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Islamic World News ( 18 Oct 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan launches major anti-Taliban assault

Indian Muslim clerics to take on Taliban in conclave

VARANASI: Muslim girls perform aarti

Hindus and Muslims join hands to renovate a temple in Kashmir

Eyewitness: At the edge of war

Pakistanis reflect on army offensive

Pakistanis reflect on army offensive

Profile: Hakimullah Mehsud

Now or never for Waziristan push?

Karzai 'faces West poll pressure'

Election: Main fraud allegations

Somali rebels say bra un-Islamic, whip women

Is Pakistan losing war against Taliban?

Pakistan says militants threaten sovereignty of nation

‘Israelis under concrete threat of terror in India’

Homegrown terror cell guilty of plot against Australia

London denies UK Muslim spy charge

More Thais in radical muslim schools

7 Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh men on fresh remand

Houston: Man apologizes for vandalism at mosque

Obama Drops Plan to Isolate Sudan Leaders

Pakistan Moves Troops Into Taliban Stronghold

9 killed, 30 wounded Iraq mosque attack

Pakistani forces drive into Taliban stronghold

Envoy: Iraq elections won't affect U.S. withdrawal

Pakistan Attacks Show Tighter Militant Links

Withering state a big worry for India

Taliban's political ace: A letter to Shanghai group

'Afghan mess has spilled over to Pak'

Terror siege in Lahore went on for over 2 hours

The real peace prize will be elusive

Iranian Journalists Flee, Fearing Retribution for Covering Protests

Growing violence against Christians in Nepal ‘must be tackled’

Open houses aim to dispel Muslim stereotypes

Iraq was hard, Afghanistan is harder, says Obama

LAHORE (Pak) - Terrorism to be uprooted,

Wilders visits Britain but won’t show anti-Islam film

Madinah tourism hit hard by swine flu

Study of Muslim population full of revelations

Survey: Egyptians Want More Democracy

FACTBOX - Five facts about Indonesia's Hatta Rajasa

Iranian MPs to Study Malaysia's Legislative, Judiciary Systems

UNHRC endorses Gaza war crimes report

Israel’s Reckoning

Being Muslims on their terms:

Director Omar Majeed took on Taqwacore –

a fusion of Islam and hardcore punk - and ran with it,

all the way to a hit movie

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Pakistan launches Taliban assault


Fierce fighting has broken out as Pakistan's army launched an air and ground offensive against Taliban militants in the South Waziristan area.

Officials said 30,000 troops, backed by artillery, had moved into the region where Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is based.

Militants were reported to be offering stiff resistance as troops advanced from the north, east, and west.

A curfew was imposed in the region before the offensive began.

There have been several co-ordinated Taliban attacks in recent days, killing more than 150 people in cities across Pakistan.

Pakistan's top army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas confirmed that a fully-fledged assault had begun and said that an offensive could last up to two months.

"The objective is to clear this terrorist organisation from the area, who has taken over the area, turned these state institutions, organisations out and has taken the entire population hostage," he told the BBC.

He added that intense fighting was expected during the course of the operation.

Dozens of casualties have already been reported by local officials as both sides used heavy weapons.

The bodies of three Pakistan soldiers were taken to the northern town of Razmak. There have also been unconfirmed reports of militant deaths.

Nearly all communications in the region were down after the Taliban destroyed a telecommunications tower at Tiarza, local officials said.

Reports from the area are sketchy as it is difficult and dangerous for foreign or Pakistani journalists to operate inside South Waziristan.

Air attack

Aerial bombardments in the the Makeen area, a stronghold of the Mehsud tribe and a key army target, were also reported by local officials and witnesses.

One resident of Makeen town described the onset of fighting.

"We heard the sounds of planes and helicopters early Saturday. Then we heard blasts. We are also hearing gunshots and it seems the army is exchanging fire with Taliban," Ajmal Khan told the Associated Press news agency by telephone.

The ground operation comes after weeks of air and artillery strikes against militant targets in the region, which lies close to the Afghan border.

Thousands of civilians have fled South Waziristan in anticipation of the offensive.

Aid agencies say that many more are expected to flee but the tough terrain and the Taliban's grip on the area will present difficulties.

Transport has been difficult as roads have been blocked by the military.

There is a huge army presence on the road between Tank and Dera Ismail Khan, says the BBC's Islamabad correspondent Shoaib Hasan, near South Waziristan.

On his way to South Waziristan, he passed several army convoys on the road.

There has been no comment from the Pakistan military yet.

The mobilisation came a day after Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani held a meeting of the country's senior political and military leadership.

Lengthy planning

Recent militant attacks were seen as an attempt to divide public opinion, but they appear to have strengthened the resolve of the government, which says the Taliban must now be eliminated, our correspondent added.

The army has been massing troops near the militants' stronghold for months - ever since the governor of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province announced a ground offensive in South Waziristan on 15 June.

Pakistan's government has been under considerable pressure from the US to tackle militancy there.

North and South Waziristan form a lethal militant belt from where insurgents have launched attacks across north-west Pakistan as well as into parts of eastern Afghanistan.

South Waziristan is considered to be the first significant sanctuary for Islamic militants outside Afghanistan since 9/11.

It also has numerous training camps for suicide bombers.

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Muslim clerics to take on Taliban in conclave

Mohammed Wajihuddin, 17 October 2009

MUMBAI: Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud's pronouncement that he will turn to India once "goals'' in Pakistan are achieved has outraged leading

clerics and Muslim leaders in India. Jamiatul Ulema-e-Hind, a body of religious leaders, is convening a three-day conclave in Deoband in the first week of November where Taliban's ideology of sanctioning suicide bombing will be roundly denounced.

Disturbed at Mehsud's provocative statement, the Jamiatul Ulema-e-Hind is gearing up for an ideological fight with the so-called jihadis. "The Taliban, who sanction suicide bombings, are enemies of Islam. Committing suicide is haram (prohibited) in Islam and suicide bombers will go straight to jahanum (hell),'' said Maulana Hameed Noamani, Jamiatul Ulema's spokesperson.

A series of suicide bombings over the past few days have convulsed Pakistan. The Taliban have brainwashed a band of volunteers who are ready to blow themselves up. This growing tendency of killing themselves and others has distressed the Indian ulema too.

"This cannot be called a war in the name of Islam. Even during a legitimate jihad, which is fought not by a rag-tag army of some misguided men but by state against the identified aggressors, Islam has set certain principles-in jihad you cannot harm the old, the sick, women and children. You cannot attack places of worship. But the terrorists kill people indiscriminately. They are earning Allah's severest punishment,'' said senior cleric Maulana Abu Hassan Nadvi.

Maulana Mehmood Daryabadi of All India Ulema Council said imams in mosques would be asked to denounce suicide bombings in their Friday sermons. "Many imams already do it, but we will make fresh appeals to the imams to mention the dangerous mentality in their weekly sermons,'' said Maulana Daryabadi.

Burhanuddin Qasmi, who heads Markazul Maarif, a socio-cultural institution, said ,"The future is bright for Muslim youth in India. They should grab the opportunities and be assets to the country. God can't be pleased by those who organise mass murder.''

AIUDF meets guv over terror

Mumbai: "It is now the matter of India's security and sovereignty,'' said the president of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Tarun Rathi, while condemning the acquittal of the alleged mastermind of 26/11 attacks, Hafiz Saeed, by a Pakistani court. The group, which submitted a three-page memorandum to governor S C Jamir, also discussed the threat India faces at present from countries like China and Pakistan, and demanded diplomatic pressure from our government against both countries.

"Terrorists use the Muslim community as a shield to hide their identity. We bear the brunt of hatred from the society then. It has come to a point where we have to prove our love for the country. And so we will,'' said one of the members on the panel.



VARANASI: Muslim girls perform aarti

16 October 2009

VARANASI: Giving an example of communal harmony, Muslim girls performed aarti of Lord Rama and celebrated Diwali at Vishal Bharat Sansthan in Lallapura area on Friday.

Nanzneen Ansari, who also translated the Hindu scripture Hanuman Chalisa in Urdu, along with her colleagues and friends, performed the aarti. There should be no religious dispute in the name of Rama, the ideal and icon of Indian culture, she said.

Another Muslim girl Nazma Parveen said Diwali was the symbol of victory of good over the evil and every Indian should celebrate the festival. VBS president Rajiv Srivastava said the name of Rama was a mantra to connect the society. The function was also attended by Shabana, Afreen, Sayra Bano, Sarfunnisha and many others.



Hindus and Muslims join hands to renovate a temple in Kashmir

October 16, 2009

Srinagar, Oct.16 (ANI): A group of Kashmiri Hindus and local Muslims have set an example of brotherhood and communal harmony by coming together to renovate an abandoned temple in Srinagar city.

Shiv Ji Temple Welfare Committee (STWC) has taken the initiative to ensure renovation of the abandoned Bod Mandir (big temple) in Rainawari area with the help and support of local Muslim residents.

The renovation work commenced a month ago and the local Muslims are engaged in the renovation of the temple’s two rooms and bathroom in the first phase.

Various drawing or paintings of Lord Shiva in the temple looked ruined, as the cement of some of the walls had come off due to the temple remaining abandoned for a long time.

According to some people, militant had burnt down the temple in the early 90s after the majority of Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave the Kashmir valley.

The local Muslim residents are enthusiastic to contribute towards the renovation of the temple and hope that the same old traditions of communal harmony will return to the area as soon as the temple is reopened for the devotees.

