New Age Islam
Tue Mar 05 2024, 08:18 PM

Islamic World News ( 4 Feb 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Shah Rukh Khan sees no reason to apologise

Iraq elections in disarray after court ruling

Constitutional Court Taking Up Indonesia's Thorny Religious Row

Anti-Islam Dutch Lawmaker Says He’s Being Denied a Fair Trial

Indian handler behind 26/11 attacks, says Chidambaram

India edgy as LeT eyes Maldives base

India proposes talks with Pakistan

32 Taliban militants killed in Afghanistan

Pakistani scientist found guilty of attempted murder in Afghanistan

India, Iran discuss Afghanistan

‘A few steps’ on 26/11 is all India wants from Pak

New cross-border threat? Calls offering cash for data

Haqqani escaped heaviest US drone strikes in Pakistan

‘Qaida certain to strike US by July’

Iran sends animals into space, makes West jittery

Christmas bomber was my 'student': Yemeni cleric Awlaqi

Constructive signal from Pakistan: Krishna

Three militants killed in encounters

Iran ready to swap uranium for fuel

Defiant Iran launches new rocket into space

Europe reacts sceptically to N-plan

Hasina dares Zia to prove secret deal with India

Four masked men challenge Hurriyat, spark off stoning protests in Valley

Batla House cop got Shahzad in Azamgarh, died in crash

US to encourage for reduction of Indo-Pak tension: Holbrooke

Pakistani scientist found guilty of attempted murder

The power of history

Iraq's coming election

Patching things up

Killed Americans were part of 100-strong commando unit

Aafia convicted of trying to kill Americans

Top Fatah official in rare visit to Hamas-run Gaza

Drone attack death toll reaches 31

Germany arrests 3 for recruiting extremists

NATO, US troops brace for battle in Helmand

Why Iraq inquiry needs Robin Cook

Yemen forces seize Saada hideouts

Kashmir protests enter third day

Gaza atrocities

Israelis arrest 12 Palestinians in West Bank

‘From Paris with Love’ Delivers Humour, Action and…Muslim Bad Guys?

Arrested Evangelists in Tanzania Say Muslims Colluded with Police

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau

URL of this page



Shah Rukh Khan sees no reason to apologise

4 February 2010

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan has stood firm over expressing his disappointment that no Pakistan cricketers were picked for the 2010 Indian Premier League.

Khan owns IPL cricket team Kolkata Knight Riders and his comments angered Hindu hardline party Shiv Sena.

The party subsequently tried to disrupt showings of the actor's new film My Name is Khan in Mumbai (Bombay).

"I have no idea what I am supposed to apologise for," said Khan. His film is due for global release on 12 February.

"If I am in wrong I would like to apologise but someone needs to explain to me what is wrong," he told reporters in London.

"So many people's futures rely on (My Name is Khan). I just request everybody to leave the film alone and deal with what I have said as an individual."

Effigies of Khan have been burned in India and he has apologised to those associated with the making of My Name is Khan.

"I won't comment on this on a larger scale because it's not nice for a Hindi film hero who is thought of as a hero to say this, but it scares me to say anything now because the stakes are very high," he added.

"I am sorry to director Karan Johar and actress Kajol. I'm also immensely sorry to all the other business partners that - because of what I say and believe in - the film and their work is going to be affected. I have no idea how to change that."

My Name is Khan is about an Indian Muslim man with Asperger's syndrome, whose life in the United States changes after the 11 September terror attacks.

Khan said: "When a film is normally released you are tense but you are highly excited and, strangely, that is the excitement I work for.

"I'm very happy when a film is about to be released. I am very happy about taking my film to the world and interacting with the audiences but I'm very sad right now as this is a very special film.

"I've no idea why there is so much confusion about what I've said and, if you have differences in ideology, why should that not be allowed?"

The lucrative eight-team IPL Twenty20 competition will start on 12 March and is staged over 45 days.

You can hear more from the Bollywood star during the BBC Asian Network's Shah Rukh Khan day on on Friday, 5 February.


Constitutional Court Taking Up Indonesia's Thorny Religious Row

Nivell Rayda

February 04, 2010

The Constitutional Court on Thursday held its first session to review the 1965 law on religious blasphemy, much to the chagrin of the government and hard-line Muslim groups.

The law, which dates back to the last years of former President Sukarno’s rule, was challenged in 2009 by the late President Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid and several human rights organizations, including Imparsial and the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI).

The petitioners argued that the Law on the Prevention of Blasphemy and Abuse of Religion, which carried jail terms of up to five years, was unconstitutional as it inhibited religious freedom by recognizing only six religions: Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, while rejecting all others. The law bans people from publicly espousing or gathering popular support in favor of certain religious interpretations and forces citizens to follow only one of six state-sanctioned religions.

Hendardi, the chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, one of the plaintiffs, said 200 human rights violations occurred in 2009 because the law had been abused as an excuse to intimidate Christians and Muslim splinter groups.

“The 1945 Constitution guarantees freedom of religion or belief, yet these rights are neglected and not enforced,” Hendardi said. “Meanwhile, there are people who are forced to practice their religion in secrecy out of fear of intimidation.”

Hendardi highlighted the plight of the Ahmadiyah, a Muslim sect who he is says is constantly threatened and pushed to return to mainstream Islam.

The law, however, has ardent defenders. In front of the court, at least 200 members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the Indonesian Clerics Forum (FUI) and Hizbut Taher Indonesia rallied to condemn the judicial review, saying “religion must be kept pure and safe from blasphemous acts.”

Equally as vocal in rejecting the review, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said the law had guaranteed every Indonesian’s right to choose their faith .

“Even the plaintiffs have religions, so their constitutional rights have been granted and ensured by the government,” Suryadharma told the court, to the cheers of FPI members attending the hearing.

“If the law didn’t exist, there would be no protection against those who obstruct someone from performing religious activities and those who disrespect religion.”

Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar told the court that reviewing the law would do more harm than good.

“The government fears that there would be horizontal conflicts should the law be annulled or changed,” he said. “[Social] friction would increase if people were allowed to make their own loose interpretations of religion.”

Also among the defense were several members of the House of Representatives, including Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) lawmaker Adang Daradjatun and Ruhut Sitompul, a Democrat.

The court’s chief of administrative affairs, Kasianur Sidahuruk, said that 31 experts had been invited to speak including former Constitutional Court chief Jimly Asshiddiqie and former Justice Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra. The lawyer said the plaintiffs would present eight expert witnesses including prominent Catholic priest Frans Magnis-Suseno and cultural expert Arswendo Atmowiloto.

The government has also prepared experts including former Supreme Court chief Bagir Manan and former Speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Lukman Hakim Syaifuddin.


Iraq elections in disarray after court ruling

4 February 2010

Preparations for elections in Iraq next month have been thrown into disarray by a row over a court ruling allowing hundreds of candidates to stand.

The candidates were banned because they are affiliated with Saddam Hussein's Baath party which ruled the country before the invasion in 2003.

The Iraqi government has condemned the court's decision and is due to hold an emergency debate on Sunday.

Campaigning is due to start on the same day for the 7 March poll.

A government spokesman said the court decision was "illegal and unconstitutional".

The election is regarded as a crucial test for Iraq's national reconciliation process ahead of a planned US military withdrawal.

On Wednesday, the appeals panel ruling overturned a ban on hundreds of politicians from running for public office.

Post-polls investigations

Baathism is a form of secular Arab nationalism and was the ideology espoused by Saddam Hussein when he came to power.

The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Baghdad says although the list of names straddles the sectarian divide, it is Sunni groups who have felt most targeted by the exclusions, and whose voices of protest have been heard loudest.

Although a minority, Sunni Muslims were dominant under Saddam Hussein's rule but have since complained of being marginalised under the post-Saddam Shia-led government.

The ruling would allow the candidates to stand for election, and be subject to investigation only after the polls.

US officials had voiced concerns about the ban, fearing that it could inflame sectarian tensions and undermine confidence in the electoral process.

There are still more than a 100,000 American troops in Iraq and the Pentagon's exit strategy depends in large part on a peaceful and credible election, our correspondent says.


Anti-Islam Dutch Lawmaker Says He’s Being Denied a Fair Trial; Court Rejects Most of His Witness List

By Patrick Goodenough,

February 04, 2010

The Dutch lawmaker on trial for his provocative views on Islam said Wednesday he was being denied the right to a fair trial after the court rejected most of his requested defense witnesses, including a convicted murderer who invoked the Koran to justify his actions.

The Amsterdam District Court ruled that Geert Wilders could only call three witnesses out of the 18 he wanted. Among those it turned down was Mohammed Bouyeri, imprisoned for life in 2005 for murdering a Dutch critic of Islam, filmmaker Theo van Gogh, on an Amsterdam street the previous year.

In a statement released after the brief hearing, Wilders said, “This court is not interested in the truth. This court doesn’t want me to have a fair trial. I can’t have any respect for this. This court would not be out of place in a dictatorship.”

Nonetheless, Wilders said he was still hopeful of an acquittal. The testimony phase will begin later this year.

Wilders and his supporters say the case is much more than the trial of one man accused of discrimination and inciting hatred. They say the right of Europeans to speak what they believe to be the truth about Islam is at stake.

“This is not merely a lawsuit against Geert Wilders [but] … a trial against all freedom-loving people. A trial against millions,” states a Web site set up Wednesday by Wilders, dedicated to the trial.

The case against Wilders, who heads the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, relates in part to his short documentary film, Fitna, which features passages from the Koran along with footage of terror attacks and jihadists extolling violence while quoting from Islam’s revered text.

The complaint also refers to comments he has made about Islam in the Dutch media, in particular an open letter published in 2007 calling for the Koran to be outlawed in the Netherlands on the grounds that it contains verses instructing Muslims “to oppress, persecute or kill Christians, Jews, dissidents and non-believers, to beat and rape women and to establish an Islamic state by force.”

As part of the effort to prove his contention that his views on the nature of Islam are accurate, Wilders had wanted the court to hear, in their own words, van Gogh’s unrepentant and Koran-quoting killer as well as two hard-line Iranian ayatollahs, a radical imam based in The Hague, and a controversial Sunni scholar.

Also on his witness list were scholars and researchers specializing in Islam, human rights and law, including a former Muslim who is an expert in shari’a (Islamic law).

The public prosecutor opposed Wilders’ request, and the court on Wednesday agreed that he could only call three of the 18.

One of the three is Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-born critic of Islam who caused an uproar in a 2006 al-Jazeera interview when she spoke of a clash “between civilization and backwardness, chaos and rationality, a conflict between freedom and oppression, democracy and dictatorship, human rights on the one hand and the violation of these rights on the other, between those who treat women like animals, and those who treat them like human beings.”

