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News Headlines & Trends

4.23.08 Islamic sect leader jailed for 4 years in Indonesia

JAKARTA (AP) April 23 - An Indonesian sect leader was jailed for four years Wednesday for declaring himself a new Islamic prophet in a case brought to court following pressure from Muslim hard-liners. Ahmad Mushaddeq, a retired civil servant, was arrested in October along with six of his followers. He formed the Al-Qiyadah Al-Islamiyah sect in 2000 and it once claimed 40,000 followers.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country and has a long history of religious tolerance and secular institutions. In recent years, however, such traditions have come under attack from an increasingly vocal hard-line Islamic fringe. About 85 percent of Indonesia's 230 million people are Muslims. In its verdict Wednesday after several months of hearings, a three-judge panel at the South Jakarta District Court ruled that Mushaddeq, 64, was "guilty of violating the criminal code by committing blasphemous acts."
...Rights activists and liberal Muslim critics have defended Mushaddeq, insisting that authorities should protect freedom of religion as guaranteed by the constitution and should not prosecute people for their beliefs.
[Full story>>thejakartapost.com]

4.23.08 French Muslims sue hajj organizers for fraud

PARIS (AFP) April 23 - More than 4,000 French Muslims are taking legal action for fraud, theft and abuse of trust after making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in December, a pilgrims' association said Wednesday. Of the 30,000 French Muslims who made the hajj, 11,500 said they felt cheated by organizers, with flights and hotels changed or cancelled at the last minute, visas turning out to be fake, and high fees paid to middlemen. The SOS Pilgrims group representing more than 4,000 people plans to file a joint lawsuit in Paris on Thursday to seek compensation, its head Zakaria Nana told AFP. [More>>alarabiya.net]

4.23.08 Raja Kamal: God's warriors here to stay

April 23 - God's Warriors are Here … the Future is Bleak. Time is not on the side of peacemakers in the Middle East. Even the relentless optimists are giving up. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become increasingly overshadowed and orchestrated on both sides by extreme and uncompromising religious groups that view their political mandate as holy and sacred. Religion is now front and center. This is hindering any peaceful resolution in the short run and will prove increasingly prohibitive to a political settlement in the long run. More than ever, peace is an unattainable mirage.

During the last 25 years, various competing stakeholders in the region have increasingly embraced religion as the dominant paradigm in determining domestic policies. In many Arab nations, the fundamentalist revival has been significant and disconcerting...Much of the strength of fundamentalism is derived from the fundamentalists' increasing share of the population. This demographic shift is occurring not only in the Muslim world, but also in Israel...The high birthrate of the ultra-Orthodox is also impacting the political decisions that have direct ramifications on the peace process with Palestinians. Most of the 200,000 settlers in the West Bank are extremely religious. They view their presence on the West Bank as a religious responsibility to a much higher authority. Ironically, Israel's religious right and Hamas in Gaza feel that their enhanced numbers are a source of strength. Their numbers are swelling and resources are few. Absent from both groups is the notion of negotiation and compromise.

...Time is running out. Demography is changing in Israel and all over the Middle East. Passionate believers are manifesting themselves as the local representatives of the "Almighty" on Earth. New breeds of God's warriors are marginalizing secular national leaders. History tells us that divine inspiration may not lead us down an auspicious path. The future is bleak.
[Full story>>metimes.com; (Raja Kamal is associate dean at the Harris School for Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago.)]

4.23.08 Suicide bombings, attacks in Afghanistan kill 13, wound 24

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) April 23 - A spate of suicide bombings and other attacks on security forces in southern Afghanistan Wednesday left 13 people dead and 24 others wounded, officials said. In Kandahar province, a suicide bomber blew himself up next to a vehicle carrying intelligence agents in the border town of Spin Boldak, killing three civilians, Kandahar Gov. Assadullah Khalid said.

Two children and three intelligence agents were among the 14 hurt, Khalid said. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the insurgent group was behind the attack and identified the bomber as a man named Gul Mohammad. A 16-year-old boy who was wounded in the explosion said police shot at the bomber before he detonated explosives. [More>>indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org]

4.23.08 US military says kills 15 gunmen in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (Reuters) April 23 - US troops said on Wednesday they killed 15 gunmen overnight in Shi'ite areas of Baghdad where fighting has raged for weeks between militiamen loyal to Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and security forces. Ground forces and aircraft were involved in several attacks, the US military said in a statement. The first began around dusk on Tuesday.

One hospital in Sadr City, the Shi'ite cleric's bastion in eastern Baghdad, said it received five bodies overnight after clashes and air strikes. It said 22 people were wounded. Police said it was one of the heaviest nights of clashes in weeks in the slum, home to 2 million people. Hundreds have died in and around Sadr City since Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, himself a Shi'ite, launched a crackdown on the cleric's Mehdi Army militia last month. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

4.22.08 Clinton: We could 'obliterate' Iran

April 22 - "I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," said Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator Hilary Clinton Tuesday in an interview on ABC News. "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them," she added.

Also discussing the Iranian threat, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday night that the country is "hell-bent" on acquiring nuclear weapons, but he warned in strong terms of the consequences of going to war over Teheran's intentions. "Another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need and, in fact, I believe it would be disastrous on a number of levels," he said in a speech he was delivering Monday evening at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York. A copy of his prepared remarks was provided in advance by the Pentagon.

