London taxi driver fights for the Taliban

The Taliban troop with an east London cab driver in its ranks

Special report: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Afghanistan meets a growing community of part-time expat jihadists

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Dhani-Ghorri
    Taliban fighters in Dhani-Ghorri
    Taliban fighters in Dhani-Ghorri, Afghanistan. At least two of their fellow Taliban live in the UK outside the ‘fighting season’. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad for the Guardian The landscape of Dhani-Ghorri in northern Afghanistan is a quilt of fields outlined by earth berms, poplar trees and irrigation canals. Driving into the district to meet the area's Taliban commander late last month, we passed men and boys who cooked rice in mud kilns, piled sacks of red onions on trucks or followed herds of goats and sheep. Our escorts were a mix of Afghan ethnicities – Uzbek, Hazara, Tajik and Pashtun – from Baghlan and its neighbouring provinces. Most surprising, though, were the two who said they lived in Britain. We were asked to wait for the district chief in the house of a burly, bearded man who spoke passable English with a hint of a London accent. For most of the time he lived in east London, he said, but he came to Afghanistan for three months of the year to fight. He was a mullah and had the rank of a mid-level Taliban commander. "I work as a minicab driver there," he said. "I make good money, you know. But these people are my friends and my family and it's my duty to come to fight the jihad with them. "There are many people like me in London," he added. "We collect money for the jihad all year and come and fight if we can." He shared the compound-style house in Dhani-Ghorri with his brothers and sisters and their families. The oldest brother, a senior cleric or maulvi, also lived in London. Of his two younger brothers, one lived in Dubai and the other – a red-bearded young man who sat in the corner flipping prayer beads and whispering – in Norway. The fighting season was coming to a close, they said, and the four of them were getting ready to return to their civilian lives abroad. Our host explained the delay in the district chief's arrival: he was resolving a dispute between two villages and would arrive soon. A succession of bearded farmers who had just finished their work in the fields arrived at the house while we waited, bringing with them a smell of sweat and mud. They chatted about the operation of the day before, when one of their comrades attacked a Nato convoy wearing a suicide vest. He had successfully gained martyrdom by killing himself in the operation, they said. When Lal Muhammad, the district chief, entered the room, all the men jumped to attention. Lal Muhammad is a short and stern 32-year-old madrassa teacher. In his crisp blue shalwar qameez and dark brown glasses it was easier to imagine him giving a class in theology than leading men in battle. He sat down with his legs crossed, savouring the silence and his authority. He would explain how in three years his band of Taliban had grown to supplant the government as the real rulers of the district. First, though, he would show me a film on his mobile phone.

    The district chief

    "We have to document everything," said Lal Muhammad. "We take the film to our leaders in Pakistan to show what kind of work we are doing and take orders." The video showed one of his first operations, when his men had hijacked seven green Afghan police pickup trucks and disarmed dozens of uniformed Afghan policeman. The police lined up along the side of a dirt road, while the star of the scene, Lal Muhammad, dressed again in freshly laundered shalwar qameez, strutted around with the police commander following sheepishly behind. A policeman emerged from behind a mud wall, handed over his weapons and went to stand with the rest. "If they just surrender like these men did we take their weapons and release them. If they fight back then we kill them." Three years ago, he and a few other madrassa teachers started fighting small-scale skirmishes against the government. "There were people in the village and in the madrassa who liked the Taliban and wanted them back, but the government was strong then and they even controlled the countryside. We held meetings with the mullahs of the mosques. They supported us because we were fighting the foreigners, so we collected some weapons." "Twelve Kalashnikovs," said the burly English Talib. "In the first two operations the fighters were just madrassa teachers and students," said Lal Muhammad. "We arrested the police, burned their cars and distributed their weapons and the mujahideen started the fight. We met the mullahs again after that and told them we could now defend ourselves. They gave us their blessing." As Lal Muhammad's reputation grew, others came to join him. "When the old Taliban heard about us they started joining us. Students from madrassa here and from Pakistan came to work in jihad and help us." Eventually blessings arrived from the Taliban leadership in Quetta and two Komissyons – Taliban councils – were established, one civilian and one military. He continued to teach in the local madrassa not far from the village. "Most of this area is now in the hands of the Taliban," he said. "Every week we do two to three activities. Sometimes we close the highway and search the cars, sometimes we attack the police and sometimes we attack Nato fuel tankers." A boy came into the room with a glass of water. Lal Muhammad whispered words into the water and blew into it three times. "For blessing the water to the people of the house he is a religious man and people love him," said the British Talib. Lal Muhammad stood up again and the men jumped on their feet. They followed him out into the small dirt lane outside the house where they knelt, washing their face and hands and feet in a small irrigation ditch, then into a one-room mud mosque where he led them in prayer.

    The fighters

    After lunch, Lal Muhammad took us out into the countryside to inspect his fighters. "He is taking you to see all of this because you are an Arab," the British Talib told me. We squeezed into the back of an old Toyota with a bespectacled Arabic teacher who jammed a Kalashnikov between his knees and a young farmer who cradled a machine gun. Lal Muhammad sat in the passenger seat and the red-bearded Talib who lived in Norway drove the car. We sped along a narrow dirt road blaring out Taliban music. The red-bearded Talib sang along, turning to me every few minutes, a big smile on his freckled face, and translating the words: "O martyr, march to the enemy …" We stopped in a small bazaar between two rows of mud-walled shops. There was a doctor's clinic, a pharmacy, a school. Two women in blue burqas sat on the edge of the road waiting for a taxi and a few children ran around them. I counted 14 Taliban in dirty tunics, glittering caps and turbans who lounged in the shade of the shops or manned a checkpoint in the road, stopping donkey carts and taxis. The men stood to attention at the presence of Lal Muhammad. They formed a wobbly line under the piercing gaze of their commander, a tall thin man with small hard eyes and a walkie-talkie who was stopping the cars and looking inside. The second Taliban post was in an Uzbek village. During previous visits to the Taliban in the north I had seen that the movement was predominantly Pashtun, but in the last year Uzbek and Tajik units have started to emerge in Baghlan, Faryab and other provinces. "They are in control in their areas," Lal Muhammad told me. "We armed them and gave them the weapons. They are independent in their area, but under the leadership of the Taliban movement." Most of these fighters were young teenagers, but the commander was an old Uzbek who had fought in the civil war in the 1990s. Why was he fighting again? "Because the foreigners are here," he said. After we left the village, Lal Muhammad told me: "Everywhere you see the Taliban you have to understand that the Taliban grow among the people. We can't survive in an area without the people's support, the mosque is our station, the houses are our station, the madrassa is our station. Each RPG rocket cost us 1300 afghanis ($26). Every day I do operations and use rockets. How could I do that if people weren't paying for us? "Yesterday there was a suicide car bomb attack. The people in the village bought him the car, not me." The third outpost was more like an army camp. A hundred men had gathered in an orchard. They were subdivided into smaller groups, each one led by separate commander and based in separate village or a farm. The youngest group was made up of teenage boys from the madrassa armed with ancient second world war-era rifles. They wore black turbans and their eyes were lined with black kohl. Someone shouted out and quickly the groups dispersed, on foot or on motorbikes. Lal Muhammad stood at the gate shaking hands and accepting greetings. Back at the compound of the English Talib, many of the commanders who were in the orchard sat around Lal Muhammad. They included Haji Saleh, an old man in his sixties who said he first started fighting the foreigners 31 years ago. That time they were called Russian, he said, but they are the same, all kafirs. Haji Saleh's job was laying mines. "I go at night to lay mines and traps in the road," he said. He worked with another fighter, Bilal, who was the electronics expert of the group. Bilal, who was from eastern Afghanistan, was also called Engineer Sahib because he had an engineering degree from a university in Pakistan. Bilal spent the night teaching his comrades how to bring down helicopters ("Shoot at the rotors. Don't shoot when it's coming at you shoot at it from behind") and told me their comrades in Pakistan supplied them with Google Earth maps that they used to locate government bases and identify targets for their mortars. Haj Saleh gave Bilal a small plastic landmine, Bilal inserted some metal screw like object and twisted it, then both of them left. When they came back an hour later Bilal's hand was covered with a metallic silver layer that was burning his skin. After dinner, Lal Muhammad excused himself and left the compound. He slept in a different house every night to avoid assassination attempts, I was told. Before we went to sleep, the Talib from east London showed me pictures on his mobile phone of friends who had been killed in the fighting. He smiled as he looked at the pictures, but there were tears in his eyes.

