Friday, December 31, 2010

Al Qaeda, Taliban create female suicide cells in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Qari Zia Rahman and a map of northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. Map from the Asia Times; click to view.
The Taliban and al Qaeda have established female suicide bombing cells in remote areas of northwestern Pakistan and northeastern Afghanistan. The female suicide bombers have struck in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The existence of the cells, which appeared evident after female suicide bombers attacked twice over the past five months in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was confirmed by a 12-year-old Pakistani girl named Meena Gul.
Gul, who said she was trained to be a "human bomb," was detained by Pakistani police in the Munda area in Pakistan's northwestern district of Dir, according to the Times of India.
"Gul said that women suicide bombers were trained for their deadly task in small cells on both sides of the porous border and were dispatched to their missions with a sermon, 'God will reward you with a place in heaven.'"
Gul said her cell was led by Zainab, her sister-in-law, who dressed as a man and fought alongside the Taliban against Pakistani troops.
Prior to the two attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan this year, there have been no recorded instances of female suicide bombers carrying out attacks in either country.
A female suicide bomber struck for the first time in Afghanistan in Kunar province on June 21, 2010. Two US soldiers were killed and two Afghan children were wounded in the attack. Gul claimed her younger sister carried out that attack.
The next female suicide attack took place on Dec. 24, 2010, in Pakistan's tribal agency of Bajaur. The suicide bomber killed 42 Pakistani civilians in an attack at a World Food Program ration distribution point.
The Taliban and al Qaeda cells are under the command of Qari Zia Rahman, the dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda commander who operates on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border. Qari Zia claimed credit for the June 2010 suicide attack in Kunar.
Qari Zia is the Taliban's top regional commander as well as a member of al Qaeda. He operates in Kunar and in neighboring Nuristan province in Afghanistan, and he also operates across the border in Pakistan's tribal agency of Bajaur. Earlier this year, the Pakistani government claimed they killed Qari Zia in an airstrike, but he later spoke to the media and mocked Pakistan's interior minister for wrongly reporting his death.
Qari Zia is closely allied with Faqir Mohammed, the Taliban's leader in Bajaur, as well as with Osama bin Laden. Qari Zia's fighters are from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and various Arab nations. He commands a brigade in al Qaeda's paramilitary Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.
Background on the hunt for Qari Zia Rahman and al Qaeda in Kunar
The US has targeted Qari Zia in multiple raids in Kunar over the summer and fall of 2010, but has failed to kill or capture him. In late July and early August, ISAF announced that it was hunting Qari Zia Rahman. The US has targeted Qari Zai in three raids over the past summer. On June 29, the US launched a battalion-sized operation in Kunar's Marawara district, which directly borders Pakistan. More than 150 Taliban fighters were reported killed in the operation. On July 20, US and Afghan forces launched another battalion-sized operation in Marawara to flush out Qari Zia. And on Aug. 2, combined forces conducted a raid, again in Marawara, that targeted the al Qaeda leader.
The top al Qaeda commander in Kunar province is Abu Ikhlas al Masri, an Egyptian who has spent years in Afghanistan and has intermarried with the local tribes. Abu Ikhlas is al Qaeda's operations chief for Kunar province, having assumed command after Abu Ubaidah al Masri was promoted to take over al Qaeda's external operations branch (Abu Ubaidah died in early 2008 of a disease).
The US military has killed three senior al Qaeda leaders in Kunar this fall. On Sept. 25, a US airstrike killed a senior al Qaeda leader named Abdallah Umar al Qurayshi and an "explosives expert" named Abu Atta al Kuwaiti, along with "several Arabic foreign fighters." Sa'ad Mohammad al Shahri, a longtime jihadist and the son of a retired Saudi colonel, is also thought to have been killed in the same strike.
Kunar province is a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and allied terror groups. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the districts of Pech, Shaikal Shate, Sarkani, Dangam, Asmar, Asadabad, Shigal, and Marawana; or eight of Kunar's 15 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.

