Friday, March 31, 2006
A tourist boat carrying at least 150 people has sunk near Bahrain. At least 48 are said to have died in the disaster and some 63 had been rescued according to reports shortly released after midnight [BBC]. There are also reports that 25 Britons may have been on board, at least one Briton has been rescued according to Sky News. Tarriq Hassan, Bahrain Interior Ministry spokesman, told Sky News, before his line went dead, that rescue operations were in full swing and were being helped with boats from the Royal Navy. The dinner cruise went down in minutes shortly after 21:45 local time [18:45 GMT].
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Jill Carroll - released
In a rare piece of good news from Iraq, Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor journalist who was kidnapped on the 7th January, was today released. At around midday Thursday she walked into the offices of the Iraqi Islamic Party in Baghdad, clutching a note written in Arabic. She looked fit and well according to witnesses. Reuters reported that she had been well treated by her captors, "They gave me clothing, plenty of food. I was allowed to take showers, go to the bathroom when I wanted," Carroll said [BBC].
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
A total eclipse of the sun, particularly special in that it lasted in excess of 4 minutes at the point of total obscurity, has occurred over parts of Africa, Egypt and Turkey. The first sight of totality occurred over the edge of Brazil at around 09:30 GMT/UTC before the path of the eclipse swept across the Atlantic Ocean towards the African continent. Sky News and BBC 24 brought viewers brief glimpses of the event from Ghana, Egypt and Libya, though all the pictures were only of partial obscurity. The next most spectacular total eclipse will pass across India and East Asia in July 2009.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
An earthquake has hit off the southern coast of Japan triggering tsunami alerts. The magnitude 6 quake hit at 13:30 GMT/UTC some 270 km from the mainland amongst the Izu islands. It is the latest in a series of quakes that have hit the seas around Japan in recent months. However, the size and proximity has increase concerns in this latest tremor. jma.go.jp / Map
Monday, March 27, 2006
After a third day of evidence, Mohammed Babar, the so-called ‘supergrass’ in Britain’s latest terror trial, said he met with two defendants and helped them store chemicals and poison. He said that he trained with them and constructed explosive devices. The trial continues [BBC]. The seven supects are Omar Khyam, Shujah Mahmood, Anthony Garcia, Nabeel Hussain, Jawad Akbar, Waheed Mahmood and Salahuddin Amin. Omar Khyam, aged 24, hails from Crawley in West Sussex. At the time of his arrest he was living in Slough, Berkshire. He allegedly used the alias Ausman when in Pakistan. Mr Khyam allegedly told prosecution witness Mohammed Babar that he was working for a man called Abdul Hadi who was "number three in al-Qaeda". The Crown claim Mr Khyam travelled to Pakistan in 2003 and told Babar he wanted to carry out operations in the UK and referred to pubs, nightclubs and trains as potential targets. As well as the conspiracy charge, he denies having aluminium powder for the purposes of terrorism between 1 October 2003 and 31 March 2004. He also denies possessing 600kg of ammonium nitrate for the purposes of terrorism.
Mr Khyam's younger brother, Mr Shujah Mahmood is aged 18 and was living at the family home in Crawley. In addition to the conspiracy charge, he denies possessing aluminium powder for the purposes of terrorism.
Mr Anthony Garcia, aged 27, allegedly went by the aliases Rahman Adam, Abdul Rahman, John Lewis or Rizvan. He lived in Ilford, Essex, and had a girlfriend who lived in Colindale, north London. The Crown claims he carried out tests in Pakistan, along with Babar and Mr Khyam, into the effectiveness of ammonium nitrate as an explosive. He denies possessing 600kg of ammonium nitrate for the purposes of terrorism, as well as the conspiracy charge.
Nabeel Hussain came from Horley, Surrey, and at the time of his arrest was a student at Brunel University in Uxbridge, north west London. Now 20, he is the only one of the defendants who is on bail. He denies possessing 600kg of ammonium nitrate for the purposes of terrorism, as well as the conspiracy charge.
Jawad Akbar, aged 22, is also from Crawley but also had an address in Uxbridge. Mr Akbar denies conspiracy to cause explosions.
At 33, Waheed Mahmood is the eldest of the defendants. He also comes from Crawley. Two months before his arrest Mahmood starting working for National Grid Transco, which operates electricity and gas systems in England. He allegedly had several identities, including Abdul Waheed, Esmail, Javed or Jave. The prosecution claim that Mr Mahmood told the witness Mohammed Babar that he was a supporter of al-Qaeda. Mr Mahmood denies conspiracy to cause explosions.Salahuddin Amin, aged 30, comes from Luton, Bedfordshire. Unlike his co-defendants who were arrested on 30 March 2004, he was not arrested until April 2005 when he arrived at Heathrow from Pakistan. He was allegedly known as Khalid by some people, including the main prosecution witness Mohammed Babar. Mr Amin denies conspiracy to cause explosions.
