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8.18.09 Discovery by Stardust probe in Wild 2 comet suggests life on Earth began in space

August 18 - A fundamental building block of biology has been discovered in wisps of stardust from the tail of a comet, offering fresh evidence that life on Earth could have begun from matter that arrived on our planet from space. New analysis of tiny particles captured by the Stardust probe has revealed the presence of traces of an amino acid called glycine, a basic component of proteins without which life as we know it could not exist. The discovery, by NASA scientists, supports a theory that the raw material from which life began first formed in space, and was carried to Earth by comets that crashed into the planet. It also means that other planets are likely to have been seeded with amino acids by comets in similar fashion, suggesting that extraterrestrial life may have evolved elsewhere in the Universe and could be common.

...Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, said: "The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the Universe may be common rather than rare." The discovery is the latest to come from NASA's unmanned Stardust mission, which flew through the cloud of dust and debris trailing the Wild 2 comet on January 2, 2004.
[Full story>>timesonline.co.uk; See NASA press release, stardust.jpl.nasa.gov]

8.18.09 Top Taliban spokesman detained

(AFP) August 18 - Pakistani security forces have captured top Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar, weeks after the reported death of his boss, feared warlord Baitullah Mehsud, military officials said today. The bearded and heavy-set Omar, a leading spokesman for the militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was arrested by a local militia yesterday in the northwest tribal district of Mohmand, officials said. "A very, very important militant has been arrested," said Major Fazal Ur Rehman, head of the military's media cell, declining to give the militant's identity ahead of a news conference in Mohmand. But government, military and security officials confirmed the detainee was Omar, and photos of the militant in detention were widely circulated.

Omar - a former perfume seller who joined Taliban ranks as a fighter in 2004 - was a close aide of Mehsud, who Washington has accused of being "a key al-Qaeda facilitator" in Pakistan's tribal areas along the Afghan border. Javed Ali Khan, a local government official in Mohmand, said a tribal militia picked up Omar and two associates as they travelled in a car late Monday and handed them over to security forces. Residents and officials in the area said the TTP spokesman's real name was Sayed Mohammad, and Maulvi Omar was his guerrilla name. Believed to be about 40 years old, Omar rose to become the insurgents' spokesman in 2007
the same year Mehsud took over as top Taliban commander after one-legged former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Abdullah Mehsud was killed.

Omar frequently called reporters to claim responsibility for a string of deadly assaults. Attacks linked to militants have killed more than 2,000 people around Pakistan in the past two years, and most have been blamed on TTP. Mehsud was reported killed earlier this month in a US drone missile strike in South Waziristan. Islamabad has stopped short of confirming his death, but officials say TTP is plagued with infighting over his succession. The Taliban has denied this and says its leader is simply "a bit sick," but has provided no evidence that he is still alive.
[>news.com.au; See also:

timesofindia.indiatimes.com, August 18, "Pakistan Taliban chief Mehsud's death confirmed" : ISLAMABAD - The death of Pakistan's Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud has been confirmed by his close aide who was on Tuesday captured by local militiamen in [the] country's northwestern tribal region, government officials said. (Watch Video) "Maulvi Omer has confirmed to security officials that Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a missile strike by a US drone," NWFP information minister Iftikhar Hussain told media. Maulvi Omer who, until recent, was a mouthpiece for the Baitullah Mehsud-led TTP, was arrested along with his two colleagues by local pro-government militia in the restive Mohmand Agency. The militia then handed him over to security forces. The captured militant leader was going on foot to the Bajaur Agency, his native tribal town...

Related stories:

thenews.com.pk, August 18, "4 including 3 security men killed in NWA suicide attack" : MIRANSHAH - At least four including three security men were killed, when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into a check post on Mir Ali road in North Waziristan Agency, Geo News reported Tuesday. Mir Ali Road has been blocked for the traffic. The law enforcement agencies put a security cordon around the blast site...

thenews.com.pk, August 18, "6 including 2 extremists killed in Orakzai" : PESHAWAR - At least six people including two extremists have been killed in various incidents of violence in Orakzai Agency, Geo News reported Tuesday. According to sources, at least three people were shot down over a row of water in OA area of Momonzai. The local Taliban killed the attacker in retaliatory fire. Local tribesmen killed two extremists in Lower Orakzai Agency area of Ustorikhel. Also, local tribesmen destroyed a centre of the extremists in Anjani. [end]

8.18.09 Now brutal warlord holds key to Afghan poll

KABUL, Afghanistan, August 18 - Election overshadowed by Taliban threats and intervention of notorious mujahedin. As campaigning ended yesterday for elections that could determine both the future of Afghanistan and the role of British troops there, the outcome threatened to hang on the impact of renewed Taliban intimidation and the return to the fray of a former warlord, notorious for savage acts of brutality and violence. The Taliban warned that anyone whose fingers were stained with indelible ink, the tell-tale sign of having voted, risked having their digits chopped off. Hundreds of letters have also been sent out in the old Taliban capital Kandahar, warning people to stay away from the polling stations or face a wave of suicide attacks and "new" unspecified tactics.

But on the side of President Hamid Karzai, the pro-Western incumbent, there are equally worrying signs. The return of General Rashid Dostum, a politically treacherous ex-warlord, has heightened fears of yet another vicious cycle of bloodshed and lawlessness. Forced to flee Afghanistan last year after claims that he brutalized a political rival, General Dostum is
to the horror of Western diplomats now emerging as a key player who could be instrumental in delivering an election victory for the President. Best known for allegedly overseeing a massacre of 2,000 Taliban prisoners following the US-led invasion in 2001, General Dostum controlled large swaths of northern Afghanistan for years. He remains the de facto leader of the country's ethnic Uzbeks and his return is likely to consolidate their vote behind Mr. Karzai. But the warlord's triumphant return from Turkey on Sunday has exposed Mr. Karzai to renewed accusations that even if he wins the election he will remain in hock to thugs and human rights abusers...General Dostum is said to have once strapped a soldier accused of theft to the tracks of a tank and driven him around until the man's body was reduced to shreds. [Full story>>independent.co.uk; See related stories:

alarabiya.net, August 18, "Afghan presidential palace attacked before vote" : KABUL - Car bomb kills seven civilians, wounds more than 50. A suicide car bomb in the Afghan capital Tuesday killed seven Afghan civilians and some NATO troops, and wounded more than 50 people in an attack two days before elections, officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast and a volley of rockets fired into the heavily secured capital, one of which an official said struck the outskirts of the presidential compound of President Hamid Karzai but caused no damage.

The latest attacks come two days after a deadly suicide car bombing outside the main NATO base in Kabul and follow repeated Taliban threats of new assaults in a bid to sabotage presidential and provincial council elections on Thursday. The explosion was near a US military base on a key road leading east out of Kabul, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a message sent to Reuters via mobile phone, claimed the fighters had fired four rockets, but gave no further details...

thejakartapost.com (AP) August 18, "Bomb attack kills 7 in Kabul; UN staff among dead" : A Taliban suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy Tuesday on the outskirts of Kabul, killing at least seven people and wounding more than 50, officials said, just days before the presidential election that the militant group has vowed to disrupt. Two US soldiers were killed and three wounded in a separate blast, the US command said. Hours before the suicide blast, two mortar rounds struck near the presidential palace in Kabul, the US military said...

8.18.09 Russia arrests ship 'hijackers'

August 18 - Eight suspected hijackers have been arrested after the Russian navy tracked down a missing merchant vessel in the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Verde. The Arctic Sea and its crew mysteriously disappeared off the coast of France more than two weeks ago amid reports that pirates had boarded the vessel. Anatoly Serdyukov, the Russian defence minister, said on Tuesday that Russian, Latvian and Estonian citizens were among those detained after ship was located.

