Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 12/29/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 12/29/2009President Obama has acknowledged that there was a catastrophic US intelligence failure that allowed the Nigerian lap bomber to board Flight 253 on Christmas without triggering any warning bells. The CIA possessed information that Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab might pose a terrorist threat, but the information was not shared with other agencies, including those that compile the “no-fly” list.

News about Mutallab continues to emerge from the UK. University College London, where Mutallab studied while living in his parents’ opulent flat, was repeatedly criticized for allowing radical Islamic speakers onto its campus. There is speculation that Mutallab was radicalized and started down the path to jihad while at the University.

In other news, the Austrian Women’s Minister says that she is considering imposing a ban on the public wearing of burkas and other full-body coverings.

The most sensational news of the day comes from Denmark, where a Politiken editorial proclaims that Obama is “greater than Jesus”. This is in Denmark, mind you — surely hell must have frozen over! The Vikings have evidently been drinking the kool-aid instead of Carlsberg.

Thanks to Amil Imani, C. Cantoni, CSP, ESW, Gaia, GB, Insubria, JD, Paul Green, TB, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
- - - - - - - - -
Awlaki Personally Blessed Detroit Attack
Frank Gaffney in Newsmax: Freeze Gitmo Now
Imposing Sharia in America: Somali Muslims “Out for Blood” At Minnesota High School
Obama Gives Foreign Cops New Police Powers in U.S.
Obama: U.S. Intel Had Info Ahead of Airliner Attack
US Group to Protest Terrorism in Name of Islam
Family Flees ‘Horrific’ Abuse
Europe and the EU
Austria: Murder at Lebanese Ambassador’s Villa
Austria: Women’s Minister Considering Burka Ban
Christmas: CAI: Made in Italy Toasts Increase 3.2% From 2008
Czech Wounds Still Open, Communists Face a Ban
Denmark: Editorial: Obama Greater Than Jesus
Detroit Terror Attack: British University ‘Complicit’ In Radicalisation
Finland: Olympic Hero Arrested Over Christmas Day Assault on Wife
Italian Bubbly Exports to USA Overtake French Champagne
Netherlands: New Period of Snow and Ice is Forecast
Polanski Thanks Supporters
Swiss Help Put Palestinian Produce on the Table
Turkish Tycoon’s School Opens in French Banlieue
UK: Detroit Terror Attack: A Murderous Ideology Tolerated for Too Long
UK: Jan Moir Talks to Baron Pearson of Rannoch, The Gloriously Eccentric and Accident-Prone New Head of UKIP
UK: Police Hunt Motorist Who Blew Up Speed Camera With a Bomb
UK: Revealed: Muslim Bomb Plot Gang’s Links to ‘Mega-Mosque’ In East London
Serbia: IMF Approves 350 Mln Euro Loan
North Africa
Detained Swiss in Libya Hampered by Legal Fog
Egyptian Opposition Requests Netanyahu’s Arrest
Morocco: More Tourists But Fewer Overnight Stays
Morocco: Five Foreign Evangelists Expelled
Israel and the Palestinians
Hamas’s Rhetoric of Resistance Masks New Stance a Year After Gaza War
Mordechai Vanunu Arrested Again
Study Says Economy in Few Hands, Threat to Democracy
UK Govt Allocates 50mln Pounds for Palestinians
Middle East
Al Qaeda Claims Responsibility for Attempted Bombing of U.S. Plane
Is Regime Change Coming to Iran? — An Interview With Amil Imani
Lebanon: Anti-Aircraft Fire on Israeli Jets
Nuclear: Paris Disappointed, Loss of Abu Dhabi Mega-Contract
South Asia
Afghanistan: Two Italian Soldiers Shot
Far East
China Set to Execute Briton Many Say is Unstable
North Korea Link to Detroit Attack Investigated
Switzerland Joins Protests Against China
Sub-Saharan Africa
Mauritania: Al-Qaeda Claims Kidnap of Italians
Nigerian Muslims Fear Witch Hunt


Awlaki Personally Blessed Detroit Attack

The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner had his suicide mission personally blessed in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the same Muslim imam suspected of radicalizing the Fort Hood shooting suspect, a U.S. intelligence source has told The Washington Times.

The intelligence official, who is familiar with the FBI’s interrogation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, said the bombing suspect has boasted of his jihad training during interrogation by the FBI and has said it included final exhortations by Mr. al-Awlaki.

“It was Awlaki who indoctrinated him,” the official said. “He was told, ‘You are going to be the tip of the spear of the Muslim nation.’“

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took credit Monday for the Christmas Day attack on Northwest Airlines 253, an Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight. The al Qaeda group and U.S. officials both say Mr. Abdulmutallab was able to smuggle explosive powder in his underwear and only a detonator failure prevented him from blowing up the plane and killing almost 300 passengers and crew.

Mr. al-Awlaki, an American-born imam who formerly led a large Northern Virginia mosque but now lives in Yemen, has gained considerable public notoriety in recent months because of his influence on Maj. Nidal Hasan, another U.S.-born Muslim.

Mr. al-Awlaki had e-mail contact with Maj. Hasan as many as 20 times from December 2008 until the Fort Hood shootings, where Maj. Hasan is accused of killing 13 people. Mr. al-Awlaki praised Maj. Hasan’s actions as a “hero” and said all Muslims in the U.S. military should “follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.”

Several British news sources, including Sky News and the Daily Mail, have reported, in vague terms, that authorities suspect unspecified links between Mr. Abdulmutallab and Mr. al-Awlaki. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has said an al-Awlaki/Abdulmutallab link “appears” to be the case.

“It appears that just like with Major Hasan, Awlaki played a role in this,” he told ABC News. “All roads point back to Yemen; they point back to Awlaki. I think it is a pretty deadly combination.”

According to the U.S. intelligence official, Mr. Abdulmutallab cited Maj. Hasan in his interrogations, but only to praise his religion’s diversity, as “an example of how Islam accepts even American soldiers.”

Mr. Abdulmutallab did not show any operational knowledge of the Army major or the Fort Hood attack.

In his FBI interrogation, according to the U.S. intelligence official, Mr. Abdulmutallab spoke of being in a room in Yemen receiving Muslim blessings and prayers from Mr. al-Awlaki, along with a number of other men “all covered up in white martyrs’ garments,” and known only by code names and “abu” honorifics.

The official said such clothing and the lack of familiarity among the men suggests al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula intends to use the men in that room in suicide missions.

The intelligence official’s description comes in the wake of several reports that Yemen is breeding scores of jihadists ready to strike the West.

Yemen’s top diplomat said Tuesday that hundreds of al Qaeda militants are in his country and pleaded for foreign help and intelligence in rooting them out.

They may actually plan attacks like the one we have just had in Detroit. There are maybe hundreds of them — 200, 300, Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi told the Times of London

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney in Newsmax: Freeze Gitmo Now

ABC News reports that “Two of the four leaders allegedly behind the al-Qaida plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit were released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November, 2007, according to American officials and Department of Defense documents.”

If true, any further action to close the state-of-the-art detention facility popularly known as Gitmo and transfer its occupants elsewhere — particularly to Yemen — must be suspended at once. Should President Obama fail to do so, such direction must be adopted by Congress, possibly followed with a resolution of impeachment.

According to Defense Department records cited by ABC, these two terrorists were Saudi nationals, Muhamad Attik al-Harbi (Guantanamo prisoner #333) and Said Ali Shari (prisoner #372). They were released from Gitmo on November 9, 2007 by the George W. Bush administration and sent to Saudi Arabia, “where they entered into an ‘art therapy rehabilitation program.’“ Afterwards, according to U.S. and Saudi officials, “they were set free.”

Al-Harbi subsequently changed his name to Muhamad al-Awfi. ABC reported: “Both Saudi nationals have since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen, according to U.S. officials and the men’s own statements on al Qaeda propaganda tapes…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Imposing Sharia in America: Somali Muslims “Out for Blood” At Minnesota High School

This is sharia. Do not insult Islam. Non-believers forced to live in dhimmitude. This is not racial. This is Islamic supremacism. And this type of takbir is a terrible trend: Muslim Gangs Get Foothold in Minnesota.


This is not just in Minnesota. Look at Somali Muslims in Maine: Muslim Youths Wilding in Maine.

[Comments from JD: Atlas has all the links and more details.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Gives Foreign Cops New Police Powers in U.S.

Sovereignty apparently set aside as agency exempted from law

A little-discussed executive order from President Obama giving foreign cops new police powers in the United States by exempting them from such drudgery as compliance with the Freedom of Information Act is raising alarm among commentators who say INTERPOL already had most of the same privileges as diplomats.

At David Horowitz’s Newsreal, Michael van der Galien said the issue is Obama’s expansion of President Ronald Reagan’s order from 1983 that originally granted those diplomatic privileges.

Reagan’s order carried certain exemptions requiring that INTERPOL operations be subject to several U.S. laws such as the Freedom of Information Act. Obama, however, removed those restrictions in his Dec. 16 amendment to Executive Order 12425.

That means, van der Galien wrote today, “this foreign law enforcement organization can operate free of an important safeguard against government and abuse.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama: U.S. Intel Had Info Ahead of Airliner Attack

President Obama said Tuesday that a “systemic failure” on multiple levels allowed a passenger armed with explosives to board a Detroit-bound flight last week.

The U.S. government had intelligence from Yemen before Christmas that leaders of a branch of Al Qaeda there were talking about “a Nigerian” being prepared for a terrorist attack, the New York Times reported Tuesday. The newspaper said the information did not include the name of the Nigerian.

A senior official told the Times that President Obama was told in a private meeting Tuesday while vacationing in Hawaii that the government had a variety of information in its possession before the thwarted bombing on a Detroit-bound flight last week that would have been a clear warning sign had it been shared among intelligence agencies.

