Monthly Archives: July 2011

Plane Crash Kills 78 in Morocco

A plane crash in southern Morocco killed 78 people Tuesday, the state news agency reported.

The Moroccan C-130 military plane crashed in the southern part of the country, state-run Agence Maghreb Presse reported. The aircraft, belonging to Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces, crashed into a mountain as it attempted to land at a military airport about eight kilometres (five miles) away, the news agency said. Three other people were hurt.

The plane crashed at 9 a.m. (4 a.m. ET), 10 kilometres away from the city of Guelmim, just north of the disputed Western Sahara territory, the statement said. The plane was traveling from Dakhla, in the Western Sahara, to Kinitra in northern Morocco.

Officials have blamed the accident on poor weather. “Above all, it was the fog and bad weather conditions that are believed to be behind this accident. But for the moment, we don’t have enough information,” AFP news agency quoted an official from the interior ministry as saying. (BBC)

The plane was carrying 81 people – 60 military, 12 civilians and nine crew members, Agence Maghreb Arabe Presse reported, citing a military statement. Forty-two bodies have been found. The search continues for the other 120 bodies. Local news agency Lakome.com, citing sources with knowledge of the event, said rescue efforts were ongoing.

The mineral-rich, mainly desert territory of Western Sahara is the subject of a decades-long dispute between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front. Most of it has been under Moroccan control since 1976. U.N. peacekeepers have been there since 1991, and the U.N. has demanded a referendum but Morocco has instead proposed wide-ranging autonomy for estimated half a million people who live in Western Sahara’s sparsely populated desert flatland.

It is Morocco’s deadliest plane crash in years. In 1994, 44 people died when a Moroccan airliner crashed en route from the southern seaside resort of Agadir to Casablanca.

The Guelmim region features contrasting desert, oasis and mountain landscapes with their valleys and gorges, part of the so-called Anti-Atlas, an extension of the Atlas mountain chain that runs through Morocco. The region also features a coastal zone known as the “White Beaches of Guelmim” with the beach nearby in Tan Tan. (Washington Post)


Norway Terror Suspect Admits Attacks, Death Toll Now 76

The suspect in the deadliest attack in Norway since World War II has acknowledged carrying out the mass shooting and bombing, and claims to have worked with two other cells, a judge said on Monday.

Judge Kim Heger said that the suspect, Andres Behring Breivik, acknowledges carrying out the attacks, but said the attacks were necessary to prevent the “colonization” of the country by Muslims. He accused the Labour Party, whose members were targets of the mass shooting, of “treason” for promoting multiculturalism, the judge said. (CNN)

Police refused to release information about their investigation into the possibility that two cells aided Breivik, saying Monday that a court hearing was closed so as not to disclose information. Other court officials have said they could not confirm the existence of the cells and referred questions to police.

During his court hearing Monday, Breivik appeared “very calm,” an official said. “He was very concise in trying to explain why he was trying to do this,” the official said. “But when he started reading from his manifest, he was stopped.” (CNN ) Two court psychiatrists will be assigned to the case, he added. Prosecutor Christian Hatlo told reporters that Breivik was very calm and “seemed unaffected by what happened.” (CBC)

Heger ordered Breivik to remain in custody for eight weeks, until his next scheduled court appearance, as authorities continue to investigate a bombing in Oslo and a mass shooting at a nearby island that together killed at least 76 people.

Authorities originally said 93 had died but announced Monday that eight people were confirmed dead in the bombing and 68 in the shooting. Also on Monday, police said they were searching Utoya Island for shooting victims, adding that 50 officers were going through “to make sure there are no casualties left.” (CNN)

The suspect will be held in isolation for the first four weeks of his custody because of the possibility of tampering with evidence, Heger said. He will have access to his lawyer but no one else, and no letters or news, court officials said.

Breivik, 32, is a suspected right-wing Christian extremist who appears to have written a 1,500-page manifesto ranting against Muslims and laying out meticulous plans to prepare for the attacks. CNN has not independently confirmed that Breivik is the author of the manifesto, which says it is designed to be circulated among sympathizers and bears his name.

The judge spoke to reporters after Monday’s hearing, which was closed to the public for “security reasons and because of a concern that it would impede the investigation,” court communications director Irene Ramm told CNN.

“It is clear that there is concrete information that a public hearing with the suspect present could quickly lead to an extraordinary and very difficult situation in terms of the investigation and security,” the court said in a statement. (CBC) The court acknowledged that there was a need for transparency in the case and that it normally would consider arguments from the press, but said that wasn’t possible “for practical reasons.” (CBC)

Breivik asked to wear a uniform to the hearing but was not allowed to, court official said.

The Norwegian government called for a national moment of silence in their memory Monday, ordering trains halted as a part of a nationwide observance to remember the victims of Friday’s bombing in downtown Oslo and shooting at a political youth retreat on Utoya Island. Court officials were among the many who stood in silence to mark the moment at noon.