Full report at:


Eyewitness: At the edge of war

By Syed Shoaib Hasan

BBC News, Dera Ismail Khan, South Waziristan border

  Fleeing civilians have made the town of Dera Ismail Khan their destination

For Pakistan's much-maligned security forces, this offensive in South Waziristan is a chance to prove to the world how committed they are in the battle against militancy.

"There are bombs going off everywhere - you must tell the world what is happening," Sher Gul, a terrified resident of Tiarza in South Waziristan told the BBC after arriving in Dera Ismail Khan.

"My house was destroyed and many people in my village have been killed."

The fighting in Tiarza is part of the Pakistan army's operation in South Waziristan.

It has been called the most significant battle against militancy in the region.

It is also the end of a long wait for the rest of the world - and especially the United States. The authorities there waited with bated breath as Pakistan's leadership took its time to make up its mind on the issue.

But things probably came to a head with the recent string of deadly attacks which have rocked the country in recent weeks.

These seem to have galvanised the leadership and forced the issue.

Escape routes blocked

Early signs were clear as we arrived in Dera Ismail Khan on Friday. All mobile phone networks within the district were blocked.            

  We are caught between the government and the Taliban. We have lost everything and are stuck here till the fighting ends

Mohammad Roshan, South Waziristan resident

We later learned that networks had also been blocked in Bannu and the Lakki Marwat districts, both near the Waziristan region.

These are likely routes by which civilians who live in South Waziristan would attempt to leave the region but it could also be an escape route for militants.

We saw army convoys moving from the city of Dera Ismail Khan to Tank.

The town is known as the gateway to South Waziristan and has long been the launching pad of any military adventure in that region.

Reports started coming in early on Saturday that thousands of troops had started moving towards the Taliban-controlled tribal belt from three directions.

This was evident while we were travelling on the road.

Several military convoys carrying troops and ammunition were shepherded in the direction of South Waziristan by security details.

The going was slow. Civilian vehicles are not allowed to pass a military convoy here because of fears of suicide car bombs.

There have been several such attacks on this road and we therefore chose to keep our distance.

There were also checkpoints where we had to stop for passing convoys or to prove our identity.

 Pakistan has been on alert after a wave of bombings hit cities last week

Grim-faced soldiers manned them warily regarding every vehicle as if it were a ticking bomb.

As a result, instead of the half-hour drive, it took us two frustrating hours to reach the border of South Waziristan.

During this time, we also passed several vehicles laden with refugees and their families heading towards Dera Ismail Khan.

People hung off vehicles, clinging to whatever part of it they could hold on to to get a ride into town.

Usually bustling with activity in the afternoon, there was a distinct air of tension as we drove through the main market.

Troops were omnipresent and traffic in the town was thin.

Civilian exodus

We headed in the general direction of the Frontier Corps compound in Tank, right at the edge of town.

            The terrain will play a great factor and the militants have always used it to their advantage

Local administration official, Dera Ismail Khan

Just past it is a dilapidated security checkpoint on a road heading west.

This is the start of South Waziristan, and the road heads to Jandola, the region's first major town.

It is from this point that most of the civilian population of South Waziristan left the region.

We hoped to find some more weary souls trudging in from the war zone but discovered that the route had been shut down by the military.

Before we left the town, local administration officials told us that the fighting was centred in Tiarza, Makeen and Spinkai Raghzai.

According to them, there have been dozens of casualties on both sides as the militants put up fierce resistance.

"The terrain will play a great factor and the militants have always used it to their advantage," says one official.

"For the ground troops it will be tough going as the cold wave sweeps in."

In Dera Ismail Khan, though, we found the real casualties of war lining up to register their newly-displaced status.


Pakistan army: Two divisions totalling 28,000 soldiers

Frontier Corp: Paramilitary forces from tribal areas likely to support army

Taliban militants: Estimated between 10,000 and 20,000

Uzbek fighters supporting Taliban: Estimates widely vary between 500-5,000

 Challenges in Waziristan

"We are caught between the government and the Taliban," says Mohammad Roshan, a South Waziristan resident.

"We have lost everything and are stuck here till the fighting ends."

For Pakistan's government, this is the real test.

The militants know that the state cannot afford a prolonged operation.

As winter approaches, the government needs a rapid conclusion to this campaign.

Anything else could have lasting consequences for the future of militancy in the region.

For the security forces this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to finally bury the militant threat which has returned to haunt them.


Pakistanis reflect on army offensive

Pakistan's army has launched an air and ground offensive against Taliban militants in the South Waziristan area.

Here Pakistanis reflect on the offensive and the mood in the country following a string of attacks by militants.


 Atif says people in Peshawar are stressed and scared

We welcome the action by the army because we want peace and stability.

It must successful at any cost. And by the grace of God, it will be. If the army is not 100% successful then there will be no future for the country.

Of course the offensive will affect the ordinary people in Waziristan. The earlier operation in Swat led to a huge displacement of people. But this is a price that has to be paid to defeat the militants.

People are stressed and scared in Peshawar because of the attacks. The bomb attack that struck at the end of September was right outside my office. That was a horrific incident that left body-parts and debris strewn over a wide area.

Some people won't let their children out. But people have to get on with their lives, they have to go to work or college even though they fear what might happen.

I've just heard gunshots outside my house. This is routine now.

Despite all of this, people are hopeful. We believe in the power and brilliance of our military. We trust the military more than the government.


The people behind the suicide attacks can't be allowed to get away with them. They are in Pakistani territory and are disturbing our everyday life so the government has every right to intervene. It should have done so a long time ago.

            The army offensive is necessary but the most important issue for Pakistan is economic development

Pakistanis do not know where this country is heading. They do not have high hopes for the future.

Not many people support the present government or its leader. Asif Ali Zardari's approval ratings are low - some surveys indicate it is less than 19%.

Despite this, he is getting support from the US government. This is not something that most Pakistanis are happy about.

You have to ask why people are drawn to the radical element.

Many parts of the country have power cuts for more than 10 hours a day. The economic situation is very poor. Education is only available for those who can afford it. There is no proper healthcare in rural areas.

The army offensive in Waziristan is necessary, but the most important issue for Pakistan is economic development.

It is vital that the economic aid reaches the people rather than being squandered. The most important things that will safeguard our future are economic improvement, better education and a reformed justice system.


 Basma says the militants are tarnishing Pakistan's image

I support the army action - something must be done to stop the militants.

The lack of security is affecting all of us in Lahore. When people leave their homes in the morning they fear for their lives.

There are so many security forces here in Lahore that I actually feel more unsafe now. It makes me think there will be another attack soon.

Everyday I have my ID checked or my car stopped. I see police and armed security forces everywhere.

It is sad that the image of Pakistan has become so tarnished by the terrorists. They are distorting the image of our country and of Islam.

The militants recruit young and innocent people who do not have exposure to the cities or the outside world. But most people in this country just want peace. We are sick and tired of the attacks.

I hope that actions will speak louder than words, and people will see that the army is doing all it can do to crush these militants. I hope the world will see that it is the Pakistani people who are the most threatened by these terrorists.

We have to be hopeful that things will get better in Pakistan. What else can we do? But nobody knows what will happen in the future.


I believe the army is doing its best to destroy the militants in the country. They have already done a commendable job in Swat and continue to do so despite sustaining very heavy casualties.

            The real problem began across the border in Afghanistan

Most Pakistanis support the operation. But it is difficult to say how successful they will be as history shows it is difficult to defeat such forces in this area.

So-called experts have blamed Pakistan for the current turmoil in the region.

I would say the real problem began across the border in Afghanistan. The Russian invasion of the country led to Americans flooding the area with money and weapons and inviting the Islamic Mujahideen to fight there.

The current problem in Pakistan is a result of the war in Afghanistan being pushed over the border into our country.

Most people here are cool-headed and friendly. They are focused on their everyday lives - they do not think about joining the militants.

I hope the current offensive will uproot the militants and lead to fewer attacks on our cities.

But the real way to resolve the problem is to negotiate with the local tribal elders and religious leaders. These people have controlled the area successfully with minimal outside intervention for many years. This is also the way to resolve the problem in Afghanistan.


Pakistanis reflect on army offensive

Q&A: Pakistan's Waziristan challenge

Pakistan's army is reported to have begun a ground offensive in the volatile tribal region of South Waziristan. The army has been massing troops near the militants' stronghold for months. But what lies in wait for the army as it finally takes on the Taliban on their home terrain?

Where is Waziristan and what is it like?

Waziristan is a mountainous region in north-west Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan.

It is part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), a semi-autonomous region where the central government exercises limited control through a political agent.

For administrative purposes it is divided into two "agencies" - North Waziristan and South Waziristan.

Winters are harsh, making large tracts of the already inhospitable terrain almost inaccessible.

The tribal society found in North and South Waziristan is extremely socially conservative with a fierce reputation as "warriors".

North Waziristan is dominated by the Wazir tribe. This tribe also extends into South Waziristan and makes up one-third of its population. The remaining two-thirds of South Waziristan's population are Mehsuds.

Why is Waziristan a target?

South Waziristan and the surrounding region have been described by US officials as "the most dangerous place on earth".


Profile: Hakimullah Mehsud

Obituary: Baitullah Mehsud

Many analysts believe the area could harbour some of the world's most wanted men - including al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

It was the home of former Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a suspected US drone strike in August 2009. It is also home to his successor, the current Pakistani Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud.

