Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 12/31/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 12/31/2009News continues to trickle in from Afghanistan about the murder of seven CIA personnel by a suicide bomber at an American base in Khost. The latest reports indicate that the bomber wore an Afghan army uniform, was not searched when he entered the base, and was brought onto the base to be interviewed as a potential informant. All of this points to massive and sophisticated infiltration of Afghan institutions by the Taliban. The CIA has vowed that it will avenge the attack, but how many agents does it have who are fluent in Pashtun? By drawing heavily on “native stock” we have put ourselves at high risk, and this will not change overnight.

In a separate incident, five Canadians were killed in Afghanistan, including a journalist from Calgary.

In other news, the Chinese are downplaying the fact that they paid ransom to the Somali pirates in order to secure the release of one of their ships.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, Insubria, JD, Paul Green, Sean O’Brian, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
- - - - - - - - -
Financial Crisis
To Continue Growth, China Refuses to Reevaluate the Yuan
 
USA
Flight 253 Passenger Kurt Haskell: ‘I Was Visited by the FBI’
Flying High
Hillary Clinton’s Agency Issued the Terrorist’s Visa
The ‘Fire Napolitano’ Debate [Andy McCarthy]
What Was the Most Covered-Up Story of 2009?
 
Europe and the EU
Finland: Gunman ‘On the Run’ After Killing Four in Finnish Shopping Centre Massacre
France: Constitutional Court Rejects Sarkoxy’s Carbon Tax
France: Sarkozy Stands Firm on Carbon Tax
Italy: Fashionistas Get Upmarket Swap Store
Lithuania Nuclear Shutdown to Test EU-Russia Relations
Policeman Who Shot Husband of Dresden ‘Veil Martyr’ Cleared
Scotland: Another Anthrax Case Confirmed in Glasgow
UK: Al-Qaeda ‘Groomed Abdulmutallab in London’
UK: England Set to Miss First Commonwealth Games in 80 Years Amid Delhi Terror Fears
UK: Half of Army’s Heavily-Armoured Vehicle Fleet ‘Not Fit for Purpose’
 
North Africa
Tunisia: Le Temps, Thousands of Conversions to Islam Since2000
 
Middle East
Agriculture: Turkey Plans Restart of Hazelnut Sales
Iran’s Opposition Leader ‘Flees’ As Tens of Thousands of Government Supporters Swarm Tehran Chanting ‘Death to Mousavi’
Iranian Mullah: Kill the Protesters
Obama’s 2010 Policy and Iran: Misconceptions Guarantee Failure
Peter Moore’s Kidnapping ‘Was Masterminded by Iran’
Trade: Turkey and UAE to Seek New Cooperation Areas
Turkey: 22.8 Pct Big Corporations’ Management Women
Turkey and Syria to Cooperate in Different Areas
 
Russia
Vladimir Putin Says Russia’s Population Rising
 
South Asia
8 CIA Agents Killed in Afghan Suicide Bombing
Afghan Suicide Bomber Killed C.I.A. Operatives
Afghanistan: Taliban Claims Attack Against CIA Officials
Afghan Base Hit by Attack Has Pivotal Role in Conflict
Indonesia: Terror Attack Warning in Bali
Indonesia: Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, A Friend of Christians, Dies
Malaysian Court Rules Non-Muslims May Call God Allah
Pakistan: Taliban Claims Deadly Attack on Karachi Procession
Source: 2 Killed in Afghanistan Bombing Were Security Contractors
Sources: Bomber Was Invited on Base
 
Far East
Execution Underscores ‘China’s Contempt for the West’
 
Sub-Saharan Africa
Africa: US Cooperation, Countries in ‘Democratic Crisis’ Are Suspended
Chinese Downplay Somali Pirate Ransom
Somalia: NGO Official Killed in South, Fighting in Different Areas
Somali Man ‘Tried to Take Bomb Onto Plane’
 
Immigration
Australia a Magnet for People Smugglers: Opposition
USA: Survey Shows ‘Pew-Versus-Pulpit Divide’
 
General
Wikipedia Meets Its Own Climategate

Financial Crisis

To Continue Growth, China Refuses to Reevaluate the Yuan

According to official data industrial profits are recovering. Premier Wen says now necessary to contain inflation, especially in real estate, and that a “stable” Yuan is beneficial for the world economy. Meanwhile, the government can not even contain corruption.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) — China says that in 2010 it aims to keep inflation at levels “reasonable”, even curbing rising rapidly property prices and “resisting” pressure to revalue the Yuan. This was the content of an online interview given by Premier Wen Jiabao to the official state Xinhua news agency on 27 December. Meanwhile, Zhong Shan, vice-Minister of Commerce, has estimated that “probably” in 2009 China will become the world’s largest exporter overtaking Germany.

The country fears the return of high inflation, which was announced by increases in the prices of raw materials, and in November, consumer prices rose by 0.6% after 9 months of deflation. Fro this reason Wen said that the conditions to revalue the Yuan “are still missing”. The United States and European Union accuse Beijing of keeping the currency artificially low to encourage the sale of its goods to the detriment of those of other countries. But Wen insists that “a stable Yuan has made an important contribution” to global economic stability. China always insists that the low prices of its products are a great help to the family economies of other countries.

The premier added that it would be “a mistake” to remove the strong state funding provided to businesses too quickly. In the first 11 months of 2009, Beijing has provided funding for 9,200 billion Yuan (over 920 billion euros) to support companies in crisis, following the collapse of exports. Zhong has indicated as “probable” that “China will overtake Germany as the largest exporting country”, although its sales abroad decreased by 18.8% according to official data, the maximum decline by at least 30 years. The National Bureau of Statistics said that profits for the industrial companies still rose by 7.8% in November 2009 from a year earlier. Although this data raise concerns among experts, given that from January to August, the NSB had indicated a loss of 10.6%.

Other experts note that these statistics are not verifiable and that China, to combat the global crisis, needs to face major changes in its internal system, with less room for state-owned enterprises and greater administrative transparency. Yesterday the Central Investigation Bureau said that in 2009 public officials have stolen or misused 234.7 billion yuan (about 23.5 billion euros). Each year, the Inspection Office announces that it has identified dozens of dishonest officials and the government declares zero tolerance against corruption. But the situation is not improving Liu Jiayi chief inspector said yesterday in a conference, that “despite some improvements, theft of funds, waste and falsification of tax information still exists in the central offices”.

Moreover, the Office for inspection has not indicated the names of those responsible, who Beijing often prefers to charge in secret and without making the news public.

Wen expressed particular concern about the rapid increases in property prices “in some zones” and announced his intent to “stabilize” them especially with interventions “on taxes and interest for loans”, but also with the construction of low price housing in order to counter speculation making it less attractive for investments.

In November, property prices in 70 major cities rose by 5.7% compared to November 2008, a record increase from July 2008. Experts believe there is a real property bubble.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

USA

Flight 253 Passenger Kurt Haskell: ‘I Was Visited by the FBI’

Following up on a visit from FBI officials about an eyewitness account first described to MLive.com, Michigan attorney Kurt Haskell described the visit in comment sections across MLive on Wednesday.

Haskell and his wife, Lori, were aboard Flight 253 when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to destroy the plane. They say another man tried to help Abdulmutallab board the plane in Amsterdam.

Haskell had two detailed posts in two different stories. Here is Part One, originally posted here (Nothing below in the indent has been changed. Only links have been added.):

Today is the second worst day of my life after 12-25-09. Today is the day that I realized that my own country is lying to me and all of my fellow Americans. Let me explain.

Ever since I got off of Flight 253 I have been repeating what I saw in US Customs. Specifically, 1 hour after we left the plane, bomb sniffing dogs arrived. Up to this point, all of the passengers on Flight 253 stood in a small area in an evacuated luggage claim area of an airport terminal. During this time period, all of the passengers had their carry on bags with them. When the bomb sniffing dogs arrived, 1 dog found something in a carry on bag of a 30 ish Indian man. This is not the so called “Sharp Dressed” man. I will refer to this man as “The man in orange”. The man in orange, who stood some 20ft away from me the entire time until he was taken away, was immediately taken away to be searched and interrogated in a nearby room. At this time he was not handcuffed. When he emerged from the room, he was then handcuffed and taken away. At this time an FBI agent came up to the rest of the passengers and said the following (approximate quote) “You all are being moved to another area because this area is not safe. I am sure many of you saw what just happened (Referring to the man in orange) and are smart enough to read between the lines and figure it out.” We were then marched out of the baggage claim area and into a long hallway. This entire time period and until we left customs, no person that wasn’t a law enforcement personnel or a passenger on our flight was allowed anywhere on our floor of the terminal (or possibly the entire terminal) The FBI was so concerned during this time, that we were not allowed to use the bathroom unless we went alone with an FBI agent, we were not allowed to eat or drink, or text or call anyone. I have been repeating this same story over the last 5 days. The FBI has, since we landed, insisted that only one man was arrested for the airliner attack (contradicting my account). However, several of my fellow passengers have come over the past few days, backed up my claim, and put pressure on FBI/Customs to tell the truth. Early today, I heard from two different reporters that a federal agency (FBI or Customs) was now admitting that another man has been held (and will be held indefinitely) since our flight landed for “immigration reasons.” Notice that this man was “being held” and not “arrested”, which was a cute semantic ploy by the FBI to stretch the truth and not lie.

Just a question, could that mean that the man in orange had no passport?

