Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20101225

Financial Crisis
»China Raises Interest Rates on Christmas Day
»China Fears Euro Debt Crisis Will Go From ‘Acute’ To ‘Chronic’
»ACLU Bristles Over Terror List
»Answering Khaled Abou El Fadl
»Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb to Blame for Hornell Fire
»Congressman McClintock Remembers Fallen Roseville Soldier
»Feds Sneaking Around Congress to Regulate Firearms
»For Hawaii Governor, Discrediting Anti-Obama ‘Birthers’ Is a Top Priority
»How to: Run Snitches Inside Terrorist Groups
»Military Says Soldier Had No Right of Self-Defense
»Obama: After START, Tactical Arms Treaty
»Park51 Imam Plans National Speaking Tour
»The Freaky Fantasies of a Former Guantanamo Detainee Explain Why Sufi Islam Won’t Defeat the Jihadists
»The Thermos Flask Terror Threat: U.S. Warns Airlines to Prepare for New Tactic During Christmas
»Vice Admiral: Obama Was Outmaneuvered by Russians on START
»‘We the People’ To Open Next Congress
»What I Really Said About Radical Jihadism
»WikiLeaks Suspect
Europe and the EU
»Being Nice Hasn’t Protected Sweden
»Britain on Course for Flu Epidemic
»Crime Boss Opens Up About Mob in Switzerland
»Dutch Police Arrest 12 Somali Terror Suspects Following Secret Service Tip-Off
»Eco-Bulbs ‘A Health Hazard for Babies and Pregnant Women Due to Mercury Inside’
»Greece: Leading Priest Blames Jews for Greece’s Problems
»My Son the Terrorist
»The EU Calls Ravello to Account for Silent Auditorium
»UK: Albanian Asylum Seeker Who Dumped Loaded Handgun Outside Tony Blair’s House Facing Years in Prison
»UK: Cyber Attack: A Very Modern Theatre of War — The IT Men Whose Mission is to Rescue the World From Cyberterrorists
»UK: Christmas at the East London Mosque: ‘Season’s Rantings’ From Your Favourite Islamic Extremists
»UK: MI6 Spy Gareth Williams Had a Secret Double Identity and Was Not Gay Friend Insists
»Wales: Police in Terror Plot Meeting With Muslim Community
»WikiLeaks: British Outreach to Muslim Community Fails
»William Tell as You’ve Never Seen Him
»The Big Cleanup Begins
North Africa
»Son of Mubarak: Succession Without Success?
Israel and the Palestinians
»Israeli Anti-Polygamy Activists Run Into Islamic Opposition
»To Julie Burchill (In Regards to Liberal Judaism and Islam)
Middle East
»Arab Cartoons Continue to Vilify Israeli Leaders
»Ashamed Iraqi Man ‘Killed His Daughter, 19, After She Was Recruited as Suicide Bomber by Al-Qaeda’
»European Terror Attack Feared as Al-Qaida Fighters Disappear From Base in Lebanonintelligence Services Hunt for Jihadists Based in South Lebanon Refugee Camp Who Are Thought to Have Gone Abroad
»Hizballah Fears ‘Qaeda’ Type Attacks From Lebanese Sunnis
»Hizbullah’s Throne of Bayonets
»House Bombings Kill Five in Iraq
»Iran Poised to Execute Student Accused of Being Kurd Terrorist
»Iraqi Dad Says Killed Daughter Linked to Al-Qaida
»New Mossad Chief to Apologise for Use of UK Passports in Dubai Killing
»One Day Turkish Parliament Will Discuss Armenian Genocide
»The Christians Who Suffer for Their Faith at Christmas
»Traumatized Iraqi Christians Lie Low for Christmas
»Turkish Man Goes on Trial for Plot to Kill Rabbis
South Asia
»Boom! Indian Space Scientists Watch in Horror as Rocket Explodes Minutes After Take-Off
»In Afghanistan, Shifting Political Fortunes
»In Pakistan, No Cowering on Christmas
»India: Mumbai Terror Fears as Police Hunt for Four Militants Believed to be Planning Holiday Attack
»No Truce in Afghanistan: Dramatic Pictures Capture U.S. Troops Repelling a Taliban Attack on Christmas Morning
»Pakistan: Son of Notorious Insurgent Leader is Arrested
»Pakistan Suicide Bomb Kills Scores
»Report: Karzai Open to Taliban Setting Up Office in Turkey
»Taliban ‘Want Base in Neutral Third Country Before Peace Talks Begin’
»Taliban Launch Attacks Along North Pakistan Border
»Violence Up in Afghanistan, UN Warns
Far East
»China Matches U.S. Space Launches for First Time
»Philippines: Fresh Attacks on Christians Mar Christmas
Australia — Pacific
»WikiLeaks: Kiwi Mosque Spied on by US
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Christmas Eve Explosions Kill 32 People in Nigeria After Two Churches Are Targeted
Culture Wars
»Book Review — Holy Ignorance — by Olivier Roy
»The New Polytheism and Its Tempter Idols
»A Wave of Christianophobia is Sweeping the World
»‘Jihadist’ Issues Christmas Bombing Threat

Financial Crisis

China Raises Interest Rates on Christmas Day

The People’s Bank of China said in a brief one-line statement that it will raise the one-year lending and deposit rates by 25 basis points each. The move takes the rates to 5.81pc and 2.75pc respectively from Sunday.

Expectations of a rate rise have weighed on investor sentiment this month and could hit stock markets next week.

In October, policymakers raised rates for the first time in nearly three years as they resort to stronger measures to try to slow a flood of liquidity which has been fanning inflation and driving up property prices.

Analysts said the latest interest rate rise would be followed by more next year as stability-obsessed leaders step up efforts to calm growing consumer anxiety about rising costs.

“The choice of Christmas Day is a little surprising but I think the market generally expected interest rates to rise,” Ken Peng, a Beijing-based economist for Citigroup, told AFP. “The central bank needed to do this to win credibility to fight inflation.”

Ever fearful of inflation’s potential to spark unrest, authorities have been pulling on a number of policy levers to rein in consumer prices and cool the red-hot real estate market.

Earlier this month, the central bank ordered lenders for the sixth time this year to keep more money in reserve, effectively limiting the amount of funds they can lend.

Despite these measures, bank lending has remained stubbornly high and property prices have continued to rise, frustrating first-home buyers who feel apartment prices are out of their reach. Property prices in 70 major cities recorded their third straight month-on-month rise in November, defying Beijing’s attempts to cool the red-hot market by hiking minimum downpayments and ordering banks not to provide loans for third home purchases.

Prices were up 0.3pc last month from October and 7.7pc higher than a year ago.

The value of new loans issued by China’s banks fell in November from October but was still well above forecasts as Beijing struggled to stem the flood of liquidity.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

China Fears Euro Debt Crisis Will Go From ‘Acute’ To ‘Chronic’

Chinese media reported that Commerce Minister Chen Deming saying that the crisis may worsen in January and February, and that the €50bn (£635bn) European and International Monetary Fund rescue fund would not solve the problem as the rescue financing would eventually have to be repaid at high interest rates.

“These measures just turn an acute disease into a chronic one, and it’s really hard to say whether these countries that are in deep trouble over the debt crisis can recover in the coming three or five years,” Mr Chen was quoted as saying.

His comments step up the rhetoric against Europe as indebted eurozone nations attempt to rein in public spending and bring borrowing down. China has been supportive of Europe so far, indicating it could use its vast reserves to buy sovereign debt to keep yields down. However, Mr Chen’s call for Europe to take more urgent action to solve its problems suggests China’s patience may be wearing thin.

China is keen to see Europe recover. Europe is China’s biggest trading partner, and the giant Asian nation has been reducing its reliance on the dollar by switching a larger portion of its $2.65 trillion (£1.7 trillion) reserves from dollars into euros.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


ACLU Bristles Over Terror List

State anti-terrorism officials listed the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee on an Internet map detailing “terrorism events and other suspicious activity” after the group warned schools to ensure holiday celebrations “are inclusive.”

ACLU-Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg called the Tennessee Fusion Center’s tracking of First Amendment-protected activity “deeply disturbing.”

While saying improving and sharing anti-terrorism intelligence among different levels of government is “legitimate and important,” Weinberg said, “Equating a group’s attempts to protect religious freedom in Tennessee with suspicious activity related to terrorism is outrageous. Religious freedom is a founding principle in our Constitution — not fodder for overzealous law enforcement.”


ACLU’s Weinberg said in an interview she spoke to state officials about the posting.

“I will take at their word that they made a mistake by posting it under terrorism activity,” she said. “I have not heard a good explanation for why school resource officers, who have a very important job in schools, would at all be interested or need to know about the letter we sent to local school superintendents about the need to keep holiday celebrations all inclusive.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Answering Khaled Abou El Fadl

“Shari’ah Watch: A View from the Inside” blares the headline of a talk announced for Nov. 3 by the Center for Near East Studies at UCLA, “Lecture and Extended Q&A with Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, Moderated by Professor Asli Bali. Please join us for an informed discussion about Shariah and its role and impact in the West.”

I, sadly, could not make it to the “informed discussion.” Fortunately, however, the center posted an audio version of the talk by Abou El Fadl, a professor whom I have repeatedly criticized.

Announcement of “Shari’ah Watch: A View from the Inside” by Khaled Abou El Fad.l

For a Campus Watch report on the lecture as a whole, see “UCLA’s Professor of Fantasy” by Cinnamon Stillwell and Eric Golub. They pay particular attention to Abou El Fadl’s false statements about Robert Spencer and Steven Emerson — that’s the “fantasy” in the title. His falsehoods about them are so egregious, they deserve to get Abou El Fadl sacked.

He also mentions me repeatedly in the course of his lengthy, rambling, and self-indulgent meander. First, he wonders whether my colleagues and I even matter:

The various discourses that we find by the Steven Emersons, the Robert Spencers, the Daniel Pipes’s, the countless “watch” folks, the Jihad Watch folks — various pseudo-experts on whatever they wish to be experts on. Does it make a difference? Does it actually have a concrete effect in any form or context?

Oddly, Abou El Fadl avoids replying to his own question but, obviously, his devoting a whole talk to us strongly suggests we do make a difference.

Second, he distorts our shared hope that moderate Muslims will arise to challenge the Islamist hegemony:

at the same time that the Daniel Pipes’s, the Robert Spencers, the Steven Emersons, the Glenn Becks … say “Well, in order for Muslims to prove to us that Islam can change, is capable of changing, we need to see a virtual civil war between the moderates and the others-extremists, militants, whatever you want to call them … something akin to a religious civil war in the Muslim world.” At the same time, they often point to any inter-Muslim violence as evidence of the failure of these people as a people.

For the record: We hope that moderate Muslims will challenge Islamists in the realm of ideas, not by starting a religious war or engaging in violence.

Third, Abou El Fadl gets personal, referring to my lengthy 2004 analysis of his work titled “Stealth Islamist: Khaled Abou El Fadl.” What I mean by “stealth,” he replies

does not necessarily mean that all Muslims are stealth agents, but, rather, stealth in the sense of sleeper cells, that Muslims, just being in the right set of elements, environmental elements, the right set of circumstances, and they will come into contact with this essential core of their faith and therefore, immediately become prone to turning jihadi or violent.

No, that’s another distortion: My article does not suggest that Abou El Fadl is a sleeper agent who might engage in terrorism; it argues that he is an Islamist posing as a moderate.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb to Blame for Hornell Fire

A compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) is to blame for an accidental electrical fire in Hornell Wednesday morning, said Steuben County Fire Investigator Joe Gerych.

“Those are the lights everybody’s been telling us to use,” he said. “It blew up like a bomb. It spattered all over.”

A CFL on the ceiling burst, said Gerych, and gas inside the CFL bulb helped start the fire. He added exploding CFLs are rare.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Congressman McClintock Remembers Fallen Roseville Soldier

Congressman Tom McClintock delivered a speech to the House of Representatives Dec. 14 in memory of Roseville’s Private Sean A. Silva, age 23, who was killed in Iraq on Oct. 9, 2003.

“In the aftermath of the attack of September 11th, a young man from Roseville, California answered his country’s call to duty and volunteered to take the war against radical Islam from our shores to theirs,” McClintock said.

On the night of Oct. 9, 2003, Silva returned from patrolling in Sadr City, Iraq when a night patrol was ordered unexpectedly in which Silva insisted he took part in despite fulfilling his duty earlier that day.

After his commander reminded him that he had done his duty that day, Silva replied, “I just want to learn to do my job.”

McClintock attributed his death to defending other troops.

“He saw his countrymen threatened and instinctively rose to shield them,” McClintock said.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Feds Sneaking Around Congress to Regulate Firearms

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF, has a long history of excess and overreaching … and they’re at it again.

Using exaggerated reports of gun smuggling from the U.S. into Mexico as their justification, the agency has filed for an emergency regulation requiring gun dealers to keep track of their customers and file special reports to ATF whenever a customer purchases more than one semi-automatic rifle within any 5-day period. Such special reporting is already required for multiple sales of handguns and has proven to be thoroughly useless as a law enforcement tool.

ATF’s requested regulation — which is unconstitutional, violates a statutory prohibition against firearms registration schemes and was obviously filed as an “emergency” simply as a means of bypassing Congress — would be “temporary,” meaning that it would have to be renewed in four or five months, and is said to only apply to gun dealers in states bordering Mexico, though the regulation, as submitted, seems to be missing that specific limitation.

At this point the proposed regulation is awaiting approval from the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Political observers will recall that OIRA is headed by President Obama’s old friend Cass Sunstein, who famously advocated for the abolition of all hunting and for the extension of legal rights — including the right to have a court-appointed attorney — to animals.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

For Hawaii Governor, Discrediting Anti-Obama ‘Birthers’ Is a Top Priority

Democrat Neil Abercrombie, who knew Obama’s parents, is determined to torpedo the conspiracy theory. Underlying his effort may be a desire to dispel the view that Hawaiians aren’t Americans in the same way as mainlanders.

Neil Abercrombie knew Barack Obama’s parents when the future president was born here in 1961, and he has been aggravated by the so-called birther movement, which alleges Obama was not born in the United States and thus should be expelled from office.

Now Abercrombie has an office of his own — he became governor of Hawaii on Dec. 6. — and he intends to do something about it.

What, exactly, is unclear. But in an interview this week at the state Capitol, he left little doubt that torpedoing the conspiracy theorists was a priority.

