Canadian troops launch offensive into Taliban hotbed
Canadian troops suffered no casualties as they swept into a Taliban hotbed west of Kandahar on Saturday, but a nearby plane crash killed 14 British soldiers. Canadian combat units, along with other NATO and Afghan forces, have launched a major offensive against insurgents in the violent Panjwai district. The mission is dubbed Operation Medusa.
"It's in an area where Canadian troops have taken casualties," said CTV's Matt McClure on Saturday from Kandahar, ". . . and where they've also been involved in heavy battles trying to take this territory early this year."
Canadian battle group commander, Col. Omer Lavoie, told CTV News that his soldiers have gained the upper hand against the militants despite meeting some resistance.
"We were ambushed en route about four o'clock in the morning. But my platoon . . . dealt with the ambush, engaged and destroyed the enemy, and for the rest of it we moved in here with no resistance," said Lavoie.
"We certainly own the dominating ground now in Panjwai district."
Pro-government forces then proceeded to move into the district, backed by artillery and air support as they prepared to move across the Arghandab River into Pashmul area -- known as the heart of the Taliban stronghold.
The commander of the Canadian contingent said fierce fighting is expected with Taliban guerrillas in this latest mission.
"I think we're talking in the neighbourhood of hundreds" of fighters, said Col. Fred Lewis. "Certainly not thousands, not tens. Might they just fade away? If they're smart, they will."
At least six Canadians have died and 32 were wounded in dozens of bomb attacks, ambushes and pitched battles in the area, according to reports compiled by The Canadian Press.
The area was the scene of a major operation at the start of the summer, known as the Battle of Panjwai. Commanders then claimed to have broken the back of the insurgency there, but coalition troops withdrew and the Taliban took over again.
"This time, the Brigadier General David Fraser said it's going to be different, and that they're going to hold this area," said McClure.
"Either Canadian forces and/or Afghan forces are going to be there, they say, in numbers so that the Taliban can't move in."
Lewis said, however, that the bulk of Canadian troops will eventually again withdraw.
"I don't think it will be Canadians" securing the area after Operation Medusa," Lewis said. "I think it will be Afghan led."
Read more ...
14 Britons killed in Afghanistan
Fourteen British service personnel have died after their aircraft crashed in Afghanistan, the MoD has said.
Twelve RAF personnel, a Royal Marine and an Army soldier were on board the RAF Nimrod MR2 which came down in the southern province of Kandahar.
The reconnaissance jet belonged to the Nato-led force battling the Taleban.
Officials said the crash appeared an accident. Tony Blair said it would "distress the whole country" but the mission in Afghanistan was "vital".
The prime minister said: "Our thoughts go out immediately to the families of those who have died.
"British forces are engaged in a vital mission in Afghanistan and this terrible event starkly reminds us of the risk that they face daily."
It's a black day. It's a disaster for our soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan
Major Charles Heyman
UK Defence Secretary Des Browne said: "This is dreadful and shocking news. I know that the people of Britain will join me in sending our deep condolences to the loved ones of those who have lost their lives.
"At this stage all the indications are that this was a terrible accident and not the result of hostile action."
Nato forces say the plane was supporting the Nato mission in the area.
The pilot is believed to have radioed ground staff about a technical fault shortly before the aircraft came down.
The MR2 crews are usually based at RAF Kinloss in Scotland but the MoD has not confirmed where the crashed aircraft was from.
The last RAF Nimrod crash took place 11 years ago to the day when seven crew from Kinloss died at an air show near Toronto, Canada.
The incident was blamed on pilot error.
The crash brings the death toll of UK forces personnel in Afghanistan to 36 since the start of operations in November 2001.
The defence analyst, Major Charles Heyman, told BBC News 24: "It's a black day. It's a disaster for our soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan.
"No other words can describe it. It's a big hit to morale. Believe me it really does affect morale."
Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, Brigadier Ed Butler, said recent loss of life has caused "profound personal devastation for families, friends and colleagues".
But he paid tribute to the "quite remarkable" resilience and morale of British service personnel.
"I am personally humbled by their courage and commitment in getting on with the tough job in hand; delivering over and above, and making a difference to the ordinary people of Afghanistan," he said.
BBC defence correspondent, Paul Wood, told BBC News 24, said the plane could have been supporting an operation in a place called Panjwayi - west of Kandahar.
"It's a town - which has been in Taleban hands - which has been forced back into coalition hands by a big push, still continuing today."
Conservative Party leader David Cameron, who said he was "deeply shocked and saddened" by the accident, has sent his condolences to the friends and families of those killed.
"Today's tragic loss is a reminder of the extraordinarily difficult conditions in which our armed forces are operating in Afghanistan," he said.
A special helpline is available on 08457 800 900 for families concerned about relatives
Afghanistan is experiencing its bloodiest period since the fall of the Taleban in 2001, with much of the fighting concentrated in the south.
Some 4,500 British troops are in country to help train Afghan security forces, facilitate reconstruction, and provide security.
But in Helmand, the emphasis is also on counter-narcotics, as the province is the "largest single source of opium in Afghanistan".
British troops have found themselves in virtually daily gun battles with the Taleban, who have been regrouping.
The crash comes as Afghan and Nato troops began a major anti-Taleban drive in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar.
The plane came down about 20 km (12 miles) west of the city of Kandahar, Maj Scott Lundy of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said.
There was no indication of an enemy attack on the plane, which was not a fighter jet.
It was "supporting a Nato mission. It went off the radar and crashed in an open area", he said.
The crash is thought to be the biggest single loss of British troops in Iraq or Afghanistan since military operations began there in 2001.
Ten British armed personnel were killed when a Hercules C130K crashed north-west of Baghdad in January 2005.
Read more ...
Kurdish rebels kill five Turkish soldiers
ISTANBUL, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Kurdish militants killed five Turkish soldiers in two attacks in southeastern Turkey late on Friday, army officials said.
Two officers and a soldier were killed by a roadside bomb in the province of Sirnak, while two soldiers were killed in an attack on their command post in Hakkari, near the Iraqi border.
The army responded with a helicopter-backed operation along the border with Iraq.
Turkey has been urging the United States to tackle thousands of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants who it says are based across the border, indicating that it may otherwise send in its own troops.
Violence in the mainly Kurdish southeast has escalated in recent months -- 16 members of the security forces were killed in just one week in July -- while Turkish tourist resorts were hit this week by a series of attacks that killed three people and injured dozens.
Those attacks were claimed by the Kurdistan Liberation Hawks, which have links to the PKK. The PKK launched an armed campaign for a Kurdish homeland in 1984 in which more than 30,000 people have died.
Read more ...
Lebanon arrests fourth suspect in German bomb case
BEIRUT, Sept 2 (Reuters) - The Lebanese authorities have arrested a fourth suspect in connection with a plan to bomb two trains in Germany and have filed preliminary charges against five Lebanese and a Syrian, judicial sources said on Saturday.
Four of the Lebanese are in Lebanese custody, while one Lebanese and the Syrian are in Germany, they added.
They face charges of attempted mass murder in passenger trains in Germany and attempted arson, they said.
The sources named the fourth suspect as Khalil al-Bubbu but gave no details of his arrest. The others are Jihad Hamad, Khaled Kheireddin al-Hajj, Ayman Hawa, Youssef al-Hajj and Fadi al-Saleh, the Syrian. The last two are in Germany.
The head of Germany's BND foreign intelligence service, Ernst Uhrlau, is in Beirut and has discussed the case with the Lebanese authorities, the sources said. Extraditing the men to Germany is out of the question under Lebanese law, they added.
Germany has said that Uhrlau will also do what he can to help secure the release of two Israeli soldiers abducted by the Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbollah on the border in July.
Hizbollah has said it will set them free only as part of a prisoner exchange including Arabs held by Israel.
The latest legal step falls short of the formal indictment process, which comes at a later stage, and the investigations could turn up other suspects, the sources said.
The Lebanese authorities arrested Ayman Hawa on Aug. 28 based on information provided by Hamad and Khaled al-Hajj. Hawa is in his 20s and from the northern town of Akkar.
Hamad, a 20-year-old student, turned himself in to authorities earlier and confessed to planting a suitcase bomb. Investigations suggested he might have links with al Qaeda.
Youssef al-Hajj, 21, was identified in Germany on security camera footage that appeared to show him dragging a suitcase into a train in Cologne in July.
Suitcases like those in the footage were found packed with propane gas tanks and crude detonating devices on trains in Dortmund and Koblenz.
A German newspaper said on Friday the two failed attempts had originally been planned for the soccer World Cup.
The Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung cited security sources as saying interrogation of the suspects had established that the would-be bombers had abandoned the original plan as they had considered the implications of such an attack.
Under Lebanese law, the charges could carry a penalty of life imprisonment with hard labour.
Read more ...
UK police say suspect thousands of terrorism links
LONDON, Sept 1 (Reuters) - British police are watching thousands of British Muslims who they suspect may be involved in or support terrorism, the head of London police's anti-terrorist branch said on Friday.
The figure given by Peter Clarke in a BBC interview was higher than previous official estimates and came as police investigate an alleged plot by a group of British Muslims to blow up U.S.-bound airliners using liquid explosives.
In July last year four British Islamist suicide bombers killed themselves and 52 other people at rush hour on public transport in London.
Asked how many British Muslims police were looking at because they suspected them of direct or indirect involvement in terrorism, Clarke said: "Our knowledge is increasing, and certainly in terms of broad description of the numbers of people who we have to be interested in, we are into the thousands."
Clarke said he was referring to "not just terrorists, not just attackers, but the people who might be tempted to support or encourage", according to the BBC's Web site.
"What we've learned and what we've seen all too graphically and all too murderously is that we have a threat which is being generated here within the United Kingdom," Clarke added.
Clarke was interviewed by BBC reporter Peter Taylor, who concluded after a year-long investigation into radical Islam that the conflict in Iraq was the main reason young Muslims were being radicalised.
The government has rejected allegations that its backing for the Iraq war had raised the risk of terrorist attack.
Taylor also found there was a so-called pipeline from Britain that channelled recruits to Iraq via Syria.
Clarke said: "What we do see is individuals with connections who are happy to try to organise the travel of others."
Clarke said British police knew who some of these people were but declined to say if they were under surveillance.
Eleven British Muslims have been charged with conspiracy to murder and planning acts of terrorism over the suspected plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic.
Four people are accused of lesser offences and five others are still being questioned but have not been charged.
Read more ...
PAKISTAN: 'TALIBAN' CALLS THE SHOTS IN TWO WAZIRISTANS
Miran Shah, 1 Sept. (AKI)- (by Syed Saleem Shahzad) - "We will bring the Islamic revolution to Pakistan and make the country the home of Islam" - powerful lines from a Pashtu poem - rang out loud and clear in a tent packed with hundreds of people celebrating the graduation of madrassa students in Miran Shah, on the Pakistan-Afghan border. But it was far more than just a ceremony. Locals referred to Wednesday's meeting as the largest ever gathering of pro-Taliban militants, tribal elders and politicians in Waziristan's history, and for many it was a snapshot of the changing dynamics in the volatile region.
The meeting comes at a period of negotiations between the Pakistan government and the pro-Taliban militants in the tribal region, which were both engaged in intense fighting earlier this year in which dozens of tribal militants and government troops were killed.
A conditional ceasefire agreement was reached in June and was extended last Friday until December 2006 with the government agreeing to the demand for the release of 10 pro-Taliban militants and the reduction of the Pakistan Army presence in the tribal belt to just three ares.
Both North Waziristan and South Waziristan appear to have now begun to develop a new system to administer the tribal agency where politicians, tribal elders and clerics are in the forefront and pro-taliban militants, also known as Pakistani Taliban, appear to be in the backbenches, but are actually in charge of the situation.
Seated at the meeting were some of the most-wanted faces from the past - Maulana Sadiq Noor and Maulana Abdul Khaliq - religious scholars whose seminaries were demolished by Pakistani forces just a few months ago. Also at the meeting was Maulana Deendar, an ideologue for the Pakistani Taliban. All three were silently seated in the back row.
The stage was in the hands of political-cum-religious figures in the region like Maulana Abdul Rahman and a member of the provincial assembly in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Maulana Amanullah, who are believed to be the two main brokers of the truce agreement between the Pakistani security forces and Pakistani Taliban.
As usual, the commander of the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan Gul Badar did not make a public appearance and instead sent his representatives, the members of Mujahadeen Shura (council), to attend the ceremony for fresh madrassa graduates.
"We have given a great sacrifice on many counts to give this truce a chance," said Maulana Mehmoodul Hasan, the chief patron of the Jamiat-i-Talba-i-Islam, a student wing of Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Rehman is the opposition leader in Pakistan's national assembly who has joined the efforts to restore peace in the retive tribal region.
"Now Mujahadeen (Pakistani Taliban), Ulemas (clerics) and the Mishran (tribal elders) are at one forum and are aiming to develop an indigenous system to run the region without the intervention of the Pakistan Army,” Mehmoodul Hasan told Adnkronos International (AKI).
"We made it clear that the political agents must be in charge of the tribal area and we, the locals, will run the affairs with their coordination like it has been in the past," Mehmood asserted. The political agent is the Pakistan government's representative in each tribal agency.
According to local sources, the gathering which has been called the largest-ever in the history of both North and South Waziristan, is part of a strategy to counter any moves by US-led coalitions forces to target the two Waziristans in fresh attacks as part of their war on terror. Last month a tripartite commission including Pakistan, Afghanistan and US and NATO forces, discussed plan to track down Taliban fighters across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. At the meeting, it was agreed that North and South Waziristan were the main conduits of violence and suicide bombers and that it was necessary that the region be part of the front in the war on terror.
As a solution to the problem, Pakistan has proposed to fence the border in this region which is known as the Durand Line, an imaginary border that passes through the mountainous areas, porous and impossible to seal. While Afghanistan has expressed reservations about such a proposal, the Americans are also not satisfied insisting instead on a broad scale pursuit of the Taliban militants, wherever they find terror, even if it is on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line.
The most recent visit by US Centcom (Central Command) General John Abizaid was part of this same campaign.