However, a few hours later, Customs changed its story again. This time, Mr. Ron Smith of Customs, says the man that was detained “had been taken into custody, but today tells the news the person was a passenger on a different flight.” Mr. Ron Smith, you are playing the American public for a fool. Lets take a look at how plausible this story is (After you’ve already changed it twice). For the story to be true, you have to believe, that:

1. FBI/Customs let passengers from another flight co-mingle with the passengers of flight 253 while the most important investigation in 8 years was pending. I have already stated that not one person who wasn’t a passenger or law enforcement personnal was in our area the entire time we were detained by Customs.

2. FBI/Customs while detaining the flight 253 passengers in perhaps the most important investigation since the last terrorist attack, and despite not letting any flight 253 passenger drink, eat, make a call, or use the bathroom, let those of other flights trample through the area and possibly contaminate evidence.

3. You have to believe the above (1 and 2) despite the fact that no flights during this time allowed passengers to exit off of the planes at all and were detained on the runway during at least the first hour of our detention period.

4. You have to believe that the man that stood 20 feet from me since we entered customs came from a mysterious plane that never landed, let its passengers off the plane and let this man sneak into our passenger group despite having extremely tight security at this time (i.e. no drinking even).

5. FBI/Customs was hauling mysterious passengers from other flights through the area we were being held to possibly comtaminate evidence and allow discussions with suspects on Flight 253 or to possibly allow the exchange of bombs, weapons or other devices between the mysterious passengers from other flights and those on flight 253.

Seriously Mr. Ron Smith, how stupid do you think the American public is?

Mr. Ron Smith’s third version of the story is an absolute inplausible joke. I encourage you, Mr. Ron Smith, to debate me anytime, anywhere, and anyplace in public to let the American people see who is credible and who is not.

I ask, isn’t this the more plausible story:

1. Customs/FBI realized that they screwed up and don’t want to admit that they left flight 253 passengers on a flight with a live bomb on the runway for 20 minutes.

2. Customs/FBI realized that they screwed up and don’t want to admit that they left flight 253 passengers in customs for 1 hour with a live bomb in a carry on bag.

3. Customs/FBI realize that the man in orange points to a greater involvement then the lone wolf theory that they have been promoting.

Mr. Ron Smith I encourage you to come out of your cubicle and come up with a more plausible version number 4 of your story.

Haskell continued his comment in a different post on MLive.

For the last five days I have been reporting my story of the so called “sharp dressed man.” For those of you who haven’t read my account, it involves a sharp dressed “Indian man” attempting to talk a ticket agent into letting a supposed “Sudanese refugee” (The terrorist) onto flight 253 without a passport. I have never had any idea how it played out except to note that the so called “Sudanese reefugee” later boarded my flight and attempted to blow it up and kill me. At no time did my story involve, or even find important whether the terrorist actually had a passport. The importance of my story was and always will be, the attempt with an accomplice (apparently succesful) of a terrorist with all sorts of prior terrorist warning signs to skirt the normal passport boarding procedures in Amsterdam. By the way, Amsterdam security did come out the other day and admit that the terrorist did not have to “Go through normal passport checking procedures”.

Amsterdam security, please define to the American public “Normal passport boarding procedures”.

You see the FBI would have the American public believe that what was important was whether the terrorist in fact had a passport.

Seriously think about this people. You have a suicide bomber who had recently been to Yemen to but a bomb, whose father had reported him as a terrorist, who supposedly was on some kind of U.S. terror watchlist, and most likely knew the U.S. was aware of these red flags. Yet, he didn’t go through “Normal passport checking procedures.” What does that mean? Maybe that he flashed a passport to some sort of sympathetic security manager in a backroom to avoid a closer look at the terrorist’s “red flags”? What is important is that the terrorist avoided using normal passport checking procedures (apparently successfully) in order to avoid a closer look into his red flags. Who cares if he had a passport. The important thing is that he didn’t want to show it and somehow avoided a closer inspection and “normal passport checking procedures.” Each passport comes with a bar code on it that can be scanned to provide a wealth of information about the individual. I would bet that the passport checking procedures for the terrorist did not include a bar code scan of his passport (which could have revealed damning information about the terrorist).

Please note that there is a very easy way to verify the veracity of my prior “sharp dressed man” account. Dutch police have admitted that they have reviewed the video of the “sharp dressed man” that I referenced. Note that it has not been released anywhere, You see, if my eye witness account is false, it could easily be proven by releasing the video. However, the proof of my eyewitness account would also be verified if I am telling the truth and I am. There is a reason we have only heard of the video and not seen it. dutch authorities, “RELEASE THE VIDEO!” This is the most important video in 8 years and may be all of two minutes long. Show the entire video and “DO NOT EDIT IT”! The American public deserves its own chance to attempt to identify the “sharp dressed man”. I have no doubt that if the video indicated that my account was wrong, that the video would have already swept over the entire world wide web.

Instead of the video, we get a statment that the video has been viewed and that the terrorist had a passport. Each of these statements made by the FBI is a self serving play on semantics and each misses the importance of my prior “sharp dressed man” account. The importance being that the man “Tried to board the plane with an accomplice and without a passort”. The other significance is that only the airport security video can verify my eyewitness account and that it is not being released.

Who has the agenda here and who doesn’t? Think about that for a minute.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


Flying High

It’s getting to the point where the twin news stories more or less write themselves. No sooner is the fanatical and homicidal Muslim arrested than it turns out that he (it won’t be long until it is also she) has been known to the authorities for a long time. But somehow the watch list, the tipoff, the many worried reports from colleagues and relatives, the placing of the name on a “central repository of information” don’t prevent the suspect from boarding a plane, changing planes, or bringing whatever he cares to bring onto a plane. This is now a tradition that stretches back to several of the murderers who boarded civilian aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001, having called attention to themselves by either a) being on watch lists already or b) weird behavior at heartland American flight schools. They didn’t even bother to change their names.

[…]

Why do we fail to detect or defeat the guilty, and why do we do so well at collective punishment of the innocent? The answer to the first question is: Because we can’t—or won’t. The answer to the second question is: Because we can. The fault here is not just with our endlessly incompetent security services, who give the benefit of the doubt to people who should have been arrested long ago or at least had their visas and travel rights revoked. It is also with a public opinion that sheepishly bleats to be made to “feel safe.” The demand to satisfy that sad illusion can be met with relative ease if you pay enough people to stand around and stare significantly at the citizens’ toothpaste. My impression as a frequent traveler is that intelligent Americans fail to protest at this inanity in case it is they who attract attention and end up on a no-fly list instead. Perfect.

It was reported over the weekend that in the aftermath of the Detroit fiasco, no official decision was made about whether to raise the designated “threat level” from orange. Orange! Could this possibly be because it would be panicky and ridiculous to change it to red and really, really absurd to lower it to yellow? But isn’t it just as preposterous (and revealing), immediately after a known Muslim extremist has waltzed through every flimsy barrier, to leave it just where it was the day before?

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


Hillary Clinton’s Agency Issued the Terrorist’s Visa

Why is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton silent on this issue?

Over the past couple of decades, our nation has been attacked on numerous occasions both within our nation’s borders as well as outside our nation’s borders by adherents to radical Islam. In the name of “national security,” we have witnessed and been subjected to, a continual erosion of our expectations of privacy and freedom.

Yet the most commonsense measures that would require our government to do a more effective job of administering the program by which our government provides aliens with visas to enter the United States and make certain that credible information concerning terror suspects is transmitted quickly to appropriate personnel is still not being done.

What is particularly disturbing about all of this is the simple fact that the 9/11 Commission identified visa fraud and immigration benefit fraud as major areas of concern where the entry and embedding of terrorists in our country are involved, yet virtually nothing has been done to address these major holes in the fence that is supposed to keep those individuals out of our country who are determined to do us such harm!

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


The ‘Fire Napolitano’ Debate [Andy McCarthy]

A couple of months back, Sean Hannity invited me on his nightly panel on a special show that was dedicated to ten of the more problematic figures in the administration — Van Jones, Kevin Jennings, Carol Browner, John Holdren, and some others. (Napolitano was not egregious enough to be included.) Sean pressed me on whether this one or that one should be fired, and I just shrugged my shoulders. The suggestion (not by Sean, but in a lot of the public debate) had been that these people had not been properly vetted. My reaction was that they had been extensively vetted — the “czars,” like Jones, were made czars rather than cabinet nominations precisely because they were the people President Obama wanted but he knew they’d never get through a confirmation hearing. Sure, you could fire those ten, but the same guy who picked them would be picking their replacements.

I never thought we should have created a Department of Homeland Security. People’s memories are short. The original idea behind DHS was to solve “the Wall” problem — the impediments to intelligence-sharing that were making the FBI, our domestic intelligence service, ineffective. But while DHS was being debated and built, the FBI and the intelligence community furiously called on their allies on Capitol Hill and protected their turf. By the time DHS formally came into being, they made sure it had no intelligence mission — in fact, it had no real clear mission at all except to be the unwieldy home of a huge agglomeration of federal agencies. Basically, we moved the deck chairs around on the Titanic but did nothing to improve homeland security.

Napolitano is an apt representation of Obama-style detachment from national security: She doesn’t know where the 9/11 hijackers came from; she doesn’t know illegal immigration is a criminal offense; she won’t utter the word “terror” (it’s a “man-caused disaster,” just like, say, a forest fire); she thinks the real terrorists are “right-wing extremists” aided and abetted by our soldiers returning home from their missions; when a jihadist at Fort Hood massacres more people than were killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, she won’t call it terrorism and worries mostly about racist blow-back against innocent Muslims; she doesn’t see any indications of a larger terrorist conspiracy even after a captured — er, arrested — terrorist tells agents he was groomed for the airplane operation by al Qaeda in Yemen; she thinks the “system worked” on Christmas when every element of it failed; and even her walk-back on the “system worked” comment — i.e., that it worked after the fact because all the planes then in the air were notified to take extra precautions “within 90 minutes” of the attack — is pathetic. You may recall that on 9/11, the first plane hit the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. and the second at 9:16 a.m.; the Pentagon was struck at 9:37 a.m., and, thanks to the heroic passengers of Flight 93, the last plane went down a little after 10 a.m. — about 20 minutes from its target in Washington. A lot can happen in 90 minutes.