Zacarias Mousaoui, the so called 20th hijacker, has admitted to knowing Richard Reid the so called ‘shoe-bomber’, and that he knew of the 9/11 plot. He has stated this afternoon in court that he knew Mohammed Atta, the hijacker and pilot of flight 11 which hit WTC north tower, and that he also had met with Ziad Samir Jarrah, pilot and hijacker of flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. He denied that he knew anything of a plot to hit the Pentagon, but admitted to being a part of a plot to fly a plane into the White House [CNN].
Dispute continues in Iraq over details of a US led raid on Sadr city in north-east Baghdad. With two contrary explanations from both the Iraqi army and the US military, tensions have increased and city officials have suspended ties with the US military. The attacks on civilians and police continued into Monday with at least 40 reported killed in explosions. The attack near Mosul, in the north of the country, targeted a police recruitment centre. Most of the dead were said to be either recruit or Iraqi police officers CNN
Freedom of Speech - Protesters in London Saturday
Anti-insurgent raids in Iraq have incited street protests and more than a dozen dead. A Shia mosque was allegedly the target of an intelligence led operation in an area inhabited by Muslims loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr. As US forces moved in a gun battle ensued and according to a US military statement, 16 insurgents were killed and 15 arrested. But Iraqi police say the gunmen were members of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi army and that 17 were killed and several injured. Representatives from the ‘firebrand’ cleric insisted the US forces had entered the mosque, something the US military deny [BBC]. Whatever the exact truth of the incident, it will do little to calm an already volatile situation in a fragile peace that exists between Shi’ites and the occupying forces. Until now, most insurgent operations against coalition forces have come from Sunni groups. However, the US was involved in a long stand off with the Mehdi army in 2004. Najaf and Kufa, in the south, were both surrounded by US forces in long running battles between April and October 2004. And in Sadr city a district in north-east Baghdad, US forces were engaged in weeks of heavy fighting before a ceasefire was negotiated. In Afghanistan a convert from Islam to Christianity has had the case against him dropped. There had been much criticism from the international community over the proposed prosecution of Abdul Rahman, who under Afghanistan’s Sharia law had faced the death penalty for his ‘crime’. The reaction in the US was one of shock but also of muted diplomatic statements. “We do want a favourable resolution, but they do have a democracy and unlike the Taliban they do have a constitution to which one can appeal,” Condoleezza Rice said on CNN’s Late Edition on Sunday. But what kind of democracy? Senator Jack Reed described the situation, having spent millions to free the country only for it to return to a state of such strict intolerance, as being shocking, not only for the US, but for the whole international community. “It shocks the world” he told CNN. Abdul Rahman, 42, who said it was “for God to judge” on whether he should live or die, may be released as soon as Monday, but there is a fear he may be killed by fellow Afghans [BBC]. It was for the defence of free expression which prompted a few hundred protesters to take to the streets on Saturday. Under the banner of March for Free Expression protesters gather in Trafalgar Square to listen to speeches from several activists and promoters of human rights. Maryam Namazie, a human rights activist and broadcaster, was the first to address the crowd, followed by Dr Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat MP. But before the main speakers one protester started his own impromptu address to the crowd. Reza Moradi, 29, an Iranian who has lived in the UK for over eight years, held aloft a placard depicting cartoons which caused controversy throughout the Islamic world. The publication of cartoons, said to insult the Prophet Mohammed, have sparked protests from Muslims around the world, and death threats to those publishing them. "It's my freedom, everyone's freedom, to expose these pictures and encourage everyone to do the same," said protester Reza Moradi. A reporter asked Mr Moradi if he was afraid of reprisals against him. His response was a swift ‘no’. But for Mr Moradi, his expression of freedom was short lived. A short time into the proceedings police led him away and he was arrested after a single complaint by a member of the public. The reaction by one of the organizers was to rally a call of support and Ms Namazie encouraged the crowd to pass around the ‘offending’ placard, proclaiming, “They can’t arrest us all”. As the speeches continued, police stood by continuing their surveillance of the assembled protesters taking photographs and making video recordings. Stark irony indeed. Little coverage or publicity was gained from the event however. Neither Sky News nor BBC 24 made any mention to the protest and only a few papers printed any reference to the story. The lack of coverage of such events was discussed in one article in the Sunday Observer. “In London yesterday, Trafalgar Square hosted a freedom of expression rally and last weekend, thousands marched towards that same spot against the war in Iraq, though you would have had to search hard in The Observer to know that” the article read. Besides large numbers, valiant causes, or interesting and well known speakers, the editor of the Sunday Observer said, “There is, unfortunately, a law of diminishing returns on demonstrations that happen annually. Although the issues are no less important, nothing was ever going to have the impact of the original Stop the War march of 2003. The arguments against the war have been strongly made and widely reported and the fact of another march - and there are many - raising the same issues has, of necessity, a lower news value.” [Washington Post / Gulf Daily News] Freedom of a different kind dominated the headlines instead. The arrival home of Norman Kember, freed by coalition soldiers in an SAS led operation in Iraq last week. Kember, who had been held hostage for 119 days, arrived at his north London home surrounded by the media circus that has become common place for such events. Sky and BBC competing throughout the day with ‘Latest’ pictures and Live broadcasts from outside Mr Kembers house. And the coverage continued Sunday with Live coverage of Mr Kember leaving his house to go to church, shortly followed by his arrival at church and then Mr Kember singing in church. All that was missing was the buzz of the BBC’s news helicopter and the Skycopter beaming aerial coverage [BBC / Sky News]
