Saturday, July 31, 2010

Man jailed for Muslim veil attack

BBC News

A man who ripped a veil from a Muslim woman's face as she walked though Glasgow has been jailed for two years. William Baikie, 26, admitted racially assaulting 26-year-old Anwar Alqahtani by forcibly removing her niqab in the city's Hope Street on 27 April.

Glasgow Sheriff Court heard how Baikie, who has previous convictions for racist behaviour, ran off but was later identified through CCTV footage.

Passing sentence, Sheriff Lindsay Wood branded the assault "shameful".

The court heard how Ms Alqahtani had come to Scotland from Saudi Arabia to study a masters degree.
'Absolute disgrace'

The 26-year-old, who wears the niqab to protect her modesty as part of her religion, was attacked as she walked to get a train from Central Station.

The force of Baikie's actions damaged Ms Alqahtani's niqab and she had to find another item of clothing to cover her.

Sentencing Baikie, Sheriff Lindsay Wood told him that what he did was an "absolute disgrace".

He said: "The offence you committed was a shameful one.

"You are a man who has a number of racist convictions and you knew full well how offensive the act would have been to the lady."

FBI defends guidelines on eve of Senate testimony


WASHINGTON — The FBI on Tuesday vigorously defended its domestic surveillance guidelines, under fire from civil liberties and Muslim groups who argue that people not involved in crime or terrorism could be unfairly targeted for investigation. On the eve of congressional testimony by FBI Director Robert Mueller, the bureau said that its procedures are designed to ensure that FBI probes don't zero in on anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or the exercise of any other constitutional right.

The FBI said its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide equips agents with lawful and appropriate tools so the agency can transform itself into an intelligence-driven organization that investigates genuine criminal and national security threats.

Last September, the FBI disclosed an edited version of the guide as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The manual was approved in December 2008, during the final days of the George W. Bush administration, and establishes policy that guides all the FBI's domestic operations, including counterterrorism, counterintelligence, criminal or cyber crime.

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union asked FBI field offices in 29 states and Washington, D.C., to turn over records related to the bureau's collection of data on race and ethnicity.

According to the ACLU, the FBI's operations guide gives agents the authority to create maps of ethnic-oriented businesses, behaviors, lifestyle characteristics and cultural traditions in communities with concentrated ethnic populations.

While some racial and ethnic data collection by some agencies might be helpful in lessening discrimination, the FBI's attempt to collect and map demographic data using race-based criteria invites unconstitutional racial profiling by law enforcement, according to the ACLU.

Farhana Khera, executive director of the nonprofit group Muslim Advocates, said in an interview Tuesday the FBI has lowered the bar for sending undercover agents or informants into mosques and has enabled the gathering of data about Muslims' charitable giving practices, financial transactions and jobs.

"It's quite an invasive data collection system," Khera said. "It's based on generalized suspicion and fear on the part of law enforcement, not on individualized evidence of criminal activity."

Khera said the FBI is still keeping portions of the guide out of the public domain that deal with sending agents or informants into houses of worship and political gatherings.

The FBI has previously stated that the bureau would only go into a mosque if it had some reason to believe there was criminal activity, said Khera. If that is the standard, the FBI should have no problem actually disclosing that section of the document, Khera said.

'Happy slapping' teenagers jailed for attack on grandfather


Leon Elcock, 16, and Hamza Lyzai, 15, guilty of manslaughter after attacking man in front of his granddaughter Two teenagers who killed a grandfather in a "happy-slapping" attack that was witnessed by the victim's three-year-old granddaughter were jailed today after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Ekram Haque, 67, was on his way home from a mosque with his granddaughter, Marian, when he was attacked by Leon Elcock, 16, and Hamza Lyzai, 15, in Tooting, south London.

The little girl saw the assault and can be seen trying to help him in CCTV footage.

But Haque, who cracked his head after being knocked to the ground, suffered irreparable brain damage and died a week after the attack last August.

Elcock and Lyzai, both from Tooting, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and also admitted their parts in other assaults in which, the Old Bailey heard, they had "targeted people for fun".

Haque's death was the culmination of a series of "happy-slappings" that were recorded on mobile phones.

Jailing Elcock for four-and-a-half years and Lyzai for three-and-a-half years, Judge Martin Stephens said: "As a result of your so-called bit of fun he was deprived of a full, contented life, and his family of a devoted, beloved father and grandfather." The judge also lifted reporting restrictions so that the pair could be named as a warning to others. A third youth, aged 15, who cannot be named, was locked up for six months after admitting, with Elcock, actual bodily harm against an elderly couple.

Police later recovered six video clips of "happy-slappings" in which youths would shout out "Lane Gang Productions".

The judge told the three defendants they had "committed a series of very serious cowardly and deeply unpleasant assaults offences against elderly and vulnerable men and women". But he said his powers of sentence for the assaults were "very limited" because of their ages.

Both killers will be released on licence after serving half their sentences, minus nearly a year they have already been in custody, while the 15-year-old has in effect completed his sentence already

The victim's son, Arfan Haque, who told the Old Bailey that his father and daughter had brought "a great deal of happiness" to each other's lives, said he was bitterly disappointed by the sentences.

Speaking outside court, he said: ""The CPS really need to buck up their ideas because people are getting away with murder. My father died. It's a disgrace."

Florida Church To Hold "International Burn A Koran Day"


Gainesville, FL, United States (AHN) - A church in Florida plans to burn Korans on the anniversary of 9/11 this year, drawing fire from American Muslims and pundits already engaged in debate about a planned mosque near Ground Zero. Dove World Outreach Center, a New Testament Church in Gainesville, will burn the Koran on the night of Sept. 11 "to stand against the evil of Islam." Its senior pastor, Terry Jones, is author of a new book, "Islam is of the Devil."

The church early this month led a protest outside the Islamic Center of Gainesville. It plans to hold a "No Homo Mayor" rally against Craig Lowe, the first openly gay mayor of the city, next week.

"There is only one true book, and that is the Bible," Jones says in an episode of his Braveheart Show on YouTube. "Demand that all Moslems that are here must adapt to our values, that they become Americans... You come here... you adapt to our values, our Constitution, our way of life... We should stop, immediately, the building of all mosques in America."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called on American Muslims to host "Share a Koran" dinners in August, when Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is observed.

The civil rights group believes distributing copies of the text to the public, law enforcement officials and journalists will provide accurate information about Islam and thereby decrease anti-Muslim bias.

"American Muslims and other people of conscience should support positive educational efforts to prevent the spread of Islamophobia," Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR national communications director, said in a statement.

The controversy over Dove World Outreach Center's planned 9/11 activity comes amid debate about the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero.

The proposal would turn the old Burlington Coat Factory building in New York City into a $100 million center that will have a mosque, a 500-seat auditorium, swimming pool, art exhibition spaces, bookstores and restaurants.

The project is the brainchild of Feisal Abdul Rauf, imam of a New York City mosque and founder of a non-profit, the Cordoba Initiative, that aims to "bring together leaders across the Muslim-West divide."

Proponents say the facility, called Cordoba House, seeks to foster better ties between Muslims and all other faiths. The project has the support of community and city officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

Opponents of the facility have questioned Rauf's image as a moderate Muslim and argued that a mosque near hallowed ground is an assault on the memory of 9/11 victims.

Four planes were hijacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. Two of the planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, one crashed into the Pentagon and the other into a field in Pennsylvania. A total of 2,973 people died.

Hans Blix slams Bush, Blair over Iraq war


Ex-UN weapons inspector Hans Blix questioned on Tuesday the judgment of Britain and the United States in invading Iraq on the basis of evidence of weapons of mass destruction that was clearly "poor". Giving evidence to an independent British inquiry into the March 2003 war in London, Blix said "I have never questioned the good faith" of then US president George W Bush and then British prime minister Tony Blair over the conflict.

