New Age Islam News Bureau
20 Feb 2012
• Egypt’s Baha’is face more attacks from Salafists
• Sunni Muslim Wakf Committee Run Burqa-clad Student Now Turn Beachwear Designers
• Ban'' on juices made by Ahmadi-owned firm in Pak
• U-turn: US says doesn’t back Balochistan independence
• ‘Resolve the issue or lose Balochistan’: MQM
• Terror watch: UK to store all phone, email records
• Maldives President expands cabinet; inducts Gayoom's aide
• Iran ‘building up nuclear site near Qom’: BBC
• Top Kashmir clerics urge Muslims to stand behind Iran
• Obama to law enforcement: Stop linking Muslims to terrorism
• Backed with court order, India to seek extradition of Headley, Rana
• UAE grants citizenship to 1,117 'foreign' children
• Hizb-e-Islami urges role of all groups in endgame in Afghanistan
• Egypt In “Arab Winter” Amid Postponed Ballot And Anti-Christian Violence
• Balochistan chapter of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) rails at police, govt. for situation in Quetta
‘• Most Favoured Nation’ not same as ‘most friendly’ nation: Pak P M
• Pakistan FM to seek UK help against drone raids
• Pervez Musharraf planned Benazir Bhutto kill?
• Bomb blast kills 8 anti-Taliban militiamen in northwest Pakistan, says official
• Bomb blast in Suleja, Nigeria again
• Nigerian Militant Sect Boko Haram Suspected of Killing Two
• Syrian opposition sees radicals at work for regime
• Ultraconservative Islamists demonstrate in Tunisia
• Nuclear inspectors of United Nations leave for key talks in Tehran
• Faltering peace talks need rethink, says Karzai aide
• Taliban leaders willing for peace talks are killed: Hamid Karzai
• Syrian forces fire on anti-Assad crowd in capital
• Tel Aviv to get missile interceptor system: army
• Jeddah to be Kingdom’s first eco-friendly city
• Bangladesh PM urges for Bangla practice at all spheres
• Pakistan military joins tablet war with PACPAD Tablet
• Jewish writer gives Modi a book on ‘atrocities’ against Hindus in Bangladesh;
• Will implement Sachar report: Sonia to Muslims
Complied by New Age Islam News Bureau
Photo: Islam and the West together again in Syria
Islam and the West together again in Syria
20 Feb 2012
Western interests sometimes intersect with those of armed groups which operate under an Islamic banner.
New York, NY - In Bosnia in the 1990s, "Islamic militants" and "Western humanitarians" fought on the same side.
Foreign Islamic fighters formed some of the best units in the ragtag Bosnian army. Like Western leftists in the Spanish Civil War, they had answered calls for assistance from beleaguered comrades in another country.
Alongside UN peacekeepers, with cover from NATO's air forces, and supported by legions of human rights activists, the foreign fighters, the Bosnian army and their Croatian allies did their best to hold off the Serbs.
The outcome in Bosnia was ambiguous, in large measure because of the unwillingness of the West to fully commit its forces to the fight against ethnic fascism. This unwillingness stood in stark contrast not only to Westerners of an earlier generation who went off to Spain to fight and drive ambulances, but also to the Muslim fighters from faraway places who gave their lives in the cause of a free Bosnia.
"Many Muslims see themselves as victims of the same kind of humanitarian crimes that so concern Western human rights activists."
This same alliance between a militant Western humanitarianism and Islamic fighters reappeared in Libya. Gaddafi and his murderous regime were their common enemy.
Many may choose to see such unexpected couplings as merely alliances of convenience, that really Western humanitarians and radical Islamists have diametrically opposed goals.
This is to ignore a significant dimension of the appeal of militant Islam, one that Faisal Devji has sought to draw attention to in his provocative and illuminating book, The Terrorist in Search of Humanity.
Many Muslims see themselves as victims of the same kind of humanitarian crimes that so concern Western human rights activists. Muslims have been the victims of dictatorships and their secret police and death squads; they have been subjected to massacres and extra-judicial proceedings; they are not treated with respect and dignity; and they are persecuted for their beliefs.
These are precisely the kind of causes that gave birth to the global human rights movement.
In circumstances of oppression and injustice, Muslims appear as victims of crimes against humanity. The militants are merely those who choose not to be victims and take up arms. Many of us see no little justice in the militants' cause as they fight against foreign occupation and murderous dictators, even if we do not always agree with their methods or ultimate aims.
An unlikely alliance
This alliance between Muslim militant and Western humanitarian, which is not as strange as it seems, has reappeared in Syria. As the Western powers work alongside the Arab League to impose sanctions and pass UN resolutions, Muslim militants have issued a call to arms.
The Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan announced a jihad against the Assad regime, as has al-Qaeda. A new Anbar Awakening is underway as Iraqis now funnel arms to Syrian insurgents. Foreign militants may have been responsible for the recent bombings in Aleppo and Damascus.
Meanwhile, militant Western humanitarians wish they too could have a jihad in Syria as they did in Libya. All are agreed that a regime willing to kill its own people in such numbers and to sow dangerous sectarian division in the cause of its own survival must go. Basic human values should define the future for Syria.
Some analysts see in Syria the danger of a regional sectarian war that was so narrowly averted in the worst years in Iraq. They may well be right. Western leaders and militaries fear the consequences of attacking yet another Muslim country, while their citizens have tired of years of war amid broken economies.
Yet the potential alliance of militant and humanitarian offers an opportunity an exhausted West, blinded by its own righteousness, may fail to see, much less grasp. It is an opportunity of global proportions that only enlightened and confident statesmanship could hope to realise.
The War on Terror has been fought to a costly, hurting stalemate. The West failed to achieve its aims in Iraq and it will fail in Afghanistan. Yet, it has utterly decimated the ranks of Islamic militants around the world and daily demonstrates its power to carry on doing so.
Osama bin Laden failed to achieve his goal of igniting a worldwide Muslim uprising. His self defeating methods horrified Muslims and Westerners alike, while his dream of a Salafi utopia turned Muslim against Muslim and did not offer an attractive political goal to the masses.
Syria offers the opportunity to find again the shared ground between Islam and the West, with democracy, dignity and respect for human rights as the common goal.
The West should reach out to the Muslim Brotherhoods of Jordan and elsewhere on the basis that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". On this same basis, militant Islam should make common cause with Western humanitarians.
Such a surprising move on the part of the West would earn the respect and appreciation of Muslims around the world, reducing the anti-Western feeling that leads to terror. At the same time, it would allow militant Islam to reshape its political objectives in ways that are compatible with democracy and human rights and the near universal support these principles command.
It is these goals, after all, for which the Syrian people are fighting.
In this kind of way, Islamic militants can turn themselves into "freedom fighters" rather than "terrorists" in the eyes of the world. To do so, they must commit to fight as ordinary insurgents in the Free Syrian Army. In so doing, they would articulate themselves to a cause which has near-universal support and to political goals shared by peoples everywhere.
Egypt’s Baha’is face more attacks from Salafists
19 February 2012
CAIRO: Egypt’s small Baha’i Faith community has faced attack upon attack in its less than 200 year existence in the country. The latest has come from prominent ultra-conservative Salafist leader Abdel Moneim al-Shahat, who called on the government to “protect itself” from the faith by denouncing the faith and calling its followers “blasphemous.”
“We will prosecute the Bahai’s on charge of treason,” said Shahat via telephone on Dream 2′s al-Haqiqa TV program.
“We as Salafists refuse to deal with Baha’is, because they do not exist by virtue of their faith.”
According to Shahat, Bahai’s are not entitled to rights under Islam because they are not recognized by the religion, and any new constitution should not include an amendment protecting their rights.
He cited previous Al-Azhar – the Sunni Islamic world’s most prestigious institution – rulings that said Baha’is are blasphemous.
The world’s newest monotheistic faith, and one that has been oppressed vehemently in Islamic countries, including Egypt, where in the early years of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Baha’i temples and places of worship were closed, and the Baha’i cemetery in the country largely destroyed, continues to face such attacks by the likes of Shahat and others in the country.
In 2009, the Egyptian Baha’i community hoped they had ushered in a new era for identification cards in the country after the first batch of the religious minority was granted new ID’s without a religion written on them. The move came after years of struggling against the state in order not to choose one of the “big three” religions Judaism, Christianity or Islam.
The new ID’s came months after an Egyptian court granted the Baha’i community the right not to list a false religion on the paperwork, something the small minority community had been pushing for in recent years after discrimination has been reported.
The lawsuit against the government was filed by a married couple, Hussam Izzat Musa and Ranya Enayat Rushdy, who wanted to add their daughters to their passports, which had listed the Baha’i Faith as their religion.
The couple won the initial case against the government, which granted them the ability to register their children in schools, receive marriage licenses, birth certificates and proclaim their faith on state identification cards.
“We were ecstatic about the case that allowed our community to be fully accepted Egyptians,” one married Baha’i man, after the initial court victory, told Bikyamasr.com.
His optimism was short-lived, however, as the government appealed and won, leaving the community struggling to find a place in Egyptian society.
Egyptians are forced to have religion noted on their identity cards. Previously, Baha’is were forced to choose between Islam, Christianity or Judaism in order to receive official documents, including birth certificates and passports. Many of them took their cases to court, claiming that they’d rather leave the religion slot blank than choose a religion other than their own. The court, initially, agreed, and said they could leave the category blank in a move widely praised by religious advocacy groups in the country.
The Baha’i Faith is the most recent, established in 1863, monotheistic religion. It originates from Iran and believes in the progressive revelations of God. Baha’is believe that all religions are true and from God, but that at different times throughout human history, a new manifestation (prophet) is needed in order to adapt to the changing times and cultural traditions.
The main conflict between Muslims and Baha’is is in the idea that Mohamed is not the final prophet of God, which has led to Muslims distrusting Baha’is.
In December 2003, Al Azhar Research Academy, the most authoritative Sunni institution in the world, issued a fatwa against the Baha’i Faith. It stated that Islam does not recognize any religion other than those that the Holy Qur’an has asked to be respected. The fatwa specified the Baha’i Faith, stating that the “Baha’i creed and its likes are intellectual epidemics that should be fought and eliminated by the state.”
Now, one year on from an uprising that left the country optimistic and hopeful, there still remains some of that hope in the small community of the religious minority.
“We do feel that things will get better in the coming months and years despite the rise of the Salafists,” said teacher Kamal, also Baha’i. He told Bikyamasr.com between drags on his shisha, or water-pipe, that “we are all Egyptians, whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or other, and when the military leaves power and we have a government, it should be better because we can have honest and open dialogue.”
His belief in the power of the Egyptian population tends to be the majority among the Baha’i community, who has long struggled against persecution and a lack of media awareness. They argue that the revolution is continuing and if needed, Hossam said he would join tomorrow any demonstration.
