News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta

Tributes are left for those killed in the hotel attacks

Indonesian officials say there are “strong indications” a key wanted fugitive was behind Friday’s deadly attacks on two hotels in Jakarta.

Noordin Mohamed Top is wanted for plotting the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 and other Indonesian attacks.

Nine people, including two suicide bombers, died in the attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott.

At least four of Friday’s victims are said to be foreigners but have not all been formally identified.

Police in the Indonesian capital are studying DNA and other evidence to try to identify those behind the attacks.

The anti-terror chief, Ansyaad Mbai, has told the News he believes there are strong indications that Noordin was the mastermind behind the blasts.

NOORDIN MOHAMED TOP
Noordin Top (archive image)
Born in Malaysia, fled to Indonesia after 9/11
Wanted for planning bombings on Bali in 2002 and 2005 and other attacks
Said to have split from Jemaah Islamiah over strategy disagreements and set up new group
Main accomplice Azahari Husin killed by police in 2005
Escaped police raid in 2006 and continues to evade capture

Noordin was said to be a key financier for the Jemaah Islamiah militant group but is now thought to have set up his own splinter group.

Jemaah Islamiah has links to al-Qaeda and has a long track record of bomb attacks in Indonesia including the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.

Friday’s bombs contained nails, ball bearings and bolts, identical to ones used by Jemaah Islamiah, police said.

Mr Mbai said he believed the aim of the attacks was to embarrass Indonesia’s government at a time when the country was enjoying a greater degree of stability than it had in the past.

The Indonesian people have been truly shocked by these attacks as they thought they had put events like this behind them.

Investigators on Friday recovered an unexploded bomb and other explosives material from what they said was the “control centre” for the attacks – room 1808 in the Marriott.

The attackers paid to stay at the hotel and smuggled in the explosives before detonating them in two restaurants on Friday.

CCTV footage showed one attacker wearing a cap pulling a bag on wheels into the Marriott restaurant, followed by a flash and smoke.

Security has been tightened across Indonesia in the wake of the attacks, with 500 troops put on standby to support police in the capital.

‘Shoulder to shoulder’

A New Zealander, businessman Tim Mackay, has been confirmed killed.

I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones
Barack Obama

Indonesian police say Australians Nathan Verity and Garth McEvoy also died.

Their countryman, diplomat Craig Senger, was at the same breakfast meeting. He is missing and feared dead.

A health ministry report said a Singaporean and an Indonesian were also confirmed dead.

At least 17 foreigners were among the wounded, including eight Americans.

Other foreign nationals wounded included visitors from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the UK.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the attacks as “cruel and inhuman”.

US President Barack Obama said: “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones.”

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is due to arrive in Jakarta on Saturday.

He said he wanted to stand “shoulder to shoulder with Indonesia at this terrible time”.

The Manchester United football team had been booked to stay in the Ritz-Carlton next week ahead of a game in Jakarta.

The team has cancelled the Indonesian leg of their tour.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for the series of bombings more than five years ago.

Jakarta map

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July 17, 2009

Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels

Fatal blasts hit Jakarta hotels

At least nine people have been killed, including two suspected suicide bombers, in two blasts at luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

One explosion hit the Ritz-Carlton, ripping off its facade, and the other the JW Marriott. As many as 50 people were hurt, including many foreigners.

At least one attacker was a guest at the JW Marriott, police said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has visited the scene and condemned “the cruel and inhuman attack”.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts. One foreign national has been confirmed dead – a New Zealander.

Indonesia suffered a number of bomb attacks – mainly linked to the militant group Jemaah Islamiah – in the first years of the century, but has since been praised for its campaigns against militants.

‘Barbaric’

President Yudhoyono said Friday’s attacks were carried out by a suspected terrorist group, though he said it was “too early to say” if Jemaah Islamiah was involved.

He added: “Those who carried out this attack and those who planned it will be arrested and tried according to the law.

I heard two sounds like ‘boom, boom’ coming from the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton – then I saw people running out
Eko Susanto, security guard

“This act of terrorism… will have wide effects on our economy, trade, tourism and image in the eyes of the world.”

The attacks, with homemade bombs, were on the basement car park of the Marriott and a restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton, police said.

Police said that two suicide bombers were involved, and at least one attacker, and possibly more, was staying at the Marriott.

An unexploded bomb and other explosives material were found in room 1808, which officials said was the “control centre” of the attacks.

National police spokesman Nanan Soekarna said: “We still don’t know who booked room 1808.”

Gen Wahyono said a suicide bomber was suspected of carrying out the car park attack as a severed head was found there.

AT THE SCENE
Karishma Vaswani
Karishma Vaswani,Courtesy
BBC News, Jakarta

It was a scene of confusion and chaos outside the Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott hotels this morning. Ambulances and security forces arriving at the hotels came to rescue the injured and treat anyone who was hurt.