He said he favors keeping the military option against Iran on the table, "given the destabilizing policies of the regime and the risks inherent in a future Iranian nuclear threat, either directly or through proliferation." Gates also said that if the war in Iraq is not finished on favorable terms, the consequences could be dire...He added, however, that the US experience with Afghanistan — helping the Afghans oust Russian invaders in the 1980s only to abandon the country and see it become a haven for Osama bin Laden's terrorist network — makes it clear to him that a similar approach in Iraq would have similar results. [More>>jpost.com]

4.22.08 Most troubled mortgage borrowers without plan, report finds

April 22 - Seven out of 10 troubled mortgage borrowers remain without a plan to work out their loans despite increased industry efforts to help them, according to a new report from a coalition of state attorneys general and banking regulators. The coalition collected data from 13 of the largest subprime lenders from October through January and found that they are overwhelmed by their workload and unable to keep pace with the growing number of borrowers who are falling behind on payments. [More>>washingtonpost.com]

4.22.08 Somali troops storm Dubai ship, arrest 7 pirates

BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) April 22 - Somali troops stormed a Dubai-flagged ship on Tuesday that had been hijacked off the Horn of Africa nation, releasing its crew and arresting seven pirates, authorities said. They pledged to do the same to rescue a Spanish ship held by pirates since the weekend. "Our troops stormed on to the Al-Khaleej and engaged the pirates. There was brief fighting before they defeated them," Abdirizak Hared, the mayor of Bosasso port, told Reuters. The Al-Khaleej had been carrying food and new cars for sale in Somalia when it was raided by pirates seven km (four miles) off Bosasso, in the Gulf of Aden on the northeast coast, on Monday. [More>>khaleejtimes.com; See related story, aljazera.net, April 22, "Japanese tanker attacked off Yemen."]

4.22.08 Afghanistan's myriad drug smuggling routes

April 22 - Heroin, morphine base, opium, and hashish are carried out of Afghanistan along traditional and newly developed smuggling routes that cross its porous borders. Some is hidden under truckloads of produce, while small quantities are concealed in luggage, on the body, or in the stomach of international air passengers who traveled to the country for the sole purpose of bringing out a few grams, or a few kilos, of heroin. The bulk of the drugs is simply transported out along unchecked smuggling routes by caravans of trucks. Some of the heroin moves through Pakistan to the ocean to be loaded onto boats for delivery to the Gulf states and other regions. [More>>metimes.com]

4.22.08 Al-Qaeda No. 2 says 9/11 theory propagated by Iran

CAIRO (AP) April 22 - Osama bin Laden's chief deputy in an audiotape Tuesday accused Shiite Iran of trying to discredit the Sunni al-Qaeda terror network by spreading the conspiracy theory that Israel was behind the Sept. 11 attacks. The comments reflected al-Qaeda's No. 2 leader Ayman al-Zawahri's increasing criticism of Iran. Al-Zawahri has accused Iran in recent messages of seeking to extend its power in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and through its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon. The authenticity of the two-hour audio recording posted on an Islamic Web site could not be independently confirmed. But the voice sounded like past audiotapes from the terror leader, and the posting where it was found bore the logo of Al-Sahab, al-Qaeda's official media arm.

It was the second of two messages answering questions that were posted to Islamic militant Web sites earlier this year. One of the questioners asked about the theory that has circulated in the Middle East and elsewhere that Israel was behind the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Al-Zawahri accused Hezbollah's Al-Manar television of starting the rumor. "The purpose of this lie is clear - (to suggest) that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America as no else did in history. Iranian media snapped up this lie and repeated it," he said. "Iran's aim here is also clear - to cover up its involvement with America in invading the homes of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. Iran cooperated with the United States in the 2001 US assault on Afghanistan that toppled al-Qaeda's allies, the Taliban. [More>>indianexpress.com: hosted.ap.org]

4.20.08 Kingdom to put pressure on India to ease rice exports

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, April 20 - Minister of Commerce and Industry Abdullah Zainal Alireza told Saudi traders that the government would put pressure on New Delhi to ease rice exports to the Kingdom, press reports said yesterday quoting traders. The move comes after the Indian Parliament asked producers to stop export of all types of rice, including basmati. Saudi traders expect government intervention to force Indian rice exporters to honor the deals they had signed with them.

Analysts said the Indian government has two choices either to allow export of all types of rice or impose a total ban. New Delhi is likely to opt for the second option as the country of 1.1 billion people has witnessed heavy shortage in rice in recent months, its worse in 25 years. Saudi traders have conveyed their fears that India would stop exporting rice to the Kingdom, causing a big crisis in the country. The price of rice in the Kingdom has already increased three times, sending shockwaves among Saudis and expatriates. Many Saudi traders are now meeting local demand taking from their previous stocks. [More>>arabnews.com]

Editorial note: Recent articles on the internet show the major grain exporting nations placing higher export duties on their grains to protect supplies for their own use. The ongoing trend of exorbitant prices for oil by OPEC seems to be being countered by the food-producing giants who are placing higher prices and duties on grain exports: The US, Russia, China, Thailand, France, Canada and, lately, Kazakhstan. The OPEC countries may soon be recognizing that they can't live on oil alone. A background on the major food exporters and the dilemma of restricting exports of grain to accommodate rising OPEC oil prices and a shift away from OPEC, towards biofuels, can be read at:

financialsense.com, January 4, 2008, Joseph Dancy's article, " 'Panic Buying' in the Grain Markets"