“But we need to have a movement that is for all Egypt, not just one side. This is important. The military must go, but we must all have our rights and the media needs to start talking about all people in this country, including us Baha’is,” he argued.
Sunni Muslim Wakf Committee Run Burqa-clad Student Now Turn Beachwear Designers
Priya Adhyaru Majithia
TNN | Feb 20, 2012
AHMEDABAD: Wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf, Farmana Sheikh, 18, has never been to a beach. Yet, she designs brightly-coloured bikinis and beachwear. "Fashion sense and firm will," says Farmana, who is learning basic fashion designing. "I want to become self-reliant."
Farmana is among a bunch of young Muslim students at the Sultan Ahmed Institute of Fashion Design (SAIF) run by Ahmedabad Sunni Muslim Wakf Committee. SAIF had only a handful of students for its various courses till 2002. After the post-Godhra riots, however, it saw a sudden spurt in Muslim men and women signing up to learn computer technology, spoken English and fashion design. There was an urgent need in the community to upgrade skills and show they were as mainstream as anyone else.
Many men in the community had also lost their jobs in the riots and these brave women decided to supplement the family income with their new skills. Burqa-clad Farooki Nasima, 19, is specializing on newer versions of cholis and designer saris.
"While doing an assignment for bridal and traditional wear, I realized I loved experimenting on saris. I have created a giraffe print chiffon sari with a backless sleeveless choli." "We don't aspire to wear these designs," says Memon Aqsa, 17, another fashion design student who is working on creating crochet beachwear with hat and beach shoes. "But we certainly aspire to sell these creations at a good rate and aim to aid to our family income."
"The motto is to make these youngsters self-sufficient," says managing director of the centre, Rais Munshi. "Unemployment among Muslims reached to a new peak after 2002 riots. Many young Muslim girls and boys were forced to come out and develop professional skills to earn a living."
After the riots, the centre saw a 50% jump in boys students and a 30% rise in girls.
Ban'' on juices made by Ahmadi-owned firm in Pak
20 February 2012
Lahore, Feb 18 (PTI) Days after a lawyers'' group banned juices made by an Ahmadi-owned firm from court complexes in Lahore, a "permanent ban" has been imposed on the drinks by Punjab University, the largest varsity of Pakistan.
Shezan fruit juices have banned in Punjab University, which has some 32,000 students. The Islami Jamiat Tulba, the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami has a strong presence on the campus.
Owners of canteens in the campus have stopped serving Shezan juices due to pressure from the students'' organisation, sources said.
A Punjab University spokesman told PTI: "We cannot force the canteen owners to stock a particular product or not as it is their prerogative."
Asked about the IJT''s influence in such a matter, he said during Vice-Chancellor Mujahid Kamran''s tenure, "we have stopped IJT from carrying out its political agenda".
Shandy Cola, a soft drink made by a firm whose owner is considered close to the Jamaat-e-Islami, is available in all canteens on the campus.
"IJT activists have forced us to stock Shandy Cola in place of Shezan drinks. A group of IJT activists inspects the canteens and hostels on a regular basis," said a canteen owner who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of the IJT.
Farooq Ahmed, the owner of several canteens at the Lahore High Court complex, said lawyers had told him that a judge had passed an order to ban Shezan products.
"I have been told by the lawyers� body to stop selling Shezan products, both juices and soft drinks," he said.
Mujahid Mansoori, a columnist and former teacher of Punjab University, said as long as there was a strong presence of the IJT on the campus, Shezan''s products could not be sold there.
"The Punjab University is not the only such educational institution in Punjab. Where ever the IJT has a stronghold, you will see similar things happening," he said.
Mansoori said when educated communities like lawyers could resort to such radical acts, then similar moves should be expect from "extremist elements".
The lawyers� "ban" on Shezan products triggered outrage across Pakistan. In the past, lawyers� groups had been condemned for showing their support for Mumtaz Qadri, the police guard who gunned down Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer last year for his demand for changes in Pakistan''s controversial blasphemy law.
U-turn : US says doesn’t back Balochistan independence
TNN | Feb 20, 2012
ISLAMABAD: Amid Pakistani leadership's angry criticism of a bill moved in Congress seeking the right to self-determination for people of Balochistan, the US on Sunday said it does not support independence for the province.
"The US respects the territorial integrity of Pakistan . Members of Congress introduce legislation on numerous foreign affairs topics and these bills do not in any way imply US government endorsement of any particular policy," US embassy spokesman Robert Raines said in a statement.
The statement came a day after PM Yousaf Raza Gilani condemned the resolution moved in House of Representatives by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher as an attack on Pakistan's sovereignty.
"The department of state does not typically comment on pending legislation, but it is not the policy of the administration to support independence for Balochistan," Raines said.
Balochistan has witnessed a spike in violence by nationalist groups that are seeking greater autonomy and a say in the exploitation of the southwestern province's abundant natural resources , including minerals and gas.
Baloch groups have alleged that hundreds of their activists have been arrested without due process and killed in the past two years.
Every week, bodies of the "missing persons" or men detained without charge are found across the province. Most allegedly bear marks of torture and bullet wounds.
‘Resolve the issue or lose Balochistan’: MQM
20 February 2012
KARACHI: Altaf Hussain, the chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, has said that wrong policies and suppression of the voice of Baloch people have brought Balochistan to the verge of separation from the country.
“If we fail to find a solution we may lose Balochistan,” he said while addressing on phone a large gathering of women at the Bagh-i-Quaid on Sunday.
Mr Hussain mainly focused on issues of women and said the country could not be strengthened without empowering them.
About Balochistan, he said he had always raised the sensitive issue but no-one paid heed to it.
Referring to a recent move in the US Congress, he said the situation had worsened to an extent that resolutions were being tabled in parliaments of other countries for granting the right of self-determination to the Baloch people.
He said he had repeatedly asked the rulers to convene a conference on Balochistan, but “it appears to be already late because Baloch leaders have lost trust in the rulers of Pakistan”.
He urged the authorities concerned to give the people of Balochistan all their “legitimate rights”. “If no solution is found then,
God forbid, Balochistan may be lost,” he said.
The MQM chief said a new chapter had been written in the country’s political history with the women’s meeting.
Referring to recent rallies held at Bagh-i-Jinnah, he said that although other parties had made tall claims about massive shows of strength, the MQM had shown that only its women could face the opponents’ challenge.
He claimed that the gathering was the largest of its kind held anywhere in the world and ‘over a million’ women filled the Bagh-i-Jinnah, adjoining roads and the premises of the Mazar-i-Quaid.
He said the event itself was “a revolution” and claimed that all other parties would not be able to organise such a huge gathering even if they joined together to do so.
Mr Hussain said the MQM had brought women in the mainstream of national politics and had organised its first women’s meeting in 1988 and another in the Nishtar Park in 2005.
He said the MQM always raised its voice against injustices against women. The party forcefully raised its voice in favour of Shaista Almani, Dr Shazia and Dr Aafia Siddiqui .
The MQM chief demanded Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s release on humanitarian grounds.
He said there were areas in the country where women did not have the right to vote or contest elections.
He condemned customs like karo-kari, honour killing, vani and marriage with the Holy Quran and said incidents of gang rape, throwing acid on women, shaving their heads and cutting off their limbs were extremely shameful.
He said the MQM was against all evil customs, cruelties and injustices and wanted to emancipate women and restore their dignity.
He said the Women Protection Bill had been passed by parliament because of MQM’s efforts. The MQM also introduced legislations in the Sindh Assembly about honour killing and domestic violence.
Mr Hussain said that women should be given an equal share in every sphere of life.
He said the MQM’s manifesto was based on the last address of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) which clearly stated that all people were equal.
He called for abolition of feudal system and said educated people from the poor and middle classes should also be given the right to take part in politics.
He said the MQM wanted to end gender discrimination and give equal opportunities to women.
He also called for the recovery of all ‘missing’ persons, including 28 workers of the MQM.
The speech was followed by a fireworks display.
MQM’s decision to hold the women’s gathering at the place where the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) and Difa-i-Pakistan Council had recently held their public meetings appeared to be aimed at showing that the party still had a firm
grip on the city’s politics.
Terror watch: UK to store all phone, email records
PTI | Feb 20, 2012
LONDON: For the first time, Britain plans to store details of all phone calls, text messages, emails and websites visited online as part of the government's new anti-terror plans, says a media report.
Landline and mobile phone companies and broadband providers will be ordered to store the data for a year and make it available to the security services under the scheme.
The databases would not record the contents of calls, texts or emails but the numbers or email addresses of who they are sent and received by, the 'Daily Telegraph' reported.
UK's security services will have widespread access to information about who has been communicating with each other on social networking sites such as Facebook. Direct messages between subscribers to websites like Twitter would also be stored, as well as communications between players in online video games, the report said.
It is certain to cause controversy over civil liberties - but also raise concerns over security of records.
The plan has been drawn up on the advice of MI5, the home security,the home security service, MI6, which operates abroad, and GCHQ, the government's 'listening post' to monitor communications.
Maldives President expands cabinet; inducts Gayoom's aide
Male, Feb 12,2012
Maldives' new President Mohamed Waheed Hassan today inducted seven members into his expanded cabinet, including the country's first woman Attorney General and an aide of former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, as he tries to cement his position as the head of a 'unity government'.
Seeking to end a raging political crisis that erupted after the dramatic resignation of first democratic elected president Mohamed Nasheed last week, his former deputy drew new members of his cabinet from different political parties.
Waheed also left key portfolios like Foreign Affairs and Finance vacant, apparently to bring Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on board. Nasheed has refused to accept Waheed's legitimacy to rule the picturesque Indian Ocean island nation.
Nasheed refused to back down from his demand for fresh elections and snubbed US calls for a compromise and led yet another major rally last night here, demanding snap polls to determine the genuine wishes of the people. "We want an election and we will campaign for it," Nasheed told a large gathering of his supporters.
Among the new cabinet ministers, is Azima Shakooru, the Attorney General of Maldives, who is the lone woman to get a ministerial berth. Incidentally, she was appointed as the first woman Attorney General way back in 2007 during Gayoom's regime.
Hassan also inducted into his government Mohamed Husain Sharif Mundu, the spokesperson of Gayoom's Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), which ruled the tiny nation for three decades.
Asked if his appointment confirms former president Mohamed Nasheed's allegation that the "coup" was engineered by his party, Mundu replied, "I am not the only party in the government."
Mundu pointed out that the current President has left certain cabinet berths vacant and is keen to have Nasheed's MDP on board. The government is yet to appoint Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Finance, Housing and Fisheries. He is yet to announce his Vice-President also.
Asked when Gayoom, who is currently in Malaysia, will come back, Mundu said "soon".Meanwhile, after over two days of lull about 200 MDP supporters today gathered outside the 'Majlis' (parliament) carrying banners, less than 100 metres from the Indian High Commission. Anti-riot police arrived at the scene. The police has set up barricades on the road leading to the Majlis.