The other two permitted witnesses are Dutch scholars Hans Jansen, an expert on Islamic fundamentalism; and Simon Admiraal, whose research focuses on radicalization in Arabic sermons.

The judges also ruled that the three witnesses’ testimony would have to be heard behind closed doors.

“Apparently the truth about Islam must remain a secret,” the Wilders trial Web site commented.In their ruling, the judges said the accused would have ample opportunity to tell the court during the trial how he views its decision to disallow most of the witnesses he had requested.

‘A judgment on Islam’

Among those rejected by the court were:

-- Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the secretary of the powerful Council of Guardians and current Friday prayer leader in Tehran, who frequently rails against America.

-- Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a former head of Iran’s judiciary, who said in February 2000 that the fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 calling for the death of Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie was “divine” and “irrevocable” and would be carried out, “Allah-willing.”

-- Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an influential Egyptian Sunni scholar controversial for having called Palestinian suicide bombings against Israelis justifiable “martyrdom operations.”

Radio Netherlands International reported that “some feared that had the judges allowed all seventeen [sic] defense witnesses, the trial would become a judgment on Islam, rather than a judgment on whether or not Geert Wilders has incited hatred.”

Robert Spencer, author on The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran and the editor of Jihad Watch – and another of those on Wilders’ list turned down by the court – said Wednesday that Sultan, Jansen and Admiraal would be “excellent” witnesses.

“Nonetheless, this decision indicates the court’s bias against Wilders, and so does not bode well for him,” he commented.

Spencer said the court was “railroading” Wilders.

“He had wanted to call Mohammed Bouyeri, the Qur’an-inspired murderer of Theo Van Gogh, who would have proven his point immediately, and others who would have buttressed the truth of what he has said,” he said. “That the court has hindered his ability to do this shows that the railroad tracks are being laid into place.”


Indian handler behind 26/11 attacks, says Chidambaram

4 February 2010

NEW DELHI: The ten Pakistani terrorists who attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008 could have been guided by an Indian handler whose true identitywas yet to be ascertained, home minister P Chidambaram has said.

"When we say he could be an Indian, he could be somebody who acquired Indian characteristics. He could have been infiltrated into India and lived here long enough to acquire an Indian accent, familiarity with Indian Hindi words or he could be somebody who exfiltrated from India to Pakistan and was adopted by the militants there," Chidambaram said.

While refusing to speculate on the name of the handler, the Home Minister said investigators had known for long time that there was a handler in 26/11 attack who could be an Indian.

"We know him by Abu Jindal that something we have known for many many months now... but he is not Abu Jindal. That is not his real name. We cannot put a finger who he is, unless we get a voice sample. And they won't give us voice sample.

"There is a speculation that Abu Jindal could be A, Abu Jindal could be B... but how as a Home Minister I can speculate? I can't speculate," he told a news channel.


India proposes talks with Pakistan

4 February 2010

NEW DELHI: Reflecting thaw in relations with Pakistan, India has proposed Foreign Secretary-level talks to discuss terrorism and any other issuethat could lead to peace between the two neighbours.

Sources on Thursday said the offer of talks has been made to Pakistan and a reply is awaited.

At the talks, the sources said, India intends to raise the issue of terrorism and any other matter that could "contribute to creating atmosphere of peace and security" between the two countries.

India will "enter into the discussions with an open and positive mind" and will raise all "relevant issues," they said.

On the outcome of the proposed meeting, the sources said this should not be pre-judged.

India had suspended the composite dialogue after Mumbai terror attacks and refused to restart the process before it could see any concrete action being taken by Pakistan in punishing those behind the carnage.

The softening of India's stand came apparently after Pakistan produced evidence against arrested Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists, including its commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi in a court in connection with the Mumbai attacks.

The evidence was based on a series of dossiers provided to Pakistan by India in connection with the incident.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had indicated two days ago about resumption of the talks when he had said, "Doors for talks were never shut".

Yesterday, Krishna said India would be satisfied if Pakistan takes "a few steps" with regard to investigations into the 26/11 carnage.

The offer for Foreign Secretary-level talks comes as Home Minister P Chidambaram prepares to travel to Pakistan on February 26 to attend the SAARC Interior Ministers' Conference, which will mark the first high-level visit from India since the November 2008 attacks.

During his visit, Chidambaram is likely to have a bilateral meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik and some other leaders.



32 Taliban militants killed in Afghanistan

4 February 2010

KANDAHAR: 32 Taliban and three soldiers have been killed in an Afghan-NATO operation in Helmand province ahead of a major anti-Taliban push, theprovincial government said on Thursday.

The operation took place in Nad Ali district, west of the provincial capital Lashkar Gar, on Wednesday, provincial government spokesman Daud Ahmadi told AFP.

"We had an operation in the Nad Ali area last night," Ahmadi said.

"During the operation 32 Taliban were killed and the bodies of some of them remained in the area."

The southern province of Helmand, along with neighbouring Kandahar, has been the hub of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan since their regime was pushed from power in the US-led invasion in late 2001.

The Marjah area, south of Nad Ali, is set to be the scene of a major military operation headed by US Marines who have been massing in their thousands, along with Afghan and NATO troops, for weeks in preparation.

Afghan and NATO officials said on Wednesday the operation to clear the Taliban from one of their last bastions should begin soon but gave no specific timeframe.

About 113,000 international troops are deployed in Afghanistan to eradicate the Taliban, with another 40,000 reinforcements due to arrive over the coming months. Most reinforcement will be sent to the southern insurgency hotspots.


Pakistani scientist found guilty of attempted murder in Afghanistan

4 February 2010

NEW YORK: Pakistani neuroscientist, Aafia Siddiqui, has been found guilty of attempted murder by grabbing a soldier's gun and opening fire onAmerican soldiers and FBI agents when they came to question her in a holding room in the city of Ghazni in Afghanistan.

The decision was reached by the jury of a federal court in Manhattan who deliberated for almost two days. The 37-year-old, Siddiqui, faces up to 60 years in prison for attempted murder and armed assault.

"This is a verdict coming from Israel and not from America," she said, after the verdict was announced. "That's where the anger belongs. I can testify to this and I have proof."

Last year, Siddiqui was picked up by Afghan forces after she was found wandering around the governor's house in Ghazni with a small boy.

In her purse the Afghan and US forces say were handwritten paper with written words like "radiation material", "dirty bomber," and names of New York City landmarks including Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building.

There was allegedly a thumb drive with more notes in various languages including Urdu.

For the past two weeks, the prosecution presented several witnesses that testified that Siddiqui had pulled the trigger but the defense pointed out several times that the prosecution had no physical evidence that the gun had also been fired.

The US agents escaped unharmed but Siddiqui took a bullet to the stomach from which she later recovered.


India, Iran discuss Afghanistan

Atul Aneja

DUBAI: India and Iran have held extensive discussions on the developments in the region including Afghanistan as part of their annual diplomatic consultations.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao headed the Indian delegation, while Mohammad Ali Fathollahi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia and Oceania led the Iranian side during the two-day dialogue.

Diplomatic sources told The Hindu that substantial discussions were held on “regional issues” including the recent developments regarding Afghanistan and the transit route from Iranian port of Chabahar to Afghanistan, which Iran and India have jointly developed. In the past, both India and Iran have been wary of engaging the so called “moderate Taliban” in Afghanistan. However, last month’s conference in London, in which Iran did not participate, has decided to create a fund in anticipation that resources would be needed to draw a significant number of Taliban into the Afghan mainstream.

Discussions were also held on transit, including further activation of the North-South corridor which has been a joint initiative of India, Iran and Russia.

Sources said Ms. Rao had an “excellent” meeting, which lasted for more than an hour on Tuesday, with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

She also met Iran’s point person on nuclear talks, Saeed Jalili, widely known as a confidant of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Jalili had led the Iranian delegation for talks, held last year in Geneva, in which the Americans had also participated.

He also led the Iranian side to talks held in Autumn in Vienna, where a deal was proposed to swap Iran’s stocks of lightly enriched uranium with atomic fuel rods for use in a Tehran research reactor engaged in producing medical isotopes.


‘A few steps’ on 26/11 is all India wants from Pak

4 February 2010

NEW DELHI: As international pressure mounts on India to resume dialogue with Pakistan, external affairs minister S M Krishna on Wednesday dropped ample hints that New Delhi might finally be lowering the bar a notch or two to allow Pakistan a seat at the negotiating table. The minister said that just ``a few steps'' from Pakistan on the 26/11 investigations could ensure resumption of the composite dialogue process between the two countries.

On his way to Kuwait for an official visit, Krishna said India would be ``quite satisfied'' with ``a few steps'' by Pakistan in the course of 26/11 investigations. The minister said it would make it ``easier for India to carry on normal business with Pakistan''.

Krishna also confirmed that home minister P Chidambaram would be representing India at the SAARC meeting of home ministers in Rawalpindi on February 26 and 27. This is the first official announcement of Chidambaram's scheduled visit to Pakistan.

But while all these mark a recasting of India's stance, the government still seems to suggest that the onus for re-engagement rests with Pakistan. For, while Krishna's remarks seem to reflect PMO's desire for a thaw in tensions, his emphasis that Pakistan needed to take "a few steps" is seen as underlining Congress leadership's insistence that meaningful and sustained dialogue will have to wait till Islamabad takes some demonstrable steps to bring the 26/11 masterminds to book.

"We are trying to focus their attention also on terrorism. It would be extremely helpful for our bilateral relationship and dialogue (if they take these measures)," Krishna said.

Krishna, however, did not rule out a bilateral meeting between Chidambaram and his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik. "Chidambaram will get a chance to have very useful exchanges with his counterparts and other leaders in Pakistan," he added.

Chidambaram's visit will be the first by an Indian minister to Pakistan since May 2008 when then foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee had gone there for the composite dialogue process.

"Any step forward in the direction of Pakistan also investigating the Mumbai attacks will certainly make it easier for India to carry out normalization of business with Pakistan," Krishna said.

Krishna's statement came on a day top US military commander Admiral Mike Mullen asserted that the Obama administration should encourage ``all steps these important nations (India and Pakistan) take to regenerate their `back channel' process on Kashmir''.

Pakistan has been strongly pushing for resumption of the Indo-Pak composite dialogue stalled after the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008. India however has till now maintained that for the dialogue to resume, Pakistan has to not just punish the Mumbai attacks accused but also dismantle the terror infrastructure in the country.

