News & Current Affairs

January 9, 2009

Pakistan al-Qaeda leaders ‘dead’

Pakistan al-Qaeda leaders ‘dead’

An undated photograph of Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan released in 1998 by the US district attorney's office

Swedan is said to have been Kini’s top aide

Al-Qaeda’s operations chief in Pakistan and another top aide are believed to have been killed, US sources say.

Usama al-Kini and his lieutenant, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, were both killed in recent days, US counter-terrorism officials said.

Unconfirmed reports say the two men were killed by a missile fired by a US drone near the Afghan border.

Kini was believed to be behind last year’s deadly attack on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, they said.

Fifty-five people were killed when a truck packed with explosives rammed the hotel in September 2008.

‘Significant’

Both al-Qaeda suspects died in South Waziristan, on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, an unidentified US counter-terrorism official told Reuters news agency.

“These deaths are a significant near-term degradation of al-Qaeda’s leadership,” he added.

Aftermath of the blast at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, on 20 September 2008

Kini was involved in the Islamabad Marriott attack, officials say

He gave no details of how the men died.

However, the Washington Post, also citing intelligence sources, said they were killed in a missile strike by a CIA drone aircraft on a building on 1 January.

“They died preparing new acts of terror,” the US daily quoted a counter-terrorism official as saying.

The men – both born in Kenya – were on the FBI’s most-wanted list over the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Kini was also thought to have been behind an unsuccessful attempt on the life of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was later killed in a separate attack, US officials said.

The website reported on 1 January that an unmanned CIA aircraft had fired three missiles in the Karikot area of South Waziristan, killing three suspected militants.

The US has launched dozens of similar attacks in recent months, mostly targeting Taleban and al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions.

‘Violation’

The lawless tribal areas on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan are considered a sanctuary for the insurgents.

The US says the militants regularly cross over the porous border into Afghanistan where the US troops have been fighting since 2001.

The drone attacks are believed to have been largely on-target, hitting Taleban and al-Qaeda hideouts.

There have been few civilian casualties, officials say.

But Pakistani media and opposition parties term these attacks a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the government has been under immense public pressure to defend its territory against them.

Islamabad says the attacks are counter-productive as they help offset the negative popularity the Islamist militants have gained in areas under their control.

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September 19, 2008

August 16, 2008

FBI identifies US kidnap accused

FBI identifies US kidnap accused

Clark Rockefeller

Christian Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark Rockefeller, faces a number of charges

The FBI has used fingerprint testing to confirm the identity of a father accused of kidnapping his London-based daughter in the US.

It believes Clark Rockefeller, 48 – accused of abducting Reigh Boss, seven – is Christian Gerhartsreiter.

LA police had earlier said he was thought to be the German national, also “of interest” to officers over the 1985 disappearance of a couple in the US.

Mr Rockefeller’s lawyer said his client had little memory of pre-1993 events.

The FBI said it had now matched fingerprints from old immigration papers of Mr Gerhartsreiter to the suspect who called himself Clark Rockefeller.

The prints were taken from papers dating back to the 1980s and matched with a wine glass touched in late July – around the time he is accused of abducting his daughter – as well as prints taken by Baltimore police after his arrest on 2 August.

Last week a spokesman for the LA County sheriff’s department said the accused had been a “person of interest” in the disappearance in San Marino, California, of Jonathan and Linda Sohus, from whom he had rented a guesthouse in the 1980s.

Skeletal remains believed to be those of Mr Sohus were unearthed at the couple’s property in 1994. No charges have ever been filed in the case.

The accused has said he now recalls living in the guesthouse at the time of the couple’s disappearance and also remembered using the name Christopher Chichester, while living in California.

Reunited

Lawyer Stephen Hrones said his client had told him that he barely knew the couple and that they had left while he was still in California.

He had used the name of Chichester because “he was aspiring to be an actor out there”, Mr Hrones said.

Jonathan and Linda Sohus

Jonathan and Linda Sohus went missing in 1985

He added there was nothing wrong with using aliases “as long as you don’t use it to defraud”.

The FBI said he was born in the former West Germany in 1961 and spent 27 years in the US using various names.

Daniel Conley, district attorney in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, said that by matching recent fingerprints to those on the old papers, the FBI’s fingerprint technicians had “brought science to bear where mere suspicion had prevailed”.

