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07.27.12   Syrian helicopters fire on Aleppo as army prepares for possible assault
BEIRUT, Lebanon, July 27 -  Syrian Army helicopters fired on neighborhoods in Aleppo on Friday morning, activists said, as the army readied assault troops and armored columns for a possible invasion of the city, Syria’s densely populated commercial capital, where insurgents have embedded themselves over the past week in preparation for a battle. As Aleppo girded for fighting, the top United Nations human rights official expressed alarm over the possibility of heavy bloodshed in the city. The official, Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, who has been highly critical of the Syrian government, said she was also deeply concerned over reports of heavy bombardments, atrocities and extrajudicial killings committed during fighting in Damascus and other urban combat zones. "All this, taken with the reported buildup of forces in and around Aleppo, bodes ill for the people of that city," she said. In a further sign of unraveling in Syria, the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the few aid agencies working in Syria, said it was temporarily evacuating some staff from Damascus to Beirut because of the rising security dangers. Philip Stoll, a Red Cross spokesman in Geneva, also said several schools in Aleppo had been opened to shelter residents fleeing their homes in search of safety.  [More>>nytimes.com]

07.27.12   Syrian army supply crisis has regime on brink  of collapse, say defectors
July 27 - General who swapped sides says regime can last 'two months at most' as troop morale sinks and petrol trucks are ambushed. Bashar al-Assad's military machine is on the brink of logistical meltdown and collapse, because it lacks petrol and food, and is having problems resupplying its soldiers, according to a Syrian general who has defected to the opposition. Much has been made of the Syrian military's supposed superiority over the opposition, but General Mohammad Al-Zobi told the Guardian: "The benzine is nearly finished. They are running out of rockets. There is scarcely any bread or water for the soldiers." Zobi defected two months ago alongside his air force colleague General Saed Shawamra. They slipped out from Tiftanaz airbase in the middle of the night. From the city of Idlib they crept across the border to Turkey. On Wednesday they crossed back into Syria, their mission now to finish off the revolution against Assad. The men, from Dera'a province, are among around 100 senior military commanders who have joined Syria's rebels, appalled
they say by Assad's brutal war against his own population. According to Zobi, the embattled Syrian regime can last "one or two months at most." "After that Assad will leave Syria. He'll go to Russia or maybe Iran," Zobi predicted, sitting in a village in rustic northern Syria, close to the Turkish border.   [More>>guardian.co.uk]

07.27.12   150 regime troops captured by Free Syrian Army in Aleppo and Idlib
July 27 -
Syrian rebels captured 150 troops in Aleppo and Idlib on Friday, Syrian activists said. Syrian rebels captured 50 troops, including 14 officers, in the town of Maaret al-Numan in the northwestern province of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. "After clashes that lasted 12 hours, rebels destroyed a military security post and captured 50 regime troops, including 14 officers," Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the Britain-based Observatory, told AFP by phone. Meanwhile, Syrian rebels said they have captured 100 regime soldiers and militia members during fighting in the city of Aleppo in the north of the country, according to a video distributed by Syrian activists on Friday. The video, which shows dozens of men in civilian clothing seated in a courtyard, was filmed by a man who describes himself as a member of the rebel Free Syrian Army.   [More>>alarabiya.net]

07.27.12   Pakistani makes car that runs on water
July 27 - A Pakistani engineer has built a car that runs on water, a feat that left onlookers astounded. Engineer Waqar Ahmad drove his car using water as fuel Thursday during a demonstration for parliamentarians, scientists and students, Dawn reported from this Pakistan capital.  He said cars could be driven by a system fueled by water instead of petrol or CNG. The onlookers were taken aback when they saw it and a cabinet sub-committee lauded the "Water Fuel Kit Project." Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khurshid Ahmad Shah, who heads the panel, said the engineer would have their full support. The media report explained that the water fueling system is a technology in which ‘hydrogen bonding’ with distilled water produces hydrogen gas to run the car. Ahmad had earlier told Shah about the unique project and it was taken to the federal cabinet which asked its sub-committee to discuss it. During the demonstration, Shah himself drove the car. The minister said that Ahmad would be given complete security and the formula would be kept secure. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh value the project, he said. "We own this project and are committed to successfully completing it," he was quoted as saying.   [>khaleejtimes.com]

07.27.12   Judo-Saudi woman to compete without Islamic headscarf
LONDON (Reuters) July 27 - Saudi Arabia’s female judo competitor will fight at the London Olympics "without a hijab," or Islamic headscarf, the sport’s chief said on Thursday.  Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani, one of the first two female athletes sent to the Olympics by the conservative Muslim kingdom, is due to compete in the women’s heavyweight tournament next Friday. "She will fight according to the principle and spirit of judo, so without a hijab," International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer said.  The decision is likely to cause controversy in Saudi Arabia, where female participation in sports has long been a controversial issue. Powerful clerics denounce women for exercising, saying it goes against their natural role. A Saudi official had told Reuters earlier this month they expected that the women would have to obey the dress code of Islamic law. He did not elaborate, but other conservative Muslim countries have interpreted this to mean a headscarf, long sleeves and long pants. Shaherkani, who will compete in the 78-kg category in judo, and teenage 800 meter runner Sarah Attar were the first Saudi women allowed to take part in the Olympics after talks between the International Olympic Committee and the country. The decision to allow female Saudi athletes to compete at London was praised by IOC President Jacques Rogge at the time.   [More>>alarabiya.net]

07.27.12   Mob 'attacks' police during Islamic veil ID check
Juy 27 -
In the restive port city of Marseille, police fear that the release of four people arrested for allegedly attacking officers during an ID check on a woman wearing an Islamic veil will undermine their fight against violent crime in the city.  Marseille police say three of its officers were injured in the early hours of July 25 when a mob of some 50 people tried to prevent them from checking the identity of a woman who was wearing a full Islamic veil. Under a controversial law passed in 2010, wearing a full veil or covering one’s face in a public place is illegal in France and offenders must submit to ID checks. According to the police, the woman was stopped just after midnight near a city mosque and refused to cooperate with the officers. A man accompanying her as well as a large group of bystanders came to her aid and three officers were "lightly injured" in a scuffle.  After police reinforcements arrived, four people, including the 18-year-old woman named only as "Louise-Marie," were arrested for allegedly assaulting the officers but were promptly released with a warning on the orders of the city prosecutor. According to an AFP source, the decision was "a gesture of appeasement during the holy [Islamic] month of Ramadan."   [More>>france24.com]

07.27.12   Afghanistan insurgent attacks up 11 percent: NATO
KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) July 27 - Insurgent attacks in Afghanistan rose by 11 percent in the past three months over the same period last year, according to the latest figures released by NATO’s US-led coalition.  The month of June alone accounted for the highest number of attacks in nearly two years, with more than 3,000 assaults, including firefights and the explosion of homemade bombs, the International Security Assistance Force said. The upturn comes as the US-led coalition starts to withdraw its 130,000 troops after more than 10 years of war and ahead of a 2014 deadline for an end to combat operations. ISAF says one reason for the increase was an earlier start to the summer fighting season because of an early end to the harvest of opium poppies
a major source of income for Taliban Islamist insurgents.  [More>>alarabiya.net]

07.23.12   At least 23 'summarily executed' in Syria
July 23 -
At least 23 people have been "summarily executed" by regime forces in two Damascus neighborhoods, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog says. "Sixteen people, most of them younger than 30, were summarily executed by shooting on Sunday in Mazzeh, "Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said, referring to an upscale district in western Damascus. The bodies of some of those killed showed signs of torture. Seven others were executed in a similar fashion in Barzeh in the city's northeast, he said. It was unclear whether the executions were of civilians or rebel fighters. The heads of two of the victims had been crushed by vehicles, and one was shot through the eye, the Britain-based Abdel Rahman told AFP on Monday.

Three of the dead were found with their hands tied, and the bodies of some had been pierced by bayonets, he added. Overnight, Syrian state television reported an assault on Mazzeh, calling the operation "targeted and quick." Fifteen unidentified bodies were also found on Monday in Maadamiyat al-Sham village near Damascus, the Observatory said. Some of them had their hands tied, while others showed signs of having been stabbed. For its part, human rights watchdog Amnesty International urged regime and rebel forces to "respect the rules of international humanitarian law, which aim at sparing civilians and others not directly participating in the fighting and minimizing human suffering". "Superiors and commanders have a duty to prevent and, where necessary, to suppress war crimes by those under their command or who they otherwise control; and they may be held criminally responsible if they fail to do so."

07.23.12   Agony of Syrian mothers ordered to 'choose which of their children should be executed by Assad's troops'

July 23 - Syrian troops asked mothers to nominate which of their children should be executed during an attack on a village in the south of the country, it was claimed today. President Bashar Assad's paramilitary force, the shabiba, are said to have committed multiple atrocities over the weekend in Ataman near the southern city of Deraa. Regime forces shelled the village before 250 troops arrived on five buses and rounded up locals who had been huddled in cellars, according to villagers who managed to escape over the border to Jordan.

...The soldiers then announced over a loudspeaker that they would start shooting children dead if local rebel fighters did not surrender. Law student Shadi al-Hari, 21, told the Times how he was standing with his aunt and her two children Omar, 16, and Shadi, five. A soldier took the two boys and asked their mother to choose which one should die. When she could not answer their question, they executed her teenage son in front of her. Mr. al-Hari said: "They shot him in the head. She collapsed in the street."

...The shocking account came as the European Union today agreed new sanctions to target senior members of the Syrian regime, in the latest effort to step up pressure on Assad to stop killing his own people. The measures, agreed at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels, follow a British-backed effort to secure a resolution threatening international sanctions on Syria which was thwarted by the vetoes of Russia and China at the UN Security Council last week. But the Damascus government warned that it would use chemical and biological weapons if attacked by foreign forces, in what amounted to its first admission that it possesses weapons of mass destruction. However, foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi insisted unconventional weapons would not be used on rebels who have conducted a 16-month uprising against Assad's rule.   [More>>dailymail.co.uk]

07.23.12   Drug-resistant HIV 'on increase' in sub-Saharan Africa
July 23 - Drug-resistant HIV has been increasing in parts of sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade, according to experts writing in the Lancet.  Studies on 26,000 untreated HIV-positive people in developing countries were reviewed by the team. They said resistance could build up if people fail to stick to drug regimes, and because monitoring could be poor. A UK HIV organization said resistance was a serious problem in Africa where alternative treatments were lacking. The researchers, from the World Health Organization (WHO) and University College London (UCL) found the most rapid increase in drug resistance occurred in East Africa, at 29% per year. In Southern Africa, it was 14% per year. There was no change in resistance over time in Latin America and in West and Central Africa. [More>>bbc.co.uk]

