Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood wants Spain back. Can the Christians have Egypt in exchange?

The Muslim Brotherhood wants this back
The Islamic Society of North America, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has published an article that calls Andalusia – the hottest bit of Spain – a “paradise” that will return when “the only victor is Allah.” It reads like part travelogue and part religious tract, claiming that Andalusia was a region of tolerance “for 800 years” when occupied by Muslims, was then ruined by “the insanity following the Spanish reconquista” and, only today, has regained some of its former lustre thanks to growing interest in Islam in the region.

Quote: “In 2006, Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said that Spain was indebted to Islam for its great historical contributions.” Mr Zapatero also legalised gay marriage, so it’s fair to presume that he’s not too keen for the Caliphate to come back.

The article actually makes some very good points. Islamic Andalusia was a cultural centre for western Europe, did tolerate the presence of Jews and Christians and did see a great many natives convert to Islam. Within Spain, that interpretation of history has become institutionalised as the country has tried to make peace with its Muslim minority and preach its own brand of multiculturalism. But it’s only half the story. According to the New York Times:
Andalusian governance was … based on a religious tribal model. Christians and Jews, who shared Islam's Abrahamic past, had the status of dhimmis – alien minorities. They rose high but remained second-class citizens; one 11th-century legal text called them members of "the devil's party." They were subject to special taxes and, often, dress codes. Violence also erupted, including a massacre of thousands of Jews in Grenada in 1066 and the forced exile of many Christians in 1126.
Of course, even this was arguably preferable to what followed the Spanish reconquista – an era characterised by violent mass pogroms against the Jewish population.

Nevertheless, there’s something both creepy and presumptuous about a Muslim writer visiting a Christian country and yearning for its “return” to the fold. Creepy because, for many Islamists (the author of this travelogue not included), that return will be by compulsion rather than evangelical outreach and church picnics: Hassan al-Banna, the founder of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, once wrote that "Andalusia, Sicily, the Balkans, south Italy, and the Roman sea islands were all Islamic lands that have to be restored to the homeland of Islam… it is our right to restore the Islamic Empire its glory." Such sentiments are also presumptuous because they imply that certain parts of the globe spiritually “belong” to people who “owned” them for a bit in the past. And if we’re really going to divide up the world by that logic, I’d like to make a counter offer to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Can we Christians have North Africa back? After all, it was once a centre of Christian civilisation – some of the earliest Christian communities were found there. You want brilliant theologians – Africa gave us St Augustine. You want devotion – Africa gave us the Desert Fathers. You want beauty – Africa gave us stunning iconography. You want learning – Africa gave us the libraries and schools at Alexandria. So Andalusia for Egypt seems a fair swap. After all, those pagan pyramids can surely be of no use to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Flow of Tainted Water Is Latest Crisis at Japan Nuclear Plant

Kyodo News, via Associated Press
Gray and silver storage tanks filled with radioactive wastewater are sprawling over the grounds of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Follow @nytimesworld for international breaking news and headlines.