"What I question was the good judgment, particularly in Bush, but also in Blair's judgment in accepting the intelligence that suggested Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) - the stated reason for war," he said.

Blix was executive chairman of the United Nations weapons inspection team in Iraq from March 2000 to June 2003, charged with finding the WMD that London and Washington were convinced Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was hiding.

Such weapons were never found, undermining the whole basis for a conflict that left thousands of Iraqis and foreign soldiers dead.

Blix told the Iraq inquiry in London that he initially believed Iraq had WMD, saying that while it had "unilaterally" destroyed much of the weapons it used in the early 1990s, elements remained that could have been built on.

He told the panel that he felt at first that a British dossier setting out the intelligence case in September 2002 was "plausible", adding: "I felt that Iraq retained weapons of mass destruction."

However, he began to change his view after January 2003 because of a greater willingness by the Iraqis to cooperate with his inspectors and because sites identified by intelligence documents kept coming up empty.

"What was really important was about this business of sites given, was that when we reported we did not find any WMD they should have realised in Washington and London that their sources were poor," he said.

Blix said he informed Blair and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of his concerns, telling the inquiry: "I alerted them that we were sceptical. Certainly, I gave the warning.

The former inspector said he wanted to continue the inspections and so indeed had Britain. "But the military timetable did not permit that," he added.

House Approves $59 Billion for Afghan War


WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved $59 billion to fund the Afghan war and other emergency spending, sending the bill to President Barack Obama's desk after brushing aside revelations contained in a cache of leaked military documents. The war's unusual politics were reflected in the 308-114 vote. While 102 Democrats defected, objecting to a war prosecuted by a president of their own party, 160 Republicans supported the measure despite their frequent opposition to Mr. Obama's policies.

The debate was colored by Sunday's release of 92,000 documents by the group WikiLeaks, but it didn't appear to affect the outcome. The leaked military incident reports were raised only occasionally by anti-war lawmakers. Democrats and a handful of Republicans had been souring on the White House's Afghan policy for months. Some lawmakers said the documents could accelerate that erosion of support in the longer term.

In a measure of the debate's topsy-turvy nature, Rep. David Obey (D., Wisc.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and the Democrats' point man on the bill, told his colleagues he could not support it.

"The Afghan government has not demonstrated the focused determination, reliability and judgment necessary to bring this effort to a rational and successful conclusion," Mr. Obey said. "I cannot look my constituents in the eye and say that this operation will hurt our enemies more than us."

Top Republicans supported the bill and blamed Democrats for not passing it sooner. House Democrats initially added $20 billion in domestic spending to the legislation, but the Senate stripped it out, a process that took several weeks.

"The delay in passing this legislation was caused by one thing and only one thing—the House Democratic majority's continuing and unwavering appetite for spending," said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R., Calif.), the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee.

While some Democrats stressed the urgent need to fund the troops, others made impassioned anti-war speeches, saying the country should be addressing pressing needs at home rather than a futile conflict thousands of miles away.

"Congress cannot continue to write a blank check for a war in Afghanistan that has ultimately made our county less safe," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.

Later in the day, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio), forging an alliance with Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas), offered a resolution ordering Mr. Obama to withdraw U.S. troops from Pakistan, which failed by a 38-372 margin.

The two congressmen argued that secretive military operations in Pakistan violate the War Powers Act, since Congress hasn't authorized them. "We don't make declarations of war any more," Mr. Paul told his colleagues. "We slip into war."

Rep. Howard Berman (D., Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said there are no U.S. forces in Pakistan engaged in hostilities—there are 120 U.S. trainers aiding the Pakistani military on counterinsurgency techniques—and warned the resolution would inflame sentiments in the region.

Mr. Obama, in his first comments on the leaked documents, on Tuesday downplayed the significance of the reports, which outlined the struggles of soldiers on the ground and raise questions about Pakistan's trustworthiness as an ally. "These documents don't reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan," Mr. Obama said.

Marine Gen. James Mattis, in his confirmation hearing to become head of Central Command, said he supported the president's strategy to begin drawing down troops in July. He said the pace of the transfer to the Afghan military would be based on conditions on the ground, rather than being "a handoff of a hot potato."

Under questioning from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Gen. Mattis said the WikiLeaks release was "appallingly irresponsible" but dismissed the documents' significance. "I've seen no big revelations," he said.

The Pentagon had been pressuring Congress to pass the war spending measure before its August recess, which begins next week. Defense Department officials said money for the war would begin running out Aug. 7.

In addition to the war funding, the bill approved Tuesday included money for post-earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti, counter-narcotics operations in Mexico and a response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Helmand residents accuse Nato of deliberate attack on civilians


Survivors of an alleged Nato rocket attack on a small town in Helmand, which the Afghan government says killed 52 civilians, spoke today of their anger at what they claim was a deliberate air strike, despite coalition denials. The incident is alleged to have taken place last Friday in Regey, in the volatile Sangin district of Helmand. News of it came as a deluge of leaked US army documents about previously unreported civilian killings threatens to ruin Nato's attempts to persuade Afghans that it takes innocent deaths seriously.

Many residents of the town say they believe the strike, which they say was a missile attack on a mud house where people were hiding from nearby fighting, was deliberate. "The foreign forces could see us," said Haji Abdul Ghafar, a 38-year-old farmer who had fled to Regey from a nearby village. "We were not in any hideouts. The Americans can see tiny things on the ground, but they could not see us. I think they bombed us on purpose."

Ghafar said at first he had not known whether shooting was coming from "tanks" or from aircraft. "But people a bit far from us said that the foreign troops' tank fired a cruise missile. It hit the house and destroyed the front of the house and the left wall."

He was speaking to the Guardian at the Mirwais hospital in Kandahar city, where he went with his son, Agha Shereen, who suffered a broken leg and nose, and a seven-year-old nephew, Abdul Jabar.

Abdul was still suffering from severe shock, appearing to believe he was still at home and looking for his sandals to go out and play with other children. In total, Ghafar said, 17 members of his extended family were killed, including three sisters, three daughters and one son.

The large number of apparent deaths could be explained by the reputation of Regey, which is bounded by two rivers, as a safe area where people can escape fighting between foreign forces and insurgents – Nato has confirmed there was fighting in a village six miles south.

"There has never been fighting in Regey because people thought that military or Taliban will not cross the river," said Haji Fazul Haq, a former governor of Sangin. "People have always thought this is the best place to be safe."

Ghafar made clear his disdain for foreign soldiers. "When Taliban fight, they always tell us to leave the area," he said. "Even before this fighting, Taliban told us to leave the area and we left."

Nato has long accepted that such incidents, including those uncovered by documents published this week by Wikileaks, cause huge damage. They have in the past caused major rows between the Afghan government and Nato.

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has condemned the alleged incident in Helmand, and repeated the claim that 52 people were killed. However, yesterday his spokesman praised successful efforts by Nato to reduce civilian casualties, in part through tough restrictions on the use of force. Under rules of engagement issued last year, the alleged attack on the building in Regey should not have been allowed unless troops on the ground could clearly identify insurgents and no civilians, or had reports from at least two intelligence sources to that effect.

Nato says that so far a joint investigation with the Afghan government has not supported the villagers' claims. "The villagers took the joint team to a graveyard in Regey village and they claimed that 35 people were buried there, but the graves seemed to be old," said Dawood Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

"The team have not found any evidence to show that the civilians were killed," he said. "They [the villagers] may have been lying but we are there to find out."

Nato's reputation for coming clean has been damaged by past incidents when it at first denied it had done anything wrong, before later admitting large numbers of people had in fact been killed – a pattern highlighted by the Afghanistan war logs published this week in the Guardian.

One problem is that investigation teams can struggle to get to the sites of such accidents and to stay long enough to conduct a thorough investigation, particularly when they are in hostile territory. For example, when as many as 125 people were killed in September last year when a German commander ordered an air strike on kidnapped fuel tankers in the northern province of Kunduz, he urged an investigation team not to visit the area because it was too dangerous.