07.23.12   World's richest hide at least $21 trillion in tax havens
(AFP) July 23 - The world's wealthiest people have at least $21 trillion in assets hidden in offshore tax havens, a report from the Tax Justice Network said on Sunday, noting that another $32 trillion may be stashed in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland.  The world's wealthiest individuals have stashed $21-trillion worth of assets in offshore tax havens, equivalent to the combined GDPs of the United States and Japan, a tax-transparency report said on Sunday. The report commissioned by campaign group Tax Justice Network drew data from a wide range of sources including the Bank of International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund. Report author James Henry, former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey, said that the headline figure was conservative; adding that up to $32 trillion may have found its way into havens such as the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. According to Henry, these assets are "protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy."  The report found that the top 10 private banks managed more than $6 trillion in 2010, up from $2.3 trillion five years earlier. Tax expert and British government adviser John Whiting said he was doubtful of the figure. "There clearly are some significant amounts hidden away, but if it really is that size what is being done with it all?" he asked. The Tax Justice Network campaigns for tax transparency and against tax havens.  [>france24.com]

07.23.12   Foreign contractors killed in Afghan shootout
July 23 - Three foreign contractors have been killed when an Afghan dressed in police uniform opened fire at a police training camp in the western province of Herat, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press desk has said. "An individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Force contracted civilian employees in western Afghanistan today, killing three," the ISAF said in a statement on Saturday. The individual who fired on the contracted civilian employees was killed following the engagement, ISAF said. Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith, reporting from Kabul, said, "A police source had revealed that fighting had broken out on the outskirts of Herat city, near the airport and not far from the Italian base."  "We understand that there have been NATO casualties — three foreign casualties — foreigners training police seconded by their respective countries. Two NATO helicopters arrived on the scene to quell what seems to have been some fighting that had broken out after the end of the fasting," our correspondent said. The incident is currently under investigation.  [>aljazeera.com]

07.23.12   A day after Kabul's warning to Pakistan, more cross-border shelling reported
KABUL, Afghanistan, July 23 - Scores of fresh artillery rounds fired from Pakistan hit parts of eastern Afghanistan on Sunday night and Monday, a local official said, a day after Kabul warned Islamabad that any further cross-border shelling could significantly damage ties between the two historically uneasy neighbors. There were no casualties from the overnight barrage that mostly hit the Dangam district of eastern Kunar province. Earlier in the weekend, four civilians were killed in shelling there, said Wasifullah Wasifi, a spokesman for Kunar's governor.  In western Afghanistan, a gunman in an Afghan security forces uniform on Sunday shot and killed three civilian contractors working with the U.S.-led NATO coalition, the Associated Press reported.  Five coalition troops were killed by roadside bombs during the weekend in other parts of the country. Kunar Police Chief Ewaz Mohammad Naziri said 1,960 shells, mostly artillery rounds, have hit various districts of the province in recent months. Pakistan denies that accusation. It comes days after Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf met with Afghan President  Hamid  Karzai  in Kabul to discuss joint efforts for persuading Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan to join peace talks and end the cross-border shelling.

07.23.12   Spate of attacks kills 107 across Iraq
BAGHDAD (Reuters) July 23 - At least 107 people were killed in bomb and gun attacks in Iraq on Monday, a day after 20 died in explosions, in a coordinated surge of violence against mostly Shi'ite Muslim targets.  The bloodshed, which coincided with an intensifying of the conflict in neighboring Syria, pointed up the deficiencies of the Iraqi security forces, which failed to prevent insurgents from striking in multiple locations across the country.  As well as the scores of deaths, at least 268 people were wounded by bombings and shootings in Shi'ite areas of Baghdad, the Shi'ite town of Taji to the north, the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul and many other places, hospital and police sources said, making it one of Iraq's bloodiest days in weeks.  No group has claimed responsibility for the wave of assaults but a senior Iraqi security official blamed the local wing of al-Qaeda, made up of Sunni Muslim militants bitterly hostile to the Shi'ite-led government, which is friendly with Iran.  "Recent attacks are a clear message that al-Qaeda in Iraq is determined to spark a bloody sectarian war," the official said, asking not to be named.   [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

07.23.12   Nineteen dead, 50,000 flee as violence grips Assam
(Reuters) July 23 - Thousands of people have fled their homes in Assam after fighting between Bodos and Muslim settlers killed at least 19 people, wounded many more, and left villages in flames, police said on Monday.  Police were forced to fire warning shots to disperse armed groups that were moving between jungle hamlets on Monday, setting fire to bamboo houses, police and aid workers in the area told Reuters. Soldiers and federal paramilitary forces were patrolling remote districts. "We saw miscreants burning down village after village on Monday," said a senior police officer who asked not to be identified. "It's total madness going on here. People have lost their senses."  SN Singh, Assam's inspector general of police, told Reuters he had ordered his men to shoot at gangs on the streets on sight after a dawn-to-dusk curfew was imposed to stop the violence spreading.  Ringed by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan, the northeast is home to more than 200 ethnic and tribal groups and has been racked by separatist revolts since Independence from Britain in 1947.  In recent years, Hindu and Christian tribes have begun to give vent to strong anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment against Bangladeshi settlers. 

07.23.12   Ranks of unidentified dead swell in Mexico
MEXICO CITY (AP) July  23 -
After police found 49 dismembered bodies strewn on a Mexican highway leading to the Texas border, it took the army just a week to parade an alleged drug trafficker before journalists as the man who purportedly oversaw the body dump. Yet two months after the grisly discovery in Nuevo Leon state, authorities have not identified a single victim... The 49 bodies now appear headed for an increasingly common fate in this drug war-wracked country: They could join the growing ranks of the unidentified dead. That group has become legion as nearly 16,000 bodies remain unidentified, says the National Human Rights Commission, an independent government agency. In total, 24,000 people have been reported missing. Many say the country's police are simply overwhelmed by the number of drug war casualties as they struggle with poor forensic capabilities and the reluctance of some witnesses and victims' relatives to help. That apparent futility is drawing increasing criticism from Mexicans weary of the government-led offensive against drug cartels, who are also fighting among themselves. The violence in total has claimed at least 47,000 victims since President Felipe Calderon launched his anti-cartel campaign in late 2006.   [More>>cbsnews.com]
07.18.12   Bomb kills Syria defense minister, Assad brother-in-law
DAMASCUS, Syria, July 18 -
A suicide attack today which struck at the heart of Syria's security apparatus killed defense minister General Daoud Rajha and President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, state media said. The bombing, which for the first time in a 16-month anti-regime uprising managed to strike at Assad's inner core, adds urgency to a UN Security Council debate on Syrian sanctions later today, when a showdown between Western powers and Russia and China is expected. Officials said the bomber struck as ministers and security officials were meeting at the heavily guarded National Security headquarters in Damascus. Interior minister Mohammed al-Shaar and General Hisham Ikhtiyar, head of National Security, were among those listed as wounded in the bombing, which came on the fourth day of an offensive launched by rebels to capture Damascus.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called Shawkat's death "a severe blow to the Syrian regime since he played the main role in operations by regular forces to crush the revolution." Syria's army said after the bombing it would "continue fighting terrorism." "The terrorist act increases the armed forces' determination to clean the country of terrorist groups," it said in a statement. Rajha, a Christian, was defense minister, deputy army chief and deputy head of the Council of Ministers. Assad himself is overall commander of the military. Shawkat was deputy defense minister and a former military intelligence chief. The National Security branch
a linchpin of Syria's security apparatus is headed by General Hisham Ikhtiyar, who was also wounded in today's blast. The brazen attack on regime insiders came as battles raged across Damascus and after the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – comprising defected soldiers and civilians who have taken up arms against Assad's forces -- warned the government to "expect surprises."  [>indianexpress.com; See other details,

aljazeera.com, July 18, "Top defense officials killed in Syria bombing"
: ....
The explosion came as clashes between the Syrian military and the Free Syrian Army in Damascus entered a fourth straight day. Citing the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, news agencies reported sounds of explosions on the outskirts of the Syrian capital on Wednesday. Fighting was also reported in the central district of al-Midan, where rebel fighters are holed up. There were no immediate reports of casualties. More government forces and tanks were deployed in areas inside and around Damascus following the violence, activists said. The SOHR also said that more than 60 soldiers had been killed in clashes with the FSA fighters in the past 48 hours, but there was no independent confirmation of the claim as foreign media is barred from reporting inside Syria. "Between 40 and 50 soldiers of the regular Syrian forces were killed the day before yesterday [Monday] in fighting in Damascus, and at least 20 were killed yesterday," the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman told the AFP news agency...

07.18.12   NGO says more than 60 Syrian soldiers killed; Turkey reports more defections
July 18 - More than 60 soldiers have been killed in clashes with the rebel Free Syrian Army in Damascus in the past 48 hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday. "Between 40 and 50 soldiers of the regular Syrian forces were killed the day before yesterday (Monday) in fighting in Damascus, and at least 20 were killed yesterday," the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. He added that forces of the presidential guard had deployed around the capital, but “they are not involved in the fighting” that erupted in several districts of the city on Sunday.  Abdel Rahman said helicopters attacked the Barzeh and Qaboon districts of Damacus on Wednesday, and that "residents of Qaboon are leaving." 

Two Syrian brigadier generals crossed into Turkey overnight, a Turkish foreign ministry official told AFP Wednesday. "Some 330 Syrians including two brigadier generals fled to Turkey Tuesday night," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official also said that nearly 43,300 Syrian refugees were now living in camps near the border with Syria. "We are seeing an increase in the number of Syrians arriving in Turkey, whether they are civilians or military," he added. On Monday, a Syrian general and several soldiers crossed into the Turkish side of the border. Turkey has become home to dozens of defectors who have crossed the border and formed the Free Syrian Army in opposition to President Bahsar al-Assad's regime.

In Washington, a US State Department official who asked not to be named said a total of 1,280 Syrians had fled to Turkey overnight, including the general and other soldiers. "Clearly the regime is panicking at this point," the US official added. In a sign that the Syrian regime is under pressure, Israeli intelligence chief said on Tuesday that Assad’s regime is moving forces to Damascus from Golan heights. In a security briefing to a parliamentary committee, the intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, estimated that Assad "will not survive the uprising, even if it takes some more time," The New York Times quoted him as saying. He said that 13,000 soldiers and officers had defected from the Syrian Army, and that 60 to 70 senior officers had been killed by the opposition, according to the spokesperson’s office of the Israeli military.  [>alarabiya.net]

07.18.12   Taliban bomb destroys 2 NATO trucks in Afghan north
MAZAR-E_SHARIF, Afghanistan, July 18 - A bomb planted by the Taliban destroyed 22 NATO trucks carrying supplies to their forces in northern Afghanistan, the Taliban and police said on Wednesday.  Eighteen fuel trucks and four supply vehicles were parked in Aibak, the capital of Samangan province, when a bomb ripped through them, wounding one person, local police said.  "At 2am the mujahideen attacked the invader NATO trucks," the Taliban said in a statement, referring to the wagons which had been driven from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan's north.  The trucks were attacked in the same province where prominent anti-Taliban lawmaker Ahmad Khan Samangani was killed on Saturday at his daughter's wedding, in a suicide bomb attack that killed 22 other guests.  "We believe the Taliban carried this out. Eighteen trucks have been totally destroyed, the rest were damaged by fire," Samangan police chief Khalil Andarabi told Reuters.  Separately, police in neighboring Baghlan province said they had detained 10 suspected Taliban members with so-called magnetic bombs, which they were trying to attach to supply trucks. Pakistan recently reopened its border crossings with Afghanistan for NATO supplies after shutting them in November after a US airstrike unintentionally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.   [>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