Groundwater is pouring into the plant’s ravaged reactor buildings at a rate of almost 75 gallons a minute. It becomes highly contaminated there, before being pumped out to keep from swamping a critical cooling system. A small army of workers has struggled to contain the continuous flow of radioactive wastewater, relying on hulking gray and silver storage tanks sprawling over 42 acres of parking lots and lawns. The tanks hold the equivalent of 112 Olympic-size pools.
But even they are not enough to handle the tons of strontium-laced water at the plant — a reflection of the scale of the 2011 disaster and, in critics’ view, ad hoc decision making by the company that runs the plant and the regulators who oversee it. In a sign of the sheer size of the problem, the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, plans to chop down a small forest on its southern edge to make room for hundreds more tanks, a task that became more urgent when underground pits built to handle the overflow sprang leaks in recent weeks.
“The water keeps increasing every minute, no matter whether we eat, sleep or work,” said Masayuki Ono, a general manager with Tepco who acts as a company spokesman. “It feels like we are constantly being chased, but we are doing our best to stay a step in front.”
While the company has managed to stay ahead, the constant threat of running out of storage space has turned into what Tepco itself called an emergency, with the sheer volume of water raising fears of future leaks at the seaside plant that could reach the Pacific Ocean.
That quandary along with an embarrassing string of mishaps — including a 29-hour power failure affecting another, less vital cooling system — have underscored an alarming reality: two years after the meltdowns, the plant remains vulnerable to the same sort of large earthquake and tsunami that set the original calamity in motion.
There is no question that the Fukushima plant is less dangerous than it was during the desperate first months after the accident, mostly through the determined efforts of workers who have stabilized the melted reactor cores, which are cooler and less dangerous than they once were.
But many experts warn that safety systems and fixes at the plant remain makeshift and prone to accidents.
The jury-rigged cooling loop that pours water over the damaged reactor cores is a mazelike collection of pumps, filters and pipes that snake two and a half miles along the ground through the plant. And a pool for storing used nuclear fuel remains perched on the fifth floor of a damaged reactor building as Tepco struggles to move the rods to a safer location.
The situation is worrisome enough that Shunichi Tanaka, a longtime nuclear power proponent who is the chairman of the newly created watchdog Nuclear Regulation Authority, told reporters after the announcement of the leaking pits that “there is concern that we cannot prevent another accident.”
A growing number of government officials and advisers now say that by entrusting the cleanup to the company that ran the plant before the meltdowns, Japanese leaders paved the way for a return to the insider-dominated status quo that prevailed before the disaster.
Even many scientists who acknowledge the complexity of cleaning up the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl fear that the water crisis is just the latest sign that Tepco is lurching from one problem to the next without a coherent strategy.
“Tepco is clearly just hanging on day by day, with no time to think about tomorrow, much less next year,” said Tadashi Inoue, an expert in nuclear power who served on a committee that drew up the road map for cleaning up the plant.
But the concerns extend well beyond Tepco. While doing a more rigorous job of policing Japan’s nuclear industry than regulators before the accident, the Nuclear Regulation Authority has a team of just nine inspectors to oversee the more than 3,000 workers at Fukushima.
And a separate committee created by the government to oversee the cleanup is loaded with industry insiders, including from the Ministry of Trade, in charge of promoting nuclear energy, and nuclear reactor manufacturers like Toshiba and Hitachi. The story of how the Fukushima plant ended up swamped with water, critics say, is a cautionary tale about the continued dangers of leaving decisions about nuclear safety to industry insiders.
When Tepco and the government devised the current plans for decommissioning the plant in late 2011, groundwater had already been identified as a problem — the plant lies in the path of water flowing from nearby mountains to the sea. But decision makers placed too low a priority on the problem, critics say, assuming the water could be stored until it could be cleaned and disposed of.
According to some who helped the government plan the cleanup, outside experts might have predicted the water problem, but Tepco and the government swatted away entreaties to bring in such experts or companies with more cleanup expertise, preferring to keep control of the plant within the collusive nuclear industry.
Tepco also rejected a proposal to build a concrete wall running more than 60 feet into the ground to block water from reaching the reactors and turbine buildings, and the Trade Ministry did not force the issue, according to experts and regulators who helped draw up the decommissioning plan.
Instead, Tepco made interim adjustments, including hastily building the plastic- and clay-lined underground water storage pits that eventually developed leaks.
It was only after the discovery of those leaks that the regulation agency was added as a full-fledged member to the government’s cleanup oversight committee.
But the biggest problem, critics say, was that Tepco and other members of the oversight committee appeared to assume all along that they would eventually be able to dump the contaminated water into the ocean once a powerful new filtering system was put in place that could remove 62 types of radioactive particles, including strontium.
The dumping plans have now been thwarted by what some experts say was a predictable problem: a public outcry over tritium, a relatively weak radioactive isotope that cannot be removed from the water.
Tritium, which can be harmful only if ingested, is regularly released into the environment by normally functioning nuclear plants, but even Tepco acknowledges that the water at Fukushima contains about 100 times the amount of tritium released in an average year by a healthy plant.
“We were so focused on the fuel rods and melted reactor cores that we underestimated the water problem,” said Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, a government body that helped draw up Tepco’s original cleanup plan. “Someone from outside the industry might have foreseen the water problem.”
Tepco rejects the criticism that it has mishandled the growing groundwater problem, saying that the only way to safely stop the inflow is by plugging the cracks in the damaged reactor buildings. It contends that no company in the world has the ability to do that because it would require entering the highly radioactive buildings and working in dangerously toxic water several feet deep.
“We operate the plant, so we know it better than anyone else,” said Mr. Ono, the Tepco spokesman. He then teared up, adding, “Fixing this mess that we made is the only way we can regain the faith of society.”
For the moment, that goal seems distant. The public outcry over the plans to dump tritium-tainted water into the sea — driven in part by the company’s failure to inform the public in 2011 when it dumped radioactive water into the Pacific — was so loud that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe personally intervened last month to say that there would be “no unsafe release.”
Meanwhile, the amount of water stored at the plant just keeps growing.
“How could Tepco not realize that it had to get public approval before dumping this into the sea?” said Muneo Morokuzu, an expert on public policy at the University of Tokyo who has called for creating a specialized new company just to run the cleanup. “This all just goes to show that Tepco is in way over its head.”
Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Tokyo, and Matthew L. Wald from Washington.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Everest: Climbers Steck and Moro in fight with Sherpas

File photo of Mount Everest (4 December 2009) The drama is said to have begun at 24,500 feet

Police in Nepal are investigating an alleged fight between two famous European climbers and their Nepalese mountain guides on Mount Everest.

Switzerland's Ueli Steck and Simone Moro from Italy were nearing Camp Three at 7,470m (24,500ft) when the incident occurred.