One Oslo citizen, Sven-Erik Fredheim, told Reuters: “It is important to have this minute of silence so that all the victims and the parents of the families know that people are thinking about them.” (BBC)

Police spokesman Henning Holtaas told CNN that the suspect has been charged with two acts of terror, one for the bombing and one for the mass shooting.

In Norway, the maximum sentence on such a charge is 21 years. However, if the court deems that a person could be a future threat, then they can be sentenced to “preventative detention,” Holtaas said. Under that type of sentence, a person would serve the maximum sentence of 21 years and then the court could assess an extension if the person was still deemed a threat, he said. (CNN)

Breivik, a Norwegian, told investigators he acted alone and was not aided in the planning, acting National Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim told reporters Sunday. Sponheim said that investigators were studying a manifesto that authorities believed was published online the day of the attack.

The suspect told investigators during interviews that he belonged to an international order, the Knights Templar, according to Norwegian newspaper VG, which cited unnamed sources. He described the organization as an armed Christian order, fighting to rid the West of Islamic suppression, the newspaper said. He also told investigators he had been in contact with like-minded individuals and said he counts himself as a representative of this order, he said. Holtaas declined to confirm the news report, saying “we are not commenting on such details.” (CNN)
The newspaper report mirrors statements in the manifesto. In the manifesto, there are photographs of Breivik wearing what appears to be a military uniform that features an altered U.S. Marine Corps dress jacket with Knights Templar medals. The Knights Templar were Christian Crusaders who helped fight against Muslim rule of the Holy Land in the Middle Ages, but the order was shut down 700 years ago.

The manifesto with Breivik’s name on it refers to a “European Military Order and Criminal Tribunal (the PCCTS – Knights Templar) … created by and for the free indigenous peoples of Europe” in London in 2002. (CNN) The manifesto rants against Muslims and their growing presence in Europe and calls for a European civil war to overthrow governments, end multiculturalism and execute “cultural Marxists.” (CNN)

Breivik’s manifesto began to provide insight into the man who says the first step in his journey to becoming a mass killer began when he was a boy, during the first Gulf War, when a Muslim friend cheered at reports of missile attacks against U.S. forces. “I was completely ignorant at the time and apolitical, but his total lack of respect for my culture (and Western culture in general) actually sparked my interest and passion for it,” Breivik wrote. (CBC) Breivik says it was the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 that “tipped the scales” for him because he sympathized with Serbia’s crackdown on what he called the “Islamization of Europe” couldn’t be stopped by peaceful means. (CBC) Breivik’s manifesto chronicles events that deepened his contempt for Muslims and the “Marxists” he blamed for making Europe multicultural. He suggests his friends didn’t even know what he was up to, and comments from several people who had contact with the quiet, blond man suggest he was right.

Authorities allege that Breivik killed eight people Friday by setting off a car bomb in downtown Oslo that targeted government buildings, then traveled 20 miles to Utoya Island and killed 68 teens and young adults in an ambush at a political youth retreat. Authorities said Monday they were working on trying to nail down the timing of the attacks.

The suspect was carrying a considerable amount of ammunition when he surrendered to authorities, Sponheim told reporters.

Investigators will conduct autopsies over the next few days, Sponheim said, and the identities of the victims will be released once all the next-of-kin have been notified. Among those killed on the island was Trond Berntsen, the step-brother of Crown Princess Mette-Marit, according to a statement released by the Royal House Communications office. At least four people have not been accounted for around Utoya Island, with investigators searching the waters nearby for victims who may have drowned trying to escape the shooter.

Jack Levin, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston who has written a number of books on mass murderers, said the manifesto helps Breivik show himself as more human. “It makes the killer look like a victim rather than a villain,” he said. (CBC)

From September 2009 through October 2010, Breivik posted more than 70 times on Dokument.no, a Norwegian site with critical views on Islam and immigration. In one comment, he entertained the idea of a European movement along the lines of the Tea Party movement in the United States. In December of 2009, Breivik showed up at a meeting organized by the website’s staff.

“He was a bit strange. As one could see from his postings, he had obviously read a lot but not really digesting it,” said Hans Rustad, the editor of the website. However, Rustad said, he “hadn’t the faintest idea” about Breivik’s murderous plans. “Other people have the same views on the net and they don’t go out and become mass murderers, so how can you tell?” Rustad said. (CBC)

Breivik calls his upbringing in a middle-class home in Oslo privileged even though his parents divorced when he was a year old and he lost contact with his father in his teens. His parents split when the family lived in London, where Jens Breivik was a diplomat at the Norwegian Embassy in London. A spokesman for the embassy, Stein Iversen, confirmed that Breivik had been employed at the embassy in the late 1970s but wouldn’t discuss his relationship with the Oslo suspect.

Anders Breivik said both parents supported Norway’s centre-left Labour Party, which he viewed as infiltrated by Marxists. His mother won a custody battle, but Breivik said he regularly visited his father and his new wife in France, where they lived, until his father cut off contact when Breivik was 15. The father told Norwegian newspaper VG that they lost touch in 1995, but that it was his son who wanted to cut off the contact. His father said Monday that he’s ashamed and disgusted by his son’s acts, telling a Swedish tabloid he wishes his son had committed suicide.