"These people... boarded the Artic Sea and, using the threat of arms, demanded that the crew follow all of their orders without condition," news agencies quoted Serdyukov as telling Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president. There has been much confusion over the fate of the Arctic Sea after the ship's owner reported that the crew had claimed the vessel had boarded by masked men on July 24 near the Swedish island of Gotland. The pirates reportedly tied up the crew, beat them, claimed they were looking for drugs, then sped off about 12 hours later in an inflatable craft. But by the time that report emerged from the Swedish police, the ship had already passed through the English Channel, where it made its last known radio contact on July 28.
[More>>aljazeera.net; See also:

en.rian.ru, August 18, "Latvia queries Russia on nationals held in Arctic Sea seizure" :
RIGA, Latvia - Latvia has asked Russia to provide more information on two Latvian nationals Moscow says were involved in the seizure of the merchant ship Arctic Sea, the Baltic state's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday. Russia's defense minister said earlier on Tuesday its frigate Ladny had freed the Arctic Sea cargo ship in the Atlantic without firing a single shot and eight suspected hijackers had been detained. The Arctic Sea vessel was located 480 kms (300 miles) off Cape Verde on Monday after being missing in the Atlantic for over two weeks. In addition to the 15-person crew, there were eight unidentified people on board. Anatoly Serdyukov said a speed boat carrying four Estonians, two Latvians and two Russians approached the Arctic Sea in the Swedish territorial waters on July 24...

8.18.09 Insulating oil spreads along Siberian river after hydro disaster

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) August 18 - A transformer oil spillage caused by a disaster at a Siberian hydropower plant has spread over 80 kilometers (50 miles) along the Yenisei River, the Natural Resources Ministry said on Tuesday. A turbine hall flooded early on Monday at the Sayano-Shushenskaya station, Russia's largest hydropower plant, killing at least 12 people. Another 64 people are still missing. The oil, used as an insulator and coolant in the plant's transformers, was released when one of the transformers exploded. The cause of the blast, which triggered the flooding, is not yet known. The ministry said in a statement that it is "greatly concerned" over the pollution, but that "most of the spill, spread along the surface of the water over a distance of 80 km, remains in the region of the Maynskoye Resevoir."

Emergency workers trying to keep the spillage under control using absorbent agents and floating booms. The ministry and the Republic of Khakasiya are monitoring the state of the water, and experts have taken samples to test pollution levels. Mikhail Kreyndlin, a project director at Greenpeace Russia, told RIA Novosti that the spill poses a severe threat. "Transformer oil is a low-density distillate. Because of this it doesn't sink to the bottom, but the film on the surface remains, posing a threat to fish, with possible suffocations. Everything depends on how quickly they can gather it up. If it continues to spread, then of course the damage will be substantial," he said. Alexander Toloshinov, a former general director of the station, built in 1978, earlier said the accident was most likely due to a "manufacturing defect" in a turbine. He also said pumping water out of the plant was crucial as survivors could still be found in "air bubbles" inside the flooded facilities.
[>en.rian.ru; See also:

abcnews.go.com (AP) August 18, "64 missing workers feared dead in Russian accident" : MOSCOW - Divers scoured the near-freezing waters flooding the cavernous rooms of Russia's largest hydroelectric plant on Tuesday but the owner said it was doubtful that any of the 64 workers missing after an accident would be found alive. The accident Monday, which drowned or crushed to death 12 other workers, shut down the massive Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant in southern Siberia and left several towns and major factories without electricity. The plant provides 10 percent of Siberia's energy needs, according to Russian media reports. Two workers were found alive Monday in niches inside the flooded structure, RusHydro acting chief Vasily Zubakin was quoted as saying, but hope was fading for the 64 still missing...

8.17.09 Wall Street joins a global downturn

August 17 - Investors on Wall Street sent shares lower on Monday as a chilly pessimism about the global recovery settled over worldwide markets. Before the weekend, disappointing data about the confidence of American consumers deflated stocks and renewed concerns about the brittle nature of the recovery. By the end of Friday trading, New York markets had closed down for the week after a month of consecutive weekly gains. The pessimism soon rubbed off on Asian investors who feared that a sustained weakness in American spending would threaten recovery in export-dependent countries like Japan and China.

Shares fell by roughly 2 percent shortly after the opening bell in New York, hours after markets in Shanghai and Tokyo posted their worst one-day drops in months. The Shanghai composite index plummeted 5.8 percent, taking its total decline since Aug. 4 to 17 percent and further eroding a rally that had sent it up more than 80 percent in the first seven months of this year. In early afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 1.8 percent to 9,152.95. The broad-based Standard and Poor's 500-stock index dropped 2.2 percent to 982.19. The Nasdaq composite index shed 2.6 percent to 1,934.75.

"It's almost an Asian flu that the markets caught today," said Art Hogan, the chief markets analyst at Jeffries & Co. "Creeping into the conversation now is, when do we see top-line revenue growth? When is the consumer going to take over from government stimulus? But the answer is consumer data has been less than spectacular." [More>>nytimes.com; See also cnn.com "markets"]

8.17.09 Al-Qaeda warns of 'spectacular attacks' on UK

LONDON, August 17 - In an astounding revelation, al-Qaeda extremists have claimed that home-grown terrorists are plotting to attack targets in Britain. According to reports, in an internet magazine read by thousands of Islamic extremists al-Qaeda has labeled Britain and Europe as a bigger enemy than the United States. It further says that the strikes are being planned by terrorists living in Britain and others overseas, and warns of "spectacular attacks," "The Sun" reports. The site is promoted by supporters of deported hate preacher Abdullah al-Faisal who was booted out of Britain after serving a jail sentence for being found guilty of three charges of soliciting the murder of Jews, Americans, and Hindus, and two charges of using threatening words to stir up racial hatred. [>indianexpress.com; see other details, timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

8.17.09 Muslims must unite for Islam's savior: Iran

DUBAI, August 17 - Spokesman says Iran's supreme leader represents Mahdi. The spokesman of Iran's Supreme Leader called on neighboring countries to mobilize their forces in preparation for the coming of the savior of Islam and to unite with the Islamic Republic in paving the way for his arrival, an Iranian news agency reported Sunday. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's spokesman, Ali Saeedi, said countries like Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan should gather together all their forces in order to make drastic changes to prepare for the coming of al-Mahdi al-Montazar, Arabic for "the awaited guided one." "We still have a long way to go in order to achieve this. We have to train honest forces that can stop the obstacles that may hinder the coming of the Mahdi like the United States and Israel,"

Saeedi said in statement posted by the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA). Saeedi also said that the supreme leader of Iran is the direct representative of the Mahdi and that obeying him is like obeying the "guided one," who is the prophesized savior of Islam. "Since the armed forces are commanded by the Supreme Leader, they are thus obeying the orders of the awaited Mahdi," Saeedi said, adding "the Revolutionary Guards and the armed forces in Iran hold religious authority to prepare for the appearance of the Mahdi." The Mahdi is believed by Muslims to be arriving before Judgment Day to rid the world of injustice. Although present in both major Islamic schools of thought, the Mahdi is more prominent in the Shiite doctrine than the Sunni one.
[More (See blog comments)>>alarabiya.net; See related Iran story,

khaleejtimes.com (Reuters) August 17, "Iran police clash with protesters over daily" :
TEHRAN - Iranian police used batons to disperse dozens of opposition supporters chanting “death to the dictator” in downtown Tehran on Monday following the reported closure of a reformist newspaper, a witness said. The latest street unrest after Iran's disputed June 12 presidential vote took place near the offices of the Etemad-e Melli newspaper of leading pro-reform cleric Mehdi Karoubi.

Karoubi angered many hardliners last week by saying some arrested opposition protesters had been raped in jail. His party earlier on Monday said the daily had been temporarily shut down.

Even though the security forces have managed to quell the mass demonstrations that erupted after the vote, supporters of defeated moderate candidates have showed continued defiance by staging several smaller rallies over the last month. The poll and its turbulent aftermath have plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, exposing deepening divisions within its ruling elite and also further straining relations with the West...

8.17.09 At least 20 dead,138 wounded in south Russia bomb attack

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (RIA Novosti) August 17 - Emergency officials said on Monday that at least 20 people were killed and 138, including 10 children, injured in an attack by a suicide bomber in southern Russia's Ingushetia. Earlier on Monday, a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden minivan into the gates of the police headquarters in the republic's largest city Nazran. The blast damaged the police building and nearby blocks of flats. Local emergencies officials working at the scene fear that the death toll could rise further as at least 20 people are believed to be trapped under the rubble of the police building.