The fight allegedly broke out after the pair ignored orders to hold their climb while the Sherpas were rigging ropes.

The guides reportedly attacked the pair after they returned to their tents.

Following the incident, the climbers packed "bare essentials" and made their way back down to Mount Everest base camp, "feeling that this was the safest place to be", said Mr Moro, an experienced Everest climber.
'Terrifying to watch'
One version of events is that the guides asked the climbers to wait while they went ahead and secured ropes, but the climbers continued and dislodged ice which fell on the guides.

Mr Moro said in a statement that "getting hit by chunks of ice is a very natural occurrence" on an ice face. "As it stands, no Sherpa has come forward to show any injury."

"The climbers believe that the lead Sherpa felt that his pride had been damaged as the climbers were moving unroped and much faster," the statement added.

When they returned to their tents, Mr Moro said a large mob of guides had grouped together to attack him, Mr Steck and a third climber in their expedition, Briton Jonathan Griffith.

"[The guides] became instantly aggressive and not only punched and kicked the climbers, but threw many rocks as well," said Mr Moro.

An unnamed eyewitness told the AFP news agency the incident had been "terrifying to watch - they nearly got killed".

More than 3,000 people have scaled Mount Everest since it was first conquered by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

Straddling Nepal and China, the world's highest mountain has an altitude of 8,848m (29,029ft).

Spamhaus hacking suspect 'had mobile attack van'

Spanish Interior Ministry picture of 'SK' The suspect was arrested near the Spanish city of Barcelona

A Dutchman accused of mounting one of the biggest attacks on the internet used a "mobile computing office" in the back of a van.

The 35-year-old, identified by police as "SK", was arrested last week.

He has been blamed for being behind "unprecedentedly serious attacks" on non-profit anti-spam watchdog Spamhaus.

Dutch, German, British and US police forces took part in the investigation leading to the arrest, Spanish authorities said.

The Spanish interior minister said SK was able to carry out network attacks from the back of a van that had been "equipped with various antennas to scan frequencies".

He was apprehended in the city of Granollers, 20 miles (35km) north of Barcelona. It is expected that he will be extradited from Spain to be tried in the Netherlands.
'Robust web hosting'
Police said that upon his arrest SK told them he belonged to the "Telecommunications and Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Republic of Cyberbunker".

Cyberbunker is a company that says it offers highly secure and robust web hosting for any material except child pornography or terrorism-related activity.

Spamhaus is an organisation based in London and Geneva that aims to help email providers filter out spam and other unwanted content.

To do this, the group maintains a number of blocklists, a database of servers known to be being used for malicious purposes.

Police alleged that SK co-ordinated an attack on Spamhaus in protest over its decision to add servers maintained by Cyberbunker to a spam blacklist.
Overwhelm server
Spanish police were alerted in March to large distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks originating in Spain but affecting servers in the UK, Netherlands and US.

DDoS attacks attempt to overwhelm a web server by sending it many more requests for data than it can handle.

A typical DDoS attack employs about 50 gigabits of data per second (Gbps). At its peak the attack on Spamhaus hit 300Gbps.

In a statement in March, Cyberbunker "spokesman" Sven Kamphuis took exception to Spamhaus's action, saying in messages sent to the press that it had no right to decide "what goes and does not go on the internet".

Friday, April 26, 2013

Moscow psychiatric hospital fire kills 38

One nurse and two patients the only known survivors of blaze caused by short circuit at psychiatric facility, authorities say
A psychiatric hospital fire north of Moscow in which 38 people died
A psychiatric hospital fire north of Moscow in which 38 people died. Photograph: AFP/Getty
Thirty-eight people were feared dead after fire raged through a psychiatric hospital north of Moscow on Friday, according to Russian officials and media reports.
There were believed to have been 41 people in the building when the fire broke out – 38 patients and three staff members – and three escaped, the emergencies ministry said. An official said a nurse led two patients to safety.
The ministry said emergency workers had found 12 bodies so far and that the fire, which broke out in the middle of the night, had been extinguished.
A health ministry official confirmed that 38 people were feared dead, state-run RIA news agency reported.
There were bars on the windows of the single-storey building in Ramensky, 70 miles (120km) north of Moscow, and some patients apparently died while trying to make it to the main entrance to escape. Many others died in their beds, Itar-Tass cited an unnamed source as saying.

"After the fire alarm went off, a nurse ... saw fire at the end of a corridor. She tried to put it out but could not and led two patients out," the state-owned RIA news agency quoted emergency official Yuri Deshyovykh as saying.