    The battle

    The Americans began their assault in the middle of the night. We were woken at 2am when a man burst into the room shouting: "Where are the rockets? The Americans are landing!" Somewhere in the darkness outside we could hear the sound of a helicopter landing. The windows rattled and the house shook. "Where are the rockets?" shouted the man again, his voice trembling with fear and anger. Machine-gun fire was crackling from all over the village. A second helicopter could be heard circling over the house. The windows rang in resonance with its rotor blades, a low jingling hum that grew louder and louder until it was drowned out by the roar of the rotors. Bilal, who had been asleep in the corner of the room, threw off his blanket, sprang to his feet and ran out of the house. In the courtyard the burly English Talib stood in the courtyard firing his Kalashnikov into the night air. A white muzzle flash flickered through the window against the wall and lit the room. When the rockets arrived, the Taliban fired three of them from the road outside the compound. They landed in the distance with a loud thud. The Americans retaliated with a missile that struck the wall in front of us. Machine guns rattled continuously in the background: the metallic sound of Taliban Kalashnikovs fighting the slower staccato of the American weapons. Then the Taliban were firing mortars from the yard of our compound, each bomb making a metallic whoosh followed by a thud. An hour later, I could hear the helicopters circling away and the battle subsided into an intermittent exchange of bullets. The English Talib came into the room again and said Bilal had been captured by the Americans and the Taliban would attack the area where the Americans had landed and try to free him. The battle resumed, this time from multiple directions as the Taliban pressed the attack. The helicopter gunship returned quickly, flying low and unleashing volleys of cannon fire before circling again for another run. It seemed for a while that the Taliban had stopped fighting apart from few stubborn shooters. At around 4.30am another helicopter flew in and landed nearby, the vibration snapping open the house's windows so that cold wind and dust filled the room. The gunfire reached a crescendo as Afghans and Americans emptied their magazines in the same time. Then the helicopter rose and left. The silence that ensued was broken by a hoarse voice calling for prayers and subdued shouts of "Allahu Akbar!" The battle – one of the many that occur every night in Afghanistan between American special forces and Taliban fighters – had lasted three hours.

    The martyr

    Even before the Talib with the red beard was declared dead, a woman began to cry, her subdued sob drifting over the silent village. Dawn was beginning to break when the body was brought into the courtyard, wrapped in a red blanket with yellow flowers tucked under the Talib's chin and showing only his face. He was laid on the floor. Someone lit his face features with the light from a mobile phone. Whether it was the weak light or the dust caking his face, the dead man now looked grey. The crying woman's voice was drowned now by the wails of the others. The dead Talib's younger brother hugged the body and wept. "His passport was ready," he cried. "He was leaving in three days!" More fighters, guns slanted over their shoulders, stood in the shadows watching the scene in silence. The dead Talib's son, a young boy with a white prayer cap, came out of the house, his face wet with the tears that were pouring down his checks. A woman in a blue burqa and red pyjama trousers ran into the courtyard sobbing. She stopped metres from the body, turned and walked away and then turned again and tried to come closer. She stopped again, crying and ran away, the blue fabric fluttering behind her. The British Talib crouched in a corner against a wall, his face contoured, his mouth quivering, tears rolling down his cheeks and into his beard. By now the body was surrounded by fighters. They moved their fingers in his hair, wiped his face and kissed his hands. They lifted the blanket to look at the small hole in the side of his head and examine his bloodstained chest. Now and then the crying younger brother would break off from his obsessive pacing to tuck the blanket under the corpse's chin as if to guard him from the morning chill. The body was carried into the women's section of the house and the wails were unbearable even for those hard peasant fighters. They shuffled out of the house, some crying, some silent, to stand in the road outside. More casualties were brought in, including a young boy who lay in the back of a car with his shirt soaked in blood, his hand covering the socket of his right eye which was oozing liquid down his face. His father was the Arabic teacher, who had also been injured. There was another Talib who had been killed, the men said. By now the red-bearded Talib's son was running around like a mad animal screaming "Revenge! Revenge! By the name of God!" Around seven in the morning, Bilal arrived at the compound – he hadn't, after all, been captured by the Americans. He ordered the fighters to disperse in case a drone saw them, then turned to me. "We want you to come with us," he said. "We have a few questions to ask you."
READ MORE - London taxi driver fights for the Taliban

CIA implanted electrodes in brains of unsuspecting soldiers, suit alleges

CIA seal b CIA implanted electrodes in brains of unsuspecting soldiers, suit alleges
A group of military veterans are suing to get the CIA to come clean about allegedly implanting remote control devices in their brains.
It's well known that the CIA began testing substances like LSD on soldiers beginning in the 1950s but less is known about allegations that the agency implanted electrodes in subjects.
A 2009 lawsuit (.pdf) claimed that the CIA intended to design and test septal electrodes that would enable them to control human behavior. The lawsuit said that because the government never disclosed the risks, the subjects were not able to give informed consent.
Bruce Price, one plaintiff in the lawsuit, believes that MRI scans confirm that the CIA placed a device in his brain in 1966.
At one point, Bruce was ordered to visit a building with a chain link fence that housed test animals, including dogs, cats, guinea pigs and monkeys. After reporting, Bruce was strapped across his chest, his wrists, and his ankles to a gurney. Bruce occasionally would regain consciousness for brief moments. On one such instance, he remembers being covered with a great deal of blood, and assumed it was his own, but did not really know the source. Also portions of his arms and the backs of his hand were blue. His wrist and ankles were bruised and sore at the points where he had been strapped to the gurney. Bruce believes that this is the time period during which a septal implant was placed in his brain.
DEFENDANTS placed some sort of an implant in Bruce’s right ethmoid sinus near the frontal lobe of his brain. The implant appears on CT scans as a “foreign body” of undetermined composition (perhaps plastic or some composite material) in Bruce’s right ethmoid, as confirmed in a radiology report dated June 30, 2004.
According to a 1979 book by former State Department intelligence officer John Marks, The CIA and the Search for the Manchurian Candidate, an internal 1961 memo by a top agency scientist reported that "the feasibility of remote control of activities in several species of animals has been demonstrated... Special investigations and evaluations will be conducted toward the application of selected elements of these techniques to man."
"The CIA pursued such experiments because it was convinced the Soviets were doing the same," The Washington Post's Jeff Stein noted.
In mid-November, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Larson ruled that the CIA must produce records and testimony regarding the experiments conducted on thousands of soldiers from 1950 through 1975.
"The CIA has already claimed that some documents are protected under the state-secrets privilege, but Larson said the agency needs to be more specific," Courthouse News Service reported.
The CIA insisted discovery was unwarranted in its case, because it never funded or conducted drug research on military personnel.
Larson wasn't convinced.
"[T]his court rejects the conclusion that the CIA necessarily lacks a nexus to Plaintiffs' claims, and orders the CIA to respond in earnest" to the veterans' requests, "particularly because defendants have presented evidence that would appear to cast doubt on that conclusion," he wrote.
But Larson ruled that the CIA did not have to produce records about devices implanted in some of the subjects.
Gordon P. Erspamer, lead attorney for the veterans, told The Washington Post that he is still pursuing the CIA for implanting devices in his clients' brains.
"There is no question that these experiments were done but defendants say that they used private researchers and test subjects drawn from prisons, hospitals and nursing homes as subjects, not active duty military [personnel]," Erspamer said. "CIA said it had no one knowledgeable on this topic."
Erspamer noted that papers filed in the case describe "electrical devices implanted in brain tissue with electrodes in various regions, including the hippocampus, the hypothalamus, the frontal lobe (via the septum), the cortex and various other places."
"A lot of this work was done out of Tulane University using a local state hospital and funding from a cut-out (front) organization called the Commonwealth Fund," he said.
"We tried to get docs from Tulane, but they told us that they were destroyed in the hurricane flooding."
READ MORE - CIA implanted electrodes in brains of unsuspecting soldiers, suit alleges