Salient points made in Dancy's article are:

"...Export sales of US wheat are 'beginning to look like panic buying' according to some commentators. Overseas buyers are purchasing grain, anticipating the US will run out of wheat...Officials last month forecast US wheat stocks will shrink to their lowest level in 60 years. The US is the world's largest exporter of wheat, and importing countries are bidding heavily for its crops as other exporters cut supplies.
...Russia, the world's fourth-biggest wheat exporter, announced plans last month to cap exports of the grain once exports reach 12.5 million tons.
...China announced late last month that the export of wheat, corn, rice, soybeans, and various processed grains will be subject to export levies in 2008.
...The Canadian Wheat Board, one of the world's largest sellers of wheat and barley, expects wheat prices to remain elevated well into next year.
...While most of the US corn crop — 43 percent — is fed to livestock to produce meat, dairy products and eggs, an increasing percentage is being used to produce ethanol. Twenty-four percent of this year's corn crop will be turned into ethanol, up from just 14 percent two years ago.
...The global commodities boom has elevated rice — a staple food for half of the world — to its highest level in nearly 20 years according to an article last month in the Wall Street Journal. The ‘ubiquitous grain is suffering poor harvests and tight supplies in some of the biggest rice-exporting and rice-consuming nations, and is expected to contribute to a protracted bout of food-price inflation for the foreseeable future in the developing world.’ "

theoildrum.com, March 5, 2008, post by Doug Low, "USA grain exports - Where to, how much?"

Salient points made in this article are:

"This post looks at the role the USA plays in global grain (wheat, corn, sorghum) and soybean (soya bean) trade, since the USA is to a large extent the world's breadbasket and there are concerns over this role in the light of the current corn-to-ethanol expansion. The article begins by looking, very briefly, at how similar concerns were raised about 20 years ago, due to the potential effects of global warming on US grain production.
...In 1990, Martin Parry published the book Climate Change and World Agriculture. Table 1.2 from the book gives an excellent summary of the major role the USA played in cereal exports in 1988:

Table 1.2: Major net cereal exporters, 1988 (million tonnes)
United Kingdom
New Zealand

The data is best described by Parry:

In 1988 three countries accounted for 80 percent of all traded cereals (USA, Canada and France), with over one-half exported by the USA alone (including well over a half of the world's traded maize and three-quarters of its soya beans).

...There is no clear long-term trend in wheat production, globally or in the USA. World wheat stocks peaked in 1999 and have been falling gradually since then, to about half their 1999 value in 2007. US wheat stocks peaked in 1998 at 949.751 M bushels, falling to 271.867 M bushels in 2007. This fall in stocks is the number one driver of increasing wheat prices.

In 2007, the USA produced 9.32% of global wheat supplies, was responsible for 30.69% of global wheat exports, but had only 6.74% of global wheat stocks.

A comparison of the world's top 15 producers and consumers of wheat is available from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service
...For the last 4 years, the two biggest producers of wheat have been China and India, China a small net exporter, India a net importer. One of the biggest importers is Egypt, which imports almost half its wheat requirements.
...US wheat exports are dominated by Sub-Saharan Africa, Japan, Mexico, Egypt, the EU and more recently, Iraq. A full list of US wheat export destination countries, 1989-2008 available here. The list is extensive.
...Corn is the United States' largest crop, in terms of both volume and value... The United States grew 42 percent of the world's corn in during 2005/6, producing 282.3 million metric tons (11.1 billion bushels). Other major corn producing countries in 2006 included:

  1. China -139.4 million metric tons (5.5 billion bushels)
  2. Brazil - 41.7 million metric tons (1.64 billion bushels)
  3. European Union - 48.3 million metric tons (1.9 billion bushels)
  4. Mexico - 19.5 million metric tons (767 million bushels)
  5. Argentina - 15.8 million metric tons (622 million bushels)
  6. India - 15 million metric tons (590.5 million bushels)

The United States is not only the world's top corn producer, but also the top exporter. On average, about 20 percent of US corn is exported. During fiscal year 2006 (October-September), the United States exported 56 million metric tons (2.2 billion bushels) - accounting for 68 percent of world corn exports. During the same period, other major corn exporters included Argentina (10.7 million metric tons, or 421 million bushels) and China (3.7 million metric tons, or 145 million bushels).
...Processed soybeans are the largest source of protein feed and vegetable oil in the world. The United States is the world's leading soybean producer and exporter. Farm value of US soybean production in 2003/04 was $18.0 billion, the second-highest value among US-produced crops, trailing only corn. Soybean and soybean product exports accounted for 43 percent of US soybean production in 2003. Soybeans equal about 90 percent of US total oilseed production, while other oilseeds—such as cottonseed, sunflowerseed, and peanuts—account for the remainder.
...Despite substantial growth in oilseed and oilseed product output in the past 25 years and recent gains in export volume, the US share of global exports has steadily diminished...Why the decline in the US share of global exports? A key development has been the phenomenal growth of foreign soybean output and exports, particularly by Brazil and Argentina. Foreign soybean output now exceeds that of the United States, and Brazil and Argentina currently share approximately half of the soybean export market, up from less than 15 percent before 1980..."