Wednesday's gathering highlighted the position of the hardliners in the two Waziristans and made it clear that the pro-Taliban forces in tribal belt are really calling the shots. More such gatherings are expected to bring forward a real tribal council to take over control in the region.
Read more ...
Peru nationalist Humala charged with murder
LIMA, Peru, Sept 1 (Reuters) - The runner-up in Peru's 2006 presidential election and the nation's de facto opposition leader has been charged with murder in connection with his role in fighting Maoist rebels and drug traffickers in the 1990s.
Ollanta Humala, who lost to President Alan Garcia but whose movement holds the largest number of seats in Congress, cannot leave the country and must post bail of 20,000 soles ($6,170), Judge Miluska Cano said in a ruling late on Thursday.
No date has been set for his trial.
Humala, a 44-year-old ex-army officer who remains immensely popular in Peru's poor southern Andes, is accused of conducting kidnaps and murders while fighting leftist insurgents and cocaine traffickers at a jungle army base in 1992.
Humala on Friday denied any wrongdoing and said the charges were aimed at preventing his nationalist movement from winning mayoral posts in November's regional elections.
"I took part in a war to uphold the rule of law, I played the role of judge, priest and brother to many, but I never abused anyone's rights," Humala told reporters.
"This is clearly a political persecution by Garcia's government to destroy the opposition," he added, flanked by his wife, Nadine.
His lawyer, Carlos Escobar, called the judge's ruling "absurd."
The charges relate to when Humala was a captain at a jungle military base in the coca-growing department of San Martin in northern Peru, then a front line in the government's fight against the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla group and drug traffickers.
Escobar said Humala's enduring popularity in the area was a testament to his innocence. Official results from the June runoff against Garcia show Humala won 81 percent of the votes in the Nuevo Progreso district within San Martin department.
Humala, who led a failed military rebellion against former President Alberto Fujimori in 2000, played up his military background at rallies, even as the accusations circulated.
He has promised to lead a fierce opposition against Garcia but so far has had little success in influencing policy or denting the president's high popularity ratings during Garcia's honeymoon period.
Read more ...
Egyptian police seek Al-Qaeda suspects
EGYPTIAN police are searching for five suspected Al-Qaeda militants in Sinai, Reuters reported on 1 September. Police said all the suspects are Egyptian.
|Country Affected||Egypt |
|Region Affected||North Africa |
|Date of Event||01-Sep-2006 |
|Terrorist/Insurgent Group Name||Al-Qaeda |
|Terrorist/Insurgent Group Type||Militant Islamist |
|Terrorist/Insurgent Group Region of Origin|| |
|Terrorist/Insurgent Group Country of Origin||International |
|1 Location of Event - Region||North Africa |
Location of Event - Country
Location of Event - District
Location of Event - Place Name
Location of Event - Quality
|Counter-terrorist operation |
Counter Terrorist Tactic
Scale of Attack
Number of Attacks
|Non Terrorist/Insurgent Fatalities||0 |
|Terrorist/Insurgent Fatalities||0 |
|Total Fatalities||0 |
|Non Terrorist/Insurgent Wounded||0 |
|Terrorist/Insurgent Wounded||0 |
|Total Wounded||0 |
|Description of Injuries|| |
|Number of Hostages||0 |
|Damage Scale|| |
|Damage Description|| |
Read more ...
Clashes break out in East Timor
DILI, East Timor (AP) -- Gangs armed with stones and arrows clashed in the East Timorese capital Friday, raising fresh security concerns following the recent escape from prison of a rebel leader and scores of other violent inmates.
At least six people were wounded in the clashes outside a downtown Dili hotel before international security forces arrived to restore order.
East Timor descended into chaos in May amid fighting between factions in the newly independent country's security forces.
International peacekeepers have largely restored order and a new government has been installed, but sporadic gang fights have continued, mostly based on regional divisions exacerbated by the conflict.
Local and foreign security forces were searching for 57 inmates who escaped from a Dill prison on Wednesday, including renegade military leader Alfredo Reinado, who was a key figure in the May unrest, and several of his followers.
Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta partly blamed the U.N. and neighboring Australia for the breakout, which has raised tensions in East Timor.
Australian forces were sent to East Timor in May to help curb violent unrest.
In a telephone interview with Australia Broadcasting Corp. radio, he said the prison was under the control of East Timorese forces, but Australian peacekeepers must accept some of the blame because they refused to boost security outside.
"I am personally just puzzled why, in spite of our repeated requests for static forces to be outside the prison, this was not done," Ramos Horta said. "I presume the Australian forces, the U.N., as experts in security, they thought it was not necessary."
"Had there been strong security outside, this could have been prevented," Ramos Horta said.
Read more ...
Interceptor downs missile in test over Pacific
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military shot down a target ballistic missile over the Pacific on Friday in the widest test of its emerging antimissile shield in 18 months, the Defense Department announced.
The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said it had successfully completed an important exercise involving the launch of an improved ground-based interceptor missile designed to protect the United States against a limited long-range ballistic missile attack.
The test results will help improve the performance of a multibillion-dollar shield against the type of long-range ballistic missile that could be used to attack a U.S. city with a weapon of mass destruction, the agency said in a statement.
Officially, the $85 million test was designed to collect data rather than shoot down the target.
It was the first involving a live target since interceptor rockets failed to leave their silos during tests in December 2004 and February 2005.
It was also the first since the ground-based system, which is part of a layered shield that includes naval and aerial components, was activated to guard against ballistic missiles test-fired on July 4 and 5 by North Korea.
Boeing Co. is prime contractor for the ground-based mid-course defense. Major subcontractors include Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Raytheon Co..
In the exercise, a target missile was launched from Kodiak, Alaska. And for the first time, the ground-based interceptor missile was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California. Previous launches have been from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Read more ...
Security Council Ends Iran Sessions - Not With a Bang but a Whimper
UNITED NATIONS — Expected to end the month of August with a bang, the divided Security Council concluded its meetings yesterday with a whimper, failing to mark the expiration of a deadline presented for Iran to freeze its nuclear-related activity and passing a resolution that fell short of assuring that international troops would be deployed immediately to stop genocide in Sudan's Darfur region.
Told by the Security Council to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activities before yesterday, Iran instead stepped them up, while obstructing the work of inspectors who came to verify the suspension, according to a report presented to council members yesterday by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed El-Baradei, wrote in yesterday's report to the council that his Vienna-based agency was "unable to make further progress" in confirming "the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program."
Tehran is "not being forthcoming," the American U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, said after receiving the IAEA report. "From all that we can see in this report, it continues to pursue a nuclear weapons capability."
The State Department's point man on Iran's diplomacy, Nicholas Burns, traveled to Europe, where along with Britain, France, and Germany he contemplated presenting to the council a package of sanctions, starting with a sales ban on nuclear-related materials and leading to travel restrictions on top Iranian officials, as well as other economic sanctions.
But two veto-wielding members on the council, China and Russia, publicly opposed any meaningful sanctions. Russia, specifically, is expecting a lucrative deal on the Bushehr plant being built in Iraq. Several diplomats said yesterday that the council would not move on a sanction resolution prior to late September, when foreign ministers and heads of states gather in New York for the annual General Assembly's debate, if they made a moved of any sort, which was also possible.
Meanwhile, even some of America's allies might hesitate to apply tough measures. While deploring Iran's "unsatisfactory" response to the council's incentives offer, the French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, said in a statement yesterday, "Priority must still be given to the path of dialogue."
On Sudan, meanwhile, the council decided, after weeks of negotiations, to establish a force of up to 17,300 military troops and up to 3,300 civilian police that would replace or absorb the existing contingency of 7,000 African Union observers in Darfur, whose mandate ends next month.
But the council resolution, which passed without the support of Russia, China, and the Arab representative on the council, Qatar – is conditional upon Khartoum's approval, stating that the council "invites the consent" of the government. So far, President al-Bashir has steadfastly refused to allow any U.N.-led force to enter Darfur.
According to Mr. Bolton, Sudan's consent is not necessary for Turtle Bay to begin planning the deployment of the new force. "We're not looking for billboards on the highway into Khartoum accepting the resolution," he said. "We'll be happy with acquiescence."
"No one can deploy without Sudan's consent," a U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told The New York Sun yesterday, adding that the department of peacekeeping operations has nevertheless been active in recruiting potential troop contributors.
Although the African Union has asked the U.N. to send troops to strengthen its presence in Darfur, another organization that includes Sudan as a member, the Arab League, has stood behind the Bashir government's opposition to foreign troops.
In Khartoum, the government-owned news agency SUNA quoted officials as saying, "The Sudanese people will not consent to any resolution that will violate its sovereignty." The leadership called on the Sudanese people to "strengthen further their cohesion and ranks, and prepare to face any development," the Associated Press reported.
Although last-minute changes were made to yesterday's council resolution, three powerful council members abstained, in a move expected to add fuel to Khartoum's defiance.
Similar defiance was displayed in Iran yesterday. Tehran "will never renounce peaceful nuclear energy and its absolute right," President Ahmadinejad said, apparently anticipating that Russia and China would not join an American-led drive to impose sanctions.
"We do not need unanimity," Mr. Bolton told reporters yestedray, recalling the failure of Turtle Bay's predecessor, the League of Nations, in which every decision needed the consent of all members for it to pass.
He noted that when they met two months ago, the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany resolved to give Iran one more chance to accept a package of diplomatic incentives or face punitive measures. "Russia and China, through their foreign ministers, committed to seeking sanctions," Mr. Bolton said.
But when asked whether, in the aftermath of the carrot approach, it was time for the council to apply the stick, China's deputy U.N. ambassador, Liu Zehnmin, told the Sun, "It's not simply carrot or stick. It's a much more complicated issue."
Mr. Liu said he hoped more negotiations would be launched with Iran, including by Secretary-General Annan, who intends to visit Mr. Ahmadinejad in Tehran over the weekend.
Read more ...
SUDAN: Army unleashes military offensive in Darfur
EL FASHER, 1 September (IRIN) - Sudanese government forces have recaptured the rebel-held town of Um Sidir near El Fasher, capital of North Darfur State, raising fears that a major new offensive has started in the region, observers said on Friday.
The rebels, who have held the town for some months, have vowed to try to take back the town, an important stronghold, which the government forces overran on Thursday afternoon.
"Six days ago, a bombing campaign started in the area north of El Fasher that lasted a couple of days," a rebel source in Darfur said. "It seems to have been an attempt to soften up resistance in the area and to allow government troops to move in."
The offensive is unfolding despite Thursday's United Nations Security Council resolution authorising the deployment of UN peacekeepers in the western Sudanese region.
Large swathes of territory in North Darfur are under the control of the National Redemption Front (NRF), a new alliance of rebels who did not sign the 5 May Darfur Peace Agreement. In Darfur, local observers have confirmed that a string of villages, including Abu Sakin, Kulkul, Sayah and Turra, approximately 35 km northwest of El Fasher, had been attacked from the air on Monday.
On the same day, 30 vehicles of the Sudanese armed forces entered Abu Sakin and another 40 vehicles took Kulkul, pushing rebel forces out of the area. Government troops then moved further northwards, towards Um Sidir.
"The Sudanese army is creating a buffer zone north of El Fasher to prevent direct attacks on the capital," the observer said. "It seems that the Sudanese forces met relatively little rebel resistance; they simply moved away."
Unconfirmed reports indicated that the rebel NRF was moving southwards with as many as 50 vehicles into the area of Korma and Tawilla, west of El Fasher.
On Thursday this week, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution that calls for a gradual transition from the under-funded and under-equipped African Union (AU) mission in Darfur to a stronger UN protection force. The AU force has been unable to prevent widespread abuses against civilians.
But the deployment of a UN force of 17,500 troops and 3,300 civilian police depends on consent from the Sudanese government, which has rejected calls for a UN force in Darfur. It has instead proposed its own protection plan, which involves deploying another 10,500 Sudanese government troops to "consolidate the security situation". Military cargo planes have been arriving every night in El Fasher with troop reinforcements.
"This [UN] resolution will be meaningless unless member states get Sudan to agree to a UN force," Peter Takirambudde, Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "While the Security Council was debating this resolution on Monday, the Sudanese military was dropping bombs on rebel-held villages, with predictable consequences for civilians."
Since the government and one of the three main rebel factions signed the 5 May agreement, fighting has escalated between signatories and the rebel groups that refused to sign. As many as 50,000 more people have been displaced across the region since May, while nine humanitarian aid workers were killed and 20 vehicles hijacked in July.
"Insecurity is at its highest level since 2004, access at its lowest levels since that date and we may well be on the brink of a return to all-out war," the Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, warned the UN Security Council on Monday.
The World Health Organization has reported that 40 percent of the population in North Darfur State are not receiving health care, while vaccinations have dropped from 90 percent in 2005 to a mere 20 percent in 2006. According to the World Food Programme, 470,000 people across Darfur did not receive their monthly rations in July.
Read more ...
Zambia shuts Tanzania border after riots
Lusaka (IOL)- Zambia has temporarily closed its main border crossing with Tanzania after a night of riots that left several people injured and property damaged, an official said on Friday.
The riots were sparked off late on Thursday after word went round that a Tanzanian national had died in police custody in the Zambian border town of Nakonde, said Edwin Sinyinza, a district commissioner in northern Zambia.
"We have temporarily closed the border in order to allow for calm," Sinyinza said.
He said some vehicles and houses were set ablaze while Zambians caught on the Tanzanian side of the border were badly injured by rioters before police from both sides moved in to quell the riots.
Read more ...
Russia Played Key Role in Secret Nepal Arms Deal
Russians were the key players in the secretive bid by Nepal to obtain a fresh cache of weapons using Indian air space, India eNews website reports.
On Aug 8, someone called Alexei Afanisiev wrote to Indian civil aviation authorities from an address in New Delhi seeking permission for a Russian AN-12 aircraft to land in Mumbai for refueling. The aircraft was carrying cargo that was classified as “dangerous goods”. Afanisiev said it comprised aircraft equipment and anti-aircraft missiles, the website said, citing what it referred to as “well placed sources”.
Two western manufacturers had sold the cache to the Nepal Army. Sue Orsha of Belarus and Emco Ltd in Sofia, Bulgaria, were the consigners whereas the intended recipient was the Master General of Ordnance of Nepal Army.