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Norman Kember - free
The beginning of the 4th year of the Iraq war was punctuated with upbeat speeches from George W Bush, insisting that America would prevail in its War on Terror. As he spoke, Operation Swarmer continued north of Baghdad. The reports from this latest offensive dried up after the weekend. And it is not clear how much was achieved in the operation which seemed only to round up a handful of insurgents and result in the seizing of a few arms caches. The bombs and suicide attacks continued however, and on Friday a Danish soldier was killed by a roadside bomb. Two more US soldiers were also killed in the Anbar Province, increasing the death toll of US dead to 2,322. And attacks on civilians continued with at least 5 killed on Friday. The bomb attack targeted a mosque in Khalis, 60 km north-east of Baghdad. At least 17 were injured in the attack [BBC]. On Thursday around 30 died in Baghdad alone in a series of explosions [BBC].
This week’s headlines were also dominated with the ongoing terror trial at the Old Bailey. Seven individuals face life for their part in a terror plot foiled by police. It is alleged that they had intended to commit a series of terrorist attacks across the British mainland with explosives made from fertilizer. ‘Supergrass’ Mohammed Babar, who has been given immunity from prosecution in the UK, but not the US to where he faces extradition, told the court that he had discussed various terror plots with the accused and that he himself had met with Abu Hamza, the now jailed radical cleric. Amongst the ideas discussed was a plot to poison fast food and beer and target football matches. They had also intended to target telephone exchanges, gas and electrical infrastructure, according to the prosecution. Earlier in the week it was alleged that one suspect had attempted to by a ‘radio-isotope bomb’ from the Russian mafia. They had also planned to target night clubs and transport systems [BBC]. The trial continues, as does the War on Terror, the war in Iraq, and the continuing turmoil in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the government is facing increasing international pressure after a man is set to be sentenced to death for having converted to Christianity from Islam [BBC]. Also in Afghanistan a British soldier has died. He is said to have died Wednesday but not from hostile action, a brief MoD report said [BBC].
A former Bomb Disposal Officer who lost a leg in Iraq was this week awarded the George Cross for bravery. Cpt Peter Norton received the commendation on Friday [BBC].
A new report from the US authorities this week also revealed a fresh insight to the prelude to the Iraq war. The Saddam report as it is being referred to, gives a feel for what the former president was thinking prior to the US invasion. The Pentagon report also alleges Russian collusion with Iraq prior to war [BBC].
On the news that Norman Kember had been freed, his wife Pat was said to be ‘overjoyed’. But the SAS led raid, carefully planned after a lucky break has gained little praise from Kember or the organisation of which he belongs. The group had said that no force should be used in order to gain their freedom and besides a short statement expressing his relief of being free he failed to offer thanks to his liberators. This seemed to rattle the MoD’s Michael Jackson who on Channel 4 News said that he hoped it was not true that the servicemen who had risked their lives to save them were criticised by the freed captives. The operation was intelligence led after a suspect, arrested on Tuesday, gave an address at which the Christian Peacemakers Team were being held. US, UK and Iraqi forces stormed the address and found three men tied up in the building. No exchange of fire took place and it is understood that the kidnappers had already fled the scene. Norman Kember has in the meantime been transferred to Kuwait via the British Embassy in the strongly fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. He is expected to arrive in London on Saturday [BBC]
Thursday, March 23, 2006
AFP has reported that 3 hostages held in Iraq since November 2005 have been released. A US military source confirmed the report and the Foreign Office also stated that Norman Kember was also free. The freed hostages are James Loney, 41, of Toronto, Canada, Norman Kember, 74, from Britain, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32 of Toronto, Canada. All were part of Chicago based Christian Peacemakers Team when they were kidnapped in western Baghdad on Saturday 26th November 2005. Earlier this month one of the hostages, Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Virginia, USA, was killed by his captors. His body was found on the 10th March. Latest reports indicate that the men were released from their ordeal as a result of military action.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Thousands attend a protest in London on Saturday
As thousands marked the 3rd anniversary of the Iraq war the violence continued unabated. US forces launched their biggest offensive on Wednesday since hostilities began, making both land and air assaults on targets near Samarra.