Low's article contains a lot of information as to the US role in global food production and its affects, with links to articles and tables produced by the US government and other organizations. It is well worth reading and bookmarking, particularly for those who are watching the Islamic and Western conflicts, the rise in oil prices with associated rises in grain prices, etc. Where people may not have protested the rise of oil prices it is apparent that the rise of food prices is producing riots, as in Egypt, and may lead to threats to the viability of some governments.
Mel Copeland

4.20.08 Oil-rich nations' fuel needs keep prices high

WASHINGTON, April 20 - Middle Eastern oil-producing nations are behind record high oil prices, but not for the reason you might think. Taken together, oil-rich nations are a bloc of fast-growing economies that are sucking up new energy supplies almost as fast as they're coming to market. Together, the six nations that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council are consuming about as much oil as China, whose thirst for oil often is blamed for tight supplies. Those countries — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — have grown at a 7 percent annual clip since 2002. They boast a per-citizen income — $19,000 — that is three times China's. Demand for oil in the Middle East has risen almost 6 percent annually since 2004.

Here's what that means for Americans: The Bush administration has leaned on the Saudi Arabian monarchy to step up oil production, but much of the output will stay in the Persian Gulf region to power newly dynamic economies. That means global demand for oil will continue to strain supply. Oil prices are likely to stay high. For the last three summers, Americans have paid more at the gas pump in part because of this spike in Middle Eastern demand for oil. Those increasingly affluent nations have seen enormous summer spikes in demand for air-conditioning. A full third of electricity generation in the region comes from oil-fired power plants. Because the countries produce oil, they often sell its by-products at a subsidized discount. Oman sells its oil-fired electricity at a 40 percent discount. [More>>philly.com via saudipost.com ]

4.20.08 Would Obama hold Bush accountable?

April 19 - Under questioning, Barack Obama agreed that, if elected, he would have his Attorney General initiate an investigation into whether George Bush and other senior officials violated criminal statutes and thus deserved to face prosecution, notes Robert Parry. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have shied away from the issue of holding George W. Bush and his top aides accountable for war crimes, torture and other offenses – apparently out of fear of alienating potential Republican crossover votes. But — under questioning on April 14 — Obama agreed that, if elected, he would have his Attorney General initiate an investigation into whether Bush and other senior officials violated criminal statutes and thus deserved to face prosecution.

"What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that's already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued," Obama told journalist Will Bunch. [Philly.com, April 14, 2008] "I can't prejudge that because we don't have access to all the material right now," Obama continued. "I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated." However, the Illinois senator left himself an out, suggesting he would weigh evidence of Bush's guilt against the potential political fallout from prosecuting a former President. [More>>middle-east-online.com]

4.20.08 The old man's visit

April 20 - (Opinion by Mohammad Salah, Dar Al-Hayat) Former US President Jimmy Carter described the siege of Gaza as a "crime and atrocity" and believed that US attempts to isolate Hamas were "counter-productive." These are fine words that satisfy Arabs and Palestinians and certainly anger American officials and all Israelis. On the other hand, official American comments on Carter's visit to the region, his meetings with Hamas leaders in Cairo, and his placing a wreath on the grave of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, have sparked considerable anger and affirmations that the visit is "meaningless" and "won't achieve anything," in addition to a combination of words that the Americans have become accustomed to using in similar situations.

The crime is not the Gaza  siege- it is the acts of Hamas and the Palestinians; the monstrous act is not keeping a people under detention in a besieged strip while depriving its people of fuel, food and water, and perhaps air — it is the missiles from Hamas and its refusal to recognize the state of Israel. Carter has no official capacity; he is merely a former president who sat in the Oval Office and sponsored the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement. Other American presidents succeeded him such as the current George Bush who in a few years will probably arrive in the region as a legal or humanitarian activist, making statements that condemn every Israeli siege, even though he is one of its causes. [More>>daralhayat.com]

4.20.08 US says 20 fighters killed in Baghdad clashes

BAGHDAD (Reuters) April 20 - Twenty militia fighters were killed in clashes with US forces overnight during the "hottest night" in weeks, after cleric Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to declare open war, a US military spokesman said. Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Stover described a series of gunbattles and air strikes in the Sadr City slum, stronghold of the cleric's Mehdi Army fighters, in which a total of 20 fighters died. [More>>khaleejtimes.com; See also turkishpress.com, April 20, "US, Iraq forces build wall through militia bastion." and cnn.com, April 20, "Iraqi lawmaker to US: Back off or 'all options are open.' "]

4.20.08 At Ground Zero, pope prays for grieving, hateful

NEW YORK, April 20 - Pope Benedict XVI prayed at New York's Ground Zero on Sunday, asking God to bring healing and strength to grieving families, and direction for people "consumed with hatred."

"We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here — the heroic first-responders, our fire fighters, police officers, emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel, along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on September 11, 2001," the pontiff said.

4.20.08 Food price rises are 'mass murder' : UN envoy

VIENNA (Reuters) April 20 - Global food price rises are leading to "silent mass murder" and commodities markets have brought "horror" to the world, the United Nations' food envoy told an Austrian newspaper on Sunday. Jean Ziegler, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, told Kurier am Sonntag that growth in biofuels, speculation on commodities markets and European Union export subsidies mean the West is responsible for mass starvation in poorer countries. Ziegler said he was bound to highlight the "madness" of people who think that hunger is down to fate.