North and South Waziristan form a lethal militant belt from where insurgents have launched attacks across north-west Pakistan as well as into parts of eastern Afghanistan.

South Waziristan is considered to be the first significant sanctuary for Islamic militants outside Afghanistan since 9/11. It also has numerous training camps for suicide bombers.

Pakistan's government is under considerable pressure from the US to tackle militancy there.

Analysts also say dislodging al-Qaeda-linked Uzbek and Arab militants in the area is an important goal.

What has happened so far?

The Pakistani army has maintained a brigade headquarters in the Wana region of South Waziristan since 2004.

But since May 2009 troops have been massing in large numbers in the semi-tribal areas on the periphery of Waziristan.

In the past few months the Pakistani army, working with local paramilitary forces such as the Frontier Corps, has launched some artillery and air strikes against Taliban militants.


2 October: Reports that Tahir Yuldashev, Uzbek militant chief was killed in August drone attack

29 September: Irfan Shamankhel, close to Taliban leader, killed in drone strike

28 September: Kalimullah Mehsud, Taliban leader's Hakimullah's brother, killed in clash in South Waziristan

15 September: Top militant Ilyas Kashmiri killed by missile in N Waziristan

6 August: Baitullah Mehsud, Taliban leader killed in suspected US drone strike in S Waziristan

 Now or never for Waziristan push?

'Feared' Uzbek militant

But until now the army has said it wanted to surround the militants and use air power and artillery to ''soften them up".

This is in contrast to its recent campaign in the Swat valley where it suddenly began a three-month ground offensive in the summer of 2009 and largely succeeded in driving out Taliban fighters entrenched there.

People have been fleeing the Waziristan area for some months in anticipation of fighting.

The US has also been involved in attacks on militants in Waziristan, where suspected drone strikes have killed a number of senior Taliban militants in the region in recent months.

It was one such missile attack which killed Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud at a family compound in South Waziristan.

What are the challenges of operating in South Waziristan?

The harsh mountainous terrain is often cited as a major challenge for the army. The gullies, ravines and high mountain trails make arduous going and provide many hiding places for militants.

Knowledge of the terrain is vital - and in this respect the militants have the advantage.

However, the BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that the terrain in the Swat valley, where the army took the battle to the Taliban, was more difficult than that found in South Waziristan because it is more densely forested.

The Malakand division which includes the Swat valley is also a larger area than that in which any Waziristan offensive is likely to take place.

Weather will play a role. Snow is likely to blanket parts of the region from early December - particularly the Makeen area which is a Mehsud stronghold.

This is likely to pose a problem for militants and troops alike. However, the cold has not prevented the army from launching operations in South Waziristan in the past.

What might be a deciding factor is the militarised psyche of society in Waziristan. The Wazir and Mehsud tribes are often described by analysts as "born soldiers" willing to fight to the death.


 1. Cobra helicopter gunship

2. Artillery guns

3. Light pick-up troop transporter

4. Infantry armed with assault rifle

5. Tanks are also available but will not be used extensively

6. F-16 fighter jet

What is the manpower of the army versus the Taliban?


 1. Main weapon: AK-47 assault rifle

2. Improvised explosive devices can be deadly

3. Toyota Hi Lux pick-up light transport. Here Taliban guerrillas are armed with RPGs

There are two divisions - or about 30,000 soldiers - of Pakistan's army already deployed on the edge of Waziristan. In addition the Frontier Corps - the paramilitary force made up of recruits from tribal areas - is likely to support army operations.

The number of militants is far harder to estimate. An army spokesman recently estimated their strength at between 10,000 and 20,000 fighters.

In South Waziristan Hakimullah Mehsud heads what is thought to be the largest militant force with an estimated strength of more than 15,000 armed men - although the "hard core" of his fighters is much smaller.

The western stretch bordering Afghanistan is the territory of the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe. The current operation is likely to be confined to the Mehsud area.

Analysts say estimates for the number of Uzbek fighters in South Wazirstan varies from 500-5,000.

What tactics are being deployed?

The army has said it has sent its troops and artillery into the region from the north, east and west.

The army appears to be heading towards the Mehsud stronghold of Makeen.

If the military goes in with full force, the militants are likely to disperse rather than attempt to hold territory, analysts say.

But so far they have been reported to be putting up resistance. Militants have also destroyed a vital telecommunications tower.

Analysts say the militants will almost certainly engage in guerrilla warfare. With their knowledge of the terrain they are likely to launch ambushes as has been the case in previous assaults.

Reports say the militants are already using tunnel networks and booby traps.

But a lot depends on the tactics the army deploys from now on. Previously, the military has not had a clear strategy when venturing into Waziristan.

It remains to be seen if that is the case this time round.

The army would have to hold the roads and the main towns. Currently the Mehsud-dominated centres of Ladha, Makeen and Sararogha are virtual no-go areas.

A primary military target would be to take control of the heights and put up outposts.

And they are likely to continue their policy of going after mid- and high-ranking Taliban commanders.

What has happened in past encounters?

Waziristan has a long tradition of resisting outside interference.

From the 1860s onwards, the colonial British forces made gruelling expeditions into the area following audacious attacks from Waziristan tribesmen in British-ruled territory.

More than a century later, it is no easier for the Pakistani army.

In 2004 the Pakistani army suffered heavily at the hands of Wazir-affiliated militants.

There is a possibility that a military offensive against the Mehsud group in South Waziristan could draw into the conflict militant groups based in the Wazir tribal areas of South and North Waziristan.

These groups are currently part of an al-Qaeda-affiliated network who have so far concentrated on fighting inside Afghanistan. They have "peace agreements" with the Pakistani army.



Karzai 'faces West poll pressure'

 President Hamid Karzai may hear he is being stripped of some of his votes

There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity in the Afghan capital ahead of the announcement of the results of the presidential poll, the BBC has learned.

Senior sources say top international figures have been working to persuade President Hamid Karzai that he may have to face a second round of voting.

A fraud investigation is expected to bring Mr Karzai's vote tally below the 50% needed to avoid a run-off.

Officials say Mr Karzai is furious over the prospect of facing a second round.

The fraud allegations which have surfaced in the two months since the 20 August poll have generated huge political uncertainty, reports the BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul.

It comes at a time when Washington is debating whether to send more troops.

Fraud findings

Mr Karzai was initially awarded 55% of votes in the poll, with his nearest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, getting 28%.


13 Oct: Karzai casts doubt on fair functioning of ECC, but his opponents accuse him of manufacturing his concerns

30 Sep: UN recalls envoy Peter Galbraith following row over the vote recount process

15 Sep: ECC chief says 10% of votes need to be recounted

8 Sep: IEC says votes from 600 polling stations "quarantined"

3 Sep: Claims 30,000 fraudulent votes cast for Karzai in Kandahar

30 Aug: 2,000 fraud allegations are probed; 600 deemed serious

20 Aug: Election day and claims 80,000 ballots were filled out fraudulently for Karzai in Ghazni

18 Aug: Ballot cards sold openly and voter bribes offered

 Election: Main fraud allegations

But the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) is due to report its findings into fraud allegations this weekend.

It will report to the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which could adjust the final tally based on the report - bringing Mr Karzai's vote total below 50%, and triggering a run-off.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown telephoned the candidates on Friday.

Senior sources told our correspondent they had urged Mr Karzai to accept the findings of the ECC's fraud investigations.

The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and US Senator John Kerry - chair of the US Senate's foreign relations committee - are also in Kabul meeting Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah.

Karzai 'fury'

Mrs Clinton told CNN: "It is likely that they will find that President Karzai got very close to the 50-plus-1" (50% of votes, plus one vote) threshold for a second round of voting.

She added: "I think one can conclude that the likelihood of him winning a second round is probably pretty high."

But officials told our correspondent that Mr Karzai is furious at the turn of events, and is threatening to delay - or even block - attempts to hold a second round.

His position appears to have been strengthened by the IEC. Its spokesman said that not all the findings of the investigation may be implemented - despite the fact that the IEC is constitutionally bound to obey the orders of the ECC.

Their reported confrontation may delay the official announcement of results - providing a breathing space for the frenzied diplomatic efforts, unnamed diplomats have told news agencies.

Strategy review

A run-off between Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah would be due within two weeks, although security concerns and winter snows could hamper efforts.

The US is reviewing its strategy in Afghanistan.

Three American soldiers were killed in bomb attacks in the country as Nato-led forces fought Taliban militants.

Two of them died in eastern Afghanistan on Friday and one in southern Afghanistan, officials said.


Somali rebels say bra un-Islamic, whip women

17 October 2009

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s hardline Islamist group al Shabaab has publicly whipped women for wearing bras they say violate Islam by constituting a deception, north Mogadishu residents said on Friday.

The insurgent group, which seeks to impose a strict form of sharia Islamic law, amputated a foot and a hand each from two young men accused of robbery. They have also banned movies, musical ringtones, dancing at wedding ceremonies and playing or watching soccer.

Residents said gunmen had been rounding up any woman seen with a firm bust and then had them publicly whipped by masked men. The women were then told to remove their bras and shake their breasts.

“Al shabaab forced us to wear their type of veil and now they order us to shake our breasts,” a resident, Halima said adding that her daughters were whipped. “They first banned the former veil and introduced a hard fabric which stands stiffly on women’s chests. They are now saying that breasts should be firm naturally, or just flat.”



