama, on holiday in Hawaii, has ordered increased security for air travel.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said the president was monitoring the situation.

The suspect's name was in a database indicating "a significant terrorist connection" although it did not appear on a "no-fly" list, said Mr King.

Mr Abdulmutallab reportedly told investigators he had links to al-Qaeda and had received the explosives in Yemen.

Mr King also said investigators were looking into whether the incident was part of a larger plot and a "worldwide alert" had been raised.

The US Department of Homeland Security said "additional screening measures" had been put into effect since the incident.

Northwest Airlines Flight 253 had begun its descent towards Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Friday afternoon when the incident occurred.

The Airbus 330, which had originated in Amsterdam, was about 20 minutes from landing when passengers noticed something was wrong.

One of them, Syed Jafri, said he had been seated three rows behind the suspect and had seen a glow and smelled smoke.

Then, he said, "a young man behind me jumped on him".

"Next thing you know, there was a lot of panic," Mr Jafri added.

As the suspect was being tackled, he was reportedly shouting and a passenger said she had heard the word "Afghanistan".

Another unnamed passenger heard a "little pop", then saw "a bit of a smoke and then some flames".

After "yelling and screaming", the passenger added, "they took him out and it was really quick".

Fellow passenger Melinda Dennis said the man had been severely burned on one leg, and a fire extinguisher and water were used to put out the fire.

The suspect later told the US authorities he had had explosive powder taped to his leg and used a syringe of chemicals to mix with the powder that was to cause explosion, the ABC television network reports.

Dr Sally Leivesley, an adviser on terrorism and public protection, told the BBC: "This has looked as though it's a first attempt of a new way to use the body to conceal explosives."

"They may be concealing the explosives on the human body - but on the inside upper leg, and we only know this by seeing a very badly burnt leg on the suspected perpetrator."

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Nigerian arrested in failed plane attack claims links to al-Qaeda

By Michael Leahy and Spencer S. Hsu

December 26, 2009

A Nigerian man, claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda, allegedly tried to set off an incendiary device aboard a transatlantic airplane Friday as it descended toward Detroit's airport in what the White House called an attempted act of terrorism.

The man was quickly subdued after another passenger leapt on top of him, others on the plane said, and Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam landed safely around 1 p.m. Friday. The suspect was being treated at a hospital for burns he suffered while igniting the device, the Transportation Security Administration said.

The FBI is investigating the incident. President Obama, celebrating Christmas in Hawaii, was informed about it, a spokesman said, and he asked aides to ensure that all measures are in place to provide secure air travel.

Officials said they are not prepared to raise the terrorism alert level, currently at orange -- or the second-highest of five levels -- for domestic and international air travel. However, the Homeland Security Department said late Friday that passengers "may notice additional screening measures, put into place to ensure the safety of the traveling public on domestic and international flights."

The suspect is Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, a federal official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. ABC News and NBC News reported that Abdulmutallab, 23, attends University College London, where he studies engineering.

Although not on the TSA's "no-fly" list, Abdulmutallab's name appears to be included in the government's records of terrorism suspects, according to a preliminary review, authorities said.

Abdulmutallab has told federal investigators that he had ties to al-Qaeda and traveled to Yemen to collect the incendiary device and instructions on how to use it, according to a federal counterterrorism official briefed on the case. Authorities have yet to verify the claim, and they expect to conduct several more interviews before they determine whether he is credible, the official said.

Federal authorities have been told that Abdulmutallab allegedly had taped some material to his leg, then used a syringe to mix chemicals with the powder while on the airplane, one official said.

But doing so "caused him to catch on fire," Richelle Keepman, who sat a few rows in front of Abdulmutallab, told WDIV-TV.

Another passenger on Flight 253, Syed Jafry of Holland, Mich., told the Detroit Free Press that he noticed a glow three rows ahead in the Airbus 330, then smelled smoke. The next moment, Jafri recounted, "a young man behind me jumped on" Abdulmutallab.

Jafry said there was a lengthy commotion, after which the passenger was restrained in a first-class seat as the plane continued its landing at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.

Michigan native Melinda Dennis, who was sitting in across the aisle from Abdulmutallab, told the Free Press that he "was burned very severely on his leg" but remained "very calm and didn't show any reaction to pain."

At the airport, the wide-body jet was met by police cars, an ambulance and some trucks, according to a spectator, J.P. Karas, of Wyandotte, Mich. (The Northwest flight was aboard a Delta airplane; the two companies are in the process of merging.) There were 278 passengers and 11 crew members on board the plane.

Officials described the device as incendiary rather than explosive, pending tests by forensics experts at the FBI. Incendiary devices generally deliver less of an impact than explosive devices. The remains of the device used are being sent to an FBI explosives lab in Quantico for analysis, federal law enforcement and airline security sources told CNN.

For many national security analysts, the Christmas Day incident called to mind the bizarre case of Richard C. Reid, a British citizen who trained at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. Reid attempted to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes on a flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001.

Reid was arrested in Boston, subsequently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In August 2006, authorities in the United Kingdom disrupted a plot to blow up several transatlantic airliners using improvised liquid explosives. The discovery that al-Qaeda was developing new methods to bring down aircraft led to the banning of most liquids in carry-on baggage and prompted research into new detection technologies.

The Northwest incident also comes after a hectic six months in domestic terrorism cases, from the arrest of a Colorado shuttle bus driver, Najibullah Zazi, in an alleged plot to target New York with hydrogen-based chemical mixtures to smaller efforts by groups in Minnesota, Northern Virginia and North Carolina to allegedly translate radical beliefs into action on foreign soil.

Obama was alerted to Friday's incident between 9 and 9:30 a.m. in Hawaii, which is five hours behind the East Coast. After being informed by his military aide, the president convened a secure conference call with John O. Brennan, his counterterrorism adviser, and Denis McDonough, chief of staff at the National Security Council. He later received updates from each man, senior officials said.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) announced late Friday night that the Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee, which he chairs, would "hold hearings in January to look in to this incident and related security matters."

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the incident was "a disturbing reminder that the terrorist threat is still very real and that we must continue to be vigilant and alert."

Staff writers Carrie Johnson, Anne E. Kornblut, Sholnn Freeman and Scott Butterworth contributed to this report.


Christians 'forced to be Muslim'


Coptic Christians in Egypt are being forced to convert to Islam, and refused the right to return to their faith by the Egyptian government, according to charities. Correspondent Christian Fraser investigates the claims.


Who are Egypt's Christians?

26 February, 2000

Roman Catholics are less than a thousand in Egypt

By Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner

Pope John Paul II's visit to Egypt is the first in 2000 years of Christianity by a pontiff from Rome.

Nearly 90% of Egypt's 64 million people are Muslims, with the vast majority following the mainstream Sunni branch of Islam.

But the country also has the largest and oldest Christian community in the Middle East.

Complex community

Workers carry church benches into the Coptic Christian Notre Dame in Cairo

Egyptian Christians are known collectively as 'Copts', a word derived from the Greek word 'Aigyptos', meaning 'Egypt'.

They trace their history to the first century AD when St Mark introduced Christianity to Egypt.

This Christian community is divided into several groups: Coptic Orthodox, Coptic Catholics, Coptic Evangelicans (Protestants) and other minorities.

The largest group of Egyptian Christians belongs to the Coptic Orthodox church.

They number 6-7 million and account for an estimated 93% of Egypt's Christians.

Own pope

They have their own pope, Pope Shenouda III, and give allegiance to him rather than to Rome.