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Qesem Cave has revealed a wealth of archaelogical info, including evidence to support the hypothesis that humans evolved in Israel.  (Source: Mary Stiner)

Tel Aviv Professor Avi Gopher holds one of the excavated human teeth, that may be the oldest human remains found to date.  (Source: Oded Balilty/AP Photo)

A variety of early human teeth were found in the cave.  (Source: University of Tel Aviv)
Remains were dated back to 400,000 years ago -- the early human remains found
An active area of debate in the paleontological and archaeological communities is the question of where mankind evolved.  Scientists generally believe that humans diverged from Neanderthals around 500,000 years ago -- but the question of where they involved has provoked much controversy.  The prevailing sentiment has been that while primates may have evolved in Asia or elsewhere, the human species evolved in Africa.  This notion has been supported by the fact that all the recent major hominid discoveries [1] [2] [3] came from African excavations.  

But a new discovery by archaeologists from Israel's Tel Aviv University (TAU) argues that humans may have evolved in Israel, based on the finding of 200,000-400,000 year old remains in Qesem Cave, a pre-historic site located near Rosh Ha'ayinin in Israel Center District, which borders the Mediterranean Ocean.

Prof. Avi Gopher, Dr. Ran Barkai, and Prof. Israel Hershkowitz of TAU led the dig.  Leading a team of international researchers, they unearthed eight human teeth.  

Previous studies have dated the cave as having been accessible from 200,000 to 400,000 years ago.  Morphological studies, including CT scans and X-rays, showed that the teeth indeed belonged to modern humans.

The researchers comment that evidence garnered at the site showcases an industrious early society that engaged in systematic production of flint blades; the regular use of fire; evidence of hunting, cutting and sharing of animal meat; and mining raw materials to produce flint tools from subsurface sources.

Scientists are analyzing the site and the various items found therein for clues into how humans' physiology and behavior evolved to its current state.  The researchers believe the individuals whose remains were found may have been poised at a critical point in human evolution and adaptation.

The researchers' assertion that humans did not originate in Africa is supported by recent findings of human remains in China and Spain that were older than expected.  While these remains were not as old as the Qesem Cave find, they were old enough to call into question the African descent hypothesis.

The discovery of 100,000 year-old remains in the Skhul Cave in the Carmel and Qafzeh Cave in the Lower Galilee near Nazareth, Israel, was another important precursor to the current study.


India News: Corruption our curse.

Charge sheet filed in Rs 2-cr graft case
HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
Email Author
Mumbai, January 01, 2011

First Published: 01:02 IST(1/1/2011)
Last Updated: 01:03 IST(1/1/2011)
The anti-corruption branch of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Thursday filed a charge sheet against Manjit Singh Bali, former chief postmaster general, Maharashtra and Goa, for accepting a bribe of Rs2 crore. The CBI has also named Harsh Dalmia and his father, Arun Dalmia, who had 

acted as middlemen and initially collected the bribe for Bali. The charge sheet was filed under the Prevention of Corruption Act in the court of the special judge for CBI cases in Mumbai.

The CBI had arrested Bali and the Dalmias on February 24 while accepting a bribe to issue a no-objection certificate (NOC) for the development of a 2,000-sq-m plot in Mira Road partly reserved for the postal department.

The plot was a reserved plot belonging to the Mira-Bhayandar Municipal Corporation and 25% of it was meant to house a post office. Developing the plot required an NOC from the postal department, which Bali headed then.

Bali was caught accepting the bribe a month after a meeting with CBI’s joint director Rishi Raj Singh in which he had assured the agency that he would give it information about corrupt employees in his department.

Bali was caught in a restaurant at Badhwar Park near Cuffe Parade when he was collecting the money from the Dalmias. The CBI trapped Bali following a complaint filed by an ex-corporator and social worker from the Mira-Bhayandar belt.