Chinese activist detained after posting photo of Tiananmen Square protests online

A Chinese activist has been detained on a charge of inciting subversion after posting a photo online of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations.
Bai Dongping - a member of the recently formed Petitioners and Rights Defenders' Group which has often reported harassment from police - was arrested in Beijing on Saturday.
He was released shortly after but picked up and detained later that day. Following his initial release, he was able to tell his wife that he had been interrogated for posting the Tiananmen photograph online.
Iconic: A single protester blocks a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing
Iconic: A single protester blocks a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing
The authorities contacted her on Sunday to confirm that her husband was facing charges of subversion - a term China often uses to lock up activists who are seen as troublemakers.
Tanks and troops rolled into Tiananmen Square in Beijing to crush a pro-democracy movement in 1989. It is believed that hundreds of  protesters, many of them students, were killed in the subsequent massacre.
Bai, 47, first became an activist during the pro-democracy demonstrations after joining an illegal workers' union that supported the students leading the protests, according to the U.S.-based ChinaAid Association.
More recently, he has provided legal assistance to petitioners who come from China's provinces and try to air grievances over corruption and other issues to officials in the central government.
Although this is his first arrest, he has previously been taken out of Beijing 'on holiday' by police and told to stay inside his home during high-profile events such as the Olympics.
Bai's arrest comes shortly after a Chinese woman was sentenced to a year in a labor camp for posting a satirical Twitter message about smashing the Japan pavilion at the Shanghai Expo.
It also follows reports by several Chinese activists of increasing harassment after imprisoned author Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October. Liu is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion after co-authoring an appeal calling for reforms to China's one-party political system.

Nicholas Bequelin, Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the incident reflected increasing political persecution in China.
'Every year brings a new batch of activists sentenced under charges of "inciting subversion". At least this is an acknowledgment that the charges are political,' Bequelin said.
READ MORE - Chinese activist detained after posting photo of Tiananmen Square protests online

Interpol posts wanted notice for WikiLeaks founder

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange attends a seminar at the Swedish Trade Union Confederation headquarters in...

Interpol issued a "red notice" on Tuesday to assist in the arrest of Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, who is wanted in Sweden on suspicion of sexual crimes.
Assange, a former computer hacker now at the centre of a global controversy after WikiLeaks released a trove of classified U.S. diplomatic cables at the weekend, denies the Swedish allegations.
The website of Interpol, the international police agency, said anyone with information on the Australian-born Assange, 39, should contact their national or local police.
Red notices allow arrest warrants issued by national police authorities to be circulated to other countries to facilitate arrests and help possible extradition.
Assange's current whereabouts are not known and he is believed to move from country to country.
A Swedish court on Nov. 18 ordered the detention of Assange. The prosecutor's office had started an investigation into allegations of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion against Assange in September.
Assange's lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, told journalists after the hearings he expected a European arrest warrant would be issued for Assange, who had sometimes visited Sweden in the past, and that he would probably appeal.
Assange has called the allegations baseless and criticised what he has called a legal circus in Sweden, where he had been seeking to build a base in order to benefit from its strict journalist protection laws.
WikiLeaks has angered the United States by releasing more than 250,000 State Department cables exposing the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy, including brutally candid assessments of world leaders.
WikiLeaks had in October released nearly 400,000 classified U.S. files on the Iraq war, which Assange said showed 15,000 more Iraqi civilian deaths had occurred than thought.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; editing by Mark Heinrich)
READ MORE - Interpol posts wanted notice for WikiLeaks founder

WikiLeaks Update: U.S. Tries To Contain Damage From Leaked Embassy Cables — The Obama administration moved forcefully Monday to contain damage from the release of more than a quarter-million classified diplomatic files, branding the action as an attack on the United States and raising the prospect of legal action against online whistle-blower WikiLeaks.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that WikiLeaks acted illegally in posting the material. She said the Obama administration was taking "aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the U.S. would not rule out taking action against WikiLeaks. Attorney General Eric Holder said the administration would prosecute if violations of federal law are found in an ongoing criminal investigation of the incident.

Gibbs said President Barack Obama was briefed on the impending massive leak last week and was "not pleased" about the breach of classified documents. "This is a serious violation of the law," Gibbs said. "This is a serious threat to individuals that both carry out and assist in our foreign policy."

The White House on Monday ordered a government-wide review of how agencies safeguard sensitive information. Clinton said steps were already being taken to tighten oversight of diplomatic files. That action would follow a similar move by the Pentagon after leaks of military files.

The U.S. documents contained raw comments normally muffled by diplomatic politesse: Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah pressing the U.S. to "cut off the head of the snake" by taking action against Iran's nuclear program. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi described as "feckless" and "vain." German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed as "risk averse and rarely creative."

The release of those documents and others containing unflattering assessments of world leaders was a clear embarrassment to the administration. The director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, Jacob Lew, said in ordering the agency-wide assessment Monday that the disclosures are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

"This disclosure is not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests," Clinton said in her first comments since the weekend leaks. "It is an attack on the international community: the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity."

"It puts people's lives in danger, threatens our national security and undermines our efforts to work with other countries," she told reporters at the State Department.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange alleged that the administration was trying to cover up evidence of serious "human rights abuse and other criminal behavior" by the U.S. government. WikiLeaks posted the documents just hours after it claimed its website had been hit by a cyberattack that made the site inaccessible for much of the day.

Clinton would not discuss the specific contents of the cables but said the administration "deeply regrets" any embarrassment caused by their disclosure. At the same time, she said Americans should be "proud" of the work that U.S. diplomats do for the country and that they would not change the tone or content of their reports back to Washington.

She did acknowledge that newly released cables that reveal concerns among Arab world leaders about Iran's growing nuclear capability have a strong basis in reality.

"It should not be a surprise to anyone that Iran is a great concern," she said, adding that the comments reported in the documents "confirm the fact that Iran poses a very serious threat in the eyes of her neighbors."

Clinton's comments came before she left Washington on a four-nation tour of Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. She alluded to discussions she expects to have about the leaked documents with officials from Europe and elsewhere. Some of those diplomats may be cited in the leaked documents, confronting her with uncomfortable conversations.

Publication of the secret memos amplified widespread global alarm about Iran's nuclear ambitions and unveiled occasional U.S. pressure tactics aimed at hot spots in Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea.

The leaks unearthed such bluntly candid impressions from both diplomats and other world leaders about America's allies and foes that Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini described the disclosures as the "Sept. 11 of world diplomacy."

Most of the disclosures focused on familiar diplomatic issues that have long stymied U.S. officials and their foreign counterparts – the nuclear ambitions of Iran, North Korea and Pakistan, China's growth as a superpower, and the frustrations of combating terrorism.

