News & Current Affairs

September 18, 2008

Yemen faces new Jihad generation

Yemen faces new Jihad generation

Aftermath of attack on US embassy

New recruits actively target the Yemeni regime and its supporters like the US

The deadly car bombing outside the US embassy in Yemen represents an escalation in attacks against Western targets and shows al Qaeda-inspired jihadis are growing in ability and determination.

Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 16 people, but it is possible that other groups will come forward in the next few days.

There is a complex network of over-lapping splinter cells and claims of rival leadership within Yemen.

Extremist violence in Yemen has been on the rise since February 2006, when 23 prominent militants tunneled their way out of a high-security jail.

Ten Europeans and four Yemenis have died in attacks on tourist convoys in the past 15 months.

In March, a misfired mortar strike hit a girls’ school next door to the US embassy by mistake.

A subsequent bombing campaign in the capital – against an expatriate residential compound and oil company offices – prompted the US state department to evacuate all non-essential embassy staff from Yemen.

US employees had just started to return to their embassy desks at the end of August – so the timing of the latest attack is significant.

Crackdown

During July, Yemeni security forces killed five al-Qaeda suspects, disrupted a second cell and arrested more than 30 suspected al-Qaeda members.

Map of Yemen

In August, a prominent Islamic Jihad figure was arrested.

But this attack shows that effective leadership remains intact and operational capacity has not been disrupted.

Two Saudi passports were found among documents seized in the July raids and interrogations were said to have uncovered plans to launch attacks in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Yemen subsequently extradited eight Saudi nationals to Riyadh.

The raids underlined the importance to Saudi Arabia of Yemen’s internal security. But Yemen is also paying the price for the northern kingdom’s muscular clampdown on its own insurgents.

In March, a Saudi militant fundraiser said al-Qaeda had been defeated in Saudi Arabia and he called on his remaining associates to flee to Yemen to escape capture or assassination by the Saudi authorities.

The current migration of Saudi jihadis to Yemen coincides with the emergence of a transnational structure calling itself al-Qaeda in the South of the Arabian Peninsula.

Yemen’s mountainous terrain and the weak presence of state structures outside Sanaa have long fostered close ties between jihadis in these neighboring states.

Public education

Cash-strapped Yemen lacks the financial resources to tackle terrorism in the same robust manner as the Saudis; its per capita gross domestic product of $2,300 is dwarfed by the $23,200 seen across the northern border.

The government is moving to a policy of direct confrontation with the younger generation
Analyst Ahmed Saif

In recent years, the Yemeni government has pioneered a dialogue programme and poetry recitals to influence violent jihadis and tribesmen.

The most recent initiative is a two-hour feature film intended to educate the public about Islamic extremism.

The film, called The Losing Bet, follows two Yemeni jihadis who return home after being radicalized abroad.

They are directed by an al-Qaeda mastermind to recruit new members and carry out a “martyrdom operation”.

News footage from the aftermath of a real suicide bombing is edited into scenes of this creative new drama – written and produced by a popular Yemeni director.

The film was launched in August, at a five-star hotel that has previously been an intended target of foiled terrorist plots.

It comes as the government faces a new generation of violent Islamists who are blowing the old, inclusive consensus apart.

The young generation appears to be immune to the standard tactic of negotiation and compromise that President Ali Abdullah Saleh used with the Yemeni mujahideen who returned home at the end of Afghanistan’s war against the Soviet Union.

The Afghan veterans supported the northern tribes against the former socialist South Yemen during the 1994 civil war in return for a reputed “covenant of security” deal – where the government guaranteed protection inside Yemen as long as violence occurred outside the boundaries of the state.

But new recruits are actively targeting President Saleh’s regime, citing as provocation the torture and humiliation of captive al-Qaeda members.

In July, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a police station in Hadramaut. In a subsequent statement, a splinter cell pledged to continue attacks against security and intelligence structures.

Such an explicit declaration means there is no longer scope for dialogue, according to Ahmed Saif, director of the Sheba Centre for Security Studies.

“The government is moving to a policy of direct confrontation with the younger generation,” he says.