Fires at state institutions in Russia such as hospitals, schools, drug treatment centres and homes for the elderly or handicapped have caused numerous casualties in recent years and raised questions about safety measures, conditions and escape routes.
More than 12,000 people died in fires in 2011 and more than 7,700 in the first nine months of 2012 in Russia, where the per capita death rate from fires is much higher than in western nations including the US.
The emergencies ministry said the fire started on or under the roof of the hospital at about 2.20am on Friday (11.20pm GMT on Thursday) but did not give a cause.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

21 dead in Xinjiang terrorist clash

English.news.cn 2013-04-24 15:39:20
URUMQI, April 24 (Xinhua) -- A violent clash between suspected terrorists and authorities in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has left 21 people dead, including 15 community workers and police officers and six of the suspects, local authorities said on Wednesday.
The attacks happened around Tuesday noon in a town of Bachu County, Kashgar Prefecture, some 1,200 km southwest of Urumqi, regional capital of Xinjiang.

Three community workers discovered suspicious individuals and knives in the home of a local resident. They then reported the situation to their supervisors via phone, but were seized by the suspects who had been hiding in the house.

Police officers and community officials from the township rushed to the scene, but were attacked and killed by the suspects, who also killed the three community workers they had seized earlier and burned the house.

Other police officers who arrived at the scene shot the suspects and got the situation under control.
Two other people from the authorities were also injured in the clash, and eight terrorist suspects were captured.

An initial investigation has indicated that the suspects are all terrorists who were planning on violent attacks.

Further investigation into the case is under way.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Making of Europe unlocked by DNA

Neolithic figurine The Neolithic was a period of momentous cultural and demographic change
DNA sequenced from nearly 40 ancient skeletons has shed light on the complex prehistoric events that shaped modern European populations.

A study of remains from Central Europe suggests the foundations of the modern gene pool were laid down between 4,000 and 2,000 BC - in Neolithic times.

These changes were likely brought about by the rapid growth and movement of some populations.
The work by an international team is published in Nature Communications.

Decades of study of the DNA patterns of modern Europeans suggests two major events in prehistory significantly affected the continent's genetic landscape: its initial peopling by hunter-gatherers in Palaeolithic times (35,000 years ago) and a wave of migration by Near Eastern farmers some 6,000 years ago. (in the early Neolithic)

But the extent to which present-day people are descended from the indigenous hunters versus the newcomers that arrived in the Neolithic has been a matter of some debate.
Family tree

Start Quote

The genetic markers of this first pan-European culture, which was clearly very successful, were then suddenly replaced around 4,500 years ago, and we don't know why”
Prof Alan Cooper University of Adelaide
Analysis of DNA from ancient remains in Central and Northern Europe appears to show that the genetic legacy of the hunter-gatherers was all but erased by later migrations, including pioneer Neolithic farmers but possibly by later waves of people too. Still others caution that more samples are needed, and suggest that this picture might not be true for all regions of the continent.

The latest paper reveals that events some time after the initial migration of farmers into Europe did indeed have a major impact on the modern gene pool.

In the study, an international team of researchers focused on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), the information in the cell's "batteries". This type of DNA is passed down, almost unchanged from a mother to her children.
By studying the mutations, or changes, in mtDNA sequences, researchers are able to probe the maternal histories of different human populations. It has enabled them to build a "family tree" of maternal ancestry, and group different mtDNA lineages together based on shared mutations.

For the latest paper, the authors chose to focus on one of these groupings known as haplogroup H.
Haplogroup H dominates mtDNA variation in Europe. Today, more than 40% of Europeans belong to this genetic "clan", with frequencies much higher in the west of the continent than in the east.
Beaker burial at Stonehenge The DNA of "Beaker folk" resembled that of people from Spain and Portugal
The team selected 39 human remains from the Mitelelbe Saale region of Germany, all of whom belonged to the "H" clan. This area has a very well preserved collection of human skeletons forming a continuous record of habitation across different archaeological cultures since Palaeolithic times.

The remains investigated here span 3,500 years of European prehistory, from the Early Neolithic to the Bronze Age.

Sequencing the mitochondrial genomes of these 39 remains revealed dynamic changes in DNA patterns over time. The team found that the genetic signatures of people from the Early Neolithic period were either rare or absent from modern populations.

And only about 19% of the Early Neolithic remains from Central Europe belonged to this genetic clan.
But, from the Middle Neolithic onwards, DNA patterns more closely resembled those of people living in the area today, pointing to a major - and previously unrecognised - population upheaval around 4,000 BC.
Co-author Prof Alan Cooper, from the University of Adelaide in Australia, said: "What is intriguing is that the genetic markers of this first pan-European culture, which was clearly very successful, were then suddenly replaced around 4,500 years ago, and we don't know why.

"Something major happened, and the hunt is now on to find out what that was."
Population growth and migration from western Europe may have driven up the frequency of people carrying haplogroup H.

Migrant wave
A significant contribution appears to have been made in the Late Neolithic, by populations linked to the so-called Bell Beaker archaeological culture. Sub-types of haplogroup H that are common today first appear with the Beaker people and the overall percentage of individuals belonging to the H clan jumps sharply at this time.

The origins of the "Beaker folk" are the subject of much debate. Despite having been excavated from the Mittelelbe Saale region of Germany, the Beaker individuals in this study showed close genetic similarities with people from modern Spain and Portugal.