People milled around outside, onlookers wondering what had happened as hotel staff and guests stood around shocked on the streets. The blasts took place at breakfast time in one of the most prestigious areas in Jakarta’s commercial centre.

Many Indonesians we spoke to this morning told us how shocked and upset they were by what had happened here today and how worried they are about the damage this will do to the reputation of their country.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key confirmed a New Zealand national was among the dead.

Reuters news agency named him as Tim Mackay, president director of PT Holcim Indonesia, quoting the company’s marketing director Patrick Walser.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd condemned the attacks as “barbaric”.

He said he had “grave concerns” for an embassy official and two other missing Australians.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said they were “senseless” and that the threat of terrorism remained “very real”.

The Manchester United football team was due to arrive in Indonesia on Saturday and was booked to stay at the Ritz-Carlton.

The team have now called off the Indonesian leg of their tour, saying they “cannot fulfil the fixture in Jakarta” against an Indonesia Super League XI on 20 July.

The two blasts, in Jakarta’s central business district, occurred at about 0730 (0030 GMT).

INDONESIA ATTACKS
Dec 2000 – Church bombings kill 19
Oct 2002 – Bali attacks kill 202, many Australian
Dec 2002 – Sulawesi McDonalds blast kills three
Aug 2003 – Jakarta Marriott Hotel bomb kills 12
Sept 2004 – Bomb outside Australian embassy in Jakarta
Sept 2005: Suicide attacks in Bali leave 23 dead, including bombers

Businessman Geoffrey Head, who was in the Ritz Carlton, told the BBC he did not hear the blast but that his colleagues had called him after it happened to tell him to leave the building.

“I looked out of the window – I could see down to ground level and I saw there was a lot of broken glass. I thought it was time to actually get out.”

Mr Head said there had been no warning to evacuate the building.

“The surreal thing was going down in the elevator and walking through the lobby and looking across to my left and noticing the cafe was completely blown out,” he said.

A 50-year-old South Korean man, Cho In-sang, was taken to hospital with minor injuries.

“I don’t remember exactly but suddenly the ceiling is falling down and the sound was big,” he said.

Anti-terror training

Consular staff are trying to track their nationals, and Australia issued a warning against unnecessary travel to Indonesia.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for a series of bombings more than five years ago.

Attacks on two nightclubs in Bali in October 2002 killed 202 people, most of them Australian.

The Marriott Hotel was the target of a bomb attack in August 2003 in which 13 people were killed.

Since then, a combination of new laws, anti-terror training, international cooperation and reintegration measures have kept Indonesia peaceful, analysts have said.

Jakarta map


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September 24, 2008

Analysing Bin Laden’s jihadi poetry

Analysing Bin Laden’s jihadi poetry

Undated file image of Osama Bin Laden

The tapes show Osama Bin Laden to be ‘an entertainer with an agenda’

To many people Osama Bin Laden is the ultimate barbarian, to others an elusive Muslim warrior. Most know him simply as the world’s most wanted man.

Few would imagine him as a published poet or wedding raconteur.

But now a host of previously unpublished speeches made by the man accused of planning the 9/11 attacks on the US are to be made public.

They include sermons and readings delivered at a wide range of events from weddings to jihadi recruitment sessions.

The material was discovered on a dozen of 1,500 cassettes found in al-Qaeda’s headquarters in Kandahar, Afghanistan, which was evacuated during the US-led invasion in 2001.

Encompassing recordings from the late 1960s until the year 2000, the collection includes hundreds of sermons by Islamic scholars, political speeches by al-Qaeda’s top strategists and even footage of live battles – as well as recordings of the group’s reclusive leader.

According to one US linguistics expert, Flagg Miller, who has spent five years analysing the material, the tapes provide an audio library of Bin Laden’s development as an orator.

The assistant professor of religious studies at the University of California, Davis said the recordings also offer “unprecedented insight” into debates within Bin Laden’s circle in the years leading up to the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001.

Jihad and weddings

Prof Miller’s analysis of the tapes shows Saudi-born Bin Laden to be a skilled poet who weaves mystical references as well as jihadist imagery into his verse, reciting 1,400-year-old poetry alongside more current mujahideen-era work.

“[The readings] were sometimes given to large audiences when he was recruiting for jihad in Afghanistan… and other times they were delivered at weddings, or to smaller audiences, possibly in private homes,” Prof Miller, a linguistic anthropologist specialising in the Middle East, told.

Poetry is important to Bin Laden’s core audiences of radical Islamists and disaffected youth, and his verses have been picked up by his followers around the world and used in their own work, said Prof Miller.

“The violence and barbarism of war can sicken anybody and poetry is a way to frame that violence in higher ethics,” he said.

