News roundup — May 10

Bin Laden sons say U.S. violated international law

The adult sons of Osama bin Laden have lashed out at President Obama over their father’s death, accusing the United States of violating its basic legal principles by killing an unarmed man, shooting his family members and disposing of his body in the sea.

The statement said the family was asking why the leader of Al Qaeda “was not arrested and tried in a court of law so that truth is revealed to the people of the world.” Citing the trials of Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, the statement questioned “the propriety of such assassination where not only international law has been blatantly violated,” but the principles of presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial were ignored.

“We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political problems,” the statement said, adding that “justice must be seen to be done.”

The statement, prepared at the direction of Omar bin Laden, a son who had publicly denounced his father’s terrorism, was provided to The New York Times by Jean Sasson, an American author who helped the younger Bin Laden write a 2009 memoir, “Growing Up bin Laden.” A shorter, slightly different statement was posted on a jihadist Web site Tuesday. (New York Times)

India strengthens accusations of ISI Mumbai link

India is ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan ahead of next week’s terrorism trial in the U.S., releasing a document that alleges the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency was directly involved in the attacks on Mumbai in 2008.

The move comes as Pakistan is facing accusations from the U.S. and India that some element of the military must have helped hide al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, who was killed last week in a secret raid by U.S. Navy SEALs on a house only four kilometers from the elite Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad.

A court in Chicago will begin hearings this month in the trial of seven men alleged to have aided David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani-American who has pleaded guilty of scouting sites for the Mumbai attacks, which led to the deaths of more than 160 people, including six Americans. (Wall Street Journal)

India begins wargames on Pakistan border

India kicked off war games involving thousands of troops on Monday along its border with arch-rival Pakistan, which is still smarting from the US operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

A military spokesperson told reporters the six-day exercise, codenamed Vijayee Bhava (Be Victorious) was being held in the Thar desert region in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

“This exercise envisages sustained massed mechanised manoeuvres,” S D Goswami said, adding the drill involved an array of weaponry that India has acquired as part of its ongoing military modernisation programme.

More than 20 000 combat troops were taking part. (AFP)

WikiLeaks: ISI allowed terrorists to attack India, says Gitmo detainee

In revelations that could further embarrass Pakistan, WikiLeaks has released a fresh set of US diplomatic cables that show how the country’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), allowed militants to go to India to carry out strikes on targets chosen by the Pakistan army.

The revelations are part of nearly 800 interrogation reports of suspects held in Guantanamo Bay prison.

WikiLeaks, in one of the several cables that exposes ISI’s links to terror groups, quotes a US cable as saying that an Algerian Al Qaeda militant arrested in 2002 said that his mission was to “kill Indians in India”. (NDTV)

Osama bin Laden mission agreed in secret 10 years ago by US and Pakistan

The US and Pakistan struck a secret deal almost a decade ago permitting a US operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil similar to last week’s raid that killed the al-Qaida leader, the Guardian has learned.

The deal was struck between the military leader General Pervez Musharraf and President George Bush after Bin Laden escaped US forces in the mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001, according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.

Under its terms, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the al-Qaida No3. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion.

“There was an agreement between Bush and Musharraf that if we knew where Osama was, we were going to come and get him,” said a former senior US official with knowledge of counterterrorism operations. “The Pakistanis would put up a hue and cry, but they wouldn’t stop us.” (The Observer)

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Aircraft carrier left us to die, say migrants fleeing Libya

Dozens of African migrants were left to die in the Mediterranean after a number of European military units apparently ignored their cries for help, the Guardian has learned. Two of the nine survivors claim this included a Nato ship.

A boat carrying 72 passengers, including several women, young children and political refugees, ran into trouble in late March after leaving Tripoli for the Italian island of Lampedusa. Despite alarms being raised with the Italian coastguard and the boat making contact with a military helicopter and a warship, no rescue effort was attempted.

All but 11 of those on board died from thirst and hunger after their vessel was left to drift in open waters for 16 days. “Every morning we would wake up and find more bodies, which we would leave for 24 hours and then throw overboard,” said Abu Kurke, one of only nine survivors. “By the final days, we didn’t know ourselves … everyone was either praying, or dying.”

International maritime law compels all vessels, including military units, to answer distress calls from nearby boats and to offer help where possible. Refugee rights campaigners have demanded an investigation into the deaths, while the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, has called for stricter co-operation among commercial and military vessels in the Mediterranean in an effort to save human lives. (The Guardian)

U.N. urges ships to help migrants in Mediterranean

The United Nations refugee agency has urged the crews of ships in the Mediterranean to keep watch for unseaworthy vessels carrying migrants from war-torn Libya after a report that a ship with 600 people on board broke up just off the port of Tripoli on Friday.

Witnesses in Tripoli said the ship was only 100 yards from shore when it broke up, Sybella Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based organization, said Monday. “It’s not clear how many people died or drowned,” she said, but 16 bodies — including those of two babies — had been recovered.