“What bothers me is that some people who should know better are trying to use this for political reasons,” said Abercrombie, 72. “Maybe I’m the only one in the country that could look you right in the eye right now and tell you, ‘I was here when that baby was born.’ “

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

How to: Run Snitches Inside Terrorist Groups

Need to penetrate the closed circle of a terrorist cell? Then it’s time to recruit like terrorists do: pick out the outcasts and prey on their numerous, numerous anxieties.

In 2005, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service put together a tip sheet for the FBI on how to run sources inside extremist organizations — even though it didn’t appear to have a lot of experience actually recruiting terrorist sources. An ideal source, it noted, was the same for counterterrorists as for terrorists: someone disciplined, capable of keeping secrets, and highly motivated. Based on its interviews with Guantanamo detainees, NCIS found additional patterns within terrorist organizations: often, they’re people with low self-esteem who turn to religious extremism after experiencing a crisis. That makes them ripe for savvy agents to exploit.

The best snitches, NCIS argued, have some kind of anxiety about their identities. Western converts to Islam fit the bill, as do Muslims living in or educated in western countries. That’s true not just because “there have been a number of successful operations using converts of Western ethnicity” — demonstrating their value to terror groups — but because they’ll feel like they’ve got the most to prove.

But that also means they’ll feel apprehensive about putting their fellow extremists in the crosshairs of law enforcement. Not to worry, NCIS instructs: “That ambivalence is often best managed by developing a strong relationship with the source by activating his core motivation to ‘stop the killing’ and bring peace to the world, including the Muslim world.” More irony: terrorist groups like al-Qaeda recruit their own adherents by stressing the dignity and peace that the Muslim world will enjoy after they kill enough westerners to lay the Americans low.

Once recruited, a snitch can be expected to repeatedly freak out. “For the source to be successful, he will be making commitments to the target group as he becomes a more trusted brother. The source will feel the pull of the fundamental human need to be valued and validated.” A good agent has to talk his source through the guilt of betrayal: let him know “that there is an open line of communication with the Special Agent to discuss this issue.” It doesn’t make any sense to pretend that the source isn’t snitching.

It may seem obvious, but well adjusted people don’t join terrorist groups. It’s the “anxious,” those with a “need for belonging/affiliation,” those with a “relatively low… level of assertiveness,” with low-self esteem who see themselves as “disorganized and undisciplined… incapable, lackadaisical, and unreliable.” They join terror groups to belong, and suspect they’re not doing the right thing — thereby opening up the door to betraying the organization.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Military Says Soldier Had No Right of Self-Defense

Clemency request refused in case over death of al-Qaida operative

The U.S. military has argued on appeal that Lt. Michael Behenna had no right of self-defense when he killed a known al-Qaida operative who allegedly lunged for the soldier’s weapon.

The appeal for Behenna, 27, who is serving a 15-year term in Ft. Leavenworth, came only days after a clemency board separately rejected a request to reduce his punishment.

According to the Daily Oklahoman, in the soldier’s home state, the appeals court officers were told by prosecutors that during the attack the al-Qaida operative was naked and unarmed while the soldier was dressed in battle gear with a weapon.

“The right of self-defense doesn’t exist under the facts of this case,” said Madeline Yanford, arguing for the prosecution.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama: After START, Tactical Arms Treaty

A day after ratification of an arms treaty with Russia, U.S. officials said the White House will seek to limit U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons.

Limiting stockpiles of tactical nuclear weapons — which include nuclear landmines, artillery shells and short-range missile warheads — will be just as important and possibly more difficult to accomplish than the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty the Senate ratified in Washington Wednesday, the federal government’s broadcasting service, Voice of America, reported.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Park51 Imam Plans National Speaking Tour

The controversy over plans to build an Islamic center in downtown Manhattan subsided in November, almost abruptly, with the end of an election season that amplified its most emotional underlying

But the imam behind the project has decided to risk reigniting that opposition by setting out on a nationwide speaking tour next month to promote the planned center and to foster dialogue about Muslim life in America.

“Controversy has never been a problem for me,” said the imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, whose proposal to build the high-rise community center and mosque two blocks north of ground zero made him the prime target last summer of opponents who viewed the plan, known as Park51 for its address on Park Place, as a Trojan horse for Muslim triumphalism. “I think the controversy of last summer helped initiate a discourse that has been very good for the country. I’m an American, and I believe that Americans are problem solvers. So I believe further discussion can only be good.”

The tour, which he described in an interview on Wednesday, is scheduled to begin in Detroit, the city with the largest Muslim population in the United States. It will include stops in Chicago, Washington, San Antonio and several college campuses, starting with Harvard, Yale, Georgetown and the University of North Carolina.

Because of death threats that the imam has received, none of his addresses will be open to the general public, though the local news media in each place will be invited to attend, and to ask questions afterward, he said.

Some of the project’s most outspoken opponents welcomed the imam’s plan for a speaking tour, though for reasons of their own.

“I think this will help to revive the opposition, not only from Americans in general but from Muslims in this country, who don’t want this thing built,” said Ryan Mauro, a conservative blogger and the producer of a documentary about the planned community center.

The film, “Sacrificed Survivors: The Untold Story of the Ground Zero Mega-Mosque,” focuses on opposition by some families of 9/11 victims.

Pamela Geller, another conservative blogger who organized many of the public demonstrations against the center last summer, said she planned to marshal protests when the City Council meets next month to review Wal-Mart’s proposal to open a store in Manhattan. “Christine Quinn is against Wal-Mart, but she’s in favor of the megamosque. Typical liberal elitist thinking,” she said, referring to the City Council speaker.

Ms. Geller also predicted that the imam’s speaking tour would serve the opposition. “The opposition has never gone away, and will never go away,” she said.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

The Freaky Fantasies of a Former Guantanamo Detainee Explain Why Sufi Islam Won’t Defeat the Jihadists

The strangest things kept happening to Walid Muhammad Hajj during his years as a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. “Once, when I was sleeping — on the floor, not on a bed — I suddenly felt that a cat was trying to penetrate me”, he told al-Jazeera in a recent interview. “It tried to penetrate me again and again.”

Then there was that “incident with a guy who sat next to me in the morning. When they brought the milk, he began to urinate into the milk.” “That’s when we knew that he was under a spell,” Mr Hajj recalled. “After he had recovered a little, after we read Koranic verses to him, he said to me: ‘The birds on the barbed wire would talk to me, and tell me to urinate in the milk.’“

Jewish staff in Guantanamo Bay, Mr Hajj concluded, practiced witchcraft on the inmates.

For some years now, we’ve been hearing about how Sufi folk Islam can defeat the Salafist Islam on which the jihadist movement is purported to be built. Put crudely, Sufism has been cast as a kind of “good Islam” that can take on Osama bin-Laden’s belligerent reading of his faith. Both the UK and the US are spending millions funding organisations to pursue that objective (for obvious reasons, I’m not going to name names here).

This pursuit is about as founded in reality than Mr Hajj’s belief that Jewish practitioners of the dark arts sent a cat to rape him. Islamism — like communism or capitalism — is a system of thought born in response to the real world. Few people embrace capitalism because they happen to read a particular commentary on Adam Smith; fewer still, I suspect, become suicide bombers simply because of a textual encounter. Sales of the Quran are reported to have surged in the weeks after 9/11, as Americans sought to understand bin-Laden, but I fear they were looking in the wrong place.

Mr Hajj demonstrated a sharp, rational mind during legal proceedings at Guantánamo — which makes it significant that he chose the language he did during his interview. The audience he was reaching out to is drenched in the folk practice of Islam, suffused with faith in miracles and black magic. Beliefs like these, which predate Islam, continue to have wide currency: a recent Saudi study estimated Arabs spend $ 5 billion a year on magic and sorcery.


Writing in the New York Times, the historian William Dalrymple described Sufism as “deeply rooted resistance movement against violent Islamic radicalism”; writers at the BBC and the Economist agree. It isn’t necessarily so: last year, I reported on the story of Sufis who had joined a jihadist group determined to bring down the Indian state. Is it important to challenge Islamist claims to speak for Islam? Yes. Will it defeat the Islamist movement? No.

Osama bin-Laden isn’t fighting the West because he believes in a particular kind of Islam. It is precisely the other way around: he has found in a certain reading of Islam an ideological foundation for his rage against the West, and legitimacy for the violence he uses to expresses it. If the jihadist movement is to be defeated, we must first acknowledge that it rests on more than words alone.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

The Thermos Flask Terror Threat: U.S. Warns Airlines to Prepare for New Tactic During Christmas

American anti-terror chiefs have warned airlines to prepare for possible attacks involving Thermos flasks during the Christmas holiday.

They warned passengers to be extra vigilant if travelling during the festive period — although no specific details of the new tactics were revealed.

President Barack Obama, who is in Hawaii with his family, has also ordered U.S. security services to be on heightened alert.

It follows last year’s attempt to blow up a passenger jet by a terrorist who had sown an explosive powder into his underwear.

The timing of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s Christmas Eve effort on board the Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit was reminder that holiday periods are ripe moments for attacks.

White House counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, held an inter-agency conference call yesterday to review steps the government is taking to ensure vigilance.

They include enhanced security measures and coordination with foreign partners such as Britain.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FBI Director Robert Mueller were among those on the call.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Vice Admiral: Obama Was Outmaneuvered by Russians on START

President Barack Obama was outmaneuvered by the Russians and should have abandoned the New START negotiations instead of seeking a political victory, says former nuclear plans monitor Vice Admiral Jerry Miller, USN (Ret).

“The Obama administration is continuing a dated policy in which we cannot even unilaterally reduce our own inventory of weapons and delivery systems without being on parity with the Russians,” Miller told the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, Md. “We could give up plenty of deployed delivery systems and not adversely affect our national security one bit, but New START prohibits such action — so we are now stuck with some outmoded and useless elements in our nuke force.”

After meeting resistance from several Republicans, the U.S. Senate ratified the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia by a vote of 71-26 on Wednesday.

“The Soviets/Russians were done in by Reagan and our missile defense program because they cannot afford to build such a system,” said Miller. “They instead try to counter our program with rhetoric at the bargaining table. And they won by outmaneuvering Obama. START plays right into their hands.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

‘We the People’ To Open Next Congress

The Constitution frequently gets lip service in Congress, but House Republicans next year will make sure it gets a lot more than that — the new rules the incoming majority party proposed this week call for a full reading of the country’s founding document on the floor of the House on Jan. 6.

The goal, backers said, is to underscore the limited-government rules the Founders imposed on Congress — and to try to bring some of those principles back into everyday legislating.

“It stems from the debate that we’ve had for the last two years about things like the exercise of authority in a whole host of different areas by the EPA, we’ve had this debate in relation to the health care bill, the cap-and-trade legislation,” said Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, who proposed the reading. “This Congress has been very aggressive in expanding the power of the federal government, and there’s been a big backlash to that.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

What I Really Said About Radical Jihadism

In a Dec. 12 Outlook piece [“Radical jihadism is not a mental disorder”], Stephen Xenakis mischaracterized my testimony in Omar Khadr’s Guantanamo sentencing proceeding.

Since the Supreme Court cemented the contribution of psychiatry to risk assessment in Estelle v. Smith (1981), forensic psychiatry has refined such dangerousness evaluation to focus on context. Assessing risk of dangerous jihadist activity borrows from clinical understandings about criminal and violent recidivism, but it must reflect the context of actual jihadist violence or an individual’s ability to facilitate that violence. My testimony related only to this defined context. Neither this methodology nor my qualifications were contested.

The validity of risk assessment also draws from statistical base rates. The figures of released Guantanamo detainees who return to active battle have climbed sharply from just 6 percent in 2008 to 25 percent, according to this month’s report from the director of national intelligence. My testimony demonstrated several reasons why U.S. government recidivism figures are a significant underestimation. This testimony was not contested on cross-examination or rebutted.

My effort also included the research data of Danish correctional psychologist Nicolai Sennels, precisely because Sennels has studied and treated large-scale groups of young Muslim and non-Muslim inmates. Sennels’s work has been lauded by the Danish Psychological Association. That he has now become a foe of unregulated Muslim immigration to Europe does not negate what he learned from giving of himself to help Muslims stay out of prison. Sennels’s research findings also were not contested on cross-examination or rebutted.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

WikiLeaks Suspect

MONTHS of “inhumane” solitary confinement are taking a toll on the US Army private suspected of passing secret government files to WikiLeaks, a friend says.

“It has become obvious to me that Bradley Manning’s physical and mental well-being are deteriorating,” David House wrote on the blog Firedoglake, recounting a visit to the military brig where the accused soldier is being held.

“It’s become increasingly clear that the severe, inhumane conditions of his detention are wearing on Manning.”

Held at a military brig in Virginia at the Quantico Marine base since July, Manning, 23, has been placed under a maximum-security regimen because authorities say his escape would pose a risk to national security.

Under the strict rules, Manning is allowed out of his cell for only one hour a day for exercise outside or at an indoor gym, military officers say.

Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.

Related CoverageWikiLeaks founder: Assange fears execution in US jail

.End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.

But Mr House said the Pentagon’s description of conditions was contradicted by what he learned from Manning.

“He has not been outside or into the brig yard for either recreation nor exercises in four full weeks,” Mr House said.

“When told of the Pentagon’s statement that he indeed receives exercise, Manning’s reply was that he is able to exercise insofar as walking in chains is a form of exercise,” he wrote.

As a “precaution”, prison authorities have decided not to issue Manning cotton sheets and instead have provided two blankets and a pillow made of material that cannot be torn into pieces.

Manning said that “his blankets are similar in weight and heft to lead aprons used in X-ray laboratories”, Mr House said.

The army soldier was under a “Prevention of Injury” order that was the cause of some of the more strict conditions, Mr House said, even though Manning allegedly had been cleared by a military psychologist.

“What Manning needs, and what his lawyer has already urged, is to have the unnecessary ‘Prevention of Injury’ order lifted that severely restricts his ability to exercise, communicate, and sleep,” he wrote.

The Pentagon has rejected allegations Manning is suffering from any abuse and insists he is being treated in the same way as other inmates under the “maximum custody” regime.

The WikiLeaks website has yet to disclose its source for a massive trove of classified US military and diplomatic documents published in recent months, but suspicion has focused on Manning, who worked as a low-ranking army intelligence analyst in Iraq.

Manning was arrested in May, and US authorities have yet to say when he will be put on trial on charges of violating federal criminal and military law, including transmitting classified information to a third party.