Other remains belonging to the Late Neolithic Unetice culture attest to links with populations further east.
"We have established that the genetic foundations for modern Europe were only established in the Mid-Neolithic, after this major genetic transition around 4000 years ago," said co-author Dr Wolfgang Haak.
"This genetic diversity was then modified further by a series of incoming and expanding cultures from Iberia and Eastern Europe through the Late Neolithic."

Dr Spencer Wells, director of the Genographic Project, which was behind the study, commented: "Studies such as this on ancient remains serve as a valuable adjunct to the work we are doing with modern populations in the Genographic Project.

"While the DNA of people alive today can reveal the end result of their ancestors' ancient movements, to really understand the dynamics of how modern genetic patterns were created we need to study ancient material as well."

German downturn bodes ill for eurozone

@CNNMoneyApril 23, 2013: 8:31 AM ET

germany pmi car factory A decline in private sector output in April and falling car sales suggest the German economy is slowing again.

A fall in Germany's private sector output in April could signal worse times to come for the shrinking eurozone economy.

Financial data provider Markit said its initial purchasing managers' index (PMI) reading for German manufacturing and services fell to a 6-month low of 48.8 from 50.6 in March, pointing to the first contraction in output since November.

The reading for the eurozone as a whole was unchanged at 46.5, indicating a drop in activity for the19th time in the past 20 months. New business in manufacturing and services in the eurozone suffered its steepest rate of decline since December.

Renewed concerns about the outlook for southern Europe following the messy Cyprus bailout at the end of March may have contributed to subdued business confidence.

Markit Chief Economist Chris Williamson said the data reflected a weak start to the second quarter and suggested the region's downturn could intensify rather than ease in the months to come.
"Worryingly, the rate of loss of new business gathered further momentum, suggesting that activity and employment could fall at steeper rates in May," he said.

"The renewed decline in Germany will also raise fears that the region's largest growth engine has moved into reverse, thereby acting as a drag on the region at the same time as particularly steep downturns persist in France, Italy and Spain," Williamson added.

French private sector output continued to contract in April, although the pace of decline slowed.
Markit said its April PMI data pointed to a contraction in the eurozone economy of 0.4%, compared with 0.2-0.3% expected in the first quarter of the year.

The International Monetary Fund cut its 2013 forecast for the eurozone economy last week, saying it expected gross domestic product to contract by 0.3%. The European Central Bank is slightly more pessimistic, predicting a fall of 0.5% this year.

European policymakers continue to predict a gradual recovery in output in the second half of the year but are coming under growing pressure to relax a policy of austerity that has contributed to a sharp loss in domestic demand.

Recession in Germany would remove one of the few sources of eurozone growth at a time when the global outlook is also deteriorating. New car sales in Germany fell by 13% in the first quarter of 2013, suggesting a loss of confidence among consumers as well as businesses. To top of page

Tripoli: French embassy in Libya hit by car bomb


A car bomb has exploded outside the French embassy in the Libyan capital Tripoli, wounding two French guards and several residents.

The blast in Tripoli destroyed the embassy's ground-floor reception area and perimeter wall, as well as damaging neighbouring homes and shops.

French President Francois Hollande called on Libya to act swiftly over this "unacceptable" attack.

It is the first major attack on a foreign embassy in the Libyan capital.

Tuesday's explosion happened shortly after 07:00 (05:00 GMT) in a smart residential area of Tripoli.

One of the embassy's guards was severely injured while the other suffered lighter injuries. Several residents were also slightly hurt.

One young girl suffered a spinal cord injury and was being transferred to neighbouring Tunisia for treatment, her father told the BBC.

The blast took place in a small side street and left a scene of devastation, the BBC's Rana Jawad in Tripoli reports.

It was a big mistake to site the French embassy in our neighbourhood”

As well as extensive damage to the embassy building and perimeter wall, two nearby homes were badly damaged and others affected, while the windows of a shop were blown out and two parked cars were burnt out.

Many neighbours who gathered in the street to survey the damage were shaken and upset by what had happened, our correspondent says.

They told her that there was a lack of proper policing for such a potentially high-profile target.

"It was a big mistake to site the French embassy in our neighbourhood," a local resident said.

President Hollande said the attack had targeted "all countries in the international community engaged in the fight against terrorism".

"France expects the Libyan authorities to shed the fullest light on this unacceptable act, so that the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice," he said.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius - who is on his way to Libya - said French officials would work closely with the Libyan authorities to find out who was responsible for what he called an "odious act".

Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz condemned the bombing as a "terrorist act", but did not speculate on who might be behind it.


No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

French embassies across northern Africa have been on high alert since France sent in troops to help fight an Islamist insurgency in Mali in January.

France, under Nicolas Sarkozy, was at the forefront of Nato-led air strikes in 2011 that helped rebel forces topple long-time Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi was attacked by armed men in September 2012, leading to the killing of ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American officials.

