Friday, August 28, 2009

Terror hits home: Saudi prince wounded by suicide bomber vows to fight Al-Qaida

Saudi Arabia is in some ways the ideological birthplace of  Al-Qaeda and Saudi princes financed many of the madrassahs where Al-Qaeda terrorists developed. Note the quote:
"However, this will only increase my determination" to fight terrorism in the kingdom, he said.
Not militantism or militants, but terrorism.
Hours after being lightly wounded by a suicide bomber, a senior Saudi prince largely credited with the kingdom's aggressive anti-terrorism efforts said Friday he was more determined than ever to fight militants in the country.
The bombing was the first assassination attempt against a member of the royal family in decades and was also the first significant attack by militants in the kingdom since 2006. Saudi Arabia has waged a fierce crackdown on Al-Qaida militants in the country that succeeded in killing or capturing most of its leaders after a string of attacks that started in 2003.
Since the crackdown, Al-Qaida's branch in the kingdom has largely moved its operations to neighboring Yemen, where instability and poverty have enabled it to take root. Saudi officials have repeatedly expressed concerns that turmoil in Yemen, where the government lacks control of large areas outside the capital, could allow Al-Qaida to carry out cross-border attacks in its territory.
The suicide bomber who targeted the assistant interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, late Thursday night blew himself up while waiting in line to enter a gathering of well-wishers for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the official's home in Jiddah, said Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki.
Prince Mohammed, who is the son of Interior Minister Prince Nayef, told King Abdullah when the ruler visited him in the hospital Friday shortly after the assassination attempt that the attacker was a wanted militant who had indicated he was going to turn himself in.
"I did not want him to be searched, but he surprised me by blowing himself up," said Prince Mohammed, who was shown on state television with a bandage around two of his fingers on his left hand.
"However, this will only increase my determination" to fight terrorism in the kingdom, he said.
Al-Turki said authorities were still investigating exactly how the attacker detonated his explosives while waiting to enter Prince Mohammed's home. It is customary for senior members of the royal family to hold regular open gatherings during Ramadan where citizens air grievances, seek settlement of financial or other disputes or offer congratulations.
No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Al-Qaida is believed to have been behind almost all attacks in the kingdom since 2003. The country is the birthplace of Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and was home to 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers.
The Interior Ministry has spearheaded the kingdom's aggressive campaign against terrorism. On Aug. 19, authorities announced the arrest of 44 suspected militants with Al-Qaida links in a yearlong sweep that also uncovered dozens of machine guns and electronic circuits for bombs.
Last month, Saudi officials said a criminal court had convicted and sentenced 330 Al-Qaida militants to jail terms, fines and travel bans in the country's first known trials for suspected members of the terror group.
The 330 are believed to be among the 991 suspected militants that the interior minister has said have been charged with participating in terrorist attacks over the past five years.
But Saudi officials have recently expressed concern that Al-Qaida could capitalize on the increasingly tense situation in Yemen, where the government is battling Shiite rebels in areas close to the Saudi border, to smuggle fighters into the country.
Al-Qaida militants, including fighters returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, have established sanctuaries in Yemen, particularly in three provinces bordering Saudi Arabia known as the "triangle of evil" because of the heavy militant presence.
In January, militants announced the creation of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a merger between the terror network's Yemeni and Saudi branches, led by Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, a Yemeni who was once a close aide to bin Laden

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Iranian Show Trials - Reported by the BBC