And as sectarian violence continued in many parts of the country there has been a wide variance of opinion as to whether the country is slipping further towards civil war. Jalal Talabani the new Iraqi prime minister rejected comments made earlier by the former interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, who had said the prospect of civil war was closer than ever before. Mr Allawi told the BBC Iraq was already in the grip of a civil war that could tear it apart, although Iraq had not got to the point of no return. “We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more - if this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is” Mr Allawi said. His opinion was not shared by US and UK authorities. John Reid, the British Defence Secretary, dismissed the comments whilst on a visit to the country. “The terrorists want a civil war… but the miracle here is that the Iraqis after three years of this are extending the hand of friendship and unity to each other and forming a national government, rather than dividing along the lines terrorists want to see”. In Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney said Zarqawi and others were becoming desperate. “They are doing everything they can to stop the forming of a democratic government” he said, but insisted they were not succeeding. And President Bush was also up-beat saying, “We are implementing a strategy to bring about freedom in Iraq”. That strategy has been seen in initiatives such as the US-led ‘Operation Swarmer’, against insurgents and foreign fighters near Samarra, which is now into its fourth day. At least 80 ‘terrorists’ were said to have been rounded up according to Fox correspondent Andrew Stack. But there were also civilian casualties. Police say that at least eight civilians - including a woman and a child - were killed when US forces opened fire after coming under attack in the town of Dhuluiya, north of Baghdad. And whilst insurgents are rounded up in one area, the insurgency continues elsewhere. Gunmen killed three Iraqi police in the northern town of Mosul and two bomb attacks killed a policeman and wounded 12 other people in Baquba, north-east of Baghdad on Saturday. There were also reports of a mortar shell exploding in the southern city of Karbala as Shias gathered for one of the biggest events of their religious calendar. No casualties were reported. In other developments the Saddam Hussein trial, which has been through months of delays and changes of judges and lawyers, reconvened this week. But the farce continued here too as the former leader spent much of his time in the stand criticizing the US led invasion and calling on his countrymen to continue the insurgency [BBC].
Throughout the world thousands demonstrated their opposition to the ongoing conflict and the possibility of an attack on the state of Iran. In London at least 10,000 filled the streets which culminated in a rally in Trafalgar Square where the crowds listened to speeches from Tony Benn, Bruce Kent, George Galloway MP, and Brian Eno amongst others. Marches and protests were also held in other cities around the globe including the New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles in the USA, Sydney, Australia and in Tokyo, Japan.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Ahmad Saadat - 'surrendered'
Sky News and BBC News 24 have both reported in the last few minutes that Ahmad Saadat has surrendered to Israeli forces that have laid siege to a Palestinian prison throughout much of Tuesday. Saadat had earlier said he would not surrender and described the raid on the prison as further efforts by the Israeli authorities to crush the Palestinian people. CNN also broke the news shortly after 17:00 GMT and described the siege as being “all over”. The status of the several kidnapped foreigners is still unclear. Two French citizens, two Australians, a Swiss Red Cross worker, an American and a South Korean were all said to have been held by Palestinian militants following the prison raid. CNN has said the US citizen had been released, BBC News 24 earlier saying that both the Australians and French women had also been released after a short detainment.
As all the prisoners file out from he prison, the recriminations are beginning to fly. Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary, speaking in Parliament this afternoon, insisted that there had been “no collusion” between the British and the Israeli authorities. He also condemned the violent Palestinian reaction to the raid.
