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Give up Babri Mosque Claim: Hindutva Leader's Appeal to Muslims

Bomb at Pakistan Mosque Kills Dozens

Ministry Will Monitor Whipping Sentence On Muslim Women - Shahrizat

One former terrorist is now dedicated to fighting radical Islam and teaching peaceful interpretation

Baaghil: first Saudi woman photographer

Dubai names Al-Mabhouh ‘killers’

Mossad behind Hamas man's hit in Dubai: Israeli security

Local jihadi outfit behind Pune blast?

Terror is agenda of Indo-Pak talks: Krishna

Taliban faces ultimatum in Kunduz

Prince of Jihad' to face bombing trial

Film explores Muslims struggling with life in West

Central Bank's reforms may aid Islamic Banking

Reuters Summit-Indonesia banks should focus on Islamic lending

US plans to invest in long-term relationship with Muslim youth’

Brown wants probe as Israel denies role in Hamas murder

Saudi murdered in London

Working mothers in a double bind

Fallah Festival for orphan care begins in Jeddah

Women lawyers face difficulties in pursuing careers

Death penalty sought for Al-Qaeda suspects in Lebanon

A smart move but the real test is still ahead

Obama accuses Republicans of hypocrisy

Syria frees Islamist preacher

Two ‘bandits’ burnt to death in Lyari

US wants Pak-India talks to end tensions

Baradar’s arrest confirmed

“Corruption in Pakistan can invite another coup”

Who do you think is more dangerous, the Naxal or the jihadi?

Quebecer gets life for plotting terror

In Habit: A detail from Mars Drum's Burka and Ned at the Guggenheim IV.

Aligarh Muslim University professor suspended for being gay

4 Kashmiris among 40 detained in Pune probe

Stone-pelters guided from Pak: Omar Abdullah

Pune blast: Al-Alami action points to Qaida hand

Sparring before dialogue: India, Pak argue on scope of talks

LeT change of tack? Saeed open to dialogue with India

Two militants killed in 11-hour gun battle in Baramulla

11 get bail in Shopian case

Terrorists will not dictate terms: Chidambaram on threat to sportspersons

Pak fostering terror, not helping bilateral ties: India

3 Malaysian women caned for extramarital sex

‘Karzai met Taliban in Maldives’

Bangladesh to amend law to restore properties to Hindus: Minister

Canadian Muslim gets life term for plotting attacks on Europe

India to Pakistan: No composite dialogue

Bangladesh writer Taslima Nasrin’s plea to India

52% against 2nd term for Obama

Capture of Taliban No 2 Pak bid to win US trust?

In Blow to Taliban, 2 More Senior Leaders Are Arrested

Russian military chief warns US against striking Iran

Iran shows contempt for human rights: AI

'Pak military admits extremism poses existential threat'

Taliban using human shields says Afghan official

Cops track woman who helped Headley

Terror expert: 'No basis' for engaging Syria again

Pandering To The Islamic Conference

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

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Give up Ayodhya claim: Gadkari's appeal to Muslims

Feb 18, 2010

 INDORE: Bringing to the fore yet again the party's pet issue, new BJP President Nitin Gadkari on Thursday said the Ram temple in Ayodhya is its soul and appealed to the Muslims to adopt a "generous" attitude by giving up their claim on the disputed site.

In his presidential address at the opening of the two-day National Council here, he also spoke on issues seeking to broadbase support for the party like wooing Dalits and minorities and the need to instill a new work culture in the organisation without resorting to sycophancy.

Leaving no one in doubt about the party's stand on issues like Ayodhya and alleged minority appeasement, 52-year-old Gadkari, the RSS choice for the post, said "the BJP stands fully committed to the construction of a grand temple in Ayodhya".

"Today, I appeal to the Muslim community to be generous towards the sentiments and feelings of Hindus and facilitate the construction of a grand Ram temple. If you (Muslims) give up your claim on the land at the disputed site, we will cooperate in the construction of a magnificent masjid in a nearby land," he said.

Gadkari's remarks are seen as a new attempt by the BJP to revive the Ram Janmabhoomi issue while at the same time making a bid to co-opt the minorities.

The opening session also saw the former President Rajnath Singh apologising to partymen for any wrong decisions taken during his term that witnessed bitter infighting among middle-rung leaders, especially after the Lok Sabha debacle last year.

Gadkari was scathing in his criticism of the Government on its alleged attempts at minority appeasement. He, however, said it was wrong to say that BJP was against Muslims. If it was so, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani would not have made A P J Abdul Kalam the nation's President.

Apparently referring to AICC General Secretary Digvijay Singh's visit to Azamgarh, he said that "some Congress leaders have converted suspected dens of terrorists as places of political pilgrimage. Repeated visits of politicians to those areas have emboldened the enemies of the nation".

Preparing his party for a long haul, Gadkari spoke of plans to raise the party's vote share by 10 per cent and appealed to partymen to reach out to the under-privileged sections, such as the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities in a "big way".

"People are waiting for political workers who would respond to their agonies and aspirations. They are keen to join us provided we connect with them.

"Remember, we just cannot afford to fail. Let us make a collective resolve to increase our vote share at least by 10 per cent by breaking new grounds and taking new initiatives.", he said.

Gadkari also sought to bring a new work culture in the organisation by telling partymen to desist from sycophancy, assuring them that performance will be rewarded and sending a clear signal that the leadership will have "zero tolerance to indiscipline".

"We will try to develop a culture of cohesiveness in the organisation but will also have zero tolerance to indiscipline", Gadkari said.

"Let us strive collectively to overcome the recent temporary setback and bounce back with renewed vigour," he said.

The reference to "temporary setback" was obviously to the defeat of the party in the Lok Sabha elections last year for the second time after 2004.

Gadkari conceded "our party too faces stiff challenges, which we must candidly admit, objectively understand and resolutely overcome."

Asking partymen to refrain from actions like touching the feet of leaders like him , he said that this was a "symbol of servility" and does not go well with a party like BJP which proclaims itself as a party with a difference.

Touching the feet of veterans like L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi is another thing, but to do with other leaders who are in authority does not send the correct message, was his refrain.

"If you deserve it you will get it. I have become the party chief without visiting the residences of party leaders or spending on bouquets, garlands or cutouts," Gadkari said.


Bomb at Pakistan Mosque Kills Dozens


February 18, 2010

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A bomb blast in the Khyber tribal area has killed at least 30 people and wounded more than 70 others, residents and security officials in the region said Thursday.

The blast struck a meeting of the militants in the Aka Khel area of the Khyber tribal region, near the Afghan border. Local residents and security officials said a local militant commander, Azam Khan, was killed in the explosion. Mr. Khan, who ran the local FM radio station, was delivering a sermon on the radio when the blast occurred.

It was not immediately clear if the bomb was detonated by a remote-controlled device or by a suicide bomber. There were no claims of responsibility.

Mr. Khan was affiliated with Lashkar-e-Islam, a militant group headed by the militant commander Mangal Bagh. The Khyber District borders the Orakzai tribal region, and an intelligence official said some of the dead were affiliated with Maulvi Noor Jamal, a Pakistani Taliban commander in the tribal areas of Orakzai and Kurram.

A Pakistani intelligence official in Peshawar said the militants were using the mosque as their headquarters and were busy in preparing suicide vests and roadside bombs. The blast happened when one of the vests exploded, he said, adding that the death toll was so high because the mosque is near a market for cattle and hashish.

Another possible cause for the explosion, Pakistani officials said, was that the blast on Thursday was a result of a power struggle between Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansar-ul-Islam, a rival banned militant group.

Both groups have clashed in the past in their efforts to take control of Khyber, which is adjacent to the provincial capital Peshawar and serves as an important supply line for transportation of goods intended for NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pir Zubair Shah reported from Peshawar, and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan.


Ministry Will Monitor Whipping Sentence On Muslim Women - Shahrizat

February 18, 2010

The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry will monitor the implementation of the whipping sentence on Muslim women to ensure that it is fairly and judiciously done.

Its minister, Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, said since whipping punishment was a sensitive issue especially when a woman was involved, the ministry would monitor such cases to avoid confusion and misperception of the Islamic laws among the public.

"The ministry understands that the implementation of the punishment is in line with the Islamic laws enforced in the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.

"As the minister in charge of women affairs in the country, I really hope that the whipping sentence on Muslim women will be carried out fairly and judiciously," she said in a statement here Thursday.

On Wednesday, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein was reported as saying that the whipping sentence had been carried out for the first time on three women on Feb 9 at the Kajang Women Prison.

He said two of the women were sentenced to six strokes of the rotan, while the other was sentenced to four strokes.

Hishammuddin said the three women, together with four men, had been sentenced to whipping under section 23 (2) of the Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory Syariah Criminal Offences Act 1997 (Adultery) by the Kuala Lumpur Syariah High Court between December 2009 and January this year.


One former terrorist is now dedicated to fighting radical Islam and teaching peaceful interpretation

By Atara Beck

17 February 2010

TORONTO – Former terrorist Dr. Tawfik Hamid, senior fellow and chair for the Study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and author of Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam, is dedicated to fighting the spread of radical Islam by teaching a fresh, peaceful and theologically sound interpretation of the Koran to young Muslims.

“Antisemitism is rising, no doubt,” he told an audience of about 800 at Beth Tzedec synagogue last Tuesday evening. “Justification for barbarism is rising.” However, “I’m here to tell you there is a solution. Islam has to teach values of peace.”

The war on terror “is not a war between Israel and the Arabs or between the West and the Arab world or Islam,” he asserted. “It’s a war between civilization and barbarism, between love and hate, between life and death. We either win this war or we will lose this civilization.”

Born in Egypt in 1961, Dr. Hamid, a medical doctor, hails from a secular, materially comfortable family.

“It’s terrorism that brings poverty, not poverty that brings terrorism,” he declared. “And why do these factors [poverty, low level of education and lack of freedom] not affect non-Muslims and make them become suicide bombers?”

In Gaza, for example, “just imagine the flourishing economy that could be created.”

When he was a student, “the first experience that put me in touch with the Divine was through studying the DNA molecule. Unfortunately, this motivation towards G-d led me to join an Islamic group, the Jumai Islamia [JI].”

The first principle he was taught at JI was to suppress any critical thinking.

“If you start to think, you’ll become an infidel,” he was told.

He became a radical together with the likes of Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri, who eventually was Al-Qaeda’s second in command.

Other brainwashing techniques included using the concept of hellfire to scare believers into murdering for G-d’s cause and exploiting the sexual deprivation syndrome among male students, who were discouraged from marrying and from having extramarital relations.

According to Dr. Hamid, the danger emanating from radical Islamists increases “when they smell that you are weak…. They don’t think with the same logic. You have to realize that…. You must think before making concessions.”

He discussed the reasons for the development of radical Islam, beginning with the increasing wealth of Saudi Arabia in the late 1970s, which many perceived to be a blessing because of its form of Islam – often referred to as petro-Islam. It was in fact a literal understanding of religion, he explained, resulting in the impossibility for Jews and Christians to survive there; women had no rights, and the arts and music were totally suppressed.

Second, and “in my view, the most dangerous” element, was the taking on of jihad as a personal responsibility, which resulted in suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism.

Third, “with your wonderful immigration policies, you invited them to spread this violence all over the world,” he said, referring to the current situation in Europe and the radical Islamist threat facing the entire civilized world, including North America. “Many people think it’s complicated, but it’s straightforward.”

According to Dr. Hamid, the agenda of world domination is mainstream among Moslems and will remain so without the availability of a peaceful interpretation of the Koran. In fact, the Koran recognizes that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews, he said.

He passionately challenged allegations that Israel is the cause of terrorism in the Middle East.

“When 150,000 innocent Algerians are murdered and their children are butchered in front of their eyes…can anyone say the Arab-Israeli conflict is the cause?

“When I was young, I always saw queues of Palestinians trying to live in Israel, but I never saw queues of Israeli Arabs trying to leave. If Israel is an apartheid state, why isn’t anyone trying to escape that hell?”

Notwithstanding the facts, many Western intellectuals continue to buy the notion that Israel is to blame, and Dr. Hamid believes the reason is antisemitism, even among leftist Jewish groups.

To test the sincerity of certain imams claiming to support interfaith dialogue and peace, he presented seven concepts that would be denounced publicly and unambiguously if they truly reject radical Islam: killing apostates; beating and stoning women; calling Jews pigs and monkeys; declaring war on non-Muslims; enslavement of other human beings; fighting and killing Jews, and killing gays.

He also weighed in on Iran.

The civilized world must stand together with Israel to halt Iran’s nuclear program, he said. “We were lucky with 9/11 because if they had nuclear weapons, they would have used them. I know, because I was one of them.”

He concluded with a moving poem he wrote the night American Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded by radical Islamists in Pakistan. It ended with the line: “If they have killed you because you are a Jew, then I am a Jew from now on.”

The lecture was sponsored by Speakers Action Group and Beth Tzedec Men's Club.


Baaghil: first Saudi woman photographer


Feb 18, 2010

Susan Baaghil at the 10th Jeddah Economic Forum. Susan organized a number of local and international photo galleries which showed the Saudi heritage and the Kingdom’s development in various fields.

JEDDAH: Susan Baaghil, a professional Saudi woman photographer working for Reuters News Agency has, because of her professionalism and talent, been the focus of attention at the 10th Jeddah Economic Forum which opened Saturday.

“I have to take pictures from various angles and send them quickly to the agency. My long experience in the field enables me to take a number of good photographs of participants at the forum in the lobby of the hotel. I have really captured some impressive moments,” she told Arab News.

Susan said she had been working for Reuters in Saudi Arabia for four years. “My experience in the world of photography is now more than 25 years. I was the first professional Saudi woman photographer,” she said.

She said photography required complete concentration and a creative sense in order to take good quality photographs.

Susan also said she had organized s number of local and international photo galleries which showed the Saudi heritage and showed the Kingdom’s development in various fields.

“In my book, ‘Handicrafts from the Arabian Peninsula,’ you will find an encyclopedia of Saudi handicrafts with more than 230 photographs spread over 300 pages,” she said.

She added that the book emphasizes creativity of people in the Arabian Peninsula who have, over the years, been able through perseverance to surmount difficulties and come up with creative works.

Susan said the book was a result of two years of hard work during which she roamed the Kingdom. “I climbed mountains, went down into valleys and crossed the Empty Quarter. I used helicopters to take aerial photos,” she said.

Baaghil has received both regional and international recognition. Museums, universities and government ministries around the world are proud to own her photographs.


Dubai names Al-Mabhouh ‘killers’


DUBAI: Dubai Attorney General Essam Eisa Al-Humaidan has issued international arrest warrants for suspected killers of Hamas commander Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh. The identities of the 11 suspects holding European passports have been given to the global police coordination agency Interpol. The case rings of clockwork espionage and detailed planning that included suspects riding the same elevator as Al-Mabhouh before he was slain in an ambush-style attack in a luxury hotel room that took no more than 10 minutes.

But questions emerged about the list of suspects after Dubai authorities released pictures, names and passport photos identifying them as six Britons, three Irish and one each from France and Germany.

Ireland said the three alleged Irish citizens on the wanted list do not exist. In Germany, officials said the passport number given by Dubai for the lone German suspect is either incomplete or wrong.

Other elements also challenged the narrative presented by Dubai authorities, including how investigators pieced together the evidence pointing to an alleged European assassin team. Or why such an apparently well-planned operation would forget about the country's wide-ranging security cameras.

Hamas has repeatedly accused Israel's Mossad secret service of masterminding the slaying and has vowed revenge.

Al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of Hamas' military wings, had been wanted by Israel for his role in the 1989 kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers on leave — something that was acknowledged by Hamas last month.

At least two Palestinians linked to the case were in the custody of Dubai authorities, leaving Hamas and its Palestinian rivals trading bitter accusations. The two men, both residents of the United Arab Emirates, had "fled to Jordan" after Al-Mabhouh’s murder, Dubai police chief Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim said. The pair was extradited from Jordan "three days ago," Tamim said, adding there was "strong suspicion" that one of the two had met a member of the suspected hit team before the assassination.