When the CBI searched Bali’s premises, it found Rs34 lakh, $10,722 (Rs4.83 lakh approximately), £3,050 (around Rs2.44 lakh) and euros3,470 (approximately Rs2.08 lakh) at his official residence at Belvedere Court in Warden Road.

The CBI also found immovable assets worth more than Rs1 crore in the names of Bali and his family at Faridabad, Punchkula, Dwarka in New Delhi, Bhopal and Gurgaon. Bali also had 22 bank accounts and public provident fund accounts with balances of more than Rs26 lakh.

“This was one of the biggest traps in the history of the CBI involving an additional secretary level officer who was caught taking a bribe of Rs2 crore,” an official statement from the CBI, issued on Friday, said.


Sexual Halth:

New Year's passion spikes rise in emergency contraception

Revelers now have three options for preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex

By JoNel AlecciaHealth writer
Forget the sequined bag and sky-high heels. In certain circles, the hottest New Year’s accessory appears to be a dose of emergency contraception.

The dawn of the new year typically sees a sharp spike in requests for pills that can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex, say researchers, drugmakers and health advocates.

“With the long holiday weekend, there are breaks in technique, people are not getting to the pharmacy and there’s a lot of bad judgment,” speculated Dr. Edward S. Linn, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Cook County Health and Hospital System in Chicago.

Queries to the website — "Your website for the 'Morning After'" — run by Princeton University, climb in the first few days of January, according to James Trussell, the professor of economics and public affairs who maintains the site. Visitors can find detailed background on emergency contraception options, including recipes for do-it-yourself treatments using high doses of common birth control pills.

Trussell says there's been no formal research to verify an increase in use around New Year's Eve, or similar claims that demand rises near Valentine's Day, for that matter.

But e-mails flood the website of the maker of Plan B One-Step, the latest incarnation of Plan B, the so-called “morning after pill,” at least according to the manufacturer.

Officials at Teva Women's Health refused to say exactly how many patients buy the drug in early January compared with other times, but spokeswoman Allison Pishko swears it’s a lot. That’s especially true since the drug became available without prescription to people 17 and older in 2006.

The rumored New Year’s spike in emergency contraception — or EC — helped spur the National Institute for Reproductive Health to create an awareness campaign. Last year’s event, for instance, was called “Don’t Drop the Ball on New Year’s Eve” and focused on urging young women to think ahead about hooking up on Dec. 31.

“We know that advance provision is a great idea,” said Aileen Gleizer, coordinator of the agency’s Back Up Your Birth Control campaign.

Half of pregnancies unintended
In the U.S., about half of the more than 6 million pregnancies that occur each year are unintended and more than 1.2 million end in induced abortion, according to government figures.

For the first time this year, New Year’s revelers have three ways to prevent pregnancy after the fact. The prescription-only drug ella was released in the U.S. Dec. 1 after gaining Food and Drug Administration approval last summer. Ella, produced by Paris-based Laboratoire HRA Pharma, works by blocking the hormone progesterone, either stopping or delaying ovulation. It is effective up to 120 hours, or five days after unprotected sex.

Ella joins the one-dose Plan B One-Step and the two-pill drug known as Next Choice, manufactured by Watson Laboratories Inc. Both rely on high doses of a synthetic progesterone, called levonorgestrel, to prevent ovulation. They’re effective for 72 hours after unprotected sex and perhaps longer, though the effectiveness diminishes quickly.

Requests for emergency contraception come mainly from younger women ages 18 to 29, who often don’t use birth control reliably, and from older women in their 40s who didn’t think they had to, Linn said.

Their situations might be different, but their reasons for needing emergency contraception are the same, notes Linn. He applauds the wider number of available drugs, but believes that stringent prescription requirements stifle access for women and their partners.

“In general, the more options the better,” Linn said, adding: “Let’s not get pregnant in 2011.”