Refugees who left on another vessel later on Friday said they saw bodies and pieces of a ship in the water, said Laura Boldrini, a spokeswoman in Italy for the agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Ms. Wilkes said there had been a “dramatic increase in the number of boats making this terrible journey,” as migrants, many of them from sub-Saharan Africa, tried to flee Libya’s turmoil, heading for sanctuary on the Italian island of Lampedusa. (New York Times)

Here they stood, until they ran

The family photo albums, abandoned on the sand, lay open and fluttering in the desert wind. Around them were the personal items with which they had been packed: heaps of clothing, sandals, DVDs, combs, bottles of perfume, cooking utensils, razors, toothbrushes, several teapots, bundled blankets and a few biscuits, broken and dry. Every several yards a dropped suitcase rested on the dirt, looted bare.

War can strip those caught in its path to almost nothing, which is what happened to the people who had gathered here last Wednesday. They were African migrants caught in the conflict in Libya. They had long ago winnowed their meager possessions down, first to leave their small flats to move into tents, then to leave the tents to stand in line with a suitcase or two at this plot of bare desert, where they were told to wait for a ride to a ship. Here they stood until they ran. They dashed away so quickly and with such panic that they left behind the last things to which they had clung.

Like more than 10,000 other migrant workers in Misurata, they had been idled from work by the outbreak of war, and then cut off from routes overland toward home when the military of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi put this city under siege. They had waited two months for an evacuation vessel to arrive in the city’s harbor and carry them out. (New York Times)

Libyan rebels gain ground in Misurata

Rebel fighters made significant gains Monday against forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in both the western and eastern areas of the country, in the first faint signs that NATO airstrikes may be starting to strain the government forces.

In the besieged western city of Misurata hundreds of rebels broke through one of the front lines late on Sunday, and by Monday afternoon were consolidating their position on the ground a few miles to the city’s west.

The breakout of what had been nearly static lines came after NATO aircraft spent days striking positions and military equipment held by the Qaddafi forces, weakening them to the point that a ground attack was possible, the rebels said.

While not in itself a decisive shift for a city that remained besieged, the swift advance, made with few rebel casualties, carried both signs of rebel optimism and hints of the weakness of at least one frontline loyalist unit. (New York Times)

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Syria proclaims it now has upper hand over uprising

The Syrian government has gained the upper hand over a seven-week uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, a senior official declared Monday, in the clearest sign yet that the leadership believes its crackdown will crush protests that have begun to falter in the face of hundreds of deaths and mass arrests.

The remarks by Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Mr. Assad who often serves as an official spokeswoman, suggested that a government accustomed to adapting in the face of crises was prepared to weather international condemnation and sanctions. Her confidence came in stark contrast to appearances just two weeks ago, when the government seemed to stagger before the breadth and resilience of protests in dozens of towns and cities.

“I hope we are witnessing the end of the story,” she said in an hourlong interview, for which a reporter was allowed in Syria for only a few hours. “I think now we’ve passed the most dangerous moment. I hope so, I think so.” (New York Times)

Is Asma Assad in London?

The wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad may have fled to London with the couple’s three young children, it has been claimed.

Asma Assad, 35, was said to be living in a safe house in or near the capital.

British-born Mrs Assad, who is considered to be one of the most glamorous first ladies in the world, has not been seen in public since the start of the Arab Spring. (Daily Telegraph)

Assad’s brother tops Syria sanctions list

The European Union has listed 13 Syrian officials on the bloc’s sanctions list, including a brother and a wealthy and influential cousin of Bashar al-Assad, the president, and intelligence chiefs.

Maher al-Assad commands Syria’s Republican Guard and is considered the second most powerful man in the country.

The EU’s official journal, in which the full list was published on Tuesday, described Maher al-Assad as the “principal overseer of violence against demonstrators”.

The measures, asset freezes and travel bans, are part of a package of sanctions, including an arms embargo which went into effect on Tuesday, as part of EU efforts to try to force Syria to end violence against anti-government protesters. (Al Jazeera)

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Blindfolded, beaten and tortured: grim new testimony reveals fate of Bahrain’s persecuted doctors

Harrowing testimony of torture, intimidation and humiliation from a doctor arrested in the crackdown on medical staff in Bahrain has revealed the lengths to which the regime’s security forces are prepared to go to quash pro-democracy protests.

Interviews obtained by The Independent from inside Bahrain tell of ransacked hospitals and of terrified medical staff beaten, interrogated and forced into signing false confessions. Many have been detained, their fate unknown.

Inspired by the pro-democracy protests which swept Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, Bahrainis took to the streets in their thousands in February, demanding greater political rights and more equality for the Shia Muslim majority, ruled over for decades by a Sunni monarchy. (The Independent)

As Bahrain’s abuses grow, U.S. stays on sidelines

At least 30 people have died in Bahrain, protesters and medical workers are being put on trial, and prominent opposition politicians are being arrested—but the United States has yet to toughen its talk or impose sanctions on its Gulf ally.