Sources said the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, spent time in Yemen and may have been groomed for the mission. The suspect was on a terror database of more than a half-million people. He also reportedly paid for his airline ticket in cash and brought no check-in baggage with him. He ultimately cleared security at Amsterdam but the explosive mixture failed to properly detonate.

Abdulmutallab has since been charged in connection with the failed plot.

The president had acknowledged Tuesday that a “systemic failure” on multiple levels allowed a passenger armed with explosives to board the flight, amid growing evidence of missed warning signs.

related links

TSA Looks to Expand Use of Full-Body Scanners at U.S. Airports

Terror Plot Provides Snapshot of Struggle Between Security, Privacy

The president, in his most extensive comments so far on what went wrong in the security process, said information about the terror suspect was not properly shared among agencies. He said that information, particularly a warning to authorities from the 23-year-old suspect’s father in Nigeria, should have landed him on a no-fly list well before he boarded the Northwest Airlines flight in Amsterdam.

“The warning signs would have triggered red flags and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America,” Obama said. “A systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable.”

Senior U.S. officials told The Associated Press that intelligence authorities are now looking at conversations between the suspect in the failed attack and at least one Al Qaeda member. They did not say how these communications with the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, took place — by Internet, cell phone or another method.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the conversations were vague or coded, but the intelligence community believes that, in hindsight, the communications may have been referring to the Detroit attack. One official said a link between the suspect’s planning and Al Qaeda’s goals was becoming more clear.

Obama said a mix of “human and systemic failures” contributed to what could have been a “catastrophic breach of security.”

A senior administration official, speaking with reporters on condition of anonymity, said enough was known about the suspect to stop him, but the government didn’t connect the dots.

“It is now clear to us that there were bits and pieces of information that were in the possession of the U.S. government in advance of the Christmas Day attack — the attempted Christmas Day attack — that had they been assessed and correlated could have led to a much broader picture and allowed us to disrupt the attack,” the official said.

The CIA also acknowledged that it had Abdulmutallab on its radar.

“We learned of Abdulmutallab in November, when his father came to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria and sought help in finding him,” Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesman said Tuesday. “We did not have his name before then. Also in November, we worked with the embassy to ensure he was in the government’s terrorist database — including mention of his possible extremist connections in Yemen. We also forwarded key biographical information about him to the National Counterterrorism Center.

“This agency, like others in our government, is reviewing all data to which it had access, not just what we ourselves may have collected, to determine if more could have been done to stop Abdulmutallab.”

The suspect was not on the “no-fly” list or a separate list that would have required secondary screening at an airport.

Obama said there were several “deficiencies” in the intelligence-gathering process, and that information about the suspect “could have and should have been pieced together.”

“It’s becoming clear that the system that’s been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have,” Obama said.

The comments come as the administration launches a review of airport screening and the terror watch list system. The president said a preliminary review is due to him by Thursday.

“We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system because our security is at stake and lives are at stake,” he said.

[Return to headlines]

US Group to Protest Terrorism in Name of Islam

A Detroit-based American attorney told Al Arabiya on Tuesday he is organizing a peaceful protest against terrorism in the name of Islam on the day the U.S. District Court has scheduled a hearing for the Nigerian who attempted to blow up a Delta airlines flight.

“For eight or nine years Muslims are attacked by the media and by terrorists who pretend to represent us. It is time we take a stand and show Islam is not an evil religion, it is a religion of peace. Those who would commit terrorism do not represent Islam,” Majed Moughni, organizer of the Dearborn Area Community Members, told Al Arabiya.

The Detroit bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, is accused of trying to attack Northwest Airlines flight 253 en route to Detroit Metro Airport on Christmas Day, by attempting to detonate an explosive device on board. He claimed he was acting on al-Qaeda orders.

Moughni’s Facebook group, the Dearborn Area Community Members, called for local Muslims and other citizens to join the protest and take a strong stand against Abdulmutallab’s actions.

One post read: “Please bring your signs, and American flags: theme: “NOT IN THE NAME OF ISLAM.”


The group’s motto is to “provide a network of support for a stronger country, one community at a time,” and it seems to be working as both Muslim and non-Muslims posted comments showing their support for the Muslim community.

One member wrote; “Marhaban! I am not Muslim(…), but I attend the University of Michigan-Dearborn and definitely understand that Islam is not about anything this terrorist has done. I hope this protest can show the rest of the world and help them understand.”

Other members showed enthusiastic support for Moughni’s protest.

“It is time for American Muslims to stand up and protest against all the violence and actions taken by people who pretend to be Muslims. Islam is about peace, love and faith not about violence, terrorism and destruction,”stated another post.

So far the group has 380 members, a number that Moughni says is continuously increasing with media attention.

“We hope to have thousands of people at the protest,” the Dearborn attorney said.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Family Flees ‘Horrific’ Abuse

Given asylum in Canada after couple’s daughter was raped as toddler in Pakistan

A seven-year-old Pakistani girl and her family have been given asylum in Canada after reports the child was raped and left to die when her Christian father refused to convert to Islam.

The identities of Baby Neeha and her family are being protected by immigration officials, said human rights lawyer Chantal Desloges and One Free World International, a church that was instrumental in getting the family here.

The family arrived in Canada on Dec. 12 after a three-year battle by organizers to spirit them out of danger in Pakistan.

They are living in the Mississauga area and will be visited next month by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who was so touched by the family’s plight that he doled out a ministerial permit, of which he has only issued two.

Church founder Rev. Majed El Shafie said the family of seven have been hiding from extremists in Pakistan for about three years.

Baby Neeha, at the age of 21/2, was raped by the son of her father’s employer and left to die by the roadside, he said. No one was arrested for the crime.

“These horrific events took place because her father, who was Christian, refused to give in to pressure from his Muslim employer to convert to Islam,” El Shafie said.

The family went underground in Pakistan to hide from Muslim extremists who were seeking revenge for their non-conversion, he said.

“The family has lived for years in hiding and in constant fear of being discovered by the employer’s family or Islamic extremists,” El Shafie said. “We are thrilled that she’s finally in Canada.”

Organizers said the case touched Kenney who decided to help the family.

“This case truly broke his heart and he (Kenney) considers himself lucky to have it within his powers to intervene,” Kenney’s spokesman Alykhan Velshi said yesterday. “Fortunately, they are now safely in Canada.”

Kenney found out about the family’s plight six months ago, Velshi said.

“He personally issued a special ministerial permit,” he said. “There were significant difficulties in getting them out of Pakistan.”

The family can now apply for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, Velshi said.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Austria: Murder at Lebanese Ambassador’s Villa

Police have launched a murder investigation after a woman was found stabbed in the Lebanese Ambassador’s private residence in Vienna.

Vienna police said the dead body of Ishaya El-Khoury’s 30-year-old Philippine housekeeper was found in the cellar of the Ambassador’s villa in Gymnasiumstraße in Vienna-Währing by his chef at around 10am this morning (Tues).

Speaking to the Austrian Times, an Embassy official said El-Khoury was not in Vienna and declined to say when he would return.

           — Hat tip: ESW[Return to headlines]

Austria: Women’s Minister Considering Burka Ban

Social Democratic (SPÖ) Women’s Minister Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek said in several media interviews today (Weds) she supported a ban on burkas or garments covering women’s bodies entirely.

She added, however, there was not problem in Austria but, if one developed, she would ban burkas in public places to see if a ban would work.

“I consider the burka as a sign of the submission of women. It greatly hinders women from finding jobs in the labour market. If more women wearing burkas appear in Austria, I will test a ban on them and enact administrative fines for women wearing them in public buildings,” she said.

As for head scarves, the minister said it was up to women to decide whether to wear them even if they were also a sign of the submission of women to men.

She added that Islam was a danger to women’s rights when it led to “politically fundamentalist-oriented policies” such as the mandatory wearing of burkas.

The SPÖ had protested when People’s Party Science Minister Johannes Hahn suggested a ban on burkas last year.

Support of a ban on burkas has been growing in Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland.

           — Hat tip: ESW[Return to headlines]

Christmas: CAI: Made in Italy Toasts Increase 3.2% From 2008

(ANSAmed) — ROME, DECEMBER 21 — The Christmas holidays are good news for the production of Italian bubbly wines: this year more toasts will be made, and more of them will be “made in Italy”. Counting Christmas, New Year and the Epiphany, some 90 ‘spumante’ corks will be popped, representing a 3.2% increase in quantity and a 2.4% increase in expenditure (820 million euros) compared to last year. The statement was made by CAI (the confederation of Italian farmers), which added that “the success is given by the great price to quality ratio”. CIA claimed that 7 out of 10 bottles on Italian tables will be of Italian spumante, especially the sweet one (57%, followed by dry, brut and champagne), and that from early December to the Epiphany some 112 million Italian bottles will be consumed along with 5.5 million foreign ones. Then again this success does not stop at the Italian borders: Italy, with more than 172 million bottles is, according to estimates provided by the forum of Italian spumanti, the worlds second largest exporter of bubbly, following France which exports 196.5 million bottles. CIA believes that Italian spumante, especially appreciated in Germany and the USA, is rapidly gaining space to the detriment of the French”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Czech Wounds Still Open, Communists Face a Ban

Two decades after the Velvet Revolution overthrew Communist rule here in 1989, a group of Czech senators is pressing to ban the Communist Party, the only surviving one in the former Soviet bloc in Europe and, to its many critics, a national embarrassment and aberration.

“The Communists ruined this country and oppressed freedom and yet here they are 20 years later in our Parliament,” said David Cerny, the iconoclastic Czech artist, who in 1991 painted a Soviet tank pink, transforming a memorial to the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army in 1945 into the equivalent of a large toy. “It is a national disgrace. The Communists are endangering the country. The Czechs need to wake up.”

This month senators took the first step, petitioning the government to file a legal complaint with the Supreme Administrative Court, the country’s highest electoral authority, for suspension of the Communist Party’s activities.