07.18.12   Greenland glacier loses large mass of ice
July 18 -  A chunk of ice twice the size of Manhattan has parted from Greenland’s Petermann glacier, a break researchers at the University of Delaware and Canadian Ice Service attributed to warmer ocean temperatures. The separation along Greenland’s northwest coast, which took place Monday, represents the second major calving event for the glacier in the past three years. In August 2010, the Petermann glacier lost an area of roughly 97 square miles, compared with the 46 square miles that just split off this week. Andreas Muenchow, an associate professor of physical ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware, said the glacier’s end point is now at "a location where it has not been for at least 150 years." "The Greenland ice sheet is changing rapidly before our eyes," Muenchow said in an interview, adding that while "no individual glacier will be the canary in the coal mine" recent warming has transformed the overall ice sheet. "The Greenland ice sheet is being reduced not just in size, but in volume," he said. "The big and broader climate change story is what’s happening all around Greenland."   [More>>washingtonpost.com]
07.15.12   Is Pakistan's TV evangelism sprouting a dangerous creed of intolerance?
July 15 -  Pakistanis credit General Parvez Musharraf for liberalizing the media when he assumed power in a bloodless military coup in October 1999. In a few short years thereafter, Pakistan’s private TV industry boomed and channels sprouted everywhere, from news to entertainment, cooking and fashion shows to regional channels and religion channels.  After decades spent watching state controlled TV, even under democratically elected governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, Pakistanis woke up to a new era of no holds barred TV. Politicians were grilled by fearless journalists, events were reported live with no censoring of content
at times making the average person squirm as scenes of death, destruction were beamed live into living rooms.  But as print journalists became media superstars, and film actors or super models became household names with day time talk shows, so did religious scholars and Islamization came to the forefront on screens, almost reflecting the rise of anti-American sentiment and religious zealousness that just didn’t have room for tolerance.

One man that stands out among a plethora of talking heads on TV is Aamir Liaquat, whose foray into televangelism began at Geo TV, Pakistan’s largest media house. There, Liaquat held forth on an array of issues, answering queries on seemingly inane matters like whether a prayer mat could be washed in a washing machine to bigger issues on spiritual matter. He was as reviled as he was beloved.  Liaquat has been a subject of intense scrutiny in the media, from his “fake” PhD (allegedly bought online just a few weeks after he reportedly got a Masters degree) to leaked video outtakes in which he was seen cursing profanities prior to coming on camera for a show. He was also hauled up by the police for driving a car with tinted windows in Karachi a few years ago, when it was illegal, but as a then parliamentarian, he was let off Scot free, not before the press reported that he was caught with a woman in the car.  Despite the drubbing he received, his popularity was not affected until a show in September 2008 in which he castigated Pakistan's minority Muslim community, the Ahmadis, The two guest scholars he invited on the show said anyone who called Ahmadis Muslims were "waajib al qatl" (worthy of death). 

One day later, an Ahmadi was shot in Sindh, the following day another prominent Ahmadi was killed.  "I have no regrets because it has nothing to do with me," he told BBC Magazine on July 14. "I’m hurt by what happened and I’m sorry for the families but it has nothing to do with me or anything that was said on my program."  Not everyone brought it. The Asian Human Rights Commission filed a complaint against him saying his cajoling led to the death of the two men following his TV show.  Liaquat was also sacked from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, of which he was a member and had won an election ticket in 2002 with, for the anti-Ahmadi TV outburst, saying his beliefs clashed with the secular party’s ideology.  But Geo only suspended his live programs. 

None of that has dented Liaquat's popularity, or credibility, who, after a brief spell with a rival TV network where he hosted another religious talk show, signed up with Geo last month to return to his alma mater. Not just as a TV host but also in senior management position
much to the chagrin of season senior journalists and management at GEO, one of whom, popular political analyst Sana Bucha, resigned in protest. But it appears that Liaquat will ride the waves of this controversy out too, as he is now a brand, loved by cooking oils that he endorses to housewives who wait eagerly for his sermons, for which no one can verify his religious qualifications.

Who will take on the TV mullahs?

Liaquat is not alone in using TV as a platform to air views that cater to right-wing Islam in Pakistan whose presence is felt by the growing numbers of women wearing the niqaab on the streets to the rise in dars (religious sermons) especially tailor made for the elite. Intolerance is evidenced in the collective silence of a democratically elected secular government of the Pakistan Peoples Party which has lost two of its stalwarts to violent and gruesome murders: Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in January 2011 by his armed guard who murdered the man for the governor's support of a Christian woman languishing in jail on trumped up blasphemy charges to the death of the country's minorities minister a few months later, Shahbaz Bhatti. Weeks prior to his death, Taseer appeared on a TV show with host Meher Bukhari who practically accused the governor of blasphemy as he tried to explain his defense of a Christian woman languishing in jail on what he said were trumped up charges.

Taseer was leading a case for a presidential pardon before he was killed in broad daylight.  Then the politicians retreated to their corners, ostensibly sensing the mood in the country which had no room for tolerating anything perceived as blasphemous.  An innumerable amount of people have been charged in false cases of blasphemy that have led to murders, extra judicial killings and constant threat to lives.  Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan.  [More>>alarabiya.net]

07.15.12   Top MP killed in suicide attack at daughter's wedding
(Reuters) July 15 -
A suicide bomber blew himself up at a wedding reception in the northern Afghan town of Aybak Saturday, killing at least 23 people including a provincial governor and wounding at least 40 others. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack. A suicide bomber killed a prominent anti-Taliban politician and 22 other guests at a wedding reception in the northern Afghan province of Samangan on Saturday, officials said. The bomber blew himself up as he hugged lawmaker Ahmad Khan Samangani, who was celebrating his daughter’s marriage, police said. The blast also killed the provincial intelligence chief and a senior police commander. Samangani was close to Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, and commanded thousands of men in the area. The Uzbeks are part of an uneasy coalition of minority tribes that fight the Taliban in their area. The attack, among the most lethal in recent months, raises the risk of greater insecurity in the relatively peaceful province, analysts said. At least 23 people were killed and 60 others wounded, said a statement from President Hamid Karzai condemning the attack. "The enemies of Afghanistan once again targeted mujahideen figures who strive for national unity," Karzai said. The wounded were in critical condition and the death toll could rise, said regional police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai. Samangani had told guards at the party not to inconvenience guests with security searches, said provincial police chief Khalil Andarabi.

The Taliban, which has been behind a series of suicide attacks this year, denied responsibility. The group often distances itself from attacks with high civilian death tolls. "We don’t have a hand in this," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. "Ahmad Khan (Samangani) was a former commander of the mujahideen, he was notorious and many people could have had problems with him." Samangani, an ethnic Uzbek, fought against the Soviets in the 1980s, and against the Taliban during their 1996-2001 rule. He may have had enemies other than the Taliban, said Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Mujhda. "Former warlords have frequently been targeted in the past," he said. “Ahmad Khan Samangani was a strongman in terms of security for Samangan province. His loss will certainly affect security in that region.”  [More>>france24.com]

07.15.12   UAE ships first oil via Fujairah as Iran threats escalate
FUJAIRAH, UAE (Reuters) July 15 -
As Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz grew louder over the weekend, the United Arab Emirates quietly loaded its first cargo on Sunday from its long-awaited new oil export terminal on the Gulf of Oman. UAE oil officials and executives from oil majors such as ExxonMobil, Shell and Total gathered on the eastern coast of the country to open an alternative route for up to 75 percent of UAE's exports. A European Union ban on Iranian crude imports came into effect on July 1 and Iran has been intensifying its threats to disrupt oil shipments from the Gulf. Two Iranian military officials warned over the weekend that Iran could stop oil from sailing through the vital shipping lane. Alarmed by the Iranian threats, the UAE has completed its long-delayed project to pump up to 1.8 million barrels a day (bpd) to an export terminal on the eastern port of Fujairah. Over the next few months, the Gulf OPEC member hopes to increase exports from the new facility to around 1.5 million bpd, nearly two-thirds of the 2.4 million it typically exports each day, and the new pipeline could carry three-quarters of the UAE's oil exports if needed. "This is a very strategic project, it gives the options to our clients to transport larger quantities (of oil)," UAE's oil minister Mohammed bin Dhaen al-Hamli said. "I consider this project to be complementary, so we have an alternative...to give us choice to have more than one trade route."    [More>>thestar.com.my]

07.13.12   2 sophisticated border drug tunnels discovered
PHOENIX, July 13 -
Two drug-smuggling tunnels outfitted with lighting and ventilation systems were discovered along the US-Mexico border, the latest signs that cartels are building sophisticated passages to escape heightened surveillance on land. Both tunnels were at least 150 yards long. One began under a bathroom sink inside a warehouse in Tijuana but was unfinished and didn't cross the border into San Diego. The Mexican army found the tunnel Wednesday. The other was completed and discovered Saturday in a vacant strip mall storefront in the southwestern Arizona city of San Luis. It showed a level of sophistication not typically associated with other crude smuggling passageways that tie into storm drains in the state. "When you see what is there and the way they designed it, it wasn't something that your average miner could put together," said Douglas Coleman, special agent in charge of the Phoenix division of the Drug Enforcement Administration. "You would need someone with some engineering expertise to put something together like this." As US authorities heighten enforcement on land, tunnels have become an increasingly common way to smuggle enormous loads of heroin, marijuana and other drugs into the country. More than 70 passages have been found on the border since October 2008, surpassing the number of discoveries in the previous six years.
07.13.12   Syrian forces commit new massacre in Hama; Russia rejects new UN draft resolution
July 13 -
At last 250 people have been killed in a new massacre committed by the Syrian forces in al-Tremsa in Hama on Thursday, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.  Activists at the Syrian Revolution Commission told Al Arabiya that scores of dead bodies were scattered in houses and in farms in al-Tremsa, while more than 150 dead bodies have been piled up in al-Tremsa mosque.  Activists said that helicopters have targeted the trucks carrying the humanitarian aid on their way to al-Tremsa, while the government troops shelled the village using tanks and missiles. The Syrian National Council called for a UN Security Council emergency meeting over the new massacre in al-Tremsa and urged the UN observers to head to the village to document the mass killing. The Syrian state TV, meanwhile, said that “terrorists” have committed the massacre and that the Syrian government forces have entered the village only after the residents asked for their help.  [More.>alarabiya.net]

07.13.12   Annan blamed for Syria massacre
BEIRUT, Lebanon, July 13 -
Syria's Muslim Brotherhood on Friday said peace envoy Kofi Annan and Syrian allies Iran and Russia must through their inaction shoulder the blame for the killing reportedly by President Bashar al-Assad's forces of at least 150 villagers. "We don't consider the monster Bashar as being solely responsible for this heinous crime ... but (also) Kofi Annan, the Russians and the Iranians and all countries which pretend to be guardians of peace and stability in the world but who remain silent," the Brotherhood said in a statement.   [>thenews.com.pk]