If found guilty, Manning faces up to 52 years in prison.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Being Nice Hasn’t Protected Sweden

The Grinch Steals Christmas. Sweden, a country that has prided itself on its good sense, openness, decency, and neutrality has suddenly encountered the unexpected: the terror war coming home to them. Fortunately, the suicide bomber who wanted to blow up Swedes doing their Christmas shopping was incompetent—and he succeeded only in blowing up himself. You can be sure that the Swedes are now revisiting their practices regarding Islamist immigrants, as have all other European countries that have been under attack.

On December 15, the Security Police in Stockholm presented a report on “violence-prone networks” in Sweden. They conclude there are perhaps 200 Jihadis in the country, about 30 of them trained in Somalia. These networks live in three of Sweden’s major cities: Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo. Malmo has long been identified as having a social democratic City Council that is so pro-Muslim that a large part of the Jewish population has left the city.

An audio file in Swedish and Arabic was sent to the Swedish news agency ten minutes before the jihadist suicide bomber killed himself in one of two explosions in central Stockholm. The audio said: “Now the Islamic state has been created. We now exist here in Europe and in Sweden. We are a reality. Now your children, your daughters and your sisters will die as our brothers, our sisters and our children are dying.”

While we in the west protect freedom of speech, the Islamists fight it. “Insulting Islam” in print or cartoon is enough motive for murder. Will we start censoring ourselves as a result of this?

The bomber was Abdulwahab Al-Abdaly, a 29-year old citizen of Sweden whose Iraqi parents were given sanctuary from the horrors of Iraq. He was a typical young Swede—wearing bluejeans, spiked hair, and was once a disc jockey until he married a fanatical Muslim woman in Luton, England who, according to her grandmother, “turned her husband into an extremist.” She is in hiding with her three beautiful children, including the youngest, who is named Osama (to honor 9/11, it seems). Wife Mona Thwany, a Romanian, was converted to radical Islam on a trip to North Africa.

Sweden is also in the news because of its arrest warrant against anarchist publisher of other people’s mail, Julien Assange. Assange is accused of rape—and his defenders are sure that this is a frameup— showing how Sweden is the lap dog of the United States, whose diplomatic cables were stolen by an American soldier and broadcast on line to the world by WikiLeaks. Assange’s techno-terrorist organization.

WikiLeaks’ Tarnished Underbelly. has done a little investigating of WikiLeaks and has found that one of its most trusted operatives is a Swede with the pseudonym “Israel Shamir” (a.k.a. Adam Ermash or Joran Jermas). Shamir’s job is to select and distribute the stolen cables to Russian news organizations. Echo Moskvy radio in Russia has identified Shamir as the fabricator of a cable that claimed that there was collusion among those who walked out on Iran’s president Ahmadinejad’s nasty speech to the United Nations in October. Shamir calls Amhadinejad the “brave and charismatic leader” of Iran.

He refers to the Auschwitz death camp as “an internment facility attended by the Red Cross, not a place of extermination. He told a Swedish journalist that “it’s every Muslim and Christian’s duty to deny the Holocaust.”


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Britain on Course for Flu Epidemic

The level of influenza — including the swine flu strain — in the population is now higher — and rising more sharply — than they were at this point in 1999, when the country was heading for an epidemic which triggered a major NHS crisis.

With millions of people visiting friends and family over the Christmas period experts believe that the rate could reach epidemic levels within a week.

The number of flu victims in intensive care has more than doubled in one week, with 460 patients now in critical care beds. Meanwhile, a Government memo is warning of shortages of Tamiflu — the main drug used to treat flu patients — in some parts of the country. The rate of flu in England and Wales is 87.1 cases per 100,000 of the population, a rate which has tripled in seven days.

In the run-up to Christmas 1999, levels were less than 60 per 100,000 population, yet by early January 2000 the outbreak had reached epidemic proportions, with more than 200 cases per 100,000. The records, which only represent those who visit their GP, always underestimate the true extent of sickness.

Influenza expert Prof John Oxford said: ‘The numbers now are worse than they were in winter of 1999, and the curve is steeper; when you look at the graph the line for this year it is incredibly unsettling; it looks like scaling Everest,” said the virologist.

“If that trend continues I would not be surprised if we get to epidemic levels within one week.”


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Crime Boss Opens Up About Mob in Switzerland

A former mafia boss has come clean on Swiss public television as Italian justice authorities level charges against 174 alleged members of a powerful mob.

Felice Ferrazzo, 55, said he ran the clan that bears his name for ten years before becoming a police informant in 2000. He spoke to Swiss filmmakers Gianni Gaggini and Marco Tagliabue at a secret location in Italy.

Ferrazzo, who is currently under witness protection along with his family, said he was the boss of a Ferrazzo clan in Calabria, southern Italy, a stronghold for the ‘Ndrangheta crime ring.

“I commanded a dozen people,” said the former boss, who dropped out of school in third grade. “I decided what we did and who should be executed.”

The filmmakers say the Ferrazzo clan ran weapons and drugs, namely cocaine, into Lugano and Zurich using well-established connections through northern Italy and Switzerland.

The Swiss connection

Ferrazzo knows the country well.

The Calabrian was 17 years old when he came with his parents to canton Ticino, first near Locarno, then in Lugano, where a large community of people from his home region lived.

With no training, the young Ferrazzo worked as a labourer on a road construction company, a life he would not lead for long. He still thinks back on that time.

“If I had continued to work in Ticino construction, today I’d be close to retiring,” he said. “But that’s not how things turned out.”

In 1982, Ferrazzo was found guilty of smuggling hashish and was sent to prison in Lugano. He escaped a year and a half later and fled home to Mesoraca, where he was well received.

“They baptised me and I became a made man — a messed-up honour in the end,” he said.

In 1990 Ferrazzo consolidated his power at the top of the clan by eliminating those standing in his way, like Ernesto Russo, an ex-boss of the family. He used weapons purchased in Zurich or Lugano to control the area, smuggling them in bags of rice and coffee past guards in Chiasso or Ponte Tresa.

“We were never checked once,” he said.

A network of thugs

It was also in Switzerland that the Ferrazzo clan laundered its money, using mostly Ticino- and Zurich-based banks.

“With him, the ‘Ndrangheta moves into Switzerland, a well established fact with profound ramifications,” said Gaggini, the director of the documentary, called Blood Honour, which aired last week.

“In Ticino, especially in the northern outskirts of Lugano, where a lot of people from Mesoraca live, Ferrazzo developed a thug network—his relationships with his captains in Switzerland were stable and well consolidated,” Gaggini said.

In fact, Ferrazzo, who was arrested in 1993 in Italy and stayed there until 1996, returned to Switzerland upon being freed. It was a certainly an underground visit, but one he used to expand his hold on the Lugano-Zurich axis.

The boss’s life took a decisive turn in 2000 after a return trip to Mesoraca. That year, Ferrazzo and his son narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by his cousin and rival Mario Donato Ferrazzo, who is currently in jail…

Translated from French by Tim Neville

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

Dutch Police Arrest 12 Somali Terror Suspects Following Secret Service Tip-Off

Twelve Somali men have been detained in the port city of Rotterdam on suspicion of terrorist-related activities, the Dutch public prosecutor said Saturday.

The men aged 19 to 48 were seized Friday on a tip from the intelligence services that they were planning a terrorist attack shortly in the Netherlands. There was no immediate information on the intended target of the alleged attack.

European officials often step up security around the holidays, but this year especially after a Nigerian man last Christmas Day taped explosives to his underwear and allegedly tried to blow up a plane as it approached Detroit.

There also have been growing concerns in Europe about holiday season attacks following a suicide bombing in Sweden and attacks on two embassies this week in Rome.

Dutch police searched a call centre, four houses and two motel rooms in the Rotterdam area, prosecutors said in a statement Saturday. No weapons or explosives were found.

Six of the suspects live in Rotterdam, five have no permanent residence and one man comes from Denmark, they said.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Eco-Bulbs ‘A Health Hazard for Babies and Pregnant Women Due to Mercury Inside’

Energy-saving light bulbs were at the centre of a fresh health scare last night after researchers claimed they can release potentially harmful amounts of mercury if broken.

Levels of toxic vapour around smashed eco-bulbs were up to 20 times higher than the safe guideline limit for an indoor area, the study said.

It added that broken bulbs posed a potential health risk to pregnant women, babies and small children.

The concerns surround ‘compact fluorescent lamps’ (CFLs), the most common type of eco-bulb in Britain, which are mini-versions of the strip lights found in offices.

The European Union is phasing out the traditional ‘incandescent bulbs’ used for more than 120 years and is forcing people to switch to low-energy alternatives to meet its climate change targets.

A CFL uses a fifth of the energy of a conventional bulb and can save £7 a year in bills. However, critics complain that CFLs’ light is harsh and flickery. Medical charities say they can trigger epileptic fits, migraines and skin rashes and have called for an ‘opt out’ for vulnerable people.

Incandescent bulbs do not contain mercury, along with other variants of energy-saving lights, such as LEDs and halogen bulbs. The study, for Germany’s Federal Environment Agency, tested a ‘worst case’ scenario using two CFLs, one containing 2 milligrams of mercury and the other 5 milligrams. Neither lamp had a protective casing and both were broken when hot.

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Wilhelm Klauditz Institute found that they released around 7 micrograms (there are 1,000 micrograms in a milligram) per cubic metre of air.The official guideline limit is 0.35 micrograms per cubic metre.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Greece: Leading Priest Blames Jews for Greece’s Problems

A high-level priest on the morning show of the largest television station in Greece blamed world Jewry for Greece’s financial problems on Tuesday.

The Metropolite of Piraeus Seraphim also blamed world Jewry for other ills in the country during his appearance on Mega TV.

Mixing Freemasons with Jewish bankers such as Baron Rothschild and world Zionism, the Metropolite said that there is a conspiracy to enslave Greece and Christian Orthodoxy. He also accused international Zionism of trying to destroy the family unit by promoting one-parent families and same-sex marriages.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

My Son the Terrorist

Experts on terrorism throughout the world, including Muslim family members and even lay people are completely puzzled and baffled as to how a “good kid” can suddenly turn terrorist. More and more research and studies are done such as the most recently published book by Ariel Merari indicating their finding that many of these “good guys” are loners and because of that they are isolated, becoming easy targets to the seduction of the warmth of the brotherhood. See for example Robert Fulford: When we bother to notice, suicide bombers have much to teach in which he cites Ariel Merari’s new book Driven to Death: Psychological and Social Aspects of Suicide Terrorism, Oxford, 2010. As psychoanalysts and authors of many articles on this subject. Our goal is to expand beyond “the loner” routine parlance.

Yet, the Swedish suicide bomber’s in-laws and wife experienced this nice guy differently. Indeed, his father-in-law went on record saying that he was grateful for his son-in-law’s death because now his daughter could have freedom from brainwashing and his control. Do you mean to tell us that her father could not even do an intervention on behalf of his very own daughter, that he had to let her succumb to chronic brutality?? Good grief — his daughter was terrorized by his son-in-law. This is not unusual in Muslim society where the father does not protect the woman, let alone his daughters, often as a defense against shame and saving face in an honor society. The extreme, of course, is the honor killing of the daughter.

Once again, we highlight another unspoken link between domestic violence and jihadi violence, a link that few counter terrorists want to explore. In our opinion it is because it is too terrorizing, even for the experts. However, Taimour is not like every other nice young man as the press or friends of the mosque would like to describe because it is he who carried out a suicide attack.

Many have noted that these “good kids” are basically loners and that their loneliness begins to consume them to the point that they long for some kind of connection. It is not unusual for these people to join up with the seemingly love and warmth under the pretense of a friendly brotherhood? Yet, behind the shadows of the brotherhood lurks a group of enraged hostile brothers that not only would betray the alleged loner but in a flash would kill him off.

From our perspective we believe that this confusion about the loner turned suicide bomber is psychologically based, a concept most people are not aware of, but it is what we have made reference to concerning domestic violence in previous articles and publications called — splitting — where one part of the personality that can be loving and kind while the other part of the personality is sadistic and cruel. This dissonance creates confusion and ambivalence. The evidence of this kind of splitting speaks volumes in the imagery of the suicide attack because it is murder-suicide as routinely found in domestic violence.

In addition, some have suggested that Taimour underwent a change in his emotional life when he married, suggesting that he then suddenly blossomed into a full-blown jihadi terrorist. In our assumption is that nothing changed. Under the pretense of the “good guy,” his rage was exquisitely hidden under the guise of a false self. Consider the idiosyncratic nature of marriage and how marriage demands a deepening of intimacy and how terrifying that can be for an emasculated male who has grown up in a culture which views the female as garbage.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

The EU Calls Ravello to Account for Silent Auditorium

Only two concerts this year in Niemeyer’s theatre. Work cost €16m, with €5m from Brussels

BRUSSELS — The internet site politely explains that “the website is under maintenance, but will soon be back online with a new look. We apologize for the inconvenience”. The “inconvenience” is a touch on the long side, having lasted more than five years. And in the real world, the project’s “maintenance” involves dealing with an unending series of problems.

First there were three years of permits promised then cancelled, amidst heated environmental debate, followed by another three years of work. Finally came the official inauguration in January 2010, followed by 11 months in which the venue was to all extents boarded up. The 400-seat Auditorium in Ravello designed by the grand old Oscar Niemeyer, who recently turned 103, is like a ship moored to the Amalfi coast, ready to set sail but never actually casting off. The project was not cheap either, at around €16m according to rumours still to be confirmed, no less than €5m of which was granted by the European Union. Now the EU is asking to see the accounts, with informal meetings taking place between the European Commission and the Campania regional council. As reported in a critical article in the Guardian, Brussels wants to clarify “both when the concert hall is planned to open and what the real situation is”…

English translation by Simon Tanner

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

UK: Albanian Asylum Seeker Who Dumped Loaded Handgun Outside Tony Blair’s House Facing Years in Prison

An asylum seeker who tried to hide a loaded handgun outside Tony Blair’s home faces years in jail after he was convicted

Vladimir Kendella, 56, was cornered by police in Connaught Street just yards from the former Prime Minister’s residence after a car chase through Central London.

The Albanian managed to dump the gun in the road moments before he was arrested, but it was later found by a neighbour out walking his dog.

Another three rounds of ammunition were uncovered in his home in Wembley, North West London, the following day.

Kendella now faces a lengthy jail term and deportation after he was convicted of possessing the handgun and ammunition following a short trial at Southwark Crown Court.

The drama began on December 12 last year when Kendella’s white Seat Ibiza sped out of a junction in front of marked patrol car, forcing it to brake.