Krishna's statement comes a day after he said in Delhi that the doors were not closed for talks with Pakistan. Sources said that the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries could also meet after the SAARC meeting later this month. This, however, has not been confirmed till now by the MEA. ``Even if the talks do take place, the focus would be on terror and related issues and not on the peace process,'' said an official.

The prime ministers of the two countries are also likely to meet during the two-day SAARC Summit in Thimpu, which is to be held on April 28-29.


New cross-border threat? Calls offering cash for data

4 February 2010

NEW DELHI: When in doubt, don’t call back. More so if you happen to be an Airtel subscriber and have a missed call from a +92 number. Cellphone major Bharti Airtel told TOI that many of its subscribers are receiving fraudulent calls — usually a missed call — presumably from across the border. “Callers often call back thinking 92 is a Tata Indicom number, overlooking the fact that +92 is Pakistan’s country code”, a company spokesperson said.

On returning the missed call, the person at the other end would pretend to be an Airtel staffer and inform the caller that he/she has won a lottery/award conducted by the company. The fraudster would then attempt to dupe the customer into sharing sensitive personal information about his/her voter ID, PAN, bank account and credit card data and demand a commission (usually DTH recharge vouchers) to receive the winnings. “We issued an advisory which is up on our website to protect all mobile/landline users from falling victim to these malicious activities. We believe it is best to avoid responding to suspicious missed calls from unknown numbers,” the spokesperson emphasized.

Deepening the mystery is the fact that some Airtel cellphone subscribers making calls to Pakistan have been getting an SMS soon after informing them that they have just made a call to a number beginning with 0092 and advising them to exercise caution while calling unknown numbers and refrain from sharing personal details. While such SMSs might appear to be automated messages sent by the service provider on a new security diktat from Indian intelligence agencies, the truth is, there is no diktat of the kind.


India edgy as LeT eyes Maldives base

4 February 2010

NEW DELHI: Amid serious concerns that Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has been trying to set up base in isolated islands in

Maldives, India has quickened efforts for a counterterror partnership with the southern neighbour.

After a meeting between home minister P Chidambaram and his visiting counterpart from Maldives, Mohammad Shihab, sources in the home ministry said the two sides have agreed to wrap up an agreement on anti-terror measures and information sharing by April.

The urgency comes against the backdrop of growing evidence of the success of Lashkar and other jehadi groups in expanding their influence in the predominantly Muslim country — sections of which have become increasingly radicalised over the past few years. Indian intelligence agencies have noted with concern the sharp increase in the number of visitors from Maldives to Pakistan, where they spend a lot of time travelling around the country for purposes which are unclear but suspicious to agencies here.

A small country, Maldives remains acutely vulnerable to determined terror groups, as a small band of mercenaries, just 60 in number, drawn from among Tamil insurgents belonging to PLOTE from Sri Lanka, demonstrated in 1988 when they overran the country. But for a swift response of the Rajiv Gandhi government to the SOS from Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the hired guns would have installed Abdulla Luthufi as prime minister.

Indian paratroopers and naval warships were rushed under `Operation Cactus' to thwart the coup attempt.

Maldives presents a tempting target for Lashkar and other jehadi groups which have been trying to make it a hub due to its geographical advantage, isolated and sparsely populated islands. "About 700,000 tourists visit Maldives every year and so the island nation does not want to take any chance on security issues, hence the cooperation with India," said an official.

India is already helping Maldives by regularly patrolling its territorial waters with both warships and reconnaissance aircraft. There is also a plan underway to set up a network of ground radars in all its 26 atolls.

What is also worrying the government here is the effort of Pakistan-based terror groups to recruit jehadis from Maldives. Sabahuddin, one of the two Indian nationals arrested in connection with the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, told his interrogators that they had got Ali Ahsham to do the recee on targets in Bangalore in the run-up to the attack on the Indian Institute of Science.

Both the countries are understood to have decided to carry forward their cooperation on security matters to the next level.


Haqqani escaped heaviest US drone strikes in Pakistan

4 February 2010

NEW YORK: Top Afghan Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani was the target of the heaviest US drone strikes in Pakistan's lawless region, but mayjust have escaped the assault, as American officials for the first time said that Hakimullah Mehsud was dead.

A commander of the Haqqani group told CNN that "Siraj was in the area but had left moments before the strike."

The TV network said the reported strike on Tuesday night were unusual for the relatively high number of missiles fired - at least 19 - and for the high death toll.

The CNN quoting US counter-terrorism officials said they believed that Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah is dead, in strongest signal Washington has said about his fate.

At least eight drones took part in the coordinated attack hitting houses, cars and bunkers in multiple target raids in which 31 militants were killed including two top Pakistani Taliban commanders and six foreign militants.

The missiles hit four villages of Daigan, Muhammad Khel, Pai Khel and Toor Narai all said to be strongholds of the Haqqani network.

Sirajuddin Haqqani or Siraj is a senior Taliban and leader of the Haqqani network, founded by his father Jalaluddin Haqqani, and is long time ally of al-Qaeda. The group operates on both side of Afghan Pakistan border and is well-known to US, CNN said.


‘Qaida certain to strike US by July’

4 February 2010

WASHINGTON: Al-Qaida can be expected to attempt an attack on the United States in the next three to six months, senior US intelligence officials told Congress.

The terrorist organization is deploying operatives to the US to carry out new attacks from inside the country, including “clean” recruits with a negligible trail of terrorist contacts, CIA director Leon Panetta said. The chilling warning comes as Christmas Day airline suspected attacker Umar Farouk Abdulmutullab is cooperating with investigators, an official said.

Al-Qaida is also inspiring homegrown extremists to trigger violence on their own, Panetta said.

America’s top intelligence official, Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, said that al-Qaida and its affiliates had made it a high priority to attempt a large-scale attack on American soil.

The assessment by Blair was much starker than his view last year, when he emphasized the considerable progress in the campaign to debilitate al-Qaida and said that the global economic meltdown, rather than the prospect of a major terrorist attack, was the “primary near-term security concern of the US”.

The annual assessment of US’s terror threats provided no startling new terror trends, but amplified growing concerns since the Xmas Day airline attack that militants are growing harder to detect and moving more quickly in their plots.

“The biggest threat is not so much that we face an attack like 9/11. It is that al-Qaida is adapting its methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect,” Panetta told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Blair added that the recent cyber attacks on Google are a “wake-up call” and neither the US government nor the private sector can fully protect the American cyber infrastructure.

“Malicious cyber activity is occurring on an unprecedented scale with extraordinary sophistication,” Blair said in prepared testimony for the Senate intelligence committee hearing on Tuesday.


Iran sends animals into space, makes West jittery

4 February 2010

TEHRAN: Iran announced on Wednesday that it has successfully launched a 10-foot-long research rocket carrying a mouse, two turtles and worms into space — a feat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said showed Iran could defeat the West in the battle of technology.

The launch of the Kavoshgar-3 was announced by defense minister Gen Ahmad Vahidi as part of Iran’s ambitious space program— a move that may add to Western concern about Tehran’s nuclear programme.

It comes a year after Iran sent its first domestically made telecommunications satellite into orbit. The program has worried Western powers who fear the same technology used to launch satellites could also deliver warheads.

Vahidi gave no details on the research and the report did not disclose when or where the launch took place.

Ahmadinejad praised the latest launch and said greater events would come in the future. He said the launch is a “very big event. This is the first presence of animals in space launched by Iran. It’s the start of bigger achievements” to come.


Christmas bomber was my 'student': Yemeni cleric Awlaqi

4 February 2010

WASHINGTON: Radical Yemeni cleric Anwar Al-Awlaqi has praised a Christmas Day attempt to blow up a US airliner and said the man accused in the attack was his "student," according to an interview published by Al-Jazeera.

The militant religious leader, accused of links to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said he supported the attack.

He described alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who reportedly received training in Yemen, as his "student," but said that he did not direct the young Nigerian to launch the attack.

"I support what Umar Farouk did," he added, citing the deaths of Muslims in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as drone strikes in Yemen, to justify the foiled attack against a Northwest Airlines plane as it prepared to land in Detroit on Christmas Day.

"In my tribe, American missiles and raids killed 17 women and 23 children. So don't ask me if Al-Qaeda has killed or blew up a civilian plane after all of that. Three hundreds Americans are nothing compared to the thousands of Muslims they killed."

Abdulmutallab has been charged with attempting to bring down the jet carrying 279 passengers and 11 crew by detonating explosives hidden in his underwear.

The explosive device failed to properly ignite and the 23-year-old was quickly overwhelmed by passengers and crew aboard the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda and based in Yemen, claimed responsibility for the attack shortly afterwards and Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden praised Abdulmutallab as a "hero."

Awlaqi shot to prominence last year after it emerged he had communicated extensively by email with Major Nidal Hasan, a US Army psychiatrist who opened fire on his colleagues at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13.

Awlaqi, who was born in the United States and is accused of having had ties to the September 11, 2001 hijackers, praised the Fort Hood attack and said Muslims like Hasan should only serve in the US military if they planned to carry out similar attacks.


Constructive signal from Pakistan: Krishna

Sandeep Dikshit

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna calls on Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah in Kuwait on Wednesday.

ON BOARD A SPECIAL FLIGHT: India has indicated its willingness to normalise ties with Pakistan following indications that Islamabad is serious about prosecuting the masterminds of 26/11.

The first step will be Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s visit to Rawalpindi by month-end to attend a SAARC Ministers’ meeting, where he could “get a chance to have useful exchanges” with Pakistani leaders in addition to the planned multilateral meetings, External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna told journalists accompanying him on a visit to Kuwait on Wednesday.

Taking note of Pakistan’s readiness to accept the lone surviving gunman, Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab’s confessional statement as evidence to prosecute the planners of the Mumbai strikes and other evidence of the boats used to ferry the attackers from Karachi, Mr. Krishna said India saw it as a constructive signal: “Any step forward in the direction of Pakistan also investigating the attacks will certainly make it easier for India to carry out normalisation of business with Pakistan.”

Composite dialogue

Asked whether New Delhi would revive the composite dialogue if Islamabad continued to show resolve to bring to book its nationals involved in the attacks, Mr. Krishna said: “India should be quite satisfied with Pakistan taking a few steps to investigate the Mumbai attacks.” He hoped that Pakistan would continue to focus its attention on rooting out elements plotting violence in India. Such an attitude would be “extra helpful” to bilateral relations and dialogue. Even on Tuesday Mr. Krishna indicated a possible change in India’s position, when he said the “doors were not closed on talks with Pakistan, but it should continue to demonstrate its steadfastness in combating anti-India formations.”