Unlike the Communist parties in countries like Poland and Hungary, which transformed themselves after 1989 into more mainstream center-left parties, the Czech Communist Party has studiously avoided a comprehensive overhaul. Yet it is still flourishing and gained nearly 13 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary elections in 2006. Its supporters are mostly those fed up with politics as usual and regime nostalgics, many of them elderly pensioners, for whom life before 1989 seems better than life today.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Editorial: Obama Greater Than Jesus

The U.S. president — the practical saviour of our times

He is provocative in insisting on an outstretched hand, where others only see animosity.

His tangible results in the short time that he has been active — are few and far between. His greatest results have been created with words and speeches — words that remain in the consciousness of their audience and have long-term effects.

He comes from humble beginnings and defends the weak and vulnerable, because he can identify himself with their conditions.

And no we are not thinking of Jesus Christ, whose birthday has just been celebrated — - but rather the President of the United States Barack Hussein Obama.

For some time now, comparisons between the two have been a tool of cynical opinion that quickly became fatigued of the rapture that Obama instilled prior to and after the presidential election last year.

From the start, Obama’s critics have claimed that his supporters have idolised him as a saviour, thus attempting to dismantle the concrete hope that Obama has represented for most Americans.

The idea was naturally that the comparison between Jesus and Obama — which is something that the critics developed themselves — would be comical, blasphemous, or both.

If such a comparison were to be made, it would, of course, inevitably be to Obama’s advantage.

Today, his historic Health Reform is being passed through the American Senate — a welfare policy breakthrough that several of his predecessors have been unable to manage.

Despite all the compromises, it has finally been possible to ensure something so fundamental, as the right of every American not to be financially shipwrecked when their health fails them. Add to that the biggest ever financial support package in America’s history, a major disarmament agreement and the quickest-ever re-establishment of American reputation.

On the other hand, we have Jesus’ miracles that everyone still remembers, but which only benefitted a few. At the same time, we have the wonderful parables about his life and deeds that we know from the New Testament, but which have been interpreted so differently over the past 2000 years that it is impossible to give an unequivocal result of his work.

Obama is, of course, greater than Jesus — if we have to play that absurd Christmas game. But it is probably more meaningful to insist that with today’s domestic triumph, that he has already assured himself a place in the history books — a space he has good chances of expanding considerably in coming years.

Without, however, ever attaining the heavens….

[Return to headlines]

Detroit Terror Attack: British University ‘Complicit’ In Radicalisation

The London university where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab studied has been accused of being “complicit” in the radicalisation of Muslim students.

University College London, where Abdulmutallab was recently president of the Islamic Society, has been criticised for “failing grotesquely” to prevent extremists from giving lectures on campus.

UCL has been heavily criticised in the past for its relaxed attitude to radical preachers, and security agencies are investigating whether it was there that Detroit bomber Abdulmutallab was recruited by al-Qaeda sympathisers.

As recently as last month, Abu Usama, who teaches that homosexuals and apostates should be killed, was due to speak at UCL until the university finally bowed to pressure and cancelled the event.

In 2007, when Abdulmutallab was still a student at UCL, the Islamic Society held a five-day series of lectures and seminars about the War on Terror which have been criticised as anti-Western propaganda. The lectures were advertised with a special five-minute video on YouTube.

Anthony Glees, professor of security and intelligence studies at the University of Buckingham, said UCL had no excuse for failing to root out extremism on campus.

He said: “I believe Abdulmutallab’s radicalisation from being a devoted Muslim to a suicide bomber took place in the UK and I believe al-Qaeda recruited him in London. Universities and colleges like UCL have got to realise that you don’t get suicide bombers unless they have first been radicalised.

“UCL boasts on its website that it has 8,000 staff for 22,000 students, which is an enviable staff/student ratio. What have they been doing?

“All British universities must look at their Islamic Societies and demand assurances that no radicalisation will be allowed. If they can’t give those assurances, they should be disbanded.”

UCL has confirmed that Abdulmutallab was president of its Islamic Society from 2006-07, but has insisted he “never gave his tutors any cause for concern”.

Douglas Murray, of the Centre for Social Cohesion, said: “UCL has not just failed to prevent students being radicalised, they have been complicit. If any other society at UCL invited someone to speak who encouraged killing homosexuals, that society would be banned immediately, but academics are afraid of taking action when it involves Islamic societies in case they are accused of Islamophobia.

“It’s time that Islamic societies on campus were treated like everyone else and by everyone else’s standards, and by everyone else’s standards they have failed grotesquely to clamp down on extremism.”

UCL is by no means the only British university to invite firebrand preachers to give talks. Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemen-based preacher who provided spiritual guidance to both Abdulmutallab and the Fort Hood assassin Nidal Malik Hasan, has given several talks at British campuses in the past and earlier this year a lecture by Abu Usama was allowed to go ahead at London’s City University.

Among the other terrorists who have graduated from British universities are former London School of Economics student Omar Sheikh, who beheaded the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, and former Kings College London students Asif Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, who carried out a suicide bomb attack on a bar in Tel Aviv in 2003. Abdullah Ahmed Ali, the leader of the 2006 liquid bomb plot to blow up transatlantic airliners, was a graduate of City University in London.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Finland: Olympic Hero Arrested Over Christmas Day Assault on Wife

Finnish ski-jumper Matti Nykanen, 46, reportedly tried to stab sausage millionairess Mervi Tapola and strangle her with a bathrobe belt.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Italian Bubbly Exports to USA Overtake French Champagne

(ANSA) — Rome, December 28 — Exports of Italian sparkling wines to the United States this year overtook those of French champagne in volume and narrowed the gap in terms of value, according to the Italian Wine & Food Institute (IWFI).

The volume of spumante and prosecco exports in the first ten months of the year jumped by 13.4%, for a total of 137,810 hectoliters, compared to the same period in 2008, IWFI said.

The increase in the value of these exports was put at 7.6% to $87.66 million.

At the same time, exports of French Champagne dropped 27.8% in volume and 41.5% in value. However, the high price of the French wine kept the value of 2009 exports at $225 million, down from $384.77 million in 2008.

Despite the exploit by spumante and prosecco, the economic downturn cut into overall Italian wine exports to the USA which for the first ten months to the year fell 4.6% in volume, to 1.712 million hectoliters, and 14.9% in value, for a total $966.19 million.

Production of Italian bubbly also overtook that of champagne this year for the first time.

Italian vineyards are expected to yield 300 million bottles of bubbly this year against 260 million bottles of champagne, according to the Italian farmers’ union Coldiretti.

In 2008, for the first time ever, Italy exported more spumante and prosecco than it consumed.

The vast majority of Italian bubbly is made using the Charmat Method, as opposed to the traditional Champenoise Method.

The Charmat Method, invented in the early 1900s by Eugene Charmat, involves putting bubbles in wine by adding sugar to a sealed tank, letting a second fermentation take place and then transferring it to a bottle under pressure.

In the Champenoise Method, invented by the French monk Dom Perignon in 1640, the wine is fermented in the same bottle in which it will eventually be served.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: New Period of Snow and Ice is Forecast

The weather forecast for the coming two weeks indicates that Holland is in for another period of snow with temperatures dropping to as low as minus 15, report several newspapers on Tuesday.

And there is a warning that the freezing weather will once again result to chaos for rail travellers.

Rob Hageman, spokesman for rail management company ProRail, says that while the company will do its best to ensure trains run on schedule, he could not give any guarantees, reports the free newspaper Sp!ts on Tuesday.

According to the Terlegraaf, the northern province of Friesland is already speculating that the ice will be hard enough for the famous long distance ice skating marathon, the Elfstedentocht, to be held.

The weather office Meteoconsult says there is an 80% chance that people will be able to skate on natural ice as from next Sunday, reports the Telegraaf.

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

Polanski Thanks Supporters

Roman Polanski has thanked people who have sent messages of support during his battle to avoid extradition from Switzerland to the United States.

“These messages have come from my neighbours, from people all over Switzerland and from beyond Switzerland — from across the world,” the Oscar-winning film director wrote in an open letter published on the website of French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy.

Polanski, who holds dual French and Polish citizenship, was arrested at the request of US authorities when he flew into Switzerland on September 26 to receive a lifetime achievement award at a film festival.

“I would like every one of [those who sent messages] to know how heartening it is, when one is locked up in a cell, to hear this murmur of human voices and of solidarity in the morning mail,” he wrote.

The 76-year-old director is now under house arrest at his chalet in the ski resort of Gstaad, facing extradition to the US where he could be sentenced for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

He fled the country in 1978 on the eve of sentencing because he believed a judge might put him in jail for 50 years, despite a plea bargaining agreement.

The Swiss Justice Ministry has said it would decide next year whether to extradite the director, whose films include “The Pianist”, for which he won an Academy Award, “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Chinatown” and “Ruplusion”.

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

Swiss Help Put Palestinian Produce on the Table

Palestinians returning from a shopping trip are more likely to be carrying home a basket full of Israeli produce than local goods.

Around one-third of the West Bank is farmed, yet most meat, fresh fruit and vegetables are imported because the quantity of local produce is insufficient and many people do not trust the quality.

A Swiss-sponsored project is for the first time bringing together producers and retailers to try to change the negative perceptions of Palestinian products and help farmers raise their share of the local market.

swissinfo.ch attended an official ceremony in Ramallah in December for the launch of the In Tajuna (Our Production) project, at which the Palestinian minister of agriculture, Ismail De’aq gave the keynote speech.

De’aq outlined two main problems faced by the agriculture sector: lack of water and inadequate marketing. While In Tajuna cannot help with the former, it can help producers promote their goods through targeted advertising and branding.

Once the goods are packaged, a quality seal — a white triangle with red outline — will help consumers identify local produce that complies with high food safety and hygiene standards.

“Buy Palestinian”

“The pilot phase of the project concentrated on promoting Palestinian consumer goods in the local market. The message was, ‘buy Palestinian because it’s good for you, your health, the economy, and by doing that you will not be buying Israeli products, which are really on all shelves in Palestine,” explained Giancarlo de Picciotto, the head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation Office in Jerusalem.