No mass for the pope at the Monastery of St.Catherine

Orthodox Copts are patriotically Egyptian and some even resent the coming visit by a Pope from Rome, seeing it as a form of global domination by the Vatican.

Prominent Orthodox Copts include the former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali and the heart surgeon Dr Magdy Yacoub.

Independent from Rome

Egypt's Catholics are nearly all 'Coptic Catholics', a group independent from Rome.

They number between 200,000 and 250,000 and are led by Patriarch Stephanos II Ghattas, although they see the Pope in Rome as their spiritual leader.

Their community dates from the days of French and British colonisation of Egypt, and today they run over 150 schools throughout the country.

The coming visit by Pope John Paul II means the most to them, and some Coptic Catholics have already begun travelling hundreds of kilometres from southern Egyptian villages to Cairo for the open-air mass on Friday.

Roman Catholics

Egypt's Roman Catholics are thought to number less than a thousand.

The Coptic Evangelicans are the Protestants of Egypt and they number around 150,000.

They have close historic links with churches in America, dating back to the work of nineteenth century missionaries.

Today they are heavily involved in education and healthcare for low-income Egyptians.


Greek Orthodox Christians number only a few thousand, down from a peak of 150,000 two centuries ago.

Their decline was spurred by the nationalisation policies of Egypt's first president, Gamal Abdul Nasser.

The best-known Greek Orthodox Christians in the country are the monks who inhabit the fortified Monastery of St Catherine high on Mt Sinai.

This site will form the climax of Pope John Paul II's Egyptian visit on Saturday as he performs what the Vatican is calling "a Jubilee Pilgrimmage" to celebrate the millennium.

Like the Orthodox Copts, these monks owe no allegiance to Rome and the Vatican, and Pope John Paul II has not been allowed to hold mass inside the monastery.


The remaining Christian communities make up a tiny minority, totalling a few thousand.

Renewed clashes reported in Iran

Clashes were earlier reported in Qom after Ayatollah Montazeri's funeral

Iranian security forces and opposition activists have clashed in the centre of the capital Tehran, according to reformist websites and witnesses.

Some reports say shots have been fired in the air to disperse demonstrators.

The opposition had been planning to use Shia religious festivals this weekend to show their continued defiance of President Ahmadinejad's government.

Tensions have risen since influential dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri died a week ago aged 87.

Clashes were reported after his funeral in Qom, and in other cities since then.

Police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam has been quoted as warning that police would crack down hard against any attempts to use Shia religious processions to stage fresh protests against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government.

Opponents insist there was massive rigging when Mr Ahmadinejad was re-elected in June - a charge he rejects.


BBC Tehran correspondent Jon Leyne says opposition sources are building a picture of increasingly widespread and violent clashes.


Saeed Barzin, Iran analyst - BBC Monitoring

This was expected to happen - opposition websites have been agitating, calling on people to come onto the streets for these particular days, although the opposition leaders have not issued statements calling on people to do so.

Nevertheless we are seeing people taking risks to join the demonstrations.

The police are trying to take the initiative early in the day, prevent the crowds from building up and keeping crowds in neighbourhoods, localising the situation; the police commander has said they will be firm but they will try to use minimal force against protesters.

Unconfirmed reports on reformist websites said there were protests in several areas of the capital, including the poorer areas of south Tehran, and that government forces were using tear gas to try to disperse demonstrators.

A witness quoted by Reuters news agency said opposition supporters had gathered in groups along a stretch of a main city centre route several kilometres long, but that police were not letting them join each other.

AFP news agency said police had "sought to disperse about 200-300 people" planning to demonstrate in central Enghelab square as part of a Shia festival.

Government forces are said to reacting aggressively - beating protesters with batons and smashing the windscreens of cars.

Iran's former pro-reform President, Mohammad Khatami, is expected to speak at a Shia gathering in Tehran this evening.

Shia religious festivals on 26-27 December mark the death of a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th Century.

The main date set by reformists for demonstrations is Sunday.

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Six Palestinians killed in West Bank, Gaza attacks

Street scenes in Nablus

Israeli troops have killed six Palestinians - three in the Gaza Strip and three in the West Bank.

The Israeli military said three Palestinians suspected of trying to infiltrate from Gaza were killed in an air strike near the Erez crossing.

It is the largest number of deaths in a day since the Gaza conflict a year ago.

Separately, Israeli forces said they had killed three men - who were suspected of killing a Jewish settler - in the West Bank city of Nablus.

Palestinian sources in Nablus say two of those killed were militants from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party.

The faction was one of two groups which said they had killed the settler, a father of seven, two days ago - the first fatal shooting of an Israeli by militants in the occupied West Bank for eight months.

Eyewitnesses said the Israeli raid began in the early hours of the morning and lasted for several hours.

They said there had not been a raid like this in Nablus for about a year and a half, the BBC's Bethany Bell reports from Jerusalem.

The violence came a day before the first anniversary of the Gaza war that killed some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

ecause of the historic rivalry between the Orthodox and Catholic branches of the Christian faith, Pope John Paul II's visit is controversial for some Egyptian Christians.

While they welcome him as a man of peace, they fear the massive media attention will give the impression that Egypt's own Pope Shenouda III is somehow subordinate to Rome.

Nationalism is deeply ingrained in Egyptian Christianity and is likely to remain so.


Rawalpindi: Muslim attackers injure 65 Christians during Christmas services

December 26, 2009

The Muslims attacked Christian worshipers during Christmas prayers in Kalar Kahar Town, near the motorway, about 125 Km from Islamabad. In a press conference called at local community center, PCC Joint Secretary Mr. Xavier along with Mr. Mehboob Alam informed details of attack and urged for immediate enquiry in incident.

According to details, on 25th June 2009, the Government of Pakistan allotted a piece of land to the Christian Community for building a Church next to the Motorway at Kalar Kahar. The transfer letter and the allotment letter were given to the local Pastor, Pastor Naveed John. The Pastor raised some money for the boundary wall, but couldn’t raise enough money to start the construction of the Church. They collected some donations from different organizations and gathered enough funds to start the construction.

On 4th December 2009, the Church committee laid the foundation to start the construction. On the morning of 6th December some Muslim religious fundamentalists came and stopped the workers and threatened them of dire consequences. Pastor Naveed John came to the scene and told them that he has the property papers, so they cant stop the construction. 2 days latter a larger group of the Islamic fundamentalists came and threatened the workers. The Church Committee contacted the local police for assistance and filed a complaint, they sent 5 armed policemen. They stood at the site of construction, after a few days the same thing happened, but the police was unable to stop them.

The Pastor Naveed sent a complaint to the DCO, but he didn’t respond. On the eve on 24th December 2009 the people were gathered at the Church site for worship, a mob of the extremists attacked the worshipers and injured around 65 Women and Children.

The young men tried to protect the women and Children, but couldn’t stop them as they were armed.

Full report at:


Muslim holy day Ashura grows more popular worldwide

By Niraj Warikoo

Dec. 26, 2009

The traditions of Ashura -- a holy day Shi'ite Muslims will observe Sunday -- started in the Middle East and spread to Iran and South Asia, where they have been practiced for centuries.

But in recent years, the ceremonies have become more popular in other parts of the world as populations of Shi'ite Muslims grow elsewhere.

From metro Detroit to Europe and Japan, some people cross national boundaries to commemorate the 10 days that lead up to Ashura.

Ashura commemorates the 7th-Century death of the grandson of Islam's prophet. Imam Hussain died in Karbalaa, Iraq, at the hands of an unjust ruler.

"It's about standing up for justice, standing up for democracy, standing up for peace and equality," Mohamed Al-Najjar explained at the Karbalaa Islamic Education Center in Dearborn. The center is named after the city in Iraq.