When DHS came into being, a good friend of mine put it perfectly: “We already have a Department of Homeland Security and its address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” It is there, not at DHS, that the problem resides. The President has in place exactly the team he wants. To clamor for Napolitano’s firing when she is just carrying out the boss’s program is to shift the blame from where it belongs.

[Return to headlines]


What Was the Most Covered-Up Story of 2009?

WND editors join with readers to determine the year’s top 10

Overwhelming evidence Fort Hood mass murderer was an Islamic terrorist who considered himself part of a greater plan to bring the U.S. under Saudi-style Islamic law tops the list of the 10 most “spiked” or underreported stories of the last year, according to an annual WND survey.

[…]

WND’s editors, however, have long considered it far more newsworthy to publicize the most important unreported or underreported news events of the year — to highlight perhaps for one last time major news stories that were undeservedly “spiked” by the establishment press.

Here, with our readers’ help, are WorldNetDaily editors’ picks for the 10 most underreported stories of 2009:

1. Overwhelming evidence the Fort Hood mass murderer was an Islamic terrorist acting as part of a larger, radical Islamic movement bent on infiltrating, subverting and ultimately conquering the U.S…

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Finland: Gunman ‘On the Run’ After Killing Four in Finnish Shopping Centre Massacre

A gunman has shot dead at least four people in a Finnish shopping centre.

Police have told Finnish media they fear ‘many victims’ have been gunned down in the attack at the Sello shopping centre in the town of Espoo, close to the capital Helsinki.

A witness claimed the gunman, dressed in black, opened fire on the second floor of the complex. There are no reports of him being stopped.

Officers said three men and one woman were killed.

Police identified the shooter as 43-year-old Ibrahim Shkupolli and said that he was still on the loose.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


France: Constitutional Court Rejects Sarkoxy’s Carbon Tax

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, DECEMBER 30 — With a decision that will surely not please president Nicolas Sarkozy, the French Constitutional Court announced last night that it had rejected the carbon tax, a measure that Sarkozy wanted very much to institute and that was to become effective as of January 1st. According to a press release, the judges of the Conseil constitutionel think that the regulation allowed much too many exemptions and that its current formulation is not in line with the goal of fighting for environmental changes. Furthermore, it would also bring about tax disparities. Judges had been called to sentence in an appeal presented on December 22nd by the socialist parliamentary group at the opposition. After the sentence,the premier Francois Fillon hurried to declare that on January 2th the Cabinet would examine a new disposition that will take into account the observations made by the Court. The tax had been put forth by Sarkozy as a “fiscal revolution” and as an important turning point that was to alter the habits of the French. Imposing a tax on CO2 emissions, making them cut down on damages to the environment. Thanks to the contemplated exemption system, nevertheless, according to the Conseil less than half of the greenhouse gases would be subjected to the tax. In its sentence, the Court stated that the new regulation would have excluded some major polluters, such as refineries, and that 93 percent of CO2 emissions of industrial origin would have been practically excluded. The president had announced that the tax was to be a part of a wider government strategy aimed at reducing current greenhouse gases by a fourth within 2050. In order not to weigh negatively on family’s spending power, the government had planned a system of tax relief related to the residence and number of people dependent on the taxpayer. The taxe carbone, as the French say, was to cost in its first phase 17 euro per ton of CO2 (rising in the years to come). For consumers this was to mean a 4 cent increase in the price of petrol and 4.5 cents for diesel. Compensations included a tax deduction of 46 euro per adult living in an urban area and 62 euro for those who live in rural areas. The tax had raised much criticism regarding its actual effects on the environment. Which some experts considered as much too soft.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


France: Sarkozy Stands Firm on Carbon Tax

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, DECEMBER 30 — French president Nicholas Sarkozy is “determined” to impose a carbon tax, which he considers “one of his top commitments”. This was announced by French Secretary of State for Ecology Chantal Jouanno, after having spoken over the phone with the president, who is on holiday in Morocco. Yesterday evening the French Constitutional Court voted down the tax aiming to cut CO2 emissions, which was to have come into force on January 1. Sarkozy “will surely abide by his commitment. He sees the environment as a priority, even if it is difficult and even if we are only three months away from an election deadline,” added Jouanno, noting that the government would be submitting a new proposal on the matter on January 20. Meanwhile, the opposition has praised the annulment of the tax which was to have come into effect and which would have led to a 4-euro-cent increase per litre of petrol, 4.5 for diesel. In the eyes of socialists, promoters of the appeal to the constitutional court, the new tax would have been “ineffective and unfair”. Also the centrist leader Francois Bayrou used the words “partial and unfair” when referring to the tax, while according to the Greens the judges confirmed that “Sarkozy’s version of a carbon tax” was “smoke in our eyes”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: Fashionistas Get Upmarket Swap Store

Discreet outlet aimed at upper classes hit by credit crunch

(ANSA) — Treviso, December 31 — Italy’s well-heeled fashionistas have been given the chance to continue indulging their passion despite the credit crunch, with the opening of the country’s first-ever ‘designer swapping store’.

The wealthy northern city of Treviso is now home to ‘Luxury Swapping’, where elite clients can trade in their Dolce and Gabbana dresses for Gucci shoes. “Our clients are people who enjoy luxury, and when they tire of a coat, a piece of jewelry or a rug, they want to give it away in exchange for something else,” explained store owners Ilaria Bramezza and Francesca Ladisa. Bramezza and Ladisa have designed a system whereby they allocate each item brought in by clients a number of stars between 1 and 10. This can then be exchanged for one or more other items worth the same number of stars. The system is not without problems, however, local daily La Tribuna di Treviso reported on Thursday. Most clients tend to overvalue their own items and believe those they are acquiring are worth less than their marked ‘price’. “But this is why we make it absolutely clear from the outset that the final decision on the ‘price’ classification is ours alone and not up for discussion,” Ladisa said. The store owners take a commission on each successful swap, starting at 20 euros for a one-star piece. Unlike many Anglo-Saxon countries, where thrift and charity shops are hugely popular, the stigma attached to second-hand clothing has traditionally been a strong one in Italy.

But the trend for swap parties sweeping the US and the UK, where participants bring their unused items to trade with others, has recently caught on in Italy.

An online swap club was launched by Bologna-based fashion-lover Tamara Nocco in 2007, and now boasts over 500 members. This year, Nocco teamed up with Francesca Caprioli, founder of the Green-Think organization, in order to jointly organize ethical and sustainable events.

Their first Swap Party was staged in Rome and more are now taking place across the country, with left-over clothes donated to charity.

However, the Treviso store is the first initiative aimed specifically at the upper echelons of Italian society, where the second-hand taboo remains strong.

Recognizing this, the owners chose a small alleyway that is not obvious to anyone passing by.

“The fact it is a little hidden affords our clientele greater discretion,” Bramezza explained to the Treviso daily. And despite this taboo, the three-storey business has enjoyed a thriving trade since opening. Ladisa and Bramezza are confident its popularity will grow further and have plans for a nationwide chain of stores, bringing luxury to struggling upper-class fashion fans across Italy.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Lithuania Nuclear Shutdown to Test EU-Russia Relations

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — One of Russia’s fiercest critics in the EU, Lithuania, will at the turn of the New Year switch off a nuclear power station, in a move set to test the theory that Russia uses energy as a political weapon.

The shutdown of the Ignalina plant — at 11pm local time on 31 December — is being carried out in line with Lithuania’s EU accession promise following concerns that its Chernobyl-type reactor is unsafe.

The small, post-Soviet country is building a new reactor expected to go online between 2018 and 2020 and will from 2015 and 2016 benefit from new electricity supply “bridges” to Poland and Sweden.

The interim period is set to see power prices spike by up to 70 percent at a time of recession, however.

It will also see Lithuania almost entirely reliant on imports of energy from Russia amid the prevailing belief in former Iron Curtain countries that Moscow uses gas and oil cut offs as a tool of political pressure on its former vassals.

Russia in 2006 shut off oil supplies to Lithuania via the Druzhba pipeline after Vilnius sold a petrol refinery to a Polish bidder instead of a Russian state-owned firm. The dispute saw Lithuania threaten to veto a new EU-Russia treaty unless the EU commission intervened on its side.

Relations on the Russia-Lithuania-EU axis were again tested in 2008 when Vilnius urged the EU to impose sanctions on Russia following its military attack on Georgia, another small, former Soviet country.

Lithuanian president and former EU commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite has in recent days tried to reassure people that the Ignalina closure will not alter relations with its neighbour.

“The Lithuanian energy system was and is dependent on Russia, because our energy sources, our supply of gas and power, are tied to that country,” she told the Baltic News Service.

But with the political climate set to sharpen in early 2010, as Lithuania gears up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union, others in the administration are not so sure.

“If our parliament issues a declaration …which they don’t like, they will punish us, as they did Ukraine,” a senior Lithuanian diplomat recently told EUobserver, referring to Russia’s gas cut-offs during the term of office of Moscow-critical Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


Policeman Who Shot Husband of Dresden ‘Veil Martyr’ Cleared

German investigators have dropped an investigation into a policeman who shot an Egyptian trying to save his pregnant wife being stabbed to death in a Dresden courtroom in July.