But this was not enough, de Picciotto said, because when people were asked why they would rather buy foreign products the answer was always that the quality was better, there was an expiry date and you could read the nutritional values on the labels. In short, there were standards.

“So the answer to that is, ok maybe producers and consumers should be brought together in order to assess what is really expected by the Palestinian consumer so that the producers can match this demand. That is the philosophy of the project,” he added.

Six cooperatives and three private agricultural companies signed up to the project at the ceremony in Ramallah. Directly beforehand swissinfo.ch had the chance to visit one of the cooperatives.

In Tajuna aims to put Palestinian fresh produce on the table (swissinfo)

Bread basket

The fertile lands of Jiftlik lie in the central Jordan Valley near to the ancient city of Jericho, where Joshua fought his famous battle recorded in the Bible.

Approaching the village from Jerusalem you come close to the lowest point on Earth — the Dead Sea, which marks the border with Jordan. The landscape is rocky and barren and the air smells sulphurous. A sign at the side of the road indicates that we are at 300 metres below sea level. Then the road rises and green fields come into view.

This area is the bread basket of the West Bank and traditionally an important exporter of fruit and vegetables. Blazing hot in the summer, the main planting and harvesting time is from September to June.

Where two large trees mark the turn-off, a dozen or so men, smartly dressed ahead of the signing ceremony, sit in a circle in front of farm buildings. The fields round about are yellow with ripening squash.

This is the Cooperative of Agricultural Land; Jiftlik. Collectively the 200 farmers cultivate 30,000 dunums (one dunum equals 1,000 square metres) of land, producing tomatoes, squash, cucumber, aubergines, and all colours of pepper.

The farmers list the problems they encounter on a daily basis, from lack of fresh water to grow profitable citrus fruits to no access to farm roads at night. Most of Jiftlik is in Area C, where the Palestinian authority has responsibility for civil life such as health and education while Israel retains full control over security and administration related to territory, including land.

There are several Israeli settlements in the area — illegal under international law — and many of the farmers are forced to hire themselves out as labour because their own output is not enough to sustain them.

One main problem which In Tajuna will address is that of the packaging and marketing of their produce. Collaboration with a Palestinian packaging company means they will no longer have to rely on the Israelis.

“If I produced cherry tomatoes I was obliged to sell for four shekels a kilo although production-wise it was costing me seven shekels per kilo,” a farmer explained. “I was paying the Israeli packaging house to package my tomatoes so I could access Israeli or international markets through Israeli wholesalers.” Due to Israel’s full control over borders, the farmers have no option but to sell their produce to Israel.

Reaching new markets

One of the aims of In Tajuna is to make the farmers’ produce available to a wider market, through better distribution.

“Cooperatives have never attempted to collectively market their own product. Therefore this will make it more cost efficient to put all the produce in one truck and distribute it to one geographical area,” said Nahed Freij, project manager with Solutions for Development, which came up with the In Tajuna concept.

The project developers believe they can reach two million consumers, and that In Tajuna will not only open up the domestic market to local producers, but also eventually allow them to export their produce abroad.

While there are clear benefits for the producers, they are also running a risk by committing to the project, Freij admits.

“We are trying to make a good return on the investment of the producer who’s picking up extra costs. They are taking a risk. This has never happened before.

“First of all it’s new for them to market, second it’s new for them to distribute the merchandise on their own and third it’s new for them to attempt to make the consumer aware of who they are.”

But she points out that the project is providing the support in terms of increasing output and mass media and merchandising aimed at winning consumer loyalty.

“We have also succeeded in gaining the commitment of points of sale to directly buy from the farmers versus the traditional channel where a wholesaler was in the middle,” she adds.

The farmers of the Jiftlik cooperative are optimistic.

“In Tajuna is part of something positive because it will increase our share in the local market. Especially as Israeli produce is infiltrating our market and if we cannot compete in our market there is a problem,” said the spokesman.

“We think that this is the first step in a road of one million steps. But at least it’s the first step.”

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

Turkish Tycoon’s School Opens in French Banlieue

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, 29 DEC — The Turkish Nurculuk confraternity, headed by the Turkish billionaire and spiritual Muslim leader Fetullah Gulen, accused in his Country of promoting the Islamization of society, has opened a high-school at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, in the Paris area. Gulen’s network already owns 2000 such institutes throughout 110 Countries, many in Europe and some in the USA, but the “College Educative” was the first one to be opened in France. According to its web site, the Villeneuve school promotes “an active and multilingual education”, with the foal of “fostering the social, cultural and artistic development of each student”, “ensuring a continuous dialogue with parents” and “educating students for citizenship”. “Ours is a lay and republican institute. We wish to educate good citizens, not promote Islam”, declared one of the founders, Nihat Sarier, 35 years old, when interviewed by Le Monde, pointing out that since the school opened last September it had to deal “most of all with prejudice”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Detroit Terror Attack: A Murderous Ideology Tolerated for Too Long

Telegraph View: Jihadist Islamism is comparable to Nazism in many respects. The British public realises this; so do the intelligence services.

Friday’s attempt to blow up a transatlantic airliner by a British-educated Islamist was foiled by the bravery of its passengers and crew. We cannot assume that we will be lucky next time. And the indications are that there will be a next time. According to police sources, 25 British-born Muslims are currently in Yemen being trained in the art of bombing planes. But most of these terrorists did not acquire their crazed beliefs in the Islamic world: they were indoctrinated in Britain. Indeed, thousands of young British Muslims support the use of violence to further the Islamist cause — and this despite millions of pounds poured by the Government into projects designed to prevent Islamic extremism.

Is it time for a fundamental rethink of Britain’s attitude towards domestic Islamism? Consider this analogy. Suppose that, in several London universities, Right-wing student societies were allowed to invite neo-Nazi speakers to address teenagers. Meanwhile, churches in poor white neighbourhoods handed over their pulpits to Jew-hating admirers of Adolf Hitler, called for the execution of homosexuals, preached the intellectual inferiority of women, and blessed the murder of civilians. What would the Government do? It would bring the full might of the criminal law against activists indoctrinating young Britons with an inhuman Nazi ideology — and the authorities that let them. Any public servants complicit in this evil would be hounded from their jobs.

Jihadist Islamism is also a murderous ideology, comparable to Nazism in many respects. The British public realises this; so do the intelligence services. Yet because it arises out of a worldwide religion — most of whose followers are peaceful — politicians and the public sector shrink from treating its ideologues as criminal supporters of violence. Instead, the Government throws vast sums of money at the Muslim community in order to ensure that what is effectively a civil war between extremists and moderates is won by the latter. This policy — supported by all the main political parties — does not seem to be working. The authorities, lacking specialist knowledge, sometimes turn for advice to “moderate” Muslims who have extreme sympathies; supporters of al-Qaeda are paid to disseminate their ideology to young people.

Radical Islamist leaders are not stupid: they know how to play this system. The indoctrination of students carries on under the noses of public servants who are terrified of being labelled Islamophobic or racist. Therefore they fail to do their duty, which is to protect Muslims and non-Muslims alike from a terrorist ideology. If providing that protection requires fewer “consultations” with “community leaders” and more arrests, then so be it.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Jan Moir Talks to Baron Pearson of Rannoch, The Gloriously Eccentric and Accident-Prone New Head of UKIP

Oh, Lordy, Lordy. This is not going exactly to plan, is it? Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the newly elected leader of the UK Independence Party has had, to say the least, a rocky few weeks in office.

He had only been in the job 24 hours when he ignited a row that still threatens to tear UKIP apart, he has been drawn into the expenses debacle and then there is the small matter of allegations of his involvement with a corrupt South American regime.

‘Yes, yes, yes. It has been an interesting time. Not exactly a bed of roses, no,’ he says, with a cheerful nod.

On his first day in office, Lord Pearson annoyed many in the Right-wing, anti-Europe UKIP by saying that if the Tories promised a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU, he would disband his own party.

‘A rather original approach to leadership,’ as Glenys Kinnock dryly noted in the House of Lords recently.

It has also come to light that Pearson has received £100,000 over six years by claiming that his £3.6million house in London was his second home.

‘For tax purposes. That’s not fibbing or anything. You know, the point I find impossible to get over to critics is what I have actually given up to do this,’ he sighs, estimating that entering the House of Lords at Margaret Thatcher’s behest 20 years ago has impoverished him to the tune of £200,000 a year in lost earnings.

He says he is also losing money by selflessly leading UKIP. If he carries on down this spiral, he’ll be as poor as a church mouse.

Or perhaps not. Pearson’s critics would argue that, to the contrary, all he has done is indulge himself by funding his pet hobby; politics.

And as a millionaire insurance broker, he could well afford to take the drop anyway. ‘No, I am not rich enough,’ he says.

‘And that’s it!’ he cries. ‘The house is worth £1.2million. Scotland is probably worth about £3million or £4million — but not unless you sell it. And then what do you do? Nothing? Lie on a beach? Oh, everyone is so anti-rich these days, aren’t they?

‘Andrew Neil was going on about my wealth the other day when I was on his television programme. I should have said: “Mr Neil, if being rich was a crime in this country, then you would have been behind bars years ago.”‘

Why didn’t you? ‘I’m just not quick enough, I’m afraid.’ How glad the uber-modern Conservatives must be that Pearson left their party years ago!

At a time when David Cameron — rightly or wrongly — seems obsessed with de-toffing his party, the last thing he wants is someone like the flamboyant anti-Europe, pro-hunting, outspoken millionaire Malcolm Everard MacLaren Pearson, Baron Pearson of Rannoch, rocking the careful carpentry of his egalitarian boat.

Small of stature, ruddy of cheek but loud of opinion, Pearson is the kind of unreconstructed Old Etonian dinosaur — ‘My nickname at Eton was Malc The Knife,’ he says, without a blush — who must give the Tory leader nightmares.

He even says yah! when he means yes; practically a hanging offence in the modern political world.