The commemoration ends Sunday with special prayers and lectures inside mosques across Michigan, known as a major center for Shi'ite Islam.

In Dearborn, a scholar from Australia, Sheikh Jehad Ismail, has been speaking to American-born Muslims in metro Detroit.

In Tokyo, an imam from England, Jafar Ali Najam, spoke to Japanese-speaking Muslims with roots in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. And a Muslim leader from Dearborn, Imam Husham Al-Husainy, lectured at a mosque in Toronto.

At Hussaini Imam Bargah in Tokyo, about 50 Shi'ite Muslims gathered Saturday night to hear lectures and perform a lamentation ritual known as latmiya.

"It's getting bigger" in attendance, said Bijan Shalchi, 49, an Iranian-born Muslim who lives in Japan.

Mosques throughout Dearborn also are seeing more people attending Ashura services, said Tarek Baydoun, 25, of Dearborn.

About 700 people have been attending the English-language Ashura programs at Byblos Banquet Hall in Dearborn.

"The message is for all people," Baydoun said of Ashura. "It's about the universal cause of justice."

Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO: 313-223-4792 or warikoo


France opens a racial Pandora's box

Sat Dec 26 2009

Tiny town Mosque vandalism fuels national debate in a country uneasy with its Muslim population

CASTRES, FRANCE–When Muslim worshippers showed up at the Bilal Mosque early Sunday morning, they found two pig's ears and a poster of the French flag stapled to the door; a pig's snout dangled from the doorknob. "White power" and "Sieg heil" were spray-painted on one side, they recalled, and "France for the French" on the other.

The desecration of the main mosque in Castres, a tranquil provincial town east of Toulouse, was an ugly exception in generally easygoing relations between the native French population and a pocket of about 10,000 Muslims who have made Castres their home. Mayor Pascal Bugis was quick to condemn the outrage, and police vowed a swift arrest of those responsible.

But for Abdelmalek Bouregba, head of the Castres Islamic Association that administers the mosque, the vandalism was a troubling sign of the times. Signals are flashing everywhere that France is increasingly uneasy with its more than 5 million Muslims, he said, and the atmosphere has soured particularly since President Nicolas Sarkozy's government began last month its "great debate on national identity."

In parallel with the government-organized debate, he noted, a parliamentary committee is holding hearings to determine whether legislation is necessary to forbid Muslim women from wearing full veils in public. Its chairman, André Gerin, said at a session Wednesday that such veils are "barbaric" and Sarkozy's friend and confidant, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, urged a ban in public buildings, saying "there is no place in France for burqas."

A group of legislators from Sarkozy's coalition, the Union for a Patriotic Movement, have proposed a law to forbid foreign flags during immigrant weddings in city halls. And a small-town mayor from the Sarkozy coalition, Andre Valentin, warned during a government-sponsored national identity debate that "we are going to be gobbled up" unless something is done to halt the influx of immigrants, who he said "are paid to do nothing."

"All this encourages this kind of thing," Bouregba said. "This gives ideas to extremists. Otherwise, they might have anti-Muslim ideas, but they would never act on them ... In my view, the national identity debate has stoked tensions."

The government-endorsed French Council for the Muslim Religion issued a similar warning the day after the desecration. "The exploitation of these debates by some people presents a real danger of stigmatization against France's Muslims," it said. Outside the Muslim world, SOS Racisme, a non-governmental advocacy group, deplored what it called the "liberation of racist expressions, a liberation that the national identity debate permits and organizes."

The Socialist Party, France's main opposition group, called on Sarkozy to close the debate before it does further damage. Even within the governing coalition, some parliamentary figures Sarkozy suggested it is becoming a Pandora's box.

A recent poll taken for Nouvel Observateur magazine showed 55 per cent of those queried think the debate is at best unnecessary. Another 42 per cent expressed fear that it has gone off in the wrong direction, focusing on problems caused by Muslims and immigrants rather than on what it means to be French.


Dance form - Taiwanese drama on a Buddhist's journey


ATaiwanese opera is in town. The musical called `One Step, One Mind' is a two-anda-half-hour play that will be enacted by 20 performers of Trinity Culture Center, led by internationally feted director Yang Ching-liang from Taiwan.

The play tells the story of Master Xuanzang, or Hieun Tsang, the Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveller and translator who came from China to India in the early 7th century.

The drama depicts the monk's journey on foot from present-day Xian to what they called "the West" some 1,400 years ago. Xuanzang followed the Buddhist trail from Afghanistan to Nalanda in Bihar, and back, over 16 years. He learnt Sanskrit and translated hundreds of Buddhist texts into Chinese. He also left a vital historical account of his journeys along the Silk Route.

The play tries to communicate the Mahayana spirit of Buddhism through music, dance and drama. It traces the monk's physical journey as well as his inner, spiritual one.

According to director Yang, the aim of the opera is to touch hearts and minds, and deepen the audience's affection for drama, dance and music.


2 Pak Army officers gave Headley $25,000 for India trip: FBI dossier

Subrata Nagchoudhury

Dec 26, 2009

Kolkata : The FBI dossier on David Coleman Headley, the Lashkar-e-Toiba operative charged in United States with helping plan the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes, states that two serving Pakistani Army officers, Major Iqbal and Major Sameer Ali, were actively involved in handling Headley, directed the terror plots, and that Major Iqbal handed him $25,000 before sending him to India.

Sources said the Headley dossier shared with India also states that Abdurrehman Syed, a Lashkar commander, was attached to 6 Baloch of the Pak Army. He joined the Lashkar in 2002. It is believed that Syed and another Lashkar commander, Sajid Mir, with whom Headley was in regular touch, were part of a reconnaissance mission to India in April, 2004. The FBI learnt that Headley made as many as eight trips to India as a Lashkar operative between September 2006 and July 2008 and once after the Mumbai terror attacks — in March 2009 — for reconnaissance of potential targets. Headley was said to have joined the Lashkar in 1999, motivated by speeches of Lashkar founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed.

After his initiation, Headley underwent training from 2002 to 2004. He wanted to go to Kashmir but Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Lashkar operations commander, had other ideas. It was on Lakhvi’s direction that Headley visited India eight times for reconnaissance work.

Unlike Headley, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, his alleged accomplice, visited India only once — a week before the Mumbai terror attacks.

Headley surveyed 30 potential targets and submitted details and photographs to his handlers. These included:

* Hotels Taj and Oberoi, Leopold Cafe, Nariman House and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

* He was specifically told to do a recce of the Ruby Room, Crystal Ballroom at the Taj

* Shiv Sena headquarters

* Siddhivinayak temple

* Maharashtra Assembly

* Bombay Stock Exchange

* Bhabha Atomic Research Centre

* World Trade Centre, Mumbai

* National Defence College, New Delhi.


Birmingham Mosque alarmed at Quilliam Foundation allegations that it will host 'two extreme Wahhabi clerics who bolster al-Qaeda narratives'

26th December 2009

 A mosque has been criticised for hosting a visit by two world-renowned clerics.

However, the Green Lane mosque in Birmingham has hit back saying it is alarmed at the seriousness of the allegations and this is simply a case of fear-mongering.

The Quilliam Foundation which claims to be Britain's first counter-extremism think tank says the mosque will host 'two extreme Wahhabi clerics who bolster al-Qaeda narratives'.

Sheikh Faisal al-Jassim and Abdul Aziz As-Sadhan are both named by the organization.

In a statement the organisation said, ‘We recognise that many Wahhabis do not share these extreme views.