Earlier in the day, the Male city council in an emergency meeting passed a resolution declaring that Waheed's government is illegal and he should step down. All but one of the members of the city council have been elected on MDP ticket, in the first ever elections that were held last year. Sources said, the passing of the resolution is of little practical purpose as the council have only a few public buildings and mosques under its control.
Both the police and the army are out of their control. After the passing of the resolution by the council, newly appointed advocate general Azima Shakooru was hurriedly made to take oath as the member of the Judicial Service Commission.
Meanwhile, sources said, fresh arrests were made in Addu Atoll, including the Deputy Mayor and two councillors. Sources said Maldivian MP Mustafa has been taken to court in a cheque bounce case, that has been pending for a long time. Sources said, cases pending against few other MDP MPs were also being revived. The move seems to be a strategy by the current regime to apply pressure on the MPs, either to defect or be disqualified from the Parliament.
Some of the banners outside the 'Majlis' read "terrorising of our MPs will not work." Some other banners sought the release of MDP MP Mohamed Rasheed, who was arrested in Addu few days back.
Protesters at the site said the police extended his arrest remand for five more days today. The MDP members today said that three councillors from Isdhoo, Laamu Atoll were picked up by the police and assaulted. There were however no independent confirmation of the said incident.
Earlier, replying to another query on what will be Gayoom's role in the new government, Mundu said, "Not a direct role...They did speak to each other over the phone. The current president has said he would like to seek his advice when needed and the former President has said he is always open to that advice."
Mundu was given Youth Affairs and Sports portfolio. Incidentally, lawyer Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, also a former member of Gayoom's regime, was made the Home Minister soon after Hassan took over from Nasheed who resigned on Tuesday.
Other members of his new cabinet Ahmed Jamshed (Health and Family), Ahmed Mohamed (Economic Development), and Ahmed Shamshed (Transport and Communication).
Ahmed Adheeb was appointed the Minister for Tourism and Asim Ahmed was appointed the Minister of Education. The appointments came a day after US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake met both the President and the former president, and backed the government's proposal of a national unity government.
However, Nasheed who has not accepted the legitimacy of Hassan's government, refused to back down from his demand for a fresh election and snubbed US calls for a compromise.
He addressed a public gathering last night outside his house and reiterated his stand that the country needs a snap election to determine the genuine wishes of the people.
"We want an election and we will campaign for it," Nasheed told a large gathering of his supporters last night. Nasheed also repeated his accusation that the police and military were detaining supporters of his Maldivian Democratic Party and called for an independent investigation into what he insists was a coup.
Iran ‘building up nuclear site near Qom’: BBC
20 February 2012
LONDON: Iran may be preparing to expand its nuclear programme at an underground plant near the city of Qom, a diplomat has told the BBC, just days ahead of a visit by United Nations nuclear inspectors.
Iran appears to be poised to install thousands of new centrifuges at the underground site in the northern city, a Vienna-based diplomat told the British broadcaster late Saturday.
The BBC said the centrifuges could speed up the production of enriched uranium, which can be used both for generating nuclear power and to manufacture atomic weapons.
Iran said on Wednesday it had installed another 3,000 centrifuges to increase its uranium enrichment abilities, but it was unclear Sunday whether these were the same as those mentioned by the diplomat.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, are due to visit Tehran this week.
Iran insists that its nuclear drive is peaceful, but Western countries suspect the Islamic Republic of trying to develop an atomic bomb.
Iran has been slapped with four sets of UN sanctions and a raft of unilateral US and European Union measures over its nuclear drive.
There has been feverish speculation in recent weeks that Israel is preparing to mount a pre-emptive strike on the country’s nuclear programme, though Israel has denied reaching such a decision.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague warned over the weekend that Iran’s nuclear ambitions could spark an atomic arms race in the Middle East.
Top Kashmir clerics urge Muslims to stand behind Iran
20 February 2012
Top Kashmir cleric has cautioned the Muslim Ummah against plots by enemies of Islam to destabilize Iran and urged the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to play its role for unity among Muslim countries.
(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - Top Kashmir cleric has cautioned the Muslim Ummah against plots by enemies of Islam to destabilize Iran and urged the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to play its role for unity among Muslim countries.
“Efforts are being made at the international level to destabilize two prominent Muslim countries – Iran and Pakistan – and there is an urgent need for all the Muslim countries to stand united and to keep their enemies at bay,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told a Seerah conference on Friday.
Mirwaiz, who is also head of multi-party Hurriyat Conference, said the two most powerful Muslim countries - Iran and Pakistan - were being seen as a cause of worry by anti-Islam countries and vowed that the Hurriyat Conference would not remain unconcerned over the changing world scenario. He said like any other country in the world, Muslim nations too had a right to defend themselves.
“We urge the OIC and other Muslim countries to help the Muslim countries iron out their difference and get united to save Iran and Pakistan from the inhuman economic sanctions imposed by the western powers against the two pillars of Ummah,” Mirwaiz told the seminar.
He said conspiracies were being hatched to divide Kashmiri Muslims on sectarian lines, adding that such efforts would be foiled at any cost.
Meanwhile, various religious scholars and clerics addressed the conference and expressed solidarity with the Iranian nation.
Obama to law enforcement: Stop linking Muslims to terrorism
Law Enforcement Examiner
FEBRUARY 19, 2012
In yet another curtsy to the politically correct orthodoxy, President Barack Obama's White House plans to tinker with federal police curriculums for counterterrorism training classes, according to a Beltway public-interest organization.
The first bit of "revamping" is the removal of all material that groups, such as the Council on American Islamic Relations , or CAIR, find offensive or containing a "negative" image of Muslims.
It’s a government-wide call to end Islamophobia, according to a blog by a Washington, DC-based watchdog group that investigates, exposes and prosecutes government corruption.
A few months after the Obama White House ordered an investigation of government counterterrorism training, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has destroyed instructional material that characterizes Muslims as prone to violence or terrorism, according to the Judicial Watch blog.
So far 700 pages of documents from about 300 presentations given to agents since the 2001 terrorist attacks have been purged, according to a new report published this week. The White House order came after the same publication reported in late November that the FBI, Department of Justice (DOJ) and Pentagon taught employees that mainstream Muslims embrace violence and compared the Islamic religion to the death star.
And the purge of training material regarding Islamic terrorism from law enforcement training is only the beginning. Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress that anti-Muslim instructional materials hurt the country’s fight against terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. As a result of this mentality, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were asked to collect counterterrorism training materials at all military academies and academic centers such as the National Defense Intelligence College and the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center.
"The goal, evidently, is to banish any material that could be viewed as offensive to Muslims," said the JW blog.
To fulfill this politically-correct mission, the FBI enlisted the Army Combating Terrorism Center at West Point to purge material that conflates terrorism with mainstream Islam, according to inside information cited in the Judicial Watch report. The cleansing also includes a White House review on any information related to “cultural awareness” training for troops that were preparing to deploy to the Middle East.
This appears to be part of a wider Muslim outreach effort on the part of the Obama Administration and the president’s allies in Congress. Last spring, for instance, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee quietly scheduled a special hearing to better protect Muslim civil rights in America. Organized by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin -- arguably one of the most sympathetic lawmakers to Islamic causes -- the event came in “response to the spike in anti-Muslim bigotry” and marked the first ever congressional hearing on Muslim civil rights.
It was Durbin who on the floor of the Senate in 2004 called U.S. soldiers Nazis, and detention centers such as Guantanamo Bay "gulags." He later apologized, but his constituents were happy to hear him denigrating U.S. troops since his district has a very large Muslim population, according to news reports.
According to the Examiner, other Muslim outreach efforts under Obama included; Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano meeting to discuss national security matters with a group of extremist Muslim organizations including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the nation’s space agency (NASA) being ordered to focus on Muslim diplomacy, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signing a special order to allow the reentry of two radical Islamic academics whose terrorist ties long banned them from the U.S.
Backed with court order, India to seek extradition of Headley, Rana
TNN | Feb 20, 2012
NEW DELHI: Armed with a special court order, India will soon write to the US seeking extradition of American citizen David Coleman Headley and his Canadian accomplice Tahawwur Hussain Rana for their trial here for plotting with LeT and HuJI terrorists to attack places of iconic importance in the Capital and other cities including Mumbai.
Though Headley had entered into a plea bargaining with US authorities and got immunity from being extradited to India or any other country, New Delhi has to follow the legal procedure by formally pressing for his extradition backed by the court order.
Taking cognizance of NIA's chargesheet against Headley, Rana, Lashkar founder Hafiz Saeed, the outfit's key commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and five others, a special court here on Saturday sought their presence before it for trial on March 13.
"We will write to the US with reference of the court order. New Delhi will highlight that the chargesheet against Headley and Rana is not restricted to the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack case alone. It also covers the offences which do not come under the 12 counts on which he had pleaded guilty and entered into the plea bargaining," a home ministry official said.
Under the plea bargaining, Headley had become prosecution witness in the trial against Rana, who was acquitted by a US court in the 26/11 case but indicted for his role in a terror plot against Denmark. Both are currently in jail in Chicago.
"Rana may be acquitted in the Mumbai attack case, but he is an accused here in the case which pertains to a criminal conspiracy with LeT and HuJI terrorists to carry out attacks in New Delhi and other places in India," said the official.
He said New Delhi would also write to Washington to take into account the fact that the US authorities had agreed for Headley's plea bargaining without taking India on board despite a pending case against the accused here.
A section within the home ministry believes that though it is highly unlikely that the US will extradite Headley and Rana, the move may see some legal wrangling between the two countries -- especially if someone decides to approach an American court. Even under the existing extradition agreement between India and US, Rana will have to first undergo his sentence in an American jail if convicted for his role in the Denmark plot.
"In any case, the accused's appearance for trial through video link cannot be ruled out as a compromise in future," the official said.
The NIA has, meanwhile, begun the process of sending letter rogatory to Morocco for recording the statement of Headley's estranged Moroccan wife Faiza Outalha for evidence against him. She had visited India with Headley twice during the latter's reconnaissance mission.
India, which has already asked Pakistan for deportation of Saeed and Lakhvi, will again write to Islamabad with reference of the court order. Lakhvi, who is in jail, is being tried in a Rawalpindi court in the 26/11 case whereas Saeed and others chargesheeted by the NIA remain scot-free.
UAE grants citizenship to 1,117 'foreign' children
DUBAI: Feb 20, 2012, The president of the United Arab Emirates has issued a decree granting citizenship to more than 1,000 children of Emirati women married to foreigners, the official WAM news agency reported on Monday.
"President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahayan has issued decrees granting citizenship to 1,117 children of UAE women married to foreigners who satisfied requirements for citizenship," WAM reported.