Breivik’s mother lives in an ivy-covered brick apartment building in western Oslo, currently protected by police. Neighbours said they hadn’t seen her since a few days before the shooting. Police said they’ve spoken to her and that she didn’t know of her son’s plans.

In his manifesto, Breivik says he had no negative experiences from his childhood, though he had issues with his mother being a “moderate feminist.” “I do not approve of the super-liberal, matriarchal upbringing though as it completely lacked discipline and has contributed to feminize me to a certain degree,” he says. (CBC)


UN Declares Famine in Somalia

The United Nations declared a famine Wednesday in parts of southern Somalia and warned that the suffering could rapidly spread without a massive and immediate international response. The crisis in Somalia – a failing state mired in internal conflict and suffering the worst drought in half a century – has been escalating steadily for months as aid agencies have made please to the international community to intervene.

Wednesday, the humanitarian agency Oxfam blamed international donors for the potentially catastrophic situation at hand. “Several rich governments are guilty of willful neglect as the aid effort to avert catastrophe in East Africa limps along due to an $800 million shortfall,” said an Oxfam statement. (CNN)

Thousands of Somalis have fled the country in search of food and water, trekking for days under scorching sun toward refugee camps in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia.

“If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks,” said Mark Bowden, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia. “We still do not have all the resources for food, clean water, shelter and health services to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis in desperate need.” He said nearly half of the people in Somalia – 3.7 million of them – are now in crisis and roughly $300 million in aid is needed in the next two months. Aid workers call it the worst food crisis since a famine in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s that killed about 1 million people. “Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas,” Bowden said. (CNN) “Somalia is facing its worst food security crisis in the last 20 years,” Bowden said. “This desperate situation requires urgent action to save lives.” (CBC)

The United Nations uses a five-step scale to measure hunger. Stage 5, or famine, means that acute malnutrition rates are 30% or more, people do not have adequate calorie or water intake and mortality rates are greater than two adults of four children per day per 10,000 people.

Think of it this way, said Lawrence Haddad, director of the UK-based Institute for Development Studies: If famine were declared in the United States, 3,000 or more children would be dying every day from lack of food and water. “This is big,” he said. “We have to act quickly, now.” (CNN)

Oxfam defines famine as a cocktail of causes: a “triple failure of food production, people’s ability to access food and, finally and most crucially in the political response by governments and international donors. Crop failure and poverty leave people vulnerable to starvation – but famine only occurs with political failure.” (CNN)
Farming used to be a term equated solely with a large-scale shortage of food. But the term slipped out of the official lexicom after it came to encompass a variety of factors that add up to a complex emergency, said Patrick Webb, an expert in food security at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “Actually, a lot of famine happens when there is food in the market,” he said. “It’s about people’s inability to acquire that food. Famine represents a catastrophic failure of all the systems that people rely on to survive.” (CNN) That includes the deaths of livestock, displacement of people and conflict.

And that is what has happened in southern Somalia, where people have had to make heart-wrenching choices simply to stay alive. A mother might have to decide whether to keep her baby alive or split her money to feed all her children. A family may take down their thatched roof, the only shelter they have, to make sure a precious cow can eat. Grandparents might forgo their share of a meal to ensure survival for the youngest generation. Webb said many Americans stung by the recession have had to make difficult choices. Multiply that by many times to get an idea of what it means to be Somali right now. “The thing about food is that you have to have it every day,” he said. “It’s not like buying a car or clothes. It’s where the rubber meets the road.” (CNN)

Save the Children’s Sonia Zambakides told the BBC the situation in Somalia was shocking. “I was talking to mothers with children, the children looked maybe nine months to one year old – the mothers were telling the children they were three and four years old, so they are absolutely tiny.” (BBC) She said some of the mothers had walked up to six days with no food to try and find help.

The BBC’s Mohammed Mwailmu in Mogadishu, says he met a woman called Habiba at a camp set up for the drought victims in the capital who had walked 200 km (125 miles) from her village near Buurhakaba city in south-west Somalia. Her five children were with her, but the youngest ones – aged two years and five years – died on the way. She said she abandoned their bodies along the roadside because she was too weak to dig graves.

The BBC’s Africa corresponding Andrew Harding says the emotive word “famine” is used rarely and carefully by humanitarian organizations, and it is the first time since 1992 that the word has been applied to a situation in Somalia.

After Wednesday’s declaration of famine, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced $28 million in additional funding for the crisis. “We have already responded with over $431 million in food and nonfood emergency assistance this year alone,” Clinton said in a statement. “But it is not enough – the need is only expected to increase and more must be done by the United States and the international community.” (CNN)

Canada has contributed roughly $22.35 million for humanitarian assistance to the region this year, with half the amount going toward helping out the Somalia refugee situation. Oxfam urged Canada Wednesday to boost the total to $40 million.