But their publication could become problems for the officials concerned and for any secret initiatives they had preferred to keep quiet. The massive release of material intended for diplomatic eyes was quickly ruffling feathers in foreign capitals despite efforts by U.S. diplomats to shore up relations with key allies in advance of the leaks.

In London, Steve Field, a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron, said, "It's important that governments are able to operate on the basis of confidentiality of information." French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said, "We strongly deplore the deliberate and irresponsible release of American diplomatic correspondence by the site WikiLeaks."

Pakistan's foreign ministry said it was an "irresponsible disclosure of sensitive official documents" while Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, called the document release "unhelpful and untimely." In Australia, home country of WikiLeaks founder Assange, Attorney General Robert McClelland said law enforcement officials were investigating whether WikiLeaks broke any laws.

The documents published by The New York Times, France's Le Monde, Britain's Guardian newspaper, German magazine Der Spiegel and others laid out the behind-the-scenes conduct of Washington's international relations, shrouded in public by platitudes, smiles and handshakes at photo sessions among senior officials.

U.S. officials may also have to mend fences after revelations that they gathered personal information on other diplomats. The leaks cited American memos encouraging U.S. diplomats at the United Nations to collect detailed data about the U.N. secretary general, his team and foreign diplomats – going beyond what is considered the normal run of information-gathering expected in diplomatic circles.

France's Le Monde reported that one memo asked U.S. diplomats to collect basic contact information about U.N. officials that included Internet passwords, credit card numbers and frequent flyer numbers. They were asked to obtain fingerprints, ID photos, DNA and iris scans of people of interest to the United States, Le Monde said.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley played down the diplomatic spying allegations. "Our diplomats are just that, diplomats," he said. "They collect information that shapes our policies and actions. This is what diplomats, from our country and other countries, have done for hundreds of years."

The White House noted that "by its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions."

On its website, The New York Times said the documents "serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match."

Le Monde said it "considered that it was part of its mission to learn about these documents, to make a journalistic analysis and to make them available to its readers." Der Spiegel said that in publishing the documents its reporters and editors "weighed the public interest against the justified interest of countries in security and confidentiality."

The Guardian said some cables showed King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly urging the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The newspaper also said officials in Jordan and Bahrain have openly called for Iran's nuclear program to be stopped by any means.

Those documents may prove the trickiest because even though the concerns of the Gulf Arab states are known, their leaders rarely offer such stark appraisals in public.

The Times highlighted documents that indicated the U.S. and South Korea were "gaming out an eventual collapse of North Korea" and discussing the prospects for a unified country if the North's economic troubles and political transition lead it to implode.

The Times also cited diplomatic messages describing unsuccessful U.S. efforts to prod Pakistani officials to remove highly enriched uranium from a reactor out of fear that the material could be used to make an illicit atomic device. And the newspaper cited exchanges showing Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, telling Gen. David Petraeus that his country would pretend that American missile strikes against a local al-Qaida group had come from Yemen's forces.

The Times said another batch of documents raised questions about Italy's Berlusconi and his relationship with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. One cable said Berlusconi "appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin" in Europe, the Times reported.

Der Spiegel reported that the documents portrayed Germany's Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in unflattering terms. It said American diplomats saw Merkel as risk-averse and Westerwelle as largely powerless.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, meanwhile, was described as erratic and in the near constant company of a Ukrainian nurse who was described in one cable as "a voluptuous blonde," according to the Times.

READ MORE - WikiLeaks Update: U.S. Tries To Contain Damage From Leaked Embassy Cables

Wikileaks reveals standoff over N-fuel in Pak

Washington: The secret US diplomatic communications leaked by Wikileaks have exposed a dangerous standoff over the use of highly enriched uranium in Pakistani reactor as America fears the fuel can be used for making illicit nuclear device.
Wikileaks reveals standoff over N-fuel in Pak
The secret US diplomatic communications leaked by Wikileaks have exposed a dangerous standoff over the use of highly enriched uranium in Pakistani reactor as America fears the fuel can be used for making illicit nuclear device.
Since 2007, the US has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device, said The New York Times, which was given access to the over 250,000 secret memos of the US embassies across the world by the whistle-blowing website.
In May 2009, US ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, "if the local media got word of the fuel removal, they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan's nuclear weapons".
The diplomatic documents suggest nearly a decade after the attacks of Sep 11, 2001, the dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the US relations with the world.
Wikileaks reveals standoff over N-fuel in Pak
The documents show that the administration of President Barack Obama has been struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda.
The documents show that the administration of President Barack Obama has been struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda, adding Australians who have disappeared in the Middle East to terrorist watch lists, and assessing whether a lurking rickshaw driver in Lahore, Pakistan, was awaiting fares or conducting surveillance of the road to the US consulate.
The US had warned the governments of India, Britain, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Israel in advance of the bombshell release of the classified documents that the leaks would damage the US relationships around the world.
State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said: "These revelations are harmful to the US and our interests. They are going to create tension in relationships between our diplomats and our friends around the world."
The White House Sunday condemned the release of secret documents as "reckless" and "dangerous".
Source: IANS
READ MORE - Wikileaks reveals standoff over N-fuel in Pak

USS George Washington Visit Poses A Dilemma For China — This weekend's arrival of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea poses a dilemma for Beijing: Should it protest angrily and aggravate ties with Washington, or quietly accept the presence of a key symbol of American military pre-eminence off Chinese shores?

The USS George Washington, accompanied by escort ships, is to take part in military drills with South Korea following North Korea's shelling of a South Korean island Tuesday that was one of the most serious confrontations since the Korean War a half-century ago.

It's a scenario China has sought to prevent. Only four months ago, Chinese officials and military officers shrilly warned Washington against sending a carrier into the Yellow Sea for an earlier set of exercises. Some said it would escalate tensions after the sinking of a South Korean navy ship blamed on North Korea. Others went further, calling the carrier deployment a threat to Chinese security.

Beijing believes its objections worked. Although Washington never said why, no aircraft carrier sailed into the strategic Yellow Sea, which laps at several Chinese provinces and the Korean peninsula.

This time around, with outrage high over the shelling, the U.S. raising pressure on China to rein in wayward ally North Korea, and a Chinese-American summit in the works, the warship is coming, and Beijing is muffling any criticisms.

"One of the results of North Korea's most recent belligerence has been to make it more difficult for China to condemn U.S. naval deployments in the East China Sea," said Michael Richardson, a visiting research fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. "I think China must be quietly cursing North Korea under their breath."

China's response has so far been limited to expressing mild concern over the exercises. A Foreign Ministry spokesman on Friday reiterated Beijing's long-standing insistence that foreign navies obtain its permission before undertaking military operations inside China's exclusive economic zone, which extends 230 miles (370 kilometers) from its coast.

It wasn't clear where the drills were being held or if they would cross into the Chinese zone.

The statement also reiterated calls for calm and restraint but did not directly mention the Yellow Sea or the planned exercises.

State media have been virtually silent. An editorial in the nationalistic tabloid Global Times worried that a U.S. carrier would upset the delicate balance in the Yellow Sea, ignoring the fact that the George Washington has taken part in drills in those waters numerous times before.

North Korea, by contrast, warned Friday that the U.S.-South Korean military drills were pushing the peninsula to the "brink of war."

A more passive approach this time helps Beijing raise its credibility with Washington and trading partner South Korea, and puts North Korea on notice that its actions are wearing China's patience thin.

"The Chinese government is trying to send Pyongyang a signal that if they continue to be so provocative, China will just leave the North Koreans to themselves," said Zhu Feng, director of Peking University's Center for International and Strategic Studies.

