Saturday, January 30, 2010

Osama Hops on Global Warming Bandwagon

Osama bin Laden sought to draw a wider public into his fight against the United States in a new message Friday, dropping his usual talk of religion and holy war and focusing instead on an unexpected topic: global warming.

The al Qaeda leader blamed the United States and other industrialized nations for climate change and said the only way to prevent disaster was to break the American economy, calling on the world to boycott U.S. goods and stop using the dollar.

"The effects of global warming have touched every continent. Drought and deserts are spreading, while from the other floods and hurricanes unseen before the previous decades have now become frequent," bin Laden said in the audiotape, aired on the Arab TV network Al-Jazeera.

The terror leader noted Washington's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and painted the United States as in the thrall of major corporations that he said "are the true criminals against the global climate" and are to blame for the global economic crisis, driving "tens of millions into poverty and unemployment."

Bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders have mentioned global warming and struck an anti-globalization tone in previous tapes and videos. But the latest was the first message by bin Laden solely dedicated to the topic. It was also nearly entirely empty of the Islamic militant rhetoric that usually fills his declarations.

The change in rhetoric aims to give al Qaeda's message an appeal beyond hardcore Islamic militants, said Evan Kohlmann, of, a private, U.S.-based terrorism analysis group.

"It's a bridge issue," Kohlmann said. "They are looking to appeal to people who don't necessarily love al Qaeda but who are angry at the U.S. and the West, to galvanize them against the West" and make them more receptive to "alternative solutions like adopting violence for the cause."

"If you're looking to draw people who are disenchanted or disillusioned, what better issue to use than global warming," he said. While the focus on climate may be new, the tactic itself is not, he said: Al Qaeda used issues like the abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay to reach out to Muslims who might not be drawn to al Qaeda's ideology but are angry over the injustices.

Bin Laden "looks to see the issues that are the most cogent and more likely to get popular support," Kohlmann said.

The al Qaeda leader's call for an economic boycott helps in the appeal - providing a nonviolent way to participate in opposing the United States.

"People of the world, it's not right for the burden to be left on the mujahedeen (holy warriors) in an issue that causes harm to everyone," he said. "Boycott them to save yourselves and your possessions and your children from climate change and to live proud and free."

Al-Jazeera aired excerpts of the message and posted a transcript on its Web site. The tape's authenticity could not be independently confirmed, but the voice resembled that of bin Laden on messages known to be from him. The new message comes after a bin Laden tape released last week in which he endorsed a failed attempt to blow up an American airliner on Christmas Day.

In the new tape, bin Laden refers to the Dec. 18 climate conference in Copenhagen - indicated the message was made recently.

The message - whose length Al-Jazeera did not specify - makes only brief passing mentions of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and instead hits on issues that could resonate at a time of widespread economic woes.

"The world is held hostage by major corporations, which are pushing it to the brink," he said. "World politics are not governed by reason but by the force and greed of oil thieves and warmongers and the cruel beasts of capitalism."

To stop global warming, he called for the "wheels of the American economy" to be brought to a halt. "This is possible ... if the peoples of the world stop consuming American goods."

"We must also stop dealings in the dollar and get rid of it as soon as possible," he said. "I know that this has great consequences and grave ramifications, but it is the only means to liberate humanity from slavery and dependence on America."

He also called for the "punishing and holding to account" of corporation chiefs, adding, "this should be easy for the American people to do, particularly those who were effected by Hurricane Katrina or those who lost their jobs, since these criminals live among them, particularly in Washington, New York and Texas."

The message represents a honing of al Qaeda's rhetoric. In 2007, bin Laden issued a tape in which he warned that human life is endangered by global warning, and he blamed democratic systems for seeking the interests of major corporations, said the U.S.-based Site Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamic militant message traffic.

But in Friday's message, the anti-democracy rhetoric is dropped.

"It's populism, pure and simple," Kohlmann said.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Obama urges nervous Dems to fight for his agenda

President Barack Obama voiced determination Thursday to change the tone of Washington politics and urged Republicans to get "off the sidelines" and help fix health care and other problems.

President Barack Obama voiced determination Thursday to change the tone of Washington politics and urged Republicans to get "off the sidelines" and help fix health care and other problems.

Stopping on his way out of a town hall meeting in Tampa, Fla., Obama hammered again on his State of the Union message - insisting that voters and politicians needed to "start thinking of each other as Americans first."