The eight-member crew was headed by chief pilot Varemeyevsky, a Russian national. The cargo was to have reached Kathmandu Thursday but the plan was thwarted after India refused permission to land at Mumbai.
The arms cache incident occurs almost a year after King Gyanendra’s foreign minister Ramesh Nath Pandey visited Russia in October 2005. Russia was one of the few countries to support King Gyanendra and retain diplomatic ties with him when the international community condemned the king’s power grab with the help of the army.
A Russian university also conferred an honorary doctorate degree on the king at a time luminaries like U.S. President George W. Bush and Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela declined to meet him.
This year, the new government of Nepal, headed by prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, is celebrating 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the former USSR and Nepal.
Read more ...
Russia to Sell 32 MiG Fighters to Yemen for $1.3Bln
Mosnews | Fri, September 1st, 2006, 02:11
Russia’s MiG Corporation has received a $1.3 billion order from the Yemen Defense Ministry for delivery of 32 MiG-29 SMT fighter jets. In addition to this, the Russian producer will repair 66 old MiG-29 fighters for Yemen in the first quarter of 2007. Russian business daily Vedomosti reported on Thursday, Aug. 30, that the cost of the second contract will amount to about $1 billion.
As a result of this new order, MiG’s order portfolio will almost double to $4.5 billion. Thanks to the new contracts, the company’s revenues in 2007 will grow to $1.1 billion as compared with $245 million in 2005. Despite this, MiG’s order portfolio is still smaller than that of Russia’s largest military aircraft producer — Sukhoi Bureau.
This is not the first time that Yemen is buying military hardware from Russia. In 2001 the Middle Eastern country signed a contract for supplies of 20 MiG-20 SMT fighters. These jets were meant to replace the outdated fleet of American F-5E and Soviet MiG-21 as well as Su-20/22 fighters. In 2005 Russia completed a contract for delivery of another 6 MiG-29 SMT fighters and modernization of 14 MiG-29 SE that were bought earlier.
Read more ...
Delhi urges Bangladesh to crack down on rebel camps
SHILLONG (Gulf Times): India has demanded a crackdown by Bangladesh on camps used by rebels launching attacks in the troubled northeast.
A top Indian military official said Bangladesh will be handed details of some 172 rebel bases which New Delhi says are operating across the border.
"We shall be handing over a list of 172 rebel camps with specific locations to the Bangladesh Rifles team," Indian Border Security Force (BSF) Inspector General SK Dutta said.
India made the demand at a high-level meeting between border security officials in Shillong, capital of the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya. Bangladesh officials denied there were any rebel bases on its territory, Dutta said by telephone from Shillong.
Bangladesh and India share a 4,000km border and regularly trade accusations over shootings linked to attacks by various rebel groups, illegal trade and immigration.
In the latest incident, two Bangladeshi men were shot dead by Indian border guards, a senior officer of the Bangladesh Rifles said.
Bangladeshi border guards have accused Indian troops of killing hundreds of Bangladeshis along the border. India has said many of those killed were smugglers.
Over the weekend, home ministry secretaries from the two sides said they would tell border forces to exercise the "utmost restraint" on their volatile frontier.
At least 30 rebel groups operate in northeast India with demands ranging from secession to greater autonomy in conflicts that have left more than 50,000 people dead since independence from Britain in 1947.
India and Bangladesh will also try and mutually settle disputed water projects and land strips along major rivers that separate the two countries during ministerial level talks next month, officials said
"The India-Bangladesh Joint River Commission (JRC), headed by the water resources ministers of the two countries, would make an on the spot study of disputed water projects and other riverside land before the two-day JRC meeting to be held in Dhaka on Sep 19-20," Tripura’s water resources department chief engineer G Malakar said.
The 11-member Bangladeshi delegation headed by Hafizuddin Ahmed and 12-member Indian delegation led by Saifuddin Soz will visit bordering areas of West Bengal and Tripura. The ministerial level meeting is scheduled for September 12 in Tripura’s capital Agartala.
The two ministers, accompanied by senior officials of the two countries, will make a similar visit in the Bangladesh side across West Bengal and Tripura. – IANS
Read more ...
Highly enriched uranium found at Iranian plant
VIENNA, Sept. 1 (NY Times) — The global nuclear monitoring agency deepened suspicions on Thursday about Iran’s nuclear program, reporting that inspectors had discovered new traces of highly enriched uranium at an Iranian facility.
Inspectors have found such uranium, which at extreme enrichment levels can fuel bombs, twice in the past. The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that at least some of those samples came from contaminated equipment that Iran had obtained from Pakistan.
But in this case, the nuclear fingerprint of the particles did not match the other samples, an official familiar with the inspections said, raising questions about their origin.
In a six-page report to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, the agency withheld judgment about where the material came from and whether it could be linked to a secret nuclear program.
Iran says that its nuclear program is intended only for the production of energy, which would use uranium enriched at far lower levels than the sample described in the report.
As expected, the report confirmed that Iran had continued producing enriched uranium, but only on a small scale and at relatively low levels, at its vast Natanz facility.
Thursday was the deadline set by the Security Council for Iran to freeze its enrichment-related activities. Iran’s failure to comply means that it is vulnerable to further punitive action, perhaps economic and political penalties, either by the entire Council or a smaller group of countries led by the United States.
In a speech at the American Legion national convention in Salt Lake City, President Bush ratcheted up his warning to the Iranian leadership, saying that the war in Lebanon and Iran’s support for Hezbollah “made it clearer than ever that the world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime in Iran.”
He concluded by saying that while he was committed to a diplomatic solution to the confrontation with Iran, “There must be consequences for Iran’s defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.”
The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, are to meet in Europe next week in a final attempt to seek a way out of the impasse. Afterward, the major world powers will meet in Europe to discuss Iran’s case. But Russia and China are resisting sanctions and Iran has shrugged off all threats, vowing to continue its nuclear activities even as it seeks negotiations.
As in the past, the nuclear agency painted a confusing and incomplete picture of the state of Iran’s nuclear program, underscoring the limits of outside inspectors whose access to Iran’s nuclear sites was curtailed by Iran early this year.
On one hand, the report makes clear that, as the official familiar with the inspections said, “Inspectors have not uncovered any concrete proof that Iran’s nuclear program is of a military nature.”
On the other hand, the report captures the long pattern of confusion, stonewalling, partial disclosure of information and a minimum of cooperation under Iran’s international obligations to the agency and details new suspicious activities.
Since February, when the agency referred the Iran dossier to the Security Council, Iran has drastically reduced the access of the international inspectors. The decision has limited or blocked inspections of hundreds of the country’s atomic sites, programs and personnel; the result is more uncertainty and less information about Iran’s progress in mastering the basics of uranium and plutonium, the foundations for both producing electricity and building bombs.
Most noteworthy in the report was the discovery of particles of highly enriched uranium on a container at a waste storage facility at Karaj, not far from Tehran.
The particles were taken from the container for testing a year ago, but the agency obtained the result only a few weeks ago because of the limited capacity of its verification laboratory.
In late 2003, the discovery of traces of highly enriched uranium in Iran touched off international concern about the country’s nuclear intentions and raised questions about where the material had originated. Another find of the radioactive material earlier this year redoubled the sense of alarm.
But Thursday’s disclosure was different, diplomats said. “This is the first case with no known linkage,” said one European diplomat who could not be quoted by name because of diplomatic rules. “But we have to be careful because over time these things can be explained away, at least in theory.”
Robert Joseph, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, was cautious in talking about the new evidence, but said, “We need to be very concerned that Iran may well be undertaking experiments, and may be undertaking the construction of centrifuge machines, out of sight of I.A.E.A. inspectors.”
Highly enriched uranium, containing 80 percent or more of the rare uranium-235 isotope, is considered bomb grade and can be fashioned into the core of a nuclear weapon.
Iran says its atomic program is meant to enrich uranium to the low levels of up to 5 percent for the production of nuclear power, but the United States calls that effort a cover for the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal.
The agency has written to Iran asking for an explanation of the source of the highly enriched particles, but has not received a response.
The report did not specify the level of the particles or whether they were weapons-grade quality. The official who was discussing the report refused to be drawn into that discussion, suggesting that such a definition was meaningless. “You cannot say weapons-grade, but very high,” he said.
The report also concluded that Iran had continued to produce enriched uranium but on a modest scale, despite claims of various Iranian officials of plans to build and operate thousands of gas centrifuges on an industrial scale.
Indeed, Iran has built and operated only one 164-machine cascade or set of centrifuges, and other isolated machines.
Over the summer, the centrifuges did not produce enriched uranium continuously, but only for a few days and then often operated empty, the report said.
In addition, only a few kilograms of nuclear material was fed into the machines; only a small amount of uranium — tens of grams — was enriched, the official said.
“The qualitative and quantitative development of Iran’s enrichment program continues to be fairly limited,” the official said. He added, “From a technical point of view, we have not seen a very extensive experimentation with those machines.”
The program appears to be lagging behind Iran’s stated deadline to install 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz in the last quarter of this year.
The report documented Iran’s refusal last summer to allow inspectors into an underground part of the Natanz facility and to give inspectors multiple-entry one-year visas for easy access to the country. Iranian officials since have backed down.
The report also faulted Iran for once again failing to answer questions and provide documents and access on a wide range of issues, some of which have been outstanding for more than three years.
“There is a standstill” in resolving these issues, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of normal diplomatic rules. The agency, he added, is losing confidence that it can give the world assurances about the “completeness” of Iran’s program.
William J. Broad and David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington for this article.
Read more ...
Cuba's Raul Castro vows to prepare the military for a potential US invasion, but some experts say the show of force is really intended to ensure a smooth transition at home after Fidel's death.
By Carmen Gentile in Miami for ISN Security Watch (1/09/06)
Cuban transitional leader Raul Castro has vowed to bolster the nation’s “combat capacity” under his watch by activating thousands of armed militiamen, special troops and reservists in preparation for a possible attack from the US.
Raul Castro, the brother of Fidel and also the country's defense minister, made certain in his first public remarks since assuming the reins of the communist island in late July that the world knew the 47-year-old Castro “revolution” was firmly in tact.
"I decided to substantially raise our combative capacity and readiness," Raul said in the pages of the official government newspaper Granma, where he made his first public comments since his brother stepped down reportedly due to a gastro-intestinal illness.
So far, observers and residents have reportedly noticed little change in the day-to-day politics in Cuba, other than the increased presence of additional troops and police on the streets of the capital Havana and throughout the country.
The 75-year-old Raul, who helped his 80-year-old brother lead the Cuban revolution in 1959, said it was “not my intention to exaggerate the danger,” though stressed that his administration would not be cowered by Washington's “interventionist policy,” referring to the recent US government report detailing the Bush administration's plan for assisting Cuba in the event of a future democratic transition.
Just how deep Raul’s commitment goes to repelling a possible US invasion is a matter of speculation among Cuba experts and exiles. While the White House maintains it is not interested in using military force to promote change in Cuba, officials in Havana maintain they are prepared for the event - just in case.
Some analysts stand by the theory that Raul has the full backing of the military due to his long tenure as defense minister, though others surmise there could be a power struggle once Fidel dies and Raul is forced to stand alone.
Brian Latell, a former national intelligence officer for Latin America from 1990-1994 and author of a Raul Castro biography, surmised that the real reason behind Raul's decision to ensure that Cuba was combat-ready was to make sure a transition would go unchallenged at home.
“Those additional troops aren’t out there to prevent against a US invasion. They’re there to make sure that the transition holds,” Latell told ISN Security Watch.
“They don’t want any disturbances on the streets,” he said, speculating that Raul also likely increased the number of undercover police and intelligence agents in the field.
Just exactly what moves the interim Cuban leader has remained clouded in mystery. Officials at the Pentagon would not speculate on the record about Cuba’s military preparedness since Raul took over, though noted that relations between US forces in Guantanamo and the Cuban army stationed nearby have continued to be “cordial and professional” since Fidel stepped down.
What is known about Cuba’s current combat readiness is that its forces are far fewer than they were during the heyday of the Soviet Union, when their ranks numbered an estimated 200,000 and were active in overseas operations like the war in Angola in 1975.
Today, without significant foreign subsidies, Cuba’s troop strength is believed to be somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London and others.
“Cuba went through a terrible shock after the Soviet Union collapsed,” said Latell.
The Revolutionary Army (Ejercito Revolucionario) is comprised primarily of armor and artillery units that military analysts note lack significant training and are not capable of mounting effective operations above the battalion level.
As for the country’s militia, it remains a part-time force that is equipped with light arms issued only for specific occasions. Analysts at Globalsecurity.org in Alexandria, Virginia, note that the militia is not “capable of sustained combat” though they are “effective for controlling or coercing the general public,” echoing Latell's sentiments.
The country’s navy is said to be comprised of nearly two dozen ships in the Osa-I and II and Komar class, with a range of 800 nautical miles and armed with Styx missiles that have a range of 18 miles (28.8 kilometers) and carry a 1,100 lb warhead. Cuba is believed to have three submarines once capable of operating within the Caribbean basin, though are thought to be inoperable now.
As for its air force, the country is said to have less than two dozen operational MiG fighter jets and little in the way of fighter pilot training, leaving the country particularly vulnerable to air assaults.
“I suspect that some of the equipment [in the Cuban military] is outdated and acquiring replacement parts is probably a problem,” Mark Falcoff, a resident scholar on the Americas at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, told ISN Security Watch.
“The Cuban army no longer has the economic resources to be a world-class army” capable of repelling a foreign invasion, particularly one from the US,” said Falcoff.
Other analysts like Globalsecurity.org Director John E Pike said that with what limited economic resources Cuba currently has it may now be in the market for new arms for its additional militiamen, though its old stockpiles should be sufficient to arm its much smaller force compared to the army it manned prior to the Soviet collapse.
“I think they were reasonably equipped 20 years ago,” said Pike. “They haven’t put a lot of wear and tear on their weapons” in the last two decades.”
Meanwhile, the AEI scholar noted that Raul might in some ways secretly welcome a limited US invasion, as it would “rally support for the regime” among those that might still be on the fence about his ability to govern as well as his brother.
“Ideally, Cuba wants to be seen as sufficiently dangerous so that we don’t invade, but not so dangerous so that we will invade,” he added.