"The precise number of people who might be under the rubble is not known. We believe there could be some 20 people there. Search efforts are continuing," an emergencies ministry official said on the telephone. He said the search had only just begun as the building was engulfed in fire immediately after the explosion. The official said 16 victims are in critical condition and are being transported to Moscow. The explosion left a crater about 4 meters wide and 2 meters deep. The blast triggered more explosions as ammunition detonated in the police headquarters...Ingushetia's construction minister was gunned down in his office last Wednesday. The murder followed the killing of a Supreme Court judge and the attempted assassination of the republic's president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, in late June. Last month the Ingush forensic chief was also gunned down. [Full story>>en.rian.ru; See also

thejakartapost.com (AP) August 17, "Suicide truck bomb kills at least 20 in Russia"
: ....Speaking in an interview with Russian News Service radio, Yevkurov blamed Chechen separatist warlord Doku Umarov for staging June's suicide attack on his convoy. He said law enforcement had tracked down the perpetrators of the attack, and would hunt down Umarov and other rebel warlords. Yevkurov, a former officer of the Russian GRU military intelligence service, also accused the United States, Britain and Israel of fomenting instability in the North Caucasus...

8.17.09 Recruiter of suicide bombers for Taliban apprehended

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, August 17 - Saifullah, an important and right hand commander of Baitullah Mehsud and his accomplice has been apprehended in Islamabad. According to sources Saifullah came under predator strike in South Waziristan, sustaining serious injuries on shoulder and back. His wounds could not be cured due to lack of medical facilities in South Waziristan, so he was brought to Islamabad in a highly secret move. Commander Saifullah was arrested from a house in Baharakaho area while raids are being conducted to arrest his associates.

Sources said, Saifullah who hailed from Burewala was assigned the task of recruiting suicide bombers besides running a terror network in Southern Punjab. The accused had been involved in executing major terror activities in the country including the bomb blasts in Dera Ghazi Khan. Police has also arrested Saifullah's accomplice Zahid from the jurisdiction of Secretariat Police Station.
[>thenews.com.pk; See related stories:

thenews.com.pk, August 17, "16 extremists surrender to security forces in Swat" : SWAT, Pakistan - Sixteen extremists surrendered to security forces in Swat on Monday while 2 security men succumbed to injuries after sustaining wounds in a suicide attack last night. According to Swat Media Centre, 16 extremists surrendered to security forces in Ghaki Bandi area. Security forces arrested an extremist commander who was clad in Burqa. It said no relaxation in curfew was allowed today for Mingora, Fazaghat and Charbagh, while in Matta, Khwazakhela, Darshakhila and Bedra curfew was eased from 7am to 6pm. [end]

thenews.com.pk, August 17, "13 terrorists killed in Swat operation;ISPR" : SWAT, Pakistan - Thirteen militants have been killed and several others injured in a search and clearance operations that continue in Swat and Malakand. According to Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), security forces conducted [a] search operation at Shaheed Sar near Sar Qala and destroyed terrorists Headquarters. During [the] operation 7 terrorists were killed. Six more terrorists were killed in a search operation at Derai.

Security forces, on a tip off, apprehended 3 suspects from Dagai near Chuprial, in Swat. Five terrorists were also arrested from Fatehpur. An IED was defused during search operation at at Dandai near Sar Qala. Twenty terrorists voluntarily surrendered themselves to security forces in Dir. Carrying out relief activities the security forces distributed 18 trucks full of rations and relief items among the IDPs of Malakand. So far 253,176 cash cards have been distributed among the displaced. [end]

japantoday.com, August 17, "Suicide bomber kills at least 6 in Pakistan" : PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Pakistani police say at least 6 people have been killed in a suicide bombing in a town outside the northwestern city of Peshawar. Police officer Shafiullah Khan says a bomber drove a truck into a fuel station and detonated explosives Monday morning, killing six people and wounding eight others in the Shabqadar area of Charsada district, next to Peshawar. Khan said the dead included the children of a woman filling her car with fuel when the truck exploded. No one claimed immediate responsibility but the area lies next to the tribal regions dominated by the Pakistani Taliban, who have vowed revenge following the reported death of top leader Baitullah Mehsud. [end]

alarabiya.net, August 17, "Leader of banned Pakistan militant group killed" : KARACHI, Pakistan - Chief of Millat-e-Islamia killed after gunmen ambushed his car. The leader of a banned militant group in Pakistan was shot dead on Monday in an apparent sectarian attack, police and party officials said. Hundreds of Pakistanis have been killed in recent years in violence between militants from the Sunni Muslim majority and their minority Shiite rivals. The killings, especially of faction leaders, raise fears of revenge attacks triggering cycles of violence. Ali Sher Haideri, chief of the Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan, was returning home in Khairpur, 240 km (150 miles) northeast of the southern city of Karachi, after a public gathering when gunmen ambushed his car, police said.

"He was killed along with one of his companions who was driving the car, while one of the six attackers was also killed when his guards returned fire," Pir Muhammad Shah, chief of police in Khairpur, told Reuters by telephone. Millat-e-Islamia, or Nation of Islam, was formed in 2002 by members of the notorious Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a Sunni Muslim organization that was for years involved in tit-for-tat killings with Shiite militants...In the meantime, up to 24 militants were reported killed Monday in air strikes and clashes in Pakistan's northwest, where six civilians were also killed by a car bomb at a petrol station, officials said...

8.15.09 'Bailed-out banks should banish bonuses'

LONDON, August 15 - Bonuses should be banished at every bank that has benefited from taxpayers' support, the shadow chancellor has suggested. George Osborne seems to have tried to toughen the Conservative line on City payouts by hinting restrictions should apply even when institutions have not directly taken Government money. Mr. Osborne was questioned about recent big bonuses at Barclays bank which has not received a cash injection from the Government but has benefited from the wider loans and guarantees.

He told the Guardian newspaper: "It is totally unacceptable for bank bonuses to be paid on the back of taxpayer guarantees. It must stop. These banks need to live in the real world, where the country's in a deep recession, and where the taxpayer has spent billions of pounds, not just bailing out some failed banks, but also underpinning the rest of the banking system..." [More>>news.sky.com]

8.15.09 Blast near NATO HQ kills 7, injures 91

KABUL, Afghanistan, August 15 - A suicide car bomb exploded Saturday outside the main gate of NATO's headquarters less than a week before presidential elections, killing seven and wounding 91 in the biggest attack in the Afghan capital in six months. The bomber evaded several rings of Afghan police and detonated his explosives at the doorstep to the international military headquarters, an assault possibly aimed at sending the message that the Taliban can attack anywhere as Afghans gear up for their second-ever direct presidential election. Militants have warned Afghans not to vote and have threatened to attack voting sites. The NATO headquarters — where top commander US Gen. Stanley McChrystal is based — sits beside the US Embassy and shares the same street as the presidential palace. The explosion was the first major attack in Kabul since February, when eight Taliban militants struck three government buildings simultaneously in the heart of the city, an assault that killed 20 people and the eight assailants. [More>>thenews.com.pk]

8.15.09 Hamas: head of al-Qaeda affiliate killed in Gaza

August 15 - Hamas security said Saturday that the leader of an al-Qaeda-inspired group in the Gaza Strip has been killed during a fierce gun battle that began on Friday. Abdel-Latif Moussa, the leader of Jund Ansar Allah, was killed when fighting resumed with Hamas forces after dawn Saturday, Ihab Ghussein, a Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman, told The Associated Press. He said Moussa detonated an explosives vest he was wearing during the fighting. "The so-called Moussa has committed suicide...killing a mediator who had been sent to him to persuade him and his followers to hand themselves over to the government," Ghussein said. He said the fighting ended later in the morning.

The fighting began Friday when Hamas forces surrounded a mosque in the southern Gaza town of Rafah where about 100 members of Jund Ansar Allah, or the Soldiers of the Companions of God, were holed up. Flares lit up the sky overnight as Hamas machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades slammed into the mosque. The militants inside the structure returned fire with automatic weapons and grenades of their own. A Gaza medical official said at least 24 people, including six Hamas police officers and an 11-year-old girl, were killed in the violence that also wounded 150. An Egyptian security official said that a Palestinian member of the Jund Ansar Allah turned himself over to Egyptian security officers on Saturday.

8.15.09 Burma to free Suu Kyi US 'guest'

August 15 - US Senator Jim Webb has said jailed American John Yettaw is to be released by Burma's military leaders and will leave the country with him on Sunday. The announcement came shortly after Mr. Webb held talks with Burmese military ruler Than Shwe in Burma. Mr. Webb also met pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, days after she was given house arrest for 18 more months. Mr. Yettaw's uninvited visit to Ms. Suu Kyi's home led to her trial. He was himself given seven years' hard labour. Mr. Webb's office said Mr. Yettaw would be officially deported on Sunday morning and that the senator would bring him out of the country on a military aircraft that was returning to Bangkok. After his arrest, Mr. Yettaw, said he had been sent by God to deliver a warning to Ms. Suu Kyi that she would be assassinated.

