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03.27.12 Ocean trash: Cans, clothes and cigarette butts
March 27 -
These days, there are a lot of butts in the ocean. The kind you smoke, that is. New numbers out today from environmental advocates at the Ocean Conservancy show that cigarette butts are at the top of the global trash heap, outnumbering plastic bottles, bags and cans littering the world’s shorelines and waterways. The group estimates that if all the butts that have been picked up by volunteers over the last 26 years were stacked up, they would be as tall as 3,613 Empire State Buildings. "The ocean is downstream from all of us," says Nicholas Mallos, a conservation biologist and marine debris specialist with the Ocean Conservancy. "All of our actions regarding trash have the potential to impact the oceans."  The Ocean Conservancy numbers come from an annual effort called International Coastal Cleanup. It began in Texas in 1986 and by last year had grown to include 600,000 volunteers in 96 countries. The cleanup is sponsored by government agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and private companies like Coca Cola and The Walt Disney Company, the parent of ABC News. In 2011, the Ocean Conservancy says volunteers picked up:

–266,997 pieces of clothing, enough to dress every member of the audience at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Summer Olympics.
–Enough cans and bottles to fetch $45,489.15 if recycled.
–940,277 food containers, enough to get takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next 858 years.

Among the more unusual finds: 195 cell phones, 155 toilet seats, and nearly 10,000 fireworks. 
 The top ten trash items can be found here.   [More>>abcnews.go.com]

03.27.12 Kazakhstan sounds alarm over dying Caspian seals
(AFP) March 27 -
The Kazakhstan government and environmentalists Tuesday sounded the alarm over the declining numbers of endangered Caspian seals after 35 animals were found dead over the weekend. "During the inspection on March 25... 35 dead seals were found on the sea shore" near Bautino, a port town in the southwest, the agriculture ministry said in a statement. "The Caspian seal population has been falling lately," the statement said. "The reasons for the population drop are anthropogenic factors and changes in the environmental conditions of the seals' habitat in the Caspian Sea." The dead mammals were all young, and officials are now looking to determine the cause of death, the agriculture ministry said.

The Caspian Sea, a body of water surrounded by Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, is the only place in the world where the Caspian seals are found. The Caspian seal is an endangered species, whose population has declined by more than 90 percent since the 1930s, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Because the Caspian Sea is a closed ecosystem which the seals cannot leave, the population
which declined from one million to about 110,000 now is especially vulnerable to habitat destruction. In winter, the animals migrate north to the ice sheets to give birth to their young, and are threatened by poaching, killing by fishermen, and onshore and off-shore development, the IUCN says.

"There has been a sharp downward trend in the population size," Alexei Knizhnikov of WWF Russian office told AFP. "This happens every spring season, when the weakest animals die. Dozens and even hundreds have died annually over the past decade." The species is threatened by various human activities, including drilling in the North Caspian Sea, specifically in the Kashagan oil field, he said. "The development includes building artificial islands right in the area where the species give birth," he said.  [>france24.com]

03.27.12 News Analysis: Turkey eyes regional leading role by supporting Syrian opposition
DAMASCUS (Xinhua) March 26 -
Turkey, once a close friend of the Syrian regime, is now trying to gain a leading role in the region by providing supports to the Syrian opposition that aims to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, some Syrian analysts said. Soon after the outbreak of unrest in Syria in mid March 2011, Turkey was on the vanguard of countries that publicly announced hostility to al-Assad's government, mobilized anti-Syria attitudes and released fiery statements that stunned observers and most of the Syrians. Turkey's statements dampened sometimes, but were fueled again after a short lull without any clear explanation. Some argue that the let-up is because of regional pressures on Turkey, mainly from Iran, Syria's close ally.

Hamdi Abdullah, a political analyst, attributed the change in Turkey's attitude to its ruling Justice and Development Party's Islamic background and its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, in addition to the country's desire to improve its relations with the United States and NATO countries. Another political analyst, Ghiath Sahloul, suggested that the Turkish government wanted to "have a leading role in the Arab region and spread its Islamic methodology to the Arab world." "It's now being used as a tool in the hand of NATO," he added. Turkey has offered safe haven to main leaders of the Syrian opposition and anti-Assad militia the Syrian Free Army, and will host in Istanbul on April 1 the second conference of the so-called "Friends of Syria" alliance, which includes about 50 countries, after the first conference held in Tunisia last month.   [More>>xinhuanet.com]

03.27.12 Afghan soldiers arrested in suspected attack against government
KABUL, Afghanistan, March 27 - The Afghan Defense Ministry went into a near-total lockdown on Tuesday after the discovery of 10 suicide vests and the arrest of more than a dozen Afghan soldiers suspected of plotting to attack the ministry and blow up commuter buses for government employees, Afghan and Western officials said.  The security breach took place in one of the most fortified parts of Kabul, less than a mile from the presidential palace and the headquarters of the American-led coalition. It raised the prospect that the Taliban, which committed a series of high-profile attacks inside Kabul last year, planned to pick up where it left off as winter snows gave way to spring, clearing the high mountain passes and opening the annual fighting season. 

Compounding the fears of renewed violence in Kabul was the apparent complicity of Afghan soldiers in the plot. Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killing their colleagues among the international military force here at an alarming rate in recent months
only hidden bombs, the so-called improvised explosive devices, have killed more coalition service members this year. The latest killings by Afghan security forces came on Monday when three coalition service members were killed in two separate attacks. Now, it seems, the Afghan security forces may represent a growing threat to their own government.   [More>>nytimes.com]

03.27.12 Afghan policeman kills NATO soldier
KABUL, Afghanistan (Xinhua) March 27 -
Afghan police, backed by army and NATO-led troops, have killed 14 militants and arrested seven others over the past 24 hours, the country's Interior Ministry said on Tuesday. "Afghan National Police, Afghan army and International Coalition Forces launched 13 joint military operations in Nangarhar, Faryab, Kandahar, Helmand, Nimroz, Zabul, Ghazni and Paktia provinces over the past 24 hours," the ministry said in a press release. "As a result of these operations, 14 armed insurgents were killed, four wounded and seven others were arrested," the release said, adding the joint forces also found and seized a handful of weapons during the raids. Afghan forces and NATO-led coalition troops have intensified cleanup operations throughout the post-Taliban country recently. Over 270 insurgents have been killed and more than 790 others detained in the country since the beginning of this year, according to the Interior Ministry. Afghan military officials recently said that they expected "impressive attacks" in the coming weeks and months as the spring, known as "fighting season," is nearing in the country.  [>xinhuanet.com]
03.27.12 Militant leader in Afghanistan reportedly killed in joint strike
KABUL, Afghanistan, March 27 - The leader for an al-Qaeda linked foreign militant network in Afghanistan has been killed in a joint raid of Afghan and NATO forces, the coalition reported on Tuesday. Makhdum Nusrat, the chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Afghanistan, was wanted by NATO and the Afghan government, NATO said in a statement. He was reportedly killed Monday as troops were trying to capture him in the Shirin Tagab district of northern Faryab province, near the border with Turkmenistan.  "During the operation, insurgents fired on the combined security force. The force returned fire, killing Makhdum and several additional IMU insurgents," the statement said. "Two other insurgents were detained. NATO troops confiscated a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, multiple rockets, several AK-47s and a number of grenades," the statement said. The statement described Makhdum as the highest-ranking IMU insurgent operating in the country and accused him of leading attacks against Afghan and foreign troops throughout the northern provinces for the last eight months.   [More>>washingtonpost.com]

03.27.12 French 'Big Bang' scientist on trial for alleged terror plot
PARIS (AFP) March 27 - A Franco-Algerian nuclear scientist goes on trial Thursday for allegedly plotting terror attacks in France, where an Islamist’s killing spree has already overshadowed the presidential campaign. A week after police shot dead Franco-Algerian Mohamed Merah for killing seven people in and around Toulouse, Adlene Hicheur goes on trial charged with criminal association as part of a terrorist enterprise. French police arrested Hicheur, a researcher studying the universe’s birth -- the Big Bang -- at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), in October 2009 after intercepting emails he wrote. Following his arrest at his parents’ home near CERN, which lies on the Franco-Swiss border northwest of Geneva, police discovered a trove of al-Qaeda and Islamic militant literature. France’s DCRI domestic intelligence agency’s suspicions were raised following a statement from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that was sent to President Nicolas Sarkozy's Elysee Palace in early 2008. Police carried out surveillance on several email accounts including Hicheur's and his exchanges with Mustapha Debchi, an alleged AQIM representative living in Algeria.