Though the Cuban military may lack the might it once boasted, it has taken on additional domestic duties since the early 1990s and now controls large portions of the country’s economy.
The Cuban military runs many of the country’s most important sectors such as tourism, portions of the agriculture industry like sugar, areas of mining, as well as parts of its retail industry. The military is said to control about 90 percent of the country’s exports, making Cuba’s generals also the country’s most prominent business leaders.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba was forced to fend for itself following decades of subsidies totaling US$19 billion annually. It was then that the military started taking over certain sectors of the economy.
In Cuba, “the military’s job is to make money,” Frank Mora, a professor at the National College in Washington, told The Miami Herald in a recent article.
“Power in Cuba is not just who holds the guns, although that helps. More important is who controls what is profitable.”
Read more ...
Colombia’s largest port city is a point of origin for cocaine smuggled north and a hotbed of violence as paramilitaries battle guerrillas for control of access to the source of mountain coca production and the river routes to the Pacific.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of in-depth pieces on drug smuggling in the Americas. Each piece will focus on a specific city and the surrounding region, beginning with Buenaventura, Colombia and moving north through Central America and Mexico, to conclude with Washington, DC.
By Sam Logan for ISN Security Watch (31/08/06)
The city of Buenaventura combines the richness of Colombia’s culture and landscape with the plague of drug trafficking. The city’s port and surrounding river systems provide access to the Pacific and ultimately cocaine markets to the north. It is a city of origin for the path of cocaine that proceeds north to the US. It is also a point of reception for laundered money and arms that flow south from the US and Central America.
Today, the city is in flux. A major trafficking organization founded in Buenaventura and operated by Pablo Rayo Montano has been dismantled. Now, dozens of smaller smuggling operations in the immediate area must find another way to consolidate and export their product. At the same time, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) seeks to maintain control of the rural regions of Buenaventura, while remnants of paramilitary units in the department of Valle de Cauca work to push them out. Both sides seek dominance over the important river systems and high mountain passes that are essential to moving coca paste from the mountains to the coast, where it is processed, packaged and shipped.
Since drug trafficking in Colombia began to make international news in the early 1980s, the Colombian cities of Medellin, Cali and Bogota have received the most attention. Buenaventura, it seems, remained in the shadow of these larger, more violent cities. It is difficult to say precisely when Buenaventura became an integral part of the narco-trafficking system on Colombia’s pacific coast. Yet it is clear that the city has fallen under the control of former paramilitary combatants who in 1999 joined together to remove the guerrillas from the Valle de Cauca department and retain control over the areas that surround Buenaventura. Since at least the late 1990s, Buenaventura has been an integral part of Colombia’s illicit cocaine export businesses.
The Calima front
Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) in May 1999 kidnapped some 144 individuals during the middle of a church service in Cali, the capital city of the Valle de Cauca department. Among those kidnapped were family members of men who formed part of the region’s conservative rural class. In response to the guerrillas’ brazen kidnapping, land owners in the region organized the paramilitary group that eventually became known as the Calima Front.
This front, once commanded by Hector Hernandez, followed the trail of the guerrillas back to a small backwater community that lived high in the mountains on the Naya River just south of Cali. On 10, 11 and 12 April 2001, the Calima Front massacred at least 21 civilians (though some reports say 30). The massacre was in part motivated by the 1999 kidnapping. More importantly, however, following the massacre, the Calima Front and the paramilitaries gained control of one of the few access points that connected the western slopes of the Andean mountains with the Pacific port of Buenaventura and the surrounding river systems that facilitated clandestine export activities.
Based in Cali and Buenaventura, the paramilitaries sought to push the guerrillas out of the area by cutting off their access to the Pacific. Working with the Cali and then Norte de Valle cartels, various paramilitary units fought to secure river routes and mountain passes, notably the town of Cartago and the Garrapatas Canyon pass.
Since the late 1990s, the line between the paramilitaries and the drug cartels has blurred. As the paramilitary groups dissolved in the wake of recent demobilizations across Colombia, many men shed their uniforms and went to work directly for the cartels.
This tendency is a nationwide phenomenon, one that is well exemplified by the last days of the notorious Calima Front. The mystery surrounding the demobilization of the Calima Front in 2004 underlines the groups’ continued involvement in the drug trade in the Valle de Cauca department and its continued control over the port town of Buenaventura.
As the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of paramilitary units around the country began to take shape and move forward, critics of the process offered a list of reasons why the move was flawed. Of the many arguments put forward, two have manifested as reality in the Valle de Cauca. First, there was no plan to secure the areas where demobilized paramilitary units left a security vacuum. Second, there was no clear way to ensure that all the members of individual paramilitary units would disarm.
When the Calima Front presented itself for demobilization on 18 December 2004, only 557 members showed up, 243 fewer than the promised 800 applicants for the DDR program. At the time, the Colombian daily El Tiempo quoted a high-ranking official with the Columbian ombudsman’s office, as claiming that those members of the Calima Front who did not present themselves were “probably with the narcos.”
“It was assumed that the others found work with the cartels, working for their old bosses but in different ways,” Adam Isacson, program director with the Center for International Policy Studies, told ISN Security Watch.
Since the demobilization of the Calima Front, narco-trafficking activity, coca growing and violence have significantly increased in both the Valle de Cauca department and Buenaventura.
Dozens of mini-cartels - each with its own system of coca past procurement (obtaining the glue-like substance used to chemically produce cocaine), cocaine processing, security and export - have popped up around Colombia. Continued high levels of coca leaf cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia prove their nationwide presence.
Cocaine production in Colombia in 2005 totaled 640 metric tons, nearly reaching a peak of 695 metric tons recorded in 2000, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Coca leaf cultivation in 2005 was 144,000 hectares, some 30,000 hectares more than in 2004, according to the 2005 US State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.
Many of these smaller smuggling organizations continue to operate in the Valle de Cauca region where their predecessors, the Cali and Norte de Valle cartels, once operated.
“Valle de Cauca is probably the most narco department of all of Colombia right now with so many smaller organizations, and a lot of them work hand-in-glove with the so-called former paramilitary organizations, mainly the Calima [Front],” Isacson said.
There are so many groups that a special system for identification must be used. A unique stamp, a scorpion or a cobra, differentiates one group from the next in consolidated shipments, which are currently the most common means of exporting cocaine.
“All involved in smuggling must spread their risk,” Jorge Restrepo, research associate with the Bogota-based Conflict Analysis Resource Center, told ISN Security Watch. “It is why shipments are consolidated,” Restrepo said, adding, “when shipments are interdicted, dozens of identification stamps are usually found.”
The Rayo-Montano case
Pablo Rayo Montano, born and raised in Buenaventura, operated an organization that provided the essential service of putting together large shipments of cocaine. He consolidated a number of kilos of pure coke from various mini-cartels and delivered the shipment to customers in Mexico, likely either the Gulf or Sinaloa Cartel. His organization would then launder the proceeds through a complex system of front businesses and bank accounts and finally deliver payment to his Colombian customers.
Once the shipment was consolidated, his group packed it on go-fast boats anchored near the shore on one of the many rivers surrounding Buenaventura. These boats would then make their way to Panama, where the shipment was offloaded onto larger fishing vessels that could withstand the rough waters of open ocean.
Rayo Montano ran a completely integrated system of shipment consolidation, delivery and money laundering that operated out of Buenaventura, then Panama and ultimately Brazil. He began his smuggling career in the 1980s through links with organized crime based in Cali and moved into his own business as the Cali Cartel fell apart. He likely gained business from the Norte de Valle Cartel and then the mini-cartels that followed because his organization focused on consolidation and shipment, which allowed his clients to focus on procurement, processing, security and packaging. It was a win-win business solution.
Authorities began whittling away at Rayo Montano’s organization on 6 November 2002, when Operation Estero netted a relatively small amount of cocaine and heroin. Still hot on his trail, authorities inaugurated Operation Buenaventura No. 1 on 9 April 2003, which focused on the linkages between Rayo Montano’s operations in Buenaventura and Panama, where he was thought to have made a number of bases both in Panama City and Colon as well as at least one island, Isla Tres Marias, on the Caribbean coast of Panama.
At the conclusion of Operation Buenaventura No 1, authorities seized boats, cars and real-estate property. Six months later, in November 2003, Operation Tranca netted 12 individuals suspected of participating in Rayo Montano’s organization. A significant amount of money was also seized. Soon after in 2004, Operation Buenaventura No 2, concluded with the seizure of three million dollars, four sea-faring vessels and three smaller boats.
Information gathered over the course of these investigations indicated the Rayo Montano organization had spread across the Western Hemisphere and Europe with operations in Colombia, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Spain, Mexico and the US.
Rayo Montano moved to Brazil in 2003 after the Buenaventura No 1 Operation forced him to flee from Panama. He was finally captured in his Sao Paulo apartment by Brazilian Federal Police, after a tip-off from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), on 17 May 2006.
Rayo Montano became an official target of the DEA in October 2005, and at least since that time the DEA has actively worked with Colombian and Panamanian officials to dismantle the Rayo Montano organization. Upon the completion of three years of investigations, the final phase, Operation Twin Oceans, seized over US$70 million in real-estate assets, a number of boats and sea-faring vessels, and arrested over two dozen individuals.
Rayo Montano’s organization is thought to have facilitated the shipment of up to 20 tons of cocaine a month, potentially as much as 240 tons a year, to customers in the US and Europe. His humble roots in Buenaventura likely grew into strong connections with boat owners and dock workers around whom he built his clandestine shipping empire, and whose main base interestingly was not in Colombia, but Panama.
Buenaventura remains a city of origin for Colombian cocaine exports, but since the arrest of Rayo Montano it has become clear that Panama’s capital, Panama City, and the surrounding region, including Colon and the Panama Canal zone, play an integral role in the regional business of smuggling cocaine north and, more importantly, smuggling money back south.
Sam Logan is an investigative journalist who has reported on security, energy, politics, economics, organized crime, terrorism and black markets in Latin America since 1999. He is currently completing his work on “Nice Guys Die First,” a forthcoming non-fiction narrative about organized crime in Brazil.
Read more ...
LEBANON: MILITARY SITUATION IN SOUTH UNSTABLE, UNIFIL
Beirut, 1 Sept. (AKI) - The military situation in southern Lebanon is still unstable, sources with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) say. "After the war, the situation has changed but we haven't reached a new stability yet," a UNIFIL source in Naqura, where UNIFIL is based on the border with Israel, told Adnkronos International (AKI) on condition of anonimity. The source said that compared to the period before Israel launched its offensive on Hezbollah on 12 July, the position of the actors involved in the conflict has changed.
"Compared to the period prior to 12 July, the position of actors involved in the conflict has changed," said the source, who has frequently flown by helicopter over the Blue Line, the Israeli-Lebanese border, since the ceasefire began on 14 August. "Hezbollah militants have abandoned all their positions on the border and the areas behind the frontline also appear deserted today."
However, the source said "it is true that it is very hard, almost impossible, to distinguish today a Lebanese civilian from a militant. Before the war, we could see Hezbollah's positions by helicopter and they were wearing plain civilian clothes or uniform. After 14 August, Hezbollah seem to have disappeared from the area."
The source was certain that Hezbollah fighters are hiding "together with their weapons" in galeries and caves and recalled that during the 33 days of the conflict "we could clearly hear the explosions of the Katiusha rockets being launched from the banana plants near our barracks" in Naqoura. The rockets were fired from a mobile position and it was clear that they were often fired by one militant who then fled, the source also said.
Israelis "are still on Lebanese territory...though we can't describe it as occupation as units enter and leave the border, only temporarily remaining in Lebanese areas."
The source also said that "what is impressive is the destruction of villages in southern Lebanon, some of which have been almost completely destroyed."
Finally, the presence of the Lebanese army "is still very scarce and the deploymment of troops since the ceasefire has been very limited and far from the Blue Line."
Read more ...
Israeli police storm UK embassy, capture Palestinian
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli police commandos stormed the British Embassy in Tel Aviv late Thursday and captured a Palestinian man who had been holed up inside for eight hours, claiming to have a gun and demanding political asylum. There were no injuries.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the forces seized the man after he laid down his weapon for a split second to eat food they had given him. After the arrest, authorities discovered the weapon was plastic.
"We took into consideration that he did have a pistol and possibly other materials and therefore every precaution was taken," he said. The man also was carrying large amounts of money, Rosenfeld said.
Embassy spokeswoman Karen Kaufman said the police operation was coordinated with British officials, in line with diplomatic protocols.
"As far as the embassy is concerned, the event is over," she said. "We are very grateful to Israeli police for their swift response and the excellent cooperation throughout the incident."
Nadim Injaz, 28, a resident of the West Bank city of Ramallah and an informer for Israeli police, burst into the embassy on Thursday afternoon by jumping a fence. In a dramatic interview on live television later in the evening, he said he would rather die than return to the West Bank.
He remained holed up inside the compound several hours later as authorities tried to negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff.
Injaz said he was seeking asylum because Palestinian militants would kill him if he returned home. He threatened to commit suicide.
"They will either take me out of here to Europe, or as a body," Injaz, speaking Hebrew, told Channel 2 TV. He said he was forced to take the extreme step after Israeli authorities rebuffed repeated demands for help and protection. "If no one comes to help me soon to save my life, I will finish myself here."
Injaz said militants in the West Bank told him that he would be allowed to return to Ramallah only if he attacked Israelis. He said he chose a different path instead.
"I don't want to kill children," he said in tears in a separate interview with Channel 10 TV. "I want to be taken from here. I don't want to be here."
Police, believing the gun was real, made contact with him shortly after he burst into the embassy grounds and negotiations lasted for more than eight hours, well into the night, as anti-terrorist units surrounded the site.
The embassy, on the Tel Aviv seafront, is ringed by a fence, and visitors are normally screened by security guards at the gate. Police officials said Injaz managed to jump the fence of the compound but was stopped by security before he could enter the building.
Kaufman said an investigation would be launched into how the man breached security. In the Channel 2 interview, Injaz said the infiltration was not difficult. "Someone who is going to die doesn't care," he said.
Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, confirmed that Injaz was indeed an informer. Police officials said Injaz had recently encountered financial and legal troubles.