Sending signals is likely to be as far as Beijing goes, however. China fears that tougher action – say cutting the food and fuel assistance Beijing supplies – would destabilize the isolated North Korean dictatorship, possibly leading to its collapse. That could send floods of refugees into northeastern China and result in a pro-U.S. government taking over in the North.

"What China should do is make the North Koreans feel that they have got to stop messing around," Zhu said.

China may also be mindful of its relations with key trading partner Seoul, strained by Beijing's reluctance to condemn Pyongyang over the March ship sinking. Raising a clamor over upcoming drills in the wake of a national tragedy would only further alienate South Korea.

Beijing's mild tone also shows its reluctance to spoil the atmosphere ahead of renewed exchanges with Washington. President Hu Jintao is scheduled to make a state visit to Washington in January hosted by President Barack Obama – replete with a state dinner and other formal trappings that President George W. Bush never gave the Chinese leader.

Before that Gen. Ma Xiaotian, one of the commanders who objected to the George Washington's deployment earlier this year, is due in Washington for defense consultations. Those talks are another step in restoring tattered defense ties, a key goal of the Obama administration.

Chinese fixations about aircraft carriers verge on the visceral. U.S. carriers often figure in Chinese media as a symbol of the American government's ability to project power around the world. The Chinese navy is building a carrier, and keeping U.S. ones out of China's waters is seen as rightful deference to its growing power.

The U.S. is worried about a key principle: the U.S. Navy's right to operate in international waters.

While China doesn't claim sovereignty over the entire Yellow Sea, it has become assertive about its maritime territorial claims and sensitive to U.S. Navy operations in surrounding waters. In the South China Sea, which China claims in its entirety, China has seized foreign fishing boats and harassed U.S. Navy surveillance ships.

In light of such trends, China's protests of the September drills virtually compelled the U.S. Navy to send the George Washington this time, said Alan Romberg of the Stimson Center think tank in Washington, who met with Chinese military commanders in the summer.

"The People's Liberation Army thinks it achieved an initial victory in keeping the U.S. from deploying the George Washington in that first exercise. That guarantees that the George Washington will go there at some point, probably sooner rather than later," Romberg said in an interview in September.

Even if China's reticence holds this time, Beijing is not likely to cede the U.S. Navy carte blanche to range throughout the Yellow Sea.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei has stated that China's stance on U.S. naval action in the Yellow Sea remains unchanged. The politically influential and increasingly vocal military is also likely to keep the pressure on the leadership to take a firm stand.

Any affront to Beijing's authority or intrusion into Chinese territorial waters would inflame the Chinese public and require a government response, said Fang Xiuyu, an analyst on Korean issues at Fudan University's Institute of International Studies in Shanghai.

"We hope that the U.S. can exert restraint and not cross that line," Fang said.
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Mohamed Osman Mohamud Arrested In Portland Car Bomb Plot

Mohamed Osman Mohamud Portland Car Bomb
The tree is lit on Pioneer Courthouse square Friday night Nov. 26, 2010 to the music of Pink Martini and with Santa Claus in front of a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd singing holiday music in the square. A Somali-born teenager, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested at 5:40 p.m. just after he dialed a cell phone that he thought would blow up a van laden with explosives but instead brought federal agents and Portland police swooping in to take him into custody, federal prosecutors said.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Federal agents in a sting operation stopped a Somali-born teenager from blowing up a van full of explosives at a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland on Friday, authorities said.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested at 5:40 p.m. just after he dialed a cell phone that he thought would detonate the explosives but instead brought federal agents and Portland police swooping down on him.

Yelling "Allahu Akbar!" – Arabic for "God is great!" – Mohamud tried to kick agents and police as they closed in, according to prosecutors.

The bomb was a dud supplied by undercover agents as part of the sting and the public was never in danger, prosecutors said.

"This defendant's chilling determination is a stark reminder that there are people – even here in Oregon – who are determined to kill Americans," U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton said. "We have no reason to believe there is any continuing threat arising from this case."

Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Corvallis, was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He's scheduled for a court appearance Monday.

The arrest comes as the U.S. has been struggling with an uptick in Americans or U.S. residents plotting terrorist attacks.

Holton released federal court documents that show the sting operation began in June after an undercover agent learned that Mohamud had been in contact with an "unindicted associate" in Pakistan's northwest, a frontier region where Al Qaida and Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents are strong.

"The complaint alleges that Mohamud attempted to detonate what he believed to be a vehicle bomb at a crowded holiday event," said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. "Law enforcement action was able to thwart his efforts and ensure no one was harmed."

According to a federal complaint, Mohamud was in regular email contact with the "unindicted associate' in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier starting in August 2009.

The complaint states that in December 2009 Mohamud and the associate used coded language in an email in which the FBI believes Mohamud discussed traveling to Pakistan to prepare for "violent jihad."

In the months that followed Mohamud made 'multiple efforts" to contact another "undicted associate" to arrange travel to Pakistan but had a faulty email address for that person.

Last June an FBI agent contacted Mohamud "under the guise of being affiliated with the first associate."

Mohamud and the undercover agent agreed to meet in Portland on July 30. At that meeting, the undercover agent and Mohamud "discussed violent jihad," according to the court document.

Mohamud told the agent he wanted to set off explosives at the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square, an event that occurred on Friday.

On Friday, an undercover agent and Mohamud drove to downtown Portland in a white van that carried six 55-gallon drums with detonation cords and plastic caps, but all of them were inert, the complaint states.

They got out of the van and walked to meet another undercover agent, who drove to Union Station, the Portland train station, where Mohamud was given a cell phone that he thought would blow up the van, according to the complaint.

Mohamud dialed the phone agents had given him, and was told the bomb did not detonate. The undercover agents suggested he get out of the car and try again to improve the signal, when he did, he was arrested, the complaint said.

U.S. authorities have been struggling against a recent spate of terror plans by U.S. citizens or residents.

In May, Faisal Shazhad, a naturalized citizen also from Pakistan, tried to set off a car bomb at a bustling street corner in New York City. U.S. authorities had no intelligence about Shahzad's plot until the smoking car turned up in Manhattan.

Late last month, Pakistan-born Farooque Ahmed, 34, of Virginia was arrested and accused of casing Washington-area subway stations in what he thought was an al-Qaida plot to bomb and kill commuters. Similar to the Portland sting, the bombing plot was a ruse conducted over the past six months by federal officials.

Also in October, a Hawaii man was arrested and accused of making false statements to the FBI about his plans to attend terrorist training in Pakistan.

In August, a Virginia man was caught trying to leave the country to fight with an al-Qaida-affiliated group in Somalia.
READ MORE - Mohamed Osman Mohamud Arrested In Portland Car Bomb Plot

North Korea warns of 'brink of war'

YEONPYEONG ISLAND: North Korea warned Friday that planned U.S.-South Korean military drills are pushing the peninsula to the brink of war as a senior U.S. military commander toured an island devastated this week by a North Korean artillery barrage.

North Korea's state news agency said drills this weekend involving South Korean forces and a U.S. nuclear powered supercarrier in waters south of Tuesday's skirmish between the rival Koreas are a reckless plan by ``trigger-happy elements'' and that the maneuvers target the North.

``The situation on the Korean peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war,'' the dispatch from the Korean Central News Agency said. ``Gone are the days when verbal warnings are served only.''

North Korea's army and people are ``now greatly enraged'' and ``getting fully ready to give a shower of dreadful fire,'' the agency said. ``Escalated confrontation would lead to a war, and he who is fond of playing with fire is bound to perish.''

The comments came as Gen. Walter Sharp, the U.S. military commander in South Korea, paid a visit to the island targeted by the North Korean attack to show solidarity with ally Seoul.