"Similarly, the vast majority of British Muslims will find this hatemongering despicable.

"The principle of taking up arms in order to impose a single religious interpretation on others is at the core of al-Qaeda’s jihadist ideology. British Muslims do not need al-Qaeda’s fellow-travellers lecturing us on history, politics or religion in British mosques.

‘The Green Lane Mosque has previously been exposed as a centre of hate-preaching. Muslims need to challenge the hateful and divisive rhetoric of such extremist Saudi clerics and those people who promote them.

"Such events risk undermining the good work that many people in Birmingham are doing to tackle extremism and bring different communities closer together.’ Quilliam goes on to praise the actions of British Muslims for Secular Democracy which it says 'is creating a coalition of faith and humanist leaders to oppose the event and is preparing to send out a joint letter on their behalf.'

However the mosque said 'the Quilliam Foundation 'had absolutely no credibility within the British Muslim community and has no legitimacy or qualifications to speak on Islamic matters.

It added it was regrettable that 'this supposedly independent 'think-tank' is funded by hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayer’s money and is not accountable to the tax payer.'

In a statement the mosque said, "As a responsible organisation Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre is fully aware of the responsibilities it has towards the diverse communities it serves.

"To this extent Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre has various policies and controls in place to ensure it fulfils its aims and objectives in a responsible manner and that it complies with the law including the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.

'Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre was alarmed at the serious nature of the allegations made by the Quilliam Foundation which insinuated that we are a divisive force in the community. As a result, Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre has conducted its own internal inquiry into the claims made by the Quilliam Foundation.

'As part of the inquiry, Sheikh Faisal Al-Jassim and Dr Abdul Aziz Al-Sadhan were contacted to seek clarification about the allegations levelled against them.Both speakers regret the way in which the Quilliam Foundation has chosen to handpick a few statements from hundreds of hours of lectures to portray them in a negative light.

'Sheikh Faisal Al-Jassim has clearly stated that the understanding of Jihad in Islam is one of the most misunderstood concepts in current times; especially by many Muslims. 'Dr Abdul Aziz Al-Sadhan has stated that his teachings are openly available on his website and in the many books he has authored, and the few statements that have been highlighted are not representative of him. Dr Al-Sadhan has also stated that he is a fierce opponent of terrorism in all its forms, irrespective of the perpetrators.

"As such he has made it clear that when he referred to ‘the Jews’, this reference was not to Jews in general, but to those elements that have shown hostility to Muslims and resorted to violence.

"Neither of the speakers condone disseminating divisive and destructive message, nor do they consider it permissible to break the law of the land. In light of the above, Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre is satisfied with the clarification given by the invited speakers.

"Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre has always condemned incitement to terrorism, extremism, racism and intolerance. We ask others to join us in this struggle to free our society of such evils.

"Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the support it has received from countless organisations, from within the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. We urge these organisations to publicly voice their objections where established mainstream Muslim institutions are targeted in such a manner."


Zardari pledges to fight for rights of minorities

Dec. 25: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has reiterated his commitment to fight for the rights of the Christians and other minorities in the country.

"Together we will struggle for establishing a liberal and pluralistic society in Pakistan in which every citizen is allowed to participate freely in the social, political and economic development of the country irrespective of his cast, creed and colour," the President said in his message to the Christian community on Christmas day. "I wish to felicitate the Christians all over the world particularly our Christian brothers and sisters in Pakistan on the auspicious occasion of Christmas. It is time for festivity, celebration and rejoicing," he said.

The President said, "It is also a reminder for all of us about the teachings of Jesus Christ who always spread the message of love, forgiveness and brotherhood among the people without any prejudice and discrimination."

He hoped that the Christian community in Pakistan would renew the pledge to follow the true teachings of Jesus Christ and would continue to play their positive and constructive role in the society.

"They are a law-abiding and loyal community and we are proud of their tremendous contributions to the advancement and development of the country," Mr Zardari said.

He added, "Let me also reiterate on this occasion our pledge that Pakistan People’s Party will continue to uphold the right of the Christians, indeed of all minorities, to be treated as equal citizens of the state and allowed to partake in its development on an equal footing."


Indian police stop Kashmir procession, 60 hurt

December 26, 2009

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - At least 60 mourners were injured on Saturday when police used batons, firing in the air and tear gas to break up a procession by hundreds of Shi'ite Muslims in Indian Kashmir's main city, officials said.

During the first Muslim month of Muharram, Shi'ites across the world mourn the death of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the Iraqi city of Kerbala in the year 680.

But in Kashmir, Muharram processions and public gatherings by separatists have been banned since a rebellion against Indian rule broke out in 1989.

"More than 50 people were also detained," police officer Ali Mohammad said.

Saturday's procession in Srinagar was headed by members of Ittihad-ul-Muslimeen Jammu Kashmir, part of the region's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference.

Stone-throwing Shi'ites clashed with police in several parts of Srinagar after the procession was stopped, forcing police to fire tear gas shells, witnesses said.

The mourners were beating their chests with their fists, and chanted "La ilaha illalah" (There is no god but Allah).

"We strongly condemn the police brutality," said Moulana Abbas Ansari, a leading Shi'ite priest and chief of Ittihad-ul-Muslimeen.

The injured included at least six photojournalists, police said.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state since an anti-India insurgency broke out two decades ago.

(Reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq; Editing by Bappa Majumdar)


Taliban releases video of captured US soldier

AP 25 December 2009

KABUL: The Taliban released a video today purporting to show captured US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who disappeared more than five months ago in eastern Afghanistan.

Bergdahl, a US airborne infantryman, was captured by the Afghan Taliban in Paktika province on June 30.

It could not be confirmed immediately that it was Bergdahl in the new video, which was e-mailed to AP and other news organisations. A man is shown seated, facing the camera, wearing sunglasses and what appears to be a US military helmet and uniform. A caption below the man speaking says "War prisoner: Bowe Robert Bergdahl".

On one side of the image it says: "An American soldier imprisoned by the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan".

The man identifies himself as Bergdahl, born in Sun Valley, Idaho, and gives his rank, birth date, blood type and mother's maiden name.

In an earlier portion of the video he says, "This is just going to be the next Vietnam unless the American people stand up and stop all this nonsense."

The insurgents also released a video of Bergdahl a few weeks after he was captured.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, said in a telephone interview that he had not seen the video, but that it "shows the same soldier captured this year".

In the video, "a demand" is made, Muhahid said. He did not indicate if the demand was from the Taliban or from Bergdahl.


Pilgrims killed in Baghdad bombing

December 26, 200

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Two Shiite pilgrims were killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad on Saturday afternoon, the latest strike targeting people marking Ashura, one of the most important annual holy periods for Shiite Muslims across the globe.

Eight other people were wounded in the strike, which occurred in the New Baghdad district of southeastern Baghdad, Interior Ministry officials said.

The incident comes amid a large troop presence on the streets of Baghdad and several outlying regions, such as the holy city of Karbala, to protect Shiite pilgrims from attacks.

Hundreds of thousands of the pilgrims are expected in Baghdad and Karbala for the commemoration, which reaches its peak over the next 24 hours.

The period commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed who was killed in battle in Karbala in 680, one of the events that helped create the schism between Sunnis and Shiites, the two main Muslim religious movements.

From Saturday evening until Sunday in Karbala and Baghdad, Shiite pilgrims will be chanting, beating their breasts in penance, cutting themselves with daggers or swords and whipping themselves in synchronized moves until next morning.

Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta, the spokesman of Baghdad Operations Command, told CNN around 100,000 security forces in and around Baghdad are on full alert. Four security rings were in place around Kadhimiya in northwestern Baghdad, where more than one million visitors are expected Saturday night and Sunday, he said.