"Hunger has not been down to fate for a long time — just as (Karl) Marx thought. It is rather that a murder is behind every victim. This is silent mass murder," he said in an interview. Ziegler blamed globalization for "monopolizing the riches of the earth" and said multinationals were responsible for a type of "structural violence. And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror. We have to put a stop to this," he said. [More>>abcnews.go.com]

4.20.08 Dutch chief's son killed in Afghanistan for 'Fitna'

KABUL (AFP) April 20 - The son of the Netherlands' new military chief was killed by a bomb in southern Afghanistan on Friday, in what Taliban militants said was retaliation to an anti-Islam film by a Dutch MP. Lieutenant Dennis van Uhm, the son of General Peter van Uhm, was one of two Dutch NATO soldiers killed by the roadside attack, a day after a suicide blast took 25 Afghan lives. General van Uhm was named top commander of the Dutch armed forces only on Thursday. "We knew that the son of Dutch chief of staff was in the vehicle," rebel spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP, changing his account from an earlier statement that the militant group did not know who was in the car. [More>>alarabiya.net]

4.19.08 13 soldiers hurt, 2 moderately, as Hamas attacks Kerem Shalom

April 19 - Two IDF soldiers were moderately wounded and 11 others were lightly wounded Saturday morning at the Kerem Shalom crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, when Hamas gunmen initiated a coordinated attack on the Israeli side of the crossing, which included heavy gunfire, mortar shell barrages and two car bombs.

The attack began close to 7am when two vehicles arrived at the crossing under the cover of heavy fog and one of them detonated near army forces, wounding the 13 soldiers. The second booby-trapped car was spotted by troops after the initial explosion and did not go off, the army said.

Immediately afterwards, an armored car — which may have once belonged to Fatah security forces — arrived at the scene, and its occupants began firing at the soldiers, backed by heavy mortar shell barrages. Four gunmen, including the driver of the car bomb, were believed to have been killed in the explosion and the exchanges of fire that ensued. Forces then entered Gaza in order to search for remaining members of the cell. [More>>jpost.com]

4.19.08 Indian soaps stir outrage in Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) April 19 - Indian soap operas with their tales of family drama and trysts among the rich and beautiful have transfixed Afghans, but not everyone is a fan. Conservative Muslim clerics and some politicians are outraged by the soap operas aired hour-after-hour by more than a dozen private television stations that have sprung up since the Taliban were ousted in 2001. Branding the program immoral and against Islamic culture, the critics have launched a campaign to press the private channels to pull the plug on the soaps. Indian soap operas with their tales of family drama and trysts among the rich and beautiful have transfixed Afghans, but not everyone is a fan.

Conservative Muslim clerics and some politicians are outraged by the soap operas aired hour-after-hour by more than a dozen private television stations that have sprung up since the Taliban were ousted in 2001. Branding the program immoral and against Islamic culture, the critics have launched a campaign to press the private channels to pull the plug on the soaps...Conservatives object to the Indian soaps as they show men and women together, "immodestly" dressed women and the worship of Hindu idols. The channels have made concessions, cutting scenes of Hindu worship and blurring areas of bare flesh. But that hasn't appeased the critics.
[Full story>>alarabiya.net]

Editorial note:
San Francisco has fairly large Afghani and Indian populations. It is odd that these populations can worship side-by-side in San Francisco but in Afghanistan believe that the rule of law allows murdering those who don't worship correctly, i.e., murdering for Allah. This speaks to the hope of Democracy where Islam is against it.

Mel Copeland

4.19.08 Laser used to make female flies act like males

April 19 - Scientists have used a laser to control a female fly's mind and make it sing "love songs" which are only ever sung by males. The ground-breaking research, which suggests the difference between the sexes may be much subtler than thought, was conducted using radical new technology which allows scientists to turn individual brain cells on and off by shining a light on them.

The research is predominantly the work of Gero Miesenböck, an Austrian scientist formerly of Yale University who has recently moved to Oxford. Nicknamed "Lord of the Flies" by contemporaries, Professor Miesenböck specializes in controlling fly movements by genetically modifying certain brain cells to make them sensitive to light. This is the first time an animal's sexual behavior has been modified by such "mind control" techniques. [More>>independent.co.uk]

4.18.08 'Iran smuggling arms into Gaza by sea'

April 18 - Iran has stepped up its efforts to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip by using floatable devices that it drops near the waters off the Gaza coast to be picked up by Palestinian fisherman, senior defense officials have told The Jerusalem Post. According to defense officials, Iran is now sending rockets and other advanced weaponry to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip by sea as well as via tunnels dug under the Philadelphi Corridor and connecting the Sinai peninsula with Rafah. Officials said that the Navy is doing a fairly effective job in curbing the smuggling by sea, but that there are some shipments Israeli forces did not succeed in intercepting.

