December 9, 2008

Failed Bomb Attempt in Germany Leads to Life Sentence

One of the men responsible for a failed terrorist attack on commuter trains in Berlin received a life sentence from a German court on Tuesday, the NY Times reported.

Youssef Muhammad el-Hajdib, was convicted on several counts of attempted murder for leaving two suitcase bombs on the trains in Cologne in July 2006 that failed to explode. The attempted but unsuccessful attack, similar to the train bombing that took the lives of 191 people in Madrid in 2004, shook Germany, which had just finished hosting roughly two million visitors for the World Cup soccer tournament.

Hajdib, 24, and his lawyers said that the propane gas devices were not supposed to explode and the accident was staged to induce fear.

The regional superior court in Düsseldorf sided instead with prosecutors that Germany “never stood closer to an Islamist attack.?

“The fact that it did not result in a devastating bloodbath with a multitude of dead was only thanks to a construction error by the culprit and his accomplice in building the detonation devices,? said Ottmar Breidling, the presiding judge in the case. “It was their explicit aim to kill as many nonbelievers as possible.?

Germany has not yet experienced an Islamist terrorist attack as several surrounding countries have, but security officials believe there have been several close calls. Part of the planning in the 9/11 attacks happened in Hamburg,

Police discovered the two unexploded suitcase bombs on trains in Dortmund and Koblenz. Hajdib was detained in Kiel several weeks after the incident when police revealed a video from surveillance cameras showing Mr. el-Hajdib and the second suspect, Jihad Hamad, boarding trains with suitcases at a Cologne train station.

German security officials gave credit to Lebanon's military officials for intercepting a frightened phone call Hajdib placed to his family after the video of him was broadcast in Berlin. Hamad was arrented in Tripoli.

November 23, 2008

Vatican City church forgives John Lennon

The New York Times reported that after over 40 years of grudge holding, the Vatican's newspaper announced it has forgiven John Lennson for declaring the Beatles as more famous than Jesus Christ.

The paper referred to Lennon's comment as a "boast" by a young man dealing with sudden fame. The comment, "We'more more popular than Jesus now," made in 1996 to a London newspaper infuriated many Christians all over the world.

Vatican Daily newspaper made a statement about Lennon's comment.

"The remark by John Lennon, which triggered deep indignation mainly in the United States, after many years sounds only like a ‘boast’ by a young working-class Englishman faced with unexpected success, after growing up in the legend of Elvis and rock and roll,? the paper said.

The article continued on by complimenting the band for their success. This is the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' "The White Album".

“The fact remains that 38 years after breaking up, the songs of the Lennon-McCartney brand have shown an extraordinary resistance to the passage of time, becoming a source of inspiration for more than one generation of pop musicians,? it said.

November 16, 2008

Russia has hopes of better relations with US

The presidential administration of Russia has confidence in President-elect Barack Obama for a better future between them and the United States.

The NY Times reported that President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia said Saturday he hopes Obama can improves relations that President Bush has compromised in recent years.

Medvedev, who was in Washington Saturday for the first time since last spring, went over once again Russia’s disagreement to the expansion of NATO and stated that Russia would not change its recognition of two separatist regions in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, after the war in August.

Medvedev reiterated his threat initially made on Nov. 5 to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad if the United States continued with plans to build missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. He also said he is willing to discuss this issue.

“There is no trust in the Russia-U.S. relations, the trust we need,? Medvedev said to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington after attending the summit meeting on the current financial situation Saturday that included the leaders of 20 countries. “Therefore we have great aspirations for the new administration.?

Obama has shown more support for missile defenses than President Bush, explaining that his system would be a proven system instead of proceeding with the construction of radars and other facilities while testing continues. Reversing the program now, however, after agreements had been discussed with Poland and the Czech Republic, both NATO allies, may be portrayed backing down to Russian threats.

Medvedev expressed hope that he and Mr. Obama would meet soon after Inauguration Day.

November 6, 2008

President of Iran Congratulates Obama

President-elect Barack Obama received a letter Thursday from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, congratulating him on his victory. The United States has not had diplomatic ties with Iran for almost 30 years, the NY Times reported.

Although Admadinejad has written letters in the past to U.S. officials, never has an Irani president actually congratulated an American president on winning an election, at least post Iranian revolution.

The last time the U.S. had diplomatic ties with Iran was in 1979 until students attacked the United States Embassy in Tehran and took American diplomats hostage.

Prior to this letter, Admadinejad had made it public that he didn't believe Barack Obama could be president because of racial tension in the U.S.

“I congratulate you for attracting the majority of votes in the election,? Ahmadinejad wrote in his letter. “As you know, opportunities that are bestowed upon humans are short lived."