The policeman, who has not been named, shot Elwy Okaz in the leg because he mistakenly believed that Okaz was the attacker, prosecutors said Wednesday.

In fact, Okaz was trying to protect his wife Marwa El-Sherbini, 31, later dubbed the “veil martyr”, from a frenzied knife attack by Russian-born Alex Wiens.

Wiens, now 29, was jailed for life on November 11 for the racially motivated murder as well as the attempted murder of Okaz. The couple’s three-year-old son was also in the courtroom.

The situation “was particularly hard to assess since Elwy Okaz and Alex Wiens were both covered in blood and Elwy Okaz had just managed to grab the handle of the knife with his hand, making it appear as though he was the attacker,” prosecutors said in a statement, before emphasising that it was a “highly dramatic” and “unclear situation.”

“The actual attacker Wiens was holding the blade of the knife, which added to the impression that he was the one being attacked,” prosecutors said.

They added that the policeman, who was not in the Dresden courtroom when the attack began, only had seconds to act after entering the room and that he had warned several times that he was going to shoot.

“It must also be noted that the murderous attack on Marwa El-Sherbini and Elwy Okaz was only stopped by the courageous actions of the policeman and that without his intervention there might have been further attacks on Elwy Okaz and his family,” the statement said.

The killing, as well as the slow reaction of Germany’s politicians and media, sparked outrage in Sherbini’s home country and in the wider Muslim world.

Wiens and Sherbini were in court because Wiens was appealing against an earlier fine for calling the headscarved Sherbini a “terrorist”, an “Islamist” and a “whore” in a playground in August 2008.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Scotland: Another Anthrax Case Confirmed in Glasgow

A further heroin user in Glasgow has tested positive for anthrax.

The man is said to be responding well to treatment at Monklands District General Hospital in Lanarkshire.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said this took the total number of confirmed anthrax-linked cases to six, which included three people who have died.

The health board said they are continuing to investigate whether contaminated heroin or a contaminated cutting agent may be responsible.

A spokesman for the health board said that two other confirmed patients, continue to respond well to treatment.

They include a male at Glasgow’s Victoria Infirmary and a male at Monklands District General Hospital in Lanarkshire.

The health board is awaiting confirmation of results on a seventh patient, a woman, who is being treated for the infection at the Southern General.

Extremely risky

Consultant in Public Health Medicine, Dr Syed Ahmed, said: “Drug injecting is extremely risky and dangerous.

“The possible presence of a batch of heroin contaminated with Anthrax makes drug injecting even riskier and even more dangerous.

“I urge all drug injecting heroin users to be extremely alert and to seek urgent medical advice if they experienced an infection.

“While this section of the community need to be on their guard the risk to the rest of the population — including close family members of the infected cases — is negligible.

“It is extremely rare for anthrax to be spread from person to person and there is no significant risk of airborne transmission from one person to another.”

“As part of ongoing inquiries, any drug injecting heroin users who present with serious soft tissue infections now or during the last four weeks is being investigated”.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


UK: Al-Qaeda ‘Groomed Abdulmutallab in London’

The Christmas Day airline bomb plot suspect organised a conference under the banner “War on Terror Week” as he immersed himself in radical politics while a student in London, The Times has learnt.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, a former president of the Islamic Society at University College London, advertised speakers including political figures, human rights lawyers and former Guantánamo detainees.

One lecture, Jihad v Terrorism, was billed as “a lecture on the Islamic position with respect to jihad”.

Security sources are concerned that the picture emerging of his undergraduate years suggests that he was recruited by al-Qaeda in London. Security sources said that Islamist radicalisation was rife on university campuses, especially in London, and that college authorities had “a patchy record in facing up to the problem”. Previous anti-terrorist inquiries have uncovered evidence of extremists using political meetings and religious study circles to identify potential recruits.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: England Set to Miss First Commonwealth Games in 80 Years Amid Delhi Terror Fears

Sports stars are abandoning the England team for the Commonwealth Games in India next year amid security fears.

Some of the nation’s greatest medal hopes are citing excuses ranging from ‘bad timing’ to ‘the risk of tummy bugs’ to avoid going to the tournament in Delhi.

There are even reports that the entire England squad could pull out over worries that the athletes could become a target for terrorist attacks.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: Half of Army’s Heavily-Armoured Vehicle Fleet ‘Not Fit for Purpose’

The Ministry of Defence has admitted more than half of its fleet of armoured vehicles is out of service.

Just 134 of the defence force’s 271 Mastiff armoured vehicles are ‘fit for purpose’, according to figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats in written Commons answers.

The harsh desert conditions in Afghanistan have also taken their toll on the Ridgeback fleet, being used for the first time by 11 Light Brigade.

Nearly 40 per cent of Ridgebacks are not currently operational, with just 73 of 118 in service.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Tunisia: Le Temps, Thousands of Conversions to Islam Since2000

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, 30 DEC — Approximately three thousand foreigners, mostly Catholic, were converted to Islam in Tunisia between 2000 and 2007. Their number would be even greater given the high number of conversions that took place during the month of Ramadan 2008. So said the French-speaking newspaper Le Temps, quoting these numbers as opposed to the ones (for which no data is available) regarding conversions in the other sense. The latter are conversions that are the “result of a vast campaign of low-key evangelisation carried out on all fronts, in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco and which therefore regards the Maghreb sphere”. Such conversions involve mostly young Tunisians who convert to Christianity, carry a cross, go to church and become in turn ‘missionaries’, and this also thanks to a “financial and scholastic aid, up to the attainment of a scholarship and a visa for studying in France, promises which may or may not be kept” Leaving it open to the interpretation of said conversions being solely opportunistic. As to conversions to Islam, according to Le Temps, many of them are due to the in-depth study of religious texts, but many also related to sentimental reasons (mixed marriages). (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Agriculture: Turkey Plans Restart of Hazelnut Sales

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, DECEMBER 29 — Following a decision to halt its hazelnut sales in August in a bid to maintain price stability in the market, the Turkish Soil Products Office (TMO) is planning to restart sales in the new year, as Today’s Zaman reports. The office, in this regard, is monitoring the latest market developments. The office announced in August that it would not intervene in the market by selling hazelnuts until January 2010. The TMO, which currently has 480,477 tons of hazelnuts in reserve, will decide whether to restart sales, in line with market developments. Producers and dealers currently comment that the TMO’s recent move to curb speculation has been successful as prices are hovering around fair levels. According to latest reports, Turkey’s hazelnut exports in the first three months of the export season, which kicks off on September 1 every year, declined to 83,486 tons from 112,255 tons in the same period of 2008. Hazelnut exporters earned $509 million in the months of September, October and November of this year. Producers currently are holding an estimated 100,000 tons of hazelnuts in reserve. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Iran’s Opposition Leader ‘Flees’ As Tens of Thousands of Government Supporters Swarm Tehran Chanting ‘Death to Mousavi’

Tens of thousands of hard-liners poured into the streets in support of Iran’s clerical rulers at state-sponsored rallies on Wednesday.

Some of those protesting chanted calls for the execution of opposition leaders as the country’s internal strife turned more bitter.

Others held anti-Western signs while others wore white funeral shrouds to symbolize a willingness to die in defense of the ruling system.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Iranian Mullah: Kill the Protesters

In a television appearance shocking in its candidness, a leading Iranian ayatollah says that it would be far better for the Islamic Republic to simply murder those protesting against the regime, rather than arrest and beat them. Meanwhile, an unknown group claiming to represent Iranian soldiers threatens to take up arms against the regime.

[…]

Perhaps in reaction to the increasing levels of violence by government forces, on December 26 a previously unknown anti-regime group calling itself the National Iranian Armed Resistance Forces (NIRU) “declare our readiness to rise to the armed defense of our nation against the forces of the criminal, illegitimate, transgressing and occupying current Government of Iran…” The group “accuses the current government and the leader of the Islamic Revolution, Mr. Sayyed Ali Khamenei of legal transgressions and high treason of nation and homeland.”

NIRU claims to be made up of “a number of officers, soldiers and personnel of the armed forces”, calling for “support” and “cover… in this moral and nationalist act” from “our brothers and sisters serving with the armed security forces of Iran…”

Iranian pro-democracy activists in contact with Israel National News said they are hesitant to believe in the authenticity of the organization until there is some external evidence of its activities beyond email and Web postings.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Obama’s 2010 Policy and Iran: Misconceptions Guarantee Failure

by Barry Rubin

A friend of mine is angry, saying I’m too tough on President Barack Obama and that nothing he does pleases me. Well, I wish he’d do more that pleases me, and disconcerts America’s enemies.

True, he has done three good things lately: his Nobel speech, which sounded like it was actually given by a U.S. president; his remarks on the demonstrations in Iran (better six months late than never), and his tough verbal stance about investigating the mistakes that led to the near disaster (though I worry they’re less about dramatic change and more just a show to reassure the public that something will be done). I also pointed out that the administration’s relationship with Israel was pretty good overall.

Yet on the single most important Middle East issue, Iran’s nuclear program and its aggressive ambitions, hints about his policy are getting worrisome both because of what this administration isn’t doing and what it’s obviously thinking. The year has now ended with no major public move toward imposing serious sanctions. True, there are a few statements you can dig out indicating a turn in that direction. Yet what should have happened was a major public speech by December 31 about the administration’s sanction plans. After all, it set that date as a deadline for action ten months ago yet let it pass with no visible action.

There are other bad signs that the administration still doesn’t comprehend the problems it faces…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]


Peter Moore’s Kidnapping ‘Was Masterminded by Iran’

Freed hostage Peter Moore and his fellow Britons were taken in an operation led and masterminded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, it was claimed last night.