Atta said 300 female security forces were stationed at a number of checkpoints to ensure the proper searching of women.

Gen. Othman al-Ghanimi, the Karbala police commander, told CNN that 25,000 Iraqi security forces from the army and police were deployed in Karbala province.

He said the region was divided into nine security sections and, as in Baghdad, four main security rings were set up around the city. Pilgrims must pass through at least four checkpoints before reaching the holy shrine of Imam Hussein.

Around one million pilgrims are expected to be in Karbala.

The marking of Ashura was banned for many years under Saddam Hussein, but observances resumed after he was toppled in 2003.

In the first public Ashura demonstrations in Karbala after Saddam's fall, in 2004, violence erupted and authorities blamed Sunni extremists. In 2005, nearly 1,000 Shiite pilgrims were killed in a stampede over a bridge in northeastern Baghdad, a panic triggered by rumors of a suicide bomber in the crowd.

This year, dozens of Shiite pilgrims were killed in a number of attacks across the country. The Iraqi government believes al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni extremist insurgent groups are behind these attacks.

In another incident on Saturday, officials said local police officers were wounded when a roadside bomb struck their convoy in Zafaraniya district in southeastern Baghdad on Saturday.


Shiite pilgrims pour into Iraqi city for Ashura

By Abdelamir Hanoun (AFP)

Dec 26, 2009

KARBALA, Iraq — Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims descended on Iraq's holy shrine city of Karbala on Saturday for the climax of Ashura commemorations, despite fears of violent attacks by Sunni extremists.

Security forces have beefed up their presence in the central city and authorities are also checking on the 60,000-odd foreign worshippers expected to attend the ceremonies to ensure they do not have swine flu.

Black flags, representing the sadness of Shiites during Ashura, were seen all over the city, 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of Baghdad, along with pictures of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas, who are both buried here.

"I came to show my belief in Imam Hussein -- this event has nothing to do with personal motivations or politics," said 40-year-old Mohammed Abdul Hussein, who travelled from neighbouring Babil province.

Karbala police chief General Ali Jassim Mohammed said that around 25,000 policemen and soldiers had been deployed to secure the commemoration ceremonies, which climax on Saturday and Sunday and mark the death of Imam Hussein in 680 AD.

Security perimeters have also been formed throughout the city, while helicopters are providing extra surveillance and bomb-sniffing dogs are being used at checkpoints.

To counter women suicide attackers who have struck Karbala before, security forces have deployed 600 female personnel on three roads into the city. Cameras are also monitoring pilgrims' movements across Karbala.

During Ashura in March 2004, near-simultaneous bombings at a Shiite mosque in Baghdad and in Karbala killed more than 170 people.

Since Tuesday, 25 people have been killed and more than 120 wounded in violence targeting Ashura, including attacks on worshippers in Karbala and the predominantly Shiite neighbourhood of Sadr City in Baghdad.

In Sadr City on Friday, a roadside bomb killed six people, most of them children, and wounded 26 others when it struck a procession marking Ashura.

And a day earlier in Karbala, a bomb killed one person and wounded 12.

Security chiefs have also vowed to prevent any political exploitation of the festival as Iraq prepares to go to the polls for parliamentary elections on March 7.

Authorities are also concerned about the spread of swine flu from foreign worshippers, the majority of whom are arriving from Iran, Pakistan and Arab Gulf countries.

"We expect more than 60,000 foreign pilgrims to come, and we have ordered them to visit health centres to be sure they do not have any diseases," said provincial governor Amal Adin al-Her.

"All hotel owners must inform authorities about any cases of illness among their residents."

He estimates that 1.5 million pilgrims will visit Karbala on Saturday and Sunday.

Ashura, which means tenth in Arabic, falls on the 10th day of the Muslim month of Muharram.

Tradition holds that Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, was decapitated and his body mutilated by the armies of the caliph Yazid.

To express remorse and guilt for not saving Hussein, Shiite volunteers flay themselves with chains or slice their scalps during processions to the Karbala shrines.

Shiites make up around 15 percent of Muslims worldwide. They represent the majority populations in Iraq, Iran and Bahrain and form significant communities in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.


Shia mourning procession dispersed in Srinagar, several hurt in clashes

IANS 26 December 2009

SRINAGAR: Police used batons and tear smoke shells to disperse a Shia mourning procession here Saturday.

Over two dozen people were injured and an equal number taken into custody when Shia mourners gathered in the uptown Pratap Park here, adjacent to city centre Lal Chowk, to take out a procession commemorating the martyrdom of the Prophet's grandchildren in Karbala (Iraq) 1,360 years ago.

Since the eruption of armed violence here in 1989, the authorities have not allowed the Shia mourning procession which was traditionally carried out here on 8th of Muharram according to the Muslim calendar.

Tension gripped Lal Chowk as traffic halted in the area because of the clash between the Shia mourners and police.

"The protesters tried to violate the law and police had to intervene to restore order," a senior police officer told IANS.


Israel drops terror alert on India

Shubhajit Roy

Dec 26, 2009

New Delhi : Israel has dropped its two-month-old terror alert for its nationals visiting India. The move is being seen by India as an outcome of unravelling of the 26/11 terror plot, following FBI’s charges against David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana.

The terror alert was called off early this week by the counter-terrorism bureau in the Israeli National Security Council — which comes directly under Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s office — after it said, “successful counter-terrorism activity”.

This, officials in New Delhi believe, is going to have a huge positive impact on the ongoing tourist season, especially since Goa in India is an extremely popular destination for Israeli nationals.

The alert was issued on October 15 this year and had been classified as “very high level concrete threat” and had recommended that Israelis refrain from frequenting popular tourist spots, Chabad-Lubavitch centres and other Jewish sites. This warning had stated that the terror organisation that was responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks was plotting several more attacks in India, targeting tourist sites, Chabad centers and also Goa.

In the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks last year, terrorists had gone into the Chabad House in the city and killed six people, including Rabbi Gabriel and his wife Rivka Holtzberg. Their son, Moshe, had a miraculous escape.

In New Delhi, security and intelligence agencies are reading this development of cancelling the travel alert as a consequence of charges filed by American prosecutors against Chicago-resident David Headley, accused of reconnaissance of more terror targets and helping the terrorists in carrying out Mumbai attacks. Israel, however, still advises its citizens to refrain from going to Jammu and Kashmir.

The advisory also recommends that Israelis avoid sites that do not have official security personnel screening people at the door. “Despite the suspension of the warning, it is best to remain in secure places¿ and exercise extreme caution at all times,” states the bulletin.


'US plane incident an attempted terror attack'

AFP 26 December 2009

WASHINGTON: A man who attempted to light an explosive aboard a US airplane as it landed in Detroit on a flight from Amsterdam told investigators he was affiliated with al-Qaeda, US media reported on Friday.

CNN, citing a federal bulletin, said the man told investigators he had acquired the explosive in Yemen, along with instructions as to when it should be used.

President Barack Obama, who is vacationing with his family in Hawaii, was notified about the incident and held a conference call with his national security team, the White House said.

Sandra Berchtold, an FBI spokeswoman in Detroit, told AFP the incident was under investigation.

The incident unfolded around noon local time (1700 GMT) aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, which was carrying 278 passengers from Amsterdam.

A spokewoman for Northwest's parent company Delta told AFP the man tried to light what appeared to be firecrackers.

"A passenger caused a disturbance on board by igniting some firecrackers," said Susan Elliott.