The children will receive full citizenship when they reach the age of 18, the agency said.
Most Arab countries link nationality to blood relation from the father's side, disenfranchising women who face various forms of gender discrimination across the region.
Tunisia had for a long time been the only country that gave men and women equal nationality rights with few other countries responding to continued campaigns for the regulation to be changed.
But in 2005, Algeria amended its nationality law, giving women the right to pass citizenship to their foreign husbands and children.
In 2007, Morocco said the children of Moroccan women will automatically get the nationality, while foreign husbands can demand the citizenship after five years of marriage and residency in the country.
Egypt followed suit giving women the right to pass their citizenship to their children.
The campaign continues in many other Arab countries. Home to a huge expatriate community, the oil-rich UAE has an overall population of 8.26 million, with UAE citizens representing around 11.47 per cent, according to official figures released last April.
Hizb-e-Islami urges role of all groups in endgame in Afghanistan
20 February 2012
ISLAMABAD: Peace efforts in Afghanistan are likely to fail if they do not include all militant groups, a senior member of one of the country’s militant factions said on Sunday.
“If any group is isolated or ignored, that group then becomes the centre of the resistance, and can cause problems,” Ghairat Baheer of Hizb-e-Islami told Reuters in Islamabad.
“To bring instability or disturb the situation of Afghanistan is not difficult. It is very easy.”
Hizb-e-Islami shares some of the Afghan Taliban’s anti-foreigner, anti-government aims and wants to oust US-led forces from the country.
The group, led by Afghan warlord and former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, claims to have thousands of fighters in its ranks, based mainly in Afghanistan’s restive east and in the north.
The US State Department lists Mr Hekmatyar as a ‘terrorist’ for supporting Taliban and Al Qaeda attacks, but US and Afghan officials have met Hizb-e-Islami representatives in the last two months to help end the war, now in its eleventh year.
“There is communication, and there is negotiation going on between Hizb-e-Islami and the American and Afghan governments,” said Mr Baheer, Mr Hekmatyar’s son-in-law.
In the early 1990s, forces led by Mr Hekmatyar opposed to the government of then president Burhanuddin Rabbani took part in fighting in Kabul which is thought to have killed tens of thousands.
Mr Hekmatyar left Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and his whereabouts have been unclear since then.
The Afghan Taliban announced last month they would open a political office in Qatar, suggesting the group may be willing to engage in negotiations to bring peace to the war-torn country.
While the Taliban are the focus of media attention, there are a number of other militant organisations that want a say in Afghanistan’s future.
They include the Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani group, one of the most feared Afghan militant groups blamed for many high-profile bombings against US and Nato-led forces in Afghanistan.
While the Haqqani group has pledged allegiance to the Taliban leadership, it also exercises significant operational independence.
Failure to appease these militant groups could bring prolonged instability, or even civil war, once US-led Nato combat forces withdraw in 2014.
“There should be a comprehensive solution involving all parties and groups,” said Mr Baheer, a doctor by training.
Mr Baheer, who was held in US detention at Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul, for six years until his release in 2008, said he had not seen enough progress in US-Taliban talks to suggest they were any closer to formal negotiations.
“So far they have not been able to agree on even minor issues that could be taken as goodwill gestures. There’s no official inauguration of the (Taliban) office, there is no release of prisoners and no one has been removed from the blacklist,” he said.
“Things are stuck. We are also in a wait-and-see situation.”—Reuters
Egypt In “Arab Winter” Amid Postponed Ballot And Anti-Christian Violence
Sunday, February 19, 2012
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO/BRUSSELS (BosNewsLife)-- Egypt's election commission failed Sunday to set a date for the first presidential election since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, adding to Western concerns about the plight of minority Christians as Islamists have increased their influence.
The commission said in published remarks that the problem lay in organizing the expatriate vote.
In comments to BosNewsLife, a key member of the European Parliament, Peter van Dalen, warned that Egypt was now "in the grip of the Arab Winter."
Van Dalen, who represents the Dutch ChristenUnie (ChristianUnion) party, told a parliamentary debate on human rights in Egypt that the "Arab Spring", a reference to last year's pro-freedom protests, only lasted a short time.
"The Arab Spring has now become the Arab Winter," he told parliamentarians earlier this week in Strasbourg, France. He explained to BosNewsLife that he is particularly concerned about the rise of the hard-line Salafist Muslims of the Nour Party, who have become the second largest political force in the country.
Anticipating a strong presence in the new Egyptian parliament, they have outlined plans for a strict brand of religious law, that critics say could limit personal freedoms and steer a key U.S. ally toward an Islamic state.
Hardline Salafis espouse a strict form of Islam similar to that practiced in Saudi Arabia, where security forces are known to have raided underground church groups.
Salafis, who often wear long beards and seek to imitate the life of the Prophet Muhammad, speak openly about their aim of turning Egypt into a state where personal freedoms, including freedom of speech, women's dress and art, are constrained by Islamic law.
Van Dalen said the "extreme Salafis" can further create an atmosphere of hatred in Egypt's society, where at least dozens of Egyptian Christians, also referred to as 'Copts', reportedly died in recent months in violence directed against them. Rights and church groups have blamed the on Muslim mobs, in several cases supported by security forces.
"There are many places where there is more violence than there are rights, for instance Alexandria, where last year many Cops were killed or [the capital] Cairo where people died in May when a church was torched," Van Dalen explained.
Additionally, "in Al Hammadi there seems to be peace, but in reality Copts are oppressed," the politician added.
Church leaders earlier said they fear more attacks against Copts, who make up 10 percent of the 80-million-strong, mainly Muslim, population.
Van Dalen told BosNewsLife in a statement that he urged the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton to make clear that Europe expect respect from Egypt's rulers for religious freedom and human rights. Europe, he said, "offers hundreds of millions of euros in aid to Egypt" and shouldn't be afraid to threaten with
withdrawing financial if the country's human rights record does not improve.
Yet with apparently new disputes about the date of a presidential election, it was not immediately clear Sunday how Egypt planned the road towards full-fledged democracy, EU style.
Confirmation of a date in June had been expected but, analysts said that Sunday's delay suggested there is a behind-the-scenes battle over the timing of returning from military to civilian rule.
Balochistan chapter of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) rails at police, govt. for situation in Quetta
20 February 2012
QUETTA: The Balochistan chapter of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) has held the administration and police responsible for the deteriorating law and order situation in Quetta. The JUI-F is a partner in the provincial coalition government led by Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani of the Pakistan People’s Party.
Addressing a rally at the Bacha Khan Chowk on Sunday, the JUI leaders announced that the party would soon expose the
elements behind the kidnapping of JUI-F leader Sadiq Nurzai.
Maulana Nurzai disappeared four days ago and returned home on Saturday night.
JUI city president Hafiz Hamdullah, Mr Nurzai and Haji Khuda Dost in their speeches said the rally had been organised to condemn growing incidents of abduction for ransom and said the district administration and police were not interested in ensuring security for citizens.
They said dozens of incidents of abduction for ransom and vehicle snatching had taken place in different parts of Balochistan, but the police performance was so poor that not a single criminal had been arrested.
They called upon the government to take effective steps to ensure the protection of people and said leaving the innocent citizens at the mercy of criminals was great injustice.
The JUI leaders condemned a resolution tabled in the US Congress on the Balochistan issue and said the United States was in fact hatching a conspiracy to create disturbance in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
‘Most Favoured Nation’ not same as ‘most friendly’ nation: PAK P M
20 February 2012
PIR JO GOTH: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Sunday said that granting a country the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ (MFN) status was not the same as declaring it the most “friendly” nation, DawnNews reported.
Speaking to reporters after condoling with Pir Pagara VIII upon the demise of his father, PM Gilani said that many other countries had also been declared most favoured nations in the past.
Gilani said that the government would consider Pakistan’s interests while trading with India, as it is a step towards better trade relations with the neighbouring country.
The prime minister said that, in his opinion, the government should be given a chance to complete its tenure. He further said that Afghan people hold the solution for the Afghan crisis.
When asked a question about the contempt of court case against him, he declined to give an answer, saying that only his lawyer could answer questions related to the case.
Gilani added that the government had decided to call an ‘All Parties Conference’ to dicsuss the Balochistan issue.
Pakistan FM to seek UK help against drone raids
20 February 2012
ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar left for the United Kingdom on Sunday on an official visit to hold wide-ranging talks with her British counterpart and other officials to persuade them to use their influence on the United States to end drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Ms Khar has undertaken the four-day visit two weeks after an interview given by Pakistan’s High Commissioner in London Wajid Shamsul Hassan to an English newspaper in which he urged Prime Minister David Cameron to condemn drone attacks and help stop them.
Mr Hassan had admitted that Islamabad’s relations with Washington were at their lowest ebb and described the drone attacks as ‘war crimes’ and ‘little more than state execution’.
“When we will begin talks, every issue will come under discussion. We will definitely express our reservations over it,” said Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit when asked if Ms Khar would seek the UK’s help in getting drone attacks stopped as had
been indicated by the high commissioner.
Mr Basit, who is part of the official delegation visiting the UK, told Dawn by telephone from London that the agenda of Ms Khar’s visit was to hold dialogue on ‘enhanced strategic’ relations with the UK and to enhance bilateral cooperation in economy, trade
The spokesman said the foreign minister had a very busy schedule in the UK. She will meet Foreign Secretary William Hague on Tuesday and she will address a gathering at the prestigious Oxford University on Monday and will have an interaction with a group of academics. The foreign minister, he said, would also meet members of the UK Parliamentary Group on Pakistan, All Parties Foreign Affairs Committee, members of parliament and some politicians of Pakistani origin.
The foreign minister will also have meetings with the UK National Security Adviser Nigel Kim Darroch and the trade minister besides a number of other officials.
During his visit to Davos last month, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had stated that US drone attacks were only fuelling insurgency in Pakistan.
He had said that Pakistan was against “illegal and counter-productive” drone strikes along the areas bordering Afghanistan and that Islamabad had already conveyed its concerns to the US in this regard.
Pervez Musharraf planned Benazir Bhutto kill?
February 20, 2012
By Shafqat Ali
Former Pakistan military ruler Pervez Musharraf orchestrated the assassination of two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, a probe ordered by the interior ministry has revealed.
Television channel Waqt News, claiming to have a copy of the probe report, said Musharraf used two police officers and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Baitullah Mehsud.
It said the report, to be submitted before the Sindh provincial Assembly, says a cell was established in room number 96 of Haqqania madrassa in Akora Khattak to plan the murder and students of the seminary were in contact with Mehsud.
“But the plot was originally finalised in Waziristan, while Baitullah executed the al-Qaeda orders on December 27, 2007, and assigned various groups the task to carry out suicide bombings with the assistance of Pervez Musharraf and the two police officers.”