The five men were taken to Iran within a day of their kidnap from a government ministry building in Baghdad in 2007, according to the Guardian.

It claimed the men were held in prisons run by the Al Quds brigade, a unit specialising in foreign operations on behalf of the Iranian government.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Trade: Turkey and UAE to Seek New Cooperation Areas

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, DECEMBER 30 — Turkish State Minister Zafer Caglayan said on Wednesday that Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) decided to prepare a joint delegation to assess new investment and cooperation areas and carry out joint projects. Speaking to journalists aboard the plane on his return from UAE, Caglayan said he met Abu Dhabi’s Emir Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Caglayan said Turkey was endeavoring to boost relations with UAE in social, economy and trade areas, “there are very important investment opportunities in the UAE,” he added. Caglayan said Al-Nahyan thanked for the support of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan yet noted that economy and treasury of the United Arab Emirates was very strong. Turkish minister said Al-Nahyan told him that 300 billion USD would be invested for infrastructure in UAE in the next five years, Al-Nahyan also expressed readiness to assess investment opportunities in Turkey noting that UAE could cooperate with Turkey in areas of energy, food, tourism, construction and agriculture. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Turkey: 22.8 Pct Big Corporations’ Management Women

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, DECEMBER 29 — Women managers constitute 22.8% of the total top-level administrative staff of Turkeys large private sector corporations, as Today’s Zaman reports quoting a recent survey by the Turkish Confederation of Employers Unions (TISK). The Female Managers Survey was conducted among 111 companies, which are members of 11 different unions of the confederation. As of the end of September 2009, the total workforce — including white-collar and blue-collar workers — in the companies surveyed amounted to 85,427. Female workers accounted for 14.4% of this combined figure. In terms of administrative staff, however, the share of female recruits rose to 22.8%, with 163 female managers among a total number of 714. Among 65 chairpersons, 9 were female and 11 of the 52 deputy chairpersons were women. Of the 239 board members in these 111 companies, 54 were female. The number of the general managers, general coordinators and CEOs was 122, with 34 of them women. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Turkey and Syria to Cooperate in Different Areas

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, DECEMBER 30 — Turkey and Syria will begin cooperating with each other in different areas, Anatolia news agency reports quoting Muhammed Adak, chairman of the Turkish Foreign Relations Department of the Directorate General for Youth and Sports. “An agreement was signed during the high-level ministerial meeting between Turkey and Syria last week. Turkey will share its experiences with Syria. We also help training of Syrian coaches and referees,” Adak said. Meanwhile, the cooperation agreement signed by Turkish and Syrian health ministries will begin yielding results. Syria will purchase flu and pneumonia vaccines to be manufactured in Turkey. Also, Turkey will assist Syria in its efforts to run hospitals, and re-arrange its health regulations. Under the cooperation in media, Turkish state-run TV and Radio Corp. (TRT) and Syrian state-run TV channel are expected to sign a cooperation agreement. Earlier, Anadolu Agency and the Syrian official news agency SANA signed a similar agreement. After signing of the agreement, TRT and Syrian state-run TV channel are expected to make joint productions. Meanwhile, rectors from 12 Turkish universities are expected to visit Syria in the coming days. Rectors will meet with their Syrian counterparts and discuss several issues such as exchange of students. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Russia

Vladimir Putin Says Russia’s Population Rising

Russia’s population statistics are rising for the first time since 1995, says Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Mr Putin said that for the past five years the number of deaths had declined, while births had risen.

He said statistics to be released shortly would show life-expectancy had almost reached the age of 69.

As president, Mr Putin brought in policies to stop population decline, which has been blamed on emigration, alcoholism, and poor health care.

‘Symbolic amount’

“We can say with a high degree of confidence that Russia will register a growth in population for the first time since 1995,” said Mr Putin at an end-of-year government meeting broadcast on state television.

His spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the total anticipated population growth in 2009 was only about 20,000 — but he said this was a “symbolic” amount.

Health Minister Tatyana Golikova said the first month of population growth in 15 years came in August this year, when the birth rate increased by 1,000.

Figures published in November said Russia’s population stood at 141.9 million.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

South Asia

8 CIA Agents Killed in Afghan Suicide Bombing

WASHINGTON, Dec 30 (Reuters) — The eight American civilians killed in a suicide bombing at a military base in southeastern Afghanistan on Wednesday were all CIA agents, U.S. officials said.

CIA officials were not immediately available to comment, and the U.S. officials said they could not provide details pending notification of the agents’ families.

The explosion, at a military base in Khost province near the border with Pakistan, caused one of the highest foreign civilian death tolls in an insurgent strike in the eight-year war.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


Afghan Suicide Bomber Killed C.I.A. Operatives

KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest killed at least eight American civilians, most of them C.I.A. officers, at a remote base in southeastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, according to NATO officials and former American intelligence officials.

Afghans Say Inquiry Shows Boys Were Killed in Allied Action (December 31, 2009)

Army History Finds Early Missteps in Afghanistan (December 31, 2009) The attack at the C.I.A. base, Forward Operating Base Chapman, in Khost Province appeared to be the single deadliest episode for the spy agency in the eight years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It also dealt a significant blow to the often insular, tight-knit organization, which has lost only 90 officers in the line of duty since its founding in 1947.

One former C.I.A. official said that eight agency employees had been killed but cautioned that early reports from the field were often incorrect. The official, who spoke anonymously because the agency had not commented publicly on the attack, said the final number of dead could be higher because at least six American civilians were wounded. It was unclear how many of the dead were full-time C.I.A. officers and how many were contract employees.

A C.I.A. spokesman did not return calls seeking comment. Previously, the spy agency has revealed that four of its officers have been killed since the Sept. 11 attacks, all of them memorialized with stars carved into a marble wall at C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va.

The attack occurred as the agency has steadily increased its presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past year, sometimes sending operatives to remote bases instead of to heavily fortified embassies in Kabul and Islamabad, Pakistan.

In recent years, the C.I.A. has been at the forefront of American counterterrorism operations in South Asia, launching a steady barrage of drone attacks against Qaeda and Taliban operatives in the mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Khost Province, bordering Pakistan, has been a prime area for militants with links to the Taliban and Al Qaeda who use Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas as a base to stage their insurgency.

Bases on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan gather intelligence in both countries and generally have ready access to local operatives who can move seamlessly across the border. The Khost area has been one of several throughways that Al Qaeda has used since the 1990s to move back and forth between the two countries.

There was a large Qaeda camp south of Khost until August 1998, when its inhabitants were forced to move into Pakistan after the United States, using cruise missiles, bombed the camp in response to the attacks on American embassies in East Africa, believed to have been planned by Al Qaeda.

There have been frequent attacks against American bases in Khost, but rarely, if ever, do suicide bombers make it past a main gate. Wednesday’s attack was particularly audacious because the bomber managed to breach a secure base assigned to potentially sensitive operations.

A NATO official said the bomber managed to elude security and reach an area near the base’s gym. It was not clear whether the bomber, who apparently died in the blast, entered the gym. Among other questions raised was whether the bomber worked at the base and had clearance, or if a security slip allowed him to gain entry, and whether other operatives had access to the base.

“You are always looking at techniques and procedures, and if you think a place is wrapped up tight and then it’s not, it’s concerning,” said a NATO official, who spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of the matter.

The former C.I.A. official said the agency was in the process Wednesday of notifying family members of the officers killed in the attack. The names of some of those killed might never be publicly disclosed, because several of the C.I.A. officers may have been working undercover.

American bases in Khost, particularly Camp Salerno, one of the largest in the country, have been the targets of frequent attacks. Dozens of Afghan laborers have been killed in bombings over the past several years.

In May, a suicide attacker exploded a car bomb near the main gate, killing 7 civilians and wounding 21. The bombing took place a day after a coordinated Taliban attack inside the city of Khost, the provincial capital, that left at least 7 civilians and 8 insurgents dead.

In June, a man riding a motorcycle detonated explosives near a densely crowded intersection in the city, killing 7 Afghan civilians and wounding 44, including 7 children.

Last week, heavily armed insurgents entered a police headquarters in Gardez, to the north of Khost, and battled Afghan and American security forces for more than three hours. That attack was attributed to the Taliban network run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, which bases itself just south in Pakistan’s tribal area of North Waziristan.

In recent weeks, American officials have stepped up pressure on Pakistan to root out the Haqqani network, whose fighters pose one of the greatest threats to American forces and hold sway over large parts of Afghanistan, including Paktika, Paktia and Khost Provinces.

Pakistani officials and diplomats have said the demand was rebuffed by the Pakistani military, which is already fighting Taliban militants who threaten Pakistan’s government and which has long considered the Haqqanis assets to influence the future shape of Afghanistan once the Americans leave the region.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


Afghanistan: Taliban Claims Attack Against CIA Officials

Kabul, 31 Dec. (AKI) — The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a bomb attack which killed eight Americans who reportedly worked for the CIA in Afghanistan — the worst against US intelligence officials since 2001. Five Canadians were killed in a separate attack, officials said on Thursday.

The Taliban attack was carried out at a US base in the eastern province of Khost when the bomber, dressed as an Afghan soldier, entered Foward Operating Base Chapman near the Pakistani border wearing an explosive vest.

“This deadly attack was carried out by a valorous Afghan army member when the officials [Americans] were busy gaining information about the mujahadeen,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said in an email.

The suicide bomber reportedly evaded security at the base and detonated an explosive belt in a room used as a fitness centre on Wednesday.

The attack is one of the most ambitious conducted by the Taliban and a sign of its sophistocated coordination at a time when violence has reached its highest levels since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.