On March 1, 2009, Hicheur wrote an email to Debchi saying he would "propose... possible objectives in Europe and particularly in France." On March 10, he continued: "Concerning the matter of objectives, they differ depending on the different results sought after the hits. For example: if it’s about punishing the state because of its military activities in Muslim countries -- Afghanistan -- then it should be a purely military objective. For example: the air base at Karan Jefrier near Annecy in France. This base trains troops and sends them to Afghanistan."...They say the accused "knowingly agreed with Mustapha Debchi to set up an operational cell ready to carry out terrorist acts in Europe and in France." Ever since he was jailed pending trial two-and-a-half years ago, Hicheur has said he never agreed to "anything concrete."  [Full story>>alarabiya.net]

03.27.12 Spain arrests Qaeda suspect for inciting attacks
MADRID (Reuters) March 27 -
Spanish police have arrested a suspected al-Qaeda member on charges of broadcasting videos on the Internet to incite militant attacks, the Interior Ministry said on Tuesday. A ministry statement said police arrested the man, identified as "M.H.A.," in the eastern city of Valencia after an investigation launched in February 2011.  Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez said the man was suspected of working with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as well as al-Qaeda North African branch al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM). "He was known in the heart of the terrorist organization as 'al-Qaeda's librarian,'" Fernandez told a news conference. Fernandez said the suspect worked full-time from home to recruit potential extremists and arrange for them to travel to Afghanistan, as did an al-Qaeda-inspired gunman who went on a killing spree in France last week. "The training of people like Mohamed Merah, the Jihadist killer in Toulouse, arose through acts with such characteristics," Fernandez said. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said last week France would make it a crime to consult websites that advocate terrorism or hate crimes and would toughen a crackdown on people who went abroad for ideological indoctrination. Islamist militants killed 191 people in co-ordinated bombings on commuter trains in Madrid in 2004.   [>thestar.com.my]

03.27.12 10 killed in Karachi violence after leader's death
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 27 - At least 10 people were killed and over 50 vehicles torched as violence escalated in Pakistan's port city of Karachi Tuesday over the killing of a local party leader, a media report said. The violence broke out hours after Mansoor Mukhtar, a local leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), was shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his home in a colony early Tuesday, Xinhua reported citing local Urdu TV channel Dunya.  MQM blamed its rival "Peoples Peace Committee" for the killing of its party worker, but the group denied involvement in the incident. Thousands of MQM supporters took to the streets in different parts of the city in protest and set ablaze many vehicles while firing in the air. At least one person was killed in the firing and two dozens vehicles were set on fire, said police. The situation deteriorated as more deaths and arson of vehicles were reported in the following hours.  The violent protest virtually brought life in the city to a standstill. The Karachi Transport Union halted transport services. Markets and main universities in the city were also closed, with the exams scheduled for Tuesday postponed. An official of the Petroleum Dealers Association said all fuel stations would remain closed in the wake of an oil tanker being set on fire in Korangi, Geo News reported. Firing was also reported in Hyderabad, the second major city after Karachi in Sindh province.

03.27.12 Maoists kill at least 12 CRPF jawans in Maharashtra
NAGPUR, India, March 27 - Naxalites triggered a powerful Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast in Pustola, 38 kms from Gadchiroli in eastern Vidarbha killing 12 and injuring around 28 personnel of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on Tuesday morning, official sources said. The landmine blast blew up a mini-bus ferrying the jawans in Pustola, near Yedampayali, between Karwafa and Phulbodi Gatta, considered as one of the most sensitive Maoist locations in the district. The attack against the CRPF comes following the Naxal threats that the rebel group would repeat the massacre of Laheri where 17 police personnel were killed in October 2009. The Left wing guerrillas had vowed to avenge the killings of their 'comrades' at the hands of the security forces. The bus, part of a security convoy, was heading to Gatta when the incident took place. The Naxals also opened fired on the blast-hit convoy. The explosion was heard in the neighboring villages.   [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

03.27.12 Columbia air strike kills 36 Farc rebels
March 27 - Attack on Vista Hermosa stronghold comes as group says it is preparing to free its last prisonersColombia's military has killed 36 rebels in an air strike on a guerrilla camp, striking a second blow in less than a week to the country's main guerrilla force. The attack in the Meta state municipality of Vista Hermosa, a traditional stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), comes as the group says it is preparing to free its last prisoners. Colombia's armed forces chief, General Alejandro Navas, dismissed suggestions that the military attacks could delay the releases, saying the strikes fell within the "rules of the conflict." He said Monday's raid had been planned for several months. 

Navas said the rebels were undergoing training in an area where the Andes ridge meets Colombia's south-eastern plains that is the base for the Bloque Oriental, the Farc's most potent cadre. Commandos captured five insurgents, including three women, and seized weapons and computers, the military high command said. President Juan Manuel Santos said three rebels were wounded. "This operation isn't over," Navas said, emphasizing what he called its "highly strategic" nature. Last week the military killed 33 rebels in a similar air raid on another Farc stronghold in Arauca state, near the border with Venezuela. Although Colombia's military leaders have not released many operational details, the attacks follow a new strategy devised after they tracked down and killed the Farc's previous commander, Alfonso Cano, last year.   [More>>guardian.co.uk]

03.26.12 Obama and Hu to coordinate on North Korea rocket launch
March 26 -
China and the US have agreed to coordinate their response to any "potential provocation" if North Korea goes ahead with a planned rocket launch, the White House says. North Korea says the long-range rocket will carry a satellite. The US says any launch would violate UN resolutions and be a missile test. US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao met on the margins of a nuclear summit in South Korea. The launch is scheduled for April.  Its timing between 12 and 16 April is intended to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's late Great Leader Kim Il-sung. The White House said Mr. Hu indicated to Mr. Obama that he was taking the North Korean issue very seriously and was registering China's concern with the government in Pyongyang. "We both have an interest in making sure that international norms surrounding non-proliferation, preventing destabilizing nuclear weapons, is very important," Mr Obama said ahead of the meeting.  [More>>bbc.co.uk; See related stories,

koreaherald.com, March 26, "S. Korea warns it might shoot down N. Korean rocket"
Seoul warned Monday that it might shoot down a North Korean rocket if it passes over South Korean territory, as worries about what Washington calls a long-range missile test overshadowed an international nuclear security summit. Nearly 60 world leaders gathered Monday in Seoul to talk about ways to keep nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists. But North Korea has dominated attention in Northeast Asia since announcing earlier this month that it would send a satellite into space aboard a long-range rocket. North Korea calls the launch part of its peaceful space program and says a new southerly flight path is meant to avoid other countries; previous rockets have been fired over Japan. Washington and Seoul, however, say the multistage rocket is meant to test delivery systems for long-range missiles that could be mounted with nuclear weapons.

"We are studying measures such as tracking and shooting down (parts) of a North Korean missile in case they stray out of their normal trajectory" and violate South Korean territory, said Yoon Won-shik, a vice spokesman at the Defense Ministry. "We cannot help viewing (the launch) as a very reckless, provocative act" that undermines peace on the Korean peninsula, he said. The South Korean and US militaries know that North Korea has moved the main body of the rocket into a building at a site near the village of Tongchang-ri in North Phyongan province and that it is making preparations for a launch, Yoon said. He said the two allies’ militaries are closely monitoring the situation, but he didn't elaborate on the North’s preparations. The Tongchang-ri launch site is about 35 miles (50 kilometers) from the Chinese border city of Dandong. Analysts describe it as a new, more sophisticated site that would allow the North to fire the rocket from the west coast to avoid sending it over other countries...

japantoday.com, March 26, "Gov't to deploy Patriot missiles in Tokyo" : TOKYO -
Japan is to deploy surface-to-air missiles in central Tokyo in readiness for North Korea’s planned rocket launch, Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka said Monday. The siting of an anti-missile battery in the densely packed capital city would be in addition to facilities on the southern island chain of Okinawa, Tanaka told lawmakers. "We are working on procedures to deploy the Patriot in the Tokyo metropolitan area, acting on precedent," Tanaka told upper house members, referring to the PAC-3 surface-to-air missile defense system. "We are also preparing to deploy the Patriot in the Nansei (southwestern) islands including Okinawa," as the second stage of North Korea’s rocket is expected to fly over Japan’s southernmost island chain, Tanaka added. The nuclear-armed North has announced it will launch a rocket in mid-April to put a satellite into orbit, a move the United States, South Korea and other nations see as a pretext for a long-range missile test banned by the UN. Tanaka said he was readying Japan’s missile defense systems to shoot down the rocket if it looked set to fall on the country, a move similar to measures Japan took in 2009 before Pyongyang’s last long-range rocket launch...

xinhuanet.com, March 26, "Chinese, US presidents meet on ties, major issues" : SEOUL - Chinese President Hu Jintao and his US counterpart Barack Obama met Monday to discuss bilateral ties and major regional and global issues of common concern. During the talks on the sidelines of the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, Hu said the world situation is continuing to witness profound and complex changes and that the world economy is still facing many unstable and uncertain factors. Safeguarding the China-US cooperative partnership is not only beneficial to the interests of the two countries and peoples, but also has significant influence on world peace, stability and prosperity, he said. Hu said the two countries should enhance dialogs, exchanges and cooperation and respect each other's core interests and properly handle divergences and sensitive issues so as to push forward the Sino-US relationship on the right course. The Chinese president put forward a four-point proposal on the further development of China-US ties...