The Afghan government's claim of 52 dead is based on an investigation by local members of the country's intelligence service, who could well have had access to the village. The UN said it was "deeply concerned" at the reports and urged a thorough investigation.
Some of the worst civilian casualties:

July 2002 US warplane mistakenly bombs wedding party in Deh Rawud in Oruzgan province, 105 miles south of Kandahar. Up to 48 people are killed and more than 100 injured when the bomb hits a house in the village.

February 2003 At least 17 civilians killed in a US-led bombing raid in southern Afghanistan. The vVictims were living lived in villages in the Baghran district of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, a Pashtun area where many had supported the Taliban regime.

October 2003 Province of Nuristan province – eight members of one family killed by US or allied warplanes

November 2007 US forces mistakenly kill at least a dozen road construction workers in air strikes in eastern Afghanistan. As many as 14 engineers and labourers were killed in Nuristan province. US officials blamed faulty intelligence. The workers, who had been contracted by the US military to build a road in the mountainous province, were sleeping in their tents when they were killed.

July 2008 US air strike kills 47 civilians, including 39 women and children, as they were travelling to wedding in AfghanistanNuristan.

May 2009 Farah province - nearly 100 killed in US air strikes over two days. A US investigation said 26 civilians and 78 Taliban fighters died in attacks by US bombers in the western Farah province. Afghan officials put death toll at 140.

September 2009 According to Nato, 142 insurgents and civilians killed in German air strike on two oil tankers seized by Taliban in the northern region near in Kunduz.

February 2010 Thirty-three civilians killed in Uruzgan province in Nato air strike on vehicle convoy.

16 Casualties among civilian casualties shot or bombed by British troops


The US army's archives contain descriptions of at least 21 separate occasions in which British troops are said to have shot or bombed Afghan civilians, including women and children.

Civilians shot by UK forces: read all cases from the war logs

The US army's archives contain descriptions of at least 21 separate occasions in which British troops are said to have shot or bombed Afghan civilians, including women and children.

The logs identify at least 26 people killed and another 20 wounded as a result. Some casualties were accidentally caused by air strikes, but many also are said to involve British troops firing on unarmed drivers or motorcyclists who come "too close" to convoys or patrols. Their injuries result from what are described as "warning shots" or "disabling shots" fired into the engine block, as required by the military's "escalation of force" regulations.

The number of dead and wounded alleged to have been caused by the British include 16 children, at least three women and a mentally ill man. The number is a small fraction of the 369 civilian casualties listed in the logs as due to coalition – mostly US – action in total.

More than 320 UK soldiers have also been killed since British troops were deployed to Helmand. But the war logs describe two disturbing clusters of British shootings that do not appear to have been properly investigated.

There is an unusual group of four shootings all in Kabul, in barely more than a single month, October 2007. The perpetrators are not identified in the logs and on one occasion the Americans report: "Investigation is controlled by the British. We [are] not able to get the complete story."

Among UK squads in Kabul at that time were a detachment of the Coldstream Guards. It is not known whether they were involved in any of the shootings, but their unofficial blog, ShinyCapstar, describes the atmosphere that October at Camp Souter in Kabul: "The overriding threat is that of suicide bombers of which there have been a number in the recent past."

The first incident is reported on 4 October 2007. The US log says a non-combatant was wounded with two or three bullets and taken by "the UK company" to Camp Warehouse. "An investigation is pending."

On 21 October, three civilian interpreters were said to be wounded when their vehicle "was fired upon by a UK vehicle near Camp Blackhorse … Investigation is controlled by the British. " Four days later "a warning shot was fired by a British soldier" which ricocheted and wounded a passerby. And on 6 November: "UK Coy reported force escalation". According to the Americans, the son of an Afghan general died of the subsequent gunshot wounds: "There could be some demonstration."

A second cluster of eight shootings, involve Royal Marine commandos in Helmand in the six months from October 2008. Further shootings involve British "mentoring units" sent to work with Afghan police and soldiers. There are also four recorded instances of air strikes called in by the UK resulting in casualties to civilians.

A Harrier bombing is listed as killing eight people. In another an F16 jet called in by a Rifles squad radioed afterwards that it could see "bodies being picked up in the target area". Seven civilians were wounded and one killed in that attack.

A further Apache helicopter strike outside Kandahar was claimed to have killed three Taliban: but it proved later that two women and two children had died.

A Hellfire missile blast from an unmanned drone over Helmand was also claimed to have killed six Taliban. It later transpired it had wounded two children.

British troops at a checkpoint in Sangin killed four and wounded three civilians in July. In August a 2 Para squad rocketed what it thought were insurgents, killing three civilians and wounding four. And in September an unarmed motorcyclist was shot dead by a British patrol.

There is also at least one episode of UK shootings which the war logs cover up. On 3 December 2006 the US database merely records that a convoy struck an IED in Kandahar, wounding three Royal Marines and causing 25 civilian casualties.

But Guardian correspondent Declan Walsh, who was on the scene, interviewed victims in hospital. Witnesses described a shooting spree in which vengeful or scared UK soldiers shot at bystanders, killing two and wounding five. The MoD never publicly investigated these allegations.

The Guardian put allegations of the two clusters of British shootings to the MoD three days ago. It said: "We have been unable to corroborate these claims in the short time available and it would be inappropriate to speculate on specific cases without further verification of the alleged actions."

Civilians shot by UK forces: read all cases from the war logs

Anti-Islam Party to Support Netherlands' First Minority Cabinet Since WWII

By Jurjen van de Pol and Maud van Gaal

The Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Alliance agreed to form a government with the support of the anti-immigrant Freedom Party, creating the Netherlands' first minority Cabinet since World War II.

The "parties accept each other's differing opinions" on the characterization of Islam, the parties said in a joint statement. "However, there's a lot of common ground: making the Netherlands stronger, safer and wealthier is a common goal and starting point."

The three parties said the Freedom Party will support parts of a government agreement to be negotiated between the Liberal Party, or VVD, and the Christian Democratic Alliance, or CDA, while the latter two take into account wishes of the Freedom Party. The "willingness" of the Freedom Party, or PVV, to support budget cuts will be linked to agreements on issues including immigration, integration and public safety, the parties said.

It took six weeks and three rounds of talks to reach the agreement following the June 9 election. The Liberal Party and Christian Democrats, with a combined 52 seats in the lower house of parliament, will rely on the Freedom Party's 24 lawmakers to gain the smallest possible majority in the 150-seat parliament.


"We've concluded we see possibilities for a government with CDA and VVD with support from the PVV," Liberal Party leader Mark Rutte told reporters in The Hague.

The coalition will offer power for the Freedom Party, whose representation more than doubled in the elections, and the Christian Democrats of outgoing Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who lost half their support.

"It may work out. I am very happy this offers chances in the Netherlands to make political cooperation happen on the right side," said Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party that seeks to ban new mosques, curb immigration, cut development aid and reduce European Union influence. "The negotiations are yet to start, but if it does work, that would be great for the Netherlands," he told reporters in The Hague.

Wilders, 47, receives police protection around the clock and faces trial in the Netherlands on charges of inciting hatred in his 2008 film "Fitna," in which he calls on Muslims to rip out "hate-preaching" verses from the Koran.

Austerity measures are the most important issue on political leaders' agenda, with the Netherlands, the fifth- largest economy in the euro region, needing to narrow its budget deficit from a forecast 6.3 percent of gross domestic product this year to 3 percent by 2013 to meet EU rules.

Queen Beatrix last week asked Ruud Lubbers, a three-time prime minister, to broker talks among the parties to form a coalition following the election. Lubbers will speak with leaders of the other political parties on Aug. 2 before reporting back to the queen on the proposed minority Cabinet, the government information service said in an e-mailed statement.