Injaz said he has petitioned Israeli courts and contacted local media and human rights groups to win residency rights in Israel.
Rosenfeld said Injaz would be questioned and put on trial. It was not clear whether they would send him back to the West Bank.
Read more ...
U.S. considers new military command for Africa
The Pentagon, mindful of potential threats to U.S. security emerging from Africa, is considering creating a new military command responsible for the continent, defense officials said on Wednesday.
"The notion of setting up an Africa Command is being considered by the secretary," said Pentagon press secretary Eric Ruff, referring to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Ruff said no decision has been made and any such proposal must be approved by President George W. Bush.
The U.S. military assigns responsibility for specific parts of the world to regional commands headed by four-star officers. For example, Central Command, currently overseeing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, handles the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa.
But responsibility for Africa is divided among three of these: European Command, Central Command and Pacific Command.
With several war-ravaged regions and great expanses of ungoverned territory, Africa presents optimal conditions for extremists aiming to secure a foothold, many experts contend.
"There is certainly an increasing awareness of the strategic importance of Africa," said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman, "because in the post 9/11 world we have a much better appreciation for (threats emerging from) ungoverned territories."
The Horn of Africa region is of particular concern for U.S. counterterrorism officials. The State Department says Somalia and the sparsely populated Trans-Sahara region, especially Mali and Mauritania, offer safe haven for militants.
AL QAEDA PRESENCE
Al Qaeda, responsible for the 2001 attacks on the United States, is thought to have a presence in eastern and northern Africa, and Islamic fundamentalism appears to be increasing in some parts of the continent.
The State Department says a small number of al Qaeda operatives in East Africa, particularly Somalia, continue to pose the most serious threat to U.S. interests in the region.
Although it is unclear to what extent terrorist groups are present in western and central Africa, the department has said fund-raising, recruiting and other efforts by al Qaeda and its affiliates in South Africa, Nigeria and across the Trans-Sahara region remain a serious worry.
Carpenter said populations in certain parts of Africa are vulnerable to extremists due to ideology, poverty and disease.
"Many of the militaries in Africa desire to have interaction with the U.S. so that we can help to improve their capabilities, to defend their borders, to prevent the transit of terrorists, to be able to realize their economic potential," Carpenter added.
A U.S. military task force in the Horn of Africa, headquartered in Djibouti, has about 1,800 troops. Its mission is "preventive in nature," Carpenter said. The task force aims to detect, disrupt and defeat terrorist groups in the region, denying them safe haven and outside support, officials said.
Officials offered no timetable for a decision on an Africa Command and said no decisions have been made on where it would be headquartered or how many troops would be devoted.
"The intent of (creating an Africa Command) is not to put troops in Africa. It would be to streamline the focus and give appropriate undivided attention to the continent," a Pentagon official said.
Read more ...
Iran says IAEA report shows it is cooperating
Iran said Thursday that a report by the UN watchdog agency shows the country was completely cooperating with the agency's investigations into its nuclear program.
The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran was continuing to enrich uranium, defying a UN deadline Thursday for it to suspend the process. The report also said the agency could not verify that Iran was not seeking to build nuclear weapons "because of lack of cooperation from Tehran."
But Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said the report showed "Iran has provided access to nuclear materials and facilities."
Read more ...
India names special envoy for U.S. nuclear deal
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India named its outgoing foreign secretary on Thursday as special envoy for negotiations with the United States over a controversial civilian nuclear cooperation deal that is yet to be approved by the U.S. Congress.
Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, a career diplomat who heads the foreign ministry and has led talks with Washington over the deal, will take over as special envoy after his retirement from his current post on September 30, a government statement said.
The Indian envoy to Pakistan, Shiv Shankar Menon, will succeed Saran as the next foreign secretary, said the statement from the prime minister's office.
The landmark India-U.S. nuclear deal aims to overturn three decades of sanctions against New Delhi and supply atomic fuel and equipment to help meet its soaring energy needs.
The deal has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, while the Senate is due to vote on it next month.
It then needs to be jointly approved by the two houses and also get the backing of the Nuclear Suppliers Group of nations that regulate global atomic trade.
Nuclear non-proliferation activists in the U.S. and their supporters in Congress have been critical of the deal saying it encourages arms proliferation by India which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Some Congressmen have sought to introduce changes to the deal before they approve it but New Delhi has warned Washington that tinkering with the pact could destroy it.
The deal has also run into criticism in India with political groups and nuclear scientists accusing Washington of trying to shift the parameters of the deal and curb New Delhi's atomic weapons program.
But Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to allay those fears by reaffirming that his government would not accept any changes to the deal, agreed in principle in July 2005.
Singh's statements this month had reassured the nuclear establishment, India's top nuclear scientist said.
"We had concerns with both the House bill and the Senate bill," Anil Kakodkar, head of the Department of Atomic Energy, told reporters in Mumbai. "That is why the prime minister made the statement.
"This will clear many things and address the concerns raised," he said.
Read more ...
Brazil's Lula assailed for graft but gains in poll
BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil's opposition candidates stepped up attacks on Thursday against President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva over corruption in an effort to trim the former union leader's solid lead in the presidential election race.
The heightened rhetoric follows a series of opinion polls this week, the latest on Thursday night, that showed Lula cruising to victory in the October 1 election over his nearest rival, former Sao Paulo state Gov. Geraldo Alckmin.
"The Lula government is a phone book of corruption," Alckmin said on Thursday in O Globo newspaper, referring to a series of political scandals ranging from embezzlement to illegal campaign funding involving politicians mostly from Lula's ruling coalition.
Allies had criticized Alckmin, who is favored by wealthier voters and the business community, for being too soft on Lula. But the latest ad in a TV campaign that began August 15 lists more than half a dozen Lula aides who were accused of fraud.
"So many ministers in the Lula government charged with corruption and Lula didn't know about anything? Lula doesn't deserve your vote," a woman says in the TV spot.
Firebrand Sen. Heloisa Helena, the third-placed candidate, said in her ad that opinion polls must be mistaken.
"I cannot believe that the honest Brazilian people would elect political bandits," she said.
Television and radio are vital to reach most of the 125 million registered voters in this continent-sized country.
In the latest poll by Vox Populi, Lula extended his lead over Alckmin, taking 50 percent of the vote. The previous Vox Populi poll three weeks ago had given him 45 percent.
Alckmin inched up 1 percentage point to 25 percent while Helena dropped 2 percentage points to 9 percent.
In line with other polls, the Vox Populi survey meant that Lula should secure a first-round victory by taking an absolute majority, avoiding a run-off second round.
Lula has bounced back from a scandal in which his Workers' Party was accused of using illicit funds to finance election campaigns and pay off legislators. His comeback was helped by popular social welfare programs, higher income, and his charismatic appeal.
The scandal forced top aides to resign and brought calls for his impeachment.
Lula, who promised more social spending on the poor in his manifesto released on Tuesday, focused his TV ads on brighter prospects for economic growth.
"Brazil will no longer be a country of the future but a power of the present," Lula said in his broadcast.
Early on Thursday, however, the government announced economic growth of only 0.5 percent in the second quarter, well below market expectations.
"This is the result of the incompetence of President Lula and his team," said senator Jorge Bornhausen, head of the right-wing Liberal Front Party, which is allied to the PSDB.
Lula hit back at a later meeting with teachers and human rights activists. Economic development had to be linked to social improvements, he said.
"There are insensitive people who get worked up over macroeconomic figures and who don't see that a nation is made up men, women, children and old folk living with a different understanding," he said.
Read more ...
Libya's Gaddafi urges backers to "kill" enemies
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, marked the 37th anniversary of the coup d'etat that brought him to power on Thursday by urging his supporters to "kill enemies" if they asked for political change.
The hardline comment, made in a speech on state television, runs counter to recent hopes of political reform in the North African country of 5 million.
Opponents abroad had said they hoped that Gaddafi might hint at political change in Thursday's speech.
His influential son Saif al-Islam recently told Libyans their country was in a political impasse and needed reforms to free it from what he called the grip of "Libyan mafia" which monopolizes power and wealth.
But Gaddafi said those who hope for political change in Libya see its people as "ignorant and immature".
"Thanks God. Our revolution has won ... and the whole world accepts our revolutionary project as it benefits all peoples across the world," he said.
"Our enemies have been crushed inside Libya and you have to be ready to kill them if they emerge anew," he said.
"Our political path is the correct one as it grants freedom to the whole people, sovereignty, power and wealth to the whole people," Gaddafi said, referring to Libya's Jamahiriya direct democracy system, which opposes Western liberal democracy and criminalises the creation of opposition parties.
Gaddafi's comments appeared to be aimed at energizing his supporters following a flurry of speeches in which he severely criticized the country's economic and social performance.
"If the enemy shows up you must finish it off because the enemy appears to exterminate you. We can not tolerate that the enemy undermines the power of the people and the revolution," Gaddafi said in a clear reference to political opponents, most of them based abroad.
He also called on Libyans to make their country more prosperous. "We have to set money aside to make the 1.1 million relatively poor Libyans rich," he said.
Gaddafi proposed that poor Libyans set up oil services companies to replace foreign firms in the country.
"Foreign services companies working in Libya earn millions. Why do we not earn these millions which currently go to foreigners?" he asked.
Read more ...
U.N. votes for force in Darfur; Sudan says "no"
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Thursday voted to create a United Nations peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region to avert a new humanitarian disaster, but the Khartoum government rejected the resolution as "illegal."
The vote to send the force to Darfur once Sudan has agreed to its deployment passed with 12 votes in favor, none against and abstentions from Russia, China and Qatar, the only Arab council member.
The United Nations wants to replace and absorb an African Union force in Darfur, which has only enough money to exist until its mandate expires on September 30. It has been unable to halt the humanitarian catastrophe in the west of the country.
The resolution calls for up to 22,500 U.N. troops and police officers and an immediate injection of air, engineering and communications support for the 7,000-member African force.
The measure, drafted by Britain and the United States, is designed to allow planning and recruitment of troops for an eventual handover as well as to put pressure on Khartoum.
"It is imperative that we move immediately to implement it fully to stop the tragic events unfolding in Darfur," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said. "Every day we delay only adds to the suffering of the Sudanese people and extends the genocide."
The Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003, when non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government. In response, the government mobilized Arab militias known as Janjaweed, who have been accused of murder, rape and looting.
Fighting, disease and hunger have killed some 200,000 people and driven some 2.5 million into squalid camps.
Rebel groups have splintered and are now also conducting atrocities. Bloodshed has only increased since the government signed a peace agreement with one rebel group in May and Sudan is planning to send some 10,500 troops into Darfur, which the West fears will lead to full-scale war.
US OPTIMISTIC OF SUDAN CONSENT
In Washington, the State Department's top official on Africa, Jendayi Frazer, who met Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir this week, said she believed he would eventually consent to the U.N. force.
But in Khartoum, Ali Tamin Fartak, a presidential adviser, told Reuters, "Our stand is very clear, that the Sudanese government has not been consulted and it is not appropriate to pass a resolution before they seek the permission of Sudan."
Another presidential adviser, Majzoub al-Khalifa, told Al Jazeera television that the resolution was "illegal."
Still, Britain's deputy U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce said, "The test before the council today was whether it was prepared to act to mandate that U.N. mission and assume its responsibilities to the people of Darfur. The adoption of this resolution shows that it is"
Russia and China supported the force but said Sudan's consent was needed first. Qatar pointed to Sudan's plan to send troops to Darfur, which it called positive.
A senior State Department official, Kristen Silverberg, said it was "inexplicable" that Russia and China had abstained "in light of the very grave and serious and deteriorating security situation."
The resolution allows U.N. troops to use force to protect U.N. personnel and facilities and prevent attacks and threats against civilians.
U.N. officials have warned of a catastrophe if help does not come soon. Jan Egeland, the emergency relief coordinator, said the people driven into camps are in danger from both pro-government militia and rebel groups.
Read more ...
Mexico leftist sees rival becoming president-elect
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's leftist opposition leader acknowledges a court will soon declare his conservative rival Felipe Calderon president-elect even though he believes the July 2 election was fraudulent, an aide said on Thursday.
Mexico's top electoral tribunal this week rejected most of leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's claims of vote fraud, almost guaranteeing Calderon the presidency.
Manuel Camacho Solis, one of Lopez Obrador's top advisors, said the leftist believed the court would rule in the next few days that the election was clean and formally announcing Calderon as the winner.
"Yes, that's the evaluation. That's the way it will be," he told Reuters.
Calderon, a Harvard-educated former energy minister, won the election by less than one percentage point. The court must announce a president-elect before a September 6 deadline.
Lopez Obrador has paralyzed central Mexico City with protests and sit-ins to complain about what he says was fraud at the presidential vote.
He has vowed to continue to hound Calderon and President Vicente Fox with street protests and political pressure, but says he will not resort to violence.
"He will never recognize (Calderon) but neither is he going to begin a violent people's movement," said Camacho Solis.
Leftist deputies will try to prevent Fox from making his final state of the nation address in Congress on Friday.
Protesters will also probably disrupt Fox's independence day speech in the Zocalo square on September 15 and Calderon's inauguration on December 1, the aide said.
The election was Mexico's most bitter in decades and split the country only six years after Fox became a hero for ending seven decades of single-party rule.
Lopez Obrador, a former Indian welfare officer in the swampy state of Tabasco, says Fox illegally used government resources to back Calderon in the election campaign.
"Without all the support of the government he would never have won the election. There was a state strategy to prevent him becoming president," Camacho Solis said.
The left, the second force in Congress, is now debating its future.
"There are two ways. One is hardening the opposition and the other is creating initiatives for political change that will decrease the tension," Camacho Solis said.
Lopez Obrador followers will hold a convention in mid-September and may set up an "alternative government" headed by the leftist and strengthen links between the three parties that support him, the aide said.
Read more ...
Iran seen having problems with nuclear program
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran appears to be encountering technical difficulties with its uranium enrichment but this does not diminish the fact that it has nuclear ambitions and is acting on them, U.S. officials and experts said on Thursday.
"Have they encountered technical difficulties? Absolutely, because this is a very difficult thing to do," Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph, the top U.S. non-proliferation official, told Reuters.