Is Pakistan losing war against Taliban?

Omer Farooq Khan, TNN 16 October 2009

ISLAMABAD: The brazen simultaneous suicide attacks at separate places in Pakistan on Thursday accompanied by guerrilla-style operations clearly demonstrate that the Taliban retain the might to take on the state at several fronts despite setbacks in Swat in Pakistans northwest.

The most worrying factor, however, for Islamabad is that the attacks bear the fingerprints of the Punjabi terror outfits which are rallying around the Taliban to make things worse for the Pakistan regime. The government is finding itself helpless in the face of destabilizing attacks that have intensified after the militia regrouped after the death of its ruthless commander Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone attack in August.

The real threat of sophisticated militant attacks now comes from Punjab where militants have engaged the security forces in face-to-face fighting, an official said.

Lahore has become a prime target. Terrorists have carried out several attacks on the city, Pakistans cultural and political hub. In March, insurgents attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team who had come to Lahore for a tournament and dealt a body blow to Pakistani cricket.

Punjabi terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), with strong links with the Taliban and al-Qaida, is believed to have masterminded the attack. The Punjabi terrorists and Taliban nexus means Pakistan has to fight the war on many fronts and it cant be won just by driving militants out of the Swat.

LeJ terrorist Mohammed Aqeel alias Dr Usman, one of the accused in the attack on the cricketers, was arrested after he led the attack on Pakistan armys headquarters in Rawalpindi last week.

Full report at:,prtpage-1.cms


Pakistan says militants threaten sovereignty of nation

October 17, 2009

Pakistani soldiers walk beside the burning wreckage of a car used in a suicide bomb blast after an attack on a police building in Peshawar on October 16. Photo: AFP AFP, Islamabad

Pakistan said that militants threatened the sovereignty of the nation after a twin suicide bombing capped an avalanche of attacks killing more than 170 people this month.

At crisis talks on plotting a course of action, army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani gave a detailed briefing on the national security situation and challenges facing the nuclear-armed state.

"The political leadership assembled together noted that there already existed an across-the-board consensus in the country to root out extremism and militancy," a statement issued after the meeting Friday said.

The military and political leaders condemned the recent upsurge in attacks and observed that the militant elements "pose a serious threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the state."

They reaffirmed the national consensus "to establish and maintain the writ of the state to weed out these elements."

Chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the meeting, which lasted more than four hours, was attended by leaders of all political parties.

It followed a spike in a two-year Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked campaign of suicide bombing and armed assaults in Pakistan, on the frontline of the US-led "war on terror".

Full report at:


‘Israelis under concrete threat of terror in India’

October 17, 2009

Israel has warned its nationals against travelling to India saying there was a “concrete” threat of terror attacks on Chabad centres and synagogues in the country.

Its Counter-Terrorism Bureau (CTB) said the threat of possible attacks against Israeli nationals has become “significantly more severe” since a stark travel advisory was issued last month.

It said there was a “concrete” threat of attacks on Chabad centres and synagogues throughout India, including Goa, as well as on sites frequented by Israelis and Westerners.

Israel’s Channel 10 reported that the new warning was based on fresh intelligence received by Israeli officials indicating that a ‘Global Jihad’ group had teamed up with the Pakistani terror cell responsible for the 2008 Mumbai massacre and was planning an attack. A Chabad house was one of the targets of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The CTB strongly advised Israelis in India to avoid places that are not visibly secured with armed guards.

The bureau also issued a separate advisory against visiting Jammu and Kashmir. A similar warning issued in September said a Pakistani terror organisation affiliated with al-Qaida, and responsible for the attacks in Mumbai last November, was planning to carry out a string of attacks throughout the Indian subcontinent.

That warning said all Westerners in India were under threat of being targeted, adding Israelis and places where they usually congregate in large numbers were in more serious danger.



Homegrown terror cell guilty of plot against Australia

Katelyn Catanzariti, October 16, 2009

THEY claimed the explosive chemicals found in their homes were for testing cosmetics or their children's science projects.

They said firearms, ammunition, night vision goggles, maps and radios were to be used on hunting trips in western NSW, while the compasses were so the devout Muslims knew the direction of Mecca at prayer time.

Trips to Melbourne to visit a notorious Islamic religious teacher were for marriage guidance and help with an "exorcism", they explained.

But after a 10-month trial, 300 witnesses, more than 3000 pieces of evidence, and almost five weeks of deliberations, a NSW Supreme Court jury has found five men from Sydney's southwest guilty of plotting violent jihad on Australian soil.

Raids on the men's homes at the time of their arrests in 2005 revealed a stockpile of firearms and ammunition, chemicals, extremist literature and a "substantial amount" of camping equipment which the Crown said was "for lying low or disappearing either before, or immediately after the commission of a terrorist act".

A search of one of their houses house revealed 12 guns, including two high-powered rifles and a total of 28,000 rounds of ammunition – enough for one person to fire continuously for 38 hours, the court was told.

All five men pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiring to commit an act, or acts, in preparation for a terrorist act.

But yesterday the jury found them guilty of stockpiling the explosive chemicals and firearms with the intention of carrying out "extreme violence".

The four other men connected to the plot pleaded guilty to acts in preparation for a terrorist act prior to the trial or earlier this year and have been sentenced.

Another of the group was released in May this year after serving three and a half years for possessing ammunition in preparation for a terrorist act.,23739,26220516-953,00.html


London denies UK Muslim spy charge

17 Oct, 2009

A culture of spying? London has more CCTV cameras than any other capital in the world [AFP]

The British government has denied a programme for tackling religious extremism is used by its security agencies to spy on Muslim communities.

In a statement released on Saturday, the Home Office said its $230 million Preventing Violent Extremism strategy did not engage in covert intelligence gathering on potential terrorists.

"Any suggestion that Prevent is about spying is simply wrong. Prevent is about working with communities to protect vulnerable individuals and address the root causes of radicalisation," the Home Office said.

Launched in 2006, the programme's mission was to fund projects aimed at rejecting extremist ideology and employing youth workers and teachers to help young Muslims deemed vulnerable to radical organisations.

But in a critical report, the Institute of Race Relations claimed the programme has, in effect, established "one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain".

Arun Kundnani, the report's author, concludes that far from for tackling extremism, Prevent actually fostered division, mistrust and alienation.

"The Prevent progamme constructs the Muslim population as a 'suspect community' ... encourages tokenism, facilitates violations of privacy and professional norms of confidentiality, discourages local democracy and is counter-productive in reducing the risk of political violence", Kundnani said.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of UK-based political rights watchdog Liberty, also branded Prevent the biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times and "an affront to civil liberties".

"It is information-gathering directed at the innocent and the spying is directed at people because of their religion, and not because of their behaviour."

She noted that the information authorities are gathering include political views, information on mental health, sexual activity and associates and other sensitive information.



More Thais in radical muslim schools


Thais outnumber other Southeast Asians in radical Islamic schools in Pakistan, a trend that could have an impact on the insurgency in southern Thailand, a leading terrorism expert said yesterday.

Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based senior adviser with the International Crisis Group think tank, said that in one school in the Karachi area, a list showed that nine Thais, four Malaysians and one Indonesian were among the students.

“Every time we can get a list of Southeast Asians in schools in Pakistan it’s the Thais that outnumber the Malaysians or Indonesians,” she told the Foreign Correspondents Association in Singapore.

Jones, an authority on the Jemaah Islamiyah and other Southeast Asia-based extremist groups, noted however that Pakistan schools where the Thai students study belong to the Salafi group associated with ultra-conservative Wahabi scholars in Saudi Arabia.

The more radical leaders of the rebellion in southern Thailand are known to be anti-Wahabi, she said.

“If we have more and more people coming back from the Salafi schools in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, I don’t know how that will change [the Thai insurgency] but that’s something we need to watch,” Jones said.



7 Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh men on fresh remand

By Rajshahi, October 17, 2009

The seven arrested members of banned militant outfit Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) were taken on a fresh five-day remand last afternoon.

The court of Metropolitan Magistrate BM Tariqul Kabir granted the five-day remand after police had produced the militants before the court with remand prayers for eight days, said Sub-Inspector M Hafizur Rahman, investigation officer (IO) of the case.

Police identified the arrestees as JMB Rajshahi division chief Ashraf alias Haider, 32, Naogaon district chief Abdur Rahim, 30, and Natore district chief Shahabuddin, 35, and JMB ehsar (full-time) members Md Momtaz, 20, Asadul Islam, 30, Rohidul, 35, and Isarul Islam, 22.

On October 10, the militants were taken on a seven-day remand that ended yesterday. A team of Special Branch of police arrested them from four greater Rajshahi districts.

Senior police officials said, the seven militants during interrogation on remand denied their involvement in JMB activities.

Rather they confessed to being the followers of militant kingpin and Ahle Hadith Andolon Bangladesh Chief Asadullah Al Galib, the sources added.

Many of Galib's foreign connections eventually turn into sources of funding for JMB pointing finger at the Ahle Hadith chief's patronisation of the JMB underground, said the investigation sources.

During the seven-day remand in police custody, the militants lived a camp life. As six of them go to sleep, another keeps watch on others, fans them or protects them from mosquito bites. They say their prayers and take meals together.



Houston: Man apologizes for vandalism at mosque

He avoids criminal charges

By LINDSAY WISE, Oct. 16, 2009

Police have questioned a man who admits to writing derogatory remarks about Muslims on the walls of a mosque inside a southwest Houston cultural centre, but no charges will be filed at the request of the centre’s leadership.