The report further says Bhutto did not enter into any deal with Musharraf, who tried to stop her from flying back to the country. President Asif Ali Zardari was also asked to cancel her return, it adds.
The report says 16 terrorists were involved in the assassination. Of these, five, including two top cops, have been arrested, six have been killed and three are at large.
Musharraf’s All-Pakistan Muslim League rejected the findings, saying the government spent Rs 600 million on a baseless report.
'Mush offered no security'
The report also mentions that Musharraf did not offer any security to Bhutto, which resulted in problems during her visits to Rahim Yar Khan, Larkana and Sukkur, while the jammers provided to her also went out of order.
It said Nadir Khan, alias Qari Ismail, a close associate of Baitullah Mehsud, formed a cell at the Haqqani Madrasa, comprising Nasrullah, alias Ahmed, Ibadur Rehman, Nauman, Usman alias Farooq and Husnain Gul alias Ali. They met Baitullah in Waziristan.
Later, Husnain introduced the bombers, Saeed, alias Bilal, and Ikramullah, to his cousin, Rifaqat Hussain, who have them accommodation in Rawalpindi, before they were taken to Liaquat Bagh.
The TV channel said on the night between Dec. 27 and 28, 2007, Husnain and Rifaqat visited Nasrullah and arranged lodging for the two bombers at Rifaqat’s house, where Abdullah alias Saddam, Ibadur Rehman and Faiz Mohammad, alias Casket, provide suicide jackets to them.
It says Saeed first fired a gunshot at Bhutto and later caused an explosion, while Ikram was also ready in case Saeed missed the target.
On the other hand, had Bhutto left the venue from the other route, an extra group of attackers were deployed there to assassinate the popular leader.
The report says Ibad and Ikram fled after the attack and Mr Musharraf and the police officers provided continuous help to them.
Bomb blast kills 8 anti-Taliban militiamen in northwest Pakistan, says official
Feb 19, 2012
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: A bomb planted at a checkpoint manned by members of a Pakistani militia fighting a radical group similar to the Taleban exploded Sunday and killed eight militia members in northwest Pakistan, a government official said.
The blast in the border region with Afghanistan shows the challenges that these militias and their Pakistani government supporters face as they try to purge the volatile border region of groups such as the Taleban and Al-Qaeda who have grown in strength over the last decade.
Tribal agency official Iqbal Khan said six more members of the militia were wounded in the incident which took place in the Tirah valley of the Khyber tribal region.
The complex attack started when a bomb planted at the checkpoint was detonated by a timer, Khan said. Then as the militiamen were retrieving the bodies, the militants opened fired on them. The militiamen escaped unhurt, but two of the militants were killed in the retaliatory fire.
The militia was set up to fight a local radical group known as Lashkar-e-Islam, the tribal official said. Insurgents often target the militias, which they perceive as Pakistani government supporters.
Pakistan has outlawed Lashkar-e-Islam, which wants enforcement of a Taleban-style version of Islamic law.
Lashkar-e-Islam is not formally linked to the Pakistani Taleban. But it shares similar ideology with the Taleban and other militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal regions along Afghan border. The group sometimes shares manpower and resources with other militants.
The militia fighting Lashkar-e-Islam is composed of local tribesmen frustrated with the growth of Taleban-style groups in their territory. Such militias were started by the Pakistani government in its campaign against Lashkar-e-Islam and the Pakistani Taleban in the lawless Khyber tribal areas where the government has little or no control.
Bomb blast in Suleja, Nigeria again
Written by Olawale Rasheed, Adelowo Oladipo and Johnson Babajide
Monday, 20 February 2012
THE Christian community in Niger State was again, on Sunday, thrown into confusion, following an early morning bomb blast a few metres from the front of Christ Embassy Church in Morocco area of the town, which left about five unidentified persons seriously injured.
The latest bomb blast by yet to be known persons came about eight weeks after a similar incident claimed many lives on the premises of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church at Madalla, on the boundary between Niger State and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
At the time of filing this report on Sunday, nobody had claimed responsibility for the bomb blast, but operatives of the State Security Service (SSS), who moved to the scene were quoted as saying that an improvised explosive device (IED) was planted by unknown people inside a vehicle parked some few metres away from the front of the church.
The bomb blast was reported to have occurred at about 10.30 a.m near the church and a popular hotel on the busy street.
An eyewitness, who craved anonymity, confirmed the bomb explosion, claiming that no person was killed. He added that the damage from the bomb, which was planted amidst five cars, was minimal.
According to the source, among the injured persons, two were rushed to Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital while three others received treatment at Suleja hospital and had been discharged.
Another witness said that some people who were close to the scene saw a parked car without a number plate. They became suspicious and started alerting people to stay away from the car, before the explosive went off.
He said, “the most fortunate thing was when the bomb exploded in the car, there was no fire from the vehicle, though other parked vehicles by the side were affected because of the impact of the explosive device.”
It was learnt that military personnel that were deployed in the Suleja Local Government Area after the declaration of the state of emergency early this year have taken over and cordoned off the area.
Reacting, the Director-General of Niger State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Mohammad Shaba, said he was mobilising his staff to the scene of the incident with a view to taking over the treatment of the injured persons and also to meet with those that lost their property.
When contacted, the state Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Maishanu, confirmed the incident, saying that one person was injured and two vehicles were affected in the blast.
He said, “one person was injured and two vehicles were affected and as I am talking with you, I am on my way to Suleja to further ascertain the situation.”
Meanwhile, four persons suspected to be members of Boko Haram were, on Sunday, arrested at St Theresa’s Catholic Church at High Level, Makurdi, the Benue State capital.
The Nigerian Tribune learnt that the four suspects had attempted to gain entry into the church at the commencement of the second mass around 10.00 a.m, when they were stopped by private security men.
The questions posed to the suspects, who were said to have dressed in kaftan with rosary in their hands, were not answered satisfactorily and the policemen attached to the church to beef up security were said to have put a call to their colleagues who whisked them away.
Some members of the church and a security man at the gate, who did not want his name in print, confirmed the report to Nigerian Tribune, saying that the suspects claimed to have come from Kaduna State and that they were in the church to see someone whose name was not given.
The security man said that the four suspects were dressed in kaftan, adding that two of them held rosary in their hands, pretending to be Catholic faithful, saying, “their answers to questions put to them were not satisfactory enough.”
One of the members of the church, an eyewitness who gave his name as Clement, told Nigerian Tribune that “the dressing of the four suspects was different from those of us who worship here. The rosary in their hands was not convincing enough. So, the police officers, who were attached to this place, immediately put a call to their office and the four suspects were taken away.”
Efforts to get information from the policemen were rebuffed, as one of them who prevented Nigerian Tribune from seeing the priest in charge said, “you newsmen like to disturb, where did you get your information? How do you know whether the people (suspects) were members of Boko Haram?”
Presiding minister, Reverend Father John Tomdom said he was yet to be briefed on the arrest of any suspect, saying, “I have just finished from the mass, I am yet to receive information and you know that there is no way I could know what was happening outside while I was inside the church.”
Confirming the arrest, the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr Alaribe Ejike, however, said that the people were not members of Boko Haram.
It will be recalled that following the rumour that Benue State is on the invasion list of the dreaded sect, the state government and religious leaders in the state took measures to beef up security in places of worship. Hence, some churches now have security agents manning their gates every Sunday.
Also, the state governor, Mr Gabriel Suswam, had recently raised the alarm, claiming that about 100 members of the Boko Haram sect had been arrested and detained in undisclosed cells.
In another development, a lull appears imminent in the frequent attacks by members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect as the trans-border supply lines of the sect have been disrupted as a result of a crisis rocking al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a notorious terrorist group with a training camp in northern Mali.
Reports from the Sahel Region, which is the boundary between the Sahara Desert and the dense interior jungles of Africa, indicate that AQIM is embroiled in a major leadership crisis between two leaders of the group- Mohammed Ghadir and Khaled Abass, who are vying for the control of AQIM’s Sahara emirate.
A tripartite terrorist groups namely, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, AQIM in the Sahara and al-Shabaab in Somalia, receive material and infrastructural support from their parent body, al-Qaeda.
It will be recalled that Boko Haram recently confirmed its al-Qaeda link from which it draws nourishment.
Military and intelligence services are reported by Magharebia, an interactive news website covering the Maghreb region, to have made serious advances in breaking the communication and supply links among the trio, a development said to be positive for Nigeria’s intelligence community in stopping the supply chain to the Boko Haram sect.
The leadership tussle is said to have enhanced the capacity of the Sahel military and intelligence agencies in disrupting the terror operations, leading to the recent large-scale arrests and killings of members of the groups.
According to security analysts, AQIM’s crisis has been complicated by the scaling up of military operations, as well as intelligence penetration by the Joint Sahel Intelligence Centre and the Joint Military Command, which are said to have sown panic among the leadership of the group.
Sahel military groups, it was gathered, were said to be conducting disruptive operations targeting the three terrorist organisations, even as it was said to be reaching out to the Nigerian government with the aim of preventing al-Qaeda and Boko Haram from forging a closer alliance.
The clampdown on the terrorist network was reported to have also led to the arrest of several Boko Haram recruits on their way to AQIM training camps in northern Mali by the Nigerian authorities, just as Libyan weapons destined for the camps were said to have been intercepted.
“There is continuous thinking about preventing this terrorist network, which tries to extend from the eastern to central Africa, from communicating,” a Mauritanian Foreign Ministry official confirmed to Magharebia.
Many within the nation’s security circles are reported to have identified the stoppage of external supply chain to Boko Haram from the Sahel region and other sources as a major strategy in combating terrorism in the country.
A Sahel security analyst, Handy Ould Dah, was quoted by the news agency as declaring that Algeria had disrupted relations between Boko Haram and AQIM.
In addition, African countries in the Sahel region were said to have been successful in convincing the Tuareg communities across the region to join in the fight against AQIM in return for accelerated development in their communities.
This was said to have led to a notorious group, the National Movement of Azaouad (NMLA), disowning AQIM.
Meanwhile, France and Britain will soon launch counter-terrorism operations in the north of Mali and Niger Republic.
El Khabar, an Algerian newspaper, reported that the move was aimed at further weakening the coordination of the three terrorist groups.
According to the newspaper, the two countries were collecting as much intelligence as possible, through aerial reconnaissance missions, conducting tapping and monitoring operations of some terror sites with operations reported to include killing of terrorist leaders in what is known as “physical liquidations.”
The goal of the operation was to put an end to the frequent abduction of Western nationals and prevent AQIM from spreading its terror tentacles.
Experts in the Sahel said the French-British efforts were proceeding in deliberate coordination with regional countries in terms of collecting intelligence and setting the goals to be focused upon.
Nigerian security officials were, however, not ready to confirm or deny the development in the Sahel and its effects on the nation’s battle against Boko Haram, as they described security operations as “classified.”