"But there is no sense -- in terms of what we see in the (U.N.) report and the statements of Iranian leaders -- that there is any intentional slowdown," he added.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, reported that Iran failed to stop nuclear work by a Thursday deadline, thus clearing the way for possible sanctions by the Security Council due to Western fears Tehran could be trying to make atom bombs.
Iran insists it is only trying to produce nuclear power for electricity, although it hid sensitive research from U.N. inspectors for almost 20 years and has since hindered U.N. investigations.
Drawing on the U.N. report and diplomatic sources, former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright believes that Iran made "limited progress" at its Natanz uranium enrichment plant, installing and operating fewer gas centrifuges than expected.
Centrifuges are rapidly rotating cylinders used for enriching uranium for nuclear fuel.
In a written analysis, Albright said U.S. and IAEA officials expected Iran to have installed five cascades or networks, each with 164 interconnected centrifuges, in a pilot plant at Natanz by August 2006 but "it now appears Iran has not begun to operate the second and third cascades."
The second and third cascades "may be close to completion" but the fourth and fifth cascades appear to be behind, he wrote.
The one operating cascade has not been run consistently over a sustained period, which Iran must do to achieve proficiency, he wrote.
Also, while Iran told the IAEA of plans to begin installing the first 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz's underground halls by the last quarter of 2006, "it now appears that Iran will also not meet this deadline," he wrote.
HIGHLY ENRICHED URANIUM FOUND
Albright, who heads the Institute for Science and International Security think tank, wrote that senior diplomats in Vienna believe it is possible that Iran is deliberately delaying its nuclear work while diplomacy is underway.
But Jacqueline Shire, Albright's associate, told Reuters: "I would put somewhat less stock today in Iran's slowing down for political reasons because of the information in the IAEA that they are continuing to enrich."
The IAEA report said Iran fed uranium hexaflouride, the feedstock for uranium enrichment processes, into the 164-centrifuge cascade for short periods in June, July and August and recently launched a heavy-water production plant.
Inspectors in mid-August found traces of highly enriched uranium, of potential use for atom bombs, in a container at Iran's Karaj Waste Storage Facility, the IAEA said.
Given these developments and Iran's repeated refusal to forsake its nuclear ambitions, the fact that Tehran may have technical difficulties is "cold comfort," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told a news briefing.
Determinations about Iran's level of nuclear capability are crucial to decision-making by the United States and its partners. U.S. intelligence has said it could be years before Iran produces a weapon, but other experts say Tehran must not be allowed to achieve its target of 3,000 operating centrifuges because that would provide a critical capability.
Read more ...
China foils oilfield and power plant bombings
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police have seized explosives and foiled attempts by separatists to blow up oilfields, power plants and highways in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang, a Beijing-funded Hong Kong newspaper said on Wednesday.
Uighur militants, whom Beijing calls terrorists, have been struggling for decades to make the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang an independent state called East Turkestan.
More than 41 tonnes of explosives had been seized since 1990 in the fight against the "three forces" of religious "extremism, separatism and terrorism", the Ta Kung Pao daily quoted Xinjiang's public security deputy chief Wang Lexiang as saying.
"We've forcefully dealt a blow to the 'three forces' and maintained stability in Xinjiang," Wang was quoted as saying. He did not give a figure for the number of arrests.
Police had also confiscated 6,540 grenades and 4.15 metric tons of raw materials to make explosives during the period, Wang said, adding that plans by separatists to bomb power plants, highways and railways had been thwarted.
Police had intensified a crackdown on illegal possession of explosives since July, Wang said without elaborating.
"The social situation is still grave," he said, adding that the number of violations of rules governing explosives increased by 195 percent last year.
Separatists successfully bombed barracks of the paramilitary People's Armed Police and a rail line in 2004, Wang said without saying how many were killed or wounded.
Turkic-speaking Uighurs account for about 8 million of the 19 million people in Xinjiang, which borders the former Soviet Central Asian republics, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Beijing has waged a long campaign against Uighur separatists, whom it accuses of staging a series of bombings, riots and assassinations since the 1980s and training and fighting alongside the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.
But human rights groups accuse Beijing of using its support of the U.S.-led war on terror to legitimise a crackdown on Uighur activists and of systematically violating Uighurs' rights, including arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, torture and religious discrimination.
Judges from Shanghai Cooperation Organisation members -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- will meet in Shanghai next month to discuss extradition procedures and cross-border work to fight the "three forces".
Read more ...
UN STAFF ARRESTED FOR AIDING ERITREANS TO FLEE NATION
MISNA: An 'unspecified number' of staff from the United Nations peace mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) were arrested in Asmara for attempting to smuggle people out of the country, as reported in a statement by the Information ministry on the government website. MISNA instead learned from sources of the UNMEE that for the moment only one was arrested, a staff member originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He was headed in a vehicle toward the border with Ethiopia, in direction of Adigrat, with onboard some Eritreans attempting to illegally flee the nation, when the police stopped and arrested all of them. The UN mission has so far been denied any access or contact with its staff member. �We are not sure if our colleague had decided to take the Eritreans over the border as a favour or on payment, or even if they had hidden in his vehicle�, stated to MISNA a UNMEE source, requesting anonymity. �Such action on the part of members of the UN peacekeeping mission in violation of their mandate constitutes a grave crime and, as such, the apprehended UNMEE members will face justice�, said the Eritrean statement. Eritrea had already protested over similar episodes in the past. Relations between the government and UN mission � that monitors a truce reached in 2000 after two years of war with Ethiopia � have been strained for months due to a flight ban imposed by Asmara. Tens of thousands of Eritreans flee with every means from the regime of President Isaias Afewerki, where the majority of men between the ages of 18 and 40 are recruited for permanent military service. Many flee across the Mediterranean toward Europe, or others to the Arabic peninsula.
Read more ...
Romania plans to reduce power of secret services
BUCHAREST, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Romania plans to reform its secret services before joining the European Union, increasing state control over agents and limiting their power to run undercover activities, a senior official said on Thursday.
Local media and pro-democracy groups have repeatedly criticised current legislation for giving the secret services excessive power, fuelling corruption and rights violations.
Many Romanians believe the corrupt practices are a legacy of the communist-era Securitate secret police, which recruited hundreds of thousands of Romanians as spies, creating an atmosphere of repression and fear.
Romania hopes to join the EU next year but faces a possible one-year delay if the bloc decides the poor Black Sea state needs more time to reform.
"Under current legislation a secret agent can put his boots on a man's neck and kill him, and nothing happens to him because he was on a mission. What world are we living in?" Marius Oprea, the prime minister's adviser on national security issues, told Reuters.
The government is expected to clear the draft legislation at a meeting next week and send it to parliament for approval.
The proposals include merging some secret service agencies, focusing on telecommunications and the protection of top officials, and putting them under the control of ministries.
Secret agents will have to obtain a court order before carrying out most activities, except for those related to fighting terrorism, and will no longer be able to infiltrate the media, courts, state institutions or religious organisations.
"The law will improve efficiency, boost state control over the services and reduce costs," Oprea said.
The draft also bans secret services from economic activity. At present, agents can set up businesses to help fund their operations, and local media have been awash with allegations that some companies are fronts for the secret service.
In recent weeks, a wide-ranging debate has started in Romania about the legacy of the Securitate.
Independent groups and some politicians have put pressure on the state institute which holds former agents' files to speed up checks on whether many public figures collaborated with the secret service.
Read more ...
Syria, Iran Still Try to Smuggle Arms to Hezbollah
Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Iran and Syria are still trying to smuggle arms to Hezbollah across the Syrian-Lebanese border, an Israeli official said, as United Nations chief Kofi Annan headed for Damascus to bolster the southern Lebanon cease-fire.
Syria and Iran have been attempting to send the Shiite Muslim group Russian-made anti-tank missiles, Syrian and Iranian-made rockets and Iranian rocket-launchers, said Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
``The air and naval blockade continues to stop any smuggling attempts but the land route is not sealed,'' she said in a telephone interview. ``Israel continues to stress the centrality of the embargo as an integral part of Resolution 1701 and the necessity to find a way to stop any arms smuggling through the Syrian-Lebanese border.''
The UN Security Council resolution calls for an international force of 15,000 soldiers to police Lebanon's border area with Israel alongside a Lebanese Army contingent of equal size. European Union nations have pledged about 7,000 soldiers to the expanded UN Interim Force in Lebanon. The resolution ordered a cease-fire that went into effect Aug. 14.
Israeli forces today transferred the first section of Lebanon's border area to Lebanese and UN troops since the Aug. 14 cease-fire that ended hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the Associated Press said, citing Israel's army. The territory is near the Israeli border town of Metulla, AP reported.
In Jordan, Annan denounced Israel's use of cluster bombs during the fighting and said he asked Israel to give maps locating them, Agence France-Presse said.
``Those kinds of weapons shouldn't be used in civilian and populated areas,'' AFP cited Annan as saying. It's necessary to ``move very quickly to disarm them,'' he said.
Hezbollah, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel, is refusing to lay down its weapons in defiance of UN Resolution 1559, approved in 2004, which calls for the disarming and disbanding of militias in Lebanon. The group has been blamed for rocket attacks on Israel, bombings in Beirut in 1983 that killed 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French soldiers, and an attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people. It denies involvement in the bombings.
As many as 100,000 ``bomblets'' spread by cluster bombs lie unexploded in southern Lebanon, Jan Egeland, the UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, told reporters in New York yesterday. Most were dropped in the final 72 hours of the fighting, as the cease-fire approached, in a ``completely immoral'' act, he said.
The Israeli army spokesman's office said in a faxed statement that ``all weapons and munitions used by the Israel Defense Forces are legal under international law and their use conforms with international standards.''
Israel wants UN soldiers deployed on the Lebanese-Syrian border to stop Hezbollah receiving weapons from Syria and Iran. Israel sees the Syrian border deployment as ``the most reasonable solution'' to enforce an arms embargo, said Eisin, Olmert's spokesman. She said the issue was raised with Annan in Jerusalem yesterday.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Aug. 23 that putting international troops along the border with Lebanon would create a ``state of hostility.''
Annan in Syria
Annan today visits Syria, one of the main backers of Hezbollah, after Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. Annan is meeting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem today and Assad tomorrow, the Israeli daily Haaretz said, citing unidentified officials in Damascus.
Lebanon's neighbors must cooperate on implementing the UN resolution and Israel should lift the blockade it imposed on Lebanon during the conflict, Annan said yesterday.
Olmert, at a news conference in Jerusalem yesterday with Annan, didn't give dates for an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon or for lifting the blockade.
Annan said today that Israel will pull out of southern Lebanon once the UN force has reached 5,000 soldiers and Lebanon has deployed 16,000.
``We agreed that with 5,000 UN troops and 16,000 Lebanese soldiers who will go down south, it would be a credible force to allow the Israelis to pull out entirely,'' Annan told Europe 1 radio. The UN peacekeeping force should grow to 5,000 soldiers within 10 days from now, Annan told the French station.
Eisin said Israel agreed to withdraw when an ``efficient and effective'' force is in place and did not link its withdrawal to a specific number.
Germany will provide more than 1,200 naval personnel to back up the UN force, Unifil, a German Defense Ministry spokesman who declined to be identified said today. Germany's Cabinet is scheduled to meet Sept. 4 to give tentative approval to the German contribution.
The UN force will have 4,500 soldiers inside Lebanon by the end of September, French Defense Ministry spokesman Jean- Francois Bureau told reporters in Paris today. A French unit of 900 troops with Leclerc battle tanks, last used in Kosovo in 1999, will arrive in Beirut on Sept. 15, he said. France, which is sending a total of 2,000 troops, is the second biggest EU contributor after Italy, which is sending 2,500.
The conflict began July 12 when Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack, prompting Israeli air and ground attacks in Lebanon. Hezbollah fired rockets that struck towns and cities in northern Israel. The fighting killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon and 159 people in Israel.
Read more ...
THAILAND: SYNCHRONISED BANK BOMBS HIT THE SOUTH
Bangkok, 31 August (AKI) - More than a dozen bombs exploded, nearly simultaneously, at banks in predominantly Muslim southern Thailand on Thursday, killing at least one person and wounding scores of others, local authorities said. The attacks occurred at commercial banks in downtown Yala and others in outlying districts. Police said homemade bombs, triggered by mobile phone signals, were placed in rubbish bins, at newspaper stands and near seats. "This is a coordinated operation. It happened within the same hour," a Thai army officer was quoted as saying. "It caught us by surprise."
The army chief in the south, Lieutenant General Ongkorn Thongprasom, said some of the devices were hidden in women's handbags or inside books carried by students.
A review of close-circuit video showed that some explosives were planted by women, police said.
The Islamic Bank of Thailand was among those attacked, according to reporters at the scene. The bank, set up in five southern provinces by the government, was created according to Muslim law, which prohibits interest.
"It's scary. We can't estimate the damage yet," said Pridiyathorn Devakula, head of the Bank of Thailand, the country's central bank, in Bangkok.
Army intelligence officials have been warning civilians in Thailand's three southernmost, provinces of possible terrorist acts on Thursday, which marks National Day in neighbouring Malaysia.
More than 1,300 people have been killed in Thailand's three Muslim-dominated provinces -Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat - since a resurgence of a violent separatist movement in January 2004.
In Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, the majority of the population is Malay, the language used is Yawi (a dialect of Malay). The three provinces are among the poorest in the country, with an unemployment rate of respectively 35, 28 and 25 percent against the national average of 14 percent.
Most analysts claim that Muslim militants fighting for independence are responsible for only part of the unrest reported which they say is also caused by criminal groups attempting to control the territory and by corrupt politicians and parts of the army.
Read more ...
Security developments in Iraq, Aug 31
Aug 31 (Reuters) - Following are security and other developments in Iraq reported on Thursday, as of 1120 GMT:
Asterisk denotes new or updated item.
*BAGHDAD - A car bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol killed four police commandos and wounded 11 people, including five policemen, Interior Ministry sources said. The bomb in eastern Baghdad'd Mashtal district went off by a petrol station, where a line of cars was waiting for petrol.