Sharp, dressed in a heavy camouflage jacket and army fatigues and wearing a black beret, walked down a heavily damaged street strewn with debris from buildings. Around him were charred bicycles and shattered bottles of soju, a kind of Korean alcoholic drink.
READ MORE - North Korea warns of 'brink of war'

US court summons ISI chief in Mumbai terror case

Washington: A U.S. court has issued summons to senior Inter-Services Intelligence officials including its powerful chief Maj. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, along with Mumbai attack masterminds and Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi in response to a lawsuit filed by relatives of two American victims accusing them of providing material support for the 26/11 attacks.
US court summons ISI chief in Mumbai terror case
File photo of Pakistan's ISI chief Major Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha (right). A U.S. court has summoned ISI officials including Maj. Gen. Pasha and several LeT leaders in response to a lawsuit filed by relatives of two Americans killed during the 26/11 attacks. PTI
The 26-page lawsuit was filed before a New York Court on November 19 against the ISI and LeT by the relatives Rabbi Gavriel Noah Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, who were both gunned down by militants at the Chhabad House in Mumbai. Their son Moshe was saved by his Indian nanny.
The 26-page lawsuit accusing the ISI of aiding and abetting the LeT in the killing of more than 160 people was filed before a New York Court on November 19, following which the Brooklyn court issued summons to Major Samir Ali, Azam Cheema, the ISI, Major Iqbal, Lakhvi, LeT, Sajid Majid, Mr. Pasha, Saeed and Nadeem Taj.
"The ISI has long nurtured and used international terrorist groups, including the LeT, to accomplish its goals and has provided material support to the LeT and other international terrorist groups," said the lawsuit filed by relatives of the slain Rabbi.
Mr. Pasha, who has been director general of the ISI since September 2008, has been summoned, so is Nadeem Taj, the director general of ISI from September 2007 to September 2008.
US court summons ISI chief in Mumbai terror case
The 26-page lawsuit was filed before a New York Court on November 19 against the ISI and LeT by the relatives Rabbi Gavriel Noah Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, who were both gunned down by militants at the Chhabad House in Mumbai.
Major Iqbal and Major Samir Ali are other ISI officers who have been issued summons.
The one of its kind lawsuit also brings as defendants Lashkar operatives like operations commander Lakhvi, JuD chief Saeed, and Azam Cheema.
"The Mumbai terrorist attack was planned, trained for and carried out by members of defendant, the LeT. Defendant ISI provided critical planning, material support, control and coordination of the attacks," the lawsuit alleges.
It accuses ISI officers Mr. Pasha, Mr. Taj, Maj. Iqbal and Major Ali of being purposefully engaged in the direct provision of material support or resources including weapons and explosives.
"On and prior to November 26, 2008, the ISI, Pasha, Taj, Iqbal and Ali (as well as other officials, agents and employees of the ISI) directed, engaged and/or relied upon the efforts of U.S.-based individuals, including but not limited to David Headley and Tahawwur Rana, for raising funds, building a network of connections, recruiting participants and planning the operation of the Mumbai terror attack," the lawsuit claims.
US court summons ISI chief in Mumbai terror case
Prior to and following each trip to Mumbai, Headley reported to and received further instructions from both the LeT, including defendants Majid and Maj. Iqbal, and the ISI, it alleges.
Noting that the LeT still operates training camps in Pakistan, Kashmir and Afghanistan, the petition said the group has openly advocated violence against India, Israel and the United States.
It names Muridke, Manshera and Muzaffarabad as centres of training camps operated by the LeT.
The 10 LeT members who undertook the on-the-ground Mumbai terrorist attack underwent extensive training in the LeT camps in Pakistan, the lawsuit alleged.
It also says that Pakistani American LeT operative David Headley, who has already pleaded guilty for his role in the plotting of the attack, built a network of connections from Chicago to Pakistan, undertaking these efforts at the direction and with the material support of both LeT and the ISI.
Prior to and following each trip to Mumbai, Headley reported to and received further instructions from both the LeT, including defendants Majid and Maj. Iqbal, and the ISI, it alleges.
"In September 2008, the 10 LeT attackers were moved to Karachi and installed in an ISI/LeT safe house and isolated from outside contact," it said, adding that while staying in the Karachi safe house, they received specific instructions on Mumbai targets.
US court summons ISI chief in Mumbai terror case
“In September 2008, the 10 LeT attackers were moved to Karachi and installed in an ISI/LeT safe house and isolated from outside contact,” it said, adding that while staying in the Karachi safe house, they received specific instructions on Mumbai targets.
The safe house was part of the ISI's "Karachi Project," an initiative by which anti-Indian groups were tasked and supported by the ISI in a surreptitious fashion to engage in acts of international terrorism.
"During the period Headley communicated with and took directions from the ISI regarding the Mumbai plot, defendant Taj, as ISI's Director-General, exerted full command and control over the ISI.
"During the final two months of training of the LeT attackers and throughout the attack, defendant Pasha exerted full command and control over the ISI," it alleged.
During the Mumbai attacks, the lawsuit alleges defendant Majid along with other LeT men operated from a mission control room in Karachi, passing instructions and encouragement to the attackers via telephone.
"By reason of the foregoing, LeT, Saeed, Lakhvi, Cheema and Majid are each liable to each plaintiff, individually and as the personal representative and/or surviving family member of their decedents, for compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, such amount to be determined by a jury," it said.
Source: IANS
READ MORE - US court summons ISI chief in Mumbai terror case

Stuxnet may be part of Iran atom woes: ex-IAEA aide

VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has been experiencing years of problems with equipment used in its uranium enrichment program and the Stuxnet computer virus may be one of the factors, a former top U.N. nuclear inspections official said.

Olli Heinonen, who stepped down in August as head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog's inspections worldwide, said there may be many reasons for technical glitches that have cut the number of working centrifuges at Iran's Natanz enrichment plant.

"One of the reasons is the basic design of this centrifuge ... this is not that solid," Heinonen, a former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and now a senior fellow at Harvard University, told Reuters on Friday.

Asked about the Stuxnet virus, he said: "Sure, this could be one of the reasons ... There is no evidence that it was, but there has been quite a lot of malfunctioning centrifuges."

Security experts have said the release of Stuxnet could have been a state-backed attack on Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is designed to produce electricity but which Western leaders suspect is a disguised effort to develop nuclear bombs.

Any delays in Iran's enrichment campaign could buy more time for efforts to find a diplomatic solution to its stand-off with six world powers over the nature of its nuclear activities.

Iran has tentatively agreed to meet with a representative of the powers early next month, for the first time in over a year.

Earlier this week, experts said new research showed definitively that Stuxnet was tailored to target the kind of equipment used in uranium enrichment, deepening suspicions its aim was to sabotage the Islamic Republic's nuclear activities.

Centrifuges are finely calibrated cylindrical devices that spin at supersonic speed to increase the fissile element in uranium so that it can serve as fuel for nuclear power plants or, if refined to a much higher degree, for atomic bombs.


The Islamic state's P-1 centrifuges, adapted from a smuggled 1970s European design, have been plagued by breakdowns since a rapid expansion of enrichment in 2007-08. In September, an IAEA report said the number of producing centrifuges had fallen to 3,772 from 3,936 a few months earlier. It did not give a reason.

But Iran is testing an advanced, more durable model able to refine uranium two or three times faster, and says it intends to introduce the model for production in the near future.

Heinonen said the P-1 centrifuge was quite brittle and prone to outages. He also cited other quality problems and "poor workmanship" as possible factors.

"They have some problems but you don't know what the real reason is for those problems and there may be many reasons."

Stuxnet, a malicious computer worm of unknown origin that attacks command modules for industrial equipment, is described by some experts as a first-of-its-kind guided cyber missile.