Iran denies involvement in Canadian terror plot

DUBAI: Iran on Tuesday denied involvement in a plot to derail a passenger train in Canada that police say was backed by al Qaida elements based in Iran.

Canadian police said there was no indication that the plot was sponsored by the Iranian state, with which Canada severed diplomatic relations last year. Iran nevertheless reacted angrily.

"No shred of evidence regarding those who've been arrested and stand accused has been provided," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, according to the Mehr news agency.

He said al-Qaida's beliefs were in no way consistent with the Islamic Republic, and that Iran opposed "any kind of violent action that endangers lives".

"In recent years, Canada's radical government has put in practice a project to harass Iran and it is clear that it has pursued these hostile actions," he added.

Last September, Canada severed diplomatic ties with Iran over its nuclear programme, its hostility towards Israel and what Ottawa said was Iran's support for terrorist groups.

US officials said the attack would have targeted a rail line between New York and Toronto.

Canadian authorities arrested two suspects, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, linking them to extremist al-Qaida factions based in Iran. As a Shi'ite Muslim theocracy, Iran has little in common with the Sunni-based al-Qaida.

However, a US government source said Iran was home to a little-known network of al-Qaida fixers and "facilitators" based in the Iranian city of Zahedan, very close to Iran's borders with both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The source said they serve as go-betweens, travel agents and financial intermediaries for al-Qaida operatives and cells operating in Pakistan and moving through the area.

According to the source, they do not operate under the protection of the Iranian government, which periodically launches crackdowns on al-Qaida elements, though at other times it appears to turn a blind eye to them. It is also an area where Iranian authorities have battled a insurgency of their own in recent years from Sunni Muslims complaining of discrimination.

The Jundollah group, believed to be based across the border in Pakistan, has claimed several attacks including a bombing that killed 42 people in 2009, and attacks on mosques in Zahedan and elsewhere in the region. Iran says Jundollah has links to al Qaida and has accused Pakistan, Britain and the United States of supporting it to stir instability in the region, allegations that they deny.

Friday, April 19, 2013

US man accused of planning to wage jihad in Africa pleads guilty to supporting terrorism

A man who the FBI said wanted to wage violent jihad in Africa pleaded on guilty on Friday to a charge of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.

Randy Lamar Wilson, 26, pleaded guilty in federal court in Mobile. Under a plea agreement with prosecutors, he could face 15 years in federal prison, contingent on the information he provides about co-conspirators. U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose set an Oct. 18 sentencing date for Wilson.
Wilson was arrested in December at the Atlanta airport while boarding a flight with his family to Mauritania.

The same day, agents arrested 25-year-old Mohammad Abdul Rahman Abukhdair, Wilson's former business partner. Charges against Abukhdair are still pending and his trial is set for August.
Federal prosecutors portrayed Wilson as an Islamic radical who wanted to reunite with Omar Hammami, an American who also grew up in Alabama and became one of the most well-known jihadists in Somalia.

Wilson told DuBose on Friday that he believed the government could prove that he intended to participate in violent jihad overseas.

Federal prosecutors said Wilson intended to "murder, maim and kidnap" people overseas.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Bodnar said the government could prove that Wilson and Abukhdair made extensive plans to travel to a country where they could participate in a religious war. Bodnar said the two men wanted to disguise their reason for traveling as tourism or academic study.

"He knew at all times that he was participating in an illegal conspiracy," Bodnar said.
Domingo Soto, Wilson's attorney, said Wilson would provide information about Abukhdair and others as part of the plea agreement.

"He wanted to plead guilty," Soto said. "As far as I'm concerned, this still has to do with free-speech issue," said Soto, who has said that Wilson's statements could have been misconstrued or taken out of context by government agents.

"He is pretty fatalistic about this," Soto said. He said Wilson believed a jury pool would be tainted by the emotional issues surrounding terrorism.

Wilson was stoic on Friday, wearing a beige jail jumpsuit with arm and leg chains and guarded by eight U.S. marshals. He answered only yes and no to DuBose's questions and said he understood the details of the plea agreement and the consequences of his plea.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/04/19/us-man-accused-planning-to-wage-jihad-in-africa-pleads-guilty-to-supporting/#ixzz2Qvn529xK

Mcdonald's 1Q earnings flat as sales sputter

McDonald's November restaurant sales beat expectations. (Reuters / December 10, 2012)
McDonald's said Friday that its first-quarter profit was flat from a year earlier as the world's largest hamburger chain continued to face a string of disappointing monthly sales blamed on penny-pinching consumers and intense competition from rivals.

The Oak Brook-based company earned $1.27 billion, or $1.26 per share in the most recent quarter, compared with last year's first-quarter profit of $1.27 billion or $1.23 per share. The reason overall profit stayed the same and per-share results improved is because McDonald's had fewer outstanding shares this year than last.

Revenue inched higher to $6.61 billion from $6.55 billion in last year's first quarter. Sales at established stores fell 1 percent.