Meanwhile, doubts were raised about some suspects' identities. Melvyn Adam Mildiner, 31, one of the men identified by the Dubai police as a suspect, was shocked when an AP reporter reached him on the phone in Israel and read him the information released by Dubai officials.

Mildiner, who said he holds a British and an Israeli passport, confirmed the name and the passport number matched his but said the date of birth was a few days off. He said he did not know how anybody obtained his UK passport, issued in 2001 and never reported lost. "I have my passport. It is in my house, along with the passports of everybody else in my family, and there's no Dubai stamps in it because I've never been to Dubai," he said.

Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement Tuesday that authorities were aware the “holders of six British passports have been named” as suspects in the case but added authorities believe the passports used were fraudulent.

Dubai officials have said they would press individual nations to hunt down the suspects.

— With input from agencies


Mossad behind Hamas man's hit in Dubai: Israeli security

Feb 18, 2010

JERUSALEM: Israeli security officials said Wednesday they were convinced the Mossad was behind the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai and harshly criticized the spy agency for allegedly stealing the identities of its own citizens to carry out the hit.

Names released by Dubai matched seven people living in Israel, raising questions about why the agency would endanger its own people by using their passport data as cover for a secret death squad.

At the same time, some Israeli experts said the Dubai evidence pointed to a setup to falsely blame Israel.

A vague comment from Israel's foreign minister, who neither confirmed nor denied Mossad's involvement, only added to the spy novel-like mystery surrounding the slaying of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was found dead Jan. 20 at a luxury hotel near Dubai's international airport.

``Israel never responds, never confirms and never denies,'' Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in Israel's first official comment on the affair, then added: ``I don't know why we are assuming that Israel, or the Mossad, used those passports.''

Some senior Israeli security officials not directly involved in the case were less circumspect, saying they were convinced it was a Mossad operation because of the motive _ Israel says al-Mabhouh supplied Gaza's Hamas rulers with their most dangerous weapons _ and the use of Israeli citizens' identities.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a government order not to discuss the case, characterized the operation as a significant Mossad bungle.

If it develops into a full-blown security scandal, that could harm Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu politically.

Some compared the case to another Mossad embarrassment during Netanyahu's previous term as prime minister, the failed attempt to kill Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in 1997. Two Mossad agents posing as Canadian tourists were captured after injecting Mashaal with poison, and Israel was forced to send an antidote that saved Mashaal's life. Today Mashaal is Hamas' supreme leader.

Still, there was praise for the Dubai operation from some analysts who noted the major difference between it and the Mashaal case is that the latter failed and the former achieved its goal _ the assassination of a Hamas commander.

``Al-Mabhouh is dead and all the partners to the operation left Dubai safely,'' wrote analyst Ronen Bergman of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

Critics slammed the Mossad, not for killing al-Mabhouh on foreign territory but for doing it sloppily and endangering Israeli citizens in the process. A front-page commentary in Israel's Haaretz daily by defense analyst Amir Oren called for the ouster of Mossad director Meir Dagan.

``What is needed now is a swift decision to terminate Dagan's contract and to appoint a new Mossad chief,'' he wrote. ``There's no disease without a cure.''

Dubai authorities released names, photos and passport numbers of 11 members of the alleged hit squad this week, saying all 11 carried European passports. But most of the identities appeared to have been stolen, and at least seven matched up with real people in Israel who claim they are victims of identity theft.

Among them is Melvyn Adam Mildiner, a dual Israeli-British citizen who said one of the numbers matched his own UK passport. He told The Associated Press he had never been to Dubai.

Others expressed shock that their names were used. Paul John Keeley, a 43-year-old father of three, told Haaretz he was worried ``that someone will try to harm us.'' Stephen Hodes told Israel Radio: ``I'm simply afraid. These are powerful forces.''

The revelations by Dubai, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, raised many questions: Could someone be trying to make it look like the Mossad carried out the hit? Might Israel have wanted to leave behind a fingerprint to enhance the Mossad's mystique? Did Israel underestimate Dubai's policing abilities? Why would Israel risk exposing 11 agents by allowing them to be filmed by Dubai surveillance cameras, even if they were disguised?

Answers were not forthcoming, yet if Israeli involvement is confirmed, the al-Mabhouh killing is likely to be remembered as one of the more stunning hits in the Mossad's history of undercover operations.

The affair could have unwanted diplomatic repercussions for Israel. Britain's Foreign Office summoned Israeli Ambassador Ron Prossor for talks about the case Thursday.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised an inquiry, saying: ``The British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care.''

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said Wednesday the three Irish passports did have valid numbers, reversing Ireland's position of a day earlier, but he said they were issued to people with different names than those made public by Dubai. He said the Foreign Ministry was trying to determine whether the passports had been stolen or lost recently.

The Mossad has been accused of identity theft before. New Zealand convicted and jailed two Israelis in 2005 for trying to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports.

However, this would be the first time the Mossad has been suspected of using the identities of its own citizens.

If the Israeli government was behind the identity theft, it broke Israeli laws against impersonation and fraud, said Nirit Moskovich of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Some experts doubted the Mossad was involved. Rafi Eitan, a former Cabinet minister and Mossad agent who took part in the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1960, speculated Israel's foes were trying to frame it by using the identities of Israelis.

``It means some foreign service, an enemy of Israel, wanted to taint Israel. It took the names of Israeli citizens, doctored the passports ... and thus tainted us,'' Eitan said.

Lawmaker Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy commander of Israel's Shin Bet internal security service, urged a meeting of the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee to discuss the matter.

``No one should use someone's identity without his permission or without his understanding in some way what it is being used for,'' Hasson told Israel Radio.

Hamas, for its part, said it had no doubt who was to blame. ``The investigation of the police of Dubai proves what Hamas had said from the first minute, that Israel's Mossad is responsible for the assassination,'' said Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator in Gaza.

At a Gaza rally of some 3,000 supporters, Hamas' military wing vowed revenge. Addressing the crowd by phone, Mashaal said the al-Mabhouh assassination ``paves the way for capturing soldiers until we free all our prisoners from (Israeli) prisoners.''

Israel's spy service has been suspected of carrying out assassinations for decades. Recent ones include Imad Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah commander who was killed in 2008 by a bomb that ripped through his Pajero SUV in Damascus, Syria. Israel denied any role in the hit.

Tehran also blamed Israel for the death of a senior Iranian physics professor who was killed last month when a bomb-rigged motorcycle exploded. Israel did not comment.


Local jihadi outfit behind Pune blast?

18 FEBRUARY 2010

New Delhi, Feb. 17: Security agencies have got leads into the Pune blast directing towards the role of the local terror modules of a home-grown jihadi outfit being used by the Pasistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba to carry out Saturday’s bomb blast. Top government

 sources on Wednesday said that it is not a co-incidence that US-based LeT terror suspect David Headley had visited Osho Ashram, located near the blast site, twice in 2008-2009. The local modules, which may have been activated by the LeT, are also believed to have got support from elements outside Maharashtra to carry out the bomb blast in Pune.

Government sources said that a breakthrough in the Pune blast is expected very soon. "Investigation is on right track. More or less we have identified the people behind the blast. It has some links with Headley’s visit to Pune," the sources said. Not ruling out the Headley link, top government sources said that the email sent by Laskhar-e-Tayyaba Al Alami, claiming responsibility of the Pune blast, is only a ‘’cover’’ used by the LeT. The email was located to the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, the sources said.

"The use of a new name, Laskhar-e-Tayyaba Al Alami, shows only a diversification or outsourcing by the LeT. It is only changing names to hide its identity," a government official said.

The security agencies are looking at the terror modules of the Indian Mujahideen, which is believed to have a strong base in Pune. Atleast 30-40 people are being questioned by the state police to get information about the blast, the sources said. The agencies believe that some of the terror modules of the IM may have been activiated during Headley’s six visits to India, where he visited several Indian cities.


Terror is agenda of Indo-Pak talks: Krishna

18 FEBRUARY 2010

External Affairs Minister SM Krishna on Wednesday made it clear that terrorism would be the agenda of the forthcoming talks between Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan here on February 25. He also said India was not restarting the composite dialogue which was stalled for the last 14 months after the Mumbai terror attacks on November 26, 2008.

“The composite dialogues, they are suspended. Let the nation not be under mistaken inference that composite dialogues are being renewed. Composite dialogues are suspended from the Indian point of view. The issue that we raised remained to be addressed by Pakistan with a degree of seriousness,” he said.

The Minister’s reiteration came a day after Pakistan said it would raise issues like Kashmir, India’s alleged role in fomenting trouble in Balochistan besides other outstanding matters. Krishna said the brief to the Indian Foreign Secretary was that terror would be the ‘centre’ and ‘focus’ of the talks.

Stating that the Government was not aware about the issues to be raised by the Pakistani Foreign Secretary, he said India offered to hold talks to engage Pakistan on the core issue of terrorism and terror driven activities emanating from there. “Hence we offered that the talks take place at the level of Foreign Secretaries,’ he added.

Elaborating upon India initiating the talks, Krishna said there were some developments in the last 14 months and Pakistan admitted that the conspiracy to attack Mumbai was hatched in Pakistan and by Pakistani nationals.

Based on these admissions and Pakistan taking steps like arresting some persons, “we thought that we should start exploring the possibilities with Pakistan. After all we are neighbours and would want reasonably good relationship with Pakistan,” the Minister said.

Advocating engagement with Pakistan, he said that could be done only “when we talk. There have been high level talks earlier at Sharm el Shekih at the level of Foreign Ministers and Foreign Secretaries level. He also said, “We should engage Pakistan and try to make them see the path of reason.”

As regards the Pune incident, he said, “Pune is a grim reminder that terrorists do not want good relations between India and Pakistan. There is no other reason why the blast took place at this point in time.”

When asked about the Opposition expressing reservations on the talks, Krishna said the Government was willing to look at a better suggestion if given by the Opposition. He stressed the point that the composite dialogues was suspended and would not happen anytime soon.

On the issue of investigations into the Mumbai terror attacks, Krishna said India had given enough evidence to Pakistan about the masterminds. “We provided them with documents to carry out further investigations in Pakistan as the crime was committed, hatched and carried out by Pakistanis. We thought it is necessary to know that after 14 months what they have done to address our concerns.” The terror infrastructure is a threat to India and to the stability in the region, he added.


Taliban faces ultimatum in Kunduz

February 18, 2010

The governor of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan has challenged the province's Taliban fighters to lay down their arms and support the government or face a major offensive similar to the one under way in Helmand.

The Taliban has increased its presence and activities in Kunduz over recent months.

"Afghanistan and international forces are preparing for a major operation against the Taliban in the north, just like in Helmand," Mohammad Omar, the governor, said on Wednesday.

"I request the Taliban to lay down their arms and the government will solve their problem. They have lost commanders ... who were captured. It is time for them to stop fighting.

"If you refuse to surrender, the operation will take place and we will clear the area of the Taliban."

Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Kabul, also quoted Omar as confirming that the Taliban's "shadow" governors of Kunduz and Baghlan had been captured in Pakistan.

The men were captured in Quetta and "the governor is predicting victory", she said.

Amid the talk of political reconciliation, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, has said that the Kabul government must remove "obstacles" if it wants to succeed in resolving the conflict through peaceful means.

"If [Hamid] Karzai [Afghan president] really wants to talk to the Taliban, he has to move the obstacles in the way," he said in an interview to Al Jazeera.

Zaeef said the question of "blacklist, wanted list and also the reward list" had to be addressed and that the UN had to recognise the Taliban.

The Taliban recently called Afghan overtures for talks "futile" and "farcical", although it says it is open to dialogue to achieve its goal of an Islamic state.

The developments come as a joint 1500-strong force of Afghan, US and Nato battles the Taliban in the Afghan city of Marja in Helmand province.

The Taliban is said to be still putting up resistance.

Drug dealers' den

US officials said Marja, which has been in control of the Taliban for years and is a den for drug dealers, has been secured and that a new administration would be installed in weeks.

But Al Jazeera's James Bays in Helmand said the "low military progress and the fact that they still have to clear a lot of area of mines" would make it hard to install a government.

Nato forces say the offensive, in which 15 Afghan civilians have died, is aimed at re-establishing Afghan government control so security and civil services such as police stations, schools and clinics can be set up.

Officials have reported the deaths of only two international forces troops during the operation so far, with one American and one Briton killed on Saturday.


Prince of Jihad' to face bombing trial


February 18, 2010

An Indonesian Islamist nicknamed the "Prince of Jihad" will face trial accused of raising funds for last year's Jakarta hotel attacks but prosecutors admit they may struggle to convict him.

Prosecutors will allege Mohammed Jibril was linked to terrorist Saifuddin Jaelani, also known as Saifuddin Zuhri, one of the chief planners of the July 17 bombings on the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels that killed seven, including three Australians.

They will allege Jaelani received funds from a retired Saudi teacher named Al Khelaw Ali Abdullah which he passed on to Jibril to open an internet cafe in 2008.

"From this internet cafe they could generate some more money as well as using it as a way to communicate their views to the outside world," prosecutor Totok Bambang told AAP ahead of next week's trial.

Before the attacks Jibril, 25, was well-known for publishing a popular radical Islamist website and a glossy magazine called Jihadmagz.

He is the son of prominent radical cleric Abu Jibril, a former student of Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the group responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings.

He is known to have spent some time working with a JI unit in Karachi.

Nonetheless, Bambang conceded it had been difficult to mount a case against Jibril.

"This is a difficult case because this is the case of funding terrorism," he says.

"In funding, it's difficult to get evidence because only several transactions could be traced.

"They deliver the money hand to hand, not through bank accounts.

"There are very few witnesses for this."

Terrorism expert Sidney Jones said the evidence against Jibril appeared weak.

"It came as a surprise to a lot of people when he was arrested because he was somebody who seemed all bluster, and not necessarily involved in any way," Dr Jones told AAP.

Jaelani was a senior acolyte of terrorist leader Noordin Mohammed Top, who was killed in a police raid in September.

After Top's death, Jaelani is thought to have assumed control of Top's violent JI splinter cell, which was believed responsible for a string of attacks in Jakarta and Bali.

But Jaelani was himself killed in a separate police raid in October.







Central Bank's reforms may aid Islamic Banking

By Oluwaseyi Bangudu

February 18, 2010

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) said the new phase of reforms will positively impact on the provisions and requirement of Islamic banking, and hasten the progress of that arm of banking.

Mohammed Abdullahi, spokesperson for the CBN, said that Islamic banking is not a Sanusi Lamido Sanusi programme, but started by his predecessor, Chukwuma Charles Soludo.

"This policy has been on for about three years and has been approved in principle for some time now. I can recall that Jaiz International Bank Plc has been given approval in principle to operate as an Islamic Bank. All that the Central Bank is waiting for them to do is to mobilise their capital base of 25 billion required for operations in the Nigerian banking system."

He also noted that under the current reforms, banks have been falling in line with the CBN requirement, adding that the recent announcement on the categorisation of Nigerian banks for bank specific solutions will boost Islamic banking operations.

"I believe that Islamic banking or Zero interest banking would fare very well under that arrangement and it is possible that they may not be required to raise exactly 25 billion before they can start operating. Islamic banking and the Central Bank are trying to introduce a supervisory framework for easy supervision," he said.

Interests are growing

Mr. Abdullahi said few banks have also indicated interest and indeed have actually started processing their setup for Islamic banking in Nigeria, without disclosing their identities. He added that the CBN will rely much on the success and experience of the Negara of Malaysia. "They have gone far in the operations of Islamic banking and I believe we have a lot to learn from them, and we hope to use their experience to develop our own locally. As soon as that is done, everything would become clearer. Islamic banking has been provided for in the Banks Act and Approval-in-Principle has already been given during Soludo's time," he said.

Apart from Jaiz International, he also revealed that BankPHB was also given approval in principle to operate Islamic banking, and has been operating the system for some time now.

Bank PHB offers the classic Bank PHB interest free account. A statement on the bank's website said, "This product is designed for Muslim faithful desiring banking services without compromising their religious beliefs."