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were in Florida to announce $8 billion in federal grants for high-speed rail projects nationwide - part of his push to combine spending on infrastructure with job creation.

Obama also used his first State of the Union speech Wednesday to push nervous Democrats to forge ahead on health care, despite voters' worries and opposition from newly strengthened Republicans.

On Thursday, he turned emphatically toward Republicans and implored cooperation.

"Our political dialogue in this country has always been messy and noisy," Obama told the crowd at the University of Tampa.

"We're all Americans. We all should anticipate that the other person, even if they disagree with us, has the best of intentions. We don't have to call them names. We don't have to demonize them."

Hanging over the Obama agenda and wobbly support among Democrats were fears fueled by events such as last week's stunning GOP victory in the Massachusetts Senate race.

That setback may have cost Democrats their filibuster-proof Senate majority, Obama said, but "we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills."

He accepted partial blame for the deep troubles facing his health care push, but he implored lawmakers to finish the task rather than yield to public opposition.

"The longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became," Obama told the joint session of Congress and a nationwide TV audience. But health care problems will continue for millions, he said, and "I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber."

House and Senate Democratic leaders are scrambling to see if they can salvage the ambitious health care package, which Republicans almost universally oppose. Obama offered no new strategies for overcoming the steep parliamentary and political hurdles they face.

The president devoted most of his speech to job-creation proposals, such as eliminating capital gains taxes on small business investment and extending tax breaks for businesses to invest in new plants and equipment. But those proposals also face uncertainty in Congress, where Senate Democrats say they may need a selective, piecemeal approach to win enough votes.

Obama said Republicans share a responsibility for governing, and he proposed meeting with their House and Senate leaders monthly. But his olive branch seemed brittle at times.

Without naming George W. Bush, he pointedly noted that the previous administration left him a big deficit and a deeply troubled economy. For good measure, Obama said the United States killed more al-Qaida terrorists in 2009 than in 2008.

Obama rebuked the Supreme Court for a recent decision that "reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests" and foreign corporations to make unlimited campaign contributions. At that, conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito made a dismissive face, shook his head in disagreement and seemed to mouth the words "not true."

Republicans in the House chamber generally greeted such remarks with stony gazes and smirks. The statements they issued as soon as Obama finished - or even before he finished, in some cases - were equally icy.

"We had hoped to hear a new commitment to keep his promises to govern from the center, change the tone in Washington, and work with both parties in a bipartisan way to help small businesses create jobs and get our economy moving again," said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio. "Unfortunately, the president and the Democrats in charge of Congress still aren't listening to the American people."

Vice President Joe Biden, appearing in an interview Thursday morning on NBC's "Today" show, described Obama as upset with the way his program has been handled in Congress.

"One of the things that's most frustrating to him," Biden said, "is the obstructionist ways of the United States Senate, on the part of the Republicans, requiring 60 votes, a supermajority, for virtually every single, solitary initiative we've had. Now that we have 59 votes, it's time for everybody to start taking responsibility."

UK summit unveils new Afghan policy

Control over some of Afghanistan's provinces is to be handed over to the Afghan government by the end of 2010, according to foreign ministers attending a one-day international conference in London.

David Miliband, the UK foreign minister, said on Thursday that 2010 was a "decisive" year because a new government was in place, adding that security of all provinces would be under Afghanistan leadership within five years.

Miliband also announced a new fund to allow the Afghan government to woo Taliban fighters away from the conflict.

"Today alone there have been over $140m worth of commitments for the first year of the national reintegration programme and we are committed to seeing that through,"he said.

In a communique published at the end of the conference, which was attended by delegates from 70 countries, support was also offered for the continued growth and expansion of the Afghan national army and police force.

Delegates agreed a target of recruiting some 171,600 soldiers and 134,000 police officers by October 2011.

But Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said that plans to gradually transfer Afghan security from international to domestic forces were "not an exit strategy".

"We ... support the Nato transition plan," Clinton said. "But I want to make clear - to Afghans, to our partners, to our citizens, and to the extremists who hope for our failure: This is not an exit strategy."

Taliban reaction

Taliban dismissed the London conference as a propaganda ploy, saying the summit would fail to produce results, according to the AFP news agency, quoting an internet statement.
in depth

Your Views: Is it time to cut a deal with the Taliban?
Talking to the Taliban
Timeline: Afghanistan in crisis
McChrystal hopes for Taliban deal
Western donors 'back Taliban plan'
Video: Taliban groups continue to grow
Taliban issues code of conduct
Video: Taliban targets Afghan government
Deadliest year for Afghan civilians
Empire: The long war between the US and al-Qaeda

"The war-mongering rulers under the leadership of [US president Barack] Obama and [British prime minister Gordon] Brown want to deceive the people of the world by holding the London conference to show that people still support them".