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September 10, 2008

DR Congo frees goats from prison

DR Congo frees goats from prison

Goats (file image)

It is not known what the goats’ punishment might have been

A minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo has ordered a Kinshasa jail to release a dozen goats, which he said were being held there illegally.

Deputy Justice Minister Claude Nyamugabo said he found the goats just in time during a routine jail visit.

The beasts were due to appear in court, charged with being sold illegally by the roadside.

The minister said many police had serious gaps in their knowledge and they would be sent for retraining.

Mr Nyamugabo was conducting a routine visit to the prison when, he said, he was astonished to discover not only humans, but a herd of goats crammed into a prison cell in the capital.

He has blamed the police for the incident.

It is not clear what will happen to the owners of the goats, who have also been imprisoned.

BBC Africa analyst Mary Harper says that given the grim state of prisons in Congo, the goats will doubtless be relieved about being spared a trial.

There was no word on what their punishment would have been, had they been found guilty.

September 8, 2008

Upper Egypt prison shaken by riot

Upper Egypt prison shaken by riot

map

A prisoner has died and more than 20 people, mostly inmates, have been injured during unrest at a jail in the Upper Egyptian city of Assiut.

Officials said the clashes followed rumors about an inmate’s death. Some prisoners rioted and took officers hostage and seized guns.

The violence continued for several hours. Police used tear gas and live bullets to regain control of the jail.

Earlier unconfirmed reports had said unknown gunmen had attacked the prison.

Four warders and at least 20 prisoners were said to have been injured in the clashes.

An Interior Ministry statement quoted by the Reuters news agency said the riot occurred when fighting broke out between four prisoners who attacked each other with cutlery.

Police intervened and punished the inmates with 48 hours in solitary confinement, the statement said.

Inmate Ali Abdel Salam died during his solitary confinement, after which “a rumor spread among the prisoners he had died because an officer assaulted him”, the statement said.

Conflicting reports

However, there is some confusion about the identity of the dead inmate. Another report named him as Hani Ghandour, who was serving a seven-year sentence for assault.

Another report said Ghandour was killed during armed clashes after a group of 15 gunmen had stormed the building in an attempt to free prisoners.

There is no explanation for the discrepancies in the dead man’s name or the reason which lay behind the violence.

Assiut – about 250 miles (400km) south of Cairo – is the largest city in Upper Egypt, with a population of about 400,000 people. Its jail is reported to hold about 3,000 prisoners.

Correspondents say conditions in Egyptian prisons are often dire and overcrowded, and security personnel have been accused of abusing inmates.

September 1, 2008

Gustav changes Republican plans

Gustav changes Republican plans

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has suspended most events planned for day one of his party’s convention because of Hurricane Gustav.

The convention, due to begin on Monday in Minneapolis, was scaled down as the fierce storm approached New Orleans.

Gustav, now a Category Three storm, is due to make landfall on Monday.

Residents of New Orleans have been told to leave the city. The mayor has imposed an overnight curfew and warned looters they will be sent to jail.

Speaking in Mississippi, Mr McCain said it was important to tone down the traditional pomp and flair of convention week.

Predicted route of Hurricane Gustav (31 August 2008)

“Of course this is a time when we have to do away with most of our party politics,” Mr McCain told reporters.

President George W Bush and VP Dick Cheney have scrapped plans to address the convention on Monday. Mr Bush said he would instead go to Texas to monitor relief efforts.

Mr McCain’s campaign chartered a jet to fly worried delegates back to their home states threatened by the hurricane, which is set to hit the Louisiana coast on Monday.

‘Hope and pray’

After returning from a tour of relief preparations in Mississippi, he said convention delegates needed to “take off our Republican hats, and put on our American hats and we say America, we’re with you”.

The Republicans are keen to avoid the kind of political damage incurred by the Bush administration’s clumsy response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

Justin Webb
Plainly the backdrop of images of destruction reminding Americans of Katrina will be horrible for the Republicans
BBC North America editor Justin Webb

Republicans clearly cannot afford to be seen hosting glamorous political events, while the people of New Orleans are once again fleeing their city, he says.