"They throw the weapons overboard in waterproof, sealed tubes which then float into the Gaza waters and are picked up by fishermen," one official said. "Sometimes Navy boats intercept them and sometimes they get through." In recent months, the IDF has noticed an increase in Iranian-made weaponry in the Gaza Strip, including rockets and mortars. Terror groups in Gaza recently were equipped by Teheran with two different types of mortar shells made in Iran - one 120 mm with a range of 10 kilometers like a Kassam rocket and another with a range of six kilometers. Defense officials told the Post that in recent weeks thousands of mortars have been smuggled into Gaza. [More>>jpost.com]

4.18.08 Iran should defend Islamic world: top cleric

TEHRAN (AFP) April 18 - A high-ranking Iranian cleric on Friday said the country should grow into a military super power to defend all Muslims, following an army parade at a time of mounting tension with the West. "In a not so distant future, we should reach a point to have the most powerful military equipment in the world so that no one even think about invading our borders." Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in his Friday prayer sermon carried live on state radio. "And not only that of the Islamic republic, but also the borders of Islam ... We must defend oppressed Muslims everywhere so that the enemies do not dare to attack Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq." [More>>metimes.com]

4.18.08 Make Iraq 'fortress of Islam' : Zawahiri

WASHINGTON (AFP) April 18 - In an audio file posted on jihadist Internet forums marking the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion, al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri said that building Iraq as a "fortress of Islam" is the "most important duty" for Muslims. "We will only get our rights back with our own hands and not through beggary or fraudulent elections," he said, according to a summary by the SITE monitoring service.

In the nearly 16 minute audio message released Thursday, Zawahiri, known as Al-Qaeda's ideological thinker, called on Muslims to fight for creating a greater Muslim state, according to SITE. It was Zawahiri's second audio file released this month. In the first, posted April 2, he launched a blistering attack on the United Nations. [More>>alarabiya.net]

4.18.08 Teenager quizzed after Bristol terror arrest

April 18 - A British teenager believed to be a Muslim convert was being questioned today over a suspected terrorist bomb plot. The 19-year-old was being probed about the "significant" amount of alleged bombmaking materials found in his Bristol home. Around 30 people were evacuated from houses in Westbury-on-Trym early this morning when bomb squad officers used a robot to carry out a controlled explosion at the suspect's property in a quiet suburban cul-de-sac. Avon and Somerset Police acted on intelligence received "less than 24 hours" before the explosion, a spokesman said. [More>>timesonline.co.uk]

4.18.08 Since 2001, a dramatic increase in suicide bombings

April 18 - Suicide bombers conducted 658 attacks around the world last year, including 542 in US-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, according to data compiled by US government experts. The large number of attacks — more than double the number in any of the past 25 years — reflects a trend that has surprised and worried US intelligence and military analysts.

More than four-fifths of the suicide bombings over that period have occurred in the past seven years, the data show. The bombings have spread to dozens of countries on five continents, killed more than 21,350 people and injured about 50,000 since 1983, when a landmark attack blew up the US Embassy in Beirut. [More>>washingtonpost.com ; See related historical perspective, metimes.com, April 18, "Beirut, 25 years ago - Little did we know."]

4.18.08 Citigroup records a loss and plans 9,000 layoffs

April 18 - Citigroup, caught in the midst of the housing slowdown and tight credit market, reported a $5.1 billion loss on Friday and announced that it would cut 9,000 more jobs in the next 12 months. The layoffs are in addition to the 4,200 cuts announced in January, the bank said during its conference call. The bank's first-quarter results reflected more than $16.9 billion in write-offs and additional loan loss reserves as Vikram S. Pandit moved to reshape the company and clean up the mortgage mess in his first three months as chief executive. [More>>nytimes.com]

4.18.08 Solved: mystery of the disappearing lake

April 18 - The sudden and dramatic disappearance of a large lake which had formed on the surface of a melting ice sheet in Greenland has been documented for the first time by scientists who estimated that its outflow was greater than that of Niagara Falls. Rising temperatures in the Arctic are causing more meltwater lakes to form on top of the Greenland ice sheet and satellite pictures have shown that they can disappear almost overnight for no apparent reason.

Thousands of the "supra-glacial" lakes form each summer – and last year was one of the warmest on record in the region – but scientists have little understanding of how the lakes can suddenly disappear or how far down the water flows into the 3,200ft (975m) deep ice sheet. Now scientists have seen how they fall through the ice as a result of giant cracks that suddenly open up under the lake bottom, causing millions of tons of water to flow down to the base of the thick ice sheet where it grinds against the bedrock. [More>>independent.co.uk]

4.18.08 Three civilians killed in Afghan bomb blast

KABUL, April 18 - Three Afghan civilians died in a roadside bomb blast near the capital Kabul on Friday, police said, a day after a suicide bomber killed two dozen people in the southwest of the country. The men were killed and another wounded when their vehicle hit a bomb laid on a road frequently used by Afghan and international forces in Logar province just south of Kabul. The attack follows a suicide bomb blast in the southwest province of Nimroz on Thursday evening that killed two dozen people including two senior police officials. A spokesman for the Taliban said the group could not immediately claim responsibility for the Nimroz attack. [>thenews.com.pk]

4.17.08 Suicide bomber kills 50 at funeral

BAGHDAD (Reuters) April 17 - A suicide bomber struck a funeral in northern Iraq on Thursday, killing 50 mourners and wounding 55 in an attack that suggests militants have launched a new campaign of violence in the north. Survivors said the funeral had been for two members of a US-backed neighbourhood security unit who were killed on Wednesday. Blame is likely to fall on the Sunni Islamist al-Qaeda, which has vowed to target the neighbourhood units because they work with US forces.