07.13.12   US strengthens its military might in the Gulf
July 13 -
Washignton deploys extra aircraft and floating base to prevent Iran from blocking the Strait of Hormuz. The United States has deployed a fleet of robot subs in the Gulf to prevent Iran from blocking the strategic Strait of Hormuz with mines in the event of a crisis, officials say. The "SeaFox" drone "has been deployed in the Fifth fleet AOR," which includes the Gulf and the Arabian Sea, a Navy official told AFP news agency on Thursday, confirming information first reported in the Los Angeles Times  newspaper.  The undersea drone, about four feet (1.2 meters) long and equipped with a camera and sonar, is guided by a cable from a ship. German manufacturer Atlas Electronik says the drone has a range of about 3,200 feet (1,000 meters) and carries an explosive to destroy mines.  "SeaFox devices will be employed from MCMs," or mine counter-measure ships, in the Gulf, the Navy official said. Fears of a closure of the Straight of Hormuz through which about a fifth of the world's traded oil passes intensified earlier this year after Iran threatened to close it if Western governments kept up efforts to rein in Tehran's controversial nuclear program by choking off its oil exports.  [More>>aljazeera.com]

07.13.12   Car bomb kills Afghan women's affairs
July 13 - Hanifa Safi is the second Afghan provincial head of women's affairs to be killed since the posts were created 10 years ago.  A regional head of women's affairs has been killed by a car bomb in eastern Afghanistan. Hanifa Safi was driving in Mehtar Lam, the capital of Laghman province, when a bomb attached to her car exploded, said the provincial governor's spokesman, Sarhadi Zwak. "It killed her and left her husband, who was with her in the car, in a coma," Zwak said. Ten others were wounded. Zwak declined to say whether he believed the Taliban were behind the attack, instead saying "enemies of Afghanistan" had planted the bomb. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Safi is the second provincial head of women's affairs to be killed since the posts were created 10 years ago. Safia Ama Jan, who headed the department in southern Kandahar province, was shot dead in 2006 by members of the Taliban. Last weekend a video emerged of a 22-year-old woman being publicly executed for alleged adultery in Parwan province. The Taliban denied involvement but was blamed by officials in Kabul, and a manhunt was launched for those involved.   [More>>guardian.co.uk]

07.13.12   Lemurs sliding towards extinction
July 13 - A new survey shows lemurs are far more threatened than previously thought.
A group of specialists is in Madagascar the only place where lemurs are found in the wild to systematically assess the animals and decide where they sit on the Red List of Threatened Species. More than 90% of the 103 species should be on the Red List, they say. Since a coup in 2009, conservation groups have repeatedly found evidence of illegal logging, and hunting of lemurs has emerged as a new threat. The assessment, conducted by the Primate Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), concludes that 23 lemurs qualify as Critically Endangered - the highest class of threat. Fifty-two are in the Endangered classification, and a further 19 Vulnerable to extinction.  [More>>bbc.co.uk]

07.10.12   Ansar Dine destroy more shrines in Mali
July 10 -
Al-Qaeda-linked group destroys shrines at Timbuktu mosque, vowing to attack more World Heritage sites. Fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked group Ansar Dine, controlling northern Mali, have destroyed two tombs at the ancient Djingareyber mud mosque in Timbuktu, an endangered World Heritage site, witnesses say. About a dozen men arrived in an armored four-wheel drive truck, armed with pickaxes and hoes. They fired in the air to intimidate people and started smashing the tombs, according to Ibrahim Cisse, who witnessed the incident. "They blocked the two main roads leading to the mausoleums. When they saw people gathering for a ceremony nearby, they began firing shots in the air," another resident, Mahamad ould Ibrahim, said. The new destruction comes after attacks last week on other historic and religious landmarks in Timbuktu that UNESCO called "wanton destruction." Ansar Dine has declared the ancient Muslim shrines "haram," or forbidden in Islam, The Djingareyber mosque is one of the most important in Timbuktu and was one of the fabled city's main attractions before the region became a no-go area for tourists. Ansar Dine has vowed to continue destroying all the shrines "without exception" amid an outpouring of grief and outrage both at home and abroad.  [More>>aljazeera.com]

07.10.12   'Sex debate' heats up in Morocco as activists demand sexual freedom rights
July 10 - Moroccan Justice Minister Mustafa al-Ramid lashed out at a request submitted by a group of activists asking for the legalizing of sexual relations outside marriage and called the initiative a promotion of debauchery.  "Revoking the law that criminalizes sex outside marriage is a propagation of corruption that will deal a fatal blow to Moroccan values," Ramid said Monday in parliament, answering a question about his response to the sexual freedom initiative. A group of Moroccan activists called a few days ago for crossing out Article 490 of the Penal Code which punishes every man and woman caught having sex outside marriage even if the couple is consenting adults. According to those activists, adults should have the freedom to engage in sexual relations as long as there is mutual consent. The harsh criticism directed at this demand was not confined to the parliament, but extended to clerics who saw the call for sexual freedom as a grave threat to the moral and spiritual wellbeing of Moroccans.  [More>>alarabiya.net]

07.10.12   Russia sends warships to Syria
July 10 -
Russia despatched a flotilla of warships to its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus on Tuesday in an apparent show of support for President Bashar al-Assad. Two destroyers and three amphibious landing vessels carrying marines set sail from Russian bases in the Arctic and the Black Sea, according to Russian military sources. Russia's defence ministry insisted that the mission was part of a previously scheduled exercise in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea and at least one of the vessels in the flotilla has patrolled waters off Syria earlier this year. But Western diplomats say the purpose of the mission is to show tangible support for Mr. Assad, to warn the West against military intervention in Syria and to prepare for the possible evacuation of Russian nationals from the country.  [More>>telegraph.co.uk; See related story,

en.rian.ru (Ria Novosti) July 10, "Russian warships to exercise in Atlantic, Mediterranean"
A Russian naval task force will perform combat training missions in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the Defense Ministry said on Tuesday. The task force comprises warships from Russia’s Northern, Baltic and Black Sea Fleets, a ministry official told RIA Novosti. "The ships are headed toward the northern Atlantic," he said. The task force is comprised of the Admiral Chabanenko Udaloy II class destroyer, the Alexander Otrakovsky, Georgy Pobedonosets and Kondopoga large amphibious assault ships, as well as the Nikolai Chiker and Sergei Osipov support vessels. The force will be joined in the northern Atlantic by a group of Baltic Fleet ships, including the Yaroslav Mudry frigate and the Lena tanker, he added. [end]

07.10.12   DR Congo warlord Thomas Lubanga sentenced to 14 years
July 10 -
Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga has been sentenced to 14 years in jail for recruiting and using child soldiers in his rebel army in 2002 and 2003. Taking into account time in custody, he will now serve a further eight years. In March, he became the first person to be convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) since it was set up 10 years ago. The conflict between ethnic groups in Ituri, north-eastern DR Congo, is estimated to have killed 60,000 people. Lubanga led the Union of Congolese Patriots, an ethnic Hema militia which was active in the war that started in the Ituri region and its main town of Bunia in 1999. This was a local conflict within the wider DR Congo war, which left an estimated five million people dead
mostly from hunger and disease.

The Lubanga case is closely related to the
current fighting in DR Congo, where forces loyal to Gen Bosco Ntaganda are threatening the main eastern city of Goma. Gen. Ntaganda is accused of the same crimes as his erstwhile ally Lubanga and his M23 group resumed its rebellion shortly after Lubanga was convicted, amid mounting calls for Gen. Ntaganda to be arrested. During the trial, the court heard how Lubanga would go to people's homes and ask them to donate something for the war effort. He would ask for cash, a cow, or for a child to fight for his rebel army.   [More>>bbc.co.uk]

07.07.12   US drone strike kills 21 militants in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, July 7 - A US drone  targeted a militant compound in the restive North Waziristan tribal region,  killing at least 21 insurgents in the first such attack since  Pakistan  reopened  NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.  The CIA-operated spy plane fired two missiles at the compound in Datta Khel area near the Afghan border last evening.  TV news channels quoted their sources as saying that 21 militants were killed. Foreign fighters were among the dead.  The strike destroyed the compound, witnesses said. Datta Khel is considered a stronghold of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the commander of a Taliban faction accused of sending militants across the border to fight foreign troops in Afghanistan.  This was the first US drone strike since Pakistan restored supply lines for NATO troops in Afghanistan on Tuesday.  It was also the second drone strike in North Waziristan agency in a week.  A US drone strike had killed eight persons in Shawal area on July 1.  Yesterday's strike came days after Pakistani leaders said talks were continuing with the US on ending the drone campaign following the reopening of NATO supply routes.  The Foreign Office said on Thursday that the US drone attacks were counter-productive and a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.  The US has rejected calls from Pakistan to stop the drone strikes, insisting that the spy planes are effective in eliminating al-Qaeda and Taliban elements hiding in the tribal belt.   [>timesofindia.indiatimes.com; See also,

aljazeera.com, July 7, "Many dead in triple Pakistan drone strike"
...The initial strike on a house killed nine. Then three others were killed in a second attack when they drove to the site to recover dead bodies. And a third drone killed another three five minutes later, a senior security official in Peshawar told the AFP news agency. A similar attack in the region on Sunday killed six...

07.07.12   At least 18 killed in Syria violence
July 7 - Regime forces have bombarded a string of towns in the Syrian province of Aleppo, with at least 16 people killed in violence across the country and another two left dead in neighboring Lebanon. "REGIME forces are attempting to regain control over this region, where they have suffered heavy casualties over the past months," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said of the Aleppo bloodshed on Saturday. It said the bombardment had killed one civilian and wounded dozens alone in the town of Qabtan al-Jabal. "A large number of families have been displaced from the area for fear of shelling and lack of water, electricity and medical services," the watchdog added of the attacks in the northern province. Two rebels and five soldiers were killed near the town of Andan in clashes and an attack on an army vehicle.

07.07.12   Suicide bomber kills 7 at family gathering in Iraq
BAGHDAD (AP) July 7 -
Iraqi officials say a suicide bomber has killed seven people at the home of a pro-government militiaman in the western city of Ramadi. The attack is the latest targeted killing in Iraq, which has seen a surge in violence six months after the last American troops withdrew. Most attacks are blamed on al-Qaeda-linked militants. A police official in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, said Saturday that the bomber entered the home of a leader of a local Sunni militia leader Friday night during a family gathering. He detonated his explosives belt, killing the militiaman and six family members. At least 30 others were wounded. A hospital worker in Ramadi confirmed the deaths. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.  [>thejakartapost.com]

07.06.12   Syria death toll on rise; UN says thousands flee shelling, face food shortage
July 6 - Syrian government forces on Friday killed as many as 60 people across the country, Al Arabiya reported citing activists at the Local Coordination Committees. Government forces shelled residential neighborhoods in Homs using missiles and mortar shells, especially in Talbeesa and al-Qussour neighborhoods. Random shelling of Deir Ezzor has left scores of people killed and injured; whereas activists said that dozens were killed in the town of Hayyan in the suburbs of Aleppo. Activists added that another massacre was committed against civilians in Deraa. Thousands of families in Syria have fled their homes in the past two weeks due to heavy fighting between government forces and rebels and many face food shortages, the United Nations said on Friday.

Food prices have tripled in parts of seven provinces where the livelihoods of farmers and livestock herders are at risk of collapse because the wheat harvest is being delayed by a shortage of diesel, needed for machinery, it said, according to Reuters. "The overall situation is characterized by severe insecurity and ongoing fighting which means that UN agencies do not have access to many areas," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a news briefing in Geneva. Many of the 200,000 residents of Duma, 15 km (10 miles) north of the capital, have fled to central Damascus, OCHA said.