The Democratic senator, who also asked for the release of Ms. Suu Kyi, is the most senior US official to meet the Burmese leader, his office said. "I am grateful to the Myanmar government for honouring these requests," Mr. Webb said in a statement announcing Mr. Yettaw's release. "It is my hope that we can take advantage of these gestures as a way to begin laying a foundation of goodwill and confidence-building in the future." The UN Security Council expressed "serious concern" following Ms, Suu Kyi's conviction earlier this week, while the EU extended sanctions against Burma. Ms. Suu Kyi had earlier been taken to a state guesthouse near her home to meet Mr. Webb, where the two held talks lasting about 40 minutes.

8.15.09 Somali pirates' bodies washed up

August 15 - The bodies of seven suspected pirates have washed up on the shores of Somalia after a group of Egyptian fishermen overpowered them to escape following four months in captivity. Witnesses told Al Jazeera that a number of the bodies found on Saturday had bullet wounds from their scuffles with their captives. The crewmen from two Egyptian vessels captured off the coast of Yemen were travelling back to Egypt with eight of their former captors, Mohammad Nasr, the owner of one of the boats, said. [More>>aljazeera.net]

8.15.09 French Muslim minister calls for total burka ban

LONDON, August 15 - Says ban will stem spread of "cancer" of radical Islam. A ban on wearing the all covering burka in France would stem the spread of what French minister Fadela Amara called the "cancer" of radical Islam, a report quoted her as saying Saturday. The Muslim minister for urban regeneration told the Financial Times newspaper that the head-to-toe body covering and veil represented the "oppression of women, their enslavement, their humiliation."

Amara, who is of Algerian descent, said France was a beacon for an enlightened Islam at ease with modernity, so it was necessary to fight the "gangrene, the cancer of radical Islam which completely distorts the message of Islam." "The vast majority of Muslims are against the burka. It is obvious why," Amara told the newspaper. "Those who have struggled for women's rights back home in their own countries I'm thinking particularly of Algeria we know what it represents and what the obscurantist political project is that lies behind it, to confiscate the most fundamental of liberties," she said.
[>alarabiya.net; See also ft.com]

8.14.09 Iranian ex-MPs challenge Khamenei

August 14 - A group of former Iranian MPs has appealed to a powerful clerical panel to investigate if Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is fit to rule. The call was made to the Assembly of Experts, which under Iranian law has the power to remove the supreme leader. The letter denounces the crackdown on protests after June's disputed election and the trials which followed. Meanwhile a senior cleric has said a reformist leader should be prosecuted for alleging protesters had been raped. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said defeated election candidate Mehdi Karroubi's remarks boosted Iran's enemies, particularly the US and Israel. Mr. Karroubi has alleged that some protesters male and female were raped while detained in prison. He has also said that some were tortured to death. [More>>bbc.co.uk]

8.14.09 British sniper describes how he shot Taliban commander...from two kilometers away

August 14 - A British sniper killed a Taliban leader with the longest-ever fatal bullet shot in Afghanistan - from nearly two kilometers away. Corporal Christopher Reynolds, 25, camped on the roof of a shop for three days as he waited for the perfect conditions to shoot the terrorist commander. He calculated the range, wind and trajectory before pulling the trigger and the bullet flew 1,853 metres before hitting the target in the chest. The warlord, known as "Mula," is thought to be responsible for co-ordinating several attacks against British and American troops since the outbreak of war in 2001. Cpl. Reynolds, of 3 Scots, The Black Watch, who has already killed 32 rebel fighters, has now been credited with the longest kill in Afghanistan at 1.15 miles away. The incident happened last week during heavy fighting in the town of Babaji in Helmand Province.

Today he told how the Taliban chief slumped into the arms of a stunned colleague after being hit by the "lead sleeping tablet." Cpl. Reynolds, a father-of-one, said: "We were in a bazaar for days in some very heavy fighting and had taken up a position on a shop roof to observe the surrounding area. From the first few minutes after we landed, we came into contact with the enemy. We were taking fire all the time. We were observing down the valley and I saw a group of five Taliban.

"I identified one straight away as the commander because I watched him through the scope and when he spoke on the radio, the other one would do what he said. I saw that he had a weapon, an AK47. We did all the calculations for range, wind speed and all that. I have to admit the first round landed next to him. We were so far away that he didn't even realise he was being shot at. We changed our aim and when I took into account different factors like the trajectory of the bullet, my gun scope was actually aiming at the top of a doorway. I fired and the bullet went off, coming down and hitting him in the chest..."

8.14.09 Hamas clash with radicals leaves 6 dead, 38 hurt

GAZA, August 14 - Pro-Qaeda group declares "Islamic emirate" in Gaza. At least six Palestinians were killed and more than 38 others injured in the Gaza Strip on Friday in an exchange of fire between radical Islamists and Hamas police, medical sources said. The clash took place when Hamas police confronted the Islamist dissidents, who had gathered at a mosque in the southern city of Rafah near the border with Egypt. Islamist radicals from a Palestinian group called Jund Ansar Allah defied the Hamas rulers of Gaza earlier by declaring an "Islamic emirate" in the territory and staging a defiant display of arms.

Though the "Warriors of God" rallied only a few hundred men for their event at a Gaza mosque, it was the latest challenge to Hamas's nationalist brand of Palestinian Islam by groups espousing a pan-Arab militia aligned with al-Qaeda...Outside the mosque on Friday, nearly 100 masked fighters of the group in Pakistani-style dress, wearing their hair long, carried automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
[Full story>>alarabiya.net; See also

aljazeera.net, August 14, "Gunfight breaks out at Gaza mosque" : ...Al-Jamaa al-Salafiya al-Jihadya in Palestine (The Jihadist Salafist Group in Palestine) seeks a Palestinian legal system based purely on the sharia Islamic law and accuses Hamas of being too liberal. The group is said to have threatened to burn down internet cafes and to demand greater modesty on Gaza beaches...

8.14.09 Egyptian crews overpower Somali pirates, kill 2

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) August 14 - The crew of two Egyptian fishing vessels overpowered Somali pirates after being held hostage for four months and, with machetes and tools, killed at least two pirates before sailing to freedom, a pirate and businessmen said Friday. The case marked a rare instance of crewmen fighting back against Somali pirates, who usually hold their hostages for months in anticipation of million-dollar ransoms. One pirate was in custody after local fishermen found him near shore with machete wounds, police said. [More>>thejakartapost.com]

8.14.09 Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai passes controversial law limiting women's rights

KABUL, Afghanistan, August 14 - Karzai Reneged on Promise to Review Bill Limiting Shiite Women's Rights, Making It Law. A controversial bill that Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised to review before implementing quietly became law last month, allowing police to enforce language that stipulates a wife's sexual duties and restricts a woman's ability to leave her own home. Karzai had promised to send the bill to parliament before it was published, but this week women's rights advocates learned it had already become an enforceable law despite heavy international and national criticism. The Shiite Personal Status Law which applies to the country's minority Shiite women, was originally even more pernicious than the final version. In March a western embassy translated a portion of the law as defining a woman's role as "readiness for sex and not leaving the house without the husband's permission." [More>>abcnews.go.com]

8.14.09 Seven women shot dead in sauna

MOSCOW (Reuters) August 14 - Seven women have been shot dead in a sauna in the republic of Dagestan, in Russia's north Caucasus region. Growing lawlessness and Islamist violence in Dagestan, Chechnya and neighboring Ingushetia are undermining the Kremlin's control of its southern flank. The attacks are the latest in a sharp upswing in violence against civilians across the region, where a local minister was shot dead in his office earlier this week. The seven women were shot by rebels at around the same time as separatists attacked and killed four policemen manning a nearby checkpoint in Buinaksk, a town 41 km from the local capital, Makhachkala.