The two constables in the police car flagged him down and spoke to him, before running a check on his vehicle and realising that he was driving with no insurance.

As they searched their database, Kendella drove off at speed, and the officers set off in pursuit.

Minutes later, they spotted him parked up in Connaught Street, where he was ‘leaning over by the passenger door side’.

When approached by the officers, he gave them a different name from before, and was duly arrested.

Believing they were making a routine traffic arrest, the two constables took the Albanian back to the station, failing to spot that he had hidden a handgun in the gutter next to the kerb.

But 20 minutes later, local resident William Salisbury spotted the pistol as he took his family dog for a walk.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Cyber Attack: A Very Modern Theatre of War — The IT Men Whose Mission is to Rescue the World From Cyberterrorists

The location of Northrop Grumman’s only non-U.S. cyber-range is hardly glamorous. An industrial estate just off the M27 near Fareham, Hampshire; a nondescript grey building. Not quite WikiLeaks’ Blofeld-esque lair. The glass doors are perhaps more polished than the other sheds around it.

They are certainly more bulletproof. But the first inkling that this is no ordinary office facility comes when the receptionists insist that everyone hand over their mobile phones, backed up by polite but steely security guards. ‘I’m sorry, sir. Security’s our business. We can’t allow anything with an internet connection to be brought into the building,’ insists one.

Inside, in a spacious lecture hall, an audience is about to watch a demonstration. It is given by a blend of IT professionals and high-ranking British military officers, as betrayed by their clipped accents and military-cut suits. All fall silent as the demonstration begins.

It’s conducted partly on stage and partly on a video link to an office in America, where a ponytailed hacker wearing a Guy Fawkes mask sits at a computer screen. On it are four windows filled with text; other windows show the system he is about to attack. The windows of text are the hacker’s jemmies — weapons for probing security systems, cracking passwords and stealing data. They can cut through firewalls, protective software and heavy-duty computer encryption.

This demonstration is a live firing exercise for a new kind of war. In a room nearby, a team of computer experts are preparing to defend the target system from Mr Fawkes’ imminent attack. On stage a demonstrator will narrate the action and explain the incomprehensible electronic babble in the text windows. There are no 3D graphics, no Matrix-style avalanches of numbers and no genius teenagers; just professionals who approach their job with efficiency.

Fawkes’ first action is to do a ‘port scan’ — a process that analyses the connections used by the system he’s targeted. The weakness he’s looking for might be a simple mistake by the owner of a PC — a port ‘held open’, for example, so the computer can talk to others in online games or chat programs. Or it might have been opened by a program that offered free games or word processing but in fact contained a hidden back door that left the computer vulnerable to attack.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Christmas at the East London Mosque: ‘Season’s Rantings’ From Your Favourite Islamic Extremists

In his richly-entertaining, car-crash interview with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur which I covered yesterday, Muhammad Abdul Bari, the chairman of the East London Mosque, was heavily pressed on his mosque’s unfortunate predilection for hate and extremist speakers, specifically the al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

Dr Bari told Sackur that, while mistakes might have been made in the past, it was all quite different now at this renowned centre of tolerance and harmony. In one of the many hurt letters he has written to the media lately (the climate for Islamism seems to be turning rather chillier) he further insisted: “The controversial speakers who were able, in the past, to speak via third-party bookings of our facilities (circumventing our procedures) have now all been banned. “All accusations of ‘extremism’ links are also historical: it is two years since the Awlaki issue arose, for example, and since then we have tightened our procedures and policies accordingly, to ensure no such issues arise again. Let me state once more: we deplore extremism of all kinds and fully support democracy.”

Oh dear, but what’s this I see — happening at the East London Mosque this evening, organised by our very dear friends the Islamic Forum of Europe? An event on “The Fiqh Of Social Ills.” Fiqh is normally translated as “understanding” or as “knowledge of the rules of God.” It’s the last of a four-week seminar series. For the first two weeks the IFE’s “social ills” were pretty uncontroversial — “drug and alcohol abuse,” “domestic violence.” In week 3, it started to get a bit wackier — “jinn possession and black magic” was on the agenda. But tonight is the big one.

Tonight’s social ill to be condemned? That well-known scourge, “child-rearing in the Western context.” If the Western context, or society, around this mosque, can be described as a “social ill,” that doesn’t bode too well for cohesion and inter-community harmony, does it? Will the people at this seminar be raising their kids to mix with fellow Londoners of other cultures — or to stand apart from them?


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: MI6 Spy Gareth Williams Had a Secret Double Identity and Was Not Gay Friend Insists

The spy found dead in a sports bag had been given a new identity by his MI6 bosses in the months leading up to his mysterious death.

Gareth Williams, a GCHQ codebreaker on secondment to MI6, had two passports and told his best friend that he was preparing for an undercover operation.

Details of the 31-year-old’s role within the secret services are disclosed today in an interview with his confidante and childhood sweetheart, Sian Lloyd-Jones.

In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, she said: ‘I find it difficult to see anything in his personal life which could lie behind this.’

She reveals:

He was training to take on a new identity eight months before he was found dead.

He often purchased designer women’s clothes, but she insists they were gifts for her and his sister.

The maths genius was found dead two days before he was due to visit Paris with his sister.

The revelations shed new light on Mr Williams’s work which, until now, had been regarded as highly technical and carrying little risk.

His body was found inside a zipped and padlocked North Face holdall in the bathroom of his

MI6 flat on August 23. A post-mortem was inconclusive.

Last week police released e-fits of a couple they wish to question and provided intimate details about Mr Williams’s life, including his interest in bondage websites and his extraordinary collection of women’s designer clothes and shoes, worth about £15,000.

But Ms Lloyd-Jones, 33, claims Mr Williams would have confided in her and his sister, Ceri, if he had any homosexual urges. Ms Lloyd-Jones, a fashion stylist, said: ‘I’m not in denial and nor is his mum, dad or sister. It would have been fine if he was [gay].


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Wales: Police in Terror Plot Meeting With Muslim Community

Police have met Muslims at a Cardiff mosque to discuss the arrests of five men in the city suspected of terrorism offences.

Properties across Cardiff have been searched by officers after dawn raids on Monday, when 12 arrests were made in total across the UK.

There was disquiet among some of those at the mosque about the arrests.

But the Muslim Council of Wales said the police visit was “reassuring” to the community.

Of the 12 men were arrested during the anti-terrorist operation, four others were from Stoke-on-Trent and three from London.

They were detained on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism in the UK.

Police met community leaders at the Jahalia Mosque and Islamic Education Centre in Riverside, Cardiff, on Friday.


Saleem Kidwai, of the Muslim Council of Wales, welcomed the visit, and said: “The chief inspector came in the mosque and talked to the community just to reassure them that we are all in this together and we have to deal with this together,” he said.

Some members of the Muslim community said they were concerned about the arrests.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

WikiLeaks: British Outreach to Muslim Community Fails

According to one of the cables released by WikiLeaks, the U.S. believes that the British have made “little progress” in winning over its Muslim community. The author is right to be alarmed but shouldn’t be surprised. The U.K., like the U.S., has been courting extremists in moderate clothing as part of its outreach and has failed to stop Islamist trends in the country as a result.

The August 2006 document says that although the British government invested “considerable time and resources” into reaching out to the Muslim community after the terrorist attacks in London on July 7, 2005, a productive relationship has not been established. As an example, the cable mentioned “The Muslim community’s reaction to the arrests of 24 of its own sons—a kneejerk reaction blaming [the government]—shows that its leaders too have far to go.” It complained about how Muslim leaders attributed homegrown extremism to British foreign policy, using the problem to vindicate their political views.

The cable correctly points out that the British Muslim community has not waged an ideological offensive against Islamic extremists, instead denying that an ideological motivation is even the cause. The British government is also at fault, as its ignorance of who it embraces has sidelined moderates and empowered those with the views it seeks to combat.

For example, a supporter of Hizb ut-Tahrir who once referred to the “terrorist slaughter machine of the Zionist state of Israel” named Azad Ali was appointed to an advisory panel for the counter-terrorism chief of the Crown Prosecution Service. Asim Hafeez, who became the head of intervention at the Office of Security and Counterterrorism, has been described as a “hardcore Salafi.” And Mockbul Ali, who was put in charge of countering extremist ideology at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has used his position to try to gain entry to the U.K. for Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the rabidly anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist Muslim Brotherhood theologian. Ali is also a member of the Foreign Office’s Engaging with the Islamic World Group and has been accused of promoting the Brotherhood.

The ignorance of the British government is so strong that then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown attended an event by a charity tied to Hamas called Muslim Aid, which Brown heaped praise upon. It was well-known that the charity sends money to the Islamic University of Gaza, which is operated by Hamas, and the al-Ihan Charitable Society that acts as a front for Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Muslim Aid is also part of an umbrella organization led by the aforementioned al-Qaradawi and has given money to at least six other Hamas fronts. The British government has also made the mistake of using Muslim Brotherhood-connected groups like the Muslim Council of Britain to manage relations with the Musllim community. The government suspended its engagement with the organization in March 2009 after the deputy-director general signed a letter calling for attacks against any warships assisting the blockade of the Gaza Strip and urged the “Islamic nation” to “carry on with the jihad and resistance against the occupier until the liberation of all Palestine.”

Taxpayer money has even been given to these fake moderates. The Centre for Social Cohesion has reported that $80,000 was given to the Muslim Welfare House, a member of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe, an umbrella organization often viewed as a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood. The think tank writes that three of the Muslim Welfare House’s directors also served as directors of the Muslim Association of Britain and one verbally supported Hamas.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

William Tell as You’ve Never Seen Him

The year is 2032. Zurich, ravaged by the economic crisis, has become a violent, lawless no-go zone. But then a giant vigilante turns up in medieval hunting gear…

Tell: The Legend Returns sees the Swiss national hero with a nice line in crossbow tricks appear as a comic superhero in the mould of Batman and Superman, but with a hint of the Terminator and RoboCop.

The comic’s Swiss creator, David Boller, who studied in the United States and worked for Marvel and DC among others, tells about Switzerland’s relationship with comics, how he got the idea for Tell and whether there’s a moral to the story (listen to audio for extended interview). What are your first memories of comics?

David Boller: My very first memory was when my mother gave me Tintin in America. I was five years old and I’d never seen anything like it — for a five-year-old Tintin just blew everything away.

Of course Mickey Mouse was really big and I had a subscription to the Mickey Mouse magazine which was fantastic — and those little pocket books, Walt Disney’s Lustige Taschenbücher, which were little collections of mostly Scandinavian and Italian material. Then there was Fix and Foxi, a sort of German Walt Disney knock-off… Are the Swiss big comic readers?

D.B.: It was fairly common in my school at the time, but you’ve got to remember that that was the heyday of kiosk comics — you’d go to the newsstand and have dozens and dozens of comic book series.

When I was 13, I went to school in Zurich. The first comic store opened there in the early Eighties and it was literally El Dorado! Simply unbelievable. They had graphic novels from all over the world and pretty much all my lunch money went on that stuff. Are there regional differences within Switzerland? I imagine the French-speaking part of the country is closer to the French and Belgian comic tradition.

D.B: Asterix [by French cartoonists Goscinny and Uderzo] was always big in the German-speaking part, too. As were Lucky Luke and Tintin [by Belgian cartoonists Morris and Hergé respectively]. Asterix and Lucky Luke never really appealed to me, but certainly the Suisse Romande is extremely French-centric. Bear in mind that the most popular cartoonist in France at the moment is Swiss: Zep [Philippe Chappuis] has a series called Titeuf and it’s an incredible success; they sell millions of every new issue.

The Germans have always been an import country; they’ve never really produced anything on their own and the reason’s very simple: after the Second World War comics were forbidden, and they’ve never really recovered from that. How did you get the idea for Tell?…

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


The Big Cleanup Begins

Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro: in the space of a fortnight, the leaders or ex-leaders of all three countries have been arrested or accused of wrongdoing. Meanwhile, reports a Montenegro weekly, the EU is paving the way for the accession of all three Balkan countries.

Milka Tadic Mijovic

Like something out of a political thriller, former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader was arrested in Austria [on 10 December] under a warrant issued by his own country. He is now waiting for extradition in a Salzburg jail and says he’s prepared to answer corruption charges. A day or two prior to his arrest, right before parliament lifted his immunity, he fled Croatia and was planning to “attend” his trial from the United States. But his plan fell through when the Americans cancelled his visa and his Austrian “friends” put him in lockup. Yet only a year ago, Washington and Vienna were praising him to the skies.

The winner of the recent elections in Kosovo, prime minister Hashim Thaçi, didn’t even have time to celebrate. The day after Thaçi’s victory, Dick Marty, the Council of Europe rapporteur renowned for sleuthing out the CIA’s secret prisons on European soil, published a report describing Thaçi as the head of an organisation that bears a striking resemblance to a mafia: it traffics in arms, drugs and, as in a horror movie, even organs.

Marty’s accusations follow up on revelations by Carla Del Ponte, former chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia, in her book The Hunt: Me and the War Criminals. In the 1990s, in his capacity as “boss” of the Drenica group [“a small but inestimably powerful group of KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) personalities” according to the Marty report], Thaçi is said to have arranged kidnappings and had the prisoners sent to Albania, where their organs were removed.

Life in the Balkans is grislier than fiction. As if the wars and atrocities of the 1990s hadn’t been enough, most of the countries in the region have now fallen prey to firmly entrenched systems based on kleptocracy, organised crime and sham patriotism. Out of the ruins of a one-time single state, strange elites have emerged, elites that should have been jailed or exiled.

The unbounded power of these elites rests on tremendous wealth. The leaders of the region, from Zagreb to Pristina, have siphoned off national funds into their pockets and those of their cronies. Their colossal clout has been shored up by an army of propagandists, who are forever doing their bidding in the media or in university history and political science departments. They describe their national leaders as messiahs, and their opponents and those who testify against them as criminals. The impoverished masses, when called to the polls, have merely endorsed the lie that the liberators have come to power and are the guarantors of states that are exposed to endless threats.

Admittedly, the international community is largely to blame for the shambles in the Balkans. “I reread the secret documents on Thaçi drafted by Western analysts, with a feeling of horror and moral shame,” writes Marty. They knew everything, but were betting on Thaçi. Marty’s report reveals what Western diplomats admitted off the record: in Kosovo, the West favoured stability to the detriment of justice, writes the Reuters agency in one analysis. As if stability could be established without justice!