Activists said on Wednesday that residents in the "ghost city" recovered mutilated corpses after a rampage by militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and army shelling. About 30,000 people have fled the eastern city of Deir Ezzor and moved north towards Hassaka and al-Raqqa, OCHA said. Civilians are also leaving Hama, Idlib and al-Raqqa and heading towards Aleppo. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent has previously estimated that at least 500,000 people are internally displaced in the country.   [More>>alarabiya.net]

07.06.12   Defection of Syrian general 'significant' : US
(AFP) July 6 -
The defection of a top general from the Syrian regime is "significant" and signals cracks in President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle, the Pentagon said Friday. "We welcome this defection and we believe it is significant," Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby told reporters. "He's a senior official in the Syrian army and a former friend of Assad, so we do believe this defection shouldn't be taken lightly," he said. General Munaf Tlass defected three days ago, the highest-ranking military officer to have abandoned the Assad regime. An officer in the elite Republican Guard charged with protecting the regime, he is the son of former defense minister Mustafa Tlass, a close friend of Assad's late father and predecessor, Hafez. The United States hopes "others would follow his example," Kirby said. But he noted that it was too soon to say the regime's leadership was on the verge of collapse. Assad "has loyalists still around him and certainly the vast majority of the Syrian military is still following his orders," the spokesman said. But he hailed the defection as "a crack in that inner circle" because of the general's ties to the Assad family.   [More>>france24.com]

07.06.12   Seven terror arrests after guns found in car
July 6 -
The arrests followed a routine stop of a vehicle by police on the M1 motorway in South Yorkshire on June 30. Seven men have been arrested on suspicion of terror offenses after firearms and other weapons were found "hidden" in a car, West Midlands Police said. They are being held on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. A force spokesman said the arrests "followed a routine stop of a vehicle by police on the M1 motorway in South Yorkshire on June 30." The car was impounded on suspicion of having no insurance but the driver and passenger were not detained by South Yorkshire Police. The spokesman said: "Firearms, offensive weapons and other material were later found hidden inside, prompting police to take action to trace and arrest the driver, passenger and others suspected of being involved." Police said three men aged 23, 26 and 27 from Sparkhill, Birmingham, were arrested on Tuesday morning. Three more suspects, a 22-year-old from Alum Rock, Birmingham, a 24-year-old from the Moseley area of the city, and a 22-year-old from Smethwick, West Midlands, were arrested on Wednesday evening. A 43-year old man from Kirklees, West Yorkshire, was detained on Thursday. Sky's crime correspondent Martin Brunt said the car was not searched until three days after it was seized. It was only then that police realized what was inside and began to trace the men they had let go. Brunt said the arrests were not Olympics-related but were part of a "major plot."    [More>>news.sky.com]

07.02.12   Islamists destroy door of ancient Timbuktu mosque
(AFP) July 2 -
Mali's Islamist rebels smashed the entrance of a 15th century Timbuktu mosque on Monday, escalating a campaign of destruction of the city's cultural treasures despite threats of prosecution for war crimes. Some residents sobbed as the Islamist militants broke down the 'sacred door' of one of the northern Malian city's three ancient mosques after they wrecked seven tombs of Muslim saints over the weekend. Exclusive video footage obtained by AFP shows turbaned men chanting 'Allahu Akbar' (God is great) while smashing a mausoleum with pick-axes in a cloud of dust, the mud-brick tomb showing gaping holes in the side with rubble piling up alongside it. Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) believe the shrines to be idolatrous and have threatened to destroy any mosques housing the remains of the ancient saints, prompting an outcry from government and the international community.

"The Islamists have just destroyed the door to the entrance of the Sidi Yahya mosque... they tore the sacred door off which we never open," said a resident of the town on Monday morning. A former tour guide in the once-popular tourist destination said: "They came with pick-axes, they cried 'Allah' and broke the door. It is very serious. Some of the people watching began crying." Another man, a relative of a local imam (religious leader), said he had spoken to members of Ansar Dine, which occupied the city and the rest of northern Mali in the chaos following a coup in Bamako three months ago. "Some said that the day this door is opened it will be the end of the world and they wanted to show that it is not the end of the world." The door on the south end of the mosque has been closed for centuries due to local beliefs that to open it will bring misfortune. It leads to a tomb of saints, however the Islamists appeared unaware of this as one witness said if they had known "they would have broken everything."

According to the website of the UN cultural agency (UNESCO) Sidi Yahya is one of Timbuktu's three great mosques and was built around 1400, dating back to the city's golden age as a desert crossroads and center for learning. The fabled city, which became a metaphor for a mythic, faraway place, is considered one of the centers from which Islam spread through Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. The three mosques formed the 'university' of Timbuktu, also known as the "City of 333 Saints." Timbuktu is also home to 16 cemeteries and mausoleums. Ansar Dine began their campaign of destruction after UNESCO put Timbuktu on its list of endangered world heritage sites. "God is unique. All of this is haram (forbidden in Islam). We are all Muslims. UNESCO is what?" spokesman Sanda Ould Boumama said on Saturday. He said the group was acting in the name of God and would "destroy every mausoleum in the city. All of them, without exception". Pleas have poured in for the Islamists to halt the destruction, reminiscent of the Taliban blowing up the giant Buddhas of the Bamiyan valley in Afghanistan
an ancient Buddhist shrine on the Silk Road in 2001 after branding them un-Islamic. International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Sunday warned that the destruction could amount to a war crime.  [More>>koreaherald.com]

07.02.12   Iran drafts bill to block Hormuz for Gulf oil tankers
DUBAI (Reuters) July 2 -
Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee has drafted a bill calling for Iran to try to stop oil tankers from shipping crude through the Strait of Hormuz to countries that support sanctions against it, a committee member said on Monday. "There is a bill prepared in the National Security and Foreign Policy committee of Parliament that stresses the blocking of oil tanker traffic carrying oil to countries that have sanctioned Iran," Iranian MP Ibrahim Agha-Mohammadi was quoted by Iran’s parliamentary news agency as saying. "This bill has been developed as an answer to the European Union’s oil sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran." Agha-Mohammadi said that 100 of Tehran’s 290 members of parliament had signed the bill as of Sunday. Iranian threats to block the waterway through which about 17 million barrels a day sailed in 2011 have grown in the past year as US and European sanctions aimed at starving Tehran of funds for its nuclear program have tightened. A heavy western naval presence in the Gulf and surrounding area is a big impediment to any attempt to block the vital shipping route through which sails most of the crude exported from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq and nearly all the gas exported from Qatar.  A European Union ban on imports of Iranian oil started on Sunday.  [>alarabiya.net]

07.02.12   New attempt to end Syrian bloodshed brings optimism, doubt
(CNN) July 2 -
Syrian opposition groups met Monday in Cairo, Egypt, trying to find common ground as the violence continued in Syria and spilled over into neighboring Lebanon. Syrian government forces shelled several villages with artillery and mortar fire Monday, while troops stormed others, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The group said the town of Kafar Shams had been under siege for nine days, with all utilities cut off. They were the latest examples in a pattern of escalating violence that led UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Monday to reiterate her call to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. "I believe the evidence points the commission of crimes against humanity," she told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council. She cited allegations such as indiscriminate shelling, arbitrary detention and attacks on hospitals by government forces and the killing by opposition forces of suspected government informants and collaborators.   [More>>cnn.com]

07.02.12   Three NATO men killed in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan, July 2 -
A man in an Afghan police uniform has killed three NATO personnel in the war-torn country’s troubled south, the coalition said on Sunday, the latest so-called "green on blue" attack. The deaths take the toll this year in "green-on-blue" incidents
in which Afghan forces turn their weapons against their Western allies to at least 26, in a total of 18 such incidents. In keeping with its usual policy, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) gave no further details of the incident and did not reveal the nationality of the victims. "An individual wearing an Afghan National Civil Order Police uniform turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Force service members in southern Afghanistan today, killing three service members," ISAF said in a statement. The Afghan Civil Order Police was set up in 2006 as an elite riot control force. The attack comes nearly two weeks after three men in Afghan police uniforms killed a soldier with the US-led force, also in the south. An increasing number of Afghan troops have turned their weapons against NATO soldiers who are helping Kabul fight a decade-long insurgency by hardline Taliban Islamists.  [More>>thenews.com.pk]

07.02.12   Deaths in blast near Afghan university
July 2 -
At least seven killed and 20 others wounded in suicide blast at US base near Kandahar University in country's south. A suicide blast near a university in southern Afghanistan has killed at least seven civilians and left another 20 wounded, according to officials. The attack happened in Kandahar city in front of Kandahar University, around two kilometers from the former compound of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, which is now used as a base by US special forces, provincial police chief General Abdul Razaq told AFP news agency on Monday. The provincial governor's spokesman Jawed Faisal confirmed the death toll and said most of the victims were Afghans working at the US base. In a statement on twitter, the provincial governor's office said students at the university were on vacation at the time of the "cowardly attack." The target of the blast is not known, but high-ranking government officials study at the university in the evenings. Attacks in Kandahar, considered to be the birthplace of the Taliban, have been increasing recently. The attack comes a day after a gunman wearing an Afghan police uniform killed three British soldiers in Helmand province. The UK defense ministry has confirmed that all three NATO soldiers at the checkpoint were British. The attacker was arrested after the incident.  [>aljazeera.com]

07.02.12   Iraq attacks kill three: officials
(AFP) July 2 -
Shootings and bombings in Baghdad and north of the capital killed three people on Monday, including a policeman, security and medical officials said. A roadside bomb in Baghdad's Iskaan neighborhood left one civilian dead and seven others wounded, an interior ministry official and a medic from a nearby hospital said, speaking on condition of anonymity. And in restive Diyala province, gunmen opened fire on a police checkpoint in the town of Buhruz, killing police First Lieutenant Mohammed Haidar and wounding four other police officers, according to an army officer and a doctor at the main hospital in provincial capital Baquba. In the main northern city of Mosul, gunmen shot dead local imam Sheikh Mohammed al-Juburi, police First Lieutenant Mohi Waagha and doctor Khalil Hamdan at the city's hospital said. The violence comes amid a spike in attacks in Iraq, with the country suffering a wave of unrest in June that left at least 282 people dead according to an AFP tally, though government figures said 131 Iraqis died. While violence in Iraq has declined dramatically since its peak in 2006-2007, attacks remain common across the country.  [>france24.com]

06.27.12 Kofi Annan to convene UN meeting over Syria
June 27 -
The UN convenes a meeting on Syria, as it reports on a massacre by government troops and executions conducted by rebel forces. The United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria is to convene a high-level meeting in Geneva amid the worsening situation in the Middle East. The deputy for envoy Kofi Annan said he would hold an "action group on Syria" for June 30, seeking to find a "common position on proposed outcomes." Jean-Marie Guehenno said the six-point plan forged by Mr. Annan "is clearly not being implemented." Mr. Guehenno's statement to the UN Human Rights Council comes amid a report by UN investigators on the growing numbers of Syrians are being targeted in the country's conflict on account of their religion.