Only fools are surprised and disappoined by the barbaric behavior of the Iranian regime. I remember in 1979, listening to the BBC excoriate the Shah and rant about the CIA and the colonialists that had support the Shah regime, totally oblivious to the monstrous nature of the regime that was replacing the Shah. At last, the world is waking up to the true nature of the Iranian regime. But it is not a new turn in the policy of the regime. It is just the true fact of what was always there.
By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst
It was, as it was surely intended to be, a grim spectacle.
Iranian state television showed the defendants - sitting in rows in a courtroom in Tehran, dressed in pyjama-like prison uniforms - as they confessed to taking part in a plot to undermine the Islamic Republic.
They included some of the country's most prominent reformist intellectuals. Many looked tired and nervous in front of the cameras.
It was the latest of Iran's mass trials. In all, more than 100 people stand accused of provoking unrest after the disputed presidential elections in June.
'Maximum punishment'
One of the best known of those in the dock, Saeed Hajjarian, is so severely disabled his "confession" had to be read by another defendant.
"I committed big errors through my inaccurate analyses of the recent elections," the statement read, "and I apologise to the Iranian nation."
A former intelligence official, Mr Hajjarian survived an assassination attempt in 2000, when a gunman shot him in the head at point-blank range.
Since then, he has become an outspoken critic of the regime and one of the main ideologues of the reform movement.
According to the official Iranian news agency, he is charged with "acting against national security… spreading suspicion of vote-rigging… and provoking illegal protests".
One of the prosecutors has demanded that he receive the maximum punishment, which in such cases could mean a death sentence.
The former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami - himself a leading figure within the reform movement - has condemned the confessions heard in court as invalid.
He is far from alone in his reaction.
Many Iranians - as well as lawyers and human-rights activists abroad - believe these are Soviet-style show trials.
Crushing the reformists
The regime is sending a clear message.
On trial are not merely prominent individuals but the reform movement itself.
Prosecutors have called for two of the main reformist parties - the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Islamic Revolution Mujahidin Organisation - to be outlawed.
Both flourished during the Khatami presidency (1997-2005) when, for a while, it seemed the reformist trend was unstoppable.
If these two parties are shut down, that will send an unmistakable message to the newest incarnation of reform in Iran - the Green movement that emerged to protest at the 12 June elections.
The movement, which has former President Khatami's support, is led by Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main opposition candidate in the elections.
Arresting and putting on trial Mr Khatami and Mr Mousavi - as some hard-liners are demanding - would be a far riskier strategy than anything the regime has done so far.
But it is signalling that if the Green movement persists with its protests, it too will be crushed.

Iran MPs to probe 'mass burials'

What is there to probe? No mystery here.  
Iran MPs to probe 'mass burials'

A member of a parliamentary committee reportedly says it is investigating claims of a mass burial of protesters after Iran's disputed June election.
Last week, a reformist website said "tens" of people had been interred in anonymous graves at a Tehran cemetery.
"Parliament is investigating a rumour about a mass burial of post-vote detainees," Hamidreza Katouzian told the official Irna news agency.
At least 30 people died in clashes with security forces after the election.
The largest mass opposition demonstrations in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution were sparked by allegations of widespread fraud in the presidential election, which saw the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared the winner by a landslide.
Earlier this month, one of the defeated opposition candidates, Mehdi Karroubi, called for an investigation into allegations that protesters had been raped in prison, and some even beaten to death. Officials have strenuously denied both accusations.
'Pictures and videos'
In a report published last week, Norooz - the news website of the opposition Islamic Iran Participation Front - said that "tens of unnamed and unknown people" had been buried in the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in Tehran last month.
It said 28 burial permissions had been issued without names about a month after the election, in July, for section 302 of the cemetery, followed by another 16 three days later.
Mr Katouzian initially reacted to the allegation on Sunday by saying: "If anyone has any evidence, they can submit it to the Majlis [parliament]."
"There are a lot of rumours these days. Everyone can set up a website and post such reports on their websites," he said. "We cannot start an investigation based on rumours and speculation."
But on Tuesday, the Tehran MP said his parliamentary committee was now looking into the alleged mass burials and had contacted "relevant officials", who would provide a thorough report on the issue.
"We cannot confirm or deny the case at the current time and if it is needed we will visit Behesht-e Zahra," Irna quoted him as saying.
On Monday, the cemetery's manager reportedly said talk of a mass burial was "rumours".
Mahmoud Rezaiyan told AFP news agency: "In recent days we have not received any unidentified body and we were not forced to issue burial permits either. The report that there are mass graves is not true."
Norooz insists its report is correct and promised on Sunday to release "pictures and videos" of the anonymous graves within days.
The website also said the "people of Tehran can go and visit the graves, which are in the newer parts of the cemetery"

Iran gathers support for bid to ban strikes on nuclear sites

Alas for Iran, General Assembly resolutions are not binding in international law.  
Last update - 17:49 26/08/2009    
Iran gets 118 states to back ban on striking nuclear sites
By The Associated Press
Iran has enlisted the support of more than 100 nonaligned nations in its push for a ban on attacks against nuclear facilities, according to documents shared with The Associated Press.
The 118-nation Nonaligned Movement backs Tehran in a letter submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency endorsing Iran's plan to submit a resolution on the topic when IAEA nations meet next month.
While Iran says the language of any resolution will be kept general, the move is clearly directed against Israel and to a lesser extent the United States.