As Some Young Muslims Turn to Radicalism, Concern Grows


FRANKFURT - Before Abi left her parents' house in northern Germany last year, she asked her father, "Daddy, what can I bring you from my journey?" He looked up from his book and answered, "Some perfumed oil." "Will do," she said, hugging him goodbye.

He is still waiting, more than a year later, for her to return.

Abi, now 23, and her husband never made the trip they said they had planned to Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca and Medina. Instead they became part of a growing number of young Muslims from Germany and other European countries who travel to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, eventually ending up in the camps of groups affiliated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

One German man, Eric Breininger, was later reported killed in a battle with Pakistani troops.

A Turkish-language Web site announced that in recent days nine foreign fighters were killed as they traveled to carry out operations with the Taliban. Two of them were identified as Germans, from Bonn and Berlin.

Others have been arrested on a variety of charges. In one case, several people were convicted of planning attacks against American military facilities in Germany.

Intelligence officials are concerned that the young people, most in their 20s, will be used by the militants for propaganda purposes or trained to take up arms. They also worry that some will slip back into Germany to recruit others or to join sleeper cells and ultimately commit acts of terrorism.

"This is a very dangerous situation and German security services are very nervous about it," said Guido Steinberg, terrorism expert of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. "Al Qaeda and other organizations have put Germany on their target priority list as one of the top places."

Security officials believe that the number of young Germans who make the trip is relatively small, perhaps fewer than 200 since the early 1990s. But they also believe the number is growing, inspired in part by German-language videos on the Internet, including some made by a group called German Taliban Mujahedeen, which promise a happy life with others committed to Shariah law.

It is difficult to pin down an exact figure because most of those headed for the border regions first leave Germany by car, to elude airport security checks; many go to Turkey and then illegally into Iran, where they meet smugglers who take them to their destination.

Security officials are also troubled because it appears that whole families are now making the move, after selling all their possessions and taking their savings from the bank.

A man who helps smuggle foreigners into the region offered an explanation for the need for cash. In the past, said the man, Abu Yahia, who is from Waziristan, the militant groups once had enough money to support those who joined them. Now, he said, with all the fighting going on, the newcomers are asked to "bring enough money so they can support the groups and themselves."

The parents of Abi - her mother is German and her father is from a West African country - are appalled by their daughter's transformation from a Westernized dental student to a radicalized Muslim. (Fearing harassment, the parents consented to be interviewed only if their names were not disclosed. Abi is a shortened form of their daughter's real name.)

The changes came slowly, they say, after Abi fell in love with a young Iranian man, who grew up in Germany. After marrying in a mosque in 2008 - a shock to her father, though he is Muslim - the young couple changed their behavior and their dress. He converted from Shiism, started to follow a radical Sunni form of Islam and grew his beard; she started wearing head scarves and cut off contact with friends. "My husband told her that this was not what Islam was teaching, to stop friendships, but she would not listen," Abi's mother said.

At the beginning of March last year, Abi, her husband and three others left their homes in Germany and ultimately made their way to the Pakistani border region of Waziristan. At the beginning Abi told her parents through e-mail that she and her husband wanted to live in an Islamic society, though her husband later sent signals to his parents that he wanted to return to Germany. But then he appeared in a propaganda video with a gun in his hand. "I knew then, that it would be very tough for them to return," Abi's mother said.

Security officials, as well as the parents of Abi, her husband and other parents of young people who have gone to the Pakistani border region, hope to learn more about their situation from Rami Makanesi, a 25-year-old German national of Syrian descent, who was recently arrested by Pakistani officials while in the tribal district of North Waziristan.

Since his arrest Mr. Makanesi has been in the custody of Pakistan's main spy service, the ISI. According to a senior ISI official, Mr. Makanesi told Pakistani investigators that he was a member of Al Qaeda and had trained suicide bombers for them in Waziristan. "He did not leave the impression that he was someone who had no idea what he was doing there," said the ISI official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak publicly about the case.

Mr. Makanesi also spoke about dozens of Qaeda-recruited Europeans fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "He spoke about six other German men who had been in the same region with him," the official said.
"There are connections between the circles from Hamburg to circles in Berlin, Bonn and Frankfurt," said a senior German intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the case. "It is very possible that Mr. Makanesi has met some people from Germany who traveled from other cities as well."

One of the families desperate for some information is that of Thomas, a 24-year-old convert to Islam who has grown more observant over the past two years. The family grew alarmed when Thomas, now using the name Haroun, and his wife began talking about moving to a place where they could practice their faith more completely.

"We went to the police and intelligence service and asked for help, because we noticed how they had changed," his mother said. "We've cried for help." But the authorities had no legal basis to intervene.
Last September, he and his wife told his parents that they were leaving Berlin for a trip to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. Instead, they made their way to Waziristan.

At the beginning, Thomas sent e-mails to his parents, telling them the living conditions were tough. Last December, he wrote that he didn't know if he would see the next summer.

"Since then no message, no idea if he is still alive or dead, no certainty, which is making it very complicated," his mother said.

German security officials say that they believe Thomas went through military training in Waziristan. "We have indications that he has appeared in one propaganda video, but with his face covered," one official said.

The parents of Abi and Thomas still hope that their children will return to Germany. But security officials say that in nearly all cases those who return continue to associate with more militant Muslims.

Abi's mother says the signals that she is getting from her daughter about a return are not very hopeful.

Abi has told her mother that Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan are oppressed and need help. That reaction is typical for her daughter, who always wanted to help people, Abi's mother said, adding, "I was always proud of her for this."

Then tears filled her eyes, as she said: "My husband and I became very weak because of what she has done, and I would like to ask her, ‘Doesn't the Koran say you should never lie to your parents and have to honor them?' "

Five Taliban delisted by UN committee: diplomat


Five Taliban have been struck off a U.N. Security Council list of people subject to sanctions -- a move sought by Kabul to ease reconciliation talks with insurgents, a U.N. diplomat said on Friday.

The move followed a review of the list of Taliban and al-Qaeda members maintained by a Security Council committee. Two of the five were delisted because they were dead, the diplomat said.

Afghanistan had pressed the committee to take some names off the list as part of a scheduled update. A "peace Jirga" in Afghanistan last month recommended negotiations with moderate Taliban leaders and other insurgents to end a worsening nine-year war in the country.

Diplomats said Afghan President Hamid Karzai had been seeking the delisting of about a dozen Taliban, either because they had joined the government side or because they were dead.

But Russia, which sits on the committee along with other Security Council members, had been cautious about deleting names, they said.

The diplomat named the five delisted as Abdul Hakim Mujahid Mohammed Awrang, a former Afghan ambassador to the United Nations, Abdul Salam Zaeef and Abdul Satar Paktin, as well as Abdul Samad Khaksar and Mohammed Islam Mohammadi, who have both died.

Russia, diplomats said, has indicated reluctance to remove even the names of dead people from the U.N. blacklist, possibly because it would free up any frozen assets that could somehow be used to help fund the Taliban insurgency.

The committee has been reviewing all the more than 500 Taliban and al-Qaeda entries on the blacklist.

"The review of the Taliban and al-Qaeda sanctions list will continue," a diplomat said. "There may be more names coming off the list in the weeks and months ahead."

Five years ago Karzai's office had asked the Security Council committee that oversees implementation of resolution 1267, approved in 1999, to remove some 20 names from the roughly 140 on the list at the time. Some have already been removed.

Resolution 1267 freezes assets and bans travel of senior Taliban and al-Qaeda figures and firms associated with them.

Curfew in Kashmir as fourth protester dies

SRINAGAR: Troops enforced a curfew in major towns in Indian-administered Kashmir on Saturday as a fourth person died from injuries suffered when soldiers opened fire to quell demonstrators the previous day.

Three people were killed Friday in two separate incidents when security forces opened fire to disperse angry anti-India protesters in the northern towns of Sopore and Patan.