World Greets 2011 With Fanfare

Revelers wave banners and signs during the New Year's Eve celebrations in Hong Kong's Times Square, Jan 1, 2011
Photo: AP
Revelers wave banners and signs during the New Year's Eve celebrations in Hong Kong's Times Square, Jan 1, 2011

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Revelers around the world are marking the start of the new year with celebrations and fireworks displays.

Revelers around the world are marking the start of the new year with celebrations and fireworks displays.

The new year first reached the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati.  

New Zealanders welcomed 2011 with a spectacular firework show in Auckland and celebrations elsewhere, while in Sydney, Australia, at least 1.5 million people gathered for the annual fireworks show on the Harbour Bridge.  

At midnight in Dubai, fireworks exploded from all sides of the world's tallest building. 

China's president Hu Jintao addressed his country on New Year's Eve, pledging peaceful international relations while pushing for a transformation of the country's export-driven economy.
Video snippets from around the World

In Moscow residents rang in 2011 in Red Square, and later about 250,000 people will be on the banks of London's River Thames to watch fireworks as the famous Big Ben at Parliament chimes in the new year.

In Vatican City, Pope Benedict held a prayer service at St. Peter's Basilica. He is scheduled to hold a Mass on New Year's Day.

One of the world's most popular New Year's Eve celebrations will take place in New York City, where organizers say a million people will be in Times Square for the annual drop of a huge, sparkling ball from high above the crowd. The Waterford Crystal ball weighs 5,400 kilograms.

Hungary News: Turning the clock back ?

Hungary Introduces Europe's Most Restrictive Media Law

Hungary's President Pal Schmitt (file photo)
Photo: AFP
Hungary's President Pal Schmitt (file photo)

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Hungary is introducing on Saturday a controversial media law that critics say will turn the clock back and re-introduce totalitarian rule in the former Communist nation. Under the legislation, journalists can face huge fines if their coverage is deemed unbalanced. The controversy comes as Hungary takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union on Saturday.

The well-known Hungarian songwriter Lilla Vincze sings nostalgically about romance and Hungary in a famous Budapest bookstore. Among her audience are Hungarian journalists, writers and readers who have come to support the struggling left-leaning newspaper Nepszava, one of several publications protesting a new media law. 

Eighty-one-year-old Hungarian author and philosopher Agnes Heller, a former dissident, is here. She said she has been asked to join an alternative Internet television station aimed at challenging the upcoming legislation. She said Prime Minister Viktor Orban - whose center right government has introduced the law - does not realize times have changed in the Internet era.

"Nowadays you can have a server in another country," said Heller. "And you cannot censor an Internet production if the server is in another country. Some people organize a so-called 'samizdat' television station on the Internet and asked me to participate. So the technology is above it. In the classical style of the Soviet Union, technology allowed that everything could be supervised. Now not everything can be supervised. So, Orban will not succeed." 

The legislation has been compared by the opposition to the way the press had been treated during Hungary's Communist era and under other totalitarian regimes.

Under the new law, a government-appointed media council will have the power to decide whether a publication has broken rules on what it calls balanced and 'moral' reporting, and can issue heavy fines.  

Print and Internet media can face fines of more than $100,000 and broadcasters nearly $1 million, if, for example, their coverage is deemed unbalanced. News programs cannot use more than 20 percent of their airtime on crime-related stories, and journalists may be forced to reveal their sources. 

Presenters at Hungarian state-run radio have already been dismissed for protesting the law on air. 

Nepszava's chief editor Peter Nemeth has  published a blank front page to protest the proposed law. 

"This front page was empty, absolutely empty," said Nemeth. "In the new year, when Hungary becomes the president of the European Union, we will repeat this action. We want to send a message to the European Union that this media law is not good." 

When VOA reporter asked, "Do you think that the situation will be the same as under Communism when the media was not free?" Nemeth replied, "It will be similar. Absolutely it will give a chance for dictatorship." 