The diplomats in Podgorica who publicly praise Milo Djukanovic [the prime minister and ex-president of Montenegro resigned on 21 December] allow in private that, in terms of its political system, Montenegro is closer to Kosovo than to Croatia. Djukanovic would be elated if the main problem facing his government were its illicit ties to a close friend’s advertising agency or some loans granted to his friends by Hypo Alpe Adria [Austrian bank implicated in various graft scandals]. Those happen to be the main charges against Croatia’s prime minister Sanader.

Let’s get back to the analogy with Thaçi. Fortunately, here in Montenegro we did not indulge in organ trafficking, but we did excel in other rackets. We had our own dealings with the devil. After cigarette trafficking, Montenegro became the hub of cocaine and heroin trafficking. In 20 years of practically unshared power, our prime minister, along with his partners and family, has cornered the country’s economic resources and launched into some highly dubious enterprises, including the privatisation of the Aluminium Combine in Podgorica and of the steelworks, or the Prva Banka [owned by Aco Djukanovic, the prime minister’s brother], to name just a few. In any normal country, the Prva Banka affair alone, which brought the whole financial system down in Montenegro, would have been enough to put the prime minister, his brothers and his godfathers behind bars. But the West watched it all benignly and sang Djukanovic’s praises for a long time.…

Are we now finally coming round to the realisation that the greatest menace to stability in the Balkans is not ethnic conflict but organised crime? The West finally seems committed to fundamental changes that have been put off for too long. Witness the Sanader case in Croatia, the Council of Europe report on Kosovo, and the demand for top-level anti-corruption measures — the EU’s precondition for commencing accession talks with Montenegro [the country obtained accession candidate status on 17 December].

The big cleanup that has begun in Zagreb is bound to hit Montenegro, where the supremo and his business cronies are likely to be put on trial for pillaging the state. And for starters, the boss has got to go.

Translated by Eric Rosencrantz

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

North Africa

Son of Mubarak: Succession Without Success?

By Barry Rubin

Some of the more interesting Wikileaks concern the U.S. diplomatic perspective on the succession in Egypt from President Husni Mubarak to his son, Gamal. Let’s remember that Egypt is the single most important country in the Arabic-speaking world. Dramatic instability there would be disastrous for U.S. interests. And it might happen.

Even compared to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Egypt has been remarkably passive in the region’s international affairs over the last two decades. It has not acted as one might have expected, by taking the lead in organizing the Arab nationalist opposition to Iran and revolutionary Islamism.

But Mubarak has certainly been aware of the threat. While Jordan’s King Abdallah compared Iran to an “octopus” reaching out its tentacles to seize control of the region, Mubarak called it a “cancer.” A U.S. State Department cable of April 28, 2009, reports:

“President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s-and the region’s — primary strategic threat. His already dangerous neighborhood, he has stressed, has only become more so since the fall of [Iraqi dictator] Saddam [Hussein], who, as nasty as he was, nevertheless stood as a wall against Iran, according to Mubarak. He now sees Tehran’s hand moving with ease throughout the region, ‘from the Gulf to Morocco,’ as he told a recent congressional delegation.”

Yet Mubarak also stresses the immediate danger is not so much Iran getting nuclear weapons as it is Tehran’s subverting almost everyone else in the Middle East:

“While he will readily admit that the Iranian nuclear program is a strategic and existential threat to Egypt and the region, he sees that threat as relatively ‘long term.’ What has seized his immediate attention are Iran’s non-nuclear destabilizing actions such as support for Hama, media attacks, weapons and illicit funds smuggling, all of which add up in his mind to ‘Iranian influence spreading like a cancer from the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council countries] to Morocco.’“

But President Barack Obama also frightens Mubarak:…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israeli Anti-Polygamy Activists Run Into Islamic Opposition

A women’s group campaigning to stop polygamous marriages among Israeli Beduin is running into strong resistance from Islamic groups and even some politicians.

The organizers of the “No Excuse for Polygamy” campaign, launched at the end of November, have been called infidels in newspaper editorials and accused of serving the Zionist agenda by limiting the Arab birth rate. Last Friday’s sermon in a mosque in the Beduin town of Rahat warned worshipers to protect their wives and daughters from the woman’s movements.

Even heads of Negev regional councils representing Beduin towns have publicly denounced the anti-polygamy campaign.

Safa Shehadeh, director of Ma’an — the Forum for Arab Beduin Women’s Organizations of the Negev, one of the groups behind the anti-polygamy campaign, said she expected traditionalists to push back. But the reaction has been more aggressive than she had expected.

“There were no personal threats against us,” Shehadeh told The Media Line, “but some of the articles published by members of the Islamic Movement and municipal leaders included tacit threats.”

In Islam, a man may marry up to four wives on condition that he provides for them equally. But in most Arab societies the phenomenon is frowned upon and in Israel polygamy is illegal, punishable by up to five years in prison. Nevertheless, the custom is deeply rooted in the culture of the Beduin Arabs who traditionally were tent-dwelling nomads but who have gradually been settled in permanent towns like Rahat.

Husbands will have their polygamous marriages sanctified religiously but not in the government marriage registrar. Indeed, many second, third and fourth wives are officially listed as single parents, entitling them to allowances.

Since polygamous marriages aren’t recognized by the government, no official statistics exist. But the Research and Information Center of Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, estimates that somewhere between 20% and 36% of Beduin households in the southern Negev region, where most of Beduin live, are polygamous.

The Working Group for Equality in Personal Status Issues (WGEPSI), which organized the campaign against multiple marriages, believes the number is at the high end of that range. It blames a lack of education and an undeclared Israeli policy of legal non-intervention as the main causes.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

To Julie Burchill (In Regards to Liberal Judaism and Islam)

Dear Julie Burchill,

It saddens me to read that you have given up with attending synagogue and converting to Judaism. I can see how you would be put off after what you have experienced. You are not alone.

I am a Jew who attends a Liberal Synagogue and I too feel put off sometimes. So do many others that I know.

There are times that I leave synagogue on Shabbat feeling frustrated and angry rather than at peace and happy.

I know that the rabbi that you are referring to is Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah. You will find her name in the “About Us” section of the Jews for Justice for Palestinians website of which she is a signatory among a few other “progressive” rabbis.

On the 27th of this month, there will be a protest vigil in front of the Israeli Embassy where according to Jews for Justice for Palestinians ‘Between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, over 1400 Palestinians were killed by Israel in a brutal and illegal attack on the Gaza Strip, destroying lives and infrastructure”.

They will be there alongside Palestine Solidarity Campaign who believe that all of Israel is illegitimate and that ‘from the river to the sea’ is all Palestine. Their goal is the destruction of Israel. Why our Liberal “leaders” choose to stand with those that wish our destruction just does not make sense.

I am not writing this out of spite, but out of frustration. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that they are just being naive.

Among many of their misguided and hateful campaigns, the Jews for Justice for Palestinians believe in boycotting Ahava, they have a campaign on their site called Stop Arming Israel, they support the Russell Tribunal.

They also really push Palestinian olive oil which you can by at Liberal Judaism’s headquarters in London, the Montagu Centre.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Arab Cartoons Continue to Vilify Israeli Leaders

A new report issued by the Anti-Defamation League Wednesday illustrates that newspapers in the Arab and Muslim world consistently vilify Israel’s prime ministers, often in hateful, anti-Jewish and inflammatory ways.

The report, “Personalizing the Conflict: A Decade of an Assault on Israel’s Premiers in the Arab Media,” states that by cartoon and caricature, publications in the Arab world have deliberately and consistently sought to demonize Israeli leadership since 2000.

“Political caricatures are a visually powerful medium and have a profound impact on public opinion,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a press release. “The harsh demonization of Israel’s political leadership in the Arab media is another form of incitement against the Jewish state and its people. In Arab societies, there is virtually no alternative to the images of Israeli leaders as blood-thirsty, monstrous Nazis with aspirations of carrying out war crimes or controlling the region and the world.”

The report, prepared by ADL’s Israel office, includes cartoons that appeared in the mainstream daily newspapers of Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and other nations. Israeli leaders are routinely portrayed as Nazis, as bloodthirsty butchers, devils, and vicious or leeching animals such as attack dogs, worms and serpents.

These mainstream newspapers are often under direct or indirect government control, implying that the governments in question endorse the controversial imagery.

Ariel Sharon, Israeli prime minister from March 2001 through April 2006, attracted the most vilification in the Arab press, consistently portrayed as a murderer with bloodied hands, eating Palestinian children, drinking their blood and butchering them. Sharon was frequently compared to the Nazis and Adolf Hitler.

Ehud Barak drew comparisons to Hitler and Slobodan Milosevic, surrounded by skulls or dead Palestinians. Ehud Olmert was portrayed as a Nazi, swastikas on his uniform, or a killer of Palestinians and Lebanese in the 2006 Lebanon War.

In recent months, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been portrayed as the devil, holding the US government hostage.

While the level of vitriol is not entirely unexpected, Foxman said, he noted that it constitutes yet another form of anti-Israel incitement, and that it often plays on anti-Jewish themes to the point that each prime minister is virtually indistinguishable from the other.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Ashamed Iraqi Man ‘Killed His Daughter, 19, After She Was Recruited as Suicide Bomber by Al-Qaeda’

An Iraqi man killed his 19-year-old daughter out of shame after he discovered Al-Qaeda had recruited her as a suicide bomber. in the town of Mandali, about , searching for her on suspicion she had become involved with terrorists.

Najim al-Anbaky was arrested at the family home in the town of Mandali, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Security forces had carried out a raid after suspecting his daughter Shahlaa had joined the terror group.

The father at first denied his daughter had any links to the terror group, but after further questioning admitted to killing her.

He described it as an attempt to protect the family’s dignity and said his daughter had been recruited by al-Qaida to be a suicide bomber.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

European Terror Attack Feared as Al-Qaida Fighters Disappear From Base in Lebanonintelligence Services Hunt for Jihadists Based in South Lebanon Refugee Camp Who Are Thought to Have Gone Abroad

Intelligence services throughout the Middle East and Europe are scrambling to track down more than two dozen fighters linked to al-Qaida who have recently left their base in southern Lebanon.

The missing men are thought to have gone to Europe by a newly established route through Syria, Turkey and the Balkans, and multiple intelligence sources in Lebanon warn that the group appears to be operational and could be planning attacks in Europe in the holiday season.

“Yes, they have left the camp,” confirmed Munir al-Maqda, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official in the Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp, where the fighters had been hiding for the past few years. Because the Lebanese army is not allowed to enter the country’s 13 Palestinian refugee camps, militants have long sought refuge inside them.

Two Lebanese intelligence service officials — who could only discuss the matter off the record — said Lebanon was co-operating with European intelligence organisations to track down the militants, who are described as “extremely dangerous”.

The militants, who based themselves in an area on the outskirts of the Ain el-Hilweh camp — Lebanon’s largest and most densely populated refugee centre, with more than 50,000 people living within one square mile — had been a disparate group of freelance fighters and jihadists thought to have carried out a series of attacks in Lebanon over the last five years that targeted the Lebanese army, Christian districts and UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.

Stephen Tankel, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has done field research in the Ain el-Hilweh camp and describes the band of militants as potentially dangerous because of their lack of overall control. This means that the group are receptive to outside direction, and leaves them open to new ideas and strategies, such as becoming operational in Europe as their options in Lebanon dwindle, Tankel said.

“They may not have been super-organised, but that does not mean they are not potentially dangerous,” he said. “First, a number of them fought in Iraq, where they will have gained combat experience and, perhaps, some explosives expertise.

“Second, it’s safe to assume that many of them are prepared to undertake ‘martyrdom’ operations. That said, they would benefit from guidance in terms of targets [choosing and surveying them] and logistical support in Europe.”

In view of their experience in Iraq and overall “street credibility” among European jihadists, Tankel suggested that the group might be better able to operate successfully in Europe than in Lebanon, where they were closely monitored, not only by the intelligence services but by the Shia militant group Hezbollah. Hezbollah, despite sharing a dislike of western policies in support of Israel, is bitterly opposed to the al-Qaida ideology, which is linked to Sunni Muslims.

One European Union intelligence official confirmed to the Observer that an operation to hunt down Arab fighters recently arrived from Lebanon was under way, but could not link this group to recent concerns about possible holiday attacks by al-Qaida.

“We have received warnings of a significant militant plot in Europe during the holidays and we have been warned about these missing fighters from Lebanon,” he said. “But we wish we knew if the two threats were related.”

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Hizballah Fears ‘Qaeda’ Type Attacks From Lebanese Sunnis

A day after the radical “Salafist” Sunni preacher Sheikh Omar Bakri was arrested last month, having been sentenced in absentia by a Lebanese court to life imprisonment on terrorism charges, he received an unexpected visitor in his holding cell at Beirut’s police headquarters. Nawar Sahili, an MP from Lebanon’s militant Shi’ite Hizballah movement — the Salafists’ most powerful local enemy — and a lawyer by training, offered Bakri his legal services.

“I have been delegated by [Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah to represent you. He has heard your voice,” Bakri recalls Sahili telling him. Hizballah’s decision to help Bakri may seem odd given that the Salafist cleric has in the past criticized the Shi’ite organization. In 2007, he told a Lebanese newspaper that he rejected Hizballah’s “armed cantons” in Lebanon, and questioned why the “resistance” against Israel should be monopolized by the Shi’ite sect.

Still, with a bleak future ahead of him, Bakri accepted Hizballah’s offer and has since been released on bail pending a retrial scheduled for March.

“Now I’m working to bring Sunnis and Shi’ites together on certain issues, such as confronting Israel,” Bakri said in his home in Tripoli, Lebanon’s religiously conservative second largest city.

With Sunni-Shi’ite tensions on the rise in Lebanon, Hizballah has been seeking allies within the small but potentially dangerous Salafist community — a sect that generally does not even recognize the Shi’ite branch of Islam. Salafists practice an austere version of Sunni Islam that emulates the seventh century ideals of the Prophet Mohammed and his followers. While a majority of Salafist scholars reject terrorism, many al-Qaeda leaders claim to be inspired by the sect.

Hizballah is increasingly on edge as Lebanon awaits the findings of an international tribunal into the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Sunni prime minister. Speculation is rampant that members of Hizballah will be indicted. The Shi’ite movement has vigorously denied any involvement in Hariri’s murder, and is pressuring the Lebanese government — headed by Saad Hariri, son of the slain Rafik — to end all cooperation with the tribunal, which it accuses of promoting an American and Israeli agenda to weaken the Iran-backed party.