03.26.12 Sarkozy to bar radical clerics from entering France
(Reuters) March 26 -
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he will prevent radical Muslim preachers from entering the country as part of efforts to root out extremism in the wake of the recent killings by a self-styled jihadist gunman in south-west France.  France will bar radical Muslim preachers from entering the country to participate in an Islamic conference next month as part of a crackdown after shootings by an al-Qaeda-inspired gunman, President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday. Sarkozy, who has announced plans to punish those viewing Islamist Web sites and going abroad for indoctrination, said he would block the entry of some imams invited to a congress organized by the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF). The UOIF, one of three Muslim federations in France, is regarded as close to Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. "I have clearly indicated that there certain people who have been invited to this congress who are not welcome on French soil," Sarkozy told France Info radio.  He cited Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric based in Qatar who is one of the most prominent Sunni Muslim clerics in the Arab world and a household name in the Middle East due to regular appearances on the Al Jazeera news channel.

A former member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Qaradawi is independent of the group but remains close to it. Sarkozy said the situation was complicated because the imam holds a diplomatic passport and does not require a visa to enter France. "I indicated to the Emir of Qatar himself that this person was not welcome on the territory of the French republic," Sarkozy said. "He will not come." Qaradawi was denied a visa to visit Britain in 2008 on grounds of seeking to "justify acts of terrorist violence or disburse views that could foster inter-community violence," a Home Office spokeswoman said at the time. The cleric had defended Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel and attacks on US-led coalition forces in Iraq...
The conservative leader announced plans last week to make it a crime to repeatedly consult Internet sites advocating Islamic extremism and to punish those who travel overseas for indoctrination or terrorist training.  [Full story>>france24.com]

03.26.12 Islamic book on how to beat wives irks UK
LONDON, March 26 - An Islamic marriage guide advising men on 'the best ways' to beat their wives has sparked outrage in Britain, especially among moderate Muslims who say that it encourages domestic violence.  The book
—  "A Gift For Muslim Couple" tells husbands that they should beat their wives with "hand or stick or pull her by the ears," the Daily Mail reported.  Authored by Maulavi Ashraf Ali Thanvi, who is understood to be a prominent Islamic scholar, the 160-page book claims to be a "presentation for newlyweds" or couples who have been together for some years.  "The book... deals with the subject of marriage and after marriage relationship, as well as the various pitfalls of marriage, causes of breakdown and their causes," reads the book's blurb.  The book, however, also states that a husband should treat the wife "with kindness and love, even if she tends to be stupid and slow sometimes." [>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

03.26.12 Rogue Afghan soldier kills 2 British troops
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) March 26 -
An Afghan army soldier killed two British troops at their headquarters in southern Afghanistan on Monday, Britain and NATO officials said, in the latest attack by rogue Afghan security personnel on Western troops. So-called insider attacks have mounted recently as tension between Afghanistan and its foreign backers rises over a series of incidents, including the burning of Korans at a NATO base and a massacre of 17 villagers for which a US soldier was charged. The latest incident took place in Lashkar Gah city in southern Helmand province, the main area of operations for British forces in Afghanistan.  "It appears that a member of the Afghan national army opened fire at entrance gate to the British headquarters at Lashkar Gah city, killing the two British service personnel," Defense Secretary, Philip Hammond, told parliament in London. The attacker was shot dead by NATO soldiers, the alliance and the governor's office said.  [More>>thestar.com.my]
03.23.12 Austrian bishops slam Saudi cleric call to destroy churches
(AFP) March 23 -
Austria's bishops on Friday condemned comments by Saudi Arabia's top cleric calling for the destruction of all churches in the Arab peninsula, and urged Muslim leaders to denounce his words. In recent comments to Kuwaiti parliamentarians, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh said it was not only forbidden to build new churches on the Arab Peninsula but that all existing ones in the region should also be razed to the ground "as there are too many," the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress reported. Such comments were "entirely unacceptable and incomprehensible," the Austrian Roman Catholic bishops said Friday. "We demand an official explanation and an unambiguous affirmation of the right of churches and Christians to exist in this region," they said, calling for religious freedom to be respected there as it was elsewhere. Words like those of the Grand Mufti endangered Christians around the world, not just in Arab states, they said. "Such comments do not help anyone, rather they risk seriously worsening the already difficult and dangerous position of Christians in Arab countries." The bishops also questioned Riyadh's sincerity in setting up interreligious projects if it allowed its top cleric to make such statements. Last October, Austria and Saudi Arabia, along with Spain, opened a center for interreligious dialog in Vienna, which met with harsh criticism for being financed by the Arab state, which observes an ultra-conservative branch of Islam and strictly applies sharia or Islamic law.    [>france24.com]

03.23.12 Somalia pirates: EU approves attacks on land bases
March 23 -
The European Union has agreed to expand its mission against Somali pirates, by allowing military forces to attack land targets as well as those at sea. In a two-year extension of its mission, EU defense ministers agreed warships could target boats and fuel dumps. The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner says the move is a significant step-up in operations, but one that also risks escalation. Up to 10 EU naval ships are currently on patrol off the Horn of Africa. They have policed shipping routes and protected humanitarian aid since 2008. The extension means they will stay until at least December 2014. An EU official said the new mandate would allow warships or helicopters to fire at fuel barrels, boats, trucks or other equipment on beaches, according to Agence France-Presse. Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told reporters: "The EU plan is to allow attacks on land installations when ships are assaulted at sea," adding that "much care" would be taken to avoid civilian deaths.   [More>>bbc.co.uk]

03.23.12 Syria towns under fire as thousands protest prior to Annan's visit to Moscow, Beijing
March 23 - Government forces bombed towns and clashed with rebels in several areas of Syria on Friday, as thousands of people took part in "Damascus, here we come" demonstrations, monitors and activists said as Kofi Annan heads to Moscow and Beijing this weekend to hold talks over Syria. As many as 32 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country, activists told Al Arabiya. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the crowds in all the hot spots of anti-regime revolt across the country numbered hundreds of thousands, according to AFP. In the capital itself, five people were wounded in Kfar Sousa district as security forces opened fire to disperse protesters, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory. Mortar fire crashed into the Bab Dreib, Safsafa et Warsheh districts of Homs city, in central Syria, killing five people, it said. Security forces opened fire at demonstrators in Hama province, also in central Syria, where army deserters killed a soldier, the monitoring group said, without giving an immediate toll for the protesters. The Observatory said at least three soldiers and a rebel were killed in Aazaz, near the Turkish border. The city of Aazaz is strategically positioned on the road to safety in neighboring Turkey for wounded and fleeing civilians as well as being a supply route for Free Syrian Army rebels.    [More>>alarabiya.net]

03.23.12 Assad family targeted by new EU sanctions
March 23 -
Syrian president's wife and mother among latest figures to be targeted by European Union assets freeze and travel bans. European Union states have imposed sanctions on Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as officials seek to increase pressure on Damascus to end its violent assault on anti-government strongholds. Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday also imposed asset freezes and bans on travel to the EU on several other family members including the Syrian leader's mother, and banned European companies from doing business with two additional Syrian entities, EU officials said. A full list of sanctions targets will be made public on Saturday when the decision comes into force. EU diplomats said the list included the Syrian president's wife Asma and family. "She is on the list. It's the whole clan," one EU diplomat said.   [More>>aljazeera.com]

03.23.12 Taleban bomber kills 5 rival militants in Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) March 23 - A Taleban suicide bomber attacked the headquarters of a rival group Friday in northwest Pakistan, killing at least five fighters in the second such bombing this month, militants and a government official said. Clashes among insurgents are common along the Afghan border, where tribal loyalties hold sway and the government has little or no control. The militants are often competing over proceeds from smuggling, kidnapping and drug production. Over the last year, the Pakistani Taleban and Lashkar-e-Islam have been battling for control of the Tirah Valley, a remote part of the Khyber tribal region where Friday’s attack occurred. The two bombings this month indicate an escalation of that fight. Pakistani security forces also have been battling the militants in Tirah, who threaten the nearby city of Peshawar. The bombing killed at least five members of Lashkar-e-Islam, said Bakhtiyar Khan, a government administrator in Khyber. Hazrat Omar, a spokesman for the group, told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location that six fighters and two passers-by died. Mohammed Afridi, a Pakistani Taleban spokesman in Khyber, claimed responsibility for the attack in another phone call with the AP. A Taleban suicide bomber carried out a similar attack on Lashkar-e-Islam’s headquarters on March 2, killing 23 militants. The Taleban said at the time that the bombing was in revenge for an attack last month that killed members of the group. 