‘At least I am who I am,’ says Pearson. ‘David Cameron has given up shooting and hunting and he has resigned from White’s. I mean, it is absurd.

‘He is trying to show that he is something that he isn’t — or isn’t something that he is, let’s put it that way. I am not going to do that. I can’t be bothered to pretend. If people don’t like it, then tough,’ he adds, brushing the arm of his charcoal pinstripe suit.

Even at the age of 67 he still has his suits made by the Eton tailors Tom Brown because: ‘I am a very awkward shape; low-slung, with thick legs and rather short arms.’

His shirts are handmade for the same reason.

‘From Turnbull & Asser, I’m afraid. Whoops, there goes another headline,’ he says.

We meet in Pearson’s South London home, a perfect Georgian town house in a perfect Georgian square and practically next door to one of the original 18th century sites of the House of Bedlam, where fashionable Londoners used to come to stare at the inmates.

However, this is not Pearson’s famously flipped home; this is the one he moved to in 2007 to save money.

Lord Pearson and his third wife, the much younger, poetically named Caroline St Vincent Rose, ‘downsized’ here from his much grander, Grade II listed stucco house in Belgravia, situated in a square where Ian Fleming and Michael Portillo once lived.

Part of the £2million the Pearsons made on the property deal was ploughed back into the running of Lord Pearson’s ruinously expensive Scottish estate.

‘The thing about a deer forest,’ he says, ‘is that the income can’t possibly meet the expenditure.’

It must be appalling. ‘Yah. However, it is worth it. We have a lot of people to stay in Scotland in the summer. And a lot of them wouldn’t get that sort of holiday if they didn’t come.’

Who are they, orphans? ‘Important people. We refresh a lot of really good people who come to stay,’ he says. ‘People we put together who wouldn’t otherwise meet. People who do really good work and of whom you would approve.’

The ground floor of the Pearsons’ London home is all pale wood and white walls, with light pouring in from a conservatory-type extension to the rear. I count at least nine oil portraits of groupings of short-haired German pointers; a rapt audience of adoring doggy eyes which track your every move around the room.

‘That’s Jock, that’s Fred who ran away, that’s Suchard [named after the chocolate], that’s Jock Junior, that’s Fred’s grandfather. ..’ says Pearson, going on to point out the hunting dogs who live on his Scottish estate in a manner of which they would no doubt approve.

In the dining area, there is also a huge landscape of gloomy Glencoe, featuring some Highland cattle grazing in the foreground.

‘Oh, that’s just Malcolm! He always likes to imagine he is in Scotland,’ says Lady Pearson.

Willowy and rather lovely, she pads around in her tight green jeans and furry Uggs, keeping a watchful eye on proceedings. She has no intention, she says, of being a ‘political wife’, but she wants to support her husband as much as she can.

‘This has been his absolute obsession for years,’ she explains.

How does she think it is going so far? ‘Interesting,’ she says, and puts the kettle on.

For his part, the leader of UKIP feels that he has three main problems.

‘Expenses, disband and Costa Rica,’ he says, cheerfully counting them off on his fingers. ‘Costa Rica, disband and expenses. Disband is my big one. I mean, did I really say the word “disband”? I guess I must have done. Bit of a cock-up, really.’

What he actually meant, he now says, is that his party would merely stand aside at the next General Election to avoid any potential split of the Tory vote and to help put David Cameron’s Conservatives in a more powerful position.

In return, they would get their beloved referendum, and once they got that, they would reform themselves once more. Disband didn’t come into it.

‘I didn’t think I was suggesting anything particularly naughty as far as the membership was concerned. If we got the referendum, we are confident that we would win it.

‘Then we would be out of the EU and there would be a complete re-alignment of British politics. Perhaps even the start of a new party, like the Common Sense Party, co-operating with activists and real people in all the other parties.’

The Common Sense Party? ‘Yes, something like that. That is just an idea.’

Then there is Costa Rica. Malc The Knife faces fresh questions about bribery allegations against his company Pearson Webb Springbett — the insurance brokers he co-founded 45 years ago — when it was operating in Costa Rica in the 1990s.

Pearson sold the company last year, but has been helping an official investigation into allegations that PWS had bribed the then president of Costa Rica while allegedly overcharging the country for its insurance premiums.

In his defence, Pearson has said his company operated by the normal South American business practices adopted by all international insurance companies at the time and that PWS had done nothing wrong.

‘I knew my weak spots before I became leader of the party,’ says Pearson, who also courted controversy earlier this year when he invited Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders to show the anti-Islam film Fitna before the House of Lords.

In the end, Wilders was prevented from entering the UK on the instructions of the then Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. In response, Pearson accused the Government of ‘appeasing’ militant Islam. Now he is cheered by other recent news from Europe.

‘God bless the Swiss. Look at what they did the other day; they knocked out the wretched minarets. Wonderful!’ he cries.

At other moments, he just sounds rather terrifyingly like the major in Fawlty Towers and he concedes: ‘I am a sort of loony. A rebel, a maverick. I was brought up in the wilderness of Rannoch which teaches you to think for yourself.

‘I spent all my school holidays there, wandering the hills and that made me an original thinker. I think I am even cursed with a little vision. No, not a seer. I wouldn’t go as far as that.

‘But as soon as I read the Treaties of Rome, I did see that this was a project heading in the wrong direction. I saw it very, very clearly.’

Pearson was elected to office when former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who is also a member of the European Parliament for the South-East, resigned in September to concentrate on his efforts to become an MP at Westminster.

‘He is a Derby winner and I am a carthorse who puts his hooves in it sometimes, I’m afraid,’ says Pearson.

‘Be careful what you are saying, darling,’ calls his wife.

The Pearsons married in 1997, after knowing each other ‘for ages’. They have no children together, but he has three daughters; one from his first marriage to Francesca Frua de Angeli and two from his second marriage to the Hon. Mary Charteris.

His middle daughter has Down’s syndrome and lives in a sheltered community. Over the years, Pearson has done much campaigning and political work on behalf of those with mental health problems.

‘Being divorced twice has been very sad, but I remain on good terms with both former wives and our children. I don’t make a very good husband, obviously, although Caroline and I are perfectly happy. I’m not all bad, though, am I?’ he wonders. ‘I do a few a chores.’

Such as? ‘Such as the breakfast washing-up when we are in Scotland. I cook a bit. I make the finest cheese omelette in the land. I put the rubbish out.’

As if to emphasise his lordly domestic credentials, he has a minor fit when his wife serves coffee in mugs.

‘A mug! Haven’t we got a cup and saucer for our guest?’ he cries, before absent-mindedly helping himself to one of my biscuits.

‘Oh, I am not really a politician,’ he sighs. ‘To be honest, I did not want to be UKIP leader, but I came to see that I ought to try to do it.

‘When I looked at the likely contenders for the leadership — (‘Darling! I said be careful,’ says Caroline) — ‘I worried that if one or two of them won it, it would be very difficult to hold the party together because of factions and personal divides. UKIP is not for sheep, you know, it is not for lemmings. It is a party for individual thinkers and strong characters.’

Indeed. Three years ago, David Cameron described it as a party of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists . . .

‘A somewhat puerile statement and churlishly rude of him, I think,’ he says. ‘But it helped us, in a way. It helped to bring a lot of people into the party.’ It did?

In many ways I can’t help liking this terrifyingly accident-prone, self-consciously eccentric aristocrat. However, the question is, will anyone take this seer of a peer Malc The Knife, his ideas and his wealth, seriously?

‘If you are wealthy, you are, apparently, rich and evil these days. My message to everyone is that, yes, I did go to Eton, but my father died in debt. I am where I am today because of what I made myself. So get out and do it yourself, for goodness’ sake.’

And what is he going to get up and do for the rest of the day?

‘Just take the flak on my mobile,’ he shrugs.

‘Oh, do be careful, darling,’ says Lady Pearson.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Police Hunt Motorist Who Blew Up Speed Camera With a Bomb

Many a miffed driver has received a fine in the post after being photographed breaking the speed limit.

But one motorist has taken his dislike of speed cameras to the extreme by attaching a bomb to one in the dead of night and blowing it to pieces.

Police were today hunting the person who blew up a yellow roadside camera, leaving parts strewn across a road in Eastleigh, Hampshire.

Residents living along the Bishopstoke Road were woken up by the sound of an explosion in the early hours of Christmas Eve.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Revealed: Muslim Bomb Plot Gang’s Links to ‘Mega-Mosque’ In East London

Ministers should review plans to build a “mega-mosque” in the East End in the wake of the airline bomb plot trial, the Tories urged today.

Shadow security minister Dame Pauline Neville-Jones said the case had shown that the group behind the mosque may have given cover to extremist activity.

Tablighi Jamaat, which describes itself an Islamic missionary organisation, is pushing for the mosque to be built next to the 2012 Olympics site in Stratford.

But the group was revealed in court as having links to some of the terror suspects, with several having passed through other mosques run by the group.

The organisation, which has 80 million followers worldwide, insists it is a peaceful, apolitical revivalist movement that promotes Islamic consciousness among individual Muslims.

But intelligence agencies have cautioned that its ability to radicalise young men could lead to jihadist terrorism.

The London Markaz, which some say will be the largest place of worship in Europe, has faced criticism of its backers and allegations of Saudi funding since it was first mooted three years ago.

The complex will include a three-storey Islamic centre able to hold at least 40,000 worshippers and up to 70,000 if necessary.

The plans will have to go before Newham council but Mayor Boris Johnson may have a say and, in theory, it could be called in by the Government.

Dame Pauline, former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, said today: “The news that the terrorists convicted of the liquid bomb plot attended Tablighi Jamaat mosques is very disturbing. This is not the first time this has happened.

‘Those convicted of the 7/7 bombings read Tablighi Jamaat sermons. Tablighi Jamaat claims to be solely a missionary organisation with a religious and charitable purpose.”

But Dame Pauline believes it gives cover to extremist activity.