Ahmad Saadat spoke by phone on Al-Jazeera
Rolling news has been dominated today with further troubles in Palestine and the Gaza strip. Israeli forces moved on a prison this morning where Ahmad Saadat and a number of other militants. But the storming of the prison, situated in Jericho near the Jordanian border, Palestinians reacted angrily [BBC]
The Israeli attack on the prison with helicopter gunships, tanks and bulldozers was initiated after US and British monitors withdrew from the area. Palestinians, seeing the withdrawal as being hand in hand with the Israeli action, attacked the British Council building in Ramallah. And the retaliations did not end there. Westerners and other foreigners were targeted and many have been kidnapped. One Swiss Red Cross official was kidnapped in the Gaza strip and two French women, working for Medicene du Monde, were also held captive for a short period before being released. A South Korean and two Australians were also reported kidnapped and the HSBC bank was attack by angry crowds in Ramallah. In Gaza there were sketchy reports that four guests had been kidnapped from a hotel popular with foreigners. And in latest reports German TV offices were attacked and an American was kidnapped in Jenin. It has also been reported that the Australians have also been released according to Reuters. The British Foreign Office issued a warning to its citizens to avoid the country as the chaos and violence continues. And as Israeli forces lay siege to the prison at the centre of this latest incursion, the man that they seek, Ahmad Saadat, spoke to the Arabic news station Al-Jazeera. The militant was jailed in 2001 for the assassination of an Israeli Tourism Minister. But his threatened release by the newly elected Hamas government prompted Israel to attempt his capture. But in a defiant speech, Saadat said he was not afraid of death and would not surrender. He described the attack on the prison as “part of the Israeli effort to crush our [the Palestinian] people”. Some commentators have described the action by Israel as being a cynical pre-election stunt.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Borislav Milosevic has said his brother, Slobodan Milosovic , did not commit suicide and accused The Hague of his death today in an interview with CNN. But his family history is in the spotlight as it was revealed that both Slobodan’s parents had committed suicide. But conspiracy theories are already abound after it was also revealed that the former President of Yugoslavia had written a letter to his soliciter expressing fears that he may have been poisoned. The letter was written the day before his death. Carla Del Ponte, the Chief Prosecutor at the Hague, said she was frustrated at the accusations. She said Milosevic’s escape from justice made it imperative that other war criminals be brought to trial as quickly as possible. A statement was issued saying that Milosevic had died of a heart attack [BBC], but that further toxicological tests were being carried out. Newspapers in Serbia led with headlines of the leader’s death, some accusing The Hague of his murder [BBC]. The Serbian government is now under pressure to hand over Radovan_Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and others who are accused of atrocities committed throughout the wars in Bosnia Hercegovina and Kosovo.
As the Saddam Hussein trial resumed after nearly two weeks [BBC] fresh attacks in Iraq Sunday have killed at least 46 people in a mainly Shi’ite area. Six car bombs exploded in Baghdad’s largest Shi’ite neighbourhood, Sadr city, which is home to many poor residents and is often patrolled by militia members of the Medhi Army, loyal to Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. According to Baghdad’s police 204 people were killed in the almost simultaneous blasts. A seventh car bomb was found and defused. Some of the Baghdad blasts took place in markets. The attacks are believed to be further attempts to enflame the Shi’ite population and to spark a civil war [CNN]. The BBC reported the death toll as only 36. Meanwhile, a further two civilians were killed in Baquba by another bomb attack and earlier Sunday, a roadside bomb went off as a U.S. military patrol was passing through western Baghdad, killing six civilians and wounding 13 others. No US fatalities were reported. However further attacks in Afghanistan saw the deaths of 4 US marines when the convoy in which they were travelling in was hit by a roadside bomb [CNN]. At least 220 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to the Defense Department.
The US announced this week that they were to leave Abu Ghraib prison [BBC]. But the move is merely cosmetic as the military shift their operations to a new location near Baghdad’s International Airport. This in itself is likely to increase concern around the world following recent allegations of rendition flights being coordinated by US authorities. The some 4,500 inmates at Abu Ghraib will be transported to the new facility, called Camp Cropper, when its construction is complete. But as the US attempt to put the notorious abuse of Abu Ghraib behind then, fresh reports have emerged that paint a very different picture of Iraq. A US report [BBC] cites that there has been a huge increase of abuse and torture by newly formed Iraqi forces. The state department's annual report said Iraqi police abuses included threats, intimidation and beatings, as well as the use of electric shocks. The report highlighted abuse by Iraq's security forces, describing "a climate of extreme violence in which people were killed for political and other reasons". The report also said the worst abuses against prisoners were carried out by police but the military was also a violator. In particular, the document mentions "suspension by the arms or legs, as well as the reported use of electric drills and cords". It adds: "The ongoing insurgency, coupled with sectarian and criminal violence, seriously affected the government's human rights performance."
Although the report went on to criticize China, North Korea, Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe, Cuba and Belarus which were named as among the worst human rights offenders, it failed to mention the US treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Slobodan Milosovic - 1941-2006
Slobodan Milosevic ,the former leader of Yugoslavia, has died. The former Balkan President had been on trial at the Hague since 2002 charged with war crimes. But frustration will be in the minds of many as his trial collapses and his alleged victims will not see justice done. He died of natural causes in his prison cell at 10 a.m CET. Milosevic had suffered from ill health for some time.