The interest-free banking offer the following products: Current Account, Savings account, Investment account, and Hajj Target Savings account, with minimum account opening balances ranging from 2,000, and attracts no penalty for account closing."

The statement also added that with simplified account opening procedures, the interest-free products are expected to accommodate all Muslim faithful of bankable age group, irrespective of gender or income level, including women in Purdah.

No Knowledge, no banking

A non-interest bank, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria, means a bank which transacts banking business, engages in trading, investments and commercial activities, as well as the provision of financial products and services, in accordance with the principles and rules of Islamic commercial jurisprudence.

Last year, the CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, said operators needed to have the knowledge of modern banking and of Islamic banking before they can participate in the system because, "The services would be available to Muslims and non-Muslims. It is not a religion; it is a product available to the public. If things are set in place, I would be in support."

In March 2009, the Central Bank released a framework for non-interest banking. It also expressed the desire to collaborate with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), National Insurance Commission (NAICOM), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) among others, to ensure the successful implementation of Islamic banking system in the country.

Many of the banks are still weary of delving into this branch of banking because according to them, the framework states that the funds cannot be mixed and the institutions should be treated as separate entities, even if they are owned by the same bank.


Reuters Summit-Indonesia banks should focus on Islamic lending

By Gde Anugrah Arka and Sonya Angraini

Feb 18, 2010

Indonesia's state banks should be discouraged from making conventional loans and focus instead on Islamic financing to spur the development of the domestic sharia finance sector, a sharia banking expert said on Wednesday.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has been slow in developing its Islamic finance sector, lagging behind neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

Parliament passed a law last year removing double taxation for Islamic banks, a key issue which had hampered the growth of sharia banks in the country.

The law, which comes into effect in April, is expected to give a boost to the sector but more drastic steps are necessary to speed up the sector's development, Achmad Riawan Amin, chairman of an association of Indonesia's sharia banks

(Asbisindo), told the Reuters Islamic Banking and Finance Summit.

"Under (this) proposed scheme, there would be no new financing except for Islamic-compliant financing. This would eventually cause conventional lending to disappear," said Amin, former president director of the country's first Islamic lender, privately-owned PT Bank Muamalat.

Amin said he had submitted the proposal to the central bank, Bank Indonesia, and was waiting for a response.

However, any move to force banks to switch from conventional lending to Islamic financing could face strong resistance from the government, which is trying to encourage loan growth to the business and retail sector, as well as from the banks themselves.

The four main state-controlled lenders -- Bank Mandiri (BMRI.JK: Quote, Profile, Research), Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BBRI.JK: Quote, Profile, Research), Bank Negara Indonesia (BBNI.JK: Quote, Profile, Research), and Bank Tabungan Negara (BBTN.JK: Quote, Profile, Research) -- control about a third of total domestic banking assets of $270 billion.

All four of the banks have either full-fledged sharia units or sharia banking windows, or specialist units, but these are relatively tiny.

Indonesia's sharia banking assets have grown at around 40 percent annually, twice the pace of their conventional peers, in recent years but the sector remains insignificant at just 2.5 percent of total domestic banking assets -- well below the government's target of at least 5 percent.

Amin said the authorities could easily beat the 5 percent target if state banks only extended Islamic-compliant financing.

He played down concerns that such a move would raise borrowing costs in the domestic market -- going against moves by both the central bank and the government to increase borrowing by encouraging banks to lower their lending rates.

Fees are generally higher in the Islamic financing sector than in the domestic conventional banking because of the more complex structure of the loans. Finance fees are now around 20 percent, almost twice the rates for conventional banks.

Under Islamic law, sharia banks are banned from charging interest. Borrowers may obtain funds from Islamic banks in the form of profit-sharing, partnerships or joint ventures, or through a scheme where banks buy products such as motorcycles and sell them to the bank customers at a profit.

Amin said the higher borrowing costs were also due to limited resources and capital at sharia banks.

"If Bank Mandiri turned all its assets into sharia-compliant assets, the cost would be lower," he said.

The proposal "would need to be approved by the finance minister, the state enterprises minister, Bank Indonesia governor and the chief economics minister. If these four people approve the idea, it won't take many years," to boost domestic Islamic banking, Amin said.

(Click [nISLAMIC] for more Islamic finance stories and ISLAMIC for a speed guide)

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(Editing by Sara Webb & Kim Coghill)

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Film explores Muslims struggling with life in West

Sarah Marsh

Wed Feb 17, 2010

BERLIN (Reuters) - German-Afghan director Burhan Qurbani shines the spotlight on the difficulties facing young Muslims in the western world in his first feature film "Shahada," set in multicultural Berlin.

The film, which won applause at its screening at the Berlin film festival on Wednesday, is about the intertwining tales of three young German-born Muslims struggling to reconcile their family faith and traditions with a modern, Western lifestyle.

"My motivation was to get the audience to look at the film and connect with this religion that is all around them," said Qurbani, born in Germany of Afghan parents. "I hope the film will get the public to talk, to debate."

Guilt is a central theme. Sammi is torn between his faith and his desire for one of his male co-workers. Ismail, a police officer of Turkish descent, cannot overcome his angst over having shot illegal immigrant Leyla and killed her unborn child.

Meanwhile, Maryam's guilt over having an abortion pushes her toward ultraconservative Islam, despite her moderate upbringing.

"Growing up as a Muslim, living in a Western society, I sometimes made lifestyle decisions ... that made me feel guilty for not being a good Muslim," said Qurbani.

"I eventually managed to deal with this knot of guilt and realized that I could conduct my faith in my own way -- this is also what the film is about."

"Shahada" is part of a recent wave of critically acclaimed German movies challenging cultural stereotypes and exploring the difficulties facing the so-called second generation of immigrant communities.

In 2004, Fatih Akin's "Head-On," the turbulent story of a German woman of Turkish origin who flees her strict Muslim home, was the first German film in 18 years to win the top prize at the Berlin film festival.

Iranian-born actress Maryam Zaree, who plays Maryam in "Shahada," said the film showed that Germany was made up of people with many different backgrounds and faiths.

"We need to get away from seeing these people as different and being afraid of their otherness, toward realizing they are also part of this country," she said.

"All the members of the film's crew have their roots in different countries, but we are all German nonetheless."


US plans to invest in long-term relationship with Muslim youth’

By Iftikhar Gilani

February 18, 2010

NEW DELHI: The United States is planning to invest in long-term relationship with Muslim youth and build partnership with the community all over world based on the concept of “mutual interest and respect”, US Special Representative for the Muslim Community Farah Pandith said on Wednesday.

She was speaking with students at Jamia Millia Islamia and later at a gathering of Muslim intelligentsia.

She said that focus of the Obama administration was to engage young Muslim generations in dialogue and establish people-to-people contact.

"Secretary of State (Hillary) Clinton has asked me to work with our embassies around the world to engage in this dialogue building, this partnership building process with Muslim communities based on present frame work of mutual interest and mutual respect and in addition focus on the next generation," she said, adding that one-fourth of world populations constitutes Muslims. She said more than 45 percent of the world population is under the age of 30 and “we want to invest in relationship building with this generation”.

Pandith, however, carefully avoided political issues. She did not comment on the US stand on Palestine, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier speakers after speakers in her presence raised political questions on US withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Noted Muslim scholar Prof Akhtarul Wasey told her peace was not possible in the world without the resolution of Palestine issue. Jamia Hamdarad Vice Chancellor GN Qazi questioned “biased homeland security system and visa policy”.

“Even after living in the US and doing post-doctorate there, the US Embassy here refused to grant me visa on a diplomatic passport because my name was Ghulam Nabi,” he said, saying such things distances Muslims from the US.\02\18\story_18-2-2010_pg7_40


Brown wants probe as Israel denies role in Hamas murder


Feb 17, 2010

Palestinians protest by standing on top of an Israel flag during a rally Wednesday in Gaza. (Reuters)

TEL AVIV/LONDON: Britain will launch a full investigation into the use of forged passports by a hit squad responsible for the murder of a senior Hamas leader in Dubai, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Wednesday.

His comments came as Israel's Foreign Minister denied that his country's intelligence agency Mossad was behind the assassination of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in a hotel in Dubai on January 20.

Issuing the first reaction by an Israeli official to suspicions that Mossad was behind the killing, Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday that it was "not correct" to assume that Israel was behind the assassination.

His comments come after revelations that several of the people named by Dubai authorities as being part of the hit team bore the same names as British immigrants to Israel.

Six of the 11 people whose names were published by the Dubai authorities held British passports, which the Foreign Office has said were forged.

"We are looking into this at this very moment, we have got to carry out a full investigation into this. The British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care," Brown said in a radio interview.

Opposition politicians in Britain have demanded that the Israeli ambassador should be summoned over the affair, but the Foreign Office said Wednesday it had "not made any official representation to the Israeli ambassador about the case."

Brown said the British government would seek to accumulate evidence about "what actually happened" before making any official statements on the matter.

Meanwhile, Liebermann told Israel Army Radio: "I don't know why we take it for granted that it was Israel or the Mossad that used those passports or the identities of that British citizen."

Rafi Eitan, a former government minister and high-ranking Mossad official, was more direct.

"The Mossad was not behind the assassination of Mahmoud Al- Mabhouh, but rather a foreign organization that is trying to frame Israel," he told the radio station.

Al-Mabhouh, 50, one of the founders of the Hamas military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, was found dead in his hotel room on January 20, a day after arriving in Dubai.

The authorities in the United Arab Emirates have named 11 European passport holders in connection with the case, including the six Britons, three Irish, a German and a French citizen.

Two of the British men, who have lived in Israel for many years, were reported Wednesday to have been shocked at the use of their identity.

According to the BBC, Israel-based Melvyn Mildiner, 31, who holds a British and Israeli passport, said he had never been to Dubai.

"Wow, I didn't know that (the number) was out. That's horrid," he said, adding: "I have never been to Dubai."

Mildiner also revealed that although the name and number of the travel papers matched his own, the date of birth was off by a few days.

British-born Paul Keeley, 42, a builder who has lived on a Kibbutz in northern Israel for the past 15 years and had not left Israel for two years, the BBC and the Daily Telegraph reported.

"When I first heard about this I immediately looked to make sure my passport was still there and it was," he said.

"It has not been stolen so I don't know what on earth has happened," he added. "It is all very worrying but I know I have not done anything wrong."

Those traveling with UK documents were named as Michael Lawrence Barney, James Leonard Clarke, Jonathan Louis Graham, Paul John Keeley, Stephen Daniel Hodes and Melvyn Adam Mildiner.

It is believed that while details like the names, numbers and dates of birth on the suspect passports matched the originals, the photographs and signatures differed.

Dubai's police chief Lt. Col. Dhafi Khalfan Tamim said the identities of the suspects had been passed to Interpol, so that international warrants for their arrest may be issued.


Saudi murdered in London

Feb 18, 2010

JEDDAH: Police in London are investigating the murder of a 32-year-old Saudi man whose body was found late Monday at the five-star Landmark hotel in London.

He had been strangled and beaten to death. A 33-year-old man was taken into custody on Tuesday evening but has not yet been charged.

It has been widely reported in the British press that the arrested is a minor Saudi prince who had employed the victim. However, the British police have not named or charged the man.

Under British law he can be held in custody no later than 10 p.m. local time on Thursday. He then has to be charged or released. The police said they know the identity of the victim but would not release details until formal identification had taken place. They were trying to locate his next of kin.

“Police were called in reponse to reports of the body of a man found in a third-floor room at the Landmark Hotel in Marylebone Road at 16:50 local time on Monday. Officers and paramedics from the London Ambulance Service attended the address and the man was pronounced dead at the scene,” an official statement said.

The cause of death was given as “manual compression of the neck and head injury.” A Saudi Embassy official said that the matter was in the hands of the police. The Landmark, next to London’s Marylebone station, is in an area popular with many Arab visitors to the city.


Working mothers in a double bind


Feb 18, 2010

MAKKAH: Many working mothers are able to successfully hold down jobs while meeting the demands of their husbands, kids and housework. This is the case in the main, unless the women have demanding and constantly nagging husbands who feel neglected. In such scenarios, such working mothers are given the ultimate option of choosing between their husbands and careers.

“About nine years ago I got divorced because my ex-husband felt I couldn’t cope with working as a teacher and at the same time fulfill my duties as a wife,” said Sahar, a woman Saudi teacher of 15 years and mother of three.

“I used to work 24/7. The moment I came home after school I would immediately enter the kitchen and prepare lunch for my husband and children. I would then iron my husband’s clothes, as he wasn’t fond of the housemaid doing this. I would then supervise my children while they completed their homework and then prepare my lessons for the next day,” she said, giving an outline of her daily routine.

“After Isha prayers in the evening, I would go back to the kitchen to prepare food for the next day and wait for my husband to return home before retiring to bed. Then I would wake up early for Fajr prayers, wake my children up, give them breakfast and get them ready for school. I’d only go to work once they’d all gone to school,” she added.

Sahar said her husband would constantly nag her and then finally asked her to choose between leaving working or a separation. “I chose the latter because I was sure that even if I opted for him, he would ultimately divorce me. A few months later he divorced me,” she said.

Nasreen, another Saudi female teacher of 16 years, has a similar story to tell. “Before I got married I was totally dependent on my maid for all housework,” she said. “Under my ex-husband’s wish, I learned to cook and would prepare meals for him all by myself. However, no matter what I did, he was difficult to please and would threaten to get another wife if I didn’t stop working,” she added.

“I thought he was just bluffing and teasing me but he then went ahead with it. He not only got himself a second wife but also sent me my divorce papers,” she said.

Prior to getting married, Huda’s ex-husband promised to allow her to work and said he understood that she is a workingwoman. “After a few months into the marriage, he began complaining and accusing me of not being able to balance between working and house chores,” she said.

“I tried my best to understand why he was complaining and came to understand that he preferred eating home cooked meals rather than takeaways,” she said.

Huda said some of her colleagues at school told her about a female cook who would deliver home cooked food at her home everyday. “I made arrangements with this women to cook for me and have the food delivered at my home at 2 pm everyday. I’d be at home by this time and her son would come with the food, I would pay him and take the food,” she said.

This carried on for an entire year until the day she was late returning home. “When the woman’s son came with the food, my ex-husband opened the door. It was then that he realized what had been going on. He was furious and divorced me,” she said.

Huda said she does not regret getting divorced. “Things happen. However, what really pains me is the fact that he’d promised to allow me to work and understand. He forgot his promises and left me just because of  food.”


Fallah Festival for orphan care begins in Jeddah


Feb 18, 2010

JEDDAH: The Fallah Festival for orphan care — under the theme “Protection and Compassion to Orphan Children” — began at the car racecourse in Jeddah on Tuesday evening.

The event, organized by the Saudi Corvette and Camaro Club in collaboration with the Social Care House in Makkah province, was attended by 300 orphan children, 1,000 families and several private and public establishments.

The festival aims to create awareness about social responsibility and voluntary social services.

Six well-known Saudi car racers — Ahmad Al-Tabash, Sultan Hamdi, Saud Al-Oqail, Raid Zahran and Turki Allam and Saleem Al-Tabash — demonstrated their driving skills at the event.

Folk dance, poetry recitations, and cultural and social competitions were also held at the opening, which was attended by poets, singers and sportsmen.

Children were excited when participating families started distributing gifts. “The organizing committee aims to organize similar events in 20 cities to benefit one million orphan children in the Kingdom. It will also organize sponsorship programs for children with special needs, the old and the weak, and also encourage people to offer voluntary service when natural calamities occur,” said Saud Al-Oqail, chief of the festival’s organizing committee.

Racer Ahmad Al-Tabash said the festival includes sports and cultural contests. “The event, which was organized during the school vacation, also aims to help orphans acquire creative skills that would enable them to integrate into the social mainstream,” he said.

Sultan Hamdi stressed the importance of organizing festivals that encourage society to participate in sponsorship programs for orphan children. “The Fallah festival reflects the cooperation of all sections of society, including individuals and establishments to support orphans, children with special needs and the old and the infirm,” said Hamdi, calling on people to come forward to sponsor orphans.