She said: ‘This must be taken into account when considering the planning application for the Tablighi-Jamaat mosque in east London.’

Kafeel Ahmed, who died from burns last year after trying to set off a car bomb at Glasgow airport, is among —terrorists whose radicalisation has been blamed on Tablighi Jamaat.

Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two of the 7/7 suicide bombers, attended the European headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat in Dewsbury, West Yorks, while Muktar Ibrahim, leader of the failed 21 July bomb plot in 2005, attended a Tablighi Jamaat mosque in east London.

The group belongs to the ultra-conservative Deobandi branch of Sunni Islam, whose adherents run more than 600 of Britain’s 1,350 mosques.

Critics include the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford. It claims the mosque will attract “religious fundamentalists and cultural supremacists”.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


Serbia: IMF Approves 350 Mln Euro Loan

Belgrade, 24 Dec. (AKI) — The International Monetary Fund has approved a 350 million euro loan to Serbia to aid its economic recovery amid the global recession, officials said on Thursday. The IMF and Serbia signed an agreement for a 2.9 billion euros loan expiring in 2011, but only the first tranche of 788 million has been drawn so far.

IMF executive board chairman Takatoshi Kato was quoted as saying Serbia had met the restrictive monetary and budgetary policy needed to qualify for the loan.

The IMF has demanded a drastic cut in public spending, but has approved an increase of 4.5 per cent in Serbia’s budget deficit for this year.

Kato said that the effects of the world financial and economic crisis on Serbia have been “successfully contained”, inflation has been kept in single digits and the slump in industrial production has been arrested.

Serbia’s foreign debt has tripled to almost 30 billion euros since democratic governments came to power.

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

North Africa

Detained Swiss in Libya Hampered by Legal Fog

The upcoming trial of two Swiss men held in Libya for more than 75 weeks will offer clues as to whether Tripoli is exacting revenge or just upholding its laws.

Max Göldi and Rachid Hamdani are scheduled in early January to be tried for a second time in Libyan court, this time over business and tax violations. One thing is already evident: the Libyans have ignored their own laws handling the case.

“The rules for a fair trial are very clear,” said Daniel Graf, a spokesman for Amnesty International’s Zurich office. “Libya says this case is not about politics but so far there are more signs of it being a political trial than a fair trial. The next few days will offer hints as to which way this will go.”

Göldi and Hamdani were arrested in July 2008 just days after Geneva police briefly detained Hannibal Gaddafi, a son of leader Moammar Gaddafi, and his wife on charges they abused their domestic staff while at a luxury hotel in the city. The charges were later dropped and the Swiss apologised, hoping Göldi and Hamdani would be set free.

Instead the men were found guilty in absentia of violating Libya visa laws and were sentenced to 16 months in jail. The trial was speedy and closed to the public. The men’s lawyers were given little time to prepare and still do not know exactly which laws the Swiss allegedly broke.

The businessmen have been confined to the Swiss embassy in Tripoli and plan to appeal against the ruling. The appeal date has been pushed back until later in 2010.

Good news

Diana Eltahawy, human rights researcher on North Africa with Amnesty International’s headquarters in London, told swissinfo.ch the delay is good news for the Swiss. The extra time should help the men’s lawyers prepare a defence while also giving Bern and Tripoli some room to work out a settlement.

But fault for the lawyers not being prepared in the first place lies with Tripoli, Eltahawy said. While the Libyans have a right to charge the men, they have never produced written documents outlining the exact accusations. The defence lawyers have also been denied access to many documents.

“The Libyan code of criminal procedures carries some safeguards in accordance to international standards for defendants,” Eltahawy said. “But from what we’ve seen those safeguards are not always implemented.”

Under Libyan law, the men have the right to know immediately what they are being charged with, to speak with a lawyer freely and to have their case heard in an independent court. Those conditions were not met satisfactorily, she said.

“When this next trial over business and tax violations begins it will be a very intense time for the men and their families,” Graf said. “If the trial is unfair and results in an unacceptable sentence, we might move toward escalation.”

The Libyans meanwhile blame the Swiss for escalating the affair and have issued a 27-point list to make their case. It includes the Swiss leaking a photo of Hannibal Gaddafi taken during his arrest to the press and talking about a military operation to free the men by force.

Libyan system

So what exactly are Göldi and Hamdani up against? Eltahawy says it is difficult to draw comparisons between legal systems, but Libya, as with any country, has a judicial branch with its good and bad points.

The country considers itself a direct democracy like Switzerland. It is also a state signatory of international covenants on civil and political rights.

Libya is one of the few countries in the region that did not modify its laws to extend how long a person suspected of acts of terrorism can be held incommunicado. It is during that time a detainee suffers the greatest risk of being tortured.

But there are harsh penalties — even death — for speaking out against the government or for organising political protests. People accused of threatening national interests have hearings before a special state security court that observers say is basically a parallel legal system with few safeguards to protect human rights.

“Others have faced immigration charges but they were mostly from sub-Saharan Africa,” Eltahawy said. “This is a very particular case with the Swiss businessmen and it can’t be disassociated from the difficulties between the Libyan and Swiss governments.”

Libyan law says the men do not have to be present at the trial over business and tax issues, now scheduled for early January. But they do need to be present to appeal against the visa charges that brought the 16-month sentence. Otherwise the punishment will stick.

“Of course the problem is whether they risk going out of the embassy and being taken away,” Graf said. “It’s a very difficult decision. Even if the first trial had been fair, the sentence was not.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egyptian Opposition Requests Netanyahu’s Arrest

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, DECEMBER 29 — Representatives of the Egyptian movement Kefaya and the Muslim Brotherhood have today submitted a petition to Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud for the arrest of Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu, currently in Cairo on an official visit, for war crimes. According to the president of the Al-Karama opposition party, Amin Iskandar, the request was submitted by Kefaya leader Abdel Halim Kandil on behalf of Egyptian intellectuals to express their rejection of Israel’s actions in the occupied territories. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Morocco: More Tourists But Fewer Overnight Stays

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, 29 DECEMBER — There were 7.7 million tourists who in the first eleven months of the year visited Morocco — a 7% increase compared with the same period of 2008 — according to the latest statistics released by the Tourism Department and Observatory. As concerns nationality, in first place are the French (2.9 million, +5%), followed by the Spanish (1.7 million, +12%), Belgians (463,000, +14%), the Dutch (410,000, +14%), Germans 391,000, +2%), the English (330,000, -8%) and Italians (289,000, +11%). Down, on the other hand, was the data for overnight stays, which dropped by 2%, with 15.1 million overnight stays compared with 15.5 million the previous year. According to the Tourism Department, the data is due to the “negative performance of the three main destinations for tourism”: Marrakech (-2%), Agadir (-4%), and Casablanca (-2%), which account for 71% of the total overnight stays. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Morocco: Five Foreign Evangelists Expelled

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, DECEMBER 29 — Five Evangelist foreigners (two South Africans, two Swiss and one Guatemalan) have been expelled from Morocco accused of “unauthorised gathering and evangelist proselytism”. Twelve Moroccans who were taking part in the meeting were arrested and eventually released after being questioned. The order of expulsion was issued by the Prefecture of Oujda (in the country’s north-east). Last March, fiver missionaries (four Spaniards and one German) were expelled accused of “gathering with Moroccan citizens living abroad for the purpose of proselytism”.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Hamas’s Rhetoric of Resistance Masks New Stance a Year After Gaza War

Palestinian Islamist movement celebrates 22nd birthday amid drop in rocket attacks and prisoner negotiations but vowing never to recognise Israel

When Hamas held its annual anniversary celebrations in the centre of Gaza City it looked like a defiant and celebratory show. There was a male choir in camouflage fatigues singing on the stage, a sea of green flags in the crowd and wave after wave of self-congratulatory chanting: “Far and wide, Hamas is shaking the ground.”

A year after Israel’s devastating three-week war in Gaza, the Palestinian Islamist movement which controls the strip is still very much in charge and unbowed.

“No one imagined that after such a crucial war against our people and our resistance that anyone could plan such a proud anniversary as this,” Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader and former prime minister, told the crowd.

His defiant rhetoric celebrated the movement’s 22nd year, pledged never to recognise Israel and claimed the whole of historic Palestine for the Palestinians. “Palestine from the sea to the river, we won’t surrender it,” he told the crowd.

But his words barely captured the reality of Gaza today. Israel launched its war a year ago, saying it was compelled to act to halt militant rocket fire from Gaza. After three weeks, 1,387 Palestinians were dead, most of them civilians, according to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, although Israel disputes those figures.

Thirteen Israelis were killed. Thousands more Palestinians were left homeless and hundreds of factories were destroyed. Israel has kept up its economic blockade, which has prevented imports of reconstruction materials. Earlier this month the UN Relief and Works Agency, the main aid agency in Gaza, presented a family with a new home. It was built from mud bricks.

For Hamas, the war itself has brought other changes. Despite Haniyeh’s constant talk of resistance, the number of rockets fired out of Gaza has fallen dramatically this year. Hamas has announced that nearly all factions have agreed to halt the rockets and one Israeli paper reported this month that rocket fire from Gaza was down 90% compared to last year. Haniyeh himself hinted at this new stance in his anniversary speech. “The resistance is strong and hitting everywhere, but we are more wise and more managed,” he said.

Mustapha Sawaf, a former editor of a Hamas newspaper, said this was simply a decision made “in the national interest”. Others put it differently.

“When Hamas entered the Palestinian legislative elections their slogan was a mix of resistance and politics. It has completely failed,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at al-Azhar University in Gaza. “Hamas knows resistance is going to cost them their regime in the Gaza strip.”

As Hamas has moderated its militancy so it has faced internal challenges from hardliners in Gaza demanding the movement take a tougher stance and institute a more rigidly Islamic code. Hamas has tried to reimpose control, often earning the rebukes of fellow Gazans.