However, some scholars have objected to the publication of Bin Laden’s poetry, saying the work has only sparked interest because of the notoriety of its author, and that publishing the verse gives a forum to a reviled figure.

In one of his own poems, Bin Laden, whose whereabouts remain unknown, refers to a youth “who plunges into the smoke of war, smiling”.

“He hunches forth, staining the blades of lances red. May God not let my eye stray from the most eminent humans, should they fall,” continues the recital.

The words are believed to have been recorded in the mountainous Afghan cave complex of Tora Bora in 1996, as the al-Qaeda chief made his first declaration of war against the US.

Performer with an agenda

Often identifiable by his distinctive monotone, Bin Laden’s recitals show him to be “the performer, the entertainer with an agenda”, said Prof Miller, who is researching a book analysing the poetry and its role in jihad.

Flagg Miller
Bin Laden uses poetry to tap into the cultural orientation, the history and the ethics of Islam
Prof Flagg Miller
University of California, Davis

“They also show his evolution from a relatively unpolished Muslim reformer, orator and jihad recruiter to his current persona, in which he attempts to position himself as an important intellectual and political voice on international affairs.”

Earlier material is littered with references to tribal poetry, Koranic verses and mystical allusions – mountains, for example, are used as metaphors to help his followers avoid the temptations of the secular world.

In one instance the man accused of orchestrating bombings in East Africa, Indonesia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as the US, describes himself as a “warrior poet”, whose words will lead his followers to an idyllic refuge in the Hindu Kush mountains.

More recent recordings are both more professionally produced and more overtly political – the anti-Western rhetoric with which the world has become familiar since the 9/11 attacks.

Prof Miller said that if alive, Bin Laden would still be writing poetry, which is central to the oral traditions of his tribal culture.

“Poetry is part of the oral tradition in the Arab world, which Bin Laden uses to tap into the cultural orientation, the history and the ethics of Islam,” he said.

The tapes are currently being cleaned and digitised at Yale University in the US and public access is expected to be granted in 2010.

Prof Miller’s findings are published in the October issue of the journal, Language and Communication.

September 12, 2008

Obama win preferred in world poll

Obama win preferred in world poll

Sen Barack Obama in Flint, Michigan, on 8 September 2008

Most thought US relations would get better under a president Obama

People outside the US would prefer Barack Obama to become US president ahead of John McCain, a BBC World Service poll suggests.

Democrat Mr Obama was favored by a four-to-one margin across the 22,500 people polled in 22 countries.

In 17 countries, the most common view was that US relations with the rest of the world would improve under Mr Obama.

If Republican Mr McCain were elected, the most common view was that relations would remain about the same.

The poll was conducted before the Democratic and Republican parties held their conventions and before the headline-grabbing nomination of Sarah Palin as Mr McCain’s running mate.

The results could therefore be a reflection of the greater media focus on Mr Obama as he competed for the presidential candidacy against Hillary Clinton.

Pie chart

The margin of those in favor of Mr Obama winning November’s US election ranged from 9% in India to 82% in Kenya, which is the birthplace of the Illinois senator’s father.

On average 49% preferred Mr Obama to 12% in favor of Mr McCain. Nearly four in 10 of those polled did not take a view.

On average 46% thought US relations with the world would improve with Mr Obama in the White House, 22% that ties would stay the same, while seven per cent expected relations to worsen.

Only 20% thought ties would get better if Mr McCain were in the Oval Office.

The expectation that a McCain presidency would improve US relations with the world was the most common view, by a modest margin, only in China, India and Nigeria.

But across the board, the largest number – 37% – thought relations under a president McCain would stay the same, while 16% expected them to deteriorate.

In no country did most people think that a McCain presidency would worsen relations.

Sen John McCain in Sterling Heights, Michigan, on 5 September 2008

Some 30% of Americans expected relations to improve under Mr McCain

Oddly, in Turkey more people thought US relations would worsen with an Obama presidency than under Mr McCain, even though most Turks polled preferred Mr Obama to win.

In Egypt, Lebanon, Russia and Singapore, the predominant expectation was that relations would remain the same if Mr Obama won the election.

The countries most optimistic that an Obama presidency would improve ties were US Nato allies – Canada (69%), Italy (64%), France (62%), Germany (61%), and the UK (54%) – as well as Australia (62%), along with Kenya (87%) and Nigeria (71%).

When asked whether the election as president of the African-American Mr Obama would “fundamentally change” their perception of the US, 46% said it would while 27% said it would not.

The US public was polled separately and Americans also believed an Obama presidency would improve US ties with the world more than a McCain presidency.

Forty-six per cent of Americans expected relations to get better if Mr Obama were elected and 30% if Mr McCain won the White House.

A similar poll conducted for BBC World Service ahead of the 2004 US presidential election found most countries would have preferred to see Democratic nominee John Kerry beat the incumbent George W Bush.