Britain has pledged $145 million in the past two weeks, about 15 percent of what is needed – and the European Union pledged around $8 million, with more expected in coming days. The UK Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, said the response to many European and developed countries to the crisis in the Horn of Africa had been “derisory and dangerously inadequate… The fact that a famine has been declared shows just how grave the situation has become. It is time for the world to help,” he said. (BBC)

Spain has promised nearly $10 million and Germany around $8.5 million but Oxfram said France has so far not pledged any more money, and Denmark and Italy have said no significant new sums are available.

“There is no time to waste if we are to avoid massive loss of life,” said Oxfam Regional Director Fran Equiza in a statement. “We must not stand by and watch this tragedy unfold before our eyes. The world has been slow to recognize the severity of this crisis, but there is no longer any excuse for inaction.” (CBC)

Part of the problem with donations is that it’s politically difficult to give money for an event that has not happened yet, Haddad said. He understood Oxfam’s position and the frustration of aid workers on the front lines who are bearing witness to immense human suffering. But how do you justify millions for catastrophe that “might” happened, he asked. (CNN)

About 10 million people are at risk of famine in the Horn of Africa. Somalia, wracked by years of internal violence and insecurity, is the worst affected. Many Somalis have fled to the Dabaab, a refugee complex in Kenya intended to house 90,000 but now bursting with 400,000 people.

Internal strife has exacerbated drought-caused food shortages and livestock deaths. The nation has not had an effective government for two decades and government forces have been battling Al-Shabaab militants in the capital, Mogadishu.

Humanitarian agencies have not been able to access famine-affected areas, said Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “Al-Shabaab is principally responsible for exacerbating the consequences of the drought situation by preventing its own people from being able to access critically needed assistance,” she said. (CNN)

Earlier this month, the al Qaeda-linked group pledged to allow aid groups access to areas under its control, reversing an earlier decision banning them. The militants had accused Western humanitarians of being anti-Muslim. Humanitarian agencies welcomed the new pledge, but said the earlier ban intensified the crisis. U.N. officials were able to airlift emergency supplies to southern Somalia last week after the Islamist militants promised to lift the ban.

Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, told reporters that the situation is “not what we want it to be… We do have a very minimal presence, and we have regular visits into the country, but we need significantly better access than we have at the moment to address an emergency of this scale,” he said, speaking from Geneva. (BBC)

The UN World Food Programme, which is trying to feed 1.5 million people, estimates that as many as a million people are in areas it cannot currently access. “Once we have the assurances of security and the ability to have full access to deliver and distribute and monitor, then we will be prepared to go back in,” Emilia Caselia, a spokeswoman for the WFP, told the Associated Press news agency. (BBC)

Johnnie Carson, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said the US was assessing if they were seeing “real change” from al-Shabab, or whether the group planned to impose some kind of “taxation” on aid deliveries. “Al-Shabab’s activities have clearly made the current situation much worse,” Mr. Carson said. “We call on all of those in south-central Somalia who have it within their authority to allow refugee groups and organizations to operate there to do so.” (BBC)

The south is home to about 80% of the nation’s malnourished children, the U.N. Children’s Fund said.

“More than ever, Somali people need and deserve our full attention,” Bowden said. “At this time of crisis, we must make exceptional efforts to support Somalis wherever they are in need and expect that all parties will do the same.” (CNN)

In a separate development, Amnesty International says children in Somalia are being systematically recruited as child soldiers by militant groups such as al-Shabab. Drawing on interviews from more than 200 Somalis who have fled their country, the rights group says some of those recruited are as young as eight years old. The report says al-Shabab lures children with promises of money and mobile phones, but also carries out abductions.


Petraeus Hands Over Command in Afghanistan While Violence Continues

Gen. David Petraeus, the outgoing top commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, formally transferred authority Monday to incoming commander Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen. Several senior Afghan and NATO officials, including U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, attended the change-of-command ceremony in Kabul.

“Throughout, we will keep our eyes on the horizon – the future of Afghanistan,” Allen told the audience, “a nation of free people at peace, governed under its constitution, pursuing economic enterprise and development, in a secure and stable environment free from the extremism and terrorism that has plagued this wonderful country and its people for more than a generation. In the end – together we will prevail.” (CNN)

“It is my intention to maintain the momentum of the campaign,” Allen said at the handover ceremony in the Afghan capital. He acknowledged, however, that the fight won’t be easy. “There will be tough days ahead. I have no illusions about the challenges,” Allen said. (CBC) Before taking over from Petraeus, Allen had been serving as the deputy commander at U.S.Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

He inherits a force that is coming under renewed attack just as NATO prepares to begin the first phase of handing over provincial security to Afghan security forces.