If the decision is taken to "once again try to prolong the military, economic, cultural and political occupation of [Afghanistan], this conference will be mere wishful thinking like other conferences."

The statement also dismissed a plan by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, to woo Taliban moderates with offers of money and jobs.

"They announce that they will provide money, employment and opportunity to have a comfortable life abroad for those mujahedeen who agree to part ways with jihad," the statement said.

"This is baseless and futile," it said. "Had the aim of the mujahedeen of the Islamic Emirate been obtainment of material goals, they would accept dominance of the invaders in the first place."

Presidential view

Earlier on Thursday, Karzai said that his country must reach out to its "disenchanted brothers" in an effort to stabilise the war ravaged nation, saying fighters who are "not part of al-Qaeda or other terror groups" must be reconciled with the government.

The Afghan leader said his government would set up a national council for peace and reconciliation, and has asked Saudi Arabia to help guide the process.

Karzai was seeking support for a $1 billion plan that would offer cash, jobs and other incentives to the Taliban and fighters in other armed groups, in an attempt to bring them back into mainstream society.

Taliban fighters have also been invited to a "peace jirga", or a traditional gathering of tribal elders, expected to be held early this year, a government spokesman confirmed.

Saudi role?

Hamid Elmi, Karzai's deputy spokesman, said: "We are using all kinds of possibilities - our neighbouring countries, the international community, the king of Saudi - to encourage the Taliban to come".

Whether Taliban would accept an invitation to a 'peace jirga' is a mute point.

However, Saudi Arabia said on Thursday that it would only take part in Afghan peace efforts if the Taliban denies sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, according to the kingdom's foreign minister.

"Unless the Taliban give up the issue of sanctuary [to bin Laden] I don't think the negotiations with them will be possible or feasible to achieve anything," Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters on the sidelines of a London conference.

"We have two conditions: that the request comes officially from Afghanistan and the Taliban has to prove its intentions in coming to the negotiations by cutting their relations with the terrorists and proving it."

But Haroun Mir, deputy director for the centre for research and policy studies in Kabul, told Al Jazeera that Karzai's proposal could be hampered by plans to increase the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

"Karzai has been talking for a long time for reaching out to the Taliban.

"But ... the US military surge and additional Nato forces in Afghanistan in the coming months [will see] the intensity of fighting increase.

"I don't know how president Karzai could implement his own strategy of reaching out to the Taliban if there is increased fighting going on in Afghanistan," he said.

Secret talks

And Abdullah Abdullah, the presidential candidate who withdrew from last August's fraudulent elections, said obstacles remain to implementing such a policy.

"I don't think the Taliban at this stage are willing to enter negotiations. Also, their association with terrorist organisations, like al-Qaeda - that's the main issue at the moment - and they are working like one organisation."

Thursday's conference comes nearly a week after a meeting between Afghan government officials and members of an armed opposition group fighting alongside the Taliban.

Al Jazeera's David Chater, reporting from Kabul, said the talks were held with the group Hezb-e-Islami, in the Maldives islands, between January 23-24.

He said a Taliban leader had been due to attend the meeting but dropped out in the last minute citing health reasons.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

U.S. tells Yemen to do more to fight militancy

The United States called on Yemen at an international conference on Wednesday to make reforms to help root out al Qaeda militants, and Sanaa promised a drive to improve the lives of its impoverished people.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh had to tackle the deep problems of a nation where almost half of its 23 million people live on less than $2 a day.

"We look to Yemen to enact reforms and continue to combat corruption and improve the country's investment and business climate," she told a meeting of Western and Gulf foreign ministers in London.

"If conflict and violence go unaddressed, they will undermine the political reform and reconciliation that are essential to Yemen's progress," she added.

For its part, Yemen said it would push ahead with political reform and start discussions with the International Monetary Fund about a programme to boost its economy.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, anxious to prevent Yemen becoming a failed state, called the London talks after a Yemen-based al Qaeda affiliate said it was behind an abortive bid to blow up a U.S.-bound plane with 300 people on board.