At the time, the Philippines, Nigeria and Poland were among the few countries to favor Mr Bush’s re-election. All three now favor Mr Obama over Mr McCain.

In total 22,531 citizens were polled in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, the UAE and the UK. A parallel survey was conducted with 1,000 US adults.

Polling firm GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes carried out the survey between July and August.

September 10, 2008

Oil rises on Opec production curb

Oil rises on Opec production curb

Chakib Khelil (10 September 2008)

Mr Khelil said Opec would re-assess the situation at the end of the year

Oil prices have risen to $104 a barrel in Asian trade, reversing earlier losses, after OPEC agreed to return to its late 2007 production levels.

After talks in Vienna, Opec president Chakib Khelil said the measures to curb over-production amounted to a cut of 520,000 barrels a day within 40 days.

The October US light crude future was up about $1 to $104.20 a barrel after earlier tumbling to near $102.

Prices have sunk from a record of more than $147 a barrel seen in July.

On Tuesday Brent crude had dropped beneath $100 a barrel for the first time since April, and crude prices remain close to $100, below which Goldman Sachs said earlier this week could signal a global recession.

The fall from the record prices in July has helped the US dollar, which hit an 13-month high against the euro on Tuesday.

Supply question

The price has since fallen by nearly 30% as a global economic slowdown has reduced demand for oil.

Supply has also been increased in recent months by some Opec members – principally Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Indonesia has suspended its membership of Opec.

Actions [to curb output] will be taken by members as soon as they can
Chakib Khelil, Algerian oil minister

“The conference regretfully accepted the wish of Indonesia to suspend its full membership in the organisation and recorded its hope the country would be in a position to rejoin the organisation in the not too distant future,” Opec said in a statement.

After the late-night talks in Vienna, the group announced it had decided to “strictly” comply to the production ceilings agreed in September last year, which amount to 28.8m barrels a day excluding Indonesia and Iraq.

It linked the falling price of oil to slowing economic growth, a stronger US dollar, easing geo-political tensions and greater supply.

“All the foregoing indicates a shift in market sentiment causing downside risks to the global oil market outlook,” a statement said.

Output curbs

The effect of the measures will be a cut of about 520,000 barrels a day, according to Algerian Oil Minister Chakib Khelil, who chaired the meeting.

“Actions [to curb output] will be taken by members as soon as they can, that means in the next 40 days,” he said.

Opec members will re-assess the situation when the meet again at the end of the year.

The move is a compromise meant to avoid new turmoil in the oil markets, but it also reflects Opec’s attempts to stop the recent falls in global prices.

August 14, 2008

Hope over ‘quick’ bird flu test

Hope over ‘quick’ bird flu test

Avian flu virus

Bird flu cannot easily infect humans at present

UK scientists say they are developing a portable testing machine that will detect cases of bird flu in two hours.

Currently it takes about a week to identify the different flu strains because laboratory tests are needed.

Nottingham Trent University developers say their equipment is designed to be used at the scene of a suspected outbreak or taken to a patient.

It will enable them to identify strains lethal to humans far quicker, potentially saving lives, they say.

In Indonesia there has been an 81% death rate among people with the H5N1 strain, but survival chances increase greatly the earlier it is treated.

So far, tens of millions of birds have died or been slaughtered as a result of bird flu in Asia and beyond.

At the moment, the H5N1 strain, while highly infectious among poultry, is not easily passed to humans, and cannot be passed from human to human.

Mutation fear

Scientists fear that a strain of bird flu, possibly H5N1, could eventually mutate and cross the “species barrier”.

It could then gain the ability to pass easily from person to person and perhaps lead to a dangerous global pandemic, they fear.

Once it does manage to infect a human, H5N1 is usually a killer.

In Indonesia, one of the worst-affected countries, 102 people, mostly those in close contact with infected poultry, have fallen ill, with four out of five dying.

One of the problems is that the early symptoms, such as cough and fever, are shared by other, common infections, delaying diagnosis.

Research published in The Lancet medical journal suggested that development of better diagnostic methods, and better ways of looking after patients could improve their chances.

If identified within a few days, H5N1 can be treated using anti-viral drugs and the chances of survival increase significantly.

UK experts have called for a national surveillance programme to detect H5N1 cases in Indonesians.

Saliva test

However, Dr Alan McNally, from Nottingham Trent University, believes his technology could make a difference.

All that is needed is a swab of saliva from a patient’s mouth, and it can detect molecules specific to H5N1 or other bird flu strains.

Dr McNally said: “There’s a large train of thought that one of the best ways of dealing with avian influenza is by detection and containment.

“The ability to detect and type the influenza virus immediately is essential in setting up controls as quickly as possible to minimize the spread of any potential pandemic virus.”

The £2.3m project, which hopes to come up with a version of the machine that can fit within a briefcase, is being funded by the European Union.

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