Although Hamas will not recognise Israel, it is deep into indirect negotiations over a prisoner swap that would see an Israeli soldier captured three and a half years ago freed in return for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. At the same time, while Haniyeh said Hamas would never recognise Israel he also repeated a previous call for a Palestinian state in the occupied territories alone.

In Israel, meanwhile, there is a sense that the war was their success, but that another round of conflict is inevitable. Yoav Galant, the general in charge of Israel’s southern command, noted recently how the rocket fire has dropped off. “I can say that this has been the quietest year for the south in the past decade,” he was reported as saying. “It can last for months or years, but ultimately it is going to be broken.”

For Israeli analysts the diplomatic fallout for Israel that followed the war, including accusations against both sides of war crimes by Judge Richard Goldstone’s UN report, is manageable and has not affected Israel’s most important international relationship, with the US. Still, many Israelis are frustrated that their military was singled out for criticism, even as civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan are dying at the hands of western armies. Others worry that Israel’s strategy towards Gaza is still unclear and undetermined.

“What will happen is that we will muddle through as usual,” said Shlomo Brom, a retired general and an analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv. “Eventually it is going to explode. Nobody will do anything, but when there will be a crisis we will deal with the crisis.”

For those living in Gaza today, the strip is already in crisis as a result of Israel’s siege. Hamas has allowed a tunnel smuggling economy under the Egyptian border to develop, skimming a profit off for itself and preventing outright economic collapse.

But it has brought de-development: most of the strip’s factories are still empty and unused, the population is increasingly aid dependent and there are barely any long-term development projects. Nearly $5bn(£3.13bn) was pledged by the world for the Palestinians after the Gaza war. On the ground here there is little evidence of it.

“We are moving backwards. Now we depend completely on what we receive from Egypt,” said Amjad Shawa, a Palestinian aid agency co-ordinator. He talks about the hidden traumatic cost of the blockade and the sense of powerlessness many Gazans now feel.

At the same time he fears the growing detachment from the West Bank and the disintegration of the Palestinian national movement. “The issue for Gazans is not only humanitarian,” he said. “It’s not that we need food only. Gazans are looking for their freedom.”

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

Mordechai Vanunu Arrested Again

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, 29 DECEMBER — Yesterday Israeli police arrested Mordechai Vanunu, the former technician of the Dimona (Negev) nuclear plant who in 1986 revealed secret declarations by the Israeli military. The announcement of the arrest was made by a police spokesman, who said that Vanunu is suspected of having met with foreign nationals. After having spent 18 years in prison, Vanunu was released in 2004 but placed under a number of strict restrictions due to concerns that he might reveal other classified information, including being denied permission to travel abroad or to give interviews. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Study Says Economy in Few Hands, Threat to Democracy

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, DECEMBER 28 — The concentration of wealth in the hands of only a few families is a threat to the quality of the democratic system in Israel. This was stressed, in a survey carried out by the Israeli Institute for Democracy (a summary of which appeared in today’s economic daily The Marker), by Professsor Assaf Hamdani, an expert on commercial law of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Hamdani has said that “the capital market in Israel is in the hands of a limited number of families: 52% of the 100 largest quoted companies in the country are controlled by only a few families; the percentage rises to 75% if we take into consideration only the 25 Blue Chip companies on the Tel Aviv stock exchange. Hamdani believes that bringing in wide-ranging policies is necessary, in part through the adoption of appropriate juridical and fiscal instruments to resolve the problem of wealth concentration and its influence on political power. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK Govt Allocates 50mln Pounds for Palestinians

(ANSAmed) — LONDON, DECEMBER 28 — A year after the Israeli offensive in Gaza, and just after the murder of six Palestinians including three civilians by Israelis, the British government has announced that it will allocate 50 million pounds to assist the Palestinian people. A large part of the aid will be given to the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah, while seven million pounds will be used to support the inhabitants of Gaza for the winter. Another five million pounds will pay the salaries of 562 teachers of the United Nations UNRWA agency, which works in the Palestinian Territories. The UNRWAs goal is to combat the spread of extremism among the 260,000 child refugees by offering them a higher level of education. A good education, not influenced by extremists, is the key to the future of the region, said British Minister for International Development, Douglas Alexander. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Al Qaeda Claims Responsibility for Attempted Bombing of U.S. Plane

CAIRO — Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on Monday claimed responsibility for the attack on a U.S. airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day, saying it was retaliation for a U.S. operation against the group in Yemen.

Federal authorities met Monday to reassess the U.S. system of terror watchlists to determine how to avoid the type of lapse that allowed a man with explosives to board the flight in Amsterdam even though he was flagged as a possible terrorist.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Is Regime Change Coming to Iran? — An Interview With Amil Imani

by Amil Imani with Jerry Gordon (January 2010)

Introduction: Since the fraudulent June 12th Presidential elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), an increasingly emboldened opposition, the green movement, has arisen to demand the overthrow of the IRI. The green movement refuses to desist from launching massive street protests in Tehran, Qum, Isfahan and other major Iranian cities. All this is occurring despite violence wreaked upon thousands of valiant regime opponents by the ruling Mullahs and President Ahmadinejad. As of this writing more than 15 have been killed in clashes with Iranian security services including the nephew of reformist Presidential candidate Mir Mouhammed Mousavi, former IRI Prime Minister. Moreover several dissident leaders have been jailed. Something major is brewing in Iran — possibly revolution…

           — Hat tip: Amil Imani[Return to headlines]

Lebanon: Anti-Aircraft Fire on Israeli Jets

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, 29 DECEMBER — The Lebanese army has opened anti-aircraft fire on four Israeli war planes flying low over southern Lebanon this morning. Reports were from the Lebanese army by way of a statement released by the official agency NNA, according to which “at 9.00am four Israeli enemy war planes flew low over the Hasbaya region, where several army posts opened fire on them, forcing them to fly at a higher altitude.” Almost every day Israeli violations of national air space are reported by the Lebanese army — which, however, rarely makes use of fire from its outdated anti-aircraft artillery. According to the United Nations, low flying over Lebanon is a violation of Resolution 1701, which in 2006 put an end to the conflict between Israel and guerrilla from the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah after 34 days of conflict. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Nuclear: Paris Disappointed, Loss of Abu Dhabi Mega-Contract

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, DECEMBER 28 — France is disappointed over losing a 40-billion-dollar contract for the construction of four nuclear plants in the United Arab Emirates. Over the French Edf-Gdf Suez-Total-Areva-Vinci-Alstom consortium, the Abu Dhabi Nuclear Energy Agency chose the offer made by a consortium under the South Korean state-owned Kepco — including Samsung, Hyundai, Doosan Heavy Industries, Westinghouse, and Toshibapour — for a 20.4 billion-dollar contract, the first segment of an order which rise to 40. The disappointment was expressed by the secretary general of the French president’s office, Claude Gueant, who told the daily paper Les Echos that “lessons will have to be learnt” from the incident. In his eyes, the French consortium “took too long to get into the fight”, and “South Korea won thanks to electricity prices: the consequence of the price over the thirty years of its project price were lower than those of the French project. It is a decisive factor for Abu Dhabi, where electricity prices are very low.” However, the door is not yet entirely closed: the UAE agency has said that it may yet order other nuclear plants. The candidature of Areva, GDF Suez and Total for the construction of two 1,600 MW third-generation nuclear reactors (EPR) in Abu Dhabi dates back to January 2008. On the request of the French president’s office, EDF joined and took the lead on the consortium alongside GDF Suez. In addition to the high costs, according to the specialised press, the French candidature was damaged by the reserves expressed in November by British, French and Finnish nuclear security authorities on the ‘control-command’ system of the EPRs. It is a system which may not be independent enough of the safeguarding one which is activated in emergencies. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: Two Italian Soldiers Shot

Afghan army regular opens fire on ISAF troops, US soldier killed

(ANSA) — Rome, December 29 — Two Italian soldiers were slightly injured in Afghanistan Tuesday when an Afghan soldier taking part in an allied operation opened fire, killing one American soldier, the defense ministry reported here.

The incident was said to have taken place in Bala Morghab, in the western province of Herat, while members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), together with Afghan army regulars, were unloading a supply helicopter.

The injured Italians were treated for their wounds by medics on hand and returned to duty, the defense ministry said. The Afghan soldier who shot the Italians and killed the American, and was himself injured when ISAF force returned fire, was arrested, according to reports from Afghanistan.

The ISAF has opened a probe into the dynamics of the incident, sources with the Italian contingent in Herat told ANSA.

Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa was immediately informed of the incident and issued a statement praising the Italian solders “who despite their injuries promptly returned to duty”.

Italy, which commands the ISAF force in western Afghanistan, currently has a contingent of close to 2,800 men in the country and has agreed to deploy another 1,000 next year as part of the troop surge in the new Afghan strategy drawn up by US President Barack Obama.

An additional 200 Carabinieri military police will also be sent in to help train Afghan security forces.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Far East

China Set to Execute Briton Many Say is Unstable

URUMQI, China — China says Akmal Shaikh is a drug smuggler and must be executed Tuesday morning. But family and acquaintances say the 53-year-old Briton is mentally unstable and was lured to China from a life on the street in Poland by men playing on his dreams to record a pop song for world peace.

Shaikh first learned of his death sentence Monday from his visiting cousins, who made a last-minute plea for his life. Prime Minister Gordon Brown had spoken personally to China’s prime minister about his case, but there’s little to suggest Beijing will relent.

“I believe we have done everything we possibly can,” said Ivan Lewis, a Foreign Office minister, after meeting with the Chinese ambassador in London late Monday. “We urge at this very late stage the Chinese government to do the right thing.”

Shaikh would be the first European citizen to be executed in China in half a century.

Two years ago, the man who relatives say used to be hardworking and devoted to family, was apparently living on the streets of Warsaw. But Gareth Saunders, a British teacher who lives in Poland, told The Associated Press Shaikh nonetheless maintained an “exaggerated positivism” that Saunders called both endearing and sad.