Mr Hrones said earlier this week that his client still believed his real name was Clark Rockefeller and that he had no recollection of being Christian Gerhartsreiter, but has not commented on the fingerprint results.

His client was arrested in Baltimore earlier this month over the alleged kidnapping of his daughter after a tip-off from a member of the public.

He was taken to Boston and remanded in custody by the court there.

He is charged with felony custodial kidnapping, assault and battery, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on 27 July.

The girl was reunited with her mother, Sandra Boss, with whom she lives in London.

August 7, 2008

Scientist ‘lone anthrax attacker’

Scientist ‘lone anthrax attacker’

Bruce Ivins at a 2003 awards ceremony

Dr Bruce Ivins had helped with the investigation into the attacks

A US scientist who killed himself last week was the sole person responsible for the deadly anthrax attacks in 2001, new  FBI papers allege.

Dr Bruce Ivins alone controlled flask RMR1029, used in the attack, could not account for unusual overtime in labs and issued death threats, the FBI says.

The anthrax-laced letters killed five people, made another 17 sick, and unsettled a nation traumatised by 9/11.

Dr Ivins, 62, died shortly after being told he was about to be charged.

The FBI had been under pressure since his death to reveal the details of the investigation and its papers were unsealed by a judge on Wednesday.

FBI director Robert Mueller briefed the victims and their families about the case before publication.

In a news conference later, the US attorney for the District of Columbia, Jeffrey Taylor, said: “We consider Dr Ivins was the sole person responsible for this attack.”

Overdose

The papers say Dr Ivins had possession of anthrax spores with “certain genetic mutations identical” to those used in the sole deadly biological attack on US soil.

The letters were sent to media offices and politicians a few days after 9/11.

Mr Taylor said flask RMR1029 was “created and solely maintained” by Dr Ivins and that no-one could have had access to it without going through him.

Mr Taylor set out a number of other points of evidence against Dr Ivins, including:

  • He worked inordinate hours at night in the lab at the time of the attacks, could not account for the work and had not done similar overtime before or since
  • He sent a threatening email to a friend involved in the case and threatened in counselling sessions to kill people
  • He sent defective anthrax samples when taking part in the investigation into the attacks
  • He was a frequent writer to the media and often drove to other locations to disguise his identity as the sender of documents
  • Print defects in envelopes used in the attacks suggest they may have been bought at a post office in 2001 in Frederick, Maryland, where he had an account
  • After one search, he discarded a DNA coding book under surveillance

The Kevin Connolly in Washington says that although there is some hard scientific evidence, such as the flask, much of the case against Dr Ivins set out here is circumstantial.

Dr Ivins worked at the army biological weapons laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

ANTHRAX PANIC, 2001
Anthrax investigation in Washington DC 2001
First anthrax-laced letter is mailed on 18 Sept, 2001
Florida sees first of five deaths, three weeks later
The dead are two postal workers in Washington, a New York hospital worker, a Florida photo editor and an elderly woman in Connecticut
Panicked Americans try to stock up on antibiotic Cipro
Postal depots shut for de-contamination; mail is irradiated
Senate offices shut for weeks
Hoaxes become an almost daily occurrence
Plans to deal with a biological weapons attack updated

The investigation initially centred on one of Dr Ivins’s colleagues, Dr Steven Hatfill. He later sued the justice department and won a $5.82m (£2.94m) settlement this June.

The papers say Dr Ivins became the focus of attention in 2007.

One affidavit in the papers says Dr Ivins reported to a co-worker that he suffered “incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times” and “‘feared that he might not be able to control his behaviour”.

Dr Ivins also sent an email a few days before the anthrax attacks, warning Osama “Bin Laden terrorists” had access to anthrax, the FBI says.

The email used language similar to that in the anthrax letters, it was alleged.

Dr Ivins was also immunised against anthrax in early September 2001.

The release of the papers coincided with a memorial service for Dr Ivins at his work place in Fort Detrick.

Dr Ivins died in hospital on Tuesday last week apparently after an overdose.

A lawyer for Dr Ivins said after his death that he had suffered “relentless accusation and innuendo”, and that his innocence would have been proven in court.

But a social worker said in filed court documents that Dr Ivins had “a history dating to his graduate days of homicidal threats, plans and actions towards therapists”.

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