Women lawyers face difficulties in pursuing careers


JEDDAH: An increasing number of women law graduates in the Kingdom are facing difficulties securing training at Saudi law firms, which are also few in number.

Majed Garoub, chairman of the Saudi Legal Center for Training, said it is a must for law graduates to receive training in law offices, a process that is necessary for graduates to obtain permits to practice.

“The size of these offices is such that they cannot cater to the total number of students who graduate every year. There are no trainers to train them nor do these offices have training departments,” he said.

Garoub said that in order for law firms to improve, it is necessary that they provide training. He added that experience should be passed on to successive Saudi generations instead of continuing to rely on foreign experts.

He said that the law curriculum in universities is poor, out of sync with practical life and not of any benefit to students. He added that mock courts are often in the male sections and proceedings are transmitted to female students via camera, something that is not practical.

Speaking about work opportunities for women law graduates, Garoub said there are abundant jobs available.

“They can join the police or the Commission for Investigation and Public Prosecution. There is a general misconception regarding the law profession in the Kingdom. This is largely due to teaching methods in law colleges and Saudi society,” he added.

Commenting on why law firms are reluctant to take on trainees, law student Alaa Ashi said firms feel trainees will leak information on cases. “Practical training is vital in order to graduate and apply what we learn when studying,” she added.

Meanwhile, many women lawyers say they are unwelcome in court. Daniya Abu Al-Ela, a recently qualified lawyer, described the entire system as a mess.

“Women lawyers are not welcome in the Kingdom’s courts at all,” she said, adding that as a result she is forced to operate through male representative.

Yasmin Lanjawi, another woman lawyer, said training is important.

“All final year law students look for training placements during the summer vacations,” she said.

“Women lawyers usually specialize in commercial contracts and real estate and look forward to joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as legal consultants,” she added.


Death penalty sought for Al-Qaeda suspects in Lebanon

Feb 17, 2010

BEIRUT: A Lebanese military investigative judge charged 11 suspected Al-Qaeda militants on Wednesday with planning to commit crimes against Lebanese authorities and spying on the Lebanese army and UN peacekeepers.

Judge Samih Al-Haj indicted the group of Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians, six of whom have fled Lebanon and the rest have been detained, on charges that carry a death penalty.

The indictment said the men had "formed an armed gang with the purpose of committing crimes against people ... undermining state authority and prestige, spying on the military and UN peacekeepers, and forging passports."

Among the accused is a fugitive leader of Fatah Al-Islam, the Qaeda-inspired group that battled the Lebanese army in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon in 2007.

Another suspect was accused of carrying out a bomb attack that killed 15 people, including 10 soldiers, in the northern city of Tripoli in 2008.


A smart move but the real test is still ahead

By Ansar Abbasi

February 18, 2010

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani apparently played a smart move to earn kudos for the resolution of a self-created, almost fatal, constitutional crisis but his sincerity towards the judiciary and its judgments will be on real test in case of the difficult decisions ordered by the SC in the NRO verdict.

The two-day manoeuvres of the prime minister had pushed the widely-respected Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to a situation where questions had begun to be raised on whether he should have met Gilani or not. But he came out of the meeting like a true winner.

The CJP did not utter a word to the anxiously-waiting media persons gathered at the PM House, and departed immediately leaving it to the prime minister to clarify that the meeting between the two was part of the consultative process on the appointment of judges.

It was Gilani again who was made to announce to the whole world that all the appointments sought by Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry were being notified.

More importantly, though the press release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office did not name the NRO, it carried an assurance, “The prime minister said that the government holds the judiciary in high esteem and shall implement all the decisions of the higher judiciary in letter and spirit.”

An official source said that the chief justice had talked to the prime minister about the non-implementation of the Supreme Court judgment on the NRO. No official confirmation could, however, be obtained.

The PM House sources said that the chief justice arrived for the meeting almost 45 minutes late but remained firm on all of his recommendations. The prime minister had nothing to say but to concede as he realised that he had been grossly misled by his legal aides.

The government is taking credit of making it a habit of eating its own words whenever it is under pressure. It was, however, very clever on part of the chief justice of Pakistan to have achieved everything that he wanted to without getting himself harmed in a situation that was otherwise extremely vulnerable.

Not only that the government has to undo its last week’s controversial notifications but the executive was made to honour the chief justice’s recommendation for the appointment of Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday as an ad hoc judge. Justice Ramday’s return to the apex court would bring a lot of strength for the superior judiciary that needs such distinguished judges to become invincible.

Justice Ramday, sources close to him said, was not interested in rejoining the Supreme Court as an ad hoc judge but the chief justice made it clear to him that his services were required in the present Supreme Court.

After the death of his wife, he came to Islamabad only on Monday and was packing up his belongings from his Islamabad official residence to shift back to his hometown Lahore on Thursday morning. But now he would stay back as an important member of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s team.

Sources said apprehensions were raised amongst the general public, members of the legal fraternity, including even judges of the superior judiciary, that the government had played a smart move to trap the chief justice of Pakistan and get him politicised.

But all such apprehensions immediately died down as soon as the prime minister announced a complete retreat followed by a PM office press release that was cautiously worded, noticeably announcing that the meeting was part of a consultative process and that all that the chief justice wanted had been conceded by the government.


Obama accuses Republicans of hypocrisy

February 18, 2010

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama vigorously defended his $787 billion stimulus on Wednesday, insisting it rescued Americans from the worst of the economic calamity and ripping Republican critics who called it a waste.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden launched a sweeping effort to convince sceptical Americans that the stimulus has been beneficial on the one-year anniversary of a plan that was pushed through the US Congress by Democratic majorities.

Obama, in a White House speech, said he believed the stimulus will save or create 1.5 million jobs in 2010 after saving or creating as many as 2 million jobs thus far.

His point was to show that the stimulus, while admittedly unpopular, had the effect of keeping the US economy from plunging into a second Great Depression.

“Our work is far from over but we have rescued this economy from the worst of this crisis,” he said.

As Obama spoke, many Obama administration officials were fanning out across the country this week to promote projects that have been funded by the stimulus to show Americans its results.

For example, the US Department of Transportation awarded $1.5 billion on Wednesday in stimulus grants to local and state governments to back 51 transportation projects.

The White House hoped that once Americans in their towns and cities saw the results of the stimulus, they would realize it has helped.

Obama has much work to do to convince Americans who are still struggling to find work amid a 9.7 percent jobless rate.

A CBS News/New York Times poll last week found that only 6 percent of Americans believed the package had created jobs. Another poll by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation showed a majority opposed the stimulus program.

All this comes as Obama and his Democrats face pressure to show results in an election year in which their large majorities in Congress could be at risk.

Republicans eager to score political points emailed out to reporters the original administration estimates from a year ago that showed the US jobless rate would only rise to 8 percent under the stimulus.

“In the first year of the trillion-dollar stimulus, Americans have lost millions of jobs, the unemployment rate continues to hover near 10 percent, the deficit continues to soar and we’re inundated with stories of waste, fraud and abuse,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. “This was not the plan Americans asked for or the results they were promised,” he said.

Obama used a portion of his speech to accuse Republicans of hypocrisy, saying they have enjoyed its benefits even as they criticized the plan.

“There are those, let’s face it, across the aisle who have tried to score political points by attacking what we did, even as many of them show up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for projects in their districts,” Obama said. He said he recognized that many Americans are not benefiting from the stimulus.

“Millions more are struggling to make ends meet. So it doesn’t yet feel like much of a recovery. And I understand that. It’s why we’re going to continue to do everything in our power to turn this economy around,” Obama said.

With Congress now working on a multibillion-dollar jobs bill, Obama warned of the possibility this year of layoffs by state governments as funding from the stimulus runs out.


Syria frees Islamist preacher

February 18, 2010

DAMASCUS: Syria has freed an Islamist preacher on a presidential amnesty after he had been imprisoned for a year for inciting sectarian and racial division, a human rights group said on Wednesday.

“The Syrian authorities freed the Syrian preacher Abdel Rahman Kuki yesterday evening thanks to an amnesty from the president,” the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

Kuki was arrested on October 22 as he flew home to Syria from Qatar and a Damascus court jailed him for one year on February 10 for inciting sectarian or racial division, SOHR reported at the time. The rights watchdog praised the decision and called for “a swift presidential amnesty for all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Syrian jails,” adding any such move should also apply to those living abroad.


Two ‘bandits’ burnt to death in Lyari

By Salis bin Perwaiz

February 18, 2010

After the passage of more than a year, the city once again witnessed a gory incident of mob justice when two alleged bandits were beaten and set ablaze in Lyari. After the incident, which occurred in the Baghdadi police limits, the angry mob lodged a protest against continuous street crimes in Lyari, prompting the police and Rangers to rush to the site and control the situation.

According to police and eyewitnesses, one Abdul Karim son of Ismail was using his cellphone outside his house in the Nayyabad area on Wednesday evening when two armed men attempted to snatch his mobile phone. However, Karim offered resistance to which the dacoits shot at him and fled.

Passersby and area residents chased the bandits and, after catching up to them, surrounded and overpowered the two. The angry mob then brutally thrashed the suspected bandits with rods and sticks.

Meanwhile, the law-enforcement agencies personnel reached the spot and tired to rescue the suspects – but the mob was so large that the LEA personnel could not enter through it to save the bandits.

After the angry mob had beaten the two bandits to the ground, one of the members of the mob poured petrol on them and torched them and set them alight. The half dead alleged bandits kept screaming for help but the LEA personnel could not find their way to rescue them.

Later, the LEA personnel managed to penetrate through the mob and extinguished the fire and shifted the charred bodies of the bandits to Civil Hospital.

The age of killed suspects was said to be 25 to 30 years according to the MLO.

Eyewitnesses said that, after the incident, the situation in Nayyabad became tense, as the residents of the locality launched a protest against the continuous incidents of street crime and police apathy.

The protestors torched tyres and blocked the vehicular traffic. However, a heavy contingency of police and rangers controlled the situation and cleared the way.

Police sources said that Deputy Inspector General (DIG), South Zone, Ghulam Nabi Memon, while taking notice of the incident, directed the Lyari Town police officers to immediately take action against the culprits involved in the incident.

Later, the police rounded up more than 15 suspected mobsters involved in the killing of suspected dacoits.

Two cases were likely to be lodged in this regard - one regarding the bid to rob and injuring Abdul Karim and another against those involved in killing the suspected bandits.

DIG Memon has directed the entire South Zone SPs and SPOs to increase patrolling in their respective towns and warned that explanations would be called from them if any such incident occurred in their jurisdiction.

Karim, the robbery victim, who is said to be a member of Kuchchi community and a respectable person of the area, was shifted to the hospital where he is reported to be in stable condition.

MURDER: 42 year-old-woman Mah Alam was strangulated to death allegedly by her husband in Khwaja Ajmair Nagri police limits. The deceased was a resident of Rasheedabad and was killed allegedly by her husband Malik Mohammed Moosa on Wednesday afternoon, who later surrendered himself to the police.

The couple had married about 25 years ago and they hailed from Dera Ghazi Khan. The couple has three children and all of them are married.

Moosa, a labourer by profession, told the police that he had doubts on the character of his wife and was mentally disturbed and finally he strangulated her to death.


US wants Pak-India talks to end tensions

By Baqir Sajjad Syed

18 Feb, 2010

ISLAMABAD: The US is quietly working for the success of the forthcoming talks between foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India for lowering tensions between the neighbours, which it sees as crucial for the success of its campaign in Afghanistan.

Sources here said that after nudging the two countries to the negotiating table, US diplomats have been talking to leaders in Islamabad and New Delhi to ensure a positive outcome of the meeting.

The US efforts were highlighted by US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry’s visit to the two capitals where his focus was said to be on peace between the two countries.

The issue was also on the agenda of other senior American officials, including National Security Adviser James Jones and Under-Secretary of Defence Michele Flournoy who were in Pakistan this week. And Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke is reaching Islamabad on Thursday.

Ms Flournoy confirmed to a group of journalists that the US was helping the two countries to make the dialogue successful.

“We will do everything in our power to support successful outcome of the talks, an outcome that everyone is looking for,” she said.

Foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan are scheduled to meet in New Delhi on Feb 25.

With its counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan entering a crucial phase, the US is keen to see normalisation of ties between India and Pakistan. The rivalry between the two neighbours has put the US in an awkward position in Afghanistan.

Additionally, the changing situation in Afghanistan with impending reintegration of Taliban has compelled India to yield to American pressure to resume talks with Pakistan after refusing to do so since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

Senior US diplomats confirmed US endeavours for ensuring continued engagement between the two countries and said Washington’s diplomacy would focus on changing the regional calculus from competition in Afghanistan to cooperation.

One of the main objectives of the US under its stabilisation plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan is to persuade Afghanistan’s neighbours to work out a policy of increased cooperation.

Washington, diplomatic sources revealed, was getting increasingly worried about what it considers a secret hand at work to sabotage the re-established contacts. “It is evident that there are many who are seeking to disrupt this process,” Ms Flournoy said.

Advising both countries to use political courage and commitment to deal with the challenges thrown up by the elements opposed to peace in the region, she expressed the hope that they would resolve their outstanding issues through talks. Sources at the US embassy confirmed that they were keenly following events that might vitiate the atmosphere ahead of the talks.


Baradar’s arrest confirmed

18 Feb, 2010

The Pakistani military and the US government confirmed on Wednesday that the Afghan Taliban’s top commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar had been captured.

Mullah Baradar, the most senior Taliban commander ever arrested in Pakistan, was picked up in Karachi this month in a raid by Pakistani and US agents.

“At the conclusion of detailed identification procedure, it has been confirmed that one of the persons arrested happens to be Mullah Baradar,” Inter-Services Public Relations said. It gave no details, citing security reasons.

An intelligence official said security agents had been searching for Mullah Baradar in Quetta.“Sensing that he might be arrested, he somehow slipped out of Quetta and into Karachi, maybe in disguise. That’s where we arrested him, about four days back.”

The US was involved in Mullah Baradar’s interrogation, the official said.

Asked if the Taliban commander could help with the Afghan reconciliation process, he said: “It might lead to that eventually... Anything is possible but so far we have not come to that.”

The White House hailed the capture of Mullah Baradar as a “big success” for joint US-Pakistan efforts to combat extremists. “It is a big success for our mutual efforts in the region,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

The spokesman did not give details on what kind of intelligence Mullah Baradar was providing but said the capture of the number two Taliban figure was “significant”.US special envoy Richard Holbrooke told reporters in Kabul: “We commend the Pakistanis for their role in this and it is part of a deepening cooperation between us.”—Reuters/AFP


“Corruption in Pakistan can invite another coup”

By Amir Wasim

18 Feb, 2010

ISLAMABAD: The eight-year military rule of Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf left behind a “demoralised and inefficient bureaucracy” that was used to ensure regime survival and “if deteriorating civil service is not urgently repaired, public disillusionment and resentment can be used by the military to justify another spell of authoritarian rule” in Pakistan, says a report issued by an international think-tank.

The research-based report of the International Crisis Group (ICG), titled “Reforming Pakistan’s Civil Service”, analyses the structure and functioning of Pakistan’s civil bureaucracy besides identifying critical flaws as well as measures to make it more accountable and able to provide essential public services.

“There was a dramatic rise in military encroachments as retired generals were appointed to key civil posts, such as the chairmanship of the Federal Public Service Commission, the premier agency for recruitment and promotions,” says the report released to media here on Wednesday.

It says: “The military regime’s poorly-conceived devolution of power led to further administrative confusion and the breakdown of service delivery at the district level, the key administrative unit of governance. The decision to vest revenue and law and order functions in nazims (mayors), elected indirectly and on a non-party basis, led to greater collusion between unscrupulous district officials and corrupt police.

“Low salaries, insecure tenure, and obsolete accountability mechanisms have spawned widespread corruption and impunity. Recruitments, postings and promotions are increasingly made on the basis of personal contacts and political affiliation, instead of on merit.”

The civil service’s falling standards impact mostly on the poor, with the widening social and economic divisions between the privileged and underprivileged.