“We were able to identify a suspect both through video surveillance and through a business card that was left at the scene,” said Jodi Silva, a spokeswoman with the Houston Police Department. “When we questioned the suspect, he did admit to his role in the incident.”

On Monday, Silva said, HPD contacted the Turquoise Centre at 9301 W. Bellfort, where the vandalism had been discovered Oct. 7. The centre’s leaders declined to press charges, she said.

HPD and the FBI had been investigating the vandalism at the Turquoise Center — a Turkish cultural center — as a possible hate crime.

The man offered to come and apologize, said Ali Candir, executive director of Raindrop Turkish House, one of the organizations housed inside the center.

Full report at:


October 17, 2009

Obama Drops Plan to Isolate Sudan Leaders


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has formulated a new policy for Sudan that proposes working with that country’s government, rather than isolating it as President Obama had pledged to do during his campaign.

In an interview on Friday, President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, retired, said the policy, to be announced Monday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, would make use of a mix of “incentives and pressure” to seek an end to the human rights abuses that have left millions of people dead or displaced while burning Darfur into the American conscience.

General Gration said the administration would set strict time lines for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan to fulfill the conditions of a 2005 peace agreement that his government signed with rebels in southern Sudan.

Under that agreement, independence for southern Sudan is to be put to a vote in 2011.

“To advance peace and security in Sudan, we must engage with allies and with those with whom we disagree,” said a statement of the policy that was obtained by The New York Times.

General Gration said the administration’s new approach was also intended to prevent Sudan, which once provided refuge to Osama bin Laden, from again serving as a terrorist haven.

During his campaign, Mr. Obama criticized the Bush administration for doing too little to stop the killing.

His new policy, the result of months of vigorous and heated debate within the administration, signals a significant shift in the president’s thinking, which his aides say is a reflection of changing facts on the ground.

In recent months, analysts from both inside and outside the United States government have reported that “low-intensity” skirmishes replaced systematic slaughter by government-supported militants on one side and rebel groups on the other. Villages are no longer being burned down at the same rate, although some say that is because there are few villages left to burn.

Full report at:


October 18, 2009

Pakistan Moves Troops Into Taliban Stronghold


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan moved large contingents of troops into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan on Saturday, beginning a long-anticipated ground offensive against Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in treacherous terrain that has overwhelmed the army in the past, the Pakistani Army said.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the attack was launched from three directions.

The operation is the most ambitious by the Pakistani Army against Taliban militants, who unleashed a torrent of attacks against top security installations in the past 10 days in anticipation of the assault. The militants’ targets included the army headquarters where planning for the new offensive has been under way for four months.

The United States has been pressing the Pakistani Army to move ahead with the campaign in South Waziristan, arguing that it was vital for Pakistan to show resolve against the Qaeda-fortified Pakistani Taliban, which now embraces a vast and dedicated network of militant groups arrayed against the state, including those nurtured by Pakistan to fight India.

The officials said the fighting there would probably not help the American effort in Afghanistan to a great extent since the Taliban stronghold in Southern Waziristan does not have a border with Afghanistan.

Precise information about the assault was impossible to immediately verify. No reporters are travelling with the troops, and phones in Wana, the administrative capital of South Waziristan, were not answered Saturday.

The civilian government met with the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, on Friday, and a statement afterward said that the government had granted permission for the operation.

In the North-West Frontier Province, civilian officials said Saturday that they had been told by the military that soldiers were moving in a pincer movement from government areas in Razmak in the north into Makeen; from Wana in the west into Kani Gurram, and from Jandola in the east into Spinkai Raghzai.

In the last few days, fighter jets have hammered the mountainous enclave, where the Pakistani Taliban now led by Hakimullah Mehsud keep their operations center, according to civilians in Wana who had been reached by telephone at the time.

Most of the areas where the army is headed are 6,000 feet to 7,000 feet high. In three previous operations against the Taliban in the same area — in 2004, in 2005 and again in early 2008 — the army sued for peace.

Full report at:


9 killed, 30 wounded Iraq mosque attack

October 16, 2009

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- At least nine people were killed and at least 30 were wounded Friday in a suicide attack targeting Sunni Muslim worshipers at a mosque in northern Iraq, an Interior Ministry official said.

It occurred in Tal Afar, a largely Turkmen city populated by Shiites and Sunnis in Nineveh province -- where violence has been persistent in recent months. The incident occurred at the end of Friday prayers.

The ministry official said that the attacker was wearing an explosive vest and carrying a weapon when he went inside the mosque. He opened fire, killing the mosque imam and few others before he blew himself up.



Pakistani forces drive into Taliban stronghold

 Reza Sayah

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani soldiers and militants slugged it out on Saturday in the country's vast tribal region, with more than a dozen insurgents killed in military airstrikes and at least four soldiers slain in skirmishes, the military said.

 The fatalities come hours after Pakistani troops launched a massive ground offensive backed up by air power targeting the Taliban in South Waziristan, a refuge and a power base for insurgents operating in Pakistan and along the Pakistani-Afghan border.

The highly anticipated offensive, which comes after a wave of suicide attacks in Pakistan, also has prompted the exodus of tens of thousands of civilians, the U.N. refugee agency said.

A military official told CNN the airstrikes from jet fighters and helicopter gun ships targeted militant hideouts in the villages of Badar, Barwand, Khisur, Kotkai -- all strongholds of the Taliban and their late leader Baitullah Mehsud. The official asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

There have been confrontations throughout the day between soldiers and militants. Along with the four slain soldiers, 12 others have been wounded, the military said.

Gen. Athar Abbas, the Pakistan military spokesman, told CNN the ground offensive in South Waziristan was launched shortly after midnight after the military received clearance from the government. He said the region's eight entry and exit points have been sealed by troops.

Pakistani officials say about 10,000 to 15,000 militants linked to the Taliban or to al Qaeda operate in South Waziristan, a harsh terrain familiar to militants but difficult for others to navigate. About 28,000 Pakistani soldiers have moved into the epicenter of Taliban activity in the region to counter their activities, officials said.

Elsewhere in Pakistan's tribal region -- in the Mohmand Agency -- at least eight militants and one soldier were killed on Saturday when they exchanged gunfire near a military checkpost, the military said.

Full report at:


Envoy: Iraq elections won't affect U.S. withdrawal

From Mohammed Jamjoom

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Although the U.S. government would prefer that the Iraqi elections be held on time, a delay would not affect the schedule of troop withdrawal, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said Friday.

Chris Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said U.S. officials expect an election law to be in place by January.

Chris Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said U.S. officials expect an election law to be in place by January.

"Would we like them [to] kind of get this over with early rather than late? We would, but sometimes in this country there's a tendency to do things at the last minute. So we'll see," U.S. Ambassador Chris Hill said Friday in a CNN interview.

The polls are scheduled for January 16, and Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission has said that the time schedule for planning the election is predicated on that date.

But both the United States and the United Nations have raised concerns that there is no election law three months before the scheduled polls.

If the new law isn't adopted, the government may have to come up with a new election date or rely on an old election law used in the 2005 national elections, some officials say.

Delayed elections cause problems, Hill said, but he asserted that it would not affect the schedule to withdraw troops.

"As for our schedule of troop withdrawal, we've been pretty clear about when the troops would be withdrawn," he said. "So our plan is to draw down the troops as we've said we're going do."

The United States plans to withdraw all of its combat troops by August, leaving 50,000 in advisory roles, and then withdraw those by the end of 2011.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Lanza, a U.S. military spokesman, said Monday that there are roughly 120,000 American troops in Iraq now, a decrease of 23,000 since January.

Full report at:


October 16, 2009

Pakistan Attacks Show Tighter Militant Links


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A wave of attacks against top security installations over the last several days demonstrated that the Taliban, Al Qaeda and militant groups once nurtured by the government are tightening an alliance aimed at bringing down the Pakistani state, government officials and analysts said.

More than 30 people were killed Thursday in Lahore, the second largest city in Pakistan, as three teams of militant’s assaulted two police training centers and a federal investigations building. The dead included 19 police officers and at least 11 militants, police officials said.

Nine others were killed in two attacks at a police station in Kohat, in the northwest, and a residential complex in Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province.

The assaults in Lahore, coming after a 20-hour siege at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi last weekend, showed the deepening reach of the militant network, as well as its rising sophistication and inside knowledge of the security forces, officials and analysts said.

The umbrella group for the Pakistani Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attacks in Lahore, the independent television news channel Geo reported on its Web site.

But the style of the attacks also revealed the closer ties between the Taliban and Al Qaeda and what are known as jihadi groups, which operate out of southern Punjab, the country’s largest province, analysts said. The cooperation has made the militant threat to Pakistan more potent and insidious than ever, they said.

The government has tolerated the Punjabi groups, including Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, for years, and many Pakistanis consider them allies in just causes, including fighting India, the United States and Shiite Muslims. But they have become entwined with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and have increasingly turned on the state.

The alliance has now stepped up attacks as the military prepares an assault on the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, where senior members of the Punjabi groups also find sanctuary and support.

Full report at:


Withering state a big worry for India

TNN 16 October 2009

As Pakistan reeled under a wave of terrorist attacks, its the degrading of the Pakistani state that concerns Indian analysts most.