New research by cyber security company Symantec unearthed evidence that apparently supports the enrichment sabotage theory, pointing to tell-tale signs in the way Stuxnet changes the behavior of equipment known as frequency converter drives.

A frequency converter drive is a power supply that can alter the frequency of the output, which controls the speed of a motor. The higher the frequency, the higher the motor's speed.

"They have had some problems with the frequency converters ... but that is a way back," Heinonen said, citing Iranian media information from a few years ago.
READ MORE - Stuxnet may be part of Iran atom woes: ex-IAEA aide

Al-Qaida Bomb Plans Published On Web Site: Editors Boast About $4,200 Cost Of Attack — Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is promising more small-scale attacks like its attempts to bomb two U.S.-bound cargo planes, which it likens to bleeding its enemy to death by a thousand cuts, in a special edition of the Yemeni-based group's English on-line magazine, Inspire.

The editors boast that what they call Operation Hemorrhage was cheap, and easy, using common items that together with shipping, cost only $4,200 to carry out.

Alerted to the late October bomb plot by Saudi intelligence, security officials chased the packages across five countries, trying frantically over the next two days to prevent an explosion that could have come at any moment. The pursuit showed that even when the world's counterterrorism systems work, preventing an attack is often a terrifyingly close ordeal.

The group says it's part of a new strategy to replace spectacular attacks in favor of smaller attacks to hit the U.S. economy, according to the special edition of the online magazine, made available by both Ben Venzke's IntelCenter, and the Site Intelligence Group.

"To bring down America we do not need to strike big," the editors write. With the "security phobia that is sweeping America, it is more feasible to stage smaller attacks that involve less players and less time to launch" thereby circuventing U.S. security, they conclude.

In the magazine, an author identified as the group's head of foreign operations says the package attacks were intended to cause economic harm, not casualties. "We knew that cargo planes are staffed by only a pilot and a co-pilot," the author writes, "so our objective was not to cause maximum casualties but to cause maximum losses to the American economy," by striking at the multi-billion dollar U.S. freight industry.

The al-Qaida offshoot insists it also brought down a UPS cargo plane in Dubai in September, in addition to the Oct. 29 attempts to bring down a FedEx plane, and a UPS plane bound for the U.S. But U.S. officials insist the Dubai crash was an accident caused by a battery fire, not terrorism.

The editors' boast that they chose printer cartridges in which to hide the explosive because toner is carbon-based, with a molecular composition "close to that of PETN," so it would not be detected. "We emptied the toner cartridge from its contents and filled it with 340 grams of PETN," the writers say.

In another article, the editors bragged of how inexpensive the operation was, listing the cost of the items, including two Nokia mobiles, at $150 each, two HP printers, at $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200.

Those who monitor Jihadist sites say the publication, posted Saturday, is a radical departure from the shadowy claims of responsibility common to most al-Qaida groups. "We have never seen a jihadist group in the al-Qaida orbit ever release, let alone only a few weeks after, such a detailed accounting of the philosophy, operational details, intent and next steps following a major attack," says the IntelCenter's Venzke.

The fact that the group is "able to pump out this propaganda" shows al-Qaida is still able to operate with relative freedom, says the Carnegie Endowment for Peace's Christopher Boucek. U.S. officials have repeatedly requested that Yemen step up its counterterrorist operations, and share more intelligence and access to terrorist suspects.
READ MORE - Al-Qaida Bomb Plans Published On Web Site: Editors Boast About $4,200 Cost Of Attack

U.S. wants to widen area in Pakistan where it can operate drones

By Greg Miller

ISLAMABAD - The United States has renewed pressure on Pakistan to expand the areas where CIA drones can operate inside the country, reflecting concern that the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is being undermined by insurgents' continued ability to take sanctuary across the border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.

The U.S. appeal has focused on the area surrounding the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban leadership is thought to be based. But the request also seeks to expand the boundaries for drone strikes in the tribal areas, which have been targeted in 101 attacks this year, the officials said.

Pakistan has rejected the request, officials said. Instead, the country has agreed to more modest measures, including an expanded CIA presence in Quetta, where the agency and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate have established teams seeking to locate and capture senior members of the Taliban.

The disagreement over the scope of the drone program underscores broader tensions between the United States and Pakistan, wary allies that are increasingly pointing fingers at one another over the rising levels of insurgent violence on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Senior Pakistani officials expressed resentment over what they described as misplaced U.S. pressure to do more, saying the United States has not controlled the Afghan side of the border, is preoccupied by arbitrary military deadlines and has little regard for Pakistan's internal security problems.

"You expect us to open the skies for anything that you can fly," said a high-ranking Pakistani intelligence official, who described the Quetta request as an affront to Pakistani sovereignty. "In which country can you do that?"

U.S. officials confirmed the request for expanded drone flights. They cited concern that Quetta functions not only as a sanctuary for Taliban leaders but also as a base for sending money, recruits and explosives to Taliban forces inside Afghanistan.

"If they understand our side, they know the patience is running out," a senior NATO military official said.

The CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan has accelerated dramatically in recent months, with 47 attacks recorded since the beginning of September, according to The Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks the strikes. By contrast, there were 45 strikes in the first five years of the drone program.

But Pakistan places strict boundaries on where CIA drones can fly. The unmanned aircraft may patrol designated flight "boxes" over the country's tribal belt but not other provinces, including Baluchistan, which encompasses Quetta.

"They want to increase the size of the boxes, they want to relocate the boxes," a second Pakistani intelligence official said of the latest U.S. requests. "I don't think we are going to go any further."

He and others spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the clandestine nature of a program that neither government will publicly acknowledge.

more here
READ MORE - U.S. wants to widen area in Pakistan where it can operate drones

How does Israel manage to have ultra-secure airports with no disruption to passengers?

The 'Israelification' of airports: High security, little bother

Cathal Kelly

While North America's airports groan under the weight of another sea-change in security protocols, one word keeps popping out of the mouths of experts: Israelification.

That is, how can we make our airports more like Israel's, which deal with far greater terror threat with far less inconvenience.

"It is mindboggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago," said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy. He's worked with the RCMP, the U.S. Navy Seals and airports around the world.

"Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don't take s--- from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, 'We're not going to do this. You're going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport."

That, in a nutshell is "Israelification" - a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

Fliers urged to opt out of airport security en masse

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel's largest hub, Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

"The first thing you do is to look at who is coming into your airport," said Sela.

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

"Two benign questions. The questions aren't important. The way people act when they answer them is," Sela said.

Officers are looking for nervousness or other signs of "distress" — behavioural profiling. Sela rejects the argument that profiling is discriminatory.

"The word 'profiling' is a political invention by people who don't want to do security," he said. "To us, it doesn't matter if he's black, white, young or old. It's just his behaviour. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I'm doing this?"

Once you've parked your car or gotten off your bus, you pass through the second and third security perimeters.

Armed guards outside the terminal are trained to observe passengers as they move toward the doors, again looking for odd behaviour. At Ben Gurion's half-dozen entrances, another layer of security are watching. At this point, some travellers will be randomly taken aside, and their person and their luggage run through a magnometer.

"This is to see that you don't have heavy metals on you or something that looks suspicious," said Sela.

You are now in the terminal. As you approach your airline check-in desk, a trained interviewer takes your passport and ticket. They ask a series of questions: Who packed your luggage? Has it left your side?

"The whole time, they are looking into your eyes — which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds," said Sela.

Lines are staggered. People are not allowed to bunch up into inviting targets for a bomber who has gotten this far.

At the check-in desk, your luggage is scanned immediately in a purpose-built area. Sela plays devil's advocate — what if you have escaped the attention of the first four layers of security, and now try to pass a bag with a bomb in it?