03.23.12 Militants kill 4 soldiers in Balochistan
QUETTA, Pakistan, March 23 -
Gunmen ambushed a Pakistani paramilitary checkpost on Friday, killing four soldiers and abducting four others in Balochistan, officials said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but officials blamed the attack on Taliban in Shirani district, 350 kilometers east of Quetta, the capital of the province that borders Afghanistan and Iran. "Militants attacked the post in the early hours. They first surrounded the post, then ambushed it. After killing four, they took four other soldiers with them," said a senior government official in Baluchistan. Three other soldiers were wounded, the official added. An intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the media, confirmed the attack and blamed the Taliban. Intelligence officials say a bomb hidden inside a radio exploded on a military base in northwest Pakistan, killing a paramilitary soldier and his 10-year-old son.   [More>>thenews.com.pk]

03.23.12 Al-Qaeda leader hits Afghans who back government
CAIRO (AP) March 23 -
Al-Qaeda's leader has lashed out at Afghan clerics and politicians who support the Kabul government in an audio message. Ayman al-Zawahri called on Thursday for the backers of President Hamid Karzai's regime and its NATO allies to switch sides. His 11-minute audio message, posted on militant websites, complained about alleged abuses against the Afghan people. "The events reveal the extent of degradation of those pro-government people who wear turbans and grow beards, and the politicians who are worse than hypocrites," he said. "They are more despicable than the infidels." Al-Zawahri, who assumed command of al-Qaeda last June after founder Osama bin Laden was killed in an American raid in Pakistan, called on Afghans to join the jihad, or holy war, against NATO forces in their country. He told the Afghan people that they have two choices, either to "stand under the banner of Islam as a holy warrior or face the humiliation of life after you have seen how the invaders treat you."   [More>>thejakartapost.com]
03.21.12 Iraq tightens security as Qaeda claims blasts
BAGHDAD (AFP) March 21 -
Key routes in Baghdad were locked down on Wednesday as al-Qaeda’s front group in Iraq claimed responsibility for a wave of deadly blasts targeting security for a landmark Arab summit next week. The tightened measures came a day after nationwide gun and bomb attacks killed 50 people and wounded 255 on the ninth anniversary of the start of the US-led invasion of Iraq. The country was struck with more unrest on Wednesday, with five people, including three young children, killed. In a statement posted on jihadist forum Honein, the Islamic State of Iraq declared it was behind the attacks against several “official posts, and security and military posts” in the country. "The lions (jihadists) of Al-Sunna... of the Islamic State of Iraq simultaneously attacked the authorities’ security plans... for the meeting of Arab tyrants in Baghdad," said the statement dated March 20. These attacks "destroyed the plans of the head of Iraqi security chiefs in the space of a few hours," it added.

Tuesday’s violence rocked 20 towns and cities spanning the northern oil hub of Kirkuk and the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, from 7:00am (0400 GMT), and continued through the day. The spate of attacks bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda, which typically tries to launch coordinated nationwide mass-casualty bombing campaigns. They struck despite unprecedented levels of security in Baghdad as part of preparations for the March 27-29 summit of the Arab League, the first of the 22-member bloc to be held in the Iraqi capital in more than 20 years. Wednesday’s yet tougher measures worsened already choking traffic in Baghdad.
..Despite the ramped up security, gunmen broke into a house in south Baghdad and slaughtered a 25-year-old mother and her three young children, security and medical officials said. Another woman was gunned down in central Iraq, according to police. [Full story>>khaleejtimes.com]

03.21.12 Syrian forces assault opposition strongholds
March 21 -
Amid continuing bloodshed, Moscow hardens stance and criticisms Damascus for making "mistakes" in handling the unrest.  Syrian government forces have launched military assaults in different parts of the country, activists said, as Russia said Damascus was making "a lot of mistakes" in handling the unrest sweeping the country. Opposition activists on Wednesday said army troops shelled three neighborhoods in central city of Homs, a day after at least 14 people were killed in heavy bombardment. The districts under attack, al-Qosour, al-Khalidiya and al-Bayada, are located next to each other in northern Homs. Hadi al-Abdallah of the Syrian Revolution General Commission activist network told Al Jazeera that the neighborhoods are crowded with people who fled Bab Amr, the area that government troops took over from opposition fighters after a fierce offensive last month. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based rights group, reported that at least five people had been killed and dozens more wounded during Wednesday's shelling in al-Khalidiya. Also on Wednesday, two large suburbs of Damascus came under heavy tank bombardment following renewed attacks by opposition fighters on forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.   [More>>aljazeera.com]

03.21.12 Islamist group claims Syria bombs 'to avenge Sunnis'
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AFP) March 21 - An Islamist group claimed responsibility for last weekend’s suicide car bombings in central Damascus to avenge the Syrian regime’s "massacre of Sunnis," in a statement posted online Wednesday. Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant, in the statement on Islamist websites, said its militants carried out "a series of military operations... especially the air force security" buildings of the "criminal regime" in Damascus. The attacks were "in response to the continued shelling by the regime of residential districts of Homs, Idlib, Hama and Daraa," it said, listing major centers of opposition across Syria. "We will later respond to the crimes carried out by the regime" in the central city of Homs, it warned, demanding that the regime, led by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, "stop its massacres of Sunnis." AFP could not verify the authenticity of the statement. The Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant first emerged at the end of February to claim suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo, Syria's second largest city. The group said the attacks were “to avenge the people of Homs" besieged by regime forces.

03.21.12 Brother of suspected Toulouse serial killer is arrested...as 300 officers continue to lay siege around 'Islamic warrior's' flat
March 21 - The older brother of the self-confessed Al Qaeda terrorist thought to have murdered seven people across south west France over the past two weeks has been arrested. Abdelkader Mera, 27, was detained this afternoon some 10 hours after a 3am raid when 300 armed police dramatically swooped on his 24-year-old brother Mohammed's Toulouse home. Three officers were injured this morning in an ensuing firefight
and Mohammed, who French President Nicolas Sarkozy said was going to kill another soldier today, is now cornered and under siege. Mohammed told news channel France 24's editor Ebba Kalondo two hours before the raid he had "filmed everything" with a small video camera and "intended to put the videos online."

He has been described as "armed and dangerous" with a cache including an Uzi machine gun and Kalashnikov assault rifle, with police saying he is likely to kill again. It has also emerged he was being tracked by French security services "for years" and had broken out of a jail in Kandahar, Afghanistan, as part of a mass Taliban escape in 2008. It had been claimed at 2:30pm local time that he had been arrested
but France's Interior Minister has now denied this. He said he is punishing France's army for its foreign interventions and the plight of Palestinian children and has promised to give himself up later today. He earlier threw a pistol from a window, in exchange for a "communication device" and police are now blowing entry points into the building in preparation for a raid. The gunman shouted "I can see you!" at police as they started the raid this morning, before opening fire. One officer was shot in the knee, another on the shoulder, and another in the chest.  But he was protected from serious injury by his bullet-proof vest.

The suspected serial killer is thought to have killed a Rabbi and three pupils at a Jewish school in the city on Monday, and to have assassinated three soldiers last week.  French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said the man, a French-Algerian who had made several visits to Afghanistan, was acting out of revenge for France's military involvement in the country. The man, who describes himself as an Islamic warrior, also wanted to take revenge for what he describes as the "murder" of Palestinian children by Israeli forces.  He claims to be a Mujahideen and "to belong to al-Qaeda," said Mr. Gueant, who is at the scene of the tense stand-off.   [More>>dailymail.com]

03.21.12 Bin Laden papers show his mindset
WASHINGTON, March 21 - (By David Ignatius)  What’s riveting about the documents taken from Osama bin Laden’s compound, beyond the headline items about plots to kill American leaders, is the way they allow the reader to get inside the terrorist mastermind’s head. I've only seen a small sample of the thousands of items that were carried away the night of May 2, 2011. But even those few documents shown to me by a senior Obama administration official give a sense of how bin Laden looked at the world in the years before his death.  This was the lion in winter: Bin Laden was hidden in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, pacing in his courtyard, watching television, dictating messages to his wives. He was at once a worldly man, trying to run a global terror network, and an introspective Muslim scholar who argued his points by using sayings of the prophet Muhammad or citing battles waged by the prophet’s associates.