"At least four died when they attacked the traffic police. Around the same time they entered the sauna and shot seven women," a spokesman for local police said. Separately, four policemen and two separatists died in a shootout in Chechnya, Russian news agencies reported today. The Chechen deaths occurred in an abandoned house near the capital Grozny, RIA news agency said. Five other security force officers were also injured in a separate clash in the republic on Thursday, Interfax reported. On Wednesday, Ingushetia's construction minister was shot at close range in his heavily guarded office. In Chechnya three human rights activists have been shot and killed in the past month, two earlier this week and one in July.
[>news.com.au; See also

en.rian.ru (RIA Novosti) August 14, "Two police officers killed, one injured in Russia's Dagestan" :
MAKHACHKALA - Two police officers were killed and one injured in two separate attacks on police posts in the capital of Russia's North Caucasus republic of Dagestan overnight, a spokesman said on Friday. The latest killings following an attack on a police post and sauna on Thursday which left eleven people dead. "The first incident occurred in the center of Makhachkala, not far from the city's market. Gunmen shot two police officers at their post with a firearm fitted with a silencer," the spokesman said. The second incident occurred in the outskirts of Makhachkala, "A traffic police officer was wounded in the head and taken to a city hospital," the spokesman said.

Police also said on Friday that they had identified some of the militants involved in [the] Thursday attack in Dagestan, when gunmen opened fire on a police post in the Caspian Sea town of Buinaksk. The attackers then stormed into a nearby sauna and gunned down seven women. A police source in Dagestan said some 15 gunmen were believed to have been involved in the shooting. Also in Dagestan on Thursday, two police officers were wounded in separate sniper attacks in Makhachkala. Dagestan, which neighbors Chechnya, has seen an upsurge in militant violence in recent months, with attacks on police and federal forces being a regular occurrence. In June, Dagestan's interior minister was assassinated at a wedding reception...

8.13.09 Foreclosure plague: No cure yet

NEW YORK, August 13 - The housing market is still sick, with a record number of foreclosure filings posted in July. The foreclosure plague continued to devastate last month. There were more than 360,000 properties with foreclosure filings including default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions an increase of 7% from June and 32% from July 2008, according to RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosed homes. In fact, one in every 355 US homes had at least one filing during July.

"July marks the third time in the last five months where we've seen a new record set for foreclosure activity," said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. "Despite continued efforts by the federal government and state governments to patch together a safety net for distressed homeowners, we're seeing significant growth in both the initial notices of default and in the bank repossessions." The jump occurred as several foreclosure moratoriums phased out. They were initiated by many states to give the administration's foreclosure-prevention efforts time to work. But for many help did not come: The modification and refinancing programs have met with less success than hoped. [More>>cnn.com]

8.13.09 France and Germany emerge from recession

August 13 - The French and German economies both today reported a return to growth in the second quarter, bringing an end to recession in two of Europe's biggest economies. Both countries reported growth in gross domestic product (GDP) of 0.3 per cent in the three months to the end of June, on the back of more positive net trade figures and higher consumption in the public and private sectors — a scenario that few economists and market-watchers had predicted. However, some analysts raised fears over the sustainability of a recovery, since positive trade data was largely a result of a sharp drop in imports rather than surging exports.

"The question is how lasting it will be," said Jens-Oliver Niklasch, an analyst for LBBW, the German bank. "There are lots of problems we haven't solved. In particular, the banking sector is still dependent on the state umbrella." Many other European countries remain mired in recession. Italy's GDP fell by 0.5 per cent in the second quarter, Spain's economy declined by about 0.9 per cent and Holland's shrank by 0.9 per cent. However, the positive data from France and Germany helped to ease the recession in the 16-nation eurozone, with GDP falling by a much less than expected 0.1 per cent between April and June. Although it was the fifth consecutive decline in economic output in the 16 countries that use the euro, the marginal fall boosted hopes that the recession in the eurozone could already be over. [More>>timesonline.co.uk]

8.13.09 Vietnam species 'risk extinction'

August 13 - Experts in Vietnam have warned that the Vietnamese could be eating a number of wild species into extinction. The chairman of the Vietnam Zoology Association said animals at risk included the rhinoceros, the white-handed gibbon, the civet and the tapir. He said that demand for wild animal meat had spread from mountain communities to rich urban areas. Some 200 species are traded in Vietnam — 80 of them rare, according to the Thanhmien News. The most common ones include snakes, monitor lizards, pangolins, turtles, wild cats, tigers, leopards, bears, elephants, wild boars, deer, monkeys, chamois and porcupines, the newspaper said. [More>>bbc.co.uk; See also reports by traffic.org, a wildlife trade monitoring network]

8.13.09 23 soldiers killed in Basilan clash: AFP

MANILA, Philippines, August 13 - (UPDATE 2) Hundreds of soldiers crept into a major lair of the Abu Sayyaf in a village in Basilan Wednesday night, to carry out what military officials described as a thorough and "intelligence-driven" combat operation against suspected terrorists. When the daylong "hand-to-hand" gun-battle ended and the smoke cleared, 23 soldiers — two of them young officers belonging to the Army's elite group — were killed and 22 others were wounded in the biggest clash with the Abu Sayyaf so far. A saddened military on Thursday could not remember suffering such heavy casualties following the carnage on July 20, 2007 when 14 Marines were killed —10 of them beheaded — during a fruitless rescue operation for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi.

...The first clash began at around 3:30am with initially 50 Abu Sayyaf fighters. A bigger clash occurred two hours later or at around 5:30am and lasted for seven hours with at least 300 troops engaging roughly 150 Abu Sayyaf members. Sporadic firefighting erupted until Wednesday evening in adjacent villages as Abu Sayyaf fighters clashed with the military's blockade forces, added Brawner. The camp which the military overran on Wednesday was believed to have been headed by Abu Sayyaf commander Furuji Indama. Amateur members of the al-Qaeda linked group were being trained in bomb-making in the said camp...Government troops conducting clearing operations in the area Thursday have recovered 21 bodies out of the roughly 30-40 Abu Sayyaf members killed in the biggest encounter since July 2007, said Burgos. [
Full story>>inquirer.net]

8.13.09 Indonesia police find new bomb cache

JAKARTA (AFP) August 13 - Indonesian police said Thursday they had unearthed a new cache of bomb-making chemicals as part of investigations into the July 17 suicide attacks against luxury hotels in Jakarta. Police spokesman Sulistyo Ishak said the chemicals were found Wednesday in a rented warehouse in Bogor, West Java, and could be linked to the terror network of Malaysian extremist Noordin Mohammed Top. "The materials are being investigated by Detachment 88 counter-terrorism police to find out whether they're similar to those used by Noordin Top's network," he told AFP. "We can't tell you now what they were going to use this for, such as where and which target."

Police launched a massive raid on a suspected Noordin hideout on Friday but failed to locate the fugitive Malaysian, killing instead one of his alleged accomplices in the hotel attacks after a 17-hour siege. The dead man was identified by police Wednesday as Ibrohim, who worked at the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels as a florist and was said to have played a crucial role in the planning and execution of the July 17 bombings...Meanwhile hundreds of people including radical Islamist cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the cofounder of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant movement, attended the funerals of two would-be suicide bombers killed by police on Saturday. ..Mourners carried banners praising the men as "martyrs" and encouraging jihad or "holy war" in defence of Islam, as they were buried near their hometown of Solo, one of the hotbeds of Islamist radicalism in the mainly Muslim country.
[Full story>>khaleejtimes.com]

8.13.09 Deaths in Iraq cafe blast

August 13 - At least 17 people are reported to have been killed and 26 others wounded after two suicide bombers hit a coffee shop near the northern city of Mosul. Police said that the two men entered a crowded cafe in Sinjar, whose inhabitants are from the minority Yazidi sect, and detonated explosive vests. Thursday's bombing is the deadliest since Monday, when 51 people were killed across Iraq, including 28 in the village of Khaznah outside of Mosul. Sinjar, northwest of Mosul, is a city dominated by members of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi religious group that is concentrated near the Syrian border. Bombings and shootings are reported almost daily in and around Mosul, the capital of the northern province of Nineveh, where armed groups have exploited disputes between Arabs and Kurds even though their influence has waned elsewhere in Iraq. [>aljazeera.net]

8.13.09 Attacks kill six anti-Taliban elders

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, August 13 - A suicide bombing and gun attack in northwest Pakistan on Thursday killed six people, including three prominent anti-Taliban tribal elders, officials said. A bomber strapped with explosives and riding a motorbike killed Malik Khadeen, one of his relatives and two passers-by after ramming the tribesman's vehicle in South Waziristan, a local security official said. Khadeen was a key anti-Taliban facilitator in Wana, the main town in the wild tribal region that is considered a stronghold of Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud, presumed killed in a US missile attack last week...Separately two pro-government Pakistani militia leaders were killed and their bullet-ridden bodies recovered — dumped in the tribal area Bajaur, which like South Waziristan also borders Afghanistan, local officials said. [Full story>>thenews.com.pk; See related story, thenews.com.pk, August 13, "13 militants killed in Orakzai, Kurram Agency."]