*RAMADI - A former Iraqi Air Force commander under toppled leader Saddam Hussein was gunned down in the western city of Ramadi on Thursday, police said. Lieutenant-General Wajeeh Thirar Hneyfish was the commander of the Habbaniya Air Force base when Saddam was in power.
ANBAR PROVINCE - A U.S. soldier was killed in action on Wednesday by a roadside bomb explosion in Anbar Province, west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said in a statement.
FALLUJA - Three people were wounded, including one policeman, when gunmen threw hand grenades at a communication centre in central Falluja, 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad, police said. One of the attackers was killed, police said.
BAGHDAD - A convoy of British diplomats and guards was blasted by a roadside bomb in western Baghdad on Thursday but the British embassy said no one was injured. Iraqi police sources said two people were hurt in the attack in the Mansour district, close to the Green Zone.
BAGHDAD - A car bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol killed two civilians and wounded nine in the eastern New Baghdad neighbourhood on Thursday, police said. An Interior Ministry source said the blast killed one person and wounded 15.
SAMARRA - Turkey al-Duleimi, a civilian judge in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, was found dead in the town of Samarra, 100 km (62 miles) north of Baghdad, medical sources said. They said he had been kidnapped four days ago.
JBELA - One man was killed and eight others wounded when a bomb exploded at a wedding party in the small town of Jbela, 65 km (39 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.
BAGHDAD - Eight people were wounded when a roadside bomb struck their minivan in the Mustansiriya District, northern Baghdad, an Interior Ministry source said.
Read more ...
GERMANY: PROPOSAL TO TURN 'JOBLESS INTO ANTI AL-QAEDA FIGHTERS'
Berlin, 31 August (AKI) - A proposal by Germany's tranpsort minister, Wolfgang Tiefensee, to recruit unemployed people to patrol railway stations for possible terrorism threats, has stirred controversy, with one parliamentarian, describing it as "hiring the jobless to fight al-Qaeda." Tiefensee's proposal came in the wake of recent attempted terrorist attacks in Germany - two supects, later arrested, were filmed by security cameras on 31 July at Cologne railway station and police later found two bombs on separate trains.
The transport minister, suggested last week that employing long-term job seekers in domestic anti-terror efforts might be a way to create much needed jobs and help passengers feel safer.
But the idea has drawn a raft of criticism from members of the government, the opposition and labour market experts.
Fighting terrorism "is not for amateurs, but for people who know what they are doing," Sebastian Edathy, from Tiefensee's own Social Democratic Party (SDP) said.
Wolfgang Bosbach a top member of the Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party agreed that security should be left to security officials.
The secretary general of the the opposition Free Democratic (FDP) party dismissed the proposal as "populist nonsense" while The Greens, another opposition party disparigingly described the proposed marshalls as "Tiefensee-Cops".
But the transport minister has defended his proposal saying it was "about making passengers feel safer, and not sending welfare recipients to fight terrorism or eve al-Qaeda."
Read more ...
Iran Started New Uranium Enrichment Days Ahead Of Deadline Report Diplomats
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE | Thu, August 31st, 2006, 12:26
Vienna: Iran started a new round of enriching uranium only days ahead of the United Nations deadline on Thursday for it to stop the strategic nuclear fuel work or face possible sanctions, diplomats told AFP.
"They put in small quantities of (feedstock) uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas last week," into a cascade line of 164 centrifuges in Natanz which enrich uranium, a diplomat close to the UN-watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Wednesday.
A second diplomat, who like the first asked not to be named, said the Iranians were doing this "to underscore the point that they are not going to stop enrichment-related activities."
The UN Security Council has demanded that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities by August 31, amid US-led concerns that Tehran's nuclear programme is a cover for an attempt to produce an atomic bomb.
Six world powers have also proposed talks on Iran receiving trade, technology and security benefits if it suspends enrichment.
Uranium enrichment makes fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but in highly refined form can serve as the raw material for atom bombs.
The diplomat said the amount of UF6 gas being fed was very small, "under 10 kilos", and that the work was continuing this week.
IAEA inspectors were in Iran as late as Wednesday. The UN watchdog is expected to confirm in a report Thursday that Iran has failed to freeze enrichment, opening the door to possible Security Council sanctions against Tehran.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said senior officials from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States would meet in Europe early next week to begin discussing sanctions against Iran.
But discussions on specific language for a possible UN sanctions resolution would take place at UN headquarters in New York involving US Ambassador John Bolton and his counterparts from the permanent members of the Security Council, McCormack said Wednesday.
Iran has made clear that it intends to pursue nuclear fuel work.
"Production of nuclear fuel is one of Iran's strategic objectives," Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said Sunday.
Russia and China are reluctant to impose sanctions, even though US officials said these two countries have promised to honor a commitment to crack down on Iran if it refuses the conditions for the international benefits package.
Diplomats have said a compromise solution was being floated to allow Iran to not actually enrich uranium but only work with "dry running" centrifuges.
But US officials have said that even spinning centrifuges dry, with inert gas for example, would help Iran move towards the so-called "break-out capacity" of having the technology needed to make nuclear weapons.
Diplomats said Iran had paused in actual enrichment until last week as it had been running centrifuges dry, without the feedstock gas.
Iran had started rounds of feeding the 164-cascade Natanz in April and in June, producing small amounts of enriched uranium, far below the quality and quantity needed for weapons, the IAEA has reported.
Iran is also running a 10-centrifuge and a 20-centrifuge cascade, as it researches techniques for using centrifuges to enrich uranium, a diplomat close to the IAEA said.
A diplomat said Iran had been feeding the cascades "periodically", even though they could have been doing this work continuously.
"They want to show that they are doing enrichment but they don't want to upset the applecart by sticking it in the face of the West," the diplomat said.
The IAEA is also expected to report Thursday that Iran is not fully cooperating with its inspections.
Iran earlier this month blocked IAEA inspectors from visiting a key underground site and diplomats said Iranian authorities are making life increasingly difficult for its investigators in other ways, even if the UN watchdog is still able to monitor the country's nuclear programme.
But one diplomat said IAEA inspectors were able this week to see the underground site at Natanz, where there are no centrifuges yet installed but which is destined to house tens of thousands of the machines.
The 164-centrifuge pilot cascade is above ground at Natanz.
Source(©): AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Read more ...
Russia to Deploy 24-satellite Navigation System by 2010
Mosnews | Thu, August 31st, 2006, 12:33
Russia’s 24-satellite navigational and global positioning system, Glonass, will be fully deployed by 2010, the country’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday, RIA Novosti news agency reports.
The ministry’s press office said the development and use of Glonass was discussed in Moscow at a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and members of a government military commission.
“In his introductory speech, Sergei Ivanov said Glonass was extremely important to the country’s defense and its economic development, and was ranked among the strategically vital elements of the country’s infrastructure,” the office said.
Also discussed were ways to improve the competitiveness of navigational services, the mass production of navigational equipment for consumers, as well as legal issues.
Glonass is a Russian analogue of the United States Global Positioning System, which is designed to allow users around the globe to receive signals from satellites to identify their position in real time.
Read more ...
New “judicial police” launched in Iran capital
Tehran, Iran, Aug. 31 – Hundreds of new “judicial police” have begun to roam the streets of Tehran starting from earlier this week, even before Iran’s Majlis (Parliament) approved the dubious judicial-security body that they represent.
The new organ, officially called “Judicial Services Police” (JSP), began monitoring people in the streets of the Iranian capital on Tuesday, arresting those who the judiciary suspected of “illegal activities”.
The JSP was set up by the judiciary in coordination with the State Security Forces (SSF), Iran’s paramilitary police. However, in late 2005 Majlis refused to approve a law granting it authority to carry out its work.
Among senior judicial officials who attended its inauguration at the Imam Khomeini Judicial Centre in the Iranian capital was Tehran’s chief prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi who gained infamy after it was discovered that he may have been personally responsible for the murder of Canadian-Iranian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison in 2003.
“These people will be based in JSP units in police precincts and are tasked with carrying out the orders issued by judiciary officials”, Mortazavi said.
Other officials at the opening ceremony included the Deputy Judiciary Chief and the Deputy Commander of the SSF.
The JSP is already believed to have some 800 cadre in its command, and security officials claim that the organ will soon widen its sphere of operation to cover the entire nation.
The JSP was originally set up in the early days of the 1979 Islamic Revolution but it was dismantled 10 years later and its forces distributed among the judiciary and the SSF, with officials citing an overlap of its activities and that of Iran’s other security agencies as the reason for its closure.
In recent years, the judiciary under the control of Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi had been pushing hard for it to resurface as a fully-functioning force capable of arresting those on its watch-list and placing them straight into its designated prison cells. It argued that this method would by far lead to the fastest prosecutions and sentences for offenders.
Some analysts say that it is only a matter of time before Shahroudi is replaced as Iran’s Judiciary Chief.
The deployment of the new judicial paramilitary force will likely add to the already repressive atmosphere in the streets of Tehran and may bring about a backlash of social dissent.
Read more ...
Firm sees profit in homeland security
By Robert Weisman, Globe Staff | August 28, 2006
ANDOVER -- Raytheon Co., whose military radars scan the skies to spot hostile aircraft and missiles, is readying a new system that will help US border authorities peer into trucks, rail cars, and shipping containers to thwart the smuggling of nuclear materials.
The nuclear detection system, called an advanced spectroscopic portal, or ASP, is part of a Raytheon push into the growing homeland security market. And its partnership with a Canadian company on the screening program is pioneering a new collaboration model, enabling the Waltham defense contractor to rapidly adopt emerging technologies to use in homeland security.
``There's a lot of ways we can use technology to make our country safer from terrorist attacks," said Michael A. Sharp , the ASP program director at Raytheon's Integrated Defense Systems unit here.
Raytheon began testing new software for the ASP system last week at the Chalk River, Ontario, site of its partner, Bubble Technology Industries. Under a $28 million contract Raytheon won in July from the Department of Homeland Security, the ASP partners are building six engineering development models for government testing and 26 working portals for airports, seaports, and border crossings.
But the contract is seen as only the first step in what could become Raytheon's largest nondefense program by the end of the decade. Homeland security officials, who'd like to deploy the new portals at more than 600 ports of entry, have estimated the program could be worth more than $1 billion over the next five years.
The work would be divided among Raytheon, which has based its program in Andover, and two other contractors: Waltham's Thermo Electron Corp., which runs its portal program out of New Mexico, and the European-owned Canberra, which has its program in Connecticut. The technology also carries the potential for substantial foreign sales.
Adoption of the program could be slowed, however, by competing homeland security demands and bureaucracy within the homeland security department and the various port authorities and municipalities that control US ports, securities analysts warned.
``It's a huge market opportunity, but it's a matter of how quickly the Department of Homeland Security moves in funding the effort," said Peter J. Arment , vice president and analyst for JSA Research in Newport, R.I. ``And the ports all move at their own pace."
In the ASP program, and other programs such as Project Athena, a maritime defense system, and an airport perimeter detection system, Raytheon has been repurposing technologies, such as sensors and signal processing, that it first developed for Pentagon applications.
``This technology is not new to us," said Mary D. Petryszyn , vice president of joint battlespace integration at Raytheon's defense unit. ``Radiation detection is just a different kind of detection capability."
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, many ports installed radiation monitoring systems based on older technology. While the systems can detect radioactive materials, they often generate false alarms from naturally occurring radiation in containers loaded with products like bananas, fertilizer, and cat litter. ``The current systems can detect the presence of radiation, but they can't discriminate between a threat source and an innocent source," said Lianne D. Ing , vice president of business development at Bubble Technology Industries.
Nuclear physicists from Bubble Technology, a 50-person commercial spinoff of Canada's nuclear research laboratory, developed a more sophisticated nuclear detection system, working initially with the Raytheon-backed Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems at Northeastern University in Boston.
When the new systems measure energy, they convert it into electronic signals. Raytheon engineers, with their signal processing expertise, can examine the signals and differentiate between hazardous and benign radioactive signatures.
At its integrated defense systems complex here, Raytheon, prime contractor and systems integrator for the ASP team, has set up a new production line for the 7-ton portals, which look like giant stereo speakers. Raytheon will produce different versions of the portals to screen cargo and rail cars at border crossings, as well as mobile versions that could be trucked to sites where there are terror threats.
About 50 of Raytheon's employees are now working on the ASP program here, with another five posted at the Bubble site in Ontario, and the program is expected to grow in coming years, said Sharp, the program manager. ``I've told the customer on numerous occasions that I'll never say no to the number of systems they want to order," he said.
Sharp said the partnership with Bubble represented a new model -- forging alliances with smaller and more nimble technology companies -- that could help Raytheon grow in the changing homeland security environment.
``We hope to use this model in the area of chem-bio protection," he said. ``There's a lot of little companies that come out of universities, and that's where the technology can well up."
Read more ...
TERRORISM: LOCAL MANPOWER KEY TO NEW AL-QAEDA STRATEGY, EXPERT
Belgrade, 30 August (AKI) - This month's foiled air terror plot in Britain is the latest reminder to Europe and the United States of their vulnerability, but a leading Serbian terrorism expert warns that scrutinising every Arabic or Asian face at airport security checks is pointless. "Terrorists are among us, and what has been smuggled across the border is invisible, the poisonous ideology which perceives the West as an emanation of evil" Darko Trifunovic told Adnkronos International (AKI). Trifunovic says the new al-Qaeda strategy is to "indoctrinate or poison the hearts and minds of youngsters to motivate them for the future terror operations."
Trifunovic, a professor at Belgrade University's Faculty of Security Studies, was among the first to warn about the changing tactics of the international terrorist network and the role of the so called “white Al-Qaeda” in exporting terrorism to Europe and the United States.
Terrorists no longer come directly from the Islamic countries, but use local youths who have previously been indoctrinated with radical Islam, says Trifunovic. Most of the London bombers were of Pakistani descent but had were full British citizens. Some white Americans and Australians had fought for Al-Qaeda in Iraq and were now being processed at Guantanamo American base in Cuba.
In this new strategy Bosnia, alleges Trifunovic, has proven to be an ideal place for such activities and hundreds of Muslim war orphans have gone through indoctrination courses and terrorist training camps, operated by the mujahadeen who stayed behind after the 1992-1995 Bosnia civil war, where there was an influx of foreign Muslim fighters.