A sense of bereavement hovers over these pages, not simply because of the loss of bin Laden’s colleagues, whom he eulogizes every few pages, but because bin Laden sensed that the movement itself had lost its momentum. He lived in a constricted world, in which he and his associates were hunted so relentlessly by US forces that they had trouble sending the simplest communications.  Bin Laden wanted to save what remained of his network by evacuating it from the free-fire zone of Pakistan’s tribal areas. He noted “the importance of the exit from Waziristan of the brother leaders. ... Choose distant locations to which to move them, away from aircraft photography and bombardment.”  This evacuation order comes in the most revealing document I was shown, which is a voluminous 48-page directive to Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, who served, in effect, as bin Laden’s chief of staff. Throughout this document, bin Laden pondered the likelihood that al-Qaeda had failed in its mission of jihad. 

Bin Laden begins by recalling the glory days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when his al-Qaeda mujahedeen were "the vanguard and standard-bearers of the Islamic community in fighting the Crusader-Zionist alliance." But the al-Qaeda leader turns immediately to a bitter reflection on mistakes made by his followers
especially their killing of Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere. The result, he said, "would lead us to winning several battles while losing the war at the end." Bin Laden ruminated on the "extremely great damage" caused by these overzealous jihadists. Not only is the organization’s reputation being damaged, he noted, but "tens of thousands are being arrested" in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  The brooding bin Laden advised his followers to back off on these self-defeating attacks in Muslim nations and instead begin "targeting American interests in non-Islamic countries first, such as South Korea." At another point, he stressed: "The focus must be on actions that contribute to the intent of bleeding the American enemy."   [More>>koreaherald.com; See related stories,

washingtonpost.com, March 21, "How al-Qaeda tried to control the media" : (By David Ignatius) Among the last known images of Osama bin Laden is a video seized at his compound the night he was killed, which shows the al-Qaeda leader hunched before a television screen studying a video of himself. It’s testimony to bin Laden’s obsession with the media side of his war against the United States. This modern face of bin Laden’s jihad comes through clearly in a 21-page letter from his media adviser, a U.S.-born jihadist named Adam Gadahn. The letter is undated, but it appears to have been written after November 2010, in the last six months of bin Laden’s life. Gadahn wrote much as if he were a media planner corresponding with a client. He included suggestions about the timing of video appearances after the 2010 US midterm elections and use of high-definition video, and made snarky evaluations of major US networks...

cbsnews.com, March 21, "Bin Laden files show Qaeda leader's waning sway:
..."One of the interesting points that comes out of the documents is clearly the loss of control that bin Laden sees in the movement, the fact that the movement itself is getting out of his control, both in terms of discipline and in terms of what he's able to actually direct," said Zarate, "and you see that then reflected in tensions between him and Ayman al-Zawahiri, where they have different views as to what the movement should be doing, where they should be attacking."  For example, Zawahiri, who became al-Qaeda's leader after bin Laden's death, wanted to hit Americans in places like Afghanistan and Iraq while bin Laden wanted attacks on American soil.

"To me, the most striking part is a beleaguered movement, a battered movement, and a leader that realizes that he's having to exert control over a movement that he's losing control over quickly," Zarate said. To be sure, bin Laden tried to exert his influence over every aspect of the terror network. "When you pore through these documents, you're seeing administrative things, about whether we should have emirs and deputy emirs, and then he obsesses over the name al-Qaeda," said Miller. "'He says, You know the US stuck this name on us
it means the base but our real name used to be The Base of Jihad or holy war and, you know, we need to get back into that because they have recast us as being a terrorist group as opposed to fighting for Muslims.'"...
03.21.12 Colombian troops kill dozens of guerrillas, defense minister says
BOGOTA, Colombia, March 21 -
Colombian authorities have killed dozens of leftist guerrillas in the past day, the nation's defense minister said Wednesday. Operations throughout the country led to the killing of 39 suspected members the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the capture of a dozen others from the rebel group, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told reporters. "This is one of the greatest blows (to the rebel group) in the last five years," Pinzon said. One operation near the Venezuelan border led to the killing of 36 suspected rebels and the capture of five others, including a top leader of one faction of the rebel group, he said.   [More>>cnn.com]
03.18.12 To boost US productivity, elect a new Congress
(Bloomberg) March 18 - (By Peter Orszag) Last week, Harvard Business School hosted a conference in New York to talk about how the U.S. could continue to support “high and rising living standards for Americans” in the face of global competition. It was a lively discussion, leading to many good, if familiar, economic-policy ideas for increasing productivity in the US Unfortunately, this conversation largely ignored the key constraint to many of the policy recommendations: the rise of hyper-polarization in Congress. If business leaders want better economic policy, they need to first help elect more moderates to Congress.  The conference was centered on a survey of 10,000 Harvard Business School graduates, conducted in October 2011 by Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin, professors at the school. A quarter of the respondents had achieved the rank of chief executive, president or chairman of a corporation, or the equivalent.

Some of the survey's most interesting questions had to do with decisions about location. More than 40 percent of people who participated said their firms had faced decisions about siting new businesses or relocating existing ones within the past year, and almost 20 percent of them had been personally involved in making the decision.... All told, almost 70 percent of the decisions resulted in business being located abroad rather than in the US.  The Harvard Business School alumni provided a set of recommendations for policy makers. They are familiar ones to those who follow policy debates ― including simplifying the tax code, reforming immigration policies, investing in infrastructure, and strengthening the use of cost-benefit analysis in the regulatory system.

...The main challenge, however, is not to come up with such a list of productivity-enhancing policy suggestions. It is, instead, to figure out how they could be enacted. Corporate leaders who are interested in this agenda should therefore walk across the Charles River from the business school to the Kennedy School of Government and ask how they can help to elect more moderates to Congress who could carry out the laundry list of policy recommendations they support.

...Nolan McCarty, a political scientist at Princeton University, has recently examined the issue and concluded that polarization substantially impairs legislative productivity. McCarty writes that, under one way of analyzing the question, "the least polarized congressional term produces a whopping 166 percent more legislation than the most polarized."  Perhaps even more disturbingly, McCarty argues that in a polarized Congress any legislation that is passed is of poorer quality, thanks in part to the power of extreme factions.   [Full story>>koreaherald.com]

03.18.12 Car bomb explodes in major Syrian city of Aleppo
(Reuters) March 18 -
Three killed in Aleppo blast, opposition activists say; clashes and protests reported across Syria.  A car bomb ripped through a residential area of Syria's second city Aleppo on Sunday, a day after twin blasts killed 27 in the capital Damascus. State news agency SANA said the attack by "terrorists" had killed two people and wounded 30 others. Opposition activists said three died in the explosion, close to a Political Security office and a church.  The semi-official news channel al-Ikhbariya said security forces had been tipped off about the bomb and had been moving residents out of the area when it went off. It said the car had been filled with 200 kilograms of explosives. Pictures on the SANA website showed building fronts blasted open and aid workers standing near piles of shattered masonry and bomb craters. Syria TV showed at least one street corner splattered in blood. Local activist Mohammed Halabi said at least 15 ambulances and security cars rushed to the area after the blast. "The blast was extremely loud and even shook nearby areas," Halabi said, speaking by telephone from Aleppo. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, and an activist in Aleppo from the opposition's local Revolutionary Council said the government was behind the explosion.   [More>>haaretz.com]

03.18.12 Over 50 killed in clashes between Pakistan soldiers and militants
March 18 -
At least 51 militants and four soldiers have died in Pakistan's restive northwest after security forces backed by combat jets launched a major offensive a week back, officials said today. A total of 26 militants were killed and 15 more injured when combat jets bombarded rebel hideouts in the Orakzai and Kurram tribal regions today. Seven hideouts were destroyed in the air strikes, officials said. At least 25 militants and four security personnel have died in clashes in the Bara region of Khyber Agency since March 12, officials said. A dozen security personnel were injured in the fighting. Troops are currently conducting operations against the banned Lashkar-e-Islam in Khyber Agency. Officials denied reports that some militants were killed in custody in Bara following the recovery of 14 bullet-riddled and mutilated bodies in the region. The casualties in the fighting could not be independently confirmed as journalists are barred from reporting from the tribal belt.    [More>>indianexpress.com]

03.18.12 How to spot a terrorist?
LONDON, March 18 - The US Department of Homeland Security has brought out a presentation that aims to educate people on recognizing terrorists and how to report them. The report titled "Terrorism Awareness and Prevention" warned that people yawning, developing goose bumps and appearing fidgety could all be potential terrorists, according to the Daily Mail.  It said the "signs will become particularly evident in a person's eyes, face, neck and body movements." If an individual has a cold stare, "trance-like gaze" or wide "flashbulb eyes," they may be a terrorist, according to the report.  If they seem to exaggerate yawn during conversation, repeatedly touch their face or ears, or excessively watch a clock or fidget, these may also be indicators of a terrorist.  If they pace, tremble, perspire or have goose bumps, these also may be indicators.   [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

03.18.12 Indian call centers selling your credit card details and medical records for just 2p
March 18 - Confidential personal data on hundreds of thousands of Britons is being touted by corrupt Indian call center workers, an undercover investigation has discovered. Credit card information, medical and financial records are being offered for sale to criminals and marketing firms for as little as 2p. Two 'consultants,' claiming to be IT workers at several call centers, met undercover reporters from The Sunday Times and boasted of having 45 different sets of personal information on nearly 500,000 Britons. Data included names, addresses, and phone numbers of credit card holders, start and expiry dates as well as the three-digit security verification codes. The information much of which related to customers at major financial companies, including HSBC and NatWest would be a goldmine for criminals, allowing fraudsters to siphon thousands of pounds from bank accounts within minutes.