Nigerian Militant Sect Boko Haram Suspected of Killing Two
By Gbenga Akingbule
Feb 19, 2012
A militant Islamic sect in Nigeria, Boko Haram, was suspected in the deaths yesterday of a Muslim cleric in Konduga, Borno state, and the district head of Geidam in Yobe state, police officials said.
Police are investigating the killings and no arrests have been made, spokesman Samuel Tizhe said by telephone today from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno. Yobe police chief Tanko Lawan confirmed the killing of the district head today by phone from Damaturu, the capital.
Authorities in Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer, blame Boko Haram, which draws inspiration from Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, for a wave of bombings and attacks targeting security officials and government buildings in the mainly Muslim north and Abuja, the capital, since 2009.
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is a sin,” says it’s fighting to establish Islamic Sharia law across the West African nation. The group claimed responsibility for multiple blasts and attacks in the city of Kano on Jan. 20 that killed at least 256 people, according to the Civil Rights Congress.
Syrian opposition sees radicals at work for regime
By Mona Alami
20 February 2012
BEIRUT – The Free Syrian Army says terrorists are operating in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime as its military forces continue to bombard opposition cities despite United Nations condemnation.
A member of the Free Syrian Army sits in the back of a pickup during a patrol Saturday in Idlib, Syria.
A member of the Free Syrian Army sits in the back of a pickup during a patrol Saturday in Idlib, Syria.
Aref Hamoud, a colonel in the Free Syrian Army, said his units are encountering a growing number of radical elements in some parts of the country. He said the radicals are Syrians and not foreigners from al-Qaeda.
"Up until now, the al-Qaeda insurgency lacks local support of the population, which is an essential element for its guerrilla warfare," he said. "A prolonged crisis would breed a more fertile ground for the organization, which is why we call for Arab and Western countries to provide military and financial support."
"It is clear that this regime will only be toppled by force," he said.
On Thursday, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress that al-Qaeda "is extending its reach into Syria." Meanwhile, Iranian warships docked in the Syrian port of Tartus, Iranian news agency Mehr reported Sunday.
On Saturday, Syrian troops in Damascus fired on mourners at a funeral for a protester who died in a clash during a march against the regime of Bashar Assad. On Sunday, Egypt recalled its ambassador to Syria.
The Syrian regime released more than a dozen members of Fatah al-Islam and al-Qaeda from prison several weeks ago, according to al-Qaeda-linked websites. Fatah al-Islam is a Palestinian terrorist organization.
Hamoud said that a more troubling development is the alleged release of Abu Mussab al-Suri, a Syrian citizen and longtime jihadist captured in Pakistan in 2005. The U.S. State Department had issued a $5 million reward for his capture and he was turned over to U.S. custody but eventually handed to the Syrians. An al-Qaeda-linked forum said he had been released, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.
"The Syrian regime is willing to take any risk to stay in power by playing up the West's fears, especially those of the U.S. and Israel," Hamoud said. "They believe such reckless measures will relieve some of the pressure."
The regime blamed recent bomb blasts in Damascus and Aleppo that resulted in about 100 deaths on al-Qaeda. Assad blames the uprising against him on terrorist groups and U.S. and Israeli interference. The U.N. has said his troops have killed thousands of people, most of whom were civilians protesting peacefully or in rebellious cities hammered by Syrian artillery.
Several demonstrations took place recently in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and its biggest trading and industrial center. Aleppo had been calm during months of uprisings. Home to Syria's merchant class, Aleppo has generally supported the regime.
"The situation in Aleppo was relatively calm due to the strong military presence of Syrian security forces," Hamoud said. "However, this week, they seem to be slowly losing their grip on the city."
Meanwhile, Syrian troops continued their assault on the city of Homs, an operation that has gone on for two weeks. The U.N. General Assembly last week approved a non-binding resolution that condemned Assad's human-rights violations in Homs and elsewhere.
Ultraconservative Islamists demonstrate in Tunisia
Feb. 17, 2012
TUNIS, Tunisia -- Tunisian police have used tear gas to disperse a demonstration of ultraconservative Islamists protesting against the government in the capital.
Hundreds of Salafists took to the streets after Friday prayers condemning comments by the president that they were an insignificant minority.
The protesters carried signs calling for Islamic law and chanted God is the greatest.
Tunisia was ruled for 23 years by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who espoused a secular ideology and imposed strict limits on political Islam. Since his ouster in January 2011, there has been a flourishing of Islamic groups.
Nuclear inspectors of United Nations leave for key talks in Tehran
AP | Feb 20, 2012
VIENNA: A senior UN nuclear official said he hoped for progress in upcoming talks with Iran about suspected secret work on atomic arms, but his careful choice of words suggested little expectation that the meeting will be successful.
Sunday's comments by Herman Nackaerts as his International Atomic Energy Agency team prepared to leave for Tehran for the second time in less than a month appeared to reflect IAEA reluctance to raise hopes that Iran will engage on an issue that it claims has no substance.
Before the trip, senior diplomats said that Russia and China _ strategic and economic partners which Iran traditionally relies on to blunt Western pressure over its nuclear activities _ were urging Tehran to cooperate with the IAEA team.
Moscow and Beijing are "using some pretty high-level diplomacy" to persuade Iran, said one of the diplomats, who asked for anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential information coming from his capital.
Still hopes were slim. A previous IAEA mission returned from Tehran on Feb. 1 without managing to dent Iran's wall of denial. In comments to reporters at Vienna airport, Nackaerts was at pains to avoid raising hopes.
"Importantly, we hope that we can have some concrete results after this trip, and the highest priority remains of course the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program," he said. "This is of course a very complex issue that may take a while, but we hope it will be constructive."
Iran has refused to discuss the alleged weapons experiments for nearly four years, saying they are based on "fabricated documents" provided by a "few arrogant countries" _ a phrase authorities in Iran often use to refer to the US and its allies.
Faced with Iranian denial, the IAEA summarized its body of information in November in a 13-page document drawing on 1,000 pages of intelligence. It stated then for the first time that some of the alleged experiments can have no other purpose than developing nuclear weapons.
The IAEA team wants to talk to key Iranian scientists suspected of working on a weapons program. They also hope to break down opposition to their plans to inspect documents related to nuclear work and secure commitments from Iranian authorities to allow future visits.
But before the trip, senior diplomats told the AP that Iran had made no commitments _ despite the Russian and Chinese attempts at persuasion and a rapidly growing series of international sanctions threatening to choke Iran's oil lifeline and financial system.
The most recent squeeze on Iran was announced Friday, when SWIFT, a financial clearinghouse used by virtually every country and major corporation in the world, agreed to shut out the Islamic Republic from its network.
Tehran remained defiant Sunday, announcing has halted oil shipments to Britain and France, in an apparent pre-emptive blow against the European Union after the bloc imposed sanctions on Iran's crucial fuel exports.
At the same time, it appeared eager to show it was ready to talk. Even before receiving an answer on its offer last week to meet with world powers on its nuclear program, Foreign Minister Ali Akhbar Salehi on Sunday set Istanbul, Turkey, as the venue of those negotiations.
Beyond concerns about the purported weapons work, Washington and its allies want Iran to halt uranium enrichment, which they believe could eventually lead to weapons-grade material and the production of nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes _ generating electricity and producing medical radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.
Its activities at its plant at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom are of particular concern because it is dug into a mountain and possibly impervious to attack _ an option that both Israel and the United States refuse to rule out should diplomatic persuasion and sanctions fail to stop Tehran's nuclear drive.
Reflecting growing jitters that the Israelis are poised to strike, both US and Britain on Sunday urged Israel not to attack Iran's nuclear program.
The US joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and British Foreign Minister William Hague said an Israeli attack on Iran would have grave consequences for the entire region and urged Israel to give international sanctions against Iran more time to work. Dempsey said an Israeli attack is "not prudent," and Hague said it would not be "a wise thing."
In interviews Friday and Saturday, diplomats told the AP that Iran is poised to install thousands of new-generation centrifuges at the cavernous facility _ machines that can produce enriched uranium much more quickly and efficiently than its present equipment.
While saying that the electrical circuitry, piping and supporting equipment for the new centrifuges was now in place, the diplomats emphasized that Tehran had not started installing the new machines and could not say whether it was planning to.
Still, the senior diplomats _ who asked for anonymity because their information was privileged _ suggested that Tehran would have little reason to prepare the ground for the better centrifuges unless it planned to operate them.
Faltering peace talks need rethink, says Karzai aide
20 February 2012
KABUL: Government efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table are faltering and bold steps are needed to ensure that a council spearheading the reconciliation process can win the trust of militants, according to an adviser to President Hamid Karzai.
Assadullah Wafa on Sunday also expressed concern that Afghans, subjected to one conflict after another, were losing hope that peace was possible from a process that so far has been shrouded in secrecy.
The government has made some contacts with the Taliban, who have made a strong comeback after being toppled by a US invasion in 2001, but there are no signs that full-fledged peace talks will happen anytime soon.
US diplomats have also been seeking to broaden exploratory talks that began secretly in Germany in late 2010 after the Taliban offered to open a representative office in the Gulf emirate of Qatar, prompting demands for inclusion from Kabul.
“The talk about peace talks is just futile,” said Wafa, an adviser to President Karzai and a former governor in some of Afghanistan’s most volatile provinces.
Karzai set up a 70-member High Peace Council two years ago, with Wafa as a member, to try and negotiate an end to the war, now dragging into its eleventh year.
It is meant to represent all ethnic and political alliances in a bid to reach out to the Taliban leadership, as well as convince grassroots fighters to join the government.
Wafa, however, questioned its effectiveness, and said its wide makeup actually made it difficult for the government to reach out to militant groups. “I have told President Karzai and he promised that there would be repair of the peace council. I am not afraid to speak out, but it doesn’t much bear fruit. There must be a review,” he said in an interview.
“I think genuine people aren’t part of the peace council, or there are individuals who the Taliban fought in the past or some communist baqaya (remains) in the council, because of whom the Taliban aren’t interested in talks.”
Wafa, one of the Afghan government’s most experienced bureaucrats, said a reorganisation of the council could help kick-start talks in Qatar, where the Taliban have set up an office to build contacts with the United States, or elsewhere.
The stakes are high. Failure to lure the Taliban to the negotiating table could mean perpetual instability, or even another civil war, once Nato combat troops withdraw in 2014.
Wafa accused Pakistan — seen as critical to efforts to end the war — of playing a double game, promising to work for peace while using the Taliban and other groups as proxies to advance its interests in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is known to want access to Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar, because they would be the decision makers in any substantive peace negotiations.