With citizens increasingly affected by conflict and militancy, including millions displaced by fighting in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), the government’s ability to ensure law and order and provide services such as education and healthcare will be vital to winning the hearts and minds of the public, and restoring links between the citizen and the state.

“Both the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which heads the coalition government at the centre, and its main opposition, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), should resist the temptation to again use the bureaucracy for short-term political ends, which undermined its functioning,” the report suggests, adding: “The government’s inability to deliver basic services and good governance could provide an ambitious military leadership the opportunity to intervene,” the report says.

“Decades of mismanagement, political manipulation and corruption have rendered Pakistan’s civil service incapable of providing effective governance and basic public services,” says the report.

Public perception is that the country’s 2.4 million civil servants are widely unresponsive and corrupt, while bureaucratic procedures are cumbersome and exploitative, says the report.

The report suggests that “accountability of officials must be effective, impartial and transparent. Incentives for corruption could be reduced significantly with higher salaries and benefits, and better conditions of employment.”

The civilian government, it says, should also focus on transforming the civil service into an effective, more flexible and responsive institution.

Reform should, therefore, include drastic changes to a rigid and over-centralised structure that has been unable to address local fiscal needs and underdevelopment, by delegating important administrative and financial functions to lower tiers.

It stresses the need for modernising bureaucratic rules, procedures and structures. Training programmes need to be geared towards not just producing a class of capable civil servants, but to restoring a spirit of public service.

The international community too can help to improve governance by supporting civil service reform, expanding training programmes and providing technological support and expertise to modernise methods of administration.

It suggests that the recommendations of the National Commission on Government Reforms (NCGR), which was set up by the military regime in 2006 and presented a report to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in May 2008, if properly implemented could help reform the civil service.

The report further suggests implementation of the Charter of Democracy, signed between the PPP and PML-N, to set up an independent accountability commission, answerable to the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

It also calls to empower federal and provincial ombudsmen to redress public grievances against bureaucratic malpractice and holding federal and provincial secretaries accountable to parliament and provincial assemblies by mandating national and provincial parliamentary committees to hold regular hearings requiring these civil servants to account for efficient use of resources as well as the organisation, management and staffing of their respective departments.


Who do you think is more dangerous, the Naxal or the jihadi?

Samar Halarnkar,

February 17, 2010

I just counted the total number of people killed by both groups of extremists between January 2007 and February 17, 2010. The results:

    * Jihadi attacks claimed 436 lives (this figure includes Pakistanis who died during the firebombing of the Samjhauta Express in 2007).

    * The Maoists claimed 1,524 lives, more than three times the number killed in urban, jihadi bombings.

The modern, Indian jihadi is young, educated and highly motivated, communicating by coded e-mail and phone conversations, merging seamlessly into the society around him. He is likely to have access to training and assistance from Pakistan, using this expertise to launch frontal attacks on populated areas. He is, almost always, likely to be a ‘he’.

The modern Indian Maoist could be young or middle-aged, perhaps educated, perhaps semi-literate, adept at guerrilla warfare, handling arms and living a life of hardship. He is likely to use old-fashioned communication like letters, couriers and face-to-face contact (the last only when necessary), using largely home-grown expertise to launch devastating attacks against security forces in the vast Indian countryside. He is, equally, likely to be a ‘she’.

As Monday’s slaughter of 25 paramilitary soldiers in West Bengal indicates, the Maoist attack is usually frontal and brazen, aimed at overawing the Indian State, knowing the deaths of paramilitary soldiers and policemen — mostly from poorer, rural families — get little play in the media or our imaginations. The Maoist game plan, according to intelligence officers, is to physically occupy the countryside (swathes of land in seven states have already slipped beyond State control) and surround the cities until they can force regime change.


“There is clearly a (Naxal) grand design,” an official who closely tracks Maoist working in urban areas told me. He said Maoist ideologues in cities are so independent and careful that they will not even try to contact their comrades, a step above the jihadi sleeper cells who, even if they do not know of another cell’s presence, are controlled by handlers. Intelligence agencies say they have uncovered worrying signs of some Marxist organisations crossing the line into Maoism, which believes in violent revolution.

There is now a centralised command in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, against the Maoist rebellion with up to 60 paramilitary battalions (about 60,000 soldiers). The growing Naxal attacks are forcing more media coverage. But it is inadequate in depth and perspective to turn public focus on the greater threat.

Last week’s Pune attack by jihadis was the first since the horror of 26/11 in Mumbai. In the intervening 14-and-a-half months, India has seen a period of calm unprecedented since urban terrorism came of age on March 12, 1993, with 13 scooter and car bombs killing 257 in what was then Bombay.

The relative peace was the result of a) the dismantling of terror cells; many still exist, keeping security agencies on edge, b) a preoccupation in Pakistan with events in its western provinces and Afghanistan, c) a fading in the appeal of global jihad, and d) the small size of the radicalised Islamic community.

The last factor is particularly important. Every police and intelligence official I’ve spoken to agrees that Indian Muslims radicalised enough to set off bombs may not number more than 1,000, still enough to cause great damage. But it is an infinitesimal number when it comes to tarring a community of 140 million with the same brush and causing immense damage to India and the idea of India.

Though the Indian jihadi causes serious damage, both physical and psychological, he pales in comparison with the Maoist. The furtive jihadi attack aims at: revenge of some sort; the cleaving of Indian society; sometimes, to stop talks between India and Pakistan. The jihadi feeds off the grief and anger middle-class Indians feel when their own perish, and so the jihadi, and his Pakistani backers, are a clearer, more obvious enemy.

Two days ago, I faced a barrage of criticism on my Twitter feed when I posted a trend that police charge sheets and interrogators of domestic jihadi suspects repeatedly point to: nine years after the event, these radicals still flag the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat as either direct motivation or a stimulus provided by jihadi trainers who show them gruesome images of Muslims killed in the riots.

There are other inspirations, from a general sense of grievance and injustice to the feeling of alienation that arises in trying to rent a home when Muslim or being freely hauled in for rough questioning. Rage against the US, and the situation in Palestine may be boosting factors, but as jihadi confessions (whether voluntary or beaten out of them) reveal, never has global jihad ever directly driven an Indian to plant a bomb in his own country. The big brother of the primary Indian jihadi group, the Indian Mujahideen, is indeed the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the Pakistani terror group that carried out the 26/11 attack and is now firmly one of the umbrella terror organisations arrayed against the United States.

But you can count on your fingertips the number of Indian Muslims who’ve joined the so-called civilisational war against the West. At last count, it’s less than 10.


Quebecer gets life for plotting terror

Feb 18 2010

37-year-old who planned attacks in Central Europe is remorseless and still dangerous, judge decides

MONTREAL–A small-town Quebec man who plotted international terrorist attacks with a group tied to Al Qaeda remains a real danger to society, a judge declared as he rendered the toughest possible sentence in Canadian law.

Said Namouh, who spread jihadist propaganda on the Internet and had visions of martyrdom, received a life sentence Wednesday. The Moroccan-born man won't be eligible for parole for at least 10 years.

It was only the second time in Canadian legal history – and in less than a month – that a terrorist was sentenced to life.

Last month, one of the so-called "Toronto 18" got that sentence.

Namouh, 37, was found guilty last October of four charges tied to a vaguely defined plan to bomb targets in Germany and Austria because of their Afghan military role.

From his home in a rural Quebec town, Namouh was heavily involved in the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF). The organization, recognized by the court as a terrorist group, is involved in propaganda and jihad recruitment.

The GIMF is described as an Al Qaeda media tool and is one of the most prominent online jihadist media organizations.

Quebec Judge Claude Leblond said Namouh remains dangerous and remorseless whereas, in other Canadian terrorism cases, some of the accused had seen the error of their ways. Leblond said an attempt by Namouh to seek the court's favour by taking the stand prior to sentencing had the opposite effect.

Namouh insisted he wasn't a violent man. But the judge said hundreds of pages of transcripts from online jihad chat forums proved otherwise.

Leblond said Namouh had no credibility.

"In no way since the events has he distanced himself from terrorism," Leblond said in his judgment.

"His attempt at manipulating the court during his sentencing reveals the danger he continues to represent."

RCMP arrested Namouh in Maskinonge, a town of 2,200 near Trois-Rivières, in 2007. He will get credit for time served.

But the earliest he could even apply for parole would be 2017.

Namouh was found guilty of one count each of conspiracy to detonate an explosive device, participating in a terrorist act, facilitating an act of terrorism and committing extortion for a terrorist group.

Part of the wealth of evidence against Namouh included a report filed by U.S. terrorism expert Rita Katz that indicated a wide-ranging hit list of possible targets.

They included Vienna-based OPEC, prominent German and Austrian officials, as well as the Euro 2008 soccer tournament.

The Crown argued Namouh was on the verge of carrying out the plan, while the defence called that notion far-fetched.

"When he was arrested, he was in the process of obtaining his visa to leave the country," said prosecutor Dominique Dudemaine.

Evidence at his trial showed Namouh spent countless hours on jihad forums and preparing violent propaganda videos.

Namouh's lawyer had sought a short sentence, saying Crown evidence was overblown and Namouh's writings misinterpreted.

"I'm not at all convinced ... the gentleman is as dangerous as he is being portrayed," René Duval said.


In Habit: A detail from Mars Drum's Burka and Ned at the Guggenheim IV.

February 16, 2010

WESTERN liberal democracies struggle with the burqa, and many would like to forbid or confine its use. We see the burqa as a symbol of oppression, negating the very face of the person, almost as if women are buried alive.

The men who impose it on women would never endure it for themselves; and it seems only a matter of time before women are emancipated from the outmoded drag, which is bulky, drab and burdensome.

Mars Drum, on the other hand, has a lot of sympathy for the burqa and its wearers. After September 11, 2001, she took to wearing the garment as a gesture of support for Muslim women. Drum recalls that wearing the burqa is "surprisingly liberating". She enjoyed being "anonymous, shapeless, no one measuring me up and down, including myself".

Drum has produced a series of paintings of a character called Burka Woman, who also happens to be Ned Kelly's bride and this unlikely pair of hooded outcasts undertakes a survey of Australian culture. It's amusing and poignant, as the anti-hero of Irish Victoria tried to protect himself from the bullets of the police so Burka Woman has to protect herself from the rapid fire of globalisation on Muslim culture.

While some of us see the burqa as a retrograde blanket to suppress and deny female individuality, some Muslims see exactly the same horror and irrationality in our make-up and high heels, which have a grotesque disabling effect on the wearer. Both cultures view the other with suspicion and disgust and neither set of conventions has more reason or justification by logic.

If anything, the moral purpose of the burqa is superior, because the burqa is a powerful symbol of resistance to marketing culture, whereas women in our culture are trained not to feel comfortable unless they're part of a promotional strategy, from their lipstick to curve-clinching fashion. We fetishise the body and our appearance must aspire to consumerism.

As well as deploying female sexuality to sell products, we sell a highly codified image to women themselves: they are taught from girlhood to comply as much as they can to an image and behaviour that flatters the erotic interests of men. Celebrity role models demonstratively flaunt their physical attractiveness.

Shunning the sober lessons of 50 years of feminism, our culture lives off a sexy youth archetype, which has spread virally over the planet, irresistibly overtaking local cultures and replacing them with global marketing culture. For some women, the last remaining asylum from corporate ownership of the female image is the burqa.

Why our culture is such a mess in relation to gender stereotypes deserves attention. For more insight, an exhibition at the Jewish Museum traces the ancient roots of female individuality in the Bible. Called Tricksters, Victors and (M)others: Women in the Bible, it candidly acknowledges that the good book is patriarchal: women have a subordinate role throughout the text. Yet they have agency and influence.

Curated by Rebecca Forgasz, the exhibition highlights several heroines whose self-determination was exemplary in the many centuries that were powerfully influenced by religion.

It's a fine piece of scholarship and doesn't apologise for its didacticism.

Although the artworks in the show are patchy, and the old masters are mainly seen through print renditions, the exhibition needs to be what it is: an investigation into the origins of female empowerment in a world governed by men.

Because the biblical texts are very old, the compliance of women to archaic conventions strikes us as either quaint or abhorrent. But we forget that we are structurally quite similar and constrain women with equally stupid expectations and conventions.

Today we're smug and conceited about all the choices that we have, unlike the ancient Jews or Muslim women who have to wear the burqa. But a woman who wants a chance in an office faces exactly the same kind of pressure to come to heel, and it's sobering if art can help us see the great relativity in these illusions of liberation.


Aligarh Muslim University professor suspended for being gay

Manjari Mishra

Feb 18, 2010

LUCKNOW: An Aligarh Muslim University professor, on the verge of retirement, was suspended after some students set up cameras to catch him having consensual sex with a rickshaw-puller in his campus home, and sent the video film to university authorities. Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, reader and chairman of Modern Indian Languages at AMU, now says he won't challenge his suspension and would voluntarily leave.

Siras's decision not to question his suspension has come as a relief to AMU authorities, who are more than keen to bury the ``embarrassing episode'' as it could raise a serious issue of gay rights on the campus since the professor wasn't accused of any wrongdoing or criminal action. Consensual sex with a same-sex partner isn't a crime in itself.

``Siras was captured on camera having sex with a rickshaw-puller. It's a scandal that no institution of repute can overlook. Therefore he was placed under suspension on February 9 by the order of the VC, Prof P K Abdul Azis,'' said AMU public relations officer Rahat Abrar.

``Dr Siras lived in a house allotted to him in the medical colony on the AMU campus. On February 8, he was home in the company of a young rickshaw-puller from Jamalpur area of the town. Since the door was open, two reporters from a local TV channel barged into the house and filmed him and his companion. The video clippings were then sent to AMU authorities who were constrained to proceed against Siras,'' said Abrar.

Siras was served a memo on February 9 by the office of the AMU registrar, Dr V K Abdul Jalil, under rule 403-C of the statute of the university, after a prima facie case of ``gross misconduct'' was made out against him. Other disciplinary proceedings would follow only after framing of charges.

Amid swirling tales of his ``sordid'' sexual preferences, Siras was quietly packing his bags. Talking to TOI over phone, he refused to contest the charges before any enquiry committee. ``Let them say what they want to. I am not going to offer any clarification,'' he said. ``You don't have to abuse back if someone abuses you. I am already on the verge of retirement and, therefore, would rather be gone than to stretch the issue,'' he said. This, the university authorities feel, ``is the only respectable and sensible option under the unfortunate circumstances.''


4 Kashmiris among 40 detained in Pune probe

Feb 18, 2010

BELLARY/BANGALORE: Four Kashmiri youths have been taken into custody in Hampi in connection with the February 13 explosion in Pune that left 11 persons dead. The detention was made by a team of the Maharashtra police near Virupapura Gaddi locality.

The Pune blast site was littered with handicrafts items, leading the Mumbai police to Hampi. The four Kashmiris are sellers of handicrafts. The police are looking for three other persons, according to sources.

Dozens of other detentions have been made in Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune on the basis of intelligence, call records and whatever ‘little information’ sleuths could glean from the CCTV footage containing images of activities on North Main Road, where the German Bakery’s entrance is located.

But superintendent of police Seemanth Kumar Singh denied the arrest of anybody in connection with the Pune blast. Another SP, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, told TOI no arrest or detentions had been made. “Neither we nor any other state police force has arrested or detained anyone.’’

The Maharashtra police team inspected various cyber cafes in Hampi, a popular haunt for foreign tourists. They questioned some foreigners, and enquired with the local police and hotel owners about people who had booked rooms for a week and left in a hurry. The police have visited some of the villages surrounding Hampi. More than 40 hotels catering to foreign tourists are located in Hampi.

Three years ago, a suspected terrorist, Bilal, from Kashmir, was arrested in Bangalore. An LeT operative, he had planned to attack the Bengaluru International Airport and Wipro and Infosys offices.


Stone-pelters guided from Pak: Omar Abdullah

Arun Joshi, Hindustan Times

February 18, 2010

Do you think Kashmir is reverting to the days of militancy in the 1990s?