IT consultant Naresh Singh met the undercover reporters in a hotel room in Gurgaon, a town near Delhi, carrying a laptop full of data. He told them: "These [pieces of data] are ones that have been sold to somebody already. This is Barclays, this is Halifax, this is Lloyds TSB. We've been dealing so long we can tell the bank by just the card number."  He said that much of the data would be less than 72 hours old, adding: "They would just have got the credit card and not only credit cards, that would be debit card as well." Other information being hawked around by unscrupulous workers was sensitive material about mortgages, loans, insurance, mobile phone contracts, Sky Television subscriptions, according to The Sunday Times sting. The data would enable direct marketing companies to target customers more effectively. Call centers are a £3.2 billion industry in India, with an estimated 330,000 people employed by them.   [More>>dailymail.co.uk]

03.18.12 Chinese writers demand Apple pay for piracy
BEIJING (Xinhua) March 18 -
A group of Chinese writers have filed a claim against Apple, alleging that the company's App Store sells unlicensed copies of their books and seeking 50 million yuan (7.9 million US dollars) in compensation. The claim, filed on behalf of 22 famous writers, involves 95 books that have allegedly been sold as pirated copies on Apple's App Store. The writers, including Han Han, He Ma and Nanpai Sanshu, have teamed up and set up a writers' rights alliance. The alliance has already sent a lawyer's letter to Apple and is waiting for the company's reply, said Bei Zhicheng, head of the alliance. [ The group said Apple takes a 30 percent cut from app sales on the platform. The group also claimed that when the Californian company was notified about the pirated content, it was too slow to remove the products. Public relations spokeswoman for Apple Huang Yu'na said in an email to media that Apple understands the importance of protecting intellectual property rights. The company will "respond properly and timely" to complaints.   [More>>xinhuanet.com]

03.18.12 Two Brazilian tourists kidnapped by Bedouin in Egypt's Sinai
CAIRO (AFP) March 18 - Egyptian Bedouin on Sunday kidnapped two Brazilian tourists in the Sinai peninsula, the third abduction of tourists in the peninsula this year, security officials said. The tourists were returning from the historic monastery of St Catherine in southern Sinai when the tribesmen seized them, according to the officials, one of whom said both were teenage girls. Other security officials could not confirm their gender or age.  [>alarabiya.net]

03.18.12 In Mexico, a kidnapping ignored as crime worsens
MATAMOROS, Mexico, March 18 - They have spotted their stolen vehicles at stoplights, driven by the same gunmen who used them to take their entire family captive last July. They have reported the brazen abduction to every branch of Mexican law enforcement, only to be ignored, or directed someplace else. For the women of the Cazares family who were kidnapped with their families for ransom
and who are still searching for five missing relatives the official response to their horrific ordeal has been even more excruciating than the crime itself. Even now, they say, after months of trying to goad the Mexican authorities into action, they still see criminals they recognize living large here in this border city, as untouchable as kings. "We’re completely impotent," said Zynthia Cazares, 30, an American citizen who was among those abducted and whose husband, brother and father are still missing.

"No one will help us." Six years into a mostly military assault on drug cartels, impunity across much of Mexico has worsened, and justice is harder to find. Criminals in Mexico are less likely to be punished now than even just a few years ago, say current and former government officials and experts who have studied Mexico’s ailing judiciary, because the authorities have been overwhelmed by increases in violent crime while corruption, fear and incompetence have continued to keep the justice system weak. Many areas now veer toward lawlessness: in 14 of Mexico’s 31 states, the chance of a crime’s leading to trial and sentencing was less than 1 percent in 2010, according to government figures analyzed by a Mexican research institute known as Cidac. And since then, experts say, attempts at reform have stalled as crime and impunity have become cozy partners.   [More>>nytimes.com]

03.18.12 Militants kill American teacher in Yemen
SANAA (Reuters) March 18 -
Gunmen linked to al-Qaeda shot dead an American teacher in Yemen on Sunday for Christian "proselytizing" and officials said government forces had killed a dozen militants in clashes and attacks on their strongholds. The incidents underscore the challenges facing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who took office last month after a year of massive protests against his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh. A police source in the city of Taiz said a gunman riding on a motorcycle driven by an accomplice shot the US English language teacher, who was also deputy director of a language school, the Swedish Institute. Officials from the institute in Taiz, Yemen's commercial hub 200 km (120 miles) south of Sanaa, identified the victim as Joel Shrun and said he was born in 1983. There was no immediate comment from the US embassy. The gunmen, who escaped after the attack, were believed to be linked to al-Qaeda, the police source said. A group affiliated with the militant network claimed responsibility. "This operation comes as a response to the campaign of Christian proselytizing that the West has launched against Muslims," an unidentified person said in a text message to journalists, claiming responsibility on behalf of the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law).   [More>>thestar.com.my]

03.18.12 Iraq's Sadr movement frees former US soldier
March 18 -
Followers of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr hand Randy Michaels to UN mission in Baghdad after holding him for nine months.  Followers of Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have freed a US former soldier after holding him captive in Baghdad for nine months. The American, identified as Randy Michaels, was shown on television in a US military uniform with no insignia, flanked by two members of parliament from Sadr's movement, including the first deputy speaker. The politicians described him as an American soldier, but Michaels said he was a former service member working in a civilian capacity at the time he was captured, last June. He said he had been held by the Yom al-Maoud, or Promised Day Brigade, an offshoot of Sadr's Mehdi Army militia that remained armed after Sadr disbanded most Mehdi Army units in 2008.

"I was taken inside Baghdad and have been kept in and around different locations within the city by al-Maoud. It was explained to me that my release has been for humanitarian purposes and there was no exchange involved," he said in remarks shown on 
Iraq's Bagdadiya television. The Pentagon has said none of its serving troops are believed to be held in Iraq since last month when it recovered the remains of the last missing soldier. Maha al-Douri, a lawmaker from Sadr's bloc said: "We declare the release of the American soldier, Randy Michaels, without any compensation, according to the instructions of Moqtada al-Sadr, as a gift from him to the soldier's family and to his people, and to correct the image of Islam."  [More>>

03.17.12 Iranian general urges Afghans to fight US
TEHRAN (AP) March 17 -
A senior Iranian military commander urged Afghans on Saturday to use force to kick American troops out of their country, hinting that "new resistance groups" could launch attacks on US interests in Afghanistan. Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, a senior figure in the powerful Revolutionary Guard and the deputy head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there are indications that Afghans will "soon open new fronts" against "the obsolete, worn-out American empire." The US has accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guard of supplying powerful roadside bombs to militants in Afghanistan fighting NATO forces.

Iran has denied that it is supplying arms to fighters in Afghanistan.  Anti-US sentiments have grown in Afghanistan after the killing of 16 civilians, including nine children, allegedly by a US soldier in southern Kandahar province, as well the accidental burning of Quran holy books by American troops. The US soldier has been identified as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38. "Based on the existing indications, new fronts will soon be opened against invaders in order to ground the obsolete, worn-out American empire," Jazayeri said. "Creation of resistance groups and hitting American interests are among measures that can be taken." He did not elaborate. The comments by Jazayeri were posted Saturday on the Guard’s website, sepahnews.com. It is the strongest comments ever by an Iranian official against American troops in Afghanistan. 