Three militants killed in encounters

4 February 2010

JAMMU: Three militants of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad were killed in two separate encounters in Poonch and Kishtwar districts of Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday. The operation was still on when last reports came in.. PTI


Iran ready to swap uranium for fuel

Atul Aneja

For atomic fuel for Tehran research reactor

Tech prowess: The Kavoshgar 3 (Explorer) satellite moments prior to its launch from an undisclosed location in Iran on Wednesday.

DUBAI: Iran has announced its readiness to send abroad the bulk of its low-enriched uranium stocks in return for atomic fuel for its Tehran research reactor.

The announcement by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which appears in line with an earlier proposal made by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), coincided with a show of technological prowess by Tehran.

On Tuesday, Iran launched into space its satellite carrier Kavoshgar 3. On board were living organisms — a rat, two turtles and worms, state-run broadcaster Press TV reported. The Iranian Aerospace Organisation (IAO) said live video transmission and a mini-environmental lab will enable further studies on the biological capsule.

The Kavoshgar 3 (Explorer) rocket also carried an experimental capsule that was equipped to send telemetric data, live pictures and flight and environmental analysis data. Tuesday’s launch followed two earlier test firing into space in February and November 2008 of Kavoshgar 1 and 2 rockets.

The launch followed a recent announcement by American officials that Washington had decided to deploy land based antimissile systems in four Gulf countries and on ships located near the Iranian coast, to counter possible Iranian missile attacks.

Analysts point out that Iran has been regularly demonstrating its advances in military and civilian space applications. In December, it had fired the solid fuelled Sejil-2 missile that could draw Israel and parts of Europe within its range.

Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on Wednesday the space programme was “peaceful”, but warned that Tehran would “not tolerate any un-peaceful use [of space] by any country,” the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Ahmadinejad explained that Iran would not suffer a loss if domestically produced stocks of lightly enriched uranium were sent abroad, in exchange for fuel rods for the Tehran reactor engaged in producing medical isotopes. “We have no problem sending our enriched uranium abroad,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said on state television.

“We say: we will give you our 3.5 per cent enriched uranium and will get the fuel. It may take 4 to 5 months until we get the fuel,” he said.

Earlier, Iran had insisted that a swap involving its domestically produced uranium and uranium fuel could take place only on its soil. Besides, it would not exchange the bulk of its uranium in one go, preferring instead the swap to take place in stages.

Last week, the IAEA said a deal on uranium enrichment was still within grasp. In its initial response to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s call, a White House official was quoted as saying the U.S. would “look forward” to an Iranian communication with the IAEA, in case Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statement represented an “updated Iranian position”.

Observers say in case Iran follows up its stated intent with practical measures, it would further dampen the prospects of imposing fresh international sanctions against Tehran.


Defiant Iran launches new rocket into space

AP | Tehran

Iran has announced on Wednesday that it has successfully launched a 10-foot-long research rocket carrying a mouse, two turtles and worms into space — a feat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said showed Iran could defeat the West in the battle of technology.

The launch of the Kavoshgar-3, which means Explorer-3 in Farsi, was announced by Defence Minister General Ahmad Vahidi as part of Iran’s ambitious space programme. It comes a year after Iran sent its first domestically made telecommunications satellite into orbit. The programme has worried Western powers who fear the same technology used to launch satellites and research capsules could also deliver warheads.

Iranian State television broadcast images on Wednesday of officials putting a mouse, two turtles and about a dozen creatures that looked like worms inside a capsule in the rocket before it blast off. Vahidi gave no details on the research and the report did not disclose when or where the launch took place.

The rocket is the third in a series bearing the same name. Iran reported launching Kavoshgar-1, or Explorer-1, in February 2008. The first section of the rocket detached after 90 seconds and returned to earth with the help of a parachute.

A second segment entered space for about five minutes, while the final section was sent toward orbit to collect data.

Later in 2008, a rocket entitled Kavoshgar-2, or Explorer-2, made it to the lower reaches of space and returned to earth 40 minutes later on a parachute. No details about that launch were reported.

Ahmadinejad praised the latest launch and said greater events would come in the future. “The scientific arena is where we could defeat the (West’s) domination,” Ahmadinejad said in remarks broadcast live on State TV. He said the launch is a “very big event. This is the first presence of animals in space launched by Iran. It’s the start of bigger achievements” to come.

Also on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad had unveiled a new domestically built light booster rocket, named Simorgh, as well as three Iranian-built satellites — Mesbah-2, Tolo and Navid-e-Elm-o-Sanat — all part of Iran’s observing the National Day of Space Technology. Officials said the Simorgh rocket can carry a satellite weighing 220 pounds up to 310 miles above the Earth.

As it seeks to expand its influence in the Middle East, Iran touts such technological successes as signs it can advance despite the threat of US and UN sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme.

The West is concerned Iran is trying to build an atomic weapon but Tehran denies the charge and says it’s nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, such as electricity production.


Europe reacts skepticallly to N-plan

AP | Paris

European powers reacted skeptically on Wednesday to Iran’s offer to send uranium abroad for enrichment as a way of ending its showdown with the West. French Foreign Ministry Bernard Kouchner said his personal interpretation of the Iranian offer is that they are ‘trying to buy time’. He told reporters in Paris that “I’m perplexed and even a bit pessimistic”. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday that Iran was ready to send its uranium abroad for further enrichment as requested by the United Nations. A UN proposal last year envisaged Iran sending low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for further enrichment and use in a research reactor in Tehran. It was aimed at lowering international tensions between Iran and the countries negotiating over its nuclear programme — the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

It was unclear how much of a concession the Ahmadinejad comments represented. He appeared to be saying for the first time that Iran was willing to ship out its enriched uranium and wait for it to be returned in the form of fuel for its Tehran research reactor. But his time frame of four or five months appeared to fall short of the year that Western officials say it would take for Iran’s enriched fuel to be turned into fuel rods for the reactor. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told journalists that Iran has to be measured by its actions, not by what it says.” “It is up to Iran to show an end to its refusal to negotiate,” he said.


Hasina dares Zia to prove secret deal with India

IANS | Dhaka

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh hasina Wedneday dared her political rival and opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia to “make public any document” to prove that she (Hasina) signed a ‘secret deal’ with India during her New Delhi visit last month.

She told the Jatiya Sangsad (National Assembly) that she had signed no such deal as was being alleged since her January 13-16 talks with the Indian leadership.

She refuted Zia’s allegation and asked her (Khaleda) to refrain from giving such “misleading and false information in the greater national interest,” the Bangladesh Sangbad Sanstha (BSS) news agency reported.

“If you have any document regarding the so-called secret deal, please make it public. Don’t mislead the people by giving such untrue information,” she told Zia and other leasders of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Hasina criticised the ‘reckless remarks’ of the leader of the opposition in parliament and said that the party (BNP) ‘always pacifies India while in power and opposes the neighbour while in the Opposition.’

“India is good when BNP is in power, India is bad when BNP is in the opposition,” she taunted her rival. Zia had criticised the two agreements and three MoUs terming them as ‘a sell-out to India.’

Hasina maintained that the agreements signed with India during her visit to New Delhi was meant for “upholding the national interest and spirit of the country’s independence and sovereignty as well as the nation’s dignity.” Describing her India visit as ‘a fruitful one’, Hasina said this trip has heralded ‘a new era’ in bilateral relations.

Responding to another supplementary from treasury bench member Mosharraf Hossain, she said her Government had plans to expand and modernise Chittagong and the Mongla ports so that India, Nepal and Bhutan could use them.


Four masked men challenge Hurriyat, spark off stoning protests in Valley


Feb 04, 2010

Baramulla : A group of four masked men in their early ‘20s addressed the local press on Monday, ridiculed the Hurriyat for calling just a one-day hartal over the death of teenager Wamiq Farooq in police clashes and announced a four-day protest plan.

Their words had a strong echo since Monday — from Anantnag to Baramulla, stone-pelting mobs paralyzed transport, shut down the Valley.

“No more Hurriyat leaders. We won’t listen to them. They are agents. It’s our stone-pelting that has resurrected the movement,” said the masked young men. DIG (Kashmir range) H K Lohia said that they (the masked men) are “definitely stone pelters trying to be leaders...we will arrest them”.

The Hurriyat is defensive. “We are with the protesters,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Nayeem Khan said the protestors “are our children and are on the streets because of atrocities by police and security forces.”


Batla House cop got Shahzad in Azamgarh, died in crash

Feb 04, 2010

New Delhi/Lucknow : Head Constable Rajbir Singh was in slain Inspector M C Sharma’s team at Batla House, and with the police party that went to Azamgarh to arrest Shahzad Ahmed, one of the two alleged Indian Mujahideen operatives who escaped that encounter on September 19, 2008.

They got Shahzad, but Rajbir did not return to Delhi. He was killed after the Scorpio he was travelling in hit a truck and rammed into a tree in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri district around 9.15 on Wednesday morning, district SP Ram Krishna Bhardwaj said.

The driver, Sheetal, and four of Rajbir’s colleagues suffered serious injuries. One, S-I Ravindra Singh Tyagi, is battling for life in a Bareilly hospital. Inspector Kailash Singh Bisht, Head Constable Gurmeet Singh and Constable Rajiv, are out of danger.

Two members of the Special Cell team flew back to Delhi with Shahzad on Tuesday evening. The rest were coming by road. Passersby and the local police rushed the victims to Shahjahanpur district hospital, where Rajbir died before he could be given medical aid.

Rajbir, who joined Delhi Police in 1993, got an out-of-turn promotion in 2005. He started at the Special Cell the same year, and was awarded the President’s Police Medal on August 15, 2009 for his gallantry at Batla House. Delhi Police PRO Rajan Bhagat said he had taken part in several anti-terror operations.

S-I Tyagi is a forensic expert in the Special Cell, and part of a team that has collected vital forensic evidence from the spots of several terrorist attacks, including the Indian Mujahideen blasts in Delhi in 2008.


US to encourage for reduction of Indo-Pak tension: Holbrooke

Feb 04, 2010

Washington : Ruling out any move by the Obama Administration to mediate between India and Pakistan, Special US Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, on Thursday said the US would encourage and applaud any effort to reduce tension between the two South Asian neighbours.

"I want to be clear that anything that the two countries do to reduce tensions or improve relations will be something we would applaud and encourage," Richard Holbrooke told correspondents at a news briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center.

"But we are not going to act as intermediaries between Islamabad and New Delhi. That is not what we are here to do. I'm not just talking about myself," Holbrooke said in response to a question.