UN investigators said they suspect pro-government forces of many of the 108 killings committed in the massacre in the Syrian town of Houla in May. The report said: "The Commission of Inquiry (COI) is unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators at this time, nevertheless the COI considers that forces loyal to the government may have been responsible for many of the deaths." The council was also told that the foreign-backed Syrian armed opposition has tortured and executed soldiers amid an increasing use of improvised explosive devices in the conflict. Meanwhile, Syrian president Bashar Assad has admitted his country is in state of war with rebel fighters and ordered his new cabinet to crush the anti-regime uprising.  [More>>news.sky.com]

06.27.12 Syrian soldiers targeting fleeing civilians: rights group
(AFP) June 27 -
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday urged Syrian authorities to end the “indiscriminate” shootings of civilians fleeing to Jordan and other neighboring countries. "Syrian soldiers on the border with Jordan appear to be shooting indiscriminately at anyone
including civilian women and children trying to flee from Syria," the US-based HRW said in a statement. "Syrian authorities should immediately order its armed forces on the border to end all indiscriminate attacks and take all feasible measures to avoid injuries to civilians crossing into neighboring countries, and to respect their right to leave the country." Jordan is hosting more than 120,000 Syrians, of whom 20,000 are registered with the United Nations. There are another 38,000 refugees in Turkey, 22,000 in Lebanon and 3,129 in Iraq, according to the UN refugee agency and officials in those countries. "Syria says it is fighting armed terrorists, yet its border forces appear to shoot at everyone crossing the border without distinction, attacking civilian men, women, children and the wounded the same way they attack fighters," said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher and advocate for HRW.   [More>>alarabiya.net]

06.27.12 Bombs in Baghdad as political crisis deepens
June 27 -
At least a dozen people killed in attacks in Iraqi capital, on same day that PM Maliki threatens to call early electionAt least twelve people have been killed in bombings across the Iraqi capital, one of which targeted a tribal sheikh in southern Baghdad. Gunmen planted three bombs in the house of Hatim al-Mansouri, the leader of a pro-government Awakening militia in Mada'in, a neighborhood which was long a stronghold for al-Qaeda in Iraq. Mansouri was not injured, but his wife, daughter and son were all killed in the blast, according to police sources. In the Ghazaliya district in western Baghdad, meanwhile, a roadside bomb killed three children from the same family and wounded three others, police said. More than 180 people have been killed in June across Iraq in bombings targeting mainly Shia pilgrims and shrines, as political and sectarian tensions run high. Iraq's Shia, Sunni and Kurdish factions have been locked in political disputes since US troops withdrew in December.  Opponents of Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused him of trying to consolidate power at their expense.  [More>>aljazeera.com]

06.27.12 Bombs, ambush killed 10 Afghan police
KABUL, Afghanistan, June 27 -
Roadside bombs and an ambush have killed at least 10 Afghan policemen over the past 24 hours in Afghanistan, officials said Wednesday. Four policemen were killed in Musa Qala district of the volatile southern province of Helmand on Wednesday when a roadside bomb they were trying to defuse exploded, provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi told AFP. "All four policemen trying to defuse the bomb died on spot when the bomb detonated" he said. Another roadside blast killed two policemen and wounded two others in Kunduz province in the country's northeast, provincial police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Husseini told AFP. In Herat province in Western Afghanistan a militants' ambush killed four police on patrol late on Tuesday. "Late last night a Taliban ambush killed four policemen, including one officer in Ghoryan district," Abdul Rauf Ahmadi a spokesman for security forces in western Afghanistan told AFP. The Taliban, who have waged a bloody 10-year war against foreign and Afghan military forces, claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks in Herat and Kunduz provinces on their website.   [>thenews.com.pk]

06.22.12 UK banks slapped with credit downgrades
June 22 -
Home owners and businesses face the prospect of higher interest rates after Britain's biggest banks had their status downgraded. The credit ratings agency Moody's has slashed its assessments of 15 major world banks
among them RBS, Barclays and HSBC in the UK and JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup in the US. The downward move, which the agency announced it was considering in February, reflects fears that the banks' growth and profit prospects are declining. Most European markets and the FTSE 100 traded down slightly on Friday in response to the altered status of the affected banks. Among the others downgraded are, Bank of America, Societe Generale, Credit Agricole and Deutsche Bank.  [More>>news.sky.com]

06.22.12 Blasts kill 13, wound 100 in Iraqi market
(Reuters) June 22 - At least 13 people were killed and more than 100 wounded on Friday when two roadside bombs exploded in a Baghdad market, Iraqi police and hospital sources said. A wave of bombings this month mainly targeting pilgrims and shrines has killed more than 130 people and fueled fears that Iraq could slip back into sectarian bloodletting of the kind that has receded since it peaked in 2006-07. Tensions have run high since US troops left in December as different political factions vie for power. The first explosion struck Husseiniya on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, where people were shopping for groceries and other goods, sources said. The second blast followed soon afterwards as security forces and people gathered to tend the casualties from the first. "Fruit and vegetables have been scattered everywhere. Some children were wounded," said Mudhaffar Khalaf, a policeman at the scene. "We have started to evacuate the injured people." On Monday, a suicide bomber killed at least 15 mourners in the northern city of Baquba. Twin car bombs killed at least 26 pilgrims on Saturday. Earlier on Friday, gunmen in a speeding car using silenced weapons fired on a police checkpoint in Baghdad’s southwestern Bayaa district, killing three policemen, local police and hospital sources said. Three civilians were also wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near an army checkpoint in Mosul, a local police source said.    [>khaleejtimes.com]

06.22.12 Saudi Arabia plans to fund Syria rebel army
June 22 - Saudi officials are preparing to pay the salaries of the Free Syria Army as a means of encouraging mass defections from the military and increasing pressure on the Assad regime, the Guardian has learned. The move, which has been discussed between Riyadh and senior officials in the US and Arab world, is believed to be gaining momentum as a recent flush of weapons sent to rebel forces by Saudi Arabia and Qatar starts to make an impact on battlefields in Syria. Officials in the Saudi capital embraced the idea when it was put to them by Arab officials in May, according to sources in three Arab states, around the same time that weapons started to flow across the southern Turkish border into the hands of Free Syria Army leaders. Turkey has also allowed the establishment of a command center in Istanbul which is co-ordinating supply lines in consultation with FSA leaders inside Syria.

The center is believed to be staffed by up to 22 people, most of them Syrian nationals. The Guardian witnessed the transfer of weapons in early June near the Turkish frontier. Five men dressed in the style of Gulf Arabs arrived in a police station in the border village of Altima in Syria and finalized a transfer from the Turkish town of Reyhanli of around 50 boxes of rifles and ammunition, as well as a large shipment of medicines. The men were treated with deference by local FSA leaders and were carrying large bundles of cash. They also received two prisoners held by rebels, who were allegedly members of the pro-regime militia, the Shabiha. The influx of weapons has reinvigorated the insurrection in northern Syria, which less than six weeks ago was on the verge of being crushed.   [More>>guardian.co.uk]

06.22.12 Assad's militiamen 'ambushed and killed' in Aleppo
(AFP) June 22 -
The bloodshed continued in Syria on Friday with 26 supporters of Bashar al-Assad's regime reportedly killed in an ambush in Aleppo. On the same day France called on Assad's forces to follow the example of a Syrian fighter pilot and defect.  At least 26 regime supporters were killed in an ambush in the northern province of Aleppo on Friday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. "At least 26 supporters of the regime
believed to be militiamen were shot dead in the west of the province of Aleppo," the watchdog said, adding that regime forces have shelled villages in the area for several weeks.  Amateur video posted on YouTube and distributed by the Observatory showed piles of mangled bodies of young men, their clothing soaked in blood. At least two of the bodies in the footage were wearing fatigues. "These are shabiha (militiamen) of Bashar al-Assad's regime," the narrator said, without identifying himself. State television said "armed terrorist groups have committed a barbaric massacre, killing more than 25 people." They were "shot" and their bodies "mutilated," it said, adding that others were kidnapped and their fate remains unknown. More than 15,000 people have been killed since the revolt against Assad's rule erupted in March last year, according to the Observatory's figures.   [>france24.com]

06.22.12 Taliban siege of Kabul hotel ends
June 22 -
Afghan police say 18 people killed during 13-hour assault on hotel in Qargha Lake on the outskirts of the capital.  Heavily armed Taliban fighters have killed 18 people - most of them civilians - in a 13-hour assault on a lakeside hotel just north of Kabul, Afghan officials have said. The fighters first killed the security guards outside the Spozhmai hotel on Lake Qargha on Friday, then stormed inside and began firing at guests who were dining. Some of the guests escaped while others were held hostage as the attackers battled, officials said. Sediq Sediqqi, an Afghan interior ministry spokesman, said all five attackers had been killed by midday on Friday, ending the standoff. Fourteen Afghan civilians, three security guards and an Afghan police officer died in the attack, said Mohammad Zahir, criminal director for Kabul police. "We believe that 18 people have been killed, among them three security guards and a policeman," said Al Jazeera's Jennifer Glasse, reporting from the scene.  [More>>aljazeera.com]

06.20.12 Al-Qaeda militant arrested in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AFP) June 20 -
A French militant described as an al-Qaeda leader and a member of the German terror cell linked to the 9/11 attacks has been held in Pakistan, experts and a Pakistani official said Wednesday.  Naamen Meziche was detained after disclosures by Younis al-Mauritani, apparently tasked by Osama bin Laden to plot attacks on Australia, Europe and the US and captured in Pakistan last year, the security official told AFP. Born in 1970 and of Algerian descent, experts say Meziche is an "important" al-Qaeda member in Europe and belonged to the Hamburg cell that the US says masterminded the 9/11 attacks. He reportedly recruited jihadists at a notorious mosque in the northern German city, which authorities closed in 2010 for breeding fanatics.

Three of the 9/11 hijackers, including their ringleader Mohammed Atta, who piloted the first plane into New York's World Trade Center, met regularly at the mosque before moving to the United States. A terrorism expert in Paris confirmed that Meziche was linked to al-Qaeda, and said he had left Europe and moved to the border areas between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan several years ago. The Pakistani official said Meziche was "among the very close associates" of Mauritani, but declined to say whether he was wanted in connection with a specific plot. Neither Meziche nor Mauritani feature on the US FBI list of most wanted terrorists. The Pakistani official said Maziche was arrested by "intelligence agencies" close to the Iranian border, but did not say when or whether Western agents took part in the raid.  [More>>thenews.com.pk]

06.20.12 17 killed in Afghanistan suicide attack
GARDEZ, Afghanistan, June 20 -
A suicide bomber on a motorbike struck a joint Afghan-NATO patrol in the town of Khost on Wednesday, killing 17 Afghans and causing coalition casualties, officials said. The blast in the eastern town close to the border with Pakistan, where Taliban and other insurgents fighting US-led troops have strongholds, also wounded 37 people, hospital officials said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the government blamed "enemies of Afghanistan," a phrase commonly used by officials to refer to the Taliban. Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said Wednesday's blast targeted a combined Afghan and coalition patrol passing through Khost, one of the most troubled parts of Afghanistan. US media reported that more than 100 American troops were treated for injuries after that blast. Amir Padsha, the director of Khost city hospital, said the bodies of three police officers and eight civilians, along with 17 wounded were brought in.  [More>>thenews.com.pk]

06.20.12 Violence in northern Nigeria kills at least 80
KADUNA/ABUJA, Nigeria, June 20 - At least 80 people have been killed since Monday in clashes in northern Nigeria triggered by Islamists waging an insurgency against the government, figures from police and the Red Cross showed on Wednesday.  The violence
some of which was sparked by church bombings over the last three Sundays has heightened sectarian tensions in Africa's most populous country, which is evenly split between Christians and Muslims.  Boko Haram insurgents waged gun battles with security forces in the remote northeastern city of Damaturu, near the radical sect's heartland, throughout Tuesday, police chief for the surrounding Yobe state Patrick Egbuniwe told Reuters.  He said 40 people were killed, 34 insurgents and six security personnel. 