L-R: Tom Fox, James Loney, Norman Kember & Harmeet Singh Sooden
Breaking News from Iraq this morning on CNN is that Tom Fox, one of the kidnapped Christian Peacemakers team members, has been found dead. The FBI confirmed that his body was found in Baghdad on Friday. Three others, James Loney, 41, of Toronto, Canada, Norman Kember, 74, from Britain, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32 of Toronto, Canada, are still being held hostage by the little known Swords of Righteousness group. Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Virginia, USA, and his colleagues were kidnapped in western Baghdad on Saturday 26th November 2005.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Two teenage students were remanded in custody yesterday [Thursday] on terrorism charges at Bow Street Magistrates Court in London. Irfan Raja, 18, from Ilford, Essex, and 19-year-old Awaab Iqbal, from Bradford, are accused of making a record of information likely to be useful to a terrorist. But lawyers for the pair indicated both would be pleading not guilty - counsel for Mr Iqbal said the charges had "absolutely no foundation". Senior District Judge Timothy Workman remanded the pair in custody until 16 March and told them they would face a committal hearing on 6 April. [BBC]
Jim Collinson [left] talks to the media about his son's
death - inset: Pte James Collinson
The jury in the inquest of one of the soldiers who died in mysterious circumstances at Deepcut barracks has returned an open verdict. The jury had been given a choice of ‘suicide’, ‘accident’ or an ‘open verdict’ on the death of Pte James Collinson. Mr Collinson had died from a bullet to the head. His father, Jim Collinson, speaking to the press after the hearing, called for a public inquiry and said “what are the M.O.D afraid of?” [BBC] There have been repeated calls for such an inquiry, not only by James Collinson’s relatives, but also by the relatives of three other military personnel who also died in unusual circumstances [BBC coverage in depth]
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
The sentencing phase in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so called 20th hijacker, continues today. In testimony on Monday, prosecutor Rob Spencer said that since Moussaoui’s arrest in August 2001 the defendant had held back information. The defence say there was no evidence to show that Moussaoui knew names, times or dates and was regarded as ‘cuckoo’ by other al-Qaeda operatives.
The world's nuclear arsenal [source: Independent]
Ultimatums were once again laid before the Iranian regime on Tuesday. US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, speaking in Austria, said, “The Iranians must be aware that if they continue [with their Uranium enrichment]…there will be tangible and painful consequences”. But any actions against the country will be without the backing of two key members of the international community. Russia and China, both permanent Security Council members, are not expected to back military action, both making clear their reservations. But IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei did offer some hope saying, “I am still very much hopeful that in the next week an agreement could be reached” CNN . Iran has continually insisted upon its right to pursue peaceful nuclear initiatives. The regime has also called the international community’s criticism “hypocritical”, citing the vast numbers on nuclear arms held by other countries and the extensive use of nuclear energy worldwide. [Nuclearguide /Radwaste.org]
Norman Kember in a new video broadcast Tuesday
In a report published in the Daily Telegraph in the UK a withdrawal plan for British troops is be implemented in Iraq by 2008. This is in contrast to a recent commitment by the British government to send more troops to Afghanistan. The withdrawal would occur only if the situation in Iraq remained stable and the violence diminished significantly. The first movements could come within weeks, said Lt Gen Nick Houghton. Although Gen Houghton said the withdrawal was prompted by confidence that Iraq's 225,000 soldiers and police officers could soon maintain order without assistance, the news was seen by hard-line Shia and Sunni groups as a victory for their resistance to the "occupiers", the Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday. Khalil Ibrahim, a leading member of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, said it was good that foreign troops were leaving voluntarily before they were "forced to". And a Baghdad spokesman of Moqtada al-Sadr, the militant Shi’ite cleric, said their departure was "our aim and our goal".
But Lt Gen Nick Houghton’s optimism was not shared by all. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad told the LA Times that Pandora’s box had already been opened in Iraq. He said the "potential is there" for sectarian violence to become a full-blown civil war. "We have opened the Pandora's box and the question is, what is the way forward?" Khalilzad said. "The way forward, in my view, is an effort to build bridges across [Iraq's] communities." His comments were in direct contrast to other top officials within the US military. On Sunday, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a televised interview that things in Iraq were "going very, very well, from everything you look at." Many observers may well be of the opinion that his view is overly optimistic as the violence and attacks continue almost daily.