"The passenger was immediately subdued and Delta is cooperating with authorities in the investigation," she added.


US to scrap Iraq pregnancy rule

26 December 2009

BAGHDAD: The US military in Iraq will scrap a policy early next year that has led to the punishment of some soldiers serving in Iraq for becoming pregnant, the commander of US forces in Iraq said.

General Ray Odierno said the new, Iraq-wide guidelines would take effect beginning January 1, lifting rules enacted by the US commander in northern Iraq, who reports to Odierno, that laid out possible punishments for pregnancy among his soldiers.

The policy had been criticized by some women's advocates and on Tuesday four US senators wrote to the secretary of the US army asking that it be rescinded. "That will not be in my orders from January 1," Odierno said in Baghdad.

According to US policy now, individual commanders can issue rules on behavior for troops under their command that are more strict than those issued by their military superiors.

Major General Tony Cucolo, in charge of 22,000 US troops in northern Iraq, has defended his policy, saying that he could not afford to lose soldiers to pregnancy while the US military draws down its soldiers from Iraq.

Possible punishments for becoming pregnant, or getting another soldier pregnant, ranged from an administrative reprimand to court martial.

His policy had been in effect since November 4. Four of his soldiers had been found to be pregnant since then. Three male soldiers involved were also reprimanded, one more seriously because he had committed adultery.


Pakistan releases 100 Indian fishermen

Dec 26, 2009

Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan released 100 Indian fishermen from a Karachi prison on Friday, prior to their repatriation.

The fishermen were being taken in buses to the India-Pakistan border at Wagah and scheduled to reach there on Saturday morning. They are to cross over into India some time during the day on Saturday after completing immigration formalities.

The release was a “goodwill gesture” announced by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani earlier this week.

Hundreds more Indian fishermen remain in Pakistani jails, besides other Indian prisoners. Mr. Gilani’s gesture invited some adverse remarks in Pakistan’s parliament on Thursday. A senate committee was informed that there were more than 1,000 Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails, and the Indian government was not showing any interest in releasing them. Members of the committee are reported to have observed that “the Pakistan government is releasing the Indian inmates in Pakistan as a goodwill gesture, while we are getting the bodies of Pakistanis in response,” a reference to the deaths of Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails.


Suspected US Missiles Kill 3: Pakistan Officials

December 26, 2009

MIR ALI, Pakistan (AP) -- Intelligence officials say a suspected U.S. missile strike has killed three people in a northwest Pakistani tribal region.

The strike occurred in North Waziristan, a hotbed of militant groups engaged in the fight against Western troops across the border in Afghanistan.

Two intelligence officials said the Saturday strike also wounded two people. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to media on the record.

The U.S. has launched numerous missile strikes on militant targets in Pakistan's tribal regions. Pakistan publicly protests the strikes but is believed to secretly aid them.


BJP slams J&K autonomy report, calls it a farce

TNN 26 December 2009,

NEW DELHI: The principal opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party, on Friday stepped up its opposition to the recommendation for greater autonomy to J&K made by a panel set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh under former Supreme Court judge, Justice (retd) Saghir Ahmad.

In a sharply-worded letter, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, who was a member of the Working Group led by the retired SC judge, questioned the validity of the recommendation made by him, calling it a farce. Jaitley pointed out that the Working Group never met after September 3, 2007 and no draft report was prepared.

"The report at best is the personal opinion of Justice (retd) Saghir Ahmad or of those who helped him draft it. It is certainly not a consensus document of the Working Group. The report is a farce in so far as it claims to be the recommendation of a Working Group. It deserves to be fully ignored," Jaitley said in a letter to the Prime Minister.

He also suggested that those behind the report were playing to the international gallery which wants India to make concessions on J&K. "The crucial question, however, would be as to why over two years after the virtual abandonement of the Working Group, this report was unilaterally authored? What was the compulsion to by-pass the Working Group and produce the report? I have an uneasy feeling that the government wants to show to some sections of the international community that it is willing to dilute the Indian position on Jammu and Kashmir. Is this report showcased for that purpose?"

He also criticised the retired judge. "It is improper for a retired judge to have drafted a report on a sensitive issue impinging on national sovereignty, that too two years after the last meeting of the group without bothering it to discuss it with any member of the group."

Justice (retd) Ahmad has recommended restoration of autonomy "to the extent possible" to J&K, saying that National Conference's stand could be the basis for determining what kind of powers should be delegated to the sensitive border state. The NC has called for the revocation of all the central laws extended to the state since 1953.

BJP, which calls for the abrogation of Article 370 and is opposed to rolling back of Centre's jurisdiction, is planning to launch a campaign in Jammu on the issue. It also expects support from Panthers' Party that was also represented on the Group.

Peoples' Democratic Party is also sure to oppose the recommendation, though for a different reason. It is demanding "self-rule" for the state and feels that NC's autonomy plank falls far short of that.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Jaitley pointed to the representation of diverse groups on the Working Group, to say that the panel could never have agreed to make the recommendation Justice (retd) Ahmad has made. "Whose report is it that has now been presented to the state government? Is it an opinion of a retired judge of the Supreme Court?" asked Jaitley.

The Leader of Opposition also questioned the competence of judges to be the arbiter of deeply fraught political issues. "A judge by training is not competent to comment on sensitive political issues. He can only adjudicate issues that are judicially determinable. It is an improper practice to drag judges into the political thicket. The practice of providing assignments to retired judges and using them to rubber-stamp a government's agenda has to be deprecated."


DHAKA: Khaleda party leaders have terror links: Minister

PTI 26 December 2009

DHAKA: Some leaders of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its radical ally Jamaat-e-Islami have been "involved in militant activities", the home minister said on Friday.

"Some leaders of the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami were found involved with militant activities when the (BNP-led) four-party alliance was in power," Sahara Khatun said.

She added that the Awami League led government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was determined to bring them to justice "to make sure that militancy does not grow in the country."

The ruling party has accused a section of the past BNP regime of patronising militancy during its 2001-2006 tenure. Two junior ministers of Khaleda Zia's government are in jail facing trial for their alleged links to banned Islamist groups Harkatul Jihad (HuJI) and Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

Former state minister for home Lutfuzzaman Babar last month reportedly claimed that Zia's elder son Tarique Rahman was involved in the deadly August 21, 2004 grenade attack on Hasina' rally that killed 24 people and injured over 300.

Media reports quoting investigators said that former junior minister for home Babar told them that Zia's son Rahman had asked him not take actions following the attack.


Pakistan PM:  ‘Army, ISI working under me’

Shafqat Ali

Dec. 25: Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has said that the powerful Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are working under him and are not taking independent decisions.

"The ISI and the Ar-my are working under me. There is no political role of these institutions and the government is taking all the decisions," Mr Gilani said.

He added "Some people think otherwise but there was no role of Pakistan Army in reinstating the Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry."

In an interview with a private television channel here, Mr Gilani said the ISI is working effectively under his control and command and he is satisfied with it. "I have visited nuclear plant many times," he added.

When asked about Kerry-Lugar bill which was openly opposed by the Army, the PM said, "There is no difference between stance of army and government over the bill. The Army is with us and would support us."

The Prime Minister said that the Pakistan Army — which has directly ruled the country for more than half of its age as an independent nation — is bound to ensure implementation of the elected government’s orders un-der the Constitution.

"For the first in history of Pakistan, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party has cordial relations with the general headquarters," he said.

The PM said that Army Chief General Ashfaq Par-vez Kayani is in favour of democracy and the biggest example in this respect was resignation of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

"General Kayani had a chance to support Pervez Musharraf but he instead of doing that he supported democracy," he said.