The Special US Envoy who is the point man of the Obama Administration on Afghanistan and Pakistan with the mandate to help bring peace and stability in the two countries, also ruled out any attempt to try and resolve the Kashmir dispute between Indian and Pakistan.

"We are not going to negotiate or mediate on that (Kashmir) issue. And I'm going to try to keep my record and not even mention it by name," Holbrooke said who has ever since his appointment last year has maintained that Kashmir is not his mandate.

"India is part of the region, the largest country in the region. Although I have no responsibility for US-Indian relations, because of their great importance in these issues, I go to New Delhi as often as I can."

I was there two weeks ago. I look forward to seeing Indian officials at the Munich Security Conference day after tomorrow. There were Indians represented at the talks in London, with whom I spoke," he said.

"The Indians have a legitimate series of security interests in that region, as do a number of other countries, including, of course, Pakistan, China and all the other countries that neighbour on Afghanistan".

"And any search for a resolution on the war in Afghanistan requires that the legitimate security interests of every country be understood and taken into account," he argued.

"The dilemma arises when those security interests tend to be in conflict. And Afghanistan has suffered throughout history by the fact that it has sometimes become the terrain for surrogate struggles for power. We do not want to see that happen. I hope that that will be something we can continue to work on," Holbrooke said.


Pakistani scientist found guilty of attempted murder

Feb 04, 2010

New York : Pakistani neuroscientist, Aafia Siddiqui, has been found guilty of attempted murder by grabbing a soldier's gun and opening fire on American soldiers and FBI agents when they came to question her in a holding room in the city of Ghazni in Afghanistan.

The decision was reached by the jury of a federal court in Manhattan who deliberated for almost two days. The 37-year-old, Siddiqui, faces up to 60 years in prison for attempted murder and armed assault.

"This is a verdict coming from Israel and not from America," she said, after the verdict was announced. "That's where the anger belongs. I can testify to this and I have proof."

Last year, Siddiqui was picked up by Afghan forces after she was found wandering around the governor's house in Ghazni with a small boy.

In her purse the Afghan and US forces say were handwritten paper with written words like "radiation material", "dirty bomber," and names of New York City landmarks including Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building.

There was allegedly a thumb drive with more notes in various languages including Urdu.

For the past two weeks, the prosecution presented several witnesses that testified that Siddiqui had pulled the trigger but the defense pointed out several times that the prosecution had no physical evidence that the gun had also been fired.

The US agents escaped unharmed but Siddiqui took a bullet to the stomach from which she later recovered.

One of the principle witnesses, Captain Jack Snyder, previously told the court that the gun was pointed straight at his head and being able to see in the barrel of the gun. "I used the arms of my chair to spring out of my seat and get out of the line of the fire," he said.

During the initial stages of the trial, the defendant refused to cooperate with the court, boycotting her own defense team and interrupting the proceedings several times following which she was removed from the court.

However, Siddiqui testified in her defense last week and told the court the charges against her were a big lie and that she was shot trying to escape from the room.

The prosecution had asserted that Siddiqui had fiercely struggled against the officers when they tried to pin her down. The defense had rebutted this several times by pointing out that it was ludicrous to suggest that the petite and frail defendant could not have fought off men twice her size.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology trained scientist is also believed to have Al Qaeda sympathies but this case had no terror related charges.

Siddiqui left for Pakistan from US in 2002. The following year she disappeared from Pakistan and suddenly resurfaced in 2008 in front of the governor's house.

During the trial, she hinted several times that she had been detained by US authorities during this time. Her children are still missing.


The power of history: New thinking and old wounds around the Auschwitz death camp

Feb 03, 2010

New thinking and old wounds around the Auschwitz death camp

THE memory of Auschwitz, the best-known symbol of the Holocaust, is fiercely contested. Communist propaganda routinely overlooked the fact that nine-tenths of the 1.1m people murdered there were Jews. A Swedish neo-Nazi may be behind the theft in December of the Arbeit macht frei (“Work sets you free”) sign over the main gate, which has been found and is now being restored. This week foreign dignitaries and survivors gathered to mark the 65th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation by the Red Army in 1945.

A polemical new documentary by Yoav Shamir, an Israeli film-maker, suggests that his country’s authorities use visits to Auschwitz partly as spine-stiffeners to prepare youngsters for military service. After visiting the camp, one schoolgirl in the film says, “I want to kill.” It also shows guides warning the group that hostile locals make it dangerous to leave their hotel unaccompanied.

The Anti-Defamation League and others have denounced Mr Shamir’s film. Poland, like much of Europe, was home to anti-Semitism—the post-war massacres of Jews were especially shameful. But Poles object to being blamed for the crimes of their Nazi occupiers, too.

Organised visits to Auschwitz have boomed. Around 30,000 Israeli students came to Poland last year. Some trips may resemble those portrayed by Mr Shamir, but others have a different focus. In December a Polish foundation brought schoolchildren from Poland, Germany, the West Bank and Israel together to re-enact historical trials, including Nuremberg, as part of a project about international justice.

Despite prejudice and tragedy in Poland’s past, a remarkable revival of Jewish life and culture is now under way, including an annual music festival in Cracow, near Auschwitz. A Jewish-history museum is under construction in central Warsaw, strongly backed by the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski. After decades of emigration and decline, Poland’s Jewish population is growing again, as children sheltered in secret by gentile families during the war rediscover their roots. Israeli and American Jews wanting to live, work or study in the European Union are finding that a Polish background can be just the ticket: applications for Polish passports are soaring.

Poles’ views of their history are changing too. There is growing interest in war heroes like Witold Pilecki, who infiltrated Auschwitz to spy on what was happening there (he was jailed and executed by the communists after the war). And polls show communist-era distortions to be fading at last. For the first time, a majority of Poles see Auschwitz chiefly as a place where Jews were killed.


Iraq's coming election

Feb 03, 2010

Relations between Iraq’s Shias and Sunnis have again been badly damaged

IN THE run-up to a general election due on March 7th, Iraq’s authorities seem to be taking a page out of Iran’s illiberal electoral rule book by barring candidates they dislike. One of the competing parties, the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmed Chalabi, a long-time Shia exile who helped persuade George Bush to invade Iraq in 2003, has persuaded the election’s overseers to ban some 500 candidates deemed too close in the past to Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. After the invasion the Americans put Mr Chalabi, then their closest Iraqi ally, in charge of “deBaathification”, but he later fell out with them, so he turned for succour to Iran. Now, with a view to winning more votes for himself, he is using his long-dormant post to accuse his foes of having supported the deposed dictator. Though the list contains many Shias, Iraq’s minority Sunnis, who ruled the roost under Mr Hussein, are outraged, seeing a plot to discriminate against them. The episode could badly tarnish the poll.

Many other Shia politicians have joined what looks like a witch hunt. Muhammad al-Haidari, a leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), a powerful Shia group, says that Baathists are worse than Nazis; all past members should, he says, be banned from public life. In the holy city of Najaf, ISCI’s heartland, a new rule decrees that former Baathists must be purged from government and chased out of town. Never mind that Iraq’s post-invasion constitution bars only senior Baathists from public office and that millions of ordinary Iraqis joined the party only out of necessity, not conviction. Ostracising them threatens once again to split Iraq down the middle and disfranchise many Sunnis, who used to dominate the Baath party.

Yet the ban is also backed by some Sunni politicians, especially those who belong to the fading Islamic Party, because its old-guard leaders see a chance to weaken secular Sunni rivals who muddled through under Mr Hussein but who have recently become more popular. DeBaathification, in short, is good for Sunni Islamists and Shia theocrats. They point fingers at politicians such as Saleh al-Mutlaq, a moderate secular member of parliament who left the Baath party in 1977, and General Abdul Qader, a Sunni who has been a notably effective defence minister in a four-year fight against extremists. No credible evidence against them has so far been shown.

Yet another kind of Baathist threat does exist. A group of Sunnis sympathetic to Mr Hussein are believed to be behind a series of spectacular suicide car-bombs that have struck Baghdad in the past six months. On January 25th three killed at least 41 people (see article). But none of the banned candidates has any known link to the bombers or any current insurgency.

In any event, the issue has badly damaged the election prospects of alliances seeking to rise above sectarian prejudice. With other moderate leaders, Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, had been building up one of three non-sectarian alliances, uniting Sunnis and Shias on a single electoral ticket. Voters seemed to approve, giving him strong support in last year’s provincial elections that were seen as a dry run for this year’s general one. Mr Maliki had hoped to change the violent and divisively sectarian nature of Iraqi politics.

No longer, it seems. After Mr Chalabi’s list came out, Mr Maliki watched in horror as it gained a striking amount of support. Then, sensing a new political momentum, he announced he would back the ban. Apparently reckoning he would be unable to beat his Shia rivals, he decided to join them. The government in Tehran may have given him a friendly wink.

So sectarian rivalry is once again to the fore. The two non-religious alliances competing against Mr Maliki’s front are running out of candidates. Mr Mutlaq had a promising liaison with Iyad Allawi, a Shia, who was a tough, secular-minded former prime minister. But between them they may lose 72 candidates to deBaathification. An alliance between Jawad al-Bolani, the Shia interior minister, and Ahmed abu Risha, a Sunni tribal lord, could lose 67.

Some Sunnis are calling for a boycott of the election. They have stayed away before, spurning the last poll, in 2005, because they said the system was stacked against them. Many saw no choice but to help the Sunni insurgents. Now many of them feel backed into a corner once more. If fighting were to flare up again, it could delay the departure of American combat troops, planned by Barack Obama for the late summer. His vice-president, Joe Biden, has flown to Baghdad to discuss a possible compromise with Iraq’s leaders. Even if one is found, the sectarian wounds that seemed to be healing have been dangerously reopened.


Patching things up

Feb 03, 2010

A summit on Afghanistan sets the stage for President Hamid Karzai to take charge

THE first battalions of President Barack Obama’s military surge in Afghanistan are deployed and preparing to sweep the Taliban from a swathe of central Helmand province in the coming weeks. With commanders under pressure to achieve quick results before American troop levels begin to ebb next year, this could be the bloodiest year yet of America’s Afghan war.

Yet several thousand miles away in London, where an international conference on Afghanistan was held on Thursday January 28th, diplomatic talk was all about peace gatherings and reconciliation with the Taliban. Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, said he would convene a “grand peace jirga (council of elders)”, and urged Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah “to guide and assist the peace process”. Mr. Karzai’s officials said that the Taliban would be invited to attend the gathering, to be held in the coming months. “We must reach out to all of our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers, who are not part of al-Qaeda, or other terrorist networks, who accept the Afghan constitution,” said the Afghan president before delegates from 60-odd countries (Iran's seat was empty).