"Can you imagine the motivation of a youth whose parents have been killed in the war? You can practically send them to any task and they will carry it out," says Trifunovic.
Trifunovic believes that Al-Qaeda already has "white cells" in every country with substantial Muslim population and that is what will make the fight against terrorism more difficult in the future.
"Last year’s London bombings and recently averted air plots have shown that a terrorist could be your neighbour, just over your backyard fence, who until yesterday seemed to be a ‘nice man’, going quietly about his business," says
According to Trifunovic, the most precious contribution of the mujahadeen who went to fight in Bosnia wasn’t in the battlefield but in the indoctrination of local Muslim youths, argues Trifunovic, who is also an associate of Washington-based International Strategic Studies Association.
Since September 11, 2001, U.S. peacekeepers in Bosnia have been tracking radical Islamists who remained in the country after the war and many have been questioned for links to international terrorism. Six of them, all Algerians, were arrested and handed over to the US Government and are still believed to be held in Guantanamo base in Cuba, Trifunovic says.
Bosnian authorities are currently scrutinizing some 1,500 citizenships granted to foreigners, and 38 have already been revoked, Security minister Berisa Colak recently revealed.
Osama Bin Laden directly aided Bosnian Muslims financially, by procurement of weapons and by training, Trifunovic maintains, saying that aid was extended to the separatist ethnic Albanians in Serbia’s southern province of Kosovo and in Macedonia.
Last November Bosnian police arrested four local youths and a Turkish citizen, Abdukladir Cesur, on suspicion of plotting to bomb the embassy of a European country in Sarajevo. It later turned out they were connected with a similar group in Denmark. One local youth, Mirsad Bektasevic was only 18, and others were not much older.
Trifunovic says they shouldn’t be jailed but sent to some sort “re-indoctrination” to make them realize their mistakes. “Jailing these youths would only further radicalize them and prepare them to be martyrs for the Islamic cause,“ sys Trifunovic.
Apart from Bosnia, another “spring board for Islamizing Europe, according to Trifunovic, is Kosovo, whose majority ethnic Albanian Muslim population is seeking independence from Serbia.
Besides camouflaged Al-Qaeda cells, two new, until now unknown groups, Gjurma and Tablighijammat, have been noted there, preaching radical Islam. Behind all these activities is Iranian intelligence and mostly Saudi cash, Trifunovic believes.
On the local scale, each country might breed its own seeds of terrorism, which is fed on real or perceived injustice, like the Basque issue in Spain, or the Kurdish problem in Turkey, says Trifunovic. “But globally, it is a conflict of civilizations, in which Islamic extremists see the West and the United States as their deadly enemies.”
Read more ...
Canadian-Iranian dissident accused of being U.S. agent released in Iran
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran on Wednesday released Canadian-Iranian liberal intellectual Ramin Jahanbegloo, who was accused of working with the U.S. to overthrow the government, a human rights activist said.
Ramin Jahanbegloo was released from Evin prison after four months of confinement, said Kouhyar Goodarzi, a member of the Student Committee of Human Rights Reporters of Iran.
Jahanbegloo was arrested in April but was not officially charged, and Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi said in July that he was involved in U.S. efforts to overthrow the government.
Azin Moalej, Jahanbegloo's wife, also confirmed that her husband was released on bail, but refused to provide details.
In May, the state-controlled IRAN Persian daily newspaper said that Jahanbegloo, who worked for the private Cultural Research Bureau in Tehran, had been arrested for espionage and violating security measures.
Jahanbegloo, 46, studied at the Sorbonne University in Paris and Harvard University.
From 1997 to 2001, he taught at the University of Toronto.
He has published some 20 books in English, French and Farsi and interviewed several global figures such as the Dalai Lama and famed linguist Noam Chomsky.
During his time in jail, many local and international scholars, including Chomsky, urged the government to release him.
In July, Ejehi said his ministry's counterespionage department had thwarted several plots in the past 10 months, alleging that Washington trained, supported and organized people to challenge Iran's Islamic system of government.
Three years ago, Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi was also accused of spying after taking photos outside the same prison where Jahanbegloo was held.
She died from head injuries sustained while being interrogated. Canadian government demands for justice were ignored.
Read more ...
Ahmadinejad urges Europe not to seek sanctions
Iran's president on Wednesday urged Europe against resorting to sanctions, saying a day before a UN deadline for the country to halt uranium enrichment that punishment would not dissuade it from pursuing its nuclear program.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments reflected Iran's defiance up to the Thursday deadline, which threatens sanctions against Iran unless it suspends enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor but that the West fears will be used to build a warhead.
"Sanctions can not dissuade the Iranian nation from conquering the peaks of pride. So it's better for Europe to be independent in decision making and to settle problems through negotiations," Ahmadinejad said, according to state-run television.
He made the comments during a meeting with Felipe Gonzales, Spain's former premier, the television report said.
Iran has rejected the Thursday deadline as illegal and refused any immediate suspension of enrichment, though it says it is open for negotiations.
Iran continued to enrich uranium as recently as Tuesday, UN and European officials in Vienna said Wednesday.
Read more ...
Bomb scare stops traffic near Dutch U.S. base
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A major road and railway in the south of the Netherlands were closed off briefly on Wednesday after a bomb scare at a U.S. military base, Dutch officials said.
"It was a false alarm," said a military police spokesman.
A bomb squad was called in after a suspicious package was found underneath a truck at the entrance to the base at Schinnen which provides logistics and support for the U.S. military.
Transport and security officials have been on heightened alert after this week's bomb blasts in Turkey, and after British police said earlier this month they foiled a plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic using liquid explosives.
"We took precautions and stopped traffic on the motorway for one hour," said Peter Tans, a spokesman for the local police. A major highway nearby connects Germany and Belgium through the southern part of the Netherlands.
Read more ...
Morocco steps up airport security
MOROCCO has stepped up security at its airports after discovering that the wives of two pilots at national airline Royal Air Maroc had been funding a radical Islamist cell, Reuters reported on 29 August.
The government said earlier this month it had broken up the previously unknown Jamaat Ansar El Mehdi and seized explosives, propaganda material and laboratory equipment.
Read more ...
Taiwan Confirms Budget For US Fighter Deal
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE | Wed, August 30th, 2006, 01:45
Taipei (AFP): The Taiwanese military confirmed Tuesday that it was setting aside funds for the purchase of a fleet of US-made F-16 fighters, a deal that has angered Beijing.
"The budget for F-16s has been budgeted in the next fiscal year," said vice defense minister Vice Admiral Kao Kuang-chi at a press conference to unveil the 2006 National Defense Report.
Kao offered no details of the deal, but local newspapers have said Taiwan is planning to replace its outmoded F-5 fleet with 66 F-16C/D Block 52s at a cost of at least 100 billion Taiwan dollars (3.1 billion US).
The new planes aim to reinforce the air force's combat capability before it can acquire so-called "third generation" fighters from the United States, the papers said.
The United States agreed in 1992 to sell Taiwan 150 less sophisticated F-16A/Bs, but refused to provide F-16C/Ds which have a longer range and powerful ground attack capability.
In addition to some 60 F-5 Tigers, Taiwan's air force consists of so-called "second-generation" aircraft -- 146 less sophisticated F-16A/B fighters, 128 locally produced Indigenous Defense Fighters and 56 French-made Mirage 2000-5s.
Taiwan's cabinet last week approved a draft bill proposed by the defense ministry calling for 323.5 billion Taiwan dollars in spending next year, a rise of 71 billion dollars, or 28.1 percent, from the current year.
The planned military spending, pending the legislature's final approval, would account for 18.7 percent of the government budget for 2007, up from 15.3 percent the preceding year.
Taiwan's 2006 National Defense Report warned of the threat from Beijing and called for the the purchase of eight conventional submarines, 12 P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft, and six PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile systems for around 340 billion Taiwan dollars (10.8 billion US).
Beijing in July warned Washington not to proceed with the reported deal to sell fighter jets to Taiwan, indicating it would impact on regional security and harm Sino-US relations.
China announced in March its military budget for this year would rise 14.7 percent to 35 billion dollars, the latest in a series of double-digit annual increases dating back to the early 1990s.
A Pentagon report last year estimated that China's defense spending was two to three times the publicly announced figure and that the cross-strait military balance was tipping in Beijing's favor.
China has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan should it move towards formal independence, prompting the island to seek more advanced weaponry.
Source(©): AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Read more ...
New intel squadron turns aerial eye on terrorists
US Air Force | Wed, August 30th, 2006, 01:55
HURLBURT FIELD: Terrorists and their supporters around the world soon will be under the gaze of a powerful "unblinking eye" providing information on their whereabouts to a "brain" here.
The reactivation of the 11th Intelligence Squadron here marks a milestone for Air Force Special Operations Command, which gains its first intelligence squadron. The 11th IS, commanded by Lt. Col. David Hambleton, is assigned to Air Force Special Operations Forces, AFSOC's warfighting headquarters.
The squadron's mission is to process, exploit and disseminate to commanders information gathered by AFSOC's MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles and other airborne intelligence and surveillance sources, Colonel Hambleton said. The Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft operated by the 3rd Special Operations Squadron at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.
Operators at Creech AFB use remote controls to fly Predators anywhere in the world, around the clock. That capability, when fully realized, will create what Army Gen. Doug Brown, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, calls an "unblinking eye" for special operations forces.
But even an unblinking eye is worthless without a brain to process the information the eye sees, said Col. Timothy Leahy, AFSOF vice commander.
"That's where the 11th IS comes in," he said.
"We're going to extract intel value from data streams coming off (reconnaissance aircraft), figure out what the bad guys are doing and provide information to special ops commanders so they can make combat decisions," Colonel Hambleton said. "Basically, the 3rd SOS will provide the data, and we'll tailor it for the SOF customer forward."
Special operations forces require SOF-specific intelligence, Colonel Hambleton said. So the entire data gathering-analysis-combat commander chain is specialized and unique compared to the way other Air Force commands process and disseminate data, he said.
For instance, AFSOC is the only major command where the intelligence weapons system, called the distributed common ground system, works hand-in-hand with the air operations center. In AFSOC, both the DCGS and AOC report to the AFSOF commander, Col. Michael Callan.
"I'm very excited to see the 11th IS a reality," Colonel Callan said. "Many dedicated members of the AFSOF and AFSOC staffs have worked very hard to make this day happen.
"Having the 11th IS provide dedicated intelligence support to our warfighters will make us better able to find, fix and finish our adversaries," he said. "I welcome Colonel Hambleton and his squadron members to AFSOF".
In the war on terrorism, tracking down elusive enemies is akin to what Lt. Gen. Michael W. Wooley, AFSOC commander, calls "finding the proverbial needle not in a haystack, but hiding among other needles."
Intel specialists of the 11th IS will "be able to discern what that needle among needles is doing," Colonel Leahy said.
"Once the operators of the 11th Intelligence Squadron find and fix the enemy, the world's best special operators, riding in the back of AFSOC aircraft, will go in and finish them," he said.
Source(©): US Air Force
Read more ...
PKK Organizes Festival in Germany
Although the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK/KADEK) is widely accepted internationally as a terrorist organization, in Germany the subsidiary foundations of the terrorist organization continue their activities.
The terrorist organization PKK plans to turn the 14th Kurdish Cultural Festival in Germany into a freedom show for terrorist leader Abdullah Ocalan.
No German security force has so far attempted to intervene in the festival preparations, which plans to promote such slogans as “Freedom for Abdullah Ocalan” and “Peace for Free Kurdistan.”
It is reported that Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Department warned Germany that a festival supporting a terrorist organization and any billboard advertisements related to such an event should not be permitted in the country.
The subsidiary foundations of the PKK chose August, which is the month when the PKK increased funds and began its terrorist attacks for the first time in 1983.
Recently, eight leading members of the PKK were arrested.
In addition, two people were arrested for being the local leaders of the PKK in Baden-Wurttemberg and North Rhine Westphalia states of Germany.
Last week British authorities prohibited the activities of the PKK and its subsidiary foundations; the ban included wearing the organizations emblem and flying its flags.
Diplomatic sources close to the Turkish Foreign Ministry evaluated the PKK’s growth in Germany; with racketeering and other activities reaching a level that enables them to use billboard advertisements for its promotional purposes.
According to diplomatic sources: “It is impossible for the PKK to conduct its activities explicitly in Germany, and we have informed the German administration that such a festival nor any related billboard advertisements should be permitted to go ahead. It is not realistic to think that Germany ignores the activities of the PKK. The PKK has the potential reach of 50,000 people in Germany. The German authorities do not risk cracking down on this threat at once, so they tend to ignore some of their less extreme activities.”
Some Kurdish-origin intellectuals and politicians will participate in the festival and deliver speeches, which will be followed by a concert.
Read more ...
Jeddah raids: two extremist cells disbanded
The Saudi security forces succeeded in disbanding two extremist cells in Jeddah early last week: one in Al-Ajwad district, the other in Al-Jamia district.
Latest reports from Jeddah suggest that special security units made successful raids against both cells and forced their members to surrender.
Security sources considered the raids a success as no one was killed or seriously injured. However, independent sources claim that two men of Al-Jamia cell died. They were rushed to hospital, but failed to survive their injuries. No other sources confirmed the story.
Available reports on both cells suggest that they were preparing to set up new cells in other neighborhood districts, notably near King Abdulaziz Airport, King Abdulaziz University, the Industrial District and the Seaport.
On the Al-Jamia cell, the same reports mention that it was lately watching Jeddah-Mecca main road. Two of its four members surrendered. The Saudi Police say they are Turki Al-Mutairi and Ghazi Al-Utaibi. Both were among seven prisoners who escaped from Riyadh’s Al-Malaz prison in July.
Note that Turki Al-Mutairi belongs to a family known to be close to the ruling Al-Saud family, but the extremists look to have gained some support among its members.
Sources close to the Saudi Interior Ministry say the raids in Jeddah took place as the Ministry was preparing to tighten security measures in Jeddah, Mecca, Medina and Riyadh.
These sources add the arrested men had Kalashnikov rifles, hand grenades and anti-tank launchers. The security services believe the extremists smuggled these weapons from Iraq and Yemen into the Kingdom.
Read more ...