McDonald's has been trying to emphasize value on its menu to drive more traffic in its stores, focusing heavily on the Dollar Menu and other promotions. But it's also launched several new higher-priced menu items to drive sales.

Still, McDonald's said Friday it expects its sales at established stores will fall again by 1 percent in April. That metric fell in January for the first time in nine years.
French prosecutors investigate alleged Libyan funding of Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign
Paris prosecutors have begun investigating whether former President Nicolas Sarkozy's winning presidential campaign in 2007 may have received illegal funding from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

Prosecutors' office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre said the probe which opened Friday centers on claims of corruption, influence trafficking, forgery, abuse of public funds and money laundering.

No one has been named as a suspect. The probe is based on allegations by Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine during questioning by officials in December.

The allegations of Libyan financing emerged in French media last year in the waning days of Sarkozy's losing re-election bid.

Separately last month, a Bordeaux judge filed preliminary charges against Sarkozy over allegations he illegally took donations from France's richest woman in the 2007 election cycle.
Sarkozy has denied any wrongdoing.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/04/19/french-prosecutors-investigate-alleged-libyan-funding-sarkozy-2007-presidential/#ixzz2QuXpyI2S

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Kerry, lawmakers have testy exchanges on Benghazi

Video: Secretary of State John Kerry grew emotional Wednesday as he expressed his anger and sadness about the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Kerry made the comments while testifying before Congress.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry showed little patience Wednesday with lawmakers who continue to demand a better accounting from the Obama administration for its statements and actions surrounding last September’s terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.

“I do not want to spend the next year coming up here talking to you about Benghazi,” Kerry said in his first congressional appearance as secretary. “If there’s something that needs to be put on the table, I will work with you.”
In first Hill appearance as secretary of state, Kerry says investigators “building a case” on Libya attack.
“Let’s put this behind us,” Kerry told one of several Republican members of the House Foreign Relations Committee who pressed him to personally investigate why the administration initially described the attack that killed four U.S. officials as a “spontaneous demonstration” that got out of hand.

“We’ve got serious, important, big current developments that we need to be debating” on a range of other issues, Kerry said.

Seven months after the attack, “members of Congress are frustrated. Hundreds want a select committee” to investigate, said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.). “I hear comments all the time: ‘Why haven’t we captured anybody that did these things in Benghazi?’ ”

The FBI, which is investigating the attack, has reported no progress. But Kerry said without elaboration that investigators “have identified people, and they’re building a case.” He said that the State Department had taken action on all 24 recommendations by a department-named board that independently reviewed the Benghazi incident.

Beyond the testy exchanges on Benghazi, Kerry maintained an easy back-and-forth with lawmakers, recalling shared problem-solving with many of them during his days as a senator ­representing Massachusetts and showing close familiarity with a wide range of subjects.

He assured the committee that the administration has no plans to yield to threats from North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. During his recent trip to that region, Kerry said, he “made it clear that we’re not going on the same old road. We’re not going to reward them and come to the table with some new food deal” to try to persuade the North Koreans to back off.

Kerry also asked for congressional patience with what he said is a small window of opportunity to begin negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. “In my meetings on both sides, I have found a seriousness of purpose, a commitment to explore how we would actually get to a negotiation . . . I ask you to simply give us some time . . . a year and a half, two years.”

His greatest difficulty so far at the State Department, Kerry said, has been filling senior staff positions. He blamed the problem primarily on delays in the White House vetting process. “I’ve got some folks I suggested in February . . . who are still waiting,” he said. “I hope within a very short span of time you’re going to see those slots filled.

On why there has been no permanent inspector general at the State Department for more than five years, Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) asked “if you could talk to the president about this.”

“I don’t need to talk to the president,” Kerry replied. “We’re going to get this done.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Envelope tests positive for ricin at Washington mail facility

By Mike Brooks and Dana Bash, CNN
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Tue April 16, 2013
The letter was addressed to the office of Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was told.
The letter was addressed to the office of Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was told.
  • NEW: Envelope sent to Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, Reid says
  • The envelope was intercepted at the U.S. Capitol's off-site mail facility
  • It was tested three times -- each with a positive result
  • Ricin is a highly toxic substance derived from castor beans
Washington (CNN) -- An envelope that tested positive for the deadly poison ricin was intercepted Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. Capitol's off-site mail facility in Washington, congressional and law enforcement sources tell CNN.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was told the letter was addressed to the office of Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi. After the envelope tested positive in a first routine test, it was retested two more times, each time coming up positive, the law enforcement source said. The package was then sent to a Maryland lab for further testing.

Senators were briefed on the matter Tuesday evening and told the congressional post offices would be temporarily shut down.

"It was caught in the screening facility. That's why we have an off-site screening facility for mail," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri.