In a separate incident, four Canadian soldiers and a journalist died in a roadside bomb attack in Kandahar province.

It was the worst fatal incident affecting Canadians in Afghanistan for more than two years.

US president Barack Obama is sending 30,000 extra troops to tackle the increasing violence and NATO allies are contributing thousands more.

An Afghan army official said on Wednesday that Washington had pledged 16 billion dollars to train the army and air force.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Afghan Base Hit by Attack Has Pivotal Role in Conflict

KABUL, Afghanistan — The operatives killed in a suicide attack at a C.I.A. base in southeast Afghanistan were responsible for collecting intelligence on militant networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plotting missions to kill their top leaders, American officials said Thursday.

Seven of the eight Americans killed in the attack Wednesday afternoon at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province were C.I.A. officers, and one of the victims was the base chief, the officials said. Another six agency employees were wounded, the agency said.

The attack was the single deadliest episode for the spy agency in the eight years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was carried out by a bomber wearing a suicide vest under an Afghan National Army uniform, NATO officials said Thursday, asking not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack.

The use of an army uniform raised the possibility that the uniform was stolen or that the Afghan National Army ranks had been infiltrated by insurgents, a potentially more serious and pervasive problem.

The attack happened close to dusk, when some people on the base were finishing their daily work and relaxing or taking a break before dinner or before returning to their offices for the evening.

A NATO official said the bomber managed to elude security and reach an area near the base’s gym. Among other questions raised was whether the bomber worked at the base and had clearance, or if a security slip allowed him to gain entry.

An American intelligence official said that the C.I.A. would be conducting an investigation onto how the attacker managed to breach the base’s perimeter security and detonate his explosive vest.

The attack dealt a significant blow to the often insular, tight-knit intelligence organization, which has lost only 90 officers in the line of duty since its founding in 1947.

Previously, the spy agency has revealed that four of its officers have been killed since the Sept. 11 attacks, all of them memorialized with stars carved into a marble wall at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va.

“Yesterday’s tragedy reminds us that the men and women of the C.I.A. put their lives at risk every day to protect this nation,” Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, said in a message to the spy agency’s work force.

The attack occurred as the agency has steadily increased its presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past year, sometimes sending operatives to remote bases instead of to heavily fortified embassies in Kabul and Islamabad, Pakistan…

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


Indonesia: Terror Attack Warning in Bali

Jakarta, 31 Dec. (AKI) — The United States embassy in Indonesia has issued a warned of a possible New Year’s Eve terrorist attack on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. The embassy has sent emails to US citizens quoting Bali Governor Mangku Pastika as saying there is an indication of an attack to Bali.

It has also posted a statement on its website in which it said the Bali Tourism Board had widely distributed a warning of an attack.

“The Governor of Bali, Mr Mangku Pastika, wishes to share a message with all of us: There is an indication of an attack to Bali tonight,” the statement said.

“Extremists may target both official and private interests, including hotels, clubs and shopping centres.

The embassy urged American travellers to be “vigilant and prudent at all times”.

“While Indonesia’s counter terrorism efforts have been ongoing and partly successful, violent elements have demonstrated a willingness and ability to carry out deadly attacks with little or no warning.

“US citizens must consider the security and safety preparedness of hotels, residences, restaurants, and entertainment or recreation venues that they frequent.”

The Australian government has also renewed its travel warning amid concern about a renewed terror threat.

“We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Indonesia, including Bali, at this time due to the very high threat of terrorist attack,” the department of foreign affairs said on its website.

The warning came six months after twin suicide blasts killed seven people at luxury hotels in the capital Jakarta.

“On 17 July 2009, terrorists detonated bombs at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta (photo). Australians were among those killed and injured,” the website said.

“There is a possibility of further terrorist attacks in Jakarta and elsewhere in Indonesia, including Bali.”

Indonesia’s counter-terrorism unit has confirmed it received the warning.

Bali has been hit hard by Islamic militants in the past, with more than 220 people killed in suicide bombings in 2002 and 2005 targeting Westerners, including Australians

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Indonesia: Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, A Friend of Christians, Dies

He often defended the freedom of Christians. Has guaranteed full citizenship to ethnic Chinese in Indonesia following the violence in the days of Suharto. It was the first Indonesian president elected by the people. The organization of which he was president, the Nahdlatul Ulama, is the most ecumenical of the Islamic world.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — This afternoon, at the age of 69, the former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, known by the nickname “Gus Dur” died. He was born September 7, 1949 in Jombang (East Java) and is the figure who most contributed in recent years to dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia.

Of mixed ethnicity (Indonesian and Chinese), Gus Dur has also earned the esteem among the Chinese communities of the archipelago by revoking the ban forbidding the use of Mandarin and Chinese traditions in place at the time of Suharto (1967-1998) .

Under Suharto, the Chinese were regarded as second class citizens, accused of being “traitors” and often used as scapegoats in the crisis that erupted in the country. The Chinese, the richest part of the population, were seen as the cause of poverty of others (Indonesians) and the source of all social tensions. Ethnic clashes with the Chinese took place in ‘78 and 80, with killings and the burning their homes. The most violent clashes were 14-15 May 1998, when during looting and fires, thousands of Chinese women were raped by gangs of criminals. As a result thousands of Chinese fled from Indonesia, but Suharto was forced to resign on 21 May ‘98.

Gus Dur, became president in ‘99, the first to be elected after long years of dictatorship and challenging Suharto’s successor BJ Habibie, rejected by the parliament. On 21 January 2001 the ban on the public use Chinese language and Chinese cultural traditions was lifted, and the celebration of the Chinese New Year was made a national holiday. The strength of this decision matured more respect, tolerance and democracy in the country.

Abdurrahman Wahid was forced to resign in July 2001 when he also fell out of favour with parliament.

Gus Dur to his credit sought peace with the Islamic rebels in Banda Aceh and always supported the religious freedom of Christians. In times of crisis, the possibility of terrorist attacks against churches, he urged members of his Muslim organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama to promote protection and vigilance, to defend the Christian communities. Thanks to him the Nahdlatul Ulama has become the most important (and largest) Islamic organization, open to dialogue with other religions.

Having previously studied in Egypt and Iraq, Gus Dur always had good relations with the Muslim world internationally. Several kidnappings of journalists in Indonesia, the Philippines and the western part of Iraqi extremists and fundamentalists have been solved thanks to him. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — who was his collaborator, but often the subject of his criticism — sent his condolences to the family of Wahid. He had visited the former president in hospital shortly before his death.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Malaysian Court Rules Non-Muslims May Call God Allah

A court in Malaysia has ruled that Christians have a constitutional right to use the word Allah when referring to God.

The High Court said a government ban on non-Muslims using the word was unconstitutional.

The court was ruling on a lawsuit filed by the Herald, a publication of the Catholic Church in Malaysia, in 2007.

The authorities had insisted that Allah was an Islamic word which could only be used by Muslims.

The BBC’s Jennifer Pak in Kuala Lumpur said some Muslim groups suspect the Catholic Church is seeking to encourage Muslims to convert to Christianity — a move which is illegal in Malaysia.

‘Glorious new year’

The issue had become a symbol of a growing number of religious grievances among minority groups, in a political environment often divided along racial and religious lines, our correspondent adds.

The Herald filed for a judicial review after it was temporarily ordered to stop publishing in 2007 for referring to “Allah”.

The publication said it had been been using the word for decades, and had a constitutional right to do so.

The Herald welcomed Thursday’s ruling, saying it would be a “glorious new year for some 850,000 Catholics in Malaysia”.

More than half of Malaysia’s population is Muslim but the large Chinese and Indian communities are mainly Christian, Buddhist or Hindu.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Pakistan: Taliban Claims Deadly Attack on Karachi Procession

Islamabad, 30 Dec. (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing that killed 43 people in Karachi on Monday and vowed to carry out more attacks. Taliban commander Asmatullah Shaheen claimed the suicide attack as Pakistani intelligence agencies revealed that various organisations had conspired in the southern port city to destabilise Pakistan.

According to an intelligence dispatch, the Shia militant group, Sipah-e-Mohammad, which is said to be closely allied with Iranian intelligence ministry VEVAK, was expecting the attack on the mourning procession and had armed their men with phosphorous chemical and petrol bombs.

As soon as the attack occurred, Sipah members, mostly trained in Iran, spread through the nearby downtown market and threw the bombs which immediately gutted buildings and shops.

When fire fighting vehicles tried to approach the buildings to extinguish the fire, the youths opened fire on the vehicles and prevented them from doing their work.

Karachi has been at the centre of a proxy war between pro-Iranian and anti-Iranian elements.

Abdul Malik Rigi, the leader of Sunni militant group Jundullah, also known as the People’s Resistance Movement of Iran, which was behind several recent attacks in Iranian Baluchistan, also operated through the Baluchi slum of Lyari, in the south of Karachi.

Iran blamed Pakistan for the recent instability in Iranian Baluchistan and alleged that Pakistan provides sanctuaries to the Iranian dissidents.

After Monday’s riots, an uneasy calm prevailed in the city but many fear another incident could ignite serious conflict in the sprawling city where there are different ethnic and sectarian groups.

Pushtuns are the second largest ethnic community in Karachi and run most of the 3000 Islamic seminaries, including several pro-Taliban seminaries including Binori Town, Jamia Binoria and Jamia Farooqia.

Any new attack in the city may spark retaliation against Sunni religious groups and since most of the teachers and the students happened to be Pushtuns, the situation could have an ethnic element.

Dozens of people were injured in the bomb attack which struck as Shias marked the climax of the holy month of Muharram.