Major powers committed to supporting Yemen in its fight against al Qaeda by strengthening their counter-terrorist capabilities and improving aviation and border security.

The Dec. 25 attack on a Detroit-bound jet drove home how al Qaeda could threaten Western interests from Yemen and highlighted the risk that it could become a failed state, compounding security challenges already posed by lawless Somalia just across the Gulf of Aden.

However, Yemen's foreign minister Abubakr al-Qirbi disputed British statements that bomb suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was radicalised in Yemen. "He spent in London four years, and he spent in Yemen one year. Where did the radicalisation take place?" Qirbi told a news conference.

Abdulmutallab studied engineering at University College London between 2005 and 2008 before moving to Yemen.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband tried to laugh off the differences before defending the claim.

"I think it's important that I say in all seriousness that all of our evidence led us to make the very serious statements that we did about the radicalisation that took place," he said.


The joint statement released at the end of the two-hour meeting underlined the threat Yemen posed to neighbours including Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil producer.

"The challenges in Yemen are growing and, if not addressed, risk threatening the stability of the country and broader region," the statement said, affirming Yemeni sovereignty.

It was not a pledging conference and no fresh money was put on the table.

A donors' meeting in London in 2006 pledged about $5 billion for Yemen but only a small portion has been disbursed, partly because of concerns about how the money would be spent.

Clinton said Yemen must show it can allocate foreign aid effectively.

The meeting in London, on the eve of a major summit on the future of Afghanistan, is likely to be the first in a series.

Wednesday's talks brought together the Group of Eight world powers, Yemen's neighbours in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and Egypt, Jordan and Turkey.

Apart from al Qaeda, Yemen faces a Shi'ite Muslim revolt in the north, a secessionist movement in the south, water shortages, falling oil income and weak state control.

Keen to harness U.S. support and funding, President Saleh, 67, has sought to paint his internal foes as all somehow linked to al Qaeda.

Underlining the volatility in the region, Saudi Arabia declared victory on Wednesday over the Yemeni Shi'ite rebels after a truce offer from the insurgents.

Yemen's government had been fighting the rebels since 2004, while Saudi Arabia had stepped in since November when the rebels seized some Saudi territory.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Al-Shaabab claims attack on AU peacekeepers in Mogadishu

Somalia’s hardline insurgent group Al-Shaabab claimed responsibility Tuesday for a mortar attack on an African Union (AU) peacekeepers’ base in Mogadishu that left several people dead. On Monday, a mortar round crashed into a group of Somali civilians queuing up at one of the entrances of the AU’s peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) to receive medical treatment from the force’s doctors.

“The attack on the compound of the African infidels was carried out by our mujahedins [holy warriors]. It was a successful attack which left many of the enemy doctors dead,” Al-Shaabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage told AFP.

Officials on the base said at least one Ugandan peacekeeper was killed in the blast. They added that several Somali civilians may have died but could not provide an accurate count.

A civilian source on the base said a total of five people had been killed.

The hardline Islamist insurgent group Al-Shaabab – an organization whose leader recently proclaimed allegiance to Al-Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden – and their allies from the more political Hezb al-Islam movement routinely fire mortar shells on the base.

They launched a fierce military offensive in May 2009 aimed at toppling internationally-backed President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, whose administration has owed its survival largely to the protection of AMISOM’s 5,300 peacekeepers.

The Al-Shaabab accuse AMISOM’s Ugandan and Burundian soldiers of occupying their country and being engaged in a Christian crusade against Muslim Somalia.

Earlier Monday, the AU mission’s top civilian official and the UN special envoy to Somalia visited the base and reiterated their full support to Sharif’s transitional government.

The Ugandan soldier killed on Monday and a Burundian peacekeeper killed several days earlier were evacuated by plane on Tuesday, according to an AFP reporter at the AMISON base.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Don't test our patience: Antony

India on Thursday made it clear that it was becoming impatient over the slow pace of investigation and trial of 26/11 terrorists by Pakistan and wanted the US to put pressure on it to do more. 

“Unless Pakistan takes action against those involved in the heinous acts of 26/11....strong, convincing action to dismantle the terrorist outfits across the border, Indian people will be always impatient,” the defence minister, Mr A.K. Antony, said.

He was responding to questions regarding the US defence secretary, Mr Robert Gates’ remarks that it would “not be unreasonable to assume that India’s patience will be limited were there to be further attacks” such as the Mumbai attacks.