Ahmadinejad also said that citizens in America and people all over the world expected Obama to make major changes in domestic and foreign policy, and to put a limit on American interference with other countries.

“People in the world expect war-oriented policies, occupation, bullying, deception and intimidation of nations and imposing discriminatory policies on them and international affairs, which have evoked hatred toward American leaders, to be replaced by ones advocating justice, respect for human rights, friendship and noninterference in other countries’ affairs,? the letter said.

November 2, 2008

Russian protest use pumpkins

The NY Times reported that Russians came in thousands from the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi in front of the United States Embassy in Moscow Sunday night carrying jack-o’-lanterns with the names of war victims written on them. The group was protesting that the war in Georgia was part of an American motive to improve Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s electoral prospects.

With music from the Allman brothers and Johnny Cash playing through loudspeakers, the group of young people climbed off buses that had driven them to Moscow. They raised the pumpkins for a moment of silence while a deep bass played and colorful lights were projected on the embassy’s facade.

A film was projected on several screens with an actor playing President Bush delivering a speech in which he boasted over the United States’ control over foreign affairs. The film implied that the United States entered World Wars I and II so that the U.S. economy could take over the European economy, conducted the Sept. 11 attacks to increase government power.

“When that will happen, we will totally control all humanity,? said the actor playing President Bush.

Several of the young people protesting said they had become confused with the United States during the 1990s, saying the reforms it pushed had led Russia into a financial and political crisis.

Continue reading "Russian protest use pumpkins" »

October 25, 2008

Two DHL Executives Killed in Kabul

The NY Times reported that the deputy and director of the international courier service DHL in Afghanistan were shot and killed by security guard outside their office in central Kabul on Saturday, police said.

The early stages investigation found one of the Afghan security guards guarding the DHL compound shot the car carrying the two men, a Briton and a South African, when it pulled into the company headquarters, said Mirza Muhammad Yarmand, chief of the Interior Ministry's criminal investigations department.

The guard proceeded to put the AK-47 rifle to his own head and killed himself, Yarmand said.

The guard had been hired about a month ago from a Pashtun area just north of Kabul, Yarmand said. The Taliban recruits many of its fighters from the Pashtun ethnic group, but police had no evidence associating him to the insurgents.

Zabiullah Mujahed, a spokesman for the Taliban, denied that the group was to blame for the attack and said he did not know who was responsible for the shooting.

"This was a terrorist-style attack," Yarmand said.

The attack, which is in a fairly secure part of downtown Kabul, occurred days after the fatal shooting Monday of a British aid worker in western Kabul.

Gerold Beck, a DHL spokesman at its headquarters in Bonn, Germany, said the company was working with authorities to "clarify the situation."

October 19, 2008

Dozens killed on bus in Afghanistan

The NY Times reported that Taliban militants stopped a bus traveling on Afghanistan's main highway through a dangerous part of the country's south, took around 50 people on board and killed about 30 of them, officials announced Sunday.

Militants stopped the bus traveling in a two-bus convoy in a Taliban controlled area 40 miles west of Kandahar, provincial police chief Matiullah Khan said.

Afghan officials said no soldiers were aboard and all the victims were civilians. A Taliban spokesman holds accountability for the attack but claimed to have killed 27 Afghan army soldiers.

Khan said two buses had been traveling together, and the pasengers had tried to stop the first one but were unsuccessful. He said the insurgents fired at the first bus, killing a child among many other victims.

Several death tolls have been announced from the attack, hich occurred in an area where government forces cannot travel safely without heavy military protection. This high security is the reason for the attack being announced Sunday instead of Thursday.

The Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, said 31 people were killed and six of the dead were decapitated in a secluded area from where the other 25 bodies were found. Khan had originally said 40 people were killed, but lowered the number at a news conference to 24 people killed.

There was no way to independently determine the number of victims.

''The Taliban want to hide the news that they arrested and killed innocent Afghan civilians,'' Khan said, denying their claim the victims were soldiers.

October 12, 2008

North Korea taken off U.S. Terrorist List

The New York Times has reported that North Korea has been taken off a list of state sponsors of terrorism in a bid to salvage a fragile nuclear deal that looked to be on the verge of collapse, the Bush administration announced Saturday.

The U.S. made the decision after North Korea agreed to continue disabling a plutonium plant and to allow some inspections to confirm that it had stopped its nuclear program as agreed several months earlier, Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said.

The deal, seen as a major foreign policy achievement by Bush, began losing its strength in recent weeks in a dispute over the verification program. As recently as last week, North Korea barred international inspectors from the plant.

President Bush, who had called the country part of an “axis of evil?, was still reluctant over sending administration officials to negotiate.

Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, did not approve this motion, arguing that North Korea had yet to prove that it was serious about adhering to its commitment to denuclearize. Democratic presidential nominee, Senator Barack Obama, called the deal “a modest step forward? in dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Officials of the Bush administration said the deal was the best the U.S. could get at this time, fighting potential criticism that they were seeking a foreign policy victory in their last months.

On Sunday North Korea gladly acknowledged its removal from Washington's terrorism blacklist and said that it would continue disabling its nuclear weapons facilities, enabling U.S. and United Nations monitors back into its main nuclear complex.

Bush administration officials have been debating about the latest deal with its partners in the “six-party? talks, the partners including Russia, South Korea and Japan that negotiated the agreement in 2007 for the North to discontinue its nuclear activities. Japan’s finance minister, Shoichi Nakagawa, called the American decision “extremely regrettable.?

In a press conference Sunday, Kim Sook, South Korea’s main nuclear envoy, expressed his support for the deal.

“We welcome the agreement because we believe this will help put the six-party negotiations back on track and eventually lead to the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear programs,? he said.

October 5, 2008

Over a dozen soldiers dead in fighting with rebels

An attack by Kurdish separatist rebels in the mountainous border area of eastern Turkey killed 15 soldiers and wounded at least 20, the New York Times reported.

The attack happened Friday night on the Aktutun border post in Semdinli, a district that borders Iran and Iraq, according to the Turkish military.

Twenty-three Kurdish fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also called the P.K.K., were killed as well in Friday's attack. The attack was the deadliest since October 2007, when Kurdish fighters killed 13 Turkish soldiers in a confrontation near the town of Daglica.

Turkey has been fueding with Kurdish separatists in its southeast since the 1980s. Kurdish rebels want an increase in autonomy for Turkey’s minority Kurdish population. The conflict seemed to have died down since its peak in the 1980s and 1990s.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spent more than two hours strategizing with the country’s top security officials on how to move forward and respond to the attack.

In a statement Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, said the attack would “be investigated until the very end to find out how and with whose help? it was carried out.

Regional elections will be held in March, and Turkish authorities will be working hard to show the public that they are determined to punish the rebels for their attacks.

September 28, 2008

Chinese Astronauts Make It Home Safely

Three Chinese Astronauts made it home safely Sunday in their space capsule after spending almost three days in low earth orbit and finishing China's first spacewalk, the New York Times reported.

The capsule was located around 5:40 p.m. Beijing time after the Shenzhou VII spacecraft floated down by parachute and landed on the grasslands of north China. The astronauts were helped climb out of the space capsule by a search and rescue team.

The three astronauts spoke on national television briefly after emerging, and appeared to look well.

China said the space mission was "a major breakthrough" for their space program, which has a long-term goal of sending a man to the moon.

"It was a glorious mission, full of challenges but the result is perfect," one of the astronauts, Zhai Zhigang, said after emerging from the space capsule.

Over the past decade China has spent billions of dollars on their space program, and is only the third country to send humans into space with its own space capsule. Russia and the United States are the other two.

September 22, 2008

Death Toll Rises from Pakistan Hotel Rubble

The number of people confirmed dead from the truck blast outside the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan has gone up to 53, with 266 people wounded, the New York Times reported. Officials say the numbers are not expected to rise much more.

The Pakistani government described the blast as an attack on democracy.

“Our enemies don’t want to see democracy flourishing in the country,? said Rehman Malik, a senior Interior Ministry official, at a press conference Sunday.

The hotel was a favorable place for government officials to do business. Pakistani officials favored it because of its easy access, although Western security officials found the security to be problematic.

Malik said investigators are still trying to determine how the attacker was killed. Pakistani officials do not want help from the United States' FBI to conduct the investigation.

Rescue workers pulled five dead bodies from the wreckage Sunday. Two Americans were among the total 53 dead.

Bush Approves Pakistan Raids

CNN reported that U.S. special forces will be conducting ground assaults inside Pakistan without Islamabad's approval, after given authorization from President Bush.

A senior American intelligence official said Thursday, "We have had the president's OK for months." The official, whose identity has been kept private due to the classified order, would not get into detail on the exact circumstances of the order.

The official told CNN that Pakistan's leaders will be notified during an assault or after the fact although "most definitely after a decision has been made and things are set in motion."

The news of the ground assaults came a day after a statement from Pakistan's armed forces chief indicating that no foreign forces will be allowed to operate inside Pakistan.

Last week a senior U.S. official announced that U.S. helicopters dropped troops in the village of Angoor in South Waziristan, a border of Afghanistan. The U.S. official said there may have been a small number of women and children in the nearby area.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. and Pakistan must increase cooperation to battle al Qaeda and Taliban militants that are using areas along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan as a safe haven.

"In my view, these two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them," Mullen said.