Ricin is a highly toxic substance derived from castor beans. As little as 500 micrograms -- an amount the size of the head of a pin -- can kill an adult. There is no specific test for exposure and no antidote once exposed.
It can be produced easily and cheaply, and authorities in several countries have investigated links between suspect extremists and ricin. But experts say it is more effective on individuals than as a weapon of mass destruction.

Ricin was used in the 1978 assassination of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov. The author, who had defected nine years earlier, was jabbed by the tip of an umbrella while waiting for a bus in London and died four days later.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Schwarzenegger to dedicate museum to himself

GRAZ, Austria  — "The Terminator" is back in his native Austria to inaugurate a museum devoted to him.
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger 
Arnold Schwarzenegger's private jet landed at Graz airport Thursday.

The museum is located in the renovated house of his birth in the village of Thal. It chronicles his rise from humble beginnings as a muscular young immigrant to the U.S. to Hollywood action hero to, most recently, California's governor.

The museum has been open since July, but Friday's ceremonies will mark the formal inauguration. Schwarzenegger is expected to unveil a bronze statue of himself.

While also known by his more common nicknames, fans in Schwarzenegger's home province of Styria often call him "The Styrian Oak," in an allusion to that tree's toughness.

Hollande’s Socialist Cabinet Includes at Least Four Millionaires

French President Francois Hollande’s cabinet has at least four millionaires, according to wealth statements the Socialist government ordered to tame public anger over a minister who hid an overseas bank account.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, son of an antique dealer, was among the richest in the 37-member group, with a net worth of about 6 million euros ($7.8 million). Michele Delaunay, a junior minister for the elderly, had a net worth of about 5 million euros, while Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Labor Minister Michel Sapin both declared wealth of more than 1 million euros, mostly on property holdings.

In one go, France has replaced one of the weakest reporting requirements in Europe with one of its more stringent. Ministers had until yesterday to make public their assets. Members of parliament, heads of local government, and heads of administrative bodies will follow once a law is passed later this year. The law will be presented to the cabinet April 24.

The requirement has divided France’s politicians, with even members of Hollande’s Socialist Party questioning the president and arguing that putting politicians’ lives on public display wasn’t the best way to deal with the fallout from former Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac’s admission he’d had bank accounts in Switzerland and Singapore .

“The problems of Mr. Cahuzac should not lead to collective guilt,” Claude Bartolone, Socialist speaker of the lower house of parliament, said in an April 11 interview with Le Figaro. “I’m concerned about anything that could feed populism.”

Plummeting Popularity

Hollande, whose popularity is at a record low for a president not even a year into his term, announced a series of measures to “moralize politics” after Cahuzac’s April 2 admission that he’d been lying for months about a secret Swiss bank account first reported last December by an online newspaper.

Members of France’s parliament will also be limited in the sort of professional activities they can continue to carry out, with details to come later. Hollande said at an April 10 press conference that, for instance, a doctor would be able to continue to see patients, while not being allowed to advise pharmaceutical companies.

Until yesterday, France and Slovenia were the only countries in the European Union where members of parliament didn’t make any wealth declaration, according to Transparency International, which tracks anti-corruption initiatives.

Now, France leapfrogs countries such as Britain and Germany, where MP’s largely only disclose sources of income.

U.S. Model

“Asset declaration is a powerful first step, but it has to fit into a wider structure of a verification and a working judicial system,” Craig Fagan, a senior policy manager at Transparency International in Berlin, said in telephone interview.

The U.S. is often considered a model because it demands an extensive range of information from cabinet candidates, Fagan said, while Latvia has one of the most effective set of rules in Europe because the asset declarations are part of a wider conflict-of-interest law.

Under the outlines of the law being prepared by Hollande’s government, a special commission will be set up to check the veracity of the declarations. Providing false information would be a criminal offense.

Sixty-three percent of the French approve of making politicians publish their wealth, while 36 percent are opposed, according to an Ifop poll published April 14 by Journal du Dimanche. Eighty-five percent said politicians are richer than the average, and 70 percent said they are “indifferent” to the wealth of their leaders. The poll questioned 974 people. No margin of error was given.

Crack Down

Some members of government, including Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg and Health Minister Marisol Touraine, had already disclosed their assets before yesterday.

Hollande divulged his wealth last May after his election. He said he was worth 1.2 million euros, mostly from a house in the south of France and two apartments in Cannes.

Mediapart, an online newspaper, in December released a recording of a 13-year-old phone conversation between Cahuzac and his wealth manager in which he mentioned an account in Switzerland, which was later transferred to Singapore.

After initially denying he ever had an overseas account, Cahuzac resigned from the government on March 19 when a formal legal investigation was opened. On April 2 he admitted he’d had 600,000 euros in a Swiss account.

Hollande has also stepped up efforts to crack down on the use of secret bank accounts in European Union countries such as Luxembourg and Austria, and is pushing efforts to have all EU countries share information on earnings and assets held by citizens in other countries.

Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici declared a net worth of 238,500 euros linked to an apartment in Montbeillard, France.