8.13.09 Roadside bomb kills 11 in south Afghanistan

KABUL (RIA Novosti) August 13 - Eleven people, including women and children, were killed when the bus they were riding in hit a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan, a local official said on Thursday. Only one person survived the attack, which took place in the Helmand province on Wednesday evening. Also on Wednesday, three children were killed as they played with a Taliban-planted grenade in the city of Kandahar. On Monday, gunmen attacked the administrative center of Logar Province, about 55 kilometers to the south of Kabul, days before presidential and local elections on August 20 that the Taliban has vowed to disrupt. The Taliban say attacks will continue. Violence across Afghanistan is at its highest level since the Taliban were removed from power by US-led forces in 2001. [>en.rian.ru; See related stories,

aljazeera.net, August 13, "Ex-Afghan president escapes ambush" :
Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president, has survived a Taliban ambush in northern Kunduz province, officials have said. Rabbani, now a member of parliament, was travelling on a road in the Ali Abad district of Kunduz on Thursday when Taliban fighters ambushed his convoy with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire, Habibullah Mohtashim, the chief of the district, said on Thursday. No one in Rabbani's convoy was hurt, while three fighters died in a clash with bodyguards and police, Mohtashim said. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack.

...In another part of Kunduz, Taliban fighters battled police for a second straight night. Abdul Razaaq Yaqubi, the provincial police chief, said three policemen and eight Taliban fighters were killed when police battled the Taliban until dawn in Kunduz's northern Dasht-e-Archi district...A series of roadside bombs killed at least 14 civilians in the south, officials said. The bombings happened in a Taliban stronghold where thousands of Western troops have been battling to subdue multiple areas ahead of the elections. In the deadliest blast, a roadside bomb struck a minivan in Helmand province and killed a family of 11, said General Ghulam Wahdat, the police commander for the southern zone...

arabtimesonline.com (AFP) August 13, "US soldier killed in anti-Taliban push in Afghanistan" : KABUL - A US soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan, where thousands of troops are conducting anti-insurgency operations ahead of upcoming elections, the military said Thursday. The soldier died when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device, or IED, on Wednesday, a statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said...

8.13.09 Yemen sets conditions for ceasefire with rebels

SANA'A, August 13 - At least 19 insurgents and civilians were killed on Wednesday after the army bombarded strongholds of the Al Houthi rebel group on the border with Saudi Arabia. Sana'a: Yemen has set out six conditions for halting its massive military operation against Shiite rebels in the north-western province of Sa'ada, state media reported on Thursday. The conditions included the rebels' withdrawal from all districts of Sa'ada and mountainous sites and giving up military hardware they have seized from the army, the official Saba news agency said. Also among the conditions was a call for the rebels to clarify the fate of a German family of five and a British engineer taken hostage in Sa'ada in June. [More>>gulfnews.com]

8.12.09 Obeying Ahmadinejad like obeying God: Iran cleric

TEHRAN (AFP) August 12 - A hard-line cleric considered to be the mentor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Iranians on Wednesday to follow the newly-re-elected president, saying that obeying him was akin to obeying God. Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi also warned the country's opposition groups against undermining supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been the country's spiritual guide for 20 years. "When the president is endorsed by the leader, obeying him is similar to obedience to God," Mesbah Yazdi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

Khamenei endorsed Ahmadinejad as president for a second term last week amid a continuing political crisis sparked by widespread protests against his June re-election. Lashing out at opposition groups that refuse to acknowledge Ahmadinejad's victory, Mesbah Yazdi said these "enemies" also wanted to undermine Khamenei. "The enemies wanted to weaken or eliminate this main pillar and some people knowingly or unknowingly sought to do this in recent events," he said.

8.12.09 Federal deficit higher in July, $1.27 trillion this year

WASHINGTON (AP) August 12 - Record federal deficit climbs higher, $180.7 billion in July, $1.27 trillion so far this year. The federal deficit climbed higher into record territory in July, hitting $1.27 trillion with two months remaining in the budget year. The Treasury Department said Wednesday that the July deficit totaled $180.7 billion, slightly more than the $177.5 billion economists had expected. The Obama administration is projecting that when the current budget year ends on Sept. 30, the imbalance will total $1.84 trillion, more than four times last year's record-high. Massive amounts of government spending to combat the recession and stabilize the US financial system have pushed the deficit higher. The cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with depleted government tax revenues, also are major factors. [More>>abcnews.go.com]

Editorial note: The National Debt (aka Public Debt) as of August 10, 2009 is $11.66 trillion. Interest expense on the debt so far this fiscal year is $340.2 billion. As of July 2009, Department of Defense outlays are $530.8 billion. One may wonder why major news media don't mention interest outlays on the debt, since interest is one of the major contributors to the debt. In fact, during most of the Bush I & II years the deficit each year was often equalled or exceeded by interest outlays. (See Maravot News National_Debt.html for US Public Debt history.)

8.12.09 Home prices fall a record 15.6%

NEW YORK, August 12 - Year-over-year prices may have fallen at a record pace, but there are signs of improvement. Median home prices fell a record 15.6% during the three months ended June 30, compared to the same period in 2008, according to an industry report. There is good news though: The survey from the National Association of Realtors reported the median home price rose 4% compared to the first quarter of 2009 to $174,100 from $167,300. The increase in median price was not a surprise, representing, as it did, the traditionally strong spring selling season. But the jump did offer the prospect that the worst of the price declines may be behind us. [More>>cnn.com]

8.12.09 DNA test shows JI leader Top still alive

JAKARTA, Indonesia, August 12 - The DNA test result showed that the man killed by police in a siege on Saturday in Central Java was not [the] leader of..Jemaah Islamiyah, Noordin Mohammad Top, indicating the leader was still alive, head of health center of National Police Brig. General Eddy Saparwoko, announced here on Wednesday. [Full story>>xinhuanet.com]

8.12.09 Militant clashes kill about 70 in Pakistan

(AP) August 12 - Two intelligence officials and a militant commander say clashes between rival militant groups in northwestern Pakistan have killed about 70 fighters. The officials say the clashes broke out on Wednesday in Jandola between fighters loyal to Pakistan's Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, and those of Turkistan Bitani, a militant commander allied with the government. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. Bitani told the AP that a total of about 60 to 70 fighters had died, and that the clashes broke out when his group was attacked by Mehsud's group. There was no way to independently confirm the death toll, as the fighting was taking place in a remote area that is off-limits to journalists. [>indianexpress.com]

8.12.09 Pakistani preachers shot dead in Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia, August 12 - Seven Pakistani preachers were killed by several masked men at a mosque in Somalia's Puntland region on Wednesday, residents said. Western security agencies said Somalia is a haven for insurgents plotting attacks in the region and beyond. Puntland is a base for pirates targeting the Gulf of Aden, but has been more peaceful than the south of the failed Horn of Africa state. Residents said the attack took place after early morning prayers at the mosque in Galkayo in the semi-autonomous region, and was aimed at a group of 25 sheikhs who arrived on Tuesday...Puntland's information minister was killed in the same area last week, and residents said Wednesday's attack may have been motivated by suspicions the preachers were linked to al-Qaeda..."There were 25 of these foreigners, mostly Pakistanis, and they arrived from Pakistan yesterday," the elder, Mohamed Hussein, told Reuters. [Full story>>alarabiya.net]

8.12.09 Journalist loses foot in bomb attack

KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) August 12 - Two journalists from US news agency Associated Press have been seriously wounded in a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan, with one losing a foot, the media group says. The Spanish photographer and Indonesian videographer were in a military vehicle that was hit by a roadside bomb on Tuesday in Kandahar province, one of the main battlefields in the US and NATO-led battle against the Taliban. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said some of the US soldiers travelling with the pair were also wounded by the improvised explosive device (IED) but it could not immediately provide details. [More>>news.com.au]

8.11.09 Chevy Volt to get 230 mpg rating

DETROIT, August 11 - The Chevrolet Volt, GM's electric car that's expected to go on sale in late 2010, is projected to get an estimated 230 miles per gallon, the automaker announced Tuesday. That exceptionally high government mileage rating could give the Volt a major boost. For the first time, car buyers will easily be able to compare electric cars with ordinary gas-powered cars. "Having a car that gets triple-digit fuel economy can and will be a game changer for us," said GM CEO Fritz Henderson. Determining fuel economy for an electric car is a tricky matter, and General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) has been working with the Environmental Protection Agency for years on the issue.