Taliban militants on Thursday unleashed five terror attacks in Lahore and Kohat, NWFP in what is swiftly becoming a relentless assault by jihadis — claiming more than 150 lives in successive attacks since October 5. Just Thursdays series of attacks left over 41 dead and scores injured. Ten of the attackers were gunned down by security forces or blew themselves up.

Ajit Doval, former head of Indian intelligence said the apparent degradation of the Pakistani state had regional and global implications. The situation is explosive, he said, because we are witnessing the steady degradation of a nuclear state.

The army and the jihadis have emerged as the predominant players with the civilian government firmly pushed into the background.

While its easy to say Pakistan had it coming, there does not appear to be any real acknowledgment yet in Islamabad of ground realities — that the jihadis paid for and nurtured by the Pakistan army and ISI are coming home to roost.

We must never lose sight of the fact that the Pakistan army has never condemned Taliban for their ideology or tactics, just their targets. If jihadis shifted their targets tomorrow to, say, India, the Pakistan army would be back to where they started, supporting them.

Evidently, even the Pakistan Taliban feel this way. Hakimullah Mehsud, successor to Baitullah Mehsud and the leader of the attacks, said that if Pakistan stopped following US orders the attacks would stop. He added that if they wanted the Taliban to attack India Mehsud would oblige. This is an echo of Baitullahs announcement after the Mumbai attacks that he would lead his jihadis against India, if India attacked Pakistan.

Full report at:,prtpage-1.cms


Taliban's political ace: A letter to Shanghai group

Indrani Bagchi, TNN 16 October 2009

The Taliban are no political neophytes. In a shrewd political move, the Taliban sent a letter to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)

Pakistan meeting in Beijing on Wednesday to ask the regional body to intervene and solve the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.

The letter, written in Pashto, signifies two important aspects. First, that the Taliban are functioning as a unified organisation, with a definite leadership, and feeling strong enough to seek negotiations as a political body. Second, the letter is an attempt to exploit the differences between the China-Russia-CIS combine against the United States, highlighting the general perception that the SCO is intended to keep the US out of the Central Asian region.

In the open letter, which was publicised by the Chinese official media on Thursday, the Taliban said, We call on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to assist countries in the region against colonialists and adopt a strong stance against the occupation of Afghanistan.

The Taliban letter, coming while the US president Barack Obama engages in successive reviews of his Af-Pak strategy, is clearly trying to take advantage of the evident weakness of the US and the Taliban conviction that they are on the winning side. In many ways, the political show of strength by the Taliban is a direct criticism of the coalition in Afghanistan.

Describing the presence of the international troops there as an occupation force, the Taliban asked SCO to take a tough stance against this. In return, the Taliban — calling themselves the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — promised that when they returned to power they would establish friendly relations with all neighbouring states, after foreign troops had been expelled.

They asked the SCO not to trust the propaganda of the colonial powers as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan would not damage any country and would rather open the door for strengthening peace, stability and economic cooperation in the region. They said, Both Nato and US forces in the excuse of fighting terrorists have been killing the people of Afghanistan.

Full report at:,prtpage-1.cms


'Afghan mess has spilled over to Pak'

Sameer Arshad, TNN 16 October 2009

Thursdays coordinated attacks on separate police facilities across Pakistan have intensified calls for Islamabads withdrawal from the Pakistan US-led war on terror in Afghanistan, which its opponents believe was the real cause of mayhem in Pakistan.

Pakistan cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who has over the years become the most vocal critic of Americas involvement in Afghanistan, said as long as imperialistic forces are stationed across the Durand Line, Pakistan would continue to bleed.

Weve more Pashtuns in Pakistan and they empathise with their brethren across the border and support their yearning for freedom, said the politician, who has been aligned to hardline Jamaat-I-Islami. The Afghan mess had spilled over to Pakistan.

He said Islamabad shot itself in the foot when it allied with the US and started bombing its own people. Now weve a situation where the entire Pashtun population has turned against us, he said. He said Pakistan has no homegrown policy on countering the mess. Its following the failed US policy of carpet bombing people that has long turned to be counterproductive.

The Oxford-educated cricketer said the Pakistani rulers starting with military dictator Pervez Musharraf have been taking dictation from the west, because the US is bankrolling them. We had no violent Taliban before Islamabad allied with the USs Afghan disaster.

He said the Taliban are no uniform outfit and that the entire issue had become messy. There are our own tribal people who have genuine grievances but the Taliban has become hotchpotch with all sorts of criminals joining them.

Full report at:,prtpage-1.cms


Terror siege in Lahore went on for over 2 hours

Omer Farooq Khan, TNN 16 October 2009

ISLAMABAD: Terror attack in Lahore, which killed 39 people, began at 9.15am, when Taliban terrorists in police uniform stormed the Lahore branch of the Federal Investigation Agency, which deals with immigration and terrorism-related offences.

Minutes later, gunmen attacked Manawan police training centre and the elite police training institute at Bedian on the city outskirts, killing at least six people.

A police officer said 10 people, including four officials, were killed and five others injured in the attack on the FIA building. Lahore police chief Pervez Rathore said the siege dragged on for two hours. ‘‘The attackers were wearing suicide-bomb vests, he said.

Five gunmen raided Manawan police training school Lahore, he added, sparking a gunbattle which left six police officers and all assailants dead. The academy on the outskirts of Lahore, a few kilometres from the Wagah border, was attacked in March.

A third group of terrorists attacked the elite police commando training centre near Lahore airport. The fighting that lasted over four hours left five gunmen and one police officer dead. The US has trained Pakistani instructors from the centre in the past.

In the Taliban-riddled northwest, a suicide bomber blew an explosives-laden vehicle outside a police station, killing at least 11 people and injuring 16. Later in the day, a car bomb was detonated in a Peshawar residential colony, killing at least one child and injured 12 others, officials said.

President Asif Ali Zardari said the carnage over the past two weeks wouldnt deter the government from ‘‘its mission to eliminate the extremists.

Interior minister Rehman Malik said the enemy has started guerrilla attacks.

Full report at:



October 13, 2009

Iranian Journalists Flee, Fearing Retribution for Covering Protests


TORONTO — For two months Ehsan Maleki traveled around Iran with a backpack containing his cameras, a few pieces of clothing and his laptop computer, taking pictures of the reformist candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi during the presidential campaign. He did not know that his backpack and his cameras would soon become his only possessions, or that he would be forced to crawl out of the country hiding in a herd of sheep.

Mr. Maleki, 29, is one of dozens of reporters, photographers and bloggers who have either fled Iran or are trying to flee in the aftermath of the disputed June presidential election. Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based organization that promotes press freedom and monitors the safety of journalists, said the number of journalists leaving Iran was the largest since the years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The wave of departures reflects the journalists’ anxiety over the retribution many of them have faced for reporting on the government’s violent suppression of the post-election protests. As bloody clashes unfolded in the streets of Tehran, the government went to great lengths to restrict the flow of information to the outside world. Foreign journalists were banned, and local reporters and photographers were warned to stay at home.

A number of Iranian journalists defied those orders, disseminating information in phone interviews, on Internet sites and through pictures sent to photo agencies. Now, they say, they are paying the price.

Many journalists in Tehran, including a Newsweek reporter, Maziar Bahari, who is also an independent filmmaker, were among the hundreds of Iranians arrested and jailed. Some are defendants in the mass trials the government is conducting. The wife of one journalist, Ahmad Zeidabadi, said he had been tortured while in prison.

An article on Wednesday about Iranian journalists who have either fled Iran or are trying to flee in the aftermath of the disputed June presidential election incorrectly identified Javad Moghimi as Reza Moghimi.

Full report at:


Growing violence against Christians in Nepal ‘must be tackled’

by Joseph Keenan, October 17, 2009

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) new report is calling upon Nepal and the international community to tackle the threats posed by the Hindu extremist groups working against the country’s peace and security.

The new report on Nepal specifically mentioned the two Hindu extremist groups - the Nepal Defence Army (NDA) and the Ranbir Sena, and their continued violence against the tiny Christian and other minorities like Muslims in the country should be taken seriously.

“It is essential that every possible step should be taken to maintain inter-religious harmony in the new Nepal. We strongly encourage the international community to actively engage with the Government of Nepal over this issue,” Tina Lambert, CSW’s Advocacy Director said in the news briefing.

The news briefing states that Nepal, which declared itself as a secular state in May 2006, needs to seriously address its human rights issue as well.

“One of the greatest concerns for those seeking a peaceful, democratic Nepal is the current spate of human rights abuses and murders, symbolised by the brutal slaughter of the young journalist, Ms Uma Singh, at Janakpur on 12 January 2008,” the report said.

“Although some arrests have been made in the Uma Singh case, it is by no means certain that the true culprits have been identified or that they will be prosecuted and convicted,” the report lamented.

The report said, attacks against Christians have increased ever since the last and only Hindu nation was declared a secular state by the restored parliament’s declaration in May 2006. The Hindu monarchy was abolished officially in May 2008.

Ever since the country became secular, the two Hindu extremist groups have been attacking and intimidating the minority Christians and Muslims, the statement said.

On 26 April 2007, a bomb exploded in a Christian orphanage, the Grace Children’s Home in Birganj that injured a child, NDA had claimed for the responsibility.

On 29 March 2008, the NDA violence turned against Muslims, when a socket bomb was detonated at Choti Mosque, Biratnagar, killing two Muslim men and leaving two others critically injured. Mainali claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the NDA “would continue such attacks until Nepal is reinstated as a Hindu nation”.