Such comments are, on the face of it, nothing new for Mr Karzai, who previously invited the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, to talks in Kabul. But his overtures discomfit America, his main backer. It worries that a premature courtship of the Taliban will seen as weakness just as Mr Obama is trying to reverse the Taliban’s military gains. Mr Obama has decided to triple the number of American troops in Afghanistan since he took power, and has approved a counter-insurgency strategy designed to win over more of the Afghan population, divide the insurgents and induce local Taliban fighters to defect.

Senior American officials therefore stress “re-integration” of low-level Taliban fighters with an internationally-financed offer of cash, jobs and economic development in their villages. A fund for the re-integration programme attracted $140m worth of pledges on Thursday.

Reconciliation with the Taliban leadership will be important eventually to resolve the Afghan conflict, they argue, but for now the priority should be for NATO to regain the military and political initiative. Then it can negotiate from a position of strength. Even Saudi Arabia, the putative godfather of the peace process, sounded wary. Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, said his country would take part in Afghan peace efforts only if the Taliban denied sanctuary to al-Qaeda and cuts ties with militant networks. “By keeping their contacts with [Osama] bin Laden they won't be coming to any negotiations with a positive attitude”, he said.

Yet Mr Karzai, supported by Kai Eide, the departing UN envoy to Kabul, seems convinced that reintegration on the ground must be accompanied by a wider peace process. The Afghan government has pushed the UN Security Council to agree to remove five ex-Taliban figures from its blacklist, and Afghan officials say they want some current Taliban leaders de-listed as an olive branch. Mr Eide said more Afghan prisoners should be released from jail in the American military base in Bagram as “confidence-building measures”.

The conference fell in with Mr Karzai’s peace agenda, though few delegates thought Mr Karzai would get far with his reconciliation process. The Taliban issued a statement mocking the conference as futile and predicted “final defeat” for the “invaders”. In any case, the conference could hardly distance itself from Mr Karzai, given that it was designed to show that the Afghan government was taking “ownership” for solving its problems, and to lay out a plan for a “transition” to Afghan forces taking charge of security.

David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, talked of a “viable and clear goal for bringing this conflict to an end”. Even if British officials think it implausible, the talk of a negotiated end to the war might help assuage the British public, which has grown more hostile to the war. The British government had sought a clear timeline for Afghan forces to take the lead, province by province, even district by district. Instead the communiqué gave a vague outline of how Afghan forces would be “taking the lead and conducting the majority of operations in the insecure areas” within three years, and taking overall control within five. It said some provinces may pass to Afghan lead by the end of the year, depending on conditions on the ground. They were not identified for fear of turning them into targets for insurgent attacks.

The conference approved plans for Afghan security forces to grow to 172,000 soldiers and 134,000 policemen by October 2011. It also endorsed granting Afghanistan a further $1.6 billion in debt relief. Donors, especially America, agreed in principle to increase the share of economic aid that passes through the Afghan government (currently 20%) to 50%—as long as it can improve its management of funds and cut corruption.

Many details of how Mr Karzai proposes to improve the performance of his government will be spelt out at a new conference to be held in Kabul before this summer. Taken together, the London and Kabul meetings will place an international seal of legitimacy on Mr Karzai after last year’s fraud-riddled presidential election. For now, the most important reconciliation may not be between Mr Karzai and the Taliban, but between Mr Karzai and his Western backers.


Killed Americans were part of 100-strong commando unit

By Amir Mir

February 04, 2010

LAHORE: The three US soldiers who lost their lives on Wednesday in a school bombing incident in Dir Lower were members of the Army Special Forces, which has been training the Frontier Corps to improve its intelligence and combat tactics to effectively fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban insurgents in the Pak-Afghan tribal belt.

It is for the first time since the American occupation of Afghanistan in October 2001 that any US soldier has been killed in Pakistan, that too in a terrorist act. According to well informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, the slain US soldiers were part of a 100-member strong special American military training unit which was dispatched to Pakistan in 2008 to raise a 1,000-member strong well-trained paramilitary commando unit which could conduct guerrilla operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban militants active in the Pak-Afghan tribal belt and involved in cross-border ambushes against the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan.

The military training programme was never officially announced by Pakistan to avoid a possible backlash by the opposition parties, which are opposed to the American military presence on the Pakistani territory. The US-funded training course for the largely under-equipped and under-trained Frontier Corps included both classroom and field sessions.

In the beginning, the American military trainers confined themselves to training compounds due to security concerns in Pakistan. However, they had now started accompanying Pakistani troops on special guerrilla operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda militants, eventually leading to the Wednesday incident in Dir Lower which shares a border with Afghanistan and with the restive Swat district, where the Army had to carry out a massive military operation last year. The three slain US soldiers were travelling in a convoy with troops, journalists and officials to the opening of Koto Girls’ High School when the roadside bomb exploded.

The school was blown up in January 2009 and rebuilt with the help of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Dozens of girls’ school were set ablaze in Lower Dir area in 2008-2009 by the private army of Maulana Fazlullah, the fugitive chief of the Swat chapter of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

Though a Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Azam Tariq has claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying the dead Americans belonged to the US security company Blackwater Worldwide - now known as Xe, military spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas has said that the American soldiers were in Pakistan to train the Frontier Corps. Informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad say the American soldiers were part of a $100 million Pentagon-funded training programme which is meant to equip the Frontier Corps with new body armour, vehicles, and surveillance equipment, and plans to spend $75 million more during the next year. As per the programme, the Pentagon intended to spend around $400 million more in the next few years to train and equip the Frontier Corps. Sources say, besides dispatching American marines to train the Frontier Corps personnel, the Pentagon had also sent a special team of its Special Forces military advisers, communication experts, technical specialists and combat medics to help establish coordination centres on Pak-Afghan border so that the American and Pakistani officials could share intelligence about al-Qaeda and Taliban elements in and around the tribal areas.


Aafia convicted of trying to kill Americans

February 04, 2010

NEW YORK: A US-educated Pakistani woman was found guilty on Wednesday of trying to kill American servicemen in Afghanistan.

Aafia Siddiqui, 37, a neuroscientist trained at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was found guilty on all charges by a jury in federal court. Aafia was convicted of charges that she tried to kill Americans while detained in Afghanistan in 2008. A family lawyer immediately announced an appeal, citing “prejudice and bias.”

Siddiqui was accused of grabbing a rifle at an Afghan police station, where she was being interrogated in July 2008 and trying to gun down a group of the US servicemen. Although she was not charged with terrorism, prosecutors described her as a would-be terrorist, who had also plotted to bomb New York. Her lawyers tried to prove she was insane, but a judge ruled her fit to stand trial.

Tina Monshipour, an attorney for Siddiqui’s family, said afterwards: “This verdict is being subject to an appeal.” “There were a lot of unfair decisions,” Monshipour said, adding “She was portrayed as a terrorist even if there were no terrorism charges in this trial. This is one of those cases in which we see prejudice and bias invade the courtroom.”

Siddiqui, wearing a white veil, repeatedly disrupted her trial with outbursts at the jury, witnesses and her own lawyers, including claims that she was a victim of Israel. After being found guilty, she responded in similar fashion, saying: “This is a verdict from Israel, not America. The anger should be directed where it belongs.”

Prosecutors claimed that Siddiqui was arrested by the Afghan police in the town of Ghazni with notes indicating plans to attack the Statue of Liberty and other New York landmarks. However, she was charged only with attempted murder.

Prosecutors said she picked up a rifle in the police station where she was being held and opened fire on US servicemen and FBI representatives. She missed and was herself shot by one of the US soldiers.

Defence lawyers argued that there was no physical evidence, such as finger prints or gunpowder traces, to show Siddiqui even grabbed the rifle, let alone opened fire. Human rights groups have long speculated that Siddiqui may have been secretly imprisoned and tortured at the US base in Bagram, Afghanistan, during the five years prior to the 2008 incident.

The US military has denied she was ever held at the base. Siddiqui was living in Pakistan when she vanished in March 2003.

Meanwhile, Pakistan on Wednesday voiced dismay after a US court found a Pakistani woman guilty of trying to kill American troops in Afghanistan and vowed to press her case. “We are dismayed over the unexpected verdict of the jury in Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s case,” Pakistan’s embassy in Washington said in a statement.

“The government of Pakistan made intense diplomatic and legal efforts on her behalf and will consult the family of Dr Aafia Siddiqui and the team of defence lawyers to determine the future course of action,” it said. “The government will do all that is needed to provide justice to her as a Pakistani citizen,” it added.


Top Fatah official in rare visit to Hamas-run Gaza

February 04, 2010

Palestinian killed in Gaza tunnel collapse; Berlusconi backs Israel

GAZA CITY/OCCUPIED-AL-QUDS: A senior member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party made a rare visit to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on Wednesday in a bid to encourage stalled reconciliation efforts.

Nabil Shaath, a member of the central committee of the secular Fatah, said he hoped to meet representatives from all the Palestinian factions including Hamas, which seized Gaza in June 2007 after driving out Fatah loyalists.

“I want to see the citizens and their situation in Gaza. I am coming to part of the (Palestinian) homeland and I don’t need a visa,” he told reporters after passing through the Erez border crossing from Israel.

“I am in contact with my brothers in Hamas and all the Palestinian factions, and all of them know about this visit. I am not on a secret mission.

“I hope this visit will create a better climate to encourage our brothers in Hamas to sign the Egyptian document,” he said, referring to a unity deal proposed by Cairo that was signed by Fatah in October.

Hamas could not immediately be reached for comment, and it was not clear whether its leaders had agreed to meet with Shaath.

Hamas has refused to sign the proposed unity deal unless it is amended to reflect what the group says were previous understandings reached with Fatah. Both Egypt and Fatah have said the deal is final.

The two main Palestinian movements have been deeply divided since Hamas took over Gaza in a week of bloody street fights, confining Abbas’ authority to the occupied West Bank and cleaving the Palestinians into hostile rival camps.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian was killed in the southern Gaza Strip early on Wednesday when a tunnel on the border between the Hamas-run enclave and Egypt collapsed, medics said. The man’s identity was not immediately released. Israeli jets bombed at least six targets around the tunnels late on Tuesday.

The impoverished territory of 1.5 million people has largely relied on the vast network of tunnels on the border since Israel and Egypt sealed Gaza off to all but vital aid after Hamas seized power in June 2007. More than 120 Palestinians have died in cave-ins or been killed by Israeli operations since the Hamas takeover, medics say.