Many Lebanese fear that an indictment of Hizballah personnel could lead to sectarian clashes between rival Sunni and Shi’ite factions. “Accusing a Shi’ite group of killing a Sunni leader leads to a catastrophe,” Ali Khreiss, a Shi’ite MP and ally of Hizballah said Tuesday.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Hizbullah’s Throne of Bayonets

By Jonathan Spyer

It is obvious that given the true balance of power in Lebanon, the special tribunal investigating the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri is largely a virtual exercise. As Michael Young pointed out in a column in the Beirut Daily Star this week, tribunal prosecutor Daniel Bellemare is currently on his end of year vacation and left without submitting draft indictments. This means that indictments cannot be issued before mid-January at the earliest.

Once they are issued, they will not be made public, but rather will be subject to the perusal of a pre-trial judge, Daniel Fransen. This process is likely to take up to a further two months, meaning that the very earliest a trial could begin would be late March or April.

At that point, if Hizbullah members are indicted, the movement will declare its nonrecognition of the court, and in real world terms, that is likely to be that.

But if this is the case, and it is, why is the Iran/Syria/Hizbullah camp so clearly jittery and worried by the events surrounding the tribunal? Why the wishful thinking in the newspapers evident this week, when the pro-Hizbullah Al-Diyar published a statement by Saad Hariri apparently abandoning the tribunal, which turned out to be entirely fictional?

More importantly, why the stark and repeated threats from Hizbullah and Iranian officials regarding the consequences if the Tribunal is not abandoned?

Hizbullah this week reiterated its promise to “cut off the hand” of anyone trying to arrest members of the movement. Many analysts saw the recent visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Lebanon as an act of preemptive intimidation. He was reminding Hizbullah’s opponents just how strong it is, and just how determined its backers.

Even Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei descended this week from his lofty heights to issue a fatwa regarding the tribunal. “This tribunal is receiving orders from elsewhere,” he said in a meeting with the emir of Qatar, before pronouncing “any ruling it hands down” as “null and void.”

Hizbullah immediately hailed his words, interpreting them in the most unambiguous terms as supporting its war to the end on the tribunal. A Hizbullah MP, Walid Sucarieh, said that the statement was meant to “tell those who seek strife through the indictment: stay right there. We won’t stand idle while the fire is burning our homes.”

SO WHAT is the reason for the very obvious concern of the pro-Iranian axis regarding the tribunal, even though there is no way that its indictments or rulings can be enforced?…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

House Bombings Kill Five in Iraq

Two houses were blown up on Friday south of Baghdad, killing five people, including three children, and wounding four other people, Iraqi police said.

The pre-dawn attacks occurred within four hours of each other in Qariya al-Asriya near Iskandiriya, a city considered an Al-Qaeda stronghold before the militants were pushed out by Iraqi and American forces in 2008.

Police said among those killed were a man, a woman and three children — one of them a one-year-old — and the wounded included a woman, a young man, and two children.

The houses, which belonged to Shiite Muslim families, were blown up using dynamite, with the first attack occurring at 1:00 am (2200 GMT Thursday) and the second at 5:00 am, according to police. Also on Friday, gunmen killed two policemen and burned their vehicle in an ambush in the city of Samarra, north of the Iraqi capital, police said.

“Two members of the federal police were carrying out a patrol in the Qadissiya area when they were stopped and killed by unknown assailants carrying automatic weapons,” said a police official, on condition of anonymity.

The attackers “then burned the (police) vehicle with the driver still inside and the other outside. They managed to escape,” the official said.

The same day, four members of the Sahwa militia which opposes Al-Qaeda, including a leader, were wounded by a bomb while driving in Al-Muqdadiya, northeast of Baghdad, police said.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Iran Poised to Execute Student Accused of Being Kurd Terrorist

A 29-year-old Iranian student activist is facing execution tomorrow unless an international campaign launched by human rights groups can persuade authorities to quash his conviction.

Habibollah Latifi, a politically active student of civil engineering at Azad University, in the south-western province of Ilam , is scheduled to be executed in Sanandaj prison tomorrow, following what his lawyer has described as an unfair trial.

His family is pleading with the international community to urge Iran to stop his execution.

“We do not have any other hope than reaching out to the international community,” Latifi’s sister Elahe told the Guardian. “Please help my innocent brother not to be executed while people of the world are celebrating Christmas.”

Latifi, a member of the Kurd minority in Iran, was arrested on 23 October 2007 in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province, and was taken to prison where he has been kept for the past three years and two months.

Iran says he was a member of Kurdish Independent Life party (PJAK), an armed opposition group and has convicted him of Muharebeh (enmity against God) but his family denies his connection with PJAK and claims the charges were fabricated .

“This is nonsense, they’re just angry with his political activities as a student and have charged him with the false claim that he was a member of PJAK, that’s absolutely a lie, it’s just an excuse for them to execute him,” his sister said.

According to Amnesty International, his trial was held behind closed doors and his lawyer was not allowed to be present to defend him. His death sentence was upheld by the appeal court in Sanandaj on 18 February 2009.

Human rights advocate Peter Tatchell, who has campaigned in defence of Iran’s ethnic minorities, said: “Iran has a long history of persecuting its Kurdish ethnic minority population, including framing peaceful, lawful Kurdish rights activists on false charges.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Iraqi Dad Says Killed Daughter Linked to Al-Qaida

When police came hunting for a 19-year-old woman they believed had been recruited by al-Qaida to be a suicide bomber in a town north of Baghdad, they found she was already dead: Slain by her father, who told police he strangled his daughter out of shame and then cut her throat. The killing of Shahlaa al-Anbaky, reported by police Friday, appeared to be from an unusual melding of motives — part to defend the family honor, part to prevent her from joining the militants. But how much of each weighed in her father’s mind remains unclear, with police still investigating the details.

Al-Qaida has been recruiting women for suicide attacks because they can pass police checkpoints more easily than men by concealing explosives under an abaya, a loose, black cloak that conservative Muslim women wear. Suicide bombers have been al-Qaida’s most lethal weapon in Iraq, killing hundreds of civilians and members of Iraq’s security forces. The slaying took place in the town of Mandali, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, which only a few years ago was one of Iraq’s deadliest regions, torn by attacks by al-Qaida and Sunni insurgents and vicious sectarian killings between Sunnis and Shiites.

After Sunni tribal militias turned on al-Qaida, the province has become much safer, like much of Iraq. But al-Qaida militants still carry out deadly attacks in the area.

Authorities were still trying to put together a complete picture of the killing.

A Diyala police spokesman, Maj. Ghalib al-Karkhi, said security forces had information the young woman had ties to al-Qaida and raided her father’s home Thursday. When questioned by police, the father, Najim al-Anbaky, told police he killed his daughter a month earlier because he found out she intended to blow herself up in a suicide attack for al-Qaida.

The father, described by authorities as a small-time trader of chickens and sheep, led police to her grave in the backyard. The woman had been strangled and then her throat cut for good measure, al-Karkhi said.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

New Mossad Chief to Apologise for Use of UK Passports in Dubai Killing

Tamir Pardo, who took over as Mossad’s chief earlier this month, will also promise that Israeli agents will never again be allowed to use fake British documents during operations abroad.

Mossad insiders say he will make the pledges to officials in London and, he hopes, in private meetings with the foreign secretary, William Hague, and the home secretary, Theresa May, as part of an urgent drive to rebuild relations with the UK government, thrown into disarray earlier this year.

In March Britain expelled Mossad’s station chief in London, a key foreign posting, after an investigation blamed Israel’s secret service for cloning 12 British passports that were found among 26 forged identity documents used by the hit squad that murdered Mahmoud al Mabhouh in January.

David Milliband, then foreign secretary, told MPs that Israel had shown a “profound disregard” for British sovereignty, adding: “The fact that this was done by a country which is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury.”

Mr Pardo, 57, who was deputy director of Mossad for the past three years, is said by a source involved in the planning of the operation to have argued against using British, Irish and Australian passports for the team sent to murder al Mabhouh in his hotel room.

But Meir Dagan, the Mossad chief who stepped aside this month, insisted that with so many visitors from those three countries travelling to Dubai, their passports would not be scrutinised. After the Dubai debacle, the source said, Mr Pardo warned Dagan that the “whole business will come home to haunt us”.

Mr Pardo, known as “T” to fellow Mossad officers since he joined the service 30 years ago, is said to regard the expulsion of the service’s top official in London as a blow to the organisation. Since then official collaboration between Mossad and the British agencies responsible for security at home and abroad, MI5 and MI6, has been badly dented, to the detriment of both.

But Mr Dagan bluntly refused to apologise over the use of the faked passports — let alone offer the guarantee demanded by Britain that the theft would not recur.

Mr Pardo’s apology and pledge during a visit to London that is expected early in January would be the first official acknowledgement by Israel that it was behind the assassination of the Hamas leader in Dubai. He is expected to brief officials on Mossad’s plans to provide Britain and Nato with increased intelligence over Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. Mossad has a network of undercover agents in the country. He also intends to increase Mossad’s role in Yemen and to spearhead the hunt for al-Qaeda’s new chief of military operations, Saif al-Adel, who Mossad believe is based in Somalia.

At the same time he wants to expand Mossad’s watch over the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, which is an increasing presence in Syria and Turkey — and is using both countries as launch pads from which to enter Europe. In his first briefing to senior staff after he took up his new post, Mr Pardo said Mossad had a key role to play in helping the West win what he called “the new Cold War”.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

One Day Turkish Parliament Will Discuss Armenian Genocide

In his article entitled “Armenian resolution”, Amberin Zaman of Haberturk, addressed Turkish-Armenian processes in the light of Resolution 252 at the U.S. House of Representatives.

At the last moment, Armenians in the U.S. tried to get the draft resolution qualifying the Armenian massacres in 1915 as genocide put on the U.S. House agenda. However, more important issues were on the agenda, and the resolution remained undiscussed. It was also due to the Obama Administration. As during previous years, Turkey explored every avenue. Erdogan addressed a letter to President Obama, and Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoglu made it clear for Hillary Clinton Turkey would take steps if the Armenian resolution were adopted. So one more crisis over the recognition of the Armenian Genocide was resolved, the author writes.

It is common knowledge, however, that it was not the first instance nor will it be the last. U.S. Armenians will never give up their campaigns. On the contract, as the 100th anniversary of the tragedy nears, they will intensify their efforts.

So what is Turkey to do? Turks should ask themselves a question: what happened to the millions of Armenians that lived in the land for thousands of years. The subject was a taboo until the murder of Hrant Dink. There is hardly any information on the experiences of about 1,300,000 Armenians in the Ottoman Empire before 1915. A betrayal by a group of Armenians proved an occasion for Young Turks to punish the whole Armenian people. They were murdering women, children and old people or deporting them. The deportees were dying of hunger, diseases or at the hand of marauder gangs. Thousands of Armenians died in the Deir ez Zor. Some of them were converted into Islam, others saved by merciful Turks or Kurds.

The survivors’ victims are now justly demanding an end to the denial policy and expecting apologies. More and more of them demand restitution. Ratification of the Armenian-Turkish protocols would not have prevented the developments. It would have delayed the adoption of the Armenian Genocide bill for a while.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

The Christians Who Suffer for Their Faith at Christmas

As Christians the world over celebrate the miracle of the Jesus’s birth, there are many for whom this season is a time of tension and uncertainty, while others languish in prisons around the world, from Iran to Vietnam, simply because they have chosen to follow their faith.

Around 3,000 Christians are in prison in Eritrea, held without trial in appalling conditions, and suffering threats and beatings simply on account of their faith. In Iraq, where 52 people died in Our Lady of Salvation Catholic church in Baghdad when security forces attempted to free worshippers taken hostage by militants, some Christian communities have decided against Christmas celebrations, for fear of attacks by extremist groups.

In Egypt, Christians gathering in church for Coptic Christmas Eve mass on 7 January will be acutely aware of the drive-by shooting after mass in Nag Hammadi just one year ago that claimed the lives of eight Christians and a Muslim security official, and which was the precursor to further attacks on Christian communities in the surrounding area.

Christians in prison for their faith bear the weight of fear and uncertainty without the comfort of their community around them, and in some cases in solitary confinement, like Iranian Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani. Initially arrested in January after being summoned to Shiraz to explain church activities, Pastor Khanjani was released on bail in March but rearrested on 16 June and sent to an infamous political prison, where he has spent much of his detention in solitary confinement. He has only had access to his lawyer once between his arrest and late November, while his health has deteriorated steadily due to the harsh and unsanitary conditions in the prison, where Christian prisoners are reportedly subjected to eight hours of interrogation a day, and some are kept in cramped conditions where they are unable to sleep.

Pastor Khanjani is charged with apostasy — leaving Islam, blasphemy and contact with the enemy, and is facing a possible death sentence. Also facing a death sentence is Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who was charged with apostasy on 13 October after questioning the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of children in Iran, which contravenes the Iranian constitution, under which a parent is permitted to raise children in their own faith. The written confirmation of the court’s sentence — the death penalty — was delivered on 13 November. His appeal is pending.

In Pakistan on 7 November, Asia Bibi, a Christian, is believed to have become the first woman to be handed a death sentence for blasphemy under the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, a dubious distinction. She has been in prison since the case against her was registered in June 2009 and her appeal is pending. So far nobody sentenced to death for blasphemy has been executed in Pakistan; many await a decision on their cases in prison, including Waji ul-Hassan, a Christian who has been on death row since 2002. Although the majority of blasphemy cases are brought against Muslims, for Christians and other minorities, once an allegation has been made, they and their family become potential targets for extra-judicial violence.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Traumatized Iraqi Christians Lie Low for Christmas

As they gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the congregation here first contemplated death, represented by a spare Christmas tree decked with paper stars, each bearing a photograph of a member of a nearby church killed in a siege by Islamic militants in October.

The congregants on Friday night were fewer than 100, in a sanctuary built for four or five times as many. But they were determined. This year, even more than in the past, Iraqi’s dwindling Christian minority had reasons to stay home for Christmas.

“Yes, we are threatened, but we will not stop praying,” the Rev. Meyassr al-Qaspotros told the Christmas Eve crowd at the Sacred Church of Jesus, a Chaldean Catholic church. “We do not want to leave the country because we will leave an empty space.”

He added: “Be careful not to hate the ones killing us because they know not what they are doing. God forgive them.”