Full report at:


Open houses aim to dispel Muslim stereotypes

BY NIRAJ WARIKOO, Oct. 17, 2009

Called "Meet your Muslim neighbour," open houses are to be held today at eight mosques in metro Detroit in an effort to help dispel stereotypes about Muslims. It's believed to be the first time that local mosques have coordinated together on a one-day event to educate non-Muslims about Islam.

"When people hear the word 'Islam,' they don't know what to think," said Rashid Taufiq, 57, of Rochester Hills, who is coordinating the open houses with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan.

"They read about some terrorist activity in some other part of the world. They don't know what to make of a Muslim who might be a next door neighbour. ... A Muslim is no different from any other American in this country."

All are invited to the mosques -- men, women and children -- to learn more about Muslims and their beliefs. Visitors can look forward to having any questions about Islam answered, and they can tour the mosques.

The open houses happen to come after a controversial book, titled "Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That's Conspiring to Islamize America," was released this week. It alleges that a Muslim group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, supports extremism and terrorism.

Citing the book, four Republican U.S. representatives called on federal officials to investigate the group, which they said was trying to place interns in congressional committees and harm national security.

The book and the statements by the Republicans brought criticism from Democrats, including U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat.

In a statement Thursday, Conyers said that "patriotic Americans of all races, religions and beliefs have the right ... to participate in our political process."

In a statement, CAIR said it was troubling that "elected officials would serve as publicity agents for extremists who seek to bar an American minority from exercising its ... rights."

Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO: 313-223-4792 or



Iraq was hard, Afghanistan is harder, says Obama

17 October 2009

WASHINGTON: If Iraq was hard, Afghanistan is much harder, believes US President Barack Obama, who over the past few weeks has spent more than 15

hours in the situation room of the White House with his key security and intelligence aides trying to find the right strategy for the region.

"Iraq was hard. Afghanistan is harder. There are -- really are people out there who would be happy to blow up this room, wouldn't bat an eye. And we've got to deal with those folks," Obama said at a fundraising reception in San Francisco in California.

With recent upsurge in terror attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama is weighing various options - with regard to sending more troops, training Afghan police and security force and concentrating more on development aspects, nation building and governance.

Obama, who has so far held five Situation Room meetings in the last few weeks - each stretching for more than three hours - is scheduled to hold another round next week. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the new strategy would be announced in the coming weeks.

Speaking on the occasion, Obama also raised the issue of nuclear proliferation. "The dangers of nuclear proliferation are real. And it requires incredibly time-consuming, methodical negotiations in order to move us in a more peaceful direction," he said.

"I want everybody to know this because I hope that the election was not just a fad," Obama said.

Full report at:


LAHORE (Pak) - Terrorism to be uprooted,

says Shahbaz, October 17, 2009

LAHORE - Punjab Chief Minister, Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif visited Elite Training School, Badian Road on Friday and attended Namaz-e-Jannaza of Assistant Sub-Inspector Ghulam Jaffar who embraced martyrdom during encounter with terrorists.

Punjab Minister for Law Rana Sanaullah Khan, Member Punjab Assembly Col (R) Shuja Khanzada, Advisor Jehanzaib Burki, Inspector General Police Punjab, Home Secretary and other high-ranking police officers were also present.

Addressing the Jawans of Elite Force, the Chief Minister said that sacrifices of martyrs who laid down their lives in the war against terrorism would not go waste and they had written a new chapter of courage and bravery. He said that the martyrs had also given an abiding message to 90 million people of Punjab that no compromise would be made with terrorists and peace and tranquility would be restored in the country after bringing the terrorists to their logical end. He said to Jawans that there were such brave sons of the soil among them who were brimming with the spirit of patriotism and love for the country. He also lauded the courage and bravery of Commandant Elite Training School Col Ikramullah, DIG Tanveer Ahmad and other Jawans in killing the terrorists before they could use their suicide jackets. He paid tributes to Provincial Minister for Law Rana Sanaullah Khan, Col (R) Shuja Khanzada, Inspector General Police Tariq Saleem, Home Secretary Nadeem Hassan Asif, Commissioner Lahore Division, CCPO Muhammad Pervez Rathore, SSP Operations Ch Muhammad Shafiq and all the officers and officials of law-enforcement agencies for discharging their duties with dedication and commitment.

Full report at:


Wilders visits Britain but won’t show anti-Islam film

David Sapsted, October 17. 2009

Geert Wilders, centre, arrives for a press conference in central London yesterday. The far-right Dutch politician, who made a controversial film about Islam, successfully appealed against a ban on his entering Britain. Robert Vos / AFP

LONDON // The leader of a far-right Dutch political party, who was banned from entering the UK earlier this year for his anti-Islamic views, was finally allowed on British soil yesterday.

Geert Wilders, the leader of the Freedom Party in Holland, had fought a lengthy legal battle to gain entry into the country after being turned away at Heathrow Airport in February after the government decreed that his views posed a threat to national security.

Mr Wilders, 46, whose film Fitna brands the Quran a “fascist book” and who is facing trial in his own country for inciting hatred, was allowed entry after a UK immigration tribunal ruled in his favour earlier in the week.

Although the government could have appealed the ruling, a spokesman for Alan Johnson, the home secretary, said: “On this occasion the home secretary is not minded to recommend that Mr Wilders is denied admission to the UK.

“Clearly, Mr Wilders’s statements and behaviour during a visit will inevitably impact on any future decisions to admit him.”

Mr Wilders, who has been invited to Britain by a member of the UK Independence Party in the House of Lords, described the decision to lift the ban as “a victory for free speech”.

However, the leader of the largest Muslim organisation in Britain warned that Mr Wilders’s presence could only serve to boost the far right’s aim of “sowing discord on the streets of Britain”.

Mr Wilders told Sky News that, unlike the plan for his abortive trip in February, he was not going to screen Fitna on this visit but hoped to arrange a showing in the House of Lords at a later date.

“They [the Home Office] thought I might be the cause of community disharmony and public security problems, which I found strange,” he said.

Full report at:


Madinah tourism hit hard by swine flu

Yousuf Muhammad, 17 October 2009

MADINAH: The Tourism Committee of the Madinah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) fears the industry could be hit by more than SR3 billion thanks to swine flu.

“The loss of business within the Haj and Umrah industry this year is going to be at its highest compared to the last 50 years. The negative trend is likely to continue for the next three years at least.

The hospitality sector will be most affected,” Abdul Ghani Al-Ansari, a member of the tourism committee at the MCCI, told Arab News on Friday.

Al-Ansari said half of the hotels were saying that prospects of a upswing this year was bleak because bookings were likely to fall considerably.

“A number of Haj delegations and companies did not pay the last two installments for their bookings so far. If they do not pay up the remaining installments over the next 30 days, the loss would be more than SR3 billion,” he explained.

Al-Ansari, who is also chairman of the Social Responsibility Committee in Madinah, warned the situation could lead to a laying-off of a large number of employees in Makkah and Madinah.

The official also blamed investors for not coming forward to support the ailing tourism sector.

In a related development, representatives of investors in Haj, Umrah and tourism related industries met to discuss ways to tackle the negative impact of the H1N1 virus.

The meeting was headed by Ahmad Al-Safi, chairman of the Committee for Owners and Investors in the MCCI.

The meeting also covered their problems with the General Commission for Tourism and Antiquities. They also decided to launch media campaigns and act in tandem with the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Suggestions made at the meeting included extending the Umrah season to encourage more people to come to Makkah and Madinah. Another proposal to make up the shortfall in the overall number of pilgrims was to allow other countries to exceed their allocated quota.

Some participants also demanded a reduction in rent rates to attract more customers.

Full report at:


Study of Muslim population full of revelations

By Eric Gorski, Oct. 17, 2009

The global Muslim population stands at 1.57 billion, meaning that nearly one in four people in the world practice Islam, according to a report last week that was billed as the most comprehensive of its kind.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Lifeport provides a precise number for a population whose size has long has been subject to guesswork, with estimates ranging from 1 billion to 1.8 billion.

The project, three years in the making, also presents a portrait of the Muslim world that might surprise some people. For instance, Germany has more Muslims than Lebanon, China has more Muslims than Syria, Russia has more Muslims than Jordan and Libya combined, and Ethiopia has nearly as many Muslims as Afghanistan.

"This whole idea that Muslims are Arabs and Arabs are Muslims is really just obliterated by this report," said Amaney Jamal, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University who reviewed an advance copy.

Pew officials call the report the most thorough on the size and distribution of adherents of the world's second-largest religion behind Christianity, which has an estimated 2.1 billion to 2.2 billion followers.

Christianity is still the dominant faith in the United States. According to Pew's 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 79.5 percent of U.S. citizens claim some form of Christian faith, from mainline Protestant to Jehovah's Witnesses. Evangelical Protestants account for 26 percent of that group..

Full report at:


Survey: Egyptians Want More Democracy

Oct 2009

Seventy-five percent of Egyptians want more democracy, according to a poll published as part of the United Nations’ celebration of International Day of Democracy on September 15.

The poll found that 67 percent of Egyptians want the right to express views on unpopular political issues without the fear of being harassed or punished, while only 27 percent of them believe that this right is already granted.

Over a period of 17 days, the organization conducted in-person interviews with 600 Egyptians regarding the representation of women in Parliament, the strength of political opposition, freedom of expression for minority groups and other issues of democracy.