On Saturday, police said a fourth man, who had been seriously injured in the shooting at Patan, died in hospital early in the morning, raising the death toll to four.

The fresh death came as authorities placed most of the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley under curfew.

"A curfew is in force in Srinagar and other major towns of the Kashmir Valley," a police spokesman said.

Srinagar wore a deserted look as troops carrying rifles and batons patrolled the streets.

Police and paramilitary forces were also deployed in strength in big towns to prevent demonstrations, the spokesman said.

Srinagar has been the focus of protests since June 11 when a 17-year-old student died after being hit by a police teargas shell.

Indian police and paramilitary forces, who have been struggling to control the wave of protests in the valley, have been accused of killing 21 civilians in less than two months.

Each death has sparked a new cycle of violence despite appeals for calm from state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram.

The insurgency against New Delhi's rule of Kashmir has claimed tens of thousands of lives, though the recent unrest is the worst for two years. - AFP

Video unveils French police brutality

Press TV

In France, rights groups plan to file a complaint about police brutality, after a video surfaced showing officers using excessive force to evict African immigrants from a Paris suburb.

The footage shows police dragging away women with their babies as well as young children.

The group of 60 people had been living in the streets since being evicted from their council homes earlier this month.

The group of mostly women and children had been ordered to move to make way for a new housing project.

The footage shows a screaming woman with a baby wrapped to her back being dragged along the pavement. Another scene shows a pregnant woman lying on her back on the street.

According to France 24 the footage was recorded on July 21 by an observer from the Droit au Logement (Right to Housing) association and uploaded on the internet by French news site Mediapart and broadcast by CNN on Tuesday.

Most of the immigrants are from the Ivory Coast. Some of them had been living in France for ten years and were not illegal immigrants.

Civil death' hunting down blacks in US

A felony conviction has deprived one out of every seven African Americans of the right to vote, a Washington D.C. research and advocacy organization has found.

The Setencing Project has found that despite section 2 of the US Voting Rights Act, which clearly stipulates that any "voting qualification that results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color" is illegal, reality tells a different story.

The operative word here is "results." Congress also made it clear in a 1982 amendment that the Voting Rights Act does not require proof of intentional discrimination. And that is seems to be exactly what is happening to black voters.

Forty-eight states,(all except Maine and Vermont,) deny convicted felons the right to vote.

It is a modern version of the old concept of "civil death" for those convicted of serious crimes. In some states, such as Massachusetts, the ban lasts for the duration of the prison sentence. More often, however, it extends for years longer -- through the parole period.

In Virginia, 20 percent of African Americans cannot vote because of past felony convictions, compared with 6.8 percent of Virginia residents as a whole.

In Texas, a similar scenario can be found with 9.3 percent of the black population barred from voting compared to 3.3 percent of Texans as a whole.

In New York, 80 percent of those who have lost the right to vote are either black or Hispanic.

The impact of this discriminatory voting law on the black community is disproportionate in every state; that is hardly surprising given that one in nine black men aged 20 to 34 is in prison. Even so, the numbers are startling, with disturbing implications for civic life in a democracy.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. More than two million people, nearly half of them black, are behind bars and many of the felony convictions are the result of relatively minor drug offenses.

A tour of the jail within a jail that houses Britain's most dangerous convicts

Mark Hughes is the first newspaper journalist to be allowed inside Belmarsh's High Security Unit
Cell 12 on wing three is about 6ft wide by 10ft long. A small window covered by wire mesh offers the dull view of a wall outside. There is a small television on a plastic desk in one corner and a metal toilet in the other.

Only the long, specially-adapted, lever tap handles give any indication as to the identity of the occupant. For the past six years this has been "home" to Abu Hamza, the notorious Muslim cleric. He is one of just nine prisoners held in Britain's most secure prison.

Holding the country's most dangerous criminals, HMP Belmarsh's High Security Unit (HSU) is a prison within-a-prison. And, until now, almost nothing has been known about it. Even within the main jail, most of the 843 prisoners have no idea what goes on inside.

But this week The Independent became the first newspaper to be granted full access to the HSU and allowed to speak to the men whose job it is to guard the country's most dangerous criminals. We saw the cramped living conditions and tedious regimes that men such as the 21/7 bombers and Bilal Abdullah, the man behind the Glasgow Airport attack, have experienced.

To get inside the main prison I had already negotiated 15 gated doors and had my fingerprints scanned. On arrival at the HSU - a windowless, grey concrete building opposite the prison's recently-built five-a-side football pitch - the security checks began again.

Surrounded by CCTV cameras in a small carpeted reception area - the only carpet in the block - I removed my shoes and belt and put all my belongings through an X-ray machine. I walked through a metal detector and a was given a body search - the lining of my jeans, the soles of my feet and inside my mouth were all checked.

This security is not just for visitors - the prison guards must go through the same search before they enter.

At the end of the reception area is a red iron gate. Passing through this door involves at least a four-minute wait, as it can only be unlocked by staff in the control room who check people's identity using remote cameras which zoom in to study their faces.

Once through you are faced with four more doors, each leading to a different part of the unit. No two doors in the unit can be opened at the same time.

The HSU is on two floors and is split into four "spurs". Each one has 12 single-occupancy cells. Built alongside the main prison in 1991, the HSU was originally used almost exclusively to house IRA prisoners. But since then it has held KGB agents, al-Qa'ida terrorists and even Charles Bronson - Britain's most violent prisoner - who had a whole spur to himself.

But while Bronson was deemed too dangerous to mix with others, the men currently held in the HSU are not there because of any physical risk they pose. For the most part it is their notoriety which earns them a place there.

"We get a lot of high-profile prisoners, and prisoners who have the means and capacity to escape," one of the the HSU managers explained. "The type of prisoner we have here is a lot different to the type of prisoner in the normal prison. The prisoners here have the means and ability to achieve the results prisoners somewhere else would not."

That applies to Curtis Warren, who is currently being held in the HSU. He is a gangster, a drug trafficker and was once Interpol's most wanted man.

The fear around Warren, a powerful and influential criminal on the outside, is that he would be both of these things inside the prison were he to mix with other prisoners. And, despite the fact that Belmarsh has never had a prisoner escape in its 19-year history, he would also be a possible escape risk.

A different fear exists around Abu Hamza: that he would use his preaching to radicalise other Muslim inmates. He cannot do that from the confines of the HSU. Indeed, he cannot do much.

The prisoners here have a similar regime to the inmates in the main prison except that they are not allowed to work - prison jobs include packing teabags and cleaning.

They are in their cell for 12 hours and out for 12. The day starts at 8.10am. They are given 20 minutes for breakfast, an hour of outdoor exercise, an hour to use the gym and have to clean the wing for half-an-hour a day. The rest of the time spent out of their cell - five hours - is "association" time.
During this period they can chat to one another, play pool or table football, watch television, or use the rowing machine or exercise bike which sit on the wing. There is also a laundry and a small shower cubicle.

While it may not sound a particularly taxing regime, it is far from stimulating. And it is certainly not the holiday camp which some commentators would have you believe. The area is desperately cramped and uncomfortably warm. During their five hours of association, the HSU prisoners cannot leave the confines of their spur.

The only outside areas are two surprisingly large exercise yards, surrounded by high fences topped with barbed wire and metal mesh for a roof.

Passing one yard I saw two men slowly pacing around the perimeter. They were being watched by four prison guards. At that moment an alarm went off. Unlike the perception most people have of a prison, it was not an audible siren but a coded message via the guard's radio. We were told we were not allowed to move. As we watched the two men exercise, one of them shared a joke with a guard.

It was at this point an officer warned me that those men, despite already being in the HSU, had been categorised as "exceptional risk" prisoners and were not allowed to mix with anyone except each other. He added: "Those two men are two of the most powerful people in prison in the whole of Europe."