For his part, Petraeus plans to retire from the Army at the end of August and assume the CIA director’s job September 6. “I wanted this job,” Petraeus, 58, said at his Senate confirmation hearing. “I am taking off the uniform I have worn for 37 years to do this the right way.” (CNN)

“We should be clear-eyed about the challenges that lie ahead,” General Petraeus said, adding later: “There is nothing easy about such a fight.” (New York Times)

Dubbed King David for turning around what seemed like a losing battle as top U.S. commander in Iraq before he went to Afghanistan, Petraeus is considered a top general in his era, with Esquire magazine naming him one of the most influential people of the 21st century. He took over in Afghanistan on July 4 last year unexpectedly after a Rolling Stone magazine article prompted the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

“We’ve jokingly said that I went to the White House for the monthly National Security Council meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan with President Obama, and came out with a new job,” Petraeus said. “And that’s not far from the truth.” (CNN)

The U.S. military is losing the architect of modern-day counterinsurgency operations. Petraeus wrote his doctorate dissertation on the lessons America learned in Vietnam. Later, he devised the Army/Marine field manual, challenging the military to think differently about how it relates to the civilian population in dealing with a bloody insurgency.

This week, ahead of his departure, Petraeus assessed the results of his strategy in Afghanistan. “What we have done is implement the so-called NATO comprehensive approach, a civil-military campaign … that does indeed embody many of the principles of the counterinsurgency field manual that we developed back in 2006, and which we employed in Iraq in the surge of 2007-2008,” he said in an interview with NATO-TV. “I think generally, it has borne fruit.” (CNN)

He said it has been a difficult journey, rife with setbacks, but coalition forces have halted the momentum of the Taliban in much of the country and reversed the insurgent hold in restive Helmand province. Petraeus’ experience in working with the CIA counterinsurgency efforts in the field was cited as a reason for his nomination as the spy agency’s director.

Also on Monday, three service members with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force were killed in a blast in eastern Afghanistan. Their deaths bring to 34 the number of international troops who have died in Afghanistan in July.Since the start of this year, 314 coalition soldiers have died in the country.

One of the soldiers killed Monday was a British soldier from 1st Battallion The Rifles. He died in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province. The soldier was escorting a specialist team to recover a cache of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) components when he was killed by the explosion of another divice nearby. Next of kin has been informed.

Task Force Helmand spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbick said the soldier was killed near Jamal Kalay. He said: “The soldier was part of a foot patrol which had been deployed to assist the recovery of a cache of improvised explosive device (IED) components. As he led the specialist counter-improvised explosive device team to rendezvous with another patrol at the start of the operation, the soldier was fatally injured in an explosion. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.” (BBC) The Ministry of Defence earlier named a soldier killed in Afghanistan on Saturday as 24-year-old Lance Corporal Paul Watkins. An investigation has been launched into his death after reports he was shot by a man dressed in an Afghan national army uniform.

Elsewhere in Kabul, Afghan officials gathered at the presidential palace to pay tribute to the second powerful political figure to be assassinated in less than a week. The politician, Jan Mohammed Khan, was a former governor from the south and a close ally of the president who was gunned down at his home Sunday night. To gain entry, the two killers pretended to be members of Mr. Khan’s tribe, seeking assistance as a tribal leader, Afghan officials said on Monday. Mr. Khan gave one of the men 3,000 Afghanis – about $60 – before they began shooting, the officials said. A member of Parliament was also killed in the attack. Two gunmen in turn were killed by Afghan security forces, though one of them held the police off for nearly eight hours. The police finally set off a bomb in the room inside Mr. Khan’s home where the gunman had taken refuge. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, as they did for the assassination last Tuesday of President Hamid Karzai’s powerful half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who was shot dead by a close associate.

There have been fears in Afghanistan that the U.S. decision to draw down its forces could lead to a precipitous withdrawal of other foreign troops. Foreign forces are expected to gradually hand over control of Afghanistan to government forces and end their combat role by the end of 2014.


Near-Simultaneous Bombings Kill at Least 20 in Mumbai, India

At least 21 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded Wednesday in a series of explosions that rocked congested areas of India’s financial capital, Mumbai, according to Prithviraj Chavan, the state’s chief minister. Chavan said it was too early to talk about suspects but at least one of the blasts was “quite powerful.” He warned the death toll could rise. (CNN)

Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram called the explosions a “coordinated attack by terrorists.” (CNN) He appealed for calm as Mumbaikers voiced anger at the government because their city has been a repeated target for terror. “The entire city of Mumbai has been placed on high alert,” Chidambaram said at a news conference. “I would appeal to the people of Mumbai to remain calm and maintain the peace.” (CNN) He said forensic experts as well as security forces have been dispatched to Mumbai.

Prime Minister Mannohan Singh condemned the blasts and appealed to the people of Mumbai “to remain calm and show a united face.” (CBC)

The blasts occurred within minutes of one another in the areas of Opera House, Zaveri Bazar and Dadar, all busy commercial hubs that were teeming with people in the evening rush hour. The bomb tore apart a taxi that was parked next to a bus stop, witnesses told the BBC. It was unclear whether the explosives were planted inside the vehicle or in a nearby electricity meter box.