“The sample size, though it looks small to the public, was well calculated statistically. The error margin doesn’t exceed 4.1 percent,” says Steven Kull, director of, which conducted the poll with the help of research partners in Cairo, Giza, Shubra and Alexandria. One question asked Egyptians how often opposition parties got a fair chance to express their views and influence government policies: 31 percent of those surveyed responded in the affirmative, while 69 percent responded “sometimes” or “rarely.”

Responses to another question indicated that Egyptians think women were fairly represented in Parliament — female MPs make up less than 2 percent of the People’s Assembly.

What stands out though, in Kull’s opinion, is that Egyptians are very determined to have the right of free expression. “You have a strong interest in the notions of democracy and human rights, but there is also desire for Islam to play a role in political life,” he says. “So, Egyptians are struggling on how to reconcile [that]. For Egyptians, Islam is more than a private experience, it is part of the political sphere.”

Full report at:


FACTBOX - Five facts about Indonesia's Hatta Rajasa

Sat Oct 17, 2009

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's State Secretary, Hatta Rajasa, said on Saturday he would have an economic post in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's next cabinet.

He did not elaborate, but there has been speculation that he could be appointed Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy.

Yudhoyono, a reform-driven ex-general who won a second, five-year term in presidential elections in July, is due to announce his cabinet next week, following his inauguration on Oct. 20.

Here are five facts about Hatta Rajasa:

* Hatta Rajasa, 55, is a South Sumatran-born politician from the Muslim-based National Mandate Party (PAN) and a loyal ally of President Yudhoyono.

* Rajasa served as transport minister in Yudhoyono's cabinet, but was removed in 2007 following several transport disasters including a Garuda Airlines crash in Yogyakarta and an Adam Air crash off South Sulawesi, which killed more than 100 people in total.

Yudhoyono then appointed him state secretary. Rajasa had also served in former President Megawati Sukarnoputri's cabinet as technology and research minister.

* Rajasa has a reputation for protectionist policies, for opposing privatisation, and for favouring domestic over foreign investors.

For example, when he was transport minister, he limited foreign budget airlines to serving the main city routes in Indonesia, to the advantage of the less-competitive local airlines.

* Rajasa is a petroleum-engineering graduate from Bandung Institute of Technology.

He was also an advisor to the Indonesian Petroleum and Geothermal Drilling Association, a member of the International Petroleum Association, and founder of the Natural Resource Energy and Environment Foundation.

* His party, PAN, won about 6 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections in April, similar to its performance in 2004.

(Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Sara Webb)



Iranian MPs to Study Malaysia's Legislative, Judiciary Systems

October 17, 2009

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Iranian parliament's Legal and Judicial Commission plans to dispatch a delegation to Malaysia in an effort to study the legislative and judicial systems of the Muslim country.

"A group of 7 members of the parliament's Legal and Judicial Commission will be dispatched to Malaysia on Sunday to fulfill the mission," Seyed Soleiman Zaker, a commission member, told FNA on Saturday.

The Iranian delegation is tasked with studying the process of lawmaking, statistical figures on crimes and violations, conditions and structure of the courts and justice departments and the nature of the judiciary in Malaysia, Zaker added.

He also described the visit as a good opportunity for obtaining the experiences of Malaysia, as an Islamic state, to remove possible deficiencies in Iran's laws and regulations.

Zaker reiterated that Malaysia is a modern and Muslim country which despite its high population enjoys good order and has a solid legal and judicial position.

Full report at:


United Nations Human Rights Council endorses Gaza war crimes report

17 October 2009

GENEVA: The UN Human Rights Council voted on Friday to endorse a Gaza war crimes report that calls on Israel and Hamas to carry out credible investigations into alleged abuses -- or face possible referral to international war crimes prosecutors.

The move -- which was opposed by six nations, including the United States -- means Israel could find itself facing a request at the UN Security Council to refer the case to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, a move likely to be blocked by Washington.

Still, Friday's decision could have far-reaching implications for the way the global body deals with war crimes claims, experts said.

It also keeps attention on the report, compiled by an expert panel chaired by respected South African jurist Richard Goldstone, just as President Barack Obama tries to restart the Middle East peace process. Almost 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the Dec. 27-Jan. 18 conflict.

The 575-page document concluded that Israel used disproportionate force, deliberately targeted civilians, used Palestinians as human shields and destroyed civilian infrastructure during its incursion into the Gaza Strip to root out Palestinian rocket squads.

It also accused Palestinian armed groups including Hamas, which controls Gaza, of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through years of rocket attacks on southern Israel.

The report recommends that the 15-member Security Council require both sides in the conflict to show within six months that they are carrying out independent and impartial investigations into alleged abuses.

If they are not, the matter should be referred to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, the report says.

In order to be adopted, a UN Security Council resolution must get nine yes votes, and not be vetoed by a permanent member. The U.S. is likely to use its veto to block any call to get the International Criminal Court involved in the dispute over Gaza or to take action against Israel.

Full report at:


Israel’s Reckoning

17 October 2009

It might not yet be time for Israel’s retribution, but the government in Tel Aviv has surely landed itself in hot waters. With the Goldstone report getting endorsed by overwhelming majority in the UN Human Rights Council, the international community has stepped up pressure on Israel to further investigate the charges of war crimes.

The US while lamely asking Israel to look into the allegations has clearly indicated where its loyalties lie: justifying its opposition to the endorsement by an “unbalanced focus on Israel.” So much for reposing faith in US President Barack Obama’s just policies and lofty commitments in solving the Mideast crisis. By supporting Israel at this point and with total disregard of the arising implications—all in the name of an exaggerated, contrived and misplaced sense of loyalty—the US only stands to damage its credibility and exacerbate the situation to a point beyond redemption.

How the US expects to continue this with growing condemnation of Israel among its European allies remains to be seen. Britain has urged Israel to hold “full, credible and impartial” investigations, following the report, with a similar stance taken by France. Earlier investigations by the Israeli Defense Forces had promptly cleared its military of war crime charges and violations of human rights. In face of irrefutable evidence gathered by the UN and conclusions reached by Richard Goldstone, the credibility and impartiality of the Israeli investigations is now falsified.

Full report at:


Being Muslims on their terms: Director Omar Majeed took on Taqwacore - a fusion of Islam and hardcore punk - and ran with it, all the way to a hit movie


October 16, 2009

It's the morning after the night before, and Omar Majeed looks much the worse for wear.

His debut feature documentary Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam had rocked the opening of the festival, and he presided over an afterparty fuelled by the four-to-the-floor punk of the Boston-based The Kominas.

Being kids, and punks, and punk kids featured in a movie that was getting all kinds of press, the Kominas had wanted to go out for food after the party

finally wound down. Result: They're happily sleeping off smoked meat poutine while Majeed is doing interviews, looking like a semi-upright unmade bed.

Taqwacore is the story of disaffected young Muslims in the States who, taking inspiration from converted American Muslim Michael Muhammad Knight and his 2002 self-published novel The Taqwacores, formed an Islamic punk music scene in his novel's image.

Knight's central question: "Could a person take the best parts of Islam and the best parts of punk and forge a new spiritual path?" was the basis for The Taqwacores - Taqwa, the Arabic word for God-consciousness, and core, from hardcore punk. And so a misfit Muslim manifesto was born, using the text not as doctrine, but as inspiration.

Taqwacore, the movie, follows Michael and kindred spirits on a volatile U.S. tour, then hits the heartland in Pakistan, where meltdown and triumph interlock.

It's a story you couldn't write if someone hadn't already written it, and watched it come to life, and it's been catnip to the world media.

"We've got $1 million worth of free publicity," said the tired but gentle and fiercely articulate Majeed, of reports in Newsweek, the Guardian and Rolling Stone, and on the National and CBC. "We're flattered and pleased. I always thought Taqwacore was a pretty grubby story for the media. The response has been disproportionate to the situation, but the movement's message - be Muslim on your own terms - is still very inspiring."

Majeed gets the message. He's a Muslim who grew up in a "pretty secular" family in Toronto and Pakistan.

"I lived in Lahore as a teenager and felt like the odd kid. Going back and forth between cultures made me feel part of neither. The main characters in Taqwacore I found very relatable. I saw myself in them."

Majeed had worked in the TV trenches in Toronto to fund his documentary projects, and moved to Montreal four years ago, where he first joined the NFB and then found a home at EyeSteelFilm, the activist media company that got behind Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam.

"Initially, I just hung out with members of the Kominas, Basim Usmani and Shahjehan Khan, getting to know each other. The next year, 2007, I took a camera on their bus tour of America.

"It all came together in a very spontaneous manner. We had very little idea of what we were going to do. We were an instant community, with lots of hanging around, joking and sudden bursts of energy.

Beaten into shape at EyeSteel, the finished product opened in Vancouver before its big bash here. Monday, it opens commercially at Cinéma du Parc, and gradually rolls out across the country.

"Pre-9-11, being a Muslim was not an issue," Majeed explains. "At the time of 9-11, Islam was the embarrassing uncle in the room. Since then we've conjured up a Muslim boogieman. But the situation is really much more complex than that.

"My goal was to open up the debate. The Q&As we've had after the film have been thoughtful and engaged. I want to reach as many as possible into the Muslim community and beyond. So far, we're reaching the audience that's looking for it. There's always a couple at each screening who say 'thank you. Seeing the movie gives me a sense of purpose.' "

Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam opens at Cinéma du Parc Monday. For screening times, please turn to Page E9.

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