"The Americans must know that the Afghan nation ... is tired of the illegitimate presence of invaders ... and deserve to use force and offensive operations to kick invading enemies from their soil," he said. Jazayeri said Afghans should make their territory unsafe for American troops. "The United States should not be immune from the biting attacks for insulting Quran and massacring the innocent Afghan and Pakistani people. American troops must experience the bitter taste of revenge so that they won’t feel security in any part of the region," he said. The US and Tehran are at odds over Iran’s controversial nuclear program, and some analysts fear that Iran will respond with proxy forces if the confrontation becomes violent.  [>alarabiya.net]

03.17.12 Gulf widens between US and a more volatile Karzai
KABUL, Afghanistan, March 17 - The Americans in Afghanistan are "demons." They claim they burned Korans by mistake, but really those were "Satanic acts that will never be forgiven by apologies." The massacre of 16 Afghan children, women and men by an American soldier "was not the first incident, indeed it was the 100th, the 200th and 500th incident."  Such harsh talk may sound as if it comes from the Taliban, but those are all remarks either made personally by the United States’ increasingly hostile ally here, President Hamid Karzai, or issued by his office in recent days and weeks. The strongest such outburst came Friday. "Let’s pray for God to rescue us from these two demons," Mr. Karzai said, apparently holding back tears at a meeting with relatives of the massacre victims, and clearly referring to the United States and the Taliban in the same breath. "There are two demons in our country now." Ever since the Koran-burning incident on Feb. 20 and its violent aftermath, the relationship between the two governments has lurched from one crisis to another. American officials have scrambled to run damage control, with President Obama calling Mr. Karzai twice in the past week and apologizing twice in the past month — once for the Koran burning and once for the massacre.  

03.17.12 Twin car bombs kill dozens in Damascus
March 17 -
At least 27 killed and 97 wounded in what state television alleged were terrorist attacks on security buildings. At least 27 people have been killed and 97 others wounded in a pair of explosions in Damascus, the Syrian health minister has said. State television blamed "terrorists" for the Saturday morning explosions and reported that vehicles packed with explosives had been used. The blasts targeted buildings belonging to a customs office and air force intelligence. Most of the casualties were civilians, state television said. The channel broadcasted interviews with Syrians who blamed the attack on the United States and Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who they said had sent terrorists.

The attacks come two days after the one-year anniversary of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. "I woke up to two massive explosions around 7:30 this morning
one was on Baghdad street less than a mile away from my home," a witness in Damascus told Al Jazeera. "Relatives closer to the explosion told me their windows were blown out and doors destroyed from the blast." It was not the first time bombers have struck in the heart of Assad's power. There were three suicide bombings in Damascus between December and January "A few weeks ago, we saw security buildings also come under attack and the government has been blaming what they are calling "terrorist groups," said Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut. Khodr said no one had claimed responsibility for Saturday's attacks but that the opposition has in the past blamed the government for "orchestrating" them to bolster its case against alleged terrorists.

"But we also have to remember that US officials have hinted in the past that they believe that al-Qaeda could be involved, could be taking advantage of the security vacuum in that country," Khodr said. The specter of al-Qaeda could make Syria's large minority populations more nervous about the Sunni-led uprising against Assad, whose government has sought to rally Alawi, Christian and Shia communities to its side. Private emails allegedly sent among Assad and members of his inner circle and leaked to the media by opposition hackers show Assad receiving advice to not blame the December bombings on al-Qaeda.   [More>>aljazeera.com]

03.17.12 Friendship soured: how Assads 'laughed' at ally
LONDON (Reuters) March 17 - Syrian estrangement from fellow Arab leaders is a deeply personal affair, as apparently hacked emails between President Bashar Al Assad and his wife illustrate. Few relationships have turned as sour as between Damascus and the Gulf state of Qatar, whose fabulously wealthy emir was once among Assad’s closest friends and investors but now leads a push to oust him, by force if necessary, after a year of revolt.  A three-word email from Asma Al Assad to her husband on Dec. 11, forwarding a solicitous message from a daughter of the emir
part of a trove of hacked correspondence obtained by Britain’s Guardian newspaper and seen by Reuters on Friday betrays the couple’s bitter mood toward Qatar:

"For a laugh...," Asma wrote above the email, which gave assurances of the emir’s friendship. Her sarcasm strikes a jarring note amid a string of personal messages between the Syrian first lady and the Qatari princess, Mayassa Al Thani, in which they exchange warm greetings and news of their young children
messages which, however, are unlikely to have been sent from Qatar without the emirate’s rulers being well aware of their value as a "back-channel" for diplomacy. A recurring theme of Thani's correspondence among some 3,000 emails between the Assads' inner circle whose authenticity the Guardian has established is urging her Syrian friend to flee the country with her husband; "Please get the kids out before it’s too late," she wrote in August. On Jan. 30, Thani assured Assad of a welcome in the Qatari capital Doha. Such an outcome to the conflict, which has cost 8,000 lives and raised tensions between Assad’s Iranian allies and the Gulf states, would suit Qatar.


 In the email exchange in December, at a time when Qatar was pushing the Arab League to punish Syria, Asma Al Assad referred to Qatar not "playing its cards right." A few hours later, the emir’s daughter replied: "Your last remark is unfair. My father regards President Bashar as a friend, despite the current tensions
he always gives him genuine advice." It was that email, which urged the Assads to "come out of the state of denial" and apologized for "harsh" honesty, that Asma forwarded to Bashar suggesting he would find it amusing. But three days later she replied: "My dear Mayassa, I don’t have a problem with frankness or honesty, in fact to me it’s like oxygen I need it to survive ... Take care, aaa."  [More>>khaleejtimes.com; See also guardian.co.uk, March 17, "The Assad emails."

03.17.12 Saudi Arabia sends military equiipment to Syria rebels
DUBAI (AFP) March 17 - Saudi Arabia is delivering military equipment to Syrian rebels in an effort to stop bloodshed by President Bashar al-Assad's regime, a top Arab diplomat said on Saturday.  "Saudi military equipment is on its way to Jordan to arm the Free Syrian Army,"  the diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.  "This is a Saudi initiative to stop the massacres in Syria," he added saying further "details will follow at a later time."  The announcement came two days after the kingdom said it had shut down its embassy in Syria and withdrawn all its staff.  It also followed a brief meeting on the Syrian crisis last week between Jordan's King Abdullah and the Saudi monarch in Riyadh.  There was no official reaction to the statement from Riyadh or Amman, which this month called for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis, arguing Jordan was among the worst affected by its repercussions.  Jordan shares its northern border with Syria, through which more than 65 per cent of its trade transits. According to local officials, some 80,000 Syrians are estimated to have fled to the kingdom since March 2011.  Riyadh has taken a strong stance against the escalating bloodshed and, along with its five Gulf Cooperation Council partners, expelled Syrian envoys last month and withdrew their own over the "mass slaughter" of civilians. Earlier this month, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal publicly defended the right of the Syrian opposition to arm itself.   [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

03.17.12  Gaddafi spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi held in Mauritania
(AP) March 17 -
Mauritanian authorities arrested former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi in Nouakchott on Saturday, the state news agency reported. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. Mauritania said Saturday it arrested former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi, who was one of the most prominent figures from the ousted regime of Moammar Gaddafi and is wanted by the International Criminal Court. Al-Senoussi helped direct efforts to quash the rebellion against Gaddafi's rule last year, and the ICC has indicted him along with Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam, on charges of crimes against humanity. Mauritania’s state information agency said in a statement that al-Senoussi was arrested at the airport in the capital Nouakchott upon arrival from the Moroccan city of Casablanca. It said he was carrying a fake Malian passport.   [More>>france24.com]
03.16.12 Syrian refugees flee as 'more civilians die'
March 16 -
Syrian forces are continuing their military offensive in the northern province of Idlib  driving 1,000 refugees across the Turkish border  as dozens more civilian deaths are reported. The bloody revolt against President Bashar al Assad has entered a second year with no sign of a political solution. Forty-five civilians were killed in frontier province Idlib, including 23 whose bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs, as well as five army deserters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported. The bloodshed and continued flow of refugees has prompted Turkey to suggest it might support a "buffer zone" inside Syria, a move likely to enrage Damascus. 

Turkey set up a buffer zone along the border with Iraq during the Gulf War in the early 1990s, when tens of thousands of refugees headed towards Turkish territory. The United Nations said about 230,000 Syrians have been displaced from their homes, including 30,000 who have fled abroad, raising the prospect of a regional refugee crisis. The government has blamed foreign powers and terrorist gangs for the chaos and say 2,000 soldiers have died in the uprising. Four members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) announced the closures of their embassies in Syria in protest against its violent crackdown on anti-Assad activists, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said, quoting a statement by GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al Zayani. 

Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Qatar were to close their embassies, after Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the other two GCC members, announced embassy closures on Wednesday. In an orchestrated show of support for Mr. Assad, huge crowds took to the streets of Syria's cities on Thursday. It marked the first anniversary of the unrest which started as largely peaceful protests against four decades of iron rule by the Assad dynasty. Opposition activists said pro-Assad forces shot at crowds in various locations when they tried to protest against the 46-year-old leader.   [More>>news.sky.com; See related story,

bbc.co.uk, March 16, "Syria unrest: Turkish nationals urged to return home"
: Turkey has urged its citizens to leave Syria, saying developments there have led to "serious security risks." The foreign ministry said some consular services would be halted on 22 March. PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested a safe zone could be established along the border, as refugees numbers rise. Meanwhile, UN and Arab League envoy on Syria Kofi Annan has briefed the Security Council on his peace efforts. Afterwards he said was sending a team to Syria to discuss deploying monitors. Mr. Annan
who held talks with President Bashir al-Assad in Damascus last week told reporters on Friday that his main aims were to stop the violence, improve the delivery of aid, and speed up the democratic process in Syria. The news comes on the first anniversary of the country's uprising, which has left more than 8,000 people dead...