"I once put this question to Jacques Duchesneau (the former head of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority): say there is a bag with play-doh in it and two pens stuck in the play-doh. That is 'Bombs 101' to a screener. I asked Ducheneau, 'What would you do?' And he said, 'Evacuate the terminal.' And I said, 'Oh. My. God.'

"Take Pearson. Do you know how many people are in the terminal at all times? Many thousands. Let's say I'm (doing an evacuation) without panic — which will never happen. But let's say this is the case. How long will it take? Nobody thought about it. I said, 'Two days.'"

A screener at Ben-Gurion has a pair of better options.

First, the screening area is surrounded by contoured, blast-proof glass that can contain the detonation of up to 100 kilos of plastic explosive. Only the few dozen people within the screening area need be removed, and only to a point a few metres away.

Second, all the screening areas contain 'bomb boxes'. If a screener spots a suspect bag, he/she is trained to pick it up and place it in the box, which is blast proof. A bomb squad arrives shortly and wheels the box away for further investigation.

"This is a very small simple example of how we can simply stop a problem that would cripple one of your airports," Sela said.

Five security layers down: you now finally arrive at the only one which Ben-Gurion Airport shares with Pearson — the body and hand-luggage check.

"But here it is done completely, absolutely 180 degrees differently than it is done in North America," Sela said.

"First, it's fast — there's almost no line. That's because they're not looking for liquids, they're not looking at your shoes. They're not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you," said Sela. "Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes ... and that's how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys."

That's the process — six layers, four hard, two soft. The goal at Ben-Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in a maximum of 25 minutes.

This doesn't begin to cover the off-site security net that failed so spectacularly in targeting would-be Flight 253 bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — intelligence. In Israel, Sela said, a coordinated intelligence gathering operation produces a constantly evolving series of threat analyses and vulnerability studies.

"There is absolutely no intelligence and threat analysis done in Canada or the United States," Sela said. "Absolutely none."

But even without the intelligence, Sela maintains, Abdulmutallab would not have gotten past Ben Gurion Airport's behavioural profilers.

So. Eight years after 9/11, why are we still so reactive, so un-Israelified?

Working hard to dampen his outrage, Sela first blames our leaders, and then ourselves.

"We have a saying in Hebrew that it's much easier to look for a lost key under the light, than to look for the key where you actually lost it, because it's dark over there. That's exactly how (North American airport security officials) act," Sela said. "You can easily do what we do. You don't have to replace anything. You have to add just a little bit — technology, training. But you have to completely change the way you go about doing airport security. And that is something that the bureaucrats have a problem with. They are very well enclosed in their own concept."

And rather than fear, he suggests that outrage would be a far more powerful spur to provoking that change.

"Do you know why Israelis are so calm? We have brutal terror attacks on our civilians and still, life in Israel is pretty good. The reason is that people trust their defence forces, their police, their response teams and the security agencies. They know they're doing a good job. You can't say the same thing about Americans and Canadians. They don't trust anybody," Sela said. "But they say, 'So far, so good'. Then if something happens, all hell breaks loose and you've spent eight hours in an airport. Which is ridiculous. Not justifiable

"But, what can you do? Americans and Canadians are nice people and they will do anything because they were told to do so and because they don't know any different."
READ MORE - How does Israel manage to have ultra-secure airports with no disruption to passengers?

Wave of bombing attacks against Baghdad Christians 'by Al Qaeda'

A wave of bombings targeting Iraq’s Christian community killed at least four people and wounded 19 today,
It comes less than two weeks after a siege at a Baghdad church left scores dead.
At least 11 roadside bombs detonated within an hour of each other in three predominantly Christian areas in the centre of the capital.
Ripped apart: A house destroyed after a bomb attack in the Camp Sara district
Ripped apart: A house destroyed after a bomb attack in the Camp Sara district
Four of the blasts hit houses belonging to Christians, and two mortar rounds also struck Christian enclaves of the predominantly Sunni city.
It is thought Al Qaeda may be behind today's terror after they claimed responsibility for a massacre at a Catholic cathedral last week that left 58 people dead.
The violence underlines the threat to Iraq's minority Christian community still in shock from the targeted killings.
Today's attacks come after a similar series of bombings yesterday that hit three empty houses belonging to Christians in western Baghdad. No one was wounded in those.
Younadem Kana, a Christian member of the Iraqi parliament, condemned the violence and blamed police and military for failing to protect the Christian community despite boosting security measures at churches around the capital.
'These attacks are not targeting only Christians, but also the government that has promised to protect the Christians,' he said.
Gutted: A burnt out vehicle at the site of a blast in the Karrada district
Gutted: A burnt out vehicle at the site of a blast in the Karrada district
He added that the bombings exposed 'grave flaws in the structure and the work of Iraq's security forces.'
The country's political leaders met today for the third consecutive day for talks focused on the formation of a new government.
Since the March 7 vote, Iraqi politicians have failed to agree on a government that would include the Sunni-backed coalition led by Ayad Allawi, which narrowly defeated Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated bloc at the polls.
At stake is whether Iraq has an inclusive government of both the majority Shiites and the minority Sunnis or a Shiite-dominated government with the Sunnis largely in opposition.
Location: The Karradah district of central Baghdad where the attacks centred
Location: The Karradah district of central Baghdad where the attacks centred
The latter option is a recipe that many worry will turn the country back to the sectarian violence of a few years ago.
Even for a nation used to daily violence after years of war, the killings in Baghdad's main Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation at the hands of Islamic militants shocked Iraqis.
It was the worst attack against the country's Christian minority since the 2003 invasion unleashed fierce sectarian fighting between Iraq's Muslim Shiite and Sunni militias that killed tens of thousands of civilians.
Grieving and afraid, many Iraqi Christians were saying after the church assault during the November 1 Sunday Mass that they may join a million of their brethren who have fled the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
READ MORE - Wave of bombing attacks against Baghdad Christians 'by Al Qaeda'

Israeli fighter jet crashes during training, crew missing

JERUSALEM: An Israeli air force F-16 crashed in the deserts of southern Israel while on a routine training flight, the military said today, adding that its two-man crew were missing.

Large forces were carrying out search and rescue in the area of the Ramon Crater looking for the pilot and navigator, an army spokeswoman said.

The fighter was a US-made F-16I, custom designed for the Israeli air force and believed capable of reaching arch-foe Iran. This was the first crash of the model.

Air force commander Ido Nehushtan has ordered an investigation into the accident and has temporarily grounded the F-16I fleet, the spokeswoman said.

The accident occurred on yesterday evening, but the military censor barred publication of the news until the families of the crew had been notified, standard practise in Israel.
READ MORE - Israeli fighter jet crashes during training, crew missing

Baghdad blasts kill over 100

Baghdad blasts

At least 100 people were killed and nearly 200 injured in a series of blasts in Baghdad city in Iraq.

There were 21 blasts in total, which took place in form of suicide bombings, car bombings and improvised devices.

The blasts took place in cafes, restaurants and crowded markets.

All the roads leading to the sites of the explosions were closed to facilitate the ambulances to move around the city.

The authorities imposed curfew in the capital city and people were asked to stay at the home.

A day earlier, more than 30 people had been killed and more than 67 injured when a suicide bomb blast ripped through a crowded coffee shop in the Iraqi city of Baquba, some 57 km north of Baghdad.

The latest round of attacks comes just two days after militants reportedly affiliated with Al Qaeda took worshippers hostage at a church in Baghdad. More than 52 people were killed and more than 75 injured in the incident.

The attacks come amid a political stalemate surrounding the formation of a new government that has dragged on for nearly eight months.
READ MORE - Baghdad blasts kill over 100
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