“They (Pakistan) say one thing and do another. There is no doubt that Taliban leadership and Mullah Omar are in Quetta,” Wafa alleged.—Reuters
Taliban leaders willing for peace talks are killed: Hamid Karzai
Feb 19, 2012
Islamabad Afghan President Hamid Karzai has told a top Pakistani cleric with ties to militants that key Afghan Taliban leaders are either killed or arrested whenever they show willingness to negotiate with his government."President Hamid Karzai told me that certain powers kill and arrest important Afghan (Taliban) personalities whenever they find an opportunity to talk to us (Karzai's government)," Maulana Samiul Haq, the chief of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-S, said after a one-on-one meeting with Karzai yesterday. "The Afghan President also mentioned the arrest and killing of key Taliban leaders in Pakistan," Haq said, adding that Karzai said he loses an opportunity for dialogue when the Afghan Taliban personalities are removed from the scene.
"President Karzai told me that he has sensed a positive change in the approach of Pakistani leaders during his official talks," Haq said. "However, I told him Pakistani leaders cannot play any role in the Afghan peace and reconciliation unless they change their pro-US policy." Haq quoted Karzai as saying that he was in contact with Taliban and that he holds talks with them "from time to time". Karzai did not elaborate on the extent of his contacts with the Taliban, he said.
Karzai met senior religious and political leaders during his visit to Islamabad to attend a trilateral summit with the Presidents of Iran and Pakistan. He sought their help for peace and reconciliation efforts in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
An Afghan diplomat said Karzai extended his visit by a day and wrapped up his trip yesterday.He had earlier scheduled a two-day trip but extended it to complete talks with key Pakistani politicians.
Media reports said an angry and frustrated Karzai confronted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's delegation during bilateral talks on Thursday and demanded that they produce Afghan Taliban leaders for talks.
Karzai's "language and tone flared to such an extent that Gilani briefly halted the meeting, according to one report. In an apparent response to Karzai's demands, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar subsequently said Mullah Mohammad Omar, the supreme commander of the Afghan Taliban, was not in Pakistan and Islamabad could not ensure his participation in peace talks.
Karzai's "language and tone flared to such an extent that Gilani briefly halted the meeting, according to one report. In an apparent response to Karzai's demands, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar subsequently said Mullah Mohammad Omar, the supreme commander of the Afghan Taliban, was not in Pakistan and Islamabad could not ensure his participation in peace talks.
Khar said it was "preposterous" to think that Pakistan could deliver Mullah Omar to the negotiating table. She contended there was no "clarity" on the role that Kabul wanted Islamabad to play in the Afghan reconciliation process.
When Mullah Baradar, next in line in the Taliban hierarchy after Mullah Omar, was arrested near Karachi in February 2010, a section of the media claimed he had been involved in talks with the Afghan government.
The Taliban denied the report. The Afghan government and Karzai have in the past sought access to and the repatriation of Mullah Baradar, but the demand is believed to have not been accepted.
The Afghan Taliban recently confirmed for the first time that top leader and former Defence Minister Mullah Obaidullah had died in a Pakistani prison.
They asked Pakistan to provide information about his arrest, imprisonment and death. Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Obaidullah was arrested in Baluchistan in 2009 and died in a Karachi jail the following year.
Other Pakistani leaders who met Karzai yesterday included Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Mushahid Hussain Syed of the PML-Q, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao of the PPP-S, and Haji Muhammad Adeel, Afrasiyab Khattak and Zahid Khan of the Awami National Party.
Karzai stressed on the exchange of parliamentary and political delegations. He further stressed the need to set up an independent Pakistan-Afghanistan Jirga as a platform to resolve outstanding issues between the two countries.
Syrian forces fire on anti-Assad crowd in capital
Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Angus MacSwan, Reuters
Saturday, February 18, 2012
AMMAN/BEIRUT, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Syrian security forces have fired on a huge protest against President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, opposition activists said, shortly after a Chinese envoy appealed for a halt to 11 months of violence.
The shooting took place on Saturday at the funerals of three youths killed a day earlier in an anti-Assad protest that was one of the biggest in the capital since a nationwide uprising started.
"They started firing at the crowd right after the burial," said a witness, speaking to Reuters in Amman by telephone.
People tried to flee and seek shelter in alleyways, he said.
The opposition Syrian Revolution Coordination Union said the gunfire near the cemetery had killed one mourner and wounded four, including a woman who was hit in the head. A shopkeeper told Reuters many protesters were arrested.
The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition activit group, said security forces had killed 14 people in Damascus and other parts of the country on Saturday, including five in the opposition stronghold of Homs. None of the figures could be verified independently.
Up to 30,000 demonstrators had taken to the streets in the capital's Mezze district, near the headquarters of Airforce Intelligence and that of the ruling Baath Party, witnesses said.
Footage of the funeral broadcast on the Internet showed women ululating to honour the victims. Mourners shouted: "We sacrifice our blood, our soul for you martyrs. One, one, one, the Syrian people are one."
YouTube footage from another Damascus suburb, Douma, showed several thousand protesters at the funerals of two people said to have been killed there by security forces. The bodies were carried though a sea of mourners waving pre-Baath Syrian flags.
Assad described the turmoil racking Syria as a ploy to split the country.
"What Syria is facing is fundamentally an effort to divide it and affect its geopolitical place and historic role in the region," he was quoted by Syrian state television as saying after meeting Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun.
Zhai appealed for an end to violence from all sides, including the government and opposition forces. But his comments for the most part amounted to a show of support against world condemnation of Assad's crackdown on the popular uprising.
The envoy said China backed Assad's plan for a referendum on Feb. 26 followed by multi-party elections to resolve the crisis. The opposition and the West have dismissed the plan as a sham.
"China supports the path of reform taking place in Syria and the important steps that have been taken in this respect," he said.
The Chinese Embassy said Zhai held separate meetings with moderate opposition figures Qadri Jamil, Louay Hussein and Hassan Abdulazim, but gave no details.
"We told the Chinese envoy that most of the opposition accept a dialogue if that dialogue is serious and responsible, meaning that the Syrian authorities would implement what is agreed. But the problem with dialogue is that the authorities have lost credibility," Hussein told Reuters.
Beijing and Moscow have been Assad's most important international defenders during the ferocious repression, which has killed several thousand people and divided world powers. The United Nations, the United States, Europe, Turkey and Arab powers want Assad to step down and have condemned the crackdown.
Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Feb. 4 calling on Assad to quit and also voted against a similar, non-binding General Assembly resolution on Thursday.
In other strife across the country, government forces bombarded the opposition stronghold of Homs on Saturday.
A blanket of snow covered Homs, strategically sited on the road between Damascus and the commercial hub Aleppo, as rockets and artillery pounded mainly Sunni Muslim rebel districts.
The troops were close to Baba Amro, a southern neighbourhood that has been target of the heaviest barrages since the offensive began two weeks ago, activists said.
"There is no electricity and communications between districts are cut, so we are unable to get a death toll. There is no fuel in most of the city," activist Mohammad al-Homsi said from Homs.
The military has also opened a new offensive in Hama, a city with a bloody history of resistance to Assad's late father Hafez, who died in 2000 after 30 years in power.
Syrian forces killed people in Homs, Hama, the northwestern province of Idlib near the border of Turkey and in Aleppo, Damascus and the southern Hauran Plain, where the popular uprising against Assad's rule started, the Local Coordination Committees said in a statement.
Assad, who belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, in a majority Sunni country, says he is fighting foreign-backed terrorists.
The uprising began with civilian protests in March, but now includes a parallel armed struggle led by the loosely organised Free Syria Army, made up of army deserters and local insurgents.
Syria's other significant ally is Iran, itself at odds with the West.
An Iranian destroyer and a supply ship sailed through the Suez canal this week and are believed to be on their way to the Syrian coast, a source in the canal authority said.
Iraq said on Saturday it had reinforced security along its Syrian border to prevent arms smuggling after reports that fighters and weapons were crossing into Syria.
"Necessary measures have been taken to consolidate control over the borders with Syria which is witnessing turbulence that encourages infiltration and all kinds of smuggling, especially arms," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office said.
Iraq's Shi'ites fear that if Assad falls, hardline Sunnis could come to power, a shift that could threaten their newly-acquired dominance since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Tel Aviv to get missile interceptor system: army
20 February 2012
JERUSALEM: The Israeli military will on Monday deploy a battery of rocket interceptors from its "Iron Dome" system in the Tel Aviv region, a military spokesman said on Sunday.
"Iron Dome is being incorporated into the heart of the Israeli military. As part of this process, the system is deployed in different sites and will be in the Gush Dan region (of Tel Aviv) in the coming days," he said in a statement that clarified the deployment would begin on Monday.
This deployment "is part of the annual training plan for this system", he added.
The decision to site an Iron Dome battery at Tel Aviv comes amid heightened regional tensions and speculation about a possible Israeli attack targeting Iran's controversial nuclear programme.
Israel has denied that a decision has been taken to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The first battery of the unique multi-million-dollar Iron Dome system was deployed last March 27 outside the southern desert city of Beersheva, after it was hit by Grad rockets fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
On April 4, the system was also deployed around the southern port city of Ashkelon.
The first of its kind in the world and still at the experimental stage, it is not yet able to provide complete protection, but it has successfully brought down several rockets fired from Gaza.
Designed to intercept rockets and artillery shells fired from a range of between four and 70 kilometres (three and 45 miles), Iron Dome is part of an ambitious multi-layered defence programme to protect Israeli towns and cities.
Two other systems make up the programme -- the Arrow long-range ballistic missile defence system and the so-called David's Sling, or Magic Wand, system, intended to counter medium-range missiles. (AFP)
Jeddah to be Kingdom’s first eco-friendly city
By DIANA AL-JASSEM
Feb 20, 2012
JEDDAH: Jeddah had been announced as the first city in the Kingdom to apply environmental standards in its schools, according to Minister of Education Prince Faisal bin Abdullah and President of the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) Prince Turki bin Nasser.
This initiative comes as a result of the National Program for Environmental Awareness called “Be’aty: Green Flag, Green Country.” It was organized in cooperation with the Saudi Environmental Society (SENS) and the heads of 14 Saudi municipalities.
“Schools in addition to families will be able to create a sense of environmental responsibility in our children,” he said.
“All strategies that could help in saving the environment are going to be implemented in schools. For example, we are looking to solve one of the main problems that increase pollution such as traffic congestion. This will lead us to start a general transportation system for both male and female students, which certainly decrease the congestion around schools and decrease the car numbers.”
Prince Faisal confirmed the Ministry of Education will join hands with SENS to launch several programs. “Our aim is to provide the new generation with the knowledge and skills to work individually and collectively to solve environmental issues and to avoid new environmental problems,” he said.
Prince Turki stated that SENS’ new plan is to create harmony in the Kingdom and to achieve the objectives of implementing education for sustainable development.
“SENS will implement this program in cooperation with a number of international bodies and experts, as well as coordination with the Ministry of Education, in order to facilitate practical experience and theory on environmental issues as part of this full academic program. We are looking forward to finish implementing the program in all schools in the Kingdom,” he said.