The attack was one of the deadliest in Iraq for months and underscored the ability of militants to wreak havoc despite overall falls in violence that have prompted the United States to start withdrawing troops from Iraq. Police said the bomber detonated a suicide vest after entering the funeral tent in a Sunni Arab village near the town of Adhaim in Diyala province. They put the final death toll at 50. [More>>thestar.com]

4.17.08 US-led, Afghan forces kill 13 Taliban

GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) April 17 - Afghan and US-led forces killed 13 Taliban insurgents on Thursday in two separate clashes southwest of the capital, Kabul, officials said. After the traditional winter lull, violence has increased in recent weeks in Afghanistan. Ten of the insurgents died after a botched ambush against a joint Afghan and US-led convoy on a highway in Ghazni province, a provincial official said.

In another clash in the same province, the Afghan National Army killed three more Taliban guerrillas, the defence ministry said in a statement. There were no casualties among Afghan and foreign forces in either encounter, Afghan officials said. The Taliban could not be contacted immediately for comment. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

4.17.08 Furor over Islam taught at US public school

CHICAGO (AFP) April 17 - Police have stepped up patrols of an elementary school in Minnesota after it received threats in the wake of accusations that it was using public funds to teach Islam. The threats came after a local columnist wrote that the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, a suburban Minneapolis charter school run by an Islamic charity, appeared to be violating a ban on teaching religion in public schools.

Charter schools are public schools run by private organizations with public funds. While many have been started by religious groups, they are bound to US rules that public schools must accommodate the religious needs of their students but are not allowed to promote religious views or lead prayer services. The brewing controversy came to head in recent days when a substitute teacher said she saw students "corralled" into involuntary prayer services, and a local television station criticized the school for failing to fly a US flag. [More>>turkishpress.com; See related story, alarabiya.net, April 17, "Singapore charges two for anti-Islam pamphlet."]

4.17.08 Reid heckler Abu Izzadeen guilty of terror offences

April 17 - An outspoken Islamist extremist who shouted down John Reid, the former Home Secretary, at a public meeting has been convicted of terrorist fundraising and inciting terrorism overseas. Abu Izzadeen, a convert to Islam, was found guilty by a jury at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court after a trial lasting more than three months. Five other men who stood trial alongside him were also convicted of terror offences.

Abu Izzadeen was not tried over his disruption of Mr. Reid's meeting, but because of the inflammatory content of a speech he made at Regent's Park Mosque in 2004. Video of the speech was found by police in a raid on the home of the exiled cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed. [More>>timesonline.co.uk; See more details, independent.co.uk, April 17, "Izzadeen guilty of terror charges" : ...Prosecuting Jonathan Laidlaw said: "What occurred was that these eight men delivered or contributed to a series of speeches and appeals for money, and in the case of five of the defendants, for volunteers to join in the fight against coalition troops. "The speeches became progressively more emotive and inflammatory and insulting in their tone."

The guilty men were all members of a controversial group called, Al-Muhajiroun. Run by an extremist preacher, Omar Bakri, who has since left the country, the group believed in the creation of a Muslim state and the imposition of shariah law. They also support armed struggle to achieve their ends. The group has now been disbanded and a number of the defendants, including Izzadeen, formed off-shoot organizations in its place which were subsequently banned by the government.

4.17.08 New York Times Company posts loss

April 17 - The New York Times Company, the parent of The New York Times, posted a $335,000 loss in the first quarter — one of the worst periods the company and the newspaper industry have seen — falling far short of both analysts’ expectations and its $23.9 million profit in the quarter a year earlier. The company did break even on a per-share basis, compared with the average analyst forecast of earnings of 14 cents, down from 17 cents in the first quarter of 2007. The company's main source of revenue, newspaper advertising in print and online, fell 10.6 percent, the sharpest drop in memory, as the industry suffers the twin blows of an economic downturn and the continuing long-term shift of readers and advertisers to the Internet. [More>>nytimes.com]

4.16.08 'Olmert offers Abbas 64% of West Bank

April 16 - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has offered the Palestinians 64 percent of the West Bank as part of a future peace agreement, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat reported Wednesday. According to the report, Olmert told PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the Palestinians could "forget about territory west of the security fence."

The prime minister also presented Abbas with several offers regarding Jerusalem. One of these would have Israel maintaining control over east Jerusalem and holy sites, but allowing Palestinians to enter those sites. On Tuesday Shas upped its threat to leave Olmert's government over the Jerusalem issue, with the party's no. 2 — Religious Services Minister Yitzhak Cohen — saying that even "creating an atmosphere" that could lead to Jerusalem's division was a red line for the party. [More>>jpost.com]

4.16.08 France's Brigette Bardot on trial for Muslim slur

PARIS, April 16 - A Paris prosecutor on Tuesday called for former French actress Brigitte Bardot to pay a 15,000-euro (23,000-dollar) fine and be given a suspended two-month prison sentence, for inciting hatred against Muslims. It was the fifth time for the former film star to go on trial for insulting Muslims, facing the charge of "inciting racial hatred" over her controversial remarks about Islam and its followers. Prosecutors charged the 73-year-old former sex symbol for saying the Muslim community was "destroying our country and imposing its acts." ...Bardot outraged French anti-racist groups by saying "I've had enough. These people have been dragging us by our noses, destroying us and our country by imposing their ways." [Full story>>alarabiya.net]

4.16.08 Yemen annuls 8-year-old girl's forced marriage

SANNA, April 16 - A Yemeni court on Tuesday granted a divorce to an eight-year-old girl on the grounds that she had not yet reached puberty after her unemployed father forced her into an arranged marriage this year. The girl's lawyer and human rights activist Shatha Nasser said the minor had filed a suit in April asking for a divorce and told the court that her husband had been physically abusing her and forcing her to have "sex with him after hitting her."