In a related development, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy on Wednesday pledged Italy’s firm support for Israel, urging “effective sanctions” against its arch-foe Iran and speaking out against a damning UN report on the Gaza war.

He also called on Israel to halt the growth of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, calling it a “basic condition” for restarting peace talks with the Palestinians that were suspended more than a year ago.

In a speech before parliament, Berlusconi said Israel “is not only the biggest example of democracy and liberty in the Middle East, but the only example.” “Today the security of Israel... is for us Italians an ethical and moral imperative,” he said before a special session of the Knesset.

“Italy is proud of its many gestures of solidarity towards your country... such as our vote against the Goldstone report, which sought to criminalise Israel for responding to the rockets Hamas fired from Gaza,” he said, according to a written copy of his remarks.


Drone attack death toll reaches 31

Mushtaq Yusufzai

February 04, 2010

PESHAWAR: The death toll from Tuesday’s attacks by nine US drones in North Waziristan rose to 31 on Wednesday as 14 more bodies were retrieved from the houses hit in the missile strikes.

Official sources in Miramshah, the main town of North Waziristan, said seven among the victims were foreigners, but they did not provide details about their nationality. The victims did not include any senior local or foreign militant commander, the officials said.

Government officials as well as Taliban militants were astonished by un-attributed media reports that veteran Afghan mujahideen leader Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani was among those killed in the drone strikes.

“I don’t know who is feeding these television channels. They should at least double check when there is any sensitive issue,” said a government official based in Miramshah. The Taliban said they were surprised over the media reports that had declared Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani dead in the strikes. “Why a senior Taliban figure like Maulvi Sahib would stay in Dattakhel area where drones are flying round-the-clock. He is in good health but far away from here,” claimed a militant commander.

Officials said nine US drones had taken part in the biggest missile strikes so far in the Pakistani tribal areas. The spy planes had fired 18 missiles on four different mountainous locations of Dattakhel tehsil, which is considered a Taliban stronghold.

Dattakhel and its adjacent villages in North Waziristan experienced a number of missile strikes in the past couple of months in which dozens of militants as well as local people lost their lives and several others were maimed.

Government officials said most of the people who sustained serious injuries in Tuesday’s missile strikes died of their injuries because of the lack of timely medical care. Some of the villagers who attempted to reach the victims at Mohammad Khel village came under missile strikes and suffered heavy losses. It frightened the people, who were then reluctant to put their lives at risk and help the victims.

There were reports that the drones struck seven militant camps located in the mountains. Taliban confirmed that they had suffered human losses in the attacks but did not agree with media reports about the figures.

“They targeted only those places where we have installed anti-aircraft guns to fire at the spy planes,” a militant commander claimed, who wished not to be named. He said it seemed the US forces had lost patience after suffering huge losses in Afghanistan.

Tribal sources said raining a barrage of missiles in Dattakhel area had scared local villagers, particularly women and children. They complained the villagers spent a sleepless night after the strikes, which they said had shaken the entire mountainous town.

The rise in the number of US drone strikes could be an act of frustration and revenge by the US forces after Pakistan decided that no military offensive in North Waziristan would be launched. The military authorities had made it clear there could be no new military action for six months to one year.

The government and Taliban in North Waziristan had signed a peace accord, pledging not to fight each other. Another reason for the increased US drone strikes could be the suicide bombing at the CIA station in neighbouring Khost province of Afghanistan in which seven CIA agents were killed. The US military believes Pakistani and Afghan Taliban based in North Waziristan planned the attack.


Germany arrests 3 for recruiting extremists

04 Feb, 2010

BERLIN: Forty-three apartments alleged to be belonging to radical Islamists were raided in Germany on Wednesday and three people suspected of recruiting extremists to fight abroad were arrested, the German police said.

Prosecutors in the southern city of Stuttgart said some 300 police personnel had participated in the raids of the 43 premises in the German states of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia. They believe the suspects, aged 24 and 59, ran recruitment networks that sent over 100 Islamists to fight on foreign battlefields.

They have been accused of attempting to persuade people to attend a religious and a language school in Egypt where radicals are believed to recruit people for terrorist training camps. After the training, some returned to Germany while others moved elsewhere, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. They also said that several documents and computer hardware were also seized during the nationwide swoop. Germany has never been a victim of an attack by Islamist radicals, but the country, which has around 4,300 troops in Afghanistan and has therefore stepped up security during recent years. agencies\02\04\story_4-2-2010_pg7_4


NATO, US troops brace for battle in Helmand

03 Feb, 2010

CAMP LEATHERNECK (Afghanistan)—US troops and their Afghan and NATO allies are planning their biggest joint offensive since the start of the Afghan war, targeting a town in the volatile south that is believed to be the biggest Taliban stronghold and a hub of the militants’ lucrative opium trade, officers said Wednesday.

No date for the start of the offensive has been released due to security. But U.S. commanders have said they plan to capture the town of Marjah, 380 miles (610 kilometers) southwest of Kabul, this winter.

It will be the first major offensive since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and many of the Marines set to participate arrived as part of the surge.

Up to 125,000 people are believed to live in the district around Marjah, an agricultural center surrounded by a maze of irrigation canals built with American aid in the 1950s and 1960s. About 80,000 people live in or around the town itself.

Between 600 and 1,000 Taliban and foreign fighters are thought to operate in the area, U.S. officers say. NATO officials won’t say how many NATO and Afghan troops have been earmarked for the offensive, but they are expected to vastly outumber the Taliban and their allies.

In Kabul, NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay told reporters the operation will include at least 1,000 Afghan police, and thousands of Afghan soldiers as well as thousands of NATO troops. U.S. officers say the offensive will involve the highest number of Afghan forces in any joint operation to date.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi did not specifically mention Marjah, but told reporters in Kabul that a large operation is coming “in the near future” in Helmand. He said it will “separate the local people from the terrorists in the area.”

Fighting escalated in Helmand in 2006, and the sprawling southern province was transformed into one of the deadliest parts of the country for NATO forces.

Last spring, thousands of U.S. Marines arrived in the province to reinforce the British military. British and American forces launched twin operations to try to stabilize the area before the August presidential election, in which turnout in Helmand was extremely low.

U.S. officials have spoken publicly about plans to take Marjah in hopes that many civilians will leave the town, along with Taliban fighters who are not deeply committed to the insurgency.

Commanders believe support of the local population is crucial to establishing an Afghan administration as quickly as possible and to help NATO troops detect the numerous improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that they expect to face in Marjah.—Agencies


Why Iraq inquiry needs Robin Cook

By David Clark

04 Feb, 2010

IN one of the more unusual asides of the Iraq inquiry, the justice secretary, Jack Straw, suggested that Chilcot should “talk to Robin Cook about this”. Sadly, that won’t be possible. As Lord Turnbull, the former cabinet secretary, pointed out, Cook is not here to take the credit he deserves for having been “spot on” about Iraq.

More importantly, he isn’t available to tell the inquiry why he differed from colleagues who insisted that war was essential, by following the same intelligence to a different conclusion and why, unlike his colleague, Clare Short, the UK’s former international development secretary, he refused to be “conned”. Even so, Straw’s slip was understandable. So close was Cook’s association with the great issue of Iraq that he has often seemed to be present in spirit, if not in person, as the decisions that led Britain to war have been laid bare.

This is about more than nostalgia. Cook’s relevance to Chilcot is not primarily as the conscience of a government that erred. He is important because he represents the road not taken, the historical counterfactual, proof negative against the claim of Tony Blair’s director of communication, Alastair Campbell, that everyone who saw the evidence accepted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. By resigning from the cabinet he showed that it could have been different.

Although Cook cannot follow Short on to the witness stand, he wrote and said enough about the build-up to war to corroborate and expand on much of what she told the inquiry about how the government’s Iraq policy was formed. Cook’s diaries contain insights about the mindset of colleagues and the way they responded to events. They show for Blair the imperative was sticking close to Washington; for most of his colleagues it was about loyalty to him.

Cook was almost alone in exploring the case for war on its merits, and his willingness to resign because of it is the best argument against those who insist they were misled by faulty intelligence. On Feb 20, 2003 Cook received an hour-long private briefing from John Scarlett, in which he quizzed Britain’s senior intelligence official on what was really known about WMD.

This meeting confirmed his strong belief, expressed in his resignation speech to parliament a month later, that “Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term”. Cook understood that there was no sound basis for this claim. On the contrary, it was increasingly clear to him that new intelligence was, if anything, weakening the case for war. This is revealed most significantly in Cook’s diary entry for March 5, 2003 covering a private meeting with Tony Blair.

— The Guardian, London


Yemen forces seize Saada hideouts

04 Feb, 2010

DUBAI: Yemeni forces killed 16 rebels, including a number of their leaders, state media reported on Wednesday following Sanaa’s rejection of a cease-fire offer from the northern-based insurgents.

The rebels died in clashes in their stronghold of Saada.

Yemeni troops also re-opened a blocked highway in the northern provinces and seized a number of farms there that rebels were using as hideouts, the Defense Ministry’s online “September 26” newspaper said. Earlier this week Yemen rejected a truce offer from the rebels because they did not promise to end hostilities against neighboring Saudi Arabia. Riyadh, which last week declared a full victory over the infiltrators, was drawn into the conflict in November after they seized some Saudi territory.

“September 26” did not say when the clashes in Saada had taken place but reported that another rebel leader was wounded in the province of Dahyan on Saturday. The rebels say they have fully withdrawn from Saudi territory.

Yemen is also struggling with a secessionist movement in the south and is cracking down on a resurgent Al-Qaeda.

Western powers and Yemen’s neighbors fear the country’s instability could allow Al-Qaeda to strengthen its operations there and use it as a base for more international attacks.

The global militant group’s regional wing is based in Yemen and drew world attention when it claimed a failed bomb attack on a Detroit-bound plane in December.


Kashmir protests enter third day

Aijaz Hussain | AP

SRINAGAR: Government forces fired warning shots and tear gas Wednesday to quell a third day of angry protests in Indian-controlled Kashmir stemming from the death of a teenage boy hit in the head by a police tear gas shell.

Hundreds of protesters chanting pro-independence slogans gathered in at least four neighborhoods in Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar and hurled rocks at government forces, a police officer said on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.

Troops fired warning shots and tear gas to put down the protests, and at least 30 protesters and five troops were injured, he said.

One of the protesters, identified as 18-year-old Shabir Ahmed Khan, was hit by a tear gas shell on his head, the officer said.

Reyaz Ahmed, a doctor at a hospital in Srinagar, said Khan’s condition was critical.