If the HSU sounds like an additional punishment, it is not meant to be. In fact the prison has gone to surprising lengths to keep its most dangerous men happy. Abu Hamza's disability, the fact that he has no hands (he is not allowed his hook in prison), has been catered for. Two cells in the HSU have been kitted out with special taps, shelves and clothes pegs. One Spanish inmate - believed to be Garikoitz Ibarlucea Murua, an alleged member of the Basque terrorist organisation ETA - is provided with Spanish books and newspapers.

Staff are warned against becoming too friendly with the inmates. Officers on the HSU are only allowed to work there for three years before being moved back to the main prison. They are also warned against sharing any personal details with the prisoners.

It is for this reason that the HSU manager asks for his first name not be be published. Senior officer Murray explained: "Our staff here are trained to spot manipulation and conditioning. We don't like staff to become over-friendly because it can get to the point where a prisoner has a member of staff in his pocket and can manipulate him for favours or telephone calls."

Precautions are taken to ensure that prisoners cannot hide anything in their cell. Every few months men are moved to a different cell and the cells are searched. This is why Hamza has two.
The day I visit, everything is calm in the HSU. Inmates, in their prison-issue, maroon jogging-bottoms, use the gym under the watch of the guards.

But it is not always like this. The prison governor Phil Wragg recalls an incident where the HSU inmates refused to return to their cells and had to be forcibly restrained. But he dismisses a newspaper story which suggested that al-Qa'ida had taken over the HSU and that the prisoners have been radicalised.

Misbehaviour in the HSU is dealt with by punishment in the form of the segregation unit, where prisoners must spend 23 hours a day in their cell. And if an inmate is particularly troublesome, he will go in "the box": a room with nothing inside it except a perspex window.

Due to its added security and smaller prisoner numbers, the safety record of the HSU is better than the main prison. There has been one accidental death - where a bag of drugs burst inside a prisoner - and one incident where an IRA prisoner attempted to slit his throat.

But, unlike the main prison, where there have been three suicides in the past three months, no one has ever killed themselves in the HSU.

And, despite the differing crimes of the men in the HSU, Murray says that the atmosphere is generally good. "Prisoners over here have to get on because it is such a closed environment," he said. "You would be surprised at who gets on with who. There are no gang or religious affiliations. Muslim prisoners and non-Muslim prisoners get on very well.

"And from my experience prisoners going from here back into the main jail hate it. In the main jail, prisoners do not have the same amount of contact with the staff. Also for many of them it gives them kudos to be over here."

While the prison staff are careful not to discuss the identities of current inmates, they enjoy name-dropping previous prisoners: "I remember when I heard Charlie Bronson banging on his cell door..." and, "When I first met Ian Huntley..." are the beginnings of of two tales I heard.

And they are honest enough to admit that even they are intrigued by the men they look after. Senior officer Jason Hancock explained: "There are evenings when I will be watching the news and hear about a load of terrorist arrests and, because of the type of prisoner we look after, I think to myself: 'I'll be seeing them in the morning'.

"And I have been known to go home and tell my wife: 'Guess who I bumped into today...' But there are many shocking things that we see that we do not go home and tell our friends and families about.
"A lot of things stay within the prison and the officers have their own coping mechanisms. Some of us tell jokes about things because we don't like to admit that something has affected us more than we let on."

One of the most intriguing things about HMP Belmarsh is the unique "two-prison" set-up. Outside the HSU is a local prison with convicts on short-term sentences. Not only are the prisoners separated, but the guards' paths do not cross either. And in some ways the conditions in the main jail are worse than those in the HSU.

John Steadman, a 40-year-old convicted cocaine dealer, is 15 months into a five-year sentence. He is sitting in his cell watching television when I visit.

"Prison is boring and repetitive," he says. "This is my first sentence and definitely my last. Yes we get to watch television and play pool, but those things are just something to kill the time with. You could put a sauna and a sunbed in here and I'd still rather be outside."

It is not just the prisoners who have complaints; the guards often mention the low levels of staffing - there are just over 400 officers on rotating shifts and they are acutely aware that they are always vastly outnumbered by the prisoners. They also have to deal with drugs and mobile phones being smuggled into the prison. This is particularly annoying due to the fact that many are brought in by corrupt guards.

Despite this, Phil Wragg, the governor, is happy with his prison. "This is the best command in the prison service," he tells me. "We have the highest security and the most resources. It is also the most expensive prison to run.

"Yes, it has a bad name, but we do a good job. It has a bad name for all the wrong reasons. It has a bad name because people write things about it who, frankly, are not qualified to do so. And it is certainly not a holiday camp."

It doesn't look like one either. And obviously the prisoners inside agree. As I leave the prison I walk past guards with dogs and an exercise yard full of prisoners who press their faces against the wire fences. One shouts out to me. "Let me tell you lad," he says, nodding towards the gate and the outside world, "You are a very lucky man."

Belmarsh's most notorious prisoners

Abu Hamza
Extremist cleric who lost his hands in an explosion. On remand pending extradition request from the US.

Waheed Zaman
A relatively new arrival to Belmarsh, he was convicted of plotting to bomb a transatlantic flight.

Garikoitz Ibarlucea Murua
Alleged Basque separatist who is wanted for terrorist offences in Spain.

Curtis Warren
One of Britain's most dangerous gangsters, Warren is currently serving 13 years for smuggling drugs.

Charles Bronson
Dubbed Britain's most violent prisoner, Bronson once had an entire wing of Belmarsh HSU to himself.

Ian Huntley
The Soham murderer was held in Belmarsh's high security unit before his trial and conviction in 2005.

Kenneth Noye
Road rage killer who fled to Spain after stabbing Stephen Cameron, 21, in Swanley, Kent, in 1996.

Ronnie Biggs
Spent 36 years on the run and then eight in Belmarsh. Released last summer on compassionate grounds.

Pakistan cancels visit to Britain over Cameron terror comments

Pakistan's intelligence agency has cancelled planned talks with security experts in Britain following David Cameron's claim that elements within the country are promoting the export of terror, it is reported.

Mr Cameron's comments sparked outrage in Islamabad during this week's trip to India.

The decision precedes a three-day visit to the UK by Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani President, during which he is expected to stay with the Prime Minister at his country home, Chequers.

The Times reported that senior officers from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had been due to come to London for talks on counter-terrorism co-operation with British security services.

An ISI spokesman sadi: ''The visit has been cancelled in reaction to the comments made by the British Prime Minister against Pakistan.''

Answering questions following a speech in India, Mr Cameron said he wanted to see ''a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan'', adding: ''But we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world.''

His comments triggered an angry response from Pakistani politicians, who pointed to the country's military offensive against militants on the frontier with Afghanistan and the many victims of terrorist bombs in Pakistan.

The ISI spokesman said: ''Such irresponsible statements could affect our co-operation with Britain.''

Pakistan is regarded by UK agencies as a key nation in the fight against terror, with a majority of plots against British targets believed to have links to the country. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that 75 per cent of terror plots under investigation in the UK were linked to Pakistan.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We do not comment on intelligence matters."

However, Mr Zardari's visit to the UK was still expected to go ahead as planned.

''Our understanding is that the visit is on,'' said a Foreign Office spokeswoman.

Nicolas Sarkozy threatens to strip citizenship from immigrants who target police

President Nicolas Sarkozy has given warning that France will strip French nationality from any immigrant who uses violence against police or public officials.

"French nationality should be stripped from anybody who has threatened the life of a police officer or anybody involved in public policing," Mr Sarkozy said.

Speaking in the eastern city of Grenoble, scene in recent weeks of clashes between police and armed rioters, Mr Sarkozy said that foreign minors who commit crimes would henceforth find it harder to get citizenship on coming of age.

And he promised to review the welfare payments made to non-documented immigrants living in France, in a speech made amid renewed accusations that he had swerved to the right to distract from his political woes.

The French president is struggling in opinion polls after his government was implicated in a financial scandal.

Earlier this week, Mr Sarkozy threatened to expel foreign Roma who commit crimes back to Eastern Europe.