I think you base your perceptions on the handful of police stations in downtown Srinagar. The situation is far removed from the 1990s. It is not even like 2008. What we are going through is a fallout of the 2008 Amarnath agitation when protests, demonstrations and stone-pelting were put into practice. But today’s situation is confined to areas under five police stations in Srinagar. Barring those who are ideologically opposed to our party and family, I don’t think anybody will tell you we are sliding back (to the ’90s).

You say your government won’t tolerate human rights violations. Yet three boys were killed in one month…

A BSF trooper was arrested within four days of Zahid Farooq’s killing. Even Human Rights Watch described it as a first in 20 years. I don’t think any government took such incidents so seriously in the past. The stone-pelters are not innocents. Security forces have been remarkably rest-rained. Whenever they exceed limits, they will be disciplined.

What action has been taken for killings of the other two teens?

The government takes part of the responsibility. We have taped records of conversati-ons in which separatists were instigating gang leaders of the stone-pelters, tracked movement of money for these leaders and monitored conversations from across the Line of Control in which the status report of the day’s stone-pelting is sought. They also bear their share of responsibility. It’s not just a law and order problem. It’s much bigger.

Why were you in Jammu when Srinagar was burning?

I was in Srinagar while all this was happening. I was very much part of dealing with the problem. Jammu is the state’s winter capital and I was within my rights to be in Jammu. But the fact of the matter is that I was in Srinagar.

Is slamming the Public Safety Act on stone-pelters justified?

The other laws are so weak that stone-pelters get bail the day after their arrest, and are back on the streets. It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of the general public.

There is a view in Delhi that you are not in control of the situation in Kashmir and the security forces follow their own agenda…

Not at all. There is a clearly defined chain of command. I head the unified command and two corps commanders (of 15 Corps and 16 Corps, based in Srinagar and Nagrota) are my security advisors. There is absolutely no confusion in terms of command and control structures.

You had promised to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. But this has not happened…

It cannot be revoked at this stage when there is a significant increase in attempted infiltrations from across the LoC and border — and under covering fire (by Pak troops).

There is hardly any visible impact of the efforts of your government even after a year…

We have done a very good job under extremely difficult circumstances as last year we hardly had any time to work.


Pune blast: Al-Alami action points to Qaida hand

Omer Farooq Khan

Feb 18, 2010

PESHAWAR: The claim by unknown outfit — Lashkar-e-Taiba al-Alami — from Waziristan in Pakistan’s lawless tribal northwest that it carried the Pune attack may have added a sinister al-Qaida dimension to Saturday’s attack, Pakistani observers say.

‘‘There are a number of Punjabi militants in the area (Waziristan). They are following an al-Qaida agenda of targeting the US and its allies, such as Israel and India,’’ a North Waziristan-based intelligence official said. ‘‘But the name Lashkar-e-Taiba al-Alami (international) had never surfaced before.’’

The al-Alami group has, in fact, come as a surprise for local intelligence agencies, who have so far failed to trace the group in the volatile tribal region.

The purported al-Alami spokesman from Miranshah in North Waziristan had also insisted that the outfit had splintered from the LeT because it took orders from Pakistan’s intelligence agency — the ISI.

Pakistan’s lawless tribal northwest, including Waziristan, have over the years served as a sanctuary for different militants outfits. Many former LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad commanders joined hands with the Pakistani Taliban and found safe heaven in the region after former Pakistan president cracked down on these outfits after the Parliament attack.

Jaish founder Maulana Masood Azhar was believed to have fled to the tribal areas after the 26/11 attacks when Pakistan arrested several LeT operatives and put Jamaat-ud-Daawa chief and alleged 26/11 mastermind, Hafiz Saeed, under house arrest.


Sparring before dialogue: India, Pak argue on scope of talks

Feb 18, 2010

NEW DELHI: Ahead of foreign secretary-level talks, India and Pakistan were engaged in a rhetorical duel on Wednesday over what should be the agenda for the dialogue, with foreign minister S M Krishna stressing that the two diplomats would only focus on terrorism rather than resuming the composite dialogue.

Pakistan swiftly shot back, saying Islamabad's position was that the talks had a more expanded agenda. This was followed by a statement from Pakistan's foreign ministry that it had sought a clarification from Delhi.

In an interview to a TV channel, Krishna said the forthcoming talks did not mark the resumption of the composite dialogue process and that the talks scheduled for February 25 would veer around terror only.

"The composite dialogues, they are suspended. Let the nation not be under mistaken inference that composite dialogues are being renewed. Composite dialogues are suspended from the Indian point of view," said Krishna.

"The brief for our secretary is that terror is the centre and focus point of talks," he added.

In a sharply worded response, the Pakistani foreign office said their understanding was that these talks were the first step towards resumption of the composite dialogue. Islamabad pressed Delhi for a "clarification" late on Wednesday evening. Pakistan's statement said the outcome of the talks should not be "prejudged" and the "scope" of the talks should not be "circumscribed".

Pakistani high commissioner Shahid Malik met foreign secretary Nirupama Rao on Wednesday to finalise the agenda for next week's dialogue. Krishna's remarks reflected the cautious approach of the government here over re-engagement with Pakistan when Islamabad has not met the pre-condition — to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism across the border — set by New Delhi when it, reacting to 26/11, suspended the full-scale dialogue.

The reservations were evident in the meeting of the Union Cabinet on Tuesday when ministers overwhelmingly spoke for caution.

India wants to engage Pakistan and is looking for the outcome of these talks to decide when to take the engagement to another level. But given the deep misgivings about talking to Pakistan at this time, the first round of talks will have to centre solely on terrorism.

With Pakistan likely to insist on discussing the Kashmir issue as much as India is going to harp on terror, the talks may not see much, save reiteration of their respective positions.

In the TV interview, Krishna defended India's decision to hold talks. On demands by the Opposition to call off the dialogue after the Pune blast, Krishna said if there was a better alternative the government was willing to consider it. "If the Opposition in their wisdom emanating from being in government can suggest some, the present government is not unwilling to look at them," said Krishna.

Perhaps setting the tone for the talks, Krishna suggested that India was not going to be bogged down by the fact that Islamabad had failed to prevent jihadi groups and individuals like Hafiz Saeed from addressing rallies against India openly. "It's the way Pakistan functions. The government perhaps is not capable of restraining these jihadis from continuing with their vituperative statements against India, showing their hostility openly against India. We have seen that in last 60 years. But we are not going to be influenced by that," he said.

"We feel they form only a fringe minority group. We proceed on that assumption that a large majority of people in Pakistan want peace, cordiality and friendship with India," he added.


LeT change of tack? Saeed open to dialogue with India

Feb 18, 2010

NEW DELHI: In an intriguing manoeuvre, Hafiz Saeed, chief of LeT responsible for 26/11 and several other terrorist attacks on India, has suddenly declared that he was not averse to negotiations with India over J&K.

"We never said no to dialogue. This is a propaganda about us that we don't believe in dialogue. We have always talked about a dialogue," Saeed told Al Jazeera news channel in an abrupt turn away from the rhetoric of relentless jihad against India to achieve the liberation of J&K as well as other Indian territories like Hyderabad and Junagadh which were once under Muslim rule.

Saeed demanded that India should recognise Kashmir as the core dispute between the two countries, saying that India was being insincere by not doing so. Saying that LeT would favour a dialogue that yielded results, the "ustaad" of LeT terror said, "India has never been sincere in talks and only holds talks when it is in her interests. If she wants to restore confidence in the talks, she must accept Kashmir as a core dispute," said Saeed.

His remarks coincided with a determined push from Pakistan to expand the agenda of talks beyond terror -- India's chief concern -- to include J&K, and West's anxiety for a renewed engagement between New Delhi and Islamabad which could strip the latter of any excuse for not cooperating with the anti-Taliban offensive currently underway.

Security sources said the move may have been timed to provoke India to ratchet up its own rhetoric in response. The Pakistan army could use this as it has done before -- flood the eastern border and leave the western border open for the Taliban to flee from the US operation going on in southern Afghanistan.

India's persistence with talks at this point is deliberately intended to keep the temperature down. That doesn't suit many sections of the Pakistani intelligence-military establishment. The persistently threatening rhetoric from Pakistani jihadi leaders also shows, say security officials, that there are no "non-state actors" in the Pakistani jihadi structure, certainly where India is concerned.

Saeed had gone on record in 2009 to say, "I believe Azad Kashmir should be used by Pakistan as the base camp for intensifying the freedom movement in Jammu and Kashmir."

LeT and others in Pakistan's jihadi establishment, like the army and ISI, have blamed terrorism against India on the alleged gameplan to dismember Pakistan and its desire to be the regional power. Saeed harped on the same tune.

Saeed and LeT are known for being mindful of the interests as defined by the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

On its part, Pakistani establishment has always distinguished LeT from other terror groups.

A fresh acknowledgement of the tie-up came from Saeed himself who said that a UN ban on Jamaat-ud-Dawa, front for Lashkar, has been no hindrance for the jihadi outfit. "See our organisation by grace of Allah is working all over Pakistan not just in Punjab but also in other provinces," Saeed said, confirming what is known but which has been denied by Pakistan.

After the 26/11 attacks, when a number of LeT leaders were proscribed by the UNSC, Pakistan refused to take any overt action against the group. According to a new book by Pakistani journalist Amir Mir, the only action by the Pakistan government against the JuD was the shutting down of its Urdu and English websites by the cyber crime wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) of Pakistan.

Saeed denied, predictably so, having known Ajmal Kasab, the sole 26/11 gunman to have been captured in Mumbai. "I never saw the man. In fact, I found out from the Indian media that he was from Pakistan. I have never met the man or ever known him. In fact, I have said on many occasions that this is baseless propaganda, which does not have an iota of truth," said the LeT chief.

India refuses to consider Saeed to be innocent, and has maintained that there is enough evidence with both Indian agencies as well as the FBI to warrant at least questioning of the LeT chief.

Accusing India of trying to break up Pakistan by meddling in Balochistan, Saeed said India had repeatedly "imposed wars" on Pakistan. "After India conducted the nuclear tests, their tone was that they would wipe out Pakistan... the remarks of their military chief that they would occupy Pakistan in 96 hours."


Two militants killed in 11-hour gunbattle in Baramulla

Feb 17, 2010

SRINAGAR: Two hardcore militants, holed up in a house, were killed in an intense 11-hour gunbattle with the security forces on Wednesday in a village in north Kashmir's Baramulla district.

The ultras, believed to be affiliated with Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), were killed at Kuchwa Muqam village of Chandoosa, 60 kms from here, on Wednesday evening, deputy inspector general of police Abdul Qayoom Manhas said.

The residential house, where the militants had taken shelter, was damaged in the day-long encounter which started around 7am after police assisted by the army zeroed in on it following specific information about presence of two ultras there, he said.

Intense firing and powerful blasts rattled the village, located on Baramulla-Gulmarg road during the encounter which lasted 11 hours.

Senior superintendent of police, Baramulla, Shakeel Ahmad Beigh said the village was cordoned off on Tuesday night and the firing started when the ultras refused to surrender.

The house where the ultras were hiding caught fire around 3pm, shortly after a powerful blast which was reportedly triggered by the security forces to eliminate the militants, official sources said.

Fifteen minutes later, another powerful blast ripped through the house, the sources said, adding, security forces set off a third explosion at around 5pm, razing down the structure to neutralise the ultras holed up there.


11 get bail in Shopian case

Feb 17, 2010

SRINAGAR: As many as 11 people, including doctors and lawyers, today got bail in the Shopian case as a Chief Judicial Magistrate here took cognizance of the CBI chargesheet on drowning of two women who were alleged to have been raped and murdered.

All the accused except Dr Nighat Shaheen and Dr Nazia Hassan were present before Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohammed Ibrahim Wani and the court asked them to furnish a bail bond of Rs 10,000 each.

The accused were represented by President of Kashmir Bar Council Mian Abdul Qayoom who moved an application before the court for inclusion of statements made by some people before the Special Investigating team of the state police.

The CBI counsel was not present in the court when the bail was being granted and therefore, there was no opposition. The next date of hearing has been fixed for April 17.

Life in Shopian town, 51 kms from here, had come to a standstill after the bodies of 22-year-old Neelofar and 17-year-old Asiya were found in a stream. Protests were held claiming that the two had been raped and murdered.

The CBI, which has based its finding on the opinion received from experts of AIIMS, Central Forensic and Scientific Laboratory and FSL of Haryana, had told the CJM's court on December 10 that the women were never raped and had died due to drowning.


Terrorists will not dictate terms: Chidambaram on threat to sportspersons

Feb 17, 2010

JAMMU: Assuring security to sportspersons visiting India for the Hockey World Cup and the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament, home minister P Chidambaram said on Wednesday that terrorists would not be allowed to dictate terms. ( Watch Video )

"All security would be provided to players," Chidambaram told reporters here in response to a question on the Harkat-ul-Jihadi-Islami (HuJI) warning sportspersons against visiting India. The message from Illyas Kashmiri, a HuJI commander in Pakistan having close ties with the al-Qaida, was sent to Asia Times Online on Monday, two days after the Pune bombing which killed 11 people.

"No one would be allowed to dictate terms to us," Chidambaram said at a press conference after reviewing the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir at a meeting of the unified command, a strategic group comprising representatives of the army, paramilitary forces, police and intelligence agencies.

The minister, on a one-day visit to the state, also held discussions with chief minister Omar Abdullah on the proposed surrender and rehabilitation policy for militants returning from Pakistan administered Kashmir.

"We have asked the centre to prepare a draft of this policy," the home minister said.

"There is nothing sinister in the policy," said Chidambaram, who arrived here less than a week after announcing the acceptance of the state's policy on the amnesty.

Describing the policy as an "assault on nationalist forces", the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also held a demonstration to coincide with the home minister's visit.

BJP leader Ashok Khajuria told reporters that he was surprised that the minister visited Jammu for the rehabilitation of militants, but no one had time for soldiers who died while fighting terrorists.

It is Chidambaram's third visit to Jammu and Kashmir since he announced "quiet talks" with "all shades of opinion" in Kashmir, including separatists, in October last year.

On Feb 7, Omar Abdullah declared that the government should seriously consider the return of militants from Pakistani Kashmir to bring normalcy to the state. "It was the need of the hour," he said.

On Feb 11, Chidambaram endorsed the state's policy and said that steps would be taken for its implementation.

Are naxalites terrorists?

How should the central govt tackle the growing naxal menace in our country?


Pak fostering terror, not helping bilateral ties: India

Feb 17, 2010

NEW DELHI: India said conscious fostering of terrorism from across the border was not helping Indo-Pak ties and asked the neighbour to contain it.

"Fostering of terrorism from across the border (by Pakistan) was not helping bilateral relations," Minister of state for defence M M Pallam Raju told reporters on the sidelines of a CII-sponsored naval seminar at the ongoing DefExpo here.

"I hope the government of Pakistan takes action to contain this (terrorism)," he said.

Raju was replying to questions on the increased infiltration by militants into Jammu and Kashmir in the last couple of months and what impact it could have on bilateral relations with Pakistan.

Describing the situation caused by infiltration and terrorism as "unfortunate," he said, "Infiltration by militants from across the border has increased in recent times. But we anticipate an increase every year as the snow melts in the upper reaches of Jammu and Kashmir".

Compared to 2009, the number of militants infiltrating into Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistani side has increased in January and February this year, which has been a major concern for India.

Raju refused to comment on a hitherto unknown breakaway faction of the Lashkar-e-Taiba claiming responsibility for the Pune blast.


3 Malaysian women caned for extramarital sex

Feb 17, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia said on Wednesday that three women have been caned under Islamic law for having extramarital sex, in a first for the Muslim-majority country.

The case will fuel a debate over rising "Islamisation" in Malaysia, where religious courts have been clamping down on moral offences as well as a ban on Muslims consuming alcohol that had been rarely enforced.

Officials said the three women were caned on February 9 at a women's prison outside the capital Kuala Lumpur after being convicted of "khalwat" or illicit contact with the opposite sex.

"I hope this will not be misunderstood so much that it defiles the purity of Islam," home minister Hishammuddin Hussein said according to state media.