Basically, you will be able to drive the Volt for about 40 miles using the lithium-ion batteries. For those driving less than that, gas mileage is essentially unlimited. It is only after 40 miles that the Volt will start using gas. "Most Volt drivers will operate on a daily basis without having to use a single drop of gas," said Henderson, saying that three out of four drivers travel 40 miles or less a day.

Fuel economy for hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius is displayed in the same way as it is for any other gasoline-powered vehicle. It gets 46 mpg, for example, versus 19 mpg for a V-6 Ford Mustang. That standard works because all the energy used by the Prius ultimately comes from burning gasoline. The Prius just uses that energy more efficiently than other cars do. The Chevrolet Volt, on other hand, runs on electricity that comes from two sources a battery as well as a gasoline engine.

When gasoline is providing the power, the Volt might get as much as 50 mpg. But that mpg figure would not take into account that the car has already gone 40 miles with no gas at all. So let's say the car is driven 50 miles in a day. For the first 40 miles, no gas is used and during the last 10 miles, 0.2 gallons are used. That's the equivalent of 250 miles per gallon. But, if the driver continues on to 80 miles, total fuel economy would drop to about 100 mpg. And if the driver goes 300 miles, the fuel economy would be just 62.5 mpg.
[More>>cnn.com; See also gm.com news release]

8.11.09 SWA drone attack kills 12 extremists

WANA, Pakistan, August 11 - At least 12 extremists have been killed in US surveillance plane attack in South Waziristan Agency, Geo News reported Tuesday. According to sources, US drone fired missiles at a training camp of extremists established at a house of Zangikhel in Kani Karam area of SWA. At least three missiles were fired from the drone plane, which destroyed the hideouts of the extremists. The sources said the bodies of at least eight extremists were recovered from under the rubble and four others succumbed to injuries while being rushed to the hospital. The other five injured are being treated at the hospital. [>thenews.com.pk; See more details,

khaleejtimes.com (DPA) August 11, "Suspected US airstrike kills 14 militants in Pakistan"
: ISLAMABAD - A suspected US missile strike Tuesday killed at least 14 militants in a troubled Pakistani tribal district near the Afghan border, intelligence officials said. Two missiles fired from a drone struck a training camp in South Waziristan’s Kani Guram village near the Ladha area, where top Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud was reportedly killed in a similar assault last week. The training facility was being run by a local militant leader identified as Zangi Khan Burki, an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity. "Fourteen militants were confirmed killed while six others were wounded," the official said, adding that the toll could be higher as a large number of Mehsud’s supporters were present in the complex when it was hit...

Related stories:

thenews.com.pk, August 11, "15 terrorists among 29 apprehended in Swat: ISPR"

xinhuanet.com, August 11, "Taliban torches 7 Pakistani schools: officials" : ISLAMABAD - Taliban militants burnt down seven primary schools in northwest Pakistan, where children recently resumed their classes after the area was declared safe by the Pakistani army, local officials said Tuesday. "Three boys' and four girls' primary schools were set on fire by militants late Monday in Buner district," district police chief Abdul Rasheed said. No one was hurt in the arson attacks as the schools were closed for the night, he said. But the buildings were burnt to the ground, he added...

abcnews.go.com, August 11, "Mullah Omar, Afghan Taliban leader emerges" : ISLAMABAD - Pakistani Taliban Faces Mafia-Like Power Struggle. The Pakistani Taliban today is like a mafia family whose don has just been whacked leaderless, with blood flowing in the streets between rival factions. US and Pakistani officials now predict that the consiglieres who will stabilize the region's strongest terrorist network are the very people the US has been fighting since 9/11: al-Qaeda and Mullah Omar, the head of the Afghan Taliban. Pakistani Taliban commanders have been bickering since a CIA drone strike killed their charismatic leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who over the last year and a half managed to pull together at least 13 fractious Taliban factions into a network blamed for the deaths of more than 1,200 people. Their bickering turned violent over the weekend when Mehsud's most likely successors shot at each other during a meeting to pick the next Pakistani Taliban chief. In response, Mullah Omar and his allies in North Waziristan, according to people who have spoken with Pakistani intelligence agents there, called a meeting with leading Taliban commanders to try and stop the infighting. A successor to Mehsud could emerge from that meeting in the coming days...

8.11.09 Iran admits 4,000 June detentions

August 11 - Authorities in Iran say 4,000 people were detained in protests that followed June's disputed presidential election - many more than previously stated. A spokesman for the judiciary, Ali Reza Jamshidi, said about 3,700 had been freed within a week, but that those involved in riots were in detention. An opposition figure has also claimed at least 69 people were killed in the violence following the 12 June poll. It is more than double the number the government admits died. Iran is currently trying more than 100 detainees over their alleged involvement in the protests. The trials of leading opposition figures, activists, journalists, lawyers, workers at foreign embassies and two people with foreign nationalities have been criticized by several foreign powers, opposition groups and human rights campaigners. [More>>bbc.co.uk]

8.11.09 World leaders condemn Suu Kyi term

August 11 - Leaders and protesters from around the world have condemned the verdict against Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's pro-democracy opposition leader. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said he "strongly deplored" the decision to keep Suu Kyi under house arrest for another 18 months, and called for her immediate release. "Unless she and all other political prisoners in Myanmar are released and allowed to participate in free and fair elections, the credibility of the political process will remain in doubt," he said.

The European Union has vowed to bring new sanctions against Myanmar following Tuesday's verdict, saying it would "respond with additional targeted measures against those responsible for the verdict." "In addition, the EU will further reinforce its restrictive measures targeting the regime of Burma/Myanmar, including its economic interests," the Swedish EU presidency said in a statement.

8.11.09 Afghan troops, foreigner killed in Taliban ambush

GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) August 11 - At least three Afghan soldiers and a foreign service member were killed when Taliban fighters ambushed a convoy in Afghanistan's east, the Defence Ministry and military officials said on Tuesday. Police in the area said as many as eight Afghan soldiers may have been killed after insurgents hit a convoy of Afghan and foreign troops with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades on Monday. The convoy was heading to talk to villagers about the Aug. 20 presidential election, they said. Captain Regina Gillis, a spokeswoman for US and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, said there were "multiple" Afghan casualties in the attack. Gillis said the dead International Security Assistance Force service member was not American, but did not disclose the nationality. Separately from Warsaw, a Polish defence ministry statement said one of its captains was missing in action overnight but found dead on Monday and four other Polish soldiers wounded after they were caught in a firefight during a foot patrol with Afghan troops. [More>>arabtimesonline.com]

8.11.09 Kuwait 'foils al-Qaeda terror plot'

August 11 - Kuwait has arrested six suspected al-Qaeda members who plotted to attack a US military base and state security offices in the country, the country's interior ministry has said. The Kuwaiti suspects were being interrogated on Tuesday over the plot to attack Camp Arifjan, which lies in the desert south of Kuwait city, the capital, close to the Saudi border, the ministry said.

"Security forces were able to dismantle a terrorist network of six nationals belonging to al-Qaeda that was planning to bomb Arifjan camp, state security headquarters and other buildings," the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. About 15,000 US soldiers are stationed in Kuwait, the oil-rich Gulf state, which is also used as a transit point for thousands of US soldiers going to and from neighboring Iraq. Saad al-Anzi, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kuwait, said: "The men have been accused of planning to use a truck full of fertiliser and gas cylinders to attack the base.

8.10.09 In Mexico, Obama predicts health care win

GUADALAJARA, Mexico (AP) August 10 - President Barack Obama predicted Monday that Congress would pass his sweeping health care overhaul this fall as more "sensible and reasoned arguments" prevail. But he said immigration changes, another politically explosive subject, would have to wait until next year. At a North American summit in Mexico, the president also delivered an animated defense of US efforts to help restore Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a June 28 coup. He said criticism of his policy in Honduras smacked of "hypocrisy," faulting the United States for being too heavy-handed in Latin America and yet telling him he has not intervened enough in Honduras.