In separate clashes between Muslim and Christian residents of the northern city of Kaduna on Tuesday, at least 40 people were killed and 62 wounded, according to local Red Cross official Awwal Sani.  His organization was helping collect bodies and treat the wounded, following riots in which Muslim youths fired AK-47 rifles, burned tires and destroyed a church in Kaduna.  The riots came two days after after Christian youths went on the rampage, killing 52 people in the city, itself retaliation for the bombing of three churches by suspected Islamists on Sundat that killed 19 people...Boko Haram says it is fighting to reinstate an ancient Islamic caliphate in the north of Africa's top oil producer that would impose strict sharia or Islamic law. The insurgents have killed hundreds since they launched an uprising in 2009.  They mostly target security forces or authority figures but in the past year have turned their sites on Christian worshipers, attacking churches in an apparent attempt to stoke a wider sectarian conflict.   [Full story>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

06.20.12 Israel continues deadly attacks in Gaza
June 20 -
Fresh air raid leaves one Palestinian dead, after Hamas fighters fired 45 rockets across the border in 24 hours. The latest attack took place on Wednesday in the southern town of Rafah. The victim is believed to be a member of Islamic Jihad. The fighter died and a comrade was wounded in the attack on their motorcycle in the city located near Gaza's frontier with the Egyptian Sinai, medical officials said. Israel said the man targeted had been involved in a raid on Monday from adjacent Sinai territory into Israel, which killed an Israeli. Israeli fighter jets also carried out three raids against the Gaza Strip early on Wednesday, Palestinian security officials said. The raids targeted a training center for the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas at Rafah in the south of the Strip, a "workshop" in Gaza City, and Hamas naval police installations in the north.   [More>>aljazeera.com]

06.18.12 At least 40 killed in Syria as forces pound cities; Russia readies marines
June 18 - Syrian forces pounded Homs on Monday as they pressed their campaign against rebel strongholds in the city and as at least 40 people were reported killed across the strife-torn country, a watchdog said. Monday’s casualties come a day after 67 people were killed nationwide, including 15 in Homs province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.  Activists said artillery had targeted Douma, a town 15 km (9.3 miles) outside the capital Damascus. The town has for weeks been under the partial control of rebels who have joined the 15-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad. "We can’t even accurately count the dead because we have so many injured people to treat, there’s no time to think about anything else," an activist in Douma who called himself Ziad told Reuters.

"The army attacks all the time. They have tanks, missiles, mortars, and artillery. Even helicopters have fired on us. People can’t escape because the army is surrounding the town." "The army has escalated its operations in Douma in recent days," anti-regime activist Mohammad Doumani told AFP via Skype. "Regime forces have destroyed homes, farms and many mosques." The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), grouping opposition activists on the ground, said Qoudsaya was shelled heavily, and that snipers were firing at anything that moved. Fares Mohamed, an LCC member in Zabadani northwest of Damascus, told AFP by email that Syrian forces had "imposed a suffocating blockade" around Qoudsaya and a nearby town.  [More>>alarabiya.net; See related story, france24.com, June 18, "Syria committing crimes against humanity, UN says."

06.18.12 Suicide bomber kills 15 at Iraq Shi'ite funeral
BAGHDAD (Reuters) June 18 -
A suicide bomber blew himself up among mourners at a Shi'ite funeral in Iraq's Baquba city on Monday, killing at least 15 people and wounding 40 more. A wave of bombings in June on Shi'ite pilgrims and religious sites has killed more than 130 people, reviving fears of a return to widespread sectarian violence in some of the bloodiest attacks since U.S. troops left Iraq in December. The bomber on Monday detonated his explosives in a funeral tent where mourners, including several high-ranking armed forces members, were paying respects to the family of a Shi'ite tribal leader in Baquba, police and hospital sources said.

Violence has fallen since the height of the war, but bombings on Shi'ite targets are fueling worries Iraq risks slipping back, especially as the Shi'ite, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish parties in its government feud over sharing power. Iraq's al-Qaeda wing, Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed recent attacks in an attempt to fuel tensions and undermine Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.
Though weakened after years of war with Iraqi and American troops, the al Qaeda affiliate and allied Sunni Islamists are still a capable force. At least one major attack has occurred each month during the six months since US forces left Iraq.  [>thestar.com]

06.18.12 Deadly blast targets Afghan police
June 18 -
Second suicide attack in as many weeks kills four police officers in Kapisa, including group commander of local forceA suicide bomber has detonated his explosives in eastern Afghanistan, killing four police officers and five civilians. Witnesses told Al Jazeera that local police appeared to be the target of Monday's attack in eastern Kapisa province, where the majority of France's 3,500 troops in Afghanistan are stationed. The explosion in Tagab, a troubled district of Kapisa, killed the local police commander, his son, and two of his guards, provincial governor Mehrabuddin Safi told the AFP news agency. Seventeen civilians were injured in the blast in the town's main bazaar, the governor said. Most of the wounded were Afghan civilians visiting the town for the weekly market day.

Homayoun Rashidi, a local police spokesman, said the bombing targeted a group commander in the force known as the Afghan Local Police, which forms part of the Afghan government's security forces but does not come under the national police set-up. Monday's blast is the second in as many weeks in Kapisa province. Four French troops and two of their Afghan interpreters were killed in a suicide bomb attack last weekend, which was claimed by the Taliban. That attack led French President Francois Hollande to call for the withdrawal of French troops from the Central Asian nation starting from July.  [>aljazeera.com]

06.18.12 Taliban block vaccinations in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 18 - A Pakistani Taliban commander has banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan, in the tribal belt, days before 161,000 children were to be inoculated. He linked the ban to American drone strikes and fears that the C.I.A. could use the polio campaign as cover for espionage, much as it did with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped track Osama bin Laden. The commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, said that the vaccinations would be banned until the Central Intelligence Agency stopped its drone campaign, which has been focused largely on North Waziristan. Mr. Bahadur said the decision had been taken by the shura-e-mujahedeen, a council that unites the myriad jihadi factions in the area, including Taliban, Qaeda and Punjabi extremists. The announcement, made over the weekend, is a blow to polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan, one of just three countries where the disease is still endemic, accounting for 198 new cases last year — the highest rate in the world. The tribal belt, which has suffered decades of poverty and conflict, is the largest reservoir of the disease. A Unicef spokesman said health workers had hoped to reach 161,000 children younger than 5 in a vaccination drive scheduled to begin on Wednesday. That operation is now likely to be canceled, at a time when officials felt they had been making progress. So far this year, Pakistan has recorded 22 new polio cases, compared with 52 in the same period last year.   [More>>nytimes.com]

06.18.12 10 dead, 40 seriously injured in multiple attacks on Nigerian churches
ABUJA, Nigeria (Xinhua) June 18 - 
At least 10 people were killed and 40 others were seriously injured in multiple attack on churches across northwest Nigeria's Kaduna State on Sunday, according to sources. Rescue officials in the state confirmed to Xinhua that at least five people including two children died at the ECWA church in Wusasa area of the state, while three and two other people also died in separate suicide bomb attacks on CKC church Zaria and Shalom Pentecostal Church in Bypass axis of the Kaduna metropolis respectively, during mass. A rescue official Ahmed Auwal told Xinhua that some corpses and severely injured victims were immediately taken to four health facilities in the state including Ahmadu Bello Teaching Hospital, Zaria and St. Louis Hospital, Wusasa. "For now, I can tell you authoritatively that 10 people have been confirmed in all the attacks and 40 others which I counted are still lying in the hospitals," he said.  [More>>xinhuanet.com; See also

foxnews.com, June 18, "Nigeria: Reprisal killings follow church attacks"
At least 52 people were killed in religious rioting sparked by three suicide bombings of churches that occurred on Sunday, hospital staff said Monday, Reuters reports. Suicide bombers killed 21 people in attacks on three churches in Nigeria during Sunday services, exacerbating religious tensions in a West African nation that is almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. Authorities arrested one of the bombers who survived, said Kaduna State police chief Mohammed Abubakar Jinjiri, but he declined to say who police suspect was responsible for the bombings. It was the third Sunday in a row that deadly attacks have been carried out against Christian churches in northern Nigeria. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the latest one, but suspicion fell on the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram because it took responsibility for the two earlier weekend assaults. Boko Haram is waging an increasingly bloody fight with security agencies and the public in Nigeria. More than 560 people have been killed in violence blamed on the sect this year alone, according to an Associated Press count...

06.14.12 Indonesian jailed for Prophet cartoons
June 14 - An Indonesian man arrested after writing "God doesn't exist" on his Facebook page was jailed for 30 months Thursday for sharing explicit material about the Prophet Mohammed online. Alexander Aan, 30, was found guilty of "deliberately spreading information inciting religious hatred and animosity," presiding judge Eka Prasetya Budi Dharma told the Muaro Sijunjung district court in western Sumatra. Aan started an atheist group on Facebook on which he shared comic strips of the prophet. [More>>alarabiya.net]

06.14.12 Germany raids target Salafists
About 70 different premises raided, targeting suspects belonging to groups espousing an austere form of Sunni Islam
German police have carried out raids in seven different states targeting individuals suspected of belonging to Islamic Salafist groups, the interior ministry said. At the same time, Hans-Peter Friedrich, the interior minister, banned one particular network known as "Millatu Ibrahim." Three ultra-conservative Muslim organizations were targeted in the raids early on Thursday, a ministry spokesman said, without providing any further details. About 70 different premises were raided, including flats, mosques, schools and local associations, with the biggest operations taking place in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse, the ministry said. In a statement, the regional state interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Ralf Jaeger, described the police operation as a "decisive step by the security services in the fight against dangerous extremists."