03.16.12 North Korea rocket launch plan 'provocative,' says US
(AFP) March 16 -
North Korea angered the US, South Korea and Japan Friday by announcing plans to launch a long-range rocket mounted with a satellite. Pyongyang has been accused of using such launches as a way of testing missile technology despite a UN ban. North Korea announced Friday it would launch a rocket carrying a satellite next month, just 16 days after agreeing to suspend long-range missile tests in return for massive US food aid. The United States, Japan and South Korea condemned the plan and said it would breach a United Nations ban imposed after previous launches. Blast-off will be between April 12 and 16 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-Sung, the communist state's official news agency and state television said.

The US State Department called the proposed launch "highly provocative" and a threat to regional security.  It would also be inconsistent with the announced missile test moratorium, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. The surprise February 29 deal, under which Pyongyang also promised to freeze its uranium enrichment plant, had raised hopes of eased tensions under the new regime headed by Kim Jong-Un.  But one analyst said Friday's announcement effectively killed off the agreement, under which the US was to give the hungry and impoverished nation 240,000 tonnes of food over a year. The last long-range rocket launch on April 5, 2009, also purportedly to put a satellite into orbit, brought UN Security Council condemnation and tightened sanctions.   [More>>france24.com]

03.16.12 George Clooney arrested during protest at Sudanese Embassy
WASHINGTON (AP) March 16 -
George Clooney and his father, Nick Clooney, have been arrested at a protest outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. The actor and others, including Democratic US Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia and NAACP President Ben Jealous, were arrested after being warned three times not to cross a police line outside the embassy. They were handcuffed and placed into the back of a US Secret Service van. The protesters accuse Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, of provoking a humanitarian crisis and blocking food and aid from entering the Nuba Mountains in the county's border region with South Sudan. The Oscar winner said earlier that he hopes to draw more attention to the issue and that if action is not taken in the next three to four months, "we're going to have a real humanitarian disaster." The actor and human rights activist  testified before Congress earlier this week, after returning from a visit to the region.   [More>>cbsnews.com]

03.16.12 Report: Poachers slaughter half the elephant population in Cameroon park
March 16 - At least half the elephants in Cameroon's Bouba N'Djida reserve were slaughtered because the west African nation sent too few security forces to tackle poachers, the World Wide Fund for Nature said on Thursday. In what was described as one of the worst poaching massacres in decades, as many as 200 elephants have been killed for their tusks since January by poachers on horseback from Chad and Sudan, the fund said. Rising demand in Asia for jewelry and ornaments made from elephant tusks is understood to be among the factors behind the spike in poaching. "WWF is disturbed by reports that the poaching continues unabated," Natasha Kofoworola Quist, WWF's representative in the region, said in a statement.  It was the second major elephant-poaching report out of Africa this month. On March 5, the warden at Virunga National Park, a UN World Heritage Site in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said poaching had become so severe that rangers began using bloodhounds to track down poachers. The Virunga elephant population has fallen to fewer than 400 from an estimated 3,000 in the 1980s. In Cameroon, about 20 fresh elephant carcasses were discovered last week, a WWF spokesperson said. The government of the Central African state has sent special forces to track the poachers and end the killing spree in the north of the country, but the WWF said this may be too little, too late.   [More>>msnbc.msn.com]

03.13.12 Syrian troops commit another massacre in Idlib; US-Russia wrangling widens
March 13 - Syrian troops committed another massacre in Idlib on Monday that left as many as 55 people dead, Al Arabiya reported on Tuesday citing activists at the Syrian Revolution Commission. The new massacre comes one day after the Syrian regime committed killed 50 people in a massacre in Karm al-Zeitoun neighborhood in Homs. Most of Sunday’s victims were women and children, according to activists. Activists said that death toll from Monday’s violent crackdown on protesters hit 114 people, mostly in Homs and Idlib.  Scores of tanks were deployed in Rankous in Damascus suburbs and in the capital Damascus,

Syrian troops launched a wide-scale campaign of crackdown and arrests in al-Assaly neighborhood, Al Arabiya reported. In the Christian neighborhood of Humaideya in Homs, churches opened their doors to receive the homeless residents who fled the shelling in other neighborhoods.  The West clashed with Russia at the United Nations Security Council over Syria on Monday. The conflict appeared to inch closer to civil war with the exiled Syrian National Council (SNC) saying it was preparing to arm anti-government rebels with foreign help. But the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad remained fragmented.  [More>>alarabiya.net]

03.13.12 US drone strikes kill 15 in  Pakistan
DER ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) March 13 -
US drone aircraft struck twice in Pakistan's unruly tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing 15 suspected militants, including two senior militant commanders, security and intelligence officials said. In the first strike, a drone fired missiles at a vehicle in the Birmal area of the South Waziristan tribal region, killing eight. Among the dead were Shams Ullah and Amir Hamza, senior commanders of a pro-government militant faction led by Maulvi Nazir, one of the most influential militant leaders in the region. Seven suspected militants were killed in the second attack later in the day, when a drone fired missiles at a vehicle in the Sara Khawra area, which straddles the border between North Waziristan and South Waziristan.

Several militant groups, including the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda, operate in Pakistan's semi-autonomous border regions, taking advantage of a porous border with Afghanistan to conduct cross-border attacks or plot violence elsewhere. The usually unacknowledged Central Intelligence Agency's drone program, an important element of the US counter-terrorism strategy in the region, appeared to have been halted after a NATO cross-border air attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November, sparking fury in Pakistan. The campaign, using remotely-piloted armed aircraft, resumed on January 10.   [More>>thestar.com.my]

03.13.12 Afghani delegation attacked at killing site
March 13 - One person died and at least one other was injured when a high-level Afghani government delegation came under fire today, while visiting the scene of a shooting rampage by a US soldier that left 16 villagers dead. The attack was mounted by the Taliban, The Wall Street Journal reported, as the group threatened to behead US soldiers to avenge the massacre and hundreds of students took to the streets to protest against the deaths. In the first mass demonstrations since Sunday's shooting, about 400 student protesters in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, shouted "Death to America
Death to [US President Barack] Obama," and called for the soldier to be tried in public in Afghanistan.

The students, carrying an effigy of Obama and banners with anti-US slogans, blocked the main highway from Jalalabad to the capital Kabul, AFP reported. Later, a delegation from the Afghani government, which included two of President Hamid Karzai's brothers and the Afghani army's chief of staff, came under fire at a mourning ceremony at the mosque of Alkozai village, in the Panjway district of southern Kandahar province, where Sunday's shooting took place. Gunfire raged for about 20 minutes with around 100 Afghani army and police officers returning fire.  [More>>news.com.au]

03.13.12 South Korean researchers to clone mammoth
March 13 - A private bioengineering laboratory led by disgraced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk said Tuesday that it agreed to work together with a Russian university in cloning an extinct woolly mammoth. The agreement with the North-Eastern Federal University calls for the use of biological samples taken from mammoth remains so they can help make a live animal using a somatic cell nuclear transfer process, the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation said. It said the school in the Russia’s Sakha Federal Republic in northern Siberia will get permission from Moscow to ship tissue samples of the animal that went extinct 4,500 years ago. The tissues are to be cloned by using eggs taken from a modern Indian elephant. Once the tissues of the mammoth have been treated to a nuclear transfer process, the eggs will be implanted into the womb of a live elephant for the 22-month pregnancy. 

The local research foundation said it aims to complete the restoration of cells from mammoth tissues by the end of this year. The research institute, headed by Hwang, a former veterinary professor of Seoul National University, will also take part in future mammoth remains excavations in Russia to get more tissue samples. This will entail the setting up of a mobile laboratory to extract the tissue samples, while the Russian university will be given advanced cloning technology. "After this project, there will be further cooperation with other laboratories like the Beijing Genomics Institute," the foundation said.  The project, if successful, will mark the first time that scientists will have cloned an extinct animal and open new possibilities for the preservation of species.

Hwang, once credited with successfully cloning human embryonic stem cells, was disgraced in 2005 after publishing a paper using manipulated test results, an incident that shook the South Korean academic society. He was given a suspended jail term in 2009 for receiving state funds with his fabricated research.  The stem cell researcher, however, made a comeback when he succeeded in cloning several dogs and endangered American jackals last year.   [>koreaherald.com]


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