"I am happy that I am divorced now. I will be able to go back to school," the young Nojud Mohammed Ali said, after a public hearing in Sanaa's court of first instance. Her former husband, 28-year-old Faez Ali Thameur, said he married the child "with her consent and that of her parents" but that he did not object to her divorce petition.

4.16.08 Bomb explodes at checkpoint in Yemen, killing 3 soldiers

SANA, April 16 - A Yemeni security official said a bombing at a military checkpoint in central Yemen has killed three soldiers and injured four. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media, says the bomb exploded when the soldier's car arrived early Wednesday at the checkpoint in Marib province, 176 kilometers (109 miles) east of the capital San'a. He said preliminary police reports say the bomb was detonated by a remote control. The checkpoint, meant to guard foreign tourists, is close to the scene of a July suicide attack on a Spanish tour group's convoy at an ancient temple. [>thenews.com.pk]

4.16.08 Afghan refugees stranded at border

April 16 - Hundreds of Afghans returning home after the closure of a refugee camp in northwest Pakistan have been left stranded because of a roadblock, the United Nations refugee agency has said. About 70,000 Afghans are being forced to either return to Afghanistan or relocate elsewhere in Pakistan after the closure of the Jalozai refugee camp. Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera's correspondent reporting from the Peshawar-Torkham highway, said: "For the last three days the main crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been closed because of a dispute between tribal elders and a group known as Lashkar-e-Islam." Laskhar-e-Islam, which is sympathetic to the Taliban, stopped trucks along the highway, saying that drivers must stop trafficking alcohol and drugs across the border. [More>>aljazeera.net]

4.16.08 Global pirate attacks climb as Nigeria overtakes Indonesia as top hotspot

KUALA LUMPUR (AP) April 16 - Pirate attacks rose worldwide in the first quarter of the year, with Nigeria overtaking Indonesia as the country worst plagued by sea bandits, a global maritime watchdog said Wednesday. Seafarers suffered 49 attacks between January and March around the world, up 20 percent from the 41 recorded in the same period last year, the International Maritime Bureau said in a report by its piracy reporting center in Malaysia.

Nigeria ranked as the No. 1 hotspot amid a lack of effective law enforcement, with its 10 reported attacks - mostly off its main city of Lagos - accounting for one-fifth of the global total, the London-based bureau said. Myriad armed groups roam the Niger Delta, where violence has slashed oil production and helped propel oil prices to new highs. Nigeria produces about 2.1 million barrels of oil a day, the largest output in Africa. "Violence in the waters off Nigeria is spiraling out of control," the report said, adding that the true number of incidents could be even higher because many attacks in the oil sector are believed to go unreported. [More>>thejakartapost.com]

4.16.08 Another mistrial in terrorism case

MIAMI (AP) April 16 - A federal judge declared another mistrial Wednesday against six men accused of plotting to spark an anti-government war by toppling Chicago's Sears Tower and bombing FBI offices. US District Judge Joan Lenard ordered a mistrial when jurors reported they were deadlocked after 13 days of deliberation in the case of the so-called "Liberty City Seven." The first trial ended in a mistrial in December because of a hung jury for the same six defendants and the acquittal of a seventh. Lenard set an April 23 hearing on whether a third trial would occur. US Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said in a statement a decision on whether to try the men a third time would be announced at that hearing. [More>>nytimes.com]

4.16.08 Bird flu haunts S. Korean poultry farms

April 16 - The growing number of bird flu cases is adding to the burden on poultry farms, which have been suffering from the rising prices of grains and oil, farmers here report. The government yesterday confirmed the 12th case of the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu in Pyeongtaek, 60 kilometers south of Seoul. This was the second time that the virus has been found there, which stokes fear that the virus is spreading to other parts of the country. The prices of poultry products have been falling as growing concerns over human infections from the virus are driving down the sales of chickens, ducks and eggs. Rising grain and oil prices are also pushing up feed costs, along with heating oil and transportation expenses. [More>>koreaherald.co.kr]

4.16.08 Ahmadinejad casts doubt on 'suspect' Sept. 11

TEHRAN (AFP) April 16 - Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday reaffirmed his doubts about the accepted version of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, describing the strikes as a "suspect event." "Four or five years ago a suspect event took place in New York,"  Ahmadinejad said in a speech to a public rally in the holy city of Qom broadcast live on state television. "A building collapsed and they said that 3,000 people had been killed, whose names were never published."

"Under this pretext they (the United States) attacked Afghanistan and Iraq and since then a million people have been killed," he said. This was the third time in just over a week that Ahmadinejad has publicly raised doubts about the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington carried out by al-Qaeda militants which killed nearly 3,000 people. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]


09.11.05 When a nation lacks a competent leader it invites disaster – the legacy of Bush
"Using force the George W. Bush way – Bush's crusade"
11.25.04 Why the Crusade & Jihad?


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