"The punishment is to teach and give a chance to those who have fallen off the path to return and build a better life in future," he said, adding that none of the three sustained any injuries.

Islamic scholars have said previously that the punishment would be carried out when the woman was fully clothed and with a cane that is smaller and lighter then the heavy length of rattan used in the civil justice system.

Hishammuddin said the three women and four men were caned following a December decision in the religious courts -- which operate in parallel to the civil system in Malaysia.

He said one woman was released from prison on Sunday while another would be freed in several days and the third released in June.

Islamic authorities triggered uproar last year when they sentenced mother-of-two Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno to six strokes of the cane after she was caught drinking beer in a hotel nightclub.

Her case, which was to have been the first time a woman was caned under Islamic law in Malaysia, is under review and human rights groups have urged religious authorities to drop the sentence.

Kartika's sentence has been given wide media coverage but the case of the three women convicted of extramarital sex came as a surprise.

Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan said it was worrying that the punishment had gone ahead even as the caning issue was being hotly debated by Muslim scholars, religious groups and human rights activists.

"The impression was that Kartika's case would be the first so I've got no idea what has happened," he said.

"It's not as if this is the Middle East... it's not a good signal that they're sending out."

"We are against any form of corporal punishment, for men or women," he added. "The fact is that any form of whipping is barbaric."

Kartika, a part-time model, stared down religious authorities after being convicted, saying she was ready to be caned, refusing to lodge an appeal, and challenging them to cane her in public.

Alcohol is widely available in Malaysia but is forbidden for Muslim Malays, who make up 60 percent of the population. They can be fined, caned, or jailed for up to three years but prosecutions are extremely rare.

Kartika's case has raised concerns that Islamic law is on the rise in Malaysia and that the nation's secular status is under threat, eroding the rights of minority ethnic Chinese and Indians.

Observers say that the dynamic of "political Islam" has escalated since 2008 elections that saw the long-serving Barisan Nasional coalition lose unprecedented ground to the three-member opposition alliance.

After minority voters deserted the coalition, its lead party the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) it is now vying with the conservative Islamic party PAS, an opposition member, for the votes of Malays.


‘Karzai met Taliban in Maldives’

Feb 18, 2010

COLOMBO: Afghan government and Taliban representatives held a secret meeting last month at a holiday resort in the Maldives, an official source said on Wednesday.

President Hamid Karzai's envoys met with at least seven members tied to the Taliban to discuss peace ahead of the January 28 meeting of world powers to discuss Afghanistan.

“The meeting took place at the Bandos resort island, but the Maldivian government was not involved in the talks”, a source close to the Maldivian administration said.


Bangladesh to amend law to restore properties to Hindus: Minister

Feb 16, 2010

DHAKA: The Awami League-led government will amend a controversial Bangladeshi law to restore properties seized from minority groups, mainly Hindus, a minister said here on Tuesday.

The Parliament will pass the Vested Property Return (amendment) Act 2009 during the ongoing session, said state minister for land Mustafizur Rahman.

In November, the ruling Awami League government had approved the amendment under which vested properties of the minority community, mainly Hindus, will be returned to them, the Star Online said.

The law has been flayed by the minority community in the country as it was used to capture their properties before Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan in 1971.

The minister said after the passage of the amendment, a five-member committee will be formed at district and sub-division level to settle all land related disputes.

Speaking at a round table, Rahman said the ministry will also set up a tribunal with a retired justice to settle the matters.


Canadian Muslim gets life term for plotting attacks on Europe

Feb 18, 2010

Said Namouh, 37, who immigrated to Canada from Morocco in 2003, was arrested in 2007 in a small town near Montreal. Evidence at his trial showed that the man served as a point man for the online Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) - an Al-Qaeda-linked group - in promoting jihadist propaganda and recruiting jihadists.

Operating under the name of 'Ashraf' from his home, the terrorist spent hundreds of hours on online chats promoting jihadist propaganda, praising attacks on western soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, and preparing propaganda videos.

Police recovered more than 1,000 hours of online chats by the Moroccan man on jihadist websites.

He had also planned terrorist attacks on installations and leaders in Germany and Austria, including the 2008 Euro soccer tournament (jointly held by Austria and Germany) and the OPEC headquarters in Vienna.

The prosecution said the terrorist twice visited the targets and was about to leave Canada when he was arrested in September 2007.

The Moroccan man, who has yet to acquire Canadian citizenship, maintained that he is innocent.

Sentencing him to life, Judge Claude Leblond said he posed a threat to Canada and remained repentant for his actions.

"The zeal he showed in his participation in the activities of the GIMF and more particularly, the incitation to violent jihad also show he is a danger. We don't know when, if ever, he'll cease to be dangerous,'' the judge said in his verdict.

"In no way since the events has he distanced himself from terrorism," the verdict added.

Since he is not acquired Canadian citizenship yet, the Moroccan man faces deportation to his native country once he is eligible for parole after 10 years.

He is the second al-Qaida-linked terrorist to be jailed for life in Canada within a month.

Last month, Zakaria Amara, the leader of the Toronto-18 terror plot, was given life sentence by a Toronto court. The plot, which could have been Canada's 9/11, was unearthed in June 2006 with the arrest of 18 Muslim men from the Toronto area.

They had planned to storm and blow up the nation's parliament, take leaders hostage and behead the prime minister. They had also planned to drive explosive-laden trucks into the offices of the Canadian spy agency, the Toronto Stock Exchange and a military base here.


India to Pakistan: No composite dialogue

Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI: Ruling out a composite dialogue in the near future, India on Wednesday told Pakistan that the coming meeting of the Foreign Secretaries could discuss all subjects but New Delhi will focus only on terror.

The message was conveyed to Pakistan High Commissioner Shahid Malik when he met Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao for discussions ahead of the talks.

“We told them our concerns on terror will definitely figure and then we can look at the state of affairs on bilateral issues and confidence-building measures. Some friendly visits between the two sides can also take place,” said sources in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

Krishna’s message

In an interview to a television channel, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna also made the same point. He said the Foreign Secretary-level talks were aimed at carrying forward the core issue as India was concerned about terror and terror-driven activities.

“We thought that it is necessary to engage Pakistan in dialogue. Hence we offered that the talks take place at the Foreign Secretary-level. We do not know what issues the Pakistan Foreign Secretary is going to raise. The brief for our Secretary is that terror is the centre and focus point of talks,” he said.

He also clarified that the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan was suspended and would not happen anytime soon.

Talks between India and Pakistan went into an impasse after the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

According to the tentative schedule, the Foreign Secretary-level talks are expected to be held on February 25 morning and it will be followed by lunch.

Drawing a distinction between a composite dialogue and Foreign Secretary-level talks, the sources said the former was wide-ranging and a number of arms of the government were involved. The February 25 talks were not part of a composite dialogue but were aimed at initiating a dialogue to revive the bilateral ties. India decided to initiate talks after it perceived that Pakistan took some steps to act against the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks.

Seeking to clear the confusion over the nature of a composite dialogue, other informed sources said that under this format eight issues were taken up. While peace and security and Kashmir were dealt with by the Foreign Secretaries, line Ministries took up the other six, including terror by the Home Ministry.

The fifth round of composite dialogue was interrupted by the attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008. Thereafter, at a meeting in New York in September, both sides decided to revive the process and complete it by the year-end, though the timeline was unrealistic due to scheduling problems. However, the Mumbai attacks put a complete stop to the process. It would require a greater trust and confidence between the two sides to revive the composite dialogue, said MEA sources.


Bangladesh writer Taslima Nasrin’s plea to India


New Delhi: Bangladesh writer Taslima Nasrin on Wednesday asked India to reconsider its decision not to renew her residence permit beyond August, saying if she was not allowed to stay India she had “nowhere else to go.”

The writer said she was conveyed in writing by the Home Ministry that her residence permit would not be renewed after her current visa expired. “This is shocking to me. If I can’t stay in India, where else do I go?”

The author recalled that Union Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in November 2007, “throughout history, India has never refused shelter to those who came and sought our protection. This civilisational heritage, which is now a government policy, will continue and India will provide shelter to Ms. Nasrin.”

The writer, who recently came back to India to have her visa renewed, said given Mr. Mukherjee’s “promise,” she expected the Government of India to renew her residence permit.


52% against 2nd term for Obama

Feb 18, 2010

WASHINGTON: About 52% Americans believe that US President Barack Obama does not deserve a second term in office, when the country goes to presidential elections in 2012, according to a poll.

Nearly 44% of registered voters say Obama deserves re-election, with 52% saying the president does not deserve a second term in office.

The survey also indicates that 49% of Americans approve of the job Obama’s doing as president, with half of the public disapproving of his job in the White House, barely a year into office.

“One problem Obama faces may be the perception that he is not a middle-class kind of guy,” said the CNN polling director Keating Holland. “Only 4% of Americans describe themselves as upper class. But a 45% plurality say that Obama belongs to the upper class, with 42% saying he is from the middle class and 12% describing him as working class,” Holland said.


Capture of Taliban No 2 Pak bid to win US trust?

Chidanand Rajghatta

Feb 18, 2010

WASHINGTON: India may be wasting its time and energy engaging Pakistan’s civilian set-up in the upcoming talks on February 25, going by the way Washington is primarily dealing with the country’s military and intelligence leadership in Rawalpindi and leaving Islamabad’s democratically-elected government in the lurch over sensitive parleys on terrorism.

US recognition of Pakistan’s military as the real power behind the civilian facade has been evident for some time, with American interlocutors, including secretary of state Hillary Clinton, spending more time with the army brass in Rawalpindi than with the civilian leadership in Islamabad. But it has become glaringly evident last week when Islamabad was left largely clueless about a CIA-ISI move to engage the Taliban in a move dressed up as the “capture” of Taliban No. 2, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in a joint operation.

While Washington was agog with the story of Baradar’s “capture”, Pakistan’s civilian leadership was caught flatfooted by the developments. The country’s interior minister Rehman Malik revealed the government’s ignorance when he insisted there had been no such operation, even as analysts in Washington were taking stock of the development.

“If the New York Times gives information, it is not a divine truth, it can be wrong. We have joint intelligence sharing and no joint investigation, nor joint raids,” Malik told reporters about the story first reported by the US daily. “We are a sovereign state and hence will not allow anybody to come and do any operation. And we will not allow that. So this (report) is propaganda,” he added.

Pakistan on Wednesday confirmed for the first time that it has Baradar in custody, and officials said he was providing useful intelligence that was being shared with the US.

But US officials, while declining to go into details of the alleged “capture” citing “sensitive intelligence matters”, appeared pleased with the breakthrough they hope will lead to a convenient exit from Afghanistan. Baradar’s capture was credited by some to Pakistan’s army chief Pervez Ashraf Kiyani’s desire to ensure a key role of his country in the any attempt to mediate with the Taliban.

Regional experts are already suggesting that the story is just a cover for Pakistan facilitating US contacts with the Taliban or interposing itself in US-Taliban engagement. Pakistani intelligence agencies have known his whereabouts for a long time, according to Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid.

Others are suggesting that the military-ISI combine has “sacrificed” Baradar to the Americans to win Washington’s trust and secure for itself a role in Afghanistan.


In Blow to Taliban, 2 More Senior Leaders Are Arrested


February 18, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two senior Taliban leaders have been arrested in recent days inside Pakistan, officials said Thursday, as American and Pakistani intelligence agents continued to press their offensive against the group’s leadership after the capture of the insurgency’s military commander last month.

Afghan officials said the Taliban’s “shadow governors” for two provinces in northern Afghanistan had been detained in Pakistan by officials there. Mullah Abdul Salam, the Taliban’s leader in Kunduz, was detained in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, and Mullah Mir Mohammed of Baghlan Province was also captured in an undisclosed Pakistani city, they said.

The arrests come on the heels of the capture of Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s military commander and the deputy to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the movement’s founder. Mr. Baradar was arrested in a joint operation by the C.I.A. and the ISI, Pakistan’s military intelligence agency.

The arrests were made by Pakistani officials, the Afghans said, but it seemed probable that C.I.A. officers accompanied them, as they did in the arrest of Mr. Baradar. Pakistani officials declined to comment.

Together, the three arrests mark the most significant blow to the Taliban’s leadership since the American-backed war began eight years ago. They also demonstrate the extent to which the Taliban’s senior leaders have been able to use Pakistan as a sanctuary to plan and mount attacks in Afghanistan.

It was not immediately clear if the arrests of the Taliban shadow governors were made possible by intelligence taken from Mr. Baradar. But it seemed likely. In the days after Mr. Baradar’s arrest, American officials said they managed to keep his detention a secret from many Taliban leaders, and that they were determined to roll up as much of the Taliban’s leadership as they could.

Mohammed Omar, the Governor of Kunduz Province, said in an interview that the two Taliban shadow governors had a close working relationship with Mr. Baradar.

In the days that followed Mr. Baradar’s arrest, American officials say that Mr. Baradar was providing a wealth of information on the Taliban’s operations. For the past several days, he has been interrogated by both Pakistani and American officials.

“Mullah Salam and Mullah Mohammad were the most merciless individuals,” said Gen. Razaq Yaqoobi, police chief of Kunduz Province. “Most of the terror, executions and other crimes committed in northern Afghanistan were on their orders.”

The arrests—all three in Pakistan — demonstrate a greater level of cooperation by Pakistan in hunting leaders of the Afghan Taliban than in the entire eight years of war. American officials have complained bitterly since 2001 that the Pakistanis, while claiming to be American allies—and accepting American aid—were simultaneously providing sanctuary and assistance to Taliban fighters and leaders who were battling the Americans across the border.

In conversations with American officials, Pakistani officials would often claim not to know about the existence of the “Quetta Shura,” the name given to the council of senior Taliban leaders that used the Pakistani city as a sanctuary for years. It was the Quetta Shura — also known as the Supreme Council—that Mr. Baradar presided over.

It is still far from clear, but senior commanders in Afghanistan say they believe that the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies, led by Generals Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Ahmed Shuja Pasha, may finally be coming around to the belief that the Taliban — in Pakistan and Afghanistan — constitute a threat to the existence of the Pakistani state.

“I believe that General Kayani and his leaders have come to the conclusion that they want us to succeed,” a senior NATO officer in Kabul said.

Word of the arrests of the shadow governors came as American, Afghan and British forces continue to press ahead with their largest military operation to date, in the Afghan agricultural town of Marja. Earlier this month, on the eve of the Marja invasion, Afghan officials also detained Marja’s shadow governor as he tried to flee the country.

The Taliban figures are commonly referred to as “shadow governors” because their identities are secret and because they mirror the legitimate governors appointed by the Afghan government. The Taliban’s shadow governors oversee all military and political operations in a given area.

Even before the arrests in Pakistan, the American and Afghan military and intelligence services appear to have been enjoying a run of success against Taliban leaders inside Afghanistan.

The senior NATO officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American forces had detained or killed “three or four” Taliban provincial governors in the past several weeks, including the Taliban’s shadow governor for Lagman Province.

Another NATO officer, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Mullah Zakhir, the Taliban’s military commander for southern Afghanistan, had been ordered back to Pakistan at the around the time of the Marja offensive.

Indeed, the capture of two Taliban governors inside Pakistan may reflect the greater level of insecurity that all Taliban leaders are feeling inside Afghanistan at the moment.

“The Taliban are feeling a new level of pain,” the senior NATO officer said.

Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan. Abdul Waheed Wafa contributed reporting from Kabul.


Russian military chief warns US against striking Iran

Feb 18, 2010

Russia’s top military warned the US on Wednesday not to use force against Iran over its controversial nuclear ambitions, saying the consequences would be ‘dreadful’.

“The consequences, I believe, would be dreadful for Iran, as well as Russia, the entire Asia-Pacific community,” said Gen Nikolai Makarov, chief of Russia’s General Staff.

The statement came as world powers are mounting pressure on Tehran to accept a UN-drafted compromise to enrich uranium for Iran’s research reactor abroad or face a new set of tougher sanctions.

The White House repeatedly said it did not rule out any options, including a military operation,

in dealing with Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Makarov suggested Washington might turn its military attention on Iran once its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been completed.