“I heard a loud explosion. And then I saw people with serious injuries lying in pools of blood,” another person told the Times of India. (BBC)

They brought back haunting memories in a city that has suffered terrorist attacks before, including the assault by Pakistani gunmen that killed 16 in November 2008.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who visited Mumbai and signed a condolence book for the victims of the 2008 attack, condemned Wednesday’s attack. “I strongly condemn the outrageous attacks in Mumbai, and my thoughts and prayers are with the wounded and those who have lost loved ones,” Obama said in a statement. “The U.S. government continues to monitor the situation, including the safety and security of our citizens. During my trip to Mumbai, I saw firsthand the strength and resilience of the Indian people, and I have no doubt that India will overcome these deplorable terrorist attacks.” (CNN) President Obama offered “support to India’s efforts to bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice.” (BBC) “The American people will stand with the Indian people in times of trial,” President Obama added. (Washington Post)

As in the past attacks, the blasts Wednesday targeted congested areas. Mumbai police blamed makeshift bombs and told CNN-IBN that one was left in a car; another in a motorcycle. “The sound was absolutely deafening,” said Hemant Mehta, who was in the Opera House area, near a diamond market that serves as a small epicenter of the city’s economy. Everyone looked up, he told CNN’s sister station CNN-IBN. At first, some thought that heavy rains had caused a building to collapse. He said he was sure the sheer panic would cause a stampede.

The area in Dadar is near a train station used by millions of commuters. In 2006, a series of seven explosions killed at least 174 people on crowded Mumbai commuter trains and stations.

Zaveri Bazar is near a Hindu temple, in which some people were injured, Mumbai police representative Nisar Tamboli told CNN-IBN. Zaveri Bazar was one of the scenes of a twin bombing in 2003 that killed 54 people and also came under attack in the 1993 bombings that left 257 dead.

Photographer Rutavi Mehta told the BBC he was shopping nearby and heard the explosion. He grabbed his camera and ran to the scene. “I took a couple of photographs. I think they might be too graphic for broadcast,” he said. “Bodies and limbs were strewn everywhere. People were crying and screaming. The area was packed with shoppers at the time of the blast. A few offered assistance to the blood-soaked victims, while others looked on in a state of shock,” he said. “It was totally chaos. There were pools of blood everywhere.” (BBC)

“When I heard the blast, I tried to call because I knew he was in Dadar. Next thing I know someone picked up the phone and said he was admitted to KEM (hospital) so I cam here,” said Rinku Vishwakarma, whose husband carpenter was injured in the Dadar blast. “I have no idea how badly he is injured. I’m looking frantically for someone to help.” (Reuters)

In the 2008 attack, 10 armed Pakistanis stormed the city’s main train station, two luxury hotels and a Jewish cultural center, killing 164 people.

In March 2010, Mumbai police said they prevented a major terrorist strike after they arrested two Indian men, who, police said, were preparing to hit several targets in the city. In September, police issued a terror alert for the city during a popular Hindu festival.

Mumbaikars said the targeting of such congested areas meant that the blasts were intended to inflict high casualties.

Authorities also issued high security alerts for the Indian capital, New Delhi, and the eastern city of Kolkata, CNN-IBN reported. Witnesses told CNN-IBN that their window panes shook and they heard the thundering boom of the blasts. Workers who had not left their offices were advised not to venture out.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts.

Pakistan was quick to condemn the latest explosions, in a statement issued by the foreign ministry. Peace talks between Pakistan and India have only recently resumed since they were broken off after the 2008 attacks.

“India is not going to cow down,” Cabinet minister Farooq Abdullah said. “Let those perpetrators of this terror remember, we will find them and Inshallah (God willing) we will give them the justice that India believes in.” (CBC)


Afghan President Karzai’s Half-Brother Shot Dead

The half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was shot dead at his home in Kandahar on Tuesday, authorities said. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Kandahar provincial council chief, was killed during a gathering, said Tooryalai Wesa, provincial governor. He did not know a motive.

While the governor initially said a friend killed Karzai, his spokesman later clarified that the death was at the hands of a guard.

Saidkhan Khakrezwai, a member of the Kandahar provincial council, told CNN he and others were with Ahmed Wali Karzai when a guard named Sardar Mohammad came into the room and asked to talk to him. The guard then “takes Wali to another room and shoots him with a pistol that he had in his hand,” Khakrezwai said. The shooter was shot dead by other guards. (CNN) Sardar Mohammad was a trusted man who worked as a guard for Karzai for eight years, Khakrezwai said. He was also a commander for a police post where there were about 30 policemen.

Kandahar police chief Abdul Razeq told reporters that Mr. Mohammed had travelled to Mr. Karzai’s home early on Tuesday, saying he needed to show documents to his boss. “The man carried his pistol through the security checks to Wali Karzai’s room. As soon as Wali Karzai came out of the bathroom, he opened fire and shot him in the head and chest,” Mr. Razeq said. (BBC)

Tooralai Wesa, the provincial governor of Kandahar, identified the assassin as Sardar Mohammad and said he was a close, “trustworthy” person who had gone to Wali Karzai’s house to get him to sign some papers. As Wali Karzai was signing the papers, the assassin “took out a pistol and shot him with two bullets – one in the forehead and one in the chest,” Wesa said. “Another patriot to the Afghan nation was martyred by the enemies of Afghanistan.” (CBC) “We felt more safe when Ahmad Wali Karzai was around,” said Wesa who deferred to him. “His loss will have a negative impact on issues with tribes, and current affairs and security. Kandahar today witnessed the darkest day,” Wesa added at a news conference. (Reuters)