Prince Turki said he expected the program’s output to match the aspirations of those involved.
“We are working with the Ministry of Education to create environmental clubs in all schools to raise environmental awareness,” he said.
Prince Khaled bin Saud, general manager of projects management at the PME, said such programs would raise awareness of local and regional environmental issues.
“We are looking to resolve environmental problems and teach people how to develop a sense of environmental management,” he said.
According to Prince Khaled, these efforts are in line with promoting positive behaviors associated with maintaining the environment for sustainable development.
SENS Deputy Executive Director Majda Abu Ras, who also has a doctoral degree in environmental biotechnology, said the society’s strategy is to create harmony in the Kingdom, to achieve the objectives of education for sustainable development.
“This program will be implemented within five years, where the first two stages will be launched among primary school students. In the next two years the program will include intermediate school students, where 240 schools will be involved.”
Bangladesh PM urges for Bangla practice at all spheres
20 February 2012
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Monday those who ignore the spirit of the Language Movement and four principles of Liberation War are enemies of the country’s independence.
To face those enemies, the prime minister said the spirit of Ekushey should be infused in the new generation and Bangla language and literature should be practiced at all national spheres as well as all levels of the society.
She said this while distributing Ekushey Padak- 2012 at Osmani Memorial Hall in the capital on Monday.
Hasina said the glorious message and melody the immortal Ekushey now transcended across 193 counties beyond Bangladesh boundary.
Today Ekushey is being observed across the globe as a day for protecting the rights of languages of different ethnic groups, she said.
This year Ekushey Padak, one of the highest civilian awards of the country introduced in memory of the martyrs of the Language Movement of 1952, was conferred to 15 distinguished persons for their outstanding contribution in different fields.
The recipients are: Momtaj Begum (posthumous) for Language Movement, artist Mobinul Azim (posthumous), filmmaker Tareq Masud (posthumous), artiste Dr Enamul Haq and Mamunur Rashid and Professor Karunamoy Goswami for art and culture, journalists Mishuk Munier (posthumous), Ehtesham Haider Chowdhury and Habibur Rahman Milon for journalism, Prof Ajoy Kumar Roy, Dr Monsurul Alam Khan and Professor AK Nazmul Karim (postmous) for education, Professor Baren Chakraborty for science and technology, Srimath Suddhananda Mohathero for social service, Professor Humayun Azad (posthumous) for language and literature.
Minister for Information and Cultural Affairs Abul Kalam Azad presided over the function while state minister for cultural affairs Advocate Promode Mankin, secretary of the ministry of cultural affairs Suraiya Begum spoke, among others.
Cabinet Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan read out the citation of the Ekushey Padak recipients and conducted the award giving ceremony.
Ministers, PM's advisors, parliament members, foreign diplomats and high officials attended the meeting.
Prime Minister said the spirit of Ekushey inspired us in our emergence as an independent state.
The Language Movement turned into a movement for self- determination from the fifties, she said.
She mentioned her government's initiative to make Bangla as one of the UN official languages and said her government has already raised the point in the UN General Assembly and is making constant stride to this end.
The prime minister said the International Mother Language Institute has been established in Dhaka along with enacting the International Mother
Language Institute Act for preservation of the languages of different countries and ethnic groups and carrying out research on languages and culture.
It has been made compulsory for installation of Bangla keypad in the basic mobile hand sets of all brands and steps have been taken to introduce .bangla rpt .bangla as the second country coded top level domain side by side with .bd rpt .bd, she said.
Hasina said the Language Movement had unfolded the secular conscience in the mind of Bangalee people, and the Father of the nation beholding the spirit, accepted the secularism as one of the basic principles of our constitution in 1972.
After the brutal killing of Bangabandhu, she said the military regimes damaged the spirit and rehabilitated the anti- liberation force.
The present government has reinstated the glorious history of nation and spirit in the constitution through an amendment, she added.
Referring to the speech of Bangabandhu in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in Bangla in 1974, she said Bangabandhu did this to introduce Bangla and Bangalee nation to the global community. "I'm also following him while addressing the UNGA," she said.
The prime minister said Ekushey is a glorious history of making sacrifice by the Bangalee nation for establishing their rights of mother language.
It's an endless source of inspiration for us to preserve Bangalee literature, culture, customs, nationalism and originality, she said adding, "Ekush is our pride and our overall identity".
She paid her glorious tributes to the language heroes Salam, Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar, Safiur and others and also recalled the role of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who served imprisonment times and again for his leadership in the Language Movement.
The prime minister paid rich tributes to Dhirendranath Dutta, who had raised the demand first in the national assembly of the then Pakistan to make Bangla as one of the state languages, and leaders of Tamaddun Majlish, Chhatra League and other student forums of the Language Movement.
She called for preserving the sensibility of the Ekushey to build a knowledge-based, prosperous, peaceful and secular Bangladesh.
In this way we can build a 'Sonar Bangla' as dreamt by the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, she said.
Sheikh Hasina extended her best wishes to the Ekushey Padak recipients and said the award has redoubled their responsibility to implement the spirit of Ekushey and they would play a leading role in flourishing the Bangla language, literature and culture.
Pakistan military joins tablet war with PACPAD Tablet
20 February 2012
AP Mohammad Imran holds a PACPAD tablet at his electronics store in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
Inside a high-security Air Force complex that builds jet fighters and weapons systems, Pakistan’s military is working on the latest addition to its sprawling commercial empire - a home-grown version of the iPad.
It’s a venture that bundles together Pakistani engineering and Chinese hardware, and shines a light on the military’s controversial foothold in the consumer market. It all comes together at an Air Force base in Kamra in northern Pakistan, where avionics engineers when they’re not working on defence projects assemble the PACPAD 1.
“The original is the iPad, the copy is the PACPAD,” said Mohammad Imran, who stocks the product at his small computer and cell phone shop in a mall in Rawalpindi.
The device runs on Android 2.3, an operating system made by Google and given away for free. At around $200, it’s less than half the price of Apple or Samsung devices, with the bonus of a local, one-year guarantee.
The PAC in the name stands for the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, where it is made. The PAC also makes an e-reader and small laptop.
Tech websites in the country have shown curiosity or cautious enthusiasm, but say it's too early to predict how the device will perform. Sceptics claim it’s a vanity project that will never see mass production. Only a few hundred of each product has been made so far, though a new batch will be completed in the next three months.
The tablet and other devices are made in a low-slung facility, daubed in camouflage paint, near, a factory that produces J-17 Thunder fighter jets with Chinese help.
“It’s about using spare capacity. There are 24 hours in a day, do we waste them or use them to make something?” said Sohail Kalim, PAC’s sales director. “The profits go to the welfare of the people here. There are lots of auditors. They don’t let us do any hanky-panky here.”
PAC builds the PACPAD with a company called Innavtek in a Hong Kong-registered partnership that also builds high-tech parts for the warplanes.
But basic questions go unanswered. Maqsood Arshad, a retired Air Force officer, who is one of the directors, couldn’t say how much money had been invested, how many units the venture hoped to sell and what the profit from each sale was likely to be.
Mr. Arshad said a second-generation PACPAD would be launched in the next three months, able to connect to the Internet via cell phone networks and other improved features. He said the Kamra facility could produce up to 1,000 devices a day.
During a brief test, the tablet with its 7-inch screen appeared to run well and the screen responsiveness was sharp.
Jewish writer gives Modi a book on ‘atrocities’ against Hindus in Bangladesh; Activists question motive
18 February 2012
Vadodara: Human rights activists have questioned a US-based Jewish leader Dr. Richard Benkin presenting a book to Chief Minister Narendra Modi regarding alleged atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh. Benkin is reported to have met Modi on February 15.
In his book titled as `A Quite Case of Ethnic Cleansing’, Benkin alleged that Hindus are being subjected to forced proselytisation to Islam in Bangladesh, apart from sexual assaults and massacre and several types of atrocities.
Benkin's meet was reported by a popular website www.deshgujarat.com, which said Benkin wants “Indian and American governments to come up with the policies to stop such serious incidents to protect human rights in true sense.”
The website claims that “Benkin regretted that the central government believes Hindus don’t have any issues in Bangladesh. According to him (Benkin), the atrocities against Hindus in Bangladesh can spark the sentiments of any humanitarian’’.
Reacting to it, Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) representative Dr. J S Bandukwala expressed surprise that an American Jewish writer should appeal to Narendra Modi for help on the condition of Hindus in Bangladesh.
“It would have been more appropriate if he had urged Modi to introspect and apologise for the killings of Gujarat Muslims in 2002’’, commented Bandukwala. “Incidentally Modi and Benkin should know that the only places where Jews were safe during the Middle Ages, right up to the First World War, were Muslim lands. No wonder they found refuge in Spain after the Crusaders had destroyed Jerusalem in the eleventh century’’, Bandukwala reminded the US Jewish leader.
“Yet as a true Muslim we have to condemn any injustice done to Jews or Christians or anybody else, whether it is in Iraq or Pakistan or Bangladesh. For that is against the basic teachings of Islam’’, Bandukwala further pointed out.
NGO Sanchetna (Awareness) representative Dr. Hanif Lakhdawala said that Benkin appeared to have come to Gujarat with some hidden agenda, and that is, “trying to instigate Modi at a time when the latter has just finished a month-long `sadbhavna’ (harmony) campaign to improve relations between communities’’.
Lakdawala said that the Jews had already undergone massacres and atrocities and Benkin must understand this. “As Muslims, we don’t support violence against anybody, including Jews’’, pointed out Lakdawala.
Doubting the intention of Benkin, rights activist Jabir Mansuri said that Benkin appeared to have come to Gujarat with a view to widening the gap between communities in India’s pluralistic society. “The whole approach of Benkin appears to promote the sale of his book among those Gujarati NRIs and others subscribing to the ideology of hate and division among societies and don’t approve of the religious and cultural pluralism in Gujarat, India and the world at large’’, points out Mansuri.
Will implement Sachar report: Sonia to Muslims
TNN & Agencies
Feb 20, 2012
ALIGARH: The Congress is determined to implement the Sachar Committee's recommendations, Sonia Gandhi said here on Sunday. Soliciting Muslim votes, the Congress chief said the Sachar panel was formed to understand how the community could be helped.
S h e trained her guns on non-Congress parties alleging their successive governments in UP had failed to develop infrastructure. The AICC chief targeted her attack on scamsters and looters, who she said had denied people in UP gains from central funds and schemes. In her 20-minute address at the Exhibition Ground here, she said the Centre was giving huge amounts for development under various schemes, but because of "luterey aur ghotale" (looters and scamsters ) people had not benefited.
Sharing the dais with RLD chief Ajit Singh here, she said : "The message which the city sends reaches different corners of the world. You all should support the Congress-RLD alliance."