Both nations - Israel more overtly - have not ruled out a military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities as a last resort if the international community fails to persuade Tehran to freeze its nuclear activities.
Iran has defied three sets of UN Security Council sanctions aimed at pressuring it to mothball its uranium enrichment. It also is resisting an IAEA probe into reports it had drafted plans and conducted experiments for a nuclear weapons program.
Tehran insists its enrichment program is geared only toward generating fuel to produce nuclear energy, not nuclear arms.
The IAEA's 150-nation general conference convenes Sept. 14. The annual conference regularly pits Israel backed by the U.S. and its other Western nations, against Islamic states and other nonaligned countries seeking to censure Israel and its nuclear secrecy.
Israel is believed to possess nuclear arms but refuses to confirm or deny its status. Again this year, its rivals are pushing for conference resolutions demanding that Israel open up its facilities to IAEA perusal.
The Iranian proposal was revealed to the AP last week. That and the nonaligned support, outlined in a letter shared with the AP on Wednesday, aims to give Islamic nations additional leverage at the conference.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

US source: In five years, absent US help, "Iraq will be a colony of Iran."

We are witnessing the Vietnamization of Iraq. America got tired of the war, and the Iraqis are abandoned to their fate.
By David Ignatius

Tuesday, August 25, 2009
As security deteriorates in Baghdad, there's a new cause for worry: The head of the U.S.-trained Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) has quit in a long-running quarrel with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- depriving that country of a key leader in the fight against sectarian terrorism.
Gen. Mohammed Shahwani, the head of Iraqi intelligence since 2004, resigned this month because of what he viewed as Maliki's attempts to undermine his service and allow Iranian spies to operate freely. The CIA, which has worked closely with Shahwani since he went into exile in the 1990s and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars training the INIS, was apparently caught by surprise by his departure.
The chaotic conditions in Iraq that triggered Shahwani's resignation are illustrated by several recent events -- each of which suggests that without the backstop of U.S. support, Iraqi authorities are now desperately vulnerable to pressure, especially from neighboring Iran.
An early warning was the brazen July 28 robbery of the state-run Rafidain Bank in central Baghdad, apparently by members of an Iraqi security force. Gunmen broke into the bank and stole about 5.6 billion Iraqi dinars, or roughly $5 million. After a battle that left eight dead, the robbers fled to a newspaper run by Adel Abdul Mahdi, one of the country's vice presidents.
Abdul Mahdi, once an American favorite, has admitted that one of the robbers was a member of his security detail but denied personal involvement, according to Iraqi news reports. Some of the money has been recovered, but the rest is believed to be in Iran, along with some members of the robbery team.
A second concern for Shahwani has been threats against his service's roughly 6,000 members. Maliki's government has issued arrest warrants against 180 Iraqi intelligence officers for alleged crimes that, according to Shahwani's camp, are really political reprisals for doing their jobs. Since the INIS was formally created in 2004, 290 of its officers have been killed, many targeted by Iranian intelligence operatives.
With Shahwani's resignation, the intelligence service is commanded by Gen. Zuheir Fadel, a former pilot in Saddam Hussein's air force. But some of Fadel's key officers are said to be fleeing for safety in Jordan, Egypt and Syria -- fearing that they will be targets of Iranian hit teams if they remain in Iraq.
The breakdown of order in Iraq was most dramatic in the truck bombings on Aug. 19 that targeted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies, and left more than 100 dead and 500 wounded. Here, again, there is evidence that government security forces may have aided the terrorists.
"I don't rule out that there was collaboration by the security forces," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said after the bombings. "We have to face the truth. There has been an obvious deterioration in the security situation in the past two months."
Who's to blame for the carnage? In today's Iraq, that's open to sectarian conspiracy theories. Maliki's Shiite-led government last weekend broadcast the alleged confession of a Sunni Baathist named Wisam Ali Khazim Ibrahim, who said the truck-bombing plot had been hatched in Syria and that he had paid security guards $10,000 to pass through checkpoints.
But forensic evidence points to a possible Iranian role, according to an Iraqi intelligence source who is close to Shahwani. He said that signatures of the C-4 explosive residues that have been found at the bomb sites are similar to those of Iranian-made explosives that have been captured in Kut, Nasiriyah, Basra and other Iraqi cities since 2006.
Iran's links with Maliki are so close, said this Iraqi intelligence source, that the prime minister uses an Iranian jet with an Iranian crew for his official travel. The Iranians are said to have sent Maliki an offer to help his Dawa Party win at least 49 seats in January's parliamentary elections if Maliki will make changes in his government that Iran wants.
As security unravels in Iraq, U.S. forces there are mostly bystanders. Even in the areas where al-Qaeda operatives remain potent, such as Mosul, the Americans have little control. Sunni terrorists who are arrested are quickly released by the Iraqis in exchange for bribes of up to $100,000, according to an Iraqi source.
Should the Americans try to restore order? The top Iraqi intelligence source answered sadly that it was probably wiser to "stay out of it and be safe." When pressed about what his country would look like in five years, absent American help, he answered bluntly: "Iraq will be a colony of Iran."

Israeli-Palestinian peace - there must be a plan B, no?