Throughout Iraq, churches canceled or toned down Christmas observances this year, both in response to threats of violence and in honor of the nearly 60 Christians killed in October, when militants stormed a Syrian Catholic church and blew themselves up. Since the massacre, more than 1,000 Christian families have fled Baghdad for the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, with others going to Jordan or Syria or Turkey. Though the exact size of Iraq’s Christian population is unclear, by some estimates it has fallen to about 500,000 from a high of 1.4 million before the American-led invasion of 2003. Iraq’s total population is about 30 million.

This week, a new threat appeared on a Web site that said it represented the Islamic State of Iraq, a militant group that claimed responsibility for the October church siege. The Web site referred to a church in Egypt that it said was holding two women because they had converted to Islam, and vowed more carnage. “We swear to God, if there are only two of us left,” the text read, “one of the two will keep fighting you.”


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Turkish Man Goes on Trial for Plot to Kill Rabbis

A Turkish news agency says a court has released a man whom prosecutors accuse of plotting to murder Jewish rabbis and the Istanbul-based leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

The Anatolia agency says suspect Ismet Recber was freed pending the outcome of the trial following the first hearing Wednesday. Recber, a carpenter, faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of plotting to kill Patriarch Bartholomew I. He denies the accusations. Anatolia says the man was arrested after an anonymous letter was sent to authorities claiming that a suspect in a separate trial had chosen Recber to carry out the killings.

The separate trial involves an alleged secularist plot to bring down the Islam-oriented government.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Boom! Indian Space Scientists Watch in Horror as Rocket Explodes Minutes After Take-Off

This is the dramatic moment when India’s ambitious space programme suffered one of its biggest setback when an advanced communication satellite exploded within a minute after its launch.

A stunned Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) did not give the reason for the blast in the sky but an officer told IANS that there was a fault in the second stage of the launch.

‘The rocket’s first stage seemed to have performed normally. The problem seems to have cropped up in the second stage as the rocket didn’t get sufficient thrust,’ he said.

But another official insisted that even the first stage was a failure.

The multi-million pound 310 kg GSAT-5P satellite, was to serve the needs of the telecommunication sector and the weather department.

It was at 4.04 p.m. that ISRO launched the rocket, with the satellite, in clear sky from the Sriharikota space centre, about 80 km from Chennai.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

In Afghanistan, Shifting Political Fortunes

IN KABUL Ethnic chauvinism, which has long bedeviled this fiercely tribal country and fueled a destructive civil war in the early 1990s, is erupting again in a tense dispute over recent parliamentary elections. The poll, held in turbulent wartime conditions, disenfranchised several hundred thousand voters from the ethnic Pashtun majority and unexpectedly empowered the long-persecuted Hazara minority.

The fight has brought the political system to a standstill, pitted fledgling democratic institutions against one another and raised the specter of sectarian strife. It has also further weakened the grip of President Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun, whose ethnic support is splintering under the combined pressure and persuasion of Taliban insurgents based in many rural Pashtun enclaves.

The Hazaras, meanwhile, are feeling their oats. Highly organized and motivated, this fast-rising Shiite Muslim group has essentially become a political party. It is eagerly embracing Afghanistan’s imperfect new democratic system as a steppingstone to power while larger, Sunni Muslim ethnic groups remain caught up in personality-based politics and warlord rivalries.

“We have been legally elected, and we are ready to go to parliament. We have the passion of a new generation behind us,” said Mohammed Alizada, one of 11 Hazara candidates who swept the elections in Ghazni, winning all seats in the Pashtun-majority province. “We will do our best to represent the whole province,” he said. “If our Pashtun brothers failed to vote, perhaps this will be a positive lesson for them in the future.”

‘No election at all here’

Pashtun leaders in Ghazni, however, assert that they were not given the chance to vote because of Taliban threats and poor security. Several Pashtun legislators from there, stunned after losing their seats, mounted a legal campaign to have the election results overturned nationwide, and the Supreme Court is reviewing the case. Of 249 seats in the lower house, 50 went to Hazaras, an outsize portion of power compared with their numbers.

“There was no election at all here. The Taliban are everywhere, and not a single government employee dares come to work,” said Abdul Bari, an educator reached by phone in Ghazni’s Andar district. More than 70,000 people registered to vote in Andar, which is virtually all Pashtun, but only three ballots were cast. “I have no doubt the Hazaras are eager to help the province, but 80 percent of the voters were disappointed,” Bari said. “We all want the election canceled.”


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

In Pakistan, No Cowering on Christmas

IN ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN Waris Masih spends his workdays sweeping and cleaning wide, tree-shaded streets, a job shared by many of the Christians who live in this serene capital city. The other afternoon, he turned his focus toward beautifying one of the trees in his own neighborhood — using lights, baubles and garland.

Aided by a throng of enthusiastic youths, Masih, 50, was spreading the Christmas spirit inside one of Islamabad’s “Christian colonies,” crowded shantytowns that stand in stark contrast to the city’s manicured lawns and stately villas. Nearby, others were constructing a wooden Nativity scene.

Asked whether they were afraid, they offered resounding nos.

It was, perhaps, a surprising answer in Muslim-majority Pakistan at the end of 2010, a year when animosity toward religious minorities appeared to escalate. Islamist insurgents killed hundreds in bombings on mosques belonging to minority Muslim sects such as Ahmadis and Sufis. Less than 5 percent of Pakistanis are Christians, and tensions rose further last month after a court sentenced a Christian woman to death for blasphemy, triggering debate over laws that critics say promote religious intolerance.

Instead of cowering, though, several Christians in Islamabad said they planned to make their celebrations as public as ever, and maybe even more so.

“There are, no doubt, problems for minorities in this country . . . but we have to live with them. This is our country,” Masih said. “It’s a great occasion for us.”

The municipal government has backed them up. Last year, city workers were instructed to adorn one tree on public property. This year — the 50th anniversary of Islamabad’s founding — they decorated 12, according to Razaman Sajid, a city spokesman.

“The efforts of the Christian community stand tall and need due acknowledgement,” Razaman said.

Christmas coincides with a national holiday in Pakistan, the birth date of the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Though Jinnah envisioned Pakistan as a refuge for India’s Muslim minority, he advocated that it should be a place for all faiths.

More than six decades later, however, Pakistan still struggles with the role of Islam — and of other religions — in society, and with implementing Jinnah’s ideals. In recent decades, the views of hard-line Muslim clerics have gained strength, as have shocking attacks on minorities.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

India: Mumbai Terror Fears as Police Hunt for Four Militants Believed to be Planning Holiday Attack

Mumbai is on high alert after a fresh terror scare.

Police launched a manhunt in India’s financial and entertainment capital on Friday for four alleged Pakistani militants authorities believe entered Mumbai to carry out an attack, a top police official said.

Police have received credible information that at least four men belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group have entered the city and were planning to strike during the holiday season, according to Mumbai police commissioner Himanshu Roy.

Police have set up checkpoints along major roads in the city, put additional men on patrol duty at public places and released computer photographs of the four suspects.

‘The four men are planning violent attacks that are going to cause destruction,’ Roy said.

Indian authorities blame the Lashkar-e-Taiba for a deadly three-day terror attack in Mumbai in November 2008 in which 166 people were killed.

‘The four have recently arrived in Mumbai. We believe the threat is serious,’ Roy said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

No Truce in Afghanistan: Dramatic Pictures Capture U.S. Troops Repelling a Taliban Attack on Christmas Morning

These stunning images show US troops repelling a Taliban attack on a combat post in eastern Afghanistan.

Soldiers from the 2nd Platoon Bravo Company 2-327 return fires upon a sudden assault on Combat Outpost Badel in Kunar province, near the Pakistan border.

The primitive hilltop base overlooks a valley, but stands in the shadows of larger mountains.

Taliban insurgents attack the outpost an average of seven times a week. Quiet days or evenings often erupt with automatic weapons fire and the explosive crash of mortar rounds.

Elsewhere, Afghan and foreign troops killed two men during a raid in downtown Kabul after receiving a ‘credible threat’ to attack the U.S. Embassy in the capital, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said on Saturday.

ISAF confirmed Friday’s operation after Afghan security officials had said foreign troops were involved in a night raid that targeted a compound belonging to a private security firm.

The raid came after Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security said this week it had separately detained three people it said had been instructed by the Pakistani Taliban to attack the presidential palace and U.S. embassy in Kabul.

‘After receiving a credible threat to attack the U.S. Embassy, ISAF coordinated with Afghan security forces to move on an area of interest,’ ISAF said in a statement late on Friday. ‘Intelligence reports indicated there were two vehicles parked there that were thought to be loaded with explosives.’

As the troops moved in, they were shot at and during the clash two men, said by Afghan officials to be Afghan security guards, were killed, two wounded and 13 more apprehended, ISAF said.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Son of Notorious Insurgent Leader is Arrested

A key member of an insurgent network in the Afghan-Pakistani region has been seized recent days, Pakistani military intelligence sources told CNN on Friday. He is Nasiruddin Haqqani, son of Afghan insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose notorious group, called the Haqqani Network, operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is closely tied to the Taliban. Nasiruddin Haqqani was detained in recent days while driving from Peshawar to the tribal region of North Waziristan, the sources said. The United Nations says he is believed to be based out of Miram Shah in North Waziristan, where the network operates. The Pakistani military intelligence sources asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media. This arrest comes amid concerns among U.S. officials that Pakistan has not been aggressively confronting militants operating in the tribal regions. The Haqqani Network “has been at the forefront of insurgent activity in Afghanistan, responsible for many high-profile attacks,” the United Nations says. Bill Roggio, managing editor of The Long War Journal, a website that tracks terror-related events and trends, calls the top leadership a “family business.” The United Nations says it consists of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s three oldest sons, one of whom is Nasiruddin, who operates as an emissary for the network and spends a lot of time fundraising, the United Nations says. He apparently speaks Arabic and is a close aide to his father, the United Nations says. His brother, Sirajuddin, is described by the U.S. Treasury Department as the overall leader of the network and the leader of the Miram Shah Regional Military Shura. The United Nations says the Haqqani Network is believed to have three main sources of funds: Gulf region donations, drug trafficking, and al Qaeda payments.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan Suicide Bomb Kills Scores

A female suicide bomber killed more than 40 people today at a food distribution centre near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said.

The attack, believed to be the first suicide bombing by a woman in Pakistan, took place in Bajur, a tribal region where the military has twice declared victory over Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents.

It came a day after some 150 militants killed 11 soldiers in a co-ordinated assault in a neighbouring region where the army has also been tackling insurgents.

The woman wearing a burqa lobbed two hand grenades into the crowd waiting at a checkpoint outside the food aid distribution centre in the town of Khar before detonating her explosives vest, according to local police official Fazal-e-Rabbi Khan.

He said the victims were gathering to collect food tokens distributed by the World Food Programme and other agencies to people displaced by an army offensive against Taliban militants in the region in early 2009.

Local government official Tariq Khan said the blast also wounded 60 people, some of them critically. He, and another local official, Sohail Khan, said an examination of the human remains had confirmed the bomber was a woman.

Male suicide bombers often don the burqa as a disguise. In 2007, officials initially claimed Pakistan’s first female suicide bomber had killed 14 people in the north-west town of Bannu but the attacker was later identified as a man.

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based security and political analyst, said today’s suicide bombing appeared to be the first carried out by a woman in Pakistan.

“It is no surprise. They can use a woman, a child or whatever,” he said. “Human life is not important to them, only the objective they are pursuing.”


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Report: Karzai Open to Taliban Setting Up Office in Turkey

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said Friday that he’d welcome a Taliban office opening in Turkey, that country’s state-run news agency reported, adding that such a development could help peace talks in his war-torn nation.

Karzai made his remarks during a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, following a meeting of the three leaders at Istanbul’s Ciragan Palace. The Afghan president acknowledged that there have been discussions about Taliban officials setting up somewhere in Turkey “in order to facilitate reconciliation and integration,” according to the Turkish news agency Anadolu.

“If Turkey can be kind to provide such a venue we, the government of Afghanistan will be pleased and happy to see that facilitation (in) Turkey,” said Karzai.

The president referenced an article published earlier this week in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, in which former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Zaeef said that having the Taliban set up an office in a neutral country may help bring about peace. Zaeef — who served time in the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and is now living openly in Kabul — suggested that a country like the United Arab Emirates, “which is not interested in interfering in Afghanistan like Pakistan or China,” would be a good option.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Taliban ‘Want Base in Neutral Third Country Before Peace Talks Begin’

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban’s former ambassador to Pakistan, said meaningful talks were not possible until insurgent leaders had a safe base from which to negotiate.

“Taliban are condemned by the world. They have no address,” he said in the sitting room of the Kabul safe house where he now lives. “If I was a Taliban I would choose a country close to Afghanistan but neutral, like the United Arab Emirates, somewhere which is not interested in interfering in Afghanistan, like Pakistan or China.” A formal office, he added, would help the Taliban make the transition from fighters to politicians. Mullah Zaeef , once the international face of the Taliban, was arrested after 9/11 and spent almost four years in Guantanamo Bay.

Although he claims no longer to speak for the Taliban, his eventual release and privileged position in Kabul have led analysts to conclude he retains close contacts with his former comrades and that he would act as an intermediary in any peace talks.

Ahmed Rashid, a noted Taliban expert, said he had recently conducted interviews with five former insurgent leaders, who each said the Taliban wanted to open an office in a neutral country — such as one of the Gulf states, Germany, Turkey or Japan — now that their strongholds of Kandahar and Helmand were being hit by teams of special forces.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Taliban Launch Attacks Along North Pakistan Border

At least 11 soldiers and 24 militants have been killed in clashes near the Afghan border in north-west Pakistan, officials have said.

About 150 Taliban launched co-ordinated attacks against five Frontier Corps checkpoints in Mohmand tribal region, they said.

The Taliban said only two of their fighters had died.

The military has launched offensives in the region in recent months, but insurgent attacks have continued.

Amjad Ali Khan, administrator of Mohmand, confirmed that 11 soldiers had been killed following initial reports that three had died. He said 12 other soldiers had been injured.

Mr Khan said the Frontier Corps paramilitary troops had “repulsed” the militant attacks in the Baizai area which began at 0200 local time.

“The troops responded with artillery fire and raids by helicopter gunships, killing 24 militants,” he said.

“Seven of their bodies are in our possession.”

He said that the fighting ended later Friday morning.