Vatican top cleric in Abu Dhabi walks thin line

Barbara Surk

Dec. 25: The Vatican’s top cleric in the heart of Muslim Arabia tends to a flock of 2 million Christians spread around six desert nations.

But he has to do it quietly: Most of them must still pray in secret and are forbidden to display crosses and other symbols of their faith. From his base in the emirate of Abu Dhabi on the Persian Gulf, Archbishop Paul Hinder travels the Arabian Peninsula, even slipping in and out of Saudi Arabia — the birthplace of Islam, where restrictions on Christianity are the toughest.

"We are tolerated, but not popular here," Archbishop Hinder said in an interview in the archbishop’s living quarters inside a Christian compound in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

He spoke wearing the traditional hooded robe of his Capuchin order. The white garb blends in just fine with the Arab robes worn by men in the region, so he wears it in public — but without a cross around his neck or the belt of three knots that also mark the order. "People here know who I am, although I never wear a cross when I go outside out of respect for local conditions," said Archbishop Hinter, a Swiss citizen.

Still, he says, there are signs of slow change, even in Saudi Arabia, where small groups who in the past would have been punished or deported if caught practising the Christian services are now left in peace to pray privately.

The UAE and the neighbouring Gulf nations of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman have taken greater steps. They have allowed churches to be built on land donated by the countries’ rulers, though there are no outward signs that the buildings are houses of worship.

On Thursday night, Archbishop Hinder led a midnight Christmas Eve Mass for several thousand the faithful at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi. Reflecting the diversity of the community, more than a dozen Christmas Day services will be held for 10,000 worshippers in at least eight different languages.

The cathedral is in a downtown compound that’s also home to Anglican, Greek Orthodox and Egyptian Coptic churches. Crucifixes, icons, rosaries and other religious symbols are allowed within the walled compound. —AP


Osama daughter at Saudi mission free to leave Iran: FM

Tehran, Dec. 25: Osama bin Laden’s daughter who has taken refuge at the Saudi mission in Tehran is free to leave Iran once her identity is confirmed, foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki was on Friday quoted as saying.

"A while ago the Saudi embassy here said the one of Bin Laden’s daughters is in the compound, so the foreign ministry told the embassy that based on international conventions if her identity is confirmed she can leave Iran with passage documents," ISNA quoted Mr Mottaki as telling state television late Thursday.

"We were not able to confirm her identity but the embassy says she is" the daughter of Bin Laden, he added. Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat earlier this week quoted Omar bin Laden, the fourth son of the Al Qaeda chief, that one of his siblings, Iman, 17, had recently sought asylum at the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Mr Fuad Qassas, the Saudi charge d’affairs at the kingdom’s embassy in Tehran, confirmed Iman was staying there, according to the newspaper, which said she has been seeking permission to leave Iran, so far without success.

Omar bin Laden also said that five other siblings plus one of his father’s wives who had been missing since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan had been traced to Tehran, where they are living under house arrest.

Omar, who lives in Qatar, said he only learnt his family members were still alive after receiving a call last month from his brother Uthman, who had been secretly given access to a mobile phone by a young Iranian.

British newspaper the Times reported 11 of Bin Laden’s grandchildren were also living in the high-security compound outside Tehran.

The group fled Afghanistan just before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and walked to the Iranian border, where they were detained and taken to the walled compound by guards, the Times said. His relatives are said to be living as normal a life as possible, cooking meals, watching television and reading, but they are allowed out on shopping trips only rarely. The Times said Iman escaped from the compound during one such trip last month and fled to the Saudi embassy. —AFP


Course correction: Catholic body seeks change in education Act

Maroosha Muzaffar

Dec 26, 2009

New Delhi : The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India (CBCI), which had raised objections to a clause in the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, will press for an amendment to safeguard the constitutional right of minorities, the organisation spokesperson told Newsline.

Clause 21 of the Act deals with setting up of management committees. “Under the clause, such committees should comprise elected local representatives and those of teachers and parents,” said Father Babu Joseph Karakombil. “It, however, makes no mention of the role of the owner or manager of school.”

Karakombil said the inclusion of a local elected representative will “violate the constitutional rights granted to the minorities”.

“Our constitution gives minorities the right to establish and administer an institution of their choice. However, if a management committee is formed as mentioned in the clause, the owner or management of school loses the right to administer. This is violation of minority rights.”

There are nearly 30, 000 catholic educational institutions in the country and 45-50 in Delhi.

“We are asking the government to amend this particular clause so that minority-run educational institutes are exempted,” Karakombil said.

The CBCI has also met HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and Minister for Minority Affairs Salman Khursheed. “Sibal had promised to bring in the amendment but nothing has been done so far. If they fail, we will have no other option but to challenge this in the court of law,” the spokesperson said.

The Act, which was notified this year, makes it mandatory for every child in the age group of 6-14 to get elementary education. “Rules are yet to be framed to enforce the Act. We will wait and then take appropriate measures.”

“Political interference in educational institutions has to be reduced. It is not a welcome thing,” Karakombil added.


India: Centre sits on Hamid minority report

By Naseer Ganai in Srinaga

Panel wanted AFSPA in J& Kto go in 2007

TWO DAYS after the Prime Minister’s working group on Centrestate relations recommended autonomy for Jammu & Kashmir, it was revealed on Friday that another of his panels had suggested that the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act ( AFSPA) be revoked from the valley.

However, nothing was done after the group, headed by Hamid Ansari, the then chairperson of the national commission for minorities, submitted its recommendations to Manmohan Singh in 2007.

In fact, most of the recommendations of Singh’s three other working groups, which submitted their reports directly to him two years ago, were implemented. The panels were constituted following an announcement made by him at a roundtable conference held in Srinagar in May, 2006.

The group headed by Ansari, now the country’s Vice- President, focused on confidence- building measures across segments of society in the state.

Its major recommendation was the revocation of the AFSPA and the Dis

turbed Areas Act. “ Certain laws made operational during the period of militancy impinge on the fundamental rights of citizens and adversely affect the public. They should be reviewed and revoked.

Law and order matters should be dealt with, to the maximum extent possible, through normal laws,” it said.

The panel suggested that a comprehensive list of widows and orphans hit by militancy should be compiled before framing effective schemes for their rehabilitation.

“ The data should also include wives and children of missing persons or those presumed dead. Setting up of a special cell for their identification should be considered,” it said.

The group also wanted the right of Kashmiri Pundits to return to their places of origin be recognised and made part of the state policy.

So far, the Centre has done little to revoke the two Acts despite both the National Conference and the Peoples’ Democratic Party seeking its withdrawal.

In fact, even the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, led by Mirwaiz Umar, has put the Act’s revocation as one of the conditions for entering into peace talks with the government.


Peaceful Xmas for Kandhamal, Orissa

By Ashutosh Mishra in Bhubaneswar

PUTTING bitter memories of last year’s communal riots behind them, Christians in Kandhamal celebrated Christmas peacefully on Friday.

There were no reports of any untoward incident from the tribal- dominated Sundergarh and Mayurbhanj districts, where Christian missionaries and Sangh Parivar outfits have been at war.

“ We have not received any report of untoward incidents so far,” said senior community leader Father Joseph Kalathil.

In Kandhamal, people poured into churches across the district since Thursday night braving the chill. The churches brimmed with the faithful who found a new joy in celebrating the occasion after disruptions during the last two years.

With no trace of tension or fear, Christians turned up in large numbers for the midnight mass even at the churches located in remote areas.