“I hope and pray we will be able to resume some of our normal operations as quickly as possible,” McCain told reporters via a video link from St Louis.

“I have every expectation that we will not see the mistakes of Katrina repeated,” he added.

Mr McCain’s convention manager Rick Davis said the convention would open for just over two hours on Monday, solely to go through procedures necessary under law to begin the process of nominating a president and vice-president.

National Guard troops on the streets of New Orleans

The streets of New Orleans were empty as a curfew loomed

The formal business of the convention includes, on Wednesday, the formal nomination of the Arizona senator for president and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Mr McCain’s acceptance speech, set for prime time on Thursday evening, is deemed to be among the most important events of the campaign for his chances of winning the White House in November.

Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Barack Obama said he would open up his vast donor list to channel money or volunteers to help recovery efforts, in response to Gustav.

“We can activate an e-mail list of a couple [of] million people who want to give back,” Mr Obama told reporters after attending church in Lima, Ohio.

Exodus

New Orleans residents have been fleeing in their thousands after Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a full evacuation of the city.

FLASHBACK TO KATRINA
Hurricane Katrina evacuees
Katrina struck US Gulf Coast in August 2005 as a category three storm, killing more than 1,800 people
New Orleans was 80% flooded after storm surge breached protective levees
US Government was blamed for slow, botched response that exacerbated disaster
Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced

Roads out of the Louisiana port – much of which lies below sea level and is protected from flooding only by a fragile system of levees – have been crammed with traffic.

Mr Nagin said that the first storm winds could hit New Orleans as early as daybreak on Monday and the hurricane could reach Category Four strength.

America’s homeland security chief, Michael Chertoff, said the main evacuation was going well but he warned that people hoping to ride out the storm would be “exceptionally foolish”.

The evacuation comes almost exactly three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

In 2005, three-quarters of the city was flooded after a storm surge breached its protective levees. More than 1,800 people died in coastal areas.

Gustav has already claimed the lives of more than 80 people in the Caribbean, causing widespread damage in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica over the past week.

At least 300,000 people were evacuated in Cuba as the storm brought extensive flooding and some severe damage, but no reports of deaths.


Have you been affected by Gustav? Are you preparing for its arrival? Send us your comments and experiences

August 28, 2008

Hacker loses extradition appeal

Hacker loses extradition appeal

Gary McKinnon

Gary McKinnon could face a long prison sentence

A Briton accused of hacking into secret military computers has lost his appeal against extradition to the US.

Glasgow-born Gary McKinnon was said to be “distraught” after losing the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. He faces extradition within two weeks.

The unemployed man could face life in jail if convicted of accessing 97 US military and Nasa computers.

The 42-year-old admitted breaking into the computers from his London home but said he sought information on UFOs.

Mr McKinnon asked the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to delay his extradition pending a full appeal to the court against his extradition but his application was refused.

He claimed the extradition would breach his human rights.

‘Absolutely devastated’

His solicitor Karen Todner said this had been her client’s “last chance” and appealed to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to intervene.

Our client now faces the prospect of prosecution and imprisonment thousands of miles away from his family in a country in which he has never set foot
Solicitor Karen Todner

“He is absolutely devastated by the decision,” she said. “He and his family are distraught.

“They are completely beside themselves. He is terrified by the prospect of going to America.”

She added Mr McKinnon had recently been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and would ask for the case to be tried in this country.

“The offences for which our client’s extradition is sought were committed on British soil and we maintain that any prosecution ought to be carried out by the appropriate British authorities,” she added.

“Our client now faces the prospect of prosecution and imprisonment thousands of miles away from his family in a country in which he has never set foot.”

Mr McKinnon, from Wood Green, north London, was arrested in 2002 but never charged in the UK.

He first lost his case at the High Court in 2006 before taking it to the highest court in the UK, the House of Lords.

Computer nerd

The US government claims he committed a malicious crime – the biggest military computer hack ever.

The authorities have warned that without his co-operation and a guilty plea the case could be treated as terrorism and he could face a long jail sentence.