Mr Sarkozy, whose hardline stance helped him win the 2007 election, has promised to crack down on urban violence.

But the conservative leader has failed to reduce violent crime despite tougher policing following widespread riots in 2005. Neighbourhoods remain stricken by high youth unemployment, poor public services, drug trafficking and a rise in gun crime.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Turkey gets first nudist beach!



Nudist tourists will be able to work on their full-body tan on the sun-kissed Turkish coast from next week, when the mainly Muslim country opens its first naturist hotel, a report said Sunday.

Open exclusively to foreigners, the beachfront nudist-only hotel opens on May 1 near the major southwestern resort of Marmaris, a small revolution in Turkey's conservative society, Milliyet newspaper reported.

"Nudism is allowed inside the hotel premises, but not on the nearby public beaches," Ahmet Cosar, bookings manager at the Adaburnu-Golmar hotel, told the newspaper.

For guests who are determined to shun bathing suits, the hotel will provide a shuttle bus to and from a private naturist beach.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

French parliament set to vote on veil ban


PARIS — As France's parliament debates whether to ban burqa-like Muslim veils, one lawmaker compares them to muzzles, or "walking coffins." Another proclaims that women who wear them must be liberated, even against their will. Amid little resistance, France's lower house of parliament will likely approve a ban on face-covering veils Tuesday, and the Senate will probably follow suit in September.

Polls show voters overwhelmingly support a ban. In parliament, criticism was mostly timid, and relatively few dissenters spoke out about civil liberties or fears of fanning anti-Islam sentiment in a country where there are an estimated 5 million Muslims, and where mainstream society has struggled to integrate generations of immigrants.

One obstacle, however, may still stand in the way of a ban: the courts.

Law scholars say the ban could be shot down by France's constitutional watchdog or the European Court of Human Rights. That could dampen efforts under way in other European countries toward banning the veils.

It would also be a humiliation for President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative government, which has devoted much attention to a bill that would affect only an estimated 1,900 women in France.

The main body representing French Muslims says face-covering veils are not required by Islam and not suitable in France, but it worries that the law will stigmatize Muslims in general.

The niqab and burqa are widely seen in France as a gateway to extremism and an attack on women's rights and secularism, a central value of modern-day France. Critics say a ban is a cynical ploy to attract far-right voters.

The government has struggled — and failed, some legal observers say — to come up with a strong legal basis for a ban.

In March, France's highest administrative body, the Council of State, warned that it could be found unconstitutional. It rejected possible legal justifications one by one, including the French tradition of secularism, equality for women, human dignity and concerns about public security.

In the end, the government's central legal argument is that covering one's face doesn't square with French values.

Life in France is "carried out with a bare face," Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said last week, opening debate at the National Assembly.

As legal reasoning, she invoked the notion of public policy doctrine, a country's moral and social rules.

Face-covering veils "call into question the idea of integration, which is founded on the acceptance of the values of our society," Alliot-Marie said.

The legislation would forbid face-covering Muslim veils in all public places in France, even in the street. It calls for euro150 ($185) fines or citizenship classes, or both.

The bill is also aimed at husbands and fathers who impose such veils on women and girls. Anyone convicted of forcing someone else to wear the garb risks a year of prison and a euro30,000 ($38,000) fine — with both those penalties doubled if the victim is a minor.

Officials have taken pains to craft language that does not single out Muslims. While the proposed legislation is colloquially referred to as the "anti-burqa law," it is officially called "the bill to forbid concealing one's face in public."

It refers neither to Islam nor to veils — leading to an often surreal disconnect between the text and discussion in parliament about it. While officials insist the law against face-covering would apply to everyone, not just Muslims, they cite a host of exceptions, including masks for health reasons, for fencing, for carnivals and festivals.

Legislator Berengere Poletti, of Sarkozy's conservative party, argued that women in such garb "wear a sign of alienation on their faces" and "must be liberated," even if they say the apparel is their own choice.

Communist Andre Gerin, who also supports a ban, said that "talking about liberty to defend the wearing of the full veil is totally cynical — for me, the full veil is a walking coffin, a muzzle."

Socialist Jean Glavany, one of the few lawmakers to offer stinging criticism of a ban, said dwelling on questions of French identity and whether burqas are welcome in France "is nothing more than the fear of those who are different, who come from abroad, who aren't like us, who don't share our values."

He was also one of several lawmakers to question the bill's "judicial fragility."

To address that widespread concern, the conservative majority has taken the unusual step of asking the Constitutional Council watchdog to examine the bill once it passes parliament — a move usually made by opponents of legislation.

Down the road, the law could face another challenge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where decisions are binding. In February, the court shot down a Turkish decision that convicted dozens of people for wearing religious clothing in public.

Mark Reckless MP sorry for being 'too drunk to vote'

BBC News

A Kent MP has apologised for being drunk in the House of Commons and missing a vote on the Budget. Mark Reckless said he did not feel it was appropriate to take part in the vote in the early hours of Wednesday because of the amount he had drunk.

The Conservative MP for Rochester and Strood told BBC Radio Kent: "I made a mistake. I'm really sorry about it."

Labour MP Hazel Blears said she returned to the library after it became "a bit lively" on the terrace.

Mr Reckless is one of 227 new MPs who started work at Westminster following the general election on 6 May.
Continue reading the main story

He said: "I'm terribly, terribly embarrassed. I apologise unreservedly and I don't plan to drink again at Westminster."

Mr Reckless denied claims that he fell asleep on the terrace or got a taxi back to his constituency.

He added: "I remember someone asking me to vote and not thinking it was appropriate, given how I was at the time.

"If I was in the sort of situation generally where I thought I was drunk I tend to go home.

"Westminster is a very special situation and all I can say... is given this very embarrassing experience I don't intend to drink at Westminster again."
Houses of Parliament The Commons terrace overlooks the Thames

Mr Reckless was having drinks on the night of the second reading of the Finance Bill, which lasted until 0230 BST on Wednesday.

Commons leader Sir George Young described it as the first "seriously late" sitting of the new parliamentary term.

Hazel Blears told Sky News on Sunday: "On Tuesday night, it was a hot night, and we all knew we were going to be there until two o'clock so I went out for a drink on the terrace.

"I was there until about half past 10. Then I thought this is getting a bit lively so I went back in the library and did a bit more correspondence and then I popped out and had a drink somewhere else with my friends."

She added: "I think the lesson is [that] there's a lot of new members in the House. He said, Mr Reckless, he said it was a bit like a lock-in so maybe he does that in his pub.

"But I think he's probably learnt his lesson."

Broken Britain is in grip of £40bn organised crime wave

 Daily Mail

Britain is in the grip of a £40billion organised crimewave led by 6,000 gangs, the head of Scotland Yard warned last night. Sir Paul Stephenson spelt out the enormous economic cost to the country of large scale drugs supply, people smuggling, fraud and mass marketing scams as he called for a new approach to tackling the problem.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said the estimated cost of organised crime was more than double the £18.5billion budget for the 43 forces of England and Wales last year.

And he revealed that law enforcement agencies believe there are around 6,000 organised crime groups active in the UK with an estimated 38,000 individuals operating within them.

Analysis shows there are nearly 500 organised crime groups with known assets of over £1m and 68 groups with assets of £10m or more, he added.

The Met chief also revealed that last year just £154million worth of assets had been recovered from the estimated £40billion cost to the economy of organised crime.

Sir Paul, who has deliberately kept a low profile since succeeding gaffe-prone Sir Ian Blair as Met chief 18 months ago, made his hard-hitting comments in a speech in London to the Police Foundation.

He said the resources devoted to dealing with organised crime in Britain are 'uncoordinated and, in effect, inadequate and have been for many years'.

'In 2004, the Home Office reporting estimated the total cost of economic and social harm to the UK by organised crime at between £20-£40 billion every year. I think it reasonable to consider this to be a conservative estimate that can only have increased with the passage of time,' he said.