Israeli Palestinian peace is a wonderful idea. We are already to take risks for peace. Actually, the process is practically risk free, since it ended in disaster on all previous occassions. If the outcome is guaranteed there is no risk, right? What happens if Israel gives up territories, uproots settlers, and in the end gets only more suicide bombers, rockets and mortars? Will the United States, or anyone, be there for us, or will we once again on our own and without recourse, blamed for the violent outcome, as happened after the disengagement?

Lebanese border villagers repel Hezbollah men

Lebanese villagers kicked out the Hezbollah, but not too much significance should be read into this perhaps, as the village is close to the border, and villagers may have understood that Israel could monitor their movements. Still, a good sign, but not a substitute for disarming Hezbollah in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions, which Lebanon continues to violate.

Lebanese villagers repel Hizbullah men

Aug. 25, 2009 Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST

In what may be an indication of Hizbullah's waning influence over the residents of southern Lebanon, the security establishment released on Tuesday documented proof of Hizbullah operatives being forcibly prevented from entering a village near the Israeli border.

The grainy video showed residents of Kfar Manisim, which is only a kilometer from Israel, standing in front of a Hizbullah jeep and arguing with its occupants. The operatives, who had apparently tried to station arms in the houses of the villagers, resisted, and both sides began firing warning shots into the air. The incident eventually ended when the Hizbullah men turned around and drove away.

Following the confrontation, Lebanese army troops arrived at the village to ensure that order was maintained.

Israel has long maintained that Hizbullah has made a concerted effort to not only re-establish its presence in southern Lebanon, but also has consistently hidden weapons and fighters within the Lebanese civilian population. While the former charge would be a violation of UN Resolution 1701, the latter would be a violation of international law.

In July, a Hizbullah arms cache in southern Lebanon exploded, leading Israel to accuse the group of breaking the ceasefire agreement by stockpiling smuggled weapons in the southern part of the country. Hizbullah denied that the weapons were smuggled, saying that they had been stored prior to the Second Lebanon War.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Iran - to cooperate or not?

Is Iran really cooperating with UN on its nuclear program  is a question that can only be answered at the end of the day, after the fact. A country can always be hiding a part of its nuclear program, and inspectors can only know what they are shown or what they are allowed to see. A "renovated" shrine can house a subterranean nuclear complex for example, or it can be hidden in the mountains. IAEA discovered neither the Iranian centrifuges nor the Arak reactor. Thus far there have been no requests to question personnel associated with the nuclear program, and some of the explanations, for example regarding blueprints for a nuclear warhead (also not discovered by IAEA) were less than satisfactory.
Here's the story for now, as presented by Reuters:
Iran will continue to cooperate with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday, appearing to confirm Tehran had let inspectors access a reactor under construction after blocking visits for a year.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is due to release a report on Iran's disputed nuclear programme this week. Last week diplomats accredited to the Vienna-based agency said Iran had allowed the IAEA to inspect the Arak heavy water reactor site.
The UN agency had urged Iran to grant access so it can verify that the site under construction is for peaceful uses only. The diplomats also said Iran had recently allowed an upgrade to monitoring at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.
The moves were greeted with skepticism by the West, which suspects Iran is seeking to build nuclear bombs. Tehran says its nuclear work is to generate electricity. Uranium enrichment can have both civilian and military uses.
Asked about the reported Arak visit and whether there had been a change or improvement in Iran's relations with the IAEA, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told reporters:
"All our nuclear activities have been within the framework of the agency and the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) ... (IAEA Director General Mohamed) ElBaradei has always confirmed Iran's cooperation with the agency.
"This trend will be continued in the future. What has been mentioned recently was in the same framework," he added, appearing to refer to the reported Arak visit.
The United States, Britain, France and Germany are expected to urge Russia and China in talks on Sept. 2 to consider a fourth round of U.N. sanctions on Iran and the latest IAEA report will help form the basis for the discussions.
In Washington on Friday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Iran's latest moves at the IAEA fell short of what was required and that Iran must live up to its international obligations. Several diplomats from the six world powers said they were sceptical about Iran's latest move.
To avoid further sanctions, Tehran must stop enrichment, come clean about its past nuclear activities and sit down at the negotiating table, the diplomats said. Iran has repeatedly ruled out halting or freezing its nuclear program.
Western hopes that Iran would negotiate a cap on its nuclear work faded when it quelled unrest over alleged fraud in a June election which returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.
But the new head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi is seen by analysts as a mild-mannered politician in favour of resolving the nuclear row through talks.
Qashqavi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the West should revise its approach towards Iran and "try to resort to interaction instead of sanctions". He said such punitive measures could not stop Iran's nuclear activities.