Kandhamal superintendent of police Praveen Kumar said security had been beefed up throughout the district in view of the festival and patrolling was also intensified. Ten checkposts had been set up at various points in sensitive areas such as Phulbani Sadar and Shankarakhol, Kumar added.

Sources said 34 platoons of Orissa Special Strike Force, India Reserve Battalion, Orissa Special Armed Police and the state police force was deployed in the district.

There were special security arrangements at sensitive places including G. Udaygiri, Tikabali, Raikia, Baliguda, Daringbadi and Kotgarh, a police officer said.

Sources said the snapping of ruling Biju Janata Dal’s ties with the BJP, and

the consequent weakening of Sangh Parivar elements — who earlier enjoyed official patronage — was majorly responsible for the change in Kandhamal’s ground reality.

“ Sangh leaders are aware they will be booked the moment they try to cause any trouble. That’s why they are being cautious,” said a police officer.

Besides, the lapse of time after the riots has allowed the wounds to heal. Communal sentiments are no more running high in Kandhamal as they did in the wake of VHP leader Laxmanananda Saraswati’s death in August last year.


Pope knocked down, delivers Christmas message

Woman repeats last year’s stunt. Jumps barricade to attack pontiff

POPE Benedict XVI delivered his traditional Christmas Day blessing on Friday, looking tired and unsteady but otherwise fine hours after being knocked down by a woman who jumped the barrier at the start of Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Vatican said the 82- year- old pope was unhurt in the fall and that his busy Christmas schedule would remain unchanged.

French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, an 87- year- old Vatican diplomat, fractured his hip in the commotion and will be operated on at Rome’s Gemelli hospital, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.

Benedict appeared a bit unsteady on Friday as he approached his chair on the loggia overlooking St. Peter’s Square to deliver his traditional Christmas blessing and was steadied by an attendant.

But he then spread open his arms, blessed the crowd and delivered his “ Urbi et Orbi ” speech, Latin for “ To the city and the world,” without any problem. He followed with Christmas greetings in 65 different languages that drew sustained cheers from the crowd.

In the speech, the pope decried the effects of the world financial crisis, conflicts in the Holy Land and Africa, and the plight of the “ tiny flock” of Christians in Iraq.

Lombardi identified the woman who toppled Benedict as Susanna Maiolo, 25, a Swiss- Italian with psychiatric problems. He said Maiolo, who was not armed, was taken to a clinic for necessary treatment.

She was the same woman involved in a similar incident at last year’s Midnight Mass, Vatican officials said. In that case, Maiolo jumped the barricade but never managed to reach the pope and was quietly tackled to the ground by security. In both cases, she wore a red sweatshirt.

During Thursday night’s service, Maiolo jumped the barricade and

lunged for the pope as he came down the aisle toward the altar. As security guards brought her down, she grabbed the pope’s vestments and pulled him down with her, according to witness video obtained by The Associated Press . After a few seconds on the floor, Benedict stood up with the help of attendants, put back on his miter and took hold of his staff, and continued to process down the aisle to the cheers of “ Viva il Papa! ( Long live the pope)”. It was the first time a potential attacker came into direct contact with Benedict during his nearly five- year papacy. Security analysts have frequently warned the pope is too exposed in his

public appearances.

After getting up, Benedict, flanked by tense bodyguards, reached the basilica’s main altar to start the Mass. The pope, who broke his right wrist in a fall this summer, appeared unharmed but somewhat shaken and leaned heavily on aides and an armrest as he sat down in his chair. He made no reference to the disturbance after the service started or on Friday.

The pope is protected by a combination of Swiss Guards, Vatican police and Italian police.

Since the 9/ 11 attacks, the Vatican has tightened security at events where the pope is present.

All visitors must pass by police to get into the square, with those entering the basilica going through metal detectors or being scanned by metaldetecting wands.

However, Sister Samira, an Indian aide to Vatican officials who attended the service and saw the incident, said she was never searched by security when she attends papal Masses, and said the same held true for other people in religious garb.


Yemeni director combats terrorism with propaganda

By Jeffrey Fleishman

December 26, 2009

Government filmmaker Fadhel al-Olofi's 2008 hit, 'The Losing Bet,' seeks to show the follies of the terrorists' ways, articulating the battle within Islam between moderates and radicals.

Reporting from Sana, Yemen

Al Qaeda is toast, roll the credits.

If you can't annihilate the enemy on the battlefield, take the battle to a new dimension, complete with rousing music, saluting children, waving flags and soldiers so heroic you keep looking for pedestals beneath their boots.

Good prevails in the scripts of Fadhel al-Olofi, a producer and film director for the Yemeni government, which lends him helicopters and ammo to destroy whatever bad guy haunts the imagination of a country stuck in a real-life civil war and bloodied by attacks by Islamic extremists.

Olofi creates unapologetic propaganda to comfort Yemenis craving repose and a story line that doesn't end with a funeral.

What's wrong with that?

Enter Jamal Jubran al-Thawi, brooding journalist and critic. (Wait, let's keep him stewing in the wings a bit longer.)

"The Losing Bet" is Olofi's challenge to Al Qaeda and militant networks seeking to exploit Yemen's poverty, unrest and political chaos. The 2008 hit film is a morality tale of enlightened security officials and reformed extremists bringing to heel a band of bearded men with rippling eyebrows who clasp Kalashnikovs and mutter lines such as "strike with an iron hand" and "cunning atheists."

Oh, those cunning atheists. They're tourists with cameras, the target of a suicide bomber. But on Olofi's screen, at least, this young nation's good and stoic citizens will not stand for the perversion of Islam by prophets of jihad. So he kills the hardened ones and brings those less committed back to the righteous fold, the folly of their ways laid bare by wise old men:

"Is this jihad?" asks a father of his zealous son, who appears amid gnashing string instruments. "Your thoughts are neither religion nor Islam."

Like other Arab countries, Yemen is "suffering from terrorism," said Olofi, who is busy these days producing patriotic public service announcements for television. "It's destroying our national economy and infecting our youth. . . . Art has a great message. It can be more powerful than weapons."

What unfolds on screen crudely articulates the struggle within Islam between moderates and fundamentalists. The film's mission is to turn the lens inward to show that extremism is not only a futile strike against the West, but a damaging blow to the future of Muslim societies.

Never mind that the movie doesn't examine the corruption and authoritarian governments across the Middle East that breed radicalism; the director is concerned with the more opaque question of who is truer to the Koran.

Full report at:,0,860099.story


Auschwitz sign stolen to fund terror attacks?

AGENCIES 26 December 2009

The Nazi gang that ordered the theft of the infamous 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign from the gates of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland planned to sell it to fund violent attacks against the Swedish PM and Parliament, it was claimed on Friday.

A spokesman for the Swedish security police confirmed that the authorities were taking seriously a threat by a militant Nazi group to disrupt national elections next year, reports Times Online.

The wrought-iron sign, whose inscription — translated as 'Work sets you free' — was viewed by hundreds of thousands of Jews as they entered the Nazi death camp where they met their deaths during the Second World War. It was stolen from the camp — now a museum — last Friday, provoking worldwide expressions of dismay and revulsion.

It was recovered on Monday, hacked into three pieces and wrapped in cloth. Allegations concerning who ordered the theft, and why, surfaced on Friday in Swedish newspapers after the former leader of a Swedish Nazi group claimed it had been stolen to order for a collector in England, France or the United States.

The Nazi source said that the money would pay for an attack on the home of Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Swedish PM who has held the rotating presidency of the European Union for the last six months, and on the Swedish Foreign Ministry, the paper reported. A third attack allegedly involved plans to bombard Swedish MPs from the public seats of the parliament.

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