"Today's operation shows that we're turning up the pressure on the Salafists," Jaeger said. At the beginning of May, German authorities opened an inquiry against 44 members of the Islamic Salafist community and 37 others after violent clashes with police in the western town of Solingen. The Salafists have raised concern with their drive to convert non-Muslims, a campaign that has involved handing out 25 million copies of the Quran in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Authorities estimate there are about 2,500 Salafists in Germany. They espouse an austere form of Sunni Islam, but officials in Germany accuse them of also condoning violence against state institutions.  [>aljazeera.com]

06.14.12 Korea's household debt problem as serious as Spain's: KCCI report
June 14 - Korea’s ratio of household debt to gross domestic product has exceeded the average figure held by members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. According to the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Korea’s household debt-to-GDP ratio reached 81 percent, surpassing 73 percent of the OECD average. The level is quite serious as it is similar to the ratio (85 percent) of Spain which is suffering from a financial crisis and far exceeding that (61 percent) of Greece, one of the few countries mired in the eurozone debt crisis. Further, Korea ranked third in the pace of debt growth among OECD members with 9.8 percent, following Greece (12.1 percent) and Turkey (10.8 percent). The growth of household debt, which had gradually slowed since 2006, accelerated in 2010, climbing 2.4 percentage points from the previous year to 9.8 percent in Korea. Its GDP growth recorded 6.3 percent during the same period, which means the nation’s household debt surged at a faster rate than GDP.  [More>>koreaherald.com]

06.13.12 Syrian army pounds Haffa as rebels say pullout tactical; NATO rules out intervention
June 13 - While Syrian government helicopters and tanks are pounding the western town of al-Haffa and the surrounding villages, ground troops are rounding up young men and looting houses, according to Syrian rebels who have fled to Turkey. The withdrawal of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) from the besieged town of al-Haffa in Lattakia is tactical to avoid more killings among civilians, Al Arabiya reported on Wednesday citing a statement by the rebel army, as NATO chief said that foreign military intervention was "not the right path" in Syria. The statement said that al-Haffa and the surrounding villages have been exposed to continual shelling by the Syrian government forces and its "shabbiha" militias for eight successive days, causing big damages in the area’s infrastructure and shortages in water and electricity supplies.

As the Free Syrian Army is keen to avoid any more massacres to be committed by the forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad against civilians, orders have been given to FSA fighters to withdraw from the town and its suburbs and to evacuate the killed victims and the injured civilians, who include women and children, the FSA statement said.  FSA Chief Riyadh al-Asaad had told Al Arabiya in a phone call that the Syrian regime has become hysterical after it failed to control several regions. Recovering at a hospital in the Turkish city of Antakya, a wounded Free Syrian Army fighter described the assault on al-Haffa by government forces and how he was shot trying to rescue the wounded. "First, helicopters attack the villages, later the tanks attack, and then at the end soldiers enter the houses, loot them and set fire to them," said Mohammed, a 25-year-old fighter who had been shot through the shoulder. At least 50 wounded have been smuggled across the border to Turkey from Haffa over the past few days but many more are trapped by fierce fighting and those that try to escape are fired on by President Assad’s forces, according to rebels in the southern Turkish province of Hatay.    [More>>alarabiya.net]

06.13.12 Travel warning for Mexico: Possible violent 'retaliation' against Americans
June 13 - American travelers to Mexico should beware of possible violent retaliation for this week's arrest of alleged Zetas drug cartel associates and family members inside the US, the US State Department has warned. Though the warning does not specify which "Transnational Criminal Organization" might engage in "anti-American" violence, on Tuesday federal authorities arrested seven alleged associates of the powerful Zetas drug cartel in New Mexico and Oklahoma for allegedly laundering millions in drug profits through breeding and racing quarterhorses in the US. Those arrested included Jose Trevino Morales, the brother of Zetas leaders Miguel Angel and Oscar Omar Trevino Morales, who were also indicted but remain at large in Mexico. According to the indictment, the Zetas cartel steered drug money to Jose Trevino Morales and his wife to purchase, train and race quarterhorses. Horses owned by the Zetas' alleged front companies competed at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico and won lucrative races, including the $1 million All American Futurity in 2010. Some of the horses, like Morning Cartel and Coronita Cartel, had the word "cartel" in their names. The travel warning issued Tuesday, the day of the arrests and the unsealing of the indictment, urges US citizens in Mexico to be on guard. "Given the history and resources of this violent TCO, the US Embassy urges US citizens to maintain a low profile and a heightened sense of awareness."

06.13.12 75% of Japan's NW Pacific whale hunt unsold: official
TOKYO (AFP) June 13 - Three-quarters of the tons of meat from Japan's controversial whale hunt last year was not sold, despite repeated attempts to auction it, officials said on Wednesday. The Institute of Cetacean Research, a quasi-public body that organizes the country's whaling, said around 75 percent of roughly 1,200 tons of minke, Bryde's and sei meat from the deep-sea mission did not find buyers. It is separate from the smaller coastal whaling programs in northern Japan, whose meat still attracts buyers because it is fresh — as opposed to frozen — and sold in regions with deep whale-eating traditions. The institute held regular auctions between November and March to sell frozen meat from creatures caught in Northwestern Pacific waters last summer. It was intended to promote whale consumption and increase revenue. A spokesman for the institute blamed the "disappointing" auction results on food sellers wishing to avoid trouble with anti-whaling activists. "We have to think about new ways to market whale meat," he told AFP. Japan exploits a loophole in the international moratorium on whaling allowing for lethal research. Anti-whaling nations and environmentalist groups routinely condemn the missions as a cover for commercial whaling that they say threatens the population of the giant marine creatures.  [More>>koreaherald.com]

06.13.12 Regent orders churches closed, destroyed in Aceh
JAKARTA, Indonesia June 13 - The discovery that a regent in Aceh ordered 20 places of worship closed in April is raising concerns that growing intolerance will trigger communal conflicts. The closures were ordered by Aceh Singkil Acting Regent Razali AR in a letter signed on April 30 that also ordered members of the congregations to tear down the churches by themselves. "The local administration says that if the church members refuse to comply, the administration itself will demolish the buildings," Veryanto Sitohang of the United North Sumatra Alliance, a human rights group, said in Jakarta on Tuesday. "The deadline for the demolition was June 8. It has been a few days since the deadline, but nothing has happened so far," Veryanto said.  Razali ordered the closure of 17 Protestant churches, two Catholic churches and one place of worship belonging to followers of a local nondenominational faith.  He issued the letter following a protest by members of the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI) at the regency office on the same day. 

The group alleged that the establishments violated community agreements signed in 1979 and 2001 by Muslim and Christian leaders in the regency. One of the affected ministers said the agreements were signed under force. "Church officials signed the documents because they were under threat. The documents said that the Christians are only allowed to have one church and four undung-undung in the regency," Erde Barutu, the minister of the Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church in Aceh Singkil, said. Undung-undung refer to small non-denominational places of worship. Erde said the number of Christians living in the regency had increased significantly since 1979, and currently topped 15,000. According to the Central Statistics Agency, the population of Aceh was comprised of 4,413,244 Muslims, 50,309 Protestants and 3,315 Catholics in 2010. After the closures, there are currently only two churches open in Aceh Singkil, both built after 2000. Most of the churches slated for demolition were built in 1930s and 1940s.   [More>>thejakartapost.com]

06.13.12 Bangladesh sends back Muslims fleeing Myanmar
DHAKA, Bangladesh, June 12 - Bangladesh says it has sent back 11 boats packed with about 500 Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar. A government official in Cox's Bazar district, Mohammad Jainul Bari says border forces have been asked by the central government to not allow any refugees from Myanmar to enter the country. Bari says at least 500 people aboard 11 wooden boats have tried to enter Bangladesh over the past three days. Riots between Buddhists and minority Muslims have left at least 12 people dead in Myanmar's Rakhine state since Friday. The United Nations' refugee agency estimates 800,000 Rohingya live in mountainous Rakhine state. Thousands attempt to flee every year to Bangladesh, Malaysia and elsewhere in the region, trying to escape a life of abuse.  [>cbsnews.com; See more details,
reuters.com, June 13, "Riot-hit Myanmar town clamer as troops restore order."]

06.13.12 Scores killed in Iraq attacks
June 13 -
At least 61 people killed across the country, many of them Shia pilgrims gathered in Baghdad for a religious event. At least 61 people have been killed in a series of bombings and shootings across Iraq, with many of the attacks targeting Shia pilgrims during a major religious festival, police and hospital sources say. One of the deadliest blasts on Wednesday occurred in the Kadhimiyah area of north Baghdad, where tens of thousands had gathered to mark the anniversary of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim's death. "A group of pilgrims were walking and passed by a tent offering food and drinks when suddenly a car exploded near them," said Wathiq Muhana, a policeman whose patrol was stationed near the blast. "People were running away covered with blood and bodies were scattered on the ground," he said. Three other blasts targeted pilgrims in Karada district, raising the total death toll in the capital to at least 30. The annual pilgrimage sees hundreds of thousands of Shias converge on Baghdad on foot to commemorate the 8th century death of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim. Two nearly simultaneous car bombs also killed seven pilgrims and wounded 34 in the Shia town of Balad, north of Baghdad, officials said. [More>>aljazeera.com]

06.13.12 Raids on al-Qaeda in Yemen kill 30
(AFP) June 13 - Two raids on al-Qaeda in Yemen, at least one of them reportedly by a US drone, killed 30 people on Wednesday, an official said, as the militants came under new pressure a day after losing two key strongholds. The raids targeted al-Qaeda fighters fleeing the southern region of Abyan where the army scored its first major victory against the militants on Tuesday, retaking the town of Jaar and the provincial capital Zinjibar, more than a year after they fell under militant control. "Thirty terrorists were killed and dozens of others were wounded in two air strikes" in the mostly lawless southeastern province of Shabwa, General Ahmed Al Maqdashi, the region’s commander, said in a statement published on the defense ministry website. The general said the first strike hit a house and car in the town of Azzan where, according to a local official, nine militants were killed. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the attack was carried out by a "US drone" and hit a house where "al-Qaeda militants were meeting." A medical official confirmed the toll. A second strike hit an al-Qaeda position on the outskirts of Azzan, according to General Maqdashi, who did not specify if a US drone or the Yemeni air force was behind the raids. Several hundred al-Qaeda militants are believed to have fled to Azzan in the hours before the fall of Jaar and Zinjibar. A military official said on Wednesday that the latest strikes targeted “militants who fled Abyan” to Shabwa.   [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

06.13.12 US drone strike kills four militants in Pakistan
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan  (AFP) June 13 - A US drone attack killed four insurgents on Wednesday in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region, known as a hotbed of Taliban and al-Qaeda militants, security officials said. There has been a dramatic increase in US drone strikes in Pakistan since a NATO summit in Chicago ended last month without a deal to end a six-month blockade on NATO supplies crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan.  A drone attack killed 15 militants in North Waziristan on June 4. The dead included senior al-Qaeda figure Abu Yahya al-Libi, according to US officials. It was not immediately known if there were any high-value targets killed in the latest strike, which again took place in North Waziristan.  "The drone fired two missiles on a vehicle," a security official said. "The death toll has gone up to four," he added.

Previously he said three militants had been killed.  The vehicle was hit in Isha village, about 10 kilometers (six miles) east of Miranshah, two other security officials said. The vehicle caught fire after the attack, they said.  Miranshah is the main town in North Waziristan.  Nine drone strikes have been reported in Pakistan since May 23 and the June 4 strike was the deadliest since 18 Pakistani Taliban were reported killed on November 16, 2011.  North Waziristan is Pakistan's premier bastion of Islamist militants and where Islamabad has rejected US pressure to wage a major ground offensive against militants active in the 10-year war against US troops in Afghanistan.  Wednesday's attack came after the United States withdrew negotiators from Pakistan when talks failed to reopen NATO supply routes.   [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]


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