“I also told him that our people are becoming impatient. So you (the US) please advise Pakistan ... they must act against those involved in terrorist activities such as 26/11."

"Almost all these terrorist outfits are operating across the border and they are still very active,” he said.

The government and the people, Mr Antony said, did not want any confrontation with the neighbouring countries, but it would be difficult to move forward on the peace process unless Pakistan took tangible steps.

Unless Pakistan takes action on these two fronts, (punishing 26/11 perpetrators and dismantling terror infrastructure) forward movement is difficult,” he added.

Today in History

On Jan. 22, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson pleaded for an end to war in Europe, calling for "peace without victory." (By April, however, America also was at war.)

On this date:

In 1498, during his third voyage to the Western Hemisphere, explorer Christopher Columbus arrived at the present-day Caribbean island of St. Vincent.

In 1561, English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon was born in London.

In 1901, Britain's Queen Victoria died at age 81.

In 1905 (New Style calendar), thousands of demonstrating Russian workers were fired on by Imperial army troops in St. Petersburg on what became known as "Bloody Sunday."

In 1922, Pope Benedict XV died; he was succeeded by Pius XI.

In 1944, during World War II, Allied forces began landing at Anzio, Italy.

In 1959, 12 workers were killed in the Knox Mine Disaster in Pennsylvania when the mine became flooded with water from the Susquehanna River.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its Roe v. Wade decision, legalized abortions using a trimester approach. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson died at age 64.

In 1995, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy died at the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port, Mass., at age 104.

In 2008, actor Heath Ledger was found dead of an accidental prescription overdose in New York City; he was 28.

Ten years ago: Elian Gonzalez's grandmothers met privately with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno as they appealed for help in removing the boy from his Florida relatives and reuniting him with his father in Cuba. Meanwhile, in Cuba, an estimated 150,000 people echoed the demand for the boy's return. Food writer Craig Claiborne died at a New York hospital at age 79.

Five years ago: The Iraqi government pledged to do everything in its power to protect voters from insurgent attacks during upcoming elections, as militants announced they'd killed 15 captive Iraqi National Guardsmen for cooperating with the Americans. Friends and family bade farewell to ten people killed when a mudslide damaged more than two dozen homes in La Conchita, Calif. President Richard Nixon's former secretary, Rose Mary Woods, died in Alliance, Ohio, at age 87. "Besame Mucho" songwriter Consuelo Velazquez died at age 84.

One year ago: President Barack Obama ordered the Guantanamo Bay prison camp closed within a year and banned harsh interrogation of terror suspects. The Senate Finance Committee cleared the nomination of Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary, 18-5, despite unhappiness over his mistakes in paying his taxes. A Chinese court sentenced two men to death and a dairy boss to life in prison for their roles in producing and selling infant formula tainted with melamine.

Today's Birthdays: Former Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) is 82. Actress Piper Laurie is 78. Actor Seymour Cassel is 75. Author Joseph Wambaugh is 73. Actor John Hurt is 70. Singer Steve Perry is 61. Country singer-musician Teddy Gentry (Alabama) is 58. Movie director Jim Jarmusch is 57. Hockey Hall-of-Famer Mike Bossy is 53. Actress Linda Blair is 51. Actress Diane Lane is 45. Actor-rap DJ Jazzy Jeff is 45. Country singer Regina Nicks (Regina Regina) is 45. Rhythm-and-blues singer Marc Gay (Shai) is 41. Actor Gabriel Macht is 38. Actor Balthazar Getty is 35. Actor Christopher Kennedy Masterson is 30. Pop singer Willa Ford is 29. Actress Beverley (cq) Mitchell is 29. Rock singer-musician Ben Moody is 29.

Thought for Today: "Would to God that we might spend a single day really well." — Thomas a Kempis, German monk and author (c. 1380-1471).

Fight against terror pretext for waging wars

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says hegemonic powers wage wars under different pretexts to take over other countries' natural resources.

Ahmadinejad, in a meeting with Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo in Tehran on Wednesday, said that there are certain powers that are seeking to gain control of natural resources in the Middle East by waging wars in the region under the pretext of "freedom, human rights and fight against terror."

"If countries avoid seeking things beyond their rights and relations among countries are established based on justice, peace will be established in the world," Fars news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

He also called for expansion of ties between Iran and Guyana.

Jagdeo, for his part, urged strong ties between the two countries, noting that Western powers are trying to dominate other nations through media propaganda and their plot should be confronted using organized measures.

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