After the explosion, marchers turned their anger on ambulance workers, security forces and journalists.

The Taliban identified Monday’s suicide bomber as Hasnain Muwiya.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Source: 2 Killed in Afghanistan Bombing Were Security Contractors

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — Two of the seven CIA officers killed Wednesday in a suspected terrorist attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan were contractors for Xe, a private security firm, a former intelligence official said Thursday.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack. A senior U.S. official said information suggested that a bomber walked into a gym facility at Forward Operating Base Chapman — in Khost Province, near the border of Pakistan — and detonated bombs in a suicide vest.

Another six CIA employees were wounded, another official said. It is not known how the bomber got past security.

A U.S. intelligence official on Thursday vowed to avenge the attack.

“This attack will be avenged through successful, aggressive counterterrorism operations,” the intelligence official vowed.

Former CIA official Robert Richer called it “the greatest loss of life for the Central Intelligence Agency since the Beirut Embassy bombing” in 1983, which killed eight agents.

“These brave Americans were part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life,” President Obama said in a written statement Thursday.

“The United States would not be able to maintain the freedom and security that we cherish without decades of service from the dedicated men and women of the CIA.”

Richer, who retired from the agency in 2005 as the associate deputy director for operations, knew many of Wednesday’s victims personally. In a written statement Thursday, he called on the public to “remain mindful that our great country is served well by those in and out of uniform. That officers like those lost in this attack placed themselves in harm’s way, at a critical and dangerous crossroads in the war on terror.

“We should be thankful for the service and sacrifice of these fine Americans. They and their colleagues, who compose the very thin line of Agency officers working in the shadows at the very tip of the war on terror, are a national asset; an asset often misunderstood and under appreciated.”

CIA Director Leon Panetta said in a statement Thursday that “those who fell … were far from home and close to the enemy, doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country from terrorism.”

A U.S. military source noted that Chapman was originally a base for the Khost Provincial Construction Team, but the team left some time ago. A U.S. intelligence official would not discuss the specific mission of the base but acknowledged that it was a crucial CIA post and a “hub of activity.”

Authorities believe that the suicide bomber might have attacked just after a convoy was ending or beginning, which would account for the high number of casualties.

Eight Americans were originally believed to be killed in the bombing.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


Sources: Bomber Was Invited on Base

The Associated Press has learned that the suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees at a remote outpost in southeastern Afghanistan had been invited onto the base and was not searched.

A former senior intelligence official said the man was being courted as an informant and that it was the first time he had been brought inside U.S. Forward Operating Base Chapman at the edge of Khost city, the capital of Khost province, which borders Pakistan and is a Taliban stronghold.

The official says a senior and experienced CIA debriefer came from Kabul for the meeting, suggesting that the purpose of the meeting was to gain intelligence.

The former senior intelligence official and another former official with knowledge of the attack spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The CIA has declined to comment on the report.

The Taliban on Thursday claimed responsibility for infiltrating the base with a suicide bomber who got into a gym and set off an explosion that killed seven Americans and an Afghan and wounded six others. The Associated Press has learned that one of the dead was the chief of the CIA’s post in southeastern Khost province.

Harold E. Brown Jr., a State Department employee of Fairfax, Va., died in the attack, his father, Harold E. Brown Sr., told the Associated Press on Thursday. The younger Mr. Brown, 37, who grew up in Bolton, Mass., served in the Army and remained a major in the reserves. He is survived by a wife and three children ages 12, 10 and 2.

Wednesday’s assault on the base was a blow to the CIA, which previously had lost only four operatives in Afghanistan since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said Thursday in a message to agency staff that the casualties sustained in Wednesday’s strike were the result of a terrorist attack…

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]

Far East

Execution Underscores ‘China’s Contempt for the West’

Chinese justice officials executed British national Akmal Shaikh using a lethal injection on Tuesday.

Coming on the heels of its efforts to derail climate change talks in Copenhagen and the stiff prison sentence handed over to a political dissident popular in the West, German newspapers see the handling of the prosecution and execution of a British citizen in China as the latest example of the country’s “immature” behavior on the global political stage.

Few issues are as sensitive in Europe than that of capital punishment. The death penalty is banned in each of the 27 European Union member states and media coverage is often highly critical of state-ordered executions in the United States and China.

Tuesday’s execution by lethal injection in China of Akmail Shaikh, a 53-year-old British national with an alleged history of mental illness who was busted in 2007 for smuggling 4 kilograms (around 9 pounds) of heroin, is no exception. But coming just days after China stalled global climate negotiations in Copenhagen and issued a stiff, 11-year sentence against Liu Xiaobo, a dissident well known in the West, tensions between Europe and China have clearly been exacerbated.

Shaikh’s family, politicians and British rights group Repreive, which mounted a Web campaign this month in an effort to save the condemned man, claim that the Chinese justice system brushed aside requests that he be given a psychiatric evaluation. Helen Pidd, a journalist with Britain’s Guardian newspaper, meticulously profiles the man’s apparent slide into mental illness — a world where he suffered under the delusion he was about to become a pop star with his out-of-tune song “Come Little Rabbit,” which he thought could help bring about world peace.

Family and friends claim he was duped by Eastern European criminals who he believed had connections to music producers and promoters into unwittingly smuggling drugs into China. Those familiar with Shaikh — both in Britain and where he later lived in Poland — described a man who behaved erratically, became estranged from his wife and showed signs of mental illness, including hundreds of delusional e-mails he apparently sent to the British embassy in Warsaw.

The outrage in Europe is centered on the question of why a man who appeared to be mentally ill was not given proper treatment. Under Chinese law, the prospect of mental illness must be considered before capital punishment may be applied.

In Britain, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown had personally intervened to seek clemency for Shaikh, the government summoned China’s ambassador to a 45-minute meeting on Tuesday with Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis, who said the diplomat had been called to “hear of the government’s regret that Akmal Shaikh’s mental health had been ignored by the Chinese judiciary despite repeated interventions by those with an interest in his case.” Such criticism extended across Europe, including Germany.

“To the Chinese leadership, this was about a demonstration of power rather than rule of law,” said Günter Nooke of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, who is the government’s top human rights official. For a number of years, Germany and the European Union have held a dialogue with China on the rule of law and human rights. In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Nooke indirectly suggested those talks could be jeopardized. He said Shaikh’s execution showed “what wobbly legs our dialogue about greater rule of law and human rights in China are standing on.”

Meanwhile, Renate Wohlwend, an official at the Council of Europe, the powerful European human rights watchdog, criticized the execution. “Capital punishment has a brutalizing effect in society,” she said. “It must be totally removed once and for all from the legislation of all countries which strive to uphold democracy, the rule of law and human rights.”

German commentators on Wednesday are universally critical of Beijing, with one of the country’s largest newspapers accusing China of unacceptable immaturity on the global stage.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“The execution of a British citizen in China is causing far greater disturbance than it normally would, even if it were a European getting the death penalty in the United States. In the Chinese justice system, excessive killing isn’t the only problem, and the execution of Akmal Shaikh is now drawing attention to that here at home. More than anything, the system lacks transparency and that makes it seem arbitrary. In the case of Shaikh, it is especially outrageous because even in China, the fact that he was mentally ill should have been treated as a mitigating factor. Was his mental state even examined? Were dozens of petitions taken seriously? In this case, the Chinese system also showed itself to be unrelenting politically, and that will have consequences.”

“It is highly unusual for the prime minister, foreign minister and even the opposition leader to make a plea to a foreign government and then to be brushed off the way they were by China. Their pleas were ignored by the Chinese government and that points to a fundamental problem that is becoming increasingly frequent in dealings with China. China is a hypersensitive behemoth. Any time the country is criticized for its foreign policy (relations with rogue states, for example) or its domestic policies (its treatment of minorities in Tibet or Xinjiang, or human rights policies), it reacts aggressively. In simple political disputes, like currency policies or its obstructive moves during climate negotiations, it responds brusquely and with hostility. In its international dealings, China shows an immaturity that is no longer appropriate given its size and importance in the world. China warns against interference into internal matters, but that’s an absurd, empty phrase in an interwoven world in which domestic situations indeed play a role in decisions on investments and political cooperation.”

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

“China has taken a liking to ignoring Western wishes and input. At the global climate conference in Copenhagen, it was the main saboteur. A dissident who found resonance abroad received a long prison sentence. And now a British citizen has been executed, despite several pleas for mercy by Gordon Brown and his government.”

“The man was condemned for drug smuggling in a hasty trial in which the court coldly brushed aside objections that the accused was mentally ill. What kind of person would come to the idea that if he smuggled 4 kilograms of heroin into China for two Polish drug smugglers that they would make him a pop star there?”

“The leaders in Beijing appear to be brimming with confidence, and Americans and Europeans are feeling it. And when they actually do dare to raise their voices, the Chinese comeback line is always ‘respect our sovereignty.’ The execution underscores the massive difference in the legal systems — and China’s contempt for the West.”

The center-left Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel writes:

“China has executed a drug smuggler and the fact that the man was British is incidental — no foreign passport can protect someone who has crossed a border with 4 kilos of heroin. But the situation isn’t as simple as it appears at first glance. It also has historical resonances. When the Brits used their power (close to 200 years ago) to destroy the Chinese empire through forced opium imports, China was powerless to act. So China’s insistence to refuse to tolerate external interference today is even louder in a case where a Brit has been condemned for smuggling in enough drugs to ‘kill 26,000 people.’ One could even follow the reasoning there.