Mir Wali, a former legislator from Helmand who said he met with Mr. Karzai for about 30 minutes just before he was killed, was on the second floor of the building when the shooting started. “We came out and saw Wali being carried out and Sardar Mohammed lying on the floor,” he said. “Shooting was continuing.” (New York Times)

A provincial official, Hajji Agha Lalai, was in the next room at the time and helped carry Mr. Karzai on a makeshift stretcher to a car and accompanied him to the hospital. “I was holding him and I was not very sure he would survive,” he said. “It was confirmed in the hospital that he was dead.” (New York Times) “At approximately 11.15 a.m., I was with him in his room. As I finished my conversation with him, I moved to another room in his house. After five minutes, I heard shootings. A man who was a security guard came into his room and shot him by pistol several times. The man who assassinated him was not his own guard who was serving in his home. Actually, this guard was serving for … another brother.” (Toronto Star)

Karzai suffered bullet wounds to his head and chest, said Mohammad Dawood Farhad, the head of Kandahar Hospital.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting, saying that the guard accused of shooting him was working for them. The house had been heavily guarded, hidden behind 2.5 metre blast walls. The Interior Ministry said an investigation was under way. According to a Taliban spokesman, Muhammed had been recruited by the insurgents a “long time” ago and “finally he find the chance today and achieved the objective.” The Taliban characterized Karzai’s assassination as one of their “biggest achievements” and there’s no disputing that. (Toronto Star)

“My brother Ahmad Wali Karzai was killed today,” said the Afghan president in a previously scheduled news conference with visiting French President Nicholas Sarkozy. “The Afghanistan people have suffered a lot. Every Afghan family has suffered. I hope one day these sufferings end.” (CNN) “This is the way of life for the people of Afghanistan,” said Mr. Karzai. “The homes of all Afghans feel this pain. Our hope is this will come to an end, and peace and happiness will come to our homes and will come to rule in our country.” (BBC) He then turned to Mr. Sarkozy and said, “We welcome Mr. Sarkozy and hope he forgives us for not speaking with a smile today.” (New York Times)

Ahmad Wali Karzai, who was dogged by drug dealing and corruption accusations, had been the subject of WikiLeaks cables leaked last year. Without being prompted, he discussed the accusations with a senior U.S. diplomat, according to one of the cables. He said that the claims are part of a campaign to discredit him and offered suggestions on how to stop drug dealing. “He is willing to take a polygraph anytime, anywhere to prove his innocence,” the cable said. “He suggested that the coalition pay mullahs to preach against heroin, which would reduce demand for poppy cultivation.” (CNN)

A U.S. official who authored another cable wrote that even though he must be engaged as head of Kandahar’s provincial council, “he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker.” He said Karzai’s “reputation for shady dealings” should be considered when he recommends “costly infrastructure projects.” The official said dealing with people like Ahmed Wali Karzai represents a major challenge in Afghanistan: Fighting corruption and building support for government when government officials are corrupt themselves. Karzai “appears not to understand the level of our knowledge of his activities, and that the coalition views many of his activities as malign, particularly relating to his influence over the police,” the author of the first cable said. (CNN)

In addition to discussions of war, drugs and Afghan politics, a comment in one of the cables also addressed his days as a restaurant owner close to Chicago’s Wrigley Field, the iconic baseball stadium. “His restaurant was a hub for American(s) in the Midwest who had worked or lived in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion,” the cable read. (CNN)

Years in power and his sometimes ruthless operating methods meant there might be many other people keen to target Karzai, who was often known simply by his initials, AWK. “I’m not sure whether I would assume that this was the Taliban because he had a lot of enemies down there,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. (Reuters) But regardless of whether they had a hand in the killing, the Taliban are likely to benefit from his death.

“(He) is irreplaceable in Kandahar,” said Haroun Mir, head of Afghanistan’s Center for Research and Policy studies. “Despite all the criticism, he was a stabilizing factor in Kandahar. Now Ahmad Wali Karzai is not there, others in Kandahar will be afraid. This is a real boost to the Taliban.” (Reuters)

Ahmad Wali Karzai had survived several other assassination attempts, including in May 2009 an ambush on the road to Kabul when Taliban insurgents killed one of his bodyguards.

The president will miss his support, particularly at a time he is mired in a long-running dispute with parliament and faces a slow but steady reduction in Western financial and military support over the next four years. The killing is also likely to alarm Western military and civilian officials, despite misgivings they had about him, because it comes at a time when they are trying to map out their departure from Afghanistan.

“The Americans and the British were extremely dependent on him for keeping a lot of these very prominent Pashtun tribes in line and not going over to the Taliban,” said Ahmed Rashid, an expert on the Taliban and longtime friend of the Karzai family.” (Reuters)

Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, offered his condolences to the Afghan president and said ISAF will help the Afghan government “bring justice” to those involved in the killing.
“President Karzai is working to create a stronger, more secure Afghanistan, and for such a tragic event to happen to someone within his own family is unfathomable,” Petraeus said. (CNN)

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a statement condemning the assassination.