Saunders, who was one of the last people to see Shaikh before his arrest and who knew him as a colorful local character, said he helped out the fellow Brit by buying him coffee and singing backup when Shaikh insisted on recording his song for world peace, “Come Little Rabbit.”

“He thought he had a gift with his voice, but it was clear to anyone listening he had no sense of timing, nothing,” said Saunders, who was put in contact with reporters by Reprieve, a London-based prisoner advocacy.

The group, which has been lobbying for clemency for Shaikh, said he was duped into trafficking drugs to China by men promising that he would attain fame with a hit single.

“He would’ve believed that for sure, about having a big hit in China,” said Saunders.

The two last ran into each other in a Warsaw underpass when Shaikh told Saunders that he was going to a country in central Asia and would be back in a couple of weeks.

“I think it’s absolutely disgraceful,” Saunders said of the death sentence. “I don’t think he’s in a position to defend himself.”

Shaikh was arrested in 2007 for carrying a suitcase with almost 9 pounds (4 kilograms) of heroin into China on a flight from Tajikistan. He told Chinese officials he didn’t know about the drugs and that the suitcase wasn’t his, according to Reprieve.

He was convicted in 2008 after a half-hour trial. In one court appearance during his trial and appeal process, the judges reportedly laughed at his rambling remarks.

“We strongly feel that he’s not rational and he needs medication,” one of his cousins, Soohail Shaikh, said. “We beg the Chinese authorities for mercy and clemency to help reunite this heartbroken family.”

The planned execution of Shaikh, who has no prior criminal record, is the latest in an extraordinary series of Chinese actions that have led to widespread outrage, including Friday’s sentencing of a literary critic who co-wrote a plea for political reform to 11 years in prison.

“It certainly does send a message, intended or not, that China doesn’t really care what the international community thinks about how it handles criminal cases,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, research manager for the U.S.-based human rights group Dui Hua Foundation.

China had planned to tell Shaikh of his sentence 24 hours before it was to be carried out, Reprieve said. It’s not unusual for China to wait until the final hours to notify inmates of their fate.

But his cousins, who visited the prison hospital in far western China where he is being held Monday, broke the news first.

“He was obviously very upset on hearing from us of the sentence that was passed,” said Soohail Shaikh.

He told reporters at the Beijing airport late Monday that Shaikh, who is of Pakistani descent, used to be a hardworking family man. “Then we lost track of him.”

Last-minute appeals are almost never granted in China, which executes more people each year than all other countries combined.

“Drug smuggling is a grave crime. The rights of the defendant have been fully guaranteed,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference last week.

By now, any decision to stay Shaikh’s execution would be a political one, taking into account the damage his death could do to relations with Great Britain, the European Union and others, Rosenzweig said. But chances were slim.

Though China is gradually switching to executions by lethal injection, Rosenzweig said he would likely be shot in the head.

The cousins were given a bag of Shaikh’s belongings Monday.

Two British diplomats accompanied the cousins but said they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

“The Prime Minister has intervened personally on a number of occasions: He has raised the case with Premier Wen, most recently at the Copenhagen summit; and has written several times to President Hu,” said an e-mail from the British government.

Britain has accused Chinese officials of not taking Shaikh’s mental health concerns into account, with a proper psychiatric evaluation, as required by law.

“They’re not even pretending to protect his rights,” Rosenzweig said. “That really baffles me.”

In London, some of Shaikh’s family joined a vigil outside the Chinese Embassy. A cousin, Latif Shaikh, said Shaikh’s mother, who is in her 80s, knows he’s in prison but doesn’t know he faces execution.

He said the shock could kill her. “This execution will take two lives without a doubt,” he said.

           — Hat tip: GB[Return to headlines]

North Korea Link to Detroit Attack Investigated

Investigators suspect closed regime may have provided trigger technology

LONDON — One of the links being investigated regarding a terror attack on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day is whether al-Qaida got help from North Korea in setting it up, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Switzerland Joins Protests Against China

The Swiss foreign ministry says it’s “very concerned” about the situation of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, sentenced by the Beijing authorities to 11 years in prison.

Switzerland has joined a host of other countries in condemning the sentence which was handed down for Liu’s part in organising a petition demanding political freedoms.

The Swiss foreign ministry said that it regretted that requests by diplomats to attend the hearing and the sentence were denied.

Liu’s crime was to publish six articles on the internet, including on the BBC’s Chinese service, and organise the Charter 08, a petition inspired by the Charter 77 dissident movement in communist Czechoslovakia. About 10,000 people have signed it


Among the demands of Charter 08 was the abolition of the law on subversion. The petition read: “We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes.”

The human rights group Amnesty International has also condemned the sentence, saying freedom of speech was at stake.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Mauritania: Al-Qaeda Claims Kidnap of Italians

Dubai, 28 Dec. (AKI) — Al-Qaeda’s North African branch has allegedly claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Italians in Mauritania in mid-December. In an audiotape released on Sunday, The Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb said it had kidnapped Sergio Cicala and his wife Philomene Kabouree “in retaliation for crimes committed by the Italian government in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

The audio message, broadcast by Arabic satellite TV channel Al-Arabiya, purportedly contained the voice of Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb’s spokesman Salah Abu Mohamed. Al-Arabiya also published photos of Cicala and his wife sitting on the ground.

In the photos, the face of Kabouree’s face is obscured, as required under Islamic Sharia law. Five masked, rifle-toting men can be seen standing behind the couple.

Sixty-five-year-old Cicala is unshaven, wearing a tracksuit and holding his Italian passport.

Kabouree is from Burkina Faso. She has dual Italian and Burkina Faso citizenship.

There had been no news on the fate of the two tourists for the past ten days.

Italian foreign affairs minister Franco Frattini last week spoke by telephone to his Mauritanian colleague, Naha Mint Mouknass, who assured him authorities were doing everything possible to locate the hostages.

Mauritania’s government has increased security for tourists in the country following the Cicala and Kabouree’s abductions from their jeep in an area of Mauritania where diplomats say armed groups with links to Al-Qaeda are known to operate.

The couple’s driver, from Ivory Coast, was also reportedly missing from their bullet ridden vehicle, which was discovered 1,000 km south of the Mauritanian capital, Noakchott on the road to the city of Kobeny.

Cicala and Kabouree had been travelling to visit members of Kabouree’s family when they were seized by a group of armed men.

The couple lives in the Sicilian city of Carini, near Palermo.

It is suspected the couple was smuggled over the border into Mali.

The Malian authorities were reported on Sunday to be moving closer to a deal with AIQM to free three Spanish aid workers and a French citizen kidnapped there by the group in late November.

A former Tuareg rebel who had been involved in previous hostage negotiations was involved in the case but it was still impossible to say when the foreigners might be freed, Mauritania’s Al-Akhbar news agency said.

In a statement posted on its website late on 19 December, the Italian foreign ministry asked for media discretion to guarantee the safety of the hostages and to promote a positive solution to the case.

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

Nigerian Muslims Fear Witch Hunt

LAGOS — While condemning the terrorist plot in the strongest terms, Nigerian Muslim leaders are warning against the exploitation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s case to mount a witch hunting against Muslims.

“The Nigerian Muslim community has always been dedicated to the protection of our national security locally and the global security and peace,” Disu Kamor, Media & Communications Director for the Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), told IslamOnline.net.

“It is therefore important that law-abiding Nigerian Muslims should not be targeted or singled out because of their faith or national origin.”

Nigeria has ordered a top-level probe after Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-old son of a prominent Nigeria banker, was arrested and later charged with trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic Northwest Airlines plane over Detroit, US.

The family has promised full cooperation with the authorities.

Mutallab, the septuagenarian father who is a household name in the Nigerian banking industry, had alerted Nigerian security agencies and US consular services centre in Abuja about the extremist tendencies of his young son months ago.

Nigerian Muslim leaders have described the terrorist plot as criminal, inhuman and outright negation Islamic teachings.

“MPAC strongly condemns any and all act of terrorism as a complete violation of the teachings of Islam,” asserted Kamor.

“All attacks that threaten peace, or that are aimed at civilian targets, even in a state of war, are terrorism,” he added.

“MPAC has consistently condemned all acts of terrorism, whether carried out by individuals, groups or states. We repudiate anyone or any group that plans or carries out a terrorist act.”

Professor Lakin Akintola, director of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) and lecturer at the Lagos State University, was equally critical.

“[It was] very callous and thoughtless to attempt to destroy a plane carrying more than three hundred innocent people. This action stands in contradiction to the teachings of Islam on interpersonal relations which must be based on love, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.”


Nigerian Muslim leaders have nonetheless cautioned the security agencies against witch-hunting Muslims on account of the terror incident.

“There can be no question of defending, approving or justifying terrorism attempts or attacks, yet it is important, based on past counterterrorism cases that did not lead to terror convictions, that we withhold judgment until all the facts of this case come to light,” said Kamor.

“We also ask public officials, the media and commentators to avoid using stereotypical, speculative, dramatic and ill-defined terminologies when referring to this and similar cases.”

In sad reminiscences of the backlashes of the Boko Haram crisis earlier this year, Muslims expressed concern that the Detroit incident might put innocent Muslims at risk of random harassment or illegal arrest by security operatives working to stamp out such terror act in the future.

The caution followed what Muslim organisations call the penchant of security operatives to want to single out Muslims for routine harassment under the guise of preventing fresh terror plot.

Professor Akintola advised Nigerian security agencies against “over-sensationalising the incident.”

“Any attempt to capitalise on it by witch-hunting innocent Muslims in the country will definitely backfire,” he told IOL.

“Nigeria needs peace to develop.”

Akintola urged Western nations to take urgent steps to reduce tension around the world.

“Events in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, etc, are radicalising Muslim youths around the globe. We affirm clearly, unequivocally and unambiguously that justice is the soul of peace.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Tuan Jim said...

I must say I find many of the comments at the bottom of the Telegraph editorial on the Detroit bomber surprisingly refreshing. A sign of things to come in the UK?