Obama spoke at a news conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, where he confronted questions on both his foreign and domestic agendas, from drug in Mexico to the testy health care fight at home. The president never made direct mention of a matter roiling Washington - the outbursts and hot tempers that have disrupted town halls on health care around the country. Republicans are pointing to them as signs of public dissatisfaction with Obama's health care efforts, while Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to sabotage the democratic discussion. Said Obama: "I suspect that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge, and we're going to get this passed."
[More>>cbsnews.com; Related:

David Axelrod email "Reality Check" concluding, "...President Barack Obama promised he'd bring change to Washington and fix our broken, unsustainable health insurance system. You can help deliver that change. Visit WhiteHouse.gov/RealityCheck, get the facts and spread the truth. The stakes are just too high to do nothing."

8.10.09 US to hunt down Afghan drug lords tied to Taliban

WASHINGTON, August 10 - Fifty Afghans believed to be drug traffickers with ties to the Taliban have been placed on a Pentagon target list to be captured or killed, reflecting a major shift in American counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan, according to a Congressional study to be released this week. United States military commanders have told Congress that they are convinced that the policy is legal under the military's rules of engagement and international law.

They also said the move is an essential part of their new plan to disrupt the flow of drug money that is helping finance the Taliban insurgency. In interviews with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is releasing the report, two American generals serving in Afghanistan said that major traffickers with proven links to the insurgency have been put on the "joint integrated prioritized target list." That means they have been given the same target status as insurgent leaders, and can be captured or killed at any time.

The generals told Senate staff members that two credible sources and substantial additional evidence were required before a trafficker was placed on the list, and only those providing support to the insurgency would be made targets. Currently, they said, there are about 50 major traffickers who contribute money to the Taliban on the list. "We have a list of 367 'kill or capture' targets, including 50 nexus targets who link drugs and the insurgency," one of the generals told the committee staff. The generals were not identified in the Senate report, which was obtained by The New York Times.

8.10.09 Protesters savagely raped in jail: Iran's Karroubi

TEHRAN, August 10 - Defeated presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi claimed several of the protesters jailed following Iran's June unrest have been savagely raped as a leading lawmaker said Monday the illegal entry to the Islamic republic of three detained American citizens may have been linked to the unrest. "A number of detainees have said that some female detainees have been raped savagely. Young boys held in detention have also been savagely raped," Karroubi said in a letter to powerful cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, which was obtained by AFP. "The young boys are suffering from depression and serious physical and mental damage since their rapes," calling for Rafsanjani to order an investigation. Karroubi's "confidential letter" was delivered on July 29 to Rafsanjani in his capacity as head of the Assembly of Experts, the powerful body which selects and supervises the activities of the supreme leader. [More>>alarabiya.net]

8.10.09 Lieberman: Fatah 'burying' any chance of peace in coming years

August 10 - The political platform formulated at the Fatah General Assembly in Bethlehem, combined with unrest in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, "has buried any chance of coming to an agreement with the Palestinians in the next few years," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday. Speaking to 29 Democratic congressmen in his Jerusalem office Monday, Lieberman said that "the Palestinians' uncompromising, extremist positions on Jerusalem, right of return, and settlements are making a gap between us that can't be bridged." According to a statement from the Foreign Ministry, he also stated that there was no body representing all Palestinians, though there is "Hamastan in Gaza and Fatahland in Judea and Samaria."...In explaining to the congressmen some of the problems that impeded the advancement of the peace process and the reaching of a permanent settlement, Peres said, "We have to be careful not to repeat the mistakes of Gaza. We left, and Hamas came in and started shooting against us." [Full story>>jpost.com]

8.10.09 Baitullah killed in August 5-6 attack: Malik

ISLAMABAD, August 10 - Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik said two sources have confirmed the death of Taliban chief in Pakistan Baitullah Mehsud. Addressing at National Assembly here, he said Hakeemullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman scuffled with each other with [the] ensuing death of the former. The interior minister said he did not blow any trumpet of anything; an attack on Mehsud was conducted in the night falling between August 5 and 6, adding intelligence sources confirmed his death. Malik continued that Baitullah's doctor also confirmed his (Mehsud) presence at the house in the attack night. Regarding the huge number of arms and ammunition in possession of the extremists, the interior minister remarked it is only 'some state' that is providing arms and ammunitions. He added that he is raring to give in camera briefing regarding where the extremists get the weapons from and how their network functions. [>thenews.com.pk; See related stories,

thenews.com.pk, August 10, "Forces nab 9 terrorists in last 24 hours: ISPR" : RAWALPINDI, Pakistan -The security forces continued search and clearance operations in Swat and Malakand during the last 24 hours. According to a press released by Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), on a tip off, the security forces apprehended terrorist Muhammad Sadiq (a school teacher who has been indoctrinating young boys towards militancy) at Darmai near Fatehpur and terrorist Fahim in Drushkhela. Security forces apprehended a terrorist Saeed Ullah from Madrassa of known terrorist Moulvi Rasheed at Drushkhela.

Security forces conducted search operation at Shalko Sar and apprehended 6 suspects. Also, the search operation was conducted in Kabbal. During exchange of fire with terrorists, a soldier embraced Shahadat. Security forces raided at Bagh in Totalai Tehsil of Buner and arrested terrorist commander Yasin along with arms and ammunition. At least three terrorists were killed in a retaliatory fire by security forces when terrorists attacked a military convoy which was moving from Dosali to Damdil near Razmak in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) today. Three security forces personnel were also injured in the exchange of fire. The security forces also continued relief activities, as so far 249,044 cash cards have been distributed amongst the IDPs of Malakand. [end]

timesofindia.indiatimes.com, August 10, " ' Al-Qaeda plans to install its commander as Pakistan Traliban chief' " : LONDON - The dreaded al-Qaeda is trying to install one of its commanders as the new "chief" of Pakistani Taliban, which it fears is in disarray, following the slaying of group's leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US missile strike. Expressing this fear, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that hardcore elements of al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban were alarmed over unconfirmed reports of deadly infighting between Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) factions over who should replace Mehsud. Malik claimed over BBC radio that the Taliban were fleeing from Waziristan area following the killing of their top commander in Pakistan and hope that through this new development, the country's tribal and border region would open up...

8.10.09 6 killed in Taliban attack on city south of Kabul

KABUL, August 10 - Taliban fighters using assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the governor's office and police headquarters in Logar province Monday in a brazen daytime attack that killed six people, according to Afghan officials. The attack, which set off hours of urban combat in the provincial capital of Pul-e-Alam, about 40 miles south of Kabul, was another sign of intensifying violence ahead of the Aug. 20 presidential elections. The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the vote and threatened to use violence to keep voters from coming to the polls.

About half a dozen Taliban staged their attack from a building adjacent to the governor's compound, firing automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades beginning about noon. A car bomb also exploded during the fighting, said Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a US military spokeswoman, while others described evidence of a suicide bombing. Din Mohammad Darwish, a spokesman for Logar's governor, said two policemen died along with four Taliban members.

"It was very serious fighting. We could hear a lot of machine gun fire," said Abdul Hakim Suliamankhel, head of the provincial council in Logar. "The people are really scared now." The Afghan National Police led the counterattack against the Taliban, eventually surrounding and entering the building to find it rigged with explosives, according to a US military statement. The police killed three Taliban fighters inside the building, Darwish said. "It was a very organized attack," Darwish said. [>washingtonpost.com; See more details, bbc.co.uk, August 10, "Militants launch Afghan attacks"

8.10.09 At least 55 killed, 300 wounded in Iraq bombings

BAGHDAD (DPA) August 10 - A series of bombings across Iraq on Monday killed at least 55 people and injured more than 300, police and witnesses said. In the deadliest of the early morning attacks, 30 people were killed and at least 155 wounded when two trucks packed with explosives detonated in a village in the district of Hamdania, near the northern city of Mosul, witnesses told the German Press Agency dpa. The blasts destroyed dozens of homes in the village inhabited mostly by members of Iraq's predominantly Shiite Shabback minority. Sunni lawmaker Osama al-Najifi implicated Iran in the violence in Mosul, and called on the government to deploy more troops around the city. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]


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


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