Russia, which has strong business ties with Iran and was earlier reluctant to back new sanctions, recently joined Western calls on Tehran for curbing its nuclear ambitions which are feared to be geared toward weapons production.

Iran, the world’s fifth largest oil exporter, insists its nuclear programme is for civil electricity purposes only.


Iran shows contempt for human rights: AI

Feb 18, 2010

Washington : Amnesty International has criticised Iran for rejecting important recommendations by the United Nations to improve human rights in the country.

The recommendations rejected by Iran include: ending execution of juvenile offenders; upholding fair trial guarantees, investigating torture allegations, including rape and releasing people detained for peacefully exercising their human rights, the human rights body said in a statement.

"The Iran delegation also only paid lip service to cooperation with the Human Rights Council. While accepting a recommendation to cooperate with UN's human rights experts, Iran rejected several others to allow the Council's Special Rapporteur on torture to visit the country," it alleged.

Amnesty said the Iranian delegation accepted the recommendation to respect freedom of religion but rejected a recommendation to end discrimination against the Bahai's.

"By rejecting specific recommendations made by dozens of countries the Iranian authorities showed contempt for international obligations just as they have done in their treatment of their own people," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

"By promising to consider recommendations to eliminate the execution of juvenile offenders, the Iranian authorities are cynically camouflaging their existing obligation under the Convention on the Rights of the Child not to execute juvenile offending," said Sahraoui.


'Pak military admits extremism poses existential threat'

Feb 18, 2010

Washington : Pakistani military now recognises that extremism poses existential threat to them, the US has said, a day after reports that a top Taliban leader has been arrested in a joint CIA-ISI operation.

The remarks came soon after US President Barack Obama held an hour-long situation room meeting with his top national security aide on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"One of the updates that the President got today was a discussion about our military cooperation with Pakistan and the recognition on the Pakistani military side that extremists in their country posed not simply a threat but an existential threat to them," White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters at his daily news briefing yesterday.

For the past one year, the Obama Administration had been trying to convince Pakistan that it is violent extremism and not India that pose existential threat to them.

"They (Pakistan) have been working productively and cooperatively for more than a year now in assisting international efforts, and cooperating in an effort to rid that area of violent extremists," Gibbs said.

"I don't want to get into operationally what might or might not come next. But obviously the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (deputy of Mullah Omar), is a significant win," he said when asked about the arrest of the top Taliban leader.

"Obviously the Pakistani government has confirmed that Mullah Baradar is in custody. I am not going to get into information that we are getting from those interrogations. I do think obviously this was the number two Afghan Taliban and the operational chief, and it's a big success for our mutual efforts in the region," Gibbs said.

He said Obama met with his national security team and chain of command for his regular update on Af-Pak.

The meeting began with a briefing on the situation in Pakistan from the US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson, including a discussion of the progress made in building a strong partnership with the Pakistani government and people on behalf of our mutual interests.

Patterson gave a robust update on both the governmental and military side of Pakistan, he said.

"The President then received a briefing from US Commander in Afghanistan General (Stanley) McChrystal on the status of the offensive in southern Afghanistan and from (US) Ambassador (to Afghanistan Karl) Eikenberry on our civilian efforts.

Both noted the leading role that the Afghan government and security forces are playing alongside the international community in the current offensive," Gibbs said.

The White House Press Secretary said General McChrystal began in walking the President through an update of the situation in Marja.

"As you know, this was highly planned and orchestrated. The effort was shaped by Afghan forces and ISAF forces with those on the ground, which is a key in our efforts.

It's clear that a lot of individuals with the Taliban decided that they did not want to stay in this stronghold and had left," he said.

"Without getting into specifics, obviously the President heard from Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal about our continued efforts at reintegration, assuming that, as always, there's a renouncement of the violent extremists that they're tied to, a renouncement of violence, and that they agree to uphold the Afghan constitution and Afghan laws.

Obviously that's part of what's going on in southern Afghanistan, in the Helmand province right now," Gibbs said.


Taliban using human shields says Afghan official

Feb 17, 2010

afghanistan : Taliban insurgents are increasingly using civilians as human shields as they fight allied troops trying to take the militants' southern stronghold of Marjah, an Afghan official said Wednesday as military squads resumed painstaking house-to-house searches.

About 15,000 NATO and Afghan troops are taking part in the offensive around Marjah, which has an estimated 80,000 inhabitants and was the largest town in southern Helmand province under Taliban control. NATO hopes to rush in aid and public services as soon as the town is secured to try to win the loyalty of the population.

With the assault in its fifth day, insurgents are firing at Afghan troops from inside or next to compounds where women and children appear to have been ordered to stand on a roof or in a window, said Gen. Mohiudin Ghori, the brigade commander for Afghan troops in Marjah.

"Especially in the south of Marjah, the enemy is fighting from compounds where soldiers can very clearly see women or children on the roof or in a second-floor or third-floor window," Ghori said. "They are trying to get us to fire on them and kill the civilians."

The Marjah offensive is the biggest joint operation since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and is a major test of a retooled NATO strategy to focus on protecting civilians, rather than killing insurgents.

Ghori said troops have made choices either not to fire at the insurgents with civilians nearby or they have had to target and advance much more slowly in order to distinguish between militants and civilians as they go.

Even with such caution on both the NATO and Afghan side, civilians have been killed. NATO has confirmed 15 civilian deaths in the operation. Afghan rights groups say at least 19 have been killed.

In northern Marjah on Wednesday, U.S. Marines fanned out through poppy fields, dirt roads and side alleys to take control of a broader stretch of area from insurgents as machine gun fire rattled in the distance.

The Marines found several compounds that had primitive drawings on their walls depicting insurgents blowing up tanks or helicopters, a sign that Afghan troops say revealed strong Taliban support in the neighborhood.

Lt. Col. Brian Christmas, commander of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, said security has improved enough in northern Marjah for Afghan police to step in. Other Marine units have taken control over main locations in the center of town.

"Bringing in the Afghan police frees up my forces to clear more insurgent zones," Christmas said.

Combat engineers were building a fortified base at the entrance of town for the police, who are expected to arrive Thursday.

Afghan police chosen for the task in Marjah were selected from other regions of the country instead of Helmand province, Marine officials said, in order to avoid handing over day-to-day security to officers who may have tribal or friendship ties to the Taliban.

A day earlier, Marines and Afghan forces moving by land from the north had succeeded in linking up with U.S. units that have faced nearly constant Taliban attack in the four days since they were dropped by helicopter into this insurgent stronghold.

The linkup between the two Marine rifle companies and their Afghan army partners will enable the U.S. to expand its control in Marjah, about 380 miles (610 kilometers) southwest of Kabul.

A top Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Razaq Akhund, dismissed the offensive as NATO propaganda and said on the group's Web site that Marjah was militarily insignificant.

Four NATO service members have been killed in the Marjah operation. An American and a Briton were killed on Saturday, while two others whose nationalities were not identified were killed Tuesday. One Afghan soldier also died Tuesday, Afghan officials said.

The Marines and Afghan troops "saw sustained but less frequent insurgent activity" in Marjah on Wednesday, limited mostly to small-scale attacks, NATO said in a statement.

Marine officials have said that Taliban resistance has started to seem more disorganized than in the first few days of the assault, when small teams of insurgents swarmed around Marine and Afghan army positions firing rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Troops are encountering less fire from mortars and RPGs than at the start of the assault, suggesting that the insurgents may have depleted some of their reserves or that the heavier weapons have been hit, Ghori said.

Nevertheless, Taliban have not given up. Insurgent snipers hiding in haystacks in poppy fields have exchanged fire with Marines and Afghan troops in recent days as they swept south.

Insurgents tried but failed to shoot down an Osprey aircraft with rocket-propelled grenades as Cobra attack helicopters fired missiles at Taliban positions, including a machine gun bunker.

NATO said it has reinstated use of a high-tech rocket system that it suspended after two rockets hit a house on the outskirts of Marjah on Sunday, killing 12 people, including at least five children.

The military coalition originally said the missiles went hundreds of yards (meters) off target but said Tuesday that it determined that the rockets hit the intended target.

Afghan officials said three Taliban fighters were in the house at the time.

Violence and NATO strikes have continued elsewhere in the country.

In neighboring Kandahar province, four Afghan policemen were killed and four others were wounded when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb on Tuesday, the Afghan Interior Ministry said.

And in the east, NATO said it killed more than a dozen insurgents in an airstrike near the Pakistani border.


Cops track woman who helped Headley

By Krishna Kumar in Mumbai

THE TRAIL of the German Bakery blast in Pune has led investigators to West Bengal and to a woman who was deputed by a local terror module to assist 26/11 accused and US national David Coleman Headley. Investigators have found a concrete link between Headley and the Pune blast.

According to officers, Amir Raza Khan, who has been blamed for a spate of serial explosions in the country over the past few years, had teamed up with Headley to engineer the blasts, including that in Pune.

Raza is a resident of Kolkata and founder of the Amir Raza Commando Force. While he is now believed to be in Pakistan, the police say his girlfriend helped Headley establish his terror network. An investigator said the woman is still in India and was seen only two weeks ago.

We have got information that Raza not only met Headley but also Tahawwur Rana to finalise the strategies for creating terror in India,” an officer said.

According to investigators, Raza had deputed his girlfriend to assist Headley when he was conducting reconnaissance trips across India.

“ The woman, too, is from Bengal and is about 26 years old.

Over the past two years, she travelled with Headley whenever he visited various Indian cities to establish his terror network.

“ We have information that she was the one who had arranged the accommodation for Headley when he visited Ajmer, Kanpur and Delhi. At all these places, Headley stayed at hotels near local Chabad houses. For instance, in Ajmer, he took a room that was facing the Chabad House there,” an investigator said.

The woman also helped Headley identify targets while travelling with him in Delhi. The police suspect that on a number of occasions, the 26/ 11 accused had introduced her as his wife.

Officers claimed that the woman used to masquerade as a tourist guide and was involved in providing safe houses to terror suspects. She also facilitated terror suspects to slip out of the country to Pakistan via Bangladesh and Nepal.

“ The woman met Raza Khan when she was quite young and was smitten. Since they are from Bengal, their predominant area of influence is in the state. But over the years, they had established a strong base in Uttar Pradesh and other states also,” an investigator said.

“ Raza’s girlfriend has not been able to flee India. We are quite close to apprehending her. That will help us not just in solving the Pune blast case but also in unravelling the network of Raza Khan and Headley.” Raza fled to Dubai after his brother Asif Raza was shot dead in an encounter in Gujarat. He is wanted for the blast outside the US Consulate in Kolkata in 2002.

Mail Today, New Delhi.


Terror expert: 'No basis' for engaging Syria again

Chad Groening


It was wrong, says Islam critic and terrorism expert Robert Spencer, for President Barack Obama to send an ambassador back to Syria for the first time in five years as another effort to "engage" a Muslim country that has been hostile toward the United States.

Career diplomat Robert Ford will be the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since President George W. Bush recalled its envoy after Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was killed in a February 2005 bombing blamed on Syria.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "His appointment represents President Obama's commitment to use engagement to advance U.S. interests by improving communication with the Syrian government and people." But the nomination has not gone over well with many Republicans who are not happy with Obama's signature policy of seeking to engage U.S. foes.

"He has pursued a consistent policy of reaching out to these countries that are hostile to the United States, apparently in the belief that they will cease their hostility once the United States shows good will toward them," contends Spencer, director of Jihad Watch. "There's actually no basis for him to assume that, and it has already been disproven again, again and again by the behavior of the countries to which he has been reaching out."

The Jihad Watch director concludes that President Bush was correct in pulling the ambassador out of Syria.


Pandering To The Islamic Conference

Claudia Rosett


Does Obama really need Rashad Hussain as a special envoy?

Controversy is swirling around President Barack Obama's choice of a young American Muslim lawyer, Rashad Hussain, to serve as his special envoy to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Behind this fracas looms the even larger question of whether the U.S. should be sending the OIC any special envoy at all.

The tussle over Hussain has so far come down mainly to a he-said/she-said dispute over an article published in 2004 by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. The reporter, Shereen Kandil, quoted Hussain as saying that Sami al-Arian--a man who later pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid a terrorist group--was the victim of “politically motivated persecutions." Somehow that quote later disappeared from the online article. Fox News reports that Kandil stands by her original account. A White House official, defending Hussain, told Fox this week that the quote came not from Hussain but from al-Arian's daughter.

Obama, in announcing Rashad Hussain's appointment on Feb. 13, praised him as “an accomplished lawyer and trusted member of my staff." Obama said Hussain has played a “key role" in developing the ties Obama called for in his June address from Cairo to the Muslim world, adding that Hussain is “a hafiz of the Qur'an"--meaning that he has memorized the entire Koran.

There may be no way to prove who said what in 2004. But while we wait to learn more about Rashad Hussain, it's also worth taking a look at the outfit with which he will be engaging.

Founded at an Islamic summit in Morocco in 1969, the OIC describes itself on its Web site as “the collective voice of the Muslim world"--though in reality many of its members are rulers of states in which the people themselves have no free voice, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya and Iran. The OIC began with 30 members and today boasts 57 member “states." (Though that's inaccurate, because one of those 57 members listed by the OIC is Palestine, which is not a state.) But the OIC, dedicated to spreading its own vision of a new world order, enjoys a propaganda coup every time someone carelessly refers to its 57 “member states," instead of its 56 states plus the Palestinian Authority.

The OIC is headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It is dedicated in its documents to spreading Islamic law, or sharia. Its Web site says it has “the singular honor to galvanize the Ummah into a unified body"--and it defines the Ummah as all Muslims of the world.

This campaign has been reflected at the United Nations, where the OIC's 56 members plus the Palestinian observer form one of the biggest and most influential lobbying blocs in the UN's 192-member General Assembly. The OIC itself holds an observer seat as well, which gives it a prime spot for getting involved in UN debates and resolutions.

This amounts to a bonanza for the OIC, which on the financial front hitches a ride effectively subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. While the U.S. alone pays 22% of the UN's $2.3 billion annual core budget and gets one vote on how the money is used, all the 57 OIC members put together pay less than 5% and get 56 votes. On top of that the U.S. contributes many billions more for such UN ventures as peacekeeping, food aid, refugee relief and so forth. The OIC doesn't come close.

But the OIC does have its passions. The OIC has been a big backer of a campaign at the UN for “anti-blasphemy" rules that would effectively gag free speech and muffle any real debate about the nature and direction of Islam. The OIC is also one of the big reasons the UN has not been able to come up with a viable definition of terrorism. The point of disagreement is that the OIC, while condemning terrorism, has a record of then qualifying that by redefining terrorism to exclude “the exercise of legitimate right of peoples to resist foreign occupation."

The OIC has also backed some disturbing candidates for important UN posts. Recent examples include Libya's Ali Treki, now serving as the 2009-10 president of the UN General Assembly, as well as backing Sudan, Syria and Iran for important posts overseeing the UN's cultural organization, UNESCO.

Iran has at times played an interesting role in the OIC, such as its co-chairing of a July 2008 meeting of the UN and OIC in Geneva. At that meeting, which included plans for the UN to explore ways of spreading Islamic law, the OIC was represented by one of Iran's former ambassadors to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi. This is the same Salehi who was appointed last year by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as chief of Iran's nuclear program.

It's the kind of thing that lies behind the polished façade of the OIC. There's a strong case to be made that this organization should not be dignified by the attentions of any American special envoy. The post was created by President George Bush, who first appointed a special envoy to the OIC in 2008 and that may well have been a mistake from the start. If contact with the OIC is wanted, the U.S. Mission to the UN in New York already has easy access. And Obama already has a special envoy to Muslim communities.

But given that Obama is following Bush's lead and sending a special envoy to the OIC, it's a strange priority that one of Hussain's prime credentials listed by Obama is his total recall of the Koran. That would make more sense as a core credential for a special envoy from the OIC. The real question is whether Rashad Hussain will vigorously represent and defend the interests, values and constitution of the U.S. If not, far better to have no special envoy to the OIC at all.

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