“But China’s position highlights less of a legitimate consciousness of history than a revanchist national consciousness. If Akmal Shaikh had just been convicted as a straightforward drug dealer, the outrage in the West would have been limited. But if an apparently mentally ill man, whose culpability is questionable, was convicted as an historical scapegoat, then China shouldn’t expect any understanding.”

The conservative daily Die Welt, under the headline, “State Murder,” writes:

“The real reason for the outrage in London and the West is not the detestable death penalty itself … but rather the lack of transparency in the case. Akmal Shaikh was no political incident. Why didn’t the court allow doctors to examine him? If it is true that the man suffered from serious psychiatric problems, it also would have been a crime under Chinese law to execute him. If he wasn’t mentally ill, nobody in Europe would have applauded his death penalty … but they also wouldn’t have been as loud in their denunciation of China.

“The answer is simple: China didn’t want to set a precedent for a foreigner. The Chinese justice system issues more death penalties each year than any other country in the world. But it is too cowardly to provide proceedings that are transparent or anything close to adhering to the rule of law.”

— Daryl Lindsey

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Africa: US Cooperation, Countries in ‘Democratic Crisis’ Are Suspended

Niger, Guinea and Madagascar, countries that have been embroiled for months in internal political crises have been formally suspended from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which provides for economic assistance and collaboration from the United States to countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. “Each one of these countries has experimented a move toward non-democratic power, which is incompatible with the progress needed toward the rule of law or political pluralism,” states a White House communiqué, which has the final word on which countries may, or may not, benefit from AGOA. The US Department of State has also announced that it would stop non-economic aid to Niger and imposed sanctions to a travel ban against some government personalities. Mauritania, however, has now been included in the AGOA and it will thus be able to benefit from preferential tariffs. [AB]

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Chinese Downplay Somali Pirate Ransom

Failed military action could reflect on combat capabilities

A ransom paid just days ago for the crew of the Chinese-flagged merchant vessel De Xin Hai has delayed for now a Chinese choice of continuing to patrol off of Somalia as part of an international array of warships or risk the lives of ships’ hostages, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

While there has been no official Chinese government mention of a ransom payment — said to be some $4 million — Chinese warships were seen escorting the vessel which had been in the hands of Somali pirates.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Somalia: NGO Official Killed in South, Fighting in Different Areas

Unidentified gunmen shot dead an official of a local NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) in his home in Balad Hawo town, in the southern Gedo region, witnesses said. The episode is merely the latest of a string of violence over the past days in the country, theatre to a conflict between regular soldiers and armed insurgents, who aim to seize control of the territory. According to the Somali media, at least 15 people were killed and some thirty wounded between Thursday and Friday, including numerous civilians, in fighting between insurgents and troops of the transitional federal government, backed by African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM), whose barracks were targeted by heavy shellings sparking the fighting. Another three people were killed and five wounded on Saturday when their home was accidentally hit by a mortar. Fighting erupted yesterday between soldiers and insurgents also in nearby Beledweyne, in central Somalia, leaving dozens dead. Over 20,000 people, for the most part civilians were killed in the past year and a half, and some 1.5-million fled just from the Somali capital Mogadishu.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Somali Man ‘Tried to Take Bomb Onto Plane’

A Somali man is in custody in Mogadishu, suspected of trying to take explosives onto a plane in November, officials have revealed.

He had chemicals, liquid and a syringe — materials similar to those used by the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a plane on Christmas Day.

The Daallo Airlines plane was due to fly to the northern Somali city of Hargeisa, then to Djibouti and Dubai.

The airport is in one of the few areas controlled by the Somali government.

Much of the country is in the hands of radical Islamist groups, accused of links to al-Qaeda.

‘Red-handed’

But this is the first time that an attempt to blow up a commercial flight in Somalia has been reported.

“We don’t know whether he’s linked with al-Qaeda or other foreign organisations, but his actions were the acts of a terrorist. We caught him red-handed,” police spokesman Abdulahi Hassan Barise told the Associated Press news agency.

Despite the lack of law and order in Somalia, there are daily flights to neighbouring countries such as Djibouti and Kenya.

The African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia works with the government on security in the Mogadishu airport.

US officials have learned about the Somali case and are investigating any possible links with the attempted attack in Detroit, AP reports.

Somalia has not had an effective national government for almost 20 years.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Immigration

Australia a Magnet for People Smugglers: Opposition

The federal opposition says the arrival of another boatload of asylum seekers shows that Australia has become a favoured destination for people smugglers.

A boat carrying 11 suspected asylum seekers was intercepted near the Ashmore Islands off northern Australia late on Monday by Border Protection Command.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says the continuing arrival of boat people is putting the assessment system under too much pressure.

“The government’s indifference and weakness, both in their border protection policies and the decisions they’ve taken, have ensured that Australia has become a magnet for people smugglers,” Mr Morrison told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“So we’re now left with a situation where we have Christmas Island full, boats arriving pretty much at will and this must be putting extraordinary pressure on the processing systems that need to be undertaken under such overcrowded conditions.”

The latest suspected asylum seeker arrivals will be taken to nearby Christmas Island for questioning and to undergo security, identity and health checks.

The interception comes only days after the federal government rejected claims overcrowding in detention facilities on Christmas Island had forced it to move 30 Afghan asylum seekers to Melbourne for processing. It is the 59th asylum seeker boat to have been intercepted in Australian waters so far this year.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


USA: Survey Shows ‘Pew-Versus-Pulpit Divide’

A new poll shows disparity between religious leaders and those in the pews on the issue of illegal immigration.

According to the poll conducted by Zogby International — a research group that has been tracking public opinion since 1984 in North America, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Europe — many church members strongly disagree with their leaders’ contention that more immigrant workers need to be allowed back into the United States.

The survey also showed that most parishioners advocated for more enforcement to cause illegal workers to return home while the majority of religious leaders were calling for illegal immigrants to be put on the path to U.S. citizenship.

Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, feels that many religious leaders are focused on advancing an agenda. “It seems that the evangelical elites, like the mainline Protestant elites, are growing almost calloused and very comfortable with disregarding the views of their own church members in their pursuit of their own fairly liberal political agenda,” he notes.

The survey of Catholic, mainline Protestant, born-again Protestants, and Jewish voters was one of the largest polls on immigration ever conducted. Dr. Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), says it shows that there is a huge divide between rank-and-file Jews and Christians and many of their leaders on the issue.

“The major religious denominations, and even the National Association of Evangelicals, have all essentially endorsed the position that the illegal aliens in the United States need to all be legalized,” Camarota reports. “And yet what we found in the poll was that it is diametrically opposed to what most of their actual members want. There’s a real pew-versus-pulpit divide here.”

The researcher notes that the largest non-Catholic denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, did not support amnesty for illegal aliens.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

General

Wikipedia Meets Its Own Climategate

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, had an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal drawing attention to the rise of “online hostility” and the “degeneration of online civility.” He (and coauthor Andrea Weckerle) suggested ways in which we can “prevent the worst among us from silencing the best among us.”

I agree with just about everything that they say. But there is one problem that Mr. Wales does not go near. That is the use of Wikipedia itself to inflame the political debate by permitting activists to rewrite the contributions of others. All by itself, that surely is a contributor to online incivility.

The issue that I am particularly thinking about is “climate change” — or global warming as it was once called (until the globe stopped warming, about a decade ago). Recently the Financial Post in Canada published an article by Lawrence Solomon, with this remarkable headline:

How Wikipedia’s green doctor rewrote 5,428 climate articles

Solomon draws attention to the online labors of one William M. Connolley, a Green Party activist and software engineer in Britain. Starting in February 2003, Connolley set to work on the Wikipedia site.

[…]

“All told, Connolley created or rewrote 5,428 unique Wikipedia articles. His control over Wikipedia was greater still, however, through the role he obtained at Wikipedia as a website administrator, which allowed him to act with virtual impunity. When Connolley didn’t like the subject of a certain article, he removed it — more than 500 articles of various descriptions disappeared at his hand. When he disapproved of the arguments that others were making, he often had them barred — over 2,000 Wikipedia contributors who ran afoul of him found themselves blocked from making further contributions. Acolytes whose writing conformed to Connolley’s global warming views, in contrast, were rewarded with Wikipedia’s blessings. In these ways, Connolley turned Wikipedia into the missionary wing of the global warming movement.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

4 comments:

James Higham said...

Meanwhile, Happy New Year to you both.

Ostakaa makkaraa Sianliha on hyvää said...

Wake up Europe - Seppo Lehto got prisonery 2 years 4 monts about mogging islam and it`s paedofile prophet muhammed.

Do you accept this finnish judgement, that because of mogging islam you have to go into prison? - If you do not agree, please do something.

Make some protests against finnish falsified judgement and finnish turkish style justice system

heroyalwhyness said...

Happy New Year!

re: Ostakaa makkaraa Sianliha on hyvää [Buy pork sausage is good]'s comment above, here are some previous GoV articles on the subject:


New Motoon — Live From Finland " March 4, 2008

Seppo Lehto Goes to Prison " June 3, 2008

Defamation, Blasphemy, and the End of Free Speech in Finland March 27, 2009

MauserMedic said...

The problem with the "native stock" in that nation, and many others, is that is already thoroughly indoctrinated. Our common cultural beliefs are the aberration there. We will be viewed as the "other", and in Islamic societies the other serves as the scapegoat for all the shortcomings of a belief system that guarantees poverty, misery, and persecution. Our population, only a fraction of which gives these wars any thought, is largely naive: surely everyone holds the same values as us, people throughout the world are basically good, and with some self-effacing behavior other cultures will surely recognize how wonderful our culture is.

Afghanistan cannot be treated like Germany in the last half of the '40s; culture matters, and theirs is incompatible with ours. We would do well to accept and plan for that.