The former systems analyst is accused of hacking into the computers with the intention of intimidating the US government.

It alleges that between February 2001 and March 2002, he hacked into dozens of US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Department of Defense computers, as well as 16 Nasa computers.

Prosecutors say he altered and deleted files at a naval air station not long after the 11 September attacks in 2001, rendering critical systems inoperable.

However, Mr McKinnon has said his motives were harmless and innocent. He denies any attempts at sabotage.

He said he wanted to find evidence of UFOs he thought was being held by the US authorities, and to expose what he believed was a cover-up.

August 19, 2008

Gary Glitter leaves Vietnam jail

Gary Glitter leaves Vietnam jail

Gary Glitter March 2006

Gary Glitter has reportedly said he wants to return to the UK

Disgraced ex-pop star Gary Glitter has been released from a prison in Vietnam, the authorities there say.

He had served most of a three-year sentence for abusing girls.

Glitter, 64, real name Paul Francis Gadd, is due to be deported after being jailed in March 2006 for molesting two girls aged 11 and 12.

Le Thanh Kinh, his lawyer, had said the authorities intended to deport him to the UK, but that he could use his British passport to travel anywhere.

He said that Glitter was released at about 1130 local time (0530 BST).

Tran Huu Thong, director of the Z30D Thu Duc prison in southern Binh Thuan province, told the AFP news agency: “He left our prison early this morning and he is now already far from here.”

And he told AP that guards were in the process of transporting Glitter to the Ho Chi Minh City airport, about three to four hours away from the prison in Binh Thuan province.

The former star had been expected to be driven under police escort to Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City.

He was thought to have a ticket to London – but there are no direct flights to the UK, which allows him the option of buying another ticket when he changes planes.

His lawyer said: “He has served his sentence and the authorities in Vietnam will deport him. He does not have any sentence to serve in London. If he wants to stop wherever he wants to he can do that.

If he wants to stop wherever he wants to he can do that
Le Thanh Kinh
Lawyer

“If he wants to he can change flights.”

He added: “The only problem is the countries he wants to go to, because he has to get a visa.”

However, the lawyer said his client told him he wanted to return to the UK, had a ticket to London and was eagerly anticipating his release.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it was “a matter for Mr Gadd and the Vietnamese authorities” where Glitter went after he was deported.

If he does fly back to the UK, the disgraced star will be met at the airport by police and required to sign the register of sex offenders.

He will then be subject to monitoring and will have to tell the police where he plans to live and if he plans to go abroad.

And he could also face an order prohibiting him from going near children or using the internet.

August 15, 2008

US jail guards in Iraq abuse case

US jail guards in Iraq abuse case

Camp Bucca

Camp Bucca in southern Iraq holds 18,000 prisoners

Six US sailors working as prison camp guards in Iraq face courts martial for abusing detainees, the US Navy said.

Eight detainees were allegedly sealed in a pepper spray-filled cell at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.

And it is claimed that two detainees were beaten, although suffered no broken bones, the US Navy said.

The assaults occurred on 14 May after some guards had been spat at and had human waste thrown at them by detainees, a naval spokeswoman said.

“Two detainees suffered minor abrasions as a result of the alleged assaults, eight others were confined overnight in a detainee housing unit which was sprayed with riot control agent and then the ventilation secured,” the US Navy said in a statement.

The six sailors are charged with assault and will face courts martial at Camp Bucca within the next 30 days, Navy 5th Fleet spokeswoman Cmdr Jane Campbell said.

Camp Bucca
Largest US-run prison camp in Iraq
18,000 detainees
Average length of stay: 330 days
80 detainees held since 2003

Seven other sailors received non-judicial punishments for failing to report the abuse at the sprawling desert camp, she said.

Two had their charges dismissed and others were given reductions in rank, with some also docked pay or confined to base for 45 days.

The latest abuse claims come after the US military said it had carried out reforms to its prison system.

In 2004 there was an international outcry after the release of pictures showing US soldiers humiliating detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad.

Abu Ghraib jail has since been closed and 11 US soldiers were convicted of breaking military laws.

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