'It breaks down like this: every year class A drug use in England alone costs the Exchequer at least £15billion in social and economic cost. The value of the UK cannabis wholesale market equates to £1 billion, the cost of people smuggling has been estimated at £1.4 billion and trafficking for sexual exploitation £1billion.

'A 2006 study by the Office of Fair Trading reported that mass marketing scams caused losses to UK consumers of up to £3.5 billion every year. Fraud including tax and benefit fraud and counterfeit payment cards is estimated to cost £8 billion, and intellectual property crime £1billion.

'Metal theft costs the economy a third of a billion and there is an economic cost running into millions from the blackmail, extortions, abductions and kidnaps that occur every year. And of course, we have the bill for armed robberies, including cash in transit and artifice burglaries.'

Sir Paul, who fears the fight against major criminals will be hit by huge budget cuts in the police, said: 'Organised crime costs the country dearly - it is, in effect, a surcharge on every item we buy in every store in the country.

'It is sometimes said that organised crime and, in particular, fraud, is a 'victimless crime'; but in reality its effects are felt by us all.

'It reduces the money available to government, distorts the readout on the economy and affects the ability of legitimate businesses to retain market share, leading to higher prices for everyone.

'Organised criminal networks can have global reach, but the effect of their criminality is played out daily on our streets and in our homes.

'And there is a significant consequential impact and cost on all public services, including education, health and social services.

'This local impact represents the end of a continuum that can start on another continent.

'And there is a complex array of criminal relationships and transactions that have allowed events on another continent to ultimately lead to this tragedy in one of our local communities.

'Someone has produced, processed and transported heroin in bulk across continents to the UK, passing it on to middle market suppliers who then pass to a network of street dealers.

'A local market is supported by local crime gangs involved in violence to enforce debts and protect 'turf'.

'A weapon has been procured and then smuggled in to the country, leading to its use ending tragically in an innocent person being killed.'

He referred specifically to the murder of schoolgirl Agnes Sina-Inakoju, 16, who was shot dead at a local takeaway in East London in April this year.

Sir Paul said forces are targeting in an 'operationally meaningful way' just 11% of the estimated 6,000 organised crime groups.

He called for the creation of a nationally coordinated federated structure for tackling organised crime, either from within the police service or as part of an extended remit for the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Jerusalem Thaws the Freeze, Approves New Housing


Jerusalem’s planning commission ended the de facto building freeze Monday night by approving building 32 new housing units in Pisgat Ze’ev, where 50,000 Jews lives in the northeastern part of the city. The Palestinian Authority claims the areas as part of its proposed new Arab country within Israel’s post-1967 borders. The approval puts a stamp of approval on Israel’s determination not to surrender to PA pressure, backed by U.S. President Barack Obama, to stop all construction for Jews in parts of Jerusalem where PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas demands sovereignty. President Obama has labeled the Jewish neighborhoods as “settlements” although approximately 300,000 Jews live in the neighborhoods, which are part of the municipality.

Jerusalem’s new light railway system, now in the final stages of construction, runs through Pisgat Ze’ev and reinforces its being part of the city, for all intents and purposes.

The United States has not yet reacted to the Jerusalem announcement, but a PA spokesman said it shows that Israel is not committed to the PA’s version of a new Arab country.

The 32 residences are part of a 220-unit project, and the approval is one of the last steps in a long bureaucratic process, which "still has to go to 15-to-20 municipal departments for approval, like sanitation and environment," Jerusalem spokesman Stephen Miller said.

A previous crisis with the United States broke out earlier this year over a bureaucratic approval of a housing complex in the nearby Ramat Shlomo neighborhood but which still is approximately two years away from final authorization.

On the eve of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s trip to the White House last week, he beat back an effort by several Knesset Members to introduce a bill that would require legislative approval for a building freeze.

Jerusalem’s planning committee also postponed a decision on the building at Pisgat Ze’ev to honor Prime Minister Netanyahu’s request not to stir up a controversy before his meeting with President Obama.

Tears as Srebrenica massacre victims mourned


Tens of thousands of grieving Bosnian Muslims gathered yesterday to bury the remains of 755 newly identified victims killed when Bosnian Serbs overran the eastern town of Srebrenica 15 years ago. An army led by Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic seized Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, and went on a week-long killing spree as UN troops protecting the town stepped aside.

Around 8000 Muslims were killed. Those who tried to escape were hunted down and killed. Mladic remains at large.

Yesterday, men passed green-draped coffins towards freshly-dug graves. Sobbing women said prayers as they kneeled among rows of marble gravestones.

“I have nothing left to lose,” Hatidza Mehmedovic, 58, said through tears. She came to bury her husband and two sons, killed when they were 18 and 21.

The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague has indicted Mladic and his political chief Radovan Karadzic for genocide in Srebrenica. Karadzic is on trial but denies all counts. Mladic is believed to be hiding in Serbia. Failure to arrest him has hindered Serbia’s progress towards EU membership.

After the massacre, Serbs dumped the bodies into mass graves. They were later dug out with bulldozers and moved in an attempt to cover up the crime.

More than 3700 victims have been buried in the memorial graveyard after being unearthed from mass graves and identified.

White House criticizes NASA chief for making remarks on Muslim outreach

By Reuters

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that NASA administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. was wrong to say that reaching out to the Muslim world was a top priority of the U.S. space agency.
Bolden raised eyebrows in the space community and outrage among conservative pundits by telling al-Jazeera television recently that President Barack Obama had instructed him to work for better outreach with the Muslim world.

He said Obama told him that one of his top priorities was to "find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering."

Improving relations with the Muslim world was a top foreign policy priority for Obama upon taking office last year, and he delivered a major speech on the topic in Cairo in June 2009.

Last week, the White House sought to clarify Bolden's comment, saying Obama wanted NASA to engage with the world's best scientists and engineers from countries such as Russia, Japan, Israel and many Muslim-majority countries.

That failed to end the controversy.

Gibbs was asked at his daily news briefing why Bolden had made the comment.

"I don't think -- that was not his task, and that's not the task of NASA," Gibbs said.

UK: Town's Muslim families ‘feel intimidated'

By Mark Tallentire

MUSLIM families no longer feel safe living in a North-East town, a community leader has claimed.

Maszlee Malik, a Malaysian Muslim, said Muslim children in Bowburn, near Durham, face daily verbal insults, adults receive no respect and Muslim homes are targeted for anti-social behaviour.

The married father-of-four, who has lived in the town for three years, said racist incidents have increased since he first voiced concerns to The Northern Echo last year, and described the situation in Bowburn as deteriorating.

Mr Malik went public with his concerns last December, after Muslim children allegedly suffered racist abuse walking to and from school. He blames the problems on teenagers in the town.

He said: "To be cursed with racist words like ‘Paki', ‘terrorist', ‘go back to your country' and ‘get out of Bowburn' is part of our daily life. Despite reports being made, we still experience the same intimidation. It has become rampant.

"All those unfortunate incidents that most international families in Bowburn have to face in their brief sojourn in the UK could be summarised in one sentence: ‘We don't feel safe any more living in Durham'."

About 40 Malaysian student families live in Bowburn, with smaller Arab and Chinese communities.

Mr Malik plans to return to Malaysia after completing a politics PhD at Durham University, where he was president of the Islamic Society.

Paul Anderson, Durham Police's neighbourhood inspector for Durham City, said "The police take any racist incidents very seriously and will not tolerate this behaviour. All reported incidents will be thoroughly investigated and a Hate Crime Officer allocated to support the victims wherever possible."

Mr Malik has praised Lynne Lyons, headteacher at Bowburn Junior School, for her work in encouraging integration between ethnic groups.

The school employed County Durham's first Malaysian Muslim teaching assistant to encourage intercultural play and its curriculum includes studying the child in the world.