The media law comes as Hungary takes over the rotating European Union presidency on New Year's Day. The law has caused international criticism.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the law "raises the question whether such a country is worthy of leading the EU"

German deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer has warned of "serious concern if there is only the smallest suspicion" of media freedoms being restricted while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said through a spokesperson that her government is watching the media law "with great attention."

Advocacy group "Reporters Without Borders" urged the European Parliament on Friday to put the media law high on its international agenda. 

The group's Chief Representative to the EU, Olivier Basille, said the legislation is the worst media law of all European Union countries, including Italy, where the prime minister attempted to sue international media.

Basille said Hungary's media law violates European agreements and that it also may target foreign journalists based in Hungary, especially if they work for Internet media. "In all the treaties you say that European citizens have the same rights. Which is not the case today for Hungarian citizens and for people who are living in Hungary and who are going to publish in Hungary. Because yes foreign correspondents will be sued like any journalist or like any blogger in Hungary because they are publishing something on Hungary and [are] based in Hungary," said Basille.

There also is international concern that the legislation will lead to censorship. But Andras Koltay, a member of the new media council, strongly disagrees. 

Koltay said he  doesn't think there is a danger this legislation will force journalists into self censorship. Instead, he said, the law will ensure more balanced media. He adds that it also will bring order in the media, because they are currently having to work on the basis of confusing laws from the 1980s and 1990s. He argues the law is to the advantage of both the media and the public.

The media legislation is the latest in a series of measures that critics say will turn Hungary into  'Orbanistan', a reference to Prime Minister Orban and autocratic Central Asian republics. Orban and his cabinet also have curtailed the powers of the respected constitutional court so it can not rule on budget matters.

That move has allowed them to force citizens to shift their pensions from private to state plans in an effort to raise $14 billion to cut the budget deficit without having to introduce unpopular austerity measures. 

Additionally, they have taken control over other key financial institutions, including the State Audit Office, and seek to push out the head of the traditionally independent central bank in a struggle over who controls fiscal policy of the deeply indebted nation. 

There is little the opposition can do. The ruling Fidesz party holds a crushing two-thirds majority in parliament, allowing it to change the constitution and introduce tough legislation. 

Afghanistan News:

'Taliban shadow governor killed in Afghanistan'
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — A top Taliban commander and his bodyguard were killed during an overnight operation by Afghan and NATO forces in northern Afghanistan, police said on Friday.
Mawlawi Bahadur was killed Thursday night in Chahar Dara, a militant-plagued district of Kunduz province, provincial police spokesman Haroon Aryayenezhad told AFP.
Bahadur was the Tailban's shadow governor for the northern Afghan province. One of his bodyguards was also killed and four others accompanying him injured in the operation, Aryayenezhad said.
"Mullah Bahadur was appointed as Taliban Governor for Kunduz province around two months ago," he said.
"He (Bahadur) was directly responsible for organising military operations against Afghan and Coalition troops in Kunduz province," Aryayenezhad added.
ISAF confirmed that an operation "targeting people who worked closely with the Taliban shadow governor in the province" took place in Chahar Dara district on Thursday night.
The alliance said one man had been killed in the operation but would not confirm his identity.
The Taliban have been waging a nine-year insurgency which 140,000 US-led NATO troops are battling in order to hand security control to the Afghan government by 2014. The militia operates "shadow" administrations in all 34 provinces.
Taliban spokesmen were not immediately available to comment.
The security situation in the northern provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan has deteriorated over the past two years.
Hundreds of NATO and Afghan troops launched an offensive on Tuesday around the city of Kunduz as part of efforts to eliminate the Taliban from their stronghold in northern Afghanistan, Aryayenezhad said.
On December 19, two militants wearing suicide vests stormed and took control of an Afghan army recruitment centre in Kunduz city, the provincial capital.
They were shot by Afghan and NATO troops, after a day-long siege. Four Afghan policemen and four Afghan soldiers were killed in the gun battle.