“[Ahmad Wali Karzai] had his unsavoury side, but he was someone we could work with and he kept a lid on things in Kandahar,” a U.S. official told the BBC.

Karzai’s funeral will be held in Kandahar Wednesday. His half-brother may attend but security concerns are profound. With one dead Karzai, one president Karzai could be an irresistible target for the Taliban.


Russia Says 128 May be Dead in Volga River Accident

Russia said there was little hope of finding any more people alive on Monday after an overloaded tourist boat sank in the Volga River, killing as many as 128 people in Russia’s worst river accident in three decades.

Eighty people were rescued on Sunday after the Bulgaria, a double-decked river cruiser built in 1955, sank 3 km (2 miles) from shore in a broad stretch of the river in Tatarstan. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Dmitry Medvedev that little hoped remained of finding survivors.

As many as 60 of the passengers may have been children, Russian media reported, and survivors said some 30 children had gathered in a room near the stern of the ship to play just minutes before it sank.

“Practically no children made it out,” survivor Natalya Makarova said on state television. She said she had lost her grip on her 10-year-old daughter as they struggled to escape. “We were all buried alive in the boat like in a metal coffin,” Makarova said, who escaped through a window. (Reuters) “I practically crawled up from the bottom. My 10-year-old child was with me. I held onto her as long as possible,” Ms. Makarova said. (New York Times)

Russian television showed footage of survivors shaking with grief, yelling or staring hollowly at the port in Kazan where they were taken. In one, a woman yells, “My granddaughter, she was only 5 years old.” (New York Times)

Sania Zakirova waited on shore at the Syukeyevo for news of her missing grandson and pregnant daughter-in-law. “No one is telling us anything. Are they alive or dead?” she screamed, wiping back tears. Her son, who survived, “was struck by a big wave that carried his son straight out of his hands,” the Kazan resident told reporters. (Reuters)

Another relative told regional official Grigory Rapota: “You cannot bring the children back! But find their bodies. I don’t want money from you, I want to take them into my hands and bury them in peace.” (Reuters)

“It happened very fast. Hatches and windows were knocked out,” said Vladimir Shirybyryv, a friend of both survivors and missing people who was waiting at the river port in Kazan for word. Based on a surviving friend’s account, he said: “Everyone who survived was covered with fuel oil.” (CBC)

“It just tipped to the right, flipped over and sank,” Nikolai Chernov, one of the survivors, told Russian television. “That was it,” he said. “There was no warning, nothing.” (New York Times)
One survivor told the national news channel Vesti 24 that other ships refused to come to their aid. “Two ships did not stop, although we waved our hands,” said the man in his 40s, who stood on the shore amid weeping passengers, some of them wrapped in towels and blankets. He held another man, who was weeping desperately. (CBC)

The name of the captain, Mr. Ostrovsky, was not among the list of rescued, and neither were the names of his wife and children, Life News reported.

Cruises on the Volga, which cuts through the heart of Russia hundreds of kilometres east of Moscow and drains into the Caspian Sea, are popular among Russians and foreigners. The Volga River is crowded with boats in the summertime, including oil tankers and barges. Last year, a riverboat collided with a barge laden with sand north of Moscow. All the passengers were rescued.

Mikhail Korbanov, the editor of Russia’s Transport magazine, said the sinking was the most deadly river accident since the Alexander Suvorov crashed into a railroad bridge on the Volga in 1983, killing at least 176 people.

Medvedev said the sinking would not have happened if safety rules had been observed. “According to the information we have today, the vessel was in poor condition,” Medvedev told a hastily convened meeting of senior ministers at his Gorki residence outside Moscow. “The number of old rust tubs which we have sailing is exorbitant.” (Reuters) Seeking to deflect possible criticism of the authorities ahead of the March presidential election, he called for a “total examination” of passenger transport vehicles in Russia. Prime Minister Vladmir Putin sent his condolences and a day of mourning was declared in Russia on Tuesday.

The regional Emergencies Ministry said they had raised 55 bodies to the surface, five of whom were children, but divers said they had seen more bodies trapped in the restaurant cabin of the Bulgaria, a 78-metre craft the ministry said was designed for up to 140 passengers. The boat, which was built in Communist Czechoslovakia, had 208 people on board including 25 unregistered passengers, Shoigu said. A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General said the Bulgaria was overloaded, had no license to carry passengers and a problem with its left engine.

“In case of an accident these ships sink within minutes,” Dmitri Voropayev, head of the Samara Travel company, told RIA Novosti. (CBC)

The Federal Investigative Committee said it had confiscated documents from the company that owned the boat. Spokesman Vladimir Markin said investigators were looking into why the boat was listing to the right when it set out.

Russia has a history of disasters and deadly accidents stemming from lax implementation of safety rules, from fires to plane crashes and mining disasters. In other Russian news, at least five people were killed and 30 injured when a Russian plane made an emergency landing on a Siberian river after an engine caught fire on Monday.