However, Sajjad Mohmand, spokesman for the Taliban in Mohmand, told the BBC that only two insurgents had been killed in the clashes.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Violence Up in Afghanistan, UN Warns

Afghanistan is seeing higher levels of violence this year than last year at this time, with 20% more civilians killed and the number of “security incidents” up by 66%, the United Nations says in a new report. The number of civilians killed by the United States and its allies was lower, but insurgent attacks are significantly higher, meaning the overall number of civilian deaths is up. More than 2,400 civilians were killed, and more than 3,800 injured in the first 10 months of this year, the report says. More than three out of four of the casualties were caused by “anti-government elements,” it says. That’s a 25 percent increase on last year, it said. Deaths caused by U.S. troops and their allies were down 18 percent. “Assassinations” of civilians and police reached “unprecedented numbers” in August, and there were an average of three suicide attacks per week, the U.N. said in its quarterly report. The United Nations report, which was finalized December 10, also tracked widespread kidnapping of aid workers. A total of 134 were abducted between June and the end of October, the U.N. said. Most were freed quickly, but one Afghan was killed by his captors, the world body said.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Far East

China Matches U.S. Space Launches for First Time

Outwardly, it looked like just another big space launch — and those happen about once a week, from spaceports all around the world. But Friday’s blast-off of a rocket, carrying a Chinese GPS-style navigation satellite, from the Xi Chang Satellite Launch Center was different. It set a record for successful Chinese launches in one year: 15.

The launch represented another important milestone. For the first time since the chilliest days of the Cold War, another country has matched the United States in sheer number of rocket launches.

To some observers, the rapid acceleration of the Chinese space program is perfectly reasonable, even expected. With nearly 20 percent of the world’s population and the planet’s second-biggest economy by some measures, it stands to reason that China would join other advanced, spacefaring nations — and on a grander scale.

But more cautious (or alarmist, depending on your point of view) China-watchers question Beijing’s motives, and warn of potentially dire consequences if China comes to dominate the heavens.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Philippines: Fresh Attacks on Christians Mar Christmas

Fresh attacks against Christians marred the Christmas festival Saturday as church leaders condemned religious persecution and called for peace and reconciliation.

As Christian leaders highlighted the plight of believers facing the threat of attacks around the world, a bomb in a church during Christmas mass in the southern Philippines wounded six people, including the priest.

Military officials would not immediately name any suspects in the blast on Jolo island, but the island is a known bastion of the Abu Sayyaf, a group linked to the Al-Qaeda network.

“The explosion occurred at around 7:15 in the morning while the mass was going on. Six people were slightly wounded in the explosion,” military spokesman Lieutenant Randolph Cabangbang said. In the northern Nigerian city of Kano on Friday, suspected Islamist sect gunmen attacked a church during Christmas Eve services but were fought off by soldiers, a military spokesman said.

No one was hurt in the incident, but in the central Nigerian city of Jos the same day, an explosion killed at least eight people and wounded another eight, police said.

Gregory Yenlong, the information commissioner of Plateau State, of which Jos is the capital, said there had been rumours of attacks aimed at disrupting Christmas celebrations in recent days. There was no immediate indication however that the two incidents were linked and police in Jos cautioned that the cause of the explosion had not yet been established.

The latest violence came as a self-proclaimed jihadist said in an audiotaped threat that countries celebrating Christmas would be targeted for attacks, the SITE monitoring group said Friday. “Your (Christmas) fireworks will act as an alarm for the time of our devices to blow up — devices that we, not Santa Claus, are going to offer to you as gifts, to turn your night into day and your blood into rivers,” said a translation provided by SITE. The recording, directed to “the unbeliever and Christian countries celebrating Christmas,” bore the voice of a member of the Shumukh al-Islam forum, said the US-based monitor.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

WikiLeaks: Kiwi Mosque Spied on by US

The muslim community in New Zealand was probed by United States diplomats for signs of extremist behaviour — even visiting a mosque to listen to a preacher’s teaching.

Signs of a Kiwi al-Qaeda failed to emerge despite mosque visits, quiet dinners with members of the Muslim society and meetings with Islamic scholars.

The investigation is revealed in the latest WikiLeaks cables obtained by the Herald on Sunday.

The cables identify TV3 reporter Ali Ikram when relaying information from the New Zealand Muslim community.

The reference came from a 2006 dinner with “active members of the Muslim community”. Ikram’s name is recorded in a “confidential” memo.

Ikram was quoted as saying “many young and educated Muslim New Zealanders are, like their non-Muslim compatriots, leaving for Australia to find jobs”.

Ikram said the record of the dinner matched his memory — although he hadn’t expected the embassy guest, State Department officer Kaweem Koshaan, to report the details back to Washington.

“They probably didn’t have a lot to do down here,” he said. “It does speak of the level of paranoia about the potential threat of Muslim extremism anywhere in the world.”

Most of the cables reflect US concern over Wahhabi teachings creeping into Islam in New Zealand. Wahhabi advocates purging the religion of impurities.

The consular official who attended the Ponsonby mosque recorded his impressions of the clothing, posters, prayers and speech that were heard and seen. “The imam wore traditional Arabic garb, sometimes indicative of Wahhabi leanings.”

A spokesman for the mosque said the visit was not known. “He would have visited as a worshipper. Everyone is welcome.”

The intelligence report also talked about infighting in Canterbury mosques and again worry over possible Wahhabi influence.

It ended with a summary which warned Washington to beware of future extremism, saying “the ingredients are there”.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Christmas Eve Explosions Kill 32 People in Nigeria After Two Churches Are Targeted

Explosions in Nigeria’s central region killed 32 people on Christmas Eve and six people died in attacks on two churches in the northeast of Africa’s most populous nation, officials said on Saturday.

On Friday night, a series of bombs were detonated during Christmas Eve celebrations in villages near the central city of Jos, killing at least 32 people while 74 were in a critical condition, the state police commissioner said.

Nigeria’s army chief said the blasts were not part of religious clashes which flare up sporadically as tensions bubble under the surface in a country where the population is split roughly equally between Muslims and Christians.

‘It (Jos explosions) was caused by a series of bomb blasts. That is terrorism, it’s a very unfortunate incident,’ Azubuike Ihejirika said in the southern city of Port Harcourt.

The attacks come at a difficult time for President Goodluck Jonathan, who is in running a controversial campaign ahead of the ruling party’s primaries on January 13.

A ruling party pact says that power within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) should rotate between the mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south every two terms.

Jonathan is a southerner who inherited office when President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, died during his first term this year and some northern factions in the ruling party are opposed to his candidacy.

Jonathan faces a challenge from former Vice President Atiku Abubakar for the ruling party nomination, and some fear any unrest in Africa’s most populous nation will be exploited by rivals during campaigning.

‘What happened (in Jos) was not religious it was political … the aim of the masterminds is to pit Christians against Muslims and start another round of violence,’ the governor of Plateau state said.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Book Review — Holy Ignorance — by Olivier Roy

Every winter Fox News, seeking to stir up anger through the land, uncovers evidence of a war on Christmas. Secular humanists ignorant of religion and hostile to its traditions, someone in the studio will declare, want us to say “Happy Holiday” or give Kwanzaa equal standing. But Christmas, as its name suggests, is about Christ. These enemies of Christianity will stop at nothing to get their way. Not even Santa Claus is sacred to them.

Actually, as the brilliant French social scientist Olivier Roy points out in “Holy Ignorance,” it is those defending Christmas who are not being true to their traditions and teachings. There are no Christmas dinners in the Bible, which is why America’s Puritans, strict adherents of what that venerated text offers, never sat down by the raging fire awaiting St. Nick; indeed, they briefly banned Christmas in Massachusetts.

Yule as we celebrate it today owes more to Charles Dickens than to Thomas Aquinas. Our major solstice holiday is what Roy calls a “cultural construct” rather than a sectarian ceremony, which explains why Muslims buy halal turkeys and Jews transformed Hanukkah into a gift-giving occasion. Mistakenly believing that Christmas is sacred, those who defend it find themselves propping up the profane. The Christ they want in Christmas is a product not of Nazareth but of Madison Avenue.

Over the past few years, a number of theories have been offered about the rise of fundamentalism. Roy proposes the most original — and the most persuasive. Fundamentalism, in his view, is a symptom of, rather than a reaction against, the increasing secularization of society. Whether it takes the form of the Christian right in the United States or Salafist purity in the Muslim world, fundamentalism is not about restoring a more authentic and deeply spiritual religious experience. It is instead a manifestation of holy ignorance, Roy’s biting term meant to characterize the worldview of those who, having lost both their theology and their roots, subscribe to ideas as incoherent as they are ultimately futile. The most important thing to know about those urging the restoration of a lost religious authenticity is that they are sustained by the very forces they denounce.

Two tectonic shifts have produced the gap that fundamentalism fills. One concerns the question that has dominated the sociology of religion for more than a century: Will faith decline as modernity advances? The great thinkers of another era — Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim and Max Weber — believed that in one way or another it would. Today’s leading sociologists point to Jerry Falwell and Osama bin Laden to claim that it will not. Roy stands with yesterday’s giants. It is true, he concedes, that conservative religion is growing. But any talk of a religious revival is “an optical illusion.” Religion, he writes, “is both more visible and at the same time frequently in decline.” It cedes so much to the secular world that it can no longer offer a transcendental alternative to it.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

The New Polytheism and Its Tempter Idols

Benedict XVI sounds the alarm. Forgetfulness of the one God clears the way for a world dominated by a plurality of new gods with seductive faces. A voyage among the devotees of modern paganism

ROME, December 9, 2010 — “Polytheism”: this word echoed like thunder, last October, in a speech by Benedict XVI at the synod of the bishops of the Middle East, the very birthplace of the one God made man, Jesus, and of the most powerful forms of monotheism in history, Judaism and Islam.

“Credo in unum Deum” is the mighty chord that gives rise to Christian doctrine. But for Joseph Ratzinger, pope theologian, polytheism is anything but dead. It is the perennial challenge that still rises up today against faith in the one God.

“Let us remember all the great powers of the history of today,” the pope continued at the synod. Anonymous capital, terrorist violence, drugs, the tyranny of public opinion are the modern divinities that enslave man. They must fall. They must be made to fall. The downfall of the gods is the imperative of yesterday, today, and always for believers in the one true God.

But today’s polytheism is not made up only of dark powers. Its many gods also have friendly faces, and the ability to seduce.

It is the “gay science” prophesied by Nietzsche more than a century ago, which offers every single man “the greatest advantage”: that of “setting up his own ideal and deriving from it his law, his joys, and his rights.”

It is the triumph of the individual free will, without the yoke of a tablet of the law anymore, only one for everyone because it is written by just one intractable God.

That admiration for the “Genius of Christianity” which had inflamed Chateaubriand and the Romantics is today giving up ground to an enthusiastic rediscovery of the “Genius of paganism,” the title of a book by the French anthropologist Marc Augé.

In Italy, another anthropologist, Francesco Remotti, is lashing out against “L’ossessione identitaria,” the title of his latest book, and reproaches the pope, in another of his books in letter form, for his stubborn proceeding “against nature,” against a modernity that instead offers the delights of polytheism, so fluid, pluralist, tolerant, liberating.


Of course, the current revival of polytheism is not bringing the cults of Jupiter and Juno, Venus and Mars, back into vogue. But the philosophy of the learned pagans of the Roman empire is again blossoming intact in the reasoning of many modern proponents of “weak thought.” And not only of these. Those who today reread, sixteen centuries later, the dispute between the monotheist Ambrose, the holy patron of Milan, and the polytheist Symmachus, a senator of pagan Rome, are strongly tempted to agree with the latter, when he says: “What does it matter by what path each one seeks, according to his own judgment, the truth? It is not by one road alone that one may reach such a great mystery.”…

English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.

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


A Wave of Christianophobia is Sweeping the World

This Christmas season, Christians are under assault around the world.

Certainly a focus of the problem is the Middle East, where Islamic extremists consider anyone who holds another faith to be a heretic, often subject to execution. But it’s surprising to learn that Christian groups report heinous persecution on almost every continent. And for them, the nation considered the worst place to live is North Korea.

There, believers must worship in secret, and if caught they are imprisoned, tortured and sometimes killed.

North Korea may be the most brutal of the non-Muslim states, but it is far from alone at this. Bhutan forbids the building of churches. In Uzbekistan, Christians are hated, and authorities cut off their water and electricity trying to drive them away. In Azerbaijan, even after churches register with the government, police shut some of them down. In Belarus, the government forces churches to register, and that takes several years. In China, “unregistered” Christians are beaten and imprisoned.

In a report to the European Parliament last month, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said that while Muslims and Jews face significant persecution, “Christians faced some sort of harassment in two-thirds of all countries,” or 133 states.

Why? The faith preaches tolerance and eschews violence, though of course not every Christian lives up to its tenets. But Christianity is the world’s largest religion. Almost one-third of the world’s people identify themselves as Christian. Still, in many places the religion labors under the perception that it is a vehicle of Western imperialism, and its adherents are the wealthy oligarchy of Europe and the United States. It doesn’t help that Christians aggressively proselytize.

However, the truth is that almost 400 million Christians live in Africa, 511 million in Latin America and about 200 million in Asia. Those people certainly aren’t Western imperialists. That’s half the religion’s population, and among them are the world’s poorest people.

While persecution persists around the world, the most brutal examples come from the Islamic world, of course. Christianity was born in the Middle East, and Christians have lived there since the first century — long before Islam was born. But they earn no respect there now. The most visible example is Iraq, where extremists detonated explosives in a church two months ago, killing more than 70 people. Because of that and other attacks, Christians are fleeing, and those who remain are asking for their own dedicated community in the north.


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

‘Jihadist’ Issues Christmas Bombing Threat

A “jihadist” in an audiotaped threat said fireworks displays will set off terrorist bombs in countries celebrating Christmas, the SITE monitoring group said.

The recording, titled “The Zero Hour has arrived” and directed to “the unbeliever and Christian countries celebrating Christmas,” lasts one minute, three seconds and bears the voice of a member of the Shumukh al-Islam forum, said the US-based monitor.

The speaker, according to SITE, said that failure to heed warnings to cease bloodshed in Muslim countries would result in attacks. “Your (Christmas) fireworks will act as an alarm for the time of our devices to blow up — devices that we, not Santa Claus, are going to offer to you as gifts, to turn your night into day and your blood into rivers,” he said in a translation provided by SITE. The threat, coming from a single individual on a forum reportedly linked to the Al-Qaeda network, is reminiscent of last year’s failed Christmas bombing of a US airliner by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who wore explosives stitched to his underwear, in a plot attributed to Al-Qaeda


           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]