Bahrain, a predominantly Shiite country ruled by a Sunni monarchy, plays host to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. McClatchy reports today that the government has bulldozed dozens of Shiite mosques. Shiite women and girls have also been detained and abused, according to McClatchy. The State Department has said little about these matters publicly, except to tell McClatchy it’s “concerned by the destruction of religious sites” and is “extremely troubled by reports of ongoing human rights abuses” in Bahrain.

The Bahraini government announced last week it would charge nearly 50 doctors and nurses for treating injured pro-democracy protesters. We’d previously noted the government’s detention of medical workers along with protesters, activists and journalists. (ProPublica)

Violence in Cairo and beyond

Wendell Steavenson writes: Last week an activist I know came to see me and showed me a series of pictures on his mobile phone: men throwing Molotov cocktails, blurred fireballs, and debris-strewn streets.

“Where was this?” I asked him, thinking they were pictures taken during the revolution. “Moski,” he said, naming a downtown area of Cairo known for its street traders, “a half an hour ago.” “I was nearly stabbed,” he added. Apparently two rival streets had gone to battle over some kind of shop-to-shop dispute, using rocks, bricks, and shotguns. Sixty people were injured. It happened the same day as a smallish crowd of pro-Mubarak supporters tried to celebrate his birthday outside of the state TV building (a favorite spot for demonstrations; soldiers use the first-floor balconies as watchtowers in case of serious trouble) and clashed with a rival crowd.

Yesterday, I went to a conference for parties and people hoping to form a broad umbrella committee to begin to address issues like the economy and the constitutional process during this interim period. I met Dr. Mohamed Ghonim, a wise, tortoise-looking man who is a famous kidney specialist and elder statesman of sorts for the liberal front of the revolution. He ruminated on the role of the Army, currently the de facto ruling authority. “As you know, security in general is bad. Every day there are two or three major things happening and nothing serious is done to contain these incidents. The economy is going in a negative way, downhill…”

I asked him if he thought that these incidents were being deliberately allowed to erupt.

“Of course. How can people stop the railway?” he asked, referring to the disruption in the upper Egyptian town of Qena at the end of April, when local people cut rail lines that link the north and south of the country, to protest the imposition of an unpopular governor. Ghonim said that law and order, in the hands of the military since the police are still not deployed in anything like their pre-revolutionary numbers, was being allowed to disintegrate, “Until you get to a critical point and then people say ‘oh please step in politically!’” (The New Yorker)

The warning bells are ringing

Hassan Nafaa writes: The tragedy at St. Marmina church in Imbaba on Saturday is not a new story. A young Muslim man from Asyut claims he married a Christian woman who converted to Islam five years ago, and that his wife’s brothers kidnapped her in recent months. The young man then claims he received a phone call that his wife is detained at an Imbaba church. The young man then goes to Imbaba and gathers a group of Muslims, most of them Salafis, from nearby mosques. Together they head to the church and instigated yet another incident of sectarian strife.

When the police learned of the gathering in front of St. Marmina church, they sought the assistance of Sheikh Mohammad Ali, a prominent local Salafi leader and a preacher at the nearby Toba mosque. Along with other religious leaders, Sheikh Ali went to the gathering outside the church and listened to the young man recount his story in the presence of some police officers. The sheikh did not buy the story and was especially skeptical about the fact that the young man did not file a police report immediately after the kidnapping. To Sheikh Ali, it appeared that someone was trying to incite sectarian tensions.

Sheikh Ali immediately told the protesters that the young Muslim man was lying. “Because they trust me, they believed me and began to chant: ‘Muslims and Christians are one,’” he said. Ali added that he accompanied an interior ministry official to the church to inform church leaders that the conflict was over.

“But Copts residing in nearby apartment buildings thought we were entering the church to search it, so they started to throw bottles at us. Then I heard gun fire and things escalated from there.”

Rumors quickly spread through the media and a group of young men in the area headed to an adjacent church and set it ablaze. Clashes broke out and by the end of the evening 12 people were dead and over 100 were injured.

There will be more rumors tomorrow about imaginary incidents of rape, theft, marriage, and divorce that will provoke both sides to engage in more violence to avenge the dignity of their religious group. Many will fail to see that their anger is unwarranted.

In all these cases, the solution is that suspected criminal – regardless political, sectarian or class affiliation – be subjected to a fair trial. Taking the law into our own hands to avenge crimes committed against our family, or sect deals a serious blow to the idea of a civilized society. (Al-Masry Al-Youm)

US freezes Chicago Palestinian leader’s bank accounts

The US government has frozen the bank accounts belonging to Hatem Abudayyeh, a Palestinian community organizer and director of a social service organization serving the Arab community in Chicago, and his wife, Naima.

Meanwhile, several members of Congress have written to the Obama administration to express their concerns about violations in civil liberties as a result of earlier government actions toward Abudayyeh and other activists.

The freezing of the Abudayyeh family’s bank accounts on Friday, 6 May is the latest development in a secret grand jury investigation that has been launched by US District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office in Chicago. The freezing of the accounts has raised concerns that criminal indictments in the case may be imminent. (Electronic Intifada)

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