Uncertainty also remains for the safety of those held by insurgent groups in Iraq. But for one group of hostages there was a new video of kidnapped peace activist Norman Kember was shown on Al-Jazeera today, bringing with it fresh hopes that he might be released. David Cockburn, a spokesman for the Christian Peacemakers Team, said he was “hopeful” of a positive outcome, adding that there was a “Huge amount of work [being done] behind the scenes”. But there were concerns for the safety for one of the kidnapped activists as the video failed to show the American citizen, Tom Fox [CNN] . The video comes two days after a vigil calling for their release by supporters in London’s Trafalgar Square. The activists have been held by the Swords of Righteousness group since November 2005. Bomb attacks targeted at least three cities in Iraq on Monday killing at least 10 according to CNN. In Baghdad a US military convoy was targeted and a top Iraqi general was killed in a separate ambush. Maj. Gen. Mubdar Hatim was the commander of the Iraqi army's 6th Division, and was shot by insurgents in the Khadamiya district of Baghdad. Several civilians were said to have been injured. And in Baquba and Hilla, car bombs exploded injuring 53 people and killing at least 6. A U.S. soldier was killed Sunday in Iraq's Anbar province, west of Baghdad, the military said. According to the military, the soldier "died due to enemy action" in the province. Since the start of the war in 2003, 2,302 U.S. troops have died in Iraq.
Two explosions have occurred in north-east India. The blasts hit a Hindu Temple and a railway station in Varanasi at around 13:00 GMT [18:00 local time]. Local reports suggest at least 12 dead, CNN only confirmed four killed in the possible act of terrorism.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Tony Blair has proclaimed that God will judge whether he was right to send British troops to Iraq, echoing statements from his ally George Bush. Explaining how he managed to live with the decision to go to war in Iraq, Mr Blair told Michael Parkinson, a British television chat-show host, "If you have faith about these things then you realise that judgement is made by other people. If you believe in God, it's made by God as well." His remarks, made in an interview to be shown on ITV's Parkinson show tonight, invite comparison with President Bush, a born-again Christian, who has made a virtue of bringing religion into politics. But they also carry the risk of inflaming opinion in the Arab world, where the term "crusader" is commonly used to condemn Christian leaders who meddle in the Middle East. Mr Bush once told Palestinian leaders: "God would tell me, 'George, go end the tyranny in Iraq' and I did." There have been persistent reports that Mr Blair joined the President in prayer for God's guidance at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in 2002, at the summit at which many people believe a secret decision was reached to invade Iraq. The claims have been made in a book by the Christian author Stephen Mansfield, who said he had heard it from White House officials. It was clarified by Time magazine correspondent, David Aikman. Blair’s statement echoed around the world creating much public debate on domestic radio stations as well as commentary in print media [BBC]. CNN covered the story but most of the sensationalist headlines were reserved for Britain’s ever voracious media. The rhetoric is nothing new. In statements made many times by al-Qaeda leaders such as Zawahiri and Bin Laden, there are often references to Allah [God], many asking for divine help; the phrase “god willing” often ending threats made against the west. Reg Keys, the father of one of six military policemen killed in June 2003, said the Prime Minister's words were "abhorrent". And even before the interview was broadcast on British television another al Qaeda tape surfaced. In a video broadcast on Saturday, Ayman al Zawahiri condemned cartoons said to insult the Prophet Mohammed. The cartoons were published throughout European newspapers and shown on TV reports. The al Qaeda deputy blamed freedom of speech for "the insult against the Prophet Mohammed," according to a CNN translation. In the tape he described the cartoons as a “crusader’s war on Islam”.
And in the War on Iraq the body pile continued to grow. In Baghdad, at least 3 were killed in a gun battle and 7 injured according to a report on Sky News. The attack targeted a Sunni mosque in further violence in Iraq on Sunday. Meanwhile in London, around 100 people called for the release of Norman Kember who has now been in captivity for 100 days. Kember was part of a group of peace activists who were kidnapped by insurgents in western Baghdad on Saturday 26th November last year. The others held are Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Virginia, USA, James Loney, 41, of Toronto, Canada, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32 of Toronto, Canada. All were part of Chicago based Christian Peacemakers Team.