On Sunday, 14-year-old Wamiq Farooq was struck on the head by a tear gas shell fired by police just after a protest against Indian rule ended. Police later said the officer who fired the tear gas had been suspended for “a callous and irresponsible action.” Since then, clashes between rock-throwing protesters and government forces have spread across the troubled region.

At least 93 protesters and 33 troops have been injured.

Shops and businesses in Srinagar were closed and public buses stayed off the roads for a second day Wednesday.

Protests and clashes also were reported in the towns of Shopian and Baramulla.

Kashmir, which is predominantly Muslim, is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the Himalayan region, where more than a dozen rebel groups have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with neighboring Pakistan since 1989.

More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the uprising and the subsequent Indian crackdown.


Gaza atrocities

04 Feb, 2010

Shells containing phosphorus, which when exposed to air burns through anything with which it comes into contact, are OK in international law provided that they are not fired at civilians. During its bombardment of the Gaza ghetto, Israel repeatedly denied that it had used shells containing this horrific chemical. In the wake of the incontrovertible UN findings that phosphorus shells were deployed against Gaza’s heavily built up areas, the Israelis changed their tune.

As a result of a military inquiry, two top Israeli commanders have been disciplined for ordering the shells be fired, repeatedly. Israeli government spokesmen around the world have been pointing to this apparently laudable display of Israel always being prepared to do what is right, as would any other civilized society. There was, however, no analysis of why, during the bombardment, these same spokesmen were vowing for weeks that despite all the evidence, phosphorous shells were not being used against Palestinian civilians. Nor for that matter has there been any explanation of what these cruel munitions were doing in the ammunition stores of units that knew they were going to be attacking heavy concentrations of civilians. As usual, with practiced aplomb, the Israel propaganda machine has turned face about on a dime. Indeed, it is almost as if the Netanyahu administration is claiming credit and congratulation for finally admitting the truth about the shelling, as if this cancels out the original crime and indeed somehow vindicates the Israelis for the whole barbarous and shameful Gaza assault.

However, days after this latest attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of international opinion, the Israelis have reverted to form. Police officers have been cleared of shooting a pro-Palestinian activist in the West Bank last year. American Tristan Anderson suffered crippling brain injuries when he was shot in the face as he left a demonstration at Naalin protesting the illegal barrier. The policemen walked free because the court decided that they “ had no criminal intent”.

This is an interesting legal take. All around the world people are regularly convicted of manslaughter, for killing someone when they did not intend to.

Yet Israeli policemen do not, it seems, fall within such a law. They can shoot and kill Palestinians and foreign supporters at will, perhaps because at bottom the Israeli authorities do not consider it “criminal” to “intend” to harm or slay an unarmed protester.

Demonstrators are a nuisance. They make a loud noise and generate footage of the latest Israeli aggression and encroachments. Moreover, sometimes they threaten the power of the Israeli state with the deadly rocks they claw from the ground and hurl at soldiers cocooned in US-supplied body armor. What the poor Israeli security forces can do except shoot and shell these Palestinians and their foreign friends with such deadly effect?

Yet while the military power rests with the Israelis, the moral power remains firmly among the Palestinians. When Israeli policemen are acquitted after gunning down foreigners, maybe the outside world will now understand the great injustices that are visited daily upon inhabitants of the occupied territories.


Israelis arrest 12 Palestinians in West Bank

Mohammed Mar’i

04 Feb, 2010

 RAMALLAH: Israeli forces operating in West Bank cities on early Wednesday arrested 12 Palestinians, Israeli and Palestinian security sources said.

The Palestinian sources said that the 12 were arrested in Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin and Hebron. The sources said the Israeli soldiers searched their houses before the arrests.

Israeli security sources told the Army Radio the detainees were taken to unknown locations for questioning by the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet.

The latest arrest campaign came a day after a Hamas official said that the negotiations between his movement and Israel on the swap of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit with Palestinian prisoners have collapsed due to policies set by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“As regarding negotiations, as of now the process has failed. The main cause, well known to everybody, well known to the mediator, is that after the interference of the political element, after the appearance of Netanyahu personally, there was a big regression and retraction,” Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a Gaza-based Hamas leader, told the BBC.



‘From Paris with Love’ Delivers Humor, Action and…Muslim Bad Guys?

by Carl Kozlowski

Sure, you’ve seen it all before: an inexperienced nebbish who’s never experienced a moment of real danger in his life suddenly finds himself thrust into one life-threatening situation after another after meeting a crazed, adrenaline-junkie cop or spy. The two proceed to bicker and banter across a city or around the planet for the next two hours, offering viewers laughs and thrills without reinventing the wheel.


Bruce Willis has starred in a million of these. The “Lethal Weapon” series wasn’t too different from the concept. But no matter how many times you’ve seen this story done before, there’s hardly a genre more entertaining than an action-comedy taking place amid exotic locales – and the new film “From Paris with Love,” starring John Travolta as a bad-ass CIA assassin named Johnnie Wax who’s forced to team up with a mild-mannered embassy employee played by British actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, is one action extravaganza that definitely delivers.

“Paris” kicks things off nicely by showing the dual life experienced by James Reese (Meyers), who spends his days as a personal aide to the U.S. Ambassador in France, an existence in which he’s mostly planning travel logistics and handling paperwork for his boss. By night, or whenever the CIA decides to call him secretly, he is a low-level operative for the spy agency – until he abruptly gets the call one day to team up with Wax to block an assassination attempt on an American official attending a Parisian conference.

Soon he’s racing through 48 hours of mayhem across Paris in an effort to prevent the killing by Arab terrorists attached to a crime ring. In another genre tradition, he quickly learns that he can’t trust anyone in his normal life to truly be on his side.

But what makes all this a real blast to enjoy is the fact that “Paris” is done so well, with some of the best hands in the business running the show. French action master Luc Besson (“The Transporter” series, “Diva,” “The Professional” and countless other hits) wrote the story and Pierre Morel directs with the pedal-to-the-metal, high-speed ferocity of his prior film, “Taken,” which was a worldwide smash at this time last year.

In both “Taken” and “Paris,” Morel’s choice of villains is refreshingly straightforward. Even as most Hollywood action films in the Age of Terror ridiculously posit any group of humanity other than Muslim radicals – even bringing back ex-Soviets! – as the prime threat afflicting their heroes, both “Taken” and “Paris” matter-of-factly address the fact that there’s plenty of Middle Eastern baddies to go around too. Viewers responded viscerally to “Taken,” knowing that there was an underlying authenticity beneath the surface menace – by no means are Muslims expected to be the villain in every movie, but on the other hand, don’t be so ridiculous as to rule them out either.

“From Paris with Love” has a few jolting surprises, but mostly its buoyant spirit comes from the other end of the human emotional spectrum: not from dark menace but rather the sheer kinetic thrill of finding another challenge or double-cross waiting around every corner. Its two leads bring zest to what might have been tired roles, with Travolta sinking his teeth into the material and eating it with relish, a constant swagger, hilarious line and ever-bigger weapon at his perpetual disposal.

Rhys-Meyers is a little more mellow, humane and relatable, filling the role of the guy the audience will relate to as he goes from everyman to virtual superhero. Following higher-pedigree roles in projects like Woody Allen’s “Match Point” and Showtime’s royalty drama series “The Tudors,” he clearly has fun cutting loose.

It’s a feeling audiences will share, and hopefully will result in further adventures for Johnnie Wax and his protégé.


Arrested Evangelists in Tanzania Say Muslims Colluded with Police

04 February 2010

Two Christian evangelists in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, have been arrested after Muslims invited them to debate religion but instead called in security agents who charged the evangelists with illegal preaching.

Anglican evangelists Eleutery Kobelo and Cecil Simbaulanga, released on bail and facing a hearing on Feb. 11, told Compass that Christian and Muslim groups organized the inter-faith debate that was planned for a neutral venue in October of last year in the Kariakoo area of Dar es Salaam.

Kobelo said no Muslims showed up at the debate until Islamists arrived with government security agents who charged them with "using religious sermons to incite Muslims and Christians into viewing each other with suspicion."

"This continuous intimidation by the Muslims using the police is worrying us," he said.

Kobelo and Simbaulanga were in jail for seven days before they were released on bail on Oct. 27. At press time charges of unlawful assembly had been brought against the two evangelists and seven other Christians, but it was not clear if the original charges of inciting religious suspicions were still in place.

Also arrested and released last October were Christians Joseph Lima, Shadrack Mwasonya, Festo Mumba, Erastus Mwarabu, Joseph Mmari, John Chacha, and Daniel Mwakemwa.

 Kobelo said he does not foresee a fair hearing on Feb. 11, but that he cannot afford a lawyer.

 "Without legal representation, it's a long shot for justice to be done in this matter," he said. "It is very difficult for me to raise 500,000 Tanzanian shillings [US$365] at the moment."

Kobelo said he was seriously concerned about the charge of illegal assembly, which he said contradicted their rights as citizens; Tanzania's constitution allows for freedom of religion and assembly.

Several other cases against Christians remain before local courts in Tanzania, he said, some of which have dragged on since 2007. His case will be tried in a court in the Kariakoo area of Dar es Salaam.

"The message we are putting across is that we need prayer and advocacy for the sake of our lives," Kobelo said.

Simbaulanga told Compass that Muslims have resorted to using state police to harass Christians because they have political power. Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete is a Muslim.

"We have had tremendous success in our ministry to Muslims, with thousands of Muslims turning to Christ," Simbaulanga said. "So Muslims are trying to stop the movement, but nobody can stop the gospel."

Simbaulanga was imprisoned for 62 days between December 2006 and February 2007 in Kigoma, he said. Denied bail, he was accused of trying to convert Muslims to Christ and "abusing Islam" by saying Muhammad had married a young girl. Several cases are pending against him in different courts, he said, and Muslims are constantly searching for him.

"Since 1996 I have always been on the run, trying to save my life," Simbaulanga said.

He added that a family member who preached mainly among Muslims died in prison in 2005 due to a heart attack as a direct result of police harassment.

"There is a huge team of very sincere and committed Christians reaching out to Muslims in Tanzania, and we need lots of prayer, fellowship and financial support," he said.

An estimated 62 percent of Tanzania's population is Christian and 35 percent is Muslim, mostly Sunni; other religious groups make up the other 3 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Police in the Tanzanian capital of Dodoma stopped two Christian evangelists from reading excerpts from the Quran in an outdoor event on March 18, 2009, according to the state department's 2009 International Religious Freedom Report.  Officers temporarily detained them and released them with a warning not to read the Quran during sermons to avoid antagonizing the Muslim community.

URL of this page: