Car bomb in Peshawar, Pakistan, kills at least 90

Powerful car bomb kills at least 90 in Peshawar market
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Huge blast in Pakistan
  • NEW: Explosion hits bustling marketplace in Peshawar killing at least 90 people
  • Blast injures more than 200 people, according to hospital staff
  • Incident comes as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Islamabad

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- A powerful car bomb ripped through a bustling marketplace in Peshawar Wednesday, killing at least 90 people -- most of them women -- a government official said.
The blast at the Meena Bazaar injured more than 200 others, according to North West Frontier Province's information minister. The market is a labyrinth of shops popular with women in the Peepal Mandi section of the city.
The attack is the deadliest ever carried out in Peshawar and is among the country's deadliest.
A suicide car bombing on October 9 in Khyber Bazaar, a commercial hub in Peshawar, killed at least 49 people and injured 135 others.
Peshawar is the capital of the North West Frontier Province, where the Pakistan army has been engaged in an intense military offensive to rout militants who have launched attacks in the country and in neighboring Afghanistan.
Despite the offensive, militants have continued to strike with relative impunity in Pakistan, raising concerns about the ability of the government forces to maintain control.
U.S. President Barack Obama signed legislation this month providing an additional $7.5 billion in assistance to Pakistan over the next five years. The White House is working on a comprehensive review of U.S. strategy in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.
Peshawar is 103 miles (167 km) from the capital, Islamabad, where U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was visiting Wednesday. It sits on the main supply route into Afghanistan and is the gateway to Pakistan's ungoverned tribal regions.
READ MORE - Car bomb in Peshawar, Pakistan, kills at least 90

Taliban attack UN guesthouse in Kabul, kill seven

KABUL - At least seven persons, including three UN staff, were killed when armed gunmen stormed into a UN guesthouse and opened indiscriminate firing in Kabul early on Wednesday.

Security officials said five to six attackers raided the UN building, which is situated in the crowded neighborhood of Chicken Street at dawn and held several people hostage, besides killing seven persons.

“There are five or six terrorists inside. The attack is inside a U.N. guest house,” The News quoted a top police official, Waheed Sadiqi, as saying.
He said the attackers came in two groups.

“The first group detonated an explosives vest before the rest of the group fled into the apartment building,” the official said.

U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards confirmed the death of three staffers.

“There are 20 U.N. staff registered there, but whether all were there at the time of the attack is not clear,” Edwards said.

A heavy gunbattle between the attackers and security officials was still on when reports last came in.the meanwhile, the Taliban has claimed responsibility for the strike.

A self-proclaimed spokesman of the banned outfit, Zabiullah Mujahid, called foreign news agencies from an undisclosed location and said the attack was in response to the continuous suppression of local people by foreign forces.

Mujahid said the attack was meant to warn authorities against holding elections in Afghanistan.

READ MORE - Taliban attack UN guesthouse in Kabul, kill seven

14 Americans Killed In 2 Afghan Helicopter Crashes

KABUL — Helicopter crashes killed 14 Americans on Monday – 11 troops and three drug agents – in the deadliest day for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan in more than four years. The deaths came as President Barack Obama prepared to meet his national security team for a sixth full-scale conference on the future of the troubled war.

In the deadliest crash, a helicopter went down in the west of the country after leaving the scene of a firefight, killing 10 Americans – seven troops and three Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Eleven American troops, one U.S. civilian and 14 Afghans were also injured.

In a separate incident, two U.S. Marine helicopters – one UH-1 and an AH-1 Cobra – collided in flight before sunrise over the southern province of Helmand, killing four American troops and wounding two more, Marine spokesman Maj. Bill Pelletier said.

It was the heaviest single-day loss of life since June 28, 2005, when 16 U.S. troops on a special forces helicopter died when their MH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down by insurgents. The casualties also mark the first DEA deaths in Afghanistan since it began operations there in 2005.

U.S. authorities have ruled out hostile fire in the collision but have not given a cause for the other fatal crash in the west. Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmedi claimed Taliban fighters shot down a helicopter in northwest Badghis province's Darabam district. It was impossible to verify the claim and unclear if he was referring to the same incident.

Military spokeswoman Elizabeth Mathias said hostile fire was unlikely because the troops were not receiving fire when the helicopter took off.

NATO said the helicopter was returning from a joint operation that targeted insurgents involved in "narcotics trafficking in western Afghanistan."

"During the operation, insurgent forces engaged the joint force and more than a dozen enemy fighters were killed in the ensuing firefight," a NATO statement said.
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Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium – the raw ingredient in heroin – and the illicit drug trade is a major source of funding for insurgent groups.

U.S. forces also reported the death of two other American service members a day earlier: one in a bomb attack in the east, and another who died of wounds sustained in an insurgent attack in the same region. The deaths bring to at least 46 the number of U.S. service members who have been killed in October.

This has been the deadliest year for international and U.S. forces since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban. Fighting spiked around the presidential vote in August, and 51 U.S. soldiers died that month – the deadliest for American forces in the eight-year war.

The Obama administration is debating whether to send tens of thousands more troops to the country, while the Afghan government is rushing to hold a Nov. 7 runoff election between President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah after it was determined that the August election depended on fraudulent votes.

The Obama administration is hoping the runoff will produce a legitimate government. In Washington, Obama was to meet with his national security team Monday in what was to be the sixth full-scale Afghanistan conference in the White House Situation Room.

Abdullah on Monday called for election commission chairman Azizullah Lodin to be replaced within five days, saying he has "no credibility."

Lodin has denied accusations he is biased in favor of Karzai, and the election commission's spokesman has already said Lodin cannot be replaced by either side.

Abdullah made the demand in a news conference during which he spelled out what he said were "minimum conditions" for holding a fair second round of voting, including the firing of any workers implicated in fraud and the suspension of several ministers he said had campaigned for Karzai in the first round before the official campaigning period began.

Abdullah did not say what would happen if his demands were not met. "I reserve my reaction if we are faced with that unfortunate situation," he said.

Abdullah said he was willing to meet with Karzai to discuss the conditions, but repeated that he would not discuss a coalition government as some have suggested, nor compromise on his recommendations out of concerns that they are difficult to implement.

"These are not impossible things," Abdullah said, stressing that his team had pared them down to what they considered essential to a fair vote and possible to put in place before the runoff.

Another flawed election would cast doubt on the wisdom of sending in more U.S. troops.

With less than two weeks to go until the vote, disagreements have emerged between the U.N. and the Afghans on how to conduct the balloting.

Lodin said the commission hopes to open all 23,960 polling stations from the first round. The U.N. wants to open only 16,000 stations to cut down on the number of "ghost polling stations" that never opened but were used to stuff ballot boxes.

Elsewhere Monday, Nangarhar province Gov. Gul Agha Sherzai survived an assassination attempt after a gunman fired automatic weapons at his convoy in Jalalabad, according to his spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai. Sherzai's bodyguards killed the gunman, as well as another attacker wearing a suicide vest and carrying grenades.

Meanwhile, security forces in Kabul fired automatic rifles into the air for a second day Monday to contain hundreds of stone-throwing university students angered over the alleged desecration of Islam's holy book, the Quran, by U.S. troops during an operation two weeks ago in Wardak province. Fire trucks were also brought in to push back protesters with water cannons. Police said several officers were injured in the mayhem.

U.S. and Afghan authorities have denied any such desecration and insist that the Taliban are spreading the rumor to stir up public anger. The rumor has sparked similar protests in Wardak and Khost provinces.
READ MORE - 14 Americans Killed In 2 Afghan Helicopter Crashes

Pakistan 'takes key Taliban town'

Pakistani Army troops on patrol on 17 October
Up to 100,000 civilians have fled the conflict zone
Pakistani troops have captured the key Taliban town of Kotkai in South Waziristan, security officials say.
Troops took the town after days of bombardments, officials said. Three soldiers and four Taliban were reported killed in the fighting overnight.
Kotkai, home to top Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, has seen fierce fighting since Pakistan launched its South Waziristan offensive last week.
Journalists are being denied access to the area and cannot verify the reports.
Up to 100,000 civilians have fled the conflict zone, the army says.

Pakistan army: Two divisions totalling 28,000 soldiers
Frontier Corp: Paramilitary forces from tribal areas likely to support army
Taliban militants: Estimated between 10,000 and 20,000
Uzbek fighters supporting militants: several hundred

South Waziristan is considered to be the main sanctuary for Islamic militants outside Afghanistan.
Pakistan launched its offensive after a wave of militant attacks, believed to have been orchestrated from South Waziristan, killed more than 150 people.
Pakistani troops - backed by artillery, helicopters and fighter jets - were reported to have briefly taken control of Kotkai in the course of fighting earlier this week.
But on Tuesday morning the Taliban hit back, destroying army checkpoints and killing seven soldiers, local officials said.

Villagers flee Waziristan fighting
However Pakistan's army said subsequently said it had secured the tactically important heights around Kotkai.
On Saturday, AFP quoted an official as saying: "Security forces took control of Kotkai overnight and a clearance operation is in progress.
"It is a major breakthrough because it was the stronghold of Taliban and hometown of Hakimullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain," he added, referring to a reputed trainer of suicide bombers.
The BBC's Mark Dummett, in Islamabad, says the fighting is now expected to move into more remote and mountainous areas, as the army continues its drive deeper into this militant stronghold.
Meanwhile, at least 13 people were reported to have been killed by a US drone missile strike targeting a Taliban commander's house in the tribal region of Bajaur.
Officials said the strike had hit the house of Maulvi Faqir in Damadola village.
Map showing Pakistani troop movements in Waziristan

READ MORE - Pakistan 'takes key Taliban town'

Red Cross Appeals for Civilian Protection in War-Torn Pakistan

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is urgently appealing for the protection of the civilian population in Pakistan as the level of violence rises throughout the country. The ICRC says it is particularly concerned about the situation of tens of thousands of civilians trapped in strife-torn South Waziristan.

A Pakistani tribal family who fled from South Waziristan due to military offensive against al-Qaida activists and Taliban militants, Waziristan, Monday, 19 Oct. 2009
A Pakistani tribal family who fled from South Waziristan due to military offensive against al-Qaida activists and Taliban militants, Waziristan, Monday, 19 Oct. 2009
The International Committee of the Red Cross says military operations in South Waziristan and a spate of suicide attacks throughout Pakistan are increasing the numbers of civilian casualties, wounded prisoners and internally displaced persons.

ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacques de Maio, says it is hard to know how many people have fled fighting between the Pakistan army and Taliban militants in South Waziristan.

He says some reports put the number at 50,000 people. But, he says other reports indicate up to 150,000 people may be moving out of the area. He says the whole situation is extremely worrying.

"The humanitarian concerns must extend imperatively to all the civilians who are still in the areas, which are in the theater of military operations and armed clashes," he said. "Those are civilians trapped in the actual combat zones and we are particularly concerned about the fate of the sick and the wounded in those areas."

De Maio says lack of access to Waziristan is preventing the ICRC from obtaining an exact picture of the humanitarian needs of the people left behind. He says most of the people who have fled their homes are relying on local authorities and on family to meet their immediate needs.

He says this is putting great stress on the limited resources of host families. While the humanitarian needs are great, he says the number one priority right now is protection for civilians from the effects of armed violence and conflict.

"It is an absolute imperative and priority that all those involved in this armed violence observe the principles of discrimination, distinction between civilians and non-combatants and actual combatants," he added. "And, also proportionality in the methods, ways and means of conducting these operations… The ICRC has offered its services to the government of Pakistan to be granted full access to all people deprived of freedom in relation to the situation, be they held under civilian or military authority."

De Maio says it is critical that aid get through to those who need it. He says it is urgent to provide effective and unobstructed medical services for the sick and wounded.

He says the ICRC with the Pakistan Red Crescent has managed to provide substantial aid to 500,000 displaced people. He says they have delivered food, water, health care and other goods and services to ensure that tens of thousands of sick and wounded civilians receive treatment.

He says the field surgical hospital in Peshawar is carrying out 100 surgical operations a week and is supporting private and governmental facilities in the North-West Frontier Province and in the Tribal Areas.

He is appealing for the ICRC to be given safe access to the combat zones to be able to assist those who have been wounded in the crossfire.
READ MORE - Red Cross Appeals for Civilian Protection in War-Torn Pakistan

Forces regain control of strategic bridge

ISLAMABAD (AFP/APP) – Troops and Taliban militants have been locked in intense clashes on the sixth day of a major military assault in the tribal belt which has killed more than 150 people, the army said Thursday.
Twenty-four Taliban militants had been killed since the last death toll, a statement said, bringing the overall number to 137.
In addition, two soldiers have been killed in the offensive around South Waziristan, bringing the overall number of dead soldiers to 18.
Some of the most “intense fighting” has been between Taliban-stronghold Sararogha and Jandola, home of a large military base, where the army said 13 militants had been killed and a series of bunkers and cave hideouts captured.
On Jandola-Sararogha axis, the security forces secured entire Tor Ghundai feature. The series of bunkers and caves have been neutralised while terrorists have left the area after suffering heavy casualties.
At present, security forces are in the process of securing Shishamwam spurs, and caves are being cleared in a systematic manner.
Meanwhile, Mizo-Wam has been fully secured by the forces.
On Shakai-Ladha axis, the security forces are extending perimeter of security north of Sherwangi area. Gurgura Sar has been fully secured.
Last night, the terrorists raided Boya Narai, west of Sherwangi. The attack was repulsed inflicting heavy casualties on to the attackers. Eleven terrorists were killed and a number of them were injured. The security forces also lost one soldier and three others were injured.
Security forces have established pickets at road Torwam-Sherwangi and are patrolling the area.
The forces have regained the control of Torwam Bridge which was closed by terrorists since 2007. This bridge is vital for link between Torwam and Ladha.
In Razmak, the security forces are consolidating their positions and have effectively blocked the roads leading from Makeen.
Terrorists fired 6 rockets at Razmak Camp. One soldier embraced Shahadat while another was injured.
In Operation Rah-e-Rast at Swat and Malakand division, the search and clearance operations were conducted in Banpur Sar.
Important terrorist commander Iqbal alias Islam was killed and a huge quantity of ammunition, grenades and equipment were recovered.
Security forces apprehended nine suspects from different areas of Swat including Manglour, Madrassa Mazhar-ul-Uloom Green Chowk, Kokari, Dahro, Rangeela and Godhand.
Two terrorists surrendered before security forces at Fiza Ghat and Nagga. Upon information of Defence Committee Kabal, a number of 60mm mortar bombs have been recovered from area east of Kabal.
READ MORE - Forces regain control of strategic bridge

Military advance slows down

Military advance slows down ISLAMABAD – Security forces, despite stiff resistance, have gained a foothold by partly securing Kotkai, hometown of Pakistani Taliban Chief Hakimullah Mehsud and his deputy Qari Hussain.
According to an ISPR release issued here on Wednesday, more than 15 terrorists have been killed while three security personnel including an officer were martyred and seven others got injured during the last 24 hours in operation Rah-e-Nejat that was progressing on different axes in South Waziristan Agency.
It said on Jandola-Sararoga axis, the security forces were engaged in an intense fighting with terrorists hiding on heights surrounding Kotkai.
After securing Tor Ghundai feature east of Kotkai, security forces are in the process of clearing surrounding heights and caves. During exchange of fire, one officer and one soldier embraced martyrdom while four others were injured.
Similarly, after securing Malik Shahi, security forces are undertaking clearance operation up to Mizo-Wam. Seven terrorists were killed during the operation. A security check post has been established at Manzai Kili west of Mandanna, while efforts were underway to strengthen positions of security forces around Spinkai area.
On Shakai-Ladah axis, the ISPR release said that security forces had made good progress and cleared Khaisura village linking up with Tiarza Fort. During the operation, eight terrorists were killed. Heavily fortified bunkers having two meters thick concrete walls have also been discovered in the aforementioned village. Many houses of this village were converted into bunkers.
At present security forces are conducting search and clearance operation in Sherwangi and surrounding areas along with consolidating their positions in Wuzi Sar and Gurgura Sar. During exchange of fire, one soldier was martyred and three were injured. During search of Uzbeks’ houses around Sher Wangi, 105 bottles of Liquor were discovered.
The security forces recovered 27 hand grenades, four rockets, two ammunition carrying bags, 7x12.7mm anti-aircraft guns, 2x14.5mm anti-aircraft guns along with 2007 mortar rounds, 2x rifles-7mm, 4xrifles-303 7xRPG-7, 36x82mm mortar rounds, 1x75mm RR, 14x107mm single barrel rocket launcher, 18x60mm mortar rounds and 22 improvised explosive devices.
Agencies add: Helicopter gunships attacked Taliban bases in South Waziristan. There have been heavy clashes on the heights overlooking Kotkai, but troops have yet to storm the village.
Warplanes, attack helicopters and long-range artillery have pounded Taliban strongholds Kotkai, Ladha and Makin but the ground advance has been slow, senior military and security officials in northwest admitted to AFP.
Regarding operation Rah-e-Rast in Malakand division, after receiving an intercept regarding a suicide mission, security forces raided a house at Tiligram and killed the potential suicide bomber when he was getting ready for the suicide mission.
Two terrorists voluntarily surrendered to security forces at Tiligram, Tutan Banda. Security forces conducted search operation at Shalpin near Khawazakhela and apprehended 10 suspects. Security forces conducted search operation at Dabsar near Martung and apprehended 1 terrorist (relative of commander Nazar).
“The offensive may take more time than estimated. The area - rough and difficult, mountain terrain is one of the reasons. Troops are advancing slowly, with a strategy and consolidating its positions,” said the official. Another military official offered the same prognosis.
“Troops have advanced some 10 kilometres in enemy territory from various directions but going up hills and clearing the routes will take time,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“It may take more time than estimated. We are moving very cautiously,” he added. Military commanders said when the offensive was launched Saturday that the operation would last about six to eight weeks before winter set in.
Some of the heaviest clashes were around the village of Khaisura where eight militants were killed, according to an army statement.
“Many houses of this village were converted into bunkers. Heavily fortified bunkers having two metres thick concrete walls have been discovered,” it said.
READ MORE - Military advance slows down

Secret Service Spread Thin By Increase In Threats Against U.S. Leaders

An internal Congressional Research Service report says that the Secret Service does not that have the resources to deal with the unprecedented number of death threats against President Obama, along with a rise in racist hate groups and antigovernment fervor.
The Boston Globe reports that the strain is forcing officials to rethink the agency's mission:
The new demands are leading some officials, both inside and outside the agency, to raise the possibility of the service curtailing or dropping its role in fighting financial crime to focus more on protecting leaders and their families from assassination attempts and thwarting terrorist plots aimed at high-profile events.
In a recent book on the Secret Service, journalist Ronald Kessler reported that threats against President Obama represented a 400 percent increase over those against his predecessor.
Read the whole Congressional Research Service report here:

Secret Service CRS Report -
READ MORE - Secret Service Spread Thin By Increase In Threats Against U.S. Leaders

American Moon scientist Stewart Nozette 'tried to spy for Israel'

Dr. Stewart Nozette during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, DC
Dr Stewart Nozette at a Pentagon press briefing on lunar exploration
An American scientist who worked on the cutting edge of lunar exploration was due to appear in a Washington courtroom today charged with attempting to sell classified secrets to Israel.
Stewart Nozette, 52, a former White House expert who helped discover evidence of water on the Moon, was arrested at his home in Maryland yesterday after a sting operation involving an undercover FBI officer posing as an Israeli agent.
The Justice Department said that Mr Nozette was charged with attempting to communicate, deliver and transmit classified information. Officials said there was no wrongdoing on the part of Israel.
Mr Nozette has worked in various jobs for Nasa and the Energy Department. In 1989 and 1990, he worked for the White House's National Space Council under President Bush. He developed the Clementine bi-static radar experiment that is credited with discovering water on the south pole of the Moon.
He also worked at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from approximately 1990 to 1999.
The Justice Department said that from 1989 to 2006 Mr Nozette had held security clearances as high as top secret and had frequent access to classified information relating to US national defence, including nuclear weapon technology.
From 1998 to 2008, the complaint alleges, Mr Nozette was a technical adviser for a consultant company that was wholly owned by the Israeli government and was paid about $225,000 over that period.
Prosecutors also quote an unnamed colleague who said that the scientist remarked that if the US government ever tried to put him in jail for an unrelated criminal offense, he would go to Israel or another foreign country and “tell them everything" he knows.
Then, in January of this year, Mr Nozette allegedly travelled to another foreign country with two computer memory sticks and apparently did not return with them.
To build a case against him, FBI agents posed as officers of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad. The Justice Department said that Mr Nozette "met with the UCE (undercover employee)... and discussed his willingness to work for Israeli intelligence”. He told the agent that “he had, in the past, held top security clearances and had access to US satellite information".
Over the next several weeks, Mr Nozette and the undercover agent exchanged envelopes of money containing thousands of dollars at a time for answers to lists of questions about US satellite technology.
“The answers contained information classified as both Top Secret and Secret that concerned US satellites, early warning systems, means of defence or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information and major elements of defence strategy,” the Department said.
READ MORE - American Moon scientist Stewart Nozette 'tried to spy for Israel'

"See You Soon, If We’re Still Alive"

The only two Westerners living on their own in Kandahar have been bombed, ambushed, and nearly sold to kidnappers. Here's what they've learned about the country where war just won't end. 


For a split second the room seems to vibrate under the pressure of the shock wave. Ears ring, heads retract, and muscles contract. Your mind jump-starts: Did the explosion sound big or small? Where did it come from? You hesitate, wait for another sound, but hear nothing. You jump to your feet, grabbing a camera on the way to the terrace.

Barely a half-mile away, the cloud of debris billows into the sky. The air fills with sirens, and people pour into the street, climbing on top of otherwise never-used pedestrian bridges, craning to make out something in the distance. A pickup truck piled with bloody bodies passes by from the site of the explosion as the cloud slowly descends, losing its shape and covering the city with a new layer of dust and sand.
This is Kandahar, and no one is surprised anymore. Seven times during the past year, blast waves from huge car bombs have ripped through town, shattering windows and throwing up similar clouds of debris. A few weeks ago, a bomb targeting a police convoy tore a huge crater into the street just outside our door. Not long after that, a massive car explosion devastated downtown Kandahar, killing more than 40 and wounding dozens. It was 20 minutes after the call to prayer, when everyone in Kandahar was sitting down to break the Ramadan fast. The blast blew out our windows, shaking plaster from the ceiling and sending glass flying through the room in thousands of pieces. Gunfire ensued. Once the dust settled, you could see the bomb site, just three blocks from our house, streaks of flames shooting into the night sky.
This is our life, and as the only two Westerners living permanently in Kandahar without blast walls and intrusive security restrictions to protect us, it has been a mix of isolation, boredom, disarmingly potent realizations, and outright depression in the face of what is happening. In our 18 months here, we have witnessed up close the ruinous consequences of a conflict in which no party has clean hands. We have spent countless hours talking with people of all persuasions in Kandahar, from mujahedeen who fought against the Soviets in the 1980s, to guerrillas who fought alongside the Taliban in the 1990s, to Afghans who fight against the Kabul government and foreign forces today. And we have learned that Kandahar defies simple categorization; far more understanding is necessary before we can appreciate how (and how many) mistakes have been made by the Western countries waging war here, let alone begin crafting a vision for the future.
Our Kandahar has many faces, though, not all branded by conflict. Life here is also about swimming in the nearby Arghandab River, enjoying the cool caramel taste of sheer yakh, and sitting among the branches of a friend's pomegranate orchard. It's listening to tales of the past 30 years told by those who directly influenced the course of history, and it's watching the traditional atan dance at wedding celebrations.
Still, violence affects most aspects of life in Kandahar now, and the city has become used to the bombings. For smaller attacks it takes less than an hour for things to return to normal; the people absorb violence like a sponge. After the recent blast that blew out our windows, one of our Afghan friends turned to us and said, "There are those Afghans who migrated to the West who say they miss Afghanistan." He burst into laughter. "This is what they are missing!"

On our first trip to Kandahar together, back in 2004, a friend took us to meet Akhtar Mohammad.

Slightly taller than most, with a scruffy beard, a turban, and dark-rimmed eyes, he was in charge of a small police post in one of the city's dicier districts. Over tea, Mohammad offered $50,000 to our friend for the two of us. This was more than five years ago. Today, he could easily pay four times this amount and still make a more than reasonable return on his investment in ransom money.

Over the following years we made many trips around Afghanistan, but Kandahar had become the place we were most interested in: a seemingly insular and ancient society trying to come to terms with a foreign military presence and the perceived corruptions of a globalized culture.

So in the spring of 2008 we set up residence here full-time. Looking back, moving to Kandahar was actually our real arrival in Afghanistan. Away from the isolation and dislocation of the "Kabul bubble," where expats tend to congregate in heavily secured compounds, we started to live among friends, conducting our own research and editing the memoirs of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan.
There is a sense of timelessness about Kandahar, not just with its look and feel but its importance. The city straddles Afghanistan's southern trade route to Pakistan and Iran and is considered the heartland of Afghanistan's millions of ethnic Pashtuns. The Afghan state was founded here in the mid-18th century, and the country's leaders have invariably been drawn from the tribal stock of the south. By the 1970s, Kandahar was known among foreigners as a peaceful oasis stop on the hippie trail to Kabul, and many residents still remember the music parties hosted in nearby villages, where Afghans, Europeans, and Americans would congregate for days at a time.
During the 1980s war against the Soviets, southern Afghanistan saw some of the worst fighting, and it was among the resistance groups there that the seeds of the Taliban were sown. Although Kandahar had become the de facto capital of the country by the late 1990s, it was still an isolated backwater very much removed from anything going on around it. That changed after America ousted the Taliban eight years ago, and since then, Kandahar has grown into a bustling city of nearly 1 million. Nonetheless, it still has the feel of a big village, where everyone knows everyone else's secrets and rumors spread within hours.
As foreigners, our only option is to live in downtown Kandahar, which is still relatively safe -- that is, if you discount the bomb blasts, assassinations, and occasional rocket attacks. Even so, sharing an apartment with Afghan friends and living among the local community -- we don't know any other foreigners in town -- is what allows us a measure of safety. We spend a lot of our time talking with the Pashtun tribal elders who are still left here, and there's also a certain amount of protection for us in that. We don't pay anyone anything to guard our lives.
When we first came to Kandahar, the city's violent underbelly was mostly out of sight. Now, violence is so common that it's somehow less shocking for its frequency. One day you might sit with the victim of a roadside bombing; another day you'll talk to a construction company owner who muses that he wants to hire a contract killer to eliminate his competition.
The fallout from the war in the south -- and it is very much a war -- is never far away. We rarely venture beyond city limits these days, for a trip to most of Kandahar's surrounding districts holds the real possibility of never coming back. Most people you meet are subject to some tragedy or other: The little girl who used to work as a cleaner in our building lost her father and sister in an IED attack on Canadian forces in the city; our office assistant's brother was kidnapped more than a year ago; the father of another young friend was killed by a bomb attack in a Lashkar Gah mosque last year; the list goes on and on.
The social effects of this constant bombardment -- literal and figurative -- are deeply corrosive. A common saying on parting company these days is, "I'll see you soon, if we're still alive." The assumption that you might be killed at any moment is one of the most pervasive and disruptive of mentalities. It means that you cannot think forward more than a day or two. The biggest gain in the shortest amount of time is the usual attitude to most things. With this mindset, it is almost impossible to work, let alone try to build any sort of political consensus.
The nature of the security threat means it is best to keep most activities unplanned. The same goes for extended trips outside the city. The threat from kidnapping gangs -- many of whom work in cooperation with (or from within) the police -- is very real, and to walk around the city two or three times in a row would almost certainly invite that possibility. For that reason we bought, with much hesitation and regret, a treadmill and a weight bench. For just over $1,000, we chose a middle-of-the-line new Japanese model from the 20-odd machines on display at one sports shop. Occasionally, five days will pass in which neither of us can leave the house. A treadmill is a completely unnatural proposition, but Kandahar has forced us to appreciate the value of a long run leading nowhere.
Security permitting, swimming is also a nice break from it all. Somewhat surprisingly, given that relatively few people in Kandahar know how to swim, there are many opportunities here to do so. Various friends have pools in town, shallow ponds for the most part, or sometimes on a Friday afternoon we travel just outside the city, where thousands congregate to piknik, eating fruit and cooling themselves in the chilly streams and canals of the Arghandab River.
But everything in Kandahar is a trade-off. Whatever you do, wherever you go, there is always something you will have to give up for doing it. You trade your security for a good opportunity for firsthand research, or you trade several days of relatively safe seclusion at home for the restless frustration it breeds. Something of value always has to give. We could not remain living in the city without knowing that lesson. For a while we've been considering traveling to one of Kandahar province's western districts, perhaps the most dangerous place in the country, to find out what exactly is taking place between U.S. troops and Taliban fighters. The downside: We might be captured, beheaded, or worse.

As the west's political and military leaders are only now starting to realize, greater Kandahar is and has always been the key battlefield for Afghanistan's future. The international community paid little attention to the south during the first half-dozen years following the Taliban's fall, and that neglect is now being paid back with a vengeance.
Before moving to Kandahar in early 2008, we used to take the ring road, the main thoroughfare that circles Afghanistan's perimeter, when traveling to Kabul and back. Friends in Kabul, working from behind concrete blast walls, would often show us their security briefings saying that to take the ring road meant almost certain death. Twice, armed fighters stopped one of us on the road south at an improvised checkpoint. Thankfully, the same excuse worked both times as several years of university Arabic proved persuasive enough to convince them that a European researcher was really a Syrian doctor returning from a health program down south.
Another time we drove to the desert south of Kandahar city for a picnic with friends. Word spread that some musicians had come to perform at the shrine of a local saint. We sat next to the head of one of Kandahar's government departments, who received a call from a police checkpoint farther north.
"I have eight Taliban with weapons in a car who say that they want to come to the shrine. What should we do with them?" the policeman asked.
"Let them come!" the government official replied. "They're probably just coming to enjoy the music. Who are we to stop them?" So they came. And nobody sitting there in the desert seemed the least bit worried.
In Kandahar, the Taliban are a fact of life -- not necessarily liked, but present nonetheless. The traditional Pashtun recourse to healthy dollops of pragmatism means that a government official can enjoy live music with a Talib, even while each has full knowledge of who the other is. These lines are blurred and the tectonics shift constantly wherever you go in Kandahar. The government is apparently fighting "the Taliban," this amorphous force that everybody has so much trouble defining, but with whom, at an individual level, there seems to be plenty of room to sit and do business. Indeed, previous governors of Kandahar regularly called and conferred with their ostensible enemy, the Taliban "shadow governor." More than once, we have sat down to dinner with Afghans who had been fighting Canadians or Americans in neighboring districts earlier that afternoon.
The Taliban are a mixed bunch of characters, and most Afghans here have some link to them. Everyday fighters are drawn from the huge numbers of unemployed, uneducated young men who dominate the rural population, and commanders often are the same figures who fought against the Soviets in the 1980s. Some join the Taliban because they lack a better occupation or a forward-looking vision in their lives; others, out of revenge, religious nationalism, or the simple wish to be left alone. But whatever the motivation, their reasons should be heard.
And if there's one thing we spend a lot of our time in Kandahar doing, it's sitting in on Pashtun tribal meetings, listening. When we first arrived in town, speaking barely three words of Pashto, it was easy to be awed by the long speeches that elders would frequently make, sometimes lasting almost an hour uninterrupted. These old, white-bearded Pashtuns offer a mix of respect and strong opinions. Everyone is given a chance to speak, even on occasion the two foreigners sitting in the room. Decisions are made on the basis of a complex matrix of overlapping priorities -- survival to the next day being the most important, followed closely by tribal loyalties, professional affiliation, and religion.
These meetings offer an important window into how Pashtuns approach conflict in general, how they resolve it, and how the war affects their daily lives. And though in many ways we still feel we are on a crash course in Pashtun culture, a few important takeaways are starting to emerge. Perhaps most notably, we've seen that the Pashtun tribal system, still damaged from years of war and foreign interference, is again becoming the first point of call to settle disputes between locals and others -- be they the government or the Taliban. Honor is the cornerstone of Pashtunwali, the famed tribal code meant to govern all Pashtun conduct from land disputes to revenge, but so, it seems, is survival.
We've also learned that the Taliban transcend Pashtun culture, though they came from the midst of it; their ideology and goals are not formed by their tribal or ethnic identity.  And we have worked hard to start to understand how the Taliban have shaped Kandahar's recent history, conducting dozens of interviews with Afghans who played key roles in the conflicts of the past 30 years and working with Mullah Zaeef to edit and explain his life story.
Indeed, Mullah Zaeef's life offers many examples of the searing effects of decades of war. At 15, he joined the jihad, leaving his family and the refugee camp back in Pakistan. In reality just a boy, he fought alongside many of those who would later become the founders of the Taliban. His life, since before he was born, has been inscribed with the lines of conflict and loss, betrayal and sacrifice. Today, he is unable to live in Kandahar on accounts of threats from all sides, and he spends much of his time in Kabul explaining and advocating the Taliban position.
When journalist friends come to Kandahar for a few days to report a story, many ask the same question: After all the bombings, in the face of so much personal risk, why on earth do we remain in Kandahar?
This place fascinates and frustrates in equal measure, but it often feels like watching history unfold. This is the fault line, and Pashtun lands have a seemingly disproportionate role to play in the modern world: How will NATO -- or U.S. President Barack Obama, for that matter -- survive its encounter with southern Afghanistan? If the international community fails in Afghanistan, what does that mean for potential future interventions and nation-building?
The way this grand drama plays out in front of us is both captivating and addictive, but it is increasingly difficult to remain here. More than once this year we have had long discussions about how much longer we can stay. Nothing has happened to us so far, but with people being snatched from the roads and assassinated in the light of day, with a growing number of IED attacks and suicide bombings within city limits, and with the Taliban openly fighting on the streets on the outskirts, a steep paranoia occasionally pounces. In those moments everything feels like a threat.

But no matter how bad or good things become in the city, in the end the war is being lost -- and will be lost -- in the villages, especially those of the four overwhelmingly rural provinces that make up Loy, or greater Kandahar. Attempts to "protect the people" along belts of security in the cities are perhaps honorable by intention, but they will not end the conflict. Real security -- whether behind blast walls in Kabul, inside armored vehicles, or beneath Kevlar flak jackets -- remains an illusion. In Kandahar, the simple rule is that everything is ok until it is not.
We each have a European passport, the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card, but the people who live here have no such magic at their disposal. While kidnappings of Western journalists, attacks on military convoys, and threats against aid workers make international headlines, Afghans are trapped in a situation from which they cannot escape, suffering in far greater numbers, only without the limelight.
For those Afghans who are able, Kandahar is a get-rich-and-get-out world. There is little you can't buy or bribe your way into or out of. We are often asked by one or another of our friends to join forces to open a construction company or support some other moneymaking project. "The Americans are coming now," they say. "Now is the time. We need to make the money now and then get out of here." It is as if there is no tomorrow for most people, and with little hope left, this very mindset dooms most initiatives to failure.
Kandahar is a tough school, often unforgiving. It takes a constant effort to navigate the social landscape, like trying to memorize the layout of a minefield. Questions about southern Afghanistan more often than not do not have straight answers, and problems rarely have simple 10-step solutions. Time is the main enemy, for foreigners and for Afghans alike. And on the ground here in Kandahar, it becomes harder with each passing day to imagine that the tide will turn anytime soon.
If Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, then Kandahar is the undertaker.
READ MORE - "See You Soon, If We’re Still Alive"

Rising number of Westerners attending paramilitary training camps

A RISING number of Western recruits are travelling to Afghanistan and Pakistan to attend paramilitary training camps for militant Islamists.
Citing unnamed US and European counterterrorism officials, The Washington Post said the flow of recruits has continued unabated in spite of an intensified campaign over the past year by the CIA to eliminate Al-Qa'ida and Taliban commanders in drone missile attacks.

Since January, at least 30 recruits from Germany have travelled to Pakistan for training, said the report, which cited German security sources.

About 10 people have returned to Germany this year, fuelling concerns that fresh plots are in the works against European targets, the paper said.

“We think this is sufficient to show how serious the threat is,” The Post quotes a senior German counterterrorism official as saying.

German security services have been on high alert since last month, when groups affiliated with the Taliban and al-Qa'ida issued several videos warning that an attack on German targets was imminent if the government did not bring home its forces from Afghanistan, the paper noted.

There are about 3800 German troops in the country, the third-largest NATO contingent after those of the United States and Britain.

German officials say Taliban and Al-Qa'ida leaders are trying to exploit domestic opposition in Germany to the war, The Post noted.
READ MORE - Rising number of Westerners attending paramilitary training camps

The moment a brave policeman removed a suicide-vest from dead bomber after wave of Taliban attacks killed 37

Moving gingerly, a Pakistan police officer carefully lifts the remains of a suicide vest from a dead would-be bomber's body.
The extremist was shot dead in Lahore this morning before he could detonate the deadly bomb.
The chilling scene came in the wake of a wave of coordinated attacks this morning that saw teams of gunmen attacked three security sites in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore while a suicide bomber hit a northwestern town, killing at least 37 people.
The strikes were part of an escalating wave of terror aimed at scuttling a planned offensive into the militant heartland on the Afghan border.
It could have been even worse: A Pakistani police officer gingerly removes a suicide vest off the body of a would-be bomber shot dead in Lahore today
It could have been even worse: A Pakistani police officer gingerly removes a suicide vest off the body of a would-be bomber shot dead in Lahore today

Careful: The officer holds the underside of the belt, covered in blood and with red wires dangling ominously from it
Careful: The officer holds the underside of the belt, covered in blood and with red wires dangling ominously from it
One of the attacks, on a commando training facility on Lahore's outskirts, continued into the afternoon as security forces scoured the area for fugitive assailants.
The assaults paralysed the cultural capital of this nuclear-armed U.S. ally, showing the militants are highly organised and able to carry out sophisticated, coordinated strikes against heavily fortified facilities despite stepped up security across the country.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, though suspicion fell on the Taliban who have claimed other recent strikes.

The attacks were the latest to underscore the growing threat to Punjab, the province next to India where the Taliban are believed to have made inroads and linked up with local insurgent outfits.
Pakistani rescue workers carry the dead body of an official
Bloodshed: Pakistani rescue workers carry the dead body of an official killed after terrorists stormed the Federal Investigation Agency police building in Lahore, Pakistan
Terror attack victim in Lahore
Deadly: The victim was evacuated by medics out of the FIA building, but he did not survive the attack
President Asif Ali Zardari said the bloodshed that has engulfed the nation over the past 11 days would not deter the government from its mission to eliminate the violent extremists, according to a statement on the state-run news agency.

'The enemy has started a guerrilla war,' Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

'The whole nation should be united against these handful of terrorists, and God willing we will defeat them.'

The wave of violence halted activity in Lahore. All government offices were ordered shut, the roads were nearly empty, major markets did not open and stores that had been open pulled down their shutters.

The violence began just after 9am when a group of gunmen attacked a building housing the Federal Investigation Agency, a law enforcement branch that deals with matters ranging from immigration to terrorism.
'We are under attack,' said Mohammad Riaz, an FIA employee said via a telephone interview during the assault. 'I can see two people hit, but I do not know who they are.'
The attacks today took place in Lahore
The attacks today took place in Lahore

The attack lasted about one-and-a-half hours and ended with the death of two attackers, four government employees and a bystander, senior government official Sajjad Bhutta said.

Senior police official Chaudhry Shafiq said one of the dead wore a jacket bearing explosives.

Soon after that assault began, a second band of gunman raided a police training school in Manawan on the outskirts of the city in a brief attack that killed six police officers and four militants, Lahore police chief Pervez Rathore said.

One of the gunmen was killed by police at the compound and the other three blew themselves up.

The facility was hit earlier this year in an attack that sparked an eight-hour stand-off with the army that left 12 people dead.

A third team of at least eight gunmen scaled the back wall of an elite police commando training centre not far from the airport and attacked the facility, Rathore said. Senior police official Malik Iqbal said at least one police constable was killed there.

Pakistani policemen at the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in Lahore
Running battle: Pakistani policemen run to take position outside the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), after gunmen launched an early morning raid on the police building in Lahore
Lt. Gen. Shafqat Ahmad said five attackers were slain in a gun battle and suicide blasts in the facility.

Television footage showed helicopters in the air over one of the police facilities and paramilitary forces with rifles and bulletproof vests taking cover behind trees outside a wall surrounding the compound.

Rana Sanaullah, provincial law minister of Punjab province, said police were trying to take some of the attackers alive so they could get information from them about their militant networks.

Officials have warned that Taliban fighters close to the border, Punjabi militants spread out across the country and foreign al-Qaida operatives were increasingly joining forces, dramatically increasing the dangers to Pakistan.

Punjab is Pakistan's most populous and powerful province, and the Taliban claimed recently that they were activating cells there and elsewhere in the country for assaults.

In the Taliban-riddled northwest, meanwhile, a suicide car bomb exploded next to a police station in the Saddar area of Kohat, collapsing half the building and killing eight people, including police and civilians, police official Afzal Khan said.

'We fear that some policemen are trapped under the rubble,' he said.
Police commandos
Killing spree: Pakistani police commandos take position outside the Federal Investigation Agency police building after gunmen went on the rampage in Lahore

The U.S. has encouraged Pakistan to take strong action against insurgents who are using its soil as a base for attacks in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are bogged down in an increasingly difficult war.

It has carried out a slew of its own missile strikes in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt over the past year, killing several top militants including Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.

One suspected U.S. missile strike killed four people overnight Thursday when it hit a compound in an area in North Waziristan tribal region where members of the militant network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani are believed to operate, two intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Pakistan formally protests the missile strikes as violations of its sovereignty, but many analysts believe it has a secret deal with the U.S. allowing them.

The militants have claimed credit for a wave of attacks that began with an October 5 strike on the U.N. food agency in Islamabad and included a siege of the army's headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi that left 23 people dead.

The Taliban have warned Pakistan to stop pursuing them in military operations.

The Pakistani army has given no time frame for its expected offensive in South Waziristan tribal region, but has reportedly already sent two divisions totaling 28,000 men and blockaded the area.

Fearing the looming offensive, about 200,000 people have fled South Waziristan since August, moving in with relatives or renting homes in the Tank and Dera Ismail Khan areas, a local government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
READ MORE - The moment a brave policeman removed a suicide-vest from dead bomber after wave of Taliban attacks killed 37

With friends like the US, Pakistan doesn't need enemies

Washington's clumsy attempts to strengthen Pakistan's government only serve to stoke a conflict approaching civil war

As the Obama administration dithers over what to do for the best in Afghanistan, neighbouring Pakistan is paying an increasingly heavy price. Like a spate of previous Taliban attacks in recent days, today's mayhem in Lahore underscored fears that the principal consequence of Washington's Afghan paralysis, albeit unintended, is the further destabilisation of the Pakistani state.
Pakistanis might be forgiven for wondering whether, with friends like these in Washington, who needs enemies? The rumbling row over a $7.5bn, five-year US aid package is a case in point. Imperious conditions attached to the bill by a Congress reluctant to send more unaccounted billions "down a rat hole", as Democrat Howard Berman charmingly put it, were condemned as insulting and colonialist in Pakistan.
By linking the cash to tighter civilian control of Pakistan's military, Washington was trying, clumsily, to strengthen Asif Ali Zardari's government. But it achieved the exact opposite. The president was accused of failing to defend the country's sovereignty, much as he has failed to halt escalating American cross-border air raids, and the occasional covert ground incursion, on targets inside Pakistan.
After hurried consultations in Washington, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan's foreign minister, obtained an "explanatory document" from Congress this week that he said effectively waived some of the bill's more objectionable caveats. But this is unlikely to silence critics who draw on deep anti-American sentiment among the Pakistani public dating back to the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the launch of George Bush's "global war on terror".
"Poll after poll shows Pakistanis increasingly do fear the threat posed by Islamic extremists ... but they believe the US is an even bigger danger to their country," Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution was quoted as saying this week. Many Pakistanis rated the threat posed by the US to their independence and security above that from historical foe India, he said. "Any time you out-poll India as the bad guy in Pakistan you are in deep trouble."
Intense Obama administration pressure on Pakistan to root out the Tehrik-e-Taliban (Taliban Movement of Pakistan), close allies and collaborators of the Afghan Taliban, resulted in this spring's costly military offensive in Swat, in North West Frontier province, which displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Yet the Swat campaign is likely to be dwarfed by an imminent Pakistani army offensive in South Waziristan, in the ungoverned tribal areas adjacent to Afghanistan. Although senior Pakistani officials deny they are doing Washington's bidding, it's no secret that US commanders are increasingly focused on both sides of Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan, where Taliban militants and their foreign jihadi and al-Qaida allies have staked out common ground ignoring national boundaries.
Pakistan's Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who replaced Baitullah Mehsud after the latter was killed in a US drone missile strike in August, said in a recent video that attacks such as today's in Lahore would quickly cease if the government stopped behaving like a US lackey and broke its American alliance. If that happened, Mehsud said he would turn his guns on India, presumably in Kashmir. To many Pakistanis, that may not sound such a bad idea.
The realisation that Washington is stoking a conflict approaching all-out civil war is gradually dawning in the US. New York Post columnist Ralph Peters drew a comparison with post-invasion Iraq. "Civil war never quite happened [there]. Yet no one seems to notice that we're now caught up in two authentic civil wars – one in Afghanistan, the other in Pakistan," he said. By lumping the two together in one "Afpak" policy, the Obama administration had effectively made both problems worse.
Neither extra US troops, nor extra aid, nor more "hugs-not-slugs counterinsurgency nonsense" was the answer, Peters argued. "The only hope for either beleaguered territory (these really are territories, not authentic states) is a decision by its own population to fight and defeat the Taliban."
The impulse, fanned by this sort of imperial hubris, to get out of Afghanistan, or at least to narrow the fight to a counter-terrorism campaign against al-Qaida, has gathered US adherents in recent months. But a Washington Post editorial argued this week that with al-Qaida much reduced, the Taliban in both countries now constituted the main enemy. Pakistan was moving towards "full-scale war", it said. Pulling back in Afghanistan could have disastrous, possibly fatal consequences there, too.
By this measure and others, only one conclusion is possible: Pakistan is already so destabilised by US actions since 9/11 that it cannot be left to fend for itself. In such tortuous logic is found the death of empires.
READ MORE - With friends like the US, Pakistan doesn't need enemies

'Loner' French Nuclear Physicist Faces Preliminary Charge for Alleged Terrorist Ties

March 22, 2007: Magnet core of the largest superconducting solenoid magnet at European Organization for Nuclear Research's
Preliminary chrages have been filed against a French nuclear scientist described by colleagues as a well-regarded "loner" for "criminal association with a terrorist enterprise," according to French judicial officials.

An Algerian-born French citizen, who has been identified by various news outlets as 32-year-old Adlene Hicheur, was arrested last week over suspected links to the North African branch of Al Qaeda, which seeks to install an Islamic state in Algeria.
Hicheur, who was tracked for 18 months by French counterterrorism officials before his arrest in France Thursday, received his doctoral training at Stanford University and worked on the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest atom smasher, at a facility in Switzerland.
Under French law, filing preliminary charges gives the investigator time to pursue the inquiry before deciding whether to send a suspect for trial or drop the case.
French judicial officials say Hicheur has acknowledged that he corresponded online with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and vaguely discussed plans for terror attacks. He has not been charged with planning an attack.
A spokesman for the research center in Switzerland where Hicheur was working on the Large Hadron Collider described Hicheur as “quiet, conscientious and well-regarded,” and asserted that he did not have access to sensitive material.
While there are small amounts of radioactive materials on the CERN site, Hicheur did not have “access or security clearance” for highly-sensitive “experimental areas,” spokesman James Gillies told FOX News.
Gillies said that CERN does not have material or equipment on site that would be “useful in a terror attack,” and he said there are “no indications” CERN was itself a target for a terrorist strike. Hicheur worked in a laboratory to understand phenomena such as anti-matter and the Big Bang theory on the origin of the universe.
"There's nothing in there that people can steal and use for terrorist ends, nothing at all. It's all about personal safety," Gillies said. "There are areas where we have cryogenic liquids, high magnetic fields, particle beams and so on, where you need specialist knowledge to be able to go there," Gillies said.
Hicheur was one of more than 7,000 scientists working at the facility, which straddles the border between France and Switzerland. Gillies would not say whether background checks are conducted on the scientists working there.
"This guy has a doctorate in particle physics, so he's clearly an intelligent person. It does take some intelligence, it does take some dedication to achieve qualifications at that level," he said.
Colleagues at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Lausanne, Switzerland, where Hicheur also worked, expressed their astonishment at his arrest.
"We are pretty shocked and surprised," said Jerome Grosse, spokesman for the institute, where Hicheur worked as an instructor in experimental physics.
He said the institute had “no idea” there could be questions about Hicheur’s past, and his colleagues remembered him as a “serious" man and a "hard worker” — but one who remained a “loner.”
Grosse said Hicheur had not been seen at work for most of the year because he was ill, but he had been in touch with the institute via e-mail.
READ MORE - 'Loner' French Nuclear Physicist Faces Preliminary Charge for Alleged Terrorist Ties


Former Taliban Chief Leading Growing Insurgency... Represents Security Challenge That Has 'Consumed The President's Advisers'... UN Official Acknowledges 'Widespread Fraud' In Afghan Election... AP: Weapons Failed US Troops In Firefight... Do US Soldiers Have Best Guns Available?

WASHINGTON — In late 2001, Mullah Muhammad Omar’s prospects seemed utterly bleak. The ill-educated, one-eyed leader of the Taliban had fled on a motorbike after his fighters were swiftly routed by the Americans invading Afghanistan.
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A wanted poster for Mullah Muhammad Omar, who remains largely a mystery. His followers praise his humility and bravery.

Much of the world celebrated his ouster, and Afghans cheered the return of girls’ education, music and ordinary pleasures outlawed by the grim fundamentalist government.
Eight years later, Mullah Omar leads an insurgency that has gained steady ground in much of Afghanistan against much better equipped American and NATO forces. Far from a historical footnote, he represents a vexing security challenge for the Obama administration, one that has consumed the president’s advisers, divided Democrats and left many Americans frustrated.
“This is an amazing story,” said Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who coordinated the Obama administration’s initial review of Afghanistan policy in the spring. “He’s a semiliterate individual who has met with no more than a handful of non-Muslims in his entire life. And he’s staged one of the most remarkable military comebacks in modern history.”
American officials are weighing the significance of this comeback: Is Mullah Omar the brains behind shrewd shifts of Taliban tactics and propaganda in recent years, or does he have help from Pakistani intelligence? Might the Taliban be amenable to negotiations, as Mullah Omar hinted in a Sept. 19 statement, or can his network be divided and weakened in some other way? Or is the Taliban’s total defeat required to ensure that Afghanistan will never again become a haven for Al Qaeda?
The man at the center of the American policy conundrum remains a mystery, the subject of adoring mythmaking by his followers and guesswork by the world’s intelligence agencies. He was born, by various accounts, in 1950 or 1959 or 1960 or 1962. He may be hiding near Quetta, Pakistan, or hunkered down in an Afghan village. No one is sure.
“He can’t operate openly; there are too many people looking for him,” and the eye he lost to Soviet shrapnel in the 1980s makes him recognizable, said Alex Strick van Linschoten, a Dutch-born writer who lives in Kandahar, where Mullah Omar’s movement was born, and who has helped a former Taliban official write a memoir.
“There are four or five people who can pass messages to Omar,” Mr. Strick van Linschoten said. “And then there’s a circle of people who can get access to those four or five people.”
Rahimullah Yusufzai, of The News International, a Pakistani newspaper, who interviewed Mullah Omar a dozen times before 2001, called him “a man of few words and not very knowledgeable about international affairs.” But his reputed humility, his legend as a ferocious fighter against Soviet invaders in the 1980s, and his success in ending the lawlessness and bloody warlords’ feuds of the early 1990s cemented his power.
“His followers adore him, believe in him and are willing to die for him,” Mr. Yusufzai said. While even Taliban officials rarely see him, Mullah Omar “remains an inspiration, sending out letters and audiotapes to his commanders and fighters,” the journalist said.
A recent assessment by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, identified the Taliban as the most important part of the insurgency, coordinating “loosely” with groups led by two prominent warlords. He concluded that “the insurgents currently have the initiative” and “the overall situation is deteriorating.”
The statement from Mullah Omar, one of a series issued in his name on each of the two annual Id holidays, offered a remarkably similar analysis. He, or his ghostwriter, praised the success of “the gallant mujahedeen” in countering the “sophisticated and cutting-edge technology” of the enemy, saying the Taliban movement “is approaching the edge of victory.”
For a recluse, he showed a keen awareness of Western public opinion, touching on the history that haunts foreign armies in Afghanistan (“We fought against the British invaders for 80 years”), denouncing fraud in the recent presidential election and asking of the American-led forces, “Have they achieved anything in the past eight years?”
American military and intelligence analysts say the Taliban have definitely achieved some things. They describe today’s Afghan Taliban as a franchise operation, a decentralized network of fighters with varying motivations, united by hostility to the Afghan government and foreign forces and by loyalty to Mullah Omar.
The Taliban have deployed fighters in small guerrilla units and stepped up the use of suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices. The movement has expanded military operations from the Taliban’s southern stronghold into the north and west of the country, forcing NATO to spread its troops more thinly.
Day-to-day decisions are made by Mullah Omar’s deputies, in particular Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a skilled, pragmatic commander, who runs many meetings with Taliban commanders and “shadow governors” appointed in much of the country, analysts say.
Mullah Omar heads the Taliban’s Rahbari Shura, or leadership council, often called the Quetta Shura since it relocated to the Pakistani city in 2002. The shura, consisting of the Taliban commanders, “operates like the politburo of a communist party,” setting broad strategy, said Mr. Yusufzai, the Pakistani journalist. General McChrystal wrote in his assessment that the shura “conducts a formal campaign review each winter, after which Mullah Omar announces his guidance and intent for the coming year.”
Thomas E. Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, said that “as a symbolic figure, Omar is a centrifugal force for the Taliban,” playing a similar role to that of Osama bin Laden in Al Qaeda. But Dr. Gouttierre credits the Taliban’s success not to any military genius on the part of Mullah Omar but to more worldly advisers from Pakistan’s intelligence service and Al Qaeda.
Western and Afghan sources agree on the bare outline of Mullah Omar’s biography: He was born in a village, had limited religious schooling, fought with the mujahedeen against the Soviet Army and helped form the Taliban in 1994. Some accounts say he is married and has two sons.
His emergence as the leader of the puritanical students who later fought their way to the capital, Kabul, may have resulted from his very obscurity, some experts say. He was not a flamboyant warlord with allies and enemies, a likely plus for the Taliban’s sponsors in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. “He had an unaligned quality that made him useful,” Mr. Strick van Linschoten said.
In jihadist accounts, his story has the feeling of legend: “At the height of his youth, he stepped forward against the disbelievers and terrorized their ranks,” says an undated 10-page biography from an Islamist information agency, which also describes how he once refused cream and other delicacies, preferring “a bowl of plain soup with some hard, stale bread.”
Taliban folklore tells of his bravery in the 1980s in removing his own injured eye and fighting on; of his dream in the mid-1990s in which the Prophet Muhammad told him he would bring peace to Afghanistan; and of how in 1996, he donned a cloak reputed to have belonged to the prophet and took the title “commander of the faithful.”
That was the year that Mr. bin Laden moved his base to Afghanistan. Ever since, the central question about Mullah Omar for American officials has been his relationship with Al Qaeda.
In 1998, two days after American cruise missiles hit a Qaeda training camp in an unsuccessful attempt to kill Mr. bin Laden, Mullah Omar telephoned an astonished State Department official, Michael E. Malinowski, who took the call on his porch at 2:30 a.m. Mullah Omar demanded proof that the Qaeda leader was involved in terrorism, according to declassified records. (Mullah Omar also suggested that to improve American relations with Muslim countries, President Bill Clinton should step down.)
Mr. bin Laden courted the Taliban leader, vowing allegiance and calling the far less educated man a historic leader of Islam. A letter of advice from Mr. bin Laden to Mullah Omar on Oct. 3, 2001, found on a Qaeda computer obtained by The Wall Street Journal, heaped on the praise (“I would like to emphasize how much we appreciate the fact that you are our emir”).
Despite intense pressure from the United States and its allies to turn over Mr. bin Laden, Mullah Omar declined, and paid a steep price when the Taliban fell.
Richard Barrett, a former British intelligence officer now monitoring Al Qaeda and the Taliban for the United Nations, argues that Mullah Omar has learned the lesson of 2001. If the Taliban regain power, he said, “they don’t want Al Qaeda hanging around.”
He added, “They want to be able to say, ‘We are a responsible government.’ ”
Indeed, in his Sept. 19 statement, Mullah Omar made such an assertion: “We assure all countries that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as a responsible force, will not extend its hand to cause jeopardy to others.”
Mr. Riedel, who helped devise the Afghanistan strategy now being rethought, scoffs at such pronouncements as “clever propaganda.”
“We’ve been trying for 13 years to get the Taliban to break with Al Qaeda and turn over bin Laden, and they haven’t done it,” Mr. Riedel said. “Whatever the bond is between them, it’s stood the test of time.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Pir Zubair Shah from Islamabad, Pakistan.


'Feared' Uzbek militant in Pakistan

By Hamid Ismailov
BBC Central Asia and Caucusus service

Tahir Yuldashev
Tahir Yuldashev's men have been accused of numerous suicide attacks
A leading Uzbek militant, Tahir Yuldashev, is widely believed to have been killed in a missile strike in the tribal area of South Waziristan in August.
A militant spokesman has denied his death but Pakistani officials say he was killed in August - around the same time as Pakistan's former Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsud met his death.
The two men were friends and both had fearsome reputations.
What Tahir Yuldashev brought to the militant nexus were numerous other Uzbek insurgents who operated across Pakistan's tribal areas - and are even suspected of making forays over the border to launch attacks on Afghan soil.
I first met him in the stunning city of Namangan in the lush Ferghana valley when making a programme about the rise of Islam in Uzbekistan. This historic city became the focus of his move to create an Islamic republic in Uzbekistan.
It was during this meeting that he told me: "This town is called Namangan, but you can also call it Islamabad."
Many years later he had been driven out of Uzbekistan and was heading a brutal band of insurgents in north-west Pakistan.
Uzbek militants in Pakistan are renowned for their fanaticism. They are believed to have strong links with al-Qaeda and have been known to operate as "hired guns".
Tahir Yuldashev's men have been accused of numerous suicide attacks and of killing hundreds of tribal elders in Pakistan over the years.
His militants carried out attacks on Pakistani forces in the tribal belt and are believed to have taken part in the Red Mosque siege in 2007 in which dozens of people were killed.
Nobody really knows exactly how many Uzbek militants are in Pakistan. Estimates vary wildly: from 500 to 5,000. Not all Uzbeks there are active militants - some are merely supporters.
Draconian gang
At that first meeting in 1992, Tahir was dressed in a simple caftan and light blue track suit bottoms.
Militants in S Waziristan
Militants roam freely in the tribal region of South Waziristan
The tall bearded 26-year-old took me through the crowded town of Namangan, shouting orders to someone on the the other side of the street.
At that age Tahir Yuldashev was the founder of the Adolat, or the Justice movement, a gang of Muslim youths who were using what can only be described as draconian methods of punishment in that part of north-eastern Uzbekistan.
I had heard that thieves and prostitutes would be seated on donkeys, face-to-tail, and paraded around town. Others were beaten with sticks or tied to poles for passers-by to spit in their faces.
These vigilantes wore green armbands and would drag off any woman daring to wear a short skirt and shave her head.
A few months earlier, on 9 December 1991, Tahir Yuldashev and thousands of his supporters crowded into the city square in Namangan and demanded that Uzbekistan be made an Islamic Republic.
From that day on he would always be associated with a form Islamist militancy.
Fleeing Uzbekistan
Mr Yuldashev became a wanted man for repeatedly criticising Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov and in 1999 he was sentenced to death for being behind a series of bomb attacks in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent - which were mired in controversy.
At this point Tahir Yuldashev had fled Uzbekistan. He and his followers began calling themselves the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the IMU.
Islam Karimov and Tahir Yuldashev

The group operated from bases inside Tajikistan and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan where al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and Taliban head Mullah Mohammad Omar were supportive of the IMU's plans to Islamise Central Asia.
The movement boasted that it was several thousand-strong and fought alongside the Taliban during Afghanistan's civil war.
In the wake of 9/11, the IMU's base near the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif was bombed by US warplanes.
Over the years the BBC Uzbek service received many electronic messages with Tahir Yuldashev's speeches and statements from Waziristan in Pakistan, where he was based with his core of die-hard militants.
Moment of candour
I remember the last time I saw Tahir Yuldashev back in 1997 on a flight to Iran for an Islamic conference.
During the meeting he came to talk to me off the record. In a rare moment of candour he told me that he was well provided for as a child and was the son of a goods depot director.
He then said that the first time he became infatuated with Islam was after secondary school where he excelled and then went on to study at college.
In that time he became a militant leader whose sphere of influence spread from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan and now Pakistan.
Analysts say his reported death will almost certainly leave a gaping hole in the leadership.
But his group it seems is already working on ensuring that their struggle continues by spreading their militant philosophy to the next generation.
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