In the continuing War on Terror Iran is once again in the spotlight. The country has made clear once again that it will continue to pursue its nuclear policy and enrich Uranium. The ultimatum was made clear that enrichment would continue if the issue was referred to the UN Security Council by the IAEA [CNN]. Iran has insisted that its nuclear programme is merely to augment a domestic demand for electricity. It would also free up its vast oil reserves for export. Iran is estimated to have the fourth largest in the world. Thousands have protested in Tehran to support the government in its stance. The BBC described the ‘proud defiance’ of the ruling party, led by Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, had gelled the people together in a show of patriotism.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Further risks in the spread of the H5N1 virus were highlighted yesterday after it was confirmed that a domestic cat had died in Germany from the lethal virus. The cat which is believed to have come into contact with some swans was found dead on the Baltic island of Reugen at the weekend [BBC]. The development has prompted French ministers to warn pet owners not to allow their cats near areas where H5N1 had been reported [BBC]. But the jump to mammals, though rare, is only increasing the fear that a pandemic is closer than ever before. And the fear amongst consumers is also affecting the poultry trade. In the UK where there has yet to be any reported cases of the H5N1 virus in wild birds or amongst poultry, sales of chicken products has dropped sharply. One farmer in Essex said that his sales had dropped 70% from levels six months ago. “Because of scaremongering, media hype and the way things have gone…the whole industry has seen sales plummet,” said Ian Chisolm, a poultry farmer for eight years [Yellow Advertiser / BBC]. The facts are clear however. If the H5N1 virus should jump the species barrier to humans, the risk of a global pandemic is likely. Until then the spread of the virus amongst the global bird population will only increase the risk of that occurring. The annual flu (also called "seasonal flu" or "human flu") kills an estimated 36,000 people in the United States each year. The annual flu vaccine is made by combining vaccines for the new versions of H1N1 and H3N2 viruses that nature produces each year. The dominant strain of annual flu in January 2006 is H3N2. Measured resistance to the standard antiviral drugs amantadine and rimantadine in H3N2 has increased from 1% in 1994 to 12% in 2003 to 91% in 2005 "Contemporary human H3N2 influenza viruses are now endemic in pigs in southern China and can reassort with avian H5N1 viruses in this intermediate host." The Hong Kong Flu was a pandemic outbreak of influenza that began in Hong Kong in 1968 and spread to the United States of America that year. The outbreak ended the following year, in 1969.
The Hong Kong flu was the A type of influenza, specifically the first known outbreak of the H3N2 strain (a notation that refers to the configuration of the hemagglutinin and neuraminidase proteins in the virus).
Because of its similarity to the 1957 Asian Flu (which was the H2N2 strain, differing from the Hong Kong flu only in the chemical arrangement of the hemagglutinin protein as a result of antigenic shift) and possibly the subsequent accumulation of related antibodies in the affected population, the Hong Kong flu resulted in much fewer casualties than most pandemics. Casualty estimates vary: between 750,000 and two million people died of the virus worldwide (34,000 people in the United States) during the two years (1968-1969) that it was active. It was therefore the least lethal pandemic in the 20th century. The worst pandemic seen was after the Great War or WW I, and killed millions. The "Spanish flu", 1918-1919, first identified early March 1918 in US troops training at Camp Funstan, Kansas, by October 1918 it had spread to become a world-wide pandemic on all continents. Unusually deadly and virulent, it ended nearly as quickly as it began, vanishing completely within 18 months. In six months, 25 million were dead; some estimates put the total of those killed worldwide at over twice that number. An estimated 17 million died in India, 500,000 in the United States and 200,000 in the UK. The virus was recently reconstructed by scientists at the CDC studying remains preserved by the Alaskan permafrost. They identified it as a type of H1N1 virus. The future of the H5N1 virus is far from certain but the potential risk is very clear.
Besides efforts by the Iraqi government to stamp out the upsurge in violence following the attack on the holy mosque in Samarra, the attacks have only increased. On Friday there was a brief calm throughout Baghdad. A curfew which was imposed at the weekend also reduced the death toll briefly. But even before the curfew was lifted dozens of Iraqis, both Shia and Sunni, were dying in renewed attacks [BBC]. On Sunday, 30 people died in total, 15 in a mortar assault on a Shia area of Baghdad and another 15 across the rest of Iraq, including three US soldiers [BBC].And the attacks continued into Monday and Tuesday. According to the Iraqi authorities at least 379 Iraqis have been killed since the attack on the al-Askari shrine and holy mosque, and more than 450 injured [BBC]. The government has denied reports by the Washington Post, quoting a source from a Baghdad morgue, that 1,300 had died since February 22nd. Other casualties in the continuing violence are coalition soldiers. On Monday two British soldiers died in a roadside bomb attack in Amara [BBC] increasing the total coalition dead to 2,503 [Casualty List]. The number of Iraqi dead is incalculable, but it is likely to run into many thousands. The violence, attacks, shootings, bombings and kidnappings seems set to continue for many years to come and there are fears that other factions may spread the violence into a wider conflict encompassing the whole of the Middle-East .The trial of Saddam Hussein resumed Tuesday after a two week adjournment. It is not clear where this trial is heading, nor when it might conclude. The trial has been adjourned until March 15th. And reporting on the whole bloody mess of what is left of Iraq is becoming all the more difficult as journalists are becoming a greater target by insurgents. Three Arab journalist died in the recent violence and more than 60 have died since the conflict began, 21 of them Iraqi.Meanwhile President George W Bush reinforced his stance in the War on Terror as he made a surprise visit to Afghanistan and made clear his determination to continue the fight. It was the President’s first visit to the country since it was invaded in November 2001 [CNN]